“What were you doing before you came out here?” I asked, but she was still pouting. “Oh, c’mon, you asked me about my business. Tell me.”
“I was married.”
“Married? What, like right out of high school?”
“Was it a shotgun wedding?”
“But it was a white wedding, wasn’t it?”
“All right, all right. So, you’re divorced now and you came out here—”
“Well, technically…I’m still married.”
“What? Hot damn, I made it with a married woman!” I shouted along with a plume of smoke.
“So, you left him?” I’m eager for more now. Suddenly, I want to know everything about this girl. Suddenly she’s so interesting. I want all the sordid details: the teenage, summer, golden-wheat-field romance on the plains gone awry: the tree under which they first kissed and into which they engraved their initials, the dates at the local soda shop, the making-out at the drive-in movies, the stolen kisses after midnight, the little prairie chapel where they got married. I want to know everything about this doomed romance from a place where lives obediently follow the natural order of the land: the tilling, sowing and reaping: the teenage courtship, the marriage after high school, children at twenty-two. And now, this brave little soul lying next to me in my bed uproots everything she knows for something uncertain if not implausible. For a dream.
“I don’t see how it’s any business of yours or why you care,” she said, deflating my enthusiasm.
“I don’t mean anything by it. I’m just curious.” I was deflated, but not defeated. I can’t appear too eager to know. The thing is, she wants to tell me. Of course she does. Girls like her always want to spill their guts, but she has to make it seem like I’m prying it from her. Girls. “Oh, c’mon. I’ll tell you anything about my life. It just sounds like quite a story, is all.”
She sighed. “Don’t be telling anyone about this, okay?”
“Cross my heart and hope to die,” I said, the burning ember tracing a smoky cross over my chest.
“I don’t want rumors floating around about me,” and then pointedly, “and if they do, I’ll know it was you.”
I gave her another smug look. “Hey, c’mon.” It’s good to have something on her, since I know she will eventually dump my sorry ass. Oh, the ugly rumors will fly, like a flight of pigeons and their little gnarled toes, incessantly flapping their wings in your face as you try to make your away across Washington Square.
“Bobby was my only boyfriend. I knew I would marry him. We talked about getting married when we were like sixteen. I thought that was all I wanted. A couple years later, I realized that it wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t want to be stuck out in Iowa raising babies, being a farmer’s wife. I felt trapped. I had to leave. It took me two years to build up the nerve. But then I did it. I just left. I packed my things, told him I had to do this.”
“I thought you said you always knew you’d be a star,” I teased her.
“I always acted in school. Plays. Musicals. By my senior year, it just seemed like a foolish dream. Then I realized it was a foolish dream that I could be happy staying home, living on a farm. It’s now or never. I have to try.”
“So you just picked up and left like—”
“No, B—hup,” she said with a fright, which was kind of like a hiccup, but was clearly a deliberate sound.
“Sorry, I was just about to call you Bobby.” Then her eyes darted about, as if she were concentrating on some complex math equation in her mind. Her face went rapidly from a DEFCON 5 level blush to DEFCON 4, 3 and even 2 before I figured out what was going on inside that pretty little head with the all-American white teeth.
“You don’t remember my name, do you?”
“Of course. Robby…Robert…Roger,” she said in succession to my continual head shaking…and DEFCON 1, which was met with both of her hands clasped over her mouth in humiliation.
“Well, my last name is Rodney. My name is Nick, pleased to meet you,” I said, extending her my hand.
“Oh my God. I’m so sorry. I didn’t forget. I was just so wasted last night. Oh my God. I can’t believe this.”
“It’s all right. I only remember your name because it already sounds like a stage name. Nicholas Rodney isn’t exactly a bright-lights kind of name.”
“I think it sounds nice. Nicholas Rodney. It sounds like it could stand next to Humphrey Bogart.”
“Thanks,” I said, though I was sure she was only flattering me.
“Yeah, no, I was going to say that I first came out here last spring to audition for the Studio. I didn’t tell my family or Bobby what I was coming out here for, just that it was a trip with my girlfriend. I didn’t actually decide to move out here until I got in. I thought, okay, if I get in it’s a sign to leave Bobby. If I don’t I’ll stay in Iowa and stay with him. But I got in. I was so excited and scared to get in. I didn’t tell anybody up until I left. I knew they would try and stop me. I knew they’d think I was stupid for moving out here.”
“When was this?”
“Just last week.”
“That’s what I said. Jesus wanted me to come, and Bobby he said Jesus was tempting me, not calling me,” she said to my growing look of incredulity. I guess it was a more patronizing look than I intended.
“Why do you keep looking at me like I’m some dumb country chick who doesn’t get it?” she said with a look that put me in my place. As ashamed as she made me feel right then, it also made me like her even more.
“I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean anything by that,” I said, sheepishly. She went on to tell me about the life she had left, about how she had really surprised herself more than anyone by leaving. How she idolized Tierney Wakefield and how her story inspired her to strike out and live her own dream. How her parents, though shocked and upset, figure she’ll return home in a matter of weeks, once she “gets it out of her system.” And even though there is a lot about this girl that is naïve and silly and vulnerable, her uninhibited enthusiasm contained some truth: that whether or not dreams come true, abandoning what you know is the only way of finding out what you’re capable of.