Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas Angel: Part 2

Monday, December 17

            Jeff woke early the next morning to avoid the rest of his family. After the short altercation with them last night, he didn't really feel like confronting them until later. He stopped by the kitchen and grabbed some of the leftovers from dinner last night, then headed outside and toward the church. He felt better than last night, but probably only because he wasn't living in a state of miner hypothermia. His problems with Melissa kept crowding his mind. He just needed to get to the church and get busy with something to occupy his mind.
            Quickly he jogged down the street, the cold already seeping into his bones through his thin shirt. The temperature had dropped significantly with the snow fall and the wind was biting right now. A thin layer of snow dusted the sidewalks making them feel gritty beneath his feet. Luckily there was still no ice on the roads, so he was able to run without slipping. It took him less than five minutes to reach the church, but he was already freezing by then. He used his numb fingers to fumble the key into the lock and open the door. It was cold inside the building, but compared to the frigid outdoors, it seemed like paradise.
            After spending a few minutes basking in the relative warmth of the church, he found the thermostat and turned up the heat. There were still a few hours before he had to start getting ready for the rehearsal which meant that he would have to come up with things to do. He certainly wasn't going to allow his mind to wander as it had last night. He had been down that road many times and knew exactly where it ended. He decided to check the sound and video equipment first to make sure that there was nothing wrong with it. He headed back to the tech booth entrance located in the front of the church just off the foyer. One of his keys unlocked a door to a staircase. Taking the steps at an even pace, he trudged to the top and stepped into the sound and video booth. Stepping up to the sound boards, he looked through the booth's window at the stage. Everything looked different from this vantage point as oppose to his seat on second row. Everything was smaller and harder to see, and the aerial view provided him with a new perspective of the stage as a whole. He'd have to decide if he could use this to his advantage.
            Jeff powered on the sound and video equipment and quickly checked it over to make sure that everything appeared to be working. Not that he would have been able to tell if something was out of place, especially with the sound equipment. At least he had a cursory knowledge of the video cameras and the lights, but when he looked at the sound boards, all that he saw were a lot of red and green lights. He moved to the camera controls and began to mess around with them. There appeared to be nothing wrong there, so he moved on to the lights.
            After making sure that everything in the tech booth was working, Jeff descended the stairs and stepped into the foyer. He glanced at his watch, noting with a sigh that he had only burned a half hour. It was going to be a while before anyone else showed up, but he had to find things to occupy himself with until that happened. There was absolutely no way that he was going to allow his mind to wander. He'd done that before and knew exactly where he would end up.

******

            It was finally time to start the play practice. Not everyone was present yet, but Jeff had waited long enough. The sound and light techs were ready as well as the play's crew; only a few of the minor cast members had yet to show up. Jeff checked his watch one more time. There was actually two more minutes before rehearsal officially started, and he figured that he could wait that long. The church doors crashed open thirty seconds later and the three wayward cast members entered. Jeff allowed a small smile; things were going according to plan today. Everyone was present on time and they could begin the rehearsal as planned. Hopefully things would go better than yesterday.
            "Lights! Camera! Action!" he said to himself as the play began.
            The two first characters stepped onto the stage and began to "window shop" as they backed towards each other. The bumped into each other, acting surprised as if they hadn't expected the contact. The play proceeded without a hitch. Though the actors needed some more practice working together and though a few of the lines were forgotten, on the whole the first act was much better than that of the previous day. Most importantly, that infernal electrical cord that had caused the huge pileup the previous day was taped securely and didn't cause a problem.
            The second act of the play also went well. The light and sound techs were on top of things, activating and turning off equipment on cue and following the proper characters with the lights. If possible, this act was better than the first. There was only a couple of forgotten lines and a small amount of microphone feedback, but that was too be expected. He knew the people in the sound booth, that they would have that worked out before Sunday.
            The rest of the rehearsal went as smoothly as the first two acts until just before the end. The story was coming to a predictable but seasonal conclusion when suddenly the lights began to flicker. Jeff looked back to the tech booth and saw the head lighting tech giving his shoulders as exaggerated shrug. Whatever the problem was, he wasn't controlling it. The lights returned to normal, and Jeff looked back at his cast. They were flustered for sure, and everyone was looking around at the light fixtures as though examining them would make clear the cause of the malfunction. Jeff looked back to the tech booth and again the lighting expert shrugged. The problem was unexplained, but hopefully it would not reappear.
            "Continue from the last line," Jeff ordered the cast. He gave them the preceding line, and the play started again without a hitch. One thing was for certain, these people were good actors and not easily flustered. That would be important should the light problems show up again at the actual production. Jeff prayed that it they would not, but in these cases, one could never know.
            The actors were only a handful of line back into the play when the sound equipment began to malfunction. Feedback flooded the speakers causing Jeff and his cast and crew to cover their ears to keep out the awful sound. He turned to glare up at the tech booth but only saw the sound men trying frantically to eliminate the screeching emanating from their equipment. As suddenly as it had started, the screeching stopped, and Jeff slowly uncovered his ears. One of the actors said something but he couldn't hear it; nothing was coming through the microphones now. The play's lead began to tap on his microphone and speak into it. Still nothing was coming out.
            A loud tapping and a voice saying "One, two, testing" abruptly blared out of the speakers. The sound level was quickly normalized, and Jeff turned back to the stage again. Once again he gave the last line as a reference, and once again the cast picked up exactly where they had left off. They were still doing a good job with the rehearsal despite the recent issues, and for that Jeff was thankful. The actors were able to finish the play without anymore interruptions and Jeff was impressed. He had picked the right talent for the parts, that much was certain. The last line echoed across the empty sanctuary and Jeff clapped briefly to show his approval.
            With what appeared to be a collective sigh of relief, the whole cast began to talk among themselves. There was a lot of joking Jeff surmised from the expressions on their faces. They were definitely happy with their job and so was he. Perhaps this wouldn't turn out to be as much of a task as he had figured it would. Then, just when everything was going well, the lights gave a brief flare, and the church's electricity cut out completely.

******

            Jeff was not in a good mood when he headed home that night. This time he was in possession of his coat, but the extra warmth did little to improve his mood. Following the blackout in the church, he had investigated what had gone wrong. A trip to the fuse box revealed nothing to his untrained eyes, so he had dismissed the cast and crew and called the church custodian. The older man had arrived a half hour later and looked over everything, but he was unable to make heads or tails of the event and had called the electric company. According to their representative, there was indeed something wrong with the power grid around the church and they were working to fix it though they couldn't guarantee that anything would be operational before the next day.
            With the electrical crisis taken care of, Jeff used a flashlight to finish putting away the play props and lock up the church. By the time he left, it was already evening, and the sky was almost dark. In an effort to match the state of his production, it seemed, the sky had dumped a full inch of snow on the ground. That would probably further complicate the electrical issue. That was just his luck, Jeff decided. Apparently the whole universe was conspiring against him to make sure this play didn't happen.
            Needless to say, Jeff was in a foul mood when he opened the gate to his yard ten minutes later. Bob bounded up to him, barking an energetic hello, but Jeff ignored him. The last thing that he wanted right now was someone happy to remind him that the emotion still existed. All he wanted was a chance to feel sorry for himself and wallow in his misfortune. Not only this fiasco but also the fight with Melissa that he still didn't understand... He had promised himself that he wouldn't think about that particularly painful situation, and he was bound and determined to keep that promise.
            Jeff knocked the snow off of his shoes before opening the front door and stepping inside. The heat was working overtime to warm the cold house, and he thanked God that the electrical outage hadn't affected the grid that their house was on. That would have been the last straw. As it was, things could be worse. In a practiced movement, he stripped off his coat and hung it on the coat closet near the door. He kicked his shoes off and placed them in the closet also. After securing the closet door, he headed down the hall to the kitchen. He could smell the food cooking there, and his stomach rumbled, reminding him that he hadn't eaten since breakfast.
            "Hey Jeff, how's it hanging?" Seth called from the living room as his older brother walked past the doorway.
            "Could be worse," Jeff answered. "Just going to see what's for dinner."
            Jeff continued to the kitchen and entered to find his mother there. He hugged and kissed her before snooping around the room to see if there was anything with which he could satiate his hunger until meal time. Dinner was ready just a few short minutes after his return to the house, and the family sat down at the table to eat.
            "So Jeff, how was your day?" Mr. Byron asked as he took salad from a bowl. Jeff finished chewing the food in his mouth before answering.
            "Not good," he answered. "Our play practice was going well until all of the electronics began to go haywire. Then the church's electricity cut out leaving us totally in the dark. The bright side is that until the electrical problem, the actors were doing a very good job. If the electric company can get the power fixed before Sunday, I think that play should go fairly well."
            "The electricity is out at the church?" Natalie asked. "Any idea what the problem is?"
            "That whole section of the town is without power, so it must be something pretty large," Jeff answered. "I imagine that it is related to this weather that we're getting, but I don't know for certain."
            "Well, hopefully they'll get it fixed before very long," Mrs. Byron said.
            The rest of the meal was rather uneventful. There was the usual talk about the day's events and other topics that didn't interest Jeff. If he had been less tired, he might have noticed that everyone was walking on egg shells around him, making sure not to mention Melissa. As it was, he didn't notice anything except for the food in front of him. When he was finished, he headed up to his bedroom.
            "They must still be fighting," Natalie said as soon as she heard Jeff reach the top of the stairs. "He didn't mention Mel a single time."
            "And what with the problems that he's having with his play, he must be under a lot of stress," Seth observed. "I wish there was something that we could do to help him."
            "Just stay out his way," Mr. Byron advised. "We can't do anything about the church's power or the play, and the fight with Mel is something that he'll just have to work through by himself."
            "I know that, dad," Natalie said, "but surely there's something that we can do."
            "Keep your eyes and ears open," Mr. Byron advised. "You'll find things to do if you're really that worried about your brother."
            "And we can pray for him right now," Mrs. Byron added. "It sounds to me like he could use some help from God right about now."
            In silent agreement, the Byron family held hands around the table and bowed their heads to pray for Jeff.

******

            Jeff opened the door of his room and stepped through into the blackness beyond. With the door shut behind him, he allowed his eyes to adjust to the semi-darkness and proceeded to prepare for bed. He hadn't realized how tired he was until just now. All that he wanted to was fall into bed and go to sleep, but something stopped him from doing that just yet. He stepped to the window and looked out over the yard. The church steeple rose above the buildings surrounding it, and suddenly Jeff was overcome with the need to pray. Quickly he sent a prayer up for his situations, both of them, before returning to his bed and collapsing into it. He was asleep in less than a minute. Had he stayed awake just a bit longer, he might have seen the two shooting stars streak across the sky and disappear behind the church steeple.

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