cue to cue

A young adult story told in parts

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part 1

come what may

I play “Good Morning Baltimore” from Hairspray every morning when I wake up, even though my mornings are usually not good and I don’t live in Baltimore. I’m hoping it will lift my spirits and inspire me to be optimistic, like the bubbly Tracy Turnblad. Some of the lyrics I can relate to, like, “I see all those party lights flashing ahead, so someone invite me before I drop dead.” I always belt that line out extra loudly as I brush my teeth, and my brother pounds on the door and tells me to shut up. And then my mom gets mad at me because I’ve gotten toothpaste foam all over the bathroom mirror.

Much like Tracy Turnblad, I am not popular. I attend Holy Trinity Academy and I could not be less cool if I tried. I’m a drama nerd. I’ve been in every school production since I arrived at my high school, and I plan to be in every single one until I graduate. Although I’m extremely dedicated and pretty talented, I’ve never gotten a leading role before. This could be because I’m only a sophomore, and usually the seniors get the lead roles, but this year I plan on defying the odds and being the first sophomore lead in eleven years.

I liken myself to Roxie Hart from Chicago (the movie version – I’ve never seen it live). Except I’ve never had sex, killed anyone, gone to jail, or met Queen Latifah. 

I make my way onto the bus with my earphones in and show tunes blasting in my ears. After two more stops, my best friend, Eve Howard steps onto the bus looking fabulous in a poofy floral-print dress and a giant flower in her hair. Eve always looks fabulous, but since she’s not popular people mostly say that she looks like she’s trying too hard. And since she’s not afraid to be herself no matter what anyone else says, she gets talked about almost as much as the popular crowd. Not in a good way really, but, as she says, “Any publicity is good publicity.”

It doesn’t matter to me what anyone else thinks of her, though. She is and will always be my best friend. When Carol Channing died she brought me cookies the next day to cheer me up. That’s a forever friend. She’s the Penny to my Tracy, the Glinda (after she was Galinda) to my Elphaba, the Paulette to my Elle.

It’s worth mentioning that Eve is black. It’s worth mentioning because she always gets cast as whatever minority character is in the school shows. In The Crucible she was Tituba and in South Pacific she was Bloody Mary (even though that character is Vietnamese). She’s the only black person who does the shows. She would really like to be considered for other parts, but since being black almost always guarantees her some sort of role, she doesn’t mind so much.

“Today is the day!” she sings as she sits down next to me. “What do you think it’s going to be?”

“I’m not sure,” I say. “I’m thinking something classic.” We’re finding out what the spring musical is today. Auditions are in less than a month.

“Hmm…I don’t know. I’m thinking something like Sweeney Todd.”

“No way are we doing Sondheim, Eve. And that’s so gloomy.” Eve likes to do really emotional, dark stuff. Her favorite musical is Next to Normal and she loves plays where people go crazy. Simon from Lord of the Flies was her favorite role she ever played, and she was only seven. But she loved losing her mind and being beaten to death by a bunch of scared second graders. You wouldn’t know it to look at her, in her flowery dresses and ribbony headbands, but she can be very morbid.

“That musical is ingenious,” she says.

The bus drops us off, and I go to my first class with butterflies in my stomach. At some point today they’ll make an announcement saying what the musical is. As I head to gym class, I tell myself I’m ready for anything.

We’re playing European Handball in gym. I ask my gym teacher why don’t we play American games, but she just tells me to get changed and blows her whistle at me. I wish we could sit in the classroom and learn about the games before we play them. She yells out the rules over everyone’s chatter in the gym, and there are terrible acoustics so no one ever really hears them. Something about taking three steps and dribbling…The boys somehow all know how to play it already, and most of the girls are pretty athletic so they get away with just throwing the ball towards the goal.

I, however, am not athletic. I played basketball in fifth grade, and there’s a picture of me in the middle of the court – everyone is in the zone, intense, eyes on the ball, and I’m standing there, facing the camera, posing, and cheesing it up. That’s when my family knew I was destined to be a performer. (Plus there was that one time I walked under the net during a practice and the ball landed on my head. That’s when I began to rethink my future as a member of the WNBA.)

Our teacher finishes going over the rules and splits us up into two teams. I am on the “pinny” team, meaning I get to wear a sweaty mesh jersey that has been stretched out by a student before me. Fortunately, I’m used to sharing sweaty costumes with cast members, so it’s not too bad.

The game begins, and I’m hovering in the background hoping the ball stays away from me. The closer the ball gets to me, the further back I move. I’m playing my own game of dodgeball while everyone else is eager to get their hands on the ball.

I feel like the Little Mermaid when she first gets her legs. The ball is as foreign an object to me as a dinglehopper was to her, and I’m tripping over my own two feet as I migrate away from it. I feel like bursting into “Part of Your World,” bringing the game to a halt as everyone gazes at me in stunned silence. I would belt out the ending notes and there would be thunderous applause. Somehow, though, I have a feeling that’s not what would happen.

Class goes by, and there are about two minutes left before we have to get changed. I’m silently praying that the ball stays away from me and I escape this class unscathed, but right before I say “Amen,” the ball comes soaring straight at me. In a panic, I duck and the ball lands in the goal, giving the other team the winning point.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!” a kid named Charlie yells. His face is red and his hair is sticking to the back of his neck due to the gallons of sweat he is producing. He looks like he wants to beam me on the head with the ball. I notice he’s wearing a pinny. I guess he was on my team. The rest of the class stares at me silently until the teacher blows her whistle and sends us to the locker rooms.

As I walk to the locker room I see Miranda Saber snickering at me. Miranda Saber is the most popular girl in school. I know it sounds cliché to say someone’s the most popular girl in school, but it’s true. She’s the Amber to my Tracy, the Galinda (before she was Glinda) to my Elphaba, the Vivian to my Elle. 

She’s not a cheerleader. She plays lacrosse. She has bridged the gap between lacrosse players and the cool crowd. Now, the cool girls aren’t the cheerleaders, they’re the lacrosse players. She doesn’t need any sport to make her popular, though. All she needs is her malicious glare and her strawberry Wet ‘N Wild lip gloss. She transcends all.

Everyone calls her Randi. You might thing people would make fun of her for having a nickname that sounds like a boy’s name, but that “i” on the end is magical. It makes her boy nickname a cute, girly name that everyone loves. The boys don’t call her that, though. It’s too cutesy with an “i” at the end. They just call her Miranda.

I always wish I had a nickname, but May is already one syllable and there’s really no way to nick my name. Maybe if my name were a different month. Like, if my name were April people could call me “Ape.” Okay, wait. Maybe not.

As I get changed I wonder what Spencer thinks of me. Spencer Walsh is also in my gym class, and I love him. It’s ironic that the one person I hate the most and the one person I love the most are both in my most embarrassing class.

If Miranda Saber is popular, then Spencer’s a god. He’s Link, Fiyero, Warner. And of course he’s dating Miranda. I’ve had a crush on him since freshman orientation. There was a Mass in the morning and, since we were sitting in alphabetical order, I was seated next to him. He said hi and asked me questions about myself. He shook my hand and said “Peace be with you,” at the right time during Mass. He held my hand during the Our Father. (Well, he held Peter Zach’s hand too, but still.) Then, later on when I was struggling to open my locker, he appeared out of nowhere and asked my combination. He turned the little dial and my locker sprang open. He was like some sort of superhero. I would compare him to Spiderman, but that musical wasn’t any good so I’m not going to.

I go through my uneventful classes dreaming of singing onstage, winning a Tony, being deconstructed by Seth Rudetsky, but when I take stock of my day I realize the only thing I’ve accomplished is writing myself into a corner with this geometry proof. It’s not my fault. Every time I think, “if and only if,” which is a phrased used when writing proofs, I think something like, “if and only if I had an agent, I would be on Broadway right now.”

I scribble over all the lyrics I doodled on my math sheet and hand it in hoping the teacher doesn’t notice that I paid more attention to the aesthetics of the lines from Rent that I scribbled on the paper than the actual proof.

I go through English with similar lack of gusto, although learning about Shakespeare is technically learning about theatre, so I’m more into that. Unfortunately, in my class’s reading of Romeo and Juliet I have been cast as the Nurse, who’s totally old and crude, but I make it work.

At the end of last year my music theory teacher, Mr. Bono (yes, that’s his real name) gave my name to Student Services so I could be a music tutor. He said I would make a great tutor and anyone would be lucky to have me. So, getting called down to the Student Service Center at lunch doesn’t really surprise me. I walk in and see Spencer Walsh sitting in the waiting room with his perfect, curly blonde hair and his sparkling brown eyes. I can’t believe he’s actually dating that wretched Miranda Saber. They are the ultimate power couple, like Elle and Warner. Except I don’t think either of them would be accepted into law school.

 “Hi, Miss Tuttle,” I say to the secretary in the front of the office. “I was just called down here.”

“Right, May. You have your first tutoring assignment. His name is Spencer, and…” She goes on but I can’t hear her. All I can do is stare in shock as I realize I’m going to be Spencer’s tutor. I’m going to sit next to him and tell him what to do, and he’s going to watch me write things down and…I think I might pass out. Of course I ran out of body spray this morning, so I’m not smelling as flowery as usual.

“Okay?” Miss Tuttle looks at me expectantly.

“Um…yeah, okay.”

“So you guys can head down to the piano room.”

“Okay,” I croak and inch my way over to Spencer.

“Hi, May,” he says and stands up, smiling. He’s got a beautiful smile. All white and glossy. And his teeth are just the right size. They’re not too big, like a beaver’s, but not too small, like a serial killer’s. We start to head down to the piano room and I’m trying to remember how to breathe. How have I done it all these years? It’s just in and out, right? Oh my gosh, our pinkies almost touched. I’m about to choke on my own oxygen out of excitement when he speaks again.

“Hey, so are you alright?” he asks.

“What?” I let out a big breath. “Oh, yeah. Yeah, I’m good.”

“Good, cause I felt bad for you.”

“Wait. What?”

“Earlier. In gym. Charlie’s ridiculous. He’s so competitive. It’s just gym class.”

“Oh, right,” I say. “Charlie. Yeah, that was ridiculous. I’m fine, though.”

“Good, I’m glad he didn’t bother you. He can be a jerk.”

I snort. “I know, right?”

We arrive at the piano room and, after a thorough interview with Mr. Lynch about why we’re in the basement during lunch time, he unlocks the door and lets us in.

“Okay,” I say as we sit down at the piano and I open up his book. “Let’s start with the solfege syllables. Do you know them?”

“The what?” He looks clueless.

“The solfege syllables. You know, do, re, mi…” He’s staring at my blankly. I guess he really doesn’t know what he’s doing. “Okay, just think Julie Andrews.”

“Who?”

“Julie Andrews. You know, The Sound of Music. Mary Poppins. Victor/Victoria…” None of this seems to be ringing a bell. “Okay, just listen to this and it should help you remember.” I begin playing the piano and singing, “Do, Re, Mi” from The Sound of Music. “That will bring us back to Do!” I finish and he’s looking at me like I have three heads.

“Wow,” he says. “You have such a pretty voice.”

“Oh,” I giggle. “Well...you know…Thanks.” I look at him for a moment and notice that he’s really looking at me. He’s looking at me the way a person looks at you…if you have something stuck in your teeth. Oh, God. I pull out my compact and frantically search my teeth for residual lunch, but there’s nothing there. Interesting.

After drawing the Circle of Fifths and playing intervals on the piano for Spencer, I head to my dance class. As I walk in I see my teacher standing at the front of the class, arms crossed, foot tapping.

Chip Cheek. He’s the devil who came from Georgia. He’s got a very welcoming accent and can have a very kind face, but once he starts teaching he’s a monster. No mercy, that’s his motto. Well, not really, but if he had a motto I think that would be it. Everyone calls him Chippy. Not to his face. It’s not really an affectionate nickname. It’s more like an everyone-hates-you-so-we’re-going-to-insult-you-behind-your-back nickname.

He  stands in fifth position in front of the class. Show off. I’m not very good at fifth position. My feet just don’t turn that way.

Everyone stares at him. “Well, you know what to do,” he says in his sweet-as-pie accent. “Do it!” We all pile into the changing room and strip down into our leos (leotards) and tights. He calls them leos. I think that’s stupid, but he says it so often it’s been engrained into my mind.

We all take our spots on the floor and begin our warmup. First, there are ballet exercises and stretching. Then it gets intense. Jumping jacks, sit-ups, planking, push-ups, straddles, splits, and more. I’m not the best dancer and I’m not the most flexible, so my split doesn’t go down all the way and my straddle is very acute, and I don’t mean adorable.

“Okay,” he says as we all get up and race to the corners of the room for a swig of water before we begin floor exercises. “Everyone line up.” He goes through an intricate routine across the floor very slowly. I’m just trying to commit it to memory when he says, “That’s the tempo.”

What? That slow-motion exercise he just did? That’s supposed to be the tempo? You might think that this would be a good thing, as I am unsure of the actual moves and incapable of doing most of them. Doing them slowly should be easier, right? Wrong. You have to be even more precise when you’re doing them slowly, and precision is not my best quality when it comes to dancing.

Okay, I think there were a few jétes and maybe a pirouette…Oh, this is hopeless. I go to the back of the line and watch the students who go before me intently. They make it look so easy they might as well just be skipping across the classroom.

Suddenly, the song switches from some pop song I don’t know to “How Bout a Dance?” from Bonnie and Clyde. Usually, Chip plays pop songs and I don’t know them. Now I wish someone would hand me a microphone and make room for me in the center of the floor, as I can belt this one out pretty good. The dancing continues, though, and my turn is coming up.

The person before me finishes and I take a step with my right foot, which I think is correct. And then Laura Osnes’ belting is blaring from the speakers and I’m swept away. I’m dancing. I’m really dancing. And not just my body. My face is dancing. I can feel the emotions spreading from the center of my face, and in this moment I really am seducing Clyde Barrow.

I’ve never felt this good dancing before. He should play show tunes all the time if he wants people to really get into it. I finish with one last flourish and step to the side, smiling. The whole class is looking at me in awe. I feel so free. So this is what dancing is supposed to feel like!

“May…” Chip looks around the class and cracks a smile, which is rare for him. I try to contain my excitement but it’s difficult. “What in heaven’s name was that?”

“I don’t know. The music just took me away.” I sigh and look around. Everyone’s looking at Chip now, waiting for him to say something.

“It took you away alright, right down Insane Lane.”

“What?”

“I’ve never seen anything that bad, even from you.”

Okay, so maybe the song wasn’t so much carrying me as dragging me across the floor, I think as I get changed. But he didn’t have to be so rude about it. “Insane Lane.” That’s not even clever. Just because something rhymes doesn’t mean you should say it.

It’s the end of the day, and I’ve almost completely forgotten about the musical being announced what with teaching Spencer and being schooled by my dance instructor. Just as the clock is about to hit 2:27, which is the official end of the day and Mr. Donald turns off the PBS John Adams Series, our theatre director’s voice comes over the speaker. 

“I’d like to announce that auditions for our spring musical are coming up and will be held in the piano room next week. This year’s spring musical is My Fair Lady. Come sign up for auditions in the Activities Office. Thank you.”

I can’t believe it. The tips of my fingers are tingling. My ears are ringing. Must. See. Eve. Now.

The bell rings and I follow the sound of the squealing I hear on the other side of the hall. Eve and I meet in front of Pat Haggen’s locker and jump up and down, hugging. Pat gives us a look of disgust as he shoves some papers into his lockers, until he realizes he’s too cool to even be paying attention to us. He quickly turns to some other jock and yells something both foul and unfunny, and they double over laughing.

“I can’t believe this! Are you excited?”

“Are you excited?!”

“Of course I’m excited!” I’m basically yelling in the middle of the hallway as I answer Eve. People are looking, but I don’t care.

“I thought you would be. It’s not my favorite show, but it’ll be fun. And I can totally see you as Eliza Doolittle.”

“Oh my gosh, thank you so much! I can too!” Eliza Doolittle is the lead. She starts out as this uncultured, obnoxious flower salesgirl and turns into a “proper” woman, as she puts it. So, you get to have both a cockney accent and a proper English accent while playing her. And she’s got so many songs, and they’re all so beautiful! I must be Eliza Doolittle.

“I’m going home to pick my audition song right away.”

“Of course you are. Can you help me pick mine?” Eve looks nervous already.

“Absolutely. Let’s go catch the bus before we miss it.”

part 2

april showers

The week plods on at a tortoise-like pace. I pick my audition song (Wonderful Guy from South Pacific) and pick Eve’s song (If I Were a Bell from Guys and Dolls), and I take every waking second I have to myself to rehearse. Even when I’m teaching Spencer I’m not totally paying attention. He’s cute, but I’d rather have the lead in the show than have some boy. I can’t help noticing his eyes are all red on Thursday, though, and I feel obligated to ask if he’s okay.

“Hey, is everything alright?”

“Oh yeah. I’m just…Miranda and I just broke up.”

The whole world stops spinning for a moment and I’m suddenly scared of the disastrous effects this might have on the human race. But I don’t have time to focus on that right now. There’s a man here with his heart in shreds. I must tend to him.

“I’m so sorry,” I say. “That’s really…too bad.”

“Yeah. It was really just a matter of time. She can be kind of…mean.”

“Ya think?” I snort. “I mean…oh really? I never noticed that.”

“Yeah. Plus I kind of…like someone else.”

I have too much common sense to think that he’s talking about me, but it’s kind of fun to think about anyway.

 

 

***

It’s Friday, and it’s one of those rainy days where it’s dark everywhere, even when you turn all of the lights on. My Toms have sopped up all of the moisture from the sidewalk, and as I make my way home from the bus stop, I think maybe I should invest in rain boots. 

I open the front door to my house and hear murmuring from the family room. I pass by the kitchen and notice that it’s empty and there is no pre-made snack laying out for me to eat. Usually my mom has something ready for me when I come home. I always tell her I’m old enough to get my own snack, but she makes my snack anyway. I secretly like it, even though I roll my eyes when she does it. I’m not as good at cutting up apples and cheese as she is.

I toss my backpack on the bench in the foyer and enter our family room, where my mom is sitting with Pixie Stix bunched in her hands like a bouquet of petal-less flowers. My dad is hovering above her, tapping something on his phone, his eyes darting back and forth between my mom, the phone, and the window, looking like he’s trying to find an escape route.
 

“Hey,” I say and stand in the doorway. “What’s going on? Dad, how come you’re home?” My dad usually works until 6:00. And he’s usually late anyway, so it’s strange for me to see him at 3:00. Somehow, he looks even more tired than he does after a whole day of work. He’s got 3:00 shadow, which I didn’t know existed, but apparently does.

“Hi May,” my mom gives me a watery smile. I’m starting to get concerned. Is someone dead? “Why don’t you have a seat?” As I sit down, she stands up and hands me a Pixie Stix. Hesitantly, I open it up and suck a little bit of blue sugar from the top of it.

I hear my brother blasting Nickelback in his room and focus on not rolling my eyes. He loves Nickelback. I try not to say anything to him, because he hates my show tunes, but sometimes that gritty, yell-y voice is just too much. I wonder why he isn’t down here. If something serious is going on, shouldn’t he be a part of the conversation too?

“Should I get Sammy?” I ask and lick the blue powder off of my lips.

“No, that’s okay. We just spoke to him. We wanted to talk to you two separately.” My mom whips the phone out of my dad’s hand and tosses it on the couch. “We have some…news.” She sits next to me and holds my hand.

“Oh, just tell her already!” my dad says and rolls his eyes. “We told one kid and he’s perfectly fine with it. We don’t need to make this some big dramatic thing!”

“What’s going on?” I look back and forth between my disgruntled father and my uneasy mother and start to make up scenarios in my head. “Whatever I’m thinking is probably worse than what it really is, so why don’t you just tell me?”

“Your mom and I are getting divorced,” my dad states plainly.

“What?” I drop my Pixie Stix and it rolls on the carpet, blue sugar puffing everywhere. This was worse than all of the scenarios in my head put together. Well, maybe it’s not, but it feels like it is. “Why?”

“We’ve had some irreconcilable differences. Things are going to be better this way,” says my mom.

“No, they’re not!” I stand up and accidentally step on the Pix Stix. The paper wrapper rips and more blue sugar spews everywhere. “Things were perfectly fine! You guys don’t even fight! I don’t get this.”

“Relax, May,” my dad says with a note of compassion in his voice. “It’s going to be okay. You’ll see, everybody will be happier.”

“I won’t!” I yank three Pixie Stix out of my mom’s hands, ripping open the tops, and down them like the sugar will give me a buzz that will make me forget everything. “You know, this is really selfish of you guys! I have a big audition coming up. Did you even take that into consideration? You didn’t even try! I hate you both!” I squeeze the last of the Pixie Stix into my mouth and stomp upstairs, blue powder following me around as it is stuck to my shoe.

I know I don’t really mean any of what I just said, but I’m mad right now and I can’t help it. They’re being selfish. They haven’t even tried therapy or counseling or anything. They don’t care about this family at all.

I pound on my brother’s door and hear him call, “What?” over the blasting music. I try to open the door but it’s locked.

“Let me in!” I yell. A second later, my brother appears at the door and is ushering me inside his room. “Will you turn this down?” I ask.

“Fine.” He turns the volume on his computer down a little bit and looks at me. His eyes are bloodshot and I see his teddy bear that he’s had since he was a baby has been hastily kicked under the bed.

“Did they tell you?” I ask, already knowing the answer.

“What, that they’re getting divorced? Yeah, whatever.” I barely hear him sniff above the music.

“Whatever? That’s all you have to say?”

“What do you want me to say, May? It’s no big deal. We’re going to get two Christmases now. I’ve already started two different lists. And divorced parents always feel guilty. They’ll probably give us anything we want.”

“Sammy!”

“Don’t call me that!” he yells. “I’m Sam. I’m 13-years-old. I’m not a baby. My name is Sam, not Sammy.”

“You know what?” I try to hold it in but it forces its way out and a moment later I’m yelling, “I hate you too!”

“Good!” he calls as I stomp out of his bedroom. “Maybe now you’ll leave me alone!” He slams the door. I walk into my room and slam the door. I wipe my eyes, which have begun tearing up and decide to use my anger for good and practice “Just You Wait,” the angriest song from My Fair Lady. I’m impressing myself with how good my acting is, but deep down I know I’m not really acting.