“Goodbye. Goodbye, world. Goodbye, Grover’s Corners…Mama and Papa. Goodbye to clocks ticking…and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths…and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.”
The tears were still wet on Katrina’s cheeks as she turned to Zach.
“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?”
“No,” Zach answered, gentle and sympathetic, but definitive. Till it was like he had a quiet revelation and added, “The saints and poets, maybe–they do some.”
“I’m ready to go back,” Katrina said, resigned to her grave. She took her seat, and it was like she became a living statue.
Zach listened silently as the dead talked. To Mrs. Gibbs trying to get Emily to look at the stars. To old man Stimson bitterly bemoaning the ignorance and blindness of the living. To Emily, lost between them, her pain and acceptance painted plain on Katrina’s face. And then Dion walked on stage.
“It’s George,” Katrina said, detached but unable to look away as Dion approached her and fell to his knees, anguish twisting his face before he fell flat before her.
“That ain’t no way to behave!”
“He ought to be home!”
But Katrina paid no mind to the squawking ghosts. Not looking away from Dion, she spoke to the woman sitting next to her, “Mother Gibbs?”
“They don’t understand, do they?”
“No, dear. They don’t understand.”
The lights dimmed around the seated students, and as Zach took center stage a single spotlight fell on him.
“Most everybody’s asleep in Grover’s Corners. There are a few lights on,” Zach walked to the right of stage and gestured, the imaginary town more real in his mind’s eye than the empty sea of blackness that was actually before him, “Shorty Hawkins, down at the depot, has just watched the Albany train go by. And at the livery stable somebody’s setting up late and talking.
“Yes, it’s clearing up.” Zach looked to the ceiling and could see the grey clouds parting, “There are the stars doing their old, old crisscross journeys in the sky. Scholars haven’t settled the matter yet, but they seem to think there are no living beings up there. Just chalk…or fire.”
He turned back to the audience, and his lips hinted at a grin, even as his eyes were unbearably sad, “Only this one is straining away. Straining away all the time to make something of itself. The strain’s so bad that–every sixteen hours everybody lies down and gets a rest.”
The watch flashed into Zach’s hand and opened with a tiny chime, “Hm…Eleven o’clock in Grover’s Corners.”
Zach slipped the watch into the front pocket of his vest, and waved to the audience as if they were very old friends, “You get a good rest, too. Good night.”
Zach turned and walked off stage as the spotlight dimmed to black. The silence was almost oppressive, till the first hands shattered it and the thunder of applause followed.
Zach waited patiently backstage as the rest of the cast went out for their curtain call. Crew members patted him on the back, and Dion grabbed him in his arms to kiss him before he quickly had to run out for his own bow.
For only a moment it was just he and Katrina waiting to head back onstage. Zach said sincerely, “You were perfect, Kat. I almost started crying.”
“So were you, Zach,” she said sweetly, and then it was her turn to walk back on the stage. It was like the crowd went up 10 decibels as she went out there.
Zach let the applause for Katrina have some time to breathe, and then he made his way on stage. The roar was almost overwhelming. He blushed as he took his bow, and laughed as he heard Jake dog whistle in the crowd. His pledge brothers who weren’t in the play started throwing flowers at the stage. Sean’s bright red hair stood out amongst them like a beacon.
Professor Davidson came on stage with a microphone, nearly incomprehensible as she tried to stop herself from crying while she thanked the audience and the cast and the crew.
Then, to Zach’s horror, she added, “There’s one student in particular who deserves special recognition, tonight. He joined our cast without a lick of theater experience, but from the moment he auditioned till moments ago he’s been the bedrock of this entire production, and one of the greatest young actors I’ve had the privilege to work with. So, I and the rest of the college’s theater department, would like to congratulate Zach Thomas on winning this season’s award for best new actor.”
Suddenly Professor Peters was standing next to him and shaking his hand, as he handed Zach a small plaque while the audience cheered him. Zach could barely stand the extra applause he’d gotten for curtain calls every night, this singling out made him want to melt into the stage. Thankfully, Davidson quickly told the audience to have a good night, and the crowd and cast immediately started to disperse.
“I hope you like the plaque,” escort bursa Dion said, grabbing Zach by the waist and pulling him close, “Cause that’s all you get. Cheap bastards won’t even give you a gift card for the bookstore.”
“Eh, it’d just be like they were giving me my own money,” Zach said, grinning up at his boyfriend, looking a little ridiculous up close with the stage makeup on. But then Zach knew he looked just as silly, the first time he saw how rosy the makeup girl made his cheeks he wanted to puke.
Dion smiled and kissed Zach’s hand, “Come on, let’s find our families. Sooner we say goodbye sooner we get to the party.” Then he held Zach’s hand and led him into the crowd.
Dion’s parents were caught up in an animated conversation with Zach’s mother, but they quickly cut it short as they realized their sons were there.
“Oh Zachy, you were wonderful,” Zach’s mom, Susan, said, hugging Zach tightly, “Best one yet.” She’d been to every one of their 3 performances. “Ah, and you too Dion!” She said, hugging Dion next, and just as she did Dion’s mother, Sophia, hugged Zach.
When Sophia, or Sophie as she asked Zach to call her, pulled away from the hug she looked at Zach intently, and the way she did reminded Zach how exactly Dion had her eyes, “That was a very impressive performance, Zach. You should be proud.”
“Thank you, Sophie. That means a lot,” Zach said, blushing. He meant it too, considering Sophia had performed on Broadway for over a decade and still occasionally produced plays.
Then Dion’s father, Ben, grabbed Zach’s hand and shook it so enthusiastically Zach thought his arm may fall off, but he just appreciated seeing how Dion had gotten his dad’s grin, “And if you’d fucked up she would’ve told you, so you know you did good.”
Zach laughed. Despite Dion’s assurances, he had been very intimidated to meet his boyfriend’s parents. He shouldn’t have been. They were as sociable as their son and had been nothing but supportive of Zach and Dion’s relationship. Unlike Dion’s 7 year old sister, Amy, who had been very upset to learn that Dion broke up with Katrina and had refused to say a word to Zach or Dion since she arrived with her parents.
“I thought Kat was the best,” Amy spoke up, speaking to her father but obviously wanting Zach to hear her.
Ben rolled his eyes at her, but Zach knelt down to her height and said, “I think so too! The way she could make herself cry, that’s so hard. I just had to say a bunch of stuff and put on a hat for a little bit. But wait, Amy, what’s that?” Zach said, pointing just behind her.
“What?” She asked confused looking around, the first time she’d actually acknowledged anything Zach had said to her.
“There’s just something–here!” Zach reached behind the girl’s ear and suddenly a small rose appeared in his hand. Amy erupted in laughter, before remembering she was supposed to be angry and forced herself to look unhappy. She couldn’t quite hold back a smile as Zach handed her the flower, though.
“I told you, Ames, Zach is so cool,” Dion said, smiling widely at the little breakthrough Zach had. Dion loved his baby sister fiercely, and Zach knew her silent treatment had been tearing Dion up more than she could realize. Still, his comment seemed to make her more determined to put back on an angry face.
“Seems like you guys have been getting on pretty well,” Zach smiled at his mom.
“Fabulously! We were actually just talking about maybe going to the Maryland Deathfest this spring,” Susan said excitedly. To both Dion and Zach’s shock their milquetoast suburban parents had realized last night at dinner that they’d all been metalheads. Sophia and Ben could have even met Zach’s mom and dad at a Black Sabbath concert at some point in the 80s, but none of them would elaborate on why they may not remember the details.
“Susan’s trying to convince me to grow my hair back out, you need something to wave around when you’re head banging,” Ben added, making Dion groan. But their conversation was interrupted when Zach’s pledge brothers found them and Mike pounced onto Zach’s back.
“Fucking amazing, roomie!” Mike yelled, then immediately regretted it as he saw they were with their parents and a little kid. He quickly extricated himself and apologized, but the adults found it hilarious. Zach quickly introduced the guys to his mom and Dion’s parents and sister. Dion’s family had taken Sean out to lunch with them earlier that day, but Zach’s mom was thrilled to finally meet her son’s best friend.
“It’s great to finally meet you too, Mrs. Thomas,” Sean smiled widely as Zach’s mom hugged him, “Zach’s told me so much about you.”
“None of that Mrs. Thomas, you call me Susan,” she smiled back, “And I’ve heard so much about you! It’s so nice Zach has such great friends. Why he used to be so shy for a while my sister and I thought he may have a mild case of Aspergers–“
“Mom!” Zach yelled embarrassed as his friends bursa yabancı escort burst into laughter.
“Well, I think he’s gotten over the shyness problem,” Sean grinned and looked at Zach, “You were incredible bud, best play I’ve seen.”
“You weren’t half bad either,” Sean joked to Dion as he hugged his big, but then Amy started tugging on Sean’s jeans and he bent down to chat. Sean hadn’t cost her a new big sister, so Amy was happy to talk to him, and Sean’s youngest brother was only a couple years younger than her so Sean knew all about the kids shows and youtubers she was obsessed with.
As the guys started talking with Ben about how pledging was going and Sophia was giving Dion some notes on his performance, Susan spoke quietly to Zach, “Honey, do you think we could have a quick talk in private before you head off with your friends?”
Zach led her to a small classroom just outside the theater, and as he shut the door behind them the quiet was a welcome relief from the raucous thrum of the crowd.
Zach’s mom smiled sadly at him, “I’m so proud of you, Zach. You know your father would be too, right?”
“Yeah, I know,” Zach said quietly. His father had died in a car accident when Zach was a toddler. Susan had moved back in with her parents, who helped raise Zach. “How’re Mommom and Poppop doing?”
“They’re excited to watch the video I took,” Susan said brandishing her phone, “They so wanted to be here, but with Poppop’s heart scare–“
“I’m just glad he’s ok,” Zach said, trying to hold back tears. It had been a close call. In fact, his grandfather had died in his armchair, alone in his home while his wife went to her bowling club. By the time his mother had called to tell him, Zach’s twelve hour rewind was just barely enough to get the EMTs there in time. Now he was in a hopeful recovery from his double bypass.
“But Zach…you’re…you’re doing so well. I knew you just needed to get out of your shell,” Susan said, Zach’s tears bringing some to her eyes too as she cupped his cheek, “And Dion is so charming and handsome and he adores you. Your friends seem lovely. I just…I think you should tell them. Or Dion and Sean at least. It can’t be easy keeping it a secret. I’ve been struggling just talking with Ben and Sophie. Those boys obviously care about you, I think you’re overthinking this.”
His mother’s advice made Zach feel terribly guilty. Maybe she was right. As far as she knew at least, because even though Zach hadn’t told her about the watch, he had told her about the money. Specifically when he gave her $10 million so she could retire from her 30 years teaching English in the local middle school. He’d told her some bitcoin ripoffs he’d bought in middle school had exploded in value. He’d also asked her to keep it secret when she came to visit, because he was worried his friends would treat him differently if they knew how much money had fallen into his lap.
“You’re right. I think I’ll tell them tomorrow,” Zach said. He had consigned himself to keeping the watch secret forever, but maybe telling them about the money would be a compromise his conscience could stomach easier than total secrecy. Besides, he’d been thinking of some possible winter vacation ideas–it’d be hard to invite Dion to Barcelona if he didn’t know Zach was loaded.
“Good. Oh sweetie, I’m just so happy for you,” Susan said as she pulled Zach into a hug, then dried her eyes as she let go, “We should go back to your friends. I’m sure you have some celebrating to do. Besides, Ben and Sophia invited me for some drinks in the hotel lobby once they put Amy to bed.”
They went back out into the theater which had thinned significantly. Zach’s pledge brothers had returned to the house, but Sean had stayed and Chris had joined them too, dressed all in black and finally freed from his sound booth. Zach enthusiastically introduced his big brother to his mom, and then they all said their goodbyes.
Amy refused to say goodbye to Dion or Zach, but as her parents were about to walk out the door she ran back into the room crying, and hugged Dion tightly about the waist before he picked her up to hug her back. Zach couldn’t hear what the siblings said to each other, but when Dion set her down Amy very quickly gave Zach a hug, and before he even had time to react she went sprinting back to her parents.
As their parents walked out the door Dion grabbed Zach in his arms and lifted him off the ground as he kissed him. “You know, it’s almost painful how much I fucking love you,” Dion said as he beamed at Zach.
“We ain’t got time for this lovey-dovey shit,” Chris interrupted, “We got a rager waiting for us.”
They walked out the front door of the theater to find Jake and Sara passionately making out against the building. It was made hilarious by Sara still wearing her grey wig, as well as the comically oversized bouquet of flowers she had in hand.
“I bursa escort told you, bitches love flowers!” Zach laughed, shocking his two friends out of their kissing. When they realized it was Zach they laughed too, and promised to see them soon. The guys continued on toward Sig Chi, Dion holding Zach tight against him even as the four friends talked amongst themselves.
“So, what’re we in for tonight?” Zach asked.
“The better question,” Chris said as he pulled a folded up piece of aluminum foil from his pocket, “Is how weird do you want to get tonight?”
“You fucking got it dude?” Dion laughed.
“Enough for us 4 and a few other guys at least. Brian’s already claimed one,” Chris said, unfolding the pouch.
“What is it?” Sean asked.
“Acid,” Chris grinned.
“Uh, I’m down to get weird as fuck tonight,” Zach said as he extended a hand to Chris.
“Yes please,” Sean added as he took one too. Chris and Dion had talked at length about how great their acid trip was the year before, and both freshmen were excited to try it.
“Happy thoughts, everybody,” Dion grinned as he took his own tab.
They could hear the party first, the bass echoing down the elm lined street, and as Sig Chi came into view so did the red glow of a bonfire in the back.
The moment they walked into the backyard they were swarmed by the rest of the cast. A champagne bottle was thrust into Zach’s hands, but when he struggled to open it Dion helped and shook it up before he popped off the cork. Champagne shot into the air and the night was on.
It started with Zach getting drunk. He thought he deserved it. Not only had he worked hard on the play himself, he worked hard on it for other people–the last 3 days were more like a couple weeks to Zach, as he’d gone through each day and performance multiple times to help with any problems the cast and crew had that interfered with the show. Barring somebody dying or getting maimed or a really bad trip, Zach was ready to let go of the reins and enjoy the night however it played out.
Foamy champagne wasn’t very useful for getting drunk, though, so Zach quickly switched to jungle juice while he waited to feel anything from the acid. Zach and Sean started a pong game against Dion and Chris, which was cut unceremoniously short by Jack dragging Sean away by his unpierced ear, telling him he was late. Zach’s pledge brother Colin hopped in to take Sean’s place and Zach continued getting drunk, figuring he’d find out what Sean was late to later.
The pong game ended quickly as Dion and Chris sank their last 3 cups in a row. Colin hadn’t made any cups since he subbed in for Sean, and even though Zach tried to object that the cup Sean made should count, the Juniors still called a shutout, and Colin had to do a naked lap of the yard. As he stripped and started running Dion and Zach laughed as they noticed each other both checking out Colin’s cute pale ass.
“Not even 10pm and already one guy naked, not a bad start,” Dion laughed, “I’m really fiending for some nicotine all a sudden, how bout you guys?”
Chris barked for the cigarette pledge (the pledge whose job it was to always have cigarettes ready to go for brothers) and they made their way to the bonfire.
Dion lit Zach’s cig with a wink, making Zach blush. Dion still just got to him sometimes. They’d fucked every which way, seen each other at every unflattering angle, knew each other as well as either of them had ever known anyone, but still that fucking wink could make Zach’s stomach do a backflip.
In fact almost everything about Dion was getting Zach going tonight. He was still in costume, just George’s plain dress shirt and slacks, but the way the rolled up sleeves curled around the muscles on Dion’s forearms made Zach want to feel those arms wrap around him again, while the sharp and high collar made Zach want to explore Dion’s jawline with his lips. The way the bonfire danced in his amber eyes made them glow, and still Zach could barely stand the way Dion could just look at him; Dion looked at him like he was the only person in the world, and Zach could feel his dick start to rise at the attention.
“So, you’re done your first play. What did you think? Gonna do it again?” Chris’ questions snapped Zach out of his horny reverie, and he took a drag on his cigarette as he considered his answers, the cigarette smoke almost feeling like liquid as it went down his throat. Maybe starting to feel that acid.
“I enjoyed it…but it was a lot. Like I loved hanging out with all you guys, and it’s fun acting out a story, but man the last couple weeks have been intense,” Zach said.
Dion laughed, “That’s always how it goes. By the time you finish you’re like why did I ever do this? Give it a couple months and you’ll be desperate to get back to it.”
“By the way, Zach, I meant to tell you the hype didn’t ruin anything. You fucking killed it bro,” Chris added.
“I fucking told you he would,” Dion said, putting his arms around Zach’s shoulders and pulling Zach’s back against his chest. Dion got goosebumps as he felt Zach gently kiss his forearm.
“I gotta get the speakers set up for the show,” Chris said as he tossed his butt into the fire, “Try to keep it in your pants without me.” Chris walked off back towards the house.