We stood there, the lights shining down upon the stage. They were too bright to ignore but reluctantly needed to see the emotion between us. His eyes were unusually coy, two blinks away from flirtatious. We took a breath and began the technique Gilmore hammered into us; for myself, 3 solid grueling months. For him, nearly two years.
“You’re bashful right now.”
“I’m bashful right now.” he shyly replied
“You’re bashful right now?” I asked, curious at the sudden change
He swallowed and a mischievous smile crept across his lips, our eyes locked and the tunnel vision began. The audience no longer mattered. Mr. Gilmore, with all his Robert X. Modica training did not matter. What mattered was this young man, fresh from college, clean and pure as a bar of unblemished Ivory soap. My eyes lingered over his muscular frame, stocky from late night keggers and heavy skiing sessions high in the Canadian mountains. I never noticed it before; I never noticed HIM before. I nervously licked my lips. Something changed between us, something changed within me. The feminine mystique, the very same I spent my entire tomboy life squashing into androgynous putty erupted furious and blossomed under the stage lights, pestles quivering, dripping with bashful anticipation. I recalled our weekly nonchalant passings to the bathroom during our breaks, his gate confident, his massive torso rending the threads of his hoodies, pushing them to their limits. His hands. His wide, perfect smile and his eyes; chocolate brown pupils uncharacteristically deep for his age, observant, seductive, mischievous.
He smiled again. He looked me up and down slowly, methodically. My body, taunt and muscular from years of pole dancing and weight lifting, betrayed my near 34 years of life. Too young and not emotionally desperate enough to be a ‘cougar’, yet too old to be a naïve, pampered college princess he constantly ran into on campus. My dreadlocks, long and immaculate; my almond eyed gaze unwavering. My voice, buttered velvet. My brown skin flawless silk without cosmetics or conjecture.
“You’re bashful right now.” He stated quietly, invoking the memory of our first meeting, our first practice when he insulted me and I came to him in quiet, resolute fury; my fists clenched and my growling threats guttural and simple.
He was right. His meaty, soft hands reached out and I recoiled in feigned resign. He moved closer and I lost more of my nerve. We kept repeating, the world smearing around us in unintelligible broad strokes. You’re afraid to be touched. I’m afraid to be touched. Will you let me touch you? I will not let you touch me. I want to touch you. Please don’t touch me. He inched closer, his posture lax. He cornered me, like a cat, and offered himself as irresistible bait.
‘Go for it.’ an absolute voice stated in the terrified corner of my mind. I ignored the wedding ring on my finger. I ignored our decade wide generation gap. At this moment, he was the only thing I craved. He was my Adonis. My soaring Icarus. The Groove to my conflicted Stella. I encompassed his head in my hands and I kissed him with the passion of a woman in need and pushed over the brink with frustrated anticipation. For a millisecond, he froze. A small, desperate peep escaped his thin lips only to be smothered by my voluptuous ones. I gently nibbled his bottom lip and meekly, as a student giving an apple to his third grade English teacher, he returned my affection.
I was relieved, only slightly disappointed that his lips were so, so anorexic-ally thin. With a sigh, I pulled back and opened my eyes. I kissed a boy. OH GAWD…I KISSED A BOY…IN MY THEATRE CLASS. Thoughts crashed and frothed against my ears, only dying down enough to hear the audience, my fellow classmates, loudly suck in their collective anticipation. I smiled. I finally got the painful longing out of my system. He smiled. His confidence grew to epic proportions before my eyes. He was now a man amongst his peers. We continued to repeat. You’re confident now. I’m confident now. The bedroom eyes between us coy and level. Then, his face twisted in puzzled contemplation.
“You’re acting unsure.” I blurted out, surprised by the sudden winds of change
I scowled in confusion. “You kissed me back.” The man I fell in love with entirely, for five agonizing minutes, suddenly became a college student again…a insecure, overly horny, indecisive college graduate. My stomach started to preemptively twist in knots.
“It was a misunderstanding!” he whined,
“What?!” I reflexively shouted back. “What do you mean it was a fucking misunderstanding?! You kissed me back!!”
Gregg, our teacher, stopped us but the pain seeped through to the core of me, feeding off the remaining lust vicious delight and shitting on my whimpering heart as one who ingested two blue plate specials of greasy spoon fare. We both turned to Gregg, our director, our seasoned mediator, our therapist. “ Do not go into logic. Leave logic behind. Focus on the feelings and let them guide you. Continue.” he commanded.
We turned to each other. He was wounded. He didn’t understand why I didn’t understand.
Was it because I was black?
Or I wasn’t a size 2?
Or I was too old?
Saying I was gobsmacked was a bittersweet understatement. The boy’s words were hollow. The boy’s careful, sincere movements where vapid. I realized I had my coat on and open, exposing my offerings. As he talked, I carefully fastened my buttons, rebuilding my armor, swallowing back bile laced betrayal.
“ You’re closing off from me.” he neutrally stated. I returned his gaze, my eyes empty.
“I’m closing myself off from you. Excuse me.”
I moved to the other end of the stage, looking for comfort…anything to keep my knees from collapsing beneath me. A folding metal chair was meager in support, but I was not picky. I sat down, placed my glasses on the table adjacent and held my withered head in my hands. The room was silent, thick with heart broken destitute.
“Hey.” he quietly said, kneeling at my feet.
“Hey” he repeated, placing his hand on my knee. “Don’t shut me out.”
I lift my face to him and feebly smile, removing his hand with care and returning it to him, my former Adonis. My mistake. My wedding ring hung heavy, like a 10 ton weight of guilt, regret and shame.
“I have to shut you out.”
“ Please…leave me alone. I can’t do this.” I choke down tears, turning my face away and down. I kissed a boy…not a man. Not an equal, but a boy.
He stands over me, not leaving nor consoling. After eons of viscous quiet, he speaks:
“I don’t know what to say.”
“I don’t know what to say either.” I croaked.
Silence again. The bellhop bell, the only refuge from this moment, rang loudly. The torture was over but I still bled.
“Come down, you two. Great work.”
I stared at Gregg, the hurt skewering him. Good work, I reflected. The greatest compliment any theatre teacher could give. ‘Good work’ doesn’t come without critique. I waited for critique, but there was none. Gregg just smiled and nodded. ‘This is how you’re supposed to feel…this is truth. This is acting.’
The boy, no longer a partner, but a student reached out to me…his eyes kind and sincere. He was full of emotions. Our love affair on stage burned the both of us, but he had kindling left, some remnants of logic to pull me out of my despair. I took his hand and we embraced, his woodsy cologne saturating my nose, tattooing this moment between us for the rest of our lives. We embraced for a long time before returning to our seats, conflicted, spent, but oddly proud.
We succeeded that night. We were not polite. We hoped if there was such thing as a the afterlife, that Sandy saw us and gave us his blessing, no matter how small.
We hoped we made him proud.