The Unflappable Celia Graham

The Unflappable Celia Graham

On a Thursday morning, half-way through her breakfast of yoghurt and blueberries, Celia Graham received an e-mail. It went something like this:

Dear Ms. Celia Graham,

We are writing to offer you a job with our Theatre Company, WordPlay, based on the recommendation of Stephen Rowes. This job is that of assistant to the lead in our newest play, Something Forgotten. If you would like this job, please phone the number included below within twenty-four hours. I apologise for the haste, but we leave for Monte Carlo—our opening location—on Saturday morning. 

Yours sincerely,

Raif Visner


Celia polished off her breakfast and picked up her phone, first dialling the corner store where she was currently working. “Hello, yes, Tarik? Great, hi, this is Celia. No, I can’t come—that’s what I’m… Yes, I’m sorry that Greg is on vacation, but there’s nothing I can do. No, that’s why I’m calling. I’m handing in my resignation, effective immediately. Why? Because I’m going to France.”

Saturday morning found Celia at the airport, a rucksack over her shoulder, smiling. She wore a grey beanie cap over her bob-cut straight and sleek brown hair, a tight pair of black jeans and a black and white striped shirt that was two sizes too big. She looked every inch the up-and-coming youth with more hope than reason, but she was perhaps the exception. To have reason and hope and enjoy what she did. For the most part. It was enough.

“Celia Graham?” the newcomer was an artist-type man too old for acting and too young for retirement. He had a belly that didn’t quite fit his image and the longer hair and beard of someone who watched and payed attention to the most modern styles. Based on the tailored sports jacket and the leather briefcase he carried, she assumed he was the manager. Raif Visner.

“That’s me,” she said, shaking his outstretched hand. He let his shoulders sag in relief.

“Oh, thank goodness. I heard that traffic was really bad getting to the airport and I was worried that you wouldn’t make it on time,” he said. “Oh, right. I’m Raif. The manager. Um, if you’ll follow me, we’ll get you through security and passport control and we can get you introduced at the terminal.”

“Righty-ho,” Celia said cheerfully. Raif gave a wan smile at her attitude and led the way through security. He seemed astonished that Celia had only the one bag, but you never knew with youth these days. The more odd part was that security or passport control or the woman behind the coffee counter where she purchased a cup of hot chocolate seemed completely charmed by this cheerful, willing woman. She smiled and petted and actually listened to them. If she could manage Bobbie Thurson as well as the coffee girl, things would be just fine. But Barbara Joan Thurson, while one of the best actresses out there, was far from a treasure of a person.

“Okay,” Raif said as they walked up to the gate. There were five or six people lazing around that looked as though they belonged to one group. That was where he headed and those people immediately seemed to fizzle with varying degrees of attention. “Attention people,” Raif said, projecting his voice as actors are trained.

“Raif, there you are,” a man with 1930s style hair and a three-piece suit said. Celia couldn’t tell if it was a costume or just a stylistic choice. It could have been both. “Bobbie was thinking that you would miss boarding call.”

“And what a shame that would be, too,” an older woman with grace and regality in her face and figure purred. She held out a hand as Raif drew closer and let him kiss it.

“Alice, you never cease to amaze me,” Raif sat beside the woman and grinned at her. “Your words cut as sharp as any knife.”

“Are you even going to introduce us to your friend?” The owner of this sharp voice was a woman of about thirty with the look of absolute beauty. Her skin held just enough of the golden tint to be luxurious, her hair was sleek and curled and a shade of dark chocolate that many coveted. Her clothes were in the height of style and cut to show off the fact that she was supremely proportioned. And her eyes were a deep brown that could melt hearts if she chose. At that moment, she did not choose. She stared at Celia with only the vaguest bit of interest.

“She’ll be most interesting to you, Bobbie dearest,” Raif said, placing just the tiniest bit of a bite on the word ‘dearest.’ “She’s your assistant. Bobbie Thurson, meet Celia Graham.”

“Hi,” Celia said, waving her hand. Bobbie straightened and looked Celia over with a penetrating gaze. Celia hardly blinked, just tried to look friendly and unassuming. She had been in the business since dropping out of university to work in the world of theatre and knew that actresses, especially leads, liked to have everyone else just a little bit inferior. So she would be inferior. “Nice to meet you.”

“Celia,” Alice said with one perfectly sculpted eyebrow raised. “That’s a funny coincidence. The main character in the play is named Celia.”

“Oh, well, that’s confusing,” Celia said, red warning lights going off in the back of her head as she saw Bobbie’s eyes narrow ever so slightly at Alice. “How about everyone just calls me Graham. That way we won’t have to get things all mixed up.”

“Works for me,” the man who had thus far been silent said. He was about Alice’s age and was just as handsome, Celia imagined, as the day he had opened his career. If slightly more mature. His slate-grey hair was swept back and he might have been wearing khakis and a button up shirt, but he could have been wearing a tux for all the difference it made. He was charm and style and, judging by the way everyone subconsciously relaxed, he knew it.

“So, Graham,” Bobbie said, patting the seat beside her. “You work as an assistant?”

“Thanks,” Celia said, taking the seat and knowing perfectly well that Bobbie was trying to make her out and put her into place. “Sort of. I started off as an assistant to the State Manager in the production of Phantom. Toured all over the United States then, when I got back to the UK, I decided I would do something else. So I jumped ship to working in plays. Props Master in a little production in the backwoods of London. Assistant to the Props Master in a slightly larger production. Assistant to the lead in A Christmas Carol—that one had been rewritten to include technology and modern times. Very interesting. Between jobs, I pick up work wherever I can get it. Last time was at the corner store down from my flat, but I’ve been a waitress at restaurants, retail associate at various stores, even researcher at a library. If something is interesting, I’ll try it for a while. But I always end up back in theatre.”

“You’re a floater,” Raif said. Celia gave a half-shrug and was glad that the conversation was cut short when the call to board came. They got on the plane and had barely settled into their seats when Bobbie started outlining her schedule, which Celia put into her phone.

“As long as I’m not up before seven, your head can stay on its shoulders,” Bobbie said. It was likely meant to be a joke, but Celia only managed a chuckle. “I’ll expect you to manage everything that involves the theatre. So that means rehearsal schedule, call times, etcetera. Personal things you leave alone unless they conflict with the job. You’ll be dealing with all of my costumes and make-up and everything else, so it had better be in order. And if I need someone to run lines–”

“I’m it,” Celia said. “I’ll get a copy of the script from Raif.”

“Good,” Bobbie said. 

“Anything else?” Celia was still keying the details into her phone, but Bobbie had already leaned back into her chair and closed her eyes.

“If there is, you take care of it,” Bobbie said. Celia nodded, then realised that Bobbie Thurson couldn’t see her.

“You got it,” Celia said with a smile. As always, things would be interesting. Then, the plane took off and they were on their way. Celia smiled, always glad to have another adventure.

The hop from London to Monte Carlo was little more than an hour. The arrival was everything Celia hoped it would be. There were people swarming around taking pictures, honeymooners exchanging gooey eyes with each other and businessmen. Sure, there was money, but there was also life. Celia didn’t even mind when Bobbie left her to carry the three bags and drag them along behind her. She loaded them into the taxi with Raif and let him tell the driver where the hotel was. Or motel. Or bed and breakfast. She didn’t really care.

“Now, normally, we house the assistants in a motel, letting the actors have the nicer accommodations, but as you are our only assistant—the others have to make do with the junior staff—and Bobbie Thurson is, well, Bobbie Thurson, we’ve got you in the same hotel,” Raif explained. 

“I’m the only assistant?” Celia asked, listening fully to the manager, though her attention was completely taken up by the scenery outside the window.

“Yes. It’s a fairly small production and, well, Stephen Rowes said that you were good. Really good. So I figured that you could make do?” It was a question, a hopeful one. She would officially be Bobbie’s assistant, but if there were errands to run or things to do, Raif was hoping he could count on her. Celia nodded.

“Shouldn’t be a problem,” she said. Then, the hotel came into view. “Oh, wow! Look at that. It’s like a palace.”

“It’s just a hotel,” Raif handed over the euros to pay the driver and Celia clambered out of the car, craning her head to look all the way up. It was stone and brick with tasteful landscaping and the old-city charm that she had hoped for with France.

“But it’s a pretty one. And so tall,” Celia said. She jerked her attention away a moment later and helped the driver unload the luggage. A moment later and the other cabs showed up, dispensing the actors with varying degrees of frustration with travel and pleasure at being where they were. Celia immediately picked up her and Bobbie’s bags and followed the troupe inside. Where she continued gaping, grinning widely.

Raif checked them in and Celia deposited Bobbie into her suite, promising to be back in a few minutes once she had dropped off her bag and freshened up. She took exactly that amount of time to admire her room. 

She had toured all over with Phantom and seen various other hotels with the other productions she had been involved with, but there was something about being in another country that made everything more interesting and novel. The carpet was plush and a deep burgundy. The bed was made with a gold and cream duvet and pristine white sheets were expertly tucked in underneath, the pillows plush. The furniture was made of cream-painted wood and the bathroom was big enough for a full bathtub and shower. It was exotic and homely and would be her home for the next while. 

Celia took one quick glance at herself in the mirror and straightened her hat before running down the hall to Bobbie’s room, where she met with chaos. There were bags strewn open and clothes everywhere. The actress greeted her assistant with a bared-teeth smile. “There you are, Graham,” she said. “Help me get everything sorted. I simply cannot find the green midi dress I brought and the black sheer scarf. I want to wear that when the company goes out tonight. I have the scarf, but I can’t find the dress!”

“I’ll find it,” Celia promised. Bobbie nodded gruffly and closed the door behind Celia with a grumble. Mentally, the cheerful assistant rolled up her sleeves and set to work. All adventures had their downsides, she supposed. Maybe Bobbie Thurson would just take a while to get used to things. Celia rather imagined that Bobbie would be her downside, though. 

Oh, well. It was better than the corner store.

Two weeks later and Celia was completely settled in to what someone looking in might call a routine and what everyone else would call hard work. She had taken over the role of costume assistant as well, after the man quit, refusing to work for the Head of Costumes for another minute. Celia suspected that there was a romantic affair behind that, but once Raif had discovered that she could sew (fixing a minute tear to Bobbie’s opening costume before one of the rehearsals), she was given that job. As well as others.

She had memorised the script for Something Forgotten due to the fact that not all of the cast members were present, or even on time. The male counterpart to Bobbie’s character, Celia, had yet to show up. From what Celia understood, it was because he actually held another job in the real world. And, since he was meant to be producing the show as well as starring in it, he could show up whenever he liked, according to the others.

It did mean that Celia often filled in, playing Anselm and doing his blocking as a reference for the other characters. She also filled in as Mrs. Squires, Jenny, Roland and Mr. Pearson, as Alice, the barely-adult Penny, the 1930s-imitator Mark and the stately Walt were late, ill or just absent. Bobbie, for all her faults, was at least on time most days. It helped that Celia dragged her out of bed.

Adding on costumes to her responsibilities meant that she was running around just about every second of the day. Bobbie kept her on her toes and the Head of Costume, Tony, snagged every spare minute otherwise. Between fetching coffees and organic foods, cleaning up trashed bathrooms and putting away Bobbie’s clothes, making sure that the actress arrived at the theatre on time, pinning and making adjustments on the costumes and, in the case of the dress that Bobbie was to wear in the final act, helping Tony make it completely from scratch, was enough to ensure that she fell into bed at the end of the day completely exhausted.

“Graham!” Bobbie yelled, her voice carrying across the hallway that the theatre company had reserved entirely for them (apparently it was too much trouble to have to run up and down stairs at the hotel). “Graham, where are you?”

“Right here,” Celia said, poking her head out from the bathroom door. She had been going through the make-up collection and writing a list of what needed to be purchased. Her bobbed hair was sticking up at odd angles and the pocket-watch necklace she wore swung on its chain. She wore grey patched skinny jeans and a tunic-length shirt of heath green. And, despite the annoyed snarl in Bobbie’s words and the fact that she had been running around since dawn that morning, she was still smiling. “What do you need?”

“I have to get these dresses dry-cleaned,” Bobbie said. Three of them were parts of costumes and the other two were just every-day (well, if every-day were an Event) dresses. “I need the costumes for tomorrow.”

“Okay, sure,” Celia said, already tucking the list she had been making into a pocket. She picked up the load of dresses in one arm and started to leave.

“Graham, bring back an iced tea and a croissant, okay?” Bobbie said. “I skipped lunch and I want something in me before rehearsal tonight. I hear we’re going to be working through dinner.”

“Raif must really want us to practise,” Celia said, moving for the door again. “We don’t open for another three weeks.” She didn’t expect Bobbie to answer and didn’t blink when Bobbie just closed the door behind her. She did blink when Alice saw her leaving with dry-cleaning and tossed another set of clothes onto the pile. As did Walt and Penny.

Almost completely blind, Celia moved towards the stairs, feeling her way down with her feet as she tried to peer around the pile in her arms. She halted when a voice called out to her, certain that if she moved, she was going to drop something.

“Uh, Pardon, mademoiselle? Pouvez-vous m’aider? Je cherche la compagnie de théâtre…” he said. Celia grumbled quietly. Of course, the one problem she had discovered since coming to France—apart from Bobbie demanding every ounce of her attention—was that she didn’t actually speak French.

Celia broke out the only French she knew, “Je ne parle pa français…”

“Ah,” came the reply, whose owner she would very much like to see. He had a rich, deep timbre and almost musical tone. And, if she wasn’t mistaken, there was a bit of an– “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?” –English accent. Never mind, Celia thought.

“Ja,” she said, glad that the man spoke at least one language she knew. Her two years of university weren’t useless after all. “Wie kann ich ihnen helfen? Oh, bother,” she said, getting jostled by someone coming down the stairs from behind. The person—a tourist, perhaps—moved past Celia and the stranger, muttering apologies.

“You’re English?” the man asked once the other person had gone. In a perfect posh English accent, one she knew well. Celia desperately tried to peer around her pile of clothes and decided that she would just have to get scolded later for setting precious costumes down on the stairs where anyone could come on them. She put them down and stared straight into the bluest eyes she had ever seen.

The owner had wavy, combed brown hair, cut in a classic style that could have belonged in the 1800s, the 1940s or modern day. He had the typical pale skin of the English and the physique of a footballer. Celia’s weakness. He wore plain trousers and a grey button-up shirt, a bag in one hand. He was obviously monied and Celia felt wholly inadequate with her patched jeans and tousled hair. “English, yes,” she said before she could be called out for staring.

“I thought you were… well, German,” the man said, brushing his hair back in an embarrassed gesture.

“You are in Monte Carlo and you immediately assume that if I don’t speak French, I must be German?” Celia asked, raising her eyebrows.

“Yes, of course, now that you say it, English was the natural next language,” the man smiled sheepishly. Celia nodded and waited a beat to see if he was going to actually ask her a question or just stand there. “Oh, right! Um, you wouldn’t happen to know where the manager of the theatre company WordPlay is? I was told that the company was on the third floor and, well…”

“Sure,” Celia said with a casual shrug. “You want the room at the end of the hall. If he isn’t there, then he’ll be in 304 with the Stage Manager.” She started to turn and point him the way then got her foot caught on one of Walt’s shirts. Right. Dry-cleaning. Celia gathered the laundry up in her arms again and started down the stairs as if she hadn’t been interrupted.

“Thanks,” the man said. “I’m Greyson North.”

“So you’re meant to be playing Anselm,” Celia said. It made sense. He was the sort of undeniably handsome that fit with the star of a play.

“Er, yes,” Greyson said with another embarrassed sweep of his palm across his hair. Celia nodded and smiled over her shoulder at him as she went down the stairs.

“That’s good,” she said. “Now I can stop playing you.” There. That should be cryptic enough to completely make a fool of herself, she decided, glad to have the armful of laundry to bury her blushing face into. Celia darted down the stairs with a quick step, hoping that Greyson would just completely forget that she had said something like that in all of the hullabaloo that was surely to follow his arrival. The arrival of the main character and the money.

Celia forced herself to stop thinking about it as she walked through the lobby of the hotel and nodded to the bellhop that waited for something interesting to happen. He nodded back and held the door for her, having grown used to the plucky assistant. She murmured a thanks in broken French and walked out onto the streets of Monte Carlo.

The people with money glared at Celia as she walked past with her armful of clothes, but the storeowners and the people who were tourists just smiled and laughed, either familiar with her antics or amused by the sight of someone walking to the dry-cleaners. Having made the trip a few times before, Celia ducked down the third alleyway from the hotel with ease, finding herself at the cleaners a few minutes later.

The owner gave a full-belly laugh as she came inside. “Bonjour, bonjour,” he said. Celia deposited the pile on his counter and they set to talking in what amounted to broken phrases in French, English and occasionally some sort of sign language, when everything else failed. Eventually, they figured each other out and Celia got a ticket for the pile of clothes, to be picked up the next day.

“Merci,” Celia called and ran out of the cleaners, jogging back to the hotel and not forgetting to pick up the iced tea and croissant on the way. She made it back to the hotel in time to find Raif leaving, grumbling into his phone.

“Oh, there you are, Celia,” Raif said, hanging up his phone and making Celia wonder why she hadn’t heard hers ringing, if he was calling her. “I wanted you to know that our patron and Anselm have arrived. No more filling in for him, so you can focus all your time on Bobbie and the costumes.”

“Just dropped a few off at the cleaners,” Celia said. “What’s the schedule for tonight?”

“Keep Bobbie from going out, if at all possible. I want us at the theatre by five and we’ll be there until I say,” Raif said. Celia grimaced. Another long night, if that was any indication. “I know, I know. But we have three weeks until we open and none of our actors have rehearsed with the actual Anselm. Not to mention we have the tech rehearsal and dress rehearsal and any other problems that are bound to happen on the way–”

“No, how you could you even say such a thing!” Young Penny was stalking through the lobby, her blonde hair whirling around her as though she were walking through wind. Her eyes were blazing and heels clicking on the tile floor of the lobby. Alice, ever calm and ready with a distracting word in case things were getting too heated between anyone, was following after her, mouth drawn in an angry line.

“Because I know Walt and I know how he likes his women,” Alice said. “No matter that we’ve been married for twenty years. Don’t you dare deny this!”

“You’ve been divorced twice,” Penny whirled and jabbed a finger at Alice, snarling. “And are right in the middle of another separation. So what if he wants something that you can’t give him anymore? It’s not a crime to be young and beautiful.”

“But sleeping with my husband is certainly enough to bring down a whole load of crap on your head, slut,” Alice said. Celia raised her eyebrows. In the two weeks she had known Penny and Alice, she had never heard the older woman say more than a ‘drat’ when spilling her coffee one morning. Just goes to show, Celia thought, that actors are always more… volatile than they appear.

Raif looked at Celia desperately and she shook her head, holding up the tea and bag with the croissant, mouthing, “Bobbie.” She did not want to be dragged into the middle of that argument and there was no way that Raif was going to rope her in. Not when she had such a solid excuse.

Celia dashed for the stairs before the manager could come up with a decent reply and took the stairs at a run. Three flights later and she leaned against the wall, breathing heavily and grinning like a fox. Narrow escapes were the most entertaining.

She took the time to regain her breath and waltzed to Bobbie’s room, opening the door with her spare key. “Brought your croissant,” Celia called, closing the door with her hip. She moved into the room and stopped in mild surprise. There was Greyson North, standing with hands in pockets and an intriguing expression on his face. Bobbie was sitting in one of the arm chairs, hand out as though she were in the middle of asking him to sit down.

“Graham, there you are,” Bobbie said. Celia lifted her eyes and was silently grateful that she had coveted the bear claw in the coffee shop. It would never do to serve Bobbie and not a guest. She would just have to get a pastry later. “I was just meeting our newest member of the troupe. Meet Mr. Greyson North.” Was it Celia’s imagination or was Bobbie actually being charming? No, there was a pleasant and even demur smile and a breezy note in her voice. Hmm.

“We’ve met,” Greyson said. “On the stairs. Only you had a bundle of laundry and I thought you were German.”

“Graham?” Bobbie asked. Celia shrugged and opened the paper bag, depositing croissant and bear claw on a tea tray. She didn’t have another iced tea, but she could always fill up the electric kettle.

“Unusual name,” Greyson commented, accepting Bobbie’s silent invitation to sit down.

“Oh, right, sorry,” Celia said, holding out her hand to shake. “I’m Celia Graham. Bobbie’s assistant and general lackey for the production. If you need something, just ask for Graham. It’s easier than Celia, what with the main character–”

“Being named Celia. Makes sense. People call me North,” Greyson shook her hand firmly, hand surprisingly callused for someone who supposedly came from a great deal of money. “So, Graham, did you just guess that Ms. Thurson was going to have a guest or are you in the habit of bringing extra pastries?”

“Sheer luck and a good deal of magic,” Celia answered. Bobbie blinked, a warning. Celia got the picture perfectly well and managed to keep the easy smile on her face while feeling the stab of hurt inside. The beautiful actress had a much better chance with the handsome producer. Not the assistant who floated from job to job, living on the pound and running around at everyone else’s beck and call. “Rehearsal is from five until Raif decides that we’re done. I’d eat something now, because who knows whether he’ll even want to stop for supper,” Celia said, backing away, fading into the background as she had done so often before.

“Thank you, Graham,” Bobbie said with a possibly-genuine smile. Greyson North didn’t even bother to respond as Bobbie immediately launched into a question and answer session about his work and what his vision for the play was.

Celia ducked into the bathroom and went back to inventorying Bobbie’s make-up. Half-an-hour later and her golly-mopes, as she called them, had very nearly faded away. What she needed was some time off, Celia decided. If Raif agreed and she could convince Bobbie that having Celia around tomorrow would be a hindrance, she would go explore Monte Carlo. Alone. And perfectly fine with that, thank you.

All it took to get a good portion of the day off was to say to Bobbie, “I wonder if Mr. North has ever been to Monte Carlo.” Celia was dismissed from her duties until rehearsal and, as Raif was too busy trying to get Alice, Walt and Penny to sort out their differences without violence, it was easy enough to slip away and explore the city of Monaco.

There was plenty enough to do in the Monte Carlo quarter. Celia didn’t have to travel into the greater part of Monaco the entire day. She found herself visiting the Private Collection of Antique Cars of H.S.H Prince Ranier III, walking by the coast, visiting the great churches and nearly falling asleep in the sun as she lounged on a bench in the Japanese Gardens. It was there, naturally, that her great day on her own was interrupted.

“Celia Graham, isn’t it?” Celia cracked open an eye and saw a pair of grey chino-clad legs and leather shoes. She looked up and saw a white linen shirt and the unmistakeable face of Greyson North. There was no Bobbie to be seen.

“Just Graham,” Celia said, sitting up and swinging her legs down so that Greyson could sit. “I thought Bobbie was going to show you around, Mr. North.”

“Oh, no. Just North. No mister, okay?” he sat and gave her a light smile. Celia raised her eyebrows.

“You want me to call you by a cardinal direction. Just a cardinal direction. I know my last name makes me sound like a boy, but North makes you sound like some bad criminal or something. It’s Greyson, isn’t it? How about that?” Celia shook her head, her short hair catching on a slight breeze. She scowled at the sky and saw some incoming clouds. Rain was definitely on its way.

“Everyone calls me North,” Greyson said. “Friends, family, everyone.”

“Well, I’ve never been good at doing what everyone tells me,” Celia said. She paused for a heartbeat. “Back to my original question. Where’s Bobbie?”

“Ah, yes. Bobbie was called away,” Greyson said. “I believe there was something about a shopping mall and not having a chance to properly stretch her legs. I got the distinct impression that she didn’t mean a walk around the gardens.”

“She’s not as bad as everyone seems to think,” Celia said, unsure where the sudden need to defend Bobbie came from. “She’s just a lot of talk. Appearances matter very much to her, but I think she’s got a good soul, if you take the time to see it.”

“Coming from someone who is at her beck and call, that means a lot,” Greyson said. “So what are you doing here?”

“What, can’t I just come out to the gardens and enjoy myself?” Celia asked, frowning ever so slightly. Greyson shifted and looked at her in alarm. She laughed at the comical expression and shook her head. “I don’t think that’s what you mean, is it?”

“Not exactly. I was asking about this job. As in, why are you here in Monte Carlo working your ass off for Raif and company when you could be working a much better job?” Greyson asked. He stretched his arms along the back of the bench and looked at her in question. Celia let her easy grin jump to her mouth and raised her eyebrows.

“You’re assuming that I am capable of getting a better job,” she pointed out. Greyson blanched and opened his mouth to defend himself. Celia flapped her hand in dismissal and shrugged, “You’re probably right. But you also answered your question. Monte Carlo. Seriously?”

“A traveller,” Greyson said. “Okay, I’ll accept that. Though my question still applies. Why aren’t you doing something else?”

“You mean, why am I assistant to Bobbie Thurson and costumes and whatever else Raif wants me to do?” Celia asked. She grabbed her bag and stood, stretching. Greyson looked at her lazily and held out a hand. “Wimp,” Celia said, grabbing onto it and pulling him up. She turned towards the tea house and stuck her hands in her pockets. “Because it’s interesting. And because someone has to manage everyone else. It’s always been something I’m good at; organising, getting things done. So why not? Besides. Monte Carlo.”

“It’s interesting and you get to travel,” Greyson said. “Well, that is about the most vague answer I think I’ve ever heard.”

“Okay, Mr. North,” Celia said, ignoring the look that he threw her. “What about you? You show up weeks late to rehearsals, but it’s okay because you also happen to be the producer. My guess is that you have another job, because you look the type. What’s the story there? Too bored with your other work or you just can’t resist putting on somewhat-cheesy plays?” They stepped into the tea house and Celia did her best to order tea in poor French. Greyson stepped in at the confused exclamations of the cashier and ordered them some tea and pastries in perfect French. Celia even scowled when he slapped away her euros and paid for it himself.

“I’m the monied one, remember?” he said. Celia stuck her tongue out at him and picked up the tray, stalking to a table. Greyson followed along. “You’re very astute, did you know that?” he asked, sipping at his tea.

“Uh-uh,” Celia waved her croissant at him, narrowing her eyes. “You’re not getting out of answering that easily. Answer the question, Mr. North.”

“Only if you promise to stop calling me Mr. North,” Greyson snatched the croissant out of her hands and bit off a piece of the end. Celia gaped at him and let her eyes widen. A pout of the lip and just the barest hint of moisture in the eyes– “Oh, jeez. Look, I’m sorry about the croissant. It was only a joke. I didn’t mean to–”

Celia laughed, leaning back in her chair and doing her best not to point at him. Greyson looked confused for a fraction of a second then vaguely resigned at having been fooled. “I’m sorry,” Celia said, wiping her eyes. “I just couldn’t help myself. You were prime for it.”

“Har har,” Greyson said. He set the partly-eaten croissant on his plate and took another sip of his tea. Celia picked up the croissant and ate the rest, looking perfectly self-assured while doing so. “You’re just doing this to cause trouble, aren’t you?”

“Got it in one,” Celia said. “Now. Where do you work?”

“Troublesome and persistent. Now I understand why you’re content to be an assistant for Raif,” Greyson picked up another pastry and tore it in half, giving part to Celia just to avoid another incident. “I work as an architect for a company in London. And I inherited a great deal of money from my parents, so that’s why I can go and produce a play. Go ahead, laugh.”

Celia shrugged, “Why should I? That’s a perfectly reasonable profession. And of course you have inherited money. You’re not a technology guru, so the money for play production had to come from somewhere. Inheritance makes the most sense.”

“What are you, Sherlock Holmes?” Greyson gave an exasperated sigh. Celia grinned.

“In my dreams,” she said. “Okay, so that’s the job. What about the acting. Where did that come from?”

“My school days found me not so interested in football or driving around with my mates. I liked building sets for theatre. Then I discovered that I liked acting, too. There’s something about creating another world for people. It’s like opening a doorway into someone’s mind. Experiencing what they experience,” Greyson said. He wrapped his hands around his cup and hunched his shoulders just enough to tell Celia that he had told that story and been scoffed at. She nodded.

“That makes sense,” she said. “That and you get to go to Monte Carlo. Though, I just realised that it’s on your own dime, so it’s not nearly as fun.”

“Your own dime? What are you, now, American?” Greyson smiled, a gesture of appreciation for changing the topic.

“Ah, no. But I did tour for two years with the company of Phantom of the Opera. You pick up a phrase or two,” Celia said. She pulled out her phone and checked the time before wincing and sliding it back into her bag. “If we don’t leave now, we’re going to be late for rehearsal. And, after the day that Raif has had, I’m sure that would be a really bad idea.”

“What do you mean the day Raif has had?” Greyson stood and the two walked towards the entrance, admittedly a little faster than they would have if they hadn’t been late.

“Well, apparently, Walt has been sleeping with Penny, which his wife, Alice, finds a bit of a bother,” Celia said.

“Alice and Walt are married?” Greyson said. She nodded. He may have only known them for a few hours, but Celia had observed them since meeting and she had been in the dark as anyone else. “Well, that’s news to me.”

“Me, too,” Celia said. “Until I heard the three of them going at it in the hotel. Well, Raif has been dealing with them all day and I don’t imagine he’s terribly happy. And I didn’t think to bring him anything. Bother.”

“Does that work? Bribing the manager-slash-director?” They made their way onto the main street and Greyson held out his hand for a taxi. He held the door open for Celia and she managed to climb in without feeling as though he were treating her any differently than he would anyone else. Thinking like that made it a whole lot easier to accept the fact that he was from money and she was nothing and nobody. That way, she could be a friend without anything else. No extra baggage, no unrequited feelings. Just having a good time.

“Yes,” Celia nodded solemnly. “He likes coffee. And chocolate eclairs. And occasionally, a very good glass of wine.”

“I’ll keep that in mind when I’m late,” Greyson said. Celia shook her head and rolled her eyes, smiling all the while. They made it to the theatre with little more incident and no more than ten minutes late. To Celia’s great pleasure, Bobbie was already present, shopping bags at her feet. It meant that Celia didn’t have to go fetch her from the shopping mall.

“Graham, there you are,” Bobbie said, rising from her chair as soon as she saw Celia. “I need you to–” she spotted Greyson and paused in her orders. “North, how was your tour? I had thought that we could meet up for dinner, later, but Raif is determined to have us here all evening.”

Greyson stepped close enough to Bobbie to be friendly, or something more if you were looking. Celia was gathering up the shopping bags and was looking. They would make a beautiful couple, she thought without ire or regret. Bobbie was just a touch self-conscious and Greyson was kind enough to make that feeling go away. With a little prodding, perhaps…

“Graham, there you are,” Raif said. Celia had only just gathered up the bags to take back to the hotel when he grabbed her arm, dragging her off to a secluded corner of the stage. “You’d be getting a pay raise. And you wouldn’t have to be Bobbie’s assistant anymore. But really, you’d be doing me a great favour. Perhaps helping your career along, too. I mean, you could go anywhere.”

Celia put the bags down and plucked Raif’s hand off her arm, frowning. “Are you firing me?” she asked quietly. “I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“What? No! You’re not being fired… you’re being promoted,” Raif said. Celia raised her eyebrows and seriously considered folding her arms into a pout.

“Raif, this is a theatre company made up of about five people, not including the actors. I’m already doing costumes under Tony, so either you want me as Props Master or Lighting. Otherwise, there’s nowhere else to promote me. I see both the PM and Lighting people here, so…” Celia prompted. Raif winced and rubbed the back of his neck. “Oh, no. What is it that you want me to do?” He mumbled an incoherent phrase. “What?”

“I need you to take over as Jenny,” Raif muttered. Celia stared at him. “Don’t give me that look, Graham. Penny quit after Walt refused to take her side over Alice’s and I don’t have time to audition and train a new actress.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Celia deadpanned. This time, she did cross her arms. And shift her weight.

“No. I’m perfectly serious. You already know the script and the blocking and, well, you’re about the same size as Penny. You can act. I know it, you know it. Please. You’d be doing me the most enormous favour,” Raif said. He looked at Celia, pleading and desperation in his eyes. She took a deep breath and wanted to refuse. She wanted so badly to refuse.

Sure, she loved theatre. Loved the chaos that came with creating a new story for people to see. Lighting, props, costumes, sets, scripts, blocking, drama, details, it was all wonderful. Stressful at times, but wonderful. She even liked working with demanding people like Bobbie Thurson because she could figure them out and anticipate them. But there was one thing Celia hadn’t done since she was a girl. And that was act. Properly act, not just fill in when someone was late. Once upon a time, she had promised herself she would never do it again. Now, Raif was begging her to break that vow and he was giving her the one excuse that she couldn’t possibly refuse.

“Damn it, Raif Visner,” Celia said, pinching the bridge of her nose.

“Does that mean you’ll do it?” Raif asked hopefully, his face lighting up.

“Yes. Fine. I’ll do it. But I’m still working costumes and as Bobbie’s assistant. Just to prove to you that I can,” Celia jabbed her finger into Raif’s chest and stalked off, growling and muttering under her breath. It had been such a good day, too.

“Mother, why can’t you understand? I’m in love with Jenny and she with me,” Mark said, gesturing at Celia. Alice, playing Mrs. Squires, was wearing her hair done up in a style appropriate for the time period of the play, but her jeans and black t-shirt didn’t fit in at all. Mark, as Jenny’s lover Roland, was at least dressed in a suit. Celia, though, was feeling quite ridiculous. She had been called on stage in the middle of getting fit for a proper dress. That meant corset and shift, which was all she was wearing right then. None of the others seemed to mind apart from Bobbie, who had been oddly silent the last couple of days.

“Roland, please don’t make a fuss–” Celia simpered, putting a hand on her chest and reaching the other out to Mark. He took it and pressed a kiss to her wrist, flashing a look at Alice.

“Listen to the child, Roland,” Alice said, snapping her fan. “Don’t do this.”

“That’s not what I–” Celia said, again to be interrupted, this time by a look from Alice.

“Isn’t it? My dear Miss Bertram, I know you mean well, but you should do what is best for Roland. He has next to no fortune, his only prospects lie in parliament and you have no connections to bring to him. In fact, you have no fortune at all,” Alice snarled, turning her back on Celia. Harsh, Celia thought privately, but outwardly, all she did was cover her mouth with her hand and force tears to come to her eyes.

“Mother!” Mark scolded, dropping to the couch to sit beside Celia. He reached out as if to put his arms around her, but she pulled away and stood, looking between the two other actors on stage. Then, Celia fled.

The moment she was off-stage, Tony whisked her away to finish with her dress. She complied happily, not wanting to talk to anyone about her performance. It had been so long since she had done anything like this and Raif wasn’t being much help. All he would say was “thank you” and “you’re doing wonderful.”

“Too tight?” Tony asked as he buttoned up the dress. Celia twisted and flexed, stretching her arms and moving about as her character would need to.

“The bust feels loose, but the shoulders are a little pinched,” Celia said. Tony grumbled and tugged at the fabric. She held still and let him pin and do whatever he needed with the dress, taking it off when directed.

“I’ll get this sorted and we’ll squeeze in a fitting later,” Tony said.

“You want me to take care of it?” Celia asked, reaching for her real clothes. “I can try it on and fix what needs to be done. That way you can deal with Bobbie’s dresses.”

“Don’t even get me started on Bobbie’s dresses,” Tony grumbled. “I hate working with starlets. They want everything just so, want to be shown to the greatest advantage, no matter what the actual fashion was like. And she has one more costume change than any of the other women in the show. At least you can sew!”

“How about I come by your room after rehearsals and we can get working on them. If we’re diligent, we should be able to get most of them sorted before morning,” Celia said, putting on a smile even though she didn’t really feel like smiling just then. But Tony needed it more than she did, so she smiled.

“You’re a treasure, Celia Graham,” Tony patted her cheek and shooed her away. She changed and returned the bits of her costume to the appropriate garment bag and rack. Then, the niggling feeling that her cue was coming sent her towards the stage. She had time to realise that her cue was still a ways out before she stopped, watching and entranced.

They were like magic, moving together. Celia knew all the words and yet watching Bobbie and Greyson work together was a new experience. So she stood in the wings and watched.

“Anselm,” Bobbie breathed, loud enough for the audience to hear, but only barely. “We need to talk about Roland and Jenny.”

“Why can’t we talk about us?” Greyson said, stepping towards Bobbie. She took a step back, bringing her hands up to her chest in a protective gesture.

“You know why,” Bobbie said. “I’m promised to Mr. Pearson. You know that. There’s nothing we can do. It’s done.”

“It’s not done until you say your vows, Celia,” Greyson said. Bobbie gave him a half-smile and turned towards the faux-window at the back of the set. “Celia,” Greyson said again, this time pleading.

“I… I know where things stand with me, Anselm. You should just accept that. I’m worried about my sister. Jenny isn’t acting normally. She’s being secretive and subdued. I know there was a confrontation with your mother, but she won’t tell me anything else,” Bobbie was the one to take a step forwards, now. Greyson tightened his expression and looked out over the audience. “I’m afraid she’s going to do something she would be ill-advised to do.”

“What, like marrying for love?” Greyson snapped. Bobbie recoiled and sat on the couch, looking stricken. “Celia, I’m sorry… that was cruel of me.”

“I know this is difficult for you,” Bobbie answered. “But I have given my word. And yes, Jenny loves Roland. Perhaps too much, given the circumstances.”

“I don’t understand,” Greyson paced the stage. “It’s because of the money, isn’t it. The fact that my father’s estate was left to me as the eldest son. Jenny has only a small dowry and Roland isn’t wealthy enough for her. Is that it?”

“Jenny is my sister and my dearest friend,” Bobbie said. She took a deep breath, “I would do anything to secure her future and happiness.”

Greyson froze and rounded slowly on her. He then dropped to his knees before the couch and kissed her hand, “That’s why you’re marrying Mr. Pearson, isn’t it? So that Jenny can have a proper dowry. So she can marry Roland.”

“You already know the answer, dearest Anselm,” Bobbie said, sounding as if her heart were breaking. Greyson lay his head in her lap, facing the audience and she stroked his hair gently, lovingly.

“I don’t deserve you,” he said. Bobbie took another deep breath and then waited five seconds.

“Right, that’s the end of the scene and the first act,” Raif called out, climbing onto the stage and thereby releasing the actors from their poses. Bobbie stayed where she was and Greyson merely moved to sit on the couch next to her, as casual as could be. Celia stepped far enough on stage to be seen by the manager. She was in awe of the magic that could be created before her very eyes. The bittersweet taste in her mouth wasn’t just from the poignancy of the scene, though, and it took all of her mental strength to acknowledge that. There was a knot right in the middle of her chest that told Celia she would never truly be a part of that world, the world of acting. She had known it before and her pitiful-by-comparison performance was enough to confirm it.

“Raif,” Alice said, walking out onto stage with a tired look. Walt was a few steps behind, Mark next to him. “Can we stop for the night? My feet are killing me and I haven’t eaten for a good portion of the day. We’ve already run the first act seven times.”

“And we’ll keep running until I say so,” Raif snapped. “We need this to be perfect. The better it is, the better reviews. The better reviews, the better turn out. The better turn out–”

“The better the money,” Celia cut in, her own temper about as done as Alice and the others. She was normally the first to agree to work harder and later, but not tonight. Tonight, she just wanted to lay in her bed and read, sulking until morning when she would get up, perfectly alright with the world. Unfortunately, she had already promised her time to Tony. At least he wouldn’t try to talk her ear off when she was unwilling to listen. “We’re all tired,” Celia continued, rubbing her shoulder to relieve some of the built-up tension. “And we’ve been through act two already, so it’s not new.”

“No, but it needs to be perfect,” Raif retorted. Celia was inches away from snarling back when Greyson cut in.

“How about we all take the night off,” he said, staring straight at Raif, silently reminding him who the money in the situation was. “We can go out for dinner and rejuvenate. My treat.” Those last two words were enough to press the point home. Raif held up his hands and gave his best smile, proving that he had once been as great as any of them.

“You win,” Raif said. “Go on, gather your things and we’ll meet outside in ten minutes.”

No one needed anything else. They went off to grab their bags or change out of half-completed costumes. Mark practically dashed past Celia, calling out a “Good job, tonight!” to her before vanishing into the men’s dressing rooms. Celia shook her head and went to grab her own bag before helping Tony with the costumes. She had taken an armful of garment bags and was moving to the back door when an arm on her shoulder stopped her.

“Wait, where are you going?” Celia turned to Greyson, who had changed and thrown a thin leather jacket on over his shirt, making him both dashing and dangerous. Bobbie was a few feet away, purse over her shoulder and looking on with a masked expression. Celia didn’t need a neon sign to know that Bobbie was unhappy.

“Back to the hotel. Tony and I are going to get the rest of these sorted out,” Celia said. “Yours will be done, sure thing, tomorrow, Bobbie,” she directed her words at the other actress. “Let me know if there’s anything else that you need and I’ll get it sorted.”

“You’re working too hard,” Greyson said, smiling. “Come on, take a break with the rest of us.” He tugged on her arm to get her to come along. The last inch of Celia’s temper frayed and she jerked her arm back, her expression turning neutral. She barely managed to keep back the snarling words and took a deep breath.

“I need to get these done,” Celia said flatly. “Especially if any of you want to have costumes for tomorrow.” She turned to the back doors and pushed them open, ready to slam them behind her and leave the others behind.

“Wait,” Greyson called, following her. “Hold up.” Celia stopped and glared up at Greyson, that knot tightening in her chest. “What’s wrong? You’re always so calm and happy. Did we do something wrong?”

“I just need time to recharge,” Celia said, jerking her chin in a nod to Tony, who was emerging with the rest of the costumes in his arms. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” She stalked off with the head of costumes, leaving Greyson and Bobbie and the rest of that world behind.

She wished that she had never agreed to play the part of Jenny. She wished she had never given up being nothing more than an assistant. She was even beginning to wish that she had never come to France. All it was giving her was heartache and memories that should have stayed buried.

Three hours into working on costumes and Tony finally spoke. “Well, you’ve been quiet,” he said, tugging the hem of a dress on a mannequin. Celia pulled her last shift off of the sewing machine and held it up to the light.

“It’s late,” Celia said, folding the shift and putting it with the appropriate collection of dresses. “I’m just tired.”

“You are such a liar,” Tony said. “Now come here and strip down.”

“Usually I like dinner before a man asks me to strip, but I’ll settle for some coffee,” Celia said. Tony shot her a look then went to the electric kettle and filled it with water. Celia smiled and pulled off her shirt, tossing it to the floor. She held up her shift and shrugged into it, reaching for the corset. “Hey, a little help?”

Tony stepped away from the powdered coffee and grabbed the laces. “Good?” Celia nodded and pulled her corset tight then pulled off her trousers. Tony held out her dress and she stepped into it, slipping her arms into the sleeves and again turning her back to the costumer. “How’s the fit, now?”

Celia stretched and twisted, then turned to Tony and smiled. “Great,” she said. He reached out and tucked her hair behind her ears.


Celia smiled. “It was so much easier when I was the invisible assistant,” she tugged the dress off again and put her own clothes on. Tony was polite enough to turn his back and prepare the coffee—lots of milk and sugar, just how she liked it—while she did so.

“Being invisible is really that important to you?” Tony asked. He handed her the coffee and sat at the sewing machine. Celia took a drink of the coffee and sank into her own chair. “I see. Love, the problem with your desire to be invisible is that you’re too good at it. You do your job too well, making sure that you get everyone’s desires all sorted out so that they can’t complain. You can’t help it, I would imagine.”

“I’m too good at my job so they throw me into acting,” Celia scoffed.

“You’re too nice, too accommodating. You solve everyone’s problems. Where else would Raif turn when he had a problem?” Tony said. Celia took a deep breath. “And now you’re running too hard.”

“No,” Celia said, shaking her head. “Being busy isn’t the problem. I’m managing all of my assignments with plenty of time to spare. Even Bobbie isn’t complaining. The problem is the acting.”

“You’re good at it,” Tony said, looking surprised. “Quite good, actually. Why should that be a problem? Don’t like the spotlight?”

Celia looked into the coffee cup, watching the creamy liquid swirl around. She hadn’t wanted to look back, hadn’t wanted to go back to that time. It seemed inevitable, though, and at least Tony was a good man. “I used to love it,” she breathed. She let out a breathy laugh and ran her fingers through her hair, making it dishevelled. “And I wasn’t just good, I was great.”

“Ever so modest,” Tony teased. Celia smiled, genuinely, and took another sip of coffee. “What happened?” He asked it gently, making it plain that he actually cared.

“My father happened,” Celia said. “He used to be in money. Not just stocks or banking, but serious corporate money. We were wealthy and everything around me was posh from my clothes to my school. I got the lead in a play and my father was thrilled. He said, ‘Now, darling, you’re getting into the family business.’ I didn’t understand. Then, the authorities came and everything became perfectly clear. The family business. Lying and cheating, making people believe something that wasn’t true for our benefit. He was arrested on the opening night of my play.”

“Oh, Celia, love,” Tony breathed. He made as if to rise from his chair and comfort her, but she shook her head, still smiling.

“For a time, I wanted to get as far away from acting as I could. I couldn’t, though. I loved it too much. I loved theatre. After a while, I realised that just because my father was a liar didn’t mean that everyone was. Sure, actors make everyone believe something that isn’t necessarily true, but it’s not for their benefit. It’s for everyone else’s. I wanted a piece of that,” Celia said. She grinned, just the barest hint of tears in her eyes. “So I did. And I explored and lived and got to meet people I’d never have met otherwise. I was happy being the invisible assistant, happy letting everyone else have the spotlight as long as I got to see the smiles on the faces of the audience. That was all I ever wanted.”

“Then Raif came and asked you to take over for the part of Jenny,” Tony nodded in understanding.

“I couldn’t say no. I wanted to make him happy, wanted that smile,” Celia said. “And now here I am, a hopeless excuse for an actress, finding out that the spotlight is exactly what I didn’t want.”

This time, Tony did get up and come wrap his arms around her, strong and safe and secure. “It’s not for everyone. But I think the real problem is that you were happy making everyone else happy. What about you? What would make you happy?”

“I don’t know,” Celia said, still smiling even as a tear traced a track down her cheek. Tony nodded and gave her another squeeze.

“Then go take the rest of the night off,” Tony said. “It’s barely eleven. You go out and find a bar. Go drink good French wine and then bring a nice Frenchman back to your room. And in the morning, keep moving forwards.”

“Is that what you do?” Celia asked, rubbing her face dry with her palm. “Get drunk and have meaningless sex?”

“It’s not meaningless,” Tony countered, shaking his head. “It makes you happy, even for a moment. That’s got to be worth something.”

“I think I’d rather just take a hot bath,” Celia said.

“Then go do that. And don’t you dare argue with me. I only have to adjust the hem on Walt’s trousers. I think I can manage that,” Tony said. He took Celia’s empty cup and threw it into the rubbish bin, turning his back on her so that she could sneak out. Instead, she stood and put her hands on his shoulders, pressing a kiss to his cheek.

“Thank you,” Celia said and slipped out of his room for her own. She did exactly as he told her, drawing a bath and doing absolutely nothing but sitting in the hot water. After an hour of soaking, she towelled off and climbed into bed, her thoughts blissfully empty and her heart lighter than it had been in days.

It wasn’t quite meaningless sex, but it did well enough for Celia.

She woke with the sun, as was her habit. She ate an apple and had some tea for breakfast and considered going out for a quick walk before waking Bobbie up. Yes, Celia decided, pulling on a long men’s shirt and belting it around the middle for a dress, it was a good idea. The sun was shining and there was a distinct smell of freshly baked bread in the air. Celia brushed out her hair and threw her bag on her shoulder.

She was just passing Bobbie’s door when it opened and a half-naked figure walked out. Celia halted in shock at the sight of Greyson standing shirtless in the hallway, his eyes wide and fixed on her.

“Oh, shit,” he said, holding his shirt in his hand. Celia raised her eyebrows. “It’s not what you… actually, it probably is what you think. Just don’t… please don’t make something big out of this. I, I think I’m blabbering.”

“Probably,” Celia said. She shook her head, smiling and not entirely faking it. After all, the sight of Greyson sans shirt was very nice. “Don’t worry,” she said, “I won’t tell anyone if you don’t want. No one else is up anyways, so you should be all clear.”

“Thanks, Graham,” Greyson said. That pinched. Ever so slightly, but it was a pinch. Tony called her by her real name. Wanting to stay out of the spotlight was fine. Being invisible was fine. But Celia wouldn’t have minded if people used her name. She mentally shook herself for being silly and watched Greyson steal down the hall to his own room.

Celia pushed open Bobbie’s door, all thoughts of a walk gone. The actress was wrapped in a robe, her hair tousled and her skin glowing. She widened her eyes in fear at spotting Celia then broke out grinning, happier than Celia had ever seen her.

“Oh, my,” Bobbie exclaimed, falling backwards on her bed. “I can’t believe what just happened.”

“He was that bad a lover?” Celia joked. Bobbie sat up on her elbows and shot Celia a look. Then she laughed and jumped up, spinning Celia around and even going so far as to hug her.

“I was afraid that he didn’t like me. I mean, everyone expects me to be a bitch because I’m the lead. North is so handsome and he has money and is so far out of my league. But after drinks, things just sort of… escalated,” Bobbie said, covering her obvious blush with her hands. She laughed and Celia couldn’t help but smile as well.

“Well, congratulations,” Celia said. “I hope you’ll be happy.” Thing was, she meant it. She put Greyson firmly out of her mind and demanded that Bobbie recount the details, just like any good friend would do.

Opening night was as exhilarating as it was terrifying. Everyone was running around making certain that things were in the right place and doing their best not to feel nervous. Celia knew from experience that no matter how many plays you had under your belt, no matter the rehearsals, those initial nerves never went away. Not completely.

The entire day was full of jittery legs and each person’s method of distraction. Celia found herself in the hotel pool, swimming laps back and forth as she tried to clear her head. Back. Forth. The water pushing away from her and propelling her forwards. Rhythmic and soothing. And complete bullshit.

After an hour of trying to calm down, Celia climbed out of the pool and sat with her legs dangling in the water. There was a splash at the other end and she looked up to see Greyson swimming towards her, Bobbie nowhere to be seen for once.

“What are you doing here?” Greyson asked, putting his arms on the side of the pool and looking up at Celia.

“What does it look like?” she asked, swirling her feet around.

“It looks like you’re sitting there, doing nothing,” Greyson said. Celia splashed water at him and he retreated a few feet, treading water as though he did it all the time. Given his body, he probably did. Celia pushed those thoughts out of her mind even though she knew them to be harmless. Just because he was dating her friend/boss didn’t mean she couldn’t admire. Maybe.

“I was swimming, trying to get rid of my nervous energy,” Celia admitted. “I know I should have gone for a run, but I haven’t done any proper running since coming to Monte Carlo and I didn’t want to hurt myself before we opened.”

“Raif would have killed you,” Greyson agreed. “Though I doubt you would have hurt yourself. I see you running around all the time.”

“Errands,” Celia scoffed. “Back in England, I used to run four or five miles every other morning.”

“Only every other morning?” Greyson shook his head in mock disappointment. “You wimp.”

“Oh, ha ha,” Celia said. She kicked out, sending an arc of water in his direction. He ducked under the water and emerged a moment later, inches away from where she was sitting. “You’re getting the jitters out, too?”

“Swimming is much safer than weight lifting before opening night,” Greyson said. “Besides, that way I can see a pretty woman in a swimsuit.”

“Speaking of,” Celia said, knowing she needed to change the topic or she would be in serious trouble, “where’s Bobbie?”

“I think she said something about having a massage scheduled,” Greyson said. Celia nodded; she should have remembered, considering that she had been the one to schedule the massage. “Thank you, by the way.”

“For what?” Celia asked.

“For the advice,” Greyson said. Celia shook her head, wet hair sticking to her face. She brushed it behind her ears and shrugged in confusion. “About Bobbie putting on a front. You were right.”

Celia recalled her words. That Bobbie was a good person behind the front she put up. And that if someone cared to look, she would be loyal and true. Celia was glad that Greyson—anyone, really—had chosen to look behind Bobbie’s mask. She was also, for one terrible moment, furious with herself for saying anything. “I’m glad,” Celia said, using her wet skin as a pretence to rub her eyes clear. “I mean, I haven’t worked with her for all that long, but I’m usually pretty good about these things.”

“Hey, do you want to come out for lunch with Bobbie and me? I got reservations at a place just around the corner and it’s easy enough to change the number of people. And it might help with your nerves,” Greyson said.

No, Celia thought while her mouth said the opposite. “I’d love to,” she said. “But right now, I need a shower. Enjoy your swim.”

Greyson nodded and dove under the water, moving off gracefully. Celia stood and turned her back on him, grabbing a robe and wrapping it around her. Traitor. Her very mouth had betrayed her, telling her that she wanted to be closer to Greyson. Even when the thought of him around Bobbie was enough to drive her away.

“You’re a jealous fool,” Celia said, closing the door of her room securely behind her. “You shouldn’t even be thinking of such things about him and yet you are. Idiot.” She knew that it was only the fact that she was spending so much time around him that had her acting like a lovesick puppy. Once the play was done and she was off on another adventure, he would fade into nothing more than a pleasant memory. A story to tell around a round of drinks.

Celia showered and dressed in a pair of dark leggings and a batwing shirt, a hat over her hair. Then, just in case, she checked her phone, hoping that Raif or Tony had some sort of task that she needed to do. Even doing something for Bobbie that would get her out of lunch would be worth it. Instead, there was nothing. And all Celia could manage was laying on her bed, sulking until someone knocked on her door.

Of course, she thought wryly while putting on a pleasant smile, he would come for her. With Bobbie on his arm. “Ready?” Greyson asked, smiling as though he had never heard of such a thing as nerves.

“Sure thing,” Celia said. “Bobbie, that massage must have done you wonders. You’re glowing.”

“Am I?” Bobbie asked, blushing with false modesty. She knew she was glowing and the fact that Celia had acknowledged it put an extra lift in her step. Just what Celia wanted. After all, her job was still Bobbie’s assistant. She was meant to make certain that Bobbie was happy and ready to perform. “Thank you,” the actress said, tightening her grip slightly on Greyson’s arm.

“I have to agree,” Greyson said, kissing the top of Bobbie’s head gently even as he led the party down the stairs. “You look ravishing.”

“You’re teasing,” Bobbie said, but the compliment clearly showed in her eyes.

“Not when I’m talking the truth,” Greyson said. Celia said nothing and was practically ignored for the entire walk to the restaurant. Greyson did hold her chair for her, but his eyes never left Bobbie’s lovely expression. The conversation over the menu focused solely between the two lovers. Celia ordered from a sympathetic waiter before the others even noticed he was there.

Finally, after drinks seemed to magically appear on the table, was Celia brought into the conversation. “So, are you coming to the party tonight? In celebration of opening?”

“I didn’t even know there was a party,” Celia said. Liar. Tony had only mentioned it a thousand times, saying that their precious patron was so generous in throwing a party in one of the best bars in town. How nice it was to have money, Tony had said. Celia hadn’t said anything, pretending that she couldn’t hear. If she ignored it long enough, it would be easier to feign ignorance and skip out.

“I’ve reserved a great spot,” Greyson said, Bobbie nodding eagerly beside him. “Good food, better drinks, the works. So consider this your formal invitation. And if you don’t show up I’ll come hunt you down personally.”

“You shouldn’t take such trouble,” Celia joked, despite the fact that her plans for a quiet night had been trashed. She sipped at her good wine and wished that Bobbie would stop looking at her like that. Like rotten meat getting ever closer.

“Why not? You’re part of the cast—and crew for that matter, so you are doubly essential to the party,” Greyson said. Celia shook her head and searched her mind desperately for a change of subject.

“How about we go get you a new dress after lunch?” Bobbie asked Celia, her smile pleasant and beautiful, but her eyes flashing. “Girls only, of course.”

“I wouldn’t want to get in the way of that,” Greyson held up his hands. Celia nodded, knowing full well that she couldn’t refuse. She had been so careful these past few days, weeks even, to make sure that Bobbie had no cause to be jealous or think that Celia was trying to get close to Greyson North. Turns out she needn’t have bothered; he was doing a good enough job of making Bobbie jealous without assistance.

“Perfect,” Bobbie said, clapping her hands together. As if it were some magical signal, the waiter reappeared with food. Celia did her best to try and become invisible, losing herself in the food. Her nerves were still present, but they no longer had anything to do with the opening night. Everything was to do with the shopping trip with Bobbie and a party at which her presence was more or less demanded.

It was going to be a long day, Celia thought.

After lunch, Bobbie kissed Greyson thoroughly then pushed him in the direction of the hotel, waiting until he was gone from view before turning to Celia and threading her arm through that of her assistant. “What do you think you’re doing?” Bobbie asked, her words venomous behind her gracious smile.

“Trying to keep out of trouble,” Celia said honestly.

“You had better keep away from North,” Bobbie said, her nails digging just a bit too much into Celia’s arm. “He’s friendly, but we wouldn’t want him getting the wrong impression, would we?”

“There is no wrong impression to get,” Celia insisted. “I haven’t done anything except have a few conversations with him and now lunch with you two.”

“Oh, really,” Bobbie said flatly. “So meeting up with him that day at the Japanese gardens was just coincidence? And what about the pool this morning? Another coincidence?”

“That’s all it was,” Celia took a deep breath. “We just happened to be in the same place at the same time. You have nothing to worry about. Not from me.”

“Good.” Bobbie’s smile was more sincere, now. It didn’t fool Celia; she was fully aware of the danger lurking beneath the surface. “Because North is going to take me far away from here. With him behind me, I’m going to go far. Very far. No more jumping from impossibly small theatre company to company. I won’t need to audition. Roles will just fall into my lap. But you see, none of that can happen if you get in the way. And if you get in the way, I’ll make sure that you never see another job like this. You’ll never act again.”

“I didn’t want to act to begin with,” Celia murmured. Bobbie pulled her aside and put her hands on her hips.

“What do you mean you didn’t want to act?” Bobbie hissed the question to keep anyone from overhearing. Celia shrugged. She pulled her hat farther onto her head and folded her arms, uncomfortable.

“I didn’t want the acting post. Raif only offered it to me because I already knew the lines and blocking and he didn’t want to have to audition another girl so close to the show,” Celia explained. She scoffed and shook her head. “If it were up to me, which it never is, I’d just be your assistant and working with Tony on the costumes. Nothing else.”

“Well,” Bobbie took a step back, her expression thoughtful and lifted at the same time. “That changes things.”

“Does it?” Celia asked. “I’m glad. Because, really, truly, Bobbie, I didn’t want this. I’m happy to do whatever you want, fetch you coffee, deal with your dry-cleaning, whatever. But being on stage? I’d rather skip that.”

“I think we understand one another better than I thought, Graham,” Bobbie said. “I’m going to go shopping. Now I expect you to return to the hotel in one hour, a dress in hand. Just because I’m not going with you doesn’t mean that you can’t show up to that party with a new dress. We wouldn’t want North thinking I abandoned you, would we?”

“No,” Celia shook her head and Bobbie nodded, tossing her hair just enough to catch the sun. Celia, though, wanted to shrink into the shadows and remain invisible. Things were much, much easier, then. Bobbie turned on her exquisite shoes and walked off, disappearing into the crowds on the streets of Monte Carlo. Celia looked up at the sky and wished for the day to be over.

Celia stood in the stage left wing of the stage, dressed in her costume, a lovely off-the-shoulder blue number with silk and lace that whispered when she walked. Her hair was pinned back and down and she wore a wig that had been professionally styled. She had makeup on and a her shoes were broken in. Now, all that needed to happen was for the curtain to rise.

Opening night. She, like everyone else, had taken a peek out into the theatre to see what the audience was like. Raif’s marketing had paid off: full house. But no matter how Celia tried to prove otherwise, the knot in her chest wasn’t to do with the fact that she was about to perform. It wasn’t to do with the fact that her days of being invisible had come to a close and she had done something she didn’t want. It was to do with the fact that the one person with whom Celia was trying her hardest to be invisible was also the person she had inadvertently fallen in love with. And who was dating someone else.

“Okay, love,” Tony said, pressing a kiss to Celia’s forehead even as he tugged at the sleeves of her dress. “I would say break a leg, but everyone’s heard that before. So give them hell, Celia Graham.”

“Thanks,” Celia said, smiling for the first time in what felt like days. And, as the curtain drew aside, she stepped out and walked over to Mark, her posture confident and her smile belonging to someone else.

With blushes hidden behind fans and angry confrontations, Roland and Jenny confessed their love for one another and were drawn apart. Celia and Anselm kept a more steadfast love secret while Celia was promised to another. Mrs. Squires scolded both of her sons and Mr. Pearson pretended to love Celia.

As the first half of the show came to a close, Celia found herself sagging in relief when she could pull her dress off. Bobbie had already changed twice and was in her third and final dress of the evening. She was in the dressing room, the dress half zipped and a frantic expression on her face.

“What did you do?” Bobbie snarled at Celia, the door opening as Alice came in. Alice took one look at Bobbie’s furious expression and shook her head.

“What do you mean?” Celia asked, drawing her brows together in confusion.

“The jewellery I’m meant to wear in the final act, just look at it!” Bobbie thrust out her hand and Celia took the object inside. It was the green cut glass necklace that was meant to have been gift from Anselm. The clasp had been twisted and broken, enough that it would take more than a few minutes to fix it. “Why didn’t you check my jewellery before now?!”

“I did,” Celia said, desperately trying to untwist the clasp and see if it could be fixed before Bobbie had to go on. “I checked all of your dresses and your jewellery and everything was in order. I promise!” Celia insisted.

“Well, then you let someone come in here and they broke it. Probably that costume man that you work for instead of doing your work for me,” Bobbie hissed, snatching the necklace back and wrenching it more.

“Hold on,” Celia said, frowning. “I’ve done everything that you asked of me and more as well as working with Tony and acting in this show. And Tony wouldn’t break your necklace. He’s been helping out with the changes and he’s not vindictive enough to do such a thing.”

“Bobbie?” The intruder had Bobbie whirling and putting up a simpering smile while Celia just picked the necklace up again and tried to fix it. She used her tweezers and attempted to twist the metal into some semblance of normal. Nothing. The only thing for it was to get some string and tie it up that way.

“North,” Bobbie said. “Someone broke in here and ruined my necklace.” She took a step closer to him and looked up, smiling seductively and sadly. “It’s the necklace that Anselm gave to Celia.”

“Really? May I see?” Greyson extended his hand to Celia and she gave him the necklace, realising a moment later that she was standing there in nothing but a corset and slip. She grabbed her next dress and stepped into that, allowing Alice to zip up the back, the older woman murmuring something comforting. “Oh, well, we can just tie it up with string.”

“That’s not the point,” Bobbie said, moving away and touching up her lipstick as she scowled into the mirror.

“Darling, it’s an easy fix,” Greyson said, “but we can’t fix it tonight. We have two minutes before intermission is over and we have to be back on stage. We’ll get it tomorrow, alright?”

“Fine,” Bobbie said. Celia decided that whatever else Bobbie needed, she could get herself, and slipped out of the dressing room. Greyson wasn’t far behind.

“Do you know what happened?” he asked gently. Celia shook her head.

“I’m sure it was just an accident,” she murmured, taking a breath and adjusting her dress. “I’ll get to it first thing in the morning.”

“What? Why? That’s not your job,” Greyson said. Celia raised her eyebrows in surprise.

“Of course it’s my job. I’m her assistant,” Celia said. The call came for places and she started to move away. Greyson grabbed her arm.

“No you’re not,” he said, frowning in confusion. “She said that since you were playing the part of Jenny then you were released from being her assistant. You were just helping Tony out to be kind, but it wasn’t your job.”

“Then you’re mistaken,” Celia said. “I’ve been her assistant since day one and just because I’m acting doesn’t change that. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get to my place.” She pulled her arm away from Greyson and walked across the dark stage to her place on the other side, the curtain hiding her from the audience. The knot in her chest was tighter and Celia rubbed the spot where it hurt. She shouldn’t have said anything about her work for Bobbie. Bobbie would be angry that Celia had contradicted her, had called her lie. Especially considering that Greyson was the one Celia told. Well, she was tired of it.

The curtains went up and Mark strode onto the stage from the other side. “Jenny?” he called. “Jenny where are you?”

“Here,” Celia replied, picking up her skirt in one hand and running out. She put all thoughts of Greyson aside and focused on the play. That was all that mattered, now. “Oh, Roland, I was so scared. I thought you weren’t coming.”

“Don’t worry,” Mark assured her, grabbing her hands and pressing them to his chest. “I would never leave you.”

“I thought that Celia was going to figure out where I had gone, so I had to sneak out,” Celia said, resting her head on Mark’s shoulder. “But everything is going to be alright, now, isn’t it?”

“Of course, my dearest,” Mark insisted. “We must hurry, though. Before someone suspects that we’re going to–”
“Roland,” Greyson stepped onto the stage and both Celia and Mark whirled. Celia was ushered behind Mark and she looked at Greyson with fear in her eyes. “Don’t do this,” Greyson said, holding out his hands. “Don’t elope.”

“There is nothing else for us to do,” Mark insisted. “Mother won’t let mus marry and I can’t live my life without her. I would sooner die than be parted from my dearest Jenny.”

“Roland, please,” Celia said, a creeping note of desperation in her voice.

“Don’t, Jenny,” Greyson said, holding a hand out to her. “Can’t you see that if you do this, there will be no life for Roland. The two of you will have nothing to live on. You will have no future. Would you want that for him?”

“No,” Celia said, looking up at Mark. “I wouldn’t.”

“Then come away,” Greyson stepped closer. Mark tightened his grip on Celia’s hands and shook his head.

“Don’t do this, Jenny. I love you. What does anything else matter?” Mark asked. “You would sacrifice our love for empty words?”

“That’s just it, Roland,” Celia said, stepping away from him and into the waiting arms of Greyson. “I would sacrifice anything for your future, your happiness. Even my own.” Mark looked furiously at Greyson and turned on his heel, running off the stage. Celia let out a strangled cry and collapsed to her knees.

“You did the right thing, Jenny,” Greyson said, kneeling by her and putting an arm on her shoulder.

“Then why does it hurt so much?” Celia asked. The lights went dark and Celia practically jumped from Greyson’s arms as she rushed to get off stage and allow the set up for the next scene. Tony thrust a shawl at her and Celia wrapped it carefully around her shoulders. She ignored the way that Greyson looked at her, his brows drawn together. She didn’t want to get into an argument or even a discussion about anything involving Bobbie. She just wanted to go back to the hotel and sleep. That prospect was very far away.

The lights went back up and Celia was pulled on stage by Bobbie, who was ranting about how could Jenny do such a thing, thinking about running away. Celia stared out at the audience, her eyes dead and mourning the loss of her Roland. She just sank onto the couch and turned her head away.

Bobbie opened her mouth to scold again when Mr. Pearson walked in, carrying a bouquet of silk roses, professing his love for Celia Bertram. There were discussions and false smiles and then Greyson walked in with Mark following, Anselm finally confronted with Celia’s lover. They argued and yelled while Mark pointedly ignored Jenny. Just when it looked like things were about to come to blows, Alice walked in, the elegant mother making her appearance.

“Enough,” she said, holding up a gloved hand. Immediately, things fell silent. Walt gaped at Alice and Greyson took a step closer to Bobbie while Mark stole looks at Celia. “I’ve had enough of this foolishness.”

“Mrs. Squires,” Celia said, rising and rushing over to Alice as if ready to plead her case. Alice pursed her lips in disapproval and Celia paused.

“The Bertram family has been the cause of a great deal of trouble amongst my children. You, Miss Celia Bertram, have a great fortune left to you by your dead mother which your half-sister cannot touch. My son Anselm, who also has a fortune, is desperately in love with you but you are promised to someone else which, sir, I presume is you,” Alice said, nodding her head at Walt. “While my younger, Roland, has nothing and is in love with Jenny, who also has nothing. Both matches are inadvisable and yet no matter what I say, I cannot keep my boys away from you two.”

“Mrs. Squires,” Bobbie said, drawing herself up, “it was never Jenny’s or my intention to cause you distress.”
“No,” Alice said imperiously. “And therein lies the problem.” She sighed and shook her head. “Mr. Pearson, would you mind coming with me to have a talk?” Walt graciously agreed and held out his arm. As Alice took it, the lights went black again, only to return a moment later, Alice and Walt alone and discussing the possibilities for the lovers. Mr. Pearson, naturally, found himself admiring this woman and, before the conversation could go very far, got down on one knee and declared himself the greatest fool. He professed love for Mrs. Squires and the hard woman was touched with a smile. The audience clapped and the scene was changed once more to find three sets of lovers.

Mark declared desperately that he would never be parted from Celia’s side. She smiled and fluttered and thanked Mr. Pearson for the gift of money as a dowry. Then, she and Mark left, taking Alice and Walt with them to go discuss wedding plans. Leaving only Bobbie and Greyson.

“I feel that this whole affair has been a mess,” Greyson said, laughing. Bobbie smiled and touched the necklace at her throat.

“It all worked out, I suppose,” she said. Greyson grinned and took her in his arms, spinning her around. She laughed, throwing back her head.

“Celia Bertram, you are the most beautiful woman I have ever met, inside and out. You are kind and willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of others. I don’t know how I could have ever doubted you,” Greyson said. He brushed a hand across her cheek and dropped to his knees. “I love you. Will you marry me?”

“Yes. Oh, Anselm, yes,” Bobbie said, laughing again and kneeling next to Greyson. She kissed him and threw her arms around him in a hug. And the lights went dark once more.

The audience was in raptures, clapping and shouting as the characters all bowed and smiled, Celia included. She had forgotten how it felt to have those people thanking you for showing them a new world. It was exhilarating and her smile was genuine as she took another bow and waited for the lights to fall one last time.

Celia walked back to the dressing room, still smiling and happy. Then, she spotted the garment bag containing the dress she had purchased earlier that day and her smile dropped, just a touch. Unlike the play, things weren’t going to work out as well for her. She might as well have been walking to her doom.

Celia managed to avoid anyone else on her way out of the theatre and back to the hotel. She could, feasibly, take an extra hour before going over to the party. It didn’t matter that the party started as soon as people got changed. No one had seen her, no one knew where she was. She could skip out.

And that would be cheating. She might have been coerced into giving her word about going to the party, but she had given her word. And would be fighting against Greyson and Bobbie.

Celia stared at the dress she had purchased that afternoon. “I am such a coward,” she murmured. Then, before she could change her mind again, she stripped out of her leggings and sweatshirt and pulled the dress off the hanger.

It wasn’t anything terribly fancy, certainly not like what Bobbie was certain to be wearing. Celia hd bought it because of that fact and also because it didn’t cost an arm and a leg. It was little more than a sundress in a pale lemon, square-cut around the neck and tighter around the waist. It fell to Celia’s knees and was a happy colour. She felt like being happy wearing it. Why should what other people were doing ruin her own happiness?

Determined, Celia put on her sandals and grabbed her clutch, slinging the strap over her shoulder and walking out of the hotel room. She kept the determined attitude up all the way to the bar that Greyson had reserved. Then, walking in the door, she faltered.

Her first reaction was that she was underdressed. Either that or everyone else had missed the memo for casual. The men were wearing nice trousers and shirts and even had ties on. The women were in cocktail dresses meant for a class of society well out of Celia’s reach. Her happy sundress was a blatant misstep. One that Bobbie didn’t fail to notice.

“Graham,” Bobbie said, sauntering over, a drink in her hand. “I thought I told you to buy a dress.” The last comment was hissed in Celia’s ear as Bobbie leaned in for a “congratulatory” hug.

“I did,” Celia said, fingering the skirt of her dress. Bobbie raised her eyebrows and took a subtle step away, her own deep blue sheath emphasising everything desirable. Celia ignored the look and moved farther into the bar, suddenly in need of a drink.

“There you are,” Greyson said, appearing out of nowhere and making Celia jump. She whirled and pressed a hand to her chest, eyes wide.

“Don’t do that!” she scolded. Greyson raised his eyebrows in confusion. “Sneak up on people. You nearly gave me a heart attack.”

“Sorry?” Greyson said. Bobbie stepped closer to her beau and Greyson’s smile flickered for a moment. Trouble in paradise, Celia wondered. If that were the case, she should move far away before Bobbie slit her throat for looking at Greyson wrong. “What can I get you to drink? The barkeep stepped out for a cigarette, so I’m acting as unofficial tender of alcohol.”

Celia sighed. Of course he was. “How about a gin and tonic. As English as you can make it.”

“Needing a bit of home?” Greyson asked. Bobbie chuckled and waved her hand expressively.

“Aren’t we all? I mean, Monte Carlo is great, but it is very French,” Bobbie said. Greyson looked to Celia for a confirmation and she shrugged. That wasn’t quite her reasoning, but it was good enough. Really, it was the only stiff drink she actually liked and she didn’t have the desire to drink a bottle’s worth of French wine to get drunk. Not that she was actively trying to get drunk, but something needed to happen or she would flee right then and there.

“I don’t know,” Greyson said, searching the bottles behind the bar for gin. “I like seeing something different. It’s a different people, a different culture and we’re so close that we might as well experience it.”

“Careful,” Celia said, accepting the cool glass. “You’ll start sounding like a wanderer.”

“Is that what you call yourself?” Greyson made it sound as though that explained just about everything.

“Floater, drifter, wanderer, I don’t know,” Celia shrugged again, casting a surreptitious glance at Bobbie. The actress was looking quite put out and Celia didn’t blame her. Greyson was deliberately ignoring her. There was no way that Celia was imagining that. She figured now would be a great time to go talk to Alice and Walt, who were standing over by a booth across the bar. She started moving in that direction when a question was directed to her.

“Do you know how to use a sound system?” Greyson asked. Celia swallowed a groan. Why was it that everyone was determined to make her life as difficult as possible? No, not everyone, just Greyson.

“I’ve done enough lighting and sound n my career that I should be able to figure it out,” Celia said. Greyson grinned and grabbed her hand, pulling her to the small raised booth that was next to the bar. Bobbie, Celia did not fail to notice, was left looking as though her prize had been snatched out from under her very nose. Celia felt her back being bored into by Bobbie’s gaze.

“Oh, yeah,” Celia said, taking in the board and system, “I can make this work. Do you have any music that you want?”

“All I have is whatever is on my phone,” Greyson said. “Where do I plug it in?”

Celia took one of the cords and held out her hand for Greyson’s phone. She flicked on the system and changed the inputs, fiddling with the volume until a song started playing. Then, she sat back in the sound man’s chair and took a sip of her gin and tonic, fully expecting that Greyson would realise what he had been doing and go back down to Bobbie. Or even just leave her alone.

He didn’t.

Fine, Celia thought. It was time to take matters into her own hands. “Greyson, look,” Celia started. “I–”

“Why do you insist on calling me Greyson?” he asked. Celia blinked in confusion.

“It’s your name, isn’t it?” she said. “Because if it isn’t, then the playbill has made a grievous error.”

He chuckled and shook his head, “No, it’s my name. Just everyone else calls me North.”

“I told you in the Japanese gardens that one time that I wasn’t going to call you a cardinal direction. It just seems… odd?” Celia shook her head. “But that’s beside the point. The point is, why aren’t you down there dancing with Bobbie?”

The easy smile vanished just as quickly as it had come and Greyson tightened his grip on his drink. Celia looked and saw Bobbie standing next to Alice, watching Greyson and Celia out of the corner of her eye. Gulp. “Have you ever thought that a person was just what you wanted and that you connected with surprising ease?”

Celia didn’t think the question was meant to be answered, so she kept quiet. Greyson shrugged and continued. “I don’t know. I just… she isn’t what I thought. She misled me and, I imagine, you. Or is there a different reason why you get a terrified look on your face every time she glares in my direction?”

Celia took one look at her gin and tonic and sighed. She tilted the drink to her lips and downed the remainder of the liquid, wincing at the sudden burn in her throat. Greyson seemed to take that as a yes. “I called it off earlier,” he said softly. “I told her what I’m telling you. It didn’t go well.”

“Earlier? When, earlier?” Celia asked.

“After the play. She practically begged me to reconsider, saying that we could go so far together, that we could be stars. I think that really drove the point home. I may have money, but I don’t want to be a bank account for someone. Then there’s the way she treats you.”

“That?” Celia scoffed, shoving aside the pleasure she felt when she realised that he was free of Bobbie’s grasp. “That’s nothing. I’ve had loads worse than her.”

“That doesn’t make it alright,” Greyson growled. He took the empty glass from Celia and replaced it with his hand. It was slightly chilled from holding onto the cold drink, but it was enough to make her skin tingle. “Especially not when you are the kindest, most helpful and happiest person I think I’ve ever met.”

Celia wished she still had her drink or that Greyson would stop holding on to her hand. She wished that he would stop pulling her to her feet and that he wouldn’t press her close to him. “Celia Graham,” he whispered into her ear, “you are the most beautiful woman I have ever met, inside and out. You are kind and willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of others. I don’t know how I could have ever doubted you… will you dance with me?”

Suddenly, Celia’s wishes went away and all that was left was for her to smile. And nod.