“Can everyone just shut up for a second?”
All eyes turn to Kate as her voice rings throughout the auditorium. As the chaos dies down around her, she lets her fists unclench and takes a deep breath.
“Thank you,” she says, much more quietly. “Can we at least try to discuss this properly, please?” Members of AV club and drama club are strewn across the stage. Some nod and a few roll their eyes, but at least the meeting is no longer teetering on the edge of physical violence. Luke pipes up from beside her.
“Kate’s right. We need to be civil about this.” He turns and gives her a small smile, which she returns in gratitude.
“I think we can all put aside our differences long enough to make this show happen, right?” Kate says, ignoring the glares coming from the drama club. “Eight weeks. Surely we can work together for eight weeks.”
“I don’t know if I can bear to look at your ugly mug for that long.” Kate’s eyes flick to the source of the voice and she tries to stop the slight blush that’s creeping onto her cheeks. Emaline Addario’s expression is a mixture of amusement and challenge, but there’s something else in her eyes that makes Kate feel like she’s on fire.
Kate shakes her head slightly and looks away. “Just… tell us what you need from us, and then we can leave you alone to rehearse.”
“Fine,” Emaline says, rolling her eyes dramatically. “God, you’re so annoying, but whatever. Oliver, give her the list we made and a copy of the script.” Oliver hands a copy of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night to Kate with a scribbled list of cues and effects slipped inside the cover. It looks doable, she thinks.
“Thanks.” She gestures for the other members of AV club to follow her up to the bio box. “We’ll leave you to it.”
Another scoff from Emaline. “Finally,” she says, and Kate wonders (not for the first time) what she’s done to deserve the shit she gets from these people.
“It’d better be perfect!” Oliver yells at their retreating backs. The door to the bio box closes behind them and there is an audible sigh of relief.
“Remind me again why we’re doing tech for those jerkwads?” Tyler groans, slumping into the chair behind the lighting board.
“Because there is absolutely no way we’re letting any of those idiots touch the new AV gear,” McQuaid says, obviously frustrated. “If they want these fancy visual effects, they’re going to have to let the experts run the show.”
“McQuaid is right,” Kate says, “we’re the only ones who know how to operate all this stuff, and besides, it might actually be fun to work on a live performance for once, rather than a film. Right?” A couple of them nod, albeit begrudgingly, and Kate figures now is as good a time to get started as any.
“Okay, so how are we going to do this?”
* * * * *
It’s been almost three hours and Kate, Luke and McQuaid are still holed up in the box. Everyone else left a while ago, and they’re all kind of hungry but Kate is determined to get her plan completed before they leave. She stifles a yawn and flips to the next page of the script.
“There’s another sound cue here that they missed,” she says, highlighting the page and adding it to the list.
“I think we should call it a night, guys. I told my mom I’d be home by six, which is in fifteen minutes,” McQuaid says.
“Yeah,” Luke agrees, “I should get home as well. We can finish this tomorrow, Kate.”
Kate shakes her head, but gestures for them to go on without her. “You guys can go, I just want to get through these last few pages.”
“Kate, I don’t want to leave you here alone-” Luke starts, but she cuts him off.
“I don’t need you guys to stay, really. I can take care of myself.” She looks back down at her work, and McQuaid and Luke hesitate before their hunger (and probably fear of their mothers) wins out. They grab their backpacks and Luke hovers at the door for a moment longer, before Kate fixes him with a look and he closes the door behind him. She rests her head in her hands for a few seconds, willing away the fog in her brain so she can finish this and go home.
Kate’s not sure how long she keeps working, since there are no windows in the room besides the large one that looks out onto the auditorium. She tunes out the sounds coming from the stage where she can see the drama club still rehearsing, but one by one they start to leave as well. She’s just flipped onto the second last page of the script when the door opens. She turns and is surprised to see Emaline standing in the doorway, lit softly by the dim glow from the blue overhead lights. The blonde leans on the door frame with that careless confidence she seems to carry wherever she goes.
“Did all your little nerd friends leave you here by yourself?” Emaline asks, pushing her lips into a dramatic, mocking pout. Kate makes a concerted effort not to stare at those lips.
“I told them they could go home. I just wanted to finish what I was doing.” She sees something flit across Emaline’s face, and it looks almost like appreciation. It’s gone quickly though and her expression reverts to the default sultry amusement that Kate finds simultaneously infuriating and attractive. She hates that she thinks that.
“Well, we’re all done down there so if you don’t come with us now you’ll be here literally all alone.”
“I’m just going to finish this. Your rehearsal looked great from up here, by the way,” Kate says, turning back to her work.
“Thanks,” Emaline says, a little softer than usual. She pauses. “So… you’re really just going to stay here? Alone?"
“Just for a few minutes.”
Emaline is still hovering in the doorway, and Kate wonders why she doesn’t just leave. “You really want to get this done, huh,” Emaline says.
“You guys want perfect.” Kate smiles tiredly. “Perfect takes time.”
Emaline rolls her eyes. “Ugh, I can’t believe I’m doing this.” She comes into the room and flops theatrically the seat next to Kate, who gives her a puzzled look. “Well, I can’t leave the principal’s daughter alone in the school at night,” Emaline says, shrugging and pulling a bag of chips from her backpack. “If anything happened to you I’d probably get blamed. And I’m really not in the mood for a detention.” She shoves a whole chip into her mouth, and Kate eyes the packet. As if on cue, her stomach grumbles and she flushes. “Hungry?” Emaline says, raising an eyebrow in amusement.
“Maybe a little,” Kate admits, embarrassed. Emaline holds out the packet to Kate who just looks at it, unsure if this is some sort of prank. But she does really want a chip.
“I didn’t poison them, you nerd. Take a damn chip.”
Kate tentatively reaches into the bag and takes a chip. “Thanks,” she says quietly. A few minutes later, she highlights the final 'blackout' cue and puts her highlighter down. Emaline is still crunching away beside her.
“Okay, I’m done. You really didn’t have to wait, you know.”
Emaline shrugs again. “Whatever,” she says, and Kate can feel the effort she’s putting into sounding nonchalant. She wonders why Emaline works so hard to keep up the act even when she’s not on stage. It must be exhausting, she thinks.
Kate picks up her backpack and follows Emaline out of the room, switching the lights off as she does. They’re quiet as they walk to the carpark, Emaline occasionally offering a chip to Kate, who takes them gratefully. She likes the way the blonde seems softer in the silence. For a moment she can forget that Emaline hates her and imagine that they’re actually friends, or something close. She almost laughs out loud. What a wild idea.
The spell is broken when Kate stops at the bike rack. “Well, this is me,” she says, gesturing awkwardly to her bike. She feels really uncool knowing that Emaline probably drives to school. “Thanks for waiting with me.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Emaline says, her usual bite dulled to slight annoyance. “You might be in AV club, but I don’t really want to see you kidnapped. Who would make sure those losers get our tech right then?”
Kate cracks a small, involuntary smile at Kate’s backhanded praise, which coming from her is pretty significant.
“Yeah, well I’m trying my best.” She ducks her head and pushes her hair back behind her ear, a nervous habit she’s sure makes her look even more awkward.
“I know,” Emaline says, and Kate looks up at her again, shocked by the sincerity in her voice. But just like before, it’s gone in a second and the Emaline she knows is back. “See you later, nerd.” She’s gone before Kate can even say goodbye back.
* * * * *
Dinner in the Messner house is a somewhat inconsistent affair these days, what with Mr Messner’s after-school engagements and Kate’s extracurriculars. But when she gets home that night, her dad is in the kitchen and whatever he’s cooking smells great.
“Hi sweetie,” he says, looking up from the pot of spaghetti he’s stirring.
“Hi dad,” Kate says, dropping her bag and her keys. “What’s for dinner?”
“Bolognese.” He gestures to the saucepan simmering on the back burner. “How was AV club?”
“It was alright,” Kate says, grabbing a spoon and stealing a mouthful of Bolognese sauce. It tastes as good as it smells. “We’re teaming up with the drama club for their production of Twelfth Night. They’ve got grand plans for their sound and lighting.”
“Drama club, huh?” Kate can hear the surprise in her dad’s voice. “I was under the impression you guys don’t necessarily get along.” Of course, her dad knew and cared more about the interpersonal aspects of life at Boring High School than most of the students thought. It was his job, after all.
“We’ve agreed to set aside our artistic differences for eight weeks.”
“And after that?”
Kate laughed. “Then it’s back to business as usual, I suppose.”
“A healthy rivalry?” Mr Messner said hopefully.
“Sure, dad. Whatever you need to tell yourself.”
“Ah, well. Dinner’s nearly ready. Will you set the table?”
Kate nods and heads into the dining room where she sets two places. It’s always felt kind of strange to her, to have such a big table and yet only two people to eat at it. And no matter how many years pass, she knows her father still feels the profound emptiness of it too.
They sit down to eat, and they chat idly about school and about Kate’s friends and about the production. Kate offers to wash up when they finish and refuses her dad’s help when he offers. She wants him to know that she sees all that he does for their family and she’s grateful. He concedes and heads into his office to finish off some work. As she plunges her hands into the hot, soapy water in the sink, her mind wanders to the blonde hair and blue eyes of the girl she most certainly should not feel anything but dislike for. After all, she’s barely said a kind word to Kate since they met, and in fact has said some rather unkind words. But as surely as she knows these things she also knows that something about Emaline Addario fascinates her – attracts her, like a moth to a flame.
Right then and there, as she’s scrubbing at the rim of a glass, she decides it must be pure admiration or even jealousy of the girl’s seemingly indomitable confidence. Yes, of course. (It’s definitely not the softness of her curves or the colour of her lips or the way she smiles with her eyes or how she softens in solitude.) (It’s definitely none of those things.) (Kate hasn’t even noticed these things, and if she had, she would not find them attractive in the least.) (Absolutely not.)
She finishes the washing up with a strange feeling in her stomach and the slightest blush on her cheeks. She calls goodnight to her dad as she passes his office and takes a probably-too-hot-to-be-healthy shower before climbing into bed. She stares at the ceiling for a long time before she sleeps.
* * * * *
Tuesday morning brings its own problems, like an English test and gym class. Kate hates gym class, and not because she hates physical activity. That’s all well and good. It’s the before and after that makes her feel like disappearing.
The girls’ locker room is her hell. She feels like a monster for noticing hips and breasts and legs. She does not seek them, but she sees them all the same and she hates the way her traitorous eyes try to linger. She never lets them. She keeps her eyes trained steadfastly on the chipping red paint of the locker doors and she dresses as fast as her shaky hands allow. Her peripheral vision is a dangerous and forbidden territory into which she knows she may never cross, because there lies everything she can never have and never be.
She especially hates Tuesdays in the girls’ locker room, because that’s when her class shares it briefly with Emaline’s. Kate hears her before she sees her – as usual – and closes her eyes for a second before she gathers her things from her locker and heads for the doorway.
“Leaving so soon, Messner?”
Kate hates that her legs stop working as soon as Emaline speaks. Just fucking leave. But before she knows it, Emaline is in front of her in nothing but a white bra and Kate desperately looks anywhere but down. The smirk on Emaline’s face is enough to make Kate feel as though she knows. But she couldn’t. Doesn’t.
“I have class,” is all Kate can manage. Her throat feels dry.
“It can wait. Are you coming to rehearsal again today? I need someone to make sure the lighting shows my best angles when I do my monologues.” She says this with such melodramatic flair that for a moment Kate forgets just how tense she is.
“Yeah, I’ll be there,” she says, still not looking at Emaline. She’s itching to get out of here. She can feel a few pairs of eyes on them.
“Good.” She pauses. “You can go now, before you strain something trying not to look at my boobs.” Kate feels her face simultaneously drain of colour and fill with heat. Her heart is in her throat and she hears the snickers of the other girls in Emaline’s class. She doesn’t give them the chance to see her reaction though because suddenly she’s out the door and all but running down the hallway. She passes her History classroom and heads straight to the bathroom which is blissfully empty. There’s a familiar burning in her eyes as she tries to calm her breathing and cool her cheeks with splashes of cold water.
It takes a couple of minutes for Kate to come back to herself. She feels empty and weak, as though whatever had been precariously propping her up since yesterday afternoon had crumbled to dust. Kate has to remind herself that Emaline has no way of knowing how utterly petrifying and nauseating her words are. She wonders briefly, for the thousandth time, what she ever did to deserve any of this.
History passes in a blur, as do lunch and her final classes. Rehearsal now looms intimidatingly beyond the three o’clock bell, but all too soon it’s time for Kate to make her way to the auditorium. Several times she has to stop herself from turning around and just going home, feigning illness or an unexpected mountain of homework. Regardless, her feet carry her all the way there and she hovers along the edges of the growing crowd of people on stage. It’s only a minute before Luke and McQuaid show up. She smiles thinly at them but only vaguely listens to their conversation about some sci-fi television show that she’s not really interested in. Instead, she watches the doors carefully for Emaline, who shows up nearly ten minutes late with Oliver in tow. She’s chewing gum and her boots click-clack as she saunters across the stage, somehow wordlessly commanding a silence from the room as she does so. She hasn’t looked at Kate yet, who feels even more tense than she has for the last fifteen minutes of waiting.
“Alright dummies, let’s get this show on the road. We’re starting with act one, scene three tonight. Everyone not on stage can help to paint the flats out the back. And you lot,” she says, finally looking over to where Kate and the rest of AV club are standing, “can start practising the lighting cues and whatever else you need to do.” Her eyes lock briefly with Kate’s, who quickly ducks her head and moves towards the back of the auditorium without even waiting for the others.
Everyone disperses to their places as Emaline yells, “We start in five minutes!”
“Kate, wait up!” Luke calls, skipping up the aisle to catch up to her. “Are you okay? You seem a little quiet today.”
“I’m fine.” She shrugs. “Just tired.”
Luke nods. “What time did you finish up last night?”
“Not long after you guys left,” she says, and hesitates. “Emaline stayed to keep me company.”
Her friends, who have all followed her into the bio box, do a double take.
“Emaline? As in, senior-and-our-eternal-tormenter Emaline?” McQuaid asks incredulously.
“Yeah. That one.”
Tyler sits down to her right, and Luke to her left. She grabs the copy script from the desk where she had left it and flips to the page they’re starting on. They haven’t been able to rig the lights properly yet, so they work with what they’ve got.
“That’s weird. Was she mean?” Tyler asks.
Kate nearly smiles. “No. She wasn’t.”
“Even weirder. I’ve never heard her say anything that’s not mean. Actually, I did once. I’m pretty sure it was a line from a play though so it doesn’t count.”
The boys start talking about where and how they’re going to find the sounds they need, and Kate focuses on the stage as the curtains are pulled closed, ready to begin.
Emaline isn’t on stage for a good half an hour as they block scene three and Kate guesses she must be bored silly waiting for her turn in the spotlight. Finally Oliver is pleased with what he’s seeing and they move on to scene four and five.
Emaline is a fantastic actress; Kate has never bothered to deny this. She commands attention like no one else Kate has seen on the stage, somehow captivating everyone with her performance even at the second rehearsal. Oliver gives her barely any direction, and she knows her lines perfectly. She really is Viola. With the window and the distance between them, Kate feels comfortable watching the way Emaline’s movements are graceful yet powerful, the way she delivers every line with her whole body and not just her voice. Which, incidentally, Kate also appreciates. Anything could be poetry when spoken by Emaline, Kate thinks. She’s so lost in watching the rehearsal that she nearly forgets to slightly refocus the lights on Emaline for her this particular part. Suddenly the spell is broken and she’s back in the box with her friends, not in sixteenth century Illyria with Olivia and Viola. She checks her watch, which reads 4:57 pm. Time has passed quickly and she Kate stifles a yawn. After a few more minutes she hears the sounds of rehearsal wrapping up. She shuts down the lighting board and gathers her backpack, following the boys out of the room.
“—And then Tuvok and Captain Janeway mind-melded and there were Klingons everywhere. It was crazy,” Tyler says animatedly to McQuaid, who seems equally interested in the conversation in his own strange way. Luke falls into step beside Kate as they head down towards the stage again.
“So, we worked out what we’re going to do for some of the music.”
Kate nods absently. “Cool.”
“You sure you’re okay? You can talk to me, you know.”
She sighs. “Thanks Luke. I really am alright though.”
They reach the stage, where everyone is gathered again at Oliver’s orders. He reminds everyone about Thursday’s rehearsal and tells Malvolio’s actor, Bryan, to ‘learn his goddamn lines’. He dismisses them and everyone trickles towards the exit.
Luke pipes up from beside her. “Are you doing anything on Friday night?” he asks, and Kate can tell he’s trying hard to be casual.
“No, I’m not.” She really hopes he’s not about to—
“Well, I was thinking, maybe, if you’d like, we could...”
“Messner!” Luke is interrupted by Emaline calling out across the auditorium. Kate looks over to where the blonde is standing by the end of the first row of seats. She has an expectant look on her face, and Kate puts up her hand in a ‘just a minute’ sign before she turns back to Luke.
“I’m sorry, I should really go and see what she wants. I would hate to incur the wrath of drama club. Well, any more than we already have.”
Luke looks disappointed, but nods. “Okay, cool. I’ll see you later then?”
“Sure,” Kate says, already turning away from him. Her heart is back in her throat and she wonders what Emaline could possibly want now. She’s sure she did everything right during the rehearsal. Does she want something done differently? Does she want to make fun of her for Kate for watching her the whole rehearsal? Kate swallows dryly. It feels like it takes forever and not long enough to reach the bottom row at the same time.
“You wanted to see me?” she says softly as she approaches.
“What are you doing Friday night?”
Kate frowns as her stomach flips. What is it today with everyone wanting to know her plans for Friday night? Is there something going on that she’s not aware of? “Nothing, I was just—”
“Good. Then you’re going to run lines with me.” The way she says it leaves no room for protest. Kate can’t decide whether she wants to protest, but she really should want to and she knows it.
“Me?” She doesn’t really know what else to say.
“Yeah. You’re like, the smartest of all the nerds working on this production.”
“But… I’ve never acted before,” Kate avoids Emaline’s gaze, gripping tighter to the strap of her backpack.
Emaline rolls her eyes. “But you can read, right?” Kate doesn’t bother to answer. “Great. I’ll meet you here at three on Friday?”
“I’m not sure if this is—” Emaline puts a finger on Kate’s lips to stop her, and it’s such a visceral shock that her whole body goes still, not just her mouth. Her cheeks are hot and she can feel every place that Emaline’s finger makes contact with her lips. It’s gone in a second, but that’s all it takes for Kate to be sure she’s one thousand percent fucked.
“Please?” is all Emaline says. Gone is the teasing look from earlier, and all that's left is that odd softness that Kate has glimpsed several times now.
She hates that it’s so goddamn easy for her to say, “Yeah. Okay.”
“See you on Friday, Kate.”
Emaline leaves, a smile on her face that Kate’s never seen there before. It’s sweet and soft and she wonders if Emaline is actually two people, because surely the girl who is currently pushing open the auditorium doors is not the same one that called her out in the lockers this morning. She realises, suddenly, that it's the first time Emaline has ever called her by her first name. Kate doesn’t move for a good minute, her feet seemingly rooted to the floor next to seat A1. When she finally does leave, she reaches up to gently touch her lips and wonders what the hell she’s just gotten herself into.