The fact that I'm a lesbian isn't the most important thing about me. In fact, I want to assure you that this story isn't going to be about me being a flaming queer and finding a girlfriend and no, it won't have a steamy sex scene. Nor will I go to a pride parade, start roller derby, cut my hair, get a rainbow tattoo, or really do anything else that screams I'm homosexual. The fact that I'm homosexual is the conflict in this story, nothing more. I just wish my family saw things the same way.
If they knew what I was, I would become this big, walking, talking lesbian—nothing more. I would walk into the room and they'd think, abomination, disgusting, I can't believe I birthed that. So you see, I don't hide because I'm ashamed, but because it would be detrimental to my career if it let slip that there was this one little thing about me that was a bit different. It was remarkable how something so small could get me kicked out of the house, and the streets just aren't a good place to study for finals.
So I would just hide my abnormality. It wasn't a big deal or anything. I'd been doing it ever since I realized it was there in the first place.
The thing that was important about me, however, was this; the theatre. Everything about it enthralled me; the smell of cushioned seats and the dust hanging off the curtain, the low chatter of actors, the creak of chairs, the dim lights warming my skin, the stage waiting to take me in and whisk me away to a different world. When I stepped up there my heart pounded. It happened each and every time, no matter how many shows I'd performed in, no matter how many monologues I'd used in auditions, my heart never slowed down. That was the thrill that I lived for. So I had to forget about everything that happened the day before and focus. Focus. Because if I didn't, someone else was going to get the lead role in this play, and that was the last thing I wanted.
Woods wasn't making it easy.
"Her name was Valentina I think. You know Trisha in grade eleven? No, the white one. Well, she saw the ambulance take her away. Trisha's mom talked to her aunt and apparently she tried to kill herself in the bathtub."
Lizzy, who was sitting beside me, slapped a hand over her mouth and stared, wide eyed, at Woods. "That's horrible!"
"How horrible must your life be that you try to drown yourself in your own bathtub?" Byron said. He looked at me, and I kept my face calm. "Wait a second, don't you live on the same street as Trisha?"
"Yeah, but I was making dinner when it happened. Trisha saw the exact same thing I did: an ambulance, a bunch of paramedics, and the girl." Well, I saw the exact same thing Trisha did, if you took out Valentina herself, lying naked on the bathroom floor close to death.
Byron shrugged just as a Korean girl with green dip dye hair slid into the seat next to me. "We haven't started yet, have we?" she asked.
"Naw. Mr. O is still doing attendance," Byron said, stretching a bit too casually as she turned to look at him. He was muscular and dark skinned, with full lips and a face that looked like it was carved by Michael Angelo. All the girls said he was exceptionally attractive. Personally, I didn't see the appeal.
Caitlyn ran a hand through her hair and bit her lip. "I was just asking Ms. Yakamovsky about question five on the homework. Oh, I still don't get it. But she said it probably won't be on the test so I shouldn't worry about it. But what if it's on the exam! She knows I have to get at least a 98 to get that scholarship. Woods, it isn't funny!"
But Woods, a portly white boy with a skin problem didn't stop laughing. Lizzy slapped him on the shoulder.
Watching them, I knew exactly what sort of roles they were going to get. Woods would be cast as the father type, Byron as the love interest, Lizzy as the bubbly, blond best friend, and Caitlyn as the technician, or any other character who was too smart for their own good.
And me? I smiled to myself. I was the one under the spotlight. I was the hero.
Caitlyn nudged my side and pointed to the other end of the room. I followed her finger and locked eyes upon a girl on her phone. She was tall, with dark brown skin, a pretty face, and a plethora of black braids pulled back into an elegant knot. Pearl earrings dangled from her earlobes as she moved her head to the side, smirking at something on her phone.
"What about her?" I whispered.
"Do you like her?" Caitlyn asked.
"Like who?" Lizzy asked, leaning her head in between us. I nodded towards the girl, and Lizzy laughed under her breath. "Oh, that's Ashanti. She's in my hair styling class."
"She's pretty," Byron said.
"I know," said Lizzy.
Woods eyed her with his head tilted to the side. "Pretty, sure, but a bit snooty. I heard she went to a drama high school in Toronto and got all the lead roles. I wonder why she'd move here?"
I narrowed my eyes at her, and as if she could sense me staring, her eyes flicked up and locked with mine. She smiled, eyebrows lowering dangerously, and waved at me.
"Did you see that?" Woods pushed my shoulder.
"Of course she saw it, bone head!" Caitlyn hissed.
They were about to start arguing, I could tell, but Mr. O tapped the table in front of the stage and they were forced to fall silent. Ashanti turned off her phone and crossed her legs, directing her full attention at the director, and I gave her a quick survey before doing the same. She was professional looking, wearing a light pink blouse that fit her perfectly, cream coloured pants, and ballet flats that, when I observed closer, were stage shoes. She'd come prepared.
I turned my attention to Mr. O.
"Alright, actors," he said. The old man's voice boomed throughout the theatre. He said everything as if he'd planned it out before. There was no waver of hesitation in his voice as he spoke to us. "Thank you all for coming out tonight for the audition of this year's spring production. First off, for all of those here who are in this theatre for the first time, don't panic. I don't bite, at least not when there's already something in my stomach."
There was a smattering of laughter. Mr. O must have sensed that I didn't join in, because he looked at me and grinned as he said, "I see a lot of familiar faces—" He looked away. "—and a lot of newcomers as well." He looked pointedly at Ashanti and she smiled. "But whoever you are, welcome. Now get on my stage."
I rose from my seat and climbed the stairs up to the black top of the stage in an instant. The only one there before me was Ashanti, who walked gracefully to center stage , checked the alignment of her feet, and went into neutral position, letting her head drop to her chest and closing her eyes. I took a deep breath and stood beside her, closed my eyes, and exhaled.
Just forget about everything, Daphne. Don't look at her, don't think about Valentina, just focus. This is your time. Clear your mind. You are clay.
"We'll start with warm ups," Mr. O said. His voice echoed distantly in the back of my mind. The music began, the same song I'd been doing warm ups to for the past four years. I opened my eyes, training them straight ahead, and let my arms glide up above my head. As I did I breathed in through my nose. As my arms fell slowly back to my sides I exhaled through my mouth. My heart calmed. I barely noticed Ashanti doing the same moves beside me. Barely.
The warm ups were second nature to me, but Mr. O led the rest of the actors through who were new to the stage, giving directions like, "Balance position", "Lunge position", "Hold", and "Keep your hips parallel to the stage". It was all second nature to me.
Once the song ended, people began to move around, and Mr. O said, "Everybody off, except for Daphne, Woods, and Byron."
I smiled. Ashanti glided off the stage and took her seat by the stairs again. Peeling my eyes away from her, I went to the edge of the stage, bent down, and retrieved a script from the co-director, a grade eleven girl named Carly.
"Good luck," she said, winking.
"Audience, please!" Mr. O shouted. Any whispers died down. "Now, Daphne, you're going to be reading for Glory Girl. No actions will be necessary, just show me what you've got with your voice. Woods, same thing, but you're going to be playing the role of Mr. Gregory, and you, Byron, with be reading for The Remarkable Racer. All good? Whenever you're ready."
As he talked I'd been reading through my lines, a grin spreading slowly across my face. So it was about superheroes, was it?
Mr. Gregory had the first line. "That's right! He came out of nowhere, grabbed Mr. Fluffy, and disappeared just as fast. It was like magic."
"You know," I said, projecting to the very back of the stage. "I've dealt with cats running up trees, but this is the first catnapper I've come across, since— well, since Dubai. You remember that, Racer?"
"Oh, believe me, I remember. I had hives for a month. A great way to find out I'm allergic, eh?"
The audience gave a scattered laugh.
"Well, I assure you, Mr. Fluffy is about as nice as can be," Mr. Gregory said. "I know you must be busy, but if you could get him back for me..." Woods covered his eyes and his shoulders began to shake. "I-I'm sorry. I-It's just that he's all I have left."
"I assure you, Mr. Gregory," I said, and lowering my voice to a husky whisper, I looked to the audience dramatically. There were more laughs. "We will find that cat... if it's the last thing we do."
"Aaaaand scene!" Mr. O called. The audience gave a smattering of applause and I broke character, beaming at Caitlyn and Lizzy whooping in the corner. "Alright, get off my stage, you three."
I bounced off. The skit was short, but Lizzy and Caitlyn were crying from laughter.
"I loved the blue steel at the end, Daph. It really killed it!" Lizzy said.
"Lizzy, Caitlyn, Isabella, yoooou're up!" Mr. O called. Lizzy clapped her hands and the two girls raced each other up on stage. I smiled.
The two did a skit with different characters, some group of bad guys. Lizzy's normal cutesy demeanor changed to sexy cat woman in a second, and Caitlyn's faint accent turned British instead. Isabella was some sort of reporter, asking them questions about Glory Girl and The Remarkable Racer.
I clapped lightly once they were finished, but Mr. O kept the two on stage and replaced Isabella with none other than Ashanti. Isabella passed the script to her on the way down, Ashanti glanced at it briefly, and as she did the same lines louder, more confidently, and all together better than Isabella, she didn't look at it once.
"She's good," Woods whispered once they were done.
He was right. Even from a few lines I could tell that she had stage presence, one comparable with any of us, if not more powerful than Lizzy's and Caitlyn's.
I should have done my lines better. I should have stood up straighter and memorized the lines before I read them, like she did. If she thought she could flounce in here and take my spot then she had another thing coming.
But Mr. O wasn't giving me a chance to show that. Twenty minutes, then an hour of auditions passed and my seat grew warm from me sitting on it for so long. Ashanti on the other hand was barely getting breaks in between her turns on stage. She just kept going up, playing Glory Girl, then the reporter, then the villain, bouncing between roles and doing each of them flawlessly. I tried to find something she was doing wrong. Was she looking in the right position? Was she at a forty five degree angle to the stage? Was she using too much head movement? Nothing. With every word that slipped off the tip of her tongue my foot jiggled a bit faster.
Not only that, but when I looked around me people were laughing at mediocre lines that she'd made funny. That was my job.
It was getting later into the night and everyone had gone on stage at least twice except for me. But finally, at 7:00, Mr. O called me up.
He grinned at me as I came towards him, holding out a single page script that hadn't been read before; a monologue. He winked and I snatched the page out of his grasp. Carly bit back a laugh, tapping a pen on the side of her finger.
I crossed to the other side of the room, right by Ashanti, before going up the stairs.
"Good luck," she said, giving me a sly smile.
My hair whipped to the side as I turned my head. I read through the lines at lightning speed, absorbing every word and deciding how I'd say this line, where I'd pause, when I'd hip shift, so that by the time I was under the light, its beams warming my face and making the dust moats in the air twinkle, I knew what I was going to do.
"Audience, please," Mr. O called. I closed my eyes and went into neutral position. Focus. "Whenever you're ready."
I took my time coming out of neutral, taking a few more breaths before I opened my eyes to the audience. They waited patiently, and I could feel the silence dragging them, luring them in.
"I know some people wouldn't like it. I know I might..." I sighed. "Lose some support from the people of Metropolis, but I can't deny it anymore. Sometimes life throws things at you that you're just supposed to take, like those eyes, and that strong grip pulling me back to my feet when I'm down." My eyes fell to the floor and I laughed softly, my voice losing some of its force as I said the next lines. In the silence all I could hear was every heart in the room beating at a slow rhythm. "Love is like that. It takes you in and it spits you out helpless and vulnerable... and you know that, and you still want them, want to hold them. Because when you're there in their arms you feel like you could do anything."
I looked around at the audience, feeling it so strongly, their gazes upon me, their full attention rooted on the single tear rolling slowly down my cheek as I said the last line. "I can't lose that."
I bowed my head, and for a second there was silence. Then, clapping, and a bit more than smattering too. I bit the smile away and looked up, wiped my cheek dramatically, and bowed with a flourish of the script. Maybe the tear was a bit much, but you know what they say, it's easier for a director to work your intensity down than it is to work it up. Mr. O smirked, looking over his glasses at me. I pranced down and handed the paper back to him. I almost returned to my seat, but Mr. O stopped me with another script. I looked down at it and smiled, running back onstage.
This would be one of the last chances I had to show what I had. It was nearly 7:30 and time to go, and it looked like I was going to be the last one on stage. Once I got up I looked it over, frowning. There were two parts. One was Glory Girl and one was Hillary Hopkins, the journalist in some of the other skits. I squinted into the audience, looking for another actress walking towards the stage, but everybody stayed seated.
"Right here," a silky voice said to my right. It was already familiar to me. Ashanti glided onto the stage, strutting like a model on a runway. I stood up a bit taller and raised a brow at Mr. O. He grinned, whispered something to Carly, and laced his fingers to make a canopy on which he rested his prickly chin. He looked like a kid on Christmas.
"Daphne, read for Glory Girl. Ashanti, I want you to be Hillary Hopkins. Show me what you've got."
Ashanti smiled at me and mouthed, "When you're ready."
I nodded, went into neutral, took a deep breath and opened my eyes, looking at my line. "Miss. Hopkins, please don't tell anyone."
Ashanti pressed a finger to her full lips and smiled. "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."
I raised my hands, eyebrows pulling together in frustration. "But you can't! Don't you get it? If anyone found out—"
Hopkins interrupted me, "If anyone found out they'd probably burn you at the stake, blah, blah, blah. Puh-lease. Do you really think I'd do something that I know would hurt you?"
"Of course you would!" I yelled. I threw my arm wide, gesturing to the audience. "You've done it before! This whole damn city is afraid of what you know about them, because you know something about everyone." I lowered my hand and looked straight into her eyes. She scowled at me, and I knew she could feel the hatred boiling off my skin. She sneered, looking like a cheetah ready to pounce.
She stepped closer and I stood taller. "Alright, you've got some brains to pair with that brawn, Glory. Let's see what you can do with this; in twenty minutes a gang called the Crystal Devils are going to make an open sacrifice of three hundred cats that have you have been trying to find, without any results, for the past week. Right now, if you flew over there, you'd be able to stop them, but I'm not sure you will."
We were close now, just a foot away. "And why is that, Ms. Hopkins?"
"Because you're afraid to leave me alone for one second." She spat the last words out like they were poison, and I stepped back, seething.
Hopkins whipped around, her braids fanning out."All you super heroes are the same. You act pretty for the camera, save a few kids from burning buildings, but as soon as doing the right thing means putting your neck on the line you chicken out."
I paused, and I could feel it again, everyone out there being sucked in like a vacuum. She could feel it as well. I could tell.
After what seemed like a lifetime, I looked up to her. "Fine. Publish your story. Do whatever. But I'm not who you think I am. Glory Girl is no chicken."
The theatre burst into applause. Ashanti turned around, blinking confusedly. I knew how she felt, half in character, half not. Then we looked at each other. She smiled. My heart stuttered. I tore my eyes from hers and moved to leave the stage.
"Wait! Just one second. Stand beside each other."
I did as I was told, standing a foot away from Ashanti on stage. She stood up tall, and I noticed we were the same height, although she was a bit thinner than I was. I watched Mr. O as he whispered to Carly. She tapped her pen. Tap, tap, tap. I could imagine him saying, 'But which one?'.
Me! I wanted to scream. Pick me!
Carly nodded to Mr. O and he beamed. He adjusted his spectacles and smiled up at us. "Thank you, ladies. You may be excused. Have a nice night everyone!"
Chairs creaked as everybody got up and I moved to the side to leave as well but a hand caught me. I looked back, and there was Ashanti, smile as white as a Crest commercial and lashes long and feathery.
"You were really good tonight," she said.
"Um, thanks. You too."
She let go of me and turned. Her braids swayed side to side. "Well, I can't wait to work with you. Sleep well."
She flounced off and I watched her leave. By the time I'd walked off the stage the house lights were on and blinding me.
"Want a ride home, Daphne?" Woods asked, handing me my back pack.
"That's okay. I live real close."
He saluted me. "Alright then, Glory Girl. Have a nice night."
Byron waved goodbye to me and I walked out with Caitlyn and Lizzy, eventually splitting off from them once I left the school.
My house was just a hop, skip and a jump away. The night was cool and dark, street lamps leaving pools of light every few feet where bugs danced and buzzed. I sighed and closed my eyes as I walked.
Would I make it? What if I wasn't Glory Girl after all? What if Ashanti beat me?
When I got home Alex was on the front porch, locking the door behind her with the five pugs on their leashes. A bundle of doggy bags were stuffed in her pocket.
I slowed down and checked our front window. The curtains were drawn, and even if someone opened them up, it would be too dark outside to see me clearly. I passed my door and crossed onto their side of the lawn. When Alex turned she jumped.
"Oh, it's just you! You walk like a ghost."
I laughed quietly. "Stage feet. I wanted to ask you how Valentina is doing."
"Oh. Better. Much, much better. You really saved our asses back there, Daphne."
I shrugged. "That's my job."
"Is there anything I could do for you? Anything at all?"
"No. In fact, I'd prefer if you didn't. I don't want my parents to find out I was involved in this. You know how they are."
"Oh... right, of course."
I felt bad, and I really wanted to say something to assure her that I wasn't the same way, but it wouldn't come out of my mouth. "So is Valentina going to go to my school?"
"When she's out of the hospital, yes. She was bullied a lot at her old school, so Gwen's sister thought it would be a good idea for her to spend some time with us. We just didn't think it was this bad to be honest." The pugs were pulling on their leashes, their big eyes bugging out of either side of the face. "I'd better get going. But listen, Daphne, if you ever need someone to talk to, you know where to find me. I won't tell your parents."
"Sure," I said. I shifted my feet nervously. It was such an odd thing to say out of the blue. Did she know something?
Alex smiled sadly and left her house. I went to my respective side and unlocked the door. Inside it smelled delicious. Plates clinked on forks and knives as Mom busied herself in the kitchen.
"Pinakbet and adobo. How does that sound, Daphy?"
I smiled at the nick name and pulled off my shoes. "Sounds great, Nanay. How was your day?" Before walking into the kitchen I put on my house slippers and took my hair out of its pony tail. Like Mom's it was silky and black, but mine was longer. It fell in heavy waves down my shoulders. When I entered the kitchen it was empty except for her.
"Where are the guys?" I asked.
"Tatay is looking for your brother. He's with his friends again. That boy..."
"I thought he had tutoring tonight," I said.
"He did." She shook her head. "My day was fine. I saw that girl at the hospital with our neighbours. Apparently she tried to drown herself in their bathtub. What trouble makers. I'd drown myself too if I was living in that house."
"It's true! What a terrible environment to raise a child in," she said. "Anyway, how are you?"
I sighed. "Fine—actually, not fine."
"Why not? Baby, what's wrong?"
She brushed a hair out of my face and I sighed. "Auditions didn't go well. I think someone else got the lead."
"Pft. I doubt it."
"No, really. She's a new girl from this fancy theatre school in Toronto. She was really professional."
Mom sighed and shrugged. "Even if you don't get the biggest role in the play it won't be the end of the world. The less lines you have, the more time you'll have to study. Grade 12 is a big year after all."
Of course she would say something like that. I'd told her I wanted to go to a theatre school before, but she just forgot about it. Each time we talked about university she acted like drama was just some childhood phase I'd recently grown out of.
"I guess you're right."
Mom leaned into me and gave me a hug, wrapping her arms around my waist. I was too big to put my head on her shoulder now.