The doors to the Little Theatre opened. The throng of anxious teenagers, impatient and testy after two hours of waiting on tenterhooks, stiffened as one and stared at the little man who slipped out. Four very important pieces of paper were clutched in his hand.
"Now, listen, all of you," Robert said warningly, "if you stampede me before I get safely back inside, I'll kill you tomorrow in rehearsal. I mean it," he added, shooting threatening looks at several members of the would-be cast. Then he smiled good-naturedly, pulled a roll of tape out of his pocket, and proceeded to attach the four sheets to the front of the prominent glass display case next to him. His job done, he backed up, opened the doors, and, with a small, secretive smile still playing about his lips, he went back inside.
There was a mighty roar of excitement as eighty frenzied adolescents shot out of their seats and dashed to the case, skidding so as to not break the glass when they hit. Screams of delight and moans of disappointment then filled the air as everyone found out their dreams had come true.and been shattered.
"I knew it," said Rachael, throwing a disgusted look toward the list entitled ENSEMBLE. "I knew I'd be living scenery again."
Trying to keep my voice calm, I said, "What about me?"
"I don't know, I didn't see," answered Rachael absently as she slung her backpack over one shoulder. "Listen, I have to go, my mom's been waiting outside for twenty minutes. I'll see you tomorrow at"-she sighed heavily-"rehearsal."
I waved goodbye, then jostled my way frantically to the front of the crowd. Then, as my eyes lit on the list that had made Rachael so glum, I could feel my face fall.
There, right under Rachael, was the name Josephine Cria.
"Dammit," I said to myself, fighting back tears.
I knew that was coming, of course. My first musical, what was I to expect? A lead?
Slowly, I collected myself enough to force my tears back to where I could control them. I walked away from the list that sang my defeat, and went to inspect the leads' list. They were all very predictable, people who had been in the musical system to work their way up to the top of the social hierarchy.
All of the female leads had been in the system so many times before. They were all upperclassmen who had finally got their chance. Most of the male leads were incoming sophomores. Young, inexperienced. Usually new to the musicals.
It isn't fair, I thought to myself, feeling the anger rising within my chest like an ugly tidal wave threatening to break over the unsuspecting sands of a quiet beach, and knowing that my face was smooth and emotionless. They need guys, so the young guys get leads. There'll never be enough room for us.
Other girls around me were looking at the list and shaking their heads, muttering darkly to their neighbors. They knew it was unjust. But we could do nothing about it.
"There are three guys in Ensemble," I heard one of them snap. "Three guys.and twenty-eight girls!"
"How the hell did Todd get lead dancer?" another one exclaimed. "He lives on the computer!"
"Yeah, but he's got Dance, Dance Revolution," her neighbor murmured. "He's had plenty of practice dancing."
I ducked my head to keep a grim chuckle from escaping. Sighing slightly, I began to turn away from the lists. I was in for five very long weeks.
But I noticed the last name on the list of male leads. A name I hadn't noticed before. I turned full around to read it properly.
For a minute, I thought I'd hallucinated. There was no way this could be right.
"Mike!" I shouted, breaking away from the thinning crowd and racing over to the stairs. A very tall youth stood there, leaning against the railing, his blond hair set in tough-looking spikes that were deceiving those who didn't know him to be the gentle, sweet person that I knew. His bright blue eyes danced as he watched me draw nearer and nearer to him. His lips curled into a boyish grin as I stopped just short of him, craning my neck to look up into his face.
"Mike, you're Vince Fontaine!" I squealed, hopping up and down, my misery fading to be replaced with utter ecstasy.
"I know," he said, trying and failing to hide his glee. All at once, his cool cover broke, and he grabbed me and spun me around, my tumbles of red curls flying around me like a cape.
"How did they know?" I shrieked delightedly, holding on for dear life as we twirled faster and faster around the student center, attracting many disdainful glances. "Did they have cameras on you? Did they know that you are secretly Vince Fontaine's twin? That you were him in a former life?"
Mike laughed and laughed, his mouth opened wide. Soon, we were far too dizzy to stay upright, and we fell to the ground, sprawled in a messy pile on the ground, my legs tangled with his. For several minutes, we could do nothing but gulp for air as we laughed even harder.
Finally, Mike rolled over onto his back, still chuckling, and asked, "By the way, what did you get?"
The laughter still burbling from my throat subsided, and with a sigh I sat up. "Ensemble, of course."
Mike sat up and slung an arm around my shoulders. "I'm sorry, Jo."
"S'okay," I said, slapping on my cool, emotionless face once more. "Rachael's in it again, and John, and Alex. It'll be fun. Plus, we'll get to have all the free time while you have to memorize your lines." I punched him lightly on the shoulder and stood up, brushing dust off my cargos. "I have to go."
"Yeah, me too," Mike said, checking his watch as he stood up quickly. I watched as he drew himself up to his full height, so he was towering over me once again.
"My bike's in back," he said, trotting over to the stairs and retrieving his bag. "I'll see you tomorrow, Jo. And." He reached out and grasped my shoulder once again, his bright blue eyes looking straight into mine. "Don't feel so bad about being in Ensemble. It'll be fun, I promise."
I smiled, my heart drumming uncomfortably against my ribs, making my chest vibrate awkwardly. "Thanks, Mike. I know it'll be fine. And congratulations again."
He grinned and wrapped me in a quick hug, stooping so I could put my arms around him properly. I found that I was holding my breath. I forced myself to exhale, my internal, sensible voice scolding the frivolous romantic in me.
He let me go and, with a last wave, walked away, turned the corner, and was gone.
For a moment I just stood there, savoring the moment when his warmth had enveloped me and held me close. Then I shook my head, blinked away a few tears, and headed for the main doors.