I woke up looking at Terrance Wade, the guitarist for The Pulp Fictionals, staring at me dramatically. He was a gangly British man with too much hair and big lips, and beside him were the other members of the band, a bunch of other white guys who nobody paid attention to. I hadn't listened to them lately, but seeing the poster made me reach over to my bedside table drawer and take out my phone. I put my headphones in, went to Music, and put their discography on shuffle. The sound of drums and guitar flooded into my ears.
I'd slept in late, because despite everything I'd stayed up until midnight memorizing the script. The thing was, I wasn't even sure if I'd do it. Was it really worth lying to my parents to do a high school show? All of these lies were building up on me, and after a while it would become too much to keep carrying around. Keeping them was like try to hold a basketball. Holding one was fine, holding two was alright as well, holding three was doable, but holding more than that started getting tricky and eventually impossible. I'd made so many in the past few days I could barely keep track of them, and if I was going to go through with Glory Girl, that numbers would keep mounting.
There was the fact that I saved Valentina, that I hadn't quit the show, and now that Ashanti wasn't my study partner. It was manageable for now, but I didn't feel safe. One day they would all fall down and crush me.
I didn't work out that day. Instead I went to the math room and finished the homework I'd neglected the night before. If I didn't keep up with the textbook assignments I really would need a tutor. When Caitlyn arrived she went straight to my seat.
"Why didn't you answer my texts?" she asked in a low voice. My eyes darted to Ms. Yakamovsky to see if she might be listening, but she was marking something at her neatly ordered desk, deep in concentration.
"I don't look at my phone much after school. I was working on memorizing the script." This was partially true, but I had noticed her texts, just hadn't open them.
"What happened yesterday at practice?"
"Nothing. I don't know what you guys were freaking out over."
"But—" Caitlyn bit her lip. "Lizzy is really worried about you. You'd tell me if something was up, wouldn't you?"
I opened my mouth, and then paused.
Could I tell her? I didn't see why not. I'd gotten so used to lying that I hadn't considered that most of the world would be completely fine with my abnormality. I could just say it right now, quietly so the teacher wouldn't hear.
I thought the words in my head but my mouth didn't move. I thought it again, still no luck.
"I'm fine." I smiled. "I'm just stressed over school. That's all."
She sighed. "Me too." She sat down in the seat beside me and ran a hand through her dip dyed hair. "Sometimes I feel like I can barely have fun. I'm always so worried about studying that... never mind. It gives me anxiety, all of it; school, friends, Woods being an asshole. The only thing that keeps me going is show."
"Yeah," I responded. I sounded like a robot.
"And it's not like if I don't study it would be the end of the world. I know I'd still get good marks but I'm so focused on perfection. If I got a ninety where I know I could have gotten a hundred it would feel like the end of the world."
"Am I boring you? I shouldn't talk about this—"
"No, no. It's fine."
She shook her head. "You're a good friend, Daphne. Anyway, what did you get for 12 B? It really stumped me."
We worked through the homework together, and by the time class started I was halfway done. I knew that after today we'd get even more homework though, and that would mean an extra hour and a half of trigonometry tonight.
We went through word questions that day, and in next period we watched Canada: A People's History on the smart board. We sang along dramatically to the theme song, and Lizzy loosened up on me once I gave her the same story I'd given Caitlyn. Again I had the urge to tell her the truth, but the moment passed just as quick as it came.
Then, French. What was once my easiest class had now become my hardest thanks to Valentina. That day she turned right around to face me as soon as she sat down. "So what's your mark in this class?"
I sighed. What if I just didn't answer? What if I pretended she didn't exist? I mean, I was an actor, so it couldn't be that hard. But Valentina began tapping her desk, and I had the feeling she'd keep doing that until I spoke. "One hundred."
She whistled. "Shit. What are you, Albert Einstein?"
"Daphne Bacunawa, actually."
"Do you think you could tutor me?"
"I don't have time."
"I'd pay you."
"You're seriously that busy? I thought your afternoon classes were spares?"
How did she know that? Better yet, why the hell was she talking to me? Shouldn't she have been embarrassed? It didn't make any sense, but whatever the reason, she was starting to piss me off.
"To be honest, I have my own grades to worry about. I wouldn't want to worry about yours as well," I snapped.
Valentina stared at me. Then, slowly, she faced the front and clenched her jaw shut. "Fine. I was just asking," she said through her teeth.
She left me alone for the rest of the class.
During rehearsal I secluded myself behind the wings on stage and memorized my lines there. I had to focus to finish this damn thing. Also, eventually I'd have to ask Mr. O when the deadline for quitting was. I was pretty sure it was before this week. Thinking about it made me want to throw up. He trusted me, respected me. What would he think if I dropped out for no given reason? Because I knew that if I did, I wouldn't have the guts to tell him why.
The bell rang and I put in my earbuds, shut the script, and tucked it carefully inside my bag. Immerging from the wings and slung my back pack over my shoulders. I looked around. Everybody was streaming out or already gone, but Ashanti waited in the front row. She lit her eyes on me.
"Are we still on for tonight?" she asked. Her voice reached me clear as crystal, even though I was halfway across the theatre. I walked to the front of the stage and sat on the edge so we could talk quieter.
It felt strange that I was going over to her house. We'd just met a few days ago.
"Yeah. I'll need your address, though."
"That's what I was thinking. Can we exchange numbers too?"
I got out my phone and made a new contact, putting in her number and address in the same file. All the while I my ears perked up to her voice. It sounded so elegant, so professional.
"How about you come around four thirty. Do you know where it is?" she asked.
45 Finch Road sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn't tell where it was just by the name. "No, but I have a GPS." I looked up to meet her gaze. "See you tonight."
She winked and turned around. "See you."
What was with her and winking?
Once I got home I finished the math textbook assignment and ate dinner early. It was three thirty, but I decided to put her address into Google Maps just to check how far away it was. It didn't take long to get anywhere on PEI, but I liked being punctual.
Her house was out of the city, just off Finch Road. It was a pretty easy route from here to there, but it would take twenty minutes.
I finished my dinner and packed my things, my script, my wallet, and my phone, and then I got into the car and positioned my phone on the GPS stand on top of the dashboard. I still had some time. Being too early was almost as bad as being late. As I waited inside the car, listening to indie rock and nodding my head to the beat, my eyes drifted to my neighbour's side of the fence. The fence around our backyard was wood, but the one separating the two was chain link, so I could clearly see Valentina lying on the grass in an oversized t-shirt as the pug puppies slept on her stomach. Gwen sat on a lawn chair reading a book and Alex barbequed. I inhaled deeply. It was the smell that had made me look over.
I sighed and clicked the button on my key chain that opened the automated fence. At the sound the pugs jumped off of my classmate and ran to the edge of the lawn as I pulled out into the back ally, yipping excitedly in high pitched voices. Valentina watched me go, her green eyes glinting behind a pair of glasses.
I left Charlottetown and drove along Finch Road. A car passed every once and a while, but for the most part I drove alone at a steady 80 kilometres per hour. It was five minutes before 4:30 when the sweet, robotic voice of the GPS told me to take a right down a road bordered by trees. I slowed to snail pace and made the turn. The afternoon sun filtered through the boughs of the overhanging trees, casting an organic fantasia onto the gravel road leading up to the King estate. When I was little I read Anne of Green Gables. I'd always imagined Anne's home to look like this, or at least it looked like a fairy tale until I reached the end of the road.
Ashanti's house wasn't what you'd call 'quaint'. Quaint implied that something was small and cute, and Ashanti's home was three stories tall and four houses wide. It wasn't a house. It was a mansion with long white columns holding up a veranda that wrapped around the second story, decked with lacy white lawn chairs. Green ivy travelled up the walls. There was a red Porche parked in front of the walkway, and I parked my navy blue Sunfire behind it, stepping out and looking up. Had I gotten the right address? I didn't know anyone who lived in such a place. In fact, I'd never been in such a large home before.
The front door opened and Ashanti stood by the doorway. She'd changed into different clothes; a t-shirt and track pants. Her feet were bare, showing a few toe rings glinting in the sun.
"Like it?" she asked.
I gawked at her and she smiled. Taking my script and my phone with me, I locked my car and met her at the door. She'd taken off her makeup, which made her look dramatically different. Her skin tone wasn't as even, darker brown around her cheeks and under her eyes, but she still looked beautiful.
I looked at her shirt, recognizing the logo. "You like The Pulp Fictionals?"
"You like The Pulp Fictionals?"
Neither of us seemed like the type to be into a British indie-rock band. We laughed at the same time, and then she ushered me in. I spun around in the entry way. It was gorgeous, complete with a crystal chandelier sparking above my head and a polished, black tile floor spanning out in front of a matching stair case that led up to the second floor.
"I feel like I'm in a fairy tale."
Ashanti laughed. "My mom is an interior designer. This is like her very own masterpiece, the one she gets to keep all to herself. You should have seen our home in Toronto. Now that was something."
We stood in the center of the entry way, which was more the size of a small ballroom, and Ashanti spread her arms wide. "So, this is it. Are you hungry? I could make us something to eat before we start."
"No, no. I ate before I came."
"Alrighty then. Let's go up to my room."
Ashanti led me up the grand stair case, braids bouncing around her hips. She hooked a right and went to the end of the hall. When she opened the door, I wasn't sure what I expected. Something girly and pink probably, but instead the walls were crowded with posters of rappers and rock bands. Clothes were strewn around the floor, but not so much that it looked messy. It was fashionably untidy.
The walls were covered in red brick wall paper, and the furniture was all yellow metal, decorated with pipes and traffic signs drilled into the walls. Her mirrors was rimmed with light bulbs, just like a professional dressing room, and when there weren't posters of music she liked, there were blocky stencils of city names like New York, Shanghai, Tokyo, Paris, London, and Rio spray painted in dripping black letters.
"I'll tell Mom you liked it."
"Is that a telephone booth bookshelf?" I went to it and I swore it was taken off a London side street. Little light bulbs illuminated shelves full of CDs and vinyls, I mouthed, 'wow' and moved on, taking in the entire room.
Ashanti flopped onto her four poster bed, the thick red velvet curtains pulled back by gold tassel ropes. I sat beside her and opened my script.
Ashanti sat cross legged, big brown eyes going over the room. "It's a bit distracting, isn't it?"
"No! It's fine. I just—I mean, it's huge. I didn't know you were so rich."
Ashanti laughed and ran her fingers through her braids. "Yeah, I get that a lot. Anyways, do you want to work on a different scene this time? I was thinking Act 3 Scene 2?"
I opened it up, heart sinking. That was the one I was second most nervous about, right after the kissing scene at the very end. I sighed. I'd have to do it eventually, and it was okay if I did it here, alone, without my parents knowing anything about it. Hopkins had the first line.
"You came back."
"Of course I came back. Do you really think I'd leave you behind?"
Ashanti shook her head. "But you can't—n-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."
"Because I—" I gulped, blinking at my hands. I knew the line, but I had to force myself to look her in the eyes when I said it. "I love you."
A second passed... and then another second in which we just looked at each other.
Ashanti burst into laughter and I laughed too. "It's so cheesy!" she said. "Are all of his plays like this?"
I rubbed my forehead, grinning. "Basically, you should have seen last years. It was a vampire romance. Want to try that again, without cracking up this time?"
"Sure, sure." She stopped laughing almost immediately, and once the smile faded, she began the scene again.
This time we got farther, all the way to after my monologue and beyond when The Remarkable Racer entered. Ashanti imitated Byron's voice exceptionally well, doing his lines for him, which made me break character the first time she did it.
She flipped her hair and smiled. "I took voice imitating lessons when I was a kid."
"You're joking, right?"
She shook her head. "It's a valuable talent for an actor. I could teach you some tricks if you'd like?"
I laughed. "Maybe later. Let's just finish this scene, I want to try some lines form Act 1 that I was having trouble with."
We continued, and eventually I did get hungry. Time was going by fast and after a carton of popcorn chicken and a few overly dramatic renditions of some of the more serious scenes, we simultaneously decided that enough was enough. I sat on a yellow stool and pulled my hair into a pony tail, then out, then up again. She lied on her bed, eyes closed, a bit of chicken grease on her cheek.
"This was fun," she said, not opening her eyes. "I've never done a play like this before, but I'm glad. Your school has a really good program, and great actors too."
I smiled. "Our school has a good program. You're a student there too."
She cracked an eye open and smiled at me. "It won't be either of ours for long. Graduation is so close I can almost smell the city air again. It's good."
"Are you moving back to Toronto for university?" I asked.
"You've got it. What are you doing?"
I'd already applied for a few universities in the area, but so far they hadn't called me back. "I don't know. I like acting, but theatre school is expensive. Besides, there aren't any good ones in the province."
Ashanti sat up and looked at me. "You can't be serious. You're not going to give up that easily, are you?"
"I'm not giving up! I'm just being realistic."
She shrugged and looked at me out of the corner of her eye. A smile slowly spread over her lips, as if she was thinking something mischievous.
"What is it?"
She rolled off the bed and sauntered over to a shutter door closet, pulling it open and reaching inside. She tugged and out came an office table with a shiny Macintosh desktop. She sat down on some sort of backwards, modern office chair and turned it on. "Come over here. I want to show you something."
I got up and walked over so that I stood behind her, looking over her shoulder. Ashanti had already logged on and opened up a browser. She began typing a website and a suggestion appeared after the first letter. She'd visited this site often.
It showed up, a website with a school crest in the top left corner and a slide show of professionally shot photos of students carrying binders and walking across stages. I read the title of the page, "Harthorn School of Theatre Arts. Is this where you're going next year?"
She nodded. "Mm hm. You're right about it being expensive, though, because the tuition is pretty pricey, even for a theatre school, but this is one of the best in the country. I'll be moving back to Toronto over the summer to start there. I'm also going to a business school in the same area." She leaned forward in her chair, if you could call it a chair. "That's the nice thing living in the big city; everything is in one place."
"So why did you show me this? To brag to me?"
"I don't know why you have such a low opinion of me." She smirked and moved her cursor over one of the sections of the menu bar. She selected 'Student Aid' and the page directed to a different part of the website titled, 'Hurdu Scholarship'. It took me a few seconds to read the description below the title. My eyes widened.
"That's amazing. Are you saying—wait, why are you showing me this?"
Ashanti shrugged. "It's not like I need it, and you surely qualify. It's a tight fit, because the deadline for the application is on Friday, but you've still got a shot."
I shook my head. "But what are the chances I'd actually get it? People from all over the country audition for it, don't they?"
"Of course. But why wouldn't you try?"
I nodded. "Why would they have something like that, though? I mean, tuition for four years—how much money is that?"
"It's a part of the school's mission. They want more women of colour in the industry, so they set up this scholarship a few years ago. I don't know how that will change the fact that there are no roles but—but it's a start. You should go for it. I think you'd do really well. Oh! And the school director, I'll show him to you." She switched the page before I could see where she clicked, and a large photo of a white man with red glasses and brown eyes that were too far apart showed up on the screen. He had a rather distinctive face, the type you wouldn't miss in a crowd, and one which you definitely wouldn't miss on stage. "This is Alexander Halenchuk. He's coming for a business trip to PEI this week. You know, I could introduce him to you if you'd like. My dad and him are friends."
"W-what? Really? Of course! Thank you," I said.
She waved her hand in dismissal. "I know, I know. I'm great, aren't I?"
She got up from her chair and closed the pull out office. I ran my hand through my hair, smiling at her, and she tilted her head to the side.
"Do you want help with that? I'm good with hair," she said. I looked at the hair tie in my hand and blushed.
I sat down on the yellow stool and gave her the hair tie. Her fingers took a piece of hair from the crown of my head and she began braiding from there, going slowly, her long painted nails brushing against my scalp. My eye lids felt heavy. My shoulders slumped. Then, all too soon, she tied up the braid and said, "There. Perfect."
"Thank you." I got up and turned around. "You've got something on your—here, I'll get it."
I reached my thumb out and took the grease off her cheek. Her eyes followed my hand. It left me with a greasy thumb and hot face, but she said, "Thanks," anyway.
We were quiet for a moment, and then I looked at my watch. "I should go. I wouldn't want to be too late."
"Of course. I'll show you out. I know it's big in here."
We crossed the large expanse between her bed and her door and stepped out into the hall. It was still quiet, and because of the sheer size of the house the silence felt larger. It filled more space, felt more all encompassing.
We walked down the stairs, our footsteps echoing against the walls, and Ashanti opened the door to let me out. "Thanks," I said. "I guess I'll see you tomorrow?"
She winked. "I guess. Are you sure you wouldn't like to practice the kissing scene before you go?"
I was already halfway down the steps when she said it. I froze like a deer caught in headlights and after a few seconds she laughed. "I'm kidding. You're really something, Daphne."
I laughed too, although I felt like my heart was beating so loudly that Ashanti could hear it and tell how I really felt. I turned and waved. "Bye, then."
She waved. "Bye." The door closed and I walked to the Sunfire, opened the door, and sat there for a minute, two minutes, five minutes. All I could hope for was that she didn't go out on the veranda and wonder why I was just waiting there, but I couldn't drive on the highway when my heart was already racing over the speed limit. It felt dangerous. So I sat for a while and calmed myself.
She was just joking. It was a joke. She doesn't know anything. Turn on the car and drive home.
I did, driving back down the road which had taken me there. Now the trees were lit by twilight, casting a faint pink over the trunks and making the leaves glisten like jewels. I remembered the feeling of her braiding my hair and I relaxed. Then I tried not to think of it and couldn't. Then I cursed under my breath as I crossed over the bridge.
This wasn't good at all.
Mom had left some dinner for me on the counter, and when I arrived they were watching the news. I had my script under my sweater so they couldn't see it when I walked past the doorway into the living room and into the kitchen.
I ate some of the rice and stir fry, but most of it I put in the fridge for tomorrow.
"What did you do with your friend? Did you go over anything new?" Dad called from the living room.
I walked over and leaned against the doorway. "She helped me with trig graphs. I swear, she's about as good as my math teacher at the stuff, if not better. I wouldn't be surprised if she got a seven on her IB exam."
Dad nodded in approval. Mom had fallen asleep, her head resting on his shoulder. I smiled at them. "Do you want to watch this with us?" he asked.
I shook my head. "I'm really tired, actually. You have fun."
He laughed. "I wouldn't call this fun but thanks anyway. Goodnight, Daphy."
I went to my room and the first thing I did was open the drawer on my bed and hide my script. I went to my computer. That French email was still waiting to be typed, so I opened a new word document and changed the language to Canadian French. The email itself was about a character who ran away to New York to watch The Pulp Fictionals live. The character sounded a bit snobby, arguing that because she didn't ask her parents for any money it wasn't such a big deal. I thought she sounded like a whiny brat, but I printed it off anyway and slid it into my binder.
I changed and lied down on my bed, staring at the ceiling. Eventually I'd take the braid out of my hair because I didn't like the way the plaits felt on my scalp. Not yet though. Just a bit longer.