Author name: SueBee0619
Email Address: suebee0619
FFN profile page link: ~suebee0619
Title of Story: What I Did for Love
Word Count: 8,242
Type of Edward: 70's/80's
Category (Literotica or Young Adult) Literotica
Story Summary: One hit Broadway show. One record breaking performance. One brilliant director/choreographer looks back at everything the show brought into his life.
I gazed out across the stage and into the wings stage right as both the current and the original cast of my show gathered. I hadn't been this nervous before a performance in years - eight years and two months or, to be more exact, 3,389 performances ago. Would people find it indulgent or perfect? Would they see it as a celebration of all of the dancers or an egotistical display by one former one? The past week had been such hard work, but seeing over three hundred of my former dancers come back to the show warmed my heart and reminded me of why I wanted to do this. "A Chorus Line" was written for them, about them, and was created on the backs of years of anonymous gypsies dancing in the background of big, Broadway musicals. It was only right that they should all be here.
I felt arms snake around me from behind, surrounding me in a gentle hug, pulling me out of my worries. "It's perfect. They'll love it," she whispered.
I spun around and hugged Bella close to me. "Are you sure? Bella, did I do the right thing with this? They won't think it's just Masen's out of control ego?"
"Edward! Of course you did. Every single one of us who have done this show carries it with us in our hearts even after we left. You know this. If you hadn't brought everyone back, it wouldn't be right. It wouldn't be "A Chorus Line" without the dancers that made it what it is."
The house lights were finally dimmed to half and stayed there while the audience scrambled to their seats. Like it or not, it was too late to change anything now. All I could do was stand here and watch it either blow the roof off of the Shubert Theatre or fizzle in a self-indulgent mess.
The lights went out, the current cast scurried onstage, and it all began.
The piano started and the kid playing Zach yelled, "Again...Step, kick, kick, leap, kick, touch... Again!"
The audience roared, thrilled for this record breaking evening to begin. If this was how they reacted to the cast onstage now, I couldn't wait for their reaction to what came next. I turned to my wife, her eyes gleaming with excitement at getting to go onstage as Cassie one more time. I kissed her forehead and said, "Merde," before she scurried down to the first wing.
As usual, after the 'cuts' were announced, the cast moved into line upstage, and as they began to walk downstage, the lights faded to black. What wasn't usual was that cast running offstage while the original cast rushed to form the line downstage, holding their headshots up like they had so many times before. The lights came up on the dancers who had given everything to this show – they worked for $100 a week during the workshops at The Public Theater, they bared their hearts and souls in our interview sessions, they gave me everything they had to make this show what it was. There would not be "A Chorus Line" if it weren't for those eighteen people as well as so many more. Seeing them standing all together on that now famous white tape line brought tears to my eyes, and I knew deep in my soul that this had been the right way to celebrate this milestone. The audience roared in appreciation when they realized who was in front of them and what kind of a night they were about to bear witness to.
It all started in an exercise room at a gym some friends of mine ran on the Lower East Side. A handful of dancers had come to me with an idea for a project about the performers who made up a Broadway chorus line, but they needed someone to lead them. Someone who had already started making a name for himself. In other words, me. About two dozen dancers gathered after their shows let out around midnight, loosened up by the jugs of cheap wine in the center of the room, slowly opening up about their lives and how they came to be a Broadway dancer. As the night turned into morning, the questions and stories went deeper, all of us sharing how we got to where we were, how our childhoods, our parents, our lack of parents, our sexuality – how all of it turned us into our adult selves. It was twelve hours of talking and laughing and tearing the band-aids off of old wounds. And while we were all exhausted when we finished around noon, it was a giddy exhaustion that surrounded us. A hesitancy to walk away from what we all knew was a magical experience. It was a night that would change my life in so many ways.
As I stood in the wings, I watched all of the different iterations of the characters swap in and out; sometimes multiple performers of the same part onstage at the same time. Whenever she wasn't onstage, Bella was right next to me holding my hand, grinning at what I had created – what we all had created. As one of the Bobbys finished up his monologue and stepped back into line, my breath hitched. "At the Ballet" was next and while it didn't have the entire original cast, it did have some of my favorites through the years.
First up was Rosalie playing Sheila with her trademark confidence and brashness. Playing probably wasn't the right word, since Rose literally was Sheila. Sheila's stories were ones Rose had shared in those early interview sessions. When I was still a dancer, I was in an audition with Rose where the choreographer put her in the back row. When he noticed she wasn't doing the combination right anymore and asked her about it, she replied, "I knew it when I was in the front." You bet your ass I put that in the script for her to say. When she read it the first time, she rolled her eyes and feigned annoyance, but I could see the soft smile poke through when she thought I wasn't looking.
Angela, playing Bebe, picked up the second verse, again singing lines that were her own confessions from the interview sessions. Rose and Angela were a study in contrasts – one tall, beautiful, and confident, the other shorter and not conventionally pretty, but striking nonetheless. And that contrast served the number so well, showing how two very different women were able to escape to the world of ballet when they were children.
As Esme joined in, I got goose bumps. She wasn't part of the original cast, but she was my favorite Maggie by far. Her voice was clear and lovely and heartbreaking and perfectly suited for the role. I got lucky that I heard her before her audition, or she never would have ended up in the show.
I walked down the hall of my rehearsal studios, hungover and cranky about having to sit through hours of auditions for cast replacements. From further down, I heard a lovely soprano voice although I couldn't quite make out what was being sung. As I got closer, my enjoyment turned into what can only be described as horror. That lovely, lilting soprano was singing, "Tits and ass, bought myself a fancy pair, tightened up the derriere. Did the nose with it. All that goes with it." I threw the door open before she could start singing about getting the bingo-bongos done.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing to that poor song?"
The poor woman looked back at me, terrified. "I'm just warming up for my audition. I don't understand, I was told the room was free?"
"No, it's not that. It's… look, have you seen the show? Why in the hell do you think you should be auditioning for Val? You're not a Val. Your voice is lovely, but you are definitely not a Val."
"My agent told me I should."
I sighed and pinched the bridge of my nose. Not only did she have the wrong voice for the role, she barely had a chest and seemed so wide-eyed and innocent. How the hell was she supposed to sing about her tits and ass getting her roles if she didn't even have tits? Was her agent blind?
"Your agent? And who is your agent?"
"Aro at The Volturi Group. I wanted to audition for Maggie, but he told me to do this instead. He said he had a lock for Maggie with someone else so I shouldn't bother."
"I see. And what's your name?"
"Esme. Esme Platt."
"OK, Esme Platt. I want you to promise me you will never ever sing about your tits and ass again. If you can do that, go pick up the sides for Maggie. Your voice is perfect for her."
She looked at me with relief. She knew she was wrong for the part, but her agent put her up for it, so what was she going to do? "Thank you so much, Mr. Masen. And no tits and ass, I promise."
I cringed again as she said it. I swear it was somehow worse than if my own mother was saying it.
Not only did I give her the job, I also got her a new agent. Carlisle Cullen was more than happy to poach her from TVG. After a few months of tiptoeing around each other, they finally admitted that there was much more than a professional interest between them. They've been married for five years now.
As the montage began, Ali moved next to me and started bouncing up and down. Alicia Lopez and I met at the High School for the Performing Arts and she's been doing what I call the backstage bounce for as long as I've known her. Everyone has his or her own way of preparing to go on stage and that just happened to be hers. It was ridiculous, it was annoying, and it was so very Ali.
"Settle down there, short shit."
She scowled at me and flipped me off. I was lucky we were backstage so she couldn't let loose with a stream of Spanish curse words. She and I both knew from experience that she had no volume control if she started to let 'em fly. She annoyed me, I pissed her off, it was our thing.
We were standing backstage during tech for the senior showcase. Ali was next to me doing the backstage bounce, and I was getting more and more annoyed with her as they went over the scene onstage again. So I poked her. She glared at me and went back to bouncing.
"Quit it, Ali," I whispered.
She ignored me and kept bouncing.
"I said quit it, Ali!" I whisper yelled.
She continued to ignore me.
"If you don't fucking quit it, I'll tell your mother about your new, white boyfriend, Alicia." It was a two-pronged attack and one that I knew would push her buttons. Her mother didn't want her dating anyone who wasn't a Puerto Rican Catholic, and she absolutely hated being called Alicia. It was a low blow, she really liked this new guy, but she was driving me absolutely crazy. Besides, she had a temper, and it was entertaining to watch her explode.
"Vaya a la chingada, pinche culero! Chinga su pinche madre!" She started with a harsh whisper, but by the end of her mini rant, she had escalated to full on yelling.
Mr. Carp stormed backstage and sneered at her. "Alicia! What the hell are you thinking? I know you don't have the talent to do the work in my class, but the least you could do is respect your fellow students." As he stomped away, I could hear him mutter, "And she thinks she's going to be an actress."
I sucked in a breath. I thought Ali had exaggerated about how he treated her in class, but seeing him just now made me realize what a shitty friend I had been. I had brushed aside her concerns; just assuming she was being overdramatic.
I turned to her, for once disheartened to see she had stopped bouncing. "Drop his class, Ali. I'm sorry, I had no idea. If I had known how badly he treated you, I would have told you. Drop his class. He has no clue how great you are."
She gave me a small smile and grabbed my hand and squeezed it. Slowly, I could feel her coming out of the shock and embarrassment, and her body began to almost vibrate with the energy she was trying to suppress.
I sighed and looked at her. "Bounce away, short shit. Bounce away."
I watched her sing "Nothing" and remembered the night we heard the news about Mr. Carp's heart attack. We drank a few bottles of wine until she finally confessed through her tears that she felt absolutely nothing at the news. I couldn't say I blamed her.
The show continued and I started getting anxious as Bella began stretching, preparing to take the stage for the scene I still called hers. "The Music and the Mirror" was never Cassie's to me; it was and always would be Bella's in my mind.
On my way out from the marathon interview session, I stopped by the studio offices to thank my friends for letting us use the space. I thought the rest of the dancers had gone to their apartments to crash, but I heard music from one of the smaller rooms and couldn't help but peek through the window in the door.
One of the dancers I didn't know well, Bella, was just feeling the music, going wherever her body took her, and the vision of her in motion took my breath away. It was obvious she was making things up on the spot, trying different moves, returning to the ones she liked again and again, perfecting them as she watched herself critically in the mirror. The steps weren't anything special, but what she did with them added depth and polish and made them look so much more than they were.I watched as she danced across the room.Each time she would arch back, tilting her head towards the floor, she put everything she had into it. It didn't matter that it wasn't a performance; she was dancing. I could tell that to her, to dance was to give everything she had, no matter if anyone was watching or not. Each time she threw her arms behind her as she lunged forward, it was wild yet completely controlled. With each move she made, I was amazed as I thought she had stretched as far as she could and yet somehow, she made that extra reach that set her apart from simply being good. She was mesmerizing.
She didn't notice me watching, her gaze so intent on the mirror in front of her. When the music stopped, she smiled and nodded slightly at her reflection, pleased at what she had done. As she slowly walked over to the tape player and her bag, breathing heavily, I opened the door. She grabbed a towel and looked up at me as she dabbed at the sweat on her face.
"Bella, right? I'm Edward. We didn't really get introduced earlier."
She started laughing. "Edward, you know pretty much everything about me after that session. I'm pretty sure we're past introductions at this point."
I started laughing as well, realizing how ridiculous it was to introduce myself after everything that had been discussed in that room. "OK, that's fair. I hope you don't mind – I watched from the door. I heard the music and had to take a peek. Bella, that was really amazing. I can't believe I haven't seen you before."
"I've been touring mostly. I just got a job in "Pippin" and moved back to the city. One of the other dancers, Ali, invited me along last night. It was pretty incredible – I'm glad I came."
"I'm glad you came too." I gazed at her, wanting this moment to last, but knowing we had to leave. "I hate to say this, but we should probably head out. There's probably a class that booked this room starting soon. Um, did you want to get lunch or something?"
Lunch turned into dinner and dinner turned into falling asleep together, tangled up on my couch. We both later admitted our intentions weren't at all honorable that night, but we were simply too exhausted to do anything about it. From that moment on, we were inseparable. She became not only my lover, but also my best friend and my muse. In the basement of The Public Theater, we took those steps she had pieced together and created what would become "The Music and the Mirror". It was a marathon of a piece, both emotionally and physically, but I knew she could do it and do it beautifully, so I pushed her. There were plenty of heated arguments as we put it together, but I wanted it to showcase everything I loved about her dancing. As much as the rest of the show was shaped by who was in the original cast, this one piece was absolutely hers. It was everything my love was for Bella – strong, passionate, wild, and reaching far beyond what I thought possible.
It had been a long, hard day. We were more than halfway through the second workshop and could see opening night on the horizon. The past few days were spent mostly working on her number, which was still untitled. It was originally supposed to be Cassie and several boys from the line, but it just wasn't working right. Late last night, I decided to cut the boys and make the number a solo. We had been working on it all day. I kept pushing Bella to make it better and continued adding steps that made it more difficult. I knew she could do it; she just had to get out of her own way and let it happen.
She was silent as we walked out of the building. Silent as we got in the cab. I gave my address to the driver when she suddenly spoke up. "It will be two stops."
I whipped my head around to look at her as the cab headed in the direction to her apartment. She was staring out the window, not willing to look me in the eye. Well, fuck that. "One stop, actually. We'll both be getting out at the first address."
It was her turn to whip her head around. She glared at me for a moment and then returned to looking out the window. Whatever was bothering her, we were going to talk it out. I didn't want this distance between us - no, I couldn't have this distance between us. Not in our life together and not in rehearsal. If she wanted me to leave after we talked, I would, but we would talk.
The cabbie kept flicking his eyes to the rearview mirror, taking in the sight of two adults sitting as far away from each other as possible, each staring, unseeing, out their window. A gulf of palpable tension separated us.
We arrived in front of her building and as I paid the cabbie, she got out and slammed the door behind her. I winced. "I have no idea what you did, man, but good luck with her," he said, his eyes full of empathy.
Luckily, I had a key to her place, otherwise I wouldn't have even gotten beyond the vestibule as she was long gone, the inner door closed behind her. I unlocked and pushed it open, and sighed as I began to climb the stairs to her apartment. I had a small moment of hope when I saw the door cracked. At least she was inviting me in… well, somewhat anyway.
I tapped on the door and then called out to her as I pushed it open. It was the least I could do. I really had no idea what I was going to walk into. I heard her slamming drawers in the bedroom, so I headed in there, ready to face whatever I had done.
I sat on the edge of the bed, watching her storm around in silence as she packed her dance bag for the next day's rehearsal and just waited. And waited. She didn't even look at me, much less try to talk to me. I finally gave up.
"Bella." She stopped in the middle of the room, tights clutched in her hand. "Bella, talk to me. Tell me what's going on. Tell me what I did."
"What you did? What YOU did? You are hanging me out to dry! Why the fuck did you cast me in this role? I could barely dance the piece when it was me and the guys and now I have to do it alone? Are you crazy? And then you're so surprised when I can't do it in rehearsal and you yelled at me. You YELLED at me, Edward! How the hell was that supposed to make me feel? Two feet tall? Because then you succeeded, you jackass. I was embarrassed! Jasper was in there, Edward, and now he knows I can't do this! He'll tell everyone and then Rose or Lauren will try to take my part. Fuck, they'll probably take you! Why are you making me go through this, Edward, why? Why did you cast me just so you'd have to fire me?"
I sat there, stunned. I had no idea where this was coming from and that she was that insecure about her dancing. She somehow missed the encouragement I gave her throughout the day and focused on my moments of frustration. Yes, I'm a yeller when I feel like a dancer isn't getting it. I have done it to everyone at least once and this was the first time I had to with her. Didn't she understand that my job was to do whatever it took to get her there? No, I would never pull a stunt like I had a few months before, but I still had to push her.
"Are you fucking kidding me, Bella? Really? Your choreographer yelled at you. I know you've heard worse from Fosse, so I don't get the problem. I love you, but when I'm in that room working on your number, I am your director and choreographer first and your boyfriend second. I will yell if I think you aren't working to your potential. You've seen me do it with everyone else so should I treat you differently? With kid gloves? You're a dancer, Bella. You're THE dancer in this show. Yes, that comes with a whole lot of responsibility. Yes, I'm going to push you to do the best you can, to dance the best you have in your life. Because I owe you that. I wouldn't be taking care of you if I let you do anything less.
"I'm sorry I made you feel two feet tall. Your boyfriend hated yelling at you and is sorry and feels awful and ashamed. Your choreographer, however, isn't. You danced better than you had all day after I did that. Do you really think I'd make this dance on you if I thought you couldn't do it? That I'd let you get on stage and make a fool of yourself? Make a fool of me? I cut the boys because they were holding you back. You couldn't let yourself go the way you needed to if you were focusing on your spacing with them. So I cut them. To make you better. I will always do everything I can to make you better; make you the best. Because you are the best dancer up on that stage, Bella. You are.
"I love you. That doesn't go away in the rehearsal room, but sometimes I have to consciously ignore the part of me that wants to make this easy for you, that wants to hold you tight and tell you how great you are no matter what. Because that wouldn't be fair to you, that wouldn't be fair to anyone else on that stage, and it wouldn't be fair to me."
I looked at her warily and saw that her anger had melted into what was really going on. She was scared of failing. Terrified she'd never get the dance right, and feeling pretty shitty about it.
"Can your boyfriend take care of you now, baby? I can't stand not touching you when you're so upset."
She nodded as her tears started. I rushed over to her and gathered her in my arms, letting her get everything out. All of the tears of frustration and stress poured out of her as she sobbed into my chest. I held her and told her how much I loved her and how great she was doing in rehearsal and how stunning she was going to be on stage. And in between my whispered support, she kept repeating into my chest, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
As she calmed down, I carried her over to the bed and laid us down, tucking her into my side. As her breath evened out, I brushed her hair out of her face and kissed her forehead. "You ok now, baby?"
She nodded and then shyly ducked her head down. "Hey, look at me. Bella, honey, look at me." She tilted her head up, worry and embarrassment clouding her eyes. "It was about time for that meltdown. Every leading actor I've ever worked with had one of those. The only difference was what set them off." Her eyes widened in surprise. "It's ok. It's normal. It just shows how much you care about what you're doing. I don't want you to be in pain, but I love that you care this much. You're going to be amazing, baby. You'll see."
Her smile was radiant as it finally sunk in. I believed in her and didn't have one doubt in my mind about how absolutely dazzling she was going to be in the show. She tilted her head up more and kissed me gently. "Thank you, Edward."
"Anytime, baby. Anytime."
She kissed me again, and one gentle one turned into more, suddenly increasing in passion. The energy in her room had started out tense, then eventually gentle and loving, and now was transforming into being absolutely electric. She moaned into my mouth and started grinding against me. She started sloppily kissing down my neck while urgently trying to unbutton my shirt. "Off," she growled, frustrated. I yanked it over my head, buttons popping everywhere. I pulled the straps of her leotard down and kissed down her chest, taking one nipple in my mouth, while pinching the other between my fingers. She reached down and undid my jeans, making quick work of the button and zipper and started shoving them with my boxers down my legs. I started to pull her leotard the rest of the way off, and she tilted her hips so I could drag them off of her with her warm-up pants. I laid between her legs and licked up her neck until I sucked her earlobe into my mouth and bit down gently. She started to whimper as she ground against me, trying to get some friction. She was wild and finally letting go of everything that had been weighing her down. We were both desperate and panting, our hands everywhere, our mouths sucking and nibbling and licking every piece of naked flesh they could reach. There was an urgency to what we were doing, to how we were moving against each other, skin sliding against skin.
"Fuck. Please, Edward. Please."
This wasn't going to be slow or tender, this wasn't going to be teasing and fun - that wasn't what we needed. We needed hard and fast and to reconnect as us while letting go of everything we had been dealing with for the show. I thrust into her hard, and she shrieked in surprise. And then a wicked gleam entered her eye.
"Fuck me, Edward."
I grinned down at her, lifted one of her legs to my shoulder as she groaned, knowing what was coming next. I pulled almost completely out of her, and slammed back in, hitting her clit. I began a fast, punishing rhythm, as I watched her skin begin to flush. She grabbed her breasts and squeezed and pinched, moaning as I thrust into her hard. I changed the angle slightly, knowing I would start hitting the spot that made her crazy.
"Oh fuck, Edward. Yes! Fuck me, baby. Right there!"
I could feel her muscles start clenching and my stomach start tightening. Sex with Bella was always amazing, but this? This was mind blowing and erotic as hell. I wasn't going to last much longer as I looked down at the sight in front of me. My cock stroking in and out of her, her hair splayed across the pillows, her skin flushed pink, her fingers pinching her nipples, her moans getting progressively louder. As I felt her tense more, I turned my head and bit her gently on the arch of her foot. That was all it took for her to fall apart, moaning my name as she arched below me. The sight of her, everything about her, sent me reeling. I thrust erratically a few more times before grunting out her name and cumming hard. After I took a moment to catch my breath, I kissed her ankle and gently moved it off of my shoulder. I lay down on top of her, loving the feel of her arms around my back, holding me tightly. I knew how much she loved feeling the weight of all of me. She said it made her feel safe and completely surrounded by my love. I gazed down at her and saw the depth of my love for her reflected back at me.
"I love you, Bella."
As I watched her throw herself across the stage, it was as if she was back in the rehearsal room the day after our big fight. Getting all of that out centered her and was a real turning point both in managing the dual sides of our relationship and in her number. It freed her dancing somehow, and it was the first day we left rehearsal with huge grins on our faces.
Up there tonight, it was like she was dancing the number for the first time. It was raw and powerful, just as it should be, and the audience roared as Bella turned towards the mirrors upstage. Instead of dancing in the mirror like the character normally would, the mirrors pivoted and seven other women who had played Cassie before joined her onstage. They danced with her, acting as her reflections, taking the place of the mirrors. They each had their own style and their own little touches to the number, but no one danced it like Bella. She was ten years older than the youngest dancer out there with her, but she outdanced every single one of them.
When the number was done, she stood there, tears trailing down her cheeks, trying to stay in character and not let the pure joy she was feeling escape until the applause eventually died down and she could get offstage. When she finally could, she ran into the wings and jumped into my arms. I could feel her tears against my neck as I held her there, stroking her hair, whispering into her ear how much I loved her and how wonderfully she did.
She finally calmed down enough and took a step back. Her gaze was radiant. "Thank you for creating that piece on me, Edward. I feel your love every time I dance that. I've missed it, so much, and I'd resigned myself to never getting to dance it again."
I reached out and brushed the tears from her cheeks. "I love you, Bella. It's yours. It's always been yours."
I looked onto the stage and tensed as I realized what was coming next. An entire cluster of actors who had played the role of Paul was onstage, ready to begin the monologue that was at the emotional heart of the show. It was a story that came right out of that first interview session. Jasper was one of my best friends, and I hadn't even heard the story before that night. Seeing all of these actors saying his words just reminded me how much I missed him being here tonight. How much I missed so many of the guys who couldn't be here tonight.
I had recently bought a building with some of the money I had made from the show. It was my dream - a space where theatre could be created from the ground up. Where directors and choreographers could experiment and create with everything they needed at their fingertips. As I walked down the halls, I couldn't help but smile at the sounds leaking out from the studios and the clusters of theatre people just hanging out, waiting for their turn to dazzle in rehearsal or an audition. I saw Jazz huddled in the corner with two of my dancers whispering and laughing.
"What's shakin', boys?"
"Just deciding where to go out tonight. Peter here needs to get over his ex, so we're thinking about heading to The Club Baths or down to St. Marks. Get the boy some, if you know what I mean," Jazz said with an exaggerated wink. "So, Edward. What are you doing tonight? You know you're always welcome to come along."
I started chuckling. He never quit. He was one of my oldest friends from our days touring together, and he teased me mercilessly about being in the chorus and not being gay. "I know, Jazz, I know."
"Oh c'mon, Edward, you'd love The Club! You know no one can get pregnant, so you're in, you're out, and everyone's happy. You don't even need to bag it to shag it. That pesky rash you might pick up is what antibiotics are for."
At that point, I was laughing at Jasper in full queen mode. Peter was gaping at me, never having seen the two of us outside of rehearsals or auditions. "Oh Jazz, tempting as that sounds, I've told you before. More tits, less dicks, and I'm there. Check you boys later."
I walked away, still laughing at Jasper's little show. He'd been into Peter for a while and I knew he was just trying to show off a little. If it got him what he wanted, I was more than happy to play along.
The years after Stonewall were like the gay guys' own sexual revolution. They could finally be who they were without hiding. No one thought there were any consequences other than a case of the clap every once in a while until gay men starting getting sick. No one knew what was happening other than suddenly there were concentrated outbreaks of this new "gay man's disease" in New York and San Francisco. And then we had a name. AIDS. All of that unprotected sex was the perfect opportunity for a disease like that to spread. And, because it hid in your system for years before you showed any symptoms, it quickly spread through the community since no one knew they were sick. It was only 1983, and I had already been to a dozen funerals of former dancers of mine or other guys in the theatre. Peter died six months ago and Jazz was slowly fading from Kaposi's sarcoma.
I stood silently, listening to Jazz's words for the umpteenth time, tears rolling down my face, mourning my friend… mourning all of my friends and colleagues. Remembering all of the ridiculous moments Jazz and I had on tour, and how he looked out for me, telling me who to avoid and who I could trust. My thoughts were far from what was happening onstage, and I was vaguely aware of Bella holding me tight as I stood there, lost in my thoughts and missing my best friend.
The next section of the show was a blur until I felt Bella release me from her arms. I looked down at her, dazed, and she smiled softly back at me. "I have to go change for the finale, babe. I love you."
I simply nodded. I turned back to the stage just in time to see Paul crumple to the ground and the subsequent stage action. I chuckled to myself as I remembered faking an injury in front of everyone at the workshop just to get their reactions right for the script. They all hated me that day - Bella especially. It made good theatre, but it almost destroyed what Bella and I had just started.
It was fairly early on in the first workshop and we were still writing the script. I had already warned Emmett, our stage manager, what I was going to do. The one question everyone refused to seriously think about because it was so terrifying was what came next? What came after you couldn't dance anymore? It was something that had to be addressed in the show since it was such a defining moment in a dancer's life. What do you do when you lose a piece of who you are - a piece that had been a part of you since you were four or five years old? I needed a moment in the show where the audience could see just how fleeting a dancer's career could be. We used our bodies and pushed them to extremes and, like any athlete, were utterly dependent on them and at their mercy.
I nodded at Emmett to start the tape recorder and got up to ostensibly demonstrate a change I wanted to the choreography. I showed them the turn I wanted and, as I was coming out of it, dropped to the floor clutching my knee. I screamed, "Fuck!" loudly and then contorted my face as though I was actually in pain. There was a moment of silence before everyone rushed over to me, their concerned voices overlapping each other. I felt Bella's hands on my back and felt a momentary flash of guilt over the fact that she might be worried.
After a few minutes of absolute chaos, I got up and brushed myself off. "Remember how you felt in that moment? Good. Use it." I looked around at the stunned faces surrounding me, knowing they wouldn't forget the gamut of emotions they all just ran. As I stood in the center of them, waiting for them to process what had just happened, I saw Bella move towards me out of the corner of my eye.
I was shocked to see that her face was tear stained. Had I done that? I was so distracted by her tears that I neglected to see the absolute fury in her eyes. She walked up to me, slapped me, and said quietly, "You motherfucking bastard."
"Baby, I…" I tried to take her hand to pull her to me, but she pulled it away as if my touch was the most disgusting thing in the world.
"Don't. Touch. Me." She glared at me and then walked out of the rehearsal room.
I wanted to go after her, but I knew I had to deal with the rest of the cast first. "Emmett, could you...?" I asked and nodded my head towards the door.
He sighed and shook his head at my idiocy. I knew I had fucked up; I didn't need him to tell me. "On it, boss." He jogged out the door and hopefully would be able to sit with Bella until I could go out to her.
The cast was pissed at me, and rightfully so. I had preyed on their deepest fears to get them to where I needed them to be. They may have been right in their anger, but in my opinion it had to be done to get them to go there. Once they had mostly calmed down, I called for a ten-minute break so I could go find Bella.
I finally found her sitting in a stairwell, smoking a cigarette, crying silently. Emmett was leaning up against the wall, a silent sentry guarding my girl in any way he could. He nodded at me with a look of sadness in his eyes and walked back into the hallway, shutting the door behind him so we could have some privacy.
"Bella. Bella, please look at me." She continued to stare off at the wall, not turning to face me. "Bella, baby, I'm so sorry. I didn't think you would be this upset. I didn't think…"
She stubbed out her cigarette before she spoke. "You didn't think, what, that I would care if I saw you have a career ending injury? That it wouldn't hurt me to see you in pain? That it wouldn't kill me to see the man I love crumpled on the floor?" She abruptly got up and spun around, and glared at me. "What the fuck is wrong with you? Is this what I have to look forward to? To being manipulated my entire life into giving the reactions that you want? Is it? Because I'm not interested in being manipulated, Edward! I won't do it!" She had started out quietly and had gradually increased her volume until she was yelling and sobbing at me.
I stared at her, horrified at what I had done. I never thought about it. I never even thought about her reaction when I decided to do it. I had somehow forsaken what was most important, all because of a fucking show. She was right to ask what was wrong with me. Tears sprung to my eyes as I saw how much I had hurt her.
"Oh god, Bella. Oh no. No. Oh baby, no. I didn't think. I didn't think it would bother you this much. I really didn't. I never would have done it if I had. I would have figured out another way to get everyone to react or I would have done it when you were at a fitting or something. I can't believe I'm such an idiot!"
Her rage was fading, but tears were still shining in her eyes. I looked for some form of forgiveness there as I thought about everything she had said. Realization hit me and I sucked in a harsh breath.
"You love me?"
Her tears started to fall again as she slowly nodded her head, looking so miserable when it should have been such a happy moment for us.
"Bella, look at me. Please look at me, baby." She slowly lifted her chin and looked at me warily. "I love you, baby. So much. I can't believe I hurt you like that. I know how terrified I would have been if it had been you. I just didn't think you'd have the same reaction. I don't know why, I just didn't."
A small smile began on her lips as she asked me in almost a whisper, "You love me too?"
"I do, baby. I love you so much." She finally let me pull her into my arms. I held her there, kissing her head, whispering how sorry I was and how much I loved her.
After a few minutes, she tilted her head back and smirked at me. "You're still a motherfucking bastard."
"Yes, but I'm the motherfucking bastard who loves you."
It wasn't until a couple of years later that I found out how close she was to walking away from me that day. Emmett honestly thought she was going to dump my foolish ass, and she wouldn't have been wrong to, if I'm being completely honest. I know how lucky I am, and I thank the world every day that she didn't. By the time the show opened on Broadway, we had moved so far beyond it, that it became a running joke between us. Even the card for her opening night bouquet was signed "Love, Your MFB".
As "What I Did for Love" started, more and more gold clad dancers filled the wings, waiting for the finale and buzzing with excitement. Through the sea of gold top hats, I could see two people trying to thread their way toward me. I assumed one was Bella, but I couldn't see who the other was. The dancers around me tried to talk with me, but I couldn't focus on anything other than the two people trying to make their way to me. As they got closer, I could see that I was right about it being Bella in front, but still couldn't see who was behind her. Whoever it was seemed to purposefully be tucking his or her head down.
As someone greeted them, the person behind Bella turned slightly and I gasped. "No." Bella whipped her head around even though there was no way she could have heard me. She saw the stunned look on my face, and her face lit up with the biggest grin I had ever seen, her eyes sparkling with excitement. She tugged on the hand she was holding and brought him over to me.
"Jazz? How did you… I mean, I thought you couldn't…" I grabbed him and pulled him into a huge hug. It was suddenly all too much - all of the long hours from the past week, the excitement of the night, the memories it all brought forth, seeing Jasper. A sob wrenched its way out of my throat.
When I finally let him go, I looked at him and Bella. "It's so good to see you, man. But how? Are you ok? Do you need to sit?" I started to panic a little, worried about my best friend.
"Edward, calm down," she told me gently and held my hand in both of hers. "Jazz's doctors said he could do a little of the finale. We were worried that he wouldn't be up to it, so we didn't tell you in case he couldn't make it. He's having a good day, though, and wanted to be here."
"I wouldn't miss it for anything, Edward."
I hugged him again as a wave of sorrow washed over me. "I wish Peter…"
"I know, man. Me too," he said, tears in his eyes.
The opening chords of "One" started and I grabbed Bella and Jazz's hands, the showman in me excited for the audience to see what had taken months of preparation to accomplish. Old costumes had been pulled out of storage, the stage had been reinforced to hold the extra bodies, multiple staging and dance rehearsals were run in New York and wherever a group of my former dancers could meet up, and massive production meetings were held in my office. All of it - all of the hours, the sweat, and the tears - brought us to this moment. The night had been a magical one, and I was hoping the next five minutes would be remembered for years to come.
The current cast spun out of their circle and moved downstage to the white line, held their hat in both hands straight in front of them and immediately began moving backwards towards the mirrors as if they had a string at the base of their spine pulling them. When the last of them hit her mark, they all immediately pivoted towards the right, stuck their left leg out at an angle and snapped their hats towards their heads, their right arms bent and fingers curled around the brim, holding them tilted just above their hair. As soon as they hit this now iconic pose, the audience leapt to its feet. As the cast began moving downstage, all of the dancers in the wings began to fill in behind them. Out in the audience, other former cast members ran down the aisles, all in their gold costumes and silk top hats, still doing the choreography… my choreography as if they had never left the show. I kissed Jazz's hand and then Bella's hand before I let them go onstage.
I stood there and watched 332 current and former dancers from "A Chorus Line" fill the stage, the ones from the audience running up stairs so that they could join everyone else. Thirteen rows of dancers, singing, "She's the one," with everything they had in them. Some of them were beaming, some of them were crying, Jazz and Bella looked over at me, and all three of us were openly weeping.
Everything I did with this show, I did for love. My love of dancing, dancers, the life of a Broadway gypsy, the theatre, my friends, my wife… my entire heart was standing on stage in front of me and I was simply awestruck. As I gazed into my wife's eyes, I mouthed the words of the finale to her.
moment in her presence
And you can forget the rest.
For the girl is second best
to none, son
Give her your attention.
really have to mention,
She's the one.
Massive love and thanks to Ed Mazin, Mr. Mazin (who provided Alicia Lopez's backstage curses), Dolly Reader, and Jo for prereading this for me. Also, the idea of Esme singing "Dance Ten: Looks Three" (aka Tits and Ass) came out of a conversation with Jo on FB and made us both laugh hysterically, so I must give her credit on that one. There's a reason we're friends. LOL These ladies not only supported me during this contest, they also do it every day. I am forever grateful to them as well as the ladies of the FIP and countless others for their friendship and love.
Carrie ZM betaed with grace and kindness (and at the last minute because I couldn't get my brain in gear). She is amazing and I'm lucky to have her look at my words. I'm even more lucky to call her a friend.
Michael Bennett, the director/choreographer/co-author of ACL really was a manipulative bastard, but an immensely talented one. He died from AIDS in 1987. Nick Dante, co-author and whose story is the one Paul tells in the show, died from AIDS in 1991. Those are just two among the countless men that the theatre community lost to this awful disease, and believe me, we lost a lot of them. The eighties and nineties weren't kind to my world.
A few books gave me amazing insight into how ACL was created and the dancers behind it. If you're curious, I highly recommend "What They Did for Love: The Untold Story Behind the Making of 'A Chorus Line'" by Denny Martin Flinn, "A Chorus Line and the Musicals of Michael Bennett" by Ken Mandelbaum, and "On the Line – The Creation of A Chorus Line" by Robert Viagas, Baayork Lee, and Thommie Walsh (although it's not quite as deliciously bitchy as the Flinn book). And a couple of links for you, if you're so inclined (as usual, remove the spaces and parentheses):
The finale at the record breaking performance: youtube (. com ) / watch?v=fo0iIoWePYI
A really great article that gives a great feel to what the evening was like:
nytimes (. com ) / 1983 / 09 / 30 / theater / 332-dance-on-a-record-3389th-chorus-line . html ? pagewanted=1
The show opening at the 1976 Tony Awards (yes, that's Kelly Bishop, then known as Carole Bishop, from Gilmore Girls and Bunheads as the original Sheila):
youtube (. com) / watch?v=htLGQ3CDODY
OK, I could go on for hours because, yes, I did a lot of research. No sommeliers, but research nonetheless. I'm happy to geek out on you (more than I have already) if you have questions.