by: Staci Stallings
Grateful for the minimal shield her wire-rimmed copper and gold glasses afforded, Camille Wright sat in the counselor’s office digging her fingernails into her palms and praying that things could get no worse.
“I have to be honest, Camille,” Gerald Marsh said as he shook his head, streaked with gray and silver. “I am looking at this, and I’m saying to myself, ‘Okay, she’s got the grades, but I want somebody with something other than just academic abilities.” He held up her transcript. “I see nothing here that leads me to believe you would do well with anything other than books.”
Camille let the long, limp strands of her dead-weed, dull hair fall into her face as her shoulders shrank over her chest. “I thought that was a good thing.”
“It is, but so are other things—like speaking and sports and music,” Mr. Marsh said. “I’m just saying if you’d take a class that’s not purely academic, it’d sure help your chances of getting into Princeton.”
She didn’t say anything—she couldn’t. Her stomach was wound around the air in her lungs so tightly that even breathing was asking too much of her system.
Mr. Marsh held the class schedule across the desk so she could see it. “I was thinking you could choose between debate and drama.”
“How about Journalism?” Camille asked, her voice squeaking on the word.
He shook his head. “You’re not hearing me. You need something where you have to get up in front of people.”
“Band,” she said quietly as her finger pushed back her hair and then let if fall back exactly where it had been.
“The marching band has already been on the field working for three weeks, and the symphonic band is your only other option.” His narrowed eyes surveyed her. “But if I’m not mistaken you don’t even play an instrument.”
“I could play the tambourine or something. That can’t be too hard.”
Slowly he looked at the transcript on his desk and then back up at her. “Drama or debate?”
It sounded like a death sentence. She didn’t want to do either. She wanted to take another math class or computers, anything other than the two classes staring at her from that class schedule.
Her gaze finally dropped back to her fingernails. “Drama.”
“Good.” Mr. Marsh wrote the course choice on her schedule. “Now, about your SAT scores.”
“Hey, it’s J.P. and Ariana, back from summer vacation,” Seth Taylor said, ambling up to his locker with his black and gold backpack slung over his shoulder.
“It’s the S man,” Jaylon Patrick Quinn said, raising his hand, which Seth immediately hit in greeting. “Senior year. Can you believe we finally made it?”
“Are you kidding? I was born for senior year.” Seth’s arm stuck out from under his off-white-and-red plaid, button-down shirt as he opened his locker and shoved his belongings into it. “How about you, Ari? You excited about this new adventure?”
Putting a long, slender hand to her mouth, Ariana Vandivere yawned as if she had never been so bored.
Jaylon laughed. He laid one arm across her shoulders and shifted his books to his other hip. “So what do you have first thing?”
“Chemistry,” Seth said as an annoyed smirk crossed his freckled features. “You?”
He hadn’t even been yet, and Jaylon was already tired of it. “English.”
“English?” Seth raised his red-blonde eyebrows. “Yikes.”
Jaylon shrugged. “You have English sometime, too. Don’t you?”
“I wouldn’t know. I haven’t looked that far down my schedule yet.”
Jaylon shook his head, causing his feathery brown locks to fall across his eye. Retrieving his hand from her shoulders, he swooped his hair back as the tall, leggy brunette by his side yawned again.
Seth laughed. “You know, Ari, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you didn’t get enough sleep last night.” He slammed his locker just as the bell sounded above them.
With a kick, Jaylon pushed away from the lockers. “Let the agony begin.”
“Maybe I could go to the nurse’s station and tell them I’m sick,” Camille said, actually feeling more sick than well at the moment.
“For the whole year?” Lexie Everson, Camille’s best friend, asked with a shake of her head. “I don’t think that’ll work.”
Camille’s slender shoulders sank even lower until they almost touched the table. “There has to be some way out of this. I mean, drama? Ugh.”
After a slow survey of her friend, Lexie shook her head and laughed.
Camille narrowed her eyes in frustration at her friend. “What?”
“You act like you’re being sent to the gas chamber.”
“I am,” Camille said pitifully as the table pulled her head all the way down.
“It could be worse.” Lexie’s cocoa-colored hand brought another bite to her mouth, and she ate that bite while Camille’s mind searched through its files trying to find anything that could conceivably be worse. “Marsh could’ve signed you up for debate.”
Camille lifted her head only inches from the table. “Ha. Ha.”
Lexie’s almond eyes gazed back at her friend playfully and then caught on movement by the cafeteria doors. Her shoulders did a slow seductive relaxation at the sight. “Besides any class where you can look at Jaylon Quinn all period is okay in my books.”
Camille glanced over her shoulder at the strong face, framed by the wispy, brown hair that seemed disheveled and perfect at the same time, and she shook her head. Still watching him cross the cafeteria, a flicker of hope slipped through her. “The only good thing is, with Ariana around, I don’t have a prayer of getting anything more than a line or two.”
“True,” Lexie said, and then she looked at her friend and shrugged. “So don’t worry about it. They’ll probably put you on make-up detail or something.”
Her mind said she should be offended by the comment, but Camille’s heart hoped that the universe would be so kind. “From your mouth to God’s ears.”
“Class,” Mrs. Allen called from the stage as students milled about the auditorium. She clapped twice in a vain attempt to get their attention. “Please, come on up and take your seats.”
With an exasperated shake of her head, Camille pushed away from the shadow she was hoping to hide in for the next year. Keeping her gaze on her feet, which were swathed in darkness somewhere beneath her, she walked down the center aisle and slipped into a fourth row seat. The majority of the class sat in the first three rows until it was clear that she and two other similarly be-speckled and reluctant thespians would be the only ones in the fourth row.
“Good.” Mrs. Allen, a forty-ish ex-dancer with cinnamon-colored skin and a voice that seemed to come from her toes, moved like grace personified from the edge of the auditorium to the center. “I’d like to welcome you all to Theatre Production. I’m sure we are going to have a wonderful year together. First, I’d like to go over the ground rules.”
Camille studied the chipped peach paint on her fingernails. No matter how hard she tried, she could never keep polish on them. She forced her attention back to the stage.
“…and no matter what, remember that every person is here to learn. There will be no making fun of anyone. Is that understood?” Mrs. Allen’s gaze swept across her audience.
In front of Camille, heads nodded, and although she was in the back, it felt like every gaze in the auditorium was on her. With her around, the others would have plenty of laugh material. She closed her eyes, slid further down into the seat, and pursed her lips together trying to remember why it was she was here.
“Good. Now, I’d like you all to come up onto the stage,” Mrs. Allen said, pulling them forward with welcoming arms that looked like a willow trees branches blowing in the wind.
Students stood, filed out of the rows, up the steps, and onto the stage. They stood in various spots around the stage shifting their feet and their gazes nervously even though there wasn’t a soul left in the audience.
“Okay, we’re going to start with breathing exercises.” Mrs. Allen pulled her body and shoulders up a full inch.
Camille swallowed and pushed up her glasses. Breathing. That couldn’t be too hard.
An hour later when Camille walked out of the auditorium after stuffing her new drama book into her backpack along with the others, she fought to stay invisible in the middle of a crush of students. The air flowing into her lungs stung.
“So, how was it?” Lexie asked as Camille grabbed most of her books out of her locker.
“Really? What did you do?” Lexie asked with concern.
Making as much noise as possible, Camille slammed two books back into the locker. “We breathed for a whole hour.”
Lexie raised her jet-black eyebrows. “Yeah, that sounds like real torture.”
“I know how to breathe.” Camille swung her backpack to her shoulder angrily. “I’ve been doing it for 17 years now.”
“So, great, an easy A then.”
“Yeah, real easy,” Camille said just as Lexie grabbed her arm in a death grip. “Hey. That hurts.”
“It’s him.” Lexie’s eyes widened into two full moons as she gazed down the hallway.
Camille looked in the direction Lexie was staring and shook her head. Jaylon Quinn. He was good-looking but really, he wasn’t a god or anything. “Come on.”
“Where are we going?” Lexie asked in surprise.
“Single dipped cones on me. To celebrate making it through our first day of senior year.”
“I’d like everyone to get a partner,” Mrs. Allen said the next afternoon as Camille and the rest of the class stood on stage. Very few were even brave enough to make eye contact. “We’re going to practice mirroring.”
A collective groan went up from the group, and Camille looked around wondering what mirroring was and knowing at the same time it would be far worse than breathing.
“Want to partner?” a nice looking blonde-headed guy, who suddenly stood at her elbow, asked.
Camille pushed at her hair with her finger and shrugged. “Whatever.”
“Okay.” Mrs. Allen walked among her charges. “The object of this exercise is to create a perfect mirror for your partner. Choose which of you will go first, and the other person is to match their partner’s body language and facial expression as perfectly as you can. Basically, you are to be your partner’s mirror. You may begin.”
The blonde-headed guy who was at least six inches taller than Camille glanced at her shyly. “Umm, you want to go first, or should I?”
“I don’t care. You can—if you want,” Camille said, looking around at their fellow-students who were already well into the exercise.
“Okay,” her partner said with a small smile. He struck an innocent pose with his head slightly tilted to the side.
Camille cocked her own head and watched him for his next cue. Slowly he raised his arms in a stretch and then bent to one side, which she followed to perfection. It felt strange to be only inches from someone she didn’t know but even more strange was watching that person without being able to look away. They both came back to the center, and her arms followed his down.
Her entire concentration was focused on him—not as a person but as her own reflection. He put his arms out at his sides and twisted, an action that baffled her for a moment as she started to turn in the same direction he did and then realized that a mirror would turn the other way. Immediately she reversed her course, just as he reversed his. Her body jerked from the fluidity of the previous moment, and the concentration dropped from her grasp.
She squeezed her eyes closed trying to get it back, but when she opened them again, her partner was doing a cross-body toe-touch that she had somehow missed. Quickly she tried to imitate him just as he straightened back up meeting the top of her forehead on the way down.
The crack of her skull sent tiny white pulses spiraling through it. “Oww!” she yelped, backing away from her partner but her heel snagged on the student behind her and before she realized what was happening the hardwood stage floor was rushing toward her. “Ahh!”
In less than a heartbeat she hit the wooden slats with a thud. For a minute she didn’t know what part of her body hurt worse—her head or her tailbone. In the next breath, however, she realized that every other person on the stage was staring at her.
Like a displeased drill sergeant Mrs. Allen walked up as several students around the stage snickered. “What’s going on over here?”
“I’m sorry,” Camille’s partner said, clutching his own head as he offered Camille a hand up. “I didn’t see her coming down.”
Mrs. Allen regarded them with a look that could’ve cut glass. “You see, class, this is a perfect example of what happens when you break concentration on stage for even a second.” She planted both hands on her hips and shook her head in annoyance. “Learn from this people.”
She walked away from the disaster as Camille scrambled to her feet and resumed her place in front of her partner. Once there, however, she had to blink twice to get her head to stop spinning.
Her partner leaned in to her. “Sorry about that.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she whispered back, brushing her jeans off and readjusting her glasses as she willed the heat pulsing through her ears to subside. “It was my fault.”
“Okay,” Mrs. Allen said with a clap of her hands. “I see that mirroring is a little advanced for the second day, so we’re just going to try to do some more breathing exercises. Maybe we’ll try this again next week.”
Oh, good, Camille thought. Something to look forward to.
“Hey.” The blonde-headed guy sprinted up the aisle to Camille’s side as she tried to make a quick exit. “I didn’t catch your name.”
Her spirit surrendered to the mortification. “Why would you want it?”
“That was an accident,” he said, mirroring her steps through the hallway. “Besides, somebody had to break up the monotony.”
“I hear you there,” Camille said still walking but no longer trying to get away from him.
“So?” he asked after they had walked several steps. “I still didn’t catch your name.”
“Camille.” She swung her braid to the other shoulder and put out a falsely positive hand. “Camille Wright.”
He smiled a toothy white smile. “Well, Camille Wright. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Nick. Nick McGee.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Nick,” Camille said, wishing he hadn’t just been witness to her most embarrassing moment ever.
“Well, Cami,” Lexie said, apparently not realizing Camille’s shadow was actually walking with her. “So, how bad was drama today?”
Heat seared over Camille’s ears. “Lexie.” She cleared her throat, and swung her braid in the other direction. “I’d like you to meet Nick McGee.”
Camille watched as Nick stopped in the same breath that Lexie’s face fell in utter shock.
“Hi,” Lexie breathed as Nick took her hand and smiled.
“Hi.” Their gazes locked, and for a full second Camille felt totally invisible.
“Well, I’d better get going,” Nick said, finally dropping Lexie’s hand but not her gaze. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow, Camille.”
“Sure,” Camille said, knowing neither one of them heard the word.
Nick turned and disappeared into the crowd, but Lexie never moved.
“Oh, man.” Camille turned to her locker in exasperation. “That’s got to be the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to me, and for me, that’s saying a lot.” She looked over at Lexie who hadn’t moved. “Lexie, hey!” Frustrated at having no one listening to her plight, Camille waved her hand in front of her friend’s face. “You still in there?”
“Sure,” Lexie said, but Camille knew Lexie hadn’t even heard her own voice.
“They really should have two separate drama classes—at least.” Ariana clicked her tongue in annoyance as they sat in a small booth at Sal’s Place, the local kids’ hangout, Friday night. “I mean really, are they kidding me, putting someone like her in a class with us? Jeez. It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of.”
“It was that bad?” Seth asked over his cheese fries.
“Worse,” Ariana said, shaking her head.
Jaylon nodded, trying to be more diplomatic about the situation than his girlfriend but not really succeeding. “We started with breathing yesterday. Breathing. That’s like preschool drama, and you should see these kids. They couldn’t breathe right if someone did it for them. Does not bode well for the Spring Production from what I can see.”
“Ugh! If I don’t get into Julliard, my life will be over,” Ariana said like the drama queen Jaylon had so gotten used to appeasing over the past three years.
“Don’t worry, honey.” Jaylon rested his arm over her side of the booth. “We’re going—just like we planned. Even Mrs. Allen can’t mess that up.”
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