Chapter 49: The Sidekick and Play Preparations (Part 4)
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The milk carton she’d been swinging around struck me in the hip, and I scooted further away from her. The first time she did it may have been an accident, and I had been willing to forgive the second time as well, but the third time made it seem like she had it out for me. I was glad for her good mood since it gave me a better chance of her agreeing to help us out with the play.

At least, I hoped it did.

I still hadn’t summoned the courage to ask for her yet. I was holding out not only because it was a big ask but also because I didn’t want her to think I only came to the cafe with her for that reason. Our outing really had been enjoyable, so I didn’t want her to think I only agreed to come to ask her for a favor.

We continued down a winding road until we arrived at a black iron gate. The same iron gate I had come face-to-face with a mere two days ago. Apparently, I had been out of sorts enough that I hadn’t been paying much attention to my surroundings. Through the spaces of the bars, I could see not much had changed, not that it should have. These homes were still too large for any overt functional purpose, and the roofs had a thin layer of snow covering them. Tire tracks marred the snow on the roads, meaning the maintenance people hadn’t gotten the chance to bust out the plow and shovels.

Katy made an impressed sound. “The one percent really know how to show off.”

“You live here?” I asked, unable to hold back my surprise.

“Not at all. My sister does ever since… it’s a bit complicated.”

Seemed so, and I wasn’t about to pry. Instead, I nodded, realizing she wouldn’t have said what she did earlier if she did.

“I had fun hanging out with you today. We should totally do this again sometime!”

I nodded again.

“Speaking of, why don’t we go to the Spring Dance together? You can bring Ethan and all your other friends, and we can go as a group.”

She was enthusiastic about the idea, but I could only manage a lopsided smile. The Spring Dance was an event where Lakewood Academy and Asheville High would come together for a night of collaboration, cooperation, and fun. That was how the student council and the organizers phrased it. In reality, it was a gathering for a bunch of awkward teens desperately attempting to impress students from the other school. Dances weren’t my thing, and I didn’t have any real desire to see any of my old classmates.

Katy looked a little disheartened that I could reciprocate her eagerness. “Think about it at least. It’ll be a good time, but I can understand if you don’t want to go.”

My smile turned a little more sincere. “I’ll let you know.”

“You better. And if you go, I’ll even allow you to have the first dance with me. Sweet deal, right?”

“Your kindness knows no bounds.”

She batted off some of the snow sticking to her hat. “Damn straight. Catch ya later!”

The gate ground against the gravel beneath it as it gradually opened before us. She scampered toward it, and I caught her by the sleeve, forcing her to jerk back and nearly lose her balance. My other arm shot out to catch her by the small of her back and offer her some support.

She whirled out of my grasp with a quizzical expression, her face turning pink from the cold. “What’s wrong?”

I released the sleeve of her jacket and exhaled deeply. “I need to ask you for help with the play Nora’s in. It’s an absolute disaster, and there’s probably not much I can do to change that, but I promised to try.”

Katy took a few steps forward, her back to me. “She’s that important to you?”

“She is.”

Flipping around, her wide smile stunned me. “Then how can I say no? But in exchange, you’ll have to agree to go to the dance. I’m not used to hearing people say no to me. My ego’s at stake here, you know?”

An exchange? As much as I didn’t want to go, Nora’s happiness meant more to me. Having to attend the Spring Fling would be a small price to pay, even though I wasn’t certain why Katy was this insistent I go. There would be plenty of other opportunities for us to see each other and hang out. Guess I would chalk it up to some weird girl thing and move on.

“I’ll go.”

“Great! So, what do you need from me?”

I explained what I needed as the gate ground to a close.

________

The stage was awash with lights and actors, an amazing change that would have seemed impossible last Thursday. Yet here we were, almost a week later, and the play was coming together nicely. I let out a satisfied sigh, leaning against the table I was standing near and not minding the poster poking me in the back.

Yeah, I was awesome like that.

Ethan gave me a hard stare, whispering close to my ear to avoid disrupting their practice. “Dude, get over yourself a little bit. You’re starting to creep me out.”

Josh elbowed me hard on my other side. “I don’t mind giving you an opinion on how they’re doing, but I’m going to leave if you keep mumbling to yourself.”

And I was also awesome enough to start talking to myself. That wasn’t a great sign; I decided to shut up. I also couldn’t have Josh leaving since I invited him here to give an outsider’s perspective on their performance since the rest of us were too involved to give an honest critique anymore. I had invited Rika as well, but she had turned me down, claiming she had more student council responsibilities. That was a lie, though. Their president was absent today, meaning all their activities had been postponed until tomorrow. What was the point of all these excuses? If she still wasn’t feeling well and wanted to go home, wouldn’t she have just said that? So, there must have been more to it.

I shook my head, trying to refocus on the play. I needed to stop thinking about her. Nothing good was going to come of it, and it was only pissing me off at this point. Seriously, what was her deal? How could she keep ignoring me even when I offered to help her? My calls and texts had gone unanswered for a week, and almost all my attempts at talking to her after class led to her swiftly retreating into the hallway without a word.

Rika was acting like I had at the beginning of the year, and I hated it.

Amelia tapped the mic, sending static through the speakers and frightening half to death. “Lily, you need to be more indignant. You’ve been taking care of Juliet for years. There should be no question of whether you need to leave the room.”

Lily brought the script closer to her face before nodding and attempting the scene again. She stared hard at the actress playing Juliet’s mom, words snappy and hands a flurry of motion. Every one of the girls gawked at the sudden turnaround, shivering when the scene had come to a close. She left no question who the star of the scene was.

“Great! Now we need to keep that same energy.”

The girl preened at the praise. “Yes, ma’am!”

I was impressed by the members of the volleyball team so far. They brought the same drive they had to pursuing a championship to learning their roles. While their acting was subpar, they proved to be fast studies and hung on Amelia’s every word. How much of that had to do with Katy’s threat to increase practice for anyone who ignored the hot blonde–for the record, those were her words, not mine–was anyone’s guess.

Amelia had bloomed into her role as the unofficial director as well. She had only had a few days under her belt, yet she had created an effective warm-up routine for the crew. They were getting pointed advice scene by scene and lapped it up to continue improving. There were also now more than enough cast members for the play. No one had to double up on roles any longer, which meant that Amelia was able to assign roles based on what fitted them best.

She’d been less than thrilled about having to give the other lead to Katy, but nobody could deny Katy played Romeo well. She had the right amount of charm and charisma that made all his flirty lines land. It was much better than the pathetic performance I put on whenever me and Nora would practice during lunch and after rehearsal. Everybody could also admit she made for a handsome man when she hid her long hair under the wig. Some more begrudgingly than others, as those two guys didn’t seem happy that all the female attention was focused on her.

“You really can be smart sometimes,” Ethan said. “Asking Katy was a good idea.”

“Excuse you. I’m smart all the time.”

Josh coughed into his hand. “Not at all.”

“You guys suck. The play’s going off without a hitch right now.”

“Yeah, it’s just too bad about the orchestra not being able to do pit crew because of nationals overlapping. Live music would have brought it to the next level.”

“What!?” Ethan and me shouted in unison, drawing a bunch of dirty looks. The one Nora gave us was the worst, and she jumped off the stage, stomping toward us. I gulped, suddenly much more aware of the repercussion of interrupting their practice. Putting on my best smile when she stopped in front of us, I dipped one hand into my pocket in an attempt to play it cool.

“Hey…”

She glowered. “Don’t ‘hey’ me. Why are you guys screaming when we’re trying to practice?”

“We were… um…”

“That’s my bad,” Josh said, being a real team player. “I thought you guys knew that the orchestra wasn’t going to be playing.”

“Shit! Those bastards didn’t say a word!” Nora shouted.

By now, the entire practice session had ground to a halt. Those on stage were watching us, which was kind of ironic. Their spotlight and acting skills meant nothing when our drama proved to be much more compelling.

I chuckled at the situation, while Josh tried to defend his musical sisters and brothers-in-arms. “Well, I’m sure they were going to tell you today. They didn’t know…”

Nora glared daggers into his soul, and he recoiled. He also shut up, which was the important part. Smart man, that one.

While the situation was a little amusing, the reality of it wasn’t. It meant we had come to another roadblock to the play’s success. One I wasn’t quite certain how to fix. The first one was easy enough to fix since we honestly only needed more bodies to fill positions. Katy had been a lucky break on that one. But where was I going to find an orchestra? I couldn’t exactly walk up to anyone and ask for their help here. We might be able to blast a soundtrack from speakers or something. It would lack the impact live music had, though.

Josh tapped the side of his guitar case strapped on his back. “Sorry to spring bad news and bounce, but I got to get to practice. I’ll try to think of something tonight.”

He made to leave, but Nora caught him by the wrist. Fear flashed across his face, even if he masked it well. “I don’t want to be late, Nora. I can sign an autograph later if that’s what you’re looking for.”

“It’s not. I just wanted to let you know I figured out a solution to our problem.” Nora smiled at us. “Don’t let him escape.”

Ethan and me pounced on him, wrapping an arm around his shoulders before he had the chance to escape.

“Oh, hell no.”

Nora grinned manically. “Oh, hell yes, music boy.”

That was what I appreciated about Nora. Even as we laughed and wrestled Josh to the ground with the help of some of the members of the volleyball team, she always knew what she wanted. She knew what she wanted and took it, already securing an offer for his band to play if we passed out some flyers advertising the show for them, which definitely had nothing to do with all the cute girls begging for him to agree.

I needed to follow her lead and take things into my own hands. If Rika didn’t want to talk, I’d have to force the situation. The student council room might be able to provide just the chance.

Too many shifts at work! I didn't even get a chance to write or edit since Friday. You'll have to excuse me for the delayed chapter. On the bright side, it did give me some time to flesh out the rest of the novel in my mind and decide on an ending, which was something I was stressing about. This is also the longest chapter in this series yet, so please enjoy!

I have the next chapter ready, so I will see you all on Saturday for sure!

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