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Authors: Phil Earle

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BOOK: The Bubble Wrap Boy
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breathed deeply, nerves prickling beneath my costume.

“Don't be a clown,” I told myself. It wasn't the most demanding role, after all. No time onstage with Romeo
Juliet; no lines or interaction either—well, apart from with the lifeless body of Mercutio as I dragged him offstage. Couldn't imagine I'd be troubling the reviewers with the complexity of my performance.

I waited for Matty Dias to stop milking Mercutio's death, figuring my birthday would come around by the time he stopped writhing around, calling for his mommy (I didn't remember
part in the original text).

I wasn't jealous of him, though. I hadn't expected to find my name next to a main part when I ducked through people's legs to read the cast list pinned to the bulletin board. It would've been a brave move to give a part to someone who sounded like they were addicted to helium.

I'd hoped to bag a part with a name, though, rather than just
Body Dragger Number Two.
I'd run to the library to see what the script said it involved but couldn't find a reference anywhere. Even Google threw up a blank. I knew then that it was going to be the bittiest bit part, the sort they offer up to the talentless kids, you know, just so they feel involved. There seemed little point in begging for a promotion to
BD Number One

It didn't take me long to get over it; it was a foot in the door, after all. A stepping-stone.

I just had to make sure I didn't fall over it.

As the lights finally dimmed on Mercutio, I adjusted my hat (which, like every bit of my costume, was way too big) and strode purposefully to center stage. Wiping a single imaginary tear from my cheek (my own exquisite addition to the role), I gripped the fallen warrior underneath the shoulders and leaned back, expecting his body to slide across the stage, just like it had in the dress rehearsal.

Except nothing moved.

I pulled harder, my body arching further, yet it was like Mercutio had been replaced by the deadest of weights.

Whispers started to roll from the audience, followed by chuckles that only grew louder with every useless tug I made.

“What are you doing?” hissed the resurrected corpse.

“Aren't you supposed to be dead?” I squeaked back quietly, though it must have come out as a stage whisper, as the first four rows threw back their heads and laughed.

I tried to figure out what was stopping us, finally catching sight of his sword, wedged between floorboards, pinning him to the stage.

“It's your sword, it's—”

“Just pull, you idiot!”

So I did, and after several monumental efforts the blade finally dislodged itself, sending both the corpse and me skidding backward across the stage.

I fought to stay upright, but with Mercutio's weight on top of me I delivered the most ungraceful dance ever witnessed on any stage. The Royal Ballet it wasn't.

There was a gasp from the audience as we thudded against a pillar, the biggest reaction there'd been all evening, and for a split second I wondered if I'd accidentally created a bit of

But then I felt the pillar wobble behind me, accelerating quickly into a tilt. You see, the pillar was actually a pretty pivotal bit of the set, beneath Juliet's balcony, so if it fell, well, the odds were the balcony would too….

Matty Dias was way ahead of me in his structural assessment, fully alive now as he ran, screaming, for the wings.

I followed him quickly as the pillar hurtled toward the stage, watching in horror as the balcony started to shake.

To make it worse, the stage lights were now back up, ready for the next scene. I saw Romeo (Robbie Bootle, our school's most popular student) stride center stage, lost in his own grief, completely unaware that if the balcony fell he'd be the next person to be mourned.

I had to do something, so I dashed behind the balcony to see the entire set lurching precariously forward. The stage weights holding it all in place were rapidly becoming dislodged, the main rope that anchored it at the middle unraveling cartoon-style.

Without thinking, I sprinted for the rope and leapt on it. If I could retether it, then everything would hold still and Romeo wouldn't die quite yet or quite as literally.

It was the right idea—of course it was. At least, it was if you were of normal size and weight. But my impact on the rope was minimal, like a fly landing on an elephant, hoping to stop him from thundering on.

Within a second I knew it wasn't going to work, and as the balcony whooshed forward and I impersonated Tarzan on a vine, it was clear I could save either myself or the hapless Romeo. I may not be a coward, but I'm not an idiot either. With one final graceless movement I crumpled to the ground, shouting as I fell.

“Jump, Romeo! Jump!!”

I doubted he heard me above the cacophonous din created by the tumbling timber and three hundred terrified audience members.

All I could do was roll into a ball and hope for the best.

The fair city of Verona looked more like the battlefields of Baghdad.

Splintered scenery jutted from the stage at unusual angles, and the stage lights swung perilously over the audience, highlighting that the damage wasn't restricted to the set.

There in the front row of the audience, spread-eagled on the laps of the mayor and his wife, lay the love-struck Romeo, his chin savaged by the medal on the dignitary's tie clip.

No one moved at first, not even me (though I allowed myself to gasp for air in relief). The mayor's wife had taken the brunt of the blow, but she showed little emotion. She simply sat there, frozen, hand suspended in the air, still clutching her bag of malted milk balls. Robbie had a lot to thank her love of chocolate balls for. It had given him the softest of landings.

His head wasn't quite so cushioned. The tie clip had gouged a jagged hole in his chin that was spraying blood all over the mayor's suit. Mom would have had a fit if she'd seen it. Blood is murder to clean, apparently.

I wandered to the front of the stage, leaning forward as I asked, “You all right, Robbie?”

“Drop the curtain!” came the cry from the wings, which might have made me giggle if I hadn't been in
much trouble.

It was a bit late for that. Three hundred square feet of red velvet was not enough to hide this carnage, not unless they were going to drape it over the audience as well.

The curtain fell anyway, swooshing into me with such force that it almost knocked me on top of Robbie. Fighting its folds as it enveloped me, I decided that now might be the right time to make a quick exit. It wouldn't take anyone long to put two and two together and spell
Charlie Han

I scuttled, crablike, toward the wings, head down, best “not guilty” face plastered on, but just as my feet hit the shadows my own name assaulted my eardrums.

It should've been a moment,
moment, the one to define me—after all, I'd dreamed of hearing Carly Stoneham call my name since the start of junior high.

Although in those fantasies she was calling it playfully, with a chuckle, as if I'd said something dazzling and witty.

She certainly wasn't bellowing it at me, every letter packed tight with rattlesnake venom.

I think it's fair to say she wasn't in character anymore, unless Juliet actually turned out to be a kick-ass hit girl, hell-bent on avenging Romeo's minor chin wound.

She still looked pretty, though, even if her immaculately braided hair was as big a casualty as Robbie. Incandescent rage clearly suited her.

“What did you do that for?” she yelled.

“Do what?” I hoped she was as forgiving as she was pretty.

“Let go of the rope like that! You knew it was anchoring the balcony in place.”

My cheeks flushed with shame. “I couldn't help it. The weight of it was lifting me up. If I hadn't let go, I'd have gone flying.”

“Well, better that than let it fall on Robbie. If he hadn't been so athletic, it would have crushed him.”

“He's all right, though, isn't he?” I cringed at the sight of him, chin still erupting. “He's a center forward—diving's second nature.”

My lame attempt at humor was met with a volcanic look.

“No, he's not all right. He'll probably have to go to the emergency room for stitches and the mayor's wife's gown will need dry-cleaning. Mrs. Gee has canceled the play and now I'm never going to go out with him, am I?”

I felt for her, really I did. So much so that without a thought for myself, I volunteered to save the day by taking on Robbie's part. But when that resulted in other cast members having to restrain Carly from attacking me, I realized I'd learned Robbie's lines in vain.

Still, it wouldn't be a waste. I could regurgitate them in an exam soon enough. Learning Mercutio's speeches as well might have been overkill, though I'd done it with the most honorable of intentions. He was a funny guy, quick with the rapier wit. If I were the fair Juliet, I might get tired of Romeo's wailing and let his best friend cop a feel instead.

By the time I shook myself out of that blissfully naive headspace, Carly had been replaced by the less fair Mrs. Gee, who was clearly as unimpressed as Carly, sharing the view that Romeo's well-being was more important than mine.

“Why are you always so clumsy?” she roared. “I trusted you, Charlie. Surely you realized that letting go of the rope was a terrible idea?”

I was quickly getting the picture: catapulting the short kid into space was better than injuring the talent. I made a note to remember that in the future.

“Maybe I should get out from under your feet, Mrs. Gee?” I offered. “Looks like I've done enough damage.”

I could feel daggers being drawn from tights all across the stage. Knew that even if they didn't reach their target tonight, there was always tomorrow: plenty of time for me to do the walk of shame. Again.

“Oh, I don't think so. I can hardly expect the others to clean up the mess you've created, especially after all their creativity has resulted in
. The show might not be going on, but the party can, and don't you think about joining us until the stage is clear. In fact, it might be best if you don't think about it at all.”

She strode off like a leading lady herself, squeezing a weepy-looking Carly as she went, leaving me to drown under a tidal wave of déjà vu.

I cursed as I pushed the broom around. At their stupidity as much as mine. I mean, who in their right mind gives a job based on strength to the smallest kid in the school's history?

The others stalked past, warning me on Robbie's behalf, flicking filthy looks, sarcastic comments, and, to really strike the fear of God into me, the occasional sucker punch. Worse would follow. It always did.

I tried to look at it positively: some of them had threatened me by name. This was progress; at least they knew who I was for once, rather than simply “the Chinese midget.”

The broom sat heavily in my hands, and my mood didn't improve when the debris around me seemed to be multiplying. Who'd have thought one little trip could do so much damage?

By the time I'd swept the last of the set into the forty-fifth garbage bag, I wasn't really in the party mood, and anyway, from what I could hear, it sounded like a pretty boring party. No celebrating or cheering—it was so quiet all you could hear were cheese puffs being munched through clenched jaws.

Should I risk it?
I wondered.
Show my face and say sorry?
I could see their expressions, scrunched up and angry, desperate to make me do
the walk
now while their anger was at its freshest. I could almost see their legs twitching, ready for the first swing, feel my own shins echo in pain. It wasn't like I didn't know what to expect.

If that was on the agenda for tonight, then I'd give it a pass. Take my chances and hope they'd cool off. There's a first time for everything.

BOOK: The Bubble Wrap Boy
12.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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