Stagecraft Chapter Four
The First Rehearsal
The memo laid flaccidly on the counter next to Gillian’s work bag. Hastily written. Evidence of the administrative exhaustion a student’s death unleashes on a school.
Police were spotted at school already. Detectives in civilian clothes. Hannah expected police would show up. But she thought they’d been in uniforms. Like when the police arrived at camp this summer to question everyone about Katie Greco’s disappearance. Well, not exactly a disappearance. More a hiatus from camp. She came back a few days later. Hannah never blamed Katie for it. If Hannah had experienced the same thing Katie had, Hannah would have definitely gone AWOL. Skylar could be that scary.
Hannah slid the memo closer to her body but kept it on the counter, afraid to pick it up. Then she noticed her mother in the front hallway. Hannah strained to hear.
“Oh, dear. Jill, what is he thinking?”
A pause then…
“It doesn’t matter if he’s new. A student is dead.”
Another pause to let whoever was on the other end agree with her.
“Exactly. The kids need time.”
She’s talking to Ms. Panzini. Is she talking about Mr. Samuels? Doesn’t matter if he’s new? Must be Samuels. Hannah heard keys drop on the oak floor. Her mother rummaged through a shopping bag.
“Dammit. No. Not you, Jillian. I dropped my keys….Well, you can’t very well say anything with kids around. If you don’t have a united front, the rest of the rehearsals won’t go well. Remember The Lion King?…Aaron did what? What did Principal Hendrickson say to that?”
Her mother turned the corner and Hannah’s heart stopped.
“Jill, I’ll see you at work.” She plopped the phone in her purse.
Hannah’s mother gathered her bags, “Are you ready to go?”
What did Aaron Samuels do? I need to know. I can’t believe he’s causing drama already. She wanted to ask her mom, but the words just stuck in her throat—much like her abysmal audition song.
“Yes, I’m ready.”
* * *
Will Bartlett’s funeral took place a week after the accident. The beginnings of the investigation, a visitation that went on for three days, and an uncooperative local pastor prolonged the his burial. The Bartlett family wanted it done and over with. The sooner the rituals of grief happened, the sooner they could deal with their actual grief.
For the first two nights of the visitation, Hannah couldn’t go. “I’ll go, mom. I will. I just have this project to finish” or “I don’t want to fail this calc test.” She did, however, drive past Schumaker’s when she picked Ricky up from basketball practice. The air around the funeral home was thick with heartache. The line of mourners wrapped around the building. Cars parked everywhere they could fit. Even on the grass. People parked in the Stop & Shop lot across the street and walked over to keep vigil.
They went because it was the right thing to do. They went because they were sad. But mostly, they went because they were thankful they weren’t the Bartletts.
It was the third evening of the visitation when Hannah finally mustered the strength to show her face. Hannah and Gillian Cross waited in that dreadful line. There they were—frozen by the March winds and the silent weight of a life cut short. Warm trickles fell down Hannah’s cheeks. Her gloves felt scratchy when she wiped them away. Others took note of her sadness—and the more they sympathized, the more the guilt grew like a cancer inside her.
The Range Rover. She’s here again? She went last night. And the night before. Sitting there in a handicapped spot was Skylar’s truck. Hannah let out a wail then quickly muffled it. Gillian hugged her daughter hard. When they got closer to the car, Hannah spied the right side of it. No dents, no dings, no silver paint. Just like Skylar said. The relief just as strong as the remorse.
Inside the funeral home students paraded past, saying hello and some offering condolences. Skylar sat at the front with the Bartlett family. The two families were close for the year Skylar and Will dated. They would lean on Skylar.
In a tufted velvet armchair, Skylar Clarke dabbed her eyes with a tissue. In fact, the only two mourners sitting up front were Skylar and Will’s elderly grandmother. The other Bartletts milled around and received guests. Every once in a while, Skylar would clasp the grandmother’s hand.
Hannah excused herself from the line. She hurried to the bathroom. Here I am in a bathroom stall again. Hiding from my hideous deeds. Hiding from Skylar. How did I get here? She thought again of camp. Maybe if I had down the right thing then, none of this would be happening. But the police were so careless. And Skylar was…well, she was and is Skylar. And Katie Greco was a dreadful human being.
A human being.
She was still a human being. One I could have protected. Could have tried harder.
Hannah spent the rest of the night in the lobby, chatting idly or trying to look busy. Never approaching the casket. Lying to her mother about it. Later that night, a text from Skylar.
SC: saw u @ schumakers.
Hannah stared at the fluorescent screen for at least a minute.
SC: u don’t say hi?
Her stomach churned. After everything, the prospect of Skylar being mad could preempt any other concerns. Hannah hated herself for a moment then clicked the keys.
HC: just upset. mom wanted to leave.
Hannah closed her eyes. The phone vibrated once more. Greg this time.
GT: omg check call board.
Hannah sprung off the bed, sheets tangled and almost tripping her as she grabbed the laptop. Her phone continued to buzz with the same text from different people as she loaded the musical’s Facebook page.
What the hell? Samuels didn’t cancel rehearsal? A student is dead. Another is in a coma. God forbid we should miss a rehearsal. Hannah, filled with righteous indigence, texted furiously for the better part of an hour, participating in the chorus of complaints. She forgot for a moment that she was the one responsible for the actual funeral.
* * *
“Hannah? Are you listening?” Aaron Samuels cocked his head. Hannah and Skylar stood at attention with the director. Skylar basked in his encouraging words. Yes, I’m listening. I just want this lecture to be over.
Hannah answered, “Yes, sir. Of course. Thank you for overlooking the audition. I’m happy to be part of the show.”
Samuels sniffed. He didn’t want to cast me at all. Bet Ms. Panzini convinced him. Or worse, I only got a part because of my mom. Barf. I wish you were Mr. Jacobsen—our old director. He knows how hard-working and talented I am.
“We’re done here,” Mr. Samuels glared at Hannah. Both girls started away when he called Skylar back.
“Hannah should take a page out of your book,” he whispered to Skylar, but Hannah heard the remark. The rest of the cast were swarming around the front of the auditorium. Mr. Samuels was still complimenting Skylar’s maturity and poise when Hannah reached her friends. She resolved to remain stoic. I’ll show him. Just relax. Do what you do. And then he’ll see he was wrong.
Greg Tate was first with a big hug. He didn’t check Hannah off his list of hugs at Will’s funeral.
“Oh my God, girl! I’m sorry. I know Will was like—your locker buddy.”
“Thanks. It’s—” Hannah was about to say something vapid about how hard it will be not to see Will every day. But Skylar pranced up and stole Greg away.
Greg immediately hugged her forcefully, “This must be so hard for you.”
When Skylar pulled away, the most perfect tear fell from her right eye. She wiped it delicately, “I literally can’t even be here right now.”
No kidding. Another cast member—some nameless underclassman—walked up to pay respects to Skylar too. The tableau was a flawless illustration of the school’s pecking order. Skylar suffered the pities of lower classmen gloriously, like the first lady of Whispering Hills. Quietly reverent and classy and all gravitas.
While Skylar continued her show, Greg and Hannah talked about the other drama of the day: the fact that rehearsal wasn’t canceled. Cynthia walked up and rolled her big blue eyes at the director. His back was turned, of course.Ms. Panzini shuffled by, eyes still red from weeping at the services.
When she was a safe distance, Cynthia began kvetching, “I heard that Mr. Samuels didn’t even want to start rehearsal late. We were supposed to be doing the read through this morning and then start learning the opening. We’re doing a choreographed overture. Lame. And now he’s all bent out of shape because Principal Hendrickson made him start late to let everyone go to Will’s funeral.”
Hannah interrupted, “The principal?”
Cynthia loved the attention, “Yeah, Ms. Panzini told the principal that Mr. Samuels didn’t want to cancel morning session of the rehearsal. She tattled on him.”
Cast members gathered around them—the magnetic pull of teacher drama. Greg looked around at the group and announced the obvious, “Will Bartlett was one of us. We need the closure.”
Everyone nodded at Greg’s sagacity. He used a fancy counselor term. Without even realizing, Hannah suppressed a vicious giggle that bubbled up in her throat. I caused this. I can’t believe I caused this. The power one person could attain washed over her.
But Paige Kellogg, Zoe’s sister, walked by and thoroughly murdered the Freudian slip Hannah was indulging. One of Paige’s friends ran up and bear-hugged her. Tears rose to Hannah’s eyes and she looked away from the group. Paige’s small, frail torso heaved with grief. Ms. Panzini came to the rescue and ushered Paige out of the theatre.
A few minutes later, it was time to start. Mr. Samuels grabbed the mic and got the cast assembled on the stage. Everyone looked at each other with that collective expression of curiosity and confusion.
Aaron Samuels began, all the other adults in a row a few feet behind him, like drill sergeants at the first day of boot camp. Ms. Panzini even stood with her feet hip-width apart and her hands resting on the small of her back. It was comical. Still, Hannah sat up straighter, determined that she would make up for auditions.
“These next few months will ask much of you. I expect dedication to me, these fine people behind me, this show, and your fellow cast and crew. We are a family now…”
A dysfunctional family.
About halfway through the speech, Skylar leaned in close. Her breath smelled like hazelnut coffee and brown sugar, “That was brutal today.”
Hannah’s stomach clenched. Why is she talking about Will’s funeral?
“I don’t think we should talk about it here.”
Skylar scoffed and continued pouring her warm breath on the left side of Hannah’s neck, “After you left us, Samuels told me that I was the only ‘adult’ audition he saw. He totally didn’t understand while Panzini likes you so much. I told him it’s because of your mother.”
“Why would you say that?”
“Hannah? Is there something you’d like to add?” Mr. Samuels barked from the front of the stage, “Or perhaps you think that you don’t need to hear this? Above it all, are we?” His tone dripped with bile.
Screw you, Aaron Samuels. Hannah balled up her fists and dug her nails into her palms.
“Nothing, then? Okay. Let’s…” The director told everyone to take five and report to the read through in room 104. He had a video from Stagecraft on Broadway.
When the group broke, Hannah found herself caught behind Sarah Young and her crew. Hannah swallowed hard to fight the tears.
Of course, they were discussing Will’s death.
And Sarah Young is so damn loud.
“No, you’re wrong Denise. That road is not a thoroughfare. It doesn’t go anywhere. The other driver is from the neighborhood. Not some random person. It’s someone who knew the roads. That’s why the police are at school like every day.”
Another chimed in woefully, “I can’t believe someone from Whispering Hills would do that.”
Sarah retorted, “Flee the scene of a horrific accident to save their own ass? I can believe it. People have a lot to lose here.”
“The road leads to the park. It could be anyone.”
Sarah lowered her voice, “The road also leads to Clarke mansion.”
At that, Hannah ran past them, barreling through the group and knocking Denise into a row of seats. But Hannah needed a toilet and fast. Her hand clasped over her mouth.
“Hey! Watch it, Hannah!” Sarah called.
* * *
Hannah rushed to room 104 after heaving in that same last stall of the bathroom. My second home. They should put my name on the door. Now I’ll catch more attitude from Mr. Samuels. A chorus girl late for his precious read through. She sloshed some water around in her mouth to kill the acidic sour taste. She inhaled sharply through her nose, forcing air through her nostrils. With her head down and deep in thought, Hannah rehearsed her explanation for Mr. Samuels and exited the girls room.
“Oh, Hannah. Hey.” Brody Wolcott leaned effortlessly against the lockers.
He stood up straight. Hannah looked down both sides of the hallway. Just the two of us.
“What are you doing at musical rehearsal?” Hannah smiled coyly, activating her inner-Skylar. He was a long way from the lacrosse field.
Brody took a few measured steps closer and Hannah felt the skin on her collarbones tingle. His expression contained all the weight and grief of the day, “I brought Cynthia to rehearsal and my mom wanted me to wait around. See if things were actually happening today. She’d rather have us home—you know, on a day like today. She’s pretty messed up about Will. Dying young and all.”
“Yeah, my mom was crying last night too. She hugged my little brother and lost it.”
An awkward moment of quiet. Hannah’s swagger vanished, “I—I don’t think Cynthia is in the bathroom. She’s probably in 104. Unless you just like hanging out outside the girls’ room.”
Gosh, I’m so bitchy. Why do girls always take every opportunity to ruin a moment with the guy they like?
Thankfully, Brody wasn’t deterred by the immature snipe. He stepped closer again, “You never know if a pretty girl is in there. And she’s sick. And you need to check on her.”
“I wasn’t sick. I—I just…”
Another step closer.
Brody dipped his head down and purred, “Good. You’re okay, then?”
Hannah regretted moving away so quickly but a kiss? Right now? In the empty school hallway? So cliché. And my breath would certainly make Brody regret waiting outside the bathroom.
Hannah started to the classroom, “I have to get to the read through. Samuels already hates me.”
Brody jogged a few seconds to catch up, “Hey, I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“I am. Really.”
He wasn’t convinced. Before they made the corner, Brody touched Hannah’s arm, “And Samuels doesn’t hate you. He’s just being hard on you because he’s dating your mom.”
“What? No, he’s not…”
“Everybody knows. It’s not a big deal. Nobody is talking about your mom in a bad way. I promise. Ms. Cross is like the best teacher here. And her letter of rec is why I’m getting into Hofstra.”
“You’re going there because Hofstra knows an excellent lacrosse player when it sees one.”
Brody smiled—surprised at Hannah’s interest lacrosse, the sport he lives for. “Yeah, but I still needed a teacher to vouch for me, you know, that I can read and write.”
Hannah laughed, and Brody capitalized, “We should go out sometime. I know this isn’t the time to ask. I’m sure you’re…”
“Yes, we should. Text me. Okay?” Hannah felt giddy and somewhat scared at the same time. Like the feeling you get when the roller coaster makes its initial ascent. Was it guilt or Brody nerves or abject fear of Mr. Samuels? Yep, all of the above.
When Hannah neared the classroom, she heard voices arguing in the hallway. Hannah ducked behind a trophy display case. It was Ms. Panzini and Mr. Samuels.
“She needs to be with her family. Her sister is in a coma.”
“No, she needs to be at rehearsal. I think distraction is a good thing right now.”
Ms. Panzini sighed heavily, “Maybe next week. Maybe distraction will be good then. But not today. They all just buried their friend.”
They were talking about Paige Kellogg. Hannah narrowed her eyes. The first of many teacher conflicts the cast would witness over the next few months. All too familiar. Usually, Hannah would just roll her eyes and wait for Mr. Samuels to proclaim the obvious “I’m the director of this show!”
But not today. Today, Hannah was the reason everyone was in upheaval. Not trusting her legs, Hannah held the display case for support. At any moment, her life could come crashing down. She couldn’t shake the feeling that everyone, at all times, was talking about her and Skylar.
Another adult appeared. The rehearsal pianist. “Paige is a wreck. Let’s call someone to take her home. And if you send her home, we can probably get a lot more done.”
Smart. Appeal to Mr. Samuels’ need to get something accomplished today.
But Samuels wasn’t having it. “You too? Really? First, I have to cast Hannah Cross as understudy to the lead—when she shouldn’t even be in the show. That was the worst audition I’ve ever seen. And now I’m sending the dance captain home the first day of rehearsal? And Jill. Weren’t you planning on using Paige in the opening number?”
“You coddle these kids, Jill. I heard it about you before I came. And now I see it. This is why I’m bringing in Zachary Cartwright to do a number.”
Ms. Panzini stood
aghast for a moment. Choking on the insult, she yelled, “I’m sending her home!”
“I’m the director!” he shouted.
And there it is. Time to get in that classroom. They are too annoyed with each other right now to yell at me. Hannah showed herself and the adults immediately hushed. Ms. Panzini turned and walked a few paces down the hallway, clearly crying.
Hannah was about to slip in to the read-through unscathed. Mr. Samuels stared at the floor but then, as if the proverbial lightbulb had gone off over his head, “Hannah?”
“Yes, Mr. Samuels,” and then before he could say anything, Hannah blurted out, “I think it’s good that we’re here right now. I’m sorry. I—I—overheard a little. I just wanted you to know that. It’s a good distraction. For me, at least.”
He stared blankly for a second and then uttered a surprisingly sincere “Thank you.”
Once inside the classroom, Skylar flagged Hannah down and pointed to the open seat next to her.
“I saved it for you, bestie,” she smiled and basked in the green glow that was Cynthia Wolcott’s jealousy. Skylar loved creating these little moments for Cynthia. They kept her obedient.
The students buzzed—apparently someone saw a police car circling in the parking lot. Mr. Samuels walked in and everyone quieted.
“Sorry about the wait, everyone. I had to get the DVD of Stagecraft from my office. Everyone has a script? Good.”
Ms. Panzini came in and walked directly to Paige. She spoke softly and solemnly. Maybe…if I’m lucky…just maybe Zoe died. Ms. Panzini is relaying the tragic news. No, probably not that lucky.
Paige and the dance teacher left the room.
“Looks like Panzini just drew a line in the sand,” Skylar leaned in and sneered.
Mr. Samuels cued up the video and the cast began the read through. It went on for three hours. So, Hannah had all that time to wonder about that police car.
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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