Actually, that’s not exactly accurate. If she was a nervous wreck then she’d know how to calm herself down. What she was, was something that she had no words for, but she knew it was making her mind go up and down those mental walls she worked so hard making sure weren’t easily shatterable.
So far so good.
She was in the dressing room. Not a specific one per se. It was where other fellow visuals were and she sat in front of a mirror. She forced a smile as she brushed her dark hair in slow motions with a brush. She tried not to think about how jumpy she felt. Twice already, as someone had came to talk to her about something (mostly about telling her when she was set to go on), she thought about how she wasn’t sure if they would like it.
(They meaning the audience and potential talent scouts watching her).
Yeah, like she knew what the heck she was doing. She didn’t know where her project landed genre wise. She was a painter who decided to do original sketches that were more emotive than anything else she has done. Tilly was taking a risk. She didn’t know if it would pay off.
“They’re probably only gonna like the beginning. The part Damien animated.”
Oh, that’s right Damien! She had completely forgot that she needed to thank him...well, in ways that might make up for all of the questions she hounded him with. She was a bother. Continuously checking with him, asking him if he was sure and everything that was a classic Tilly move.
And hello smile again as Tilly felt a tap on her shoulder. “Tilly Phoenix?”
“We’re ready for you.”
“Hai!” She spoke as she stood up.
The person just shrugged and went in opposite direction that Tilly did.
As she made her way out of the visuals’ dressing room and went down a series of turns, Tilly aimlessly wandered around. It took all of twenty seconds to realize that she might’ve gotten herself lost. In the back of her mind, she was cursing herself for not asking for specific directions.
And then as she walked and walked and walked some more, she wasn’t paying attention.
Her head collided with someones. She saw dark hair and someone who didn’t seem too thrilled.
And Tilly was on her knees. “Owie,” she whined as she got to her feet, looking at the person she bumped into. “I’m so sorry! Are you okay?”
If there was one thing that Corey Preston probably hated more than anything other than feeling unwanted by his own best friend, which some nights he did feel like that, it was being late.
But, of course, he had nobody else to blame but himself.
He had spent the last few nights staying up to God-only knows how long trying to finish up the final draft of his poem. He went over it several times and wasn’t satisfied. Some parts in the beginning felt off, some parts in the middle dragged, and the ending didn’t have a powerful finish.
These were all things Mr. Johnny told him to work on. They spent many late afternoons after the final bell rang every day. When Corey wasn’t dragging his feet home to eat and sleep, he was working long hours at school: during lunch, before school, after school, on the weekends -- all to make it perfect. Corey knew it had to be perfect. It needed to draw out the emotions in not only himself, but to those who hear it.
And maybe, if one special person happened to be in the audience, someone who he has been neglecting avoiding for a few days now, then maybe all of this would be worth it.
Of course, Corey knew that the purpose for the arts fest was to get noticed and of course he knew his parents and sisters would be there. That wasn’t to say they weren’t important to him, because they were. They were the reason he was here and the reason he had a chance of maybe getting noticed by someone. Who knew? Maybe this could open the doors for Corey to maybe getting an internship or maybe even noticed by Button Poetry or some company of similar prestige.
But Maddie was the person he really wanted to hear this. Not because of its contents but just so he knew that one of the most important people in his life was there for him, watching his performance and, after it would be said and done, he’d do the same for her. Because despite every tense feeling going through their bodies right now and what was undoubtedly a test of their friendship -- at least on Corey’s end because he felt so out of place -- he wanted to be there for her.
But Corey couldn’t until this line started moving faster. Thus came to the point why Corey was overstressing. He was late putting in the finishing touches on his poem and now he was at the entrance of the stadium, waiting to get inside.
As he stood in line, he felt every bone in his body impatiently twitch and his right foot started to tap on the floor as a reflection of this. “C’mon, please go faster,” Corey said as he stood on his tippy toes, bumping into someone next to him. “Oh, sorry about that.”
The last time the Arts Fest happened, Hunter wasn’t slated to perform. The last time the Ars Fest happened, he was part of the support for a senior he knew by the name of Isaiah Harper, who was a singer and someone Hunter remembered being a total jackass.
God, how he hated Isaiah. He was basically what Dei and Chas were but the complete opposite in every way possible. He was conceited and arrogant, vain and egotistical, but not inspiring like Dei and Chas were. Hunter also remembered him being a bit of a diva and not giving him the credit that he deserved. If it wasn’t for Hunter being part of the team that took care of the arrangement of Isaiah’s song, it would have sucked. Now, he might not be the best at it and he has plenty of learning left to do, but that was something he knew was a certified fact.
As he was making his way into the stadium, Hunter just couldn’t help but think about Isaiah and where he was now. “Probably making someone’s life hell.” That thought carried Hunter into a low chuckle, half-grinning only for himself.
Isaiah wasn’t here and Hunter wasn’t part of some support team this year. He had a solo performance coming on later on. His song, written and arranged by him, was modeled after a song he heard on the radio last week. To think, last week was when he finally decided to go ham on it. He spent hours getting it just right, though the lyrics were done.
Honestly, though, Hunter wasn’t exactly in the headspace to feel confident. Between Nickie, his little chat with Mr. Jumper and the principal, let alone his fight with Lin, there was a lot on his mind. To top it all off, Hunter’s family was running late.
He looked down at the group text between him and his parents--that’s to say him, his father, and his stepmother--the last text he received was from Hana and that was an hour ago, saying they were still in Laguna Beach, which could only mean that they’ll run into traffic.
And that meant they might not make it for his performance.
Not like I need that added stress.
Hunter was lying, of course. Deep down he wanted them there. Even Hana, whom he has gotten a lot closer with in the past month.
As he just shrugged it away, Besides there was something he needed to do.
Well not just needed but wanted. Since it was a fact that Hunter didn’t have to get ready for his performance for a while, he figured he’d go and support someone who he felt was pretty close to him.
That person was Amy.
He didn’t know when she was going to be on, but Hunter knew he’d stay until she did.
As he made his way towards where he knew the music stage was, he eventually found a spot in the crowd. He knew a general layout of when Amy was set to go on, but didn’t know when exactly. As he waited, call it typical Hunter or what, but would be like him to notice someone right next him, carrying...something. “You’re Remi, right?” He asked, looking at the guy. He was noticeably older than Hunter was, that much he could deduce. “Don’t think I ever had the pleasure, man. Think we only talked briefly on Twitter,” Hunter remarked with a laugh.
Auguste Cortes put his phone down backstage as his time came up. It was fun, messing around with Ez every now and then when he felt like it. Slightly flattering, really. His entire life he was viewed as not necessarily attractive, so it was kind of odd to feel like someone liked him for his looks.
Of course, he had no illusions on exactly what Ezra wanted. And come on, if he was going to do that, then he was going to make Ez work a little bit harder than a pottery lesson and a bit of flirting here and there. Just wasn’t his style.
Auguste walked from the stage left, the taps on his shoes clicking into the empty silence of the audience. He tilted his head back arrogantly, getting into place at the center of the stage, his hands stuck into his pockets. The spotlight was on him. People staring at him. Hours of preparation built just trying to make everything absolutely perfect.
Now, a little tiny hint for those that were curious. Auguste was afraid of people, most people. Therefore, logically, he should’ve had crippling stage fright.
Auguste was afraid of many things. However stage fright was not among his fears.
He flew through his routine, perfectly in sync to the music as he went through the motions, his arms crossed.
5. 6. 5, 6, 7, 8,
Tap tap, up up. Look at the audience. Grin. Smile. You’re in control. Stare at the crowd, uncross your arms and clasp your hands behind your back as you move. Make it look relaxed, make it look easy.
His upper half was in perfect counterpoint, easy and relaxed, a confident smirk (one he stole from Ez, thank you God for giving him a confident friend to emulate) never leaving his face as he went through the motions.
The taps were clear, ringing out into the audience, like a drum. Gave a little flirty wink at an audience member, blow a kiss to another. Act like the next part is no big deal at all. Yawn, a little joke from him to the audience. Showmanship. And he usually didn’t get to flex his showmanship skills, people generally didn’t expect it from him, soft spoken and mild-mannered as he was.
Make it technically immaculate, nothing they can deduct points from for deciding to have fun on stage, because his technique was perfect and his routine was challenging to strike that confident balance of being impressive to watch and acting like it was a cakewalk, make it seem like just about anybody could do it. He didn’t get a lot of chances to do a routine like this. Joke around a bit.
And then a series of chaines - his specialty, thank you father. Fast, like a spinning top as he whirled and did a jump. He landed on his feet, touching the ground to signal the end of the routine.
He stood and took a bow, quickly filing off the stage for the next person. He was already loosening his tie and taking his hair out from the tight bun he’d put it in. A grin on his face already that just wouldn’t come off.
Some people did heroin, some people did cocaine. Auguste Cortes was addicted to performance.
It lessened the aging effect that his constant melancholy seemed to have - a fountain of youth, if you will. Made him visibly buzzy with the energy. Was he going to have a major crash probably at 2AM and not get up for another day or two? ABSOLUTELY. But he just wanted to do more. Wanted to do something else. Maybe run around the building a couple of times. Who fucking knew.
Was it a little bit sad that he had nobody to cheer him on? Perhaps. But he thought that his work spoke for himself on that front. Could always just cultivate more followers if he wanted. He removed his tap shoes - wouldn’t need those any more.
His mother didn’t really approve of his life choices… Or his hairstyle. Or his career path. Or his ability to express emotions. Or his temperament. Or his face. Or his scars (even though she caused a good majority of them). Or his-
She was kinda fucked, alright? It was bad enough that he was a spitting image of his father, white patch and all. He inherited his father’s artistic talent as well? Scandalous, absolutely scandalous. Frankly he was glad that she didn’t show. Kept all of his notices that “Your child will be performing!” nonsense in his locker in a crumpled up heap. It’d taken a lot of convincing (a night where she’d been a bit too drunk to notice what exactly she was signing) for him to get here. And it required her not knowing where exactly he lived. Just that he was living… somewhere in LA probably.
And it helped keep his reputation of “Innocent Soft Auggie” up that he didn’t get into screaming matches with his mother. Ez certainly hadn’t believed him when he’d said he used to be rather awful which meant he was doing something correctly.
As for his father… His father definitely couldn’t show up. A bit difficult to do that when you were six feet under in a cemetery in Spain.
Didn’t stop him from being a fucking good mood, though.
He changed into something more normal. A nice button up and some slacks. Took his hair and tied it in a loose ponytail and turned to go out of the dressing room.
What was he going to do now with all his free time? Probably run around the building a bit. Take a jog. Try to get the excess adrenaline out of his system so he wasn’t so energetic. Maybe hide away and compose a bit. His mind was just abuzz with all the different ideas now.
He visibly started at seeing Ez casually leaning against his doorframe. His reawakened heart started pounding against his ears.
“Hey.” Auguste said, with a grin that actually reached his eyes. Alright. Game on then.
Whatever the dancer was expecting to come out of Ez’s mouth, he was not expecting genuine compliments. Maybe some pickup lines about dancing or something. He ducked his head, a clear rosy blush spreading from his neck to his face. “Oh, eh, thank you. Very much.”
Give him the fucking flowers.
This was fine.
“Ah, the carnations.” Auguste mumbled as he took the flowers, gingerly. His accent was a lot more apparent when he was flustered. “I… thank you. Again.”
Could he die now?
The dancer was now taking on roughly the same exact color of the carnations. And he was absolutely mortified. Which was contributing to the cherry color.
He might’ve started bawling right there if it hadn’t been for some kind of pride in keeping any kind of reputation intact. A mixture of the emotional cocktail that had just been shaken up inside of him. Instead, he was settling for sniffing the flowers.
Yes. They smelled like flowers.
Not only was that a nice method of justifying his intense urge to curl in on himself and melt until he was a puddle on the floor, it was also preferably hiding his blush.
No it wasn’t.
Listen, universe. When he thought that Ez needed to put a little more effort in, he was just joking. He didn’t mean “Hey. Show up with some flowers and compliments.”
And everything was too silent, and Auguste was reminded quite painfully at how terrible of a conversationalist he was when he had to be… genuine. Was it normal that some basic compliments absolutely killed the conversation? Probably not. Definitely not. Was he supposed to compliment Ez’s stuff? He hadn’t seen it…
“... You look nice.” Nailing it.
He didn’t want to smush any of the flowers. Didn’t want to crush them. Auguste cradled them as best as he could. Praying that it wasn’t completely and totally obvious that the dancer had no idea what to do when confronted with praise and gifts.
“I was… just… eh…” He gestured to the hallway behind Ez in a vague manner. “Out…. sorry for missing your exhibit.”
Struggling to return to normalcy here. Someone please cause a crisis. Like Chas. He never thought he’d ever wish for Chas’s tiny terrifying presence, but at least it’d break up whatever this was.
His heart was still in his ears. But at least the blush was fading now. Progress.
“I can… eh.. Buy you something to eat… eh… While we’re out. Pay you for these.” He said, shoving the hand that wasn't holding the flowers into his pocket. All of that confidence that he’d displayed on the stage completely wiped from his system now. Yeah. That sounded like a nice middle ground that would get them back to some kind of normal. Who did Ez think he was, giving him genuine compliments like it was no big deal.
Did you ever just... get the urge to really just... just slap someone? Because like, Beth felt as if that was her reaction to a majority of her conversations with Tori. Sure, sometimes the sisters got along... decently enough, but it seemed as if, more often than not, Beth really just found herself wanting to reach out and just smack her sister.
Slap some sense into her, as they said. Of course, Beth highly doubted that just slapping her sister would knock any kind of sense into her, and instead, it would probably just result in another bitch fest from her sister about whatever. And then she'd probably tattle to their dad, so then she'd have to sit through that little bitch fest, and it would just be shoved down her throat again and again about blah, blah, don't slap your sister.
So she kept her hands away. Instead, her arms were crossed over her chest, and her hands gripped her arms to keep herself from going against all common sense.
Deep breaths, Beth, you're better than her.
Hell, she didn't even really need to recite it to herself. Beth knew it was true.
Tori held up her palm, and Beth rolled her eyes. She briefly wondered what her sister's reaction would be if she were to just high five her -- she'd probably lose her mind.
“We’ve been over this.” Tori rolled her eyes. “Obviously you’re not going to admit you’re wrong, so I don’t want to hear another word about this shit unless you’re, like, groveling at my feet or something.”
Oh my god.
Tori was seriously lucky that Beth had any kind of self-control -- otherwise? Well, Tori would end up looking like that tacky Chas Marino in more than just their poor taste in fashion.
“Tsk, Elizabeth…” Tori continued. “Ugh, Jeez, you’re such a pain. You broke your promise not even thirty seconds after you made it, too.”
Because Tori was being a total bitch. Beth couldn't keep her promise if Tori was doing everything in her power to make sure that Beth's blood was boiling.
“I deserve an apology for that, by the way.” Tori continued, and Beth's jaw dropped open. “And, honestly, I also deserve compensation for putting up with your ass twenty-four-seven, too, but we’re not going to open that can of worms right now, either,” she joked, but Beth knew it was anything but a joke.
"I'm not apologizing," Beth responded bluntly. "And you're not that easy to live with, either," it appeared that although Tori hadn't wanted to open that can of worms, Beth had no problem in mentioning it. Or, rather, having the last word as far as this conversation went, because she was by far the easier of the Sterlings to live with. "You dust literally everything. It's annoying as hell."
Especially when she was whining at Beth to dust her room. Like, who actually dusted their houses? That's right, no one but maybe like... really bored stay at home spouses or whatever.
“Did… Did Mom tell you where she was going to meet you? And is it seriously going to be, like, same time as Dad?”
"I texted her when we got here and told her where the booth was going to be set up," Beth responded. "And she said that she was, like, on her way, so she should be here any minute or whatever. When did you tell Dad to come? I mean, like, he's probably not even going to show up."
Her tone was casual and breezy as she dropped that little insult about their father.
Was it to try and get under Tori's skin even more?
Now, Damien had made his way around with quite a few girls (and guys), despite what everyone else might believe, or whatever fucking lies Kian might be out there spinning. Hey, Felix wouldn't've referred to him as the Slut consistently if it wasn't for true reasons. Those true reasons obviously being just that -- he was kind of a slut.
The point here was that he'd dealt with a lot of fucking people that couldn't keep their mouths shut. Fuck, he'd fucked this one chick a couple times before he ended up blocking her number just because she'd just chatter and chatter and chatter even when they were being intimate, and he really didn't want to hear anymore shit about whatever the fuck was wrong with his life. He'd been there for one purpose.
(He'd then forgotten she kind of worked at this frozen yogurt place and he'd taken a different chick there, and the bitch had thrown frozen yogurt at him for ghosting her. He didn't get lucky that night but hey, he did get a year's supply of free frozen yogurt because of the bitch.)
But holy fucking hell, no one really compared to this chick and just how much she could blabber on.
It was fine, whatever, he just had to keep his eyes on the end goal.
The girls here were--
Well, actually, no, they weren't harder to get with than the girls at his old schools. Or, rather, so far he'd been really lucky, because he'd been met with the bitches that would've fucked anyone that smiled at them.
That had been Damien's first mistake. He'd fucked everyone that was an easy catch, and now he was stuck in dumb conversations like this to try and get laid.
“Oh, you make YouTube videos?” she asked. “What kind of stuff do you do? I’m guessing, like, animation, obviously, but…man-eating octopi, like, Adult Swim-type stuff? Or, uhm…what’re those videos with the cute cartoon animals with a lot of blood and organs or whatever…? Or is it, like…those dancing animations to music, or…?”
Well, well, well, now this was a conversation that he could invest himself in, and Damien -- who had managed to pretty much tune her out up until this point -- focused back on.
This was easily his favorite topic of conversation.
Oh, what, you think he meant animation?
He meant himself.
Slater's favorite thing to talk about was clearly Slater.
"Happy Tree Friends," he responded to answer her question, his eyes lighting up. "Dude, I fucking love those cartoons. They inspired me to start animating in the first place." He said with a wistful sigh. That wasn't true in the least bit -- watching some dumb animated shit on one of the free television stations that his mom's old TV could get was what had first inspired him, but it was a lot cooler to say something like exploding animals.
"Oh, uhh... it's mostly just dumb shit. Happy Tree Friends-esque on my YouTube, it's ahh..." he chuckled. "It's a really dumb channel. I'll probably delete it or some shit now that I'm here. Got plenty of people to show my shit off to now, no need to rely on Internet losers."
“I’m glad you like it, though. It can definitely, like…yeah, I remember being totally shook, too. But also, like, don’t be intimidated. Y’know, you’re literally, like, one of the celebrities now, right? You’re here because, like, obviously you deserve to be here. Where are you from, by the way? Like, are you from around here, or was it just, like…one of those things where you kind of just totally changed your entire life, moved across the country, bam?”
Fuck yeah he was a celebrity now.
He was just waiting on his little verified checkmark from Instagram and Twitter to make it official. The little checkmark that would let the world know that yep, it was him, the Damien fucking Slater.
But also that was cute. Her thinking he'd be intimidated.
Nothing intimidated Damien.
(Or, rather, when it did, he tended to act as if it didn't. Yes, he was quite intimidated right now.)
"I'm LA born and raised," he explained with a grin. "Love it here. Couldn't really imagine myself living anywhere else and shit. It's ahh... yeah, no moving across the country. I still live at home instead of an apartment or some shit. Don't exactly make enough money yet to move off."
Rather, he didn't make any money yet. Kind of came with the territory of being late to the game.
"What about you? You don't seem like you're from LA. Seem like you're from somewhere more... Midwest or some shit, I guess." It was just a stab in the dark.
Darrington’s response to Mike’s statement was just what he’d wanted to hear: just a simple, easy, “Perfect. I’m ready to go.” No resistance, no complaining, no nagging over anything. Ya know, just the way it should be.
Of course, when one thing went Mike’s way, something had to go not his way. Seriously, where did you ever get the idea that maybe things could go “like a breeze” for once? Every action has an equal and opposite reaction or whatever that Newton shit was, and since Darrington’s reaction was something, ya know, easily palatable, this meant that Gen’s couldn’t be.
Gen spun on her heels, facing Mike with her hands on her hips.
Mike poised up an eyebrow, mimicking her pose. “Something the matter?”
“Could it have taken you any longer?” Gen groaned.
“Probably,” he responded cheekily as she ushered him down into one of the chairs beneath the hugeass vanity.
“And enough? Seriously?”
“Mmhm.” His brow lowered, his grin fading to a slight smirk as he glanced at her reflection in the vanity’s mirror. “There an issue, babe?”
“Your goal for today is to do enough? I swear, I have to do everything around here. Hold this.”
When he held out his palm, Gen shoved a mirror into his hand. She spun the chair around and began finicking with his hair, soothing down some hairs with a toothbrush and hair gel. He knew better than to make any commentary, so he just stared ahead and let the girl obsess over his hair.
Sigh. Such was the life of a sexy beast.
She began to brush some blush onto his nose, muttering, “I’m not going to have you looking greasy as hell, not on my damn runway.”
“Uh-huh,” he said, tone amused as he watched her with humorous, admiring eyes.
Ladies and gentlemen, head bitch in charge, Genevieve Johannes. She was a pain in the ass, but on occasion, after seeing her down low like she had been, he kind of just stopped and thought of how grateful he was to see her. Besides, as much as he loved being in charge and doing everyone else’s shit for himself, it was nice to not have to be the leader for once.
She took the mirror back from him, then grabbed his jaw and moved his face around. She reached up, adjusted his hair a bit more, and then nodded and patted him on the shoulder. “There.”
Mike glanced at himself in the mirror, admiring his reflection for a moment. Goddamn he was hot. Thanks to whatever sleaze ding-donged-and-ditched his mom, he guessed. He owed you half of one for the good genes.
“I’m going to get dressed,” Gen said, and Mike looked back at her. “If either one of you ends up messy or fucked up, the only thing that will be on that stage is your blood.” She spoke sternly, pointing at him and Darrington with a manicured forefinger.
“Yes ma’am,” Mike teased, chuckling softly.
“Just sit still and look pretty, you’re both really good at that.”
“Mmhm,” he hummed, his eyes following her to the back of the room before she was swallowed by the curtains.
He looked over at Darrington, raising an eyebrow. He pushed up from the chair Gen had styled him at. “Well, man,” he said, speaking in the same casual tone that he talked to everyone with, though he hardly knew the guy, “senior year Arts Fest, huh? Last show we’ll ever be doing in this place for this damn festival, ever. Heh, well, I guess unless one of us makes the sudden decision to flunk to make a statement or some shit, but neither of us really give the whole…’eff the system, rock and roll’ vibe.”
He censored himself there for the sake of the other boy. Yeah, from what he knew, dude was kind of the stern, stoic type. Rich as hell, lots of ”connections” or whatever. That kind of person tended to look down their nose at Mike’s kind of person, so he’d stifle his Mike-ness in the slightest, hardly-noticeable degree, free of charge just this once and just for Darrington over here.
Mike crossed his arms, leaning back against the vanity. “Though, ya know, I definitely could rock some eyeliner. Hey, who knows. Maybe I’ll just drop out after this killer performance, buy a saxophone, and round up my obviously vast fanbase featuring some agents or something to get them to rally behind the creation of the real Karma’s Touch, huh?” He was joking, though he doubted that the serious boy got his sense of humor. Still, he continued. “You want in on that deal, Darrington? I’m telling you, jazz metal’s the way of the future. Pretty sure Woods and I’ve already got it covered as far as the actual music goes. Sorry if you wanted to get on that, man, but hey, ya know, I think you’d make a great roadie or —“
“Hey, uh, Mike.” Mike looked in the direction of the curtains that the third member of the trio had disappeared behind only to see her head poking through them. “Can you give me a hand? I can’t get the damn zipper up and unless you want me to walk the stage with my whole ass out, I’m gonna need you to zip me up.”
“I’m sure the audience wouldn’t complain,” he teased, but he pushed off of the vanity. He gave a two-finger salute to Darrington before making his way over to the curtains.
He shut them quickly once he was past them, and he turned around to Gen. He gently took the zipper between his fingers, pulling it up carefully and slowly so as to not snag it on any cloth. The last thing he wanted to do was be liable for some freak seam-popping. That would be hell.
Once he’d zipped her up, he glanced at their reflections in the mirror, and he grinned slightly. Holy shit, she was hot. Nah, they were hot.
They were going to kill this performance. Well, for one, they had to — like he’d told Darrington: again, this was the last year, and there were no redos, no second chances they’d be given. If Mike failed at this, to be honest, he could kiss his career goodbye once his contract ended with his shit agency, and it’d be back to Whorehouse, No Place, Hawai’i, population: only the scum of the fucking earth.
Yeah, not going to happen.
He could ignore that nervous tension in his stomach. They were going to do stellar, so great that no one would ever forget that performance as long as they lived.
Mike chuckled softly. “We’re —“
“We should go to the Ball together.”
Mike’s eyes widened, and he sputtered, pressing a hand to his chest as he coughed, “We what?” He trained his wide eyes on her reflection. No way he’d heard her right. “Repeat that? Run that by me again? We should what?”
“We look really good together. Like this, I mean, all done up and fancy. It would be a shame if the world only got to see us like this once,” Gen said.
“I’m not sure I get you,” he lied.
There was no way she was fucking serious.
Gen turned to face him, and he looked up at her with a raised eyebrow. “I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about us.”
His heart was thudding rapidly in his chest from the shock, and his mind was still reeling, barely registering her words.
“After what you said that day at lunch, every time we hook up things just feel…different, like we aren’t…” She sighed, and he felt her lace her pinky with his. A confused expression on his face, his eyes shifted down to her hands. He couldn’t move, could hardly breathe as he watched her take hold of his hand, lacing her fingers with his.
This couldn’t be happening.
“Like we aren’t just friends anymore, not even with the ‘benefits’. It’s more than that, you and I both know it is.” His eyes moved back to her face, and he tried to focus on her lips, though her words were coming at him through the sound of his pulse in his ears. “We aren’t people to just sit around and wait for things to happen, so why don’t we just admit it and deal with it like we always do?”
She pulled her hand away from his, and he stared down at his hand for a couple of seconds as she asked, “Well? What do you say?”
What did he say? What the fuck could he say beyond —
“Psh, ha, yeah, sure we should.”
His voice was heavy with sarcasm and humor, his dark eyes training back on Gen’s face as an amused grin spread across his face. He chuckled, picking up his hand and hovering it in front of his forehead. “Yeah, bet that’d go great. Don’t know why I didn’t think of that myself, God! Genius,” he laughed, and then he moved his hand to his hip and used the other one to gesture as he spoke. His eyes moved away to look into the distance as he continued with the fucking side-splitting hypothetical that Genevieve had now pointed his attention to. “Come one, come all, the Whores — trademark, ding! — would be the thing to see, ya know. The main attraction. They’d all say, ’Came for the Sluts, t-m, slipping tongue by the stage, stayed for the ear-bleeding music, subpar, cheesy décor, and the seeming lack of air conditioning.’ The talk of the fucking school would be that they’re, aww, sex fwiends to souwmates, and everyone’d be waiting for the part where they fucked on the punch table and got jizz in the punch bowl — and, of course, the night would end with us fuckin’…ripping each other’s throats out or some shit because obviously, that’s the appeal of Michael Reid and Genevieve Johannes’ relationship to the masses, huh?” he teased, laughing so hard that he hunkered over for a second, his eyes squeezing shut. “Yeah, that’s a real good one, Gen. I mean, that would be hilari..."
But he opened his eyes, trained them back on Gen, and he saw nothing but a serious look on his face.
And he couldn’t fucking act like he believed it was a joke anymore.
All at once, his heart sank to his stomach, eating the nerves and instead sending several waves of what the fuck through his veins. He felt light, confused. His heart thudded solidly and slowly, as if it weighed a thousand pounds, and each beat made his vision pulse slightly. The skin beneath his left eye twitched, and his hand sunk from his hip.
His mouth and throat dry, Mike muttered his only real thought: “Fuck.”
He breathed out a deep sigh, shaking his head, still trying to hold onto the possible notion that, hey, Gen was just fucking acting serious because she was trying to pull a joke on him, that this was some elaborate scheme to just be a bitch. “Gen…” He shook his head again, and then breathed out a slight chuckle. “Gen, babe…what the hell? There’s no way you were serious, right? You don’t think I’m gonna say yes, right?”
He didn’t care how it sounded. Fuck it if he sounded harsh. His neck was pinching, his tongue felt heavy, and he didn’t give a shit how he sounded right now.
This? Yeah, this wasn’t something that was supposed to be happening right now. This scenario? This should never fucking be happening.
Mike wasn’t one of those fucking fretters, okay? He wasn’t the kind to curl up into a ball and sit in the corner and go over all of the what ifs trying not to faint or choking back some tears or vomiting some shit. He never got those kinds of neurotic fuckers. He just told himself how things were going to go, and he did everything in his power to make them go that way, even if he had nerves in his stomach. He never had time to consider other options. This went for performances, runways, meetings, friendships, whatever-the-fuckships. Every part of Mike’s life, this way of thinking applied to.
But even the dude who never thought of other options besides the one he wanted saw this shit coming.
He should have fucking cut her off. As soon as she’d kissed him back there — back on the school day after that fucking lock-in — he should’ve said that he wanted to go back to being just friends. He should’ve just not given her any other option. Sure, he would’ve missed the hot sex, but he’d’ve been over it within the hour because he was Michael fucking Reid. He should’ve just pulled that, “Sorry, babe, it’s me, not you,” smoke-up-the-ass, whatever-the-fuck-you-wanna-hear routine and cut her the hell off.
Because even then, he knew. In the back of his head, he fucking knew that she was going to get some kind of an idea. That she wasn’t going to be happy just ignoring whatever was between them, because she’d never fucking let him ignore shit in the past, because it was always her who wanted to ”talk about things”.
He was right all fucking along.
But for some goddamn reason — fucking his feewings or whatever shit it was — he kept her around. He thought, yeah, might as well keep it going, even if it’s going to wind up making him deal with shit like what was happening right now.
He knew the reason, actually: because he hoped that they could just ignore it, you know? He didn’t care about what had happened before — they were just supposed to fucking ignore it, continue being whatever the hell they were, because that was what worked.
Because, yeah, Mike didn’t want to test anything else. Because, yeah, Mike — and you could call him a fucking coward or whatever the hell you wanted for this — ran from people when he started to care, or he ran from people who he thought he cared about as soon as they wanted to be anything else than exactly what they were. As soon as they wanted to change shit. As soon as they wanted to be more, or as soon as they wanted to let everyone know about them, or as soon as they wanted him to confess or some shit, or as soon as...as soon as they did fucking anything, alright?
Because, yeah, Mike was a heartless asshole who wasn’t cut out for things like love or loving or feeling fucking happy or making other people fucking happy. Because when things got good for him, he always felt like shit. When life was at its height, when things were going nicely, he wanted the fuck out. Because he could never just let himself be fucking happy or contented for too long, and he couldn’t ever make anyone else happy or contented fucking ever. You wanted to hear him say that? Fucking there, you could hear it, clear as day. Yeah, rub it in, repeat it, blast it to the goddamn world, because apparently, Gen didn’t fucking know that.
Not if she was asking him shit like, Wanna be my date?
“You’ve been thinking about us a lot?” He raised an eyebrow, still grinning as he crossed his arms. “Then you should know: we are seriously just friends with benefits.” He said the last three words emphatically and slowly, nodding with each of them. “I don’t know what you think is between us, but that’s all it is.” He gave a slight chuckle. “And besides, you know me. Dates? Being someone’s date to something? Not my style, especially with people I’ve fucked. Being each other’s dates like that, like, ya know, they are more than what they are, isn’t something that friends with benefits — and a guy who doesn’t want more than that — should do, so I have no interest in going with you, babe.”
Because this date wasn’t going to be like his shit with Ronnie. She didn’t mean it like something like that.
She meant like fucking…Want to try this on for size?
Being something more than what we are?
The answer was fucking absolutely not.
He cocked a grin at her, chuckling again. “Nothing personal. But hey…good joke, Genevieve.”
It was a nice fantasy, he guessed. A nice thing to think well, fuck, maybe about while you laid awake in bed at night before drifting off to sleep or some childish fairytale shit like that. You know, When you wish upon a star, makes no difference where you are, your fuck friends will suddenly fall in love with you. And in your dream, you could ride off into the sunset or whatever the hell you wanted to. You could lay each other down on a mattress with silk sheets as the sun rose over the cityscape, lace your hands together and kiss each other and make promises that you know you won’t fucking keep even in that dream world.
But that was the dream world and this? This was fucking reality, and shit didn’t fucking work the same here. Dweams only went as far as the sparkly journal and the curly, gel pen script you wrote them in. Hopes and pwayews for dumb shit like, what, some kind of romance or relationship or whatever the fuck? Yeah, news flash: they fell on deaf ears. No one was fucking listening, no one gave a shit, and that wasn't fucking how things worked, okay?
Especially not with Mike, or people like him.
You see, shit like hoping or dreaming or wishing or considering something lofty and stupid and naïve as more with Gen? None of that meant shit to him. It didn't fucking work with him. He was past the immature notion that he could be anyone’s someone or anything fucking like it —
Or really, that he could be anything more than anyone' and everyone’s usable, disposable, trailer trash whore.
He was asking him something important. Real, real important.
It was making him nervous, he could hear his heart pounding.
Just what was this important thing he wanted to ask him?
To think that someone wanted to ask him something important.
Something important was riding on him.
“What is it?” He asked, swallowing as he waited for Casey’s question to come.
“Ya do the drugs, right?”
“Like the ya know,”
And then Casey followed it up with another one of his funky gestures. Only this time Avery recognised it because he had seen Adriane do that exact same gesture two weeks ago. He had done that same gesture himself.
Seeing those familiar movements, it clicked in his head exactly what it was Casey was asking.
“No!” He blurted out, eyes wide with panic as he waved his hands wildly in denial. “I don’t do drugs, drugs are bad for you!” Wait that was a lie. Lying was just as bad.
“I mean I did them once by mistake,” he quickly corrected, “b-but…”
His voice trailed off as Casey jumped back in.
“Right? Like ya tried it the other day when we saw ya, yeah? So tell me all about it.”
Avery could feel himself sweating, and when Casey spun around so that he was right in front of him, the blonde boy’s hands on his shoulders, his heart was drumming in his ears.
What was Casey going to –
How was he supposed to – Ow!
Their heads collided and Avery covered his forehead in pain. If Casey hadn’t been holding onto him, he might have ended up stumbling backwards and falling over.
Still he had gotten headbutted, was that intentional? Had he done something Casey disliked? Was it because he had lied at first about the drugs? Would he headbutt him again?
The blonde boy certainly didn’t seem to phased by it or anything and there was no apology, instead he had simply repeated his question.
No apology. It was intended. He had messed up and offended Casey with his words, hadn’t he?
What if he said the wrong thing and instead of just a headbutt, Casey decided something worse, like he would never talk to him again and then convince Bella not to talk to him again, or something of the sort.
Avery fidgeted nervously on the spot, eyes shifting from side to side, avoiding Casey’s intense and intimidating gaze.
“I…well, drugs…drugs are…they…” He was supposed to tell him about everything that happened right? Just thinking about that day, he could smell the fumes, that overpowering scent of weed, the headache that had afflicted him and the spinning. The horrid spinning that had nearly made him puke.
By this point he had forgotten why Casey had even brought up drugs to begin with.
The headbutt did a number on him.
As a result, his head was populated with thoughts like the following:
Was Casey going to scold him again like Bella had? He did deserve to be scolded didn’t he? After all drugs ruined your health, he definitely had to warn those kind seniors before they got caught and scolded as well. Maybe it was better that he didn’t bring them up first in case they got into trouble too.
“The candle – I mean the weed, it made me feel wonky and woozy.” He looked away and at the ground, wearing the expression of a child getting scolded. “Everything was louder and just more…there, overpowering and then the world started spinning and at one point I thought I was floating. I was told to smoke the whole…stick thingy…” One hand scratched the back of his neck as he continued, and then his eyes shot to Casey’s as he once again waved his hands wildly in protest.
“Ah but I didn’t finish it I promise! It was too much so I stopped! I didn’t know it was a drug when I took it!”
He was going to get punished again wasn’t he? Another headbutt? Scolding? He deserved it so he would take it but god he hoped Casey wouldn’t cut him out and refuse to be friends with him.
She felt stupid (but she usually felt stupid, so that wasn't really anything worthy of noting) after dropping so much, like, needless worry on Trevor. It was all dumb stuff that she knew she should've swallowed and handled herself -- although, like, she couldn't really handle it. Like she couldn't really handle anything, so like... being able to handle her worries? Not exactly on the list of things that she was capable of.
Plus Ash didn't have vodka, so like, there wasn't really any way to actually handle it.
(That was totally a joke.)
“Oh, Jesus Christ,” Trevor mumbled.
"I'm... I'm sorry," she replied, her voice catching in her throat, and she swallowed the lump now stuck in her throat. Oh god, oh no, no, no, she wasn't going to cry right now, because she couldn't risk like... fucking up all of her makeup. Deep breaths, deep breaths, deep breaths.
She was fine.
(She wasn't fine.)
“Ash, you sound jus’ about like you’re thinkin’ of everything that could go wrong, but that doesn’t help anyone. It’ll only make things worse, and then you’ll wind up like me, with shot nerves and a pounding headache before you even go on.”
Well yeah, but also no, because she didn't get a headache. She'd just get, like, sick or something. Super, super stressed and then she might start puking or something, and that was like... like it wasn't a headache, but it was still bad. And her lungs would constrict more and oh god, oh god, oh god, she couldn't breathe.
It was her imagination. She knew that. She knew that she was breathing. She knew that the feeling of the oxygen not like entering her lungs was all in her imagination. It was her imagination, not reality, because in reality, she was fine, she was fine, she was fine. And everything would be fine.
But ow, ow, ow, her chest hurt.
She was still looking down when he made his way over to her and laid his hand over hers. She stopped fidgeting with her hand quite as much, and tried to calm down to stop the slight shaking.
“Hey, look at me,” he said.
Ash didn't want to. Her heart was pounding in her throat, and she was still pretty sure she was going to be sick, and like looking at people was just hard in general, let alone when she was mid-freaking the fuck out, but... she lifted her gaze up to look at him, and she forced her lips into a soft smile.
“You’re going to fecking kill it.” Although he sounded sure, she was like, positive that he was lying just to make her feel better. “More than that…you’re, ah, goin’ ta go out there and give the best damn performance I’ve ever seen. I’m sure you will." His smile broadened, and she tried to mimic it with her own. "I know you will.”
"You're sweet," she said, her smile faltering, and then she broke eye contact with him and looked down at the ground. "I'm not going to, but ummm... thanks, anyway. It's... nice of you."
He was pacing -- naturally. His fingers were wrapped around the strap of his guitar case and just... tap, tap, tapping away at it. He'd had some music playing in his ears beforehand, but it wasn't doing much to help distract him from his endless worries, plus it had made him start forgetting the lyrics to his own song and the beat, and the last thing he needed to do was go out there and sing his song to the beat of... of some dumb, random song.
At some point, Mikaela had texted him and offered some kind of beverage that was gonna, what, distract him from his worries? Pfft. As if. As IF. Plus he was still positive that it was some type of alcohol, because that's what high schoolers typically meant when they were like "lemme get you something to calm the nerves wink wink," or maybe that was just the endless pessimist in him, or the effect of his sister.
He knew he was going to do amazing, of course, it was just the waiting up until it that he didn't like. Also just the being around all of these people, many of which had given him funky looks because he was pacing and talking to himself (he was reciting his lyrics), and apparently people had never seen a grown man do that.
“Jace!” came the familiar sound of Mikaela's voice, although hearing his name being yelled out still caused him to jump. He turned to face the sound of the voice, and then Mikaela launched herself at him and nearly knocked him over as she hugged him far too tightly. Far, far too tightly.
Jace hated physical contact. There was something about it that made his skin crawl, and he felt as if his veins were crawling out of his skin right now as he took in a deep breath and diverted his gaze towards the ceiling. Just imagine that he was being killed by a giant snake. Yepp. That would calm the nerves from the physical contact. From being touched and hugged by some girl that-- well, she wasn't just some girl, but she certainly didn't have hugging privileges.
“Sorry I took a while," she said and finally released him from her grasp, "got a little turned around trying to locate the stage where you were performing.” She held out a small opaque flask to him, winking.
"It's fine," he grumbled and took the flash from her. Jace wrinkled up his nose in disgust as he brought it towards his face and took a deep whiff of it.
Oh holy heck, he was gonna be sick.
He gagged as he pulled it away from his face and sneezed, although the horrid smell was still stuck in his nose as he looked at Mikaela with a you want me to ingest THAT kind of look.
“As promised, my secret drink to help you with your nerves, take it quick now, before they call you up.”
He was going to die. It was going to kill him. This was clearly poison.
“Like I said before, recipe’s a secret so I’m not telling you what’s in it, no matter how much you ask.”
He could answer that for her.
It was freaking poison.
"If I... if I die, I'm... I'm... I'm suing," which made no sense obviously, because he'd be dead, but it was about the only kind of don't you dare kill me type of threat that Jace really had these days. Or any day. He wasn't exactly threatening, and it would be easy enough to kill him if she so chose.
But she probably wouldn't. Because they were friends. Clearly.
Hesitantly, he brought the flask up to his mouth and started to sip it. It was horrid and he was about to stop drinking it when Mikaela slapped him in the back, which just caused all the oxygen in Jace's weak little lungs to come out, and he stumbled forward, sputtering as he choked on the horrible concoction. He spit out what had been in his mouth, and he blinked at the strange liquid now all over the theater's floor.
And it was in his nose and it was burning.
“You’ll do great! Don’t worry too much! Now go out there and kill it!”
"What is this?" He whined as he held the flask back out to her. His mouth hurt. His nose hurt. He felt more like shit than he had before, and Jace leaned forward, placing his hands on his knees for a moment to try and catch his breath, and then he brought a sleeve up to wipe at the spit and snot on his face.
"Are... are... are you... you're trying to-to-to kill me, huh? Did that... that... Javi send you?"
He tended to stutter less around his friends, although he also tended to stutter more when he was anxious.
Casey was fucking insufferable. Yes, insufferable is a harsh, rather difficult word to throw onto somebody but honestly, in Bella’s mind, that was her being polite.
There was something about his entire demeanour that pissed Bella off. The cocky ‘haha I’m the cool guitarist smile’, the way he spoke like nothing he could say was wrong (even though everything came out like an experimental fourth grader sentence), the way he automatically assumed everyone’s (see: Bella’s) life could be improved upon by a little Casey Clairmont. Well he was wrong. He wasn’t this charming musician the media had made him out to be. He was a little shit-disturbing jerk that had a lovely addiction to trampling all over Bella’s last nerve.
The only thing that kept Bella in that room the day she agreed to work with him was how absolutely incredible the song, once having been the odds and ends of a busted up poem about someone from long ago, sounded coming from him.
As much as Bella couldn’t admit it, the three people in that room made an amazing team.
Bella still had no qualms with Avery, though it took her a few days after the whole ‘candle smoking’ incident for her to warm back up to him again. The smell of the drug alone was enough to set her teeth on edge, enough to immediately raise the walls and put on the cold, outer shell that she had been trying so hard to keep repressed since she arrived at the school. If it was anyone else, maybe she would have just cut off the friendship right then and there.
But part of Bella felt responsible for what happened. If she had been there for him, had been a little bit more careful with her warnings and a little bit more attentive, maybe he wouldn’t have accidentally gotten high. How could she expect him to know any better? It wasn’t like Avery grew up around people who used, or even people outside of his family at all. He had no experience and went off of the word of people that he thought he could trust.
It wasn’t Avery’s fault, no, but Bella wanted to punch whoever did that to him.
For the luck and safety of Bella’s potential victims, she had little time to dig and figure out who the hell had taken advantage of her friend like that. Subsequently, she also had little time to remain cautious around Avery or to take note of Casey’s bullshit attitude. Within days after their first meeting, Bella was whisked away into meetings with the boys and working on new material and editing the song they had put together. Art Fest had to be perfect and nobody, not even Avery or Casey, was going to ruin that for her.
The day eventually rolled around and Bella found herself knocking at Ronnie’s dorm door, a bright smile on her face and a white lace dress softly hanging off of her shoulders. Was she a little overdressed? Perhaps, but this was her first Art Fest and she wanted to make an impression. Slowly, Bella pushed the dorm room door open as soon as she heard Kelli’s voice within. Kelli had invited Bella to get ready with her and Ronnie and of course, Bella had to accept.
“Bonne journée mes chéris!” Bella chirped as she peaked her head into the room. “I hope I am not late. I did not sleep well last night. Worry, you know?”
Stepping into the room, Bella carefully closed the door behind her and outstretched a container filled with three, fluffy muffins.
“I got up to some baking last night, it was better than sitting around anxious and sleepless. Care for some breakfast?”
Look, Eli wasn’t really late. In fact, by most people’s standards, he was right on time, a picture of perfect attendance. Eli, however, didn’t run by those rules. He had held the personal mantra of ‘if you’re not early, you’re late’ since he competed. Showing up early meant choosing the best dressing rooms, getting to watch the first performances, giving yourself enough time to get rid of all of the stupid pre-performance jitters that could turn a perfect performance to a nightmare in seconds.
So no, being on time was not enough because he had intended to leave the house a half hour earlier than he did. What he hadn’t planned on was his car breaking down in his damn driveway, a thick plume of smoke boiling out from underneath his hood. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the tow truck took its sweet time getting to the Johannes-West-Monterey residence. Then the cab took the wrong turn and proceeded to get lost in the labyrinth of mansions and summer homes that lined their neighbourhood. Then they got in traffic and then…
You get the point.
Now Elias was stuck in the damn sign-in line-up that was very clearly backed up all the way out to the parking lot and the dancer was the very last person in line. How very unfortunate. No one else seemed as concerned as he was as the line sluggishly crawled forwards. Why? They were probably early.
Stupid Art Fest.
Now he was going to die. JJ was lovely in Eli’s eyes, don’t get the wrong idea, but he could only imagine how angry she would be if she showed up and Eli wasn’t ready. He could picture her now shooting him one of those ‘I’ll destroy you for this’ looks as they silently and, rather awkwardly, get ready for their dance. The chemistry they needed for the dance would be gone. The movements would suck without the casual rhythm they carried together. Everyone could tell that Elias was a dead man walk… dancing just by the killer look on JJ’s face.
Today was just not going to be a good last day on Earth.
Stupid Art F-
“Oh, sorry about that.”
Eli blinked a few times as his hand instinctively reached out and steadied the body that had bumped into him. He was not about to see someone get totally knocked over and injured. No sir, not today.
“It’s no worry, man. Are you alright?” Eli asked before he even recognized the person in front of him.
Ah, Corey Preston. How lovely.
Okay, that came out wrong. Eli had no problem with Corey. In fact, he rather liked the guy. But despite the two being so similar and, realistically, friendship compatible, the two had never fallen in with each other. They seemed to run in different circles and it certainly didn’t help that his best friend and Eli’s sister seemed to hate each other.
Oh right. The whole ‘I fucked your best friend thing’. This wasn’t going to be awkward or anything.
“I’ve been here for,” Eli paused to look at his platinum watch, “like almost forty five minutes. It’s one hell of a wait time, I wouldn’t expect to get anywhere quickly. If you’re going to be late though, maybe we can go talk to someone and see if you can get in early? If not,” Eli twisted his bag and pulled open the front compartment, revealing a bunch of homemade snacks, “care to have a line picnic with me? I’m sure you’re going to need the energy today. What’s your performance going to be?”
His forehead was throbbing, and Casey wondered if it was going to be red. Imagine going out on the stage, forehead red as heck. When they took pictures of him and posted it on the internet, he could just imagine what his fans might say about the red forehead -- "omg, I bet he walked into another wall," or "do you think he slapped himself" or other stuff like that that totally made sense when used in relation to Casey.
At least it would be less weird than some of the weird things that people liked to edit onto his photos. Yeah, yeah, he was looking at you people with their tattoo edits or that one person that liked to edit hickies onto his neck so then he'd get an influx of "omg you have a GIRLFRIEND" comments and messages.
Now what was he--
Casey was hanging off of Avery's words. He was staring at his little freshman bestie, blinking rapidly as he waited for Avery to give him an answer. He leaned forward again, bending over a bit so that he was eye level with Avery. Yeah, it wasn't always so easy being so goddamn tall, but Casey handled the extra height quite well.
He was a nice giant. Promise.
“I…well, drugs…drugs are…they…”
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Casey said with an eager nod of his head.
Come onnn. Keep going. He wanted to know. He needed to know.
Talk, talk, talk.
“The candle – I mean the weed, it made me feel wonky and woozy. Everything was louder and just more…there, overpowering and then the world started spinning and at one point I thought I was floating. I was told to smoke the whole…stick thingy…”
Casey was nodding his head rapidly, like a bobblehead in mad action, but that kind of caused his brain to knock around too much in his head, and then he got kind of dizzy, and he stumbled a bit, so then he stopped nodding his head. Instead, he straightened back up to his full height and started to rock back and forth on his feet.
He looked down at his Converse -- black naturally, because was there even any other appropriate color for Converse? The answer was that there wasn't, and these were the nicest Converse that he could find. He'd wanted to draw flames on them, but it was kinda hard to draw on black Converse, so he'd given up. Plus these were his classy Converse -- not his day to day ones, which had a couple burn marks.
“Ah but I didn’t finish it I promise! It was too much so I stopped! I didn’t know it was a drug when I took it!”
Oh yeah, Casey was talking to Avery.
He blinked at his little buddy, trying to register his words and remember what they were--
"What did ya think it was?" He asked with an amused snort because pfft. Haha. Pfft. Imagine taking drugs and not knowing that they were drugs. Like imagine being that oh so totally lame. Doing drugs but not knowing that's what they were. Pfft. Casey could never, nah, he definitely knew what--
"What'd it look like? The... the... the uhh... the ahh...." he pinched his fingers around the imaginary blunt once again and kind of waved his pinched fingers in front of Avery's face, as if that would make it obvious, and then it clicked in his brain, and he gave a nod of his head. "Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, the weed. What'd it look like? A candle?" His eyes widened and then he leaned in again, this time not smacking his head off of Avery's. "Was it made of wax?"
How would you smoke wax?
Could you even smoke wax?
Maybe weed was just hollow candles.
That's the only way he could see that working.
But ingesting liquid wax sounded like it'd just burn, and Casey knew all about burns, especially from hot wax, because he'd burnt himself on more than a couple occasions by playing with candles. One time, he got hot wax all over his face and screamed in pain for a while.
That hadn't been fun.
Especially because some of it had gone up his nose.
He tapped a finger against his chin, his other hand coming to rest on his hip. "Hmm... floating does sound pretty cool, though," he admitted in a mumble. "I've always wanted to go on the moon and just kinda ya know... bop, bop, bop around in that zero gravity. There's this real cool trampoline world that kinda feels like that, 'cept I got hurt 'cause I didn't land on the trampoline one jump. The moon doesn't have metal so it doesn't hurt." He gave a matter of fact nod of his head, as if Casey had any idea what was actually on the moon.
And yeah, he'd completely forgotten that he'd been asking about weed.
Bailey was stressed. They could see the little imperfections of their display. And it was annoying. But here they were. Weeks of work done and slaved away at, for their dresses to be ogled at. Historically accurate too, Bailey had made sure of that.
They smiled at the people, gave politeness. Accepted praise with the grace and dignity that they were hoping was not coming across as slightly crazed, because that ball of anxiety had lodged itself into their chest, and it was not going to come undone until they could go back to their dorm and scream into a pillow or something.
They finished their display - thank God, get them out - and rushed back to move everything back into place. So busy with trying to figure out where they were supposed to go, they ran right into a girl.
“Watch it.” They snapped as they rubbed their forehead. Their glasses had fallen off their face. Of course it wasn’t done. The drama was never done, was it. God, were all people in this damned school just hellbent on being the rudest, most insufferable peop-
“I’m so sorry! Are you okay?”
Wait. This was an actually decent human. Fuck. Take it back take it back.
“... Yeah. I’m fine.” They picked up their glasses. Not a scratch. That was good at least, lenses were expensive. A beat of silence. Bailey looked at Tilly up and down.
“Are you feeling alright?” They asked, looking off to the side. The girl seemed in an awful rush. Probably a bit lost. God this was awkward. Should they help her find her way? They really had to get to where they were going….
They also felt bad at snapping at Tilly, she seemed actually kind of nice. A decent person. With morals. Something that seemed rather one in a thousand in Hollywood Arts. But at the same time… they didn’t want to be equally apologetic. If they were equally apologetic then where would they be?
Worst case scenario, an infinite loop of apologizing to each other with increasing desperation.
Best case scenario, an even more awkward experience.
Okay so what were they going to do now. They were going to pack up their things, and they were going to scuttle their way over to the stupid warehouse and drop off their things and forget this ever happened.
The Winter Arts Festival was here — and it was here way, way, way sooner than Kelli had asked it to be. The past few weeks’d flown by so fast that she swore that she’d went to sleep that Monday in November and woken up to her phone blaring P!nk’s “So What” on Saturday, December 5th after just a few hours of sleep. Everything in-between was a complete rush. Kelli had spent a majority of the time working on her routine, both with Jo and all by herself, trying to get every beat and every move perfect. (This was an unobtainable goal that, to her, seemed like the only option.) Her feet and her body were sore, but she didn’t complain. A couple of Tylenol here, a whole lot of water, and the aches were easy enough to ignore. She tried to suppress her worry about her brother and everything going on with him — he didn’t want her worrying, so she shouldn’t worry…was what she told herself. She still did worry, and several times, she considered calling her parents, but if she did that, she knew she’d be breaking Kian’s trust.
The last thing she wanted to do was hurt him.
Time with Ronnie and Bella and now Dei and Jo and, uh, well, pretty much everyone else was also a blur, an even smaller blip in her limited memory of what the heck had happened these past few weeks — or, uh, more like in the gap between that Monday and today. Maybe it was her tunnel vision, her determination towards getting her first Arts Fest performance just perfect that kind of made everything else such a weird motion smear, or maybe it was her anxiety towards...well, the same thing that was kind of just blocking any- and everything not-dance out. She still tried to do what she always did, per her mom's suggestion — take five minutes a day, breathe, write out her thoughts in a journal — but every time she picked up her purple gel pen and considered writing down what was on her mind, she, uh…got distracted, or just thought of something else that she could do with her time.
The “something else that she could do with her time” happened to be watching YouTube storytime videos or napping. Yes, she knew that she should’ve been studying, Mom and Dad — seriously she was sorry and she did know better — but in her defense, Martin Van Buren had nothing on Sammy Starbucks’ storytime videos about the psycho coffee consuming customers, and she swore by that. Why should she care about learning about old dead guys or learning what the heck the Pythagorean Theorem was (she had zero clue) or reading “the classics” like frigging Shakespeare (bleeeegh) when she could be consuming the true classics, like tale of Paul the Peach Lover, who wanted Sammy to carve out an actual peach and pour coffee into it, or Bitchy Brenda, who threatened to sue Sammy for telling her that she couldn’t park in the handicapped parking spot just because she was driving a minivan full of kids fresh from soccer practice? Sammy was a true hero for the ages.
Plus, at least Kelli had managed to pull her grade in World History up to a C — big yay, right? It was a 56, but now it wasn’t!
It was the small things.
Kelli washed her toothbrush clean and pulled her lips back to give herself a wide grin, making her eyes as big as possible. She poked her tongue out through her teeth, and then sunk her face into a deep frown and made a zombie groan. In her chest beat her heart, tight with preemptive Arts Fest nerves that’d been there since she dragged herself out of bed about thirty minutes ago. She felt a nervous aliveness, which didn’t quite make its way to making her look alive; even though she was dressed in all but her shoes and her hair was brushed, she still felt like she looked a little bit, uh, undead.
Maybe it was the eyebags.
Zombie Kelli. Or, uh, Zombelli?
“Braaaains,” Kelli drawled aloud, and then she giggled softly and sat her toothbrush in its holder beside the sink. Her panda-slippered feet padded on the ground as she let out a yawn and exited the bathroom, but when she trained her eyes on her roommate, her tired expression pulled into a bright smile. “Ronnie!” she gasped. She held her arms out for a hug. “You look freaking stunning, bro! No words — legit just no words! You can def tell you’re the star o’ the showowow!”
Laughing softly, she pulled back from the hug and made her way over to her bed. When she reached it, she slid off her slippers and flopped onto it face first, flailing her legs and arms out. After a moment of just laying there, she stood back up and reseated herself, actually sitting like she should this time. She kicked her legs off the edge of the bed and rocked them back and forth. She was kind of restless when she was anxious. “Bro, we’ve got t-minus freaking not-long-at-all until we gotta go there and do our performances and stuff…wack. That’s crazy. That’s literally so crazy. Isn’t it wild we’re here? I mean…seriously insane.” She laughed slightly. “It still doesn’t feel real a lot. I mean…I’ve performed in front of big crowds and stuff, but now, like…my name’s gonna be up there with Jo’s and I’m gonna have, uh, the attention of some critic guys and some, uh, parents and some, uh, probably bougie people…it’s…so…crazy. I’m hella hype but also, uh, hella nervous, you know?”
She looked over at her roommate again, her lips pressing into a smile again. “Sorry,” she giggled, shaking her head slightly. She talked too much. “But also, Ronnie, it’s so crazy…you get to do this every year? And you do concerts, too — bro, I can’t imagine that kind of stress, and you’re just so…chill and dope and…wow.” The more she thought about it, the more starstruck she always became by her roommate.
There were a few knocks at the door, and Kelli suddenly remembered — oh right! “That’s gotta be Bella,” she said excitedly. She’d forgot that their hallmate was coming over to kind of head off with them. She cupped a hand to her mouth. “Come in!”
Slowly, the door opened, and then came Bella’s melodic voice: “Bonne journée mes chéris!”
“Yo!” Kelli held up a couple of peace signs at the friendly intruder.
“I hope I am not late,” said the girl as she walked further in. “I did not sleep well last night. Worry, you know?”
“I felt that,” Kelli giggled. “You’re not late! You’re right on time — and looking gorgeous, too!”
Bella carefully closed the door behind herself, and then…
“I got up to some baking last night, it was better than sitting around anxious and sleepless. Care for some breakfast?”
When Kelli was offered the muffin, her face crumpled in surprised gratefulness. “For us?” she asked, mouth slightly agape. “Heck yeah, if you’re offering, I’d love one!” She took one, gasping softly. “They’re. So…woah, prettyyyy. These look like muffins straight out of some professional bakeshop!” She looked up at her friend, an awestruck look in her eyes. “Dude, I didn’t know you could cook — you’re seriously so freaking dope!”
Her friends never failed to amaze her.
Peeling down the wrapper, Kelli stared at the muffin’s surface for a moment before she sunk her teeth into the baked good. “Mm!” she hummed enthusiastically, her eyes widening. Once she swallowed, a bright smile came onto her face. “Frigging a-maze-balls, Bella. Thank you for sharing — compliments to the chef!”
As she continued to eat her muffin, she stood up, making her way over to check on her phone’s status. Yeah, she’d forgotten to charge it last night — after her YouTube binge. Now, it rested at 50%. Okay enough, she guessed. Grabbing the charger by its squishy dachshund connector protector, she unplugged her phone and tried to slide it into her pockets…only to remember that she had no pockets in this skirt. Laughing softly at herself, she threw her phone on her bed, and then she glanced over at Bella.
“Glad to know I’m not the only one who’s antsy about this whole thing.” She gave her a soft smile, then looked at Ronnie. “Ronnie, do you, uhm, got any tips on how to calm the butterflies?”
As expected of a school for the arts she supposed. The students here had a flair for the dramatics and overactive imaginations, case in point, Tori and Jace.
She couldn’t help but burst out laughing when Jace threatened to sue her if he died which, first of all, he wasn’t going to die; the drink wasn’t poisoned or anything, second of all, the idea of Jace trying to sue anyone for anything was just…
Let’s just say it would be like watching a baby trying to lift weights with its chubby little baby arms. Funny.
Not to mention of all the guys she had ever met and knew, Jace had to be the least threatening of them all.
Shaking her head and clutching her sides which hurt from laughing, Mikaela watched as Jace held the flask back to her and started whining.
God he looked absolutely awful. Maybe the drink had been a bad idea after all but well, it was a bit too late to do anything about that now.
Suppressing the last giggles of laughter, she reached one hand out to take the flask back. The smell assaulted her nose and wow, this was just awful.
She really had made something…spectacular, hadn’t she? What did she even put into it?
Mikaela took a sniff and much like Jace had, she gagged before laughing.
Yep, no she couldn’t tell what she had put in it, couldn’t remember either. In any case, she was amazed Jace could drink it at all. Not bad for the boy who was kind of considered a major wimp.
Look, she liked Jace, he was funny and a friend, but well, him being a wimp was kind of the truth.
“Oh come on Jacey, I’m not trying to kill you, what kind of friend do you take me for,” She feigned a look of hurt at Jace’s accusation as she set the flask onto a nearby surface, “besides if I was going to kill you poisoning a drink would be a pretty dull and boring way to do it you know…” she gave him a side glance and the glint of a mischievous smile before breaking out into a huge grin.
“I’m just kidding. Also Javi? Why do you think Javi sent me? Something happen between you two?” Mikaela tapped a thoughtful finger against her chin as she looked up, furrowing her brows. “Like say…did you–” she gasped as she turned to look at him, eyes wide with a look of shock, “don’t tell me Javi made a move on you and you jilted him or something?”
If her exaggerated manner didn’t make it clear, she was just messing with Jace. Why? Because it was fun. That’s why.
You could call her love of teasing others an incurable habit she supposed. Teasing him and stirring him up before his performance was probably a bad idea much like the drink, but she never claimed to have the best ideas or anything.
Besides, encouraging her friends like how her father used to encourage her before her competitions clearly wasn't her thing. She was definitely much better at this kind of rubbish.
She wasn’t given a rental car while hers was being repaired.
Plus, she had been grounded the entire time.
Sure, you could blame Lydia’s bad driving for the fact that her parents grounded her. You could also blame the administration for keeping useless planters in the middle of the parking lot.
That argument didn’t work on her parents. She wasn’t surprised. It hadn’t worked any of the other times, but she was stubborn and persistent and it totally backfired.
The only card she had to play was that it was her birthday. Seventeen. Not a huge deal, but it granted her a few days of asylum. It was probably more about the fact that neither one of her dads could be there for her birthday. They’d sent gifts. Birthday phone calls. And videos. And texts to assure her that they loved her. Not enough to be there, but that wasn’t the point.
She was free. For a few days. Luckily her and Dalton’s birthdays were days apart. Her dads had rented her a suite in Vegas and she had invited him to come along. He was good company and she knew that nothing would happen. It was safe. It was nice. To just…get away without the pressures of maintaining her usual persona. He had gotten her a bag of popcorn with a candle on top. It was sweet…for Dalton…and heaven help the girl destined to be on the receiving end of gifts from him until death do they part, but he tried and she appreciated it.
He, of course, insisted that she hang with him on his birthday. She agreed, though he didn’t tell her what they were doing until she arrived on his doorstep with a cupcake in hand and a candle on top.
She was…apprehensive, to say the very least. But it was his birthday and while she took him to a five star restaurant and a two thousand per night suite, he took her to the waters of Southern California.
Despite worrying about catching a disease, she had fun. A lot of fun. More fun than she’d had in a long time. And she was good. I mean, she held her own. A few dozen falls, but she eventually got it and it was…amazing. Thrilling. Though she would never admit it to Dalton and for the sake of her hair, it would not be a recurring trip. She wouldn’t say no to another birthday surf trip if it were to come up.
That brings us up to present day.
The Arts Festival was finally here.
She was no longer grounded and her beautiful car was fixed and back in her possession.
She made her way through the crowd. She had promised a few people that she’d watch their performances, plus she needed to get some in person quotes and reactions for the Chronicle. And she was slightly hoping there would be a breakdown or two. There was always one. And that made for good storytelling.
“Ayo, Lyd! Hold up!” Her turned to see Lin grabbing her arm. Not again. Sure, they’d ended things on not a terrible note for the first time in what seemed like forever, but…they were by no means friends. So when his arm wrapped around her, she eyed him like he was a crazy person until she saw Ricky and the look of desperation on his face.
Her features softened and she played the part. “So about the follow-up interview,” She offered a small nod and smile in Ricky’s direction as she turned her attention to Lin as he attempted to drag her further away. “when do you want it to be?” They we’re far enough away that she could roll her eyes. No one wanted a follow up to that boring interview that wasn’t. She did her job well, but there was no flare. No Lin. And if he was trying to please his father, there shouldn’t be.
“You think we’re far enough away?” She sighed. “We were far enough away when you said red was your color.” She looked him up and down. “Which given your fair complexion, is not quite the color I’d go with.” She said resorting to old habits, but it was true.
“Holy fuck, that guy’s annoying as shit,” He wasn’t wrong. Her dads had aspirations for her. Pressures they put on her because she was their child. It sucked. Ricky was in a league of his own. Truly. “I just saved my ass, bro.” She sighed. “Oh yeah, you mean I saved your ass. Again.” She said with a small smirk forming.
“Eh, but guess I owe ya one for sparing me from Pricky’s fucking griping.”
“Two. You owe me two.” She eyed the half-eaten chocolate bar in disgust. Some things never changed. “I’m sure I can think of something better, Lindsay.” She said as she looked around the audience. “You just get off stage?” She asked. She knew the answer. She had seen the performance. It was good. Great really, but he’d always been a good performer.
Oh, right, because that was way too much to ask for, apparently.
Seriously, did Beth never get tired of being such a damn contrarian? Like, you’d think that it had to get old at some point, right? Her sister was like a sullen possum or a spoiled toddler, Tori swore.
“And you’re not that easy to live with, either,” Beth said.
“Excuse me?” Tori narrowed her eyes.
“You dust literally everything. It’s annoying as hell.”
“Elizabeth, what?” Of all things, that was her complaint? Tori put a hand to her forehead, sighing again. “Oh my God, Liz…” She dropped her hand, crossing her arms and folding her hands into her elbows. “Okay, so tell me this: if I didn’t clean, who would? That’s right, no one. Then, we’d be living in a fucking pigsty — which seems to be your dream, but I’d rather not wallow in filth, okay? Maybe you’ll get not wanting to live in a place that looks like an abandoned attic or a scene from a horror movie when you’re older, I don’t know, but regardless, whatever — what you don’t need to be complaining about is me cleaning.”
Most people would kill to have someone like Tori, Beth. Seriously, someone who cleaned up — someone who actually wanted to keep everything tidy instead of allowing every room to look like bombs exploded in them — was the dream candidate for a roommate. Elizabeth was so damn unappreciative.
One of these days, Tori would yell at her about that, too, but she tended to forget things she planned about nagging about when she actually got to her nagging. Nag itineraries never really panned out.
“I texted her when we got here,” answered Beth to Tori’s question about Mom’s arrival, “and told her where the booth was going to be set up. And she said that she was, like, on her way, so she should be here any minute or whatever.”
“Great,” Tori mumbled, and then she let out a puff of a sigh, trying not to roll her eyes.
Ughhh, God…she was dreading this.
“When did you tell Dad to come?” Beth asked. “I mean, like, he’s probably not even going to show up.”
Tori’s eyes widened incredulously. “You did not just say that.” You little fucking…brat.
She could strangle her right now — wrestle her to the ground and strangle her, or maybe just grab some duct tape and put it over her mouth to finally get her to shut the hell up. Actually, the second tactic might be a useful skill to have, since she’d probably need to pull something similar to get Mikaela to not embarrass her in public on that outing they had planned.
She held up her palm again, rolling her eyes and hefting a sigh. “You don’t have to worry about it, Lizzie,” she said, voice reserved. She averted her eyes, looking to the side sternly. “He’ll show up right on time, so just suck it up and shut it up.”
Unlike Mom (and you, Lizzie), Dad isn’t a self-absorbed bitch; he promised me he’d be on time, so he’s going to be on time.
She looked back at her sister, and she felt a slight tug at her thoughts.
And, while Tori was tough as nails, she…listen, she felt kind of bad when she looked at her sister after saying stuff like that. She wasn’t a softie, mind you — there was no need to alert the effing presses or Mikaela to confirm her suspicions — and she was resilient, but…she wasn’t a heartless bitch, okay? She was a heart[i[felt[/i] only-kind-of-a bitch.
She pursed her lips, and then she sighed again. “He’ll be here any minute,” she relented in a sorry tone. “I told him to meet us here, too, so…” She put her fists on her hips, rubbing her thumbs against her forefingers. She pressed her lips together for a second, her eyes glancing around for any sign of either parent. “I think he said he was bringing gifts for us,” she added, “or at least for me. Senior year, you know.”
She had to tack on the last part, yes.
“Jeez, there are so many people.” Tori sighed, her brows knitting together. “There’s no way they’re going to find our booth through all of them. They’re going to wind up finding each other first, and then we’ll have to find them and pull them apart.” Her words were nearly mumbles, mostly said to herself. “If they get kicked out, that would be so embarrassing. I’d never be able to show my face here again. You’d have to move back home with me, and…ugh…”
Yes, Tori was a melodramatic worrywart; yes, she was kind of aware (of the worrying part, at least); no, that did not stop her at all.
Ronnie had slept like a baby. And not just last night—she'd found herself exuding a contented, peaceful glow the past few weeks. What followed a heavy rainstorm was—surprise!—a big, sparkling rainbow. At first, the mental clarity she'd gotten from Zeph at the Lock-in came as a jarring reality check. However, in the days that followed, the girl came to realize that tying up that loose end would sever the bonds holding her down elsewhere.
Everything was just... lighter. And she felt more airy, like a balloon or even a flower if she was her old acting coach. Plus, none of that even included the school's long-awaited, predictably nasty breakup between Hunter Drake and Nickie Abrams. Finally, the player king was free game again! Nickie's shattered heart was a very, very small price to pay, if it could even be called a price when it was something Ronnie would happily bargain for. The two just didn't belong together anyway; Hunter was better off a strapping bachelor. Liv thought so too, or at least that's how Ronnie interpreted it.
Seated atop her bed cross-legged, the actress and musician paged through the slightly modified script of Legally Ginger, which was basically the same as its predecessor except for the inclusion of more red hair and a slew of original, Ronnie-fide humor. Thanks to Trevor's reluctance to write it himself, the script only spanned a few short scenes and musical numbers, but regardless it was more than enough for a one-woman show.
Her head perked up at the sound of juvenile, feminine groans coming out of the bathroom. Whatever Kelli was doing was probably nothing to worry about if Ronnie had her personality down right. Nonetheless, she still raised an eyebrow, crawling over to the edge of her bed to peek inside.
The timing seemed to be right, as her roommate exited the bathroom just as she'd begun to get up. “Ronnie! You look freaking stunning, bro! No words — legit just no words! You can def tell you’re the star o’ the showowow!”She almost toppled backwards onto her bed as Kelli drew in for a hug, but quickly caught her balance and squeezed the adoring dancer back with a fond grin.
"Like, you think so?" she replied in the valley girl voice she'd been developing for the show. She did a quick twirl in the gaudy, bright red dress she had prepared for the first scene. Another notable design choice was to replace Elle Woods' (renamed Belle Hoods) iconic pink garb with a new line of red, ginger-friendly attire. She puckered her red lipstick-covered lips and smacked them together, a bit antsy that she looked a little too sexy for the role. She sat back down, if only just to humble herself a little.
She laughed softly as Kelli began to ramble further, which was a bit expected given how obviously restless she was. "Just do it like you always do," she offered with a shrug, having not given much thought about performance anxiety herself. She'd passed that hurdle years ago. "If you think too hard, you're gonna be miserable." She tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear as she diverted half of her gaze toward the script sitting in her lap. "I don't doubt you'll do great, though. I'll be there cheering you on, unless it's one of those serious, dramatic performances, then I'll save the clapping and screaming for after!"
“Sorry,” Kelli giggled, shaking her head slightly, “But also, Ronnie, it’s so crazy…you get to do this every year? And you do concerts, too — bro, I can’t imagine that kind of stress, and you’re just so…chill and dope and…wow.”
Ronnie shook her head. "You've got it all wrong!" she denied with a laugh, frantically waving her hands, "I mean, this is only my second year here. And all those old shows I did in New York, I had a whole crew babying me and telling me not to break down and stop the show." She shrugged again, slowly realizing she really didn't know how she'd managed to get where she was. "And it worked!"
She leaned back on her bed, her arms placed behind to support her body. At the sound of a knock at the door, she allowed Kelli to get up and let Bella, who Ronnie greeted with a smile and wave, in. "And a chéri to you too, Bells!" she chirped, butchering the one word of French she'd managed to pick up from Bella's greeting.
The redhead looked back and forth quizzically between the two girls, perplexed as to what was heightening everyone's nerves. "We'll all do fine, relaaax," she assured with a dismissive wave of her hand. They were just sophomores, weren't they? Wasn't it all fun and games anyway? At least, that's how Ronnie always looked at it, and it had gotten her this far.
With wide, amazed eyes, Ronnie gratefully accepted the muffin from Bella, her entire body melting into extreme ecstasy and contentment as she took her first bite. "This is..." Chew. Chew. Chew. "So good. This is just what I—" Her eyes grew even wider, and she froze a moment before clasping a hand over her mouth. "Shit! Vocal rest!" she hissed, accidentally spraying a few crumbs on the inside of her palm.
After another moment of heavy silence, she shrugged. "Ah, well. I'll drink extra water to make up for it."
“Glad to know I’m not the only one who’s antsy about this whole thing. Ronnie, do you, uhm, got any tips on how to calm the butterflies?”
"Just, uh... be yourself?" The short singer took another bite of her muffin, then sat up straight. "I mean, you dance all the time, Kell. How's today any different beyond the obvious?" She then looked to Bella and cocked her head to the side. "And aren't you a writer? You're basically good so long as your work is submitted. It's not like they'll make you do backflips or anything." She smiled wide, sympathizing with but ultimately disregarding the anxieties her friends were experiencing. It just wasn't that big a deal? It never really was to her, in all honesty.
"And half of it is just having enthusiastic supporters. You guys like your project partners, right?"
Kinipela Kimberly Masoli-Palakiko. 15, born in Molokai, Hawaii as the second of three children. Or HBIC. Whichever you preferred to call her. One thing you could never call her was a man chaser. She was too busy for any of that. She hadn’t even been in a serious relationship. Though she was only a freshman in high school, so that wasn’t actually abnormal. Let’s just say, she hadn’t even had a pretend relationship. Grind didn’t stop for a pre-teen. Success didn’t allow for boys.
She was a teenager now and in high school- particularly at The Academy of Fine Arts Of Northern Hollywood That Fed Geese, or whatever the name of the school was. This meant that it was time to grow up. At least it was time to start. Yes, her nature and instinct and every ounce of her soul told her to rip a new one into the person who had bumped into her, but this wasn’t the time nor place. Or at least that was what she was trying to convince herself was the reason of her change in demeanor and that it had nothing to do with her falling in love at first sight.
Oh, guess we were doing the same thing
She chuckled. It was an awkward, maybe a little big exaggerated chuckle that caused her to look to the side with a puzzled face. WHAT WAS THAT KINNI? What was going on, and why was she acting like this?
No harm, no foul, though, yeah?
She raised her chin just slightly to catch his gaze. Even with her heels she still needed to adjust her sightline (though they weren’t exactly her tallest heels), something she didn’t have to commonly do with her being nearly six foot herself. Tall, dark, and handsome, right?
I'm Zeph. Evermore. Zeph Evermore. Well, Zephyr Evermore, but no one really calls me that. So it's... it's just... Zeph. Or, well, I guess my sisters don't even call me that. I'm just Zee there.
Tall, dark, handsome and named Zeph. She hadn’t come to the Arts Fest to meet her future husband, but here she was. He was rambling a bit, not in an off-putting way but more an adorable, endearing way.
She took a breath commit his name to memory. Zeph Evermore. Zeph Evermore. Zeph Ever…more. ZEPH. Zeph Evermore. GOT IT. She shifted her weight from one of her feet to the other and tucked some her hair behind her hear in a nervous tick.
Uhh... and you are...? I don't recognize you. Are you new?
Oh. He was asking who she was. Which she had somehow suddenly seemed to forget? At least that’s how she was acting as she glanced to nowhere racking her brain for the answer. Oh my God, you’re overthinking.
“Kinni. Well, Kinipela Kimberly Masoli-Palakiko, but most people call me Kinni. Unless you’re my mom, the Colonel calls me Kimmy. Because she likes to get under my skin...”
She trailed off once she realized that she now was rambling herself, and probably divulging a little too much information onto her personal life. As she gazed into his eyes she offered a smile.
“I am new. I’m a Freshman, and I’ve kind of missed a bunch of school time this year between volleyball and cheerleading competitions. So I’m still trying to get my baring around this school. “
She thought for a moment – maybe she could finesse this into a positive thing,
“Uh, maybe you can give me a rundown, if you have some free time?”
She rolled her eyes at Jules' response to her compliment, although she wasn't surprised by it. This was Juliette Jameson, after all, and there was no way she'd ever respond like how other people would to a compliment. There was no "thanks" or return compliment or any other shit like that. There was just the simple "I know," because she seemed to think the world bent to her own will.
In some ways, Ava supposed it did. And she knew that JJ didn't really think that.
She was pretty sure, anyway.
Ava stepped away from the door to move to stand beside the vanity and JJ.
“Definitely not. I’ve danced in front of tons of people before.”
She didn't totally believe JJ's answer to her question about being nervous. Jules had to be somewhat nervous, right? And that was alright. It seemed scary as fuck to go out there and have to perform, but she didn't say shit about that. Instead, she just gave a little nod of her head.
“Could you make these tighter?” Jules asked as she adjusted the straps of her costume.
Ava huffed, but leaned down to peer at the straps. How the fuck did they even--
Her fingers fumbled with the straps as she struggled to tighten the one, all the while mumbling choice cuss words under her breath. Eventually, she got that one tightened enough and moved to start tightening the other one -- she'd been hoping that it would be less trouble, but that soon proved to be false.
“Can you believe that I thought Dorian might think this was too revealing, I could’ve easily gone with a mesh skirt or something a little longer but I don’t think he cared.”
Ava glanced from the strap to glance into the mirror at JJ's reflection, and then she looked back at the strap. She finished tightening it and then straightened up, taking a step back and leaning against the wall so that she could actually see JJ's face and not just her reflection.
"I think it looks good just like that. Mesh skirt would've been too revealing," Ava said, although in her head, she was just thinking what in the fuck is a mesh skirt? Because what in the fuck was it? Her instant thought was that it was something made of like... fish net material or some shit (and maybe her rper also thought this, but thankfully Google proved that to be not true), which didn't even seem easy to dance in.
Ava was quiet for a moment before she started to speak again.
"What'd you want from him? Did you want him to care? Get jealous or some shit? Wouldn't that of just pissed you off more than him not giving a shit?"
Maybe it was too many questions, and really, Ava didn't care all that much... but at the same time, she was curious. Curious as to what Jules had exactly wanted, and more curious as to what Jules even saw in that guy.
Nickie’s hands moved to fiddle with the zipper on the small purse strapped across her as she listened to Slater’s answer about his YouTube channel. So, Happy Tree Friends was his inspiration…and that didn’t surprise her, in the slightest. Like, it was pretty predictable or whatever, since, like, he was a teenage boy who just made a movie about a fucking man-eating octopus (the images of which would, like, probably be burned into her corneas for at least the next, like, few months), but she still felt like that was a testament to her, y’know, senses about people.
You know, like, senses. Like, ”you seem like the type of person to”s. It was useful if you like gossip as much as Nickie.
“It’s a really dumb channel,” he continued. “I’ll probably delete it or some shit now that I’m here. Got plenty of people to show my shit off to now, no need to rely on Internet losers.”
Nickie laughed slightly because she felt like she had to, the tiredness of her voice evident in the quality of her laugh. “Fair enough.” She gave a slight shrug, patting her purse with her forefingers. She frowned slightly, looking forward. “I had a YouTube channel before I came to HA, too. Like, you say yours is stupid, but I doubt that it’s, like…” At the memory that she hadn’t thought about in forever, she let out a soft, genuine laugh and looked up at Slater with a shy look in her eyes. “I doubt that it’s, like, Double D stupid.”
God. God, fuck, she was so embarrassing.
“I fucking hate middle school me,” she sighed, smiling slightly but genuinely. “I swear to God, Slater, like…sixth grade me was a fucking snub-nosed brat. Like, I literally just cried a lot and bitched at people. I started a rumor about, like, this girl named Hazel Burnett? Said that she made out with her brother underneath the slide because they were super, like, always on each other and shit she was a little fucking weirdo who put glue in my water once…I was a bitch. It got super big, pretty sure her mom heard about it or something, I got sent to the counselor because they eventually traced it back to me or whatever. And then I cried about it, and then the next day she tackled me and ripped out one of my baby teeth. I fucking deserved it, I guess…I’d go back in time and do the same. Like, swear I’m not like that anymore. Double D-era Nick is over.”
She rambled when she was nervous. Like, a lot. And she told way too much, wound up embarrassing herself. At this point, she was too tired to fucking care too much about the whole embarrassment thing. Slater had said that he was okay with it, but she still cocked an eyebrow up at him, doing a are you still watching?, Netflix-esque check with her gaze before she continued. “Anyway, like, before you ask, one, I thought Double D was just some, like, cool word because I was a fucking stupid sixth grader and that’s what the boys told me, so don’t hold it against me because I didn’t know what it actually meant. I was like, ’It stands for Dominicka’s Drops, like beat drops,’ but, like…yeah, apparently still no.”
She cringed and laughed slightly at the memory again. She thought she was so cool with that.
“But two, it’s useless for blackmail if that’s your idea because, like, I had a crisis in, like, seventh grade and deleted all of my prepubescent social media accounts, so, like, no evidence left of it anywhere.” No evidence, except for, like, maybe some old SD cards shoved in some drawer at her actual house. “Double D was a flop, but I got 25 views on my cover of that one N*SYNC song, ‘Bye Bye Bye’, so like…? I was still basically a celebrity. Then in, like, eighth grade, I made my actual, like, channel channel because I felt like I needed to have a portfolio to show the HA people when I went for the scholarship interview, and that was just, like…I mean, that’s still up. Nothing really revolutionary, it’s just a couple of original songs, me playing piano a little bit, like…several covers and I think that’s it. There might be, like…one…dancing…video? Or, like…dancing, question mark is more the way to put it because my dancing is…more just, like, flailing to the beat, but it’s whatever, you know.” She cracked another small smile, glancing back up at the boy beside her. “Like, let it be known that there’s a reason why I sit at my concerts or play my own piano music, and it’s not, like, just for the aesthetic of it.”
She paused again once she was done with that, her lungs releasing a somewhat shaky breath as they settled into silence for a brief moment. The moment one of them stopped talking, the distraction stopped happening. She felt the need to apologize again. “Sorry I talk so goddamn much.” She sighed, giving a weak smile and looking down. And I always fucking overshare. “There’s no way you care about hearing about this shit. Sorry I’m telling you all of it.”
She had no fucking idea why she was telling him all of her business…but she also couldn’t really stop either.
He moved onto answering her next question, grinning. “I'm LA born and raised. Love it here. Couldn't really imagine myself living anywhere else and shit. It's ahh…yeah, no moving across the country. I still live at home instead of an apartment or some shit. Don't exactly make enough money yet to move off. What about you? You don't seem like you're from LA. Seem like you're from somewhere more…Midwest or some shit, I guess."
She cocked her head. “Hm, you think Midwest?” She didn’t know how to take that, but she’d just move on. “No, no, uh, I’m from New England, actually. New York.” She laughed slightly. “Albany, New York, not NYC, l-o-l, but you’re right about me not being from LA. Born and raised in Albany, but, like, I get told I don’t really have much of an accent, so I’m not really surprised you couldn’t tell. Lucky you, though — like, living away from home isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be. Even splitting it with, like, my roommate, shit fucking kills my payout. Plus, like, at least if you don’t really get homesick, right?”
Yeah…major downside to this whole being away thing.
“I mean, I’m kind of glad that I’m away from home because, like…I have four siblings, so, like, it’s nice to actually get some privacy, you know.”
It hurt to think about them being so far away. She missed them just as much as she did her parents.
She shook her head. Mind off of yourself before you start fucking crying, Nickie. “Do you, like, have any siblings?” She narrowed her eyes slightly, trying to get a sense. “You kind of, like…give me only child vibes.”
Maybe it was the whole thing with his mom that made her feel that way.
Trevor’s chest was tight. He felt like he could pass out at any second. His stomach and his heart were squeezing with nerves. He wasn’t getting enough air in or out, and he could hardly try, and even if he did, he’d probably wind up hyperventilating and sinking to his knees. His head was pounding with a headache. His fingers were shaking. His knees were shaking. He was going to burst a blood vessel. He had to piss, he had to slam something off of a desk, he had to scream and walk up to a wall and slam his head against it.
But he was fine. At least for the time being.
For a moment, looking at Ash, smiling slightly, he drew in a deep breath for the first actual time, tried to calm himself, tried to soothe everything going on and push down all the dread and the panic and preemptive loathing of it all, and he found himself almost doing it. Maybe it was because, in moments like this, when people he cared about in some sense of the word were going through things, he could usually find it in him to do his best to make sure that they were at least doing decently, which entailed him stopping the psyching himself out — kind of putting himself aside. Not necessarily selflessly, admittedly — the words Trevor Callaghan and selfless couldn’t ever really be used in the same vicinity — but hopefully still for the better.
Ie, him prying Charlie from Chas. The whole lock-in debacle with the girl in front of him. And now, kind of now.
Kind of. Kind of, as in at least he wasn’t worrying about someone dying or in the middle of dying or heavily considering dying right now.
She looked like she was going to be sick. The smile on her face was obviously forced.
“You’re sweet,” she said. Her smile faltered, and then she broke eye contact, and Trevor felt his lungs disallowing him from the deep breathing again, and his head gave a throb. He squeezed his eyes closed for a second, clenching his jaw and biting the inside of his cheek, trying to force himself into fucking serenity.
It made it fecking worse.
Still, he opened his eyes, trying to keep his shoulders from heaving as he struggled to breathe. He kept his gaze steady, even if his eyes wanted to dart around.
“I’m not going to, but ummm…thanks, anyway,” Ash said. “It’s…nice of you.”
“No, you’re going to,” he said firmly. “If you tell yourself you won’t, then there’s no way you will. You’re going to do great, Ash.” He reached up his hand and gently put it on her shoulder. For a second, he just looked at them.
Feck, he was dating her.
He smiled slightly. “I don’t think you could do anything less than amazing. You don’t have to apologize for being hard on yourself, but…you are way too hard on yourself. Not like I can be one ta talk much, though.”
He stepped away from the vanity, looking away. “If it helps any, it’ll be over soon. It’s three minutes, an’ the next thing you know, you’ll be off the stage, and you an’ I can spend the evening evading my grandparents, watching everyone else’s stuff, and then, if you’re still up for it, we’ll have our date. It’s just three minutes, and then it’s over.” He nodded, smiling slightly over at her. “If…ya know, if it goes badly, you’ll only have three minutes of it going badly, and if it goes amazingly — which it will — then it’ll be the easiest, quickest three minutes of your life.”
He made his way back over to her, putting an arm around her, and he leaned down to peck her on top of her head, since he didn’t want to somehow fuck up her makeup by kissing her anywhere else. “I’ll be out there cheering for you the whole time. First one there, front row seats.”
Preferably on the side that shields me from seeing the jackass up there with you as much as possible.
He paused a moment, studying the image of their reflection for another couple of moments with a smile on his face that hardly masked all of the nerves shaking all throughout him, all of the faintness and anxious energy, and then he glanced down at her actual face for a moment.
“Break a leg, darlin’,” he said, and he kissed the top of her head one more time before he made his way to the door, gave her a two-finger salute, an extra awkward wave, twisted the doorknob, glanced up and down the hallway, and quickly stepped into the hall, shutting the door as soon as possible behind himself.
And then, he did what he does best: walked away from the scene with an obviously-forced casualness in order to seem “natural”.
With his far-too-relaxed posture, his hands in his pockets, and his eyes staring straight ahead, the gangly boy made his way out to the main part at a brisk pace — and safely made it out without being spotted.
Of course, his first stop was the restroom — so at least he wouldn’t feel like he had to piss.
Was she making some kind of sick joke, or was Mikaela dead serious? He looked at her, his eyes squinting together. She'd said that poisoning a drink would be a dull and boring way to kill someone, which clearly implied that she'd considered killing him before -- or maybe not him, but someone.
So she had plans for death. For murdering people.
The drink was definitely poison, and the burning, tingling sensation on his tongue -- which he'd thought was an allergic reaction to whatever the heck she'd mixed in there -- was actually his tongue rejecting it because it was poison. Wasn't that a thing, after all? The ability to taste poison or something?
Or maybe Mikaela had actually mixed orange juice in there, which Jace was definitely allergic to. Had he ever been tested? No. Had he had any symptoms aside from some panic he'd felt once upon a time when drinking orange juice that was kinda pulpy? Well... no, but try to explain that to an anxious guy like Jace.
He'd managed to kind of calm down, when Mikaela spoke again.
“I’m just kidding. Also Javi? Why do you think Javi sent me? Something happen between you two? Like say…did you–” she gasped, and Jace looked at her curiously, “don’t tell me Javi made a move on you and you jilted him or something?”
At that Jace, who had regained his breathing and was mostly fine, appeared to choke on his spit or something and started to sputter. He hacked and coughed, bringing his hand up to rest a fist over his hand. He looked at Mikaela, his expression incredulous and disgusted, until the coughing subsided and he was able to drop his hand.
"I--" he started, but he wasn't sure what to say to that so, for a moment, he just stared at Mikaela.
And then, her words really sank in.
"No," Jace whined and gave a rapid shake of his head. "No, no, no. He... he... he punched me at, at school. He's... he's.. he's crazy. And he threatened me. Threatened... threatened to kill me and stuff, so..." he sighed. "I guess... I guess sending my friend would be the best way to... to do that..."
Surprise, surprise, but most of Trevor's attempts to calm her or make her feel less nervous about going out there didn't work, like at all. If anything, they had just worked to make her feel more nervous than she had already had, causing her hands to feel shaky, her lungs to tighten up, her head to start swimming.
Like, until towards the end, when he actually did manage to make her feel a little better.
Right. Only three minutes of it going badly. That's only like...
No, no, no, she wasn't going to stress about it. Instead, she nodded her head, giving one last weak smile to Trevor, and she watched as he (albeit really awkwardly) left the dressing room. And after the door had closed after him, her smile faltered and fell flat again as she sank into the chair in front of the vanity.
She glanced towards the vanity mirror, her gaze meeting, well, her gaze. Ash felt as if she looked ridiculous -- she knew that she didn't, but she felt like it and now, with her being alone and stuck with her thoughts, well... like... she was just feeling worse by the minute.
Ash reached out to pick up her phone and check her messages. Nothing. She'd already received a handful of good luck texts from some of her friends earlier, with the latest one being from Newt, and that earned a faint smile from her. At least she, like, had some people supporting her. And everyone was so busy with their own projects that it was just like... well, like, Ash wasn't surprised that she didn't have more.
Everyone was just so busy.
She got it.
There was also the last text from her dad, one that she hadn't bothered to respond to. He'd wished her luck and said they would try to see her performance -- try. Try because, if he worded it that way, she couldn't get upset if they missed it, because he hadn't promised that they would be there.
She placed her phone back down and drew her legs up so her boots were resting on the front of the chair and she could wrap her arms around her legs. She rested her chin on the top of her knees, and she looked down at the screen of her phone, at the last few messages from her dad.
It had basically been like...
Well, we're going to see Jace, but not sure we'll be able to make it over to you in time.
And that was fine or whatever, because Jace was going to have like two of his friends in the audience and that would probably be it. And it was his last Arts Festival or whatever, so she understood why they'd put his performance ahead of hers, and it wasn't like Ash wanted to be the whiny, jealous little sister, but like...
They had never missed a single performance that Jace had done, but they were always coming up with excuses on why they couldn't see Ash.
Or, well, not they, because her dad hadn't missed a single... anything that Ash had done during that year that her mom was gone. Like, during that year that her mom had just packed up and left in the middle of the night. He'd attended every single one of her track meets, and her softball games.
It was her mom.
But it was fine. She was fine. She didn't need her family to, like, be there to see her or whatever.
She clicked her phone off and glanced around the room before resting her chin back on her knees. She hated the quiet of the room, with the only sound being the pounding of her heart and the shakiness of her breath.