For the rest of the weekend, I tried not to think about Corey or his crush on Ben. After church on Sunday, I did nothing but homework – hoping that would distract me from uncomfortable thoughts.
School on Monday turned out to be very stressful. Classes were intense, and our 'off book' rehearsal was terrible. Maybe everybody worked on their lines over the weekend, but it certainly didn't show. I was prompting people constantly. Corey, however, did much better that I expected. Most of the actors kept apologizing for their mistakes, and that totally disrupted the flow of the story. Ben was trying to remain calm, but I could tell that below the surface, his temper was barely in check.
Tuesday's rehearsal was a little better, but on Wednesday, any progress we'd made disappeared. Everyone seemed distracted. Lines were forgotten, blocking was awkward, and Corey tripped and almost fell off the stage. And, Ben was in a bad mood – even before the rehearsal started.
Ben didn't like how I was prompting. He snapped at me if I prompted too soon. "Joel!" he shouted. "Don't spoon-feed the cast! Give them a chance to think before you jump in. They're not in Kindergarten!"
Then, if I waited too long, I was criticized, out loud, for not keeping up.
Fortunately, I knew better than to take Ben's criticisms too personally. Rather, I tried to remember that I could learn from Ben's feedback. Sure, I felt a little embarrassed. But, I knew Ben was in a bad mood, and I decided that my job was to support him however I could.
Finally, Ben called for a much-needed break. "Take ten, people," he said.
I cringed when Heather asked, "Which ten people do you mean?"
I've heard that there is no such thing as a stupid question. But, there must be exceptions. Ben had called for breaks every night for almost four weeks, and he had always used the phrase, "Take ten, people." In my opinion, Heather's question was stupid.
"Take ten minutes! Not ten people!" Ben yelled. "It means all of you people should take a ten-minute break!" He lowered his voice. "Let's make it fifteen."
Ben headed for the door into the hallway, and then he stopped. "Joel," he said. "I need to talk with you. Come with me."
At that point, I became nervous. I could feel adrenaline shoot through my system. But, I quickly followed Ben, as ordered.
When we were in the hallway, I risked asking a question. "Where are we going?"
He was several steps ahead me. Without turning around, he said, "I'm going somewhere I can smoke. You are keeping me company."
He proceeded down the hall to the teacher's lounge. He opened the door with a key and held the door for me. I had never been in the teacher's lounge. I spoke without thinking. "Are you sure I'm allowed to go in there?"
"Really, Joel?" Ben said. "You're going to pull out the rule book on me – tonight?"
I had promised to do whatever he needed. And, I should not have questioned him when he was already upset. I went into the lounge and sat down.
Ben came in and sat in a chair, facing me. He lit a cigarette. He seemed more agitated than I had seen before. When he finished his smoke, Ben appeared to be a bit calmer.
"Joel," he said. "I am sorry I snapped at you. I need to learn to control my temper better. You were just doing what I asked, and I took my frustrations with the rehearsal out on you."
A few kind words from Ben seemed to smooth everything over for me. "Ben, it's okay," I said. "I understand. I'm your assistant, and you need to let off steam once in a while."
"Thanks," he said. "Sometimes, I just lose it when people act stupid in MY show!" He was starting to get agitated again. "The Brown family can't remember a line to save their souls! Mr. and Mrs. Miller are talking so softly nobody in the audience is going to be able to hear them. And then, Corey trips over his own clumsy feet and almost falls off the stage and kills himself! All I ask is that people do their fucking jobs! Jesus Christ! Is that too much to ask?!?"
Before I could say anything, Ben got up and went over to a vending machine in the lounge. He looked at his beverage choices for a moment. Suddenly, Ben hit the machine with his fist. "Shit," he yelled. "There's no Mountain Dew in this worthless piece of junk!"
I had no idea how to help. And, Ben's temper scared me. Thankfully, the front panel of the vending machine didn't break.
Ben sat back down. He began smoking another cigarette in silence.
"Joel," he finally said. "Do you have any Tylenol in your locker? My head is pounding, and I need something before I go back to that - disaster."
I decided not to tell him that no drugs – not even over-the-counter medications – were allowed in school. "Sorry," I said. "But, how about I massage your shoulders? That might help."
Ben looked very surprised. "You'd do that for me?" he asked.
"Sure. Why not? It will be my way of helping you – and the cast," I said.
I got up and went behind his chair. I took hold of his shoulders, and I moved my thumbs around his neck muscles with a firm, circular motion. "Just relax, Ben," I said. "You're doing a great job with the play. Everyone in the cast wants to do a good job – for you." I continued massaging, moving to his upper back muscles. Ben leaned forward to allow me easier access.
Ben took a deep breath and sighed. "You have magic fingers, Joel. That feels great!"
"Just enjoy, Ben," I said. "You'll get everyone doing what they're supposed to do. And, your show is going to be awesome!"
As I continued the massage, I could smell his aftershave. Unfortunately, it was mixed with the smell of cigarette smoke.
"Umm," he said. "That feels so good I could kiss you!"
A split second later, Ben stood up and practically jumped away from me. "Joel, I'm sorry!" he said. "I shouldn't have said that. I was talking to you like you were one of my friends. Believe me; I don't want to kiss you."
Immediately, I became very uncomfortable. By the look on Ben's face, he was even more uncomfortable than I was.
"We should probably go back and check on the cast," I said. Ben put out his cigarette, and we returned to the auditorium without speaking.
The rehearsal continued pretty much as it had before the break. But, Ben was quieter. He stopped criticizing as much. Still, everyone was glad when it was time to go home.
That night, as I was trying to go to sleep, I kept thinking about Ben. I didn't like how he had reacted to stress, and he had scared me when he hit the vending machine.
And, his words had upset me, too. I thought that maybe Ben and I were developing something like a friendship. But, he had apologized for talking to me as if I were one of his friends. That made it clear to me that I wasn't his friend.
And, the comment about not wanting to kiss me hurt. It wasn't that I was expecting Ben to kiss me. But since I did have a crush on him, I felt rejected when he had said that.
I was starting to drift off when I decided I had to back away from Ben as much as I could. My last conscious thought that day was, "Corey can have him!"
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