She sat down in the first row of seats, as her friend -- who was working as stage manager for the show -- had requested. There would be audience participation, and they needed to make sure there were enough people in the front row to give the actors a selection. She sat in the middle section, but chose an aisle seat.
A group of her friends sat in the row next to her, a blonde boy immediately to her left, taking up her attention until curtain. The show was very humorous, and she was not ashamed to laugh openly. Then, one actor jumped off the stage and walked up the aisle next to where she sat, resting an arm on her shoulder as he spoke. He was almost perfectly tall, 5'11" maybe 6', and a tad on the scrawny side.
To top it all off, he was a movie star, which also meant that he was the reason most of the people in the audience were there. Not her, though. She was there for the show. When he finished the proper line, he grabbed her arm, "quick, you must help me!" He said, a bit too dramatically, but in a manner which fit perfectly with this farce of a show. As she followed him up to the stage, he bent down and whispered, "You're not afraid of heights, are you?" She shook her head and smiled.
The truth was that she loved heights. Following his lead, she stepped onto a ledge about three feet off the stage floor and boosted herself up to another two or three feet above that.
He had reached down to help her, but she was already up. Latching themselves onto a safety wire that tracked the course of the journey they would be on, they began to scoot sideways along the ledge. The scene went on in front of them. Once they reached a place where they were hidden behind the flats of the stage, he slowed, standing on the ledge and moving up to yet another.
Without hesitation, she climbed up as well. "This still okay?" He asked, referring to the height. A smile spread across her lips as she nodded, unable to help feeling like she was on an adventure.
They began to scoot sideways again. As they crossed back out in front of the flat, the audience laughed. They were supposed to be pretending to sneak up into a castle of some sort, and those still on stage did not notice them crossing.
Again, they were back stage. "You see the sword and shield there?" He whispered, pointing to props hanging against a wall. "The ones you used in the first act?" It was the first time he heard her speak, and her voice was sweet and gentle, better than he imagined it. "Yeah." There was a surprised smile on his face, as if he couldn't believe that she had paid such close attention. "They're so cool. I really want to keep them, like a souvenir of my first real touring stage show." "I'm sure if you asked for them you could get 'em.
They're wooden, so they'd probably either get thrown out or stolen by one of the prop crew members anyway. Everyone deserves a good memento." While she spoke, he watched her, having been enticed by her smile since the moment he first saw her from the stage, laughing out in the audience.
She was one of the only girls who had actually taken her eyes off of him during the show. Two more rounds about the stage and they were at least twenty feet in the air. "Only one other girl has made it up to this spot; they all get too scared before now. No one's made it all the way up, yet." This time, her smile was a bit mischievous.
"Challenge accepted." He stepped back to let her climb ahead of him up a tiny ladder which more resembled a rock climbing wall than anything else. She made it up and stood on the small roofing of the outdoor theater. To his delight, she had laughed quietly the entire way up. He quickly stood behind her. "Careful, I almost fell off the first couple times I got up here." "I'm pretty sure that's one of the things you're not supposed to say. You know like 'don't look down' or 'we probably should have had you sign a waiver' or 'is now a bad time to tell you that this safety cable can't hold your weight'." They spoke in whispers, making sure the audience members below couldn't hear them.
"Oh, I don't think the safety cable will be a problem. If it can hold me, it can definitely hold you. What do you weigh, like a hundred pounds?" His eyes traveled up and down her small frame.
"One-oh-three, actually." A million jokes had always come about because of her weight, or lack thereof. At 5'5 she looked rather thin, but not sickly so. Still, she ate constantly and rarely gained weight. He laughed at her jest, "You're not one of those salad-eaters are you?" "A what?" "Salad eater.
A girl who only gets dressed up salads where ever she goes and counts her calories and won't eat carbs or a million other things." "Oh, no. No way. I love meat and barbeque sauce, not to mention peanut butter and jelly is just about the best thing ever invented.
I welcome carbs, and honestly, I could probably eat more than you." It took effort for him to keep the laughter under his breath at the air of playful arrogance in her voice.
"That can't even be humanly possible." She was still smiling. "I guess you'd have to see it to believe it." As soon as she spoke those words, he felt the desire to do just that. Would it be weird to ask this girl to dinner after the show? They reached the end of the roof without any audience members noticing them. Just a minute before they needed to draw attention to themselves, her foot slipped, causing her to slide down a ways.
Quickly, he grabbed her at the hips and pulled her back against him, trying not to focus on how her body felt against his. Her skin was soft and warm, as if kissed by the sun.
Surprisingly, she was laughing. Silently, but laughing just the same. "You okay?" He whispered, right into her ear. Still shaking with laughter, she nodded. "No one noticed, did they?" Her eyes were down into the audience. "I'd hate to ruin the big moment." Those words made her even more curious in his eyes.
Most girls, regardless of being strapped to a safety cable, would have been completely terrified at the thought of slipping while standing 40 feet off the ground. This girl, however, was laughing. The rest went off without a hitch, and he kept her on stage for the final bow, something that was only supposed to happen if the girl made it all the way up. She was the first to bow with the company.
Unknown to them at the time, she would also be the last, as no other girl would make it even halfway up. Before he could speak another word to her, she thanked him and jumped from the stage. Also curious. Dozens of other girls had been begging him to take them on stage every night, but he never paid much attention to who he ended up bringing. This girl he had chosen specifically, having watched her all during the show, and she acted as if the guy who had pulled her onstage and wrapped his arms around her waist was no one special.
It didn't upset him, only intrigued him further. He liked being no one special for a change.
She gathered her things and walked to the exit with a few friends. Before exiting the park, she ran through a side gate to get backstage. A number of other people were crowded around various places to try to get backstage, but she knew the perfect place to slip through. "Jeremiah!" She called, rushing up to a boy about her age.
He was a larger guy with a cuddly teddy bear way about him. "Great job, those props looked amazing! I'm so proud of you." She threw her arms around him and he lifted her into a hug as if she weighed nothing.
"You really think so? Wait, wait. tell me what you thought of." he started listing off different things that he thought he could have improved on, but she brushed them off. It was his nature to always think he hadn't reached his full potential, and was her job to reassure him otherwise. "Okay, well I've got to start working on some stuff or the other guys are going to kill me, but I'm so glad you liked it!
Let's do dinner tomorrow; I'll make you something wonderful. You're the best. I love you!" With that, he walked quickly toward the stage door.
She was about to walk away before she remembered her plan. "Oh, wait. I need to ask you about something." "Tomorrow!
Or call me later." "Hey." She turned to see the famous actor walking toward her from the other direction. "Hey, great show." That smile. He could stare at it for hours. "Thanks. The fact that you made it all the way up there made it even more amazing.
You've got some guts." Her smile widened even more. "So… you know the props guy?" Mentally, he scolded himself for his lack of nonchalance.
"Jeremiah? Yeah, absolutely." "Boyfriend?" Not catching any meaning other than curiosity in the question, she laughed. A few months earlier, everyone had been asking that same thing, but it was rare when someone did now. "Oh gosh, no. Jeremiah is like. he's like a completely heterosexual stereotypical gay best friend to me." The amount of relief he felt didn't make sense. He hadn't spoken ten complete sentences to this girl. "Oh that's cool" Much better on the nonchalance.
"Do you go to school around here?" "Mhm, I'm at." "Char, come on! Tucker has work in the morning." There was a boy standing about twenty yards back from them, calling in their direction. Her perfect smile was replaced with an apologetic one. "Sorry, I need to get going. I'm riding with friends, so.
enjoy the rest of your run!" She was already moving away. Jeremiah was standing beside him as soon as she was out of sight. "Not your typical girl, huh?" He joked, picking some things up off the ground. The movie star looked over at the other boy who had spoken to him. "What's her name?" "She didn't tell you?" he shook his head. "Then it's not for me to tell. Next time you should try introducing yourself first; you'd get a name out of her then." "She doesn't know who I am?" The question easily could have been conceded, but only held the further air of curiosity.
"Oh she definitely does. I've even been to see a movie or two of yours with her, but she wouldn't take that as knowing who you are. You may have a stage name or something. Besides, she's the kind of person who would find it rude to not allow someone the right to introduce himself, and she's far from the celebrity obsessed type.
Talking to you just now, you were just a guy who was in a play who happened to pull her onstage." This simple fact was very warming to him.
It was normal for girls to run after him and scream his name, or even propose marriage or declare their love for him. None of those girls knew him, and that made it hard to know if people liked him for who he was, or what he was. The girl who he watched walk away, however, seemed more real than anyone he had known in a long time.
Knowing it would be next to impossible, he couldn't help but want to see her again, talk to her. If only he'd gotten her name. The snow had gone on all night, which in itself did not make my morning walk to campus all that bad. It was the fact that it had rained before nightfall until the temperatures dropped to below freezing that made things complicated.
Heels in hand, I shuffled my boots across the solidly iced sidewalk. Snow was still falling in large flakes while the intense wind, strong enough that it'd threatened to sweep me off my feet numerous times, kicked what was already on the ground into my face. I had layered up. Hat, gloves, puffy coat, sweater and a ten foot scarf wrapped around both my neck and face. A small rectangle around my eyes remained the only skin bared to the elements.
Naturally, the snow whipping into my eyes made it almost impossible to see. Just as I rounded the corner away from the shield of a building and into the open air, a huge gust caught me. I tried for a second to fight against it, but the ice under my feet was no help. I was thrown to the side.
If life were a romantic comedy, the slip would have sent me straight into the person looking at the campus directory.
Instead. it sent me into the campus directory. "Shit!" Instinctively, I lashed my hands out awkwardly trying to grab whatever I might be able to grab and keep my feet on the ground. His arm seemed to be the best candidate. As luck, and good manners, would have it, the guy's instinct was to grab hold of me. My shoes dropped from my hand, and I thought for the tiniest of moments that all was not lost, but the second my ass collided with the sidewalk, I admitted defeat by bursting into a fit of laughter.
"Are you okay?" He was half bent over from the force of my fall, and I could barely subdue my laughter enough to offer the question. "I'm so sorry." "Am I okay? You just slammed head-first into a." he turned and looked at the thing behind him ". giant plastic, map board thing." With his help, I got to my feet and picked my heels back up off the ground.
"Hm. A very accurate description of my crash, actually, though it was more of a shoulder slam." For the first time in the minute I'd been in his presence, I was able to get a good look at the person who I'd almost taken down with me. At least as good of a look as I could with all of his layers blocking his features. There was a strange air of familiarity to him, though I couldn't quite place what it was.
"Do you need help, by the way?" "With not getting body-slammed by random girls?" His tone held a good nature, showing that he was more entertained than annoyed by my entrance.
"I think we've already proven that I won't be much help in that department. But I can help you find a building on campus, assuming that's why you were looking at the giant plastic map board thing that I almost slammed head-first into." He laughed a deep rumble of a laugh. "Some help would actually be good, if you can handle giving directions without inflicting any physical harm." I gave him a playful glare, although the effect was probably ruined by the fact that most of my face was hidden.
"Easy with the death glare." He laughed again, instantly killing my glare and leaving me smiling beneath my scarf. "I'm actually here for an audition for the theatre program. Of course, it would be too easy if I could remember the name of the building I'm supposed to be heading to, let alone figure out where it is." "Millennium. You're looking for the Millennium building." "Yes!" He burst with the sudden energy of a foggy memory being cleared up.
"Millennium, such a simple name." His tall frame shifted back toward the map. "So that means, it's. where." With a gloved finger, he traced across the list of building names, searching for the 'm's. Adjusting my heels in my hand, I brushed some of the snow and wetness from my butt. "That's actually where I'm headed, so I can just show you if you'd like." His eyes turned on me, as if sizing me up.
"Which way is it?" I pointed down the path toward the opposite end of campus, a path he cocked his head to look down. "Looks relatively sign free, so why not." "Oh, you're funny." I rolled my eyes at him and made a face, continually forgetting that he couldn't actually see my face.
We walked for a bit toward the theater, the snow crunching under our shoes, before I broke the silence that had passed between us. "Are you transferring in or will you be starting as a freshman?" "I'll be a freshman, but I've been out of high school a while." His voice was driving me nuts. I knew it from somewhere. Not to mention it was deep, articulate and a tad bit mesmerizing.
Overstepping the next ice patch on the ground, we came quite close to each other, but went back to our casual distance once we were past. "So nontraditional student, that's cool. From my experience they tend to work a little bit harder than the people just out of high school who are getting their first taste of freedom. No pressure or anything." Despite how lame my little ending joke was, he gave a chuckle.
"But I would say you're off to a good start since you're here about an hour early." "So are you." Normally, I would blame my obnoxiously young looking face for people thinking I was years younger than I actually was, but this time it had to be my height. Realistically, though, anyone would look short next to this guy. "Actually, I'm probably going to be about five minutes late thanks to this snow and the whole giant plastic map board thing incident. I'm a junior, so I'm helping run the auditions." A look of inquiry immediately took over the bit of his face I could see.
"A junior in high school?" "Seriously? This is the worst. I am 20 years old, damn it! Everyone always thinks I'm like 16 and it's ridiculous. "My anger was melodramatically feigned, punctuated with a foot stomp. To my relief he laughed, a true deep laugh. Within a couple minutes, we arrived to the door of the large theatre building.
It was one of the newer places on campus, with large floor to ceiling windows which showed us the few people already setting up tables and refreshments. I set my things down on a nearby bench and began stripping off some of my layers.
"I'm Charley, by the way." My back was to him as I shrugged out of my coat and disentangled myself from my scarf. Just as I was about to kick off my boots in favor of my heels, I turned and held my hand out to him. Immediately, I knew why his voice sounded so familiar. With the scarf now gone from his face and his hat removed, there weren't a lot of people who wouldn't have recognized him. Still, I waited for an introduction.
He reached for the hand I offered him and shook firmly, the way most guys seemed to avoid shaking a girl's hand. "Matt." The shake went on for a second longer than it should have, but he seemed to zone out for that moment, looking at me as if he were trying to figure out something very important. His hand was very warm, despite the cold, and I had to shake focusing on that from my head. "Well, Matt, you can just chillax here if you'd like, for a while. We'll start signing people in soon, but my guess is you're the first one here.
I need to go help with some stuff, but if you need anything, just ask anyone with a name tag." "Thanks, Charley. And thanks for helping me get here." He finished removing his coat and sat down on the bench, pulling a folder out of his bag. Without another word, I picked up my things and walked over to the others who were setting things up.
A set of blank sticker name tags sat on the counter to the ticket booth. I scribbled my name on a sticker and pressed it against my shirt, doing my best to flatten it out so it would stay on all day. It turned out a number of people were running late, and only one of the theatre professors and another student were there to prepare. "It's about time, Charley, sheesh.
This stupid snow storm has everyone stuck. Here, set these coffees and cups out for me, will you?" He nudged the cardboard boxes on the floor which I assume were filled with coffee. Currently, his attention was set on making a fruit platter look presentable as well as setting Pop Tarts out on a plate in a way that managed to make it look much fancier than Pop Tarts on a plate. Our professor was setting up the registration table, taping down sign in sheets and getting information folders in order.
"Who was that you walked in with?" I answered the same way I would have if it had been anyone else who I'd come in with. This wasn't so much a conscious effort as a reflex. Matt was a person, and it didn't quite occur to me to treat him any other way. "Oh, I just ran into him -- almost literally -- on the quad.
He's auditioning and needed some help finding the building, so I just walked with him here." Soon enough, everything was set up and a few more of the student volunteers had arrived.
One by one, parents and high school students started to arrive, all nicely dressed and looking nervous. They made their way to the registration table and received their audition information packets before scattering off for refreshments or to stand in a corner and repeat monologues to themselves.
Some who were interview for design positions held portfolios likely filled with photographs and other work samples. Remembering my own nerves when it had come time for my interview, I tried my best to smile and make everyone feel comfortable and welcome.
Before things got too crazy, Matt walked up to register. His wool hat was now replaced by a baseball cap, pulled down low on his face. Like everyone else, he seemed a bit on edge, but my guess was it wasn't quite for the same reason. My guess it had to do with the reason why he tried to hide his face. "Hey again." I tried to make him feel comfortable like I would anyone else. "Hey. I'm ready to sign in." I pointed to the sheets taped to the table in front of me.
"Just sign on the next line. What's your last name?" Pen in hand, he had started to bend over the table to write, but stopped to look at me.
It was a mix of curiosity and amusement. "Ringler." While he finished signing the sheet, I fished his information folder out of the stack.
I opened it on the table, showing off the papers and forms inside of it. "This is your name sticker; if nothing else be sure you're wearing it during your audition. The blue form you need to fill out and turn back in to me after the welcome ceremony. This sheet has audition times and locations on it with guidelines and requirements on the back. Campus map. School of Theatre information packets…" I flipped through a few of the sheets quickly, knowing they didn't require elaborate explanations.
"…and this last one is for after everything is done, just a survey asking how it went, if there's anything we could improve and all that fun stuff. Any questions?" He shook his head with a smile, pulling the folder from my hands and refastening his hat low over his face. "Thanks, Charley." He turned back toward the corner I'd first left him in, it being on the opposite side of the lobby from the theater, very few people were over there.
It was probably that exact fact that kept him where he was. As the time ticked closer to the start of the welcome ceremony, more and more snow covered, wind whipped, red faced students and parents made their way into the building and up to my table. Just before the doors opened, I was almost yelling to be heard over the dine, yet we still managed to keep everything running smoothly, getting all of the students signed in before the announcement was made for everyone to enter the theater.
I was started packing up what remained of the registration table, taking note of the few folders left in my stack so I could inform the directors of who hadn't shown up.
My face was a bit sore from smiling for as long as I had been, but it was my cramped hand and the creak in my neck that stole my focus. "You don't get to go watch?" My icescapes rescuer stopped in front of me, eyeing the stacks of paper as I laid them out. As I had expected, he hadn't put his name tag on. While there were countless Matts in the world, a familiar name would do nothing to distract from the familiar face. "I've seen this part several times, but if I finish up this paperwork before it's over, I can sneak in and see whatever is left.
Unfortunately, this snow kept a lot of people from getting here, so it'll probably take longer than originally anticipated for me to get everything done." He moved backwards, starting to rejoin the crowd to the door while still facing me.
"I guess I'll see you when we get out, then." "Yes. I will be the one yelling over the crowd trying to direct hundreds of students in twenty different directions. Have fun in there." With one last smile, leaving me with a tiny flutter in my gut, he turned and went into the theater.
Once the lobby was cleared, I got to work, quickly clearing up everything that needed to be put away within the half an hour of the welcome program. Luckily, appearances no longer mattered, allowing me to slip out of my uncomfortable shoes and rush around as much as I needed.
It was a few minutes into this rushing that I was interrupted. "Charley! Did you see this? Matt Ringler is here. Is it the Matt Ringler?
Did you see him? He signed in; you must have talked to him." A classmate rushed over to where I was putting up directional signs, holding the sign in sheet. "Is it really necessary for you to yell about it? You know these doors aren't soundproof, and I doubt Dr. Brown would really want you interrupting the welcome ceremony." "But… Matt Ringler! As in a celebrity. Here. At our school! He's here!" "Yes, he's here, and you're still yelling.
Just do everyone a favor and don't make a big deal out it, please. If he wanted everyone to pay attention to him, he would have made a big deal out of being here himself." She stared at me, wide-eyed, as if I had just spoken to her in an alien language.
"Are you missing the part where he is a totally hot, Oscar nominated actor?" "He was nominated for a Golden Globe, not an Academy Award. Regardless, he is a human being, not a zoo animal, so no gawking and no getting other people to gawk at him, pretty pretty please." Despite my near desperation, by the time the prospective students started to exit the theater, she was far from keeping quiet.
*** "Can I join you?" I looked up from the bit of paperwork in my hands to see Matt standing in front of me, his hands tucked deeply into his pockets and his hat hanging off a belt loop.
I had been sitting on the floor of a back hallway inside the theater building.
A few hours had passed since the welcome ceremony, and the fact that Matt Ringler was attending the audition and had been in the theater with everyone else got around very quickly. While we'd passed by each other a few times in those hours, I hadn't found another moment to speak with him.
"I don't want to impose or anything. I just… had a question…" A bit confused, but rather intrigued, I moved my coat and bag out of the way so he could sit down next to me.
"Is there something wrong?" He sighed, rather deeply, before pulling his hands from his pockets and easing himself down to the floor. "Not wrong, really. I mean, it has been more of a… thrilling, high speed chase day than I'd planned, but I guess I should have expected that." He turned to look at me, but I only gave a slight shrug, knowing there was more that he needed to say. "The question I wanted to ask you was… is… Honestly, it feels weird, almost conceited to be asking you this, but that's not how I mean it, okay?" I nodded an understanding despite finding myself growing more confused by the second.
The question finally came after another deep sigh. "Do you recognize me?" My breath caught in my throat. Did he remember? "I mean… do you know who I am?" No. He did not remember. "I wouldn't say I know you, but if you're asking if I know that you're a… celebrity, movie star, an actor… yeah. I know." "When did you recognize me?" I thought back on the day, starting with my walk to campus. "Well, your voice sounded familiar when I first slammed into the giant map board thing…" He chuckled and shook his head at me.
"…but it was when we got inside, and you took off your scarf and introduced yourself that I realized who you were." Nodding, he fiddled with the bill of his hat, not quite looking at me. "But you didn't say anything about it?" "Should I have?" I watched him as he contemplated the question, feeling strange, yet slightly comfortable, that someone who was almost a household name was sitting next to me.
Willfully sitting next to me. "No. I actually appreciated it, a lot. Today was stressful enough without everything else. So… thank you for not, you know, saying anything." His appreciation was genuine, and I couldn't help but smile.
"Anytime." "Well," he started to rise, holding his hand out to me as he did. "I'll leave you to it. It was nice meeting you, Charley. Hopefully I'll see you in the fall." I accepted his hand, giving it a brief shake before releasing. "I'm sure you will." An hour later, the signs were taken down, the paperwork was turned in, discussions were done and I was on my way home.
I was halfway home when I decided to make a pit stop, changing directions to an apartment a few blocks from mine. "Sam?" I called, opening the door with the spare key on my key ring. "Sam, are you home, I just got done with…auditions, and…" A pair of unfamiliar shoes next to the door caught my attention, but only held it until I saw the sweater on the floor.
Yet, it wasn't until a giggle came from the next room that I knew what was really happening.