Tracey was buzzing. As she walked out of the stage door, her body was pulsating with the adrenalin coursing through her bloodstream. Stepping out into the cold, dark night calmed her a little but she was wider awake than she had ever been. Streetlights seemed brighter, the aroma left by drunks relieving themselves in hidden corners at the back of the building, sharper, and the distant noise of cars passing down the nearby high street seemed calming.
On the far side of the car park, her Nissan glowed under the lights. She always parked where it would be properly illuminated, not for safety but because she liked the way the special yellow metallic paint made it stand out among a sea of silver Audis and mummy carriers. Pressing the button on the keyfob, it made a reassuring beep to say the doors were unlocked.
Just as she gripped the door handle, a voice said, “Hello Tracey. How did the performance go?”
Spinning around Tracey looked to see who had spoken. For a moment, no one could be seen and then a figure emerged from the shadow cast by a people carrier.
“Well? Did you have a good time?”
Even in her heightened state, it took Tracey a few seconds to recognise the face. Then the penny dropped. “Julie”.
“Yes, it’s me.”
“But I thought you’d gone away. Sparks said, well he mentioned, I mean he…” she struggled to remember exactly how he’d described Julie’s disappearance, “There, there was a note. He said you’d just left.”
Julie smiled. “Yes, I left a note. But I don’t suppose he really understood it.”
“You left us in the lurch. He was worried.”
“About his career. He would be worried how it would look if the great magician couldn’t perform.”
“Well, we had a show to put on.”
“We? Suddenly you have joined the profession have you daaaahhling” Julie drawled mockingly.
Tracey frowned. “Well someone had to stand in. This show matters if we are going to save the theatre.”
“Oh you hero. How good of you to volunteer. I mean, it’s not something you’d ever wanted to do is it? I bet they had to drag you up onto the stage. Tracey the superstar. Tracey’s name in lights.”
“No, I didn’t want to do it but everyone said I was the only one.”
“Really? There aren’t any proper”, Julie snarled the word, “actresses out there? People who have learnt the craft. People who are desperate to make their mark in the business? None at all? The only person they could find is the girl from the office?”
For a moment, Tracey paused. This wasn’t the first time someone had questioned her right to the job. “Maybe I haven’t spent years at bloody drama school, but I’ve done my level best. It’s been hard work, but you are right about one thing – I am enjoying it. When everything goes right, it’s brilliant. At the end of the show, when we took our bows, I felt on top of the world. And so, miss can’t be bothered to stick around, yes, I loved it.”
“Really? And you think you’ll still be loving it on a wet Wednesday when you’ve got a half-empty theatre and only bored pensioners to perform to? You’ve still got to give it your all for that miserable matinee, not just the opening night.”
Another pause. Julie was right, the show was due to run for a month and so far the eight shows each week had just been a number, but as her heart rate dropped, Tracey found herself realising what it meant. Every day she was going to have to turn up and perform. No taking a day off for a hangover or just because she felt like it. There might be harder taskmasters and Kate. She wasn’t going to be beaten though. “If that’s what it takes, that’s what I’ll do” she replied defiantly.
“Are you sure? We learn a lot at drama school and one of the things is stamina. It’s the difference between professionals and am-dram.”
“Am-dram?” Tracey looked confused.
“Amateur dramatics dear.” Julie laughed. “The difference between people who know what they are doing and people who are just playing.”
“Playing? What the bloody hell do you think you do all day missy? Flouncing around in a posh frock isn’t rocket science you know.”
“Really? Remembering your lines would be a start.”
“What?” Tracey was confused “You mean you…”
“Watched the show. Of course. I saw everything. Your fluffed lines, your missed cues, your swim in gunge, everything.”
Again, Tracey paused. Her mind spun. The two of them stared at each other under the light and she realised that she was still gripping the car door handle. Letting go, she looked at her fingers for a second and then a thought struck her. “Hold on. The gunge. How did that get in the stupid pot? It wasn’t in the rehearsal.”
Julie threw her head back and laughed. “You think all that stuff Sparks does is real magic? Do you think he does it all by himself? Any assistant knows how all the tricks are done. We have to do at least half the work, even if Mr Big Star takes all the credit.”
“Of course. Making things appear in boxes is something we do all the time. After all, you were bobbing up and down on that stage lift weren’t you? It didn’t take much to fill the jar before you ‘appeared’ in it for the first time.”
“Oh my God! I could have drowned you bitch!”
“Yeah, right. It wasn’t that full, just enough to give you a surprise. That and ruin the Lady Mayors’ outfit for the evening.”
“But why? I mean it’s not like you wanted the job. You left remember?”
Julie’s face became serious. “Of course I wanted the job.”
“So why did you leave?”
“I left you little idiot, because I didn’t just want the job, I wanted the man that goes with it.”
Shocked, Tracey asked, “You. And Sparks?”
“That was the idea.”
“But I thought you two were just…”
“Just good friends? Just working together? Just a professional couple?”
“Yeah. I mean, people hinted, but I thought they were just joking.”
“Maybe they think they are. Maybe even he thinks it’s a joke.” Julie snarled.
“But what does he think? Didn’t you tell him?”
“Oh, he thinks lots. He liked the idea in hotel rooms between shows. Yes, travelling the country with someone is a great way to get to know them and yes, I won’t be the first assistant to fall for the man with the magic wand, but I can see through all the cool bravado. Underneath, he’s a really interesting guy.”
“So did you tell him?”
“I tried, but he wasn’t really listening. So I left.”
Now it was Tracey’s turn to snort with laughter. “That didn’t seem to work very well did it?”
Julie looked crestfallen. “No. I didn’t realise how quickly I’d be replaced did I?”
“Only on stage. I’m not filling in for you in the bedroom.”
“Ha. Hasn’t he tried it on with you yet?”
“No, actually he hasn’t. I think he’s too worried about the show.”
“The old ‘show must go on’ bollocks. I guess his career matters more than anything. He’s got big plans you know.”
“I know. And those don’t include me, or at least as far as I know they don’t.”
Julie perked up. “You’re sure?”
“Oh come on. As you said, I’m not that good at all this. I mean I love the applause and it’s better than being stuck in the office, but traipsing around the country after some bloke? That’s not my style daaaahhling.”
“So you don’t want to do this?”
“I wouldn’t say that. I’d like to do a bit more, but you’re right, I’m not cut out for a life on the stage. Perhaps film or TV would be more my thing.”
“So I could come back?”
“Don’t see why not. The rest of the cast miss you. I’m sure Sparks will get over himself, especially if you tell him the truth.”
“Oh”, Julie looked at her feet, “You think it would work?”
“Don’t see why not. How about we talk about it tomorrow? I want to get in my car, it’s bloody freezing out here.”