Source: A Chorus Line

Characters: Diana, Paul, Cassie, Larry

Warnings: none

Word Count: 7,773

Written For: cinaed for yuletide.

Betaed by: kristin

Summary: Diana got the job. Paul got injured.

AN: the movie says Paul was taken to "the ER at St. Joseph's." As far as I can tell, there is no "St. Joseph's Hospital" in New York City. The closest one would seem to be in Yonkers.

This was the first time that getting into a show hadn't made Diana deliriously happy. Usually, she'd keep her cool while she got her stuff together and changed into street clothes and sauntered outside like it was no big deal, like she'd known all the time that she'd make it. Then, once outside the theater she'd let out a whoop of joy, maybe throw in a few leaps for good measure—because how could anyone feel that much joy and not want to dance?—and go for something to eat, to replace the calories burned in a long audition.

(Last time, six months ago, Paul had been with her. They'd gotten a hot-dog from a vendor before going home to Diana's. Her mother had invited Paul to stay for dinner.)

Tonight, she didn't have any trouble keeping up a professional front. She didn't bother changing, just threw her jacket on over her workout clothes and left. She headed straight for the Metro station, ignoring the junkies and other trash along the way, not stopping for food. Instead of taking the Number 2 home, she got on the N. Forty minutes later, she was standing at the front desk of the ER at St. Joseph's asking for Paul San Marco.

"They're waiting for the X-rays," the receptionist said. "Are you his girlfriend?" She looked Diana up and down, frowning.

"No," Diana said, raising her chin and refusing to be intimidated. "I'm his best friend."

"Oh," the receptionist said. She glanced around the near-empty waiting room, as if trying to find someone else to pawn Diana off on. "Well, I suppose I could show you where he is."

Diana bit her tongue and followed.

Paul was in a bed separated from the bustle of the ER by a curtain. He was lying flat on his back with his leg elevated, face turned to the wall. "Hey, Paul, how's it going?" Diana said, forcing some cheer into her voice.

"Oh, you know," Paul said. "Hospitals are always the same."

"Yeah," said Diana. "Only, this time you haven't been run over by an ambulance stretcher." She smirked. A year ago, when he'd been in here with knee trouble before his surgery, paramedics running in from the ambulance had crashed into the bed he was in, spinning it around. Paul told the story of the resulting pile-up with such humor that Diana smiled even now at the thought.

"No," Paul said. "I only feel like it." He tried to smile, but honestly he was such a crappy liar he shouldn't even bother.

Diana didn't know what to say.

"Did you get it?" Paul asked, before the silence could stretch out too long.

"Yeah," Diana said awkwardly. "I got it. Rehearsals start September twenty-second."

"Oh, hey, that's great," Paul said, and she knew he meant it with all his heart. Paul was the most genuinely nice guy she'd ever known in her life, corazón de melón.

"Thanks," she said, blinking to keep the tears back. "You should be there, too."

Paul huffed a laugh. "Even if they hadn't seen me collapse like that, I don't think this knee will be up for dancing by the end of September."

"Yeah." Diana nodded. "Have they told you anything?"

"No," Paul said. "I talked a little with Doctor Rhodes, and then they X-rayed my knee, and brought me back here, but nobody's told me what they saw."

"I'll stay here with you until the doctor gets back," Diana said, settling in to the chair beside his bed.

It was over an hour later that Doctor Rhodes finally got back to them. Diana had been out to the nurse's desk twice to ask what the holdup was. She hated hospitals, how you always had to wait so long. When she was fifteen, she'd broken her foot—landed wrong on a leap—and she'd been in the hospital for almost six hours before they got around to her. They'd been busy, and forgotten about her, and nobody (not even her parents) had believed her that she'd heard the bone snap.

Rhodes was a middle-aged white guy, of course, kinda pudgy and beginning to go bald, but he smiled when he introduced himself and he looked her in the eye and didn't have an attitude like he was better than them because he was a big rich doctor and they were just Puerto Rican dancers. Diana relaxed, just a little, taking Paul's hand for moral support.

"So, how bad is it?" Paul asked. When Rhodes hesitated, he shook his head. "Come on, doctor, give it to me straight."

Rhodes shook his head. "I've looked at the X-rays, but as you know from your last surgery they don't really show soft-tissue damage. The good news is, there are no broken bones in there. The bad news is, we're going to have to open it up to see what's going on in there and fix it, so I can't give you any kind of a clear answer on what your prognosis will be."

"Do you have to operate?" Diana asked. Surgery was so expensive, and took such a long time to recover from. How would Paul pay for it, if he couldn't work?

"Almost certainly," Rhodes said. "This isn't just a twisted knee. There's something wrong in there, I can tell from examining him."

"I can tell from how it feels," Paul said. "God, it feels just like the last time." He bit his lip, and Diana turned back to the Doctor. She didn't let go of Paul's hand, but she couldn't stand the misery on his face. Not when there was nothing she could do to make it better.

"Unfortunately, most things in a knee won't heal themselves," Rhodes said. "If you leave them alone, they just get worse. I was able to get a hold of the surgeon who operated on you before. I know him, he's a good doctor, his work is good quality, but—" he turned back to Paul"—son, your knee is in terrible shape. There's no way to know what we'll find when we get in there, but each injury compounds the damage already there, and makes another injury more likely. I'll do my best, but," he shook his head, "you may never be able to dance again, at least not professionally."

"They said you were the best," Diana said, voice hard.

"I am," Rhodes said. "If anyone can fix this, I can. But knees are tricky things. This may be beyond anybody's ability to fix. If you prepare for the worst, any surprises will be good ones."

He didn't stick around long after that, just told them when the surgery would be—he could fit Paul in tomorrow because he'd had a cancellation, so Paul would be staying in the hospital overnight. When he was gone, they just sat there in silence. What could she say? Hey Paul, I'm sure everything will be fine even if you can't dance ever again? Hey, Paul, I'm sorry you're hurt, but I'm in a show?

"I'm going to have to quit my day job," Paul said, "at least until I'm … better. I can't be stacking crates in a warehouse if I'm on crutches."

"You can get unemployment," Diana said. "Maybe get some other kind of job where you don't have to be on your feet all day." And how much had working in that warehouse contributed to the damage to his knee?

"I don't have a high school diploma," Paul pointed out. "And I don't read well. That leaves out most desk jobs."

"My sister Janisa is studying to be a teacher, maybe she can help you," Diana said. "It would look good on her resumé. I'm sure she'd be happy to help." She started plotting out how she could get Janisa to do it. Mama would help.

"Maybe," Paul said.

It was the tone of voice he used when he was sure the worst was going to happen but didn't want to argue with her on it. Paul was sweet, but way too pessimistic, and too ready to give up. That's why he needed her around. "It'll work out, you'll see," Diana said. She frowned. "Hey. You live in a fourth-floor walk-up. How will you manage that on crutches?"

"I guess I'll have to," Paul said. "I certainly won't be able to afford anything with less stairs, not on unemployment and with a hospital bill. I can pay one of my roommates to get groceries and stuff while I get better."

"And, what, just stay in bed all day?" Diana asked. "If I can find you something easier to get to that you can afford, will you consider it?"

"Sure," Paul said. "But, Diana, I don't want to put you to any trouble."

"And if I were the one in that bed, you would do the same for me," Diana said. "And don't worry about owing me anything—when it's my turn, you know I won't hesitate to tell you exactly what I need."

Paul smiled. "Yeah, I guess."

It was late by the time she got home, and she knew they wouldn't have waited dinner for her. Papa was watching TV and sitting on the couch. Like the rest of the furniture in the apartment, it was old but still in good condition. Abuelita was sitting next to him folding laundry. "You're back late," Papa said.

"Sorry I missed dinner," Diana said.

"You don't look happy," Abuelita said. "Didn't you get the part?"

"I got the part," Diana said, taking off her coat and hanging it up behind the door. "But Paul was trying out, too, and he fell and hurt his knee again. The doctor says it's going to need surgery."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Papa said. "He's a nice kid."

"Yeah," Diana said. "Look, he lives on the fourth floor. He can't manage four flights of stairs with crutches. I was thinking, Carlos just moved into his dorm—he's not going to be back for a while. Could Paul stay in his room, at least until he's back up on his feet?"

Papa shrugged. "Talk to your mother."

Abuelita frowned. "And why isn't his own family taking care of him?"

"Mamma, if you are so curious, ask him," Papa said. "There could be many reasons. Maybe they don't live in the city. Maybe they have a small apartment with no room for him to move back home. Maybe they also live on the fourth floor."

Maybe, Diana thought bitterly, they were jerks who couldn't handle the idea of a gay son.

"I suppose," Abuelita said. She brightened. "Tell us about the show, Diana—is it West Side Story? Will you get to play a Puerto Rican?"

"It's a new show, Abuelita," Diana said. "Nobody's planning on doing a revival of West Side Story, that I know of." She wished they would; West Side Story was a dancer's show—so much of the plot was carried through dance, not just by words or music. "But I may have some lines, and the director is one of the best, particularly for musicals."

"You may have a speaking part?" Papa stood and gave her a hug. "That's wonderful!"

"Congratulations!" Abuelita said. "Why don't you get changed, I'll heat up your dinner." She went into the kitchen, and as the door swung open Diana could see her mother at the kitchen table doing paperwork of some kind.

"Thank you," Diana said, pulling off her sweatband. It would take a few minutes to get her dinner warmed up, she thought as she walked down the hall to her room. There would be time to take a quick shower, and wash the sweat off.

Five minutes later, feeling much fresher, she walked back into the living room. She could hear Abuelita working in the kitchen, but her mother had joined her father on the couch. Mamma stood up as Diana entered. "Congratulations," she said, giving her a hug. "I hear you got the part!" She wasn't quite fat, but there was definitely more of her than there was of Diana, and she relaxed into the warm arms around her.

"Yes," Diana said. She smiled. "There's even a chance for some lines!"

"I hope it's not West Side Story," Mamma said, stepping back. "That play gives Puerto Ricans a bad name, as if we were all gang members or something."

"Nobody's doing a revival of West Side Story now, Mamma," Diana said. She and her father shared a small smile; Papa rolled his eyes, and turned back to the TV. "This is a new show."

"Interesting. Do you know what it's about, yet?"

"No," Diana said.

"Well, we'll just have to wait and see, then." Mamma gestured to the kitchen. "Your Abuelita probably has your dinner ready."

"It smells good," Diana said. She bit her lip, remembering Paul. "Hey, Mamma, did they tell you about Paul? He was injured, today."

"Injured?" Mamma frowned. "How bad is it?"

"They don't know, yet, but it's his knee." Diana blinked fast, to keep tears from coming. "He may not be able to dance again."

"Oh, no," Mamma said. She put a hand on Diana's shoulder. "And he doesn't even have his GED, does he? A smart boy like that should have stayed in school. Dancing doesn't last forever, you know. If he had a degree, maybe I could get him something at the office." That was one of the reasons Mamma had taken her current job with HR at a big law firm, after all. She could have been an executive secretary and gotten more money, but at HR she could influence who got hired. She never put anyone in a job they weren't qualified for, but there was enough nepotism and good-old-boys networking for white guys, it was only fair if some of it worked for Puerto Ricans. Diana had heard the speech so often she could quote it in her sleep.

"Sí, Mamma," Diana said, pulling away. "Paul knows that too. But sometimes you've got to take the opportunity you've got."

Mamma pursed her lips, but didn't argue. Instead, she eyed Diana up and down. "Well?" She said. "You want something, don't you?"

"He lives in a fourth-floor walkup," Diana said. "We have an empty bedroom, now, and we're only on the second floor and right near the station." She held her breath, and watched her mother think about it. Mamma liked Paul, but she might have other ideas for that room now that Carlos wasn't living in it.

"All right," Mamma said. "At least until he gets back up on his feet again. Now go eat, we're having platanos."

"Thanks, Mamma!" Diana said, giving her a hug.

Two days later, Paul was safely ensconced in Carlos' room. Diana had given her notice at the bodega where she worked, so they would have time to find someone else by the time rehearsals started.

"Thank you, ma'am, that was delicious," Paul told Abuelita after dinner, as she was collecting the dishes. "Please, let me help," he said. "I can wash them if you'll bring them over to the sink for me." He smiled at her.

"How many times must I tell you to call me Abuelita?" she replied, beaming at him. "No, no, you are a guest, and you are injured," Abuelita said. "But you are such a thoughtful young man—don't you think, Diana?" She looked pointedly at Diana.

"Yes, Abuelita," Diana said, decoding the look with the ease of long practice as such a nice boy, and a Puerto Rican too, and you share common interests, and you're old enough to be settling down. And if he wasn't gay, and she didn't look on him like a brother, she might even have been interested. But Abuelita wouldn't care that she thought of him like a brother, and didn't know he was gay.

"So, Paul, what are your plans for the future?" Mamma asked, returning Abuelita's look with one of her own. "Have you thought about going back to school? They have night classes where you could get your GED. Of course, it's not as good as a real high school diploma, but it's much better than nothing."

This Diana interpreted as yes, but what are his prospects? Diana can do better, unless he gets some direction.

"School was never really my thing," Paul said, and Diana could see he was trying not to wilt under her mother's intent stare. "And we won't know for a while how my leg is going to heal—I might be able to go back to dancing after all. Until I'm a little further along in my recovery and physical therapy, there's not much point in doing much planning."

"But it's always good to have a fall-back," Mamma persisted. "You can do schoolwork even when your knee won't let you work. I'm sure Diana would be happy to stop by a bookstore or tutoring center and pick up some workbooks for you, so you could get started."

Diana wanted to kick her mother under the table. Paul didn't do well under that kind of direct pressure, he was looking so miserable—couldn't it have waited a few days? "I'm kind of busy, getting ready for the beginning of rehearsals," Diana said. "If Paul wanted me to, I suppose I could go dig something up."

Mamma pursed her lips. "I'm only trying to help," she said.

"Thank you," Paul said.

"How about some desert?" Papa said, breaking the tension a little.

The next morning, after Mamma had left for work but before Diana needed to leave for her shift at the bodega, she stopped in Paul's room. He was laying on Carlos' bed, staring up at the ceiling. "So, why don't you want to get your GED?" she asked, sitting on the desk chair. It put her right next to the bed; the room was tiny, and it had been a challenge to get the desk and chair in along with the bed and dresser when Carlos had started High School. Seriously, it was slightly smaller than his dorm room, though at least he hadn't had to share it.

"Won't somebody mind the closed door?" Paul asked.

"Please," Diana scoffed. "Abuelita is the only one home, and she'd probably be delighted if you got me pregnant—then she'd have you for a son-in-law. You're trying to change the subject."

"I'd love my GED," Paul said, "but if I was any good at school, I might have stayed in instead of dropping out to become a dancer. I mean, I'd still have wanted to become a dancer, but my parents would have been so proud…"

Diana didn't say anything. Paul didn't talk about his family much, and when he did, she'd learned not to interrupt. She didn't even know what his real last name was.

"I just don't think there's much point in trying," Paul said. "You know I have trouble reading."

"Yeah," Diana said. "But better reading skills are what you're supposed to get out of school, you know? I bet you wouldn't be the only one at a tutoring center who needs help. Hey, and I was talking with Janisa, and she said that sometimes there are reasons people can't read very well—like there's something wrong with the way their brain works, but if you know you have that problem you can find ways to compensate. Or maybe you need glasses. Have you ever been tested? Maybe it wouldn't be so bad."

"Maybe," Paul said doubtfully. "I suppose it wouldn't hurt to get tested, and I know I'm nearsighted. Does it cost anything?"

"Glasses do, but reading glasses don't cost much if you can make them work in the short term," Diana said. "Testing for other problems … I don't know. I can find out." He had a look on his face like he was only giving in to please her, but it was for his own good. "Mamma is very pushy, but … look, no matter what happens, being able to read better is a good thing, right? I mean, you can't dance forever. You can't even work warehouses forever. Even if you can go back to dancing for a while, how many old dancers do you know?"

"Not many," Paul said. "I just—" He shook his head.


"Nothing." She could see him biting his lip, a sure sign he wanted her to know what he was thinking but didn't want to say it.

"I know that look, Paul," she said, scooting forward. He wasn't looking at her. He'd been quieter than usual, even considering the circumstances. Paul was sweet, but Diana knew from experience not to let him brood. If you didn't get him to talk about what was bothering him, he'd pull in on himself and never come out. Privacy was one thing. Paul took it too far, sometimes—he didn't know how to let people in when he needed help. "What were you going to say?" She gave him her best Mamma-stare. And if it wasn't as fierce as Mamma's was, well, Paul wasn't as stubborn as Diana was, either.

"It's different for me, okay?" Paul said. "I'm not you. You dance because you love it, and so do I, but … I can't go back to normal life, okay? Dancing is the only thing that makes life bearable. When I'm dancing, I can forget about just how shitty life is. Nothing else matters, just the movement. If I can't dance—what's the point?"

Diana had never wanted to hurt someone more than she did at that moment. If his family, or whoever had hurt him this much, had been right there in front of her, she would have gladly killed them. Paul was the best person she'd ever met, he shouldn't have to deal with this kind of pain. She took his hand. "I love you, Paul," she said fiercely. "Not like Abuelita wants, but I love you. Mamma and Papa and Abuelita love you, too. You've got a lot of friends. No matter how bad you feel, hold on to that, okay? Promise me you won't do anything stupid."

"I promise," Paul said, and he smiled at her. It wasn't very reassuring.

Diana held his hand until she had to leave for work. On her lunch break, she went to church and lit a candle for Paul. After work, she went back and lit another, and prayed for a long time.

Nothing much changed between then and the beginning of rehearsals. Paul went to physical therapy, he tried to help around the house, he worked listlessly at the books she'd gotten him and resisted going to get his eyes checked and see if he had anything wrong with him. (He did, however, wear the reading glasses she got him, the strongest ones she could find, and he said they helped some.)

Mamma had taken to making little comments about how he needed to apply himself, and Janisa took her side, and even Abuelita was making gentle hints. She could just see Paul pulling even more tightly inside himself even though it was the last thing he needed, but he wasn't well enough yet to be climbing up four flights of stairs so he couldn't go back to his apartment.

Dancing had never been an escape for Diana, not the way it was for some people, but for the first time, she understood the feeling. She'd never been so glad to get out of the apartment and go to the theater before.

"Let's try it again from the top," Larry said. He nodded to the accompanist, sitting at the piano in the back corner of the rehearsal room. "Five six seven eight."

Diana started with the music, step ball-change pivot step, keeping an eye on Bebe and Valerie on either side of her, matching her movements to theirs. She kept an ear out for Larry's instructions, but she was thinking with her body, not her head, each muscle and tendon moving in harmony to propel her across the floor. This was what she had been born for, this was what God had made her body for: to move.

This was what Paul was missing.

She shoved that thought away, though she felt a twinge of guilt for it. Step step layout down across up ball-change pivot. Feel the beat, the rhythm, the words of the song move through you until you are the music, music made flesh and bone in eight bodies on this stage.

"Okay, break time," Larry said the next time they stopped. "The costume people are here to take your measurements. Back here when you're done, and we'll pick it up from there. Don't dawdle, people. It's looking good so far, but we've got a long way to go."

Diana followed the others to the room where the costume shop was set up. The costume people seemed to know their business, she saw; a few quick measurements jotted down, a Polaroid for reference, and on to the next cast member. The last show she'd been in, the costume people hadn't been that good—and they'd been no worse than the prop people, the composer, the choreographer, or the writer. It hadn't been any surprise the show had been a flop. Maybe this one would last.

"Hey, Diana, how's Paul doing?" Bobby asked.

"He had surgery," Diana said. "He's in physical therapy. It's too soon to tell about the knee, but he'll make it." She glanced at the clock on the wall. He was probably doing physical therapy right now. Diana bent down at the waist, placing her hands on the floor, stretching to keep warm while waiting.

They were handed their scripts on the way out the door, marked for their parts (everyone had something to say, though usually not much, besides the background extras the chorus always played). Diana read through the whole thing on the subway home, just skimming it to get the basics of the story. It was about a family and a few generations of history, and the love stories that connected them. That explained the different dance styles; each couple and generation had their own style, from ballet to tap to modern and everything in between. They'd only just started learning the routines, but it was going to be a challenge—she was looking forward to it.

By the time she got home she was exhausted, trudging up the steps—after six hours of dance, plus the commute, the single flight of stairs to get to their apartment felt like a hundred. Still, it was the good kind of tired, when you knew you'd done something worth doing. Tonight, she was going to have a long soak in the tub and read the script a bit more carefully this time.

When she opened the door Paul was sitting by the window. There was a book in his lap, but he wasn't studying, just looking out the window. "Hey," she said.

"Oh, hi," Paul said, looking over. "How did it go?"

"It was good," Diana said, not wanting to rub Paul's nose in it. "Larry's a slave-driver, but that's good, right?"

"Yeah," Paul said. "What about the show? Think it'll flop?"

Diana shrugged. "Who knows. I'm not a theater critic. It's got good music and choreography, though, which puts it one up on the last one."

Paul smiled. "Yeah." He looked out the window again.

Diana sighed. "How was therapy?"

"Same as always," Paul said. "I could probably make it up and down the stairs to my apartment, now."

"That's good," Diana said. "Have they said anything about dancing?"

"I probably won't ever be able to," Paul said.

Diana winced, glad he wasn't looking at her. He wouldn't want to see her pity. What could she possibly say?

"I should probably tell your parents I'll be moving back home tomorrow," Paul said.

"Are you sure you're well enough to move back?" Abuelita said. "Four floors is quite a climb. You don't want to risk re-injuring yourself."

"I'll be fine, Abuelita," Paul said, pushing his food around with his fork. "My physical therapist said I should be okay."

"Besides, I'm sure he wants to be back in his own space," Papa said. "I'll miss having another man around the place, though. I'll be the only one!"

"Hah!" Mamma said. "You'll survive, I'm sure."

"Don't worry, Papa, we'll go easy on you," Diana said.

"I really appreciate you letting me stay here," Paul said. "It's been much easier to get around. But I do want to get back to my own place and get out of your way." He stopped playing with his food and took a bite.

Mamma shrugged. "We had the space. It was no trouble."

"Besides," Abuelita said. "I always enjoy cooking for an appreciative audience. You're more than welcome to come over for dinner if you're in the neighborhood."

"Thank you," Paul said.

"And if you are can climb four flights of stairs you must be well enough to work," Abuelita said. "I will ask around to see if there is anything in the neighborhood."

"Just remember to keep up with your studies," Mamma said. "You are a very smart boy, and you will go farther with an education."

"Yes, seňora," Paul said. He stood up and began collecting his dishes. "Thank you."

After dinner, Paul went back to his room. Mamma and Papa watched television together and Abuelita went out for evening Mass while Diana did the dishes. When the last of the dishes were put away, she grabbed her script and her bathrobe and headed for the bathroom. Once inside, she locked the door and started the water running.

When the tub was full, she stepped in and sighed as she sat down in the warm water. She leaned back and closed her eyes, enjoying the heat soaking into well-used muscles. She wiggled her toes, thinking through some of the routines. At last, she sat up and dried her hands on a towel before reaching for the script, and settled in to read.

This time, she had the time and attention to pay to the nuances of the script. It was rough in places, but like the music and dance of the show, it was ambitious. If they could pull it off, the show had a chance. If not, it would flop … though no matter what happened, it would probably outlast the last show she was in.

About a third of the way into the show, she got to the first scene she had lines in. She slowed down and read it carefully, looking for the kinds of nuances the director—Zach—would likely want.

She frowned, and reread it, noticing things she hadn't when she skimmed it on the subway.

Then she read the rest of the script, focusing on the two other scenes she was in.

Then she threw the script aside, and groaned. Santa Maria, help!

Diana stood in the doorway and watched Paul shove clothes into his gym bag.

"I'll come visit after rehearsal, see if you need anything, okay?" she said.

"Diana, I'll be fine," Paul said. "It's my own apartment."

"Yeah, but you haven't been there in a few weeks," Diana said, "and going up and down those stairs is going to be a bitch even if you can do it now."

"I'll stop at the store on the way. If I forget anything, I can ask one of my roommates to get it." Paul turned to face her. "My knee is bad. I'm not a baby." His lips were pressed tightly together.

"Sí," Diana said. "I just worry about you, you know?"

Paul sighed. "Sí." He turned back to his packing. "If you don't leave soon, you're going to be late for rehearsal."

"Take care of that leg," Diana said. "Good luck."

"To you, too," Paul said.

As it turned out, Diana was early. She liked being early, liked stretching and saying hello to everyone as they came in. In the last show, it had been her and Paul together goofing off.

Cassie was there when Diana arrived, already dancing, not practicing routines or anything, just leaps and turns and kicks. She was beautiful to watch. Larry was also there, talking with Zach, so Diana didn't bother him. Instead, she put her stuff next to Cassie's and took off the sweater and pants she had on over her leotard, stuffing them in her bag. As she changed into her dance shoes, Cassie walked over.

"Hi," Cassie said with a friendly smile. "It's Diana, right? I'm Cassie." She stuck out her hand.

"Hey," Diana said, shaking it. She supposed they hadn't really talked, at the audition or yesterday's practice. "It's nice to meet you. What do you think of the show?"

"I think … it's ambitious," Cassie said. "But of course Zach wouldn't have chosen it if it wasn't. It'll either be a spectacular success or a spectacular flop. I'm not a critic, I couldn't predict which way it'll go. But it's got some great dances."

"Yeah," Diana said.

"Hurry up, everyone," Larry called. "I want to get started on the One number, see what you remember from the auditions. Today we're going to be working mostly on the dances and the songs, like yesterday. Next week, you need to have your lines memorized, don't forget, people."

Diana groaned. As if she could forget.

"You have trouble memorizing things?" Cassie asked.

"No," Diana said, lifting her chin. "But I'm a dancer. Acting isn't my strong point." She looked Cassie in the eye, daring her to comment.

Instead, she laughed. "Truth be told, it's not mine, either. But, it goes with the job."

"How do you do it?" Diana asked. "I have some acting training. It was useless." In the auditions, Zach had said the parts were small, but important. Diana's part was only small when you measured it in number of lines. She was part of two of the most important scenes in the show.

"Let me guess, method acting?"

Diana nodded.

Cassie shrugged. "That's what they teach these days. It's very good for a lot of actors, particularly serious actors. It's got a lot of prestige attached to it. But there are a lot of good actors who don't use it. When I first got started, I would write down what emotions my character was feeling, and then go practice expressions and body movements in the mirror until I got one that seemed to fit, and then I remembered it like choreography, only to spoken words instead of music."

"Thanks for the tip," Diana said, getting up to grab a hat from the stand. From the way the other woman had barged into the auditions, Diana had expected someone proud. Overbearing. Arrogant, maybe. And certainly she'd been in enough starring roles to justify an attitude. But Cassie seemed genuinely open and friendly. Diana was relieved. The chorus was together for so long, and working so hard, a bitch or diva could really be a pain.

"Okay, everybody take your places," Larry said.

Diana ran out on the floor and took her place in line, holding position and placing a smile on her face.

"Five, six, seven, eight!"

"What are you doing?"

Diana looked up to meet her mother's eyes in the mirror. Damnit, she thought she'd locked the bathroom door. Just what she always wanted, to get caught making faces in the mirror. "Uh, practicing?" she said, feeling like when she was ten and Abuelita caught her in her mother's makeup and shoes.

Mamma looked amused. "Really? Practicing what?"

"I'm trying to figure out how to play my part," Diana said. "If I can figure out something that works, I can memorize it like a dance. It's a bigger part than I've ever had, Mamma, much bigger. I don't want to screw up."

"You won't," Mamma said. "You'll be perfect. Although, I can't imagine that face you were making is really what the director wants. If you need some help, maybe I can work with you on Saturday."

"That would be great," Diana said. It was surprisingly hard to figure out what an expression or action looked like even with the mirror—she was spending far too much time second-guessing herself.

"So, it's a big part? I thought you said the audition was just dancing."

"It's a really big show," Diana said with a shrug. "Lots of parts. Everybody's got some lines, and it's really complicated so they all matter."

"Sounds like this could be a big break for you," Mamma said. "That's wonderful!"

"Yeah, assuming I don't screw up," Diana said. She could say that kind of thing to Mamma. She wouldn't hold it against her, and Mamma wouldn't lie to make her feel better, either.

"You won't."

"Thanks, Mamma." Diana smiled and turned back to the mirror. Mamma stayed to watch, leaning against the doorjamb. Diana gritted her teeth and ignored her. If she couldn't do this in front of an audience of one, she'd never be able to do it on the stage. It just looked so stupid, standing here in the bathroom making faces at the mirror. Anyway, she'd been at it for a while, she needed to go re-read her scenes, try to get the lines memorized, figure out some other things to try.

Mamma stepped aside to let Diana out. "You know, I'm surprised you didn't go see Paul," she said.

"I almost did, but I didn't want to hover."

"Probably a good idea," Mamma said. "He had a lot of hovering while he was here."

"I wasn't the only one," Diana said defensively.

"I didn't say you were," Mamma replied. "He knows you care, and he knows he can come if he needs help. He can take care of himself."

Diana snorted. "He only thinks he can."

Mamma shrugged. "It's still his life."

"I know."

Diana waited a few days before going to visit Paul. He seemed happy to see her when she showed up at his door, and seemed interested to talk about how the show was going. They killed an hour with that, and reminiscing about the last show they'd been in—that horrible flop, with the director who probably shouldn't be allowed to direct anything harder than a Christmas pageant, but was sleeping with one of the producers, and had an assistant who spent half his time high.

Diana had a great time. At least, she would have if Paul hadn't been trying to deflect her attention any time she asked what was going on in his life.

"Come on, Paul, it can't be that bad," Diana said.

"I got a part-time job as a cashier," Paul said.

"At least it will help until you get something better," Diana said, trying to smile. Part-time cashiering wouldn't cover the rent, much less food or the hospital bill.

"And I ran into Brandon the other day. I know you don't like him," Paul said quickly before Diana could get a word in edgewise, "but he said he'd love to help in any way he could if I'd move back in with him."

"Paul! You can't seriously be thinking of taking him up on it," Diana said, leaning forward. "He's a jerk! That's why you broke up with him! He takes advantage of you when you're down and treats you like crap! If you're looking for a boyfriend, you can do better, and if you're looking for a place to stay you can always come back to my place. I'll try to keep Mamma and Abuelita off your back. You can give up this place, you won't have to pay rent, and you can use the money from the cashier job for the hospital bills and work on your GED so you can get a better job."

"Thanks for the offer, but I don't want to be a burden," Paul said quietly.

"So you'd rather be treated like a puta?" Diana burst out. "You're not a burden! We all love you, and if Mamma pushes it's because she wants you to do well. Brandon just wants a hot young guy he can jerk around on his whim, and the more dependent on him you are the better. You can't do that to yourself, Paul."

He looked away. "I haven't given him an answer one way or the other."

"Stop, stop, stop. Goddamnit, Diana, you did better yesterday."

Diana stopped and blushed. It was small consolation that Zach yelled at everyone that way.

"Quit screwing around and wasting my time. Remember, you're trying to hide how upset you are. Let's go back to the beginning of the scene and try it again, people."

They went back to the beginning of the scene and tried it again. Diana did better—at least Zach didn't yell at her this time—but it would have been nice to know what she did that he liked, so that she could do it again. This time, Zach stopped for one of the main actors, and told everyone to take five while they talked.

Diana looked over at Larry, lounging in the wings and watching. She didn't want to bother him, but he wasn't working. She walked over to him. "Hey, Larry," she said quietly, not wanting to catch Zach's attention.

"Diana," Larry said.

"You stopped dancing because of an injury, right?" Diana said. "That's why you went in to choreography and dance direction, right?"

"Yeah," Larry said. "Is this about Paul?"

"He probably won't dance again," Diana said. "But dancing is his life—he doesn't have anything else to fall back on."

Larry sighed. "I know it's tough, but there are even fewer choreography jobs than dance jobs. I was older than Paul, and had a lot more experience. And I had connections, people who knew me and knew I could do the job."

Diana shook her head. "That doesn't help Paul."

"I know, it's tough," Larry said. "Have the two of you been friends long?"

"About a year," Diana said. "We met an audition. We didn't get to be good friends until a few months later—we were both in this really crappy show that didn't make it to Broadway, it was horrible but it was a job, and we started swapping stories about the worst jobs we've ever done—or the funniest—and things went from there." She smiled, but there was no humor in it. "He's had a lot worse jobs than I ever did. And now that he can't dance—he can't do much else, either, because he started so young, and his knee is bad. And the surgery wasn't cheap"

Larry nodded. "The Actor's Equity Union may be able to do something to help, at least a little. Has he asked them?"

Diana shook her head. "I don't think so. He doesn't want to be a burden on anyone. I've been trying to get him to let me help, but he's not really listening to me right now—I think my mother nagged him too much when he was living with us after the surgery."

"Yeah, well, this is why we pay our dues," Larry said. "Want me to talk to him?"

"That would be great!" Diana looked him up and down—Larry was kind of handsome, she supposed, and he was gay, and Paul had always gone for older men. Of course, he'd always gone for assholes, too, which left Larry out, but it couldn't hurt to have him go over and talk with Paul. "I'll give you his address after rehearsal," she said as Zach called them back on stage.

Diana was laying in bed watching TV when a knock came. "Come in," she said.

Mamma opened the door and came in to sit on her bed. "What are you watching?" she asked.

"Nothing," Diana said. "Just reruns."

"You were quiet at dinner," Mamma said. "Is everything all right?"

"I'm tired from rehearsal," Diana said. "We worked hard. And Zach—the director—keeps yelling at me. I mean, he yells at everyone, but he yells more at me. The dancing, I'm great at. The acting, not so much."

"You're selling yourself short," Mamma said. "You get frustrated and try to second-guess yourself, and that's when you have problems with your acting. If you just relax and do it, you'll be fine. I know you will."

"Thanks," Diana said, turning her attention back to the television.

"Is that all?" her mother said after a few minutes.

"All what?"

"All that's bothering you."

Diana snorted. "This part could make my career and I'm this close to screwing it up." She held up her thumb and forefinger about an inch apart. "That's not enough?"

"I think you're a little farther away than that," Mamma said. "And don't try to change the subject."

Diana sighed. "You know I'm worried about Paul. He's depressed." And his taste in men is terrible, she didn't say. "I'm going to be leaving next week for Boston, and I'm worried he'll do something stupid while I'm gone. He doesn't always make good choices"

"And yet, they are still his choices to make," Mamma said crisply. "You can be his friend. You can help him when he lets you. You can lecture him. You can't live his life for him, and if you try you'll only end up hurting both of you. Paul wouldn't want your worrying about him to get in the way of doing your job." She took Diana's hand. "I know how you feel. But you aren't the one who was injured. Stop feeling guilty for being healthy and getting the part."

Diana closed her eyes and nodded. "I know. It's just hard. I want him to be happy."

"So do I," said her mother. "But I want you to be happy and successful, too. You're in a show that's going to be on Broadway, and here you are moping." She patted Diana's hand. "You're dancing. You love it. Don't lose sight of that."

Diana stood on stage, in position waiting for the music to start. She settled her costume and took her position, glancing over at Cassie and Mike and Bobby, seeing the same excitement in their eyes that she knew was in hers. She took a deep breath. She could hear the noise of the audience in their seats. The band began to play, and the curtain came up. She danced.