Daily Prompt – Exquisite

Alex stood on the stage of the most exquisite theatre he had ever seen, staring out into the house, trying to memorize every detail; the heavy velvet curtains, the marble columns, the gold leaf painted moldings and accents, the extravagant crystal chandelier, and Gothic textured wall paper. It was a stunning, vintage theater the Everhouse Theatre Company had bought and rehabbed as a labor of love.

“Hey,” Marina’s voice startled him out of his reverie.

“Hey,” he smiled shyly.

“You okay?”

He nodded. “Honestly, I’ve never been better. Will just called, we have an opening date – here, on this stage. My show is going to open on Broadway.”

Marina threw her arms around his neck. “Oh, Alex! I am so happy for you.”

Alex wrapped his arms around her. “Thank you.” He pulled back to look into her eyes. “Despite all my bravado, I couldn’t have done this without you.”

Marina stepped back, suddenly avoiding his eyes.

“What?” he asked. “What’s wrong?”

 

via Daily Prompt: Exquisite

Exquisite

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Center Stage – 3

 

The following morning, after the commuter rush, as Alex rode the F train from Brooklyn to lower Manhattan, he realized that as much as he loved spending quality time with his parents, he was truly in need of an apartment in Manhattan to cut down on his commute. He would have to add it to the day’s to do list. Although the quality time he had spent on the train had reminded him how much he loved the City. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he had spent most of his teen and early adult years in Manhattan absorbing every aspect of the Arts that it had to offer. Plus living in Manhattan would mean being in closer proximity to Mollie. And Marina. And having an actual lease would prove he wasn’t going anywhere.

Everhouse was an apartment building in Chelsea that had a long standing tradition of renting affordable, below market-value apartments to members of the Arts community. Jared Gray had called it home for over twenty years and even Marina had lived there prior to her doomed marriage to Shawn, he made a note to see if there were any apartments available. After emerging from the Subway at 8th, he texted Jared that he was in the neighborhood and found Jared sitting on the front steps enjoying a cigarette when he arrived.

“Hola,” Jared grinned. He exhaled and tossed his butt into the gutter. “Nice ride?”

“There seriously is a whole level of clarity that comes with the Subway. I saw a woman carrying some sort of critter in some sort of homemade carrier. I am still not sure what it was. Someone asked me for a dollar to buy ramen to go with his packet of tuna. I was then called a bitch when I denied having any money to give. I must say, it’s good to be home.”

“The euphoria will wear off soon. Hungry?”

Alex shrugged. “Ma thinks I have not eaten since moving to London, so she insisted on making me breakfast before I left. But I could totally go for coffee.”

They walked around the corner to a diner Jared frequented. “So,” Jared said sliding into a booth. “How was the reunion?”

Alex smirked. “Don’t play like you didn’t get an earful from Marina after we left.”

Jared shrugged, chagrinned. “It threw her for a loop.”

The waitress arrived with cups of coffee. “Gracias,” Alex murmured.

“Okay, so moving on…” Jared sipped his black coffee. “So, what is this show you wrote?”

“She mentioned it, huh?” Alex poured sugar and cream into his coffee. “It’s semi-autobiographical. It’s about the family of an NYPD officer killed on September 11th. It’s a tribute to Danny and people like him.”

Jared frowned thoughtfully. “Do you really think it’s wise to have Marina do this? To make her live through that all again?”

He stirred his coffee and sent the spoon down. “Let me be up front, that is not my intent, J. But I wrote it with her in mind as the lead. It’s her story as much as mine, who better to tell it?”

“I agree, but… I don’t want to see her hurt.”

“I get that. Neither do I.” He sipped the steaming coffee. “Listen, it was very cathartic for me writing this story, the music, the dialogue. It means a lot to me. I honestly felt like Danny was with me the whole time I was writing, like his spirit was speaking through me. I know, that sounds like a bunch of New Age bullshit. But I swear to you, I felt his presence in all of it.”

“Alex, I don’t doubt any of that, I just don’t want to dredge up all those emotions for Marina. I don’t know if she can handle it.”

Alex considered this for a moment. “Maybe she’s stronger than you think.”

“And maybe she’s not as strong as you remember. Which one of us actually stuck around the past fifteen years?”

Alex sighed. “There’s a part for you, too.”

Jared broke into a wide grin. “Now that might be something I can get behind.”

“I figured,” he replied with a wry grin.

“It’s been a while. I miss it.” He shrugged. “I teach a workshop for kids two mornings a week. I like it, but I don’t think I will ever lose the desire to perform. It’s one of the few highs I am still allowed.”

Alex was always startled by how forthcoming and often flippant Jared was about both his battles with alcohol and his struggles to get his bipolar disorder under control. None of it had been easy and Alex knew the loss of Kelly had put him on the edge of a tailspin, but he had come through it stronger. Marina had been with him for all of it and Alex found himself almost jealous of their bond and devotion to each other.

He set his coffee down and opened his beat up leather messenger bag, removing a large manila envelope. “Read it. Let me know.”

Jared took it from him, feeling conflicted. He was wary of the impact it could have on Marina but also excited by the possibilities the script held.

“Marina and I are having dinner tonight. Her idea, not mine.” He shrugged. “She’s at least willing to listen, I can’t ask for anything more than that.” He paused. “Does Mollie ever talk about Danny?”

“A little I guess. Why?”

He wasn’t sure if he should confide in Jared about Mollie’s theory. He wasn’t sure he could do her justice.

“Just wondering.”

Jared didn’t push the issue. “So, I have to ask. Are you bringing this to Marina in hopes she’ll finance it?”

Alex shook his head vehemently. “No, it is purely for her talent. I have investors already lined up.”

“Really? Who?”

“Me,” a man answered, sliding into the booth beside Jared. “Welcome home, Alejandro.”

“Good to see you, Will. Thanks for coming.” Alex grinned like the Cheshire cat.

Jared found himself sitting across from one of his oldest friends, Broadway producer, Will Hart. “You knew about this?” he asked, incredulous.

He shrugged. “Alex and I had dinner when I was in London a couple months ago. Over a few beverages we got to talking, he played me some of the songs and I knew this was a story that had to be told. Everhouse Theatre plans to workshop it to start.”

“And neither of you think Marina won’t feel railroaded?”

“That’s not what this is,” Alex protested. “If she doesn’t want to be a part of it, I’ll accept her decision. It won’t be the same as what I envisioned, but I will respect it.”

“J, I know how protective you are about Marina. I love her, too. We’ve all known each other a long time and been through hell together. I would never do anything to hurt her, neither would Alex. This is something we can all do together and honor Danny.” Will signaled the waitress to bring another cup of coffee. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had something meaningful to work on as a team. Read what Alex’s come up with. I know you’ll see what I see.”

Normally Jared trusted Will’s instincts. Will had helped Jared land his agent and get his career on track back when he was a complete train wreck. Talented and smart, Will had gone from being a performer, to a composer to a producer in his twenty year career. Jared counted him among his closest friends, but this was Marina they were talking about and his allegiance was first and foremost to her.

 

After his breakfast meeting with Will and Jared, Alex met up with another old friend, Adam Campbell and signed a lease on an apartment in Everhouse. It would be good to be neighbors with Jared and a few of his old friends from eons gone by. Once that was done, he made arrangements for his stuff to be shipped from London, and then made his way to pay his respects to Danny.

Alex stepped out of the Subway, squinting against the early afternoon sun. As fall took hold, the days were getting shorter and the air crisper. Soon it would be Halloween, he noted, passing by a seasonal costume shop.

He wasn’t sure what he expected to feel as he approached the sacred ground that was once the World Trade Center, then Ground Zero. The memories of that day, and the days and weeks that followed, came flooding back and he suddenly felt the urge to vomit. He was torn between feeling bitter that the site had become a glorified tourist trap and grateful that there was a tangible memorial to pay respect to the senseless loss of lives.

To block those thoughts, he focused on Danny. Thoughts of Danny brought him back to Marina and Mollie; the family Danny left behind. The two most important people in his own life. He wondered if he had made an even bigger mistake coming back after all this time.

 

 

Center Stage – 2

Shortly after Marina stormed out of Curtain Call, Alex sat at the bar making origami out of the cocktail napkins with the Curtain Call logo when Jared and Mollie emerged from the kitchen.

“Where’s Momma?” Mollie asked, snuggling into Alex’s embrace.

He kissed her forehead. “She said she’d see you later. You and I are going to Abuela’s for dinner and then I’ll bring you back home. But your homework has to be complete.”

“Seriously?”

Alex nodded. “Yep. You okay with that?”

“Totally.” She turned to Jared. “Raincheck?”

“Anytime, Munchkin.”

“Raincheck?”

“Yeah, Mollie and I are working on a guitar piece for her holiday talent show.”

“I’d love to hear it.”

Mollie scrunched up her face. “Nope. Not till Uncle J and I get it perfect.”

“Hey, I know something about music,” he reminded her.

“I know, but Uncle J knows more about rock music.”

“Rock music?”

Jared nodded. “Classic rock to be precise.”

“Lord help us,” Alex murmured, causing Jared to grin. “Well, Uncle J is old.”

“Not old, classic. Alright, man. Check in with you tomorrow?” he raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah. Breakfast?”

“Sounds good. Swing by Everhouse.”

“Hasta manana,” Alex nodded. He slung an arm around Mollie and led her to the door.

“You can come out now,” Jared called out once the door closed behind them. “They’re gone.”

“How did you know I was here?”

“I’ve known you way too long,” he replied.

“True.” She sighed. “Did you know he was back?”

“Not until he showed up an hour ago.”

“Did he tell you why he came back?”

“Didn’t get that far.”

“He wrote a show. He wants me in it.”

“Interesting.”

“I said I would. Am I crazy?”

“You, crazy?” he teased.

Marina frowned.

“Mollie seems happy to see him.”

“I know. She adores him. I want her to know Alex. Her grandparents aren’t going to be around forever and Alex is her only other tie to Danny. I want him in her life.”

“So, what’s the problem?”

“I’m still so pissed at him for leaving the way he did.”

“Did you tell him that? You know, like we tell the kids, use your words.”

“Bite me, smart ass.”

Jared snickered. “That is why you love me. But seriously, I’ll tell you what I told Alex. Talk to each other. Make peace. You are family. You have to deal with each other.”

Marina’s frown deepened.

“Why did you tell him you’d do his show?”

“I don’t know.”

“Liar.”

“To be honest, I miss him. We used to be so close.”

“But you can’t admit that to him?”

“What’s to admit? I am pissed. It’s sort of obvious.”

“If you say so,” Jared shrugged, returning to drying his glasses. He only had an hour until the bar opened for pre-show drinks. His bartender, Tristan and waitresses Natalie and Frankie would be arriving any moment.

“I need to go for a walk,” she announced. “I’ll talk to you later.”

“Be careful!” he called after her.

 

While Jared and Marina were dealing with the past, twenty-three year old, Ben Grey sat on the floor of the Everhouse apartment he had grown up in and picked up his father’s acoustic guitar and began strumming while his girlfriend, Julianne Wood lay on the couch, reading a biology text book.

His absentminded strumming turned into the melody of Elvis Costello’s Alison. He stopped playing abruptly.

“You okay?” Julianne asked, not looking up from her reading.

He shrugged. “I worry sometimes, you know,” he said softly, staring at his black Chuck Taylor’s. “I worry that I might end up like my mother… or like my father…” his voice trailed off.

Julianne looked up and closed her text book, clearly surprised. “What are you talking about?” She sat up, watching him intently. “I know your birth mother was messed up with drugs, but your dad? Your dad is a rock star.”

Ben nodded. “He is amazing. He really is. He raised the three of us on his own, always put Dylan and Riley and me first. My dad is the best.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“Well, you know my birth mom, Kara had drug issues and that my dad is a recovering alcoholic…”

“Ben, I’ve known you since we were fourteen, I’ve never seen you drink…”

“I know.” He set the guitar aside and gazed across the room at Julianne.

She frowned. “What are you talking about, Ben? You’re not making any sense.”

Ben rubbed the stubble on his chin. “When my dad was a couple years older than I am now, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder… What if? What if I am crazy?”

“Ben…” shepaused, uncertain what to say.

“I think about it all the time. It’s why I never drink. The disorder exacerbated his alcohol issues. I can’t talk to him about it though… It would kill him. I can’t hurt him like that. I owe him too much.”

Julianne slid off the couch and crawled over to him. Wrapping her arms around him, she leaned her forehead against his.

 

In his parent’s living room in Brooklyn, Alex took a seat on the plush sofa and pulled Mollie down beside him, wrapping his arm around her. They had always enjoyed a close relationship, despite the distance. Whenever his parents brought her to London to visit, she would attach herself to his side, always holding his hand or cuddling against him for his attention. Now that she was a dreaded teenager, he feared they would lose that affection.

“You know I love you more than anything else in the world, right?”

“Yeah…” she rested her head on his shoulder.

“And you know you’re my best friend, right?”

Mollie rolled her eyes. “Sure.”

“I mean it, you, Miss Mollie Jane Marquez, are my favorite human on the planet. Te amo.”

“I love you, too. Uncle Ajѐ. Are you really back for good?”

“Sure am,” he nodded.

“Good. I miss you when you’re in London and I’m here. Abuela misses you too.”

“And I miss you guys. Especially Abuela’s cooking.”

“Abuela is the best cook,” the teen agreed. “Why are you and Momma mad at each other?”

Alex suppressed a groan. “We’re not exactly mad at each other. At least, I’m not mad at your mom, but she isn’t very happy with me.”

“How come? I’m not a little kid anymore, you can tell me the truth.”

“Not a little kid, eh? Says the girl wearing Hello Kitty socks,” he mocked her. “I know, you’re not a little kid anymore. It’s a fact that greatly depresses me. But it’s pretty complicated between your mom and me.”

Mollie picked at the nail polish on her thumb. “Because you love her?”

Alex’s brow furrowed. “Of course, I love her. She’s your mom.”

Mollie rolled her eyes, unable to hide her exasperation. “No, I mean love her, love her. Like my dad did.”

He was taken aback by Mollie’s perception and bluntness. It was one thing for Jared to call him out on it, Jared had been there from the beginning and until that afternoon, Mollie had never seen he and her mother in the same place.

“Why would you say that?” he deflected but Mollie was too wise for that.

“Because why else would you go to London after my dad died? It’s like something out of a Nicholas Sparks novel. Or Danielle Steele.”

“Who the hell lets you read that crap?” Alex asked with a scowl.

“Zoey gives it to me when she’s through. Anyway, you’re changing the subject again,” she frowned, throwing her older sister under the bus. “Seriously, it’s okay that you’re in love with Momma. I don’t think my dad would mind.”

Alex couldn’t decide if his head was about to explode or if he had just been sucker punched. Perhaps both simultaneously.

Mollie shrugged. “I know my mom loves you, otherwise she wouldn’t be so mad at you for leaving.”

He took a deep breath to steady his voice. “It’s not the same, Mi Bonita. Marina doesn’t love me the way she loved your dad. And that’s okay. Your dad was the bravest person I ever met. He and your mom were perfect together and it’s pretty hard to top perfection.”

“I have a theory,” she whispered. “You’re going to think I’m crazy.”

“I would never think that,” he promised.

“Abuela always says that God has a plan and that things happen for reasons that we might never understand.”

Alex nodded. “I’ve heard that once or twice.”

“What if… God had a plan… what if his plan was for you and Momma to meet and fall in love, only she met my dad and fell for him when she was meant to be with you… and… and that’s why he was killed on September 11th… So you and my mom could be together…”

Alex sat in stunned silence.

“I told you it was crazy,” she murmured.

No, not crazy, a voice in Alex’s head screamed, but exactly the thoughts he had in the days following 9/11, the very thoughts that had propelled him across the Atlantic because of the guilt that was consuming him every time he looked at Marina and Mollie. It had felt like an elephant sitting on his chest and he had only begun to breathe again once he landed in London and began writing.

“Oh, baby, it’s not crazy and I know it must be easier to romanticize your dad’s death, but the reality is that your dad died doing something he dedicated his life to – helping people. He was killed because some insanely evil people thought it was okay to hurt our country. He died a hero. Never in a hundred years could I live up to that.”

“You don’t have to,” Mollie informed him. “Mom and dad were complete opposites in every way. But you and mom… you’re so much alike.”

Alex smirked. “Thanks, I think.”

“I’m not explaining it right. It’s like Momma and Uncle J, they get each other. You’re just like them. And me.”

Before they could continue the conversation, Alex’s mother, Elena entered the room. “Dinner is ready,” she informed them with a warm smile.

“What are we having?” Mollie asked, immediately on her feet.

“Alѐ’s favorite,” Elena beamed.

“Peanut butter and jelly?” Mollie teased.

“Chicken molѐ,” her grandmother replied.

“Ma, you are an angel,” Alex jumped up and kissed her cheek. “Where’s Pop?”

“He has a late class tonight. So, it’s just the three of us.”

“Perfect. Dinner with my favorite ladies.”

“It’s too bad Marina couldn’t join us,” Elena commented, leading her son and granddaughter to the dining room where she had served their meal.

Mollie shot Alex a pointed look as she took her seat across from him.

“You know, I liked you better before you became a teenager,” he muttered under his breath.

“She had plans with Uncle Jared,” Mollie explained, sticking her tongue out at Alex.

“How is Jared?” Elana asked. “I hardly had a chance to talk to him at your birthday.”

“He’s good,” Alex answered, watching as his mother served Mollie.

“Thanks, Abuela.”

“And how is Marina?” Elena asked, studying her younger son.

“Good,” he replied. The conversation he’d had with Mollie had thrown him for a loop. It boggled his mind how the fifteen year old’s mind worked. He wondered if she had shared her insights with Marina.

“I love her new hairstyle,” Elena added. “It’s really flattering, but then she’s always been a beautiful girl, don’t you think, Alex?”

“Sure,” he nodded.

“I bet she was surprised to see you.”

“You could say that,” Alex replied.

 

Marina walked toward Times Square, hoping to lose herself in the crowd. Alejandro Marquez was the last person she had expected to run into on this brisk fall day. While she loved Jared like a brother, sometimes she missed having a female best friend to confide in. She had that once in Jared’s wife Kelly, but ovarian cancer took her from them. Since Kelly’s death, she and Jared had worked hard to fill the void for each other and she knew she could count on Jared whenever she needed him, but the complexities of her relationship with Alex she feared was beyond his level of comprehension.

In the twenty plus years since she had moved to Manhattan, Times Square had changed dramatically but one thing remained constant – the pulsing energy of the constant flow of people. It was one of the many things Alex had turned his back on when he went to London, she realized.

She was pissed at him for that; at the timing of it. Mollie had been almost a month old, and Danny had been gone a little over two weeks. It was selfish of him, heartless even. He was turning his back on everything Danny had lived for: her, Mollie, even the City. Now he was waltzing back in their lives, with a show he wanted her to be in. They would be working together and she had said yes without any real hesitation. Jared questioned her motives and she couldn’t explain them herself. Was she out to punish him? Or return to the ways things had been? Or to start fresh? It was infuriating that she had no clear answer.

 

“I don’t see why I couldn’t stay over at Abuela’s tonight,” Mollie complained as she and Alex emerged from the Subway a block from the Upper Manhattan high-rise she resided in.

“Because I promised your mom that I would bring you home after dinner. Besides, now that I am home, you and I are going to see so much of each other that you’re going to be sick of me.”

She pouted but didn’t say anything the rest of the walk. At the door of the luxurious high-rise, they were greeted by the official looking doorman.

“Good evening, Miss Marquez,” he greeted them.

“Hi Sebastian,” she replied.  “This is my Uncle Alex.”

“Nice to meet you, sir,” Sebastian smiled warmly.

“Is my mom home?”

“Yes, ma’am. She arrived about ten minutes ago.” He ushered them through the door. “Have a good night.”

“You, too,” Alex replied, following Mollie to the elevator, trying not to gawk at the extravagant lobby. He didn’t begrudge Marina the luxurious lifestyle she could afford, it provided a home for Mollie and access to the best schools, but he knew realistically that he could never offer her anything remotely similar. After his parents had immigrated from Puerto Rico to attend college, his father made a comfortable living as a professor at one of the City’s small private colleges and his mother had retired from being a school nurse and spent most of her time volunteering in the community. Comfortable was the key word. They had given their two boys everything they ever needed and taught them that honest work meant more than a fast buck. While he and Danny had taken two different paths, they had supported and encouraged them every step of the way.

Mollie chattered on about school as the elevator rose to the top floor. Swallowing the lump in his throat as well as his pride, he followed her to the door and stood, ignoring all his instincts to bolt as Mollie rang the doorbell.

Marina opened the door immediately, looking calm and strikingly beautiful. “How was dinner?” she asked as Mollie greeted her with a kiss on the cheek, entering the apartment. “How is Abuela?” She offered Alex a cordial nod but he stood rooted to the spot in the hall.

“She made mole!” Mollie announced, shedding her jacket. “It was lit.”

“I should go,” Alex mumbled.

“Say goodnight to Uncle Alѐ,” Marina instructed. “Thank him for dinner.”

“Night, Uncle Alѐ. Thank you for dinner,” Mollie repeated dutifully, rolling her eyes at Alex.

“Te amo,” he replied with a smirk. He turned to Marina. “Thanks for letting me take her. It made Ma’s night. Mine too.”

“You’re welcome.”

“So… about the show,” he shifted on the balls of his feet uncomfortably.

“Dinner, tomorrow?”

His eyes lit up. “Of course! Yes. Where? When?”

“Curtain Call. Eight. The theatre crowd is out by then.”

Alex nodded. “Great. See you then.”

Center Stage – 1

Disturbed’s haunting cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” filled the empty bar with anything but silence as Alejando Marquez stepped through the door and looked around immediately impressed. The only person in sight wore faded Levis and a vintage Elvis Costello t-shirt accentuating well defined biceps and showing a hint of a tattoo; his sandy colored hair was damp from a recent shower while in his hand he held a towel he was using to dry a pint glass; all the while completely oblivious to the intruder as he passionately sang along. Alex couldn’t help but grin at the whole scene, noting some things never changed. He took a step forward, still completely undetected.

“Holy shit, depressed much?” Alex finally shouted over the music, raising an eyebrow at the man working diligently behind the mahogany bar.

Startled, Jared Grey broke into a huge smile as he recognized his old friend. “No fuckin’ way!” he tossed his towel over his shoulder. “Alejandro Marquez! What the fuck are you doing in my bar?” He picked up a remote and turned down the music.

Alex grinned slyly. “Technically, I think I’m standing in Marina’s half of it.” He glanced around nervously, knowing that Jared’s business partner could appear at any moment and fully aware that he was not prepared for that. “I heard my sister-in-law opened up a bar with some alcoholic actor,” he winked.

“Asshat,” Jared smirked, coming around from behind the bar to give Alex a warm hug. “Man, it’s good to see you. What are you doing on this side of the pond? I mean, shit, how long has it been?”

Alex gave him a hearty clap on the back. “Too long…” he replied with self-conscious shrug. “I might actually be back permanently.”

“Great! Does Marina know?” Jared’s brow furrowed as he studied the handsome Puerto Rican. “Or are you just skulking about the City?”

“No,” Alex frowned, taking a long slow breath. “I haven’t told her. Hell, man, I don’t know how. So for the moment, definitely skulking.”

“Oh, come on, you guys are family. It’ll be fine,” Jared assured him.

“Jared, you know Marina Zarley better than anyone,” Alex replied, a genuine look of anguish on his face. “She hates me.”

“She doesn’t hate you,” Jared replied a bit too quickly, earning himself a raised eyebrow from Alex, challenging him to deny it. “Okay, you may have a point, but I’m fairly certain the only person she actively hates is her bastard ex-husband, the lying cheating Shawn Walker, but we are not allowed to speak of him.”

Alex smirked. “And Shawn deserved every ounce of that hatred, but I may be a close second. And I don’t blame her.”

“Okay, okay… well, when was the last time you talked to her?”

“What kind of alcoholic opens a bar?” he muttered, dropping his gaze, suddenly very interested in the pile of cocktail napkins on the bar in hopes of changing the subject. Talking about Marina, even to her best friend, was physically painful for Alex.

When you are an alcoholic, it is generally advised to avoid situations that may trigger your involuntary need for a drink. That did nothing to deter Jared Gray from opening Curtain Call, located in the theatre district, a few blocks west of Broadway with his best friend, Marina Zarley. It was part cabaret, part pub and catered to both Broadway patrons and performers before and after shows. While Broadway was dark on Mondays, Curtain Call had found a niche, hosting open mic night that often showcased performers who walked the boards, thanks to Jared and Marina’s long standing careers in the New York theatre scene. Best friends for over twenty years; from everything Alex had heard during his time in London, Jared and Marina had built a thriving business together.

“The kind of alcoholic who offers his friends drinks on the house,” Jared retorted, not the least bit offended at the jab. He winked at Alex. “What’ll you have?”

“Tequila? Straight, no chaser. Por favor,” he replied, taking a seat at the bar, suddenly feeling exhausted.

“You got it,” Jared nodded, returning behind the bar and pulling down a glass. “Seriously, Alex, when was the last time you two spoke?” He poured the shot and placed it in front of Alex.

His reply began with a heavy sigh. “In person? Danny’s funeral?”

“Jesus,” Jared shook his head. “No wonder she hates you.”

“Helpful, amigo,” he raised the shot in salute. “That was the last time I saw her. Since then we’ve spoken when I call Mollie to wish her a happy birthday or a Merry Christmas. My parents brought Mollie to London every summer but when was the last time Marina and I had any sort of meaningful conversation? When was Mollie born again?”

“Dude, Mollie is fifteen years old!”

“Yes, I know. The last question was rhetorical. I know how old my niece is. It’s okay though, I admit it. I am a horrible person. Or at least a horrible brother-in-law.” Alex tossed back the tequila and set the glass down with a thud. “So… how is Marina?”

“She’s Marina… She’s an amazing mom, raising four kids on her own. And they’re amazing kids. Zach is actually dating my daughter.,” he momentarily scowled. “She has a successful career. This place turns a profit. She’s the strongest person I’ve ever met.”

“Is she happy?” Alex asked earnestly, signaling for another shot and Jared obliged.

“I think so. She’s strong and fiercely independent. Most people would have given up or crawled into the bottom of a bottle after everything she’s been through – I speak from experience, I honestly don’t know how she does it. She’s formidable.”

“She has you,” Alex replied softly.

“True,” Jared shrugged. “Living through the death of the person you love is like being in a club you never signed up for. Marina was there for me when Kelly died… I had to reciprocate. I owed her that much, she’s my best friend.”

“I can’t tell you how glad I’ve been that she has you. After Danny was killed… I should have been there for her and Mollie.” He met Jared’s gaze. “I mean, we all knew being a cop that Danny put his life on the line, but to die like that… with a new wife and baby. It just wasn’t fair, you know. I should have tried harder and not run away. I’ll always regret it.”

“I won’t argue with you on that, but you lost Danny too. And really, no one was in the right frame of mind after 9/11.”

Alex slammed the second shot, sending a shiver down his spine. “That’s no excuse, J. Danny was my big brother. He would hate that I practically abandoned his wife and newborn after his death. I hate myself for that. I honestly don’t blame Marina for hating me.”

Jared poured him another shot.

“Gracias. So, how is Mollie?”

Jared smiled broadly. “She is a spitfire. Fearless. Beautiful.”

He nodded, staring into his glass, searching for solutions. “We text and tweet and Facetime and Facebook and Instagram. She’s been trying to get me to Snapchat, but I eventually drew the line. I am grateful that Marina has let us develop a relationship, as unconventional as it is.”

“Mollie’s a great kid, Alex. Top of her class smart. I see both of her parents in her. She’s got Marina’s spunk and Danny’s sense of justice and oh man, his twisted sense of humor. She has his eyes and Marina’s smile. More than anything, she knows she’s so incredibly loved.”

Alex smiled, simultaneously grateful and cognoscente that he was monopolizing the conversation. “What about you, man? You look well. How’s everything? How’s the family?” He left the questions vague and open ended, allowing Jared to be as forthright as he felt comfortable with.

Jared paused before answering to look around his sanctuary. Alex certainly wasn’t the first to question the wisdom of a recovering alcoholic owning his own bar, most of the vocal concern came from his AA sponsor, Garrett, usually from his favorite end barstool, but Jared absolutely loved it. During his years of working as a waiter while waiting for his big break, he had learned how to run a successful establishment, and with Marina’s financial backing due to her handsome divorce settlement from the aforementioned bastard, Shawn, it made sense for them. It had also given him the flexibility he desired to raise his family on his terms while still being able to perform whenever the urge struck him. Knowing that Alex’s inquiry came sincerely, Jared was torn between his standard answer and the truth, but it seemed a bit much for an impromptu reunion to delve into.

“I’m okay,” he assured Alex. “Kids are okay. Dylan and Riley are juniors in college. Ben is making his way as a performer; some days it’s more like he’s fumbling his way through. Sometimes he’s so like me it’s scary.” Jared shrugged. “The poor kid got screwed in the parent department – a brief fling between a drug addict and bi-polar alcoholic. It’s like winning the genetic lottery there. I worry about him. The one thing he has going for him is his deep desire to not be like me or Cara, so there’s that I guess. Dylan is hoping to go to med school in addition to dating Zach. Riley wants to go into theatre. Crazy kids.”

“Wow… I can’t believe the kids are that old. How the hell did that happen? When I left, Ben was just beginning guitar lessons and Dylan and Riley were in Kindergarten.”

“Tell me about it.” Jared placed the top on the tequila bottle and set it back on the shelf. The time for drinking was over. He knew Alex didn’t want to be drunk, he just needed something to take the edge off the all-consuming guilt he felt. “Time keeps marching on. The twins are roughly the age Marina was when I met her but it seems like yesterday that they were just learning how to walk in the common room at Everhouse.” He smiled a small, thoughtful smile. “It’s nineteen years since Kelly died, and hell, I still talk to her every night before I go to sleep.”

Alex wished he had known Kelly Ramsey, but he felt like he did from spending time with Jared and Marina and their families. It amazed him that Jared had never found anyone he loved as much as the girl he fell in love with when he was twenty-five. In some ways, it was almost tragic, but in others, it proved to Alex that there was such a thing as true love and to never settle for anything less.

“I’m glad Marina has you,” Alex confided. “Not that it’s any real consolation, but I knew she would be okay. I knew she had you and in some ways, I figured that meant she didn’t need me.”

“That’s bullshit, but we all have to tell ourselves things to get through the night.”

Alex was taken aback. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, if you’re here for good, for whatever reason, you need to make peace with Marina. I get that. But I don’t think making peace with her is going to be half as difficult as it is for you to make peace with yourself.”

“Right. I shouldn’t have fled. I regret that.”

“You’re right you shouldn’t have. But I know you had no choice.”

“No choice?”

Jared smiled knowingly. “You were in love with her. You went to London to serve some self-imposed act of penance.”

“That’s insane!” Alex protested vehemently.

“Perhaps, but it’s accurate. I don’t judge. Honest. But you forget, I was there all those weeks of rehearsals. I watched you fall in love with her. And then I watched her fall in love with your brother. That had to suck.”

Alex laughed bitterly. “I don’t get to complain about a broken heart, J, not when Danny lost his life, Marina lost her husband and Mollie never got to know how amazing her dad was. I have no right.”

“Hence your warped sense of duty, moving to London… to escape? To punish yourself? To forget? To solidify your reputation as an asshole? All of the above?”

Alex shook his head. “I don’t know.” He sighed, adjusting his scarf. “I just –“ He was interrupted by the front door opening and in an instant he felt his breath taken away. The possibility of running into Marina hadn’t deterred him from coming to see Jared, but he wasn’t prepared for the rush of emotions he felt seeing her again.

With her lustrous dark hair and contrasting green eyes, she was more beautiful than he remembered. He knew her whole history; how her mother died in childbirth, then her hardworking father was killed in a fire during his shift at a warehouse which led her to be raised by her Grandma Bea in Saratoga, New York where she was exposed to the arts in a variety of ways. Grandma Bea had been her greatest champion and benefactor, encouraging Marina to move to New York and try to make her mark on Broadway. Marina met Jared in a workshop the summer she arrived in New York and it was an instant connection, albeit a platonic one. Then, that fall, she landed a lead in her first Broadway show, Class Reunion. It was a huge turning point in Marina’s life, both professionally and personally. She introduced Jared to his soulmate in her costar, Kelly Ramsey; she met her future ex-husband Shawn Walker, lost Grandma Bea and in her vulnerable state had a one night stand with her costar and friend, Kyle Masterson – all before the age of twenty. The dalliance with Kyle produced Zachary Zane Zarley, the oldest of her four children. Eventually, she and Shawn married and had two children of their own, Zoe and Zander, but Shawn had never given up his playboy ways and Marina caught him cheating on her. Without a moment’s hesitation, she filed for divorce and full custody which she easily won, along with a substantial settlement and child support package that left the girl born to a working class family wealthier than she could have imagined. When she was twenty-five, she met a handsome Puerto Rican NYPD detective named Danny Marquez. Alex watched them fall in love, get married and have a beautiful baby girl named Mollie Jane. He also watched the agony and grief Marina experienced, holding her two week old daughter, knowing that Danny had been killed in the collapse of the North Tower on the morning of September 11th.

“Uncle Alѐ!” Mollie squealed, pushing past her stunned mother and launching herself into her uncle’s arms.

“Mi Boninta!” he whispered, pressing a kiss into her dark hair and hugging her tightly to him, never taking his eyes off her mother. In that instant, he remembered all of it, the long rehearsals and late night diner runs, the laughter and tears and that fateful opening night.

 

~          Alex was practically bouncing; he was so pumped as the final curtain fell on the ovations for their opening night performance. In his exuberance, he grabbed Marina around the waist and spun her, inciting a burst of giggles from his beautiful costar. Suddenly, Jared was beside them initiating a group hug.

“That was freakin’ amazing!” Alex exclaimed, not letting go of Marina once he set her back on her feet. Without thinking he planted a kiss on her lips, high on the adrenaline of performing in front of a live audience. Surprised, Marina laughed and slipped out of his arms, following Jared backstage to their dressing rooms which were already crowded with excited cast as their family and friends began streaming in.

“Alex!” a voice called out before he could follow after Marina and  immediately spun around.

“Bro!” he grinned, launching himself at the taller man.

“Man, that was fantastic! Unbelievable!” He pulled Alex into a bear hug. “You are amazing! I have the most amazingly talented little brother!” He planted a big sloppy kiss on Alex’s forehead. “I am so proud of you!”

“Danny, I want you to meet Marina,” he said, tugging on his older brother’s arm, and dragging him over to Marina and Jared and their families. “Guys, this is my brother, Danny. Danny, meet Marina Zarley and Jared Grey.”

Danny’s smile was both charming and slightly shy as he gazed down at the actress who had shared the stage with his brother. He offered his hand to her and she slipped hers into it. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. You were absolutely brilliant out there.” He gave her hand a gentle squeeze.

“Thank you,” Marina blushed. “The NYPD detective, we’ve been hearing about? It’s nice to meet you. Alex talks about you all the time.”

“Yeah, it’s tough having a little brother that worships you.” Danny shrugged nonchalantly. “It’s nice to finally meet you.” He shifted his gaze to Jared. “All of you. I was completely blown away.” He offered Jared his hand, shaking his heartily.

“Thanks,” Jared grinned, watching the apparent chemistry between Danny and Marina. He glanced curiously at Alex who seemed oblivious to what was happening before his eyes.

“Where are the folks?” Alex interjected, still riding his high.

“They’re waiting outside. Pop didn’t want to intrude, but I had to,” Danny answered, his soulful brown eyes never leaving Marina’s green ones.

A tiny toddler with dark brown curls and hazel eyes was suddenly tugging on Marina’s skirt. “Momma, up!” she demanded.

“Hi, baby,” Marina cooed, nuzzling her cheek while Jared playfully tugged on her pigtail.

“Who is this?” Danny asked curiously.

“I’s Zoey,” the little imp replied, swatting at Jared’s hand. She plopped her thump in her mouth and rested her head on her mother’s shoulder. “Stop it, Uncle J!” she whined, with her thumb still in her mouth and Jared leaned in to kiss her cheek.

Alex reached out and stroked her silky hair. “Bonita.”

Suddenly they were swarmed by Jared’s three kids and Marina’s two boys. Danny found himself smiling as he watched Marina interact with her kids and suddenly he knew what Alex saw in her. On the surface she was strikingly beautiful and unbelievably talented, but there was so much more to her.

Danny cleared his throat. “I should go. Ma and Pop are waiting.”

Alex nodded, “I’ll walk you out. I want to thank them for everything.”

His brother nodded, still watching Marina. “It was nice to meet you both.”

“You, too, man,” Jared nodded, lifting his daughter into his arms.

“We’re all going out to celebrate,” Marina said softly. “You should come with us.”

Alex looked from Marina to Danny and back again, curious as to what was occurring, a strong feeling of dread creeping over him as the realization hit him.

Danny gave Marina a winning smile. “I’d like that.”~

 

Now standing in the bar Marina owned with Jared, Alex found himself staring into her green eyes as he stroked Mollie’s silky hair. “Te amo,” he whispered to his niece.

“Hey, Munchkin,” Jared spoke up. “Tristan is going to be late because he has an audition, want to come help me in the kitchen while your mom and Uncle Alex catch up?”

Mollie looked from her biological uncle, to her mother, to her surrogate uncle and nodded. “Okay…” She followed Jared toward the swinging door. “You’ll still be here when I get back, right?” she implored Alex.

“Promise,” he nodded, thankful as always for what a good friend Jared was. He watched Mollie leave before turning his gaze back to Marina.

“Hey, beautiful,” Alex said softly, his voice sounding uncertain to his ears.

Marina continued to stare at him.

“Surprise?” he shrugged.

“After fifteen years, that is what you have to say to me?” she murmured.

“Good point.”

“Mollie didn’t mention you were coming to New York.”

“She didn’t know. I’m staying with my folks for now.”

“How long are here for?”

“Indefinitely.”

She nodded. “Mollie will be happy to hear that. She misses you.”

“I miss her.”

The bar filled with an uncomfortable silence and Alex stared at his feet, waiting. Waiting for her to scream at him, hit him, anything. He was ready. He deserved it.

“You haven’t changed.”

He looked up startled.

“I forgot how much you look like him. He was definitely taller, but you have the same eyes and smile. I forgot that…”

Alex nodded, feeling the sting of tears coming.

“Mollie has your eyes.”

He found his voice. “She’s a beautiful girl. Inside and out.”

“She adores you.”

“The feeling is mutual.”

“I know.” Marina set her purse down on the bar and slipped out of her coat. “How are your folks?”

“They’re good. Traveling a lot when Dad’s not teaching.”

“I haven’t seen them since Mollie’s birthday last month. Things have been a little hectic around here. Mollie sees them almost every weekend. They are fantastic with her.”

“They love finally having a little girl to spoil after raising two boys.”

“I need a drink,” Marina blurted out, stepping behind the bar, a rare occurrence as it was primarily Jared’s domain but he had bailed on her. “Want one?”

Alex shook his head. “J already hooked me up. But thanks.”

She nodded, reaching for a wine glass and a bottle of merlot. She poured a glass and took a sip, savoring the taste, all while staring at Alex.

“You’re probably wondering why I’m here,” he began, nervously gesturing his hands.

“Among other things.”

“Understandable. I wrote a show. A musical. It’s going to be workshopped with a possible Off-Broadway opening to start.” He felt he was rambling but he knew he had nothing to lose. “I want you to star in it.”

Marina stared at him, her expression not revealing what she was thinking or feeling.

“I wrote it with you in mind. I think you are the only person who can bring it to life. I know it’s a lot to ask, but I am so sure of this. It could be brilliant. But it needs you. I need you.”

She continued to stare at him in an excruciating silence.

“Say something.” He groaned. “Anything.”

“Alejandro Marquez, you are a selfish son of a bitch.”

“That’s one way to go…” he conceded, never one to miss an opportunity for a witty quip.

“I can’t believe you are just waltzing in here like nothing has happened, as if the past fifteen years never happened and want to work together? Because you need me?”

“Again, a valid point,” he nodded. “But, and maybe this is the tequila talking, but you are the only person I want to do this with.”

“You have a lot of nerve…”

“To quote Han Solo, I do, I really do.”

Marina silently sipped her wine while Alex waited with baited breath.

“Okay. I’m in.”

“Wait, what?” Alex stammered.

“I’ll do it. It’s what Danny would want. I’m going to do it for him. And if Mollie ever gets wind of this, I’ll never hear the end of it. So, in order to avoid that confrontation, I’m in.”

“But…”

She raised an eyebrow. “You expected having to grovel?”

“Pretty much.”

“Yeah, I considered making that a prerequisite, but I’ve matured a little in the past fifteen years.”

“Okay then. Great.”

“Want that drink now?”

“Yes, please,” he replied sinking onto a bar stool.

“Tequila?”

He nodded. “Por favor.” She refilled his glass and he gulped it down. “I don’t get it.”

“There’s nothing to get, Alejandro. You checked out of this family, not me. Danny would want me to do this. I will do it for him because you are his family. My hope is that someday, you and I will have an honest conversation about why you left. I know that’s not going to happen today. So, today, I am taking the high road. I am saying that I will do this. Te amo mi familia.”

Alex ran his hands through his black hair. “You may change your mind when you see the script.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because it’s a tribute to Danny.”

Daily Prompt: Cling

“Is it possible?” Alex asked, not daring to cling to hope. He watched her face closely, still knowing every inch of her face from memory. Fifteen years had done nothing to diminish her beauty in his eyes, only enhance it.

The rehearsal hall was empty except for the two of them and he could hear the sounds of Times Square drifting up from the street. His heart was pounding in his chest as he stared into her golden brown eyes.

Marina took a deep, cleansing breath. “No. We can’t. I can’t. What about Mollie? What about your parents? There are way too many complications.”

“First of all, my mother is pretty observant. She knows how I feel and why I left. My parents love you. You’re the daughter they always wanted and they are over the moon about Mollie. The only thing my parents care about is that we are happy, and if  that means being together…”

“You’re making some huge presumptions.”

“I know.”

“And Mollie…”

Alex smirked. “Mollie isn’t a solid argument.”

“Oh really?”

He nodded. “You daughter has this overly romantic and tragic theory about all this. Ask her to share it with you sometime.” He folded his arms over his chest. “What else ya got?”

 

 

Cling

Thanks and Apologies

THANK YOU to those who have chosen to like and follow my little ramblings. I am using these daily prompts to propel my idea for a novel forward, so often the scenes are out of order based on what idea for the word hits me. I also apologies for any typos. I have been doing this on an iPad and the keyboard hates me. I try to fix them when I catch them. Feedback and questions are welcome!

As for the flood of prompts this week, but I am trying to catch up after a hiatus over the holidays. Thanks for reading, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.

 

Daily Prompt: Crossing

“Do you think it will make it any easier to hear it?” Alex asked, crossing the room to stand before Marina.

“I don’t know,” she nodded.

“Fine let’s do this then. Here. Now.”

“Okay.”

“I have loved you since… Well, for as long as I can remember. I’m not talking about as a friend, or family, I am talking about being soul crushingly in love with you. But I was young and stupid and never acted on it because I thought… I don’t know, I had a laundry list of reasons why the timing wasn’t right. We were in the middle of a show, your divorce had just become final, you had kids, I was only twenty-one… Take your pick. Like I said, I was stupid.”

“Alex…”

“No, let me finish, this what you’ve been dying to hear for months, years even…”

Her chin trembled.

“Then, opening night, you met Danny and you two were perfect for each other and I stood by watching the two people I loved most in the world fall in love and get married and have Mollie. Then, Danny died at the World Trade Center and I had to leave. I had to get the hell away from here. I couldn’t fill his shoes, I didn’t deserve to be in your lives. I felt guilty and ashamed because I never stopped loving you or Mollie. I felt guilty for living. So, I left.”

“To punish yourself?”

“Partly. But to stop the pain. It was torture being around you, knowing that I was betraying Danny.”

“You should have talked to me. Fifteen years went by. Mollie’s entire childhood. Everything.”

“I know.”

“So instead, you wrote this show…”

He shrugged. “It was my catharsis. My penance. It was a way to honor my big brother.”

“Did you think it would fix everything?”

“No. Not in a million years.”

“I hate you, Alejandro,” she whispered.

“I know.”

“But… I think I might love you, too. How is that even possible?”

 

Crossing