Tales of a Night Walker
By Bert McKenzie
Copyright 2010

Chapter 11

Monday arrived with a tremendous thunderstorm.  Everyone met in the
auditorium, people coming in with dripping umbrellas sprinkling water
everywhere.  They all managed to shed coats and visit a bit before finding
seats.  Everyone sat in a circle of chairs on the stage.  Buddy passed out
scripts to those who hadn't dropped by over the weekend and already claimed
a book.  I began with my usual speech to the actors about our company rules
such as being on time, calling if you were going to be late, and so on.  I
introduced myself and Buddy even though everyone in the room knew who we
were and what our roles were.  Then I asked each actor to introduce him or
herself and tell a little bit about who they were, what they did and so on.
This was always a good ice-breaker.

We began with the person to my left.  Kelly stood up and introduced
herself.  "Hi, I'm Kelly Monroe, I'm Gertrude.  I was born and raised here
in Auburn although now I live in Topeka, and I've been in the past three
shows with Frank.  He's a great director and I'm really happy to be here."
She sat down and the next actor took the floor.

About half way around the circle, Jefferson stood up.  He seemed a bit
uncomfortable.  "Hello," he began shyly.  "I'm Jefferson Smythe and I guess
I'll be playing Hamlet."  He sat back down.

"Say something about yourself," Buddy encouraged.

"Oh," he said and stood back up.  "Well, I'm originally from Virginia as
y'all can probably tell.  That's a passel south of Denmark."  Every laughed
as he emphasized the southern accent.  "I just moved here so this will be
my first play.  And, umm, I'm not a morning person."  He sat again.  I
found myself wanting to know more, but we went on to the next actor.
Eventually we had finished introductions, and then I gave the floor over to
Leon, our technical director who explained the set.  He had color
renderings of how it should look when completed and he indicated the taped
markings on the stage floor to show where the various platforms, walls and
doorways would be.  After that we had a first read through, sitting in the
circle and reading the entire play out loud, with me making small cuts and
changes to the script as was necessary to adapt it to our venue.

It was a little after 11:00 p.m. when we finally finished for the night.  I
apologized to the company for keeping them so long.  Buddy then handed out
rehearsal schedules so they knew when they would be needed on stage or at
rehearsal.  I then bid them all goodnight.  Everyone quickly rose and
headed for the stage door.  I spoke briefly to Buddy as we gathered up the
chairs and began to stack them in the wings.  As I turned I saw Jefferson
standing there, scowling at the schedule in his hand.  He looked up at me
and asked politely if he could speak to me.

"What can I do for you?" I asked.

"Well, I wasn't aware that you had scheduled a performance for Sunday
afternoon," he began.  "I can be here all the other times, but I'm afraid
I'll have a conflict with that afternoon show."

"Can you rearrange your schedule?" I asked urgently.  "We obviously can't
do the show without you.  We always do an afternoon matinee on Sunday.  You
see, there are a lot of senior citizens who like to come to our shows, but
they just can't stay out that late for our usual performances.  And they
don't like to be out after dark.  We always get a good crowd at the
matinee."

"Well, that's just the thing," the actor replied.  "I don't think I can be
here in the afternoon."

"That's still seven weeks away.  Let's not worry about it until a bit
later.  You see if you can free up your schedule and we'll chat about it
again," I told him.  I hoped that once we were into the production,
Jefferson would see the need and make arrangements to be there for the
matinee.  I just didn't want to think about canceling that performance.
Our matinees were always a big money maker.  The board of directors would
have a cow.

By this time I realized that Jefferson and I were the only two left in the
building.  "Can I give you a ride home?" I asked as we stepped to the door.
It was still pouring out.

"Thank you, but I only live a couple of blocks away.  I can walk."

"In this rain?  You'll get soaked.  Really, it's no bother."

The young man smiled at me and again my heart skipped a beat.  For some
reason I was very strongly attracted to this man.  I knew I was getting
into dangerous ground here.  I never got involved with my cast that way.  I
had seen too much of that in New York and it almost always ended in
disaster.  I remembered that off Broadway show I was in.  The director had
the hots for a dancer in the cast and it just about ruined the production.
If I needed sexual release I would just go home and put in a video.  It had
been so long since I had any kind of relationship with another man that I
was a bit scared and uncertain to know even how to begin.  But nevertheless
I could feel the attraction to Jefferson.  I hadn't felt that in a long
time, but something about this guy drew people to him.  Call it charisma or
charm or even animal magnetism, and I felt there was something of a wild
animal there, something that spoke of danger.

"Well, I guess if you want," the actor finally agreed and followed me to my
car, both of us running in the rain.

I opened the door on the passenger side and Jefferson slipped in.  I then
hurried around to the driver side and climbed in next to him.  I looked
over and caught my breath.  The rain drops glistened in the boy's blonde
hair, giving him a magical appearance.  I had noticed his aroma before, but
now in the confines of the car it seemed even stronger, more attractive.
He smelled like vanilla with a hint of musk.  "What is that cologne you
wear?" I asked.  "It really smells good."

"Um..." he said as if he weren't sure how to answer.  "I'm not wearing any
cologne.  I guess that's just me.  Sorry."

"Don't apologize.  I've never smelled anyone who sweats such a nice aroma,"
I joked.  The two of us laughed together.  "You know, I'm really glad you
auditioned for this show.  You really are good and I'm going to enjoy
working with you."

"Thank you," Jefferson replied.  "I really am enjoying this as well."

"What other acting have you done?"

He squirmed in his seat a bit.  "To be honest, I really haven't.  I've read
a lot, and I did do some church plays when I was a young boy.  But nothing
like this."

We were already at his house.  I pulled up to the curb and looked over.  It
was a two story older home.  I vaguely remembered it being for sale when I
had driven down this street before.  I felt a keen sense of disappointment
that we had arrived so quickly.  I wished the young man would invite me in
for a drink, but he didn't.  "Thanks for the ride," he said.

"Listen, if it's raining like this tomorrow, I can pick you up on the way
to rehearsal."

"That's not necessary," he said.  "I really don't want to be a bother."

"It's not a bother.  I come right by here on my way to the theatre," I
lied.  It wasn't on my way, but I didn't mind driving an extra few blocks.
"I'll be by at 6:30 tomorrow if you don't mind going in a little early."

"Well, alright," Jefferson agreed.

I realized that during our conversation I had leaned closer to the young
man.  I was suddenly aware of how close we were.  It would be only a matter
of a few inches for me to lean in and kiss those sensuous lips.  I was
sorely tempted to do just that.  But Jefferson reached for the handle and
quickly stepped out of the car into the rain as if he had read my mind and
knew my intentions.  I sat and watched as he dashed up the steps to his
porch, then opened the door and disappeared into his house.  It was odd.  I
didn't see any lights come on.  I shook my head and drove off into the
rain.

The next day turned out to be warm and sunny, the brief storm having blown
itself out.  But at 6:30 I still drove up in front of Jefferson's house.  I
sat for a moment, wondering if I should drive on to the theatre or should I
get out and go up to the door.  Finally working up my courage, I opened the
door and climbed out of my car.  But before I could go any further, there
the man was, just walking down his steps.  "I didn't think you'd be here,"
he said.  "It isn't raining."

"Well, I was in the neighborhood," I laughed.

Again my heart seemed to stop for a moment when Jefferson smiled that wide,
winning grin at me.  "Now, I don't think this is really on your way to the
theatre," he said.  "I looked at your address on the cast list you handed
out.  In fact you live in the other direction."

I blushed a bright read.  "Okay, you caught me," I admitted.  "I just
wanted to make sure my star has a ride."

Now the young man laughed loudly.  It was a magical and infectious sound.
"Star," he said, still chuckling.  "I'm hardly a star."

"You could be," I said softly as we both climbed into my car.  Again I
noticed that pleasant smell of vanilla and musk.  It was extremely clean
smelling.  He must wear some sort of deodorant or something.  I decided to
let it go for now.

"I don't know anything about you," I said as we drove.  "Your casting sheet
said you were unemployed.  How is it a young man like you doesn't have a
job?"

"I came into some money," he answered cryptically, a tinge of sadness in
his voice.  I assumed he must have inherited it from his parents who more
than likely passed on.

"I'm sorry," I apologized.  "I didn't mean to pry."

"That's alright.  I know you were just curious.  I imagine in this small
town I am something of a mystery."  Jefferson laughed again, naturally and
freely.  We had arrived at the theatre and both climbed out of the car.

The evening went quickly.  I had never worked with anyone like Jefferson.
He was a remarkably quick study, already knowing most of his lines.  When
he was given directions, he did what was asked flawlessly.  He even made
the other cast members look good, just because of his sense of
professionalism.  All too soon we were finished for the night and I stayed
behind to make some notes.  Jefferson waited quietly for me.  He had his
head in his script as if studying his lines, but I knew he probably already
had them committed to memory.  When I was finished we walked to the door
together.  "I probably should have just walked home," Jefferson said.

"And deprive me of giving you a ride?" I laughed.  The actor just smiled
back in return.

Rehearsals continued smoothly.  Every night I stopped to pick Jefferson up
and he was always ready and waiting to go.  Finally Friday night's
rehearsal finished.  "See you at Harry's?" Kelly asked.

"Sure," I replied.  As we walked out to the car, I turned to Jefferson.
"Some of us like to meet up at a bar in Topeka on Friday night's after
rehearsal, just to visit and unwind.  Would you like to go?"  The young
actor looked off in the distance, as if pondering the question.  "We don't
have to stay long, if you don't want.  But it's kind of a nice way to
socialize with the cast and get to know each other."

"I don't know if that's such a good idea," he temporized.

"Why not?" I asked.  "You're the mystery man.  Here's a chance to dispel
some of that mystery."

He grinned at me.  "I'm not sure I want to dispel the mystery.  Y'all might
be very disappointed when you learn the truth about me."

"Oh?"  I arched my eyebrows.  "So there is a hidden truth to learn!"

We were sitting in the car, but I hadn't started the engine.  I wasn't sure
if Jefferson wanted to go or really preferred not to.  "You would have to
come all the way back here to bring me home," he said.  "That's a lot of
unnecessary driving for you."

"I drive this road every day.  I could do it in my sleep and often have.
Don't worry about that."

"Very well," he finally agreed.  "But I'm not revealing anything."

We found a parking place in the lot out in front of Harry's, a quaint
little beer joint.  We walked in together and saw that about ten other cast
members, including Buddy, were all gathered around a couple of tables in
the back.  The two of us joined the group and someone quickly placed mugs
of beer in front of each of us.  The conversation was lively and Jefferson
even joined in a few times, although for the most part he stayed fairly
quiet.  I also noted that he only pretended to sip his beer, because the
level in the glass never went down.  Slowly but surely the others began to
leave until there were only three of us left.

Kelly had quite a lot to drink and was getting very squiffy.  "So, Jeffy,"
she said, leaning over onto his shoulder, "What is it you do for a living?"
Her voice was slurred.

He acted as if it were the most natural thing in the world to support her
as she leaned against him.  "Didn't Frank tell you?" he asked.  "I'm
incredibly rich.  I don't work."

This seemed to surprise her and shut her up for a minute.  "What do you do
all day if you don't work?" she asked.

"Sleep," came the answer.

"If you sleep all day, what do you do at night?"

"That's why I auditioned for this play.  To have something to do," he
replied with a grin.

Then she came back with another embarrassing question.  "Are you married?"
He shook his head no.  "Do you wanna be?"

"I think it's time we all left," I said quickly, standing.  Jefferson
helped Kelly to her feet and held on to her so she wouldn't topple over.  I
tossed some bills on the table and we left the bar.  "We'll take her home,"
I said as we half carried Kelly to my car and I opened the door, folding
down the seat so Jeff could help her into the back seat.

"Hey," she half yelled as he climbed into the front passenger seat.  "What
about my question?"

"I think you're a bit old for him," I said to her as I climbed into the
driver's seat.  Kelly had to be at least in her forties and had been
through two husbands already.

"Don't be too sure," she replied and Jefferson laughed uncomfortably.

We drove across town to Kelly's house, and then helped her up to the door.
The cool night air seemed to sober her up and she fished her key out of her
purse, unlocking the door.  "You want to come in for a night cap?" she
asked.

"Thanks, but I don't think so," I replied.

She turned and stared at me for a moment, then said rather rudely, "I
wasn't talking to you, Frank,"

Jefferson quickly smiled and politely said, "I'm afraid it is rather late
and we must be going."  Kelly shrugged and opened her door, flipping on the
lights.  The two of us turned and headed back to the car.  "Will she be
alright?" Jefferson asked.

"Yes," I replied.  "I've dropped her off here in worse conditions," I
admitted.  "I'm sorry about the way she acted."

He just smiled and said, "She certainly can get amorous with a little
alcohol."

"She's old enough to be your mother."

He laughed again, that bright and joyful sound.  "You'd be surprised," he
replied, and then seemed to catch himself, as if he said something
inappropriate.  "I mean, age doesn't really matter that much."  We drove on
in silence for a minute.  Then he spoke again.  "I don't know that I liked
her calling me Jeffy."

"I think you have a beautiful name," I said without thinking.  I instantly
regretted it.  I didn't want to reveal how I really felt about Jefferson
and that seemed to be a bit open.

"You never say it, you know."

"Say what?" I asked.

"My name.  You've never actually said my name.  In rehearsals you've called
me by my character name, but I've never heard you say my name."

"I've said your name...Jefferson."  My throat felt awfully dry.

"You can call me Jeff, if you like."

"Jeff," I repeated, and then swallowed hard.  I tried to think of something
to say to break the uncomfortable silence.  "Tell me where you came from
before here."

"I lived in the Ozarks for a while," he said.

"What did you do there?"

"Mostly hunted."

"Ah, a sportsman," I replied.  "And why did you move to Auburn?  What ever
drew you here if it wasn't a job?"

"Well, that's hard to say," he replied.  "You'd think me crazy."

"No really, I'd like to know."

He kind of laughed.  "There was this old lady who told me to come here."

"An old lady told you to move here?"

He laughed again.  "She was a witch.  She read cards.  She told me I would
find my destiny in Auburn, Kansas."

"And you're searching for your destiny?"

"Isn't everyone?  Aren't you searching for your destiny, Frank?"

I glanced over and for a moment and was held by those intense green eyes.
I had to force myself to look back at the road.  "I don't think I have a
destiny.  Or maybe, my destiny is just to direct plays here in this
backwater community."

"Frank," Jefferson said.  "I'm sure your destiny holds something wonderful
in it.  I can feel it."

I felt tears coming to my eyes.  It was the way he said that last line.  It
was a beautiful reading, like it should have been in a play.  To try and
change the subject, I said, "So you believe in witches and card readings?"

"She was part of a whole different world.  There is an unseen world out
there about which you know nothing.  There are creatures and forces that
move in the night and the average person has no idea."

Chills seemed to run down my spine.  "That's a nice thing to say on a dark
night this close to Halloween," I laughed.  We drove on in silence for a
bit.  Then I spoke up again.  "Jeff," I forced myself to say his name,
"thanks for going with me tonight to the bar."

"I enjoyed myself," he admitted.  "Something I haven't done in a very long
time."

"I had a good time too."  I paused, and then plunged ahead with my
thoughts.  "I noticed you didn't touch your beer.  Are you a recovering
alcoholic?  Not that it's any of my business.  I just don't want to put
temptation in your path."

"No, I don't have a problem with alcohol," he replied.  "I just have a very
sensitive stomach and I'm afraid beer doesn't agree with me.  I don't eat
in restaurants either, before you ask.  As for temptation, I'm tempted
every single day to do things I shouldn't."

I thought this an odd statement.  We drove on in silence for a while, and
then I finally decided I had to be honest with my new friend.  "Jeff, I'm
gay.  I'm only telling you this because if we are friends, and I hope we
will be, I don't want you to think I'm hiding anything from you or coming
on to you or anything."  The silence in the car was deafening.  I glanced
over and saw he was looking straight ahead out the window, an odd
expression on his face.  "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend you, but I
thought you should know.  You would have probably heard it from some of the
other cast members soon enough.  It's usually a hot topic for backstage
gossip."  We continued to drive for another minute.  "Jeff, I'm sorry."

Finally he spoke, his voice soft, almost tender.  "Please don't apologize
for who you are, Frank.  I appreciate your honesty, and I would like to be
your friend, I trust I am your friend.  Sometimes I wish I felt that I
could be as free with my background as you have been.  I thank you for the
offer of your friendship, but I am also concerned."

"You don't have anything to be afraid of," I told him quickly.  "I wouldn't
put the moves on you or anything.  I don't pursue straight guys."  Finally
Jeff laughed again, long and loud.  For a moment he sounded like he
couldn't get his breath from laughing so hard.  I started to get a little
offended.  "What's so funny?" I demanded.

"You would think I'm afraid of you?" he laughed.  "You won't pursue me?"
He wiped the tears of mirth from his eyes, and then suddenly realized that
what he said was pissing me off.  "Oh, Frank, I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to
offend you.  It's just that, the situation struck me as humorously ironic.
Not the fact that you are gay, but that you think I would be afraid of you.
I would much rather have suspected that you would be afraid of me."

"I...I could never be afraid of you," I said, glancing over at him, but
there was a hesitancy in my voice.

The passenger suddenly looked back with those piercing green eyes.  There
was something there in that stare that I couldn't identify.  "Maybe you
should be," he said.

"What would I have to be afraid of?"

By this time we had pulled up in front of his house.  He opened the door
quickly and stepped up the stairs to his porch without turning around.  He
quickly entered the house and again I noticed that he didn't turn on any
lights.  I slowly pulled away and drove home, trying to digest all my new
friend had said.

 

 

 

 

 

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