The Big Break
By Marianne Shoaf

Arabella Pearl’s childhood home was a small but graceful brownstone with a fading red door. It stood, unpretentious and respectable, behind a screen of elms that lined the New York street. Window boxes full of flowers in warm autumn colors hid the paint that was peeling from the window frames. Inside, the furniture was shabby and the carpets were worn, but nineteen-year-old Arabella used more flowers from the tiny backyard garden, and colorful quilts and pictures to keep her home warm and inviting. It was the best she could do in the three years since her father died.

On the day of the opening of The Queen’s Confidante, Arabella arose at dawn, her usual hour. Her head spun from lack of sleep, but she resisted the urge to return to bed and instead donned a worn set of leotards. While brushing her hair in front of the little mirror over the bathroom sink she noticed that her eyes were bloodshot and she thought with amusement that the red in her eyes made them look greener than ever.

She slipped into her kitchen and set about the task of making breakfast without waking her new roommate. It was moments later, though, when Gwen appeared in the doorway.

“I thought you would sleep in today,” Gwen said with a yawn. She tousled her amber curls and leaned against the refrigerator. “You didn’t get in until after midnight. What kept you so late?”

“The director kept us so late,” Arabella said with a touch of annoyance. “The man is a perfectionist, but I shouldn’t complain. He’s really very good. The whole show is very good, too.” She took an enamel coffee pot from the stove and put it under the tap. “I’m sorry if I woke you. Coffee?”

“Hmmm. Yes.” Gwen crossed her arms across her chest and pulled her robe tightly closed. “It’s chilly this morning, and I’m up for the day anyway. Can we turn on the heat?”

“Um, I don’t like to turn it on before October, unless we have an early snow.” Arabella looked down on the can of coffee so that Gwen would not see her blush.

There was an awkward silence before Gwen said, “You’re very thrifty.”

Arabella turned and smiled. “Not today. I’ve decided I do need a new gown for Gene’s reception.”

“Oh, thank God. I didn’t want to say anything, but that little girl dress you were going to wear -- I was embarrassed for you.”

“I know. All my good dresses were purchased before my father died. If I’m going to be a professional actress, I need to show up at these things looking like an adult. ” Arabella opened the refrigerator and peered inside. “Want some eggs?” she asked.

“Sounds good. Do we have any bacon?”

“No, but I can get some today while I’m out. We need a few things.”

While Arabella lit the stove and set about cooking breakfast, Gwen settled into a chair at the big oak kitchen table, saying, “So, is that why you are up so early? To go shopping?”

“Oh no. I’ve been debating this for days. I’ve already picked out a dress. I just need to go purchase it. I have to practice this morning.”

“Today? Why don’t you take a day off? You were out half the night, you have shopping to do, and your opening is tonight. How are you going to do all that?”

“I need to stay on my toes, and keep in condition. Besides, there is an open audition for The Nutcracker on Tuesday.”

“How can you do both the ballet and your play?”

“Well, the rehearsal will be during the day, and the play performances are at night. Queen’s Confidante ends the weekend before Thanksgiving, and Nutcracker starts the weekend after. It works out perfectly, really.”

Without being asked, Gwen got up and adjusted the flame under the coffee pot. She then took a bread toaster from a shelf above the stove and lit another burner for it. Although she had only been in Arabella’s home for a few weeks, they worked together with a smooth rhythm. The two young women were becoming fast friends.

“I know I haven’t been here long, so maybe I should mind my own business, but I have to say, you’re killing yourself. Can’t you slow down a little?”

Arabella dropped the fork she had been using to scramble eggs. “The money my dad left me is running out. I’m working, but I’m only an understudy. What I made at the ballet company, and this play would keep me afloat if I didn’t have this house to live in. There are heating bills and taxes and repairs. Plus I have voice lessons and a dance coach and acting classes. I need to keep working.” She pressed her fingertips to her eyes to disguise her tears. “As it is, I’ll probably rent out another room if I don’t get into the ballet. Beyond that, I don’t know. I may have to sell the house.”

Gwen held her arms out and gave her a hug. “We won’t let that happen. I promise. I’ll have a job soon, and I’ll pay you even more than what my Cousin Ronnie is giving you to let me stay here. Besides, you are so talented I know you are going to get a big role soon and be really rich and famous.”

Arabella laughed a little and Gwen let her go. “I hope so.”

“For now, I can help you by picking up your dress and the groceries. You come home after your practice and take a nap. Okay?”

Arabella gave her another hug. “That would be wonderful. Thank you.” She turned back to the eggs and poured them into a frying pan.

“What are you doing?” Gwen asked when she put two eggs in a pot of water.

“Making hard-boiled eggs,” Arabella said.

“You’re going to feed that evil cat again,” Gwen accused.

“Sherman is not evil. The custodian says he is a very good mouser. He just didn’t like your perfume or something.” When Arabella had given Gwen a tour of the theater, the cat had slunk behind a rack of costumes and hissed and spitted until Gwen walked away.

“If he is such a good mouser, he doesn’t need you to feed him.”

“He’s been getting thinner lately. I’m worried he might be sick. Besides, someone needs to be kind to him.” Arabella flashed her a smile. “And he likes me and my hard-boiled eggs.”

“Just don’t forget, no good deed goes unpunished,” Gwen warned.

**********
BR>
Gene Marshall woke up in a luxury hotel suite that was worlds away from Arabella’s modest home, although in the same city. While pulling on a filmy rob, she looked out on central park. She opened the window and breathed in the crisp autumn air. In the afternoon, she knew, it would be warmer. It was a fine day, she thought. Perfect, even. Tonight ladies and gentlemen would flock to the theater dressed in elegant gowns and tuxedos. There was no rain or wind or cold to keep them away. And they would come to see her, Gene Marshall, Hollywood star.

Gene was proud of her success, and rightly so. Her fame, luxury hotel suites, and starring roles had been paid for with long hours and dozens of small roles that no one would remember but her. There was only one thing missing. In her mind she thought of it as THE ROLE. A serious role that required a performance of such depth and significance that, if she succeeded, she would forever be thought of as not just an actress but also a great talent.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door. She admitted a waiter from room service who brought her standing order – poached eggs, toast, orange juice and coffee. It was all served in Wedgwood china and Waterford crystal. After her meal she took a long bath.

When her morning ritual was over she settled at a desk and called the hotel operator.

“Good morning, Miss Marshall. I have messages for you” said the operator that Gene thought of as Perky. Her voice was crisp and cheerful at any hour.

The messages were mostly from members of the press that wanted last-minute invitations to the reception she was hosting after the opening. She dutifully wrote down the names and numbers on a piece of the hotel’s elegant stationery. She would respond to those herself, but not right away. I need a secretary, she thought. One message, though, was from her agent. She asked the operator to place a return call.

“Carter.” she exclaimed when he was finally on the line. “What is so important that a cheapskate like you would call me all the way from California?”

“Good Morning, Gene. Do you know what time it is here?” His voice was thick with sleep.

“Seven? No, six. Sorry, Carter. I just got the message, and I thought you were already up. Good Morning, Carter,” she said with a laugh.

“I called last night, but no matter. How is your little play going?”

“My ‘little play’ is opening on Broadway in eleven hours and it’s just swell. So, why did you call me?”

Even through the transcontinental static she could hear his mattress squeak as he sat up in bed. He emitted a soft grunt before saying, “Do you remember that picture you screen-tested for back in June? Concertina?”

“Yes.” Something in her chest did a small flip. She was glad that with Carter, of all people, she did not need to keep the excitement from her voice.

“The director’s changed his mind about Sue Abelman. She’s out. He wants you.”

Gene’s stifle scream came out as a squeal. “Carter, that’s magnificent. No, it’s better than that. What’s better than magnificent?” This role was the one. She had been so excited about the screen test, and then heartbroken when she was not chosen for the picture. She jumped up from the chair and spun around, her feet doing a little dance.

“Now just settle down. There’s a teensy weensy problem.”

“What? Whatever it is, I’ll fix it.”

“Well, they must start filming on November first. Doesn’t that play end around Thanksgiving?”

“Oh, no. Carter, can’t they move it back just a few weeks?” She sank back into the chair, her spirits sinking as well.

“No. I already asked. They have someone else lined up. Can you get out of your contract?”

“Carter, I ….” For any other role, she would have said no. She would not have even hesitated. For this role, though, the temptation was very strong. She stared out the window, clutching the phone as if it were the role she was trying to keep within her grasp. “I’ll try,” she found herself saying. “Don’t tell them anything yet.”

“They’re chomping at the bit, Gene. They won’t wait too much longer.”

“I’ll call you tomorrow, either way.”

“Okay. Good luck.”

She hung up the phone but remained at the desk. For several minutes she sat and wondered if she really had the nerve to do what she needed to do to keep THE ROLE.

**********


Gene had decided to talk to the director, Charles Werther, without delay. She walked to the theater and entered at the stage door. Her feet dragged as she climbed the steps to stage level, until a gray paw swiped at her ankle.

“Sherman, I’m not in the mood to play,” she scolded and she made a quick side-step to save her stockings. “Bad kitty.”

The Chief Custodian had a workroom near the door, and she could here the rasping sounds coming from inside. He was at his tool-cluttered workbench, sharpening a saw with a file.

“Good morning, Bernie.”

“Well, good morning, Miz Marshall. What you doin’ here so early?”

“I came to see Charlie. His housekeeper told me I could find him here.”

“Yes. Mr. Werther be in his office.”

From the stage Gene heard the sound of music. “What’s that music, Bernie?”

“That’s Miz Pearl,” he said, pointing in the direction of the stage with his file. “I lets her practice on the stage most days. When it’s not being used.”

“That’s nice of you,” she said. Bernie just smiled and turned back to his file.

Gene made a detour to the stage. She was delaying, she knew, but she was also curious. The music sounded like The Nutcracker Suite, and she stepped into the wings just in time to see Arabella perform a fabulous leap. The girl sailed through the air and touched down as lightly as a bird. Gene watched from the shadows until Arabella noticed her and stopped her practice.

“Hello, Gene,” she said. “You’re here early. Would you please turn off that record for me?” she asked as she reached for a canvas bag that was lying at the edge of the stage.

“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to interrupt your practice.”

Arabella pulled a towel from her bag and wiped her face. “Oh, don’t be. I needed to quit, anyway. Sometimes I forget about time and practice too long. Then I pay for it later.”

Gene nodded in understanding and said, “I’d heard you could dance. And sing, too.”

“Yes. Excuse me,” she said as she sat on the stage and unlaced her shoes.

“So, is your goal Broadway, or Hollywood?” Gene asked.

“Oh, Broadway. I want to be a triple threat actress, some day. I suppose that is a pretty ambitious goal.”

Gene watched her unlace her ballet shoes while thinking about the masterful way Arabella had handled the lead role during the understudy rehearsals. If Gene backed out of the play, she knew her part would be in good hands. She wondered how the girl would feel about having the starring role handed to her that way. Suddenly, her decision about Concertina became crystal clear.

**********


At 7:30 p.m. Arabella was touching up her make-up in the small dressing room she shared with three other women.

“Arabella, why are you fussing over your face?” asked Sandy, the woman who usually shared her dressing table. “You don’t even go on until Scene II.”

“That reminds me,” Arabella said with a small laugh. She pulled a deck of cards from the bottom drawer and slammed them down on the table. “I’m going to beat you tonight.”

“No, you’re not. I am the Pinochle master in this theater.”

They both laughed, but from the table behind them, Rhonda said, “How can you talk about cards at a time like this? We go on in a half hour.” Rhonda was a talented young actress whose career was hampered by a serious case of nerves.

“How’s your tummy?” Sandy asked.

“Not so good, but I’ll be fine once I’m on stage.” Rhonda turned back to her eyebrow pencil and raised it to her face with a shaking hand.

Arabella looked at Sandy and raised her eyebrows, trying not to smile. She was about to ask Rhonda if she needed help when there was a quick knock at the door and the room’s fourth occupant, Amy, swept in.

“It’s bedlam out there.” Amy said. “One of the guys dropped his tie and they are hunting around for it in the dark. People are running around like chickens with their heads cut off.”

“Did you get a peek at the audience?” Arabella asked.

“Yep. The guy from The Times is here, and I think I recognized someone from The Blaze. I heard that even the Mayor will be here – ”

“What’s that?” Sandy interrupted.

From the hallway they could hear shouts and the thud of running feet. Then they heard Bernie say, “Get Mr. Werther.”

“I wonder what’s going on.” Amy said.

“I thought I heard a scream,” said Sandy.

They all went to the door at once and peeked outside. The rest of the cast seemed to be doing the same, for heads peeked out of doorways up and down the hallway. Some were half dressed, and others had been interrupted while putting on their makeup. They all had their mouths open in shock. Arabella would have found it comical if she wasn’t so concerned.

“What’s going on?” whispered a woman with her hair covered in a stocking and only one eyebrow.

Arabella shrugged and was about to ask someone else the same thing when the director appeared at the end of the hall. Charles Werther was short and fat, but moved very fast. He stopped in front of Gene’s dressing room, but turned to the cast before going in. “Back to work, everyone. We have a show to put on.”

They shut the door, but did not return to their dressing tables. They were too excited to sit. “What do you think that’s about?” Arabella asked.

“Well, he went into Gene’s dressing room,” Rhonda said.

“I know I heard a scream,” Sandy insisted.

“Maybe she saw a rat and got the vapors,” Amy said.

“Maybe she was murdered.” Rhonda said.

“Oh, please.” said Amy. They all rolled their eyes, but giggled.

“That’s right,” said Sandy. “The understudy killed the star to get her chance at the spotlight.”

“Don’t even say that.” Arabella said. “That’s horrible.”

“Well, we are all dressed and ready, so I’m going to look again,” Amy said.

They all peeked out in time to see a stagehand carry Gene Marshall out of her dressing room and down the hall to the stage door.

“What’s going on?” Sandy whispered to the actor who had the room across from Gene’s.

“Gene fell,” he replied. “They’re taking her to the hospital.”

The women gasped, but then turned to stare at Arabella. While her mind was still processing what this meant, Charlie Werther stepped out of Gene’s dressing room and said, “Arabella. Get in here, quick. You’re going on.”

**********


The examining room was white, antiseptic and chilly. Gene lay on the examining table and shivered. The room would have been tolerable if she didn’t have a bag of ice draped over her left leg. She had been through the x-rays, and was now waiting for the verdict. Broken or not broken? She didn’t really care. Even when she lay very still, it hurt like hell.

Despite the cold, she opened her dressing gown and surveyed the damage. She winced at a sharp pain behind her right shoulder. From the front, she didn’t look so bad. Only her left leg was bruised and swollen. She had fallen backward down the stairs, and suspected there were more bruises and injuries on her back and hips. Her arms had protected her head when she fell, and they were both bruised. I’m lucky I didn’t crack my head open, she thought.

She closed the dressing gown. The director had the foresight to make her remove her costume before leaving the theater. Arabella would be wearing it by now, getting her moment in the spotlight. With all the theater critics and VIP’s in the audience, it would be a very big break for Arabella. Gene genuinely wished her luck, and let out a small chuckle at the irony of it all. She wanted to get out of the play, but now she couldn’t work at all.

The real irony, though, was that Gene had done the right thing. When she asked herself if Arabella would want her break to come from Gene reneging on a contract, her answer was no. Arabella would want it to come from hard work and earning the notice of the right people. Gene realized that was what she wanted for herself as well. In the end, she left the theater without speaking to the director.

A young doctor entered, holding a large x-ray envelope in his hands.

“Hello, Miss Marshall. I’m Dr. Head.”

“Dr….Head?” She could not help smiling. “Are you a psychiatrist?”

He grimaced and rolled his eyes. “No, but I should be.”

She started to laugh, but ended up wincing in pain. “Sorry, I guess you hear that a lot. So, what’s the verdict?”

“You’ve broken your left tibia. That’s the larger bone in your lower leg,” he added when she frowned in confusion.” He lifted the ice bag, laying it on a nearby table. With a forefinger he poked at the swollen tissue. This left a small depression that gradually disappeared.

“How bad is it?”

He looked up and smiled. “You’re lucky. It’s a small break and the bones won’t need to be set. I’d say you’ll be out of your cast in about six weeks.”

“Cast? For six weeks? Wonderful.” Then she started to laugh, and kept laughing in spite of the pain it caused. She could be back to work just in time for the part of the show she wanted to miss. This must be God’s punishment for being tempted in the first place, she thought. “So, I’ll be back to work in six weeks?”

“That depends on how hard you work.” He turned toward the door. “Excuse me. I’m going to get a nurse and a cast kit. Your leg is ready to be wrapped.”

“What do you mean that depends upon how hard I work?” she demanded the moment he returned. A nurse came in behind him, pushing a cart loaded with bandages, tools and boxes of plaster.

“Well, you’ll be able to get around, but you can’t spend long hours on your feet or do a lot of walking at first.”

The nurse took a basin to the sink and turned the tap on full. “It takes a few minutes to get warm water in here,” she explained.

Over the sound of the water, Gene said, “My play is two and a half hours, and I’m in almost every scene. And I’m on my feet during most of them.”

“I don’t know about that. The fracture will be healed, but weak. It would be risky.” He pulled on a large pair of rubber gloves. “This gets messy,” he said with a grin.

A thought sprang into her head. “What if I was in a film that had more time sitting? And I could demand a break if I needed it?”

“Well….I suppose that would be all right. If you were careful.”

Gene beamed. The pain in her shoulder fell away and she tried to sit up. “I need a telephone. Quick. Can I call the theater?”

“Now just lay back down,” the nurse admonished. “We need you to be still while we do this.”

“But, I’ve got to talk to the director. It’s important.” Gene couldn’t wait a moment longer.

“Is his name Charles Werther?” the nurse asked. “Because a man by that name asked for you in the lobby, just before I came in here. If you don’t mind him watching, I could go get him.”

“Oh, yes. Please do.”

Gene turned to Dr. Head. “How long is this going to take?”

“About an hour, give or take.”

Gene lay back and smiled at the ceiling. “Good. I need to get out of here. I’m throwing a party tonight.”

**********


Arabella took a clean make-up towel and wiped her face. Her handkerchief was in her old dressing room, and she didn’t want to face the crowds in the hallway, so she used the towel to blow her nose, too.

There was a rap on the door, and she said, “Come in,” with a thick voice.

Sandy came in holding Arabella’s new gown, her bag, and the clothes she had worn to the theater. “I thought you might want these things.”

“Oh, Sandy. Thank you. You’re so sweet. You’ve all been so sweet to me.” She jumped up from the dressing table and hugged her, breaking into fresh tears.

“Hey, hey, hey. What’s this? Why are you crying? It’s your night. You should be drinking champagne with everybody,” she said, patting Arabella on the back.

Arabella sniffed and wiped her nose with the towel again. “I don’t know. It’s just been too much all at once. And I didn’t know I had so many friends in the cast and crew.”

Sandy was correct -- it was Arabella’s night. It had begun with a mad scene in Gene’s dressing room. Her hair had to be completely restyled. While the hair stylist stood behind her and hummed snatches of popular tunes, the make-up artist sat in front of her making tsk-tsk sounds. Her makeup needed little changing, but the makeup artist insisted upon putting her mark on Arabella’s face. On the other side of the room, two seamstresses fussed over the costume. Lace was torn from the hem of the gown, and the feathered hat was in pieces.

“And we thought you two being exactly the same size, and making only one set of costumes was such a good deal,” one of them had muttered.

As an extra, she did her own hair and makeup, and Arabella was not used to the attention. She submitted to their efforts, trying not to wince when the hairstylist pulled her hair. Throughout all of this, Charles Werther stood in a corner, glancing at his watch nearly every minute. In the end, they made it. Arabella even had two minutes in the wings, in which to compose herself. Her experience with the ballet served her well, and that was enough.

Before she knew it, she was standing with her co-star, Lawrence Spears, a bouquet of roses in her hand. The audience was on their feet. The applause and cheers went through four curtain calls before the director ordered the curtains shut once and for all. When Arabella drifted backstage, cast and crewmembers approached her from all sides. She was hugged and congratulated until the faces blurred before her. Lawrence must have sensed that she was overwhelmed, because he stayed beside her, and she found herself leaning on his arm. They fought their way to her dressing room. At last she asked everyone to leave, saying she needed to dress for the reception. The moment the door shut behind the last well-wisher, she broke into tears.

“Of course you have friends,” Sandy told her. “We’re all so happy for you.” She stood back and looked her over. “You need work,” she said. “What a slobbery mess you are.”

“I know, and the reception is still on. I’d better get cleaned up. Are you going?”

“Just for a little while. I’m not one to miss free champagne. That reminds me. When you’re done hobnobbing with the society folks, are you going to join us at The Bomb Shelter?” The Bomb Shelter was a club that catered to the less-prominent actors, actresses and crew that worked on Broadway. They joked that it was a place of refuge when a show bombed.

“Of course,” Arabella said, and smiled.

Sandy turned toward the door. “Are you going to be all right?” she asked with her hand on the knob. “Do you need help?”

“No. I’m fine,” she said at first. “Oh, wait.” She turned her back towards Sandy. “Please undo these buttons. This dress is impossible to undo without help.”

When Sandy was gone, Arabella sat back down. She took a deep, shuddering breath. She was fine, she thought. In fact, she was wonderful. She let down her hair and shook it out. Then she rubbed the sore spots on her scalp. If she kept the starring role for long she would need to have a talk with the hair stylist. She rushed through her make-up removal, but took extra care in applying her street make-up, and restyling her hair. I need to look, act and think like a star, she thought. No one will believe in me, if I don’t believe in myself. She donned her purple silk gown and viewed herself in a full-length mirror that stood along one wall. I think I might actually look the part, she thought.

**********


Arabella tried to make the short trip to Gene’s hotel a slow one. She needed to calm herself, and think about the events of the evening. But her feet wanted to fly. Broadway’s glittering marquees seemed brighter than ever before. The crowds leaving the theaters were gayer, and their laughter buoyed her already high spirits. She sailed into the hotel’s ballroom like a diva walking onstage for her second encore.

She came to an abrupt stop at a shout of “Here she is!” Seconds later a camera flash blinded her. People approached her from all sides, but when she tried to see their faces all she saw was spots. She murmured ‘thank you’ in the direction of the voices congratulating her. Just as her vision cleared, she felt a hand on her elbow and a familiar voice in her ear.

“Let me get you a drink, my dear,” Charles Werther said.

“Oh, Mr. Werther, that would be wonderful,” she said with relief.

“It’s Charlie from now on,” he said grandly and led her toward a waiter bearing a champagne-laden tray.

He handed her a glass. “You are twenty-one, right?” he whispered with a wink.

Arabella just smiled and took a sip.

“Gene is over there. She wants to talk to you.” He guided her to the far corner of the room, where Gene was sitting in a large chair with one foot on an ottoman. She was pale, but her eyes were bright and she leaned back into a pile of cushions like some exotic eastern princess.

“Gene,” Arabella gasped when she saw the cast on her leg. “They didn’t tell me you broke your leg.”

“Thank you, Charlie,” Gene said. He backed away and disappeared into the crowd.

“Have a seat, Arabella.” She pointed to the corner of the ottoman.

Arabella sat down, taking care not to disturb Gene’s injured leg. She could see the outline of the cast under the skirt of Gene’s dress. “It goes almost to your knee,” she said.

“Oh, don’t frown like that,” Gene said. “It’s good news for you. I won’t be able to return during the show’s current run.”

Arabella was quick to realize what Gene’s injury meant to her career. Even if they sought a star to replace Gene, it could take weeks. The show had a short run to begin with – a little over two months. She doubted Charlie would be able to find a replacement for Gene at all. Arabella would have a starring role on Broadway, probably for the entire run. She should be elated, but instead her stomach was twisting into knots.

“Now, listen,” Gene said. “From what I hear, you were fabulous tonight.”

“I’m sure it wasn’t half as good as you would have been.”

“Of course,” Gene said with an impish grin. “Seriously, Arabella, you have something. It’s a warmth and sincerity that makes the audience like you, and relate to you and your character. Charlie could see it all along. That’s why he made you my understudy even though you have little acting experience and are just a little kid.”

“I’m the same age you were when you got discovered.”

“That’s right.” She shifted in the chair. Arabella thought she saw a tiny grimace on her face, but it disappeared in a flash.

“Arabella, Charlie and I had a little talk. The cast comes off around the beginning of November, but I won’t be able to take the stress of stage work for some time. However, if the reviews tomorrow are as good as he thinks they will be, he’s not even going to look for a replacement for me. The role is yours. What’s more, the run was limited by my schedule. If all goes well, it could even be extended.”

Arabella tried to smile, but something still felt wrong. She was getting what she had always dreamed of. Why was she so unhappy?

“You’re frowning again and I think I know what the problem is. You didn’t want it to be like this, did you?”

“You’re right.” This was what was making her so unhappy. “This success should be yours. It doesn’t feel right.”

“You wanted it to be from your hard work, and being discovered and offered the role from the beginning.” Gene leaned forward and whispered, “Let me tell you a little secret.” She looked around to make sure that no one was standing nearby. “No one but Charlie knows this, but today I was offered my dream role. I mean the role that would make me not just a star, but a legend. I was going to turn it down, because the schedule conflicted with our play. Now I can accept it.” She explained to Arabella about Concertina and the doctor’s assurances that she could handle the movie role. “So you see, my broken leg was a big break for both of us.”

Arabella laughed. “That makes me feel better about the whole thing. I hope that works out for you.”

“I’m sure it will. And I’m sure The Queen’s Confidante will lead to even better things for you, too. Just be sure to march into Charlie’s office first thing tomorrow and ask for a big raise.”

They were still giggling at that when a striking woman with flaming red hair approached them. “Miss Marshall,” she said. “I’m Brenda Starr, from The Flash.” She thrust out a hand, and Gene was obliged to shake it. “How do you do? Could I get a few quotes from you?” she asked.

“Of course, Miss Starr.” Gene waved a hand toward Arabella, who was trying to rise from the low ottoman while remaining poised and graceful. “Have you met Arabella Pearl?”

“Pleased to meet you, Miss Pearl. I saw the show tonight. You were incredible.”

Arabella shook the offered hand. “Thank you. I’ve always admired your work, Miss Starr. Isn’t this a little off your usual beat, though?”

“Yes, it is. I’m helping out a friend tonight. And I get to rub shoulders with the society set.” Brenda Starr seemed to have a no-nonsense, gutsy style and Arabella found herself liking it.

Arabella felt a tap on her shoulder and turned to see that Charles Werther had returned.

“Arabella, the theater critic from The Times would like to meet you.”

She took her leave of the two women, promising Gene that they would keep in touch. As she was walking away she heard Brenda Starr ask, “So, Miss Marshall, how did you manage to fall and break your leg?”

“Well, I was walking up a flight of steps when this horrible cat jumped on my head and attacked the feathers in my hat.”

THE END





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