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Understudy

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1991

"Is this really necessary?" Gus asks, looking Shawn up and down dubiously. "I just wanted to practice my lines."

"You need it to get into character, Gus!" Shawn says, flipping the long brown hair of the wig over his shoulder and climbing the ladder into Gus's treehouse.

"Romeo, Romeo," Shawn starts.

"Shawn, there are a lot of lines before that. My lines."

Gus looks up at him earnestly, too earnestly for the ridiculous period hat he's wearing with the big white feather in it. Shawn can't help rolling his eyes. "Fine, go ahead."

"But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?" Gus says, and Shawn has to bite his fist not to mention the fact that Romeo probably didn't have braces. He tried to get Mrs. Kurtzweil to see that too, but she still made Gus Romeo and Shawn a torchbearer. Gus is never going to let him live this down. "It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!"

Shawn preens a little; he leans down on the railing, chin in his hand.

"Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon who is already sick and pale with grief that thou her maid art far more fair than she."

"What does that mean?" Shawn asks, bewildered. He's never going to understand why everyone thinks Shakespeare is so great. "Kill the moon? How is that even possible?"

"Shawn!" Gus looks scandalized, so Shawn rolls his eyes and returns to his leaning, looking down lovingly at Gus.

"Be not her maid, since she is envious. Her vestal livery is but sick and green, and none but fools do wear it."

Shawn has no idea what a 'vestal livery' might be, but he doesn't think wearing it is a good idea. "Gus, this part is boring. Can we get to my lines?"

"I'm the one in the play, Shawn, not you. I need the practice."

"Just because I don't have any lines doesn't mean I'm not in the play," Shawn says petulantly, and zones out thinking about his plan to dose Gus with ipecac. Gus goes on and on about stars and cheeks and gloves and Shawn's still trying to work out where to get the ipecac when Gus clears his throat meaningfully. "Oh, is it my turn?" Shawn says, smoothing his hands down the fake hair. He looks down at the script, finds his line and...

"What? Ay me? That's it?" Gus is off and running again, and Shawn rolls his eyes and waits for Gus's next impatient pause before he looks at his script again. Aha! Finally.

"O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?" Shawn's sure to pitch his voice higher and add some breathiness. "Deny thy father and refuse thy name; or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, and I'll no longer be a Capulet."

Gus is looking up at him with all the earnestness in his eleven-year-old body, but Shawn thinks it looks more like he's been caught in a lie and is trying to truth his way out of it (he's surprisingly good at that, but it works better with Shawn's dad than with Gus's mom). If that's what true love looks like, he's really more interested in what they're having for lunch.

He continues with the long-ass speech, but instead of getting bored like he does when Gus is talking, he's sort of liking it. Gus is pretending to moon over him (a little over the top, if you ask Shawn, but no one did - especially not Mrs. Kurtzweil) and he's thinking he likes the wig a little. At least the way he can twirl the ends of the hair around his fingers. He's been growing his hair out for months and it's nowhere near long enough for twirling. All it's good for is pissing off his dad, which is about the only reason Shawn hasn't cut it off.

He gets to the end of his lines and punctuates the "Take all myself" with a nice, subtle crossing of his hands on his heart as he looks up at the sky. Girls always do that sort of thing.

Gus rolls his eyes at Shawn but says his lines, and when he does, he's doing the uncomfortably fervent face that Shawn is pretty sure is supposed to be the equivalent of true love.

"I don't think true love is supposed to look like you have to go to the bathroom," Shawn says, figuring it's better if Gus hears it from him than from Mrs. Kurtzweil, who'd probably pinch his cheeks or something.

"I don't look like I have to go to the bathroom, Shawn, I'm listening to you. This is my 'intense' face."

"Intensely constipated," Shawn says, and kicks the ladder to the treehouse down when Gus tries to climb it. It's not his smartest move ever, since right after that Gus's mom calls them in for lunch, and he has to promise not to say anything that's not in the script for the rest of the day before Gus will let him climb down for lunch. He gets back at Gus by insisting they practice the ball scene over and over. Gus is a crappy dancer, and Mrs. Kurtzweil has obviously never seen Janet Jackson dance. Or even Michael Jackson. Any of the Jacksons, really.

+o+o+

Sally Hunsicker gets the stomach flu the day of the performance. Puking all over the place, Mrs. Kurtzweil tells them (her flair for the dramatic tended to be a bit on the gory side). Since Sally didn't have an understudy (because Shawn's almost positive that understudy is another word for 'way to make the crappy actors feel like they're involved without actually putting them on stage' and they don't have enough girls to go around as it is) and Shawn has been rehearsing with Gus non-stop for the entire three months of rehearsal (and also has the long brown wig he got at Goodwill for three dollars), they let him play Juliet.

After the fact, he doesn't remember much about the performance except the wig and the death scene, where his first kiss ever is with his best friend in the whole world, in front of their parents, Mrs. Kurtzweil, and a hundred other people they both know, and it's still kind of sweet.