Opening Night

Opening Night is a coming of age story about a lesbian teenager trying to hide her identity from her family. However, when her dreams of becoming an actress force her into the spotlight, hiding becomes harder than ever.

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10. Negotiations

"Are you a nurse?" he squinted at me, giving me a once over. "No."

            I shook my head. "My name is Daphne. You were driving on Finch Road and I saw your car go off the side of the bridge."

            "You called 911?"

            "I did call them, yes, but I also jumped in to save you. If I hadn't, I'd say they'd still be pulling you out of the river."

            His eyes widened. Silence drew out between us as he took in the information. He opened his mouth, then closed it, then opened again. "You saved my life?"

            "That's right."

            "But wasn't that dangerous. Are you hurt?"

            "Sometimes you have to do dangerous things for the good of others, Alexander. I swam to your car and got you out before it sunk. Then I carried you up to the road where I met the ambulance." I fought back a smile at his expression. He was lapping this shit up like honey on corn flakes. "I'm glad I did it, though, even though I risked my life. I could never live with myself if I let you die and didn't do anything about it."

            "Wow," he whispered. "But how do you know my name?"

            Damn it. Did I say that? "I saw you on Hawthorn's website."

            "Really?" He chuckled. "You're an actress?"

            "Yeah."

            "Funny how these sort of things happen." Halenchuk pushed himself up in his cot, wincing, but then his expression eased. He wiggled his toes under the blanket. "I'm a really dumb driver. Well, at least I'm not paralyzed, and all thanks to you. How could I ever repay—"

            "There actually is a way you could repay me."

            He raised his brows. "Of course, of course. What is it?"

            I crossed my legs and stood up a bit straighter. "You see, ever since I found out about the Hurdu Scholarship I've wanted a chance at it, but my parents don't want me to go to an acting school—they'd never sign the papers necessary for me to book an audition. I'm not nineteen until April, so I couldn't sign them myself. Besides, the last audition date is on the day of the Provincial Math Exam."

            As soon as I began talking about the scholarship his expression changed. He wasn't the whimsy Shakespeare fanatic anymore, but a man of business. He watched me critically as I spoke.

            "As much as I'd love to promise you that scholarship, I can't," he said.

            I shook my head, laughing. "That's not what I'm asking for, Mr. Halenchuk. All I want is a chance to get out of this place. I don't want to be stuck here forever with my parents, going to a community college and working a minimum wage job on the side." I sighed. "Believe me, I know that acting doesn't pay well, but it's all I've ever wanted. You know actors, you know how competitive they are. You know how far they're willing to go to get that role, to get that chance in the spotlight. I know I'm the best. I know I could blow you away, but only if you gave me an audition. That's where I need your help."

            He looked at me and I was afraid that he was trying to figure out the kindest way to say 'no' but then a smile spread across his face and he laughed, stopping abruptly. "Ow, that hurts."

            He rubbed his side and continued to smile. "I like you, Daphne, and since you did save my life, I'm sure we could set another date for an audition. As long as it's not after the cut-off I'm sure it wouldn't be too much of a hassle. In fact, I'll pay the deposit fee myself, and you can sign the papers in after you turn nineteen if you'd like. This is fun, isn't it? Conspiring against authority, making dreams come true. I feel like I'm your fairy godmother or something."

            And I felt like Cinderella on her way to the ball. I couldn't stop myself from beaming. "Really? You'll do it?"

            "Of course I will! You jumped into a river to pull me out of a sinking smart car. Do you really think I wouldn't say yes? All we have to do is set a date."

            My mind buzzed, ideas bouncing off the side of my skull. The first one that popped into my mind was even crazier than me jumping into that river. I had no idea if it was completely against the rules or if he'd even consider doing it, but I'd give it a shot. "I'm in the lead role at my high school performance and the opening night is May sixth. If you came back to PEI for it I'm sure you'd be able to get an idea of what I'm capable of. I know it's a lot to ask but—"

            "Done. I'll cancel my plans for May sixth."

            "A-Are you serious?"

            "I'm serious, but I'm warning you that I'll be judging hard.Giving you an audition that's so long gives you a huge advantage over the other girls."

            I nodded hurriedly. "I understand. I promise you won't be sorry."

            "Give me your number, then. I'll contact you later to give you more information. Shit, my phone is at the bottom of a river, isn't it?"

            "That's fine. I'm friends with Ashanti King. I'm not sure what her father's name is but I believe you know him?"

            "You know John's daughter? Is she in the play with you by any chance?"

            I smiled. "Yes. She's my love interest, actually."

            He whistled. "This should be good, then."

            I got up. "Then I'll tell where you are as soon as I can, but I should go now. My parents are probably freaking out." Before I turned to leave, however, I said, "If you could keep this quiet that would be great. I wouldn't want my parents to find out."

            "Of course. I'll see you on May 6th, Daphne."

            "See you then."

            I exited the ward, my heart racing, a smile stretching across my face so wide that I felt like the corners of my mouth were going to shoot into the walls.

            I had a chance! I knew what I had to do now. I'd do the play, and if that meant I had to lie to my parents for two more months then so be it. That was show biz.

            I turned the hall to leave via the ER and to my surprise, as soon as I reached the room there was a commotion on the other side of the sliding doors. Flashes blinded me and the kids who had been bundled and snivelling at their parent's sides were now standing on their chairs to get a good look at the news cameras that snapped pictures outside.

            A nurse came rushing towards me. "You're Daphne, right? They want to talk to you?"

            "Why?" I asked, bewildered.

            "It's not every day that a teenage girl jumps into a river to pull a grown man out of a sinking car," she said, grinning at me. She clapped me on the shoulder. "Get out there!"

            I nodded, in a trance. This was all happening so fast. Maybe I didn't need Halenchuk's help to be a star after all.

            When I emerged from the sliding doors I was engulfed by a sea of flashing bulbs. Microphones pushed into my face. Several stations must have come out all at the same time after they heard the crash report.

            "Can you tell us your name?" several of the reporters asked. I held up a hand to quiet them. I'll admit, I was liking the attention.

            "Daphne Bacunawa."

            The chatter had quieted to a dim and a microphone pushed under my mouth for me to speak into. I couldn't see anything clearly, as it was dark and the lights blinded me, but the body connected to the hand asked, "Can you tell us what happened tonight, Daphne?"

            I explained, several times actually, how I saw Halenchuk's car go over the side of the bridge, and how, being a life guard, I knew I could save him. Then I was asked silly questions like, 'Were you scared?' and 'Would you do it again?'. I smiled for the camera but inside it was beginning to dawn on me how late it was. The sky was pitch black and my watch told me it was nearly midnight. I still had to find my car and drive home, which could take any degree of time. I didn't even know where my keys were. Did that rookie paramedic left them in the car?

            "It's getting late, guys. I've gotta get home."

            "Just a few more questions for Sun Television?"

            I chuckled. "Sorry. I'd love to but my parents don't know where I am. I wouldn't want to keep them worrying. Good night."

            They tried to get me to stay but I broke through the circle and into the parking lot. For a bit my eyes had to adjust to the complete darkness without the lights of the cameras, but once I could see the cars more clearly I picked up speed and began to scan for my navy blue Sun Fire.

            It took a while, but eventually I spotted it and rushed over, praying that my inconveniences wouldn't mount from there.

            I slid into the space between my car and a Hummer, and then, with my face against the glass, I saw the key still in the ignition. The door opened and I and got in, resting my head against the seat for a while. It had been a long night.

            I started up, backed out of the parking lot, and drove towards the exit at a snail's pace, passing Queen Elizabeth Hospital and all of the news trucks on the way out. Inside the emergency room the children had gone back to leaning against their parents' shoulders. I smiled and flipped my turn signal.

            The drive back home was smooth enough—it was walking inside that was difficult. I had to force myself out of the car, and I admit, I did consider sleeping there to avoid my parents, but I knew in the end that would just make it worse. So I turned off the ignition, unbuckled my seat belt, and removed myself from the vehicle, locking it behind me before I walked around the house to the front door.

            I took a deep breath, put on a neutral face, and turned the knob. My heart thumped as if I was about to walk onstage in front of an audience of one thousand people and I didn't know my lines.

            I got into the entry hall and the first thing I heard was, "Daphne?". Mom. She looked furious, but compared to my father this was nothing.

            "What the hell do you think you're doing?" she hissed.

            I took off my shoes. "I can explain, Mom."

            "You can explain to your father, young lady!"

            I locked my jaw shut and walked obediently to the kitchen. It would be better if he got his anger out now before I tried to explain to him. What I was banking on was that he still, to some degree, trusted me. This could be throwing away all of that trust if I didn't do things right, and at this point I needed his trust more than anything. If I didn't have that how would I be able to keep my secrets until opening night? I had to be cool about this.

            As soon as I got into the kitchen I knew I was in deep shit. Dad looked like several arteries in his forehead were about to burst. His frown was so deep set that he might have gotten a few wrinkles from just this night alone.

            He stood up and I braced myself for the first wave.

            "DO YOU KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS?" His voice shook the house and I couldn't help but flinch, heart stuttering. He came forward and took me by the shoulders, shaking me. "WELL?"

            "M-Midnight! Dad, I can explain!"

            "Explain?" his voice lowered to a whisper, which, somehow, was even scarier than his yelling. "I trust you to come back on time. You told me you were leaving at eight thirty. Why didn't you call me? We thought you were dead."

            His grip tightened on my shoulders and I knew he wouldn't hit me, but the way he shook me made me feel like he might.

"Dad!" I choked. "Please! Something happened on the way home and I couldn't call you!"

            "Oh really?" his voice lowered even more, and I saw my mother glaring at me with her arms crossed, and Gabriel in the doorway to the kitchen, hidden in shadows. He watched me with narrowed eyes.

"What was it, huh? What possibly could have happened?" he paused and looked at me more closely. "Why are you so wet?"

            This was my chance. "I was about to drive over that bridge on Finch road, but the car ahead of me went off the side, so I called 911 and dived in after it."

            His eyes widened and I felt his grip loosen just a bit. I'd caught him off guard. I couldn't let him start asking questions now. "So I swam to his car and opened the door, because I knew if I waited any longer—"

            "If the door submerges more than half way it locks."

            "Exactly. That's what you told me!" Again, his fingers loosened. "So I opened it and I dragged him out. I swam with him to the shore and picked him up and carried him to the road side. But I couldn't call you then, Dad, because I was on the phone with 911 until the ambulance came."

            "Well what about after?"

            Now the lying began? Why didn't I call him? In reality, it was because I didn't want him coming to the hospital to check if I was okay. I wanted to be alone with Halenchuk to talk about the scholarship, and I knew if he had any idea what was going on he would be by my side as fast as his car could take him. But obviously I couldn't tell him that. Luckily, I was good at this part.

            "I-I was so scared and exhausted that I passed out in the ambulance." I let the tears come, for effect. "A-A-And I woke up in the hospital in the same room as the man that I saved. I-I asked him if he was okay and then I left, but I was so tired and overwhelmed, I forgot to call you. I'm sorry, Dad, I'm really, really sorry."

            He let go of my shoulders and I let out a sigh of relief. Secretly I cursed myself. My mom worked at the hospital. She could easily ask one of the other nurses if what I'd said was true. Then again, I had no idea if anyone there had the same shift as her. Furthermore, why would they let me drive home if I passed out in the hospital? It didn't make any sense.

            Dad squeezed my shoulders. "That was a very dangerous thing for you to do."

            "I know, Dad."

            "You could have gotten hurt. You could have died."

            "I-I know."

            "Are you hurt?"

            I shook my head. "I'm fine."

            Dad studied me for a moment and I avoided his gaze and then, to my surprise, he pulled me into a hug. "How did I ever have a daughter as brave as you?"

            I cried into his shoulder.

            He let go of me. "You know, when I lived in the Philippines there was a terrible flood. I was only six years old, couldn't swim to save my life, and I got caught in a current and almost drowned. But a young lady—" he brushed a strand of hair from my forehead. "—a lady like you came and saved me. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for her. Neither would you."

            I nodded. I also would be in a lot more trouble if it wasn't for her.

            "I'm really proud of you, Daphne. I don't know how you turned out so well. It was probably your mother."

            Mom turned around, dabbing under her eyes, and I smiled, and at that moment my eyes drifted to my brother. My smile faded.

            The way he looked at me made me forget about everything that had happened. Murderous—that was the only way I could describe it—like Dad when I'd walked into the kitchen. His eye twitched and he didn't blink as he glared at me, and hatred rolled off of him so strong that I wanted to leave the room. I'd never seen him like that, and why would he be that way now? I hadn't done anything to him.

            But then, when was the last time Dad congratulated him for coming home hours late? Dad was never proud of Gabe. He never hugged him or told him they'd raised him well. They only scolded him for each thing he did wrong, which in their eyes was everything.

            For a short moment my heart constricted and my tears faltered, but the moment passed shortly. I'd only made one hiccup in my lying tonight, and if I looked at the grand scheme of things, everything was falling into place. My parents weren't mad at me and I had a damned good shot at getting the Hurdu Scholarship. What more could I ask for?

            I didn't care what Gabriel thought. I wasn't going to suffer to make him feel better about himself.

            "You should get to sleep, Daphne. You have school tomorrow," Mom said.

            "Okay." Only they would make me go to school after this, but I didn't blame them. I would go on my own terms even if they gave me the choice to stay tomorrow. My only issue was my legs. If they hurt now, who knew what they'd feel like tomorrow. It always hurt worse the day after once the muscles had cooled down.

            I said goodnight to my parents and went to my room. Gabriel didn't look at me as I passed. He just turned the other way, walking to his own room, and slammed the door behind him.

I stretched and sighed, staring up at the ceiling. A grin slowly spread across my face.

            It wasn't difficult to sleep. There was no nagging worry in my gut tonight, just light headed euphoria. It felt like I'd been cast as Glory Girl again. This time, though, I had a chance at something much bigger than the lead role of a high school play. I couldn't wait to tell Ashanti.

            Speaking of which, I'd forgotten to call the King's about Halenchuk.

            I got my phone from my side table and went to my contacts to call her. It was the first time I'd used her number.

            She answered. "Do you know what time it is, Daphne?"

            "Sorry, Ashanti. I need to tell you something, though. Halenchuk is in the hospital."

            "What?" She sounded groggy, half asleep. "How?"

            "He got into a car accident. Look, it's a long story, but I thought you should know. Tell your Dad for me, will you? I think his phone went down with his car so he won't be able to call him."

            "What do you mean went down with his—"

            "I'll tell you tomorrow. Goodnight, Miss. King."

            Ashanti groaned and I heard rustling sheets as she got out of bed. "I don't know what the hell this is about but—"She sighed, and there was that tinkling laugh of hers. "Goodnight, Glory Girl."

            I hung up and put my phone back on the side table, closed my eyes, and fell asleep just seconds later with a smile on my face. 

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