When the clock above the bar read 11.45, Sara’s evening took a turn for the worse.
Already the evening had been a bad one: nearly six hours on her feet on a creaky wood floor, only a handful of customers. She stood there behind the counter, paging listlessly through the gleaming advertising inserts, her elbow leaning on the countertop.
From time to time she looked up, but nothing changed. At the table near the window sat an aspiring writer, hot toddy cooling in front of him as he stared at his laptop. Stretched out on the leather couch in the back, kissing every now and then, was a lesbian couple. In the corner sat a dark young man Sara had never seen before. Though he held a book in his lap, she could not see that he was making much progress. Mostly he watched the other customers, watched her. She noticed his high, sharp cheekbones, pale skin and long fingers wound about the beer glass he held. His dark eyes made her shiver, so with a longsuffering sigh she shifted her aching feet and turned back to her twice-read newspaper.
That was when Sullivan and Ivy walked in.
Sara’s heart sank. Of course, they were here to talk about Ivy’s play and Sullivan’s. They’d ask about Brandon.
Even offstage, Ivy was an excellent actress, with a knack for filling any room she walked into. As Sara watched, the aspiring writer turned from his laptop and the lesbians from their kiss to stare at Ivy. With a shiver she slid her navy wool coat from her shoulders, baring her tea-length black dress and shining silver jewelry. Sullivan bent down and with a smile whispered in Ivy’s ear, and her laughter sounded like a bell throughout the little bar; when Ivy clapped with delight, Sara saw her red-painted nails flash in the dim light.
In a moment, they were at the bar themselves, Ivy tucking her billowy skirt around her as she slid gracefully onto a stool. Sullivan, tall, blonde, impeccably dressed, stood beside her, his hand protectively cupping her shoulder.
“So?” Sara asked. “How was the rehearsal?”
“Horrid.” Ivy grinned. “You know what they say, though: Bad rehearsal, good performance. Next week we open, and we are going to astonish all of London.”
“All London?” Sara snorted as she dropped two olives into the glass and slid it across the bar. “It’s a local theater. Seats 200.”
“Next week the performance will be standing-room only.” Ivy promised. “Wait and see, darling.” She sipped at her margarita. “Too dry. Still haven’t got the knack, have you? Well, keep practicing.”
“Speaking of practicing,” Sullivan asked, “have you received any callbacks lately?”
Sara just shook her head, not meeting Sullivan’s eyes, looking over his shoulder to where the young man with slender fingers and high cheekbones still sat in the corner.
“When was the last one?” Sullivan asked, oblivious. “Two months ago?”
“Three.” Sara responded.
“That long?” Sullivan raised his eyebrows. “Three months? And you haven’t even had a role in – ”
“Nearly a year.” Ivy chimed in. “You have to get out more, darling. Audition more. More than just once or twice a week.” She went on, jabbing at Sara’s chest with one finger. “And while you’re at it, maybe gain a little weight. Just look at that flat chest. Nothing to see for anyone more than three rows back. And your clothes practically hang off you. It’s not nice.”
Sara didn’t answer, just kept looking over Sullivan’s shoulder. The young man was still watching her, but staring at him was preferable to looking Ivy or Sullivan in the eye. Any moment now, they’d ask.
Ivy asked, “Is that country boy of yours still sending you emails? The one in the States?”
“I’d hardly call him a country boy,” Sara protested. “He lives in a big city. Also, he’s not mine.”
“Oh?” Ivy asked.
“It’s been nearly two years since I left the States,” Sara said. “Nearly two years since I’ve seen Brandon. He knows my acting is important to me.”
“So important you haven’t had a callback in three months?” asked Ivy, tilting her head. “I wonder.”
Sara was silent. She still auditioned occasionally, but more and more she seemed to find herself as far as possible from the stuffy underground backstages of London: listless in front of her computer, stretched out in the sunshine on a park bench, walking along London’s narrow streets where, above her, men leaned from open windows to smoke their pipes.
“Really, sweetheart.” Ivy put in. “You simply must put an end to this foolishness. Email Brandon and tell him not to contact you anymore. You know your future is here.”
“I know.” Sara said. “He knows. I broke up with him two years ago, when I first came here.”
“Hmph.” Ivy tipped the last drops of the margarita into her mouth, then turned to Sullivan and put one hand on his chest. “Time to go, I think. The Stevensons’ party is starting, and it is the place to be tonight.” She hopped lightly to her feet, and Sullivan slid his hand downwards to rest in the small of her back, guiding her away from the bar towards the door. With practiced hands he helped her on with her coat, and helped her over the doorstep. They disappeared into the night, and the heavy door swung shut behind them.
For a moment, Sara just stared at the closed door. As she watched, the young man from the corner rose and went out as well. Then Sara, with a deep-drawn breath and a shudder, roused herself, and went to lock up.