Stagecraft Chapter One
The Moment Before
Six weeks earlier
“Well, this sucks. Hashtag TheatreKidProblems!” Greg Tate slapped down the audition flyer and plopped his lanky body into the orange plastic composite chair. The screech of the chair legs on the linoleum jarred Hannah from her daydream. Brody again. Hannah read the flyer. Why did we change musicals? I thought we were doing Fame. Now, we’re putting up Stagecraft?
“This is bullshit. I’ve been practicing ‘Dancin’ on the Sidewalk’ with my coach for like four weeks now.”
“Because you were def going to get Tyrone. Hashtag delusional,” Cynthia raised an eyebrow. Hmph, she’s right. Greg Tate, long and lean and completely gay, was never going to play Tyrone in Fame, the street kid who raps in the first act. But I’ll never publicly agree with the likes of Cynthia Wolcott.
Hannah Cross chuckled thinking of Greg rapping on the porch of his Lakeside Manor home while his cook made rice and beans at his request. I need to be in character, Hannah thought in Greg’s voice.
Greg snapped, “Hashtag bitch.”
Cynthia slouched and pretended to check her phone. Hannah sipped her Diet Coke and waited. Better not get involved with these two. Greg Tate came out last year after breaking up with Cynthia. So…hashtag awkward?
Besides their cattiness was low on Hannah Cross’s list of priorities. The flyer posed a huge problem for all theatre geeks at Whispering Hills. Their senior year musical was supposed to be Fame—the old director told them so. Just waiting for librettos. Great choice for their age group. Lots of different roles. The whole show wouldn’t be about one person.
Like it usually was.
Whispering Hills Country Day School was a far cry from LaGuardia HS in the NYC where Fame actually takes place. Not much public transportation in Whispering Hills. No Section 8 housing either. And nobody was waiting for a performing arts school to save her from her miserable existence.
Besides, if you had a miserable existence at Whispering Hills, it wasn’t because you had to take three buses on your commute and play nanny to your younger siblings. If your life was miserable at Whispering Hills, it was probably because your mom did coke. Or you did coke. Or you did coke with your mom.
Hannah looked down at her monstrous fake Louis Vuitton tote. It was spring of senior year and she was hands-down the most believable as a character from Fame.
Everyone else was a Gossip Girl.
Hannah leaned back in her chair, taking in Cynthia and Greg, some of her best friends. Greg diligently ate his usual lunch—a Caesar salad, no dressing. So, yes, he basically ate romaine lettuce and diet soda. He got thinner every week. Hannah smirked and thought of Greg shopping in the children’s section of American Apparel. But when she looked at her own sandwich, she pushed it away.
Greg chatted idly about Fame. “And doesn’t every girl love leg warmers? And Hannah, you would look killer in that chevron stripe leotard. I love a high cut leg.”
Hannah smiled and reread the audition flyer.
Interesting. The flyer is pretty standard Mr. Jacobsen. He loathed anything late 90s Broadway so students were never allowed to sing a piece from Rent. Who wants to listen to the torch song about how many cups of coffee are in someone’s lifetime? Hannah gagged every time “Seasons of Love” came on Spotify.
Cynthia snatched the flyer, “Stagecraft? That’s the show? It ran all of 100 performances. I heard the producer was dating Blair Solomon and that’s how she got the part. And when you cast some TV actress who’s more famous for showing her boobs on HBO than she is for her singing voice, you only run 100 shows.”
Stagecraft was a backstage musical about a young ingénue from a small town come to the big city to make it on Broadway. Between the hackneyed plot and poor casting, the original cast barely made out of previews. Hannah never saw it. And she sees almost every show. Most of the time she goes with Skylar Clarke, her bestie and the resident queen at Whispering Hills. If there’s no invite from Skylar, Hannah scrounges together her paltry allowance, birthday money from grandma, and babysitting money.
Cynthia and Greg continued whining about changing their audition songs. Hannah planned on “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret. It was her sad clown song, full of vitriol but also wonderfully expectant. Great belt at the end. You need a great belt for a vocal audition. No chance of a callback without one.
Hannah stared blankly around the cafeteria. It was the only room not touched by the school’s renovation, furniture from bygone days and food that tasted decades old to match. But the cafeteria had the best view. The lake. Some days the water beckoned. Expansive and crystalline. It made Hannah question why she bent toward performing arts and not crew team.
“Hannah. Hannah! Girlfriend, you zoned out,” Greg snapped his long fingers.
Shit. How long have I been zoned out? Reliving my whole existence on this lake. Hannah flushed—did they know the envy that resided in her heart?
Greg’s rolled his eyes dramatically, “Where is Skylar? Is she coming to lunch? I mean, you can’t throw up your lunch if you don’t eat it first.” Feigning nonchalance as he looked over his shoulder. What a coward. Greg, you stand a full foot over petite Skylar. But you would never (never!) say that to Skylar’s face.
Not that Greg was making stuff up.
* * *
Skylar started purging about four months after her mother passed. Maybe it was earlier, but that was the first time Hannah cringed at awful sound of the vomit. When you’re not actually sick, vomiting is different. There’s hoarseness in the sound, like your stomach saying ‘I need that.’ Self-inflicted gasps for air. Fingers exploring further down the throat.
Hannah knew about getting rid of unwanted calories too. In middle school, she attended a summer intensive down at American Ballet Academy. All the older girls were binging and purging. So, she joined in—amused and horrified at how easy it was. Who wouldn’t like eating whatever you want at Pizza Mia on East 77th and then not worrying about how you looked in the skintight leotard and unforgiving pink tights?
When Hannah’s mother found out, Gillian Cross cursed out the academy’s director, effectively ending Hannah’s ballet career. Hannah still remembers her mother’s eyes—angry but terrified.
Hannah didn’t stop hurting herself right away though. She’d worked three years for ABA. But by the end of the summer, it was time to end her foray into eating disorders. Stop punishing her mom. Time to stop acting like an ass, like Hannah’s father.
When Hannah discovered Skylar in her bathroom—that massive pink and cream marbled asylum—she tried the same look—the self-blaming look Hannah’s mother used. Naively, Hannah believed her love for Skylar would be the cure. Make Skylar see that she was hurting herself.
But the cell phone just missed Hannah’s head. And then Skylar charged. With a swiftness so cold, she whipped her hand across Hannah’s face. Astonishing strength.
Fist curled around Hannah’s ponytail, Skylar threw her friend up against a wall. Picture frames crashed down. A picture of Mrs. Clarke on vacation in Sun Valley reeled to the floor. The glass shattered and Skylar dropped her friend’s defeated body.
“Now look what you’ve done! Clean it up!”
Hannah sat on the floor crying for the better part of an hour, panties damp with urine. Skylar texted three hours later with a half-hearted apology and an invite for a sleepover.
The two never spoke of it again. In the vault. Just like what they did to Katie Greco at theatre camp.
* * *
“Boo! You scared Sky is going to catch you talking shit, Greg?” Cynthia sneered. You wish Skylar would catch Greg. So desperate. In middle school, it was always Cynthia and Skylar. But that changed when Hannah came.
“She’s here,” Hannah whispered as her friends squabbled pathetically. Then their eyes fixed on the double doors of the cafeteria. Is she actually entering this scene in slow motion or is it me? Hannah imagined wind machines blowing Skylar’s brunette waves.
She was flanked by two new beaus. A Lacrosse no-name with hairy legs. And the brooding, aloof Derrick from auto shop class. All he cares about was getting laid and fixing cars. Derrick Sullivan. A weird blotch on the Whispering Hills class pictures. The clichéd outsider.
Ugh, Derrick Sullivan. Gross. And why the hell does Whispering Hills still have a shop class? Like anyone actually wants to learn how to change the fluids on their BMWs. But then a pang jolted Hannah’s chest. She had more in common with Derrick than any of her friends.
No doubt the entrance was a show for Will Bartlett. Show him what he’s missing, Sky. Skylar’s ex was now dating Zoe Kellogg—the go-to girl for musical leads. And Skylar’s calm and easy acceptance of the new couple was downright sociopathic. But she hibernated, her body resting and her mind planning their absolute misery. She would wait all of senior year if she had to. Pull Zoe closer. Earn forgiveness from Will. Skylar would blame her mother’s passing and rise like a phoenix from the ashes of unrequited love. It was already happening. Hannah watched with a mix of pride and excitement and horror.
Skylar laughed and threw her head back like wild horse. Chocolate-colored mane tossed back and forth. She had their complete attention. And then, without ceremony, Skylar cantered away, leaving both of them holding their proverbial limp dicks.
Her petite frame loomed large over their chairs, dwarfing even Greg. He and Cynthia were still overusing hashtags.
“Hashtag shut the hell up with the hashtags,” Skylar cocked an eyebrow. “How about that? Go ahead. Tweet something passive aggressive about me”
Both stared blankly. The salty greeting from Skylar was fuzzy.
Skylar laughed hard and kissed Cynthia on the cheek, “I’m joking, bitch. Don’t be so basic.” Cynthia finally released the breath she’d been holding.
“What’s this? More prom stuff?”
“We’re not doing Fame. We’re doing Stagecraft. Everyone is freaking out,” Hannah handed Skylar the flyer. She tried to keep her reply nonchalant, like a mafia underboss.
Skylar reapplied lip-gloss, “I knew that already. Got any actual news?”
“Well I didn’t know. And now I have to change my vocal audition. I was going for Tyrone.”
Skylar regarded Greg with chilling sincerity, “You totally had a shot at Tyrone.”
He basked in the light of the compliment as Cynthia growled.
“I think we have a different director. Mr. Jacobsen would never waste money on rights to a show and then not do it,” Hannah offered.
“Yes, we have a new director. And don’t worry about the money, Hannah. Clearly Whispering Hills can afford to eat the money for the rights,” Skylar looked up momentarily from her texting then added sarcastically, “The school will just take more out of our cafeteria budget. Fish sticks are cheap. You don’t mind eating those, right?”
The remark could’ve been a gripe about the state of the lunchroom, but Hannah couldn’t help but register it more pointedly than that. She ate school lunch every day. She got it for free because her mom worked at Whispering Hills. Most students brought lunch from home—a meal prepared by their housekeepers or bought from a gourmet deli. Some ate from the overpriced vending machines. Skylar didn’t eat at all.
Still Hannah laughed hard.
Skylar went on about the transition of power. A new director was major variable for a pack of skittish theatre kids. Greg and Cynthia were already ejaculating their ‘I can’t evens’ and ‘Literally can’t evens’ in rondo. Besides, Mr. Jacobsen was a good man, a good teacher, and a passionate director. He always made the people with smaller roles (Hannah) feel just as important as the leads. Hannah sighed deeply—she thought for sure that Mr. Jacobsen would reward her past work with a bigger role this year, her senior year. She’d given up so much at her dance studio for this.
With a new director, who knows? This guy could come in and cast a damn freshman as the lead. Upperclassmen would be pissed. The freshman would feel the wrath of the older kids and in turn, suck. Rehearsals would be misery. Skylar would wreak havoc because the pecking order was screwed up.
Skylar slid her phone under her thigh as the cafeteria monitor strolled by. “Sorry guys. So, as I was saying, Mr. Jacobsen is long gone. And thank God for that.”
“I know, right?” Cynthia concurred.
Oh, Cynthia, you moldy sponge. What do you truly think about anything? Ridiculous.
Skylar contemplated aloud, “I mean, Mr. Jacobsen was…so…mediocre. And now he finally got a Broadway tour. A tour, mind you. Years of auditioning for shows and he gets the Footloose tour that stars some loser from American Idol.”
The biology teacher, Mr. Pollix, appeared at the table and scolded Skylar for having her phone out in school. If you got caught, the teacher could take the phone away and give it to your class dean. Dean Feldman was a colossal mouth-breather. Hannah never abused the phone rule. The rule posed a problem for Skylar Clarke who texted everyone constantly and always expected prompt responses.
Mr. Pollix eyed Skylar, ready to spar. Hannah already pitied him. “Put away your phone or I’m taking it, Ms. Clarke.”
“I don’t have my phone out,” her voice downright saintly.
“No one stares at their crotch and smiles that much. Put it away,” Mr. Pollix parried.. He still lived at home with his mother and worked as a security guard at the mall right outside the Bath & Body Works, so he always smelled of jasmine and cucumbers.
And he was clinically depressed. Hannah’s own diagnosis.
Skylar leaned forward so that her full breasts nearly sat on the lunch table. Then deliberately and quietly, “You look at my crotch and smile.”
If another teacher were present, Skylar would’ve been suspended. But alas, Mr. Pollix was alone, like he was for most of his wretched life. Pollix turned the color of Dorothy’s ruby slippers and skulked away.
Skylar continued texting. The school paid a hefty dowry for the Brooks Clarke endowment. The headmaster seemed to enjoy his new office courtesy of Clarke money. The librarian liked her new first edition collection. And the science teachers really had to shut up and take it from Skylar. Her dad was the reason they had state-of-art labs—next level NASA stuff. And then, of course, there was the Clarke Theatre.
Skylar draped her arm around Hannah, “Are you going to tell mommy that I mouthed off to Pollix?”
“Nope,” Hannah smiled wide and raised an eyebrow, “I’m fine with you mouthing off to Pollix. That way, when he goes postal, I’ll know that he’ll shoot your snotty ass and not mine.”
Skylar giggled, placed her hands on
the table dramatically, and looked at her minions coyly, “Okay, so do you bitches
want to know who the new director is?”
“Umm, yes!” Greg sang vibrato, both jazz hands raised to his cheeks.
Before Skylar could announce the news, Zoe Kellogg walked over, “Hey guys. What’s up?”
A flash of hatred crossed Skylar’s face. But instantaneously, Skylar was collected, “There you are, pretty girl. I’ve been asking for you. Where have you been all lunch period?”
Zoe sighed, “AP Calc extra help. I still have no idea why I created the worst senior schedule known to man.”
“Well, you got out of boring math just in time. We have a new director for our musical.” “I know. I met him last week at Will’s Student Council thing.”
Another flash of rage. The queen took a deep, cleansing breath this time.
Zoe started to talk when Skylar’s voice interrupted. She leered at her squad, “I was about to say, that our new director is Aaron Samuels. I met him last night at the board meeting. I was there with Daddy. They said I couldn’t stay for the boring budget stuff, but I was allowed in the reception after. Cheap champagne and cheese cubes from Costco for the win!”
Zoe tried to enter the conversation again. Does she really not see that Skylar will eat her alive? Skylar probably ate her own twin en utero…out of boredom.
Now there was only three minutes till the bell.
“Okay…Aaron, I mean, Mr. Samuels is bringing his friend who choreographs Broadway shows to do a big group tap number. That’s why the audition flyer says to bring tap shoes if you have them. His friend is legit too. Has a Tony award.”
Greg nearly jumped out of his seat, “A Tony award? Who is it?”
“No idea,” Skylar’s lip curled.
She knows. She just gets off on being withholding.
“Are you guys worried? I’m a little freaked out,” Zoe interjected, hopelessly earnest. Zoe played Sara in Guys and Dolls as a junior and Glinda in The Wizas a sophomore. Furthermore, she was impossibly beautiful and nauseatingly humble.
Zoe. The perfect storm of audition competition. The lead in Stagecraft? In the bag.
Gosh, the sincerity is grating. Was she from Oklahoma or something? Hannah gritted her teeth and thought of how much work she’d put in over the years. It’s my last show at WHCD too. But of course, Zoe will get the part. The lead—again.
A wicked thought popped into Hannah’s head, but she shoved it down somewhere dark.
“Like you have anything to worry about?” Skylar’s words curved through the air and petted Zoe like a puppy. Zoe smiled back. Cynthia was about to agree profusely but the bell rang.
Greg scurried off, shoving his chemistry lab work in his messenger bag and nearly knocking over a freshman to get to class early. He left his garbage on the table. A cafeteria monitor ordered Cynthia to clear it. She sighed melodramatically.
As Cynthia went one way to the garbage pails, Skylar laced her arm through Hannah’s and hurried toward the doors. Hannah felt the thrill of triumph. Cynthia would see the twosome walking arm-in-arm, like some ladies strolling in some huge 18th century novel that her mom reads. Hannah felt lighter.
When you were with Skylar Clarke, you were the only person in the world.
As they joined the cattle exiting slowly through the double doors, Skylar leaned in close, “Can you keep a secret?”
“Of course! What is it?” Hannah whispered, half aroused and half terrified. It could be that she just went down on Derrick and the Lacrosse boy. Or got a teacher fired.
Hannah swallowed hard, hoping it was about the show but prepared to be equally dazzled by anything Skylar had to reveal.
“I know who the Broadway choreographer is.” Skylar ducked her head lower and a few mahogany strands tickled her tiny nose. She spied Will Bartlett.
“He can’t hear us. It’s too loud in this hallway,” Hannah assured her.
Will grinned slightly. But not at Skylar. Or Hannah. Zoe was by his side, giving him a peck on the cheek. Skylar stared menacingly at the couple but spoke to Hannah, “The choreographer was at camp this year. The week before you came. He taught a tap workshop and loved me. I mean, it was almost creepy. He really liked me. I talked to him afterward and he said I was every bit a star. In fact, he couldn’t believe that I wasn’t a lead at Whispering Hills yet. I was clearly the most mature student in the workshop.”
They entered the chemistry lab.
“So who is he?”
Skylar flared her nostrils, “And I told him about perfect Miss Zoe Kellogg. He knows her mom. Thinks Zoe’s mom is a joke. And he nearly fell over when I said that Zoe was top dog last year. Fell over. Like I could’ve poked him in the arm and he would have tumbled to the ground, Hannah.”
The bell rang, and Skylar stopped abruptly. She sat up tall and began copying directions from the board, her books and lab report placed on the desk with neurotic precision.
Hannah checked out completely during the lecture. Who was this Broadway guy? Of course, he came the week before I got to camp. Hannah only could afford one week of theatre camp to Skylar’s three. Did she say his name?
Skylar leaned in, “I’m friends with him on Facebook too.”
“What’s his name?” Hannah murmured.
“I told you already. And shhh.” Skylar folded her hands primly.
Hannah sighed. I wish this didn’t matter so much. Why does it matter so much?
But if this choreographer would be at auditions…
If I just knew his name…
If I knew the director too…
A wave of nerves washed over her chest and neck. Blood pricked her cheeks. I’m going bomb auditions this year.
After a few spinning moments, Hannah rallied. She knew her audition song. And the lead didn’t matter anyway. I do every show this school put on from the fall drama to the holiday Nutcracker, to the spring musical and the May follies. Getting the lead never mattered before. Why should it matter now?
Hannah did community theatre in the summer. She worked at the local dinner theatre while Greg traveled down to NYC for dance classes and Skylar took voice lessons from a retired Met Opera prima donna.
Hannah felt a clear sense of resolve—she didn’t need this rich people one-upmanship.
A light from the backpack at her feet. Skylar texted. Texted? We’re literally sitting next to each other. Hannah placed her new iPhone (a birthday gift from you know who) gingerly on her right thigh.
SC: singing maybe this time for auditions. what r u singing?
Was she kidding? Like acid after a spicy meal, the rage rose up in Hannah’s stomach. Hannah was using “Maybe This Time.”
HC: no idea.
Hannah stared at the board.
SC: what the hell r u singing? don’t be coy with me, bi-otch.
Shoot. What do I say here? You never sing the audition same song as your friend. Maybe you do at a school where the performing arts suck, but not at Whispering Hills. Unless you are singing something from the show the school was producing. But even then…
Usually, Skylar announces what she’s singing and then everyone else chooses around it.
Hannah texted back—bravely.
HC: maybe this time. been practicing it for weeks
Skylar laughed out loud when the text came through. The teacher noticed that one, “Something funny, Ms. Clarke?”
“Nothing. So sorry,” her body straight like a spear.
Ms. Connors continued lecturing about the properties of acids and bases. Hannah tried to ignore the steam rising off Skylar’s body.
SC: whatever. a soprano doing a mezzo song?! ur funeral.
Now Hannah was pissed. Why can’t Skylar just deal with it? Who gives a shit? But the anger quickly gave way to worry. Hannah breathed deeply—the way one pulls on a cigarette. A deep drag of anxiety and umbrage.
And Skylar was right. Hannah understudied last year for Zoe. Her character’s songs were in the rafters. Only Zoe and Hannah could hit the notes consistently without cracking. Maybe Skylar is right. The thought poked into Hannah’s train of thought again, like a car cutting over two lanes on a busy highway. I’m not a belter. This big torch song was much better on Skylar’s raspy, storied voice. She would kill it and Hannah would look like crap by comparison.
It would be a repeat of freshmen year. Hannah made the colossal mistake of singing the same song as Zoe at auditions. She sounded terrible. Zoe crushed it. Hannah cried like a colic newborn in the last stall of the girls room. Skylar comforted her. “That’s Zoe Kellogg,”she had said. “Her mom used to be on Broadway. Everyone sounds like shit compared to her. You were great. Really.”
“Hannah. Earth to Hannah,” Skylar’s index finger crept up into Hannah’s face. She put on an alien voice and giggled softly. “Come on, girl! Ms. Connors told us to start and you’re just staring into outer space.”
“Sorry. I just…have a lot to do when I get home,” Hannah apologized meekly and organized some beakers on the table.
“Yes, you do. Like pick a new audition song. That was a joke, right? I mean, you knew I was singing ‘Maybe This Time.’ Been talking about it since auditions for Midsummer in September. I was even humming it when we were supposed to be practicing lines,” Skylar pulled her goggles down to her eyes and then made a silly face.
The pair recorded measurements and wrote down hypotheses so Ms. Connor could check when she came lurking. But Hannah found herself replaying call back day for Midsummer Nights’ Dream, the fall drama this year.
Sweat pooled on the small of her back. Her thigh twitched a little where her phone sat and vibrated with all those text alerts. Hannah flexed her quad by pulling up her kneecap to make the twitching stop, take control of the muscle.
Skylar worked diligently—a change from her usual letting Hannah do all the work and then copying the answers. Skylar only used science to cross check the interactions between Adderall and Oxy.
“Don’t worry. I’ll help you pick something. Or you could always use something from Guys & Dolls. You won’t sound as good as Zoe, but you’ll be okay for a call back.”
“I’ll figure it out myself,” Hannah replied as nastily as she could manage. Nasty considering she was replying to Skylar, the most powerful student at Whispering Hills.
The unexpected reticence brought color to Skylar’s face. She was about to say something cutting when Will Bartlett entered the room. Something about leaving his copy of Death of a Salesman. He was probably coming from Hannah’s mom’s class. She talked just last night of how good he was at playing Biff Loman.
Will peered around lab tables. Skylar froze when he walked by, living in her own version of Fatal Attraction. Will tiptoed around, careful not to upset the panopticon that was Ms. Connors.
“Hi Will,” Skylar gave a dazzling grin and put on her most mellifluous voice. The words hung in the air. Even Hannah was lured in—the trap not even for her.
Will nodded quickly, “Skylar.” Gave her nothing. Barely an acknowledgement and within seconds he swooped down on his book.
She will need to punish someone for this rejection. Cynthia isn’t around. Guess I’ll get the abuse. While Skylar’s wrath never came, Hannah spent the rest of the period like a dog about to get hit. Ears back, tail down.
* * *
After the final bell, Hannah trudged up to the faculty lounge looking for Miss Brewster, a new hire this year. Right out of grad school and ready to change the world, one rich kid at a time. She totally belonged in some charter school in the city. Miss Brewster’s passion for the intersection of great literature and young people would be squelched by helicopter parents. But she’d be married and pregnant in a few years anyway. At least Miss Brewster could say that she made an excellent salary at Whispering Hills. One thing Whispering Hills didn’t do—underpay the staff. When Hannah’s mom got English Department Head, she was able to stop working the whole summer. It was nice to have her around more.
Hannah knocked tentatively on the faculty lounge door.
“Hi Hannah!” another teacher answered, “Here for your mom? Come in.”
“Actually, I needed to ask Miss Brewster something. I have a few questions about my essay.”
Gillian Cross chimed in anyway, awkwardly joking about how her daughter wouldn’t need any assistance with writing.
Then, as Hannah stepped out with Miss Brewster, her mom added, “I’ll be off at four today. Go to the library or computer lab. I don’t want to go looking for you. We have to pick up your brother at 4:30 from soccer practice.”
* * *
“Hannah! Pizza’s here! Come downstairs,” Gillian called from the first floor. Hannah was surfing YouTube for new audition songs. Something from Funny Girl? Too predictable. Elbows on her desk with chin in her hands, Hannah watched the eighth video of some teenage girl belting out “Don’t Rain on My Parade” through the shitty sound system of her high school’s auditorium. The grit in the speakers and the ill-placed body mics were exhausting to listen to. And the iPhone video was nauseating.
“I’m doing my homework!”
Another voice. This time from upstairs. “No, she’s not, Mom. Unless you count watching some douchey theatre nerds on YouTube.” Then Ricky sang off-key, “My life has no meaning!”
Hannah popped out of her room and startled her little brother. Jerk. He discovered his wit recently. Hannah flicked his ear and slammed her bedroom door. She sighed—no pizza for dinner. She would make herself a smoothie. Hopefully that Greek yogurt she spied in the fridge this morning wasn’t past its prime.
Another few calls from the first floor. All oddly sing-songy for bookish Gillian Cross. Why is she so interested in feeding me? Post-separation from Mr. Cross, the remaining three usually just fend for themselves. Sometimes they attempt a family dinner at the local diner. But Gillian doesn’t cook. Hannah’s father never needed her to. Joshua Cross lived on cigarettes and wine and self-loathing. Amazing how satisfying that last one can be. You can be full for days on righteous hatred.
Hannah cracked open her Chemistry textbook, but her fingers made their way to the school-issued laptop keyboard. A brand-new MacBook Air she was allowed to take home, even on weekends. Perks of being a teacher’s daughter, she guessed.
soprano audition songs
The bedroom door opened noiselessly, and Gillian slipped in. What is up? Is dad here? No, that would never happen.
“Hannah, come down and at least have salad if you don’t want pizza.”
“You made salad?”
“Downstairs. Now. I want you to meet someone.” As she padded down the stairs Hannah heard, “Oh, Aaron, she’s coming. Just finishing something for chemistry class. Have you met Colleen yet? Great teacher. Been at WH for years.”
Why does that name sound familiar?
Holy shit! Aaron Samuels! The new director was at Hannah’s house. And the way her mother used her scolding whisper voice could only suggest one thing—Gillian Cross had a new love interest.
Hannah paced around the room. What do I do with this new information? Is mom dating the director? Are they just friends? Of course, Mom would say so. “Oh, just friends, Hannah. And don’t make a big deal to Ricky.”
Hannah racked her brain. Wait, was that Aaron Samuels mom gushed about last night? I heard her on the phone with Ms. Panzini. Why do I eavesdrop when I need to?
Then Hannah remembered her mom going out two nights ago. Or was it three? It didn’t matter.
Wow! Hannah twirled her hair around her fingers until it almost knotted. She should text Skylar. No. Hannah threw her phone down. Not after that bullshit in chem.
Hannah got downstairs to see her mom and Mr. Samuels sitting side by side at the dining room table, waiting for her. Almost tableau. Hannah smirked. The duo sitting there waiting, just like the salt and pepper shakers. Like it’s always been this way.
He’s hot too. Younger than mom.
“So that’s what the surface of our dining room table looks like,” Hannah plopped down on a chair and started serving herself salad. Play it cool. Don’t ask the three hundred questions you have about Stagecraft auditions.
“Hannah, please.” Mom raised her eyebrows. The dining room table was used for anything but eating. Just this morning it was piled with books, sundry office items, two dead laptops, and an old fish tank from Ricky’s room.
Mr. Samuels poured Hannah some water and smiled, “I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Aaron Samuels. I’m directing the show this year. And I’ll be filling in for your music teacher once she goes on maternity leave. Hannah, right?”
Hannah stared. Her mom nudged her. Mr. Samuels tried again, “Your mom tells me that you’ve been in every production at school since your freshmen year.”
Gillian Cross piped up. Maybe an explanation would help. A new man at their newly cleaned dining room table. Must be awkward. “Mr. Samuels has a meeting with the nice dad who builds the sets for the play. It’s tonight at 7:30 so I invited him here for dinner.” Then they shared an oozy smile exchange. “Too much to go all the to the city only to come back up to Westchester.”
“How’s chemistry going, Hannah?” Mr. Samuels took a big bite of pizza. Like nothing. Like he eats dinner with us family all the time. This was weird. I kind of wish Skylar was here. She’d know what to do.
“Chemistry is not as hard as music theory, Mr. Samuels.”
“You can call me Aaron,” his voice dripped with false assurance. He beamed at Gillian. For a split-second Hannah thought she heard him say “dad” instead of “Aaron.” Hannah pinched her thigh till she winced. She wanted to jump over the table and slap him across his clean-shaven face. Smiling politely, Hannah reminded herself that her mother dating was a good thing.
Hannah prayed every night that some gazillionaire-Jesus-dad would walk into her life, sweep her mom off her feet, and move them all to the hamlet of Whispering Hills and out of shitty Oakbrook. Hannah could attend Whispering Hills Country Day on her own money. And Hannah would stop turning cherry red every time someone at school mentioned that Oakbrook was allowed to remain in the affluent township of Lakeside because “the help” needed to live close by.
Oakbrook. The name doesn’t even sound like it belongs. Oakbrook is indeed where you’ll find housekeepers, landscapers, pool caretakers, and all the staff that work for the folks in Whispering Hills, Lakeside Manor, and Lake Hills. It’s also where most of the people who work at the recycling plant in Pembroke live.
Mr. Samuels explained his ideas about sets to mom and Hannah listened intently. Good stuff for lunch time intel swap tomorrow. Gillian was fascinated, of course. Ricky swiped a fourth piece of pizza.
Hannah’s phone vibrated the waistband of her yoga pants.
SC: just did a drive by. you guys actually eat at the table????
Hannah was careful to keep her phone under the table.
HC: u stalking me?
Ricky was about to rat when Hannah eyed the pizza emphatically. Then she puffed out her cheeks. Keep eating and shut up, fat boy.
SC: always stalking u. [heart emoji] [eyes emoji] is there a man there too or did ur brother suddenly turn 35? tell ur mom we have 2 study and i’m coming over.
Hannah stalled a few minutes, replaying the conversation before chemistry. Of course, Skylar has a crush on Mr. Samuels. Mid-thirties. Good looking. And he can probably sing his tight little ass off. What more could a theatre-obsessed hormonal teen want in a masturbation image?
HC: i’m going to bed. totes exhausted.
“Hannah, we don’t use our phones at the table.”
Why are “we” were even at the freaking table? But every time Hannah gets angry with her mother, Hannah nfeels an ulcer open up. All the crap Mom put up with. I have to be better. Gillian Cross spent seven years married to a failed alcoholic poet.
Skylar never wrote back. Hannah looked around fruitlessly—expecting to see Skylar hiding in the bushes outside.
“Mr. Samuels…err…Aaron,” she started.
“Yes, Hannah.” His eyes were bright blue and clear.
“I don’t know if you can discuss this since auditions are so close. But I don’t have a song yet for vocals.”
He looked genuinely baffled, “You don’t have a piece prepared? Chemistry must be harder than we thought, Gillian.” Their guffaws sounded like a sitcom laugh track. Everybody Loves Hannah. Tuesdays at 8 on ABC Family.
Hannah started to explain when her mom intervenee, “I thought you were singing that song from Cabaret?”
Hannah glared at her, the anger about summer ballet intensive opening up like a wound. Gillian Cross would never understand her daughter’s addiction to Broadway because it wasn’t literature.
“I was going to sing that song. But I don’t think it’s right now. ‘Maybe This Time’ is too much of a belt for me.”
Mr. Samuels hummed the melody a little. “Yes, I know that one. Your mom tells me that you’ve been working on your belt though. Why the change up?”
“Well, uhh,” Hannah debated, “Skylar is singing it and I don’t want to sing the same song.”
Gillian gritted her teeth, protective mama lion that she was. Of course, Skylar was singing “Maybe This Time” and told Hannah not too. Mr. Samuels could sense the tension.
“Hannah, I think it’s fine to sing the same song as another auditionee. I met Skylar and the dance teacher tells me she’s a good dancer.” Then after a beat, “But we know that musicals are built on singers, not dancers. And your mom tells me your voice is quite good.”
Hannah offered a feeble smile.
In the small foyer of the Cross’s home, they said their goodbyes. Ricky and Hannah even walking the guest to the door like good little orphans. Mr. Samuels seems okay. Hannah felt herself relax. And mom seems downright smitten. Okay, Samuels, you get the thumbs up from me.
She was still going to change the audition song.
Hannah spent the rest of the week practicing “Home” from The Wiz. The song was higher and would suit her voice well. Every time Skylar asked about auditions Hannah dodged, skipping like Dorothy and friends down the yellow brick road.
Lions and tigers and Skylar, oh my!
Continue to Chapter Two.
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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