A Staged Romance
A romance is a tale told by an idiot, full of flowery phrases and stolen kisses, and signifying nothing.
To the fool, the teller of such tales, the fascination lies not with the sexual act: a messy business finishing with a shout and a grimace, but with the dance that brings them there. That eternal game of cat and mouse that brings two seemingly complex people into the hormone-induced dream world we call love. Love causes people to merge until they wed and propagate, or go their woeful ways.
The players in this tale are in fact players themselves — actors in a theater school to be precise.
The lady is our dear friend Isis Freidan, an actress whose quiet demeanor is mitigated by a razor sharp wit she wields without thinking. Is she fair? That depends on your definition. She is neither golden haired, nor lushly rounded, nor rosy. She is tall and lean with pale gold skin and piercing dark eyes. Her breasts and hips are beautifully rounded, her hair is short-ish and dark, and she has the subtle musculature one would imagine of a young Amazon. While normally perceptive, she is woefully unaware that the man she scorns has been obsessing about her for nearly a year.
The man in question is one Seth Draven, ex college football star, and now budding actor. A handsome fellow to be sure, built in a way to rival the gods. With his tall, muscled build, winning smile, dark hair, rich hazel eyes, and abundant talent, Seth knew he had a bright future. His professors had nothing but praise for him, and yet he was frustrated beyond reason, for at twenty-six he found himself in love with the only woman who refused to acknowledge his existence. It had therefore been a delight to be cast as Romeo to her Juliet in the school's big upcoming production.
We, Isis' humble friends, Mel the scriptwriter, Jake the lighting technician, and Minerva, costume and set designer to the school, offer ourselves as your humble guides through this very clichéd courtship. Accept us, for we are your lowly narrators.
So without further ado, let us spin the tale for you...
"I don't believe this!" Isis exclaimed one night. She took a long sip of her beer, grimaced and took another swig. Isis loathed beer, but as she never had to pay for a pitcher, she opted not to look a gift horse in the mouth, and swallowed it down. She held out her empty glass and with raised brows Jake refilled it.
"This is a test! This has to be test!" Isis declared, jamming her index finger at us.
"Well of course it's a test!" Mel shouted. Of our group she is admittedly the loudest. "Your teachers know you have talent. What they want to know is whether you can live up to that cliché that the truly great actor can play anything with anyone. If you can pretend to be in love with Seth Draven, you can play anything!"
Isis leaned forward, her arm extended, empty glass in hand. We knew by the tilt of her head — and the sluggishness of her movements — that the beer was affecting her. It was a mystery of Isis's biochemistry that we never fully understood. She could do shots and walk away like a pro, but one pint of ale and she was out like a light.
Without a word, Jake poured her another glass.
Isis could not stand Seth Draven — for he was the type of man for whom everything came easily. He'd stormed into acting school — all muscles, charm and dimples — wooing professors and students alike. When he walked into a room, ladies sighed, and professors offered him the best roles and assignments, while Isis had to struggle to be given the time of day. Everything had been handed to him on a silver platter.
Isis had dated his kind before; they regarded ladies like herself as a sort of perverted challenge. Once in their beds, she was quickly forgotten, and woefully tossed aside.
To make matters worse, this man was always picking on her, putting himself in her way when she wished to be alone, and constantly calling her names.
This play was Isis's big chance, and because nothing was easy for her, it should have been no surprise that Seth had been cast as her star-crossed lover.
"What am I going to do?" she whined.
"What you are going to do is hold your tongue, play the part, and thank your lucky stars that you got the lead. You do not play, you do not pass, and someone else takes the glory. It's that simple," Minerva said. Round and curvaceous with rich dark skin, Minerva has the kind of worldly wisdom one would not expect for a twenty something professional. We like to think of her as our own voodoo priestess.
"But there's a lot of kissing in this play," Isis replied sticking out her tongue in disgust. Then, picturing Seth Draven, she poured more beer down her throat, attempting to purge the imaginary taste.
"So imagine he's someone you love," Jake said, refilling her empty glass.
"I don't love anyone that way." Isis's speech was slurring by now.
"Then imagine he's someone you want to fuck!" Mel pronounced, jamming her finger in the air for emphasis.
"Like a celebrity?" Isis asked.
"Sure," Jake shrugged.
"Ok," she was going to pass out any second now, so we figured it was time to give her birthday present.
"If all else fails, just take a swig from this and you'll be fine," Jake said, pulling the silver flask from the pocket of his Hawaiian shirt. With a smile, he extended a pale, skinny arm and pressed it into her hand.
"Whass this?" she asked, passing a finger over the engraving. Isis was so drunk she needed both hands to keep from dropping it.
"It's the Goddess Isis," Minerva said, pointing to the Egyptian figure etched into the silver.
"We all pitched in and had it made special," Jake said.
"Happy Birthday!" Mel screamed, throwing her arms into the air.
"You guys are the best," Isis said slowly. She laid the flask carefully on the table in front of her, put her head on her arms and promptly passed out.
Her unconsciousness led to a round of rock, paper, scissors to determine who got stuck with the bar tab. Jake lost, and with a grunt and a frown, he pulled out his wallet and laid a few bills on the table. We tucked the flask into her pocket, and managed to drag her out of the bar and back to her apartment.
We dumped her on her bed, and while Jake respectfully turned his back, we got her pants, jacket, and sweater off and tucked her in. Jake got a glass of water and couple of Tylenol and laid them on her bedside table, along with a bucket just in case. We put the flask beside it.
We watched Isis sleep for a few minutes, knowing she was going to be a mess in the morning.
"Out of curiosity, what did ye put in that flask?" Mel asked quietly.
"A potent aphrodisiac,"
Mel glared at us with wide eyes.
"We're evil," she said.
"No, we just want her to pass," Minerva replied.
"Besides, Seth's a good looking guy, and that girl needs to get laid!" Jake pronounced.
It earned him a nod and a slap upside the head.
"Shall we go out and toast her success?" Mel asked. "The night's still young, after all."
With our arms interlocked, we scampered off like woodland spirits into the night.
Isis awoke the next morning to an alarm clock and a pounding head. Her hand snapped out immediately, whacking the off button. She saw the pills and water on the nightstand and carefully sat up. Her stomach was unsteady, but willing to do anything to ease her dizziness, she tossed the pills and chugged the water down. She had to be at school in the next couple of hours, so she made her way to the bathroom, hoping to wash away the dead feeling that always came after a night of drinking.
While she was in the shower the pills kicked in, and feeling almost human again, she padded in her bathrobe to the kitchen where her roommate Ike awaited with a glass of juice and a couple of dry toasts.
Ike smiled sheepishly. "I missed your birthday and it didn't take a genius to see you'd been drinking last night. I figured you wouldn't be able to stomach the cupcakes I made, so this is the least I could do."
Ike was tall, heavily muscled, bald — and gay. Isis always thought of him as an effeminate mister Clean. He was Seth Draven's older brother, but Isis didn't hold it against him. Unlike his brother, Ike had a heart of gold and never picked on her. He was the model roommate in every way. Though they'd met through an ad in the paper, Ike was one of her dearest friends.
"You're a saint you know that?"
Ike smiled, flashing his dimples, and poured her a cup of some suspicious looking sludge.
Isis sniffed it carefully. "What is it?"
"Something to settle your stomach; an acquired taste,"
Isis took a sip and chased it down with some orange juice. She was taking a bite of her toast when another figure, dressed in a T-shirt and boxers stepped into the kitchen. Isis didn't bother hiding her disgust, and careful not to induce another dizzy spell, she turned and glared at Seth.
"Good morning Sourpuss!" Seth said brightly, taking in her terrycloth robe, wet hair, and the shadows under her eyes. "Squeezed the grape last night?"
"It was beer," she grumbled. Determined to ignore him, she focused on her toast and glass of sludge.
"You know your robe is gaping open? I can see everything!"
Isis loathed him for his cheerful tone.
"Ike told me it's your birthday. You know you really oughta start dating. That biological clock of yours has got to be ticking like crazy!"
Isis's teeth were on edge, but she crunched her toast without so much as a glance in his direction. She could hear him puttering around the kitchen, grabbing the fixings for eggs and hash browns, and putting them together with the ease denoting some degree of competence.
"You know if you don't say hello to me, I'm just going to do something to make that hangover even worse," Seth said.
Isis focused on the newspaper in front of her, and in response, Seth proceeded to sing, "I get knocked down, but I get up again! They're never going to keep me down!" over and over again at high volume.
The sound made Isis's head reel, and tossing back the remainder of her sludge, she stormed out of the kitchen.
"What the hell is your problem?" Ike demanded, hearing the door slam.
Seth shrugged; he knew he was displaying behavior typical of the common schoolboy. He wanted Isis from the moment he'd stormed into acting class. She had glared at him, clearly unimpressed with his bravado. As he'd gotten to know her, Seth had fallen head over heels — and she didn't even know he was alive.
At first, he thought his infatuation was due to his pride. With women, Seth's success rates were uncanny. Nonetheless, his old tricks never worked with Isis. She ignored him, and wrote off any attempts at flirting as his making fun of her. Seth found himself constantly picking on her, as it was the only way to get her attention. Her glares and temper were all he ever got — and because he had it so bad — he even loved her anger, and found it arousing. In his experience, women with tempers were usually the wildest in bed, and the thought was driving him insane.
As he slept on their couch, he tortured himself wondering what would happen if he slipped into her bed.
"You have to let this thing for her go. She's clearly not interested," Ike continued.
"What makes you think I have a thing for her?"
"It's written all over your face, Seth. I know you don't insist on crashing here once a week out of brotherly affection. The second she walks into a room and whenever I mention her, your ears perk up and you get all weird. I've never seen you this wound up over a girl before. It's pathetic!"
"I can't help how I feel!"
"Fine, but keep that thing out of my way!"
"You've had a boner the size of nightstick since you walked in. I'm surprise you didn't hit her with it!"
"Give me a break!"
"No! If you want her so badly, get your ass in gear and try harder, or get over it!"
Seth eyed his brother suspiciously.
"Or else I'll tell Mom and Dad to set you up. You remember what happened the last time,"
Seth shivered in disgust.
The woman presented to him by his mother was the daughter of a family friend. 'Agnes' had the beastly build of a matron in a lesbian prison movie. She was a kind person, but her figure was suited to wooing beasts not men. Thoughts of having sex with her had caused waves of nausea.
"She's big now," his mother told him encouragingly, "but you'll grow into her."
He went on a couple of dates to humor his parents, and was overjoyed when Agnes admitted she'd secretly been seeing someone. Seth couldn't imagine anyone willing to screw her, but he wasn't going to press his luck. That night she'd dumped him flat, after he'd paid for dinner.
"That's better," Ike smiled, gesturing at Seth's lap.
Seth looked down. The thought of that disaster shriveled his erection instantly.
"I'll tell you what — I'm playing Romeo in the school's big production..."
"Lemme guess — sleeping cranky in there is your Juliet?" Ike asked, gesturing to Isis's door.
"Correct!" he replied, jamming his fork at his brother. "If I can't make any progress by the time we go on stage, I'll suck it up and forget the whole thing."
"You know that as her friend, I'm honor bound to kick your ass if you hurt her,"
"And as my brother?"
Isis's door slammed open. Dressed in jeans, boots, and a pair of sunglasses, she grabbed her bag and stormed out the door.
"I'm rooting for you; now eat your breakfast. You're going to be late!"
Ah rehearsals — the days when actors and directors get together and peck at each other until they've come up with a product they think audiences will enjoy.
As lower level functionaries with comparatively tiny egos — well actually, Mel is a writer, and writers are duty bound to have massive egos — we three were in a perfect position to witness the ever-stressful process of read-throughs, stage directions, and fighting going on. Mel had classes to attend, but decided she'd learn far more sitting in on a bunch of actors. So there we were, upon our respective perches, witnessing the drama of the theatre's inner workings.
The initial read-through went relatively well at first, but we suppose that had a lot to with the fact that Romeo and Juliet do not actually meet until Act 1, scene 5.
Isis, an actress to the core, played the sweetly naïve star crossed lover. As she sat there, reading aloud, there wasn't a soul in the room who didn't believe that she was the innocent young Juliet.
When it was time for that first kiss between Romeo and Juliet, Seth looked up and winked at her. In response, Isis's hands tightened on the script and her next lines were read through gritted teeth.
"I trust that the gritted teeth are due to your being under the weather?" her professor said when she read through the next kiss with similar irritation.
"Yes, Professor Burbage," she replied, her head bowing like a penitent child.
"Alright then, carry on, Seth," the professor ordered, and the reading continued.
Professor Burbage was a tiny woman with pale skin, red hair and a high forehead. As the director of the play and the one who held everyone's lives in her tiny hands, she carried herself like royalty and had an affinity for blouses with big collars and puffy sleeves. She was cold and stern in nature, and treated the classroom as a fiefdom, and everyone bought it. When Elizabeth Burbage gave a command there was not a soul in the room who would dare disobey her. She never minded our presence in the class, for we have a talent for making ourselves invisible.
When the class took a break, Isis drank from her flask.
We couldn't help but giggle.
She didn't see or hear us of course, because we didn't want her to.
Seth — for his part — focused on the tilt of her throat as she drank, and the way her body arched when she stretched her back.
"I thought you were hungover? You know that whole 'bite back the dog' thing is just a myth, right?" Seth said.
Isis rewarded him with a glare. "Why can't you just leave me alone?"
Seth took her response as an invitation, and taking the seat beside her, he smiled into her bloodshot eyes. "Well for one thing, you and I are stuck together. For another I like you,"
Isis's disbelief was all over her face. Just when she thought she couldn't get any crankier... "Look Seth, it's not you, it's me. I don't like you," she said matter of factly.
"Why not? I'm a nice guy. I've got good teeth, stellar references, and I'm built," Seth flexed his muscles for emphasis.
Isis pretended not to notice, but as the aphrodisiac was beginning to take effect, she couldn't help herself. A spark of interest started in her belly, and she ruthlessly squashed it down.
"You're an asshole, and you pick on me all the time," she said finally, and before he could respond, she ran to the washroom.
It was at that moment that we three chose to make ourselves seen.
"You want some advice?" Jake asked him.
Seth stared at us as though he'd never seen us before. As recognition hit, we three couldn't help the smile.
"I don't know, plugging her friends is not my style," he said honestly, but we knew he was interested.
"None of your other tactics are working," Mel said succinctly.
"You're in love, and your lady fair hasn't a clue," Minerva continued.
Seth stared at the three of us with the kind of skepticism suggesting a modicum of intelligence. "Why would the three of you want to help me?"
"We know you'll be good to her," Jake said with a shrug.
"You'll help her relax — be less uptight," Mel added.
"And if you do not, your brother will pound you into a paste," Minerva smiled.
"Or Minerva will make a mix that will cause your sex organs to wilt and fall off," Mel said. Minerva smiled wider for emphasis.
Her words caused Seth and Jake to shiver in manly discomfort. Though Jake is one of us, he is still male.
"How can you help me?" Seth finally asked.
"With these words of wisdom," Mel said.
"The quickest way to amorous bliss, is through the sting of love's first kiss," Minerva said with an artistic wave of her arm.
Seth looked confused. "Can you say that in English?"
We stared at him in irritation.
"Fast with the body; slow with the soul, and you're guaranteed an ace in the hole," Jake said, frowning.
"Gotcha," Seth said, but then his eyes narrowed. "How am I supposed to make a move when I can't even get near her?"
"Are you a good kisser?" Mel asked.
"I've never had a complaint."
"And there are several kisses in this play, are there not?" Minerva prodded.
"Use that as your foot in the door. We'll take care of your paramour," Jake promised.
"You'll put in a good word for me?"
At this, we all smiled. "Something like that."
It was at that moment that we chose to make ourselves scarce again. Isis was returning from the restroom, and the teacher was resuming court.
The break was over — but the games had just begun.
It was a busy night at the MacKibbin's pub.
The band was playing a delightful mix of sixties, eighties, and nineties rock tunes, and Isis was pouring drinks with ease. From her post, she served beer and mixed fruity potions that would have been the envy of any Caribbean bartender. To us she would have made an excellent witch. Mixing alcoholic concoctions in such a way that you never tasted the liquor was one the few talents Isis admitted to, though we believe her gifts are more numerous, which is why she deserved our friendship and our help. As she handed out beverages, she smiled and flipped a bottle around in her free hand. Clad in a tank top that drew attention to the curve of her breasts, and make up to enhance her exotic features, she was a vision to every male she served. A dishtowel hung from the pocket of her jeans, and behind the bar was a bottle of water we treated with the same mixture as that in her flask.