April Jones POV
Unless some magical wizard swooped down from space, kidnapped my teacher, flew her to Hogwarts and held her for ransom, the spring play was going to be an utter disaster. Miss A, the Dramatic Arts advisor, who was-like-my age, had no idea what she was doing.
She never did.
To be frank, theatre really wasn't my thing. This was partly due to my occasional symptoms of Momentous Speech Impairment and near-crippling stage fright, a rare but severe condition that only showed up when I tried to speak in front of an audience. There was also the fact that the kids in there were either elitist theatre snobs or way-over-the-top attention-seekers-like a vicious clan of Miley Cyruses.
It was beyond creepy, so I actively tried to avoid them. Except that had been impossible since I had been trapped in a useless, brainless drama class, thanks to the idiotic jerk responsible for our school's graduation requirements and pretty soon, the slow and painful decay of my sanity.
Miss A had asked us to each write our own plays for the show for a grade-and I complied to the best of my ability. Writing-that was my thing. And I really wanted a good grade. After all, it was still a class. What was the harm in just one more A plus?
Anyway, I figured I had nothing to lose. By the time the results came, I surprised myself by being disappointed and furious-which had only been possible because I allowed myself to trust her. I trusted her to make an honest, conscientious decision that would reflect her otherwise imaginary professional expertise, but she totally and deliberately betrayed me. Miss A had chosen the worst, most awful candidate that it felt like the George Bush campaign all over again-a seriously devastating travesty.
The sad part was that I would've forgiven her for rejecting my play, if not for that.
You know, eventually.
But when the word 'winner', followed by two other words that sounded like Leo Zachary somehow escaped her lips, my jaw swung open and stayed there as I desperately tried to comprehend what had just happened. Even after I saw his gloating face stand up in front of the class that afternoon to receive the applause…I still-couldn't-quite-send-the information to my brain, so I just continued to stare with my mouth open for a little while longer.
There was only one thing anyone ever needed to know about Leo Zachary. He who I had valiantly endured for the past three years, just so happened to be the most arrogant, malicious, metro-sexual waste of air that had ever walked the planet. He was quite talented in the art of being a total ego-maniac slash compulsive instigator-which was almost always directed at me. He couldn't go three seconds without seeking attention for himself if he tried. Frankly, there were just so many things wrong with the kid that it was hard to imagine him succeeding in anything because he was too busy being a jerk.
Too many times in the past had he bullied me, called me names with his equally despicable friends, and made me feel inferior in every sense of the word. Too many times has he deliberately and maliciously exposed every bit of insecurity I'd ever had and threw it up in my face just for a laugh. He used to target me so monstrously that there were times that I thought I really hated him.
But that was, like, forever ago, and I'd grown and matured a lot since then. Though it was unlikely that he had changed much at all. My anger at Miss A wasn't rooted in prejudice, regardless. That'd be extremely unethical of me as a writer, and also just wrong. The real problem-or at least one of them-was that his play was, to put it simply, crap. His plot was crap. His characters were crap. And his title was just plain stupid.
Shadows of the Sun?
That—that didn't even make any sense!
"Wonderful, wonderful job, sweetheart!" Miss A said, clapping along with the rest of the classroom. "And now if everyone'll get settle down I'd like to get straight to work." She stood at the podium in the front of the classroom, the setting sun spilling through the shades. Leo was being showered with high-fives and cheers on his way back to where he was sitting, just a couple of rows behind me.
Her stance erect and eager, Miss A appraised the class. She lived in a world of perfection. She was petite and cheery, with childish, round eyes and long, blonde locks. When she went to work, I bet it didn't even feel like work to her because everything was so fun. And when she was done, she probably skipped home as she sang for birds and the rats on the street because her life was just so freaking awesome.
"We'll need volunteers after school every day of the week," she continued animatedly, "and from now on this class will meet in the auditorium where we'll work on costumes and set design, okay?"
I had to hold myself back from groaning out loud. She was beginning to really convince me that this was actually happening. She was really going to go through with that god-awful play.
The large class murmured a nonchalant affirmative, through nearly half of them were absorbed in their own whispered conversations. Miss A, not much accustomed to absolute silence, happily passed out set construction safety worksheets. For the rest of the class the students socialized and answered comprehension questions.
Well, they socialized with each other. I never really fit in with drama kids and didn't pretend to. They were intimidating, ostentatious and took great pains to make sure everything from their hair to their shoes were perfect. Even though everyone wore the same indigo and grey uniform, they made sure it looked better on them than on anybody else, as if by law. I, for one, was glad I never had to worry about any of that stuff. Since I couldn't afford to live in the dorms, I took the bus to school and couldn't be bothered with time-consuming activities like fixing my hair. Chin-length and sandy blonde, it was fine the way it usually was, thrown up in a bun or something. And trying to put on makeup would be a failure from the start, since I was practically blind without my glasses.
For the most part they simply ignored me. Even the kids who, like myself, were only in this class because it was required—which I found slightly disappointing. Even Leo had barely spoken to me at all since the beginning of the year, which was very much appreciated. But it was still extremely difficult to forget one's conduct and character just because that person suddenly decided to treat it as if it'd never happened. I certainly did not.
They sat huddled amongst each other as I sat quietly and worked. Diane, a heavy-set girl the next seat over with soft red hair who rarely ever said much to anyone, surprised me by whispering, "Sorry she didn't pick your play. I think Miss A has some favorites in the class," she made a show of discreetly pointing at Leo, who was apparently saying really funny to the group of people behind me. They all laughed in way that made obvious they wanted to be heard so the rest of the class could tell what a wonderful time they were having.
I shrugged, though I appreciated her comment and smiled despite myself. "Well, that is a valid point. But really, it's no big deal. I'll get over it," I replied kindly, realizing the second I said the words that they were true. I would get over it. Nothing besides my ego was really damaged.
She seemed to be encouraged by my answer and added after a moment's pause, "I heard she's planning on giving us a lot homework this semester."
At this I had to groan out loud, shooting daggers at the teacher who was currently sitting at her desk concentrating hard on something. "As if I didn't have enough homework from my other classes that actually have value." I sighed, massaging my eyelids.
"So why don't you just quit?" said a voice behind me. I started, and my eyes flew open to find him staring right at me expectantly, his body relaxing into the chair that had previously been empty. He was lean, with pointed features and dark, tousled hair and fell into his eyes. Not that it was any of my business, but his looks generally seemed benefit him well enough with other girls. Remarkably so-I bet-considering his want of character couldn't be helped.
But it didn't work with me. Seeing him recalled some of the ire I'd been repressing for the duration period.
Surprised and a little confused, I responded. "I can't. It's a class, remember?"
"So quit the class," he shrugged.
"How 'bout I quit talking to you?" I turned away and faced forward again. Didn't he have better things to do, now that he'd had his little victory? He was seriously grinding on my nerves.
He groaned. "Yep. Still annoying as hell. If I wasn't so bored right now I probably wouldn't have even bothered to be nice to you." His tone was now exceedingly derisive. Familiar.
"Oh, you mean eavesdrop on me?"
"It's not eavesdropping if China can hear you bitching," he growled.
I rolled my eyes, Diane frozen into to silence. "I think it's high time you buy yourself dictionary-since you obviously don't know the meaning of the word 'nice'."
"I think high it's time you drown yourself in the sewage-since you'd obviously be doing the world a favor," he replied sweetly.
I blinked at him, mildly surprised. I'd forgotten how volatile he was, somehow. I then composed my features, making a considerable effort not to sound nasty. "Look, I didn't take this class to bicker with you. That was my mistake-"
"Let's be honest," he said, pressing his lips together, "your whole life has been a mistake."
"Do mind leaving me alone?" I said finally.
"Oh, don't worry. I was just about to leave and use this very sharp pencil to stab myself for ever trying to have a conversation with you. At least that'll be less painful," he continued, rising up from his chair.
"Still not nearly as painful as was reading your amateur play," I couldn't help but add, smiling to myself.
His face betrayed no emotion, but I could see that that had got to him. Faint color had risen to his olive-toned cheeks as he made an effort to maintain his tone.
"Let me get this straight. You were able to get a copy of an assignment I'd passed in to a teacher over three weeks ago? Out of all the names I've called you in the past, stalker was not one of them until now."
I was startled. "If I remember correctly, Miss A was the one who suggested the whole class to read them after she uploaded them online. I was only seeing what I was up against. Is that so wrong?"
"That is the most pathetic thing anyone has ever said to me. I'd laugh, but it's actually kinda sad. The only thing you proved is that you have too much time on your hands and a lot of insecurities. I'm guessing that it's simply because you suck at what you do, which would explain why you failed today and I didn't. Then again, I didn't need to read your play to know mine was better. Have a nice life."
With that he turned away, not noticing Diane whose eyes were wide with alarm, startled at having witnessed the hostile exchange.
I shook my head, and tried in vain to try to refocus on my sheet. He was just so uncouth and rude. I couldn't believe I hadn't seen that coming-that I actually started to wonder somewhere in the back of mind if he'd somewhat improved on his character.
I snorted to myself.
Like that was ever going to happen. I shook my head, disappointed in myself for how much I actually cared. Insufferable prick. Nothing more. Nothing less.
"I've never seen him that mad before," she whispered in awe, even quieter than before as if not to attract his attention again.
I sniffed, having already forgotten it. "Yeah…well…he still sucks at writing."
And then we both snickered, later lapsing into comfortable silence till the class ended. I released a huge sigh of relief at the bell, signaling the end of a long, arduous week. Just a couple more days and it would be the beginning of another, long and arduous week. Strapping my backpack onto my back and heading out the door with the rest of the students, I heard a soft, soprano voice from behind me.
"April, can I talk to you for a sec?" Miss A called to me.
My initial reaction was apprehension, though I didn't quite know why. Her mannerisms annoyed me, yes. That couldn't be helped. But there had never been a time that Miss A tried to deliberately wrong me—that I knew of, at least. I made my way over to her desk, watching her closely.
She smiled at me almost apologetically, "Don't feel discouraged, kiddo. Your play was really good and you're a very talented writer."
Whatever, I thought as I prepared myself for an unwelcome pity spiel.
"I hope you didn't get too upset," she continued, a small, unnatural crease on her forehead.
"No-really. It's okay." I forced.
She beamed again. "Atta girl! I knew it'd work out! That's why I wanted to ask you something." Miss A jumped up from her seat, and came closer.
I frowned, curious, but at the same time slightly uncomfortable with the proximity. "Sure."
"April…would you be interested…in directing the play this season?" she said, nearly bursting with excitement.
"You talkin' to me?" I pointed to myself.
"You want me to direct?"
"Well, co-direct," she allowed.
"…Why?" I said finally, the pitch of my tone rising at the end.
"Because you're intelligent, hard-working and someone I'd love to have on the team."
"Well…uh. I-I...thank you," I said, blinking like an idiot. "I mean, I've never...done anything like this. Ever," I let out an awkward laugh. "I'm not really a team player as you can see," I admitted, referring my lack of relationship-building skills which usually caused me to sit alone in most classes including hers. I was hoping she'd understand but she just kept smiling as if not having heard me. I realized she had never even noticed that or anything else about me. No wonder she was always marking me absent even when I was sitting right in front of her. I refrained from rolling my eyes.
"Trust me, you're perfect for it. So what do you say?" Her bright blue eyes were wide, and for the first time ever I felt like she was actually looking at me.
I frowned again. For what reason could I possible be interested in being part of this? It was a terrible idea. An insane idea. But then again, if I had creative control there was still a chance that the play could be saved. With me on deck, there was less likelihood that the show would be a train wreck-not that cared, of course.
I cursed inwardly, angry at the unexpected uncertainty.
I wouldn't actually be doing anything that would make me uncomfortable-I would be in the backseat. Out of the limelight-yet conspicuously in control, making all the important decisions. At that moment I realized how attractive the notion was to me.
I looked at Miss A's expectant gaze. "I—I mean, I guess. Sure," I said, surprising myself.
She clapped her tiny hands together, "Wonderful! We'll need to start right away, so be in the Fine Arts building straight after school on Monday so we can begin the audition process. You have a copy of the play, don't you?"
I nodded, feeling a tiny bit of excitement bubbling inside.
"Good. Bring that, pen and paper, and some coffee. It's going to be a long day," she sang.
"Okay. See you then."
"Wait a second. Before I forget…" I said, turning back around. "Who will I be doing it with again?"
She had sat back down on her desk and was writing something down. "The author of the play, of course. Two great minds think alike, right?" she said happily.
My head spun. I stared at her. "What."
"I still can't believe how well this all worked out!" she clasped her hands together, dazed.
She was rubbing her chin with her thumb and her index finger, "You know, now that I think about it, you two will be spending a lot of time together. Here, I'll give you his number. Why don't you two grab a bite to eat this weekend and get to know each other better?"
I was horror-struck into silence.
"It's okay. I know you're a bit...shy. But just make an effort, okay?. He'll be happy to do it. He's the sweetest little thing," she placed a hand fondly on the right-side of her chest.
I stared at her, shaking my head slowly, incredulously. What a sick, twisted thing to say.
Forget the play. Forget him. I just wanted to get out of there. But what could I say? I had already agreed to my own demise. Suddenly I wanted to be invisible again.
"See you Monday!"
All the way home I numbly repeated the same question to myself over and over. "What have I done?"