Center Stage – 6

After browsing through all the booths, Mollie decided they should head over to Times Square.

“Okay, those characters are creepy,” Alex told Mollie in a stage whisper. “Not gonna, lie, I kinda prefer the hookers that used to be here.”

Mollie rolled her eyes, giving the pretense she was repulsed and Alex smirked.

“Sorry, I’ll save the hooker talk for Uncle J.”

“Hungry?” Mollie asked, hoping to change the subject.

“Always,” he admitted.

“What was your favorite place to eat here when you lived here?”

“I don’t know,” he thought back. “True New Yorkers only go to authentic New York restaurants, unless we’re trying to be ironic and lowering ourselves to tourist status on a lark.”

Mollie looked at him, perplexed. “Sometimes, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Good,” he laughed.

“Seriously? You never hung out in Times Square? Not even when you were in the show with Momma and Uncle J?”

“Well, growing up, why would I spend money eating out when I could eat Abuela’s food for free?”

“Good point,” she giggled.

“We would come into Manhattan to see shows, buying out tickets at the TKTS booth, so that meant eating slices of pizza, McDonalds or food trucks on the corners. When we were working, we had a lot of takeout and diner food, pubs like Curtain Call. None of these tourist traps,” he admitted. “Money was tight, time was short.”

“Okay, so if you were a tourist, where would you want to go? Work with me here.”

“I don’t know. Not Olive Garden.” He surveyed the current scene. “I guess the new Hard Rock.”

“New?” her brow furrowed.

He nodded. “Yeah, it used to be over on West 57th. Had this cool old convertible sticking out of the façade. The original Planet Hollywood was over there too. Before they turned Times Square into Disneyland on crack.”

Mollie giggled. “Okay, Hard Rock it is. That’s funny, because I know Momma and Uncle J went to the old Hard Rock to celebrate when Momma got called for an audition for Class Reunion.”

“See, Hard Rock is on that fine line where you can be touristy and still pretend to be cool.”

“Whatever,” she rolled her eyes.

 

“Oh, hey,” Alex said, startled to find Marina standing at his door. “I just got back from dropping Mollie off.”

“I know,” Marina nodded. “She texted me she was home.”

Alex unlocked the door and Marina followed him inside already feeling nostalgic for her old building and the friends she’d met there.  Before she was twenty, she had moved to New York, gotten a part in a Broadway show and moved into Everhouse. It was the most exciting time of her life.

The apartment’s decor bespoke Alex’s Brooklyn roots with glimpses of the fifteen years spent in London. Immediately, her green eyes fell on a photo of Alex and Danny; a photo from their wedding day; both in tuxedos smiling broadly. She shook her head as tears began streaming down her cheeks.

“I can’t do this…” she murmured, backing out the door.

“Marina! Wait!” Alex chased after her. “Please!”

Marina stood, impatiently pushing at the elevator button.

“Look, if you don’t want to come in, let’s at least go around the corner for coffee. A neutral location,” he pleaded. “Please.”

She nodded. “Okay.”

The elevator door slid open with a creak and they stepped in, filling the small space with awkward

silence.

“We had a lot of fun today. Thanks for letting me take her.”

“Welcome,” she nodded stiffly. “I’m surprised she didn’t con you into taking her to the Russian Tea

Room. She’s become obsessed with it. I was thinking we might do her sixteenth birthday there.”

“That’s not a typical teen hangout.”

“Have you met your niece? She’s not your typical teen. She’s into history and culture. She’s fearless.”

Alex smiled. “She’s you.”

The elevator opened and they stepped out. “Coffee or margaritas?” he asked, her answer would determine if they took a left or a right out his door.

“Margaritas,” she replied with little hesitation.

They went around the corner and Alex froze, frowning. “Um… where’s Mary Ann’s?” he wondered and Marina couldn’t help but laugh at the bewildered expression on his face.

“It relocated over a year ago,” she replied. “I know Jared was devastated.”

“Okay, so in order to find anything I want in this town from now on, I’m going to have to rely on Yelp?”

“Pretty much,” she agreed. “Come on, there are bars on practically every corner. I am sure we can find something that will work.”

He nodded, following her lead. “So, an Ivy League education, eh?”

“Yeah. She’s had her heart set on it since she read an article on the best drama programs. I think a couple schools in London were on her list, plus Columbia, Pace, Harvard, NYU, Julliard… Eastcoast only. Nothing in California. At the rate she’s going she’s going to be valedictorian of her class, and with her family background, she should have no problems getting accepted. You know, raised by a single mom, father filled in the North Tower… a decent resume.”

“That all blows my mind.” He noted a bar across the street. “How does that look?”

“Perfect.” They crossed at the crosswalk and Jared held the door open for her. “Thanks.”

Taking seats at the bar, they shed their coats as the bartender set cocktail napkins in front of them. “Don’t tell Jared I’m cheating on him,” she frowned thoughtfully.

“Your secret is safe with me.” Alex grinned. “Curtain Call is sensational. You two have done a fantastic job.”

“It’s all Jared. I write checks, sit at the bar and occasionally sing at open mic night, but everything else, is all Jared. He’s come so far since I first met him,” she replied, obviously proud of her best friend.

“Two top shelf margaritas on the rocks, please,” Alex ordered for them. “So, have you dated anyone since… since Danny?”

Marina frowned.

“I’m sorry, that’s none of my business. I just was trying to make small talk.”

“No, it’s okay. I’ve gone on a couple dates, but nothing serious. I believe in the three strikes, you’re out rule.”

“Should you really count Kyle in that?”

“I wasn’t counting Kyle,” she said pointedly. “We are what we’ve always been, good friends. He’s a great dad to Zachary. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had chosen him over Shawn, but then I wouldn’t have Zander, Zoe or Mollie and I wouldn’t trade my kids for anything. Mostly, I’ve just been busy being a mom, occasional acting jobs and volunteering, plus Curtain Call.”

The bartender set their drinks on the bar. “Thank you.”

“What about you? Were you seeing anyone in London?” Marina picked up her glass and took a sip, watching his reaction.

Alex shrugged. “I dated someone for about a year, but it didn’t go anywhere.”

“A year is a long time.”

“Yeah, but I had different priorities, working on the show. I wasn’t the best boyfriend.”

“Speaking of the show…” she hedged.

Alex raised an eyebrow, steeling himself for her input.

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Center Stage – 5

“I hope so, but I don’t know. He’s been with Julianne forever, he’s pursuing music.” He shrugged. “And then there’s Dylan…”

Marina looked up startled. “What’s wrong with Dylan?”

Jared frowned. “She’s dating this schmuck…”

“Oh, you ass!” Marina scolded. “My son is a perfect gentleman.”

“Z, a perfect gentleman? Please.”

“I’ve never had to worry about Z. Despite his unconventional upbringing, he’s been a solid, grounded kid. I mean, his dad is a great guy, even if we weren’t meant to be together. But, Z… sometimes I think he takes after you.”

“Me?”

“Yeah. He has your sense of loyalty and warped sense of humor. Must be a product of his environment.”

Jared snickered. “Must be why Dylan likes him.”

“Must be.”

“So, you’ll talk to Alex? Give him a chance?”

“I’ll try.”

 

The following morning, Alex let himself in Jared’s apartment, carrying Starbucks. He found Jared out on the fire escape sneaking a cigarette.

“Gracias, mi amigo,” Jared accepted the steaming latte.

“De nada,” Alex grinned.

“So?”

“So…” Alex ran his hand through his dark hair. “Marina…”

“Yeah?” Jared raised an eyebrow.

“I still haven’t heard from her. I’m trying to be patient and give her time, but I want to see Mollie and I have to go through Marina to do that but if I reach out, she’ll think I’m hounding her.”

“So, you want me to talk to her on your behalf?”

Alex nodded. “Pretty much.”

“Done.”

“Seriously?”

Jared nodded, putting his cigarette butt out in a coffee can. “To be honest, I encouraged her last night. But I will mention the Mollie aspect.”

“Thank you.” He was visibly relieved. “Oh, hey, so I’m moving in to my place today. I was thinking of having a mini housewarming. You, Will, Adam, Chris… adult beverages, shooting the shit. You in?”

“Definitely. When?”

“I was thinking Sunday night.”

“Perfect. I’ll make arrangements at Curtain Call.”

“Great. And thanks again. I hate putting you in the middle of Marina and me, but I’m desperate.”

“I know. And as far as Mollie goes, she deserves to have you in her life.”

“I appreciate that, J.”

 

Alex was unpacking a box of books he’d procured at his parents’ when he received a text from Mollie.

– Uncle Ale, Mom says I can invite you to hang on Saturday. Meet @ CC @ noon. ❤ MM –

He found himself smiling, knowing Jared had worked his magic. Immediately, he replied.

– It’s a date! ❤ ❤ –

 

Saturday morning, Alex woke up early and made coffee. He wanted to go to the gym and unpack a few more boxes before heading uptown to meet Mollie. At eleven-thirty, he walked to the Subway at 14th and 8th St and boarded the A train, getting off at 50th St. He let himself into Curtain Call and found Tristan stocking bar glasses.

“Aye, mate,” Tristan greeted him.

“Hey,” he grinned, removing his scarf.

“What brings you ‘ere? Little early for a pint.”

“I’m meeting Mollie.”

“Ah and here the beautiful lass is now,” Tristan nodded at the door.

“Mi bonita,” Alex grinned.

“Hola. Que pasa?” she smiled, dressed in jeans, black Converse high tops and a red pea coat. Her long dark curls were pulled into a haphazard bun.

“Nada. So, what’s the plan for today?”

“I was thinking we could pretend we’re tourists. I mean, you’ve been gone so long… it’ll be cool.”

“So, you’re going to be my personal tour guide?”

She nodded. “Exactly.”

“Alright. Lead the way. Later, Irish.” He replaced his scarf and followed Mollie outside.

She led him to the Theater District Shopping Court, a flea market type corner a few blocks up from Curtain Call.

“How long has this been here?” he marveled.

“Dunno,” she shrugged. “They have the best crap!” she informed him proudly.

“Does your mother know you hang out here?” he asked, skeptically eyeing the eclectic wares housed in garage-like structures. Upon first glance, he noted knock-off designer purses, scarves and hats, traditional New York City memorabilia and even Christmas ornaments.

“Who do you think first brought me here?”

“Why am I not surprised?” he shook his head with a smirk. “Looking for anything specific?”

“That defeats the purpose. It’s about discovering something you never knew you needed.”

“If you say so,” he remarked, following her. “So, how’s school going?”

She shrugged as they entered a booth of hand knitted items. “Okay. I like music, history and English. Math and science are necessary evils. But I get all A’s.”

“Nerd,” he teased.

“Yeah, well, I want to go to an Ivy League school.”

“Impressive.”

“It’s no big deal.”

“Mollie Jane, that is a huge deal.” He felt like he looking at her with new eyes. She was no longer a little kid, but morphing into a beautiful, intelligent and ballsy young woman.

“Don’t get so excited,” Mollie warned, picking up a pair of mittens and trying them on. “I still have every intention of being an actor and singer but I aspire to be the next Emma Watson – smart and talented.”

Alex grinned madly, “Not a bad role model. What about boys?”

Mollie raised an eyebrow. “Maybe I should be the one asking all the questions here.”

“What do you mean?”

“What’s going on with you and Momma?” she asked, moving on to a purse kiosk.

“Nothing. I wrote a show honoring your dad’s memory. I want your mom to star in it with me. And Jared and Chris… I gave her the script but I haven’t heard anything back. I don’t want to pressure her.” He shrugged. “So, I am trying desperately hard to be patient.”

Mollie nodded, pursing her lips thoughtfully. “Can I read it?”

Alex scowled. “I don’t know.”

“Come on, please…” she whined, batting her big brown eyes at him.

He rolled his eyes. “Maybe. If your mother says it’s okay.”

“Did you tell Momma about my theory?”

“Not my story to tell.”

“Did you tell her you love her yet?”

“Knock it off,” he groaned.

She shrugged innocently, checking out some knock off Coach bags.

“You know, I’m sorry I wasn’t here when you were growing up. I should have been here.”

Mollie looked at him curiously. “It’s not like you weren’t part of my life, I got to come to London every summer and we’ve written letters and phone calls.”

“I know, but I still regret it. I missed so much of your childhood.”

“Well, you’re here now. Keep it that way.”

“I will,” he gave her a chagrinned look. “Find anything you like?”

She shrugged. “I kinda like this one,” she replied holding up a small hipster styled bag covered in recycled Subway maps.

“At least then we’ll know you’ll never get lost.” He paid the vendor the fifteen dollars and then continued on their way.

Daily Prompt: Center

Alex  looked around the Starbucks in the West Village, hoping to spot a familiar face. Practically a surrogate big brother to Alex, Christopher Washington had grown up in Brooklyn and been best friends with Danny since Kindergarten. Now, he gave Alex a friendly wave from a high table cross from the bakery counter.

“Yo, bro!” Chris grinned, offering him a hearty half hug, at six-two, towering over Alex’s five foot ten frame. “Welcome back, man.” He lifted his coffee cup in salute.

“Thanks,” Alex grinned. “How have you been? How is Jenna?”

“Good, good. And you?”

Alex shrugged. “I am fighting jet lag and culture shock mostly.” He went to the counter and ordered a Grande White Chocolate Mocha before taking a seat across from Chris.

“So?”

“So, what?” Alex repeated, sipping his latte.

“Have you seen her?”

“Who?”

“Good lord, Alejandro! Marina, that’s who. Have you seen her?”

Alex nodded slowly. “I have.”

“And?”

“And…” He ran his hand through his hand and offered a nervous giggle. “I’m in purgatory. I gave her my script but I haven’t heard back yet.”

“She’ll love it.”

“We’ll see,” he shrugged.

Chris raised an eyebrow. “He’d want you to be happy.”

“Who?”

“Danny. He loved you. He wouldn’t want you torturing yourself like this.” He adjusted his ski cap. “Look, with Danny gone, I’m going to take it upon myself to be his voice of reason in your life.”

Alex smirked. “Says the guy who got kicked out of the homecoming dance for streaking across the dance floor.”

“Youthful transgressions are what have made me the man I am today.”

“Dios mio.”

“You need to either step up and tell Marina how you feel about her, or you need to move on. For your own sanity. You wrote this show. Great. The world will see how talented you are. Your career will take off. But is that what’s going to make you happy?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Alex lied.

“Of course you don’t.”

“I had this dream when I was living in London. I would be walking in Central Park and I’d accidentally bump into Marina and Mollie and we’d hug and she’d take my hand and we’d start walking together as a family.”

“Sounds perfect.”

“But, then we see a memorial to 9/11 and she drops my hand and starts sobbing. Every time I wake up in a cold sweat.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I am beginning to think that come back here was a huge mistake.”

“You won’t know that until you talk to her.”

“Chris, you were the bestman at their wedding. You don’t think this is a little bit in bad taste?”

“No. I don’t.”

Alex scowled. “Am I the only person in Manhattan who realizes how colossally fucked up this is?”

“Ah, you talked to Jared.”

“And my mother has made a few not subtle comments. Seriously, bro, I didn’t come back here to win Marina’s heart. I wrote this show to honor my brother. I want to work with people I love, including you. I have no ulterior motives here. I want to spend time with my niece and make peace with her mother. That’s it.”

“You keep telling yourself that when you’re standing center stage, staring into her gorgeous green eyes.”

 

 

 

Center

Daily Prompt: Tempted

Marina stared into Alex’s expectant brown eyes and was tempted to bolt. “I feel like we just keep going in circles. I remember how pissed off I am at you for leaving. You feel guilty and do something sweet and I remember the Alex I cared about when we were practically kids. We are family, I accept that. Mollie adores you, I’ve accepted that, too…”

 

Tempted

Daily Prompt: Overworked

Sitting in a garden alcove of Bryant Park, near the corner of 6th and 42nd, Alex couldn’t decide if he wanted to read or write once he commandeered a chair. Eventually, after a lengthy internal debate, reading won in hopes of rejuvenating his overworked brain.

After a few pages, Alex looked up from his book at the sound of a little girl’s giggle. A few feet away from him, a father stood over his daughter, having procured her and her identical doll a single coveted chair to share. Alex paused reading a moment to watch them, guessing the little girl with the long Elsa-esque blonde braid was four or five. Like himself, they were enjoying the unusually warm winter day with its sun and gentle breeze. Watching the father feed her a snack and lovingly smooth wisps of her hair, it struck Alex that Danny never had any moments like that with Mollie and for a moment he couldn’t breathe. Thankfully, the sound of a taxi’s angry horn, jarred him back to reality and he tried to return his focus to his book.

“Seventy degrees in February?” a figure above him said blocking the sun for a moment and startling him from his reading. He squinted up to find Marina standing over him. “Figured I’d find you here,” she commented with a shrug, glancing around for an empty chair to join him.

“Me and half of Manhattan,” he mused. “It’s like seventy degrees on a Friday. Everyone is either here soaking up the rays on their lunch or blowing off the rest of the afternoon. It took me almost twenty minutes to find a seat.”

“Your diligence paid off I see.”

“I was determined. Although I’ve been considering heading up to Central, might have the illusion of being less crowded there.”

“Doubt it. I know this was always your favorite place to write.”

“Still is.”

“Mollie loves coming here to skate or read depending on the season. Too warm for ice skating.”

“If it could be like this year round, I’d be a very happy man. Sadly, it’ll be over by this time tomorrow… at least for a few more weeks.” He glanced around as the smell of someone’s lunch reached him. “Whole foods must be making today. I’ve lost count of the number of bags I’ve seen go by.”

Marina smiled tightly, grabbing a recently vacated chair and setting across from Alex’s.

“So, why were you seeking me out?” He tucked his bookmark in his book.

“I know I…” she frowned, trying to find the right words. “I…

 

Overworked

Curtain Call – 4

 

“I used to,” she murmured, rising to her feet.

“Point taken,” he conceded, jumping to his feet to block her path. “Look,” Alex said, dropping his bag to the floor. “I know I have to abide by your rules. Especially if I want to be a part of Mollie’s life. But you have to cut me some slack here.”

Marina involuntarily clenched her fists. “Slack? You want me to cut you some slack?”

Alex frowned, not sure how to dig himself out of the proverbial hole that was threatening to swallow him. “Yes, damnit.” He stood up straighter, cognizant that he often made himself small in Marina’s presence. “I poured my heart and soul into this show. It has the potential to be something we can both be proud of, something worthy of Danny’s memory. But I need you.”

“Okay. Fine. I’ll read it.” She picked up the envelope.

“Thank you.”

She nodded.

“I mean it. Thank you.” He picked up his bag and with a wave to Jared, he headed for the Subway that would take him downtown.

 

Laying on his childhood bed, in his childhood bedroom he once shared with Danny, Alex was replying the scene with Marina at Curtain Call over and over in his head, mentally kicking himself. It definitely could have gone better. He let his enthusiasm and pride obstruct his abitlity to listen to Marina’s concerns.

There was a soft knock at the door and his mother stuck her head in. “I just wanted to say goodnight.”

“Night, Ma,” he replied dully.

“What’s wrong, Mijo?” She frowned. “It did not go well with Marina?”

“That’s an understatement.”

Elena sighed. “I know, it’s none of my business, but you have to stop expecting your show to speak for you. Don’t get me wrong, you are a talented writer and your show is terrific and not just because I’m your mother. But Marina deserves more, she needs more. Maybe you need to stop hiding behind you pages.”

“Thanks, Ma. Buenos noche.”

 

The following afternoon, Alex arrived at Curtain Call. “Hey, man,” he greeted Jared as he took a seat at the bar beside Will.

“Salutations,” Jared grinned. “What can I get you?”

“Just coffee, please and thank you. Have either of you talked to Marina?” he inquired.

Jared raised an eyebrow. “What did you do now? Or us this just some fishing expedition?”

“I gave her the script last night before storming out. I was wondering what she thinks of it,” he admitted sheepishly. “The suspense is killing me.” He fixed his coffee to his liking.

“She’ll think it’s bloody brilliant,” Will interjected. “Because it is.”

“It’s not bad,” Jared admitted grudgingly.

“Thanks for your support,” Alex scowled. “Wait, I only gave it to you yesterday! You’ve finished?” he suddenly perked up.

Jared and Will laughed. “Guess he’s just fishing for compliments,” Jared snickered.

Alex shook his head. “You both suck. I just want her to understand why I wrote it. I want her to love it. I know initially she agreed to do it, but that was more for Mollie than for me.” He ran his hand through his hair. “I kinda got overzealous last night and I’m worried I ran her off.”

“She hasn’t said a word to me about it,” Jared informed him. “She probably needs time to process. It’s not exactly a light hearted comedy.”

“I know. I know you’re right but I really want her feedback.”

“Be careful what you wish for,” Jared shrugged.

“So, I was thinking,” Will interjected. “I think we should hire Adam as Musical Director.”

“Seriously?”

Will nodded. “He’s one of the best… he’s available.”

“And he’s cheap,” Jared added.

“Think he’d be interested? I don’t know if the music is his usual taste.”

“I gave him a script,” Will admitted. “He’s in.”

“I owe you my first born,” Alex announced, leaning over and planting a sloppy wet kiss on Will’s cheek. Will rolled his eyes, trying to fend off further affection. “Holy shit! Producer, Music Director, and 2.5 leads. This shit is coming together!”

Jared’s phone rang and he glanced down at it. “Speak of the devil.”

 

Jared looked out the window at Marina’s penthouse view of Central Park.

“Thanks for coming,” she said, pouring two cups of coffee.

“Remember that dump you lived in when you first moved to the City?”

Marina smirked. “I loved it, but it had a lot to be desired.”

“Such as personal safety?”

“Exactly! It was like a different world moving to Everhouse.”

He smiled. “First place I’ve ever lived that felt like a family. Guess that’s why I still live there.”

Marina looked wistful. “Except for this fabulous view, I miss it.”

“Trade ya,” he grinned. “Speaking of Everhouse, we’re getting a new tenant.”

“No…”

Jared nodded. “Yeah, Alex signed a lease with Adam yesterday.”

“No way…”

“He’s back for good, whether or not you want to accept it.”

Marina nodded absentmindedly.

“So, how is Mollie?”

“Some days, I do not know what I am going to do with her,” Marina replied with a frown. “I guess she’s being a typical moody teenager, right?”

“I’ll see your typical moody teenager and raise you one possibly bipolar twenty something.”

“Ugh,” Marina groaned. “I have been so preoccupied since Alex came home, I haven’t even asked how Ben was. I suck as a best friend.”

“You’re right, you do,” he teased. Jared studied her closely. “Do you think you could love Alex?” Jared asked gently and Marina answered with a happy sigh. “Guess that answers that,” he mused, taking a sip of his coffee.

“As a human… I thought about it once, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Well, before I met Dannt. But Alex never made a move, so I figured he wasn’t interested. And then I met Danny and he was so different from my asshole ex-husband…”

“And now he’s no longer a human?”

She giggled. “I just mean, he’s not just any guy. He’s my brother-in-law, Mollie’s uncle… He’s so talented. His script is stunning, absolutely amazing. Danny would be so touched, so proud. And he’s an amazing uncle to Mollie.”

“But…?”

“But… I don’t know… I don’t know if I can forgive him for leaving when Danny died.” She wiped a tear that trailed down her cheek. “I was suddenly a widow, a single mom with four kids… the only thing in my favor was that I get a small fortune from my divorce settlement from that cheating bastard, Shawn and child support from Kyle because Danny’s life insurance settlement took years to get because he died in a freaking terrorist attack. I could deal with all of that. I grew up without money, I could take care of myself and my kids. What I needed was family. Luckily, I had you. And where the hell was Alex? He took off to London and wrote a brilliant musical expressing all of his pain.”

“To be fair, he did lose his brother.”

“I know that!” she snapped. “But I lost both of them!”

“Yes, you did. Danny is never coming back. But Alex is here and he’s trying, kid. Talk to him.”

Marina scowled. “Can we go back and finish the earlier topic? What’s going on with Ben?”

“I don’t know,” he shrugged, knowing that Marina had succeeded in changing the subject. “I don’t know if he’s okay or spiraling. He won’t talk about it, but I notice subtle changes in his personality.”

“That’s why you think he’s bipolar?”

He shrugged. “Call it father’s intuition? I can’t put my finger on it.”

“Maybe you’re overreacting? Reading into things?” she asked hopefully.

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.”