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   Chapter 16 NO.16

Damsel[ed] Rescue Required (3 of the Damsel[ed] Series) By m i c h e l l e p a k Characters: 16559

Updated: 2018-03-27 11:28

I'd never stayed in the drama room, but as soon as I take a stumbling step on the polished linoleum, I know why Heaven chose it. It's a fortress.

The top room of the academy, up in a domed bell tower, an octagon with an arched window in each wall. Instead of desks, the classroom in full of plastic chairs and black drapes hang over an oak slab of a raised stage. Shadows cross the floor. The drama teacher's sitting up in the front row with his laptop balanced across his knees. He turns to us, pushes his glasses up on a bulby red nose. "Galaxy spoke to me." He nods at the back of the classroom. "You can sit in. I trust you boys aren't in too great danger?" Brown eyes lined with crow feet widen behind his lense.

Gats shudders, so I answer for him. "No, sir. We just got in a little scuffle with a few villains a while and, you know, Gal felt better if we stayed here while she fought some of the campus intruders. It's fine." I say, my hands were slimy and cold with sweat. "We're fine."

The teacher nods, brow creased. "And how are you, Gatsby? Fairing alright?"

Gats nods, blinking out at the lazy drift of clouds past the window. "Huh? Oh. I'm good." He shuffles toward the glass, his steps slow and precious. His fingertips skim the divets of the thick cinderblock, his head hung as if he stands inside a prison. The drama teacher glances back at me and I nod grimly. Help him, I want to beg. I don't know what to do. You're his favorite teacher, you're an adult, you have to know what to say. The man closes his laptop with a heavy click.

"I'm on a free period, " he says, turning up the folds of his turtleneck. "Why don't we run a few scenes of Romeo and Juliet? There are some I need to still block, and it would be great to see a more...instinctive take from two actors. What do you boys say?"

I tip my head to the side. Gats still holds his hands behind his back, staring on tiptoes out at that piece of cloudy sky. Looking at him makes my chest close up. "Block?" I ask, willing Gats to turn back to me.

"Yeah, " he obliges, his voice so soft I'm straining to hear him as he glances back at me. His gentle faces are almost washed out in the glow of early morning sun. "Blocking. Where the actors are on the stage and how they move, when, why." He leans on his heels, shoulders rolled back. Pink has returned to his cheeks. A dim smile sweeps his gentle features as he glances back at the teacher. "Sounds great, Mr. B."

"Yeah." My wings flutter against my back, crushed flat between my shirt and spine. "Sounds fun."

And it is fun—for Gatsby. Me? I'm shaky on my feet, moving across the room like I'm wading through sludge. But as soon as the teachers hands out spiral-bound script books, assigns us characters, and asks us to "feel out the stage, " Gats is at home. He bounds up the creaking steps, smiling up at me. Smiling. And because he's home, so am I.

First, we're the two servant guys who open the play after the intro, Sampson and Gregory, snorting dirty jokes maybe half the audience will get. Shakespeare's Gatsby's domain. His and Heaven's, so I'm at least sort of familiar with the language. We meander across the stage, Gats prodding me to "cheat" and "project" while I slip into my character's skin, the 'thous' and 'thees' rolling smoothly from my tongue.

Then we skip to Mercutio's death. I plant myself center-stage Gats a little right of me. Dying on stage is an adrenaline rush of the stupidest kind. You're staggering across stage, clutching at wounds that aren't there, all while real emotion surges through you. For your own death, for the death of the character you're starting like. Mercutio was a good guy. "Ask for tommorow, " I read, "and you shall find me a"—knowing little pathetic smirk—"graaave man." Puns and stupid kids. All at once, I understand why Heaven and Gats love this play.

And it becomes just that. Play. Like when Hev and I would spear each other with pretend swords, Gats and I dance around each other with words, pretending so intensely I lose myself in the lines and in the role. I can forget everything that's happened to me in the struggles of these other kids. And I do.

I think Gats does, too, because when Mr. B asks us to act out the balcony scene over by the tape he's laid, neither of blink. I just jump in behind the marks, a little backstage, past center. Gats tips his head to the side, thinking through a few assumed mental calculations, and catapults himself down in "the apron" in front of the first row. I step forward, a hand propped on my cheek as I sigh out at an imaginary moon.

"But soft!" Gats says, turning to me. He isn't even looking down at his script book. I've heard him deliver this monologue at least a million times, but he speaks it seriously now. Crouched down, then rising slowly, slowly as he moves downstage. The poetry flows naturally off his tongue, his eyes wild with the glitter of devotion. "What light through yonder win

e adult who doesn't want to beat me to a pulp. I'm up two. After the other students monologue, many of which have me pinned to my seat in awe, we move to cold reads. Except to me, they aren't all that cold, because my two stupid friends beat me to an Elizabethian death with Shakespeare. I love watching Heaven act. As Tybalt, you think she's about to lunge over the chairs and tear out your throat. You really fear for that poor Romeo guy. As the nurse, she's crotchety and sweet. And as Juliet, she's different. The poetry, so pretty and demure, sounds like its fused with iron when she speaks it. He shoulders rolled back, head tilted, she carries herself with the poise of royalty. But she's still fragile when she pretends she's in love. Even when the guy playing Romeo is someone she hates, in the gentleness in her speech, in the way she touches him, looks at him, it all rings true.

Basically? She plays Juliet as a young Galaxy consumed with love and I and everyone around me eat it up. Everyone except Gats, who looks down at his feet.

Gats and I are paired one more time after we finish cold reads, in the balcony scene. Except this time, I get to play Romeo. I'm so caught up in the adrenaline, the hormones of this crazy kid, I don't "break character" even when the kids are snickering because Gats and I aren't even reading anymore, just talking off spotty memory, his hand in mine while the lines clip.

"Oh, will thou leave me so unsatisfied?"

"What satisfaction can though have tonight?" He turns from me and I hop the tape that marks the balcony, blocking his way back into the imaginary chambers. Romeo and Juliet was pretty much the first YA love story, after all. I'm trying my best at being a sixteen-hundreds bad boy.

"The exchange of thy love's faithful vow for mine."

Gats is smiling, blushing. "I gave thee mine before thou didst request it: And yet I would it were to give again."

Recoil. "Wouldst thou withdraw it? for what purpose, love?"

Gats giggles. Line, line. Line, line. We move together to the rhythm of the words until the scene ends, and I'm so caught up in Romeo's line I could kiss the kid before I'm jerked out of character by Mr. B murmuring to the teacher beside him. "Heads would explode but..."

My face goes hot as Gats slides his hand out of mine and bows in front of impromptu applause. I copy the gesture, sweat-drenched and shaking as the kids stare. Watching me pretend to be a poetic fool. Probably badly. I take a few wobbly steps off the stage, confirm this is my last performance of the day with Mr. B, and slip out the door to a few pats on the back and a single whistle from a girl in the back.

"Not bad, Fibbs." Heaven winks. "Not bad at all." I make a clumsy attempt at Gats' bow and whoosh out the room, down, down, down the spiral steps.

I'm hot. And my blood's all fizzy and I'm sweat-soaked, replaying the scene in my head not as Romeo Montague, but as Angelos Fibbs and cringing. Jaylin would kill me. Wouldn't she?

And yet, I can't regret throwing my heart into the role. I was good, almost as good as Gats, and the thought puts a rush in my veins. Basically? I'm distracted.

And even the adrenaline doesn't save me when I pass the janitor's closet and a gloved hand clamps over my jaw.

Back to reality.

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