The Messenger

by Joel Young

Chapter 11

The Final Curtain:

Cheer Up, Sexy Boy

I slept in until noon on Saturday. Last night's show had been amazing, but it had also been exhausting. After nearly twelve hours of sleep, I enjoyed a leisurely start to my day before leaving the house for our 5 o'clock call.

Almost everyone in the cast and crew arrived early. It seemed like we were all excited about doing the show again. Mary, however, was a few minutes late. She was obviously congested, and she looked pale. Jennifer took one look at her and walked her straight to the girl's dressing room.

Soon, Jennifer came back out by herself. "Okay, listen up!" she shouted. "Who's got something to help Heather? I'm talking aspirin, ibuprofen, decongestant. Somebody's got to have something!"

A girl on the light crew, Melissa, said she had some decongestant. Jennifer asked her to bring it down to the stage. As soon as Melissa handed the package to Jennifer, Ben went over to them. He took the box and read the information on the back.

"Jennifer," he said. "I can't let you give medication – even over-the-counter medication - to a student. It's in my Volunteer Services Agreement."

"Fine," Jennifer said. "Maybe the audience won't notice Mary sneezing all over Zeb and wiping her runny nose with the back of her hand! Of course, if you think that might be a problem, you could have Joel go prep her understudy. Or, God forbid, we give Heather something for her congestion!"

Ben looked totally frustrated.

Then, he opened the box and took out a blister pack of the decongestant tablets. He closed the box and shook it. We all could hear another blister pack rattling around inside the box.

"Good," Ben said. "It's empty." He handed the box back to Melissa. "Can you please go check on Heather for us?" Ben asked. "I know you and Heather are best friends, and I'm sure you can help her more than either Jennifer or I can." He handed the blister pack he had removed from the box to Jennifer. Melissa grinned. "Sure, Mr. C. Should I check her once or twice?" she asked.

"Twice," Ben said. "I've read that two checks should work for situations like this. Oh, and make sure – she's hydrated."

"Got it," Melissa said. "Two checks and one full glass of water - coming up."

Melissa went into the girl's dressing room. Ben headed the other way toward the light booth. As he walked past me, I stopped him.

"I can't believe you, Califonte," I said. "You accuse me of playing with words to get what I want. Then, you pretend to be doing the right thing while recruiting a young girl to do your dirty work. Wouldn't that be covered somewhere in your Volunteer Services Agreement?"

Ben gave me a condescending look. "If you want me to follow the spirit of the agreement, just say the word."

I quickly realized the possible consequences of my challenging Ben, so I said nothing more.

"I thought as much," Ben said. "Next time, don't criticize someone for doing what you want them to do." He chucked me under the chin and walked off.

I knew I could have faulted Ben for doing the same thing to me during our first 'off book' rehearsals, as well as several other times. But, of course, I said nothing. And, I know it sounds strange, but I actually admired how Ben had tried to put me in my place. After all, I was being cheeky in a difficult situation.

A few minutes before the curtain opened, Ben came backstage. "We must have been a big hit yesterday," he told us. "We're sold out again tonight! And most of the people we're turning away are buying tickets for tomorrow afternoon!"

That news was more welcome to the actors than it had been for our first performance – now that we were a little more confident.

"Oh, and by the way," Ben said. "Just so there are no surprises, Corey's parents are in the audience tonight. If they come down the line at Lobby Call, be sure to say something nice."

I thought about what I might say to the Andersons. And, I thought about how I should handle my parents being at the show that night as well. I really wanted to avoid having them embarrass me with over-the-top compliments during Lobby Call – in front of the entire cast.

By show time, Mary was doing better. She was less congested and a little less droopy. Her performance that evening was good, but it didn't quite have the charming quality that it had the previous night. When she and Kevin left the stage after their flirting scene, there was no spontaneous applause. And, in my opinion, the entire show seemed to have lost its edge. So, I tried to step up my performance. I deliberately slowed my speech, spoke louder and tried to sound more philosophical.

When the show ended that night, we all lined up backstage for the curtain call. The audience applauded for us, and they definitely seemed to have enjoyed the performance. When Mary and Zeb came out, there was enthusiastic applause, but the audience did not give them a standing ovation as last night's audience had done.

I followed Mary and Kevin for my curtain call. As I walked out on stage, the audience stood up and clapped even more loudly. The standing ovation really caught me by surprise, and I was somewhat embarrassed. "I bet my father started this," I thought to myself. But, at the same time, I sort of enjoyed being recognized during the Curtain Call.

As it turned out, however, I did not enjoy the Lobby Call.

Even though our performance was a little off that night, the audience members who stayed for the Lobby Call were very complimentary to the cast. When I noticed that Mr. and Mrs. Anderson had almost worked their way to the end of the line, I also saw that Mrs. Weber was directly behind them – followed by my parents.

"Joel," Mrs. Anderson said when she got to where I was standing. "Thank you so much for doing your best to fill in for my Corey. I know Mr. Califonte wanted Corey for the lead, but you did a good job - under the circumstances. It must have been so hard for you to step out onto that stage knowing you weren't fully prepared. But, you got the job done. Why, I might not have even noticed most of your mistakes if I hadn't heard my Corey practice those speeches over and over again. Corey was glad you were his understudy, Joel. He really didn't mind helping you try to learn the part. And, I'm sure he regrets not having enough time to work with you on – what does Mr. Califonte call it? Character interpretation, I think."

I heard every thinly veiled insult Mrs. Anderson had thrown at me. Unfortunately, so did my father.

Dad stepped out of line and approached Mrs. Anderson. "Oh, you're Corey's Mom?" he asked as he shook her hand. "Hi. I'm Richard Young, Joel's father. It's so nice to meet you. We were all so shocked and concerned when we heard about the accident. I hope you don't mind, but I put Corey's name on the prayer list at out church."

"So far, so good," I thought to myself. But, I knew my father. He had never allowed anyone to get away with criticizing me in front of him. I dreaded what he was going to do next. And, just as I feared, he came to my defense. In my father's most sincere and supportive sounding voice, he continued speaking to Mrs. Anderson.

"I can't tell you how I felt when I heard the things you just said to my son. I think Joel deserves all the praise you professed – and much more. Joel told me how Corey was overwhelmed at times by his large part. I suspect most underclassmen would have been overwhelmed, too. Oh, wait. I'm sorry. Corey is a senior, isn't he? Anyway, I want you to know that my wife and I think it's truly admirable of you and your husband to come out tonight to support the kids - despite the difficult circumstances you're dealing with. I can only imagine how you must have felt when my son had to take over when Corey ran your car - well, had the accident. And, watching Joel get a standing ovation tonight! Well, I can see how difficult that was for you. But, know that we are praying for you and your family. Please keep us posted on Corey's progress, and let us know if there is anything – anything at all – we can do to help."

My mother had not gotten out of line. She just stood there listening, with a polite smile. She obviously enjoyed how my father had handled Mrs. Anderson.

I jumped in and tried to say something nice, just as Ben had asked. "Mr. and Mrs. Anderson," I said. "Corey is a good friend, and we all want him to get well and come back to school. Please let us know when he can have visitors. We miss him."

The Andersons thanked me in a perfunctory manner, and then they hurried toward the exit door. My Dad went back to his place in line, and Mrs. Webber walked up to me. She leaned in and spoke as quietly as she could. "Remind me never to criticize you in front of your father," she said. Then, Mrs. Webber gave me a hug and whispered in my ear. "If David were here, I know just what he'd say to you: Way to go, Tiger!" That was exactly what David had said to me when I exposed our rival school as cheaters, and we won the debate championship.

After Mrs. Weber had left, my parents stepped forward to talk to me. From their commnts, it was obvious they thought that - other than the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, I was the best thing that had ever existed.

I was so embarrassed.

When I went backstage to take my makeup off and change out of my costume, Ben asked me to follow him. He led the way to a remote part of the auditorium which was mostly out of view. Ben took me in his arms and hugged me tightly. "Thank you, Joel," he said. "You saved my show."

Our last show on Sunday afternoon was the best of all of our performances. But, there was a feeling of sadness among the cast members. We all knew this was our last show. And, we knew that after taking down the lights and putting everything away on Monday, the production would be over.

Despite the sadness, everyone seemed to rise to the challenge of making our last show as good as it could be. I thought the performance was practically flawless. When the show ended, and the Curtain Call started, the audience immediately stood up as they clapped. I was pleased that no specific cast member was singled out, and everyone was being recognized equally. We had become a team, and everybody had done their part well.

The Lobby Call was bittersweet. I guess everyone likes hearing nice things being said about them, and we certainly enjoyed our share that afternoon. But, many of us were also melancholy. Tomorrow, after Strike, The Messenger would only be a memory.

When the Lobby Call ended, I started to tear up. The play had been a long journey for me -one which had included many emotions – reluctance, humiliation, anger, excitement, shock, and ultimately, resolution and enjoyment. And, I had temporarily been able to put aside some of my pain from David moving away.

Ben saw how emotional I was, and he walked over to me and gave me a hug – in front of everyone. Part of me wanted to melt into his arms. But of course, I didn't.

"Cheer up, Sexy Boy," he whispered to me. "Let's go enjoy the cast party."

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