Secrets Schemes And Sewing Machines

The second YA installment from Katy Cannon from the same world and featuring the same group of friends from the popular Bake Club in Love, Lies & Lemon Pies Grace had a plan for this year – and it didn’t involve learning to sew. But when her world is turned upside down by a family secret, everything changes. Grace’s family is in need of patching up and she’s trying to focus on what really matters. But when new boy Connor appears on the scene, it doesn’t make things any easier. She’s desperate to prove to him that she’s not a drama queen – but why is what Connor thinks so important?

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2. Chapter One

My dad told me to always have a plan. Doesn’t matter if the plan changes or shifts a little, as long as you have one. “Fail to plan, Grace, and you plan to fail!” he’d say. “I want you to plan to succeed.”

So I got ready to start sixth form with a plan – to be a star. To matter. After the disappointment of coming in second to Lottie Hansen in pretty much everything that happened during my GCSE year, I needed to win at Year Twelve. After all, it wasn’t like I had had a baking apprenticeship and a fortnight in Paris to keep me busy over the summer, like some people. I didn’t even have the hot boyfriend.

All I had was a plan to prove myself – to my parents, my friends and even to me. But it all went out of the window the night before term started, the moment Faith knocked on our front door.

My breath burned in my lungs and, for the first time in the three weeks since term started, I was actually grateful that we still had to wear school uniform in sixth form, and that high heels were not allowed. I didn’t dare waste time checking my watch, I already knew I was late. Not just for school, but for something far more important.

I was late for the auditions.

And it was all Faith’s fault. Her fault I hadn’t had time to run my audition speech in the mirror enough times yesterday. As if some “family dinner” in a restaurant was suddenly more important than my actual life. 

“Since when do we have family dinners?” I’d asked Mum, but she’d just given me the sad eyes and gone back to talking to Faith. Again. 

Then, back home, there had been the photo album from my parents’ wedding and embarrassing stories about me as a child. I’d escaped to my room to call Yasmin, relieved to talk to someone who didn’t make everything about Faith. Mostly because she didn’t know Faith existed. Then it had been late and I must have forgotten to set my alarm because suddenly it was morning and I was running late before I even got out of bed.

I rounded the last corner before the school gates at high speed, grabbing hold of a lamppost to spin myself around in the right direction. Other sixth formers were still sauntering through the gates 

behind a crowd of younger kids, so maybe I still had a chance. Maybe the bell hadn’t rung yet. Maybe I could make it...

I cursed Mr Hughes and whatever stupid timetabling issue meant he’d had to hold the auditions before school this year, instead of after school or even at lunch. 

“I don’t want to waste any time,” he’d said at our last Drama Club meeting, the first I’d actually managed to make that year. “We’ve had a few weeks to get familiar with the material and I think you’re ready. My vision is for something really special – different from the traditional versions of Shakespeare we’ve done before. I’m going to need real commitment from everyone, starting with the auditions. I want each of you to prepare a two-minute speech – a monologue from any play you like – and I’ll be keeping time. The auditions will be held on Monday morning at 8 a.m. sharp in the school hall.”

And now it was almost nine.

Shoving my way past a few slow-movers, I raced down the path towards the main doors and veered left into the school hall, just as the bell clanged out over the speakers to signal the official start of the school day. 

“Thanks for coming today, everyone. I have a really good feeling about this show.” Mr Hughes beamed at the group of people on stage, who all looked unbearably pleased with themselves. Then, realizing they were running the risk of being late for registration, they started to scatter.

I had bigger worries than missing registration.

“Mr Hughes.” I sidled up to his chair, still trying to catch my breath. “I’m so sorry I was late today. Bit of a family crisis, I’m afraid.”

His gaze unnerved me. It felt like he was studying me, analyzing me, like a character in a play. “Another one, Grace?” he asked. “Wasn’t that the excuse you used when you missed Drama Club the first week we came back? And the second, actually. Is it something you’d like to talk about?”

My smile froze. No, actually, it really wasn’t.

“It’s been an ... interesting summer,” I told Mr Hughes, aiming for wry understatement in my voice. What I actually felt was disbelief, confusion and just a tinge of despair, but I figured he didn’t need to know that. “I’d still really like to audition for the play. You know how much I love Shakespeare.” Total lie, but teachers always liked to hear that sort of thing. “And how much time and energy I’ve put into Drama Club over the past five years.” A little reminder that I’d paid my dues and worked my way up. 

This year’s play, after the roaring success of last year’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream (featuring yours 

truly as the fairy queen), was Much Ado About Nothing. As far as I’d been able to tell from the film clips on YouTube, it was about two people who argued all the time to hide the fact they were secretly crazy about each other. 

I was the queen of banter. Nobody in the group could pull off a flirty argument like me. I was born to play Beatrice. This was my year to take the lead. That was the plan!

Mr Hughes studied me a moment longer, then got slowly to his feet. “I think, Grace, that if you were really as invested as you claim, you’d have managed to make it to Drama Club more than once this term. And you’d have been on time this morning.”

My breath was back, but my palms were sweating now. He wasn’t actually being serious, was he? “Mr Hughes, really, you don’t understand—”

“I think I do. You have stuff going on in your life,” he interrupted me. “But the thing is Grace, so does everyone else.”

Heat rose up to my cheeks and I knew I was blushing. He had no idea about my life and I didn’t see why I should have to tell him. 

“Oh, come on,” I said, anger and embarrassment throbbing in my chest. “I’m the best actress you’ve got in this club. You’re not seriously going to leave me out because I was late? Just let me audition, please. I’ll come to the drama room at lunchtime, or after school. Whenever.”

But Mr Hughes shook his head. “I’m sorry, Grace. I need a cast I can rely on to show up on time, and for every rehearsal, not just when it suits them.”

“But wait...” I darted in front of him to stop him reaching his files. “You’re not being fair.”

“Auditions aren’t about being fair, Grace. And they’re not about who’s been here the longest, or who thinks they deserve what. They’re about choosing the right person for a role.”

“I’m the right person,” I insisted. “Who else are you going to cast? Sara? Violet? They’re not a patch on me and you know it.”

“They did the most important thing, though. They showed up.”

Mr Hughes sidestepped me to gather up his files. “I’m sorry, Grace. Auditions are closed.”

And with that he left the hall, with me staring blankly after him, wondering if that had really, truly happened. 

The sound of a chair scraping on the wooden floor made me spin round, as I realized that my latest private humiliation hadn’t been private at all. 

There by the door, stacking up chairs, was a guy I didn’t recognize. Taller than me by half a foot, and with sandy hair he brushed back from his face with his fingers, he didn’t look like anything special. But then he glanced up and his pale blue eyes caught mine, and I got the uncomfortable feeling that he could see right through me. 

I blinked. “What are you doing here?” I snapped, embarrassed. He was in uniform, and looked about my age. New student, I guessed. 

My eyes narrowed as he raised an eyebrow at me and pointed at the chairs, a smirk spreading across his face. “I thought it was kind of obvious.”

“I’m the right person,” I insisted. “Who else are you going to cast? Sara? Violet? They’re not a patch 

on me and you know it.”

“They did the most important thing, though. They showed up.”

Mr Hughes sidestepped me to gather up his files. 

“I’m sorry, Grace. Auditions are closed.”

And with that he left the hall, with me staring blankly after him, wondering if that had really, truly happened. 

The sound of a chair scraping on the wooden floor made me spin round, as I realized that my latest private humiliation hadn’t been private at all. There by the door, stacking up chairs, was a guy I didn’t recognize. Taller than me by half a foot, and with sandy hair he brushed back from his face with his fingers, he didn’t look like anything special. But then he glanced up and his pale blue eyes caught mine, and I got the uncomfortable feeling that he could see right through me. 

I blinked. “What are you doing here?” I snapped, embarrassed. He was in uniform, and looked about my age. New student, I guessed. 

My eyes narrowed as he raised an eyebrow at me and pointed at the chairs, a smirk spreading across his face. “I thought it was kind of obvious.”

“So, what? You were auditioning?” He was cute enough to make a passable Benedick, I decided, once I’d persuaded Mr Hughes to let me play Beatrice. The irritating smirk would be perfect for the banter. Not to mention those eyes...

But the new guy shook his head. “I’m more of the backstage sort. Looks like you might be, too, by the sound of things.”

“Not a chance,” I said. “I just need to convince Mr Hughes to let me audition. He’ll come round.”

“I don’t know, he seemed pretty decided.” The new guy boosted the last chair on to the stack, before lifting the whole lot as if they weighed nothing and carting them over to the other side of the hall. “And he’s not the sort of man who changes his mind easily.”

“You clearly haven’t seen how persuasive I can be,” I told him. “Besides, how would you know? You’re new, right? You can only have been at this school for, like, five minutes.”

“True.” He grabbed his school bag and swung it up on to his shoulder, fixing me with that cool blue stare. “But I’m Connor O’Neil. Mr Hughes is my stepdad. I’m not just helping him backstage – I’m the stage manager. Which in this case means I’m helping with the casting, too. And, to be honest,I can see exactly why we wouldn’t want you in the play. Far too high maintenance.”

Connor sauntered out of the hall, leaving me alone for real this time. Which was a good thing, since I was gaping slightly. High maintenance? Who did he think he was, acting like he knew all about me?

He knew as little about me as I did about him, anyway. Mr Hughes’s stepson. How had I missed that? I leaned back against the stage and replayed the whole exchange with him and Mr Hughes in my head. Damn it. The one guy I could have used on my side, to help me convince Mr Hughes to give me the part, and he thought I was a teenage diva with an ego problem.

Not the best start to my bid for stardom. 

The bell rang again and I realized I’d missed registration completely. I grabbed my bag and dashed out of the hall to my first class of the day – history. 

Fortunately for me, I shared the lesson with Jasper. 

Maybe he’d know enough about Connor O’Neil to help me win him over, convince his stepdad to give me the starring role, and get my sixth-form plan back on course.

After three weeks of studying Russia and communism, I already knew our history lessonwas going to be a snoozefest. The only slight relief from the boredom was the fact that the teacher, 

Mr Edwards, was slightly deaf, and didn’t always notice when Jasper and I were chatting. We’d teamed up at the back of the classroom on the first day, and I had promised to prod Jasper with a sharp pencil whenever he started to snore. 

“How were the auditions?” Jasper asked, before yawning. “God, Mondays.”

“I hear you.” Dropping my bag beside my seat I smoothed down my skirt and sat down quickly, before Mr Edwards arrived. My skirt was just a smidge or eight above regulation length and although Mr Edwards might not be able to hear well, there was nothing wrong with his eyesight. 

This day really didn’t need a trip to the head of sixth form and a lecture about appropriate dress. 

“I overslept. Missed the auditions.”

Jasper winced. “Bad luck. Does this mean you’re in an even worse mood than normal for a Monday?” 

He studied me, a little frown appearing across his forehead. “Hang on, why are you smiling? Is there some evil scheme afoot to maim or injure whoever gets the lead so you can step in and save the day?”

I gave him a Look. It was still kind of hard to believe that I was actually friends with Jasper.

I mean, who actually uses the word “afoot” these days? But over the last year I’d realized that Jasper was more than “that weird goth kid”. And after his girlfriend, Ella, left town last Easter to live with her mum up North, Jasper had needed distracting, so we’d ended up hanging out together quite a bit. 

Then this summer, with Yasmin away and Mac and Lottie in Paris, it had mostly just been him and me. 

“No schemes.” I turned my attention to the front of the class, where Mr Edwards had just walked in. “I don’t need schemes to be a star. I just need the chance to actually audition.”

Jasper rolled his eyes and I knew he was thinking, Same old Grace.

Well, fine. I had a plan and I was sticking to it. Yeah, home might be kind of crazy right now, and I wasn’t stupid enough to think I could hide something as big as Faith forever, but I didn’t want to let it change me or my plans for the year. 

Speaking of which... “Actually, you might be able to help me. What have you heard about this new guy – Connor?” Jasper always had the best gossip. I guessed it came from his irritating habit of asking endless questions all the time. 

He gave me a sideways look. “Why? What’s he to you?”

I shrugged, playing it cool. “Nothing. But he’s stage managing the play, apparently. I met him this morning after the auditions.” I paused. “Oh, and it turns out he’s Mr Hughes’s stepson.”

“Yeah, I heard that. Poor guy. So what? You’re hoping he can help you score a special audition?”

“Wouldn’t hurt to try,” I admitted. Maybe Connor and I could be friends, since we would have to work together on the play anyway. And friends helped each other, right? 

“OK, so what have you heard already?” Jasper half turned towards me in his chair. We were whispering now, since Mr Edwards was wittering on about Stalin.

“That’s pretty much it.”

“Well, all I really know is that he transferred here from a school over on the other side of London.” 

So, about forty miles from our leafy little suburban town.

“That’s it?” I asked, surprised. Usually, Jasper had a lot more on people.

“Yeah. I mean, I chatted to him a bit the other day – he’s in my English lit class. He seems nice. Friendly.” Jasper shrugged. “I don’t know – we didn’t really get on to sharing our deepest secrets or anything.”

“Huh.” I frowned. “Why not?”

Jasper laughed, loud enough to attract a glare from Mr Edwards. We both ducked our heads behind our books again.

After a moment, I asked, “No, seriously. Why not?”

“Because I didn’t know you’d be quizzing me later?” Jasper said. I shot him a look. “OK, fine. I assumed he didn’t really have any. Like I said, he’s a nice guy. People like him.”

“People? Which people?” 

“I dunno. He doesn’t seem to have been hanging around with anyone in particular, I don’t think.”

“Then how do you know people like him?”

Jasper stared at me. “Seriously, what’s this about?”

Warmth hit my cheeks and I looked away. “Nothing. Really. I just ... when I met him this morning, he was all smirk and attitude. I guess I thought he might be more of a Mac type – well, Mac before he found Lottie and baking and salvation, or whatever.” Troublemaker, generally considered Bad News. Probably on his last chance. The kind of guy who might be persuaded to help me. 

But from what Jasper said, I’d read him wrong. 

Jasper groaned. “Of course. You’re sizing him up as boyfriend material, like when you had a thing for Mac last year. And you’re not interested in him unless he’s a bad boy, right? Poor old Connor O’Neil is out of the running for winning your affection, just because he never set fire to anything.”

“I didn’t have a thing for Mac. He was a lost cause the moment Miss Lottie fluttered her fan at him, or whatever it was she did.”

“I think it was probably the chocolate chips,” Jasper said, unhelpfully.

I prodded him with an extra-sharp pencil. 

 

The next big setback to my Get An Audition plan came the following morning when I arrived at school, perfectly on time even though I only had a study period first thing, and found the cast list for Much Ado About Nothing pinned to the noticeboard by the hall. 

My name wasn’t on it. At all.

I scanned through the list again, checking over my shoulder to make sure that no one else was watching me. Nothing. Not even Third Maid From the Left, not that I’d have taken it if they’d offered. 

It was Beatrice or nothing for me.

And it was looking alarmingly like nothing. 

I shook my head. There had to be a mistake. I knew Mr Hughes had wanted to make a point the day before, but I hadn’t honestly believed he wouldn’t let me be in the play at all. Maybe this was the understudy list, or something. That would make sense. Why else would Violet Roberts be down to play Beatrice? I mean that, right there, was the clearest sign ever that someone had screwed up here. Violet didn’t have a flirty bone in her body. 

I stalked out of the hall and headed towards the drama room, a small classroom round the back of the hall, with easy access to the stage. I needed to straighten this out with Mr Hughes immediately, before too many other people saw that list and started asking questions. 

“Ah, Grace.” Mr Hughes looked up as I opened the drama-room door, a tight smile on his face. Connor was sitting at a desk at the front of the classroom, and he turned those knowing pale eyes on me as his stepdad said, “I was sort of expecting you.”

And I knew, right then, that the list wasn’t a mistake. 

My body flushed hot with embarrassment, then cold and clammy as the reality of the situation settled. I wasn’t Beatrice. I wasn’t the star. In fact, I wasn’t anything. 

But I was still Grace Stewart. Prettiest girl in my year (officially – there was a vote back in Year Nine).Epic party thrower (until the police and my parentsgatecrashed that one time). And yeah, maybe I hadn’t won that baking apprenticeship to Paris last year, and maybe Mac had chosen Lottie when he could have, maybe, had me. 

But I had stuff going for me. I made killer cupcakes, for a start. 

A year ago, I might have thrown a hissy fit at Mr Hughes, far worse than the one Connor had witnessed the day before. In fact, the resigned expression on Mr Hughes’s face told me that was what he was expecting. But there was too much at stake right now to risk it. I needed this part any way I could get it. Otherwise, what was the point? My whole plan this year was to succeed – to make my parents proud. If I didn’t get Beatrice, it was all ruined. 

Of course, there was another reason to hold back the diva trip. Connor thought I was too high maintenance to play Beatrice? Well, I could prove to him right here and now that he was wrong. My dad always told me I could be anything I wanted, if I wanted it badly enough. And I wanted to play Beatrice so much it burned. 

Besides, while Dad talked about making plans, Mum always told me, “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

Time to test that theory out.

Closing the door behind me, hearing its quiet click, I took a deep breath and made myself smile a non-confrontational, friendly smile. When I turned back, Mr Hughes’s resigned expression morphed into wary uncertainty. Even Connor was watching with interest. It made his eyes look warmer.

Perfect.

“I just saw the cast list for Much Ado About Nothing.” I approached the desk, still smiling. “I think it’ll be really interesting to see what Violet does with the role of Beatrice.”

“Look, Grace. You missed the auditions. And Violet actually did a very decent version of one of Beatrice and Benedick’s exchanges with Ash. I think—”

“And like I say, I can’t wait to see it,” I interrupted. He was dragging me off-plan. “I just wanted to ask, since I won’t actually be on stage for this production, if there’s anything else I can do to help out.” Light, airy, unconcerned. Because I was damned if I was going to let anyone else know how much I hated not being Beatrice. Mr Hughes blinked slowly, his mouth slightly open. “Anything you can do ... to help?”

I nodded. “That’s right.” God, seriously, was it that much of a shock? 

“Well...” He grabbed a file from his desk and flicked through it. “Um, we could do with some help on the costumes. Are you any good at sewing?”I’d made a needle case and a pin cushion with my gran when I was about seven. “Absolutely! And I’m sure I can pick up any new techniques I need.” Like, you know, how to actually sew or fix costumes.

“Great.” Mr Hughes still sounded pretty uncertain. “Um, the Sewing Club are going to be organizing most of the fittings during rehearsals. Maybe you should talk to Miss Cotterill about joining them for their meetings.”

“Of course!” I kept my smile fixed, even though Miss Cotterill was about a hundred and eighty and I suspected that Sewing Club would consist of four Year Sevens trying to learn to thread their needles. 

“Well, I’d better get to class. Thanks, Mr Hughes!”

“OK. Um, first proper rehearsal is on Friday. See you there?”

“Wouldn’t miss it.” I paused. “There’s no Drama Club after school today, then?” When we were working on a play, we often had rehearsals twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. 

“No, just... Well, just a read through for the main parts, actually.”

The smile grew painful at this point. I’d never really noticed, but not everyone was there for all the rehearsals. Just the people who were needed. I’d always been needed before.

“Of course. That makes sense. Bye, Mr Hughes.” 

I had to get out of there and vent, somewhere people couldn’t see. But as I turned towards the door, Mr Hughes stopped me. 

“Wait, Grace.” When I looked back, he was standing, studying me, like he was weighing up his options. Finally, he said, “I haven’t actually cast the understudies for the lead roles yet. If you wanted, I might be persuaded to find time for one more audition.”

Yes! I loved it when a plan came together. “That would be brilliant, Mr Hughes. Do you have time now?” Understudy wasn’t the lead, but it was a chance to show him – and Connor – what I could do. 

He checked his watch. “I have a few moments. Tell you what...” He reached behind him and grabbed two scripts from the desk. “Why don’t you and Connor have a go at a Beatrice and Benedick scene together? I’d like to hear what you make of the exchange on page six.”

Connor didn’t look too pleased at the prospect but he didn’t say anything. Annoyance bubbled up in me. Did he really dislike me so much on one meeting that he couldn’t even read a few pages without being miserable about it? Or was he still convinced that I was too much of a diva to understudy? Either way, I needed to change his mind if I ever wanted to win back my lead role. 

I needed to truly rock this audition.

I flicked to page six and scanned through the text. It was Beatrice and Benedick’s first meeting in the play, and perfect for showing off my biting banter. I grinned to myself and looked up to find Connor’s glare turned on me.

“Start from ‘I wonder that you will still be talking’?” I asked, and Mr Hughes nodded.I took a breath, trying to think myself into Beatrice’s head. A woman mocking a guy who was cute but annoying. I glanced at Connor. That should be easy enough. 

As long as I could get my tongue around the language. Shakespeare was worse than Jasper. Still, at least I had the advantage of having watched plenty of video clips and listened to it spoken. I bet Connor hadn’t even read the script yet. This was going to be far harder on him than me. 

“I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick: nobody marks you,” I read, trying to inject plenty of disinterest into the words. Then I watched Connor, waiting for the comeback. 

“What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?” 

I couldn’t tell if the absolute dislike in Connor’s voice was acting or not. I decided it didn’t matter. So what if he hated me? I had the audition I wanted. As long as Mr Hughes cast me as Violet’s understudy it was only a short step to the lead. Sooner or later it would become clear to everyone that Violet simply couldn’t do the part justice. 

I’d expected Connor to trip over the words but he didn’t, which was even more annoying. Why did he have to be good at this, when he obviously didn’t even care about it? In fact, he barely glanced down at the script before giving each line, every one with the same distaste and mockery that Benedick’s words should have. Was it just acting? 

We read to the end of the scene, Connor flipping his script closed before I’d even finished my last line. He tossed it back on to the desk but I clung to mine, waiting to hear Mr Hughes’s comments. This might not matter to Connor, but it sure did to me.

“What do you think, Connor?” Mr Hughes asked. He was smiling, which I took as a good sign. 

Connor shrugged. “She’s OK.” 

“Such praise,” I muttered. “Really, stop, you’re embarrassing me.”

Mr Hughes laughed. “Oh, I can see it’s going to be fun working with you two this year. OK, Grace, you win. That was great; you can understudy Violet for the role of Beatrice.”

I let out a little squeak of excitement, but Connor just rolled his eyes. 

Mr Hughes obviously caught the movement, because he turned to his stepson and said, “And I’m considering roping you in as understudy for the role of Benedick, actually. That was really good, Connor.”

“It’s just words.” Connor got to his feet. “I’m more use to you backstage, trust me.” 

I clenched my jaw. Just words? What was he even doing helping out with the play if that was how he felt about it?

Mr Hughes laughed again. “Such appreciation of our literary heritage.” He shook his head. “Go on, you two. I’m sure you’re supposed to be somewhere else by now – and I have to cover a class in the English department.”

“I’ve got a study period,” I admitted. “But actually, I might go and see Miss Cotterill first. Sort out the Sewing Club side of things.” I didn’t want him thinking I was going back on our agreement. I knew I’d only been given the chance to audition because I’d given him something first.

“Good plan.” Mr Hughes was looking very pleased with himself, as if he had somehow single-handedly rehabilitated my entire character by denying me the lead in a play. Honestly. Teachers. 

 

 

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