“Yeah, I guess we should talk about that, huh?”
His hands settled onto the counter beside me, like he needed to brace himself for what was coming. I cleared my throat, but it didn’t make it any easier to talk. “So… you?”
His hands tightened until his knuckles turned white. Then, all at once, he let go and answered, “Yeah, I do. I have… for a while.”
I looked up, but his face was unreadable.
“Why didn’t you ever say anything?”
“Because… I was scared. You’re my best friend. And you almost never date… I just didn’t think you’d be interested.”
Was I interested? I could feel nonsensical tears pressing at the corner of my eyes, and I blinked them away. Cade was a great guy. And I loved spending time with him. And the kiss had definitely been good. It made sense to like him. I wanted to like him, but… Garrick was the but. Could I stop thinking about Garrick? Stop wanting him?
I heard Cade sigh. “You’re not interested, are you?”
God, did his eyes have to be so expressive? I could read every disappointment, every insecurity in them. I loved him; that much was for sure. And I think I could one day be in love with him, but I had to get rid of my feelings for Garrick first. If this had happened last semester, would I even be torn?
“Honestly, Cade? I don’t know. Is maybe a terrible answer?”
He thought about it for the moment, and I couldn’t take the silence.
“It’s not that I don’t like you. I think you’re pretty perfect actually. I just… you’re my best friend, too, and I’m not sure. I need to be sure.”
“I want you to be sure, too.” He took a deep breath and smiled. It was a good smile, but not as bright as I was used to from him. “I can live with maybe.”
When I arrived at the theatre Monday morning, the callback list had already been posted.
Cast (and Callback) lists are a monster in and of themselves. It’s just a simple piece of paper on the wall, but surround it with people who already know your fate and it becomes like walking to the gallows. Eyes turned toward me. I struggled to gauge their reactions. Were they looking at me with pity? Were they just concealing their excitement? Two feet apart, and I existed in an entirely different world than them, than those people who’d already read that slip of paper. And when I would join them, the pressure wouldn’t stop. At the list, you couldn’t show emotion. You couldn’t cry over a part that wasn’t yours or bitch over whose part it became. You couldn’t scream out of excitement or out of rage. You just had to read it, and not emote at all. Which might not seem that difficult, except that we are actors. Emoting is what we do.
Cade met me a few feet away.
“Have you already looked?”
He shook his head. “No, I was waiting for you.”
Things were a still awkward from when we’d talked the day before. We hadn’t quite figured out what that all-important maybe meant for us. But at that moment, it didn’t matter. We were two actors, about to face rejection or another battle. We were full to the brim of anxiety, even if we tried not to show it, and there wasn’t any room for the other multitude of emotions we had going on between us at that moment.
He took my hand, and I didn’t let myself worry about what that could mean. I needed the comfort. I needed him to balance me. And I was fairly certain he needed the same.
We took the last few steps toward the list quickly, and the crowd there adjusted to let us through.
Hippolytus was first on the list; he was the step-son.
There were seven boys called back, Cade and Jeremy among them.
I looked up at him, and he was completely stoic. Not a thing showed on his face. Not excitement, not nerves. Seven meant the director wasn’t sure. It meant he hadn’t seen what he wanted yet. It meant that the part was anyone’s game, whoever stepped it up the most during callbacks.
I squeezed Cade’s hand, and immediately he squeezed back.
I know that people talk about their hearts racing all the time, and that it doesn’t even seem like that big of a deal. But as I looked back at the list, my heart was racing like my whole life rested on that finish line. Sounds were fuzzy in my ears, and my vision had narrowed, and I felt like I was on the verge, on the edge of something terrifying and glorious that could mean flying or falling—success or disaster.
My eyes found the bolded PHAEDRA right below that.
And then I saw my name, nothing but my name, like it was the light at the end of the tunnel. It was better than crossing any finish line. It was like taking that first breath of air when I’d felt certain I was drowning, certain I was dying. I stifled the relief and the joy, because people were watching, and because this was only a callback list. It only meant they hadn’t ruled me out yet.
Cade’s other hand joined our already linked ones, covering mine completely.
My eyes kept scanning down.
That couldn’t be right. Theseus was a character. My eyes went back up, searching for what I’d missed. There were the seven names under Hippolytus. And there, under Phaedra, there was only mine.
They weren’t calling anyone back.
It was just me.
I’d gotten the part.
And then, breaking all the rules of the list, I screamed. Cade laughed, and picked me up at the waist, spinning me around. People around us were clapping, and I knew some had heard rumors of our kiss based on the way they were looking at us. But for a moment, for one blissful moment, none of that mattered.
I’d gotten the part.
I went to Senior Prep in a daze.
They always called people back. Even if they were pretty sure they knew who they wanted, it was a chance to be certain, to see the best one more time.
But they cast me outright, which meant they were already certain.
Something swelled in my chest, and before I could help it there were tears building in my eyes. I took a second to myself behind the curtains before entering the space for class.
I tried deep breaths, but that didn’t release any of the pent-up emotion in my chest. So, I did the next most logical thing.
I danced without music. I screamed without sound. I celebrated in silence, in the dark, behind the curtains where no one could see.
Except as my luck would have it, someone totally saw.
“I’m guessing you saw the list.”
I froze, my butt still cocked to the left from my last celebratory hip swing. Slowly, I righted my posture, and turned as I said, “Hi Garrick.”
His lips were pursed and his eyes wide, and I knew he was working hard not to laugh. “Hello Bliss. Congratulations.”
My hair was everywhere due to the aforementioned dancing, so I tucked it behind my ears as best I could. “Thank you. I’m, uh, pretty excited.”
“As you should be. Your audition…” He stepped closer, and as always, his presence stripped away the embarrassment and any other emotion, and replaced it with heat, with desire. “Your audition was fantastic. There was no competition.”
I swallowed, but the lump in my throat remained. My thank you came out as a whisper.
“But Friday night…“
“As ridiculously cute as you were, please don’t get that drunk again. Eric will need you to be at your absolute best for this role.”
“Of course,” I nodded, petrified. “Absolutely. I promise.”
“And… I was worried about you, too.”
His eyes flicked around my face, darting from my no doubt crazy hair to my eyes to my lips, then quickly down to my leg, where the burn had healed and left a dark pink scar. “I don’t like being worried about you.”
My heart felt like it was going to make a jailbreak from my ribcage if I didn’t do something soon. This was dangerous territory. There were things rearing up inside me, things beyond attraction, beyond an obsession with his looks and his body and his accent—dangerous things. His fingers touched a curl near my cheek, and the proximity of his skin made me feel like I was on the verge of explosion.
I smiled and tried to lighten the situation. “You should probably worry about yourself. Calling me ‘cute’ again is bound to get you injured, possibly maimed for life.”
He took a step closer to me, and the world felt like it was shrinking around the two of us. The hand in my hair swayed closer, his knuckles brushing my cheek. He lowered his voice and said, “Since I can’t very well call you the alternative here, cute will have to do for now.” My mind flashed back to the first time he’d called me ridiculously cute. I’d had my pants trapped around my knees. He’d then called me ridiculously sexy and helped me take them off.
Clearly, I needed to learn to stop saying the first thing that popped into my mind. But I couldn’t think about that at this moment, because my mind was stuck on his last two words… for now, for now, for now.
He cleared his throat, and stepped back, dropping the curl he’d had trapped between his fingers. “Why don’t you go take a seat for class?”
I nodded, slipping past him and through the curtains.
There was a seat saved for me between Kelsey and Cade, both of whom were wearing identically huge grins. I smiled, shaking off the encounter with Garrick to bask once more in my joy. Kelsey leaned in to hug me when I took my seat, and whispered in my ear, “I guess being hot for teacher really did help you get into character. I’m so proud of you, honey.”
I glared half-heartedly, but nodded my thanks. And then turned to Cade.
We’d held hands earlier, and hugged when I found out, but I wasn’t sure what the protocol was now. Living in the world of maybe was… complicated.
Before, Cade and I were effortless. Being with him was just as low pressure as being alone. And now suddenly there was this intensity to everything we did and everything we said. Like my life had been italicized.
When we were touching, I noticed. When we weren’t touching I noticed. And suddenly I could find no in between. No maybe.
So I froze.
We were both waiting, stuck in that area between action and refusal. We were nothing. We were inaction. Then Garrick called the class to order, and the awkwardness was postponed for a bit longer.
I knew… I knew eventually we’d have to get over this… figure out some way to co-exist again. You could only postpone so long before shit hit the fan. But surely I could wait a little longer. Today was an exciting day, no reason to rain on my own parade.
When class ended, Eric was waiting for me outside.
“Good morning, Bliss. Can I speak to you for a moment?”
I blinked, caught off guard.
He opened the theatre door, and gestured for me to re-enter. I followed him through the curtains, and he waved me toward a seat directly beside Garrick. I perched on the seat carefully and glanced between them, unsure of what was happening. Then it dawned on me.
He’d found out.
Why else would he want to speak to Garrick and I?
Oh my God. What was going to happen to me?
Would they kick me out of the department? Out of the school? At the very least, I’d probably lose my scholarship. How would I pay tuition then?
There was a roaring in my ears, and the pull of gravity felt so heavy that I felt like I would sink right through the floor. Garrick would probably lose his job. What would he do then? He’d go back to Philadelphia or London or somewhere and I’d never see him again.
I turned to him, trying to convey my remorse with a look, but he was… smiling?
“Bliss,” Eric said, “I have to admit I’m surprised.”
Air left my lungs in a rush. “S-sir, I’m so—“
“You’ve certainly done well in your time here over the past few years, but I had no idea you were capable of the kind of performance you gave in auditions.”