She was running down a long hall. Where she was running to, she wasn’t sure. She could hear his footsteps growing closer as she raced away in a panic. His steps were slow and even, and she was running full speed, yet still he sounded closer every second! How could that be? She kept going through the maze of halls, her heart pounding. Then she heard his voice.
“Running will only make things harder on you. I told you what would happen if you misbehaved again. Now stop running and come here,” he said.
No! she thought, but didn’t reply out loud. There had to be a way out! There had to be! She came upon a spiral staircase off to one side that went up, and she took it. She hoped he’d continue forward and not notice it. She raced to the top and there was a landing with a small round table with a cloth over it that reached to the floor and a chair in one corner. There were two doors, one on either side of the table. As she headed toward the first door, she heard his footsteps on the stairs. Damn! He was still following her. The first door was locked, so she tried the second. Locked! There was no other escape.
In desperation, she tried hiding under the small table. Maybe he didn’t know for sure that she’d taken the stairs. Maybe he’d think she’d gone through one of the doors and locked it behind her. She crawled as far into the corner as she could, pulling her knees and bare feet under her and tucking her skirts around her. She pulled the tablecloth down behind her and tried to slow her breathing as she heard him reach the top of the stairs.
Then she couldn’t hear anything but the pounding of her own heart. Where was he? Had he gone back down? Was he standing right there? She strained her ears for a clue, but heard nothing. When she finally heard something, it was a low chuckle. The tablecloth behind her lifted, exposing her skirt-clad bottom and bare toes to his scrutiny. Her heart sank. She felt his hand pat her bottom, and then strong arms pulled her from beneath the table, and before she could even see his face, he’d sat down in the chair and pulled her over his knees in one smooth movement. His left arm wrapped around her, holding her in place as his right hand cupped her upturned bottom. “No! No, don’t!” she cried out, and he chuckled again.
“Now you’ll see what happens to naughty girls around here,” he told her, and his hand came down hard across her backside, the sound echoing off the walls of the small landing. She screamed as he spanked her again and again…
Lindsey Pritchard awoke with a start, sweating. It was just a dream. That dream. Again. She blinked and looked at her cell phone. It was time to get up anyway. She crawled from her sleeping bag, slipped on her chemise, and opened the tent flap. A beautiful sunny day! That should mean large audiences. Other performers were dressing, lacing up bodices and pulling on boots in preparation, and Lindsey could smell coffee brewing over the fire circle in the center of the campsite. She grabbed her bath kit with one hand, an apple from her food basket with the other, and headed for the showers while she still had the chance.
Cleaned up and back in her tent, Lindsey finished dressing and quickly braided her hair, though several ringlets escaped its hold. She tucked the sides of her pale blue outer skirt into its waistband, tied on her woven belt, straightened her bodice, and headed barefoot across the Renaissance Fantasy Faire grounds toward the false front of the New Globe Theater, where her troupe was beginning its day. The gates had just opened and patrons were streaming inside. She and her performers put on a variety show of skits, singing, storytelling, dance, and music—nothing bawdy before noon, closed at 4:30. Her guitar was across her back, freshly tuned, and she had a new pick in her pouch, which hung from her belt and bumped rhythmically against her thigh as she walked. She passed the bookbinder, the apothecary, and many familiar shop fronts that looked like they were straight out of old England, somewhere in the 1500s.
As her feet trod the grass and pebbles of the paths, she opened her senses to the Fantasy Faire just beginning for the day. The scents of smoked turkey, patchouli, and worn leather wafted by her in a rich fragrance. The lilt of a pennywhistle sailed past her ears. Laughter and animated conversation surrounded her, along with tinkling bells, a hammer dulcimer tapping out a carefree tune, voices hawking wares.
“Turkey legs! I’ve got turkey legs!” one hawker cried, holding up a roasted hunk of meat on bone.
She smiled at him and said, “Sounds like a personal problem, lad!” in her best faux British accent.
The next one called out, “Get your large, firm dill pickle! M’lady! Have I got a dill pickle for you!”
“I’ve no doubt you do!” she told him. “I like ‘em sweet, meself!”
She passed by Travis, merrily hammering away on his dulcimer. He winked at her as she passed and called out, “Good luck today!”
Then there was the heartbeat of the Faire: an ever-present throb of a drum. Gypsies gyrated and danced to a Doumbek drumbeat as she passed the gypsy wagon stage. After that would be the kettledrum announcing the living chess match, then the military rhythms pounded out in the parade, and the horn and drum corps that accompanied the jousting. One of her favorite things to do was just lie in the grass somewhere and take in the whole sensory experience of the Faire. But that would have to wait until her final show was complete, and on this day, the final show had a particularly exciting element to it—it was both performance and audition for her.
Her mind wandered to the upcoming audition. Her buddy Tim had told Lindsey about an opening for an alto with the madrigal group Courting Hearts, and she very much wanted that spot. Tim sang tenor with them, and Lindsey had hosted Courting Hearts on her stage for the three weeks that they visited this Faire each year. As a group they were polished, professional, and got bookings for gigs all year round. She’d invited Marie, their leader, to hear her comic ballad in the show as her audition for the alto position, but Tim told her that Marie had other people in mind as possibilities, too.
“Marie’s spontaneous,” Tim had told her yesterday. “If you knock her socks off, she’ll get caught up in the moment and forget those other people she’s considering.”
“Will you be there?” Lindsey asked him. Tim was the only member of Courting Hearts who was also a Faire Performing Company member.
“Can’t—I’ll be with the Royal Court then. But I think Marie said Jim would be coming,” Tim told her.
Jim! She hadn’t expected Jim to be watching—that added another dimension to Lindsey’s nerves. There were eight Courting Hearts singers, but she really only knew Tim, Marie, and Jim. There was just something about Jim Durham that really affected Lindsey. Part of it was his tall, muscular frame. He had close-cropped red hair and the most piercing blue-green eyes she’d ever seen. Even though she didn’t know him well, he had an air of command about him, and a way of looking at her as if he could read her thoughts. She found him fascinating, and she was pretty sure he liked her, too.
Jim had bought Lindsey a honey-mead at Chesterfield’s Pub last year after Courting Hearts did their final show. He had said it was a small ‘thank you’ for her hospitality to Courting Hearts while they were performing on her stage. Since hers was only one of four stages they sang on while they were at the Faire, she wondered if Jim bought a drink for any of the other stage manager/directors. It was only a quick drink, but Lindsey remembered the way his cool eyes surveyed her. Her eyes drank him in as well. He’d worn a deep brown leather doublet with a cream-colored shirt beneath. Russet breeches and dark brown boots completed the outfit, and a brown leather belt with a broadsword on his right hip, its leather scabbard badly scarred, added the finishing touches. His look had the warm tones of autumn, but his eyes held both fire and ice.
They’d sipped their drinks and spoken mostly of the Renaissance Faire and of Courting Hearts. She’d asked him about their other gigs, and was impressed to learn of how widespread they were locally. Jim told her about their usual season: in addition to the spring Ren Faire, there were Fourth of July gigs, the Victorian Christmas Festival, the Symphony Center for their Family Christmas Celebration, plus occasional office parties. Lindsey wondered how long it took them to get this kind of work. She shared with Jim that this was the sort of thing she wanted for her theater troupe, Mixed Bag.
All too soon it had been over, but he’d given her a brief hug before he left. She remembered how her heartbeat quickened when his arms wrapped around her. Her body fit perfectly into his, and she’d inhaled the rich leather fragrance of his doublet tinged with his own scent as his arms gave her a squeeze and then, too soon, released her. She wondered if there would be a repeat performance of that hug today when she saw Jim.
Lindsey got to the New Globe Stage back entrance and trailed her fingers over the tips of the rosemary bush she’d planted there upon entering, for good luck. Jen greeted her and wished her luck. Lindsey smiled at her and relaxed some, setting up the prop tables and checking to make sure the whole cast was there. The story times and musical interludes on her stage all went well, as did the morning presentation of their shortened, comedic version of Rumpelstiltskin. As the audition show drew closer, Lindsey could feel the anticipation building inside of her again.
Most of her cast was already assembled and ready. Jordan and Steve, two of her best assistants, were filtering in behind her. She fumbled through her pouch, retrieving her guitar pick and checking her watch. Ten minutes to show time.
“Curtain in ten!” Lindsey called out to the cast members assembled. She had the simple set placed already and backstage prop tables prepped.
She peered through a crack in the wall of their backstage area—little more than a large room with two tables, chairs, pegs for costumes to hang, and a prop chest. There were Marie and Jim in the front row! Her breath caught and she pulled away from the crack.
“Are they out there?” Jen asked. Lindsey nodded, and Jen added, “Let me see!” Lindsey told Jen where they were, Jen took a look, winked at Lindsey, and then relinquished the peephole. Jim and Marie were talking and laughing together, and he looked relaxed and casual. He wasn’t in costume today—just in jeans and a T-shirt. She admired the swell of his shoulders and chest beneath the thin cotton of the shirt. She wondered why Jim had come today for her audition. Were he and Marie an item? No. Marie had kids, and Lindsey saw a wedding ring on her finger, but none on Jim’s. Still, they looked pretty comfortable sitting there together, and Lindsey felt a pang of jealousy.
She could feel her palms growing sweaty as her audition moment came. It was silly, really. She’d done this ballad on this stage every Saturday and Sunday for six weekends. But today there was more at stake. She grabbed her guitar on cue and took the stage. She tried to make it just another number and played it to the whole audience, but when she opened the song, her voice wasn’t as sure as it usually was. By the first chorus, though, she was going full throttle, and at the end of the song, Jim and Marie both applauded loudly.
As the audience dispersed after the show, Marie came onstage. “Congratulations, you’re in! I think you’ll be a nice addition to the group. First rehearsal will be in two weeks for the summer gigs, and we have new music.”
Marie reached into her bag, pulled out some forms, and handed them to Lindsey. “Here is our contact sheet with everybody’s numbers listed, and our current rehearsal schedule.”
Lindsey folded them and tucked them into her pouch.
Jim smiled at her and strolled up onto the stage. “Nice job!”
“Thank you! I’m really looking forward to working with you all,” Lindsey gushed.
He gave her a big hug. “You’ll fit right in. Congratulations.” Though his hug was just a friendly squeeze and not a romantic gesture, Lindsey couldn’t help but enjoy his attention and let it feed her crush. She hugged back, and his embrace lingered just a bit longer than it had last year.
She smiled up at him. “Thanks.” She couldn’t think of anything else to say to him, but she wondered if he could feel her heart pounding. They broke the embrace and she turned to Marie. “You know that I don’t really read music. I hope I won’t slow you down.”
Marie told her, “We use rehearsal thumb drives or discs with the sheet music. Even for those of us who read music well, rehearsal CDs really help. And in time, you’ll catch on, I’m sure. Jim reads music much better now than he did three years ago when he started.”
“It’s true,” Jim said. “Don’t sweat it. You’ll be fine,” he assured her.
Steve came up from backstage. “So, are you in?”
“She’s in!” Marie told him.
Steve pushed Lindsey playfully. “Told you! And you doubted me!”
“Yeah, yeah. Have you cleaned up your props?”
“Yes, madame director,” Steve replied. “We’re just waiting for you so we can do our usual closing ritual.” He winked at her.
“I’ll be there in a minute. You guys go ahead.” Lindsey glanced at Jim and Marie. She couldn’t believe Steve had mentioned their ritual in front of Jim and Marie. She knew she could downplay it, but still!
Jim was looking at her with a glint in his eye. “Closing ritual?” he asked.
Lindsey waved it off. “Oh, you know… a naked circle dance and a couple of living sacrifices to the theater gods. Just a little end of the day group bonding. Listen, thanks again for coming out today. I’ve got to close up shop here and get back to my group. See you at rehearsal!”
“See you then!” Marie responded.
Jim caught her eye and said, “You be good!” and Lindsey could feel herself blush as they walked away. She closed up the stage area, put away the remaining props, and hurried off down the path toward one of the back entrances the performers used. Creeping behind the candle shop, she opened the bamboo gate. Lindsey wound her way down the gravel road and through the network of paths that led to the wooded camping area. She went directly behind Steve’s tent, down a small path to a clearing where Jordan and Steve were already sitting.
“I can’t believe you mentioned our ritual in front of them!” Lindsey snapped.
Steve presented her with a freshly rolled joint and a lighter. “I just like to see you get ruffled.” He grinned at her, his long blond hair spilling over his shoulders.
Lindsey knew they should tend to notes first, but combining notes with relaxation was too tempting. Jordan and Steve both smiled expectantly at her as she rolled the plump joint between her fingers. Somebody stop me, she thought, and just as quickly vetoed the thought. She moved the joint to her full lips, lit it, and drew the sweetly peaty smoke in deeply. Her shoulders visibly relaxed. Smoke coiled from her mouth, echoing the escaped ringlets of her hair.
She passed the joint to Steve, who said, “Jim and Marie don’t know what our ritual is! Unless you lost your cool and told them.” He took a long hit and passed the joint to Jordan.
Lindsey released her hit and then replied, “Of course not. They’re well established, they’re semi-professional, and they make as much money on a one-hour gig as we do in a whole weekend. And I doubt if either of them smoke!” Steve laughed.
“You’re paranoid,” Jordan told her, taking his hit.
“I just don’t want to botch this opportunity,” she said.
“Okay, point taken.” Jordan said. “But hey, didn’t the fable section go well today?”
“It did. Your timing was excellent,” she agreed. They continued to pass the joint and go over their performance day. ‘Things to crow on, things to grow on’ was Lindsey’s theme for this process. When they were done with their break, they headed back onto the Faire grounds to perform in the closing gate ceremony. With Jordan and Steve, she had good actors and a good directorial team, albeit a bit undisciplined in their approach—something Lindsey attributed to their youth. Steve, at twenty-one, was a master of physical comedy, and Jordan, only nineteen, was a detail man—he tended to most of the prop gathering for Lindsey. They also worked incredibly well together onstage, with Jordan’s dark curls, pale skin, and animated performance a perfect complement to Steve’s surfer dude tanned blondness and laid-back delivery. She loved their youthful enthusiasm, but hoped in time they’d tighten up their professionalism.
Lindsey got her wish; for the rest of that final weekend of the Faire, all of her actors were prompt, the shows ran smoothly, and after their final show, Lindsey packed all of her props away and thought about her upcoming first rehearsal with Courting Hearts. She saw Travis coming up the hill toward her stage area, his hammer dulcimer in its tapestry case.
“Hey, girl!” Travis greeted her.
“Are you heading out?” she asked him.
Travis put his dulcimer down on her stage. “I’m just about to. You want to burn one?” He pulled a joint from his pouch.
“Put that away! Let me get the rest of my props loaded up, and then yes, but let’s go someplace a bit more private.”
Travis hissed at her, catlike, but concealed the offending joint until Lindsey was finished packing and they were in the campground clearing that Lindsey’s group called the designated smoking area.
Travis lit the joint and handed it to Lindsey. “When do you start rehearsing with Courting Hearts?”
“Next week,” Lindsey replied, taking her hit. “I hope I can keep up,” she continued, wisps of smoke escaping her lips as she spoke.
“Speaking of next week, I’m having a little after-Faire party at my place. Come on out after your rehearsal. As for your new group, I haven’t been to any of the Courting Hearts shows when they’re here, but I’ve heard one of their CDs, and they’re tight,” he told her. “This is a good opportunity for you. Don’t fuck it up.”
“Gee, thanks,” she said. They finished the joint and watched the late afternoon sun begin to sink into evening. “I guess it’s time to hit the road,” she finally said, breaking the silence. They went back to the New Globe Stage and got the rest of their things. She made one final sweep of her backstage area, and brushed her fingertips across the rosemary bush. “For remembrance,” she said aloud, and then said to the grounds in general, “See you next year.”
Now, her task was to bump things up a notch and become a stunning singer with Courting Hearts!