Chapter 51: The Sidekick and Taking the Stage (Part 1)
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I considered whether I should shoot Rika another invite to the play tomorrow before deciding against it. If she planned on showing up, she would have told one of us by now. Her radio silence said it all, but the show would go on either way, and I wasn’t about to lose sleep over her decisions. I had reached out to her, pleaded for her to open up, and she turned me away. It was better for me to focus on everyone who would be showing up.

My family had been ecstatic to receive an invite to the play from Nora, much more enthusiastic than when I had invited them an hour earlier. Bonnie had taken to talking Nora’s ear off, describing in vivid detail the sign she was going to make for Nora. Thankfully, Nora managed to convince her that bringing such a thing would be in bad taste outside of a sporting event. Mom hadn’t been much better, crooning over how amazing she was going to be. That was fine in itself; it started to feel more personal when she said she wished her son had a fraction of her talent.

Despite it all, everything was in place for the play to be a success, much better than it had begun at least. It hadn’t been smooth sailing, but we had managed. We had Katy and her team on board, Amelia had been an excellent teacher, and Josh and his band were bringing the music. And while my mom, sister, and me couldn’t do much from the crowd, they would have our full support. But most importantly, I enjoyed seeing Nora smile whenever we ran through lines together. Romeo, I may not be, but I hoped I had picked up enough of his tricks to have her swooning for me this weekend.

I kicked my comforter off, feeling warm enough without it for once. I reached for the magazine my mom had lent me on my dresser and brought it to my face. There were a ton of red circles where I had taken a pen to the magazine. Many of these places were impossible getaways that I had no means of affording. Having dreams was nice, though. Perusing through the pages, I stopped after finding the article where I highlighted the entire title of Movie, Dinner, and a Stroll. What More Could a Teenage Girl Ask for?

That was a good question. A question I jp[ed Nora didn’t ask because I wouldn’t have an answer. It sounded like a nice idea for a first date, and I was certain Nora would agree. That creeping doubt always made everything more difficult than it needed to be.

My phone buzzed, taking me away from date destinations and into our group chat. I opened it up only to see a message I had to reread multiple times to ensure I wasn’t having a nightmare. On about the seventh read-through, a banner with Katy’s name appeared at the top of my screen. I swiped it away, continuing to not believe the message, even as Ethan and the others began to flood the chat with more texts.

Nora: Katy’s sick, so we’re shit out of luck for tomorrow

Eventually, I realized this was the reality I was dealing with. I opened up my ‘Messages’ app to see what Katy needed.

Katy: I’m sure Nora told you but I got the flu. Sorry to let you guys down

I typed a message wishing her a speedy recovery and allowed the magazine and phone to tumble across the bed with a quiet groan. Date spots and everything else would have to wait. My feet hit the cold wood floor as I crept over to my desk. I shuffled through a mess of papers until finding what I was looking for.

How did shit always manage to hit the fan like this?

____________

“We need to reschedule,” Ethan said. “There’s not much of a choice. It’d be a little difficult to perform Romeo and Juliet without Romeo.”

Amelia shook her head, sending her curls flying around her shoulders. “We can’t reschedule. The volleyball team is going to be busy with training camps starting next week, so they won’t have any time to be in the next one.”

The five of us had gathered and were standing around Ethan’s desk during homeroom. Mr. Morrison had let us be after taking attendance. He hadn’t even made mention of completing any missing work or how Chloe wasn’t a member of his morning class. Perhaps it was because of the barely restrained panic in our voices.

“Damn, I don’t suppose Katy had a secret understudy?”

Even Chloe stared at him like he was dumb, which, to be fair, he was being.

Ethan sank into his chair. “I didn’t think so.”

“It sucks, but we really don’t have a choice but to cancel.” Nora went to slam her fist into the desk, stopping herself before it made contact. “This blows! We had such a good show too…”

I didn’t like seeing her like this. Shoulders slouched, head down, and using the desk as a crutch, Nora looked defeated. It wasn’t like her, and something in me stirred. My stomach was twisted in knots, but my plan needed to be put into action. Granted, the word plan seemed to be a bit of a stretch. Many would have called it reckless.

I would have called it necessary.

“I can play Romeo.”

Instantly, my declaration was met with doubt. I could see it clearly written on their faces. I didn’t blame them. To their ears, I must have sounded insane. I cleared my throat and repeated myself. “I’ll play Romeo. I know all the lines. It won't be perfect, but I’ll get by.”

“Dude, that’s nice of you and all, but are you sure? There’s a difference between running through some line with Nora and the real thing.”

“I watched everyone perform almost every single day, and I know all the scenes Romeo is in by heart. I even stayed up until three in the morning to make sure I had everything memorized.” I looked at each of them. “Seriously, I can do this.”

Nora snorted, rubbing the top of my hand. “He’s right. If anyone can do it, it’s him. Stupid, reliable idiot.”

Amelia laughed, teeth on full display. “If that’s the case, then we’ll need to adjust the costume. It’s a good thing you and Katy are nearly the same height.”

Yeah, a blessing in disguise. Definitely not damaging to my already fragile male ego.

She turned to Chloe. “Will you be able to stitch that up during lunch?”

The girl hesitated a moment before shaking her head. “I’ll have to take measurements, and I don’t think there will be enough time.

Nora patted her on the back. “It’s fine. If we need to, we'll just skip class.”

She said that loudly, causing a few of the others around us to chuckle and point fingers in her direction. Mr. Morrison chose this moment to decide he had enough of grading and wandered over to our group. His gaze hovered over us, settling in the end on Nora. “What’s this about skipping?”

Nora looked to me for help. I looked to Ethan, who looked to Amelia, who then looked to Chloe. Nobody was all that helpful, and we quietly studied the floor.

“You all are going to be the death of me.” He pinched the bridge of his nose, tracing tiny circles. “It’s too bad you won’t be skipping today. You’ll be having a makeup test with me after lunch. You can take it up in the auditorium if you want, though, since it might get a little loud during class.”

I smiled at him, holding back from anything more. Mr. Morrison really was the greatest teacher. “We’ll do our best.”

The gesture was returned. “I’m sure you will. I’ll be looking forward to the performance tonight.”

The chiming of the bell sent everyone into the usual frenzy. Desks were shoved back into position, littering the floor with paper and crumbs, and earning a frown from our teacher. He grumbled out a complaint and prayed for patience.

Ignoring the chaos around him, Ethan blinked in confusion. “Why do we have makeup tests? I almost got one-hundred percent on the last one.”

It took all my willpower not to smack him across the face, as the others all sighed. My best friend may have been book smart, but god could he be dense.

I hope everyone had a good, safe 4th if you're American, and got to see family and enjoy the celebration. And, of course, I hope all of you are doing well! I will see you all on Wednesday.

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