Bryan was completely unprepared for the power of ‘Gatsby.’ “Cassie,” he said during intermission, “did you say that this is community theatre? As in volunteer actors? Not professional?”
Sandy stood, smiled and said, “Yep. Pretty amazing, huh? Fall in love with Daisy yet?”
He laughed but admitted, “Yes! Oh my goodness! Every time she’s sad, I’m sad. And Nick? It’s like he stepped out of another world and is surrounded by aliens, vultures. Is that what we’re like in the Midwest? Naïve and innocent? Or is it just that they’re so jaded and world weary?”
“I’m probably not a good person to ask,” Sandy replied as they made their way toward the rear exit for an intermission leg stretch. “Whenever Tom Buchanan comes on stage I compare him to my father and think, ‘Uh, he’s not so bad. At least he’s just a womanizing, self-absorbed prick, not a raping bastard who deserves to die,’” she said with a smile.
“I don’t remember ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ being anything like this! I mean, that was a long time ago and I was in what, ninth grade? -but even so, I’m completely blown away. They even have a trio right up there on stage playing! This is so cool!”
“It is at that, and so is the cast. I’ve played with half of them through the years. Good people, every one. I don’t know if I saw ‘Cuckoo,’ that was a long time ago. How do you remember that?”
“What was the first play you went to?” Bryan asked.
“Well, not including school plays? ’The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia’; it’s part of a Texas Trilogy. Lord, I think I was a freshman, too!”
“But you still remember?”
“Like yesterday,” Cassie said with a whimsical smile.
“What did we have for dinner on Sunday?”
“This Sunday? Johnny Zio’s lasagna, of course.”
“Right. And Saturday?”
“You don’t know what you had for dinner on Easter Saturday but you do Sunday? Sunday’s dinner wasn’t special.”
“Well of course it was. It was our first- Okay, smart boy, okay. Remember when I told you that one of the things I liked about you was how smart you are?”
“Yep,” Bryan answered, wearing a big grin.
“Don’t make it too much of a good thing,” she replied, kissing his cheek. “How do you like our seats?”
“As you said, ‘L is for love!’ Gotta’ dig the leg room up there. You want a drink? I’m buying, cheater!”
“Oh, my, goodness,” she said as they made their way down the stairs to the Linge Lounge. “Are you still going on about that? It was a misunderstanding. You asked how much the tickets were and I told you. Twenty five dollars is spot on truth, isn’t it?”
“Now who’s all jaded? Just stop manipulating, okay? I’m going to start calling you Jordan. What? You don’t remember the part about the lie of her golf ball? Sorry, spoiler alert.”
“I’m not jaded, I’m old. Forty two in just over four weeks. She’s a cutie too, huh? Hey! Remember when I told you ‘Burnt Part Boys’ was auditioning on Monday? Well I had it wrong! It’s May fourth, not April! You want to audition?”
“You don’t seem old. And you sure don’t taste old. I could eat you up,” he replied, bringing her hand to his lips and kissing it. “Well. I don’t know. What do I have to do?”
“Read the script, prepare a song to sing and just audition. What do you think?”
Bryan scrunched up his face, “Maybe? Will you audition?”
“I can be there if you’d like but there’s really not a part for me, just very young women and boys from thirteen to early twenties. You should try out!”
“Well, maybe. If you will? I mean it’d be kinda’ scary auditioning alone but if you do it I will too!”
“Seems fair, but I’m telling you they won’t cast me, unless they cast me as one of the old men,” she said.
“Now who’s being ridiculous?”
“Oh, it’s been known to happen. They cast a man as The Wicked Witch of the West. David did a great job. I really like how Kim is portraying Jordan, she just looks the part, don’t you think?”
“Yes, I really do,” he said nodding several times. “So that’s the same as Daisy so, ditto, right?”
“Ditto,” she said with wink. “Google that one yet?”
“Yes. A mimeograph machine, right? Some kind of early, inexpensive printing press?”
“Oh, my lord! ‘Early, inexpensive printing press,’ you do know how to woo a lady, stud.”
As they descended the stairs a dark haired version of Sandy glanced at them, crunched up her face, stared for ten seconds and then excused herself from the older woman and the young blond she was with. “Hey, Cassie,” Bryan whispered in her ear, “do you know this gal?”
Sandy looked down the stairs to the woman Bryan had jerked his head toward and replied, “I don’t think…. Oh, my Lord! I think that’s Behning!”
As they got to the bottom of the stairs the dark haired woman asked, “Priam?”
“Oh my God! I haven’t seen you in ages! What have you been up to?”
“Since high school? Or just college? I’m a Realtor, have a little place over by Ellis Golf Course, wonderful view! What about you?”
“Teaching middle school. Social Studies. Bringing up my daughter. My son Logan is here with me. He walked Mom over to the restroom. My goodness, I haven’t seen you in ages.”
“I can’t even remember when. What’s it been? Twenty years? And this is my friend, Bryan Tiernan.”
“Hi, Bryan. Nice to meet you. My name’s Brittney, by the way, not everyone calls me Behning. Are you a ball player?”
“Hi, Brittney. Nice to meet you too,” he responded, accepting her offered hand. “No, cross-country and track mostly. I did JV soccer my senior year.”
“Oh yeah? Where was that?”
“Fitz. I preferred cross country to track and so I did that all four years but went ahead and played soccer my senior year. It was a lot of fun.”
“Yes. There’s something about working as a team as opposed to just earning points for your team, isn’t there? When did you graduate?”
“Oh nine,” he replied.
“Oh. Then you would have been in school with my son, Logan.” Logan was standing outside the women’s bathroom, leaning against a wall. “He took Mom to the rest room. Crowds are hard for her. Logan? Come here,” she said, motioning him to come over. “Logan graduated from Marlin in 2011. Oh! I’m sorry. Logan, Bryan, Bryan, Logan.”
“Hey,” Logan interjected shaking hands.
“Logan, this is Cassandra Priam. We played ball against each other one year. You got a scholarship to where? UCONN?”
“Hi, Logan. Nice to meet you. Yes. University of Connecticut.”
“Cool,” Logan said, shaking hands. “Just one year?”
“Yes! The other years I was at the Cedar Ridge Academy, tiny Christian school. They don’t play Marlin much.”
“No, I wouldn’t think so,” he answered.
“Well,” Brittney said, “I’d better get back to Mom. So great to see you, Priam! Nice to meet you, Bryan.”
“You too. Bye.”
As Brittney walked away Cassie hugged Bryan’s arm to her and said, “That was a little awkward.”
“He’s got to be twenty two. She must have had him right out of high school?”
“Couldn’t have. She played college ball too. Probably her husband’s kid.”
“Oh. Got it. Let’s get that drink, okay?”
“Absolutely,” Sandy replied. “Maybe even two.”
The line for drinks was about a dozen deep and as they approached Cassandra pulled out two TCR Sippy Cups from her purse and handed them to Bryan. “Here,” she said. “Just because you’re paying doesn’t mean you have to pay full price. They have a discount refill policy here. Beer or wine. Save you a couple bucks. I know you’re gonna’ start raking in the moolah with your new, full-time manager’s position, but a buck’s a buck; right?”
A young man with long, strawberry blond hair and a trim, full beard looked at the two of them. Looked away, then back once more before approaching. “Hi,” he said. “I’m Jessie. You’re Cassie, right? Hannah’s friend?”
“Why, yes, Jessie! Oh my goodness, isn’t Hannah just lovely? Bryan here is falling in love with her, aren’t you Bryan?” she said with a tiny elbow nudge to the ribs.
“She is amazing. Hi, nice to meet you,” he said extending his hand. “Bryan Tiernan.”
“Jessie Koors. Oh, so you’re not- Uhm, never mind! Hey, it’s great to see you again, Cassie. I’ll tell Hannah you were in the audience tonight. Nice to meet you, Bryan.”
“You too, Jessie!” he said as they reached the concession stand. “You want white zin? That work?” he asked Sandy. At her nod he placed the two TCR cups on the counter and said, “Two of the Cedar Ridge Winery Harvest Blush, please.”
After paying for the wine they walked back up the stairs to the balcony. Sandy was noticeably more subdued than she had been on the way downstairs and Bryan asked, “Are you okay? Something happen back there that I missed?”
“I think Jesus, I mean Jessie, thought you were George. He and Hannah know I have, had, a son and there’s no real reason for him to know that George is dead. I think he thought you were George until you said your last name. It’s weird, that’s all.”
“We’ve been through this,” Bryan responded, again kissing her cheek. “People are going to think what they think, right? Why do you call him Jesus? Just because of his hair?”
Sandy laughed at this. “No! Last year, no, year before? Anyway, recently, Jessie played Jesus in TCR’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar. Now it’s a running bit. You ready for act two?’” she asked.
“Gesundheit! Yes, but I want to use the toilet first. Will you hold my wine?”
“That joke is older than theatre so I will hold your wine, but you have to hold mine first,” she responded, giving him her cup and another cheek peck.
Bryan shook his head, took the cup and waited. She returned the favor and they were back in their seats for act two as the house lights flashed for the second and final time.
The lights had come up to sincere but subdued applause. They had filed silently out of the theater and headed up the First Avenue hill toward Sandy’s Outback. They walked together, silently holding hands until Bryan finally spoke. “I knew Gatsby died, but I didn’t remember how terrible everything turned out,” he said to Sandy as they turned the corner towards her car. “Do you think anything is noble? Can anything be pure and good?”
“I don’t know about pure, but definitely good. Death, sadness and lies. Good thing it’s just a play, huh?”
“Good thing,” he said. When they had walked east a block and half Sandy’s car was right where they had left it. He walked her to the driver’s side but before he opened the door for her he took her in his arms, hugged her for a long, soul centering moment and then thoroughly kissed her. “We were going to go out to dinner, weren’t we?” he asked.