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Freeze


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I ran the comb over my hair once more, attempting to tame the irksome creature that was my hair. I double checked that everything was just right. Hopefully I wouldn't look overdressed in my slacks, sweater vest and tie. Another thought ran across my mind: I'm going to look like a dork. And I'm going to look very, very foolish if she doesn't show up.
I had run across the "she" in question the previous month at a joint orchestra rehearsal with both our high schools. Then the concert had gotten snowed out and I hadn't seen her since.
Suffice to say, the first meeting wasn't the best.
It wasn't the worst by any means, either. Mostly I'd sat next to her, then panicked when I'd gone over to talk to her.
It was now the morning before the Area Theater Day, which brought together the Trout Lake, West Valley and Gulley High school's finest actors and actresses to do a bunch of entertaining if largely pointless exercises with whatever pros the district could manage to find for half a Saturday. Finest was also a bit of a lie, but you could say that it was the finest 99% that were invited.
I had ascertained "her" name from a friend, along with the fact that she'd be at the expo. Her name was Cecilia.
I pushed my thoughts aside and told myself to enjoy whatever happened and walked downstairs.
***
I pushed open the tall double doors of West Valley High School, my eyes wildly scanning the assembly of students for Cecilia. I didn't see her, but did find Kevin, one of my friends from middle school who now went to West Valley. He walked over to me.
"Hey, Nathan," he said.
"Good morning," I replied.
"Nice tie."
"Oh. Thanks," I said.
"Ah, yes, I'd forgotten. What was her name?" Kevin asked.
"Cecilia," I said. I could feel my face grow hot. "If you see her, send her my way, will you?"
"Sure." He smiled as if he had some kind of scheme.
I put a hand on his shoulder as he turned away. "Discreetly," I commanded.
"You take all the fun out of things," Kevin said, half serious.
A woman who I assumed to be the theater teacher at West Valley was working on organizing kids into groups for the day. I listened for my name to be called.
"Cecilia Rose..." she droned partway through a group. My heart sped up. There were still two spots left. One could be mine.
Someone's name was called out. It barely entered my skull, as it wasn't mine.
Another name fell through the air like a ton of brick onto my hopes.
I listened, somewhat dejectedly, for my name to be called. When it finally was in the middle of a group destined for room 113, I struck out in search of the classroom we'd been assigned to.
Room 101. I wonder if she even remembers me.
103. Probably not. I sat next to her once and I doubt she took any notice of me.
105. I wonder if she was told about me.
107.
"Nathan!" I turned to see Jane Alan, one of my classmates from middle school who had since gone to Gulley.
"Hey, Jane. I take it we're in the same group?"
109. "Evidently. You look good today."
I looked down at my tie. "Thanks," I said, silently praying she wouldn't ask why.
111. "Any reason why?" Jane asked.
I suppressed the urge to curse. "Not... really..."
"Just wondering."
113. I quickly stepped inside the classroom and took a seat at one of the desks. Jane and I were the last to arrive, having been the last called. Jane took an adjacent seat.
Our two mentors were a retired college drama teacher and his son, as they explained to us. They each did a short monologue, though I didn't really listen. Visions of Cecilia were busy dancing in my head.
I forced myself to pay attention to the script as we read through some dusty old one-act comedy from the 20s that wasn't really all that funny. It may have actually been comedy gold, but I was too concerned with feeling nervous and sorry for myself to notice.
As we moved on to some improv games, I relaxed a bit. There was no sense in worrying, and I was good at these. I found myself actually enjoying the day.
The last game we played, Freeze, consisted of brief two person scenes that ended when an audience member called out the titular command, then taking one of the performer's places. The first scene I ended up in consisted of me being a skydiver too scared to jump out of the plane. Just as my partner was getting ready to "push" me out, someone shouted "Freeze!" I obliged.
It was Jane. She walked up and took the "pilot"'s place. She placed her hands on my shoulders. A push switched directions, and she spun me around.
"Please wait, honey. I'm sorry! It isn't what it looks like!"
I was taken aback for a second by her calling me honey, and quickly tried to figure out was the scene was. I guessed she was my... wife? She'd done something, evidently.
"Look," I said, taking her hands from her shoulders, "I thought I could trust you, but I clearly can't. I'm leaving."
"Wait! She grabbed my arms again. "Please don't go. I... I love you."
She was quite the actor. Then it struck me. The rest of it was acting, but that last line was dead serious.
This was a bad time. I forced my way through to someone shouting freeze and immediately fled to a desk the second the word reached my ears.
If Jane had said so months ago, it would have been better. But this was just a horrible time.
Jane and I had been close friends in middle school, but nothing more. She was kind, honest, funny, intelligent, and talented, but I'd never even thought about going out with her.
Another thought entered my head from the obsessive stalker side, and that was that she knew Cecilia, undoubtedly. Maybe if I asked her to introduce us I could kill two birds with one stone, simultaneously tipping Jane off about my lack of interest and getting Cecilia's attention.
Genius.
The game finally ended, and after a few closing remarks about how great of a day it had been, our mentors dismissed us to a catered lunch after the event.
I pulled Jane aside.
“Hey, do you know Cecilia Rose?” I asked.
She looked surprised and a little disappointed, as if she’d expected me to say something different.
"Yeah," she answered.
"Well..." I said, "I was wondering if you could, you know, introduce us?"
She looked crushed, but the instant her eyes fell on my hopeful and desperate face, she brightened up.
"Alright. I'll bring her over to you."
My relief was so overwhelming that I briefly discarded my inhibitions and swept her into a hug. I quickly remembered the situation and broke away. "Thanks," I said. "Thanks a lot."
I sat with Kevin and some people from Trout Lake and West Valley, occasionally offering a few words to the conversation but mostly sitting in anxious, excited silence. My fingers tapped out an inconsistent rhythm on the table.
After what felt like an hour but was really more like ten minutes, I spotted Jane with Cecilia. Jane beckoned to me and I quickly excused myself and forced my reconsidering feet over to Jane and Cecilia.
"Hello, we were stand partners at the cooperative, well, rehearsal," I said, unable to think of anything else to say.
"Nathan, isn't it? I remember you. Jane's told me about you.
"Really?" I asked, intrigued. "What'd she say?"
"She said you were, if I remember, awesome. Witty, handsome, the works."
I suppressed the very tempting urge to just throw my hands up and run away to some dark corner. A vaguely creative statement popped into my head.
"Was she right?" I asked.
She shrugged. "You're a decent cellist, I'll give you that. But I don't really know you, so I couldn't say."
"Hm. Well, I guess I'll see you later."
"See you." She walked off to whatever people she was planning on eating with before I interrupted her with my presumptuous flirtation with conversation. Jane was standing a few feet off.
"Well, that was awkward," I said, piercing the heavy fog of silence.
She gave out the ghost of a chuckle. "It was indeed." The fog rolled back in.
I turned to go back to my table when I noticed Jane just standing there quietly.
"Aren't you going to go eat?" I asked.
"I would, but I was planning to sit with Cecilia, and..."
"That doesn't seem like a great plan," I finished. "Here, come eat with me."
She smiled and followed me back to my seat.
I thought there wouldn't be anything to say, but it turned out I was wrong. The conversation was more lively than before, and I found myself enjoying it more and more. Stories of obnoxious teachers, hilariously hastily improvised projects and misunderstandings that could be uncreatively called zany rolled from tongue to tongue, blanketing the table in constant laughter and uproar. Jane only knew a few of the people there, but you wouldn't have known that at a glance. Her lightheartedness and friendly demeanor carried her high on top of the waves of inside jokes and lengthy stories reduced to "Incidents." Partway through Jane and I detailing Kevin's massive prepared speech debacle, I realized I hadn't so much glanced over at Cecilia, let alone wasted a thought on her. What once had been untouchable celestial majesty had been reduced to little more than the far off back of a head of lush black hair and the distant titter of a sweet voice that told me I was nothing more than a decent cellist to her.
Maybe if I'd had the courage to speak to her when we'd first met I could have made something of it, I realized, but that hope was now or less vanished, along with the fact that one second of her would bring me to incoherent grovelling. I wasn't terribly worried by this though.
Then it hit me. I wasn't terribly worried because I had something better right in front of me.
***
Jane and I stood on the patio outside West Valley, still in high spirits. I wasn't sure where Cecilia had gone and nor did I care. I spotted my mom's car turning into the parking lot. I checked my watch - she was actually late. It seemed like she was ten years early.
"Looks like my ride's here," I said. "I'll look for you later."
"I'll keep an eye out for you," Jane said a little sadly.
I made my way toward the curb when I remembered I'd forgotten something. I turned back to Jane.
"I love you too," I told her. Her face broke into an almighty smile.
My face was a mirror image as I got into the passenger seat.
"How was it?" my mom asked.
"Great," I answered. "Just fantastic."




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