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Authors: Maureen Johnson

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Scarlett Fever

BOOK: Scarlett Fever
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Scarlett Fever

Maureen Johnson

For Agnetha Fältskog, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, and Her Serene Highness Anni Frid, Princess Reuss von Plauen.

ACT I

Gothammag.com

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t”:
Hamlet
at the Hopewell Hotel

So let’s set the scene, shall we?
Hamlet.
In a hotel. But not one of the grand palaces or tourist farms—a much rarer breed. A tiny, privately owned hotel. It would be fair, and possibly even generous, to call the place
distressed.
The floors squeak, a fine layer of dust covers everything, and most of the furniture in the lobby has an astonishing lean to it, so much so that I actually found myself cocking my head to the side at points.

But what is equally obvious is the true style under the decay. It’s there, like good bone structure. The place is an absolute Deco masterpiece: cherry wood, silver lightning-bolt motifs where you least expect them, poison-purple and tiger lily–orange tinted light from the colored lamps. You pass from the lobby into a modest dining room, now converted into a theater. Like everything else, the chandelier is lopsided, but deliberately so, pulled by a wire draped with silver gauze. The walls are bare but alive with the shadows of a hundred small, guttering candles. The
room is in decadent disarray, as if a seedy royal wedding has taken place soon before.

Which, of course, it has. Welcome to the world of
Hamlet.

Full disclosure: I wanted to dismiss this production as a gimmick, a cheap bag of tricks.
Hamlet
in a hotel…and next
, Othello
in an office.
Macbeth
in a McDonald’s. I’ve seen shows staged in every possible location, but the fact that this one seemed so tied to the establishment—with backstage access to guests—I assumed it was a new step downward in the ever-devolving state of the art.

But this show works. I now think
every
production of
Hamlet
should be staged in a broken-down hotel. This is the play where people constantly come and go—royals, courtiers, messengers, servants, students, performers—and events progress from bad to worse to terminal. All is uprooted in
Hamlet,
no one is sleeping in the right bed, and your stay may be much shorter than you expect. So a hotel…of course! Why not?

This
Hamlet
is also staged like a kind of carnival—a mad, strange circus. It’s an uneven production, overacted at points (Stephanie Damler doesn’t quite know where to pull back on Ophelia’s insanity, and Jeffery Archson’s portrayal of Horatio set my teeth on edge). But there are some true laugh-out-loud moments, mostly provided by the inspired clowning of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, played by Eric Hall and Spencer Martin, respectively. In particular, when Martin careened through the crowd on his unicycle at the start of the show and had an encounter with a closed door—I actually spit-took my drink onto my companion’s shoulder. And I’m not normally a spitter.

Like all good things, it will come to an end, so get your tickets while you can.
(S
HOW CLOSES AUGUST 28, TICKETS AVAILABLE THROUGH TICKETPRO OR FREE TO HOTEL GUESTS
.)

Demo version limitation

RUE IS FOR REMEMBRANCE

After a few hours of fitful midmorning sleep, Scarlett made a second attack on the day and headed for the shower. It always took a moment for the Hopewell water pipes to figure out what temperature you wanted. The default setting was “death by ice or fire.” Scarlett didn’t care at the moment. She would take what came, and what came was cold. Bitter, impossible cold that almost felt good in the heat. She locked her teeth together and accepted it, letting it run down her back. As she reached for her shampoo, she got dangerously close to singing “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair,” a song she learned when Spencer was doing
South Pacific
in high school. She stopped herself just as she opened her mouth. New start or not, there was a line to be drawn, and that line was singing musicals to yourself as serious psychological motivation.

Downstairs, the lobby was empty of people. There were a few guests still staying at the Hopewell, but the numbers were coming down dramatically now that the show was closed and the novelty of the theater-hotel was over. The dining room doors were open, and her father was up on a ladder on the stage platform, unhooking a wire and a silver banner from the tired chandelier.

“I’m going to meet Dakota,” she called.

“Come here a sec.”

Working on the set, her dad practically looked like a member of the theater company. He was in his mid-forties, but didn’t look his age at all. He still had the floppy blond hair and trashy-hipster thrift store clothes of the art student he had once been. The older Spencer got, the more the two just looked like brothers, something that Scarlett found fascinating and strangely unnerving. Sometimes—okay, most of the time—her dad just didn’t seem like someone who should be running a business. Nothing against her dad. Not everyone was born to run a hotel in New York. The job had been thrust on him. He’d fought it for a while when he was just out of college. But then he married his true love and had four kids, one of whom developed cancer. After that, like it or not, good at it or not…the hotel became his life’s work.

“You know about the dinner plan for tonight?” he asked, releasing the last hold of the fabric and sending it drifting to the floor. “Dinner at Lupe’s.”

“Lupe’s?” Scarlett said, pleased to hear the name of her favorite Mexican restaurant.

“Lola set it up. You four are going. Your mom and I are having a date night. It’s sort of a back-to-school treat, and a welcome back for Marlene. So be back around five.”

This last bit of information took some of the shine off of things. For ten wonderful days each summer, Marlene, the youngest Martin, went away. Her cancer survivor group had a camp in the Catskills where they threw one another into the lake and ate marshmallows, and peace would reign on the fifth floor of the Hopewell. Scarlett loved her little sister, of course, but she was not prepared to lie and say she was fun to live with.

Her dad climbed down from the ladder and stared up at the chandelier, which was still crooked after being released from the wire that had been pulling it deliberately out of joint.

“Has it always been like that?” he asked.

“Kinda. It’s a little worse now.”

He
hmmm
ed, and the matter seemed to pass from his mind.

“Listen,” he said, wiping dust from his hands onto his pants, “your mom and I were thinking…since Mrs. Amberson has moved out, and you have school starting…you have enough on your plate right now. We don’t expect you to have to take care of the Empire Suite or any of the other rooms.”

“I don’t?”

“Well, Lola is around pretty much full-time this year, and Spencer’s been doing a lot. And we won’t have as many guests.”

He tried to make that sound like it was a good thing that would just save them all a little time.

“And you have your job,” he added. “How
has
your job been going?”

“It’s fine,” she said. “We’ve worked it out. It’s just a few afternoons a week, a few hours here and there. It’s not bad.”

“Do you want to do it? I know it’s college money, but that shouldn’t be your big concern.”

It was college money. It was a lot of college money. Somewhere out there, a bank account with her name on it was growing.

“All I’m saying is, you can quit. I want you to quit if it feels like too much. The show is done. You don’t have to—”

“No,” Scarlett said. “I want to do it. I…like it.”

A piece of glass fell from the chandelier and landed on the silver fabric, like a dirty, loose tooth. It punctuated their conversation, bringing the matter to a close.

In Biology I, Scarlett had been taught that carbon was the building block of life. They forgot to mention the other element: Element M. Money. Money determined everything. You needed money for your health—they’d learned that lesson when Marlene’s medical bills came in. (Though they were never supposed to talk about that. It was a Martin Family Rule.) You needed money for school. You needed money to get across the city, and to do things on weekends. You needed money to go away for the summer, like most of Scarlett’s friends had. Summer in the city was hot and terrible, and outside of the city there were
opportunities.
If you had the money. Which most of Scarlett’s friends did. Dakota, for example, had been in France at a language immersion program. She had arranged this little picnic in the park to celebrate the fact that they were all back and together. Only Scarlett had been here all along, because she was the most stone broke out of the group.

Scarlett knew better than to resent her friends for being more well off. But sometimes…sometimes it was just a
little
annoying that she had to lead a slightly different life from the rest of them. Her dad could pretend all he wanted, but it did make a difference that she had a job. And when the time came for her to go to college, if they could even afford it, every penny in that account would matter. Her friends had more choices about how to spend their time. They could “improve” themselves. She just had to take what she was dealt.

By the time she reached Central Park, Scarlett was feeling massively sorry for herself. She didn’t exactly see herself as a character right out of Dickens—cleaning chimneys, eating soup made of fishheads and old shoelaces, getting sold to a local blacksmith for a few chickens and a dozen bars of soap—but it was still
pretty bad.
Add to that the fact that Eric was gone, and her tragedy was complete.

Her mood was in sharp contrast to the scene that had been prepared. She found her friends on a quilt of blankets and beach towels. Dakota had a real wicker picnic basket with white-and-green china plates and silverware strapped to the lid. There were cupcakes and tiny sandwiches—all, Scarlett was sure, made by Dakota herself. She had probably worked until four in the morning and then gotten here early to set up. Because that was the kind of person Dakota was. A true friend who spent her nights doing things for others, not wandering around sets looking at pictures and comparing herself to Hamlet. This was a smooth gear change from self-pity to guilt. Scarlett knew she should have gone to Dakota’s the night before to help, but when you’re obsessed, it takes up all your time.

Dakota had outfitted her tall, beanpoley frame in a little blue dress and pulled her dark hair up into two very strange little scrunches by her ears. She sometimes dressed a little bit like she was four years old, but she pulled it off about 80 percent of the time. Chloe and Josh were there as well. Chloe managed to be the kind of person you couldn’t resent, even when she wore short short-shorts that showed off her tanned and toned tennis legs or flashed lasered teeth or wrinkled her nose job. At heart, she was a math genius and a closet nerd. And Josh, Scarlett’s closest guy friend, was a goofy redheaded Brooklynite. His parents were both writers, and he was insanely well-read. He’d been in England all summer, supposedly studying literature. In reality, it sounded like he had been drinking beer and chasing every English girl who crossed his path. Josh was a little like that, but it was okay. The others would be coming soon—Mira, probably Hunter, maybe Tabitha. All of them happy, full of stories.

Yes, the summer was done, and everything was going back to normal. This was the part of normal that she was supposed to like, seeing all of her friends. But nothing felt right. She flopped down on one of the blankets and tried to make herself look carefree, but she landed on a stick and it dug into the meat of her thigh, causing her to start in pain. Slings and arrows. Always the slings and arrows.

“So,” Dakota said quietly. “The show. Is gone. Today, right? Gone?”

Clearly, Dakota was going to waste no time in getting to the point. Scarlett shaded her eyes and nodded, still trying to look like she didn’t have a care in the world, except for that leg wound.

“Good. So Eric’s officially out of your house, and now we can get him out of your life and out of your head. Starting
right now.

“I already started,” Scarlett said. “I erased some pictures of him off my phone this morning. I’m making a new start.”

“No,” Dakota said. “Really.”

“I’m serious,” Scarlett said, taking a little offense at this. “I’m making a new start.”

To be fair, Dakota had every right to doubt her. She had been a little
on message
the past few weeks. She had sent her friends accounts of every single exchange (or non-exchange, as the case may be) that she’d had with Eric. She’d made them examine photos and messages. She had asked for analyses of gestures they hadn’t seen and looks she couldn’t re-create. She had sent Eric’s every move to the far corners of the Internet and the world. And she had made promises more than once that she was going to stop.

So that haunted, twitchy look in Dakota’s eye came from bitter experience. But today was different.

“Today is different,” she said.

“Look,” Dakota said. “Think about it this way. You made out with Eric
twice.
You made out with Josh more than that.”

At this, Josh looked over lazily, sensing his name was being invoked.

“What?” he asked.

“I was just saying that Scarlett made out with you more than she made out with this Eric clown,” Dakota said.

“Oh yeah.” Josh nodded and closed his eyes against the sun.

“It wasn’t the same,” Scarlett said. “Everyone makes out with Josh.”

This was no insult to Josh, and no secret to anyone. Josh was a lovable idiot who was more than happy to let his female friends practice their making-out skills on him whenever they wanted.

“I haven’t,” Dakota said.

“Whenever you want,” Josh said, rolling onto his back.

“I’m just trying to put it in some perspective,” Dakota said, “because, you know, I hate Eric and I am trying to explain why he does not matter in a
new
way. For example, you spent more time making out with Josh than you did Eric.”

“It’s not the same thing,” Scarlett said. “It’s not just how much
time
you put into it.”

“When did you guys make out again?” Chloe asked. “I forget.”

“Last winter break,” Scarlett said. “And it was different.”

“It was three times or something,” Josh said.

“Right,” Dakota went on. “And notice how that didn’t make you crazy? That is because Josh is a good guy, and Eric is a
cheat
and a
sneak.
He is a bad man. Everyone hates him. You have to
get in line
to hate Eric Hall.”

“He’s not a
cheat
,” Scarlett said.

This conversation was a minefield, and with those words, she lifted her foot off a pressure device. Dakota was now set on ticktick-boom.

“Let’s break it down step-by-step,” Dakota said. “Shall we? Eric made out with you while he had a girlfriend. A girlfriend of two years, down in…wherever it is he comes from. South Carolina or whatever…”

“North Carolina,” Scarlett said, feeling the need for the facts to be accurate. “And I didn’t know about her.”

“No. Of
course
you didn’t. He made sure you didn’t. Because he was
cheating on her.
With you. And do not…” Dakota held up a finger on this. “…do not give me this stuff about how he really felt bad about it and how he was going to break up with her but he just wanted to wait until he got home. Do not.”

“Yeah,” Josh said, sounding very bored that this was happening again. “Don’t.”

“I’m not even thinking about him,” Scarlett lied. “You don’t have to…”

“Do you want to know how I
know
you’re thinking about him?” Dakota cut in.

“Nope,” Scarlett replied honestly.

“Because I checked that link to his commercial that you sent me. Remember how you said you were the only person who ever really watched it and how you were embarrassed because the view count was going up really fast? Well, it was at 356 two days ago, and now it’s at 512.”

Scarlett felt her stomach lurch. She had made one of the most basic of life errors, and she saw it immediately: Never give anyone evidence of your crazy.

“I watched it…a few times,” Scarlett said, looking down. “You don’t know it was me.”

“It’s a pizza commercial. You were the one who said you were afraid he’d notice because you were the only person in the world who would watch it besides him.”

“Some people
really like pizza
,” Scarlett countered. “And I’m wrong a lot. Can we be done now? There’s a bee on your drink.”

“Can I make a suggestion?” Chloe was chiming in. Scarlett loved Chloe dearly, but she was a notoriously flirty and flaky dater. She had gone through a total of four “relationships” over the summer. As far as she was concerned, the average life cycle of a couple was a week. If they were
very
serious. Taking relationship advice from her was like taking flying lessons from a kamikaze pilot—someone who thought the only way to land was nose-first into the ground.

“Why don’t you call him?” she asked. “Why don’t you go and see him? Sometimes you just need to make out one last time to get it out of your system. I’ve done that.”

BOOK: Scarlett Fever
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