(© 2017 by the author)
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Author's Note: Teenagers are an unknown quantity. The easiest way to hurt a teens' growth is to label him. Labeling a teenager is easy.
Being a teenager is hard.
This story is about a a boy the principal labels a 'fairy.' What could have been a crippling blow, with the help of a teacher, becomes motivation for a boy destined to be a great success.
Peace & Love, Rick
It's said, 'Revenge is sweet.' It's said, 'Success is the best revenge.' Kenny Lutz knows both are true.
At Charles Dickens High School Principal Victor W. Corum and Mr. Frank D. Small, drama teacher and director of the senior play, meet to discuss the senior play the students have decided to perform.
“The seniors have voted to do “A Streetcar Named Desire.” I think it's a bold choice that will challenge them in a realistic way. “I Do, I Do,” got the only other votes. The girls like that quite a lot. It always gets a few votes,” Mr. Small said.
“Streetcar...! Small, this is a high school in case you haven't noticed. It's also not a democracy. As I recall, that play was racy even before racy was in. No, you can't do Streetcar in my school. You're new at this, Small. I'm going to make it simple for you. Check with me before your students decide they know better than I do. Got it?”
“Yes, sir. I thought I was supposed to challenge them. Give them a glimpse of life's possibilities,” Mr. Small reasoned out loud. “Expand their horizons.”
“Not low life, Small. You tell them I want something wholesome and entertaining, and it won't be “I Do, I Do.” That's the most sappy play there is. Every male lead I've seen do that play is a sissy.
“”Oklahoma” is my kind of play. It's my favorite play. It's a man's play. I haven't seen it in years. Do “Oklahoma,” Frank, and we'll all be happier. Now I've got to meet with Mrs. Claymore. She thinks she's putting Kinsey into her human sexuality program. Probably not her best idea since I'll fire her if she gets that pervert near my students. I don't know where you teachers get your ideas.”
“Isn't the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University? If he's a pervert, why would a major university be associated with his name?”
“Bunch of liberal do gooders,” Mr. Corum said.
“Indiana University?” Mr. Small said. “I don't get it.”
“You tell your seniors they're doing “Oklahoma.” Do you get that? My job is never done, Small. It's my responsibility to protect kids from people like Kinsey.
“”Oklahoma,!” Small. The kids will love it. Janet Prime will be lovely as Laurie, don't you think?”
Two weeks later before the first dress rehearsal for “Oklahoma.”
“I've got a teacher's meeting in...,” Mr. Corum said, looking at his watch. “... twenty-three minutes. Give me the female lead, and it better be Janet Prime, male lead, and Jud. You do know this is my favorite play? I bet the kids love it.”
“Yes, sir. You told me that when you told me it was this years senior play,” Mr. Small said without enthusiasm.
“Great play, but you sound resentful, Frank. Some of that crap you put on is strictly from hunger. You can humor me this once. I want a man's play. I don't want “I Do, I Do.” It's got no punch.
“Between you and me, it's a good play to help set the compasses of our kids. You can't object to that, can you, Small? You really think those sissy plays offer them a realistic view of what life is?”
“They are called plays for a reason, Vic. I want the kids to have fun. They pick a play they are excited about doing, unless you tell them which play they'll do. They'll have plenty of time to find out how realistic life really is. They grow up soon enough.”
“You make me sound like a tyrant, Small. You can think of me as Principal Corum and I do what's best for the students of Charles Dickens High School. You'll see. “Oklahoma” is a great show. They'll love it,” Mr. Corum predicted happily.
“Or else,” Mr. Small said under his breath.
“What did you say, Small?”
“I said it was my grandfather's favorite play too,” he said.
“See, someone in your family has taste. Let's get this show on the road. I've got...,” Mr. Corum looked at his watch. “Seventeen minutes, Small.”
Movement and noise came from behind the curtain once Mr. Small went back stage to arrange for the characters Mr. Corum requested. Laurie and Curly were set since the first reading. Both students were equipped with a stage presence that was rare in teenagers and both had voices Mr. Small believed would take them far beyond Charles Dickens High if they decided to stay with theater.
Mr. Small saw his kids as he imagined they'd be after they finished growing up. This was particularly easy with Janet and Kenny, who loved being in front of an audience. There was stardust in their eyes and even doing a complicated play like “Oklahoma,” they radiated talent and confidence.
Jud was different. Mr. Small prayed Mr. Corum wouldn't jump to conclusions and order him to find another actor to do Jud. Jackie Trummel wasn't a gifted actor, but he was Jud. He had trouble remembering his lines and he was still carrying his script around with him. He wanted the part and he was working to become an actor.
Once back to his seat, Mr. Small yelled for the players to get ready to perform for the principal. Mr. Corum smiled and sighed as Janet Prime slipped out between where the velvet curtains met at center stage front.
Janet belted out the song she'd prepared for Mr. Corum's approval. She was dynamic and her voice was flawless as she sang and danced with herself.
“Oh, that was wonderful, Frank. You must admit she's perfect for the part of Laurie.”
“She is that. You might have some trouble with Jud. Jackie Trummel makes a great Jud, but the boy can't remember lines. I'm working with him and he'll be ready by opening night.”
“See that he is,” Mr. Corum ordered. “That's a key role. Without a strong Jud, you don't have a complete play as far as I'm concerned. Laurie is the sweetness. Jud gives off the bitterness.”
Kenny Lutz moved out between the curtains, passing close enough to hug Janet, whispering to her that she'd nailed the number. Mr. Small could see their chemistry. If Mr. Corum saw it, it didn't show. What he saw wasn't what Mr. Small saw.
Kenny stayed on key and belted out the song he prepared, and he was very bit as rousing as Janet. Kenny was a natural. He'd spent two weeks preparing to be Curly. He liked playing opposite Janet.
The biggest problem was Kenny in his cowboy boots wasn't as tall as Janet was in her stocking feet. Mr. Small believed they were so gifted no one would notice the height disparity. By keeping Janet in very flat shoes the difference wasn't that noticeable. Mr. Small knew the tricks to make a leading lady and her man look great together.
Mr. Corum said nothing until after the song faded. Mr. Small's choice as Curly headed back behind the curtain as Jackie Trummel appeared, script in hand. Kenny wished him good luck. The new performer read like he was reading his part.
Mr. Small was in the middle of a cringe upon hearing Jackie's droning voice. Mr. Corum complained about everything, and he hoped he could slip Jackie into the role without a fistfight, but it wasn't Jackie Trummel that had Mr. Corum's seething.
“Kenny goddamn Lutz?” Mr. Corum exploded. “You can't find anyone more masculine than Kenny goddamn Lutz? The boys a goddamn fruit. You find a man to do Curly. I won't have a fairy do Curly. Do you get the picture, Small? I won't have you ruin the best Rogers and Hammerstein play to come down the pike.”
“Mr. Corum, he's perfect for that part. You only heard one number. We're still working on the costuming. His voice is the kind of voice that doesn't come along that often. I told him he had the part. He's put all his time and energy into doing the role.”
“This isn't a bargaining session for your whims. You get someone who looks the role. You find someone more manly than Kenny Lutz.”
“There are too many songs to learn. He knows the part backward and forward. Give him a chance. Opening night is in two weeks.”
“He won't do Curly in my school. Curly is a man's role. This isn't one of your sissy plays. You get me a baseball player or a football player. I want a real man. I won't have some girly boy ruining my play. Sometimes I wonder about you, Small.”
“But Mr. Corum....”
“I've got a meeting,” Mr. Corum yelled, as he reached the back of the auditorium. “You fix this, Small,” finally finished his screed.
“What about Jud. Is Jud okay?” Mr. Small yelled after him.
“You get me a man to do Curly. I don't give a good goddamn about Jud,” Mr. Corum answered loud enough to be hear in the front office.
The principal stormed out as Jackie looked up from his script to see what the commotion was all about. He had enough difficulty trying to read, he didn't need yelling to distract him. He was about to tell the two men to shut up when he processed a word he didn't like. Then there were more words he liked even less.
“What did he call me?” Jackie asked with concern.
“Nothing. He wasn't talking about you, Jackie. That's fine. Go home. All of you go home,” Mr. Small yelled in exasperation. “I'll see you kids tomorrow. We're done here. Dress rehearsal is canceled.”
Mr. Small felt very small. He had no idea what he was going to tell Kenny. He was thankful Mr. Corum didn't make the scene while Kenny was still in earshot. It was the kind of thing that could ruin the promising future of a talented teenager. The man was an imbecile and now Mr. Small had to pick up the pieces.
By the time he got backstage the activity had stopped. The kids were gone. The stage was silent. The scenery stood ready for act one scene one of “Oklahoma.” The lights had been turned off, except for one row that remained on at the rear of the stage. It was from there that Mr. Small heard a heartbreaking sound.
Everyone was gone except for Kenny, who sat crying at the back corner stage left. It was uncontrolled sobbing. Mr. Small moved into the shadows to comfort the boy he picked to star in the senior play. Sitting beside Kenny, he put his arm around Kenny's shoulders. He was moving onto dangerous ground. A teacher was never to be alone with a student, and especially a teacher should never touch a student. These were things that ended many a teacher's career, but Mr. Small wasn't important at that moment. He'd put Kenny into the position he was in and Mr. Small had to salvage what he could for Kenny's sake. This was something he didn't learn in college.
“I'm so sorry, Kenny. Mr. Corum is a dinosaur. One day all the dinosaurs will be dead. You are Curly. That's why I picked you for the role. If it were up to me, and it no longer is, as you obviously heard, you'd go on in that role in two weeks. There's no one in school with your talent. No one will give me the performance you would. I'm a teacher and if I want to remain a teacher, I must obey the wishes of the principal, no matter how bat shit crazy the asshole is.
Kenny laughed through his tears when hearing what Mr. Small thought of Mr. Corum.
“I never liked him,” Kenny said. “He's a mean man.”
“You have good judgment. You've also got one of the finest voices I've ever worked with, Kenny. I've been working with boys your age for a while, preparing them for all kinds of roles. None had your talent.
“I want you to have this role. I don't know where I'll find another Curly. After working with someone who is a natural, I dread using Kort Herman. He can't hold a candle to you. I'll hate this play from now on. Not that it's a play a high school can do justice to.
“Don't think I wouldn't fight for you, Kenny. I would. It's not a fight I can win. Getting my ass fired doesn't do anyone any good. I'd be unemployed and you still wouldn't have the part. I want to teach. I want to help kids develop an appreciation for theater. I've got to do it in a place where an idiot can undo anything I do in an instant.”
Kenny smiled at Mr. Small as his head rested against his teacher's shoulder. He stopped crying and wiped his eyes. The ache in his heart began to wane, as did his appreciation for going to Charles Dickens High School.
“I'm sorry I allowed this to happen to you. It's my fault, but I was so sure because you're so good. I knew how unpredictable that prick is. I shouldn't have promised you the part until he gave me permission. I should have known better. I hate this place.
“In spite of what's been done to you today, and I know it hurts, Kenny. In spite of what you heard Mr. Corum says, you need to keep singing. You can't let a bigot keep you from getting the most out of your talent. He's one ignorant man.
“You're a fine actor with a wonderful stage presence. Dancing not so much, Kenny, but dancing is an art all its own, and, in time, you'll perfect dancing. You will not always be five foot six and have the looks of an angel, but your voice.... You have the kind of voice that will only get better and stronger.”
“Five foot seven,” Kenny corrected, embarrassed by his height.
“You'll grow up, and if you stick with it, you'll have all the tools an actor needs to play any role he wants to play. It won't be Mr. Corum or me who say how far you'll go in the theater. It's up to you. You've been hurt and disappointed, but if you want to be an actor, more pain and rejection is ahead. Only you get to decide when you've had enough. Only you get to decide what you want.”
Kenny sat up, looking into Mr. Small's face. He didn't feel as bad as he hung on each of Mr. Small's words.
“Why would he say those things. Do I look like a faggot? I'm a kid, Mr. Small. Why would he call me names like that?”
“That's not a word I'd use, Kenny. Whether it's you using it or that idiot, it's just as ugly. I prefer being called a gay man. I've been called names all my life too and I don't like it either.”
Kenny had to look up at Mr. Small, who was several inches taller than he was, even sitting down. He smiled and wiped away the last of his tears. He looked at his hands as he thought over what Mr. Small just said.
“I'll never use that word again,” he said admiringly. “I'll try never to call anyone names, even if they are idiots, and I want to be an actor.”
Mr. Small smiled. He could ask for no more than that.
“We all need to treat each other better,” Mr. Small said.
“I don't know what I am. I just turned seventeen last month and I still don't know. You think I might be... gay?”
“You might be a one eyed Episcopalian for all I know. You've got plenty of time to figure out who to love. You don't need to decide today, but I do want you to start thinking about something today.
“When you get to college, get into the drama program. Sing, dance, and act every chance you get. I'll give you a list of the best programs. The ones where I think you will excel. I'll start with my Alma Mater, which has an excellent program, and there's a support network that doesn't end when you leave class.
“It graduates a lot of actors, singers, and dancers who go on to do well professionally. Most college drama programs are full of gay guys. No one will notice if you go one way or another. What they'll notice is your voice and your talent, and you'll do fine.
“What I'm saying is, don't let that asshole stop you. Let his thoughtless remarks strengthen you. Use your anger to your advantage. Make your anger work for you, and one day maybe you'll forgive me for putting you into this position. I am sorry, Kenny.”
Kenny looked into Mr. Small's face. The tears had dried. His eyes were clear. No one had ever talked to him seriously about becoming an actor, which had been his dream forever. He heard every word and he felt better about being an actor than he ever had before. Everyone else told Kenny that acting wasn't a career.
At first he thought Mr. Small came to console him, which was no help to him at all. Kenny knew Mr. Small wasn't giving him a snow job. He was being as honest as anyone ever had, and Kenny felt the determination building within him. It began as a warm feeling in the center of his chest, radiating outward from there. The feeling made him smile. He felt something important had taken place.
“Thank you, Mr. Small,” Kenny said. “You'll write me a letter introducing me to the drama program at your college?”
“It would be my honor to write that letter. I'll tell them what I told you. The rest will be up to you.”
“I might have given up theater after hearing that old fart disrespect me that way, but I won't give him the satisfaction. I am good. I love theater. I won't give that up. Is old fart calling him a name?”
“No, I think old fart is more a descriptive phrase that fits that asshole.”
They both laughed.
“Can I work backstage? If my understudy is going to do Curly, I'll help him. It might help make a smoother transition. It would be a shame to waste what I know about being Curly.”
“I wouldn't ask you to help Kort, Kenny. You've got a lot of courage. You can have a supporting roll if you like or you can work behind the scenes,” Mr. Small said. “Whatever you want, you've got it, and don't forget, Kenny, you'll always be my Curly.”
Mr. Small looked admiringly at the young actor. It was his turn to have tears in his eyes. He felt fortunate to know Kenny Lutz.
“Janet isn't going to like this. She has a crush on me. She's used to me now. At least she won't be taller than Kort. I had cowboy boots for the part, but she was still taller than I was with the boots on. I'll never be taken seriously as an actor as long as I'm a midget.”
“Lots of actors are short. Alan Ladd used to stand on a box during scenes to look taller actors in the eye. You are the same height as Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino. Robert DeNiro is no giant either, and as actors go, they're aren't any better.”
Kenny's mouth dropped open as he said, “Wow! I'm as tall as Pacino and Hoffman?”
“You are and you're still a kid, Kenny. You'll grow. You're a late bloomer is all. You still look fourteen. You look like an angel. That tells me you're not done growing up yet. Give it a little time.”
“From your mouth to God's ears. My height does worry me.”
“If you're good enough, Kenny, they'll do magic to make you appear just as tall as they want you to look. Perfect the talent, the parts will come to you. It'll take luck and determination, but you can go as far as you want to go.”
“I want to go all the way,” Kenny Lutz dreamed.
Life at Charles Dickens High School didn't get any better over the years. Mr. Corum was fixated on maintaining strict control over outside influences on his student body.
Even though Mr. Small had no love for Mr. Corum, his love for his kids meant doing his best to keep the peace between them. That way Mr. Corum didn't interfere as often or in ways that damaged his drama program. Learning that he couldn't push the envelope at Charles Dickens High, Mr. Small stayed out of Mr. Corum's line of fire.
One afternoon Mr. Small went to his mailbox, after returning home from school. He opened one envelope with two tickets to opening night of a Broadway show. He smiled when the tickets were in his hands.
He was waiting for them but he wasn't expecting the satisfaction he'd feel when he held them. He began laughing when he read the title of the show. That was a surprise and it told the story about what had happened over the last decade. It would be a very nice trip.
There wasn't any question about who'd go with him. Mr. Corum wouldn't understand the significance of Mr. Small's invitation, but Mr. Small did. He'd need to endure the insufferable man's constant complaining, but it would pay off in the end.
The day had come when Mr. Small could give Mr. Corum a gift he'd never be able to forget. Getting to New York City was somewhat unforgettable in itself. These two were truly the odd couple, but Mr. Small had kept an uneasy peace with Mr. Corum for too long. He never forgot that his career was in the unpleasant man's hands.
Mr. Corum certainly didn't let his teachers forget who was the boss. Once he climbed upon his high horse. Mr. Small disengaged on most issues. He lived to fight another day, and another day was here. A Broadway play was just the ticket for the ornery man's disposition.
“Mr. Corum, Small here. I'm in possession of two world class tickets, third row center, for opening night for a revival of your favorite play. When the tickets came, I thought of you.”
“Together, Small? You and me on a date? Not like you, Small.”
“I think of it as a learning experience, Mr. Corum. Any excursion to Broadway can't help but be educational.”
“Yes, you'd fit right into that center of transgressions. Where did you secure these tickets, Small? You know there are rules governing teachers accepting gifts.”
“Mr. Corum, I'm a drama teacher. I know producers, directors, as well as heads of theater programs. This play was selected by a theater group, after they were invited to do a one month production on Broadway. If the producers like what they do, they have a play for the same group to do for a more substantial run.”
“What play? You didn't say what play.”
“Your favorite play. Don't you remember. “Oklahoma?” It's what you said the year you insisted I do that play at Charles Dickens High. I wouldn't dream of taking anyone else, Mr. Corum.”
“Unlike you, Small. You've never invited me for so much as a cup of coffee before, and we supply the damn coffee for you teachers,” Mr. Corum complained.
“Let bygones be bygones. I do. Besides, they've never done “Oklahoma” on Broadway since I've been working here. It's the first time I've received tickets for a Broadway opening, Vic. You'll enjoy the play. It goes no deeper than that. We'll have a good time.”
“That's your story. How are we getting there?” Mr. Corum asked. “I'm not driving all the way to New York City. I'm not riding with you if you drive. Picturing us spending that much time together isn't easy.”
“Mr. Corum, when I say tickets, I mean tickets. We'll fly out of Logan to Kennedy, arriving in the early afternoon. There's a plane out of Kennedy late enough to get home not long after midnight.”
“Someone sent you plane tickets to go with the tickets for the show? Who is it you know, Small? Inquiring minds want to know.”
“Someone I gave advice to once. No one you know. It pays to be nice, Mr. Corum. At least it did in this case.”
“Certainly sounds like it. You people do stick together. I'll admit that,” Mr. Corum said. “Food? I don't want to sound unappreciative, Frank, but I don't expect to be paying for any pricey food. I don't suppose you thought of that, did you, Small?”
“We will be in first class on the way down.”
“First class,” Mr. Corum bellowed.
“I'm told the food is quite good. We have dinner reservations at Alain's in downtown before the show. The restaurant isn't far from the theater. It's the in place for theater goers. The cast of the show is living at the hotel where Alain's is located.”
“As long as the food is eatable. How do you know all this stuff? The cast stays at that hotel. I bet the producers live at home. No hotel food for those folks.”
“It was mentioned during the conversation about the tickets,” Mr. Small said. “It's all expenses paid.”
“I hope the restaurant isn't too far from the theater. You know how bad the traffic is in New York. I don't want to miss the show sitting in traffic.”
“It's only a few blocks. We can walk if there's too much traffic. We'll have a good time, Vic. You'll enjoy the show. I could ask Mrs. Claymore, I guess, if it's too much trouble for you?”
“You'd waste good tickets on her? You must know someone to rate an all expenses paid trip, Small. I better go to keep an eye on you. Now I'm really curious about who is paying the bills.”
“I was told tickets were coming. When I saw the name of the show, I knew you were the only one I knew who'd enjoy the play as much as I would.”
“Hum. I bet. I was the first person who came to mind, was I? You probably don't have any friends, Small. You sure don't see eye to eye with me on anything.”
“I'm just a nice guy, Mr. Corum. Sometimes it pays off and this time you luck out because it does.”
“I've never been nice and I don't have any complaints. I earn everything I get and my life is peachy keen, Small.”
“No, you've never been nice, Mr. Corum, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy our mutual love of theater. It'll be fun.”
“Don't think this will buy you a lot of points when we go over the budget for your drama program. Budget cuts all around, Small. You're barely hanging onto your funds now. Don't think you're bribing me to favor the drama program. I don't do favors.”
“Believe me when I tell you, it's the furthest thing from my mind, Mr. Corum. We're going to see a play. It doesn't have anything to do with budgets. Who knows, I might give up teaching before we get to the next budget battles. It gets old after a while, Vic. Very old.”
“That'll be the day,” Mr. Corum said, laughing at the idea.
“It would be, wouldn't it,” Mr. Small said with feeling.
The plane left the gate at Logan Airport at ten fifteen. It was in the air for the fifty minute flight to New York City by ten thirty-five. Fresh orange juice came immediately. Both Frank and Vic ordered an omelet. English muffins, toast, and crumpets came on a China plate. A rack of jams and jellies was held out until the two men were satisfied.
The smell of fresh ground coffee permeated the first class cabin. If you didn't drink coffee and sat in first class, you were asking for a cup before breakfast was cleared.
The steward was polite and efficient. Mr. Small left a ten dollar tip, feeling fortunate for the luxury to which he wasn't accustomed. Mr. Corum grumbled about wasting a good ten dollar bill on a man who earned a perfectly good salary.
“These people get paid, Small, You come into an inheritance you haven't told me about?” Mr. Corum asked.
“Waitresses get paid too, Vic. I think two dollars and forty cents an hour in places with no conscience. It doesn't hurt to tip, especially when we aren't paying anything for this trip.”
“You're testy this morning, Frank. You'd think the drama department had already received its funding for the year. You don't even know if you're going to have a job or not. At least I don't know. I'll put the tipping in your hands, since you're obviously an expert.”
“I just meant we need to be considerate of the people who serve us,” Mr. Small said in a conciliatory voice. “I'll take care of the tips. I don't mind. I wouldn't want you to feel put upon.”
“I knew what you meant. I didn't take these people to raise. They've got a job to do just like I do. Spoiling people isn't my specialty, Small.”
“Obviously,” Mr. Small said, getting a sharp glance from his principal companion.
The steward leaned toward the two men as he passed.
“We start our approach to New York in five minutes. If you'll finish with your plates, I'll clear them for you.”
“I need more coffee,” Mr. Corum said. “You didn't slow down the last time you rushed by, so don't tell me it's too late.”
“I'll pour it, but I'll need to collect the cup in five minutes.”
“Yes, I heard you. I'd like more coffee..., today.”
The steward smiled, collecting the ten dollar bill with Mr. Small's dishes. It was almost enough to make him forget the asshole the younger man was traveling with. There was always an assholes when he worked first class.
It was early afternoon when the taxi dropped them in Times Square. They were going to find a coffee shop before they walked around to see what other shows were playing. Mr. Small was sure he'd be seeing more shows soon. He wanted to know which ones he might like best.
Times Square was crowded, but people walked like they had somewhere to go. The area was surprisingly clean. Getting around had been made easier on pedestrians. It was almost a pleasant experience, had Mr. Corum not been there to remind Mr. Small of all the inconveniences he was being subjected to. Nothing pleased him.
At six they were in the bar at Alain's having complimentary cocktails. They both had two drinks. Mr. Small left a five dollar tip. Mr. Corum shook his head. Mr. Small smiled.
“Frank, you're making a fool out of yourself. Five dollars? You obviously make too much money,” Mr. Corum gripped. “I'll see if I can't remedy that.”
“I'm grateful to be here, Vic. What a lovely place. Could you imagine living here, eating here every night? This is fantastic.”
“No, and you can't either. It's a goddamn hotel. Nice waitress though,” Mr. Corum observed, finally finding something he liked. “You notice how long those legs are, Small. Oh, I forgot. You don't have much appreciation for the ladies.”
“My interest in women goes beyond their legs, Vic.”
The waitress took them to a section of the restaurant that wasn't crowded, although there were people scattered around them. Mr. Corum grumbled about his scotch being watered down, as the waitress handed them menus.
“I'm sorry to hear that,” the waitress said. “I'll get you one and I'll pour it myself. I promise you it won't be watered down,” she said, heading back toward the bar.
“Don't expect me to pay big money for a proper drink,” Mr. Corum informed her.
“No, sir,” she said, snapping to attention. “Everything is on the house for you gentlemen. You're the guest of Alain tonight. Nothing is too good for Alain's special guests.”
“Those drinks were fine. They were also free, Vic. You have some nerve complaining to our waitress. She had nothing to do with your drink.”
“I'm getting a free one aren't I? Lighten up, Small. They're accustomed to it. If they weren't making money this place wouldn't be here. An extra drink won't break them.”
“If there are enough people like you, it won't be here for long. This is first class and I don't think they skimp on anything.”
“Hell, you heard her. We aren't paying for it. Quit complaining, Small,” Mr. Corum said as his new drink arrived with a smile.
The waitress stood silent, until Mr. Corum took a sip of his drink and tasted the extra scotch.
“My orders are to see to it you get everything you want,” the waitress said, smiling. “I'm Charlotte if you need me.”
“Now we're getting to the meat in this sandwich,” Mr. Corum said. “Honey, where did those orders originate? I still don't know who is paying the freight on this trip.”
“I take my orders from Alain. That's her table over there. She's in her office at the moment. I am put on special guests a couple of times a night. Alain is in charge of everything at Alain's. All special arrangements are made with her.”
“Damn it, Small. Who is paying for all this? I want to know.”
“I'll never tell, Vic. Enjoy your meal and we'll still have plenty of time to get to the theater. I'd lay off the drinks or you won't remember the show.”
“I don't need you to tell me how much to drink. You are full of yourself tonight, Small. I'll keep it in mind.”
“Don't want you to miss anything, Vic. It's your favorite play after all.”
Mr. Corum decided on the surf and turf, leaving half of it in favor of another drink. He admitted to it being surprisingly good for restaurant food. Mr. Small had scallops and couldn't eat it all. He'd rarely had finer food. He looked forward to returning to Alain's.
As they went into the theater, Mr. Small stayed between Mr. Corum and the marquee easels touting 'Kenneth Lutz's Broadway debut' in the return of “Oklahoma.”'
Mr. Small intercepted the two programs as fast as they were offered. Mr. Corum was oblivious to most of it, still floating on too much alcohol, but Mr. Small was determined to keep the surprise.
Principal Vic Corum may have been a little tipsy, but he became engrossed in the show from the moment the curtain swept open and the lights came up. He had no idea he knew the actor who played the lead role. He sang along with some of the numbers, and sang too loud, but he didn't mind his voice.
Mr. Small smiled. He knew the truth about the tall handsome young actor with a voice that filled the theater. He'd never been more proud. While he had little to do with who the young thespian had become, he recognized the work and dedication it took to develop his considerable talent. Mr. Small sang along as well, quietly.
Kenny belted out his songs, danced gloriously, and acted up a storm. He owned the stage and the audience. When the curtain came down, the applause lasted for several wonderful minutes. Kenneth Lutz was a real big success, and even Mr. Corum clapped politely, thinking the show was surprisingly well done.
“What do you think, Mr. Corum. How was the play?”
“Good, Small. It hasn't been done so well since Gordon MacRae played Curly. This man was a bit young to be playing Curly. I think Gordon was well into his thirties when he did that role.”
“Gordon MacRae was in the movie “Oklahoma.” He never did it on stage,” Mr. Small explained.
“Of course he did. The best conversion of a Broadway play to film. What is this fellow's name anyway? He'll grow into the role if he keeps at it. He has the tools to be as good as Gordon. How long is the show going to run?”
“Jud? What about Jud?”
“Another actor too young for the role. This man was no Rod Steiger, but he held his own. Laurie wasn't as pretty as Janet Prime, do you think? Do you remember Janet Prime, Frank? We did “Oklahoma” as I recall. Didn't we? At Charles Dickens?”
“Yes, I do. Too bad Janet had to carry the show.”
“As I recall, your Curly was week. I don't know why you picked him, Frank. This Curly was convincing. “Oklahoma” is a big production for a high school to attempt. A bit ambitious, Small. Let that be a lesson to you. You can't be too ambitious with kids. This show was presented well. I liked it.”
“I suppose Curly was good enough,” Mr. Small said.
“Better than good, Small. I'm surprised at you. That was an inspired performance for a youngster. Like I said, it was almost as good as Gordon. A drama teacher should recognize talent when he sees it.”
“Yes, I should. Just like my choice of Curly when we did the play. How was I saw Kort Herman as Curly. I'm probably not as intelligent as I think I am, Vic.”
“You were right about one thing. I liked the show. Let's get out of here. I don't want to miss that flight home.”
“Don't worry. You'll catch the flight, Vic. We have some time. You never can tell, some of the actors might come out to talk to the audience. They do that sort of thing these days.”
“Don't be silly, Frank. This is Broadway. The show's over. We can wait for a few minutes and let it clear out.”
“I told you you'd enjoy it,” Mr. Small said with a smile.
“Let's not overdo it, Frank. It was fine and I'm ready to go now.”
“This theater group was first formed at my Alma Mater. The man who played Curly organized it in his junior year. They've been doing shows together ever since. He's the man behind the mystery, Vic. He sent the tickets. He wanted me at his opening.”
Mr. Corum looked at Mr. Small carefully. He looked back toward the stage, as he worked on this piece of news. Of all the ideas he'd had over the all expenses paid trip, that wasn't one of them. Why would a young actor spend that much money to entertain a drama teacher?
“Producers keeping track of his theater group approached him to do a short run on Broadway. He held out until they let him bring “Oklahoma.” It was his dream.”
Mr. Corum looked back at the stage where flowers were being handed up to Curly, who was distributing them to the members of the cast. Pictures were taken and a crowd gathered in front of the stage to watch. The jubilant atmosphere spread to the patrons and Mr. Corum studied Mr. Small's face as he watched. His face didn't fit the occasion.
“You know the lead actor, Small? Curly? He went to your college? He paid for all of this?”
“Yes I do, Vic and yes he did. I'm quite proud of him. I knew he had talent. I never dreamed he'd play Broadway. I see kids so early, Vic. they're still developing. Few get this far. I'm rather proud of Kenny.”
“First class,” Mr. Corum said, looking toward the stage again. Something still wasn't right.
Curly held an arm full of bright red roses. No one would accept any more roses from him. These were for him. These were for the star who shined brightly that night.
The flashbulbs captured the moment as the cast applauded for Curly. For the second time in his life, Frank Small cried for Kenny Lutz. The tears flowed down both cheeks as the applause spread into the audience. Frank applauded louder than anyone. Mr. Corum watched a scene he knew he didn't understand.
“Let's go, Small. You're making a spectacle of yourself.”
“Hold your horses, Vic. I'm not going anywhere. I want to remember every minute of this. I doubt I'll see such a thing again.”
Once the commotion began to subside, Curly jumped from the stage into the isle where Mr. Small and Mr. Corum were waiting. He walked straight to Mr. Small, roses still cradled in his arms.
“Frank, it's nice to see you,” Kenny said, hugging his teacher in a way that put the flowers between them.
The kiss on the lips was caught by several photographers. Mr. Corum didn't miss the open display of affection between two men.
“You brought him,” Kenny said, glaring down at Mr. Corum.
In cowboy boots Kenny towered over both men. They made him six foot three. He was a big man and he'd learned to take possession of any space he occupied. He realized the man he'd hated for so long was a little man. Kenny realized Mr. Corum was too small for a grown man to pick on.
“Mr. Corum,” Kenny said, nodding, as the hatred melded into a mixture of pity and sorrow he felt for the man.
“Do I know you?” Mr. Corum said, trying to put together all of the pieces. “You two obviously know each other better than I care to know about.”
“Do you know me?” Kenny asked, feeling the old anger stirring inside his belly. “Yes, you do. I'm Kenny goddamn Lutz. The fruit? Remember me now? You took something from me I'd worked all my life to get. You, sir, are a thief of dreams.”
“No. I don’t know you. Small, who is this? What's going on? I'm ready to go. I've had enough of this,” Mr. Corum complained.
“You didn't tell him, Frank?” Kenny asked, and he smiled a warm pleasant smile.
“No. I wanted you to see his face when you tell him. He didn't know anything until five minutes ago. I saved him for you, Kenny. It's your show. You tell him.”
Kenny laughed loudly, and there were more flashes from flashbulbs. His every move was recorded for posterity and the morning newspapers. All the attention was now on the three men.
“Opening night on Broadway and this too. It's too rich. I didn't dream it would be this good, Frank. Thank you.”
“Lord knows you've earned it, Kenny. You were wonderful. I'm so proud of you.”
Kenny put his arm around Frank Small's waist, kissing him on the cheek. He spoke to Mr. Corum, who took several tiny steps backward to be certain no one associated him with the affection between the two men.
“I owe all this to you, Mr. Corum. I wouldn't be here if not for you. I hated you every day. It drove me to succeed. I wanted to succeed so I'd get to show you how wrong you were about me. The plan to get you here was carefully orchestrated. I spent all the money I had. I wanted to humiliate you the way you humiliated me.”
“Small, I want to leave now!”
“Shut up. Listen. You've earned this.”
“Small, your job is slipping away. You better rethink this fiasco.”
Frank Small began laughing.
“Tell him the rest, Kenny. I want to see his hateful little face.”
“I look at you now and I understand you're a nasty miserable little man. You aren't worth hating. I don't need revenge. The worst things I can wish for you, you already are. You're a mean man who gets off on killing the dreams of children.”
Flashbulbs closed in on Mr. Corum's face as the accusation was made. There was a story inside a story here. Everyone was listening.
“Small, I don't need to take any more of this. We're leaving,” Mr. Corum announced to the audience that had closed in on them.
“Yes you're about to leave,” Kenny said. “Frank is staying. You see, this was supposed to be the ultimate triumph in my career. Only along the way I got an offer to do my first movie. I've hired Frank to be my acting coach and adviser. He's going to live at the hotel where I live. Next week we fly to Hollywood to see the set and to pick up my script for the movie I'll start shooting the day after this show closes.
“I don't need revenge, Mr. Corum. I'm a success. That's my revenge. You almost managed to destroy me, but Frank told me about my future if I wanted it. I trusted him a hell of a lot more than I trusted you, and here we are to discuss the results.
“So, enjoy your flight back. This is goodnight and goodbye, Mr. Corum. I trust we'll have no cause to meet again,” Kenny said, guiding Frank by the waist as they started toward the stage. “My theater group is waiting to finally meet you.”
“Small, you'll never teach again,” Mr. Corum growled.
“Oh, he won't need to,” Kenny said, looking back at Mr. Corum. “I'm being paid an absolutely obscene amount of money to do the movie. Frank has a job with me as long as he wants, and that's the best revenge of all.”