With homecoming out-of-the-way, it was time to start thinking about the school’s annual fall play.  Each fall Maggie and Yuuki auditioned for the play and I always went with them, for moral support.  Being terrified of being in front of an audience, I never felt the need to audition for any of the school’s productions, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t involved.  On the contrary, I had been stage manager, house manager, costume mistress, make-up artist and had been recruited to help paint the sets for every school production since my freshman year.  Jack had already said he needed my help for this fall’s production which meant that for the next month, I’d be spending all of my free time in the school auditorium.  It was a lot of work, but honestly it didn’t matter; I enjoyed working on the sets and as vain as it sounded, I really liked hearing the audience’s remarks about them.

Auditions were held the Wednesday after homecoming and Yuuki, Maggie and I agreed to meet at Maggie’s locker, after school, and go to the auditions together.  Maggie and Yuuki tried to convince me to audition as we walked toward the auditorium but I refused.  Just the idea of standing in front of even a couple of people was enough to make me feel nauseous.

“So, are you still too scared to audition?” Maggie asked.

“Do you really have to ask?” I chuckled, trying to make light of my fear.

“It’s really not that bad,” Yuuki insisted.

“That’s easy for you to say, you play in front of huge audiences every week!”

“I suppose, but that’s different.”

“Different or not, performing in front of a crowd is not something I’m going to volunteer to do.”

“Not even if it meant you’d get to be on stage with Ian?”  Maggie asked mischievously.  “You know he gets the lead in every play, you’d get to spend two afternoons a week with him every day for a month, guaranteed.”

“Two afternoons a week with a guy who barely tolerates my existence, well now doesn’t that sound fun?”

“Whoa” Maggie cried, dramatically, “does this mean you’ve finally given up on the precious Ian Wallace?”

I wasn’t exactly sure how to answer Maggie’s question, but as I looked at the eager faces of my friends, I saw that they both hoped the answer was yes.  I hated to disappointed them so I didn’t answer, which tipped them both off, immediately.

“Why are you still drooling over that jerk?” Maggie asked, frustrated.

“I’m not really drooling anymore,” I insisted, “I’m just not completely over him…yet.  I really am trying though.”

“Well that’s good because I have a little brother who thinks you’re completely in love with him.”

“He does not!” I cried, horrified.

“Yeah, he does.  All he ever does is talk about you.”

“Oh man!  Haven’t you told him I’m not into him?”

“I have, but he doesn’t believe me.  I think he thinks I’m just saying that to be mean.  He’s a very hard-headed little twerp.”

“Great,” I grumbled, suddenly very annoyed with the world.

It was bad enough that I had to deal with Ian and all of his crap, but now I had to deal with Matt too.  My mother’s warning floated into my head as we entered the auditorium and I realized that ignoring the situation with Matt hadn’t really helped at all and now it seemed that it had actually made things worse.  Frustrated with myself for being so careless I resolved to find a way to fix this thing with Matt as soon as possible.

“You alright?” Yuuki asked as we stepped into the auditorium and found our seats.

“I’m fine,” I sighed.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I’m just a little annoyed.”

“What are you going to do?”

“There’s really only one thing I can do, isn’t there?  I’m just not looking forward to it.”

“Sorry,” Yuuki sighed, sympathetically.

“Thanks,” I groaned as Mr. Mertz stepped on stage and began his usual spiel about how happy he was to see so many here to audition and how great this year’s play was going to be.

I was amazed at how sincere Mr. Mertz was in his speech, especially considering he’d given that exact same speech every semester for the past four years and probably from the beginning of his teaching career.  Only the few freshmen brave enough to show up for the auditions listened to Mertz’s spiel, the rest of us continued doing whatever it was we had been doing before.  Maggie, the ever studious drama queen was looking over the piece she had selected for the audition while Yuuki had her nose stuck in a book so I was left to scan the auditorium and see who had decided to show up.  It came as no surprise to find pretty much the same group of people scattered across the auditorium that had been there for every play since freshman year.  There were a few new faces in the crowd, some freshman, a handful of sophomores, quite a few juniors and a couple of seniors, one of which was Ashley Tucker.

I could think of only one reason why Ashley would take a sudden interest in the theater and I knew it had nothing to do with her love of the art.  Ian had managed to land the lead male role in every school play since our freshman year and it was blatantly obvious that Ashley intended to play opposite him, something that I considered to be completely impossible.  There were too many talented drama queens in school to offer Ashley much of a chance, but she could dream if she wanted to.

The worst part about having Ashley there to audition was having to watch her flirt with Ian, the moment he and his buddies entered the auditorium.  Cade, Jack and Ian all sauntered in seconds after Mr. Mertz finished his speech and Ashley instantly attached herself to Ian’s side.  Ashley had been flirting shamelessly with Ian since the day she read my letter to the class, and though Ian ignored her almost as completely as he ignored me, she refused to relent.  I often wondered what made Ashley think Ian would take an interest in her when her little stunt with my letter had humiliated him just as much as it had me.  I didn’t think there were very many guys in the world who would consider dating a girl who had caused them so much grief, but I guess that thought had never crossed Ashley’s mind.

I watched Ashley fawn over Ian with a mixture of disgust and amusement as Ashley did her best to get Ian’s attention and Ian did his best to ignore her.  I had to struggle to contain my laughter when Ian blew her off, refusing to acknowledge her invitation to sit by him.  Of course my amusement changed to irritation when Ian walked past my aisle, giving me an icy glare as he passed.  I was really getting sick of Ian and his cold superiority complex; it had been over a month now and he obviously still held a grudge.  Suddenly everything Maggie had said earlier made perfect sense, Ian really was a jerk and I really was pathetic.

I was quickly pulled out of my thoughts as Maggie nudged me and told me to wish her luck.  She was next to audition and I knew I would never hear the end of it if I didn’t pay attention.  I did my best to focus on Maggie as she stepped onto the stage and began reciting a scene from Labyrinth.  I watched in amazed amusement as Maggie pulled off, not only the character of Sarah flawlessly, but also the four goblins who shared the scene.  When she was finished, Maggie practically skipped off the stage, obviously very pleased with herself.

“So?” she asked as she flopped into her seat, her face beaming.

“You were great,” I grinned.

“That was amazing,” Yuuki smiled, “I guess there’s no need for me to audition.”

“You’re not auditioning?” a vaguely familiar voice interrupted.

The three of us jumped at the sudden addition to our conversation and we all turned to see who it was.  We were all a little surprised to see Jack sitting behind us, his eyes sparkling with delight at being able to scare three girls at once.

“Hey Jack,” I chuckled, “what’s up?”

“Nothing, I just heard Yuuki say she wasn’t auditioning and I was wondering if that were true, ‘cause if it is, I could really use her help backstage.”

“I guess that means you’re the stage manager, huh?” I asked.

“Yeah, so I was hoping you’d be willing to help and maybe, if Yuuki doesn’t audition, she’d help to.”

“I’ll help,” I answered with a smile, “what about you, Yuuki?”

“Sure,” she answered, looking as if she were shocked by her own answer.

“Really?  That’s great!” Jack grinned.  “We’re going to start working on the sets next week, I’ll let you know when, by Friday.”

“Sounds good.”

“Yeah, great,” Yuuki grinned.

I couldn’t help but give Yuuki a look; after all, she’d had a crush on Jack since last fall.  She usually kept pretty cool about it all, downplaying her feelings while Maggie and I let ours run away with us, but the glimmer in her eye and her particularly cheesy smile made it obvious that she still was very much into Jack McKay.  Jack hung around a while longer, talking about the sets and last year’s productions and how much he was looking forward to the spring musical.

“It’s not that I’m all that into musicals,” he explained, “I just hate that I can’t be on stage.”

“Why can’t you?” Yuuki asked in her most concerned voice.

“Because I’m taking stagecraft this semester and Mertz doesn’t think it would do to have a stage manager actually on stage.”

“Bummer,” Yuuki sighed.

“Yeah,” Jack chuckled.

Suddenly the conversation no longer included me so I sat back and observed.  It quickly became apparent that Jack was just as interested in Yuuki as she was in him, though it was also obvious that neither one had picked up on that vibe.  I couldn’t wait to tell Yuuki that her chances with Jack were much better than she realized.  I pulled Maggie out of her silent reveling and motioned for her to check out Yuuki and Jack.  It took her two seconds to see what I saw and the two of us couldn’t help but smile.  We were both glad that at least one of us was going to end up with a boyfriend this year.

With Maggie’s audition over and Yuuki no longer interested in auditioning, I decided it was time to go.  I had told Stella that I would stop by after auditions to see if she needed my help and since I had nothing else to stick around for, I thought it was as good a time as any to go.  I said bye to Maggie, Yuuki and Jack and started to make my way up the aisle when a hand shot out from one of the rows and grabbed me by the arm.

“Cade!” I cried, startled.

“Lyla!  You’re not leaving are you?”

“Um, yeah.”

“But you can’t go yet, you’ll miss my audition.”

“Sorry, but I’ve…”

“Oh, come on, it’ll only take a minute,” Cade insisted with a huge grin on his face as he started dragging me down the aisle.  “You really shouldn’t miss this.”

The look on Cade’s face made me worry, just a little.  I had no idea why Cade was so insistent that I stay for his audition, nor did I see why he felt it necessary to drag me down the aisle.  It wasn’t until Cade passed the first row of seats and started for the stage that I really started to panic; being on stage was the last thing I had expected and the one thing I dreaded most.

“Cade,” I hissed as he dragged me up the stairs, “what are you doing?”

“Auditioning,” he grinned.

“If you’re auditioning, why did you drag me up here?”

“You’ll see.”

The glint in his eyes told me that whatever he was up to, I was not going to like it.  I tried to pull away but Cade had my wrist in an iron grip.  Realizing that my efforts at escape were futile, I settled for shooting Cade my most malevolent look while I wished for him a thousand painful deaths.  My loathing of Cade made me momentarily forget where I was, but the second Cade opened his mouth I remembered there were at least fifty pairs of eyes focused solely on us, though to me it felt like a million.

“But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?  It is the east and Lyla is the sun…”

Immediately my heart started pounding, my stomach began churning, my legs turned to Jell–O and the world began to spin.  What was Cade doing?  Why was he quoting Shakespeare with me on stage?  With my heart pounding in my ears I only caught little bits of Cade’s performance but it was enough to make me blush furiously.  Why Cade had decided to use me as his Juliet was beyond me, all I did know was that if I didn’t get off stage soon, I was either going to be sick or faint or possibly both.

“Cade,” I hissed as quietly as possible as I tried to jerk my arm out of his hand.

“She speaks: O speak again bright angel!”

It was immediately obvious that I had just played into Cade’s hands and the entire auditorium burst into laughter and I stood there horrified, furious and completely nauseous.  I wanted to speak again, I wanted to tell Cade off, I wanted to make him curse the day he ever dreamed up this ridiculous plan, but I couldn’t.  I couldn’t say anything at all, the terror of being on stage, combined with the laughter ringing in my ears made it impossible for me to do anything but stand there, while my face burned red and tears stung my eyes.  Cade, too absorbed in his brilliant performance, was completely oblivious to my pain; he continued to recite lines from Romeo and Juliet until Ian, of all people stepped on stage and joined in the “fun.”

“Be ruled by me,” Ian began, putting a hand on Cade’s shoulder, “forget to think of her; for she thinks only of freshman.”

Once again the auditorium rang with the laughter of the audience and Cade, shocked by Ian’s sudden appearance, finally let go of my arm.  The second Cade let my arm drop, I seized my opportunity and ran off stage.  The tears that had been stinging my eyes while on stage now ran freely down my cheeks as I ran through the empty halls of the school.  If I knew Maggie and Yuuki, they would be scouring the school in search of me as soon as I ran off stage, which is why I headed straight for the doors; I was too embarrassed and upset to face even my best friends.

I burst through the nearest set of doors and began storming my way toward the parking lot.  The tears of humiliation which had initially run down my face were quickly replaced by tears of fury.  Why had Cade dragged me on-stage?  What had I ever done to him?  What had possessed him to humiliate me like that?  I thought we were friends!  Completely absorbed in my own thoughts, I didn’t recognize the tall figure standing nonchalantly beside the black Mustang until it was too late.  Unable to hide my tears or my rage, the last person in the world I wanted to meet was Ian Wallace, but that was exactly who stood in my way.  I had every intention of turning around, the second I realized Ian was the one before me, but my stubborn, irrational side took over and I found myself storming toward Ian, absolutely refusing to let him get away with humiliating me like he had.

“You’re a jerk,” I stated, as calmly as I could, as I stalked past Ian and his car.

“I suppose I should have expected a remark like that from you.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” I asked, as I stopped and tried to wipe away the tear stains on my cheeks.

“It means that a simple thank you is obviously beyond your grasp.”

“Tell me,” I began as I slowly turned to face Ian’s frigid gaze, “in what universe does a person receive any sign of appreciation when they’ve just humiliated someone?”

“I didn’t humiliate you, I rescued you,” Ian stated very matter-of-factly.

“Rescued me?  You just embarrassed me in front of an entire auditorium full of people.”

“Hardly,” Ian scoffed, “there weren’t more than fifty people in there.”

“Which are more than enough people for the entire school to know, by tomorrow, what just happened.  I’ll be the laughing-stock of the entire school, again!”  Suddenly I had an epiphany.  “That’s it, isn’t it?”

“That’s what?” Ian asked, coldly.

“That’s why you did it.”

“Did what?”

“You!  You put Cade up to that whole stunt!”

“What?”  Ian asked, not quite as coolly as he had before.

“Ha!  I knew it!  You did!”

“You are so pathetic.”

“I’m pathetic!  You’re the one who bribed your friend into humiliating me, just to get me back for that letter.  If that’s not pathetic, I don’t know what is!”

“For your information, Cade planned that whole thing by himself.  I had no idea what he was up to any more than you did.”

“Right,” I snapped, “and I’m supposed to believe that Cade actually went to the trouble of memorizing lines from Romeo and Juliet on his own.”

“He did.”

“So you jumping in with another line from the play is just supposed to be a coincidence?”

“How did you know that?” Ian asked, sounding almost slightly impressed.

“Know what?”

“Know that line was from Romeo and Juliet.”

“Does it really matter?”

“No,” Ian snapped, once again his normal self.

“Then why bother asking?”

“Momentary lapse of sanity.”

“Whatever,” I grumbled as I turned to leave.

“Coincidence or not, I did save you.” Ian called out behind me.

“How?” I asked, stopping once again to turn and meet Ian’s cold, steely eyes.

“If I hadn’t stepped in, Cade would never have let you go.”

“And how would you know that, unless you put him up to it?”

“Easy!  He loves being in the spotlight and your reaction to his little performance was getting him exactly what the loves the most.”

“And that is?”

“Attention.”

“So you’re telling me Cade decided to humiliate me just to get attention?”

“No, I’m telling you that Cade was trying to tell you that he likes you and I stepped in to save you and tell him that he was just wasting his time.”

“What?” I cried, shocked by Ian’s answer.  “If that’s true, then why didn’t he just tell me?  Why go to all this trouble, memorizing Shakespeare and all that?”

“Because he’s Cade; that just the way he is.”

“Fine,” I sighed in confused frustration, “but if that’s the case, why did you step in and tell the world that I’m only into freshmen?”

“Because it was the only way to get Cade to shut-up.  Besides, it’s the truth, the entire school knows you’re dating that freshman.”

“What?  Who?”

“Don’t play dumb, it really isn’t flattering.”

“If you’re referring to Matt,” I spat, enraged by Ian’s condescending attitude, “you should know that he’s nothing more than a friend.”

“Then I suggest you tell him that.”

“I intend to,” I growled.

Ian chuckled a little at my obvious irritation before reverting to his normal, stand-offish self.  “You know, you really shouldn’t date someone unless you’re actually interested in them.”

“I never dated him,” I spat.

“Really, then that wasn’t you dancing with him last Saturday?”

“No, that was me, but it wasn’t a date.”

“Ha!” Ian scoffed.

“For your information, I only went to that stupid dance because my best friend begged me to and I only went with her brother because he was the only one who asked me.”

The moment those words were out of my mouth, I knew I had said too much.

“Ah, the sad confessions of a pathetic high school senior,” Ian sighed, cruelly.  “Tell me, how do you manage to face yourself in the mirror every morning?  If I were you I’d…”

SLAP!

Before Ian could say another word, my over-wrought emotions got the better of me and my hand flew from my side, almost without my knowing it.  Ian’s words had been biting and mean and they dug into the wounds of my already aching heart until I could no longer bear the pain and my instincts took over.

“You really are a jerk,” I spat as I fought to keep the tears I felt welling in the corners of my eyes at bay.

Without so much as a second glance, I turned and ran toward my car, as the tears I could no longer hold back, once again ran, unchecked down my face.

 

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