“You like him, don’t you?”
“What?” Wylan took his eyes off from what he was looking at to glance at his friend. “Who?”
Kuwei gestured to the tall, lanky boy lounging on top of one of the greenroom tables, flipping through the pages of his fat script. “Jesper. It’s okay, we all have a thing for the leading man at least some point during the rehearsal process. It happens to the best of us.”
“I don’t have a thing for anyone,” Wylan insisted, though he could feel his cheeks heating. “I was just wondering why he isn’t rehearsing with everyone else right now. I thought Galileo of all people would have plenty of things to do,” he huffed, referring to Jesper’s character with just a hint of jealousy. Wylan was perfectly fine with his role as a tech, but sometimes he wondered what it was like to be an actor. To be treated a little more like he was actually useful. Kaz always grumbled that they as techs were the ones who kept the shows moving, but no one ever seemed to really notice. Not that Wylan really cared. It was nice not to have the attention sometimes.
“Uh huh,” Kuwei said, entirely not convinced. “And that’s definitely not the reason why you suddenly decided to sign up for tech this year, despite being ‘so busy’ with band.”
“Because my dad made me quit!” Wylan hissed. “You know that.” He was still a little hurt by his father’s punishment, to be honest. He knew he should be focusing on his studies, but music was his everything. Maybe he was only interested in tech of all things to fill the void that band left because of a certain actor, but that was beside the point.
And it helped that Kuwei was there with him, too. Even if he was insufferable, like right now.
“Mr. Haskell asked Jesper to practice his lines while he and Alina run an ensemble number and Zoya does vocals with people that don’t include him,” Kuwei explained. “You should ask him if he needs help .”.
“What—with running lines?” Wylan sputtered. “Kuwei, you know —” that he couldn’t read. Kuwei and Kaz were the only people he’d ever told.
“You know the show better than anyone here,” Kuwei whispered, patting him on the shoulder. “You’ll be able to handle it.” And then he smiled and went to go help Kaz with something.
Leaving Wylan alone in the greenroom with him.
Jesper clearly didn’t want to be there. He was looking at his script, but Wylan could hear him humming a particular song. He wondered if Jesper felt left out.
Taking a deep breath, heart thumping, Wylan strode towards him.
Jesper looked up from his script from his spot on top of the table, visible frustration written on his expression. Wylan suddenly wanted to sink into the floor.
Then his gaze softened slightly with recognition. “You’re one of the new tech guys, right?”
Wylan looked down at the ground. “Yeah.”
“Huh.” He glanced at the script, then back at Wylan. “What do you need?”
“Um… I was wondering…” Oh god, just breathe, just say it. “...if you wanted help with running your lines?”
Jesper groaned, and Wylan’s stomach clenched. “Did Haskell send you to make sure I stayed on task? God, he thinks I’m lazy just like everyone else. I care about this show more than anyone else does,” Jesper grumbled.
“N-no, it wasn’t him, I swear,” Wylan said quickly. “I was just wondering if you needed help. It’s easier when someone’s doing it with you, right?”
Jesper smiled. “Yeah, it is. Personally I think I’m pretty good with my lines…” Wylan’s heart sank. “But I wouldn’t mind going over them again with a cute guy.”
Wylan’s face burned. He knew that Jesper was openly bi—hell, that was part of the reason why he admired him so much; Wylan didn’t think he’d ever have that kind of confidence—but he wasn’t expecting something so direct. Was he being serious?
“Oh, um, well, sure,” Wylan sputtered, wincing at how he stumbled over his words. “Should I just…”
“Yeah, here,” Jesper said, handing him his tattered script. It was obviously well loved; the paper cover was close to tearing off completely, and the whole book was littered with notes and highlights and sticky notes and crude doodles. Wylan could see this belonged to an actor who cared. “Could you start at my first cue? It should be the first sticky note, on page 5.”
Wylan didn’t need to even open the script to know where that was, but he opened to the first sticky note like Jesper suggested.
Wylan quickly ran through the scenes in his head. After Kaz, their stage manager, had found out that Wylan couldn’t read and therefore couldn’t note cues, he hadn’t really been mad, at least not in the way that Wylan had feared terribly. He’d just scolded Wylan for not telling him earlier and sent him an illegally recorded bootleg of another high school’s production of We Will Rock You, the exact same one that they were doing.
“It’s not perfect,” Kaz had told him, “but it was the only one that I could find. Study up.”
And Wylan did. He went home and watched the video, noting every line and appearance in his head. And then he watched it again. And again, until the entire script was ingrained in his mind.
Even now he could hear the characters’ voices. It was a mediocre performance, really; as expected of a high school production, but now it was Wylan’s whole world.
In his best imitation of the high school girl in the bootleg, Wylan gave Jesper his first cue, even though it pained him to say it. It really was the cheesiest thing ever; Wylan’s face was red. This was honestly kind of a terrible show.
But Jesper responded with perfect enthusiasm. “ Hey, you! ”
His voice was completely different than the boy’s in the bootleg, but Wylan immediately decided he preferred Jesper’s version of the character better. He was nothing like the scraggly white Galileo in the recording who couldn’t carry a note for the life of him and was so obviously casted as the lead because he was one of the only boys in the cast.
Compared to him, Jesper exuded confidence. He said his lines with just the right amount of genuine emotion, as if he genuinely loved this show and agreed with every word that his character said. It would have almost been funny if Jesper didn’t sound so serious it gave Wylan chills. When Jesper spoke, Wylan felt without a doubt that he was this character.
Wylan kept his eyes on the unintelligible words in front of him so Jesper couldn’t see his blush, but he was too into his performance to notice anyways. While Wylan shamefully mumbled poorly-written words, Jesper shouted out his lines with passion. He really was talented at this.
Soon, they were almost finished with the entire show. They only went so fast because Jesper made almost no mistakes, nothing for Wylan to correct. He really had been right about knowing his lines. Mr. Haskell had no idea how wonderful Jesper really was.
Then: “ Scaramouche! Look! The axe! The axe is hidden! ” Jesper said with complete confidence.
But Wylan knew better. “ The axe is hidden in the stone,” he corrected him.
“Augh! Right, sorry,” Jesper said. “I’m still rusty with this scene; we haven’t even blocked it yet.”
“It’s fine,” Wylan reassured him. Really, he was almost perfect, aside from a few mistakes here and there. He gave him the next cue—a direct quote from a Queen song. This entire show was just a jukebox musical using Queen songs, but even in the script they’d never let you forget it.
“Look… something. Wait, don’t tell me,” Jesper insisted, pressing his fist to his chin. “Look… look…”
Finally he gave in. “Sorry. Tell me what it is, Wylan.”
This was the first time Wylan had to feed him an entire line. “ Look, an instrument—a musical instrument .”
“Right!” Jesper exclaimed. “A musical instrument... because the axe is an instrument, duh. Here, lemme see—”
Before Wylan could instinctively snatch the script away, Jesper’s hand was already enclosed on it. Shit. He’d been so caught up in admiring Jesper’s sheer enthusiasm for this show that he’d forgotten to flip to the right parts in the script.
“Hey, we’re at the end of the show, not at this scene…” Jesper mumbled, looking at the spot where Wylan had stopped.
Wylan couldn’t breathe. This was it. This was when Jesper found out everything, when he realized that Wylan was just a moron who couldn’t read and lost any smidgen of respect he’d gained for him. He’d thought they’d maybe have at least a bit of a chance, but he’d blown it the second they even began to interact.
Jesper gasped. “You… you didn’t even need to look at the script. You memorized the entire show,” he realized, a huge smile beginning to spread across his face. Wylan had studied every smile he’d seen from Jesper, but it was nothing like this one, full of wonder, like a child at Christmas. Despite his fear, Wylan’s heart practically melted. “That’s so cool! Dude, I’ve never met anyone who loves this show as much as I do. You’re amazing. ”
He thought. He thought that Wylan liked the show.
Jesper continued to ramble, unable to contain his excitement. “I mean… man, I know this show is awfully written, but I love it, despite everything. I mean, it’s We Will Rock You! It’s a Queen musical, for god’s sake! It’s everything I could have ever wanted. I can’t believe you like it too. Everyone I know just makes fun of it.”
He was looking at Wylan with such genuine admiration, he felt guilty. Like something wasn’t right. This boy, this actor who Wylan had looked up to since he’d first seen him in that musical freshman year, thought he was the amazing one.
It was a lot like when his father praised him for doing well in his classes, when really Wylan had stayed up all night listening to an audiobook so he understood the curriculum. And it hurt, because it felt so good to hear his approval. Not very many people called Wylan amazing.
“You like Queen, right?” Jesper asked. “That’s why you love this musical. That’s why I love this musical. Queen’s my favorite band, by the way,” he said as if it weren’t already obvious, gesturing to his shirt. Jesper was the most flamboyant dresser Wylan had ever seen. Some days it was a silly t-shirt and jeans, some days an androgynous outfit, little things that broke traditional gender roles like nail polish (and one time a skirt), some days something from his extensive collection of flannels. And his clothing was always aggressively colorful, often clashing but always carefully put together.
It was part of the reason Wylan admired him so much. Jesper always stood out in a crowd, and even when he was wearing the strangest things, it always looked good on him.
Today he was wearing one of his usual red flannels, and under it, a shirt with a logo on it. Wylan couldn’t read the words on it, but you didn’t have to read it to know what it was. It was a Queen shirt, with the cover of their album A Night at the Opera.
Wylan had listened to Queen before—really, everyone should have—especially now since he was involved in this show, and he enjoyed some of their music, but he really wouldn’t call himself a fan. Certainly not a fan like Jesper was.
So he felt like a fraud when he said, “Yeah.”
“ Yes! ” Jesper whisper-shouted, like he’d won a game instead of finding out that a random tech liked the same band that he did. “Dude, you are literally the coolest. We’re automatically friends now. Wait, what’s your name again?”
Friends. Friends. They were friends, over something that was sort of a lie. Wylan’s heart swelled with happiness.
“Wylan,” he mumbled.
“Wylan. I’m Jesper,” he said, as if he needed any introduction. “Okay, when I need to run lines again, I’m coming to you.”
“I don’t even know if you need to,” Wylan pointed out. “You know this show inside out.”
“So do you!” Jesper said with a smile. “Still, there’s this one scene, and we’re not done with the show just yet. Can you run it with me one more time?”