The next morning I woke and did my usual routine. I did the mirror exercises, but like the past few days I couldn't get into that state of mind where I lost myself. My reflection stared back at me, her face neutral but her mind buzzing.
This shouldn't have been happening. Even if I was stressed it didn't matter; an actor should always be able to get into neutral, no exceptions.
Damn it. I rubbed my face and took a deep breath. Then I straightened up and left the room to get ready for school.
I ate the leftover stir-fry for breakfast and walked to school. Before I left I could hear Gabe moving around his room, waiting for me to leave before he did himself. He kept to himself so much that I barely saw him anymore. Sometimes I forgot I had a brother.
Like normal, I worked out and showered, went to math class, where Caitlyn was barraging Ms. Yakamovsky with questions (as expected), and went to history where Lizzy complained about anything new we learnt just because it was new, and Byron asked me how math went, probably to see if I'd talk about Caitlyn.
All very average.
French was the same deal, except Valentina tried to spur a conversation with me what seemed like every five minutes. I persisted in ignoring her, but I began to feel that she was doing this more to annoy me rather than to become my friend.
Then the clock struck twelve and it was time for rehearsal. The script was pretty much down. By the end of this week—if I stayed in show that long—I'd have it memorized without a hiccough.
When I arrived I ate my lunch and listened to Woods arguing with Lizzy over the ethics of calling a teacher 'hot'. Caitlyn and Byron whispered to each other in the corner. Were they flirting? Had they already started going out? It was like I didn't notice anything anymore, even within my own friend group.
My eyes drifted across the room until they set on the front row of seats.
She wasn't there today. She'd left her loner hideout and was in the middle seats. I had to turn around to see her talking to Isabella and some other seniors I knew but didn't hang out with, a few girls with minor roles—their names were Heather and Yasmine, I remembered.
Did Ashanti really think I had a shot at that scholarship? It would be a miracle if I got it, not only because it would catapult me into the acting industry, but also because I'd be able to get away from everything haunting me in Charlottetown—including my parents.
Don't get me wrong, I loved them to death, but it would be nice to not worry about what they were thinking all the time. The problem was what they'd think if I did go to an acting school, no matter how prestigious it was. If I wanted to apply I'd have to ask them soon, maybe tonight, to sign it and fax the application to Toronto. If I wanted this to happen, I'd have to bust my ass to get it done in time.
In the process, though, I'd put my secret in danger; if I was so intent on my studies and I just wanted acting to be a hobby, why would I go to an acting school instead of pursuing the academics? Even I could see that it didn't add up, and their blind trust of me would only go so far.
If I was in some other province where the legal age was eighteen, I'd be fine; I was a year older than most seniors in my year. But I wouldn't be turning nineteen (the age of majority in PEI) for another month. By that time, the deadline for the scholarship would be long since past.
"Daphne?" Mr. O called. My head snapped up to my teacher waving me towards the stage. I left my script on my seat and went up. Ashanti walked over as well.
Once I was in front of him he asked, "Do you want to get up onstage today? You've got this memorized, right?"
"I—" I hesitated. Ashanti was barely a foot away and leaning towards the stairs, eager to to start. She knew I'd be lying if I said I hadn't. But my heart was pounding, and not in the good, giddy way it did before a performance. I was terrified. "Yes, I do. You really want to start this early?"
"Of course. I'm getting bored sitting here and talking to this kid all day," he said, pointing a thumb to Carly, the co-director. She crossed her arms swivelled her chair around so that her back faced him.
"Well, I'm ready." Ashanti looked at me expectantly and I bit my lip. She knew I should be ready as well, seeing as we'd practiced it the night before, and I didn't want to look bad in front of her. She'd offered to introduce me to Alexander Halenchuk. Would she have second thoughts if I couldn't even go onstage? How could I tell her that this had never happened before, that it was just because this script reminded me of all the reasons I hated myself?
But my mouth seemed to move on its own. "Sure. Let's go."
I could feel my pulse shaking me as I went up the stairs, hyperaware of how close Ashanti was behind me. Her finger brushed my side as she passed me to stand on my right. I shivered.
"I'd like to see Act 3 Scene 2. Cue them in, Carly?"
"Got it. Start at 'you came back'."
Ashanti winked at me. Why did she always do that? It drove me insane.
"You came back," she said.
I knew the line. "Of course I came back. Do you really think I'd leave you behind?" I was sure I'd said it word for word, but it sounded off—forced. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Mr. O whisper something to Carly. I gulped and forced myself not to look.
"But you can't..." she paused, taking a moment to look around, as if something was out there, waiting to jump out at us. She took a step closer. "No, you have to go. They'll be back any second now. Please, Glory—if Doctor Infamous gets her hands on you—"
"I'm not leaving, Ms. Hopkins."
"Stop, stop," Mr. O said. Ashanti looked away from me. "Feeling tight today, Daphne?"
"A bit," I said.
"Alright. Let's try this again, but go slower and don't force it. Ashanti, give Daphne a few seconds in neutral before you start again."
She nodded and I closed my eyes, trying hard to get into neutral. Normally I could be there just seconds after I closed my eyes, like clay ready to be moulded into a new character, but today it wasn't happening. I was taking too long, wasn't I? Ashanti would be waiting.
I opened my eyes.
"You came back," she started again.
"Of course I came back," I said. "Do you really think I'd leave you behind?"
She shook her head and her braids, which were down at her sides today, swayed. Her earrings dangled. I swallowed. "But you can't. Please, you have to go. They'll be back any second now, Glory—if Doctor Infamous gets her hands on you..." this time she stepped forward and took my hands. I took in a sharp breath, trying to remember my line.
"I-I'm not leaving, Ms. Hopkins."
"Stop!" Mr. O called.
I let go of Ashanti's hands immediately. Mr. O studied me as he ate his lunch, his eyes narrowing behind his glasses.
"Daphne, you have to remember..." Even when Mr. O spoke he took dramatic pauses. You couldn't miss a word he said. "...that Glory Girl is in love with Hillary Hopkins. Hillary has... shown her that she can trust people, something she's been having trouble with her whole life. Now, when Ashanti plays Hillary, she damn disappears. I have no problem believing that she is irrevocably in love with you on that stage. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Ashanti is straight too, so she has about as much experience loving girls as you do."
Ashanti looked at her feet and smiled. "Actually, Mr. O, I am gay. You stand corrected."
Mr. O looked at her over his glasses and shrugged. "I guess I do." Carly laughed at the director, and Ashanti had said it loud enough that people were staring now. She stood there, not embarrassed at all, just as poised and elegant as she always was. How could she stay so calm while they looked at her? How could she be—was it really true? I never would have thought—
"Daphne," Mr. O continued, but his voice receded, growing fainter and fainter as I stared at Ashanti. "Sometimes you need real life experience to understand how to act when you become a character, because if you have no way of identifying with what that character is going through, there is no way that you can understand why they do what they do. Ashanti has an advantage in this case. She understands from her own life experiences, what it's like to be this character."
A sprout of envy wriggled out of the depths of my brain, making my eye twitch. I thought I was done being jealous of her.
"Now, I knew this role would be hard for you because of that, but even if you do find it difficult you have to try to step out of your own shoes and move into those of Glory Girl."
That wasn't the problem. Did he think that I was an idiot? Did he think that I couldn't smash this role left right and center if I really wanted to?
"You might have to ask Ashanti for advice on how to play this character," he said. My fingers curled into fists. "Would you be okay with that, Ashanti?"
I cut her off. "But I'm gay too!"
Silence. Everybody stared at me.
Did I just say that? Did I really just say that? Shit.
Why the fuck did I do that? I didn't mean to—fuck. Oh no.
Lizzy and Woods weren't fighting anymore. They gawked at me wide eyed. Caitlyn and Byron did the same. I felt like some sort of zoo animal, like I a freak.
Valentina, sat in the booth and had the biggest smile on her face, and Mr. O raised his eyebrows as the beating of my heart took over and I felt the walls of my throat were getting closer together. I couldn't speak.
"Daphne?" Ashanti whispered. She touched my arm and I looked at her. Her brows were knit with concern. "Are you alright?"
I opened my mouth to respond but nothing came out. My eyes watered.
"Daphne, come down here. I want to talk to you in the booth," Mr. O said.
Relief flooded through me and I hurried off. Every pair of eyes in the theatre followed me as I went with Mr. O into the booth at the top of the slope. He shooed Valentina away and she left reluctantly. Then he closed the door. The room was sound proof, so nobody could hear the first sob escape my throat when the tears began spilling.
He sat me down and handed me a tissue.
"Daphne, was that the first time you've told anyone?"
I nodded. It was like being in some twisted nightmare.
"You seem really upset by it. You know that you're safe in here, right? had lots of gay actors—"
"I-It's not here I'm worried about."
"Is something happening at home I should know about?"
I hesitated. There wasn't. Not yet, at least. "It's just that... I told my parents I quit show because I didn't want them to know. If they found out I was—"
I couldn't even say it out loud. I was pathetic. I looked around the room at anywhere but him, at the posters of past plays, the stacks of old scripts, and the wires snaking around the floor from the light board.
"You don't think they'd be okay with it?"
I shook my head. "Not at all. That's why I've been considering... well, quitting. I don't want to make things worse than they have to be. I-If they found out I was lying to them... it's not because I don't want to do it! I really really do, Mr. O. This is my home. I look forward to this all year and I was so happy to get this part but—but—why did you have to make her gay? Everyone would have been happy if she was straight."
"I didn't think it would be such a problem. I can't change it now." He sighed. "When I wrote this script I thought it would be good for our division to show some diversity. As much as I love straight white male protagonists there are just too many of them, and I've seen so many kids who don't fit that description suffer from it. I wanted to make some room for them onstage, maybe encourage other schools to do the same.
"I'm sorry, Daphne, I really am, but I can't say I'm sorry for putting on this show."
I shook. "I wasn't asking you to choose a different one. I'm just feeling sorry for myself."
"Good. Are you going to stay, then, or should I find another Glory Girl? Your parents don't usually get involved in the school productions. I'm not telling you that it's right to lie. I'm just saying... if you had to, it could work."
I stared at him. Only Mr. O would say something like that. He was an old man; the only reason he taught was for the fun of it, and if that meant working on my side to make sure my parents didn't find out, then I knew he was serious.
Besides, he was right. Would Mom and Dad really guess that I was secretly in the play? Why, without knowing my reasoning behind it, would they think I was a liar? They trusted me, and it would be easy to come up with an excuse to go to the dress rehearsal, the only practice outside of school hours. They didn't come home during lunch either, so they wouldn't notice that I didn't come home as early as I normally did. Hypothetically speaking, it wouldn't be difficult.
It was just that small, 'what if' that bugged me. If they did find out, I knew it would be bad. They weren't stupid. They would find out why I kept it a secret from them.
I rubbed my knuckle. "Maybe. I'm going to have to think about it."
"I need to know by Friday at the latest. Now go get a drink of water and calm down, alright? You only get to cry once in my theatre."
I wiped my eyes and sniffled. "But you weren't the one that made me cry."
I smiled and got up, throwing the tissue out before I reached the door. Outside, most of the theatre had gone back to talking or practicing their scripts. My friends, however, were another story. I opened the door of the booth and shut it behind me, pushing open the heavy metal double doors of the theatre to go out. The halls bustled with people. The so-called 'Back Kids' sat against the wall and others congregated in circles by the back doors. I wiped my nose with my sleeve and walked with my head low into the adjacent hall towards the water fountain.
I took my time getting there and back, even taking a moment to sit down on a window well bench and take deep breaths before opening my eyes again. This was crazy, truly and utterly crazy. I never thought about what it would be like to come out because I'd always been so preoccupied with keeping it hidden. Now that I was out in the open I felt like I was walking through a dream where I came to school naked.
Looking around me, at the familiar faces I couldn't put names to, I tried to tell myself that it wasn't like that at all, that people wouldn't care, but I couldn't help but worry that I was wrong.
I got off the bench and started down the hall back to the theatre, flash backs of me saying those words playing repeatedly in my head. When I reached the theatre doors I paused and took a deep breath. Then, as I exhaled I pushed it open and Lizzy and Caitlyn nearly bowled me over.
"Why didn't you tell us?" Caitlyn demanded. She grabbed my face, squishing my cheeks together and shaking me. I tried to find a way out, but Caitlyn was determined.
"Now I know why you couldn't do the script because—" Lizzy started
I wriggled free and shook my head, at what, I didn't know, but I just knew that I didn't want to have this conversation. No, not even with them.
Luckily, I didn't have to.
Ashanti appeared out of nowhere and leaned on the corner of the booth. "Give the girl a break, will you? It's like you've never seen a lesbian before."
"O-Oh!" Caitlyn jumped and turned around, blushing at the sight of her. She had that effect on people. "I didn't see you there, Ashanti."
"I just came over to ask Daphne something. Do you mind?"
She asked it politely enough, but Lizzy got the message. She took Caitlyn's arm and pulled her aside, who protested for a second before Lizzy whispered in her ear. Caitlyn made an 'o' with her mouth and giggled. I clenched my jaw as Ashanti approached. Seriously? What could she possibly want to ask?
"Do you want to come over to my house to practice the script again? It was fun last time."
I blinked at her. Then after a few seconds of staring I finally answered. "Um, sure."
"Cool. When are you off work?"
"Tomorrow. Same time."
"That's fine by me. See you there." She winked. I blushed. She turned around and walked down the slope to the bottom of the room and I watched her all the way down.
I looked at the clock. There wasn't much time before I had to go to work, so I walked down and got my stuff, avoiding Wood's curious gaze and Byron's gaping mouth. Why couldn't they all stop looking at me? I'd never had stage fright before, but I think this is what it would feel like.
Before the girls could berate me with more questions the bell rang and I hurried out, speed walked to my house, and started my car right away. Now that I had show I had to hurry to the Y to get there on time.
Once I arrived I parked my car in its usual spot and took a deep breath. Walking in felt strange, like someone should be looking at me, and I reminded myself that nobody knew. I had to stop being so paranoid. All throughout work, though, it was like the world had shifted colour and I was the only one who noticed.
That night I found the Hurdu scholarship and scrolled through the page. I had other things to do, but I wouldn't be able to focus on homework.
Auditions had already begun, but the last call was on June 9th. My heart sunk. That was the day of my provincial math exam. I knew because Ms. Yakamovsky had been counting down since the start of the semester. It drove Caitlyn crazy.
I dropped my head into my hands and closed the lid of my laptop.
Well, on the bright side I could tell my parents the truth. I'd sign up for whatever college they thought fit and that would be that. What more did I expect? I probably wouldn't have gotten the scholarship even if I had the chance to audition.
I went to bed listening to The Pulp Fictionals, but even they didn't help me fall asleep that night.