Jesper had everything he could have ever wanted.
Okay, that wasn’t completely true. There were still… a lot of not so great things in Jesper’s life currently. But he was just so happy with how things were going lately.
Every day he woke up with the stunning realization that he was doing what he had always wanted. Sometimes he went through days in complete disbelief, like one morning he’d wake up and realize it was all just a dream.
It might not seem like much, but to Jesper it was everything. He was playing his dream role, the lead, in his favorite musical ever. He had wonderful friends, and he got to work alongside them every afternoon after school.
He’d waited so long for a moment like this. Theatre had been Jesper’s world for years, but it wasn’t every day he got to take center stage in the lead role. Black kids like him were usually destined to play side characters; it had been something he had just accepted for a while. There had been points in time when he’d doubted his talents, that maybe he was just no good, not desirable enough to be onstage. Other kids had voice lessons, more experience, roles just handed to them; once you played the lead once, you seemed to receive it again and again. Jesper had to work twice as hard to work his way up the ranks.
But then Mr. Haskell announced that their drama club was putting on a production of We Will Rock You , a jukebox musical with a soundtrack consisting entirely of songs by Queen. And that was when Jesper knew he had to play the lead. Queen was his favorite band and honestly the only thing that occupied his mind most days. He had basically all of their songs memorized, knew all the little facts and tidbits about the band members. Hell, Freddie Mercury was partially responsible for Jesper coming to terms with his sexuality. It didn’t matter that the plot of We Will Rock You was kind of terrible and technically had nothing to do with the band, or if the way it used their songs was borderline disrespectful; Jesper had to be in it, because it was a combination of two of his favorite things in the world.
He’d spent weeks preparing his audition. He studied everything he could find about the musical on the internet, watched bootlegs, listened to the soundtrack (even though it was nowhere near as good as the original songs). His ma and da got sick of him belting the same song over and over again in his room.
Jesper had been in productions before at his high school, either as an ensemble member or a supporting role. Since he was an upperclassman now and one of the few boys actually interested in auditioning, he was sure he’d have a chance, and Nina and Inej backed him up. Still, he had some doubts even as he delivered the most spectacular audition in the history of his career.
His friends weren’t at all surprised when they saw Jesper’s name at the top of the cast list. Jesper was. He’d had to read it over at least three times to truly believe it. After all the times he’d been let down by countless directors, it almost felt like he didn’t deserve a lead role, despite how hard he worked, despite everything his friends and family told him.
So Jesper vowed he’d work to deserve it. He was going to deliver the best performance of We Will Rock You the world had ever seen, terrible writing and all.
He’d eaten up the script the second he’d gotten his hands on it. Jesper loved it, every line and part ever written. Really, it hadn’t taken long for him to memorize it and all of his lines, fueled by his love for this crazy show.
Rehearsal was always something Jesper looked forward to every day, but as he got more and more invested in this show, it became the only reason why he wanted to come to school. Sitting here now in his last class of the day, he couldn’t help but count down the minutes until school was over and he’d be able to go to rehearsal.
Jesper was actually pretty good at math, but it wasn’t something that he was at all interested in. He preferred his thoughts to be occupied by theatre, which was why he was currently looking over the lines he messed up on yesterday instead of doing schoolwork. Not like his teacher gave a shit anyways.
A couple of kids sitting across from him were whispering and glancing at his hands, and Jesper knew immediately they were talking about him. He’d painted his nails red today. Nothing too big, but still noticeable enough, apparently. Generally he tried to stick with the theatre crowd when he was at school, but in class, gossip was unavoidable. It wasn’t a secret that Jesper was bisexual; hell, pretty much everyone knew, but around these kids he tried not to give them too many reminders. Most of the time, when he wanted to wear feminine things to school, he’d change into it later for rehearsal or when he was just hanging out with his friends. Today he didn’t give a shit, and now he was paying for it.
Whatever. It didn’t matter. They could whisper about his nails all they wanted, Jesper didn’t care.
Still, as the bell finally rang and Jesper hurried out the door, he heard a muttered word from one of those kids beside him, followed by giggles that were quickly silenced when Jesper shot them a glance. It was an ugly word, something that scraped against his ears and rhymed with “maggot”.
It shouldn’t have bothered him as much as it did, but he’d been doing pretty good up until now. He thought he’d be able to last the entire day without any remarks about how he dressed.
His foul mood only lasted the walk to the theater, however, because there was almost nothing that could ruin rehearsal for Jesper. He would forget all about this and be Galileo for the next few hours, and he was going to have a grand time.
Sailing in through the doors, Jesper greeted his castmates with a dramatic shout.
“ Heyyyy , bitches!”
This earned some laughter from a few kids from the ensemble, and a few other “Heyy”s in response from more daring castmates. Nina and Inej cackled loudly.
You know. Like theatre kids. They did this all the time.
“I hate you,” Nina said as Jesper set his bag down next to hers.
“Aw, I love you too,” Jesper cooed as she shoved him playfully.
Inej glanced at Jesper’s hands. “I like your nails,” she commented, and Jesper beamed at her.
Sometimes it felt like Inej could read his mind. She always knew what would make him feel better.
Scanning the greenroom, Jesper kept his eyes out for a particular ginger-haired boy. He had no clue what the techs did or where they went sometimes.
“What are you looking for?” Inej asked, noticing his wandering eyes.
“One of the techs.”
Nina looked up from her Pop-Tart with a wicked smile on her face. “Ooh, who?”
“It is not like that,” Jesper insisted, glaring at her smug face. “One of the new guys. Wylan.”
“Oh, the baby!” Nina and Inej exclaimed at the same time.
Jesper stared at them. “The what?”
“The kid that looks, like, twelve? He’s adorable. He doesn’t seem to know what the hell he’s doing half the time. I’m surprised Kaz hasn’t eaten him alive by now,” Nina explained.
“He’s super sheltered. We all keep forgetting he’s not a freshman,” Inej clarified. “Sweet, though.”
“Wylan’s not a baby. He’s brilliant,” Jesper protested. “Did you know he memorized the whole script?”
“Did he?” Nina asked, not entirely convinced. “He’s as big of a nerd as you are!”
Inej asked, “How’d he do it?”
“I don’t know. But it’s great; he likes Queen too! He’s super cool! You guys should talk to him sometime,” Jesper insisted.
“Okay,” Inej said.
Jesper didn’t know why what they said about Wylan bothered him so much, but it didn’t matter, because soon Mr. Haskell was calling them into the theater to do some warmups and run one of the numbers. Jesper wouldn’t consider himself the most talented dancer in the world—it took him a little longer to master moves—but once he had the number down, he put every ounce of passion he had into it. He loved the thrill of constantly moving, being in sync with the music, the completed feeling of finishing a number. Besides, Inej was the dance captain and a brilliant teacher, so she usually made sure Jesper got every part correct. And Nina was honestly worse, so Jesper really shouldn’t complain.
Then the ensemble went to practice something else, and Jesper was left with Inej, Nina, and a senior named Matthias as Mr. Haskell blocked a new scene between the villains. Jesper didn’t know Matthias very well, and he honestly didn’t know how a huge jock had landed such a large role as Nina’s sidekick in his first musical, but he seemed to be a fairly good actor. Nina wouldn’t admit it, but it was obvious they both had terrible crushes on each other. Everyone in the cast loved to watch them dance around each other like a married couple.
Jesper wouldn’t cast anyone else as the main villain. Nina had a powerful voice and the evil flair that fit perfectly in her role. Jesper couldn’t be happier to perform alongside his best friends; every time he saw them he couldn’t help but be proud.
Today, though, she didn’t seem into the role at all, which was completely unlike her. Jesper had seen Nina thrust herself into any character, embodying their entire personality with enthusiasm. But her heart didn’t seem to be in the scene, because she delivered her lines completely deadpan, annoyed with everything Mr. Haskell suggested. Even Matthias seemed to struggle to work with what she was giving him.
Then, even though she was literally looking directly at her script, Nina delivered a line wrong. Mr. Haskell, politely, corrected her.
Nina huffed. “God, that’s so cheesy. Fine—”
“Why is she acting like this?” Jesper whispered to Inej, who was sitting next to him in the audience, watching this go down.
“Nina kind of hates her role,” Inej responded. “I don’t really blame her, I guess. She’s really just in this show for the experience.”
“She hates it? But she’s literally playing the villain!” Jesper exclaimed in the most hushed tone he could muster. “I thought she liked those kinds of roles.”
“I think she does. Just this musical... kind of sucks, Jesper,” Inej admitted.
“No, it doesn’t! It’s a Queen musical,” Jesper protested, a little hurt by her tone and the almost patronizing way it sounded.
“Admit it, Jesper. The writing is terrible. A dystopian future story where all music is banned? That’s—it doesn’t make any sense at all. Like, you can just tell a boomer wrote it. You know, phone bad, old music good.”
She was right, but Jesper didn’t like thinking about who wrote it. It made him feel a little gross, reminded him of those other, older Queen fans that were also racist and homophobic. “But—don’t you think it’s cool? We get to sing Queen songs onstage?”
Inej shrugged. “Yeah, I guess, but even then, it’s almost a little disrespectful. Like, they couldn’t even figure out where to put ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.”
Which was a crime. At the end of the show, everything is pretty much resolved, but then at the last second before curtain call, the lead goes and asks the audience if they “want ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’”. After all of the references to it throughout the show, it doesn’t even become a key part of the story, just an afterthought to make all of the Queen fanatics happy that they didn’t leave the song out. Jesper did hate it; “Bohemian Rhapsody” was iconic. It didn’t deserve to be shoved to the end like that.
“Yeah, I guess,” Jesper echoed, though he still felt shitty for agreeing. He didn’t know what it was—Nina’s attitude, or the nonchalant way Inej was acting about it, but his day was turning out to be worse and worse. Even rehearsal couldn’t make him feel better. “You know what—I’m gonna practice my lines some more,” he said, getting up from his seat.
Inej looked surprised. “Oh. Okay. Have fun,” she said, smiling and giving him a little wave. Jesper just nodded and walked out.
He found the greenroom mostly empty, which was nice. Quiet. Good for Jesper to sit with his thoughts alone. Everyone else was likely out doing something, except—
Wylan was standing in the corner, staring down at something on his phone, tapping his foot along to something playing in his earbuds. He looked so at peace; he hadn’t even seen Jesper come in. Jesper watched him for a few moments before striding up to the sophomore.
Wylan nearly jumped out of his skin, which was hilariously adorable to Jesper. “Oh. Hi.”
“Are you free? I was wondering…” Jesper held up his script and waved it at him. “...if you wanted to run lines with me again? Oh, wait, you don’t even need this!” He grinned.
Wylan flushed. “Oh, no, I’m not doing anything,” he said quickly. “I’d love to.”
They started from the top again, moving quickly through the show just like the day before. And just like that, Jesper felt a lot better. Wylan wasn’t one for acting, but still he put more enthusiasm into delivering Jesper’s cues than Nina ever did. It was refreshing, to finally work with someone who actually cared about what Jesper loved.
He still continued to be surprised with how much Wylan knew about the show. He didn’t think anyone had the passion to memorize a show like Jesper did. The thought of it filled him with so much happiness he almost wanted to dance.
“My friends think you’re a baby,” Jesper blurted the next time Wylan corrected him on something.
Wylan frowned. “I know. They think I’m naive, that I don’t know anything. It doesn’t help that I look like a freshman… I know I’m sheltered, but I’m not stupid, ” he huffed.
Jesper immediately felt bad for mentioning it. He’d never seen Wylan so upset before. “Hey, no, of course you’re not. You memorized this entire show, for god’s sake! You’re crazy talented!”
Wylan smiled at him, but he looked wistful. “I don’t understand why you of all people would think that,” he admitted.
“What? What do you mean?”
Wylan’s cheeks were red as cherries. “I mean, you… you’re Jesper, ” he said. “I’m nowhere near as talented as you.”
“Stop. Please,” Jesper said. “You can’t just say you’re not talented when you know We Will Rock You better than I do. You’re amazing! And I’m not just saying it to make you feel better, I swear.”
“Thank you,” Wylan mumbled. “Do you… think I’m a baby?”
“No, god,” Jesper huffed. “That’s weird. I mean, nice, I guess, but I’d fucking hate if anyone said that about me.”
Wylan nodded. “I don’t know. I mean, it was fine at first. They didn’t say it in a mean way, more like they wanted to take care of me. It was… really nice to be liked. To be cared for,” he admitted, smiling sadly to himself. “But they think I can’t do anything, like I can’t take care of myself, or something. I feel like they don’t really know me. Only Kuwei and Kaz treat me like a normal person.”
That sounded… really sad. If Kaz was one of the only people treating Wylan normally, something was very wrong. Jesper didn’t trust that guy with anyone.
“Well, I don’t know you that well either,” Jesper admitted. “But I do know that you have a crazy good memory, and you like Queen, and you’re cool enough to put up with my obsession with this show.”
Wylan giggled, and this time there was a genuine smile on his face.
“ And you’re cute,” Jesper added, because of course he had to make things clear. “And not in like, a baby way. In an attractive way. If you know what I mean.”
Wylan’s cheeks pinked, and he looked down, obviously understanding exactly what he meant. “Anyways, um, I think you’ve pretty much got this down. You’ve improved a lot from yesterday.”
The encouragement made Jesper beam. “Thank you! I wanted to make sure I had that scene down,” he said, thinking for a moment. “Hm, well, maybe you could help me practice a song? I dunno, just see if I’m good or something. I haven’t gotten the chance to sing ‘Under Pressure’ that much with Inej yet.” Maybe he did just want to show off and belt at the top of his lungs, but that was beside the point.
Wylan nodded. “Sure. Or, uh, you know what…” He got up from the spot where they were sitting on the table to make his way to the piano in the middle of the greenroom. Jesper was immediately intrigued.
“Can you hand me the script?” Wylan asked, and Jesper obliged. “Find me the song you want.”
Jesper flipped to the musical half of the script, finding “Under Pressure” almost immediately, handing it to Wylan. It was supposed to be a duet between the leads; Jesper knew he would have the time of his life singing onstage along with Inej.
Then, after a few test notes, Jesper heard the familiar bassline at the beginning of “Under Pressure”. Wylan looked completely at home right on that piano bench, a serene expression on his face that Jesper had never seen before. This boy just kept surprising him.
Finding his place in the song, Jesper began to sing along with Wylan’s accompaniment, excitement fizzing inside him as he tapped his feet to the beat. All of the frustration and hurt he’d felt earlier that day seemed to melt away. Jesper sang Inej’s part, too, when he could. He wasn’t even trying to be accurate at this point, just having fun.
Then, around the “give love” part where Jesper literally could not sing both parts at once, Wylan joined in. He was quiet, hesitant at first, but when he saw Jesper’s shocked grin and silent encouragement, his vocals rose in power to match Jesper’s enthusiasm.
Jesper had never heard Wylan sing before. It was almost difficult for him to concentrate on himself, because Wylan’s voice was so clear and wonderful it could rival many of the actors in the show. He complemented Jesper’s perfectly, getting the harmonies just right as if he’d been meant for this role all along.
Everyone in the theater could probably hear them, but Jesper didn’t care. He threw all of his passion into every note, voice sailing out across the room. They finished with such power that Jesper thought it was a crime that no one was clapping.
“Dude,” he breathed. “That was amazing! I didn’t know you could sing—I didn’t know you could play the piano, either!”
Wylan blushed again. “Sorry. I forgot to warm up. That wasn’t my best.”
“Warmups, whatever,” Jesper said. “ Wasn’t your best? You were fantastic! You should be in the musical!”
Wylan looked down at the piano. “I don’t know. My dad thinks that’s a waste of time. I don’t know how I feel about being the center of attention.”
Jesper could admit, he didn’t seem like the type to enjoy that sort of thing, but he felt like this was talent wasted. “Well, you don’t necessarily have to be. Technically we all share the stage. You could sing in the ensemble!”
Wylan shrugged. “Maybe.”
Jesper patted his shoulder. “Well, think on it. You have all up until next year. But you already performed in front of me, so I think you’d be just fine onstage.”
Wylan’s shy little smile returned. It really was kind of adorable. “Okay. I’ll think about it.”