“Yep?” I asked, getting a bit closer so that we could keep our voices low.

“I heard Sarah was ill this morning. Is she well now?”

I smiled. He may be having an affair with my best friend, but at least he was kind about it.

“Yep. She probably just ate something bad. Perks of being human.” I grinned at him.

He nodded, gesturing with his arm to indicate that we should walk. I fell in step beside him and he reached out his hand.

“Please, allow me,” he said, and took my bag off my shoulder before I could stop him. I had to remind myself that Connor was from a different time, when men did this kind of thing and women were not insulted by being referred to as the weaker sex.

“She is attending dance rehearsal. She is quite enjoying being a dancer again, I think, and uses every spare moment to perform.”

“That’s good,” I said, as we rounded the corner and headed to the Red Theater.

“Forgive my intrusion, Amy, but you are also ill as well, are you not?”

“Me?” I asked, surprised, and then realized he wasn’t just referring to a stomach bug. “Oh, yes. But it’s managed, and doesn’t really bother me yet.”

“HIV. It, uh… can lead to AIDS… It’s a blood infection that can be passed on through bodily fluids. My mother had it, shortly before she found out she was pregnant with me.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said, and he seemed truly sorry. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Sure,” I said dryly. “Turn me into a vampire and everything will be cured.”

He froze, holding the door open for me. “Have you discussed that with Liam? Your relationship seems quite serious.”

“Oh.” I shook my head. “We’re just taking it one day at a time. We don’t know where this is going. But we know that we love each other, and that’s all that really matters.”

He smiled as the door shut behind us. “Young love is such a beautiful thing.”

“Thanks?” I replied, as we neared the stage.

Sarah was already sitting on the edge of it, cross-legged in black spandex shorts and a black sports bra, looking much better than she had this morning. We were expected to come dressed to rehearse, but Sarah always took it to the extra level.

“Hey,” she said, as we both approached, giving Connor extra eye contact.

He dipped his head. “Sarah. I trust you are feeling better.”

“I am,” she replied, patting a spot beside her.

I hopped up on the stage before Connor could get there. If they were going to insist on having an affair, they could at least not be so obvious about it. Isabelle was tiny, but I got the feeling that she was deadly. Every inch of her small body was packed with muscle, and she reminded me of a cat, coiled and ready to pounce. Just as I was about to shoo Connor away, Isabelle entered the theater and he immediately melted away to be at her side.

I wondered if she knew what was happening right under her nose. I also wondered how a man could love his wife so much and yet give Sarah so much attention.

Sarah told me it happened all the time; that I had lived a sheltered life, and of course, she was right. Men cheated all the time, and she claimed it wasn’t her problem what Connor’s choices were. She wasn’t married. And although I saw her point, it still sent shivers down my spine. I didn’t think I could be that person, from either side of the relationship.

“Can we get into the first scene?” Liam called as he entered from the front of house.

To my surprise, he wasn’t coming bounding in and pointing out everything he wanted. He was moving slowly, and I was about to ask him if he was ok, when I saw the reason why. With a death grip on his arm, Nina put one foot in front of the other, until she reached the closest chair in the audience, and sunk into it.

We hadn’t seen Nina since she collapsed. She had sunk into Torpor, the vampire coma-like state that happened when they starved themselves. Having taken up residence on Liam’s couch, she lay, like a statue, undead and unmoving for weeks. It creeped me out to see her that way, and Liam assured me that she was fine, she would recover. So mostly, we spent time in my dorm room, whispering in the early morning sunrise when he showed up after a long night of vampirism.

Sarah and I made our way over to say hello to Nina, but Liam blocked us as he came towards the stage.

“Let’s just let her be. Sarah, I heard you were creating quite a show this morning. Feeling better?”

“Yes.” Sarah blushed, nodding. “I swear I wasn’t out drinking last night or anything.”

Liam winced. “Well, that makes one of us.”

I gave him a kiss hello, wanting nothing more than to snuggle in his arms. I really didn’t care that we were in front of everyone, sometimes I felt like claiming Liam for my own. I knew it was childish, but his attention was often so divided that I felt like I was sharing him with the world.

Liam put his arm around me and didn’t move it while he called out stage directions to the mass of actors.

Stumble-throughs weren’t expected to be anything close to the show. It was just an attempt to get through as much of the show as possible, preferably from start to finish, to give us some context.

“I heard from Sites,” Liam said, as everyone scrambled into position. “The episode will air a week on Thursday.”

“Really?” I looked up at him, my eyes as large as saucers. “I can’t decide whether I want to watch it or hide in my bedroom and wait until everyone’s forgotten about it.”

He laughed, giving me one more quick squeeze before letting me go. “It’ll be good, Amy.”

“Here’s hoping,” I said, and then headed up on stage.

“Amy, are we doing this with music?” Sarah asked.

I shrugged. “Don’t think so. The tech crew isn’t here.”

“Boo,” she said, as she pulled her tank top down over her shorts. She looked down at her body a moment, frustrated. “I feel fat.”

“I know that. But I’ve put on like 4 lbs. I never put on weight. It just stays at 115lbs no matter what. I could eat half a cow and it would stay the same.”

“And maybe I have an alien growing inside me.” She grinned and finished adjusting her shirt.

“I’ve seen that movie, it doesn’t end well.” I giggled, as the lights lowered, our cue for the show to begin.

Acting with Sarah was a dream come true. After all those years separated, I never thought I would be four feet from her, playing lead roles. Despite her dark appearance, with her piercings and eyeliner, her Christine was innocent and wide-eyed, wandering about the stage with a childlike air. I loved to watch her perform it, so much that I almost lost track of my cue to enter.

Meg Giry was such a different character than Beauty, all perky and excited, with constant energy. Now that Sarah had told me what happened to the character in the sequel, I considered adding another layer; a jealous daughter who wants her absentee father’s attention more than anything. On stage, even in the stumble through, I felt like I was floating, and I knew I was born to do this. At least, until halfway through the scene, when my mind blanked.

Liam was supposed to be sitting there, with a script, making sure we were word for word, and I knew, after rehearsal, he’d spend about an hour making me go over it.

But there was no answer.

Shading my eyes from the lights, I took a step forward to see Liam with his head turned, his hand on Nina’s, as he watched her drink from a thermos. An awkward silence fell over the stage as the rest of the actors took a step forward, watching the scene as well. Head swiveled from me to him and back to me, like there were watching a tennis match. I tried not to notice, but an actor always knew when several pairs of eyes were watching them. I cleared my throat, pasting a smile on my face.

“Liam?” I called, using the projection techniques I had been taught in class. My voice bounced off the walls and his head snapped towards me.

“Line?” I asked again, pretending that he simply didn’t hear me.

Nina must need some sort of nourishment, and food wasn’t going to cut it, even during the day, that was all. He had told me that, on rare times, a vampire’s human form will take blood to speed up a healing process. I could understand why he was a little distracted by all of it.

“Oh, sorry,” he said, and gave me one of those smiles that sent chills down my spine. “Where?”

“End of act 1. Sarah just asked if I knew the ticket sales for the show?”

It was a bit weird and confusing doing a show within a show. But Liam understood instantly and flipped through the pages until he found the line.

“It’s a full house,” he fed to me.

I nodded, stepping back into the part. The stumble-through resumed, and everyone went back to their characters. But I couldn’t help but feel like eyes were glancing to Liam and Nina to me the whole time.

“Sarah is stronger today,” Nina had been telling me when Amy had called for a line. She was right, and I had been noticing it all morning. Our little unnamed Shield seemed to be living up to her full potential after all. We still didn’t have a heritage for her, a background that linked her to the Shield families, but she seemed to be growing stronger by the day.

Of course, some of it was due to the fact that she was using her ability nearly nightly with Connor. I disapproved, but there was nothing I could do to stop either of them. God knows I had enough flings with women wearing wedding rings to last me a lifetime; I wasn’t going to lecture her. I just hoped Isabelle didn’t decide to go on a jealous rampage if she found out.