Chapter Six

Jami's new cellphone buzzed where it lay on her desk, next to her trackball. She grabbed it. The only person who called her was Carys.

"Hello?"

"Hi, Jami-love. Wasn't the cellphone a good idea?"

"Yes, demonstrably. It's nice being able to talk to you so easily. What's up, dear heart?"

"Guess what? There are auditions Tuesday at Riverfront for what sounds like a neat thing. This season they're doing a series of staged readings of what they call Historic Moments in Theater. The idea is to pick plays that are historically significant, but wouldn't have the draw to justify staging them as full productions. So they're doing them as staged readings, which means you don't have to completely memorize the lines. One weekend, three performances, and a very low ticket price.

"Each play has a different director. Part of what they're doing is to give more people a chance to work at Riverfront. It'd be kind of like what my script writing class did, except that this is a full script, and it'll be rehearsed for several weeks. The buzz is that this play has some kind of queer content, and the director wants to work with younger performers. Will you go with me?"

"You mean to watch?"

"You could audition, too, Jami! Wouldn't it be a blast to be in a play together? This would be the perfect way to get your feet wet."

"This is kind of sudden, Carys." Be in a play with people she didn't know? In front of an audience? Maybe. She did want to start doing more stuff, getting out more and doing things with other people.

"I know it's sudden, hon, but I just found out about it. Something else seems to have been engaging most of my attention lately. (This is where you're supposed to say, 'my blushes,' Jami.) You don't have to audition. Just come with me and see what it's like. The audition is at 7:00 and we could go somewhere and eat after. If we catch a #1 bus at 6:00 we'd be fine; Riverfront is just a block from a stop. How about it? Can you get away Tuesday evening?"

"My blushes? You know I'd drop everything to go with you, Holmes. I'll do it!" This is scary, thought Jami. Or is it exciting? What's the difference between scary and exciting? Wanting it to happen? Like when Carys and I touch each other? That's scary when it happens, but thinking about it happening again isn't scary, it's exciting.

"That's my Watson! Let's meet at our usual stop a little before 6:00, on Tuesday. I'm making a note in my planner."

"Okay, Carys, but you need to tell me a lot more about this before then. I haven't even been to a play there in a year or so."

"Then why don't we go see the current play at Riverfront this weekend? I'll call and reserve tickets for Friday night, if I can. We can go out to dinner, after, at a real restaurant."

"Sure, that'd be great. Do you mean dress up and make it like a date?"

"Yes, lets!" Carys thought a moment. "What will you wear, Jami?"

"A dress, of course. Nothing too fancy. But since I usually wear jeans, any dress is dressing up."

"What would you like me to wear? The deerstalker and cape would not be quite the thing, and I don't own a top hat."

"Whatever you want, except your clown costume."

"No, no. That wouldn't be fair, to perform at someone else's performance. Not cool at all. I must be subtle."

"I don't suppose you could just be yourself, goon."

"But who am I? The problem is that dress attire tends to be heavily gendered, with an insufficient number of genders from which to choose."

"Do you have a dress, Car?"

"Oh, sure. A closet full of them, lovingly purchased by my mother in hopes I would wear them."

"Wear what you're comfortable wearing, then."

"Zoiks! What a sensible solution! No wonder I love you." She was silent for a moment. "Uh, Jami?"

"Yes?"

"Friday, if it's Friday, how about if I walk over to your house, get you, and we walk back to my house for a little while before we leave for the Theatre? My parents want to meet you."

"What do your parents know about me, Car?"

"Not as much as your parents know about me, that's for sure!"

"Carys, do your parents know that we're more than just friends?"

"I've been trying to make that clear to them, but I don't think they really want to understand. They resist doing the math: Carys is in the GSA. Carys hangs out with a queer crowd. Carys has been spending all her free time with a particular girl and has an acute case of verbal diarrhea on the subject of Jami. Carys has been humming silly tunes and grinning like an idiot. Any sensible person would add that up and realize that Carys must be in love with Jami. Seems obvious to me, but they are being oblivious, instead."

Jami let out a sigh. "So this could be uncomfortable, meeting them?"

"No, well, yes, but not in a violent way. They'll be polite. Probably a little chilly. Don't expect a big hug, like your mom gave me."

"Okay. Is this going to cause problems for you?"

"They have to come to terms with who and what I am at some point. I'll be okay. I graduate in two months, and I'm already eighteen. What can they do?"

"Kick you out on the street?"

"Uh, there is that, I suppose. I guess I better practice my busking skills."

"Your what?"

"I can play the guitar, sing and dance while people throw coins in my hat. Busking. But it won't happen. You'll see."

* * *

Despite Carys's repeated assurances that her parents would behave themselves, Jami had major stomach cramps most of the day Friday. She was dressed by 4:00, then went downstairs with a book to sit and wait for Carys.

"Jami, you haven't turned a page in ten minutes."

"Oh, hi, Mom." Jami closed the book and laid it on the coffee table. "Does it look like my stomach is twisted in knots and I'm about ready to scream?"

"Now that you mention it, yes." Her mother sat next to her on the sofa. "But you also look very nice. I like that dress."

"I'm sure I look okay. I doubt that Carys much cares what I wear. It's her parents I'm worried about."

"You may be surprised, both by Carys's reaction, and by her parents. Don't borrow trouble, honey." She smiled, but silently shared Jami's worries about Carys's parents.

The doorbell rang, just a touch, which was Carys's signature. "I'll get it!" Jami sprang up and ran to open the door.

Carys stepped inside, holding a small bouquet of real flowers, not at all wilted. Jami closed the door. Anne remained in the living room, but stayed where she could watch.

"I brought flowers, Jami. But they look kind of pathetic, held next to you." An enormous grin took over Carys's face, and her eyes moistened. "I'm trying to think of something to say about how you look that won't get me arrested."

"You have such a way with words, darling." Jami looked her over. "I like your duds, especially the dress boots. You put me in mind of a certain attractive Canadian chanteuse. Not that you don't outshine her in every possible way."

"You haven't heard me sing."

Jami stepped closer, tugged gently on Carys's lapel. "What you do with those lips is much better than singing." They kissed.

Anne quickly walked into the hall to take the flowers before they fell on the floor. "Don't mind me. Why don't you two go sit for a bit? I'm going to get Ted so he can see how wonderful the two of you look together."

Carys and Jami sat on the sofa, holding hands and mostly just looking at each other. Anne returned with Ted, who insisted they stand for a picture. "I won't bother asking you to smile. You'll bleed if you smile any wider. You each look great, and you both look fantastic!"

The four of them talked for a few minutes about plays, then Carys and Jami left to walk to Carys's house. Anne and Ted watched them from the front door.

"I want so badly for them to have the chance to be happy," said Anne.

"Unfortunately that old saying, 'you and me against the world,' is all too true for people like them." Ted closed the door.

Jami and Carys didn't talk much on the way to Carys's house. The few people they encountered smiled at them. If there were any double-takes, they went unnoticed. When they arrived at her house, Carys took Jami into the den, asked her to sit, and went to find her parents.

When Carys returned with her parents, Jami stood, smiling the best she could. Carys made the introductions, then sat with Jami on the couch. Mr. and Mrs. Douglas sat, stiffly, in their usual chairs.

"Jami is going to have an exhibit of her photographs at the Art Gallery later this month," said Carys, trying to supply a safe topic for conversation.

Mr. Douglas seemed surprised. "You take pictures?"

"Yes, sir. I've been taking pictures since I could hold a camera. There are several photos of Carys in this exhibit."

"Of Carys?" said her mother.

"As Lovelorn, the clown. From the Arts Camp."

"Oh."

After ten minutes of this kind of forced conversation, Carys stood up and announced they were leaving. She pulled Jami out the front door. As they walked toward the bus stop, she said, "That could have been worse, Jami. Don't freak."

"Are they always like that?" Jami was appalled.

"It's okay. We aren't going to spend a lot of time with my parents."

"I guess not."

"You have no idea how special it is that you get along with your parents, Jami. I still can't completely believe it and relax around them."

"I know, but they understand."

"That is exactly the point. They understand. My parents? If they ever were our age, it was on some other planet. The planet of the uptight hets." They had reached Grand River Avenue and were close to the bus stop. "Don't worry about them, Jami. I can handle them."

"I believe you. I'm just sorry."

"It's okay. Oh, no! There's the bus. Run!"

They made it to the stop, waving and laughing. They gulped air after they found seats, catching their breaths. If anyone on the bus sent bad vibes their way, they simply bounced off.

They enjoyed the play, had a lovely dinner at Beggar's Banquet back in East Lansing, and paid attention to very little beyond each other. Subconsciously they were each aware that there were many places they could have gone where they might have been in trouble. They were already developing the instincts to avoid such places.

* * *

Tuesday at 6:00 Carys and Jami boarded a mostly empty bus. They swiped their cards and took a seat on a bench by the rear door, so they could sit as close as possible to each other.

"Okay, Car, I'm trying to psych myself up to actually audition. What am I going to have to do?"

"Okay. This isn't a regular play, so this may not be a regular audition, but usually the director reads people for specific roles, often more than one role. He'll have a group of people read a page or two from a scene, though he may have only one or two people read the roles for which he's considering them.

"In professional theater actors usually do prepared monologues, but the assumption there is that they can learn whatever the director asks of them. In community theater you're working with the actual script at auditions. Sometimes the director asks for some character expression, if you're being considered for a role that is, say, a different age, or a werewolf, or whatever."

Jami nodded. "I've never done anything like this. Don't I need to have been in a school play or something before?"

"Nope. New people get involved with community theater all the time. Everyone has at least something of an actor inside somewhere."

Tilting her head back and forth to have a dialog with herself, Jami said, "Hey, you! Any experience? Me? Oh, ah, I've performed the role of relatively normal girl all my life. Hmm, you do seem passable; I guess we'll give you a chance!"

"Jami," chided Carys, "this will be fun. And educational."

"Oh, well, if it's educational, by all means. Onward!"

"Great. Our stop is next."

They exited the bus, walked to the light, crossed Michigan Avenue, and doubled back to the stairs down to the riverwalk.

"So what play is this we're auditioning for?"

"It's called The Captive, but I've never heard of it."

"Did you Google it?"

"Oh, Jami. I'm not connected around the clock like you are. I've been too busy. Give me a break!"

"How did you hear about it?"

"David called me. The other clown from my school, remember?"

"I thought you bit his head off?"

"I apologized and explained, sort of. Which reminds me. We need to talk sometime about whether I should tell anyone about you."

Jami knew what she meant; about being intersexed. "Not yet, but eventually. You and I need to be completely comfortable about it first, I think, and we're not rushing that, right?"

"Right. So I didn't say anything, and I won't, until you say it's okay."

Arriving at Riverfront, they were told to go to the rehearsal hall and check in. Carys knew her way around, and took Jami down a long dark hallway to a large, high-ceilinged room. "This whole building was once an abandoned warehouse. They've spent more than a million dollars over the last fifteen years fixing it up."

They wrote their names and phone numbers on a sign-in sheet and accepted packets of information and scripts from the woman seated at a small table by the door.

"Write your first name only, big and bold, on a nametag," said the woman, whose own nametag read 'Mandy.' Derick and I need to be able to tell who's who."

There was a row of chairs arranged along the wall. Carys and Jami took seats at the far end. They said hello to David as they walked along the row. Neither of them knew anyone else.

Jami looked through the information packet while Carys scanned the script. Not too long after they sat down, a tall, lanky man stood up from where he'd been sitting to the side and walked over to stand in front of the row of chairs.

"Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I'm going to talk a little bit about what we're doing, while any last minute stragglers arrive.

"My name is Derick Hefler, and I'm the director. The woman by the door, Mandy, is my assistant director and stage manager. We both have some experience in community theater, though this is my first time directing. That's part of the rationale of this series, to give people a chance to try new things.

"The play we're doing is The Captive, by Edouard Bourdet. It first opened in Paris, then in an English language translation on Broadway, both in 1926. It is the first major modern play to treat the subject of lesbianism. Though it is extremely tame by current standards, it was a shocker in its time because the woman, Irene, is presented as clearly preferring her female lover to her husband.

"We see a lot of Irene in the play, but never the woman she falls in love with. In fact we never learn the other woman's first name. So there are no scenes containing two lesbian women, only ones showing the effects of Irene's involvement on the other people in her life.

"There are nine roles. Three are servants with relatively short times on stage and few lines. There are two major roles with tons of lines. The remaining four roles have fewer lines, but are still fairly large parts. Three acts, no scenes. Lots of dialog and not much action, as was typical of this time period, so it's a good choice for a staged reading.

"We'll see how things go this evening. If we end up short, Mandy and I will take the roles of the two servants who have only a handful of lines. But then again, one of those roles may be just what one of you is looking for to get your feet wet. I'll ask those folks to also take care of the props and set pieces."

He looked at his watch, then at the 15 people seated along the wall of the rehearsal hall. "Okay, it looks like this is it. I'm casting this play from the people who are here tonight. I'll start reading people, trying things out, narrowing things down, until at the end the folks who I have left reading is the cast for the play.

"If at any time during this process you decide you're no longer interested, please go to Mandy and let her know. Then you may leave, if you wish. Are there any questions?"

One young man raised his hand. Derick nodded at him.

"So by the time we leave tonight, we'll know whether we have a part? And you need us to accept before we leave?"

Derick nodded. "Yes. We begin rehearsing Friday. Look at the schedule in the packet you picked up from Mandy when you signed in. We only have three weeks to rehearse this, so you absolutely must be able to be at every rehearsal."

David had a question. "I just want to make sure I understand this. A staged reading means that although we aren't going to completely memorize our lines, we do assume the character's personality, and we move and interact like in a regular play?"

"Exactly! We're going to rehearse much like a regular play, but not take it to the point of lines due."

Carys raised her hand. "This was done in the 1920's? Are we going to do that era, the flapper style and all?"

"We're using minimal sets and costumes in this series," said Derick. "In this play the set is inconsequential, it's very much a talking play. But if we can pull it off without extreme effort—remember, we have only a few weeks to put this on stage and no budget—it would be a good idea to suggest the time period." He picked up a book from the table. "Here's a publicity still from the Broadway performance. The woman here is Françoise, Jacque's mistress, with Jacques."

Carys leaned forward to look. "Oh, my God! That's Basil Rathbone!"

"Yes, it is. I said this was a major play in its time. Totally forgotten now. Any other questions?" No one responded.

"Okay. While you're sitting there looking at the materials, I'm going to walk back and forth and look at you. The first set of people I'm reading I will pick purely on physical type."

Derick continued to talk as he paced back and forth before the row of chairs. "In the first scene we have Irene, the lesbian woman; Irene's younger sister, Giselle; Mademoiselle Marchand, Giselle's governess; and Montcel, the father of Giselle and Irene." He continued to walk back and forth for a few moments, then picked four people to take their scripts and read. David, Carys's clown friend, was reading Montcel, and Jami, to her surprise, Irene.

"We'll start at the top of page five, and go through page six. Giselle is 17 and a little snotty, but she adores her older sister. Irene is 25, sophisticated, but unusual. Their father is at least 50, a career diplomat. The governess once had charge also of Irene, so she must be at least 40."

The four read the two pages, Derick listening intently and making notes. "Thank you. Jami and David, begin in the middle of page 6, after Giselle exits. This is an argument, so show some passion. The other two may sit down again."

Jami and David read their parts.

"Okay, that's enough. Thank you. Jami, stay there. Let's try Luis as Jacques. Go ahead to Act Two, page 50. Begin."

They continued for some forty minutes, then Derick called a break. "There is a drinking fountain and bathrooms in the lobby, the way you came in. Take a short break, then get back here. We're not done yet." He sat down to talk with Mandy.

Jami sat down next to Carys. "He's had me reading Irene all along. Does that mean he wants me for that role?"

"It sure seems like it. What do you think?"

"It is kind of fun, but I'm really dry. Let's go get some water."

When everyone had returned, Derick quieted them down. "All right. We've lost a few people, so I have, let's see, 11 people left out of which to cast 9 roles. Jami, I'm very happy with you as Irene. Are you okay with that?"

"I think so," said Jami. "This is the first time I've ever done anything like this, though, so I'll have to take your word that I'm doing okay."

"You're doing great. Now I need to work on casting Jacques and Françoise. These three are something of a triangle. We are short on males. Uh, Carys? Would you consider reading for some of the male roles? I think you have the stature and the voice to carry it off, if it's okay with you."

"No problem. I've done male roles before." She winked at Jami, who smiled back.

"Okay, thanks. Then let's try David as Jacques, and Carys, I'll try you as Montcel in a while if that works out." They began again. Derick tried several combinations of people reading for the major roles, but didn't seem to be satisfied with any of them.

After a while Derick asked everyone to sit. "Something's just not clicking here. Sit tight while I talk with Mandy for a minute." Derick and Mandy huddled, talking about possibilities, then Derick came back to the group. "There's one thing we haven't tried. Carys, would you read Jacques, please?"

"Of course."

"Let's give this a try then. First do pages 34 and 35, with Rachel as Françoise, then pages 50 and 51 with Jami as Irene."

Carys, Jami and Rachel stood up and read those pages.

Derick nodded to himself, seeming more pleased. "Okay, thanks. Please sit down." He looked back and forth from his clipboard to the people sitting along the wall.

"What do you think, Mandy?" asked Derick. "I think this works." Mandy nodded agreement. Derick looked around. "Anyone have objections? Can we go with this?" Everyone nodded.

"Okay! Mandy, please read the cast list we have so everyone is clear on who's playing who."

Mandy read through the list, slowly so people could make notes.

"Wonderful," said Derick. "For the two of you I didn't cast, Elena and Shay, I have a proposal. I assume you can make all the rehearsals?" They nodded. "Good. Would you like to run lights and sound for the show? You won't have a lot to do, lights up and down for the three acts and the intermission, some doorbells and phone rings. But it'll give you a chance to learn the equipment a little, and it does need to be done."

Elena and Shay agreed willingly. They were juniors from Everett High School, obviously friends, and happy to be involved.

"Great. Then you eleven folks, plus Mandy and yours truly, are the cast and running crew for this production of The Captive!

"Thank you all very much! Everyone, please read through the entire script by Friday. Think about your character. We'll talk about the process some more then, and go through the entire play so I can give you notes on your characters. If you come up with questions while you're reading, please write them down for Friday. You'll keep these scripts, and we'll read from them Friday, but then you'll each also receive a set of pages tailored to your character."

Everyone dispersed quickly then, most heading to their cars.

"Hey, you two!" said David. "Need a ride?"

Jami and Carys glanced at each other. "No thanks, David," said Carys. "I think we'll take the bus and walk."

David gave them a thumbs up. "I understand. Be safe. See you tomorrow at school, Carys."

Jami and Carys walked out into the cool evening air, headed for the riverwalk and up to Michigan Avenue to the bus stop at the top of the stairs.

"So what do you think, Jami? Excited?"

"I have this problem with not being able to tell excited and scared apart. One or the other, or both. This is all very sudden. I don't usually do sudden things."

"How long did it take you to fall in love with me, Jami?"

"I'm not falling in love with theater."

"That could happen, though," said Carys.

"It could. But right now I'm starving. Where are we going to eat?"

"Burgers, pizza, or Mexican?"

"Mexican! How about we take the bus back to East Lansing and go to El Az?"

"Great! Then we can walk home."

"I'll walk you to your house, and you walk me to my house?"

"Sorry, Jami. I was daydreaming, I guess."

"It's kind of dark for that."

Carys gave Jami a playful swat. "No, dummy. I sometimes fall into thinking that you and I are, how shall I say, living happily ever after?"

They'd reached the bus stop, and were alone there. Jami snuggled into Carys. "I think I can hear your heart pounding, Car. You mean you think about us living together?"

"The thought has crossed my mind. Like constantly."

"Then I think it's something we should add to our things to have a serious talk about. Soon, before the list gets too long. I'm finished with my homeschool program, and you graduate in a couple of months."

"Does that mean you aren't just going to say, 'no, that's silly, Carys,' and ask me to get out of your life?"

"Have I slapped you yet? Come on, Car. I'm the one who's insecure. Why are you worried?"

"I'm worried that you'll decide that I can't handle the stuff you're insecure about and look for someone else."

Jami thought for a moment. "Okay, you're right. I'm not being fair. We need to talk this out so I can stop saying that there are these big issues we still have to talk about. Right?"

"It is kind of rough on me, feeling like some kind of judgment day or something has to happen before I can feel halfway certain about our relationship."

"It's nothing like that!"

"It probably isn't, like the Friday at Arts Camp wasn't. But that wasn't much fun, either."

"Then we'll talk this weekend, okay? But don't doubt that I love you."

"I try." They continued to hold each other until they saw the bus come around the corner and head toward their stop. They were mostly silent on the ride, holding hands and thinking. They got off at the Union, crossed Grand River Avenue, and walked to the restaurant.

Their dinner discussion was mostly about theater. Carys was excited about the play and about their being in the cast together. Jami was realizing how much of the next month she'd be spending in rehearsal and working with people she didn't know yet, and beginning to feel more than a little nervous about that.

"It'll be fine, Jami. We'll always be together, and besides, theater people tend to be a pretty open-minded and accepting lot. It's more than a stereotype that there are a lot of queer people in theater."

"I'm not worried about that. I just tend to be nervous around new people. I don't know what to say."

"That's okay, too. It's not unusual for performers to be shy, with reclusive tendencies."

"Great. I'll fit right in."

"Really! A lot of people who have a public voice; actors, writers, artists of all kinds, are like that. It's like they save all their energy for performance or creation and economize on their interpersonal interactions."

"But you're not like that."

"Carys the motormouth? We can't all be the strong, silent type. Some of us have to speak up and make things happen. That doesn't mean I'm always at ease doing so, but once I get myself in a situation, talking seems to be the thing to do."

"Whereas I'm reluctant to even get myself in a situation in the first place. I'm not adventurous, outgoing, driven to do things like you are."

"That's okay, Watson. I'll get us in trouble, you simply follow behind with a loaded camera."

"Life has been much more interesting since I've known you, Holmes, that is for certain."

"My blushes now, Watson. Please pass the honey."