Julia Vega closed her umbrella and ducked inside the brick building in front of her. She pulled the door shut behind herself, scuffing her wet boots against the mat as she glanced around to get her bearings. A directory on the wall showed that the production office she was looking for was on the second floor.
She entered the stairwell, grimacing as she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the window. The weather had really done a number on her hair. Luckily, she’d arrived early enough for today’s audition that she should have time to polish her appearance before they called her back. A tingly feeling took hold in her stomach at the thought.
Jules had been performing on Broadway for eight years now, so the audition process was a familiar—albeit nerve-racking—experience for her. Today’s audition was more stressful than usual for several reasons, most notably because she was auditioning for the lead.
This role, if she landed it, would be a dream come true, the culmination of a lifetime of training, the chance to step out of the chorus line and into the spotlight. She wanted it so badly, she could taste it, a hint of something sweet on her tongue, teasing her with the flavor of success. Or maybe that was just the lozenge she’d finished on the walk over.
On the second floor, she approached the receptionist, a woman about her mother’s age with gorgeous silver hair and a friendly smile. Jules returned it with one of her own. “Hi, I’m Julia Vega for the four forty-five audition.”
The receptionist glanced at her computer as she tapped several keys. “Ah, there you are. You’re all set, Julia. There’s a restroom at the end of the hall if you need to freshen up.”
“Thanks so much,” Jules told her gratefully as she headed down the hall. Once she’d closed herself inside the restroom, she peeled off her damp jacket and tucked it into her bag before pulling out her toiletry case. She spritzed her hair with a polishing serum, smoothing away the frizz that had resulted from her fifteen-minute walk in the drizzling rain. Then she reapplied her lipstick, painting her lips a shiny plum.
After repacking her bag, she surveyed herself in the mirror. She ran her hands over her blouse—almost a perfect match with her lipstick—making sure it was tucked neatly into her black slacks. Sucking in a deep breath, she made her way back to the waiting room. It was empty except for the receptionist and one other woman, who was probably waiting to audition for the same role. Jules sat across from her. She set her bag on the chair beside her and pulled out her water bottle and the tin of Grether’s Pastilles she never auditioned without.
“Lozenge?” she asked the woman across from her, holding out the tin.
“Thanks, but I’ve got it covered,” she answered, holding up an identical tin with a smile. She was about Jules’s age—late twenties or early thirties—with long, curly brown hair and a strikingly pretty face.
“Great minds,” Jules joked as she popped a lozenge into her mouth. Nerves made her throat dry, and that was the kiss of death for an auditioning actress. “I’m Julia Vega…Jules.”
“Sophie Rindell,” the brunette answered.
“Are you reading for Bianca?” Jules asked. It was one of her more annoying habits, or so she’d been told. She felt compelled to make idle conversation in waiting rooms like this one. She couldn’t help it. Apparently, nerves also made her chatty.
Sophie didn’t seem to mind, though. “I am. You too?”
Jules nodded. “I don’t know about you, but I’m really excited about this one. I don’t get many chances to audition for a lead.” It’s in Her Kiss was an off-Broadway play, a brand-new production right here in Brooklyn, walking distance from her apartment.
“Same,” Sophie said, leaning forward in her seat as her leg bounced with restless energy. “And a queer lead at that. It almost feels too good to be true.”
“Yes, it’s amazing,” Jules agreed as her stomach gave a funny swoop. She embraced roles that challenged her as a performer, but playing a woman coming to terms with her sexuality hit uncomfortably close to home for Jules. Just being here was more of a statement than she’d ever made on the subject, as the casting team had expressed a preference for LGBTQ actors to audition for this role.
“Sophie?” the receptionist called. “They’re ready for you.”
Sophie sprang to her feet.
“Good luck,” Jules said as Sophie gathered her things and stepped through the door into the audition room.
Jules pressed a hand against her stomach to calm the flutter of nerves there. Alone in the waiting room, she took the opportunity to run through the scene and the song they’d asked her to prepare. Her phone chimed with an incoming text message. She swiped it from her bag, revealing her mother’s name on the screen.
Good luck! Can’t wait to hear how it goes.
Thanks, Mami, she replied. I’ll call you later and let you know.
Jules turned her phone to silent and sucked in another deep breath. No one else had entered the waiting room. She was probably the last audition of the day, which might work in her favor if she left the team with a positive impression, or the opposite if she didn’t. Her agent had told her she should hear if she’d gotten a callback as early as tonight.
Jules ran through a few scales to warm up her vocal cords and crunched through what remained of her lozenge. The door opened, and Sophie reentered the waiting room.
“How did it go?” Jules asked.
“Really well, I think,” Sophie said, a triumphant look in her eyes that Jules knew well, the look of an actress who had just nailed an audition.
“I’m so glad,” Jules told her.
“Thanks.” Sophie shrugged into her coat and headed for the exit. “Well…bye. And good luck.”
“Thank you.” Jules tapped her fingers against her thighs as the door closed, leaving her alone in the waiting room. It wasn’t ideal, going in right after another actress had just wowed the casting team. Her stomach tightened uncomfortably, and her throat was dry again. She reached for another lozenge.
“Julia?” the receptionist called. “They’re ready for you.”
Jules grabbed her bag and lurched to her feet as that cold, tingly sensation spread from her stomach through her whole body. She went through the door beside the receptionist desk and found herself in a large, white-walled room. A row of people sat facing her. Jules recognized the director, a petite woman named Kari Wong. She’d worked briefly with her before. Kari’s black hair was pulled back in a neat ponytail, glasses perched on her nose as she gave Jules a nod in greeting.
“Hello,” Jules said, clasping her hands loosely in front of herself. “I’m Julia Vega. It’s an honor to be here today.”
After brief introductions, the casting director, a man named Frederick Beck, spoke. “You can start with the scene where Bianca speaks to her friend, Melissa. Liz will read for Melissa.” He gestured to the assistant seated beside him.
Jules nodded, sucking in another breath as she got into character. “I’m ready.”
“You look sad today, Bianca. Is something wrong?” Liz read.
“No, it’s…well, I’ve had something on my mind,” Jules said.
“It’s Trevor, isn’t it?”
Jules gave a weak laugh, raking a hand through her hair as she let Bianca’s discomfort become her own. “Yeah…Trevor.”
“I knew it!” Liz said triumphantly. “You like him.”
Jules let her eyes linger on Liz, giving her a veiled look of longing as Bianca wrestled with her secret feelings for her friend. “I like him, but I’m not sure I want to date him.”
They finished the scene, and then Jules performed an upbeat song that would be part of a group musical number. She’d rehearsed it dozens of times, and yet, with the casting team watching, she flubbed the lyrics, beginning to repeat the first verse instead of moving into the second. Hopefully, it wasn’t a fatal mistake, but it definitely wasn’t the impression she’d wanted to make.
When she’d finished singing, the playwright, a short-haired woman named Maggie Tate, lifted a hand to get Jules’s attention. “One last thing,” she said. “As you know, It’s in Her Kiss is a coming out story. I’d like to know how you feel about that responsibility, and are you comfortable kissing a woman onstage?”
Jules blinked like a deer in headlights. “Yes, of course,” she blurted, hoping the team hadn’t seen her momentary panic. She’d never kissed anyone onstage before, and she’d never kissed a woman, period. She’d thought about it, though. Lately, she’d thought about it kind of a lot, and oh God, she wasn’t sure how she felt about her first time being onstage. But none of that mattered if she didn’t do something to salvage this audition. “I really relate to what Bianca’s going through, and I would consider it an honor to portray her journey onstage.”
“Thank you,” the casting director said. “We’ll be in touch.”
Jules thanked everyone for their time, gathered her things, and left. She didn’t feel nearly as confident as Sophie had looked as she made her way back through the waiting room, and she wasn’t at all sure she’d handled the question about Bianca’s sexuality well. Jules jogged down the stairs, bursting with restless energy. Maybe she should change and go to the gym, anything to keep from sitting around her apartment waiting for the phone to ring.
The first thing she noticed as she stepped outside was that the rain had stopped, and thank goodness for that. The second thing was Sophie Rindell walking out of the coffee shop next door.
“Post-audition caffeination?” Jules called with a wave.
Sophie glanced over her shoulder, pausing so Jules could catch up to her. “Something like that. How did your audition go?”
Jules put on her jacket, sweeping her hair out from beneath the collar. “Good, I think.”
“I’m glad,” Sophie said.
They stared at each other for a few seconds of awkward silence. Making idle conversation in the waiting room was one thing, but Jules didn’t make a habit of hanging out with her competition after the audition. Something told her Sophie didn’t either.
“Which way are you headed?” Jules asked, halfway hoping they were going in different directions, an easy way to say goodbye. Sophie gestured to the left. “I don’t live too far from here, near Prospect Park.”
“Every chance I get,” Jules told her with a laugh.
“Same.” Sophie gave her a thoughtful look. “You look vaguely familiar to me. Maybe we’ve crossed paths before.”
“It’s possible,” Jules agreed. They fell into an easy conversation as they walked, discovering that they’d auditioned for several of the same productions, although maybe not at the same time, and Jules found herself glad for Sophie’s company after all. It was always fun to chat with someone else who understood the crazy whirlwind of the theater life.
“Hey, I’m actually meeting a few friends for a drink on my way home,” Sophie said. “Want to join us? There’s a new gay bar on Seventh that we wanted to check out, if that’s your scene.”
“Dragonfly?” Jules asked hesitantly. She didn’t know much about gay bars, but she did know this one.
“That’s the place,” Sophie confirmed with a nod. “Have you been?”
“I have, although maybe not for the same reason as you. I adopted two kittens from the owner.”
“Yeah. Josie runs a kitten rescue, in addition to owning the bar. And sure, I’ll join you guys for a drink,” Jules said, making a snap decision. Going out for a drink sounded like the perfect distraction while she waited for her phone to ring. Plus, it would be nice to see Josie and update her about the kittens.
They made a left onto Seventh and walked several blocks to Dragonfly, its lavender logo reflected on the wet sidewalk. Jules hadn’t been here in a few months. Hopefully, Josie was working tonight. She followed Sophie through the door, pausing just inside while Sophie looked for her friends. Soft jazz music played over the sound system, and the white fairy lights that usually spanned the ceiling had been accented tonight with purple and orange in honor of Halloween, which was just a few days away.
A pair of women waved from a table along the back wall, and Jules and Sophie made their way over to them.
“Hey, ladies,” Sophie said warmly, giving each of her friends a quick hug before turning toward Jules. “This is Jules. We met at the audition, and she stopped by for a drink. Jules, this is Gia and Kit.” She gestured across the table at her friends as she introduced them. They waved at Jules, their expressions open and friendly.
Jules dragged an empty stool to their table and sat beside Sophie. “Nice to meet you guys. Do you act as well?”
“Nope,” Gia told her. “I’m a financial analyst, but I love to live vicariously through Sophie.”
As it turned out, neither of Sophie’s friends were actors, which was somewhat unexpected. Not that all of Jules’s friends were part of the theater world, but certainly most of them were. They both seemed nice, though, and Jules was glad she’d decided to come. The four of them chatted through a round of drinks, the alcohol helping to keep the conversation flowing.
“So, you guys auditioned for the same role today?” Kit asked, eyebrows lifted as she sipped from her drink.
“Yep,” Sophie told her.
“And, according to my agent, we should hear about callbacks tonight,” Jules added.
Sophie straightened on her stool. “Really?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
“Ooh,” Gia said, looking delighted. “This could get interesting.”
Jules glanced at Sophie. “Yes, it could.”
She turned to see Josie standing beside their table. Tonight, Josie’s ever-changing hair was streaked with pink and purple, a perfect match for her personality. Jules beamed at her. “I was hoping to see you tonight.” She turned toward Sophie and her friends, remembering that this was their first time visiting Dragonfly. “This is Josie Swanson. She owns the bar and runs a kitten rescue in her spare time. I adopted two kittens from her this spring.”
“My theater kittens,” Josie said happily.
“Yes,” Jules confirmed. “I named them Phantom and Pippin.”
“The other two are Blanche and Hamilton,” Josie told them. “My girlfriend adopted them.”
“That’s freaking adorable,” Sophie said as awwws went around the table.
Jules pulled out her phone, scrolling through her photo roll until she found pictures of her cats.
“I assume Phantom is the black one?” Sophie asked, leaning in for a closer look.
“How did you guess?” Jules turned her head, and their eyes met. Sophie’s were warm and brown, crinkled with laughter. She smelled nice too, like spiced vanilla.
“They’ve gotten so big,” Josie said, looking over Jules’s shoulder at a photo of Pippin and Phantom curled up together in her bed.
“They sure have,” Jules agreed. “They look like cats now, but still act like kittens. Thank goodness they take most of it out on each other instead of me.”
“The reason I always recommend that people adopt two,” Josie said.
“If I ever get my own place, I’d love to have a cat,” Sophie said, sounding a bit wistful.
“You should follow Josie’s YouTube channel,” Jules told her. “She posts super cute videos of all her foster kittens. That’s how I got my kitten fix until I was ready to adopt.”
“And generally, all of my kittens are adoptable,” Josie added.
“I’ll check it out.” Sophie reached into the back pocket of her jeans, pulling out her cell phone, which was ringing. If the wide-eyed look on her face was any indication, her agent was calling. “I need to take this. I’ll be right back.”
Phone in hand, she rushed out the front door. Jules sipped her drink, swallowing her disappointment that Sophie might have gotten a callback instead of her. Of course, it was possible for them both to be called back for the second round, but it wasn’t very likely, especially after Jules had let her nerves get the better of her during her audition.
“I’m so glad you came in tonight,” Josie said, drawing Jules out of her thoughts. “I had been meaning to catch up with you and see how the kittens were doing. It’s so good to see them. And you, of course.”
“Would you like to come see them sometime?” Jules asked. “I mean, you and Eve could totally stop by and visit them if you’d like.”
“Please.” Josie clasped her hands in front of herself dramatically. “We would love that.”
“Yeah, definitely. You’ve got my number. Just give me a call, and we’ll figure something out.”
“Oh, we are totally going to take you up on that,” Josie said before heading back to the bar with a wave.
Jules was halfway through her second drink and a lively conversation with Gia and Kit when Sophie came back inside. Her cheeks were pink from the night air…or her mood. Jules couldn’t be sure which, but Sophie was rushing toward their table with a visible excitement that seemed to hint at the latter.
She hopped onto her stool and lifted her glass, casting Jules a slightly apologetic glance. “You guys, I did it. I got a callback for It’s in Her Kiss.”
The table erupted in cheers and whoops, glasses being clinked in celebration. Jules joined in, tapping her glass against Sophie’s, happy for her despite the sting of disappointment in her belly. Her phone, poised on the edge of the table, remained silent. “Congratulations,” she told Sophie earnestly.
“Thank you,” Sophie said. “You may still get a call too, you know.”
“Aw, aren’t you guys being good sports,” Kit teased. “No catfights at our table!”
“This is part of the job,” Jules told her with a shrug. “I’ve auditioned with friends before…not that Sophie and I are friends, exactly, but you know what I mean.”
“Yep,” Sophie agreed. “And it’s not like this means I’ve got the part either. But, hot damn, it feels good to still be in the game. I want this one so bad, you guys.”
Jules studied her for a moment in silence. Yeah, she got that feeling about Sophie. There was a hunger about her when it came to this role, or maybe that hunger reflected her attitude toward her career in general. Jules didn’t know her well enough to say. As much as Sophie wanted this role, as much as Jules wanted this role, there were probably a dozen other women across the Manhattan area tonight just as eager, just as sure they were the perfect Bianca.
Jules exhaled slowly. She felt it in her bones, the feeling that this was the one. If only her phone would ring…
Sophie lifted her drink and took a hearty sip in an attempt to ground herself, because she had the crazy urge to dance on the bar, and she wasn’t even drunk. Not on alcohol anyway. She was pumped up on adrenaline, almost giddy with it. She’d actually gotten a callback for It’s in Her Kiss.
Not only was this a lead role, it was a queer lead role. The role of a lifetime.
She’d been at this for over ten years now, a decade of endless auditions that had netted her a decent résumé of supporting roles on and off Broadway, as well as a handful of walk-on parts in television and commercials. But she didn’t want to be Dancer #3 this time. She wanted to be the star.
Maybe even more importantly, she needed the paycheck this role would provide. It had been over a year since Sophie had landed an acting job, and she was sick to death of waitressing to make ends meet. If you could consider sleeping on her friends’ sofa making ends meet. Her parents sure didn’t. Once upon a time, they’d been fully supportive of her Broadway dreams, but lately, they thought it was time for her to accept that it hadn’t worked out and get a real job. Her bank account seemed to agree with them.
But Sophie wasn’t ready to admit defeat. She just needed her big break. And maybe it had come with It’s in Her Kiss.
“What’s that?” Gia asked, pointing to Jules’s drink. “It’s pretty.”
“It’s called a Midnight in Manhattan,” Jules told her, tucking a strand of honey-brown hair behind her ear. “It’s similar to a mojito, but with lemon instead of lime juice. It’s one of the house drinks. Josie convinced me to try one, and now I’m hooked.”
“Oh, that’s the one with the myth attached,” Kit said. “I’m too superstitious to risk it.”
“A myth?” Sophie leaned closer to Jules, peering into her glass.
“If you drink one at midnight, supposedly you’ll fall in love before the end of the year,” Jules told her. “But I’ve been drinking them for months now, and no such luck.”
“You want to fall in love?” Kit gave her a skeptical look. “Girl, I’ve been there and done that, and it sucks. Trust me.”
“I’m in no hurry, but I’m certainly not opposed to the idea,” Jules said, taking another sip.
“Any prospects?” Sophie asked. Yeah, she was fishing. Now that she wasn’t preoccupied with waiting for a callback, she wouldn’t mind asking Jules out, if she could just figure out whether or not Jules was straight.
“Not at the moment.” Jules shrugged. “I dated a guy for a few months over the summer, but things fizzled pretty quickly after that. So like I said, I’m not in any hurry. You should try the drink, though. It’s good.”
Kit threw her hands out in front of her. “No way. Not taking any chances.”
“Me either,” Sophie confirmed as she lifted her whiskey sour.
Jules pressed a hand against her heart, drawing Sophie’s attention to the plunging neckline on her blouse and the cross pendant glinting there. “So many skeptics at this table.”
“I haven’t sworn off love forever,” Sophie told her. “I’m just not at a place in my life right now where I have much room for it.”
“Fair enough,” Jules said, glancing at Sophie. Her eyes were a deep brown, highlighted by thick eyeliner and a shimmery eyeshadow that sparkled under the bar’s track lighting. And her hair…well, she looked like she’d walked out of a shampoo commercial. It was long and wavy, with golden highlights in her natural brown. Combined with her charismatic personality, it was no wonder she was an actress. If Sophie ever got the chance to see her on stage, she was certain she wouldn’t be able to take her eyes off her.
Right now, she’d settle for Jules’s number. She’d mentioned a boyfriend, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t bi or pan. Surely she wouldn’t have auditioned as Bianca today if she wasn’t at least curious, would she? Usually, Sophie had excellent gaydar, but she couldn’t quite make up her mind about Jules.
On the table between them, Jules’s phone began to ring. The name Pierce showed on the screen, and she let out a little gasp. “My agent,” she said breathlessly, grabbing her phone and rushing for the door as Sophie had done earlier.
“What are the chances?” Sophie muttered, reaching for her drink.
“Does this mean you’ve both made it to round two?” Gia asked, looking delighted.
“Maybe. We’ll see,” Sophie said as she drained her glass. She walked to the bar for a refill. By the time she’d made it back to their table, Jules had reentered Dragonfly with an unmistakable bounce in her step.
Sophie caught her eye with an inquiring lift of her eyebrow. “Good news for you too?”
“Yes,” Jules confirmed. “And my agent says that unofficially, there are only two of us in contention for the role.”
“Oh wow.” Sophie gulped. “So, it’s between you and me?”
“Sounds that way.”
They stared at each other for a beat of loaded silence before Sophie lifted her chin with a smile, putting her attraction aside for now because Jules was the competition. “Better bring your A game on Friday, Vega.”
Jules met her gaze, amusement sparkling in her eyes. “I’m not worried.”
“You should be.” Sophie lifted her glass, tapping it against Jules’s. “May the best woman win.” BUY IT NOW: Amazon (included in your Kindle Unlimited subscription!)