Karen knew she shouldn't have been here. It was Christmas, the one day out of the entire year when she didn't need to be rehearsing, yet here she was, pulled back here like a piece of metal to a magnet.

The theater was deserted, which suited Karen just fine. She had a lot on her mind. Her parents had flown in for the holiday. It was great to see them, but every time they open their mouth it seemed like they were talking about a world she no longer belonged in. Karen no longer had it in her to be thrilled that Mike Harris had opened up his own hardware store or that Abigail Brown had yet another baby on the way.

Likewise they didn't seem to understand anything she shared with them, like how she'd finally nailed the ultra-complicated rhythm in the Act One Finale. The only thing they seemed to take away from their discussions about the musical was that 1) she was working too many hours and 2) that her boss was a tyrannical, womanizing snake who lived to prey on vulnerable young women just like her. As if Karen needed to ask where her parents had gotten that impression.

The biggest problem Karen had no way of solving at the moment was Dev. Before she had started on Marilyn, Dev had been her biggest fan, her staunchest supporter as she pursued what her parents believed was a pipe dream. The reality of it however was wearing on him. Her crazy schedule meant they spent very little time together, and when they were together she was usually exhausted. Also he was never thrilled to hear she'd be staying late doing understudy duties with Derek. Dev had become absolutely convinced that Derek had some Machiavellian seduction planned for her, but frankly Karen just didn't see it. Don't get her wrong, Derek liked woman, lots of women and he certainly had no compunction about sleeping with members of the cast, but after she'd turned him down that first night in his apartment he hadn't done anything to indicate he had lecherous designs on her. Most of the time he treated her exactly like he treated everyone else: shitty.

Okay maybe shitty wasn't exactly the right word. Derek was…hard on his performers. He squeezed excellence out of those around him like she squeezed the last of the toothpaste out of a near empty tube. It may not have been easy or pleasant, but it got the job done. He was also not above playing little head games, particularly with Ivy and herself, continually pitting them against each other, forcing them to compete, even though technically Ivy had already won the part. The trouble was, no matter how much of a jerk he sometimes acted, Karen had to admit, he got results. He made her better, stronger, both as a performer and as a person. He was neither kind, nor cruel, he simply was. Like gravity or some other law of nature that had to be accepted if only because it can't be changed.

There were indicators of humanity in Derek. A flash of wit, a slice of a crooked smile, the glimmer of mischief in his eyes, all of which vanished quickly enough that Karen if she'd seen them at all. Karen shook her head. Maybe Dev was right, maybe she had developed Stockholm's Syndrome after all. Any way she hadn't stormed out of Christmas dinner with her boyfriend and family and come here to dwell. Certainly not on so impossible a man a Derek Wells. She changed in the green room and took the stairs up to the main stage.