Chapter 1 CHAPTER 1
By the time the bell rang, I was already halfway out the door.
I didn’t look behind me as I hustled down the hallway of Stanwich High School, knowing I was missing last-minute assignments and instructions, but at the moment, not caring.
I had honestly not been paying the slightest bit of attention in the second half of AP US History. I’d spent the last twenty minutes of class with my eyes fixed to the clock on the wall, willing it to go faster, not taking in a word of what Mr. Batcheler was saying about the Continental Congress. Because the sooner class ended, the sooner I could get to Advanced Acting… and the sooner I’d find out the casting for King Lear.
And that cast list—seeing that piece of paper—would answer the question that had been keeping me up nights. It would let me know if I’d gotten the part that would determine the rest of my year, college acceptances, and, potentially, my entire life going forward.
I had been so fast out the door that the hallways weren’t too full yet, but even so, I was surrounded by people walking just as fast as I was, and not because they had life-changing news they needed to get. (I mean, as far as I knew. Maybe the kids who were really into forensic science or coding were also waiting on big news. I didn’t know their lives.) Stanwich High was huge—over two thousand kids—and as a result the building had been expanded over the years to try and accommodate everyone, sprouting wings and annexes and ad hoc trailer classrooms. But even though the school had gotten bigger, the time allotted to get from one class to another had not gotten longer, which meant that everyone just tended to hustle in the hallways, like this particular public school in suburban Connecticut was home to a surprising number of speed walkers.
And today, I was among them as I beelined for my locker.
It wasn’t technically mine. I shared the locker of my best friend, Stevie Sinclair. I’d misplaced my combination the first week of school, and rather than go through the hassle of dealing with the front office, I’d just started using Stevie’s. It worked out, since we could drop off and pick up things for each other, and leave notes on the occasions our phones got confiscated.
I grabbed my coat, tossed three books in my bag, then after a moment’s hesitation, grabbed Stevie’s coat for her too. The first play meeting was always right after school, after the cast list was posted. And since we had Advanced Acting as our last class of the day, this way we could just stay in the theater and Stevie wouldn’t have to come trekking back over here to get her long black puffer.
I slammed the locker shut and gave the dial a spin. I wanted to get over to the theater as soon as I could, to be in the building where it happened. I couldn’t help but think that the next time I saw this door—the next time I opened this locker—I would know. About the cast list, and everything after.
I would know if I’d gotten Cordelia.
“Kat!” I looked over to see Zach Ellison speed-walking toward me. Stevie had been mentioning lately that she thought he was cute, and Zach always seemed to be hanging around the locker when she was here too, so I was subtly trying to nudge them together. Stevie hadn’t expressed any interest in anyone since her boyfriend of a year had dumped her at the end of the summer. As it was now early November, it was well past time for her to be crushing on someone new, and Zach seemed like a promising rebound.
“Hey,” I said. “What’s up?”
“Can you give this to Stevie for me?” he asked, digging in his messenger bag and coming up with a marine biology textbook. He held it out and I took it with a silent sigh. Why were boys so stupid? Why didn’t he realize that he could have used this opportunity to give it back to Stevie himself?
“Sure,” I said, tucking it under my arm, since my bag was getting pretty full. It wasn’t surprising that he’d given something of Stevie’s to me. Since we were always together, people tended to treat us like we ran an old-timey post office or something, knowing we could get whatever it was—clothes, books, messages, veiled threats, and one time an oversized teddy bear—to the other one. “But you could also give it to her yourself,” I said, raising an eyebrow.
Zach just blinked at me. “But you’re right here.”
“Okay,” I said, giving up. I didn’t have time to give Zach Ellison instructions on flirting opportunities. I had to get to the theater building. “See you.” I headed down the hall, which was now more crowded than before. I made it to the end of the hall, then pushed out of the doors of Lansing House and joined the crowd going down the stairs to the student center. Stanwich High was divided into four houses, like a fancy British boarding school, but with less cricket and more AXE body spray.
I crossed my fingers as I took the curving staircase down to the student center. It felt like maybe—hopefully—everything was lining up. In my experience, you didn’t get many moments like this, and I wanted to savor it. It was a Friday, my favorite day, in November—my favorite month. It wasn’t freezing yet, but there had been a bite in the air all week, the good kind of cold, the kind that made you dig for your thicker sweaters in the cedar closet and search for last year’s gloves, the kind that let you know that winter really was on its way.
The first semester of senior year hadn’t been quite as hard as we’d all been led to believe, which was a huge relief, since junior year had come close to doing me in. My bangs had finally grown out enough that I could tuck them behind my ears (never, ever get breakup bangs. You will regret them. Stevie and my stylist and all the people who answered my Insta poll had told me this, but I hadn’t listened), and I was wearing my new purple cashmere turtleneck sweater, the one with little puffs at the top of the sleeves.
And I was potentially less than an hour away from finding out if I’d gotten my dream role.
Cordelia, King Lear’s youngest daughter, was a great part, and I already had most of her lines memorized. I’d gotten chills the first time I’d read her speech to her father—the inciting incident that kicks off the whole play. Lear is dividing up his kingdom between his three daughters and demands they all pay homage to him, something her older sisters Goneril and Regan are only too happy to do, promptly telling the king what he wants to hear. But when it comes to Cordelia, she can’t do it. She can’t suddenly profess emotion on command. She has one of my favorite lines in the whole play: “I cannot heave my heart into my mouth.” As soon as I’d read that, I knew it was the role I wanted.
And it was a real possibility I could get it—I was a senior, after all, and I’d been regularly getting leads since the end of my sophomore year. Nothing was guaranteed—I knew that—but I was still allowing myself to hope.
I’d been a part of Stanwich High School’s drama department since the first month of my freshman year. I had never acted before—never been in any of the plays in middle school—because I’d been dancing.
I’d taken ballet since I was three, and had spent all my time after school—and every summer, at sleepaway ballet camps—dancing. My life was a blur of leotards and convertible tights, bobby pins and hairnets, breaking in pointe shoes and comparing calluses and bloody blisters after class like war wounds, like battle scars. I had fully believed that it was what I was going to do with my life. I wasn’t going to go to college—I was going to dance professionally.
And it wasn’t like it was out of the realm of possibility to think that I could do it. Gelsey Edwards, two years older than me and the star of our dance school, became an apprentice at the New York City Ballet when she was fifteen and joined the company the following year. But right before my freshman year started, my teacher sat down with me and my parents and told me she didn’t think I’d be able to make it. That while I was technically proficient, she didn’t “anticipate” I’d get an offer from a company. I still auditioned for the School of American Ballet—but didn’t get in. And suddenly, all my plans—all I’d thought my life would be—were thrown up in the air. I wasn’t going to SAB and Professional Children’s, in the city. I was going to Stanwich High and would have to figure out something else to do with my life.
At fourteen, I was all washed up.
But during the second week of school, there was an announcement about auditions for the fall play. I dragged myself there, not expecting anything, just to have something to do. But there in line behind me had been Stevie Sinclair. We were both cast as maids in The Cherry Orchard, and I fell in love. With all of it. With my new best friend, with the camaraderie, with the long rehearsals, punchy tech run-throughs, sitzprobes and opening nights, striking the sets and cast parties. I loved it all. Joining the theater department turned what had been the lowest moment in my life into something better than I ever could have imagined. I was all in, 100 percent. And I’d barely danced since.
“Kat, wait up!” I stopped crossing the student center and turned around, seeing my friend Teri running toward me, her brown hair flying behind her.
“Hey,” I said, giving her a smile. “Where are you coming from?”
Teri (short for Teresa) Tsai had been in middle school with me, but we’d never really gotten to know each other until we were in theater—and a surprising number of classes—together as freshmen. Teri was my closest friend who wasn’t Stevie, and I think this was mostly because Teri’s best friend was always whoever she was dating. She usually had a boyfriend, and they usually seemed to live out of state. Stevie and I had never pressed the issue, but we honestly weren’t sure these boyfriends of Teri actually existed. At any rate, we’d never managed to meet any of them.
“Just had French,” she said, pausing to catch her breath and then straightening up again. She frowned. “Why do you have two coats?”
“This one’s Stevie’s,” I said, trying to squish it down over the arm that was carrying her textbook. We fell into step together as we headed toward the north exit.
“Heard anything about the list?”
“It won’t be up yet,” I said with confidence, even though hearing her say the list sent an excited, nervous thrum through me. There was an order to this, one we had never, in four years, deviated from. Mr. Campbell, the head of the theater department, had a routine.
Auditions and callbacks started on Monday and went all week, and the cast lists were always posted on Friday just after classes let out—typed up and taped to the front door of the theater building. You were supposed to initial next to your name to indicate that you were accepting the part, and then the first meeting was held right after—just a quick one, everyone getting their scripts and either celebrating or pretending they were okay with being the butler who’s only in two scenes. It was the first time we all sat around together, as a cast, and even when I was a freshman, with silent walk-on roles, I’d loved it. The sense of possibility that came with that first day—the beginning of the adventure.
The Stanwich High theater department, to put it plainly, was a big effing deal. We’d won tons of awards, including a few national ones. We had a tech and costume shop that did near-professional work, and everyone on the crew side took things just as seriously as we did. All our productions got reviewed in the Stanwich Sentinel, and we had at least one famous, nearly movie-star alumna. And our shows were good.
It wasn’t like the theater programs at the schools my cousins went to, where they did one musical at the end of the year, and that was it. We did three main-stage productions a year: a play, a Shakespeare, and a musical. This didn’t include the musical revue or the improv shows or the Shakespeare Competition or the volunteering we did at senior centers and elementary schools. Auditions for the next production started the week after we’d closed the last one, rehearsals were every day after school, and weekends too as we got closer to tech. It was a full-time commitment, something my parents frequently complained about. But I never did. There was nowhere else I ever wanted to be.
“Erik and Jayson were heading over early to see if it was up,” Teri said, sliding the R charm on her necklace back and forth, her expression worried.
I shook my head. “It’s not going to be. Mr. Campbell isn’t going to do that before we all have to be in class together. Can you imagine?”
Teri sighed deeply. “I’m just bracing myself,” she said, “to see the whole cast and then at the bottom, ‘Teri, see me about assistant directing.’?”
I bit my lip as we negotiated around a group of sophomore girls walking five across, which was not good student center etiquette. The truth was, while Teri was good, she wasn’t one of the best actors in the department. And so twice, when he couldn’t cast her, Mr. Campbell had asked her to assistant direct. I understood why you might be disappointed by this, since you wouldn’t have all that much to do. But it meant that Mr. Campbell still wanted you to be a part of the show. You’d still get to come to the rehearsals and be a member of the team. You just had to do it from the sidelines. Sometimes when he offered assistant director to people, they turned it down—and then they never got cast in anything again. Some people thought this was harsh; I thought it was completely understandable. You didn’t get to decide when you were going to be a part of this department—you were either all in or out, and that was just how it was.
But it was senior year, and Teri had been dedicated—I was sure she’d get cast. “I don’t think you need to worry about it,” I said, and Teri brightened.
“So what are you thinking?” she asked. “Jayson will be Lear, Stevie will be Goneril…”
“Erik will be Gloucester,” I said. We all paid incredibly close attention at the callbacks, since it was our best window into Mr. Campbell’s thought process. Who he paired up, who he read multiple times, and who got told they could head home early—the worst thing of all.
“I don’t think so. He read Perry more for it.”
“You’ll be Cordelia—”
“Don’t jinx it,” I said, even as butterflies swooped in my stomach. “He read Emery for her too.”
“Yeah, but not as much. I think you’re a lock.” The first bell—which meant hurry up and get to class—rang. We picked up our pace as we left the student center and headed down the long hallway that would lead us to the north exit.
We were only a few steps in when I saw Stevie walking toward us. I grinned at her, throwing my arms up in an exaggerated what the heck gesture. “You’re going the wrong way!” I yelled, and saw her smile even though she widened her eyes at me, and I knew she thought I was being too loud. Stevie often thought I was being too loud; I usually thought she was being too quiet. And I was certain that I was always at the exact right volume.
“Was going to pick up my coat,” Stevie called, as she closed the distance between us. I held it up for her and she grinned. “Thanks, frand.”
“I’ve got you, frond.”
She caught up with us, tucking her long, dark hair behind her ears. I was incredibly jealous of her hair, which was so thick she could legitimately hide behind it, like she was a character in a Victorian novel, and she regularly popped her ponytail holders and sent them flying. And despite the fact that I’d been taking prenatal vitamins for years in an attempt to get my hair to grow thicker (pro tip: don’t leave these sitting out unless you want to have a very uncomfortable talk with your mother), it was to no avail.
Stevie Sinclair and I looked nothing alike—in fact, it was almost like we were opposites of each other. I was pale and freckled, she had olive skin that tanned perfectly; I was tall, she was petite; I had fine blond hair, Stevie’s was dark and wavy; I was lanky, she was curvy. But despite all this, when we were walking around together, or shopping, or hanging out at Paradise Ice Cream, people would ask us if we were sisters. This delighted us to no end, because it meant that they weren’t seeing that we didn’t look anything alike. It meant that whoever had asked this was asking because of how we were together. An energy, a sameness, a kinship that had been there from the very first day.
I had never had a best friend before I met Stevie. I’d had ballet friends, and a different “best friend” every year in my class in elementary school, and in middle school, I was part of a group of four girls and we wore lots of Best Friend jewelry and accessories. But when I met Stevie, everything that had come before suddenly seemed so trivial. It was like Stevie and I saw each other, and recognized something. You, we both seemed to say. You’re my person. And that had been that.
“I’ll take that,” Stevie said as we all started down the hallway together. She reached for her coat, but I shook my head.
“I’ve got it.”
“What do you mean, you’ve got it? There’s no need for you to carry my coat.”
“Why not? It’s not like it weighs much.”
“We were just debating the list,” Teri interrupted as Stevie reached for her coat again and I sidestepped her, nearly crashing into a very tiny freshman boy. “Jayson for Lear, Kat for Cordelia—”
“Don’t jinx me!” I cried. I passed one of the benches that lined the hallway and ran a few steps over to knock on it, accidentally waking up the girl who’d been napping there. She glared at me; I shrugged and saw Stevie mouth, Sorry! to her as we hustled past.
“You for Goneril…,” Teri continued, ticking roles off on her fingers.
“Well, that’s a given,” I said, joining them again. “Though I think Stevie should probably be Lear. Queen Lear.” Even though I knew Mr. Campbell wasn’t going that way—he’d only read guys for Lear—if anyone could pull it off, it was Stevie. She was more talented than me—she was more talented than basically everyone else in the department, except maybe Jayson, who was so good he got cast as Othello when he was only a sophomore.
Stevie and I didn’t compete for the same roles. I was usually cast in the more comedic, ingenue-y roles, and Stevie tended to play older characters, and she could handle meaty dramatic stuff better than anyone else. She could disappear into roles in a way I really didn’t even understand, and sometimes during rehearsals I’d be so captivated, watching what she was able to do, that I’d miss my own cues.
More than that, she made it look effortless. I knew the hours of work I put into every part, the time I spent drilling my lines, the rehearsals where I could feel the gap between where I wanted my performance to go and where it currently was. But with Stevie, it was like watching someone do the thing they’ve always known how to do. She could casually toss off something that would have taken me months of preparation, and not even seem to realize what she’d just done.
“I mean, if he’d been open to it, I would have gone for it,” Stevie said with a grin. “Glenda Jackson did it, after all.” I looked at her blankly. “On the West End and then Broadway, a couple of years ago,” she explained. “It was supposed to be amazing.” She reached out for her coat again, and I dodged her again. “I can carry my own coat, you know.”
“Let me do nice things for you!”
“Stevie!” I replied, matching her tone, laughing.
“Stephanie.” I raised an eyebrow at her. “Should we do middle names now too?” Teri, as usual, was watching us with a patient, bemused expression on her face, like she was waiting for this to stop so she could continue the conversation again.
Stevie started to answer just as the second bell rang. The second bell meant you should really get a move on, and in the hallway all around us, flirting and conversations stopped and people picked up the pace as one, like this was a musical and the dance captain had just snapped out a tempo change.
“Here,” Stevie said, turning to me. As we walked, she twisted her long, thick hair around in a knot she pulled through on itself—and then it just stayed, like magic. I’d been seeing Stevie do this for years now, but it still impressed me every time. She reached into her bag and pulled out a bag of Doritos—Cool Ranch—and a can of Diet Coke. “Got you a snack.”
“Bless you,” I said, then looked around, realizing my hands were full with Stevie’s coat and textbook. “Fine,” I huffed, like I was giving her some big concession, and handed her back her stuff.
“Where did this come from?” she asked, holding up the textbook.
“Zach Ellison was at the locker.” I gave her a look. “I think he was disappointed you weren’t there.”
“Ooh,” Teri said, her face lighting up. “He’s cute! Stevie, you like him?”
Stevie shrugged one shoulder. “He’s okay.”
“You need a rebound,” I said firmly as I opened up the bag of chips and my stomach grumbled on cue. I hadn’t realized how hungry I was until I’d seen them. I crunched into the first chip. “Thank you for this. You’re the best.”
“I’m purely self-interested. I know how you get when you’re hangry.”
“What does that mean?” I snapped, then looked over to see her smiling at me. “Ah. Point made.” I tipped the bag toward her. Stevie preferred regular Ruffles but would eat Doritos if presented with them. She reached for the bag, concentration written all over her face. Stevie had big feelings about proper Dorito dust ratio and wasn’t about to leave this up to chance. She carefully selected one, and then I held the bag out to Teri, who took two at random—Teri had no strong feelings about Doritos—and crunched down on them.
“If you need a rebound,” Teri said, brushing her Dorito dust off on her jeans, “I could ask Ryan if he has any cute single friends.”
I frowned. “Ryan?”
“Ryan Camper,” Teri said, shaking her head. “My boyfriend.”
“Oh right,” Stevie said, glancing over at me and then immediately away again. “Your boyfriend from—camp. I thought he lived in Maine?”
“He does,” Teri said, smiling as she spun the R charm on her necklace. “But he still might have some friends around here. Remember, I told you how he comes into the city sometimes to do his modeling?”
“You should absolutely set Stevie up with one of Ryan Camper’s friends,” I said, widening my eyes very slightly at Stevie. “Especially if they’re models.”
“Um… I don’t know…,” Stevie murmured. I popped the top on my Diet Coke and offered her the first sip, but she shook her head. I took a grateful gulp—was there anything better than cold Diet Coke? Stevie knew my hierarchy: fountain was ideal, then cans, and then if you had no other option whatsoever, bottled.
“Hey, how’d the project go?” I said, turning to both Stevie and Teri, both of whom shook their heads in unison. Stevie and Teri were in AP English together, which I was very jealous of. The only non-theater class Stevie and I had ever had together was sophomore year PE, in which we’d both almost failed because we’d spent the whole time talking and almost no time memorizing the rules of volleyball. “That bad?” I asked. I held out the Dorito bag to them again, feeling like they both could use a snack.
This group project had seemed doomed from the start. Teri never wanted to be the one in charge, or the one making any decisions, and Stevie avoided confrontation at all costs—so, fairly predictably, their terrible third partner, Bryce, had taken over and was counting on them to do all the work, despite the fact that he hadn’t even read the book, and still seemed to believe The Mill on the Floss had something to do with dental hygiene.
“Well, the two of us had planned on doing the class presentation,” Teri said.
“You know, since we don’t think George Eliot is a man,” Stevie continued, annoyance creeping into her tone.
Teri nodded. “We’d practiced and everything. But then Bryce jumped up and just started talking.…”
“You should have told Bryce to knock it off! And also that he might want to try, you know, reading the book,” I said, and Stevie snort-laughed, my favorite kind of her laughs, since it meant that she’d been caught by surprise. “Did you?” I asked, looking at my best friend, who just shook her head.
I wasn’t surprised. Stevie didn’t like drama, or arguments, or yelling—at least, not offstage. It had shocked me to see she was always the one volunteering for any scene where you got to scream and cry and rage—her hand was always the first in the air in Scene Study when we were doing Mamet. Offstage, though, she liked things quiet and calm, everyone getting along, whereas I never minded a little volume.
But even as I would nudge her about it, I understood that was just who she was—it was who her whole family was. Stevie had grown up as an only child in a house filled with priceless art, with thick woven carpets on the floor that seemed to muffle everything. Whenever I was in Stevie’s house, I automatically started speaking more quietly. You couldn’t imagine anyone yelling in her house—not in front of the Rothkos.
“Want me to have a word with him?”
“No,” said Stevie and Teri together, and I tried not to be insulted by that as we took the four steps down to the north exit together, three sets of feet falling at the same time.
We pushed open the door and walked outside, heading across campus, past the faculty parking lot and the dumpsters people were always vaping behind. The theater building was separate from the rest of the school, and big—two stories, with a main stage, a black box theater, a tech shop, a costume shop, and classrooms.
I drew in a breath—there was a dampness in the air that meant snow later, I was sure of it. “It’s going to be cold tonight,” I said, glancing at Stevie. “Might be even colder in the city, since you’ll be walking around.”
Stanwich was forty-five minutes outside Manhattan by train, an hour by car. It was a commuter town, which meant you never ever needed to specify which city you meant. You always meant New York—nobody was ever talking about Hartford or Boston or New Haven.
Stevie pulled her coat on without breaking her stride, switching her purse expertly from shoulder to shoulder as she did. “I don’t think I’m going to be spending a lot of time walking, but thanks for the tip.”
I pulled my coat over my shoulders without actually putting it on and turned to Teri. “Are you busy tonight? Stevie’s going into the city and abandoning me.”
“Ooh, fun,” Teri said, clapping her hands together. “Well—the city part. Not the abandoning part.”
“I’m not abandoning you,” Stevie said, rolling her eyes.
“I’m just kidding.”
“I know you are.”
“What are you doing? Seeing a show?” Teri asked.
“My dad’s taking me to dinner at Josephine’s.” Stevie’s tone was offhand, but she wasn’t fooling me. She’d been looking forward to this for a month.
Stevie had turned eighteen last week, and like always, she didn’t want a big fuss made for her birthday. I had never understood this—I loved when a big fuss was made. To mark the occasion, she’d done a high tea with her mom at the nicest hotel in town, and then she and Teri and I had gone to the movies and had pizza afterward. But I did arrange for cupcakes and candles post-pizza—you can’t celebrate a birthday, especially not one as big as eighteen, without a little sparkle.
She was celebrating with her dad tonight—he had somehow gotten a reservation at Josephine’s, the tiny fancy restaurant in the West Village that celebrities were always being photographed at.
Stevie’s parents had gotten divorced two years ago. I wasn’t totally surprised when it was finally official—Stevie had been spending more time at my house after rehearsals, and always wanting to sleep over at my house, not hers. It was still hard to watch her go through it, and it made me realize how little I’d considered my own parents’ marriage. It was boring and steady, like background music, a TV left on in the other room, nothing I had to worry about.
Stevie’s dad moved into the city and got an apartment in a doorman building on Central Park West; her mom stayed in their house and went back to using her maiden name, Pearce. It seemed like this was just the new normal, but a year ago, Stevie’s dad got remarried. Joy Lampitoc was an accountant at Stevie’s dad’s law firm. She had three children from a previous marriage, which meant that Stevie suddenly had three stepsiblings. They were all older than us, and they all lived in New York City. Stevie had never said anything outright—all she would say was that they were fine, that she didn’t know them well. But it was clear to me that all three of them—Mallory, Margaux, and Mateo—were mean jerks. Anyone who wouldn’t make Stevie feel welcomed and included couldn’t be anything but. I assumed they had gotten this from their mother—Joy had, as far as we’d been able to tell, never once smiled.
“It’s just you guys, right?” I asked. “Not the stepmonster?”
“Yes, and don’t call her that,” Stevie said automatically, even though I could tell she was trying not to smile. “Joy’s not so bad.” I made a hrm noise that meant oh really, but Stevie continued on. “When my dad called to make sure I was free, before getting the reservation, he said that he wanted it to be just the two of us. So that he could ‘see me off on the path to adulthood.’?”
“Well, I’m glad you’re getting to celebrate with him,” I said, giving her a smile, even though it pained me to see how her whole face had lit up. I exchanged a glance with Teri, who shot me a look that clearly said we’ll see.
Ever since the divorce, Mr. Sinclair had a habit of flaking on Stevie that filled me with an incandescent rage. In moments where I could manage to give him the benefit of the doubt, I could see he wasn’t being cruel on purpose. But he would invariably get busy and cancel plans, and Stevie, being Stevie, would tell him it was fine, even when it clearly wasn’t. And he would, for some reason, choose to believe this, and the cycle would start all over again.
Because it wasn’t fine, and I knew it bothered her. She never came out and said this, but then, being best friends with Stevie was sometimes like being in a Pinter play: you had to learn what was happening by what wasn’t being said.
But there had been too many instances in the past for me to forgive him, or trust now that he’d come through for her. I’d picked Stevie up late on too many occasions, going to the diner just to try and salvage a night she’d spent waiting for her dad, who’d invariable cancelled; tried to comfort her when she was red-faced and shaking and blinking back tears after he’d missed the final performance of the fall play Arcadia—his last chance to see it; tried not to see the look on her face when she would see my dad waiting for me after the curtain call with flowers that always made him sneeze.
“Joy shouldn’t be allowed to go by that name,” I pronounced as we passed the dumpsters—not a single vaper to be found. “Like, people’s names need to be somehow indicative of their personality or they’re just misleading.”
“Should there be a rule?” Stevie grinned at me.
“There should be a rule!”
“Like people named Sunny are required to be happy, at least some of the time.”
“You can’t be named Saylor if you hate the water.”
“And at least you’re safe,” Stevie said. “Since you like cats.”
“This is true,” I said, “for all the good it did me.” We didn’t have any pets, despite the fact that I’d begged for one for most of my childhood.
“Well, Ryan Camper’s in the clear,” Teri said. “He loves camping.”
Stevie smiled. “That’s great.”
“Wait, so do you have plans?” I asked, slightly annoyed that we’d gotten derailed before remembering that I was the one who derailed us. “I heard there’s going to be a party at the Orchard.…”
“I do have plans,” Teri said, shooting me an apologetic smile. “Ryan and I are going to Netflix and chill.”
Stevie just frowned; I jumped in. “You’re going to what now?”
“We’re going to watch movies together! I call him—or he calls me—and then we start the movie at the same time, so that we can talk about it as we watch.”
“I think you should call it a different name then,” I said, shaking my head. “That—means something else.”
“But you’re welcome to come Netflix and chill with us,” Teri went on, clearly not getting this. “I have a great lineup of movies tonight and all the best snacks.…”
I slowed down as we approached the theater building, my heart starting to pound again.
“What?” Stevie asked.
“Just,” I said, taking a deep, shaky breath, “about to go and meet my destiny.”
“I’m really glad that you’re keeping this in perspective,” Stevie said, raising an eyebrow.
“Don’t you want to find out the casting?”
“Of course,” Stevie said a little too quickly. “Of course I do.”
I gave her a look as we started walking again. From the beginning, I’d been more focused on these auditions. I was the one suggesting we prepare our monologues and scene work; I was the one who’d wanted to debrief every night after each callback, speculating and theorizing for hours about what Mr. Campbell was thinking, which way he might be leaning. I’d just put it down to Stevie being sure she’d get Goneril and not even having to worry about it, but now I wasn’t so sure.
Emery Townshend was hurrying up behind us, doing that walk that’s almost running but not quite. “Well,” I said, letting out a long breath and nodding at Emery, “at least we’ll know soon. T minus forty-five minutes until the list.”
“Oh,” Emery said, turning to look at me, her eyebrows flying up. “Did you not hear?” We all just stared at her blankly and she smiled—Emery loved to be the one to break news. “I heard it from Erik. The list isn’t going up today.”
I grabbed Stevie’s arm and felt my stomach plunge as I stared at Emery. “Wait, what?”