All the World’s a Stage

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Babes

Matthew Goodwin’s pencil hovered over the blank page like the spear of some angry god ready to strike down from the heavens and forever leave its mark on the world of mortal men.

If only, the much more human Matthew hadn’t been experiencing a king-sized case of writer’s block at that moment. He might have been leaving just as indelible a mark on the literary world.

“Brenda…Brenda…What? Shouted? Screamed? Cried? Jesus! The bitch needs to do something. Her freaking boat is sinking!”

Matthew scooped up the offending page and crumpled it into a ball in his fist, hurling it at the wastebasket ten feet away. To his disgust, he missed by a good ten inches.

“Crappy writer and even worse basketball player,” he mumbled, swatting the pencil on his desk away and onto the floor. He decided it was a good thing he did his rough drafts the old-fashioned way, knocking a laptop off on the floor when he got frustrated would have been expensive.

“I take it the play isn’t going so well?” said a voice from the door to his office.

“You could say that. I’m just off to a slow start. The ideas will come…eventually.”

Matthew swiveled around in his chair to lock eyes with his eighteen-year-old son, Ryan.

The younger Goodwin reminded him of himself at that age. They both had the same straight, dark-brown hair that dropped over their ears and formed into bangs across their broad foreheads, though Ryan’s hair fell longer, down to his shoulders while Matthew kept his at a more responsible, adult length, the hair stopping at the nape of his neck. Ryan had his father’s eyes, piercing hazel-green orbs that tended to mirror his moods, seeming to darken when he was unhappy.

“The eyes are the windows to the soul…”

“Huh?”

“Nothing, Ryan. Just waxing poetic.”

Ryan shrugged.

His dad was always doing that, quoting verse, reciting passages of Shakespeare or some other play, spitting out lines from classic Hollywood movies. It was his way of commenting on the world around him.

Matthew stood and stretched, his back cracking loudly. He was roughly the same height as his son, both of them just grazing the six-foot mark, but unlike Ryan’s slender young build, Matthew was broader across the chest and shoulders from working out.

Ryan waited patiently for his father to stifle a yawn.

“Did you need something?”

“You were going to give me a ride to school this morning. I have to take my guitar for theater, remember?”

“Right! Sorry. I got distracted.”

“Clearly,” agreed Ryan, noting the pile of crumpled paper balls in front of the wastebasket.

“Slow, as I said.”

“This is just a community theater playhouse. You don’t have to write the next big Broadway production.”

“I know that, but I still don’t want to embarrass myself. I do have a reputation to uphold,” replied Matthew with a chuckle.

Ryan nodded and smiled. His dad had been an aspiring novelist when he had met Ryan’s mother, Jane, twenty years earlier. He had written a couple of well-received plays, one had even been produced off-Broadway, quite an accomplishment for a twenty-year-old. The elder Goodwin had been working on his first novel while taking university classes when he ran into the raven-haired Jane Wellman at the student union. The two had hit it off from the word go and started dating a short time after. It was all good fun, at first, but after a wild night with too much wine involved, Jane had turned up pregnant. Being far too Catholic even to consider any alternative short of marriage, Jane had pressured Matthew into hasty nuptials that quickly turned out to be a mistake.

Once living together, the pair discovered that outside of a keen interest in literature, they didn’t have nearly as much in common as they first believed.

By the time Ryan came along seven months later, the relationship was already strained and adding a child did nothing to turn down the pressure in their small household.

Matthew was forced to put his novel on hold and get a job while struggling in night school to finish his teaching degree. The two years that followed were difficult for both him and Jane. Eventually, he had graduated, and things slowly improved, at least economically. They were able, with the help of Jane’s parents, to secure a modest starter home in the suburbs of Richmond Heights in their home city of Turlington, Michigan, pop. 67,000.

Unfortunately, the scars of their shaky beginning never fully healed.

Matthew and Jane had fought more than once, arguments that amounted to a channeling of the disappointments they both felt for having their lives disrupted even if the source of those mistakes had been themselves. Looking for someone to blame, it was easier to blame each other than the person in the mirror.

The affair blindsided Matthew, though, in retrospect, he should have seen it coming a mile away. Jane had been dissatisfied with things for a long while, and given how far they had drifted apart by then, her turning to someone new was not all that casino şirketleri surprising.

The divorce had been quite amicable, given the circumstances, and young Ryan, being just four at the time, hardly seemed to notice that his parents were no longer living together. As time had passed, Ryan seemed to gravitate naturally to spending more time with his father. Some might have seen this as a consequence of his mother’s tendency to go off jet-setting with whatever well-off young stud she happened to be enamored of that week, but, in truth, he and Matthew got along better anyway. The pair were two peas in a pod, with similar tastes in music, books, and movies.

When Ryan reached high-school age, his mother had abruptly remarried to a wealthy British aristocrat and moved to London. They still kept in touch by phone and the Internet, with Ryan going to visit when time permitted. Deep down, he felt guilty that he didn’t miss his mother more.

“Just let me fetch my keys…” said Matthew, rifling his desk and patting at his pockets.

Ryan held up a finger, his father’s car keys dangling by the silver ring that kept them together.

“What would I do without you?” quipped his dad as he walked by and grabbed the keys.

“You would be in trouble.”

“I have no doubt. Come on. I can’t have you being late. It would reflect badly on my parenting skills.”

The drive over to the high school was a short one. Matthew didn’t usually have to bother, Ryan preferred to walk most of the time, but lugging his guitar the whole way would have been difficult. He helped his son remove it from the trunk while Ryan slipped his backpack over his shoulders.

“Do you ever use your locker? That thing looks like it’s going to explode,” said Matthew eying the bulging backpack.

“No time. I can never get there and back between classes. I’ll see you later.”

Matthew contented himself patting his son on the shoulder, not wanting to embarrass him by going for a hug.

He was on his way to the driver’s door of his car when a short, bald man in an ill-fitting suit came walking briskly in his direction.

“Excuse me! Mr. Goodwin? I’m sorry to bother you. I’m Principal Mathers. I don’t know if you recall, but we met at the Drama Department fundraiser last year?”

“Of course, Principal Mathers. It’s good to see you again,” lied Matthew.

He had actually found the Principal to be a colossal bore, able to carry on for hours about his love of bird photography.

“If you have a moment? We could use your help.”

“With what exactly?”

“It might be easier to explain in my office.”

Matthew glanced unhappily at his watch. He didn’t have a class to teach at the university until ten, but he still needed to finish writing some notes.

“I’m in kind of a hurry…”

“This won’t take long. I promise.”

Reluctantly, he locked his car and followed Principal Mathers into the school. The corridors were jammed with kids fighting their way through a sea of their fellow students and trying to make it to their first class before the tardy bell rang. He and his shorter companion were salmon swimming upstream against the current getting jostled by book bags and other student paraphernalia the whole way.

“Whew! I’m afraid in the time before the first bell this place is a madhouse,” joked Principal Mathers.

“I can see that. What did you need to talk to me about?”

“Well, Mr. Goodwin. I know you have always been a big supporter of the Drama Department here in the past, and we could use your help now.”

“I gave at the last fundraiser.”

“Oh! This isn’t about money. The thing is our current drama teacher, Mr. Pangle, suffered a heart attack jogging last night.”

“That’s terrible. I’m sorry to hear it,” replied Matthew sympathetically.

“Yes…quite tragic. We have a substitute who can cover his classes, but…”

“But?” echoed Matthew.

“Mr. Pangle was directing our entry in this year’s state U.I.L competition. We’re on a tight deadline, and I’m worried that an inexperienced director stepping in this late in the process would find themselves overwhelmed.”

“How can I help?”

“Well, Mr. Goodwin. You are a university professor with a background in drama,” said Mathers letting his voice trail off.

Matthew raised an eyebrow, “True, but I haven’t directed anything in some time.”

“Yes…but I think you might be uniquely qualified to direct this play.”

Principal Mathers lifted a copy of the script from his desk, handing it to his guest. The top cover was a title page, and Matthew coughed in surprise.

“The kids are doing, ‘The Last Glow of Spring,’?” he said incredulously.

“Yes. I think you can appreciate why you would be a good choice to direct them since you wrote it.”

“Twenty years ago…I don’t know…”

“Please, Mr. Goodwin. This is the most talented group we’ve had at this school in the fifteen years I’ve been principal here. We have a real shot at winning this time, but you could put us over the casino firmaları top. Especially given the absence of poor Mr. Pangle.”

“Look, I get that you’re in a tough spot, but I honestly don’t know if…”

“We could really use your help with this, Matthew. Did you know your son just got cast in it yesterday? Mr. Pangle would have given him the news today if it hadn’t been for the whole heart attack thing.”

Matthew shifted uncomfortably on his feet. He hated to let the kids down, but he worried that Ryan would think it awkward to be directed by his dad.

“Can I think about it tonight and call you in the morning?”

“Certainly! I just want you to give it some thought. I hope, in the end, you will consent to help us.”

Principal Mathers shook his hand, and Matthew tried not to flinch at the feel of the other man’s sweaty palm.

The drive to his job at the university took a while longer than the one to the high school. Throughout, Matthew found himself glancing over at the script for his son’s play sitting on the passenger seat. He thought it was an odd choice for a high school play. The basic plot followed a young woman named Elsa, who, in 1923, answers an advertisement to be a housekeeper for a rich older man named Joshua. He is a widower who lost his family to the 1919 outbreak of Spanish Influenza and is bitter and angry about it, but in need of someone to take care of him. He hires Elsa at the behest of his younger brother Marcus, who hopes that the presence of the vibrant, funny, Elsa will act as a balm to his brother’s aching heart. It was a typical odd couple sort of play where the pair seem ill-matched at the beginning but gradually become fond of one another. There was a hint of melancholy sentiment in it when the younger brother finds himself unexpectedly falling for Elsa, but keeps his distance when he realizes the extent of his older siblings feelings. In the end, Elsa nearly dies herself from a fever that Marcus, a physician, manages to cure. Her near demise frightens Joshua into pushing her away, but ultimately they come back together at the end.

The play was personal history for Matthew. He had been inspired to write it after hearing the story of his great-grandfather, who met his second wife in precisely that way. The romance of it had intrigued his young mind, and out of that bit of family lore had come “The Last Glow of Spring.”

“Still seems pretty stuffy for a bunch of teens,” he said to himself.

The script was full of period issues, playing on the lack of control that women had in their lives at the time and how dependent they were on powerful men to protect them. It’s made clear that Elsa is an extraordinarily strong woman who does not need such codling despite her relative youth. She is more than a match for the curmudgeonly, but underneath, quite gentle Joshua.

“It would take a heck of a girl to portray Elsa properly,” he mused, doubting a teen thespian would have the depth of emotion to handle the part.

His day was a blur of lectures and meetings with tired-looking students, who likely viewed his classes as an easy liberal arts credit on their way to the degree that would make them some real money. It was a hard bit of logic to argue with, and he didn’t try.

When he arrived back home, it was to the smell of freshly cut rosemary. Ryan was busy at work in the kitchen, cooking up dinner.

“I see you found a ride home.”

“Jenny’s dad was nice enough to drop me off.”

Jenny Parker was Ryan’s girlfriend, a tiny, petite girl with a head of red curls and a laugh like a happy two-year-old. She was sweet if not the sharpest pencil in the box, and Ryan adored her.

“Glad he was there. I know you didn’t want to wait for me.”

“Grab a plate. The roast is ready.”

“Ah! The wonder of pressure cookers. I’m glad we invested in one,” said Matthew with a grin.

The two of them sat at the small, round kitchen table and dug into their evening meal.

“We got the saddest news at school today,” Ryan began.

“Mr. Pangle had a heart attack?”

Ryan looked up from his plate with a wrinkled brow.

“How did you know?”

“Your Principal stopped me this morning with the news. He…Uh…had an offer for me.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. He wants me to step in an direct the U.I.L play this year.”

“That makes a lot of sense. We are doing your play, after all.”

“When were you going to tell me that little piece of news?”

“I was waiting to see if I got cast. I thought it would be a nice surprise. Then again, you might not want to have to watch me perform your words on stage.”

“Nonsense! I’d be delighted to see my son giving life to one of my characters. As it happens, you did get cast.”

“Do you know which part I got?”

“Not yet. I haven’t agreed to direct the thing. I told Principal Mathers I would have to think about it.”

“Not sure if you want to deal with a bunch of high school kids?”

“I admit I’m a little intimidated by the prospect, but I was mainly hesitating because I didn’t güvenilir casino know how you would feel about it. I thought it might make you uncomfortable to have me directing the play.”

Ryan laughed, setting down his silverware and pushing back his mostly empty plate.

“Don’t worry about me. I think it would be fun to do it together. I’m curious to see how you would bring your work to life.”

“If you’re sure?”

“It’s fine, Dad. The casting was already a done deal, so they can’t accuse me of nepotism. That is assuming I got a juicy part…”

“I have no idea, but I guess I will find out tomorrow.”

Ryan pushed back from the table, “I have some homework to finish. Remember, whoever cooks doesn’t have to clean, right?”

Matthew stood up and collected their plates, acknowledging their long ago established rules for kitchen duty.

“After you finish your homework?”

“Oh! Then it is on, my friend!”

Matthew and Ryan had been engaged in a cut-throat video game competition since the previous fall. The game was “Super Smash Brothers” and the winner got to get out of one chore of their choice for that week.

“We agreed you couldn’t play ‘Pit’ anymore!” said Matthew as they chose characters on the screen.

“I don’t know why you think it matters. I can trash you with any of the characters.”

“There’s just something about that cheerful little angel that freaks me out.”

The match began, and it was surprisingly even. In the end, Ryan’s edge in experience probably played a part in him just managing to come out ahead.

“That’s a week worth of trash cans I won’t have to smell,” crowed Ryan having decided that avoiding trash duty would be his prize.

“Sure, don’t gloat or anything. It’s not like I taught you to be humble in victory,” teased his dad.

“As I recall, you took a victory lap around the coffee table the last time you won!”

“I remember it differently.”

“I’m sure you do. I’m going to take a shower and hit the bed. See you in the morning, Dad,” said Ryan over his shoulder.

Matthew shook his head and laughed as he went to empty the kitchen garbage.

It had been some time since Matthew had been passed the attendance office at his son’s high school. He knew the campus housed some three-thousand students but didn’t have an appreciation for just how big the place was until he had to find his way around on it. The building was mostly quiet. School long since let out for the day. Matthew was there for his first rehearsal. The drama kids were supposed to be waiting for him in the auditorium, assuming he ever found it.

“Are you lost?” asked a female voice.

He had just stopped to search for his cellphone in his jacket pocket intent on texting Ryan to get some guidance.

“Yeah. I haven’t been here in a while. I was trying to find the auditori…um.”

Matthew stammered on this last word as he locked eyes with one of the prettiest women he had ever seen.

A tall, curvy, blond with thick hair that fell in waves around her round, cherubic face, the woman before him also sported a truly luscious pair of full, pouty lips and eyes such a deep shade of green they looked unreal. By the way she was dressed, fashionable but conservative skirt and blouse, he assumed her to be a fellow teacher.

“Auditorium is this way,” she offered, inclining her head to the right.

His gorgeous new companion fell in beside him as he resumed walking down the empty corridor. Her heels clicked on the tile drawing his attention to her very sexy looking legs. She caught him looking but didn’t seem to mind just smiling up at him with a flirty lifting of her perfect lips.

“Is this your first day? I don’t recall seeing you around here before now.”

“Yeah. I’m filling in for Mr. Pangle as the director of the U.I.L. play. I’m Matthew Goodwin.”

He offered her his hand, and she took it in her warm and incredibly soft palm.

“Tricia Harrington. It’s very nice to meet you.”

“Likewise.”

They resumed walking while Matthew struggled to think of something to say. It had been a long time since he was this tongue-tied around a woman but, then again, he hadn’t encountered a beauty like Tricia Harrington before even on his college campus. The need for a topic of conversation evaporated quickly when they turned the next corner and found themselves right in front of the big double doors that led into the student activity center. Ryan was standing out front with two other boys, a dark-haired young man of medium height and build with the roguishly handsome features of a young George Clooney, and a shorter boy with close-cropped blond hair that looked as if he could have stood to lose a few pounds.

“Dad! We were just starting to wonder if you had changed your mind?”

“I got lost. This campus is ridiculously huge!”

“This is John Corbin and Toby Bell. They’re in the theater class with me.”

Matthew nodded at the young men and turned to his guide.

“Well. Thank you for your assistance. I think I can find my way from here,” he said, laughing nervously at his lame joke.

“I was hoping to see if I landed a part in the play before you cut me loose,” said the blond with a smile so dazzling it darn near blinded him.

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