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Read My Lips(88)

By:Daryl Banner

“Thanks, Cece,” I say anyway. “I didn’t realize you all were coming.”

“Of course. And,” she adds with a lift of her eyebrows, her dialect still unbroken, “I do expect you to get your tush on a plane and see me when my show opens.”

Pleasantries and congratulations and thanks are shared over and over as members of the crowd slowly make their way around, whether by kindly asking my mother for an autograph or by complimenting my performance. With each thanks, my heart swells bigger and bigger.

“It is quite loud here, isn’t it?” my mother notes to me before she even offers her own congratulations. “Do you think we could move into one of the back hallways where it’s a touch quieter?”

Of course I oblige, because that’s what anyone does when Winona Lebeau asks for something. Doctor Thwaite bids them a farewell and a safe flight home before the four of us slip into the hallway that leads back to the dressing rooms, classrooms, and offices.

“Dessie,” my mother finally says, bending to give me a little kiss on either of my cheeks. “You sweet thing. Have you conquered your little pond yet? It’s such a delight to see you on that stage.”

She is so artful at coupling a biting, backhanded compliment with an actual one. “I didn’t find this pond to be all that little.”

“It’s a decent place to grow into the shark you need to be for when you come home and try your hand at more professional endeavors,” my mother clarifies helpfully, tapping on her phone. “Oh, Geoffrey, Lucille won’t be able to make the appointment tomorrow.”

Cece sighs at our mother—even her sighs are English. “Quit trying to force poor Desdemona into doing something she doesn’t want to do. There’s room for all sorts of actors in this world. Some like the bite and the fight of the north. Some like the calm and the palms of the south.” She smirks cheekily at me. “I came up with that one on my own.”

I bite my lip, unsure whether this is a fight I want to pick or not.

Then my dad says something unexpected. “I think what your mom and sister are trying to tell you, sweetheart, is that you did a very fine job tonight, and you should be damn proud of yourself. And,” he adds, throwing an arm around me and yanking me into him for a side-hug, like I’m the son he never had and just won the ballgame, “I appreciate you, Dessie. I’m alive and I want to appreciate every little moment while I’m able to.” He kisses the top of my head. “Job well done.”

I survey the expressions of my mother and sister. For this brief moment, my mother’s still gripping her phone, but her eyes are on me, and my sister’s wearing that annoyingly tight and uncomfortable smile, but she also seems to look upon me with a sweetness that’s so rare, I thought she outgrew it at age ten.

“Thanks,” I tell them. “All of you. It means so much, really, truly. Oh, Mom,” I blurt suddenly. “You got a program, right?”

She pops open her purse and fishes it out. “This thing?”

Yes, that folded piece of nothing-paper. My mom’s so used to the professionally printed playbills that she likely hasn’t seen a folded paper program since 1996. “Can you do me a favor?” I ask her. “Sign your name on it, then write, ‘To Victoria,’ and put something inspiring. It’s for my hall mate.”

She smirks knowingly, then takes out a pen from her purse and scribbles dramatically on the paper. When she hands it to me, the front reads: To Victoria, something inspiring. A friend of Dessie’s is a friend of mine. Winona Lebeau.

I smile, clutching that program close. My mother’s sense of humor is still alive after all.

“I really wish we had more time, you sweet thing,” murmurs my mother, “but the car and driver are waiting outside for us to catch the red eye back to New York. Your sister and I are heading to London Monday and have so many things to get done this weekend before we set off, but we couldn’t bear to miss your opening night.”

“I know,” I mutter miserably. Funny, I was dreading them coming, and now I’m dreading them going.

“We will see you soon for winter break,” my father murmurs quietly to me, “and I do promise, I won’t meddle. No special treatments. If it’s your wish to stay here at Klangburg, you have my support.”

“Thanks,” I say back, unable to help the feeling that something is missing from this whole pleasant experience.

“Geoffrey, we’ll miss our flight.”

“Oh, honey,” he sighs with mock annoyance. “Can’t we waste a few more dear minutes with our daughter?” He brings me in for another tight hug, then says, “And do give my props to the lighting designer.”