The Wrong Side of the River
You kiss by the book

I didn’t think anything could be worse than rehearsing with Melanie Boswell, but even though I could tell it was going a million times better from Mrs. Kempf’s chair, I’d never been so uncomfortable in all my life.
Romy recited her lines beautifully. She didn’t stand on the other side of the stage and turn her nose up at me like Melanie had. But it didn’t matter. The distance was in her eyes.
“My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand to smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss,” I said. I’d spent months practicing that line and picturing what came next. The thought of Romeo kissing Juliet made my cheeks burn and my arm hair stand up on end.
But now, with Romy saying her lines back to me with sad eyes, and I didn’t feel excited at all.
When we reached the critical moment I could feel Mrs. Kempf’s excitement.
“Now, take her in your arms and kiss her!”
I took a deep breath and stepped toward Romy. She bit her lip in a worried sort of way.
“ I d-don’t think this is r-right,” I stuttered.
Mrs. Kempf laughed. “Of course it’s right! It’s in the script right here see: ‘Romeo kisses Juliet.’”
Romy smiled, but it wasn’t a real smile. Her mouth turned up at the ends, but her eyes still looked worried.
“I know it’s in the script. It’s just…I don’t think our parents would be happy to see it. They’re already on edge about the park. If they see kissing in a junior high production they might bring out the pitchforks.”
Mrs Kempf protested, “But it’s in the script! This is how the Bard intended it be done. We can’t just go changing Shakespeare!”
A low voice I knew all too well came from stage right. “Maybe Julian’s just afraid to kiss her because he knows a girl like her wouldn’t be caught dead with a loser like him.”
The room broke out in giggles and clapping. I fought the heat rising up my neck and out to my cheeks. Romy had a deer in the headlights sort of expression and I suspected Parry might be right, but I brushed off his words and looked back at Mrs. Kempf. “Mrs. Madison almost didn’t let Romy come back. We don’t want to give her a reason to pull Romy from the play again, do we? No one else can do the part like she can.”
Mrs. Kempf pursed her lips and scrunched up her forehead, “But surely Mrs. Madison and all the rest would understand. It’s in the script, after all.”
Romy shook her head. “Julian’s right. I don’t think my mother would understand, and I suspect Julian’s father wouldn’t be very happy about it either.”
“But…” Mrs. Kempf pleaded.
“We can replace it with something else.”
“What could you possibly replace it with!” Mrs. Kempf raged. “Romeo and Juliet have a whole conversation about kissing and then you want to put in a friendly wave or something. It just won’t do.”
I could feel every eye in the auditorium on me. My heart thumped against my ribcage.
“They talk a lot about hands too. What if I kiss her hand?”
Mrs. Kempf scowled, “Then how do you explain, ‘Thus from my lips, by thine, my sin is purged’!”
I wanted to shout that no one there would even notice—that very few people understood Shakespeare unless they’d read the script three hundred times.
It was Romy who came up with the solution. “What if after he kisses my hand I rub it over my lips, so our lips touch without actually touching?”
Mrs. Kempf shrugged, looking annoyed but possibly flexible. “Try it.”
We said our first few lines and I knelt down. When the time for the kiss came Romy held her hand out to me. I wrapped my fingers around it and looked up at her. The sad eyes were gone. She smiled.
I smiled back and then leaned over and kissed her hand, let it go, and watched as she brushed it across her lips.
“Well,” Mrs. Kempf said. “That was surprisingly satisfying.”
After the scene Romy’s smile faded and her sad eyes came back. She’d been acting, of course. She was good at acting.
I didn’t see her for the rest of the school day.
Ben met me at my locker. “We’re going over to the park site this afternoon to put up support posters. You in?”
“Don’t you remember what happened last time we went there?”
Marshall laughed, “You mean when Tim fell off the digger and had to come to school with a cast for a month?”
“No, I mean when you sprained your ankle and Old Lady Gunderson chased us with her walker.” I said, zipping my backpack and slinging it over my shoulders.
“There won’t be any Northsiders there today anyway,” Marshall said. “We’ll have the whole place to ourselves.”
“No thanks,” I said with a wave. “I’m teaching Solo some new stuff tonight.”
Marshall rolled his eyes. “You and your stupid dog. Don’t you ever think about anything important?”
I shrugged. “Guess not.”
Solo needed something more challenging than our normal routine. He still didn’t have the double backflip, but I was beginning to think that maybe he just couldn’t do it. Maybe his little body just wasn’t capable of repeating the flip twice in a row.
So we were onto something new. He knew a lot of tricks now, but he needed me next to him, with his favorite ball or a treat in hand in order to complete them. Tonight, we would work on that.
I took him out to the front yard, asked him to sit right next to the flower pot on the front porch, and told him to stay.
He stayed while I went back inside and up to my room.
I opened my window and sat on my floor so he wouldn’t be able to see me. Then I called his name.
He stepped off the porch and walked around in a circle, looking confused.
“Solo! Sit!” I shouted.
He sat, still looking around for me.
“Solo! Roll over!”
He rolled over.
“Solo! Bow!”
He put out his front paws and dipped his head low.
He didn’t even need me there. He only needed my voice. A giddy feeling filled my stomach. But just as I was convincing myself that my dog was a prodigy, our neighbor’s poodle, Petunia, derailed the training session. She came trouncing over in all of her fancy poodle glory and Solo stood from his bow and barked even though I hadn’t told him to speak.
“Solo, sit!”
He ignored me completely and walked out to meet the Petunia, wagging his tail and barking hello.
“Solo, come!”
He pretended he didn’t hear me as he and the poodle chased each other round in circles.
“Solo!” I called one more time.
But chasing Petunia was way more important to him than training with me. And I was okay with that.
At least someone got the girl in the end.

Keep Reading

Chapter 24

Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love Romy

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