Angela Chestnut can’t wait to move to New York City to fulfill her dream on the stages of Broadway, but first she has to finish her senior project. Unfortunately, someone wants the community center she is benefitting with the show to fail, and her project along with it.
Since meeting Angela at her sister’s place the previous summer, Alex Checketts has had an unhealthy interest (in his opinion) in her, despite their twelve years age difference. Roped into accompanying the musical, he gets caught up in the mystery behind who is trying to shut down the community center. Whether they’ll be able to make it work after she moves to New York worries them both, but first they have to survive to put on Angela’s show and save The Center.
PROFESSOR ABERNATHY FINISHED his discussion of Elizabethan theater and checked his watch. “One last item before you all clear out. Don’t forget that your senior project proposals are due in the next ten days. You’ll want to put your best foot forward, so don’t procrastinate the paperwork to the last moment. Also, we have an announcement that will be going out in an email to the entire department tomorrow, but I’m going to tell you now.” He paused to make sure every eye was on his five-foot-two frame.
Angela’s stomach grumbled as she watched the thirty-something professor. He was excited about whatever it was, so it must be interesting.
He finally answered, “Someone from the community has offered a five-thousand-dollar prize to the top writer-slash-director.”
The room started to buzz with excitement as the students talked about everything they could do with that much cash. Angela was right there with them. The senior projects had always competed for the top award which gave them a credit for their portfolio. Even though she had put off her script writing class until this semester she had been dabbling with script ideas for a full year in anticipation.
This extra incentive ramped up the competition, and Angela was totally excited. How nice would it be to be able to support herself when she finished college and moved to New York City to start her career in theater? Not that five thousand would go very far in New York, but if she was careful and picked up a temporary job somewhere she should at least be able to make it for a couple of months without having to go begging to her older sister, Jonquil.
Beth’s arm rose among the hubbub. “Is this in addition to having our shows put on by the department next year, then?”
“Yes. Everything else will stay the same, this is a bonus.” He stuffed his papers in his folder as he spoke. “If that doesn’t motivate you all to greatness, I don’t know what will.”
Beth’s smile turned predatory. She had always acted like she was the best and brightest. No doubt she was already planning how to spend the money.
Angela wasn’t going to let Beth walk away with it though.
After exiting class a moment later, Angela held her text book close and considered what she could do to up the ante on her show. Was there a twist to the plot that would make it more impressive?
She stepped into the cold Chicago wind. There were a couple of hours until rehearsals—just enough time to eat an early dinner and re-evaluate her script.
Hattie came up to her on the sidewalk, wearing her cookie-monster knit beanie cap. “Did you hear about the prizes they’re offering for the senior project this year?”
“Prizes, as in multiple?” Wind blew Angela’s short, dark hair in front of her eyes and she brushed it back wishing, not for the first time, that she hadn’t cut it to her chin the previous spring. “I know they added a cash prize to the drama students. Did they add one to musicians too?”
“Yeah, five thousand dollars for the best body of compositions. Seriously, I’m practically salivating. I just need a project worthy of the win.”
Angela bumped Hattie’s shoulder with hers. “I’m sure you’ll come up with something. I love your songs.” They had been fast friends since their first semester. Three years later, they were preparing to graduate in the spring.
“I need a really big collection. Something around a central theme.”
“We’ll have to brainstorm for both of our projects,” Angela said. “Want to hear about the changes I’m making to my script?”
“Have you finished writing it yet?”
“You mean I have to finish it? Not just keep tweaking the first half?” Angela pulled a face. She was struggling with getting through the second half. She bought the book Save the Cat, but hadn’t had time to read it. Hopefully it would help her get on track again. Despite her excitement about the project when she started, something just wasn’t working.
“I don’t know if you can improve the premise of the story. I love the idea of fairytales in a dystopian society. It makes my mind swirl with images.”
Angela stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and someone nearly plowed into her, swearing as he veered around her. “Wait. I have a scathingly brilliant idea.”
Hattie snorted at Angela’s wording. “I really should stop bringing over old movies.”
“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with old movies.” Angela had thoroughly enjoyed Where Angels Go Trouble Follows. That Marvel Ann had kept things interesting. “What if we collaborate? What could be better than your silly, spirited music put to words and fit into my script? It’s kind of a goofy dystopian and could use a little music to keep the tone right.”
Hattie stared for a moment, and then a grin split her face. “It’s perfect. When can we start?”
“I’ll send you what I’ve written so far on the script tonight. Then you can start looking at ideas. I’m totally open to dropping parts of the dialog if you have an idea for a song. I wonder if we could get one of the dancers to do choreography for their project too.” Angela’s mind was whirling with ideas.
“There’s also set design majors who need to design something and work on sets for projects. I bet we could get Mike to work on ours.” She smiled and wiggled her eyebrows. “He’s got a crush on me.”
“Are you ever going to give him a break and go out with him?”
“I’m just so time-challenged.”
“Yet you can find time to do a score for a musical and watch movies with me.” Angela shot her a knowing look.
Hattie shrugged and started walking again. “I’ve been thinking about asking him for coffee.”
Angela rolled her eyes. “That’s something, anyway. Then maybe he’ll have the guts to make it a real date.”
“I don’t see you going out with anyone lately.” Hattie gave her a hard stare.
“It’s only been a couple of weeks since I went out last. And that was a disaster. Seriously, boys our age are so lame.” Alex Checketts’ face flashed into her mind and she pushed it away. She would love to pursue something with him, but he didn’t seem interested. Darn it. Even though it had been three months since she had last seen him, Angela hadn’t been able to get him off her mind. “Let me get through the semester and then I’ll look around for another date.”
“Lame. So lame. Alright. I need to go work on the closing song for tonight. It’s kicking my butt and we’re getting close to performances.”
“Tell me about it. I’m still working on getting the lyrics right for scene four. I need to eat something first. See you in a couple hours.”
They said goodbye and parted ways, Angela headed for the cafeteria while Hattie veered left toward the music building. If there were more time, Angela knew Hattie would go to The Center instead. She could almost always access the piano in one of the back rooms of the community center her Aunt Pebbles ran. Getting into the practice rooms on campus was a little more challenging.
Her mind started to turn as her thoughts veered back to her script. Now she wasn’t going to be able to focus on the other assignment for class. Instead she would end up making notes of great places for songs in her script. Hattie would surely agree on locations where the songs would work best.
Angela had done some lyric writing just for fun, but not much. She could help out on that end of things, if Hattie needed feedback. They probably ought to put together some kind of contract for the two of them since they were collaborating. Just to be smart. If it did well, they might want to try selling it to theater companies.
You might as well dream big, right?
She pulled out her cell phone and shot her brother Mark a text message. Got a contract question for you. Do you have time to work on something with me in the next week?
She didn’t hear back from him for almost ten minutes.
How long are we talking?
Angela considered, but really didn’t know. I need to write up something between me and Hattie for a musical we’re collaborating on. I’m doing the script, she’s doing music.
Maybe this weekend. Send me a prototype and I’ll tweak it for you.
Thanks, you’re the best. Angela grinned. There were definite perks to having a brother who was almost through law school.
She couldn’t wait to sit at a desk and start re-envisioning her project!
THE SCENT OF SNEAKER RUBBER and the sound of boys’ voices and a bouncing basketball hit Angela as she and Hattie walked into The Center the next day. She wrinkled her nose a little at the musty smell, as usual, but didn’t comment on it as Hattie led them past the gym/auditorium where ten- to twelve-year-old boys were working on their jump shots under the direction of a man in his sixties. Next came a small kitchen where nine little girls, aged six to ten, were frosting cupcakes with the help of a redhead who was about sixteen.
Pebbles came into the hall, a sheaf of papers in her hand and a harried expression on her face. When she spotted Hattie, her face brightened, making her look much younger than the mid-fifties Angela knew her to be. “There you are. The room in the back is empty for the next,” she checked her watch, “forty-five minutes. Then we have a piano lesson.”
“We’ll take what we can get. Angela needs her practice,” Hattie grinned at Angela, who just rolled her eyes in response.
“Who was complaining just last night that they couldn’t get the sequence for the song?” Angela gave Hattie a pointed look, then relented, admitting, “If I don’t have this down by the next rehearsal the director is going to have my hide. So we both need to get a move on.”
“It’s hard having a social calendar as full as hers is,” Hattie agreed. “Or having as much homework as I do.” A dimple appeared in her cheeks with her smile and she brushed at the tendril of curly light brown hair that had escaped the barrette she was using to hold back the sides. Today’s beanie was covered in silk flowers and looked like a garden.
“Yeah, that date I almost had time for last week was pretty fun,” Angela shot back.
Pebbles laughed, tossing back her gray-streaked curls. “Well, you’re welcome to the space during the break. You know where it is, so go on back. I have to have words with a plumber.” This last was edged with irritation.
Hattie’s expression turned understanding. “Uncle Ross may be amazing, but plumber’s glue and spit only go so far.”
“Don’t I know it. Catch me before you take off. Go use the room while it’s open.” Pebbles gestured them down the hall.
“Thanks,” Angela followed Hattie along a side-shoot to a room on the right with a piano and two chairs. They had spent a lot of time here in the past three years and Angela felt like this place was home in many ways. Getting into the practice rooms on campus could be a killer.
The door was no more effective at blocking out the sound of the piano than a sheet would be, but Angela had rehearsed in worse conditions. She pulled out her libretto and turned to the song “A Little Priest.”
Hattie ran her through a couple of warm-up exercise, and then launched into the song from Sweeney Todd. It was a duet, but Michael had decided to take the evening off instead of getting in extra rehearsal time. Angela was playing Mrs. Lovett and between her extra class load, her older sister’s upcoming wedding, her father’s illness, and trying to memorize her lines, her attention was split in way too many directions.
She would have to take Hattie for ice cream after this to thank her for taking the time away from everything to help her out.
Hattie repeated a few sections that Angela had been stumbling over, then they moved on to “By The Sea.”
As she finished her second time through on it, Angela saw movement out of the corner of her eye and looked up to see a woman and a teenage boy in the doorway.
Hattie played the closing notes while Angela pretended to play them on an invisible keyboard beside the piano—like she would do on stage—then slumped. You’d think if someone Angela Lansbury’s age could handle the choreography, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but Angela still found herself struggling to keep her singing strong while she danced. Maybe her father’s lung problems were genetic and she got stuck with an extra-small set.
The woman in the doorway clapped. “That is wonderful. I love Sweeney Todd.”
“Thanks.” Angela glanced at the time on her phone display. “You must be here for the practice space. We’ll clear out of your way.”
“We appreciate it. This is the only time during the week that we can both get away for lessons,” the woman said.
Angela smiled and slid the libretto into her backpack. “That is very sweet. Nice that you can use the piano here.”
“Yes. I’m very grateful Pebbles lets me use it.”
Hattie folded up the full musical score she had been playing from and they cleared out. They came to stop outside her aunt’s office door.
Pebbles was on the phone. “Yes, I know it was due yesterday. I’ll have the money to you tomorrow. I promise. All right. Good bye.” She hung up, looking frazzled.
“Still having trouble balancing the books?” Hattie led the way into the office.
“Yes. We have a donation that’s supposed to come in today. We’ll be able to pay the mortgage and keep the lights on for a couple more months, but I don’t know how long that will last.” Pebbles sighed and focused on Angela. “Your songs sounded really good. Hattie said your rehearsal got canceled today?”
“Yeah, they had a plumbing leak in the building and kicked everyone out until it’s fixed. We should be back on track for rehearsals tomorrow. I was lucky Hattie could help me out. I’ve been having trouble with a couple of spots in the songs.” She usually caught on to songs really easily and had been frustrated about her struggle.
“Well, you know you’re welcome to use the music room anytime it’s available.” Pebbles tucked her curls behind her ears—it was barely long enough to stay there. “Which might not be much longer if we don’t get some extra funding.”
“How long have you been open?” Angela asked. She’d been in and out of the place dozens of times but never thought to ask.
“Fifteen years. Kids in this neighborhood have grown up at the community center.” Pebbles looked wistful, and worried. “We actually have less gang activity in this area than they have even half a mile away, even though the demographics are virtually the same.”
Angela knew they had activities, sports, and craft classes all of the time to keep the kids off the streets. “Have you always had trouble paying the mortgage?”
“We receive government grants and community donations that cover many of our expenses and the city has kicked in for some programs, along with the 4-H program which is funded elsewhere but conducts many of their classes here. Unfortunately, with the economic downturn, several of our grants and community activists who donate money have disappeared. I can keep the place open for another month or two, but if we don’t get an influx of cash soon we’re going to be in big trouble. It’ll be a miracle if we make it to our next big grant in the spring. I could ask the landlord for a short deferral, but he’s chomping at the bit for an excuse to evict us. He has a seller who wants the building. They want to tear it down to put up a shopping center or something. Our lease is interfering with their plans.” A tear formed in the corner of her eye. She sucked in a breath and forced a smile. “When is your show again?”
Hattie picked up the conversation. “In a couple of weeks. We start run-throughs tomorrow. The director sent a text that he’d find somewhere for us to rehearse, even if it’s on the football field.”
Pebbles chuckled. “Hopefully your building is open tomorrow. The football field might be a little too cold at this time of year.”
“That’s for sure,” Angela agreed. “Thanks again for letting us use the space.”
Pebbles smiled at both of them. “You’re welcome. Good luck with the show. I think I’ll make time to come see it.”
“That would be great. Thanks.” Angela waved goodbye at the door and she and Hattie emerged outside a minute later. She was touched that Pebbles would take time from her busy schedule to come to the show, but considering how much they were at The Center, Angela wasn’t too surprised. Despite having an assistant director, Pebbles rarely left The Center for more than a few hours per day during operating hours—and it was open fourteen hours most days.
Luckily when they’d arrived they’d been able to find a parking spot in the tiny lot outside the community center. It wasn’t in the best part of town—not the projects by any means, but it wasn’t exactly Juniper Ridge, Colorado either. The higher crime rate in the city was yet another item on the long list of reasons Angela missed staying with her sister over the summer.
“Never a dull moment at The Center,” Angela said
“Yeah. The next couple of months they usually rent out the gym for recitals and other music performances, which should help with the operating expenses—if their other income sources don’t totally dry up. Most of the classes and activities here have optional donations. Parents try to give what they can, but most of the people who use The Center can barely feed their families.”
Angela looked back over her shoulder before getting into the passenger side of the car. “I don’t think I ever appreciated how much we had growing up. It wasn’t much, but I never went hungry or worried that I might not have somewhere to live.” Angela knew now that had been largely due to Jonquil’s father supporting their family. She hadn’t realized how much her half-sister’s dad had given their family over the years while her dad was in and out of the hospital with his COPD and her mom struggled to work and keep the household running. She had always been too wrapped up in her own life to realize her own father and mother didn’t make enough to meet the family’s expenses. Now she was ashamed about her actions. She’d been such a spoiled brat.
Angela was working on leaving the brat behind, but didn’t always succeed.
“I hope your aunt can find funding. It would be terrible if The Center shut down.”
She glanced back over her shoulder at The Center before it disappeared from sight. There had to be something they could do to help Pebbles.
THE NEXT AFTERNOON Angela showed up for rehearsals refreshed and ready to plunge into her role whole-heartedly. She walked in with a couple of minutes to spare and took a deep sniff of the scent of freshly cut boards from the set building and the lingering must of stage makeup that always seemed to hang around.
Professor Abernathy, who was directing this production, called them to order at five on the dot. “Okay, we’ll start at the beginning and run all the way to the end. We need to get the time down, people, so focus. Pretend there’s an audience out there tonight and make your scene changes fluid.”
Beth, Angela’s understudy, lifted her hand. “Is it true about the building repairs?”
Professor Abernathy frowned, though it could as easily have been because of the interruption as the question itself. All day there had been rumors about the damage caused by the leak. “That depends on what you’ve heard. Yes, the leak was worse than anticipated. This theater had only minor damages, which won’t affect our production any more, but two of the smaller ones where the senior productions are usually presented will have to have the floors ripped out and replaced, as well as some other work that the school has been putting off. It’s likely they won’t be re-opened until late next semester.”
That worried Angela, who had to put on her senior project then. “What about those of us who have to do our shows next semester?”
“We won’t have a firm answer about that for a while—they still have to decide exactly how much they are going to do to the theaters while they are closed, but we may need to find alternate locations for some of the performances.”
This was met with plenty of groaning and worried murmurs. Angela wondered how they would juggle everything with fewer performance spaces.
“But right now we need to focus on this production, so everyone take your places.” His expression was no-nonsense, and everyone knew better than to push him any further for answers.
Angela looked over at Hattie, who sat at the keyboard with the small orchestra that was performing in the show. Hattie looked thoughtful, then met her gaze and smiled. She mouthed, “We’ll talk,” before focusing back on the musical score in front of her.
Knowing she couldn’t get anything more from her friend at the moment, Angela got in position for the opening song and slid into her character as the organ notes floated into the air.
When they finished the rehearsal, Angela was exhausted, exhilarated, and ready for a snack. She collected her things, ignoring a barb from Beth, who thought she should have gotten the lead role in the show instead of being stuck as the understudy. Angela caught up with Hattie, who was waiting at the exit on stage left.
Hattie grabbed her elbow. “I have an idea. Hear me out before you say no.”
Angela eyed her friend warily; Hattie’s ideas could end in trouble—especially if Angela was sleep deprived and trying to avoid her homework. “What is it?”
“Okay. First, I’ve been reading your show this afternoon. It’s fabulous. I have all of these songs running through my mind. Songs that would complement your show perfectly.”
“So, you do want to team up for our senior project?” Excitement rushed through her—Hattie was a genius with music and catching the flavor of a scene.
“Yes, but more than that, I want to do it at the community center, and use it both for our senior projects and to raise funds for The Center. It might cover a month or two of expenses, which might be enough to keep the place going until the next grant arrives.”
Angela’s brows lifted. “You’re not serious.”
“Of course I am! Why wouldn’t I be? I think it would be the best of both worlds. Plus, we could use people from the community to do the show, turning it into a cultural enrichment project as well, which the awards committees give bonus points to.”
“Nothing against community theater, but do you think we could find enough talent to actually make it work? Neither of us is going to win this thing if we don’t have good performers.”
“They are always pushing us to spread the love of the arts in the community. Can they really dock us for slightly less-than-professional acting if we’re doing that? And think of what it could do for Aunt Pebbles.”
Hattie had a point, but Angela wasn’t so sure it would be as profitable as Hattie hoped. “If the show could actually make money, sure, but it’s going to be expensive. You have to have costumes and makeup and some kind of lighting and sound equipment. We could pull from the college for some of the jobs but we’d have to tap the locals for music and stage managers, someone to choreograph the show—”
“Yes, yes,” Hattie interrupted, not willing to hear any argu-ments—she never liked hearing opposition once she was chasing an idea. “I know what you’re saying, but honestly, I can probably find a student who needs to do choreography for her classes that might be willing to help out. And my aunt can help us find people to act in the show and do stage crew. We might find someone in graphic design classes who will do fliers for us—they need portfolios for their projects too. And you happen to know someone who is loaded who might be willing to make a tax-deductible donation to The Center to help defray costs for sets and costumes.” Hattie’s face was practically glowing with excitement.
Right, because what Angela wanted more than anything was to hit up Jonquil for money when she already felt like a sponge. “I haven’t even finished writing the script yet.”
“And we’d need to work on it to finalize the music and songs over the holiday. Come on, you talk to your senior advisor, I’ll talk to mine and we’ll see if we can make it happen. You heard the director. They have to move some of the shows to alternate locations. There’s an actual stage at The Center. It may not be huge, or have great acoustics, but we could make it work. Please say yes?” Her eyes glowed with excitement and she bulleted out the words double-time.
Angela stopped under a light in the parking lot and turned to Hattie, considering the possibilities. “They might not agree.”
“But they might.”
“We might not be able to get donations from my sister. I hate to ask. She’s already paying for my school and housing and my dad’s medical expenses.”
“But it doesn’t hurt to ask. This isn’t just about your degree, you know, it’s also doing something good for inner city kids and giving back to the community. Kids who are just like you were when you were growing up.”
“I don’t know if I would go that far. We weren’t exactly in the slums of Philly.” Jonquil’s dad would never have allowed that. Not that Angela had understood or would have appreciated it at the time. The community center wasn’t the most prestigious place to debut her show. It was kind of a dump, actually, mostly due to lack of funding. But they might be able to get some press out of it if it was a fundraiser for The Center, which might help her as she tried to get into a real theater troupe after graduation in the spring.
“Let me talk to my advisor,” Angela finally answered. She wanted to do it, but needed to do some research first. “We’ll see what he has to say. We’ll talk about it after we’ve both checked in. Then we can approach Pebbles.” Not that Pebbles was likely to have a problem with it. Any chance to shine the light on her life blood’s plight would be good for her. The possible news coverage could help both of them.
The more she thought about it, the more excited Angela became. By the time she reached her apartment, ideas were bubbling through her mind for the next few scenes in the script. It wouldn’t be ideal, but the community center would be better than the black box theater in some ways. She couldn’t wait to see if they could pull it off.
To read more of Getting Her Groom, purchase it at your favorite retailer.