Excerpt - Mr. Wright

Chapter One

“Wow, these seats are great,” I said as we were ushered to the seventh row of the Fox Theater.

My friend, Sam, had scored us tickets to see Benjamin Wright and Geoffrey Epson at the fabled Detroit theater for my birthday. Ben and Geoff were a couple comedians who had been popular since the early seventies and had now teamed up to tour together, doing skits and playing music around the country.

I loved Ben and Geoff, even if they were technically before my time. Both in their sixties now, they were still hilarious and quite handsome. Truth be told, I’d had a crush on Benjamin Wright since I’d been a little girl, and it had never once wavered. While most kids my age had Tiger Beat posters of boy bands pasted all over their lockers, I kept a tattered issue of Time Magazine in my Trapper Keeper, the one featuring Ben as their man of the year in 1995.

Sam had never understood my infatuation with the man, but she loved me as only a best friend can, and when the opportunity to see the men perform had come up, she’d snapped up tickets and proudly presented them to me on my thirty-second birthday.

I’d been ecstatic, marking off the days on the calendar with a big, black marker, counting down to this night when I’d finally get to see my childhood crush standing in front of me. It was difficult to sit still in the stiff theater seat, and several times, Sam nudged me with her elbow, pointing out silently that I was embarrassing her. Honestly, I didn’t care. I was too excited to be worried about other people and their feelings toward her or me.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the houselights dimmed and the men walked onstage. When the spotlight hit Benjamin Wright, my breath caught in my throat. He really and truly was the most handsome man I’d ever seen.

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for coming out to see us tonight!” Geoff’s deep baritone boomed through the auditorium, and everyone applauded.
“It’s so great to be here at…” Ben glanced down at a card in his hand before continuing. “The beautiful Fax Theater in Detroit.”

“Fox,” Geoff corrected him in a stage whisper.

“Well, thanks, Geoff, you look quite fetching yourself this evening,” Benjamin said with a wide grin.

After their witty exchange, they launched into their skits, and it was the funniest thing I’d ever seen. My sides ached from laughing so hard, and tears leaked from my eyes. Several times, I turned to Sam and gushed my thanks that she’d come with me. Her cheeks were stained from humor-crying, and she could only nod at me before turning back to the antics onstage.

After an hour of nonstop performing, the men settled into a pair of chairs on the stage and started to converse as if they weren’t seated in front of hundreds of people. They talked about what they’d been doing the past couple years, about their kids and show business memories.

It was actually quite touching, and you could tell the two really were friends, not just comedy partners. Their banter didn’t feel practiced. It was effortless, and I soaked up each story they told.

“So, Ben, you’re single now,” Geoff said as they moved from a story about working on a movie together.

My breath caught in my throat, and my heart physically ached at the comment.

“Widowed, actually, Geoff,” Ben replied, but he smiled and didn’t seem put out by the public reminder that his wife had passed away.

I remembered hearing the news five years earlier and being devastated for Ben. It had been a ridiculous reaction, of course. I didn’t know them. But their Hollywood love story had been legendary. Married for over thirty years, hopelessly devoted to one another then his wife, Laurie, had been tragically killed in a car accident on her way to meet him for dinner. It had been so sad and so public. I’d felt horrible for him and his family.

“Right,” Geoff continued, a small smile just for his friend flashed for a moment before he turned back to the audience. “But you aren’t currently dating.”

“Nor am I looking,” Ben said firmly.

“Well…I am,” Geoff replied as he got to his feet. “You need to put yourself out there. You’re a decent-looking guy, I guess. Why, I’d bet there are…tens of women here tonight who would love a chance to go out with you. Hell, I bet I could even get one to kiss you right here onstage. How about it, ladies? Is there anyone—under the age of ninety, please—willing to lay one on my friend here?”

I can’t tell you what the hell possessed me, but I jumped from my seat and climbed over Sam and the couple next to her, throwing myself into the aisle and running toward the stage. Geoff saw me and laughed as he walked to the stairs leading up to the stage, offering me a hand.

“You okay?” he asked quietly. “You’re not, like, stoned or strung out are you?”

“No, sir,” I whispered. “Just in love with him.”

Geoff patted my hand as he flashed me a wide grin then led me to stand in front of Benjamin Wright.

For a moment, time stopped. Like one of those hokey scenes in a movie, I felt as if I had the rest of forever to just stand in front of this man and look into his hazel eyes. His hair was medium brown, graying just at the temples and cut in a shaggy style that accented his youthful features. He didn’t look sixty-three. He looked closer to fifty, and when he grinned at me, a smile lit up his face, making him appear even younger.

“Hi,” he whispered shyly, breaking the moment.

“Hi,” I replied, my tongue feeling too thick in my mouth, the word sounding odd.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Geoff boomed from behind me, making me jump in surprise. For a second, I’d completely forgotten where we were. “This lovely lady has graciously agreed to take pity on this nice, old man and bestow a kiss upon him. You know, in case he’s forgotten how the whole process works.”

“No, no, I remember,” Ben said with a half-smile. “Usually, I tell you I don’t want to do this bit tonight, you do it anyway then I just stand here like an idiot as no one comes up to kiss me.”

“Yes,” Geoff agreed loudly. “But tonight, I’ve found a sucker—I mean, a lovely, young thing who actually wants to kiss you. So shut up and kiss her already.”

Ben gave me a look that seemed almost apologetic, though since I’d bounded to the stage like an idiot, I thought it should have been me apologizing to him. In my eagerness to be close to Ben, it had never occurred to me that Geoff had been joking. That the offer of a kiss from the handsome icon hadn’t been real. My stomach dropped as I realized how foolish I looked. Not just in front of the audience, but in front of Benjamin Wright.

My gaze lowered to the stage, and I held my breath, waiting to be politely escorted away. To my shock, though, Ben’s arms wrapped around my waist, and he pulled me against him. His body was hard and warm, and he fit against me perfectly. He used a finger of his free hand to lift my chin, and when I was once again looking into his eyes, he leaned forward and pressed a soft kiss to my lips.

My heart hammered in my ears, and stars exploded behind my suddenly closed eyelids. Benjamin Wright, star of every adolescent fantasy I’d ever had, was kissing me. It was short and chaste, but it was without a doubt the best kiss I’d ever experienced.

When he backed away, the sound of the cheering crowd replaced the beating of my heart in my head, and my face heated ten degrees warmer in embarrassment. Ben squeezed my hand as he leaned closer.

“Thank you,” he whispered. Then he let me go, and Geoff was there to lace his fingers through mine and remind me to get the hell off the stage now.

I wandered back to Sam in a fog. The show continued, but I heard none of it. More politely this time, I excused myself past the couple on the aisle then took my seat again, dropping into it with a heavy sigh.

“I cannot believe you did you that!” Sam hissed in my ear. I couldn’t tell if she was mad or excited or just in actual disbelief.

        I didn’t care. I’d just been kissed by Mr. Wright.

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