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Ophelia’s words are sprinkling, tinkling in my ears. They smell like cut grass just washed with rain. I want to breathe her. Strip her. Peel her skin like sunlight strained through cinnamon and get to the heart of the woman that is buried under her layers of poise.

We are at rehearsal in the sprawling National Academy for the Performing Arts. The empty red seats roll back in waves before us. Ophelia is on her cell phone, making arrangements to go to the spa.

I wait until she hangs up. “Ophelia?”

“Yes?”

I want to lean forward and press my fingers on the hardness of her collarbone before pulling the plumpness of her bottom lip between my teeth. A kiss, I imagine, would start slow and rise in crescendos.

“Marcus?”

“Yes?”

“You called me?”

“Oh, yes.”

She sits on the stage, script spread out before her with all her lines meticulously highlighted in yellow. She is not wearing stage make-up but she already looks like the lead actress.

How could a woman named Ophelia not be an actress? I wish we were performing Hamlet. She would be herself, of course, peering out at me from the wings.

I can hear myself. To be or not to be– that is the question. My words are the choking smoke that heralds the start of a fire. Whether ’tis nobler in mind to suffer–

“Marcus?”

“Sorry.”

Ophelia’s forehead crumples. “I was wondering if you wanted to meet to brainstorm on Saturday? I still think we can work on our first scene together?”

Ophelia whips her phone out of her purse. Her fingers find her calendar. The light illuminates her face as she opens it. “What time on Saturday?”

“One?” I say, hoping. Hoping… Please God. Give me this. Give me this one thing. Give me an hour with this woman in a coffee shop. Give me her hair, twisted into ringlets that sink into one another. Give me the stomach-shudder when her shirt slips off her shoulder and I see her flesh crossed by a bra strap. Give me–

“Can you do one-thirty?”

I can do anything you want.

“Marcus?”

“Yes, of course – Jardin in the mall?” I try to say this as if I’m just flicking the words out of my mouth; as if I am the type who goes to Jardin des Tuileries instead of Tecla’s Vegetable Stand where I would haggle over the price of an avocado.

“Sure,” Ophelia says. “That sounds like a treat.”

Could she hear the vibrato in my voice? Would she taste my desperation if we kissed? That sour, morning-after taste that I can never brush out of my mouth? I won’t mess it up; I won’t think crazy thoughts in my head – all mixed metaphors and fantasies spilling from one part of me to another while I remain tongue-tied.

“Great,” I say. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Ophelia tucks her curls behind one pixie-pointed ear. Touching her would feel like the sun hitting my face first thing in the morning, like a piccolo playing notes that hum in my throat, like waking up after eight hours sleep.

Already my head-voices are telling me that this is madness. How could somebody like Ophelia – how could somebody like her – ever want anything to do with me? She probably rolled her eyes when she first saw my name on the cast list.

Ophelia smiles – more a lifting of the lips – before returning to her script. Already, her lines are consuming her. Our director wants us to spend ten hours simply reading the lines, and living the characters before we begin performing, but I can already see her weaving her character’s clothes over her own. Her pink dress – which only a moment before was elegantly gathered around her wasp-waist – seems to hang off her frame as if she has made herself thinner.

I return to my script and try to ignore her. I imagine my character as he is portrayed in Act One: young, grasping – a ghetto youth determined to claw his way out. Not such a hard thing for me to be. I even look the part – dark and scrawny like a weed springing up from a pavement crack.

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