The Life and Times of Lee Graham, Chapter Nine: First Kiss
Cybil Wheeler was to be cast as Juliet. Of course, she was. That was an inevitable fact. The boy had walked to that audition sure that this was his chance to gaze into his muse's eyes on a daily basis with no one becoming the wiser. Lee volunteered to be the first one to stand on the stage and take his turn at reading the hero's famous monologue from the play's second act.
"But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?" began Lee Graham with all the surety of a Barrymore taking to the boards. It seemed the boy was a shoe-in to play the love-struck hero of Shakespeare. Everyone in the audience, those other brave children who had come to try out for the play, leaned forward in their seats entranced by the boy who stood before them, professing his adoration for the lovely Cybil Wheeler, who everyone knew, even before she had her turn to read for the teacher, would be Juliet.
Yes. everyone in the room believed in Lee. That is until, somewhere around Juliet's brightness of cheek, the would-be Romeo's pubescence began with a squeak that would make a mouse proud and ended with the sort of grovel that sounded like some long-buried demon experiencing indigestion. The result was that Lee's last line, "O that I were a glove upon that hand so that I might touch that cheek," sounded more frightening than romantic.
Some in the audience actually laughed. Others looked away, not wanting Lee to see the pity in their eyes. Miss Osbourne managed a smile as she thanked Lee for his reading. "That was a very good...attempt," the teacher told him. "Perhaps you'd like a non-speaking part in the play this time around?"
Poor Lee. His misery was so great that he left the stage without a word and left the theater without looking back. When she sat down to write out an announcement of who was to be in the cast of Alma School's production of Romeo and Juliet, Miss Osbourne felt badly about Lee Graham. He'd done so very well when he first took the stage. And then biology had taken over and the child's voice turned into one that would not sound reliably male, or even human, for several months at least. After much deliberation, at the very bottom of the cast list, the teacher wrote, Townsperson of Verona -- Lee Graham.
Opening night of the play arrived and Lee had never once been on the stage at the same time as the girl of his dreams. Cybil Wheeler was lovely to behold in a finely stitched, if somewhat prim, renaissance gown designed and stitched by the town's best seamstress, Esther Brown, Mrs. White's lady servant. Esther had created a froth of cream lace and cotton that made Cybil seem even more beautiful than nature itself had accomplished.
Lee Graham was in agony knowing that in the play's final scene it would be Broderick Wesley who would be kissed by Juliet. Broderick Wesley, who lived in a dirt-floored shack on the edge of Alma. Broderick Wesley whose own father was even meaner than Lee Graham's and whose mother had died giving birth to him. Broad Broderick, the other children called him, because he was, without doubt, the biggest boy under the age of fifteen in Alma. He was enormous and had the strength that comes with having a long line of loggers as his forebears.
During rehearsals, Lee Graham had survived the play's final scene only because the two young actors playing the famous lovers had decreed there was no need for them to actually kiss until the real performance when all the town would be watching. They had successfully reasoned that kissing was yucky and they should not be forced to endure the mortification of lip lock until it was absolutely essential to the play's success.
The night the play was being performed for the good people of Alma, Lee sat backstage listening to all the scenes he was not in. He heard Cybil and Broad declare their love and heard them wed before the friar. He almost ran from the theater then, knowing what would occur in the scene's final scene. Then at last it occurred to him that he needn't run away or suffer the pain of seeing Cybil Wheeler kissed by Broad Wesley.
When Broad made his exit offstage at the end of the scene where Romeo visits the apothecary to procure the poison he will use to commit suicide, Lee sprang into action. Standing on a trunk full of costume pieces and props, Lee fell on the bigger boy with all his strength. Hanging from Broad's back, hands around the behemoth's mouth, Lee managed somehow to get the giant Romeo out the stage door and shoved into a horse stall in the stable next door. Lee secured the stable doors with rope tied as tightly as he could manage. Looking back on this episode years later, neither Lee nor his captive could explain how the smaller boy had managed such a victory. Both attributed it to blind determination.
When Romeo appeared on stage for the play's final scene, he was several inches shorter and many pounds lighter than he'd been just minutes earlier. Lee Graham stood in as Romeo and died a lover's death at his own hand, but received the kiss he so desperately desired from Cybil, his own Juliet. That kiss was not the last Lee Graham ever received from Cybil Wheeler but it was definitely the most costly.
When Polly Graham learned what her son had done to Broderick Wesley, the boy was grounded after school for a month. Miss Osbourne made the boy clean her slate every day for the rest of the school year and forced him to deliver a public apology, before the whole school, to Broad Wesley. Broad himself took his revenge on Lee Graham by punching the smaller boy in the jaw, making it hard to chew for several days. Mrs. White and the Reverend Wheeler expressed their profound disappointment in a boy they had come to know and trust. Cybil's uncle, the former mayor, had suggested that Lee sit next to someone else in church for a few Sundays. Only Esther asked Lee, "Was it worth it?"
"Yes, Ma'am, it was," the boy replied. She handed him a fresh-baked apple tart.
* Lulabelle Gimlin is an SL RP character of Stephanie Mesler. The Life and Times of Lou Graham is copyright Stephanie Mesler, 2014. This story may be reprinted for inworld RP purposes with proper attribution to its author, Lulabelle Gimlin (Stephanie Mesler).