Behind That Sharp Glare
Dedicated to the lovely Neopian that gave me the name of the Fairweather, I'm sorry I don't remember your name, but this story's for you!
It was a big night in the Catacombs. Neopets of all size and colour were running to and fro, around the statues and to the coffee shop or maybe to one of the many acting or writing facilities hidden away there. The voices of the many pets and humans echoed throughout the caves as they chatted and questioned each other about the sudden busyness. The truth was that there was a new play going on at the Fairweather.
The Fairweather was a rather popular theatre in the corner of one of the larger caves. Many famous actors and actresses had passed through their doors, and some were even created by its yearly contest targeting teens. The theatre had been named after the great explorer Lilian Fairweather, and proudly hung a large painting of her and her renowned father in its lobby.
The lobby was, in fact, quite crowded. An unorganized line led up to the secretary’s desk where a bespectacled brown Ixi gave tickets to a well-dressed Lupe couple, which briefly thanked her before heading into Theatre One. It had the largest stage with the most seats. The play that was about to start was a new adaptation of Snowy – A White Kougra Story that was sure to be thrilling and capture all the struggle and hardships of the poor Kougra’s life story.
Jacqueline wished she could be in it.
But her days on stage were over, she knew, and it was now her time to exchange tickets for money. She often missed the days onstage, though. She almost smiled as a group of regular customers came up to her desk.
“Hey, Illy.” The blue Gelert beamed; flashing the middle aged Ixi a sharp toothed smile. She disliked his pet name for her, using her surname Ilston in an unflattering youthful way. His name was Gordie Davison, a sixteen-year-old. He often came on Saturday nights with his same group of friends, a yellow Wocky named Jenna, a striped Flotsam named Don and his younger sister, Mina. “We need four tickets to the new show, please and thanks.”
“Eight thousand Neopoints then, please,” Jacqueline said sternly. She always appeared as a strict and sharp old school teacher, who didn’t approve of kids nowadays, with her biting voice and critical glare. But deep down, she was just an old softy, who always liked kids and wished she'd taken the time to have some of her own. Gordie, who always knew this and enjoyed teasing her, grinned at her and handed over the neopoints, where Jacqueline stored them away and handed over the tickets. He thanked her and the group of four went in to sit down.
The line thinned quickly, and soon all available seats had been taken. Jacqueline sighed and leaned back in her seat; she had to stay in the lobby and make sure no one snuck in to the performance. She began listening as the chattering crowd quieted and she could hear the boom of a Virtu-Mike being spoken into. The play was starting.
“Strong voice, but not enough emotion,” Jacqueline said quietly to herself, focusing her gaze on the unremarkable ceiling. The man reciting the intro to the play had a rather dull voice, and Jacqueline knew of several actors or actress that could have done a much better job. But she knew that there were a few famous actors and actresses in the play. The star of the play was last year’s ‘Teenage Actors and Actresses Contest’ winner, Bobby Strain, and he had more talent than it seemed.
Jacqueline knew talent when she saw it, and when the tall, scrawny Kougra signed up for the contest, she was sure that he was going to be the winner. Something in his eyes and voice let her know immediately; he didn’t flinch when she glared at him and was a respectful boy.
She heard the introduction go loudly on, and finally the real play began with the sound effects of a cold, whistling wind. She heard the rather famous Elizabeth Jillian Dowe as the mother begin to speak her monologue. With a good deal of emotion and the thick sound of her voice, she was clearly in fake tears. Jacqueline always thought Elizabeth was a good actress.
But she knew that she would do better.
If she closed her eyes, Jacqueline could imagine she was just sitting offstage, mentally reciting lines while waiting for her cue. Even after the long twenty years she had been working the desk job, she could still see the curtains and the backstage crew working franticly in her mind. All she wanted was another role, another day to feel the shine of a spotlight on you while you put your whole heart into a heated dialogue or a tearful monologue after the death of another character.
But it would not come; it could not come.
She could still picture the scene like it was yesterday. A new play had been ready to be put on for the first time at an old theatre, The Blue Lily it had been called. It was popular back in the old days, but it was demolished years ago. It was a shack compared to the Fairweather, only one stage and enough seating for fifty instead of the five hundred the Fairweather could fit in one regular theatre room.
Jacqueline remembered acting in it all the time back in her youth. From the classy One Last Dance to the action-packed Battle for the Castle, she had acted in all the old plays. The play this time was called Open Fields, a tale about an upper-class Neopia Central Lupe, named Robert, going to the Meridellian countryside on business reasons and becoming humbler as he meets and gets along with the village pets.
Jacqueline was going to play the leading lady, Catherine, an Ixi who was the adult daughter of the family that owned the inn Robert was staying at. The two were to become friends throughout the play. Everyone was sure that the play would be a hit, and nothing would go wrong.
But of course, with a statement like that, something would.
It was on opening night, the seats were packed and the play was about to start. A much younger Jacqueline Ilston, who was quite famous in those days, was waiting patiently backstage. She knew the play by heart and was ready to go on stage. She paced nervously nonetheless, listening to the beginning of the play, as the new record player began to play the clips of Beekadoodles chirping and such as the scene of Robert arriving in Meridell began.
Jacqueline remembered catching herself in a mirror hanging on the wall; she saw her brown slender twenty-eight year old shape standing upright, with her two front hooves behind her back and her long chestnut coloured hair curled and streaming down her back. She wore a simple light blue dress that stopped just below her knees, and simple dark framed glasses. She smiled at herself. That image would forever be cemented into her mind. Thinking of it now almost brought tears to the almost fifty-year-old Ixi. She was such a pretty young woman, and she used to exercise and run for hours to keep her slim shape up...
“...I’ve seen more potatoes than I have my entire life and I haven’t been here five minutes... that surely can’t be the inn I am to stay at! It’s hardly looks bigger than my dining room!” Thomas Jones Murray as Robert exclaimed. Jacqueline had acted with him many times before; he was always a decent actor, and a decent man. She remembered going to her entrance, as it was almost her cue...
“It has five rooms sir,” the carriage driver said. He was a yellow Moehog and a lowly actor whose name Jacqueline had long forgotten. “It’s not all that small. Look, there’s young Catherine coming to greet you!”
Jacqueline had already started to run out, into the beams of the spotlight. She smiled her charming smile at Robert, while clasping her hooves behind her back. “You’re Mr. Robert, I assume?” He nodded. “Welcome to Meridell!”
That was when the memories started to get blurry. Jacqueline remembered Robert saying something that clearly was funny as the audience laughed genially and the carriage driver made a short comment and began to go offstage. She opened her mouth to say something when someone behind her shouted, “Look out, Jackie!”
She remembered looking up to see the falling stage light and diving forwards, but not in time. She remembered a searing across her back and legs and everything started to go dark and hazy. A pet, or maybe many pets, was yelling for help. There was a constant screaming ringing in her ears. The last thing she saw before everything disappeared was the shocked and pale face of Thomas Jones Murray and the fleeing carriage driver.
She woke days later in the hospital. The first thing anyone said to her was unpleasant.
“Ms. Ilston.” It was the doctor, a fat red Scorchio with an attempted expression of sympathy on his face. Her mind was confused, and she felt strange. Almost lighter. The doctor continued, “I have some very bad news for you.”
Jacqueline remembered thinking, Oh great, and trying to sit up. She realized it was suddenly quite hard to do. The doctor looked alarmed and motioned her to stop, which she immediately did. The doctor was now only looking at her with pity.
“We’re sorry to inform you that you have totally lost all feeling in your legs. You are paralyzed from the waist down.”
She didn’t believe him at first, but twenty years later she had long known it was the truth. She hadn’t been able to act for years; there was no calling for an old Ixi in a wheelchair. She had been allowed a job to be secretary to The Blue Lily, and she had been for fifteen years, then it had went out of business and so she took up a job at the Fairweather. Seymour Limeman, the owner of the Fairweather, had seen many of her plays as a boy and was very sympathetic, and allowed her to be a secretary too. It was a pity she couldn’t act anymore. Pity. Such a shame.
So now she was stuck behind the counter, listening to the new generation of actors and actresses perform. Thinking every day on how she could have prevented her acting career to be cut short, on how nice it would be to go onstage again, to walk again...
Jacqueline almost flinched as she abruptly came back from her musings. A late teens, early twenties aged human girl stood there with her two pets, identical red Xweetoks, no more than four. One pet was a girl, as was evident from her long red hair tied in a Uni-tail. Jacqueline noticed something about her, a certain air of excitement of being in the lobby and yearning to go into the theatre.
“Um... I was pretty sure we’re too late to get tickets to see the new play, but Nat here was set on going. She’s never been to one before but really wanted to go...” the girl said tentatively. Jacqueline looked sternly at them through her eyeglasses and was about to tell them to leave, but then she saw the little girl Xweetok’s eyes. She had the same look Jacqueline had had when she went to her first play. So excited.
“I...” Jacqueline hesitated. There had been three seats in the back that were booked by some high esteemed Neopians that had never shown up, but Mr. Limeman had insisted on leaving them open just in case they were late. But... the little Xweetok’s eyes gleamed. It looked like maybe... maybe she could become a great actress. Jacqueline could tell these things. Perhaps she could shunt her a little in the doorway... just introduce her to acting. “...There are three seats left. Just... just give me six thousand neopoints for the tickets... and tell the ticket taker that you’re in the ‘Reserved’ seats.”
She winked at the girl and permitted her a rare smile, “I’ll sort it out with him later. It’ll be our little secret for now.”
The girl grinned and handed over the neopoints in exchange for the three tickets, and the trio quietly went into Theatre One.
When they didn’t come out immediately, she knew her little plan had worked. She would give the other Neopians their money back and Mr. Limeman owed her a favour anyway. All would work out.
Jacqueline felt good about what she had just done. She might have bent the rules a little bit, but she was starting to feel that ‘Nat’ was something different. Perhaps she was a prodigy of sorts. And in the years to come, Jacqueline would privately know that she helped with it. She let her into her first play.
Jacqueline couldn’t act anymore, but she could help others to.