Matthew Calder was gone and that was all there was to it. The next time Cal Eldred saw it, he knew, the name of Matthew Calderwould be in lights, bright ones from some off-Broadway smash that would catapult him to fame and Hollywood heights. The somewhat dubious team of Calder & Cal on the Hudson Valley community circuit had gone kaput, never again to be re-teamed. He knew that with absolute certainty, too. Now Cal Eldred would become a fleeting footnote to Matthew Calder's ascendancy on that mythical Stairway to the Stars.
Other truths put themselves into neat, concise terms and phrases as Cal climbed the outside backstairs of the upper flat which he and Matthew had shared on quiet Regent Place for the past fifteen months. One of the truisms came out: Matthew Calder had gotten there quicker because he had wanted it more. Another had it that Matthew's star shone brighter because it had its own aura of undeniable brilliance.
Still, things had happened so quickly. Last Thursday, the two of them had been on the downstairs wraparound porch with Melissa Greyhart reading from a script of Robert Conover's Sun Passes By Brooklyn and discussing if the playwright had meant the short second act to be played tongue in cheek or pedal to the metal, all in preparation for their November production at Peekskill Playhouse 60. Now Matthew was gone and-- And soon, he had predicted to both, would be Melissa Greyhart. Melissa had done the short video audition scene with Matthew from Grace Nell Wilson's Veranda Nights that he had sent to the Drama Workshop in the Carnegie Hall Recital Building and-- boffo!as Variety would say-- in less than two weeks he had received notification that the Workshop was awarding him a full-freight scholarship tour of instruction cum touring company experience up and around the Northeast next summer.
Now Cal Eldred stood on the landing outside the door of their-- his-- flat and found that he could not insert the key. He could not walk inside where he and Matthew had laughed and discussed, dreamed and, yes, fought and made up for the last year and a quarter. If he turned that key and even cracked open that peeling door a matter of inches, he knew that the memories would come rushing out like runaway rapids and carry him helplessly downstream alone and abandoned.
He knew that he would be reliving how they had both applied for the same rent-space, had discovered the remarkable coincidental similarities in their names and backgrounds, and had ended up convincing Mrs. Drannon, the landlady, that they were old friends and classmates, inseparable since near-birth, and should rightly share the space and the rent on a one-year's open-ended lease or until one or both had got lucky and been beckoned to The Great White Way. (Now one of them had.)
He knew that he would be remembering that Christmas party they had dubbed Cratchit's Revenge in which they had shoe-horned their entire eggnog-plied ensemble playmates inside the small living space and had just barely escaped the wrath of The Ghost of Christmas Present, Lady Drannon herself, and been summarily evicted for loud and rancorous yuletide behavior.
He knew, too, all those evenings of being visited by Melissa Greyhart, there to see shooting star Matthew, would come spilling forth from the firmaments and his heart would grow as heavy as his shoes in envy and dislike of his best friend's good fortune.
Fallen leaves stirred below and, with them, reprieve from opening the door to his lonely abode. He leaned over the railing and his heart stuttered. Below him was Melissa Greyhart. He caught himself when he realized, again with absolute certitude, that she was there to tell him that Matthew had forgotten something, had left something behind in his haste to the train station and that it was imperative that Cal send it on to him at posthaste the first thing tomorrow morning.
He retraced his steps on the rickety wooden stairs.
"Hi, Melissa," he said before he had even touched the porch planks.
"Hi, Cal." In the warm autumn light from the porch she looked like her own scene from Our Town, leading-lady perfect.
"Well, he's gone," she said, surprisingly with little melancholy and nearly no wistfulness.
"Yes, he's gone."
"You know what I've been thinking about these last few nights, since Matthew broke the news?"
Because he was sure he had no idea, he said: "I'm sure I have no idea, Melissa."
"Remember that Friday night last November when you had to understudy Matthew in Veranda Nights at the Peekskill when he thought he had broken his ankle and you played my leading man?"
"I think about it all the time, Melissa. And do you remember how fast Matthew's ankle healed?"
"Uh, huh. Saturday night." She was studying her graceful hands demurely and he was studying her. "Well, do you know that you played it even better than Matthew?"
"Yes," she looked up at him with those pastel blue eyes and brushed some waves of straw-blonde hair from her forehead. "Well, I was thinking, Cal, this wraparound porch is almost like a veranda."
His heart was beating faster than the old wristwatch his grandfather had given him.
"And now that Matthew is gone," she smiled, "wouldn't it be great to replay that scene in which our characters kiss?"
"You mean as the playwright intended?"
"As the playwright intended."
She stood on her tiptoes and closed her eyes and Cal Eldred knew that he would not miss Matthew Calder ever again.