Steering the Stars: Chapter 2

Chapter Two
Caroline


To: Caroline<cbmckain@gmail.com>
From: Hannah<vaughn.hannah@hotmail.com>
Date: August 31
Subject: SOS

This is my official signal for distress. School is not going well. I repeat, SCHOOL IS NOT GOING WELL. I have so much to tell you about but have no time to explain right now.
-H
____________

After I finished reading Hannah’s email, I groaned and dropped my phone to the bed. I did a few calculations, trying to think if it was already tomorrow there or the middle of the night, but eventually gave up. I’d have to check that time zone app thingy I downloaded before she left me because my brain wasn’t working properly.
       It was too early.
       My caffeine levels were down to zero.
       And it was the first day of school.
       Normally I loved the first day. Maybe it was just me being an overachiever, but there was something about the smell of fresh paper and never-before-used pencils and new books that took me to my happy place. But not this year. This year I was dreading the first day of school like it was nobody's business.
       As I rolled over and burrowed further beneath the covers, an awful, queasy feeling came over me. The thought of having to endure junior year without my best friend was making me physically ill. I knew it was the age of cell phones and Facebook, but still. There was no doubt in my mind that this year was going to, in a word, suck.
       Okay, so maybe I was being a little dramatic, but there was definitely something wrong with me. I took stock of my symptoms. I was sick to my stomach and every few minutes I would feel like I couldn’t breathe, but I wasn’t running a fever—was I? I touched my forehead but my skin felt fine. Gah, this whole thing was crazy and stupid and I couldn’t explain exactly why I felt like this. I just wanted desperately for it to stop.
       Swallowing against a dry throat, I thought about staying in bed and not doing anything for the rest of the day. Maybe even the rest of the year. As it was, I certainly didn't have the energy or the desire to get up and get ready.
       After a few more minutes and a lot more wallowing, Aspen, my red and white Siberian husky, decided she’d had enough. She pounced on me and placed her paws on either side of my body and licked my face until even my eyelids were drenched in slobber. I tried to deflect but it was no use.
       “Geroffmee!” I shouted as we tumbled to the floor in an avalanche of pillows and blankets.
       I glanced back at my bed. Well, I guess that was one way to force me out of bed.
       Aspen circled me until I pushed to my feet and tramped down the stairs to let her out into the backyard. I leaned against the doorframe just watching her frolic and sniff the grass. It was starting to rain but she didn’t care. In fact, she seemed even happier. She just shook her body and bounded to the other side of the yard. I found myself jealous of her ability to adapt.
       Jealous of a dog.
       Yep. I was officially pathetic.
       I left Aspen outside and wandered back upstairs, trying to convince myself that a shower would help my rotten mood. It didn’t.
       Ten minutes later, I wrapped myself in a towel and I stared at my reflection in the full-length mirror. I was close to tears and everything inside of me was still all dark and twisty. Was this what it felt like to be depressed? Was I hurtling down the road to becoming an emo teen who wore all black and listened to crybaby music?
       I wasn’t entirely sure, but I was positive that despite knowing my father was just down the hall, I’d never felt so alone in the world. And, all things considered, that was saying something.
       I still couldn’t believe that Hannah had left this town. Oklahoma. Me.
       My best friend was off having an amazing adventure in London and I'd totally morphed into an ugly, green-eyed monster. Maybe the knowledge that I wasn’t as happy for her as I’d previously thought was what was making me feel sick.
       I reminded myself that if the roles were reversed and I had been the one who’d won an essay competition and was offered a place at my dream school, I'd probably have abandoned Hannah without a second thought.
       It was London after all.
       Buckingham Palace.
       Big Ben.
       Platform 9 ¾.
       Okay, so probably not the last one, but she'd promised to see King's Cross Station and I figured that was close enough to count.
       She was the writer though. She was destined for greatness and adventure and a big life. But me? I wasn’t sure what I was yet.
       “Caroline!” my dad called from the hall.
       “Getting dressed!” I hollered back.
       “Ten minute warning.”
       “I’m hurrying,” I lied as I stared at the wildly-patterned leggings, cream-colored top, and bright teal scarf that I had picked out last week with Hannah’s help. The shirt was okay, but those leggings? Yeah, who was I kidding? That just wasn't happening. Not even on a good day... and today was not a good day.
       I threw the leggings and scarf in a pile on the floor next to my desk before pulling out a pair of well-worn jeans and a plain top from my dresser drawers.
       As I dressed, I thought more about my predicament. It’s not like I could reasonably be mad at Hannah for jumping at the chance to leave. Logically, I knew this was an opportunity of a lifetime. But knowing that didn’t change the fact that I was stuck behind in boring Oklahoma. Sure, Libby Park was pretty and quaint. It had been voted the “Top Historic Town in the Midwest” three years running, but that didn’t make it cool. Certainly not London-cool.
       Even steadfast, always-there-in-a-pinch, Owen Kilgore had been radio silent for days. He was off doing new and exciting things too. After a lot of pushing from his parents, he had agreed to transfer to Holy Cross this year because their lacrosse team was much better than Northside’s and it would definitely boost his college scholarship prospects.
       Nope, I couldn’t blame either Hannah or Owen for leaving, but that didn’t mean that I had to like it. No matter how I looked at the situation, I was officially and completely alone. And, as I tried to wrangle my mass of curly red hair into a simple ponytail, I decided I wasn’t happy about it. Not one bit.
       “Caroline! If you aren't out in five minutes, you'll be walking to school!” Dad yelled up the stairs.
       The threat was actually pretty tempting, but a flash of lightning followed by a thundering boom quickly changed my mind. If it wasn't raining cats and dogs, walking would have been a much better alternative to sitting in my dad's old beat up work truck that smelled faintly of oil, grime, and cigarette smoke for ten minutes of what was sure to be awkward silence.
       “Fine,” I mumbled under my breath before shouting, “I'm coming!” as I grudgingly stomped down the stairs. He was waiting for me at the front door with one hand already on the doorknob and his toolbox in the other. He was wearing a plain white shirt with a red flannel shirt over it, dirty blue jeans, and his work boots. He must have a job today. That was, so far, the only bright spot in this very gloomy morning.
       I’d seen pictures of my dad from when he was in high school. Back in the day he looked just like Val Kilmer in all of his Top Gun glory. Sadly, these days the only thing he resembled was a broken man in grease-stained jeans.
       “What took you so long?” he said, looking down at the toolbox in his hands instead of up at me. He never looked me in the eyes any more. Even though it hurt, it wasn't hard to understand why he couldn't. With my mess of red curls, the dusting of freckles across my nose, and my pale green eyes, everyone said I looked just like my mom.
       “I couldn't decide what to wear,” I grumbled. I really wished it wasn't raining. The eight blocks on foot would probably be worth it just so that I could pop by Starbucks for a Pumpkin Spice Latte right now. Even when the world sucked all around me, I could always count on PSL to remind me that there were still bits of happiness out there.
       For the last two years, I’d ridden with Hannah and her brother. But this year, I'd be depending on my dad for rides until I could manage to buy myself a car. I’d piled on the babysitting jobs over the summer to save up and I was almost there. Just a dozen or so more nights of getting my hair pulled by the Rennert boys and I should have enough. It would probably only be enough to snag a junker but I wasn’t going to complain. I’d take anything.
       Before she left, Hannah had advised me to ask my father for help, but I wasn't about to go there. Dad couldn’t spare the couple hundred dollars I needed or handle an extra insurance payment. God, he could barely cover the bills as it was.
       He was a contractor who was scarcely able to stay afloat in work. And it had been that way ever since Mom died.
       Plus, the old Victorian house we lived in wasn't exactly cheap to maintain. Even to these standards, I thought as I looked around.
       Mom had had huge plans for this place… historic tours or maybe even a bed and breakfast that would one day be featured in a five-page spread in Architectural Digest. But, like everything else, the house and the dream had faded when she had. Now I just hoped that the walls and the roof would hold through the winter.
       “Well, c'mon before we're both late,” he muttered as he handed me an umbrella.
       “Thanks,” I said as I took the umbrella from him. I grabbed my bag from the hook in the hall and dragged my feet out the door. The world outside was cloaked in a grimy grey. I blamed Hannah for this too. As if it wasn’t enough that she had abandoned me, it truly seemed that my bright and sunshiny best friend had taken the sun and all of its warmth with her.
       “Good morning, Mr. McKain,” a familiar voice rang out, surprising me. I looked up to see Henry, Hannah's older brother, walking up the sidewalk toward us holding a cup from Starbucks. Could it possibly be a delicious Pumpkin Spice Latte? My heart thumped with anticipation.
       Henry had on hoodie with Northside Buffalos written in red lettering across the front. The hood was pulled up, but his face still glistened with stray raindrops. He and Hannah had that weird sibling quality where they looked alike but not really. They both had light brown hair that faded to soft gold at the tips and wide-set eyes that seemed to shift between smoky blue and grey. Today Henry’s eyes seemed more grey than blue as though they were reflecting the dreary sky and my mood.
       “Caroline? Are you okay?”
       “I-I…What are you doing here?” I asked, secretly hoping that the coffee cup in his hands was for me.
       “Um, it is the first day of school, right?” he said as he handed me the coffee. My hero!
       “Yeah,” I answered, taking the cup from him gratefully and letting my hands absorb the warmth. Mmmm, it was definitely a PSL! Fall in a cup and so good for the soul.
       “So—I'm here.”
       “You're still going to give me rides?” I asked, dumbfounded.
       “Of course I am. Why wouldn't I?” Henry frowned, which drew my attention to his mouth and square chin. He hadn’t bothered to shave this morning and I could see a light smattering of stubble along his jaw. Hannah always complained if Owen didn’t shave, but if I was being totally honest, I kind of liked the scruffy look. It was rugged and… hot. Not that I was supposed to be thinking of Henry as hot. What was wrong with me this morning? He was Hannah’s brother and a taken man.
       “I, uh… I just figured with Hannah gone, you wouldn't bother.”
       “You know I'd never let ya down,” he said with an easy smile. “Remembered your favorite coffee and everything.”
       “Okay great, so Henry will take you to school,” Dad said, not even bothering to hide the relief in his voice. “See you this evening, Caroline. And thanks, Henry.”
       “Right. Bye, Dad.” I waved to his back as he hurried away.
       “Should we get going?” Henry asked, bringing my attention back to the fact that we were still standing out in the rain and, unlike me, he didn’t have an umbrella.
       “Yeah, sorry.” I raised the umbrella, stretching it as high as I could in an attempt to shield us both from the downpour. Henry, quite a bit taller than my five feet two inches, laughed as he took the umbrella from me and held it high enough for both of us. He rested his hand on the small of my back and my body suddenly rippled with an involuntary shiver.
       “Cold?” he asked.
       “Mm-hmm,” I mumbled. Better to fake a chill in September than admit that my body just spontaneously combusted at his mere touch.
       “So are we picking up Elise too?” I asked hesitantly. Elise and Henry had been dating almost as long as Hannah and Owen had, which meant forever in my opinion. But, unlike Owen, I didn’t particularly like Elise Rivers. Call me crazy but blond, big-breasted and bitchy was not my idea of someone I wanted to spend time with. But I wasn’t a guy so what did I know?
       “No,” he said a little harshly before adding, “We broke up.”
       What? My brain was screaming with this new information. Though I’d never thought Elise deserved him in the first place, this was an unexpected development. Of course, I wasn’t sure that any man, woman or beast on the planet could ever really deserve Henry Vaughn. “Really? What happened?
       “I caught her messing around with some jackass from Holy Cross at a field party a few weeks ago,” he said.
       “What?” I sputtered. “Hannah didn’t mention it.”
       “I didn’t exactly hire a skywriter if you know what I mean.”
       “Right.” I shook my head. “God, Henry, I’m so sorry.”
       “No worries. I’ve had time and I’m fine with it,” he said with a casual shrug, but I could tell he was still hurt by the betrayal.
       If I didn’t like Elise before, I really hated her now. I wanted to press the issue, squeeze out all the dirty details but I could tell Henry didn’t want to talk about it, so I let it drop. I’d definitely have to ask Hannah about this later.
       The ride to school was a little awkward. Maybe it was because we’d been discussing Elise, or maybe it was because it was just the two of us and we’d never hung out without his sister. Not that we were hanging out. Henry was just giving me a ride to school and that was all. Actually, the more I thought about it, the more I thought that Hannah must have put him up to it. Yep, that would explain why he showed up this morning. She must have read my sad email and begged her brother to rescue me.
       So, that begged the question: was a pity ride to school better or worse than having your dad drive you to school? I couldn't be sure. Both options made me feel pretty pathetic though I knew which one I preferred. It was a no brainer. I’d take the pity ride with Henry any day. Especially if it came with a pumpkin spice latte. I took a sip of my glorious caffeinated coffee.
       “Have you talked to Jellybean much?” Henry asked, finally breaking the silence as he pulled into the school parking lot. Jellybean was a nickname Hannah’s family started using when she was a baby, and it stuck.
       “Yeah, I got a message from her this morning.”
       “Cool.”
       “Yeah, cool.” I didn't know what else to say and the uncomfortable silence inside the car was becoming unbearable so I figured it was time for me to make my exit before this got any weirder.
       “Well, thanks for the ride,” I said awkwardly. I did a wave/shrug thing before turning to fumble with the door handle. Then, of course, my foot caught on the strap of my bag which caused me to tumble out of the car. Nice. Real smooth, Care.
       “You okay?” he asked, jumping out of his side of the car with obvious concern while at the same time trying not to chuckle at my expense.
       “Yeah, I'm good. Fine. Golden.”
       “At least you saved your coffee,” Henry said, pointing to my still upright cup.
       “Right. You gotta have priorities. So… see you later. Or not. Whatever. Bye!” I scrambled like an idiot to make an escape.
       Yep. I should've just stayed in bed wallowing. Too late now.
       Little did I know that my day was about to get even worse and it wasn't even officially 8AM yet…
       “Ah, Miss McKain!” Mr. Kant, the school counselor, waved when I entered the building. He was panting like he’d been walking too fast and he had a phone gripped in his hand. “I’m so glad I ran into you before first period. I was going to have to come and find you.”
       “Um, okay?”
       “Let’s head into my office. We have a slight problem.”
       Dread filled me. What could possibly be wrong? I had never ever ever had a problem at school. The only time my name was called during announcements was to commend me for perfect attendance. And the only reason Mr. Kant even knew me was because he ran a peer counseling club and Hannah and I had both been members freshman year.
       “Can you tell me what it is?” I asked nervously as I followed him to the administration office. I had a photography class first period and it looked like I was going to be late.
       “Just a moment.” We walked past a group of students who Mr. Kant assured he’d see in turn, and ended up in a corner office. I tried to make myself as comfortable as I could on one of two stiff wooden chairs situated in front of his desk. You’d think a counselor would have comfortable chairs to be, you know, counseled in. But I’d only been sitting for about five seconds when my butt and back started to hurt. I noticed Mr. Kant’s chair was plush and comfy looking.
       After sitting down, he wheeled himself over to a filing cabinet and started rifling through a drawer full of papers. My nervousness kicked it up a few notches.
       “The first day is always hectic so we try to help out in different ways,” he told me. “I’m working on clearing scheduling kinks.”
       “Okaaaay?”
       “It seems that the photography elective you signed up for last year is full so you’ll have to switch to an alternative class,” he dropped this information in my lap as though it wasn’t a big deal.
       But it was. It was huge. I was not a go-with-the-flow kind of person. I didn’t just change class schedules on a whim. I calculated. I weighed options. I planned. And I had planned on taking that class.
       “What do you mean?” I asked, fighting against the desperation in my voice. “I signed up for this class last year. It was supposed to be guaranteed.”
       Mr. Kant, a.k.a., “The Troll Messing With My Schedule,” swiveled his chair away from the files to face me and said, “I think you understand that nothing in life is guaranteed.”
       “But…” my voice trailed off and I shook my head. “I don’t know how this happened. I was supposed to have this class to work toward being a yearbook photographer.” Hannah had encouraged me to go for it. I was already decent with a camera but I needed the class to even be considered for the yearbook position. If I didn’t take it this year, there was no way I’d get the position next year.
       “You are only a junior,” he said, like I was unaware of what my grade level was. “And you are aware, of course, that seniors get scheduling priority. Next year, that will be you, and you can organize your schedule how you like.”
       “But we’re talking about this year.”
       “Yes, we are.”
       “Can’t you just slip me in? It's just a photography elective. It's not like it's a core class,” I argued. What was happening to me? I never argued with adults. I was a model student. I was a sit-in-the-front-row and never-even-tardy kind of girl.
       This wasn’t fair.
       I’d signed up for that class last spring. Hannah and I had talked about it extensively. She’d left me one of her cameras specifically for this purpose. I was counting on this. It was the only thing I had to look forward to this semester.
       “You’re right. Photography is an elective, and you have other options for an elective. Good options.”
       “Please don’t do this to me,” I said, now dangerously close to tears. I could feel my throat tightening and my eyes burning. “I’m begging you.”
       “If I made special arrangements for every student then where would we be?”
       “But it’s not for every student. It’s just me.”
       Mr. Kant, who I was now upgrading to “Jerkface,” didn’t seem even remotely sympathetic to my plight. He sat back in his chair and sighed. “That’s what everyone says.”
       “But I have a perfect record!” I wasn't about to give up yet. “I've never even so much as skipped a class. I get straight As!” Okay, so there was that time last year when I got a B in Calculus, but it was a B+ so that’s practically an A. I mean, hello, it was Calculus! “You can't make just a tiny exception?”
       “Miss McKain, I'm sorry but I can’t.”
       “But—”
       “I really can’t,” he said, shaking his head. “You’re going to have to choose something else for that time slot.”
       “Okay, fine. Whatever,” I conceded. Now that I knew I was getting nowhere fast, I wanted to get out of this office as soon as possible. Hopefully before I burst into tears in front of all the other students who were waiting to speak to the school counselor.
       He considered whatever was on his computer screen and said, “Your choices for first period electives are Intro to Theater or Marine Biology.”
       I choked on a laugh. “You're joking.”
       “Afraid not, Miss McKain.” A note of real annoyance crossed his voice, as though I was purposely being difficult. So what if the line of students outside of his office was growing restless? I wasn’t the one who screwed up my schedule. This wasn’t my fault. “Now, are you going to pick a class or will I have the honor?”
       Theater or Marine Biology? These were not good options in that they both sucked.
       I couldn’t help but feel like if Hannah were here, none of this would be happening. She'd have somehow convinced Mr. Kant to give me the class because she had that kind of power over people. I called it the Hannah Effect. And, if all else failed and she couldn’t get Mr. Kant to relent, she’d probably have dropped another class herself so that we could suffer through Romeo and Juliet or learn about the mating habits of squid together.
       “I’m waiting,” he said impatiently, giving me a pointed look.
       I found myself wondering, what would Hannah do? Costumes and bright lights or salty water samples and dead crab carcasses to examine?
       “Theater,” I said quickly. I just might have to get a bracelet custom embroidered with WWHD? to get me through this year.
       “Excellent.” Mr. Kant nodded and typed the change into his computer. He printed out the new schedule and handed it to me. “You're all set.”
       “Fine,” I told him ungratefully as I stared down at the slip of white paper. It looked innocuous enough, but it was solid proof that major suckage was ahead.
       “Intro to Theater,” I read quietly, my insides going icy cold. Theater. Theater. That meant acting. Being on a stage. In front of other people.
       Was I crazy? For all of my life, I’d made a point of staying off the radar. I didn’t go to school dances. I didn’t date. I didn’t make a spectacle of myself. If you searched “wallflower” in the dictionary, I was confident that my name would be listed under the derivations.
       Fingering the paper schedule, I realized that my sudden burst of Hannah-infused gusto had been a huge blunder. I swallowed and lifted my chin, but before I could tell Mr. Kant that I’d been joking and really wanted to spend first period learning about red algae and sea turtles, he looked past me to the line of students waiting outside his office, waved his hand and shouted, “Next!”

****
The walk down C hall—a hall I had never once been down—seemed painfully long. My stomach was in knots and my head was killing me. I located the classroom by the number plaque nailed over the door. I had every intention of sliding into a desk in the back row. Preferably in a dark, dank corner where I could blend into the shadows and no one would notice my presence.
       Except there were no desks.
       None.
       There were just two rectangular tables surrounded by a few mismatched metal chairs. There weren’t nearly enough seats for the number of students already gathered in the classroom, but nobody seemed to mind. They were sitting on the floor and the windowsills and on a handful of bean bag chairs that were scattered throughout the room.
       There was so much chaos everywhere I looked that my stomach started to feel swishy.
       Bright, sparkly costumes were draped over hangers and haphazardly thrown onto rolling racks. Posters of Broadway shows were pinned cockeyed to the walls with bright red and blue thumbtacks. On a low circular table near the back window there was a box full of random props. I spied a pair of purple goggles, a plastic microphone bedazzled with rhinestones, and a green wig that looked like it belonged in a Dr. Seuss book.
       The whole scene made me want to turn and run, but before I could backtrack, a tall, willowy woman glided through the door, effectively trapping me inside.
       “Hello, actors and welcome to Intro to Theater!” she greeted us enthusiastically. “My name is Nina but—” she bowed her head and sighed, “—alas, the administration insists you all call me Mrs. Cobb.”
       A few people laughed. I nervously backed myself up safely against the nearest wall and tried my best to be invisible.
       Nina, or Mrs. Cobb, could have been twenty or fifty for all I could tell. She was wearing all black—loose gaucho pants, a flowy blouse, and pointy-toed shoes. The only splash of color was a bright orange and pink skinny scarf that actually looked more like a knitted necktie than anything else. Her hair was long and dark brown with heavy bangs that fell in a blunt line straight across her forehead.
       “Let’s circle up!” she called out, pushing at the thick frames of her glasses. “We’re going to play a couple of getting-to-know-you games. Maybe even try a little improv on the first day.”
       Circle up? Was she serious?
       The rest of the class got busy pushing aside the tables to make a wide enough space in the middle of the room to accommodate everyone.
       “Is she going to make us all join hands?” I asked the air.
       “She probably will,” said a cute boy I semi-recognized. “Before the bell rings, we’ll all be singing ‘Kumbaya’ and telling each other our deepest fears.”
       “No… not really?”
       He laughed at my expression. “No, you’re safe. She’s just going to go over the basics today. If she actually calls anyone up for improv, it will be with volunteers.”
       “Thank God. I’m not nearly caffeinated enough.” I took a breath. “Um, by the way… How do you know all this?”
       “I’m actually assisting for the class,” he told me.
       “Oh.” Well, that explained it. I looked him over again, taking in his sculpted hair and dark brown eyes. He was looking more and more familiar to me. “Are you…?”
       “Miles Sloan,” he offered.
       That’s right. Northside was a huge school, servicing Libby Park and two other nearby towns, but after a while you started to notice the same people and put them into categories. Miles was one of the drama kids and I was pretty sure he’d played Captain Hook in last spring’s Peter Pan show. I hadn’t seen the play—just the posters—but I remembered Hannah talking about it. “I think you were lab partners with my best friend last year.”
       His eyebrows moved. “In chemistry?”
       “Yeah.”
       “Hannah Vaughn?”
       I nodded. “Yep.”
       “Ah…” Something sparked for him. I saw it move across his face. “I remember... You used to wait for her after class. You’re the friend.”
       The friend. That’s how I was known.
       “Hannah’s an angel,” he continued. “She saved my ass in that class.”
       She had mentioned something about covering all the lab assignments because Miles was cute but far from the brightest bulb in the chandelier. “She’s good at that.”
       The tables were still being moved around. Someone had knocked over one of the garment racks and another girl caught her sweater on a fake sword so now a huge cleanup effort was being coordinated. I was fine hanging back like this with Miles.
       “So, how is Hannah doing?” he asked.
       “Oh, she’s good. She’s in London this year.”
       “For the whole year?”
       I wanted to say, Yes, and thank you for the reminder. Instead, I mumbled, “Uh, yeah.”
       “That’s awesome. I bet she’s having a blast,” he said, smacking his lips. “She does the writing thing, doesn’t she?”
       “She does. She’s actually in a great writing program there. It’s like…” I searched for something more to say. “It’s a really big deal.”
       “Very cool.”
       And it was. It was the coolest. That was what I had to keep reminding myself.
       In the center of the classroom, Mrs. Cobb lifted her arms and swung them around her body. “We are ready!”
       We all sat down and she explained the rules of the getting-to-know-you game. We would go around the circle, each telling two truths and one lie. The people sitting on either side of us had to guess which of our statements were true and which one was false. Shockingly, I’d actually played this at a sleepover in the fourth grade. I remembered it being like a very tame version of Truth or Dare.
       “Should you really be playing this game?” I whispered to Miles. “Since you’re the teacher’s assistant, it seems kind of unfair. Shouldn’t you be… I don’t know... assisting?”
       He smiled at me. “The teaching assistant title is a loose one. Mainly this is just Mrs. Cobb helping me fill in one of my elective spots,” he confided. “I’m already in her advanced class this afternoon and I’m also a member of the drama club. For this class, I’ll have to help with grading and do some busy work, but I’m hoping once we get into the play, I can use the time to practice lines and run through my scenes.”
       “The play?”
       Miles didn’t get a chance to answer. The game had moved fast around the circle and we were up.
       The “facts” I told about myself were lacking in drama and beyond lame. The first truth I shared was that I had never left the state of Oklahoma. The second was that I had an unhealthy addiction to coffee and pretzel M&Ms. The lie I told was that I was allergic to nectarines.
       Miles picked out the lie right away, but since he was the first student to talk to me aside from Henry, I decided not to hold it against him.
       “How did you do that?” I asked him when the game and the rest of “circle time” was over and we were retrieving our bags from where we’d all dumped them by the windows.
       “How did I do what?”
       “Figure out my lie so easily.”
       “The key to lying is to not hesitate. Works every time.”
       “I’ll keep that in mind,” I said, smiling at him.
       He grinned back.
       Talking to Miles wasn’t the same as having Hannah here—not even close—but it was pleasant. His jeans were way too tight and he had on copious amounts of cologne, but he seemed nice enough. Maybe we would become friends. And, maybe this class wouldn’t be so bad after all.
       “Thank you all for joining in today,” Mrs. Cobb said over the scrape of tables and chairs being moved back into position. “Tomorrow, we’ll talk about elements of acting and the fall production. As you all know from the form you were given when you signed up for the class, participation in our show is mandatory. This means your afternoons from mid-September until December will be occupied!”
       “Did she really just say that?” I asked Miles.
       He just laughed. That wasn’t the response I was hoping for.
       “I mean it,” I pushed. “I signed up late so I didn’t see anything about a play…”
       “You’ll be fine.”
       “But I won’t be,” I said firmly. “I don’t do stuff like school plays. I can’t even give speeches in class.”
       “It’s okay,” he said in a reassuring tone. “Participation is required, but there’s no way everyone is going to get a part. Especially not in this class.”
       “Are you sure?”
       The dismissal bell rang out shrilly and students started to push past us.
       “I’m sure,” he told me. “You have to go through the audition just so you understand the process and get the experience, but that’s all. The people who don’t get speaking parts will be put in the chorus or given a job backstage. There’s plenty to do.” He lifted his hand and started to list the tasks on his fingers. “Make up, costume stuff, design work, and there’s even going to be set building.”
       “You said… the chorus?”
       Miles moved his head. “It’s a musical. I don’t know which one yet, but, between us, I’m hoping she picks West Side Story. I’ve always wanted to play Tony.”
       “Ummm…”
       It was bad enough that I had to take a theater class but now I was going to be expected to audition for a musical?
       “Do you sing?”
       In the shower, but that was about it. “No…”
       “Play an instrument?”
       I thought of my mother’s piano, sitting at home gathering dust. “I used to play piano but—”
       “Well, there you go,” Miles said. “Caroline, I’ve got to get moving, but I’ll see you tomorrow. Okay?”
       “Sure,” I replied absently. My mind was already someplace else.
       As I wandered out of the classroom, I considered the possibilities. Maybe I could run away. Or perhaps I could still get that spot in Marine Biology. Because, all things considered, researching the mating habits of squid didn’t sound so terrible anymore.

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Copyright 2015 Autumn Doughton and Erica Cope
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