Sunday, July 28, 2013
The adjoining houses at the top of Sunrise Drive looked out across the sweep and glitter of Los Angeles. Mackenzie, who had spent at least two weeks by now preparing for her welcome to summer pool party (and hiring all of the people needed to cater, design and micro manage it). Mackenzie herself, spent the morning of the party lying in the Day Spa in Sunrise Village contemplating her fate.
Sure she’d signed that stupid confidentiality contract Darcy’s lawyer had sent her. After all, it wasn’t Darcy’s fault his family owned him. He’d see the error of his ways, Mackenzie was certain and fall in love with her – his childhood friend. They were meant to be. If only it wasn’t for his annoying interest in those Bennet girls. Even her brother liked the blonde one who Mackenzie grudgingly admitted was “a sweet girl.”
That same day, Paige had been working in the snack bar at Sunrise Village Gym nearby (her second job apart from babysitting) and had noticed Darcy not noticing her behind her counter. Paige decided to text her sister to meet her for lunch.
“I’m not speaking to Darcy first if he’s there,” she told Shiloh, who nodded understandingly. “He‘s been anti-social for weeks at school. Plus, I keep winning in debate class. Now he’s infiltrated the gym – so it’s good I’m only filling in there for another week. Besides, he hates Rys even though Rys has every reason to dislike him more. Anyway, we disagree on just about everything – but since I’m part of the Princesses – in name only, I believe I’m required to attend the party at Mackenzie’s tonight and why should I miss it just because he’s going to be there? I can’t believe those two are dating.”
“I wouldn’t miss the Bring It On summer party for the world,” Shiloh advised. “Mackenzie’s last party was wicked. This time, I helped Mackenzie devise the costumes and decorations. It’s gonna be amazing.”
Shiloh sipped on her tea as Paige spoke.
A pair of hands reached around and covered Shiloh’s eyes as Mackenzie squealed.
“Hi Mackenzie,” Paige said looking so over it. “I was just going to get…” Paige excused herself to order some more tea, not waiting for the waitress.
“Oh, she must need to work off her anger issues over Darcy and me,” Mackenzie whispered when she was sure Shiloh wasn’t listening. “I’ll pray for her,” Mackenzie added, not realizing Paige had forgotten her purse and was standing right behind her.
“Thanks Mackenzie,” Paige said, now alongside her, “and while you’re doing that maybe you should ask Jesus to give me the strength not to blank you the next time we meet. Oh, that’s right, you’re always nice to me when other people are around. So, that would just make me look like the girl with the bad attitude.”
“Oh, Paige. You should use your anger for good, not… this,” Mackenzie added. “Darcy and I are meant to be. Besides, we’re all friends here. I was just telling Mackenzie how great it’s been for me to have been so welcomed into the group this semester.”
Paige couldn’t help but wonder at Mackenzie’s amazing self-belief.
“I’ve gotta get back to work,” Paige said.
“Jesus gives me strength,” Mackenzie added under her breath as Paige walked off. “Honestly,” she said, “I have no idea what’s gotten into Paige. I tried to warn her about Rys Wickam but she just won’t listen…”
“Huh? What about Rys?” Shiloh asked.
Mackenzie repeated… “Well, I don’t know everything but I do know Darcy and his Dad were extremely good to Wickam’s family, loaned them a ton of money to invest in their new business. The Wickams just took the money and ran. Honestly, the only reason they avoided prosecution is that Darcy’s father knew Rys and didn't want him to suffer. So, Darcy Senior just wrote off the debt. There was more to it than that, but that’s all I heard.”
Shiloh took it all in. Sure, it would be useful information to share with Paige when she got a chance.
Meanwhile, at his mansion high on Sunrise Hill, Darcy was so over everything. He was no closer to finding a suitable fake girlfriend to impress his grandfather and his school profile always matched with Paige’s, no matter how many interests he deleted. He was starting to contemplate the idea of a virtual girlfriend. When he toyed with the idea of internet dating only the most unsuitable girls came up – the pressure was on. His grandparents had emailed him recently and he’d had no ‘interesting’ news to relay. He was totally bored with himself and knew he had to find a more productive life.
He’d tried going to the gym because his body was like a temple to him. Instead of concentrating on his weights he over analyzed everything and thought too much about Paige Bennet.
The need for a virtual girlfriend was an issue. He didn’t really believe in casual hook ups. He’d tried dating and discarding different girls more than once in the past, but he just ended up feeling used – used for his good looks, his money and his family’s social position.
Darcy played virtual tennis in front of a screen while he considered the pressure upon him and the worrying email he’d received from his grandfather only moments ago.
His grandfather was pressuring him to get his life in order and apply to go to university in England or Australia. Also, he wrote, he was keen to meet Darcy’s new girlfriend… and this one better be a keeper.
Darcy kicked his shoes off and slouched over his chair. He was so over everything. He’d actually said “Hi” to that weird new exchange student, Amadeus, then invited him to the pool party. He’d told Mackenzie to stop being so racist when she mocked Amadeus’s accent. He was so over it that he let his rival, Paige and that tool Rys, win in debate club again. Plus, he’d let Paige completely psych him out by returning her smile and her polite greeting at recess before she ignored him at lunch. Oh, and he missed an easy goal at soccer practice. The whole week was embarrassing from start to finish. Now it was Friday night and he began to consider how to present himself on sunriseteenmatch.com. It was embarrassing.
Just then, he got a text from his sister. She was with their mom in New York but would be home soon. Blair was doing well and his parents were back together after their ‘temporary separation’ so everything was running smoothly now, except him.
He knew who to blame for this.
Paige Bennet had really crawled under his skin. Ever since he’d been nice to her at Mackenzie’s she’d practically ignored him, messing with his mind. The sooner he was back on home turf, back in Australia, the better. He could hang out in the baking sun and visit his extended family. He had his sights set higher than some lame high school competition.
He flicked on the intra-debate club score sheet Mrs Tartt had given them during class today. The winning team of the national championships got to spend a week over summer in Oxford, England for the International Schools finals. He wanted to win that scholarship. He wanted to prove to Paige, apart from anything else, that he was better than Rys.
He’d need Mackenzie on board to help him do this. And while they were there he could always pretend Mackenzie was his girlfriend. As long as she hid her true colors, his grandfather would like her. He was pretty sure she was a good actress and possibly up to the task. His grandfather would be thrilled. The Bingleys were almost as rich as the Donovans. He’d probably have to write Mackenzie’s lines but confidentiality wouldn’t be a problem. He’d also have to write their debate speeches, but he enjoyed writing. On the up side, Mackenzie was a good debater – perhaps even a great one – when she deigned to skip her hair appointments and show up to class.
Still, he wanted to win.
They were offering a scholarship and one of the reasons he was so disinterested in student activities was that he needed every spare minute to study if he was going to spend the summer in Oxford. He flicked on a picture of the ancient university as his screensaver. Oxford would be the perfect place to spend the week and get the better of Paige Bennet, finally. Besides, his grandparents owned an estate there.
*Note from Honey Woodhouse (Wednesday’s bestie): I am filling in the blanks for Wednesday until she returns from her hectic filming schedule in Wilmington.
We noticed Darcy studying like a fiend before Wednesday left to film her show in Wilmington. Even during final rehearsals for Spring Awakening (I reluctantly took Wednesday’s part – we Skyped any changes - assuring her both my ‘job’ with Mackenzie and her role would safely be delivered back to her when she returned in under a fortnight).
Meanwhile, Darcy hid his debate notes under the play script. He hated that play but I had to agree with Wednesday – something about the stage lights made him look way cuter as winter became Spring, Wednesday arrived back and Spring finally headed towards Summer.
By the way, Wednesday is too modest to admit it, but her performance in the rewritten version of our school’s Spring Awakening was a big success. Now we’re just waiting to hear whether her television pilot is going to be turned into a series! Ahhhhhh. I’m so excited for her. That’s how true besties are, dontcha think? Happy for the success of their friends.
By the time Wednesday returned to school, well, everyone was talking about the new romance by then – the one between Mackenzie and Darcy. I could have told all those juniors and seniors the course of true love never did run smooth but I doubt they’d have listened… now, returning to the story… when I’m a junior, I hope to have one of my own.
For now, the story of Darcy and Paige must suffice…
That weekend, more bizarre news confronted Paige Bennet in the form of a beautifully wrapped, European chocolate bar left on the kitchen table. The wrapper said Toblerone.
Amadeus Bright was an Austrian exchange student. His homestay family had been given the wrong dates but Mrs Bennet had agreed to host him until his original family returned from their vacation. Even though the Bennet house was not overly large, it was always welcoming.
The more the merrier was the Bennet motto, but Mrs Bennet hadn’t expected to find Amadeus sunbathing on the roof or playing Euro pop music at two in the morning or asking for wine at dinner.
That morning, Amadeus was sitting on their doorstep waiting for someone – anyone – to let him into the house. Rebel, Sia and Mrs Bennet had gone to Third Street Promenade and completely forgotten about his imminent arrival. Senta was at the library (as usual) and Amadeus waited patiently, dropped off by the group bus that picked him up from LAX, asleep in the sun. He woke mid-afternoon and was waiting on the porch of the ramshackle looking Bennet family home, glasses on top of his nose, playing a computer game on his phone and waiting for his ‘host family’ to arrive. When he saw the eldest Bennet sisters his face lit up. And perhaps simply because he saw Shiloh first (she walked in front of Paige), he liked her best.
“We’re so sorry we are late,” Shiloh apologized. Paige was finalizing her debate strategy over lunch and they’d somehow managed to forget about Amadeus.
Now, it’s not that Amadeus was not good looking – although he wasn’t in the traditional sense – he was very skinny with red hair and wore glasses. He gravitated towards Shiloh from that first day until Mrs Bennet told him about the pool party and suggested he take Paige as Shiloh, “already had a partner.” This was news to Shiloh but Mrs Bennet had a feeling Shiloh wouldn’t be alone at the party for long.
Amadeus smiled at Paige who reluctantly introduced herself.
The exchanged student responded with, “hello” and looked very grateful.
Paige realized Senta would have to bunk in with Rebel and Sia (sure to cause chaos) but she quickly arranged everything.
The exchanged student responded with, “hello” and looked very grateful.
Paige realized Senta would have to bunk in with Rebel and Sia (sure to cause chaos) but she quickly arranged everything.
When she was finished, she found a large Swiss box of chocolates on her bed.
“Thank you,” Paige said.
“You are welcome,” Wolfgang smiled. He had a very high pitch laugh and snorted simultaneously but he meant well enough.
The truth about Darcy Donovan
Monday was debate trial day. The class got paired up for the intra-schools competition. Paige was the second last to arrive. She’d been helping Mackenzie organize the costumes and had even painted scenery for Spring Awakening. It was remarkable how much Mackenzie had improved in recent days. She was practically being helpful and so excited about the pool party on Saturday night.
Paige couldn’t say the same about Darcy Donovan. He’d regressed after the weekend and reverted to his former self.
In the crowded English Lit classroom, Paige inched away from Darcy in her chair. He was always the last to arrive. He’d rocked up late after getting stopped in the hall without a hall pass, even though everyone was heading to after school activities. The entire student debate club turned to look at him as he arrogantly hooked his sunglasses on the top of his hair and slid into his chair, in the back row, behind Paige. He had no idea what had come over him on the weekend. He could barely be civil to her today – his rival, his competition and friend to his enemy. He couldn’t believe he’d been roped into this debate club. At least he wasn’t captain. He still had to show up and it wouldn’t look good on his transfer papers. Just the sight of Paige and Rys together in class made him really angry... or was that jealous?
As Mrs Tartt went through the names, pairing people up for the next debate, which was to be held at a school near Santa Monica, Paige cringed. When she said she hoped she’d never have to speak to Darcy again, she meant during school hours. Social occasions were impossible to avoid. Darcy looked almost as uncomfortable as Paige shrunk back into her chair whilst one half of the group of students drew pairs from a hat.
“Paige Bennet and Rys Wickam.”
Darcy rolled his eyes.
“Darcy Donovan… and Mackenzie Bingley.”
At this point, Mackenzie Bingley sashayed into the classroom and took her place directly beside Darcy. She smiled at him and bit her pen as if any form of academic learning was a total imposition.
“Ah, since… Darcy is the last person to join… I mean, second last now, you two should make a good pair.”
Mackenzie turned around in her chair and gave Paige the smuggest smile imaginable. “Hi Paige,” she said, putting her arm behind Darcy’s chair to claim ownership. Paige shrugged and sighed.
It had been too much to expect Mackenzie to remain nice all afternoon.
Rys whispered to Paige, ‘Don’t worry about her. I’ve known her and Darcy since our fathers were involved in a business together. She’s got some serious personality problems,” he added, tapping his head. “Both Mackenzie and Darcy think way too highly of themselves,” Rys assured Paige. Paige was going to ask a few questions but she thought that could probably wait until after school because Mrs Tartt was already handing out potential debate topics.
Paige looked at the ones that landed on her desk: Gaming Should Be Banned Except on Holidays. Enlightening, Paige thought. Technology was not her favorite topic but Rys eyed the words enthusiastically along with the following topics:
Should schools use standardized testing?
Is homeland security more important than individual privacy?
Are violent video games harmful?
Is television really a bad influence?
Should going to school be compulsory?
“So, do you think video games are bad for us?” Ryan asked.
“Ah, that would be a ‘no’ for me,” Rys said from the side table. As he looked up, he noticed Mackenzie and Darcy, heads together and whispered Paige this story:
“Actually, I don’t care what we argue as long as we beat them. Darcy is jealous of me and I can’t stand him either.”
“When I was a child, and he came out to Los Angeles a few times with his Dad, from Australia, he used to play at my house. His father is actually my Godfather. Anyway, my father insisted on us being friends and I’d take him outside and we’d swim in the pool and hang out together. We became friends. Then his sister joined us and, well, she was a freak. She threw herself at me then blamed me for dumping her…
Anyway, by then, my father had invested so much money in his father’s company that it was quite a shock when Darcy’s father left my Dad in the lurch financially – literally. Dad and I were homeless and living out of a car for six months - all because of Darcy’s selfish father.”
“Are you serious?”
“Absolutely. And his sister? She still tries to contact me. What a stalker! She started writing me notes and stuff until they had to send her to a clinic for losing her mind. I don’t want to bad mouth her, so I won’t go into that now…”
Of course, Rys had already ‘bad mouthed’ Blair and his comments appeared to have had the desired effect.
Mud thrown first, sticks hardest. At least that’s what Honey told me, when I told her what I’d overheard Paige and Shiloh talking about at recess.
Paige was shocked, although from what she’d seen and heard of Darcy, he was really just living up to his reputation as one of the most irritating and stuck up snobs Paige had ever met, unable to make his mind up about ordering pepperoni or fries. Typical.
Paige used her pencil to tie up her hair in a knot and sighed as she waited in the lunch queue.
Darcy glanced over at Paige when she was looking at her shoes. He smiled. She looked confused. He couldn’t understand why Paige ran hot and cold. It was driving him nuts. Literally. He purposefully took an extra moment with the menu to study her in repose.
Paige took a quick glance up at Darcy and his dark hair and perfect tan and exceptionally clear blue eyes and wondered how such a bad person could live under such a nice exterior.
(*please note – some of the rest of this story was ‘researched’ by Honey and I prior to writing about the events that took place. ie: we weren’t always in the room. Just in case you’re wondering how we know this entire story – well you’ll find out at the end!)
While Mackenzie planned her next social move, Paige Bennet sat with her sister. “I’m so embarrassed, Paige,” Shiloh said. “I think it was the car drive. I had no idea Mackenzie could drive so fast along windy roads. I should have told her I get motion sickness.”
“I think that was the whole point. Are you sure lunch is a good idea? Mackenzie is worse than Darcy,” Paige said icily.
“At least Darcy is making an effort. The minute he heard you were coming over he and Ryan planned to hang out here as well. I think he wanted an excuse to meet up with you again.”
“That’s funny, Shiloh. I think Ryan wanted an excuse to meet up with you.”
“Mackenzie told me his sister Blair is coming to the pre-prom pool party.”
At this point Shiloh shut her eyes.
“I feel so woozy now, Paige. I just need to rest… before… we go…” Shiloh yawned.
Paige was left to her own devices once her sister was asleep, so she wandered through the hall and into an expansive living room that had a balcony overlooking the pool area. Paige noticed Darcy running on the manicured lawn with Ryan’s dog, Ruff, named so because of the snuffling noises he made through his snout when he was breathing. He was a rescue dog. Mackenzie had tired of him once he’d refused to come when called, sit when told, and catch when expected. Darcy seemed to have no such problems with the large animal licking his face. Paige noticed Darcy throw Ruff a ball once again, then Darcy pulled off his shirt to reveal ripped abs as he and Ryan jumped into the pool.
By now, Paige was on the second floor walking downstairs. Through the hall window she noticed a younger girl with hair the color of lemons standing on her balcony next door. She wore a fashionable shift dress in the latest style. Darcy smiled and waved when he saw her and Paige realized the young girl, who looked about Rebel’s height and age, must be his sister, Blair. So she was the girl he’d been communicating with these last few days. Blair waved back from her patio.
Paige shrugged, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” she thought to herself. Shiloh assured her she’d be fine after a rest. Paige wandered downstairs and walked into the lush pool area with her robe on and her debate notes in her hand.
“How is Shiloh?” Ryan asked, returning to the patio, car keys in hand after he’d dropped me home (we drove with the car roof down and talked all about my new television show. I had to admit, if Darcy’s friend was this nice, perhaps we’d misinterpreted Darcy as well.)
“Oh, she’s fine,” Paige replied with a smile. Ryan was always so polite.
The group were playing piggy in the middle and Ryan was in the middle. Mackenzie sent a shot flying over the water and the soccer ball skimmed off the surface and hit Ryan squarely on the nose.
“Thanks Mackenzie,” Ryan said, as if he was annoyed. Moments later he was smiling again.
Darcy’s sister came out of the guest house in her pink polka dot one piece.
“Hi,” she said, “I’m Blair, Darcy is my brother.” Blair spoke in a refined Australian accent and beamed at her brother with pride.
“Hi,” Paige smiled, “I’m Paige Bennett.”
“Oh, I know, I’ve heard all about you!”
“Really?” Paige asked, looking at Darcy with surprise. “Not all bad, I hope.” She could only imagine what Darcy had said to his sister about, “the pushy girl in his debate class.”
“No. My brother said at his former school - an all boy’s school - you would have outshone any competition. He said you were the rightful winner.”
“Oh… thanks,” Paige said, looking at Darcy. She wasn’t sure if that was a compliment.
Meanwhile, Darcy dived into the pool and swam a few laps in a most competitive way. Paige couldn’t help but hide her smile when Ruff jumped in and started following him. Then Mackenzie pulled herself out of the water, making sure her behind was in full view of Darcy and announced loudly, “Oh Darcy, get that animal out of here. He could have fleas or… anything. When they brought him from the shelter he was covered in mange. C’mon Paige, since your sister seems out to it, I guess it’s up to you and me to check all the arrangements…”
Mackenzie suddenly acted like Paige’s BFF as she looped her arm through hers, which was not what Paige had expected.
After they’d decided on drinks, lunch was served – a surprise barbeque cooked by Darcy and Ryan’s housekeepers who sat with them to eat. Paige was still in a state of shock that Darcy and Ryan were joining them for lunch. Darcy was ‘over’ playing soccer on a wet field. Paige hadn’t expected him to be here or she’d never have come. But both boys seemed so… so human on home turf.
Lunch was served by the housekeeper. It was pretty amazing: roasted chicken and fresh French bread and potato salad. Apart from her mom’s cooking, it was the best food Paige had ever tasted and she was surprised when she asked for the bread, that Darcy quickly passed it to her, then lingered when he touched her hand.
What a freak, Paige thought. One minute he hates me. Next, he’s acting almost as if… as if, he likes me.
The minute Paige had gone upstairs Mackenzie turned to Darcy. She was wearing a flicked ballet skirt and pink rimmed sunglasses to match her sparkling lip gloss and much too thick mascara. Mackenzie pulled her sunglasses down to her nose as if she was making a closer inspection of Paige’s absence.
“Did you see what she was wearing?”
“I hadn’t noticed,” Darcy said as he flicked through the pages of the Spring Awakening script on the couch. Darcy couldn’t believe how lame the part he’d been designated was. He was only doing it because it was that or an entire subject and he was pretty sure this would be less work. Besides the teacher, who was a screaming fashionista, already liked him. It was an easy A.
“Did you notice how Paige looked? Girlfriend was covered in dirt and those jeans are so last season. Did the edges actually have mud on them?” Mackenzie laughed.
“I’m sure she’s not bothered by a bit of mud,” Darcy threw the script on the coffee table, “we were in a playing field after all.”
“Well, I doubt you’d want your sister Blair traipsing all over the neighborhood, alone, in unfashionable clothes.”
“She wasn’t alone. Her sister had walked on ahead of her. In any case, I’d be more concerned for her safety, than her style, after all Blair is younger than Paige.”
“Well, I think Paige Bennet needs a lesson in how to dress and act in public. I mean, I can’t believe she’s a member of the Princesses. I was told those girls had style… some certainly don’t have any class.”
“What did you say, Mackenzie?” Ryan asked from the corner where he entered the room from outside.
“I was just suggesting that Paige could use my advice.”
Mackenzie batted her eyelashes at Darcy as he frantically texted somebody. It was obvious Mackenzie had a crush on her brother’s best friend but Darcy wasn’t giving in to her or her snarky ways.
“Okay, I gotta go,” I announced, so over this place of bickering juniors and seniors.
“Do you want a lift?” Ryan offered breezily.
I beamed as he grabbed his keys, also eager to get out of Mackenzie’s airspace.
“And Mackenzie, stop embarrassing me. In our last school you ended up with a reputation as one of the meanest girls who ever lived. You promised me things would be different here.”
“Promises, promises brother,” Mackenzie said under her breath. After all, Darcy had wandered out to the pool area to talk on his cell and without an audience there was no need for Mackenzie to pretend to be nice. She wished Darcy had noticed her new outfit. Just for once, though. Mackenzie really couldn’t understand it. Darcy had always been immune to her charms yet she was slim and beautiful and blonde and… perfect. Well, she had her ways. Mackenzie had whispered to me as Ryan got his car, “I’m not going to wait forever to be with Darcy, you know. I’m not like those dopey Bennet girls always playing hard to get.”
“He’s going to be so easy,” Mackenzie said.
I thought that was a little bit of an ‘over-share’ as Mackenzie waved me off and wished me ‘cheers on my little TV show.”
Mackenzie met them at the door.
“Hi Paige, I’m so glad you came,” she said, as if she wasn’t. “Did you walk all the way in bare feet?”
“Well, that was very peasant-like of you,” Mackenzie smirked. “I texted Shiloh who got lost somewhere near the gazebo. I went and collected her in my car. That’s the kind of friend I am. She’s upstairs… cleaning up.” Paige turned to go.
Mackenzie said under her breath, “By the way, I heard all about you and Rys Wickam in debate class…”
Darcy’s expression changed from one of amusement to irritation. Mackenzie pressed on.
“What did you say?”
“I just said, I’ve heard Rys is really into you, Paige.”
“Who told you that?”
“Oh, nobody, just Wednesday, a little eighth grader I look after.”
I shook my head behind Mackenzie.
“I know who Wednesday is… she’s right there and she would never…”
“It’s just that she’s seen you two together.”
I nearly fainted and turned bright red as I glanced up from those napkins. I’d never talked about Paige and Shiloh directly to Mackenzie.
“I heard he’s thinking of asking you to prom…”
“Ah… I haven’t even thought about the prom.”
Darcy’s expression altered from annoyed to extreme irritation as he slumped on the couch.
“Mmm… well, I’m sure I could tell you a story or two about Rys Wickham if you’re interested.”
Paige wasn’t. Even Ryan seemed embarrassed by his sister’s behavior.
“No, Mackenzie, I’m sure she’s not,” he said, “Paige probably wants to go and see Shiloh. She’s been throwing up. She must’ve eaten something.”
“I better go and see if she’s okay,” I said.
“Sure, she’s upstairs, first room on the right. The maid knows the way.”
Paige couldn’t believe Mackenzie’s family had staff, but the maid just rolled her eyes as if she’d known Mackenzie’s type for years and ushered Paige towards one of the many guest rooms along the never ending hallway.
All Things Nice
Somehow, Shiloh had convinced Paige to go to Mackenzie’s place to help plan the pool party. Paige pulled on her sunglasses, stuffed her shoulder length hair in her father’s baseball cap and, lagging behind Shiloh who seemed to be in a rush to avoid the rumbling skies, walked across the park. The skies were turning and Paige listening to music as Shiloh rushed to find shelter. Paige had forgotten to bring her umbrella and Shiloh had walked ahead to the gazebo in the park center to avoid getting soaked through.
By the time the sisters reached the grounds bordering Mackenzie and Ryan Bingley’s mansion, the rain from the morning had created a soup-like mud. Paige rolled her jeans up to just under her knees, her face was hot and flushed from the sun and her toes, fingers and cheeks were covered in grit. She barely cared. Paige liked feeling close to nature, even deciding to rinse her face, feet and hands in the lake before she arrived at the gazebo where Shiloh had walked on ahead.
Mud was slopped all over Paige’s lovely new boots, so she pulled them off, carried them in one hand and went part-way barefoot. Paige walked along purposely, having texted Shiloh to let her know that she was ‘catching her up.’
After she’d washed her feet and splashed her face in the fountain, Paige climbed over the park fence. She wasn’t really concentrating on what lay ahead as she was going over her notes in her head for the forthcoming debate on ‘why television is a bad influence.’ Paige didn’t agree that most of it was bad, of course, but for purposes of the debate, she’d had to create a feasible argument.
Paige had reasoned that that was how it would be when she worked as a lawyer. Then there were the few lines she had been given in their watered down version of Spring Awakening. Paige wasn’t really into the arts it’s just she was prompting when yet another person dropped out, so Paige had to step in. She really just went along with the arts program to keep her sister happy.
Besides, it looked good on her college applications to have other interests.
Yet Paige couldn’t help but agree there was more important work in the world than saying lines other people wrote for you. There were human and animal rights issues, for one thing… when Paige thought about those poor, hungry circus bears she’d read about that needed to be liberated, it brought a tear to her eye. She knew she’d incorporate something about them if she was given a human rights topic at regionals…
Stomping up the hill that led to the Bingley’s, she was suddenly stopped by a soccer ball nearly landing in her face.
Paige caught the ball in her arms and looked up to find Darcy Donovan running over the hill towards her. Paige didn’t know whether to speak or smile. She knew she’d never envisaged talking to him again, but she supposed it was inevitable, given the situation she now found herself in.
He was Ryan’s neighbor and best friend, after all.
In the end it was a very lukewarm smile that she offered as Paige threw the ball back at Darcy, hard.
“Thanks,” Darcy said sarcastically.
He couldn’t help but notice her bright blue eyes flashing in the sun. Paige too, couldn’t help but realize how tall and muscular Darcy looked in a wet t-shirt as skies continued to weep.
“I better go,” he said turning, “Hey, are you coming to the pool party at the Bingley’s next weekend?”
“Um… yes. We came today to help Mackenzie organize it… and she invited us to stay for lunch.”
“Oh, well, it’s a bit tricky to get through security so maybe Ryan and I could walk with you.”
“Uh…” Paige had no idea how to say no. Ryan had forged ahead to search for Shiloh. Paige smiled and sucked it up. Darcy may have dissed her looks and tried to make her sound foolish in debate class but that was then, this is now, Paige thought as he led the way to the Bingley mansion. He was all tall and dark shadows but seemed sincere in his desire to help.
A house is not a home
That weekend, I was with Mackenzie folding napkins in her mansion. I’d been looking forward to checking out her place for days and now, here I was. It was something else to be allowed into chez Bingley and see their gaudy wealth displayed up close and personal.
I expected Mackenzie to be miserable about me leaving for almost a whole month to film the pilot, but she wasn’t.
“Life goes on Wednesday! I’m so proud of my little protégé but I’ve already arranged your replacement,” Mackenzie said matter-of-factly flicking on her horoscope app of the day. “I really think all my advice has helped this opportunity come into your life. You shouldn’t forget to tell everyone I’m like a big sister to you when you start doing press interviews…”
Mmm… all her tutoring? Mostly she asked me about Paige and Shiloh and sighed over Darcy. She continued, “I just hope Honey does half as good a job of folding those napkins for me as you do…” and smiled as she took the pile upstairs with her.
Honey? My best friend had already accepted my job as Mackenzie’s ‘helper’? Well, it wasn’t like we’d had much of a chance to talk. I was sure she meant to tell me… and soon.
Mackenzie’s voice trailed down behind her as she walked.
“Oh, guess who is coming over? Darcy! You can stay if you like. I’ve invited Shiloh and Paige around for lunch. We have a lot of stuff to organize for the party and you can help.”
Mackenzie tested the lights in the hallway as I stood there wondering who would take my place in Spring Awakening... assuming I’d miss that as well.
“There,” Mackenzie said, as she turned on the fairy lights, “this place looks just like a scene from Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, pre-guest arrival, of course. Chez Bingley is going to be the perfect place to hold a pool party!”
Getting the part
Not long after Spring Awakening: the revised G Rated version went into dress rehearsal, Thom called me on my cell phone one afternoon.
I’d totally forgotten he’d even reminded me to be on standby.
“Hello,” I said in my best theatrical voice – excusing myself from class, no less. “Guess what pumpkin… I just called your mom…”
“And your lawyer...”
“You got the part!”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah, normally they cast older to play younger but they wanted the real thing – you! You got the part. No need to quit school, they should be able to film it in under a month. It’s just a pilot episode at this point…”
“Wow.” I tried to sound excited. It’s just that, finally, school was starting to get interesting. I was even helping Mackenzie organize her winter pre-prom party this weekend. I was sure to see Darcy and Ryan and Paige and…
“You start next week…”
“Don’t worry, we have an on set tutor organized. Besides, we only have to film the pilot. If it is accepted by the network, you could think of it as your summer job. Filming on the actual series won’t start until next June. So, aim for at least a fortnight off school…”
Of course I said yes, without thinking. Acting was my dream – at least I told myself it was. And besides, most shows got cancelled after the pilot season and of course, it was too good an opportunity to say no to. Besides, I’d probably only miss dress rehearsals. I wasn’t sure how that would impact on everyone else.
I hoped I’d never be too busy to socialize.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Darcy almost laughed out aloud when he noticed Mackenzie making a show of praying before eating her lunch the next day. Mackenzie had decided to seat herself between The Princesses and The Praise & Worshipfuls as if she was committed to both groups. Darcy knew, deep down, Mackenzie had good qualities but he disliked her hypocrisy. Mackenzie knew saying Grace before the main meal and being a Sunday Christian was not enough. Mackenzie was all for show, something Darcy abhorred.
Darcy would never accuse himself of being dishonest. He knew Mackenzie well enough to know she’d often had to be told to wait by her mother at Christmas time when she’d tried to wolf down her meal. Yet in public, of course, Mackenzie was the height of manners. How typical, Darcy thought. Suddenly, Mackenzie was acting like she had a patent on God.
Meanwhile, Honey and I brushed past Darcy in the hall as I was on my way to Spring Awakening rehearsal. He actually smiled at us which was quite surprising. I was thinking about my callback for the TV show and how I’d combine it with my rehearsal schedule for Spring Awakening.
I was pretty excited to have a singing part – even though I was the youngest main cast member. I religiously drafted our story, along with Honey, who drew the pictures during breaks. Our little e-read, the one that had just started as a story about Paige and Darcy and Sunrise High had become a kind of Sunrise High journal of our freshman year. It was getting really juicy… who knew how many actual publishers would bid for it?
“Or maybe we could just put it on the web when we are finished and start our own publishing house,” Honey stated. Honey is always busy with marketing plans and she has a really good head for business. Me? I’m all about the art, really.
“I’m so excited,” Honey whispered to me during rehearsal as she praised one of the sketches we decided to add to our chapter titles (Honey thinks up the titles). “Mrs Tartt said we might be able to use this as our class project elective. Aces!”
“Great!” I replied, it beats reading the required text yet again.
Paige was required to stand next to Rys on stage. Rys was playing a caddish teenage boy (European – any similarities?) who has just dropped the hand of Paige’s character. That was as far as our version of Spring Awakening went – hand holding. Mr Sparks had updated and re-translated most of the dialogue. We added a song at the beginning and end (which I got to sing). It was kind of fun.
To be honest, I’m not sure why they still called it Spring Awakening (Part Two) but I guess since the original story was out of copyright they could call it anything they wanted.
Meanwhile, Darcy wondered what sort of divine intervention he’d need to stop the powering train that was Paige Bennet making him look both socially and academically foolish. He knew if he was less prideful, (a better man), so to speak, he wouldn’t care. But he was a teenage boy and Paige had really gotten to him. I know this because I saw him scrawl PB on his play script and those letters didn’t stand for Personal Best. (They stood for Paige Bennet of course!)
Darcy had wandered into the school theatre where Mr Sparks was setting the stage lights and he had been raked into working as an assistant for extra credit. Paige was helping out as prompt that afternoon. I was singing. The play itself was unintentionally funny.
Darcy, even sitting in the audience, was unfocused on the task at hand. Exhibit A: When I missed a cue he was oblivious to it. It was clear from the way he glanced at her, that Paige Bennet, even now, was infiltrating his train of thought. As I stood center stage, he was glancing over into the curtains where Paige stood. This annoyed me. I would not be upstaged even by a swan-like older girl who the talk of the school was obviously in love with.
When the band started playing, I sang out. Everyone listened, even Darcy and Paige who were previously so wrapped up in each other’s sight lines.
And the next day? Darcy spoke. He said hi to me, Veronica and Honey as we walked into the hall and paused and said, “hey, aren’t you the freshman playing the lead in Spring Awakening? You’re a really good singer.”
My face went bright red.
Veronica chewed her gum and smiled.
Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles.