The Actor

The Actor

by Douglas Gardham

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781938908668
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 05/12/2014
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 1,233,031
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

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The Actor


By Douglas Gardham

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2013 Douglas Gardham
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4759-7772-1


CHAPTER 1

Real Time November 1983—Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada


Ethan realized he'd made a grave mistake. It wasn't the sort of mistake you go back and erase, like spelling a word wrong. There was much more at stake than that, like the rest of his life.

Attending university had been as much of an assumption in his life as marriage or buying a car might be to others. It wasn't a question of whether he wanted to go or could afford it. Postsecondary education was simply expected, a part of his destiny. His parents didn't see education as just important; it was a requirement for life. They knew the privileges of education and had fought too hard without them. They weren't about to let their only child suffer through those same hardships.

His parents were distraught when school became secondary to a rock band he'd formed with a few of his buddies. He'd been groomed for adulthood and a successful career since preschool and was expected to know better. University required good grades that weren't achieved by staying out all night strumming an electric guitar to a drunken audience. So when his band broke up in the final days of his high school senior year, no one was as happy—maybe ecstatic was a better word—as his mother and father. "Things always work out for the best," he later recalled his mother repeating more than once at their dinner conversation. His father, in a strange reinforcement of his mother's words, added something like, "I never thought you were any good anyway."

The breakup was devastating for Ethan. He'd loved the band. Nearly all his hopes and dreams had gone into its creation. He loved writing songs, creating something from nothing. There was magic in playing songs they'd created themselves. What could be more exciting than making a living doing what he loved? He would remember forever the fateful Monday night of their breakup. They were sitting around the pool table that supported their eight-track mixing board in Greg's parents' basement. Greg was their drummer. After a couple of beers and shootin' the shit, Greg announced he'd been accepted at MIT. Ethan's jaw dropped.

"So what the fuck does that mean?" Ethan demanded, his disappointment displayed in anger.

"It means that I'm fuckin' outta here, come September," Greg answered, shaking his long black hair and raising his bottle in celebration.

"I thought we were a fuckin' band, man," Ethan shot back, upset by the obvious betrayal. "What's the deal? Fuck."

Greg proceeded to unload a barrage of faults that insulted everyone—they'd never made money, they'd never recorded, they didn't sound any good, and Ethan couldn't sing. They had to get on with their lives. On and on he went. If it wasn't wrong before, Greg found a way to make it wrong by the time he finished. Ethan could still remember standing in stunned disbelief beside someone he'd called his friend.

"Fuck, Greg, if you felt this way," he cried, not far from taking a swing at him, "why the fuck did you hang around so long?"

Greg shook his head. His decision was made. There was nothing to talk about.

They never played again as a band. From then on, Ethan floundered. Some quick decisions got him into university and four months later, he was on a bus to Ottawa.

The most difficult part of the university experience for Ethan was never feeling connected. Like an outsider, his mind was always on something other than the point at hand. The engineering curriculum was rigid and demanding—it had to be; the world didn't need bridges and buildings falling down, or planes falling out of the sky, or ships sinking.

Engineering was his program of choice because of his flair for mathematics and love of the automobile—two reasons that were as good as any.

Mid-November in Ottawa found bare-branched trees and grass covered with leaves. Ethan's roommate, Robbie, had come back to their dorm room after breakfast and invited him to play touch football in the commons. Ethan had refused to get out of bed. He wasn't feeling well and was trying to sleep off the bug. In truth, he was depressed over the decision he'd made to be there. His pain was due to his foolhardy reasoning that university was a lesser evil than facing the wrath of his parents if he dropped out. He spent the entire day in bed, attempting to escape the inevitable dreariness that lay ahead. It was dark when he finally got up and dressed. Being a Sunday night, there was little action in the quad. He decided a walk was in order and left the dorm for the briskness of the mid-November evening.

It was just past seven when he stepped off the cement steps of the entrance. With little in the way of destination, he headed toward the bridge over the Ottawa River. A sense of calm settled over him in the darkness of the night. Utterly alone, no one knew who or where he was. He gained a sense of power, knowing he could do as he pleased without interference. The night belonged to him.

Ten minutes later, he crossed the bridge toward Billings. Few cars were on the road. The whole world seemed to move in slow motion. He'd stopped on the sidewalk in the center of the bridge and peered over the rusting metal railing, down into the water below. He shivered in the cold breeze. Winter was on its way.

The flowing water seemed so free, a part of nature. Why wasn't he? Why couldn't he fit in? The water seemed to speak to him in a way he'd never heard: Come join me.

Without consciously making a decision, Ethan found himself climbing the railing and leaning over the edge in a very precarious position. Come join me, the water repeated. He sensed the words more than hearing them; his grip on the railing loosened.

Then a calm female voice spoke to him. Ethan, you're not finished yet.

The words, which would return in moments of indecision, turned him around, panic-stricken, as he wrapped his arms around the rusty railing. Fear weakened him. He barely held himself upright. Gravity teamed with the water to pull him down. To maintain his grip seemed impossible, yet he fought back. Nearly incapacitated, he pushed hard with his legs and dragged himself back over the railing. Shaking but safe, he listened as the water rushed past below. Shock overtook his muscles as he realized, shamefully, how close he'd come to certain death. He collapsed to the cement sidewalk and wept. Deep sobs shook his body; sweat cloaked his skin.

After a few minutes of catching his breath, he got up and continued along the bridge. He walked toward Bank Street. He wanted a drink, and there'd be something open on Bank. It didn't take long to find his way into a small club. The entrance led him to a downstairs bar, where half a dozen people were sitting around, drinking and talking. Quite thirsty, he approached the bar and stood beside a young couple who looked to be students, although he didn't recognize them. Ethan ordered a draft and stood quietly watching. A draft appeared in front of him. At the same time, the girl beside him tapped him on the shoulder, held out her cigarette, and asked him for a light. On reflex, he checked his pockets, knowing he didn't have a match, but liked the girl's pretty face. It was hard not to look at her deep brown eyes. She was dressed in torn denims, a faded jean jacket, and a pair of red high-tops, and he didn't want to stop talking to her just because he couldn't light her cigarette. He asked if she was a student as he kept digging in his pockets.

She said she was a sophomore in dramatic arts. She was supposed to be rehearsing but wasn't in the mood. "What are you in?" she asked, her eyes darting around his face. She was a natural beauty without makeup. Her brown hair was tied back in a loose ponytail. The red sweatshirt under her jacket was ripped just below the neckline.

Ethan couldn't take his eyes off her. "Engineering," he answered, passing his hand through his hair. Her blue eyes seemed to hold the light in the dimness of the bar.

"Engineering?" she said, amazed. "You must be in environmental or systems engineering."

He smiled. "Why do you say that?"

"Because you don't look like a jerk."

Ethan paused and took a sip of his beer. "Is that a compliment or a shot?" He was suddenly more comfortable than he'd been in weeks.

"Probably a compliment," she said and smiled, nodding her head, "although I'll reserve the right to change my mind."

Mila then introduced herself and her friend Sean, who was seated next to her. They were both from Ottawa and in the same program.

"Sean's like a brother," Mila said, as if needing to explain their relationship. "I keep telling him if he hangs with me, he'll never have a girlfriend."

Ethan wasn't entirely sure that Sean saw things the same way that Mila described them, but he didn't care. Her blue eyes and smile were kindling something inside him.

"So what kind of engineering?" asked Sean, speaking for the first time. "I've got two friends in mechanical."

"And they're assholes," Mila was quick to add. "Don't tell me you're a gear-head too." A smile trickled across his lips. "I knew it!" she cried, while Sean smirked beside her. "Another gear-head! Is there no justice? You seem so normal. You're the first human I've met in mechanical engineering. It's not too late to change, you know."

It was Ethan's turn to laugh.

Their conversation continued. They talked about movies and actors. What was hot and what was not. Mila told him of her dream to go to Hollywood and become an actress. That was the real reason she was in the drama program.

Ethan asked why she didn't just go to Hollywood, if that was her dream.

"I'm not ready yet," she replied matter-of-factly, as if it were obvious. "Why are you in engineering?"

"I didn't know what else to do. I'm good at math and science."

Ethan hated his response after hearing that she was chasing a dream. It didn't matter, though. He just liked talking to her; she was like a friend he'd known his whole life. "I like to know how things work," he added. He surprised himself with his next question. "Mila, do you think you're a good actress?"

"Yes," she replied without hesitation. Something flashed in her eyes when she said it—a raw excitement, an inner strength. "You should come and see me. Another Color Blue starts in three weeks."

Another Color Blue was the university theater group's stage production just before the Christmas break. He'd seen the posters but knew almost nothing about it.

Sean stood up. "Mila, I gotta get going. I've still got stuff to catch up on for tomorrow." He leaned forward to give her a hug, but Mila didn't reciprocate. There was a brief awkwardness as his arm went around her back. Ethan again sensed that Sean had different ideas about Mila's company than she understood.

"You know, I'm in the same boat," Mila added.

"No, Mila, it's okay. You stay. It's just I've—"

"I'm already late," Mila interrupted. "Great to meet you, Ethan. See you around." Then she paused. Her forehead wrinkled, as if she was confused about something. "Sean, give me a sec. I really need to pee."

She headed to the toilet.

"You really ought come out and see her in Another Color Blue," Sean said abruptly. "They've had poor ticket sales, but that's just the university. Mila's incredible. She's the show. I've only watched rehearsals, but she's incredible. An alumnus wrote the play."

"Hey, who knows?" Ethan said noncommittally. "Maybe I'll check it out."

An uncomfortable silence fell between them.

First impressions were difficult to break. Ethan could already see the word weirdo forming on Sean's forehead. Each of Sean's gestures seemed to be an effort to be cool. Tall and wiry with a constant smirk on his face, Sean sported gold rings in each earlobe. The thought that crossed Ethan's mind was how often beautiful girls hung around goofy guys.

Sean picked up his book off the bar.

Mila rejoined them. "Okay, let's go," she said.

"See you around, Ethan," Sean said without expression, staring at Mila.

"You too," Ethan added, reaching out to shake hands. Sean had already turned toward the stairs. Ethan stepped back and bumped Mila. "Sorry," he said.

"It's okay," Mila replied. "My fault. It was nice to meet you, Ethan."

She followed Sean to the stairs. At the bottom, she paused and turned. Ethan expected a wave. Instead, she glanced his way, winked, and then hustled up the stairway.

Ethan leaned against the bar. There still were a few people around, but he decided he'd go too. Raising his glass to finish, he found a piece of paper—a note—stuck to the bottom. He realized he'd bumped into Mila because she was slipping the note under his glass.

Ethan

I'd love to talk more. Come see my rehearsal tomorrow.

You won't be sorry. We're in the Aud at seven.

Mila

CHAPTER 2

Real Time November 1983


Ethan hardly slept that night. Mila never left his mind. Having dozed for most of the day, he didn't need the rest. After his physics lab on Monday afternoon, he headed to the Aud.

The Aud was the main auditorium on the university grounds, located at the far end of the campus, away from the dorms. Walking in the cold autumn air, Ethan hardly noticed its icy bite; he had one thing on his mind—Mila.

It was strange to see the main doors into the reception area of the auditorium open when he reached the building. Clusters of people were loitering at the front. He proceeded through the entrance doors and was greeted by a gust of warm air. The maintenance staff was struggling with the inside temperature. The heat in the foyer was stifling, which explained why the main doors were open on such a cold evening. Ethan slowed on entering and then headed to an open door of the auditorium.

The front floor lights of the stage were lit. A number of people were in conversation on the stage. As he walked down the aisle, a handful of people were seated, but he didn't recognize anyone. Ten rows back, he cut in and moved to the middle. The lap of the wooden seat banged loudly as he sat down, and several people turned around, but he reacted as if nothing had happened. He leaned forward, forearms on his knees, and hunted through the faces on stage for a glimpse of Mila.

As he searched, activity started to take place. A spotlight lit up two guys on the front right side of the stage. The main lights dimmed and the auditorium went quiet. The two were talking about a beautiful girl. The spotlight faded and then lit up another actor, farther back to the left. A female, wearing a kerchief around her head, was sweeping the floor. Ethan was quick to recognize Mila, although her face was obscured by the kerchief. Her character spoke with a French accent about how happy she would be if a certain boy would ask her out. Her accented voice mesmerized him, like music to his soul. With each move, she became more beautiful, amplifying his memory of the night before at the bar. To Ethan, she was the only one on stage. In what seemed like minutes, the house lights came on again. But it was eight thirty. It didn't seem possible he'd been sitting for so long.

Mila had enthralled him. The stage was hers, and the cast supported her. He'd never experienced anything quite like it, and he couldn't pull away from her spell. It was rare to be in the presence of greatness, but the impact would change his life.

"Ethan, what a treat to see you!" exclaimed Mila, coming up the aisle where he was sitting. He stood up. "Are you okay?" she asked. Her hand touched his arm.

He blinked a couple of times. "Just great," he answered, staring at her. Unexpectedly, he pulled her close and kissed her. She felt light in his arms and didn't resist. Her lips were soft and salty from perspiring under the stage lights. He held her close for a moment. When he released her, her fellow cast members applauded. Ethan's face flushed, having momentarily forgotten where he was and the many eyes following the star performer. Despite the attention, he was not about to trade places with anyone.

From the corner of his eye, Ethan also noticed Sean, leaving the auditorium alone.
(Continues...)


Excerpted from The Actor by Douglas Gardham. Copyright © 2013 Douglas Gardham. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
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