I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye, simultaneously anticipating and dreading the thought of making eye contact with him. He was not looking at me. In fact, his whole body was angled toward the students on the other side of the room, pretty much ignoring the entire section where I was seated. Other than the fact that he was pointedly not looking at one side of the room, there was no sign that he was worried or frazzled in any way; whereas I could feel the heat in my cheeks and my hands were shaking as I pressed them into my knees.
“I loved my four years here, and I’m, uh…”
He glanced at me, and I could do nothing but look back—wide eyed and petrified. He cleared his throat and returned his gaze to the other side of the room.
“I’m really excited to be back.”
I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.
I wanted to crawl into a hole at the bottom of a ravine, then be buried under an avalanche, and then die.
I wanted… to cry.
Eric excused himself then to let us get to know our new teacher. I wished I could excuse myself too because I happened to already know him plenty well.
“Well, then,” Garrick started. “I realize that I’m not that much older than you lot.” Another flick of his eyes to mine. It was becoming nearly impossible to swallow.
“But my goal here is to provide you with some insight into the next step in your journey from someone who isn’t so far removed. We all love Eric, Ben, Kate, and the rest of the faculty, but let’s face it, they’re not exactly the youngest kids on the block.” The whole class laughed. I was too busy concentrating on not throwing up. “It was a different world when they started their careers. When I was sitting where you are, we called this class Senior Prep; I think now it’s called the Business of Theatre. In it, we’ll be covering everything from auditions to career options to Actor’s Equity. We’ll also spend some time talking about the more abstract side of things. Because I hate to break it to you guys, but the hardest part about this business isn’t landing roles or making ends meet, though that is difficult. The hardest thing is keeping up your spirit and remembering why you chose this in the first place.”
He didn’t have to try to hard to scare us about our futures. We were all already operating on Threat Level Orange. We’d been having middle of the night, soul-searching conversations (while drunk, of course) since the year started.
“Now, if you don’t mind. I’d like to hear a bit about you all. Why don’t you tell me your names and what you’re interested in doing after you graduate.”
There were about twenty in the class. The first eight or so all recited their names followed by the obligatory, “I’m moving to New York.”
When you’re an actor, moving to New York is pretty much the dream. Those who are lucky can actually make it the plan. Some of us have to think a little more realistically.
Cade, my best friend besides Kelsey said, “Cade Winston. At the moment I’m a little torn between Grad School and just going straight into auditioning. I can’t really tell if I actually want to go to Grad School or if I’m just scared.”
Garrick smiled, and even though I was freaking out, I smiled, too. I felt like that about a lot of things in my life… not just acting.
He said, “Good. That’s honest, Cade. And the more honest you can be with yourself the better. Hopes and dreams are great, but they are a lot easier to break than a solid plan. We’ll see if we can’t figure out exactly what you want while you’re in this class.”
After that, it was like everyone felt okay to say what we were actually thinking, instead of what we felt was expected of us.
We spend so much time defending our choice to do this that it becomes hard to show any vulnerability at all. There’s only so many times you can handle someone asking about your fall back for when things don’t work before you start thinking that maybe the fall back should just be your plan.
Sometimes I wish I were a bit more like Kelsey. She was practically fearless. Though, I guess it’s easy to be a little fearless when your family is loaded.
“Kelsey Summers. I’m taking a year off to travel and just explore before I decide on what I’m doing. People always say that the most interesting actors are interesting people, so I figure it’s a good investment to spend some time becoming more fascinating than I already am.”
“Diva,” I muttered under my breath.
She narrowed her eyes, and delivered a quick pinch to the back of my arm in response. I yelped, and nearly toppled out of my seat at the same time that Garrick turned his eyes on me and said, “And you?”
Rubbing at my arm, I had to look away from his eyes before I could answer.
“Bliss Edwards. I’m a little torn between acting and stage management. And since they don’t really offer Masters programs where you can do both, I think I’ll just go ahead and enter the, um, job market or whatever.”
I looked back at him, but his eyes had already moved on to Dom, who was sitting one row above me.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Kelsey’s hand found mine, and she squeezed.
It took another twenty minutes to finish up introductions because, well, we’re theatre people. We love to hear ourselves talk.
With only five minutes left in class Garrick said, “Great. It sounds like you’ve all at least given a thought to the next step. Wednesday I want you all to come to class with your résumé and headshots and be ready to audition.”
“For what?” Dom asked. “It’s the first week of class. There aren’t any auditions for a few weeks.” Dom loved to hear himself speak more than most.
“It doesn’t matter.” Garrick answered. “In the real world, you might go to ten auditions in a day. You might have weeks to prepare or you might have an hour. Your job is only acting if you land the part, until then your job is auditioning, so you better be good at it. Dismissed. See you all on Wednesday.”
He grinned. It wasn’t quite as awe-inspiring as the grins he wore last night, but it was still enough to make my steps stutter on my way down the risers.
I was at the curtains, a mere ten feet away from the door when I heard, “Miss Edwards, can I speak to you for a moment?”
Kelsey’s face was caught somewhere between pity and glee. For the first time in twelve hours I wanted to punch someone besides myself.
“Lunch at noon?” She asked. I nodded, even though I wasn’t sure I would survive until noon. Hell, I wasn’t even sure I could stomach going to my next class.
I took my time walking toward him, waiting for the rest of the class to clear. Dom was currently bombarding Garrick with questions, so I took a second to distract myself with Cade. Where Kelsey was the friend who dragged me out to bars and encouraged stupid behavior, Cade was the friend who always knew the right thing to say.
His first words—“On a scale of one to bitchy, how hung-over are you?”
I raised the corner of my mouth in a smile. That was all I could manage in my vortex of emotions, but it was a smile all the same. “Depends… right now? A solid seven. If Dom tries to talk to me… we’re going to need a bigger scale.”
He laughed, and something made me wonder how last night would have gone if I’d told him my secret instead of Kelsey. Somehow I doubt things would have turned out the same.
“I gotta run. Poli-Sci.” He made a face, and I concurred, glad I’d gotten that out of the way last year. “Let’s do something tonight, k?”
“Sure.” This time I did smile, because Cade was great for distractions, and that was most definitely what I needed right then.
He pecked me on the cheek, and then went on his way.
I turned toward Garrick to find him watching me, his eyes dark and narrowed. Dom was long gone. He must have gone out the doors on the other side. We stood there awkwardly for several seconds. His hands were shoved in his pockets, and mine were fidgeting with the bag slung across my shoulders.
Finally, he cleared his throat.
“How’s your leg?”
I swallowed, and looked down at my legs. I’d worn a skirt today to keep it uncovered. I tilted my leg so he could see the bandage. “Good. I re-bandaged it this morning. It’s blistered, but as far as I can tell, or well according to the Internet, that’s normal.”
I looked back, but his eyes were still on my legs.
I stiffened. God, this was so awkward.
He cleared his throat again.
“So… you’re in college.”
“So… you’re not.”
He stayed still for another second, then turned to the side abruptly, pacing several feet away from me, and then back. His fingers pushed through his hair in frustration, and all I could think about was my own fingers in his hair, and how incredibly soft it had been.
“I thought—“ He started. “Well, I wasn’t doing much thinking at all. But, you don’t look like you’re in college. I said I went to school here, and that I’d just moved back, and you said ‘Me too’ so I just assumed you had done the same.”
I kept having this irrational need to blink. I wasn’t crying or anything, but I just couldn’t stop. I said, “I lived in Texas when I was really young. I meant that I moved back here for school.”
He nodded once, and then kept nodding. So, he was nodding and I was blinking and neither of us was saying what really needed to be said.
And since I couldn’t stand silence, I was the first to break.
“I won’t tell anyone.” His eyebrows raised, but I couldn’t tell if it was surprise or judgment or just a facial tick. “I mean not that there’s anything… not that we… I mean we didn’t actually… um, make the beast with two backs and all that.”
OH. MY. GOD.
The beast with two backs? Seriously?
I’m 22-years-old, and rather than just spitting out the word sex, I used a Shakespeare reference! A really embarrassing Shakespeare reference.
And he was smiling! And his smile did funny things to my insides that had me thinking about last night, which was totally not something I needed to be thinking about right now. No beasts. No backs. No last night.
I looked away, trying to keep it together. I took a deep breath, and said as calmly as I could. “This doesn’t have to be a big deal.”
He took a moment to answer, and I wondered if he was waiting for me to look at him. If he was, he’d be waiting for a while.
“You’re right. We’re both adults. We can just forget it happened.”
There was no way I could forget it happened. But I could pretend.
I could act.
“Right,” I nodded.
I turned to leave, but his voice stopped me.
“How’s your cat?”
“What cat? Oh! MY CAT. The cat… that is mine. Oh, she’s... ” I had said it was a she, right? “She’s fine. All meowing and purring and other cat things.”
God, why did the door have to be so far away?
I kept walking away, calling back my last few words over my shoulders.
“I’ve got to get to class. I’ll see you Wednesday I guess, okay, bye!”
I speed-walked out the door, down the hallway into the art wing, past the ceramics classroom, and into the handicap bathroom that no one ever used. Then I sunk down to my knees (on a BATHROOM FLOOR. Clearly, I was distraught because… GROSS).
I focused on not hyperventilating. Only I could have an affair with a teacher on accident. I knew one thing for sure. There was no way in hell I was going to my next class.
“I swear there was so much awkward in the air, it felt practically solid.”
My face was pressed against the table in the student lounge while Kelsey tried to ply me with french fries and other wonderful carbohydrates.