Best Women's Erotica of the Year Volume 1

By: Rachel Kramer Bussel

Tammy, otherwise known as Ophelia.

Tonight we’d ended up at Philip’s apartment. Somehow, I—Ophelia the Second—was walking up to his front door, watching his ass as he led me up the stairs. He’d changed plans en route to the bar, suggesting we go back to his place to drink bourbon and run lines—as if he needed practice. As if I would ever play the role of someone I longed to be.

Tammy had been playing Ophelia for four months, and she reminded me every night that this was her role and I would never need to worry about taking over. I was merely the understudy: Ophelia the Second, Ophelia the Lesser. It was Tammy’s name that was printed on every program and across all the theater boards. She was Tammy Danes, community darling, headlining act and the lead actress in each play the Esquire Theatre had produced in the last five years.

She was also Philip’s ex-girlfriend.

Oh, we’d seen their drama everywhere—in the green room, in the parking lot, even on stage in rehearsals. It had been two years since their breakup, and while Philip kept himself tempered and humbled without needing Robert, our director, to remind them to knock it off, Tammy regularly made a scene. I knew the grief she caused him because he vented to me, his eyes bleeding the same tortured pain as Hamlet’s while he told me he wanted to escape her endless barbs and bitter commentary, and be with someone who loved like he did.

Philip opened the door to his house, pausing beneath the porch light to grin at me. When I smiled back, he brushed his hand along my cheek.

“Have I ever told you that you have the cutest smile, kid?”

Philip guided me inside before I could speak. I don’t know what I would have said if I hadn’t felt the sudden glue of my tongue to the roof of my mouth, either. There was no point in getting carried away with my thoughts of Philip. I’d hoped that becoming better friends with him would get me over my crush, but instead I felt like the theater girl of my early college years, swooning over another cast member in unrequited love.

It was ridiculous, really. Just as ridiculous as hoping Tammy would get laryngitis and I might finally have a night to be the real Ophelia.

Philip shut the door behind us and headed into his kitchen. His house was exactly what I’d expected, modern and tidy, with acting awards lining one of the shelves of a bookcase filled with scripts and plays. His husky rubbed against my leg as Philip poured my drink, and when I sat down on the couch, the pup curled beside my feet. I patted his head until Philip took a seat next to me, extending my glass with a wink.

“We always end up on a couch together, have you noticed?”

I laughed, trying to ignore the delicious smell of his postshow sweat, and the way the couch dipped under his sturdy, muscular body, almost pulling me into his side. He’d changed after curtain into jeans and a button-up shirt with the fanciest of shoes, and he looked even more impressive in his modern garb than he did in his lace-up leather doublet and boots.

“Guess so,” I said.

I sipped the bourbon. It was hot going down, warming me more than I already was sitting in Philip’s apartment with him staring at me with those heavy Hamlet eyes. I attempted to ignore the fight of my heart. I was usually strong enough to resist these terribly silly impulses around him, but it was impossible not to want him, not to imagine Hamlet speaking to me, or Philip taking my hand, pining for my love like his character did later on for Ophelia.

I suddenly felt like her—a naïve girl caught in the throes of some wild vision. It wasn’t madness, though it felt like it as he surveyed me.

“Good show tonight, huh?” I asked, needing yet again to get out of my head.

“Yeah. Tammy was on fire.”

I propped my elbow on the back of the couch and frowned. He knew I didn’t want to hear about Tammy or her wonderful efforts playing Ophelia—I’d confessed it over brews a month ago when he took me out to celebrate a five-star review from one of the most critical journalists in the business. For some reason, Philip had been more surprised at the review than my frustrated comments with Tammy’s rude backstage behavior.

“But it makes sense—whenever she’s a maniac off stage, she’s prepped for the role.”

I snickered, a loose spiral of my hair falling in my face. Philip caught it in his fingers and brushed it back, and I stared at him, surprised.

“We should have been on stage together,” he murmured.

I shrugged.

“Robert’s going to come around, Nat. Hopefully with the next show. You’ve got the talent.”

“You’re sweet,” I said. I took another swallow of my drink and placed the glass on his coffee table. Philip caught my hand.

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