Chapter 35, North of Happenstance

North of Happenstance: Chapter Thirty-Five

Kate’s knees felt like jelly as she walked the length of the LitLiber bookstore toward the small, multi-purpose room located in the building’s rear. Her hands felt sweaty as her eyes looked searchingly toward the windows overlooking the white-walled room. The blinds were up and she had a clear view of Jackson standing there.

Automatically, her hand went up to brush back her excruciatingly styled hair (and if she were wearing more make-up than usual, and if her attire was a little dressier than was absolutely necessary, Kate chose not to pretend otherwise). Tonight marked the first play rehearsal…and she felt like puking.

Grabbing the doorknob in her damp palms, Kate twisted it, pushing the door open….only it wasn’t just Jackson whose eyes swiveled in her direction. Two other pair followed suit. Stumbling, blinking stupidly, Kate felt her mouth gape open—just who in the hell were they?

“Kate, good you’re here,” Jackson said, his eyes taking her in quickly and then moving away again to settle more firmly on the other two, mysterious occupants in the room. “Let me introduce you,” he said, waving to the man and woman standing composedly beside him. “This is Gary Park and his wife Allison. They’ll also be in the play.”

Kate nodded. “How do you do?” she asked politely, recovering quickly.

“Gar, Allie, this is Kate McDonald,” he said in return.

“Pleasure to meet you,” Allison said. A tall, willowy woman with honey blonde hair, she looked the exact opposite of Kate—coolly composed.

Kate hadn’t counted on there being anyone else in the room. She hadn’t stopped to consider that she might not be the only person in the play; that she might have cast members. She’d been so anxious and nervous, her thoughts so precisely stuck on Jackson, that she’d thought of only him…and her. Him and her. Together. Alone.

Jackson smiled, handing over a script to Kate. “Now that we’re all here, let’s talk a bit about logistics…”

Kate tried to listen as he prattled on about schedules, staging and blocking, and showtimes, but it was no use. She was too preoccupied with not looking directly at Jackson, not looking consciously disappointed, or interested, or anything…she needed to appear low-key, chill. Totally unfazed. She was too busy trying to look like she was paying attention to actually be doing that.

“…and we’ll end the performance by inviting the kids to circle around for LitLiber’s very own Reading Hour.” Jackson turned to lock gazes with Kate, who kept her eyes somewhere distinctly over his left shoulder. “As staff here, Jake asked that you personally handle that aspect of the show.”

Mute, Kate nodded in agreement.

Jackson cleared his throat, clapping his hands together. “All right. So, let’s just do a quick run-through of the play, and we’ll take it from there, okay?”

“Sure,” Gary seconded. Ruffling the pages of his script, he quickly turned to page one. Allison and Kate followed suit.

 

 

 

One hour later and Kate no longer felt like puking. Instead, she felt like crying. Gary and Allison, it turned out, performed regularly in community theatre, and it showed. They had their lines, facial expressions, and walking cues down pat within the first half an hour. Kate was playing a pathetic, clumsy attempt at catch-up.

“Okay. Let’s stop here—” Jackson said, in the middle of one of Kate’s more bumbling reads. Feeling her face flush, she dropped her script down to her sides. Gary and Allison nodded in quick agreement.

“Now that we’ve got a feel for the play as a whole, let’s pair up—use the time focus a bit more exclusively on one another’s individual lines and parts.” Jackson glanced at the three of them. “Gar, Allie, why don’t you work together. Kate, you’re with me.” Was it just her imagination, or did both Gary and Allison send Jackson a vaguely sympatric look…?

Feeling her shoulders tightening, Kate watched the other actors move off to the edge of the room, scripts open and ready…“I’m sorry,” she whispered when Jackson came up to her. She hated how choked her voice sounded. “I know I’m not doing very well…”

Jackson waved dismissively. “You’re doing fine. It’s a first read-through with the script—”

“That hasn’t held up Gary and Allison,” Kate pointed out. She felt her lips quiver a little over the words.

Jackson shrugged. “They’re more seasoned, that’s all.”

Covering her face with her hands, Kate nodded wearily. “It’s not too late, you know, to find someone else.”

“Kate…”

“I don’t want to ruin the show.” She didn’t want to make an ass out of herself, with half the town watching.

“Kate.” At the firm note in Jackson’s voice, she lowered her hands. “I know it’s scary, but you can’t get defeated. Acting isn’t easy, but this—,” he said, waving a hand up and down, indicating her person, “doesn’t help. You’ve got to be open to learning, and fumbling. You can’t be so prideful.”

For the second time in as many minutes Kate felt her body engulfed in the flames of embarrassment. She was stomping around like a child, and Jackson had more-or-less just pointed it out.

Sighing, her bangs ruffling against her forehead, Kate hoped her cheeks weren’t as red as they felt. “You’re right. Okay, I can do this.” She smiled self-consciously. “Temper tantrum over.”

“That’s my girl,” Jackson said with a wink.

Kate felt that wink all the way to the pit of her stomach. Jackson, however, didn’t seem to be sharing in her feelings. Opening the script, he pointed to page three. “Let’s start at the top here—”

“All right.” Staring down at the typed words, Kate tried to focus. “Reading? No way—what’s so fun about books?”

“Okay,” Jackson said, cutting her short there. “That’s better, but I want you to really emphasis your almost scornful disbelief in this moment—like you’re mocking Gary and Allison. Because, when they answer you back, when they tell you all about the places they’ve been, the people they’ve met through the imaginative world of books, you can’t help but be a little impressed, intrigued even. Against your will, you find yourself wanting to know more.”

Kate nodded uncertainly. “Okay—”

“Just remember: that shift in perspective needs to be impactful. You go from someone who thinks books are totally lame to someone who falls in love with reading. This experience—from one reaction to the next, needs to be big. It needs to be felt.” Jackson was leaning in close to Kate now. Her nose crinkled just the tiniest bit. He smelled really nice.

Nodding jerkily, Kate focused her attention to the topic at hand. “All right—let me try it again.” Taking a deep breath, she screwed up her features to a look of incredulity. “Reading? No way—what’s so fun about books?”

“That’s it, right there!” Jackson reached out, grabbing hold of Kate’s hand. His eyes were playful, but his voice was serious enough: “See, I knew you could do it.” Kate’s stomach twisted, constricted. She wasn’t sure if it was the headiness of success or the effects of his touch.

The opening of the door just then surprised them both into looking up. Jake stood there, just inside the entryway. His eyes flickered with unerringly precision toward their joined grip, their entwined fingers… His lips turned down.  Kate’s eyes followed his line of sight. So did Jackson’s.

“Jake—what’s up?” Instead of letting her go, as Kate had expected, Jackson’s hand, if anything, pressed even tighter against hers’.

Deliberately rising his gaze, Jake opened the door a bit wider. “I didn’t mean to interrupt—” his tone was loaded with meaning. “But I was hoping to talk to Kate real quick…?”

Jackson shrugged. “Sure, we’re almost done here anyway.” And then, with a final squeeze, he loosened his hold. “I’ll see you Wednesday night for our next rehearsal, right?”

“Ah—that’s actually what I was coming to see Kate about,” Jake said quickly—too quickly— “The thing is…we’re going to be a bit, uh, short-handed that evening, and I was hoping she’d be willing to work a shift here instead?” There was no disguising the satisfaction in his voice.

Kate looked between the men. “Well…um—I guess that’s up to Jackson? What do you think?”

“If Jake needs you…”

“And I do,” the other man was fast to reinforce.

“Then by all means, take the shift,” Jackson answered good-naturedly. “Though, since I’m not keen on anyone skipping rehearsals entirely, how about a make-up date on Thursday evening?” Jackson’s eyes never left Jake’s. “We could meet at my house; it’ll be less distracting there.”

Kate felt strange. Something unsaid was definitely being said between Jake and Jackson…and she had a terrible, horrible feeling it had everything to do with her.

“Uh—sure?” Kate faltered, stuck between a rock and a hard place. “That-a, that works.”

Jake looked pissed.

Jackson looked smug.

“Was there anything else?” Jackson asked pointedly.

“No,” Jake said, his voice clipped. “That was all.”

 

 

 

Exiting the LitLiber some twenty minutes later, Kate’s feet took her quickly down the sidewalk. Head turned, eyes sharp …Kate let out a soft breath when she spied what she was desperate to see: the faint amber-glow emitting out the window belonging to Madame Penny’s House of Intuition. Penny was still at work. Kate had rarely been so glad of that fact. She needed someone to talk to.

Things with Jake and Jackson had taken an unexpected turn. Kate had only just started to get comfortable with the knowledge that each of them liked her and now—and now she had to worry about each of them knowing that the other liked her, too? It was complicated and confusing.

It was as Kate was on the verge of crossing the street when the door to Penny’s shop opened and, mouth dropping open, Kate saw none other than Janessa, her sixteen year old mentee, come barreling out of it and onto the street. Standing back, frozen with consternation, Kate watched as the teenager disappeared quickly down the street.

What in the world had Janessa been doing at Penny’s?

Doubling up her steps, Kate was determined to find out. Reaching the curb, she lunged forward. Wasting no time, she quickly found herself inside the building Janessa had only just left, halfway down the hallway which led to Penny’s office (which was technically the utility as the back of large florist shop) and the bathrooms. Rapping her knuckles hard against the wall beside the curtained doorway there, she waited…

“Come in,” Penny called in the sultry, husky tone she adopted for her office hours. “Oh—Kate, what a surprise,” she added when the younger woman poked her head inside.

“Yeah, hey,” Kate greeted distractedly. Nodding toward the street outside, she asked: “Did I just see Janessa leaving from here?”

“Probably,” Penny supplied. Then, with a flourished wave of her hand, she gave Kate a knowing look. “Now tell me, how were rehearsals?”

But Kate shook her head. That could wait. “Probably? What was she doing in here?”

Penny shrugged dismissively. “Answering her curiosity, I suppose.”

“Riddles, Penny?”

The psychic laughed. “Of course not. She merely came by to enquire about job-shadowing me.”

“What?”

“I know, I know,” the psychic mused, “I told her that my particular craft is not something just anyone can take up—but she seemed determined. It’s a school project or something—she has to write a report about a profession she finds interesting.”

“And she chose you?” Kate asked, her mouth feeling like sawdust.

Penny shrugged. “I guess so.”

“So—you’re actually going to do it? Let her come in and watch you at work?”

Penny shrugged. “Once I get permission from my clients, yes.”

Kate nodded robotically. “Oh.”

Penny’s head tilted a little to one side. “That is—are you okay with that?”

“Me? Of course I’m okay with that.” Kate’s voice came out a little loudly. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

Penny gave her another knowing look. “I’m sure I don’t know.”

Lowering her eyes, Kate watched her foot scrub against the floor. “Well, good. Great. That will be fun for you.” Kate’s voice was flat, monotone.

“Yes…”

“How did she—that is, do you two know each other?”

Penny’s gaze was starting to unnerve Kate. “Not before today, no. She’d heard of me from you.”

“Oh. Right. That makes sense.”

“And you don’t mind, that she asked me?”

“Again,” Kate said, her voice cutting, “why would I mind? Besides, it’s her choice. She can pick whomever she wants.”

“Okay.”

 

 

 

But Kate did mind. Rushing quickly out of Penny’s office, on some plea of household work to get done, Kate fumed all the way back home. Janessa had picked Penny? Penny? A psychic? And why hadn’t Kate even known about the project? Why hadn’t Janessa talked to her?

“People used to job-shadow me all the time. So much so that I used to get sick of it,” Kate mumbled to herself as she rounded Eveleth Ave. “And I was good at it, too. I could get the kids interested and I explained things in a way that clicked. I got so many requests I actually had to turn kids down.” She sighed. “Of course. That was then. Who wants to walk around behind me now, watching how I rearrange books on shelves? Clearly not Janessa.”

And that hurt. For some stupid reason, it hurt that Janessa hadn’t thought of her. “I mean, it’s not like I blame her—it’s just…”

Kate kicked at a rock. “I’m supposed to be someone she looks up to, and-and I’m used to being that kind of person, someone that people actually want to emulate.” And she hadn’t realized, not until just that moment, how far she’d fallen from that esteemed position. It was the first time since moving to Whestleigh that Kate felt the slightest, smallest bit…well ashamed. Ashamed of her modest employment, ashamed of her lack of influence and power, of her role-model-esque persona—for the first time, she truly wondered if she hadn’t taken two steps back in life.

“Have you taken to talking to yourself now?” Anne Ganthy’s voice, coming from somewhere behind Kate, said, startling the young woman. Turning around, Kate bit back a groan. “I assure you, it’s much more productive if you have someone to answer you back.”

Kate smiled tightly. “I suppose that depends on who’s listening…”

“Since it seems I have no other choice…” Ganthy said drily, indicating the block-and-a-half they still had to go before parting, “why don’t you fill me in?”

Kate sighed. And then, surprisingly, she did: “Have you ever viewed your life through someone else’s eyes and suddenly questioned everything about it?”

 

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