Once and Again...Once Again

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Written by Angela Stockton

edited by Elizabeth Angela

Lily puts the final touches on two roast chickens as her blended family gathers in the kitchen for dinner. "Are those chickens free-range?" Jessie asks, prompting Eli to scoff, "Whatís the difference, you donít eat meat anyway," and Zoe to state earnestly, "I thought about becoming a vegetarian, only I really like bacon."

As she carries plates to the table, Jessie asks Eli when heís moving into his new bedroom in the remodeled garage. "As soon as the paint dries," he answers. "Then are you going to help me move my stuff into the attic?" she asks hopefully. "Iíll think about it," he says with mild sarcasm, before leaving for work.

Grace asks if she can eat in her room, because she needs to prepare for Drama Club auditions for a production of As You Like It. Her interest piqued, Jessie looks up from setting the table and asks Grace what sheís doing for the audition. Grace replies that ordinarily she would prepare a soliloquy, but that Mr. Dimitri, the director, wants everyone to be spontaneous. "So you just kind of like memorized the whole thing?" Jessie asks. "Thatís what I would do."

"Are you thinking of trying out for the play?" Lily asks Jessie. "I think youíd be great."

"Yeah, sweetie, you should try out," Rick seconds Lily. But their encouragement only flusters Jessie, and with Lily focusing so intently on Rick's daughter, Grace feels neglected and ignored. However, afraid of looking like a poor sport, she smiles at Jessie and also recommends that she try out.

In the morning, Karen visits the former Philís Restaurant, now being transformed into BookLovers Cafť. While she is conversing with Judy, Sam Blue walks in. He and Karen hug and greet each other by name. "Thatís right, you guys know each other," Judy remarks. "So you guys know each other," Karen echoes, adding, "because youíre working with Rick." Without explaining their real relationship, Sam and Judy nod and chorus, "Thatís right." In turn, Sam is somewhat unnerved by the fact that Judy and Karen are friends. "How--how complicated, for--for everybody," he stammers.

At that moment Rick, holding a blueprint, walks in from another end of the building; seconds later, Lily enters from outside. They greet each other with a kiss, oblivious to its demoralizing effect on Karen. Sam asks Rick for the blueprint. Finally, Jake emerges from behind a sheet of plastic. Finding himself among a horde of present and former spouses and significant others, he blinks and mutters, "Whoa."

"So what do you say we all have some lunch?" Sam proposes, only to add, "Iím kidding," when the others react with embarrassment and disbelief. Jake is the first to leave, then Karen departs. "Well, that was a little uncomfortable," Lily comments wryly.

"Iím sorry, did you say something? Iím just regaining consciousness," Rick responds in kind.

Sam "blames" Judy for the awkward convergence, saying, "Itís like six degrees of Judy Brooks." Giving Sam and Judy a tight-lipped smile, Lily suggests that she and Rick leave. At last, only Sam and Judy remain in the former main dining room. Sam notices several sketches of BookLovers logos posted on a wall and rates them as awful, forcing Judy to confess that they were created by an art student whom she hired on the cheap. Gazing at him with soulful eyes, she begins, "Sam," then claims she forgot what else she meant to say. When, at last, she declares that she has to get back to work, Sam says, "Me too," and turns to leave. But when he reaches the doorway, they turn and look at each other again.

For her audition, Grace takes the stage, where Mr. Dimitri asks what she has prepared. When she reminds him that he said not to prepare anything, Mr. Dimitri concedes the point, hands her the script for As You Like It, and asks her to read. Grace reads with emotion and confidence, and when Mr. Dimitri decides heís heard enough, she returns to her seat with a self-satisfied grin on her face. Mr. Dimitri starts to thank everyone for coming but is interrupted by his assistant, Alexa, who informs him that there was a late signup--Jessie Sammler, auditioning for the role of Phoebe. Graceís smile vanishes as Jessie steps forward.

Lily and Rick share a lunch of takeout sandwiches. Rickís sandwich looks better to Lily, and she cajoles him to swap with her. "Do you think Sam and Judy are seeing each other again?" she asks him. Sheís convinced that they are, but Rick disagrees. He points out that he spends a lot of time with both of them, he hasnít seen any warning signs, and itís none of his business anyway. But when Lily gives him a skeptical glare, Rick concedes that heís seen "possible indications--glances here and there."

"I knew it! I saw them looking at each other," Lily says triumphantly.

"But it doesnít necessarily mean anything," Rick objects.

"Donít be stupid," Lily snaps. Miffed, Rick swaps the sandwiches back again.

Jessie auditions by reading a speech by Phoebe from As You Like It. After she finishes, Mr. Dimitri springs a surprise by announcing that, first, heís decided to add some Sixties-era folk songs to the score of the play; and second, heís extending the audition by requiring everyone to sing--starting with Jessie. While the other students groan and squirm, Jessie looks delighted. She flips through the sheet music handed to her by Mr. Dimitri until, finding a song that she recognizes, she launches into "The Water is Wide." As her strong, sweet voice fills the auditorium, Mr. Dimitri leans forward eagerly. "I love this!" he exults. Grace, grim-faced, slouches in her seat.

After Jessie finishes, Cynthia protests that itís unfair for Mr. Dimitri to make them sing when they havenít practiced. When Grace backs her up, Mr. Dimitri relents and promises that only the actors who receive callbacks for a second audition will have to sing.

That evening, when Judy returns to her apartment, she finds Sam waiting outside her door. He has a gift for her, his own sketch of a BookLovers logo. She is thrilled, calling the design inspired and exactly what she was looking for. Sam begins to kiss her. "Sam, what is this, what weíre doing?" she murmurs. "I donít know," he answers, and backs her into the apartment, closing the door behind them.

The following morning, after Rick has left for his office, Lily is lazing in bed when Zoe and Grace enter the room and snuggle up with her. "Did you know Jessie auditioned?" Grace asks Lily. At that moment Jessie enters, looking for her father. Lily invites her to sit at the foot of the bed.

Grace tells her mother that Mr. Dimitri is staging As You Like It as a musical. "Well, that would be really good for you, Jessie, you have such a beautiful voice," Lily comments. Seeing Grace shoot a surly glance toward Lily, Jessie climbs off the bed, saying that she needs to get ready. Zoe follows her out, leaving Grace and Lily alone. To her firstborn, Lily insists, "Iím just trying to encourage her, you know that."

"Yeah, I know," Grace mutters.

Sam and Judy wake up in her bed. She confesses that she is attracted to him and wonders why they canít just enjoy each other without making too much out of it. Sam feels the same way. At that moment Sam gets a call from Rick on his cell phone, while Lily calls Judy on her home phone. Samís evasiveness about his whereabouts leads Rick to deduce that his partner is with Judy, while the background noise and Judyís own evasiveness tip off Lily to Samís presence. When he hears Rickís exasperated sigh, Sam says that his "judgmental breathing" is annoying--the same word Judy uses when Lily also sighs.

During lunch, Grace is seated with fellow thespians Cynthia and A.J., basking in their praise for her talent, when Jessie shyly approaches their table. Grace does not invite her to sit with them, but Cynthia does. When Cynthia and A.J. rave over Jessieís singing, Grace quickly changes the subject. Alexa comes by to inform them that the callback list will be posted that day, at 3:30 p.m. Before Alexa continues on her way, Grace finds it within her to offer a compliment--for Alexa's sweater.

Karen visits Phil's again, bringing some BookLovers-related documents she has prepared. Judy arrives after her, apologizing for being tardy, and explaining that she was up late with someone, a man, the night before. Dutifully, Karen asks who it was; bubbly and glowing, Judy replies, "Sam Blue." Her jaw dropping, Karen says she had no idea that they were seeing each other. Judy replies that she and Sam "have this incredible connection," and that she doesn't know where it's leading, but that she has decided to live in the moment. Karen manages to joke feebly that sheís heard of living in the moment, but has never tried it.

"Iím so glad I can talk to you about it. There are certain things I canít tell Lily," Judy continues. In her euphoria, she fails to notice that Karen is not just surprised, she's deeply unsettled.

At school, Grace pushes through a crowd to reach the bulletin board where the callback list is posted. She bursts into a broad smile as she reads that she and Cynthia are the finalists for Rosalind. But when she looks again, she notices a third name, "Jessie Sammler," and her smile melts away. Turning to leave, she sees Jessie behind her. Though no words are exchanged, Jessie realizes that Grace is irritated, and Jessieís own happy smile turns to an embarrassed shrug.

That evening, Judy joins Rick and Lily at their house for a dinner of Chinese takeout. Sam drops by, bearing a design for a light switch cover for his and Rickís Dreiser Hotel project. He sees the Chinese food and hints, "That looks good!" Lily, seated beside Rick on the living-room sofa, invites Sam to help himself to the leftovers. After Judy leads him to the kitchen, Lily turns to Rick. "He came here on purpose, he knew she was gonna be here," she fumes, and orders Rick to "go see what theyíre doing." When Rick refuses, Lily goes to the kitchen herself. She sees Sam and Judy about to kiss and reaches between them for a wine bottle. "Did you find everything you wanted? Let me know when youíre ready for dessert," she tells him with exaggerated courtesy. Sam and Judy, well aware of Lilyís motive for looking in on them, exchange furtive smiles.

Later, Jessie enters the bathroom while Grace is brushing her teeth. Jessie mentions the play, reminding Grace that she doesnít want to be Rosalind, that she auditioned for the role of Phoebe. Although Grace coolly replies that their being up for the same part is no big deal, she drops her toothbrush into its holder with a loud plop and does not say good-night to Jessie as she leaves the bathroom. Meanwhile, in the master bedroom, Lily indignantly asks Rick, "What do you think they were gonna do, Sam and Judy? Do you think they were just gonna do it right there on my butcher block?"

"Our butcher block," he corrects her. When she tries to pin down his opinion of Judy and Sam as a couple, he says at first that he doesnít want to be involved. But he adds that while he can see why they might be good for each other, ultimately he thinks theyíll destroy each other. "I know Judy. Sheíll be devastated and Iíll have to pick up the pieces," Lily grumbles.

"If I know Sam, heíll rebound with a twenty-three-year-old," Rick says. When he sees Lily roll her eyes, he quickly adds, "Just kidding," but Lilyís expression is grim as she picks up a book.

From Rick and Lilyís house, Sam and Judy have gone to Judyís apartment. Lying in bed with Sam, Judy recalls with sardonic glee how Lilyís eyes narrowed to "two disparaging little slits" when she saw Sam and Judy in her kitchen. Sam surprises Judy by announcing that heís going home. "I don't want you to go," she says wistfully, but he continues getting dressed.

Next day, as Grace practices vocal exercises in her room, Jessie sings "Iíll Fly Away" in her attic room. Her voice carries downstairs, where, realizing that sheís overmatched, Grace stops singing. She puts away her pitch pipe and picks up her copy of the play, reading aloud to drown out Jessie. At the second audition, Grace scowls through Jessieís rendition of "Iíll Fly Away." When itís her turn to sing, she proves that she can carry a tune, but her voice is still no match for Jessieís. In the audience, Jessie nervously chews her nails while she listens.

Rick and Sam visit a coffee shop, where Sam flirts with a waitress. Rick begins, "You and Judy, Sam--whatís going on?" and suggests that itís unfair for Sam to string Judy along if heís not serious. Churlishly, Sam tells Rick that itís none of his business. He turns to the waitress and tells her that Rick thinks sheís cute; then, having put Rick on the spot, he leaves in a huff.

Judy and Lily meet for lunch, Lily taking advantage of the opportunity to ask probing questions about Judy and Sam. "Weíre not seeing-each-other seeing each other, weíre just, you know, seeing each other," Judy explains. "So itís not serious-serious," Lily answers facetiously. She professes to trust that Judy knows what sheís doing with Sam, and Judy insists that she does. But when Lily says "Judy--" in a patronizing tone, Judy knows whatís coming next. Rather than listen to unsolicited advice from her older sister, she immediately walks out.

After the audition, Grace bursts out of the auditorium, seeking a breath of fresh air in the hallway. In search of Alexa, Mr. Dimitri also enters the hallway and, seeing Grace there, he stops to talk. "Who knew you had such a great voice?" he remarks. Struck by the fact that Grace and Jessie are stepsisters, he asks Grace point blank if they get along, since he's sure it can't be easy for them to be up for the same part.

"Iím fine with it," Grace replies. "And if she gets the role?" he persists.

"Well, that's okay, she's good. Sheís really sensitive, which makes her a good actress," Grace answers. "But it also might make it hard for her." His curiosity aroused, Mr. Dimitri asks what she means. As if reluctantly sharing a painful secret, Grace discloses that Jessie had an eating disorder the year before, and professes to be worried that the role of Rosalind might put too much pressure on her. Mr. Dimitri studies her intently, but before he can comment, theyíre joined by Alexa--who, Grace realizes, may have overheard them. After giving her a final appraising stare, Mr. Dimitri says good-bye to Grace and follows Alexa back into the auditorium. Shaking her head, Grace walks off in the other direction.

Next morning, Grace packs her schoolbag in the kitchen while Lily draws up her grocery list. Lilyís comment about the difficulty of accommodating the food preferences of everyone in her family prompts Grace to snap, "Why donít you just buy food and if people eat it, fine. If they donít, they starve."

Surprised by her vehemence, Lily wonders whatís the matter with Grace. "Iím just tired of people walking on eggshells around certain people," Grace replies irritably, throwing a book into her bag.

"Do you think maybe the school play is putting too much stress on you?" Lily asks solicitously.

Grace starts to break down in tears and whimpers, "Mom--" But when Zoe bursts in and demands Lily's attention, Grace bolts from the kitchen.

Meanwhile, Karen and Jessie stop for breakfast at the same coffee shop patronized by Sam and Rick. Jessie asks if she can skip school that day. Surprised, Karen wonders why she doesnít want to find out if she won the role of Rosalind. Rolling her eyes, Jessie answers that she doesnít know if she even wants the part, since living at Lily and Rickís house will be difficult if she's chosen over Grace. With maternal pride, Karen insists itís not Jessie's fault for being so talented that she was called back for the lead, and urges her to go for the part if itís important to her. Before Jessie can answer, she looks up and sees Sam at the counter, smiling at a waitress as she hands him a folded piece of paper. When she points him out to her mother, Karen quickly says that theyíre late and need to go. With a final glance in Samís direction, she steers Jessie toward the door.

Judy visits Karenís office for lunch. She apologizes for not calling Karen on the night that Sam stayed over, and pleads for Karenís imprimatur: "When Iím with him, Iím happy and I think thatís whatís important, donít you?" Lily always says she wants her to be happy, Judy complains, but wonít allow her to decide for herself what makes her happy.

Formerly a neutral sounding board, Karen suddenly defends Lily as a protective sister, and describes Judy as someone who wears her heart on her sleeve. Judy's head snaps up and her eyes narrow. "That could easily have come out of Lilyís mouth," she remarks icily.

Having betrayed herself, Karen is forced to explain, "I know Sam, I know his history, I know some of the things heís done." Judy is stunned when Karen reveals that sheís friends with Samís wife and knows what Sam has put her through, including "a pretty major affair" five years before. She begs Judy to be careful. Judy is so distraught that she immediately leaves.

At school, when Grace doesnít see a final cast list posted, she searches for Mr. Dimitri and finds him coming out of a classroom. He informs her that instead of posting a list, heís going to call the student actors at home. As he continues on his way, Grace follows him. "I hope you understand," she says urgently, "that what I said about Jessie is in the past, and I donít think it will be a problem." He reminds her that she brought it up anyway. "But it doesnít mean anything!" she pleads.

"Grace, everything means something!" he lectures her, and turns away.

That evening, Judy tosses and turns in her bed until she hears a knock on her door. Sam breezes in, carrying a bottle of wine. He asks for her corkscrew, then invites himself to spend the night. To his surprise, Judy answers without enthusiasm, "Whatever you want." He uncorks the wine and asks Judy where she keeps her wineglasses. "You donít know where the glasses are?" she replies. "How many times have you been here?"

"Several--a lot, really," he concedes, smirking. "But I didnít always have a beverage."

She asks him to be serious. "I donít know what you want," he says with a nervous laugh.

"You know what I want. I want you," she answers. Sam says she has him, but he also insists that he needs time. Judy becomes upset that he thinks nothing of asking her to wait for him indefinitely without knowing what she's waiting for. He claims not to know what he should say, but, goaded by Judy to say whatever he thinks he should, he pauses and then declares, "Iím pretty sure that I love you!"

Judy is angry that heís not totally sure, and admits that maybe she was wrong when she thought she could do this, because she needs more. Bewildered, and unable or unwilling to commit, Sam finally asks, "Do you want me to go?"

"I donít, so maybe youíd better," she answers. Reluctantly, Sam leaves. Hearing the door close, Judy fights back tears and her urge to go after him.

In their kitchen, Lily and Zoe prepare macaroni and cheese, although Lily rejects Zoeís suggestion that they add bacon to the mixture. Grace enters the kitchen to ask if anyone has called. "No, honey," Lily replies, and Grace leaves again. Jessie walks in, and seeing the tension in her face, Zoe volunteers, "No oneís called," before Jessie can ask. When Lily admonishes Zoe, she whispers that the atmosphere is very uncomfortable, and Lily is forced to agree. Jessie also leaves. At that moment the phone rings and Jessie and Grace rush back to the kitchen, but stop short when they see each other. Finally Lily picks up the phone, then hands it to Grace. To the frustration of Lily, Zoe, and Jessie, Grace speaks in monosyllables that tell them nothing.

Grace hangs up and, turning to the others, says that it was Mr. Dimitri, calling to inform her that she won the role of Rosalind. Jessie, Lily and Zoe warmly congratulate her. Grace turns to her stepsister and says that Mr. Dimitri also asked her to tell Jessie that she won the role of Phoebe. Again, Lily and Zoe offer their congratulations, but Grace does not. Instead, she assures Jessie that Phoebe is a good part. "I know," Jessie answers, and magnanimously tells Lily and Zoe, "Grace was amazing, she really does deserve the lead." Grace hangs her head. Jessie excuses herself to go to her room. Grace brightens momentarily after more praise from her mother, but as soon as Lily turns her head, Graceís smile fades. She goes to her own room.

In the attic, Jessie hums "Iíll Fly Away" to herself, then begins to sing, her voice resounding through the house. Grace tries to reread As You Like It, but as she listens to Jessie, she is too wracked by guilt to savor her success. Laying down the book, she leans back on her pillow and weeps tears of shame. In the kitchen, Lily looks upward, her expression pensive and troubled.

The End

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