From the little sewing room in the downstairs floor of Rex Theater, a former Broadway performer’s voice could be heard, practicing various show tunes from memory, singing and dancing as she warmed up for her big audition just minutes away.
“You can do this, Lila. You’re a tiger. Tigress, I mean. Can’t no one sing like you. Ain’t nobody more talented than you.” Lila Stevenson sucked in a deep breath and stared back at her reflection in the vanity mirror, meanly pinching an eye shut. “This part is yours. Star of the show. You. Only you.”
Pep talk, complete. Now, all she needed to do was head upstairs, tune into the performer part of her, and get the lead role in Sweethearts And Jazz: A Musical. Lila swiped her script off the vanity.
Oh, but who was she kidding? It had been ages since her last performance on Broadway. A year to the date, to be exact. And a lot had happened since then to keep her out of practice. At one time her singing and acting abilities had been highly sought after but now she was a nobody forgotten by the sands of time. Truly though, she had no one to blame except Robert.
A tap on her shoulder served to distract her before she could indulge in thoughts of her heartache.
“Miss Lila, are you coming?” Millie, the director’s assistant, pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose with a pencil and impatiently tapped her heel on the floor. “We’re ready to begin auditions and you’ve been down here dilly-dallying for the better part of fifteen minutes.”
“I’m sorry. I just wanted to make sure I had all the lines memorized.”
Millie pointed to the door with her pencil. “Upstairs with you. Now.”
Lila reined in her temper lest it get the best of her. She needed to land this part for more reasons than she could count in the moment but the most important being her career as an actress. Having gotten fired from Broadway definitely hadn’t served her right. Here was her chance to make it all worth it again.
So she’d have to treat everyone at Rex Theater sweet as pie. Including Millie.
“I really appreciate the opportunity to try out for this role,” she said in a honeyed tone as she followed Millie up the stairs and into the main part of the theater. “You have no idea just how much I’ve missed the stage. I promise you won’t regret having given me the chance. Nope. Not one bit.”
She always blabbed more than was necessary when feeling nervous. It was part of who she was—the actress in her, occasionally pretending to be someone she was not. Most of her romantic troubles had spurred from a love for the stage but she hadn’t yet given up hope. Robert may have gotten engaged to that passing fancy of a girlfriend he had but it wouldn’t last. She’d make him see what he was missing out on once he saw her singing on stage. Oh, yes. Landing the starring role would place her front and center in his face. Her acting career wasn’t the only thing she was hoping to improve by scoring this gig.
The narrow, winding staircase spilled out into her favorite part of the entire building: the stage with its bright, haughty lights and plush velvet curtains in rich maroon. Management had just approved the go-ahead for new wooden planks on the floor, which would be under construction throughout the upcoming weeks of practice. But by the time it was finished the theater would look amazing. And she’d be right there to enjoy its breathtaking beauty.
“Break a leg,” Millie said and jumped off the stage to take her place beside the director Mr. Arnold Sullen and his other assistant, Opal.
Sitting on a desk in the aisle next to the director’s seat was a gramophone, there to provide the music for the audition.
Lila stood at the center of the stage, blinking under the blinding heat of the lights. The three most important faces determining her fate (and the that of her romance life as well) stared back at her with curiosity.
Mr. Arnold flipped through a handful of pages. “So you’ve acted on Broadway, huh?”
Her cheeriness flipped on like a switch. “In only the greatest musical of all time, which just so happens to be Oklahoma!”
She cleared her throat and posed a wide smile, hoping she seemed cool and confident on the exterior. Inside, however, she was screaming. Her last audition had gone off without a hitch partly due to the fact that she’d been acting more regularly then. Now? She’d have to rely on instinct and good old-fashioned luck.
Mr. Arnold raised an eyebrow. “Really, now? Why, that’s impressive”
“Thank you, sir. Broadway is one of my greatest accomplishments.”
He stroked his goatee. “How intriguing, Miss Stevenson. I assure you we’re no Broadway but if you’re bringing that kind of talent to Rex Theater then we’d be foolish to let you get away.”
She squirmed in her shiny black pumps. “I’m ready whenever you are, sir. My voice is good and warmed up.”
He motioned Opal over to the gramophone. “Alright, Lila. Once the music hits you’re it.”
Opal switched on the gramophone and carefully lowered the needle, her tongue sticking out of her mouth as she concentrated on the task.
Lila closed her eyes and channeled the singer-actress inside of her. Remember, just like you used to do when you were a kid right in front of the mirror. Just like you did downstairs—
Saints Alive. That couldn’t be Robert moving boxes in the back of the auditorium!
But it was. And his presence made her freeze right in those brand new pumps she’d purchased for this very occasion. Lila’s heart pulsed dramatically in her chest, the beats forming a lump in the back of her throat. Palms clammy. Breath wavering. He glanced across the auditorium and locked eyes with her. Those blue, once loving eyes now the coldest she ever witnessed. They made her entire body stiffen.
She missed her cue.
Mr. Arnold raised his voice. “Are you paying attention? We need you on point.”
“I...” Lila sighed, her nerves twisting into a knot in her stomach as she watched Robert’s blonde head disappear back out of the auditorium. “I’m sorry, sir. It was just—nevermind. I’ll try again.”
But he didn’t look pleased. “Start it from the top, Opal.”
Opal started the record over and Millie furiously scribbled notes on her pad.
Lila tried to get herself together but she couldn’t stop thinking about Robert. How he’d dumped her back in Boston even though they’d been planning on getting married. How she’d chased him across the country to Portland, leaving everything and everyone she held dear just to be with him but he was already dating someone else by the time she found him. None of it was fair and she was angry. Sad. Frustrated. And thoroughly failed her cue a second time.
She froze like an Alaskan ice sculpture in the middle of the stage, crumpling up the script in her hands, wide-eyed, anxious, and entirely heartbroken. He hadn’t even given her a second glance. And the first look he’d sent her way had been a scowl.
Mr. Arnold called her name three times before she answered him. “Do you need a moment to get collected and come back to us?”
Millie and Opal stared at her like she was a fool, whispering who knew what between themselves. It made her tear up a little.
“Yes,” she said in more of a squeak. “I just need a moment. Think I might be nervous.”