Note: In case you missed it, I decided to go back to two chapters a week early, so there was a chapter on Wednesday (I’m back to Wednesday and Saturday chapters)! Just wanted to make sure you didn’t miss it, since I sprung it on you guys without warning! (I was bad this time 😛 )
Asher let out a heavy sigh as he continued trying in vain to focus on his homework. He’d much rather be at home playing video games or working on his science project, but Penelope was staying after school that afternoon to audition for the school play, and his parents insisted that he stay too, so he could ‘keep an eye’ on his little sister while she waited to be picked up after the audition.
She’s nine, not TWO! Asher thought to himself. Why do they need me to watch her?! Maybe if it were Elaina, he could understand. She was only four years old, after all. But Penelope could handle herself, couldn’t she?
Not to mention that they still didn’t trust him to be home alone with his sisters. So why did he have to babysit at school if he couldn’t at home? Parents are stupid.
“Hey, are you okay?” Lily’s voice called him back to the present.
As soon as Lily had learned that Asher would be staying after school, she’d decided to join him. And though part of him was appreciative of the company, she had been practically hovering over him the entire time. It was starting to get a bit annoying. Why was she acting so weird lately?
“Yeah… Just gotta go to the bathroom.” Asher lied. Honestly, he was just bored out of his mind and looking for an excuse to go wander the halls. Maybe that would help him finally focus.
Thankfully the librarian, Mrs. Lamoreaux, wasn’t very strict about giving out bathroom passes, especially not after school. She simply gave Asher a small nod as he passed her desk, then went back to her computer.
Not really sure where else to go, Asher started off in the direction of the actual bathroom, but he didn’t make it very far. The sound of a familiar voice from behind the heavy double doors of the auditorium gave him pause. Ollie.
He’d almost forgotten that Oliver was staying after school that day too. Though he had no dreams of becoming an actor himself, Oliver liked to humor his mother by participating in the school play every Spring, and it seemed that this year would be no exception. Even from the other side of the door, Asher could hear his best friend’s voice delivering a highly animated monologue at the other end of the auditorium.
Maybe he can come over after auditions, Asher thought hopefully. Oliver had won their Bloodwatch rematch the other night when Asher came over to see Callie’s Oscar. Now it was time for a tiebreaker!
Just when he was about to open the door to try and spy on his best friend’s audition, the echoes of a soft sniffling and weeping reached Asher’s ears. He stopped in his tracks and turned curiously in the direction of the sound. He followed it around the corner, and was surprised to find his own little sister in the middle of the empty hallway, holding her face in her hands and weeping.
“Penny?” He asked, bewildered. “What’s wrong?”
“N-nothing.” Penelope replied, hastily wiping her eyes with the back of her hand at her brother’s approach. “I’m fine.”
“Don’t lie, dummy.” Despite his concern, Asher couldn’t help his annoyance. “What happened?”
“M-my audition…” Her voice trembled as she spoke. “I got scared… I m-messed up so bad…” Penelope paused to choke back a little sob.
“Hey, I’m sure it wasn’t as bad as you think.” He tried to assure her. As much as she drove him crazy, it hurt to see his little sister cry. “Or… Or maybe you can go back in there and see if Mrs. G will give you another chance?” He suggested.
She shook her head. “No. I ruined it! She’s never gonna give me a part now.”
“You don’t know that.” Asher insisted. “And… If you really did mess up that bad, so what?” He tried his best to come up with something to say that would make her feel better about what had happened. “It’s not the end of the world. It’s just some stupid play. It doesn’t really matter, okay? So… stop crying.” Why did that sound so much more comforting in his head?
“You don’t get it!” Though a few tears continued to fall down her cheeks, her pout had been replaced by an angry scowl. “That audition was the most important thing in the entire world! Now I’m never gonna be famous…”
Asher couldn’t help it. He burst into laughter at her words. “Oh my God, Penny… Seriously?”
He shook his head. “Okay, number one, it’s just some dumb school play. An elementary school play. You seriously think any Hollywood people give a crap about that? And number two, there are about a billion other things you could do with your life that are better than being famous. It’s stupid to cry over something dumb like that. Stop being a baby.” Aw, crap. Asher winced inwardly at his own words. He really sucked at this whole ‘comforting’ thing didn’t he?
Of course, his words did nothing to quell the little girl’s rage. “I’m not a baby! You’re just jealous!” Penelope shot back at him.
He laughed again, as much as he tried not to. She was being absolutely ridiculous. “I’m not jealous. I’m just saying you’re wasting your time worrying about this dumb play. It’s not worth it!”
“But it is!” His little sister insisted. “You just don’t get it ‘cause you’re not special like the rest of us…”
Asher felt an intense heat rising up from the pit of his stomach at her words. “What are you talking about?”
“Daddy helps people make music and Mommy makes her pretty costumes.” Penelope explained. “And someday, Lainey’s gonna learn how to play a bunch of cool instruments and I’m gonna be a super famous model and actress…” She narrowed her eyes at her brother. “But what are you gonna do? You’re not special. You just play videogames and read boring science books.”
“So what if I do?” He snapped back in response. “At least I don’t cry like a little baby over a stupid audition.”
“I’m not a baby! Take it back!”
“You first!” Asher insisted. “I am special! Say it!”
“No!” Penelope shoved past him and ran down the hallway then, disappearing into the girls’ bathroom where she knew her brother could not follow.
Damn it. How had trying to make his little sister feel better turned into… that?!
Asher was still fuming with rage when he heard a voice call out from over his shoulder. “Asher? Are you okay?”
He turned around, surprised to find himself face-to-face with one of the most popular boys in the whole school. Holy crap! He knows who I am? He knows I EXIST?!
“Oh! H-hey Landon!” Asher’s voice seemed to jump three octaves as he spoke. He paused before continuing, trying to calm his sudden burst of nerves. “And, uh, yeah, I’m fine.” Asher gave a small shrug, trying to keep his cool the best he could. The last thing he wanted was to look stupid in front of Landon.
“You sure?” Landon glanced over Asher’s shoulder toward the girl’s bathroom. “Was that your sister?”
Asher nodded. “Unfortunately…” He laughed, hoping he sounded casual and still trying to figure out whether he was dreaming. Was Landon Littlehale really talking to him?!
The other boy let out a small chuckle as well. “I don’t have a sister, but if she’s even half as annoying as my little cousin, then I’m really sorry.”
“I’m sure she is, trust me.” He replied. “And that’s when she’s not crying and being extra-stupid and mean like today…” Asher rolled his eyes as he spoke.
Landon appeared thoughtful for a moment. “Well, calling her a baby probably didn’t help…”
“You heard that?” He replied almost guiltily. Oh No… He probably thinks I’m a jerk or something now!
Landon nodded. “I mean, you weren’t wrong. She was being kind of a baby… And she totally dissed you too. What was up with that?”
“Just dumb little sister crap. She’ll get over it.” Asher hoped he didn’t let on just how much his sister’s comments had hurt him.
“Yeah, don’t listen to her.” Landon agreed, giving him a smile. “You gonna need any help getting her outta there?”
He shook his head. “Nah, I’ll send my friend Lily to try and talk to her… Thanks though! For asking.” Asher grinned, feeling like an idiot. Why was everything that came out of his mouth so weird and wrong? Especially in front of Landon, of all people.
“Sure!” Thankfully Landon did not seem to notice Asher’s awkwardness. “I’ve gotta go get changed for the game… But I’ll see you around, Asher. Good luck with your sister! It sounds like you’re gonna need it…”
“Ha! Thanks. Good luck with the game too.” He replied, secretly wondering what kind of game it was, but feeling too stupid to ask. Landon played almost every sport the school had to offer. It was hard to keep track.
Asher watched as the other boy turned away and headed off down the hallway toward the locker room. He let out a breath of relief, grateful that he’d somehow made it through that conversation alive. I hope I didn’t sound like a TOTAL idiot… Almost as soon as Landon had disappeared around the corner, Asher heard the creaking of the auditorium door swinging open behind him.
“Asher? Was that you?” Oliver asked as Asher turned around to face him.
Asher relaxed instantly at the sight of his friend’s face. Between his fight with Penelope and the unexpected conversation with Landon, he was left feeling so strange and on-edge. But no matter what was bothering him, Oliver could always make Asher feel better, just by being there.
“You could hear that? Sorry Ollie… I hope we didn’t mess up your audition.”
Oliver shook his head. “Nah, you know how Mrs. G gets when she’s all ‘in the zone’ or whatever. She didn’t even notice. But I was a little worried… I tried to stop my monologue early so I could come check on you.” He explained.
Asher smiled warmly at his friend, appreciative of his concern. “Thanks, but I’m okay. It’s Penny I’m kinda worried about… Even if she was a huge jerk and doesn’t deserve it.” He added darkly.
Oliver looked around curiously for a moment. “Where is she anyway? Mrs. G told me to come find her. Said she wanted to hear her try her monologue again?” He shrugged.
Asher let out a small laugh. “Knew it. She was crying over nothing…”
“There you are!” A shrill voice called from down the hallway before Oliver had the chance to reply. “Hey, Ollie. How’d the audition go?”
He shrugged as their friend drew closer to them. “Okay, I think… But we’ll see!”
“Aw, I’m sure it was great!” Lily gave him a small smile of encouragement before turning toward Asher. “Hey, what took you so long? I was getting worried!”
”Sorry… Got super side-tracked by Penny.” He explained. “She started being stupid and yelling at me, then Landon showed up, then Ollie showed up…” Asher almost laughed. “Did Mrs. Lamoreaux send you looking for me?”
Lily shook her head. “Nah, I was just wondering what happened… I was starting to think you fell in or something!”
Both boys burst into hysterics at her words, their hearty laughter echoing throughout the empty hallway.
Unfortunately, that turned out to be just the thing to finally capture an adult’s attention.
Mrs. Lamoreaux loomed menacingly at the end of the hallway. Apparently she had noticed Asher’s lengthy absence after all. “This isn’t social hour.” She called out to them sternly as she approached. Though she normally wasn’t as strict as some of the other teachers in the building, it seemed that they had managed to get on her bad side. “Mr. Rosebrook, you’ve been gone long enough.” The librarian beckoned with one hand for him to return. “Ms. LaVallee, either go the the bathroom or come back and get to work. And Mr. Rucker… Where are you supposed to be?”
“Drama try-outs.” He muttered in reply.
“Then I suggest you get back in there before Mrs. Gerard comes looking for you.”
“Yes Ma’am.” Oliver glanced toward Asher. “I’ll find you after auditions.” He whispered to his friend before turning and making his way back into the auditorium.
Mrs. Lamoreaux looked expectantly toward Asher. “Come on.” She called out to him.
“Penny’s in the bathroom… Can you make sure she’s okay?” He said quickly to Lily. “And let her know Mrs. G’s giving her another chance?”
The little girl nodded dutifully, giving him a little salute before disappearing into the girls’ bathroom.
And, knowing he had no choice, Asher followed Mrs. Lamoreaux back to the library where his pile of unfinished homework awaited him.