Stagecraft Chapter Eight
Cue the Alibi
Gillian read the email and sighed deeply. The dean promised the students wouldn’t miss AP English. They were in the middle of A Raisin in the Sun. What would they miss? Could she help Ms. Brewster make up the lost class time? But those concerns were rendered ridiculous when Gillian’s mind went to Will Bartlett. So much potential.
The front door opened.
“Knock. Knock! Just had to stop by before rehearsals tonight.” Aaron called from the front hall.
“In the kitchen,” Gillian sang.
He strode into the kitchen and his hands gripped Gillian’s waist. The kiss was almost cinematic—long and deep.
“Aaron!” Gillian pulled away, mock scandal on her face, “My kids are home.”
“I don’t see them in the kitchen,” Aaron kissed her neck and she laughed.
A thud on the dining room table. Hannah intentionally slammed her textbook down.
“Hannah!” Her mother exclaimed, smoothing her shirt down.
Mr. Samuels smiled devilishly and started to the cabinets for a glass. “Would you like a glass of water, Gill? Hannah?”
Hannah scoffed, “No. But best put some ice in yours.”
“Hannah! Your tone. What are you thinking?” Gillian chastised.
Hannah took two powerful steps closer, placed her hands on the kitchen island, and stared unflinchingly. Don’t back down now. She thought of that rehearsal—the one where she caught Skylar and Samuels. She thought of Skylar’s hair falling into the piano gears. She thought of Mr. Samuels’ face—the same coy smile he wore right now.
How could mom be this stupid? And why—of ALL people—did her crush have to be Aaron Samuels?
“I think the real question is ‘What are you thinking?’” Hannah growled, “You’re practically going to second base in the kitchen.”
“That’s it! Apologize to Mr. Samuels. And me!”
“It’s okay, Gill.” Mr. Samuels took a drink of water before continuing, utterly unperturbed by the outburst. “Hannah, I’m sorry. I should’ve been more respectful. I know this situation is a challenging one. And I promise to navigate it more delicately in the future.”
Challenging? Great word choice. My English nerd mom definitely won’t notice that one.
Gillian just stood there, paralyzed by her daughter’s denigration and her boyfriend’s reaction. Hannah thought of Samuels and Skylar at the piano again. That giggle of Skylar’s echoed through Hannah’s head. It’s as if Skylar is in the kitchen right now. Hannah mentally returned to that afternoon, to the sensual humidity. The air hung heavy with wanting.
“Hannah, you see,” Aaron smiled at Gillian, “your mother in an amazing woman. And I just love being around her.”
“Really? I would have thought you were into younger women,” Hannah sneered then left the kitchen.
“Hannah! Oh, I’m sorry, Aaron. I’ll talk to her.” But Gillian’s embarrassment was half-lived. Her focus was caught up in his use of the word “love.”
Rehearsals carried on as usual that night. The detective’s card burned a hole in Hannah’s garishly printed Vera Bradley gym bag. Samuels argued with Panzini. Kids gossiped about the show, the accident. And Hannah’s scorn for Skylar grew ever stronger. Hannah now knew all of Skylar’s songs, even out-singing her a few times in the past few days. Skylar boiled when Hannah held a note longer. Mr. Samuels would nod approval but every time he complimented Hannah, he followed up with a compliment for Skylar.
“Great. Strong finish. But we don’t want to go overboard,” he said after Hannah finished a perfect trill and Skylar didn’t keep rhythm.
Hannah poured over YouTube every night and hummed harmonies in the shower. Skylar had the part already. With success came complacency. But Hannah still had that smoldering need to achieve. And every once in a while, she’d get a glimmer of being the lead. No longer a shadow.
Once Mr. Samuels patted Skylar’s hand after her voice cracked on a high note. With no context, the gesture would have been romantic. Hannah couldn’t ignore the longing pout on Skylar’s pretty mouth.
At night Hannah lay in bed and tried to suppress the thoughts of their illicit relationship…and the anger that accompanied those thoughts. But her body would give in to the exhaustion and she’d fall fast asleep. Dreams of Katie Greco and camp returned.
Katie was from New Canaan, a place which, according to Skylar, was even snobbier and wealthier than Whispering Hills. “You should see her house. She thinks she’s the shit. Everyone from Connecticut thinks that though,” Skylar had said while the two were cuddled in her bed binge-watching Riverdale.
Katie and Skylar were camp besties since sixth grade. Despite living about a 45-minute drive from each other, they never hung out during the school year. But at camp they were inseparable. For three weeks of upstate New York bliss, the two rehearsed scenes, took hikes, ate s’mores, and played pranks. All the while Hannah toiled the summers away hanging clothes at the local dry cleaners and busing tables at the local dinner theatre.
But this past summer Hannah won a scholarship and got to join Skylar at drama camp for one week. Hannah excitement quickly fizzled when she walked into Bunk 14 though.
“Oh! Look gals, fresh meat is here!” Katie called from the porch.
Hannah trudged up the path to her assigned bunk. She couldn’t wait to see Skylar. In fact, most of her friends would be there. Camp In the Round was the premiere acting camp on the East Coast. Therefore, all Hannah’s rich friends needed to be there.
Skylar walked out onto the porch and squealed. “Hannah!” she ran to her friend. Skylar even grabbed one hulking bag off Hannah’s shoulder. Katie’s face darkened as she drew closer.
“Where’s your trunk?” Katie looked at the bags. “You don’t have one?”
“She’s only here for a week,” Skylar retorted, and Hannah felt grateful. Why do I need a trunk? Do all campers have one? When she got inside she saw the bedazzled trunks at the edge of each bed. Then she looked at her bags, one was her Whispering Hills gym bag and the other borrowed from her brother—a Mamaroneck Hockey Club bag. It was the only thing big enough to fit everything on the camp’s ‘must bring’ list. Her bags looked woefully out of place among all the monogrammed trunks.
“You’re sleeping here,” Skylar motioned to the empty bunk atop her own. “I never let anyone have it but you’re an exception!”
Katie glared at them both then sat on her own bed, the one adjacent to Skylar’s. Wow, someone is marking her territory.
A few legs dangled from top bunks topped with girls twirling hair or weaving hamsa bracelets. One girl laid in bed with her arms behind her head. Another was reading by the window sill.
The scene was idyllic and dangerous at the same time and Hannah was excited by it. That is, until Katie broke in. “So…you’re Hannah?”
“You need a camp name.” Katie played with the end of her perfect French braid.
Hannah face twisted, “A what?”
“Hannah Banana,” Katie announced and peered around the room. Everyone stood up a little straighter.
Skylar interjected, “She’s only here for a week.”
“I know. On scholarship. But all first-year campers get a nickname,” Katie checked and the room agreed with her. It is known. All first-years get a nickname. “Since you’re on scholarship, would you prefer ‘Affirmative Action’?” Katie snickered. All the other bunkmates followed suit. So easy to dislike this new girl who would only be ‘one of us’ for a week.
Skylar shoved Katie, “Stop it, bitch!”
No one was supposed to know about the scholarship. Skylar must have let it slip. Hannah felt her stomach twist.
“Okay, okay!” Katie laughed harder. “Hannah Banana it is then.” Katie clapped her hand on Hannah’s shoulder. “We have vocal lessons in five. I see you eyeing my braid though. I can do one for you when I get back, okay?”
“Sure, thanks.” Hannah just looked at the floor.
“Welcome to Camp in the Round, Banana!”
- * * *
Police lurked around campus. The two detectives invaded the English lounge with their coffee cups and their leather jackets and their man smell. The school was aroused. Whispering Hills was on the map. Kids from other schools were talking.
Hannah’s AP English class was reading A Raisin in the Sun when the office secretary knocked on the door. Cynthia was playing Beneatha and one of Brody’s lacrosse bros was playing Beneatha’s boyfriend Asagai. In the scene Asagai confronted Beneatha about her straightened her hair and denying her African heritage.
Thank God someone is saving us from ourselves. A bunch of privileged white kids discussing dreams of an African-American family on Chicago’s Southside. What a charade.
“Excuse me, Miss Brewster. Sorry to interrupt. Mr. Barry and Mr. Jones, I mean, Detective Barry and Detective Jones would like to see two of your students.”
Miss Brewster’s eyes widened, and the secretary continued, “He needs to ask Greg Tate and Cynthia Wolcott a few questions. It’s nothing to be nervous about, kids.”
“Sure!” Miss Brewster replied obsequiously then nodded to Greg and Cynthia. “Will they be returning to class this period?”
“I don’t know,” the secretary shrugged, somewhat put out by the follow up question. Hannah smirked. All she cares about is the Greek yogurt getting warm on her desk.
Greg’s body swirled around with all the drama of an accused innocent, “I should take all my books then?” His eyes darted around, “Do you think they’ll have many questions? I mean, of course, I want to help…”
Wait for it. Here comes a swoon. He’s gotten taller this year. I might have to duck out of the way if Greg faints.
“Hey, don’t worry. It’s going to be okay,” Hannah whispered as Greg passed.
“Oh my God, Hannah. I’m totes nervous. I’ll text you.”
“Be strong. You’ll be okay. Just tell the truth.”
Eager for Scarlett O’Hara to depart, Miss Brewster motioned to Greg, “Just go. Take your things.”
Cynthia’s departure was quiet but just as shocking. Eyes big as dinner plates and golden complexion turned stark white. Cynthia blinked rapidly and looked at the floor. It was the I-just-blew-the-audition look. Wow, if I didn’t know for sure that Zoe’s coma was my fault, I would think Cynthia was the guilty party. Maybe the police will pin it on her.
Classes went by at a painfully slow rate. Every time someone walked by the classroom door, Hannah held her breath.
Then her phone blinked. So many emojis. This could only be one person.
GT: that was awful. they think it was one of us. i could tell. no skid marks on the road—at least where skid marks should be. shows it wasn’t just an accident.
GT: it was a murder.
Then a slew of crying faces, gritted teeth, drama masks, daggers, and googly eyes.
GT: you know i have a gut feeling about these things.
GT: i’m never wrong.
What the hell do I text back? This is same way he reacted when Robert Meyer stole Jessica Trambull’s cell phone in ninth grade. Dean Feldman told the students that no one—NO ONE—would be dismissed until the someone fessed up. Greg worked himself into such a tizzy that he almost confessed to a crime he didn’t commit.
It was classic hyperbolic Greg Tate. But still, the phone beckoned for an answer. How does an innocent person react to these texts? And the skid marks? Shit, why didn’t I think of that? She typed but didn’t send it.
HC: oh god. one of us? as in…one of the musical cast? AWFUL
No, that won’t work. I have to text something. He knows I’m in Econ right now. The economics teacher was out sick. He would expect an answer. Hannah eyed the substitute. Mr. Pollix just stewing up at the desk. He hated covering classes. He was engrossed in his own work, so Hannah’s fingers flew across the keys.
HC: it can’t be one of us. it was just someone passing through. maybe someone looking to burglarize one of the houses. nice places up that road.
Yep, that’s it. Send Greg spinning with a new possibility. Still Hannah’s heart raced. It didn’t matter if Greg thought someone from outside the neighborhood did it. It mattered what the police thought.
Now I need to talk to Skylar. It was only a matter of time until the police questioned them. Hannah doubted a “friendly conversation” with a detective was a place where she could text a friend quickly. Detective, before I answer that question, do you mind if I text my psychotic friend? I want to make sure we are on the same page about the horrific crime we’re trying to cover up.
The bell rang. Skylar in the hallway chatting up those same jocks, Thing One and Thing Two. One pushed his hands into his letter jacket pockets. Two spit his gum into the trashcan four feet away.
“Impressive,” Hannah snarked, “Three pointer?”
“Surprised you know that term, Hannah. Now that’s impressive,” Thing One retorted.
“I need to talk to you,” Hannah directed her body towards Skylar. No time for passive-aggressive flirting with these sportsball guys.
Skylar smiled disarmingly, “Sure, friend. Talk.”
“I don’t have any tampons if that’s what you need,” she laughed, and the guys giggled too. Hannah colored involuntarily. She’s such a bitch. So many possible replies.
Of course, you don’t have any tampons, Sky. Dragon Witches don’t menstruate.
Of course, you don’t have tampons. You don’t need those when you’re pregnant with the director’s baby, you slut.
Hannah felt sweat bead under her breasts. “Greg and Cynthia got called by the detectives today. Looks like the police are talking to everyone in the play. I just wanted to tell you because they both seem upset.”
Now I’ve got your attention. The look on Skylar’s face revealed that neither Greg nor Cynthia told Skylar about being questioned. Hmm. Interesting. Normally, they would have both run to mama for consolation. Hannah began to see cracks in the overlord’s veneer.
The queen entwined her arm through Hannah’s and guided her into the girls room. For a few seconds, Hannah stupidly basked in the attention. This was the Skylar she fell for. She could make you feel like you were the only person in the world. Voice mellifluous and body warm.
“It’s okay, Hannah. Don’t freak out,” Skylar checked under a few stalls. Her hair glistened in the early afternoon sun that broke through the frosted bathroom windows. Hannah breathed and remembered the plan. All we have to do was stick to the story. We were already signed in at auditions when the accident happened. We had the party the night before. Sure, we were drinking but…
Hannah’s head and chest pounded with anxiety. She tried refocusing on formulas for the chemistry quiz. She paced and breathed heavily.
“I need to go. This was a mistake,” Hannah rushed for the door.
“Hannah!” Skylar took hold her upper arms, “Hannah, please stop freaking out. Your eyes are all glazed over. We were together that morning. That means that except for maybe some small details, our story is the same. Remember, you don’t need to know exact times other than when we were supposed to be at auditions. Don’t be all ‘We left at precisely 9:33 and it took 7 minutes to get to school.’ That will sound weird.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Hannah nodded furiously. No reason for more lives to be ruined from this. Hannah’s mantra. I have to protect my mom. She could be fired.
Skylar put on nude lip gloss. Through puckered lips, she relaxed and whispered, “This is probably the one and only time we’ll talk to the police.”
They left for class. Hannah (sort of) felt better. Back in the bathroom, in that last stall, Sarah Young and her girlfriend popped down off the toilet they had been crouching on.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Sarah said.
Copyright ©️ 2019 Kristin Sample All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written consent of the author.
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