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Chagrin My Dazzle

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I’m really starting to think that something is up with the Tilneys.

It’s stupid. It’s so stupid! This doesn’t happen in real life. Vampires aren’t real.

But, I think as I toy with the little fanged bat charm on my phone, they did seem different from other people, so much like the way the Cullens were different from the other students in Forks. They held themselves a little apart from everyone else, except for Fred – he was like Emmett, funny and charming and friendly – but he still always came back to his brother and sister at their lunch table in the corner of the cafeteria.

I would have slotted Eleanor neatly into the Rosalie role (except obviously not involved with Emmett), but despite being intimidatingly pretty, she was actually nice. At the first rehearsal for Jekyll & Hyde, I had accidentally kicked my water bottle halfway across the stage like a complete klutz, and Eleanor – even though she was playing Emma and had no reason to take any notice of a freshman in the chorus – brought it back to the wings and handed it to my with a smile. She kept making eye contact with me and smiling after that, like we were friends, and I couldn’t help but smile back.

“She’s so two-faced,” Bella says to me afterward. Her brother is driving us home because he stays late for lacrosse practice; she sits in the front passenger seat, and cranes her neck to put on more lip gloss in the rear-view mirror while she talks to me. “It’s so gross. I can’t believe they let her play Emma – she’s never going to be able to hit those high notes.”

Henry doesn’t quite fit in as a Cullen analogue as an individual either. I guess that maybe he’s Jasper, since he’s definitely not Edward. He sat in one of the front rows of the audience through the whole rehearsal, his Converse All-Stars propped up on the row of seats in front of him while he wrote in a notebook, sometimes looking up at the stage and smiling. Edward Cullen would have stood in the back, leaning against the wall, alternating between staring at the object of his affections and averting his gaze to protect her from his intensity.

***

The days go by, and we have more rehearsals. I love the show – it’s so romantic, with Dr, Jekyll trying to solve the problem of evil and turning into a monster while he does so, dying in Emma’s arms as she weeps over his corpse – but having to actually run the songs over and over again sucks the life out of it. Bella says halfway through each one that she’s going to quit because it’s so unfair that neither of us gets any lines or solos, but usually by the end of the evening, she seems fine again, and she laughs and twirls her hair when we meet up with our brothers after lacrosse practice.

Finally, Mrs. Allen calls for a Saturday rehearsal because she says we need to devote more time to the different versions of “Façade.” It’s a major bummer, and I’m not surprised when Bella texts me the morning of and says she’s too sick to go. I briefly think about doing the same thing, but instead resign myself to spending a perfectly good mall day at Bath High School instead.

My mom drops me off on her way to run errands and says she’ll see me later. I don’t realize until she’s driving away that she thinks I’ll be able to get a ride back with Bella, like usual, so I resign myself to walking all the way home, too, and it’s supposed to rain later. Ugh.

It seems like a lot of people have the same “stomach flu” as Bella, so there are big holes in the choreography and the singing. But the leads are all there, and it makes me feel like I’m in an exclusive club, “the leads plus.” Even if I don’t have any lines, I can still be part of the group, sort of.

Henry Tilney’s there, too, painting sets. Mrs. Allen sends all the present members of the chorus off on a break, and I wander over to where he stands in spattered jeans and a sweatshirt. He’s making some kind of intricate design in black on grey on a flat, which is really pretty, and I stand there admiring it for a little while before he turns and sees me.

“Oh, hey,” he says, and goes back to painting. “You’re Cathie Morland, right?”

“Yeah,” I say, and tuck my hair behind my ear. “So, um, what are you doing?”

“Aw, man, I must be doing a really bad job if you can’t tell!”

“Oh, no, it looks really great!” I backpedal. “I can tell that it’s – I mean, it’s obviously …”

He turns again, and I can see that he’s grinning. “It’s wallpaper,” he informs me, “for the scenes in the parlor. You like it?”

“Yeah – it’s really cool. I wish my house had wallpaper like that.”

“Thanks.” He sets his paint can down and rests his brush carefully on top of it, then peels off his sweatshirt. It takes all my effort to contain what would have been a scream and change it into a gasp, but from his concerned expression I think it must have still been a really weird gasp.

“You have a Twilight shirt! From Hot Topic!”

He pinches it with two fingers, holds it away from himself, and looks down at it like he’s never seen it before. “Um. Yes.”

“Oh my god, I love Twilight! I am the biggest fan. I always went to the midnight releases, and I saw the movie six times in theaters. I can’t wait for New Moon, I really hope they add some more Edward in it because he’s gone for so much of the book. But,” I say, finally getting control of myself, “you’re probably wearing it ironically, right? Because you’re a guy.” Bella’s brother, John, loves horror movies, and any time Bella and I talk about Twilight he starts going on about how Stephenie Meyer ruined vampires by making them sparkle.

“Actually, I, uh …” He grins again and rubs the back of his neck. I think he might be cute? Like, he’s not Edward Cullen hot, but nobody in real life could be. “I think it’s great.”

“You do?”

“Yeah! The books have a lot going for them. Anyone who doesn’t think they’re more enjoyable than, oh, Faulkner or Joyce is a liar.” I’m not totally sure who Faulkner is, but I think Joyce is Joyce Carol Oates, and my mom reads her, so she probably is really boring.

“Henry!” Eleanor is walking over to us, smiling; the leads must have been let go for a break, too. “I’m so glad you’ve met Cathie. And, Cathie – I noticed that your friend isn’t here today. Do you need a ride home?”

I bite my lip. “You really don’t have to. I don’t live that far away, I can walk.”

But Eleanor won’t take no for an answer. “It’s not a problem! You live on Shannon, right? We’re out on Williamson, so it’s on the way.”

This finally convinces me, and really, I’m happy to agree. I wonder what kind of car they drive – maybe a BMW like Rosalie, or a Volvo like Edward? No, I’m being silly again.

Because the chorus is mostly absent, Mrs. Allen finally dismisses the rehearsal. I left my math book behind yesterday, so I go out to the south wing to my locker for it. The school is dark and empty – very spooky. There are shadows in every doorway and absolutely nothing is moving, the opposite of how these corridors are during the week. It is exactly the kind of setting where someone might be stalked by a vampire, pressed up against the lockers with a hand at her throat, breathing heavily but trying not to show any fear because she knows that Edward (or maybe Jacob) will come to save her …

I’m so lost in thought that I don’t hear anyone coming up behind me until someone bangs on the locker next to mine, and I jump, nearly screaming again. John and Bella are standing there, John in a striped polo and cargo shorts, and Bella in a cute one-shoulder dress she probably just got at the mall. John still has his hand out from smacking the locker, and Bella has her hands on her hips, her eyebrow cocked quizzically at me.

“What’s cooking, girl?” John says. “We were in the ‘hood, so I thought we should swing around and pick you up.”

“I can’t believe you actually went to rehearsal today, you dork,” says Bella, but she’s smiling. “We weren’t going to leave you!”

“Thanks so much, you guys!” A worry had been lurking in the back of my mind all day that Bella was abandoning me, but that had been stupid. Of course she came to get me! “Oh – but I’m actually going with Ellie and Henry Tilney.”

Bella and John exchange a look. “Are you sure?” Bella asks. “Because … babe, we saw them leaving as we were coming in.”

I hesitate. That doesn’t sound at all like them. Not that I know either of them that well, but they didn’t seem like the sort of people who would lie about driving me home and then leave me behind.

“Yeah, Henry drives a 2001 Taurus, right?” says John. “He was peeling out of the lot, and I think he was laughing with his sister.”

“That’s … that’s …”

“Oh my god, that’s so mean,” says Bella. “Good thing we came back to get you! Come on, let’s go.”

I gather up my math book and script, moving slowly. There’s a big part of me that wants to cry, but I won’t let myself. Mainly, I can’t believe I was so stupid as to think that the Tilneys were really being friendly with me. Of course they weren’t being friendly! Henry probably had been laughing at me about Twilight. They were probably talking right now about how stupid and gullible I was, some dumb little freshman who was ready to think anyone who said two words to her wanted to be her best friend.

As we walk out to the parking lot, I keep this monologue going in my head, beating myself up as I try to keep up with Bella and John’s conversation. Mostly, I’m confused, though, because even knowing that they did leave me behind doesn’t make it all make sense.

Sighing, I open the back door of John’s Mercedes and slip in. I keep my book on my lap, and look out the window despondently. Everything is a mess, especially for a Saturday. I’m just going to have to resign myself to forgetting about Eleanor and Henry. God, maybe I should even call them Mr. Tilney and Miss Tilney, like they’re teachers I need to be respectful of, and not imagine that I’m on the same plane of existence with.

But as John revs his engine and blasts down the student parking lot, we go past a silver Audi that the Tilneys are leaning against. I make eye contact with both of them, first Eleanor, then Henry – both of them look completely confused, then downcast. Furious, I tear my eyes away from the side window to look at John and Bella in the front, who are for once quiet.

“You told me they left!” I say. “You said they drove off without me! Why did you do that?”

Bella twists around in her seat to look at me, her face hard. “Why would you want to go with them in the first place? We’re your friends, Cathie.”

“I told them I would go with them, and now they think I blew them off! I’m not that kind of person, and I don’t want them to think I am.”

“Well, we’re already driving, babe,” said John breezily. “So you can talk to them on Monday or whatever.”

“I’m going to talk to them now,” I snap, and I open my door. Fortunately, we’re only going about 45 miles per hour (which is speeding, because John speeds everywhere), but even so Bella screams, “oh my god!” and John screeches to a stop.

“What the hell are you doing?” he shouts, but I’m out of the car with my math book. It’s drizzling now, but I don’t care.

“I’m going back.”

“Let her go if she wants to go,” says Bella, cold now. “See you Monday, Cathie.” I slam my door, and they drive off almost immediately. Well, fine.

I turn and start walking back into the parking lot, hugging my textbook to try to keep it dry. You don’t think about something like that when you’re planning a dramatic gesture like running back to people in the rain. I consider sticking it under my shirt, but I don’t care that much about keeping it dry. A little water damage will build its character.

The Tilneys’ car drives up to me and I tense up. It would serve me right if they just drove past and left me to get soaked, but they slow down. Eleanor is driving, and her window rolls down once they meet me.

“Need a lift?” she asks, and her brother laughs from the passenger seat – but it’s a nice laugh, not a mocking one.

“I’m so sorry!” I say in a rush. I can feel my cheeks heating up. “I thought you’d gone already – I would never have just left without saying anything to you after we had plans!”

Eleanor grins. “No prob,” she says. “I figured it was something like that. Henry, get in the back,” she orders her brother, who scrambles to obey. “Cathie’s our guest.” He holds the passenger door open for me with a joking bow and I make a silly curtsey to him before hopping in out of the rain.