Kansas City Confessions

By: Julie Miller

Chapter One

 “‘God bless us, every one.’”

 Katie Rinaldi joined the smattering of applause from the mostly empty seats of the Williams College auditorium, where the community theater group she belonged to was rehearsing a production of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. The man with the white hair playing Ebenezer Scrooge stood at center stage, accepting handshakes and congratulations from the other actors as they completed their first technical rehearsal with sound and lights. The costumes she’d constructed for the three spirits seemed to be fitting just fine. And once she finished painting the mask for the Spirit of Christmas Future, she could sit back and enjoy the run of the show as an audience member. Okay, as a proud mama. She only had eyes for Tiny Tim.

 She gave a thumbs-up sign to her third-grade son and laughed when he had to fight with the long sleeves of his costume jacket to free his hands and return the gesture. His rolling-eyed expression of frustration softened her laugh into an understanding smile.

 She mouthed, Okay. I’ll fix it. Once he was certain she’d gotten the message, Tyler Rinaldi turned to chatter with the boy next to him, who played one of his older Cratchit brothers. One of the girls joined the group, bringing over a prop toy, and instantly, they were involved in a challenge to see who could get the wooden ball on an attached string into the cup first.

 Although extra demands with her job at KCPD and the normal bustle of the holidays meant Katie was already busy without having to work a play into her schedule, she was glad she’d brought Tyler to auditions. The only child of a single mother, Tyler often spent his evenings alone with her, reading books or playing video or computer games after he finished his homework. She was glad to see him having fun and making friends.

 “Note to self.” Katie pulled her laptop from her lime-green-and-blue-flowered bag and opened up her calendar to type in a reminder that she needed to adjust the costume that had initially been made for a larger child. What was one less hour of sleep, anyway? “Shorten sleeves.”

 “I think we might just have a show.” Katie startled at the hand on her shoulder. “Sorry. I didn’t realize you were working.”

 Katie saved her calendar and turned in her seat to acknowledge the slender man with thick blond hair streaked with threads of gray sinking into the cushioned seat behind her. “Hey, Doug. I was just making some costume notes.”

 The play’s director leaned forward, resting his arms on the back of the seat beside her. “You’ve done a nice job,” he complimented, even though she’d been only one of several volunteers. His professionally trained voice articulated every word to dramatic perfection. “We’re down to the details now—if the gremlins in this old theater will give us a break.”

 “Gremlins?”

 Doug looked up into the steel rafters of the catwalk two stories above their heads before bringing his dark eyes back to hers. “I don’t know a theater that isn’t haunted. Or a production that feels like it’s going to be ready in time. Those were brand-new battery packs we put in the microphones tonight, but they still weren’t working.”

 “And you think the gremlins are responsible?” she teased.

 Laughing, he patted her shoulder again. “More likely a short in a wire somewhere. But we need to figure out that glitch, put the finishing touches on makeup and costumes, and get the rest of the set painted before we open next weekend.”

 “You don’t ask for much, do you?” she answered, subtly pulling away from his touch. Doug Price was one of those ageless-looking souls who could be forty or fifty or maybe even sixty but who had the energy—and apparently the libido—of a much younger man. “It’s a fun holiday tradition that your group puts on this show every year. Tyler’s having a blast being a part of it.”

 “And you?”

 Katie smiled. Despite dodging a few touches and missing those extra hours of sleep, she’d enjoyed the creative energy she’d been a part of these past few weeks. “Me, too.”

 “Douglas?” A man’s voice from the stage interrupted the conversation. Francis Sergel, the tall, gaunt gentleman who played the Spirit of Christmas Future, had a sharp, nasal voice. Fortunately, he’d gotten the role because he looked the part and didn’t have to speak onstage. “Curtain calls? You said you’d block them this evening.”

 “In a minute.” Doug’s hand was on her shoulder again. “You want to go grab a coffee after rehearsal? My treat.”

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