I woke up feeling surprisingly refreshed.
I did my mirror exercises and for the first time in days I got there. I forgot about everything that had happened, forgot about the play, forgot about my parents, forgot my name. I let everything go and was just a body and the girl in the mirror doing the exercises was somebody different, following me as I pulled my puppet strings above her head.
It was a good start to the morning. I ate breakfast and walked to school, and once I arrived I went straight to the weight room to jog on the treadmill and do calisthenics before math.
For the first time ever Caitlyn wasn't sitting in the chair beside Yakamovsky's desk. Instead she sat in the seat beside mine, and Lizzy was there too. I sighed and shouldered my bag higher up. Would it hurt if I just left and hid until class began? But no, I couldn't ignore them forever. So I walked slowly to my desk and put my bag down.
"I don't want to talk about it," I said.
"Come on," Lizzy moaned. "I came all the way over here just so you could tell me 'I don't want to talk about it'? You can't be serious."
I hesitated, calculating in my brain. Then I sat down and crossed my fingers on my desk. "Fine. But as soon as you ask me something I don't want to answer don't get whiny when I keep my mouth shut."
"Why didn't you tell us?"
"Have you ever liked a girl?"
"Oh come on!" Caitlyn whined. I grinned. "Is it someone we know? How old were you?"
I rolled my eyes and looked aside, trying to find something in the room that I could focus on so I wouldn't have to look at them, but the only things were math posters and laminates on academic honesty. "Do you remember Lauren Griffin?"
"Her? That's so cute!" They squealed and I blushed, still looking at the quadratic formula poster.
"That was all the way back in middle school, though," Caitlyn said.
"Tell us more. Please?"
"No. That's enough for today."
Lizzy gave a little 'hmph' and smiled. "Just when I find out you have a heart I also discover that it's cold as ice. I guess you can't have everything, can you?"
The bell rang and Lizzy jumped up. "Shit, Smith is gonna flip if I'm late. See you in history, Daphne!"
I waved as she ran out the door. People started entering. Isabella looked like she'd just walked out of bed, like it was sitting outside the door, out of sight, and she'd just pulled her blanket off. She smiled at me weakly and took her seat.
Caitlyn moved out of the way for the boy who sat beside me, and once we had all sat down Yakamovsky started class. "Alrighty, gang. Remember that there's a quiz tomorrow so everybody should study hard. Do we have any questions about what's going to be on it? Yes, Caitlyn?"
Math class was pretty usual after that. In History Lizzy asked me some new questions she'd probably been thinking up all morning.
"Does it embarrass you when we talk about it?"
Byron leaned in. "Can I ask you something?"
Lizzy tried to push his head back. "She doesn't want you to ask questions!"
"It's not about her! It's about Caitlyn. You don't think that she's gay too? I never got that vibe from her but, well, I just want to make sure."
Lizzy and I looked at each other and laughed. Byron looked confused and I explained. "Instead of asking me, why don't you just ask her out already? Everybody knows that you're into her."
His big brown eyes widened even more. "Everyone? Like, even... her?"
I nodded and he leaned back in his chair, mouthing the word, 'whoa'.
After History was French class. This part I was more nervous about.
Valentina sat down a few seconds after I got there, and sure enough she said, "You know, you don't seem like the lesbian type."
"Keep your voice down," I hissed. I whipped around to look at her, nostrils flared and fist clenched. Didn't she get that this wasn't a game? "Look, I saved your live. Why don't you do me a favour and shut up. This isn't any of your business."
"Ooh. That hurts," she sneered, narrowing her eyes at me, but she did lower her voice. "You know, you have no idea how easy you have it."
My brow twitched. "You don't know a thing."
"I do, actually. You know what they did to me when they found out I was gay?" She held up her forearms, the ones mutilated with horizontal scars. "I didn't make all of these."
I stared, trying to tell if she was lying. "But that's crazy."
"Different cultures. Where I come from everyone is a homophobe." She shook her head. "I'm sure there are places in Canada that are the same way."
She was from the States? I licked my lips. "Who—who did that to you?"
"I went to an all girls Christian school. It was a few of my old friends who did this. I think they were trying to purify me or something, like I had a disease? Who knows. That was the last contact I had with them before they completely broke off from me. One of them felt sorry for me, though, so she told the principal about what had happened, and she called my parents and tried to convince them to put me into conversion therapy."
"That's horrible. Did they do it?"
"For a while, yeah."
"So if they were homophobic then why did they take you out?"
Valentina smiled and raised a brow at me. "Look who's asking all the questions now."
"Class is about to start. Just tell me."
She rolled her eyes laboriously. "Yeah, they were homophobes, but that's just because of how they were raised. They still love me." She laughed under her breath. "Sometimes it's difficult to remember that. Anyway, they saw things in a different light after a while and thought I could use a change of scenery, away from all the bullshit, you know? So here I am with my aunts, the ones my family has been pretending don't exist for the past decade. It was the first time my mom has talked to Gwen in years.
"That's why I'm telling you that you have it easy, because you really do. Here, the worst thing someone will do is call you a 'dyke' behind your back, spray paint your locker maybe, or not talk to you. Sure, it sucks, but there are some countries where you could get shot in the head for coming out like you did yesterday. All you got were a few giggles and a bunch of embarrassing questions. So why don't you stop treating it like a curse and have fun with it? Not everyone has that luxury."
As soon as she stopped talking Madamoiselle Berry walked to the board and began writing, 'Le mot de la semaine'. I took out my paper and began copying down the notes for the verb, 'faillir'.
What did she mean, 'have fun with it'? I wanted to ask Valentina, but we didn't get a chance to ourselves until Madamoiselle left us to discuss a photo.
"Qu'est ce que tu as voulu dire quand tu as dit, 't'amuse avec ça'?"
Valentina cocked her head to the side, "Um, quoi?"
I rolled my eyes and leaned in close. "'Have fun with it'. What did you mean by that?"
She grinned at me and I backed away. "Oh, I don't know. Date girls? Get laid? Hey, what the hell is plus-que-parfait?"
Still blushing, I leaned over to look at her sheet and pointed to the first example. "It describes an action in the past that happened before another action in the past. This one translates to 'I had already walked to school when I remembered that I didn't put my pants on'. Plus-que-parfait is the first verb, 'I had walked'. You just conjugate the auxiliary verb in imparfait and add the past participle."
"Imparfait, past participle... okay. I think I've got it." She wrote in the blank for the first practice question and then smiled at me. Her smile was always a quirky grin, catlike and sly. "You're good."
"Are you sure you can't tutor me?"
The class passed by, and for the first time since I'd met Valentina I didn't feel the intense urge to get away from her. I wouldn't call her the most pleasant person in the world, but I didn't think she wanted to hurt me.
The bell rang and I walked to the theatre. Surprisingly, it seemed like people had forgotten about my outburst yesterday. Nobody looked for me except for Caitlyn and Lizzy waving wildly in the corner. I sighed. I hadn't sat with them for the past few days, so I guess I owed them this much.
"Hi, guys. Have you started yet?"
"No. We were waiting for you and Ashanti," Lizzy said. You and Ashanti. It was like people paired us together now. "Oh, there she is!"
I turned around to see Ashanti coming down the slope of the aisle, hair done up into a large, heavy bun that made her neck look longer than usual. She waved to Lizzy and flashed her dark eyes to me, smiling. A ghost of a smile flitted across my lips before I turned back around. She sat beside me, put her purse down, opened her script, and asked, "Where are we?"
"The final scene," Woods said. "Where I am revealed to be the bad guy all along and you kick my ass."
"Don't forget about Doctor Infamous, Woods. They kick my ass too," Caitlyn said, her finger waving reproachfully.
"Alright, alright. Let's just start the ass whooping already."
I was always scared of this scene, but today it didn't rattle me as much as it used to. This time, when we reached the end where I was supposed to kiss Ashanti, I didn't feel like I had anything to hide. We passed over it and went over the same scene again, this time without scripts.
I was right about the casting. Lizzy was cast as Glory Girl's younger sister and damsel in distress, and Doctor Infamous was a mad scientist, just as I'd envisioned Caitlyn. The Remarkable Racer wasn't the love interest, but he was the pretty boy. Always flashing his muscles and showing off, he was the character that would get the most laughs. Then there was Mr. Gregory, the crazy cat man who Woods played. Somehow even that fit.
Finally, Ashanti was the reporter. I didn't know why I hadn't seen it coming. She could have been Glory Girl, sure, but Hillary Hopkins had a certain regality that reeked of money. She was elegant, smart, cool, and witty. She always knew what to do and where to step in, when to speak and when to be quiet. That was Ashanti already.
I watched her as she acted as Hopkins. Her brows lowered, casting a shadow over her eyes, and she looked sharp, confident, and dangerous. I couldn’t get over how beautiful she was. Sometimes I'd look at her, look away, and do a double take. Hopefully she didn't notice me staring.
"Daphne, it's your line," Caitlyn said. I jumped.
"O-Oh! Right. Um, where are we?"
Everybody laughed, including Ashanti. Her laugh was like wind chimes in the summer. I looked at my script and tried to read the words, taking a deep breath. I closed my eyes. Focus. You are clay.
"Let go of my sister or so help me god I will feed you alive to your... your... cats!"
More laughter. I whipped my head to Mr. Gregory and pierced him with an arrow like glare. "Well Mr. Gregory?! Will you loosen her chains or do you want to become Purina? I bet they haven't had fresh meat in quite a while!"
"That isn't in the script," Caitlyn said, covering her mouth to stop her giggles.
"What script, Doctor Infamous! First you kill my father and then you question my sanity? How dare you!"
The rest rehearsal went well. We laughed too loud and by the end of the lunch period everyone was off book. I said goodbye as the warning bell rang and Ashanti touched my arm.
"Don't forget to come over. Alexander Halenchuk is visiting tonight."
She nodded. I sighed. When would I tell her the bad news? There was no way I was going to be able to audition for the scholarship, whether I met Halenchuk or not. But I didn't have time to tell her—Ashanti was already flouncing away to her next class.
Once I got back I fixed up some dinner and ate it as I studied for my math quiz. I still had a few hours to spare before Ashanti wanted me there. After studying I caught up on some textbook work and did mirror exercises in the mirror. I felt nervous. Meeting Halenchuk would be a big deal, whether I had a chance at the school or not.
On a whim I changed into nicer clothes, some black dress pants I used to wear when I was in choir and a white blouse. I put on a necklace and put on a bit of makeup. Already I looked more professional. Finally, I curled my hair and ran my fingers through the locks to loosen them up. Looking myself in the mirror, I did the exercises again, and then at four o'clock I got into my car with the script and sitting in the car I remembered I hadn't told my parents. Shit. I texted Dad hurriedly, telling him I was going to another study session with Ashanti, and I didn't hear the ding of his reply until I was on the road. Hopefully it was a yes, but I wasn't going to stop to check until I got there.
I drove down Finch Road and over the bridge until I saw the familiar tunnel of trees on the right of the road. I made the turn and drove down it, relaxing in my chair as the foliage fluttered lazily above me.
A few more cars were in the driveway this time. I parked and checked my phone, breathing a sigh of relief when I saw the answer, What time will you be back?
Not sure, around seven? I'll text you before I leave in case I stay later.
I waited in the car for his reply, hoping for a good answer. I knew how Dad was about curfew, even though he did trust me.
Alright. Don't be too late, he replied.
I slid my phone into my pocket and got out of the car, looking up at the manor which loomed over me. Even though I'd seen it once, the sheer size of it still amazed me. After going up the front steps I rang the doorbell, tapping my foot as I waited and after a few seconds the door swung open and Ashanti stood there, breathless and flushed.
"Sorry. I forgot."
I raised a brow and stepped inside. "You were the one who reminded me, weren't you?"
"Yeah, well," she said, ducking her head. "I was busy making something."
She didn't have to go any further. The scent of cinnamon, peanut butter, and sugar filled the huge entry way with a fragrance that made my mouth water.
"I thought we could have something to eat before we began," she said. I followed her to the right, where a pair of glass doors swung open to reveal a small sitting room connected to an open kitchen, complete with barstools like we were in a greasy spoon. I sat down at one of them, looking around at the plush leather couch that was positioned in front of the plasma TV and the bar cabinet full of expensive liquors in the other corner of the room. Wide windows touched from floor to ceiling on the wall opposite to the door, showing a rolling grassy plane with apple trees sprouting up every few metres, their ripe fruit scattered around the bases of their trunks.
"Do you have any allergies?" she asked. I shook my head and watched as she bent over to take something out of the oven, a muffin tray crowded with steaming cupcakes. I took a deep breath. "Good. These are peanut butter cupcakes, aaand—" she trailed the last word as she turned the little cakes onto a drying wrack that was waiting on the black marble countertop beside the stove. "—I have cream cheese icing to go on top."
"That sounds delicious," I said, getting up from my stool and moving inside. I leaned against the counter, now separated from Ashanti by a kitchen island made of the same black marble. After righting the cupcakes so their fluffy tops were facing upward, she brought the wrack over to the island beside a bowl of white frosting.
"I didn't know you could cook," I said.
"I have all kinds of hobbies. We're an artsy family, and my dad always says that it's good to try new things." She handed one of the cupcakes to me, complete with a dollop of icing on top. I took it and peeled at the edges of the cupcake paper. It was still hot. I blew on it while Ashanti spooned icing on the rest of them.
"Can I ask you something?" she asked.
I looked up from my cupcake. "Sure. What?"
She opened her mouth to speak, eyes still trained on the little cups of peanut buttery goodness, but then she hesitated and closed her lips before starting again. "Do you want to practice Act 1? I feel like that's what we're going to be starting with on Monday."
I set the cupcake down. "Right. About that, Ashanti..." I too hesitated. There was something about her expectant gaze that made me want to lie to her, tell her that I was staying for the long haul for sure. It wasn't like I didn't want to stay, but it would be dangerous if Mom or Dad caught wind of what was going on. The thing was, Ashanti respected me. I didn't want her to think I was a quitter.
But I couldn't bring myself to tell her. "Sure. The first line is mine, isn't it?"
So as the desert cooled Ashanti and I ran through Hillary Hopkin's and Glory Girl's first meeting. Our voices echoed around the kitchen, and once we'd gone through the scene once we began to eat the cupcakes.
"Damn these are good," I said.
"They are. What can I say? Peanut butter tastes good in just about anything."
There were eighteen in all. Each of us had three, and by that time even peanut butter couldn't win me over for another bite.
We left the kitchen and went to her room and this time she'd cleaned up. The floors were spotless and swept clean, and the doors leading onto the veranda were open so that a light breeze went through the room. I sat on the four poster bed, watching the curtain tassels shiver.
We went over Act 1 again, and the more times we did it the more competitive we got. Ever since coming out of the closet I'd felt tight, but now the true Daphne was beginning to show. Well, the true Daphne was a damned good actress if you ever saw one and I didn't like people being better than me, including Ashanti.
I was beginning to get the feeling that she was the same way.
Once we moved onto the argument scene things began to get wild. We stood up and started straight up screaming at each other, adlibbing curses where we both knew they weren't written in and yelling in each others faces so loud that the windows rattled. It was exhilarating.
"Ashanti, what's going on!"
The two of us broke character and whipped around simultaneously. A middle aged woman with a curly black afro and near black skin stood in the doorway. She was darker than Ashanti, with thin eyes and ears that stuck out more than hers, but I could tell by the air of elegance that radiated off of her that the two were mother and daughter.
Blushing, I said, "W-We're just practicing!"
She raised an eyebrow and looked at her daughter. For a moment they glared at each other, Ashanti cool and indifferent, her mom accusatory. I sweated, eyes shifting between them like it was a tennis match. Then, all at once, the two broke into giggles.
"You should have seen your face," Ashanti said through tears. I cracked a grin.
"It was hilarious," Mrs. King said. She wiped the corner of her eye. "No, but really, who are you?"
I stood up straight and cleared my throat. "My name is Daphne Bacunawa. I'm in the spring production with Ashanti."
"Well, Ash, is she any good?"
Ashanti smiled. "One of the best."
"Then keep up the good work," she said, moving to leave the room, but then she stopped and looked back inside, putting a long, slender finger on her lips. "You know what would look nice in here? A stage. I'm talking, with lights and everything. Cycloramas are pretty hard to come by but I'm pretty sure I could get my hands on one. We do have connections, after all. It would have to be small, like a mini stage, so that it wouldn't take up too much room. And, ooh! Maybe there could be little bulbs around the edge, just like the telephone booth and—"
"Mom, I'm moving in a few months, remember? It's a cool idea but I wouldn't be here long enough to really enjoy it," Ashanti cut in.
Her mom's face fell and she sighed. "I guess you're right. Oh, I can't believe you're leaving! I'm going to be so lonely here without you. Who's going to wax my back when you're gone. Hell, who's going to wax your back when you're gone?"
"Mom!" Ashanti hissed, eyes wide. "Go!"
Mrs. King closed the door behind her and I could hear her tinkling laughter all the way down the hall.
"I like her," I said after she left. "Do you really wax each other's backs?"
"Of course not!" She paused. "We'd go to a salon for that. Why waste a good back waxing at home when you could spend it at a spa?"
She grinned that cool smile of hers and I laughed, trying to tell whether or not she was joking.
"So, would you like to continue?" Ashanti asked.
It didn't take long for us to get distracted after that. As determined and ambitious as the two of us were, saying the same lines over and over again for three hours did get tiresome. Ashanti put on some music by The Pulp Fictionals. The vinyl was signed by all four of the band members.
"You went to their concert?" I asked.
She shook her head. "I wish. No, I bought it on eBay for three hundred dollars. A steal, if you ask me."
I shook my head, muttering, "Rich people."
Ashanti swung to the beat of I Bet You Wish You Knew Where I Kept My Heart, humming along to the lyrics as I spun on her not-really-an-office-chair and swung my hair from side to side.
"You look nice tonight," she said. My cheeks warmed.
"Thank you. You do to."
Ashanti looked down at her pyjama pants and t-shirt, both of which were powdered with flour. She laughed. "Thanks anyway."
I was serious. She always looked nice.
"So, have you talked to your parents about the scholarship?" Ashanti asked, spinning in a circle as the chorus started again. "I bet you wish you knew where I keep my heart, 'Cuz, baby you've been searching for the cold dead thing from the start."
"Not yet. Well—" I stopped spinning on the not-really-an-office-chair and sighed. "—I don't think my parents would like it if I went to theatre school. Besides, the final chance at auditions are on July ninth. That's the day I have my Provincial Math Exam, and you know they never reschedule those."
Ashanti had stopped dancing. She was looking at me like that was the saddest thing she'd ever heard, like I'd just told her my dog had been run over by a truck. "I-It's okay!" I said. But it wasn't okay. Ever since she'd told me about that scholarship I couldn't help but fantasize going to a theatre school. "It was pretty late notice anyway."
"But... you're going to give up that easily?"
"I really want to go, Ashanti, and I'm not the type of person to give up but... it just doesn't look like it's going to happen."
"I'm sure there could be a way. Try to reschedule anyway. Just sign up for it, make the deposit, and see what happens. Maybe things will change in the next few months."
"My parents aren't going to sign it."
"Why not? Don't they know how talented you are? Aren't they coming to watch you this spring? This has got to be your biggest role yet."
I rubbed my thumb and looked at the ground. "They don't know, actually. I told them I quit."
Ashanti didn't speak while the words filled the room, seeping into the floor boards and drowning out the music.
"Why would you do that?" she asked slowly.
"They wouldn't—they wouldn't like it because... of the whole gay thing. I don't know what they'd do if they found out."
"Oh," she said. There was a moment in which the lead singer of The Pulp Fictionals screamed into the mic as we didn't talk, and then Ashanti hurried to the record player and turned it off. "I thought Filipino people were gay friendly."
I laughed humorlessly. "It's not like everybody is like them, it's just that they were both raised really religiously. I mean, they met each other in church. And of course not all Christians are like that, but they're just…" I shook my head. I couldn't believe I was telling her this. "They'd fucking kill me if they found out. Do you know Valentina? She was the girl everybody was talking about because she tried to drown herself in her bathtub."
"Yeah, she's a part of crew isn't she?"
"Yeah, well she lives with her aunts. We're neighbours actually, and when my mom found out she said she didn't blame her for doing it, seeing as she lived with two lesbians."
I put my head in my hands and sighed shakily. "I know, believe me, I know." Her hand appeared on my shoulder and I looked up at her. "I've never told anyone that."
She smiled. "I'm always here to listen."
The door opened and Mrs. King stepped in again. But seeing us, she turned around. "Sorry!"
Ashanti took her hand off of me like I was a hot stove. "What is it?"
Mrs. King poked her head in. "Halenchuk is going to be late. Didn't Daphne want to meet him?"
"She does," Ashanti said. She turned to me. "How long can you stay?"
"Um—" I looked at my clock. It was already seven. If I wanted to be home on time I'd have to leave now, but Ashanti was right, I did want to meet Halenchuk. Sure, the scholarship was out of the question, but having a connection was good whether I used it immediately or not. "—I'll just text my dad and tell him I'll come home a bit later. I should be good until nine."
Mrs. King nodded and left. I took out my phone and texted Dad that I'd be another few hours.
We didn't talk about my parents again, just went back to practicing the script. We tried it in different accents, Ashanti taught me a few tricks with voice imitations. She showed me how to make the sound of a car crashing, and when she made it sound like the scene of a head on collision, but when I did it I sounded like a four-year-old making car noises with her Hot Wheels.
"You'll get the hang of it," she said, patting me on the back.
Seven thirty passed, eight came and left, and as it neared eight thirty the sun had already gone down and Ashanti had closed the doors to the veranda. It was pitch black and I knew how Dad didn't like me travelling at night. He was such a cautious driver; if he caught wind of me doing something even remotely risky he'd lecture me for hours. Still, I stalled until eight forty five to see if Halenchuck would show. He didn't
"I should go," I said. "This was fun, though."
Ashanti sighed. "Sorry he didn't come. I don't know what's holding him up."
I laughed. "Yup. I bet he'll drive in just as I walk out the door."
"Cross your fingers. Then you'll at least get to introduce yourself."
I didn't. When we got outside the bugs were buzzing and the stars were twinkling but no new car was in site. I slid into my Sun Fire and waved goodbye to Ashanti. She closed the door and the light of the chandelier disappeared, engulfing me in darkness.
I let my eyes adjust while I turned on my phone and texted Dad, 'Coming home xoxo'. Then I turned it off and put it out of sight. I started the car and rolled out of the circular driveway onto the road leading back to Charlottetown. Before going onto Finch Road I turned on the radio and put on my signal, looking both way for the lights of an oncoming car. There was nothing.
I drove out and picked up speed, reaching eighty kilometres in a few seconds. The road was empty except for me, but even so I took my foot off the gas and slowed to seventy five. If I saw a car in my rear view mirror I'd let them pass me. Dad always said it was better to be late than in a car accident, so with his words in mind I kept driving at my leisurely speed. Nobody came up behind me. Nobody passed me on the other side. If Halenchuk was coming from Charlottetown then he really was late.
Finally I saw two pinpricks of light fast approaching in the distance. I switched off my brights and kept driving, looking away from glare of their high beams. Finally when they turned them off I looked back to the road. I was approaching the bridge.
Then it was like Ashanti's voice lessons all over again. The car, going fast as it was, broke hard and swerved as the silhouette of an animal appeared in its low beams at the foot of the bridge. I gasped and pressed the brakes, slowing to fifty, then thirty, then ten, and finally to zero kilometres an hour. Just as I did I heard the scream of bending metal. Whoever was in that car, they shouldn't have turned so sharply. The car tipped right over the railing of the bridge and crashed with a loud splash into the water. My heart thumped erratically in my chest as I watched wide eyed. The porcupine hurried across the road, waddling away from the crash site with all of its spines sticking straight up in the air.
My hand shot for my phone as the other unbuckled my seat belt. Then I pulled over to the side with one hand, put the car on park, and turned on my hazards.
Once outside I already had 911 on the line. The phone rang as I ran to the edge of the bridge. The lights of my car glittered on the surface of the water, where a green smart car bobbed like a cork. Whoever was in there was lucky. Since it was light it would float longer, but once the door was half submerged in the water the pressure would seal it shut. I had no time to lose.
"911. What's your emergency?"
"Car crash on Finch Road. Bring an ambulance," I said quickly. Then, without further ado, I let my phone drop to the ground and swan dived into the freezing water.