The bell sounded. People jumped to their feet and gathered their things.
“And don’t forget there’s a unit test on Friday!” Mr. Herman, our math teacher, called out over the noise.
A collective groan rose up from the class. Some people started to argue for a postponement till Monday to give them more time to study. On any other day I would have stuck around and joined in the argument. But not today. Today I needed to get out of the classroom as fast as I could. I had something more important to think about than a math test. I threw my books into my bag and joined the crowd funneling out of the room. I’d gone only a few steps when I almost bumped into Natasha, my best friend. She flashed me a big smile. Smiling was the last thing on my mind.
“Are you ready, Shirli?” Natasha asked.
“We don’t have to go,” she said. “We could go to the mall, get a soda instead, maybe buy something.”
“And just not look at the cast list?” I asked.
“It’ll still be there tomorrow.”
“Tash, I’ve waited all week. Do you really think I can wait another day?”
She flashed that smile again. “Patience is a virtue.”
“This coming from you, the least patient person I know?” I asked.
“Okay, you’re right, and I was just joking. Let’s go and look.”
The hallway was packed, and it felt as if we were salmon fighting our way upstream. We were the largest junior high in New Jersey, but the building didn’t seem big enough to hold all 1,600 of us who called this place our home away from home. We squirmed and shuffled our way forward.
“You know you have nothing to worry about,” Natasha said.
“Thanks. Neither do you.”
“Oh, I’m not worried, Shirli. You know that.”
Natasha and I had been friends, and pretty much inseparable, since third grade—like two peas in a pod, or peanut butter and jam. But there was a big difference between us. Natasha had never been in a school show before. In fact, she had only tried out this time because I’d practically dragged her to the auditions. It really didn’t matter to her whether she got a part or not. The problem was that for me it mattered way too much.
“Ms. Ramsey really likes you,” she pointed out. I knew she was trying to reassure me.
“She likes everybody,” I said.
“It’s more than that. I think she sees herself when she looks at you.”
I laughed. “Like she’s looking in some sort of fun-house mirror?”
Ms. Ramsey was our drama teacher. She was in her early thirties but looked a lot younger. She was blond and slim and moved in this slinky, smooth way like someone who’d had years of dance training. We couldn’t have been more different in appearance, but I guess I had the same way of moving, thanks to my own dance classes.
“I didn’t mean the way you two look,” Natasha continued. “Ms. Ramsey is so beautiful.”
“Come on, you know what I mean. You’re really pretty, but not like her. You look more like me!”
Well, true, we did look a lot alike, even though my family was eastern European and Jewish, and Natasha’s was Portuguese and Catholic. But where the heck was this going?
“I mean she sees you as being talented like her.”
“Thanks, Tash.” Now that was a compliment.