Lila had never felt so awful in all her life. There had been other times when she’d messed up bad but they didn’t compare to this go around. Not only had she lost her chance to set her plan in motion but she’d offended Kent in the process. And she’d actually hoped they could become good friends in the end.
She stuck her lip out, gently tugging a loose strand on the frilly hem of a dress. Why did she always have to ruin everything with her mediocrity? Bother. Perhaps Kent had been right and she truly did approach people in the wrong way.
The radio played in the little sewing room the size of a sardine can. Soft jazz hummed its way into her ears and Bing Crosby’s soothing voice made her sigh dreamily. How she loved the stage, the microphone, and everything in between. It’s why she worked so hard to please Millie and Mr. Arnold even when they didn’t give her the lead roles she wanted. She supposed a gal couldn’t get everything she wanted in life, but what would it hurt to receive just a teensy, little bit of...something? Anything?
God? Can you hear me?
“Ow.” She jumped at the prick on her finger, sucking the blood out of the tip. And just what would she do now that her plan had gone up in flames? She couldn’t blame Kent if he never wanted to speak to her again. Hopefully, he’d forgive her after he had a chance to cool. He had looked pretty mad. And her words hadn’t come out at all the way she’d planned in front the mirror. Yes, she’d practiced. Her acting must have gotten rusty and maybe that’s why she wasn’t getting parts either.
A glance at the clock revealed it was only 10 a.m. She was off at three. Five more hours of misery in a cubby-sized room with broken heat. She shivered.
Annoyed, she set the costume down on the sewing table and slipped into her jacket. Went upstairs to the breakroom to grab a cup of coffee.
Ignored Millie and Opal sharing a laugh over a story in the newspaper on the couches. Put a nickel in the coffee maker machine and waited awkwardly while the cup poured. Kent deserved an apology. He was right. She’d gone too far.
Robert was long gone. Her feelings lingered but there was nothing she could do about those. The sooner she forgot the man, the better. All right, so wanting to make him jealous had been the stupidest idea she’d ever concocted. Sometimes she didn’t think clearly and was far from perfect. She’d have a good sob about it when she got home.
On her way back downstairs, she caught sight of Kent fixing the lock on a door. He wore those overalls just right, and for a moment she lingered on his athletic physique, thick dark hair and chiseled good looks, which made her stomach surprisingly flutter. She shook it off and attempted to speed walk past him.
But she didn’t make it one step beyond where he worked before the words escaped her lips. “I’m sorry.”
She’d said it much too gently. Did he hear her? Would he even believe her?
Kent dabbed moisture off his forehead with a red handkerchief. “Uh-huh.”
“You can’t possibly still be mad at me. Are you?”
“What do you think?”
She frowned. “So you won’t accept my apology?”
He shoved the handkerchief into his pocket. “It’s not as simple as that.” “What?”
“You getting off easy.”
Her fingers tensed around the styrofoam coffee cup. “I won’t accept any sort of punishment. I stated my apology and if that’s not enough for you then I don’t know what is.”
She was partially down the hallway when she realized anger fueled her steps. Fuming, she nearly ran into a group of dancers scurrying towards their dressing room for their morning practice session. Once she reached the safety of the sewing room, she slammed the door good and hard, hoping it was loud enough to echo back to him.
Yet again, she hadn’t thought clearly and allowed her wave of emotions to get in the way of proper behavior. She should have left well enough alone. He was doing his job and she was doing hers. But no, she had to go and ruin it all for the second time and it wasn’t even noon yet.
Lila plopped down in her chair and picked up her sewing, growing viciously angry with herself by the second. Why did she care as much as she did? Kent was just the handyman. He fixed doors and hung cabinets, constructed stage displays and kept the walls painted a nice shade of beige. Always a pleasant character and a smiling face. She dropped her hands in her lap. Now, he probably disliked her as much as Robbie did.
And speaking of Robert, this was all his fault. If only he would just go away. It wasn’t as if he even enjoyed helping out at the theater. He did it for that girlfriend of his. So if only he’d see it fit to disappear and never return they’d all be the much better for it.
She resumed her sewing, hardly managing to keep a straight hand stitch. Surely leaving the situation alone would do more harm than good. There had to be something she could do to ease things along. Besides, she fancied Kent as a person even though she’d even blown the opportunity for a proper apology.
But work needed to be done and finished. At least the sewing would help keep her mind distracted and out of trouble for now.
* * *
Kent hammered a nail into a board and wished it was five o’clock already so he could go home. Kicking his feet up on the ottoman with a comic book in one hand and a beer in the other sounded good right about now. Not that he disliked being the theater’s handyman. It was fine work most of the time.
She was quickly getting under his skin in a way he couldn’t resist. Her smell...like sweet musk under moonlight. The feel of her blouse brushing up against his hand...soft like he imagined her buttermilk skin might feel. He wanted her. Had for months. Letting go now seemed the smarter option. Yet he wanted to be right.
Caught up. He surely was. And at this point, they were hardly anything more than coworkers. He lost himself in his work. It was the only way he could stop thinking about her. So throughout the hours, he went above and beyond his daily duties, making sure to be constantly moving and busy. By the time noon hit for lunch, he coolly walked upstairs to the employee break room with the full intent of having a quiet meal.
But things were never quite so simple when Lila was around. She strolled into the breakroom with her head held high, carrying her Chanel purse and a small sandwich wrapped in parchment paper. She sat with Millie and Opal, laughing at every minimal, poor excuse for a joke either of those girls told, tossing taunting glances back at him.
He chose the table with the day’s newspaper already on it, smoothing out the crinkled pages with feigned precision. Letting her get to him wouldn’t be happening. He wasn’t going to play her head games any longer.
Kent bit into his bologna sandwich, immediately lamenting the fact he’d forgotten to add in the mayonnaise.
Lila’s laugh cracked like a whip in the room, disturbing his peace.
He glanced up to see what the fuss was about and he noticed Opal whispering something in her ear. Ignore it.
She laughed again but this time he didn’t look up. He couldn’t. What she wanted was attention and he wasn’t going to let her have her way.
Maybe just a bitsy glance out of the corner of his eye...
She tore off a small piece of her sandwich, chewing on it so slowly he could savor the flavors. Her lips were a cherry red, just like her blouse and matching lace scarf around her neck. His gaze traveled down those long legs of hers, stopping at the toe-holes of her pumps where red polish decorated her big toenails.
His gaze diverted back to the newspaper when she caught him staring. He should have eaten in the storage closet. It wasn’t the cleanest place but at least it didn’t have a vixen distracting him from his well-deserved lunch. Hopefully, things would return to normal eventually.
Robert’s words echoed in his head and for the first time in as long as he could remember, he regretted not having taken a friend’s advice. Trouble was in the room with him and he had a funny feeling it would be for a long while to come.