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Changed for the Better
A sigh escaped from Jacqueline's lips as the rotary phone rang, interrupting her from the letter she was writing. She tossed the pen onto the table, and walked over to the kitchen where the phone sat upon the counter. The sounds of the busy streets from down below filled her apartment through the window that was left open, letting in the cool breezes of September evenings. Jacqueline picked up the phone and said hello. A smile spread across her face as Henry’s voice came through the telephone.
“Hello, love,” he said over the sounds of ruckus and shouting in the background.
“Darling, where are you? I hope you haven’t forgotten we’re meeting at Embers,” Jacqueline responded, as she touched the rollers in her hair, making a mental note to take them out.
“It’s been quite the busy day here. The show got pushed back to 4 o’clock and I’m about to go on for the last number, but I’ll be there soon,” Henry explained. Jacqueline sighed once again, but wished him luck and hung up the phone. She hurried to her bedroom to finish getting ready. Sliding off her silk robe, she put on a black and white dress with crinoline underneath, and a pearl necklace.
Heading down the street, Jacqueline acknowledged the men saying hello with the nod of her head. When she reached Embers Restaurant, she saw Henry standing outside with a bouquet of flowers, dressed in a suit and tie, and a fedora, tipped ever so slightly on the right side of his head. He kissed Jacqueline on the cheek and opened the door, allowing her to step inside first. Inside the restaurant the sounds of light piano and chatter filled the room. A mist hung in the air as men blew out smoke, cigars in hand.
“I have some news I think you’ll be rather happy to hear,” Henry told Jacqueline, his eyes glistening, “I talked to the directors at the theatre and they told me they’re considering you for the lead in our next showcase.” Jacqueline’s eyes lit up and she smiled, revealing perfectly white teeth underneath her red lipstick. Competition was always tight between the girls in show business, so hearing such spectacular news was all Jacqueline could ever wish for.
“Darling, I cannot believe it!! Oh my goodness,” she exclaimed as she sat back in her chair, feeling a sense of accomplishment. Jacqueline could hardly contain the thrill she felt from the news, as she and Henry enjoyed the remainder of their evening.
On Jacqueline’s way to rehearsal the next morning, she was greeted by a young boy in a cap and jeans with patches on the knees. He smiled up at her and offered a newspaper. Jacqueline smiled, as her heart went out for the young boy, and took a quarter out of her purse in exchange for the paper. He tipped his cap and spun around, walking down the street. Corvettes and Chryslers cruised down the crowded streets of New Haven, and people filled the sidewalks, on their commute to work.
Once at the theatre, Jacqueline was greeted by June, her first and closest friend since she moved to the city. Pianists and saxophone players warmed up, and girls were changing into their dance attire.
“Jacqueline, you sure got some tight competition,” June exclaimed, as she sat on the ground, stretching, “James told me that he and Raymond have to decide between you, Mary, and Ruth.” Jacqueline’s stomach tightened as her nerves kicked in. She smiled at June, and began to warm up.
After hours of kick lines, tap, singing, and dancing, Jacqueline sat down with all the girls, awaiting the final decision from Raymond and James. June squeezed Jacqueline’s hand in attempts to reassure her as she noticed Jacqueline’s leg bouncing up and down in anxious wait. Raymond stepped out onto the stage in a pair of trousers and suspenders, and a cigarette tucked behind his ear.
“Thank you ladies, you’re all doing fantastic. Now, as you know, we only need the lead role with Henry, and the rest will be in the ensemble for the showcase. After talking with James, we’ve decided on Jacqueline for the role,” Raymond said, nodding at her as he smiled. Jacqueline jumped up, and let out a yell laughter and happiness, and rejoicing after so much worrying about the role. June hugged her, and the girls clapped, showing their support for Jacqueline.
Weeks of intense rehearsals consumed Jacqueline’s life. She didn’t mind, as this lifestyle was all she had dreamed of since she was a little girl. By mid October, it was finally opening night of the show. Jacqueline barely experienced the normal feelings of stage fright before going on to perform. The stage was her second home, and whenever she dressed in the beautiful costumes, her confidence increased. Henry was a natural, and the two had chemistry on and off the stage. They went out on late night dates after shows, as paychecks rolled in from the performances.
On one of the last nights of the show, two Broadway producers came to watch in hopes of scouting talent for their Christmas show. After the performance finished, Jacqueline sat backstage in her chair, taking off her costume and makeup. June ran over, giving her a hug.
“Oh honey, you were amazing tonight. I’ve never seen a better performance. I couldn’t help but watch you the whole time while I was doing my number,” she laughed, as she sat down and began to wipe off her makeup. Moments later, two men walked in, one dressed in a grey plaid blazer, black loafers, and grey trousers. The other had a fedora, blazer, and tie. They smiled at June and Jacqueline and headed their direction. Jacqueline tucked her hair behind her ear and smiled at the men.
“Ms. June Collins?” the man in the fedora said, looking at June. Jacqueline looked at June, with a puzzled look on her face. She assumed it was only a confusion and they intended to talk to her. Instead, the men continued to speak with June, praising her performance that night, despite the fact she was only in the ensemble.
“You have the look we want in our show,” the man in the fedora continued, “You and Mr. Henry Green are exactly what we’re looking for.” The men continued to discuss their Christmas showcase, and their desire to have June and Henry as the lead roles. The conversation seemed to last forever. Jacqueline sat in her chair, pretending to be occupied with her makeup. Her lip quivered as she forced back tears. She clenched her jaw and dug her nails into her hand, attempting to regain control of herself. June looked ecstatic as she offered her card with contact information to the men. She smiled and shook their hand goodbye, thanking them. Jacqueline wiped her eyes and forced a smile as June turned to her.
“Oh my goodness! Well that is the best news I could ever get. I am out of here! Onto better things, ” June exclaimed. Jacqueline nodded, fearful if she spoke, it would only end in tears. She thought it would be her that would receive that role, not June. Now knowing it wouldn’t just be Henry moving onto better things, but June as well, broke Jacqueline’s heart. Everything had been working out wonderfully up until the news from the Broadway show producers. All Jacqueline could feel was frustration and a sense of abandonment, but she masked it with a simple, “Congrats,” as she hugged June.
Despite the promises June and Henry had made, they began to have no time for Jacqueline. Rehearsals for the Broadway show were much more involved, which Jacqueline understood, but she couldn’t help but feel abandoned every time one of them canceled on her. Her arrangements to meet June for an early dinner had been foiled, and she sat in her room, sulking, as she read a novel. June’s apologizes were robotic, and she lacked sympathy. Broadway had consumed her life and swallowed her morals. The knock on her apartment door disrupted her from the story, and she got up, still holding onto the book, as she did not have a bookmark. She opened the door, seeing Henry standing, looking rather sad.
“Hi, doll,” Henry said, with a half smile, “I really don’t know how to say this. I don’t. I truly wish you the best, but right now I can’t be in a relationship. I have to focus on the show. I’m not leaving you forever, I just cannot deal with a relationship when my career’s finally taking off.” Jacqueline couldn’t help it this time. Her shoulders began to shake up and down and tears rolled down her cheeks. Henry pulled her into a hug, but she pushed him away, no longer wanting to do anything to do with him. She was sensitive, and hurt easily, which Henry knew. “Don’t cry,” he said, looking not only irritated, but embarrassed, to have made Jacqueline so upset. He began to lose his patience as Jacqueline questioned why he’d choose the show over her.
“I just don’t understand. You have no time for me anymore? I know rehearsal takes up time, but are you really going to let it control your whole life?” she questioned through sobs.
“My life revolves around show business, not you,” he said, and with that, he tipped his fedora and headed down the stairs of the apartment. She knew it was a silly question to assume he would pick her over Broadway, but part of her wished he had chosen her.
Jacqueline continued working with Raymond and James in show business. They were lovely people, and the shows were popular, but it was no longer where Jacqueline wanted to be. She wanted to be on Broadway, and she wanted Henry back so the two could continue their life together. It had been months since Henry and June had left, now December, and she couldn’t bring herself to get over the situation.
As she put on her costume for the opening show of their Christmas special, she didn’t get the same sense of confidence that she used to when she put on the dress. She sat in her chair, touching up her makeup. Ruth sat besides her, and noticing Jacqueline’s rather sad expression, she turned to her with a smile.
“You know Jacqueline, you’re one of the most amazing performers I’ve seen in my life. The stage is where you belong. I know you dream to be on Broadway and this isn’t what you want, but you have to appreciate what you do have, sweetie. You just have to keep working and pushing yourself, but with a positive attitude,” Ruth said, with a sympathetic smile. Jacqueline looked at Ruth as if she was an angel, and threw her arms around Ruth, pulling her into a hug.
“Thank you,” she whispered. Jacqueline had needed someone to give her reassurance, but she began to feel guilty, wondering why she ever let herself become so jealous and sad over her friends’ success. She no longer wanted to live that way, and made a promise to herself to never let jealousy of others’ success affect her own life.
As Jacqueline walked onto the stage that night, she felt a little knot of excitement in her stomach. She saw the stage as she once used to, as her second home. She turned back and smiled at Ruth as the opening music played. This was where Jacqueline was meant to be, and she was going to give it her all. She smiled at the audience and the first number took off and they danced and sang. By the last number as the curtains closed, a single tear fell down Jacqueline’s cheek. For the first time in awhile, it was a happy one. She smiled and laughed, hugging Ruth and the other girls. It wasn’t Broadway, but it was a pretty nice place to be.