The stage was a well of light that glared and froze in the blackness of the theater. The three of them were sitting nearly against the tall canvas of the set, pushed into a line on one side of the stage as though they were scrambling back from the dark, as far as possible. Richard’s script was getting wavery spots of paper where it softened and stretched around his fingers, clutching it too tight. April sat composed, serene, stiff. She was still talking.
“I never said that.” Was that line supposed to be funny? She was biting a smile as she waited for him.
“No,” he said, “I suppose you didn’t. I guess I just did, then.” The words thudded in time with his heartbeat.
“Alright, then. I do too.” April really smiled now, looking right at him. He gazed back, entranced.
Matt – the director – coughed, and Richard snapped straight and peered at his script. “That’s settled then. End scene.”
Matt read the stage directions, his words jamming together. He’d been ready to head home a half hour ago. April said, “You know, I think you’re the most interesting person I know. Funny, isn’t it?”
Richard summoned irritation. “What’s funny about that? What, you mean you’re surprised I’m interesting?”
April flashed him a smile, eyes narrowed. “I’m not surprised you’re so interesting, William darling. I’m surprised I’m so lucky as to be with you.”
“Oh, good,” he bluffed, aiming for humor. Funny was called for here, right? “I’m the most interesting person I know, too.” No, damn, that was wrong. Definitely wrong. Her eyes flickered down now, breaking from his.
“Yes, sweetheart.” That was weariness, he thought, that he detected in her voice. Exasperation, maybe. Or her character’s exasperation.
He assumed a contrite expression, pulling his eyebrows up and his lips down. Matt’s sigh whispered through the air, but Richard ignored it. “Oh, my love, I’m sorry. You know I do love you terribly.” He forgot for a moment that he was telling the muscles of his face how to act, and he stared at April with wide eyes. Surely she must see the emotion bare in them, the desperation clutching at him and the sorrow barely hidden.
The light gleamed in April’s eye, rinsing pale the blue of her eyes and glinting sharp white. Her eyelashes flicked down, and she said, “I do know, I do. I love you so dearly, I love you too. I do.”
Richard smiled and sat back, satisfied for a fleeting second. Then he remembered his line, “Well then, everything’s all fine, isn’t it?”
April smiled weakly at him and that scene ended too. This was their third run-through that evening and the whole rehearsal had been turmoil. He was nearly counting down the pages until they could be done and go home, but he was already dreading the moment when she would turn and walk with such nonchalance back to her car. Every time they got through this next scene, he felt as though he’d been crushed and twisted. He started it with the same heartiness – “My dear, I wish you’d done that sooner. Hadn’t we better go right away? Go on, get in the car, I’ll finish up here. You look so lovely.”
He would listen to her snap at him, halfhearted, and it twinged in his chest. The conversation would rise and fall, and when April’s voice rose she clutched at her skirt as though holding herself down. Otherwise, perhaps, the anger she conjured would propel her out of her chair and right out the room – off the stage. Finally he would say, defeated, “Yes, well, that’s all. That’s all I can do now. I know it’s not enough, I’m so sorry. I just don’t know what else.”
April smiled brightly at him and said, “Just don’t. Just don’t do anything. Please just stop.”
“I can’t. You know I can’t.”
The fight escalated here again. Her voice sounded shrill to his ears, grating, and he pretended he couldn’t hear her. His own voice was odd to his ears. It swooped and flew. “God, I can’t handle you anymore! I wish I were anywhere else right now.”
Her words were quiet then. She murmured them, her lips barely moving and her eyes fixed on his face. “Go then. Go be anywhere else. My god, can’t you tell by now? I can’t possibly love you. I’ve finally figured it out. Go on, leave.
The scene ended as he stalked out, and his baleful glares back at her were loosened and weakened by the pleading expression he couldn’t help. When he settled back into his chair, every time his body slumped as if suddenly let go. Thankfully that was close to the end, and when the play finished they could all go home.
Richard followed April outside, mesmerized by the tap of her heels on the linoleum before him. When they reached the parking lot, April turned to him. Her face was flat. “Night then, Richard. I’ll see you Sunday.” He nodded at her, numb, and opened his mouth to answer to her back as she swayed away. The words were still stuttering in his throat as the car chirped and she swung into the driver’s seat.
Her headlights flared bright into Richard’s dazed eyes, and as he fumbled with his keys he turned away. The sudden overwhelming darkness blinded him for a long moment.