Crossing Rhodes: That One Time April Asked Shelby For Help
"Cut, cut, cut!"
Shelby stood up from her chair in the middle of the theatre. She didn't even bother looking up at the stage as she made her way down the row and towards the aisle - it was common knowledge that April was probably already stomping her cowgirl boots and pouting with her hands on her hips and a scowl on her face. Unfortunately for April, her scowls looked more or less harmless.
"What is it this time, Corcoran?" Sure enough, when Shelby finally began making her way up to the stage, there April was - the toe of her bright red boots tapping impatiently on the hard wood of the stage floor, hands, hips, scowl, and not menacing in the slightest. "We haven't got all day," April yelled - even though Shelby was already standing front row center, arms crossed over her chest. "We open in two weeks, sister!"
Shelby shook her head from side to side, refusing to break eye contact with the woman onstage. "April," she began, her words slow and even. Because April absolutely hated that. "Did you," she asked, "or did you not," another pause (and by now, April was positively sweating off her afternoon's vino consumption), "ask me," Shelby gestured up and down her own body, "to direct your musical?"
April huffed. Her eyes narrowed and, for a brief moment, she managed to look slightly intimidating - but it was the kind of intimidation reminiscent of a grumpy little kid who was realizing that she was not about to get her way. "I did," she replied. Her words were clipped. Not since her time of living out of foreclosed houses and sipping on potent boxed wine had April been capable of such easy chastisement. But even then, the buzz allowed it all to roll off of her shoulders.
But not now. Not with Shelby. The woman got stuff done - but there was something about their personalities that did not mix. Like... Like alcohol and church service (which April knew from experience).
"So if you asked me to help you direct this show, why do you so vehemently protest every bit of direction I try to give?"
April sighed. Her head dropped on her shoulders, chin arching closer to her chest. But only for a moment. Then she recovered, lifting her head once more with her hands still firmly planted on her hips. And she said, "Because I saw something in you that reminded me of myself. And that's exactly what this show needs - someone who can give their all as much as I can, someone capable of taking what I dish out and returning it tit for tat. That's you, Corcoran."
Shelby breathed in deeply through her nose. She wanted to reply, but she didn't have the words. All she could do was nod her head. Because April was right, and they both knew it.
It was three o'clock in the afternoon, and all Shelby wanted was a steaming cup of coffee. She was still technically on call at the dance slash acting studio she had been working at for several more hours. It was tedious, sometimes, trying to coach every other wannabe-future-Broadway star in the city.
The only good part was that most of the studio's students were the offspring of socialites based in the upper east side. They had absurd amounts of money to blow on the hopes and dreams of their mostly untalented children, and Shelby had found a place on the staff. And so she was reaping the benefits.
But living in New York City was expensive. So while she was making decent enough pay to keep Beth in daycare four days a week, she wasn't making enough to look twice at the dessert menu.
"A cup of coffee, please," she said tiredly when one of the waitresses behind the counter stepped up in front of her. She pushed the proffered menu away, rubbing at her eyes. Luckily, a steaming hot cup of caffeinated beverage was quickly placed in front of her.
She took a sip. It was black and strong and perfect.
The tiny bell over the door tinkled. A cold gust of wind swept over Shelby's uncovered shoulders, and she automatically clutched the hot mug tighter in her hands. The door clanged lightly shut, and the warmth of the diner washed over her once more. She settled back down in her seat, unaware that she had tensed up so much for some reason.
There was a clack-clack of heels on the worn linoleum of the diner floor, the scraping of a bar stool being pulled out and sat upon. Then a voice unlike any Shelby had ever heard was loudly proclaiming, "Ya got any whiskey back there?"
Shelby's eyebrow arched as she turned her head slightly to the side, taking in the figure sitting four spots down from her. A rumpled red dress, what appeared to be a black feathered boa around her neck, tall heels. She was small, very skinny, shoulder-length blonde hair. Turning back to her cup of coffee, Shelby attempted to hold in her laughter as the woman made a squawk of protestation upon being informed that no, the diner didn't stock whiskey.
The woman huffed before asking for a stack of flapjacks, a side of sausage links, enough maple syrup to coat her radiator (whatever that meant), and a pot of coffee. "Yeah," she reiterated when the waitress opened her mouth to question her. "An entire pot. Just drop it down in front of me, right here." She patted the counter in front of her.
Shelby couldn't hold in the slightest of chuckles at this point. And that was when she inadvertently gained the blonde's attention.
"What?" the woman questioned, and Shelby could tell that she was the one being addressed. She turned her head towards the blonde. "You've never wanted an entire pot of Jack to yourself before?"
"You mean Joe?" Shelby asked, bringing her own cup o' joe up to her lips and taking a long sip. It almost burned her tongue, but not quite.
"No," the other woman replied. "Not Joe." She pulled a clutch out from between her legs - Shelby did not want to know how she had managed to keep it wedged there this whole time - and opened it, pulling out a silver flask. She unscrewed the top and proceeded to dump the entire flask's contents into the coffee pot that was sitting in front of her now. "I meant Jack."
Shelby shook her head and laughed, turning back to stare at the counter top in front of her. She began mentally balancing her checkbook, a habit that she had only recently developed - it constantly occupied her mind, that damn account balance. She was trying to remember if the bill at the laundromat yesterday morning had been seventeen dollars and fifty-two cents or fifty-seven cents when the bar stool scraped against the floor again.
She looked up in time to see the woman in red picking herself up off of the stool and sliding her coffee pot along the tall counter, coming to rest next to Shelby's left elbow. She hopped up on the stool right next to Shelby, almost losing her balance in the process. Shelby reached out and helped to steady her.
"I don't think we've been formally introduced," the woman said, the slightest of southern twangs working its way into her voice. "I'm April Rhodes, and I'm a star."
"A star?" Shelby asked, skepticism inadvertently lacing her tone. "Well, April Rhodes, star. It's nice to meet you. I'm Shelby."
"Do you have a last name, sweet cheeks?"
"Corcoran," Shelby replied.
"Nice to meet ya!" April exclaimed, reaching out and one-arm hugging Shelby around the shoulders. Shelby rushed to scoot her coffee back so that she didn't end up wearing it. "And I guess you could say," April continued, pulling back and taking a sip of her own Jack'd up coffee - straight from the pot, "that I'm a star in the making. I'm producing a Broadway show about my life! It's called 'Crossrhodes', and it's going to be a hit."
Shelby's lips quirked into a grin. "Is it?" she asked.
"It is!" April reiterated, gleeful smile on her face. But then her smile faltered, and she stared forlornly down into the coffee pot that was now sitting on her lap. "Well, it could be. It should be! I just... I think it's missing something."
"What is it missing?" Shelby asked, continuing to sip on her coffee and to stomp down on the intrigue that was building somewhere inside of her.
"Direction, maybe," April replied. Her breakfast arrived then, accompanied by the delicious fragrance of copious amounts of warm maple syrup. April's smile returned full force, and she pulled a bottle of Tabasco sauce out of her clutch.
Shelby's mind began turning. If there was one thing she knew she was good at, it was giving direction. "I've done some directing before," she started, "in a past life, you could say. And I work at a studio here in the city now. I'm sure that I could find someone willing to help you out. Maybe you could do some interviews -"
"You have experience?" April asked around a mouthful of pancake.
Shelby turned to look at her and couldn't help but roll her eyes at the sight - April in her red evening dress, blonde locks partially askew, empty fork still hovering in front of her lips, a bit of maple syrup dripping down her chin. "I do," she answered with a light laugh. She grabbed a napkin from the dispenser in front of her and offered it to the blonde. But April just grinned goofily and stuck her face out. Shelby shook her head, but wiped the other woman's face anyway.
It was odd, but not really. And Shelby found herself wondering why it hadn't bothered her or given her pause. The other woman exuded some kind of vibe - like a kindred spirit or someone who was just supposed to be there right then, sitting next to Shelby and strangely bonding over pancakes and coffee - Jack and Joe - and lack of direction.
"Well then, if you have experience, why don't you come work for me?" April asked. She turned back to her plate and shoved an entire sausage link into her mouth. Shelby was mentally preparing herself to perform the Heimlich.
"Come work for you?"
"Well, I'm going to take my offer back if you just keep repeating what I say in question form." Shelby was surprised she understood anything that was coming out of April's mouth at this point.
"Fine," Shelby acquiesced, going to take a sip of her coffee and noticing it was empty. She sat it back down, and April pushed her coffee pot towards her. Shelby waved it off as politely as she could. "Tell me what that would entail."
"It would entail becoming famous."
"Seriously," Shelby said. "No bullshit. Tell me what you need from me, how much power I would actually have over the direction of the show, work schedules, pay. Talk to me, because I kind of hate my job right now."
Then they started to talk - to really talk and figure things out. They clicked for some inexplicable reason - April in her red dress with her maple syrup face and her dreams of grandeur, and Shelby with her dwindling checking account and her baby girl at daycare and her unhappiness with her position in life.
It was strange, really, how April became more and more impassioned and coherent and convincing as her pot of Jack-coffee dwindled. And somehow - by the time the food was consumed and Shelby was on her second cup of coffee - they had come to an agreement.
They pushed back from the bar and stood - Shelby towering a good several inches over April, despite April's heels. April stuck out her hand, and Shelby clasped it in a firm handshake.
"Partners?" April asked, head tilted and grin firmly in place.
Shelby smiled and felt an odd sense of contentment settle on her heart. "Partners," she replied.
April stormed offstage after Shelby had remained stoically silent. And now Shelby was following her, fingertips dancing across the aged brick that lined the theatre's hallways in the actors' dressing room area. Finally, she stopped in front of a wooden door, gold star adorned with the words APRIL RHODES shining brightly right in front of her face.
She didn't knock.
"April," she began, not even letting the firecracker of a woman she had come to know and love interrupt her. "That day in the diner, we clicked, didn't we?" April's lips remained tightly sealed as she looked in the wide mirror in front of her, eyes connecting with Shelby's over her shoulder. "We were both looking for direction. We were both looking for that something that could make life worthwhile again." April bit her lip and nodded her head. "These past couple of months work-shopping your musical has been... liberating, to say the least. I feel a sense of accomplishment that I wasn't aware even existed before, and I've gained a friend."
April's eyes began to visibly well up with tears. "Shelby, I -"
"You don't have to say anything," Shelby interjected. "Just get up, put your favorite boots back on, and get back out on that stage. Because we have an opening night to prepare for and Tony awards to win. And I'll be damned if you make me replace April Rhodes in the role of April Rhodes with some floozy off of the street."
A broad grin spread across April's face, and she hopped up, spun around, and flung her arms haphazardly around Shelby's neck. "I knew I could count on you!" she spoke into Shelby's chest. "I knew we would be the best team since... Since peanut butter and jelly! Or vodka and vodka. Maybe since Glinda and Elphaba or Fred and Ginger!"
"Whoa there, lady," Shelby replied, pulling back and holding onto April by the shoulders. "No one tops Fred and Ginger."
April's eyes glinted. "But maybe we can come pretty close."
Shelby laughed and nodded her head. "Yeah," she agreed, "maybe we can come pretty close."
Shelby was surprised when she stepped out of the limo and onto the red carpet because it just felt like carpet. There wasn't anything particularly special about it - besides the fact that it was utterly surrounded by the press and screaming, adoring fans.
She turned back to the limo, reaching her hand down to grasp onto April's extended one. Together, they stepped onto the carpet and into the swarm.
Shelby had a wonderful feeling in her stomach after Crossrhodes won "Best Original Score", and they all celebrated with gusto when their previously-unknown-but-now-seriously-making-a-name-for-himself-with-their-help leading actor won "Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role." She didn't win a Tony for directing, and April didn't even win an award for her leading role in her own musical - but when April's name was called amongst the nominees, she received ear-splitting applause, louder than all the other women in her category combined. And Shelby turned to look at her then, and the smile on April's face was as if she had already won.
Maybe that was enough. For now - because April already had plans for a sequel.
"I'm going to call it Crossing Rhodes, and it's going to be all about us."
"Us?" Shelby questioned, sipping the glass of champagne at the Tony after-party their cast had been invited to.
"Yes, us," April rolled her eyes. "It's going to be about the making of Crossrhodes - the struggle and how it only came together once you came into my life! I already have the perfect catchphrase. We're going to walk out of this elaborate diner set, arm in arm, and I'll turn to you and say, 'Shelby, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship'."
Shelby laughed - full on, heartily, nearly spilling a bit of champagne on her dress. "April, that line has already been taken."
"Oh?" April questioned. "Well, maybe people won't notice."
Shelby laughed and nodded her head. But she had already made the mental note to edit that line in the script when it inevitably came sliding across her desk.
She watched as April interacted with other members of the Broadway elite - a group that they were now considered a part of. And she thought about her beautiful baby girl in bed at home in their new loft. And she thought about how unhappy she had been eight months previous.
What a turnaround it had been. And well worth every pot of Jack'd up coffee she'd helped April consume late at night along the way.