The call comes as Adora is reaching for the paper towel roll to clean up the chunk of pad thai she just dropped on her textbook, and she swears internally. The caller ID lights up Netossa Malokotela.
“Call from the director!” Adora yells excitedly through her half-chewed mouthful of takeout. The phone rings three whole times as she scrambles to clean the textbook now before she forgets and forever stains into obscurity this extremely riveting paragraph on the biomechanics of a healthy knee. This accomplished, she uses a clean corner of the paper towel to wipe a dribble of sauce from her chin, chucks the now thoroughly used wad into the garbage at the end of the kitchen island, and then hits answer.
“Hey Netossa!” She chirps, already in a good mood. Even if she didn’t get the part (she’s pretty sure she got the part), Netossa is the kind of director who will generously offer her a different role that she thinks she’s better suited for. (She’s pretty sure she got the part.)
“Hey Adora! Got five minutes to chat?”
“Sure do,” she says, pushing her textbook back a little across the counter so she can sprawl out with an arm on the surface. Glimmer pokes her head nosily into the kitchen with her eyebrows raised, asking a clear question. Adora shrugs and wordlessly mouths I don’t know yet at her, and Glimmer responds to this by squeezing her lips into a tight line of anticipation and doing a stoic I-cannot-yell-because-you-are-on-the-phone wiggle.
“Well, first of all, I won’t keep you waiting, we definitely want you in the role of Roberta.”
“Ah!! That’s fantastic!” She shrieks, because even if she was pretty sure she had it on lockdown, it still feels like an incredible rush to hear it.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Netossa laughs, and Adora doesn’t try to tamp down her grin as she watches Glimmer react to the news by doing an aggressive mime routine that seems to be simulating a parade with a marching band.
“It’s definitely a yes.” She’s sure her utter joy is coming through.
“Amazing. This show is going to be something special, I can already feel it. I just called and confirmed with our pick for Francesca, and she’s on board.”
“Am I allowed to ask who you picked yet or are you going to make me wait to find out?” Her smile falters a little. That means Glimmer didn’t get the role she tried out for. It would have been a hell of a summer, for them to have snagged the leads opposite each other, but maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. She looks at Glimmer, who has stopped the silent mime parade. Adora flashes her an apologetic look, realizing she’ll have figured out from just her side of the conversation that she didn’t get the role. Oh well. Netossa is a good director, she’ll put Glimmer somewhere fun instead.
“She’s new in town, and she’s got pipes like a dream. It’s a shame you ended up coming in for a different audition timeslot, everybody was totally blown away. I guess she’s got a background in theatre from the town she was living in before, I think she’s around your age. I can’t wait for you two to get to sing together.”
“Wow, she must really be good if this is her first show with the theatre and you’re giving her the lead.”
“You’ll find out for yourself at rehearsal. I’ll send you the schedule, but it’s the same as usual, Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons from now until July.”
“I guess I’ll see you tomorrow night then!”
“Thanks Adora. Can’t wait!” Netossa hangs up the call. Glimmer is sulking a little bit, but trying valiantly not to.
“They gave the lead role to someone totally new?” Glimmer repeats, confirming what she heard Adora say.
“Yeah, apparently she’s some kind of incredibly good singer who just moved to town.”
“Bleh. I thought I had this one for sure,” Glimmer sighs, flopping down into a kitchen chair. “Oh well. Such are the whims of the theatre.” She holds up a dramatic, forlorn arm. Adora laughs at her and pulls her textbook back towards herself with one hand, reaching for her chopsticks with the other.
“I have no idea how I’m going to concentrate on this reading now.”
“You don’t process well while you’re eating anyways,” Glimmer retorts, “I don’t know why you always insist on trying.”
“Hm?” Adora looks up, a noodle dangling from her mouth, having totally failed to process Glimmer’s commentary.
“I said - “ she stops, jumping to her feet. “Oh, there’s my call!” Glimmer strides out of the kitchen, phone already to her ear. “Hey Netossa! Yeah, I heard, you know there’s no theatre gossip safe in this house. You know I just love being part of it.” A pause. “I would love to, that would be great.” Another pause. “Okay, awesome, looking forward to it. See you tomorrow night.” A pause. Then Glimmer’s head pops back out around the doorframe like an especially cheerful and unusually horizontal gopher. “They’re giving me Marian and the state fair singer!”
“You sound happy about that,” Adora says tentatively.
“I’m honestly just relieved she didn’t cast me as Marge.” Glimmer makes a face, and Adora laughs. She can tell Glimmer isn’t really upset, and that she was serious on the phone about just enjoying being involved in the show at all. Adora is genuinely excited about her future career as a physiotherapist - excited enough that she’s attempting to read that paragraph about knees for a third time now - but there’s just something magical about theatre. Maybe it’s sort of a corny thing to think, but she really feels like over the years it’s become her special sanctuary, her space to recharge, her happy place.
Adora is halfway through a really solid belly laugh at a joke Glimmer just told as she strolls through the door into their first rehearsal. She scans the room for familiar faces, smiling at everyone, and then realizes with a jolt that there is a ghost from her past standing solidly inside of her happy place. Her laugh dies a cold terrible death, like campfire embers in the wake of a bucket full of seawater.
“Adora, you’re here!” Netossa bellows from across the basement. This is all wrong. This should be a joyous moment, reuniting with old friends for another brilliant and blazing four month adventure. She should be revelling in the nostalgic mildew smell of the old room they rent out from a nearby church for their rehearsals, not staring down that face and wondering what the hell is she doing here and desperately, desperately trying not to answer her own question with the most logical conclusion. “Come over here and meet Catra. She’ll be playing your Francesca! Catra, this is Adora. She’s playing the other lead.”
Catra stares at Adora like she’s looking down at a burger she just took a bite of and found half of a cockroach.
“But that’s a male role,” Catra says, sounding more shocked and baffled than accusatory.
“You must be new,” Sea Hawk says cheerfully, slinging an arm around Catra’s shoulders. “Netossa’s whole thing as a director is queering up texts by changing out one or two strategic roles.”
“I have the power,” Netossa quips, grinning brightly at Catra, seeming not to realize that Adora is on the verge of catatonic. Glimmer is looking at her weirdly, and she knows she’s causing a bottleneck at the door because she is frozen in place, completely overwhelmed at the sight of her old ex from highschool standing in the middle of this church basement in her sock feet with a script in one hand like she belongs here. “We’ve adjusted some of the lyrics slightly and the character’s name has been changed in the script from Robert to Roberta, with appropriate pronoun adjustments where needed. The biggest change is in What Do You Call A Man Like That?, since it messes with the cadence of the line a little to change it to ‘woman’, but Spinny, our music director, will work with you on that.”
“And they gave the part to you?” Catra says coldly, eyes piercing through Adora as surely and as sharply as a rapier thrust. Adora fumbles over some possible responses to this downright mean comment.
- Oh, and you’re one to talk? You faked your way through every warm-up scale from the ages of fifteen to eighteen and have never, ever auditioned for a lead before, so what gives.
- What the everloving fuck are you doing in Brightmoon Harbor? There is no reason for you to be here. I am clearly having a fever dream courtesy of that leftover pad thai, which I should not have eaten for lunch after accidentally leaving it out overnight on the counter, but I did anyways and honestly was not prepared for how severe the consequences would be.
- I happen to be a much better singer than I was eight years ago, thank you very much, and I’ve got four years with this particular community theatre under my belt and twice that many productions, so who are you to be sniffing at what roles I manage to get cast for?
What actually happens is that Mermista appears behind her, has no patience for Adora’s blocking the entrance to the room with her impression of an especially tongue-tied zombie, and pushes her inside with a move, tall blonde and dorky, I’ve got places to be. Mermista marches her into place and because Adora’s mind seems to be completely out of order, she just sits in a chair and takes a script from someone and continues to stare in astonishment at Catra.
And it is Catra, because obviously Netossa introduced her, and she’d never mistake that voice or those eyes for anybody else, but she can’t stop looking because she’s changed. It’s been - she counts quickly, and learns that indeed counting is on the list of things that are suddenly much more challenging to do, because by the time she realizes the number she wants is eight, Netossa is talking to the group again and everybody is sitting - eight years since she last saw Catra. She’s gotten older; less twiggy, less tired looking.
But oh god, it’s the hair that Adora can’t tear her eyes away from. The last time she saw Catra, she had hair down to her ass, long and thick and omnipresent. She remembers them laughingly pulling long, long hairs off of each other and comparing the colors to see whose it was. How did that even get there, she remembers gasp-laughing, after drawing one out of her bra cup in the middle of English class, pulling more and more like a clown’s handkerchief trick but infinitely, infinitely funnier.
This Catra has shaved sides that fade to a neat buzz just above her ears - a fresh haircut, Adora absently notes, like she was trying to look nice for her first rehearsal - and the top is styled up, rough and fluffy and somewhere between European soccer player fuckboy and bedhead Super Saiyan. It is irresistably, unbelievably attractive, and very, very aggressively gay, and it looks so damn good on her.
Adora lurches her way through the cast introductions, and waits impatiently for Catra to give hers, but it’s curt and to the point and there’s little to be gleaned from it, other than the fact that she just moved here from Los Angeles, which is not a surprise, since that’s where she left Catra all those years ago. Netossa talks again for a while and Adora is trying really hard to pretend she’s listening, but really, she’s watching Catra. Catra. Catra is here, and she’s playing the lead, and Adora is going to have to spend four months of rehearsals shoulder to shoulder with her, no matter how bitter their breakup was, no matter how much Catra still seems to hate her. What other choice does Adora have? She can’t just drop out now. She agreed to this role, she specifically auditioned for it, she was excited for it. It would throw everything into disarray and on top of that make her look like a real asshole in front of people she really likes and respects. So of course she can’t just drop out now.
Maybe Catra will drop out, knowing Adora is opposite her. She has way less to lose, reputation-wise, than Adora does, right? But then, it would make everything awfully awkward if she ever wanted to perform in one of the theatre’s future productions, to nail the audition, accept the role, and then bail. Guilt crawls up and down Adora’s insides at the thought. What right does she have to hope Catra will back down, just because it makes her uncomfortable? She’s allowed to have hobbies, even if they happen to be the same hobbies Adora has, in the same sleepy little coastal town that Adora’s been hiding in since -
What the hell is Catra doing in Brightmoon Harbor??
Adora has successfully managed to absorb absolutely nothing that has been said by any of the creative team by the time Netossa claps and stands up and announces wardrobe is going to call them over for measurements, and they should chill and have snacks and take a break while this is happening.
“Okay, Adora,” Glimmer says into her ear, “it’s free apple juice time. Something is up with your blood sugar. Did you eat today?” Adora allows herself to be manhandled up and out of her seat and led towards the little side table where neat rows of juice boxes and stacks of cookies are waiting.
“I know her,” Adora hisses into Glimmer’s ear, finally managing to assemble a sentence.
“Francesca. Catra.” Glimmer sneaks a glance at said person from across the room, then looks back at Adora and raises an eyebrow, asking her to elaborate. “We. We dated. She was my first girlfriend.” Adora’s first many things, but Glimmer doesn’t need that level of detail.
“Oh my god,” Glimmer finally says, giving Adora the validation she needs that this is definitely something unusual. “The one that dumped you right before you moved away to that place where you had the scholarship? Who blocked your number and all your social accounts?”
“That one. Exactly. Yes. You see why I’m a little freaked out.”
“And she’s playing the lead. In a play that’s like, entirely about your character and her character having a lot of sex.”
“Oh my god Glimmer that is not entirely what this play is about and - oh, fuck, that’s so much of what this play is about. I’m screwed. What do I do? This is going to be awful. We’re going to ruin the whole show. Netossa couldn’t have known. Maybe I should back out. Better now than later, right?”
“No, absolutely not!” Glimmer hisses, violently opening a juice box straw and stabbing it into the foil-covered hole. She thrusts the tiny container of apple flavored sugar water into Adora’s hand. “You can’t quit! She’s the one invading your turf!”
Adora doesn’t have the opportunity to say anything to that; wardrobe calls her over and she goes obediently to the corner of the room where the tape measures are out and flying. She drains the juice box in three greedy gulps - they really do make these too small - and deposits it in a recycling bin on the way. It’s a familiar enough routine by now, put your arms up, hold still, turn this way, okay, and done. Glimmer goes up after her and Bow, who arrived a little later than they did and ended up sitting next to Micah, seems to be trapped in conversation; that’s how Catra manages to catch her alone.
“Nothing’s really changed for you, has it, Adora?”
Adora feels goosebumps rush up the back of her neck at the hateful way Catra says her name. Yeah, it’s been eight years, but she still sometimes daydreams about the two of them running into each other, maybe grabbing a beer and laughing over old stories, catching up. This is really not anything like any of those fantasies.
“Hey Catra,” she says, turning to face her, trying to brace herself for what it’ll be like to stare into those eyes again - but she should know better. There’s no preparing yourself for that stare. She finds blue and amber brown and it’s like taking a deep whiff of an old deodorant you haven’t worn in a few years, like hearing a song that hasn’t crossed your mind since you were eighteen and brokenhearted and listening to it on repeat, like feeling the ocean between your toes for the first time after moving all by yourself to a cold landlocked state for seven months and twenty two days. Past and present clash in a vibrant and inescapable tornado of sense memory, and she has to fight to remember that she likes twenty-six year old Adora, and doesn’t need to mourn the loss of the person she was in highschool.
“What, nothing to say in your defense? I guess you’re used to it by now, being handed things you don’t deserve.”
“I really have no idea what you’re talking about,” Adora says, and means it. She feels like it should hurt more, maybe it should make her angry, but she feels insulated by the fact that Catra doesn’t know her anymore, hasn’t known her for nearly a decade. Whatever Catra thinks she’s accusing Adora of, it’s based on old data, old grudges, old wounds. And sure, Adora’s got her fair share of those, but she’s been working on healing them for a long time now. Maybe this is the proof that her scabs have finally turned to scars and aren’t so easily ripped open anymore.
“You don’t know what I’m talking about? The fact that they handed you a lead role, even gender-swapped it just for you, when you can’t even sing?” Oh. Ouch. Okay. That one does hurt, even if it’s blatantly untrue. Maybe not all those wounds are finished healing. Adora stiffens, and straightens up.
“Nice to see you too, Catra. I take it back. You have no idea what you’re talking about.” She could throw Catra’s words back in her face about not being that great of a singer. It had crossed her mind earlier. Since when is Catra good enough to handle the intense, operatic belting that some of Francesca’s solos call for? Since when has Catra dedicated herself to training her breath control and perfecting her pitch to that extent?
Adora resists the urge to jab back. It might feel nice momentarily, but this theatre group is important to her. If Catra is really serious about taking this role, then they need to figure out some kind of peace treaty, and fast, for the sake of the group’s cohesion.
“I’m not quitting,” Catra snaps, as if she thinks Adora’s gathered breath was leading into a suggestion that she do just that.
“Neither am I,” Adora counters.
Wardrobe calls Catra over to get her measurements, and that ends that conversation.
Catra doesn’t talk to her again outside of what’s mandatory for getting through the first rehearsal, even though Adora desperately wishes she would.
And then Saturday afternoon happens.
She and Bow and Glimmer arrive to the basement and DT is set up at the piano, playing something jaunty as everybody wanders in. Catra is already there, having a conversation with Spinnerella, the music director, and Adora definitely doesn’t fixate on the silver flash of the ring Catra’s wearing on her thumb and the matching silver ring through her eyebrow as she nods and points at sheet music.
Adora also definitely didn’t choose her most flattering tank top today to wear to rehearsal on purpose. Nope. Definitely not. And she’s absolutely not planning on shedding the short sleeved button up that she currently has on over top of it at the first opportunity.
And if she were doing those things on purpose, and planning them deliberately, who could blame her? If Catra has gotten hotter in the last eight years, surely so has Adora, right? All that time at the gym has to be good for something. She’s allowed to want to (literally) flex on her old ex girlfriend, right? That isn’t petty. It’s totally not petty.
When Spinnerella leads them through a few vocal warm-ups, Adora strains to hear the quality of Catra’s voice through the ringing unison of the crowd, but can’t pick her out as an individual. It does look like she’s actually singing though, and not just faking it like she used to do as a teenager.
Netossa likes to go through things chronologically, so they start with the opening song of the play. Adora doesn’t have a singing part for the first or the second songs, so she can give her full attention to watching and listening to Catra, trying to determine just why Netossa was so thrilled with her audition. DT plays the intro neatly on piano, and the old church basement fills with anticipation. Adora isn’t the only one curious to see what this new girl is made of, but she’s probably the only person who holds her breath the entire twenty second instrumental opening before Catra inhales, and starts to sing.
There’s a boat - the words curl around Adora’s heart, morose and sweet and thrilling - that leaves from Napoli - Holy shit. Catra is good. - every Thursday in the morning. Ice and heat take turns dancing up and down Adora’s arms as Catra pours herself into the song, reaching the high notes effortlessly and embellishing the midtones with rich, confident strength. And a nervous bride can share a bed with her soldier from the States.
Adora is staring openly. She can’t help it. Catra is… incredible. She’s got the music sheet up and is completely focused on it; still, has she been practicing during the week? She fumbles the lyrics a little, but for a first proper swing at it she’s phenomenal. Never in Adora’s life did she think she’d get goosebumps from hearing someone belt the word Iowa.
At twenty-one, a girl begins to grasp the world and how it spins, Catra sings, and Adora feels like she’s the one that’s spinning, caught in the unflinching touch of vibrato like a loose necktie sucked into a piece of whirring machinery in a gory cautionary cartoon about workplace safety.
The ensemble, cued by Spinnerella, all begin to raise their voices in a more-or-less harmonized choral ups and downs, like a religious epiphany. Adora realizes her mouth is hanging open because her tongue is starting to get a little dried out, so she slaps it shut.
All too soon they switch over to the second song, which gives Sea Hawk the opportunity to make his bid for the limelight. Netossa will have her work cut out for her in keeping his portrayal of simple 1960s farmer Bud something closer to the bittersweet and sympathetic man he’s supposed to be, since Sea Hawk is naturally inclined towards something more like goofy and pathetic, but if anybody can do it, Netossa can. Adora glances at the sheets for this song, reading ahead. Bow does a lot of singing in this one too, and then there’s a back and forth between Frosta and Catra, and then it looks like she’ll get to hear Catra sing again.
She’s briefly distracted from her anticipation of Catra’s lines by Sea Hawk and Bow duelling musically as an All-American father and son, looking up to watch them grinning at each other and having entirely too much fun with their back and forth about Bow’s character, Michael, petulantly wanting to be allowed to drive the car.
Catra’s voice penetrates the aggressive, bouncy, male energy with something gentle and wistful and so, so tender that Adora wants to reach out and comfort her. I've got a book I want to read, Catra sings, sounding so desperately delicate about daring to want something as outrageous as the free time to read a book - I've got new recipes to try - and Adora’s heart breaks at the implied subservience rolled into the tentative musing about what she’ll do without her husband and kids at home. Or I might just spend three days sitting here and staring at the sky.
Adora’s brain is scrambled anew. When did Catra get so good? Adora remembers her being good when she tried, when she was relaxed and happy and singing something that came on the radio instead of in the spotlight and under the strict eye of a teacher. This is like that Catra, but older, braver, seasoned.
Fuck, shit, they’re moving to the next song now - it’s Adora’s first solo as Robert-now-Roberta. She’s been practicing a bit around the apartment since Thursday, but honestly this one isn’t her favourite of her songs so it’s gone a little neglected.
DT starts up a low, moody, jazzy tune on the piano, and she tries not to focus too much on getting in character and just think about getting the words and the notes as technically correct as possible. She definitely cannot think too hard about Catra watching. Ugh, she’s sweating. Fuck, shit, and she forgot to take the shirt off and now it’s too late.
No, no, it’s fine. She’s been doing this for four years with this group. Her vocal coach from BMU would be laughing at her right now to see her so freaked out. She’s perfectly capable.
I left eight days ago from Washington, Adora starts, settling into the easy, almost conversational start to the song. She very determinedly does not look at Catra. She needs to focus on the words and on the notes on the paper in front of her, thank you very much. I've got a place there on the sound. Took Route 2 east out of Spokane… oh, this old truck, she's been around. It’s a relaxed opening, nothing too challenging. The song buzzes along at a steady pace, to the point that she wonders if maybe DT is taking it a little too fast, and soon enough she gets to the part where instead of talk-singing her way through a series of landmarks she actually gets to open up and sing a few drawn out lines that really let her fill her lungs.
And I've been looking for something - she really gives it at I’ve, and then knowing she has a few beats to hold the note and look away from her lyrics, she risks peeking up at Catra. Catra is gaping, shock written all over her face. Adora has to look back down again at her sheet, but smug heat warms her chest - at every bridge that I’ve crossed.
She gets through the song without any other opportunities to look up, and nods gamely as she takes the notes that Spinnerella gives her. Just as she finally gets another chance to turn her eyes back to Catra, Adora catches her looking quickly away, mouth clamped tightly and a thoughtful look on her face.
That night after rehearsal, Catra corners her on the way out the door.
“Hey, Adora. Got a second?”
“Yeah,” Adora says immediately. She fishes her car keys out of her pocket and tosses them to Bow. “You guys want to start it up and get the AC going? I’ll be right behind you.”
“Sure,” Bow says, while Glimmer only squints uncertainly around him, expressing her doubts about leaving Adora alone with Catra, who they’ve both heard a few stories about since Thursday night. Reluctantly, the pair of them jog up the steps and out into the parking lot.
Adora hangs back in the stairwell; Catra slouches against a wall, not making eye contact. Adora waits, stuffing her hands in her pockets. She never did get around to taking off that button up to show off her shoulder muscles and her ink, her proof that she’s moved on and become a very cool person in her own right, thank you very much. Oh well, they’ve got another four months of rehearsals ahead of them.
“I owe you an apology,” Catra says, and if Adora had any ideas about what she was going to say, this is really not one of them. Adora raises her eyebrows and waits for Catra to give said apology. The awkward and nervous way Catra twists the simple metal ring around her thumb makes Adora feel guilty for not saying anything, for not immediately absolving her of whatever she’s about to apologize for like she might have done when they were kids. But things are different now. So she waits, until finally Catra says: “You’re a contralto. I had no idea.”
“You and Weaver both,” Adora says, before she can stop herself.
“Fuck,” Catra mutters, scratching the back of her neck and looking up at Adora for a fleeting moment of sympathetic eye contact. “That must have been awful, all those years of her trying to make you do all the soprano roles so she could give you the solos.”
Adora can hear what Catra isn’t saying: no wonder I thought you were a shitty singer back then.
“Honestly it made me realize how much I really liked musical theatre, since I still came back to it after all those years of thinking I was just naturally really bad at it,” she confesses softly. “You can imagine my surprise when at the end of my first college audition for the theatre club, the director asked me why I picked a song so far out of my natural register.” Catra gives a scoffing laugh, and Adora’s heart does a rebellious little flip.
“Well. I’m sorry I called you shit. You actually sound really good.” First of all, Catra just said the words I’m sorry, and that’s not a fight that Adora has ever won. Secondly, that compliment has her feeling all warm and flustered, and even though there’s so much bad blood between them with the way things ended, it makes her yearn for their old friendship.
“You’ve changed,” Adora says, and even though she means it in an affectionate way, as a peace offering, it makes Catra’s face go angry and insulted, makes her body language go suddenly hostile.
“You don’t know anything about me,” Catra says, pushing off the wall and hopping up the stairs without so much as a goodbye.
“See you Thursday,” Adora says, bemused, to the empty stairwell. She didn’t even get a chance to tell Catra how impressed she was with her singing. Damn. Well. There’s always the next rehearsal, and the next, and the next, for four whole months… this is going to be absolute hell.