Rose needed to speak to Jonas alone. It shouldn’t be difficult. She knew what time he arrived at the studio each day and what time he left. Not because she stood at her office window on a regular basis, glancing casually down at the street and inadvertently catching a glimpse of him. Rose waited until she knew he was on the way out to call the studio and ask them to send Mr. Cain up to see her. She could have done it as soon as Jonas came in, but she didn’t want to keep him from rehearsal or distract him before the air show. It wasn’t because she was stalling for time, hoping the magic — and tactful — explanation would pop into her brain to make the state of affairs less offensive. Or, at the very least, less blatantly insulting.
Hazel ushered Jonas into Rose’s office, then tactfully closed the door behind them. His presence filled the room. Rose’s months of only catching a glimpse of the top of his head, the width of his shoulders, the power of his stride, or the elegant curve of his fingers had failed to inoculate her from the force of encountering Jonas head-on. His smile seemed broader and brighter than she recalled from their first and only meeting. His eyes deeper and sharper and more alive. Of course, once he opened his mouth to speak — “You wanted me, Miss Janowitz?” — did she ever! — Rose was completely overcome.
She hoped she didn’t show it. She nodded and gestured for Jonas to take a seat. Weeks of listening to him on the radio — Rose listened to every show, as did Irna, it was quality control, it was part of the job — had failed to inoculate her from how much more orotund his voice tolled up close. Rose squeezed her fingers in front of her on the desk. She didn’t feel worthy of speech in comparison. Yet, she’d have to speak. She’d called the meeting. Jonas settled, as directed, and waited patiently, hat literally in hand between a pair of neatly tapered fingers. He tapped it against his knee as he crossed his legs, still waiting.
As briefly as possible, lest her voice give out without warning, Rose outlined Irna’s plans for a Guiding Light radio spinoff while the main program transitioned to television. If she’d told any other of her actors they were about to become the centerpiece of a show all but guaranteed to be a runaway success thanks to its pedigree, Rose might have expected shock, block-long grins, tears of joy, demands to renegotiate their contract. Jonas’ facial expression didn’t change. He listened politely. And then he kept listening. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. Because this wasn’t a mere shoe. This was a steel-heeled boot. And Jonas harbored his suspicions regarding whose neck it was about to crash on.
Rose reassured Jonas he wasn’t being replaced. She and Irna would like him to keep on voicing Edmund. She said they’d reach out to his agent with details about his upgraded contract. They’d be scheduling a photo session for next week, so they had artwork to send out with official news of the spinoff. And then, she outlined Hazel’s plan for the pictures. She didn’t attribute the idea to Hazel, though. Rose accepted full responsibility. If Jonas grew incensed, she preferred it be with her.
It was difficult to tell how he felt about the proposal. Jonas’ face remained maddeningly placid. He kept listening. So Rose kept talking. Babbling, really. “Think about The Shadow. From The Shadow series. The Shadow knows!” Rose tried to sound as mysterious as the announcer who opened with that weekly. Mystery and babbling made strange bedfellows. “Not having a face to go with the voice only increases interest. We want to do the same for Edmund. Build up suspense…anticipation. We want America eagerly tuning in every day to learn more about you — him. It’s a publicity stunt, really.” Not an attempt to hide you from a reactionary and judgemental listening public. “Will you do it?” Rose pleaded, as eager to hear his answer as she’d promised America would be to see his face.
She could tell he was thinking. The placid expression shifted ever so slightly, eyebrows creeping towards the bridge of his nose. He scratched beneath his ear. He looked down at the hat in his lap. He looked up at the window. Rose wondered if he could tell what a stellar view she had of her employees’ comings and goings.
His chin began to bob up and down, and then that smile, the one that had nearly robbed Rose of the ability to speak only a few moments earlier. When he finally spoke, it was in the same timbre which had gotten him the job, the one that made you ache to be seduced, even if you knew abandonment must soon follow. “Only for you, Miss Janowitz.”
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!