“Lights! Camera! Action!” Jeffery Byron thought. “Or whatever they say in theater.”
It was the first full rehearsal of his church’s Christmas play and he waited with baited breath, hoping that it would go well. The actors seemed to be getting their lines in previous practices and the crew had just finished with the props for the sets. The sound and light guys were the only variables in this equation that might ruin things. Or so he thought.
The first minute and a half went well. The first two actors stepped out onto the stage and acted like they were window shopping and they moved towards each other. In the middle of the stage they bumped into each other, acting startled as if they had seen the other person. Everything was going exactly according to the script. A third character stepped out of a store and entered the play’s action. The actors were living up to Jeffrey acknowledged with a smile. Even the light and sound guys were doing well for the first rehearsal. He leaned back in the pew and crossed his arms in satisfaction. This was going to be easier than he had thought it would be.
Suddenly, as often happens in life when things are going according to plan, the bottom fell out of everything. It started out innocently enough with one of the actors missing a cue. Jeffery leaned forward in concern. The crew member gave the cue again and this time the kid got it and stepped onto the stage; crisis averted. Thirty seconds later, one of the actors skipped a line, then a whole block of them. The rest of the actors were flustered now and didn’t know what to do. The sound and light guys were all over the place now, trying to keep up with the act with a quickly changing dynamic.
The adding mistakes in the play confused and flustered the play’s lead, making him take a wrong step and trip over a cord that should have been taped down. He stumbled into a girl who fell over and crashed into one of the store fronts. Jeffrey couldn’t do anything but watch in horror as his well ordered play descended into chaos.
“Halt, stop, cut!” he called when he finally found his voice. The command was useless; the cast had already stopped. The crew was now out on the stage, fixing props and pulling the actors up from where they had fallen. One of them was taping down the offending cord so that the accident wouldn’t happen again. The actors shook themselves off and gathered in a corner, trying to figure out what had gone wrong.
In the pews, Jeffery found himself standing, not sure when he had risen to his feet. Surveying the mess, he slowly sat back down. It was just a freak accident, he told himself. It was nothing to worry about. This next try would be better.
A few minutes later the stage was ready and the play started again. It wasn’t better than the first time; if anything, it was worse.
Jeffery Byron, Jeff to his friends, was 20 years old. He was currently attending a college several hours away from home, but was back in town for the Christmas holiday. He had no academic affiliation with theater, but it had always been a hobby of his. The church had been looking for someone to head up the play, and he had been more than happy to take on the project. It had promised to be a relatively easy task as it wasn’t an incredibly serious production, but Jeff always took things to the next level. Under his leadership, what was originally going to be a standard church production turned into something much larger.
Jeff locked the church door and started the short walk home. Immediately, he began to think about what had to be done about the play and the six days that he had to do it in. He was beginning to regret taking on this play, but more than that he regretted making it as large of a production as he had. Now he had to do a spectacular job with it or it would reflect poorly on him. Of course, a good play was not something that he had full control over. He could only do so much; after that, it was up to his cast and crew. He would schedule more rehearsals to try to get them ready for the actual thing. There wasn’t much he could do other than that.
He rounded a corner and the house came into view. The large house was built in the middle of an even larger yard surrounded by a white picket fence. As he approached the gate, the dog bounded out to meet him, barking a greeting. Jeff carefully opened the gate just enough to squeeze through and enter the yard.
“Hey boy,” he said to the black mutt that now ran circles around him. The dog was less than a year old which accounted for its bottomless supply of energy. It stopped in front of Jeff and dropped a soggy tennis ball at his feet.
“That’s really gross, Bob,” Jeff said as he gingerly picked up the slobbery mess and gave it a throw. The dog was off like a shot after the projectile. Jeff jogged to the front door and stepped inside. The warmth hit him suddenly and he suddenly realized how cold it was outside and that he had forgotten his coat at the church. Not that it mattered; if they cast of his play didn’t shape up soon, he would be there a lot over the next several days.
“I’m home,” he called as he wiped his shoes on a rug.
“And I should care why?” his brother, Seth, asked as he entered the foyer. He gave his older brother a hard time as much as possible.
“I was only talking to important people,” Jeff answered with a grin. “I figured one of them might care.”
“So now I’m not important?” Seth asked, smiling as well.
“Now implies that you ever were,” Jeff shot back. “We wouldn’t want to give people the wrong impression, would we?”
He followed his nose down the hall and into the kitchen where he found his mother. He hugged her before starting to snoop around the room.
“What’s for dinner?” he asked.
“It’s a surprise,” she answered evasively.
“That means that she doesn’t know,” Seth explained. “Dad was the one that made the meal; she’s here doing something else.”
“Dinner smells good, dad,” Jeff called.
“Well thank you,” he father said as he stepped into the kitchen. He was adorned with a red and pink apron and a pair of oven mitts. “How did play practice go?”
“Not well,” Jeff answered as his father pulled the food out of the oven. “Everything that could have possible gone wrong did.”
“Murphy’s law,” Seth said.
“Basically, yes,” Jeff agreed. “We’ll be having lots of practices over the next couple days, so I won’t be home very much.”
“Good, more room for me,” Seth said.
“That’s true; all that I am is a waste of space,” Jeff agreed with a laugh. “You’re welcome to come tomorrow if you want.”
“Come to play practice?” Seth asked. “That sounds about as much fun as a hole in the head.”
“There were people falling all over the stage today,” Jeff said. “It’s been eventful. Oh, and Emma Lawrence is one of the actresses.”
“Well, if there’s people falling down, I might be able to make it,” Seth said. “I’ll check my schedule.”
“Sure, that’s why you’re coming,” Jeff agreed sarcastically. “We all really believe that.”
“Speaking of girls, how is Melisa?” Jeff’s father asked. “We haven’t seen her in a while.”
“I’d rather not talk about that,” Jeff said and quickly left the room.
Melisa Hornbuckle and Jeffery Byron had been dating ever since 9th grade. Four years in high school and two in college and the couple had managed to make it work. Everyone that knew them thought that they were perfect together and that they would eventually get married. So when Jeff said that he didn’t want to talk about Melisa and left the house, the Byron family didn’t move for a long moment. The back door opened and Seth and Jeff’s sister Natalie stepped into the kitchen.
“Hey Nat, have you talked to Jeff recently?” Seth asked slowly.
“No, why?” Natalie asked. For the first time since entering the house she looked at her family and a worried look crossed her face. “What’s wrong?”
“We don’t really know,” Mr. Byron said. “He was just here. He seemed fine until I asked him about Melisa. Then he said he didn’t want to talk about it and left.”
“Is that all?” Melisa said and took off her scarf. “They probably just had a spat or something. It’s probably nothing to worry about.”
“I don’t know about that,” Mrs. Byron said. “I think we would have heard about it if they were having a fight.”
“Hear about it from whom?” Seth asked. “It’s not like Melisa is going to tell us and what we saw was Jeff’s way of telling us.”
“Hopefully you’re right,” Mrs. Byron said. “I would hate to see something happen to them.”
“The kids are right,” Mr. Byron agreed. “Mel and Jeff just had a fight and they’re still working it out. The best thing that we can do is give them some space. Well, dinner’s ready and there’s no sense in going hungry. Let’s eat.”
Seth wanted to share the confidence of his father that nothing was seriously wrong, but as he thought about it over dinner, the more he couldn’t convince himself. He and Jeff might be several year apart in age, but they didn’t hide things from each other. Jeff and Melisa had had fights in the past, and Jeff had always told Seth about them. This time something was different and it made him uneasy. He glanced at his sister across the dining room table and saw worry on her face. Either she had something on her mind that he didn’t know about or she wasn’t nearly as confident about Jeff and Mel as she had sounded earlier. Did she know something that she wasn’t saying? He’d ask her later when mom and dad weren’t around.
Jeff shut the door behind him as he left the house and stepped out into the cold. The temperature had dropped, and the wind had picked up. It looked like it might snow; that would be just his luck. He wished that he hadn’t left his coat at the church and folded his arms tight against his chest to conserve heat. He started walking towards the large tree in the back corner of the yard, the tree that still had his old tree house in it. Bob bounded up to him again with his ball, but almost immediately sensed his master’s mood. The dog stopped running and followed at Jeff’s heels.
When he reached the tree, Jeff climbed the short ladder and stuck his head up into the small room above it, a room that had clearly shrunk with time. He used to be able to fit in the house with plenty of room to spare, but now he wasn’t certain that he would even be able to fit through the entrance. With a sigh, he dropped to the ground and sat with his back against the tree. Bob lay down next to him and rested his head on his knees.
Jeff absentmindedly stroked the dog’s fur and looked up at the wooden structure above him. This was where he had always come to think when he was younger. Sitting on the ground underneath it would have to be good enough this time. The dog was certainly helping and he wouldn’t have been able to get up into the tree house. That was a bonus that he had not had the benefit of in the past. Bob whined and looked up at Jeff, but he was already lost in thought, trying to figure out what had happened.
He and Mel had fought in the past, but not like this. In all honesty, he wasn’t even certain what it was about, only that she was very mad at him. But it wasn’t anger, was it? When he had last talked to her, she had a hurt expression. Or maybe it was just sad. Probably hurt given the way that they had argued. The worst part was that he had no idea what it was that he had done to warrant this. He hadn’t cheated on her, he’d be an idiot to do so, nor had he ignored her or done anything else. So what was it that could have caused her reaction?
Snow started to fall and gather on his head and arms. Once again he was reminded of his utter lack of warm clothing and started to pace back and forth to keep warm. Bob stayed on the ground but followed Jeff with his eyes. This went on for a long time.
Jeff was so lost in thought that he was covered in a light dusting of snow before he came to himself. The cold had numbed his limbs and extremities, and he knew that he would have to go inside or suffer hypothermia or frostbite. He looked to where Bob had been laying but the dog was too smart to still be there. No doubt he was in his doghouse where it was warm. Jeff turned and headed toward the house.