The Wrong Side of the River
That shows thee a weak slave; for the weakest goes to the wall.
Between Julian’s disappointed expression when I called us “friends” and Parry’s complete uselessness, all the sparkle went out of my whole drama experience. My stomach bunched into a tight tangle of prickling nerves as I walked into the auditorium.
Parry was onstage with a group of other actors, running through their lines for the fight scene. Cringing, I took a seat behind Mrs. Kempf to watch.
Something strange and sort of miraculous happened. Aside from a short pause at the start of every sentence, Parry recited the lines. He did a terrible job of it and his idea of action made me wince and shrink down in my seat, but at least he had the lines.
When I got out of my seat and moved a bit closer to the stage, I saw why.
Kneeling down behind a giant painted cardboard pot-plant was Julian, whispering each line to Parry as it came up. No script, from memory, just like me.
What was that about? Was Parry forcing him to help?
I watched as Parry hesitated at the start of a new line, and Julian hissed it to him from his hiding place. But this time, instead of saying the line, Parry let out an outraged bellow and spun around. “Will you put a sock in it, you little Egg!” he screamed and kicked the painted pot-plant so hard his shoe went right through it. He hopped on one foot, trying to work it loose. The prop wobbled and tilted and fell forward, forcing Parry to the floor.
Julian stood gingerly and slid backstage, while Parry ranted at him from the floor. “I can do my own stupid lines, Egg! Leave me alone!”
Except, he couldn’t. As soon as someone loosened his foot from the cardboard rock and got him back on is feet to rehearse, Parry got started again. “Ay my! Sad house seems long. Was that my father that went fence too fast?
Mrs. Kempf looked like she might burst into tears at any second. “Honestly, Parry, if there was enough time left for someone else to rehearse your part . . .”
I looked around and found Julian over by the stack of amplifiers behind the dressing area. “Why were you helping him?” I asked. “Did he beat you up and make you, because if he did, I’ll . . .”
Julian shook his head. “I wouldn’t have done it if he threatened me.” He brushed some dust off his shirt sleeve and leaned against the wall. “I did it because he is going to ruin the play, and I don’t want that to happen.”
A little warm rush of affection for him hit me then, and took me by surprise. It felt good to have someone else care about the play the way I did. Theater needed all the supporters it could get. Except I wanted Julian’s support to be for me, too, like it used to be. But this felt awkward and weird. Calling him my friend ruined everything.
“I—I think,” I said, trying not to stutter and making a dismal fail of it, “that friends are the most important people in the whole world. They mean the most to me.” It sounded all wrong, not what I meant at all, and Julian’s face went harder as he turned away from me and pretended the amplifier had a tiny speck of lint on it.
“Yeah. Of course. Whatever.”
“It’s true.” I said it with as much honesty as I could manage. But it didn’t sound very true, even to me.
Giving up, I shuffled my way back to the auditorium to sit through the rest of Parry’s rehearsal. We stopped right before the kissing scene, which meant we would pick up there next rehearsal. My mouth went dry at the idea of Parry’s lips anywhere near it.
Bethany and Charlotte were waiting for me at my locker when rehearsals were over. They had such determined looks on their faces that I almost turned around and went back to the auditorium. Even looking at Julian’s sad face would be better than whatever they had in mind.
Bethany shoved a clipboard at me. Attached to it was a pen, dangling on the end of a long bit of ratty string. The words “Petition” were printed across the top and dozens of signatures filled up the lines below.
“While you’ve been mucking around with your play, we’ve been busy,” Charlotte said.
Bethany’s face was all smiley with pride. “Yeah, we have a hundred signatures so far.”
“So, you got a hundred signatures from a bunch of school kids who can’t vote? Wow, Mayor Griffin must be shaking in his patent leather shoes.” I didn’t even try to keep the sarcasm out of my voice because a) their idea was stupid, and b) I had better things to worry about.
“If enough kids get involved, they will have to listen,”Charlotte said. “I’m not exactly sure, but I think there is a law or something about petitions.”
Bethany pumped her fist in the air. “We may be young but we are many!”
I shook my head. “Please don’t say that in front of anyone important.”
Bethany tapped the clipboard with her index finger. “Come on, sign it. If your name is on there, loads more kids will sign.”
“Even those from Southside, I bet,” Charlotte said, giggling.
“Especially all the boys.” Bethany made kissy faces at me.
I looked down at the list of names on the petition. Parry’s was there, of course, and that was probably what Charlotte and Bethany were teasing me about. “I don’t want to sign it. I don’t even care what happens to the park.”
Bethany cocked her head to the side and tapped her finger against her lower lip. “Oh really? So the rumor that your Dad will be in charge of heading the park development team if it stays Southside is true then, is it? You’re really a Southside supporter down deep?”
Charlotte sniffed, and both girls flipped their hair over their shoulders at exactly the same time just the way we always practiced—except without me.
“Dad has never said anything about that. It doesn’t even sound true to me.” My voice wobbled when I said it, though, because it did sound weirdly familiar.
I wanted to support Dad because no one else in his whole life did anymore. And I wanted to see Mom lose, because she deserved it. But I wished they would both stop being so tangled up with the stupid park. I couldn’t tell what it was I wanted any more.
I snatched up the pen and signed my name. In my head, I added: That doesn’t mean I’m on your side, Mom.
But then, I saw it. The one signature I did not expect to see. It was tiny and tight and tucked up in a corner like an apology no one wanted to make.
Julian Griffin.

Keep Reading

Chapter 17

These sorrows make me old Julian

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