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Olive Branches

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"I'm fine," Feri snapped, "don't you dare come over," and turned off his phone, before passing out face-down on his sofa.

He woke with a headache and twenty-three retweet notifications he didn't have the fortitude to look at before an aspirin and three centiliters of pálinka, except apparently he had finished the pálinka the night before.

He settled for aspirin and a stale pogácsa left over from rehearsal.

Feri's Twitter account had three followers: Ákos, Peti, and his mother, who logged in once a year to wish him happy birthday, an event Feri suspected was her passive-aggressive way of rubbing it in that he was a disappointment. Today it appeared that everyone in the cast under twenty-five had retweeted his latest tweet, a line from his favorite József Attila poem that was extremely apropos to the production concept of Csínom Palkó.

"Great!! :-) Weöres Sándor?" said Peti's initial retweet, apparently ground zero for the clueless hordes of youth whose cultural education had been tragically neglected. At least this time he hadn’t asked if Feri wrote it himself.

Feri ground his teeth together and considered the whiskey Ottó had given him for Christmas, knowing full well that Feri hated whiskey, before deciding that he should probably wait until after opening night of the damned show to get that drunk again.

"I brought you a coke, bunnykins," Ákos said, his voice cutting through the discordant sound of the orchestra apparently trying to practice "Csínom Palkó, Csínom Jankó" and the overture at the same time. That boy had been born with an unreasonable amount of voice for his size, but apparently he intended to compensate for it by having execrable taste in endearments.

This time Feri was safely on the other side of the stage, and had not even been thinking about kissing Imola silly. None of them were talking about that little incident, and Feri liked it that way. Sometimes people did strange things under stress, and it was better to just pretend nothing had happened.

"And one for you, uh—" Ákos was holding out a can of soda defensively, as if it was one of the prop axes. "Uh. Your blood sugar seemed a little low, uh, Maestro."

Feri bared his teeth. "Ta."

"No problem," said Ákos, to his credit only cringing a little, and wandered back to make eyes at Imola. At least they'd finally managed to inject a little fire into their performance, Feri thought. His methods might not be standard, but they worked.

He could do without ever listening to them coo "bunnykins" at each other again, though. Ugh.

Feri was halfway through his fourth—fifth?—manyth glass of wine when Imola sat down next to him, holding out a plate full of cheese cubes and fruit on sticks and a slice of walnut beigli.

"You should eat something," she said, frowning up at him in a way that entirely avoided coquetry and came out the other side into a sort of innocent seductiveness that Feri was definitely not going to acknowledge because the children had made up and were bunnykins-ing and kissing in every corner and he wasn't interested anyway. "And you don't have to sit over here in the corner," she went on, laying a hand on his shoulder. "You can come sit with me and Ákos. Or anyone. Tonight would never have happened without you."

He groped for an excuse—with this much wine in him there was no way he could survive the premiere party in close proximity to the bunnies without making someone cry—and then gave up when he sighted Ottó weaving his way through the crowd, red-faced and unsteady. Oh god, he'd been hitting the wine at least as hard, and the fragile balance of the show would collapse the moment they started arguing politics. They would start arguing politics.

"I have to leave," he said, removing Imola's hand from his shoulder. "Keep the cheese. Good performance. Tell Ákos he needs to work on nailing that high note in the love duet every time."

"Good night..." Imola couldn't possibly look disappointed, because she was only being polite anyway.

“I wish I knew what you were up to.” Ottó grabbed one of Feri’s strudels before he could stop him. “Imola doesn’t bring me homemade strudel! Ákos and Peti don’t dissect every single one of my tweets as if it were biblical exegesis—"

“You don’t use Twitter,” said Feri, smacking Ottó’s hand away from his coffee.

“Well, if I did use Twitter, they wouldn’t. Trust me. You’ve convinced all the children that you walk on water, despite being your usual intolerable self.”

“They’re just...nice.” Feri frowned at his strudel, which was delicious, and also had his favorite filling. Did Imola know that? All of the children were too nice. They needed to toughen up if they were going to survive the world of theatre. Or the world outside theatre, really.

“Well, they’re nicest to you,” Ottó said, taking advantage of his distraction to steal another strudel. “Almost respectful, even. God only knows why, since you’re an ass and an egomaniac, but you might try thanking them sometime.”

After Ottó left, Feri realized that his coffee had mysteriously vanished, along with the chocolate he’d been saving for intermission that evening. Well, if he’d been in any danger of letting all the soppiness rub off on him, there was Ottó to remind him that you couldn’t take your eyes off your food for an instant. He hadn’t changed a bit since he was sixteen, except for getting stouter and grayer.

To be fair, Feri hadn’t changed much either, except for developing a better understanding of the world. It wasn’t his fault if other people were too naive for their own good, was it?

“Good job with the dancing tonight. Very sharp,” Feri told Peti at intermission, and ruffled his hair. Then he tried to fix it, because Jankó wasn’t really supposed to have an undercut and the gel flattening it into submission had abruptly failed to hold. He gave up after thirty seconds of poking at it while Peti made confused faces and shifted from foot to foot. Horrible trendy hairstyles.

Peti blinked at him. “Uh, thanks?”

“That’s all,” Feri snapped, “go get your makeup touched up and fix your hair. Hurry, hurry!”

After the bows he found Ákos and Imola in their dressing room, already in street clothes. Imola’s eyes were shut and she looked exhausted and pale without her stage makeup, with dark circles under her eyes. Ákos was standing behind her, rebraiding her hair, and the whole scene was so painfully sweet and domestic that Feri seriously considered turning right around.

Then Ákos’ eyes met his in the mirror and the kid grinned his star’s grin, the smile that had first made Feri think Yes, this one has it. He could be great, even before he heard Ákos sing and saw those rare sparks of stage presence. And despite himself, despite knowing better, he felt the pull of it, the urge to smile back.

“You can sleep in tomorrow. We’ll just do a quick run-through of key scenes after lunch,” he said instead, thinking of Ottó’s words earlier. Occasionally, very occasionally, Ottó had a point. He couldn’t quite bring himself to apologize—what was there to apologize for when nothing had happened?—especially when he wasn’t entirely sure who he’d called that night. After the aspirin, he’d deleted his call log unread in a fit of embarrassment.

The worst thing was, it could have been any of them. Any of them would have answered in the middle of the night, sleep-blurred and concerned, and listened with earnest worry to the drunken breakdown he had not actually had. They were all idiots. “Uh, and there’s pizza in the break room.”

They exchanged one of those unreadable couple looks, although thankfully not one that seemed likely to erupt into nauseating endearments, and then Ákos said, “Actually, we were going to stop at the döner kebab place around the corner.”

“Do you want to go with us?” And that wasn’t fair at all, Imola asking, because Feri still felt a little guilty about the rehearsal incident and they knew it.

No, he thought, I have to get home, which was a lie, because what was there for him in his sad little flat except an empty refrigerator, a few dying houseplants, and incipient alcoholism if he wasn’t careful?

“Sure,” he found himself saying instead. “Thanks.”