Here’s another one of my short-fiction assignments from my undergraduate degree in Professional Writing….
A time-warp had swallowed the months since I’d last stirred the air here—the NYU lecture hall hadn’t changed a bit.
“Mags!” Professor Beckett’s beard scratched my cheeks as he kissed one then the other. “Great to have you back, Tex.”
He adjusted his horn-rimmed glasses, his lime-colored tie, casually preening as always. “I want to see you after class.”
Before I could ask why, he’d flounced to the lecture hall’s front, out of range of interrogation. Uneasiness simmered in my gut.
Glancing at the clock, I moved for the nearest empty chair. My uneasiness boiled into discomfort when I realized who occupied the desk neighboring mine, but it was too late to find another seat without it becoming awkward. Tentatively, I lowered myself into my ill-chosen chair.
“Maggie.” Serena shook mocha curls back from her face as her blue eyes assessed me. Her heart-shaped lips molded themselves into a polite smile. “Enjoy your summer?”
“Yeah.” I busied myself with tugging my laptop free. From her elfin features to her dainty feet, Serena’s delicate femininity made me feel Amazonian by comparison. Suddenly, I was hyper-aware of every one of the extra pounds I credited to Mom’s cooking and our family’s weekly parfait night.
Professor Beckett stepped forward, beginning his “welcome back” lecture. Fixing my eyes on him, I strove to block out everything beyond his words. But Serena’s presence and Beckett’s cryptic request for an after-class meeting gnawed at me. Relief and anxiety mingled when he dismissed the class.
Serena paced me as I approached him. Suspicion fizzed through me. Had Beckett asked to see her, too? I shriveled inside. Not again. Why did Fate constantly pair us?
“You remembered. Bravo. Take a seat, won’t you?” Beckett gestured to the front row of chairs. Serena alighted on one. Gracelessly, I plopped into another. Professor Beckett planted a tomato-red Converse on a third.
“I wanted you ladies to know about our fall show early. We’re doing a classic this year—South Pacific—and you’d both be splendid in the main role.”
“Really?” Serena’s eyes glittered as she inclined toward him. “That show was my grandmother’s favorite. We watched the movie every summer, when I went to visit.”
“Then you understand why you and Maggie are perfect for the lead. Nellie Forbush is vivacious, adventurous, beautiful…”
Great. Dread wrapped tentacles about my belly.
“Landing this part would be a major—and I mean major—boost to your careers, showcasing as it would your acting and singing talents. I’ll be sure to snag scripts for you ladies so you can begin preparing. Whoa, Tex, this isn’t that big a deal—take a breath.”
I tried to obey, but my mind was already gone, sprinting out of this room, toward the stage. My dreams were within reach. If I could only stretch far enough, they’d be mine.
~ ~ ~
“He said ‘major boost,’ Kyle,” I emphasized, shifting the phone.
“That’s great. I just—I don’t know, Maggie. You sure you’re up for this? You already put too much pressure on yourself.”
Frustrated, I released a sigh. We’d wrestled over this topic so many times, I was amazed we hadn’t killed it—or each other—by now. “Look, acting matters more to me than anything. You know this. I’m not gonna waste a chance like this, even if the odds are stacked against me.”
“Stacked? You mean Serena? C’mon.”
“She’s more beautiful than ever.”
“She doesn’t hold a candle to you, Babe. I can say this authoritatively. I met her last fall when I came to visit you—remember?”
“Before my summer bingeing, I might’ve believed you.” My temples throbbed and I dragged my eyes from my bedroom mirror. “I can’t believe I let myself get this out of shape.”
“You’re crazy, you know that?”
Hearing his knuckles pop, I smiled. After three years of dating, I had no trouble detecting the ticks that marked his irritation. “New topic,” I offered. “How was your first day back at UT?”
“Lonely. I missed my girlfriend.”
~ ~ ~
My thighs screamed as I staggered off the treadmill. I abhorred running, but those extra pounds had to die. Nellie Forbush was an energetic, captivating woman. With model-esque Serena as my competition, I couldn’t let myself off easy. When auditions opened, I’d be looking my best.
I checked my watch then blinked. Had I really been in the gym for two hours? I rubbed my temples, trying to soothe their dull aching. I’d meant to do some reading for Bio before going to bed.
Come on, Maggie. You’re a Drama major, not Darwin. Salvage your science grade after the show. For now, Priority One was a shower. A five-minute walk was all that divided me from my dorm.
By the time I’d climbed the stairs to my room, however, my pace had slowed and I was gasping.
“Ugh. I really am out of shape.”
Dragging into my room, I found an enemy waiting: a Snickers bar poised on the edge of my desk. Saliva pooled in mouth. It had been weeks since I’d tasted chocolate.
I knocked the candy bar into the trashcan waiting below. No way was I going to break.
Stripping to my underwear, I dragged myself to the scale. Staring at the fluctuating red numbers, I awaited their verdict.
I was nearer my goal, but victory was far off. Defeat battered my heart, but I deflected the siege. With two months of dieting and exercising under my belt, I was marching toward success. Another month, ripe with possibility, remained before auditions. I could make it. I would make it.
~ ~ ~
I steered myself away from the dessert rack. French silk pie was definitely not on my to-eat list.
“Hey, Tex.” Gavin sidled up, slugged my arm. “How’s your lab report going?”
I tried to smile, but lacked energy for much more than a grimace. I couldn’t even contemplate Biology now. My head was already spinning.
“That bad, huh?” His eyes fell to my tray and he frowned. “Look…. I know it’s none of my business, but are you sure that’s, you know, a good meal for you?”
Heat singed my cheeks. Was he actually assessing my food choices? My temper flared but I followed his gaze to my lunch.
Embarrassment kept my eyes anchored there as I realized how my choices must appear from his perspective. Perhaps I had been a bit indulgent.
Still, he’d been right—not his business.
“I’m fine.” I tossed my hair over my shoulder. “At least I will be once I get that report started.”
“Right?! I have so much homework—”
Freed by Gavin’s ever-present willingness to talk about himself, I nodded, pretending to pay him attention as I silently tallied the calories on my tray.
~ ~ ~
“Mags, come here.”
Professor Beckett waved me over to where he sat perched on his desk. He curled his hot pink tie around his hand as he grinned. “You ready for auditions next week?”
My gut twisted. My head pounded. Could I ever be ready? Really?
“Doin’ what I can, Professor.”
“Just be yourself,” he reassured me, waving his hand dramatically, dismissing my anxiety. His Converse-clad feet beat against his desk in a noisy tattoo. “They’ll love ya, Tex. Most of the casting directors already do.”
I saw his expression shift as he scanned my body. His frown sent a chill through my veins, made my skin prickle.
“Have you been exercising? You look—”
“I know.” I lifted both hands in a gesture of defense. “I’ve just been so busy trying to catch up in Biology, I haven’t had as much free time.”
No matter how hard I worked, it was never enough. Frustrated tears threatened to break free. Sure, I was a few pounds short of my ideal. But was it that obvious?
“Ugh, Biology. Say no more!” Professor Beckett covered his ears. “Just take care of yourself, Mags. You’ve got a serious talent—don’t waste it.”
Straightening, I let him see my determination. “I won’t. That’s a promise.”
~ ~ ~
The stage’s lamps shown in my eyes, piercing my skull as I ascended the steps. The climb left me breathless but I made it to center stage. Knowing the overhead lighting illuminated my every bulge, I sucked in my paunch. That was the last thing the directors needed to see.
I struggled to distinguish the directors—three professors and two senior Drama majors—from the shadows in the auditorium.
“Maggie Dalton,” I said. My vision wavered.
“Very good, Miss Dalton. And what role will you be auditioning for?”
What was wrong with me? My brain had gone utterly blank. Why couldn’t I remember a simple name? Just one stupid name! My heart was pounding as I struggled to dredge up the syllables. Get a grip, Maggie!
“Nellie Forbush,” I finally supplied.
My knees felt weak. Gooey. Was it getting darker? I struggled to hear the head director’s voice through the blood rushing into my ears.
“Excellent. Justin! I need you out here to play Emile. Page 13, Miss Dalton….”
Life went gray.
~ ~ ~
“I need a defibrillator over here!”
A male voice echoed through the murkiness. Shadows danced overhead. I couldn’t breathe. I had to get up. Had to finish my audition.
All that hard work—I’m not even getting to read!
Grabbing my blouse, someone ripped it down the middle. No! What were they doing? Didn’t they understand all I’d done for this moment? They were ruining it!
I reached up to pull my blouse closed again. Or tried. But my arms wouldn’t move.
“My God.” I knew that voice. One of the directors. “I can see every rib.”
The oxygen was gone, every last particle. Warm fuzziness, a fleecy grey blanket, wound tight around me. Squeezed. Pressure built in my chest.
“Defibrillator, people!” The gruff voice was closer. “No time.”
A stranger’s mouth slanted over mine. I wanted to shove him away. But peace gentled my struggling. Beckoned alluringly.
Rough hands were on my chest, shoving down. I felt ribs crack, the noise crinkling through my head like tinfoil. There was no pain. Only still, soft gray.
A string of cursing sounded somewhere far off, rippling into nothing—the aftereffects of a pebble cast into a pond.
“What a waste. These girls—why can’t they just eat?”
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