He wasn’t ancient, and he wasn’t a child. He looked to be about Rose’s age. He wasn’t short. He looked to be about Rose’s height. He wore a gray suit, broad at the shoulders, straight cut to mid-thigh, single-breasted with long, wide lapels and three buttons along the front. The hat he held in his hand, having removed it upon entering the building like a proper gentleman, was a matching Stetson Whippet, the band a slightly darker shade of gray encircling the crown.
And he was a Negro.
A strikingly handsome one. Eyes as dark as their irises, surrounded by a thick fringe of lashes any woman, save possibly Rose, would envy. Nose cut as sharp as his cheekbones, a smile as dulcet as his voice. It unfurled languidly, an unstoppable, volcanic drift that caressed everything in its path, enveloping, pulling you closer. Not a forced seduction, but a desired one.
“I am not who you envisioned for your Edmund Bard?” The smile made it into his query. They both knew exactly what he was asking.
Rose’s impulse was to deny, to be polite, to place herself in the best possible light under the pretense of sparing his feelings. She understood that would be self-serving. And insulting. It would be patronizing to treat him like a child. This was obviously a man. A man who knew the score and deserved the respect of her acknowledging it.
“Should I see myself out?” He made a gesture to return the hat back atop his head.
He was giving her the opportunity to protect herself. To terminate the awkwardness with the least amount of embarrassment or fuss. He was a gentleman, offering Rose the option to return to business as usual as if their encounter had never happened.
Now, gods, stand up for bastards!
Rose was no god. And Jonas was no bastard. Yet, this was her chance to top the legitimate, as she’d once so passionately burned to do. This was Rose’s chance to do the right thing, to ameliorate some of the wrong she’d already done. Plus, there were those eyes, that smile, and that voice…oh, that voice!
“No.” Rose straightened up, no longer needing the desk to support her, prepared to stand on her own two feet, no matter what. She walked past Jonas, towards the door, and beckoned him forward, “I will see you to the studio.”
They made the trip in near silence, interrupted solely when Jonas, invoking the stairs, softly recited, “Not marble, not the gilded monuments/Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme/But you shall shine more bright in these contents/Than unswept stone.” And then he smiled again. The man certainly had her number.
“We only briefly covered the sonnets,” Rose admitted.
“You don’t know what you’re missing.”
The way he said it made Rose desperate to find out.
She led him into the soundproofed studio, a plate of glass separating the actors from the production staff. A dual keyboard organ stood at the far left corner, Rosa Rio, who played it daily for every intro, outro, and dramatic pause in between, setting up her sheet music. The sound effects bench was on the left, featuring every tool necessary to make doorbells ring, coffee pots pour, cards shuffle, trains chug, brooks babble, and fists fly. To the right of the organ hung three microphones, a CBS logo engraved along the bottom, from three separate poles dropped from the ceiling. Each set-up could accommodate up to five actors. Leads with the most dialogue would gather in groups of two or three around the first two mics, while those covering smaller parts rotated around the remaining. They stood on mats to muffle the sound of shoes on studio floor concrete. They held scripts in their hands, dropping pages to the ground once done to avoid the rustle of turning. Though they wouldn’t be seen, everyone reported formally dressed. Men in suits, women in dresses, skirts, blouses, hair styled, in full makeup. They were professionals. No different from theater or movie performers. Though they didn’t engender even a fraction of their respect — or their salaries. They were just selling soap. To housewives, no less.
“Good morning,” Rose addressed her cast, the various members of The Guiding Light’s Bauer family, from the patriarch known as Papa to the actors playing his children, their assorted love interests, friends, and nemeses. All faces swiveled in her direction, including the director and audio technicians. When Irna was in Chicago, Rose was the established authority. “This is Mr. Jonas Cain. He will be assuming the role of Edmund Bard.”
If the expressions Rose was seeing came close to what must have splashed across her features when she spied Jonas, any hope she harbored of coming off as unflustered skipped out the window. Recalling his resume, which she surely hadn’t been reading obsessively since the audition, Rose enlightened, “Mr. Cain is a graduate of Columbia University. English major.” That didn’t have quite the impact she was hoping for. “And a veteran.” Even six years after the war’s end, a former soldier still garnered some respect. “Where did you serve, Mr. Cain?”
“In the European theater,” he answered cautiously, not nearly as pleased with Rose’s line of questioning as she was. “The Battle of the Bulge.”
A snort from the back of the room, an actor Rose wasn’t familiar with — she didn’t bother with casting the smaller, under-5 lines roles — raised his chin to drawl, “I was at the Bulge. There were no colored soldiers at the Bulge. You’re a liar, boy.”
To start Go On Pretending at the beginning, click here.
Alina Adams is the New York Times best-selling author of the As the World Turns tie-ins, Oakdale Confidential and The Man From Oakdale, and Guiding Light’s Jonathan’s Story. Check out her new historical fiction, My Mother’s Secret: A Novel of the Jewish Autonomous Region, out now!