The Phantomime
CHAPTER
21
Chapter Twenty-One
“Poppy,” Mom called, as I stuffed my things into my mudroom cubby that night. “Can you get Marissa to tell her mom I sold my PTA raffle tickets, please?”
Mrs. Bellamy would have to find out the hard way her tickets had been sold. No way would I pass anything on to her daughter.
I kept on with that same intention until my walk to school next morning. Beautiful indigo and white posters were glued to every available post and wall in Riverton.
Way to be the bigger person, Marissa. Game. Set. And match.
Not that I would give up that easily, oh no. I sat stony faced and tunnel-visioned at my desk through every morning class. During lunch break, I sat my sulky self in my favorite winter lunch spot—the wider bit of hallway outside the cafeteria—and ate my sandwiches alone.
Marissa, carrying a small bucket with the poster mock-up glued to the side walked past me. Then, she stopped and turned back. “I’m mad at you, but I won’t take it out on the actors.”
“I’m sure they’re grateful.” I stuffed another mouthful of salami and bread into my mouth. Marissa waited while I chewed. At last, I added, “Thank you for the posters, they look incredible.”
A wide smile burst onto her face. “I know, right? I’m so pleased with them.”
The way she jiggled around on the spot, all excited and proud of herself, was hard to resist. A stupid smile forced my face to get all happy too. “People are going to be desperate to buy tickets.”
She hurried over to me and slid down the wall to sit next to me. “They already are.” She passed me the bucket to weigh in my hand, and showed me several ticket books that were nothing but stubs. She gave me a handful of fresh books. “I wish we could do more than one night. I bet we could sell out for weeks.”
I stirred the cash in the bucket with my finger. “Then we’d have enough to buy two theaters, or the theater and the garage next door. It has a ghost in it too, and—”
“I thought were doing this so the ghosts could move on? You do know buying the place would take a lot more than one performance, don’t you?”
It was hard to tell which sucked the most, Marissa knowing all of that, or me not knowing. I stared down at my knees. To me, the ghosts moving on had been a break-glass-in-case-of-fire kind of plan, only to be used in case of emergency. Saving the theater so they wouldn’t have to go anywhere made more sense to me.
Soon, I’d be left with no ghosts, no theater, and a big fat F that would keep me from auditioning for drama club for the rest of the year—and that’s if everything went right.
That afternoon, the ghosts reminded me of a class of kindergarteners about to go on a field trip. Will had spread the news that the box office had been plastered with posters. When I arrived, I showed them the mockup and even Cresswell went a bit swoony.
Marissa burst into the theater, all wild-eyed and windblown. She ran up the aisle toward us, holding her side like she had a cramp. “I’ve got Mom’s costume to try, and we’re almost out of tickets. Everyone says it’s the best Halloween idea ever.”
Cresswell stepped up to the front of the stage to congratulate her. “I know you can’t hear me, but you are a genius, Miss Marissa.”
As much as I wanted to annoy Cresswell, Marissa deserved the praise. I repeated it word for word.
“Cresswell’s very nice, isn’t he?” Marissa asked.
His chest puffed up and Barry’s deflated.
Marissa let herself in the backstage door—which I wished I’d noticed before—and made her way up onto the stage. “Where can I change?”
I pointed to a curtained off area near the rear of the stage. She hurried back there with her arms full of garment bag and a curious Janette close behind. “Don’t let any boy ghosts follow me.”
“I won’t.” I pointed a warning finger at Will, who slouched off in the opposite direction.
Sitting at the edge of the stage with my note pad in my hand, I read through my list of things I knew about the ghosts for the narrator to use in their speech. Megan wandered over and sat beside me, her head frosting my shoulder as she rested on it. Somehow, she understood how I felt.
“Thank you,” I whispered.
When Marissa flounced out in the dress, I had to be impressed. The bottom layers were plain white silk topped with various kinds of lace that pulled up at the back over a big curved bustle where her butt should be. The bodice laced up behind like a corset. She wore a small white top hat with a pair of goggles sitting on the front brim, and a gauzy veil all the way around. The costume dress had been pretty, but this was magical.
“See,” she said, giving me a twirl. “It’s very Victorian and very ghosty.”
It sure was. Our ghosts weren’t Victorian. They were more late 1900s than 1800s. It didn’t matter, though, because the costumes they wore were Victorian. As Marissa stood there between Janette and Cresswell, I could barely tell her apart from the real ghosts.
“This is going to be great,” I said.
Marissa smiled in her awesome ghost-dress. “I think you should wear this.”
“No, like you said, we should hire someone professional.” I kicked myself for being noble.
Marissa took the top hat and veil from her head and put it on mine. Megan bounced around beside me, clapping her hands and giggling.
“I was wrong.” My best human friend adjusted the filmy veil in front of my eyes. “It should be you. It has to be you.”
I climbed to my feet and wrapped my arms around her neck.
Convincing Cresswell we needed a narrator was easy, convincing him it should be me was a lot harder.
“Enunciate,” he cried from the front of the stage, with a great sweep of his arm. “You must e-nun-ci-ate the words. Project your voice so that they will hear you back in the gods.”
“Why? No one is even going to be in the gods, The Ghost wants it roped off.”
“I will be up here,” Mr. The Third called from the balcony in between wrestling scenes. Now that he had Will’s company on a more-or-less permanent basis, he’d lost his image as the scary ghost. At least he’d always have the big elbow.
“You do not count.” I e-nun-ci-ated.
Cresswell, who had somehow acquired a walking stick, strolled along the front of the stage. The ghost stick tip-tapped with every step. “Lift your chin, breathe from your diaphragm, and start over.”
Laying my hands over my stomach, I blew my bangs up out of my eyes, and took a deep breath. “Ladies and gentlemen, we thank you for your attendance tonight and hope that you will enjoy our Phantomime—”
“Project.”
I mimicked the way Cresswell puffed out his torso and spoke from his belly. “—Phan-to-mime, which is the true story of the ghosts of the Majestic Theater, as told by the ghosts themselves. Yes. You heard me right, the ghosts themselves.”
Cresswell held his walking stick in both hands and planted it on the floor in front of him. “Although I can’t help thinking you were satirizing me, that was much better, Miss Poppy.”
I let my handful of scribbled notes and speeches slap against my thigh. “I’ve never done anything like this before.”
A knowing smile crept over Cresswell’s face. “That is painfully obvious.”
“Gee, thanks. Maybe we should have gotten a professional, after all.”
“I remember the first time you entered this theater. You were the picture of bravery.”
My cheeks glowed hot. “No. I only stayed because the doors locked and my sleeve got caught.”
Smiling—to the point that he almost looked nice—Cresswell stepped forward until he and his stick were right in front of me. “You were brave because you stood ready to fight. Do you want this?”
I nodded.
He put out a hand that glowed like dew drops and rested it on my shoulder. “So fight.”
For a moment, I didn’t see Cresswell, or even the flicker of the TV screen up in the gods. All I saw was the theater filled up with people who were all staring at me.
And I smiled.

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