I wrote this Soapdish story for this year's Yuletide, in which I fortunately got matched up with the fantastic for silk_knickers, who said that whatever story I'd been dreaming up for this demented movie would be fine. I've been thinking for years that what the world needed was a story of Blair Brennan having an even more inappropriate thing for King Lear than Jeffrey Anderson evidently does for Hamlet. The only problem was that I couldn't get the story to be as screamingly funny as I'd always imagined it would be; instead, it came out sort of gently melancholy, maybe a bit sweetly mocking. Anyway, for silk_knickers was kind enough to say nice things about it, so here it is. (musesfool did a wonderful beta on this.)
"Peppy, Cheap, and Cordelia"
Blair did his best thinking at the gym. As he sweated through endless repetitions of some muscle-building movement, his brain unlocked the mysteries of the day's script. Now that Bolt had gotten through all the trouble of falling in love with Maggie and marrying her – in the ocean, surrounded by all of their friends and neighbors wearing formal bikinis and Speedos – he had a little less to do. That was okay, of course; Blair understood very well that the show didn't revolve around him. He'd even thought to himself that it was interesting, the way soap operas were different from most other TV and movies in that they let some of the women be good and bad and everything in between while some of the men, like him, were sort of like prizes, but then he'd figured he'd been trying too hard to be smart or deep, which wasn't what he was paid for anyway.
What he was paid for was to look at Maggie with his heart in his eyes and to dodge every trap Nurse Nan set for him to get him in her bed. He could do that, easy.
There was a weird energy in the air lately, like everyone had been goosed by an over-caffeinated creep. Nobody looked particularly happy, from David on down. Even Rose, who always seemed cool and at ease while she was pounding out thirty pages a day, was walking just a little faster now, pacing the hallways instead of sitting in front of her word processor.
He wanted to ask how she was doing, but thought the best way to make her happy would be to work on the lines she'd written for him. He had some serious thinking to do, to figure out how both Dr. DeMonaco and the inevitable Nurse Nan could be after him if he really were impotent. Maybe that was the point? That Bolt was just a trophy to all of these women, even though all they knew about him was the way he looked? Or that they didn't really want to have sex with Bolt, just the credit that came with having a well-built man at their beck and call? Maybe he was overthinking it, and the writers just needed a woman pursuing him so that Rod Randall could go after Maggie without seeming like a bad guy; he had a feeling that was as much of an omelet as Rose could make with the broken eggs she'd been given.
Not that Jeffrey Anderson was a broken egg or even a bad one. Jeffrey definitely was okay. Not much of a gym rat, so Blair didn't see him that often, but he played well off Celeste and made it look like there was a real spark between them, something that could ignite into an absolute blaze. Blair did another set of crunches while he thought about how to play Bolt's dawning awareness of Dr. Randall as a legitimate threat to his marriage. He still hadn't come to any definite conclusions by the time he was showering, or when Tawny dressed him in an aqua-colored tank top and Jessie sprayed his chest with that horrible stuff to make it look like he was gleaming with fragrant sweat but made him smell like an overdone Butterball turkey. When he looked down at the pot of soup he was supposed to feed to the never-ending line of homeless people, he flashed back to the job he'd had in high school, scooping ice cream at DQ, and thought that his current outfit would never meet the food-service standard.
The buzzer rang for lunch and all of the cameramen wandered off. Blair didn't bother with a robe before getting his tray; nobody in the cafeteria was dressed appropriately, not even the "nuns," whose habits had little peek-a-boo cleavage windows that displayed jeweled crucifixes. He found Jeffrey wrapped in a silk robe over what looked like hospital scrubs and sitting alone, no Ariel or Lori hanging off his every word. "Can I join you?"
Jeffrey looked up over his half-moon glasses and folded up the script he'd been reviewing. The cover didn't have the familiar sunset-pink logo of The Sun Also Sets; instead, it had, in neat black and white, a few typewritten lines:
A Collaboration Between Jeffrey Anderson and William Shakespeare
(authors listed alphabetically)
It was awfully impressive, even dog-eared and marked up. Jeffrey glanced at him and smiled, looking very pleased with himself. "This is the seventh draft," he said, confidentially, leaning in. Blair leaned in too, which was a mistake, since the cold metal edge of the table kissed his exposed nipples painfully.
"Really? I don't know how you find the energy to work on that after being on set all day." Without a couple of hours in the gym every night, he'd have been useless.
"Nonsense," Jeffrey said, with a nicely dramatic gesture. "Art is invigorating. Keeps you vital - alive!" Before Blair could say anything, Jeffrey barreled on. "I write so I can speak the speech trippingly on the tongue," he declaimed, his eyes burning passionately.
The words sounded sort of familiar, but he couldn't quite place them; maybe the cafeteria wasn't the right setting. "Is that -"
"Yes, it's from Hamlet," Jeffrey answered, then looked him up and down. "You might enjoy looking through the Bard's works. See if some divine spark alights in you." He smiled then, and Blair grinned back, pleased at how nice Jeffrey could be when he was treated like a person instead of like a secret, mysteriously re-headed weapon out to destroy them all. He dug into his scrambled eggs happily, relaxing a bit and relishing the protein, before Jeffrey stood up abruptly. He turned and saw Celeste purposely not looking their way, over at the next table. "Just not Hamlet - that one's mine," Jeffrey hissed before he stalked out of the cafeteria, worn script clutched in his hand.
Books on tape were such a good idea. He was able to get through all of Hamlet in one day. The girl playing Ophelia had a sweet voice, and he switched from jumping jacks to sit-ups so that he could hear her clearly. Claudius and Hamlet were good for jogging and Gertrude went well with stretching. He did push-ups to the gravediggers and lunges to the old king. Macbeth went by in one long session on the rowing machine and he split Julius Caesar into leg-lifts, squats, and crunches. There were too many male voices on that one; they were hard to tell apart and anyway he missed the girl who'd played Ophelia.
The ladies at the library were very nice, and they looked it up for him while he signed some autographs. "She's Cordelia in this one," the lady with the half-moon glasses said, and it seemed like he was seeing those everywhere these days.
"Are you looking to branch out?" asked the hopeful one with her hair in a little grey bun.
"Maybe," he said, smiling as he considered the possibilities. He looked down at the package in his hand: King Lear on three cassettes, with accompanying notes and synopsis.
Maggie was slowly pulling away from Bolt, irresistibly drawn to Dr. Rod Randall, and Bolt could do nothing except watch from the sidelines as his wife fell back under the spell of her former lover, who now had a touch of European sophistication. There was no subplot for Bolt; Angelique was Maggie's rival for Dr. Rod, Dr. DeMonaco had been sidelined in favor of Nurse Nan, and Nurse Nan was busy making Maggie's life a living hell. It was fine. He did what he could with the few lines he had, tearing tank top after tank top in half, and people kept stopping him on the street to tell him that Bolt deserved better.
He was gracious to the well-wishers, though they were cutting into both his gym time and his new hobby; when he got home to his loft, he pulled on his own half-moon glasses and took notes in his new paperback copy of King Lear, working out the dramatic structure and the characters' motivations while looking up every third word in the dictionary. He put the book down and rolled his shoulders, thinking about the words he'd read. Edmund was a fascinating character, but Blair didn't want to play another man who became a bone of contention between women. Lear was typically played as an old man, but didn't people at that time count themselves lucky to live to forty? He could age up a bit with some makeup, and it made more sense to have someone younger and in shape take on the role, given all of the running round and cursing he had to do. Lear's plan was indubitably bananas, but he had all of those great speeches. Blair could hardly wait to get on a stage and say, "Away! by Jupiter, / This shall not be revoked"; it would be nice to finally have lines that meant something.
Rose cornered him by the espresso machine that David had had installed in his first week on the show. He was trying to figure out if it could make a decent cappuccino when he caught a flash of a bright pink blouse out of the corner of his eye. He turned and there she was, bright eyes shining with intelligence as she smiled at him; he smiled back reflexively and that was when she pounced. "What are you up to?" she asked.
"Making cappuccino," he said, gesturing with his nice wide cup.
"Not here," she said, stepping a little closer, the click of her solid heel punctuating the sentence. "I mean, your head's in the clouds these days. Bolt's gone from having lines to making sad faces - not my choice, by the way - and you haven't made a peep in protest."
He stayed silent, not wanting to jinx anything, but she'd always been nice to him, even before Maggie and Bolt got together. "I'm working on a play. If I can get it going, I might want to take a few weeks away. But nothing's settled yet."
Her face softened and she looked at him like she wanted to pinch his cheek. "Come talk to me when you're ready, and we'll have Bolt take his blind nephew to the Dalai Lama - or one of the Lamas, anyway - for spiritual guidance. You could be off the show for a month, easy."
She looked so pleased that he wondered why he hadn't told her before. She pressed some sequence of buttons on the machine and he got his cup down in time to catch the cappuccino that flowed down, releasing a cloud of delicious-smelling steam.
His agent had told him once, back when he'd first landed the role on Sun, never to read reviews; the adoring public, Sheila had said, would be all the confirmation he needed that he was doing well and was a bankable star. Blair lay in bed after the pants-wetting terror of opening night, and wondered how he'd done. The rest of the cast had been great. Edmund stood up for bastards - a line that Blair thought would always play well in New York - while Goneril stood up for her rights. And Cordelia was wide-eyed and clever and doomed. When they'd come out for the curtain call, Blair had seen tears on some of the faces in the front row.
Every moment he spent on stage was fear and bliss and amazement. There was nothing else like it.
The bubble popped when he took his last bow, when he hugged and kissed all of his castmates goodbye, and then reported back for duty on the Sun set. He went in early, the better to blend into the background, only to find that someone had beaten him; on his dressing-room table was a brightly wrapped box. He opened it to discover a scrapbook, filled with reviews of the play. Bare-Chested Lear! one lurid headline screamed above a fairly nice blurb, but the rest were unequivocally complimentary, praising the director for having the courage of his convictions that an "age-blind Lear" could work, and the producer for getting it all done on a shoestring budget that had to be stretched alarmingly to cover Gloucester's fake eyes. Even the dry "Mr. Brennan displayed an unanticipated emotional power to match his famous physique" was nicer than not. Before Blair could get too maudlin, there was a knock on his door.
Rose stood there, an uncharacteristically shy look on her face. "Was this from you?" he asked. She smiled and shrugged in a way that meant yes so he hugged her tightly enough that she squeaked.
She freed herself and smoothed down her long braids. "First I showed it to the boys upstairs, and we all figured that if you could do Shakespeare, you could do Schwartz. Twenty lines an episode, guaranteed, and your contract's being renegotiated. This show may be cheap, but Edwards knows when he's got a good thing on his hands."
"Let me buy you a cappuccino, Rose," he asked, "and then you can tell me how you twisted David's arm for this."
"It was my pleasure, believe you me," Rose said, but she took his offered arm.
He didn't want to be like Jeffrey, always stealing from Hamlet, but it was too good a cue to miss. "We two alone will sing like birds," he quoted, and they stepped out into the sunshine, smiled, and turned the corner.
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.