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by Jane Bierce
Description: "Ms. Bierce has written an insightful tale with the message that if a loving relationship is to work, no matter how physically attracted two people are to each other, there needs to be a willingness to compromise, to forgive and try to understand, and to accept one another, flaws and all."--Reviewed by Jeanne Allen of Ivy Quill Reviews. A contemporary romantic comedy set in Tampa, Florida, Funny Business focuses on Meg Buffington as she sets out on a career in business. But on a dare, she performs at amateur night at a comedy club. In the audience is Curtiss Edmunds, a financial planner new to Tampa, who finds little humor is life and none in business. As it turns out, Meg interviews with Curtiss the next morning for a job. He remembers her act, and issues an ultimatum--if she accepts the position of his office manager, she will not perform as a comedienne. The attraction between them is strong, but their combined stubbornness is stronger. How can Meg bring some laughter back into Curtiss' life?
eBook Publisher: Awe-Struck E-Books, 2000
eBookwise Release Date: October 2001
18 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [204 KB]
Reading time: 131-183 min.
"How do you feel?" Sheila asked with barely controlled excitement, putting a final touch of blush to Meg Buffington's cheek.
"Don't ask," Meg snapped, fidgeting with the thin shoulder strap of her blue crepe evening dress as she tried to quell her feeling of raw terror.
Beyond the dingy gray walls backstage of the Funny Bone Comedy Club, there was a smattering of applause. Joey Boniface, the frustrated comic who owned the club, mounted the stage.
"You look great!" Sheila reassured her, giving her a last, encouraging smile. "Knock 'em dead."
Sheila had been the most insistent of the girls who dared her to enter Amateur Night here at the comedy club. Entertaining the girls around the college dormitory was one thing, but standing in front of strangers...
Well, I've never been able to resist a dare, Meg thought with a shrug of her bare shoulders.
"We have a lot of new talent for you to see tonight," Joey Boniface announced, having delivered a couple of his own tired jokes, "so we'd better get right to it. There's a young lady with us tonight who's been visiting the Funny Bone for several years. Finally she found the courage to come up here in front of you. When I told her I wanted her to be first so she'd be on before the language got too rough, she very graciously consented--and cleaned up her act."
The audience laughed, possibly surprised that Joey had an original line.
"I'll warn you," he went on, "you'd better laugh for her because she has about three tables full of friends back there. If you aren't nice to her, they'll hit you with their purses. Their own, their very own--Miss Buffy!"
Meg consciously made her feet move and stepped through the limp velvet curtain into the spotlight and cigarette smoke of the dining room. She immediately felt the heat of the lights on her already flushed cheeks. The stage was small, with patrons sitting at intimidating close range, right to the edge of the brightly lighted area.
In the instant before the spotlight completely blinded her, she picked out a face in the middle of the room to play to. And such a face!
He was the most gorgeous man she'd ever seen. The huge breath she had taken to propel herself onto the stage caught in her throat for a moment. But she went center stage and smiled directly at her Mr. Focus.
Turning gracefully, Meg smiled at Joey as he disappeared through the curtain--leaving her there alone. With an unsteady hand she slipped the microphone from its stand, clutching it like a lifeline. She grinned toward the kids in the back of the room, even though she couldn't see them for the spotlight in her eyes.
"Thanks, Joey," she said in a voice which sounded much more at ease than she felt. "He's a prince. At least that's what he told the lady backstage when she asked him about the water-lily behind his ear."
The audience laughed, and from the baritone guffaws she knew it wasn't just her friends. With a deep breath, she relaxed and improvised on one of Joey's lines.
"Joey's right. My friends and I have been coming here for a long time--ever since we found the man who made fake IDs. I paid him extra for mine. It says I'm--" she stood up on her tiptoes "--five-eight." She touched her medium brown hair. "Blond." She turned slightly to the side and took a deep breath. "Sexy."
When she waited for the laugh there, a heckler's very familiar whiskey-slurred voice bellowed something Meg couldn't make out. She put her hand to her ear, then waved in his direction dismissively, picking up her routine where he'd interrupted.
"We all graduate next Wednesday," she went on, knowing this was a weak place in her routine, but she needed it to segue into another line. Her friends greeted the statement with an unexpected cheer and she looked toward them gratefully. "And it's not a moment too soon! What a rowdy group! Wednesday is a great day to graduate--you've rested up from the weekend before and don't have to recover until the following Monday!"
That joke had wide appeal in this particular crowd, as she hoped it would. The heckler shouted something and lunged toward the stage. The legs of a chair scraped on the bare wooden floor.
Shielding her eyes from the spotlight, Meg was surprised to see Mr. Focus had pushed his chair into the path of the heckler. His action delayed the pest long enough for Vinny the bouncer to subdue him with a hammy hand on his shoulder.
Meg was stunned by the idea that someone as perfect as Mr. Focus had come to her defense. While she groped for control of herself, something deep inside her rose to the occasion.
"Oh, you didn't have to do that! I'm prepared to deal with that man," she told the audience. "We studied his type in classes--in Abnormal Psychology 301, and in Things that Live under Rocks 412."
Mr. Focus looked up at her with an amused smile on his face and casually reached for the glass in front of him.
"Put him down, sweetheart," she suggested, turning her attention toward the bouncer. "There's a university down the street where they'd love to have him. We don't know all the habits of extraterrestrials yet."
Oh, lord, Meg thought. My routine! Where is it!
Gloriously, the laughter was continuing, giving her a chance to regroup. Then she picked a key word. "My parents were surprised at how much it cost for four years of college." Ah! Back to the routine! "And it's not really four years; it's three years and nine months--and a few odd days. Some of the oddest days I've ever spent, I might add. Of course, you don't have classes on Saturday or Sunday. There are holidays, and Spring Break."
Her friends cheered at the magic words, as she knew they would.
"There are classes you skip, and some you sleep through. There are times the professor doesn't show up. And you spend a lot of time partying. When you get down to it, you get that diploma and you hardly worked for it at all."
The older people in the audience laughed, but she knew that line didn't really amuse the gang she had come with. Some of them had worked very hard, and she had, too, for her degree in Business. There was a brief grumble from the heckler but Meg pretended to ignore him.
"I have some goals in mind for when I graduate. I feel strongly about doing what I can to bring peace and harmony to the world however I can. I'm going to see if I can find that heckler's spaceship for him."
So that one didn't go over so well, she thought; but the heckler was quiet. "I have other goals. I want to have a nice car, not a particularly fancy, expensive car. Just one that has a gas gauge and an odometer that both work. Something that still has some cash value when I decide to turn it in. Something that doesn't have a death wish whenever it sees a beer truck. My friend Sheila has a real nice car. But her speedometer is broken. She watches how fast the fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror sway back and forth to know how fast she's going. When they come up boxcars, she knows she's going too fast."
That brought an unexpectedly loud burst of laughter. Meg felt a surge from somewhere within that swept away all the fear and uncertainty she'd had a few minutes before.
Her last joke wasn't really going to work; she had done too well. But she didn't have anything, off the top of her head, to replace it.
"My immediate goal is to get off this stage alive. You've been a great audience. Thank you."
She replaced the microphone on the stand and hurried off the stage through the curtains and into the hallway beyond.
Joey grabbed her roughly by the arm and shoved her back toward the stage. "Take a bow, kid!"
A bow was something Meg had warned herself not to do, considering the cut of her gown. She peeked back through the curtain and blew a kiss in the direction of the kids in the back of the room. Then she dashed to the minuscule ladies' room and locked the door behind her.
The woman who stared back at her from the streaked mirror over the sink looked nothing like the Meg Buffington she knew. Meg had an aversion to the heavy makeup and the too-fluffy hairdo Sheila had constructed. She wanted to remove the cosmetics and brush all the hairspray from her light brown hair. But she had nothing to work with, so she decided against doing any damage to her appearance for the moment.
Her heart was pounding with the wild sensations that had assaulted her in the past few minutes. Somewhere "Miss Buffy" had taken over for Meg Buffington. Meg wasn't the girl to think on her feet quite so well.
Buffy had put on a show, brash and aggressive, rising to the situation, doing combat with a rowdy heckler and finding funny lines quickly, deftly. Buffy hadn't wanted to leave the stage. Meg, having seen the handsome man in the audience who had forestalled the drunken heckler, was too confused to have put three words together.
"Meg! Meg!" Sheila called softly, tapping at the door. "Are you all right?"
Meg unlocked the door. "Yeah, I guess I am."
"You were great! I knew you would be!" Sheila exclaimed, immediately surveying Meg's face to see that her cosmetic artistry was still in place. "We're all so proud of you!"
Meg let go of a nervous laugh. "I--have no idea what happened out there. Something just--"
"Are those eyelashes bothering you?" Sheila asked, still intent on her face.
"All right, I'll take them off for you," Sheila offered. She put her purse down on the edge of the sink to search for the plastic case she kept the eyelashes in.
Meg closed her eyes for a few seconds, only to be confronted by the memory of the Man. In the dark room, backlit against a fog of tobacco smoke, his broad shoulders stretched an immaculately tailored light blue jacket.
"Darnest thing!" she sighed. "Did you see that guy--"
For a moment, Meg had seen something in the face that caused a reaction inside her too profound to identify.
"Yeah! Who'd have thought someone would have taken offense when El Loudmoutho went into his act!" Sheila laughed as though reading her mind, removing the first eyelash.
Meg clenched her teeth after the fleeting sting. "Did you get a look at him? The guy in the blue jacket, I mean."
"God, yeah!" Sheila sighed theatrically, then chuckled. "He's a hunk. I've never seen him here before, though."
"He wrecked half the material I had about hecklers, you know?" Meg complained, enduring the other eyelash being pulled off. "I had about three more lines to use on that guy."
"Want some mascara?"
"I don't think so," Meg replied, taking a look at herself in the mirror. "This will have to do."
Sheila glanced at her own reflection in the mirror and decided her short brown curls were in place. She started out into the dim hallway, draping her arm casually around Meg's shoulder. "I'm going to be your manager, kid," she whispered glibly. "This is just thef beginning. New York, Hollywood, Las Vegas--"
"Forget it!" Meg told her emphatically, but the shadow of Miss Buffy was ready to go anywhere, anytime.
They slipped into the back of the room and started toward the table where Sheila had saved Meg a seat. Meg was stopped by a waiter, a young man in a crisp white shirt and slim black trousers.
"What are you drinking?" he asked softly.
"Ginger ale," Meg answered, reaching for her purse on the empty chair.
The waiter held up his hand when she started to take out some money, shaking his head. "The gentleman over there--"
Meg looked at the man the waiter indicated and took a deep breath. At this closer range his dark hair and broad, tanned face were even more impressive than they had been from the stage. "Tell him 'Thanks, but no, thanks,' huh, Germaine? I'll pay for it myself."
"In that case, it's on the house," Germaine offered with a congratulatory grin. "You were great!"
"Thanks." Meg sighed as she sat down heavily. Unfortunately, the Man was in her line of sight as she turned to watch the next performer, but he was watching the stage, too.
All she could see was the back of his neatly barbered head and the firm line of his shoulders under the well-tailored jacket. He was sitting alone at the small table where there was one chair empty, the other two having been appropriated by other patrons. Most people came to the Funny Bone with someone else--as couples or groups, the way her friends had. A lone man was not terribly common, perhaps a curiosity in himself.
Germaine placed the ginger ale on the table in front of her, returned the smile she gave him, and slipped away again.
Meg tried to listen to the man on the stage, a fellow she'd seen before at similar comedy events. He was nearly ready for an occasional job, Meg was sure. His material was acquiring more polish, and it flowed easily. She had learned a lot from watching him over the last few months and was pleased with his progress.
Miss Buffy felt a twinge of jealousy. Shocked, Meg put the thought away from her.
Eventually, the air of the room got oppressive. "I've got to get out of here," Meg whispered to Sheila between acts.
"Want me to come with you?" Sheila asked.
"I'll go with you," the boyfriend of one of the girls at the next table offered. He paused to take his pack of cigarettes from his jacket.
Customarily a few guys were included in the party so the girls could leave the club for a breath of air and have a suitable escort.
Outside, the Florida night was warm, the jasmine scented breeze a sharp contrast to the smell of beer and cigarettes. Meg took a deep breath and looked away toward the silhouettes of palm trees against the orange street lamps.
"You were very funny, Meg," the young man complimented. "Boy, that took a lot of guts. I don't think I could ever do anything like that."
"I did it on a dare," Meg shrugged, turning down the cigarette he offered her.
"Do you think you'll do it again?" he asked.
Meg said, "No", but Miss Buffy struggled to be affirmative. Meg was still battling the strange confusion she felt about her performance.
Meg was prepared to go into a business office and apply for a job and do what she had to do to make a living. It took self-assurance to put up with the personalities and office politics she'd encountered on summer jobs and her internship. But she didn't know she was capable of the aggressiveness of Miss Buffy.
It was one thing to learn a routine by rote, get up in front of friends in her dorm and do it in five minutes. Miss Buffy, however, had ad-libbed, put down the heckler and gotten back to her material like a trooper.
Meg turned her back to the young man, not rudely. He surely understood he was just there to keep away any unruly drunk who might come out of the club and accost her. He knew she did not particularly appreciate cigarette smoke in her face anyway. It was no big thing.
"Good evening," a deep voice drawled, and neat white loafers stopped on the patch of pavement she was looking at.
She looked up at the face and must have made some sort of acceptable response.
"You handled yourself very well, Miss Buffy," he commended, dark eyes darker in the unnatural orange light.
Miss Buffy squared her shoulders. "Don't you know it's a comedian's job to put down hecklers?" she demanded. "It's in all our standard contracts. I take it you're a stranger to these parts."
"Well, I've only been in Tampa for a few months," he told her. "My office is near here and I come in for lunch pretty often. Joey has been after me to come some night when there was a show ... and..."
He shrugged his magnificent shoulders and plunged his hands into the pockets of his white slacks. A lock of his dark hair, encouraged by the gentle breeze, dropped over his forehead in shy apology.
Meg realized that Miss Buffy had backed this man down with her misplaced humorous nitpicking. Darn! she thought, I want to get to know him and I've blown the chance somehow.
"Well, maybe you'll come back again," she suggested weakly.
"I'm just not used to hearing a man use language like that directed toward a woman he probably doesn't even know," the man declared.
Miss Buffy asserted herself with a dry laugh. "You think that was bad? I've lived in a women's dorm for four years. I've heard language that would curl your hair. And before that I rode a school bus. I heard things that would make a sailor blush--from the sixth graders!"
He seemed to be chuckling in spite of himself. "Well, I guess my breeding gets in my way," he drawled. "I've been having a hard time learning that not everyone has such archaic manners as we do in Georgia."
"Sweetheart, you can bring your archaic manners along anytime," Miss Buffy drawled. God, he was charming just the way he was. How could anyone find fault with a man who wanted to protect a woman from the louts and clods of the world?
"I'm not used to hearing a lady refer to shooting craps and drinking the way you did, either," he stated, a touch of distress in his voice.
"It's all a part of the act," Meg assured him. "You have to play to the house and talk about what they know. I don't even smoke or drink."
"Then I'm sorry I insulted you by offering you a drink," he apologized.
"Think nothing of it," she consoled. "Your heart was in the right place." Even though it was Miss Buffy who was talking, Meg was observing that it was more than his heart that was in the right place. He was just about perfect, in any light.
"I'll see you around," he said, and turned toward a dark classic Corvette parked nearby.
Darn again, Meg thought. She had given him his cue to exit and she hadn't wanted to. She'd wanted to listen to that honeyed accent as long as possible.
"You ready to go back in?" her temporary escort asked as the powerful motor of the Corvette growled to life.
"Yes, I guess so," Meg sighed, but she watched the taillights of the car until it turned onto the street and the car roared out into the night.
Joey came to her table as the girls were collecting their tabs. "Meg, sweetie, I think you might be just what we need to open Friday night. One of the boys wants the night off. Do you have ten minutes?"
"Honey, I've got all the time in the world!" Buffy quipped and waited for a laugh.
"You know what I mean?" Joey asked, his forehead furrowing slightly.
"Yes, I know what you mean." Meg informed him, trying to contain her racing heart with a calm, businesslike tone in her voice.
"I thought you might drop in tomorrow after the lunch crowd thins out and we could work on it," Joey suggested.
"Good," Meg agreed, taking control and making plans. "I have an eleven o'clock job interview near here so that will be fine." * * * *
The girls talked about nothing but Meg's being offered a spot on Friday night's program as they piled into Sheila's car. "Aren't you excited, Meg?" Sheila asked. "This could be your big break! Show biz! I love it!"
"I don't know about Joey, though," one of the other girls mused. "I think I'd take a ten-foot pole with me."
Meg had contemplated the same thing but put the thought out of her mind. At the moment, she was glad to let the girls entertain her.
Buffy gloried in any crumb of praise handed her, while Meg would have been pleased just to dwell on a certain look of admiration in the face of the Man.
Back in the dormitory, one of the girls who hadn't gone to the Funny Bone accosted them as they tumbled hilariously into the corridor. "How did it go?"
"Couldn't have been better!" Sheila proclaimed. "Miss Buffy wowed 'em. Joey wants her to go back Friday night."
"And she met the most gorgeous man," someone else piped up.
"Tell me about it later, huh, Meg? Your mom called and when I told her where you were, she about had a fit," the girl advised, waving a scrap of paper in Meg's face. "Better call her and straighten it out before it gets too late."
"That's all I need!" Meg laughed. "My parents disowning me just when I become a big success!"
She tried to sound very happy and positive when she reached her mother on the phone. But Myra Buffington was a past master at throwing cold water on the most jubilant of situations.
"Mom, it was a lot of fun!" Meg defended herself against her mother's dire predictions that she was on a road to depravity. "But it's over now and I survived, so what's the problem?"
"I swear, Margaret," her mother clucked, using her proper Christian name to denote her exasperation, "sending you to college was a mistake. You should have stayed at home and been a secretary the way we planned."
The we who had made those plans were her mother and father, without having listened to Meg's dreams for herself.
She had learned from a trip to Washington her senior year of high school that her small town in central Florida was not the center of the universe. When she'd been offered a scholarship to the University of Tampa, she'd taken it, though it meant working summers and part-time during the school year to meet the expenses not covered by her scholarship. It had been worth it, though.
Meg no longer considered herself a small-town girl, and she was not intimidated by the quicker pace of the growing city of Tampa. She had chosen to study Business with an eye to getting a job that would provide well for the life she wanted to live. Now she saw the dream within her reach, if not her grasp.
"Anyway," her mother sighed into the phone, "I was calling to tell you we'll meet you at your dorm at four Wednesday afternoon."
"But I'll have moved into the apartment by then, Mom," Meg interrupted. "Sheila and Barb and I found a place. Look, it would be easier if you'd just go to the ceremonies and I'll meet you after. It's going to be so much confusion."
Her mother sounded disgruntled. "Oh, all right," she groaned at last, not having been offered any alternative. "I guess that will have to do."
"I'll see you Wednesday then, Mom," Meg told her, straining to be cheerful for a last few seconds. "I love you."
"I love you too, dear," her mother proclaimed automatically and then hung up.
"Trouble?" Sheila asked, leaning against the wall by the phone.
"No, not really," Meg replied. "Mom's just--last century, you know?"
Sheila shrugged. "Come on, you're out on your feet. We have to start moving tomorrow."
Meg groaned theatrically. "I've got an interview and that meeting with Joey Boniface--"
"So Barb and I won't have to work around you! You'll do your fair share by the time we're finished."