A Desert Breeze Publishing FREE READ
Joel Randolph was a set designer in summer stock when he met Emily Keeler, former Hollywood starlet -- and her daughter, Max. Cast opposite her in a romantic comedy, and then summer friendship and acting as a father-figure for Max changed Joel, until he realized he wanted Emily and Max in his life permanently.
A little body with an amazing mop of black curls squatted in the pool of light from the Green Room door, playing with one of the wooden tops that Gregori liked to carve during performances while waiting for his lighting cues. She looked up as Joel approached and opened her mouth as if she would say something, then shook her head. She stood up and held out her hand.
Bemused, Joel bent over. He had learned a long time ago that no matter how small the children, they hated when adults went down on one knee and emphasized how short they were. He shook her hand.
"Hello. I'm Joel. What's your name?"
"Max?" He grinned, sure he had heard her wrong.
"Max? What are you doing out here?" A little woman with pure white curls and a neon orange jogging suit paused in the doorway, leaning on her glossy black cane. "Honey, remember what Mommy told you? Don't go running around strange places." She took hold of Max's hand to lead her back into the Green Room. "I'm sorry. We just got here, and she's been riding for six hours and … well, you know children. If they can't run around once every hour…" Her smile was full of mischief and life, and Joel found himself grinning back at her.
"But it's not a strange place," Max said, all seriousness. "It's a theater. I know all about theaters."
"You do, huh?" Joel gestured for them to precede him into the Green Room. "How's that?"
"Max?" The sweet alto voice full of concern was more than familiar to Joel. He had just watched Sand and Storm two nights ago, on a rented videotape so grainy some of the scenes were lost in snow static. He didn't mind – the static that came with too many viewings usually covered up Carlo Vincente's face and cleared whenever Emily Keeler came on the screen. It never covered up her voice. As if it knew better than to interfere with her performance.
"Kurt Horner?" Emily said, coming forward and holding out a hand.
"Ah, no. Joel. Joel Randolph. Tech director. Kurt had to go to town for our annual conference with the police about traffic …" He held out his hand to shake, then the pieces clicked together in his head. Gloria had said "they" and "three."
"I'm Emily Keeler, and this is my Aunt Maxine, and my daughter, Max."
"I'm named for Aunt Maxi," Max announced proudly.
"That makes sense." Joel wiped his suddenly damp hands on the back of his jeans and looked around. "We should have your room ready for you soon. We call it the tower room. More than enough room for the three of you, and it gives you a great view of the ravine behind the theater. Let me give you a tour, show you where we eat, where the laundry facilities are, the bathroom, give you a rundown of how we run things here."
Joel turned, gesturing for them to follow. It was a survival tactic he had learned long ago, when beautiful gray eyes and heart-shaped faces threatened to overwhelm him and tie his tongue into knots. The only solution was to do something, offer some service, and put himself into a position of giving instead of asking.
He had only taken two steps before Max scurried to catch up with him. She reached up for his hand and he gripped her little fingers without thinking. Later, looking back, Joel realized the moment he looked into those big dark eyes and that trusting little face, he had fallen in love.