The form of things unkno.., p.14
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       The Form of Things Unknown, p.14

           Robin Bridges
 
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  “It’ll be fun to watch. Tonight should be very interesting,” Starla says, pushing us toward the stage. Only she pushes just a little too hard, and I stumble out onto the stage.

  Mrs. Green, who is standing center stage, turns and looks at me. “ ’Twas the fairies that tripped you. Kiss the hem of your dress, Natalie, to appease them.”

  “Fairies or evil ghosts?” Raine murmurs.

  “ ’Twas Starla that pushed me too hard,” I mutter, lifting my skirt and exposing my tulle underskirt to everyone onstage. That gets a few catcalls. I blush as I give the hem a quick kiss and drop the skirt back down. “Ick. This costume is dusty.”

  Raine and Starla can’t help but laugh at me.

  Colton has taken on the role of Theseus, too, since Michael dropped out. Mrs. Green told us that in some productions, the actors who play Theseus and Hippolyta also play the roles of Oberon and Titania, as they are “mirrored” roles. The fairies are the dream world versions of the Athenian characters.

  And what is really funny to me is the fact that in Shakespeare’s time, all the roles were played by male actors, so it must have really been a hoot to watch. Especially to see a guy play Titania, the faerie queen.

  Cast Two Titania has dropped out, so Mrs. Green has talked me into performing two nights in a row. It means I will get to wear THE DRESS two more times after tonight.

  Some parents have pulled the little kids out, too, the ones that were playing the minor fairies like Peaseblossom and Moth. I think even Mrs. Green was glad to see Hailey and Bailey drop out, though. Those were the most evil five-year-olds I’ve ever met. Hailey liked to stick her boogers on the arm rests of the theater seats, and Bailey got melted M&M’s all over my script. Caitlyn is much better behaved, even if she is a little obsessed with fairies.

  Melinda, the costume manager from SCAD and diehard Lord of the Rings fan, and Diana, the ticket mistress, have been appointed backup fairies. Which was probably Melinda’s Evil Scheme all along. She was dying for a chance to wear pointy ears and glitter.

  The play begins with Theseus and the Athenians, then the Mechanicals come onstage to plot their wedding entertainment. Nerves dance inside my stomach as I wait for my first scene.

  I stand at the edge of the curtains with my fairy entourage, waiting for our cue. Colton is waiting on the other side of the stage and he winks, trying to make me smile.

  Caitlyn is standing next to me, enraptured by the story coming to life on stage. Finally, David is out there, as Puck talking with one of the pointy-eared fairies. He stumbles over his lines, and I frown. Are we already off to a bad start tonight?

  I am Titania, queen of the fairies, I tell myself. And when Puck says, “But, room, fairy! here comes Oberon,” and Melinda says, “And here my mistress. Would that he were gone,” it’s time for me to take the stage.

  I say all my lines perfectly, but I almost fall out of the giant bird’s nest that Bottom and I are supposed to sleep in.

  Lysander drops his sword with a loud clang and some of the fairies get lost backstage. All in all, though, we do rather well.

  Until Peter gets his head stuck in the giant donkey head. He panics and stumbles into one of the flats, knocking over half of the set.

  Mrs. Green closes her eyes and throws her clipboard on the ground. “Stop!” she shouts. “Enough. Everyone out of their costumes and back out here in your seats in twenty minutes.”

  We scramble to the dressing rooms, where SCAD volunteers are waiting to help us undress. “I think it went well,” Starla says. “Bad dress rehearsals mean perfect opening nights.”

  “Then our opening night should be spectacular,” Raine says. “Because tonight sucked spectacularly.”

  “No lighting disasters,” I say. “No injuries. Except Peter’s hair. And at least David didn’t say the last line of the play again.”

  Raine frowns. “Peter shouldn’t have used so much hair gel.”

  We hurry back out front to join the boys. Lucas is sitting between Caitlyn and Peter. Disappointed a little, I sit next to Raine on the end.

  * * *

  Mrs. Green paces back and forth across the stage, her pointy black heels clicking across the wood. “We’re making progress, but I still see contemporary teenagers on this stage. I do not see Shakespearean characters. These characters are not coming alive for me up here. You need to work on this some more.” It was time for another of her drama lessons. “To become one with your character, you must find an emotion that you share in common with your character.”

  Raine and Peter look like they’re falling asleep. Only the kids in front are paying attention to our Fearless Director. Not even Starla, whose lifelong ambition is to make it to Broadway.

  My phone lights up even though it’s on silent. I peek at my screen and grin. Andria has answered my text and says she and Trista are coming to town for the play this weekend. I can’t wait to see them again.

  “This is tonight’s homework for everyone. Think about your character and create an emotional memory for this character using your own emotional memories. Tomorrow night, I want to see real acting up here—not just a bunch of children reciting lines.”

  We stay after rehearsal to write our emotional memories. David and Colton walk out together. Lucas leaves to take Caitlyn home without saying a word to me.

  He must be mad at me for pushing him away last night backstage. But I’m so scared of falling in love with the wrong boy again. And I’m pretty sure he’s the wrong boy for me. I’m fairly certain I’m the wrong girl for him.

  In the parking lot after, sure that Mrs. Green has left, Starla takes a bottle of vodka out of her backpack.

  “What do you think you’re doing?” I ask.

  She pours some into my can of Dr Pepper. “There, now try it.”

  Raine holds out her can of Coke. “Libations to appease the theater spirits. I’m down with that.”

  Starla grins. “Girl, great minds think alike.” She adds some vodka to her own Diet Coke, then holds the can up like a toast. “To the spirits in this theater.”

  “But there aren’t any spirits,” I say. And I really don’t see how getting drunk would appease them if there were.

  I know I shouldn’t be drinking. But it seems like every time I hang out with these two girls, I end up doing something I shouldn’t.

  “What a way to get in touch with our emotions,” Raine giggles. “I feel . . . happy.”

  “Me, too,” I say. My body seems to be composed of words and poetry. My structure forms from syllables, each muscle and bone stressed or unstressed. The rhythm of iambic pentameter pulses my blood through my veins. My breath, the alliteration of vowels. My body does not look how I feel. I feel drunk on Shakespeare.

  At least I try to blame it on Shakespeare. But of course it’s just the vodka.

  CHAPTER 19

  I wake up to my phone chirping, and my head exploding with pain. How much vodka did I drink last night? I remember stumbling into the house before midnight, and crawling up the stairs so I wouldn’t make too much noise.

  Did I wake anyone up? I remember a light coming on in Grandma’s room, but I don’t remember talking to her.

  Ugh. Every time my phone rings it pierces my eardrums. I try to grab it from my nightstand, but it falls on the floor. Leaning over the side of the bed to pick it up is not a good idea. My head swims and I think I’m going to be sick.

  It’s Lucas’s number. Now I know I’m going to be sick. “Hello?”

  “Nat, thank God. Can you do me a really huge favor? Can you watch Caitlyn this morning? I know this is short notice, but I have to be at the pool at nine thirty, and Raine has her first drill team practice at ten. She didn’t tell me about it until just now.”

  That’s not my fault. And I don’t want to see or speak to Lucas right now. But I can’t let Caitlyn suffer because things are weird and awkward between her brother and me. I look at my clock. 8:45.

  “Just give me some time to take a shower.” And drink some coff
ee. And become human again. I close my eyes.

  “All right. Want me to bring her over to your house or do you want to come over here?”

  I don’t have a car, but I’m curious about the place where Lucas and Caitlyn live. I’m curious about his father. “I’ll come over there,” I say. If I hurry, maybe my dad can take me on his way to the hospital.

  “It’s nice to see you finding new babysitting jobs,” Dad says as we head to Lucas’s neighborhood. “I’m glad you’re getting used to living here.”

  I shrug. “Savannah’s pretty. And I have made a few new friends.”

  “Do you think your mom likes it here?” he asks.

  I really don’t. But I don’t want to hurt Dad’s feelings. “She thinks it’s pretty, too. I think once she gets to open her own café again she’ll be happier.”

  Dad frowns. “I wish there was a way for that to happen. But Mom needs to watch Grandma right now.”

  I don’t want to argue with him. “I don’t think Grandma likes having a babysitter all the time.”

  “It doesn’t matter what she likes,” he says, sighing. “We have to keep her safe. Is this the turn?” he asks.

  “Yes.” Lucas’s house is right next door to Starla’s, and I wonder why he didn’t ask her to babysit. Seems that it would be so easy for him to turn to her in emergencies. Better her than someone who is crazy.

  “All right. Will this family bring you home when you’re done?” Dad asks. “I’m going to try to make it home from work in time for the play tonight, but I can’t make any promises. Trauma has been crazy these past few weeks.”

  “It’s all right. I understand,” I say, opening the door. I can go next door and get Starla to bring me home if necessary. Or I could call David.

  Dad reaches over and squeezes my shoulder. “Natalie, break a leg tonight.”

  I roll my eyes. And it makes my headache come back. “Thanks.”

  Lucas opens the front door for me. He’s wearing his lifeguard uniform and God help me it looks even better than his Hercules/Demetrius costume. He waves to my dad, who’s already backing out of the driveway.

  “Thanks again. You don’t know how much I appreciate this. Cait is bouncing off the walls excited about tonight. You have your work cut out for you.”

  “Great.” I should have taken Motrin before I left home, but I didn’t have time.

  “Are you okay?” he asks.

  “I’m fine. Just nervous about tonight myself.”

  Lucas cups my face with his hand, strokes my cheek with his thumb. “Don’t be. You’ll be perfect tonight.”

  Why does he act like he can’t stand to be around me, and then the next minute act like he can’t keep his hands off me? I’m tired of being confused.

  I put my hand over his. And I think he’s going to pull me closer and maybe even kiss me, but we hear someone come out of the house next door. “Lucas? Do you have time to look at my computer before work? I think it might have gotten a virus.” Starla’s brother, Chance, comes loping across the yard. “Starla and her friend Ferris were using it to watch videos last night.”

  With a frustrated sigh, Lucas drops his hand away from me and steps back. “Sure.”

  “Anything I should know before you leave?” I ask. Like, why Ferris was over at Starla’s when he’s dating Maizy.

  “Cait can tell you where everything is. Help yourself to any food you see. My father stays in his bedroom, but if he does happen to come out, don’t be alarmed.” He smiles sadly. “He’s harmless. I’ll be back by four, and then I can take you home. Unless you want to ride with us to the theater.”

  Chance is looking bored, so I don’t keep Lucas any longer. “That’s fine,” I say. “Have a good day.”

  He turns to follow Chance and I go inside the Grants’ home. It’s got a similar layout to Starla’s house, with an open living room-dining area and the kitchen to the back.

  Cait jumps off the couch and runs over to give me a hug. “I’m so glad you’re here. Want to watch cartoons? Or play with Rufus? We can be fairies all day today!”

  “But I didn’t bring my wings!” I say.

  “I’ve got an extra pair you can borrow.”

  We have a fairy tea party in her room, which consists of wearing glitter-covered wings and eating Little Debbie snack cakes with orange juice. I let Caitlyn be the fairy queen. I’m just a lowly fairy princess.

  Lucas texts me on his break. Everything going okay?

  Yes. Stole some Motrin from your bathroom for a headache. Hope it’s okay.

  That’s fine. Sorry if Caitlyn gave you a headache.

  “Who are you texting?” Caitlyn asks, plopping down on the couch with me. “Is it Lucas?”

  It’s not her fault. Woke up with one. Motrin and the fairy cakes made it go away.

  “Tell him to bring us some pizza!”

  “He’s not at the pizza shop today, he’s at the pool.”

  “But I want pizza for lunch.”

  “I don’t think he’d be home in time for lunch anyway. Do you have any frozen pizza we could make?”

  “Lucas never buys frozen pizzas. He gets sick of pizza sometimes.” She sounds sad.

  “Let’s see what you do have in your kitchen. I’m sure there’s something we can make that would be a proper fairy queen’s lunch.” I remember Lucas mentioning her love of macaroni and cheese with cinnamon and repress a shudder.

  “Okay!”

  But I’m startled to find an older man in a bathrobe and Star Wars pajama pants standing in the Grants’ kitchen.

  “Hey Dad,” Caitlyn says. “We’re going to make a fairy lunch.”

  He looks up at me and stares. I’m not sure what he’s thinking, so I give a little wave. “Hi, I’m Natalie. Lucas asked me to babysit this morning.”

  “Excellent.” Mr. Grant nods and takes his coffee to his room.

  He reminds me of Grandma. Raine thinks he’s still grieving the loss of Mrs. Grant, but he looks to me like he’s far beyond mere grieving. Like he doesn’t know how to start living again. My heart breaks for all of them. Cait doesn’t seem to be upset by his behavior.

  “Come on. I bet we have some leftover lasagna in here.” She opens the refrigerator.

  “Do fairies eat lasagna?” I ask her. My phone beeps again.

  It’s from Andria. On our way to Savannah! Excited about tonight?

  Of course! I text back. Want to get something to eat after the play?

  Always ready to eat. You pick the place and we will treat you. Heading back on the road. TTYL!

  Caitlyn sets a container of mushrooms on the counter, along with a loaf of bread, some Lucky Charms cereal, and a jar of mayonnaise. My hangover suddenly returns.

  “We’ll use the Lucky Charms as magic sprinkles, and we can make magic mushroom sandwiches.”

  I grab a handful of cereal out of the box, eating the marshmallows first. “Maybe we should just eat the lasagna.”

  I convince her to put away the mayo and mushrooms, and after a huge bowl of reheated lasagna, Caitlyn is ready for a nap. “Will you come take a nap with me?” she asks.

  “Sure, all fairies need their beauty rest,” I say. I plan to only lie down on the bed with her until she falls asleep, but I’m more tired than I thought I was.

  I wake up to find Lucas standing over Cait’s bed.

  I jump up, terrified that she’s woken up and run off, that she’s been doing something dangerous like juggling knives in the kitchen. But she’s still sleeping next to me, snoring like an old man.

  Lucas smiles, sinking down on the mattress next to me. My skin heats up, all of my molecules aware of just how close he is. “Um, I don’t think a twin bed is built for three people,” I whisper. “Or even two and a half.”

  He blushes. “I’d tell you my bed is bigger, but that sounds like a proposition, doesn’t it?” His voice is low, barely above a whisper to avoid waking his sister, but it makes my skin tingle.

  My blush outblushes his. I do not need to think a
bout Lucas and his bed right now. “Is it four already? Should I wake Caitlyn up to get her ready to go?”

  “I got off work early. You can sleep a little longer if you’d like.”

  I’m wide awake now. There’s no way I could fall back asleep. “Did you eat? Want me to make you something?”

  “I’m fine.” He smiles and it breaks my heart. Why does he look so happy, so peaceful? We have to be onstage in front of a million people in just a few hours. The panicky butterflies come back. He sees me frown and his smile fades. “Hey, what’s wrong?”

  I try to take a deep breath, because I know that’s the first thing he’d tell me to do. “Tonight, we’re going to be out there in front of all those people. What if I forget my lines?”

  “Take a deep breath,” he says. And I don’t bother to point out that I already did. I just take another, and another.

  “But don’t hyperventilate,” he says. “You know your lines. You’re not going to forget them.”

  I stare at him and try to think of my first line. My cue is Puck’s conversation with the fairy. And I come on stage with Oberon and he says . . . something . . . and I say . . . oh my God, what do I say? My mouth goes dry. “I already forgot!”

  “Close your eyes. You haven’t forgotten. Those lines are still in your head.”

  I close my eyes, but the lines aren’t there. I do, however, notice Lucas’s hands rubbing up and down my bare arms. How does he expect me to remember anything when he’s touching me?

  I lean my head against his chest and he wraps his arms around me. “You can do this,” he murmurs into my hair. “Come on. Oberon sees you onstage and what does he say?”

  His fingers move up and down my back, around my waist. Right now I don’t even want to think about the stupid play anymore. My hands slide up his back to hold on to him and I hear Lucas’s heart start to race.

  “Natalie.” His lips are pressed against my forehead now. If I tipped my head back to look up at him, would he kiss me? It’s not even something I should be contemplating. We’re standing in his baby sister’s bedroom, for crying out loud. With his sister sleeping right in front of us.

  I wonder if I should remind him what he said about his own bed a few minutes ago.

 
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