“‘When that time comes, dear,’” Mekaella recited the last words of the act, pausing for a dramatic effect, “‘I will be there by your side.’”
The few Neopians seated in the school auditorium clapped half-heartedly for the striped Cybunny’s performance. Mekaella beamed down at the faces before her, feeling that familiar overwhelming sense of accomplishment.
Mekaella just loved the stage. She longed to be in the spotlight since she was a baby. There was something entrancing about the red, velvet curtains, all of the seats lined in perfect rows, and the smiling faces of the audience enjoying the show. There was nothing more that Mekaella liked better.
The applause for act one was brief, but Mekaella knew it was because there weren’t many people in the auditorium for this rehearsal. With only one week until opening, it was to be expected. Mekaella loved to be center stage and soak up the cheers and praise. She often thought that it was the most wonderful feeling in the world. Even though the applause was brief, Mekaella continued to smile. She noticed that Mrs. Zandra, the director of Talons and Tails, did not.
When the applause was over, the red Kau sighed. She flipped back a few pages in her yellow notebook and said, “Good job, everyone. Let’s take a short break before we proceed to act two. Oh, and Mekaella? I’d like to speak with you.”
Mekaella excitedly hopped over to the edge of the stage where Mrs. Zandra was standing as her fellow cast members started off the stage. “Yes, Mrs. Zandra?”
The director sighed, looking over her writings. “Mekaella, I have some repeat notes for you that you really need to remember. For instance, the last line of act one is, ‘When that time comes, dear, I will be there holding your hand.’ Not, ‘be there by your side.’ We’ve gone over this.”
“I know, Mrs. Zandra, I just think that ‘be there by your side’ sounds better.”
“It’s not a matter of what you think sounds better,” the teacher said, her tone firm. “Talons and Tails is a very popular Neopian play. It’s based off the best-selling book, you know. Paraphrasing is a very bad habit for actors and actresses because lines are written a certain way for a reason.”
“Okay.” The Cybunny wasn’t fully paying attention. She was more focused on how she would portray act two.
Mrs. Zandra was not finished with her notes. “When you say, ‘but the summers will await your return’, you are supposed to cross upstage to the window. Does this ring a bell?”
“Certainly,” Mekaella said, “but I thought I was going to cross upstage on the line following that.”
“That’s not what I asked you to do.”
“Sorry,” said the Cybunny. Her answer was always automatic. “Can I review the notes to ‘Seven Summers’ before break is over?” Mekaella was positive that she knew all of the notes to every number she sang, but she knew it was important to keep drilling them before opening night.
Mrs. Zandra flipped through her notebook and said, “That’s fine. I want you to review what I’ve just told you and concentrate on the staging for act two. You know most of the lines and musical numbers, but you often wander to the front a bit more than I’ve asked.”
People like me deserve center stage, Mekaella thought vainly. That’s why I landed the lead role.
“And no more tardiness,” Mrs. Zandra continued, sounding an awful lot like a grouchy old lady. “You were ten minutes late again today.” The Kau was one of the youngest Neopians involved with the staff of the drama department, let alone one of the youngest teachers in the school. However, sometimes the younger the teacher was, the more demanding.
“Yes, ma’am,” called Mekaella with a false sense of promise. Thinking nothing of their meeting, the Cybunny skipped off to find the musical director.
When rehearsal ended around 7:00 pm NST, Mekaella gathered up her jacket, schoolbooks, and music score. Mrs. Zandra said that notes would be given out tomorrow before rehearsal began so the performers could look over what they needed to improve.
“Want me to carry something?”
Mekaella turned, nearly knocking into the green Xweetok. “Ripley!” she exclaimed. “You should be careful; I almost fell right into you.” She dumped the books into his arms.
“It’s Riley,” the Xweetok corrected. “And sure.”
Ripley, or rather, Riley, was volunteering backstage with the other technical theater kids who needed the electives credit. He was dressed in black since all stage crew had to wear that color. They passed a group of kids involved with the show and Riley waved.
“See you tomorrow, Mekaella,” Tasha, who was understudying for the lead role, smiled enthusiastically.
Mekaella tried not to laugh. For someone that’s never going to be on stage, she sure does seem happy all the time. Tasha had a good heart, especially to take a cover role. Mekaella knew that she, herself, would never accept an understudy part, no matter what the play. Covers had to be at all of the rehearsals and know all of the lines, but rarely ever got to perform.
The striped Cybunny turned around to see Riley chatting with some of the other stagehands. She tapped her foot impatiently while waiting for him outside of the auditorium. When he came out the doors, he was smiling. The look faded when he saw her face.
“What?” he asked.
“Nothing,” said Mekaella. “I’m just tired. Let’s go.”
Riley and Mekaella only lived a few houses apart so they usually walked to and from school together. They often talked about school and the theater department. Mekaella did most of the talking. In fact, she was remembering how she skipped up and down the sidewalk with Riley when the cast list was posted on the bulletin.
“After all,” she had told him when the announcements were posted on he bulletin board. “I knew I had the best audition.” Riley’s reaction to that statement was casual.
“Well, here we are,” he said, causing Mekaella to snap out of the flashback from a few weeks ago. “Don’t forget your books.”
Mekaella took the books and carried up them the front steps of 946 Wishing Well Drive. “See you tomorrow.”
The next day after school, Mekaella took her time to carefully put away her textbooks and pencils. It was almost four when she made it into the auditorium. Tasha was up on stage reciting her lines with Alex, who had the second biggest role. Mrs. Zandra, who was giving notes to the chorus, didn’t seem to notice Mekaella’s late entrance. She snuck up onto the stage and Tasha took her seat.
“You did great, Tasha,” a blue Krawk named Alex yelled. He turned his focus to Mekaella and mocked her. “Way to be on time.”
“I had a prior engagement,” the Cybunny huffed back. It was none of his business where she had been before rehearsal.
Neither of them had time to say any more, because Mrs. Zandra said, “Let’s take it from Alex’s line on page 16. Starting with ‘Tomorrow is when the sun shines and flowers bloom’.
Talons and Tails commenced once again and despite the fact that she was late, Mekaella easily fell back into the flow of rehearsing. She just wished Alex wasn’t such a brat about everything.
Six musical numbers, three dialogues, two monologues, a trio of soprano voices, and a few pauses for notes later, Mrs. Zandra called the cast in for some brief notes, and a thirty-minute dinner break. Mekaella spotted Riley with the technical crew and Tasha with the rest of the cast. It looked as if they were going out for dinner at the Pizzaroo before the evening rehearsal began.
As they started out the main stage doors, Mekaella gasped. How rude. They didn’t even ask if I wanted to go! The striped Cybunny felt slightly hurt and offended that not one of them invited her to go. Not even Riley!
“Fine,” she said aloud. “I don’t need their company anyway.”
Mekaella decided to head in the opposite direction to the Smoothie Shop. It was several blocks away, but she was craving a raspberry smoothie at the moment. Still angry at her cast members for leaving her in the dust, Mekaella took her time getting the Smoothie, sitting at a booth drinking it, and walking back to the theater.
She didn’t realize that she was almost twenty minutes late. Oh well, Mekaella shrugged if off. I just love making dramatic entrances...
What happened next was something she never saw coming.
“Hold, please,” Mrs. Zandra said to the ongoing production happening on stage. “Mekaella, I need to speak with you.”
The red Kau ushered her into the small lobby and closed the door behind her. Mekaella had a feeling that was just another story about how it was important to be on time. But this time, Mrs. Zandra did not look angry, just very serious.
“Mekaella, I don’t know if I can ever make you realize how important it is for you to be on time to rehearsals. We waste time when we stop to fill you in on where we’ve started. I am disappointed with your lack of respect for the other cast members and your inability to follow directions. This is a very serious matter that you’ve been taking lightly for the past few weeks.” Mrs. Zandra heaved a sigh, as if this were hard to say. “Your behavior is unacceptable to the entire cast. Both your musical director and I disapprove.
“Therefore... we have no choice but to dismiss you from the production.”
Hearing that last sentence knocked the wind out of Mekaella. “What?” she exclaimed. “You... you’re cutting me from the show? You can’t do that! It’s one week until opening!”
“Tasha will be taking your place,” said Mrs. Zandra. Her words were as heavy as lead and dark as the ocean. “I’m sorry, but you’ve brought this upon yourself.”
“Mrs. Zandra!” Mekaella shrieked, her throat tightening. “This is completely unfair!”
“You’ve given me no reason to be fair with you, Mekaella.” The red Kau didn’t look it. Her face was emotionless. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave. A rehearsal is in progress.”
She left Mekaella standing in the small lobby. Tears streamed down the Cybunny’s face. All she could think about was the play, the theater, how it was her entire life. Mekaella knew by being dismissed, she was definitely letting down her parents, who promised to come opening night.
Fresh tears spilled down her cheeks as the Cybunny stormed out of the theater.
‘There is no fair and unfair in life. It just is what it is.’
These were the final words to the famous Neopian play Keeping the Peace, imported from Brightvale just early last year. Mekaella was flopped on her bed, finishing the second book she had read in four days. It was early in the morning, and school would be starting soon. Her eyes wandered to the last line of Keeping the Peace.
“That doesn’t make sense,” she found herself saying aloud. Fair is fair. Unfair is unfair. It was dumb to say either or them didn’t exist, because it was obvious to Mekaella that they did. After a long exhale, she rolled off the Harris Bed and quickly got ready for school.
Riley was waiting for her at the Wishing Well Drive signpost. Little did the green Xweetok know, Mekaella had a very interesting question for him.
“Riley, why are you my friend?”
His stride slowed for a moment and his gaze shifted from the sidewalk to her. Riley shrugged. “I dunno.”
“No, really,” Mekaella said. “I’ve had some time to think lately. I’ve given you no reason to put up with me everyday but you’re still here to walk with me, and eat lunch together, and talk. So why?”
Riley looked like he was coming up with a good answer. After a moment, he answered, “Because everyone needs a friend. And speaking of that,” he pulled out a slip of paper from his backpack, “I brought you a ticket for Tails and Talons tonight.”
“No,” said Mekaella quickly, then added, “thank you... I think I still need some time to kind of mull things over. Besides,” she straightened up a bit, “I need a couple more weeks to clear the air with Mrs. Zandra and the cast.”
“I heard Tasha’s done a great job with the character. If you change your mind--”
“I’m not going to.”
Riley slipped the ticket back into the front pocket of his bag. “Whatever you say. Don’t forget... Wishing on a Star auditions are in a few months. You should try out.”
“I’m not sure,” said the Cybunny, pondering it. “Maybe it’d be unfair of me.” She dreaded the thought of never performing again.
“You’re a talented performer, Mekaella, and there’s no such thing as fair,” said Riley, with a grin. “It just is what it is.”