She's Not There

All Shelley wants after her father passes away is to get on with her life. But no one seems to be making it easy. Not her teachers, not anyone at work, and definitely not her friends. She begins to isolate herself, tired of everyone asking if she's okay and acting like she's a broken, fragile flower.

Then she befriends Danica, a shy, quiet girl who dreams of becoming a comic book artist one day. Danica soon invites Shelley to weekly 'meetings' held by a group of very different teens that come together to unite in their interest for video games, comic books, science fiction, fantasy, and cosplay. And to spend hours playing Dungeons & Dragons or going to conventions.

At first Shelley is hesitant to join, but she quickly finds it becoming her only escape from being reminded of what she's lost.

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5. Sad But True

This was the one thing Shelley had been looking forward to since she returned to school. The drama club.

She'd been assigned as assistant director for the school's interpretation of Little Shop of Horrors. Although that was only two weeks before her dad passed away. She didn't know if she could segue back into the group, considering the extended the absence.

Regardless, she was going to aim for getting her position back. The worst that could happen was Mr. Stratton would say no. She'd find another after school activity to join. There were many other extracurriculars she could participate in. Even though she was much less interested in them.

She knew the club was meeting after school today, so following her final class, she made her way to the auditorium.

At this point they were well passed the auditions. She kept her pace swift to ensure she got there before rehearsals began. And as she hoped, the cast and crew were still assembling themselves when she arrived.

Mr. Stratton was standing by the edge of the stage, staring down at a page on a clipboard. He must have felt her approaching him, because he looked up before she said a word. Then he gave her a boyish smile.

He'd always been one of her favorite teachers and she was thrilled to find out he'd be directing the play. That was one of the other reasons she wanted to get back into the club. He wasn't teaching any of her current classes or the ones the following semester. He was friendly and kind without thinking he was friends with the students. He also once told her that he didn't like it when students sucked up to him. That was something he and Shelley both had in common.

"It's great to see you, Shelley," he said.

If she had a shot for every time someone said that, she'd be perpetually drunk. She restrained herself from saying that out loud, and smiled at him instead.

"What can I do for you?" he asked, lowering the clipboard.

"I know this is a long shot, but... is there any chance I'd be able to reclaim my position as assistant director for the play?"

His smile faded at her question.

"I know I've been gone for a few weeks," she said, "but I can catch up quick. I've seen the movie a bunch of times and seen the play, so it's not like I'm coming in here with no idea what it's about."

"No, understand that, but... I've already given that position to another student.

"Oh." She knew that would be the response, though she was still disappointed with the outcome. She could even head it in her own voice. "I get it. The show must go on, right? Thanks for the opportunity, anyway." Straining a smile, she turned to leave the auditorium.

Then Mr. Stratton spoke up again. "Wait."

She paused, refacing him.

He took a few steps towards her. "You can still have that position back, if you're fine sharing the job."

"Can you even have two assistant directors?"

she asked.

"I'm the director. I can do what I want," he said, grinning at her.

"Thanks." She didn't think he'd open up a second spot for her; of course she was ecstatic about it and grateful he'd do that.

Shifting his attention to the other students, he called out, "Ivy."

Shelley had shared a few classes with Ivy throughout high school. She was normally very sprightly and talkative, like she was constantly on a massive sugar high. Shelley wondered if her energy compensated for her lack of height. Ivy was barely five feet tall.

Ivy was speaking animatedly with some of the students when she was called. She glanced in their direction and approached them with an infectious smile on her face.

"What's up?" she asked.

"Do you mind if Shelley here helps you with the assistant directing?" Mr. Stratton asked.

"No, of course not!" she chirped.

"Great," Mr. Stratton said. "She's a little behind with rehearsals. Help her catch up, okay?"

Ivy's whole face softened when Mr. Stratton walked away from the two of them. "Can I to you for a sec?" she asked Shelley.

Shelley frowned. "Uh... okay?"

Ivy took hold of Shelley's arm and pulled her to the entrance of the auditorium, away from the rest of the cast and crew. "Are you really okay with doing this?"

"Why wouldn't I be?" Shelley asked. She knew where this conversation was headed and wasn't pleased about it.

"Because of-" Ivy stopped and lowered her voice. "Your dad. You're probably behind on your work. I wouldn't want you feeling overwhelmed or anything. It might be too much for you to handle."

"Do you not want me to help? If that's what it is, just say so."

"No, that's not it at all," Ivy assured her. "I know it's coming out wrong, but that's not what I mean."

"I can handle it, okay?"

"Okay but... only if you're sure," Ivy said. She didn't sound very convince. She sounded concerned.

Shelley rolled her eyes. "I'm sure," she muttered. So maybe Ivy did seem sincere in her worries, but why did Shelley have to rehash this stupid conversation with everyone? Even with who was perpetually happy. "If I didn't think I could, I wouldn't have come here." She didn't think that needed to be explained, but apparently it did. "I want to be part of the play. I want to help."

The smile came back to Ivy's face. Thank God. "Then let's get started. I'll give you a copy of the script," she said.

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