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I Could Be Good for You

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Jimmy

It seems like work will never end today. It's been a quiet afternoon and that just makes time pass all the more slowly. Not that I have bigger plans than a couch and a cold beer, but it beats standing around not making money...

All my tables are empty and bussed so I return to the bar to fold napkins, hoping five o'clock comes quickly.

A woman is standing at the end of the bar, listening to her iPod. Lost in her song, she seems unperturbed that no one has waited on her yet. She turns toward me slightly and her dark hair falls away from her face.

I catch her eye, "You gonna sit down and order something?"

She looks up at me as she declines, "No, I'm waiting for my friend."

Now that she's looking right at me, I'm caught off guard by her beauty. It's not the fake, over processed kind that so many find attractive. Her face is open and kind- softer than many you see in the City That Never Sleeps. She must not have lived here long.

I realize I'm staring. But in her distraction, she hasn't noticed. She's looking at her iPod again. "Get you something while you wait then?" I offer.

Sounding a little exasperated, she declines more forcefully the second time, "No. Thanks."

'Just doing my job...' I grumble silently as I return to my task. Despite being irritated by her attitude I can't seem to keep my eyes from wandering back to her as I absentmindedly fold napkins.

"I'm Jimmy by the way," I announce. Not that she asked...

She spins to face me, "Do you talk to ALL your customers this much?" Her reply is curious, but also a bit condescending.

Her tone raises my hackles, but at the same time her word choice amuses me. Customer? Customers pay my bills. "Are you a customer?" I inquire pointedly. "Hmm. I thought you were just another actress taking a meeting in my station who won't order anything but a glass of water."

She gets defensive, "I'm not like that." She's cute when she's annoyed.

"Karen!" She turns. Her attention is taken by some critic guy who's here all the time. Kyle would know his name.

He takes her hand in both of his, "I can't wait to see you in the show!" I knew she was an actress. "I hear amazing things," he continues. Hmm, for a critic he sure seems to like her.

She seems embarrassed and flustered by the praise. "Thanks. Thank you." He walks away toward the dining room.

Karen he said her name was. Smirking, I lean my elbows on the bar and wait.

She turns back to me and I give her our water choices, "Still or sparkling?"

Seeming to know it was coming she rolls her eyes at me and asks for tap water.

/

Karen

It's hard to believe how much my life has changed in thirty six hours. Yesterday I was the star in the hottest new musical moving to Broadway and tonight… well tonight I'm unemployed and sitting alone in a bar.

I've been chasing the pulp of my lime around my glass for the last half hour. I just can't make myself go home. I can't believe that it's over. I worked so hard, I fought so hard and Marilyn was finally mine… and now she's no one's.

How can a show that good NOT go to Broadway?

I sigh. My dream was so close I could touch it and now it's gone. What do I do now? Another endless series of auditions hoping someone will pick me from the pile again?

My depressing reverie is broken with the slap of a hand on the bar. It's that bartender again. Jimmy- I think?

"Hey, you done? The bar's closing."

I check the clock- I still have fifteen minutes until I have to face the outside world. "The sign says you're open 'til one. It's only quarter til."

"Yeah, and you've been watching your ice melt for the past twenty minutes," he reminds me drily. "And while I appreciate that you actually ordered something, people gotta get back to their real lives."

Great, the bartender has a better life than me. "Yeah, this is my real life."

"Alone at a bar at 12:45. Sorry." His tone reflects none of the sympathy his words suggest.

Wow. I thought bartenders were supposed to listen to your woes. Not that I wanted to spill my life story or anything. Certainly not to this jerk. Geez. What's his problem?

Lucky for him he's good looking. People skills don't seem to be his strong point. "You really don't have the 'talking to customers' thing down do you?"

His entire demeanor changes in an instant, his hazel eyes becoming intense and inviting. "You wanna teach me?"

He's quick on his feet. I'll give him that.

I bet he's used to those eyes working on the water ordering actresses that usually come in here. But not me. I shove some cash in the bill folder and push it toward him with a look that says, 'nice try.' "Keep the change."

He glances at it before pushing it back at me, "Nah, I'm good thanks." I watch him walk away. What an arrogant…

I turn to the other bartender as I gather my things. "Is he always like that?"

He laughs, "Yeah. Kinda." I start to stand when he stops me, "Hey, um, don't I know you?"

Surely he's not trying a bad pick up line too. "I doubt it."

He ignores my denial, pointing at me, suddenly excited, "You're Karen Cartwright!"

Who is this kid?

He continues eagerly, "I saw you in "Bombshell"!" A pang shoots through me at the name. "You were incredible. I was so sorry to read about what happened." Ok, probably not hitting on me.

I nod, "Me too." I turn to go again. "Thanks." My first celebrity recognition- and probably my last. It's kind of embarrassing…

"Hey," he stops me again, "Um, will you do me a favor?" He dives behind the bar and fumbles around. I stand on my tiptoes to see what he's doing. He returns with a folder, and dumps its contents on the bar. He paws through the booklets and triumphantly he holds up a familiar playbill. "Can you sign this for me?"

Ok, now I'm really embarrassed. I laugh.

"I know it's really corny, but I have a collection of programs from failed musicals..."

Another pang of loss. This one must have registered on my face.

"Oh damn, I'm sorry. I have this thing, I just start talking before I realize what I'm talking about and just..." Words continue to tumble from his mouth. He's like a puppy in his awkward eagerness. I like him already.

"Ok," I agree- mostly to ease his embarrassment- and sign the playbill.

From the back I hear Jimmy call, "Kyle! We gotta get going!"

Kyle (apparently) sighs.

"Oh! Are you two…?" Weird, I thought Jimmy was hitting on me… oh well. "Are you guys like…?" I leave the question unfinished.

"Us?" Kyle laughs, embarrassed. "No, God, no," he's denying this awfully hard… "I mean, he's not..." Ah. I nod.

"But does it look like we are?" Kyle asks hopefully.

Oh Kyle... I smile gently, "You have a good night." I squeeze his hand as I leave.

As I walk out the door, I reach for my phone to tell Ana that I'm on my way.

/

Jimmy

We're finally closed, and I can't wait to get to the piano. As the shift wound down I finally worked out the last of the lyrics for the song that I've been kicking around in my head the last few days and I want to see how it sounds. I sit down eagerly and place my hands on the keys. The first notes rise from the instrument I'm lost in thought.

Since I can remember I've sung and played the piano.

When I was really young my mom would sometimes play on the old piano in our house. I'm not sure where the piano came from, but some of my happiest childhood memories are of the two of us sitting on that worn bench as she patiently taught me scales and simple melodies. My father hated it. He complained it would make me soft. But then, he wasn't a fan of much that my mother or I did. It was one of the few arguments she won- not that she didn't pay for the victory in other ways.

She didn't sing much, and only when my father wasn't around, but I remember her having a beautiful voice.

I'm glad my mother fought so hard for this. It feels good at the end of a long day to belt out a song, taking with it the frustration, the annoyances, and the thousand other emotions that make up every day.

Writing songs came naturally to me. Kyle's outlet was always writing. He tried to get me interested in that, but my words came out in song. Which is how his play became a musical.

I think of the girl at the bar- Karen. I can't decide if I'm attracted to her or annoyed by her.

I guess it could be both.

I can't forget to pay for her drink. I figured it was the least I could do for the entertainment. Bantering with her the last two days was fun.

As I reach the new section, I focus on the words- the agony of rejection, the hope of better things, the joy of dreams realized.

/

Karen

After a brief moment of panic, I realize I probably left my phone on the bar. I turn around and walk back inside. Apologetic, I put my hand up, "I forgot my phone, sorry!"

I pause. I hear music that wasn't playing a moment ago. I look for its source and see Jimmy seated at the piano.

"Oh! You didn't see this!" he pleads. "He's not playing the piano- he's not supposed to." He waves his hands as if to erase the memory.

"What is that he's playing?" I ask curiously as I move closer. I've never heard this piece before.

"It's uh," flustered, he dives under the bar partition still trying to stop my approach, "just a song he- we wrote for um, for this musical we're working on."

"Cool," I say distractedly, still moving toward the piano.

"Look, you really gotta go, I'm sorry." He's standing in front of me, but I barely hear him. The music has drawn me in, like a moth to flame. Out of the corner of my eye I see Kyle give up and walk away.

As I nod along, I realize someone else should hear this. I dial a number in my phone. "Derek? You need to hear something- listen." I hold the phone out as Jimmy's voice swells.

I hear his voice, tiny from the speaker, "Where are you? What is that?"

I return the phone to my ear as I shrug, even though he can't see. I can't describe it.

I recall his words from earlier, "Something else." I hold the phone out again. My head unconsciously nods with the rhythm of the song.

Jimmy's music gives me goose bumps and I'm in awe watching him play. He's lost in his song, concentrating only on the keys he's playing and the exquisite lines of the melody he's singing, never noticing I'm standing only a few feet away.

He's singing like a man possessed. I watch, mesmerized, as the arrogant, irritating bartender from before is transformed before my eyes.

Watching him is a study of emotion. His fingers caress the keys as he changes chords. His face intense as his voice rises and falls. His eyes squeeze shut in joy, his jaw tenses with remembered pain. At times he releases his words as if freeing them from his soul, his face jubilant. Moments later, he spits them angrily as his neck cords with the effort.

I notice his perfect posture and how his shirt fits him perfectly, clinging to his strong shoulders and chest. As he builds to the climax he pounds the keys and the muscles in his arms stand out. As he belts the final words, his fingers crash onto the final chords and when he's done, he's breathing hard from the exertion.

As the final note fades away, Kyle is back at my elbow guiding me out the door before I can shake the spell of the song and talk to Jimmy. I ask Kyle for Jimmy's number and he gives it to me, along with his own- on the condition that I leave immediately.

I head home, humming the melody. I realize I never hung up with Derek. I check my phone, but the line is dead- he must have hung up.

I think about calling Jimmy now, but that might seem desperate. I'll wait until tomorrow. Instead, I call Derek back to apologize and to see what he thought.

/

Jimmy

The next morning Kyle tells me about meeting Karen- and about her play getting canceled.

I guess she really did have something to drink about. Oops.

"Oh, by the way," he says as he walks toward the kitchen. "She heard you play last night. She asked me for your number."

"What?!" I can't decide if I'm excited she wanted my number or angry he let someone listen.

"I couldn't stop her, I tried. But she really liked it." My heart swells a little. "She asked me about the musical- she said she wanted to talk to you about it."

I decide on angry, "What did you tell her? WHY did you tell her?"

"She asked about the song- sorry!"

He's not sorry. Great. She's not interested in me, probably wants to use us for our songs. Well, we won't be her Jesse- she's not THAT cute.

The little voice in the back of my head snorts in derision. Ok fine. She's pretty cute.

Just then my phone rings and an unfamiliar number pops up in the display. "Speak of the devil."

I watch it ring.

"Aren't you going to answer it?"

Did he get hit on the head last night?

"No." I look at the screen again, waiting for the voicemail icon to pop up so I can delete it.

Kyle shakes his head, muttering about my stubbornness.

Chapter Text

Jimmy

It's been five days, ten unanswered phone calls (this girl does NOT take a hint) and nearly as many arguments with Kyle. Apparently Karen has been calling him too. She's won him over. He's too trusting sometimes. Though, I guess that has worked in my favor in the past...

I shake my head to clear it.

I arrive at work and see Karen sitting on the stoop. A small part of me, that I'll deny forever, is glad to see her. The rest of me is wondering about this girl who has been blowing up my phone all week. What's her deal?

I don't do complicated and I won't be used. But now that she's taken to stalking me in person, I guess I should talk to her.

I try to get her attention, but she's lost in her own world. I call out again, but it comes out sharper than I intended. She starts at the sound.

I lean against the pillar, amused by this- I'm amused by the entire situation really.

"Hey, you're here!" She's surprised that I'm at my own place of business?

"Uh… I work here." I remind her drily.

"Right. Uh, sorry to ambush you." She seems flustered. I watch her stumble through an unnecessary introduction. Does she really think I don't know who she is? She left me ten voicemails and phone stalked my roommate for a week.

"Um… I left you a few messages but you never called back…"

Ah, the 'why haven't you called me'. I'm familiar with this conversation, but usually for different reasons.

"Girls usually just call to yell at me, so…" I deadpan. She tilts her head briefly to the side as if to say, 'I could see that.'

She shakes her head, "Well, that's not what I was calling to do. I was hoping I could talk to you about your music." Even though I know what she wants, I'm taken aback by her directness. We are not discussing this. Period.

I play dumb. "My what?" Unconsciously, I feel myself stand a little straighter and fold my arms across my chest. I fight to keep my smile in place.

She's undeterred. She continues, "Your friend said you guys were writing a musical. I mean, I'd love to hear more."

I try denial. "There's nothing to hear. I don't-" I shake my head. "I don't write anything." I do a mental eye roll- that was convincing, Jimmy.

Unsurprisingly, she’s not buying it. "So, the song you played after closing, that wasn't yours?” Her voice drips sarcasm as she continues, “Your friend just lied when he said it was from your musical?"

She's kidding right? I can't help but laugh. Who does this girl think she is? That she has some kind of right to my music because she heard me play a song?

I try a new tactic- distraction. "Are you always like this?"

"Like what?" She's confused. Good.

I laugh, "Uptight. I mean, if you stop clenching your jaw like that, you could actually be cute." I chuckle as she clenches her jaw harder at my assessment. I move closer to her, trying to further distract her from her original objective, "Relax."

She touches her jaw, offended. "I don't clench my jaw, that's really rude." She clenches it harder still. She’s gonna crack a tooth if she keeps this up.

"Ok," I laugh again. "Uh, you're doing it again." I reach out to stop her, I can't help it. But I pull back at the look on her face- the one that tells me that moving closer might result in bodily harm.

I pause and lower my hand. It's fun to goad her, but I'm not interested in getting slapped this early in the morning.

Time for the final nail.

I know she'll refuse, but I’m hoping it will end this conversation- and any future attempts at repeating it, "You know, my shift's over at five- if you wanna hang out?" My innuendo doesn't go unnoticed.

"No. I don't want to hang out. I just want to- You know what, forget it."

She storms off. Success! Man her buttons are easy to push.

"See ya!" I call out after her.

I linger on the steps, still amused. Idly, I wonder if the last few days really happened. I've had girls chase me before me, but never like this.

Kyle comes out to see what's keeping me. He sees Karen, already a block away. "Hey, was that Karen Cartwright?"

"No idea." I hope it came across as 'I don't care.'

I can't keep myself from watching Karen walk away, which offers the double bonus that I can avoid Kyle's eyes. Kyle seems to buy my dumb act. He still doesn't know that I met Karen the day before he did.

Why does she bug me so much?

Why do I let her?

Kyle tries to get my attention. "SHE'S the girl I told you about, the one who was here the other night." Yeah, the one blowing up my phone- I got that message… and the other nine… "She's a big deal."

No kidding, just ask her.

He moves in front of me, blocking my view and meeting my eyes. He won't let me look away any longer. "She could help us.”

I look him right in the eye when I remind him, "We do it on our own. We don't need anyone's help." I put my hand on his shoulder to reassure him- and to move him out of my way, "Move it, I'm late."

/

Karen

What a jerk! All I wanted was to know more about his musical. What was his problem? I've been singing his song in my head all week. I can't stop.

Did he SERIOUSLY hit on me again after insulting me? Does that actually work on girls?

If I'm honest though, I was really hoping that the amazingly talented, good looking, irritatingly arrogant bartender would turn out to be someone worth a second chance. Too bad that doesn't seem to be the case.

I think of him that night in the restaurant, singing from his soul. I do not think about his strong hands that moved so confidently across the piano keys or how his dark hair begs for someone’s fingers to comb through it. I don’t think about those things- and when I do I remind myself that he’s also a jerk.

Instead of thinking about Jimmy, I call Derek. But, I get his voicemail. "Derek, it's me. I wanted to let you know I finally got in touch with that composer-"

I'm interrupted by the sound of footsteps and a voice behind me, "Hey, Karen! Wait up!"

I glance over my shoulder to see a slightly out of breath Kyle. "I gotta call you back," I hang up and turn to face Kyle. "Hey."

"Hey, look, I'm sorry about whatever he said to you back there." I wonder if Kyle ever gets tired of apologizing for Jimmy.

"That guy's your friend right? …Why exactly?" The two couldn’t be more different.

His expression rueful, he tries to explain, "I know. He's complicated. But he's a really good guy once you get to know him and an amazing composer. He's just really protective of our stuff."

"Well, I wanted to hear more, play it for my friend Derek… see what he thought…"

Kyle cuts me off in his eagerness, "Derek… as in Derek Wills? …Like THE Derek Wills? He's…"

This time, I cut him off "…irrelevant to this conversation since your friend clearly isn't interested." Wow, sound snobbier, Karen…

He shakes his head, "Yes he is,” he assures me. “He just doesn't know it yet. And so am I. Look, can you meet me in a couple hours when I'm done with my shift? There's something I want to show you." His conviction is hard to ignore, so I agree.

He turns to go back to work and I head to another audition.

/

A few hours later, I'm sitting at an outdoor table in Times Square with Kyle, looking at a collection napkins, menus and bar tickets with sporadic groupings of music notes and nearly illegible writing scrawled on them. Either a four year old or a drunk wrote this. "This is… this is what you wanted to show me?"

Surely this isn’t it. I was expecting a script or manuscript pages or… not this. Is that food stuck to this one? I wipe my finger discreetly on my napkin.

Kyle launches into an explanation, "He doesn't write anything down really, except occasionally when he's wasted." Ah ha, door number two. "Uh, this one is particularly amazing,” he continues, either ignoring or ignorant of my skepticism, “He doesn't know I saved it. But seriously, read the lyrics- I think it starts on the cocktail menu?" He paws through mess on the table and presses the menu in question into my hand, turning it to the correct side.

He's trying so hard, but this isn't what I was hoping for. "I don't understand, do you guys have a musical or not?"

"We do!" Kyle assures me. "We're still working on it, but most of the songs ARE written."

A thought occurs to me, "Does your friend even know you're here?" Why do I keep calling him that? Why don't I just say Jimmy? I know his name.

Kyle freezes, his expression pleading. That gives me my answer.

I put the menu on the table, "Look, I just came from a Clearasil audition and then I found out that the one thing I was looking forward to today was cancelled.” I take a breath, “You can understand, I hope, that I was hoping to get involved with something real. This... obviously isn't it." I get up to leave. "Let me know if it ever comes together, ok?" I shouldn't have gotten my hopes up, there are no shortcuts.

Kyle's final plea stops me, "Find someone to play this for you." He picks up the menu again, “and if you like it, or want to hear more, come to our place tonight." He turns it over and scribbles an address on it. "We're having some people over." He continues, "Maybe if you stop by and got to know Jimmy a little better he'd let his guard down, play you some stuff." He hands me the menu, "Think about it."

I nod before turning to head home. Out of the corner of my eye I see Kyle carefully reordering the scraps of paper left on the table.

/

Ana and I invited Bobby and Jessica over for dinner. We sit around the coffee table, eating Chinese while I tell them about Jimmy, about his song and about Kyle. Ana asks to see the menu.

She sits down at the keyboard and begins to play. Even in the jumbled form we have, we're blown away by it. It's beautiful.

Bobby and Jessica rave, "Wow, he's crazy good." "Like Jonathan Larson good." "Yes." "Maybe they're writing the next "Rent".

Their comments validate my pseudo-obsession with this guy. "I know. It's amazing. I mean, I'm not crazy for stalking this guy, right?"

Despite his arrogance and his obnoxious comments, his music reaches a part of me and it won't let go. I catch myself humming "Broadway Here I Come" all the time, picturing him that night in the restaurant. I don't want to, but I can't stop.

Oh no... I think I've got a crush on this guy. I feel like a teenager as the realization hits me. I will NOT fall for a jerk.

'But maybe he's not a jerk, maybe it's an act- Kyle said he's a good guy', the little voice whispers.

'Kyle's in love with him- of course he'd think that,' I remind the little voice.

My friends pull me out of my head. "I'm ready to stalk him. Is he straight? He can't be straight, I mean, it's musical theater." I roll my eyes at Bobby. Ana laughs.

"It doesn't matter if he is or he isn't- he's clearly not interested in me. He called me uptight."

"Ok…" Bobby starts slowly, "I say this with love, but you DID sound a little uptight just now." Jessica nods.

I need new friends.

Ana laughs, "You guys! Give her a break! She's just out of a three year relationship. She's a little bit rusty. She doesn't realize when a guy is hitting on her."

I roll my eyes at Ana. I've been doing that a lot this week. "You guys are missing the point. I just want to hear the rest of his songs. I just have to figure out how." I sit back in my chair, trying to come up with a new plan.

"I can think of one way…" Bobby begins.

I turn my head to look at him, "I knew you were going to say that." I resist the urge to stick my tongue out.

Ana taunts me in song, and Bobby and Jessica agree that she is NOT writing the next "Rent".

I sit up, grinning. "No, she isn't, but she just gave me a better idea…"

/

Jimmy

Kyle and I are getting ready for the party- and by getting ready I mean throwing away the obvious trash and stocking the fridge and coolers with beer.

"I talked with Karen today," Kyle starts. He watches me to gauge my reaction.

"Why?" I'm not surprised.

He seems relieved that I'm not mad, and he ignores the question. Which is fine, I already know the answer. "I told her about the party tonight."

"Why?" I ask again. "Do you really think she's the 'party in Greenpoint' type?" I laugh as I imagine her getting her little shoes dirty. "I bet she doesn't even know where it is. She'll be lost, wandering around Brooklyn forever and Broadway will be denied its newest star. Tragic." I resist the urge to put my hand on my forehead dramatically. "And, it will be All. Your. Fault." I lay the sarcasm on thick as I poke him in the arm, punctuating each word.

Despite her arrogance and the fact that she's really pushy, I half hope she shows up. Something about her won't let me go. Maybe if she comes tonight and has a drink or two she'll loosen up. Maybe she's not so bad once you get to know her.

Kyle shrugs me off, "Whatever Jimmy. If she shows up, play nice."

I ignore that and finish getting ready for the party. Maybe I should change my shirt… just in case.

/

Karen

The party is in full swing when we arrive.

Jessica and Bobby are not impressed. Since we got off the subway their running commentary has ranged from amused to snarky- at times bordering on snide. Clearly they are not familiar with Brooklyn. The apartment actually isn't that bad.

Ana looks around, looking for the mysterious Jimmy. I'm searching for him myself; after all, we're not here for the beer.

Bobby stops mid-quip when he sees Kyle across the room. "Who is that?"

I grab for his arm. "That's Kyle, don't..." He disappears into the crowd before I can stop him.

Any worries about Bobby's intentions toward Kyle are quickly erased because just then I spot Jimmy. I nudge Jessica and point him out to Ana. He's standing in the kitchen wearing a red flannel shirt, comparing beer and laughing with another guy. Since for once I'm not annoyed that he's smirking at me, I'm able to recognize that he's got a nice smile. And he has dimples. Cute.

Ana nods appreciatively and Jessica tilts her head as she checks him out. I blush, but I'm glad they agree. I'm still not sure that I want anything more than to hear his music. But, there is no denying he's pretty hot.

"What are you waiting for? Go say hi!" Ana nudges me toward the kitchen.

"Ok." Geez, we just got here. I begin to make my way through the crowd.

"Don't be uptight!" Ana calls. I ignore her as I make my way through the crowd.

I really need new friends.

I reach the kitchen and stand across the island from Jimmy. "Hey!" I smile at him, "Nice place." Ok, that may be an exaggeration… It's a converted industrial space. Worse, it came out forced. Breathe.

I take another step closer, coming around the side of the island.

"Thanks." He says as he looks me up and down, checking me out. Obvious much?

"Nice shoe," he comments with a grin.

What?

I look down. I have trash attached to my shoe. Oh my God. How embarrassing.

At least it's not toilet paper… I bend down quickly and remove it.

Ew! It's sticky- wait, did I just say that out loud?

Be. Cool.

I force a laugh as I toss the trash to the side quickly. I look up and my hair sticks to my lip gloss.

Awesome.

I pull the hair off my mouth and lean against the island. Time to start over. I smile at him, trying to think of something to say.

He breaks the ice for me. "Kyle said he invited you. I said you didn't know where Brooklyn was." He smirks as if laughing at a private joke.

There it is, the arrogance, the feeling that he's always laughing at me. But, I guess I deserve that. I am sort of stalking him.

I won't let him upset me tonight. I WILL hear his music.

I return his arrogance with some of my own. "I hate to rock your world, but I used to live in Brooklyn." Did I just use the phrase 'rock your world'? Really, Karen?

He quirks his eyebrow, his eyes dancing, "You are rocking my world." Ok, he's flirting. I can do this.

"My first apartment was in Fort Green, FYI. Did it ever occur to you that I might be a little cooler than you think?" Uh, Karen, I'm guessing if you have to tell someone you're cool, then you probably aren't…

He smiles around his bottle and his eyes crinkle as he takes a drink of his beer, probably so he won't laugh out loud.

He may have let the first slide, but he calls me on my second dork-ism. "Well, you just said FYI, so… no." We both laugh. Man I suck at playing it cool.

Beer. Beer will help.

Trying to sound flirtatious, I ask, "So, what does a girl gotta do to get a drink around here?"

He turns to check the cooler on the floor. It's empty.

He looks across the room and yells, "Ky! We need some more brew!" The crowd parts and I can see Bobby and Kyle standing together.

He smiles at me, "That."

He looks at his beer for a moment, then he holds it out, offering it to me. "You can have mine for now." He must have decided I needed it more than he did.

Ready to prove I'm not uptight, I take it and quickly take a drink. He looks impressed.

Maybe.

"Want to sit down?" he offers.

/

We've been talking for a while and for once I don't feel like slapping him every time he opens his mouth. He's flirty and funny and… nice. I'm starting to think Kyle might be right, he may be an okay guy when you get to know him. And damn, he's cute.

But it's getting late and I'm no closer to hearing his songs.

I'm sitting with my legs tucked underneath me, facing Jimmy. He's turned his body so that he's facing me, arm stretched along the back of the couch, with his right knee tucked up, nearly touching mine.

I use the lighter mood to segue into the primary reason for coming- though now I'm really glad I did come, even if I don't get to hear more of his songs.

I turn the conversation toward music, "I like The Strokes, do you?"

He tilts his head, laughing, "Yeah, I like The Strokes… too… when I was like fifteen." This from the guy who still wears flannel shirts open over a t-shirt. What is this, 1995?

"Ha," I laugh. "You know what you are?" I poke him in the chest, "A snob."

"Me? I'm a snob?" he looks surprised, but recovers quickly- as usual. "At least I'm not uptight," he challenges.

Tonight, it's funny. "No, no. Don't change the subject. You heard me- Snob. Deal with it." We each point at each other in mock accusation and laugh. He has a nice laugh.

He leans back against the couch, and he looks… content. Relaxed. This is a side I've never seen of him. We've both been so defensive around each other since we met.

"So, is that the piano you don't play?" I gesture with my beer to where Jessica and Ana are sitting.

He looks over at it, "Yeah, I play a little. Whatever." He glances at me, "When I'm in the mood." His response is a little wary, but he's still smiling. His quip about having to be 'in the mood' gives me an in for my plan.

I drop my voice and suggestively hint, "Well, I sing a little… when I'm in the mood." This gets his attention.

"Oh, I bet you do." He turns back to me, voice husky and hazel eyes dark as he asks, "So, how will I know if you're in the mood?" His thumb strokes my shoulder and I get tingles at the contact.

His touch is threatening to derail my plan, but I pretend I don't notice. I lay it on thick, and with overdone innocence I lean closer as I list the symptoms that may indicate that I'm about to sing.

"Well, it would be very obvious. I might, like, look around." I demonstrate. "Figure out what the vibe is."

He's amused, and intrigued. "K," he chuckles.

"Then I might just, stand up. And stretch. Warm up a bit," I demonstrate again.

He laughs. "I think I get the picture."

I bet you do. His eyes don't leave my body as I stretch in front of him.

To regain his attention upward I settle on the arm next to him and lean in close. It works. He looks up at me. "And then, I might just finish my drink. Whoops, I already did." I shake the bottle to demonstrate. There's a tinkling noise. "Kinda." I take the last drink and I upend it to prove that it's empty- spilling the last of it on Jimmy. "Oops!" Good thing I'm a little buzzed- I'm not as embarrassed as I would be otherwise. We both laugh.

I lean in closer again, "And probably just…" I lean closer still, our faces only about a foot apart, "sing a song."

I start to sing, softly at first, holding his eyes with mine. I sing the song Kyle brought me, the beautiful melody this handsome composer wrote.

Right on cue, Ana begins playing. I stand up. But, to ensure I keep his attention, my hand trails down his arm as I stand. I can feel the hard muscles beneath his shirt. I look behind me to smile at Ana in thanks for her help with my plan.

/

Jimmy

When she leans down, her hair falls around my face and I can smell her shampoo. It's intoxicating. I'm paralyzed by her nearness, by her smile. And then… then she begins to sing, tentatively at first, but her voice quickly becomes stronger.

I'm being serenaded. This is a first.

The understatement of the decade may be that she 'sings a little.' Her voice captivates me with its effortless beauty. I can't take my eyes off her.

I'm like that snake held captive by the charmer. I'm mesmerized by her eyes, her face, her voice.

I'm not sure if it was her touch as she stood, the loss of eye contact as she looked behind her at her friends, the loss of her nearness, or the piano that breaks the spell, but I start to recognize the words of her song.

Those are MY words.

That's MY song they're playing.

I can feel the anger rising in me. They stole my song! I look around and realize everyone is staring. Not only did they steal my song, they're performing it in front of other people. Are you KIDDING me? I'm too pissed to even be embarrassed.

Strangely, my anger is at war with other, less familiar emotions as I watch her sing. She's lost in the song and she's beautiful. Her face is rapturous as she throws her head back, raising her arms and belting out the words I wrote. It's every dream come true wrapped up in the nightmare of betrayal.

There it is. I know who's really to blame for this. Kyle.

Who else could have given it to her? Not that she's guiltless.

Is this the only reason she came here tonight? All the flirting- it meant nothing. She's not into me. She just wants my songs. I've heard of art imitating life, but this is life imitating art. I'm living my musical.

I turn my head and see Kyle standing in the doorway. My glare meets his eyes and his smile fades. He was ENJOYING this! Was this his idea?

I get up from the couch and she stops singing. As I storm out I pause long enough to tell Kyle what I thought about this little stunt.

/

I can hear Kyle chasing me, but I ignore him. I don't want to talk. And he knows better- he's not going to want to hear anything I have to say.

"Hold up a second," I hear Kyle call. The sound of his voice makes me angrier. My own personal Judas. Too bad for him, he didn't think to kiss me first. Poor planning on his part.

I stop walking and turn to face him. "You stole my songs?!" My voice rises an octave.

"What? No!" Kyle sounds shocked at the accusation.

Uh… the proof was right in front of me- and he had a front row seat! How dare he deny it!

How else would she have gotten a song no one else has ever seen or heard? "I should kick your ass." Those are MY songs. He had no right to show them to her- or to anyone.

He tries to placate me. "Would you calm down? I just showed her one. I had no idea she was going to do that."

OH. He only showed her one- well that makes it all better. Does she have some sort of photographic memory? She seemed to know it pretty well for someone who'd only 'seen it once'.

LIAR!

Karen joins the party. Great.

"I'm so sorry. I didn't think you'd get so mad." I don't want to hear it from her either. HOW could she think that was ok? On what planet is that ok?

What did she think my reaction was going to be? In her unhinged little brain did she see me thanking her for her performance and signing over my work because she's SUCH a good singer? Or maybe, handing her my other songs so I could see how they sounded when she sang them? Was I supposed to offer her the lead? Or, like Jesse, fall for her and give them to her out of love? I sneer the last word in my head.

Besides, this is between me and Kyle. This is none of her business. Why is she even here?

"Stay out of this, Princess."

She doesn't. Of course not.

"Oh my God," she says defensively- as if I'm in the wrong here. "I just think you're really talented. I want to help."

Right. Help yourself, maybe.

"I don't need your help," I snarl. "I write for myself. You want to write your own musical? Great. Go ahead. Leave mine alone."

Kyle pipes up again. "It's not just yours." He should really know better by now.

See, I have this gift. Almost without trying, I can say the thing that will hurt the most. It's a finely honed weapon, perfected with years of practice- years of keeping people from getting too close. It's easier that way. No one gets hurt.

Well, I don't get hurt.

Somehow, Kyle seems immune- or he's a masochist- maybe a little of both. He's the only one who has ever stayed.

"Yeah?" I twist my face into an expression of contempt- my tone dismissive, "Says the guy who sits there and watches me write the songs."

I watch the effect of my words on Kyle. His face falls and all the fight drains out of him.

Usually I feel bad when I hurt Kyle. Tonight I'm so mad, I feel victorious.

"Hey!" Karen steps in again, verbally and physically, almost as if trying to protect Kyle from my wrath. If I were in a better mood, this would win some points, but not tonight. "Your music is really good. I know it's scary to put yourself out there, but you have to, otherwise you're never going to know how good you are."

She says this as if she knows anything about me.

"Yeah, well, unlike you, I don't need other people to tell me I'm good. I know I'm good." I fire back.

"I know I'm good too," she childishly retorts.

I turn my verbal weapon on her. "Oh yeah? Then why aren't you out there onstage, in the city- taking your curtain call instead of out here, begging two strangers for a song to help you get there?"

I can see it working. I can always find the chink in the armor. To be fair, she was easy. I already knew about her dreams, her disappointment.

I see her friends come around the corner, "You know, I think you should just take your friends and go."

"Don't worry. We're gone," she turns to rejoin her friends and they disappear around the corner without another word. But to my surprise, Kyle, with a last angry look back at me, follows them.

Huh, he's never done that before.

/

Karen

We walk toward the subway and I'm lost in thought. I can hear my friends talking, but I'm not really listening.

I think about my ill-fated plan. I guess I should have done it differently. I mean, when I thought it up, I knew he might get a little mad. Let's be honest, he seems kind of volatile- and more than a little strange where his songs are concerned, but that reaction was extreme.

How can Jimmy not see that you need all the help you can get in this business? I wasn't trying to steal from him. I was trying to help him. Ok, fine, it would have helped me too- maybe- but I wasn't trying to take anything away from him.

And what a jerk. Watching him yell at Kyle was like watching someone kick a puppy. Kyle has been nothing but a good friend to him. He's his staunchest supporter and defender- probably his only one. Jimmy really shouldn't act like that.

And lastly, I HATE that I broke my promise to myself. I swore I wasn't going to let anything Jimmy said hurt me tonight, but the wound is still too fresh. I should have been taking my curtain call. I wonder if I'll ever have another chance.

I can't wait to be home. All the fun of the evening has been washed away by Jimmy's cruel words. I just want to go to bed and forget this night happened.

/

Jimmy

The next morning at work Kyle still isn't talking to me.

We're unloading the wine truck when I decide that I've had enough of it. "Dude," I try and fail to get his attention. "Yo!" He looks up at me. "Alright, cut the cold shoulder- just spit it out." Don't be such a girl. The silent treatment, really? What are we, twelve?

He looks at me, incredulous, "You know what I'm upset about. You cost us our one shot with a real Broadway actor, with actual connections."

I try to sound sorry, but I'm just not. "Look, I'm sorry if I…" what can I apologize for that I might actually mean? "…overreacted." I shrug, "That girl just bugs me- she's so full of herself, you know?"

Not to mention the fact she toyed with me all night when all she wanted to do was use us. Kyle should be mad too. She's not looking out for us. She's trying to re-start her own career.

"Well, she's gone. So you got your way- as always." Sound bitchier, Kyle- that'll make everything better. He pauses, but he's not done. "You know, I've been cleaning up your messes since we were kids."

Here we go. I sigh and lean against the stack of wine boxes- this could take a while. "Without me you wouldn't have a job or an apartment or any friends because you piss EVERYONE off."

Really? It's the 'list Jimmy's faults hour' already? That's my favorite time of day. It's almost like I'm back at home with my father.

I stand up. I don't have to listen to this.

He continues before I can leave. "That girl was the one person who could have gotten us closer to everything I ever wanted. Would it have killed you to do something for me for once?"

Damn. I always forget that Kyle's gift is to find the chink in my armor- to make me realize when I'm being an ass. And he's right.

I hate when he's right.

I try to lighten the mood, "I made coffee this morning."

It doesn't work. He's not amused. He doesn't even smile. "And by the way, I don't just 'watch you write'. I'm writing the book for this thing. Selfish prick."

Crap. I really struck a nerve last night.

Usually Kyle brushes off words I say in anger, he knows I don't really mean them- well, mostly. Apparently that one really hurt him. I'm such a jerk sometimes. Why do I do that? Kyle's right. Everything I have, I have because of him. Kyle's a better friend than I deserve.

And what's more, I owe him for more than just our apartment and friends. I owe him my life. Without him, who knows… I shake my head.

This is something he's dreamed about since we were kids, and I'm messing it up. I don't like it, but I know what I need to do. I pick up the box I was leaning on, carry it inside and grab my coat.

Work can wait. I have to go home. There are a couple things I need to pick up- and something I need to do.

/

I double check the number on the sheet I'm holding before I knock. It's early and I don't want to wake the wrong person. I've pissed off enough people in the last twelve hours.

/

Karen

I'm sitting at the table, eating cereal when I see a guy clad only in his underwear come out of Ana's room to duck into the bathroom. I can't help but smile as Ana follows him out.

"Sorry," she whispers on a laugh.

I grin at her, "At least someone had a good time last night."

Ana giggles. I take my empty bowl to the sink to rinse it.

There's a knock at the door. Ana looks at me and shrugs. She's not expecting anyone either. Curious, I pad to the door and open it. Nearly three years in New York and I still don't always remember to check the peephole- I really should, anyone could be on the other side of the door, salesmen, ax murderers, missionaries trying to 'save me', or… "Jimmy?!"

If I'd checked the peephole first, maybe I could have composed my face before I opened it. I can feel my jaw hanging open in shock. I quickly close it.

"Hey," he says, his voice just above a whisper.

Too surprised for common courtesy- not that he deserves it after last night- I demand, "How did you find me?"

He holds up my head shot with a half-smile. Now I'm really confused- and embarrassed. "Oh my God. Where did you get that?" I grab it from him and clutch it to my chest, trying to hide it.

Ana quickly sheds light on that mystery. "I may have left that on their fridge last night."

"What?!" I'm mortified. Not only does he now know my weight, but leaving it on their fridge is creepy and it seems awfully forward- like I'm desperate or something.

Another thought occurs to me-oh my God- when he and Kyle got up to get breakfast this morning my face was staring at them. I shoot Ana a look that could wither a tree. She's unrepentant and grinning.

Honestly, she's so obvious sometimes.

Ana's boy comes out of the bathroom. "What's up, Jimmy?"

Great, this morning keeps getting less awkward- not. "Hey," he replies.

A strange look crosses his face.

"You need to…" Ana takes her guest back to bed and I let Jimmy in the apartment. He's in his work uniform this morning, with the addition of a black leather jacket.

I have mixed feelings about him being here. I'm curious, I'm still a little angry and… well I can't deny that I'm still attracted to him. Prior to the meltdown, last night was great.

Curiosity is winning out this morning though. What is he doing here?

That question is answered quickly enough. He holds up a flash drive. "Um, this is everything I've written so far."

"Oh." I'm shocked. "I didn't expect this." I wonder what changed his mind. I reach for the drive and he pulls it back.

He takes a deep breath. "Yeah." He looks at me, his eyes searching mine.

This is hard for him I realize- trusting me enough to give me his songs. I pull my hand back and wait.

After a moment, he continues, "The only reason I'm trusting you with this is because I owe it to Kyle." I nod.

He holds out the small plastic rectangle. I take it from him gently. "Thank you." I say sincerely. "I think this could be really big."

For a few seconds we stare at each other.

He's so guarded. I wonder if I'll ever again get to see the relaxed Jimmy I saw so briefly last night, the Jimmy that is not only hot and talented, but also seemingly a great guy.

I hope so. That he'd do this for Kyle seems to indicate he is.

I'm starting to think that the angry words, the sarcasm and the defensive posturing aren't who he really is, but rather a façade he hides behind.

I wonder what caused him to be like that. I wonder what it would take to break that wall down.

Whoa. I quickly back away from those thoughts.

He looks away, ending the moment. "Yeah, well. I gotta get back to work." I nod and open the door for him.

"Bye," I say softly as I close the door.

Hmm. I have a phone call to make. My day just got more interesting.

/

Jimmy

On my way back to work, I review a few things I learned this morning:

-I had a really strong reaction to that guy being in Karen's apartment. The relief I felt when her roommate took him back to bed surprised me. Who knew that was in there?
-It's strange that such a small piece of plastic can contain my 'life's work' and all of Kyle's hopes-it seems like it should be bigger.
-I'm still not sure I'm ok with all this.
-Karen seemed to understand what a big deal this was for me.
-Karen seems to think our musical could be something big. I hope she's right, for Kyle's sake. He deserves that. He deserves everything.
-It's weird to know that someone believes in this project of ours.
-For Kyle I will do pretty much anything, even give some of the most personal and important parts of me to a near stranger. A person who I can't decide if I loathe, or that I'm falling for.
-The latter option is terrifying.
-Finally, I have learned that I am thinking WAY too much for it to be this early in the morning. I need a drink- and it's too early for that too.

I hope I don't regret this.

/

Karen

I take the flash drive to Derek's apartment. He's hung over. Apparently I'm not the only one that had a long night.

Shortly after I arrive, Ivy shows up with Derek's breakfast. I briefly wonder if they're a thing again.

Whatever. Who can keep track?

I talk with her briefly, but I can't keep the coolness out of my voice. After "Bombshell" and the thing with Dev, I don't think we'll ever be friends. Thankfully, she leaves quickly. She seems just as uncomfortable around me.

"Right then, this kid's songs better be good enough to get me outta bed with a stinking hang over," Derek grumps as he sits down.

I plug the drive into Derek's laptop. "Let's see, shall we," I say optimistically. I can't wait to find out myself.

Chapter Text

Jimmy

For the last week Karen has been hanging around, talking to Kyle about our musical. It seems that giving her my flash drive kicked them both into overdrive..

I didn't tell Kyle what I'd done that morning when I left, but when she turned up at work later that day to return the flash drive, he figured it out.

Suddenly the Silent Man became a fountain of words. Which is good, she'd come with questions that I wasn't really up for answering. I still have reservations about all of this.

I didn't like him talking about our work in public, so I asked Kyle to hold these 'meetings' at our place.

During these meetings I usually hang out in the kitchen, or in my loft. My feelings for Karen are confusing, and her being around all the time isn't helping. On the one hand, I'm still mad about the other night. Other than the half assed one on the street, she never apologized for what she did. I doubt she even thinks she did anything wrong.

The other thing is that I still don't believe, for all her enthusiasm, that she'll be able to help us. And if that's the case, it will crush Kyle. His hopes are so high right now. And I don't want to see him hurt. All he's talked about this week is Karen, our musical and Derek. But so far, there's been no Derek, just reassurances that he's heard our music and liked it. She better not be leading us on.

Further complicating things is my undeniable attraction to her. It's more than the passing interest I usually feel for women, and that scares me. I've tried to fight it, to ignore it, but it won't go away. So, I hide in the loft when she's here. Space helps, but she's ALWAYS here.

Last night she played us the demo she recorded of my song. I nearly had to leave the apartment. I was overwhelmed. Her kindness, her passion for our project, her genuine smile and her incredible voice are threatening to tear down the wall I've so carefully constructed. Worse, it's not even that she's trying to do it, it's just happening on its own. She doesn't even seem to notice the effect she has on me.

But then, I've been careful to hide it.

I don't WANT to feel this way. I know it's kind of silly, but I can't shake the feeling that Karen was toying with me the other night. Derek's (supposed) interest in us could only be because he and Karen are… well, more than just director/actress. I mean, that is usually the case when a 'nobody' gets a starring role, right?

My thoughts are interrupted by Kyle, "Come on, Jimmy! We gotta go to work!" I finish tying my shoe and head down the steps and out the door.

/

Karen

I've spent a good part of my week with Jimmy and Kyle talking to them about their musical.

Well, talking to Kyle more than Jimmy. Jimmy's there, but he hangs back most of the time. I think he's still wary of my intentions.

I wish there was something else I could do to prove that I'm serious about this.

But maybe he's just not had an opportunity to say much- it's hard to get a word in around Kyle's enthusiasm. He and I are quickly becoming friends.

The more they tell me about their ideas the more excited I get. I even recorded a few of their songs for Derek to hear.

I feel like my first instinct when I heard Jimmy's song is more and more justified. This could be big- it could be the start of something new. It's so different, so current- it just needs some help getting started.

To that end, I'm back at Derek's this morning, playing more of Jimmy's music. I haven't stopped singing it all week. I'm trying to get Derek as excited about it as I am, but he's not the 'excited' type.

I sing along in my head, picturing myself onstage. I throw myself into the crowd and they lift me up, carrying me as I sing. My daydream is interrupted by Derek's voice.

"It's a good song." I roll my eyes at this- if I had a dollar every time he's said that about one of Jimmy's songs... "But so what? All their songs are good."

I pause the music as Derek gets up. He's been distracted all morning. And I don't think he's stopped texting since I got here.

"If they had an album, I'd buy it- maybe," he continues. "But, I'm a director of musicals- and there's no musical here." He crosses to the kitchen and gets his coffee. He leans against the counter.

"Well, that's because I'm only playing you the songs." Duh.

"Which you did last week as well," he reminds me. Apparently he thinks my enthusiasm for this is funny.

"And you liked them. I thought you'd want to hear more." Come on, get excited about this. I am!

"What, with you conveniently singing the demo this time?" Ok, that may have been a little heavy handed.

"Well, it is a song my character would sing. She's an aspiring pop star."

"Oh there are characters, are there? Is there a plot as well?" Ok smartass...

I manage to resist rolling my eyes again. I play up the mock sincerity too. "Of course. And the writers would love to tell you about it themselves."

He sighs, "Can't I just read the book?" Is Derek Wills really whining?

"They're still working on it. Meet with them. Let them explain their vision to you," I plead.

He crosses back to me and looks at me seriously. "Look, I think it's great that you're hustling while "Bombshell" sorts itself out but new musicals take years to develop." He walks back to the couch. "I need something right now- something big."

"This is big- I promise. How about later today?" I counter.

"No, I've got a meeting. The producers of "The Wiz" can't find my replacement yet- surprise, surprise. I've convinced Ronnie to hear me out." He pauses as if something has just occurred to him. He looks thoughtful for a moment. "It's been a while since I've had something to prove. It's quite refreshing."

I see my opportunity and I jump on it. "Then you know how these guys feel."

He surrenders, "Alright. I will meet them."

"Yay!" I jump in the air. Dancing in triumph I hop onto the couch beside him. Derek is laughing at me, but I don't care. I can't wait to tell Jimmy and Kyle!

"Tomorrow then?" I confirm. He nods, barely containing his laughter.

I get him to agree to a nine o’clock appointment and leave him to get ready for his meeting with Ronnie.

I've got to tell the guys!

/

I can hardly wait until Table 46 opens to tell them. I guess I could have called, but I really wanted to tell them in person. 'And see Jimmy...' my little voice whispers.

I'm sitting on the same stoop I ambushed Jimmy on just a week ago- has it really only been a week?

Jimmy laughs when he sees me. "Stalking us again?" He lets me in the bar, holding the door for me and Kyle. The restaurant isn't open to customers for another half hour. "You know, you don't have to do that anymore, I'd probably answer your phone calls now."

I roll my eyes as I sit down on a stool at the bar, "No, I have some news, and I wanted to tell you guys in person."

Kyle leaps on that information, "Is it about Derek?"

I smile as I tell them that Derek wants to meet them.

Well- he agreed to meet them at least- but they don't need to know that detail.

Kyle is stunned into silence, maybe for the first time since I've met him.

Jimmy heads for the kitchen without saying anything. I've almost gotten used to Jimmy's idiosyncrasies.

Just before I'm about to check him for a pulse, Kyle comes out of it. "He wants to meet- no joke?" I can see the feverish excitement in Kyle's eyes. This has made his day- maybe his life.

/

Jimmy

Her news took both Kyle and me by surprise. She came through on her promises.

The whirl of emotion at the news left me almost dizzy and I was nearly overcome by the urge to kiss her. So I fled to the kitchen.

I step into the walk-in cooler and take several deep breaths. It's just a meeting. There's no set date. This could just be another way to string us along. This means nothing. This changes nothing.

Feeling more in control, I return to the front.

"...He loves the songs, now he just has to hear the story."

"Oh my God. Derek Wills, directing our show. I would die," Kyle is still beside himself.

I duck under the bar just in time to hear the last. That's jumping the gun a little. "Whoa, slow down there, guys. It's just a meeting. The guy is probably just being polite to his star anyway."

She assures us that Derek is serious about the meeting. "Derek is never polite. He wants to meet tomorrow night at nine." Wait. What?

I turn back to look at her. I can't stop the shock from registering on my face. Since I came back from the kitchen, I've been busying myself with setting up so that I don't have to look at her. I can't help but stare at her now. There really is a meeting. She really did it. I nearly have to leave again.

Luckily, my little voice saves the day, 'yeah, she's definitely sleeping with him- why else would he care what we have to say.' That sobers me.

"Tomorrow. Huh." Kyle looks like he might throw up.

"I know you know the story, Kyle. You've told it to me," Karen reassures him.

"Of course I do,” he lets out a breath, steadying himself. He smiles sheepishly, “ I'm just a little nervous."

She gets up to go. Part of me doesn't want her to leave- the other part can't see her out of here fast enough.

"Well, try not to be, you only get one shot with a guy like Derek," there's the snobby theater princess I met- like Kyle needed something else to be nervous about. He's already visibly shaking.

"What'd you have to do to get yours?"

Hmm, I didn't really mean to ask that out loud. I can't help it though. Her arrogant tone brings it out in me. Sarcasm I can do- that other stuff is what scares me. Of course, I may not want to hear the answer…

"It's what she didn't do…" Kyle teases.

"KYLE!" Karen looks embarrassed at the revelation.

"Oh, wait, that was a private story?" he's all innocence. I can't tell if it's feigned or not.

Anyway, who cares. As Kyle's words sink in my heart leaps. I feel lighter all of a sudden.

Karen didn't sleep with Derek.

I can't stop staring at her. I realize that I feel hopeful- not an emotion I'm familiar with. I smile at her, "Hey, don't worry about us. One shot is all we need."

My double shift flies by- I'm on Cloud 9.

/

Overnight though, the jaded voice in my head popped my little balloon of happiness. 'Just because she didn't sleep with Derek to get her part doesn't mean they didn't sleep together later, or that they aren't together now,' it reminds me.

This realization sends me in search of herbally enhanced happiness. Feeling a little better, I lie on the couch and watch Kyle lose his mind.

He's trying to organize the pieces of our book ahead of our meeting tonight, but he seems to be struggling. In my state, it's funny. I can't help it, I giggle out loud. Kyle shoots me a death glare.

"Sorry, but you look like the crazy dude from A Beautiful Mind," I explain. I giggle again.

"You could help," he retorts.

"I am. I'm taking a hit every time you throw your hands up like that."

He's not amused. He spins to face me. "You think this is funny?! Our meeting with Derek is tonight!"

"Look, you're the one who told Karen we'd have it ALL written out."

"There are gaps," he turns back to the table which is covered with papers. "Things we lost when we moved." He gestures at the mess. There it is- the guilt blow. The move was mostly my fault. I should probably help. I roll off the couch and get to my feet. "Or stuff out of order," he continues helplessly.

I hold out my hand for the papers he's holding. He ignores me, so I snatch them from him.

"Move." I push him aside so I can see what he's got.

What a mess. I look at the options on the table and compare them to what I have in my hand. "What?! This scene shouldn't be here, we had it at the top." I move it. I notice something else, "We cut this song. This one too. Wait. We had a better version of this entire sequence- we worked on it all night, wasted, remember? Fourth of July."

"I thought it was on my computer, but I can't find it anywhere." He returns to the computer to look again. He sounds upset.

It hits me. I lean against the table. I know where it is. It may as well be on the moon.

"It's in my old notebook," I tell him quietly, suddenly sober. "Which I left back at the…"

Kyle interrupts me, "Forget it."

"I thought this was important to you." I look at him curiously.

"We'll remember it. I'm sure." Kyle tries to sound confident.

"Not exactly how it was…" I taunt him. I blow out a sigh. I know what I need to do.

As if he can read my mind he tells me firmly, "You can't go back there, Jimmy. End of story."

Kyle is staring at me, waiting for me to agree.

Going back could ruin everything. But, not going could ruin this. And this is everything to Kyle. I do need to go.

I nod. He thinks I'm agreeing with him and walks away. Only I know that I was agreeing with myself.

/

Karen

I walk into the "Bombshell" rehearsal room. I can't stop smiling. I couldn't believe it yesterday when I got the call, and I still can't believe it- we're back!

I say hello to Derek and find out we're working on "Moving the Line" today. I remind him about dinner tonight with Kyle and Jimmy. He seems distracted. I have to repeat myself before he remembers. He assures me we'll be done in time to meet them.

Derek has to take a call, so I go to warm up. When his call ends, we begin rehearsal.

/

It's been a REALLY long day. Nothing seems to make Derek happy. I've done the number four dozen times it seems, and every time he wants me to change something.

He's not usually like this. He usually knows exactly what he wants with only a few minor revisions.

Just as I'm starting to get frustrated, Ivy walks in. What is SHE doing here?

Whoa, I'm sorry. Did Derek just ask her to stay to critique my performance?! You have got to be kidding me.

Is it nine o’clock yet?

/

Jimmy

It's dark and I'm in a section of the city that I haven't set foot in in almost a year. Head down, I'm walking as fast as I can. I'm hoping I can get out of here before anyone I know sees me.

I open the gate, and cross the short space to the house. I push open the window to my old room. I guess he still doesn't lock it. Looking around to make sure no one sees, I climb inside.

I search my old desk by the light of a small lamp. It's not here. He must have moved things around. What if he threw it out?

I can't think about that right now. I turn to my old dresser. I quickly paw through the drawers. There it is! I grab the pages I need. I check to make sure they're all there before I leave.

I'm interrupted by a familiar voice in the doorway, "You got balls, Jimmy- I'll give you that."

Shit.

I try to run for it, but he's bigger than I am and blocking the door. He grabs me and won't let me go.

I struggle. Maybe I can get free and get out of here before it comes to blows.

No luck. He swings and connects with my face. I retaliate. He's wasted, I'm sober.

I throw a punch low, connecting with his stomach, knocking him breathless. He doubles over and I follow up with a hook to the face that should leave his head ringing- if it wasn't already from whatever he's on tonight.

Thankfully it’s enough- he's distracted and I take advantage of it. I sprint out of the house, leaping over the piles of trash and semi-conscious bodies that always seem to litter the floor here.

I should know. I used to be one of them.

I don't stop running until I've put five blocks between myself and that house. No one is following me, but I can't get far enough away fast enough. I fervently hope he was too wasted to remember I was there, and that he chalks his injuries up to someone else. I slow down. As the adrenaline starts to ebb I realize my lip hurts. I reach up to touch it and my fingers come away bloody. Great. He busted my lip.

Oh well. Nothing I can do about it now. At least I didn't drop the pages. It wasn't a total loss at least.

I stuff the pages in my pocket and head to dinner.

/

Karen

Derek is still yelling. It seems to be the only volume he's had for the last three hours.

I don't understand what he wants. I get that he has a lot riding on this, but he seems unusually tense, even for Derek.

Ivy gets up and leaves without making suggestions. Well, at least one thing has gone right today.

I realize it's getting late. We're not going to make the meeting. I need to call Kyle to give him the bad news.

Jimmy is going to be so angry. Not that I blame him, I feel the same way. Though, I'm not sure that I'm more upset that I have to endure more of this maddening rehearsal or that I know I'm letting Kyle and Jimmy down.

/

Jimmy

I walk in the restaurant and scan the room for Kyle. He's sitting in the middle of the room, checking his phone. He's the only one at the table. Well, at least I'm not the last to arrive. And I'm in time to give him the pages before Derek gets here.

I walk up behind him, "Hey."

He's angry. "You're late," he accuses me. "But, it's okay, everyone is," he allows. He looks at the papers in his folder. "I really hope this is good enough," he frets.

I take the pages out of my pocket and toss them on top of the rest, "Will this help?"

He looks up at me, incredulous as I sit down. "Your lip! Jimmy, what did you do?" His look shifts from surprised to worried. "I told you not to go back there." His concern is written all over his face, and it's not for my lip. I've had worse.

Isn't it obvious? Keeping my face neutral, "It's your one shot, right pal?" I smile at him.

It hurts to smile. I touch my lip. Did he really think I wasn't going to go?

"OUR shot, Jimmy." Before he can make me feel bad about putting myself in danger his phone buzzes.

He answers it, "Karen, hey." I listen to his side of the conversation.

His voice and face fall, "Really, that's um…"

I've heard enough. I take the phone.

"Karen, what's up?"

"Hey… I'm rehearsing with Derek and we can't get away. I'm so sorry. Um… The good news is he knows you were ready and he's very excited." She sounds sincere, but I barely register that.

I knew this was going to happen.

I hear Derek's voice in the background calling for Karen.

Karen continues, "I'll call you tomorrow to reschedule, k?" Sure you will… I cut my eyes to Kyle.

I hang up without bothering to respond.

Kyle's waiting. "What'd she say?"

"Nothing. Let's bounce." I toss his phone on the table in front of him and head for the door. I don't want to see the look on his face.

/

The next day I'm perched in the loft, drinking.

All day I've watched Kyle- phone in hand- wear tracks in our floor pacing. Evidently he thinks that if he sets his phone down it will lose its magic and no longer ring.

Karen hasn't called. I'm not surprised, but my eyes are getting tired. Watching him make his way back and forth across the apartment is a lot like watching an eternal tennis match.

On his 4,000th pass he looks up at me. "I texted Karen again, but I haven't heard back yet. I'm sure she'll call later with a new time."

I'm not sure who he's trying to convince, himself or me. It's the third time he's texted her with no response.

I roll my eyes, "Oh yeah, much later. Like eight months or… never." Watching his optimism wane is making me angry. I knew this would happen once "Bombshell" was back on. She doesn't need us now. We were just a means to an end and now that we're unnecessary we're forgotten.

Sometimes I hate being right. I scrape at the label of my beer with my thumb. I can't watch him pace anymore.

Kyle hasn't given up though. He's still trying to convince me not to give up hope. For the first time in an hour he stands still and looks up at me. "Karen's worked too hard to just disappear. She got Derek excited about us- and recorded a demo for free."

"And you're basing this on what? You've known her for like two minutes."

"I can just tell. She's not fake. I promise."

I consider his words. I want to believe them. The last week seems to indicate he's right.

It's been less than 24 hours since our cancelled meeting. And I know from past experience that I tend to jump to the worst conclusions quickly. My trust is slow to earn, and quick to lose. Maybe she deserves a second chance to keep it. I put down my beer.

I hop down from the loft, grab the folder containing Kyle's hopes and leave the apartment.

/

Karen

I arrived at rehearsal this morning dreading the idea of more torture at the hands of Derek on behalf of "Moving the Line". We finally got it in a form he didn't hate last night, but I was sure that overnight he'd have changed his mind again.

But all worry of that evaporated when Julia, the musical's book writer charged in, scripts in hand, actor and wardrobe in tow.

We're briefed on the new plan. Oh boy. This isn't going to help Derek's audition with the producer from "The Wiz".

Today is not going to be a good day.

/

After a few hours practice, I'm called away to hair and makeup for our performance.

When I return there's a bed in the rehearsal room. Ronnie and the producer have arrived and so has Eileen.

It's time to begin.

/

Jimmy

I exit the elevator and can hear singing down the hall. I follow the sound and find its source- an open door.

I meant to go in, but I pause in the doorway. There's a scene unfolding before me and I'm mesmerized. Karen is in full costume and wig as Marilyn. No wonder she didn't answer her phone.

While I prefer her longer dark hair, there's no escaping the fact that she's enchanting as Marilyn.

Kyle was right, Karen manages to capture not just Marilyn's obvious sexual side, but also her childlike innocence, the hopefulness she always exuded- that this time, the love would be real.

Ok, so I know a little about Marilyn- I live with Kyle ok? All he talked about for a week was Marilyn- and Karen- when he came back from seeing the show in Boston.

Marilyn is being seduced by an actor I can only assume is playing JFK- his manner, hair and lines suggest it anyway. He lays her down gently on the bed and the scene ends.

The spell is broken and I applaud. It takes me a moment to realize everyone is staring at me, and that no one else is clapping.

"Who are you?" a loud British voice demands.

I turn and see a man I've seen at the bar before. "Oh, you must be Derek." I wave. Dorky- I know, but I'm a little drunk- it's been a long afternoon watching Kyle pace and fret. "I'm Jimmy Collins."

"Jimmy who?" he demands without a hint of recognition. My smile fades. I knew it!

I glare at Karen, "Exactly." I turn and leave the building. I hate being right sometimes.

/

I can't get out of that building fast enough. I should have never trusted her. I should know better. Karen lied. Probably about everything.

But why would she lie? What was the point? Once she had my music copied to her computer, why not tell us he wasn't interested? Maybe she wanted to hang around longer to see if there was more. I don't know. All I know is that we've been had. There never was a meeting.

I am so done with Karen Cartwright.

No sooner has this thought left my head than she's behind me, calling my name. "Jimmy! Wait up!"

I turn and see her jogging toward me. I admit- it's an impressive feat in heels and that tight fitting Marilyn dress. If I were in a better mood I might even laugh about the wig trailing from her hand looking like a dead cat.

"What happened to your lip?!" she sounds shocked.

Don't pretend to care about me. "It doesn't matter."

"Jimmy, I'm sorry about the last few days, it's just been crazy.”

Whatever. "You don't have to explain Karen, your show is in rehearsal, it's totally fine. I get it." I try to assure her that I expected this. After all, I did. I'm only surprised that I'm surprised to be right. I was really starting to think she might be different. Joke's on me.

"Just because I'm in "Bombshell" doesn't mean I'm any less available for you and Kyle. I totally meant what I said about your musical. We're going to get it moving."

It'd really be better if she'd just quit pretending. If she's sincere in her intention (which I doubt) then she just needs to face the fact that she has neither the time nor the clout to do so.

"Uh, how? Derek doesn't even know who the hell we are."

"That's not true! I've played him your songs and he loved them. He was just in the moment- and it was our first day in rehearsal in a long time. He just couldn't place you, that's all." Right. Or, she hasn't been talking about us as much as she claimed.

I don't think she realizes what all this is doing to Kyle. How seriously he's taking this. I need to make her understand that it would be better to walk away now if this isn't going to happen rather than continue to torture Kyle with hope only to keep snatching it away.

"Look, I really don't care either way. This is just a bunch of crap I scribbled down when I was wasted," I point to the folder in my hand. "But to Kyle, this is everything. And for the first time in his life YOU have him believing that everything he's EVER wanted could actually come true. Now, if that's not the case- YOU tell him."

My words seem to register. She looks upset. I turn and leave her standing on the street. I have nothing else to say to her.

/

Karen

When I get back to rehearsal I pull Derek aside. "We need to talk."

"Now is not really a good time, love. In case you didn't notice my audition for "The Wiz" didn't go that well."

I ignore that. "That was Jimmy. He's the composer we were supposed to meet last night. He and Kyle worked really hard to get ready for our meeting- which we missed- did you even remember that we had one?" The look on his face negates the need for a response.

I shake my head, exasperated. "Look, if you're not serious about helping them, you need to tell me. I don't want lie to them. I told them you would help them. If that's not true now that "Bombshell" is back on, tell me so I can tell them. AND so I can try to find someone else who will. It's a good show, and they've worked hard. They deserve a shot- even if it's not with you."

He says nothing, just walks back into the rehearsal room. I sigh. I’m not sure what I expected.

I walk over to hair and makeup to return the wig and change out of my dress. There's more rehearsal to do, and the show must go on, right? I'll go by Jimmy and Kyle's later to break the news.

/

At the end of rehearsal, I point myself in the direction of Jimmy and Kyle's. It would be easier to put this off, but I really shouldn't. I'm getting out my phone to text Kyle when I'm stopped by Derek's voice calling my name.

Surprised, I turn around. Other than what was necessary, we didn't really talk much the last half of rehearsal.

"Do you suppose your friends will still be ready tonight?" I look at him, confused. "After all, I can't know if I'm serious about helping them until I know more."

I'm speechless for a minute. "Uh, yeah. Sure. I mean, I'm sure they are."

We grab a cab and head to Brooklyn.

As Derek and I approach their front door I realize that I never called Kyle to let him know we were coming.

Oh well, we're here now.

/

Jimmy

Kyle has finally given up trying to talk to me. Fine by me. Since I got home, he's been asking where I went this afternoon, and I don't know what to tell him. Instead, we take up drinking.

There's a knock at the door. I don't even look up from my show. Kyle gets up and checks the peephole.

"Uh, Jimmy? Karen is outside with Derek Wills."

I laugh at him, "You're that drunk already? You are such a light weight."

"No, they are REALLY here." I turn to look at him. He nervously flattens his hair with his hands and prepares to open the door. I realize he's serious.

"Well, they can go, 'cause I am NOT having this 'meeting' right now- screw them." I just wrote them off and now they're back- dammit. More false hope. Leave us alone already!

Kyle opens the door. Seriously?! "What did I just say?!" He ignores me and I throw myself back against the couch. He has no idea what's best for him. He's just setting himself up for more pain later.

Kyle is effusive in his excitement, "Derek! Kyle Bishop. I can't believe you're standing in my apartment…" I don't even have to turn around to picture Derek's amusement at my star struck roommate.

"Hello again, Jimmy," he calls to me, almost taunting me. I ignore that. "I'm Derek…" I imitate his stupid accent in my head. "I like your work…" Go away.

I hear his footsteps enter my apartment. He stands in front of me. "Sorry, I was a bit busy earlier," he continues. "Plus, I'm not a big fan of uninvited guests in my rehearsal room."

My bad. Snidely I cite Karen's excuse from earlier, "Well, you had a lot on your plate." Guess you don't have time for us then. What are you doing here?

He sounds slightly more sincere. "Yes, I did." He closes my computer. Out of the corner of my eye I see Karen and Kyle smirking and looking knowingly at each other. Jerks. All three of them. "But I'm here now." I look up at him.

Crap. He's right. He came all the way to Brooklyn to see me and Kyle. And I'm acting like a sullen child and probably messing it up. Again.

Derek sits down beside me and puts his feet up. I turn to him and try to sound as grateful as I now feel. "It's cool you kept your promise." They both did. I look at Karen who is sitting across from us looking relieved that I'm being civil. "That's rare."

She really is. Dammit, this isn't going to help my other problem.

Kyle offers Derek a beer, which he accepts.

"Right then, let's hear it. Tell me about your show."

Looking at Kyle, I get up and launch into explanation. "So there's this kid…" I sketch in the characters and start on the plot summary. Kyle and Karen jump in whenever I forget something.

"…Until she hears him playing one of his songs..." Without my consent my eyes cut to Karen. She's balanced on the arm of the couch near Derek. I continue.

A little while later my traitorous eyes find Karen again. "…He doesn't care if his love for her destroys him, because when he hears her sing…" She's enthralled listening to my story. Watching her, I lose my train of thought. Not for the first time I think about how much my life lately seems to mirror our show.

I hope my life has a happier ending than the one we have planned… "It, uh… it gets pretty dark after that." I conclude distractedly.

She pokes Derek. "You like it."

"It feels quite current." He suggests "Hit List" as a title. I like it.

Kyle, Derek and I discuss some of the details as he pages through our work. He suggests some changes. I'm not sure I like that. But Kyle seems up for it- of course he'd probably agree with Derek that the sky was green. We admit there's no Act 2 yet and he assures us that it isn't a problem.

Karen suggests playing some songs, and I'm happy to oblige. This might actually be happening. I can't remember the last time I allowed myself to be so excited. Karen goes to the fridge to get more beer for the four of us and then settles next to me on the piano bench.

This catches me off guard. I can feel her warmth beside me. My arm grazes hers as I play, sending tingles up my arm. I try to push it out of my head and focus on the music. I don't want to mess this up.

After a few songs I ask Karen to sing one. I know she knows them all.

It doesn't matter how many times I hear her sing, I don't think I'll ever tire of it. It's so clear how much joy singing brings her. Her beautiful face is radiant as she sings the words I wrote.

/

It's getting late, and Karen and Derek get ready to leave. Derek suggests a few ways to get our songs some recognition and he leaves. Karen stays an extra moment to tell us she'll call in a few days.

There's so much I want to say to her before she goes- thank you for all you've done, for not letting us down. For making Kyle's dreams a possibility. That I'm sorry for… well almost everything I've said or thought since we've met. I was wrong about you. Let's get dinner tomorrow. Stay. Don't go.

But I'm not ready to admit any of that out loud yet. I settle for a safe, "Goodnight," and watch her leave.

/

Karen

In the cab on the way home I lean my head against the window and think about the last few hours.

Tonight was nice. It's times like this that I realize what an incredible guy Jimmy can be. Even today when he was upset, his intentions were good- he was looking out for Kyle.

It was fascinating watching Jimmy so excited, so passionate about the story. He was more animated than I've ever seen him- other than that first night at the piano. I've heard the story at least half a dozen times this week, but watching Jimmy tell it tonight was like hearing it for the first time.

Sitting at the piano with Jimmy was… an interesting experience. I'm not sure what came over me. That was the closest we'd been to each other- ever. His arm touching mine as he played sent tingles through my body. I wonder if he felt it too. I sigh. Probably not. I think I messed up any chance of that at the party the other night.

Too bad. I could watch his hands move gracefully across the keys and listen to him sing all night. His voice is incredible.

I think back to right before I left. It seemed almost as if Jimmy wanted to say something.

I wonder what he was thinking about.

The cab stops in front of my apartment. I wake Derek to tell him goodnight. Apparently he'd dozed off. I wasn't very good company I guess.

Oops.

Chapter Text

Karen

The last two weeks or so have passed in a blur. The guys have been working to find a place to get their songs heard, and I when I've had time I've tried to help.

Sadly though, the guys and I haven't had any luck finding a place for their music to be heard.

We're, I mean, they're on several waiting lists… but that could take six months or more and Jimmy is not the most patient person I've ever known. He's already starting to get frustrated and irritable. And I'm frustrated that I'm not more help.

Rehearsals for "Bombshell" have slowed down a little this week while Julia works on the book with the dramaturge, Peter. But we've been doing what we can.

Eileen is hoping that the show will be free to move forward soon and doesn't want to waste any time.

But while we've been in a pseudo-holding pattern Derek and Tom have been working on Ronnie's concert. They put it on the fast track since they're trying to squeeze it in before Bombshell picks back up. They even asked me to participate as a backup singer and dancer- of course I said yes.

Getting to work with Ronnie Moore? It's a dream come true.

I'm currently sitting in an auditorium watching Ronnie rehearse "I've Got Love." Dance rehearsal will start soon, but I got here early to listen to her sing. She's incredible. She finishes her song and the other dancers and I applaud wildly.

Watching Tom and Derek trying work together without Julia to mediate between them is kind of funny. They are such opposites. Derek questions Ronnie’s song choice and her mother and Tom defend her.

Did Tom just hiss at Derek's retreating back?

Derek’s storming off doesn’t bode well for the rest of rehearsal, but his parting words, "Find me something raw for God's sake!" gave me an idea. Maybe I can help both Derek and Jimmy. And Kyle of course.

/

Jimmy

Kyle's on the phone again. I think he's called every bar with an Open Mic Night in the city. And if he didn't call them then Karen probably has.

We haven't seen much of her- she's been busy with rehearsal- but for the last two weeks she and Kyle have worn out their phones trying to find a place for us to play our songs. But every one of them has a waiting list of no less than six months. Apparently this is the City that Never Stops Singing. I helped for a while, but got banned from the job when I yelled at the tenth guy to tell me there was nothing they could do. He hangs up.

I already know the answer, but I ask anyway, "What'd they say?"

"Same as Joe's Pub- send us your demos and we'll be in touch, but we're booked for the next six months."

I play my part and ask the next question, "Did you mention Derek?"

He nods and gives his next line in our little farce, "They asked if he was directing our concert."

"And you told them no, because that he won't do. I just love help that's not actually help," I complain bitterly.

Kyle the eternal optimist and peacemaker, "He IS helping us. He told us what we needed to do while we finish writing our musical. Try out material somewhere it counts. Build buzz, get noticed. It's called development." I'm really getting tired of that word. Development. "We're on the road. Musicals take years to develop." I wonder how many times I've heard this pep talk this week. "There are no shortcuts," he concludes.

Almost as if she's in the room listening, Kyle's phone buzzes and Karen's picture pops up on the screen.

"Yeah? Tell that to our shortcut." Karen has been as fanatical as Kyle. She's taking this lack of success personally. With every rejection I think she finds three more places to call. I wonder if she's calling to report on the last of her half the phone book.

Kyle answers, "Hey."

I listen to his end of the conversation.

"Um, half hour, 45 minutes?" "Oh my God, really? You're kidding!" "Ok, ok. I'll tell Jimmy! Thanks so much, Karen!" He hangs up.

I wait. He's staring at me in wide-eyed disbelief. "Yo. Kyle. What's up? Did she find us a place to play?" I find that hard to believe, but I can't imagine what else would render him so speechless.

"Um… no. Well, sort of." Kyle struggles to form a coherent thought. I begin to lose patience.

"Ky. Spit it out." He seems to get it together.

"Karen is rehearsing for Ronnie's concert and Derek needs a new song. Something raw- Karen thought we might have something. She wants us in Manhattan as soon as we can get there. She said to bring any music we think might work." He pauses. "Jimmy, Ronnie Moore might sing one of our songs! Can you believe it?"

Personally, I'm blown away by the fact that Karen has come through for us AGAIN. I have to be honest, I'd never heard of Ronnie Moore until Karen mentioned the concert she was doing with her. That's Kyle's thing. I mean, I like the theater and all, but I don't really follow it, you know?

I grab some music off the piano and my jacket from the closet and we head out.

/

We walk in and ask for Karen. The assistant directs us to the stage.

We come around the corner and see Karen talking to someone. Kyle quickly informs me that that is Ronnie.

I wave to get Karen's attention- she sees me and waves back. She leaves Ronnie and joins us.

Being here, in the theater, I'm realizing just how big this really is and I start to have doubts. We can't even get an Open Mic Night slot, and she thinks we have a chance with this?

"Look, this is a total long shot. I don't even know what we're doing here."

"It can't hurt to ask," she points out. I guess that's true. But if you don't ask, they can't say no.

Of course, they can't say yes either… hmm.

"You could have dressed up though." I see Kyle laugh out of the corner of my eye. He's barked up that tree before too. I look down. What's wrong with what I'm wearing?

Derek spots us and joins our group, "What are you doing here?"

Maybe it's the accent, maybe I'm hypersensitive- but it comes across as 'WHY are you here?'

I defend myself, "We heard you needed a song." I look at Karen for reassurance. Didn’t tell Derek we were coming? She nods encouragingly at me.

Our party gets bigger. Some other guy joins us. "I went through mine and Julia's old catalogue. Our musical "Temps" was pretty raw if I say so myself." He hands some music to Derek.

What are we doing here if this guy has all the songs they need?

Derek takes the music, glancing at each piece, "No, nope, nope, oh no," tossing each one to the side as he vetoes it. He turns to us. "What've you got?"

The new guy pipes up, slightly offended, "I'm sorry, who are these people?" But, he's eyeing Kyle with interest.

Karen introduces us, "Oh! This is Kyle Bishop and his friend, Jimmy Collins."

Kyle interjects, "We're big fans." Of course he knows who this is. But don't speak for me.

I turn to him and without trying to keep New Guy from hearing I remind Kyle, "I've never seen any of his stuff." Karen and Kyle both shoot me looks. If we were sitting at a table I'd probably have two bruised shins.

What? Why lie?

Derek steps in, "These delightful young people are could be you in twenty years."

"Fifteen!" New Guy protests. "Look, I'm the musical director of this show. I approve the songs."

"Great. So, approve them," Derek tells Music Director. He turns back to us. "Right, you've got six hours. Have a look in your trunk- bring me something vital."

Before I can even start thinking about what might work, some lady comes bursting in from the back, "Derek, they came around and I have closed the deal. Ronnie!" I'm guessing Ronnie's manager?

Derek turns away from us to face the dancers. "Alright everyone,” he calls loudly. “There was some contract wrangling, but it's done. Bravo will be filming tomorrow night's concert. It will be broadcast at a later date. Deals are being sent out to your agents. Start thinking about bringing your 'A' game, because your audience of a thousand just became a few million."

Their shock is audible but I hear Kyle sigh beside me. I look at him.

"Well, there goes our shot."

Karen jumps in, "What are you talking about? You need to get noticed, right? If you bring him the right song you'll get more than noticed. You'll get famous." She smiles at us before returning to dance practice. I nudge Kyle and smile him.

I watch her retreating figure. I can't believe she's gotten us this chance. How did we get so lucky?

/

Karen

On our next break Tom and I join the guys in the practice room. Jimmy is at the piano and I move to stand next to it to sing. Kyle is on one end of the couch and Tom takes the other.

He liked the first three pieces we offered but they weren't what he was looking for. We try again. We look over to see what he thought.

He sighs, "Like the first three, it's good, but it's not going to work for this."

I sigh. Kyle suggests "I'm Not Lost".

"I don't know that one," I admit. Jimmy nods and sings it himself. I'm always amazed by the power of his voice.

Jimmy sees Tom glance at his watch. Oh boy. As expected, Jimmy loses it.

"I'm sorry, do you have somewhere else to be?" I wish that just every now and then Jimmy could control his volatile temper… it's going to ruin everything. Come on Jimmy. I can get you opportunities, but you have to make the most of them. Being rude to a Broadway composer is not the way to do that.

Unsurprisingly, Tom doesn't appreciate Jimmy's tone. Sarcasm drips from his voice, "Let's see, I'm music directing a concert for a huge Broadway star in less than twenty four hours that's apparently going to be televised and I don't know what songs she's going to do. So no, totally free."

I try to make peace by distracting Jimmy, "What about "Room to Breathe"?"

Kyle looks back at Tom and tries to help, "Just the chorus?"

Jimmy doesn't like that idea. "No! No, that is NOT how you listen to music!" He turns on Tom, "What, you want someone to listen to your music like that?"

Tom fires back, "Hey, when we were starting out we were lucky to even get alone in a room with a music director for five seconds, let alone five minutes."

Tom is called to the stage by the PA system.

But before he goes he tries to explain. "Look, everything you've played is great. But it's not Ronnie's voice. It might be what Derek wants, but she has to sing it. And she loves Broadway. She IS Broadway."

The PA interrupts again, this time with Derek yelling for Tom. He yells back, even though Derek can't hear him.

I stop him before he can leave, "Uh, will you be back? 'Cause they've got a lot more."

"I'll try, but…" He shrugs. Doesn't he need a song? These are the guys who could find it for him. I'm trying not to be ungrateful for his time, but I don't feel like he's taking them very seriously and that upsets me.

Kyle jumps in, "We'll write something new." I look at Jimmy, did Kyle really just say...? "Something Ronnie and Derek. Broadway and us." Jimmy is looking at his roommate in disbelief.

Tom looks skeptical. "I'd have to have it by the end of rehearsal tonight so I could arrange it in time for the concert."

"Sondheim wrote "Send in the Clowns" in one day," Kyle points out.

"And you and Julia wrote "Don't Forget Me" in less than that." I hope this will make him more sympathetic. They needed something to go right for them that day too.

"True," he admits. He looks around Kyle to Jimmy. "You fast?"

Jimmy tilts his head in acknowledgement. Kyle steps back in front of Tom before Jimmy can say anything, "He's got it."

/

Jimmy

Tom looks as unconvinced as I feel. But Kyle is unwavering in his certainty. Maybe because he's not the one who has to do it. This kid is writing checks I'm not sure I'll be able to cash. But I wasn't about to tell that to Tom.

I'm getting so sick of people telling us to 'wait our turn'- we're here in front of a music director- isn't this 'our turn'?

AND, I'm tired of people telling me to be grateful for the opportunities they deign themselves to give us. I'll be grateful when they stop acting like every second of their time is as precious as the president's during a nuclear crisis.

Reality sets in as Tom leaves, "What did I just agree to?" I wonder aloud, scrubbing my face with my hands.

Kyle gives me a pep talk, "Don't worry. You got this."

Karen just looks at me for a moment. "Good luck," she says simply. She turns to go. She has to get back to rehearsal.

"Thanks," I sigh as I watch her leave. I take a deep breath and turn back to the piano- I have a song to write apparently. I stare at the keys and hope that inspiration strikes quickly.

/

Surprisingly, it doesn't take long for inspiration to strike. Unsurprisingly, it was because of Karen.

I'm fiddling around, trying out some chords, thinking about the last few weeks. A month ago I was a guy who worked at a bar who wrote music to humor his roommate. Today- well, I still work at a bar- but I'm sitting in a theater in Manhattan writing a song that might be sung by a Broadway star on TV. And it's all because of Karen.

Karen. She's the catalyst in all of this. She's altered my life- in more ways than just my present surroundings.

I wish I could let go of my reservations, my defenses and tell her how I feel. But I just can't seem to do it. Every time I've had the opportunity I've backed away from it. Why do I do that?

A phrase pops into my head, "I can't let go…" I play it.

It resonates in me, the way things do when I know I'm on to something. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find the next line.

Kyle is standing, pencil in hand waiting to write down the next words- but those four are apparently all I've got. I try again, and again. I play the chords and sing the words and… nothing.

The phrase leads nowhere. I groan.

For the fifth time Kyle tries to reassure me, "It's great."

“No, something's off."

"No it's not. It's perfect. Really. Keep going." He's determined that I can write this song by the end of the day. I'm not so sure.

"Yeah, it's pretty. But it's not connecting for me, man. I mean, I can't find the next phrase."

"What do you need right now? What would help you?" Mr. Fix-It to the rescue.

"Scotch. Weed." Those probably not allowed in here though… I look at him, "Coke?" I already know the answer to that one. I've done well lately avoiding the latter. Kyle isn't about to let me open that box again. He looks at me and makes a face. I smile to let him know I was kidding- mostly.

"Just… space." I need to think and that's hard to do with Kyle cheerleading every note I play.

"Fine, I'll leave you alone for a little while." Crap, I think I hurt his feelings. But if he wants this song, I need some quiet.

"Thanks," I tell him gratefully. He understands, I tell myself.

"Alright." I sigh as I place my hands back on the keys.

I try again. Same result. What is it they say about insanity and doing the same thing over and over?

"What’s that?" I didn't even notice Karen walk in the room. I guess they're on break again.

"Hey!" I'm glad to see her. I gesture at the piano, "Just something I can't get right." I look at her, considering.

Maybe she can help. After all, she gave me the first four words- maybe she can help me find the next ones.

"What do you think of this?" I sing the line she inspired.

She considers it for a moment. She nods, "It's good." She pauses, "It probably should go up instead of down, like um…" she demonstrates.

"Huh." Why didn't I think of that? I try it out. Now it sounds like the start of a thought instead of the conclusion. "Yeah! Yes! Thank you!" I sigh and stare at the keys. With her help, I'm out of the corner I wrote myself into, but I'm still not sure where to go next.

"Is everything ok?" She sounds concerned.

"Yeah. Just I'm not quite sure what the target is that I'm supposed to hit here. I've never actually written a song FOR someone before."

"So don't.” She shrugs, “Write for you."

I consider that. I haven't really written for ME much either. Usually I'm writing for Kyle's musical. I mean, I write when inspiration strikes, but lately the songs have been about our characters.

Looking at her, I realize there are a lot of emotions whirling in me right now that I can't seem to say out loud. Maybe I can put them into song for someone else to sing.

"I should probably get back up there." She turns to go.

"Yeah." I don't want her to leave. I feel better just having her here.

I take the leap I wasn't ready to make the other night, or any day since. "Actually, can you um, stay?" It's a long shot. She has rehearsal. But at least if she says no, I can believe it was because of that, and not because she's rejecting me.

She looks at me, surprised. Did I really just ask that?

"I'd really appreciate it," I finish somewhat lamely.

Watching me, she nods slowly. With that small gesture of acceptance, I have the next line. I slide over to make room for her. She sits on the bench next to me, just as she did the other night.

I play the line for her. "I can't let go, I need it to remind me…"

She smiles at me, "I like that. It's nice."

I smile back at her. I can hear it now. I play a bit more with her by my side. Neither of us notice when Kyle walks in.

He clears his throat.

I wonder how long he's been standing there, watching us. He looks upset. Karen checks the time. She has to get back to rehearsal.

"Thank you for your help," I tell her sincerely.

She smiles down at me, and it feels like the sun. "I'll come back on our next break," she promises.

I smile back at that, it's like we're the only two people in the room. "Ok. See you then." I look down at the piano and smile. I feel lighter now than I have all day.

Kyle clears his throat signaling that we’re alone again. "I thought you needed space?"

"Dude, I did. But she walked in and… Look, she helped me get to the next line. What was I supposed to do? Kick her out?"

Kyle says nothing. I guess I did sort of kick him out before. Whatever. I don't have time to worry about that right now, I've found my inspiration and I need to get back to the music before it leaves me.

I offer an olive branch, "Want to hear what I've got?"

He sighs, "Sure." He can never stay mad at me for long.

I picture Karen's face and imagine her still beside me and begin to play. The words flow this time. The chorus, the verses pour from my soul. It's liberating really, to free the feelings I've bottled up for so long.

/

Karen

I wonder what's up with Jimmy today. That's twice now that he's seemed to lack confidence. Which is weird, usually his confidence is the one constant with him.

He looked so lost when he asked me to stay. Like a little boy.

I think about Kyle's face when he found us together. I realize how it must have looked to him, us sitting so close together, smiling at each other, working on Jimmy's song. I suddenly feel like an intruder. I don't want Kyle to think I'm trying to replace him in Jimmy's life. I'm not. And certainly Jimmy isn't thinking that. Most of the time, he can barely tolerate me. Today is the exception, not the rule.

But at least he seems to want me to come back later. I guess I'm not totally unwelcome.

Which is good, I want to hear what he comes up with. 'Yeah, that's the only reason,' my little voice observes drily.

Rehearsal starts and I refocus my attention.

/

What was amusing this morning becomes less so as the day progresses. Derek and Tom's inability to work together amicably coupled with Ronnie's mother barging in every five minutes has made rehearsal a trying place- at best- and miserable at worst.

Ronnie is uncomfortable and frustrated. The dancers and I are frustrated at all the starts and stops. It's hard to learn anything when it changes or is interrupted every other time you do it.

We're still trying to make the new version of "I've Got Love" work. Derek barks direction at Ronnie. He's getting angry- and now Ronnie is giggling nervously as a dancer touches her.

Derek leaves his table in the seats- never a good sign. He climbs up onstage and starts yelling at her while she's trying to sing. From personal experience, I know that being on the receiving end of that is almost as awful as watching it happen to someone else. Especially when that someone is trying so hard to do what's being asked of her. Ronnie's not ready for this. And Derek isn't helping.

For the thousandth time today Tom and her mother intervene. Hey look, another break…

I wonder if the guys are having better luck than we are.

/

Jimmy

Karen returns as I'm trying to work out the ending- it's really the first time I've been stuck since she left.

"Hey! Come sit." I pat the bench beside me.

She takes her seat beside me and I play for her what I've got so far. She watches me play, encouraging me with her smile. And suddenly I know how I want to end it.

When I reach the last of what I'd written before, I wing it. I look at her as I sing the new words, "Would you help me? Help me to let go." The last note trails off and I see Kyle looking at me in surprise. Karen claps.

"Jimmy! You did it!" She's grinning at me. "It's amazing!" She gives me a quick hug.

I look up at Kyle who's looking at me funny. I get worried. "What? Don’t you like it?"

"It's… no. It's perfect." He pencils in the last lines and hands the sheets to me to look over. Karen rests her chin on my shoulder as she reads it with me. I smile at her.

She jumps up, pulling me with her and grabs the papers from me. "We need to find Derek." She disappears through the door. I follow her, trying to keep up.

/

Karen

I find Derek in the alley with Ivy.

"Derek! Derek! You've gotta hear this song. It'll break your heart. It's simple, it's pure, it's Broadway, but with a fresh take." I sound like I'm in a wash powder commercial.

Derek looks at me, "Yeah, well, slight change of program. I don't need a new song." He looks at Ivy who smiles at him and walks away. "I'm going to give the people what they want…" he says sarcastically. "No fresh take required." I look at Ivy's shadow disappearing through the doorway.

What did she do?

Before I can respond, Jimmy cuts in. "I'm sorry, what are you saying? You're not going to listen to the song?" Jimmy immediately leaps to the worst conclusion.

"I've got a show to direct, alright?"

"No dude. You're going to hear it. That's the least you could do."

"Jimmy, calm down." He should let me talk. I can probably get Derek to listen to it if Jimmy would just chill. I try to explain to Derek, "He's just been working really hard."

"Don't speak for me." He's gone now. He's lashing out. He turns on Derek. "If I'm going to be screwed by someone, it's not going to be you."

Derek turns to me, "If this is how he behaves when he doesn't get his way, “Hit List” is very unlikely to happen." Oh good, now Derek's talking to me as if Jimmy isn't standing right next to him. This is bad.

But it's also unfair. "Hey, it isn't about that." I shoot Jimmy a pleading look. Breathe. Calm down. Please.

"Just hear the song, Derek." Jimmy says through clenched teeth. He sees me silently willing him to control his temper. He takes a deep breath and in a more reasonable tone explains, "I gave everything I got. Give me five minutes. I deserve that." I have to agree with Jimmy.

"No! No one deserves anything in this business." I realize that this isn't about Jimmy anymore. Derek's taking his own frustrations out on him. "You wait your turn and earn it. You are not there yet." Derek stands up to leave and Jimmy blocks his way, "Seriously?" Derek is incredulous.

It's not worth it. I try to get Jimmy to let him pass. "Jimmy,…" I touch his arm and he swats my hand away.

Derek cuts me off. "It's alright, darling. He's just showing off for you." Doubtful.

Jimmy shakes his head and lets Derek by. He watches him walk away. He turns to me, "Come on, let's go."

What does he mean? I can't leave. "I have a show to do."

"You're not staying." Is he serious? I can't abandon Ronnie twenty four hours before her concert. It's a big enough mess as it is. And this is my career. It would be completely unprofessional. You don't leave because you don't get your way.

"Jimmy,…" I want to make him understand, but he doesn't want to hear it.

He cuts me off, "You know what? I'm outta here." He turns and walks down the street, disappearing into the night. I stand helplessly, watching him walk away.

I turn to see Tom standing behind me. I wonder how much he saw and heard.

In hindsight, it may have been better to take the song to him first. He is the music director- and a little more reasonable usually. Too late now. I sigh and look down at my feet.

I realize I'm still holding the manuscript pages in my hand. Maybe it's not too late. I walk over to Tom.

"Jimmy finished his song. It's good. It's really good. Derek just blew him off, but please, play it. I… I think this could really be something." I hand him the pages and walk back inside.

/

Jimmy

I'm fuming as I walk the dark streets.

He isn't even going to listen to it? I worked all day on this! I poured out my heart for this, I bared my soul. That's something I haven't done- ever.

And he has the nerve to give me more of that 'wait your turn' crap? Oh hell no. I'm here and I have a song ready- what more do I have to do to earn my shot? I'm tired of this 'my time is more valuable than yours' crap. Kyle and I both gave up work today for this- our time is valuable too. We have bills to pay, you pompous ass.

And he is so far off base- if I wanted to show off for Karen, he'd be lying on the ground.

What an asshole.

I can't believe she stayed with that jerk- good to know where her loyalties are. In the contest of Derek v. Jimmy- big shot director wins over penniless bartender. I knew it. Just when I thought she was different.

My anger begins to subside, but the emotions replacing it I don't want to face. I've never been good with that. Anger is easier.

I go to several clubs I know. I see some old… well, let's call them friends. With most of the money in my pocket I manage to procure some pills that will take the pain away.

I don't stay anywhere long. I'm sure by now Kyle is looking for me and I don't want him to find me.

I don't want to go home. I don't want him to tell me that I behaved badly, or that Karen had no choice- she had to stay, that if she left she'd be walking out not just on Derek- who totally deserved it- but also Ronnie and the other dancers. I don't want someone to tell me these things. I don't need them to.

I get it. I just don't want to. This is easier.

I take the pills. I feel better almost immediately. And now I have another reason for Kyle not to find me. I don't want him to see me like this.

He's worked hard to pull me out of this life. He tolerates the occasional joint, but he draws the line at pretty much everything else. I'd get a lecture if he finds me now. Screw that.

Like a nomad, I wander the city until dawn. I scrounge some breakfast at a diner with the remaining money in my pocket and head back toward the theater. I don't really want to see Kyle, but there is someone I do want to see. Maybe in my current state of mind, I can tell her some of the things I can't seem to be able to tell her when I'm sober.

I sit on the stairs of the fire escape and wait. I hope she shows up before Kyle. Kyle shouldn't be here until tonight. And I bet Karen has to be here early.

/

Karen

It's early, but I can't wait any longer. Jimmy hasn't returned any of my phone calls and I'm getting worried. He was really mad last night.

I call Kyle. "Kyle, it's me, uh, I just wanted to check on Jimmy- see how he's doing. Is he there?"

"No, he's not here. In fact, I have no idea where he is. I gave up looking for him around five." It sounds like Kyle is angry, but maybe that's just worry.

What? "He's been gone all night?"

"Look Karen, you're a really nice person and it's great that you're trying to help us and stuff, but there's a lot you don't know, ok? Jimmy has a trigger and when it gets pulled, he disappears. Sometimes for hours- sometimes for days." My mind starts running through worst case scenarios.

"Well, let me help you look for him." I can be late, we finally worked out most of the pieces last night, but they want to do at least one run through today.

Kyle doesn't seem to hear me though. "I gotta go." He hangs up.

"Kyle?" But, I'm talking to empty air. Well, that didn't help ease my mind at all.

I lean against the counter. I want to help, but I don't have a clue where to start. I try calling Jimmy again. Nothing.

I sigh but I grab my stuff and head to work. What else can I do?

I spend my walk to work texting Kyle for news- he's ignoring me now too. Great.

/

Jimmy

I hear Karen's voice through the fog in my mind. "Hey, Jimmy. I just called about you."

"Hey!" I'm so glad to see her. I try to stand up and I stumble into her. She steadies me and gets me settled on a crate.

"Are you ok? You don't look so good." Now there's the million dollar question. On the one hand- great. Awesome even. On the other- not so good.

"I may have done some drugs." I try to joke about what I've done. I'm not sure she thinks it's funny.

"Well, you've definitely done some drugs. Which ones?"

I pass on answering her question. Not like I really remember anyway.

Her seeing me like this makes me wish I'd made different decisions last night. I don't know why I do this. Why can't I cope with my anger and disappointment like normal people? Why do I always need to find artificial happiness instead of finding it within myself or with other people? I try to express this. "Nothing makes sense sometimes, you know?" I'm not sure it comes out right. But she seems to understand.

"I know." She seems far away, lost in thought.

Something else occurs to me. I yelled at Derek last night. I wonder if he's even willing to help us anymore. Did I mess this up for Kyle? Again? "Like, did I screw everything up? 'Cause, like I was angry and then Derek was angry and then Kyle was angry-"

And Karen- I pushed her away again. I wonder if I've messed that up for good too. "I mean, are you angry?"

She shakes her head, but I can tell she's uncomfortable seeing me like this. She doesn't seem to want to look at me for long. "You're lying. You don't like this I see." She doesn't respond.

Argh. "I get SO sick of letting everyone down. I am sick of it. It's like I do it ALL the time." I'm so tired of being the screw up. Some people seem to make all the right decisions naturally. My decisions seem to run in the other direction. How do you change that?

Karen tries to distract me. "Let's go inside and get you some water. You can lay down in my dressing room." She wraps her hand around my arm and steadies me with her other hand. She pulls me down off the box we've been sitting on.

I pull away from her. "Oh no, I do NOT want to go in there." Oh no. I don't want to face those people right now. Not Kyle, and especially not Derek.

"Jimmy!"

"What? Why would I? What, so everyone can see what a mess I am?"

She tries to convince me that it's the right thing to do. "No. That's not why you go in there. You go in so everyone sees you can handle rejection. It makes them respect you. I mean, that's what I did when I didn't get Marilyn- I showed up for work."

"So you really want me to go in there like this? You think that this shows I can handle it?" Really? It seems more like I'm making their point. I couldn't hack it, I had to go get high to cope- yeah that's a great story.

She smiles. "You're learning. You're getting a thicker skin." She's still so certain. I realize something strange- she believes in me. She seems to think I can be better than what I am.

Damn. She seems to see something in me that I don't see in myself. I want to see it. Maybe she can help me. I want to be the person she thinks I can be. I want to make better decisions.

These realizations drive me to tell her something- a truth that I normally would have kept to myself. Ok, maybe the drugs help too. "I was waiting out here for you."

"You were?" She's surprised. I wonder if the surprise is for the action or the fact I admitted it.

She's so pretty. "I'm so glad you showed."

I can't stop myself. I know this is because of the drugs, and I know that I shouldn't, but I don't care. I've wanted to do this for weeks.

I lean in and kiss her.

At first I'm not sure that she isn't going to slap me, but I don't care. Then, to my surprise, she kisses me back.

It's incredible. It's nothing like any other kiss, ever. I want to pull her closer and kiss her harder. But I think about the promise made to myself just a moment ago- the one about making better decisions, so instead, I pull away and open my eyes. "Wow."

She seems to have had a similar reaction. She's looking up at me, a shy smile playing on her lips. She seems to be speechless too.

I say it again, "Wow- and I'm not just saying that because I'm rolling."

She giggles. "Let's try that again sometime when you're not high." Well, that's good news. She takes my hand tries to lead me inside, but I'm not ready to go yet. I'm too busy enjoying the lingering sensation of her lips on mine and my hand in hers. And contemplating the possibility of 'again'. I can't stop grinning.

Ok, that may be the drugs. She pulls until her hand falls out of mine.

Realizing that I'm not behind her, she comes back for me. "Come on." She giggles. She takes my hand again and this time I let her to lead me inside to her dressing room.

She sits me on the sofa and hands me a glass of water to drink. When I finish that she insists that I lie down and try to sleep. She's probably right. But there is no way I'll be able to sleep with her in the room.

Well, maybe if she laid down with me.

But I lie down anyway and watch her move about the room. Her movements are so graceful.

She has to leave to go to rehearsal but before she goes she sets a new glass of water on the table, covers me with a blanket, squeezes my shoulder and tells me she'll be back soon. She turns off the lights and I promise to try to sleep.

It turns out that without her around to distract me, sleep comes quickly.

/

Karen

I leave Jimmy in my dressing room and report to the stage.

The good news is, Tom loved Jimmy's piece and we spent the morning putting it in place. The run through went great and everyone is feeling better about the concert. Even Derek.

Maybe that's because Ronnie's mother didn't show up.

I go back to my dressing room to tell Jimmy the news, but he's asleep.

I watch him for a moment. It's unusual to see him so relaxed and at peace. His hair is disheveled from his adventures last night and this morning, but the rest of him is tranquil.

Looking at him, I realize that I can't avoid it anymore. My crush on this this dysfunctional wreck has gotten deeper. I'm starting to fall for him. There's no rhyme or reason to it. He clearly has some demons in his past. But maybe he needs someone to trust, someone to believe in him in order to let them go.

Every time he's let his guard down, he's been an amazing guy. It's only when his guard is up or he lets his temper run away with him that he's the jerk I first met. But that's not who he really is. I'm certain of that now. And he's so incredibly talented. It would be a shame for that to go to waste. Someone needs to break down that wall and get him to let other people in.

The only person he seems to trust is Kyle and Kyle is the only real friend he seems to have because he pushes everyone away- and they let him. Maybe he needs someone else to prove they won't run. Maybe that can be me.

'Maybe he'll break your heart,' my little voice whispers. Yeah? Well, so did Dev- and he seemed perfect. Why not take this chance? Jimmy seems to finally trust me- at least a little. He needs me and in a weird way, maybe I need him.

It's time for me to get ready and report to the stage.

His phone is lying on the table. I set his alarm so he won't sleep through the concert, grab my stuff and tiptoe out. I can get ready in a bathroom.

/

Jimmy

I wake up to the sound of the alarm on my phone. Groggily, I reach for it. Weird. I don't remember setting it. I sit up and for a moment I wonder where I am. Not the first time this has happened.

Then it comes back to me. I check the time. The concert starts in thirty minutes. I bet Karen set my alarm for me. I drink some water and hop in the shower to get ready.

I get out and I see a shirt and tie laid out on a chair- I don't recognize either of them. I guess she got them from wardrobe. That was really thoughtful of her.

I'm not used to people taking care of me. Well, other than Kyle.

I hurry and get dressed. And then make my way to the stage.

I arrive at the end of Ronnie's first number. I tap Kyle on the shoulder. I try to make it funny- to try to make peace, but he's not having it.

"I'm sorry, ok?"

"Do you even know what you're apologizing for?"

How long do you have? I tally the list in my head- I disappeared and made you worry, I yelled at Derek and maybe messed up our chance, oh I definitely messed up the chance to have our song performed in this show… to name a few.

"I will do better." I try to make him see that I mean it this time. "I will."

"No you won't." I guess I can't blame him that he doesn't believe me. It's not the first time we've had this conversation. But he doesn't know about my epiphany in the alley.

"It doesn't matter- she's not doing your song. See you at Joe's Pub in six months." That makes me sadder than I expected. I guess a small part of me had been hoping for a miracle.

We watch the rest of the concert in near silence.

/

Karen

The concert is going well. I saw that Jimmy made it- he looks handsome in a tie.

The concert flies by, and it's time for the last number. I sit on my stool, waiting.

I'm kind of glad that Jimmy doesn't know. It will be a nice surprise for him. I only wish I could see his face from where I was sitting. Well, I could see him if I lean forward, but that would look sort of strange. Instead, I smile as the first notes begin and I imagine the look on Jimmy's face.

/

Jimmy

The last number is about to begin. Ronnie takes the mic to explain it. "I want to end with a new song tonight." I guess they found something after all. "It's never been sung in front of an audience before." Wait, what? "But I had to share it with you because it touched my heart." I don't dare hope.

The opening chords from the piano reach where Kyle and I are standing. I look at him in shock.

Those are my notes.

Ronnie begins to sing- those are my words.

I can't believe it. This has to be a dream.

I look onstage and see only Karen and Ivy. They're sitting on stools in front of a curtain of red roses.

It seems fitting that the song I wrote for myself and for Karen will be sung in part by her. She looks amazing in her black dress, her dark hair falling over one shoulder, all framed by the red velvet of the roses.

Hearing Ronnie sing my words takes my breath away. It's like she understands the pain I poured into the piece, the conflicting emotions- the despair and the hope.

When she sings the line, "I want to love you," I can't help but look at Karen. I can only hope that she has the patience to help me. She seems to want to at least. I hope I'm not wrong.

As the song concludes, rose petals rain down on my head. I can't believe this is my life. My song was just performed onstage, it will be shown on TV, and someone other than Kyle seems to care about me. And she's beautiful and talented and kind.

And I want to be a better person for her.

The song ends and Kyle and I clap just as wildly as the audience. Ronnie KILLED it. That was more incredible that I could have dreamed.

Ronnie turns and looks at me, motioning for me to join her. Is she serious? "I want you to meet the songwriter, Jimmy Collins." I look at Karen who is waving me onstage. Really? I take a few steps out. "…and his partner, Kyle Bishop." Kyle is frozen in place, so I jog back and pull him with me.

We walk out onstage and wave at the crowd, embarrassed. We take a bow and grin like idiots. This cannot be my life.

Ronnie comes over, takes my hand and I take Kyle's. We take a second bow together as the crowd grows louder.

I must be dreaming.

I turn back to look at Karen, she's smiling at me. She gives a small nod. She's proud of me. And you know what? I'm proud of me too. I hope she could read my thanks in my smile. None of this- the opportunity, the song, me standing here- would be possible without her.

It doesn't matter though. I'll tell her myself after this is over. We have a lot to talk about.

/

I'm waiting for Karen to come out of her dressing room. I want to talk to her. I need to do this tonight, while the determination is still fresh in my mind. I see Kyle approach.

"Hey, man."

"Hey, Jimmy, I was looking for you."

"What's up?"

"I need to tell you something." He seems… twitchy. He's only like this when he's got big news or when he's about to lie.

Odd, I figured he might ask me about last night. "Ok…"

"Can we go somewhere else?"

I hesitate. I don't want to miss Karen when she comes out. I really want to talk to her. He looks uncomfortable though, so I agree. We walk down the hall a little ways, but close enough that I can still see her door. "What's up, Kyle? You ok? You're acting weird."

"Look, Jimmy. I saw how you've been looking at Karen, and I just think you should know…" he pauses, taking a deep breath. "She's with Derek."

I shake my head, "No. No way- she's not." She can't be. Why would she have stayed with me yesterday? Why would she have taken care of me today?

'Maybe she's just a nice person,' my little voice of doubt whispers.

"Did she tell you that?" he asks.

"Well, no… but… look, I just know ok?" I mean, why would she kiss me back?

'You were wasted, maybe she didn't- maybe you imagined it,' the hateful voice whispers.

Ok, then why would she tell me she wanted to do that again later?

'She was trying to keep you from freaking out. She might have said anything at that point.' I shake my head, arguing with myself can’t be healthy.

Kyle presses on, "I wouldn't be so sure. It's pretty well known that he dates his stars. And they're always together."

"But…" I have no more counterarguments. I was just so sure. I mean…

/

Karen

I change quickly. I can't wait to go out with everyone tonight. I'm hoping Jimmy will come out with us. I'd like to talk with him about what's happening between us.

I remember sitting with him yesterday while he wrote that incredible song- it seemed almost like he was singing to me.

I remember Jimmy's hesitance to go onstage with Ronnie and watching him drag Kyle out with him to enjoy the moment. And the look of wonder on his face when he turned to look at me as the crowd rose to its feet.

And I remember the kiss in the alley.

At first, I was too shocked to even react. And then slightly put off. It was not how I imagined our first kiss to be. And I had- more than once- if I'm honest about it. He was higher than the Empire State Building for goodness sake. But instead of pushing him away- as I probably should have- I gave in. Even high he's a great kisser. And the feel of his lips on mine sent tingles through me.

Now that he's sober, we need to talk. And maybe try that kissing thing again. I smile as I pick up my things.

I leave the room and see Kyle and Jimmy together down the hall. Their conversation looks serious. How can they be so serious on a night they should be so happy? They definitely need a drink tonight.

"Hey! Jimmy! Kyle!" I wave at them to get their attention. "Are you going out for drinks with us?"

Jimmy suddenly looks sick, "Uh, no. I think I'm just going to go home. I'm still kinda tired, you know? I just needed to get my stuff."

"Oh… ok." I'm a little confused, I mean, I guess that he could have some lingering effects from whatever he took last night, but he seemed fine earlier…

"Yeah, I think I'll go with him. Make sure he's ok...," Kyle answers my next question before I can even ask it.

"Do you want me to come with you?"

"No, it's probably better that you don't."

Of course. Well, I'm glad Jimmy won't be alone if he's not feeling well. "Alright, well, I'll talk to you guys soon, right?"

"Sure," he assures me. He seems distracted. He's probably worried about Jimmy too.

Jimmy returns with his stuff but doesn't stop when he reaches us. I watch him walk away.

I thought we were past the abrupt mood swings. What changed in the last four hours?

Kyle tells me goodbye and leaves to chase Jimmy.

Suddenly I don't feel much like going out either.

/

Jimmy

I can't get out of the theater fast enough. The ache in my chest is threatening to take over my entire body and I can hardly focus. I just want to get home where I don't have face anyone else.

I was so stupid to let myself hope. To believe that someone might care, that someone might be willing to try to love me.

So stupid to think that I should allow them to get close enough to try.

My bag in hand, I walk past Kyle and Karen, trying to avoid looking at her. It's too painful. Even so, I can feel her eyes on me.

I hear Kyle make a quick goodbye before following me down the hall.

This may test my resolve to make good decisions.

Chapter Text

Karen

I was so glad when Ana suggested we work out today. And the kickboxing class that was starting when we arrived was the perfect way to work off some excess tension.

This week has been stressful. Bombshell is on hold again while Julia and Peter rework the book. The new draft is due today, everyone is hoping it’s great so we can get back to work. If it’s not… there may not be any work to go back to. At least not for a while- if ever.

That should really be my biggest concern, but I can’t seem to use it to block out the other.

Jimmy.

He hasn't called! It's been a week!

I mean, he kissed me. I know I didn't imagine that. Did HE forget? I mean, I guess it's possible, I don't know what he was on, or what the side effects were…

The class ends and Ana and I pack up our things. I wipe my face and shake my head to clear it. I've been through all this in my head at least four dozen times this week.

Now that I think about it, Kyle hasn't called me either. I called him a few days ago, just to check in, but he didn't answer. It's weird he didn't call me back.

I check my phone. Ana notices.

"You know, in the twenty first century you CAN call a guy." This is not the first time she's said this in the last seven days.

"Not without good reason. It will look like I care about what happened."

"You DO! It's all you've talked about all week."

I sigh. "It's not like I want to. I just can't stop myself." Well, that's partly true. I wouldn't mind thinking about it… if he would just call me!

My phone rings. I scoop it up hopefully and look at the display. Mild disappointment strikes when I see who it is. Ana is looking at me expectantly. I show her the picture.

I answer it, "Derek, Hi."

He's calling to tell me about our theater and the read through of "Bombshell".

"So, how are our boys getting along?" he inquires.

"Umm, I haven't heard from them,” I tell him, feigning a casualness I wish was real.

Ana calls loudly, "Only because she won't call!" I shoot her a look and swipe my towel at her.

"You know, a lot of people have been asking about them since Ronnie's concert. We need to take advantage of that."

"How?"

"Well, I have a friend who runs the Winter Fringe Festival. I persuaded her to give "Hit List" a slot."

I'm surprised. "You have time for something like that with "Bombshell" where it is?"

"Well, The Fringe isn't a big commitment. It's just a place to throw up a work in progress and see how it plays for a few days." Ah. I get it now.

I look knowingly at Ana. "You're hedging your bets. In case Julia doesn't deliver."

I can hear him roll his eyes. "Yeah… just tell them the news, alright?"

"K." We disconnect and I look at Ana.

Ana smirks at me, "Something tells me you just got your 'good reason' to call."

Hmm. My day just got more interesting.

We head to the showers.

I decide that instead of calling we should just drop by. After all, if Kyle is ignoring my calls, maybe Jimmy is too. I enlist Ana in the plan so I don't have to go by myself.

/

Jimmy I wake up and check the clock. It's almost eleven. I sigh and stare at the ceiling.

It's been a long week. I've tried to keep myself busy, tried to keep my promise to myself about making better decisions.

The result? Extra work shifts, cabin fever and Kyle is ready to kill me. When I'm not at work trying to sort out how Karen could POSSIBLY be with Derek, then I'm at home doing the same thing.

While I'll have a couple beers at home at night, I've avoided going out like the plague. I know that if I do, I probably won't be able to avoid those 'bad decisions' that would make all the confusion go away. And that's sounding better and better with each passing day.

As the week has gone on, I've realized that I really have no reason to be mad at Karen. Other than that first night at the party, she's never led me on. I guess she could have TOLD me she was dating Derek, but then, it never really came up. And I never asked.

She was kind to me and Kyle. She was excited about our musical and she has helped us a lot. But as for the rest, it must have been in my head. She does seem to care about us, but clearly, it's only in the friendship sense. MY assumptions led me to kiss her in the alley. If anything, I should apologize- I kissed a girl with a boyfriend when she was trying to help me.

I'm such a jerk.

But I can't bring myself to call her. Hearing her voice would be painful, seeing her would be worse. The more time between last week and when I see her next the better.

I mean, I know I'll have to see her and talk to her eventually. We're still sort of working together. But until then, I'll avoid it. Time heals everything, right?

Unfortunately, last night I let Kyle talk me into going out. I think he'd had enough and hoped in a crowded bar I would quit moping- or at least mope away from him. Of course, I had a few too many drinks, and there was this persistent blonde- who looked nothing like Karen- thank God… and well… you know.

I look to my right. She's still sleeping. Cindy? Stacy?

Whatever, I don't remember. I get up carefully and head down to the kitchen.

Kyle is already there, making coffee.

A knock on the door startles him, spilling grounds everywhere. I wave him toward the door and finish scooping coffee into the pot. I put the coffee on as he opens the door.

It's Karen and Ana. Crap. What are they doing here? I glance at the loft.

/

Karen

"Hey, I hope that it's ok we stopped by."

Kyle looks at Jimmy uncomfortably. "Umm, no problem. What's up?" he asks quietly. Maybe we should have called. Oh well, too late now.

I repeat Derek's news to Kyle and Jimmy.

"The Fringe. With Derek Wills directing in two weeks. That's completely insane!" Kyle's voice rises an octave, and several dozen decibels in his excitement.

Jimmy has been watching from the kitchen. He's mostly dressed, wearing a tank top and jeans, but his hair is still messy from sleep. I'm a bit distracted by the way his tank top clings to his chest and the first words he says.

He gestures toward Kyle, "As you can see, he isn't excited at all." He leans against the counter, muscles working in his shoulders. "You guys didn't come all the way out to Greenpoint to tell us that did you?"

I'm embarrassed. This suddenly seems so… desperate. I hope my next reason makes more sense for our trip. "No, I also thought maybe we should have a reading today." I smile at Jimmy.

"A reading, today?" Kyle asks in disbelief. We may have overloaded his circuits with all the news.

"Derek said it's the best way to hear what you have."

Jimmy turns away from us and begins scraping spilled coffee grounds from the counter back into the can. I get the impression he's purposefully not looking at me. I try to focus on Kyle. "I sent out some e-mails to see if anyone was free- a bunch of people responded, if you're interested." I look at Jimmy at the last.

"Your friends would really come here?" Kyle is still the only one talking.

Ana jumps in. "People like to be part of new work." She looks at Jimmy, who looked up at the sound of her voice. "Plus, they've heard your music"

He turns to Kyle to respond. "Yeah, and now they can hear your words to go with them. Thanks a lot, Karen. You're really looking out for us." He stops cleaning and leans against the island again. "That means a lot." He looks at me and smiles. It's a genuine smile, full of affection. Suddenly, the last week disappears.

Maybe he was nervous about calling. Maybe he thought I was mad. Whatever, it doesn't matter anymore. I smile back shyly.

A noise in the loft makes me look up. A girl, wearing only a tank top and underwear comes into view. "Hey", she says sleepily as she comes down the stairs. Her eyes scan our little group before finding Jimmy in the kitchen, "Is there coffee?" She pauses at the foot of the stairs to look at me.

Did that bitch just wink at me?!

Whoa, easy Karen. I take a deep breath.

"Yeah, it's on the stove," he says to her quietly, he smiles at her. .

I'm embarrassed. Ana is embarrassed, even Kyle looks embarrassed. We all are- except Jimmy and the girl.

As if a half-naked woman hasn't just traipsed through his kitchen he nods at us and asks cheerfully, "You guys want some coffee?" He smiles the same smile as before, the one I thought could erase the last week.

What the hell?

Ana finds her voice first, "I'm good."

I'm at a loss for words. I shake my head, "No," is all I can manage.

At that, he walks over to the intruder and stands close, talking quietly to her as she pours a cup of coffee. She giggles softly. I don't want to watch, but I can't look away.

Ana saves the day. "Well, it's almost noon now. We'll go call our friends- tell them we'll do the read through at two. And Karen and I will pick up some snacks. We'll meet back here around one to help you get ready?"

"Sounds great," Kyle affirms.

I can't stop staring at Jimmy and the blonde.

Ana pulls me out the door as she tells the guys bye. I wave half-heartedly and allow her to lead me from the apartment.

Surprisingly, Ana allows me to process this new information in peace.

We grab some lunch from a café and she makes the phone calls as I sit picking at my food.

We head to a bodega to pick up some food for the read through. She discusses nothing but chips and snack food as we shop. We leave and head back toward Jimmy's place.

I sigh. "Well, I guess now I know why he didn't call… but then why did he kiss me?" I whine. I've been thinking about that kiss all week.

"Because he was high, he might have kissed anyone." I look at her. She must have realized how insensitive that sounded because she apologizes immediately.

I'm not mad. "It's not your fault." I know she didn't mean it like that. And it's not like the same thought hasn't crossed my mind. "I'm the one who can't stop thinking about him. Why do I care so much?" I put my arm through hers and lean my head on her shoulder as we walk.

She laughs, "Uh, because he's hot… and talented." I sigh, I know that already. "But he's also a player and after everything you've been through this year- do you really want to go through that again? Is "Hit List" really worth it? I mean, there will be other shows."

I don't know, he doesn't seem like a player… well, until this morning. "Not like this one."

"You haven't even read it," she points out.

Touché. I shrug, "Then we'll know in two hours." Even so, I can't imagine it not being good.

"Hey look, if it's really that important to you, then you need to set a boundary. Let him know you need to keep your relationship professional. He can't just go around kissing you- high or not. Ok?"

I don't really like the sound of that, but she's probably right. "K," I agree. She's just looking out for me.

But if I'm honest, and the opportunity presents itself, I'll probably change my mind.

/

Jimmy

Seeing Karen this morning was strange for me. She looked so… I don't know- it was almost like she was glad to see me. And not in the same way she was glad to see Kyle.

Her mention of Derek was irritating. That wasn't a name I wanted to hear from her. Even if it was in the context of our show. "Derek says…" I roll my eyes remembering.

I was really hoping they'd leave before my 'guest’ came downstairs. That was kind of embarrassing. Well, at least Karen knows I'm not pining over her and the kiss the other day. Ok, I am, but fake it 'til you make it, right? I think I put on a good show this morning.

Maybe I imagined it, but she seemed kind of jealous… the look on her face when she saw Sandy… no, that’s not right either… Stephanie? whatever- she seemed bothered. But then, maybe she was just startled.

I sigh. I probably just imagined it.

Karen is making the 'move on plan' of mine hard. Every time she comes through for us it hits me. How great she is, what a caring person she is. And every time she smiles at me like she was this morning, it shoots right through my defenses, as if they were made of paper.

With whatever her name was- and girls like her- it's easier. No emotion, just distraction. But that’s not really the path I want to be on anymore.

Speaking of, there's her number on the counter. I crumple it up and toss it in the trash.

I knew the 'be a better person' plan was going to be hard. I just thought I'd be doing it with Karen to help me. I'm starting to wonder what the point is without her.

No that's not true. That's the old Jimmy part of me talking. I should want to be better for me.

But doing it for her is so much easier…

I walk over to the piano to look over the music for today. Kyle is at his computer typing out the last of his notes. I should probably double check my part too. We work in silence for a while.

A little while later, the sound of the printer whirring catches my attention.

I look up at Kyle. "Hey, look at that, it's finished."

"Just the first act," he allows. "Karen said we should only do one at The Fringe, leave the people wanting more."

"Are you happy with it?" My voice is soft. I want so much for him to be happy- for this dream of his come true.

He smiles. "Are you kidding me? Your songs, my scenes- we're gonna blow people away." He checks his watch, "I better go. We need ten copies in a half hour."

Karen and Ana let themselves into our apartment in time to hear the last, "You haven't made copies yet?" Ana's tone rebukes. "Come on, I'll go with you."

I smile as I take the bags from Ana and help Karen put the food in the kitchen.

/

Karen

After putting the food away, I head to the piano to make sure we have all the music. Jimmy comes to stand by me and leans over my shoulder to see what I'm doing. "We've got it all, right?" he asks me. His nearness threatens to distract me, but I ignore it.

I'm look through the music on top of the piano, but I still don't see what I'm looking for. "No, you're missing "Voice in a Dream"."

"I'll get it. I should probably start getting this place ready anyway." He grabs beer bottles off the piano.

"I can help you," I offer.

He looks at me steadily and smiles, "No, stay where you are- where I can see you."

What does that mean?

That Death Cab for Cutie song, "Some Boys" pops into my head as I watch him tidy up the apartment, change out of his hoodie into yet another flannel shirt and retrieve the music from his room.

The lines "joylessly flinging with the girls that they're bringing to their rooms" and "some boys don't know how to love" seem especially appropriate today.

He returns to the piano and places the music on the stand. He leans down beside me again.

It's now or never. I take a deep breath. "Jimmy…" He looks at me curiously.

The doorbell buzzes.

"I'll get it," he says, his hand brushes my arm as he leaves.

'Never' it is, I guess. I sigh as I place the music in the pile with the rest.

Our readers have arrived.

/

Ana and Kyle get back just after two o’clock.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Ana standing just behind me, watching me organize music for Jimmy. "Hey, there you are- we've been waiting for you."

"Did you talk to Jimmy?"

"No, but it's ok. I'm fine." Kyle comes over to take the scripts from Ana.

"Karen…" She sighs exasperatedly.

"Really." I smile to prove it.

Jimmy ends the roommate guilt trip for me. "Hey everyone, uh, thank you so much for coming. Uh, there is beer and water in the kitchen. Hard copies of the script are being passed out to you now and when it comes to the music- Karen, Ana, Kyle and I will take care of that at the piano here." He seems a little nervous.

He walks over to me to retrieve his music.

"So I have it all set up for you," I tell him.

"You do?" He sounds surprised.

"Yeah, so you can just…"

He smiles at me. "You did that for me?" I smile back, shrugging. It's not like it was a big deal…

We take our places- I resist the urge to sit on the bench with Jimmy, instead sitting on the rolling steps which are nearest the piano. I don't feel quite right sitting on the piano bench with him after this morning. Apparently, that's not my place anymore.

I hate all the mixed signals. A week ago he was asking me to stay and to sit beside him and today… well. There was a mostly naked girl parading about his apartment. What the heck?

Kyle reads the first stage directions and I force myself to focus.

My focus doesn't last long. We get to "Voice in a Dream" and my mind wanders.

I watch him play and sing. I can't stop thinking about our kiss in the alley. I imagine his lips on mine as he sings about love and the obstacles it overcomes and the pain it can cause. It really hits home today.

I've tried to keep my face composed, but I'm sure the longing I feel is evident to everyone in the room. Maybe they'll chalk it up to my character.

I've caught him looking at me a few times as well. He seems pensive. Both of those could be because of his character, so it's hard to say. I don't know what to think anymore. As soon as I think I have Jimmy figured out, he does something completely different.

/

Jimmy

Everything has gone well. Kyle's book was even better than the last time I read it. Those writing classes helped.

I'm playing and singing the last song in Act 1- "Caught in the Storm".

I remember a month ago, in this same room, Karen singing this song to me at the party. I can't stop myself from looking at her during the line "When you love someone…" I don't mean to, but I can't help it.

I look up at her again as I play the last notes. I know there's a wistful look on my face. As the day has gone on, I can't seem to hide it anymore.

She's watching me play. Maybe it's the emotion of the song, or the show, but her face seems to mirror what I imagine mine looks like.

Kyle reads the final stage directions, ending the act. I turn around on the bench to face the group.

The room is silent for a few moments. "Well, what did you think?" I prompt. The silence is killing me.

The silence is broken by Karen's friend Jessica, "It was awesome! The songs, the story, the characters, everything." The room agrees. I let out a breath I didn't know I was holding.

Kyle interrupts. "Thanks, but seriously guys, you have to have some notes. I mean, we want to make this better."

Karen's friend Bobby pipes up, "Well, I did have one thought- what if instead of "Caught in the Storm" as the last song in Act 1, what if you make "Heart Shaped Wreckage" the last song? Then there's a little resolution to the show and at the same time, a cliffhanger to lead into Act 2. Do they make it work? Where do they go from here?"

Even I have to agree that sounds like a good idea. Kyle writes it down. "Ok, anything else?"

They make a few other suggestions, some dialogue changes, and they suggest moving one other scene. Kyle and I will discuss that one later.

But overall, the feedback is positive. We put the scripts aside and the atmosphere becomes more like a party. Everyone hangs out and has a few beers.

I find Kyle talking to Ana. He's still grinning. I put my arm around his shoulder and pat him on the back, clinking his beer with mine. "Great job!"

"Well, it wouldn't have been possible without you encouraging me and working extra shifts too to help pay for those classes." He turns to give me a hug. He pulls away and holds my shoulders at arm's length, grinning at me. "We're going to Fringe! Can you believe it?" He's practically levitating off the floor. I laugh with him.

Bobby comes over and pulls Kyle away to get another drink.

I smile as I watch him celebrate. Ana looks over at me. "You're really proud of Kyle, aren't you?” She studies me closely- making me feel a bit self conscious, “You really care about him."

I shrug, "He's my family," I tell her simply. He’s my only family.

She looks at me for a moment, considering. "You know, you're not as bad a guy as you try to seem."

"Thanks?" I think? This is a strange conversation.

She's not done. "But even if you're just a little bad, could you maybe leave Karen out of it?"

I turn to her. "Excuse me?" My good mood is dissipating quickly.

"She's a really special person and she's been through a lot this year. So, work together, sure, but don't toy with her, ok?" She gives me a hard look to drive in her point and then walks away.

What?! What did I do? How can you toy with someone who has a boyfriend? I mean, I guess she could be talking about what happened at Ronnie's concert- but I've hardly spoken to Karen since.

I stand in the kitchen trying to make sense of my conversation with Ana.

/

Karen

I sit on the stairs of the loft and watch Jimmy and Kyle celebrate.

Eventually everyone heads home and Kyle, Jimmy, Ana and I take our beer to the roof to enjoy the sunset. It's unusually warm today for this time of year. We may as well enjoy it, it'll probably snow tomorrow.

My phone rings. It's Derek.

Crap. In all the excitement I forgot to send him the script. I walk to the far side of the roof to take the call.

"Derek, hey. Sorry, I haven't sent you the script yet…"

"Karen," he stops me. "That's not why I'm calling. We just finished the "Bombshell" reading. It was amazing."

"Really?" I can't keep the excitement out of my voice.

"Yup. Get ready darling, if we get this right you're going to win every award in town. "Hit List" can wait. We should focus on "Bombshell" now." I hear Jerry's voice in the background. "I've got to go." We disconnect.

I turn around to see the group staring at me. Apparently they heard.

Jimmy puts the pieces together and breaks the silence. "It's over isn't it?" He says flatly.

I stare at him helplessly. I don't know what to say.

He gets up, agitated.

A thought occurs to me. "But it doesn't mean that we can't still do Fringe- I mean, Derek won't be there to direct, but WE can put something together."

"Without Derek?" Kyle sounds skeptical.

Ana comes to my aid. "Sure! I mean, it's Fringe- it doesn't have to be perfect. Between the four of us we can stage one act."

"And I'm sure some of the others will help too. They loved the show." I reassure them.

Surprisingly, Jimmy gets on board first. "I think it could work. What do you think, Kyle?"

"Well," Kyle says slowly. He shrugs. "Why not? Let's go to Fringe!" He smiles.

Kyle volunteers to get more beer so we can discuss staging and make lists of what we'll need.

Jimmy watches Kyle leave and then looks at Ana. He seems to make a decision. He turns to me, "Hey, can I talk to you about something?"

I nod. Ana looks knowingly at me and decides to see if Kyle needs help.

Jimmy and I walk to the edge of the roof overlooking the river and lean against the half wall.

Jimmy takes a deep breath. "Uh, I need to talk to you about what happened at Ronnie's concert."

I try to brush it off. "You don't have to say anything."

But he's determined to do this. "I know, but I want to." He pauses and looks at me for a long moment. "I'm sorry," he says sincerely. "I shouldn't have done that, especially now that we're working together." He looks off into the distance, but then he returns his gaze to me, "You know?" he says softly.

I nod and try to look convincing. "Yeah..." I nod again. "I think that's a good idea." That's what Ana tells me anyway…

He continues, "Kyle told me about your 'situation'-sorry, I didn't know." He looks away again, into the sunset.

Wait, what? "My situation?" I say blankly.

He doesn't seem to notice my confusion. He's choosing his next words slowly, carefully. "It's just that I usually don't… like a lot of people," he looks back at me again with a half laugh, "and you're… pretty cool, so..." He smiles at me. "Just don't let me down, ok?"

I nod and smile back. "I won't," I promise.

I'm reminded of the morning he gave me his flash drive, or when he asked me to stay to help him write. He's clearly not used to opening up- to making himself vulnerable to another person. If he's willing to do that with me when he won't with anyone else, why did he have that other girl here this morning?!

The moment stretches between us. I don't know what he's thinking, but my thoughts are of how the sun is slanting across his eyes, making their hazel a vibrant green, and how the wind is ruffling his hair, making me want to run my fingers through it- and of the rain check from the alley. Unconsciously, we lean closer to each other.

He looks down breaking the spell. "Uh… friends?" he offers.

He holds out his hand. I stare at it uncomprehendingly before I finally take it. "Sure…" Yeah, that's what I was hoping for.

We shake on it. "…Friends" I repeat, trying out the word. You know, I have that kind of sexual tension with all my friends.

Is this really what he wants?

The handshake lasts longer than normal. In fact, he's just holding onto my hand now- and staring intently at them, like he's trying to imprint the image in his mind. When he finally turns to leave he strokes the back of my hand with his finger, sending tingles down my spine.

He looks up at me gives me a sad smile. He walks away, but holds onto my hand until the distance causes it to fall from his.

He joins Kyle and Ana who have returned with more beer.

Ana immediately comes over. "You ok?"

"Umm, yeah. Sure… I guess. We're going to be… friends." I look at her and smile, trying to convince her I'm happy with the decision.

What 'situation' was he talking about?

She sees the truth in my eyes and gives me a quick hug. We stand there a moment before rejoining the guys.

/

Jimmy

I take a beer from Kyle as I replay the last few moments with Karen in my head. For someone with a boyfriend she didn't seem to be in any hurry to let go of my hand. And her gaze searching mine didn't seem simply… friendly.

I ask Kyle again, "You sure she's dating Derek? I still don't get that vibe."

Kyle barely looks at me as he replies, "He dates all his leading ladies. You know that." That reason seems flimsier every time he says it.

I watch Karen and Ana across the roof. It looks like Ana is consoling Karen.

I shake my head. What a strange day. Between Ana and Karen the pieces aren't adding up to the story I'm getting.

Chapter Text

Jimmy

The setting sun reflects off her hair and she's framed in golden light. The breeze teases her dark tresses, alternately throwing them across her face and sending them flowing behind her.

I take a deep breath. "I need to talk with you about what happened at Ronnie's concert."

She tries to brush it off, but I really want her to hear this. I need to apologize, I was a jerk. And while I'm not sorry I kissed her- that I don't think I'll ever be sorry for- I am sorry that I did it in the drug induced state I was in. And that she had a boyfriend when it happened. She's helped us so much and now that we're working together officially, I don't want anything to be weird between us. She says nothing.

I assure her that I didn't know that she was dating Derek- and look toward the sunset. It's hard to look at her and talk about him. It still hurts too much to think of her with someone else.

I barely hear her response because I'm trying to decide how to phrase what I want to say next without sounding hopelessly in love with her.

I've almost never been so open and honest with anyone. And I can't even do it fully now. "It's just that I usually don't… like a lot of people." I look at her and half laugh. That sounds lame, and not nearly adequate. But it will have to do. I smile at her. "And you're pretty cool." That's such an understatement. It's really hard to do this. "So don't let me down, ok?" That's not exactly what I wanted to ask her, but it works I guess.

She nods. "I won't." She meets my gaze and holds it. The air around us changes. Suddenly it seems as though the conversation has taken a different turn.

She leans toward me, and I turn toward her, moving closer. We're drawn together like magnets.

I look down to break the spell. I try to remember what I was doing. "Uh… friends?" I look back up at her. I hold out my hand.

She looks at me strangely. She shakes her head, "Uh, no, not friends."

We can't be friends? I look at her- questioning. She stares back at me steadily. "That's not enough for me." She closes the space between us and kisses me.

I'm so surprised that at first I don't react. But then her hand reaches behind my head, her fingers thread in the hair at the nape of my neck, and she pulls me closer.

I kiss her back. I throw all the longing and emotion that's been building for the last month into my answering kiss. My hand reaches up to cup her cheek. My other hand moves to the small of her back. I pull her closer. I can't seem to get her close enough…

I wake up and rub my forehead as I realize it was just a dream- again. I'm tired of re-living that conversation- I don't mind the result as much, except that I know it's not true.

That dream has tortured me every night since the read through.

If only that were the way it really went. Instead, there were so many mixed signals I felt like I should call the FCC.

And the last week hasn't helped my confusion at all. If anything, it's gotten worse.

Kyle, Karen and Ana convinced me to play the role of Jesse opposite Karen's Amanda. I was torn- on the one hand, I'm not an actor and I didn't want to mess up the show. And, playing Jesse meant a lot of time one-on-one with Karen. But in the end, that fact, along with Karen and Kyle's relentless hounding caused me to give in and I agreed to do it.

The first few days were nearly unbearable. Karen kept her distance- I'm guessing it was due to a combination of our talk on the roof and the girl in my bed the other morning. When we'd rehearse, she was all business. I was starting to worry about the chemistry between our characters being flat and unbelievable.

After two days of that, I asked her to sit beside me on the piano bench to practice "Heart Shaped Wreckage" in an attempt to ease the awkwardness between us. She reluctantly agreed. But not much else changed.

The next day thankfully, we began to block the show. In doing so, it was impossible not to be close to one another or to touch. And once that invisible barrier was overcome, it became more relaxed between us.

She started taking the bench beside me as her seat any time we practiced our songs. And when reading lines together, if our hands touched accidentally she didn't flinch away anymore.

And the last day or so it seems like she's the one to suggest couple-y ideas for our characters.

Not that I mind. I particularly liked the one that involved playing with her hair as she laid her head on my leg- we ended up scrapping the idea, but it was nice while it lasted.

I want her so badly it's killing me.

I need to get up and get dressed. She and Ana will be here any minute.

As though reading my mind, Kyle yells at me from downstairs. He's become a bit of a slave driver this week.

/

Karen

Ana and I arrive at the guys' apartment to practice. I have a couple hours before I have to be at rehearsal for "Bombshell". They're working with the dancers this morning.

I tried to keep things strictly friendly with Jimmy, but it's hard. I can't avoid how I feel about him and with him playing Jesse, it's easy to lose myself in my character. And sometimes it's hard to drop when we're not rehearsing.

I did well for the first few days. But when he asked me to sit with him everything came flooding back and it was harder to fight.

The first time he grabbed me around the waist to keep me from 'jumping', it was over. When he wrapped his arms around me and held me against his chest… I mean, who could resist that? Not me. So I gave up. Probably I'll get my heart broken, but I can't pretend that all I feel for him is friendship. Maybe if things happen gradually, under the guise of the show, he'll come around.

At first, Ana didn't really approve. I could hear her huff and see her roll her eyes whenever I suggested things for our characters to do, like cuddling.

But, she and Jimmy have gotten to know each other a little better this week. And that, combined with the lack of 'guests' in the mornings when we arrive seem to have won her over. And the last two days she's begun to suggest that she and Kyle pick up food or that Jimmy and I go by ourselves to get it. Nothing has come of the extra alone time, but I'm glad Ana isn't totally against the idea anymore.

We've got most of the pieces in place and today we're staging "Heart Shaped Wreckage" to wrap up the act. Which is great, it means that this weekend and next week we can focus on polishing the scenes and building the set pieces we need.

After some experimenting we decide that Jimmy will begin onstage and I'll enter from the audience. The song will end on our kiss with the last note unfinished. We'll back light the stage and kill the front lights, leaving the silhouette of our kiss as the end of the show.

It's a little sad how excited I am to practice…

/

Jimmy

If last week was fast, this week was a blur. On the bright side, I feel like I'm less confused. Uncertain maybe, but this week has made some things clearer to me.

First, I have to admit, I'm glad Kyle and Karen insisted I play Jesse. It's given me plenty of reasons to spend time with Karen. And even if it's only 'acting', playing Jesse means that I get to hold Karen in my arms and kiss her on a semi-regular basis.

Speaking of, while I'll admit that I've never acted before, it seems like some of our scene kisses are a bit longer and more…real than I expected them to be. Not that I mind.

I'm convinced that if she and Derek are dating, it's only in the loosest interpretation of the word. And even then, it seems unlikely. She certainly hasn't spent any time with him in the last two weeks.

Instead, Karen has spent almost every waking moment that she's not rehearsing for "Bombshell" at our place getting ready for Fringe. There have even been a few nights that she and Ana have crashed on our floor because it was so late when we finished working.

I'm really starting to think that Kyle is misinformed. After the first week even he gave up reminding me about Karen and Derek. Maybe he realized it too.

Several nights, Karen and I have sat together on the couch- hypothetically we were running lines- but in truth we spent a lot of that time talking.

Then there was the night she fell asleep leaning against my shoulder. I tried to sleep sitting up so I wouldn't have to move her, but around two am I gave up. But tucking her in on the couch before heading to bed was kind of nice.

Yesterday we were painting sets and she was… flirty. It was like a bad high school TV show- I made a comment about her painting skills- seriously, she paints like a six year old- and she painted my nose in retaliation. Of course, I responded in kind. But she knew it was coming and turned away. The paint ended up on her neck and in her hair, which made us laugh harder.

Ana's reaction to all of this gives me more fuel to my belief that Kyle is wrong. Our flirting has not gone unnoticed. I see her watching us. But she doesn't look at Karen with a look of reproach. If anything, she seems to encourage us.

For me, I feel lighter, happier than I have in years. I haven't gotten drunk or high in the last week and a half. It's like I don't need to with her around.

Last night I made a decision. I'm going to talk to her, find out the truth- after Fringe is over. If I'm wrong, I don't think I could handle performing with her and I don't want to mess this up for Kyle.

It's only two more days.

"Hey! What's taking so long? We gotta go!" Karen's voice calls me out of my reverie. She and Ana slept here last night to help us get everything ready so we could get an early start today. Our first performance is tonight. We have ten hours to get set up and ready before the doors open.

I grab my jacket and jog down the stairs.

"Here." Karen smiles as she shoves a box at me. "Oh, this too." She adds to my pile.

"Do we have everything?" Kyle frets. "The cab is waiting."

"You checked four times last night. I'm sure we have everything we need and then some," I reassure him.

"Let's go!" Ana opens the door and ushers us out.

/

Karen and Ana's friends meet us at the address we were given. They've been great to help us with this. And despite the crazy rehearsal schedule, which we had to work around Karen's rehearsals, I feel like everyone is ready. They all came yesterday to help finish the sets.

Everyone grabs a box and we enter the theater that's been assigned to us.

Karen says what we're all thinking. "Is this a theater or a bar?"

"I knew the last slot meant the crappiest space." Kyle has been unusually pessimistic this week. Which is odd, usually that's my job.

Ana shrugs and tries to make him feel better. "It's The Fringe- you get two days and a shoebox. Sometimes it's a disaster, but sometimes you break out."

My buoyancy from the last several days hasn't worn off. "I like it. It's not too fancy- which is good for us, and it's got good acoustics 'cause it's small. And who cares anyway- the show is good."

"It better be. We're on in ten hours." Kyle continues his Eeyore impersonation.

We set our boxes down and move around the room, removing drop cloths from furniture. The first one I grab uncovers a piano. I glance back at Karen and Kyle. A song comes to mind. I sit down and begin to play.

Kyle recognizes the song. He looks up and smiles, shaking his head at me and laughing. Karen has nearly an identical reaction.

I begin to sing, "The warmth of your love is like the warmth from the sun. And this will be our year, took a long time to come…" Some of our group uncover other instruments and play with me. Ana and Kyle dance but, Karen is still working. That won't do.

I get Ana's attention. I nod toward our party pooper and wordlessly ask her to take over the keyboard part.

Once Ana has the piano part taken care of, I am better able to express my euphoria. The show is really happening. Karen is here and we've gotten closer this week than we've ever been- and tomorrow night… well, we'll see.

Impulsively I swing myself around a pipe and spin myself off the stage to where Karen is still working. She laughs, startled at my sudden appearance in front of her. I even time it right in the song. I sing to her, "'Darling, I love you.' You give me faith to go on…" Songs make it easier to say things. Ok, maybe love is a bit premature, but this is without a doubt the closest I've ever been.

I motion for her to join me and she rolls her eyes and laughs. I grab her by the hand and pull her toward me. I lead her in an impromptu dance as I continue to sing. I like the feel of her hand in mine, her body pressed against me. We circle around a couple times and I pull her up onstage. She's embarrassed but grinning- and follows my lead.

She looks at me, eyes dancing in laughter. I grin playfully and dip her. When I pull her back up she falls against me and giggles. We do another circle and her hand brushes some hair back from my forehead. We grin at each other, eyes locked, our faces only inches apart.

"Hey!" an angry voice interrupts the moment. The voice comes from a woman in the doorway. The music trails off. "Uh, there's a performance going on upstairs, so could you guys like… shut up?"

"Sorry!" I apologize.

"Oops." Karen giggles.

"My bad," I wave in apology at the invisible people upstairs.

"Hey does anyone know what time it is?" Karen asks. "Oh," she pulls out her phone. "Oh, damn. I gotta go to rehearsal."

"Now?" Kyle demands. "We haven't rehearsed your numbers yet."

"We've been running them all week." She says defensively.

I come to Karen's rescue. "Kyle, chill. It's going to be fine."

"Thank you." She looks at me gratefully. I offer her my hand to help her off the stage and she takes it.

She hops down. "Anytime." I tell her quietly. We look at each other, neither of us letting go. But she has to. With a last smile, she starts toward the door, and our hands fall apart.

I watch her leave, thinking about tomorrow. Kyle continues his gripes with Ana. "I can't believe she couldn't get out for one night."

Ana defends Karen, "Dude, it's Broadway. It doesn't work like that. There's millions of dollars at stake. You're not just like, 'Hmm, I feel like taking the night off to do a show… in a basement.'"

Kyle protests, "It's not just a show in a basement. Real people are coming and I just want it to be great."

Karen disappears around the corner and I shift my attention back to Kyle. "It will be. Look, Karen's a pro- she knows her stuff. She'll be ready." I help him off the stage too. We have a lot to do.

Time to get to work.

/

Karen

Now that I'm standing in the rehearsal room I wish I'd stayed at Fringe to set up.

Rehearsals for "Bombshell" have been miserable for the last two weeks- and it's getting worse. We just did a run through on "Never Give All the Heart" and immediate disagreements at the table lead to another break.

We may be on break, but we're still in the room. And we aren't deaf.

Since they aren't trying to keep their voices down the cast hears everything- particularly Julia's angry voice. It's been a long two weeks of arguments, sulking and tantrums from the creative team.

I try to pretend I didn't hear Jerry's unkind (yet true) comment about me. Instead of paying attention to the chaos that has become our leadership I've been texting with Jimmy. Set up is going well.

Julia storms out and Tom follows her. Derek walks over to check on me.

He notices some paint on my jaw. "I know Broadway doesn't pay its actors very well, but do you really have to moonlight as a house painter?"

I smile, thinking of Jimmy- and how the paint got there.

Embarrassed, I swipe at it. "Oh, I was painting pieces for our Fringe set. It's "Hit List's" first performance tonight."

Surprised, he asks, "You're still doing The Fringe? Who's your director?"

"No one, we're just throwing the first act up- like you said." He looks at me funny. "What?"

"Well I didn't think you'd do it without me." He sounds like a little boy who wasn't invited to play kickball.

Let's be serious. "You were never really going to do it anyway. I knew that. You just got us started. You're a big Broadway director- you can't go back to Fringe."

My phone buzzes. "Can I take a quick call?"

"Sure." I walk away a few steps.

Kyle's excited voice is on the other end. "We're in Time Out! There's a blurb and everything. And a picture of you- it's not that great." He laughs.

I hear Jimmy's voice protesting in the background, "Don't listen to him- it's hot!" I smile at the compliment.

"Apparently a bunch of theater people RSVPed- we're sold out tonight!" Kyle's enthusiasm is contagious.

But before I can respond, I see Jerry coming toward me with his assistant in tow. "Karen," he interrupts.

"Umm, I have to call you back," I tell Kyle. Jerry looks serious. I don't have to wait long to find out why.

He holds up the copy of Time Out Kyle was just telling me about. "What is this?" He opens to the article. "My assistant just showed me this."

"Is there a problem?" His tone is awfully confrontational for a tiny blurb. "It isn't interfering with rehearsals."

"And it's not going to either. You can't do it."

What? Why? "I don't understand."

He laughs humorlessly. "The entire marketing campaign for "Bombshell" is centered around 'Introducing Karen Cartwright'." He becomes condescending, "See, it only works if we're actually introducing Karen Cartwright."

Maybe he needs a better marketing department… "It's two days!" I protest. How can two days matter? Derek comes over to see what's going on.

"I'm your producer. I have the right to approve any other project you do while you're in my show. That's in your contract." He sighs. "If you want to go- go. But don't bother coming back here."

I look to Derek for help, he has to understand. I have to be there. Surely he'll reason with Jerry. "Derek, you know I can't not go." I blink quickly to keep the tears of frustration from falling.

Flatly Derek replies, "You're opening on Broadway- what's more important?" Jerry, sensing victory walks away, his assistant a step behind, as if she's his shadow.

Derek watches them leave. He looks sympathetic when he says, "Sorry love, I guess we're both stuck here. Whether we like it or not." That doesn't really make me feel any better.

Crap. Jimmy is going to hate this. And things were going so well…

/

During our lunch break I head back to our Fringe theater to break the bad news.

"Karen!" Jimmy beams at me when I enter. "Hey, come here, let me show you something."

"Umm, actually I need to talk to you guys. Where's Kyle?"

I repeat my conversation with Jerry. Unsurprisingly, when the gist of the conversation is evident, Jimmy walks away. He picks up the end of a large box and begins to drag it. Kyle moves to help him. I follow them both, still apologizing.

Kyle looks at me in disbelief as they put the box in its place onstage. "But the show is in SIX hours and you're the lead."

"I had no idea this would happen. I feel terrible." Jimmy won't even look at me. His jaw is clenched- his face carved in stone.

"Tell them you have to be here." Kyle argues.

"I tried. Jerry Rand is not the most understanding person," I tell them bitterly. "And Derek…"

Jimmy interrupts, "Ah, there's the real reason."

"It's my career, Jimmy. I want to be there for you guys so badly-" Please understand. This is KILLING me. There's no good choice for me.

He finally looks at me. "But your career is more important than your friends. Got it." I sigh. He's lashing out. There's no point in arguing with him, but I can't help it. I want him to understand. I don't want to lose the last two weeks.

I try to reassure him. "I'm still part of the show. I just can't be in it right now."

He ignores that. He looks at Kyle. "Yeah. We need to find a replacement."

"There's no time for someone to learn the songs." Neither of them are looking at me now.

Ana joins them. "Whoever we get can hold the music. It's Fringe." They've made a triangle, all facing away from me.

I try to help, to be included. "I can help call some people." They turn to me now, all three with looks of exasperation and disgust. Even Ana. The censure in their nearly identical looks makes me take a step back.

Jimmy grabs his jacket and starts to storm out. "Yeah, don't bother. You've done enough."

"Jimmy," I begin as he walks by me.

He stops, "And thanks though, for waiting until six hours before to bail. That's really classy. And thank your boyfriend too. I'm sure he had nothing to do with this." His sarcasm cuts, but I'm distracted by something he said.

"Boyfriend?" What boyfriend? I start to follow him.

Kyle appears at my side. "Don't, we have enough to deal with. Just go."

I want to help fix this, but maybe he's right. I stare at my feet. I look up at Ana, but she's looking in another direction, as if I'm not here. I turn without speaking and go back to rehearsal.

What a bad day.

/

Thankfully, by the time rehearsal for "Bombshell" ended Ana was speaking to me again. I catch up with her just outside Fringe. "So, who'd you get to replace me? Is she able to sing the role?" I hate to even think about it not being me.

"Audrey from my last show. And optimistically… no. But at least we didn't have to cancel." Ana is trying to stay positive, but… Maybe I can help.

"Maybe I should go in, give her a few pointers." I offer.

Ana stops walking and turns to face me. "No. That is not a good idea."

"What? Jimmy?"

"You know how he gets. He's like the Incredible Hulk. One little thing and he's ripping through his shirt." Apparently, two weeks with him has made her an expert. She looks at me, "Come on. You're about to open on BROADWAY. This should be your last concern." I know she's right about the first part. But I just don't feel right about the second. Of course I'm concerned. It's Jimmy and Kyle. It's "Hit List".

One of our cast members comes do the door. "Five minutes," he informs Ana.

"Thanks," she tells him. Turning back to me, "I gotta go."

I wish her well, "Break a leg, ok?"

She points at me, as she turns for the stairs. "Don't wake the Hulk." She tells me sternly. Yes, Mom…

I give up. "Ok."

As I walk away, I see our poster. My name has been covered by Audrey's, but my picture is still there, with Jimmy's looking toward me from the background.

Regret hits hard. I remember the day we shot that poster.

I can picture Jimmy laughing with me as we tried out different ideas- some of them silly re-creations of famous movie posters. I see Ana laughing so hard she can barely hold the camera as she jokingly barks direction at us like it were a modeling shoot. Kyle pulled up some cheesy bass driven music and by the end of it, the four of us could barely breathe for laughing. I head home as my thoughts continue to torture me.

I love this show. I don't want someone else playing Amanda. Part of me feels like this is MY show as much as Kyle and Jimmy's.

Probably I should never tell that to Jimmy…

And I hate letting Kyle down. He's so eager and trusting. It's like disappointing your kid brother. And Jimmy… dammit, things were going so well. I promised I wouldn't let him down, and then I do exactly that. AND I promised him (well sort of) that I wouldn't hurt Kyle- that his show was in good hands with me. And I ditch it.

Jimmy may never forgive me. And will probably never trust me again.

I sigh. It's going to be a long night.

/

Jimmy

Well, it looks like my 'I don't need to get high' streak will end at eleven days.

Last night was a nightmare. Without Karen the show was awful. Audrey didn't know her part, she missed most of her cues and it threw everyone else off since they were trying to walk her through it- in front of a packed house.

I fought the urge last night- settling for some drinks with Kyle and Ana, but I need to get out of my head. I've got a half hour before I have to leave for work. And I know what I want to do with that time. Feel better.

I sit on the couch and roll a joint as Kyle scans the internet for news of our show. I really don't know why he'd want to do that. He was there.

"Oh hey, somebody tweeted about us." His voice is excited, then, "Oh, no. Nevermind…" He trails off.

I don't really want to know, but you can't do that- now I have to know. "Whoa, what'd they say?"

He reads from his phone, "'Hit List at the Fringe. WTF. What a mess. #60minutesclosertodeath.'" He sighs. I give a single mirthless laugh.

"Ana's gonna work with Audrey all day," he continues. Like that will help.

"Won't matter- there's not going to be a show tonight." I am NOT putting myself through that torture again.

"What are you talking about?" Kyle demands.

Let me list the reasons. "Well, we have no director," I sneer the word, "there's no star," because of our non-director... "We have no second act and there's no heat in the theater. I mean…" Come on, you can't want to do this.

"People bought tickets. We have a responsibility." I roll my eyes. The tickets were like $15, I'm sure they'll live.

I finish his sentence for him. "To not look like asses? Yes. I agree."

"Cancelling is not an option," he says firmly. "Look, I get that you're upset that Karen bailed, but…" He did NOT go there.

I turn and glare at him. "Oh, this is so not about Karen." I spit her name.

It's not. It's about the show being bad without time to rehearse without her. I don't care that Karen isn't Amanda.

…If I keep telling myself that enough, it will be true.

He rolls his eyes at me, clearly not believing me. "This is the last chance for our work to be seen. I'm not giving up because of one setback. I won't let you either." The eternal optimist is back.

"Yeah. I'm not. I'm just saving us the embarrassment." And I've found my role again. Karen is gone and life returns to normal… yippee…

"This is my work too- you don't get to just decide everything." He pauses and looks at me. "We'll do it without you." Does he think that will make me change my mind?

"You know what? Good." I stand up. "I didn't want to act in this thing in the first place. It was you and Karen that convinced me to- and it was a stupid idea." All of this was- especially Karen.

"Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go get high and then go to work, since we spent everything we had on last night's disaster." I move to leave and he blocks my way.

"Yeah Jimmy, run away when it gets hard. Go get high because you can't face reality- it's what you ALWAYS do." I step around him to grab my shirt and coat off the stairs. I slam the door as I leave. "It's time to grow up, you jackass," he shouts through the door.

I hate when Kyle's right.

/

Karen

Yesterday was a bad day and today shows little sign of improvement.

Tom comes in with an idea to save "Never Give All the Heart". And, I kinda like it. It feels… empowering. And it's fun to play.

Derek hates it. Of course, he's hated pretty much everything for the last two weeks.

As usual, Derek and Tom's argument escalates. Julia, Jerry and Eileen join it- making it worse.

Derek steps away from the group and begins telling everyone what he enjoyed about working with them. I watch him warily. This isn't going anywhere good. He walks to the door, pauses as he opens it and announces that he quits.

The room is stunned. Linda calls a wrap on rehearsal for the day. I grab my bag and my jacket. Eileen and I follow Derek out the door.

I catch up to him on the street. I try to convince him not to leave.

His response? To suggest that I leave "Bombshell" with him. He's joking right? If I didn't quit yesterday for "Hit List" and Jimmy I'm not about to do it today. He said it himself- this is my shot to become a star. How many of those do you get?

Eileen tries to get him to come back, but he refuses and leaves. I watch Eileen return to the building.

I stand alone on the sidewalk wondering what to do next.

I look up and see a billboard for the Winter Fringe Festival. Suddenly, there's only one place I want to be- only one thing that could make these last two days better.

I hail a cab.

/

Jimmy

My shift ends and I head home to shower and change. I paw through the mess on my floor looking for my favorite shirt. But I can't find it.

Crap. I remember where it is. It's in my dressing room- if you can call it that- at the Fringe theater. Well, I need to get the rest of my stuff anyway. I grab my jacket and head out.

I walk in and see Kyle poring over the book- I guess he'll play Jesse tonight. Better him than me.
He sees me and sighs in relief. "I wasn't sure you were gonna show."

"Yeah, I'm just gonna get my stuff." I grab my bag and start shoving things in it. There's my shirt.

"You just happen to show up twenty minutes before curtain- just to get your stuff." Kyle's sarcasm irritates me. He knew I was working today.

He tries to reason with me. "You put a lot into this. You should see it through."

"What? Like Karen did?" I ask him bitterly. I look at him. His look is hard, forcing me to face the truth. I look away and continue packing.

I really didn't want this to be about Karen- but it is. I hate that Kyle was right. The truth is, I don't want to do the show if she's not in it. Plus, Audrey sucks. I mean, it's probably not her fault- but it was terrible last night.

A noise in the doorway catches our attention. I look over my shoulder.

As if saying her name made her appear- Karen is here. Not only is she here, she's in costume to perform and she's… just so pretty. Her hair falls gently on her shoulders and the blue dress she's wearing shows off her slender figure. I sigh and roll my eyes. I can't catch a break. Kyle looks between us and leaves.

"What the hell are you doing here?" I stop packing and turn to face her. There are too many emotions running through me to even manage a scathing follow up. My, "They fire you or something?" comes out weak and lame. The "Psh." I tack onto it doesn't help either. I can't even be angry properly. What has this girl done to me?

She rolls her eyes as if she's expecting this and lets it go. Her voice is even when she replies. "No. Actually, I could get in big trouble if the producer finds out." Dammit. She's doing it again. My heart threatens to care. I look away from her. I force myself to think, 'Yeah, big sacrifice- one whole night.' More in control, I look back at her.

She tries to make nice, "Look, I know you're pissed at me- but I'm here." She smiles at me. "Doesn't that count for something?" Yes. No! NO!

I have to look away again. I'm trying to maintain control of myself, of my emotions. I need to provoke her. I need to make her angry. I can deal with angry. She needs to react- she needs to leave- or I do. I can't take this- her being here. It's too much.

I force my face into a mask of sarcasm, and say out loud the thought I had a moment ago. "Yeah. You're here. For one night- then you'll be gone again." I pick up my bag. "It's not enough." I sling the bag over my shoulder and move toward the door.

She blocks my path. "Look." What is it with people doing this to me today?

"Get out of my way," I say coldly. Why won't she just let me go? Please let me go. I can't do this. I just… can't. If you won't leave, I will.

I take a step around her.

She steps with me and puts her hand on my chest to stop me. Her voice becomes stronger, forceful. "No, I'm trying to talk to you."

I look at her, shocked. I can't believe she hasn't given up. I was rude, I was mean- everyone gives up. I look down at the hand on my chest. I can't begin to explain what that makes me feel.

She drops her hand and tries a different approach. "Today sucked. Rehearsal was crazy- it made me question why I'm even doing this at all." Great, a sad story. I sigh. I don't want to hear it. I fight to keep myself from putting my hands over my ears. Worse, her eyes are killing me- vulnerability and sadness are etched all over her face. I close my eyes for a moment so I don't have to see her. I sigh again and open my eyes. I want to be mad at her and she's making me want to comfort her.

But nothing can prepare me for the next thing she says.

Looking steadily into my eyes, she continues. "But as soon as I got out of there, the only place I wanted to be, the only…" she hesitates, "the only person I wanted to be with... was you…" She pauses.

Damn.

Damn. Damn. Damn. 'The only person I wanted to be with was you,' rings in my ears. My eyes prickle at those words, words that I never dreamed anyone would say to me- much less Karen. She's still looking at me, watching the play of emotion on my face.

Her own face is an open book, her feelings laid bare before me. I take a deep breath and swallow hard. All the emotions of the last few weeks are about to overpower me. I can't look at her. I look up, to the side, anywhere but her. I can't remember the last time I cried, and I'm not going to do it tonight. The prickling in my eyes continues.

I almost miss the end of her sentence, "onstage, singing…" she takes a deep breath, "because when I do, I remember why I ever wanted this." When the words register, I look at her. I can fight back with that. Maybe it will finally get her to leave.

I force my hardest glare at her. "Yeah. Just not enough to actually stick with it."

Glaring is probably less effective when one's eyes are shining with unshed tears.

My voice cracking around the lump in my throat probably didn't help either.

She looks away and sighs. But she doesn't go. She doesn't even get angry. "You can be mad at me, fine. But don't take it out on everyone else."

She accepts my anger- she sees through it. This thought sparks a realization. She accepts me- even when I'm at my worst. "They worked hard for this. It's their last performance." Her eyes search mine as she implores me, "Do it for them. Do it for yourself."

For myself. She still believes in me. Even after everything I've said and done. Damn.

I can feel all of my carefully built walls falling down. Years of work keeping people at a distance- protecting me- and them- and she manages to dismantle them in a handful of weeks.

I can't stop staring at her- I can't find any words, but I can't look away- until a movement behind her catches my eye. It's the stage manager that yelled at us yesterday. "Jimmy, Karen, we're opening the house." Karen turns to look at her and nods.

She turns back to me, her gaze steady, challenging me. Daring me to be the person she sees in me.

I stare back, chewing my cheek to feel something other than the emotions roiling inside.

With a last look, Karen follows the stage manager, leaving me with my dilemma. Am I the man she sees? Or am I still that other guy I used to be? I sit down hard and put my head in my hands. I don't have enough time to make this decision.

/

Karen

The show has gone really well. I tried not to think about the last two weeks, but as the first scene unfolded it all came back. I've poured my heart into my performance tonight, and now the show is almost over. All that's left is "Heart Shaped Wreckage".

As I stand in the hall waiting for my cue I'm not sure if I'm Karen or Amanda. But does it really matter? We're feeling the same thing.

I'm not sure what happened in the dressing room, but something definitely happened. I've never seen Jimmy look at anyone like he was looking at me. His face was so raw. Maybe something I said got through to him. Maybe…

I hear his words, "…When we said that you are mine and I am yours." It's time. I turn the corner and begin walking up the aisle, eyes focused on Jimmy. He's all I can see. Everything else disappears.

I sing to him, "I don't know much but I know myself. And I don't wanna love anybody else…”

“So let's break the spell and lift the curse- remember why we fell for each other at first." The words have never been more relevant.

I step onto the stage and continue singing.

On cue I turn toward him and see him looking at me as if he's seeing me for the first time.

Like a man possessed, his eyes never wavering, he walks slowly toward me and I toward him. My eyes plead for him to forgive me, to start over. His eyes seem to mirror mine. I wish I knew if those eyes are Jimmy's or Jesse's.

We meet in the middle of the stage. As scripted, he takes my hand. Electricity shoots up my arm. We look at our clasped hands- his is warm and strong around mine. I throw all of my apologies into my eyes, into the song. But he doesn't seem to want to meet my gaze. I duck my chin to find his eyes and force him to look at me- to read in my eyes all that hasn't been said.

He has so many broken pieces and I know the last two days didn't help. Let them go, Jimmy. Believe in me. Believe in us. Believe in yourself.

Our hands move together to rest on his chest.

/

Jimmy

It occurred to me as she walked toward me from the audience, singing the song that I wrote long before I ever knew her, how ironically appropriate this song is tonight. And I realized that tonight, as I sing this song, I don't know where I end and my character begins.

Now, as rehearsed, I cradle her hand in mine and I place our hands on my chest. I know she can feel my heartbeat through my shirt. It's never beat like this for anyone else.

I stare at our hands so I don't have to look at her. I don't know how to do this- this emotion thing is new to me- and expressing it is terrifying. But she finds my eyes and holds them with hers. I can't fight it anymore.

My face broken and begging, I plead with my eyes, 'Hear the words I can't say.'

To make clear that this face is mine, not Jesse's, I break from the plan as I sing my line- hesitantly at first, my hand lets go of hers where it still rests against my chest. I stroke her face with the backs of my fingers before cupping her cheek. I know she noticed the change. Her eyes cut to my hand in surprise before recovering quickly, finding my eyes again. I stroke her jaw gently with my thumb as she sings the same line back to me. "Let the broken pieces..."

As rehearsed, I cut off her last word with a kiss.

Our kiss is- well, there wasn’t one like that in rehearsals. Emotion swirls in me as my hand wraps behind her head, holding her close.

She begins to pull away, as practiced, but before she can I kiss her again.

Her mouth parts in surprise and I take advantage. After split second hesitation, she kisses me back just as fervently. There's no acting anymore.

Eventually the applause breaks through and I remember we're in front of an audience. I break the kiss and rest my forehead against hers. We're both breathing unevenly as we look into each other's eyes where questions and emotions flit across too quickly to make sense of them.

She pushes lightly against my chest, turning me, reminding me again of our audience. She trails her hand down my arm to find my hand, which she squeezes gently before releasing to take our bow. The rest of the cast joins us and we bow again.

I look at her. Where do we go from here?

But before I can talk to her, I'm ambushed by Kyle. "That was INCREDIBLE!"

/

Karen

Wow. I look at Jimmy as the applause dies down. That was… something. I watch as Kyle sweeps him up in a hug, lifting him off the ground. They laugh together.

I'd like to talk to him, but since he's celebrating with Kyle at the moment, as he should, it can wait. And probably now isn't the time anyway.

From the stage, I see Derek in the small crowd. I wave as I make my way toward him. "Hey you came!" I give him a friendly kiss on the cheek.

"I did." He smiles. "That has real promise." I think he's impressed.

"So, you really quit, huh?"

"It appears I did."

Our conversation ends as I'm wrapped up in a hug from Kyle. "You RULED!"

Ana runs to joins us, turning it into a group hug. "She did!"

"Thanks, you too." I tell her. We grin at each other.

"Nice work." We all turn at Jimmy's voice. His eyes are focused on me as he smiles. His real smile- gone is the sarcastic, angry man from the dressing room. I see Ana glance at me before taking a step back so Jimmy can join us.

"You too." I smile shyly at him. But before we can say anything more, we're interrupted.

A man is standing in front of us. "I agree. You were wonderful. Where can I find the writers?" I take a step back so I'm not in the way of the men of the hour.

"They are right here." Ana shoves Jimmy forward to stand next to Kyle. He looks embarrassed- but he's still smiling.

Kyle makes the introductions. "I'm Kyle. I did the book. Jimmy wrote the music and lyrics."

/

Jimmy

The new addition to our group introduces himself, "Scott Nichols. I'm the Artistic Director at the Manhattan Theater Workshop." Whoa. I look at Kyle in shock. That I have heard of.

Kyle of course finds his words before I do. "Wow, and you came to see our show."

He holds his hand up in apology, "I'll admit I only came because the show I had tickets for got cancelled. But I'm glad I did. It's really intriguing. It's just the kind of project I look for. Who's the director?"

Is he serious? I gape at him. Kyle looks at me and answers for us.

He shakes his head. "We don't have one."

"Yeah, you do." Our entire group turns in astonishment to look at Derek as he steps out of the shadow of the doorway.

"Derek." Scott shakes his hand warmly- apparently they know each other.

"Hey, Scott. How are you doing?"

"What are you doing here? Aren't you directing "Bombshell"?"

Derek glances at Karen and gives Scott a wry smile. "Not anymore, no."

"And you'd both be on board to star." Scott points between Karen and me.

Oh no. No, no. "Uh, I'm not an actor."

Derek pipes up from behind me. "Yes, he is." I turn and look at him in disbelief. He's kidding, right? How do I keep getting volunteered for this stuff?

Scott looks toward Karen.

/

Karen

"And what about you?" Scott turns to me.

Crap, this is going to mess everything up- again. Every time things start going well between Jimmy and me, something completely out of my control happens to derail it. The show was great, not three minutes ago Jimmy was smiling at me- happy- hopeful even, and they have a possible producer for their show. How can so much good turn to bad with one question? It doesn't seem fair.

I can feel Jimmy staring at me. I glance at him before I respond. "Umm, I can't. I'm in "Bombshell"." I feel a little sick as I answer the question. Out of the corner of my eye I can see Jimmy's face harden and his jaw set. It's like I can hear the wall going back up.

"Oh, that's too bad." Scott sounds as regretful as I feel. I can feel Jimmy's angry stare still boring holes into my head. "Would you all like to go have a drink and talk about the show?"

Derek jumps in, "God, yes."

We walk out the door and I see Jimmy waiting for me.

I try to smooth things over. "Hey, you're coming right?"

He ignores that. "Don't you have to be at rehearsal early tomorrow morning?" I hear the words he's not saying. I'm not invited anymore. The wall is firmly in place again and he's pushing me away.

This time, I let him. I try to keep my tone light. "Yeah… well, have fun." I don't have the strength to fight him right now.

"Yeah. See you around." He turns away and walks quickly down the street to catch up with Kyle and the rest.

/

Jimmy

I'm glad she didn't fight me. I can't be near her right now.

I KNEW it was a one night thing, her being in the show. I did. But after our talk, after that kiss, I don't know. I guess I thought maybe… I don't know what I thought. All I know is when she said she was in "Bombshell"…

Argh- I'm starting to hate that word.

I can't do this. It's too hard. I can't deal with the hope and then the pain. Alone is easier.

But part of me wishes she hadn't let me walk away.

I catch up with Kyle. Drinks will help.

Chapter Text

Karen

Jimmy hasn't called or texted me since the night of Fringe. I guess he's still mad.

Which honestly, isn't fair. The more I think about it, the more it bugs me that Jimmy is mad at me because I'm committed to "Bombshell". I mean, I've been a part of that show for well over a year- long before I met him. I have shed blood, sweat and tears over that show. I worked my ass off to get that part. I lost my fiancé over that part- though given what he turned out to be, I guess it wasn't much of a loss. And, it's my big break.

Heck, the only reason "Hit List" is getting a shot at all right now is because of my connections from "Bombshell". And he has the, the… gall to get mad that I didn't drop it?

I mean, I totally understand that he was mad when I dropped out of the performance the DAY OF- I was mad too. I couldn't help it, but it didn't make it less unfair or a less terrible thing to do to them. But that was three weeks ago. And I apologized like crazy- AND ignored Jerry's ultimatum and did the second performance.

I've talked to Kyle a couple times, but "Bombshell" rehearsals have been crazy since Derek left and I haven't had time to do much except eat, sleep and rehearse.

We've basically had to start over. The book and the songs are the same, but all the choreography has had to change. It's hard to retrain your brain after a year of doing something. …And the new stuff isn't… well, it's not the same.

I did break down and try to call Jimmy about a week ago, but he didn't return my call. I wasn't really surprised- but I can't say that I wasn't disappointed.

Ana has talked to them though. She stayed on to play Amanda- so she sees them pretty much every day. They've been casting some of the other roles and rehearsing. They have their big audition for Scott's team today.

I'm happy for her. But I haven't asked her about Jimmy or the show- much. Sometimes she volunteers information, but if she doesn't I've tried not to ask.

It's still hard to accept that it won't be me in the show.

Jimmy

The run through has gone… okay I guess. I mean, everything has been right- but it doesn't have the spark it did with Karen.

I mean, right now, we're performing "Heart Shaped Wreckage". Don't get me wrong, Ana is an incredible singer, but we just don't have the chemistry that Karen and I did. Kissing her is like kissing my sister. Well, if I had one.

We even changed the end of this song so that there is no kiss- just a hopeful look to signify the rekindling of Jesse and Amanda's relationship.

It doesn't help that every time I sing this song I think of Karen and that night at Fringe. I guess it gives something to my character, but it kills me. Even now, as I turn to face the audience as the song winds down, I scan the doors at the back of the theater hoping she'll appear like she did that night to reclaim her part. And… I shake off the thought.

I was doing better until she called me the other day. I'd almost convinced myself she'd forgotten about us. I didn't answer- and I haven't called her back. I know it’s petty and childish, but I don't know what to say to her.

The rational, reasonable part of me wants to talk to her, wants to understand that she wasn't going to leave a Broadway show for me- for us. That part is completely onboard with the possibility of a relationship with her even if she's not in the show. People do it all the time.

Unfortunately, that part of me isn't as strong as the other. The irrational, prideful and stubborn part is still winning.

And so, I stand here on a stage with Ana, singing a role I didn't want to do- ever- and even less now- but I am because Kyle asked me to- and I haven't seen or talked to Karen in almost three weeks. Work, rehearsal and home are the only places I've been.

Other than the occasional drink with Kyle and the cast I haven't even been out. However frustrating and confusing my feelings are for Karen, I don't want Ana telling her that I'm sleeping around. Is that weird?

I look at Ana as our song concludes. I wonder how much she has told Karen…

Derek's voice breaks through my musings, "Thank you. That was lovely."

"Yeah, not too shabby," Ana jokes with me.

I give her a side hug and smile. "Yeah, you too." I've enjoyed getting to know her better the last few weeks. She's pretty cool.

Kyle appears beside us. "I think I saw Scott smile, but it could have been a pity smile…" He whispers to me conspiratorially.

Scott stands up and addresses us. "Thanks for coming and running it for us."

Derek gets right to the point. "Ok. What's the verdict, have you got a slot this season?"

Scott holds up his hands. "Let me talk about it with my team. My office, ten minutes?"

"Sure." Derek turns to address those of us onstage. "Ok, I'm gonna need someone to come upstairs and take notes."

Derek directs his attention to a guy who has just joined us. New Guy is wearing one of those ridiculous, oversized hipster beanies- dude, it's seventy degrees in here. "Hey, can I get a decent cup of coffee?" Derek demands. "'Cause this one tastes like soap."

The guy is nonplussed at the assumption. "Uh, I'm Blake... the lighting designer." Ha. You won't be getting coffee deliveries from that guy.

Derek is unconcerned though- and unimpressed. "Well done."

Blake continues, "We sorta get our own coffee around here." Minus the hat, I like this guy already.

"Right." Derek is a bit like a big fish flopping himself out of the small pond here. This might be fun.

Blake turns to Kyle. "Love the show BTDub." He did not just… between the hat and using 'BTDub' I can barely contain a mocking smile.

"Thank you so much!" Kyle gushes. "I will gladly get you coffee anytime…" Seriously Kyle? Smitten much? I smirk at the back of his head. Realizing what he said, he turns to me and shoots me a look that clearly tells me to shut up.

As I chuckle internally at my roommate, the theater begins filling with kids.

Blake calls to Derek where he sits- probably reexamining his life choices, "You might want to wait outside. We have an educational outreach program in here every Tuesday." The laughter is nearly audible in his voice. Maybe that's because Derek looks terrified that one of the kids may start nipping at his ankles any second.

Oh yeah. I think I'm going to enjoy this.

"Of course you do." Derek sighs. "Want some of this?" He offers his coffee to a seven year old.

Laughing, I leave the theater.

/

Karen

So, in addition to all the new choreography there is to learn, I'm also trying to figure out a new director. Tom is a nice guy, but he doesn't really see the show the same way Derek did- or the way I do.

And, I know- it's his vision now, but I can't help but disagree when he starts doing things that feel wrong.

We're practicing "Let's be Bad" and it quickly becomes apparent that we interpret this song VERY differently.

I know I shouldn't, but I bring up Derek- and Tom firmly reminds me that Derek is no longer a part of the show.

As if I'd somehow forgotten that.

Before things get out of hand, Jerry arrives and wants to see the new version of "National Pastime".

Super…

This new version is exhausting- and a little ridiculous. It's a crazy tap number now- I feel like I'm hopping around like a deranged rabbit- and Tom wants me to convey 'come hither'. 'Come hither' is a little difficult to achieve when one is flailing around, tossing stadium food at the audience. They stop us and Tom appears at my side. "Let me be you."

Yeah. Great.

Is this day over yet?

/

Jimmy

Derek, Kyle and I are sitting in Scott's office, the fate of our show about to be decided.

Scott begins, "I still love the show- of course. And now my team does as well." I let go of the breath I was holding. Kyle looks at me and we smile. "But after talking about it we think it might play better in our underground space." Sure. Works for me.

Derek apparently doesn't agree. "What? You mean that eighty seat hovel we were just in?" Kyle and I turn to look at Derek.

"It's where we run new work for our younger subscribers- alongside the main stage productions," he explains.

"Great." Derek doesn't like that news- and people say I'm ungrateful.

I focus on Scott, ignoring Derek.

Scott continues, ""Hit List" is fresh, it's smart, it's vibrant, but it doesn't have much in the way of an overriding theme." My smile fades. "We like our main stage pieces to be more universal." Uh, what do you mean?

Kyle is nodding like a bobble head. "Uh huh. I get it. Totally." The nodding continues.

Derek and I speak in unison. "I don't." Weird. I look at him surprised- he's looking at me oddly too.

"Our research has proven that if our older members can't relate to the subject matter we have a hard time getting them to renew. As a non-profit we need them around." Research. Older members. These words sound like Scott's way of telling us our work isn't good enough. I'm working to keep my temper- and to hold my tongue.

I won't screw this up for Kyle. I won't screw this up for Kyle…

Luckily, Derek seems to feel as I do, and has no issue voicing his opinion. "Well, I'd have thought a good story would keep them around. Just a thought." Derek-1, Scott-0

"I know it may not feel like it, but I'm trying to protect what you have. Maybe move it upstairs next season." When he puts it like that, it doesn't sound so bad… Derek-1, Scott-1

"Yeah well, that doesn't work for me, Scott. I may have left Broadway, but I didn't do it for eighty seats." Ah. It's not that Derek disagrees with Scott- just that he's too good for what Scott's offering. Derek-0, Scott-all the points

Kyle and I look at Derek. I bet Kyle is wondering the same thing I am. Will Derek stick with us or leave for Broadway and coffee deliveries?

"Look, I meet with the Board at the end of the week to let them know which way we're going. I hope inspiration strikes before then." Whoa, what? What inspiration? Is he saying we need to change our work now? He just said he liked it. No points for Scott either.

With little left to say, we leave Scott's office.

Once outside, Derek speaks. "So you understand what the man's looking for, right?"

Sure. I sneer, "Oh, yeah. Us starting from scratch." The bitterness is clear in my voice.

Kyle shoots me a look, but this time the 'shut up' isn't embarrassed or joking. I roll my eyes at him.

"No." Derek draws the word out in emphasis. Speaking slowly, as if to a small child he continues, "He just wants you to articulate your theme more clearly. It can be small. "Rent" added a narrator after its workshop and it got to Broadway."

Oh goody. "Oh, so we'll add a narrator. Oh, wait, no we won't. Because that's a terrible idea. We don't need to spell out our theme." If they can't figure out our theme, that's their problem isn't it?

Kyle looks at me and vocalizes what I ignored in his eyes before. "Shut up, Jimmy." He turns to Derek. "Don't listen to him. He's not good with feedback. We'll do whatever you want." I hate when people talk as if I'm not here.

I snap at Kyle. "Look, seriously, if you nod your head any harder it's going to pop off of your body."

Derek loses his temper. "Do you think this is a joke?"

"No. I think this should be a conversation, not just you telling us what to do."

Kyle doesn't give him a chance to respond. "He's a director, Jimmy, this is what they do. They direct the show. They make choices and make changes. It'll make our work better." Man, Kyle grew a backbone- when did that happen?

I try to explain, "I don't see what's so bad about putting up a show in an eighty seat theater and seeing how it goes."

Derek tries to control his temper, "You have just come from The Fringe, alright? This is supposed to be a step up. Not sideways. This show is too good for eighty seats."

Ha. I can read between the lines. Exactly what I thought. "What, the show is? Or you are?"

"Funny enough I don't think the two are mutually exclusive." He retorts. Kyle nods. Is he agreeing with this guy?

Fine, I'll say it. "I can tell you right now the only reason the show seemed small today was because Karen wasn't here. Ana is good but she doesn't have what Karen has." Kyle looks at me in disbelief.

"Jimmy!" he admonishes me. Turning back to Derek Kyle tells him, "Thank you Derek. We'll think it all over."

Flatly, Derek accepts Kyle's reply. "Good." He's not done, "You can give me your answer tomorrow night. I've got comps for opening night of "Liaisons" and since that's a small chamber piece that apparently completely reinvented itself as a big musical without changing a word, I would say that its mandatory viewing, wouldn't you?" The sarcasm drips from his voice as he walks away. "Broadway Theater, seven o’clock," he calls over his shoulder from the middle of the street.

What a jerk.

Kyle looks at me, "Why can't you just shut up sometimes?"

"What?" I demand defensively. "I didn't say HALF of what I was thinking."

"Yeah? Well, next time, shoot for three quarters." He walks away from me.

I watch him for a moment before jogging to catch up.

/

Karen

Derek asked to meet for drinks. Apparently things at "Hit List" are little better than at "Bombshell".

I fill him on the issues I'm having with Tom. "It's confusing," I sum up in conclusion.

"It wouldn't be if you left…" he taunts me. And then has the conceit to compare himself to Fosse. Really? Arrogant much?

Of course, he compared me to Gwen… that was kinda flattering.

But as I sit here, what seemed crazy three weeks ago seems less so now. You know, maybe he's not that far off base.

I've been miserable these last few weeks. And more than once I've wondered if I can even portray Marilyn as Tom sees her and still feel proud of my work. Derek's version seemed more true to her struggles over who she was- Tom's seems more like a pretty picture of who she wanted others to see.

And every time Jerry speaks I feel like I need a shower.

No, I couldn't do it- I mean, it's Broadway. It's everything I've dreamed of since I was a little girl. How could I possibly leave? It'll get better.

It will. Right?

He runs down his own problems at "Hit List".

"I saw "Hit List" so clearly, but it's all out of focus now."

I nod and try to reassure him. "The boys will figure it out."

"Yeah? The boys need to grow up. I've hit a wall with those little bastards." That makes me chuckle.

"I'll see what I can do," I offer. I should really talk to Jimmy anyway.

The more I think about it, I realize that I'm not quite ready to give up on him yet. Something happened at Fringe that night- before Scott asked me about "Bombshell"- and I want to know what it was.

I know he has a hard time facing his emotions, of admitting any kind of vulnerability. He struggles to let people get close to him.

I've played in my mind a thousand times the conversation in the dressing room and seen the tears shining in his eyes. I've pictured his face as he sang to me and relived the kiss that continued long after it was supposed to end. Something changed that night.

Maybe he's not mad, maybe he's just scared.

You know, the more I think about it, I bet he's just using my being in "Bombshell" as an excuse to avoid facing what he felt that night.

Well, I'm tired of that. We need to talk.

And, now I have a reason to see him.

"Thank you," Derek says gratefully. No, thank you.

We finish our drinks and I head home. I want to take Ana out tonight to celebrate the news that they have a theater- whichever one it is- it was more than they had before. I bet she's excited.

/

Jimmy

I've retreated to the living room to get away from Kyle. He's spent all morning tinkering with our show. I tried to help at first- to be supportive of Kyle trying to appease Scott- but I'm over it now. So I'm lying on the couch, tossing a basketball in the air. "What if we make it more clearly about fame and about how people will do anything to get it?" Kyle still hasn't given up on enlisting my help.

Ok, I may be over it, but I can't let him wreck the show. "Wait, so the song about fame and what people will do to get it doesn't do that?" I ask him sarcastically.

"If you're not going to help me, you can at least stop mocking me." Well then stop asking me- or come up with better ideas…

There's a knock at the door. I get up to answer it and toss the basketball at him. "I'm not mocking you. I just think this is pointless." There's nothing wrong with our show.

I open the door and find Karen on the other side. "Hi." She says brightly.

I'm speechless. What is she doing here?

I find my voice. "What are you doing here?" Well that wasn't what I meant to say.

She looks embarrassed and flustered. But she smiles before saying, "I was just gonna… lie and say I was in the neighborhood."

I try to compose my face and respond with sarcasm, but I'm having a hard time. I'm glad to see her, and amused by her answer. Though, I'm not sure which I'm more amused by, the fact she admitted she was about to lie or the ridiculousness of the idea of her having a reason to be in this neighborhood that didn't involve us. This isn't really her side of town.

I'm reminded of the party, when she was trying so hard to be cool. "Yeah, I always tell people I'm gonna lie before I do it, it really catches them off guard." My mouth quirks up in a half smile.

She smiles, as if I complimented her. She rubs my arm familiarly with her hand she walks by me, into the apartment. "So, how's everything going?" Her touch rekindles everything I've tried to forget this week. "Caffeine?" She holds up the tray of coffee she brought.

Kyle hears the question she's really asking. "Uh, with the show? It's umm…"

My pride replies for us. "Great. he sent you here to come check up on us." I KNEW it. I wonder if they're together now. Since, apparently, she still sees a lot of him even though they're not working together anymore. Regret stabs at me.

Her face confirms my accusation, but her words are sincere. "I just want to help." That just makes me angrier. If she were playing us it'd be easier to stop caring about her. And if I could just do Three weeks with no contact. Well, other than last week- 'coincidentally' just before we were going to audition for Scott's team.

'Hey, you pushed her away, remember? Maybe you should have called her, dumbass.' My voice of reason breaks through. Ok, maybe it has a point.

Kyle looks between Karen and me. "Uh, ok…." He seems uncomfortable with the turn in the conversation, and sensing that it isn't just about the show anymore, retreats to the living room. I walk over to take his seat in front of her. I take a cup of coffee too- may as well.

She sighs and tries to explain. "It's been really intense at "Bombshell" with Derek gone." 'Bombshell.' I really hate that word. It's in a close race with 'Derek' as my least favorite word spoken by Karen- anytime they're said by her they seem to herald bad news for me. And I got both in that sentence. I listen for trumpets.

I roll my eyes. "Yeah, well, I wish I could say we're better for having him, but..."

She cuts me off, eyes narrowing as she loses her patience with me. "Did you really think you weren't going to have to re-write anything? People do it all the time. They've been re-writing "Bombshell" and it's been over a year."

Yeah, that's the case study you want to use as a comparison- the most troubled musical ever to head to Broadway. Good call. "Yeah. Exactly." The implication is not lost on her.

"Sometimes the work gets better." She says defensively. Really? Has it?

I snap back, "And sometimes, it doesn't." I sigh. "You know what?" I pause and rub my forehead. I'm starting to get a headache from the conflict raging in my brain. "As nice as it is to see you," and it is- if only you were here for different reasons… "this isn't your problem." I can't resist a dig at her, "Maybe it other show- I can't even think its name- because that's who she thinks she should be. She hasn't been happy in that show since I've known her.

During the weeks we rehearsed for Fringe she'd talk to me about her frustrations. About how different everything has been since they returned from Boston. It seems like she's only staying with it because she thinks it will make her famous.

She's Amanda.

And dammit, I'm Jesse- hopelessly enthralled by her, as she sticks around only for our show. 'That's not true and you know it,' the little voice sighs. 'Remember the week before Fringe? And the dressing room? And, let's not forget, she kissed you back.' The voice continues, 'But if you insist on clinging to that idea- Amanda I've been- are you kidding me? What about you? The phone and the sidewalks go both ways. And I at least tried to call- he didn't.

I hate that I left without talking about us. I sigh as I realize I let him win- again. But what can I do? I wonder if he'll be ready to face his emotions before I get tired of waiting for him to do it. It's a race I guess.

I check the time on my phone. I better hurry- I'm going to be late meeting Ana for lunch.

/

Ana and I are walking home from lunch as I finish my report to her on my trip to the guy's apartment. I sigh. "I guess I really let him down." I finish helplessly.

Ana sighs, exasperated. "There was nothing to let him down over- you have a job. You were never going to leave Broadway for some East Village basement."

"No, of course not." I smile at her. "And I'm sure you're better in their show that I was anyway."

She jokingly considers this. "Well, maybe a little bit." She laughs with me. "But they haven't even officially offered it to me yet, so…" They haven't? Huh.

She changes the subject. "Right now we need to figure out a way to get you to fall in love with "Bombshell" again- before it's too late." I sigh.

We turn to walk up our steps when Tom stands up. "I've come to grovel." He's holding flowers. Cute.

Ana smiles at me, "I'll leave you two alone." She steps around Tom and heads inside.
We sit down on the steps and Tom begins apologizing. I should be the one apologizing, he's the director. I apologize for being difficult.

He suggests we go to "Liaisons" tonight as an attempt to get to know each other better and as a show of united purpose. I ask what Ivy would think. She and I are finally able to be civil to each other. I don't want to offend her by showing up uninvited to her big night- with one of her closest friends.

"She'll be fine. She understands," Tom assures me.

Well, if he's sure. Maybe this will help, and any chance to go to a show for free... I accept.

Hmm, I need to find something to wear.

/

Tom and I are barely in the door of the theater when we get stopped by Seth Rudetksy.

He begins asking us questions and Tom and I give totally different answers- highlighting how different we are, and how differently we see the show. And it doesn't go unnoticed by him. Or Seth. Crap.

/

Jimmy

"Oh my God. That's John Cameron Mitchell! And there's Karen with Seth Rudetsky." Kyle is effusive as he takes in his surroundings. He's so star struck I'm worried he may pass out.

I follow his gaze. "Look at her. She fits right in," I huff. Why does she have to be here? Why is she EVERYWHERE?!

Derek is looking at her too. He responds drily, "Of course she does, she's a star." He cuts his eyes to me, "Maybe if you did what Scott asked you do to, you could be one too."

This again? "You mean change my work because of one person's opinion?"

"Um, our work, Jimmy."

I ignore Kyle, "I like the show the way it is. I don't think we need to scream what it's about in every scene," I exclaim defensively.

"That's not what he's saying and you know it." I look at Kyle. Who is this person that's taking over my roommate's body?

Derek's tone becomes calmer. I guess he doesn't want to make a scene in front of all these people who know him. "Look, it can be as simple as one new song up top- that let's everyone know what they're about to see. When the curtain rises on "Bombshell" and Norma Jean sings, "Let Me Be Your Star" you understand everything." Again with this damn play- is it the only one anyone knows? Are there no other shows that anyone could reference?

"So, then why'd you leave "Bombshell"," the Holy Grail of musicals apparently, "if its themes are so clearly articulated?" I over-articulate the last words.

"Why did I indeed?" Disgusted, Derek walks away from us.

Kyle calls after him. "Hey, where you going?" When Derek doesn't respond, Kyle whirls on me. "Are you happy with yourself? He's trying to help us. Could you swallow your stupid pride for once and not screw this up for us?" He turns and begins to push through the crowd to catch up with Derek. I sigh and follow him.

/

Karen

I see Derek standing against the balcony. His looks annoyed- but then, he looks like that a lot. "Hey, I didn't know you were coming."

He sees me and smiles. "I could say the same."

"Tom and I are on a date." Though, I seem to have lost him. I look around to see if I can see him from up here. "I'm not sure it's going so well."

Jerry Rand approaches us. "I'm not going to lie, seeing the two of you together makes my heart beat faster." Ugh. Just looking at him makes my skin crawl a little.

Derek's voice is falsely cheerful, "Jerry! The last person in the world I wanted to see tonight."

He chuckles, unperturbed by the fact he is clearly unwelcome here. "And yet, here I am."

"Mm hmm." Derek looks away from him, trying to end the conversation, but Jerry is undeterred.

"Things happened awfully fast the other week…maybe a little too fast? Care to talk?" I look at Derek to gauge his reaction.

/

Jimmy

Kyle and I are heading up the stairs, having determined that Derek is not on the first floor.

"Jimmy! Kyle! What are you doing here?" We turn to see Tom behind us.

Funny. "I was just asking myself the same thing." I reply acerbically.

Shooting me an irritated look, Kyle answers the question he actually asked. "We came with Derek, but we lost him." I barely see his look that makes it clear it's my fault Derek is missing. I've found Derek. He's on the balcony- with Karen. Seriously?

I point this out, "Nope, we didn't, he's standing right there. Talking to Karen…" I lean to see around the pillar, "And, some other guy."

Kyle fills in the blank. "That's Jerry Rand, producer of "Bombshell"."

"Bombshell" star, "Bombshell" producer- I put the pieces together. "Oh, so Derek's going back to "Bombshell". Shocker." Then why did he bring us here tonight?

My theory holds up- those two words mean nothing but trouble for me. May as well spread the misery- it loves company, right? I turn to Tom, "Looks like you're out of a job."

I'm not sure which bothers me more- that Derek is deserting us for Broadway or that Karen's with him now.

Tom dashes past me up the stairs to protect his job and I cut my eyes back to Derek and Karen. I shake my head, not really wanting to think about it. I follow Kyle upstairs.

/

Karen

Tom appears out of nowhere. "Karen, we should take our seats, the show's about to start." I start to join Tom, but Derek stops me.

"You don't have to sit with him if you don't want. A couple seats have opened up next to me," Jimmy and Kyle have arrived just in time to hear the last. He addresses them, "Unless you've changed your mind." I look at Derek. What are you doing?

Jimmy is fighting to keep his temper, "No, we're still sitting there- you're the one who's leaving."

Everyone just calm down. "Ok, no one is going anywhere." I can't help but notice that Jimmy looks… well, kinda hot in his own version of formal attire.

Derek addresses Tom, "Just having a friendly conversation."

"Great," Tom drawls slowly. "And now it's over- so if you'll excuse us." He starts to lead me away.

But Derek can't leave well enough alone. Theatrically he sighs, and tells him condescendingly, "Oh, there's nothing to be threatened by, Tom."

Tom turns around to face Derek. "I'm not threatened. Just incredibly frustrated. Once again you're trying to get in the way of me and my show."

Derek laughs. "I'm not getting in the way of anything."

I feel like I'm back in rehearsal a month ago. I sigh and take a step back so I don't get drug into the argument.

Tom is working himself into a fury. "You won't return my calls, you won't sign the contracts. You are undermining me at every turn!"

Derek deadpans, "You're doing that all on your own."

Tom looks at him in disbelief. "Really? How? Please tell me. You know how much I'd love to hear what you have to say."

Derek moves from the bannister to stand two steps from Tom, and lowers his voice menacingly. "No, don't listen to me, Tom. Listen to Julia." I look uncomfortably at Jimmy and Kyle behind me. Jimmy is watching in fascination and Kyle looks as uncomfortable as I do. "She wrote some of the best stuff of her life with Marilyn and her mother and you just threw it out." He pauses, "Or listen to Karen." Wait, what? I look at him. "She's one of the brightest young actresses around. She knows what's going on. If I had either of them on the show I'm working on now, there'd be no stopping it. Instead, you've got what I want and you are wasting it!" He turns to Jimmy, who is glaring at him over his last comments. "And you. You're wasting your chance."

I'd almost forgotten Jerry was here, witnessing this debacle until he, like the opportunist he is, jumps in. "If you want to come back Derek, "Bombshell" is still yours." Adding insult to injury, he glances at Tom as he says it.

Tom, Jimmy, Kyle and I hold our breath, watching Derek carefully for a response. I'm not sure what I want it to be.

But, we're interrupted before he can say anything. An usher politely informs us that it's time to take our seats. Saved by the bell I guess.

I join Tom and we leave first. I glance over my shoulder at Derek, Jimmy and Kyle standing wordlessly together.

I turn back to Tom and attempt to make small talk, but he's not interested. It's going to be a long night. And I'm really dreading intermission.

/

Wow. This show is boring… I think I just saw Tom yawn. I'm passing time by looking through the playbill. Huh. There's a guy from Nebraska.

An actress's shriek gets my attention. I look up at the stage.

I feel my eyes go wide and my jaw drop in shock. What is happening?

/

Jimmy

Uh… did he just play bongos on that woman's…

Ha- tip of the iceberg apparently.

Wow. For a show that started out so slow and dry, it has taken a bit of a turn.

I glance at Derek, not sure if I should laugh or not, but he can barely contain his laughter.

As what can only be described as a mental breakdown onstage winds down, I hide behind my playbill, peeking over the top, wondering what the actor could possibly do next- when he falls ten feet out of the air onto the stage. The audience gasps and the lights go dark. People swarm the stage.

Well that wasn't what I was expecting- but then, nothing about this night has been.

/

Karen

Well, on the bright side, there won't be an intermission to worry about. Tom and I walk around to the stage door to see Ivy.

"How is the poor guy?" Tom inquires.

"I think he's going to be ok. But he's surrounded by doctors right now." Ivy discloses.

"Well, at the very least you were wonderful."

I agree. "He's right. You were."

"Thank you," she tells me sincerely.

"Your number was the only thing in the whole show that made any sense." He laughs.

I watch as they talk theater shows and finish each other's sentences.

The realization hits me- they really get each other. And that thought is followed quickly by an idea that could fix pretty much every problem I'm having right now- and several other people's problems too. It's so simple, I'm not sure why I didn't think of it before.

Maybe because it's crazy…

But maybe it's what is right.

Ivy glances at me watching them. "Well, I should get back."

Tom nods. "Of course. Call me later." He gives her a quick hug and we all say goodbye.

As Tom and I walk down the street, I ask him if he thinks the show will close.

"One would think. Or hope, for all involved." He laughs.

"Then Ivy would be free." He stops and turns to stand in front of me.

"Free for what?" he asks blankly.

Tom. How do you not see it? "I'm sure you and I could make this work. But we'd always know something wasn't right." I take a deep breath. I can't believe I'm about to say this. "I'm not your Marilyn. She is." I gesture at the theater and smile at him, to let him know it's ok.

"Karen." He tries to stop me.

I shake my head. "It's ok." I shrug at him. "We tried." I smile again.

He looks at me wide eyed, incredulous. "Hmm." He composes his face. "You're a class act, you know that?" He looks at me carefully to be sure I'm serious. He nods. "I'll talk to Eileen."

"Thanks… for everything." I kiss him on the cheek before I turn and walk toward the front of the theater.

As I walk away, I feel lighter than I have in ages. A huge weight has lifted off my shoulders. What should be the worst night of my life- I just quit a Broadway show- feels like one of the best.

I bet if I hurry, I can still catch the guys.

/

Jimmy

The other bright side of that train wreck of a show is that we're all laughing about it too much to be mad at each other anymore.

We walk away from the theater and Derek concedes, "I admit, my cunning plan backfired."

"I just wish he hadn't gone crazy before the end of the show. I woulda killed to see that death scene." Kyle deadpans. Derek laughs.

Well, this is nice and all, but let's cut to the chase. "So, that's it huh? You're gonna go back to "Bombshell" now?" No sense prolonging the inevitable.

He stops walking. "No." Realizing he's no longer beside us, we turn around to face him. He's looking at us strangely. "I was never going back." He shrugs, "I was just... having a bit of trouble letting go." Huh. Someone from "Bombshell" not ditching us- that's new.

"Really?" Kyle's surprise mirrors mine. I look at Derek, still not trusting that he's serious.

"Yes," he sighs. "For some inexplicable reason I still believe in you two." Aw gee, thanks. "Enough to stick around anyway. Even if it means directing your completely unaltered show," I look at Kyle and we grin, "in a space not much larger than my bathroom. If that's the way you want it to be, then I want to be there with it." He sounds like he can hardly believe he's saying the words himself.

The last voice in the world I expected to hear agrees with him, "Me too." She's breathing hard. Did she run here?

"Karen?" Derek is as surprised as I am. What is she doing here?

Wide eyed, she takes a deep breath. She looks at me, "I just quit "Bombshell"."

A jolt shoots through me and I'm frozen as the words to sink in. It's like everything has stopped- the Earth, time, my heart. I stare at her. Did she really just say what I think she did?

Judging by the looks on the others faces, she did.

Derek finds his voice first. "You're joking." She turns to him.

"I'm not." She looks back at me- I haven't taken my eyes off her since she walked up. "I, I did. I did." She giggles- I think she's losing it.

She regains her composure. "Ever since you left," she looks at Derek- I watch their interaction carefully, "and ever since I left you," she looks back at me, "I haven't felt right."

Ever since she left me she hasn't felt right. Well, that makes two of us.

I look at her and the world seems to be righting itself. The last three weeks disappear.

She looks down and swallows hard. "And I'd understand if you don't want me back. But…" Kyle cuts her off with a hug. I'm glad he was able to. I'm still too stunned to move.

He holds her at arm's length by her shoulders to look at her. "Did you really just give up a Broadway show for us?" He asks incredulously. His words drive home the enormity of what she's done.

"I guess I did." She pauses, "I mean I'll have to see if they'll let me out of my contract…" she shrugs, "but here's hoping…" She looks at me again.

I stutter my way through the only thing I can think of to say. "You proved me wrong." She did it- she really did it. She left "Bombshell" for me. Well, for us I guess.

Something occurs to me. I know how to 'fix' our show. A song is already half formed in my head. I look at Derek. "I just got an idea."

Derek smiles, "Well then, let's hear it."

I pitch the song idea and he agrees it could work. "Do you think you could have it by morning?"

"Easy." It's still early- the show didn't even make it to intermission.

"Right then, I'll call Scott, set it up. Meet at the theater at ten- we'll need to rehearse before his team gets there." He says goodnight and pulls out his phone as he walks away.

I look at Karen, "Could you help me with something?"

"Um, sure." She smiles.

"I may need some help with your part- can you come with us? We'll order dinner- I don't know about you, but I'm starving."

Kyle hails a cab and we head back to our place to work.

/

Kyle dials food and Karen and I sit at the piano. I play what I have in my head. She makes suggestions for her part and with her beside me the song practically writes itself.

We run it a few times, making small changes before she notices the time.

I walk her to the door and we stand there talking, stalling. I don't really want her to go and she seems to be in no hurry to leave, but everything has happened so fast tonight- I haven't quite wrapped my head around it yet. And, she just made a pretty life altering decision- tonight is probably not the time for this. Maybe tomorrow.

Hey, I'm trying to be a good guy.

We finally say goodnight and I close the door behind her. I lean against it and smile. Tomorrow will be a good day.

/

Karen

I give a goofy little wave and say goodnight. He closes the door behind me and I smile as I walk down the hall.

I resisted the urge to give him a peck on the cheek to say goodbye- I was afraid that if I touched him… well, I might not have been able to control myself. And that might have given the wrong impression… Plus, Kyle was sitting right there.

Wow. When Jimmy comes around, it's a three-sixty.

To write my verse, he asked me about auditioning and how I got my part for 'the show'. He wouldn't say 'Bombshell'. I'm not sure if it's because he's worried it'd bother me or if he has an aversion to the word. Either way, it was kind of cute.

Everything was so easy between us tonight. Like yesterday or the last few weeks never happened.

I didn't really want to go. It seems like when I leave Jimmy in a state that he's happy and relaxed around me there's no guarantee that it will last until the next time I see him. But I wasn't really ready to stay either. There's a lot that we need to sort out first. And tonight isn't the night for that. I still need to wrap my head around my new career path. One thing at a time.

Maybe Jimmy and I can talk tomorrow night, after our audition for Scott. I smile at the thought.

I can't wait for tomorrow.

/

Jimmy

Derek liked the song and he went right to work. After running through it with music a couple times, he begins blocking it. It's pretty basic, but then, we don't have a lot of time and the song doesn't need a lot to work.

We take a late lunch and plan to meet again later to run it again before Scott and his team arrive tonight.

Ana came with Karen this morning to hear the song, so the three of us and Kyle grab lunch together.

During lunch we tell Ana about the fiasco that was "Liaisons". I watch Karen laugh at Kyle's impersonation of Terry.

Today has been a good day, it's been relaxed and fun- like we picked up where we left off preparing for Fringe.

And tonight, I'll ask her to get a drink with me so we can talk.

I'm still nervous about the last part. It's not that I'm worried that she doesn't feel the same, just that expressing how I feel is scary. But it's time. I want to be with her. I want to give this relationship thing a try and that means talking. And I want to do that with her.

She sees me looking at her and smiles at me. I smile back and she rejoins the conversation.

/

Karen

Scott and his people arrive and Derek stands up to introduce the number. "Thank you for giving us another moment of your time. Umm, this is a brand new opening number- so it's a little bit rough. But we're pretty happy with it."

Jimmy takes his place onstage and I sit in the wings.

He begins to sing, and I'm transported back to that first night in Table 46. For someone who claims not to be an actor, he's unnaturally good at this. His face is so expressive when he sings. You can feel the emotion of the song.

His verse starts quietly. "There's a block on the edge of this town no one talks about…" It slowly swells in crescendo as the frustration of his story unfolds. "You work at a bar where all that you are is everything you're not…" He throws his head back as he sings the first words of the chorus, "Someone tell me when, I can start again and rewrite this story…" Regret etches his face as the chorus winds down.

I take my place. When his part is done, he steps offstage.

My verse is a story that I've lived, so it's easy to convey the frustration of the cycle of rejection, of a situation out of your control. "Pretty face, pretty voice; pretty much someone they forget. Hard to tell me apart from the ten other girls they just met." I count the excuses off on my fingers, "'We can't see the hook, we can't sell the look.' I hear it every day. 'You won't be a star if you're who you are.' So I just fade away…" He joins me again onstage as my verse ends. Determination fills me as I sing the chorus, "…Tell me what I do, to rewrite this story."

We turn to face each other. We're supposed to look past each other, but I can't help it- my eyes find him for a moment. We sing together, our voices blending effortlessly in harmony. "How long can I stay, lost without a way…" We turn back to the audience. I still can't believe I'm here, singing with him again.

Our voices dropping to just above a whisper, we turn, the other still invisible and walk past each other, shoulders brushing as we pass. We turn back to the audience as our song swells to its climax. Like ships in the night we trade looks as the other faces the audience. I study his profile before I have to turn away again. "…Rewrite- I wish I could rewrite this story."

It's time to rewrite our story. There's nothing in the way now.

The song ends and the lights come on. Our audience of about ten sounds much larger as they clap and hoot.

We leave the stage to join Derek and Scott.

Scott, still clapping, looks at Derek. "You found it." He's impressed.

Derek gestures toward us. "It wasn't me. It was them." Jimmy and I look at each other and smile. I nudge him with my arm.

Kyle pipes up from behind Derek. "We realized the show is about transformation but we just hadn't actually said it yet."

Jimmy stumbles through his acknowledgement. He looks down as he says, "It uh, it was a good note." He looks at Scott. "Thanks for giving it," he says slowly. Swallowing his pride and admitting someone else is right is still new to him, and I'm proud of him for trying. Thankfully, Scott looks past the delivery to the sentiment. I think I'm going to like him.

"If this is the direction the show is going in- the main stage is yours." Derek nods and Jimmy looks up at Scott in surprise.

"Let me introduce your leads." Derek gestures at us, "Jimmy Collins and Karen Cartwright. If you want the show, it doesn't happen without them."

"I can see why." He shakes my hand, "Great to meet you again, Karen."

Scott leads Derek away to talk.

I look at Jimmy and smile.

/

Jimmy

Well, it's now or never. And as I turn to face her, I realize I'm ready. I mean, I'm just asking her for drinks, it's hardly a profession of love, but it seems like it's been quite the journey to be able to even do that. Maybe now things can become less complicated.
What a strange three months it's been.

"So, you ok with where you landed? No buyer's remorse?" I search her face and eyes to be sure.

Without hesitation, she shakes her head, "None whatsoever. Isn't that strange?"

I'm distracted by a lock of hair that has fallen across her forehead. "Your hair is…" I brush it back for her.

"Oh, thank you." She giggles.

Distraction gone, I refocus. It's time to start a new story, put this one behind us. And, I'm putting my past, my fears and my anger behind me too. Well, I'm going to try. And she'll be here to help me. She'll understand.

I take the first step. "You wanna go out after this? Get a drink maybe?" I smile at her, my gaze steady.

She nods, and smiles. "Sure. I'd love to." She looks over toward Ana, "Let me get my stuff."

"K," I say quietly as she walks away. Her easy acceptance makes my smile bigger. I stand there, happy, smiling, lost in thought. It's finally happening. Karen and I can finally be together. No obstacles.

My daydreams are broken by Derek's voice. "Congratulations." I turn to face him. "Scott was very impressed- as am I."

I smile. I'm doing that a lot tonight. "Thanks man. It's getting there, you know?" I pause. "Hey, if you don't need me… I'm gonna…" I look toward Karen who's talking to Ana. She sees me looking at her and smiles. She indicates that she'll be another minute.

"Jimmy." I turn back to Derek, he sounds serious. "Now that Karen is onboard and we're all going to be working together, I think you need to understand something."

My reply is wary, "Ok…" Where is he going with this?

"Karen and I have a history. You might call it a partnership." Oh, well yeah.

"Yeah. Yeah, I know. She's uh, she's your muse." I attempt a poorly done British accent for the last. I laugh. "Kyle makes fun of it all the time."

He smiles. "Yeah, that's a nice word for it." He pauses for a long moment, looking at me, as if he's waiting for something. My smile fades as the silence stretches between us. When he speaks again, it's slowly, placing special emphasis on his words. "I'm directing this show. And when I direct, I tend to get focused on something- or someone." I stare at him, he's not saying what I think he is- he cannot be that arrogant. "And if I get distracted from that- I get short… I act out…" He's joking right?

My eyes narrow. "Yeah? What are you saying?" I ask defensively.

"If you want me at the top of my game, I suggest you focus on your work, so I can focus on mine. Got it?" Is he seriously implying that I can have a show or I can have Karen? I stare back, refusing to back down.

But apparently he's confident of what my answer will be. Taunting me, he stares me in the eye and calls out, "Karen, I'm sending Jimmy and Kyle home with some notes on Act 2. Do you fancy a drink?" Are you kidding me? Is this high school?

What a smug bastard.

Karen joins us. "Uh, sure, I guess." She sounds confused. She looks at me, disappointed, "If you really can't go out."

Before I can unclench my jaw to answer, Derek speaks for me, false regret in his voice. "No, he can't. Come on." He takes her arm and leads her away, moving his hand possessively to the small of her back as they walk. She looks back at me regretfully. It's like a bad movie.

And I stand there watching, fuming and helpless.

Kyle appears at my side. "Notes? What notes? I didn't get any notes. Did he give you notes?" I drag my eyes away from Derek and Karen as they disappear around the corner and look at Kyle.

"Come on man. Let's get out of here." I slap him on the back as I turn and cross the stage. I'll leave through the back. I don't want to risk running into them. I don't know that I could be held responsible for what would happen.

I hear Kyle following me. As it has always been, he’s all I’ve got.

/

Karen

When I looked back at Jimmy as Derek escorted me out of the theater, Jimmy was watching me. I couldn't quite read his face, but it was totally different than moments before when he asked me for drinks. What happened?

I'm so confused. Couldn't Jimmy have had one drink before going home? I thought maybe... I shake my head. I don't know what I thought. It seemed like... I sigh.

We get to the street and I change my mind. I don't feel like going out anymore.

"Hey, I think I'm just going to go home. I'm kind of tired. It's been a long couple days, you know?"

Derek nods. "Ok. Do you want me to walk you home?"

I hear the door open behind us and Ana walks out. "No, it's ok. I'll go with Ana."

"Right then, see you tomorrow." I nod.

Ana joins me as Derek leaves. I link arms with her and we head home. I fill her in on the latest in this odd saga of Jimmy and me.

Chapter Text

Jimmy

I lie still, feigning sleep. Karen is beside me, and every nerve in my body is sensitive to that fact. I feel her get up and climb down from the bed. With my eyes still closed I can hear her open and close the door a few moments later. I sit up and look around.

She's gone.

Derek interrupts the scene. "Ok. Stop there." Now what?

It's been a long week. After the 'conversation' with Derek on Friday night I had to work Saturday and Sunday. Karen called- more than once- but having an excuse made it easier to dodge her calls. She wanted to talk, to reschedule our drink. It killed me to ignore her.

But on Monday rehearsal started and it was impossible to continue avoiding her. We spent the beginning of the week working on songs with the ensemble and doing line readings. She'd try to catch me on breaks and I'd make some excuse about talking to Kyle or needing to use the restroom. She probably thinks I have some sort of medical issue.

She's stopped calling. I guess she's starting to give up. That's almost as painful as trying to avoid her.

Today is the first day of blocking scenes. And of course, Derek chooses this one. I feel like he's taunting me.

Adding to my bad mood is the fact that Derek seems to hate everything I do. He leaves the seats to stand in front of me. "Now, that reaction is a bit soft. You just shrugged. When you realize she's gone, you're angry- you've been played." I see Karen reenter through the prop door. I look back at Derek to keep from getting distracted by the way her tank top clings to her slender frame.

"No I haven't."

"She just took your music. It's your life's work- she used you."

How could I possibly know that at this point? "Uh, I have no idea what she did yet. I mean, all I know right now is that we spent the night together and it was the best night of my life." I can't help but glance at Karen when I say the last. I guess I'll never know.

"Ok, well, I guess we see the moment differently."

I helped write the scene, jackass. "No. You see it wrong." I pause. I look over to see Karen watching us. She looks uncomfortable.

"No offense." I add, though not that sincerely. Since Derek and I do have to work together I'm trying to be civil- but it's hard.

He raises his eyebrows. "None taken, although I don't like to think any idea is wrong on the first day of rehearsal." He says mildly.

I close my eyes and sigh- is he really trying to play the nice guy here? "Right. You don't want to play angry, fine." He turns to go back to his seat. "But do something. You shrug up there, they shrug out here. Alright, reset from the top please!"

I lay back down and Karen climbs back into bed with me.

I suppose there are some perks to Derek hating every interpretation of this scene…

/

Karen

We're on break while they set up to rehearse the next scene and I'm making a cup of tea. I'm also watching as one of the wardrobe people take Jimmy's measurements. I nearly walk into a table because I'm paying more attention to the way her knuckles brush his neck than I am to what I'm doing.

Somehow I make it back to Ana without breaking something.

She follows my gaze. "You two looked pretty cozy up there," she whispers conspiratorially.

Still watching him, I sigh resignedly. "We were acting."

"It didn't look like acting…" She nudges me as she giggles.

I play with my tea bag and sigh again. "He's been blowing me off all week. He barely talks to me offstage." I don't get it. One day he's asking me out for drinks and the next he won't return my calls and will barely look at me when we're not onstage rehearsing. What happened? I feel like I've done something wrong, and I have no idea what it could be.

The seamstress is measuring his shoulders now. I nearly miss what Ana is saying, as I imagine it's my hands brushing against the strong muscles of his back.

Ana isn't having it. Bluntly she demands, "Would you ask him what's going on?"

The problem with that is that 1) I'm a big chicken and 2) the last time I tried to talk to him about his strange behavior it went really badly. I always say the wrong thing.

I'm spared a response because Kyle bursts in, waving a sheet of paper. "Guess who has the casting list!" We turn to look at him.

"Oo, let me see." I reach out to hold the corner of it.

"It's so crazy they haven't cast The Diva yet."

Kyle pokes the list with his finger. "Love her, love her, love to hate her." We laugh. "Wow, these people are actually coming here to meet Derek…" Kyle's voice is incredulous.

I look at Ana and nudge her. "Why don't you go in for it? That role would be perfect for you."

She scoffs. "Derek would never take me seriously," she gestures at the list, "look at who he's meeting with."

Jimmy joins us, yanking the paper out of Kyle's hands. We look at him in surprise. He glances at the names. "What the hell?" he demands as he storms out of the room, taking the paper with him.

Zero to meltdown in less than five seconds- that might be a record, even for Jimmy…

We look at each other, rolling our eyes and laughing at his latest freak out. This is not the first time this has happened in the last week. There seems to be a lot of tension between Derek and Jimmy. But then, neither of them are very good with people…

/

Jimmy

I read the names on the list and realize Derek has no idea what this show is about. That or he has lost his damn mind.

I barge into the theater. "Lea Michele? LEA MICHELE?"' I demand of Derek. I hold the list out. I barely even notice that he's sitting with Scott.

"Yeah, you say it one more time, she magically appears…" he replies sarcastically.

I ignore that. "Do you understand ANYTHING about this show, huh?" I realize I'm shouting but I don't care. Derek looks down at his notebook, pretending to ignore me.

"The point is to come out of nowhere, take people by surprise. You cast a celebrity, it overshadows EVERYTHING."

He holds his hand up to stop me. "The Diva is the biggest superstar in the world, right? She's Lady Gaga, she's Madonna, and if we cast a real star to mirror that, that would be a big coup, alright? I know what I'm doing here, Jimmy. Just let me do my job."

I've had enough of his arrogance. My eyes narrow and I lower my voice. "Oh, I've let you do a lot of things I'm not cool with," I shake my head, "but not this one." I throw the list at his feet. I turn and leave the same way I came. I shout over my shoulder. "It's MY show!"

I walk outside to get some air. It's going to be a long day.

/

Karen

After a long day of rehearsing and watching Jimmy and Derek butt heads, I'm looking for Ana backstage so we can go home.

I come around the corner into the small kitchen and I find Jimmy instead. He's getting ready to leave too.

I think about what Ana said. Maybe I don't have the guts to ask him outright what's going on, but maybe I can get him to talk to me at least. I notice that one of his t-shirts has fallen out of his bag. I'm pretty sure I know which it is- and now I have plan.

I snag the shirt as I walk by the table, smile at him mischievously and continue walking toward the door- waiting for…

"Uh… that's my shirt…" he laughs. I smile.

Gotcha.

I stop walking and turn around. "No… I think it's mine." I hold it up against me, checking the fit. He looks over at me as he tosses the rest of his stuff in his bag.

He's holding back his laughter as he challenges my assertion. "Oh yeah? Did you go to Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn?"

I look at the shirt, considering. "Not technically, but see the way the fabric's worn through?" I hold it up to show him.

I'm watching his reaction, "Mm," he responds- he seems amused.

So I continue, "And the way the neckline is stretched out," I pull it over my head- it smells like him, "so it falls off one shoulder, like that?" He chuckles as I demonstrate. He's watching me with interest.

"Yeah," he laughs and looks down.

"That makes it a girl's shirt." I say, wrapping up my argument. He looks at me, considering. "Can I have it?" I nod to encourage the right answer.

He smiles at me, assessing. He raises one eyebrow, but when he speaks, his voice is lower, husky, "Well, you certainly look better in it than I do, that's for sure." He looks at me and we smile at each other. Times like this, when things are so easy between us, I forget all the other times. Why can't it always be like this?

The moment lengthens.

Then he blinks several times and looks away from me. When he looks back, he's all business. "Hey, what if Amanda stole a shirt from Jesse the night they were together?" I take a step toward him, trying to get the moment back and he steps backward, maintaining the original distance- what the hell? "Then later on he sees her wearing it in one of her videos."

I nod. "Like she's taunting him." My reply is a little wary. I can feel him closing off.

"Or," he points at me, "missing him." He raises his eyebrows at me and smiles. But before I can respond, he turns away, picking up a stage diagram. "You should tell Derek about that," he concludes impassively.

I stare at his back, trying to figure out the turn in the conversation. "Why don't you?" I demand.

Instead of looking at me, he stares at the piece of paper. "He doesn't really seem interested in anything I have to say," he glances over his shoulder at me as he lets out a half laugh. His cynicism isn't lost on me.

Yeah, ok. "To be fair, you're not really listening to him either."

At that, he turns to look at me. Holding my gaze, he says defensively, "You may let him push you around, but I don't have to." He snorts derisively and turns back to the table, away from me again. Stop doing that!

And, I'm irritated at the assumption. "I don't let him push me around." He looks up and throws a look of disbelief over his shoulder at me. "I didn't get him at first, but once I clicked in to the way he directs we started connecting." He's still looking at me steadily.
His brow furrows as his eyes narrow. "No, no, I'm pretty sure his 'connection'," his lip curls in disgust as he says the word, "with you is 'special'." His words are thick with innuendo.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

He looks at me, his stare full of implication. The silence stretches between us.

Whatever. I roll my eyes and turn to go. I call over my shoulder, "I'm keeping the t-shirt." I feel his eyes on me as I leave the room.

And another attempt to talk to Jimmy that blew up in my face. Awesome.

/

Jimmy

As I watch her walk away from me, again, I wonder if she is really as clueless as she seems about Derek. Ugh, just thinking that name makes me angry.

I sigh. Why do things have to be so complicated?

Gah. She looked hot in my t-shirt. It was all I could do not to picture her wearing ONLY the t-shirt… hair mussed from sleep, looking at me from the other side of my bed- or standing in the kitchen, drinking coffee, her long legs extending from the worn hem of my shirt…

I need to stop. That's not going to help me sleep tonight…

It is ironic that the shirt she stole was the same one I went to Fringe looking for.

She's making this really difficult.

I pick up my bag and head home, it's been a long day and I need a shower. Probably a cold one.

//

Jimmy

The next morning Derek calls me and Kyle to ask us to come in a little early.

"Hey, what's going on?" I ask as we enter the theater. Derek is standing with some papers spread out on a box in front of him.

"Hey, I just put together some ideas for the show and I think you're going to like them." He explains, "Uh, they're LED screens and they allow for a big range of photographic sets. They're from Japan. Very high tech." Kyle is looking at the diagrams with interest.

I take it all in. "That's cool…" I say slowly. I look up at Derek, "But we're low-fi. I figured we'd have, you know, actual furniture." Novel idea, I'm sure.

He immediately becomes snippy. "Yeah, well, if you're not going to let me have a name actor for The Diva we need to make a statement somewhere." He smiles tightly at me.

Here's a thought, "How about with the show itself?" I challenge him.

His voice becomes calm, trying to pacify me. "I'm just trying to get us on the same page."
I wave him off, he's not getting it. "The more you talk, the less I feel that we are. This isn't Broadway." I look at Kyle. He looks conflicted. He and I talked last night about some of Derek's ideas- he agrees with me about the direction of our show- mostly. But he'll always be swept away by something flashy- it's just who he is. I look back at Derek.

"What do you know about Broadway?" Derek demands. What an ass- I know enough- and Kyle knows more.

I list what I know of Derek. "Well, I know you're used to getting anything you want there." Women included it seems. Derek rolls his eyes. Fine- I throw "Bombshell" in face, "And that last time you put so many bells and whistles all over everything that no one noticed that the show had any problems until it was too late." Kyle is looking at me with his mouth open.

"Jimmy!" Kyle chides me. What? Believe me, he deserves much worse. I see Karen standing in the corner, watching us. Crap. I wonder how long she's been there.

Apparently Derek sees her too, because his next words are calmer. He's playing the good guy again. But his words still have an edge to them.

/

Karen

I enter the theater to see the guys in a meeting. As usual, it's not going well.

"I'm just trying to open your show up, alright? That's what a good director does."

Jimmy argues, "The show doesn't need 'opening up'. It needs to be true to what it is."

"Maybe we can give this a try, see how it works?" Kyle offers.

Jimmy looks at his roommate in disbelief and storms out. After a moment Kyle follows him. Neither of them look at me as they leave.

Derek looks at me though. "Well, this is harder than I thought."

I try to smooth things over. "Maybe I can make it easier?" In my most persuasive tone, I pitch my idea. "What do you think about Ana auditioning for The Diva?" He rolls his eyes, and I try harder to convince him. I'm won't let him dismiss this. And he usually comes around if I push for something. "She's super talented and you haven't seen half of what she can do. And she's already here."

But he's not budging. "Look, Ana is perfect as Jesse's sister."

"Yeah, but I just thought…" Derek is unwavering. I sigh and give up. "I just thought I'd ask."

Maybe I should have picked a different time to talk to him about this…

I head backstage to get ready for rehearsal- which goes much the same as yesterday. Jimmy and Derek face off over the smallest decisions, Jimmy avoids me and I do nothing about either. I really don't want to get in the middle of whatever is going on with Jimmy and Derek- and I'm reluctant to talk to Jimmy again- shouldn't he make an effort at some point?

/

On our way to the theater the next morning, I'm still trying to convince Ana to audition for The Diva. She went out last night, so I didn't get to talk to her after rehearsal.

"I tried, but I think he needs to hear it from you. Just show up to the audition! Show him what you've got." I encourage her.

She resists. "No. I don't want to piss off Derek and risk losing the part I already have."

That's silly. "You're not asking him to give you the part, just a chance."

She considers it for a moment, then shakes her head. "No. He already said no! I don't want to push it."

"He pushes us! You'd be amazing, we both know it." I tug on her arm. "Come on, fight for it! I still think you have a shot."

She smiles at me, "You want me to grow a pair, how about you? I'll talk to Derek if you talk to Jimmy." She bargains. I roll my eyes. That's different. I've at least tried, she knows that.

/

Jimmy

Kyle and I are on our way to rehearsal. We're discussing Derek and his 'grand vision' for our show. I want to make sure that Kyle and I are on the same page. I can't believe he sided with Derek yesterday.

Kyle went out with Ana last night so this is the first I've had a chance to talk to him alone since yesterday morning.

"You really think Derek is gonna fold?" Kyle is skeptical.

Probably not, but he has to listen to Scott. "Scott doesn't want his 'bells and whistles' either." I sneer the last. "His theater is downtown. It's NOT Broadway."

Kyle looks slightly panicked. "You told Scott about it?" I guess I forgot to tell him that part.

"What choice did I have? I'm not gonna let Derek beat me."

"Beat you? Why are you making this so personal?" He pauses. I can hear the hamster wheel in his head working overtime, figuring it out. "Is this about Karen?" He looks at me and sees the truth on my face as I slowly turn to face him. "Oh my God! It so is." I look down. "Did something happen between the two of you?" His curiosity is mixed with concern.

I look at him a moment, trying to decide how much to tell him. I take a deep breath before explaining. "You remember when you thought Derek and Karen were dating?" He gives a small nod. I continue flatly, "Yeah, well they weren't, but he wants them to be. He told me last week to stay away from her."

His attention shifts across the street. He nods toward Karen and Ana, who are also arriving for work this morning. "Are you going to?"

I look at her, wondering the same thing. Every day it seems like a…

"HEY!" I realize what else I'm seeing. Guys are unloading screens from the back of a van. Derek stands nearby, supervising. I dart across the street. What is going on? Scott and I agreed!

"Hey buddy!" Derek calls out with false cheerfulness. He continues mockingly, "Thanks for showing Scott my presentation. Great news- he really loves the LED screens." He looks me in the eye, triumphant as he tells me, "When you're ready, we'll be doing "Voice in a Dream", alright?" He turns and walks into the theater.

Ass.

I look at Kyle in disbelief- he says nothing.

/

The screens have been assembled and rehearsal has begun. I'm standing on my platform, watching as Derek melts down when his precious screen malfunctions- for the tenth time.

"No, no, no! They're in the wrong order!" He's yelling at Blake- who is nearly at the end of his rope with this pompous prick. "Alright, back to the top." The music begins and after a moment the pictures pixelate and the music skips. "Oh, BLOODY HELL!" Derek screams at the screen.

"The files are too big for the system. They keep crashing!" Blake finally speaks up.

Anyone wanna ask me? I raise my hand, as if we're in school. "This is ridiculous!"

Derek waves me off without looking at me. "It just needs to get up and running."

Since he won't look at me, I speak slowly so he understands me. "We have three weeks to rehearse. You want to spend the whole time rebooting the computer?" I ask him sardonically.

He turns on me, his tone biting. "What I don't want is to show some kid simply walking across the stage for five minutes."

He still doesn't get it. Some kid?! I climb down from my platform as I snarl at him. "It's 'some kid' walking across a stage to tell a girl," I gesture at Karen across the stage, "that he LOVES her." HOW does he not get this?

"If we can't get the audience to care about THAT on its own," I stand in front of Derek and give a short laugh, "then one of us isn't very good at his job." The implication sits on the air.

Derek laughs as if he can't believe I just said that. Someone needed to say it.

I hate to break it to you, Derek, but I'm not scared of you and I'm not star struck by you. Apparently you're used to dealing exclusively with people who are.

"So what you're saying is- I can't direct this show?" You said it, not me.

/

Karen

Didn't I leave "Bombshell"? These days I'm not so sure. Derek and Jimmy fight all the time. At this rate I don't think we'll ever get through the show before one of them snaps and quits.

I stand on my platform watching them argue. Is this really all about some screens?
Jimmy has a point though. For this show, in this theater- the screens are too much. They'll take over the small stage. The audience is only a few feet away.

Jimmy answers Derek's question. "No. I'm saying you hide behind fancy screens and orchestras and clothes because you HAVE nothing else up your sleeve." He turns to me, "What do you think, Karen? Do we need any of this?" I begin to answer. But Derek cuts me off.

"Oh, don't put her in the middle."

Jimmy snaps at him, "I didn't, you did."

What does that mean?

Jimmy looks at me again, "Tell him what you really think, huh?" Derek cuts me off before I can speak.

"Oh, shut up," he tells Jimmy disgustedly.

"Oh, real mature." Jimmy throws his hands up as Derek walks away.

Derek approaches my platform and looks up at me. He speaks calmly, as if dealing with a frightened animal. That kind of bugs me. I don't need to be coddled. I've heard people argue before. "Go ahead. It's ok."

I consider my answer. I look at the screens and back at Derek. "It's not right for this show. I'm sorry, Derek."

"Pathetic," Derek looks at Jimmy, "the lot of you." Jimmy looks pleased, his face reading 'I told you so'. I watch as Derek stalks past him and out of the theater.

I sigh as I climb down from my platform. I guess we're on break.

/

Jimmy

Since this break has stretched longer than normal, I'm sitting on the stage, studying lines- hiding from Karen.

Derek's voice interrupts me. "I started out in theaters like this." I turn slightly and go back to reading my script. My inattention doesn't seem to faze him. "Actually, they were worse than this." I continue to ignore him, trying to focus on my lines, but I'm staring unseeingly at the words. He sits down on the box next to me. I flip pages, hoping he'll take the hint and leave. "They were the sort of theaters where the audience used to walk across the stage in the middle of the performance to go to the toilet." I pause, raising my eyebrows in disbelief. Who could work like that?

I can't help wondering why he's telling me this. I close my script. "But I did some of my best work in them." I curl my script in my hands and look off into the distance, is he trying to apologize? I look down at my hands as he continues, "I was innovative because I had to be. Then, you know, I got bigger jobs, more money, better sets," he takes a deep breath as I sigh. "And yes, there is a very slim possibility that you might have a point." He concedes grudgingly. I cut my eyes toward him. "It's been a while since I've had to think outside the box." I give a single laugh.

Well, it's not the best apology anyone's ever given, but at least it seems sincere.
I look at him, "Thanks."

He looks down before looking at me. When he speaks, he's all business. "So, your show's not about scenery or props or costumes- then what is it about?"

I shrug. "Two people falling in love," I say simply. I pause, considering. I look at Derek. "And what gets in the way of that."

The implication isn't lost on him. But he feigns ignorance. "And what gets in the way of love is…"

I reply pointedly and immediately. "Other people." Derek looks surprised by my vehemence. "In my experience at least." My voice dies away to a whisper. I admit, I don't have a lot of experience in the matter, but the first time I'm willing to give it a shot every obstacle conceivable seems to be in my way- and more than half of them are because of the man sitting beside me.

"Great." He says blandly, "Let's show that then." He looks around the stage, considering before looking at me.

I stare at him, waiting for him to admit his fault and rescind his edict about Karen, but he doesn't. Jerk.

Instead he calls the dancers to the stage and gets to work.

I watch him direct the dancers, leading them through his choreography. I realize, as much as I hate to admit it, that when he stops hiding behind expensive props, he has a gift. He calls me over to demonstrate what I'm to do.

This is going to be good.

//

Jimmy

Derek stands onstage and explains the scene to Scott, who has come to check on our progress after the screen debacle this morning.

"Ok, so we're halfway through Act 1. Jesse just heard Amanda singing a song on the radio, a song that he wrote and that she stole. But he's not angry- he just wants to see her again. So he goes after her." He pauses and gestures as the light comes on above me,

"So, stage right- Greenpoint- where Jesse starts out." He points to the other side of the stage as a light comes on above Karen. "Stage left- L.A.- where Amanda is performing her first big concert as Nina. But the journey is tough and there are many obstacles in the way." He waits, they don't appear.

"Obstacles?" he calls. The dancers join us onstage, crowding under Karen's platform. "Thank you." He heads to his seat and calls, "Music track please."

The music begins and the dancers burst out. I begin sing as they make their way toward me, "I thought I was hopeless, I thought I was broken." I look at Karen across the stage. It's remarkable how many of these songs that I wrote before I met her seem to apply to us now, "I struggled to laugh when the whole room was joking. I wait in the cold, but the door wouldn't open 'til I," I begin my descent onto the stage. "'Til I heard your voice in a dream..."

Reaching the stage to begin my journey, a female dancer blocks my way, matching me step for step. I see her, but I have eyes only for Karen- I mean, Amanda.

Karen watches as the 'obstacles' undulate around me, impeding my progress toward her. The male dancers build a wall with their bodies as I try futilely to get through. The dancers push and pull at me, keeping me from my goal. I throw their arms, legs and bodies aside, getting ever closer to where Karen waits for me. "So, sing to me and I will forgive you…" But just as I get close, the dancers pick me up and carry me back to the beginning and I'm forced to start all over. I struggle again to reach her. "And I could have loved you, but you had the hunger, for life in the lights, so when they called your number, I couldn't compete with the spell you were under, still I... I hear your voice in my dreams…" And still they push me back, so I am never making progress. I reach for her.
It truly is a lyrical and physical representation of my life these last three months.

/

Karen

He lifts his arm toward me, and I reach for him- watching the dancers pull him away from me, watching the women throw themselves at him and the men drag him backwards. His eyes never leave mine. Pain and frustration mark his face.

I realize how this performance parallels my life since I've met Jimmy. Every time we make progress, we're thrown back, forced to start again.

I don't know why he's been acting weird this week, but surely whatever he felt last week when he asked me for drinks is still in there somewhere.

Watching him struggle to overcome the obstacles in his path, listening to him sing and seeing the muscles work under his shirt as he battles the dancers makes me want him more than ever. We've been through so much together. It would be crazy to give it all up now.

Like a prince in a fairytale, he climbs the staircase of dancers to my tower. He sings, "I thought I could love you, I thought I could love you." I turn and face him. So can you? Do you? I mentally ask. We're standing nose to nose- the smallest distance is all that separates us.

His eyes bore into mine intently. Amanda looks at him in surprise as scripted, but I'm focusing all my energy on not throwing myself at him, on not wrapping my arms around him and kissing him as if my life depended on it. For one- we'd probably fall six feet to the ground and for the other- the small audience who is currently applauding wildly would probably notice. He looks away first.

Jimmy turns to the audience and waves in acknowledgement, and I applaud our dancers and him.

/

Everyone decides that a celebratory drink is in order after that performance and we head to a small bar nearby.

I'm standing by the bathroom, holding Ana's drink as I wait on her.

I watch Jimmy play wingman for Kyle. I'm not sure what he's doing, but it involves rubbing his chest. My mind turns his hand into mine.

I hear the door behind me creak open. "You're right. We're cowards," I tell Ana without looking at her.

"What are you talking about? Using that bathroom is the bravest thing I've done in weeks!" I tear my eyes away from Jimmy to look at her. "I had to make mittens out of paper towels." She wiggles her fingers at me before taking her glass.

I look back at him. "I'm crazy about him." Ana looks at me, exasperated. "Seeing him perform today made it so clear. Even right now, watching him hit on that guy for Kyle has me all… melty." We giggle together.

"Then TELL him."

I hesitate. "He's not into me." Or if he is, he won't admit it.

"Then you'll know." She says matter of factly. I look at her. "And you'll cry, and you'll hate him and then you'll move on. At least you put yourself out there." She has a point. I sigh, but can I do it?

The little girl inside of me takes over, "I'm scared." I watch Jimmy, trying to convince myself that Ana is right.

Ana looks toward the bar, considering. "What if I put myself out there first?" I look at her, wondering what she's talking about. She throws her drink back, hands me her glass and walks to the small stage where the band is set up.

Ana points at the guitar player. "Hey, you! Look alive!" She takes a drum stick from the drummer and smashes a cymbal. "Derek Wills!" She announces dramatically, "I am The One." I look at Derek, he looks surprised, but she has his attention. As well as the attention of the entire bar.

She begins softly, her voice growing stronger with each word, "If I were a boy, even just for a day…" the guitar player picks the first chords as she begins to slowly strut off the stage toward the bar.

I cross to stand with Kyle and Jimmy for a better view.

"… I'd drink beer with the guys," she takes her jacket off and shoves it at one of our dancers. "And chase after girls." Two guys at the end of the bar help her onto the bar, where she hangs from the lamps, tosses her hair, flirts with the bartender and struts like she owns the place as she sings.

She lowers herself in front of Derek, "…I'd listen to her, 'cause I know how it hurts." She grabs him by his jacket, pulls him close and throws him back in his chair.

She motions to our dancers before she flings herself off the bar and into their arms. They set her on the floor. She turns back to Derek to finish her song, "But you're just a boy…" she takes his drink and strolls back to us triumphantly as the band plays the last notes. As she nears us her eyes go wide and her face silently screams 'Did I REALLY just do that?!'

"YEAH!" We cheer. The bar hoots and claps. We pull her into a group hug. I can't believe she just did that.

Moments later, Derek comes over. "Congratulations," he kisses her cheek. "You just became our Diva."

Jimmy and I exclaim at the same time, "What?"

"I'm sorry I didn't see it before," he apologizes. Ana smiles at us.

Graciously, she nods. "I'll accept, if you buy me another drink."

"Sure thing." Ana turns to leave, giving me a stern look that clearly says, 'Your turn.'

She's right.

I turn to Jimmy. It's now or never.

I take a deep breath. "Let me ask you a serious question…" He turns to me and grins expectantly. I look down at my drink, embarrassed, before I look at him again. I'm distracted by his dimples and I chicken out. "Should we have one more drink?" Dammit. That wasn't what I meant to ask.

/

Jimmy

I laugh, "Yeah, I think you've had enough tonight." I take her drink away jokingly and my hand brushes hers. I look down. It's hard to be near her when we're alone. In a group, it's not so bad, but now that Ana walked away… it's hard to hide what I feel.

"Come on," she protests. I look at her again. "This is the first time we've been out in ages and you've been blowing me off lately." And it's even harder when she calls me out- seeing through me the way she always does.

About ten feet in front of us, there's a mark on the floor. I stare at it, chewing my cheek, trying to organize my thoughts. I answer truthfully, "Yeah, I know." That's all I can come up with? I blow out a sigh.

"Why?" She asks in a small voice. I can feel her staring at me. Without looking at her, I give a tiny shrug. That's the question, isn't it? Why am I doing this? Because Derek said to? Because I'm scared? Because he gave me a reason to avoid everything I've been feeling? Her next question pulls me out of my self-examination. "Do you like me or not?"

I look at her, incredulous- what kind of a stupid question is that?

I scoff and look away. "Of course I like you." My little voice sighs and rolls its eyes, 'That's not what she was asking and you know it.'

But she won't let me off that easy either. "No," she says firmly. I look at her, "I mean," she looks at me intently, "do you like me?" She holds my gaze as a thousand emotions swirl in me. I swallow hard. The moment I've dreaded and hoped for is happening… and I have no idea what to say.

Like you? LIKE you? I think I'm falling in love with you. You're the only woman I've ever felt anything like this for. And I have a director threatening my show and my roommate's happiness if I do anything about it.

But seriously, what can he really do? Throw a tantrum?

You know what? Screw him.

Unfortunately, I don't know how to begin to express the maelstrom raging inside me.

I try to form words, but nothing comes out. I take a breath, about to try again when I see that same director approaching- interrupting us- AGAIN. Was he watching us?

/

Karen

I watch as emotions ripple across his face.

He opens his mouth before closing it again. But he doesn't speak. The silence stretches between us.

He's not going to answer.

The realization is like a lead weight in my stomach. I don't think he'll ever be ready to face what I'm certain he feels.

I give up.

I look at Derek who has just joined us, "Walk me home." I don't really feel like being here anymore.

"Sure thing." I get up to leave.

I look back at Jimmy. He's watching me- but still says nothing.

"Hey, is Ana going with you?" Now he finds his voice? I turn- he's standing now, looking at me intently.

Derek spares me a response. "No, I think she's taken care of." He glances at Ana, flirting with a big blond biker. "As is Kyle," Jimmy's gaze follows Derek's to see Kyle and Blake making out in the corner, oblivious to the rest of the bar. "See you at rehearsal tomorrow."

Derek and I turn to leave and he puts his arm around me to lead me out of the bar.

The crowd closes around us. "Yeah, night." Jimmy calls flatly.

/

Jimmy

Who's running away now? She asks me that question and doesn't even give me time to answer?! What the hell?

I watch as Derek walks away with his arm possessively around Karen for the second time in a week. I throw back the last of the drink I stole from Karen. Anger and jealousy rage in me.

I get another drink from the bar and lean against the wall to consider my options. Part of me wants to give up, to escape what I'm feeling now. I glance at Kyle. He's busy, he'd never know- he probably won't even come home tonight. I give this some thought as I take a long drink. I haven't been down that road since Ronnie's concert.

I stare at my glass, thoughts swirling in my head.

These last months, I've worked toward making myself into the man that, before her, I never knew I wanted to be. Hell, I haven't even smoked weed since that morning after the first Fringe show.

And I STILL can't be with her- because of Derek?

No. This is stupid.

I won't let her choose him.

Dammit, she likes me. She wanted me. I set my half empty glass down and push my way through the crowd.

When I hit the sidewalk I start running. They had a head start, but maybe I can catch her.

I don't stop to think about what I'll do if he's there too.

/

Karen

We walk outside into the brisk evening. I pause to put on my jacket and we walk the five blocks to my apartment.

I turn to Derek, "Thanks for walking me home- I can take it from here."

"You sure?" I nod. "Don't need an escort upstairs?" Good try… you've tried that road before, and my answer hasn't changed. "We could get another drink- I know a spot on the corner." I roll my eyes. I know he's mostly joking, but he doesn't seem to want to give up tonight.

I don't want to hurt his feelings. I poke his shoulder, making my words light, "I have an early rehearsal tomorrow and the director is a control freak."

He smiles. "Fair enough. Goodnight."

"Night."

I look back at him, wondering if I should say something else, but he's already turned and started down the street.

I go inside and walk up the two flights of stairs to my apartment, taking my jacket off as I climb.

I barely have time to drop my purse and keys on the table before the buzzer sounds. I walk back to the intercom and without waiting for him to say anything I sigh into it. "Fine, I guess I could handle one more drink." I roll my eyes and buzz him in.

I barely have time to pick up my purse and keys again before there's a knock at the door. Geez, he must be thirsty.

I laugh as I reach for the door, "That was fast, what'd you do? Run up here?"

I open the door to Jimmy. I feel my jaw drop in shock. He's breathing hard, his eyes burning into me. Wordlessly, he crosses the space between us. He reaches his hand behind my head and pulls me to him.

The jolt that shoots through my body must indicate that the world has stopped- or that he's kissing me.

Without hesitation, I kiss him back. All the promise of that first kiss in the alley and the kiss onstage at Fringe is realized now that we're both (mostly) sober and not surrounded by an audience of strangers.

I drop my purse and keys so my hand is free to pull him closer. I push the door closed with my other hand as I wrap it around his shoulders.

I drag him into my apartment. I can't get him close enough- maybe because he's wearing too many clothes.

I push him away to get rid of his jacket. He shrugs out of it and we lunge for each other again. But even his thin shirt is too much of a barrier between us. I claw at it and with his help, it's gone. I run my hands across the smooth, hard muscles of his back as I pull him back to me.

The table stops our progress into the apartment.

It's as good a spot as any. I need him now.

He seems to understand as I wrap my legs around his waist. He pulls us onto the table.

All thought ceases as I pull him down onto me, breathing his name.

Chapter Text

Karen

I'm awoken by the shrill noise of the alarm clock. I groan.

I feel like I've barely slept. Though I guess I haven't. I grin to myself as I look over at Jimmy who is still sleeping. I slide out from under his arm to turn off the alarm. I don't want to wake him yet.

I grab a shirt off the floor and pull it over my head. I look at Jimmy again as I realize what shirt it is- apparently I left it on the floor yesterday morning, having worn it to bed the night before.

I laugh at the irony. Less than thirty-six hours ago I was going to bed wearing Jimmy's shirt hoping to dream about him- and this morning I wake up beside him. That thought resonates in my head.

I just slept with Jimmy.

And, WOW. If kissing him was incredible, there are no words for this.

Last night was amazing. Remembering his hands on my body, I realize that I will never be able to watch him play the piano quite the same way. I smile to myself, embarrassed by the thought.

I stand there for a moment remembering as I look at Jimmy. The blanket reaches only to his hips, so I'm able to appreciate the way his smooth, tan skin stretches across the muscles of his stomach, chest and shoulders. From the first time we met, I recognized how handsome Jimmy was, but relaxed in sleep- and without clothes- it's even more evident. His face is almost boyish in its peacefulness.

Some of his hair has fallen across his forehead. I resist the urge to push it back into place.

I head to the kitchen before he catches me staring at him. Besides, with only an hour of sleep, we're going to need a LOT of coffee to get through this day.

It was totally worth it though.

/

Jimmy

I feel her slip out from underneath my arm to turn the alarm off. I keep my eyes closed, hoping she'll come back to bed. After a few moments I hear her moving around in the kitchen.

I wrap a blanket around myself and pad out to see what she's doing. I follow the trail of clothing, left like breadcrumbs by Hansel and Gretel. I find her making coffee.

I sneak up behind her and wrap my arms around her. I kiss her neck as I quietly tell her good morning.

"Hey," she whispers back, turning to face me.

All coherent thought ends when I notice she's wearing my shirt. Damn, that's hot. And my hands have discovered that she's wearing it exactly how I imagined she'd wear it when she stole it.

I have only one thought in mind now. I begin to lead her back to bed. After all, I haven't showed her my best trick yet...

She laughs and protests weakly, "Wha? No! We have rehearsal this morning. Derek will be mad if we're late."

"Yeah? So?" I laugh. I pull her to me and kiss her to cut off further protests. She responds enthusiastically. But just in case that wasn't enough to convince her, I move to nibble her earlobe, whispering suggestions for more worthwhile morning activities. She raises her eyebrows and pulls me to her room- rehearsal forgotten.

Derek can wait. He can wait forever for all I care.

/

A while later…

As Karen drifts off again I lay awake, thinking. I look at the woman in my arms. She's so beautiful, talented and kind- and somehow, inexplicably, she chose me. Not for the first time, I wonder how I could be so lucky.

Well, I guess we have to actually TALK about that first… but if the last twelve hours have been any indication, I'd say it's just a technicality at this point.

I look at her, still in my t-shirt. I can't believe how strongly I feel for her. I've never felt like this before. I wonder if this is what… it feels like? Hmm, I can't seem to think the word. I guess I'm not quite ready for that yet. But there is no doubt that my feelings are very strong- and totally new to me.

Without a doubt, this has been the best night of my life. It looks like my life is still mirroring my show. And for once- I don't mind.

I pull Karen closer and decide to take a nap too. I am pretty tired.

/

Karen

I could get used to waking up like this in the morning… Mm, and this morning he proved that singing and kissing are not the only things his mouth is good at. I blush at the thought. I seem to be doing that a lot this morning.

If it weren't for rehearsal today, I'd happily stay in bed with him all day.

Crap. Rehearsal. I'm going to be so late!

"Jimmy!" I nudge him.

"Mm?" is his sleepy reply. Damn he's adorable.

Focus, Karen.

I shake his shoulder. "Jimmy, we've got to get up, rehearsal is starting in an hour."

He reaches for me and pulls me closer. "And?" He buries his face in my hair, nuzzling my neck. "Let him work with Ana this morning." His lips send tingles through my body.

I giggle, "Well, at least let me call her to tell her I'll be late- you may want to call Kyle." He groans and turns over on his back, throwing one arm over his face. "And you probably need to change before showing up at rehearsal," I tease him.

"Well, if you weren't wearing my stolen shirt, I wouldn't have to go all the way home, now would I?" He uncovers his eyes to look at me and tug at my shirt. His eyes dance with laughter.

"I don't know what you're talking about, it's my shirt." I tell him loftily.

"Well, now I have to leave sooner to go home and get new clothes. What do you have to say about that?" In response, I roll over on top of him and kiss him, moving down his neck to his chest. "Now that I think about it, I may have an extra shirt in my bag at the theater," he murmurs, laughing. He tucks a hand behind his head, watching me. "Or, I'll just steal one from wardrobe for the day."

"That sounds like an excellent idea to me." As my kisses work lower, his chuckles stop.

/

Freshly showered, and terribly late for rehearsal, we're getting ready to leave. I realize I never called Ana. I check my phone, "Hey I'm not late." I look at Jimmy, "Derek is working with Ana this morning. So now you're the only delinquent." I poke him in the chest playfully.

He grabs my finger and pulls me to him, wrapping my arm his waist. "Well, everyone knew that already." He laughs as he kisses me. After a moment though, I break the kiss and back up a step before I drag him back to bed again. We do need to go to work sometime today.

I take his hand and pull him to the door before I change my mind.

/

We near the theater, hand in hand, when I see a familiar figure getting out of a cab.

"Dad?!" I drop Jimmy's hand, as if I've been caught doing something naughty. I roll my eyes at myself. Am I still in high school? "What are you doing here?" My dad is looking at Jimmy, but gives me a hug.

He tears his eyes away from Jimmy to look at me. "I couldn't wait to see you! I know we have plans for lunch, but I hope you don't mind, I'm early!" His enthusiasm sounds forced.

Lunch. Crap, I forgot. Mom told me about his conference when I talked to her last week, but things have been so crazy... He's still eyeing Jimmy. I guess I should introduce them. "Um, Dad, this is Jimmy."

"Nice to meet you." They shake hands. Jimmy echoes his response, and his face mirrors my dad's tight smile.

Great. We haven't even determined where we stand and he's already met my dad… and my dad has to show up as we're clearly arriving to work together this morning. This isn't awkward at all. I can't catch a break.

Jimmy's phone rings, breaking the uncomfortable silence. He looks at the display. He holds it up as he tells me, "It's Kyle." I laugh a little, thinking about earlier as he walks away to take it.

Dad turns to me. Oh boy.

/

Jimmy

I pull the door open to the theater as I answer. "Hey man, I'm here. I'm walking in now."

"Of course you'd oversleep without me," Kyle teases. I guess I was right, he didn't come home either.

"What can I say? I'm helpless without you," I joke back. Despite the weirdness with Karen's dad just now, I can't stop smiling. Apparently he can hear it in my voice.

"What's gotten into you? You sound… happy." Kyle sounds confused.

"Yeah?" I laugh. "Maybe I am." I'm surprised by my own honesty. "I'll see ya in a minute." We hang up.

I stop by the dressing rooms and change my shirt. I did have one in my bag.

I walk into the theater and Kyle sees me. I nod at him, still smiling. He cocks his head. I can tell he wants to talk to me, but before I can walk over to him, Derek interrupts us. "Oh, Mr. Collins! How lovely of you to grace us with your presence."

I ignore the sarcasm. Derek won't get under my skin today. The image of Karen sleeping in my arms comes to mind as I smile at him, holding up my hand in apology. "Sorry I'm late. Let's get started." I walk to the piano.

"Oh, we did already." I smile at him- refusing to rise to his barb. Today is going to be a good day.

A few minutes later, Karen and her dad walk in. She looks annoyed and he looks agitated. I'm guessing it didn't go well after I left.

/

Karen

Naturally as soon as Jimmy walked away Dad started his interrogation. I managed to avoid the worst of it, telling him we'd talk later- that I had to get to work. But I'm guessing this will come up again at lunch. I sigh. He's been SO supportive of my life choices since I moved to New York… I have no doubt how he'll take this. Yippee…

I introduce my dad to Derek. Surprisingly, he invites my dad to stay. I was going to ask, but didn't know how he'd respond. Dad takes a seat and I go warm up.

We run "Broadway Here I Come" since that's what I'll perform tonight at the benefit. Jimmy is playing the piano and I'm singing. I can't stop smiling at him as I sing. I should probably tone that down, the song isn't meant to be that upbeat. Oops.

When I finish the song Dad claps loudly. That's embarrassing.

Derek, seeing my reaction laughs. "Oh, let a father be proud of his daughter."

Slightly abashed, my dad addresses Derek. "I'm sorry, I won't interrupt. Karen told me about the big fundraiser tonight."

"Well, I hope you'll come. You can hear Karen sing this in much nicer surroundings." Yeah, right. Dad looks uncomfortably at Derek. My dad is unlikely to show support of my abandoning Broadway for this show.

Before Dad can respond, Scott interrupts. "About that, since tonight is "Hit List's" introduction to our board members and the patrons of this theater, we want to wow them with everything we've got."

Kyle speaks for all of us, "What are you thinking?"

"Now that we have our Diva," he gestures at Ana, "and rehearsal this morning went so well, maybe we should show her off. Let's do her number too."

"Do we even have time to pull that off?" Ana asks, face incredulous.

Derek steps up. "Almost definitely not, but that's never stopped me in the past." He looks over at Ana, "The number is in good shape. Let's just run it one more time." I grin at Ana who still looks a bit shocked. I nod at her. She's got this.

"Well, I can uh…" My dad's voice interrupts my silent conversation with my roommate.

"Dad, just stay and watch Ana rehearse. She's incredible." I plead, "It's a great show. It might not be Broadway, but it's right for me. Just stay- you'll see."

"No, it's ok," he says distractedly. I see my dad's eyes follow Jimmy as he walks over to talk to Kyle. "I'll wait in the lobby. I have some work to do anyway." My dad walks quickly away.

"Right then, let's set up for The Diva's number," Derek calls us back to task. I sigh and take a seat near him. I'm not needed for this number, but I'm not in the mood to talk to my dad either.

I watch as our dancers emerge from behind the piano as Ana plays and sings the beginning of "Reach for Me." They balance on the top and sides of the piano, contorting their bodies into impossible poses. "That looks cool."

"Wait 'til you see what the guys at Anti-Gravity have put together," Derek replies. "If we pull this off we should raise quite a few eyebrows tonight." He looks around. "Where's your dad?"

"In the lobby, 'working'." I sigh and roll my eyes. "He thinks I made a mistake leaving "Bombshell".

Derek shrugs. "You took a risk. We both did."

I sigh hopelessly, "I wish he could look at it that way."

Derek looks back at me. "Why don't you bring him to the fundraiser?"

"I don't know- it's not really his thing." And he's unlikely to show support for my involvement in this production.

"Watching his daughter perform? He'd love it." Under other circumstances maybe.

"Maybe- I'll ask." I promise.

One of our assistants whispers in Ana's ear. "Uh, they're ready to fit me for my costume now." She calls to Derek.

Derek nods. "Ok." He addresses the room. "Alright everybody, that's lunch."

I head out to find my dad.

/

Dad and I are standing on the sidewalk, waiting for a cab.

Turning to me he begins, his tone confrontational. "I finally understand why you left. You left Broadway for that composer. The one I saw you with this morning."

I roll my eyes. "His name is Jimmy, Dad. And that's not the only reason."

He ignores that. "You've never even mentioned him to your mom and me. Who is he? What's his story?" He pauses, but not long enough for me to respond. "I don't think he's good for you- a musician, Karen, really? And what if this doesn't show doesn't pan out? How will you support yourself?" His tone softens a little, "I just don't want you to make a mistake." I know he's concerned, but it would be nice if just once he would trust even one of my decisions.

"You don't even know him, Dad." I look him in the eye, "Look, Jimmy's important to me." My dad looks away. "This show is too. So if this is all a mistake…" I trail off, out of the corner of my eye I see Jimmy walk out in time to hear the last. Seeing my dad, he walks quickly away. Crap. I whirl on my dad. "You know what, Dad? If it's a mistake, it's too late. I already made it."

"I guess you did." He sees the cab that's pulled to the curb. "You know what? Maybe we should just cancel lunch. I'll talk to you later." Hurt and disappointment are evident on his face as he climbs in his cab.

I look at the disappearing car for a moment before chasing after Jimmy, but he's turned the corner and I can't see him.

//

Karen

Our lunch break is almost over. I called my dad after I finished eating. He didn't answer, but I left a message. I told him that I'd leave a ticket for him tonight at the door, and that I hoped he'd come. Maybe if he sees what we're doing, he'll understand.

I see Jimmy onstage, alone. He's working on something, but this may be the only chance I have to talk to him before the fundraiser tonight. I need to make sure he didn't misunderstand what he heard. And we need to talk about other things too.

"Hey, is everything ok?" I ask him quietly. He looks up, glances around the theater, but says nothing before looking back down. I continue, worried now. "I hope you're not mad about what you heard, it wasn't what it sounded like..."

He cuts me off. "No. I'm not mad." He gives me a half smile before looking down again. He seems distracted.

Somewhat relieved, I try to explain. "Good 'cause, this is really strange for me-" he looks up at me, papers finally forgotten. "You know- 'cause my dad's here. He's asking me all these questions about my life." I shake my head. "And then in the middle of all that there's what happened with us." I smile at him, hoping he'll indicate he's ready to talk about that.

/

Jimmy

With us… I like the sound of that. I can't help but smile at her. Those words bring to mind what she told her dad earlier- that I'm special to her. Words can't describe what I felt when I heard her say that. I knew I shouldn't have been eavesdropping, but I couldn't help it.

After all, eavesdroppers rarely hear things they want to hear. And I also heard what her dad said- that I'm not good for her, that I'm a mistake. He's not wrong. I don't deserve her. Not after the things I've done. But I'm trying to put that behind me. It is behind me- in no small part because of her.

I tap my pencil on my chin as I consider how to respond. She and I need to talk- about a lot of things, but I keep worrying that Derek is going to walk in any minute. That reminds me, I ask her quietly, "You haven't told anybody right? Ana, Kyle, Derek?"

"No. Why?" She's confused by the turn in the conversation. And I'm not sure what to tell her.

"Well," I start before pausing, I look down again, unable to meet her gaze, "we're working together. It's better to keep it between us." I gesture between us with my pencil.

Her face falls and her response is hesitant and quiet. "If that's what you want." With her answer, I can hear how it sounded. She thinks I'm ashamed or embarrassed by what happened, that I think it was a mistake.

I'm quick to reassure her. "No, no." I close my eyes to block out the look on her face. God, being with her is the best thing in my life- and I'm about to mess it up before it can even begin. Damn you, Derek. "I'm sorry. No, it's not that. It's…" My voice trails off as I see him walk in.

You have GOT to be kidding me.

My face must betray my shock. "What, what is it?" Karen follows my gaze behind her, and looks at me in confusion.

Horror and dismay fill me as I look at the blond intruder standing in my theater, talking to Blake- who's pointing at me. "Um, I have to go- I'm sorry." I dart away without looking at her. All thoughts of Karen are gone but one- her dad is right, I'm not good for her- and the reason is standing right in front of me. My only remaining thoughts are focused on getting him out of here- NOW.

I walk over to him, bumping him with my shoulder, turning him toward the door as I hiss, "NOT HERE." I walk quickly out of the theater, looking back to make sure he's following me.

/

He keeps trying to talk to me, but I refuse to engage him until we're outside- safely out of hearing of anyone else. Once outside, I look around to make sure no one followed us or are out here on break.

No one can see this. No one should see him. I'm furious he spoke to Blake, and mortified that Karen saw him.

I check to make sure he's still behind me and I lead him across the street, further from the theater. I don't want him in this part of my life- I don't want him in my life at all.

He taunts me, "Pretty nice place you got here."

I turn on him and demand, "What are you doing here? Huh? How did you find me?" My voice rises an octave in my distress. I take a breath. I won't let him see the effect him being here has on me.

But he already knows. He laughs. "You broke into my house, man. I knew you was alive. I did a little digging, and here you are." He gestures at me. He's at ease, cocky- as he always has been. He's enjoying this.

I try honesty. "Dude, I don't have it." Inside, I'm afraid. What if it's not enough? My life is finally coming together, he could ruin EVERYTHING. Karen, the show, everything.

Smugly he asks, gesturing behind him, "Even with all these posters with your name on 'em?" He smirks at me. It's an expression I know well. After all, I learned it from him.

"It's not anywhere near what I owe you." I feel so vulnerable- and in front of the one person I don't want to show weakness to. But I'm helpless before him. I don't know what he might ask of me or what he might do to me.

He steps toward me, backing me closer to the wall, making me feel as cornered physically as I do mentally. "You'll find it." He's confident as he makes his threats with a smile, "I know where you live. And I know where you work." He smiles as something else occurs to him, "You know?" He looks back at the theater behind him. "Maybe I can meet some of your new friends, huh?"

All pretense of calm gone, I plead, "I need time." I can't hide my terror now. They can't know.

His gaze is steady, still confident. He smiles slowly and winks at me. "I'll see ya soon." What should be a friendly goodbye is a menacing threat, layered in promises. He walks away.

I let out the breath I was holding as I lean my head back on the wall and close my eyes, trying to block out the last few minutes. What the hell am I going to do? I kick the wall in frustration before going back inside.

Good thing I've been working on my acting. I have a heck of a show to put on now.

/

I barely make it back in the building before Kyle catches me.

"Hey, everything ok? I saw you tear out of there just now." His face is filled with concern.

I clap my hand on his shoulder. "Yeah man. Everything's great." I attempt a smile at him.

He knows me too well to buy it. "Jimmy."

I look at him. After a moment, he moves on. He also knows me well enough to know when to give up.

"Ok... if you don't want to talk about that, tell me what had you so happy- what was up with you this morning?"

I rub my hands through my hair, not sure what I can tell him that he'd believe. "Um, just…"

"Oo! Did something happen with you and Karen?" He asks curiously.

He watches my face carefully for clues. Luckily, I'm still reeling from my conversation with Adam so I don't think I gave much away.

I'm spared a response as Derek calls us from inside. It's time to get ready for the benefit tonight.

/

The fundraiser seems to be a success so far. The place is packed and Karen sounds incredible.

I'm playing the piano as she sings. I smile to myself, remembering that this song is how it all started. I think back to that night at Table 46, when I was the one singing this song. I can't believe how much has changed in these short months. That night, I didn't know she was watching, or have any idea how important she'd become to me. And tonight, as I watch her sing, I can't imagine my life without her in it.

I won't let Adam ruin that.

She looks down and smiles at me, "…and the last thing I hear…" I smile back. I watch her to take transition cues from her as she sings the last notes.

She gestures to me as the crowd applauds. I point to her before standing to take her hand. We share a bow. The feel of her hand in mine comforts me. I'll figure this out. I won't lose her over this. I'll do whatever it takes to put Adam and my past behind me for good.

/

Right after I leave the stage, Scott finds me and throws his arm around my shoulders. "That was great!" The gesture is almost fatherly. I don't want to let him down either.

Embarrassed, I duck my head. "Hey, Thanks." But seeing him gives me an idea. "Um, so I was wanting to ask you for an advance on my money..." I say slowly. He looks at me in surprise. I backpedal, "It's just… well, it's hard to work shifts at the restaurant when I'm in rehearsal…" I trail off.

Scott shakes his head, "I'm sorry to break it to you, but this is non-profit theater."

I gesture around the room, at all the well-dressed people that surround us. "But, I mean what about all these people? Aren't they supporting us? They don't look so hard up."

"They keep the lights on." Scott looks at me in consternation. "Is there something wrong?"

My last thought gave me an idea. I wave him off distractedly. "No. I'm f… Hey, forget it." I reassure him as I walk away.

/

Karen

After our performance I was hoping that Jimmy and I could continue our conversation from earlier, but he disappeared in the crowd. I did find Kyle though.

"Karen! Karen! Do you see who's here?"

I look in the direction he's pointing but before I can see what he's talking about he grabs my arm and drags me to Ana's dressing room.

He bursts in. He's so excited his words come out in a rush. "Oh my God! You won't believe who's here!" Before Ana can respond- or even comprehend our sudden appearance- he continues, "Richard Francis- Arts Editor of the New York Times! He's gonna watch you Shut. It. Down." Ana is standing behind a screen, getting into costume.

Her smile looks a bit panicked. "Oh, I didn't think I could get more nervous." She giggles nervously.

I reassure her, "Don't be. You're gonna be great." I look around. "Hey- where's Jimmy? I was kinda hoping he was in here." Not that he has any reason to be in here, but I can't find him anywhere else. "I really need to talk to him."

Kyle nods, "Yeah, he's been acting weird all day." Well, at least it's not just me. Wait. Maybe it is me. Maybe he regrets what happened between us- I mean, he said… well, he didn't say much before we were interrupted by… well- I don't know who interrupted us either.

Once again I feel like every step forward is met with steps backward. I sigh. "Yeah, I noticed," is all I say- but Ana is perceptive, and she knows me too well.

"Is everything ok? Did something happen?" She watches me closely. Luckily I'm spared a response. Blake ducks his head in the room.

"Ana, we're ready." She nods.

"Ok." She takes a deep breath and steps out- fully costumed as The Diva. She looks amazing.

Kyle and I hug her and tell her to break a leg. We follow her out. I look for Jimmy as I head back to my seat, but still can't find him in the crowd. Kyle sits next to me and we wait for Ana to begin.

/

Jimmy

I watch Ana twirl in the air, but my thoughts are elsewhere.

I'm not proud of the idea I had while talking to Scott. It goes against everything I've worked toward- but it might get Adam out of my life for good. I hear the arguments for and against in my head. The arguments against seem to speak in Karen's voice, and the arguments for taunt me in Adam's.

I look around the room. Everyone else is mesmerized by Ana- they'd never even notice I was gone.

Bottom line, I can't be shackled to Adam forever if I want a future with Karen. And he'll keep turning up until I'm free of him.

That decides it. I duck through the crowd to the coatroom. I lie to the attendant. "Hey, they need you downstairs, like right away." It's sad how quickly I can slip back into that skin, I guess it's like riding a bike. I shrug this thought off. I need to get this done and get out of here.

I paw through the jackets. Surely someone left a wallet or something of value. Half the people in this room have more money than I could dream of. I'm nearing the end of this rack and I haven't found anything. I'm getting desperate. Just then, my hand closes around a box. I pull it out, finding an expensive looking watch. I'm looking at it, wondering how much I could get for it when I hear the last voice I want to hear. Well, maybe the second to last.

"Hi Jimmy…" Derek drawls.

Shit.

//

Jimmy

I turn around slowly, still holding the watch. Derek walks over to me and takes the box from my hand. "Patrick Philippe. Score." With a long look at me, he begins to walk away with the watch. He's going to turn me in- I'll be fired, I won't be able to pay Adam- I'll lose Karen.

"I… I can explain." I call after him.

He looks over his shoulder at me in disdain, "I wouldn't bother. It's pretty obvious." He turns away, nearing the counter and the end of everything I've worked for. The only way this could get worse is if Karen walked in right now. How was I so stupid?

Surprising myself, I tell him the truth. "Derek. I'm in trouble, ok?" The panic is evident in my voice.

He stops. His tone changes, "Alright, go on." He turns around to face me.

I take a deep breath and haltingly, I explain. I haven't told anyone this- only Kyle knows about Adam and my past. And now I have to tell the one guy who has already threatened the happiness I've found. What is my life?

"See, it's this guy I know." I pause. I clarify, "This dealer- I used to work for him…" I guess I should be completely honest, "and buy from him- crash with him and his friends." I plead with my eyes for him to understand.

"K." He waits for me to continue.

I assure him that that part of my life is over now. "Yeah, but I got outta there like a year ago." I take a deep breath. This is the part that is still haunting me. "It's just… I needed some cash for a clean start."

He sighs, "How much did you take from him?"

"Eight grand," I say weakly, my shame laid bare. Derek considers the watch for a moment before tucking it back into the jacket it came from.

He crosses his arms. "Why didn't you just ask me?" He asks me this as if he were offering to lend me a pencil.

I think I just hallucinated. "Are you kidding?"

"I thought you and I were becoming friends," I snort in my head. Friends? I'd hate to see how he treats his enemies… "And believe it or not, you don't have a monopoly on youthful indiscretions." That I believe, and from what I've heard, they didn't end in his youth- but now is hardly the time to mention that. For once, my better judgment holds my tongue.

The coatroom attendant has returned, "Hey what are you doing in here?" he demands.

Derek is unaffected by his tone. He turns to a rack and pulls his jacket out, and shrugs into it. "We're fetching our coats in your absence." Spotting mine, I do the same. We walk past the attendant without speaking.

/

Karen

The show is over and everyone is moving to leave. In the crowd I see a figure I didn't expect to see. "Dad!" I push through the crowd to him. I give him a hug.

"Dad, I'm sorry about earlier. You're right. I should have told you about Jimmy before. But please…"

Just then, Derek walks up, Jimmy in tow.

"Hey, Roger. Glad you could make it." They shake hands. He gestures behind him, where Jimmy stands, smiling at me. "Have you met our composer, Jimmy Collins?" I smile at Jimmy. It's the first I've seen him since our performance.

But seeing Jimmy again, Dad looks uncomfortable. He glances at me, "Uh, yeah, this morning..." He turns to me, "Karen, walk me out. It's late, I'm gonna get a cab."

"Um, ok." I give a small embarrassed smile to Derek and Jimmy. "Excuse us. I'll be right back."

On our way out, I try again. "Dad, I was hoping we could talk."

There is a string of cabs at the curb, waiting. Dad opens the door of one. "Sorry, I gotta go- early start tomorrow." He kisses my cheek and ducks inside. "You were great."

"Thanks," I tell the closed door. I watch the cab drive down the street. Sighing, I turn to go back inside.

/

Jimmy

I watch Karen and her dad walk away, curious about their sudden departure. Before I can wonder about it for long, Ana and Kyle join us. I congratulate her. She was stunning. I wish I'd been able to enjoy it more.

"You, my dear, were a vision." Derek kisses her cheek.

Surprised, she replies, "Oh, thanks!"

Scott joins us. "I'm bettin' the house on you guys." Scott tells us- no pressure or anything.

Kyle jumps in. "Well, she killed it, so…"

Another man and woman join us. "Derek!" she exclaims, taking his hand as they double kiss. "Great to see you- as usual. Interesting show." He smiles at her.

The man introduces himself to Scott, "Richard Francis. New York Times."

"Scott Nichols, as I'm new in town, I've yet to have the pleasure." Blah, blah, big wigs… They shake hands. Yay, everyone is friends now.

Richard Francis points at Kyle and me. "Is this the team behind that number?" Hey, look at that, he noticed the little people.

Scott answers for us. "Yes."

Richard looks at Ana, "And this is the sprite, spinning in the air."

She's embarrassed by the compliment, but manages to shake his hand and introduce herself. "Yes, I'm Ana." She smiles at him.

I explain her role, "She plays The Diva. That was her song in the 1st Act."

Richard sounds impressed. "I can't wait to see what she does in the second."

Kyle tells him, "She's all over the place." Ana looks at him incredulously.

"Well, we'll leave you to it. I'm so looking forward to seeing where all this goes." Huh. Mr. New York Times is interested in our show. He looks at Scott. "Let's talk."

Scott is overwhelmed. "Sure."

"Soon," Richard clarifies.

"Of course," Scott confirms. Richard and the other lady leave.

"Ok, I'm literally waiting to exhale." Kyle's voice is shaking in excitement. Ana lets out the breath she must have been holding.

I turn to Kyle, "Dude, all over the place?" Has he lost his mind? "The Diva only has one song," I remind him.

Before I can say anything else, Scott interjects, "Not anymore. Forget the patrons. That man is the only fan "Hit List" needs. He says jump and we fly." I'm not sure if I should be excited or irritated about that.

/

I go backstage to gather my things and run into Karen. I'm conflicted, on the one hand, I'm glad to see her- we haven't had much chance to be alone today. On the other hand, after all that's happened in the last 12 hours, I am not up for the inevitable conversation that we need to finish.

"Hey," she begins quietly- almost shyly.

"Hey," I reply in the same tone. She stops a few steps away from me. She plays with her hands for a moment before looking up at me.

"Um, look, it's been a crazy day- would it be ok if we talk tomorrow? My dad…" I jump in to reassure her.

"No, tomorrow would be great. It's been a REALLY long day." I grin knowingly at her, "And I'm sure you're as tired as I am." She giggles and looks down. I take a step toward her and rub her arm, reassuringly, "I can promise you that for me, last night was amazing. But, I think we both really need to get some sleep tonight. And tomorrow, we'll figure the out the rest." She nods.

"Last night was amazing," she murmurs, taking a step closer and smiling up at me. When she looks at me like that it's hard not to take her back to bed now.

Instead, I kiss her lightly on the lips and rest my forehead against hers. Anything else and we won't sleep tonight either. "Goodnight," I whisper. I run my knuckles down her cheek and rest my hand on her shoulder, rubbing it with my thumb. My other hand rests on her hip.

"Night," she breathes. Her hands gently stroke my sides and back, before coming to rest at my waist.

We stand there for a moment in comfortable silence, enjoying the company of the other, neither wanting to leave. Finally she squeezes my hand and with a last long look, she walks slowly out of the room, letting our hands fall when they cannot reach any longer. I watch her until she disappears around the corner before picking up my stuff and heading out to find Kyle.

/

The next morning I get to rehearsal early to meet Derek. He counts the money he's put in an envelope for me. "Well, this should do it." He hands it to me. "We've got some work we can get on with while you go visit your friend."

Envelope in hand I can feel the weight of the money he's just given me. I shake my head, overwhelmed at his generosity. "Nah, he can wait."

He looks at me almost sternly. "Yeah, but you shouldn't. Handle it now."

I shake his hand. "Thanks," I tell him gratefully.

"Sure." Something like concern colors his tone as I turn and walk away. Maybe there's more to Derek than I thought.

/

Karen

I arrive at the theater this morning and am surprised to see Dad outside waiting on me. He seems relieved that I'm alone.

"Hi," I start, "What…"

He holds up his hand cutting me off. "I'm sorry. I was awful hard on you yesterday." He looks at me seriously. "I was up half the night thinking." He shifts his weight before speaking again. "Look, I just want you to be happy and," he pauses, "if that boy makes you happy, then that's all that matters to me."

"Thank you." I smile at him. "It's not just him though Dad, this show really is something special."

The doors open behind my dad and Jimmy walks out. I'm surprised he's here so early.

But apparently, there are more surprises yet to come. My dad calls out to him. "Jimmy!" Jimmy turns and my dad motions him over. Jimmy stops a few feet away, wary. "Uh, your show seems interesting." I'm watching them both closely. Dad glances at me and Jimmy raises his eyebrow at me. My dad continues, looking back to Jimmy. "I look forward to seeing the rest of it on Opening Night." Dad pauses, glancing at me again before addressing Jimmy, "Maybe we could all have dinner?"

Jimmy looks at me uncertainly, as taken aback as I am by my dad's sudden change of heart. "Uh, yeah, I'd like that." Jimmy smiles at me and my dad.

"Good. Good." My dad shifts his weight from one foot to another. He's trying hard.

Derek comes out of the theater too. It's becoming a party. "Roger, you're not staying for rehearsal?"

"No, I was just saying goodbye to my daughter. I've got to get to my conference." Derek gestures toward the street.

"Let's get you a cab." Derek and my dad walk away, making small talk. I look at Jimmy who hangs back. I pause with him. It looks like something is on his mind.

/

Jimmy

Seeing Karen, I realize there was something else I should have said last night. Luckily, she was preoccupied with her dad and we were both so tired, she seemed to overlook it, but I feel like it should be said. I don't follow the group. She notices and drops back to talk to me as her dad and Derek continue their conversation.

I turn to face her and look at her apologetically. "Hey, I know that I've been weird lately- I just want you to know it's not you. I've just – I've had a lot on my mind but it's gonna be all good now, ok?"

"Ok," she seems curious, but accepts me at my word without further comment.

I want to prove that I mean what I said, and that I'm serious about us. "I've got something I've gotta do right now," I look down the street, "but can I come over later, so we can talk? I think Kyle and Ana have plans to go out with Blake and some of the dancers after rehearsal."

She smiles and nods, "I'd like that."

"Ok," I say quietly and smile back. It's all I can do not to kiss her goodbye, but Derek's right there- and he's watching us, of course. So is her dad. Oh well, plenty of time for that later.

"See you soon." I take a step backward to get a last look at her before turning to leave. She walks over to finish saying goodbye to her dad.

I take a deep breath and work up my nerve for what I'm about to do.

/

I knock on the door of the house I broke into almost three months ago, the house that used to be my- for lack of a better word- home. It's hard to believe how much has changed since then- and how much I've changed.

Adam answers. I hand him the envelope without a word. I look away, down the street.

But I watch as he counts it. I wait nervously. "Look at that, it's all there."

"Yeah. We good?" I want to hear him say it.

He smiles an oily smile at me. "Oh, better than." He barks a laugh. "Man, the last thing I ever thought I'd see from you was eight thousand cash." He gestures inside, and I look at him suspiciously. "You want to come inside? Hang out? You know, for old time's sake."

"I never want to see you again." I say with finality, holding my place on the porch.

Adam looks down. If he were anyone else, I'd think that my words hurt him, but with him, it's never that easy. He's coming up with his next plan. His voice is quiet- and as persuasive and charming as the Devil's. "Well, you want a little something for the road?" He smirks as he pulls a small bag out of his pocket. Coke.

Eyes narrowed and without hesitation I tell him, "Go to Hell." I turn and walk away. I will never be in his debt again.

I may be done with him, but he's determined to have the final say. "Have a good one… Collins." He lets the name sit on the air. I don't respond- I keep walking. He calls down the street to me, "It is Collins now, right?" He laughs again, but to me the sound is ominous. "Don't worry! Your secret's safe with me."

I have never been safe with you.

I'm worried that this may not be the last I see of Adam.

Chapter Text

Karen

After rehearsal, I watch as several of the cast head out for drinks, including Kyle and Ana. I guess Jimmy was right. I see him talking to Derek at the edge of the stage. I catch his eye and point backstage. He nods and I walk toward my dressing room. I need to get my stuff anyway.

I pack my bag and check my hair and makeup in the mirror. I see his reflection walk in. I turn around quickly and knock over an empty cup. I pick it up and smile at him. "Hi," I say quietly. What a lame thing to say, I mean, this is Jimmy- we're hardly strangers.

Am I nervous?

Softly he replies, "Hey." He returns my smile then looks down and shakes his head as if embarrassed. He looks back up at me and we share a short laugh. I guess we're both a little nervous. After a moment he asks, "Uh, you ready to go?" His hand sweeps toward the door.

"Um," I glance around, "sure." I pick up my bag and he takes my hand. A little surprised, I look down at our joined hands. His hand is strong around mine. I could get used to this.

Hand in hand we leave the theater. The contact seems to help ease the awkwardness. On the way to my apartment conversation flows between us as it always does- though we're careful to avoid any subject that would lead to talking about 'us'.

My mind is only half on what I'm saying. It's running a thousand miles an hour- what am I going to say when we get to my apartment? Maybe I need to think about what I want from this… Am I ready for a new relationship? I mean, I know I like him and I'm pretty sure he likes me, but what if he only wants a casual, bed buddy type relationship? I've never really been that kind of girl… But then he was the one who asked to meet tonight to talk- maybe that means he's interested in more than just…

Unfortunately, before I have any answers we're at my door. I let him into my apartment. I drop my keys and purse on the table. The table. I feel the blood rush to my cheeks. I glance at Jimmy and turn my back on it. I take off my jacket, laying it behind me, beside my purse. I walk quickly into the kitchen. "Um, you want a glass of wine or something?" I call over my shoulder. He's looking around the apartment. I wonder if he's thinking about the other night too.

He looks over at me. "Beer- if you have it."

I open the fridge, pull one out and hand it to him. I pour myself a glass of wine. "Wanna sit?" I point to the living room. I blush a little as I remember that we never actually made it there the last time he was here. We walk over and sit on the couch. We're turned to face each other, close enough that our knees are touching.

For a moment we look at each other without speaking. I take a drink, he does the same. We both start to speak at the same time. We stop and laugh uncomfortably. "You first," I tell him.
He clears his throat. "I was just going to say that you have a nice place. I don't think I really noticed, last time I was here."

I look down at the glass in my hands and an embarrassed laugh escapes. "Thanks."

"And," he continues quietly as he reaches out to tuck a piece of hair behind my ear, I look up at him, "that you look beautiful tonight." His hand cups my cheek, and his thumb strokes it gently. "I'm not sure I've ever told you that before either." I stare into his warm hazel eyes, which are soften by the emotion behind them. I melt inside. I'm not sure if it's from the compliment or his hand on my face. Maybe both.

Undone by his gaze and words all I can seem to say is, "Thank you." I watch as his eyes trace from my eyes, to my nose, my mouth, my chin. I lean forward and kiss him. It's not long before my thoughts shift to activities that involve fewer clothes. Something about Jimmy seems to bring that out in me. Luckily we're still holding our drinks so the moment can't get out of hand. We do need to talk. I pull back and smile at him.

"So, what were you going to say?" He asks, taking a drink from his beer.

I wave my hand, "Oh, just that you were handsome in your suit last night," I fib flippantly. The fib isn't that he looked handsome- he absolutely did- but that I don't actually know what I was going to say. I don't really want to be the one to start. I kinda want to know what he's thinking first.

He laughs and plays with the label on his beer. After a few moments he looks back at me, suddenly serious. "Look, Karen," he pauses watching as his thumbnail pries the corner of the label up. "I don't know how to do this." He looks up at me, chewing his cheek.

A little confused, I tilt my head as I ask him, "Um, what do you mean?"

He looks back at his bottle. "I mean, I've never done this." His tone suggests I know what he's talking about.

Feeling slow, I feel my eyebrows furrow. "Done what?"

/

Jimmy

I sigh. But, I swore to myself last night that I'd be honest with her. I'm going to have to say it. I look at her, "I've never had this talk. I've…" I clear my throat and stare without seeing at the bottle I'm spinning in my hands, "I've never been in a relationship before," I tell my bottle.

"Never?" I look into her startled eyes.

"No." I shake my head. "Um, I've never actually been on more than two dates with the same person."

"Oh." She sits back a little.

I lean forward. "But, with you, for the first time, I want this." I set down my beer and take her hand in both of mine. My words flow freely, spilling forth. I try not to think too much. I stare at our hands, "I don't know what it is, but almost as soon as we met I couldn't get you out of my head. And I've never felt like that about anyone. Usually I forget a girl's name as soon as she walks away. But well, you… you drove me crazy- in so many ways." She laughs. "And I tried to shake it, to fight it- and believe me, I tried hard. But, this… this," I gesture between us, "whatever this is has tormented me. I'm not used to feeling this way." I take a breath. "So, to answer the question that I didn't the other night. Yes." I take another breath and look her in the eyes, "Yes. I like you. I like you more than I've ever liked any other girl or woman in my entire life. And it terrifies me." My voice shakes a little. "It terrifies me because it is completely new to me. Because I have no idea what to do, what to say or how to deal with the emotions you make me feel. I never thought I'd feel this way- ever. I didn't think I could. And it was hard- so hard, to admit what I felt to myself- much less to you." I look back down at our hands, "And I know I've been unfair, and that I've pushed you away- so many times, but I'm so glad that you kept coming back. I'm glad you didn't give up before I realized that I couldn't stop- that I didn't want to stop myself from feeling what I do." I look at her. I'm not sure I'm making any sense at all.

"And the other night, when you left with Derek, I couldn't take it anymore." I laugh mirthlessly, remembering. "Do you know, when we first met, well, after Ronnie's concert anyway, I thought you and Derek were together? It was a long time before I figured out you weren't."

She lets out a single laugh, "So that's what you meant- when you kept talking about my boyfriend and my 'situation'." She shakes her head. "I was so confused." Her hand pulls out of mine to push her hair back behind her ear. She props her elbow on the back of the couch and leans her head on her hand.

"Yeah." I sigh. There's more I need to say. But I'm not sure I'm up for it right now.

She says nothing for a few moments, staring at her wine glass. I pick up my beer to have something to do with my hands.

"Well," she starts, "then, let's take this slowly," she says, looking up at me. "I… I just got out of a three year relationship about a month before I met you." She takes a breath. "Um, we were engaged actually- well, barely- but I found out he cheated on me, and we broke up." She looks around the apartment. "When I got back from Boston I moved in here with Ana."

"Wow." It's my turn to be surprised. I've never been in a relationship at all and she's been engaged before. My beer is label-less now. I push the shavings into a small pile.

"So, in an opposite kind of way, I guess we're on the same page." She gives a half laugh. "I like you too, a lot actually- more than I intended to." I look up at her, eyebrows raised. "I wasn't looking for anything after Dev." She shrugs. "And I tried not to like you for a long time- after all, you made it pretty clear you weren't interested- more than once." We laugh together, "And even after I admitted to myself that I did like you, you kept pushing me away. But every time I'd decide I was done, you'd do something and… well…" she shrugs, "here we are." She smiles at me.

We sit quietly for a few minutes, each taking in what the other said. "Um, can I get you another?" She stands up and holds out her hand for my empty bottle.

"Sure." She comes back with a new bottle for me and her glass refilled.

She changes the subject. For the time being, we've exhausted the other. "So, what did you have to do this morning?" She asks curiously as she sits down.

"Oh, that," I wave it off, "it was nothing. Just an errand." So much for honesty. But, I'm not ready to tell her about that yet. I try to distract her. "So, your dad finally came around a little, huh?"

"Yeah, I guess. We'll see." She sighs. "I know he's just worried about me, but I wish he'd be more supportive." She shrugs. I'm not sure what to say to that so we lapse into silence again, but it's a comfortable silence.

I break it. "So… since now we know we both like each other, you want to watch a movie or something?"

"Sure, um, our movies are over here." We get up and browse the selection. We choose one and she pops it in the player. I sit down on the couch again, and pull her to sit in front of me, her back to my chest. I wrap my arms around her, threading the fingers of my left hand through hers. She rests her head against my shoulder.

The movies starts, but I'm distracted by her. The smell of her hair is as alluring as it was the night at the party when she sang to me. I feel hyper aware everywhere that her body touches mine. I play with her hair, pushing it away from her neck. I lower my head and place a kiss behind her ear.

"Mm," she snuggles closer. Encouraged, I trail my lips down her neck. She turns her face toward mine and kisses me, softly at first. Soon, she turns in my arms, our hands falling apart so she can cup hers behind my neck. Her lips part, allowing our kiss to deepen. My hands move behind her head and waist, pulling her closer. She turns around completely, throwing her legs over my hips.

My hands find the hem of her shirt and push it up, breaking our kiss to pull it over her head. The movie plays on in the background- forgotten- as her hair falls around us like a curtain when she leans down to kiss me again.

/

We're lying on the floor, in front of the couch, catching our breath. "Well, so much for taking things slow," I tease her.

"That wasn't exactly what I meant when I said that." She lifts her head off my chest and rolls her eyes at me. "Besides," she turns slightly, placing her hand on my chest to rest her chin on it. "I'd say the other night kind of eliminated the possibility of taking that part of our relationship slowly." Her eyes sparkle mischievously.

I chuckle, "Yeah." I look down at her. "So, since you're the expert, where do we go from here?"

She smiles, "Expert, huh?" She considers for a moment. "I'd love for you to stay, but part of me feels like I should tell Ana first. But, on the other hand, I doubt she'd be that surprised." She looks up at me, "What do you want to do?"

Her words remind me of something else. I echo my words from before. "Um, I still kinda think we should keep this just between us for now. You know, since we work together."

"Uh, Jimmy, I think Ana and Kyle will notice- unless you plan to never see each other. I mean, Ana will figure it out if you're here, and she'll wonder where I am if I stay out at night- and Kyle, well, same thing- except if you disappear at night, he'll think you're high or something."

Crap. She's right. I didn't think about that. "Ok, we can tell them- but can we not tell the others? And can you make Ana promise to keep it between the four of us?"

She sits up to look at me, suddenly guarded. "What's this about? Why is this such a big deal to you?"

"No reason. I just…" I trail off, what can I tell her? I can't tell her Derek told me to stay away from her and I REALLY can't tell her that I'm now indebted to him $8000- or why I needed it- which further complicates things. I sigh. "I mean, I don't want to mess up the show- and well, what if I screw this up? I don't really want it to be a huge thing in front of everyone." Her face softens.

She leans down toward me, "I won't let you screw this up." She pokes my chest and smiles at me before pressing her lips against mine again.

I give her a half smile, I think she underestimates me sometimes… "Still, I think it's best, for now."

She sighs. "Fine. It'll be our little secret- for now." She lays back down on my chest, quiet for a moment. I feel her tapping on my chest as if she's deep in thought. It doesn't take long to find out why. "Oh, and by the way-" she starts with forced casualness in her voice, "it probably doesn't need to be said, but I'm going to say it anyway-" she pauses, "um… no more blondes in your apartment, ok?"

I feel my cheeks get warm, remembering. "Well, I'll have talk to Kyle- he's kinda got a thing for blonds…" She shoves my shoulder. "No, I know." I look at her seriously, "Trust me- there will be no blondes, or redheads, or brunettes in my bed- other than you." I drop a light kiss on her forehead.

She seems satisfied with that. "So, did you want to stay tonight?" she asks again.

I think of the other morning, waking up with her in my arms. I lean down and kiss her on top of her head, smiling into her hair. "Yes," I say simply, a little overwhelmed by the idea that this is really happening.

/

Karen

I lay awake, my head rested in the hollow between Jimmy's shoulder and chest, listening to his heartbeat, thinking about our conversation. He's never been in a relationship- ever. While on the one hand, I'm not that surprised, but on the other hand, how is that even possible?

I have so many questions for him, but they can wait. I'm sure it was hard enough for him to tell me what he did tonight. I think of him nervously mutilating the label on his beer, just to tell me he liked me, when it should have been pretty obvious that I liked him back. It's going to take time for him to open up to me. I have to be willing to give him that time- to let him come to it on his own. Probably easier said than done… but if I push, he'll probably shut down.

I can't help but wonder what caused him to be this way. I hope one day he'll tell me.

He murmurs in his sleep and his arms tighten around me. I smile. I know that he likes me, and that I'm the only person he's ever felt like this for. That will be enough- for now. I close my eyes and fall asleep, tucked in Jimmy's arms, secure in the knowledge that we're finally together- and that I'll do anything I can to help him let me in.

/

The next morning I get up with the alarm and find Ana in the kitchen pouring herself some coffee.

"Morning," I tell her.

"Hey. You must have gone to bed early, I didn't see you when I came in." I duck my head and smile.

"Um… Jimmy came over last night and we talked." She looks at me surprised, her eyes wide, asking the obvious question. I nod, "And well… we did go to bed kinda early…" I raise my eyebrows at her.

She elbows me, grinning. "Karennnn…! Well, it's about time." She looks at me, eyes alight. "You have to tell me EVERYTHING!" She tugs on my arm.

I laugh and glance at the hallway over my shoulder. "Yeah, um, later ok?" I look down again, embarrassed. "Anyway, he'll be up any minute so, be cool ok?" I try to look at her sternly, but I can't stop smiling. I pause remembering, "Oh, and he asked if we could keep this between us and you and Kyle for now. He doesn't want to make a big deal about it since we're working together… you know, to keep it professional." I try to make it sound casual, but it still seems a little weird to me.

She looks at me strangely, but agrees. Her attention focuses over my shoulder, smirking. "Morning Jimmy!" she calls out cheerfully.

So much for cool- I shoot her a look. She grins unapologetically. "Um, morning." He shuffles toward me, running his hand through his hair. I walk over to him and put my arms around him, tilting my face up to his. He leans down and gives me a quick kiss. He glances up at Ana. "So, I guess she knows…"

"I told her about the other thing too," I assure him. He nods. "Want some coffee?"

"That'd be great." I hand him a cup, and notice that Ana is still watching us with an impish smile.

Tired of her knowing looks, and yet knowing that it won't help later, I take Jimmy's hand and lead him back to my room so we can get ready for rehearsal.

I hear her cackle as I close the door. She's enjoying this too much.

//

Karen

The week started out great. Kyle seemed happy for us, and it was nice to be able to do all the things I'd wanted to for months now- like sit with my legs over Jimmy's to watch TV at their place or to play with his hair as he lay on my lap on the couch at my apartment. We've sat on the couch or laid in bed talking for hours- well, I guess I talked more than he did. He's asked me lots of questions about growing up in Iowa. He's never really left the city, so he was fascinated. Any time I asked about his childhood though, he'd tell me it wasn't anything exciting and change the subject. I didn't press the issue. He'll tell me when he's ready I guess.

It's not too hard at work to treat Jimmy as I always have. Especially since on breaks, we'll sneak into an empty office or deserted space backstage to be alone together. It was a little bit of a rush- at first. But after a week of secrecy the novelty is starting to wear off. I haven't said much, because I enjoy every moment together- even the stolen ones.

Today we're tucked into a secluded corner of wardrobe, wedged between two towers of boxes, containing who knows what, and further hidden by a wall of clothes that hang on racks that span the room in rows. We found this space two days ago and it's become Jimmy's new favorite hide out- I think mainly for the clever jokes he can make about fittings and costume alterations.

I'm leaning against a small table in this alcove, my shirt halfway unbuttoned. Jimmy leans against me, our bodies pressed together to eliminate any space between us. I can never seem to get him close enough. I gasp for breath around our kisses and lean back further as he moves his mouth down my neck. My hands claw the material of his shirt. I move them down to dip under the fabric to feel his skin against mine. He runs his hand down to press against my hip.

The mood is broken by a sharp pain in my back. "Ow!"

He laughs at my sudden outburst and looks down, trying to find the source of my pain. "You ok?" I pull out the leopard printed stiletto that is the culprit. I show it to Jimmy and we laugh, his head falling into the crook of my neck.

Looking back up at me, his hand brushes some hair off my face, "Remind me why we're hiding in here again?" I ask.

He makes a noise in his throat, indicating he doesn't want to talk about this. But I'm determined to be heard. "Why we're sneaking around?" I try to keep my tone light.

He looks up at the ceiling, like the answer might be there. He gives no answer, instead, as if trying to distract me, his hand brushes at hair that's fallen on my neck. His head dips to brush his lips against the sensitive skin. His other hand travels up from my hip, over my abdomen toward the undone buttons on my shirt. My skin is electrified by his touch. "We're working together." He murmurs into my neck. "It's unprofessional." His distraction is working. It's hard to think when he's touching me. I pull away to be able to think. Wasn't that our reason for not dating at all? I think back to the rooftop after the read through. And besides, this is hardly the first time two leads have begun dating during a show. But before I can vocalize any of these arguments, he pulls me back to him, trailing his lips down my jaw. I close my eyes. What's he saying again? "Plus you said yourself how messy it got over at "Bombshell" with your friend."

I try to focus. "She's not my friend," I say as firmly as I'm able with his fingers grazing the underside of my breast and his lips doing incredible things on my skin. That was different- she was sleeping with the director. But somehow what comes out is, "I know. I'm just starting to feel a little weird about this." My words are coming out breathy- which is hardly convincing.

He ups his distractions, "Do you feel weird about this?" He presses a hot kiss where my jaw and neck meet, drawing a small circle with his tongue. I gasp and his head moves lower toward my open shirt, "Or this?" he repeats his clever little trick. His hands feel like they're everywhere, setting my body on fire. I wonder how much time is left on break…

Derek's loud voice breaks through my desire fueled haze, "Where's Karen Cartwright? Karen!"

I push Jimmy away and call back, "Oh, I'm…" Jimmy's hand presses against my mouth, cutting off my words.

I look at him in surprise. He looks so serious, "Shh…" but immediately his face relaxes and he smiles, eyes dancing- I wonder if I even saw the other. He shakes my head gently, his hand loosening its grip and taps me lightly on the nose with his finger. We both give a small laugh. He brings his face close to mine and replaces his hand with his mouth. His hand slips under the hem of my shirt. My hands grab his hips, using his belt to drag him closer to me. Forgetting about Derek, we continue what was interrupted moments before.

/

Jimmy

Unfortunately, Derek won't be silenced by no response. I sigh and break our kiss. "I guess our break is over." I smile at her, my fingers grazing her temple, and continuing behind her ear, unable to resist using my hand to cup her head and pull her to me for one last kiss.
I look down and tug the hem of her shirt back into place as she begins redoing her buttons. I straighten my own shirt and run my hands through my hair. "I'll go in first," she nods and touching my cheek with her hand, she lifts her face to mine to brush her lips with mine.

"I'll see you in a minute." I squeeze her hand and turn to leave. Out of the corner of my eye, I see her slipping her shoes on.

I walk into the theater. Derek sees me approaching, "Oh, hi," he greets me. Seeing that Derek is standing alone, I look around to see if anyone is nearby. I use the opportunity to give him my first payment. I pull the folded bills out of my back pocket, holding them up before handing them to him. He sounds surprised, "Wow, you're paying me back already? I am impressed." He takes it from my between fingers and slips it into his shirt pocket without counting it.

I nod. "Yeah, um, I'll have more when I get my next paycheck." I look him in the eye and tell him sincerely, "Hey, thanks- you know- for helping me out." I'm still not good with gratitude, but I'm working on it.

Derek waves me off, "Don't mention it." He looks at me with a smirk, "Trust me- I did some stuff when I was a kid that would make you look like a choir boy." I can't help but laugh. He wouldn't have made that boast if he knew half of what I'd done.

"Oh, I doubt that, man," is all I say. I look away focusing instead on the dancers stretching onstage, trying to push away half formed memories of late nights, drug hazes and bodies unconscious on the floor.

"Oh, you do, do you?" He raises an eyebrow, clearly not believing me. "Well, maybe we can trade war stories one of these days." I try to play along by smiling and giving a half laugh, but I think I'll take a pass on that one.

I see his focus shift from me to just over my shoulder. I turn my head to see Karen walking towards us- her shirt buttoned all the way up to her throat. I can't help but smile when I see her.

"Hello," Derek greets her.

"Hey," she replies, glancing at him, but avoiding my eyes. Her lips are pressed together as if suppressing a smile. I try not to look at her as she passes- it still bothers me that we have to put on this charade for Derek- but I can't help but watch her as she walks to the stage. Luckily, Derek's eyes follow her too, so he doesn't seem to notice. I look down and clear my throat.

Derek looks back at me as I carefully study the row of chairs behind him. "Are you two ok?" He looks at me in concern, his brow pulled together. "Seems like you're barely talking to each other." I try to keep the incredulousness I feel off my face. I shove my hands in my pockets to keep from strangling him. I believe that was your request, Derek, remember?

My innocence is a little overdone- my eyes too wide- as I try to assure him everything is normal. "Yeah," I pull my eyebrows down, trying to sound more casual. "Yeah, we're ok." I rock nervously as I lie. "Just… you know- just working." I can't quite meet his eyes. What happened? I used to be a better liar… Luckily, Kyle distracts him before he can notice my unease.

"Um, did I just see Richard Francis in the lobby?" Kyle is stunned. I don't think he'll ever get used to dealing with people he's revered for so long.

Derek looks at him, amused. "Yes you did," he replies evenly. "And I hope you found a way to make the Diva's role bigger because that's the character he's most interested in. And he may ask you about it."

I look at Derek, "Well, we found a way to give her a song in the second act." I shrug, "I mean…"

"I don't think that's enough." Kyle interrupts, looking at me. I look at my roommate surprised- he hadn't mentioned that before.

"Well I do," Derek smiles at me, "and I look forward to hearing it." I look at him in surprise. The world is upside down, Derek is my buddy now and Kyle disagrees with me. I shake my head.

I see Richard enter the theater and walk toward Derek. "Come on," I pull Kyle toward the stage before he can hyperventilate.

Derek calls to the company on stage, "Right, everyone, could we get ready for "Original" please?"

I go backstage to change. Afterward, I find Karen and we take our places.

/

The one nice thing about rehearsal- even though Derek has forced me to hide this new relationship between Karen and me, our characters do a lot of the things that I'd want to do anyway.

We're sitting close together on the couch, holding a laptop between us. "This is who you want to be? Like her- Gaga, Lana, The Diva?" I ask Amanda skeptically. "I mean, they're totally fake!" I point at the screen.

Amanda protests, "She's not fake! She didn't like who she was," she shrugs, "so she reinvented herself." She clicks some keys. "Look. People do it all the time, see?"

The music begins and she starts to sing. We continue to study the computer as our dancers move in front of us.

She sets the computer aside and grabs my hand, dragging me to watch. She moves through the dancers as I stand to the side to watch. The chorus swells and she begins to dance with them as I continue to observe. Karen is mesmerizing to watch. Even if I was supposed to, I don't think I could take my eyes off her.

Luckily, Jesse is supposed to watch Amanda with a mixture of uncertainty and amusement. The dancers swirl around her as she comes back to me, grabbing my hands and spinning me in a circle in an attempt to get Jesse to join her in her buoyancy. I duck my head and smile as if embarrassed. She throws her arm around me and pulls me close, gesturing at the remade dancer. But I have eyes only for Amanda.

She pulls me across the stage, and places her arm over my shoulder again- her hand resting lightly on my chest. In an unconscious gesture, I place my hand over hers. Karen recognizes this and smiles at me as she sings. Jesse warms to the idea- joining in the clapping. Amanda struts through the dancers- I can't help but notice Karen's shapely legs in her heels and short skirt. Amanda returns to Jesse and takes my hand. I follow her as she taps each dancer she passes- bringing them to life before they join the others. We return to the side to watch another makeover, again with her arm around me. A slow smile spreads across my face before she drags me, still smiling, to center stage to dance with them. The allure of fame and the catchiness of the song have whittled away Jesse's objections. We sing and dance the chorus together.

As the chorus winds down, Amanda moves to stand in front of a mirror and I take my next spot, out of the way, on the darkened stairs. Her voice swells as she's lifted by two of the dancers.

I watch from my perch as she sings and dances the chorus the last time, and as always I'm blown away by Karen's grace and charisma when she's onstage. I walk slowly down the steps, making my way back to the couch, but my eyes never leave her. Thankfully, my preoccupation with her is in character.

The song winds down and Dan drops Karen back on the couch beside me. We look at the laptop as if we hadn't just broken into song. "See?" but her breathlessness gives her away.

The scene ends and she smiles at me. I can't help it, I smile back at her. For a moment we're the only two people in the room. We're interrupted by Richard Francis who has joined us onstage to shake our hands and tell us how much he enjoyed the performance.

/

Karen

After the performance we were dismissed for our dinner break. Jimmy, Ana and I went out to eat together- Kyle was still locked away with Julia and Scott. But after dinner, Jimmy of course insisted we go back to the theater separately. So, Ana and I stopped for coffee.

On our way back to the theater, Ana speaks up. "I don't understand. Why doesn't Jimmy want anyone to know about you guys, again?" I'm surprised this hasn't come up sooner- she's been giving me weird looks all week. But then, I haven't been alone with her much. I've spent most of my free time with Jimmy.

I echo what he told me earlier. "He wants to be professional, keep everything compartmentalized." I almost sound like I believe it.

Ana sees through me though. "You don't think he's hiding something, do you?" She looks at me, only half joking.

I roll my eyes at her. "Like what? A secret wife and kids?" I ask mockingly.

She laughs, "You don't know!" She defends herself, "He could. I mean, how much do you really know about this guy?" That pulls me up short. I really don't know much about him. I've let him avoid telling me much about himself.

I list what I do know, "I know he's a really good friend to Kyle-" who probably would have mentioned the wife by now- I pause, "and that he's extremely talented."

Ana raises her eyebrows suggestively at me, "So you've told me…"

"That's not what I was talking about!" I protest giggling, a little embarrassed. "But also true…" I tilt my head in agreement, grinning.

"Mm hmm," she says knowingly. "Look, I'm all for a girl having a good time." No joke- you rarely bring the same guy home twice. "But don't you think that this top secret thing is a bit of a red flag?" Where's this coming from? She's the one who has been pushing us together since I met him.

"I don't know," I say carefully, "I dated a guy I thought was decent for three years and look what happened." I shrug, giving up. "I don't know, maybe I should be worried." It is kind of weird. But then, Jimmy is a pretty funny about his privacy. Maybe this is part of that?

Ana stops walking and turns to look at me. "Look, you're both adults. You can be professional and still be public- can't you?" I totally agree, but this secrecy thing was never my idea. She starts walking again.

Before I can catch up with her my cell phone dings, signaling a new text message. I dig my phone out of my pocket to read it. It's from Jimmy. A mixture of conflicted emotions- not the least of which are desire and anticipation- flit through my mind as I read, "You are needed in wardrobe again." Oh good, another wardrobe joke. I look at Ana who's now several steps ahead of me. She's right. There's no reason to keep this a secret. I'll give him time to open up about his past if he needs it, but this- I don't want to hide anymore.

/

Jimmy

Karen finds me in our spot. I smile at her, "I've already removed all stilettos from the area." She laughs.

She's too far away from me. I take her hand and pull her to me. Her hands and face are cold from outside. I place my hands on her cheeks to warm them and pull her face towards me to place my mouth over hers. As she kisses me back, she grabs at my belt, pulling my hips against hers. I groan at the contact. When her thumbs trace my hip bones under the waistband of my jeans I am nearly undone. My need for her hasn't lessened this week- if anything, it's worse. We've spent every night together since the night of our talk and yet I never tire of holding her in my arms at night. And I can hardly be near her during the day without wanting to touch her- even if it's just to hold her hand. Rehearsals have been hard and breaks can never come soon enough.

I dip my head down to trail the column of her neck. Finding that the buttons on her shirt are still done up to her throat, I find her lips with mine again so I can undo the top three buttons, giving myself more room to explore. Buttons undone, I wrap my arms around her, pulling her close again. I move one hand to thread in her hair and tilt her head back so I can retrace the path down her neck to her collarbone. I flick my tongue along it, and she gasps. I smile at the sound. I begin kissing my way back up to her mouth. Once there, I kiss her slowly, tenderly and she moans around my mouth. A thrill shoots through me. I love the noises she makes. My breathing becomes heavier as her hands dip under my shirt. Her hands explore my chest and her nails lightly rake my back.

"I've been thinking," she says around our kiss. I'm not sure how she can think at a time like this, I can barely rub two thoughts together when she's this close.

She pulls back- maybe she can't think clearly after all- and I move to her neck. I shake my head, smiling, "Oh, you shouldn't do that," my voice is just above a whisper, hoarse with desire. She can't really want to talk right now. My lips tickle her neck as I speak. Her breath catches.

"I don't want to do this here, ok?" Crap. Twice in one day? But her voice is small, and not very convincing. Hopefully, it won't take much to distract her from having this conversation again.

I try a joke, "You want to try the lighting booth?" I smile at her.

That was the wrong thing to say apparently. She pulls away completely to look at me. I try to keep the smile on my face, but I'm pretty sure this is going nowhere good. "I mean, I don't want to do this- here anymore." Her voice is stronger now, her tone firmer. She looks at me almost sternly. I look away and sigh. "I seriously don't get why we're hiding this," she continues. I look down, unable to meet her gaze. "It can't just be because of work." She ducks her head, forcing me to see her. "I mean, are you ashamed of me for some reason?"

I shake my head and tell her sincerely, "Of course not." I hate that she thinks that, I hold her eyes, my gaze steady so she can see that truth in them.

"Then what is it? You married? Seeing someone?" She's trying to sound glib, like it's just an offhand remark, but her tone doesn't have the lightness. She's actually concerned- at least a little- that I'm hiding another woman from her.

I can't help but laugh. Like who? If I'm not here, I'm at work- which is almost never these days- or with her. When would I have time to see someone else? I shake my head again, "It is nothing like that." I smile, trying to reassure her. "I promise." I run my hands down her arms, hoping to calm her fears.

She tries another tactic. She presses herself against me and kisses me hard, which she follows up with kisses to punctuate her words. "Then come on, let's just go in there," she kisses me again, "and tell everyone," a kiss on my jaw, "we're together," a kiss on my chin. I take a deep breath- what were my reasons again? I can't think when she kisses me, when she's this close, her body pressed against mine. "Get it over with," she kisses my neck. I lean back away from her- out of reach.

I close my eyes to focus, I take another breath. "No." I shake my head, the conflict inside me raging painfully. It's so tempting to give her what she wants. I want to make her happy- and I don't want to lose her, but on this I need time. Maybe if I can get Derek paid back first, then I could tell him. But I can't right now- not when I owe him so much. "I c… I can't do that- not yet." I plead with my eyes, my gaze unwavering.

She nods, and for a moment I think she understands. But she backs away slowly. "Then let me know when you can," she says coldly. She gives me a last hard look as she turns away from me, "'cause I'm not coming back in here again."

I try to catch her hand. "Karen. I… Don't…" But there's nothing I can say that will change her mind, and I can't change my answer. She walks away without looking back again.

I lean against the tower of boxes and close my eyes, trying to block out the hurt in her eyes and the pain in my chest. It doesn't take long for that pain to become anger and frustration- I'm much better at dealing with those- this is Derek's fault. Adam's too. How are they still managing to ruin things for me?

'Because you let them,' the little voice whispers. I ignore that and walk outside to clear my head before rehearsal starts again.

/

Karen

After leaving Jimmy I'm not sure what to do. My mind is a jumble. Why is he clinging to this?

I find myself back in the theater. So I pick up my notebook and sit onstage with the intention of working on the next scene to distract myself. Unfortunately, I stare unseeing as the words blur on the page. My mind continues to run. A noise catches my attention. I look up- half hoping it will be Jimmy come to tell me he's changed his mind. My eyes find Derek instead. I try to keep the disappointment out of my voice. "Oh hey. I was just working on the next scene."

"Ok, I'll leave you to it." He turns to go.

I stop him. Maybe company will get me out of my head- or at least distract me. "No, you can stay. Wanna help?"

"Yeah, alright." He closes the notebook he's holding and sets it on his table. He crosses to where I'm sitting onstage. "What are you looking at?" he inquires. I hand him my notebook. He glances at it. He looks at me. "Jesse and Amanda's first date." His voice sounds strange. Almost bitter. "Of course." He tosses my notebook away from him and hops up beside me.

I'm hit by the scent of alcohol. I look at him and vocalize my observation, curiosity nearly turning it into a question. "You've been drinking."

He gives a short laugh, "Oh God, yes," he tells me unapologetically.

It seems strange he'd be drinking when we have more rehearsal ahead of us, "Everything ok?" I wonder what he and Richard talked about- did the performance go badly? I thought it went well…

He looks in my direction but doesn't quite meet my eyes. "I'm not sure," he tells me quietly.

I press, "What is it? You can tell me." I've had enough of secrets today, maybe he'll talk to me.

He slides his eyes to me, considering. After a moment he looks up, as if the words he's look for were written on the ceiling. He sits forward- all this fidgeting makes me think he's nervous. He blows out a breath and after another long moment he finally speaks. "Karen, you know I care about you."

Well… yeah. All that to tell me something I knew? "Yeah. I care about you too," I assure him. He seems down, but I'm not sure what will fix it.

A small smile plays across his lips. "Yeah, that's not what I mean." He looks down.

The silence stretches between us. Slowly his words sink in and his meaning becomes clear. Unconsciously I mouth, 'Oh.' When I speak, it's slowly, considering my words. I don't want to hurt him. "I'm sort of," I pause, "sort of seeing someone-" I pause again. His name comes out on a frustrated sigh, "Jimmy actually." I shake my head and look down. "And it's complicated too." I'm not sure what we are right now. Are we even together anymore after I walked away from him? Do I want to be with someone who doesn't want people to know we're together? Who won't trust me enough to talk to me? I take back the last thought as soon as I think it- he'll get there, it's too soon for that and I know it- I knew it before I ever considered a relationship with him. But the first two I can't escape.

I realize Derek hasn't said anything. I look at him, concerned. "I'm sorry- I hope this doesn't make things weird between us."

Derek hasn't looked at me since I started talking- he's studied the seats, the stage, the ceiling to avoid me. "Of course not," he looks at me briefly. "Good for you." He hops down from the wooden platform we're sitting on. He walks away, "Should we get back to work?"

I watch him walk away, wondering how my life suddenly got so complicated. I retrieve my notebook and get down. I guess the dinner break is over.

/

Jimmy and I are sitting on the steps of our bridge set. Derek is the only other person in the theater. He sent everyone else home shortly after we returned from dinner.

We run the scene again. Jimmy, as Jesse, looks at me. "I don't understand. Your life is perfect, you have everything."

Amanda isn't comforted by his words, I sigh hopelessly and look down at my hands. "No I don't. I just feel like if I can't be famous I'm nobody. Nothing else matters."

"Really?" Jesse's voice drops to just above a whisper. "What about me?" He bends down to look in my eyes, "I'm right in front of you." Looking into Jimmy's eyes, I can't imagine why anyone would want to jump off a bridge with him looking at them like that.

Derek's voice interrupts the moment. "Oh God, that's enough!" He rolls his eyes. "This is so sweet I'm getting a cavity." Jimmy stands up, frustrated. This isn't the first time Derek has cut the scene off tonight. "The scene is supposed to prevent Amanda from committing suicide. You do it like that the entire audience is going to want to jump off the bridge with her!" Jimmy sits back down beside me.

I defend Jimmy. I thought it was good- and I'm starting to wonder what Derek's looking for- or if he even knows. "That's a little harsh, Derek." I try to keep my words light, to break the foul mood he seems to be in.

"Oh yeah? Wait and see what the critics say." He fires back. "Do it again, please."

Jimmy blows out a sigh. He looks at me again and begins again with a different inflection. He stands up earlier than his cue.

Derek cuts him off. "No! No! You're all over the place! This is a mess!" Derek yells from his seat, throwing his hands in the air.

Jimmy yells back, irritated, "I'm trying something different."

"Why don't you try my blocking instead," Derek retorts- his fury barely concealed.

Whoa… "Maybe we should take a break." I suggest calmly. There hasn't been this much tension between them in the last week. Jimmy and Derek have actually been getting along lately. I can't help but wonder if this is because of what I told Derek earlier.

But Derek won't hear it. "No!" he yells. Then, his tone more controlled, "Again."

Jimmy stomps back to sit beside me, his patience with Derek is gone, and his newest interpretation shows that. His tone biting, Jesse spits his words at the spoiled rich girl who can't find fame.

Derek huffs and swings his feet off the seats in front of him and storms to the stage. "Oh my God- you know what? This is the last time I use untrained actors." He grabs Jimmy by the arm, jerking him to his feet and away from me, "Come here- it starts like this."

Jimmy yanks his arm back, "Hey! Hey!"

Alarmed, I stand up too, "Derek, what are you doing?" I look between the two men who are glaring at each other.

Derek dismisses my concern as if I'm a meddling child. His tone condescending, he doesn't even look at me as he tells me, "This doesn't concern you, Karen."

Angry now, I confront him. "It feels like it does." His head turns toward me.

"Well it doesn't." After a long look at me he shifts his focus back to Jimmy, his eyes sizing him up. "It concerns your boyfriend here." He says the word with contempt.

I shake my head, "He's not my boyfriend." I retort, though its sharpness is tempered by the sadness in my voice. I'm not sure what we are right now.

Jimmy turns to me, his face and tone reveal the betrayal felt at my words- but not for the reason I expected, "You told him!"

Are you kidding? "Yeah, so?" I would have felt bad if the boyfriend comment had hurt him, but I'm unrepentant about this. Jimmy sighs and won't look at either of us for a moment.

Derek looks at Jimmy, "You should have been straight with me." His words get Jimmy's attention.

Jimmy replies scornfully, "And say what? 'Oh, I'm sorry I didn't stay away from her after you told me to.'" Derek walks away.

I watch Derek in disbelief. But it is quickly replaced with rage and disgust as the meaning of Jimmy's words sink in, "Told you to?!" I demand of Jimmy, "What are you talking about?" I don't give him time to respond, I turn on Derek, following him, "You told Jimmy to stay away from me?" I won't let him walk away from this.

He turns to face me, "Again- that is not what I said." He speaks slowly.

Jimmy takes steps toward us, "Yeah, it kinda is," his tone caustic.

Derek fights to keep his temper, his words coming from between clenched teeth. "No, it isn't."

I've had enough, I can hear the truth behind all the words and posturing, and I remember all too well a similar scene not many months ago. I look at Derek, "I am not your property." He looks at me and rolls his eyes.

"Yeah, I know that." You might think you do, but you act otherwise. I cut him off before he can say more.

"No. You don't. This is the same crap you pulled with Dev." I'm over the childish pissing contests between Derek and my boyfriends. "You don't control me. You don't run my life. You can't keep doing this!"

"Doing what precisely?" He asks sarcastically. "Helping you get everything you ever wanted?" He turns and walks out of the theater. "Don't worry about it, sweetheart. I'm done." He tells me over his shoulder as he leaves. I watch him go, still furious. How dare he take all the credit for my hard work!

Jimmy takes my hand, "Come on, Karen. Let's get outta here." His voice is quiet, probably meant to comfort me, but it just makes me angrier.

I jerk my hand away from his. "I'm not going anywhere with you." I tell him coldly without looking at him.

"What?" His voice is shocked, "You're mad at me?" His wounded innocence incenses me further. I can't believe he could be confused by my anger.

"Are you kidding?" I look at him now.

Like a little kid he demands, "What did I do?" He really doesn't see how any of this is his fault. I shake my head.

I spell it out for him. "You didn't tell me the truth. All those games- all that time we were hiding- it was because of Derek? Because you couldn't stand up to him?" I wonder how long he put off being with me because of Derek. Is that why he avoided me when I rejoined the show?

His voice becomes quiet again, trying to calm me and make me see his side. "Karen, it's not that simple." I'm tired of him putting this off. I want to scream at him- then what is it?! Tell me the truth!

But I don't, because I know it's useless, that he'll just get defensive and shut down. Instead, I drop my voice as well. "Oh well, then you should have told me instead of making me sneak around-" Without meaning to my volume rises, "lying to him and everybody." Jimmy looks away from me, down at the floor. But I'm not done. I can't help one parting shot. I shouldn't, but I'm too angry to care. And they've been acting like children, why shouldn't I? "I thought you were more of a man- I thought you both were." I walk away. I have nothing else to say to him.

I go home. Thankfully, Ana is there. She makes me a cup of tea and we sit on the couch and talk- I tell her everything. I lean my head on her shoulder and wonder how grown men can be so immature sometimes.

/

Jimmy

I close my eyes so I don't have to watch Karen walk away. I'm worried I may really have lost her after this. I don't know what I can say to make it right. And I'm not ready to tell her about the loan or the reasons for it. I'd definitely lose her over that. I leave the theater, and walk with no destination in mind. I don't want to go home.

I find myself at her door. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. But I stand there a while- staring at it. I still don't know what to do. I guess I could start by apologizing- and see where it goes from there. It can hardly get worse.

I ring the buzzer.

She doesn't invite me up, but she does come down to the door- so that's something I suppose. She crosses her arms. "Jimmy, what are you doing here?" she asks me tiredly. "It's midnight." Her tone is unforgiving.

I try to throw all of my apologies into my eyes. "I'm sorry I listened to him." I hold her eyes with mine. "I wish I hadn't. I just- I didn't know what to do, you know?" I hope she can understand how powerless I felt. But, I take the blame I know I deserve- even though I couldn't see it earlier. "And I know I screwed everything up. I just-" I pause, not sure what to say next. "I wish that there was some way you'd let me make it up to you." I look up at her, hopeful.

Her expression is guarded, but she doesn't immediately say no- I take that as a good sign. "How?"

I smile at her, encouraged by her question. "Maybe take you out on a real date?" I try to make a joke, "Out in public- where people can see us." I laugh, but she's not amused. She looks away. I quickly switch tactics. I look at her seriously, my voice soft, "Like I should have done a long time ago." I still can't believe how much time I wasted, first thinking she was with Derek, and when I found out she wasn't, allowing him to keep us apart.

She nods slowly. My heart leaps, "When?" She's still hesitant- she hasn't uncrossed her arms or made a move toward me yet, but her responses are enough to give me hope.

I look down the street. "I don't know- how about now?" I don't want to waste another minute. I want to start over now. I smile at her, "There are plenty of places still open- we can go anywhere you want." Probably not the romantic first date she wanted, but I hope my desire to fix things immediately makes up for lack of planning.

She considers for a long moment. I give her my most charming smile. Finally she sighs, giving in. "I have to get my coat." My smile becomes bigger. She turns toward her door.

I stop her. I don't want to risk her changing her mind, and honestly, I don't want to be away from her for even a minute. "Hey, take mine," I offer. She smiles at me as I shrug out of my coat and climb the steps to help her into it.

/

Karen

I watch him climb the steps toward me.

It's hard to resist Jimmy when he's so vulnerable. He looked like a little boy asking for forgiveness as he stood at the foot of the stairs asking for another chance. And while this midnight date is hardly the first date a girl hopes for, he's trying at least. He surprised me with his gentlemanly gesture- offering me his coat. I was glad he did, actually. I'd rather not face Ana just yet.

He slips his jacket onto my arms and settles it on my shoulders. It's warm, and smells like leather and Jimmy. He takes my hand, watching as our fingers interlace and then looks up to smile at me. I smile back. His thumb rubs my hand as he leads us down the steps toward the street, looking back again to smile at me.

Happy that we finally don't have to hide to be together, worries of what rehearsal tomorrow will bring don't even cross my mind.

Chapter Text

Jimmy

Karen and I walk down the street, hand in hand. She moves closer to me, leaning her head on my shoulder for a few moments. That simple intimacy is comforting. It seems that her anger from before is gone and we're back to where we were this morning- better maybe. I like seeing her in my jacket too. What is it about girls wearing your clothes that is so hot?

It's not long before we find a restaurant that is still open. We order dessert and coffee. Her chocolate cake almost makes me wish I'd ordered it, but my cheesecake is delicious. She leans over and forks a piece off my plate. I pretend outrage, "Hey! Who said I was sharing?!"

Her wide eyed innocence is marred by the smudge of red syrup on the corner of her mouth, "What? I didn't take anything…" She mumbles around the bite in her mouth.

I lean over and wipe the evidence to show her. She quickly grabs my finger and licks the smudge of strawberry syrup off. All thought stops with the bolt of desire that shoots through my body. I barely hear her falsely ingenuous reply, "What? There's nothing there." I stare at her for a moment- I can feel my mouth hanging open and I close it. She didn't do it sensually- it was playful- but the effect she has on me is startling.

I'm distracted by my phone. The ringtone tells me it's Kyle. I'm tempted to ignore it, but he usually doesn't call this late unless it's important. I answer the call and steal a bite of Karen's cake in retaliation. Her surprised exclamation drowns out what Kyle is saying. I quickly swallow my stolen bite and ask Kyle to repeat himself. "Kyle? Sorry, I couldn't hear you- what'd you say?" Her cake is as good as it looked. I move my fork to steal another bite and she jerks her plate away, playfully batting my hand. I grin at Karen, still threatening her cake with my fork.

"Jimmy, are you listening to me?" Kyle's voice becomes annoyed.

"Sorry man, uh, we're in a restaurant, it's a little loud," I fib. "One more time?" I put my fork down.

Kyle sounds exasperated, "Never mind, are you coming home? I can explain it when you get here."

I hadn't thought that far ahead, but it doesn't really matter to me where I stay if Karen is there. "Sure, I'll be home later."

"Hey, is Karen with you? She probably needs to hear this too."

I look at my phone, as if it might have malfunctioned, "Dude, what's going on?"

"It's probably better I tell you in person- I'll see you when you get here." Kyle disconnects. I look at Karen.

She puts her fork down, "What's going on, Jimmy?" Her tone mirrors my concern.

"I'm not sure- Kyle wants us both to come to the apartment. He has something to tell us." My brow furrows as I wonder what it could be. Our server comes by and I ask for our check.

/

I pull Karen into my apartment. "Kyle!" I look around.

Kyle walks out of his room, "Hey. Let's sit over here." He gestures at the couch. I see that a board with colored cards stuck to it has been set up on the makeshift coffee table. Karen and I sit and Kyle walks us through the new Act 2 and the new role of The Diva. "And, uh, Derek and Scott loved it- and Derek says we have 3 days to write the new material. He wants it at rehearsal on Friday."

We have 3 days to write an entire act? He's kidding right? Even Karen looks shocked. "I KNEW he'd take this out on us," I say to no one in particular.

Kyle looks at me, confused. I give him the short version of the events of our evening.

Karen stands up, "Well, I guess I should go. You guys have a lot of work to do."

I follow her to the kitchen. Before she can get to the door, I take her hand, turning her slightly to face me. Leaning on a stool, I look up at her, "Why don't you just stay?" I ask her quietly. "It's late, and I'm not going to start on that," I tilt my head toward the living room, "until morning anyway."

"You sure?" she asks uncertainly, swinging my arm.

I smile up at her. "Yes. I'm sure." I stand and kiss her lightly. I call over my shoulder to Kyle, "Hey, I'm going to bed- get an early start tomorrow?"

"Sure," Kyle calls back.

I lead Karen up the steps to my loft.

/

I wake up a while later and turn my head to see the time. It's almost 4:00. I look over at Karen and find that she's awake too. "Hey," I say quietly.

She keeps her voice low as well, "Did I wake you up?"

"No," I shake my head, smiling gently at her. "Can't you sleep?" I brush a lock of hair off her face.

"I'm not that tired for some reason." She shrugs. "Hey, since you're awake, can I ask you something?"

"Sure." I turn on my side to face her.

"How did you and Kyle meet? I mean, how did you become friends?" She hesitates, "Sorry- I realized that I didn't know- you don't have to tell me if you don't want to. I was just curious."

I smile at her, she knows me too well- even though I really haven't told her anything about myself. But this- this I can tell her. "No, it's fine." I turn back onto my back, tucking my hand under my head remembering. I reach my other arm out to pull her toward me. She settles her head on my chest.

"We were in elementary school, on the playground actually. We were like… eight, I think. I didn't have many friends, so I was standing on the edge of the grass, watching the other kids play. I saw some bigger kids pushing this little kid, taunting him. He looked so small compared to them." I shrug. "I didn't even think about it really, I just ran over and pushed one of them away, and yelled at them to leave him alone." I let out a single soft bark of laughter. "I got my ass kicked." I scratch my head and look down at her, "But we've been friends ever since." I get quiet for a minute, lost in thought. I don't tell her that those big kids reminded me of my dad, or what he did to my mom and me. Or how many times since that Kyle has saved me from far worse fates than school yard bullies.

"It's probably the best decision I ever made," I say absently. "He's been a better friend than I deserve-and he's rescued me more times than I'll ever be able to repay." My voice is barely a whisper. Realizing what I just said, I look down at her, slightly alarmed- I said too much.

Her eyes are curious, but she doesn't ask. She's more understanding than I deserve too. I kiss her softly on her forehead. "Enough stories for now, we should get some sleep. Apparently I have half a show to write."

She nods. "Goodnight, Jimmy." I turn back onto my side and pull her close. I breathe in the scent of her hair and quickly fall back asleep.

/

"Jimmy! Let's go- lots to do!" Kyle's voice jerks me out of sleep. I look at the clock and groan. I know I said 'early start' but I didn't mean 6am. Karen stirs.

I kiss her on top of her head, "Sorry." She mumbles something unintelligible into her pillow and rolls over. I pull on a shirt and pants and walk downstairs.

Kyle has coffee and toast set out for me- his notebook and board are next to the piano. What time did he get up? I sit on a stool and sip my coffee, raising my eyebrows at him. "So, I take it you have a plan." I take a bite of toast.

"I figured we could walk through the act again and brainstorm what scenes and songs we might need." His eyes are bright- he's excited about this. "Then, we can work on our parts separately- since we're on a short schedule- and collaborate if we get stuck." I nod, it's as good a plan as any- and I'm not awake enough to come up with a better response. I finish my toast and take my coffee to the living room.

We're halfway through the act when Karen appears on the stairs. I join her in the kitchen, offering her coffee. She declines, "I should probably just get home- I can get some on the way. I'll talk to you later." She squeezes my arm, giving me a quick peck on the cheek. "Get lots done today, ok?" I grab her hand and pull her to me for better kiss.

I break away, "Enjoy your day off." I squeeze her hand and open the door for her.

I linger at the door for a moment after it closes before returning to Kyle. It's going to be a long few days.

/

I have my list, Kyle has his. He's scribbling away at the table in the kitchen. And I'm staring at the piano, the keys blending together into gray. I have nothing. I look at the list again hoping one of the song descriptions will spark something, anything for me to begin with. I've played scales and chords and everything else I can think of to gain inspiration. And… nothing.

By lunch I have a few lyrics scribbled down, but they make very little sense and there is less music to go with them. I call Karen.

She answers, "Hey! How's it going?"

I make a strangled noise in the back of my throat.

She laughs. "That good, huh? Anything I can do to help?"

"Have any inspiration laying around you could send over?"

I hear her open and close a cabinet. "Nope, we seem to be fresh out." Funny.

I suddenly remember another time I was without inspiration and on a deadline. "Hey, actually…" I look over at Kyle, "could you come back over here?" I see something like irritation pass over Kyle's face. I turn away and drop my voice, walking away. "It might help, um, you know," I scratch my nose, a little embarrassed, "like when we wrote "Rewrite this Story" and the song for Ronnie's concert."

"I didn't help with Ronnie's song, I mean, not really." I guess she doesn't know the role she had in that.

"Anyway, are you busy?" I pause, "I'd really appreciate it."

/

Karen

Jimmy didn't have to say much to convince me to come back. The prospect of three days without him seemed like an eternity. How pathetic is that?

I stop by the store near the guys' place. Care packages in hand- and arms aching, I knock on the door.

Jimmy opens it. Kyle barely looks up from the table. I hold up the bags in my hands. "I brought inspiration- I hope." I set the bags down on the table. Out of the first bag I pull bottles of Jack, José, the Captain and Absolut and line them up on the counter behind me. Kyle and Jimmy look at me strangely. "What?" I say innocently, "I seem to recall Kyle telling me you wrote "Caught in the Sun" completely wasted- and that was brilliant. I figured it couldn't hurt." They laugh with me. I open the other bag and pull out chips, a big bag of M&Ms, sodas and Red Bull. "And if all else fails- snacks and caffeine." Kyle takes a soda and returns to his notebook. "So, bartender boys, how about some shots- and then tell me what I can do." Jimmy gives me a hug and plants a kiss on my temple.

"Any requests?" I shake my head, Kyle ignores him. Jimmy grabs a bottle and gets to work.

I look over Kyle's shoulder. "You ok?" I'm getting a weird vibe from him.

"Fine. Just busy," he says tersely.

"Ok." I let it be. I walk over to Jimmy. I watch as he pours out the shots. He hands me one and puts one in front of Kyle- who doesn't look up.

"Come on man, have a shot with us."

"It's not even 1:00," Kyle replies flatly.

Jimmy shrugs. "So? We've got 3 days to do what it took us over a year to do- I think we need a drink- or several."

Kyle looks at him annoyed, but Jimmy's grin is hard to resist- and I've never known Kyle to stay mad at Jimmy for long. Sighing, he picks up the shot, lifts it in the air with us and downs it.

Jimmy snags the glass. "Alright, next up…"

We spend the rest of the day alternating drinking and writing. Kyle relaxes and even takes his turn making shots for us. And, it turns out Jimmy does write better a little drunk. By the end of the day we have two songs finished and a good bit of the script sketched out.

Feeling good about what we accomplished we decide to take the night off. Kyle invites Blake over. We order take out and sit around the trunk that doubles as their coffee table. The three of us have been drinking all day and are more than a little tipsy. Blake is amused, but not catching up fast enough.

I suggest a drinking game. "Hey! Let's play 'I Never'!" Bonus, maybe I'll learn more about Jimmy...

Blake looks at me like I've lost my mind. "Seriously? Are we in high school?"

"I didn't drink in high school, thank you!" I push his drink toward him, "Keep drinking- it'll sound like fun." Jimmy and Kyle laugh.

Blake is overruled and I begin the game. "I never… did it in a public place." They laugh at my euphemism. Whatever. Bobby, Jessica and Ivy may have ridiculed most of the 'Iowa' out of me, but it's still who I am. Jimmy and Blake drink. Kyle looks at Blake with a raised eyebrow.

Jimmy takes the next turn. With a mischievous look at Kyle and Blake, "I never kissed someone of the same sex as me." Kyle, Blake and I drink. Jimmy's eyes widen at me. I laugh. I knew that'd be his reaction. "What? Truth or Dare in high school." I shrug, "It was my best friend," I wave my hand, "hardly a big deal." I try to keep my voice even, but his face cracks me up.

Kyle jumps in, looking between us he says, "I never… 'did it'", he makes fun of my earlier phrase, "on a kitchen table." Jimmy shoves his shoulder before holding his glass up to clink with mine, Blake joins us. I think Kyle is learning more about Blake than I am about Jimmy. I smirk a little.

Blake thinks for a moment, "Um, I never 'did it'," he carries on the joke, "with someone whose name I didn't know." I try not to be surprised when Jimmy drinks.

Jimmy steals my turn. Smirking at me, "I never… stalked someone for their music." Kyle laughs as I shoot Jimmy a dirty look before drinking.

He wants to play. "Yeah? I never… kissed someone in an alley while high."

As quick on his feet as he was when I met him he fires back, grinning, "Do I need to drink for each time that has happened?" I stick my tongue out at him and he pulls me into his lap to kiss me.

After a moment, I remember we're not alone in the room and glance at Kyle and Blake. They're talking quietly together, carefully not looking at us. "Sorry," I look down, trying not to giggle.

"Um, this is getting a little… specific. We're going to call it a night I think- lots to do tomorrow." Kyle leads Blake to his room.

Once they're gone, I giggle drunkenly, "Oops." Jimmy grins down at me and picks up where we left off.

/

Wrapped in the blanket from the couch I wake up to the sound of the piano. Jimmy is playing quietly. I get up to stand behind him, my hands resting on his shoulders. I lean around to kiss him. "What's that?"

He takes my hands that are resting on his chest and turns around to face me. "Sorry. I had an idea. I had to get it out."

"No problem, what is it?" I sit sideways on his lap and run my fingers through his hair.

"I had an idea for the song Amanda sings when she and Jesse meet JB- her impromptu audition piece." I nod.

"Can I hear it?" I slide off his lap to sit next to him. He turns back to the piano to play it for me, singing what he has so far. I pick it up quickly. It's catchy. I can't help it, I do a little shimmy in time with the music and Jimmy laughs. He pulls me to him. His amused kiss quickly becomes more serious.

"You are kidding me, right?" Kyle comes out of his room, his hair sticking up in places. "It's 3am. Stop playing the piano and take… that to your room." His wave in our direction makes it clear what he's talking about.

"Kyle, chill. I had an idea and couldn't sleep." He tries to placate his roommate. "I'm sorry I woke you up. If it makes you feel any better, I woke Karen up too."

Kyle's eyes find the blanket on the floor. I follow his gaze and see my bra isn't far away. Crap. "You know what? I think I'll stay with Blake- I can work there. I'll call if I need anything."

He returns to his room. I hear low voices and drawers opening and closing. A few minutes later they emerge, Kyle carrying a duffel bag. "See you Friday," he says without looking at us. He closes the door.

After a moment Jimmy shrugs. "So, you want to show me that little dance again?" he teases.

/

Jimmy

A bright light scalds my eyes behind my lids. I sit up. Sunlight is streaming in through the windows. I look at the clock. It's 10:00. Well, I lost a few hours I was counting on, but I also don't feel much of a hangover- I'll call it a win. I get up and grab some Advil from the bathroom. Taking a couple for myself, I return to my room and set a glass of water and a couple Advil on the table next to Karen's head. I'll let her sleep as long as she's able.

As I eat some cereal I write out the music and words that I played for Karen last night. I glance at my loft as I rinse my bowl. I don't really want to wake her with the piano, but I need to get to work.

Apparently, she's reading my mind. "Thanks!" she calls. She must have found the Advil. I smile as I head to the piano.

Moments later she's standing behind me. As she did last night, she puts her hands on my shoulders, kneading them gently a couple times before leaning over to kiss me. I realize she's wearing one of my flannel shirts, buttoned only about halfway up. All thoughts of music writing are gone and I drag her, giggling, back up the stairs.

/

It turns out Karen is better than alcohol or any drug when it comes to helping me write music. Our day has been split pretty evenly between the bed and the piano- and yet I've written more today than I did yesterday. Right now I'm putting the final touches on a battling duet between Amanda and The Diva.

Mostly Karen sits and watches me work- unless I get stuck. Often hearing her sing it is enough to help me, but if I ask, she'll make suggestions. As I found out before Ronnie's concert, she has good instincts and as I learned after the "Liaison" fiasco, her insights on the music and showbiz world are especially relevant to the show.

Having her here has been a huge help. And more than the help, I've enjoyed having her here.
I look over at the couch and am surprised to see her standing right next to me. She straddles the piano bench beside me, throwing one leg over mine. She slides close and runs her hands under the bottom of my shirt. She begins kissing my neck. "Sorry to interrupt, but watching you play is just so..." she murmurs against my skin. I tilt her chin up to kiss her.

Yeah, having her here has been nice…

/

I have only about 18 hours left until rehearsal and I'm exhausted. I'm nearing 72 hours with less than 10 hours of sleep to show for it. I'm mentally and physically drained. Karen fell asleep on the couch two hours ago, but I have to stay awake. I still have songs to write. I'm worried about what Derek will do if I don't have the music for him tomorrow.

I rub my eyes and roll my neck to work out the kinks. I shake my head to clear it. I can do this.
I wake up with my face resting on the music tray. I can't do this. I rub the indentation on my face as I walk to the kitchen to get something to drink. I lean against the counter, trying to regain my focus. My head feels fuzzy and I have the beginning of a headache.

I duck into the bathroom. I grab the bottle of Tylenol and notice the bottle behind it. I pull it out, considering. This could help. Without further thought, I tap one out and take it.

"What are you doing?!" Karen is standing behind me. She's staring at the prescription bottle in my hand.

/

 

Karen

I wake up surprised that Jimmy's not the piano. He's been there for most of the last 6 hours. I check the kitchen and hear a rattling sound coming from the bathroom. I come around the corner in time to see Jimmy tossing back pills.

I stand in the open doorway and demand to know what he's doing. He tries to defend himself. "Karen, it's nothing."

I sigh. I'd hoped he was past this. "What did you just take?" I have to know.

He holds up the bottle. "Just an Adderall- that's it." Like that makes it ok. He makes his excuses, "I keep falling asleep- I can't focus."

I throw my hands up. "Then why didn't you take a nap?" Wouldn't that be the obvious solution?

His voice has an edge of panic, "I don't have time! Derek will start taking your songs and give them to Ana if I don't have this done!"

I shake my head and roll my eyes. "He wouldn't do that."

He grows agitated, "He's on me about this- he's texted me 4 times today asking about the music!" He takes a breath and tries to lower his voice. "By making The Diva's part bigger it means our parts have to get smaller. You think this has nothing to do with us being together?" I shake my head. I refuse to believe that. Derek wouldn't do that.

I try to reassure him. "He wouldn't screw up the show two weeks before previews out of spite."

He laughs mirthlessly, "You sure about that? Because I wouldn't be surprised if Ana was the lead after this. Why else would he set such an impossible task for me?" I can't lie- I've had similar thoughts more than once in the last few days.

But I don't like that he's taking pills. I sigh. I suppose there's not much I can do about it now. I take his hand, "Come on, you get back to work- I'll order dinner." Having a second thought, I turn back to the sink and grab the bottle, dumping its contents in the toilet. "No more pills." He looks at me for a moment and nods.

/

I may hate that he took the Adderall, but did he finish the last of the songs he needed with some time to spare. He didn't sleep much, but I guess that's the trade-off.

We decided it would probably be better to go to rehearsal separately, hoping that not seeing us together first thing in the morning would keep from provoking Derek. We stop for coffee not far from the theater. I leave once I have mine- Jimmy stays to drink his in the shop and will follow me in a few minutes.

I walk in and Ana immediately finds me. "Hey stranger," she greets me.

It does seem like I haven't seen her in weeks. "Hey!" I give her a quick hug. She looks behind me.

"Uh, where's Jimmy? Isn't he with you? Haven't you two been like," she raises her eyebrows suggestively, "attached at the hip- literally?" She grins at me. I roll my eyes.

"Ha. Ha. He'll be here in a few minutes." I defend myself, "And we've been working too."
"Mm hmm," she laughs knowingly.

I look around and pull her aside. "Actually, I'm a little worried about him." I tell her about last night.

"You know he gets high sometimes, Karen. We talked about that after Ronnie's concert. Does this really shock you?" I'm glad that's so easy for her to accept, but it's not for me.

"I know he did. But, I don't think he's done that lately." I shake my head, "I was just surprised- and kind of disappointed." I shrug. "I guess this is different, he wasn't trying to escape- he's been so hyped about the show. He hasn't slept in three days. I'd wake up and find him at the piano in the middle of the night. He said he's afraid if everything wasn't perfect Derek would start giving you my songs."

She puts her hand on my arm. "I'm not going to let that happen," she assures me.

"I'm not worried about you, I'm worried about Derek."

Speak of the Devil and he appears… "Hello." I turn, surprised. I hope he didn't hear that…

"Hi…" Ana turns and walks away, laughter in her eyes. "Um, are we ok?" I ask him quietly- and a little nervously.

He looks at me in confusion. "Why wouldn't we be?" He's got to be joking right?

I have a hard time finding words for a second. "Well, the last time we spoke you seemed pretty upset," I say blandly.

He smiles. "Not in the slightest." I nod but don't really believe him. But if he wants to pretend it didn't happen that's fine by me.

He turns away from me to address the whole cast. "Alright everyone, we've already lost three days, so let's get started." He pauses and looks around, "Although it might be a bit difficult to talk about new songs without our composer." Derek's tone becomes sarcastic. Just then, Jimmy walks in, "Oh look, here he is. That's sweet of you to turn up, Mr. Collins." Jimmy catches my eye and winks at me.

"Oh, no problem, Mr. Wills," Jimmy replies in the same overly friendly tone that Derek gave him. He settles himself at the piano, setting his new music on the tray.

Derek ignores that and addresses the company again. "Ok, Richard Francis is going to be at our stumble through at 6:00, so I want as much of this new material in the run as possible. Ana," he gestures toward the piano, "you wanna go over there so we can hear the songs, please?"

I give her a smile and whisper, "Have fun!" She nods. Ana walks away and I turn to find Jimmy at my side. "Hey!" I say, surprised.

"Hey," he says quietly, giving me a lingering kiss. So much for not provoking Derek.

I touch my lips as I watch as Jimmy walks back to the piano. I smile. You know what? Who cares what Derek thinks? We don't have to hide anymore.

/

We finishing running the new songs and everyone cheers.

Derek picks his head up off the table, where his chin had rested on his hands. "Great," is all he says. We wait tensely for the rest. He picks up his pencil and begins writing.

When he says nothing, Kyle looks at Jimmy before verifying, "Really?"

His reply is a distant, "Mm hmm." He shrugs without looking up.

When he says nothing else, Jimmy asks, "So… you want me to teach everybody the music?"

Still without looking up Derek intones, "Yep."

I sit beside Jimmy, straddling the bench so I can face him. I run my fingers through the hair at the back of his neck. "See I told you- he loved it! He wouldn't change the show just to punish us."

Kyle joins us and Jimmy shows the others the music. They look it over, practicing in small groups. Since I'm already familiar with it, I use the opportunity to whisper in Jimmy's ear how proud I am of him. He smiles and leans over to kiss me. I run my hand down his back and turn on the bench so I can lean my head on his shoulder. He puts his arm around me and we sit comfortably until Derek's voice rings out.

"Right. We're going to run the show, top to bottom. I need to see it with the new material before Richard Francis arrives. We'll take a 10 minute break and get started."

I look over at Jimmy and nudge him in the ribs, "Hey, I think I just heard someone say that you're needed in wardrobe." He gives a single bark of laughter. Kyle looks over at him questioningly.

Jimmy shakes his head as I pull him backstage.

/

The cast is standing in our final places, nervously awaiting Derek's verdict, watching his every move. Kyle joins Jimmy and me to give some notes he had as Derek continues to rub his eyes. Finally he looks up and ends our agony. "Well, that… was brilliant. Really, all of you. It's in great shape." Everyone onstage exhales. "All the new Diva stuff really worked." Jimmy gives me a side hug and Derek joins us. "Kyle, Jimmy, I've got a couple thoughts though." He and the guys circle up. Ana and I stand on the edge, listening.

"Ok, so, I think…" Derek goes on to explain his ideas. I nod with Jimmy and Kyle. I like his suggestions.

"Yeah, we can do that, easy." Jimmy agrees, relaxing visibly. Derek pats him on the back.

"Ok, great. Thanks." Derek walks over to his table and flips quickly through his notebook, eyes feverish, excited- ideas still bubbling forth. "I've got an idea for the beginning as well. Um…" He stops flipping. "I wanna try to tell the story in flashback, alright? A bit like "Sunset Boulevard" or "All About Eve."

Kyle voices our confusion, "Uh, what do you mean?"

"Well, you know- like a classic murder mystery- where you begin with the ending." He states as if it should be obvious. He moves toward us, "So, uh, The Diva is in disgrace, Amanda has dropped her alter ego, she's already succeeded just as herself."

"Uh… won't that spoil the ending?" Kyle asks skeptically.

"No, it doesn't spoil it, it sets it up." Derek shakes his head dismissively. "What are you talking about?" He points toward me and Ana. "Um, you- you come with me." I begin to move, "No, no- you." He points to Ana and begins to move her. "Come on, let's go." He leads her to the back of the stage. "Alright, The Diva goes to Amanda's concert, she's just a face in the crowd. She moves forward among the throng." He gestures impatiently at the dancers who are watching him. "Come on throng, join us." They fall into their places. "Alright, she comes down to the front…" Derek jogs to stand between the rows of seats, watching as Ana slowly walks forward. "K- wait there," Ana pauses. "Alright, she raises the gun," Ana lifts her arm, finger gun pointing to the audience. Derek snaps his fingers, "Bang! But who does she kill? Jesse? Amanda? Someone else?"

With my arms crossed defensively, I protest. "That question would give away everything."

Derek waves me off without looking at me- that's getting old. "Yeah, we don't see you. The Diva's the only person onstage. She's the only voice that we hear." Derek walks back onstage. "Ana, you've still got the gun from the end of the last scene, right?"

"Yeah," she moves to get it.

Derek climbs onto the wooden platform onstage and calls out, "Blake, bring up the cue for Act 2, Scene 11." Beside me, Jimmy is radiating anger.

"Got it," Blake's voice affirms.

"K. Sing the first few lines please," the music begins. Before Ana can sing more than a few words, Derek waves the music off irritably, "A capella, please. A capella!" Ana looks at Derek, uncertain. She blinks a few times and begins to sing.

I watch in horror as Ana begins to sing,"I'm high above the city…" My stomach feels like there's a lead weight in it. She continues singing and the weight intensifies. Out of the corner of my eye I see Jimmy shaking his head. I'm frozen in place, unable to believe this is happening.

Derek follows Ana from the side. She walks forward, "Raise the gun, please… point it at the audience, pick your target…" He snaps and the audio track fires the gunshot.

"YEAH!" Kyle cheers. I barely hear him.

"That's my song!" I exclaim to Derek.

"Yeah, and we'll hear you sing it in a few scene's time." He says, unconcerned.

Jimmy can't contain himself any longer. "If The Diva has already sung it, it's not gonna feel like it's her song! Dammit, Derek!" Jimmy takes a step toward Derek. I put my hand on his arm to calm him. "I worked my ass off for 72 hours so that you wouldn't do this! I didn't sleep!"

"Yeah, obviously." Derek observes dryly. He looks at Jimmy, "And when you come down off whatever it is that you're on you'll see that this really works." That's low, even for Derek. And how does he even know about that?

I push that aside as Derek begins to walk away. I follow him to plead my case again. "Derek, that's my favorite song." It's the song that got me invested in this show, "It's my character's anthem. Don't give it to Ana."

He turns slightly, "I just did," he tells me emotionlessly. There is no compromise in his expression. He walks away and I stand in shock. I never believed he'd do this to me.

Jimmy joins me, wrapping his arm around my waist and kissing my temple before resting the side of his head against mine in commiseration. He was right, Derek is punishing us.

/

Jimmy

I stand beside Karen, trying to comfort her, but I'm furious. I can't believe he just did that! That song is Karen's. No one else should sing it. Derek can't be allowed to do this. I did everything he asked of me so that he wouldn't do exactly this. And for nothing! There has to be something I can do. I won't let him do this.

I realize that while Derek won't listen to me, or even Kyle, he has to listen to Scott. I squeeze Karen's hand and tell her I have an idea. I head to Scott's office.

/

Scott calls Derek and I text Kyle for an impromptu meeting of the creative team. Scott wasn't crazy about the idea either. I knew he'd side with me. And with 3 against 1 Derek will have to back down.

"Richard's already written the article, he just wants to see a stumble through before he sends it out." Scott looks at Derek dubiously, "Are you sure now is the time to make a structural change?"

Derek looks at me in irritation. "Yeah, well, if it takes the show from being just another "Romeo and Juliet" clone into something more iconic, then yes." He bites off the last word.

I make my case, "We had a deal. We agreed to give The Diva more songs- that is it. And that's what we did."

Derek loses his patience. "This is how development works, Jimmy! You keep making changes until you get it right."

It was right before. "To make the show better- fine." I pause and look at Scott, "Because the director is mad at his star for turning him down- not fine." Scott raises his eyebrows in surprise.

"JIMMY!" Kyle chastises me.

I continue, ignoring him. I face Derek, "Tell Scott the truth," I demand. "You're blowing this up because of me and Karen! You're punishing us!" Scott looks at Derek, gauging his reaction.
Derek yells back at me, "I left Broadway for your 'little show', alright? I should be at my first preview right now. Instead, I'm back in high school with YOU." He turns away in disgust, dropping his voice. "If I'm punishing anyone, it's myself."

Scott raises his voice to be heard over us. I look at him, startled. Even Derek turns in surprise. Scott has always been so calm. He speaks slowly, his words measured for emphasis. "This is my first show as Artistic Director of Manhattan Theater Workshop. I took the biggest risk here- on all three of you."

"Oh, come on." Derek protests.

Scott shouts him down, startling me further. "All THREE of you." He takes a breath and in his normal speaking voice continues, "So please, pull yourselves together and do the run through for the New York Times. After that you can fight all you want- just do it far from here." His voice may be quieter, but his tone is serious and authoritative.

I shrug. I'm not going to fight Derek. I already won. And it's my show- so I decide how it's done. I tell him simply, "We're not doing the new beginning."

"Yeah, we are." Derek's response is as eloquent as a third grader- let me guess, 'I'm rubber and you're glue' is next.

"Hey. Hey!" Scott puts an end to our argument before it can start. He looks at Kyle, who has been standing to the side until now. "Kyle, what do you think?" Scott asks him, his tone conversational.

Now I know I've won. I smirk at Derek. Kyle is silent for a moment. Surprised, I look at him- why doesn't he just tell them?

After another moment, Kyle speaks up. "Derek's right." Kyle looks at me briefly. "I'm sorry." His words slowly sink in. He looks at Scott. "It's better."

I can't look at Derek, how could Kyle betray me like that? I glare at him, but he won't meet my eyes. Scott pats Kyle on the back, "Have a good run through gentleman. I'll see you on the other side." Scott leaves to go back to his office.

Kyle still won't look at me. After a moment, he walks away without speaking. I glance back at Derek's smug expression before following my traitorous roommate. We need to talk.

/

Jimmy

I call after Kyle, but he ignores me. I follow him to the small kitchen backstage. He stops walking and turns around to face me. "Go ahead, Jimmy. Say it."

"Dude, what the hell was that before? We're supposed to be a team." I try to keep my voice even, but I can't.

"Yeah, we're a team," his tone drips sarcasm, "except you don't listen to anything I say. You just shoot it down and that's it. And if we're such a team, why did you need Karen to help you write and not me? We're supposed to be working together."

I open my mouth to defend myself and he cuts me off.

His voice rises in anger, "You know- if you don't like the new stuff in the show, maybe you should have helped me write it instead of fighting with Derek over Karen. It's like she's the only thing- the only person- that matters to you anymore. You barely talk to me- and I'm supposed to be your best friend!" He takes a breath. When he speaks again it's calmly, but he stands his ground, "This show is about more than you and Karen. The stuff with The Diva makes the show better." He pauses, looking hard at me, "If you can't see that then you're the one who can't see the show anymore." He starts to walk away.

I take a step toward him and call him back. "Hey! I see the show perfectly. I see Derek changing it, because he's jealous of me and Karen." Kyle rolls his eyes. I narrow mine, "Which, if we're gonna be really honest here- so are you." Kyle's face falls for a moment. But he recovers quickly, his face hardening.

He responds icily, "Believe it or not Jimmy- my life doesn't revolve around you anymore, so get over yourself. And Derek's idea is a good one. So, you can bitch all you want- I don't care." Kyle walks out.

I lean against the table, a thousand thoughts roiling in my head.

/

Karen

The cast is crowded together offstage, listening to Derek talk to Richard Francis, explaining that the show is still a work in progress, and that we made changes this afternoon. "Is everyone ready?" he calls.

We cheer our affirmation.

Derek smiles, "Ok. Places." The dancers file out past us, leaving Ana and I alone.

She turns to me, face serious. "I'm sorry," she tells me sincerely, "I didn't mean to take one of your songs."

I shake my head, distracted, focused on the show. "It's fine. It was all Derek anyway, not you. Once he calms down it'll go back."

I barely notice that her tone changes, "What do you mean?"

I look at her and shrug, "Well, he only gave you that song because he was pissed at me."

Her tone is sharp, "Are you kidding?" I look at her in confusion. "Wow. Thanks for believing in me." Ana steps onstage, wiping the hurt look from her face.

What'd I say?

/

The show ends and I find Ana, there are some things I need to say. The more I thought about it, the more it bothered me that she never said anything to Derek this afternoon when he was giving her my song.

I find her walking toward the dressing rooms. I confront her. "Hey, you said you wouldn't let it happen."

She continues walking, not looking at me. "What?" she asks. Is that anger in her tone? No, I get to be angry.

I spell it out for her, since she wants to play dumb. "Today, I worried that Derek would take my songs away because he's mad at me and you said you wouldn't let it happen. What changed?"

She turns suddenly to look at me. "The show isn't about you and Jimmy. You know that, right?" she begins angrily. "God," she growls, "I'm so sick of this soap opera. It's all I've heard for MONTHS! Do you realize that you never ask about me or my life? I thought we were supposed to be friends."

I stand speechless. She continues for me.

"You know, this whole time I have been telling myself that it's ok to just hang around and accept whatever I got because you're the star and I'm just your friend." Her voice lowers, "I just never thought you felt that way too."

I have words for that. "That's the thing. I'm not the star anymore am I?"

"Thanks for the support, 'friend'." She says bitterly. "It's not my fault that Derek thinks I'm talented and wants to use me in more scenes."

I close my eyes and shake my head- how can she not see it? "This isn't about talent."

"Maybe not for you." She goes for the low blow. "Guess you should have slept with Derek when you had the chance." I can't hide the shock on my face. How could she say that? Ana walks away before I can say anything else.

I stand there frozen, wondering what else I could possibly lose today.

/

I gather my things from my dressing room. I can't get out of here soon enough. I hope Jimmy won't want to stay long at the party. It's been a terrible day. I hear the door open below and Derek's voice drifts up to me. "Hey, what did you think?" And… it just got worse. Is he seriously acting like nothing happened?

"You want to know what I think?" I ask him irritably, "I think you're angry with me and Jimmy and you're taking it out on the show." I pause for a moment. I have to know. "Did you give me Marilyn because of my talent or because you wanted to sleep with me?"

Without looking up from the magazine he's pretending to read, "Your talent," he says flatly.

Right. "Too fast." I walk down the stairs and stand in front of him. "After this show is over, I don't think we should work together again."

He flips pages without a word. I turn and walk to the door. I place my hand on the handle and begin to pull. His voice stops me. "There's something you should know about Jimmy." He still isn't looking at me.

I open the door, "Not from you I don't."

He ignores me. He sounds almost bored as he tells me, "Scott pays him in cash because he doesn't have a Social Security number." I let the door fall closed, "And the New York Times fact checker said that Jimmy Collins isn't even his real name." He looks at me now- probably to gauge my reaction.

I cross my arms and shrug. Who cares? "So he changed his name- actors do it all the time." He looks down at his magazine and flips more pages.

"Yeah." He pauses, "But they don't do it because they've got something to hide, do they?" He lets the accusation sit in the air. I should go, but I can't seem to leave without knowing everything he knows. Derek seems encouraged by my continued presence. He tries to sound casual, "I lent him money last week- a lot of it." He closes his magazine and looks at me again. "For a drug debt." A small smile plays on his lips- he's enjoying this. I narrow my eyes and end the conversation.

"This is childish. Even for you." I shouldn't have listened to him. He's lying. He's trying to drive a wedge between me and Jimmy. That's all.

He shrugs as I turn to leave again. "Well, be careful. You don't know what you're dealing with."
This time I don't stop when I get to the door, I call over my shoulder instead. "Yes I do. A jealous old man." I hear him laugh humorously as the door closes.

Unfortunately, his words aren't so easy to forget. And they rattle around in my head with all the other unasked and unanswered questions I have about Jimmy. I walk back toward the stage and the celebration. I know I promised myself I'd let him tell me on his own time, but who knows how long that will take... He has to open up. How can I be with someone I don't even know? Who doesn't trust me?

/

Jimmy

I make it back to the stage before Karen. I grab a drink and wait behind the set for her. I feel like we might need a minute to ourselves before facing the party. It's been a crazy day.

I see Karen come around the corner and I feel better immediately. I smile as she joins me and I lean in to kiss her. She pulls away, putting her hands on my chest to hold me back. Hurt and confusion wash through me. What is going on?

Looking at her more closely, I can see that she's upset. "What's up?" My face and voice show my concern.

A dozen possibilities run through my mind, but I'm not at all prepared for what she says. "What did Derek give you all that money for?" I back away from her, stunned. Did he tell her about that? What a petty… I can hardly believe he'd do that. But she's not done. "And other than the pills the other morning, what have you taken since Ronnie's concert?" I turn away. I don't have to take this. She can't want to do this now. She reaches for my hand to stop me. But her next words aren't to comfort, they're more questions. "Did you lie to the New York Times?" She can't be serious. I walk away. I feel blindsided- like all the breath has been knocked from my body by the force of her accusations.

I try to keep my expression neutral, but inside I'm a mess. A thousand emotions tumble through me. This is one of my worst nightmares. I'm not ready to tell her- and I'm certainly not going to do it with two dozen people standing in earshot. Has she lost her mind? I'm furious, I'm terrified- I'm speechless. I turn to look at her and move my mouth, but no words come out. I try again. I try to keep my face calm, my voice even and my eyes cold, "I am NOT doing this right now." I hope my fear doesn't show. I turn and walk away again.

She chases me. I can feel her eyes on the back of my head. "You can tell me," she pleads, trying to reassure me. If she knew what she was really asking… I shake my head. "I care about you," she calls after me. I stop walking- tears come unbidden at her words. I swallow hard against them. It would be so much easier if she didn't care about me- if I didn't care about her. "I need to know," she begs. I close my eyes and look down. I turn slowly to face her. Encouraged, she tries again, "I know there's something going on- something you're not telling me." She only thinks she wants to know. Her face is open, concerned- free from judgment. I picture her face twisted in revulsion and contempt. I don't think I could bear that.

I implore her, my voice shaking, tears threatening to fall, "Look, my past… is my past." I take a step toward her, "All that matters is where I am right now." I take another step, "Right here, with you." I'm only inches from her. I can see the flecks of color in her eyes, feel her breath on my face. "Ok? Please," I beg. Please let that be enough.

Her shoulders relax a little, hope rises in me-

We're interrupted by Ana and Kyle. Apparently he forgot he was mad at me. His face is alight with excitement and his words come out in a rush, "Oh my God! The article is out!" I silently curse and thank him at the same time. With a last look at me, Karen turns to them.

"You guys should check it out." Ana isn't as animated as usual.

Together, we read the article out loud. It's very complimentary of our show and the writing team behind it. I should be more excited, but it's been a bad day- and it's not looking like it will get better. I sigh. And I owe Kyle an apology.

I pull him aside to talk. I see Karen waiting nearby, but this is important. And I'm not in a hurry to finish our conversation anyway. I look at Kyle and get right to the point. "I'm sorry. I am a dick."

Ok, I'm not great at apologies.

Kyle nods, agreeing with me, but he gives no ground. "Yeah. You are." Gee. Thanks.

"Dude, I'm really sorry ok?" Frustrated, I run my hand through my hair before letting it smack on the wooden platform beside me. "Look, I know I can be a jerk sometimes…" I switch tactics, "But, I mean- all this, everything," I gesture around us, "it's because of you." I smile at him, but he maintains his glare. "You got us here," I tell him seriously. "Dude, I can't do this without you- you know that. Besides," I affect a bad accent to quote the article, "we're 'edgy and occasionally brilliant.'" I laugh and I see his mouth twitch.

He works not to smile, "I'm brilliant all the time- you're the occasional half." I nod and he laughs. All is forgiven. I pull him to me and give him a hug. I hold him tight. I can't lose him AND Karen today. I sniff back the emotion that keeps threatening to overcome me tonight.

I see Blake over Kyle's shoulder. I look at Kyle and point with my chin toward Blake. "Go have some fun, man." Kyle looks at me and I pat him on the back. "You earned it." He smiles at me before walking over to kiss Blake. I watch my roommate for a moment, happy for him, before I turn my attention to Karen, who is still standing nearby. I can't avoid this forever.

She hesitates a moment before coming over. Maybe it's the wary expression I'm wearing.

She stands in front of me, close enough to touch, but careful not to. Her eyes search my face. Hers is serious, but sincere. "About before," she begins. I can't stop myself from hoping she'll tell me everything is fine, that my past doesn't matter. She takes a deep breath, "This isn't just right now for me." I swallow hard and look down. I have such mixed emotions. My heart leaps at the idea of a future with her- and that she wants one with me, but I'm filled with dread over what her next words will be. She continues, "What I feel with you," I look up at her before cutting my eyes away to the side, unable to hold her gaze, "I want to be with you for a long time." Her words are both a comfort and a knife blade. Tears spring to my eyes again. I look down to hide them. She tries to meet my eyes, "You have to open up to me. I can't do this otherwise." There it is. Her hand touches my arm, and I look up at her. "You have to let me know who you are." She smiles and tries to make her last words playful, but they're an ultimatum.

My next words will determine our fate. If I don't tell her, I'll lose her. If I do tell her, I'll most likely lose her anyway, and she'll probably hate me for what I've done. I lose no matter what. It's the story of my life.

She's still looking at me, her expression hopeful, waiting for my response. I take a rattling breath- I can't believe I'm about to say this. Tears shining in my eyes, I tell her, "I'm sorry." I should probably say more, but that's all I have. I shrug helplessly.

I watch as the hopeful look on her face slowly fades into sadness. She nods, understanding my meaning, "I'm sorry too." She walks quickly away without looking back. I stare at her retreating form until she disappears into the shadows offstage. It seems strange that so few words can end what have been some of the happiest weeks of my life.

I stand alone while the celebration continues around me. I chew my cheek to distract from the pain in my chest, but it's not working. I close my eyes to hide from it and to lock the emotion inside- away from the rest of the world. I hit my head against the metal pole beside me. A satisfying clang accompanies the new pain in my head. At least it worked- for a moment it overrides the pain I'm trying to drown out. But only for a minute.

What have I done?

Chapter Text

Jimmy

These last two weeks have been the weeks from Hell. Ok, I've probably had worse weeks in the grand scheme of things, but they've been nothing like this.

The night Karen and I… Well, the night the article came out I did actually manage to fall asleep, but only because I hadn't slept in three days. Since then, sleep hasn't come easy. At first, it seemed like it was because I couldn't remember how to sleep alone. But now it's because I can't stop thinking. The other half of my bed being empty doesn't help either. Of course, if it weren't empty I probably wouldn't be up all night thinking- ARGH! It's a vicious cycle.

I stare at my ceiling. Because I've been so tired during the day, my performances haven't been 100%. Well, I suppose that's one part of it. The other is that things are a little awkward between Karen and me. We're both trying hard not to make the other feel weird- but it's just all wrong.
Putting more pressure on me is Derek. Even though Karen and I broke… aren't together right now, he's still barely speaking to either of us. And every time I make a mistake he mutters audibly about 'untrained actors' and 'needing an understudy yesterday'. Previews have started and everyone is on edge, trying to make it perfect before Opening Night.

I need to sleep. Unfortunately, just like every other night in recent memory I'm haunted into insomnia by her words. Karen's voice telling me, 'I need to know', 'I care about you', 'I want to be with you for a long time' circle in my head like echoes in a ghost town. The image of her walking away from me replays over and over. Even worse is the realization I came to a few nights ago- that I could have stopped her- if I'd been willing to.

I pick up the pillow beside me- her pillow- and cover my face, muffling the guttural sound of frustration. I can't blame anyone but myself for this one. I leave the pillow over my face for another minute, enjoying the faintly lingering scent of her shampoo. Maybe I'm just imagining it. I place her pillow back in its place and sigh as I roll over. I close my eyes and try to relax my mind. I really need to sleep tonight.

/

Surprisingly I actually did get some sleep last night. I guess my body is shutting down. Which is good- the sleeping, not the shutting down- we had another preview tonight. It was probably my best performance in the last two weeks.

We were all about to leave for the night when one of the assistants asked us to stay for a few more minutes.

We're all gathered in the green room when Scott walks in, Kyle in tow. Kyle is grinning. Before I can find out why, Scott calls our attention. "People, listen up!" He pauses for a moment as the room falls silent. "As of ten minutes ago we are SOLD OUT for the rest of the run."

Sounds of excitement and disbelief greet his news. Kyle catches my eye and grins at me in wide eyed amazement. I shake my head, grinning back- is this for real? Our silent exchange says a thousand words. I'm so proud of him- of us- but neither of us can believe this is our life. It's been less than six months since I sat at a piano playing a song after work. And now… I shake my head, still smiling.

Scott holds up his hands for quiet so he can continue, "If you have yet to set aside tickets for your nearest and dearest," I can't help but look at Karen, I barely hear the rest of what Scott says, "...house seats." As if she can feel my eyes on her, she looks back at me. "They are few and far between," Scott concludes. Karen looks down, away from my gaze. But I can't seem to look away, my thoughts from last night still fresh in my mind.

Scott turns to leave. He pauses, remembering, "Also, tomorrow night, Eileen Rand has invited us all to attend the opening of "Bombshell"." I notice Karen's eyes go wide and her formerly neutral expression twists into a mix of emotion that's hard to read. "It is incredibly gracious of her, so let's meet at the Lily Hayes at 6:30 for a 7:00 curtain." The room seems to nod as one and Scott calls Ana over.

Seemingly dismissed, Karen shoots out the door. Instantly, I make a decision. I need to talk to her.

I quickly follow after her, but she's gone. I head toward the stage door. Opening it I can see her down the street. I call out, "Hey. Hey Karen! Wait up!" She slows but doesn't stop. I jog a little to catch up. I circle in front of her so she has to stop. My words come out in a rush, "Hey, so, uh, since we have to go to this opening tomorrow," Karen sighs resignedly. Trying to make my earnest words sound more casual- I shrug,"why don't we just go together?"

She stands without speaking for a moment and then slowly shakes her head, "Actually, I don't think I'm going."

I'm confused, is she turning me down? Why wouldn't she go? I try to smile persuasively, "Scott just said that the whole cast has to be there." Karen is looking at me steadily.

"Yeah, well, the whole cast wasn't the lead in the show, so- Scott will understand." She sighs again and shifts uncomfortably. Ah. I get it now. I should have seen it earlier. "You know what?" she asks, looking away, "I don't- I don't want to talk about this with you." She tries to walk by me.

But as she did a few months before, I don't let her run away. Who else does she have to talk to right now? And she clearly needs to talk. I put my hand on her arm lightly and step with her. I keep my tone even but firm- I reason with her. "Hey, you're barely talking to Ana, Derek is barely talking to you," I shrug, "just because things are weird between us doesn't mean you can't talk to me." Without meaning to, my words become a little defensive at the end. I hate that she didn't come to me to begin with- though I guess I have only myself to blame. But I miss talking to her.

She looks at me in surprise, and I let go of her arm- but she seems to realize I'm right. She takes a deep breath and accepts my offer, "I just feel like it would be a really hard night," she admits. She looks sad. I can feel my expression soften, I want to help her.

But I can't help but wonder… without thinking I ask her, "Do you regret leaving "Bombshell"?" It comes out quietly, hesitantly. I watch her reaction carefully.

To my relief she shakes her head immediately. "No, no regrets," she says slowly- but with certainty- there's no doubt clouding her voice. She pauses, "But it's like going to your ex's wedding." I can't help but laugh, suddenly understanding her issue. "It's not that you want to get back together- but you don't exactly want to see them marry someone else either," She explains. She gives an embarrassed smile before looking down.

I look at her conspiratorially, "Well, you know what the best thing to bring to an ex's wedding is, right?" She looks at me curiously, but I answer before she can respond, "A date." I grin roguishly at her. We laugh together.

Still smiling she declines, "Nice try." I didn't really figure it'd work, but it did achieve my other purpose. For the first time in weeks we're relaxed around each other- bantering like we used to. I've really missed this.

I smile again, before becoming serious, "Look, all I'm saying is," I shrug, "tomorrow night, you've got me in your corner- if you still want me." She gives a small nod and a smile by way of thanks.

I look down before looking back up at her. I can't think of anything else to say. "Well, goodnight."

She cocks her head, "Night," she says quietly. We begin to walk in opposite directions when I think of one thing I do want to say before she goes.

I turn back. "And hey, Karen." She turns and I take a couple steps back toward her. "To answer one of your questions from the other night- nothing. Nothing since Fringe."

She looks at me, confused. She begins to slowly walk back to me, "What are you talking about?"

I take another step toward her. I hold her gaze, "I just wanted you to know- other than the one joint I smoked the morning after the first Fringe show, I haven't done anything since Ronnie's concert." I pause, "I just wanted you to know that." She nods slowly, considering.

"Thanks for telling me." She smiles. "Anything else?" she asks, not unkindly.

I smile- a little sadly, "No, that's it for now."

Something like regret flickers behind her eyes, but all she says is, "Ok, then." She gives me a small smile and turns slowly, "see you tomorrow."

A slow smile spreads across my face. I'm not sure exactly what she meant by that- but at least we're talking again.

/

I'm lying in bed again, staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep. But tonight it's different. In addition to the echoes from last week, I'm also replaying our conversation tonight. I want that easiness between me and Karen back. And I want more than that- I want her back. I want to be able to touch her without it feeling awkward. I want to be able to hold her hand, to wrap her in my arms and to kiss her again. I want to comfort her when she's sad- like she was tonight. I want to sit and talk with her for hours about nothing.

The more I think about our conversation, especially the end of it, everything becomes clear- she's still willing to be with me- if I'm willing to talk first. The only thing preventing it is me.

Could I do it? Could I really tell her?

I stare at the ceiling for a while, weighing the pros and cons. She might not have liked it, but she handled seeing me in that drug addled state before Ronnie's concert- and she never brought it up again- well, until the other night. She obviously knows there's something bad in my past- and hasn't shied away from it yet…

But would the specifics scare her though? I mean, I've done some bad things. I cover my face and rub my forehead with my fingertips. But they're in my past.

I let my hands fall. Maybe if I can assure her of that…

'You can tell me, I care about you. I need to know- you have to open up to me. I can't do this otherwise.' I hear Karen's voice in my head. All I have to do is tell her. 'I want to be with you for a long time.' I want that too. And you can't have relationship without trust.

I trust Karen- more than I've trusted anyone other than Kyle- I've told her things I've never told anyone else. She's stayed with me even when I tried hard to push her away. She sees through my bullshit better than anyone- better than Kyle sometimes. 'You have to let me know who you are.' She's wrong there though. She knows who I am- better than I do sometimes. She saw in me the person I could be before I ever believed it existed. In some ways she willed this version of me into existence without even knowing it. What she needs to know- what I need to tell her- is who I was- and why.

I close my eyes, trying not to think about it. Everything from those chapters of my life is painful to think about. Instead I picture Karen.

It will be hard to tell her- dredging up all those memories, admitting the things I've done. And it may blow up in my face- but I'm hoping it will open the door to something better- to the next chapter of my life- one that includes Karen in it.

Well, only one way to find out. I'll call her tomorrow.

Suddenly at peace, I fall asleep- and sleep through the night for the first time in two weeks.

/

The next morning Kyle and I are sitting in the kitchen. I keep fiddling with my phone nervously, hoping Kyle will leave the room so I can make my phone call. My leg is jiggling so hard it's a wonder I'm not wearing my cereal.

Finally I give up and drop my bowl in the sink. "Hey, I'm gonna go for a walk." Kyle looks at me curiously but nods.

"Ok." I scoop up my phone and all but dart out the door.

I hit the top step and dial her number.

"Hello?"

"Hey!" I realize that it's still early and we have a rare day off- Derek had some meeting- she might have been sleeping… oops. "I hope I didn't wake you."

"No. Um, what's going on, Jimmy? You ok?"

"I'm fine." I take a breath and chew my thumbnail. I've reached the bottom of the stairs and I sit down on the last one. "Um," I say around my thumb. She waits on the other end of the line.

I force my hand away from my face. "Hey, I was wondering, could we meet up before the show tonight?" I pause, "Like at 5:30?" I hesitate again, realizing how that may sound, "Not like a date- but um…" I blow out a breath, "There're some things I want to tell you." The last comes out in a rush.

In my mind I can see her nodding on the other end of the line- well, I hope she is. "Um, sure. Where?" Relief flows through me with her acceptance. We make plans to meet and hang up.

I look at my phone and wonder if I really just did that. I feel both light and heavy at the same time. Oh well, for good or for ill, it's done now- now I just have to wait for 5:30 to get here.

I put my hands on my knees and push myself up from the step. What am I going to do until then?

/

As expected, the day passed slowly. But even a watched pot will boil eventually.

Kyle and I are getting ready. I haven't told him about my plans with Karen. I haven't decided if I should or not. He looks at me strangely in the mirror over the bathroom sink as he fixes his hair. "That's the fourth shirt you've tried on," he laughs at me.

I shoot him a look. "Yeah, yeah. It's a Broadway opening. I don't want to look like a jerk." I realize how lame that sounds as soon as it's out of my mouth- he'll never buy it.

He turns his head and smirks at me, "Since WHEN do you care how you look?" Called it.

I hesitate a moment, focusing on the buttons of my shirt. He's still staring at me. I may as well tell him the truth. I cut my eyes to him, "I'm going to talk to Karen tonight," I tell him quietly. I look at him to gauge his reaction.

He blinks several times before turning to face me. "About what?" he asks slowly. He looks at me warily.

"About…" I consider that for a moment, "everything," I say simply. I want her to know me. All of me.

I'm surprised by how peaceful I feel in this decision. He looks at me, worried. "Are you sure that's a good idea?"

I shrug. I don't know if it is or isn't, but I've thought it through and I want to do this- I need to do this-I'm certain of that. "You know everything about me and you still like me." I give him a small smile. I look down to finish doing the bottom buttons.

He's still not convinced. "Yeah, but that's different." He shakes his head and walks toward me. "Karen's not like me." I look up at him- concern marks his face and his tone. "This could push her away for good," he warns.

I sigh and lean against the table. "It's not like I haven't thought about that- believe me," I look over at him, nodding, "I have." I begin to tuck my shirt in. "But, I've already called her. We're meeting before the show." I turn to look at him, eyes steady, "I have to do this, Kyle." I shrug. "I have to try. If she can't accept it now, she never will," I pause, not wanting to think about that possibility. I shrug again, "But at least I'll know."

After a moment he nods. "Well, good luck." I sigh. I'm probably going to need it.

I check the time. I need to go. I shrug into my suit jacket. I grab my overcoat and pat Kyle on the back on my way to the door. "See you there." He squeezes my arm wordlessly- his face says everything. I nod and head out the door.

/

Karen

I've tried all day to distract myself. I've paged through two magazines, flipped through our 200
channels (there's nothing on any of them) at least three times and paired up my shoes in the bottom of the closet. I can't stop wondering what Jimmy wants to talk about. I mean, I know what I hope he wants to talk about…

I decide to take a bath. Maybe that will help me relax.

It doesn't. I spend the entire time thinking about the last two weeks, and the two weeks before that. I can't seem to stop thinking about Jimmy- his handsome face laughing, his hands trailing fire down my body with his touch, his lips- soft against mine when he kissed me, his eyes darkening with desire… I shake my head- but the thoughts that replace those are no better. I think about all the times he avoided questions, his face when I finally confronted him and his eyes shining as he refused to talk to me about his life before I met him.

I can't stop wondering what he could have done that he's so unwilling to talk about. At this point, I can't believe it could be anything I haven't imagined- I mean, I really doubt he killed a cop or sold someone into prostitution...

I really hope he's finally willing to talk. I miss him. But I refuse to back down- he's got to give me something.

It's been a lonely couple weeks. Derek and Ana aren't speaking to me, unless absolutely necessary. Kyle still talks to me, but I don't want to talk to him about Jimmy. And things with Jimmy are… well, weird. I still have strong feelings for him- and playing Amanda to his Jesse everyday makes it complicated. I can tell that Jimmy is struggling with it too. He's been really off lately.

I sink lower in the tub. Please let him be willing to talk tonight. I sigh and check the time. Well, at least it's time to get ready. I drain the tub and turn on the shower.

Stepping out of the bathroom in my robe I hear the front door open. I hesitate in the doorway in case I need to duck back in. It's Ana and she's alone- still dressed in her clothes from last night. "I was wondering when you were going to come home," I call over my shoulder as I head to my room.

She ignores that- we do that a lot now. I hear her set down her purse and keys. "Can we talk?" she calls down the hall. She sounds serious.

I turn around, but I can't help getting in a dig, "So, we're doing that again?" She hasn't talked to me in two weeks- and not for my lack of trying- unless it was directly related to work.

She rolls her eyes at me, but I take a few steps back down the hall toward the kitchen. "No, this is important." I cross my arms and lean against the wall. "Did you see that guy at the stage door last night? Blond, cute?" Of course this is important. It's my turn to roll my eyes.

"Oh, I get it- you met some guy and now you want to talk to me?" I turn and walk back toward my room.

"Jimmy lied," she tells my back. I keep walking. I'm tired of other people telling me about Jimmy. It doesn't deter her, "About a lot of things. You have NO IDEA who he is."

I turn at that, "Ana, can we please not do this?" I close the door to my room. I walk to the closet and get my dress out to lay it on the bed.

She raises her voice to be heard through the door, "Nothing Jimmy has ever said has checked out and you know that. And when Adam filled in the blanks, it did. Let me tell you, it's not pretty. Just hear me out." I return for my shoes.

That's not totally true- I call through the door, "Why would I believe what some STRANGER says?"

"He's Jimmy's brother," she retorts. I pause, dropping a shoe.

I open the door. "What? No. Jimmy doesn't have a brother."

She puts her hand on her hip. "Well, if he told you that, he lied." I think back, he never actually told me he didn't have any siblings- and I never asked… I just assumed since he never talked about them.

"Look, Ana, I'm meeting Jimmy in an hour to talk- he can tell me. I don't want to hear it from someone else."

"I think you need to hear this first-"

I cut her off. "No, actually I don't need to hear anything from some guy claiming to be Jimmy's brother- why would he lurk around if he had nothing to hide? How do you know he's not lying?"

She throws her hands up and stomps to her room, "Fine. Don't listen to me. Don't say I didn't warn you- Jimmy's not who you think he is."

"Yeah? Well, I doubt that guy is who you think he is." I close my door again and finish getting ready- trying not to let her words make me more nervous. I leave without seeing or speaking to Ana again.

/

I arrive at the restaurant and find Jimmy tucked away into a corner, two drinks and an appetizer already on the table. "Am I late?" I joke as I sit across from him.

"No," he smiles, but he looks nervous, "I got here early- I didn't want a bunch of interruptions." He looks down, picking at his hands, "Um, what I have to say- I need to say it before I can change my mind."

"Ok," I take a drink of my wine and wait.

He looks up at me, "See, it's just- it's hard for me to talk about my childhood- and to admit the things I did after..." I say nothing, not wanting to interrupt him. "Um, I guess I should start at the beginning." He takes a deep breath. "My dad beat me- and my mom. Usually I'd get it because I would try to stop him- I never learned. She died of cancer when I was 16," his voice cracks and he looks down. I touch his hand but he pulls it away. Putting his hands in his lap, he leans hard against the table. "When my mom died, my dad left," he pauses, remembering.

Before I can stop myself I ask, "What about your brother?" He looks up in surprise and sits hard back against the seat, as if I punched him.

/

Jimmy

It's amazing how the human mind works. I went from the brink of tears when she tried to comfort me to shock and anger in the blink of an eye. Where the HELL…? I sit forward, "What…?" I lower my voice, looking around to see if people are staring. They aren't, we're nearly alone in the restaurant. "How do you know about Adam?" I demand.

She chews her lip, "Um, from Ana… Apparently she met him- and went home with him last night." I hit my head on the seat rest, my hands falling onto the table with a loud smack.

Figures, Ana hasn't talked to Karen in two weeks and decides to start today. I can't catch a break. "Let me guess, he's made me out to be some terrible person?" I ask the ceiling dully, knowing the answer. I'm surprised Karen is even here.

"I don't know- she wanted to tell me, but I wouldn't let her." Karen takes one of my hands in both of hers. I look at her, surprised by her words and her touch. "I wanted to hear it from you." She shrugs, looking at our hands, "I sort of hoped that was part of what you wanted to tell me," she says quietly. She looks up at me. I nod and put my other hand with hers.

Reassured somewhat by her trust in me, I take a deep breath and continue, "Anyway, um- my 'brother', Adam- he was older and had moved out already so I went to stay with him." I pause, scratching the back of my neck. This is the part that's hard to admit. Bringing my hand back to the table I say it all in a rush, "Except he didn't have a place, not really- he stayed with friends- he dealt drugs to pay for things- so I did too. I, I used them, and…" I look down, ashamed at the memory, "I did things- bad things sometimes, like watch someone OD and not call 911." I think it's the first time I've ever admitted that out loud. I look at her, she looks sick. But she hasn't tried to leave, and she's still holding my hands- so that's something I guess. I plead with my eyes for her to understand, "When you're living life like that you do a lot of things that you are NOT proud of. You do things to survive."

Thinking of Adam makes me angry, jaw clenched I look up at her, "Adam," I sneer his name, "got me into that life. Kyle saved me. He found out what was going on. He got his parents to let me move in with them senior year. I graduated because of him. But, it turns out it's not so easy to get out of that life. Adam found me that spring, right before graduation- and blackmailed me into selling for him again. Kyle's parents found out- it was right after Christmas- and kicked me out. I was 19 and homeless- so I went back to Adam- and I lived like that for almost three years. Things got worse- and I got in deeper." I take a shaky breath. "But almost two years ago, Kyle found me again. And he had his own place now. He took me in, and helped me get clean- and it was ugly- but he never gave up on me. He helped me hide from Adam. He got me the job at the restaurant-" I can feel tears begin to form behind my eyes. I shrug and look down at my hands. "He saved my life," I tell her simply, my eyes shining. I look at her, "He is my REAL brother." I blink fast so the tears won't fall. "So when I tell you that Adam is NOBODY to me, it's because he IS nobody to me." Karen swallows hard and nods, eyes still wide, processing the information she's just gotten. I can feel myself shaking. I let go of her hands to place my palms flat on the table, trying to get control of myself. She sits back against the seat, her eyes searching my face. I realize I was nearly yelling by the end of my explanation.

She hasn't said anything since she asked about Adam. Seeing her sit there, looking at me as if she's never seen me before- it hits me again that I could lose her for good if she doesn't believe me or if she can't handle the truth.

I lean across the table and lower my voice, "Please," I beg, my voice rough with emotion. I reach for her hand- encouraged when she doesn't pull away. I look at our hands and stroke her palm with my finger as I make my plea. "Please don't cut me out of your life because of who I used to be." I look up at her, holding her eyes with mine. "I have changed. You have to believe me." I take a breath and look down, shaking my head, "I wasn't a good person then, but ever since I met you," I look into her eyes again, "that's all I've wanted to be." My voice falls to a whisper with my admission.

Her face softens and her eyes shine as she squeezes my hand. "Thank you for telling me," her voice is a little rough too. I can't help but smile as I recognize her words from last night.

We sit in silence for a few moments, each looking at the other. She looks down and gives a single laugh. I cock my head and ask, "What?"

"You know, if you would just answer my questions when I ask them, we'd be saved a lot of trouble." I laugh, and shake my head at the table, remembering. She's not wrong.

"Sorry, I guess I'm not good at this whole 'opening up' thing yet." I look at her, "Good thing I have you to make me." I smile hesitantly, the unasked question in my eyes.

She smiles and squeezes my hand. "Well, it's a tough job, but I suppose someone has to do it," she says airily. We laugh together.

"Seriously though," I look at her before I continue, "I know I haven't been real honest with you in the past, but from now on, anything you want to know," I swallow, "just ask- I don't want there to be secrets between us anymore."

"Anything?" she asks, eyebrow cocked.

"Um… sure," I reply, nervous now.

"What's your middle name?" I laugh.

"Andrew."

"Hmm," she considers, "that's not very embarrassing. I'll have to think of another question."

I smile, "Well, let me know when you think of it."

She smiles coyly, "I will."

"Hey, one other thing," she nods, "about that 'long time' you mentioned-"

She cuts me off, shaking her head, "We don't have to talk about that right now…"

"No, it's not that- it's just," I pause, I don't really know how to say this. I chew my cheek as she watches me nervously. "I wasn't a part of a 'happy home'- my parents, I don't know that they loved each other- and my dad… well," I shake my head. "The only person, other than Kyle, in my entire life who cared about me died- and she could barely show it without my dad getting jealous and punishing her." I pause and decide to offer more information without having to be asked. "You know? If she hugged me, my dad would shove her away, and usually follow it up with a slap- or worse." It comes out flat- emotionless, almost like I'm giving the weather. I shake my head, "Anyway, what I guess I'm trying to say is, I don't really know what 'love' is- and I'm certain I don't know how to express it or even accept it- it's not like I've had any kind of a model for a healthy relationship…" I sigh and look down. I'm rambling- what was I trying to say?

But she seems to get it. She ducks her head to meet my eyes, "Hey, it's ok- we'll get there," she assures me, shaking our joined hands. "You're learning- and getting better at it already."

My phone buzzes. I check it- it's a text from Kyle. "Hey, where are you?" I look at the time- it's almost 6:45.

I jump up. "We gotta go- we're late. But, at least we don't have to go far." I take her hand and help her out of the booth.

She hesitates, "What about the bill?"

"Oh, I paid before you got here- and tipped him to not come back." She laughs. "I'm glad you didn't want a second glass," I tease.

We leave the restaurant but before we cross the street I pull her to me. Taking her face in both my hands I kiss her. She relaxes into me, grabbing my jacket with both hands, pulling me closer. After a moment, I break our kiss. I rest my forehead on hers and murmur as I catch my breath, "Sorry, I've wanted to do that for weeks." I tuck a stray piece of hair behind her ear before I take her hand and lead us across the street to the theater.

We walk in and I find Kyle so we can sit with him. He looks at our joined hands. He gives a small nod- he seems happy for me. We take our seats and the lights dim.

Karen's grip on my hand tightens as the first number begins. I glance over at her and notice she's sitting very straight in her chair, breathing hard- nearly hyperventilating. I squeeze her hand before releasing it to put my arm around her. I take her hand with my other hand. It's not the most comfortable way to sit in a theater seat, but it seems to help. Her breathing regulates, for a while anyway. At the end of the piece, she smiles at me and leans forward to give me my arm back. I take her hand in mine and the show continues. I notice though, that certain songs seem to make her more tense than others. I wish there were something I could do. Maybe a strong drink at intermission will help.

/

Karen

Intermission cannot come soon enough. Taking Jimmy's hand I drag him out of the theater into the lobby. I stand there, lost for a moment, unsure if I want to leave or find a strong drink. Ana and Derek both walk past us and give disgusted looks at the sight of Jimmy and me holding hands. I barely notice.

"Hey, why don't I get us a drink?" Jimmy makes the decision for me. I nod and smile gratefully.

I flee to a quiet corner by the stairs and practice breathing. He returns quickly with a drink, which I down almost immediately. "I'm going to go get another one," I tell him. He offers to get it for me, but I decline. Maybe a walk will clear my head.

On my way back, I run into Kyle on the stairs. "Hey! So, what do you think?" Kyle asks curiously. "I can't wait for Act 2, right?"

I nod- and I can't seem to stop nodding. "Yeah! It's good," I say too brightly, "It's really good."

Kyle laughs- he can tell I'm trying too hard. I look down, "I'll admit, it's all just a little strange for me."

He grins at me, "Yeah… 'Cause she's better." I look at him in shock. I cannot believe he just said that! "Karen." He pokes my shoulder, "I'm kidding!"

I look at him closely, "No you're NOT!" I hit him with my purse and he laughs. "That is SO rude!" But I can't stop laughing either. Maybe it's the three drinks I've had on a nearly empty stomach.

Suddenly serious, Kyle looks at me closely, "Hey, um, did Jimmy talk to you?"

I smile and nod.

"I told him not to," he confides bluntly. I raise my eyebrows. "I thought it might scare you away," he explains.

I shake my head, "It didn't," I say simply.

"I'm glad," he tells me and he sounds sincere. That's surprising.

"Are you?" I ask skeptically. I give a half smile to try to lighten it, but I'm really kind of curious.

He looks away with a half laugh. I continue, "Sometimes I feel like you think I'm in the way or something."

He tilts his head, admitting some truth to what I said. "Maybe a little- at first." He looks at me. "But then I saw how happy you make him," he tells me honestly. He leans toward me, his voice softer, "Look, I've known him a long time and I've never seen him care about anybody the way he cares about you." He pauses, considering. "He's different since he met you- in a good way," he assures me. I look at him, a little overwhelmed. He looks at me, thoughtful, "Maybe you can fix what I couldn't." He seems almost hopeful. He smiles at me and squeezes my arm, "I'm gonna go get a drink, see you in there." He continues up the stairs and after a moment, I return to Jimmy.

A few minutes later, it's time to return to our seats. The second act is a little easier, maybe I'm getting numb. Until we get to the end. If I thought "Let me be your Star" was tough to watch, "Don't Forget Me" was agony. Ivy was stunning and captivating and she brought tears to the eyes of everyone who wasn't pressed to the back of their seat not breathing. Jimmy's hand over mine did little to comfort me. At the end of the piece, I rise to my feet with the rest of the theater bringing my hands together, mimicking those around me- still shell-shocked. She was incredible.

She was Marilyn tonight. Part of me wishes I could hate her for it, but I can't. In a strange way, I'm even a little happy for her.

Jimmy leads me out of the theater and goes to get us drinks again. I hide in my corner. He returns and hands me my glass. I take a long drink. "This was a lot harder than I thought." I sigh and look around, trying not to think about what might have been.

Jimmy looks at me, brow furrowed. "Hey, you know what you're NOT supposed to do at an ex's wedding?" He asks, using my example from last night. "Hide in the corner," he looks at me pointedly. I smile, embarrassed. "What you DO is wear a fantastic dress," he points at mine, checking it out. "Check." I can't help but grin at him. "And then you LAUGH," he demonstrates, tilting his head back. Suddenly he stops, focusing his attention on the stairs, his smile quickly fading. "No way." His disbelief is quickly turning to anger.

I join him to see what he's looking at. I see Ana with a blond guy who looks vaguely familiar. Wasn't that the guy that came into the theater the day my dad visited? I realize quickly that he must be Adam. "Oh, I guess Ana invited him." We watch as he puts his arm around her. Jimmy makes an angry noise beside me and he starts to walk out of the alcove. I put my hand on his arm. "Please don't do anything stupid, ok?"

Without looking at me he scoffs, "Oh, like Ana's doing right now?" I move in front of him, trying to break his focus. "Hey," I try to get his attention. He sighs and looks at me. "Don't make a scene here, especially not in front of Derek and Ana and everybody. And this is a big night for Ivy, Julia and the rest." His eyes trail up to Ana and Adam again, "Hey," he looks at me, "Don't let him win." He looks away. I follow his head with mine to look in his eyes. "You know he only came to provoke you- don't let him." I squeeze his arm, "Be the bigger man tonight," I challenge him. He looks at me for a long moment, considering.

He offers me his hand and I take it. "I'm proud of you," I tell him as I squeeze his hand. He pulls me out of the corner into the party- and away from Ana and Adam.

/

Jimmy

We find Kyle. After a few minutes, Karen ducks into the bathroom. I guess she didn't want to leave me alone- worried I'd do something stupid.

Kyle is doing his imitation of Derek and we can't stop laughing. To my surprise, Kyle stops mid laugh. "Whoa. Whoa, whoa, whoa!" I look at him strangely, but before I can ask he points, "Is that your brother?" He looks at me in shock. "What is HE doing here?"

Without looking I sigh, "Uh, apparently he's with Ana now." I try to stay calm as I say the words. I give him a tight smile, "Didn't you hear?"

His eyes widen. "No." He shakes his head forcefully. "No, absolutely not." He looks at me, "What are you going to do?"

"Nothing." That's hard to say. I close my eyes and look down. Maybe if I don't see him, he'll disappear. I force myself to breathe evenly to stay calm. "I promised Karen I'd be on 'good behavior'." I clench my jaw. I can't believe I just said that either. I promised to be good- I didn't promise to like it. I sigh, frustrated.

Kyle looks at me in surprise and seems to see the conflict on my face. "Well, I didn't." He hands me his drink and strides toward Adam and Ana. I take a few steps, to be able to see and hear, but hang back, afraid of what I'll do if I get to close.

He stands in front of them, "Ana, you should stay away from this guy." Even from here I can see Kyle shaking with anger. "He's a creep." Ana looks at Kyle in disbelief. But before she can respond, Adam does.

Tone condescending, he taunts Kyle, "Oh look- it's Jimmy's boyfriend." Ana looks at Adam in contempt at his rudeness.

Kyle ignores that, still looking at Ana, "I'm serious Ana- you shouldn't have brought him here." Her look of contempt fades into one of irritation. She doesn't like being told what to do.

Again, Adam replies for her, "Hey, she's an adult," he strokes her arm slowly. Ana looks uncomfortable, "She can do what she wants little man," he says, his tone, like his hair is oily.

Kyle gets agitated, and addresses Adam directly for the first time. "You screwed up his life once already," he exclaims. "He doesn't need you dragging him down again!" Ana looks between Adam and Kyle in surprise.

Adam stands up, towering over Kyle. Adam's always been taller than me, but looking at him now, I realize how much he looks like our father. I set down our drinks and move closer. "Dude," He says slowly to Kyle, a warning. I move to stand just a few steps behind Kyle. "Back off." Adam shoves Kyle back a step.

Kyle, to my surprise scowls and shoves Adam back harder- he stumbles into his chair. Ana leaps up out of the way. Adam laughs at Kyle, but he pulls back as if he's going to punch him. I jump between them, putting my hand on Adam's chest, stopping him from coming closer. "It's time for you to leave now, Adam." I tell him calmly but firmly.

He laughs at me now. "Ok…" he looks around. "And what are you gonna do, huh?" He looks over at Kyle, "You and your little girlfriend here?" The cruel taunt hangs in the air.

I feel myself tensing up, my hand clenching into a fist- I've never wanted to hit someone so badly in my life. I can hear Karen in my head, telling me not to. But it's not just for tonight and what he said about Kyle, it's for my entire life. He was my big brother, and he never protected me, never stood up for me with our father- not once. He nearly ruined my life, and now, when things are finally coming together for me he's trying to do it again. I feel myself rocking back when I hear Karen's voice outside my head, "Jimmy! Don't!" Surprised, I whip my head around and see her behind me. Apparently we've gathered a crowd. She quickly steps around the people in her way, moving closer to me. She puts her hand on my arm, lowering it. She speaks quietly, eyes locked on mine. "Don't do it. You're better than this." I don't want to be. Every cell in my body hums with the desire to hit him- and to keep hitting him until he can't get up again. But her eyes meet my glare- and hers never waver under the force of my anger toward my brother. She still believes I can be the bigger person.

I feel my hand slowly relax out of its fist. I want to be the person she sees. I repeat that to myself a few times.

I look at Adam. Being the bigger person sucks. Teeth clenched I tell him again, "It's time for you to go, Adam." I grab Kyle's elbow and Karen's hand. "Stay out of my life- you're not a part of it anymore." And with those words, we turn and walk away.

He laughs, "You can't walk away from me!" When I don't turn he raises his voice, almost yelling- threatening, "You and I will never be through, little brother!" I ignore him and keep walking.

Suddenly I'm spun around, and I feel Adam's fist connect with my jaw. He draws back to hit me again and I shove us away from Karen and Kyle- I don't want them getting hurt. Adam comes back at me and I get in a few good shots of my own- I'm almost glad he did started it- before we're doused in ice water. Backing up a few steps and spluttering I look over at Eileen Rand who is holding an empty wine bucket. "Get him out of here!" she orders security. I watch as Adam is escorted out of the building. Karen, Kyle and Ana surround me to see if I'm ok.

I touch my jaw where his first punch landed, but seem to be ok otherwise. I look immediately to Karen, "I tried… I couldn't help it- he…"

She shakes her head. "Hey, hey, I know. Let's get you cleaned up." She hands me over to Kyle who leads me to the restroom to get some paper towels to dry off.

/

I get back in time to catch most of Ivy's speech. I put my arm around Karen and she leans her head against my shoulder. This has been a tough night for her, and I know my fight with Adam didn't make it any easier. I feel her stiffen in surprise when Ivy calls her name to thank her. That was a very generous and kind gesture. Karen accepts her thanks gracefully, with a small smile and nod of her head.

When Ivy suggests a song, I look at Karen to see her reaction. After the momentary shock wears off, she smiles and nods again, agreeing. The two Marilyns- past and present- gather at the piano to pick their song.

Ivy steps to the mic to begin. There's no denying that she has a beautiful voice, but as soon as Karen takes her place and begins to sing, she's all I see. There's something mesmerizing about her when she performs- something intangible- you just can't look away. The dress she's wearing doesn't hurt, but it's more than that- it's in her smile, her presence- she's radiant when she's onstage. I watch as they laugh together, dancing and improvising their parts as they sing.

She gives me a small wink when she catches my eye- she shakes her shoulders seductively in time to the music- a smile playing at the corners of her lips as she sings. I raise my eyebrows and give her a smirk- laden with promises for later. She grins playfully at me as her line ends before turning back to Ivy to be ready for her next cue.

On the next verse though, a small shock quakes through me when Ivy suggests, '…or wife' and Karen shrugs and giggles, 'Sure!'

For probably the first time in my life I picture myself standing up in front of my friends, in a tux, watching an empty doorway for the first glimpse… I shake my head startled. I take a deep breath to curb my alarm at the thought. That is way further down the road than I'm willing to think about yet. Let's work on not screwing this up first, I chastise myself.

The song ends and she meets my eyes. She smiles at me. Noticing my thoughtful expression she cocks her head at me. I smile back and give a small shake of my head. I hold my hands up and clap, she ducks her head blushing. I have a sudden vision of her in white. I'm sure my panic at the thought is visible on my face as I blink the image away- luckily she's no longer looking at me. She's hugging Ivy and laughing so she doesn't notice.

Feeling a little shaken, I head to the bar for another drink. It's been a stressful day.

/

Karen

I leave the stage and look for Jimmy. He's disappeared from where he was standing while I was singing. I turn around to look for him and see Ana standing behind me. I look past her to see if I can see him. "Uh, Karen," she begins a little nervously. I look at her and raise my eyebrow.
"What?" I ask ungraciously. I don't really feel like a lecture on why I shouldn't be with Jimmy when her date attacked mine.

I notice she's wringing her hands, "Look, I'm sorry I brought Adam. I didn't realize," she pauses, "I mean, I knew that it would probably bother Jimmy, but I didn't know he'd do that." She sighs and looks down. "Anyway, I'm really sorry. I'm not going to see him again- the things he said to Kyle… and then-"

"It's ok." I cut her off. "You couldn't have known." After a pause I add, "And Jimmy told me everything tonight- just so you know." She looks down, uncomfortable- that came out badly. I pause for a moment. She apologized, I probably should too. I try again, "Hey, I'm sorry too. I have been selfish lately- you were right." I look at her, hoping she can forgive me, "I haven't been a very good friend." I touch her arm. "I am happy for you- and so proud of you- you are incredible in the show." I shake my head, "It wouldn't be the same without you." I tell her sincerely.

She nods. "Thanks. That means a lot." She pulls me in for a hug and we hold each other tight for a moment. She pulls back, "Hey, I think I'm going to go home. Can we go out for lunch tomorrow on our break and catch up?"

I nod, "I'd like that." I give her another quick hug and we say goodbye.

I find Jimmy talking to Kyle. I slip my hand into his and he looks over to smile at me. "You ready to go?" he asks me quietly. I nod. He looks over at Kyle, "Ready to go, man?"

Kyle looks between us and shakes his head, "Nah, I think I might stay a little longer."

Jimmy shrugs. "Alright, see you tomorrow." He pats Kyle on the shoulder with his free hand and leads me out of the lobby.

We wait for a cab, his arms wrapped around me as I lean against his chest, his warmth guarding me against the cold night air. He presses a kiss into my hair at my temple. I smile up at him. It feels good to be in his arms again.

Chapter Text

Karen

I'm curled up under Jimmy's arm in the taxi on the way back to his apartment. He's been quiet since we left. I have a lot on my mind as well, so I don't try to force conversation. Between sitting through "Bombshell" and the fight with Adam, I haven't had time to digest all the information I got earlier this evening.

I was unsurprised to hear that Jimmy's dad had beaten him- sickened- but not surprised. I'd sort of guessed that by now. Between that and his mom's death, he had a rough childhood. Coupled with an older brother who basically sold him into a life of drugs- it's no wonder he has a hard time letting people in. The group of people who are supposed to love you unconditionally- his own family- never did. A pang of sadness for Jimmy shoots through me.

Well, it sounds like his mom loved him- but even that was complicated. I try to imagine never being hugged by my parents. I can't even do it. They may drive me crazy and I wish they were more supportive of my choices, but I've never questioned that they loved me.

I try not to think too hard on what 'things he had to do to survive'. Some things are best left unknown. If he ever wants to tell me, fine, but there's no reason to make him relive that if he doesn't want to.

I think instead about what Kyle said, 'he's different since he met you.' That makes me smile. I remember Jimmy's words that seem to go along with Kyle's, 'I wasn't a good person then, but since I met you, that's all I want to be.' It's humbling really, to have had such an effect on someone. A warm feeling spreads in my chest as I remember something else Kyle said, 'I've never seen him care about anybody the way he cares about you.' I mean, Jimmy has told me that, but it's different hearing it from someone else- and Kyle at that- who despite what he says, I think still struggles with me and Jimmy together. It was very kind of him to tell me.

'Maybe you can fix what I couldn't.' That was a little overwhelming. I'm not sure how I feel about that. But I'll have to think about that later. The cab stops in front of Jimmy's apartment. He looks down at me and smiles before taking my hand and helping me out of the cab.

We walk up the steps slowly, trading shy smiles. He closes the door behind us and we stand in the entry for a moment, unsure whether we should talk about the evening or not. I make the decision for us. I put my arms around his waist and tilt my face up to brush his lips with mine.

"It's been a long day. Let's talk about it tomorrow." I kiss him again, more seriously this time. "Take me to bed." I say against his lips. In reply, he pulls me to him, threading his hand in my hair, his kiss urgent but his lips soft. Shedding clothes as we go, we climb the steps to his loft.

/

Jimmy

I lay staring at my ceiling again, but this time Karen lies beside me. I look down at her as she sighs in her sleep. I smile and smooth her hair with my hand. But even with her here, I can't seem to sleep.

My mind won't turn off thinking about everything that happened tonight. It began in the cab ride home. I couldn't shake the image I had earlier- or the certainty that Karen will want those things- I mean, she was engaged before. Clearly it- marriage- is important to her. Marriage, and I'm guessing, eventually kids- things I've almost never thought about for myself. I never thought it would be a possibility, so why think about it? Do I want even want those things? And on the extremely rare occasion I have thought about it, I've always been terrified that I'd become my parents.

I shake my head. It's way too soon to be worried about those things, right? It's only been a month since we first got together and of that month we've only been together for like two weeks. It seems like longer, but that's it. I count back in my head- have I really only known her for four months? Can that be right? I look at her again. On the one hand, I can barely remember my life without her, and on the other I'm nearly hyperventilating at how fast everything is happening.

Horror washes over me- it only took me four months to tell someone about my parents and about Adam and… did I really tell her that I watched a girl OD without calling for help? I feel sick. Of all the things I could have told her that I did, I picked that one? It's probably the worst thing I've ever done. And now she knows- and she can never unknow- what a monster I am. What is wrong with me? I could have told her about stealing food, or one of the times Adam made me beat up a guy who didn't pay- though I guess that's not much better...

Well, on the bright side, I probably don't have to worry about the marriage problem after all.

The voice in my head rolls its eyes, 'She's here isn't she?' 'For now,' I scoff. 'She had a lot to drink tonight- wait until what I said sinks in. In the morning, she'll probably run screaming from the apartment.' I close my eyes and pull her closer. Besides, it's selfish to hope she stays with me. She deserves someone better than me. Someone who hasn't done the things I've done. Someone who could love her like she deserves- and I'm not sure that I can. I'm not sure I know how. Could I ever tell her everything she'd need to know to actually know me? And going back to the marriage question, how could I give her my name when she doesn't even know what it is?

I get up slowly so I don't wake her and go to the kitchen. I pour myself a drink and notice my hand is shaking. I set my glass down and put my hands flat on the table. I take deep breaths. I look over at Kyle's room. His door is open. Huh. He must not have come home. I guess he went to Blake's.

I see the piano out of the corner of my eye. I glance at the loft. I don't want to wake her, but I need a distraction from the torture of the dark thoughts in my head. I can play softly.

I take my glass and sit down. Almost immediately an idea pops into my head. I begin playing and the words just flow. I quietly sing the last pleading words and I feel her arms wrap around my shoulders. "Hey," she whispers, "What's that? Is it for the show?" she asks curiously.

"Oh, um, nothing- just an idea I had." I turn around to face her, "Sorry I woke you." I run my hands along her sides, "I couldn't sleep." She leans down to kiss me.

She straightens up and looks at me funny, "Have you been drinking?" Crap.

"Um, yeah. I had a bad dream- but, um, it's nothing." I look down to cover my lie. When I look up, she's still looking at me.

"Well, next time, wake me up. That's what I'm here for." She shrugs and pulls me to my feet. "And if you want to talk about it…" she lets it hang in the air for a moment, her arms around my waist. I shake my head, looking down again. She ducks her head to meet my eyes, "Well, if you do, I'm here."

Less than 12 hours. That's how long my 'just ask, I'll tell you' promise lasted. I'm such a jerk.

I take her hand, "Let's get some sleep. We have to be at rehearsal in a few hours." I lead her back to bed. She falls asleep quickly and I lie awake- still thinking.

/

I see Blake when I get to rehearsal, "Hey man, where's Kyle?"

He looks up from what he's working on, "Uh, I haven't seen him this morning. You lose him already?" I look at him in confusion for a second. I recover quickly and tell my second lie of the young day. "Oh, yeah. Guess so. He walked away when we came in, and I had a question for him." I pause, "Well, if you see him, tell him I'm looking for him." Where the hell is my roommate?

A few minutes later I see him come in from the back. I grab his arm and lead him offstage. "So… where were you last night? It obviously wasn't with Blake."

His eyes go wide, "Jimmy, what did you say to him?"

"Nothing, he has no idea- but you're avoiding the question."

Kyle looks around, "I went home with Tom." His voice is so low it's nearly inaudible.

"WHAT?!" I can't help but laugh. "Tom... Like, the guy from "Bombshell"?"

"Shhh!" Kyle looks alarmed.

I can't stop laughing. "Dude, he's like 50!"

"He is not." Kyle shoves my shoulder. "Seriously. Stop laughing."

I work to get myself under control. "What are you going to tell Blake?"

"Nothing. I was drunk. And star struck. It was a mistake- it's not going to happen again." He pauses, looking at me slyly, "But it was a good mistake."

"Dude! Stop it. You don't want to hear about me and Karen- I don't want to hear about you and your old men."

"Shut up! He's like 40- maybe. And he's cute."

I put my hand on his shoulder and start walking back toward the stage, "I'll take your word for it."

Karen meets us as we emerge from the shadows, "Hey- did you tell him about the song you wrote?"

"What song?" Kyle looks at me.

I shake my head, "It's nothing. I couldn't sleep- I was just messing around."

"But I think it could be something- play it for him," she insists.

At their urging, I give up. I sit down to play. When I'm finished, Kyle suggests using it to get Amanda off the bridge instead of the dialogue that Derek still hates. Kyle continues, "Hey, and then, when she comes back, after she gives it all up to be with him, she can sing it to him."
"I think that's a brilliant idea." Derek's voice surprises us. We turn around.

"Really?" I ask, shocked. He hasn't spoken to me much in the last month, unless it's to criticize.

"Yup," he says, no longer looking at us. "Oh, and by the way, I hired your understudy yesterday. He'll be here today."

"That was the meeting you had?" Karen asks. "Did you hire mine too?"

"Working on it," he says vaguely.

/

All morning my understudy sits near Derek and watches as we rehearse, making notes in his notebook. We add the new song in and it really works- but it's a little weird for me to have a song I wrote about Karen in the show.

I admit, several of the songs have at one time or another been relevant to what's going on between us- but I wrote those before I met her. This is the first one that I actually wrote ABOUT her. And I'm not sure how I feel about that. Luckily, I don't have too much time to think about it since we have a preview tonight.

After our show, Karen asks if I want to go out for drinks. Since Kyle and Ana are standing nearby, I ask them to join us. Before it gets too late, and Karen can ask me to stay over, Kyle and I head home. Another of my realizations early this morning was that she and I were practically living together those two weeks we were together. I'm not sure that's a good idea either. Maybe if things move slower this time, I won't screw them up.

/

Karen

I was surprised Jimmy didn't want to spend the night, but it was probably for the best, I haven't really hung out with Ana in a while. It's late, but she and I make some popcorn and watch a movie. During the movie, I can't help but think about some of the questions that have still gone unasked and unanswered- like why Jimmy borrowed the money from Derek and why the New York Times said he had a different name. Probably we should talk about his occasional drug use too, but I'm not sure how to bring it up. Maybe now that he's started telling me about himself, he'll tell me on his own.

But then, he didn't want to talk about his nightmare this morning. I wonder what it was about. I sigh. I have to be patient. Habits are hard to break, and he's spent YEARS keeping people out. He's trying.

I say goodnight to Ana and head to bed. I have to be up early tomorrow.

/

We wouldn't normally rehearse on a day that we have two shows, but Derek wanted Jimmy and me to run the new song one more time. Unfortunately, Jimmy and Kyle are late. When they arrive, it doesn't take long to figure out why. Jimmy is a little hung-over.

That's weird- we didn't drink that much last night, did we? What did he and Kyle do last night after they left?

But, Kyle seems fine. I ask Jimmy about it and he brushes it off. And after about an hour he seems fine, so I let it go. Derek noticed though. And while he and I seem to be on slightly better terms, he and Jimmy are still pretty strained.

In between performances, I walk through the theater looking for Jimmy. Instead, I find Derek working with Jimmy's understudy. It seems strange- Jimmy has been fine for hours. And it's only the understudy's second day- we haven't even run all the numbers for him to see yet. I shrug it off. Derek is anything but conventional. As I walk out, I look up into the seats. I see Jimmy sitting in the top row, in the shadows, arms crossed and staring blankly at the stage. He doesn't seem to be seeing anything that's going on.

I wonder what he's thinking about.

Not wanting to draw Derek's attention to Jimmy, I leave the theater and leave Jimmy to his thoughts- I'll talk to him later.

However, at the end of the show I begin to get concerned when I ask Jimmy to come over tonight and he says no. He didn't stay last night and now he doesn't want to hang out tonight? What is going on with him?

/

 

Jimmy

Last night after Kyle and I got home I couldn't stop thinking about the night before. Instead of going to bed, I made myself a drink- and then another… and another. And the more I drank the darker my thoughts got. I started thinking about the fact that I'd already lied to her, which led to a new worry- what if I can't be the person she wants me to be? Then I began to worry that my song might be prophetic. How long will it be before she leaves me? I made another drink.

I woke up this morning with my head pounding, my mouth tasting like a foot and Kyle's impatient voice telling me that we were going to be late- and that he'd tried to wake me up three times already. Apparently I fell asleep on our kitchen table. Oops.

Things didn't get better as the day went on- especially not when I found Derek rehearsing my understudy between shows like the fate of the world depended on it.

He's trying to replace me. He's threatened it for weeks, and now he'll be able to. He can't really do that, can he? It's MY show. Surely Kyle and Karen won't let him do this.

I rub my forehead and take another drink.

Karen. She asked me to come over again tonight. But I couldn't do it. I don't know- I feel weird around her all of a sudden. All I've wanted for the last two weeks is to be with her- to have things back to the way things were- and now that we're together again… I sigh.

I KNEW telling her about my past was a bad idea. Instead of bringing us closer, it's made me a wreck instead. I feel so vulnerable- like knowing what she does gives her power over me. And no one has had any kind of control over me since Adam.

Adam. I remember his threats from the other night. 'We'll NEVER be done.' I worry about that a lot- and not even the way he meant it. Will I ever really be free from that life? I've tried these last months to be better for her- and for me I guess- but I keep falling short. Maybe I can't leave it behind me- maybe the temptation will always be there. And what if I give in? How long would she stay then?

And what if he literally makes good on his promises? What could I do if he showed up at my door? He could be violent and try to hurt me or Karen or Kyle… What if he told her everything? Or told the police? Ha- ok, I probably don't have to worry about that… But he could come into rehearsal and tell Scott and Derek everything…

Derek. Like he needs another reason to get rid of me.

And so my thoughts spiral as I drink late into the night for the second night in a row.

/

Today has been an almost Groundhog Day-like repeat of yesterday. Hangover, Derek works with my understudy like a man possessed, I make an excuse not to see Karen after our second show, I sit up and drink because I can't stop thinking.

I thought alcohol killed brain cells- why won't mine just DIE?

/

"Jimmy!" Kyle's voice calls up to me, waking me up. Apparently I made it to my bed last night. Huh. Good for me. "Jimmy! Karen's here to see you!" I wonder when Kyle got home- I don't remember him coming in.

Before I can do more than sit up, she's standing at the foot of my bed. "Hey. Sorry, I figured you'd be up by now." She looks at me closely, "Are you sick?"

Well that's a tricky question- I wouldn't say I was feeling well- but that's not what she means. "No, I'm fine. I was just up late last night. I couldn't sleep."

She sits on the edge of the bed, concern written on her face. She rubs my back soothingly. "Well, I was kind of hoping we could spend our day off together. I feel like I haven't seen you in days."

I apologize to my hands, picking at my palm, "Sorry, I've uh, had a lot on my mind."

She looks down, "I know. This understudy thing- it really sucks." She looks at me, suddenly grinning. "Which is why I wanted to do something fun today." She bounces on the bed like a little kid. "No thinking about the show." She bumps my shoulder with hers, "I was thinking- you've lived in the city your entire life right?"

"Yeah…" I say slowly.

"Well, let's do the touristy things- I did them when I first moved here, but I haven't been back since- and I think it would be fun!" She says- her eyes alight with excitement. I shake my head and laugh at her eagerness. "Oh come on," she whines jokingly, "I bet you've never been to the Statue of Liberty- and you've lived here your entire life!"

"Um, actually I have," I inform her. "5th grade field trip."

"That doesn't count!" She grabs my hand and drags me to my feet and pushes me toward my closet. "Get dressed! Let's go!"

Despite my bleak couple of days, I can't help but smile. And who knows, maybe it will be fun.

We spend the day as tourists. We take the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building and admire the view. We have a picnic lunch of food-cart hot dogs in Central Park. We go to Times Square and take pictures in front of the billboards. Karen buys us matching I 'Heart' NY shirts and insists that we wear them. She drags me to Grand Central Station and gets someone to take our picture pointing at the big clock. We laugh and act like the idiot tourists every native New Yorker hates- and I have the best day I've had in recent memory.

Since we lost track of time, we missed our chance to go to the Statue of Liberty, but Karen insists we take the Staten Island Ferry to get a picture in front of it. On the boat, she hands her phone to a fellow New Yorker (who is convinced we're out of towners) and asks him to take some pictures for us. We act goofy- photo booth style- Karen and I pretend to squish Lady Liberty, we make bunny ears on each other, she pretends to push me overboard, we make funny faces. For our last picture Karen grabs my face and kisses me. A spark shoots through me. I put my hand on the small of her back and pull her closer. Without breaking our kiss, I hold my other hand out for her phone. Our photographer, suddenly out of a job, returns the phone and walks quickly away.

I shove her phone in my pocket and cup her cheek in my hand, deepening our kiss as the sunlight fades over the water.

/

Karen

Today has been a great day. All the weirdness between Jimmy and me seems to have disappeared. He was a little reticent at first, but as the day went on, he relaxed. He really needed this day off- he's been so distracted lately. I think this understudy thing is really getting to him. But coming to work hung-over every morning isn't helping his case.

I'm not sure what came over me on the ferry, it was supposed to be a short kiss- just another photo op. I mean, we took a kissing picture at the Empire State Building without it escalating like that. Even at lunch in Central Park when I laid with my head in his lap he leaned down to kiss me and it wasn't like that. Maybe it was the twilight, or an entire day with him- or just that it's been days since we've spent time together that wasn't in the context of our show, but we can't get to my place soon enough. I don't even give him the option of going home, afraid he'll come up with an excuse as he has the past few nights. I need to be with him tonight. I need to know he's ok- that we're ok. He's starting to freak me out with this funk he's been in. I'm worried about him- I finally get him to open up to me and now he's retreating into his shell.

I give my address to the cab driver- Jimmy makes no objection- in fact he pulls me to him, one hand cupping my cheek, the other alternately trailing my side and pressing against my back, pulling me closer.

The apartment is dark as I shove the door open, Jimmy pulling me back for a kiss as soon as the door unlatches. We stumble into the apartment and move toward my room as a strange four-legged creature, unwilling to be apart for the 15 steps from the front door to my own.

I'm grateful that Ana seems to be out this evening. I kick the door to my room shut as I pull Jimmy's shirt over his head.

/

I wake up in the morning, my head resting on Jimmy's chest. I lay there for a few moments, listening to his heartbeat. Unfortunately, the quiet is soon broken by the shrill noise of the alarm clock. I get up to turn it off and Jimmy puts his pillow over his face, making a noise in the back of his throat.

I pick up his pillow and give him a quick kiss. "Morning."

He mumbles a few syllables that I'm going to assume are 'good morning' but it might have been 'too early'. I give him an amused smile that he can't see- he hasn't opened his eyes yet- and replace the pillow. I pick up his t-shirt from the floor and pulling it on, head to the kitchen to start coffee.

I pop some bread in the toaster while I wait for the coffee. Coffee and toast in hand I return to my room. Jimmy hasn't moved and his breathing is even. He's fallen back asleep. I wonder if he's slept much lately.

I set the coffee cups and toast on my dresser and walk over to the bed. Like a backward version of Sleeping Beauty I sit on the edge of the bed to kiss him awake. A contented noise rises from his throat, but he doesn't wake up. I crawl over him and kiss down his jaw to his neck. I've just reached his chest when his arms wrap around me and he rolls us over. His thumb strokes my cheek, "I think I like waking up like this," he murmurs before lowering his face to mine to kiss me gently.

/

"Well, the coffee WAS hot." I tell him as I hand him his cup. "I hope cold toast is ok for breakfast- I need to go grocery shopping."

He kisses me lightly. "It's fine." He takes a drink and makes a face before setting his cup back down. "Maybe we should get coffee on the way to the theater." I stick my tongue out at him.

"Hey! Watch that- a guy might get ideas," he teases me. I roll my eyes.

"Not if we're going to be on time he won't."

He chuckles. "On time is overrated." He puts his hands on my hips and pulls me toward him, "Hey, thanks for yesterday," he tells me, his voice low- intimate. "You were right. I needed a day away from everything."

I smile and put my arms around his neck. "You're welcome. I'm glad I could help."

I lean in and am interrupted by Ana, "Karen! Let's go! We're going to be late."

"Alright! We're coming!" I give him a quick peck and tell him, "To be continued."

Ana screeches from the kitchen, "WE?!"

I open the door and pull Jimmy behind me. "Yes, we."

"Morning, Jimmy." Ana laughs. "I didn't know we had a houseguest," she says cheerily, looking at me. I roll my eyes at her and we all head to work.

/

 

Jimmy

The last 24 hours have been better than any I've had in weeks. Unfortunately my good luck runs out shortly into rehearsal.

After a break, Derek calls us back to work. "Alright, let's start with "Rewrite This Story" and go from there." He looks at me, "Jimmy, why don't you take a seat. I want to let Ryan run a few of these with Karen."

"Derek! What are you doing?" Karen objects, aghast.

"I just want him to get a feel for things." He waves her off. "Don't worry, love- everything is fine. Just trying to bring him up to speed." Derek tries to assure her.

"Up to speed for what?" I demand. "I'm not going anywhere."

Derek ignores that, "Ryan? If you will," Derek gestures to the stage. Ryan looks at me, embarrassed.

I look at Derek and Ryan in disgust, "You know what? Forget this." I walk offstage.

"Jimmy!" Karen calls.

"Alright everyone, places." I hear Derek order as I walk into the wings. "Music track, please."

I throw myself on the couch in the green room and wallow in self-pity for a while.

Just as I've decided to leave- since they obviously don't need me here- Kyle finds me. Seeing him reminds me- "Hey, where were you the other night? What time did you get home?"

He checks to make sure we're alone. "Um, Tom called…"

"Ha!" I laugh, "A one-time mistake, huh?"

"Oh shut up." He looks away, blushing.

I sit forward and look at him closely. "What'd you do yesterday, Kyle?" I ask suspiciously. When he still won't look at me, I laugh again. "You were with Tom, weren't you?" His silence is the only answer I need. I continue cackling.

Kyle changes the subject. "I came back here to talk about you- are you ok?"

Suddenly sobered, I look at my hands and lie, "Yeah, I'm fine- why?"

"Well, you've…" he takes a breath, "I've noticed you've been drinking at night, after I go to bed. A lot."

"It's nothing. I just can't sleep." I say tonelessly.

"Jimmy." I look at him, my face telling him the conversation is closed. He tries again, "Look, this understudy thing-"

I cut him off, "Oh, I do not want to talk about that either." I throw myself back against the couch, crossing my arms.

"What did you think was going to happen, Jimmy? You come in hung-over to rehearsal all week and you miss cues and forget lines in performances and nothing would happen?"

"I was a little late a couple of times. I don't see why everyone is making such a big deal about it." I look down again, "I've had trouble sleeping- I'm just… I'm just tired- it's hard to focus." I point at him, "Hey, you can blame Karen- she dumped my Adderall," I try to joke, to distract him- but Kyle looks at me stone-faced. I try a new tactic, "Besides, it's not like the show is going to close- the run is sold out."

"People are coming tomorrow night, people who could bring this show to Broadway- our show, Jimmy- it's what we always wanted. Doesn't that mean anything to you anymore?"

Before I can respond, Blake walks in.

"Derek needs to see you, Kyle." The smile he shares with Kyle doesn't suggest that they've broken up.

"Ok, I'll be right there."

I watch him leave and look at Kyle in disbelief, "Are you guys still together?"

Kyle avoids my eyes. He shrugs, "Of course."

"So you haven't told him about your little 'affair' with the big Broadway composer?" I poke him in the side.

"Shut up! I should have never told you about Tom."

"Hey, hey, there's no shame- why shouldn't you have a sugar-daddy?" I grin impudently at him, "Does he at least buy you pretty things?"

"Oh my God!" he exclaims, mortified. "I told you I was drunk and star struck."

"Sure, the first time, what about the others? You were drunk all day yesterday?"

He pretends to be mad. "I hate you."

"No you don't, I keep you honest." He laughs at that.

"Well, he's pretty great," he grins at his feet.

"Oh, I'm sure," I smirk.

Feigning annoyance he retorts, "I'm leaving." His smile gives him away.

"Bye…" I wiggle my fingers at him, laughing.

But before he can reach the door, Derek bursts in. He finds me on the couch, "Here's the deal. Your understudy is ready. So, come to rehearsal hung-over or late again- or give me any reason at all, really- and he'll go on instead of you."

"You can't do that!" I retort indignantly.

"Actually, I can. And I will," he tells me matter of factly.

I won't be threatened by Derek, not again. I stand up. "You know what? Fine- put him on. Let the audience suffer- I didn't want to act in this thing to start with." I start to leave.

Kyle grabs my arm, my momentum spins me back around. "Jimmy! Stop it." Kyle turns to Derek, "He's joking."

Derek addresses me, "Well, I've lost my sense of humor." I cross my arms and look at the ceiling. "Keep messing around and Ryan won't be your understudy- he'll be your replacement. I'm tired of the sulking and the mistakes. Get it together or you're through." He turns and begins to leave, but comes back, "Oh and in case you forgot, tomorrow is the biggest night of "Hit List's" life- nearly every Broadway producer in the city is coming. So tonight, you're grounded- go home, go to bed early and try to be a good little boy." All his condescension lacks is a pat on the cheek. He leaves, slamming the door behind him.

I make a hand gesture at the door. What an ass.

/

The show tonight goes off without a hitch. My pride refuses to give Derek a reason to give Ryan my spot. After the show, Karen asks if she can come over, but I tell her I'm grounded. She rolls her eyes- but truthfully I feel like being alone anyway.

It turns out I will be completely alone- Kyle decides to go home with Blake. I shake my head. I think success has gone to his head a little bit. I never picked him for an open relationship kind of guy.

I get home and put the alcohol in the cabinet. Not because Derek told me to, but because I have some things to think about and I want a clear head. Unfortunately, as soon as my head hits the pillow, I fall asleep.

/

Karen

We don't have rehearsal this morning because of the big performance tonight. I need to talk to Jimmy- to see how he's doing today. He was pretty upset about Derek last night- I hope it doesn't mess him up again- he's just starting to act normal.

Maybe Derek's right- Jimmy has been off lately- and drinking too much. Maybe I should have said something. I sigh. I still don't like confrontation. Jimmy's reluctance to talk about things doesn't help either. I guess I didn't learn anything from my relationship with Dev.

I call Jimmy, but he doesn't answer. Maybe he's still asleep. I leave a message.

But an hour later I still haven't heard from him so I call Kyle.

"Hey, is Jimmy still sleeping?"

"Um, I don't know- I'm not at home."

"Oh, sorry! I'll try him again."

"Hey, when you talk to him, have him call me- I want to make sure he's ok after the thing with Derek."

"Yeah, me too. I was hoping he'd want to get lunch."

I try Jimmy again with no luck. Well, I guess I'll eat here. I make myself some food and sit in front of the TV, trying to distract myself.

It works for a while, I get sucked into a marathon of America's Next Top Model and I lose track of time- until Kyle texts me. "Hey, did you ever hear from Jimmy?"

"No, why?" I text back.

My phone chimes immediately, "He's not here."

I call Kyle. "Wait, you mean he's not at your place?"

"No, and I don't know if he even came home. There are no dishes in the sink. I've called him three times and there's no answer."

I'm trying hard not to panic. "You don't think…" I can't even say it. "I mean, he was pretty mad yesterday at Derek- but the performance went so well. Surely he didn't…"

"Um, I don't know." Kyle pauses, "I think I need to tell you something."

"What?"

"Last week, um, I… Last week I found something in his stuff. I was looking for his notebook, to put one of the new pages in it and it was sitting there, under some clothes."

"Kyle, what was it?" I already dread the answer.

/

Jimmy

I wake up and am surprised to realize that I feel… rested. I skip coffee and decide to take a walk- I have some thinking to do. I walk to the spot that inspired our bridge scenes. It's this seating area that overlooks the river- the railing is speckled in rust and covered in graffiti. It's not much, but Kyle and I come here sometimes to write and to get out of the apartment.

I sit down and gaze out over the water. The sound of the water is soothing as it laps against the concrete below me. What is it about water that is so relaxing? Even the dirty gray-brown water of the East River.

I think about Karen. I was being stupid. I've already told her the worst thing I've ever done, and she's still with me. And even though she has no idea what has really been bothering me the last few days- because I've spent those days shutting her out- she still worked hard to cheer me up on Monday. And she did make me feel better- just being with her makes everything seem like it will be ok. And she didn't force me to talk about it- she just tried to help. She trusts me. And that makes me want to be worthy of her trust.

I think back over the last four months. Even when I was at my worst, and tried my hardest to push her away she saw through it, and never gave up on me. She sees me as I really am, she understands and accepts me- even when I don't deserve it- which is probably most of the time. She's not Adam- she's not going to exploit my vulnerability. And if he shows up and causes problems, well, I'll deal with that then.

And the issue of not knowing my name- of not knowing me- well, that's on me- I can fix that by telling her. Eventually. There's no rush- all that 'future' stuff was in my head- sparked because of an offhand laugh during a song… I've been so stupid. She has always been willing to take things at my pace.

I'm not really sure what I was so worried about. Karen is worth any of the problems that come with being with her.

Feeling better, I look around and realize the shadows are getting longer. I reach in my pocket for my phone to check the time. It's not there. I must have left it in the apartment.

I walk quickly back, not wanting to be late for the performance tonight. No matter how good I feel about things with Karen now, I still have Derek and the understudy to deal with. I can't be late.

Especially not tonight.

I get to the apartment and find my phone on the floor in my room, half hidden under a shirt.

Wow. That's a lot of missed calls from Kyle and Karen. That's weird- I'm not late- I have plenty of time. I text them that I'm on my way and that if it's not an emergency, I'll talk to them when I get there. I notice my ringer is still on silent from the performance last night- I fix it so I can hear if they call me back. I grab my stuff and head to the theater.

/

Karen

I've never been so relieved to get a text message in my life.

Kyle, who'd been out looking for Jimmy, and I agreed to meet at the theater to talk to Jimmy together. We figured it would be better than him hearing the same thing twice- also, it might help each of us to have the other there. Neither of us are good at confrontation.

We're sitting on the couch, waiting on him when he arrives. "Hey guys, what's up?"

I watch him carefully. He doesn't seem high. "Where have you been?" I demand.

He furrows his eyebrows in confusion, "I went for a walk," he says slowly.

"I've been calling you for HOURS! Why didn't you answer your phone?" I need to stop yelling- Jimmy will just shut down. I take a breath.

Sure enough, he gets defensive. "I left my phone at home!" He stops and lowers his voice, "I guess I forgot it when I left."

Kyle joins in, "I called you like four times from inside our apartment. Your phone wasn't there. Where were you really?"

"Dude! It was on silent." He looks between us. "What is going on?"

I take his hand and pull him down beside me. "Jimmy, you can tell us, we won't be mad- we were just worried- WHERE were you last night and this morning?"

He tilts his head and narrows his eyes. "Where do you guys think I was? Because apparently whatever I say doesn't matter."

"We just want the truth, Jimmy." Kyle says gently. "We want to help you. We know you've been going through a rough time and we're here for you. Talk to us."

"Well, if you want the truth, I went home last night- right after the show- and fell asleep as soon as I laid down. Then, this morning- around 11- when I woke up, I went for a walk. I came home and found my phone had been blown up by you guys and I came here- that's my entire life in the last 18 hours. I'd offer to provide witnesses, but the only ones I had were pigeons. Frankly, I'm hungry and a little annoyed that you guys don't believe me." He gets up to leave.

"Jimmy, I found the drugs in your stuff last week." Kyle's voice stops him dead in his tracks.

/

Jimmy

Shit. They think… Well at least I know what the hell is going on now.

It was so stupid. Last week was just such a bad week, between Derek yelling at me and Karen barely talking to me- nothing was going right. I saw this guy I used to know at a bar we went to one night and we started talking and one thing led to another and… I bought it. But I didn't use it. I couldn't do it. And then it was in my pocket when I got here the next morning, so I shoved it under some stuff and forgot about it.

"Jimmy, you told me you hadn't done anything since Fringe, did you lie to me?" The hurt in Karen's voice just makes me angry. I'm angry at myself, I'm angry that she doesn't trust me.

I spin on my heel. "No. I didn't lie to you. I didn't lie to you then and I'm not lying to you now. I was in a really bad place last week. On Tuesday when we went out after the show I got it from this guy I knew- but I didn't touch it. I swear." I kneel down in front of her and take her hand. My anger dissipates and becomes fear. "You have to believe me."

"I don't know what to believe, Jimmy." She looks away for a moment before looking back at me. "I mean, you've been acting weird all week- and drinking and…"

I pull myself up on the couch beside her and put my head in my hands. "I know." I say through my fingers. It comes out muffled. I look up at the ceiling, hoping the answer is up there. "It's just..." I wish Kyle weren't here- I can't talk about me and Karen and my freak out about our future with him here- I'm not even sure I can tell her. I look at her helplessly. "I just had a bad week this week. I never tell anyone the things that I told you- and…" I pause, what can I even say? "It was harder for me than I thought. It took me a while to wrap my head around it." Maybe that's enough.

Kyle looks around her to me, "So you didn't get high last night?"

I look over at him, irritated. What part of that did he not get? "No."

He's not done, he watches me carefully, "And you didn't use what you bought?" He sounds skeptical.

Oh my God. I throw my hands up. "What part of 'no' do you not understand, Kyle?" My words twist into a sneer.

"We're just trying to help you, Jimmy." Karen tries to pacify me. "We care about you."

"Then TRUST me!" I exclaim, frustrated.

"You have to understand why that's hard to do right now," Karen says quietly.

I freeze. I feel like I've been slapped. For a moment I can't even begin to process her words.

They don't trust me. The only two people in the world who have ever believed in me don't trust me when I'm telling them the truth.

I stand up, agitated. "I've got to…" I pace for a moment, running my hands through my hair- I turn for the door. "I've got to go." I leave without looking back.

They call my name behind me but I keep walking, my thoughts incoherent.

/

Other than outside, I don't know where I went, I had no destination in mind, I just kept walking. Somehow I circled back around and ended up at the theater. I walk in and go to the dressing rooms, on my way I pass Derek. "You're late." He tells me. "Ryan-"

I cut him off. He sure as hell isn't taking this from me tonight too. "I've been here for over an hour- I stepped outside to get some air. I'll be in my place on time if you get out of my way so I can go get dressed."

He looks at me for a moment. I guess something in my face convinced him that tonight was not the night to push me. He steps aside. "You have 10 minutes until places."

"Yeah, I'll be there."

I get dressed and beat Karen to the stage. I hope I can remember my lines. Too bad all of them aren't 'Karen doesn't trust me.' I have that on constant repeat in my head. I shake my head, trying to clear it. I can't afford to screw up tonight.

/

Karen

The show went ok. It wasn't our best performance- and that sucks, we needed tonight to be our best performance. And it wasn't just Jimmy- I think we were all nervous. I know I was preoccupied with him, worried he was going to melt down any second.

But he didn't- he said his lines and sang his songs and hit his marks, but something was off. I mean, I know what was off, but it just didn't have the spark it usually does.

I change into my street clothes and hang up my last costume. We're all going out tonight- hoping to celebrate some producer's interest, but I'm not sure that it won't turn into a pity party after that performance.

Derek catches me and Kyle. "I think we need to put Ryan on tomorrow- maybe that will jolt Jimmy out of his sulking."

Kyle looks at me for a moment and nods. "I agree. Jimmy has been out of it this week. Maybe a day off will help." I remain silent. I can't disagree, but I don't want to agree either. Derek nods and walks away.

He's barely around the corner when Jimmy's angry voice is behind us. "Oh great! Now my girlfriend and my best friend are conspiring to get me fired!" We turn around, guilty. "Thanks a lot- good to know who my TRUE friends are!"

"It's not like that." Kyle begins, "I just thought that with a day off…"

"Yeah, with a day off Derek will give my part to Ryan," he sneers their names, "and I'll suddenly be out of a job- in the show I WROTE!"

"We wrote it TOGETHER- remember that? And our dream was to get it to Broadway. And you've been so distracted lately, I'm not sure you're helping us get there." He takes a breath and looks at Jimmy, his voice calmer, "It's just one night. You need to rest- maybe it will help."

He looks at Kyle as if he's speaking a different language, "No… what would help would be for my best friend and writing partner to support me and TRUST me."

"Then maybe you should start helping yourself by making better choices. I can't do that for you," Kyle fires back.

"Well, maybe I'll choose not to stand here and take this anymore. I didn't do anything wrong."

/

Jimmy

But just then I see Blake walk in. It's petty and I shouldn't, but all this is Kyle's fault- he put the idea in Karen's head and then he sided with Derek. "Oh and since you're telling secrets to my girlfriend, maybe your boyfriend would like to know one about you-" I nod at Blake over his shoulder, Kyle turns and sees him, "or have you already told him about Tom?" I ask conversationally- but with layers of innuendo on the name.

He looks at me in open mouth shock. His eyes flick from me to Blake. Blake turns and walks out, and without another word to me, Kyle chases him, calling his name.

Karen is also looking at me in shock, "Jimmy- what is wrong with you? He's your best friend."
"He's SUPPOSED to be- but he's not acting like it- why should I?"

"If you have to ask that question, maybe you're not who I thought you were." She picks up her jacket and begins to leave.

"Karen." She pauses and looks at me.

"What, Jimmy?" I stare at her. I have no idea what to say- there's not much I can say that would make it better. She lets out a sigh. "Yeah- when you figure it out, let me know."

She walks off. I walk over to my dressing room table and sit down hard in my chair. I thunk my head on the table a few times. I don't know how to fix this.

After a while, I pack up my stuff to go. I'm not sure where I'm going yet- I don't really feel like having a drink with everyone- but I don't really feel like going home either. As I put my things in my bag, I find the object that started this mess today. I look at it for a minute. It started it- it could end it. Some of this and I won't care anymore that everyone is mad at me- and I won't be mad at them either.

I'm not sure how long I sit there debating, but finally I shove it back under a pile of junk. I grab my bag to go. I need to talk to Karen. I need to apologize to Kyle. Maybe they'll be at the bar with everyone else and I can pull them aside to talk.

/

I get to the bar and look around trying to find them. I see Ana and Ryan- great. That's what I need, for them to hit it off- then I'll get to see him all the time outside of work too…

Well, only if I can find Karen and fix this.

Just then I find her. She's at the bar, sitting next to Derek. Well, I'd rather not face HIM right now, but I need to talk to her. I walk closer and can hear part of their conversation, "He's not good for you," I hear Derek's voice rumble.

I miss part of Karen's reply, but I hear enough, "…you are." She smiles at him, laughing. But that's not the worst of it. My heart stops when I see him reach out and tuck a piece of hair behind her ear.

I turn and flee the bar. What the hell?! DEREK?!

Chapter Text

Karen

I'm chasing the ice in my drink at the bar. I don't really feel like being here, but Ana wanted me to come.

Jimmy was a jerk to Kyle, but maybe we made a mistake not believing him. He seemed pretty hurt by it. Maybe he was telling the truth- he seemed sincere.

I don't know what to believe anymore.

Movement to my left catches my attention as Derek sits down on the stool next to me. He gestures for another drink for each of us. "What's got you so down, darling?"

I glance up at him. I really don't want to talk about Jimmy with him. "It's nothing." I look down and continue my ice chase.

He ducks his head to look at me. "He's no good for you, you know that, right?"

I look up and laugh at that. "And you are?"

He reaches out to tuck hair behind my ear, and shrugs. "I could be." I recoil from his words and his touch.

"What are you doing, Derek?" I demand. He doesn't say anything- his look is answer enough. "I know what you're trying to do- here and with Jimmy. Just... don't." I stand up from my stool. "We work together, that's it." My drink arrives and I leave without touching it.

/

Jimmy

I wander around the city for hours- my thoughts a jumble, the scene playing over in my head a hundred times- and somehow end up at home. I collapse in my bed, too mentally and physically exhausted to move. I fall asleep in the clothes I've worn all day.

I get up the next morning and go to the kitchen. When Kyle sees me he gets up from the table and heads toward his room without speaking to me.

I need to apologize. "Kyle, wait."

He stops but doesn't turn. "What do you want, Jimmy?" he sighs wearily.

"To apologize. Look, I'm sorry- I was outta line last night. I shouldn't have told Blake- I was just… well, I was a jerk." I put my hand on the table and lean into it. "I was just so frustrated that you and Karen didn't believe me, but I shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry." I tell him sincerely. "And you were right, I haven't been as focused on the show- and I'll work on that, ok?" I pause, not wanting to admit this one, "And maybe a day off will help me clear my head," I concede grudgingly.

Kyle turns around, "Really." He looks at me closely to see if I'm sincere. His shoulders slump, "Well, I should have told Blake anyway-" A small mirthless laugh escapes him, "Ok, I probably shouldn't have cheated on him in the first place…"

"So I guess you guys broke up?" I ask him, ruefully- it's still kinda my fault.

His eyebrows go up, "Uh… yeah." He says with a laugh.

"I'm sorry, man." I put my hand on his shoulder.

He shrugs, "It's ok." He looks at me out of the corner of his eye, "I'm seeing Tom tonight anyway."

I roll my eyes and laugh. "Well, I'm glad things are working out for you there." Thinking about Karen I get suddenly serious. I sigh, "I wish I could say the same."

Kyle looks at me, "What happened? Did you talk to Karen last night?"

"Uh, no- not exactly." I look down and shrug, feigning indifference that I don't feel. "And I'm guessing there's no need to- based on what I saw at the bar." I chew my cheek and look up at him, trying to keep my eyes from betraying the pain inside.

"What happened?" he asks. I shake my head. I'm not sure I want talk to about it.

"Nothing. It was nothing- I'm gonna go for a walk." He catches my arm.

"Jimmy, talk to me."

"She ran off to Derek, ok? I went to the bar to find the two of you- I wanted to talk- and she was sitting at the bar with him and they were flirting- and he was touching her and…" I take a breath to get my anger under control. "And apparently I meant nothing to her- if at the first doubt she'd run straight to him." I slump on the stool behind me. "And the worst thing is, I didn't even do what she thought I did." I look up at him, pleading, "I REALLY didn't, Kyle- I didn't take that stuff- I swear!"

"Jimmy, I believe you. I'm sorry I didn't yesterday." He tries to mollify me. "Have you talked to Karen today? Maybe it wasn't what you think. It doesn't really sound like her."

I give a humorless laugh. "What else could it have been exactly? I know what I saw."

"Well, maybe- but don't you think she should have a chance to explain herself?" he asks reasonably.

I don't want reasonable. "No. Why would I want to hear the reasons she chose Derek instead of me?" A thought occurs to me, "You know, maybe it'd be better if I did quit the show- let Ryan take my spot. I'm not sure I can do this anymore."

"You don't mean that."

"Yeah," I consider it a moment, "Yeah, I think I do." I walk toward the door. "I need to take a walk." I open it and pause for a moment, remembering, "And hey-" I begin, falsely cheerful. "I'm off tonight anyway- so it doesn't really matter what I do, right?" I close the door before he can argue.

/

Karen

I'm getting dressed for lunch with Ana when my phone rings. I tuck the phone between my neck and shoulder to finish putting on my shoes. "Hey, Kyle. What's up?"

"Have you talked to Jimmy today?" his voice sounds strange.

"Um, no- not since last night with you, why?"

"He saw you and Derek last night," now he sounds angry. That's weird.

I take the phone in my hand and stand up. "He saw me and Derek what? I barely saw Derek last night."

"Well, he said he saw the two of you at the bar together- he thinks you're with Derek now."

"WHAT?! Where would he get… oh crap." I feel suddenly sick. I sit down on my bed. "Kyle, I need to call Jimmy."

I dial Jimmy's number and he doesn't pick up. I text him and get no response. There's a knot of panic in my stomach at the thought of what he must be thinking. I gather my stuff, make my apologies to Ana and run out of the apartment, flagging down the first cab I see.

/

I burst into Jimmy's apartment without knocking. "Jimmy?" Kyle comes out of his room.

"He's not here- he went for a walk over an hour ago." He looks at me. "What happened exactly?"

I explain what I imagine Jimmy saw. "And after last night and everything else, I need to talk to him- this might push him over the edge. How could he think I'd do that to him?" I'm worried and frustrated and… and I need to be doing something to find him. "Where do you think he might have gone?"

Kyle gives me a few places to check- given the time of day the list is short. I decide to start at the river. It seems like the most likely place.

It turns out my instincts were good. I see him sitting on the railing. "Jimmy!" That doesn't seem safe. "Jimmy! What are you doing? Get down from there!"

/

Jimmy

I hear her voice yelling at me- are you kidding me? I huff. "Go away, Karen- just leave me alone." I turn to look at her, "I don't really need to hear all the whys and excuses- I got the message just fine last night."

She sighs, "Just come down here so I can talk to you." When I don't move she adds, "I'm not leaving until you do."

Why can't she just leave me alone? If she was going to pick Derek, why didn't she just leave me alone to begin with- it would have made everything simpler.

I glance over my shoulder to see if she left yet. She's still in the same spot, not moving. I blow out a sigh- I know from experience that she's almost as stubborn as I am. I climb down and lean against the railing. Spreading my arms, I ask sarcastically, "Happy now?" I cross my arms and wait for her to speak.

"Jimmy, what you think you saw- that wasn't it at all," her voice has a strained edge to it.

Kyle and his big mouth. "Kyle called you." I shake my head, already knowing the answer. Why can't he mind his own business? "Right. Look, Karen- I know what I saw- so just go." I look down, not wanting to see her walk away.

Instead, I see her shoes. I look up, "Jimmy- I don't think you got the whole story- what did you see, exactly? What do you think you heard?"

"Oh, I heard plenty," I look away from her.

"What did you hear- exactly?" She follows my eyeline, forcing me to look at her.

Grudgingly I describe the scene that has been playing on repeat in my head. When I'm finished she laughs. Seriously? "I'm so glad this is funny for you."

"Sorry, it's just- that's not at all what happened." I stare at her in disbelief- surely she's not going to try to convince me I was imagining things. "I mean, yes- he said that and yes, that was part of what I said- but I was being sarcastic. And when he tried to touch me, I pulled away- and told him off," I look away again, wanting and not wanting to believe her at the same time. She follows my eyes again, "And then I left- I went home. Alone." She takes my hand, "Jimmy, you and I had a fight- but I would never run off to Derek because of that- or for any reason. It's not like that between Derek and me."

"It is for him," I retort.

/

Karen

I shrug, "Well, maybe- but I can't help how he feels. I don't feel that way and that's all that matters."

"How can I believe that?" he pulls his hand away and begins pacing. "I mean, it seems like he's always here- getting in the way of us."

I sigh and grab his wrist to make him stand still. I look at him intently. "He can only come between us if we let him."

He narrows his eyes, "You know, in some ways, I think you like that he has this thing for you- that you have a thing for him too. You just won't admit it."

I roll my head heavenward. "You have got to be joking," I say more to myself than him. I shake my head looking back at him. "Jimmy, if I wanted to date Derek, I would have- a long time ago. Believe me, he's offered- more than once." He rolls his eyes and throws his hands up like I've made his point. "Listen to me." I take his head in my hands gently, but force him to look at me. "I don't want to be with Derek. Not now, and not ever. I want to be with you- I AM with you. There's no one else." I stroke his cheeks with my thumbs, trying to reassure him.

He pulls away from me and leans on the railing to look out over the water. "Why? Why would you rather be with me?" I look at him like he's lost his mind. He turns his head to look at me, "What could I possibly offer you, Karen?" He looks back at the water, his voice quieter- resigned, "Why don't you just go and be with Derek-" his voice falls to a whisper, "it would make a lot more sense, you know?"

How can he be so stupid? I blow out a sigh. "Because I'm in love with you, you idiot," I tell him, exasperated.

Ok, not the most romantic declaration of love ever… I walk over to stand beside him at the rail and look at him. I put my hand on his arm, trying to get his attention and try again. "I love you," I tell him quietly. I try to make a joke, "You don't make it easy sometimes, but I do."

He still won't look at me, but I can see that his eyes are shining. He's quiet for several moments. When he speaks his voice is rough, "Well then this should make it easier for you- don't." He drops his head and stares unseeingly at the water. The next comes out so softly I almost can't hear it- even standing right next to him. "You shouldn't love me. I don't deserve it."

I'm taken aback that he could make such a statement but I immediately argue, "Yes you do! How can you say that?" Surely he doesn't really believe that.

He ignores the question- still not looking at me- he shrugs, "Besides, it's probably a waste anyway. I'm pretty sure I'll never feel the same." He looks at me now, forcing a smile- a smirk really, "But hey- some of this was fun, right?" I take an involuntary step back and look at him in disbelief. If not for his eyes a moment before, and the fact that I know his M.O. by now, I'd think he might be serious- he's good at this.

But I know what he's doing. And I won't let him do it. I won't let him win. And if I get mad, or defensive, or leave- he does. It's what he wants- he's hiding behind his wall again. And he's flinging words like stones from a catapult hoping I'll retreat. I look at him, refusing to run or to allow him to hide from this- from us.

Maybe it was too soon to tell him, but he needed to know. I know how much he cares for me and the longer the moment stretches the more his eyes say. They can't maintain the lie. Maybe I can get through to him. "Jimmy, don't do this – you feel something, I know you do. And it scares you." I pause, "I know you're not ready to say it back- and that's ok. I'm not asking you to- but stop trying to push me away." I take a step closer to him. "I'm not going anywhere."

As if my words have no effect, his next line of attack begins. "Oh, and thanks for stringing me and Derek along all this time- I doubt "Hit List" would have gotten this far without your efforts. So, that's something, I guess. I mean, I know Kyle appreciates it. Being his dream and all."

Well, if that's the worst he's got… I look at him, refusing to rise to his bait. I won't let him provoke me to anger.

Unfortunately, I frequently underestimate the lengths Jimmy is willing to go to in order to keep people out. And he's undeterred in his mission by my silence. "And hey- if you sleep with Derek now, maybe "Hit List" will get to Broadway."

I slap him. I didn't mean to- but I am SO SICK of people assuming I'm going to sleep with Derek for any reason- but especially to advance my career. And coming from Jimmy- even when I know he doesn't mean it- it's too much. Looking him in the eye, I tell him coldly, "Look, I get that real emotion is scary for you, but that is so far over the line, I can't even…" I take a breath, "I told you that I love you and you tell me to sleep with someone else?" I'm speechless for a moment.

His cheek is pink, but his face remains the same mask of indifference.

Suddenly, I feel all the anger drain from me. I don't think I want to do this anymore- he's making it too hard. He's not even trying, so why should I?

I give up. "You know what? Maybe you're right- maybe I shouldn't love you. But it's not because you're not worth it- but because I'm not sure you'll ever be ready to hear it."

I turn and leave, and allow the tears in my eyes to fall.

/

Jimmy

I don't know how much time passed after she left but I sat there for a while, remembering how it felt when she told me she loved me and thinking about the fact that I managed to screw this up. Again.

But, by the time I leave I've halfway convinced myself that it's for the best.

"Hey, did Karen find you?" Kyle inquires, feigning innocence, when I walk in the door. I was really hoping he'd have gone to the theater by now.

"Yeah," I say dryly as I flop on the couch. "And, if you're keeping score- we broke up again."

Kyle comes over to stand across from me, "You ok?"

"Yeah." I wave him off, trying to sound cavalier about it. He looks at me skeptically, not buying it. I sigh and look at my hands. "Fine." I sit forward on the couch and put my face in my hands, "I'm not ok." Kyle waits without speaking, but I can feel his eyes on the back of my head. I drop my hands, but continue staring at the floor. "This sounds stupid, but… I don't know." I lean my head against the back of the couch and close my eyes to try to gather my thoughts. I sigh and look up at him. "I thought- I thought maybe she was 'The One', you know?" I let out a hiss of a laugh to try to cover the seriousness of that statement. I shake my head, "But this thing with Derek and-"

He cuts me off with a frustrated groan, "Oh my God! Why are you so stupid?"

Shocked and a little angry, I look at him, "What is your problem, man?"

He throws his hands up and rolls his eyes. "Of course she's not with Derek! How can you not see that? She loves YOU."

Annoyed, I fire back, "Wait, did she tell you that, too? Is there anything you two DIDN'T talk about today?"

He shakes his head, rolling his eyes again. "Any idiot can see that." He sits down next to me. He looks at me seriously, his eyes pensive. "And you- you actually opened up to her. In all the years I've known you you've NEVER told anyone that stuff about yourself. So, whether you want to admit it or not, I think you love her too. And she accepted you- past and all." He pauses. "She's been the best thing to ever happen to you- and you know that." He looks at me carefully, "And it terrifies you doesn't it?" he asks shrewdly. He sighs, "Why can't you allow yourself to be happy?"

I look away. I have nothing to say- but that doesn't stop him, "You have to stop doing this, Jimmy. Stop sabotaging yourself. Whatever it is that makes you do that- it's time to face it- and deal with it, because if you keep lashing out you're going to lose her- for good. How many times do you think she's going to come back if you keep pushing her away?" I look at him. He's right.

I rub my face with my hands before putting them on my knees to stand up. He stands with me. He turns to walk away, but I stop him. "Hey, I think you're selling yourself short." I give him a half smile, trying to turn what I'm about to say into a joke so it's not so weird for me to say, "Karen is only the second best thing to happen to me." He looks down. I pull him to me for a hug. "I don't know where I'd be without you," I tell him sincerely. I pat him on the back and pull away, holding him at arm's length. "I know I don't say it enough- or ever really- but thanks. You're a good friend."

/

I'm supposed to be off tonight, but I have a plan- it might get me fired… but I don't care. I just hope it's not too late. I take a quick shower, change out of yesterday's clothes and go to the theater with Kyle.

I get dressed for the first scene and find Ryan standing in the wings, waiting to go on. The opening scene with The Diva has just ended and he's about to go onstage. "Hey, I talked to Derek- I'm good to go on tonight. Maybe I'll take tomorrow off." Before he can respond, I clap him on the shoulder and walk onstage. He stands speechless for a moment and I take my place. He'll probably go find Derek, but as long as I can make it to the bridge scene I don't care.

Karen takes her place, looking at me in surprise, but doesn't have time to say anything. Once the music starts, I feel like I'm home free- I find it hard to believe that Derek will pull me mid-show. Ryan and I don't look that much alike.

Sure enough when I come off Derek is standing in the wings, glaring at me, but he says nothing.

The show progresses and the moment I'd been waiting for finally arrives. I'm nervous as the music starts and I begin to sing. I was right, my song did turn out to be prophetic- but maybe it can be my apology too.

I begin quietly as I climb the first step. "Over. I can't believe it's over. I can't believe the love I left- to show some other day." I break from the blocking and continue up the steps. Derek is already pissed- so who cares?

I watch her carefully as I sing. "Listen. I hope that you will hear me." There was a tiny movement around her eyes. I think she caught the word change. I kneel on the 'bridge' ahead of my next line. "As I kneel down and pray- with the love I meant to say." It's a little ironic that my declaration is happening on the set inspired by the place where she made hers.

The song continues, but she hasn't noticed me yet. She's still facing the audience as scripted and I'm just out of her line of vision. "You took away the shadows…"

But now she turns on her cue and begins slowly walking toward me, hesitating for a moment when she sees that I'm not where I'm supposed to be. My voice soars through the verses- emotion raw on my face.

When she reaches me I stand slowly, changing the words again. "Sorry. That's the word I want to say to you." I bring my hand up to cup her cheek. I throw my apologies into my eyes. "The other word is… Stay. To hear the love I meant to say." Other than a flash of emotion across her face, I get no answer. I'm not sure what I expected, there are 200 people watching, but I'm disappointed.

Somehow, I make it through the show and even manage to avoid Derek afterwards. I grab Karen by the hand, both of us still in our final costumes, and pull her into an empty office.

As I close the door, she walks further into the office. Impatiently she demands, "What are you doing, Jimmy?" She turns to face me. "What was that earlier? You're not even supposed to be here," her voice trails off as she looks away.

I watch her, waiting until she's done. I hope I look calmer than I feel inside. "Look, I know I was a total ass today- I always am. I ruin everything. I told you that when you met me." She starts to interrupt, but I hold up my hand to stop her. "But that doesn't make it right. I want to be the person you see in me- because I know that's who I really am." My next words come out in a jumble, crammed together, trying to make her understand. "But, I need time. Everything is moving so fast- and I got scared. I'm scared that I can't be the person you see. And I'm scared of how strongly I feel for you- and of the future. I've never thought about my future, until now- and it's because of you." I take a deep breath, look at her steadily and get to the point. "I realized this week that I want to think about my future and I want it to include you. And I freaked out because of it. And I'm sorry." I take another breath. "I know you don't have feelings for Derek. I was being stupid." I sigh, "I keep screwing up and I do all the wrong things." I take her hands, holding them close to my chest, and stare deep into her eyes, "But, I don't want to hurt you anymore. Please, just tell me what I need to do- I will do anything to make this work with you."

She looks at me for a long moment without speaking. "You're right- you do need time," she says finally.

/

Karen

Confusion crosses his face, but he nods. He looks like a little boy, so earnest and so…

I have to do this. I have to be strong. But when he looks at me like that, when he says things like that- he makes it so hard. "Jimmy, you have a gift for saying all the right things- after the fact." I think of all the times he's charmed his way into forgiveness.

I think about the song earlier. It took every ounce of acting ability I possessed not to react. I was so conflicted. I was angry that he'd hijack the show to make his apology. I was touched by the sweetness of the gesture and amused by the cheesiness of it. But when I saw his face, with the pain and contrition and the… well, there's no other word for it- the love that he refuses to admit- all written there so plainly… I was nearly overcome. It's hard to resist when he shows his emotions so clearly like that- it happens so rarely.

…And that's part of the problem. I shake my head. "You are without a doubt the best apologizer I have ever known." I give him a small smile that he returns. I shake my head and pause for a moment, trying to get my thoughts together.

I thought about this a lot this afternoon after I left him. I was trying to figure out why he's STILL so determined to push me away- even after everything we've been through, everything he's said and everything I know he feels. And I think I finally figured it out. Something he said triggered it for me- and he needs to hear it.

"But here's the thing- I finally realized it this afternoon. You don't think you deserve a future with me." He says nothing, but some of the hopefulness fades from his face. His hands loosen around mine. "I chose you, Jimmy," I squeeze his hands, "I still do- but you can't understand that until you can accept that you're worth choosing. And you are- but you have to believe it. And I realize now that there is nothing I can say or do that will convince you of it- you have to figure it out for yourself." He looks down for a moment before looking back at me uncertainly.

"You can't truly love me until you love yourself- and I don't think you do." Again, his eyes can't quite meet mine. "You couldn't believe me today when I said that I love you because you don't think you deserve to be loved. And until you do, you'll keep finding reasons to push me away- and I can't live like that." He looks up at me in surprise. Tears come to my eyes as I realize what I'm saying.

Anguish washes across his face as he realizes it too. He quickly turns away from me, dropping my hands. He moves toward the door to leave. I take a step and touch his arm to stop him. "I know that I want to be with you, to give you all the parts of me- even the ones I'm ashamed of- because I trust that you'll accept them. And I trust that you'll be willing to work through them with me- and I want to do the same for you. But you don't trust me." He spins around and begins to object. I put my hand up. "Ok- you trust me, and probably more than anyone else in your life besides Kyle. But be honest- do you REALLY trust me?" He looks at me helplessly as I continue, "Can you trust that I mean it when I say that I accept all of your flaws and all of your past- and that those things don't matter to me? You're not that person anymore." I look at him closely, "You know that, right?" His eyes search mine, but his silence answers my question.
I take a step closer to him and take his hand in mine. I look at him steadily, "Jimmy, you aren't that person- you have to know that." Staring into his eyes, made greener by the tears that remain unshed, the moment lengthens. I almost forget what I'm saying.

I take a deep breath and looking at him regretfully, I let go of his hand and take a step back.
I press my hands together and look down to reorganize my thoughts. I take another breath and look at him again. "But, while that is true- I can't keep doing this." He looks down. "It's killing me- all the secrets and half-truths- that's what tore me and Dev apart. I kept overlooking yours, knowing you'd need time and hoping it would get better- that once you finally opened up to me that you'd trust me with the rest…" I pause, not wanting to turn this into blaming him. "But I can't go through that again. I can't be with someone who won't talk to me about things that are bothering them."

I look at him, trying to make him understand, but he still won't look at me. "You say you want a future with me- but there's still something holding you back. Something that makes you push me away. I don't know what it is, but it's more than just the fear of your feelings or things going too fast." I cup his head in my hands so he can't look away, and notice that his cheeks, like mine, are wet. "I hope you can figure it out and when you do- I hope you'll tell me. I'm here for you- but I can't be with you until you are ready to be with me."

I rest my forehead on his and close my eyes. "Please, don't do anything stupid because of this," I whisper. I open my eyes and look at him steadily, my voice stronger, "I love you. And I want you to come back to me when you're able to love me too."

I kiss his forehead before turning to leave. If I stay I'm afraid I'll change my mind.

Chapter Text

Jimmy

Kyle was right.

It's the only thought in my head as I watch Karen walk out the door- Kyle was right.

I think she might have taken some vital part of me with her. It feels like there is a hole in my chest and it's hard to breathe- but somehow I'm still on my feet. Though I'm not sure how- I didn't think you were supposed to be able to live without a heart.

But I am and for what feels like an eternity I stand, frozen in the spot where she left me, still staring at the place where she disappeared. Slowly, the crippling pain begins to change into something more manageable.

This. This feeling is EXACTLY why I don't let people get close to me. They always leave. ALWAYS. She says she accepts my flaws- and then she walks away because of them. I told her I wanted a future with her- I told her how I felt- and that I'd do anything to make it work with her- and she left. What was I thinking?

She's no different than anyone else. I rub my eyes with my fingertips trying to rid myself of the image of her leaving.

My hand is wet. Wait- was I crying? I wipe my face, erasing the traitorous tears. I don't cry- certainly not over some girl.

I pull myself up straight and with a deep breath I walk out the door. I march to the dressing area and change- determined to act like everything is fine. But my movements are too jerky, too hasty not to give away my true state of mind.

While shoving my stuff in my bag, I knock a pile of clothes and papers off the table. Annoyed, I snatch them up and fling them back onto the table. A dull flash catches my eye as I lean down to pick up the last of it. I pause and look around. I'm alone in the dressing room. Everyone else has gone.

I pull out the small plastic bag. 'Don't do anything stupid,' Karen's words echo in my head. Like it matters- she left me.

'You're not that person anymore,' her voice as my conscious continues. I clutch the bag in my hand. Aren't I?

My decision here could really define that. I open my hand and cock my head to look at the crumpled piece of plastic. Huh. That's weird- the pull toward the bag in my hand is less than it normally is when my emotions are overloaded like this. But then, I've spent the last few months resisting that urge when I've felt this way.

Maybe I am changing.

Was Karen right? And if she's right about this, what else is she right about? I mean, Kyle said basically the same thing earlier today, about sabotaging myself and feeling like I didn't deserve happiness. And he was right- I pushed her away too many times and I lost her. 'I can't be with you until you are ready to be with me.'

But, maybe the loss is only temporary… 'There's still something holding you back. I hope you can figure it out.'

I sigh to myself, I hope so too. 'Come back to me when you're able to love me.' I think about that for a while.

Do I love her? I've spent so much time avoiding that question- trying not to admit the depth of what I feel. But forcing myself to face it now- I feel like I do. …I probably should have allowed myself to decide this sooner. I close my eyes and sigh.

'You can't love me until you love yourself.' Maybe she really meant that I can't accept hers until then? I still can't believe she feels the same way I do. How could she, knowing what she does about me? After all, I'm pretty sure this feeling is love- I mean, I trust her more than anyone I've ever known- except maybe Kyle, I enjoy spending time with her- even if we're just sitting together in silence. She's beautiful and kind and… and it's just this feeling I have when I'm near her or think about her. I've never felt anything like this before. It's joyfully manic and peaceful all at once, it's a powerful, consuming, radiating feeling in my chest- or it was- until 30 minutes ago when it was ripped out. Surely I wouldn't feel like this if it weren't love. I put my head in my hands. How do people survive this? Physical pain I'm good at dealing with- but this- this is totally different. I've avoided this feeling all my life.

But I don't have to feel like this- if I can just figure out what's wrong with me that I keep acting so stupid when it comes to her. I KNOW I want to be with her- and yet I keep saying and doing things to make her leave. After all, who would want to be with me?

I sit up. That is exactly what she's talking about- and I keep doing it- it's that kind of self-loathing that makes it impossible for me to give myself to her fully- to accept that she'd want all of me. What makes me do that? I search my brain, hoping a quick scan will produce the answer.

It doesn't. Of course it wouldn't be that easy. But I can't be with her until I figure it out. I sigh again. I wonder how long it will take. I put my head back in my hands. After a while, my thoughts become less distinct and eventually fade into the background.

As my mind clears, I feel the prickle of the edge of the bag in my hand. I sit back up and stare at it.

In order to like myself maybe I need to stop running from things when they get hard and make choices that I won't regret later- I have too many of those already.

Let's start with this. I take the bag to the bathroom. With a last look at it, I open the bag and dump its contents into the toilet. I throw the bag in the trash and bury it in paper towels. I wash my hands and leave, feeling lighter than I would have thought possible. Maybe my heart weighed more than I thought it did.

/

Derek sat me for a few days, as 'punishment' for my little stunt, but it turned out to be a good thing. It gave me time to be able to face Karen. My second performance after my 'time out' was Opening Night, and when Karen and I spontaneously hugged at the curtain call, it was only a little awkward.

Over the next weeks the accolades piled up. Everyone loves us. Things between Karen and I got easier- but there's always a twinge of regret whenever she walks away from me. I want to tell her that I'm ready. I want to take her in my arms and kiss away the pain of the last weeks- but I don't- because I'm not. I still have no idea what's wrong with me.

After the show tonight Derek and Scott asked the cast stay for an announcement. We gather in the green room and wait expectantly, wondering what this could be about.

Derek and Scott enter, giving away nothing. "People," Scott calls our attention, "We have some exciting news." Scott looks at Derek who gives him a nod and a smile. "We're going to BROADWAY!"

The room erupts as I look at Kyle, my eyes wide, "WHAT?!" my exclamation comes out in an explosion of breath. He's staring at me speechless, his eyes bugging out of his head. Behind him, I see Karen watching us.

She smiles and mouths, 'Congrats.' I look at her and nod my acceptance, smiling before whispering back a sincere, 'Thank you.' Our eyes hold, but the moment is soon interrupted by Kyle who seems to have recovered himself- sort of. He grabs me around the middle and begins jumping, laughing like a maniac. I laugh at his euphoria and give him a quick hug before we're pulled apart by the wave of celebration and congratulations around us.

/

Once the impromptu party begins to die down, Kyle and I find Derek and Scott.

"So, how did this happen? I thought everyone passed?" Kyle inquires.

"Well, they did- but Jerry Rand came tonight and loved it," Scott explains. "He wants to move it now- in time for awards season."

Kyle nods, hearing what's really being said. "He just wants a chance to beat "Bombshell"."

Derek tilts his head, agreeing. "That's likely a big part of it, yes. But the bottom line is we're going to Broadway." He pauses, and looks at me, "Get ready to go back to work boys, we're going to have to make some changes."

I keep my face neutral as Kyle asks, "Like what?"

"I don't know yet," he says blandly, "but there are always changes when a show moves. I just wanted you to understand that." He's still looking at me, watching my reaction carefully.

I shrug and look at Kyle, clapping my hand on his shoulder, "Let's do this." We grin at each other, still unable to believe this is happening.

/

Karen

I can hardly believe it. I just finished my first preview on an actual Broadway stage. I take my bow, Jimmy on one side and Ana on my other. He looks at me and grins like it's Christmas morning. I can't help but grin back. When the curtain closes, I turn away to give Ana a hug and notice she was watching me.

I pull back, "What? Is something wrong?"

She pauses a moment before speaking, looking over my shoulder. I glance behind me to see Jimmy turn to shake hands and hug the dancers. Her voice pulls me back, "What's going on with you two?" she asks curiously.

I look at her in surprise, "Nothing- I've told you everything." I glance at him, "He's been super focused on the show. I really haven't talked to him much." That goes double for thinking about him. I've done my best not to- it's easier that way. If I allow myself to, I go crazy wondering what he's thinking, if he's thinking and if we'll ever be together again. Luckily, we've been so busy with the move to Broadway, I haven't had much time to wallow. Or wonder if I did the right thing.

"That didn't look like nothing…" She trails off, a mixture of curiosity and concern in her voice. I roll my eyes.

"It was our first Broadway preview, we're just excited- that's all. And you should be too!" I take her hand and drag her offstage to change- we're celebrating tonight.

/

Jimmy

Since the announcement, I've barely had time to think about Karen. The weeks have flown by in a blur.

The first time I walked onstage in our new theater I was overwhelmed- sure that I was over my head. There is no way that many people want to see our little show. But as ticket pre-sale numbers came in, it turned out I was wrong. That many people DO want to see our show, and talk about our show- and interview me, Karen and Kyle. But despite all the excitement, a seed of worry lodged itself in the back of my head. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but something seemed wrong.

It wasn't until I saw the bus ad on the way to the theater one morning that I realized what it was- my name is all over the city, and often accompanied by my picture. It's hard to be anonymous when your face is three feet high.

I barely had time to worry about that though, because a few shows into previews we realized something was off. Kyle and I worked late into the night for two days trying to fix the disconnect between the audience and the show.

When he came up with a solution it required more late nights to write it- but it's brilliant. If we get it right, it will blow people away. It should be in place for tomorrow's show.

But with a solution to that problem, my other comes back in force. We have a billboard in Times Square and my name is on it. There was a photo shoot last week and another article in The New York Times. We're doing TV appearances, promoting the show. How long is it until someone figures it out?

It's keeping me awake at night. I haven't slept much all week. Tonight, I try to distract myself from that problem by trying to figure out the one with Karen, but every time I try to picture Karen's face, another takes her place.

Exhausted, I begin to drift off. My mind continues to work, though fuzzily. I think about that girl. It's like she's blocking my ability to see Karen- or to think about our future. My eyes snap open and I sit up in bed. Could it be that simple?

And yet, not simple at all…

I lay back down but I'm suddenly not tired at all. Instead, my brain races through this new revelation as I stare at my ceiling wondering what it will all mean.

/

Karen

The social media overload that Jimmy and Kyle came up with is incredible. At the first cue tonight, the gasp from the audience nearly sucked the oxygen from the theater. I look at Jimmy as I come offstage. His cheeks dimple as he smiles, his eyes following the projections.

I stop and watch with him as the words scroll around the theater.

My dresser is waving frantically at me to get me ready for the next scene. I turn and walk away, but squeeze his arm as I do. "I'm proud of you."

I look back to see him watching me, his eyes thoughtful.

Chapter Text

Jimmy

For the next month I am at a loss. I still don't know what to do. I spend hours tallying mental pro and con lists, none of which give me any helpful or decisive answer. She's proud of me. Great. But do I deserve it?

I mean, she's proud of what I've done with the show- I mean, I guess I'm proud of that too. But in other areas of my life? I haven't done much to be proud of…

Unbidden, that other face flashes in my memory. And I've done plenty to be ashamed of. More than ashamed- I should be horrified.

And I am.

Eventually, my mental anguish, lack of sleep, the grueling schedule of appearances, interviews and performances combined with the stress of it all is making me sick. Literally. I've had this scratchy throat and cough for weeks now. My sinuses are full of concrete and I feel like I have a perpetual headache.

But the show must go on right? On stage and off.

Around Karen I work hard to put on a good show. Things are great, normal. We're… well maybe not friends- but good acquaintances. We talk and banter when we're together, putting on a show for the interviewer. It's awards season after all and while we may be the hot new show we still have a steep hill to climb if we want to have our show considered- and we have less time to do it. Jerry and Derek have this master plan that involves anyone with a camera and/or microphone. Frankly I'm tired of hearing myself talk, but apparently no one else is.

But outside of work… well, things are fine. But we don't really hang out. It's hard, you know? Her words that night are still too fresh in my mind. Hers too probably.

Everything is out on the table, I'm just not able to do anything about it yet.

/

A few days later, to everyone's surprise, mine especially, we nearly sweep the Outer Critics Choice Awards. I still can't believe my life. This cannot be real. Kyle is nearly beside himself. His dreams are becoming reality- and exceeding any dream he ever had- certainly any that I ever did. It seems greedy and ungrateful to wish for more. But I do.

Only two things could make this better. First, that I hadn't tried to cough up a lung mid-acceptance speech and second, having Karen with me. I mean, she was there- sitting next to me even- but…

I sigh, it's not… I shake my head. I don't even know what I'm trying to say. Nothing I suppose.

Which is probably good. Talking to yourself alone while sitting on a stairwell just off stage would probably make you a crazy person.

I take a deep breath and begin to get up so I can get ready for tonight when Karen comes around the corner already dressed as Amanda.

"Jimmy!" Apparently she's been looking for me.

I rub my face, wiping away my thoughts. And maybe massaging my forehead a little, hoping it'll ease the headache that's been building all day. "I know, I know. I'm late. I'm coming, I just…" I try to cover my cough with a sigh.

"Jimmy, you're sick. And you're losing your voice." Karen's voice is tinged with concern, but I don't want it. I'm not sick. Behind Karen, I can see Kyle has found me as well.

"No," my denial is cheapened when my voice cracks.

She continues as if I haven't spoken, "Your understudy is going on. You need to rest." Her tone has a ring of finality to it.

My voice is harsh, rough, and not helping my cause. But I make my case anyway, "It's the last night for members of the Tony nomination committee and they're gonna see me, alright?" I'm still a little defensive about the whole understudy business, but more than anything, I want the voters to see a good show. Another cough escapes. My own body is a traitor.

I think I can see some amused affection on the edges of her smile as she teases, "What's the matter? You afraid they might like him better?" This is the Karen I fell in love with, and my inability to have her grates on me- being sick doesn't help.

It causes my reply to come out more sharply than I intended. "Oh come on." I snipe, "I am not leaving this theater, Karen." I cringe at my own tone. And arguing isn't helping my headache. I rest my head in my hands, massaging my temples.

"Ok, then don't," she says simply.

I look up in surprise. I won that argument?

But I see something in her hand. "What's that?" I blink to focus as she holds it out to me.

"Tickets. You and Kyle are gonna sit and watch what you created." I stare at her uncomprehendingly for a moment. Why would Kyle need a ticket? He sees the show every night-

But never as just an audience member I realize. He's always in the wings or taking notes, thinking about changes, things that need to be fixed. He should enjoy the show he dreamed up.

As realization dawns, she smiles and turns to go, quirking her eyebrow at me in triumph as she does.

She squeezes Kyle's shoulder as she walks out the door. His eyes are curious as he looks between us. I shake my head before dropping it into my hands again.

/

I can't help but smile as I watch Karen onstage. She's incredible, as always. A hundred memories of watching her perform over the last months pass through my mind. And yet every time is like the first. I don't think I'll ever tire of this.

I look around the theater at all the smiling faces, nodding along with the music. Kyle is beaming. It fills me with pride to see what he and I have done. That is a strange feeling, but there it is. I'm proud of us. Of me.

I feel like that's important somehow.

/

After the show, Kyle goes to talk to Ana and I duck outside, lurking at the stage door with my playbill, a smirk toying on my lips that I can't seem to make go away. I can hear her getting closer.

Hood on, head ducked, concealing my face, she takes the playbill from my hand. "Who can I make it out too?"

"Jimmy." She looks up at me at last. She smiles when she recognizes my voice and I grin wider and chuckle as she snatches the hood off my head.

She laughs, whacking my arm with my playbill. "Stupid. So, what'd you think?"

I scratch the back of my head, suddenly a little embarrassed about my prank- and unnerved by her closeness. We're only inches apart. Outside of the show, we haven't been this close together since the night she broke up with me. But I push those thoughts away.

"Uh well… it was incredible," I say honestly as I take my playbill back from her to have something to do with my hands. I give a small embarrassed laugh and play punch her arm to try and lighten the emotion I can feel building in me. "You were on fire out there."

She nods, smiling, "It's fun."

Kyle joins us then, "You ready to go?"

I look at Karen for a minute and she smiles at me. "Get some rest. I did miss my co-star up there." She squeezes my arm.

"Thanks for tonight." I tell her sincerely, "It was great." Our eyes meet and the moment lengthens, even as the space between us seems to be shrinking.

The tension is broken when I see movement out of the corner of my eye. Kyle has turned, looking away, down the street. I give an embarrassed cough. "Well, see you tomorrow."

"Yeah," Karen's response is distracted. She looks down and smiles, looking back up at me. "See you tomorrow."

Kyle and I turn and head toward the line of cabs before I look back at Karen, watching her walk away. Kyle, unable to maintain his silence finally breaks it. "Ok, I haven't asked- and I've wanted to- but WHAT is going on with you two? You haven't told me anything since you broke up…" he leaves that hanging for a moment before adding, "and WHY was that again? You never really said." I'm pretty surprised at his restraint. I'm sure he's been dying to ask me the last for over a month now.

He looks at me, curiosity and concern mixed on his face. I stare back at him for a moment, before turning my head to face forward again. I pull my hands to my face, blowing on them to warm them. It's chilly tonight. A little anyway. Enough that the movement is believable and not so obvious that I'm stalling- debating what to tell him. I rub them together a few times before dropping them back to my sides.

My breath comes out in a sigh and I shrug as I admit truthfully, "Nothing. Nothing is going on between us. Just…" I search for the right word, "co-workers." I give him a rueful half smile. "Everything's fine, man." I look down, watching my shoes scuff over the dirty sidewalk. "It's…" I give a huff- somewhere between a laugh and a sigh. "It's fine."

He shakes his head, "Somehow I don't quite believe that," he doesn't press the issue though. We walk in silence for a moment before he reminds me he had more than one question.

"So… what happened before? I never really heard what happened."

I raise an eyebrow at him. I'm pretty sure that he and Karen have talked, and probably in great detail, about our break up. "Really." Skepticism drips from the single word. "Did you and Karen stop being friends at some point?" I roll my eyes at him. "You really expect me to believe you two didn't talk about this?"

He tilts his head in acknowledgement. That's nice at least. He's not planning to outright lie to my face.

I shake off the thought.

"We did talk some," he allows. "But maybe you need to talk about it? Tell your side?"

I bark a laugh. "My side?" I huff again. "That's a good one." I look down and shake my head before looking back up at him. "My side was that I stood there while she told me we couldn't be together." It comes out more bitterly than I intended. I shake it off, she was right after all- I wasn't ready to be with her- maybe I never will be. "But then I probably deserved that- I did tell her to sleep with Derek." I scrub my hands over my face. Why am I such an idiot sometimes?

Kyle makes a noise of surprise and disgust. "You did WHAT?"

I guess she didn't tell him that… "I don't know, man. It was just one of those things that I said- everything was going well- and I freaked out. I…" I close my eyes. "I had this… vision, I guess. This picture in my head of us- together- like a future or something and…" I trail off. "And I was… I dunno- scared I'd mess it up. So I ran from it- from her. I pushed her away before I could wreck everything."

Kyle stops walking and turns to face me, forcing me to stop too. "What is wrong with you?" he demands. "What else do you think you need to do to deserve her- to deserve to be happy? You of all people deserve happiness." His words cut to the heart of things.

"I'm not so sure about that. I mean… I've done things, Kyle." He should know.

"I know that, Jimmy. And I know how hard you've worked to overcome all that. You deserve this- you deserve her." He looks at me- forcing me to meet his eyes. "Have you lived a perfect life? No. Have you made all the right choices? No. But have you worked to make yourself better? To overcome things that would have been impossible for others to overcome? Yes." He puts his hand on my shoulder. "Jimmy, it is a miracle you aren't dead in an alley or in jail after all you've been through. Instead, you're clean, sober, healthy... ish," he allows. "And successful. You're on Broadway- not only as a composer, but an actor too- and an award winning composer at that."

"So, don't you think I've about reached the limit of good that can happen to someone like me? Why would I get someone like Karen too?"

Kyle scoffs and rolls his eyes. "You have to stop thinking like that. Karen chose you- she wants you- she's waiting for you to get your shit together. You know, she hasn't even been on a date since you broke up. She loves you, Jimmy- and you love her. What is keeping you from realizing that?"

I toe the ground. "I know I do. I mean, I guess that's what it is."

"Then tell her! What is the problem?" he demands.

I sigh. "The issue wasn't whether or not I loved her- I mean, even if I couldn't have called it that then, I knew I had feelings for her and wanted to be with her." I look skyward, trying to explain it without sounding like an idiot. "It was that I kept pushing her away because I couldn't accept that she loved me- that I deserved it. And I guess she's right." I look at him. "I don't feel like I do." I shrug, trying to make it seem unimportant.

"Jimmy. That is the dum.." he stops himself. "Why? Why do you feel that way?"

I look at him for a long moment. I think I know the reason now. Weeks of sleeplessness have given me the only answer I can think of. Why would I have told Karen the worst thing I've ever done when any number of other things would have sufficed to quell her curiosity. The answer came to me about a week ago.

I wanted someone to know. I needed someone to know. Speaking it out loud admitted the guilt I've felt- without realizing it- for the last five years.

Kyle looks at me, waiting. "There's something I need to do- will you go with me?"

Chapter Text

Karen

It's been a whirlwind of a month. We finished previews and I officially made my Broadway debut. We've gotten so much press and so many glowing reviews and now the nominations and awards are starting to roll in. It's been amazing. Even better, Ana and I have repaired our friendship and are stronger than before. Everything is perfect.

Almost.

Jimmy is still maintaining his distance. We still see each other every day of course, and we have a comfortable working relationship- most days I'd say we're even friends. But occasionally there's a moment, usually after a show, when we end up alone together. Gradually the others wander away, leaving us by ourselves. And somehow we always notice at the same time and the easiness of our conversation fades. And with the realization, the air grows heavier and the moment stretches longer.

More than once I think he's about to speak. Or kiss me... or... something... Anything to finally call an end to the limbo I've lived in since that night so many weeks ago. And each time he breaks the increasingly uncomfortable silence with a quick joke and a light punch to my shoulder or a look down and a mumbled excuse about getting home before spinning on his heel and walking quickly away.

I'm starting to think the others are doing it on purpose. And while I'm somewhat grateful that they care I wish they'd stop. I'm not sure it's helping.

Though I don't suppose it's making anything worse.

With or without those moments I watch him. I watch him struggle with, persevere through and overcome whatever Derek, Jerry and Scott throw at him. I watch him turn on the charm for the interviewers, the public and award committee members. The angry, sulky Jimmy has all but disappeared. He's thrown himself into the show, more focused than I've ever seen him. But at the same time he's holding part of himself back.

I wonder- more than once- if he even thinks about what I said- if he thinks about me or about us. Part of me wants to ask him about it- just so I know- but I left ball in his court. I can't really go and ask for the ball back, can I?

In other news, we have a new dancer (several actually) and he's... well, he's hot. His shoulders ripple when he tosses the girls in the air before catching them effortlessly and his abs definitely exceed the legal limit. He's also funny and easy to talk to and... tonight he has asked me to meet him for drinks after the show. Even though it's been well over a month since Jimmy and I were 'Jimmy and I' it's hard to say yes. But there's a part of me that wonders if I should say yes. That part sounds a lot like Ana in my head...

Maybe it would spur Jimmy into action?

No. That's not why I would say yes. I would say yes because Mike is nice and smart and I like talking to him. I should say yes.

Over Mike's shoulder I can see Jimmy talking to Kyle, but I think he's paying attention to my conversation with Mike too. I watch him cough harshly into his arm. His eyes meet mine and he resolutely turns back to Kyle. He's been getting sicker every day, but refuses to admit it. His stubbornness will probably continue until he's hospitalized.

I shake my head to clear it and try to focus on Mike, but my mind is still on Jimmy. Tomorrow is the Outer Critics Choice Award ceremony. And more interviews before our performance tomorrow night. Mike waits, probably growing a bit concerned about my mental capabilities as my mind wanders for what have probably been several long minutes.

Looking back at Jimmy, I make a decision- several actually.

"Sure, let's get a group together and get drinks, there's this place we all go a lot. I'll talk to Ana and Sam, you check with the other dancers- see if they wanna go out too." I squeeze his arm, "Great idea!" I tell him with a grin before turning and walking away quickly. He opens his mouth to clarify his intentions, but I am already deliberately out of earshot.

He's great, but I'm just not quite ready to give up on Jimmy.

Speaking of, I have one other thing to take care of before the show tonight. I snag an assistant's sleeve and pull her aside to ask about tickets for tomorrow night's performance.

/

Jimmy

The next day we go to the police station and by the end of the day, thanks to Kyle, I'm bonded out.

We return home where the evening passes quietly, each lost in our own thoughts. I've been nursing the same beer for about an hour and it's grown warm in my hand. Apparently, I've been too preoccupied to remember I have it.

Kyle gains my attention when he breaks our near silence. "Hey, I was thinking," he begins as he stands and walks to the kitchen. He puts his cup in the sink, "Ana and Karen invited us to watch the Tony nominations with them. I think we should go." He leans against the counter, watching me to gauge my reaction.

"What?" I hesitate, torn. "No," I shake my head before looking down to scrape at the label on my bottle. "Let's just watch it here."

He sighs, "Come on, Jimmy. This is happening because of them. Without Karen, without Ana even- none of this would have been possible- we should celebrate with them… or you know- commiserate or whatever."

I roll my eyes, sensing his ulterior motive.

"Ok, fine- and then you and Karen can talk when it's over." Kyle looks at me sternly, "You know you need to. You know you want to. What's stopping you now?"

I sigh, "What if I screw it up again?" I tilt my bottle at him, "I do have a habit of that you know." I flash him a wry smile before taking a long drink and looking away.

Kyle shrugs, "Maybe, but if you don't try, you already have." He watches me for a moment before heading toward his room. "It's been a long day, I'm going to bed. Get some sleep, ok?"

I sigh and take another drink of my beer.

/

Karen

Ana and I are huddled around her laptop, waiting for the show to start. I get up to get some more coffee. I probably don't need it- I'm already a little twitchy- but it gives me something to do with my hands.

I've nearly reached the coffee pot when we hear a knock at the door. I look at Ana and she shrugs, not expecting anyone either. I detour to the door, opening it to find Jimmy and Kyle.

I nearly drop my cup. I really have to learn to check the peephole first.

"Hi! I was hoping you guys wouldn't mind some company?" Kyle asks brightly. Jimmy is standing just behind him, staring at the ground, fidgeting with his jacket pockets.

"Oh, um… no- I mean of course!" Wait- what was the right answer? I'm distracted, trying to match his brightness. It's not that I'm unhappy they're here- the opposite really- I'm just not sure what it means. "Come in," I finally finish, realizing we're all still standing awkwardly in the doorway. I step to the side to let them in. I shake my head at myself as I close the door behind them. I need to get a grip. I shoot Ana an excited look behind them. She raises her eyebrows back.

A noise on her computer snags her attention. "Oh my God! They're on!" Ana exclaims from her place at the table, waving us over.

Forgetting my coffee, I hurry back to my seat. Jimmy and Kyle scoot their chairs in on either side of us- Kyle pointedly taking the seat beside Ana. Jimmy moves closer to me, while still maintaining a 'safe' distance. I try to focus on the screen and not on Jimmy or the distance, or how I can smell his shampoo from his shower this morning.

"Ummm, let me make it bigger," Ana presses a button on her computer and the broadcast becomes full screen.

We watch, celebrate and giggle giddily as Ana, Kyle and Jimmy are announced as Tony nominees. Kyle is the youngest ever to be nominated in his category. I'm happy for them, but I sit on pins and needles until the final category- mine- is announced.

They call my name and I don't even hear the rest of the list. Ana shrieks and Jimmy pulls me out of my chair to hug me. It takes a moment for that to register, but when it does it seems to happen to us both simultaneously. We both pull back and look away, euphoria replaced by uncertainty. He shoves his hands in his pockets and takes a step back. I drop mine to my sides and lean against the table.

Ana closes her computer and grabs Kyle by the sleeve. "Well, we're gonna go in the other room and um… eavesdrop."

Ana is nothing if not blunt. Kyle grins, nodding. I roll my eyes at both of them and turn to face Jimmy. He chuckles at our friends, and their completely unrepentant meddling. But when he shifts his gaze to me as they disappear around the corner, his smile is a little shy- nervous even. He looks down and takes a deep breath.

Still staring at the ground, he begins to speak. "Hey, what you did for me last night…"

Surely that's not what he wants to talk about. "It's ok," I shake him off. "You already thanked me."

"No, no- that's not what I'm trying to do." He pauses, shaking his head, as if trying to gather his thoughts. He looks at me, his head cocked slightly to the side, "Last night I realized I'd done something to be proud of- and you were a big part of making it happen," he says each word slowly, as if measuring each before releasing it, but his gaze is steady. "In spite of everything that happened with the show or with us, you never gave up on it- or me…" he huffs a laugh before looking down, "and I tried hard to convince you to." He shakes his head once before looking up again to meet my eyes. "Last night you made me see that I should be proud of myself, that I was worth being proud of- something you've been trying to tell me for a while- I just wasn't ready to hear it." He takes another breath before continuing.

"And I owe you an explanation." I start to interrupt, but he waves me off, "I know that I pushed you away." I take a deep breath, waiting, hoping. "I think… I think I've always been afraid to let people get close to me, and I guess just thought that it was better if you didn't. But you were right, I didn't think I deserved you. So I kept pushing you away. And it took me a while to figure out why. And I'm so sorry."

I swallow hard, wondering if this was finally it.

He looks down before stepping closer, but when he begins speaking, his gaze is steady again. I hold my breath. Only a few small steps separate us now. "You know, seeing the show last night did something else too." I wait as he steps one step closer, close enough to touch if he would just cross the small space. "It made me realize that the show could live on without me."

I let it out the breath I was holding- that's not what I was expecting.

I try to smile but I'm confused, "What do you mean?"

"I mean that it was still great- even with my understudy. And it would be great without you too. The show stands on its own."

"Mm hmm," I hum, nodding. But then his words register. I hesitate before asking, "Um, are you going somewhere?"

"I'm just- just thinking about the future." He pauses, "More now than I ever allowed myself before." He shrugs, "It's kinda nice knowing that you're leaving something behind- no matter what." He looks to the side, and I lose him to the thoughts in his head for a moment.
He looks back at me and smiles softly, "It took a while, but I finally figured out what I needed to do." His tone, like his expression is soft.

"What do you mean?" This sudden subject change and talk of leaving things behind is making me a little nervous.

He clears his throat before taking my hand, pulling me away from the table and leading me to a chair. I sit and wait while he pulls another to face mine and sits as well.

He looks down at his hands, which are rubbing together nervously before wiping them on his jeans. He nods, seeming to make a decision.

He grips his knees for a moment and looks up at me, his determination evident on his face. "I know I've been shady with my past and I've only ever told you anything when you've pushed- and sometimes not even then." He pauses, "So I need- no- I want to explain something." I lean toward him, resting my elbows on my knees, nodding. Encouraged, he takes my hand in his, bridging the space between us. He plays with my fingers as he begins, "Five years ago I was at this party with a girl- that I hardly even knew- and I had some stuff with me." He pauses, swallowing, "Um, we used it and she... she did too much."

I pull back slightly, though I'm careful not to pull my hand from his. This isn't what I wanted him to tell me. "Jimmy... You don't have to tell me this."

He shakes his head and presses on, "I need you to know- to understand." I nod slowly and he continues, "Karen, she was just lying there, not moving." He takes a breath, "And instead of telling anyone, I ran. And not just ran, I mean, I went off the grid. I hid with Adam, with Kyle- I eventually changed my name. I've been looking over my shoulder for so long I couldn't even see my future anymore."

"Why are you telling me this now?" I ask, my voice small. I'm torn. I'm glad he's being so honest yet also horrified at the thought of the poor girl and the guilt he's lived with all this time.

"Because this has haunted me- every day. Until yesterday."

My breath catches. "What did you do?"

"I turned myself in," he whispers.

"Oh God! Jimmy!" I drop my head into my hands. A thousand scenarios- none of them good- fly through my mind. He's going to jail. I can't even process the fact that he did the right thing. All I can think about right now is that I'm going to lose him. He's going to spend the rest of his life in jail. How is he even here right now?

I hear his chair move and can see his face through my fingers. He's squatted down in front of me so that he's eye level with me. "Hey," he tries to pry my fingers away from my face. "Hey," he meets my eyes, "Here's the thing- she's ok!" His words pull my face from my hands. "She's not dead." I allow myself to hope. He continues to reassure me, "She didn't die, they told me she's fine!" His face is so earnest I nearly laugh in relief.

"So you're ok?" I have to be sure.

He shifts his weight uncomfortably before standing up. He runs a hand through his hair, before rubbing the back of his neck. "Uh... distribution of a controlled substance- most likely 6-18 months," he recites rapidly, as if not wanting to dwell on that part.

The momentary levity leaves me and I feel suddenly heavy. I fall back into the chair. "But the cops commended me for doing the right thing," he attempts to reassure me. "I posted bail last night."

I must look as unconvinced as I feel. He drops back down to my eye level and takes my hands again. "I told you I would do whatever I had to, to be the person you saw in me." His face and words thrum with sincerity. He gives me a tight smile, his eyes shining as he whispers, "I can be that person now."

His long overdue belief in himself and his fervent desire to do the right thing coupled with the obvious consequences facing us both put me near tears too. I'm happy for him and I'm proud of him, but I'm terrified for us both.

/

Jimmy

It seem like an eternity passes as she sits in silence, on the verge of tears. I can't tell if she's about to cry or run or…

I can't take it anymore so I press on, there's something else I want to say- that I need to know.

"Listen, I have about a month and a half until my court date- until my life is out of my control- and I want, more than anything, to spend that time with you- if you'll have me." I pause, realizing that after everything- the weeks of waiting for me to get my act together, the... prospect of someone who has less baggage, the revelations of the last half hour- for any of those reasons and so many more she might not want this anymore.

I rush to add, "I understand if you say no." I don't want to lose her friendship or our working relationship by making everything awkward. "It won't be long before I'm gone- and I don't know for how long. And I don't want to ask you to wait for me. It wouldn't be fair- but if you're still... when I get out..." I huff, struggling to get the words out but I try again, "If you're still around-"

She cuts me off by launching herself into my arms, knocking me off balance so we land on the floor in a pile of limbs, but she maintains my silence with a kiss.

All the tension I carried for the last few months- hell, the last few years- evaporates as she wordlessly gave me the answer I hardly dared to hope for.

"Hey! None of that in the kitchen! Take that to your room!" We look up to see Kyle and Ana grinning above us. "The table has barely recovered from the last time."

Kyle continues, laughing, "Not that we aren't happy for you- but, you know- time and place. You got the time right- finally…" He gives a pointed look at me.

"Anyway," he tugs Ana toward the door, "We have um, important errands to run, so we're just gonna… see you later."

"Be good you two! Don't psychologically scar the TV! It's only a year old! It's a TODDLER!" Ana calls as the door closes. Her scandalized tone would be more convincing if she weren't giggling.
Karen shakes her head. "We need new friends."

I shrug as I tuck a piece of hair behind her ear. "Oh, I dunno- they did leave us the apartment to ourselves…"

/

The weeks fly by and suddenly the night of the Tony Awards has arrived. Ana, Kyle, Karen and I decided weeks ago to go together.

We pick the girls up at their place. Karen opens the door and I'm momentarily speechless. I cannot believe how beautiful Karen looks in her dress. She gives me a quick peck on the cheek after letting us in, but disappears quickly down the hall claiming she's not ready. I can't imagine what she still needs to do- she looks perfect to me.

Kyle shoves my shoulder with his and I realize I've been grinning foolishly after her. He shakes his head with a short laugh.

We arrive at the theater and again I cannot believe my life. This entire year- less really- has been surreal. I'd think I was dreaming but there is no way my brain could make this up.

The ceremony progresses and as expected, "Bombshell" and "Hit List" split the awards. The biggest shock of the night comes when they call my name for best score. I stumble out of my seat and somehow make it to the stage without falling. I didn't even prepare a speech.

I stand at the podium and look out over the sea of faces to find the two who matter most. They're both beaming at me.

Suddenly I know what I want to say.

"Kyle, my best friend and co-writer of this amazing musical, has always loved Broadway. He keeps playbills from every show he's ever seen, but he has a special collection of playbills of shows that didn't make it. He used to carry them around with him and would have people who came into the restaurant where we worked sign them. You see, he remembers every face and almost every word of every production he's seen- it's frightening really." I grin at him. "He pulled extra shifts for two weeks to buy a train ticket to Boston to see "Bombshell". He, like most of you, loves Marilyn."

I pause for a moment to collect my thoughts, knowing my time is running short. The most important parts still need to be said, "I remember when he came back from Boston... Uh, he said the show needed some work." I give a nervous laugh, but somehow, in the mass of humanity in front of me I spot Julia and Tom who are also laughing, so I carry on, "But also that it was magical- and that there was this girl in it- this girl that could make you smile and break your heart in the same second." He wasn't wrong. "She came into the restaurant a month later and signed his playbill and made not only his day, but changed our lives. The two of them are the only reasons that I am standing here tonight. So Kyle, thank you for never giving up on me- even when you probably should have, and Karen," I find her eyes in the crowd, "I know it's three months late, but, I love you too."

I grab my envelope and trophy and scurry off the stage as the music begins to play.

I stand at the curtain willing myself to breathe evenly. Our performance is coming up soon and I've been looking forward to it all night. If we pull it off, it should bring down the house.

In seemingly no time, the others are joining me. Karen's eyes are bright, but other than a soft smile as she squeezes my hand, she makes no comment. There's not time for more than that as we're ushered to our places.

A warm feeling washes over me and I feel calm as I hear Karen's voice ring out a cappella over the remains of the applause. I see her enter the stage slowly, her voice sure as she sings the familiar melody.

The one that landed us here.

"...the view from here is pretty, and I step off the edge..."

And that's my cue to walk out just as slowly, picking up where she left off. I watch her as I take my place beside her, "...it's my calling, baby don't you cry, don't you cry, I'm falling down through the sky."

I smile at her as we nod, signaling the start of our harmony, "toward the street where I'm from..." Our voices merge effortlessly- and I can't stop grinning.

Ana and Sam join us and our little family is nearly complete. Kyle won't join us on stage, but he is watching in the wings.

Karen and I pick up the verse in harmony once again "...I'm focused on the prize." We all take a breath as the rest of our cast who has bled, sweated and cried with us through this journey joins us for the chorus. Our hands and feet provide a counter beat, our voices rising and falling together in complex harmonies.

Karen, Ana, Sam and I trade lines and pseudo-improvised riffs (we did practice this a few times- it's the Tony Awards after all) through the remainder of the song, a final stomp ringing through the theater at the conclusion.

The place is silent for a long moment as we freeze. But then, to our disbelief, the crowd erupts and the collected Broadway royalty before us leap to their feet. In the midst of the massive, joyous group hug onstage, I grab Karen around the waist and pull her to me, kissing her soundly, not caring at all who sees. I bring my hands up to gently cup her face, "I love you," I try out the words again, pouring everything I feel into them.

I find that they are just as easy to say the second time.

She giggles, still giddy, "I know."

She seems to recover herself a bit and rests her forehead against mine, bringing her hand up to rest on the back of my neck, "I love you too." We stand there a moment- as if the only two people in the theater- before an impish grin splits her face, "Was that really so hard to admit?"

I roll my eyes before kissing her again.

Our cast is hustled off stage so the stage crew can prep for the next performance- undoubtedly more technically demanding, probably with large set pieces- but I doubt they'll get half the reception we did.

Our little show that could never stops surprising people- me most of all. I take Karen's hand, scoop up my trophy and pull her in search of a more private alcove. Win or lose from here, my night is perfect.

/

Epilogue

Jimmy

The weeks before my court date were some of the best of my life. I clung to those memories during the interminable days of my incarceration.

But all things, good and bad must come to an end. And just as those happy days ended, so today does my prison sentence. It's been eight long months, but today I am a free man.

I've served my time, I've met, apologized to and been forgiven by Megan- the girl from all those years ago. Apparently her near death experience prompted her to reassess her life. She has a good life now- a college degree, a good job at a marketing firm downtown and a fiancé- they're getting married in a few months.

I receive my few belongings from the guard at the desk before being led outside. The sunlight is bright, but with my hand shielding my eyes from the worst of the glare, I see Karen standing in the lot, waiting for me. I grin as I close the space between us, sweeping her into a spinning hug.
I still don't know how I am so lucky. But I no longer question it. I take Karen's hand and lead her to the waiting car. I'm free- in every way- and today my life and our future can really begin.