Stagecraft Chapter Five
Fake it Till You Make It
The next week was spring break. Greg’s parents usually go on vacation—they’re both professors so they jaunt around Europe. Greg usually has a “kiki” on St. Patrick’s Day with a few besties. “Just a little gathering,” he told the Cynthia. “Gossip and some champs,” Greg smiled as he turned to Skylar and Hannah.
No kiki this year. Professor Tate and Professor Tate were too anxious about the recent tragedy and its effect on their newly out-of-the-closet son.
Hannah’s mom tried several times to engage in a discussion about Will’s death. It’s the high school teacher in Gillian Cross, always part therapist.
“Yes, I’ll be fine. I just feel bad for his family,” Hannah repeated on autopilot.The high school senior avoided any fake “feels.” The pretending might give way to a deluge of tears and confessions. Mom needs to stay in the dark. I can’t ruin her life too.
Hannah treated these conversations the same way she treated the conversations after camp. “Yes, terrible what happened to Katie Greco. I’m sure she’ll be fine though. It was just an accident. Skylar didn’t know Katie didn’t know how to swim.” This is so much bigger than pathetic Katie Greco though.
And just as the theatre camp kids recovered quickly—even nailed their performance in the parent showcase—after Katie was found, the Whispering Hills students did the same. Necessary rituals of death were complete. The clique moved on. Eventually they even ceased caring about Zoe. Schoolwork and the play took over their collective unconscious.
Not really for Hannah though. She often imagined Zoe, a vegetable rotting away in a hospital bed while senior year came and went. Zoe missing her last hurrah on the school’s stage. And no prom.
And then there were the nightmares of Zoe’s waking up. In her dreams, Hannah keeps vigil beside Zoe who hugs her grateful family and then points an accusatory finger. In reality, Hannah hadn’t visited Zoe yet. Other students had spent time at the hospital. Greg read the Stagecraft script to the sleeping beauty. Cynthia made a playlist of Zoe’s favorite show tunes.
But at rehearsals, Samuels kept them so busy that no one had time to grieve. Would’ve been seen as self-indulgent anyway. And the upside? The play kids found their new place in the pecking order now that the star was gone.
“It’s our duty to Zoe to put on an amazing performance of Stagecraft. We must press on…in this business we call show,” Sarah Young had declared to her crew. Hannah rolled her eyes. In this business we call show? I can’t with this girl.
Skylar found her new role effortlessly. She got what she wanted. She was the lead. After four years, Skylar finally had the lead. And she was good too. Samuels was impressed. Even Ms. Panzini was happy. One time, Skylar Clarke even deigned to talk to a freshman. The doe-eyed crew member walked away like an angel had descended from heaven.
* * *
The lunchroom smelled like chili on Tuesday. Disturbingly enough, no chili was being served. Willfully ignoring the noxious smell, Hannah choked down the sandwich her mom made. Rehearsal would run from 3:00 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. She’d need some sustenance.
A police officer walked in and chatted with Jill Panzini who straightened at his appearance. Everyone at Hannah’s table fell silent—including Skylar who, for once, looked a tinge frightened. Greg craned his long neck to see who would be called in for questioning.
The police had been milling around since the accident. Hannah’s circle was totally interested in being a part of this investigation. Greg didn’t care about Will or Zoe. He was all about the drama. A real investigation? Yes, please.
“They’re talking to Paige again,” Greg slumped back down and sulked.
Hannah smiled knowingly at Skylar. Despite their recent tension, the two always inhabited the same wavelength. Greg probably binge-watched episodes of CSI to prepare for his big interrogation scene. You got to auditions an hour early. Why bother questioning you? Hannah scolded Greg in her head and kind of relished the idea that she should be the center of attention. Not Paige. Not Greg.
Cynthia rolled her eyes, “They need to lay off her. Paige is exhausted. And Samuels put her in like every number.”
“The detectives questioned Will’s friends last Friday. Brought them in one by one. Like suspects,” Skylar added. “Hannah, have you been questioned yet?”
Hannah’s head snapped around to face Skylar. What the? What is wrong with her? “No, uh, I mean, why would they want to talk to me?”
Skylar scoffed, “Cause you were friends with Will? Like everyone else was?”
Why is she putting me on the spot? She knows I can’t play along like this.
Greg reflected, unaware of Hannah’s impending nervous breakdown, “I think I’ll get called soon.”
Skylar agreed, “Probably sometime this week. They’ll talk to everyone. The police are sure it was foul play. Right, Hannah?”
“Yeah, sure.” Hannah practically buried her face.
Cynthia comforted Greg, “Don’t be stressed about it. Just tell the truth.”
Hannah wished she could laugh at their forced drama. Normally she would. In a moment though, she rallied, “Principal Hendrickson has been at odds with them. My mom said. He’s just mad that they need to conduct the investigation at school and keep taking students out of class. Teachers are complaining that kids come back all distraught.” Hannah swelled with pride at delivering her monologue. But deep inside, she wished the police would go away. And soon.
“The detectives are looking to cross-examine everyone. That’s how they catch lies,” Greg nodded.
Skylar looked around and considered the whole cafeteria, “Students are in a frenzy though. Teenagers are a fragile folk.” She said it as if she wasn’t a teenager herself.
Cynthia chimed in, always needing to be relevant, “If the police talk to you, they’ll probably ask you the same stuff they asked me last week.” Cynthia had enjoyed lording this experience over the rest of the clique. “Tell us about the morning of your auditions. What time did you leave the house? Do you remember how you got to school that day? Do you remember seeing Will Bartlett’s car on the way down the hill…”?
God, she’s incessant. It’s like sitting across from a cartoon.
* * *
Later that day, Hannah nudged Skylar and whispered, “Did they talk to you yet?”
“No,” she sneered. Then they sat in uncomfortable silence for another few minutes until the director called the cast to order.
It was a grueling rehearsal. And Hannah felt sick the whole time. She’s hiding something from me. It was the same feeling Hannah got the day Skylar asked her to lie to the director at camp. “Just make up an excuse. I won’t be there today. Neither will Katie. But you don’t even have to mention her.” So nonchalant. As if she and Katie were cutting rehearsal to smoke clove cigarettes. As if Skylar didn’t loathe Katie Greco.
That day at camp, Hannah didn’t really care what Skylar was up to. She was, after all, always up to something. But now, Skylar’s avoidance of the conversation was vexing.
The two made their way to the dance studio. As deftly as possible, Hannah said, “You’d tell me right? If you got questioned, I mean.”
Skylar took Hannah’s hand and laced her long fingers between Hannah’s, “Just not now, Hannah. Don’t worry.” She gave Hannah’s hand a squeeze.
A text from the queen much later.
SC: samuels says i get a tour of cartwright’s new musical. going to bway this thursday night. BACKSTAGE!
Unbelievable. It’s not enough that he fawns over Skylar in rehearsal. Like he’s in love with her or something. Now she gets to go backstage at Girls & Diamonds.
Hannah stared at her phone. Typing…then deleting…then typing again. If I got to meet Zachary Cartwright…I just know he’d like me. I just know I could stand out…impress him.
HC: can i come?
The response came swiftly. Like Skylar knew Hannah would ask. She just had to hit ‘send.’
SC: leads only. #sorrynotsorry
* * *
Hannah rolled her shoulders back to release tension in her neck. Only one more flight up to the music room. The classroom was on the opposite side of the school from the theatre. And two floors up. But if you’ve ever heard eighth-graders wailing on their violins, you’d understand why the school put the music room so far away from everyone.
A few giggles came from the room. Weird. I’m at least ten minutes early. Samuels blocked off time to teach the torch song “More Than This.” As Skylar’s understudy, Hannah was always at important rehearsals. But as a shadow. Sometimes the Call Board even had Hannah scheduled in two places at once.
However, if something were to happen to Skylar, Hannah would know every song and every line. Hannah smiled for a moment. If only…
The door was cracked open. Another laugh from the inside. Mom? Is that my mom’s laugh? But Hannah couldn’t tell. She stopped and noiselessly placed her backpack on the floor. I’ll just wait a few minutes. Skylar won’t show until exactly the time she’s due to be here. If Mom is in there… She felt at once giddy for her mom’s romance with the new director and totally grossed out.
Soft whispers came from the room now. Mr. Samuels let out this virile chuckle and Hannah almost gagged. Just think about something else. For a few seconds Hannah held her fingers in her ears like a toddler. Skylar should be here soon. She’ll break this up.
Then Skylar laughed from inside the room. Skylar? Wait, Mom is in there. At least I think it’s Mom in there. Why does Mom sound like Skylar?
A loud “Shh” from the director.
Hannah moved inaudibly to face the crack in the threshold. The muffled titters came again. Definitely Skylar. Mom isn’t there at all. Never was. Skylar is in there flirting with my mom’s boyfriend.
Filled with rage, Hannah threw the door open. They were completely taken unawares. Even Skylar had a startled look on her face when she turned. Across the room, Mr. Samuels, face half-hidden by the piano, sat at the bench with Skylar sitting on the closed piano facing him. Skylar had her elbows leaned up on the piano, her shirt stretched tight across her full breasts. Her long wavy hair fell down into the open piano. Hannah wished that the piano gears would come to life. They could coil around the strands of hair and yank her head back hard.
Shit, what the hell should I do now? Hannah’s eyes danced between Skylar and Aaron. She looked for proof of foul play and hoped for evidence to the contrary. Samuels collected himself quickly, the only actual adult. Now he stared at Hannah like he always did.
“Am I interrupting something?” Hannah said pointedly at Skylar.
The director shuffled through sheet music aimlessly. Skylar met her friend’s tone, “No. But you’re late for rehearsal.”
Hannah walked closer, slammed her bag on the floor by the piano, and replied in kind, “Call board said 5:45. Check the time.”
Skylar turned slowly, her rear now facing the director. She leaned over the piano, looked at the clock on the wall behind Hannah, and chirped, “So it is.”
Then Skylar’s whole face turned bright and innocent, like she put on a mask, “Looks like—for once—I’m early! Crazy! Right, Mr. Samuels?”
He laughed uncomfortably then placed a few sheets atop the piano, “Here’s another copy of ‘More Than This.’”
Hannah shivered with anger, “I have the first copy you gave me.”
“Oh, uhhh. Okay then.” He played warm-up chords, eyes locked on the keys. Hannah felt triumphant imagining his thoughts:
Would she tell her mother?
Would she tell someone else?
What did she see exactly?
Hannah missed the first two steps on the scale as she relished letting Samuels feel her gaze. Skylar missed the first two steps as well. But she sang so clearly and angelically on the third that Hannah’s thoughts were broken. Skylar glared at Hannah. Hannah found her voice. It was clear and strong too. Surprising even. Mr. Samuels couldn’t help but press the keys a little harder. He looked up at the young women, horrified at the situation he’d created.
The rest of the rehearsal Hannah resolved to channel the anger into the song. For the warm-ups and the first twenty minutes of reviewing the song, her voice surpassed Skylar’s. Yes, I have the better voice. Skylar has always known it. And now you, Mr. Samuels, know it too. The bad audition was just that. A bad audition.
And Skylar became frustrated. Four years of being together almost constantly and Hannah knew her tells. The skin under her right eye twitched ever so softly. She continually put her hair up then took it back down. And the biggest tell of all—Skylar echoed every compliment Hannah got from the director with a genuine sweetness that would fool a trained psychologist.
When Aaron Samuels stopped after the bridge to give notes, Skylar beamed with pride as she marinated in the constructive criticism and the praise. But he played again, the director looked directly at Hannah, “You sounded lovely just then, Hannah. Keep it up.”
“Oh, uhh, thank you.” Hannah was stunned.
“She just has to work on her game face for auditions now,” Skylar interjected.
“Yes, if only that was the Hannah Cross I met at vocal auditions…”
The next time they sang Hannah didn’t hit all the higher notes cleanly. Her throat tight from Skylar’s spiteful remark. Mr. Samuels decided he would work with Skylar on the breathing for the last belt. So, Hannah sat and noticed her phone had two messages. Both from Brody. Hannah kept the phone inside her bag and read the texts, trying to deaden the smile that had unconsciously sprung to her face.
BW: sorry i haven’t been in touch. mom has me taking SATs for the third time on saturday morning.
Then a two minutes later, another.
BW: dinner tmrw? want to catch up.
Without analyzing it, Hannah wrote back.
HC: sure. olympus diner? disco fries <3
Hannah indulged some excellent thoughts about disco fries covered in mozzarella and dipped in turkey gravy. Even more indulgent thoughts about Brody braided themselves into her mind too.
It wasn’t until Skylar was standing over the desk that Hannah realized rehearsal was over. Hannah walked out without saying a word. The anger returned. Flirting with her mother’s love interest—even for gain in the show—was treason. You don’t mess with mothers.
On the way to dance rehearsal, Hannah kept a pace fast enough where petite Skylar had to jog a little. If I’m being honest, I’m just buying some time. This is unusual. Skylar actually doesn’t know what my reaction will be, how much I saw. I’m going to make her wait.
Skylar stopped with Hannah at the restroom. She stopped with Hannah at her locker. She stopped with Hannah at Greg’s locker where Hannah left the answers to the AP Gov homework. Skylar chatted the whole time. Trying different approaches. Taking the temperature of the room.
“That was nice of Samuels to give you a compliment. I totally knew that he’d notice you eventually.” The nice approach. Hmph.
“I see someone was texting with Brody. Don’t worry. I won’t tell Cynthia.” The loyal approach.
In the bathroom stall, she even tried this one: “Whoa. I totes need a bikini wax. The downtown is all 70s porn star.” The self-effacing approach. Never cute with Skylar. I think she’s even a little nervous.
By the time they arrived at the dance studio, Skylar was desperate. And Hannah had found the words to confront her friend. But Skylar took her arm, “The police questioned me the other day. I have a dark SUV and they are investigating everyone with that type of car.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Hannah turned white with fear. Who knows what she told the police? Immediately, Hannah’s mind went back to the crash. That sound. I still can’t get it out of my head. And Hannah saw Skylar’s insidious expression right before they hit. The mania of an unchecked tantrum. She wanted to hurt them. I could see it on her face.
“I was waiting until we were alone. If you weren’t being weird the past ten minutes, I could’ve told you earlier. God, I’m sorry I brought up the audition,” Skylar rolled her eyes. “Listen, there’s nothing on the car. I swear.”
“How do you know there isn’t anything on the car? We hit them. His car is silver. Yours is navy. There’s bound to be a dent and paint on your car.” Hannah remembered seeing the Range Rover at the wake. There wasn’t any damage. But it was dark too. And I was a few feet away.
“I told you there’s nothing on the car,” Skylar huffed. “And I have more. We were supposed to be at auditions at 9, right?”
“And we actually got here at 9:05.”
Hannah put an indignant hand on her hip, “What’s the point?”
“Cynthia was the last person to sign the attendance sheet. Cynthia signed at 8:35. So I signed both of us in at 8:38. Right after Cynthia.”
The accident happened closer to 8:45. Hannah remembered that clearly. If Skylar had signed us into auditions at 8:38, we have an alibi. A documented alibi.
Skylar pranced into dance studio.
“Wait,” Hannah blurted, “What about Ms. Panzini? She was at the sign-in table. She knows.”
“She signed off on the sheet as accurate. Never noticed the time. Mostly because you walked in crying like a baby. See, your dramatic entrance actually worked in our favor. Panzini loves you and your mommy. When I told her that you were crying because of your deadbeat dad, she bought it.”
Hannah stood frozen. Skylar actually kept me safe. At least it feels that way. I think.
“And I visited Zoe like two days ago. You should go too. I’ll go with you if you want.”
What did she just say? Like visiting Zoe was nothing. Like Zoe had mono. Hannah felt the tears but suppressed them. Will Bartlett is dead. Zoe rots in a hospital.And it’s my fault. She took a deep breath and pressed the guilt down as hard as she could. After all, she was safe from culpability. Her mother was safe from scandal. Even her silly brother was safe. Just focus on that.
Continue reading Chapter Six.
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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