A/N: I'm BACK! Sorry I've been gone so long, it's just been really busy for me. I hope you all had a great Christmas, and happy holidays!

No songs this chapter... honestly, it seems rather filler-ish. And I'm sorry, because last chapter was pretty bad with that too! But this chapter is really pretty important in hindsight, it introduces a few pretty important plot points. Enjoy!

TRIGGER WARNING: Slight trigger for self-harm- only in one scene, but I'm still tagging it. There's also quite a bit of talk about insecurity and such.


When it happens, I'm up late at night, boredly half-watching an episode of Hetalia and scrolling through my Tumblr dashboard. With a yawn, I switch tabs, leaving Loki pictures for my email. I refresh the page- I hadn't checked it since two days ago.

What-

Click.

Scan. Scroll. Scan. Scroll.

What the fuck.

Instantly, I grab the phone. I press one, calling Ashleigh's speed dial. She's before all the emergency contacts- screw that, Ash basically is my emergency contact.

"Skylar, what- It's the middle of the night!" She mutters groggily. "Don't you dare say anyth-"

"I got in."

"What?"

"I fucking got in, Ash!" I yell out. If anyone wakes up, I'll take the flames. If there's ever a moment to yell, it's now. "I'M! IN!"

"Oh my GOD!" I hear an ear-shattering squeal. I have to hold the phone two feet away for the rest of the response, but knowing her it's along the lines of "I told you, callbacks don't mean a thing! I told you!" Once the phone stops making noise, I hold it back to my ear.

"Check your email! And get that cousin of yours up!"

I hear a muffled "QUINN! THEY'RE OUT!" and a scrambling down stairs- unlike me, Ashleigh doesn't see the appeal of laptops, sticking to their family PC.

"Oh my god, I'm freaking out." This time I can barely hear her; I guess the nerves have taken all of the voice out of her.

"Whatever happens, we're still going to be the same. No one messes with Ashleigh and Skylar. Especially not five hundred pounds of stupid old Springston."

"That's not what you said!" She whispers.

I can feel her terror, because suddenly it's my terror too. Fear creeps up my bones. It chokes my muscles, clouds my thoughts. I'm frozen in the clutches of fear.

A VTAA without Ashleigh isn't worth getting accepted to.

"I was wrong about callbacks, okay? I'm wrong about literally everything. I can be wrong about this too." I'm saying this to comfort myself more than her.

"Hold on. The email's loading."

"Read it to me, okay? I want to know exactly what it says." I quickly say. My heart stops beating. One way or another, I'm probably going to die tonight.

"Dear Miss Tennison…" Ashleigh reads. She's silent. My world stops turning.

"Congratulations… Ashleigh… YOUHAVEBEENACCEPTEDINTOVALEN CIAFORTHE12-13TERM!" Her voice gets louder and more high-spirited with each word. I blink back tears. We did it. We finally did it. I hear another faint yowl of "I'm in!"

"Quinn's in too!" I can almost see Ashleigh's huge smile over the phone. "Oh my God, oh my God, ohmyGOD…"

Well, look out, world. Here we come.

"Any idea why there's an assembly today?" Belle asks as she walks besides me and Ashleigh.

I shrug. "Don't know, don't care! All I know is that it gets me out of PE. This is a theatre kid school, why do they even have it?"

"Hey, they could be announcing the fall show…" Ashleigh points out. "Don't they usually do it around the second or third week of school?"

I blink, and then turn to my friend. "Once again, you are a hopeless genius."

"Come on." She swats me on the head lightly, but laughs. "So, what do you think it'll be?"

"Well, freshmen always do Strike in the spring, so we know it's going to be a musical at least." I answer.

"What's Strike?" I turn around to see Artemis behind me with Lysander and a clearly pissed-off Ivy.

"It's this thing that every grade does once every year. It's basically just this big showcase, with skits and improv and music numbers and stuff! It's really cool." Ashleigh explains.

"And the Interlocutor makes it all happen…" Puzzled, Artemis (really, everyone except Ashleigh) looks at me. "Oh yeah! The Interlocutor is basically this huge awesome honor thing. Someone's chosen at the end of freshmen year, and then they become basically the emcee for the grade, and they host Strike and basically represent our year and all of our awesomeness and they get to do a lot of cool stuff and they're super hilarious and snarky and epic!"

"…Okay, I totally understood that." Artemis blinks.

"I'll translate…" Ashleigh laughs. "The Interlocutor's kind of like a class representative, but they do a lot more than that. They host and emcee Strike, and host any sort of school event, too, and they do a lot of special performances. They have to be really good, though. They have to be a singer, dancer, and actor, and be good at improv… plus, the teachers who pick don't even consider anyone without an A average. Plus, on build days or major rehearsals they call the shots, so they always pick someone who knows some stuff with tech, too… But they're like the face of the grade. Really important."

"Huh… that sounds cool, I guess." She replies.

"They're like glorified student council members. Only they get to wear awesome tuxedos and push people into trapdoors and basically make fun of everything that ever happens onstage." I add on.

I remember back in Hot Shots we'd get free tickets to see Strike and it was always just amazing to see the Interlocutor. I remember one from a couple years back… her name was Shanti, and she was the only girl I'd seen be Interlocutor. It was only a sophomore group, but I can't get over how awesome she was. Her singing, her dancing, the things she'd improvise… I was going to fall out of her chair from some of the stuff she said! Damn, that would be fun…

"Skylar… Stop spacing out or you'll hit that…"

And that's when I slam right into a column.

"You could have warned me!" I yell out, rubbing my head.

"I did." Ashleigh suppresses a laugh, coming over to help me up. "But seriously, you're a dancer! How can you just slam into a pole like that?"

"It takes skill." I smirk jokingly.

"Obviously." She rolls her eyes, reaching out a hand to help me up.

Our fingertips brush against each other… and then touch. And suddenly, it feels at least fifteen degrees hotter in here. It feels like sparks are coming between our hands; my palm and fingertips feel like they're flickering with electricity. My face goes red… and suddenly, I feel really scared.

I jerk my arm away, shaking out my fingers as I carefully stand up. "I… I'm fine."

"Are you sure?" She gives me an odd look. "It seems like you're acting weird."

"It's fine… I'm just a little, um, stressed out." I finish awkwardly, rubbing my neck and putting my hands into my jacket pockets.

"I know what you mean!" We begin walking again; I notice that the rest of the group's gone, up farther in the crowd. "It's been pretty stressful, getting used to this new schedule and stuff. I mean, most of my classes are fun and all…"

"Most?" I glance at her. "What don't you like?" To be honest, I haven't gotten too many chances to talk to Ashleigh since school started: I've needed this chance.

"Well, you know I've never been a fan of Science… it all really con-"

"I'm in your Science, I can help!" I interrupt before I even realize what I'm saying.

"Thanks…" She looks away, but I catch a glimpse of her smile. There's something about it that just infects me: whenever I see it, I can't help but grin with her. "But seriously, I'm so confused with some of that stuff!" She sighs. "At least it's not as bad as some of my other classes… I mean, at least I like all of my sector ones. But Filmmaking… it's fun, but it's so stressful! And Music History's just plain hard. Don't even get me started on Spanish… at least I know you can help me with that."

"Of course, you know I've been speaking it my entire life." I laugh.

"Speaking of that… how is everyone? You know, your aunt and uncle… and little Estella!" Ashleigh smiles.

"Tía Lucinda's good… so is Uncle Josh. Oh, and Essie's as adorable as ever." I smile a bit as I think of my family.

Honestly, we're a little odd. My parents died when I was really little- typical sob story, huh? It's never really impacted me, though; I was too young to even remember them. I moved in with Josh as soon as I could remember; then he met my tía, and that's when I first learned Spanish. Tía speaks English really well, but I was really interested in learning, and for some reason the language came really easily to little five-year-old Skylar- I've been fluent ever since. Essie was born when I was eight, and she's really just like a little sister to me. Plus, the Tennisons became like a second family to me- I've never really had the need for parents. Sometimes, though, I wonder what they would have thought of me, if they hadn't been in that car crash…

"Did I tell you that Essie knows your little brother?" I turn to Ashleigh.

"Really? She knows Daniel? He's three years older than her…"

"Apparently they're book buddies." I laugh.

"That's so cute…" She laments. "That is, if he wasn't a little brat all the time." She rolls her eyes, but then furrows her eyebrows. "Wait, are you not taking a language then?"

"Of course I am, it's required." I shrug. "I'm taking two, actually!"

"…two?" She blankly repeats.

"Yeah, Italian and Korean!" I smile. "I mean, I already knew Spanish, French, and Japanese, so I thought I'd try something different." Ashleigh blinks, and then shakes her head in amusement.

"I cannot believe you." She rolls her eyes.

"I think I just have this natural thing for languages. I mean, I learned Spanish when I was so little that it just stuck. It took about three and a half years for me to be somewhat fluent in Spanish… and then it took me one and a half to learn French. But then, Japanese came pretty easily! I definitely don't consider myself mastered in any of them, but…"

Ashleigh laughs. "So, any classes giving you trouble?"

I give her a look. "What do you think? I've ranted to you on a daily basis."

Dance sector… to be frank, really sucks. Well, kind of. Choreography class is pretty fun, and Broadway's not too bad either… mainly because I'm honestly terrified of my other two classes. The thing is, I have good teachers for those two classes… but I got stuck with none other than Madame Mosca for Ballet/Tap and Ballroom Dance. I swear, she's literally out to kill me! She's criticizing my every move and step- just today, we were practicing the cha-cha, and Madame Mosca pointed me out to the whole class as the example of what not to do! Okay, I understand if you'd point me out for ballet, which I legitimately suck at, or for a waltz or something, but a cha-cha? That's not the kind of thing you call me out on! The cha-cha has energy, it has passion… It's something I know I can do! Every time she looks at me, she just has this ridiculous scowl on her face… like she's just waiting for what else I'll do wrong. It seems like I screw up everything, according to her… which is probably true, but for good reason!

Ballet, tap, ballroom… it feels like I'm in a cage doing most of it. I just know it's not me. Honestly, I probably wouldn't even be in Dance sector if it wasn't for the fact that no one teaches hip-hop, or even lyrical or contemporary. If they did, I'd just take a couple dance electives and leave it at that! But they don't… so I got everyone telling me "Oh, you need to branch out if you're ever going to be successful at dance! You need to learn these other styles! Blah, blah, blah! Who cares if you don't even really want to pursue dance as a career?"

Above all, it's something fun for me. A way for me to let loose, be myself. To get away from all of the idiots here and be free from who they are… who I have to be because of them. I feel like if I tried to do it as a career, I'd lose that all. I don't focus on technique or anything... I just try to be free. I just try to feel. That's what I based my audition piece off of... obviously, it's also what Madame Mosca doesn't like.

So… I got stuck in this stupid sector, and I'm trapped. I'm like one of those idiot ballerinas in the music box, just spinning… and spinning… and spinning… to some plucky, cacophonic, high-pitched tune, trapped forever to twirl around.

You can tell how much something sucks when I start making poetic metaphors about it. What is this, Shakespeare or something?

"If you're really having that many problems with her, you should go talk to someone." Ashleigh puts a supportive hand on my shoulder; feeling that same thing as before, I shrug it off. What is with me today?

"Like who? All the other Dance teachers love her. Plus, I think all of the other people in there hate me too. They know me as the girl who always messes up." I grip my arm, digging my nails into my skin- I barely even register any pain, even though my nails have always been long and sharp.

"Talk to the dean! Or to Miss Minx, she's practically the assistant dean! Or one of the counselors!"

"Like that's going to do anything…"

"You know you can transfer out if it gets bad, right?" She suggests lightly. "Who knows… maybe you'd like something else more. I mean, you love Improv class… And what else are you taking for electives? Musical Theatre, right? I mean, I could see you in there… you'd know Ivy and Cass, and it would be a lot easier than just the elective because everything would be split up. And you'd get two more elective spaces, too."

I grit my teeth. "I can't switch out! That's just like… giving up. And letting her win. I don't want Madame Mosca to get the best of me! Because screw it, I just want her to see that I'm not always a failure, like everyone else seems to think I am nowdays!"

"I don't think you're a failure!"

Her voice is startlingly loud in my ears. I relax my fingers, just now realizing that my nails are making deep marks into my forearm.

"Honestly, Skylar… you need to stop getting this way. So… emotional. It really scares me! You're just... so hard on yourself."

"I'm sorry, okay?" I close my eyes. I don't think I really mean it; it just sounds robotic and cold.

Somehow, though, Ashleigh buys it. "It's okay," she smiles at me. "Just… please, try to be easier on yourself. Mosca's a total bitch for treating you like this, you know that?"

"Yeah… I know."

"Are you okay though?"

"I guess." I shrug.

"You- oh my god."

"What."

"Your arm, Skylar." She chokes out.

I glance at my forearm: there's four stinging, bright red crescents on my wrist, deep indents from my nails that are easy to notice on my pale skin. Two of them are bleeding. There's blood trickling across my arm- like a river of shame.

"I think I have a band-aid... in my bag..." Ashleigh breathes out, her face gone pale. She looks horrified.

I'm speechless as we stop in the middle of the hallway. Ashleigh searches through her messenger bag and pulls out two.

"H-hold out your arm." She says. Slowly, I bring it out towards her, and she sticks the bandages on the marks- the marks I inflicted. On myself.

She puts her hand under my chin, and I shiver as she brings it close to her face. "Never do that again. Please." She says.

"I'll try." I answer. She closes her eyes and nods, stepping away from me and continuing walking.

I realize that we've stopped talking. It happens a lot between the two of us; we just suddenly go quiet. I mean, we've just gotten so used to each other… we don't really feel the need to talk to each other every moment we're together. Just being with each other's good enough, I guess. I don't really know why, but sometimes I feel like I like this even better than talking. Maybe it's just the fact that I know she's there, even without having to hear her voice.

I hope that never changes.

I can't help but notice, though, that it's gotten really quiet. At first I think it's just because Ashleigh and I haven't been talking… but then I realize: where the hell is everyone?

"Oh crap, Ashleigh. Where the hell are we?" My head swivels around; man, I don't even remember this place being in VTAA. Then again, VTAA's a huge place. There's probably, like, secret passageways and stuff- I make a mental note to myself to befriend the run crew as soon as possible.

"Well, we've probably missed the assembly…" Sure enough, the bell for Five rings.

I start laughing loudly. "Who cares about the assembly? We're totally lost… in our own school! And we've known this place since fourth grade!" I choke out between laughs. "We are such idiots!"

"Oh, calm down, it's not that funny…" But before I know it, she starts giggling, and before long we're leaning on the door of an unknown classroom, holding on to each other to keep from falling over as we're stared at by people trying to get to Five…

…And that's when the door opens.

Immediately, the two of us fall forward onto the blue-green speckled tile. I turn back to the door to see us being stared at by a blond boy. His green eyes blink confusedly under his thickly rimmed glasses, and he quickly opens his mouth, surprise echoing in his slightly Irish or Australian-sounding voice: "Oh, um… what're you freshies doing 'ere?"

Ashleigh and I exchange looks, and I know we're both thinking the same thing: Shit. We're caught.

"Well… we totally didn't get lost trying to get to the assembly…" Ashleigh bites her lip to keep from laughing.

"Yeah. And we're totally not Hot Shots alums who know this place like the back of their hands…" I finish.

"Wait a second…" The boy parts the way for a teacher to walk up to us: a tall man who I recognize as Mr. Roderson, a math teacher and one of the old Hot Shot supervisors. He looks at Ashleigh. "Aren't you a Tennison?"

"Oh. Um, yeah." Ashleigh bites her lip, a bit embarrassed.

"Hey, Charlie, you want to deal with whatever relative of yours is out here?" The teacher yells.

Well, we're screwed now.

And sure enough, the familiar figure comes out now: Charles Gabriel Tennison, Ashleigh's cousin, a six-foot existence with a hilarious, yet extremely authoritative personality. Oh yeah, and he's a bit more than a little "around the bend."

"Freshmen cousin! Freshmen cousin's ginger child friend! What are you doing in this wing of the school meant especially and ONLY for sophomores and juniors?"

"We… we got lost…" Ashleigh laughs awkwardly.

"Don't you have to be in class? You should be in CLASS! You know, Miss Minx from Production eats misbehaving freshmen!" He stoops down, getting into our faces with a rather creepy smile on his face. "I don't want you to become some of those examples, HEAR ME?"

From behind us, the blond teenager sighs in annoyance. "What 'ave I told you? Miss Minx doesn't consume the freshies, Cha-Cha." He looks so exasperated, it's like he's said the words a million times.

"Car-Car! You're only a sophomore, you haven't learnt these things yet!"

"Car-Car" looks unfazed. "I'm in Production, you 'alf-baked idiot. Now, can't we go to practice? Or 're you goin' to continue harassing them?"

"Hey, I'm related to one of them, I have a right to!" He protests.

The other boy sighs, putting his hands in his cardigan pockets and walking towards us. "I'm Carter, I'm his roommate this year… I'm really sorry about him."

"Oh, it's fine; I have to live with him too. I'm used to it." Ashleigh shrugs.

"D'you want us to walk you back to your class? I mean, you never know who you'll encounter now… it's Five after all, people go crazy. It's safer trav'ling in packs. We 'ave to get to Spaghetti Pants practice now anyways."

I perk up… although maybe it was just the fact that saying "Spaghetti Pants" in whatever accent he had sounded absolutely hilarious. "I don't object to just watching you guys!" I laugh. "I mean, I can give some killer audience suggestions."

"Oh, um… sure, I guess. I mean, if Charlie doesn't mind… he is the Interlocutor, after all. He does kinda 'ave a say in this stuff…"

"Cha-Cha! Is that alright with you?" I yell.

"If you don't call me that I will be." The older boy rolls his eyes. Nope, I am not going to let him get over this. Charlie and I have kind of this love-hate relationship: that is, we love each other to death, as I'm practically a Tennison and he's, as said by Quinn, Ashleigh's "brother-from-another-mother-who-happens-to-be-married-to-the-brother-of-her-father." Basically, even though they're cousins and I have absolutely no relation to them, we're pretty much all like siblings. And Charlie and I pretty much have this lifelong mission to drive each other crazy.

And so, we were off…

...

Okay, what the hell was that?

I'm never going to understand Spaghetti Pants. How can people be that infinitely awesome? I was laughing my ass off- and so was everyone else, even when they were performing. It wasn't like seeing them in performance: they didn't have that spitfire concentration and ability to keep a straight face. And they messed up a ton. They were really just joking around with each other… the funny thing was that, even though Ashleigh and I were just watching from the outside, it didn't feel like we were just bystanders. This wasn't some inside joke… if it was, then we were part of it. And it was awesome.

Charlie… no matter how weird and annoying he can be, (and this is coming from me) he really is a great performer. I've never gotten to see him as Interlocutor, but I can tell just how great he'd be at it. There's just this thing about him… this odd ability to come up with a snarky remark for anything said. He and the other Interlocutor in the group, a short and stocky sophomore guy named Brooklyn… it's kind of awing how fast they exchange sarcastic comments on whatever's happening onstage. I mean, Spaghetti Pants don't really use the Interlocutor that much, but most all of them have been involved in it, one way or another. And it's easy to see why.

And that Carter guy! He rocks! I mean, he was great onstage, but it was even better just getting to talk to him while we were walking over there. He listens to killer music, for one thing, and he reads killer books. The two of us were just kind of nerding out together, while Ashleigh and Cha-Cha (I'm calling him that forever from now on, by the way; it takes my mind off of the horrific dance of the same name) just kind of rolled their eyes out at us. But the best moment was when we were talking about school- or, rather, electives.

"So, you're in Improv then… any other cool electives?" He asks.

"Well… Musical Theatre's pretty fun. I really like my Direction class, though. I mean, we haven't done too much in there, but we got to try and stage these scenes from old Strikes… and I got to stage an ENTIRE Nerf gun battle. It was awesome."

His face lights up. "You're in Direction? Man, I love that class! I mean, it's required for me an' all… but it still kicks ass. The staging's my favorite part, too… when my scene got picked for Strike last year, it was so fun to get to 'elp block it.

"Oh, you're in… Production, then?" He nods eagerly. "I know some people in there! Well, technically only one, but… you know Artemis Ryle?"

He immediately jumps off of my statement. "YES! I 'ad to volunteer on your tryout day, and I met her- it was hilarious, she was askin' me all this questions about the qualifiers and the waiting times and all… plus, she ended up telling me all about her crazy mythology nerd parents and stuff. I mean, tangent much? But anyways, once school started I ran into her in most all of my sector classes and I was jus' like "'Ey! You're the crazy mythology girl from freshman audition day!" And then she read her writing and… whoa." He turns to look at me. "Did you know that she's, like, the best writer on the planet?"

I shrug. "I heard she's really into it. But yeah, I met her on audition day too. I like her. She's insanely socially awkward and isn't real good at human props… But she's really cool, and she understands the pain of torturous orthodontics!" I flash a smile.

"Don't mind her… she's just insane." Ashleigh whispers in his ear.

Oh, good times…

I skip back to Five, humming a little snippet of a song. I missed most of the period, but there's a couple minutes left- Ivy's in my class, and she can probably inform me on whatever they talked about in the assembly.

I open the door and take my seat. Ivy takes one of her earbuds out, giving me a look. "Where have you been all this time? What, did you and Ashleigh ditch the assembly to make out in a storage closet?"

"…what?"

"Oh, you went into a courtyard instead. I get it." I shoot her a glare. "Fine, fine."

"So, what's the fall show?"

"Beauty and the Beast." She makes a face. "I can't believe it. Out of everything… they pick Disney?"

"Don't you dis Disney! I mean, you're on Tumblr too!'

"I have nothing against it, I just hate the fact that it's trying to take over Broadway. I mean, there's so many better shows we could do!"

"I dunno, maybe it'll be fun…" I start to think about casting: obviously, I'd end up being one of the feather dusters, or one of the other castle objects. Basically, a background dancer. I scowl, trying to will myself to take dance off of my mind. "I take it you're auditioning for Belle, then?"

"Of course." She rolls her eyes. "It already sounds like there's going to be a shitload of competition for it, though. I mean, Belle was saying she was interested in it… as in, our friend Belle. Not the Disney princess."

"Now that would be a funny playbill…" I smirk. "What about Cass? I bet she'd be good."

"I don't think so, she said she'd be too nervous to audition… Get this, though. Artemis said that she might audition for Belle."

"WHAT?" Our teacher Mrs. Kingston glances at us; I lower her voice as she turns back to her magazine.

"Crazy, huh? She said all this stuff about how she "related to the role." Blah, blah, blah. And then Belle got pissed at her."

"Oh, theatre rivalry… speaking of that, what happened before? When we were walking to the assembly, you looked really mad about something. It wasn't that Samantha girl again, was it?"

"Oh, it was. Guess what? She's trying to buddy up with Cass now."

"Huh?"

"Yeah. She kept trying to suck up to her and all. It was sickening."

"What's with you two?" I ask. "Do you have some sort of history or something?"

"Unfortunately, yes." She bites her lip. "We went to elementary and middle school together…. and we were in a couple shows together. Let's just say it didn't end well."

"Ah." I nod.

"Seriously… it's been so long ago, but she still just bothers me! I mean, she got a few solos and then she started to think of herself as the ruler of the world. And then she starts making a big deal out of the fact that I stage kissed a boy she liked! He was just a friend… I mean, he was four years older than us and probably played for the other team! And a director told us to! But no, she had to go on a jealous rampage and rat me out for things I didn't even do, and-" She winces. "Sorry… I care too much about this, don't I? I'm holding grudges from middle school. Honestly, I'm pathetic, dragging this into my future…" She glances away; it's like she's in her own world all of a sudden. She's completely tuned everything out. "Sometimes the entire human race just drives me insane."

I start to think about today's events… no, this entire school year's events. "Yeah… I get that a lot."