The passing weeks provided enough of an answer to all of my random wondering.  Ian was just as cold and distant as ever, and though I couldn’t be completely sure, he almost seemed even more so than usual.  Perhaps I had gone a little too far, throwing that stupid bill at him, but he had gone too far in making it and I refused to feel bad about what I had done.  The frigidity emanating from Ian soon pushed any doubts I may have had about his affection out of my mind.  No matter what Mrs. Wallace thought, it was perfectly clear that Ian wanted nothing to do with me.  It soon became apparent that his behavior at the soccer game had been nothing but a fluke, Ian avoided me in every class and was never home when I was over for a lesson; the cold silence between us became even more frigid than the rapidly dropping temperatures and seemed, like the weather, to have settled in for good.  Had it been any other time of the year, I probably would have moped and worried and pondered the turn things had taken with Ian, but with the dates of the fall play fast approaching, all of my spare time was commandeered by Jack and the sets and so I just let it all go.  Ian would hate me until the end of the world, there was nothing I could do about it and that was that.

The next few weeks were more of a blur than anything; if I wasn’t at work or piano lessons, I was at school with Jack, Yuuki and the other members of the stage crew, all of us frantically trying to finish the sets before opening night.  As much fun as it was, working on the sets, it was more fun watching love blossom between Yuuki and Jack, and blossom it did.  Flirting between the two was almost non-stop during the evenings we all spent at school, but that was just the beginning.

Not long after the incident at the soccer field, Jack began showing up more often at school; hanging around Yuuki’s locker before school, sitting with us at the lunch table, randomly appearing in the hall after classes and such.  At first, Maggie and I were afraid Jack would get tired of hanging out with the three of us, seeing as how she and I were always in those exact places, but Yuuki assured us we had nothing to fear.

“Jack’s totally cool with hanging out as a group,” Yuuki insisted as we meandered through the mall one lazy Saturday afternoon, “as long as you two are okay with it; we don’t want to weird you out or anything.”

“It’s fine with me,” Maggie shrugged, “as long as you two keep it ‘G;’  I don’t want to be grossed out or embarrassed by you two.”

“Maggie!” Yuuki shrieked in horror.  “You know we’re not like that!”

“Not yet,” Maggie teased.

“Well don’t worry, when the time comes, we won’t be doing that in front of you!”

Maggie and I burst into peals of laughter as Yuuki’s face burned crimson at the brashness of her own words.  Yuuki tried to defend herself as Maggie and I struggled for breath, but the more she tried, the worse things got until she finally gave up and joined us in our uncontrollable laughter.  The three of us collapsed onto the first available bench until the tears stopped flowing and our breathing returned to normal.

After that, Jack became the d’Artagnan to our Musketeers, the inseparable fourth whose company was, at first, a bit awkward, but only at first.  With his easy smile, warped sense of humor, and obvious devotion to Yuuki, it wasn’t long until he was accepted as one of us, though the rest of the school took a little longer to adjust.  It just wasn’t every day that one of the hottest guys in school hooked up with someone and when that someone happens to be your best friend, you get a bit more attention than usual.

Once again the rumors flew and on more than one occasion a random girl would stop me in the hall and ask what it was like, being friends with Jack McKay.  For the longest time, I wondered what was wrong with everyone, making such a big deal about Jack and Yuuki and then one day it hit me.  Jack, with his wavy blonde hair, brilliant green eyes, tall, athletic frame, killer smile, and warm and friendly personality, had always been the object of more than one girl’s desire and yet, he had, for whatever reason, been single, until now.  No wonder the entire school was buzzing with the news of Jack and Yuuki!

 

While the school buzzed with the news of the school’s newest couple, life went on normally for the rest of us.  For Maggie, the volleyball season ended with an exciting win at state and the basketball season began, marching band ended for Yuuki and the soccer season ended for Jack with a disappointing loss in the state semi-finals.  The play was fast approaching and Maggie was doing her usual “I’m too busy to think straight, why do I always do this to myself” freak-out which Yuuki and I managed to snap her out of, with the promise of a day of shopping in Denver as soon as the play was over.

With the crisis averted, we all turned our attention to the play, each of us hoping it would be as great as we all believed it to be.  The nervous chatter backstage on opening night was full of an excited energy that seemed to pervade the entire theater.  Laughter flittered through the heavy stage curtains as different members of the stage crew did their last-minute check-ups.  I would have been one of them, but I was shanghaied at the last-minute and found myself trapped in the make-up room, a cramped little rectangular room situated between the changing rooms behind the stage, which had four brightly lit mirrors and a huge counter running along one wall.  I think it might have been a storage closet at one time, but the drama department had claimed it several years ago and had converted it into the make-up room.  Cramped and feeling slightly claustrophobic, I began transforming teenagers into middle-aged adults.  After the third transformation, I began to wonder if I would ever again breathe air not saturated with hair-spray and by the sixth, I began to feel a bit light-headed.  Unable to endure the toxic fumes of the make-up room any longer, I shoved my way through the mass of nervously chattering actors into the cool, fresh air of the hall.  Relieved to be free of that toxic jungle, I sank onto the floor, wondering why I never noticed how wonderful the school’s halls really were.

I would have liked to have stayed in the hall forever, but Cade stuck his head out of the toxic cloud of hair-spray only seconds after I had escaped and begged me to help him with his make-up.

“Please, Lyla, please!  I’m a guy!  I don’t know how to do this stuff by myself.”

“Haven’t you been in every play since freshman year?” I asked, unconvinced by his sheepish grin.

“Yeah, so?”

“So you may be a good actor, but you’re a terrible liar.”

Cade just grinned as I stood up and took a couple deep breaths before diving back into the swirling clouds of hair-spray.  Unable to stomach the wave of fumes that pummeled me as I stepped back into the make-up room, I asked Cade to help me find some space closer to the door, which he did with only a little shoving.  With a slight breeze wafting through the door, I was able to keep my head clear and was soon busy transforming Cade into the middle-aged principle of Calvin Coolidge High.

“So I feel like I owe you an apology,” Cade began as I concentrated on perfecting the lines of his forehead.

“For what?”

“For the audition, for embarrassing you like I did.  I really didn’t mean to and I’m sorry.”

“Cade, the audition was over a month ago and you’ve apologized a hundred times since then, when are you going to let it go?  It’s fine, really.”

“That’s what you say, but I can’t help feeling that you still haven’t forgiven me.  I think that’s why you need to let me make it up to you.”

“No, really, you don’t.”

“No, I think I do.  How about dinner and a movie on say, Saturday?”

“Can’t,” I sighed as I tried to suppress the grin that was tugging at the corners of my mouth.

“Why…oh, right, the play.  Well, how about Sunday?”

“What about the cast party?”

“Oh, that.  Well, we could go, if you wanted, but I’d still owe you dinner and a movie.”

“Is there any way you’d consider the cast party good enough?”

“Nope,” Cade grinned.

“Fine, but only if Jack and Yuuki can come too.”

Cade mulled over my proposal as I put the finishing touches on his transformation.

“Alright,” Cade announced as he hopped out of the chair and looked himself over in the mirror, giving me a quick wink before announcing, “it’s a date.”

Before I could say anything to the contrary, Cade was gone, hiding himself among the nervous throng of actors mulling around before the show.  As much as I wanted to be annoyed by Cade and his little trick, I found myself completely unable to do so.  Ever since I had overheard his conversation with Ian, the day after the letter incident, I just couldn’t bring myself to be mad at Cade, even if he had embarrassed me with his audition stunt.  The truth was Cade had made it perfectly clear that he thought I was something special, and a girl just can’t ignore that kind of attention.  True, I found Cade’s attentions a little annoying at times, and I didn’t really like him as anything more than a friend, but when it came right down to it, Cade’s flattery and humor made him impossible to ignore.

I slumped into one of the few folding chairs in the room to watch a couple of sophomores hurry to finish their make-up before Mr. Mertz called everyone together for a final pep talk and survey the damage in the room.  The worst part of being the sole make-up artist for the play was being the sole cleaner of the mess left behind by the whirlwind of excited actors.  With a sigh, I pushed myself out of the chair and began grabbing make-up smudged tissues and sponges that lay scattered across the counter.  With fists full of disgusting garbage, I turned to toss it all in the trash can that seconded as a door stop, nearly jumping out of my skin, startled by the dark figure that stood in the doorway.

With my heart pounding from the scare, I threw the trash into the bin and then went back to my work.  I didn’t bother looking back at the figure in the doorway, I knew who it was and I had nothing to say to him.

“Would you mind?” Ian asked as I began organizing the make-up strewn along the counter.

“Mind what?” I asked, without looking up.  I knew that there could be only one reason Ian was there, asking me, in his own warped way, if I would help him with his make-up, but I also knew that he was more than capable of doing it himself.  Cade wasn’t the only guy at school to manage to land a role in every production since freshman year.

“Forget it,” Ian growled.

I had intended to let Ian storm out of the room without so much as a glance in his direction, but the slightly hurt tone in his voice made me falter.  Without thinking, I glanced into the mirror just in time to see a flash of anger in the eyes he had hidden beneath a truly awful make-up job.

“Wait,” I called as Ian started back down the hall, “I’ll help you.”

Ian was back in a flash, silently taking a seat while I grabbed a handful of make-up and started toward him.  My heart started pounding furiously as I began to undo the awful mess on Ian’s usually perfect face, terrified and infuriated by my sudden nervousness, I hoped Ian wouldn’t notice my suddenly trembling hands.

“So what happened?” I asked when the silence between us became unbearable.  “I would have thought you’d be a pro at this by now.”

“I didn’t do this,” Ian snapped.

“So you let someone else do this?  Why?

“Stupid mistake,” Ian growled.

“What?  The infallible Ian Wallace has finally made a mistake?  Oh my gosh!  Stop the presses!  Alert the media!  Call the President!”

“You know what?  Forget it,” Ian spat as he stood up and started for the door.

“Wait,” I sighed, immediately regretting my snappy repartee, “I’m sorry.  Come back, you’re almost finished.”

Ian came back to his seat, but not without shooting me his most withering glare first, which made my insides involuntarily shudder.  The icy silence between us was profound, a stark contrast to the nervous chatter coming from the adjacent rooms.  I worked as quickly as I could but Ian looked as if he’d been attacked by a toddler with a magic marker and it took me a while to return Ian’s face to its normal, albeit aged, face.

“There,” I sighed as I tossed the pencil I had been using onto the counter, “you’re finished.”

Ian turned to the mirror to inspect my work and grumbled a curt, “thanks” before stalking out of the room.

“You’re welcome,” I yelled to the absent Ian as I went back to my cleaning.

A few minutes later, Maggie stuck her head into the room to have me wish her luck.

“Break a leg,” I smiled as she scampered toward the stage.

“Thanks,” she whispered with a huge smile plastered on her face.

 

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