Monday, August 13, 2012
Dante's Circle excerpt by Dorien Grey
Zumaya Boundless (July 27, 2012)
"Elliott, I'd like you to meet Dante Benevetti. Dante, this is Elliott Smith and his partner…"
"Steve Gutierrez," Steve said, extending his hand.
The man making the introductions was Travis Green, and the occasion was a fundraiser for Above Ground, a newly formed theater company devoted to producing the works of gay and lesbian playwrights. Green was the host of the gathering, held on the expansive lawn behind his Lake Forest home. Food tables and two portable bars flanked the pool, underwater lights casting shimmering blue-green reflections on the tablecloths and canopies.
Elliott in turn shook hands with the thirty-six-year-old concert pianist, noting the man was even better-looking in person than in his photos.
"Ah, yes, Travis mentioned you earlier," Benevetti said with a warm smile and addressing Elliott. "I understand you have lots of money,"
"What makes you think that?"
"You wouldn't be here if you didn't." He gave a very quick glance at Steve, which for some reason made Elliott bristle. However, since Benevetti was still smiling, he dismissed it, but did not forget it.
"I hope you brought your checkbook," Benevetti continued. "We need every penny we can get for Above Ground. Theaters aren't cheap, you know."
"I've convinced Dante to play for us a bit later," Green said. It was obvious to Elliott the "convincing" had not been a spur-of-the-moment thing, since a grand piano stood on a raised platform at the far end of the red-brick patio.
After a minute or two, Green looked across the pool and, touching Benevetti lightly on the arm, said, "Ah, there's Marge and Natalie. They're dying to meet you." He turned to Elliott and Steve. "You will excuse us, won't you?"
Without waiting for a reply, he began wending his way through the crowd toward the two women. Benevetti glanced from Green to Elliott to Steve, raised an eyebrow, shrugged, smiled, and followed Green.
"There oughta be a law," Steve said.
"Against anybody being so gorgeous and talented."
Elliott grinned. "So, what are you—chopped liver?"
"Yeah, well, you're prejudiced…for which I'm duly grateful."
They exchanged small talk with a number of people Elliott knew, and most of those he didn't know personally he recognized as being the gay community's equivalent of the Four Hundred—bankers, lawyers, high-tier business executives, people from the arts. Steve recognized the owner of one of Chicago's top art galleries.
Elliott sincerely hoped Steve didn't feel out of place, and immediately cursed himself for even having such a thought. Steve fit in everywhere. It was he who felt slightly out of place, not because he didn't have as much money—or more—than most of the people there but that he didn't feel comfortable in large groups of people among whom wealth was the only common denominator.
About twenty minutes later, Green began circulating among the crowd, urging them toward the piano. He then mounted the platform with a small hand-mic, thanked everyone for coming, and launched into a speech about the new theater group and its intention to have its own venue, which required the financial backing and continued support of those at the fundraiser.
Finishing his call for support, he motioned Benevetti to the platform to enthusiastic applause and handed the microphone to him for a few words in support of the project. Elliott was immediately reminded of Henry Higgins's line from My Fair Lady: "Oozing charm from every pore/he oiled his way across the floor."
Handing the mic back to Travis Green, Benevetti then moved to the piano and took his seat. The yard lights dimmed and, in the circle of one small spotlight, he began to play Claire de Lune. By a clever combination of planning and luck, there was a full moon, and the effect was duly impressive.
The lights came back up as Benevetti stood to take his bow; then he sat back down to play Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody Number 2."
"Wow!" Steve whispered as Benevetti stood and bowed again to effusive applause.
The pianist started to leave the platform but, in response to the prolonged applause, returned to the bench and played Chopin's "Revolutionary Etude." When he finally left the stage, he was immediately surrounded by adoring fans.
After a few moments, Travis Green again took the stage for another pep talk about the need for everyone's support and announced that pledge envelopes were available on all the food and drink tables.
The party began to break up shortly thereafter, and as they passed one of the tables on their way out, Elliott took one of the envelopes and slipped in the check he'd made out earlier. Then, they joined the line of people waiting to thank and congratulate both Benevetti and Green on the success of the event. Elliott noticed yet another tray table for donation envelopes set up beside Green.
As Elliott and Benevetti were shaking hands, Benevetti said, "I understand you do home renovation. Do you have a card?"
Taken somewhat by surprise, Elliott quickly extracted a card from his inside coat pocket and handed it to the pianist.
"I'll give you a call," Benevetti said as Elliott and Steve moved on.
"Your fame has preceded you," Steve said with a grin as they walked toward Elliott's car.
"Apparently so." Elliott returned the grin. "Though I have no idea why he'd want my card…or how he even heard about me. Interesting."
To purchase, click http://www.amazon.com/Dantes-Circle-Dorien-Grey/dp/1612710654/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1344716635&sr=1-1&keywords=dante+dorien