Stagecraft Chapter Three
Chapter Three: Auditions
Skylar’s iPhone blared some obscene hip-hop song. The phone vibrated and fell off the bedside table, screen blinking frenetically. Get up, girls! You shouldn’t have gotten inebriated last night, the phone seemed to say.
Hannah rolled out of bed and laid face down on the floor for a moment. She grabbed the small card from under Sky’s bedside table. Must have fallen. Oh, it’s from her sister. Hannah read the quote and thought ruefully about how truthful it was. Theatre was indeed a bunch of obstacles on a journey towards a disaster. In other words, doing the play was a shit show. And every shit show began with auditions.
Hannah found Skylar already in her bathroom. There is a solid possibility she’s brushing her teeth with tequila. Skylar’s wavy hair was in a messy ponytail. She sat on the closed toilet.
“What the hell is wrong with us?” Skylar giggled softy.
Hannah rubbed her eyes, her voice hoarse, “Auditions are in 90 minutes. Hope Mr. Samuels runs some warm ups.”
Skylar shrugged, “Unlikely. Mr. Samuels seems like a tool.” Then two second later, “Sorry, Hannah. I know your mom has the hots for him.” She played with her ponytail and smiled fiendishly, “Aaron Samuels could be your stepdad one day. Too bad you’ll be long gone from Whispering Hills. Won’t be able to cash in. Hashtag nepotism.”
Hannah searched the queen’s face. How does she know about Mr. Samuels and mom? It’s too new. How many times did she drive by Thursday night? No, don’t take the bait. Not this morning. Not before auditions.
“I’m taking a shower,” Hannah undressed completely knowing nakedness would silence Skylar.
“Save it for Brody!” Skylar shut the bathroom door behind her.
The housekeeper made breakfast but the girls left it on the counter untouched. Instead, Skylar made Bloody Marys.
“I’m not drinking before we have to be at school,” Hannah shook her head admonishingly. Still Skylar poured three shots of vodka into a travel coffee cup and topped it off with tomato juice and a dollop of horseradish. She was going in the fridge for Tabasco when Hannah’s phone rang. They both jumped as if they were hiding a body and the police were at the front door.
“It’s just my mom,” Hannah exhaled.
Skylar finished making the breakfast of champions while Hannah checked in. She pressed the cup into Hannah’s chest, “A little of the snake that bit ya!”
“Shh…Oh. Not you, mom,” Hannah rushed her mother off the phone, jaw grinding involuntarily. Wouldn’t be the first time Skylar showed up to school plastered. I could never even be late to class, no less drunk at school. Not Gillian Cross’s daughter. Fac brats don’t get to screw up. Wealthy kids, however, do whatever the hell they want.
Hannah looked at iPhone in her hand, one of many expensive gifts from her best friend. Guess I’m on babysitting duty again.
Skylar threw the keys to her Range Rover in Hannah’s direction, “You’re driving.”
“No, I’m not.”
Skylar stopped short, “I’m not wearing my contacts. I can’t put them in until I sober up.”
Hannah’s whole body deflated. How the hell am I supposed to drive down Lakeside Road? All the winding and hairpin turns. The road was treacherous sober.
Skylar clicked her tongue, “We can have a drunk driver with bad eyes driving or just a drunk driver. Which one do you think can hit the most pedestrians? Come on, you know you love the Rover.”
“Shot gun!” She climbed into the brand new truck, one of many sorry-I’m-married-again presents from Daddy Clarke.
Hannah shuffled around in her bag looking for Advil, trying to balance both the keys and her morning cocktail. She popped two pills and chased them with Bloody Mary. This is gonna be a long day.
Skylar texted furiously, keypad clicking rapidly. The buttery soft leather of the Range Rover seats felt good. Worst part was Hannah really wanted to drive the Range Rover. Hannah wanted lots of stuff Skylar had. Once Hannah made a lame excuse about needing a Halloween costume to get an old blouse Skylar was giving to Goodwill. “Wait, you want this? Oh, for Halloween. Oh my God, it would make a good costume,” Skylar had said as she tossed the shirt over to Hannah.
“Good luck today,” Skylar’s eyes were wide with expectation.
Were those good wishes for the drive or the audition?
Skylar threw her phone in her bag, “Ugh, Cynthia. Wants a ride. Umm…NO. Stalker.”
“I can swing by her house.” Maybe Cynthia would drive. Plus, Cynthia lived in Lakeside Manor, a small, new subdivision of McMansions surrounding the lake. It’s sort of on the way.
Skylar sneered, “Of course you don’t mind. Brody might be there. Or maybe he’s still sleeping, dreaming of…”
Hannah cut her off, “If he’s fully clothed, I really don’t care.”
“Touché.” Sky laughed and placed her elbow on the car door, gently sipping her drink.
The two started the long windy drive down the mountain. Hannah tried going slowly but Skylar egged her on. They’d be late for auditions if Hannah drove like a granny. Now, Hannah was going 50 mph—too fast even for residents who knew the lay of the land. The road was two single lanes. Narrow lanes at that. It was paved but tons of trees surrounded it. Morning sun barely broke through the canopy of branches. Even at this point in the morning, the road appeared dark.
“Floor it! We’re going to be late, Hannah!” Skylar yelled at one point.
“I don’t live up here. I don’t drive this.”
“You have eyes, just use them and go faster,” Skylar returned. She was about to say something more when a Prius pulled out in front of the Rover from a secluded side street. Hannah barely had time to slow down.
Hannah slammed her hand on the steering wheel, “We are going to get in an accident if you don’t calm down!”
“It’s Will’s car. Follow him,” Skylar whispered, almost inaudible. The blinders were on. Will Bartlett drove his Prius at a responsible speed. The car was a gift from his father, a renowned environmental architect. If it’s not evident yet why Will and Skylar were completely incompatible, the car choices should clearly define it. A Prius and a Range Rover. Will was quiet and sensible. Skylar was excessive, imposing, and luxurious.
“He’s going to the same place we are, Sky. I’m already following him.” Hannah rolled her eyes but spoke like she was placating a toddler.
Skylar leaned forward and squinted, “Zoe is with him. She slept at Will’s house? What a slut. What a frigging hypocrite. Isn’t she like the president of the youth ministry or some Christian club?”
The curves of the road were nauseating. Hannah moaned, “I don’t know. Maybe youth group at her church?”
“She is! And she swore up and down that she wasn’t having the S-E-X until she was married. Oh, my God! I hate her. She’s such a whore! No wonder why he wants her. Perfect lady in the daylight and prostitute at night.”
Thinking humor might diffuse the bomb in the passenger seat, Hannah offered, “Maybe Zoe and Will Bartlett got hitched last night?”
“Don’t interrupt me! Follow them!” Skylar hollered and reached over to honk the horn. Absurdly Hannah was reminded of the red queen in Alice in Wonderland. Off with her head!
“Don’t…” Hannah lost control of the SUV for a moment. The swerve was small but powerful. Her heart nearly jumped out of her ribs. “Shit! Skylar!”
Skylar honked over and over. Hannah pushed Skylar’s arm away. Then came the slap. Warm tears rose in Hannah’s eyes. She just hit me. I can’t believe she just hit me. Oh my God, she’s insane.
The cars approached a hairpin turn. More honking.
“Holy shit! Skylar—stop!!” Hannah’s scream was loud and high-pitched.
The Rover made the turn with what seemed like angels surrounding the car. But when they were back on a straight stretch, Skylar started in again, unfazed by the near totaling of her brand-new car.
“Pass him! He’s an asshole. And he’s too much of a pussy to race you.”
Wiping a salty trickle from her cheek, Hannah replied, “No!”
“Do it! Or I will climb over there.”
She will too. Hannah checked the opposite lane. No oncoming traffic. The Range Rover accelerated and quickly caught up to the Prius. They were side-by-side in an instant. Hannah kept pressing the gas, but Will’s car followed suit. Why isn’t he falling back? Just fall back.
Skylar gave Zoe the finger. “Slut!” Her hands were on the wheel and Hannah swatted them away.
Hannah turned her eyes back to road and slowed down.
“What the fuck, Cross?” Skylar hollered, her voice screeched with rage. “I said PASS HIM!”
Hannah revved up and the cars were side-by-side again. But he wouldn’t let up. Again, Skylar taunted the couple. Hannah floored it and started to pass Will’s Prius when she saw the truck coming at her. An eighteen-wheeler headed straight for the dark navy Range Rover. The truck’s horn was louder than anything Hannah ever heard.
“Shit!” Hannah screamed as she swerved back into her lane, hitting the front corner of Will’s Prius. Or maybe Skylar reached over and grabbed the wheel. Hannah doesn’t exactly remember. But somehow, they didn’t hit the truck.
They did hit the Prius.
The SUV struggled to right itself. Hannah felt her entire body seize with anticipation.
And she could see the Prius in her rearview mirror. Well, a glimpse of it as the car ran off the side of the road. Down the tree-studded mountainside. The sound the car made as it careened down the hill was horrendous. It hurtled uncontrollably through trees and brush.
Hannah slowed down, panting wildly, “Oh my God! We hit them!”
“We didn’t mean to. I swear,” Skylar yelled back—her usually pink cheeks white with fear.
Sweat bubbled on Hannah’s nose and forehead. Her mouth felt dry. “We have to go back. We have to help them.” Hannah saw a place to pull over. It was dirt but looked level enough to stop safely. She turned to her best friend, “Shit! We hit them! We hit them!” She started to cry.
Skylar just stared straight ahead. Hannah shouted again and again. But Skylar was stone.
Finally, Hannah unbuckled her seatbelt.
Skylar grabbed her friend, “The truck probably pulled over already.”
“So? We have to go back!…Get off me!…I’m calling 911!”
Skylar snatched Hannah’s phone and threw it in the backseat, “Just give me a minute to think.”
They could be dead. They could be dead.
“They could be dead, Skylar!”
Skylar replied almost involuntarily, “Good.”
“What did you say?” Hannah answered.
“Nothing. Keep driving to school. We need to get to auditions.”
“But we hit Will’s car and it went sailing down a hill. They might be seriously injured. They could be dead. WE killed them!”
A beat. Then almost in slow motion…
“You killed them. You hit them. That is, if they are dead or injured. Who knows?” Skylar was calming down at an eerily fast rate. There was a meanness inside her that lived and breathed like another lung.
“What?! Are you kidding right now? You’re blaming me?”
“You’re driving. Think about Hannah. You’re driving. Not me. You’re drinking and driving. What are you going to say when we get back there? Are you ready for your life to be over?”
She continued. Hannah hated herself for listening.
“Your mother will hate you. The school will expel you and probably fire her. Not that Gillian Cross did anything wrong, but you know how Whispering Hills likes it reputation. Your future is gone the instant you go back there. And if you think that I’m going to down with you, you really don’t know me.”
But I do know you. Because I know what you did to that poor girl at camp. To Katie Greco.
But I also know that you’re right. Hannah wept softly.
Skylar took out her phone and checked the time, “8:50. Ten minutes to auditions. Drive.”
“I can’t drive,” Hannah sniveled.
Skylar put on her Prada tortoise shell glasses, something she never wears outside her home, “Get in the back. I’ll drive.”
When the two walked into auditions, Skylar was fine, a stoic queen overseeing an execution. Hannah, on the other hand, was a hot mess. She grabbed a number and ran to the restroom. Skylar told Ms. Panzini, the choreographer, that Hannah had personal troubles. Probably something about her father. He was never there for her. And Ms. Panzini probably said something about Skylar being a good friend.
In the bathroom, Hannah rushed to the last stall and muffled her sobs. Girls shuffled in and out. Is that my name? Are they talking about me? No, it’s okay. No one knows. Not one person checked the last stall. It was the same stall Hannah hid in when she bombed auditions the first time. The time she picked the same song as Zoe.
It was an hour into auditions when Skylar came in.
Hannah opened the door and Skylar hugged her hard. “I’m sure they are fine,” she purred.
They sat on the cold floor for a few minutes. If Hannah hadn’t been so distraught she be flattered that Skylar deigned to sit on the grimy tiles. It meant something.
The sound of Will’s car swerving off the road and careening down that ridge still played in her head and made her sick. Every time Hannah told herself Will and Zoe were fine, that the truck stopped and called 911, that the ambulance probably got there in time, her head rang with the sound of the Prius. Like she lived inside a huge bell. Even her teeth rang with the scream of the tires. And Will and Zoe—jostled around inside like sneakers in a dryer after a rainy run.
Hannah swallowed hard, “We’re terrible people. I’m a terrible person. I hit them.”
Without blinking an eye, Skylar responded with logic and her usual get-over-it-attitude, “You didn’t actually hit them. After I signed in, I told Ms. Panzini I left something in my car. I checked the whole right side. There’s no like marks. Don’t you think that if we hit Will, there would be a dent?”
Yeah, I guess. Surely there would be paint from the silver Prius visible on the dark blue Rover. She was right. Right? Hannah looked around the bathroom stall. I need this story to hold up. Will lost control of his car. A terrible accident. But I didn’t actually cause it.
The restroom door swung open and Hannah jumped. Skylar put a gentle hand on her knee. The door to the stall jiggled, “Sky? Hannah?”
“What, Cynthia?” Skylar called back, her voice dripped with contempt.
“They are looking for you.” Cynthia returned quietly.
Skylar rolled her hazel eyes, “Who is looking for us?”
“Can I come in? Mr. Samuels is looking for the next five singers. Hannah is number 32, right?” Cynthia jiggled the stall handle again.
Skylar pulled Hannah up and then faced the door but left it closed to Cynthia, “Okay, we’ll be right out.”
Cynthia moved toward the exit and muttered, “You’re welcome,” under her breath.
Baby steps to the bathroom sink. Skylar’s arm around Hannah’s waist. Hannah splashed water on her face. Skylar watched grimly in the mirror. Hannah half-expected a ghost to materialize behind them. Then the ghost would disappear immediately when the girls turned around. Too much Macbeth essay writing this week. Hannah shook off the thought of ghosts.
Skylar stayed to reapply lip-gloss, but Hannah had to get moving. On the way, her phone vibrated, and she looked at the number quizzically…
did you have fun last night? what about this morning? pretty rough, huh?
Whose number is this? She started texting back and found herself face to face with a crew member, one of Sarah’s lackeys.
“Turn off your phone. No more watching Idina Menzel crush it on YouTube,” he sniped.
At the auditorium doors, Sarah Young, the head of crew who fancied herself a student director, stood up to usher Hannah inside, “Almost missed your vocals. You know how they feel about punctuality.”
You nasty little hall monitor.
Sarah opened the door to deposit Hannah then turned back the rest of the kids lining the corridors. “Shhh!!!” They immediately stopped talking because Sarah was the gatekeeper on audition day. The head of the lesbian mafia arched an eyebrow smugly at the auditionees.
But Skylar shouted, “Get it, girl!”
The walk from the back of the theatre to the front row was excruciating. All the decision makers turned slightly and took her in. Hannah trembled as she scanned the teachers’ faces. There was Jill Panzini, the choreographer. I wonder what tale Skylar spun about my dad when we arrived. Panzini’s expression was all fake concern. Jill Panzini and Hannah’s mom were good friends so the dance teacher harbored a righteous hatred of Gillian’s ex. But her worry about Hannah was artificial. The only thing she really worries about is her freaking wedding binder. “If I have to look at one more picture of a flower arrangement when we are supposed to be warming up,”Hannah had complained many times this school year.
And then there was Mr. Samuels, a pen in his mouth, staring over his reading glasses. Unimpressed. All business today. As if ‘Aaron’ hadn’t dined with the Cross family a few days before. Do I look like the lead he’s already cast in his head? Do I look like someone who could carry a show?
Hannah handed sheet music to the accompanist and announced that she’d be singing “Home” from The Wiz. Ms. Panzini looked at Hannah like she was little baby who just did something adorable. Aaron Samuels cracked a smile. A sense of relief washed over Hannah. He remembers talking about my audition song. He likes that I chose “Home.”
When she climbed up on stage, Hannah nodded meekly at the pianist to start. But when it was her turn to come in, she missed it completely. Nerves felt like they were growing all over Hannah’s body, popping out like hives. The pianist offered closed-mouth smile and repeated the intro again. This time he gave big nod to count her in.
Nothing again. Little did Hannah know that the next ten minutes would be the most humiliating of her life. Mr. Samuels threw his hand up—a signal to the pianist.
“Something wrong?” He tried to say it as benignly as he could. The irritation was crystal clear. Hannah was a senior, a staple in all the Whispering Hills shows. No doubt he expected at least a solid audition. Maybe not lead material. But not this freshmen bullshit. He raised his eyebrows as he waited for a reply. Ms. Panzini said nothing, but her eyes were sympathetic.
Hannah pleaded to start again and got a nod from the director. Third time around and Hannah sang but messed up so badly that Mr. Samuels threw his hand up again. His neck red with agitation. I even messed up the lyrics. What a newbie move! You don’t have a prayer of getting a lead if you mess up lyrics.
The adults put their heads together and whispered. Then Aaron Samuels spoke, “Hannah, you were Zoe Kellogg’s understudy last year in Guys & Dolls, correct?”
“Come down and stand next to the piano, Hannah.”
“Let’s sing ‘If I were a Bell.’ Pretend like you’re at rehearsal.” Aaron Samuels’ fingers danced on the keys—he was a better than the rehearsal pianist. He played and hummed the song beautifully.
Hannah soaked up these moments—they were meant to calm her down. He wanted to get the best out of her. But she was reminded of Zoe and how much she wanted Zoe’s role last year. And this particular morning that name made Hannah’s stomach rise. I can’t even blame Skylar. I was driving that damn car.
Mr. Samuels started playing and nodded empathically on Hannah’s cue. Her throat was sandpaper. She showed everyone an uninspiring five-note range. As Hannah exited, she wiped the tears away. Great. Senior year and I’ve just blown my last audition here. All they know now is that I’m shy, I can’t remember lyrics, and my voice is about as good as my brother’s.
Skylar met Hannah at the doors to the auditorium and whisked her down the hallway. When Hannah sobbed about how poorly the audition went, Skylar petted Hannah’s hair lovingly. But her expression gave her away. So fake. She’s using her “this is my sad for you” face. Hannah knew it too well.
Sarah Young called Skylar’s name like a drill sergeant and she flitted back to the theatre. The Clarke Theatre—one of the many spaces on campus that bore Skylar’s last name. Skylar doesn’t care. Today I’m competition, not her best friend. The betrayal was a gut stab.
She looked coyly over shoulder, “Wish me luck.”
Like you’ll need it. We put two classmates in the hospital this morning. And you’re fine? Hannah grinded her teeth until her jaw hurt. Sometimes…sometimes…I wish I’d never met Skylar. Hannah wanted Zoe Kellogg to walk right through that door, on crutches, hobble down to the stage and sing her heart out. On Zoe’s worst day, Skylar still couldn’t steal the lead.
Cynthia and Greg were huddled close by. Both of them glued to their phones. “O…M…G,” Cynthia scrolled the Whispering Hills Drama Club Facebook group.
“Is she really a no-show?” Greg’s eyes were wide with the anticipation of juicy gossip.
“She never checked-in on the FB group,” Cynthia answered. Everyone posts on that Facebook group. Good luck wishes. ‘I’m-so-nervous’ posts followed by a chorus of encouraging comments. Seniors posting about how it’s their last show with hundreds of sad-faced emojis.
Greg leaned in close to Hannah, “Zoe Kellogg is nowhere to be found. All day. She blew off auditions.” His mouth contorted until he looked like a clown. Hannah gulped hard. Act giddy with excitement, she told herself. Remember this is big news. The operative word is “news.”
Then another gaggle of kids waddled over.
“She’s not here!”
“Zoe Kellogg is missing auditions her senior year.”
“Something must have happened. Something good.”
“Maybe she got a role on real Broadway!”
Suddenly Hannah was surrounded with her sin. “What about Will?” Hannah blurted, immediately sorry she’d said it. Both Cynthia and Greg looked up, confused.
“What do you mean? Will said he wasn’t doing the musical this year. He’s been saying it for weeks,” Greg’s forehead crinkled. They grooves showed where his future wrinkles would appear.
Cynthia concurred, “Yeah, he’s got an agent down in the city. Sending him to auditions like every weekend.”
“Yeah,” Greg continued, “Remember how he missed math the other day? Well, he got his schedule changed so that he can leave school by 1:45.”
Shit, that was common knowledge. Hannah waited for Greg and Cynthia’s rapid-fire interrogation. Hannah’s locker was next to Will’s. They’d assume Hannah had up-to-date info. The questions never came. A mercy. Facebook or twitter or snapchat caught everyone’s attention again.
Hannah felt alone. She leaned against the wall next to Greg for a few minutes. Don’t say anything else. Don’t say anything stupid.
“How did it go, Hannah?” Cynthia tried to be sweet. Both Hannah and Cynthia were middle level performers in the past. Equals. Each year, they’d nabbed a feature or a small speaking role. But never a bona fide lead.
“I sucked,” Hannah retorted somewhat rudely and walked away before Cynthia could see the tears.
Every huddle of students was abuzz with Zoe’s absence. It meant a lot for everyone. When the top dog isn’t in the mix, everyone moves up a rung on the talent ladder.
Hannah stood over Sarah Young’s little desk. Sarah pretended not to notice for at least two minutes. I hate the crew sometimes. Sure, act like I’m invisible.
When Sarah finally looked up, she snarled, “Yes Hannah? You can’t go back in and try out again.”
Normally, Hannah would give Sarah Young a little lip. She didn’t give a crap that Sarah had a big posse of bushy-eyebrowed crew members. Instead, Hannah shrank at the jab about her botched audition, “Umm, I was wondering if Zoe auditioned yet.”
“It’s none of your business who else auditioned or when,” Sarah replied pertly, not even bothering to look Hannah in the face.
“There’s just some rumors,” Hannah tried to speak as sweetly as she could.
“Classified” was the response. Hannah wanted to reach over the table and strangle Sarah with her cheesy scarf. It had Shakespearean dialogue printed all over it, a souvenir from their class trip to London in sophomore year.
“Classified?! What is this? The CIA? You do realize that I’m asking about a person whose presence is way more important to the show than yours.”
Sarah stood up, chair falling over behind her, “I’m the student director.”
“I believe last year the program read ‘lesbian in a power struggle.’ You don’t direct shit,” Hannah could feel other eyes on them, waiting to see this showdown.
And then tweet about it.
Sarah’s baby lesbians gathered round. An absurd reenactment of a Jets and Sharks scene from West Side Story. Skylar came bounding out of the auditorium and the door nearly knocked over one of Sarah’s crew. “Watch out, garcon!” She ran over to Hannah, ready to tell her about how wonderful the world was. Then Skylar realized Hannah was in a staredown with Sarah Young.
“Problem?” Skylar cocked her head at Sarah. Sarah tried to remain strong, but she fixed the chair behind her and sat down. Sarah was tough, but she was also smart. You didn’t want to have a public fight with Skylar Clarke. It would be social suicide.
Sarah called for the next singer. Cynthia.
Skylar laced her arm through Hannah’s and practically cavorted down the hall. Hannah told her what happened. A strong pinch at her elbow made Hannah wince. The friends walked so far down the hallway they could hear Speech and Debate practice. They were far away from any theatre kids.
Skylar whispered in a gnarly voice, “What the hell, Hannah? Why don’t you just paint a bull’s eye on your forehead? When the police come asking about Zoe, do you want to make it that easy? God, you’re an idiot sometimes.”
A lump rose in her throat. “I need to know if she’s okay. Wait, did you say ‘police’?”
Skylar pushed Hannah hard up against the lockers, “No. You. Don’t. You don’t need to know. The more you stalk this situation, the more you look like you know exactly what happened. So, stop being a retard about it.”
She’s right. The more I search for information the more people will suspect me. Hannah recalled Greg’s expression just moments ago.
* * *
“Hannah!” Her mom called from downstairs. Hannah looked at her clock. 6:30 p.m. She had passed out after auditions. All the adrenaline from the accident, the aftermath, the auditions came crashing down.
“Hannah! I got some dinner from the deli. And it’s almost time for Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Season premiere tonight.”
Hannah lay back down, eyes drifting right off. She still felt exhausted. The nightmares again. The incubus that drew her further into unconsciousness while preventing any true rest. It was the same dream that came every night since camp this past summer.
The lake at camp. Water deep and black. And the evil Skylar had woven there. In her dream she always saw the silver Tiffany & Co. necklace. A small aquamarine jewel set in the middle. The necklace pushed up from the sinewy mud that surrounded the lake. Hannah walks closer to it. And the mud swallows the necklace again. She knows that necklace. It’s hers and Katie took it. So Skylar devised a plan to get it back. Usually it’s Skylar’s voice in the dream adapting lines from Macbeth and chanting them “Sleep no more. I have killed sleep.”
But this afternoon, it was Will’s voice.
“I’ll be down in a few minutes, mom!” She hustled downstairs and kissed mom hello. Try and act like nothing happened today, Hannah repeated over and over. Focus on the chicken cordon bleu from Jimmy’s deli. My favorite.
But Gillian looked anxious. She walked a plate over to Hannah. “You okay?” she asked with a love that made Hannah want to immediately confess her sins.
Hannah’s mouthed wagged open. She knows everything. Word travels fast in Whispering Hills Country Day. “Uhh…umm…yeah.”
Hannah’s brother slipped behind her, “Whoa, put on a bra, Hannah.”
“Ricky! Please.” Mom snapped.
“Yeah, Ricky. Why
are you looking at my boobs anyway?”
Ricky made his plate and left the kitchen, “What boobs?”
“Tease your sister again and you’ll spend the rest of the night in your room. No X-Box.”
He huffed as he plopped on the couch. Gillian called one more time, “Leave it on the news!”
Ricky growled. Hannah wondered why her mom was defending her with such fervor? Again, she dipped her chin down and looked tenderly at her daughter, “Hannah, wait. Aaron said auditions were—”
“Terrible? Awful? Disastrous? Yes, they were. No, I don’t want to talk about it,” Hannah reacted, not even realizing her tone. Her mom’s expression changed—clearly hurt. And what the hell was Aaron Samuels doing swapping stories with mom? What a dipstick.
But as Hannah padded into the living room she reminded herself that her reaction was completely normal. Her mom didn’t suspect anything. Just a crappy audition. And Hannah’s diva attitude. They sat around the TV. No conversation except an occasional “Oh my!” from Hannah’s mom as the three watched the local evening news.
Hannah picked at her dinner, moving food around the plate enough so that her mom wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. How am I supposed to eat? Eating is for tomorrow. Tomorrow—when Zoe and Will would be back in school. Tomorrow—when Zoe had the lead because she showed up in the nick of time and blew them away. Hannah indulged those thoughts for a few moments. The image of Zoe walking into school with Will on her arm. Will walking toward Hannah’s locker after giving Zoe a modest kiss goodbye. Will’s warm smile. He always liked Hannah. Will would ask how auditions went, trying to hide his interest in a show he’d decided to shun.
A loud gasp from her mother and Hannah came back to reality. Her mom was horrified. She pounced on the coffee table, scooped up the remote, and turned the volume up.
B-roll of the hospital. Then the too-chubby-for-network local news reporter began, “It was around 9 a.m. this morning when two Whispering Hills Country Day students were in a tragic car accident on Lakeside Road. The silver Prius was found mangled at the bottom of a hill and the students were rushed to Harrison Hospital in critical condition.”
Then the b-roll of Lakeside Road and a voiceover retold the story in an even more gruesome tone.
Hannah’s mother started pacing with her wine, “It’s the school, Hannah. Who has a Prius?”
Hannah froze. What do I say? Of course, I know the Prius. Is offering that information a confession? But I would know anyway—even if this morning hadn’t happened. Will was my friend. The word “friend” rung in her head, reverberating through every brain cell. But of course, I know Will drives a Toyota. That car stuck out like a fat chorus girl in the senior lot among the Beamers and Lexuses.
Wrapped up in her own dramatic digestion of this news, Gillian didn’t even notice her daughter’s distress. “I should call Aaron. Or Jill. Jill would know.” Gillian paced with her phone.
Ricky piped up, youngest but manliest of the household calming down the womenfolk, “Wait till the news is over, Mom. They might have more.”
And sure enough, after the commercial break, the news anchor came back with, “Looks like Lisa has new information on this tragic car accident that involved two kids from the local private school. Lisa?”
“Yes, Brian. I’m here with the truck driver who called 911. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.”
The truck driver. Hannah’s heart sank down to her stomach where it was mixed around with acid and a few pieces of chicken cordon bleu.
“No problem,” the driver grunted.
“Tell us what happened this morning.”
He gulped hard, “Well, Lakeside is only a two-lane road. And I come around the corner and I see this black SUV, maybe navy. It was a dark SUV. And then I see the silver car. The black SUV is on my side of the road, so I nearly hit the side of the hill with my truck. There’s not that much room for mistakes on Lakeside. That SUV should not have been passing in my lane at that point. I thought for sure I would hit the SUV. Or the side of the hill. But I didn’t.”
“What happened next?”
“I heard this awful crash. It was the car, the silver car, going down the hill. Caught a glimpse of it in my sideview. So, I pulled over and called for an ambulance. I made my way down the hill and saw the girl in—well, I guess it was her school uniform. She was breathing at least.”
“And the boy?”
The driver took off his baseball cap, “Ma’am, I don’t know. I just prayed that the EMT would get there soon. They both needed medical attention. And fast.”
Lisa plied her witness some more, “Tell me about the dark SUV.”
“I don’t know. The SUV was trying to pass the Prius. It could’ve hit the Prius and forced it off the road. In fact, I believe that’s what happened. But I was driving too, focusing on not crashing myself. So, I don’t know for sure. That SUV didn’t stick around though.”
“Left the scene of the accident?”
The truck driver repeated himself, voice graver than before, “Yes, ma’am. That SUV didn’t stick around.”
“There you have it, Westchester County. Foul play on Lakeside Road and two students are in the hospital.” She turned to the trucker, “Thanks for talking with us.”
Hannah’s mother shut off the TV in disgust. Ricky bused his plate and went upstairs, unfazed by the news. He didn’t go to Whispering Hills until next year. Ricky went to public school. Often times, Hannah envied him. Ricky was popular. Plus, his background blended in with all the other painfully normal kids. In fact, Ricky’s mom didn’t work at the recycling plant so that meant he was considered pretty well-off.
In a frenzy, Gillian called Ms. Panzini who didn’t even know about the accident. She’d been at the school all evening, fighting with Aaron. Jillian knew the Prius though. Will Bartlett. A moan came from the phone. That’s why Zoe wasn’t at auditions. Then Hannah’s mom covered her mouth and tried to muffle a cry.
One of the football players made fun of Will’s car once. Will overheard and made a snipe about the football player’s enormous GMC Denali. “A car that big means you’re compensating for something. You know, like the fact that our football team lost to the School for the Deaf. Or compensating for…well…what guys are always compensating for.”
It didn’t escalate much further than that. Will Bartlett was classy, respected, and scrappy when he had to be. A wave of guilt came over Hannah as she imagined Will’s sweet face. He always asked how she was. What did she do over the weekend? Or did she finish that long AP Gov project?
“I’ll break the news to Hannah. She’s been downstairs with me,” Gillian signed off with Mrs. Panzini and then sat next to Hannah on the couch. This is how she looked when she told us about the divorce. Hannah resented her mother’s concern. Zoe and Will are in the hospital and you’re worried about me? Then the fear set in. Zoe and Will are in the hospital. That means they are going to tell their story.
Before Gillian could even start, Hannah’s phone blew up with five or six texts. She read the top one. Acid rose up her throat.
GT: cast list Up! wtf? NO CALL BACKS.
From Greg. He didn’t see the news yet. Then other texts from Cynthia and a freshman who followed Hannah like a puppy dog.
CW: panzini must be pisssssed!
GT: WHAT ABOUT THE DANCE AUDITIONS?
AM: holy shit! cast list up already!
Hannah got up and walked toward the stairs. Her mother whined, “Hannah, talk to me. Are you okay?”
“Are you okay, mom? Jeez.” Hannah replied sarcastically.
“Hannah!” her mom called, ready to scold then turn all guidance counselor again. “Hannah, come back here!”
The cast list was up. It was absurd, but Hannah’s body instinctively moved to a computer and checked the musical Facebook page. Two students were in the hospital and Hannah was likely getting kicked out of school. And yet all I can think about is the cast list. Am I this self-absorbed?
It felt like forever before the browser loaded the webpage. Hannah knew exactly where to click. And there it was. Cast List for Spring Musical: Stagecraft.
Skylar got the lead. Hannah’s hands balled up into fists. Her breathing slowed nearly to a halt. The lead? Zoe was supposed to be the lead. And if not Zoe, then I should be the lead. I was Zoe’s understudy. Skylar isn’t half the singer I am! The fury soaked into her skin, ribboning through her skeleton. I hate Skylar Clarke! Hannah searched for her name and didn’t see it anywhere. She scoured again.
The phone rang. Skylar. She let it ring three times. Hannah was determined to let it go to voicemail. Wait. Neither of us will even be in the show. Zoe will tell what happened and Skylar will be stripped of the role. The school has to. How could they let a student behave like that and then reward her? The Clarke money wouldn’t matter. Skylar and Hannah would be on the same playing field.
“Hey,” Hannah answered, breathless.
“Jeez, girl. Phone on silent or something?”
Nothing from Hannah. Skylar didn’t wait.
“Did you see? Can you believe it?” For a second, Hannah couldn’t read her tone. Was Skylar Clarke actually remorseful? Was she worried now that Will and Zoe were evening news material?
Hannah remained silent but Skylar didn’t notice, “I told you I rocked it today. I knew he’d give it to me.”
“Not if Zoe had showed up. But we took care of that didn’t we.”
Skylar huffed at the pettiness, “Well, fuck you very much. Guess I should call Cynthia. I’m sure she’d know enough about Whispering Hills survival skills to congratulate me.”
Hannah heard her mom lurking upstairs, probably folding laundry or tidying Ricky’s pigsty. Dropping her volume a few notches, Hannah replied, “Skylar, how can you be happy right now? Did you watch the news?” It’s senseless to appeal to her moral compass though. That never pointed true north. Maybe appeal to her logic, her savvy. “Skylar, we are both getting kicked out of school when Zoe and Will say what happened this morning. We ran them off the road, ruined Will’s car, and put them in the hospital.”
She laughed maniacally.
“What?” Hannah blurted, forgetting to keep her voice low. “What is so funny?”
“How is our school finding out? Hannah,” then an awfully long pause, “Will is dead.”
The tears came so fast they were rolling down her cheeks before Hannah even realized she was crying.
“Hannah, did we watch the same news program?”
Oh my God. Mom turned the TV off. The news wasn’t over. Her mouth turned so dry it hurt. She wiped some tears away and did her best to keep the crying silent. “Dead? What…what…what about Zoe?”
And just like she was relaying chemistry notes, Skylar trotted right through the rest of the news, “Well, Zoe’s dad is an ER doctor at Harrison Hospital. So, when the ambulance arrived, he identified them. She was pretty jacked up. Lots of broken bones and a messed-up jaw and oh, and she’s in a coma.”
Imagining Zoe’s father, Hannah was nearly ruined. Dr. Kellogg loved his daughters, Zoe and Paige. They were his pride and joy. He even had this cheesy bumper sticker that read “Stage Dad.” It looked so ridiculous next to the MD on his license plate. Hannah imagined Dr. Kellogg pouring himself over Zoe’s half-dead body. Shaking his fists to the sky like he was auditioning for the Hudson River Greek Theatre festival. Why do the gods punish me?
Skylar continued, “They might transport her to Columbia Presbyterian in the city. Other than all that, I think she’s okay.”
“Okay? Skylar, she’s in a coma! A coma! And Will…”
Skylar was all business. No time for feelings. Or a conscience apparently. “Need I remind you that the two people who would identify you as the driver are completely indisposed right now. They are two people who could ruin your life.”
I interrupted, “Your life, too! You were there too!”
“But, Hannah, you were driving. And I’m me. You know, you’re a terrible best friend. Even Derrick congratulated me. Granted, he wants in my pants…but still.”
How everything would play out flashed before Hannah like a near death experience. The school will blame me. The media will blame me. Skylar’s name will come up but quickly dismissed. I was Zoe’s understudy. Of course, I hated Zoe. Motive.
The story was perfect in the sickest way: Poor kid in a rich school who never feels part of the group goes batshit crazy one morning. Hannah wiped more tears, “I gotta go.”
“Fine. Try to get your head on straight.” Skylar hung up and probably proceeded to call everyone on her favorites list.
Continue reading Chapter Four.
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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