“I’m still traumatized by the gore of my friend’s sweaty, smelly, graffitied cast in fourth grade.” I grin over at him. “I’m trying to keep this one pristine.”
The band begins to reconvene on the stage, and Calvin glances over his shoulder before draining his beer.
He stands, and then grins down at me. I’m overcome by his exultant smile. “Well, if you change your mind and want it dirtied up, you know where to find me.”
Luis Genova is a magical human, and I don’t say that lightly. When I read reviews of him as Theo in my uncle’s show that say he was “born for the stage,” I feel sorry for whatever uncreative journalist wrote it because it’s not a profound statement; it’s akin to declaring that a bird is born to fly.
One night, very early after the production launched and received its first standing ovation, the cast and crew went out to celebrate at the Palm. I was, as I am now, not even an official stagehand and barely worth anyone’s notice, and at the time Luis didn’t yet know my relation to Robert. That night, Luis made the rounds of the entire private room, shaking hands and giving thanks. When he was several people away from me, the air shifted, became charged somehow. There were four of us minions standing together, snacking, trying to stave off self-consciousness, and we all turned and watched him approach as if we were being compelled.
I explained it to Lulu later, describing it almost like if a UFO had landed and deployed some magical brain magnets. We all had to turn and watch him. None of us could continue babbling about how good the calamari was or whether we’d have a Dark and Stormy or a gin and tonic next when Luis Genova was walking toward us. When he reached for my hand and thanked me for all my hard work, he looked me right in the eye and my inane brain lost all capacity for language.
Blinking, I shook his hand, giving him a numb “Okay” before he moved on to thank the person beside me.
Well played, Holland.
It’s not that he’s tall, or particularly good-looking or muscular. He’s just . . . present. The light prays at the altar of his cheekbones. His hair hits his jaw in a smooth black sheet and he tucks it behind his ear, revealing eyes that crinkle into that smile. Lord, his smile.
His smile, which is right here, not ten feet from me.
“Holland, for the love of God, stop gawking.”
I startle, turning at the sound of Brian’s voice. Unfortunately, Luis and Robert—who had been having what appeared to be a lovely conversation and which I would have been happy to witness for a good ten minutes longer—also turn to see what’s happening. Everyone nearby looks at me, their smiles tilting from confused to sympathetic.
Poor fangirl, busted for ogling.
Story of my life, I guess.
My neck heats and I push through the assembled cast and deeper backstage, apologizing under my breath. Admittedly, I get to see Luis a lot, but never standing still like that, so close, and my opportunities are dwindling. He has created a nation of adoring followers, and in only a month, he’s leaving us.
I’m not even a Broadway junkie, and I’m heartbroken. No wonder Twitter is flipping out. No wonder Robert is a stress monster about making sure Ramón nails it when he takes over.
I find a quiet place to sit in the shadows and watch Luis and Robert walk onstage, hugging briefly before Robert waves Lisa up from the pit. She joins them, lifting her violin to her chin and following Robert’s lead before she begins playing. Again and again they practice, blending their two “voices”; Luis has only a handful of performances remaining, but I can see he wants to make them impactful. His final show will be a star-studded event and covered by press that’s already profiled the show a hundred times.
Unfortunately, even to my ear it’s clear that Lisa is no match for Luis in sound or presence, and I have no idea what’s going to come next. Seth is already gone. Luis is leaving soon. Ramón Martín is coming in with a blockbuster voice, and Lisa’s hand is too soft to accompany him.
For the first time, I’m truly worried about my uncle.
Robert finds me in his office later, absently punching holes in a blank sheet of paper. He looks a little dangerous: his dark eyes are bloodshot, his normally smiling mouth is a grim, pale line.
“Are you making a mess in here?” he asks. He takes his glasses off, folding them carefully on the desk.
Sheepishly, I sweep the small pile of punched-out circles into the recycling bin. “I can’t believe anyone uses a single-hole punch anymore.”
“No one does.” He sits in the chair opposite me and bends, putting his head in his hands.
“You okay, Bobert?”
He says pretty much what I expect: “I don’t know how I’m going to pair Ramón. He’ll drown Lisa.”
Robert’s pianist, a man named Luther, is pretty wonderful. “Can Luther carry the solos?”
I shrug. “Just spitballing here.”
He appears to consider it, and then shakes his head. “The songs don’t lend themselves to keys. The strings have a richness, a vibrancy that the piano can’t mimic. It needs to stir something inside you. Luther is amazing, but we need a musician who demands your attention. Who makes you feel.”
The idea seems to heat my blood, and I straighten. “Wait. Wait.”