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In Vino Veritas

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It's her first opening night. She's terrified it might end up her last.

With four sophomoric stinkers for the West End of London and three tepid turkeys here in New York, Maxwell Sheffield's shows are not setting the theatrical world ablaze. He's spent the last few months swearing that if this production isn't at least somewhat successful, he's done with show business.

If he makes the final curtain call on Sheffield Productions, C.C. Babcock will be out of a job.

She needs this. Not financially, of course, but she's trying to get her foot in the door of the Broadway community. If she wants to be taken seriously by her peers without just counting on the prestige of her family name, then her best hope is that she somehow managed to turn this lump of coal into a glittering diamond that will shine brightly on the Great White Way.

There's only so much one person can do, though. While blessed with a fantastic business acumen, she's no miracle worker. Not when faced with the struggles Maxwell often puts up against her common sense suggestions and not when she only wins half those battles. No wonder his seven previous productions flopped with enough force to register on the Richter scale.

As cast and crew mill around the hazy bar, anxious to hear what the reviews will say, she's almost too nervous to drink.


She's too nervous not to drink.

"The good citizens of Lynchburg, Tennessee kindly thank you for single-handedly ensuring there will always be a job market in their community, Miss Babcock."

She glares at Niles over the rim of her shot glass as he plops down on the stool next to hers. "Stow it, Spic and Span. I'm not in the mood."

He leers right back at her. "Don't you hear that often enough from your dates?"

Somehow, with him here to pester her now, it becomes a little easier to handle the burn of her liquor. She tosses back the whiskey she's been nursing and signals the bartender for another. Niles asks for one as well.

"Speaking of job markets, nervous about your own impending unemployment?"

She grits her teeth. "I don't know what you're talking about. The show is going to be a great success."

"Keep telling yourself that, Willy Loman. At least I'll still have a job tomorrow morning."

Lord, how it frustrates her that he can unerringly pinpoint the very things that bother her and use them to his advantage without hesitation. He hasn't even known her that long.

"At least I won't need a job at all, Florence," she fires back.

"Of course," his tone becomes harsh. "I forgot. You have the street corners to fall back on. What's the going rate for a drag queen such as yourself these days anyway? Pretty good, I bet, for such novelty."

C.C. literally hisses at him like a feral cat for that one, and he doesn't bother to contain his mirth at her reaction.

Finishing off her shot (because it's more socially acceptable than clawing that smug look off his face), she indicates that she wants yet another. She's almost through that one before she speaks again.

"Anyway, you'd probably love it if Maxwell decides to pack up shop and go back to London."

He responds with a noncommittal shrug, but the hard set of his mouth makes her think he's not so thrilled by the prospect of a return to Merry Olde England after all. Odd...but potentially useful information for ammunition.

"No?" she chirps. "Well, I suppose it doesn't really matter what continent you're on when all you have to look forward to is reorganizing Maxwell's underwear drawer."

"Which is closer than you'll ever be to his unmentionables."

C.C. chooses to ignore that little dig. Just like she's choosing to ignore the fact that Maxwell's spent the entire evening doting upon that obnoxiously perfect fiancée of his. Ugh.

"Look on the bright side, Niles. If he drags you back across the pond, you can be reunited with your colony of ancient druids." She pauses a moment for dramatic effect. "Oh."

"What?" He eyes her suspiciously.

"I just realized that could be hazardous to your health." She barely manages to maintain a solemn expression. "As the world's oldest virgin, you would make a rare and impressive sacrifice to their gods."

"In that case, perhaps I should bring you back with us, Miss Babcock. I bet the gods have never been offered a tramp with your immense experience and girth before. They'd probably like you much better."

She sniffs and gives the sheer sleeves of her dress a prim yet self-conscious tug. Decorum be damned. She may end up scratching out those beady eyes before the night is over after all.

It's at that point a stagehand bustles through the front door, her fate - or doom as it may be - tucked under his arm. The air seems to leave her lungs and she loses all mobility as she watches the guy bring the stack of newspapers over to Maxwell. She's only vaguely aware of Niles gulping down the rest of his drinking and ordering a double before her vision tunnels. Everyone else gathers close around their producer's table while he and Sara start searching for the Arts sections of each edition.

A hush falls over the room, the rustle of newspaper replacing the din. Her stomach churns. Those last two or three shots were probably a mistake.

A few moments later, Sara suddenly squeals and hugs Maxwell, her paper still clutched in her hand. Maxwell grins and starts reading aloud a glowing review from the paper he's holding, and then another one. Even one of their harshest critics seems to like it, and that has everyone in the bar cheering and buzzing with excitement.

It's a hit. They actually have a hit on their hands, and her body is shaking with so much joy she can only manage a small smile when Maxwell comes up to her.

"I couldn't have done it without you, C.C," he tells her before turning to Niles and slapping him on the back. "Well, Old Man, it looks like we'll be staying in New York awhile longer."

Knowing now that she'll still have her job, C.C. closes her eyes in blessed relief...

...and promptly snaps them back open as someone grabs her face and plants a swift kiss right on her lips.

Being this up close and much too personal, she can't tell just who the hell is audacious enough to do this to her. Or imagine why. Half of the cast and crew developed an instant dislike of her the moment she walked into their theatre.

Her indignant "Mmmmppht!" and the flailing of her arms become the key to her release. The would-be Don Juan abruptly steps back at the protest.

As C.C.'s vision refocuses, an unflattering, hitching gasp emits from her throat.

Oh. God. That...that...toilet-scrubbing, Lysol-scented, rag-brandishing son of a dust bunny! How dare he!

Niles for his part looks just as shocked by his own actions as she is. "I, um...I'm not sure what came over me, Miss Babcock. I apologize." He grabs his drink and blends into the crowd in an instant.

Dazed by what just just happened - though she's not sure if it's because of the kiss or because he actually just apologized - she raises a hand to her still tingling lips.

It...wasn't that bad? Even kinda...pleasant?

No, she decides. Oh, no.

That had to be the whiskey talking. For both of them.