Dan Barton sits in the living room of a two-bedroom apartment in Boston, which is sparsely furnished with a second-hand couch, mismatched chairs, plywood and cinder block shelves, and cluttered with tennis shoes, articles of clothing, open and empty boxes of varying sizes, including a black and white cow print Gateway computer box. He’s been a guest of the residents, Dottie and Leah, sleeping on the couch for several months, since his last roommate moved back to Toronto suddenly, leaving him with a place he couldn’t afford on his own and unable to float the cost while he found someone new. In return for letting him crash there, he picks up the utilities. The trio met a little over a year ago at an improv club in Boston, near Wellesley’s campus, and sometimes, varying configurations of Leah, Dottie, and Dan perform together, though mainly Leah and Dan. He’s seated at the computer, near the center of the room, typing.
“Wow, it’s a speed demon,” he says in an elevated voice, as though speaking to someone in another room. “Whatever you did, Leah, it definitely helped.” Receiving no response, he goes on. “I am so stoked for the show tonight. There’s supposed to be a group from Second City performing.”
“Do you have the graduation guide in there?” Leah calls out.
“Why would I have it?” Dan says. “You forget, my application to Wellesley got lost in the mail.”
“Think it’s in Dottie’s room?” she says.
“That would be a safe bet. What do you need?” he says.
“Which way does the tassel go?” she says.
Dan thinks about it. “I think it goes to the left before the ceremony. That’s how we did it in high school.”
Leah enters wearing a cap and gown in Wellesley’s colors. She models it for Dan.
“What do you think?” she says.
“Look at you, Miss Wellesley graduate,” he says. “Did you hear from MIT?”
“I did,” she says. “You are looking at the latest candidate for an accelerated Ph.D.”
“At least you’re staying in the area, so we won’t have to break up the act,” Dan says.
“Oh yeah, the act,” Leah says. “Wouldn’t want to deprive the world of Dander and Leander.”
Dan shakes his head. “You’re a better improviser than you think.”
Leah puts her hands on her hips and tilts her head to the side. “Which explains why I’m always known as ‘that chick who does improv with Dan’. You’re the one who gets all the invitations to play with other groups.”
“I take you along,” he says.
“At least I get to see a lot of free improv by people who really know what they’re doing,” Leah says.
“Are your folks coming up for graduation?” Dan asks.
“The whole family,” Leah replies. “Mom’s supposed to call me tonight to finalize details.”
“As opposed to every other night when she just calls to chat,” he says with a chuckle.
“So, I’m close to my mother, big deal,” she says.
“No, I think it’s great. I wish I got along with my parents that well,” he says.
“It was really just me and Mom before Alyssa was born,” Leah says. “Well, Dad was there on weekends between tee times.”
“He’s some sort of high roller in Atlanta isn’t he?”
“Real estate,” she says. She looks up as though reading a billboard. “Paxton Walker, the man who gave Atlanta its urban sprawl.”
“Doesn’t that make you a Southern heiress?” Dan says.
Leah rolls her eyes. “Yeah, right.”
The phone rings and Leah answers.
“This is Leah. That you, Mom?” She seems surprised. “Dad? Why are you calling? Where’s Mom?” She puts her hand to her head. “Wait. What did you just say?”
Leah exits into her room. Dan looks after her. “Leah?”
Dottie enters and dumps her bag onto a chair. “Hey, Dan. What’s up?”
He shakes his head. “I don’t know. Leah just got a call from her father and went in her room.”
“From her father?” Dottie says, concerned. “Leah doesn’t get calls from her father.”
Just then, Leah returns, holding the phone, her face wet with tears. Dan rises and Dottie goes to Leah and puts her arm around her.
Dan touches Leah’s shoulder and says, “Leah? Is everything okay?”
Leah shakes her head. “No. Nothing’s okay. Nothing will ever be okay again.” She stares at Dottie. “Dottie?” Leah wraps her arms around Dottie and starts sobbing. Dottie comforts her. After a moment, Leah lifts her head. “That was my father. He said my mother–” She breaks off. “My mom’s dead.”
“Oh my god,” Dan says.
“What happened?” Dottie says. “When Dan said you were talking to him, something didn’t feel right.”
Leah puts her hand to her head. “He didn’t go into a lot of details. He came home and—” She wanders aimlessly away from them. “I’ve got to get to Atlanta. Tonight.”
Dan looks at Dottie, who nods. He says, “What can we do to help?”
“I need to—“ Leah starts, then says, “What about graduation?”
Dottie takes her hands. “Don’t worry about that now. You need to get home to be with your family.”
Leah stares at her a moment and nods. “I’ll need a flight out.” She looks in the direction of her room. “I need to pack.”
Dan takes the phone from Leah and says to Dottie, “Okay, listen. You help get her stuff together.” He starts to dial. “My cousin works for American Airlines at Logan. I’ll call her and make the arrangements. If there’s a direct flight out tonight, she’ll get you on it.”
Dottie puts her arm around Leah and guides her into her room. “Let’s get you home.”