Thursday, 23 September 2021

F Fic, Non-fic

Unforgotten Dream


By Jennifer Anne F. Messing

“Tiffany Pennington!” the casting director calls out.

From the third row of this dark and crowded auditorium, I see Tiffany confidently stride up to the stage. There are many of us, myself included, who are here tonight to audition for a part in Hinsdale Artists upcoming production of West Side Story. I'm hoping to land the coveted, lead role of Maria—the same part I auditioned for five and a half years ago, when our high school did a production of it. But I lost the role to Tiffany back then...this time, however, I won't!

Standing up front, she nods a go-ahead to the sound technician. Some musical accompaniment begins, playing the introduction to the song, “Tonight.”

Her bright and clear, soprano voice sings out with deep emotion. Tiffany is definitely setting the stage for a tough competition. She doesn't miss a note, and when she finishes her song, there is a loud round of applause, almost as if everyone expects her to be cast as Maria.

Tiffany is professional, poised, and pretty—she's 23, like me—and we both have medium-length, dark brown hair, just like Natalie Wood's in the movie, West Side Story. We both grew up taking voice and dance lessons, and we were both active in our middle school's and high school's drama guild. As a result, a long-time rivalry developed between us.

This fierce competition, both of us vying for the same leading roles in our school plays, I grew accustomed to over the years and could live with. But it was when she stole my boyfriend of eleven months during our senior year that I felt she'd crossed the line of common decency.

So I nursed my broken heart while I played the second lead role of Anita, as I couldn't help but watch Tiffany and Joseph—cast in the lead roles of Maria and Tony—fall in love both on stage and off. And even though their superficial romance didn't last longer than two months, I was crushed.

“Marcella Radcliffe!” the casting director calls out.

Now it's my turn. I hear a few hushed whispers as I make my way to the stage. Once I'm ready I tender my much-practiced, vocal rendition of “Somewhere.” When I finish, the enthusiastic applause filling the room affirms that I did a great job. Thank heavens, I was nervous!

“That was absolutely beautiful, Marcella,” the casting director says. “Can you perform choreographed dances?”

“Yes sir,” I reply. “I've had ten years of tap and jazz dance training. I've performed leads in musicals during high school and college.”

He nods and then motions for a young man holding a script to come up onto the stage beside me.

“Would you read a few of Maria's lines from the script, Marcella? This man will do Tony's part.”

I proceed to read the familiar lines with ease, feeling natural and energized. I love acting! This is what I was born to do.

After we've read two pages from the script, the casting director looks at me and says, “Very good, that will be all. Thank you, Miss Radcliffe.”

After he dismisses me, I make my way back to my seat. My best friend, Gail, and I sit for another hour until the conclusion of the auditions.

It's only eight o'clock, so Gail and I decide to go out for pie and coffee. As we make our way out of the auditorium, I hear a male voice call out, “Hey, Marcella, you did a great job on your song tonight!”

It's been five years since Joseph McKenzie and I were an item when we were seniors at Beaufort High, and I'm annoyed that I still get a bit flustered when I hear his voice.

“Thanks,” I answer. “Your song was terrific, too.”

“I hope they think so,” he says.

I look into his attractive blue eyes and notice his still muscular and lean physique. “So, what's been keeping you busy lately?”

“Oh, you know—work,” he says. “And occasionally some acting gigs. Recently, though, Dad's faced some big health challenges. So the last several weekends I've gone over to my folk's place to help them out with yard work.”

“Sorry to hear about your dad—” I tell him. I have fond memories of Joseph's parents. Whenever I visited their home they were very warm and welcoming to me.

“Wish we could visit for a little bit and catch up,” he says.

“Gail and I were on our way to get pie and coffee,” I tell him. “Care to join us?”

“Woah! I just remembered I've got a report I need to finish and bring with me to work tomorrow,” Gail says. “Why don't you two go ahead and get coffee together—maybe I'll join you some other time?”

“You sure?” I ask.

“Absolutely,” Gail answers. “But I'll see you two soon,” she says. “I especially want to be here the night they announce who landed what roles. That'll be exciting!”

~ ~ ~

Fifteen minutes later, Joseph and I are seated at an intimate corner table at Cherie's French Café. This is the café we went to on our fifth date, the night he asked me to be his girl. I vividly remember that warm August night almost as if it was yesterday.


While we're both studying the menu, Joseph's smart phone suddenly beeps with an incoming call. What timing!

“It's my mom,” he says, glancing at his phone. He clicks “accept” and says, “Hello?”

While he's listening, I suddenly see a worried frown come into his face. “Of course, Ma,” he says firmly. “I'm concerned, too. I'm coming over right now. See you in a few.”

After ending their call he looks over at me. “Marcella,” he says, “Mom says Dad's been feeling extremely weak, more than usual, on and off for the last two hours.” He rubs his eyes, which look a bit tired. “She's afraid she may need to bring him to the emergency room tonight and wants some help. I'm so sorry.”

“No need to apologize,” I reply. “Family first.”

“It will take an extra fifteen or twenty minutes to get to Mom's and Dad's if I drop you off first,” he says. “Would you mind coming with me to their house?”

“I don't mind,” I answer.

He stands up and pulls my chair. While he quickly offers our server his apologies, I put on my navy-blue jacket and pick up my purse. We make our way out of the café and are on the road in minutes.

“What health problems has your dad had, if you don't mind my asking?”

“He had a heart attack a year ago,” Joseph answers. “It was moderately severe. He hasn't been the same since; he never recovered a hundred percent.”

“Oh, that's too bad,” I answer, then pause for a moment. “This must be hard on your mom. I'm glad you've been there for your parents, helping and supporting them.”

And I'm surprised at how my heart swells with compassion and care for Joseph's sweet mother, Sylvia, when she opens the door for us a few minutes later.

“Mom—” Joseph begins saying.

“Marcella!” Sylvia exclaims, drawing me into a warm embrace. “I'm very glad to see you.” She motions for me to come in.

“It's been a long time,” I answer. “But it's nice to see you again. I'm sorry that Mr. McKenzie isn't feeling well.”

Though Sylvia tries to look cheerful, I can see the worry on her face. She leads us to the front room and invites me to sit down and help myself to some coffee in the kitchen. Then she and Joseph quickly excuse themselves and go into the family room where his dad is lying down on the couch.

After only a few moments, I realize how nostalgic it is for me to be sitting in this front room where I often did five and half years ago, when Joseph and I were dating. Hardly any of the decor has changed. Treasured family photos in ornate frames still adorn the mantel and the same dainty, floral-printed couch and loveseat look as cozy as ever.

Thirty minutes later Joseph comes back into the front room. He looks tired. “Dad's doing better and is going to be okay. He's asleep now.”

“Come sit for a while,” I say, moving my purse aside, onto an end table.

He sits down beside me and leans his head on my shoulder. His heavy sigh reveals the burden he's been carrying. “It's so nice that you're here, Marcie,” he says.

How sweet to hear him call me by my nickname like he used to! Only my family and closest friends call me “Marcie.”

“I was looking forward to getting dinner and visiting more when we were at the café.” He sits up now and looks into my eyes. “I've been meaning to get in touch with you for some time, even before tonight's audition.”

“Something you wanted to talk about, in particular?”

“Yes,” he says, “you and me.”

“Well, I—”

“I haven't dated anyone seriously for the last three years,” he says, looking at me earnestly. “I want you to know that. I've come to realize I made a mistake when I let you go back then.”

“That was five years ago, Joseph.” It pains me to remember. “I don't think it's always possible to recapture what was.”

“Please accept my apology,” he says. “I'm truly sorry for hurting you. I should have said this a long time ago, but frustration, my pride and immaturity kept me from doing so—”

His sincere words are a gentle, soothing balm to my heart. Though I've tried so many times, I've never been able to forget Joseph! The love we shared when we were seniors was deep and tender and I've not found one like it in the years since.

My eyes meet his eyes again. “I accept your apology.”

A relieved and pleased expression lights up his face at that moment. “I was hoping you'd say that. Thank you.” He picks up my hand and gently caresses it.

A sweet silence fills the room for the next few minutes, and I am content to just sit beside Joseph, his hand holding mine.

“I've dreamt about this for a long time—” he says softly, “being with you again...I've really missed you.”

~ ~ ~

That conversation Joseph and I had at his parents' home the night of the audition brought a big change into my life—and his. More long conversations followed. It took time for me to work through some emotions. But in my heart I knew I'd always been wanting and waiting for my love's return.

Truly, the last two-and-a-half weeks have gone by so quickly! They've been like one of those sweetest and most romantic of movies that you hope will never end.

After work each day at the Prentiss Hotel, Joseph has taken me out for dinner at various restaurants. He's lavished me with thoughtful gifts: a glittery gold-and-black shawl, a book of romantic poetry, a set of two dainty teacups and saucers, a box of caramel chocolates, and much more. Getting to know him the second time around, and as a financially independent and much more mature man than I knew in high school, has been exhilarating!

Of course we're dying to know the results of the audition for West Side Story! In the years since we graduated from high school I've acted in some college plays and in a few musical productions. Joseph has continued to perform in local stage plays from time to time. Theatre arts continues to be a passion we happily share.

We've just had dinner and are on our way to Perkins Auditorium. Finalists names for each role were posted online and outside the theater the week after the audition. All persons listed were asked to return tonight.  

Hand-in-hand, Joseph and I make our way into the auditorium and see Gail sitting near the front. She waves to us, and we quickly walk over and sit down beside her.

Gail leans toward me and squeezes my hand. “Been praying for you both, dear,” she says.

“Thank you,” I answer.

Of course, to sustain the suspense, we're told they are announcing who's cast as Tony and Maria last. It's nerve-wracking to sit and listen to the names announced of all of those cast in bit roles, minor roles, and then finally in the second-lead roles of Anita and Bernardo. As each name is called, the person walks to the stage and remains standing there.

“Finally, now, ladies and gentlemen,” says Mr. Burton, the director, “I'm pleased to let you know that Joseph McKenzie is cast as Tony!”

I squeal with delight and give Joseph a big hug. Then he walks up front and onto the stage amid loud cheers. Afterward a pause of hushed silence fills the room.

“And, now, the moment you've all been waiting for—” says Mr. Burton. “I must tell you that it was not easy for us to select who will play Maria. Many of you who auditioned for this role are very talented actress-singers and well qualified. But we could only choose one lady—”

By now I almost can't stand it. Gail is holding my hand.

“And we're happy to announce that Marcella Radcliffe is our Maria!”

Gail and I both jump up in our seats, and she hugs me so tight I think I might faint! I'm deliriously happy and can't believe this is happening. As I look out a few rows behind us I spot Tiffany, who picks up her jacket and purse and walks out of the auditorium.

Several ladies now gather around me, crying, “Congrats, Marcella!” And amidst a lot of clapping I walk up to the center stage and take my place beside my handsome sweetheart, Joseph McKenzie.

“Congrats, babe,” he whispers in my ear. “You're going to do great!” Then he leans toward me and plants a kiss on my mouth.

I gaze into the eyes of the man who was my first love and who will be my forever love—so incredibly happy that the “unforgotten dream” I've always kept in my heart is coming true at last.

The End

Jennifer Anne F. Messing is a multi-published author, poet, and creative writing teacher who has a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Christian Education. A past president of the Oregon Christian Writers, she has over 200 short stories, articles, and poems published in 60 magazines, including: The Storyteller, LIVE, The Gem, Edify Fiction, and The Proverbs 31 Woman. Originally from the Philippines, Jennifer Anne and her husband have three children and reside in Oregon, USA. Get information about her award-winning books, Morning's Promise and Everlasting Love at her website:

You can also find her on Facebook (, Twitter (,

and on Amazon

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