Somewhere in the haze of disorientation that came with waking up after way too many shots of tequila, Margaret realised she wasn't in her own bed. More importantly, she wasn't alone.
The man dozing beside her had gorgeously mussed blond hair, at least, though his face was buried in the pillow. She supposed he was good-looking. Even if she couldn't really remember the night before, one of Margaret's Rules of Order was that, no matter how ill-advised the hookup in a general sense, she never slept with unattractive men.
He turned and let out a small snore. Margaret caught her breath in relief. She hated breaking her own rules and it was always gratifying to know that, even in the fathomless depths of drunkenness and lust, some rational part of her had still been in charge. Shifting to her other side, she caught sight of her watch on the bedside table and reached for it.
She sighed. It really was a new height of pathetic to miss the stomach-churning panic associated with having been late to rehearsal on account of a drunken stupor. Not that anyone in the theatre was a stranger to drunken stupors. Or lateness. Or sleeping with men whose names she couldn't remember.
When she looked back at him, he was looking at her.
"You told me you were an actress, right?"
"Do you say that to all the women you wake up with?"
"Only the ones who mentioned it the night before," he said, grinning. "I'm right, aren't I?"
"That I'm an actress? Theoretically, yes. In practice...less so." Tucking another pillow under her head gave her the opportunity to look around a bit, and she frowned. "Are we in a hotel?"
Not that she wanted to pull the post-coital version of a Dine-and-Dash, but Margaret's precarious bank balance wouldn't survive a hotel bill. As if he'd figured out what she was thinking, he held out one hand. "Relax. It's paid for."
"By you?" Maybe he was one of those crazy investment bankers who could throw away $500 on a hotel room and forget about it. But those guys wouldn't be caught dead in the bar where Margaret had met him.
"Nah. Audition expenses."
"I'm getting you an audition." He glanced up at the clock. "Today at noon. Asterisque Theatre."
"Because I slept with you?" Margaret stared at him, caught between indescribable rage and the still, small voice that reminded her that rent was coming due and her resume was just a few more months shy of becoming completely obsolete. She resolved to slap him afterward. Except he'd probably enjoy it. "I thought the casting couch was metaphorical."
"Look. Take it or leave it. I've got nothing to lose by bringing you in for an audition. Maybe if it went well you'd have dinner with me?"
"You're doing things a bit out of order, you know." Margaret narrowed her eyes, unsure of how literally to take a guy who had just offered her an audition after sleeping with her. "I think you must be new to this whole one-night-stand thing."
He looked oddly embarrassed. "I kind of am, actually."
And that was when Margaret saw the wedding ring. "You fuck."
"It's not what you--"
"I can't believe this." She snatched up bits and pieces of clothing and stomped to the bathroom. "You sleep with girls and offer them auditions and you're cheating on your wife?"
"That's a simplistic assessment of a complicated situation..."
"Doesn't sound complicated to me," snapped Margaret as she struggled into her underwear. Oh, God, she had bruises on her neck and she didn't have time to get home and find a scarf. The sex must have been incredible. Pity she couldn't remember it. Or, maybe not such a pity considering what a jerk he'd turned out to be.
"My wife doesn't care. She's never home anyway. If it isn't downtown, it's Dubai or Switzerland or God knows where. She just wants someone she can introduce to her boss at the company party. She's probably screwing him herself on those business trips. I don't know."
"I don't care." Retrieving her shoes from underneath the chair and her purse from the far corner--what the hell had they been doing?--Margaret gave the room a last once-over to make sure she wasn't forgetting anything. As she did so, she remembered the name of the theatre. Asterisque. Owned by Henry Lancaster, whose father had had produced last year's Best Revival. "I will, however, take your audition. Consider it a payment for services rendered."
"Don't be like that--"
"Oh, I will be like that," Margaret said. "And, you know what? I don't even remember your name. And I'm totally fine with that."
The door slammed satisfyingly behind her.
Forgoing the post-coital awkwardness in favour of screamed insults actually saved Margaret enough time to take the subway home and change into something that didn't immediately announce that she had spent the night in someone else's bed. She even managed to print out a new copy of her resume before retouching her makeup and running back to the subway as fast as she could manage without breaking a sweat.
On the subway, she suddenly remembered that she had no idea what she was auditioning for. Jerkface hadn't told her what play it was. Or even what kind of play it was. She hadn't warmed up. She didn't have any music if it was a musical--
Margaret flipped open the portfolio and let out a massive sigh of relief. At least she'd been prepared at some point. Three songs, each one showcasing a different genre. The hangover wouldn't do her any favours unless they were auditioning her for Velma Kelly or something. But, dammit, she'd manage. If there was one thing Margaret was really good at, it was adapting herself to any situation that called for a mezzo-soprano with one hell of a belt.
The Asterisque Theatre was one of those gorgeous 1930s buildings that had been picked up recently by someone with both money and the spare time to restore it. That somebody had been Hal Lancaster, who had gotten bored with dismantling giant corporations and decided on a whim to go into the theatre business. Nobody actually knew what he'd done to bring in the best directors and scripts--though everyone suspected foul play, nobody had the nerve to say it out loud--but, whatever he'd done, he'd vaulted to the top of the theatre world within a year of bailing the Asterisque out of bankruptcy.
Her heart sank as she got closer. There was a group of at least thirty people clustered outside, their careful makeup and stylish-yet-comfortable clothing set them apart as actors while the periodic burst of sung scales signified a musical audition.
She immediately slowed her steps and began to take deep, counted breaths to steady her heart. It would do her no good at all to be out of breath--although, if the size of the audition line was as bad as it looked, she'd have all day to calm down.
As she reached the theatre, the front doors opened and a fairly nondescript guy in his thirties came out, holding a clipboard. "All right. I've got a few lists here and we'll be getting started in a moment, but first...I'm looking for a Margaret...Danger? Margaret Danger?"
A ripple went through the crowd, mixed morbid amusement and envy. Margaret, her cheeks fast approaching the colour of her Confident Audition Dress, leant close to the guy and hissed, "d'Anjou, thanks a lot."
The poster beside the door announced that they were auditioning for a revival of Lerner and Lowe's Camelot. And something deep in Margaret suddenly lit up. Her first dream roles--not to be ousted until she discovered Kander and Ebb in high school--had been inspired by an ancient record her father had had of the original cast recordings of Camelot and My Fair Lady. Margaret, in short, had wanted to be Julie Andrews when she grew up.
And she could sing Guenevere. She could sing the holy living shit out of Guenevere even if she'd spent the entire night drinking nothing but tequila and having ridiculously mindblowing sex that she couldn't remember.
At the back of her audition portfolio was the sheet music for 'I Could Have Danced All Night'. She'd never, ever sung it in an audition before, much as she'd always wanted to. And she'd sing it at the fucking Asterisque. She wondered if she hadn't actually woken up yet and if Jerkface was in fact a complete figment of her imagination.
The dimmed house lights meant she didn't get a very good look at the director, who was seated about five or six rows back. "You'd better be worth it, Miss...d'Anjou--" he pronounced it the French way, though with a contemptuous sniff, "--or I will need to have a word with Suffolk." He was English, with one of those drawling, lazy accents that sounded automatically archaic.
Margaret handed off her music to the accompanist before replying with her sweetest smile. "Oh, I think you'll find I'm very much worth it."
What followed was, without a doubt, the best audition performance Margaret d'Anjou had ever given. Something about the ghostly dimness of the theatre, with its plush velvet seats and brocade curtains, the enormous, original Art Deco chandelier and perfectly polished stage, erased all the sordid memories of the past few hours.
Every note seemed to ring in the air, her accent crystalline and her breathing perfect. The only sour note struck when the door opened halfway through the song and a youngish man in glasses walked in. Determined to repay the complete cluelessness of anyone who would walk into the middle of an audition, Margaret addressed the final refrain to him.
He slowed to a stop as Margaret held out her hand, turning her giddy smile on him. Something lurched in her heart as he looked at her, wide-eyed, as if he'd never seen a singer before. He smiled back slowly, hesitantly, as she hit her final note, a soaring top G that would have made her voice teacher weep for joy.
Instead of the usual silence that followed the ending of an audition song, Margaret realised the new arrival was applauding. "Humphrey, she's amazing! Where did you find her?"
"I didn't," the director said as Margaret realised with a terrifying twist of her stomach that this was none other than Humphrey Gloucester, who had helmed the Asterisque's Tony-winning revival of Sweeney Todd last year despite never having directed a musical in his life. "Bill Suffolk's who you've got to thank for that. Although, I must admit, you've surprised me, Miss d'Anjou."
If it sounded grudging, Margaret--like everyone else in New York and London--knew why. It wasn't even worth auditioning for a Gloucester show unless you were happy with bit parts because his wife always played the lead. Eleanor Cobham (she'd never give up her maiden name, not in a thousand years) had been his leading lady ever since their days at RADA, but while nobody could fault her acting talent, she was not a singer. It made Margaret want to cry.
"Would you mind staying a little longer, Miss d'Anjou?" Humphrey Gloucester's voice cut into her thoughts. "Henry, is Suffolk here?"
The name had the sobering effect of a bucket of cold water. Bill Suffolk, aka Jerkface, was going to be reading with her. And not just anything--as she looked down at the libretto, she had the awful sinking realisation that he was playing Lancelot.
Now wasn't that just peachy.
But she was a professional. Straightening, Margaret read through the lines--even she admitted the dialogue was less than stellar, for all that she loved this show--and tried to think of ways to not remember that the guy she was addressing them to was one she'd much rather strangle than confess she loved.
It helped when she realised as she glanced through the dialogue that she could probably read most of it without even looking at him. So she gave him a frigid smile when he stepped onto the stage, despite the traitorous thought that his T-shirt clung to him rather deliciously.
But this wasn't about her and the guy she'd slept with. This was about Guenevere and the man she was forbidden to love. Margaret closed her eyes, turned away from Suffolk, and addressed her lines to the air.
When he touched her, she flinched. It didn't matter that what she remembered was a driving bass line--his hand skimming her thigh as they danced--how he tasted of tequila and salt and lime and they'd made out like teenagers in the back of a taxicab--
Laughing bitterly, Margaret jerked away from him. "We're not alone, are we, Lance? We're not. Here I am in your arms and my first thoughts are of..." she paused, trying to conjure an mental picture of an imaginary Arthur, "...him. Can't you see the shadow between us? It's wider than the sea; it fills this room. Perhaps it would have been better if we'd never said a word to each other."
There was no introduction, but she knew the song by heart. Turning, her eyes met his as she began to sing. Much to Margaret's dismay, Jerkface Suffolk had a voice like melting chocolate and she found herself kissing him passionately at the end of the song, tearing herself away only at the sound of not one but two pairs of hands applauding.
Margaret jumped back as if scalded, and glared at Suffolk. Humphrey Gloucester had risen to his feet and was looking at them as if they'd just performed some sort of inexplicable interpretive dance.
"That was...unexpected," he finally said. "I don't know if you read up on this production, Miss d'Anjou, but I intended to present Camelot as farce."
"But you don't have to, Humphrey!" That was the man who had interrupted earlier, whose name Margaret couldn't remember. "She's marvellous."
When Humphrey looked back at her, she caught the glimpse of regret in his expression before he schooled his face to something appropriately directorial. "Chorus. Understudy for Guenevere."
"I'll take it," Margaret said, without thinking twice.
Eleanor Cobham swept into the theatre on the first day of rehearsal as if she were the Queen of some exotic country. Which Margaret supposed she was, all told, considering she was the leading lady and married to the director.
Everyone knew she couldn't sing. Or at least that her singing was competent at best. Margaret learnt the lines and the blocking and wondered if it was bad karma that she prayed Eleanor would come down with some mysterious disease just to lay her up for the opening.
She was far from the only one. Richard York was a transplant from London--where he'd left his wife, three children, and position with the RSC--and he was doing this as a personal favour to Humphrey Gloucester. As they'd blocked several scenes together after rehearsal, he'd mentioned almost in passing that she was considerably better than Eleanor. "I could lose my career over this bloody play. Eleanor sings like a choirgirl and Humphrey knows it."
"Why doesn't he do something about her, then?" Margaret asked, twisting beneath his arm in perfect time to the music.
"Because she's got his balls in a vise."
She couldn't disagree with that assessment. And Eleanor was gorgeous--probably not all of it natural, but she had a good plastic surgeon--so she supposed she couldn't necessarily blame Humphrey Gloucester for wanting some semblance of a sex life. But she didn't want to have to suffer for it.
It being her first time in an honest-to-God Broadway production, it hadn't even occurred to her that she was going to play Guenevere to actual audiences, albeit only on weekday afternoons and the occasional Sunday. Nor did it occur to her to find it odd that both Richard and Suffolk silently made clear their willingness to do a Wednesday afternoon performance along with their full evening schedules.
Richard York was not a bad singer, despite not having really been trained for it. And, really, Arthur wasn't a big singing role when you thought about it. What Margaret could appreciate was that the man was a consummate professional. No ass-grabbing, for instance. Not that Margaret was really surprised, after sneaking a glance at a magazine photo of York with his wife at the Olivier Awards in London. She was a top-ranked lawyer--Margaret supposed she was a barrister or whatever they called them in England--and looked like a supermodel. After three kids. Lucky woman.
Pity she couldn't say the same for Suffolk.
To her credit, she was ignoring him. She certainly hadn't kissed him since the audition, since she spent most of her rehearsal time either working with his understudy or standing in the background of crowd scenes. But he always contrived to sit beside her whenever the cast went out for drinks or to try to talk to her during breaks, to the point where Beaufort, the musical director, called him a syphilitic manslut and told him to stop molesting the chorus.
Nobody liked Beaufort. In fact, Gloucester hated him most of all and didn't care who knew it. Apparently they'd known one another in one of those awful English public schools and somehow managed to still hate each other. Leave it to the English to make holding grudges sound like an intellectual prospect.
Of course, Beaufort was excellent at what he did. He could wring sounds from the orchestra that left Margaret close to tears. Hell, even Eleanor had tears in her eyes the first time they heard Suffolk sing 'If Ever I Could Leave You' with a full orchestra.
As for Margaret, she'd had to step into the lobby to catch her breath.
"It's really something when it all comes together, right?" She found herself facing the man she now knew to be Henry Lancaster, manager of the Asterisque. He'd been invisible for most of the rehearsal process--according to Humphrey, he was out reassuring their investors--but when Margaret did see him, he was often hovering at the back of the auditorium as if too scared to come closer.
"I guess it is," she said, sniffing a little. "You wouldn't think a nasty little twerp like Beaufort could produce...that."
"Oh, Beaufort's not that bad."
She was on the verge of laughter for the deadpan delivery until she looked at him and realised he was serious. "So, you think we'll do all right?"
"We would if you were playing Guenevere." As soon as he said it he looked away, as if shocked at his own words. "I shouldn't have said that."
Margaret blinked. "Do you really mean that?"
He looked back at her, adoration in his puppydog eyes. "Completely."
It did occur to Margaret that dating the manager of a theatre would not be a bad thing for her career. It--or damn close--was working pretty well for Eleanor Cobham. But it seemed unfair to lead Henry on when Suffolk was making guest appearances in decidedly X-rated dreams. Which was, Margaret decided, karmic revenge on her wishing mysterious diseases on Eleanor.
She was pretty sure York had guessed something was going on, though the man had a perpetual smirk so it was hard to tell. But all his lines about Lancelot seemed to be spoken with even more irony than usual and Margaret didn't quite have the nerve to ask.
Henry finally asked her out for dinner on their last free Friday before dress week started. What she didn't expect was that he took her to Le Cirque. Their waiter's tux probably cost more than Margaret's dress. Henry seemed to bloom outside the theatre, becoming almost, well, coherent. She supposed it made sense that he was in charge of the Asterisque's investors, who included his father and uncle and half the Upper East Side.
And still, even though she let him kiss her goodnight, she dreamed of Suffolk. It was totally unfair. It just figured that Margaret would find the perfect guy only to fall for a two-faced cheating...well, Beaufort wasn't that far off.
They opened to muted reviews, the Times praising the 'post-modern sensibility of a wrecked, parodic Camelot' while the Post just grumbled about Eleanor's expressionless singing. Margaret, for her part, accepted the standing ovations she had at her curtain calls, assuming without question that Eleanor was getting the same.
Critics never attended matinee performances.
Everybody knew that.
And yet, when Margaret flipped open her copy of The Village Voice one morning about a week into the run, she found her name at the top of the theatre section.
...A friend of mine, on reading my somewhat scathing review of Eleanor Cobham's Guenevere in the Asterisque's Camelot, managed to convince me to attend one of the matinee performances, where the role was being played by her understudy, a Margaret d'Anjou. Despite my misgivings, I went. Although there are still flaws in the production, the remarkably engaging d'Anjou provides the emotional core at the centre of a Pythonesque farce. Indeed, when she and the otherwise dull William Suffolk share the stage, it is safe to say the temperature in the theatre rises several degrees.
She was in the Village Voice. Dear sweet God.
It was all Margaret could do not to shriek aloud. Instead, she grabbed her phone and found Suffolk's number at the front of her script. When he arrived in front of the coffee shop, she thrust the paper at him, jabbing her finger at the review.
"Did you see it? Did you see it?" she demanded, breathless. "Oh, God! I can't believe it, I just can't--"
He kissed her. Around them, the traffic of Washington Square buzzed just beyond the edge of her hearing. All that mattered was that she'd been reviewed in the Village Voice and that she was kissing William Suffolk.
The rest of the world could just go to hell.