Wishing in the Wings
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“Klasky continues her adorable As You Wish series with this nearly cinematic romantic comedy…. With broadly comic characters, even pacing, and a charming romance, this cozy evening’s read will leave readers smiling.” — Publishers Weekly
Becca Morris loves her job—producer at an off-Broadway theater—until her boyfriend steals her heart, her money, and all the theater’s funds. With her career on the line, Becca finally catches a break when she receives a brass lamp, complete with a gender-bending, wish-granting genie.
Soon, Becca gets the chance to stage a brilliant new play that can put the theater back on track. It’s even written by the adorkable Ryan Thompson—who just might mend her tattered heart. Alas, the only prospect for financing the show is the world’s most obnoxious tycoon, and Ryan flat-out refuses to take money from a jerk.
Can Becca wish her way to true love and professional success?
Wishing in the Wings, the second volume in the As You Wish Series, is available in print, as an ebook, and as an audiobook (under the previous title When Good Wishes Go Bad). It has been translated into French as Coup de Folie Sur Manhattan.
<<< Chapter 1 >>>
B— Gotta run. Don’t wait up.
That’s what Dean’s note said, the one he’d stuck to the refrigerator some time that Tuesday morning. The one that had obviously been written in haste, his customary tight scrawl spread wide across the sticky note. The one that he’d scratched with a dried-out black marker from our kitchen junk drawer, instead of his customary red-ink fine point Bic.
After a long day at the Mercer Project, the theater where we both worked, I’d tried to follow his instructions. After all, I knew this was crunch time for Dean. March was the high-water mark for tax season; the Mercer’s books had to be balanced, copious obscure documentation needed to be completed, all in time for our April filing. Dean thrived on the detailed requirements; he reveled in the hard-charging challenges of tax time.
I would not survive one single day as director of finance.
Lying in bed, fighting sleep despite the clear instruction in Dean’s note, I tossed and turned, staring first at his nightstand, then at my own. His bedside table was almost completely bare—he had a functional, white gooseneck lamp, precisely angled to shed light on whatever spreadsheet he brought to bed. An alarm clock hunched in stainless steel solitude, its red numbers winking balefully.
My table was a little more, um, crowded. I hated resetting my alarm clock after power failures, and I could never remember to replace batteries to keep a clock running without fail, so I relied on my cell phone’s alarm feature. My phone charger was tangled on my night stand, looping around one lamp, four books, a bottle of hand lotion, a glass that had held water a week before, a stray earring forever separated from its mate, a notepad, a souvenir pen from the Statue of Liberty that said BECCA in glittery letters, a small stuffed rabbit (gift from my literary associate at work on a day when I’d been in a particularly bad mood), a partridge, and a pear tree.
Yeah. It wasn’t readily apparent to people why Dean and I had put up with each other for the last three and a half years. I tried to explain that opposites attract, but I don’t know that I was always convincing.
I spent most of the night trying to find a comfortable position, repeatedly punching my pillow. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d slept in our bed alone. Or not slept, as the case might be. I woke up over and over again, spending large stretches of the night watching Dean’s clock tick through its glaring red paces.
At 2:00 in the morning, I administered some emergency chocolate, indulging in the last three pieces from the giant Godiva heart I’d bought myself for Valentine’s Day. I’d justified the extravagance by making my purchase on February 15, taking advantage of the post-holiday markdown. I was sure Dean would have been proud of my fiscal conservatism, if he’d even noticed. The poor guy had been so busy with Mercer work that Valentine’s chocolate had completely slipped his mind nearly three weeks ago.
I finally gave up trying to sleep at 5:00 a.m. After showering, I pulled on black slacks, and I dug out my warmest sweater from the top shelf in our bedroom closet. The calendar might have said that we’d shifted into spring, but the weather hadn’t caught up yet. The temperature was well below freezing, and hillocks of dirty snow still held their grips on shaded parts of the sidewalk, left over from a late February squall.
The streets were quiet, at least by Manhattan standards, as I made my way across Greenwich Village, stopping for two of the largest cups of coffee I could find. I arrived at the theater by six, grateful that I had my own key to the office space.
Dean’s office light was on. His desk was pristine, not even a Post-it note out of place. A single blank pad of paper was centered on the surface, a single red pen uncapped beside it. The adding machine was a convenient reach away from the telephone, its power switch in the “off” position as it sat like a good soldier, waiting for morning muster.
In other words, Dean had obviously just stepped away for a minute or two. His impeccably organized life was proceeding as usual, even after a night of bleary-eyed number-crunching. I left a cup of coffee on his desk, using his pen to draw a big red heart on the pad of paper, adding a flourished B by way of signature.
My own office was down the hall. It was much smaller than Dean’s—he was the director of finance, after all, and I was just the theater’s lowly dramaturg . Dean had also been with the Mercer for two years longer than I had.
Of course, I didn’t really mind the size of my office. A lot of people in my position worked at anonymous desks in open spaces, an easy bellow away from their company’s artistic director. I was incredibly lucky to have landed the job I had six months earlier; there were maybe a hundred dramaturg positions in the entire country. A lot of theaters weren’t financially secure enough to hire a trained scholar solely to provide literary support on each and every production.
Besides, if my office had been the size of Dean’s, I would have drowned in the accumulated detritus.
As at home, my professional space was the opposite of Dean’s. My single guest chair was piled high with coffee-table books, lushly illustrated volumes that I’d paged through the week before, trying to educate the cast of our upcoming Sam Shepard one-act plays on the eerie beauty of the American Southwest. A dozen banker’s boxes were scattered across the floor, each containing a collection of mementos for one play or another, random artifacts that I’d used to explain the significance of various playwrights’ sometimes-opaque words.
The bulletin board above my desk was in a similar state of disarray, covered with notes and other memorabilia. I loved the miniature license plate from California, with my name picked out in bold navy letters. Note to self: Insert long, boring story about how my mother still hoped her only daughter would return to the sunny city of San Diego. Insert longer, more boring story about how I was determined to keep an entire continent between my mother and me—for both our sakes. I shook my head and grinned at fortunes from Chinese meals otherwise long forgotten, at cartoons clipped from newspapers, at outrageous headlines from articles printed off the Internet.
My desk was covered in paper as well. Half a dozen notepads were sandwiched between three-ring binders, manila folders, and scripts. I’d sacrificed at least twenty pens to the chaos; most marked pages that I knew were absolutely, vitally important, ones that I would definitely return to…someday soon. The entire maelstrom was anchored by a stack of manuscripts, plays sent in by hopeful playwrights, despite the fact that the Mercer had a strict submission policy mandating the intermediary of literary agents.
Yeah, we had strict rules, but I still reviewed every manuscript I received. Along with every other dramaturg I’d ever met, I dreamed of the day I discovered America’s best and brightest new playwright. I also lived in utter terror of missing the next blockbuster play, overlooking it merely because its author wasn’t ready to be bound by silly rules about professional business correspondence, postage, and agent representation.
Staring at the mess on my desk, I comforted myself with the knowledge that this quiet predawn morning would give me a chance to plow through some of the backlog. I fortified myself with a mighty swallow of coffee and settled down to some serious reading. I thought about Dean a half dozen times, but I made myself stay at my desk. He’d find me when he came up for air, from wherever he was hiding in the Mercer’s warren of offices, rehearsal rooms, and storage closets.
He always did.
An hour later, I’d managed to eliminate four new plays from our list of possible blockbusters. Each of the rejects had a different problem. One was written entirely in French—our audiences were generally willing to expand their minds and learn about different cultures, but we’d be pushing things to stage an entire production in a foreign language. Another play was performed completely in the nude—again, we were willing to push some performance envelopes, but we had no desire to become the must-see naughty show for all the tourists from Rubesville. One script might have been the finest play written this century, but it was printed on bright fuchsia paper (the better for me to take notice, I supposed), with each character’s lines delineated in a different impossible-to-read font. I just wasn’t willing to work that hard. And the fourth script was a cheery and lighthearted musical about bestiality, incest, and pedophilia. Whispers of Rent-terror scurried at the back of my mind. That musical had included drug addiction, AIDS, and other upbeat plot twists, and it had gone on to win a Pulitzer and a Tony. But I just couldn’t see us staging such a dark new show. Besides, we didn’t do musicals. Or at least, we never had in the past.
I took a sip of my now-room-temperature coffee and leaned back, raising a hand to rub the base of my neck. So, maybe this wasn’t my day to find a script treasure. I stretched in my chair and decided to head back to Dean’s office. He had to be even more exhausted than I was, poor thing.
Before I could move, though, my computer chimed, alerting me to the fact that I had new e-mail. I frowned as I glanced at the incoming message. I didn’t recognize the sender—email@example.com. Puzzled, I clicked on the flashing mail icon.
“Dear Ms. Morris…. Regret to inform you…. Rights are not currently available to produce Evan Morton’s Crystal Dreams…. Unavoidable litigation…. Copyright…. Regret any inconvenience…. Sincerely, Elaine Harcourt, Attorney at Law .”
All of the coffee I had drunk congealed in my belly as one acidic lump. I forced myself to re-read the e-mail, marching my eyes across every single word.
This couldn’t be happening to me.
Crystal Dreams was the next play in our production cycle. We were supposed to hold auditions in ten days; the show was going to open in May. The Mercer had been boasting about Crystal Dreams for the past year, billing the work as a brilliant new play by Evan Morton, one of America’s bravest young playwrights.
Hal Bernson, our artistic director and my direct boss, had been so attracted to the script that he had vowed to direct the show himself. He only took on one play each season, in addition to his artistic director duties, and he’d latched on to Crystal Dreamsbecause of the controversy surrounding the play.
Crystal Dreams was based on the journals of a grad student who had starved herself to death four years ago, protesting the imprisonment of her lover for meth distribution, imprisonment that was ultimately found to be based on a corrupt prosecutor’s lies. There were rumors at the time that Evan Morton—the lover—had egged the woman on from prison, sending her long letters about how the state had wronged him, about how she was the only one who could redeem him, who could give his life meaning.
Hal had traveled to Florida to meet with Morton as soon as the guy was released. — Hal had spent weeks debating the merits of Morton’s masterpiece. Ultimately, he had decided that the guy wasn’t a murderer. He was just an artist, one who desperately wanted his play produced by the Mercer. One who understood how to use the press to make his project shine. One who could turn a Mercer production into front-page news, even in jaded New York City.
Hal had agreed to produce and direct Crystal Dreams. During my first week on the job, Hal had told me that Morton gave him the creeps—the playwright was way too intense. As part of my dramaturg trial by fire, I had been designated the primary correspondent with our difficult artiste. After all, a large part of my job would be coordinating rehearsal-inspired changes in our new play, balancing all of the artistic egos. Morton would be a challenge, but he’d provide great experience for a new dramaturg.
Experience that I was never going to have now, due to legal wrangling.
I read the e-mail again, this time inserting the words between the printed lines. The grad student’s family must have sued Evan Morton. There was an electronic attachment to Elaine Harcourt’s e-mail. I clicked on it, and a legal document sprang to life on my screen, numbers marching down the left side, setting off each line. My eyes automatically jumped to the title of the document: Order Granting Temporary Restraining Order. I skimmed the legalese. I didn’t understand every word, but the overall sense was clear: the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York was prohibiting us, and anyone else, from producing Crystal Dreams until the underlying copyright dispute could be resolved.
I felt sick.
Auditions were scheduled to take place in ten days. I’d already spent weeks doing background work on the play, research about meth and prosecutorial misconduct and the difficult personal relationship that might—or might not—be at the core of the play.
Forget my work, though. Forget the designers who’d built set models, sketched costumes, planned a lighting grid. Forget the actors who had prepared audition monologues based on our announced show.
We suddenly had a gaping hole in our schedule. A hole that needed to be filled immediately.
I stared at the four rejected scripts I’d read through that morning. There wasn’t anything there that we could salvage. And truth be told, all the rest of the over-the-transom scripts on my desk were likely to be the same level of garbage .
I scrambled for my phone, punched in the four-digit extension of my assistant, Jennifer Davis.
“Hey!” she answered, her cheerful greeting the absolute opposite of the dread that chewed at my belly. “I didn’t know you were here! Can you come up front for a minute?”
I ignored her question and asked one of my own. “Is Hal in yet?”
Jenn’s desk was in the Bullpen, a space she shared with our all-purpose office manager and a couple of interns. She was within easy shouting distance of the Mercer’s artistic director. “He’s here,” she said, obviously a little puzzled by my question, “But he’s in a meeting. In the large conference room.”
“Can I help with anything?”
I shook my head, momentarily forgetting that she couldn’t see me. I was going to have to interrupt the meeting. Hal needed to know the bad news immediately. “No,” I said, finally remembering to use my words. Then I recalled that she’d asked me to come up to the front. “I’ll be out there in a sec.”
I hung up the phone and stood, wiping my suddenly sweaty palms down my thighs. My heart was pounding as if I’d run a 10K. I worked my fingers through my hair, automatically twisting its wild waves into a loose knot at my nape. A few strawberry strands twined around my hands; I shook them into my trashcan and forced myself to take a steadying breath before heading out my office door.
I glanced toward Dean’s office. His light was still on; the door was still open. I walked close enough to see that the cup of coffee I’d left was still on the corner of his desk.
If possible, my heart beat even harder. Where was he? Worry for his safety twined between my jangling nerves. I turned on my heel and rushed to the Bullpen.
Jenn stood by her desk, her own obvious anxiety twisting her smile into something painful. Her expression was a direct contrast to the perky cockatiel screensaver that stared out from her computer. Jenn loved the birds; she owned a half dozen of them. Now, she turned her head to a distinctly parrot-like angle as she asked, “Are you okay?”
I shook my head, but I didn’t actually answer her question. “Have you seen Dean?”
“Not since… Wow, Monday, I guess.” Day before yesterday. Not good. “Um, Becca—”
I ignored her, glancing toward the large conference room where Hal was holed up. The door was closed and the shades were down, covering the floor-to-ceiling windows. That was strange—meetings around here were always open. “Any chance he’s in there?” I nodded toward the room.
Jennifer shrugged apologetically. “I don’t know. It’s a board meeting.”
“A board meeting? Hal didn’t mention one yesterday.”
“I don’t think he knew about it yesterday. Everyone was grumbling as they came in—I think it’s some sort of emergency.”
Emergency. The word shot another arrow of adrenaline into my heart. Something must have happened to Dean. Hal must have been working late last night, too, must have been here when Dean got sick. Seriously sick, if the board was already in an emergency session to figure out what they were going to do without a functioning director of finance.
But where was Dean? Was he in the hospital? And why hadn’t Hal called me? Why had he called in the board, but not reached out to me? It wasn’t like Dean and I had kept our relationship a secret. I folded my arms around my waist, trying to hold in a rising tide of nausea.
“Um, Becca,” Jenn said again. When I surfaced momentarily from my self-recriminations, she nodded toward the corner, toward one of the intern desks.
I followed her movement, only to find that a stranger was sitting in the intern’s chair. His winter coat, a ratty beige ski parka that had seen better days, was collapsed across the desk in front of him. The laces on one of his Chuck Taylors were working loose, and the tails of his shirt peeked out from beneath his moss-colored sweater. His dark curls still bore the marks from a comb, although they were struggling to break free.
Before I could say anything, Jenn said pointedly, “Becca, can I talk to you for a second?” She stalked across the Bullpen, trusting me to follow her into Hal’s office. I longed to refuse—I needed to get to the clandestine board meeting—but a tiny part of my mind gibbered that I didn’t want to know what was going on behind that closed door. I didn’t want to know about the emergency. I followed Jenn because she represented the path of least resistance.
“Don’t be angry with me,” she said as soon as the door was closed.
“Why would I be angry with you?” I heard the tension in my voice, but I didn’t bother to repeat my question, to sound less annoyed.
Jenn started toying with her wedding band, flicking her fingers across the celtic knotwork. We’d been working together for six months. I knew that fidget meant she was trying to sneak something past me. With her voice pitched half an octave higher than normal, she said, “Oh, forget it. You’ve obviously got more important things to worry about. I just had a stupid idea. I’ll take care of it.”
“Take care of what?” My nerves made the last word come out a lot louder than I’d intended.
“Shhh!” She glanced toward the closed door.
“Jenn, what is going on? Who is that guy?”
“One of the stalking list guys who came by to drop off a script after I told him that he needed to give it to you personally.”
“What?” She’d spoken so quickly that I’d barely caught the gist of what she’d said. “I could have sworn you just said that guy is on the stalking list.”
The stalking list. The short list of up and coming new playwrights that Jenn and I admired, the authors whose work we thought we might some day produce here at the Mercer. Jenn and I kept an eye on their Web sites, on their blogs, on ShowTalk, the social networking Web site for New York theater professionals. Basically, we tracked any place they might post online to share their creative process or their personal angst or what they’d eaten for dinner the night before. The important stuff, in other words. The stuff that would let us know when they’d written a new play, when they were ready to unveil a masterpiece-in-waiting to a sympathetic audience.
The whole idea, though, was supposed to be that we stalked them; we kept an eye on what they were writing. They weren’t supposed to come to us. They weren’t supposed to show up before the office even officially opened on a random Wednesday morning in the beginning of March. But Jennifer was obviously pretty invested in this whole thing. “Which one is he?” I asked, intrigued despite myself.
Jenn twisted her hands in front of her. “I’m sorry, Becca. I know I should have just sent him away. But he looked so cute, standing there, like a little boy turning in his English homework.”
“Jenn, I just read four of the worst plays I’ve ever seen. You know that we don’t accept submissions over the transom.”
“But we do, unofficially. And he’s on the list!”
She had a point. Possibly. “Who is he?” I asked again.
I blinked. Ryan wasn’t on my stalking list. Jenn had found him, just a few weeks before. She’d read some comments he’d posted on a public blog, something about the role of the modern playwright in creating a communal dialog about social responsibility. She’d been intrigued by what he had to say. (Yeah, we folks in the Mercer’s literary department were total theater geeks.) Mostly, though, she’d been impressed with how he’d said it. In fact, she’d been interested enough to track down a copy of his first play, something that had been produced once, at a university in the wilds of Roanoke, Virginia.
And now the guy was sitting in our office, waiting to talk to me. “Jenn, I don’t know anything about him!”
She bit her lip and then said, “Trust me. Remember? He’s the Peace Corps guy.” Peace Corps… Ryan had just returned from a two-year stint abroad—in Africa, somewhere. I nodded slowly, vaguely recalling what Jenn had told me. She apparently interpreted my nod as acquiescence about reading his play. She clasped her hands in front of her, the very picture of riotous joy. “You won’t regret this, I’m sure.”
“I haven’t agreed to do anything yet,” I grumbled.
“Please, Becca? Just take his envelope. Tell him you’ll read it in the order received, and send him on his way.”
“You could have done that!”
“Yeah,” she said, sulkily. “I should have.”
Before I could argue with her anymore, a phone started to ring out in the Bullpen. Jenn sighed and opened Hal’s office door, rushing to her desk to answer the line. Apparently, the caller wanted to reorganize the United Nations into something only slightly more bureaucratic—at least that’s what Jenn implied with her body language. She was clearly too busy to return to the matter at hand. Too busy to talk to Ryan Thompson and send him on his way. Too busy to save me.
I sighed and threw back my shoulders, trying to look professional as I crossed the room. I’d take the stupid manuscript, remind this Ryan guy of our submission policy, and get back to the morning’s serious work of tracking down Dean. And then I’d tell Hal about the Crystal Dreams disaster. Joy, oh joy—the theater life just didn’t get any better than this. My belly churned again, as I glanced over my shoulder at the conference room.
Our visitor stood as I approached him. “Ms. Morris, I’m Ryan Thompson,” he said. His shoulders hunched, as if he didn’t want to frighten me with his full height. He turned his head a little as he introduced himself, smiling shyly and looking at a point somewhere beyond my left ear. “Thank you for taking the time to see me,” he said.
Well, technically, I hadn’t agreed to take the time. In fact, technically I didn’t have the time. I had to say something, though, so I introduced myself, even though he obviously knew who I was. “Rebecca Morris.” And then I remembered my manners. It wouldn’t kill me to be polite, for just a minute. “Jenn said that you’ve just returned from Africa?”
“I’ve been back in the States for a couple of months.” I glanced at his heavy sweater, at his rumpled coat. Despite their appearance, they must be new—he certainly wouldn’t have needed them in Africa. He cleared his throat, drawing my gaze back to his face. When he spoke, his words were slow, as if he were used to thinking in a foreign language. “Jenn was kind enough to read some comments I made on the Internet. She said you wouldn’t mind reading my new play. It’s called However Long.”
He looked so nervous, so pitiful, that I had to respond. “However Long?” I asked.
“It comes from an African proverb. ‘However long the night, the dawn will break.’”
Despite myself, I shivered. What did this guy know about long nights? I looked down the hallway, toward my office, toward Dean’s empty one. It was well past dawn, well past time I should have heard from my absentee boyfriend. Well past time for me to wrap up this conversation and find out what was going on in the conference room.
I reached out for Ryan’s envelope. The manila corners were crisp and neat, as if he’d carried his treasure carefully all the way to our office. He’d used a computer to print out his address label, putting both his name and my own in clear, legible type. The plain white square was centered precisely on the envelope.
Given the muck of unsolicited manuscripts I’d already waded through that morning, the condition of Ryan’s submission seemed to be a sign from some benevolent heaven.
“I can’t promise anything,” I warned him. “Ordinarily, we only take submissions through agents, and even then, it can take several weeks for us to get around to reading them.”
Again, he gave me that shy grin, and he buried his hands in his pockets, as if he wanted his clothes to swallow him whole. “I completely understand. I wouldn’t have bothered you at all, if Jennifer hadn’t said…” He trailed off, obviously worried that he was going to get my assistant in trouble.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said.
His relief was almost palpable. “I won’t take any more of your time, Ms. Morris. I enclosed a card with all of my contact information. I really appreciate the chance that you’re giving me.”
“My pleasure,” I said automatically, tucking his envelope under my arm to symbolize that we were done with our conversation. He nodded, taking the hint, and then Jenn magically concluded her phone call. Suddenly suspicious, I wondered if she’d been chattering on a dead line for the past few minutes. “I’m afraid, though, that I’ll have to let Jennifer show you out. I’m on my way into a meeting.”
Jenn stepped out from behind her desk, a smile broad across her face. She started to walk Ryan toward the door, taking only a moment to look over her shoulder, to mouth a heartfelt, “Thank you!” to me. I nodded and barely waited until they were out of sight before I turned toward the conference room. My hand shook as I opened the door.
Immediately, I was the target of a dozen pairs of eyes as every board member looked up from the table. A heartbeat of a scan, and I could see that Dean wasn’t there. Dean wasn’t, but a stranger was—a man who sat at the head of the table, shuffling papers as my interruption froze the entire meeting.
My knees trembled, but I wasn’t sure if I was relieved or even more afraid. I still had no idea where my boyfriend was, but at least I could pass on the Crystal Dreams disaster to Hal. One crisis would be off my plate. “Excuse me,” I said, focusing on my boss. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but this is an emergency. Hal, may I speak with you for a minute?”
My boss blinked his sapphire eyes, emphasizing his surprise by running a hand through his short gray hair. His lips were narrow in his immaculate close-trimmed beard. “Whatever it is will have to wait, Becca.”
I shook my head. “This can’t wait.”
He laid his hands flat on the table, as if he were trying to ice his palms. I knew the gesture, even though we’d only worked together for six months. It was an indication that he was out of patience, that he was completely exasperated with the people around him. That he was determined to have his way, then, immediately, without delay.
“It can wait,” he said, and his voice was as chilly as his gaze. “In fact, I was just about to call you in here about something else entirely. Come in, Rebecca. And close the door behind you.”
It took every last ounce of my willpower to step inside that room.
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