“Chicken pox?” I said, not ready to believe the words. “Chicken pox?”
Audra nodded. The Zazu to my Mufasa, she was often the first to hear the morning report at Findlay Theater, since she worked box office from nine to eleven Mondays. I was unable to arrive until nine thirty, when my bioethics class let out.
Springer was probably composing an e-mail to me at this very moment, offering her perspective on the situation.
I imagined it read.
The unthinkable has happened. The kid with the tumor was voted off American Idol. Stephen Sondheim has turned to crime writing. Woman has walked on Jupiter.
Grady Herzgod has chicken pox and won’t be running lights for A Bluer Sky.
As I lay in bed last night, listening to the horrible, shrieking grind of reality against my dreams, trying to compose a letter to my loved ones saying all the things I always mean to say but never do, ready to plunge into the ocean of circumstance and let myself be dashed upon the rocks of misfortune, I realized something.
We’re going to be okay.
Because I have you stage managing my show. You’ll run lights and call the show at the same time if you have to. And while I know that Grady is the finest light board operator Hollander College’s theater department has ever seen, though he is affable, sure-fingered, punctual, and possessed of catlike reflexes that allow him to correct an errant cue in a fraction of a second, we will make do without him. Because we have you. The stage manager. Uncredited god of our production.
You are an inspiration to us all.
Your esteemed director,
Yes, an e-mail of roughly that ilk would no doubt arrive in my in-box shortly. But for now I had Audra’s intel to go on.
“Chicken pox? You’re sure?”
“Say it into my good ear.” I leaned forward, presenting my good ear.
“Grady has chicken pox,” she said into it.
I nodded. “All right. Well. This isn’t the end of the world. Far from it. I’ll run lights if I have to. We can—”
“They already got someone to do it.”
I blinked. “What?”
“Who? Audra, who did they get to run lights? It’s not Todd Allinder, is it? Audra, tell me it’s not Todd.”
“It’s a guy from New College.”
“New College? That program they run out of the Parris Hall basement where students make up their own majors?”
“He’s a theater minor.”
I couldn’t begin to process this. “Audra, legend has it somebody from New College graduated last year with a degree in robotanics. For her senior thesis she built an animatronic Venus flytrap out of Legos and pieces of an old HAM radio. We can’t—I repeat, we can’t—have someone from New College running lights for A Bluer Sky.”
Audra shrugged. “He seems pretty nice.”
“You met him?” I led her to one of the benches in the lobby. “Where? When? Tell me everything.”
“His name’s Simeck.”
“That’s not even a name. Good Lord, do they let them choose their own names in New College too? Is it some kind of cult thing?”
“He told me he liked my top.”
“Are you going to fall for every pinch of flattery someone tosses into the dough of your being?”
“Are you calling me fat?”
“No. I’m saying for all you know, he could be majoring in diplomatic deception. You can’t trust him. Where did you meet him?”
“Upstairs. In Sayida’s office. A few minutes ago.”
A boy stood on the stairs that led from the lobby to the second-floor offices, one hand on the wooden banister. He had straight, shiny, sandy hair, and the fringe of his bangs stuck in his eyelashes. His face was going to be perfect in another year when those last lingering spatters of adolescent acne faded into the creamy pallor of his cheeks. His eyes were—I didn’t know what color. Did it matter? Because suddenly my logical mind was dancing a deadly tango with statistics and probability.
I knew who this stranger must be.
“Hey,” Audra said, waving to him. She smiled. Audra only ever smiled at pictures of dolphins, and even then her smile was decidedly understated. “That’s Simeck.”
Simeck hopped down the last few steps and approached, holding out his hand to me.
He was short. A little Shorty McShortson. I wasn’t saying this affected a person’s ability to run lights, but it hurt his credibility in my eyes, being short and from New College.
“Simeck Whedon,” he said.
I shook his hand, not yet too numbed by circumstances to note how warm and fine and fragile it was. Not a light board operator’s hand. That was the hand of someone who painted the fingernails of custom-made dolls, or tested rejuvenating creams for cosmetic companies.
“What’s your major?” I demanded.
“I don’t have one yet.”
That was too much. “You’re in New College. Isn’t the whole point of New College to instantly declare some whimsical and impractical major of your own invention?”
He laughed. “You’re funny.”
I had not worked my buttons off through three years of a theater arts degree to be called a clown. I decided to steam quietly for the moment, though, as I had become distracted by his eyes, which were a very dark blue, like the gel over an unlit Fresnel.
“I’m Jesse Ferelit,” I said finally.
“Fear-lit.” I turned to Audra. “Goodness, I hope we don’t have difficulties making each other out in the booth.”
“It’s not a very common last name,” Audra said.
She was like the skipper on Captain Obvious’s ship.
“Jesse Ferelit,” Simeck Whedon repeated. “I’ll be running the light board for A Bluer Sky.”
“Do you have any experience with lights?”
“I’m in a theater tech class right now.”
“Uh, let’s see. Andy Welks, Yale Foster, Br—”
“Who teaches it?” I asked impatiently. This guy was a few sentences shy of a full paragraph. But what could you expect from an undeclared major in a program whose gross national product was made-up majors?
“That’s set construction. That’s all but useless to you when you’re running lights.”
“She tells us some stuff about lights, though. I just learned what a gobo is.”
“You just learned what a gobo is?”
He was staring at my chest. “Hey, nice shirt.”
I looked down at my My Fair Lady tee from my internship at the Nawalla Valley Theater last summer.
“We did that play at my high school,” he said.
I brushed some lint off the shirt. “Yes, well, I stage managed a preprofessional production of it at Nawalla Valley last year.”
His lack of awe only confirmed my suspicion that this boy was as green as a Prius where theater was concerned.
I was going to have to educate him. He had to be perfectly groomed and near-encyclopedic in his knowledge of lights by Thursday.
And he’d missed tech Sunday.
“You missed tech Sunday,” I informed him.
“Yeah, that’s what Professor Okhovat said upstairs. That’s when all the light and sound stuff gets added in, right? But she said it’s all right, since light board’s not that hard. ”
“Not that hard?”
Simeck looked uncertain. “She said basically you’ll say ‘Go,’ and I’ll press the button.”
“I used to do lights,” Audra said. “It’s really easy.”
“Audra,” I said. “Are you going to imply to our new colleague that there is no artistry to his work? That he’s simply an automaton who sits awaiting my command? That there is no on-your-feet thinking involved, no crises to be averted, no subtle craft to timing the press of the button? If it were that simple, my rat Craybill could run lights for every show at Hollander, and Grady Herzgod could remain in bed with chicken pox for the rest of his life.”
“It’s pretty easy,” Audra repeated.
I looked at Simeck. “Well, there you have it. What do you need me for? I was going to open the door to the library of my mind and let you browse the volumes on stage lighting. But I guess I’ll just go to the men’s room and then check the prop table. Sounds like you’ve got your job all figured out.”
“Wait,” Simeck said. I looked over my shoulder at him. He appeared to be fighting a smile, which was annoying and somehow charming. As was his fitted Shiraz-colored button-down that complemented his eyes reasonably well—though a deep violet with more blue than red would have been better. I wondered if he was clever enough to dress himself, or if some outfit coordination major in New College did it for him. I mean, who wore a button-down so tight that others began to imagine they could see the faintest outline of nipple-ature through the cotton/polyester blend?
“I really don’t know what I’m doing,” he said. “Maybe we could both get to the theater early tonight?”
“I will be at the theater already,” I informed him. “When I am not forced out of this building to attend my nontheater courses, I am here. If you have not arrived by five o’clock sharp, I will request a new light board op. End of story.”
“He’s always like this,” Audra whispered to Simeck.
“I am always like this,” I confirmed. “And that is why I have been selected to stage manage eight of Hollander’s last twelve productions.”
“What happened with the other four?” Simeck asked.
“Rhinoceros, I was studying abroad in London. Othello, Chelsea Kropp needed an SM credit to graduate, so they gave her the gig. How I Learned to Drive, I was set to SM but stepped down due to a personal issue. South Pacific was the first show of my freshman year, and I still thought I wanted to be an actor.”
“Okay then.” Simeck nodded. His chin tapered almost to a point, which made certain people look like the devil or Reese Witherspoon but actually worked in Simeck’s favor. If he’d had facial hair, it would have been all wrong. He’d have looked like a goat.
“Any questions?” I asked.
Simeck pressed his smirky little mouth into a straight line. “No, sir.”
My blood jumped oddly at that. “Five o’ clock.” I pointed a finger at him. I turned and stalked off to the men’s room.
I didn’t even really have to pee.