“I thought your Aunt Mitzi was going to collapse when I suggested Pippin
,” I said with a laugh.
Denise giggled. “I’m glad you won that battle, at least. I used to watch the seventies movie of it all the time. I didn’t realize how bad
“Almost made them grateful for Sweeney Todd
.” I sipped on my Honeyed Fox and turned my face up to the sun. I’d elected not to start the day’s chores until the new crop of summer recruits arrived. Denise was technically too young to work for the Playhouse, but since she was related to the Abercrombie sisters, she was allowed to hang out. Which would’ve annoyed me if she weren’t so damn helpful—not to mention talented. It wasn’t often a Broadway voice came through West Virginia’s northern panhandle, but she just might’ve been one.
We didn’t need to use power tools for anything today, so whatever. A beer wouldn’t kill me.
“I think Mitzi must not even know what it’s about, or you never would’ve gotten that past her.” Denise paused. “Do I even want to know how we’re gonna build that barber chair?”
“If you figure it out, tell me. Working on a few ideas, but nothing solid.” Just as I said that, a car appeared at the end of the gravel road. To get to the Playhouse, visitors have to drive through a few miles of gorgeous rolling park, complete with golf courses, public pool, and duck pond bobbing with paddle boats. And there it is: a gigantic two-story barn, slightly in need of re-siding, but otherwise in great shape.
It served as the local summer-stock theater. Obviously. Currently with me lounging on the ramp to the upstairs—read, the theater stage and house proper—in cutoffs and a tank top, and Denise on the stairs across from me in a bikini top and track pants.
“Whose car is that?” Denise sat up straighter to peek through the railing. “Is Cy coming back?”
“Yeah. I thought you knew,” I said. “Is that his car?”
“Uh, yeah. Hottie pants.” She was clearly enraptured by the sight of the raggedy old Toyota.
“He’s your Anthony,” I said. She’d landed the part of the yellow-haired milksop Johanna and couldn’t be more pleased. Except, of course, that Cy was playing her starry-eyed beau.
“Well, he was in stuff
last year. He didn’t live here,” she said.
“Lucky us,” I mumbled under my breath.
But sure enough, skinny white boy Cy Nowak emerged from the driver’s side…and he’d even grown Pippin hair. Oh God. It was almost to his shoulders, curly, brown, and shiny. So very painfully seventies.
“You know they did a revival, right?” I pointed out. “You could’ve gone with modern hair, if you’re angling for the part.”
“The music’s so seventies, though,” he drawled, stretching his long, lanky form like he’d been cooped up in that car for days. “’Sup, Lily? Good to see you, girl.”
We’d been in Children of Eden
together last summer. God, I hated that show, but it had drawn in the religious types, which the council had deemed both moral—unlike my picks this year—and good for business. And the music wasn’t bad, I guessed.
Yeah, it had been so good
for business that we could only afford four shows this summer, apparently.
“Yeah? Looking forward to spending your summer in a trailer that’s falling apart?” I took another long drink of my beer. For the record, I am not one of those assholes who makes fun of trailers; trailers are awesome affordable housing, and anyone who says otherwise has immediately pegged themselves as an overprivileged dick in my books. But this particular trailer was someone’s rickety cast-off on cinderblocks behind a barn in a state park. You can imagine the state of it.
“You got more beer, I’ll spend my summer wherever you want,” he said with a lazy chuckle. That was the thing about Cy—I could never tell if he was actually constantly high or just sounded like it. The fact that he generally bathed in patchouli didn’t help. Was it the oil, or did I detect a faint lingering smell of cannabis? Oh, the mystery.
I was so busy greeting him with snark that I only just noticed the starlet-pretty, petite black girl who popped out of the passenger side. Which was remarkable, since she was lovely—and somehow familiar. The kink in her dark, bouncy hair was one hundred percent natural, unlike Cy’s knock-off perm. Large, honey-colored doe eyes surveyed the barn—not with wonder or judgment or anything else I expected to see there, just surveying.
“You must be Genevieve,” Denise said, tearing her gaze off Cy for long enough to hold out her hand to the new girl. “I’m Denise. I don’t work here, technically. I should, but I’m not eighteen yet.”
Genevieve took her hand and squeezed it. “Oh, you’re our Johanna?”
Denise nodded happily and glanced at Cy, probably hoping he looked pleased. But his face was buried in his back seat now. Denise managed not to look too disappointed as she said, “Right. Are you in it, or are you a techie like Lily?”
Genevieve looked at me as she took her hand back, smiled, and said, “Hi.”
“Hey,” I replied, feeling incredibly stupid. I honestly just hadn’t expected her to be so…pretty.
“I’m the Beggar Woman,” Genevieve said, returning her attention to Denise. “Nice to meet you, daughter.”
“That’ll be a change. You’re used to being the starlet, Genny,” Cy piped up, standing with bags draped all over.
Then it hit me. “Velma Kelly. In Chicago
.” Shae had done it at Trinity last fall, and I’d stared at the star all night. Partly because she was beautiful but also because she was incredible. A set of pipes like I hadn’t heard in a long time, and holy shit, the girl could dance.
Her smile was quiet somehow, but it lit up her face. “Yes. You saw it.” She sounded pleased.
I nodded. “I try to see all the shows Shae does. Did she bring you out to show you around before she offered you the job?”
Genevieve shook her head no.
“Cy, let me help you put your stuff in the trailer.” Denise trotted off after him.
“Just leave mine if you want,” Genevieve said, already starting toward me. “Was that an offer?”
Before I could answer, Cy called back, “We got it. Go ahead!”
So I nodded and gestured for her to follow. “Welcome to the Playhouse, Genevieve.”
“Genny’s fine,” she said. “Or Gen. I’ll answer to whatever; Genevieve’s damn long.”
I smiled. “It’s pretty.” Yeah, okay, I was being a lot sweeter than I normally was, but… So pretty. Not just the name. It made me a little self-conscious, though not for myself. For my Playhouse. “So is it what you expected?”
“Shae told me it was a barn.” She glanced around as we entered the wide open lobby. It was cement-floored, slightly cracked here and there, with old, rough-hewn load-bearing pillars all that interrupted the space. At the west end were the public restrooms; at the east, the wall that divided the private area from this larger public space. Huge arches in the siding allowed the breeze, when it turned up, to flow through—a blessing on hot summer nights during intermissions, but not usually all that helpful midday while building, painting, and otherwise sweating our asses off. The box office had been built out of plywood and painted a dark red to match the roof and was settled against the south wall. Its little window was shut tight, and the swinging doors on the side were wide open in case the phone rang. “I didn’t think it’d be this big.”
That was a decent answer, at least. Not exactly glowing, but definitely not put off.
“When I was a kid, we somehow got the idea it was used during the Civil War to store munitions. It totally wasn’t. It was, like, an apple barn or something.” I snorted.
“You grew up around here,” she said—not exactly a question.
“Mm-hm. Every summer, I was right here, painting flats and getting in trouble with power tools.”
“You must love it,” she said with a tiny, sweet smile. “You sound like you do.”
I shrugged, suddenly uncomfortable, and led the way back into the shop. “It’s home.”
“Do you stay here? In the trailer?”
“Usually, in the summer. I—um, I have a place downtown.” A whole house, actually, with three apartments, not counting my own in the attic, to manage. “But this is kind of a twenty-four-hour gig. Especially on weekends.”
She was quiet for a moment, taking it all in. The shop behind the partition of the east wall, basically an extra-wide hallway where we stacked flats, spare lumber, and crusty paint cans. Tools hanging on one side, wood standing up against the other. Just beyond that, the kitchen, and at the end of the hall, the dressing rooms.
“We don’t actually build things in here
, obviously,” I explained. “We take them out on the grass if we’re painting or if it’s going to get messy. Otherwise we just repurpose the lobby. It’s more storage than an actual shop.”
She nodded and smiled, then wandered toward the kitchen with its dilapidated cabinets—a donation from a kind patron who was redoing their kitchen two decades ago—and ancient fridge. Funny, because I hardly ever noticed how crap everything we had was until someone new came in; then I felt like I had to defend it.
I bit my tongue as she poked around. Then she asked, “Do we take turns cooking?”
“Yeah, though sometimes people bring us dinner, which is nice. Patrons and donors, that kind of thing.”
“That’s sweet,” she said. From most people it would’ve seemed almost patronizing, but from her it was just stating a fact, somehow.
“We have a food budget every week. I usually did the shopping last year, but we can all go, or Shae will do it.”
She glanced down at my hand. “Does it include beer?” Her grin was bright and straight, an absolute starlet grin.
What the hell was this girl doing here
all summer? She should be in New York or at least Pittsburgh. Damn. Serious star quality—onstage and apparently off.
Or…I was just biased because she was pretty and being sweet.
Probably both. Yeah. Both.
“Technically, no; practically, yes,” I said with an answering smile. Like I could help it.
Look, it had been a while. Since I’d dropped out of college, meeting people of the appropriate age and interests was kind of rough. Brookesville wasn’t exactly a hot spot, and it felt strange to be going out to Trinity parties all the time. Besides, there were always things I’d rather be doing. Like organizing my pantry or doing my taxes.
No, really. I hate parties. Except the Playhouse ones, where I was surrounded by My People.
After Genevieve poked at the kitchen for a while, I led her back through the shop to the dressing room and costume storage. The entire space was about the size of a large dining room, divided in the middle by a surprisingly sturdy plywood wall that didn’t go all the way to the ceiling. Both men’s and women’s (binarist, I know, but we make sure people go where they’re most comfortable, and everyone’s cool about it) were sealed off by old musty curtains and packed with racks of costumes on one side, lined with mirror and counter on the other. In the men’s, Gen picked up a feathered Three Musketeers-style hat and placed it on top of her curls, then struck a ridiculous pose for the mirror.
“Too cute,” I said with a laugh.
“You think?” She waggled her eyebrows at me in the mirror and grinned.
too cute.” I smirked just a little.
Her grin melted into something smirky too. One more eyebrow waggle, and suddenly I knew she was flirting right back at me.
My hopes for the summer lifted just a little.