A Duel Performance
by MsCandyEmma (CandyTerry)
Author's Notes: In this "What If..." episode, I wrote a hypothetical story where Susanna Marlowe does not lose her leg during the stage accident, thus allowing her to play the role of Juliet with Terry as Romeo in the Broadway play. Without the burden of guilt and duty on his head, would Terry and Candy finally be free to be together as they dreamed? Follow my wild and wacky imagination and you'll see what's in store for them. This fic is intended for mature readers.
The Stratford Troupe took the stage for their final bow and received a standing ovation amongst the audience's deafening cheers and applause.
Candy applauded with overwhelming joy from the balcony alcove. Terry had reserved the best seat in the theater so she could have a more intimate view of the play. Her eyes grew misty with tears and her heart swelled with pride over Terry's stellar performance. Tonight, he was the perfect Romeo--romantic, earnest, and passionate in his role! There were times during his act when she could have sworn he was gazing at her while reciting words of love meant only for Juliet. She had giggled and pinched herself, thinking she was probably imagining things... but she couldn't forget the way his bright sapphire eyes had twinkled in her direction.
"Bravo, Terry!" She shouted and waved at him.
Terry glanced towards the balcony at Candy and smiled. He took another bow, this time stepping forward with Susanna, and the audience applauded and cheered even louder.
"Bravo, Terry! Bravo, Susanna!"
Susanna squeezed Terry's hand in hers and felt a thrill of pleasure at sharing the spotlight with him. "You were outstanding tonight, Terry," she murmured to him.
"Everyone in the cast was outstanding, Susanna," Terry replied, while taking his last bow.
As the curtain finally came down, Terry released his hand from Susanna's grasp and proceeded toward his dressing room at the back of the stage.
"Terry, wait!" Susanna called after him and ran to his side.
"What is it?" His voice was curt and impatient.
"I... I'm sorry," Susanna stammered, feeling flustered at his annoyance. "I don't mean to keep you, but I meant to ask... are you..."
"Well done, Terry! Susanna!" Director Robert Hathaway walked over to them and congratulated each one with an embrace. "The show was a success! I expect it to have a long run, a minimum of eight months or more!"
"Eight months?" Terry repeated, stunned.
"You underestimate your fame here in New York, Terry!" Susanna added proudly. "You have many fans who will come nightly to see you perform and many more once we start touring."
"Susanna's right," the Director agreed. "Your career is only going to go uphill from here. You're set to be the most popular actor in Broadway!"
"I don't care about popularity. I just want to improve myself as an actor."
Hathaway laughed at Terry's flippant reply. "Your modesty is impressive, but you'll soon realize that popularity is just as important as talent in this business if you want to succeed."
"Luckily for you, Terry... you already have both," Susanna added confidently. "You'll be so busy with work that you'll barely have any time for anything else but acting!"
When Terry remained broodingly silent, Susanna wondered if she had upset him until she recognized the thoughtful, distant look in his eyes. Was he thinking about her again-- Candy, the young woman she had met at the Chicago hotel? Ever since that day, Terry had begun receiving frequent letters from her at the theater until he forwarded them to his apartment. It sickened her with envy to know there was someone special in Terry's life. She tried not to hate Candy, but each time she saw Terry's eyes light up when he received her letter, it made her physically ill. And then she did something she thought she wasn't capable of. She stole a few of his letters from Candy in an uncontrollable fit of jealousy. She didn't think he would miss them, but when she saw how upset he had become when he thought they were lost, she confessed to stealing the letters and promptly returned them. She would never forget the look on his face when she confessed her crime while declaring her secret love for him. The cold indifference in his eyes had shred any lingering hope that he could ever return her feeling. And in a single night, their once amicable friendship turned into cool civility. But that didn't stop her from loving him more each day. She admired his unshakable drive to be the best actor among his peers since it mirrored her own ambitions. She watched him with burgeoning love as he studied his lines for long hours to perfect his acting. Even when everyone had left for the day, he would always remain behind and practice to empty seats until his lines were burned into his memory. He never knew that she was secretly hiding behind the stage curtains, watching him rehearse with her aching heart.
"If you'll excuse me..." Terry said abruptly and turned to leave.
Susanna opened her mouth to stop him, but the Director grasped her arm and shook his head. She looked down, feeling embarrassed. Director Hathaway had known for a long time now that she was in love with Terry. Her feelings were transparent to him and the cast. He had warned her that Terry didn't appear to share her feelings and to not expect anything more than a professional relationship. She told herself that she understood, but how could she stop herself from loving him? Every scene, every intimate line and kiss she shared with him on stage became extremely personal to her. She literally imagined herself as Juliet and Terry as her Romeo. It was this private fantasy that allowed her to play her role with such passionate conviction.
"Let it go, Susanna. You know he's not available," Hathaway advised. He was keenly aware that Terry was receiving personal love letters from another woman.
Susanna looked up at him and smiled, pretending not to know what he was talking about. "Isn't there a private cast party tonight to celebrate the premiere of the show?"
Hathaway nodded. "Everyone important is invited. Selected reporters and the elite members of New York society will be there at Lady Margaret Whitney's Manor."
"I can't believe Lady Whitney is hosting the party!"
"Yes! She insisted at the last moment when she came for a private viewing of the play during rehearsals. She has become Terry's biggest fan and supporter."
"I see..." Susanna murmured.
Lady Margaret Whitney was a middle-aged widow of an English Duke. Despite being married for some years, they never had any children. After his death, the Dowager Duchess moved back to New York, where the rest of her eminent family resided. Armed with her noble status and wealthy connections, she quickly became a prominent socialite with a vast influence in the upper echelons of New York society. If Lady Whitney hosted a ball or social event, no one dared refuse her invitation. Those who risked challenging her found themselves socially ostracized and their businesses fall into ruins. Susanna thought about Terry and how much he would gain by her influence and support. He must attend this party!
Candy waited anxiously for Terry in the crowded foyer of the theater. While scanning the room for his appearance, she noticed a group of elegantly dressed women eyeing her with mocking contempt. Am I that conspicuous? She wondered, glancing at the simple rose gown that Annie lent her. When she had worn it for the first time, she had felt like Cinderella, the princess of the ball. By the condescending looks she was receiving, she might as well have been wearing peasant rags. She sighed and leaned against one of the marble columns, hoping to disappear from their view.
"Candy! What the hell are you doing here?!"
"I can't believe they let her in!"
The sound of their familiar voices made her stomach twist in a painful knot. How she dreaded encountering them. "Good evening, Eliza, Neil..." she said stiffly.
"Who did you steal from to get a ticket to come to New York?" Neil demanded. "Nurses don't make that much money!"
"I didn't steal from anyone! And how I came here is none of your business!" Candy snapped at him.
"I see you're wearing one of Annie's old hand-me-downs!" Eliza sneered. "Have you no shame showing up here at the premiere dressed in her rags?"
Candy lifted her chin proudly and glared at her. "I would rather dress like this than look like you!"
Eliza gasped. "How rude! You're just as impudent as ever! You'll always be a stable girl, you know! You can wear the finest clothes, but you can never be a lady! You'll always be a poor orphan stable girl!"
Candy clenched her fists at her side and restrained the urge to slap her across the face. "You think that in order to be a lady, one has to be born into a wealthy family? That's where you're wrong, Eliza. A lady is someone who behaves with respect and dignity for herself and others. A lady doesn't look down on others and turns her back on the weak and the poor. A lady acts with compassion and generosity to another human being. She doesn't rely on clothes or fancy jewelry to adorn herself because her kindness and humility will make her shine more than any diamond, rubies or pearls!"
Eliza stared at her, flustered. She began to sputter. "How... how dare you..."
"What is the meaning of this?" Great-grandaunt Elroy demanded as she stood behind Eliza. She gave Candy a disapproving look.
"Good evening, Great-grandaunt Elroy," Candy murmured respectfully.
"Great-grandaunt, can you believe that Candy actually dared to teach me a lesson about what a lady should be?" Eliza complained haughtily. "It's so ridiculous! Who does she think she is?"
"Who invited you here?" The elderly matriarch demanded sternly.
"Terry... Terrius Grandchester," Candy replied warily.
"Terry? You're lying!" Eliza gasped with disbelief. "Why would he invite a nobody like you to the premiere?"
Great-grandaunt Elroy regarded Candy severely. "Your presence here is a disgrace to our family. I want you to return to Chicago immediately."
"Return to Chicago?!" Candy couldn't believe what she was hearing.
"Yes! You should leave at once!" Eliza pointed out eagerly. "You don't belong here! Go back to working as a lowly and filthy nurse emptying bedpans! You're all just a bunch of--"
"Eliza!!!" In a rage, Candy slapped her hard, leaving a red imprint on her cheek. "I won't allow you to talk badly about the nurses! Your ignorance over the work we do only makes you look like a blithering idiot!"
A stunned, hushed silence followed as nearby theatergoers turned to stare at them. Candy's hand shook and stung a little from the impact on Eliza's face. Inwardly, she admonished herself for losing control, but she had truly reached her limit of tolerance with the vicious siblings.
"Why you little...!!!" Recovering from her shock, Eliza was ready to lunge at Candy.
"Enough! Candice, you've already done irreparable damage to our family by your presence here. You'll return to Chicago at once before you bring further shame on yourself and this family!" Great-grandaunt Elroy's harsh words were meant to intimidate her, but she refused to allow it.
"You don't have to worry, Great-grand aunt.'' She tried to speak as calmly as she could. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm no longer the daughter of an Ardlay so you no longer have to worry about associating my shameful actions with the Ardlay name."
Candy turned around with relief to see Terry moving through the crowd towards her. He had changed into a dark, evening suit that drew greater attention to his striking good looks. She never felt happier to see him.
"Terry!" Eliza cried out tearfully. She pushed Candy against the marble column post, causing the latter to hit her head, before flinging herself into his arms. "Did you see what Candy did to me?! She slapped me for no reason! She's nothing but an awful brute!"
Terry frowned and brusquely pushed her away from him. "You probably deserved it," he said, snubbing her.
"What?!!! How... how could you say that?!!!" Eliza gasped in shock at his scornful attitude.
Terry ignored her and quickly walked towards Candy, who was massaging her bruised forehead. "Are you alright?"
She gave him a crooked smile. "I'm fine."
He gently touched her forehead in concern. "Are you sure you're not hurt?"
"Don't worry about me. I've lived through worse," she smiled reassuringly.
"Good, then let's get out of here so we can be alone," he whispered in her ear and placed his arm around her waist.
She nodded and smiled in agreement. Since her arrival in New York, she wanted nothing more than to spend time alone with Terry. The hospital Director Leonard had authorized only five days of leave and she wanted to savor those precious days together as much as possible.
"Wait! Where do you think you're going with him, Candy?!" Neil burst out angrily, unable to contain his jealousy.
Terry stopped in his tracks and turned menacingly to Neil. "If you say one more word, you'll get exactly what your sister deserved and more."
Neil cowered behind Eliza, his shoulders trembling with fear.
"Great-grandaunt, you must do something!" Eliza whined in desperation. "You can't let them treat us this way."
The elderly matriarch stared coldly at Candy and Terry's defiant figures before turning her head. "I've had a long and tiring night. Let's return to the hotel."
Taking the elder's cue, Terry grasped Candy's hand and swiftly escorted her through a long corridor leading towards the back of the theater, while ignoring the curious onlookers and their whispered gossip. Who is this girl with Terry? Is she his new girlfriend? What about Susanna? Didn't they have a fling?
"Why are we leaving through the back?" Candy asked, confused.
"There are too many fans blocking the entrance and I don't want to lose you in the crowd the way it happened in Chicago. Besides, there's a horse-carriage waiting for us," he winked.
"A horse-carriage? What happened to your car?"
"I didn't feel like driving. I thought I'd focus all my attention on you tonight, my Lady Freckles," he grinned mischievously.
"Oh, Terry!" She blushed at intimate tone of his voice. Her heart raced in anticipation of sharing a private moment with him and she wondered what romantic plans he had in mind for them tonight.
"Terry! There you are! I was looking all over for you..." Susanna's voice echoed in the hallway from behind them.
To Candy's surprise, Terry gripped her hand tighter and continued walking faster down the corridor as if he didn't hear her.
"Susanna wants to talk you," she told him.
"She can talk to me later."
"Terry! Terry!!!" Susanna yelled and ran after them.
Candy pulled on Terry's hand and forced him to stop walking. "It might be important. Let's hear what she has to say," she said softly.
Terry could barely control his irritation as he reluctantly faced Susanna, who finally caught up with them and was catching her breath.
''What is it, Susanna? Please make it quick. We're in a hurry to leave."
"I'm so glad I caught you before you left! Hello..." She smiled politely at Candy before turning her attention to Terry. "I wasn't sure, but... Have you seen your invitation to Lady Whitney's private ball tonight?"
He ignored the gilded envelope she held out to him. "Keep it. We're not attending."
"You're not?!" Susanna was horrified.
"No, I have more important plans for tonight," he emphasized by pulling Candy closer to his side.
"I understand..." Susanna bit her lip anxiously. "... but I think you should reconsider..."
"No," Terry said flatly and turned to leave.
In desperation, Susanna glanced imploringly at Candy. "I'm sorry to disturb your evening, but I really believe that it's for Terry's benefit that he attend this party! He has to be there!!!"
"Susanna, you're speaking out of line!" Terry warned her.
Susanna ignored his warning and grabbed Candy's free hand. "Please listen to me! If Terry doesn't attend, it would ruin not only his reputation, but the reputation of the entire Stratford Troupe! If we disappoint Lady Whitney, she can make it difficult for him to ever work as an actor again. So please! If you care about him and his career at all, you'll persuade him to attend."
"I think we've heard enough! Come with me, Candy," he said, while pulling her hand from Susanna's grasp.
"Terry, wait!" Candy gave him a concerned look. "What if Susanna's right? Tonight was an important premiere for you and the Troupe! If Lady Whitney can influence your career as an actor... then maybe you should attend this party."
Terry frowned and shook his head in disbelief. "I don't care about Lady Whitney's influence! If I'm going to succeed as an actor, I'd rather do it without her!"
"You could try, but I would advise against it!"
Everyone turned to see the Director walking towards them from the end of the corridor.
"I overheard your conversation and I'm afraid Susanna is right. Terry, you should attend this party that the Duchess is holding in the Troupe's honor. As the leading man in the play, your presence is even more important."
"And if I refuse?" Terry asked stubbornly.
"Then expect to see a great decline in theater attendance. We will be forced to shut down the play much earlier than expected and the company will incur a great debt," Hathaway said grimly.
"She has that much influence and power?" Candy was shocked.
"Indeed she has and that's why we must be very careful in our dealings with her," Hathaway explained. He then smiled and extended his hand. "I don't believe we've met. I'm Robert Hathaway, the Director of the Stratford Troupe."
"I'm Candice White..." she hesitated and stopped herself before she could say "Ardlay". "Nice to meet you."
While they shook hands, Terry stood by silently, looking grim and impatient. Candy sensed he was unhappy with the unexpected dilemma forced upon him.
"Since you're with Terry tonight, why don't you come to the party with him?" suggested Hathaway. "I'm sure his invitation includes him bringing a guest."
"That's a wonderful idea! You should both attend!" Susanna chimed in agreement.
"What do you think, Terry?" Candy turned to him in concern. She could see that he was still torn about attending the party and began to feel a twinge of guilt for obliging him to go earlier. She squeezed his hand and smiled tenderly at him. "We'll do whatever you want to do..."
He stared solemnly into her trusting eyes, silently weighing his options. Then he squeezed her hand and nodded as he came to a decision.
"We'll go to the party," he said flatly.
Susanna breathed a sigh of relief and clapped her hands together. "You've made the right choice, Terry!"
"Good, then I expect to see you all there," Hathaway smiled in satisfaction before walking back to the dressing room.
Candy glanced questioningly at Terry. "Are you sure this is what you want?"
He chuckled humorlessly and shrugged. "It's not what I planned for us, but if I must attend this bloody party for the sake of the Troupe, then I have no other choice."
"I'm sorry you feel that way." Candy looked down sadly.
Terry tilted her chin with his finger. "Don't be, Freckles, it's not your fault. All that matters is that I'm with you tonight."
She smiled back tearfully. "I feel the the same way, Terry..."
He gently caressed the curve of her cheek and she felt a strong impulse to embrace him. His hands moved to her arms, drawing her closer...
"If it's no trouble, may I catch a ride with you?"
Susanna's pleading voice suddenly alerted the couple that they weren't alone.
"Why don't you wait for Robert?" Terry demanded irritably.
"He and his wife are riding with their friends..." She looked away in embarrassment. "I'm sorry... if you can't... I'll find another way..."
Despite her unwelcome presence, Candy couldn't help feeling sorry for her. "I'm sure there's enough room in the carriage, isn't that right, Terry?"
Terry looked at her as if she had lost her mind, but she continued to plead silently with her eyes until his resistance broke.
"Fine, Susanna, you may ride with us," he said grudgingly.
"Oh thank you!" The actress smiled gratefully. "Shall we leave now?"
Director Hathaway stepped out of his dressing room and noticed the departing trio with a mixture of amusement and trepidation. This is going to be an interesting night, he thought.
Chapter 2 (updated 10/8/2012)
© (1999)MsCandyEmma; revised (2012)