Anyone can win the day, but strong women win the war.
They'd only been back in New York for a couple days when Eileen's new assistant called her.
She felt like she was going to see the principal, in a sense she was, and dressed extra neatly for her punishment. No, not punishment, exactly. All through the Previews she'd been good, professional. The parties – them she hadn't been able to face. But she wouldn't have been missed, just another face in the crowd. Even as a Shadow Marilyn, highlighted in Smash!, the only people who would have looked for her were in the cast, and understood.
It would be a small formal apology for the mix-up, what had happened. And then... Eileen would fire her, nicely. There had been enough going on replacing Karen in the ensemble, settling her in as Marilyn, to have to replace her as well. She hadn't even interacted with Karen, invisible in the shadows while Karen stood in the spotlight and held court in her new dressing room.
Without any other reason, firing her then would have been a pointless black mark (another one) on her career.
If Eileen was feeling guilty, and she might be, there would also be a promise to put in a good word when she looked for another job. After all, if she was going to break down again, it would have been there, in Boston.
That was something. She'd held it together. Eileen had taken a risk bringing her back into the show at all; she thought she hadn't betrayed her trust.
Pretty much, that was how the meeting went.
“Ivy, I'm glad you could make it.” Eileen, always an elegant, imposing figure, dominated the room, her desk, the piles of paper stacked neatly. “Take a seat.” She extended a hand as Ivy crossed the room, ushering her back to the couch.
She was going to be let down easy. Ivy sat very straight, hands crossed on her knees, and tried to regain the calm acceptance she'd been practicing ever since the call.
“First of all,” Eileen took an armchair across from her, “I wanted to apologize for what happened in Boston. None of us intended to put you in that position.”
She knew that was almost true. Eileen wasn't cruel and Tom had cried later in her room and Julia had looked sick and called her “sweetheart” for the first time.
“It's fine.” She'd practiced the smile in the mirror, bright but resigned. Professional. “I understand.”
Eileen pondered her for a minute, and Ivy was pretty sure she saw right through her. “I believe you do,” she said gently. “And I think you also know that I-”
“-Have to fire me.” She hadn't meant to blurt that out, just sit and listen and gracefully accept it, but waiting for the anvil was too hard, she needed it to be over with.
“Yes. It's not your fault, but we can't...”
When Ivy bowed her head against tears, she let the rest of the sentence trail off.
She couldn't be in the production because Karen was their star. In another show it might not have been a problem, but after all the drama, how it had played out, Karen wouldn't even have had to demand it. Ivy's presence would only be a continual distraction - a threat - meager as it would be.
God forbid Karen experience even a minute of what Ivy had had to deal with for her entire stint in the role.
Now would come her parting gift. Of course, if you need a recommendation... I know you'll have some trouble finding a job after what happened (delicately) in Heaven On Earth... I'd be more than happy to put in a word... You did some lovely work for us, if there's anything I can do...
She'd always be bitter, but she wasn't too proud to take the help.
“Now that Bombshell is well underway-”
Ivy's head shot up at the switch in tone. It was brisk, businesslike, this wasn't how it was supposed to go.
“It's time for me to start thinking about a second production. Show those stuffy old men I'm not a fluke.”
Ivy smiled cautiously, in sympathy, managing a little laugh. She'd always respected Eileen, from well before Bombshell. Opinions were split on who the genius had been - her or her husband – but either way she was a strong female in a position of power, one few women reached even in an industry where a woman was as likely as a man to reach fame on stage.
“I'm sure it will be brilliant,” just like Bombshell stuck in her throat. “I'll come to see it opening night.”
“In a sense.” Eileen tossed the rote compliment aside with a wave of her hand. “I want you to come with us, or I wouldn't have mentioned it; I'd be offering to help you get a job somewhere else. But you're too good to waste.”
Ivy sat very still. If she was being handpicked this early, then maybe it wasn't quite the ensemble she was being offered. Even if it was just a chance at something bigger, it was worth it. In the long run.
“Assuming you're willing to work with me again.” There was no real doubt behind the sentence, but it was an unexpected politeness.
It was never Eileen she'd blamed. No, that wasn't true. It was all Derek, his choices and his betrayals and his stupid assertions that since Ivy wasn't a star, she should be happy he noticed he when he had nothing else to do. Or no one else to- It was all Derek, except that Eileen was the producer, Eileen hadn't wanted Karen, not right then, and Eileen had fought only hard enough to give her a shred of hope. Then a hint of irritation directed at Karen, one Derek turned aside before it reached its target.
Eileen wasn't that strong. She was a strong woman in power, and Derek ran over her too.
Her hesitation was too long. Eileen was searching her face, as if she'd suddenly become interesting.
It didn't matter. She still liked Eileen. Beggers can't be choosers. Derek was... Derek. Of course she would say yes, except... us? Tom and Julia would be tied up for months. She couldn't survive that long, all too soon her meager savings would start wasting away into rent and classes and food. And if it was Derek, well, he'd be busy for just as long, and Eileen couldn't have missed enough of the gossip to offer her something under Derek. She couldn't take that, even to eat.
“No. I mean,” she tried to blink away all the pointless thoughts and fears. “I'd love to work for you.” The last word a little too emphasized.
Something Eileen caught, as her next words were a little too casual. “Actually, I would have brought you in anyway, but Lyle asked for you specifically.”
“Lyle?” She couldn't contain her surprise. “He wants me?” That sounded off and she blushed furiously, remembering their aborted bedroom tour. Maybe her life would be different if she had ended the night with Lyle, and not... The last she'd heard of Lyle, he'd been gushing over Karen's performance at the Previews. She was surprised he even remembered her.
“Yes.” Smiling kindly, Eileen walked around to sit beside her, picking up a folder from the table and smoothing it over her knee. “It seems he was quite taken with your performance at Derek's poor excuse for a birthday party.”
Ivy bit her lip to stifle a giggle or a sob. That really had been yet another time she made the wrong decision. That was the first time she really should have admitted what Derek was, and stop herself from thinking she would ever be anything more to him. But it had been fun, with Lyle, it had been endearing how uninterested he was in all the money and power around him, how engaging and nice he was and how he came alive at the piano. And the guitar.
“We were just having fun.”
“He wanted to ask you himself, but we couldn't find you after the show,” another decision coming back to haunt her, “and he had business in LA. But we agreed we shouldn't wait.”
And give her time to find another job? “When would it start?” Not the first question she should have, she wasn't proud of it, but her bank account balance was always in her mind.
“Very soon,” was a reassuring answer. “He's been working on it for a while, I didn't know anything about it until Boston.” That didn't make sense – unless he'd found himself in over his head, and needing a co-producer. “Table readings start in two weeks, and we'll start rehearsals in a month.”
That would be perfect. It wouldn't pay much, especially at the start, she'd still need other work, and it would be impossible to begin another ensemble job even if she could get one. But there were always waitressing jobs available. She could make ends meet.
Eileen waited patiently for her to process, again, this time with a small smile glowing off her cheekbones. The smile grew a little as Ivy came around to what ought to have been her first concern:
“What's the show?”
The envelope was placed in her hands. She pulled out the stack to reveal "Crazy For You" in bold lettering. She could see Lyle as Bobby, a natural fit but different enough from previous versions. He'd picked well, so much better than Rebecca had done. But then, he'd grown up on Broadway. No one could doubt it, "he'll be fantastic."
It took her a moment to notice whose script it was. Polly: Ivy Lynn.
"Contingent, of course, on you accepting the role, but I took a gamble on the ink."
"You want me to play Polly?" Not that she didn't think she could do it, the disbelief was because – it was a leading role. One she had always dreamed of doing, ever since she had seen Jodi Benson and Harry Groener play it on her tenth birthday. And it was literally being handed to her, falling into her lap. She never got anything so easily, as recent events only served to highlight.
"You can take a few days to think about-"
"No. Of course I want to do it." She hugged the script, uncomfortably aware she was acting like a three year old afraid their favourite toy was about to be taken away.
"Good. That's one more thing off my checklist. Like childbirth, you always seem to forget what's involved until you're doing it again." Ivy glanced at her curiously, almost sure she was joking. "Only with real childbirth, I never forgot."
Silent chuckles masked the silence. There was plenty left to ask and work out, but only one thing she almost needed to know right then.
"Why?" There were too many whys.
It was Eileen's answer, dispensed as she moved to install herself back at her desk, that made her glad she hadn't judged too harshly before. More than anything, it made her feel like the reason she wanted to like, and had always respected Eileen so much might be the reason Eileen liked her too. And that would mean a lot.
"Why not you? It's a hard business, you've been in it for a decade. I've been in it much longer. We see it every day." She stopped at the edge of the desk to look back. "Talent is everywhere. Real talent is scarcer." Pausing, she sat. "Talent who's willing to work hard and fight for themselves is scarcer still." She moved a pile in front of her." "But this is a business, and everyone, especially those of us in charge, have their own agendas and their own... whims."
She'd always wanted to earn it, not be a gimmick or the other side of a barter, sexual or otherwise. Only... Coming from Eileen, it felt like a type of respect. Like they were equals, professionally, and they could be honest. Most of Eileen's whims were calculated, even if Lyle's maybe weren't.
"Thank you." The meeting was over, she slid the – her – script into her bag and stood up. "I hope I won't disappoint you – either of you."
Something in that made Eileen smile, openly and almost fondly. Like she had before when-
"I'm banking on that."
Ivy's hand was on the doorknob when Eileen asked a final question.
Her shoulders stiffened, hand clenched. "I wouldn't know."
She didn't turn around, but she didn't need to. Approval laced through the response.
"Good for you."