He waited for her a long time after the curtain call. He knew from his own experience outside the town hall in San Antone that the stage door would be crowded with admirers. Here in Saint Louis, at a real theatre, there were bound to be dozens of them, each with a bouquet of roses and a mouthful of stuttered compliments. But Imogene didn't like roses and she didn't like crowds. So he waited in the house with a handful of daisies and bribed an usher to take a note back to her.
At first he stayed in his seat, seat 23C, and leaned back against the soft rose velvet, watching the chandeliers flicker and sway. The varnish on the stage glowed yellow under the gas light and the curtains hung heavy and blood red, long golden tassels moving gently in a sporadic breeze. When the last of the audience had left, taking with them their bright laughter, the silence in the theatre had vibrated. Aloysius hadn't minded it at first; it was a relief after the riotous two hour traffic of the stage. He read through the program again. Imogene Collette, that was a new one. In San Antone she'd gone by Imogene Lake. She'd spent an entire dinner once explaining to him why a perfect stage name was an absolute necessity. He hadn't paid much attention to that; he'd been too distracted by her eyes and her neck and her lips and the way she leaned near him as she spoke. He chuckled to himself and stood up with a stretch before ambling down to the stage.
The living quiet was interrupted by an elderly usher who swept the aisles while muttering under his breath. He had been a young lover once too, and he did not mind that Aloysius was still there. Having finished with the aisles, he went on the stage and raked the leaves of the Forest of Arden into buckets to be strewn about the stage again the next night.
At last the usher left, and Aloysius found himself alone in the theatre, with only a few lamps for company and the air growing chill around him. He sighed, for the building was quickly turning melancholy and he felt some of his certainty and hope dissipate into the darkness. He had expected her to come out to him by now. They should be laughing and talking too fast, tripping over each other's words, their eyes getting drunk off the sight of each other. He'd seen her last in San Antone, outside the theatre. The night had been warm and the air sweet with the smell of spring flowers. Then again, perhaps he'd imagined the smell. Perhaps it was only the blue-bonnets in his hand, but in memory it was more than that. In memory the dim light of the street lamps were silvery moon beams and the faint sounds of drunken singing were the gentle swells of a romantic opera. But whatever else might have been exaggerated by time and regrets, Aloysius knew that Imogene's beauty had been real. She'd worn a pale dress, almost white, and her honey colored hair was done in curls, pulled back by a velvet ribbon. He remembered the heat of her blush as he murmured sweet nothings in her ear, the feather light brush of her lashes against his cheek.
And he'd let her go! He marveled at that. She'd wanted to stay, been as forward as she dared with hints and insinuations. And he'd been foolish. Only 25, one wife already behind him and ready to enjoy the life of a professed bachelor. What was Imogene, with her immaculate gloves, her tiny waist, her spirited laugh, compared to freedom? But a year had passed and he was older now, wiser and sick of his own rotten cooking and the holes in his socks.
He was startled from his thoughts by a familiar voice. "Al?" she said quietly, her voice uncertain. She stepped out onto the stage and without thought he vaulted up to join her. He'd already grabbed her hands in his before she could say anything more. The daisies had been dropped, forgotten, and all that mattered now was her.
He grinned at her and did not notice the apprehension on her face, nor the slight tug of her hands away from his. "I shouldn't have let you go; I was a fool." She looked pained and would not meet his eyes. "Say something, Jen," he pleaded, his confidence fading, "I know I hurt you -" His eyes suddenly caught sight of the gentleman in the wings. The dapper young man looked ill at ease and Aloysius felt somehow ashamed that he'd had an audience.
She followed his eyes and sighed. She pulled away from him and held out her hand to the other man, speaking as she did, "Al, this is Phillip Collette," she paused, ever the actor, knowing full well how much richer the moment was when hope was held out for one moment more, "my husband."
He collected himself enough to shake her husband's hand, muttered his way through the regular pleasantries. She looked embarrassed and sad, but not regretful. At last, with a smile as false as any of the night's performances, Aloysius took his leave. He walked out the door with his hands in his pockets, more swagger in his step than needed to convince them he didn't care.
Outside the night was sharp and clear and the wind was surprisingly cold. Aloysius stopped right outside the door and considered the street lamps and the stars, the possibilities of the night now that any hope for happiness had been squashed. He shivered on the sidewalk and watched as a sleek black coach drove by. As it passed he just barely caught a glimpse of a pale slender neck, a coil of black hair, an arched brow. He grinned and sighed and started walking.