Center Stage – 3 (Revised)

 

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.They were family with in every sense of the word, minus DNA.

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 consider it, 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.

“Marina and I are both on the board of Everhouse, you didn’t think to run this past one of us first?”

Will rolled his eyes. “Read it, J. This is a story that needs to be told. I want to be the first one who brings it to the public. Plus, it would be a fuckin blast to all be working together again.”

 

After his breakfast meeting with Will and Jared, Alex met up with another old friend, Adam Campbell and immediately 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 boarded the E train 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 crisp, but the sun’s rays were still warm. 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. This was his Mecca, his pilgrimage to reclaim his soul. He closed his eyes, letting the sun cascade over him as he listened. Even the usual sounds of the city seemed muted here, replaced by quiet voices and soothe no water. He needed a moment to steady himself before visiting the North Pool to seek out Danny’s name.

The memories of that day, and the days and weeks that followed, came flooding back and he suddenly felt the urge to vomit. Opening his eyes, he gazed at the tourists ogling the sacred land, posing for selfies, laying their belongings haphazardly on the metal memorial with thousands of names. It was difficult swallowing their nonchalance but then, they had probably observed the carnage from afar, being fed the watered down version disseminated by the national news outlets. 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.  He wondered if he had made an even bigger mistake coming back after all this time. Adjacent to the North and South Pools was the museum where for twenty four dollars, he could be reminded of the worst day of his life and buy commemorative souvenirs so he’d “never forget.” Maybe someday he could look at it with an objective eye – today was not that day.

Taking one last breath, he stood from the marble bench he had taken refuge at and walked slowly, reverently to the North Pool.

Daniel Christian Marquez.

Alex caressed the metal letters.

“I’m sorry. I miss you. I love you,” he murmured.

 

Shortly before eight, Alex commandeered a spot at the bar of Curtain Call to wait for Marina to arrive. It had already been an eventful day and he knew it was only going to get more so. He had spent more then a half hour standing at Danny’s name, feeling the enormity of what had happened, of all the lives lost. It had given him inspiration to tweak a pivotal scene in his script, so he and his laptop had headed to the New York Public Library to get it down before it escaped him. Now he was trying to ignore the moths in his stomach – more violent and tumultuous than dainty butterflies and thus a more accurate description.

“Tequila?” Tristan McMahon, Jared’s Irish bartender offered.

“No, thanks,” Alex shook his head. “I want to keep my head clear. Just being around Marina makes it foggy enough.”

Tristan smirked. “All pretty lasses have that effect.”

Jared came over and set a mic on the bar in front of Alex. “It’s open mic night. You’re up first.”

“No way,” he protested.

“Way.” Jared made his way to the stage. “Listen up, Curtain Call,” he announced to the meager crowd of regulars. “We have a very special guest tonight.  All the way from London, Alejandro Marquez.”

Shaking his head, Alex joined Jared, mic in hand. “I hate you.”

“I’m okay with that.”

“Fine. This was my niece’s favorite song,” he said, clearing his throat. He began singing a soulful rendition of “Mary had a Little Lamb.”

“Asshole!” Jared shouted, with a laugh.

“Fine.” He took a calming breath and began to sing the haunting ballad, “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables.

Marina slipped into an empty barstool and Tristan greeted her with a charming smile as he reached for a glass and began to pull her a pint of Stella Artois.

“’Ere ya go, Lassie.” He winked.

“Thanks,” she gave him a half smile, her attention fully on Alex’s performance.

“You seem preoccupied, love,” he commented. “Everything okay?”

“No…” Her face fell as she looked into the Irishman’s sympathetic blue eyes.

“What is it, love?”

She shook her head, swallowing back a sob. With a frown, Tristan waved Jared over. Jared raised an eyebrow as he approached the bar and Tristan gestured to Marina.

“Hey…” Jared said softly.

“I forgot what a great voice he has,” she murmured. “Why this song?”

Jared shrugged. “I pushed him into getting up there. It was probably the first song that came to mind.”

She nodded. Jared studied his oldest friend, at forty-one, Marina was still a striking woman, with gorgeous dark hair and green eyes. Her expression was perplexed as she sipped her pint.

“Stop it,” she snapped at him.

“Stop what?” He feigned innocence.

“Stop judging me.”

“When have I ever judged you?”

She shrugged. “You think I’m insane for participating in Alex’s folly.”

“I never said that.”

“You don’t have to. I know I am,” she frowned. “His enthusiasm is contagious. And I miss him. We used to be so close. This show, it could be what we need.”

“So, you’ve decided to forgive him?”

“I didn’t say that…”

When Alex finished singing, he spotted Marina at the bar. He put back the mic and approached her. “Hi.”

“Hi.”

“Where’s Mollie?”

“She’s with Zachary over at Jared’s with the twins. I’ll pick her up later.”

He nodded. “Want to get a table?”

“Yeah,” she gave Jared a wave as she led Alex to a table near the front window.

“Thanks for meeting me.”

“To be honest, I thought about canceling.”

“I’m glad you didn’t.”

“Yeah, well, Jared reminded me that I have a responsibility to be a mature adult.” She glanced across the room, shooting him a glare that he was oblivious to.

Alex took another manila envelope from his bag and placed it on the table. “Here’s the script. I’ve already lined up Will and Everhouse to finance the workshop.”

“Will?” she looked up, shocked.

He nodded. “He believes in this project. I think you will too.”

“Will?” she repeated.

“Yeah. Will Hart. Long story short, he was in London. I showed it to him. He wants to produce it. It’s that good.”

“I can’t believe Will never said anything,” she frowned.

“I asked him not to. I wanted to be the one to tell you.” Alex wished he had a drink. “There’s also a part for Jared.”

“That’s supposed to make this easier?”

“No, but I want this to be an Everhouse production. Right now, we’re just talking a workshop to iron out the kinks, but there’s hope of an Off-Broadway opening and then who knows. I want to do this with people I know and love.”

Marina stared into his chocolate brown colored ones. “And you knew I would be more likely to get involved if it meant something to Jared. That’s emotional blackmail.”

“No way. You know me better than that.”

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