"We're going to see the rockets!" Scotty crows for all of sixth avenue to hear. Were he not an adorable six year old in a full tuxedo with top hat (at his own vehement insistence) or smack in the middle of tourist country smack in the middle of tourist season, the reaction from passerby may have not been as friendly. Tis the season. Santa is watching. Better a happy if spoiled kid than a whining brat, right?
"The Rockettes," Anthony corrects him gruffly, not stopping to apologize as he nearly runs down a very obviously lost family of four holding a map. Anthony does not care if Santa is watching. For someone who has spent his entire life navigating the busy streets of New York, one might think he'd be a little more used to foot traffic by now, but the Whitcombe patriarch has never been of a particularly patient mind. Laura is three steps behind him, confidently gliding over sidewalk grates as if she isn't wearing stiletto heels. The crowd seems to part for her - but then, they should. After all, this was once her kingdom, whether they realize it or not.
"Shh," she hushes her husband as she takes his hand in hers. "Let him be surprised."
Scotty loves the theatre. For a seven year old boy specializing neither in staying quiet nor sitting still, it's nothing short of a miracle how the house lights going down and stage lights coming up puts him in a nearly transfixed state for two hours. So Laura takes him to the theatre. She takes him to Into the Woods and Les Miserables ("I want to be the cool guy who dies upside down on the pile of chairs," he later informs her, which she counters with "why not the little boy?" because she's fairly certain she could worm him into the audition room when they start looking for replacements, but he quickly responds with "he doesn't get to die in a cool way," and that's that) and Starlight Express - she takes him to Starlight Express twice because he likes it so much for reasons she can't quite wrap her head around - and of course, in December, she takes him to the Christmas Spectacular, and watches as he leans forward in his seat to watch, eyes wide.
That could still be you up there, a voice in her head whispers. Shut up, she whispers back.
"So wait. That really used to be you?" Scotty asks after the show, between sloppy bites of ice cream. "On the stage? For real?"
They have had this conversation at least twenty times before. It never feels any better.
"Sure was," she still smoothly answers, snaking her spoon in to snatch a dollop of whipped cream and grinning at his cries of protest. "For four years. I started when I was nineteen."
"Then what happened?"
Yeah, Laura, then what happened?
"Well, then I met your dad. And then I had you."
Scotty takes a moment to mull this over, then smiles almost wickedly. "So which do you like better, being a dancer or being my mom?"
Laura laughs. "Being your mom, dummy."
"It's too hot to be December," Scotty bemoans, dramatically flopping face first into the family room carpet without warning. Laura doesn't jump because she's watched him do this a thousand times. Anthony doesn't jump because if his son is stupid enough to propel himself onto the ground, he deserves carpet burn. "Can't we go home for Christmas?"
Rolling his eyes fondly, Anthony tugs him up by the back of his shirt and dusts him off. "You're the one keeping us here, kid. I came all the way out to LA to spend the week with you and your mom, but if you want to pack it up and go home--"
"He does not want to pack it up and go home, he's filming two commercials next week--" Laura pipes up.
Anthony has been beyond understanding. He's paying for their place in California, he's working twelve hour days during the week and still makes it out to see them most weekends. He pretends to be interested while Laura agonizes over contracts on the phone for hours at a time. He acts like he even believes there's a place for his kid in Hollywood, even if everything so far has indicated the pool just has too many people in it already. And here he is now, with a kid that just wants to be back in New York and a wife who's not willing to let it go.
"I'm just saying if he did want to, that'd be fine. They've got all the decorations up now, you know."
Scotty retreats across the room to Laura. He always goes to mom first, which makes sense, because Laura is warm and patient, and Anthony is practical and impatient and, frankly, doesn't like kids all that much. It's nothing against Scotty - he just doesn't like people that much, full stop. As far as his son goes as a miniature one, he's fine. But Anthony didn't go into parenthood expecting to be the favorite.
"What do you want to do, Mom?" Scotty asks.
"I want to make you a star, honey," Laura replies, then turns to Anthony. "Sorry, babe. We're staying."
Anthony sighs and turns up the air conditioning.
They say that once you've been a Rockette, you're one for life, so it's not difficult for Laura to snag a quick backstage tour for her family before the show. Less has changed than she thought would; she's able to show them her old spot at the mirror, the rehearsal hall, and even take Scotty to the main stage, where he stops at the curtain's edge, poking his head out just far enough to see into the audience. The seats are all empty now, but they won't be in a few hours.
"Did you ever get stage fright?" he asks.
"Sometimes," Laura responds honestly, gently ruffling his hair, "but less the more I did it. It's a big stage, isn't it?"
Still staring out into the sea of empty chairs, Scotty nods. "I'm not saying I get stage fright, though," he looks over his shoulder to hastily clarify. "Just so you know."
"Never would have thought you did. You know, they said we could go out there if you want, check it out."
Without another word, Scotty dashes out onto the stage, stopping at center and looking out.
"What have you got to say, Scotty?" Laura coaxes him from stage right.
Officially cued, he raises his elbow to his mouth and lets out a long, glorious fart noise.
Anthony lets out the lowest, softest hint of a chuckle. Laura sighs. "Yes, that's my son."
"What would you be doing now if you hadn't decided to have kids?" Scotty asks, casually flipping through his playbill as audience members filter in past them. "Or if you'd... you know, kept dancing after having kids."
Laura's plan had never been to stay an active Rockette forever. She couldn't have even if it was; dancing has always been a career with an expiration date, and she wasn't too idealistic to realize that. But she wasn't a terrible actress. She could sing. She was certainly pretty enough to do soaps, or catalog modeling, if it came down to it. She would have had options. But getting married hadn't been a bad one, either, and wasn't one she'd ever truly regretted.
"You know, I'm not sure. I don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about it."
Scotty raises an eyebrow. "Liar."
"Okay, so," Scotty explains to his parents with more than a hint of roguish teenage pride, "we just have to get in quick, but once we're inside no one's going to bother us. So just walk fast and follow my lead, okay?"
"I think we know how to walk into a building," Anthony shoots back, but at least he's smiling for once. Scotty returns the gesture with a wide grin of his own, and Laura has never wished mental pictures were a real thing that could be printed and framed more.
Scotty climbs out of the car and looks around. The busy New York crowds stop for no man. Or boy.
"What happened to 'we have to get in quick?' Laura teases, letting Anthony help her out of the car. "Why aren't you running? Shouldn't we all be running? Maybe we should look into getting you a security team if you're worried for your safety, honey."
Rolling his eyes but still smiling, he tilts his head toward the building. "Shut up and get inside, it's cold."
"SCOTTY. OH MY GOD, IT'S SCOTTY WHITCOMBE. I TOLD YOU IT WAS HIM."
"Man, you just try to go see a show with the 'rents and this happens," Scott says, unable to hide his shit-eating grin.
"Anthony, you have to take him, you hardly get to spend any time together anymore."
Laura does not get sick often, but when she does, she gets sick. 103° fever, migraine headache, sore throat, congested nose, stay in bed because you are highly contagious sick. Anthony had put on a hospital mask before entering the room to speak to her, which didn't exactly make her feel better, but all things considered, she can't blame him for it, either.
She can, however, blame him for refusing to spend time with his kid.
"We can still spend time together. We'll order dinner and he can rent something on pay per view while I catch up on work. It doesn't make sense to go without you."
"How is that spending time together?!" Laura wheezes. Anthony is about 83% sure she wouldn't hesitate to work herself into some kind of medical shock just to make a point.
"We'll be in the same room!"
Anthony has no idea how to talk to Scott. They spend three quarters of the year in different states, if not on completely opposite coasts; when Scott's not filming Home Improvement or his next movie, he's auditioning for a new project, or he has an important networking event he can't miss, or someone from Seventeen is trying to get in touch with him for an interview. Anthony doesn't read Seventeen. He doesn't even watch Home Improvement. It's not that he doesn't want to be a decent dad - he just was never prepared to be a dad to this.
"Babe, its a tradition, we go every year, you can't just not take him because I'm not going? What if I don't get better in time to see it before it closes, what, none of us are going to go because of me? What if I get hit by a truck, what would you do then?"
"You are so dramatic."
"I'm serious. What, I disappear and you two just never speak again? It's ridiculous, Anthony, and I--"
"Mom. It's cool." Scotty has already undone his tie, and is proceeding to undo the buttons on his shirt as he loiters in the doorway. "We've still got like a week and a half, you'll be better by then. Lie down, we'll order you some soup." He shifts focus over to his father. "I'll call it in. Steak and cheese?"
"Got it." He slips out of the room as quietly as he had entered it, leaving Anthony, Laura, and an elephant. Laura silently glowers.
Anthony shrugs. "I'll see what I can do about getting the tickets exchanged."
"So, what did you think?" Scotty asks as the lights come up. "Pretty cool, right?"
Laura knows she should appreciate the fact that her son's trying to bring a little bit of culture into his friends' lives, but he could have picked a softer candidate to start with. Or at least one slightly less desperate to maintain a strong sense of masculinity at all times.
"I don't know, man, like the chicks are hot and all? And the costumes, you know, yeah? But the whole thing felt kind of gay."
"Screw you, man, you're gay."
"You're so gay you--"
"Neither of you are gay, but both of you are idiots," Laura snaps. "Next time just go to a hockey game."
Once you're a Rockette, you're a Rockette for life.
Once you're a Rockette for life, you get to watch your son hit on the dancers when you bring him backstage.
"You know, I'm eighteen now," he says as he ducks down for a picture with the full lineup. "When are you going to let me take you out on a date, Julia?"
Julia laughs, though not unkindly. "Ask me again a decade from now."
Scotty is stretched out on the couch, sleepy-eyed, television remote in hand, looking every bit the picture of a typical, lazy teenager on winter break. Only instead of being home from college, he's in town visiting, riding high on American Pie's summer sleeper hit success and still just as satisfied with himself as he had been back in July.
"What's up?" Laura's only visiting too, technically. Sure, her legal guardian duties are technically over - Scotty has his own place, can be on set without a mandatory adult presence, and all things considered, did a pretty impressive job of navigating his way out of the teen trap critics warned he might find himself stuck in once Home Improvement came to a close. But he still barely knows how to run a washing machine. He hired a personal chef specifically because he didn't want to learn how to cook. And Laura's not sure she's crazy about some of the new friends he's making. So, as she had told Anthony, it's in everyone's best interest that she go back when Scotty does, stick around a little longer. Keep an eye on things. Make sure he's making good choices.
"I was thinking maybe this year we could skip the Christmas Spectacular and go see Cats instead," he suggests, flipping the channels from commercial to commercial.
See? How can she trust him to make good choices when he's saying things like this?
"We could," she says, trying not to let her tone belie her disappointment. "I mean, we've already purchased the tickets, but--"
"Mother." Scotty sits up and looks back over his shoulder at her, more satisfied than ever. He hums the tune to the Rum Tum Tugger. "Take a joke. Gosh."
Anthony doesn't come this year. He's too busy, he says, and he never really liked all that Christmas music too much, anyway.
It was always a Scotty and Laura thing anyway, truly, so it shouldn't matter. Nothing's changed. But it feels like it has.
"Excuse me... I'm so sorry for interrupting, I know this is so rude. Are you Scotty Whitcombe?"
Scotty has never in his life considered it rude to be approached by a pretty girl, even if he is in the middle of a conversation with his mother. He turns in his seat and smiles, offering her his hand. "I am. Are you a Scotty Whitcombe fan?"
"I am," the girl says, and the two quickly fall into a conversation about how much she loooved Bring It On and he was so funny in American Pie and wow, even cuter in person than on screen? Scott soaks it up like a sponge, and Laura smirks into her phone screen and shakes her head because there's one thing this stranger is getting entirely right: the way to her son's heart is straight through his ego.
The house lights flash and the girl is grabbing Scotty's hand, scribbling her number onto it. "Call me after the show," she nearly purrs. "We'll do drinks."
"Anything for you, sweetheart," he replies, ignoring Laura's not-so-subtle chortle as he turns back around and settles into his seat.
"You are not nearly as smooth as you think you are."
He flashes his palm at her. "Smooth enough, though."
"Hey Mom, it's Scotty. I hope you can hear me, I know it's uh, really loud?" A bass beat thumps in the background. Someone yells 'SIMBAAAAAAAAAAAAAA. Get over here!' "Shit, sorry let me... hold up, I'll be right back, okay? Yeah, you stay right there." A door slams shut. The sound of the bass is muffled. "Sorry. Anyway, I know you're probably getting ready for tonight because I tried calling home first and you didn't pick up but I wanted to let you know that this big thing came up and it's gonna be a really great opportunity to do some networking... there's a guy who wants to talk to me about doing like, this indie solo project he's been writing, see if we can work something out for both of us, and I know you're always telling me to go after that sort of thing but. I'm sorry I can't be there. And sorry for the late notice. But you and Dad can make it a hot date night now, right? And I'll take you guys out to dinner before I go back to LA. Okay, uh. Have a good night. You can call me if you need to, but... it's loud, so. Yeah. Love you. Goodnight."
"I don't know. He's not picking up. Do you think we should call the police?"
"No, I think our son's a disrespectful jerk with a lost sense of responsibili--"
"Stop. It's not a big deal." Laura takes a deep breath. "He's probably... in a meeting or something. Maybe with Peter, you know? They're still working really hard over there to find him the perfect follow up project." Anthony gives her A Look, and she bristles. "And they will. And that's a lot more important than going to some show with his mom. Have a little faith in your son, for Christ sake."
"I have a little."
"Well have a little more." She hands him a tie. "Congratulations, you're my date tonight."
SMS from Scotty Whitcombe, 6:23
mom ri'm lost on thke trani
SMS from Scotty Whitcombe, 6:24
i think si'm supposed to ebe toging upthown but i'bm going downtown
SMS from Scotty Whitcombe, 6:25
mom i'mm so sorry 'zill bugy uls mroe tickets for toormrow kayo
SMS from Scotty Whitcombe, 6:25
"Excuse me. Sorry. Hey there." Scotty stumbles toward the seat next to Laura, hair mussed, collar askew. "Ever think people get dumber when it rains?"
Well, this is a small miracle. While a less optimistic person might have taken history into account, given up, and 86'd their traditional plans for the night, especially considering who they were dealing with: erratic, unreliable Scotty, grasping at what remained of his former glory and trying to have some fun with it. But Laura has hope to spare - though even she had been about to accept the fact that tonight would be a solo night at the theatre before he came rushing in just under the clock.
"You smell like an ashtray mated with a bottle of Everclear," she replies, wrinkling her nose and waving her hand in front of her nose. "Good grief, Scott."
"So which one are you, the ashtray or the Everclear?"
"I'm the Everclear, because I could potentially drown you if you're not careful. Sit down."
Once you're a Rockette for life, you get to watch your son hit on the dancers when you bring him backstage.
Once your son has had a decade to hone his skills at charming the ladies, he's sometimes successful.
"What's your name, beautiful?" he asks a giggling young showgirl, slinging an arm around her waist as they pose for a selfie.
"Julianne," she squeaks out. A new girl, Laura assumes. Young and green enough to be getting starstruck.
Julianne. Close enough. Scott grins. "What are you doing later tonight, Julianne?"
Scotty is smitten. Laura can tell by the look in his eyes. He's always been a romantic (which isn't terribly surprising; she's always been a romantic, and for better or worse, they're nearly mirror images of one another) and though he's hardly been known for having long healthy relationships recently, being willing to introduce a new girl to his mother is always a good sign, right? He's been drinking less since they started being seen together - Scotty and his mystery girl, who while unknown to the paparazzi is actually an actress as well, only one who's done most of her work in small avant garde off-Broadway shows or deep in the ensemble. Scotty doesn't care. He looks at Isabella like he looks at a stage.
"I just don't know," she muses, picking daintily at the pastry in front of her, her head resting on Scotty's shoulder. "And don't take this the wrong way, Laura, because I mean no offense at all, but... maybe I just don't get it. I appreciate all of the athleticism it takes to do that, but it seemed more like kicking than art."
Scott sits up straight so quickly, it's a wonder Isabella's head doesn't catapult right off his shoulder.
"Are you kidding? It takes so much precision to be able to land kicks like that, in sync, every time. Just because you don't get it doesn't mean it's not art. Jesus, Izzy, come on."
Laura hides her grin with a fake cough. It feels good to still come first.
"You know, if you wanted to get back on stage, you probably could."
"My son, teller of tall tales."
"I'm serious. Let me talk to some people, see what I can get worked out. People get back into performing all the time; don't try to tell me you don't miss it."
Laura misses the stage terribly. She misses the excitement of learning something new, the exhilaration of standing on a stage while the curtain rises, the feeling that if she could be making an impact on someone's life just by doing the thing she loves, even if that impact is just putting a smile on someone's face for the evening. She misses all of it. But she's put that behind her now.
"You're sweet, but this family only needs one performer. I'm happy to be an audience member now."
Scott shrugs and ushers her to her seat. "If you say so."
"So you can still kick that high, you think?"
"Scott, never ask me that question again with a hint of doubt in your voice unless you truly want to find out."