Oliver stretched out an unhappy hand and begrudgingly accepted the Kleenex that Tara was offering him. He lifted his head and dabbed at his tear-stained face, wondering if it was time to call it quits for the day. Heck, maybe it was time to call it quits full stop. Final curtain, and all of that? He sighed deeply, and counted to ten.

“Right.” He gathered his courage, straightened himself and looked around. “The show must go on!” These stage lights could blind a man. He remembered now why he gave up the acting lark; otherwise he could have cast himself as Lear and turned it into a one-man show with no need for any more painful auditions. At least I’d do a halfway decent job of it, he thought. He shook his head to clear these dangerous renegade thoughts. His head hurt. His thermos was still on the desk in the viewing station, twenty five rows up from the stage. He glanced at Tara standing next to him on the boards. She was also peering up in the direction of the rum and Coke. Then she looked at him.

“Shall we?” he asked. Oliver bravely managed a wry smile for Tara, and waved a hand in the direction of the viewing platform. She dutifully led the way and he followed, proud of his resolve, his pluck, his dogged determination. One row after the next. Revived by the exertion, he suddenly felt invincible. Like Edmund Hillary conquering Everest, puffing his way up through the stalls, behind his trusty long-legged sherpa. Her firm posterior cantered on ahead of him. “Not quite so fast Tenzing-“ he spluttered, quickly correcting himself “-erm, I mean Tara. Tara, yes, Tara.”

She glared daggers at him and upped the pace.

When they finally summited the platform, Oliver heaved himself, wheezing, into his chair and closed his eyes for a second. When he opened them, Tara had moved the thermos away across to the far end of the desk where he couldn’t possibly reach it. She was being spiteful now, over a silly slip of the tongue? So like a woman!

“You know the rules, Oliver,” she reminded him. “No drinking until we’re halfway through.” Tara pushed his clipboard towards him and jabbed her pencil at the eighth name on the list. “When we’re done with number eight, we’ll only have five-and-three-quarters more eights to get through before we reach half of ninety-two.”

He rolled his eyes, wondering if Tara’s maths pupils hated her anywhere near as much as he did right now. Factor that into your equation if you dare, Frau Fraction-Freak, he silently willed her.

“Next!” he snapped far too loudly, and then winced as the microphone’s feedback wailed through the theatre like a jilted lover in a karaoke bar on Monday night. Tara’s maternal instinct seemed to have evaporated under the stage lights, dried up in those tissues she’d brought him: she was now boring a hole through his forehead with her laser stare, angrily mouthing what looked like rude words at him. Or maybe they were the lyrics of a Celine Dion song, who knew?

“Next, pleeeaase,” he begged – of the eighth auditionee, of Tara, of God in His heaven – and then quietly vowed to the Universe that there would be Hell to pay if this next person didn’t offer some promise.

The End

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