He wasn’t a man of many words. But he had the eyes for detail. And for the moment. He was able to stay patient for three hours, waiting in his corner backstage without having to do one tiny stroke of work. No-one would take notice of him. But when the play on stage culminated to its peak, the lights had to change from bright orange to dark purple, he was there to bath the setting in its most fitting colours and smoke. And then, when he heard the audience erupting in a hurricane of an applause, the man was happy for the actors and that he had been able to be part of the success.

Darren Myles was the light board operator of the old and noble theatre in town. Most of the time he felt like a caretaker for every job the house wasn’t able to afford money for. But Darren liked his work. He liked being around all those people, even though they hardly ever noticed him. Not to mention appreciate what he did. But Darren didn’t mind. Because being part of those people was enough to make him happy.

And even better, he was always able to watch people from his place without them knowing that he was watching. There was a curtain and it saved his control panel. There was just a not very deep alcove inside the wall for this panel. So, Darren had every excuse to always let his eyes wander.

And there he was again: the star of the show. Young Ronald Fitzpatrick who received generously the second applause of the evening, this time backstage from his fellow actors and staff.

Darren almost forgot to change the lights again, so the audience was able to leave the theatre. But he did when he noticed the red flashing LED from the corner of his eye. And afterwards, Darren was able to watch from behind his curtain.

Young Mr Fitzpatrick hadn’t been here for very long. He had been arrived with the new play and already got the protagonist role. He must have been a made star on stage, so Darren from the start was slightly ashamed that he didn’t know anything about him. Even though he only worked backstage and nobody actually needed to know about him, he felt that he himself needed to know everything about those people.

The caretaker for such an important house should know about everything and everyone after all.

So, Darren had gotten the information he needed – and wanted – from the town newspaper and the theatre’s own bill for the new play. There had been the young man’s name, that he was coming basically straight from drama school, and he originated from the North – just like Darren himself.

Accidentally, their eyes met and Darren looked away as if he had been struck by lightning. He had been probably staring and Mr Fitzpatrick felt his piercing glance on him.

He wasn’t even sure what it was exactly that fascinated him about the new actor who always seemed to be in a good mood, who joked backstage with basically everyone, who had shining dark, almost black, hair – who had this deep and knowing look in his eyes, intelligent eyes that probably knew everything about the very human being the second they turned on him.

After a moment, Darren came back from behind his curtain. He wanted to catch the boy again – at least with his eyes. But Mr Fitzpatrick wasn’t there any more. The other actors were still standing closely together, talking about the play and its continuing success.

It wasn’t panicking what made it to Darren’s stomach but the feeling of loss. He already missed the sight of the young man when he just turned back on to his work that was switching off the lights that weren’t needed any more. Later on he would turn off the remaining lights when everyone else was gone but him. And after cleaning the backstage area, he would be the last man leaving for home like on any other day before and after today.

So, Darren was already stuck in his late night routine again when he felt the presence of someone in his back. And before he was even able to feel anxious, someone with a very clear pronunciation asked for his attention.

»Mr Myles, I beg your pardon in disturbing you,« the voice said; the voice of an actor.

And when Darren turned around, he couldn’t believe that it was a certain man he had just been missing a couple of minutes before.

»Mr Fitzpatrick, you’re not disturbing me at all,« Darren said and already felt his cheeks blushing as if he was a teenager and not a man in his early forties. Perhaps a little too fast he took the duster to give his hands something to do.

»So, you already know my name; that’s impressive. But, please, call me Ronnie,« the young man said.

»I do know the names of everyone here,« Darren lied and wasn’t proud of it. Maybe blushed even more, so he felt the need to add, »That’s my job.«

»I see. It’s still nice to know and makes me feel welcome,« Ronnie said and smiled.

»You are welcome, Ronnie. And, please, call me Darren,« the man with the moving duster hastened to say.

»Thank you, Darren,« Ronnie said, trying to get eye contact with the man who seemed clearly uncomfortable in his presence. So, initially, Ronnie had been rather confident with his plan. But he grew more and more suspicious about it, wondering if he just had the wrong impression at first sight.

But just before the silence between them could become really awkward, he simply went on with what he wanted with walking over to Darren.

»I’ve got a problem, Darren, and I thought maybe you could be of some help for me,« the young man indicated and was finally met with a shy glance.

»At your service, Ronnie,« Darren said while his eyes were already gone again.

And this was the moment when he felt Ronnie touching his shoulder. He wanted to move backwards but there was the wall and his control panel. So, the only thing he was able to do was looking at the young man, hoping that he was somehow able to read his thoughts. Because he couldn’t tell him that he should leave him alone because he had fallen in love with him the very moment he saw him for the first time. He just wasn’t able to tell him that because it would make working here impossible for both men.

Fortunately enough, Ronnie stepped backwards himself but with a look in his eyes that Darren wasn’t able to read. He wasn’t looking away this time but something had changed.

»I hope, you don’t have a problem with me, Darren,« Ronnie half asked and seemed glad when Darren shook his head.

»No, not at all. I was just… a little surprised that you noticed me somehow. Anyway, I’m happy to help you,« the older man replied after a moment of reconsideration his behaviour, now trying to act more confident, also to enjoy the moment.

»Great. Thank you, Darren,« Ronnie smiled again and finally told his counterpart about the reason why he chose to come over to seek his help. »My problem is this: there is someone I really like and I want to have an outing of some sorts, a dinner or a walk along the coast, just something for getting to know each other to see if it could work.«

Now, that Ronnie opened up with what he wanted to say, Darren went almost back to his previous distant self.

»Well, I can see your problem. Taking the first step is never easy. But why are you coming to me? Just ask her out. You’re a nice man – handsome – she won’t say no.«

»The problem is, the very person isn’t a she. Please, don’t say it to anybody because… I mean, I’m aware that there many gay actors out there. But I’m still young and I’m afraid that producers and directors won’t hand me proper roles any more when they know about my private life. They could think that I’m not able to play certain scenes – with women – in a believable way. It’s rather stupid because when an actor has to play a murderer, he usually doesn’t have to be an actual murderer to play his part in a believable way. But anyway, I just don’t want it to be out there. But there is still this very guy I really like to know more about. So, can you help me, Darren?«

»I’m not sure how I could be able to help you, Ronnie, but I can promise you that I won’t talk about it to anyone. There is hardly anyone who talks with me anyway,« Darren assured the young man, looking away again, now to the still large group of actors and staff that were all standing a good way away from the two of them, so they were able to keep their little conversation private.

But he noticed that one man was looking over there to them. It wasn’t just an unmotivated look around; he was basically staring at them. So, Darren drew his conclusions.

»It’s Matthew Miller, isn’t it? He’s looking over here,« Darren assumed that was the point, young Ronnie wanted to talk about.

»No, I’m…« Ronnie started but Darren didn’t let him continue.

»It’s alright, you don’t have to defend yourself or explain anything. Like I said, I won’t tell anyone. But I’m going to tell you something about Mr Miller. I think it’s safe for you to talk with him about an outing. I’ve seen him with men before and from what I’ve noticed I think he’d like you. He’s good looking and a nice pal, maybe a little too loud sometimes but as far as I know someone you can count on,« Darren promoted the man who was still looking over and seemed to have grown angry about something.

Now Ronnie looked away from Darren and over to Matthew. Darren had made it obvious to him that he wasn’t interested. So, maybe it was really better to try with Matty. In the end it was pretty simple and easy: Ronnie just didn’t want to be alone at night. He just wanted to share his time with someone when he wasn’t working. And why not Matty? It was easier and safer than going to a club or a bar.

Still looking over to Matthew, Ronnie told Darren: »I wouldn’t have asked Matty in the first place but if you say he’s a nice pal, I think it’s worth a try.«

Before he went, Ronnie smiled at Darren, adding: »Thank you. I was hoping for something else but, you know, you can’t always get what you want.«

Then he went. And when Darren saw this supposed anger on Mr Miller’s face turning into a broad smile when Ronnie said something to him, he hastened to look away and turning his attention back to his work.

– – – –

The following day, Darren had been the first person at the theatre – last to leave, first to arrive. It had been this way since he started working here a couple of years back already. And work always had been his life. It allowed him to forget thinking about himself, what he was truly all about. He’d once tried to live a so-called normal life, a conventional life. But it didn’t work. So he just didn’t want to hurt anyone else and that included himself, too.

He just thought about Ronnie once when he opened the back door to enter his little room at the theatre. Hopefully he spent a good and nice evening with Mr Miller. But that was all. Because his phone rang and Darren was glad about the distraction.

It was only one hour later when he slowly wondered that there were hardly any actors in there so far. There had been some for rehearsal for another play that was only about to premiere coming month. But there had been no actors from the current play.

Until the director arrived and went straight for Darren.

»Tonight’s performance is off, Mr Myles,« the director went straight to the point as well. »Mr Fitzpatrick had an accident and we don’t have an understudy. So, you’re free to go earlier when the rehearsals are finished.«

He sounded devastated and looked like he hadn’t slept all night. And Darren hadn’t understood one single word of what the director had said to him.

»An accident? What accident? Is he alright?« he somehow asked after a while of trying so.

»Like I said, we don’t have an understudy. He’s dead.«

Darren still felt numb and half unconscious when the director had long left him to probably go on with his business as if nothing had happened. Questions rolled through his mind, from one side to the other and on their way they collided several times. And every time they hit each other, it felt like being hit by a thunderbolt or stabbed with a dagger.

And just left there slowly bleeding to death.

Darren had no idea what really happened because he had been unable to demand for an explanation from the director. But deep inside he didn’t need an explanation. Because he knew that it wouldn’t make things better. It would make them only worse.

With long trained, robotic movements he provided his work for as long as it was needed.

But right after he’d switched the last light off, he was gone.

Sitting in his car, driving along the empty coastline, hadn’t been of any help to get rid of the questions that demanded for answers but only resulted in more questions with even less answers.

It was a horrible circle Darren got himself into and he only saw one solution.

There was in fact a nice place on the coastline where it wasn’t really a coastline any more but a cliff – a nice vertical coastline with a beautiful view towards the sea.

Circumstances made it possible for Darren that he was able to drive to this cliff while the Sun prepared for calling it a day. He parked the car just a few metres away from the abyss, then got out of it to soak in the fresh, salty breeze from the sea, combined with this horribly spectacular view of an ever redder turning sunset.

It was simply too beautiful to stand. And at some point Darren was sure that the seagulls directed their mocking laughter at him and him alone.

He had sent Ronnie away, possibly into his death, regardless of how it happened, no matter which circumstances or other people were involved. Darren felt guilty and just didn’t want to move on like nothing happened.

A young promising life had been wiped away from the surface of the Earth. And Darren was left alone without a remaining chance of trying to correct his mistake.

His horrible mistake.

His fault that would haunt him for his entire remaining life.

So, there was only one thing left to do.

When the Sun had turned its ostensible surroundings into violet light, Darren climbed into his car. He drove back a little, then floored the accelerator. And for a short moment of time Darren and his car went flying. Once again it was almost too beautiful to stand.

– – – –

There was a loud bang. And afterwards, everything turned black. Everything around him seemed wet until he realized that he was sweating like a leaky heater. His breathing went fast but it took a while until his brain got the idea that there wasn’t much oxygen left.

Finally, he kicked back the blanket that had covered him entirely.

Breathes in – breathes out.

Then he opened his eyes. Blinked. And noticed that he was in his bedroom. In his bed while there was already a bright day happening on the other side of the window.

For a moment he simply wasn’t unable to connect his latest memories with his current situation. He tried to remember. About the theatre. About his job. The conversation. The other conversation.

The horribly spectacular sunset.

Until he realized that all of that just had been a dream. Well, it had to be. Because if his latest memories weren’t a dream, then what was that? What was his state he was in at the moment?

Darren Myles looked down on his hands, turned them around, tweaked his skin.

It hurt. And this was the sweetest feeling Darren ever had the fortune to feel. He laid back down on his bed and felt tears of relief leaving his eyes.

One hour later he was standing backstage at the theatre on his control panel, dusting every single LED with loving passion, as if it was the best and most enjoyable work possible. He had been a little late, so the director had to put on the most needed lights. But fortunately enough, the performance only started in about another hour. So, today’s audience wouldn’t notice that something had been different before.

During the performance, Darren had his little monitor by his side. It belonged to the theatre’s older equipment, so its screen only showed very little people in black, grey and white nuances. And also of his lights and smoke he only got an idea from what it should be, not how it actually was seen by the spectators. It was the curse of the control panel’s position. But he should really demand for at least a better screen.

Darren actually smiled at this thought. Because it didn’t really matter. He knew what he had to do. He knew how the lights and the smoke effected the play and certain scenes. He was able to do it even if he’d be blind.

Still, it would be nice to watch the effects in their all brightness or darkness and beauty. It would also help Darren to make it even better next time. But seriously, compared with this horrible nightmare he had to experience last night, the ancient technology of the theatre not even caused the slightest anger in Darren.

This night’s performance had been just another huge success, mostly due to the breathtaking portrayal of the protagonist of the play. And Darren felt a strange pride for the young man, like he had been the one on stage or being a close relative to him.

Maybe because of this strange nightmare he felt connected to the young man.

Maybe he was just glad that it had been only a nightmare.

But he was still proud of him, and he was staring at him when he appeared backstage, surrounded by his fellow actors and staff from the play and the theatre.

When their eyes met, it wasn’t an accident because at some point Mr Fitzpatrick had to look at him because Darren wasn’t looking at anyone or anything else for the last five minutes.

And he kept eye contact just to make sure to both of them that it really wasn’t an accident.

Then Darren finally turned back to his control panel to switch off all lights that weren’t needed any more. And he wasn’t surprised at all that Mr Fitzpatrick wasn’t standing amidst all his admirers and colleagues any more when Darren risked a peek after a while.

And he actually felt slightly excited when he basically knew that someone was standing right behind him. But before he was able to turn around, the very person made himself noticeable.

»Mr Myles, I beg your pardon in disturbing you,« the voice said; the voice of an actor.

Now Darren turned around, smiling at the young man, putting his duster aside that he had just been using.

»Mr Fitzpatrick, you’re not disturbing me at all,« Darren said but those words instantly sounded strange to him. Because they sounded so familiar, and Darren almost felt like he was used by an alien entity.

»So, you already know my name; that’s impressive. But, please, call me Ronnie,« the young man said and didn’t seem to find anything strange about their conversation at all.

»I do know the names of everyone here,« Darren lied and didn’t want to because he still felt that someone just put those words into his mind and there was no other option for him but to spit them out. But despite knowing all this, he added, »That’s my job.«

»I see. It’s still nice to know and makes me feel welcome,« Ronnie said smiling – this horribly beautiful smile that made Darren into a robot, reliving this nightmare and didn’t enjoy anything about it any more.

»You are welcome, Ronnie. And, please, call me Darren,« he now said without thinking.

»Thank you, Darren,« Ronnie said, trying to get eye contact with the man who seemed clearly uncomfortable in his presence. So, initially, Ronnie had been rather confident with his plan. But he grew more and more suspicious about it, wondering if he just had the wrong impression at first sight.

But just before the silence between them could become really awkward, he simply went on with what he wanted with walking over to Darren.

»I’ve got a problem, Darren, and I thought maybe you could be of some help for me,« the young man indicated and was finally met with a shy glance.

»At your service, Ronnie,« Darren said while his eyes were already gone again.

And this was the moment when he felt Ronnie touching his shoulder. He wanted to move backwards but there was the wall and his control panel. So, the only thing he was able to do was looking at the young man, hoping that he was somehow able to read his thoughts. Because he couldn’t tell him that he already experienced that just happened now, his nightmare and how it ended. He just wasn’t able to tell him because there was clearly something wrong with him – some barrier in his mind blocked him from talking and explaining right now. Darren wanted to fight against it, he wanted to form those words, wanted to speak out what was possible, even if it sounded ridiculous. But he couldn’t. He was only able to stand there, looking at Ronnie like he was a ghost.

Fortunately enough, Ronnie stepped backwards himself but with a look in his eyes that Darren wasn’t able to read. He wasn’t looking away this time but something had changed.

»I hope, you don’t have a problem with me, Darren,« Ronnie half asked and seemed glad when Darren shook his head.

»No, not at all. I was just… a little…« Darren started and he knew about the next words that already formed inside of his mouth. But this time he was able to swallow them down. He desperately needed to cut off this nightmare of a storyline – there needed to be another path they both could go, without this final destination that only Ronnie was heading towards. So, Darren tried to find this different route: »See, Ronnie, I know why you’re here. I actually had a nightmare about it. Not what you think – a real one. And it didn’t end well. What do you want to talk about, I don’t really want to in here. It’s… too crowded, you know? So, if you are really interested, then… please wait for me until I’m finished with my work, so we can both go to my favourite place. There we can talk – if you still want to.«

For a moment, Ronnie seemed to be confused now and didn’t seem to know what to make of Darren’s words. He somehow sounded trustworthy and he looked like this as well. His first impression of him didn’t fool Ronnie. And now, that he had finally found the courage to go and talk to the man, he wouldn’t let slip this opportunity like that. So, he finally smiled.

»I’ll wait for you, Darren. Hopefully you’ve got a nice place to go,« he said.

»I won’t disappoint you, I hope,« Darren replied.

But what they got when they were standing on the edge of the cliff, was pouring rain from heavy clouds and a dark sea that had nothing to reflect – there was no moon or even a few stars. There was just darkness and the beginning of a heavy flood.

»I really thought this was a good idea. It was so beautiful last night,« Darren said, sitting on the driver’s seat of his car, until he realized that he had just dreamed of the beauty. And he turned to Ronnie who was sitting right next to him. »Of course, this wasn’t real. It was just this nightmare I had.«

»Your dream was about a dry and delightful view to the sea and you call it a nightmare?« Ronnie wanted to know.

»Believe me, it was,« Darren hastened to say and looked back straight forward. »For whatever reason I sent you to another guy, then you had an accident that same night and then I went here. But it was so beautiful – the whole sunset – I couldn’t stand it.«

»I see,« Ronnie said, believing he knew the details in between that Darren withheld. »But it was just a dream, a nightmare. And obviously, you learned something from it.«

Darren looked at the young man. He didn’t understand initially, so Ronnie added: »You didn’t send me away.«

»Yes, you’re right,« Darren understood. »But maybe we should go away. Otherwise this rain could possibly sweep us down the cliff.«

»That certainly wouldn’t be a pleasant experience,« Ronnie agreed and smiled this wonderful smile that Darren could die for.

– – – –

There was a loud bang. And afterwards, everything turned black. For a moment, Darren just didn’t knew where he was or what happened. Not again, he thought – and hoped – when he realized that he was in his bedroom. He found himself alone and the alarm clock on the floor.

And Darren couldn’t remember about anything from late last night when he went back home from the cliff – still with Ronnie in his car.

But the young man wasn’t here.

There was no sign of him, like he hadn’t been here at all.

Darren needed some fresh air, a cool mind and went out of his bedroom into the living room. He opened the big window to soak in the clear morning breeze. He was glad about the shiver to his body as a result. Because somehow he thought that this was prove enough that this right here, right now wasn’t a dream or a nightmare or anything else his mind was playing with him.

He felt sadness looming.

But before grief was able to take over his mind, Darren’s focus was shifted to his front door. Because he’d heard something. And after a moment of paying attention, there was this sound again.

The sound of an opening door was followed by a closing door. And it was obvious that someone just entered Darren’s flat.

But before he could call the police or pick something he was able to use as a weapon, Ronnie emerged in the living room. And when he saw Darren, he just smiled and held up a bag from the bakery around the corner.

»Good morning. I didn’t want to wake you. But you still look ready for breakfast,« Ronnie said, still looking like the fresh new day himself. But when Darren didn’t answer or replied anything but just staring at the young man, Ronnie went over to him. He put his free hand on his shoulder and then wanted to know if everything was alright with him.

Darren needed another moment for any reaction. He felt the hand on his shoulder, smelled the pleasant scent of fresh bread and Ronnie’s aftershave at the same time.

And softly, Darren asked himself and the young man standing right in front of him: »Is this real?«

»It is as real as you like it to be,« Ronnie replied. The kiss that followed felt real, too. And then the young man left to go to Darren’s kitchen to probably prepare breakfast.

    finis.


For my second short story in here, I also chose a photograph as inspiration. And it’s William Regal again. He was at EVOLVE 56 when this photo was shot by Kevin J. and I instantly liked it because of the scene itself – Mr Regal hiding behind the curtain – and his expression that has got a mixture of sadness and jealousy to it. Maybe not entirely jealousy; maybe it’s something else. But that’s also the great thing about this picture: there is so much to it that you simply have to watch longer than just for a moment. So, the title wasn’t hard to find this time and I also got the plot very fast. Hope you enjoy reading. And if you like to say something about it, please use the commentary section at the end of the story.

Written on the third day before the May Kalends a.d. MMXVI
Word count: 4,691

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