The Wrong Side of the River
Parting is such sweet sorrow . . .
I threw open the doors to the auditorium and strutted inside like I owned the world, because it felt like I did. Parry was out and Julian would be Romeo. Drama would back to what it used to be—fun, and about the play.
Mrs. Kempf looked ready to celebrate as well. She had on her carnivale outfit complete with a hat covered in plastic fruit, giant hoop earrings, and a red skirt that spun out from her hips when she turned too quickly. When she saw me, she clapped her hands together and cheered. “Our leading lady is here, let’s get up on the stage and on with our rehearsal!”
Except, no one else seemed very excited. Mrs. Kempf had to ask one more time before the rest of the cast and crew dragged themselves off the floor and into their positions. Frowning, I moved to the front of the stage to take my position next to Julian.
“From the top, my darlings!” Mrs. Kempf said.
When Julian began to speak, I forgot about all the grumpy faces watching us from the edges of the stage and for the first time since we started this play, I didn’t have to worry about Romeo, I just got lost in the words.
Julian delivered every line perfectly, never missing a thing, adding in action at exactly the right time. Instead of reciting the words, I acted too, trying to keep up with him, and it was great. Better than great. It was acting.
When we finished the scene, Mrs. Kempf burst into applause, even sticking her fingers into her mouth to whistle. “Perfect, oh that was perfect! You two are Romeo and Juliet, there is no acting here. I’ve never seen such a performance from middle schoolers. Bravo. Well done!”
I could not keep the smile from spreading all over my face, and I shared it with Julian. He smiled just as wide, until we heard the whispers from further back on the stage.
“Maybe we’ll get lucky and they’ll end up like the real Romeo and Juliet.”
I felt the smile slide from my face as I turned around to see who said that. “Try saying that again.”
Brett Campbell smirked. “Are you deaf as well as a traitor?”
Blinking, I opened my mouth to speak, but Julian stepped in front of me. “That’s enough. This play has nothing to do with the park and neither do we. It’s our parents’ thing, not ours. We don’t have long until the play opens so concentrate on it or you’ll all be making public fools of yourselves,” he said. Then, he added, “grow up.”
Like magic, the muttering stopped and everyone got on with what they were supposed to be doing.
“Nice,” I said. “You should run for office.”
Julian went a weird greenish shade that made me fear for my couture, and swallowed hard. “I’d rather be the real Romeo. Trust me.”
Drama was the one thing that stayed the same over the next few weeks. But even Julian began to struggle to keep the fighting from spilling over into rehearsals. Outside of the auditorium, it was even worse. Instead of planning for important things like parties or makeovers, the halls buzzed with stories of middle-school guerilla warfare. Mostly it involved flour bombs and toilet-papering Dad’s tent or Julian’s house, but it was all just stupid.
When Charlotte got started on the subject one afternoon, it was the very last straw.
“So are you in, Romy?” she whispered in her Charlotte-the-spy voice.
“No. I am not.”
Charlotte rolled her eyes. “Of course you’re not, blue blood.”
That’s what they were calling the Southsiders, now. Blue bloods because of the blue clothes they wore. We, the Northsiders, were called Red Herrings, which proved no one had thought the whole name thing through at all.
“Don’t be ridiculous. You can’t be a traitor when the war isn’t real,” I said.
Bethany let out a snort. “Not real? I guess you really don’t listen to your mother. Last night she told the whole phone tree that she’s got exactly the evidence we need for the injunction to stick.”
Frost crept through my veins. “What evidence?”
“She’s not going to tell the phone tree that, is she? Duh.” Charlotte rolled her eyes at me. Having best friends didn’t seem quite so worth it, lately.
“You two enjoy your spying. I have rehearsals.” They both complained when I walked off, but that just made me move faster. What information did Mom have, and more importantly, did she get it from Dad’s folder—from me?
Mrs. Kempf looked almost as stressed as I felt. The giant ostrich feather in her hat dipped down over her nose and tickled it as she spoke. She waved hello to me, and got straight on to the run through. Except only about half the cast and a third of the crew had shown up.
“There’ s a protest going on at the new park site,” Julian said, as I climbed the stairs up to the stage.
“I have heard all I want to hear about that ridiculous park,” Mrs. Kempf said. “Now, I think that today we might work on Act 1, Scene 5.”
My heart did a funny flippity flop in my chest and for the first time in my entire life, I felt my cheeks burn a little warmer. The kiss scene. I always dreaded it. When I thought Perry would be doing it, I felt even worse. But now, I liked the idea, and that surprised me. Julian was supposed to be a weedy little weapon against my mom. Except he wasn’t weedy, or a weapon. He was Julian, and I thought I might like a kiss from him.
Julian held himself together pretty well. As we worked through the scene, he kept his hands clasped tight behind his back and did his very best never to look me in the eye.
Then, he reached the important line. Turning toward me he said, “Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.”
I swallowed hard, staring at Julian’s panicked face as he leaned in toward me. I held my breath as he came closer, and we were so close, and then . . .
“What in the name of all that is good and decent is going on here!”
My mother’s voice. My mother’s very angriest, very deadliest, very I’m-going-to-ruin-your-career-mr-mayor voice.
Julian jumped backward, caught his heel on a falling patch of cardboard grass and landed heavily on the stage. I bent over to help him up Mom was already at the front of the stage, tugging on my skirts.
“No you don’t. You don’t go anywhere near that boy!” She tugged at my costume until I was heading backward toward the steps, like it or not. “You are coming home and that is the end of drama for you, young lady. How dare you, Mrs. Kempf, I truly thought you knew better.”
Before I could protest, or even grab my backpack, we were hurrying toward the exit. “Consider Romy pulled from this class!”
I turned my head back, hard, trying to see Julian’s face but he was out of sight. The only face I did see belonged to Parry Hendricks who sat, smirking in the back row.
“Wonder how your mom found out,” he laughed, as Mom let the auditorium door swing closed behind us.

Keep Reading

Chapter 21

It were a grief, so brief to part with thee Julian

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