Saying goodbye to Bloss at the end of our visit felt awkward. I suspect she was feeling annoyed with Nepal's continued presence despite the fact that he'd gotten a room at a motel nearby. He even left for Sugar Valley a few days before I did but the easy relationship between Bloss and I never really returned.
Even though I knew he was back in Sugar Valley, I didn't hear from Nepal for most of the rest of the summer. I couldn't help but be worried we were back in one of those ruts where he would ignore me until it suited him. I tried calling him a few times but after the fourth (or fourteenth) time I felt I was bordering on stalking and put down the phone. When that didn't stop me from starting to dial him, I shoved the phone under my mattress. Five minutes later I dug it back out and after dialing the first three numbers, I tossed the phone at the wall with a loud roar. "Well then, I hope it's dead.." Minsk said from my doorway. He had a playful smirk on his face all the while watching my face transform from furious to embarrassed. "Come on, we're going to the beach."
"I don't do the beach." I said cringing.
"It's the last weekend of summer. We're. Going. To. The. Beach." he said. "It'll be good for you to get out of the house." Reluctantly I agreed and changed in my swimsuit.
I wouldn't admit it to them, but hanging out at the Pier with my brothers were exactly what I needed to get my mind off Nepal. 'Oops, there he is again!' I shook him from my thoughts and focused my attention on the fooseball game.
I barely caught site of him as I was dropping the ball back into the field. Weeks of silence and then poof, he shows up here and now! How does he DO that?!
He waited quietly, leaning against a lamp post, as I finished up the latest round with Haiti and Minsk. Minsk glared in Nepal's direction for a lingering moment before he and Haiti distracted themselves with the stereo. They seemed to be arguing over how to turn it on, something I'm sure they knew how to do, when I stepped over to Nepal. Every few seconds one of them would look over at us and quickly glance away.
"Long time no see." I said finally, trying not to grin at my idiot brothers.
"Vi..." Nepal started. He followed my gaze toward Minsk and Haiti and then smiled a bit. "They're very protective of you."
"That's what brothers are for." I said. "Except maybe Windsor..." I was lost in thought for a second as I thought about Windsor getting into a fight on my behalf. I shook the image away and motioned toward the picnic basket, "Why don't we...?"
"I was grounded." Nepal said as soon as we sat down. "For the whole following you to the city stunt..."
"Ah..." I said when no other thoughts or words came to mind.
"And given that my dad is a teacher, he has summers off and pretty much didn't let me out of his sight for the last month. I'm only here now because they've started getting ready for the new school year." he continued. "It's a lame excuse and I probably could have busted out..."
"Why didn't you?" I asked with a frown. Nepal wasn't exactly a rule follower.
"Because if I did, and he caught me, I'd be shipped off to some private school for delinquents or at least grounded for my entire senior year...and missing one month of summer seemed better than missing an entire year with you."
Senior year started about the same as any other year - well aside from the pressure to fill out college applications or at least know what we wanted to do with our lives. Thankfully I already knew what I wanted, which is how I ended up sitting through yet another drama club audition with Summer Green and my brother Haiti (among others).
I was patiently waiting my turn when I heard a faint ringing coming from my book bag. I grimaced and fished out my phone as quickly as possible - hoping not to disturb anyone. I earned a reproachful look from Mr. Hai as I silenced the ringer and slid to the back of the theater. "Hello?" I whispered in response.
"Violet Dust?" the voice on the other end asked. After I confirmed my identity she was off and running about some opportunity at the Merlot Studios. She was talking so quickly I only got the vaguest notion that she was talking about a job opportunity of some sort and I quickly jotted down the time and date she gave me. I stared at the phone dumbly as the line went dead.
"Vi!" Mr. Hai shouted in my direction. Passed on the look on his face and the tone of his voice, he'd called for me at least a couple times while I was on the phone. I ran forward and hopped on stage hoping to make up for lost time. The rest of my audition was a blur but Mr. Hai seemed pleased at the end of it so I must have done well. I slipped backstage and leaned against the nearest makeup station trying to process the last thirty minutes of my life.
"Hey you." Nepal said. "You did great out there." I couldn't remember seeing him in the small audience, it was a closed audition as far as I knew so he must have watched from backstage. "You okay?" he asked after I didn't respond in any way. I smiled and pushed myself off the desk toward him.
"I'm great." I said. "You will not believe what happened just before my audition!" I related the whole call - what I could remember from it anyway - excitedly. "I don't even know how they got my name - maybe Bloss? She said she knew some people at the studio here in town..." I stopped talking as soon as his less than excited expression registered. "Why aren't you happy for me?"
"I am Vi." he said. "I am!" he said with more conviction. "I just...it sounds like it will be a lot of work. And the play..." he motioned out toward the stage. He shrugged. "You'll be very busy."
"Yeah but I'll.." I trailed off trying to think for a moment. "There'll be time for us...I promise." He didn't look convinced but shrugged again. "Besides, it's not like we're an official couple..." as soon as the words were out of my mouth I wanted to call them back. No we hadn't actually discussed coupledom but we certainly did all those couple things - at least the physical ones.
"I was kind of hoping to change that." Nepal said with a smirk on his face. If my words had stung, he hid it well.
"So what? You gonna give me your class ring? Or pin me?" I teased.
"I wouldn't mind pinning you." he teased back, leaning into me until I backed into the makeup desk again. "Will you be my girlfriend Vi? You know all 'official' like?" his voice was low and he was leaning in as if he was about to ravage me.
"Yes." I croaked out, my voice was barely audible. His eyes betrayed his hunger as his lips met mine. I expected hungry and powerful kisses but he was gentle and soft, though he lingered for several minutes. Only Summer clearing her throat behind us broke the kiss.
"See you later." he said with a wink. I fell back against the mirror feeling breathless as he departed. Summer raised her eyebrow at me but didn't say anything as she packed her bag and left as well. After I collected myself and my stuff, I trailed after both of them.
That night Nepal showed up on my doorstep and there were several minutes of awkwardness as I explained - with no details - that he was my boyfriend and begged permission to go out. My parents were reluctant and Haiti and Minsk were glaring mostly but I was finally released and climbed onto the back of his motorcycle. I made an exaggerated act of putting the extra helmet on as I knew they were watching from inside.
Nepal drove for awhile, away from the glittering lights of downtown and into the hills that surrounded our little town. Finally he stopped outside the planetarium - which was almost completely dark in the evening. "Should we be here?"
"Probably not." he said as we continued up the stairs. On the deck that wrapped around the main entrance there was a blanket and a couple candles already in place. After lighting the candles and turning on a nearby stereo, we settled into each others' arms.
My interview at the studio was later that week and I admit I felt a little anxious as I approached the gates of the very building that may determine my future.
Okay that could be a little over the top but I am an actress.
Still it was hard to believe that once I went through those doors I could be starting the process of putting my name on the map. Or I could spend the next year running errands, serving coffee and basically being forgotten by everyone inside. But that wouldn't be so bad...right?
I was directed through several hallways until I came to another small lobby of some sort. The first thing I saw was Summer Green.
Always Summer Green!
She was looking both nervous and excited until she saw me standing there. Her face filled with annoyance as I sat down on the sofa under the row of clocks. I tried to come up with something to say to her but no words came so I kept my mouth shut and my eyes on the receptionist at the desk. She cracked her gum for the third...fourth...fifteenth time in as many minutes.
Without warning the receptionist started speaking and Summer and I looked up at her. Only she wasn't talking to us. "Mmhmm, yeah they're both he'e." she caught us watching her and tapped the ear piece she was wearing. "Yes'm" she replied, returning her attention to her computer.
For a few more minutes she typed furiously, the clicks of the keyboard were only tempered with the smack of her gum. Summer and I resumed avoiding looking at each other and waited.
Without ceremony, the doors opened and young woman entered with a clipboard. She looked at us each for a long moment and then nodded. "You're Violet." she said to me. It wasn't a question, just a statement of fact. I nodded as Summer glared at me.
"You looked better with the highlights." the unnamed woman said before turning to Summer. "Have you had a nose job?" I cringed, were there pictures of me with the highlights - in the city - drinking and clubbing with Bloss?
"What? No!" Summer looked offended.
"Well you should." the woman said pointing to what were apparently faults with Summer's nose. "My name is Primrose Orchid." she forced a smile that looked more like a snarl. "Follow me." Summer and I looked at each other again as if seeking an ally against this woman. But we followed without another word.
Primrose Orchid was already speaking quickly before we'd made the decision to follow along so it took us a minute to catch up with her current train of thought. She didn't care that we were confused or even acknowledge us as she showed us around the studio. "If either of you are actually selected for this internship..." she looked at us again for the first time and looked skeptical that this would come to pass. "The hours are long. You'll be expected here right after school and will work until we wrap for the day and you are dismissed. Considering the actors don't roll out of bed until near two in the afternoon some days, that could mean midnight. Your parents will have to sign paperwork to this effect if you're under eighteen. You'll do what you're told, when you're told and it would be in your best interest to learn to read minds." she paused on the catwalk above a sprawling studio floor.
"You don't do you?" she asked seriously.
"What? Read minds?" Summer asked in surprise. Primrose nodded and continued to look between us expectantly. We both shook our heads and Summer looked at me and mouthed 'What the...?' I just shrugged.
The interview - our tour as it seemed to be - continued until we ended at the double doors that led into an office. Primrose left us sitting alone in the office without another word. Eventually someone else came in and looked at both of us in surprise. We explained why we were there and he dismissed us with a ghost of a smile. "Was that...good? Or bad?" I asked when we were back outside. Summer looked as dumbfounded as I was and we both agreed it was weird at any rate.
I approached the bulletin board with butterflies in my stomach. Once again the casting list was going up and this time I was actually worried what it would mean if I DID get the part. I'd received a call from the studio the day before offering me an internship for the year. In spite of the weird woman and the exceptionally long hours, I was excited about it but it wouldn't leave time for anything at all!
Summer came up beside me and we shared another look. I wouldn't say we were friend but at least she wasn't glaring at me anymore. Well not all the time anyway. We both turned our attention to the bulletin board and stared at the list, our mouths gaping open.
Oh yep, there's the glare again. I reread the list as she stomped away. Not only had I gotten a part - I'd gotten the lead and Summer was "just" a supporting role. Great, just great.
"Congratulations." Nepal said as he wrapped him arms around me and kissed my neck from behind.
"Thanks." I said a little pathetically. I should be walking tall and proud - heck I should be dancing through the halls but I just couldn't muster it.
"Hey what's up? Shouldn't you be thrilled? A lead role Vi..." Nepal asked as he spun me around to face him.
"I got the internship at the studio and the hours are....brutal. I don't know how I can do rehearsals for the play and do the internship..." I explained about the permission slip I'd had to get my parents to sign - which had been almost impossible.
"You can talk to my dad...er Mr. Hai." he said. "He might have some ideas..." he suggested I do it right away so if I had to drop the play there was plenty of time to find a replacement. So we walked together toward Mr. Hai's office. To my surprise Summer was there as well.
"Let me guess...studio internship?" Mr. Hai asked as he saw me. Apparently Summer had the same scheduling conflict I did. I nodded sheepishly. "Look I can't put on the play without my two best actresses and I don't want to have to do another round to tryouts." he looked pained at the mere thought of having to sit through them again. "We'll figure it out." he said waving us all off before he had a chance to change his mind.
'Figure it out' translated to rehearsals before school, during our drama classes, sometimes even during lunch. He set up "special rehearsals" so that he could bring in as few of the cast as possible during this time but most of them still looked annoyed at those 6AM calls.
Between being at the studio until near midnight some nights, then having to do homework until almost 2AM, the morning rehearsals were by far the worst for me as well.
"Violet!" Mr. Hai shouted as I fumbled over the lines during one such morning dress rehearsal. "Are you trying to waste EVERYONE'S time?!"
To say that fuses were short was an understatement.
Cyan, the lead boy who partnered me, hissed my lines to me anytime I seemed to take more than a second to speak. I imagined he wanted to get a small nap in homeroom before school started. Ooh, a nap...I blinked and forced myself to focus. Where was a coffee addiction when you needed it!
Even when we weren't in school Mr. Hai ordered Summer and I to run lines together. "If y'all are going to waste time - waste each others, not ours!" he said at the end of a lunch rehearsal. I was too wrapped up in my own miserable performance to notice that Summer was struggling as well.
So when we weren't working at the studio - and sometimes when we were at the studio! - Summer and I got together hoping to ingrain the lines into our minds to the point that they would be second nature.
More than once I woke up with the imprint of my script or my notebook pressed into my cheek as I dosed off in the middle of studying. Mom tried to reason with me - she wanted me to quit the internship. Dad got on to me about it too but not as much. My grades were staying just high enough that neither of them had a strong argument to make me quit so I kept sleepwalking through most of my days.
Being the only one in the darkened house still awake led to a number of terrifying moments when I heard every tiny sound outside. My imagined robbers and serial killers turned out mostly to be birds and cats though.
Sleeping in class, while not something I'm particularly proud of, was happening more and more often as the play wore on. It was only two weeks away from opening though and I knew it was way too late to quit. In a couple classes I had Nepal to make sure I woke up before the teacher spotted me thankfully.
"Vi!" Nepal hissed. I didn't stir, I was only vaguely aware of his word, let alone the urgency in his voice. I felt something small plink me on the head and sat bolt upright, my eyes wide. "Forty-two." I said - though I couldn't be sure why. Nepal was trying hard not to laugh.
"Excuse me Violet?" Mr. Waters said, turning his ancient gaze toward me slowly.
"Um...on a scale of one to ten...my headache, it's a forty-two." I said lamely. "Can I go to the nurse please?" I asked as the blushing crept across my face.
He waved me off and went back to droning about math. I stood slowly and tripped over the strap of my backpack. Nepal managed to convince Waters that I needed and escort and grabbed my books for me, clutching my arm tightly as we left the classroom.
In the nurses office I gave her my excuse and she pointed me to a cot. "Can I..." Nepal started to ask but she cut him off and sent him out the door.
The nurse didn't disturb me as I slept for at least an hour. It was fifth period when she gently shook me awake. "Come on now. You need to get to class." she said with a small smile.
"Thank you." I said with a yawn.
"Try to get a bit more sleep dearie." she said, handing me my book bag. I nodded to her and stepped out into the hallway. The bell rang just moments later and students poured into the hallway as I trudged toward class. I was halfway there when I felt something pressed into my hand. My fingers closed around a small bottle and I frowned.
"A little pick me up." the girl said with a faint smile. "Consider it a sample." she added before she disappeared into the crowd of students.
I looked at the contents in my hand and my eyes went a little wide as I looked at the pill bottle. I looked around nervously before shoving the bottle into my bag and running toward class. Who was that girl?!
After school I put the bottle on my desk and stared at it for several minutes. I scribbled down the name on the label and hid the bottle before heading downstairs to the computer to look it up. It took me several minutes to read all the information and still I felt confused. It was a stimulant of some sort obviously and over the counter so I wondered how bad it could be. Still, it stayed hidden in my desk drawer for a few days.
But the last week before the play opening was brutal and I finally caved and opened the bottle. I shook it until one small pill rolled into my palm and with a quick decision I tossed it back before I had time to regret the decision. After that I took to pills twice a day, as instructed, without fail and felt a hundred times better and more alert.
By the time opening night rolled around I was actually feeling perky enough to ignore Summer's glares and jibes.
"There's my leading lady!" Nepal announced as he sauntered into the girls' dressing room.
"You're not supposed to be back here!" I teased him, but secretly I was glad to see him.
"Just wanted to tell you to break a leg." he said before pulling a bouquet of roses out from behind his back. "And give you these."
"They're beautiful!" I exclaimed, taking in a big whiff of the roses. "Thank you Nepal. Would you get some water for them? There's a vase behind my purse I think."
He rummaged around behind my purse as I finished putting on my makeup. Before I could stop it, my purse tumbled to the floor and the contents spilled onto the floor. "Sorry!" Nepal said, stooping to pick up the lost contents. After a few more minutes there was a heavy silence. "Vi? What are these?" he asked.
I turned back to look and saw him holding the bottle of pills up. "Um..." I fumbled around with explanations in my mind but couldn't settle on one. "They're just some medicine..."
"For what?" he asked as I closed my hand around the bottle to pull them away. He held fast, waiting for an explanation. But I didn't have one and the pieces seemed to fit together the longer I was silent. The new perk in my step with all the same hours - if not more pressure from both work and school. He knew even if I didn't say the words. "This is dangerous Vi!" he hissed, letting go of the bottle finally.
I opened the bottle and looked at the few pills that remained of the sample, counting them quickly before shoving them back in the bottle and my purse. "It's just a pick me up...to get through the play."
"You, of all people, lecturing me about danger?" I said with a weak laugh.
"Break a leg Vi." Nepal said after a moment. His words were no longer light and encouraging, they were sad and disappointed. "I'll see you after the show." And he was gone.
I took a deep breath and noticed, for the first time, that the dressing room was now empty. The lights dimmed once and I knew I should be in position for the opening act. I scrambled out the door and got a number of angry looks from the cast but I was in position when the curtain rose.
Despite a potentially rocky start, the play started off perfectly and Summer and I nailed every line but there were no smiles for each other behind the curtain - we were firmly back in the "enemy" zone. I didn't let it bother me though - whatever similarities we had, Summer and I would always be competing it seemed.
"But Char, you must admit..." Cyan was still speaking but his words began to blur together. His face looked wrong - how exactly it was "wrong" I'm not sure but I knew that there shouldn't be hair growing out of his eyes. I felt light headed and the bright stage lighting wasn't helping!
Now Cyan was looking at me, his eyes wide and his mouth set in a false, strained smile. "Vi!" he hissed through his clenched teeth. Lines, I had lines....
He was hissing the lines to me and I repeated what he said like a robot. I tried to laugh it off, hoping it was a laughing moment in the script, and repeated the lines with a little more feeling.
Cyan's face relaxed a bit as the scene continued but the words that came out of my mouth felt wrong. The words must have been right - Cyan didn't look confused or annoyed with me - but something was just wrong. As a wave of nausea and dizziness swept over me, I reached out and grabbed Cyan's jacket to stop myself from falling.
The curtain dropped as I did. I caught a glimpse of Nepal jumping out of his seat in the narrow slip before the curtain fell completely.
"Violet! Vi!" someone was calling out. I felt a few drops of ice cold water hit my face and then more chatter from behind them.
I opened my eyes slowly and looked up into the bright lights of the dressing room before I saw Nepal's face. I turned toward him and small motion of my head made all the nausea come back in a rush. "Wha happen..ed?" I asked, though my mouth felt like it was sluggish to form the words.
"You passed out..." Cyan said. At least I think it was Cyan - it sounded like him.
"Thankfully it was near the end of a scene so we were able to drop the curtain..." Mr. Hai said. His face swam into view and he offered his hand to help me sit up. "Are you okay Vi? Are you sick?"
I shook my head, trying to make sense of the words. "I'm..." My whole body ached and I realized part of it had to be because of the corset, mainly laying on the ground with it bound. "The corset..." I started pulling at it.
"Of course! It must be too tight!" One of the crew grabbed onto my words as an explanation to my fall and everyone seemed to nod in agreement. Everyone except Nepal. As she loosened the binds somewhat, I looked over at Nepal but his face was like stone.
I turned back to Mr. Hai and smiled. "I'll be fine now I think. I can go on." I said, though I didn't feel fine - even with the corset loosened a bit. He smiled and sent everyone to their places. "Can I get a drink real quick, my throat is a little sore..." In a moment I had a juice box thrust into my hands by someone. Then it was just Nepal and I.
"It wasn't the corset." Nepal said as I stared into the mirror trying to collect myself.
I didn't say anything in response. What could I say but to tell him he was right? He already knew he was right. I'd read the warnings about the pills. "Some side effects", but Tylenol could have the same "some side effects" so I ignored them.
"Don't take them anymore Vi. Please, they're obviously not safe." Nepal said.
His words were so true but I couldn't imagine getting through the four night run of the play with a few hours of sleep a night. "The show must go on." I whispered.
Nepal opened his mouth to say something but whatever it was he decided against it. He shook his head and left the dressing room.
"The show must go on." I said out loud, looking at myself in the mirror. I pulled the pills from my purse and shook one out. For a second I considered throwing it - throwing them all - in the trash.
Instead I drank it down with the rest of my juice and steeled myself to return to the stage.