All throughout the next morning I could barely focus on the lessons. My mind was too preoccupied with my predicament, and it was only when Valentina spoke to me in French class that I was beamed back to Earth.
"You know, you never struck me as the actor type," she said. Class hadn't started yet. Madamoiselle Berry stood at the door speaking in rapid French to the teacher next door. I stared at her, surprised that she'd talked to me, even though I'd been expecting it to happen ever since she walked into class yesterday. I'm not sure what I'd expected. Something less conversational definitely, like a 'Can you pick up my pencil?' or, 'What's the verb, 'to bring' again?'. This wasn't a question. I didn't know how to respond, or even if I wanted to. I didn't want to deal with this strange, black haired, girl who should have been avoiding me like the plague.
I didn't say anything. She didn't get the picture.
"I saw the cast listings. I'm in theatre production this year, you see, so I guess that means I'll be working with you. Daphne, right?"
I nodded, jaw clenching. I felt sick and I wasn't sure why. It wasn't as though she knew anything, but it felt like she did. I was getting paranoid over nothing, over a girl who I saved and which had nothing to do with my secret.
She was staring at me, her mouth gaping open like she did as she watched Madamoiselle Berry write words on the Smart Board. I glared at her, and she continued to look, a smile tugging at the corner of her lips. My heart thumped. I tore my eyes away, and after a second she did as well. That was why she made me feel paranoid.
I tried to ignore her the rest of the class and she left me well enough alone. She didn't drop her pencil or ask me what 'amener' was and I was glad for it. The only issue was that I'd see her next period and who knew what she might say when Madamoiselle wasn't breathing down her neck to make sure she didn't speak English?
As soon as the bell rang I had my things packed and I was ready to go. I speed walked to the theatre, checking behind my shoulders to make sure that my brother wasn't behind me. I'd had to look out for him from now on, but as far as I knew his third period class was well enough out of the way that he wouldn't have any reason to come to this end of the school until sixth period. I hid in the theatre doors, sped down the descending walkway to the front row of seats, and took a seat where I knew the rest of my friends would join me.
The theatre, a mid sized room with a booth at the back and heavy, sound proof doors, slowly filled with cast members holding their brand new scripts. As I looked behind me, shrinking into my seat so that I could duck at a moments notice, I saw Isabella walking in. Somehow her blue duotang was already ripped on the edge. She had a reputation for having only the pages left by the end of the show.
Ashanti waltzed in shortly after, long, model like legs moving like a dancer's might, smooth and graceful. Her braids were down today, a twist keeping them away from her face which was clipped by a pearl barrette at the back. She didn't look up from her phone as she sat alone in the front of the theatre.
I jumped and spun around, my pulse picking up to a club music tempo. Lizzy was giggling behind me, round cheeks flushed and blond curls bouncing around her shoulders. Nothing that I hadn't expected. She jumped over the seat to sit on my right side.
"So..." She wiggled her eyebrows at me. "Were you surprised at Glorilly?"
"Yeah, their ship name! Glory and Hillary, together as a pair. If you do it the other way around it's just Hillary, which doesn't sound as good."
"You could also say Glorkins or Hopry if you were using her last name," Caitlyn said. She plopped herself down on my other side and crossed her legs.
"Glorkins? That sounds like some kind of fantasy creature. Like, Glorkins the swap giant."
It was Woods this time, all two hundred thirty pounds of him with Byron trailing behind. The second boy flashed a winning smile at Caitlyn and she grinned and ducked her head.
"What are we talking about? The fact that the crazy cat man was the gang leader all along or that Glory Girl is gay for the reporter?" Byron said. He sat behind Caitlyn and leaned in close.
"Hello! This must be the first time there's been a gay character in, like, any of Mr. O's plays. Do they even make queer characters for high school plays? Like, is that a thing?" Lizzy grabbed me by the shoulders. "Daphne, this is revolutionary!" Seeing my face her excited smile faltered. "Are you feeling alright, Daphne?"
I blinked at her. How could she tell just by looking at me that I was having a crisis? All of a sudden the other three looked at me too. Why did she have to say anything?
"Yeah, I'm fine," I said quickly.
Lizzy's brows cinched. "But I just—I get these feelings about people sometimes, like I know something is wrong."
"I'm fine," I said. It came out differently than I'd expected it to, so firm that Lizzy looked taken aback. Great, now I couldn't control my voice either? How was I going to perform like this?
Woods laughed. "No you're not. Stop it with that 'I'm fine' bullshit and tell us. It's not a big deal. Are you feeling sick? Did you eat something weird?"
"No." For fuck's sakes why did he always have to do this?
Byron nudged him in the ribs, looking at his friend like, 'what the hell are you doing', but a ghost of a smile graced his lips. I felt hot, and I could feel myself sweating under my pullover.
Woods was laughing harder now, and Byron looked as though he wasn't sure if he should or not. "Wait, wait, I know what it is. If you kiss Ashanti you're gonna catch the gay. Is that what's bothering—"
"Excuse me? What am I carrying?"
Woods turned around and I looked up to see Ashanti standing there, eyebrow raised, a look on her face that made Woods stop laughing immediately. It wasn't that she looked angry, more that she regarded him with such distaste that it was as though he had six arms and his nose was runny. She flipped her hair, wafting a gentle wave of vanilla scented perfume. Then she smiled, directing her attention at me.
"Let's practice somewhere quiet, shall we? There are lots of scenes in here that are just us. We should get to know each other better if we'll be working so closely." Her eyes drifted back to Woods and he held in his snort.
My relief was palpable. I gathered up my things and turned to look at Lizzy and Caitlyn. Lizzy gave me an apologetic look, and Caitlyn was already busy scolding Woods.
Ashanti led me to the back corner of the room where we were quite alone. No one would be able to hear us speaking except if some crew members walked out of the booth on the way down to where Mr. O sat at on a swivel chair in front of the stage.
"Act 1 scene 1, the same part we did during auditions. Are you ready?" she asked. She straightened in her chair and turned to me, eyes zooming across the page at rapid speed before she put it on her lap and looked at me. She turned into Hillary Hopkins, a look of cool, haughty indifference morphing her face.
I nodded and looked down at my line.
"Miss Hopkins, please don't tell anyone."
I remembered what she'd done before, press a finger to her lips and smile. This time she raised her brows and looked at her nails. "Hm... I don't know. To think that Glory Girl, the saviour of Metropolis, is Igor Hemford's daughter? You have to admit, that's a bit too good not to publish."
We ran through the lines once, twice, and then again. The fourth time we started I closed my script. It wasn't right, though.
"Why aren't you speaking up?" Ashanti asked after we finished the fourth round.
She cocked her head to the side and studied me. "You're tense. I thought you'd acted before, or is this your first time with a big role?"
"What? Of course not." Look at her. I bet she thought she was all that, and that I was just some maritime country bumpkin who didn't know the first thing about acting. "Are we going to run it over again or are you just going to sit there staring at me?"
I tried harder this time to clear my mind, and every once and a while I felt myself slip into that mode. I'd never had such a hard time getting there before now, and this wasn't even the scene that I was nervous about.
We must have gone through the same lines ten times before Ashanti spoke again. "Do you want to practice some more after school?"
"Sure. We could go to your house."
"No! How about your place instead? I live in a duplex and the neighbours get really mad when I practice too loud," I said. "And not today, either. I have work tonight."
"Great. My parents won't be back until later on so we'll have some time to ourselves."
"Right." The bell rang and I got up. That passed my fast. "See you tomorrow."
"See you." Ashanti got up and shuffled out of the aisle. I followed behind her and we left close together, splitting ways at the doors.
What was she planning on practicing when we were alone in her house tomorrow? I wasn't sure if I wanted to find out.
In front of my parents, however, I made sure they were quite sure. That night at dinner we ate candied yams and rice. In between bites I looked up at my parents, measuring their moods to calculate when would be the best time to drop my question. Dad looked tired from his day at work. He was the co-manager of a small firm in downtown Charlottetown, and Mom looked pretty exhausted as well. Maybe that would mean they wouldn't ask a lot of questions.
"Mom, Dad, I found a study partner for Math. She's in the IB program so she's already gone through grade twelve pre-calculus."
"That's good, Daphne. Why didn't you go into that program? You could have taken university courses this year, couldn't you?" Dad asked.
"It would have lowered my GPA."
He shrugged and took another bite of his dinner.
"What's her name?" Mom asked.
"Ashanti. We were actually planning a study session for tomorrow night, if that's alright with you. I might be late for dinner."
"It sounds like a good idea."
"Why don't you make friends like that, Gabriel?" Dad asked. My brother looked up from his plate. He'd been pushing his food around without eating it. Gabe shrugged but didn't answer.
"You wouldn't believe the rush there was today at the hospital. There were two car accidents in the morning and the patients just kept rushing in," said Mom, breaking the silence.
Dad nodded. "I heard about that. Where was it again?"
"Right near that bridge on Finch Road. At least they didn't go into the water."