A high school student finds a grimoire that shows how to make magical disguises.
|Previously: "Calling an Audible"
"Let's go look in the theater," you mutter to Blake. "Even if we can't find anybody there, we can always—"
Instinctively, you flinch. You've run into so many bad things recently it's becoming a reflex.
But the chubby girl who has called your name from halfway across the parking lot is beaming at you. Not until she's jogged closer, though, do you recognize her.
Holy shit, it's—! "Hey Laura," you call back. You hope she doesn't realize it took you that long to see her through the blubber.
Okay, it's unkind to say that Laura MacGregor has gotten "fat." Really, she's no bigger than a lot of the girls at Westside. But when you knew her and hung out with her—and had a little bit of a crush on her—back in middle school, she was a lot skinnier than the girl who comes puffing up now.
"Hey!" She grins brightly at you, then turns the same glazed smile up at Blake. "Hi Blake!" It's with a twinge that you think, Christ, of course she knows who Blake is. "So what are you guys up here for?" she goes on. "The balloon launch?" She tweaks the front of your shirt. "Or were you looking for me?"
"Me and Will were just meeting up here," Blake says, "then we were gonna go look for something to do. Are you going up in the balloon?"
"Who me? Oh God no!" Laura titters. She keeps looking between you and Blake like she can't decide who she'd rather rest her eyes on. "I get a nosebleed when I stand on a foot stool!"
"So, are you here for the tech rehearsal?"
Laura almost squeals aloud. "Oh you know about that? Oh my God. Yes!" Then her face falls. "Oh, you must have heard about it from Chris."
"I just heard about it."
"Yeah, well." Laura looks like she's about to geek out from excitement. "Start of hell week. My God, if we can just make to next Saturday night! Are you going to come watch?"
"Can we watch the rehearsal?"
For the first time, Laura's expression falters.
"Well, the tech rehearsals aren't supposed to be open to the public. But we've had lots of people wandering in and out already." She glances around. "And there's so many people up here we might as well just try to sell tickets!" She giggles. "If you don't mind Charles yelling at you, come on in. Gawd, that'd be fun. He's already half out of his mind!
"I don't ever see you around, Will," she goes on as she leads you and Blake back toward the school. "What have you been getting up to?" Her grin is cheeky.
"Oh, this and that," you stammer. It's the first words you've actually got out. Has Laura even noticed how quiet you've been? She was always a talker, but you're acutely aware that her eye isn't straying far from Blake.
"You still hang out with Caleb and Keith and Jeremy and, uh—?"
"Yeah, mostly." But not any more.
Laura's glance turns sly. "Any girls?"
"Yeah, Will's started going out with Sydney McGlynn," Blake answers for you. You stagger a little as he drapes a brawny arm around your shoulder. "They're, like, going everywhere together."
Laura's eyes boggle. "Wow. Sydney McGlynn, isn't she, like—?"
"Like what?" Blake prompts.
"Nothing. Oh God, it's started," Laura moans.
"Over there. Don't stare." Laura flinches almost bumping into you. "That's Bailey Keane's mom," she says.
She seems to be referring to a woman leaning against the back wall of the theater, smoking a cigarette. She is very tall and thin, with bone-white skin set off by dark, trailing hair that winds untidily over her collar and down past her shoulders. Her expression is haggard, but her eyes are hidden by her sunglasses. As you watch (trying not to stare) she sucks down half the cigarette, puts her head back, and slowly exhales a long stream of smoke from all the way down in her toes.
"You don't like smokers?" Blake asks.
Laura makes a face.
"No I don't, but that's not what I meant. It's just— Ashley!" she calls out to a girl who's just disappearing into the breezeway that connects the parking lot to the school. In a low voice, Laura says, "Charles's mom is out here too. I bet that's why Bailey's mom is out here trying to settle her nerves."
You have no idea who "Bailey" is, so you say nothing as Laura leads you through the breezeway and around a corner toward the theater.
The lights are up when you step inside, so you get a good view of the pandemonium. Cables are strewn all across the stage, tangling up with furniture and boxes. Students—some you know and recognize, others you don't—are milling about. There's several adults there, including Mr. Wilkes, the drama teacher, who is standing in the middle of the chaos with the frown of a man who doesn't know where to begin when it comes to straightening up a mess. Half a dozen people are shouting at once, and from the back comes the bang of a hammer against wood.
Laura trudges down the aisle toward the front, abandoning you and Blake. He, with his arm still around your shoulder, drags you into the back row and settles into a chair. You sit beside him and drop the plastic shopping bag you've been carrying—the one with the two masks and the sealant—into the seat on the other side of you.
"Oh, Will!" he squeals with girlish delight. "Is Laura one of your old girlfriends?"
The question floors you. "What? No!"
"Be honest, I won't be jealous, I swear!"
"I saw the way she was looking at you. God!" He grins. "How'd you ever let a dumpling like her get away?"
"She wasn't fat when I knew her!"
"That's not what I meant. She's like a slice of gooey cherry pie!" He tickles you, and you almost levitate from the chair. "Did you totally miss the boat with her, or what?"
You can only gasp like a landed fish. But he calms down, and a moment later is leaning forward in his chair. "Oh hey, there's Mrs. Hartlein now."
You follow his gaze down to a blonde woman who is moving items around on stage. From this distance it's impossible to tell how much of her "look" in the pictures you saw was real and how much was Photoshop. But she's a very angular woman with a long face that looks bony under the harsh stage lights.
She's not the only parent on hand, but the others are huddled around a table piled over with donut boxes and other treats. You can't help but think they look like whipped dogs, and more than once you catch them darting ugly glances in the direction of Charles Hartlein's mother.
You're occupied in scoping them out, and wondering how you might get close to any of them, if you decide to make a move in that direction, when out of the corner of your eye you see the door open. The woman who stalks in is obviously another stage mother. She is wearing oversize sunglasses which she sweeps off in a dramatic gesture. Her expression—she has large dark eyes, a red mouth, and hollow cheeks—is doleful, even tragic.
For a moment she stares down at the stage then turns to you and Blake. "Is Paul Griffin here yet?" she asks.
You say nothing. Blake says, "Uh ..."
The woman doesn't wait, but instead stalks down the aisle to the foot of the stage, where she stands and looks slowly from one side to the other. Then she walks off into the wings.
"Morticia Addams," says Blake.
"Didn't you see the resemblance?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"The movie. The TV show. She was a dead ringer for the mother. Well, look her up online. Someone like that would be perfect for us. I wonder who she is."
You shrug, and make no move for your phone, not even when the same woman comes stalking back up the aisle, like some tragic heroine on her way to the guillotine, and goes out the way she came in.
But Sydney's curiosity gets satisfied a little later when Laura comes trudging up to quietly join you. She's changed clothes into some kind of old-fashioned-looking pantsuit, and has a pillbox hat dangling from the side of her head. "I just need a few minutes of quiet before the circus starts," she says as she settles in next to you.
"Is your mom here?" Blake asks. You feel your skin prickling at the question.
"No, she's at home. Why?"
"Just curious. It's like everyone else's mom is up here."
You interrupt. "Who was the woman who was just here? Looked like—" You briefly struggle to remember the name. "Morticia Addams."
"Oh!" Laura giggles. "Mrs. Oliver. Morticia Addams, that's good! She's Becky Oliver's mom. I don't know why she showed up, Becky's not in the production, and she's not helping out either."
"She was looking for Paul Griffin."
Laura catches her breath. "Oh God, is he coming out here today?"
"Who's Paul Griffin?"
Laura slaps you. "Get out! Simon Magus! On Enchanted U?"
"The actor?" Blake says.
"Yeah, he went to school here, years ago. I thought everyone knew that! Oops, I have to go." Laura gets up and trots back down to the stage, where Charles Hartlein is glaring up at you.
"Maybe we should recruit her mom," Blake says.
Sydney probably said that just to get a rise out of you. But you ignore her. For the third time you find yourself thinking, Beverly Hills. A honest-to-God actor could help you—and the Brotherhood—break into Hollywood.
Next: "Who Wants to Be a Star?"