The Wrong Side of the River
They have made worms’ meat of me!
The day of the play went much too slow. Every time I thought about it, a little bubble of excitement burst inside me and made my whole body shiver. There had never been a Romeo who could pull off his part as well as Julian would.
I had no doubt in my mind that this would be the best Romeo and Juliet that Jefferson Junior High had ever seen, maybe even the whole town of Montague.
“Looking forward to the play?” Charlotte asked as we sat at our table in the cafeteria.
“Sure, I am,” I said. “You guys are coming, right?”
Charlotte and Bethany looked at each other and did one of the grins they saved for secrets and mischief. It made some of the excitement inside me turn into painful nerves instead.
“We wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Bethany said. They shared those grins again and then giggled.
“What’s going on?” I asked, gripping my juice box so tight some leaked out around the straw.
The two of them grinned again, and then looked down at their food.
“Are we friends or not? What’s going on?”
“We can’t say,” said Charlotte.
Bethany added, “because it’s not our secret to tell. But don’t worry, it’ll all turn out just fine, I’m sure.”
“Tell me. Is someone going to do something to ruin the play?” All my nerves were getting replaced by anger now. These girls were supposed to be my friends, and instead, they were plotting something.
“Julian Griffin’s acting might,” Charlotte said. They giggled again, and that was the final straw.
“Whatever.” I picked up my tray and left the table to find Julian’s instead.
He sat over to the side with his friends Ben and Marshall. “Can I sit with you guys?” I asked.
Ben and Marshall froze, mouths open, staring at me.
“Sure.” Julian beamed at me and slid a chair out from the table for me to sit on.
“Thanks.” I sat down and glanced over my shoulder at my supposed friends. They were laughing as if someone had just told the funniest joke in history.
“Do you guys know if there’s something going on today?”
“Our play,” Julian said with a huge grin.
“More like something that could ruin the play. Something to do with the park, I think.”
Ben and Marshall came out of their comas and started to eat again. “There’s always something going on,” Marshall said.
I sipped on my juice box, frowning. “We better be careful.”
We had a dress rehearsal as soon as classes finished, and then we would get made up and ready for the actual performance. This was always my most favorite part of any play. Everyone gets excited and chatty and there’s lots of fun and joking. You get to put on your full costume and really get in the spirit of the play.
The worry that everything would go wrong was still there, but when I arrived first at the auditorium after school, I was filled with excitement. I threw open the doors, turned on the lights, and ran all the way to the stage.
That was the first shock.
The props. Instead of piles neatly stacked in the wings in the order they were meant to appear on the stage, they were gone.
“What?” I whispered, turning in a circle in the middle of the stage.
They had to be there somewhere. I ran backstage. Nothing. The dressing area. Nothing. Not one single prop. All that was left was the old foldaway table we used for sandwiches and drinks before the performance.
“No. It can’t be.”
Most of the costumes were still there, but not all of them. Some were definitely missing.
The familiar sound of Mrs. Kempf’s super-high singing echoed through the backstage, and I ran out onto the stage.
“Mrs. Kempf! The props are all gone, some of the costumes too!” I wrapped my arms tight around myself, trying not to let my panic explode everywhere.
Mrs. Kempf stood in front of the stage, and clasped her hands together. “Oh no. Surely not. How could—oh no no no.”
Julian arrived first, and then a couple of crew members and only one or two members of the cast. No one else showed up.
I was the only Northsider still there.
Mrs. Kempf looked at the few of us and sighed. “I am sorry, team. But even if we got the crew to stand in for the actors, there are simply far too few of you. There is no choice. We are going to have to cancel.”
“But, Mrs. Kempf, they could still turn up, couldn’t they?” I asked.
She did a sad smile. “Do you really think that’s possible, Rosemary?”
I didn’t.
I sat on the edge of the stage and looked around the sad faces. Only Julian’s face had any hope left in it, which did not surprise me. That boy would still be holding the cellar door closed after a tornado lifted the house and tossed it into the sky.
Mrs. Kempf let out a big sigh. “You might as well pack up and head off home, kids. I will get calling all the ticketholders to let them know there won’t be a performance. I am so disappointed in the people of this town.”
We all climbed to our feet and hugged each other. “The next play will be different,” I said.
“Who would bother again after this?” Billy Preston said. “All this hard work and practice for nothing.”
And that was the big problem. This was not about the park. This was about our play, and theater in general in this silly little town. If this play failed, theater failed, and I could not let that happen.
“There has got to be something we can do?” I said. “We could . . . I don’t know. Something.”
Mrs. Kempf smiled. “Oh, Romy, your dedication to theater truly warms my heart, dear. But there is nothing we can—“
Julian stepped forward, hands on hips, a small frown between his brows.
“Actually, Mrs. Kempf. I think I might have an idea.”

Keep Reading

Chapter 29

She doth teach the torches to burn bright Julian

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