Love Phantom

By

Dawn Kravagna

Chapter 1

University of Washington, January 1983

It all started the first day of winter classes with a slap to the face.

Seriously.

In most romances, the slap comes after the couple have a big fight, the guy or gal gets walloped across the chops, and then, ridiculously, they get turned on and make out.

Not facile with small talk, I tend to be direct, so I skipped the fight and went straight to getting smacked across the face.

The first day of Scene Design 101 was held in a busy set design shop with a cement floor. The ceiling towered above. Teacher assistants were staged in various corners of the warehouse, eager to display their skills.

And I displayed mine—the inability to think quickly on my feet.

I, and the thirty other Drama program students, wandered around in groups of four to five, clustering around demonstrations of the different skills and equipment required to build sets. First, I observed a dark-bearded mountain man mix ingredients to create a mushroom of ochre-colored foam, which would be spray-painted to mimic a heavy boulder. Next I watched a female sprouting a green Mohawk demonstrate how to use a lathe machine to create stair balustrades. But it was at the third station that I “pulled a Kara,” as my younger brother Hector Daniel would put it.

You see, I was distracted a bit.

Because the lanky guy painting backdrops in the middle of the room was cute! Black straight hair hung just below his small lobed ears and hugged the nape of his neck. Long tapering fingers pulled a five-inch wide paintbrush back and forth across a canvas lying flat on the floor. His eyes were dark brown, framed by arched eyebrows. I estimated him to be about six inches taller than me, although it was difficult to be sure since he was bending over the faux brick wall he was creating. Pale and dressed in black, he resembled the lead singer from Modern English, but with a sprinkling of freckles across his nose and cheeks; likely, then, his hair was dyed. But no matter.

I managed to attract his attention, but not the way I intended.

Behind him stood another scenic backdrop reeking of fresh paint, which depicted an English floral garden with a few armless Greek statues. It was about twenty feet long by ten feet high, the base fitted at both ends into wooden cross supports. It didn’t seem sturdy at all.

In an attempt to get a closer look at what Mr. Cutie was doing, a stocky fellow tried stepping over one of the supports but misjudged and tripped. The backdrop wobbled erratically and threatened to collapse upon the head of another curly-headed blonde guy who, oblivious, was staring in the opposite direction, probably at the giggling group of girls across the room.

“Watch out!” I yelped and leapt forward to push him out of the way of the falling scenery.

“Huh?” the blonde guy asked, swinging around.

Whack! He hit me right across the face with his book bag.

Which was full of books, apparently.

“I’m really sorry! Are you okay?” my attacker cried out, clearly horrified.

Stunned, I hesitated a moment before responding. “Yeah, I’m okay,” I said, peering over the top of my hands, cupping my face protectively.

Mr. Cutie dropped his paintbrush and leapt to his feet. “You sure?” he asked, frowning with concern.

I pulled my fingers away from my face. “Family always said my nose was a bit too small,” I replied, trying to make light of a totally embarrassing situation. “Swelling would probably improve it.”

My joke apparently fell flat because the blonde guy’s eyes widened and his brow furrowed with dismay.

Ignoring the fact that the bridge of my nose throbbed a bit, I wriggled my nose. “Just teasing. See. My nose is just dandy.”

When I smiled, the blonde was clearly relieved. “Your family’s wrong. It’s a cute nose,” he said, sounding a bit hopeful. His voice was tantalizingly low and mellifluent, but a dark blonde mustache detracted from his sky blue eyes.

I could feel my cheeks warm. Maybe it’s because I’m a redhead, but I blush readily. I struggled for a witty comeback to deflect the unexpected compliment. Writing plays, I can take my time to ponder wonderfully witty interactions between my characters before committing their words to paper. In real life, you don’t always have that luxury.

“I’m such a klutz,” the guy who tripped over the stanchion interrupted, rescuing me from a comeback.

The teacher’s assistant grabbed one end of the scenery drop and shook it. The canvas wobbled but didn’t tip over. “It’s roped to the ceiling,” he explained and pointed upward. The backdrop was secured with ropes bound through several metal rings drilled into its top. “Can’t have things falling over on top of the students now, can we?” he added with a wry grin.