Authors: Lyn Gardner
The music built to a crescendo and the cast struck a final pose. There was a drum roll and everyone stamped their feet in unison. As they did so, paint flaked off from the ceiling above the stage and dropped on to their heads. It looked as if the entire cast had suddenly developed a bad case of dandruff.
Eel, who was standing next to Theo in the wings, giggled. “Maybe this is going to be the first
ever to feature zombies,” she said. Theo grinned at her. He liked Eel Marvell. He had met her on the first night of
The Sound of Music
and had been very impressed by her performance when she had suddenly been whisked out of the audience by Jon and on to the stage to play Gretl. She was a talented kid.
“Thank you, Swans, that was fantastic,” said Jon. “Just a few notes.” He looked at Poppy, who was stage-managing the show. “Any news on Amber?”
“On her way, apparently. Sheridan called. Amber had to go and see a specialist about her throat.”
Jon made a face. “That doesn't sound good.” He sighed. Rehearsing Theo and Amber was turning into a nightmare. There was such pressure on their time. Either they both didn't turn up and there would be lengthy explanations about sudden TV interviews or meetings about future jobs or, like today, one had turned up and not the other. Theo had already been here for over an hour, but there wasn't much that Jon could do with him without Amber. Fortunately, Theo seemed delighted to be reliving his school days, and Eel Marvell was keeping him entertained.
Jon began giving the chorus of villagers some notes on their song and dance. “That was great, Kylie, but remember to move upstage a little after you've got the water from the well. But it's coming along very nicely. I like what you're doing.”
Kylie glowed in his praise. She had been
keeping her head down and working really hard since Miss Swan had called her and her parents in for that awful interview. It had been made crystal clear to Kylie that she was jeopardising her future at the Swan by her behaviour. She glanced towards the back of the theatre. Some of the rows of seats had been removed and a few of the children were helping Katie's mum paint the huge backcloth for the show.
Kylie blushed. She found she could never quite meet Katie's mum's eye. She had been invited on holiday with the Wilkes-Coxes in their more affluent days, and she had repaid Katie by bullying her. She couldn't quite believe how horrible she had been to Katie. She didn't even really know why she had done it, except to look big in the eyes of the other girls and to show Katie that she was top dog now. But instead she had been the one who had been made to look small. She felt really ashamed of herself. She wanted to say something to Katie, to tell her that she was sorry and she had been a cow, but she didn't dare approach her. However, she knew she had to do something to make reparation. She would ask some of her friends what she should do.
At that moment Katie looked up from her painting and saw Kylie looking at her. Katie's stomach lurched. Olivia and the others thought that Kylie had learned her lesson, but Katie wasn't sure they were right. What if Kylie was just biding her time? She looked away quickly. The memory of how Kylie had humiliated her still made her cheeks burn. Despite everything Miss Swan had said to her, and despite Olivia and her friends' support, Katie found it hard to put what had happened at the audition behind her. Every time she walked down a corridor she was acutely aware of the other pupils and was convinced that they were laughing at her behind her back.
Jon finished giving notes. He glanced at his watch again and wished Amber would hurry up. A small circle had gathered round Theo and they were cheering and whooping. Theo appeared to be having a tap-dancing competition with Eel and Will Todd, and from what Jon could see Theo was enjoying every moment of being soundly beaten.
“We won! We won!” shrieked Eel delightedly.
“I'm way out of practice,” said Theo, who
was extremely breathless. “It's years since I did any serious dancing. I do love it so. I'd love to tap dance on a stage again. Except for
most princes are charming but really rather dull. But, Eel and Will, you won fairly and squarely and you deserve a prize. What would you like?”
Eel's eyes brightened. “Well, I've been trying to organise a trip to Somerset House for us all to go ice skating. But most people say it's too expensive and they can't afford it.”
Olivia looked embarrassed. “Eel, I don't think Theo meant something massive like that,” she said quickly. “It's too much.” She turned to Theo. “I'm sorry, she's not normally so grasping, honest.”
Theo grinned. “No, I think she's right, and besides, all you Swans deserve a treat. I'll get my PA to arrange it for everyone involved in
. My treat. Maybe once the panto previews are over and before the first night.”
A great cheer went up and Eel squealed and flung her arms round Theo. “I could give you a few free tap-dancing lessons in return, if you like. I think you've got some talent. You would be quite good if you practised.”
Olivia couldn't believe the cheek of her little sister but Theo just grinned. “I might take you up on that, Eel.”
At that moment Amber Lavelle sailed into the theatre, dropping her fake fur coat the arms of the PA trailing behind her. She was wearing a tight leather catsuit and she had a crimson scarf wrapped around her throat that matched the gash of red lipstick on her mouth.
“How's the voice, Amber?” asked Jon sympathetically.
“Dreadful. Absolutely dreadful. I can barely whisper. And to make things worse, Kasha Kasparian has knocked me off the number-one spot in the singles' chart. I'm prepared to forgive him, though, because he's really rather cute. Oh, sometimes I think I'll just chuck it all inâ¦” She paused as if expecting a storm of protest, and when it didn't come she added brightly, “But of course my fans would never let me. They'd be devastated.”
Jon muttered sympathetically. “Amber darling, do you think you could manage a little rehearsal? Theo has been waiting for ages.”
“Of course, Jon, but no singing. My doctor says I must rest my voice. I'll just go and
touch up my make-up.” And she sashayed off jabbering very loudly to someone on her mobile. She appeared to have forgotten all about resting her throat.
“Diva,” whispered Eel, just loudly enough for those around her to hear.
“I didn't hear that, Eel,” said Jon, and although his voice was sharp there was a twinkle in his eye.
Georgia finished reading the speech and waited. The director whispered something to the man next to him, who then whispered something to the woman next to him. Georgia strained to hear what they were saying.
“I don't know,” said the woman, appraising Georgia with her grey eyes as if she was thinking of putting a bid in for her at an auction but wasn't sure she was worth the money. “She might work, but I suppose that depends on who you cast as Zelda's friend, Trinity. We don't want two blondes. That would never do.”
“Maybe we could dye her hair,” said the director, as if Georgia wasn't standing there right in front of him. She was beginning to feel
quite angry, but she bit her lip and said nothing. The woman rifled through the photos on her desk.
“Of course, Aeysha's already dark; you wouldn't have to dye her hair.”
Georgia froze. There was no way Aeysha was going to get the role just because she wasn't blonde. “I'd be happy to dye my hair,” she blurted out. In fact, what she wanted to say was that she would dye her hair purple, cut off her right arm or donate a kidney if that's what it would take to get the role. But of course she didn't.
“Maybe we do want a blonde?” mused the director. He looked bored. “Or maybe we don't. Decisions. Decisions.” He suddenly brightened. “I know â we need a redhead.”
“Actually,” said Poppet nervously, “you weeded out all the redheads at the first-look stage. You said you were certain that Zelda wasn't a redhead.”
“Oh, did I?” said the director absently. He scrutinised Georgia again for what felt like hours. “Thank you, Georgina,” he said eventually. “We'll let you know.”
“Georgia,” said Georgia vehemently. “It's
not Georgina, it's Georgia.”
The director smiled weakly. “Of course, of course. Georgia. I knew that.”
Georgia glared at him, enraged. They had called her back again and again, made her jump through hoop after hoop like a performing seal and they didn't even know her name.
“Well, you don't behave as if you do,” she said furiously, and stalked out of the door banging it hard behind her. As soon as the door closed, she regretted what she had done. She was such an idiot! And it wasn't as if she didn't know better. She had behaved badly on her very first audition soon after she'd arrived at the Swan and she had vowed never to behave like that again. And now she'd done just that, at what was one of the most important moments in her life. She'd blown it completely by losing her temper.
It was over for her now. Aeysha was going to get the part. She just knew it. She put her hot head against the cool wall. She wanted to feel pleased for Aeysha, but she couldn't. All she felt was jealousy.
Katie watched Georgia leave the building from
across the street. Then she waited for a black cab to pass, crossed the road and walked quickly over to the entrance, where she pushed the buzzer marked Kylight Productions.
“It's Kate Carmichael,” she said into the intercom, looking nervously over her shoulder. She felt a bit sick. She was really worried that she would be spotted or, worse still, that she would run into Georgia or Aeysha and then her secret would be out. Both of them had separately asked if she wanted to join them all at lunch over the last couple of days but she had made an excuse on each occasion. She couldn't bear to look either Aeysha or Georgia in the eye.
She walked slowly up the stairs. She knew what she was doing was wrong. She had told herself that she wasn't going to come this afternoon. After she'd been persuaded back to the Swan after the audition fiasco and her mum got the job on
it had been her intention to give up the Zelda auditions. Things were definitely looking up for them both and her mum was transformed. She had given the landlord a piece of her mind and he had immediately sent someone round to do the repairs to the flat. Lily was cooking again and had taken over all the
laundry too. Best of all she woke up with a smile and couldn't wait to get to the Swan to work on the designs for
. It felt to Katie as if she and her mum did have some kind of future.
So she had no excuse for carrying on trying to get the role of Zelda. But the lure of playing the part was so strong: it was like being locked in a room with a bar of chocolate when you're starving hungry. It was so hard to resistâ¦
Three times Katie had tried to do the right thing, and three times she'd failed. The morning after her mum had announced her good news, she'd knocked on Miss Swan's door to confess, but the headmistress had been too busy to see her and Katie had fled. Then when she was walking down the corridor that morning she had noticed Kylie, in a gaggle of the other girls, staring. It wasn't the first time she had seen Kylie looking at her. She knew that Kylie had been told off by Miss Swan, so what if she was plotting her revenge? If Katie got thrown out of the Swan again, they'd be straight back where they'd started.
Even then she had been determined to do the right thing. But when she had rung Kylight Productions, Poppet had started prattling
away before Katie could tell her that she was withdrawing from the auditions.
“How are you, Kate? I know everyone is very excited about seeing you again this afternoon. I know I shouldn't say this, but between you and me I know you are one of the favourites to play Zelda. They all love you.”
“Do they?” said Katie doubtfully.
“Definitely,” said Poppet. Then she added conspiratorially, “I
shouldn't say this but you're my favourite. I think you'd be a brilliant Zelda. You were born for it.”
Katie's heart had started racing. How she would love to play Zelda! Maybe she shouldn't chuck it in now when she was so close to the prize. Maybe she should keep her options open for just a little bit longer.
“Anyway, sweetie, what can I do for you?” asked Poppet.
“Oh, nothing,” said Katie. “I was just checking that you really were expecting me.”
“But of course we are,” said Poppet, surprised. “Looking forward to it. You're going to be a star.”
A star! It was what she'd always wanted, since she was tiny.
Katie walked up the stairs to the office where she knew everyone was waiting for her. She didn't feel like a star. She felt shabby for the way she was deceiving everyone, but she felt she had to hedge her bets. And there was one thing she really wanted to know: after everything that had happened, was Katie Wilkes-Cox still good enough to get a major role?
Alicia craned her neck and looked back through the rear window of the taxi. She could have sworn that she'd just glimpsed Katie Wilkes-Cox standing in a doorway opposite the Kylight offices. But Katie should be at the Swan. It must have been a trick of the light, thought Alicia, that made one blonde teenage girl look much like another, and because Katie was playing on her mind. Only yesterday morning Katie had knocked on her door and said she'd like to see her, but she'd had to send her away because Sheridan had been on the line demanding to know exactly how big Amber and Theo's names would be on the posters, and she hadn't had had time since then to seek Katie out. Alicia looked at the piece of paper in her hand on which Sheridan had written all the things that
it was essential for Theo and Amber to have in their dressing rooms: four bottles of fizzy water, two bottles of still, a bowl of fruit (no bananas), mixed nuts, two cartons of cranberry juice, dark chocolate. Alicia snorted. Theo and Amber would be lucky to have a dressing room at all, such were the cramped conditions backstage at the Swan theatre, let alone free snacks. She sighed. She seemed to be spending more time attending to the demands of her old Swans than looking after the needs of the current ones.