The Phantomime
Chapter Twenty-Seven
There’s that old saying about how time flies when you’re having fun. For me, time went fastest when I plain didn’t want it to. Examples: hanging from a bridge = very slow. Spending the last day you’re going to get with your friends = way, way too quick. The more I wanted it to drag, the faster everything happened.
Before I had a chance to do or say half the things I wanted to, our parents arrived and we’d entered war-mode. Or most of us had. It was all panic-mode for Marissa. I’d never seen so much flailing and crisis-face.
Her dad set himself up with a folding chair and table in the lobby to collect tickets and sell standing room spots. She ran up to him and grabbed his shoulders.
“Red hair,” she gasped.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Bellamy frowned and gave her a weird sideways glance.
Marissa shook him. “That’s how you’ll know the ghost hunter. She’s got red hair. Not coppery red, blood red, like a vampire.”
Mr. Bellamy did one of those slow nods you do when you’re trying to humor someone on the verge of going postal. “For the record, vampires drink blood, they don’t necessarily have red hair.”
Marissa didn’t say anything. She just stood there, gripping his shoulders, breathing very, very fast. When she made some sort of strangled noise, her dad got up and made her sit in his place.
“Put your head between your knees before you pass out,” he said. She didn’t, so he put his hand on the top of her head and pushed it down.
“You girls freak out easy,” Will whispered into my ear. He might be visible now, but he could still sneak around like an expert.
“I’m not freaking out.”
When I said it, I wasn’t. Ten seconds later, though, Marissa’s panic got contagious. Maybe the lobby had run out of oxygen. Or my lungs were allergic to dust—obviously a late-onset allergy. Or . . .
My stomach lurched. I wrapped my arms around myself and stared at Will.
“Barf alert,” he yelled. And then, like the hero I knew he wasn’t, he disappeared. I hoped it was because Marissa’s dad turned in our direction, but I think he had a puke phobia.
Marissa lifted her head and pointed an accusing finger at me. “Do not—puke—on my mother’s—dress.”
Mom came to the rescue, standing us up and straightening our clothes. “Come on, you two. Pull yourselves together, it’s nearly time.” She ushered Marissa and me backstage. “Breathe. Smile. You’re going to be fine.” She shoved us through the backstage door and slammed it behind us.
Marissa got control of herself first. “We can do this.”
“We?” I asked. “We? You’re only standing backstage in a cute costume prompting me if I forget the words.”
Her face brightened into a smile. “Good point. Sweet. I’m fine.”
My wobbly legs got me to the top of the stairs where I sat back on the costume chest to breathe. Coughs, sneezes, and a general buzz of excitement echoed around the theater as people filed in. Someone yelled, “Spider,” and there were a few moments of generalized panic before the normal hum started up again.
“That sounds like a lot of people,” Marissa said.
“Hush. Up.” I couldn’t let myself think about that. I had to concentrate on my lines, on reading them, and not thinking about the people in the—no—not thinking about people at all.
I let Marissa adjust my Steampunk bride costume and arrange the veil in front of my face.
“You look just like a real spook,” she said. “Doesn’t she, Janette?”
Janette, who always seemed to be nearby when new clothes or costumes were involved, smiled. “Absolutely. Only, we prefer ‘ghost’ or ‘spirit’ not spook.”
“Sorry,” Marissa said, and blushed.
Barry poked his head backstage. “Are you ready? The place is full, and I mean full. There’s not even standing room. Probably hundreds.”
I clutched my stomach and looked around for something to catch the puke. Janette pointed at an empty waste paper basket under the switchboard. It’s sides were woven plastic strips which wouldn’t contain much.
I’d have to hold it. No barfing. No freaking. Cool, calm, and collected thoughts only.
“Places,” Cresswell said, gathering everyone around. “Ready when you are, Miss Poppy.”
My stomach lurched before I could think anything cool, calm, or collected. I bent double over the basket.
“Now that is gross,” said Will.
“Not helping,” I groaned.
“Oh, dear. Miss Marissa, could you take the role of the narrator? Despite my best efforts, Miss Poppy does still prefer to use written notes, so you could work off those.”
Marissa, the best friend anyone can have in a crisis, took my shoulders and forced me to look at her. “Get out on that stage and do your job. I dare you.”
I stood up straighter. “But, I retired from dares.”
Marissa pursed her lips. “For one night only, Poppy Malone, back from retirement. Now get out there.”
Eyes closed, spine more-or-less straight, I took a deep breath. I pulled my notes out of my pocket and unfolded them. “I can do this.”
Before I could think—or throw up again—I took big, confident strides out onto the stage.
The silvery ghost footlights began to glow and a gasp rose up from the audience when it got bright enough to see me. There, in the front row, sat Mom, Dad, and—uh oh—Mrs. Weir, my drama club teacher. I closed my eyes tight and told myself, I can do this. I can do this.
When I opened my eyes, the door from the lobby swung open. Barbara Basch walked in with her entire crew in tow and disappeared into the darkened back of the theater.
Every other light except the spotlight flickered out. No one made a sound. The whole world waited for me to speak.
My mouth hung open, the first word frozen on my lips.
Some part of me noticed a lot of waving arms and whispered orders from backstage, but I couldn’t make sense of any of it. All I could think about was that Basch woman, watching me.
A low hum of voices started up in the audience. Someone let out a mighty sneeze and muttered a complaint about the dust. Someone else giggled.
I stared out at the balcony and Sebastian, his own personal spotlight falling on him, gave me the thumbs up.
I could do it. I had to do it.

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