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All the World's a Stage...

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It wasn’t what those in theater circles called “Hell Week” just yet, but the way things were going, it might as well have been.

It was first thing in the morning, the bell had already rung, and Sobel still wasn’t here. Like most mornings, Winters had to lead the class. Sobel would show up towards the end, the epitome of the “shows up 15 minutes late with Starbucks” meme, and acts like he wasn’t late at all. This got to be rather infuriating, as the set was only half built, more things needed to be ordered, and Sobel was the only person that could do it. Evans, the newest teacher’s assistant that was almost always in Sobel’s company, wasn’t much help from the start. Either Sobel didn’t let Evans order what was needed, or neither of them really cared.

The opening night for the winter musical was quickly approaching, and there wasn’t a minute that could be wasted. Casting had to be done rather quickly, and there was a low turn-out this year, so that didn’t help much. The tech class had already read through the script, made notes on lighting, and the set design. Christenson had already drawn up the set, its pieces, and the props that were needed by the end of the first reading. The set, much like Sobel’s teaching career, was not done yet, and it was mid-October.

Here’s the problem: the musical opens mid-December. Everyone’s stressed, and rightfully so, because Herbert Sobel doesn’t do anything for this class. As a result, Richard Winters has to step up and pick up where Sobel falls flat – which is everywhere.

“Skip, you didn’t have to shine the spotlight right in my eyes, did you?” Malarkey shouted up to the box.

Skip Muck flipped the switch on the spotlight off. “I was checking to see if it worked!”

Malarkey gestured behind himself. “I could have fallen in the orchestra pit!”

“Well, you didn’t, did you?”

“…No.”

“So what’s the problem, then?”

The voice of Buck Compton interrupted them, yelling up to the other side of the box. “Hoobler, how’s the other spot?"

“Working good, Buck!” Hoobler replied, giving him a thumbs up. If David Webster were here, he would have corrected Hoobler, but he wasn’t, and that made things a bit easier on all of them.

“Shine your spots on Malarkey,” Buck said, then turned to Malarkey. “And don’t fall in the orchestra pit; we can’t afford any broken limbs right now.”

If Malarkey broke anything, they’d have to replace him and find someone else to play his character, and they weren’t doing Dear Evan Hansen. There would also be liability lawsuits involved somehow, they were sure, but they didn’t want to think about that. For now, they’d just have to build a barrier around the pit so no one would just walk right into it. This was required, of course, as much as they wanted Sobel to do just that.

“Why am I always the guinea pig?” Malarkey asked, exasperated.

“Because you’re in the center of the stage,” Buck responded, “now stand still. Muck, Hoobler, cycle through the light colors, on three. One, two, three.”

The yellow lights came on first at full blast, and Malarkey barely threw his hand up in front of his eyes in time.

“Okay, next one. One, two, three.”

The blue lights came on next.

“You feeling okay, Malark?” Skip called down. “You’re looking a little blue.

Hoobler let out a “Ha!” from the other end of the box.

“Next one, on my mark. One, two, three.

Malarkey, already a ginger, was bathed in red, and turned redder.

“I think you got too much sun, Don, you’re looking a bit burned,” Hoobler called down.

“Nice one,” Skip commented. Even though he and Hoobler were separated by a fair distance, the openness of the box allowed them to hear the other’s voice just fine, even if it was in a regular talking voice.

Pink was cycled through next, with a Romeo & Juliet reference being muttered by Buck.

“Green, on three. One, two, three.”

“I’m green with envy now, aren’t I?” Malarkey remarked.

“You okay, Malark?” Buck asked, concerned. “You’re looking a little green around the gills.”

Malarkey groaned in response, and Skip and Hoobler let out amused laughs from above everyone.

“Remind me why I’m doing this.”

“Because we peer-pressured you, Don,” Penkala commented as he walked to the other side of the stage. Wearing a confused look, he gestured to Bull, and then to the storage room off to the side. Bull shook his head in response. Penkala’s shoulders fell, and he left the stage, walked to the back of the auditorium, and went up the stairs to the prop room.

“Hey, Buck,” Skip called down. “The red and blue gels in this spot are switched. We need to fix it.”

Buck opened his mouth to reply, but he saw Bull walking up to him out of the corner of his eye. “We can fix it later. Remind me before opening night,” he rushed out, turning to Bull.

“We need some more paint for the desk platform,” Bull told him.

“Are we out of the dark green?”

“Didn’t find any in storage. I even lifted up Perco to see if he could find any on the top shelf, but he didn’t see any.”

Great. Fantastic. That’s more money out of pocket that’s going to spent on something that’s Sobel’s responsibility. The plywood that was there were left over from last year, and last year those were brought in by Bull. The paint was donated by Webster, and most things in the auditorium, prop room included, came from donations. For a school that tends to pride themselves on having a great fine arts program, there sure isn’t a lot of money put there.

“Great. I’ll run to Lowe’s after school and pick some up there. Can you get me a swatch of it, Bull?” Buck asked. Bull nodded in response. “Thanks.”

Hoobler, up in the box, switched the spotlight off and tilted it back up. “Why do you have to go and not Sobel?” he yelled down, leaning on the barrier.

Winters, as timely as ever, entered with the right answer. “Because Sobel won’t,” he said. “Always expects us to have extra of everything and yells at us if costs us more than he imagined.”

Everyone nodded, some knowing, and others – Buck – not knowing. He expected all prices to be lower than they were. If someone got paint for $20, he would have expected them to have bought it for $10. If something from the vending machine was $1.25, he would have wanted it for $1. It drove everyone up the wall, and what made death by orchestra pit a tempting idea.

“We’re out of paint,” Buck called to Winters at the back of the auditorium.

“And we need more nails,” Liebgott called from stage right.

“And screws,” Lipton said, also from stage right.

“And more plywood,” Shifty added from the same place.

Albert Blithe emerged from the dressing room, doing his best to clean it up more than it already was, and approached Winters as he came up the stage steps. “When are we going to start measuring for costumes, sir?”

That’s right, Winters remembered. We don’t even have our costumes yet.

“Blithe, I may be a senior, and older than you, but you don’t have to call me ‘sir,’” Winters told him, amused.

Blithe turned a bit red in the face. “Yessi–“ he cut himself off. “Gotcha. So, when?”

Winters sighed, then shrugged. “I’m not sure yet. Whenever Sobel says to.”

Speak of the devil and he will appear. In came Sobel with Evans following close behind.

“What is taking this set so long to be finished?” he cried. Every word he spoke was like nails on a chalkboard to them. How easy it would be to just get him from behind, tie him up, duct tape his mouth, and lock him up…

“We don’t have enough paint, sir,” Winters said. He didn’t like having to call Sobel “sir,” but everyone did, and he required it. He also was the person to step up and tell Sobel what he least wanted to hear, mainly because he didn’t want anyone else to be yelled at. “We also need more nails, screws, and plywood.”

Sobel looked a bit perplexed. “So?”

“So…” Winters began, trying to get Sobel to follow him. “We need to buy these things, and order them.”

With a brief backward glance to Evans, Sobel came up the stage steps and got right in Winters face. “I expected all of this to be done before rehearsals started,” he said lowly. “What in god’s name are you doing with my musical?”

Winters clenched his jaw to prevent himself from saying anything too sarcastic, or something he might regret. “I did try to tell you we needed supplies, sir,” he began, “but you excused yourself to go a meeting with Mr. Horton.”

With the jaw clench also came with the attempt to not smile. Those in the box held in their laughter as best as they could, but let themselves smile. Those also onstage inhaled at practically the same moment and turned away, biting their lips and cheeks to prevent themselves from smiling too wide. Sobel’s complexion darkened.

On one particularly bad day when Sobel was running rampant, George Luz, their sound manager, came on over the house microphone impersonating Mr. Horton. He asked, as Horton, to report to the football field behind the school immediately. He also asked why the set was taking so long to build, and Sobel gave the same reasons Winters had just reiterated to him. Sobel demanded everyone go into overdrive, and a good chunk of the set was done that day.

Luckily for them, class was over by the time Sobel came back inside, sweaty and red in the face from running out to the field, only to find that Principal Horton was not there at all. Everyone in the tech class did feel bad, however, for the underclassmen that had to face the wrath of Sobel after it all.

“Yes, well…” Sobel trailed off, taking a step back, and looking around at everyone on stage who were, for the most part, maintaining a straight face. “I’ll try and see what I can do. Get me everything you need, in full detail, by the end of the day.” He kept eye contact with Winters through the whole sentence, never wavering. Neither did Winters.

“Yessir,” Winters replied calmly.

Sobel turned around, nearly ran into Evans, walked down the stage steps, and back out of the auditorium. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

Christenson approached Winters, sketchpad in hand. “Well,” he breathed, half-facing Winters, looking at the set behind them. “Next time I won’t draw up such an elaborate set.”

The remark, while sarcastic, was terse. Though Christenson knew he shouldn’t listen to Sobel and whatever critics he may have, as he’s not an art critic, the remarks still could hurt from time to time. Anything can be hurtful to anyone if you say it loud enough and in an angry tone.

Winters turned to him and said, “Remember what I told you,” in an almost fatherly tone.

Christenson smiled and nodded. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll hang tough. I’m going to go see if the other art teachers have paint we can borrow.”

“And they’ll let you because they love you!” Skinny called from the top of the wood pile. The pile itself wasn’t a pile, actually; that’s just what they called it. It was, in actuality, a big shelf with different pieces of wood on it, sorted by size. The longest pieces were on top, and climbing the shelf was no easy feat, considering the top of the shelf was only a couple feet shy of hitting the ceiling. The shelf itself was sturdy enough, and could support enough of their weight, but Winters never liked seeing anyone standing on the very top of it.

“What can I say?” Christenson smirked. “I’m the star pupil.”

“Just bursting with natural talent!” More, also on top of the wood pile, said in a posh accent.

As Christenson left, Winters called up to Skinny and More. “Can you two get off of there? One of you is going to fall and break something.”

“I told you we should have made Perconte come up here,” Skinny remarked to More.

More rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Coulda, shoulda, woulda.”

“I thought the ‘shoulda’ came first.”

“It depends on where you’re from.”

Winters cleared his throat.

“Clear below!” More yelled, giving himself and Skinny a few extra seconds to pick up the end of the wood piece they were shoving off, and giving a few more seconds to anyone that happened to be below to move out of the way.

With a strong push, the wood came right off the top and clattered to the ground, almost hitting a certain Lewis Nixon who was napping in the pathway behind the wooden risers that connected stage left and stage right.

“Sorry, Nix!” Skinny called down before climbing down off the top of the wood pile.

Nix waved a hand in a gesture that meant “don’t worry about it,” before taking his aviators off and rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. “Let’s just not have a repeat of what happened to Blithe last year.”

Blithe, at the mention of his accident, rubbed his neck, almost as if by habit. There was a long scar left by the chunk of wood that almost went through his neck and killed him. And if the wood didn’t kill him, the fall surely would have. So, as a safety precaution, Blithe was moved to handle costumes and the dressing rooms, rather than anything heavy that might end up killing him. They do, however, sometimes bring up how Blithe, in a moment of fear and panic, forgot the word “dead,” so he just said, “I don’t want to be un-alive.”

The memory of the near-death experience wasn’t something they particularly liked to dwell on, Blithe especially. It was closest any of them had come with death thus far in their lives, and they hoped that they wouldn’t come that close again until they were on their deathbeds.

In any case, Skinny and More got down okay, and Nix stretched his arms out behind him. “Anyone have an aspirin? I bumped by head on a pillar back there when I woke up.” At the very back of the stage was Nix’s favorite hiding place, and his favorite sleeping spot in the school.

“It’s because we don’t have the Christmas lights for back there,” Malarkey explained. “I’ve tried to tell Sobel we should get some.” He crossed his arms, bitter. Granted, everyone was bitter talking about Sobel.

Nix walked over to Winters with a grin and said, “I thought I could hear you bossing people around out here.”

“Is it just line readings today after school?” Winters said. “Trying to get through the script in full?”

“Yep, just trying to see if everyone’s off-book. No tech needed… yet,” Nix replied.

Winters nodded. “Good.” He turned to Buck and walked to center stage. “Buck, you and I are going to Lowe’s right after school to get the supplies we need.”

Buck raised an eyebrow. “I thought Sobel said he was going to handle everything?”

“He won’t, trust us!” Bull piped up from the risers behind them.

Nix walked over and joined Winters and Buck. “Herbert Sobel is notorious in the theater circle here, and with alumni,” he elaborated. “You’re new this year, so we’ll fill you in sometime.”

Up in the box, Skip and Hoobler had distracted themselves by making rude images out of various shapes made by adjusting how open the spotlight is. The shapes were also in various colors, leading to many blue ball jokes. Skip, however, heard Sobel’s name and tuned into the conversation down on stage.

“Does he even have a degree in theater?” Skip yelled down. He’d heard rumors, as had most others, and needed to know definitively.

“English major,” Nix said flatly, “and he did his teaching degree after.” Leave it to Lewis Nixon to know all the gossip and rumors of the school. His reputation was built on it, as well as raucous house parties that were held twice a month. He was also notable for being able to sleep anywhere, including the back of the stage, leading to lots of school inside jokes.

“How’d he get hired then?” Hoobler joined in.

Winters responded, “Apparently, if a degree in English can get you anything, it can get you a theater job.”

“It’s because you read a lot of Shakespeare,” Nix explained.

Buck tensed for a moment at the name of the long-dead writer. “We’re not doing Hamlet, are we?”

“No, we’re doing White Christmas, you know that,” Winters laughed.

Buck sighed, then shrugged. “Sorry, but god, I don’t know how many times I can do that ‘to be or not to be’ monologue.”

For a moment, everyone was confused, except for Nix. He knew that Buck was very involved in theater at the school he transferred from, and was the first person picked to be the lead anytime Shakespeare was involved, specifically the tragedies. It didn’t help that his bright blonde hair was reminiscent of Kenneth Branagh as Hamlet, a role Buck did frequently, and a play he quoted from time to time.

Nix also knew, though, that Buck was an athlete, and well-loved by all, but specifically the girls. Especially the girls. Whether Buck was hitting a home run, successfully going for the extra two points after a touchdown, or reciting a Shakespearean sonnet, everyone seemed to watch and listen.

“Weren’t you an athlete at your old school?” Nix asked and smiled knowingly.

“What, can a jock not have a love for classic literature?” Buck laughed.

Winters smirked. “It’s a bit weird that one does,” he teased.

“You’re one to talk,” Nix laughed.

Buck rolled his eyes. “You hurt me, Dick.”

Skip made a loud noise up in the box and said, “Why’d you call Winters a dick?”

George Luz, finally deciding to make an appearance at school, yawned and responded, “That’s his name, Skip.”

“Oh, right, yeah.”

Penkala reappeared downstairs from the prop room, box under his arm. Sure, the set wasn’t complete, but it’s best that the props start getting collected for later on. He also brought down with him the headsets that Luz told him to bring down. “Who in this day and age names their kid Richard?” he questioned. “It’s awful once kids figure out ‘dick’ is an insult.”

“I think I’ve managed, Alex,” Winters said pointedly. He yelled up to Luz now. “How are the mics?” 

“I need people to get some headsets on and test them, make sure we don’t need to replace any or get new batteries,” Luz yelled back. He added under his breath, “Not like we’d be able to.”

“I’ll handle this, Dick,” Buck said. “You go make that list for Sobel and appease him before he chews you out, or gives you detention, or suspends you, or something ridiculous like that.” They wouldn’t put it past Sobel for being petty like that.

“Appeasing someone never did any good, so says history,” Winters commented. “But still, we wouldn’t want to displease Herbert Sobel, would we, Buck?”

Penkala walked by, handing Buck a headset and clipped the battery pack to his pants before moving on to Malarkey.

Buck shook his head and smiled. “Don’t make me answer that.”

As Luz started flipping switches, hitting buttons, and adjusting levels, he muttered to himself, "All the world's a stage, and we're so completely fucked."

Chapter Text

[You and 18 other people have been added to the “WC Tech” group chat.]


 

SKIP       12:01pm

oh my god

 

SKIP       12:01pm

who added us all in a group chat

 

SKIP       12:02pm

like I get techies gotta stick together but holy shit there’s 19 of us here and you’re all going to kill my phone

 

WINTERS       12:02pm

Language.

 

SKIP       12:02PM

sorry

 

PENKALA       12:03PM

Don’t expect everyone to reply or say something about everything, because I sure as hell won’t

 

PENKALA       12:03PM

Blithe probably won't say much either or anything at all

 

WINTERS       12:03PM

This was all Lew’s idea. Direct all negative comments to the brain of this group.

 

BUCK       12:04PM

If Webster were here, he’d feel insulted, I’m sure.

 

MALARKEY       12:04PM

maybe that’s why he said it.

 

SKIP       12:04PM

why didn’t Penk get yelled at for saying “hell” this isn’t fair

 

PENKALA       12:05PM

:-)

 

SKIP       12:05PM

don’t look at me like that

 

HOOB       12:08PM

hey, anyone heard from Gene lately? he’s been silent on all social media for the past few days.

 

LIPTON       12:08PM

He’s on a trip for that nursing class, isn’t he?

 

NIX       12:08PM

yep

 

LUZ       12:09PM

ah he speaks at last

 

NIX       12:09PM

I just observe and collect info. that’s who I am B)

 

HOOB       12:10PM

that doesn’t sound creepy at all.

 

PENKALA       12:14PM

ALWAYS WATCHING NO EYES

 

SKIP       12:14PM

STOP YOU KNOW HOW I FEEL ABOUT THAT

 

LUZ       12:15PM

RIP Gene’s phone and everyone else that doesn’t have their phone on Do Not Distrub

 

LUZ       12:15PM

*Disturb

 

SKIP       12:15PM

Distrub

 

LUZ       12:15PM

Do Not™

 

[SKIP changed “WC Tech” to “Do Not Distrub”]       12:16PM

 

LUZ       12:16PM

bruh

 

SKINNY       12:25PM

YEAH RIP WON’T BRING MY PHONE BACK FROM THE TEACHER

 

MALARKEY       12:25PM

RIP Skinny

 

PERCO       12:27PM

you guys are lucky I have a free period right now or else I’d be muting this chat

 

PERCO       12:27PM

I do have Liebgott to keep me company tho

 

LIEBGOTT       12:28PM

what’s stopping us from muting the chat really

 

NIX       12:28PM

turn around

 

LUZ       12:36PM

no one has said anything in a few minutes I’m Afraid™

 

[PERCO sent a picture]        12:36PM

 

PERCO        12:36PM

Nix brought us Burger King

 

LIEBGOTT        12:37PM

and then left afterwards and we don’t know where he went.

 

MORE        12:38PM

34 messages I’m

 

MORE        12:38PM

why am I friends with you guys

 

SKIP        12:39PM

because no one else will be

 

MORE        12:39PM

true

 

BUCK        12:41PM

Hey, Perco.

 

PERCO        12:41PM

ya

 

BUCK        12:42PM

At least Nix didn’t bring you Olive Garden.

 

PERCO        12:43PM

LISTEN

 

PERCO        12:43PM

OKAY

 

LUZ        12:43PM

BUCK WHAT HAVE YOU DONE

 

PERCO        12:43PM

L I S T E N

 

PERCO        12:44PM

THAT’S NOT REAL ITALIAN FOOD

 

PERCO        12:44PM

I WILL FIGHT ANYONE THAT SAYS OTHERWISE AND SO WILL BILL

 

[LIEBGOTT sent a picture]        12:45PM

 

LIEBGOTT        12:45PM

look at how pissed Frank looks lmao

 

SKIP        12:46PM

Frank can we please get

 

SKIP        12:46PM

PASTA THIS

 

PENKALA        12:46PM

I guess you could say Olive Garden is an

 

PENKALA        12:47PM

IMPASTA

 

SKIP        12:47PM

yeah Frank if you keep this up you’ll have

 

SKIP        12:48PM

PASTA WAY

 

PENKALA        12:48PM

PASTA AWAY

 

PENKALA        12:48PM

FUCK

 

PENKALA        12:48PM

sorry Winters

 

SKIP        12:49PM

what is “pasta away” it sounds like a move from the lamest superhero ever

 

PERCO        12:49PM

I will kill you both

 

PERCO        12:49PM

what class are you two in rn

 

SKIP        12:50PM

why would I tell you that after you threatened to kill me

 

SKIP        12:50PM

WINTERS SAVE ME

 

WINTERS        12:52PM

You did this to yourself, Muck. I’m not getting involved.

 

SKIP        12:52PM

:O

 

MALARKEY        12:53PM

it’s probably because he’s actually the teacher’s pet and is paying attention in class like a good boy

 

PENKALA        12:53PM

goodbye Skip it was great being best friends while it lasted <3

 

SKIP        12:54PM

hey you’re in on this too

 

NIX        12:54PM

they’re in English

 

NIX        12:54PM

B230

 

SKIP       12:55PM

NIX WHY

 

PENKALA       12:55PM

PLS

 

PERCO        12:55PM

square up, Skip

 

PERCO        12:56

you too, Penk

 

[PERCO has left the chat]        12:56PM

 

SKIP        12:56PM

if I die I want none of you at my funeral

 

[SKIP has left the chat]        12:57PM

 

PENKALA        12:57PM

I want a joint funeral with Skip it’s what he would have wanted

 

[PENKALA has left the chat]        12:57PM

 

MALARKEY        12:58PM

I thought they were in Biology on C Hall?

 

WINTERS        12:58PM

They are.

 

WINTERS        12:59PM

I gave him their 5th period.

 

WINTERS        12:59PM

Now, he’ll burst into Sobel’s 4th period English class.

 

NIX        1:00PM

Dick’s idea, of course.

 

MORE        1:01PM

that’s cruel.

 

MORE        1:01PM

I love it.

 

LIEBGOTT        1:02PM

we are corrupting the innocent Richard Winters and it’s a sight to behold.

 

NIX        1:02PM

hey if we can get to the subject of why I brought you guys into this chat that would be gr8

 

LUZ        1:03PM

RIP Gene’s phone tho honestly it’s gonna die

  

NIX        1:05PM

basically it’s just easier to talk like this outside of class and school and not having to wait for texts between everyone and then we gotta wait on someone to get a text from another person so we can relay it back

 

NIX        1:05PM

quite frankly that is too much work and I am all about lessening work

 

BUCK        1:06PM

You didn’t have to tell us that.

 

BUCK        1:06PM

Because we know.

 

NIX        1:06PM

#rude

 

NIX        1:07PM

anyway I’m planning on coming to school over the weekend to help supervise some work on finishing up the set

 

HOOB        1:07PM

“supervise”

 

NIX        1:08PM

#doublerude

 

WINTERS        1:08PM

They’re right, Lew.

 

NIX        1:08PM

do you really think I want to admit that

 

NIX        1:09PM

do we have anyone else that wants to come in and help out

 

BULL        1:12PM

I’ll come in

 

NIX        1:13PM

nice of you to join us finally

 

BULL        1:15PM

I was trying to clean brushes off and that can take a while because no one does it properly so it gets the brushes clumpy and stiff and it's annoying and I don't want to keep buying new paint brushes

 

BULL        1:15PM

but yeah I’ll come in

 

BUCK        1:15PM

I’ll join.

 

LUZ        1:16PM

same here.

 

LIPTON        1:17PM

Count me in.

 

LIEBGOTT        1:17PM

me too.

 

MORE        1:18PM

me and Skinny will. he says “hi” but also “fuck you” for blowing up his phone.

 

WINTERS        1:18PM

More.

 

MORE        1:19PM

sorry, he said “h*ck you”.

 

MALARKEY        1:19PM

why’d you censor “heck”?

 

MORE        1:19PM

because it’s a bad fucking word.

 

MORE        1:20PM

again sorry.

 

LIEBGOTT        1:20PM

keep this up and he’ll put soap in our mouths

 

SKINNY        1:21PM

kinky

 

[SKINNY has left the group chat]        1:21PM

 

MORE        1:22PM

Skinny just took his phone and ran out of the classroom with his stuff

  

LUZ        1:22PM

LEGEND

 

WINTERS        1:23PM

Don’t encourage him, George.

 

LUZ        1:23PM

BUT DICK THAT’S SO METAL

 

[PERCO has entered the group chat]        1:24PM

 

PERCO        1:24PM

YOU DIRTY SONSOFBITCHES

 

WINTERS        1:24PM

Here we go.

 

[SKIP has entered the group chat]        1:25PM

 

[PENKALA has entered the group chat]        1:25PM

 

SKIP        1:25PM

how was your time at Sobel Penitentiary, Frank?

 

PERCO        1:26PM

I got the 3rd degree from Sobel about interrupting his class

 

PERCO        1:26PM

because I just burst right the hell in!

 

PERCO        1:26PM

in the middle of everything!

 

PERCO        1:27PM

AND IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT

 

PENKALA        1:27PM

getting out must have cost you a pretty penne

 

[MORE changed “Do Not Distrub” to “how was Olive Garden, Frank?”]        1:28PM

 

PERCO        1:28PM

More I liked you but if I see you now I will deck you

 

[SKIP changed “how was Olive Garden, Frank?” to “18 Techies, 1 Small Italian”]        1:29PM

 

PERCO        1:29PM

oh my god

 

NIX        1:30PM

Perco do you want to come in this weekend and help finish the set up

 

PERCO        1:30PM

yeah of course

 

PERCO        1:30PM

I just gotta kill some people first

 

[MALARKEY changed “18 Techies, 1 Small Italian” to “The Godfather, Part IV”]        1:31PM

 

PERCO        1:31PM

Don why

 

PERCO        1:32PM

I thought we were friends

 

MALARKEY        1:32PM

we are.


MALARKEY       1:33PM

but I tease you because you’re my friend and it shows I care because I’m bad at expressing myself in other ways

 

SKIP        1:33PM

wow I had no idea that’s why you send depression memes

 

MALARKEY        1:34PM

IT’S CALLED I’M TOO EMPATHETIC

 

PENKALA        1:34PM

wow we had no idea

 

[HOOB changed “The Godfather, Part IV” to “Relatable Memes ™”]        1:35PM

 

WINTERS        1:35PM

No.

 

[WINTERS changed “Relatable Memes™” to “Go To Class”]        1:35PM

  

NIX        1:36PM

you heard the chat name everyone go to class

 

LUZ        1:36PM

you’re no fun

 

WINTERS        1:36PM

I can be within reason.

 

NIX        1:37PM

no you can’t

 

WINTERS        1:37PM

I have been in the past.

 

NIX        1:38PM

I must have been drunk or asleep when that happened

 

NIX        1:38PM

maybe both?

 

WINTERS        1:39PM

Get back to class, everyone. Stop texting and pay attention.

 

[NIX changed “Go to Class” to “Winters Is Our Dad”]        1:41PM

 

WINTERS        1:41PM

Lewis Nixon!

 

[NIX has left the group chat]        1:41PM

 

WINTERS        1:42PM

Incredible.

 

[WINTERS has left the group chat]        1:42PM

 

LUZ        1:46PM

so

 

LUZ        1:46PM

what do we do now

 

[HOOB sent an image]         1:50PM

 

HOOB        1:50PM

spot the difference between Perco and this meme

 

HOOB        1:51PM

because I see none

 

PERCO        1:52PM

I hate you all

 

GENE       8:37PM

170 messages

 

GENE       8:37PM

guys

 

Gene       8:37PM

what the hell

Chapter Text

Anyone that decided to come in to the school auditorium on Saturday would first be greeted with the cacophonous sounds of people trying to sing, and overlapping all at once, and then realizing that yes, of course, it was teenage boys doing it.

“JOSIE’S ON A VACATION FAR AWAY–”

“DOES ANYBODY HAVE A MAP ANYBODY MAYBE HAPPEN TO KNOW HOW THE HELL TO DO THIS–”

“ONE DAY MORE– ONE DAY MORE TO REVOLUTION”

“HISTORY HAS ITS EYES ON YOU–”

Hoobler, upon having an idea in the middle of all this discordant noise, ran off the stage, almost falling off, and sprinted to the back of the auditorium. He climbed the staircase in the room off to the side to prop room, then went through the open yet narrow rooms to the main room in the box.

Coming on over the house mic, he said, “Guys, guys, wait.” He had to repeat himself a few times, and took this time to find the CD on the shelf, take it out of its case, and put it in the CD player. After he had everyone’s attention, he said, “I have the perfect song.”

Malarkey straightened up, his eyes wide. “You do not.”

“All that’s left is for me to hit play,” Hoobler grinned.

“HOOBLER!” A loud shout from center stage – as close as one could get before falling in to the orchestra pit – drew everyone’s attention, and Hoobler for a moment was struck with fear. It was Buck, who wore a blank expression, scaring Hoobler a bit more. Everyone stopped and were similarly frozen with fear at Buck’s outburst; they’d never heard him like that before. Granted, any man suddenly raising his voice was terrifying, regardless of who it was, especially with Buck. After a brief pause, he smiled. “Play it.”

The fear that Hoobler had melted away when he saw Buck’s smile. He hit play, and they all went back to work. The set was in various states of being built, and everyone there was hard at work. The wooden risers were almost completely done, being painted as each board was drilled in, then jumped on to make sure it could hold weight; Bull was the one doing the jumping. At the very back of stage left, the handle was being cranked to lower the front light bar to attach Christmas lights to it. They’d last done this for the dinner theater they put on the year before, though Christmas lights had nothing to do with the play itself. In the wings, platforms were having wheels attached to the bottoms to ensure a smooth move on and off stage. Even though there was a lot of work going on, and a lot of noise from drills and hammers, everyone was enjoying themselves.

Painting always turned out to be fun, even though people were covered in it by the end of the day. It’s a good thing they brought ratty spare clothes to change into and a had a large supply in stage left to use that were donated to them. People would leave covered head to toe in paint – almost always George Luz, and others would be covered almost always as a result of him – and sweaty, exhausted, but proud of their work. Others would leave with splinters and cuts, covered in Band-Aids, looking for tweezers, bruised and banged up. But whatever they left with had good memories behind it, and that’s what made it special to them.

What also made it special to them was how close everyone became during the musical season. Normally, they’d meet up again in spring, but this year the school decided to a winter musical to change it up a bit. Though the time changed, the level of friendship did not, a bond only made stronger by the fact that everyone was singing together, singing a lovely song called “Somebody Kill Me.”

A song that originally came from the musical they put on the year before, it was one that always resided near and dear to their hearts, one that accurately describes what it’s like to do tech, and have to juggle homework from AP classes, jobs, and anything else life threw at them as the musical went on. These next few months would be some of the most stressful they endured, but they endured.

“I’M ON MY KNEES, PRETTY PRETTY PLEASE, KILL ME,” they all sang. Was it morbid? Incredibly so, but they liked morbid, and it was a song that resonated in their soul, and no one could stop them from singing.

As they finished, Winters smiled and shook his head. “Well, I think that’s the most they’ll ever get us techies to sing on stage,” he remarked.

“Suicide always brings people closer together,” Nix joked, “especially when there’s a song about it in musicals.”

Buck walked up with Lipton and added, “I don’t think any song in White Christmas will be able to top that song.”

“Probably not,” Lipton observed.

Blithe, from over on stage right, looked up and watched them for a moment, thinking.

“Hey,” he said, leaning over to Liebgott, who was marking up a piece of wood to be cut. “Why do they all hang out together?”

Liebgott let the measuring tape snap back in place and asked, “Who?”

“Lipton, and Buck, and Winters, and Nix, and Speirs, occasionally. And Welsh, if he’s here.”

“They’re all seniors; they’ve been friends since freshman year,” Liebgott explained. “Buck came towards the end of last school year, but he fit in with them pretty well. But they’re the AP seniors, so they stay together.”

“What about Bull and Martin? And Heffron, too, and Hoobler.”

More came over with more plywood that had to be cut and lugged them off his shoulder with a grunt. He’d heard the conversation as he came over, and decided to help explain the situation to the fairly new Blithe.

“Bull and Martin are seniors, too,” he said, causing Blithe to jump, as he hadn’t noticed More come over. “They hang out with other seniors but like hanging out with the juniors and underclassmen.”

“Why’s that?” Blithe questioned.

“If you didn’t interrupt, you might have found out sooner,” Liebgott chided before pulling a piece of plywood over.

“Give the kid a break, Joe,” More said before continuing. “In my opinion, it’s because you don’t have any obligation to see them again outside of school because they weren’t in your graduating class. It makes saying ‘goodbye’ easier, too. But Babe and Hoob, they’re juniors. Because Babe got a lead for the first time in his life, he was ushered out of the world of tech so he could dedicate enough time to learning his lines and the songs. Believe it or not, there used to be more techies.”

“What happened to them?” Blithe asked.

This time, Liebgott didn’t have a smart remark and More didn’t have anything to say about it. It was a short, somber pause later before More replied, “We’ll tell you later.”

Penkala, who was also helping and listening in on stage right, decided to get the subject back on track. “Winters, Nix, Buck, Speirs, Lip, and Welsh are all seniors, as well as Bull, Martin, Luz, and Roe,” he listed. “Skinny, me, Skip, Joe, Frank, More, and Christenson are all juniors. And you, if I’m not mistaken, are a sophomore.”

Blithe nodded. “That’s right.”

Skip, never too far from either Malarkey or Penkala, came back with more Sharpies, as they were running low on them to mark up the boards. Penkala made a grabby hand for the blue one and reached for it, before Skip moved it out of his reach and handed him the aqua blue one instead, causing Penkala to make a dissatisfied noise. Skip took the blue one for himself. “And we will be the greatest people you will ever meet,” Skip boasted. More took the boards that were marked and went to cut them before there were too many to carry. Skip distributed the Sharpies to everyone else before tossing them on the floor behind him out of the way.

“Jesus, Skip,” Penkala laughed, “you sound like an actor now.”

Any time someone that’s part of the tech crew says something negative in connotation about acting, there’s always an actor nearby to jump in and chastise. This time, Frank Perconte was the closest.

“Hey!” he yelled over, somehow hearing it from the other side of the stage. This scared them a little bit. “Don’t diss acting!”

“I’m a techie so I can and I will!” Penkala yelled back. “And you’ve been here, too, Perco, so don’t act like you haven’t before.”

“Don’t forget your roots!” Skip hollered.

For some reason, Alton More had a real knack for lowering his voice so low people wouldn’t even know it was him. He mainly used it to mess with people, and also for impressions when he so needed. In this case, the impression was of Mufasa.

“You have forgotten who you are,” he said, voice now gravelly and deep, “and so have forgotten me.”

Perconte took a moment before saying, “Damn, More, that gave me chills.” More merely grinned in response.

“But I will complain as much as I damn well please!” Perconte said loudly, directed at Penkala.

Skinny was walking back cut pieces of wood when he heard Perconte. He turned around and walked slowly so he wouldn’t trip. “You don’t have to tell us that,” he chimed in.

Because Skinny was not looking where he was going, when he turned around, he tripped on the stairs going up the wooden risers and fell face-first into them, as well as the plywood he had knocking the wind out of him. He flipped himself on his back, unhurt, except for a splinter in the palm of his hand.

“Karma’s a bitch, ain’t it, Skinny?” Perconte jeered.

Skinny huffed, pulling himself up and picking up the wood he had dropped. “Yeah, yeah,” he muttered. “Anyone got any tweezers so I can pull this giant sliver out?”

“I do,” Winters said, coming over and pulling them out of his pocket. “Watch your step next time, right, Sisk?”

Skinny nodded. “Right.” Later on, in the next few days, he’d be seen in the hallway during class changes milking the injury for as much as he could, surrounded by a few girls, flirting with each of them. One girl in particular – Ash, they called her – offered to kiss the paper cut and make it better. Perconte would see this and roll his eyes, muttering something about how much of a “ham” Skinny was, something Perconte had no room to talk about.

The house mic came on, and the voice of George Luz came through. “Hello, everyone, this is your captain speaking,” he said in a professional tone, but you could hear the smile he had on. “I’m here to tell you that I’ve brought food for the masses.”

Everyone groaned in relief. It was nearing two o’clock and no one had really eaten since around 8 a.m., because they were due to show up at 9. Luz was a god to them now. He had ascended from “sound god” to “god god.” Stomachaches were part of an inevitable future.

“George Luz!” Buck exclaimed. “What would we do without George Luz?”

The house mic came on again. “This is your captain speaking again, and the answer is you would starve.”

Before there was a chance to laugh, the side door of the auditorium opened and in came none other than Ronald Speirs. He was wearing jeans, a plain shirt, and a small bag filled with his own tools. Even though he dressed simply, he gave off the air that he was a no-nonsense kind of guy, and he wasn’t. Quite simply put, he terrified most people, except for Winters, who wasn’t afraid at all. Nix, Buck, Martin, and Bull were wary of him to different degrees, and Lipton wasn’t entirely sure of him just yet. To all others, he was a legend, one that didn’t much information, as a result, were terrified any time he looked in their direction.

“You said you needed help today?” Speirs said. The entire place had gone quiet, so he need not raise his voice.

Winters nodded. “Yeah, thanks. Glad you could join us.”

Walking up the aisle, Speirs asked, “You need those light bars lowered? Get the Christmas lights attached?” The person doing it earlier had stopped and left it only half lowered. You’d need strong arms to crank the handle enough times to lower it completely, and people figured that the one originally doing it got tired, which was understandable.

“Go ahead,” Winters replied, gesturing to his left. “Have you eaten already? Luz brought food for us.”

Speirs nodded. “I did.” He walked straight to back, still holding his back of tools, which he dropped with a clank when he reached the crank. In less than two minutes, he had the bar lowered low enough to get the Christmas lights attached. He gave a thumbs up to Winters, who nodded.

In this time, Luz had the food distributed – all hamburgers and cheeseburgers with fries and various soft drinks, except for Winters, who had water – and everyone had chowed down. People went through the burgers rather fast, and now talking as they made their way slowly but surely through their fries and respective drinks of choice.

Speirs attached the lights to the bars lowered in the front, and the lights out in the house that had been lowered as well. Luz, who went back up in the box, tested all the lights after they were plugged in, and fortunately, each of them worked. They were glad they had invested extra money in fixing it all over the summer because they had broken immediately after the last musical performance last year. The whole process took about 7 minutes in total, because Speirs was fast, and knew how to get things done quickly and efficiently, which is what Winters admired about him.

Afterwards, Speirs went back and put raised the light bar back up, taking less than two minutes again. He crossed from stage left and over to the small group of guys on stage right; they were something to get around as Speirs made for the back door in the auditorium.

“Hey, finish up eating. We’re getting back to work,” Speirs told them.

“But we got our food not too long ago, and we haven’t eaten since 8 this morning!” Penkala objected. “Some of us haven’t even eaten at all today. We’re not even done here.”

Speirs shrugged. “You should have brought food with you then. Not my problem.” He stepped around them, pushed on the door, and left.

They all didn’t talk for a moment. Finally, Blithe leaned over to Penkala and asked quietly, “Is it okay I’m scared of Speirs?”

“We all are a little bit,” Penkala replied, putting a fry in his mouth.

“I heard he once made an entire cast quit,” Skip told everyone.

“I heard that, too,” Penkala nodded. “You hear about he once dropped a light bar on a guy? On purpose?”

Malarkey walked over to join his friends, carton of fries in hand. “Hey, what are you guys talking about?”

“How a reputation proceeds a man,” Skip said, stealing a fry from Malarkey, who didn’t seem to mind. “How Speirs made an entire cast quit once.”

“You know, I was there when he made that entire cast quit,” Malarkey claimed, sitting down in the circle of guys.

“You were not,” Penkala said, doubtful.

“I was!” Malarkey defended. “Except they didn’t quit, he fired them.”

Everyone leaned in on this new information, moving to sit close to Malarkey so they could capture every word.

“See, there was a production of A Doll’s House happening downtown, and he was the director. A senior director was something new to hear, but there were alumni here that wrote plays and had them published as juniors, so nothing unheard of. Anyway, he was tough but it drove everyone to please him, even if they had to do the craziest things.” Malarkey had a far-off look in his eyes, trying to remember all the details. “He’d tell someone to scale a wall and they would. He’d tell someone to perform a scene backwards and they would. They’d do anything to get on his good side and make him happy. Then one day, on opening night, no less, here’s what he did. First, he complimented them all, all saccharine and whatnot–”

Skip cut him off. “Big word, Malark. You using a ‘Word of the Day’ calendar?”

“Shut up. Anyway,” Malarkey continued, “he’s complimenting them all, saying he’s so proud of them for coming this far, that they’ve made him proud beyond belief… and then he fires them all.”

“Why?” More questioned, a hint of doubt in his voice.

Malarkey didn’t miss it, and he shrugged. “Who knows? The only people that know is the cast, him,” he pointed up at the ceiling, “and the man upstairs.”

“Shakespeare,” Penkala said.

“Santa,” Skip said at the same time.

As they laughed about it, More turned to Blithe, who had remained silent the entire time. “What do you think, Blithe?"

Blithe lay on his back, half-eaten fries lying beside him. Skip took them, knowing Blithe wouldn’t mind; he didn’t. “Well, I wasn’t there,” Blithe replied, “so I can’t really say.”

“Yeah, but if you had to guess?” More pushed.

Blithe shook his head in response. “I wouldn’t.”

Everyone sat there, all quiet, eating their fries and drinking their drinks. Skip, with a mouthful of stolen fries, asked, “Wait, what were you doing there?”

Malarkey, who had an honorary degree in understanding Skip with his mouth full, replied, “I had to drive a friend’s sister home that day, and she was the play. She was the maid.”

“The maid?” Penkala asked suggestively.

Malarkey threw a fry at him. “Yeah, it takes place in the 1800’s, so can it.”

“Okay guys, back to work!” Lipton called. “Remember to toss your trash in the garbage can that’s coming around; we don’t want ants here or any in the house.”

“And people wonder why we call him the mom friend,” Skip muttered before dumping the rest of the fries in his mouth.

“Wouldn’t be the first time, Lip!” Luz hollered down from the box.

Lipton smiled up at him. “And whose fault do you think that was?”

“Don’t drag me like this, Lip, my jokes and this job are the only things I have.”

“If it was a job,” Skinny interjected, “we should be getting paid!”

“If it was a job, y’all would have been fired already for complaining to much,” Bull yelled from deep in stage left.

“Wouldn’t have been the first time for some of them,” Martin said, grinning.

Luz scoffed. “Well, now you’re just being mean.”

“You’re lucky I didn’t kill you for making us lose the first half of that Jeopardy game,” Buck added, pointing up at Luz.

Luz pointed back. “Yeah, but then I came in clutch for the second half and then I killed it in Kahoot.”

Nix sighed and shook his head, a faint smile on his lips. “I feel bad for linguists studying our language years in the future because they’re not gonna understand any of this shit.”

Winters gave him a stern look. “Nix.”

“Don’t even try me on that, Dick.”

“I don’t know why I do anyway.”

“Because if you don’t try,” Nix said, squeezing his shoulder, “then you don’t get a 5 on your AP exams like a good boy.”

“I want to go to a good college, Nix. Ivy League.” Winters let a moment pass before he said, “And you do, too.”

“I know,” Nix replied. He thought briefly, then quietly said, “I know.”

Winters knew something was up, and when he looked at Nix he saw it in his eyes, but didn’t dare push further. It’s not like he could, because Nix spoke before he had the opportunity.

“Hey, your phone’s ringing,” Nix told him, letting his hand drop from his shoulder and walking a couple steps in the opposite direction.

“Oh, thanks,” Winters said, then looked at the caller ID. “Crap.”

Nix made a surprised noise. “So he does swear.” He moved quickly back over to Winters and peaked over his shoulder at his phone.

“Who is it?” Buck asked.

“Sobel.”

Buck laughed. “I’d be using a stronger word than ‘crap.’”

“You’ve met Dick, right?”

Winters held up a finger and loudly said, “Hello, Mr. Sobel,” as a way of telling everyone to quiet down. Surprisingly, everyone did. Normally, there’d still be muttering and quiet whispers, but the entire auditorium was silent, save for the hum of the air conditioning and Winters’ talking.

“Yes, we are at the school,” he said. A pause for reply. “Why? So we can finish the set and use it for full runs earlier than expected, and it gives them more time to rehearse–”

By the abrupt end to the sentence, everyone could tell he was cut off. If one were to listen to closely, they could hear Sobel ranting and raving.

Winters sighed. “Yessir, I know we don’t start full runs until after Thanksgiving, but–” Cut off again. “Okay, sir. Goodbye, Mr. Sobel.” He sighed louder this time. “Great.”

Lipton walked over, arms crossed, worried, being the mother hen. “What’s up?”

Before replying, Winters waved everyone over, and all those there gathered in a shoddy semi-circle around him, mixtures of concern, worry, and nervousness spread throughout them. What was happening? What was going on? What was the call about? Was Sobel angry, and was he going to rain hellfire down on them on Monday? What?

Unfortunately, they were right.

Winters pinched the bridge of his nose before speaking. “We have to drop what we’re doing,” he announced, “and go home.”

“What?” Nix asked incredulously. Everyone turned to the person next to them and said something, each sharing confused glances with another. Eyebrows were raised.

“We’re done here. We have to leave,” Winters elaborated. “Sobel’s orders. And in class, we will now be doing book work–”

Loud groans filled the auditorium. Book work. What a nightmare they’d be facing. It was grueling, irritating, tedious, slow-going… it was a lot of things, and they knew it was punishment from Sobel for whatever infractions they’d committed. Hell, they were sure, was Sobel.

“–Until Thanksgiving break,” Winters continued on, louder now, to get over the noise of people complaining, “Which is when we are now supposed to come in and work double time to finish the set, regardless of plans.”

He let everything he had just said sink in. They had to come in now over Thanksgiving fucking break? What fresh hell was this? This was crazy, plain and simple, and they all knew it.

“What happens if we’re gonna go out of state to see family or something?” Skinny asked.

Skinny, like many people that is alive on Earth, had family out of state, and rarely got to see them. Over longer stretches of break, or like a family-oriented holiday – as people are led to believe – like Thanksgiving, they’d drive or fly out and see the family they haven’t seen in months. Parents got days off to go out and see their relatives that lived hours away.

Others had family coming from out of state to see them and spend time with them, and it’s the same case in either scenario. But now everyone there had to figure something out with their families so they could come work, and they knew that their parents would raise some hell about this to the school, to the school board, to the superintendent, everyone in the chain of command.

For now, they just had to deal with. But what was said next took everyone aback.

“Then you better bring the family here because, as of now, if you are not present over Thanksgiving break to build the set…” Winters trailed off, finding the news hard to break, even for him. He bit his lip, then sighed. Now or never, he told himself, as others waited with bated breath.

“If you are not present over Thanksgiving break to build the set,” he repeated, “you will be kicked out of the show.”

Chapter Text

It was Friday afternoon, 3:10pm, only a few weeks after Sobel had begun to punish everyone with book work in class and called for a complete halt on all tech work for the set. Instead of meeting in the auditorium, as per usual, they met in the classroom, getting “lessons” from Sobel before working out of the book. It was agonizing work, something they’d only been threatened with in the past, but was now something they had to live with.

For the first five or ten minutes, things would go okay. Eventually, they’d start zoning out and all the words on the page would become blurry as they imagined themselves elsewhere: at home, sleeping; at McDonald’s; playing football; watching House Hunters and complaining about how the couples picked the wrong house. Anywhere else but in that classroom, silent and dark, doing book work too early in the morning. They didn’t want to admit how many times they’d fallen off their seats because they fell asleep, but for some of them, it was in the low teens.

Not like it mattered if they did the work or not, because Sobel wouldn’t grade any of it; it was just a matter of if they did it or not. Once they learned that he wasn’t actually grading the stuff, they’d do one full page and put nothing on the back of the sheet and hand it in. Whatever they put down was gibberish, and Sobel overlooked it every time. He was an easy guy to play; just ask Luz, master of doing voices and master of throwing it.

As Winters now found himself in Sobel’s empty classroom at the end of the day (because he had 5 th period planning), staring at the man who stared intently back, Winters figured that Luz’s old prank of impersonating Horton wasn’t the reason he was here. Leave it to Sobel to let them think they’d gotten away with something for a few weeks before pulling the rug out from under them.

“Is there a reason you called me in here, Mr. Sobel?” Winters asked. He wasn’t particularly busy, per se; he had a free period at the end of the day and used it study, but he hated being interrupted.

“I feel like you should know,” Sobel replied vaguely, looking down at his papers.

Winters raised an eyebrow. “Well, I’m sorry to say I don’t know, sir.”

Sobel, who had previously been writing something down, looked back up at Winters, irritation and annoyance in his eyes. He was gripping the pencil so tight, Winters thought it might snap in two.

“You went behind my back and came into the school, on a Saturday no less, to finish the set,” Sobel seethed.

“We got permission from Principal Horton, sir,” Winters corrected. It took a lot to get his blood to start boiling, but being in Sobel’s presence for more than was five minutes would start up the burners. Sobel looked back down at his papers and jotted something down.

“But you didn’t get mine, did you?”

“Sir?”

Sobel slammed his pencil down and started Winters straight in the eyes. “You did not ask me permission to go into the auditorium and work there,” Sobel said through gritted teeth. “I don’t even know how you got in! You used my nails, my screws, my paint, my plywood – things I bought with my own money – and you used it on a project I didn’t personally authorize in the first place.”

Winters had to bite his tongue before he made a remark he’d regret, and tried his hardest to keep a straight face. The fact of the matter was that nothing that was used, nothing that has been used, was bought with Sobel’s money. It all came out of pocket from them, the students, and the money that was given to them as part of the musical budget. Sobel did very little to help out in the long run, and for right now, all Winters could do was take a very deep breath.

“Well,” he began, “I’m sure if Principal Horton didn’t have an issue, then–”

Sobel cut him off. “I even sent texts out to everyone, telling you not to do it.”

“The auditorium has very little service, sir, and it’s not very good,” Winters explained. Now, it wasn’t in his nature to lie, because they had gotten texts. It wasn’t a whole lie, though, because they didn’t read them, so whatever those messages said, they didn’t know, and wouldn’t, because they deleted them.

“I even called Evans and told him to go down and see you.”

“Evans never found us, sir.” This was the whole truth. Whenever Evans was sent to tell them something, he never showed up. They didn’t know if he was intimidated by them, or was so intimidated by Sobel that he didn’t do anything he was told in fear of messing up. Wherever Evans went when he was told to do something and didn’t do it was only known by Evans himself.

Sobel laced his fingers together, looking down and his papers and then back up at Winters. “You know what you did, Dick. You know that I was opposed to these kinds of things from the start.”

The syllabus confirmed that: any outside-the-classroom projects not authorized by Sobel were frowned upon and not allowed, as well as any projects outside-the-classroom. In short, even with permission, they were not allowed to have done what they did.

“You are making a mockery of my teaching,” Sobel continued, “and are making a mockery of me as a teacher.”

Like that makes me feel bad, Winters thought, holding his tongue again.

It was silent for a moment, and then two moments, and then a few minutes. Sobel had gone back to jotting things down as Winters stood in front of him, watching.

Winters finally asked, “Well, where do we go from here, sir?”

Sobel took a deep breath and, for the umpteenth time, looked at Winters. “What you did was insubordination, and will not be tolerated. I told you not to do this, and you did it anyway.” He set his pencil down, a small break in it now from how hard he was gripping it. Winters noticed this and took pleasure in how easy it was to get on Sobel’s nerves, just by contradicting him.

“So, either you are kicked out of the musical entirely,” Sobel said, “or I will give you ISS for the next week.” Winters did not break eye contact as Sobel looked away and then looked back. “You’re a good student, Dick, I know you want to get into a good college, so just give the stage manager job to someone else.”

Sobel picked up a pen now and continue to write whatever he was writing, but Winters was convinced it was just lines and meant nothing.

As he did that, Winters thought things over for a moment, knowing that either decision could jeopardize the musical and his post-high school plans. But he’d already considered this as a punishment after they left the auditorium that Saturday, and even though at the time it was a purely hypothetical decision, he knew what he was going to.

Winters took a deep breath. “Can I see your pen for a moment, sir?” Without waiting for an answer, he took it out of Sobel’s hands, and grabbed a random paper that was nearby. He leaned over and wrote something down on it, hastily but neat, and handed the pen back to Sobel, sliding the paper across to him.

“My endorsement, sir,” he said bravely after straightening up. “I request in-school suspension.”

With that said, he turned and left the classroom, heading back to the library to collect his things before the bell rang. Sobel was left sitting there, flabbergasted, and grabbed the paper up to look at it himself.

Sure enough, Winters had written what he said, his signature at the bottom, big and prominent.

Okay, Sobel thought. If that’s what he wants, that’s what he’ll get.

 


 

LIPTON       8:01PM

So we lost Winters to ISS.

 

GUARNO       8:01PM

WHAT???

 

GUARNO       8:01PM

what the duck happened???

 

GUARNO       8:02PM

*fuck

 

GUARNO       8:02PM

goddammit

 

LIPTON       8:04PM

Sobel told Winters that he should have asked his permission to come to the school on that Saturday to work, even though he already got Horton’s.

 

BULL       8:05PM

leave it up to Sobel to get upset that no one talked to him.

 

LIPTON       8:05PM

It gets worse.

 

MARTIN       8:06PM

Somehow

 

LIPTON       8:07PM

Sobel starts complaining that everything we used were supplies that HE bought.

 

GRANT       8:07PM

which is a big fucking lie.

 

GUARNO       8:08PM

the biggest one I’ve ever heard, and we go to public school

 

LIPTON       8:10PM

So Sobel gives Winters an ultimatum – either Winters quits the musical and hands the stage manager job over to someone else, or he gets ISS.

 

MARTIN       8:11PM

And he chose ISS as a big “fuck you” I suppose

 

LIPTON       8:12PM

Not his choice of words, but yes, basically.

 

GUARNO       8:12PM

Winters you DOG holy fucking shit

 

GRANT       8:13PM

oh my god

 

BULL       8:13PM

best thing I’ve heard in weeks.

 

GRANT       8:15PM

hey where’s Tab? thought he was supposed to be here too

 

BULL       8:15PM

he’s around, I’m sure.

 

MARTIN       8:16PM

Maybe he’s hooking up with another girl in the back of C Hall

 

GRANT       8:16PM

for the millionth time.

 

BULL       8:17PM

if we were still at school, maybe.

 

GUARNO       8:17PM

even if we aren’t, he still would. he’s done that so many times

 

MARTIN       8:18PM

He’s broken into the school just to hook up with a girl?

 

GUARNO       8:18PM

well it’s not like they can do it at either of their houses

 

GUARNO       8:19PM

I keep telling him to be more creative tho

 

GUARNO       8:20PM

use the roof of the school like people have gotten up there before

 

GRANT       8:20PM

the giant penis the seniors put on the skylight last year was oddly comforting

 

BULL       8:20PM

helping out with that was so much fun.

 

GUARNO       8:21PM

you WHAT

 

BULL       8:21PM

did I not tell you guys that?

 

GUARNO       8:21PM

NO YOU FUCKING DIDN’T BULL

 

MARTIN       8:22PM

He told me

 

GRANT       8:22PM

he tells you everything!

 

MARTIN       8:22PM

True

 

GRANT       8:23PM

I should have known it was you because I saw a tiny bull in the corner of the skylight

 

BULL       8:23PM

:)

 

GRANT       8:24PM

how does Tab not get caught?

 

GUARNO       8:24PM

covers up the cameras probably

 

[TAB has entered the group chat]       8:25PM

 

GUARNO       8:25PM

nice of you to finally join us

 

GRANT       8:25PM

speak of the devil and he shall appear

 

TAB       8:26PM

ok that was #rude

 

GRANT       8:26PM

how’ve you been though?

 

TAB       8:28PM

i was hanging out doing just fine watching some videos when i saw that a bunch of weirdos invited me to a group chat called “Fuck Sobel (But Not In That Way)”

 

LIPTON       8:29PM

Okay, who changed it?

 

GUARNO       8:29PM

sorry Lip

 

TAB       8:30PM

i may be a lead in this musical, but i cannot fuckin stand sobel

 

TAB       8:30PM

neither can babe or perco

 

GRANT       8:31PM

let me round out the four leads by also saying I can’t stand him either

 

BULL       8:31PM

I don’t think anyone can.

 

MARTIN       8:32PM

His wife can

 

TAB       8:32PM

HE’S MARRIED?

 

TAB       8:32PM

WTF

 

TAB       8:33PM

HOW DID I NOT KNOW

 

MARTIN       8:34PM

I went on his personal Facebook page because it’s public and I like to be nosy

 

MARTIN       8:34PM

He also has kids

 

GUARNO       8:35PM

is his wife okay? is she being held hostage?

 

MARTIN       8:35PM

I mean they look pretty in love

 

MARTIN       8:35PM

That’s what the pictures say at least

 

GRANT       8:36PM

if a picture says a thousand words then maybe one of those words is “help”

 

MARTIN       8:38PM

Tab you hear about what happened?

 

TAB       8:39PM

ofc i did

 

TAB       8:39PM

i have ears and know things

 

TAB       8:41PM

nix better find a loophole or some shit bc if sobel makes himself stage manager i will swan dive out of the box and into the auditorium below

 

BULL       8:42PM

our best plan is to probably for all of us here to quit the musical.

 

BULL       8:42PM

since a lot of us are IN the musical.

 

GRANT       8:43PM

we should get the other seniors too as well.

 

MARTIN       8:43PM

Yeah

 

LIPTON       8:43PM

We should do that.

 

LIPTON       8:44PM

Draw up some fancy document that says the same thing, signed with our name all nice at the bottom.

 

GUARNO       8:45PM

Lip that may be the most evil and devious thing I’ve ever heard from you and I love it

 

TAB       8:46PM

i am all about that plan even if it could get us in serious trouble with sobel and horton

 

LIPTON       8:47PM

We could get in serious trouble.

 

LIPTON       8:47PM

But we’re in agreement, then? We all aware of the consequences?

 

MARTIN       8:49PM

I don’t care about any consequences

 

LIPTON       8:51PM

John, we could all get kicked out of the musical. Given detention, suspended. That could ruin a lot of our after high school plans.

 

LIPTON       8:52PM

Now, I’m ready to bite the bullet and do this, even if those things do happen, and there’s a strong possibility they may.

 

LIPTON       8:53PM

But we should all be okay with knowing the different outcomes of this.

 

TAB       8:54PM

best case scenario sobel dies

 

TAB       8:54PM

worst case scenario we die

 

LIPTON       8:55PM

Tab.

 

GUARNO       8:56PM

I am not having my last musical ruined by Sobel, and I am not having my senior year ruined by him either

 

BULL       8:56PM

me neither.

 

GRANT       8:58PM

you should probably get Toye and Welsh and Webster in on this too since you’re the orchestra people and upperclassmen and if you walk so will others

 

GUARNO       8:59PM

true

 

MARTIN       8:59PM

What should the messages read

 

GUARNO       9:00PM

I’ve actually been thinking about this

 

TAB       9:00PM

lip put a star on the calendar guarnere’s been thinking

 

GUARNO       9:01PM

shut up

 

GUARNO       9:01PM

anyway, we make it all nice and fancy and formal for the ultimate “fuck you”

 

GUARNO       9:02PM

“I no longer wish to serve as a/an techie/actor/band member in the ‘White Christmas’ musical.”

 

GUARNO       9:03PM

then we sign our names at the bottom

 

LIPTON       9:03PM

That sounds good to me.

 

LIPTON       9:04PM

Are we all in agreement?

 

TAB       9:04PM

yep

 

MARTIN       9:04PM

Yeah

 

BULL       9:05PM

yeah.

 

GRANT       9:05PM

yeah

 

LIPTON       9:06PM

Okay then. Let’s do it.

Chapter Text

WINTERS       4:34PM

So you guys did it?

 

LIPTON       4:35PM

Yeah. It needed to be done.

 

WINTERS       4:35PM

I guess musicals do teach us lessons, after all.

 

LIPTON       4:36PM

Thank you, Les Misérables, for all you taught us.

 

WINTERS       4:37PM

Okay, well, I’m glad to know that I have you guys on my side.

 

LIPTON       4:37PM

We’ll always be on your side. That’s what friends are for.

 

WINTERS       4:38PM

Right. See you guys around after the fallout.

 

LIPTON       4:38PM

Because you won’t be seeing us, huh?

 

WINTERS       4:39PM

Very funny, Carwood.

 


 

“If we were at war, I’d have you all shot!” Superintendent Sink hollered at the teenagers standing before him. “Going against the orders of a teacher is one thing, but actively rebelling and boycotting the teacher is another! Refusing to attend his classes and skipping is another! This is plain and simple insubordination!” Sink stopped and took a deep breath before continue. “Mr. Harris and Mr. Ranney said that they were the masterminds behind it all. Is this true?”

Terrence Harris and Mike Ranney had long suffered at the hands of Sobel like many others, quitting tech before this musical because they couldn’t stand doing another one under him. With no college plans to ruin by doing this, they stepped up and took the brunt of the punishment so as to save the others, whom they cared about deeply. Once a techie, always a techie.

“Yes, Mr. Sink,” Lipton confirmed, the unofficial leader and spokesperson for the rebellion.

“Are you sure?”

“Yessir.”

Sink, who had leaned forward in his seat to make sure all those standing there heard him loud and clear, relaxed a bit and sat back. “Well then, if that’s the case, they were suspended.”

No surprise there, really, it was inevitable. But, because Harris and Ranney were going straight to work after high school, this wouldn’t hurt them in the workforce too bad. Not unless they got arrested for this, anyway, which wouldn’t happen.

“You each get detention,” Sink continued, “and you better be proud of your actions, and consider yourselves lucky that I don’t want to see this musical fail.” He rubbed his hands together in a way that said he was about to divulge information he didn’t share often. “I’ve always had a soft spot for White Christmas.”

This surprised the guys a little bit. Sink seemed like the guy to enjoy war movies, like most old white men, but musicals? That came out of far left field. Sure, there was a war plot-line in White Christmas, because the two main characters were in a war, and they end up staying a hotel run by their former general, but there were no violent war scenes in it. No exciting scenes of storming the beaches of Normandy, or the landing on Iwo Jima, nothing like that. Just people trying to get a musical together in a few days in a barn, and that was it.

And yet Sink, one of the biggest hard-asses in the county, if not the state, is a fan of musicals? This musical? Now they’d seen everything, and brief looks of surprise crossed their faces.

Sink must have seen it a thousand times, because he waved it off. “Do I make myself clear?”

“Yessir. We won’t let you down, sir,” Lip replied. Following that, they were all ushered out of the office.

As they left, Grant muttered, “We’ll try not to, at least.”

Winters was sitting in one of the chairs outside of the office, waiting to see Sink himself regarding the same incident and his suspension, and was surprised to see them. Lipton, Grant, Guarnere, Bull, Martin, and Talbert all walked out and, smiling, saluted Winters. He rolled his eyes and gave them a smile in return, with a salute back to them.

A few long, tense minutes passed with Winters flipping through magazines mindlessly before Sink called for him and the door opened, welcoming him in. This was one of the few times Winters would seem hesitant about anything, and the doorway was something he’d have to go through in order to get rid of it. He squared his shoulders and went in, losing every bad feeling he had as he passed through.

“You wanted to see me, Mr. Sink?” Winters asked, standing firm in front of Sink and his large desk.

“I did,” Sink replied. They maintained eye contact, but unlike the last time Winters was stared down, this stare had genuine concern and intrigue behind it. “Now, I only want to know the truth. Sobel went above Horton and straight to me with his problem, and only moments ago did I receive an email from Holly Horton explaining that he was the one who gave you permission.”

So that’s why I waited a few extra minutes, Winters thought.

“That is correct, sir,” he replied.

“And he’s the one that let you in the school that Saturday?”

“Yessir.”

“I’ll admit I’ve had some…” Sink trailed off for a moment, trying to find the right words. “Some issues, with Sobel, before at other schools in the county. You seem to know the most about these issues because you’ve had him as a teacher all four years. That’s what your transcripts say, at least.”

“Right.”

“I assume there’s some things you’d like to tell me about Sobel and his teaching.”

Winters, who was previously trying not to grin, let a small smile crack his neutral expression. “I do indeed, sir.”

“Well…” Sink trailed off again, smiling back. “Sit down and tell me.”

 


 

It was about an hour or so later when Herbert Sobel found himself sitting in Superintendent Sink’s office, nursing a small cup of coffee he was handed. He wasn’t quite sure if he wanted it or not, but he had it anyway. The chair he sat in was off to the side of Sink’s desk, towards the wall, still on the other side of the desk, with an identical one facing him.

Sink was across from him, not quite standing but not quite sitting on the arm of the identical chair, but also drinking coffee. “It seems like people connected to you have been getting called into my office a lot recently,” Sink remarked.

Sobel laughed nervously, playing with the coffee cup he held in his hands. He didn’t want to admit it, but his nerves were shot. “It does seem like that, sir.”

The coffee Sink had was finished, and he sat the cup down on the small table between them. He cleared his throat before speaking again. “Do you have any idea why I might have called you in today?” he questioned.

“Does it have anything to do with the teacher evaluations, sir? Did they come in early this year?” Sobel was worried every year about these, and what was said about him. They were never excellent, but they were never terrible, either. The reviews found themselves in the perfect middle spot that required no punishment and no commendations. The grade he received in particular never worried him much; he just wanted to know if he was going to keep his job. “If not that, then I can’t say I know.”

Though he had finished the coffee, Sobel kept the cup in his hands; it gave him something to keep him occupied and to keep any nervous feelings down and away. The last thing he wanted to do right now was stutter, and trying to keep that down was making his hands shake slightly.

“It does… in a way,” Sink answered vaguely. He got up off the chair and walked to the window behind his desk, looking out; the clouds were dark and heavy, and they way they looked, it seemed as though a storm was coming, like there wasn’t already one in Sink’s office right now.

“Sobel, you have one hell of a track record,” he added, back still facing Sobel.

Sobel’s eyebrows came together. “Sir?”

“You taught at so many places in the last 10 years, and somehow you’ve managed to stay at the same place for 4 years now,” Sink elaborated.

Sobel, acting bashful, shrugged. Not like Sink could see it anyway. “I’m just lucky, sir. I’m just glad to have a job doing what I love.”

“Some students may say otherwise.”

“What do you mean?”

Sink turned around, facing Sobel again. “I’ve had students as well as staff members from where you work now, as well as prior schools, not be too… shining, in their reviews of you.” He thought about if Sobel knew this, could see it in his coworkers faces, and chose to ignore it, which is something he could respect.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” Sobel confessed, shaking his head.

Ah, Sink thought.

As Sobel thought about it, things started coming to him. In their eyes, he could see the dullness that came over them when he started talking to them. He saw how quickly they left the room once he entered. He saw their body language, how they held themselves, when he was around, and how people tended to keep away from him at lunch, in the staff meetings, in the teachers’ lounge.

Sobel realized he could see their contempt for him all along; he was just too oblivious to notice.

“Well, it’s not like they’d say it to your face,” Sink informed him. “But we have a problem on our hands here now, and I’ll give you something that you won’t be able to say no to.”

“What is it?” Sobel’s hands tightened around his cup and he began to fear if he’d crack it.

“You’re getting transferred to another county, with a budding theater program at this school, and they need all the help they can get,” Sink said. “What’s the name of your theater troupe you have there?”

Sobel’s eyes widened, and for once, he looked almost sad, pitiful even. “Easy Company,” he replied. It was a joke, really. Sometimes theater troupes were called “companies,” and this group wanted to name themselves the opposite of what they believed themselves to be. Talbert, however, said he wasn’t the antonym of “easy” and and they all got a laugh out of it. “I’m losing Easy Company, sir?” he queried.

Sink nodded. “Well, you’re getting a pay raise, so I don’t see it as much of a loss. You had four good years at your current school, Mr. Sobel. It’s time to start over.”

Though he couldn’t quite believe what was happening, Sobel nodded as well. “Yes, right, sir. Thank you.”

“Good luck, Mr. Sobel. It was great to have you here.” Sink moved towards Sobel, and Sobel took that as his cue to get up. As Sink stuck his hand out, he waited for a moment as Sobel set his empty coffee cup down and shook Sink’s hand, knowing this was the last time they’d see each other. Herbert Sobel was ushered out, and a new era would begin soon.

But Sobel walked out of the office and closed the door, he found himself in a daze, confused, unsure of what just happened. He got transferred, yes, but when did he start? Would he be able to break the news at school first before he left? Had they already found his replacement? What would he tell Evans?

Evans. He hadn’t thought much about him, but part of him felt like he already knew the news. Sobel texted him anyway, letting him know in a long paragraph of what exactly happened as he stood outside the office. Evans sent back an, “Okay, that’s unfortunate. It was great working with you. Wishing you nothing but the best.” The brief message said something, and though Sobel didn’t know a lot, he knew what this meant.

Herbert Sobel had lost this battle, and he’d have to start a new one out of county. This chapter had ended, and a new one was about to begin without him. He hoped that at least one person liked him, or were inspired to work harder because of him; that’s all he wanted.

He’d also need an umbrella.

 


 

Superintendent Sink sighed as he threw away Sobel’s paper coffee cup and put his own on the edge of his desk for later. He rubbed his hands over his face and sighed for a second time, thinking long and hard about what Winters had said to him.

“Well, if I may speak freely, sir,” Winters began, “while Mr. Sobel has put a spirit of efficiency and diligentness in us, he is just not a great teacher overall.”

“Can you elaborate?” Sink asked.

Winters took a deep breath. “Well, he always leaves us to do the work, and never directs us. We have to do everything ourselves, including buying supplies, because we don’t know where the budget money went. He’s never in class, and from those in Sobel’s English classes, he’s half decent in it, but just doesn’t teach. He expects everyone to be self-sufficient and do everything on their own, and expects them to know the answer even if they don’t. He replies vaguely and ambiguously half the time, and I don’t think this man is qualified to teach drama, let alone high school English.”

It wasn’t in Winters nature to pour out his opinions like this, but he, like copious others, didn’t like Sobel. “In my opinion, sir, I don’t think this man should have any leadership position where he’s at the top. He just isn’t cut out for it.”

“Is that all?” Sink questioned.

“Sobel can’t cut it as a teacher, and I can’t imagine what he’d be like in combat. He’d get everyone killed. I know you’re a veteran, and if you’re able to translate what leader incompetence in the military is like to teacher, Sobel fits the bill.”

Sink nodded. “Thank you for time, Richard. That’ll be all.”

Winters stood up, shook Sink’s hand, and exited. After he left, he let out a breath that he didn’t know he was holding. This was probably one of the most tense moments of his life, but it certainly would not be the last.

The increasingly loud and rhythmic noise of rain hitting the office window didn’t distract Sink, but the knocking at his office door did. It broke Sink out of his reverie and brought him back to the present.

“Ah,” he muttered, “that must be Meehan.”

 


 

“So I heard you’re getting a new theater teacher.” Bill Guarnere almost had to yell over how loud the cafeteria was today, even if Babe Heffron was sitting across from him. His accent was always noticeable, but it came out more whenever he spoke loudly.

“I mean, we kinda have to since it’s the middle of the year and Sobel got transferred all of a sudden,” Babe replied, mouth full of the food he brought from home. This place wasn’t Philly, far from it, and he opted to bring his own food instead of eating whatever days old leftovers resided in the school kitchens.

Bill was a little more daring (he didn’t get the nickname “Wild Bill” for nothing), and happily enjoyed the orange chicken the school made. He was never hard to please. With a mouth full of the main course, he looked pointedly at Babe and asked, “You have a problem with that?”

Babe shook his head. “No, I fuckin’ hated the guy.”

“I’m pretty sure people have never even had Sobel as a teacher hated him. Enough went through the grapevine and kinda cemented his place among the worst teachers ever.” Even though he might have been in band, the band room was in the same hallway as the auditorium, and when there was a peaceful moment, they could hear the dulcet tones of Sobel tearing some poor kid a new one.

“Along with that one teacher we had in middle school that insisted on being called doctor just because he had a degree,” Babe remembered.

It was Bill’s turn to shake his head. “God, I hated that bastard.” After receiving a look from Babe, he threw a crumb at him, followed by, “Yeah, yeah, I get it.”

“So,” Bill paused to take another bite of the chicken, “who’s the new guy?”

Babe shrugged. “Meehan, or something like that. I heard the sub we had talking on the phone with Horton and I heard something about a guy named Meehan coming in.”

A devilish grin spread across Bill’s face. “You know what this means.”

“Johnny’s already done the Facebook sleuthing.”

Bill’s face fell. “Shit.”

“But…” Babe began, getting a devilish grin of his own, “it doesn’t mean we can’t.”

Bill had his phone out in less than a second after that.

Everyone had, through a certain senior resource, the school’s Wi-FI passwords on their phones, and though a VPN had to be used to bypass certain blocks, each website loaded like a dream. Facebook was up in no time after the VPN connected, and Bill was typing in “Meehan,” trying to find a match for anyone that lived where they did.

“Hey, I got something,” Bill said, putting his phone between them at an angle where they both could see. “This guy is living here, unlike the other results I got, so my money is it’s on him.”

“Huh, he’s actually kinda handsome, unlike Sobel,” Babe observed.

“And this guy somehow isn’t married, unlike Sobel,” Bill commented. “He sure does have a lot of pictures with his dogs.”

“Like that’s a bad thing?” Babe pointed out. “So he’s the outdoorsy type. You see these photos? He likes camping, too.”

“First theater teacher I’ve known to go outside often.”

“Bill, you’re not even in theater.”

“Freshman year, I was, and Sobel was paler than a witch’s ass.”

Babe shook his head, smirking. “Colorful.”

They took some time to read through his posts, and a fair amount were about his dogs, hiking, teaching, and his students. Whatever type of person Thomas Meehan is, it was easily revealed through the posts he made on online, Twitter especially, which was linked to his Facebook.

“He might have some sappy posts here and there,” Bill started, leaning back, “especially the ones about the students and teaching, but he seems nice enough.”

“Whoever he is,” Babe replied, sliding Bill his phone, “I just hope to God he’s better than Sobel.”

 


 

 “It’s warm out today, even for October,” Buck noticed as he and Lipton arrived at the track. The teacher needn’t go out there to keep an eye on them, because he knew that neither of them would do any particularly wild out there.

“It is,” Lipton said. “I hope it cools down soon.”

After some stretching, Buck started running the track first to see how quickly he could complete the mile, which was four times around the track. Lipton called out the time each time Buck passed to let him know where he was. When Buck was finished, Lipton went next, and Buck did the same for him. They were thankful that there was, at least, a cool breeze blowing.

They both found that they had improved on their own personal best times, which was good news for the teams they played for. They decided to take a short break before doing something else, and found themselves laying in the football field in the middle of the track.

“What kind of guy do you think Meehan is?” Buck asked. Martin had already passed around some of his social media profiles, and all that was left to do was speculate. “Disregarding the social media posts we’ve seen.”

Lipton smiled and shook his head. “You know it’s not in my nature to judge a book by its cover.”

“But if you had to?”

Lipton paused and thought for a moment before responding. “He looks like a nice enough guy. Taking into account the social media posts–” Buck groaned as Lipton decided to bring those into consideration, “–he seems to be very involved with his students and like he genuinely cares about their well-being.”

Buck pursed his lips in thought. “Meehan also really seems to love his dogs,” he stated.

Lipton scoffed. “Who doesn’t love dogs?”

 


 

“You’re welcome for reminding you that the library has the strongest Wi-Fi,” Penkala spoke up as he slid into the seat between Skip and Malarkey.

Skip rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah.”

“And that there’s a VPN for these computers,” Penkala added.

“That we’ve known about since we got them,” Malarkey corrected.

Penkala held a finger up. “But I was the first person to tell everyone once they started blocking stuff.”

They sat in the back of the library away from the prying eyes of the students working check-out and the ones that were taking an online class in the back corner. Did nearly every student use a VPN? Yeah, but it’s not like they wanted others to know, especially if they were liable to tell an adult about it.

“This guy goes outside way too much for a theater teacher,” Skip said. “They’re supposed to be like, vampires or something.”

Malarkey turned to Skip. “Have you met many vampires that teach theater?”

“No,” Skip replied, “but I’ve met Sobel, and he might as well have been one because every time I left his presence, I was completely drained.”

“Very funny.”

“But this Meehan guy,” Penkala interjected, “what do you think of him?”

“Goes out too much.”

“We know.”

“He smiles a lot, so he’s probably nice,” Malarkey observed with a shrug.

“Probably,” Penkala repeated sarcastically.

“Hey man, killers smile a lot, too,” Malarkey said.

Skip, confused, turned to Malarkey. “Are you suggesting we’re going to have a vampire serial killer as a theater teacher?” he asked.

“That isn’t what I meant and you know it,” Malarkey responded, irritated.

“In any case,” Penkala said, stopping their conversation before it started, even though they were just joking, “he can’t be worse than Sobel. And lower your voices.”

Skip laughed. “That’s our motto now. Easy Company: Can’t Be Worse Than Sobel.”

“Put that on our musical shirts this year,” Malarkey said.

Penkala put his hand on his heart. “And the brave souls that have fallen in the making of this high school production of White Christmas.”

“You talk as if someone’s gonna die,” Skip told him.

“Someone’s gotta invoke the Macbeth curse sooner or later,” Penkala said, as if it wasn’t obvious.

“Worst-case scenario, there is some grievous bodily harm,” Malarkey pondered, “but no one’s dying.”

Skip scoffed. “There you go again with your word-of-the-day.”

“Sorry that I’m actually learning something from English,” Malarkey said. “But like I said, no one’s dying.”

“Can’t you let me be a little overdramatic?” Penkala asked.

“Yeah, Malark, let the man be overdramatic.”

Malarkey smiled. “You are in theater for a reason, after all, Penk.”

“Hey!”

 


 

Nix sighed as he set his pencil down, taking a break from his online class to talk to Winters. “Sobel did one thing right, and that’s getting us to work hard because we hate him.”

Winters put his book down. “That’s true,” he said. “Hopefully now, with this Meehan guy coming in, we can work hard because we care about the musical.”

“Aw,” Nix said, frowning. “I don’t get to sleep behind the risers anymore.”

Winters smiled and shook his head. “You’re incorrigible. There’s still plenty of hiding places, Nix.”

“I am not sleeping in the woodpile,” Nix objected. “There are bugs.”

“So if there weren’t any, you’d sleep there?”

Nix leaned forward. “Dick, I can sleep anywhere.”

“Which is how you became a meme in this school,” Winters responded, closing his book. He wouldn’t get any more reading done for now.

“And I’m glad that’s my legacy,” Nix said, head held high.

A moment of silence passed between them before Winters spoke again. “When’s Meehan going to start?”

“Tuesday, Halloween,” Nix replied with a grin. “Maybe we’ll do something fun, like listen to Thriller on repeat.”

Winters gave him a look. “Lew.”

Nix held his hands up. “Okay, okay, sorry I’m bringing up memories of last year.” He leaned forward, voice almost a whisper. “But what do you think this guy is going to be like?”

“Well,” Winters began, “from what I’ve heard from Martin, Bill and Heffron, Buck and Carwood, and Skip and Penkala and Malarkey, he seems like a nice, outdoorsy guy that really loves his dogs.”

“Ha,” Nix laughed. “Who doesn’t love dogs?”

 


 

WINTERS       8:37PM

So, we’re meeting Meehan tomorrow. Should be interesting. Stay on your best behaviors.

 

HOOB       8:37PM

okay, DAD

 

WINTERS       8:37PM
No, Don.

 

MALARKEY       8:38PM

someone say my name?

 

HOOB       8:38PM

not you, the better one

 

HOOB       8:38PM

which is me :)

 

MALARKEY       8:39PM

last time I checked, I’m the one with a role in the musical and you’re stuck on spot op.

 

HOOB       8:40PM

yeah but I’m the one that makes you look good so…

 

NIX       8:41PM

okay kids, knock it off

 

MALARKEY       8:41PM

make us, MOM.

 

NIX       8:41PM

oh no god no I’m not your mother

 

NIX       8:42PM

if I’m anyone I’m the vodka aunt

 

HOOB       8:42PM

so we have no mom?

 

NIX       8:43PM

no Lip is your mom

 

[LIPTON has entered the group chat]       8:45PM

 

HOOB       8:45PM

MOMMY!

 

[LIPTON has left the group chat]       8:45PM

 

NIX       8:46PM

alright well

 

WINTERS       8:46PM

New record, I’d say.

 


 

It was 1st period and everyone was in the auditorium, sitting, waiting. Though they had all passed information around to each other, they were still nervous about Meehan and what he was actually like. How one acts on social media and presents themselves can be very different from how they actually are.

Minutes passed, and the soft clicks of people using their computers became more obvious. Skinny played with his keys and Liebgott was trying to get some dirt out from under his nails. Buck kept refreshing the pages of news websites to see if anything interesting was happening in the world. Blithe fell asleep.

Just when the silence in the room was reaching levels of unbearable, the main auditorium doors swung open and Meehan walked in. More nudged Blithe awake and he almost fell out of his chair, but he was back in it in time to see Meehan walk past.

Meehan climbed the stairs of the stage and set his bag down, taking his place at the front where he could see everyone. He shielded his eyes a bit from the overhead lights before speaking.

“Hey guys, sorry I’m late. Traffic was backed up on the interstate again because of construction,” he rushed out. “I’m Thomas Meehan, and I’m your new theater teacher. I’d prefer you call me Meehan and not Mr. Meehan because that’s too formal for me.”

With a wave of his hand, he invited everyone up on stage. “Come on, I need you guys to introduce yourselves so I can put some names to faces.”

Prying themselves out of their warm seats, they came up on the stage from either side and, like always, formed a shoddy circle.

“Anyone want to go first?” Meehan asked.

Ever the volunteer, Winters raised his hand. “I’m Richard Winters, but most people just call me Winters. We like last names here, too.”

“Also the student body president for the senior class!” Nix added.

“Future valedictorian!” Luz chimed in.

Winters rolled his eyes, and if he was anyone else but himself, he would have sworn. “Anyway, that would Lewis Nixon and George Luz,” he introduced, “two of our biggest loudmouths, but we love them anyway.”

“Winters made a joke everyone. Alert the presses!” Buck said, smiling.

Liebgott smirked. “Maybe if we were newsies, we would.”

Meehan, though he didn’t understand, smiled anyway. He gestured to the set around him. “Well, if you guys want to walk me through what you’re doing–”

“I’m sorry to interrupt, but what about the rest of introductions?” Winters asked.

Meehan took a deep breath. “To be honest, I’ve never been big on standing in a circle and going around and introducing yourself. I’m sure I’ll get to know you guys in due time.”

Everyone present smiled. Thank god; they hated when teachers did that as a means to get to know one another.

Winters smiled, too. “Fair enough. Well, let’s show you the set.”

 


 

LIPTON       5:35PM

I have a bad feeling.

 

BUCK       5:36PM

About what?

 

LIPTON       5:36PM

I don’t know. Just a bad feeling.

 

NIX       5:37PM

like something bad is going to happen soon?

 

LIPTON       5:37PM

Yeah.

 

WINTERS       5:37PM

Maybe you have an upset stomach.

 

BUCK       5:38PM

Father Winters, always with the answers.

 

WINTERS       5:38PM

Not now, please.

 

LIPTON       5:38PM

No, this is different.

 

WELSH       5:40PM

is it like when you told us you had a bad feeling at 3am and then texted later that night that Robin Williams died?

 

LIPTON       5:40PM

Yeah, like that.

 

NIX       5:41PM

CAN WE CHANGE THE SUBJECT PLS

 

WELSH       5:41PM

sorry Lew

 

LIPTON       5:42PM

I haven’t had this feeling in a while, so I’m a bit worried. Maybe Meehan has something to do with it.

 

BUCK       5:43PM

Lip, we had a great day wth the guy. He’s nice and polite, and is genuinely interested in learning about the musical.

 

NIX       5:44PM

because he’s a theater teacher

 

LIPTON       5:45PM

I don’t know, really. I’ll let you know if anything changes.

 

LIPTON       5:45PM

I’ll see you guys in a bit, though, for the party.

 

WELSH       5:46PM

Nix is wearing the hot dog costume again, so hurry over before he gets it messy again with the vodka Hawaiian Punch.

 

LIPTON       5:47PM

Yeah boy.

 

LIPTON       5:47PM

Need me to bring anything?

 

WINTERS       5:48PM

Just the candy you promised to bring.

 

LIPTON       5:49PM

I gotcha covered.

 

BUCK       5:49PM

I’ll flag you down in the driveway, because it’s a long driveway.

 

LIPTON       5:51PM

I still don’t know how I haven’t actually been in your house, Lew.

 

NIX       5:51PM

I don’t either

 

NIX       5:52PM

I could have sworn you were in here once

 

LIPTON       5:53PM

When?

 

NIX       5:53PM

last Halloween

 

LIPTON       5:54PM

I was in the driveway acting as the designated driver for Buck, Harry, and Speirs.

 

WELSH       5:55PM

Didn’t Speirs try and do something stupid?

 

LIPTON       5:56PM

Yeah, he tried climbing into the front of the car from the backseat because he wanted to drive and/or sit up front.

 

LIPTON       5:56PM

He also thought I was woman and tried to hit on me.

 

LIPTON       5:57PM

In my defense, I was wearing a wig and he was very drunk.

 

WINTERS       5:58PM

His girlfriend had just dumped him, too, if I remember correctly.

 

BUCK       5:59PM

Always knew Speirs was the emotional drunk.

 

LIPTON       5:59PM

You’re one to talk. You cried about baseball.

 

BUCK       6:00PM

I cried over Lou Gehrig is what I did, and so did many others in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

 

LIPTON       6:01PM

Okay, I’m leaving now, see you guys shortly.

 

NIX       6:02PM

see you in a bit, man

 

NIX       6:10PM

maybe we’ll give you a jello shot to calm your nerves

 

LIPTON       6:15PM

I doubt alcohol with alleviate whatever foreboding feelings I’m carrying, but I appreciate it.

 

WINTERS       6:16PM

We’ll be sober buddies together, Lip, don’t worry.

 

WELSH       6:17PM

and he picked out some good horror movies, so it should be fun.

 

WINTERS       6:18PM

We have to watch the foreign ones first, because once you’re drunk, you won’t be able to read the subtitles.

 

NIX       6:19PM

that’s true

 

LIPTON       6:19PM

We know.

 


  

“Hey, hey, Dick,” Lipton whispered into his phone. He had only just gotten home because Winters dropped him off, due to the fact that he couldn’t drive himself. Winters, too, had just gotten home when Lipton decided to FaceTime him.

Winters wasn’t even in bed yet. “What is it, Lip?” He could barely see Lip’s face; only the phone brightness offered any kind of indicator that Lipton was the one speaking.

“Final thought before I go to bed,” he said groggily. “There’s that line in Macbeth that goes, uh… by the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes. Something like that.”

Winters set his phone down to get changed into his pajamas, but spoke loud enough for Lipton to hear. “What about it?”

Lipton cleared his throat. “Now, it could be the wine Nix gave me that has me very, um, like this… all loosey-goosey and whatnot…” He lost his train of thought for a few seconds, visibly confused. “Oh! Right, so… like, that’s what I best can…” He huffed. “That’s how I can best describe my feelings right now,” he enunciated slowly.

“Your feelings regarding Meehan?”

“Yeah boy. Also my thumbs are tingling, too,” he chuckled. “Wild. It matches.”

“Go to bed, Carwood,” Winters said, picking his phone up again.

Lipton smiled, dazed. “Good nigh–” He became confused again, unable to remember the sound the letter “t” makes. He tried a few times.

“Night,” Winters helped.

“Thanks, Dick,” Lipton smiled. “I love you.”

Winters rolled his eyes, amused. “Love you, too, Carwood. See you in the morning.”

 


 

Class with Meehan was going incredibly smoothly. He helped out in the building process, unlike Sobel. Things seemed to go a lot faster be a lot more fun with him around. It had only been a few days and the set was very near completion. All that was left to do was paint some boards, and put a rush order on costumes, which Blithe was still hounding them about.

When they weren’t singing show tunes or other popular songs, or old songs, Meehan would tell them of his travels. He’d talk about studying abroad in school, the people he met, funny stories, things like that. He always made the stories connect to what message or lesson he wanted to get across, and it was done in the best possible way.

His biggest dream, they all learned, was to make it to Broadway.

“I was fortunate enough to see a Broadway show in the 5th grade,” he said. “Oklahoma! had a revival, and I saw it, and just fell in love theater afterwards. I did all the plays and musicals I could, whether I was doing tech or acting. I joke that I’m married to theater, but it’s my life.” Meehan sighed, smiling. “Someday, I’ll make it to Broadway. And I expect some of you to get there, too, whether you’re doing tech, or acting, or you wrote the show.”

Even though it had only been a little over a week, they couldn’t get enough of Meehan. He was an overwhelmingly positive presence, and people just loved being around him. He was a magnet, and he attracted everyone. He was a bright light in a dark room filled with moths, so to speak.

But even the brightest lights must go out one day.

Richard Winters found himself in the middle of a Target after school when he got the call. “Hey, Lew,” he answered. “What’s up?”

“Check the news.”

“Nix, I can’t. I’m in the middle of Target. What’s wr–”

“It’s Meehan.”

Chapter Text

“It’s Meehan.”

Winters paused for a moment. “What?”

“Something happened with Meehan,” Nix repeated, his words rushing out like a waterfall.

Moving his shopping cart over out of the way before continuing, Winters wondered what exactly had occurred. “What?” he asked again.

“Check the news!”

Winters looked around. Unless Target had implemented some sort of news station within all its stores, he couldn’t. “Nix, I can’t,” he told him. “I’m in the middle of Target right now.”

“Why are you in–” Nix began, before cutting himself off. He sighed. “Never mind, I’ll ask later.”

“I appreciate it.”

Nix asked, “You know how Meehan said he was going to go skydiving?”

“Yeah?” Then it hit Winters. His eyes widened and he could have sworn his heart skipped a beat. “Oh no.”

Nix let out a breath, finally glad to get it off his chest and passing the burden of knowledge on. “Yeah” was all he could say.

Winters struggled for a moment to regain his composure, which he had to, and quickly. Target is a great place, but it’s not necessarily a place where you want to get the news that something bad happened to someone you knew and break down completely. Hell, is anywhere?

“What happened?” he finally brought himself to choke out.

“Well, he didn’t die, luckily,” Nix responded. “His parachute malfunctioned and he went to the ground faster than he needed, but uh, it deployed at least.”

Winters huffed. “I’ll ask again. What happened?”

“He landed hard, like, super hard, as one does falling from a plane. But he knocked out immediately. He’s in a coma right now.”

“Meehan survived?” Winters exclaimed, forgetting where he was for a moment. “I’m at a loss for words.”

Nix said, “Me too.” There was some silence on both ends for a few moments before Nix decided to speak up again. “So what do you think’s gonna happen with his dogs?”

Winters took on a stern tone. “Lewis.” If a friendship is based on last names or nicknames, you know it’s some serious shit when a first name gets brought into the mix. That’s what happened with Winters and Nix, and most times it was jokingly, even though this occurred on a near weekly basis.

“Sorry,” Nix apologized. “Humor to cope is how I do things.”

Winters sighed. “I know.” He said, “We have the best theater teacher for only a week, and now he’s in a coma.”

“I don’t think someone up there likes us.”

“Do the others know yet?”

Nix replied, “Not yet. I just saw it because I happened to be channel surfing.”

“Are you going to go tell them now?” Winters asked. “In the group chat?”

“I have to,” Nix confessed. “They’d be pissed if they found out I knew and never told them. Besides…” he said, letting his sentence trail off, “I have to live up to my reputation of gossip queen.”

“King,” Winters corrected.

“No, queen,” Nix said. “Let me be a bad bitch, Dick. It’s the least you can do.”

Winters smiled. “No, the least I could do is nothing.”

“That’s true,” Nix admitted.

“Well, let’s go tell them,” Winters said.

“In Target?” Nix reminded him. “Shouldn’t you get out of Target first?”

Winters sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Right.” He said, “I’ll hurry up here and let you know when I’m home.”


 

NIX       6:30PM

that could have gone better I feel

 

WINTERS       6:31PM

Nix, that entire chat was a mess, and we couldn’t even scroll up to read other messages because new messages kept coming in so fast.

 

WINTERS       6:32PM

I guess that’s what happens when you have 19 people in a group chat.

 

NIX       6:32PM

a clusterfuck

 

WINTERS       6:33PM

For lack of a better word, yes.

 

WINTERS       6:33PM

But I’m not saying it.

 

NIX       6:33PM

well one of us has to be the good kid here

 

WINTERS       6:34PM

We aren’t kids anymore, Nix.

 

WINTERS       6:34PM

Well, I won’t be in two months.

 

WINTERS       6:34PM

You have to wait until next year.

 

NIX       6:35PM

just because you’re older doesn’t mean you have to rub it in my face

 

WINTERS       6:35PM

:)

 

NIX       6:35PM

ugh

 

NIX       6:36PM

remind me why we’re friends again

 

WINTERS       6:37PM

Because no one else will let you cheat off of their tests.

 

NIX       6:37PM

tru

 

WINTERS       6:38PM

Anyway, what do you think we need to do now?

 

NIX       6:38PM

about Meehan?

 

WINTERS       6:39PM

Yeah.

 

NIX       6:40PM

well the school knows

 

NIX       6:41PM

they published something on the website already n the county website will too shortly

 

WINTERS       6:42PM

How long do you think he’ll be out for?

 

NIX       6:43PM

well it’s a miracle the man survived in the first place so I’m just gonna say “a long time”

 

NIX       6:43PM

but that’s more of a question for Gene than for me man

 

NIX       6:44PM

just because I took Anatomy doesn’t mean I passed

 

WINTERS       6:44PM

Nix, you were the only one that failed.

 

WINTERS       6:45PM

And there was a kid that never showed up to class. THEY passed.

 

NIX       6:46PM

that’s my point

 

NIX       6:46PM

wait how do you know that I failed

 

WINTERS       6:47PM

Well, aside from what you just said, I was in that class, too.

 

NIX       6:47PM

oh right

 

WINTERS       6:48PM

You do tend to miss things when you sleep through an entire class.

 

NIX       6:48PM

idk how I failed b/c I was cheating off you the whole semester

 

WINTERS       6:49PM

I deliberately put the wrong answers down and changed them after you turned your test in.

 

NIX       6:50PM

you coldhearted son of a bitch

 

NIX       6:50PM

I guess there’s a reason your the top of the class

 

WINTERS       6:51PM

*you’re

 

NIX       6:51PM
NERD

 


 

WINTERS       7:00PM
Hey, Gene, are you busy?

 

GENE       7:03PM

I just finished my Anatomy homework so I have some free time.

 

GENE       7:03PM

What’s up?

 

WINTERS       7:05PM

You hear about Meehan?

 

GENE       7:05PM

Yeah I heard it from Babe, and it sucks.

 

WINTERS       7:06PM

Not the group chat?

 

GENE       7:07PM

I was about to check it when my phone was buzzing off the hook and then he called me.

 

GENE       7:07PM

If you weren’t aware, his accent is thicker when he’s freaking out.

 

WINTERS       7:08PM

If I wasn’t aware of that at this point, I’d have to be deaf.

 

GENE       7:08PM

Fair enough.

 

GENE       7:09PM

So what did you want to talk about? About Meehan?

 

WINTERS       7:09PM

How long do you think he’ll be in a coma for?

 

GENE       7:10PM
And you’re asking me because I’m going into a medical career.

 

WINTERS       7:10PM
You’re the only one in our group that is.

 

GENE       7:11PM

The only one that has taken more than Anatomy and plans to make a career from it.

 

WINTERS       7:11PM

Well, yeah.

 

GENE       7:12PM

How rude of you to assume I’d be the only one with an answer. That’s not very kind of you, Dick; you’ve changed.

 

WINTERS       7:13PM
And?

 

GENE       7:14PM

Yeah okay, here’s what I know.

 

GENE       7:18PM

So there was this flight attendant from what is now the Czech Republic and she was on this plane in the early ‘70s, and the plane exploded. She fell 33,333 feet which looks odd when converted from metric, but she had no parachute or anything. She survived somehow and woke up in a coma about 27 days later.

 

WINTERS       7:19PM

How was she afterwards?

 

GENE       7:19PM

Traumatized would be my first guess because she’s the only one that survived.

 

GENE       7:20PM

But medically she was in the hospital for roughly 16 months afterwards because of all the broken bones. She healed fine though from what I read.

 

WINTERS       7:21PM

So Meehan could?

 

GENE       7:23PM

Well the circumstances are different. He jumped from a plane voluntarily, she just survived an accident. She was pinned to the tail of the plane and that’s how she survived. Meehan had a defective parachute. It’s hard to say.

 

WINTERS       7:24PM

I see.

 

GENE       7:24PM

Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.

 

WINTERS       7:25PM

It’s fine, Gene. Get to bed soon; it’s late.

 

GENE       7:25PM
I’ll go to sleep as soon as I’m done with my work here.

 

WINTERS       7:25PM

And it better be soon.

 

GENE       7:26PM

Yes, dad. Of course, dad.

 

WINTERS       7:26PM
Very funny.

 

WINTERS       7:27PM

See you tomorrow, Gene.

 

GENE       7:27PM

Goodnight.

 


 

NIX       7:40PM

well?

 

WINTERS       7:40PM

I don’t know.

 

NIX       7:41PM

you struck out? you don’t know for once????

 

NIX       7:41PM

call the presses while I mark this date down on my calendar

 

WINTERS       7:42PM

It’s possible Meehan will be fine, it’s going to be a long while before we see.

 

NIX       7:43PM

how long?

 

WINTERS       7:43PM

One month, give or take.

 

NIX       7:44PM

so what’ll we do in the meantime?

 

WINTERS       7:45PM

We wait.


“Jesus, you see this place? They’re acting like he’s dead or something!” Nix exclaimed upon getting out of Winters’ car. It was something similar to a funeral: all black, flowers in front of a makeshift memorial, chalk writings on the pavement outside of the school. It was depressing, and very wrong, because Meehan wasn’t dead.

“I mean, half-dead,” Welsh said, walking up with Lipton and Speirs. They joined Nix as they looked at the spectacle; Winters got out and joined them as well. “He’s in a coma.”

Lipton said, “How positive of you,” while he shook his head.

“What’s quarter-dead?” Speirs asked, smirking.

“Sleeping,” Nix replied.

Winters huffed in frustration, something he seemed to be doing a lot these days. If anyone had asked if he got up on the wrong side of the bed that morning, they’d be one-hundred percent correct – he had.

“You wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?” Welsh joked, tapping his coffee cup against Winters’ arm. Winters, being the taller man here, looked down out of the corner of his eyes at Welsh, and he got the message; he wiped the grin right off of his face. Aside from the stern look, the bags under Winters’ eyes were mildly intimidating.

“Meehan was only here for what, a week?” Winters asked. “And the whole school is mourning. Half these people don’t even know him.” He raised his voice and all but shouted, “He’s not even dead, for crying out loud!”

Speirs cocked his head to the side. “I didn’t take you to be that kind of person, Winters.” The kind of person in question was one that complained about how other people felt, as Winters was a highly considerate guy.

Though Speirs only recently started hanging out with this little band of brothers, he knew what kind of guy he was. They’d been in classes together sporadically throughout high school; always in the right places but always at the wrong time. The tech class is where the wrong time became the right time, and so the friendship began.

Winters sighed and rubbed his hands over his face, trying to get all the sleep out from his eyes. “I’m not normally.” He said, “Sorry, sorry. I didn’t sleep well last night.”

When it comes to school, a month is never long in the grand scheme of things when all you do is wake up; get ready; go to school; work if you had a job, or train if you played a sport; go home; eat dinner; and go to bed. It’s a cycle that lasts all of ten months and goes by so fast. So for Winters, when he knew that he’d get his college decision results back in a month, he was flat-out panicking.

He couldn’t sleep while this was on his mind, nor could he focus properly like he knows he can. In his dreams, he turned in his college applications too late, or his scholarship applications too late. Winters dreamt he was late to class, that he didn’t know where his class was or what class he had. He would dream about not graduating, not being valedictorian, failing at everything he set his mind and heart to.

Winters wouldn’t openly admit it to anyone, but his biggest fear was failure. And so the next step of his life was constantly looming over him, and his dreams a constant reminder of what could happen. But it’s Winters: top of every class, of his graduating class, one of the nicest guys.

So he wouldn’t fail, he couldn’t.

Right?


The school that morning and for the days following it was rife with people who wanted to talk about Meehan, and talked about him in the past tense. Who was he? What was he like? Was he a nice guy? Winters didn’t like it one bit.

Others wanted to talk about how fleeting life is, and how easy it is to be there one moment and gone the next. Nix would admit that yeah, it’s true, but don’t talk about it at school and have the existential crises at home that make sleep impossible for ages like everyone else, thank you very much.

Meehan hadn’t died, not to Winters’ knowledge, and hopefully he wouldn’t for a very long time, not until after he made his Broadway dreams come true. Until then, Winters would just have to focus on two things: college, and making the musical perfect.


It was about a week later at lunch when Nix brought the subject of college up to him.

“You get all your college applications in on time,” Nix said, “like a good little Ivy League boy?”

Winters rolled his eyes. “Yes, Nix, I did.” He leaned in and asked, “Did you?”

“I only sent one: to Yale,” Nix said confidently.

“What happens if you don’t get in?”

Nix smirked. “I will.”

Like the week before, Welsh slid in with Speirs and Lipton again. Somehow they got this lunch block together; it was a mystery to them, but a blessing in disguise is what Welsh would call it.

“And this is why you applied to every single Ivy League school, right?” Welsh asked Winters.

Winters nodded, chewing his food like a good Ivy League boy before responding. “It’s best to be prepared,” he finally said.

“What happens in the off chance that you don’t get into any?” Speirs interjected. “Did you apply to anywhere in-state?”

Winters waved the question off with his hand “I don’t even want to think about what happens if I don’t get in.” He shook his head and said, “I have stress dreams about it plenty.”

Nix laughed. “You and Carwood here are the only two people in this cafeteria, in graduating class…” he trailed off, taking a bite of his lunch. “Hell, in this entire damn school that’s having stress dreams about school and college.”

“And you,” Winters began pointedly, “are the only person that still has dreams about being naked in school.”

“I’m telling you, someone spiked the punch at prom last year!” Nix exclaimed.

Speirs pointed his fork at him. “Now that is a story I have not heard yet.”

It was your standard “make prom fun this year” kind of shenanigans that led people to spike the drinks in the first place. For some, being drunk is fun but that’s because, like Nix and Welsh, they had a high tolerance for it. Others, namely Winters and other people that respected the law in its entirety, didn’t have a tolerance for it at all, and got drunk fast.

Speirs hadn’t gone to prom last year – he had his wisdom teeth removed and his mouth became infected afterwards – but he had heard about what happened.

“It’s simple,” Welsh said, mouth full and not caring who saw it. “I was the one that did it.”

Nix shifted his gaze over to his close friend and underage drinking buddy. “Harry, that was you?”

Welsh tried not to smile as he reached across the table, grabbed Nix’s hands, and held them. “I’m so sorry, Nix. Truly, deeply from the bottom of my heart,” he said. “Can you forgive me?”

“Can I tell you a secret?” Nix said, leaning in. Everyone else did as well.

“Of course, darling,” Harry replied.

Nix smiled. “It was the best night of my life.”

“Wait, I thought that was when we met,” Winters interrupted, putting his hands on theirs. Harry looked over at him as if he was a woman in an old noir movie just meeting her husband’s mistress for the first time. Winters was thankful for the distraction from his racing thoughts and fears about what was coming up in the next month.

“I’m sorry, Dick,” Nix said, removing Winters’ hand, “but you’ve been pushed back to second best night.”

Welsh laughed at what he was about to say, barely containing his laughter and ultimately failing. “And to think,” he was able to get out between laughs, “that night you meant, that’s when you lost your virginity him!”

“Okay, okay!” Winters said with a small grin on his face, as did everyone else. Welsh kept laughing, struggling to find air to breathe. “Enough joking. We don’t have much longer left for lunch.”

Lip shook his head. “I’m glad we got that resolved. I thought Harry was about to kill himself.”

“He will if Kitty doesn’t go to the same college as him,” Speirs pointed out.

Welsh directed it onto Winters. “And Dick will if he doesn’t go to an Ivy League college.”

“I will not,” Winters denied.

“Why do you hate it when we try and make you more dramatic?” Harry asked. “Let us have some fun with you, you…” He trailed off, trying to think of a good insult or nickname, and finally rested on, “Let us have some fun with you, you vanilla bean.

Nix paused his side conversation with Speirs about math. “What in the fuck,” he said, “is that supposed to mean?”

“You know,” Welsh said, “vanilla. Plain. Clean cut and not likely to engage in BDSM or hardcore drugs like salvia.” He shrugged. “Vanilla, you know?”

Nix widened his eyes. “Harry, there are times I wonder what exactly is happening in that tiny little brain of yours.” He let out a breath and shook his head. “Today, right now, in this moment? This is not one of those times,” he said.

He focused his attention back on Dick as Harry checked his phone for new texts from Kitty. God help the man, he’s hopelessly in love with a girl all the way across the county. The guys didn’t want to admit it, sickly-sweet and disgusting as the overheard phone calls could be, but they made a cute couple. They couldn’t wait for the day that, for at least a time, they wouldn’t have to see Harry go all doe-eyed while he texted Kitty and sighed happily after each conversation. Be it senioritis, the single life, or being cynical, they didn’t want to hear it. They did hope that everything worked out for them in the end.

“So,” Nix said to Winters, “entertain the notion for a bit. What’ll happen if you don’t go Ivy League?”

Winters shook his head. “I told you, I’m not going to entertain that notion. It gives me stress dreams,” he said.

“We know,” Nix replied.

After a moment paused and some eating was done, Lipton spoke up. “So Meehan,” he said. “What now?”

“Same as what’s happening right now,” Welsh said. “Probably get a few different subs over the coming weeks until the school finds a replacement on such short notice.”

“This close to Christmas?” Nix joked. “The holiday season is ruined!”

“Thanksgiving.”

“I know what I said.”

Speirs said, “Someone that can learn a musical quickly.” He added on, “Hopefully” under his breath.

“Otherwise we’re fucked,” Welsh said.

Winters raised his water bottle as if he was making a toast. “Here’s hoping we’re not.”

Even the brief distractions at lunch couldn’t keep Winters’ mind focused on something that wasn’t those college acceptance letters he hoped to be getting mid-December. That time would be stressful enough, because mid-December is when the musical opens.

One month to get a new teacher and show them the ropes.

One month until the show opens.

One month until early action and early decision college acceptance letters arrive.

But Winters was the top of the class, and he’d remind himself of that, trying not to fuel his ego at the same time. He was here and had plenty of extracurriculars. He did well on his AP tests – 3’s and 4’s, a 5. He went into every class with confidence he’d succeed, and succeed he did. That happened with everything he did.

But he was feeling so incredibly on edge regardless. No amount of positive reminders could make him feel otherwise. In actuality, Winters had nothing to worry about.

Right?