The side door empties into a small lounging area, which is entirely unoccupied. We continue to follow the light down a hallway and into what I take to be a rehearsal space, which looks like half a basketball court minus the baskets. Across the room, a pair of double doors empty into the wings of the stage.
“Wow, this is new,” she murmurs, our footsteps slapping against the hard floor as we go. “Party must be in the main auditorium.”
“Are we going to get in trouble for this?”
She answers my question with a shrug, then bursts with energy at the sight of a girlfriend, cutting across the stage to greet her and leaving me entirely on my own. The darkened wings of the stage, framed by long red curtains that hang down from the heavens, are littered with racks of unhung lights, coiled cable, and a big machine on wheels that looks like some sound system from the 90’s. Onstage, there are clusters of students chatting and laughing, only a spray of bleak white light coloring them. In the audience seating, there’s a row or two with a handful of other people kicking back and chatting. Somewhere in the aisle—though it’s hard to see with the bright light in my face—there appears to be a shirtless guy dancing, egged on by whooping friends nearby. Victoria claimed this little theatrical shindig started at eight, but from the looks of it, it started much sooner.
“You’re a new one.”
I turn toward the loose, gruff voice. Standing next to me is a short bald man with a beard and sparkling eyes. His body is stout and muscular with a belly that pulls at his green, plaid shirt. His beard, red and trimmed, sits like a rug against his pale, freckled skin.
“Hi,” I return with a smile.
“Have a beer.” He offers a second cup to me I didn’t realize he was holding. I accept it, but don’t dare take a sip. “You look too old to be a freshman.”
Quite the charmer. “Thanks.”
“Freddie,” he says, extending his free hand. I shake it and regret it immediately, his hand being wet as frog skin. “You’re an actress, obviously.”
He didn’t even ask for my name. “Obviously,” I agree, looking around for someone to rescue me.
“I’m directing a play in the black box. Goes up in November. You should totally audition for it.”
“Should I?” Where the hell did Victoria run off to?
“You’d be perfect for, like, all the parts. Every one. Even the dudes. You’re amazing.”
I step back and realize I’m a step from falling off the stage. Close call. That would be a lovely way to meet everyone: with broken limbs and a concussion.
“How old are you? Twenty-two? Twenty-three?” he asks, his words slurring.
“I’m an actress,” I answer. “I’m all the ages.”
Freddie laughs a little too hard at that. “Holy fuck, you’re funny, too!”
Out of the shadows, Victoria appears at my side, her eyes flashing brightly. “Dessie!”
Saved. “Hey there, Victoria! You, um … wanted to show me something?” I urge her, hoping she picks up what I’m putting down.
She’s smart as a whip and does. “Totally. Excuse us, Freddie.” She pulls me to the steps leading down to the seats while Freddie gives a sad, wordless moan of a goodbye.
“You ditched me,” I hiss at her.
“Sorry, hadn’t seen Marcella all summer. The bitch thinks she can take the role of Emily. She should go for the stage manager. We’re sorta stage sisters,” she explains, “doomed to audition for all the same parts.”
“Stage manager? That’s a tech position.”
“No, no. The acting part. The ‘Stage Manager’ role in the play Our Town. That’s the first fall production. Catch up, Dessie!” She stretches out her arms. “Erik! Other Eric! Ellis! Stanley!” She embraces each of her friends one by one, who stand in a cluster at the end of the fifth row. “This is my hall mate Dessie,” she says for a modest introduction, then adds, “She’s from New York,” in a cocky aside.
“Hi,” I murmur, then lift the cup that Freddie had given me. “Anyone like some roofied beer?”
“Have you tried it?” Victoria asks excitedly.
“I’d rather not. As I implied, it’s probably roofied, and it smells like cat pee.”
The one she just called “Other Eric”, slender and olive-skinned, gently takes the cup from my hand. “It’s homebrewed cat pee.” With a shy smile, he adds, “It’s my homebrewed cat pee.”
“Oh.” My face flushes at once. “I’m s-sorry, Other Eric. I just panicked. That bushy orange-bearded guy gave me a drink and started the whole director’s couch thing on me and I just—”