“As I walk through the icy winter morning, I think again about my mom and her successful Broadway career. She was so famous. She starred in so many plays that they all get blurred together in my head sometimes. I saw almost every single one of them, each one unique from the previous. I wish that I could see one more.”
I watch as the sun slides behind the horizon, its last rays gleaming through the trees. I tap my fingers on the table as the minutes pass in what seems like seconds. I suddenly shiver involuntarily and silently reprimand myself, telling myself to stop. Begging myself to stop. I give my head a quick shake and a lock of my blonde hair slips into my shaking fingers. Noticing how the sun now struggles to shine beneath the foliage, I begrudgingly look over at the clock. I squint to read the hands, but soon realize with a pit in my stomach that it is eight in the evening. I hear my heart starting to race. It pounds. Thud, thud, thud. The world speeds up and starts to spin. Stop, stop! I almost start to cry, but luckily a six year-old girl in a white dress bangs through the door with a smile on her face.
I stand up within a second, and she runs into my arms that immediately open for her. My dark world welcomes in her universe of light. I feel blissful and free for a second, but I quickly realize that my worries still cling on to me. I sigh and let her go. “Katie,” I say. “How was your day at school? Do you want some food?” She nods quickly, still grinning.
“My day was great. I did lots of fun stuff. I climbed a tree…” She trails off into paragraphs of enthusiasm. I give her an empty smile, trying to remember how much I love this girl, the only real family I have left. Unfortunately, I fail to do this. I trudge over to the fridge and grab some food to cook on the stove. The aroma fills the room as my little sister blabbers on. It smells delicious, but somehow I don’t really enjoy it. As I cook, our dad walks through the door.
“Hi,” he says in a tone that shows he is in another world. “I picked up the dry cleaning after I got Katie.” He holds up the plastic-covered clothing and I nod.
He then heads up to his room without saying another word. I remember when he used to talk to us for hours and make us amazing food. My mind begins to trail off but Katie suddenly finishes her tale with an exclamation and my thoughts are interrupted. I tell her that it sounds like an awesome day. I immediately feel guilty about not listening, but push it aside because I have to worry about my audition tomorrow. I set her food down in front of her, give her a quick kiss on top of her head, and head up the stairs to my room.
The next morning, I lie in my soft bed listening to the birds chirp. If only I could stay here all day. A wave of exhaustion then washes over me, most likely because I was not able to sleep for the entire night. I dread lugging myself out of bed and now my hands are already starting to shake again. If I don’t make it into this play, it will be so disappointing. My mom wanted so desperately for me to be in this play, we’d been talking about if for months before her accident. I have to do this for her, I miss her so much. But Alice, this girl that is also auditioning for the lead role, is so talented and threatens your chances. How am I going to get the part over her? I take a deep breath and get out of my bed.
As I walk through the icy winter morning, I think again about my mom and her successful Broadway career. She was so famous. She starred in so many plays that they all get blurred together in my head sometimes. I saw almost every single one of them, each one unique from the previous. I wish that I could see one more. Maybe I could be inspired for this audition. I realize though that my mom is gone.
I walk into the school auditorium with a smile on my face, remembering the advice my mom used to give me. Unfortunately, the smile soon fades and my heart is pounding again. My palms sweat. With a shaky eye, I see that the room is bustling with activity, activity I realize I don’t want to be a part of. My peers stand in groups. I see one group of girls that distracts me. They wear tight shirts, fashionable leggings, and flats. They are also wearing so much makeup that not one bit of actual skin is revealed. I think about how they chitter and chatter like the birds outside my window as I look down at my baggy shirt, old jeans, and sneakers. I sigh. At least my hair is golden.
After surveying the other groups around the room and deciding that it isn’t time to audition yet, I creep closer to the girls.
“So, you girls ready?” One with a tight, shiny bun asks the circle.
“I’m so ready. Who do you think will get the lead role?” Another chirps.
“Me, of course.” Surprised I hadn’t noticed before, I realize that this is Alice. Her dark brown hair is pulled into two tight braids. She’s short and her small eyes squint in every direction.
“Oh, um, right, uh, of course. I-I’m sorry,” the woman stammers. I smile.
“You do have some competition though,” a brave one states.
“Who could possibly beat Alice?” Bun Girl exclaims.
“Annabelle.” My mouth falls open as many of the girls in the group turn to look at me, somehow knowing where I’m standing. I turn around immediately, my mind racing as I weave through the crowds of people to the back of the decorated auditorium. Oh, no. Now Alice must really want to beat me. I feel my whole body start to shake. No, no, no, this is not happening. I try to reassure myself. If those girls think that I’m a threat, then that’s saying something. I can beat Alice, I really can. I really can.
“Okay, all actors to the seats in the front of the auditorium. I repeat, all actors to the front.” A man in a black outfit shouts this while he ushers people away from the back. “All parents, please leave now!” he adds. I watch as mothers and fathers give last hugs and touches of makeup before being sent out of the door. A chaos of colorful children parade towards the front, and I follow them. My legs don’t work very well, but I push myself into a velvet seat and try to listen to the man’s instructions. I space out instead and inspect the sea of heads in front of me, each almost identical to the next with a glossy surface and a perfect poise. They are all unfamiliar and cold. I am mad at myself for only having one friend at school, Ava. I really wish she didn’t hate acting. I realize that my hands are numb now and my legs don’t feel too good either. I hate this.
Suddenly, the sea is moving. Everyone stands up. Their feet thump up the stairs and behind the stage. Startled, I shake out my legs and get up to follow them. We walk in a messy group, everyone chittering and chattering except for me. The area backstage is small, wooden, with splotches of paint. The red curtain looms in front of us, threatening me. Patches of golden light escape through it, lying to me about the amazing world that seems to be behind the flowing wall. Everyone remains in the same groups as before, despite the fact that we are packed tight like sardines. I feel incredibly uncomfortable, my arms rubbing across others while I float between the circles. Now, my heart is racing again, except much more than it did before. The difference is that this time, I can’t seem to calm it. I’m wondering how I can get my legs to stop losing feeling when we are instructed to form a line. So, I shuffle around with everyone else until we form a messy one leading to the stage. Then, it starts. People are called out one by one to audition while the rest of us are shushed backstage by the people in black. I take a deep breath as the line wiggles and shifts. I am slowly making my way to the front.
My numb hands are shaking now. We were told not to practice for this audition, so I didn’t, but I wish that in some way I could have. I have no idea what to expect. I hear the muffled talking of a boy on the stage and think about how terrible I’m going to be. I’m shivering now and once again, I beg myself to stop. My mom would be so disappointed in me. Why can’t I pull myself together? Thud, thud, thud. I’m crying silently in the dark backstage of the theatre. The tears are slipping down my face and I’m wiping the water away as fast as I can. Nobody seems to notice. My name is called. I’m pushed forward.
Shivering and shaking, I am now on the stage.
The light hits me with a stagnant glare. It does not slip or slide or move at all. My face crinkles and a smile escapes out of the director standing in front of me.
“Hi, Annabelle. How old are you?”
“Uh, f-f-fifteen” I stammer and croak at the same time.
“So, you’re a sophomore?” I nod yes. He smiles again. “What kind of role are you
looking for?” I realize that he speaks to me as if I’m an incapable child.
“Lead.” I speak quickly and quietly, exactly like the child this soft brown-eyed man
thinks I am. He shows a flash of shock when I say this and tries to cover it up, but mostly fails. I’m momentarily distracted from my fear as I notice this and as I see the blatant doubt on his face that remains when he nods okay. He then picks up a script and gives it to my hands that I forgot are still shaking. I slowly flip to the page he tells me to and I read each line carefully in my head. I sigh. Okay, I can do this. Why am I shaking? I can do this. Why am I shivering? I can do this. I’m thinking I can do this when the world turns black.
I wake up in a haze. I seem to be sitting in the backseat of a car, but the people in the front don’t notice me. I rub my eyes and soon recognize a man in the driver’s seat with light brown hair as my dad. His face is bright and his eyes are shining. He looks so young. I can’t figure out who he is talking to because the person in the passenger seat is wearing a hat, but then we are moving and I see a lock of blonde hair slip onto the woman’s shoulder. It’s mom. We continue to drive and drive and I suddenly realize what is about to happen. My parents chat happily, without a care in the world. The night is dark with only specks of stars and I think about how Katie must be scared when I realize that she is not in the car. My heart then starts to thud and my hands start to shake, identical to how they do on stage. I know it’s coming when we make a right turn around a corner. A large blue pickup truck is driving towards us, getting closer and closer with every second. Suddenly, I hear the sound of smashing glass and my parent’s laughs are interrupted. This time, the world turns red.
I wake up lying on the warm stage floor, the director and a couple of chaperones standing over me. Their faces are cringed with worry but surprisingly, they don’t look happy when I sit up with blinking eyes. They only look relieved.
“What just happened? How long was I out for?” I wonder, only remembering fragments of the nightmare. I hear giggles behind the curtain and almost want to cry, but I stop myself. One of the chaperones goes back there to shush the kids.
“You were just about to start reading the script when your eyes closed and you fell to the floor. You were out for about ten minutes, but you didn’t look so good. We were about to call your parents and then the hospital. You still don’t look so good — why don’t you go home?” I remember the feeling of being treated like a child by this man, even though the feeling is distant and I feel like it is from a very long time ago. I can still hear the tone in the director’s voice though. However, I can only manage to stammer.
“B-b-but what about um, the uh, the a-audition?” The nervousness in my voice is obvious, I really hope the people backstage have stopped listening.
“I’m sorry, but you fainted. You looked very nervous and if you couldn’t handle the feeling in an audition, I don’t think you would be a very good fit for the play. But, go home and practice. I’m sure you can try out for the spring musical.” He says this with a tone of finality and my brain goes into overload. It floods with thoughts of Alice, how I was an actual threat to her and how now I am going to be the laughing stock of the school. Katie comes to my mind, I think of how she was so excited to watch me in the play. My spaced-out dad. I was hoping to cheer him up, but that probably wouldn’t have worked anyway because of — well, because of mom. The thought of her is what sends me over the edge.
Without even thinking about it, I quickly jump up to my feet. I raise a hand and, watching the director’s stunned face, I slap him. The loud sound is satisfying and my sorrowful, frowned face disappears. A weight is lifted off of my shoulders as I let a smile escape from my lips. A red mark is left on the man’s face, a mark that is as bright and as beautiful as a rainbow. The clouds go away and now I’m really grinning. The faces of the director and the chaperone remain blank, which surprises me. I’d expected some kind of reaction, but I realize that I don’t really mind. I skip down the steps of the stage and run out of the auditorium. I continue to blissfully run through the hallway, heading for the door. However, I soon hear steps coming up behind me. Oh, no. What have I done?
The director catches up to me and the only word I can use to describe him is furious. My heart starts to pound, a familiar sensation. What is the director going to do with me?
“Young lady, that was absolutely unacceptable. You are coming with me to the principal’s office right now! Unfortunately for you, I am certain that she will suspend you from school and ban you from all future productions here.” He grabs me by my shoulder and leads me to the office.
Since it’s a Sunday, the school is deserted. However, lucky for the director, the principal is here today. I walk into her office and escape from the director’s grasp just long enough to sit in a chair. The fabric is puffy, plush, and comfortable. The principal’s eyes widen as she moves her gaze from the computer and turns to see me. The director gives a fairly detailed summary of what I have done, but I don’t hear any of it. I don’t think anything either; I just tap my fingers and watch the pretty principal’s expression, which seems to get worse by the second. She cocks her head and her forehead wrinkles. She frowns and runs a hand through her long, brown hair.
When the director is finished, the principal sighs and says “I am shocked Annabelle. I would never expect this from you, but you have hurt a teacher and there will be some serious repercussions. Your father will have to be here for this.” She picks up her phone with a spiral cord after looking at a large directory. She dials a number, her manicured nails tapping the buttons, and waits. A minute later, she dials a different number. And then she dials that number again.
“Okay Annabelle, your father is not responding. Nevertheless, I am just going to give you your punishment now. I am disappointed to say that I will be suspending you for five days, all of this week. I will call your father again tonight to arrange a meeting with both of you tomorrow.” She sighs. “You are dismissed now, and must leave school grounds immediately.”
I get up, wondering if this is a dream. The director gives me a surprisingly smug smile as I walk out the door with nothing but empty space in my mind.
That evening, I sit at dinner with Katie and my dad. I pick at the microwaved food I’ve warmed up, an awful feeling in my stomach. Katie however, sitting across the table from me, wears two messy braids and enthusiastically shovels food into her mouth. After swallowing two-thirds of her plate she finally takes a gulp of water and looks up to smile at me. I give a weak smile back, turning my head to look at my dad now, who for once appears to be in the same mood as me. The dreary silence drips on, the only sound being an occasional loud crunch from Katie’s mouth. My numb mind can’t think, so I just drag my fork around my already scratched plate. I then realize with a sigh that the sun is sliding again. Suddenly, the phone rings. It shatters the almost peaceful silence. Without saying anything, I shake my head no to my dad, who forces himself upwards and plods over to the phone. He picks it up on the fifth ring and answers with a grunt that has the semblance of the word hello. I hear a high-pitched voice babbling, but can’t make out any words. I start to tap my fingers on the table, worrying what this might be about. I notice that my dad’s blank expression is starting to turn into a frown and when the babbling stops, he only responds “Okay. We’ll be there,” and hangs up.
“Annabelle, that was your school. Um… they said that, uh, they said — ” he struggles to finish the sentence. “The principal said that she wants to see us tomorrow at 8:00 AM.”
“Oh, um, okay.” I don’t want to offer any more information. I try to keep my face as blank as possible while I watch my dad fidget around. My fingers are tapping — does he know what I did? He shifts from one brown loafer to the other and scratches his head. He’s trying to say something, but he’s too scared to.
“Annabelle, they told me what you did.” My eyes are fixed on him. My fingers move to tighten around my chair. They grip it so tight that they start to turn white. But how could he be mad at me? He hasn’t shown any emotion in years. “Annabelle, that was… you know, go to… no, um… you are… you know, nevermind.” Punishing me was too difficult for him to do. Wow. “Okay, we’ll leave at 7:50 a.m. sharp.” He gives me a strange smile, and then heads off to his room without eating any of his food. Great. Now I have to do all of the dishes.
I walk through the halls with my dad, continuing our silence after the car ride. I observe all of the people around me. There’s not as many as usual, because school doesn’t start for another fifteen minutes, but I recognize a few familiar faces. I see Bun Girl and Brave Girl. I see Ava with a bunch of her friends, and we wave shortly to each other across the infinite distance that seems to be separating us. I see Alice, with a different group of friends than at the audition. I wonder how she does that.
The weak, white morning light pokes through the windows. It’s climbing upwards, instead of sliding downwards. This at least gives me a smile as my dad and I walk through the principal’s door. When I step inside, the principal is sitting at her desk, her straight hair obviously curled. She gives us a slight nod with her serious face and says “Welcome. Please, take a seat.” My old sneakers screech slightly on the tiled floor as I walk over to a seat. My dad plops down next to me just as the principal begins to speak.
“So,” she says. “I want to start by saying thank you, Christopher, for coming. I think we all know what we are here to talk about. Let’s just jump right in. As Annabelle may have told you, I have suspended her for five days because she has injured an adult working in this school.” I think the principal wants my dad to say something, but he just nods and swallows so she turns to me and continues. “Now, I know that your mom passed away a few months ago. I’m assuming that times have been hard, but what you did is still unacceptable. I’d like to hear what you have to say for yourself. Tell me the story.” She finishes and fixates her attention entirely on me.
I look at my dad who shows no emotion whatsoever and then realize he isn’t going to be any help. But, my hands aren’t shaking and my heart isn’t pounding, so I just start talking.
“Okay, well so this audition was really important to me. I was doing it for my mom. We had talked about this play months ago, and – and she was so excited about it. She was going to be so proud of me and it was going to be so amazing and I just miss her so much and —” then I’m crying, the tears blurring my vision. I feel a hand on my shoulder and stiffen, but then the hand rubs my shoulder and I soften. I look up to see the principal, her face kind. I don’t realize how strange this is.
I just say “I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry.” The moment is short, because as soon as I wipe my tears away, the principal is back at her desk. My dad’s face is blank.
“Do you think you can continue the story?” The woman asks softly. I nod and take a deep breath.
“So – well, because there was so much resting on it, I was very nervous for the audition. When I got there, I remember I was freaking out backstage. On stage, the director gave me a script to read from. I remember looking through it, and then I think I fainted —”
“What do you mean you think you fainted?” The principal interrupts.
“Oh well, I just remember everything going black. I fainted though, they told me afterwards. So when I woke up, the director told me that I didn’t look so good and that I should go home. I asked him about the audition and he told me in the most annoying —” I pause for a second, expecting her to stop me, but she doesn’t. “In the most annoying tone of voice that I could try out for the spring musical. That made me really angry and that’s when I slapped him.”
“I see. What happened after?”
“I kind of just ran away” I say sheepishly. “But the director ran after me and caught me. He told me that what I did was unacceptable and that I would be punished. Then, he brought me here.”
“Okay” the principal smiles. “Thank you so much for telling me all of that. I’m still going to have to suspend you, but I think I’m going to have a talk with the director.” I’m surprised, but feel lighter. “Now, I’m going to ask you to leave so I can have a little chat with your dad. Is that okay?” I nod slowly and get up to leave. She gives me a small smile and I respond by awkwardly slipping out of the room, closing the door behind me.
As soon as I get outside I pin my my ear to the glossy but thin door. I can imagine my dad crossing his legs inside and the principal giving him a quick smile.
“So, Chris, how are you doing?” I can hear the sincerity in her voice.
“To be honest, I’m not so good.” He’s giving a weak smile, I can tell.
“Well, I’m so sorry. I’d like to give you my greatest condolences. Lily was an amazing woman and I loved speaking with her. I remember when she used to come in for Career Day and talk about working in her science lab. It was quite interesting — the kids loved her.”
“Wow, thank you. She sure was great, yeah.” He sounds like he’s really smiling.
“Do you think that Annabelle misses her a lot?” Woah, I think. Isn’t that a little too far? But my dad answers in a second.
“Yeah, I think she does actually. It’s been really hard for her and she’s gained a lot of anxiety because of it. I always see her tapping her fingers or shaking her hands.” How does he know that? He’s always in his room!
“If this is crossing the line, let me know, but I think that Annabelle feels a little — ” The principal keeps talking, but her voice lowers and I only hear mumbling for a few seconds.
Ugh. I desperately want to hear what she’s saying.
Luckily, I hear my dad respond. “Um, the thing is… well, yes, I have been a little out of it lately. I’ve been finding it hard to focus on things and I’m thinking about going to see a therapist, but I have been paying some attention to Annabelle. I just don’t think she’s noticed.” I’m shocked. This is the most I’ve heard him talk in months, how could he be paying attention to me?
“That’s interesting. Maybe —” the principal suggests very carefully, “maybe you can talk to her. Be here for her, she really needs it.”
My dad starts to talk, but someone turns on a fan in another room and his words are drowned out. I’m practically pulling my hair out by the time the fan is turned off. How is he responding to that? Unfortunately, all I hear is my dad finish. “Thank you for showing so much concern though.” It sounds like he wants to leave.
“Oh, it’s no problem. I know this must be hard. One more thing — do you think that it’s possible Annabelle will act out again?”
“Honestly, I’m not sure. I hope that she won’t. I am definitely going to have some sort of conversation with her.” I think that the principal is satisfied with this. I hear one more mumble from her mouth and then a chair creaks as it slides across the floor. I instantly jump back from the door and slide down to the ground, preparing to pretend that I was spaced out the whole time. My dad comes out, looking distressed. He does give me a small smile though, which is bizarre. The principal really had an effect on him, more of an effect than I ever had. “Okay, let’s go,” he says.
My dad walks briskly down the hallway.
“Wait up!” I exclaim, struggling to keep up with him. He turns his head and smiles.
“Don’t worry, I’m waiting.” He winks at me like he used to when I was a little kid.
When we get to the car, we don’t say anything, but the silence is okay. The evergreen trees seem to whiz by as my dad drives, but really we are the ones that are moving. Soon, I realize that we are going away from home.
“Where are we going?” I ask.
“You’ll see,” he says.
When we pull up in front of the building, I know exactly where we are and I am ecstatic. We haven’t been here in months. The building is small, but extremely colorful. Neon lights illuminate its exterior that is already filled with huge pictures of mouthwatering ice cream. The outside air is icy when we get out of the car, but I don’t care. I’ll have this ice cream any time of the year. My dad and I walk over, continuing to not speak. He holds open the heavy metal door for me and I step in, immediately engulfed in this other world. All of the ice cream flavors are written in messy chalk on a gigantic board that takes up almost the entire room. The servers working here bustle around behind a tall counter with smiles on their faces. A long line leads to the cash register, but I don’t mind. The room smells cool but delicious, probably because the most amazing ice cream in the world is made here. My dad and I go to the back of the line.
The wait seems quick, but it’s only because my mind is occupied with all of the bright posters that plaster the room. When we get to the front of the line, a kind girl dressed in a tie-dye shirt greets us. We order our usuals, mine being triple chocolate fudge ice cream with rainbow sprinkles and my dad’s being strawberry ice cream with hot fudge. Licking our lips, we get a corner booth. I slide into one red bench and he slides into the other. As soon as I pick my spoon up, I notice my dad’s looking at me with a small grin so I put it back into my bowl.
“You know, this is the first time I’ve seen you smiling in months. You look just like your mother. ” My dad doesn’t seem sad when he says this, like he always is when he mentions her.
“It’s nice to see you smile too!”
“I really shouldn’t be smiling though,” he laughs. “You hit your teacher!”
“Yeah…um…” I laugh too. We share another glance before digging into our ice cream, the sun high in the sky outside.