I nodded, moving to the opposite side of the space where I had planned to put the imaginary telephone. He’d chosen possibly the hardest part for me to start at. We skipped right over the part where Stanley tears down the nice perfect world I’d dreamed for myself, and I had to convey the same fear and paranoia anyway.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.

Fear. Paranoia. How I would feel if someone found out about Garrick and me. Or if he found out I was a virgin. Hell… how I felt right before I stopped us from having sex. That was fear and paranoia at its finest.

Feeling a little more confident, I opened my eyes and pantomimed grabbing the telephone. Since I still had to hold my script, I had to forego pantomiming the earpiece and just pretend to talk into the receiver. I gasped into the phone, asking for an operator.

The fear felt so real that tears pressed at my eyes without any effort on my part. I babbled on, panic rising up and choking my words.

My voice broke over my calls for help. The feeling of being trapped came too easily. It was suffocating.

I heard Dom walk up behind me, and I froze. I backed away, and he stepped between the imaginary door and me. He leered at me, and I didn’t have to pretend the revulsion I felt.

I tried to leave, and he stepped in my way. I asked him to let me pass, but he stayed put. Laughing, he started slinking towards me, and I felt the thump of my heart jump slightly.

I slipped out of character just long enough to think that we were doing a really good job. Far better than I had thought we would. Then Dom’s grinning face entered my vision and I was right back in it.

I tried to flee from him, but he kept coming, still laughing. Then his hands closed around my forearms, pulling me up and against him.

I fought, contorting my whole body to try to pull away.

He pulled me against him, squeezing harder, hard enough that it actually hurt, and a little shiver of unease trailed up my spine.

His face was right up against mine, so that I felt the heat of his breath against my face. I was supposed to crumble, defeated, and he would take me off-stage for the rape scene, but that’s not how things actually went.

Dom dropped his script, gripped my neck and pulled me forward into a kiss.

Shocked, I pushed against him with my free hand, but he kept going, not realizing that it was me protesting, not Blanche. I pushed and writhed, but he was too strong, and his lips were pressed against mine so hard that I couldn’t say anything to make him stop. I was gearing up for my final move of protest, a swift knee to the junk, when Dom was ripped off of me.

I gulped in air, and saw Garrick, who was seething, release one of Dom’s arms that he’d had twisted back at an odd angle.

“Where exactly in this script did you see that particular stage direction, Dominic?” Garrick asked, his tone deadly quiet.

I wasn’t wasting time with the logical questions. I flew at Dom, shoving him backward.

“What the hell was that, Dom? The rape scene occurs offstage, you asshole!”

He grabbed my wrists as I went to push him again.

“Hey, I was trying to connect. I was improvising. That’s what actors do!”

Garrick’s hand came down on Dom’s arm, and he squeezed a little harder than was probably appropriate. Dom let go of my wrists immediately, and I backed away.

“Be that as it may,” Garrick began. “Actors also respect each other. Unless you’d like to be accused of assault, you okay something like that with your partner before hand.” I could see Garrick’s calm façade cracking. “Now go. You’re dismissed.”

I could tell Dom was pissed. He gave me a scathing look, and pushed open the door so hard that it banged against the wall outside. I just could not catch a break this week. Was the world dropping shit on everyone else or just me?

There was a feather light touch on my arm, and then Garrick was in front of me, cradling my arm in his hands. A bruise was already forming where Dom had grabbed me during the scene. Garrick ran a hand over his face, and then looked at me. He said, “I probably could have handled that better.”

I didn’t realize how much my head was still pounding until I laughed, and the movement sent pain ricocheting through my head. I closed my eyes on instinct. Garrick’s fingers brushed along my jaw, sending an earthquake of shivers across my skin from where we touched. I kept my eyes closed, because as long as they were closed, I wasn’t doing anything wrong, right? But if opened them, and I looked at his gorgeous face and I saw those lips… I’d be crossing into a completely different territory that was most definitely wrong, wrong, wrong.

A whispered, “Bliss…” was all the warning I had before his lips were on mine.

Chapter Eleven

I thought of how bad an idea the kiss was for exactly three seconds before I stopped thinking all together. His tongue swept into my mouth, searching and furious and demanding. It was passion in its rawest form. I’d always pretended to understand chemistry when directors talked about actors having it together on stage, but now I got it. Whatever happened when he touched me was like a chemical reaction—molecules changing, shifting, giving off heat.

God, there was so much heat.

Loud laughter that I recognized as Kelsey’s sliced through the haze in my mind, and I tore myself away from Garrick. There were other students outside waiting to come in. How long had I been in here alone with him?

He took a step forward to follow me, and I held up a hand.

“Stop! Stop it! You can’t just do that! We said we were forgetting about it! You said that, actually! You can’t say that and then do this!

“I’m sorry.”

He didn’t look sorry. He looked like he wanted to do it again.

I shook my head, and shifted toward the door.

“Wait, Bliss, I am sorry. It won’t happen again, okay?”

“Okay.” That’s what I said, but this felt anything besides okay. He acted like I didn’t want that kiss as badly as he did, but hello! He had just as much to lose here as I did! Why was I the only one thinking about the consequences?

I exited to hear Dom mouthing off to a couple of the guys that had gathered close to the doors.

“The guy’s a complete dick. He acted like I was trying to rape her or something. It was just a kiss. Not like we haven’t done that before.”

I rolled my eyes. “And somehow it was even worse this time than it was before. Aren’t you supposed to get better with time, Dom?” His friends were laughing, but I still heard Dom call me a bitch.

I kept walking. I had just enough time to buy the biggest cup of coffee I could find before my next class.

The rest of the week was uneventful, thankfully. Garrick kept his distance, and I had enough going on to keep me distracted. We’d gotten our assignments in directing, which meant it was time to buckle down and read so that I could find a scene. Friday in Senior Prep we talked about our auditions, and he assigned us some reading about the Actor’s Equity Association. So, I spent most of the weekend scanning through every play I owned (and most of Cade’s) and reading the most boring breakdown of AEA known to the world.

The next week was signups for our first Mainstage Audition this term, and the next to last one for me ever. If I didn’t do well on Friday, I only had one more shot at making another show before graduation. I’d been in the first show of the year, and stage-managed another, but nothing since then. They’d already offered me Stage Manager of the last show of the year, but I’d been too scared to accept yet, in case I didn’t get a role in this. God, it was really starting to hit me. I was about to graduate, and my life was nowhere near where I thought it would be. When I started school three and a half years ago, I thought by now I’d have a plan. I thought I’d know positively what I wanted to do and where I was going. And if I was honest… I thought I would have met the guy I was going to marry by now. I mean, every married couple I knew met in college, and here I was only months away, and the idea of marriage at this point seemed preposterous to me.

It didn’t help that mom’s immediate question every time we talked was, “Have you met anyone yet?” I wondered briefly how she’d react if I told her the current state of my love life the next time she asked. Maybe she’d freak. Maybe she’d ask when we planned on getting married—it was hard to tell with Mom, sometimes.

How can people decide who they want to spend the rest of their life with at this age? I can’t even decide what to have for dinner! I can’t decide if I want to be an actor, even though I’ve already got 35,000 dollars in student loans telling me I sure as hell better want to be an actor.

By the end of audition week, the thing with Garrick was starting to feel like the “no big deal” I kept saying it was. I got to class at the very last minute and was usually the first out of the room. True to his word, he kept it professional in class, which really just meant we only interacted the bare minimum. I never saw him at Grind again, and we’d been there a lot.

He was in the auditions, but so was every other faculty member. And not even his presence could dampen my excitement for this show. As an actress, I was always drawn more to classical roles than contemporary (hence the Shakespeare obsession), and we were finally doing a Greek show (well… a translation of a Greek show, anyway). Phaedra wouldn’t have been my first choice, considering it was all about forbidden love, which was so not what I needed right now. But, at the very least, I had a great understanding of my character when I auditioned. Sure, Phaedra was lusting after her stepson, not her professor, but the feelings were the same.

I hadn’t wanted a role this badly in a long time.

When it was my turn to enter the theatre for auditions, I felt good, confident. I knew my lines. I knew my character. I knew what it was like to want someone you can’t have. And more than anything… I knew what it was to want and not want something all at the same time. I poured every ounce of lust and fear and doubt and shame into that minute and a half performance. I wrenched myself open in a way I never did in real life, because here… here I could vent and deal and pretend it wasn’t about me… pretend it was about Phaedra. I was more honest under the heat of those lights than I ever was in the light of day.

And in minutes it was over, and I was back in the greenroom, left wondering if it was enough.

When auditions were over, we all went out to celebrate. They would post callbacks in the morning, and that would be a whole new thing to worry about, but for now, it was out of our hands.

All together (mostly seniors and juniors), we took up an entire section of Stumble Inn. Even though we were at separate tables—we talked across the room to each other obnoxiously and didn’t give a damn how many people we annoyed.

We started the night with shots of tequila, which was a little too eerily close to my night here with Garrick, but I shrugged it off. I was here with friends. It would do me some good to loosen up and have some fun.

I was at a table with Cade and Kelsey, of course. Lindsay was there, too, along with Jeremy, a cute sophomore that I’d drunkenly made out with last year. He’d sort of tagged along a lot since then, but I was pretty sure he knew nothing was going to happen between us. These days he was starry-eyed for our resident sex-crazed beauty, Kelsey. Then there was Victoria, who could easily have passed for Kelsey and Lindsay’s lovechild. She had Kelsey’s boobs (and her sluttiness), but Lindsay’s I-Hate-Everyone-and-Everything attitude. And finishing out the table was Rusty, who was pretty much the king of all things random and hilarious.

Jeremy was the only one too young to drink, but the waiter didn’t even bother carding the whole table. She looked at Cade’s ID, and then just scanned the others. We ordered drinks, food, and then some more drinks.

I was feeling pretty good by the time talk came around to auditions.

It was Rusty, who broke the ice. “So… how about that incest play?”

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