Understudy, page 1
Copyright © 2014 Cheyanne Young
All rights reserved.
Interior Design by Angela McLaurin, Fictional Formats
Cover image from GoOnWrite.com
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems -except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews-without permission in writing from the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This book is a work of fiction. The characters, events, and places portrayed in this book are products of the author’s imagination and are either fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
About The Author
For Felicia Morgan, my partner in crime who did a lot of embarrassingly stupid things with me in theater arts class.
And in memory of the Caboodles that held not only our theater makeup, but all of our secrets.
“If you love and get hurt, love more.
If you love more and hurt more, love even more.
If you love even more and get hurt even more, love some more until it hurts no more…”
It’s two forty-five on the dot and my stomach is nestled firmly in my throat. Ms. Barlow sits in her director’s chair at the back of the theater arts classroom. She tells me to stand on the zebra print x made of tape in front of the white board, in the place she usually stands while she’s teaching class. Today is the first day I’ve seen the zebra print x. I wonder if that’s the same zebra print tape she took away from a freshman last week.
The classroom is abnormally dark with a single spotlight shining directly on my face. I wish I’d worn makeup. My nose is too oily, I just know it. Three stapled-together pages of Ms. Barlow’s original script shake in my hands as I stand, waiting for her signal to start.
She has a peacock feather tucked behind her ear and a pen in her hand as she scribbles something on her clipboard. Her bright orange hair is gray in the dark. I clear my throat.
“Yes Wren,” she says without taking her eyes off her clipboard. “You were auditioning for a minor role, but then you switched for the role of Gretchen? Am I reading your chicken scratch handwriting correctly?”
“Yes ma’am,” I say, wondering if I should tell her I signed up for auditions while writing on someone’s back in the hallway before class and that’s why my handwriting resembles chicken scratch. I wasn’t going to audition at all until Mom pointed out the requirements in The Art Institute of Lawson catalog places a strong emphasis on extracurricular activities. And if I’m going to be in a school play for the sole purpose of winning the affections of my dream college, I might as well do it right. Even if my best friend is also auditioning for the lead role.
Ms. Barlow stares at me over the rim of her purple teardrop glasses, appraising me as if she doesn’t see me in class every day.
“You do know Gretchen’s role includes a lot of kissing with the male costar?”
I didn’t know that, but I nod anyway. It’s too late to back out now. Plus I like kissing. I can handle kissing.
Ms. Barlow laces her fingers together and rests them in her lap on top of her clipboard. “You may begin.”
I swallow. The words on my paper blur into a mess of jumbled letters that form nonexistent words. Good thing I have it memorized. I crumple the papers and hold them in my clenched fist.
“Jeremy? Is that you?” I squint my eyes, which comes naturally with the blinding spotlight on me and take a step forward. “Jeremy, get down! What the hell are you thinkin’? Are you crazy?”
“Stop.” Ms. Barlow’s hand flies out. She tilts her head to glare at me over the rim of her glasses. “Why do you sound like a melodramatic southern belle?”
“Because my character lives in Alabama?”
She shakes her head. “No. Do it again.”
My heart pounds so hard it turns my chest into goo. “Jeremy! Get down! What the hell are you thinking—are you crazy?”
Ms. Barlow lowers her voice and assumes Jeremy’s lines. “What do you care?” she says with a snarl.
“Of course I care.” I clench my chest. “Jeremy, you can’t jump.”
“Give me three good reasons why I shouldn’t jump off this bridge and end my worthless life right now. Actually, just give me one.”
I heave a sigh, a big dramatic one like I’ve practiced in front of my mirror for the last two days. Unfortunately it comes out like I’m choking on my own spit. I ignore the teacher’s disappointed nod. “How about this one?” I say, tossing my hands up in surrender as I stare at the empty desk in front of me, pretending it’s Jeremy. “I’m in love with you.”
“You’re too fat,” Ms. Barlow says.
“Huh?” That isn’t the script.
She marks something on her clipboard and flips to the next page. “I’m sorry Wren. Despite your… attempted… acting, you know I’d love to give you the lead role but you’re just too fat.”
“I’m not fat,” I say confidently, because I know I’m not fat. Is she even allowed to say that to a teenage girl? Sure, I gained a few pounds over the summer but that hardly makes me fat. Plus, I’m on day twenty-six of the 20 Minute Abs DVD, and if I tighten my core I totally have a six pack under the inch or so of flab.
“Gretchen is five feet ten inches and a hundred and five pounds. She’s an aspiring model.”
“It doesn’t say that in the script.” I wag my papers at her.
Ms. Barlow’s short hair flies around her face as she whips her glasses to the top of her head. “That’s irrelevant. It says that in my mind and I am the writer and the director.”
I wish the lights were on so I could glare at her, and not just at the darkish blob I can see. I don’t stomp my foot on the floor, but I want to. “I’m telling Mom.”
She waves away my threat with a flourish of her hand. “Good. And while you’re at it, tell her to stop filling the house with ding-dongs and Twinkies. It’ll do you both a favor.”
Okay. This is about to blow up to epic-Barlow-like proportions if I don’t do something to scale it back. I smooth my hands over my shirt and stand straight. “You’re right, Aunt Barlow, I’m sorry. But I really want this part so if there’s anything I can do to make myself perfect for the role, please let me know.”
“I’m Ms. Barlow while in school. I’m not your aunt right now, I’m your director.”
“Yes,” I say, humbling myself to her greatness, something she laps up like starved puppy. Ms. Barlow starred in Broadway plays in her younger years, before age and three divorces and heaps of melodrama took its toll and made her resemble a haggard man.
“Why do you even want this role? You watched me slave over this script all summer and you never cared.”
“I care,” I say. But she’s right. I don’t care about this stupid school play.
So even though I have no interest
That all starts with Wren Barlow playing the lead role in the Lawson High School play.
Ms. Barlow taps her foot on the footrest in her tall chair. She scribbles something on her clipboard that makes her nose crunch up like she’s smelled something bad. “Thanks for auditioning, Wren. Will you send in the next student?”
Mr. Harrison is asleep in his chair when I walk into wood shop. The heavy metal door slams shut behind me, making him jump. His fist rears back instinctively like he’s about to punch someone. When he sees me, his fist lowers and clutches his chest. “Wren, you almost gave me a heart attack.”
“Sorry about that.” I drop my backpack into one of the cubby holes at the back of the warehouse. I grab a pair of safety glasses out of the bucket and wipe them clean with the bottom of my shirt. Mr. Harrison is the oldest and coolest teacher at Lawson High. He’s part war hero and part adorable grandfather. He’s the only teacher who can swear like a sailor in class and not get in trouble. Pretty much nothing is off limits in his class except talking about the war. One time this idiot on the football team asked Mr. Harrison if he had ever killed anyone. His face went blank for the longest time, and some people say he had a bit of drool drooping out of his mouth by the time he finally snapped out of it. Then he called the student a pansy ass and sent him to detention.
“I did half of the work for ya,” he says, leading me to the back of the warehouse. “But the other half is up to you.”
I groan. “Hands-on experience is so over rated.” He shakes his head at my cheesy smile and takes the canister of chewing tobacco out of his back pocket.
I took woodshop freshman year, on accident. My first two choices for elective classes filled up before I remembered to sign up and so as a last resort, I was forced to choose between woodshop or dance. Freshman year was a weird time for me. I tried being all punk rock and dyed the tips of my hair hot pink. Dance class so wasn’t an option back then.
But woodshop ended up being a million times better than dance. It was the last class of the day and Mr. Harrison always let us out fifteen minutes before the bell rang. Not surprisingly, I was the only girl in the class and ended up meeting my first two serious boyfriends there. (Not at the same time, though.)
Mr. Harrison helped me get through my breakup with that first guy after he left me for Margot, by teaching me how to use a rotary saw and make fleur-de-lis necklace holders. Since then, I’ve become addicted to the art of woodworking, particularly when it comes to fixing up our house. All week I’ve been working on a three piece crown molding for my bedroom renovation. When it’s done, I’m hoping it looks like a relaxing French boudoirs. Oh, and Margot didn’t actually date him, thank God. She’s a better best friend than that.
School has been out for thirty minutes so I’m surprised to find a student in the back of the warehouse using the skill saw. I don’t recognize him from behind, but from what I can see of his backside, he’s too hot for Lawson High. Maybe he’s a movie star researching his next film role. He’s wearing jeans a tight fitting black shirt. His brown hair touches his shoulders and is as silky smooth as mine is after an hour of flat-ironing it to death. Ugh, why do guys always get the best hair?
Mr. Harrison gives an old man arthritic grunt as he settles onto his work stool. He slides the longest piece of molding across the workshop table toward me. “Cut this on the chalk line.”
I slide open my tape measure, but he stops me. “Use the square. Come on girl, I taught you better than that.” Of course he did. The normal me would have known to grab the square to mark a perfect line, but right now I can’t think over the thudding of my heart in my chest. How is it that I’m more nervous standing across the room from a guy who hasn’t even noticed that I exist, than I was moments ago while auditioning for the biggest role in the school play?
I head over to the pegboard wall with all the tools on it. The square, which actually looks like a triangle, should be on the lower left corner but it’s not. I check the workspaces around me but still can’t find it. I’m about to tell Mr. Harrison that someone stole his tools again when I see it.
It’s shoved in the back pocket of the hottest ass I’ve ever seen. I make my way over to the possible movie star, miraculously not dropping dead from cardiac arrest. A sheepish grin falls over my face. “Can I have that square?”
Hot Boy turns around, a carpenter’s pencil sticking out of his mouth. He takes the square from his pocket and hands it to me. “Thanks,” I say. He glances over at my project and then back at me, and I’m pretty sure his eyes graze over my entire body in a split second, but it feels like it takes an hour.
“Crown molding?” He says it like he’s confused. Like we’re in a shoe factory instead of wood shop.
I give an awkward shrug. “I want my room to look like a French boudoir.”
He nods and this smirk spreads across his lips as he looks at the molding and then back at me, as if suddenly understanding my entire personality.
There’s something in his smile that makes me want to rip off my shirt and throw myself into his arms, declaring my soul as his love slave, like some lunatic in an Axe body wash commercial. He holds out his hand. “I’m Derek.”
A tiny voice in the back of my subconscious starts squealing, “I get to touch his hand! I get to touch his hand!” and I try not to burst into giggles as I reach out and place my hand into his. “I’m Wren.”
“We’ll be using the miter saw,” Mr. Harrison says, jarring me back to reality. Derek raises an eyebrow and nods to the right, signaling that I had better get back to work. I take a place next to Mr. Harrison at the work bench. Taped to it is a drawing of my L-shaped bedroom, with most of the wall lines checked off. “You only have three pieces to cut, and then I’ll give you some tips for installation.”
“Cool,” I say, tearing my eyes away from Derek, who is still smiling at me by the way. I take the piece of molding in front of us and line it up under the saw. “This is an eighty degree corner,” Mr. Harrison says, pointing to my closet on the sketched floor plan of my bedroom. “So what are you going to set the miter saw to?”
“Eighty,” I say, reaching for the dial.
“Forty,” Derek says.
Mr. Harrison claps his hands together. “Damn kid’s only been in my class for one day and he’s already retained more than you have in three years, kiddo.”
My room smells like sawdust. I fall back on my bed, letting the hammer crash on the floor and admire my handiwork. It’s two in the morning and my room officially has crown molding. I’ll have to paint it tomorrow because every muscle in my arm is too tired to do anything else for the next twelve hours.
Still high from the rush of carpentry, I won’t be able to fall asleep any time soon. My TV is tuned to my favorite reality show about triplet heiresses who live in New York City, but I’m not paying attention to it. Two major things are on my mind, both of them equally important and drastically different. One—Aunt Barlow might not give me the lead role, and two—Derek.
I’m trying not to sweat the lead role thing. Sure, she sounded convinced that I was too… voluptuous… for the role of Gretchen, but that’s just my aunt’s personality. She once gave me a sob story about how she and my mom spent all morning on black Friday trying to secure me the toy of the year for Christmas but couldn’t find it. Then on Christmas day, I had two of them under the tree. She likes screwing with me.
I’ll get the part.
It’s really unusual for a guy to occupy so much of my brain space after just one day of knowing him. I take pride in my budding self-respect and the fact that I don’t turn into a sappy girly girl who bats my eyes at every cute g
He’s obviously a new student, which means he hasn’t been squeezed into a clique yet. He wasn’t dressed like a jock, which is a good thing because jocks never like me. But he also wasn’t dressed like an artist or a skateboarder, the two types of guys who are always attracted to me.
It’s amazing how a pair of dark wash boot cut jeans, Converse and a plain black T-shirt can say a million things about a guy. His personality, style and hygiene. Everything, but what he thinks about me.
The next morning I eat my Honey Nut Cheerios like there’s not a huge elephant in the room. Mom’s making Dad’s lunch since he works on weekends now at the fire station. Aunt Barlow sits across from me at the kitchen table, spreading strawberry jam on her toast. She hasn’t said a word about the auditions and neither have I.
Aunt Barlow lives in the apartment above our garage and it doesn’t have that great of a kitchen so she’s always over here for meals. She’s sitting in the same chair she sat in while she wrote the script for LOVE & SUICIDE last summer. Did she think of me at all when she wrote the lead character? She’s right though, I didn’t care about her play until a few weeks ago. I’ve tried to stay far away from acting. Mom put me two commercials when I was a toddler, but as soon as I was old enough to throw a fit over something I didn’t want to do, the acting gigs dried up. I don’t know why Mom thought that I’d want to act anyway, when she’s spent my entire seventeen years complaining that acting supposedly ruined her life. She was in a sitcom in the early nineties that lasted three seasons before being cut. Mom and Dad moved back to Texas shortly before I was born and Mom never acted again.
She always says acting ruined her life, but I think what she wants to say is that I ruined it.
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