After I realized it was Raya’s dad, I made my way quietly back inside the school, making sure none of the three men saw me. Why I don’t know, but I didn’t like the feeling I got when seeing the three of them together.
My heart beat furiously as I quickly walked down the corridor. How could seeing three men together have this effect on me? Were they really all that bad? Mr Crawley had never freaked me out before, nor Mr Bonham, so maybe it was Mr Eastwind? Or maybe the combination of the three of them together? Weren’t some substances totally harmless, until combined? Not that I was a chemistry expert or anything, but I’d heard Jenna say it about people more than once and she was definitively a people expert.
Poor Raya, having a father like that! I shook my head. There were a few kids in our school who had been born into families that really weren’t very nice. I always felt sorry for them. Sure, my parents had died, but I have a whole bunch of aunts and uncles that are really nice, looking after me. I got shivers down my spine thinking about Mr Eastwind and not in a good way. The corridor seemed to echo as I walked. I actually felt spooked just thinking of the man!
As I reached our classroom again, I took a deep breath and then opened the door. Jason looked up as the door creaked and he smiled when he saw me. I immediately felt like my limbs froze as I looked into his eyes. I returned his smile as my heart started beating as crazy as it had done just moments ago in the corridor.
Why did it always feel like the world stood still when I looked at him? Today his blue sweater somehow brought out the red in his cheeks and the depth in his brown eyes. I could drown in those eyes. In fact, standing there frozen I felt pretty much like I was drowning already. And God I wanted to touch that messy hair of his!
Finally, I managed to unfreeze myself. I probably hadn’t been frozen for that long — only a second or two — but it felt like I had stood in the doorway for an eternity. If I didn’t start to regain control of my body again, hanging out with Jason would be a problem. I could feel my cheeks burning and I caught Samantha giving me an angry glare. She must have seen Jason smiling at me.
Thankfully, Mr Wood had abandoned his position next to Johanna. I needed a few moments to tell Johanna what had happened and stop feeling like I was spooked by Mr Eastwind and turned into a statue by Jason. Being a spooked statue isn’t cool. It makes it damn hard to move and do anything but think about your own beating heart.
“Hey,” I said as I sat down.
“Hey,” Johanna replied. “I think I finally managed to figure out this problem.”
“That’s great, but listen, I…” as I spoke I saw Samantha glaring at me again. Before she had a chance to silence me, I lowered my voice to a whisper. “Something happened. I’ll write you a note.”
As it turned out, Johanna was as baffled as I was about the event. And as Samantha and Mr Wood both shot us glances ever so often, we didn’t end up discussing it much.
The rest of the Friday school day went by uneventfully, unless you count one strange look from Raya and another, very quick, smile from Jason — both happened in the cafeteria as they were sitting either side of Samantha. It would have been funny really, as all three of them looked up, spotted me and reacted in three different ways. I’m just happy looks can’t kill, or Samantha would have killed me long ago.
She even leaned into Jason and mumbled something in his ear, still looking at me. I bet it was something about me being a black witch, but as I happened to be clad in white and baby blue that day, I looked particularly innocent. Even if I so happened to hold The Complete Book of Medicinal Herbs in one hand…Wilda had asked me to cross reference something, because she’d lent someone her copy and there was a copy in the school library.
Then, when school was over, it was time for drama club.
Johanna nudged me in the side and smiled as we walked towards the theatre.
“What?” I asked.
“Oh, nothing. It’s just, you know, that you’re Juliet.” She grinned happily at me, her black hair swaying as she walked confidently, her red dress (a new creation) making her look both sophisticated and epically cool. I wish I had some of that cool. I felt like a baby deer caught in the headlights and I probably looked it too with my big brown eyes, long brown hair and cutesy white and blue outfit.
“A Juliet who hasn’t practiced her lines much,” I replied. I felt like sulking because, well, when I finally get to do something super exciting like nailing the role of all roles, I get stalked by ghosts and totally sidetracked from the whole thing.
“Ah, come on. Mr Harvey said we’d just discuss the setting today. Like how people lived, what was happening in the world at the time and so on.”
“Yes and I love that — understanding the character and building their life in your head is what acting is all about. But I haven’t even had time to look into it properly. I don’t even know what people were wearing at the time.”
“Oh, but I do! I have even brought a book.” All of a sudden Johanna shone like the sun with happiness.
“Of course you did,” I muttered, sulking even more because she’d actually had time to do what she loved.
Suddenly I stopped.
“What?” Johanna asked.
“I love theatre. I really want to do this role.”
“So?” Johanna looked at me, confused.
“So, I always thought I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I always waited for some gift to present itself and it would be my calling. But I don’t think…” I lowered my voice to a whisper, “that speaking with ghosts is my calling. I love stories and performances. I really do love the theatre!”
“I could have told you that forever ago,” Johanna replied, smiling and shaking her head, so her black hair danced around her.
“Well, I just never thought of it as a career. And I guess I always wanted to take over my aunts’ legacy somehow. They help people. I want to help people. Or pamper them at least.”
“So, you can just have a BnB at Windgate Cottage. You have so many empty cottages on the land. And then you could have a meditation space and hot tub à la Agatha and serve Wilda and Hetty’s potions, lotions and cakes. Like you could have a spa. It’s not like we don’t get a ton of tourists up here.”
I gaped at Johanna.
“That’s a really good idea! I just don’t know how I could act on Broadway and run an enchanted spa BnB at the same time.”
Johanna shrugged her shoulders. “Who says you have to go to Broadway? L.A. and San Fran are much closer. Most actors don’t work all the time and I’m sure you could find someone else to run the place. Or start a theatre here for the tourist season. Even one on your land — convert one of the cottages. Besides, there’s no rush. Go to Broadway and come back ten years later and start a BnB. Hardly something you need to decide upon right now.”
I nodded and started walking slowly towards the theatre again. Maybe I’d been so caught up in finding my gift I hadn’t seen what was already there?
“Can you imagine that in like two years you’ll be off studying fashion in Paris and I will be who knows where?”
“Uh, no. Because I don’t speak French. And Paris doesn’t have a beach. I’m going to L.A. I know everyone will say it’s better in New York for fashion, but seriously? Those winters! I want to do semesters in New York and Paris, or Milan. That’d be cool. But I don’t get some things.”
“Like people are so obsessed you know, with going to Paris, or wherever, but I just wanna do my thing. I never liked big cities without nature. I wanna go places and learn, but you don’t have to live in Paris, or Milan to design dresses. And you don’t have to act on Broadway to be an actress. It’s all just stupid brainwashing. Please never become one of those people who only care about the Oscars. Just be happy acting.”
Johanna seemed really worked up about this. She never liked what she calls “being institutionalized” which she thinks is anything that means conforming to societal norms when it goes against your own truth.
“OK, OK, take it easy. I only mentioned Broadway as it seems a logical place to be.”
“Bah,” Johanna practically snorted. “It’s the place that’s conceived to be the place you go to be successful. Sure, more people will probably see you, but that doesn’t make you any happier. Acting and storytelling, not fame, is what makes you happy. Never forget that.”
Johanna was very serious as she spoke. Her mother had been quite a famous singer in her early twenties, then drunk herself into oblivion, before finding AA and Johanna’s step-dad. Now she did background vocals for bands in San Fran and performed in bars ever so often, while spending most of her time teaching tai chi at Agatha’s.
“I know Johanna, I know. But fame isn’t wrong either. If you want to share a message, then it’s a good thing to reach a lot of people. Not that I have a message to share, I just want to play around with stories, OK. Maybe I’ll end up doing theatre for schools. Who knows?”
“Right, who knows?! But right now you’re Juliet and that’s so friggin cool!”
Johanna was suddenly beaming again and took my hand and happily dragged me into the theatre, as we’d sort of gotten stuck by the door while chatting.
Mr Harvey looked up as we entered — he was standing on stage with all the students sitting in the front rows. Today he was wearing a dark yellow (or bistre brown according to Johanna) checkered suit with a matching waistcoat. His red hair was ruffled and his blue-green eyes were shining enthusiastically.
“Ah, there you are ladies. Please take a seat. We were just about to begin a screening of Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. It shows the setting beautifully and you’ll get a sense of the times. Just don’t think you have to interpret the characters in the same way as the actors here did. We’ll talk about psychology and character development next class. For those who were with us last year, they might still remember all that, but it’s really important and worth going over again. Now, let’s get this thing started.”
Johanna and I snuck in and grabbed our seats next to Elbert who was waving at us. Johanna, of course, looked all rosy and happy because of this. I couldn’t help but smile. To most people Johanna probably comes across as confident, cool and out of reach. When she is around Elbert she looks soft, sweet and giggly.
I know that Johanna still remembers some of her mother’s more drunken days. She had to look after herself when her mother was too drunk to do so. As a result, she became very independent and scared to rely on people. I know she feels safe around my aunts, but that is probably because they aren’t her family and she doesn’t have to rely on them. Ironically, that’s exactly why she can rely on them. She has never dated anyone she is really into before. Only guys she could toy with, usually from out of town that were here for vacation.
Elb isn’t exactly the kind of guy you can mess around with. I just hoped she wouldn’t push him away if they actually got together. I’d seen her do that once before when she started falling for one of the out-of-towners. She didn’t want to feel like she had to rely on him for anything, especially not her own happiness, so she pushed him away. I understood why, so I couldn’t be mad with her, but if I’d been that guy… Let’s just say if Jason had done to me what Johanna did to that guy, Johanna would have killed him for me.
It’s kind of sad how we end up villains in other people’s stories simply because of our own pain, not because we actually mean them any harm. It’s also funny how you see what other people are doing to their lives and haven’t gotten the faintest clue what you’re doing yourself. Heck, I couldn’t even have a conversation with Jason without my cheeks going up in flames and my body freezing in place. (Quite contradictory I know, but when it comes to Jason ice and fire seem to go together just fine.)
I soon forgot all about Johanna, Elbert and Jason as Mr Harvey started the movie, using a projector. Suddenly I was drawn into the world of Verona in the 1500s and got caught up in the story of a beautiful Juliet, very much in love with her Romeo.
We had been given a modern translation to read ages ago, so it was easy for me to follow along with the dialogue even if Zefirelli had stuck to Shakespearean language. Shakespeare is actually hilarious if you only understand the lines!
As the movie ended and the lights came back on I turned to see some people asleep, Johanna having tears in her eyes and Elbert looking…touched. I’d never seen him like that before. He’s always caring and sweet, but it’s not like… It’s not like Elbert often shares of his own life. He talks to everyone, he cares about everyone, he makes them all feel good, but he never shares his own emotions much. Like, he’s always happy and I honestly believe he is, but there’s more than happiness to all of us.
I felt like I was watching a play in real time looking at Elb and Johanna. Like I was observing, instead of being one of the characters, like I normally am. OK, so I read a lot of people all the time, but with Johanna, I’m so close to the action I get caught up.
Maybe if I observed Jason instead of getting all involved I could stop reacting like a crazy person around him? Just then I felt a hand on my shoulder.
I jumped in my seat. It was Jason. Standing ridiculously close to me. I could feel the warmth radiating from his body, as his breath tickled my cheek. He smelled of a minty kind of soap and that unidentifiable smell that’s just his. Warm. Spicy. Jason. I wanted to lean towards him. Instead, I leaned away and turned so I could see him.
“What are you doing here?” I tried not to sound as freaked out by his presence as I truly was.
As I looked up at his face I realized he was only inches away from me, his brown eyes twinkling with delight. Looking at me, as if amused. Amused by what? My blushing cheeks? My confusion?
“I realized I don’t have your number. I will meet you at eleven am tomorrow at your place. Pack some lunch! I’ll bring some too and we can share because I bet your aunts’ cooking is better than my dad’s and grandpa’s.”
Jason’s eyes twinkled even more. A picnic? He wanted to show me something and have a picnic? Or else he just wanted my aunts’ food. Probably. After all, you get hungry when hiking.
“My aunts’ cooking beats most people’s. Eleven is fine.” I didn’t know what else to say. What was it I had been thinking just before? That you could step back and just observe people? Yeah, right. Jason’s hand on my shoulder felt all warm and made my shoulder tingle. I literally felt the heat radiating out to the rest of my body. As if I could feel every nerve come alive. Like some sort of electrical freak show.
We kept eye contact. I didn’t know what to say next. Or do next. I was frozen again. Frozen and burning up at the same time. I just couldn’t stop looking into those brown eyes. And his hair had that perfect tousled look. I just wanted to run my hands through it…
“Jason, there you are. Have you told Elb what you needed to tell him? We gotta get out of here. I promised dad to be home when he gets home.” Samantha marched into the theatre like she owned it, speaking loudly to Jason. And Jason suddenly looked embarrassed. Jason embarrassed — that was something I’d never seen before. Which probably meant he really liked Samantha!
Samantha stopped halfway down the aisle and tossed her chestnut mane. She put one hand on her hips, stuck her other hip out and pushed her chest out at the same time. Seriously? I can read body language like a book and this was like watching the mating channel (well, mating season in the animal kingdom on Discovery Channel…you get my point!). I was starting to feel a bit envious too. She flirted while I stuttered.
By now everyone in drama club was staring at her and Jason. Which meant they were also staring at me. If I was red-faced before, I was now turning purple. I looked down at my copy of Romeo and Juliet.
“Alright class,” Mr Harvey said. “Let’s discuss the movie. Who liked the tights the men were wearing?”
At this everyone burst out laughing, Jason patted my shoulder and left with Samantha and my heart started slowing down. Still, I felt almost as if there was a magnetic pull to follow Jason when he walked away. Not like I wanted to get up and follow him, but like something inside me walked out that door with him. I’d never felt anything like it before. It was truly weird, but it also felt kind of good. The fact that he walked out with Samantha felt less good.