Could This Be Love? (12)

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A Story by Deborah Benson


Jealousy, yes jealousy, will drive you mad.

” Hello there, you’ve reached Kim Johnson. I can’t take a call right now, but if you leave a quick message I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Thank you!”

“Kimberly, it’s John. Again… call me, please. I need to hear from you.”

Desperation was not a quality John associated with himself frequently, or at all if he could help it. By the fifth attempt to contact Kim since Serena’s return to the theater however, that had been the only thing he felt. Desperate.

In an attempt to keep from pacing through the entirety of his flat John had left with Mark to sit in on that night’s rehearsals. He had assumed the plan would give him an opportunity to casually run into Kimberly while she was with Luscious to insure her safety but the only Serena greeted him at the theater door. Her demeanor only slightly more optimistic than his own as she introduced him to the company. Paul was kinder than he had expected, Reed’s description had been spot on, Sophie and the slue of female dancers seemed to have been granted the biggest graces through Kimberly’s recollection of the cast. Somehow they all only needed one look before they understood why John had shown up. Their reactions varied as they each took their turn to look him over.

The only thing they all shared seemed to be pity for both him and Kim.

“At least she’s not cheating on you. I mean she did tell you she was going to have to go out with him.” Reed’s attempt at being comforting only earned him a sharp shove from Paul, to which Mark quickly thanked the man on John’s behalf.

The theater had been arranged for the night’s rehearsals while both John and Mark sat on the sidelines, watching everything in an attempt to distract themselves. Serena had told them everything she had told Kimberly and reassured them she wouldn’t have any trouble if she could keep the investor’s focus on the show. While the attempt had been appreciated the simple fact that there was the possibility for things to go wrong coupled with the inability to contact her was threatening to drive John insane.

“Serves him right,” a not at all hushed whine came from the blonde woman he could only assume was Sophie’s mouth. “If he didn’t want to deal with her sleeping around he should’ve kept his nose out of our business.”

John shot up, nearly knocking his chair back in his haste. “Don’t you dare talk about her like that!”

“Of course maybe it wasn’t his nose he needed to control.”

Had it not been for Mark’s grasp on John’s arm he would have been confronting the smaller dancer head on. The mixture of desperation and anxiety eating away at his common sense as the woman continued to bait him. He knew she was only looking to rile him up, but the last thing he could handle at the moment were insults to his character. Or worse to Kim’s.

Before the blonde could go any farther a sharp mechanical whine cut through the theater. The attention of every single person in the room turning to the stage to see Serena holding a stage microphone far too close to a speaker, her hard gaze fixed on the smaller blonde until she backed down. It wasn’t until then that she stopped the noise and allowed the attention to be focused solely on her.

The weight of her responsibilities weighing her down as she walked to center stage.

“What happened has happened. There’s no changing who he’s fallen for or who Kim has to entertain. She knows how much we need Luscious but she’s not an idiot like you, Sophie.”

A sharp glare forced the smaller woman back to her seat. “She can get the investor without sleeping with him, not all of us had to resort to that.”

“I supposed being doped up was better?” John could not tell who had spoken, the theater’s full attention fixed on Serena.

“I did what I thought I had to!” Serena’s voice shook for a moment but her confidence never broke. There were more important things than her pride on the line. “We’ve all done what we’ve had to for the show and for Dakota. But Bleep Dakota. She’s the one who’s got us into this mess.”

“She’s also the one who keeps us all from being homeless,” Paul’s voice spoke out for a change, simply stating a fact to which many of the cast agreed to.

“The shows are what’s doing that. Our faces on stage, the people that come to see us, that’s who’s keeping us going.” Serena descended from the stage, walking up to face the company directly. “Kimberly knows that so she’s going through this for the show. She’s going to talk to him to change the ending to what we want instead of what Dakota wants. We can do this without her but not without Kim.”

Mark’s grip on John’s arm relaxed.

“And how do you propose we help her?” John’s voice came out far quieter than he had hoped, but the fact he had mustered any coherent thought was good enough.

“Your little friend there and Paull can go find where they’re dining and keep watch at the door. If something goes wrong you’ll be there to help but don’t interfere until then or you’ll get us all caught.”

The two men in question nodded, regarding each other quietly before returning to look at John. He couldn’t be trusted to leave the dinner alone and he knew it. If he couldn’t go himself he wanted to at least find security in trusting the men taking his place.

“As for the rest of us, we have to learn the tango scene for Kimberly. If Dakota thinks she’s making the show suffer things will just get harder. So get into your places and we’ll go on without her for the moment.”

There was a murmur of agreement as the cast slowly began to move to the floor, Paull and Mark attempting to reassure John before taking there leave. He was worth more than anyone in the theater combined but at that moment he was completely and utterly useless.

He had no choice but to sit and watch the scene before him unfold.

Before the music began Serena turned to look to John, motioning him forward to the stage.

“You can replace Paul since he’s where you’d rather be.”

The gesture did little to help but it gave him something to do. Quickly Reed explained the dynamics of the scene as Serena left to start the music. He would be required to do very little besides save a place for Paul to return to and for the most part could do whatever he pleased as long as he kept the idea that he was watching himself lose Serena in mind. A notion stung with unexpected force as one of the women reminded him Serena was only a stand in. Without pause the music started, leaving John at the corner of the stage to watch as Serena began the walk down to Reed. A spotlight being placed over the two once they were together.

” A dance!”

The sound of Reed’s voice in character cut through the theater with a surprising power.

” That tells the story of a prostitute…”

The company laughed as he twirled Serena around, John only seeing how he had spun Kimberly the night before.

” And a man, who falls in love…”

John could feel several glances aimed at his direction as Reed pulled his partner closer.

He doubted there would be any problem with his amateur acting abilities.

” With her.”

The world around Kimberly seemed to pass by with blurred edges. Everything around her felt hazy as though she had dreamed up the walk from the dressing room to the resort’s private restaurant entirely on her own. She vaguely remembered Dakotaa mentioning something for good luck or she might have imagined it all together.

She barely realized when Luscious greeted her or when he led her to their private booth. Under the haze of the medication he looked rather attractive, though even Dakota looked attractive as far as it was concerned. While the pills may have been prescribed to prevent stage fright Kimberly quickly came to the conclusion she’d have trouble just keeping anything to herself.

It’s one thing when talk flows easy, it’s another thing when it won’t stop.

“You look lovely,” Luscious’s silky voice said to pull her out of her head.

Kimberly may have thanked him, or she may have meant to, whether the words found there way out of her mouth she wasn’t sure. Focusing on the ending of the show seemed to prove even more difficult than she had originally thought.

Luscious seemed too enchanted to even notice the lull in conversation. It was he who ordered their drinks and both meals, attempted to keep her attention for as long as possible, and brought up any subject from his time in Argentina to Kimberly’s family. His affections were almost endearing and through the haze she was certain she would have found him attractive if she had met him under different circumstances.

But he wasn’t John and no amount of Medication could change that.

“Dakota’s mentioned you working so hard for the show, that’s why I haven’t been able to take you to dinner before,” Luscious chuckled, trying for a new conversation.

“It does keep me busy,” she managed to respond, finding the haze easier to deal with after getting a little food in her system.

“I think it’s incredible what you can do on stage. Really I do, Dakota has sent me videos of the rehearsal and I’m very excited to see how you pull off the ending.” Luscious’s excitement was almost endearing until she remember he was paying to be with her.

“I love what I do. It’s easy if you love it.” Kim took a sip of wine for show, not wanting to mix her haze with any alcohol.

While she drank Luscious moved over sit beside her, his charming smile only managing to make her head spin with thoughts of regret. He motioned to one of the waiters while she continued to eat as politely as she could manage. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the waiter hand him a rather large velvet box he left on the seat beside him.

Even through her medicated haze she knew the box was intended for her but she paid it no mind. It was difficult enough to remember to keep Lu’s mind off the two of them, dealing with any gift he may be trying to bribe her affections with was simply an extra thorn in her side. She’d be glad if she didn’t remember any of this in the morning.

“You know, when this show does well you wont have to stay in this little place anymore,” he said, brushing a loose curl behind her ear. “I can make a star, a real actress. Not just some dancer.”

Kimberly couldn’t help herself as her mind began to wander towards the possibility of making it big. The medication surely thought it was a wonderful idea. She however, found the offer wasn’t half as appealing when she realized who it was coming from.

Taking her silent contemplation as a good sign Luscious placed a tentative kiss on her bear shoulder before moving to retrieve the velvet box. Despite her best efforts to ignore the gesture the bright glimmer from the box practically forced her attention down to his hands. Luscious’s delighted smile only adding to the bright glitter.

In the middle of the box sat a necklace rivaling even the tiara she had seen Serena keep. Rows upon rows of diamonds expertly cut to catch even the slightest hint of light around them.

Carefully she trailed a single hand across the centerpiece of the necklace for the sole purpose of feeling its weight. The fact something so beautiful managed to weigh so much was astounding and before she could realize what she was doing she found herself holding her hair out of the way to allow Luscious to place it around her neck.

The weight of both the necklace and the fact he had been the one to give it to her pressed down against her collarbone with a surprising force.

The intricate piece of jewelry covered most of her neck and just barely passed her décolletage with its centerpiece. But no amount of glitter could change it from what it truly was. A collar is still a collar no matter its price.

“What about the ending?” Kim stumbled out quickly, distracting Luscious from placing another kiss on the back of her neck before he could notice the makeup hiding her night with John.

Obviously caught off guard Luscious frowned, finding the change in conversation less than appealing. “For the show? You can have whichever ending you’d like.”

Kimberly smiled, seeing the smallest of opportunities to save the night. Quickly she stood from the booth, motioning for Luscious to follow her, which he did with unbridled enthusiasm. “Then you should see what they’re working on,” she said as she took his arm to lead him out of the restaurant. At the mention of their destination being the theater his enthusiasm soured slightly, obviously having different plans in mind.

All it took to convince him was a simple smile and a quick peck on the cheek. She doubted there was anything he wouldn’t do if it bought him her affections.

With any luck the rehearsal would be enough to distract him from her long enough to allow her to figure out a way to end the night without angering Dakota. Had she been completely aware of the man following her she might have noticed the fact his mind wasn’t on the rehearsal at all. No amount of distractions could take away from the fact he had just marked her as his.

Even in the dark theater the diamonds around her neck still sang out his claim. Bleep

A blur of dancers paraded around John, moving in perfect unison as they mimicked the two leads. Bodies pressed against one another before being tossed back, legs extended to trail across the floor as a partner went down or lifted the other. A constant ebbing and flowing of men and women tormenting each other with the fact they were not only for them. All the movements and all the dancers simply managing to separate the leads from the rest of the group.

Leaving John to wander through them in an attempt to make it to the woman pretending to be his Kimberly.

“His eyes upon your face, his hand upon your hand…”

John could not sing to the music as it was played and had resolved to simply speak the words as he watched the two dance. A perfect image of Kimberly coming to mind as he made his way to center stage. Reed’s figure easily matching what little he had seen of the investor whenever his back was turned.

“His lips caress your skin. “

His stomach dropped, his throat catching for a moment as another dancer stole Serena away to place a heavy kiss on the back of her neck.

Each dancer resembling the investor the closer they came to holding the Kim stand-in.

“It’s more than I can stand!”

Somewhere between watching her being passed around as a doll and the endless sea of dancers separating him from her John had found his voice. As raw and untrained as it may be he no longer had to act the part. He was watching himself lose Kimberly and no technicalities could lessen the blow.

Slowly he made his past the dancers, finding the couples arrange themselves in rows around him as he walked up to the stage. With a simple step he found himself staring out across the sea of dancers into the theater below them The hundreds of seat completely empty save for the one private booth high above them all.

” You’re free to leave me. “

The curtains of the booth pulled open to reveal the actual Kimberly watching the rehearsal with glazed eyes. Her usual smile completely absent as she held onto the balcony railing.

Dozens of expensive diamonds catching the faint lights to sparkle down on the stage seemingly fixed on him.

” Just don’t deceive me, ” John sang out, locking eyes with her as he started back down the stage. The sickening sight of Luscious’s lips kissing her shoulders impossible to ignore from any distance. ” Please, believe me when I say I love you. “

For a moment the entire theater fell silent. All eyes seemingly fixed on him as he gazed up at the lead and her investor from the dance floor.

The air grew cold as he waited for her to acknowledge him, the glazy look in her eyes starting to fade as they held contact with his. A brief flash of recognition passing across her face as the man behind her kissed up her neck.

“…Come what may… ” The music seemed to change solely for Kim as she allowed him the faintest smile. ” I will love you, until my dying day…”

The words barely carried enough strength to reach where he stood but he knew them too well to have them escape. Against his better judgment he returned her smile, feeling as though the quiet promise would be enough to shield them from any harm.

It wasn’t until John took a stop back that his eyes locked with Luscious’s, the smile still on his face as the man realized the words weren’t for him.

“No,” Kimberly whispered, breaking the gaze with John when the feeling of lips left her neck.

Had she been sober hundreds of excuses may have crossed her mind, thousands of ways to cover the small misstep in her judgment, anything would have been better than a simple ‘no’. The combination of the numerous pills and the wine however, seemed to be wining in a way that even Dakota couldn’t hope to benefit from. She had been caught.

Luscious knew.

With the snap of his fingers the balcony curtains were closed, his hand tracing a slightly smudged area of skin at the top of her neck. A mark from John clearly visible in the dark booth thanks to the glimmer of her necklace. Her investors face contorting behind her shoulder into something darker than she could ever have imagined him capable of.

“You made me believe you loved me,” he said, barely biting back his rage.

“No. No I did nothing. Dakota’s the one—”


The pressure of his hand on her neck increased as she attempted to make excuses. She took a step back but he followed suit, backing her into the wall of the booth like an animal catching its prey. The pain in his eyes forcing her to look down as he closed the gap between them. She refused to believe she had been the one to betray him, any affection he felt for her was misplaced.

She refused to be bought off no matter how heavy the collar around her neck was.

“We made a deal. You are supposed to be mine.” He practically begged her to take back everything, to give up John and whatever else was keeping them apart but Kim didn’t budge.

The only thing she knew through the haze was that she wanted to leave. Her eyes locked on Luscious’s as he realized no contract could sign her over to him. He had spent a small fortune insuring her success for nothing. He had been played for a fool.

His grip on her neck tightened, his fingers lacing around the clasp of the necklace, his jaw clenching as he pulled it off in one swift motion, his eyes never leaving hers.

Kimberly gasped at the sharp pain shooting from where the necklace pulled tight before breaking. Panic starting to set in as she realized just how much stronger than her the man was.

She tried to run out from under him but her movements were too slow. The medication taking its toll as her body started rejecting the substance in her system.

She couldn’t push him away, keep his hands off the back off his dress, or even call out for help.

Luscious seemed unaware of her deteriorating state as he worked on undressing her. Or he simply didn’t care; with his face now buried against her neck there was no way to tell the difference either way.

Her dress hit the floor as his hands dug into her side. She could only manage one weak plea for him to stop before she lost the ability to push him aside. Her head hitting the wall lightly as her body started to go limp under Luscious’s.

No… Seemed to be the only coherent thought she could muster. Her eyes starting to close as a streak of light broke through the booth from behind Luscious.

Light poured in through the room before a figure nearly as tall as the doorway loomed behind her investor and cast a significantly large shadow.

The pressure on her sides disappeared as the man was ripped off her, tossed against the opposite wall with enough force to render him unconscious. A smaller man emerging from the former’s shadow.

The sound of her name being spoken registered deep in the back of her mind as she felt lighter hands hold her shoulders. A warm sense of familiarity washing over her as the new man spoke again. He was safe; he was there to help her.

He was there to catch her when the medication took its final toll.

But he couldn’t stop the room from going black.

…to be continued

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