Excerpt for The War on Hormones by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


The War on Hormones


Copyright © 2017 by Francis Bass

All rights reserved.


Title, subtitle, and byline font “junko’s typewriter” by Junko Korhonen

Cover photo font “Rokkitt” by Vernon Adams


Distributed by Smashwords.


Table of Contents


The War on Hormones

Afterword




May twenty-third of my junior year, in a moment of absent-mindedly checking my phone, I received the best email of my life. Heading it was the Silver Path Performing Arts School logo: silver lettering on a purple field with a winding road cutting through the middle. Beneath this, they congratulated me on my acceptance into the school. I read it on my cell during AP Language and Comp, my last class of the day, and I strained to contain myself. Though I wanted to, I didn’t shout or jump or punch the air in triumph. The deadweights sitting around me wouldn’t have understood. They didn’t even know the difference between “theater” and “theatre.” They thought Medea was a movie series from the 2000s. The one kid in that class involved in theatre thought that acting meant just reading lines—at least, that’s what he always did on stage.

And not a one of them was neutralized. Which is fine, if you have no ambition.

While they were all talking about plans for summer—going to some beach or enjoying being out of school or totally hanging out, like, a lot more—I kept thinking I couldn’t wait for summer to come and go. But as long as I had to wait two and a half months before going to Silver Path, I was going to use them. I started then a list of plays I would read or watch that summer, ones I’d heard of but never seen.

When I got home and told my parents, they showered me in praise and smiles. Whether they really cared about me getting into a performing arts school or not, I don’t know. They were definitely excited that I’d be attending a school exclusively for neutralized students. Just like with prescription schools, Silver Path could only require students be neutralized if they paid for the monthly check-up that ensured the neuts didn’t spread out from the brain and destroy testosterone elsewhere in the body—a relief to my parents’ budget.

Even so, they didn’t want to give me the money to buy all the scripts I wanted, so I exhausted my own savings buying physical copies of all the plays on my list—physical copies so that I could mark them up with blocking and notes. I took over the basement and spent most of the summer down there. It was a large, private space where I could watch recordings of plays, read aloud from scripts, and practice monologues.

Of course, I stayed neutralized over the summer. I even started eating brain food smoothies that were supposed to especially nourish the neutralizers. My brother James couldn’t wait to kill the neuts, and he started going out with this girl Amy. I really didn’t care that James wanted to throw his life away, but it was irritating, studying in the basement, then having the two of them burst in with their hands crawling all over each other, and having to argue with him about how I could only study down there and they could go over to Amy’s house if they wanted to fuck.

When it came time to get neutralized again, James flipped out at mom and dad and said he was in love with Amy. It didn’t matter, because Amy got neutralized and instantly lost interest in James.

So I was glad I’d chosen to stay neutralized over the summer. I didn’t want any part in what James went through. Soaking my hypothalamus in testosterone and getting used by some girl—or using some girl myself. No thanks.

I was going to be an actor.


* * *


Silver Path was brand new, a pioneer in requiring that it’s students be neutralized. Because of this, our there were only twelve kids in our senior class. Not many others saw the value of attending a school for one year, but one year was better than nothing—especially for getting into a good college.

We still had core classes. I had to take an English class and a social studies course, other students had to take math or science depending on what credits they still needed to graduate—but the other four classes were strictly theater. Even though we hadn’t gone through all the other courses, we seniors were automatically placed in the advanced classes—Acting IV and Advanced Theatre History being the ones we were all in. Other classes included Dance IV, Vocal Music IV, and Advanced Playwriting. I wasn’t interested in the musical theatre stuff, so I took Advanced Playwriting and Advanced Theatre Tech.

The first day, my excitement built as I drove out through the strip malls and suburbs of the Athens outskirts and into the pine trees, then down a road just off the highway that lead to the converted ministerial college. It was just a few tall buildings, but they looked impressive. The newest addition was an edifice slightly out of place, with its gleaming metal roof and cleaner, redder bricks. That was the new auditorium, and I couldn’t wait to get inside it.

All my excitement was cut short when classes actually began, and each teacher passed out huge forms to be filled out and massive syllabi that somehow made performing arts boring. At lunch I went out into the courtyard area, between the Music wing and the Acting wing. There were several picnic tables there, and I sat at an empty one. A group of freshmen sat at another table, and there were a few other loners, but most of the other students and all of the senior class had gone out to the front, where the ground was grass and not concrete, and the view was of the forestry and countryside surrounding the school and not smeary brick walls. I pulled out Antigone, and read it as I ate.

About halfway through, the bony ginger girl from my world history and theatre history classes sat down across from me. “Hey,” she said. I might’ve told her to leave me alone if I was reading a different play, but I’d read Antigone twice before, so I put it down. “Edward, yeah?”

“Yes,” I said.

“You’re a senior, right?”

“Yes.”

“Awesome. Same. What are you reading?”

Antigone.”

“Oh, cool. I did a monologue from that a few years ago, ‘I choose death’ and all that. I hate reading that play, but I love it, you know?”

I glanced at the book. “It’s a good play.”

“No, I mean like, all the tragedy of it. It’s torture, but it’s so awesome.”

“Yes, that’s the point.”

“I know, it’s great.”

I opened the play up again.

“I’m Maya, by the way,” she said.

“Okay, Maya.”

I read for the last ten minutes of lunch, then headed to my fourth period, and continued through the slog of hardcopy papers with signatures needed.

The last class of the day was Acting IV, and instead of handing out a big list of mind-numbing dates and requirements, Mr. Obrecht gave us copies of a script.

We would be putting on a show composed of duet scenes. I was to do a duet scene from The Crucible with a girl named Anna McClaren. Mr. Obrecht passed out photocopies of the scenes we’d be performing and allowed us all to get with our partners and start talking about the scenes. After struggling to remember who Anna McClaren was, a girl with cropped, bright white hair strode across the room to take the empty seat beside me.

“Have you read the play?” I asked her.

She stared at me, eyebrows lowered. “Yes. I’ve read The Crucible.”

“Well, some people haven’t,” I said. “I was just making sure.”

“Have you?”

“Yes, clearly.”

Her shoulders rolled in a shrug.

“Do you want to read through it—the scene I mean?”

“Why?” she asked.

“So we can get a feel for the scene.”

“We’ll do that during the two weeks we’ll be spending rehearsing.”

“Well we can start now.”

“You can,” she said. She took out her phone, and began tapping at it.

I cleared my throat. “Do you not want to do this?” I asked.

“The duet? Sure I want to do it. I just don’t want to do,” she looked around the room at the other pairs, bubbling about their scenes and marking all over their scripts, “this.” She went back to her phone.

My first scene of the year, and I was partnered with a slacker. I started studying my lines then. John Proctor was trying to reconnect with his wife. I pulled out my planner and made a note to read through The Crucible with an eye toward John’s relationship with Elizabeth and Abigail, and try to find some clips online.

“What scene are you two doing again? The Crucible?”

I looked up and saw Maya turned around in the desk in front of mine. “Uh, yeah.”

“John and Elizabeth? John and Abigail?”

“John and Elizabeth,” I said.

“That makes sense. They probably wouldn’t want us doing a scene like that.”

“Like what?”

“Passionate. Lustful. Yours is the closest to a romantic scene, but it’s about a lack of romance, you know?”

“Romance is overdone,” I said. “That’s why there’s no obvious love scenes.”

“Or maybe Mr. Obrecht thinks we can’t display those kind of emotions.”

“That would be dumb.”

“We’ll see what he picks for the full-length.”


* * *


The second day of school, the classes inched closer to what they were supposed to be, and further from paperwork extravaganzas. At lunch I finished Antigone, and Maya didn’t reappear. Even with my lazy scene partner, I was looking forward to Acting IV, where we were getting right into it. At the start of class we moved from the classroom to the auditorium, a large space shaped like a funnel. The angles and curves of the room, the balcony seating, the curtains, the windows, all pointed toward the stage—a huge hunk of black painted wood that could be grand enough for Les Miserables or intimate enough for No Exit.

We all spread out and found quiet enough corners where we could work our scenes.

“I’m mostly memorized,” I said. “If I paraphrase anything, you can tell me, right?”

“No.”

I breathed out of my mouth. “And why not?”

“I only memorized my part.” With a cock of her head.

“You’re memorized?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay then, do you want to run through it?”

“Sure.”

We did, both of us standing stiff, staring at each other.

“There,” she said.

“Ok, we need to figure out the blocking of this then,” I said. “I think there’s a big shift when you say ‘it is a mouse no more,’ and so until then you could be sitting down and—”

She picked up her script. “I’ve already got my blocking.”

“What?”

“I’m sitting down then I rise and bring you the stew, then I bring you the cider, then I sit back down until I get up and go to you and tell you to go to Salem,” she sat and stood and walked about the front row seats as if they were the dining room chairs in the Proctor house. “And then I close myself out to you when I say you weren’t honest and sit down, and the end.”

“Well what am I doing?”

“Whatever the hell you want, it’s not going to affect me.”

“Of course it is.”

“No it’s not, cause you’re just going to stand up whenever you see an exclamation point, and you’re going to advance toward me whenever you say ‘listen’ or ‘look you’ or whatever the hell it is, and it’s not going to affect me because I’m being detached the whole time.”

“You sure are,” I muttered.

“You want to do it with the blocking then?”

“No, I don’t, given that we don’t have any blocking.”

“Maybe you don’t. I did my homework.”

“This is a duet scene, we need to do the blocking together.”

“I’ve had bad experience with that.”

“I don’t care. This isn’t about you and me, this is about John and Elizabeth, and despite what you think, Elizabeth still cares about John.”

Anna looked me in the eyes for a few seconds, and I realized it was the first time she’d made extended eye contact.

“How would you do the blocking then?” she asked. “For both of us.”

I walked over to the stage left chair. “Here you are. I’m over there,” stage right, “I walk in, you bring me food—that’s all very straightforward, we just go with the stage directions in the script. Then, after I talk about the beauty of Massachusetts, I acknowledge the awkwardness, and we start talking about Salem, and no, I don’t stand up when I yell at you about Mary Warren,” I pointed to the stage right chair, “I stay seated, and then you have your ‘Back off, you don’t know me’ moment,” Anna chuckled, “and you start coming over toward me,” I walked toward the stage right chair, “telling me about Salem. I’m sitting here,” I sat, “I was leaned toward you, aggressive, now I start to hear the horrors of what you’re saying and I shrink back, closing myself, trying to deny it.”

Anna joined me suddenly. “Then I put my hand on your shoulder and tell you to go to Salem.”

“You do?”

“I’m trying to get through to you. This is how you wanted me to be earlier when you were talking about strolling through the countryside, you wanted that connection, now I’m using it because I know it’ll get through to you.”

I thought about it. Clever. I got up, “Hold on. Let me get my script, I need to be writing this down.”


* * *


Within two weeks I knew that Acting IV was my favorite class. English IV was a drudge of short responses and long responses, and Government was just as uninteresting—a one-man show performed by someone with a monotone voice, droning over amendments and court cases and bureaus and occasionally inserting liberal remarks into it all. Advanced Playwriting I enjoyed, because we read lots of plays, and Theatre History I liked for the same reason (although any of the history that we covered was stuff I already knew—Thespus, Socrates, commedia dell’arte, Shakespeare, Chekov, etcetera etcetera etcetera.)

And Advanced Theatre Tech was interesting from time to time, but we hardly did anything in that class. We’d get some really simple vocab sheet or fill-in-the-blank assignment each day, finish it within ten minutes, and do nothing for the rest of the period. I was fine with that. It meant I could work on other classes in which we actually did things. Maya sat next to me in that class, and talked a lot, and would always ask me what I was working on.

“Playwriting,” or “memorizing,” or “history,” I’d respond.

Then she’d soliloquize about her own homework with playwriting or memorizing or history for the next two minutes or so, until she finally took the hint that I wasn’t going to talk to her, and she’d turned and talk to Anna, or Drew Jones. I’d say she goofed off and talked too much, but in Acting IV she was always on task, and that’s what mattered most.


* * *


After our duet show, in Acting IV we worked on the full-length production The Odd Couple—the Neil Simon play which defines a dramatic foil. We all auditioned for it within a week of it being announced. I chose a monologue from another Neil Simon play, Brighton Beach Memoirs, where Eugene is talking about how hot his cousin is. I wanted to prove that despite the fact that I don’t experience the feelings that Eugene has, I can still portray them—and exceedingly well, at that.

But Mr. Obrecht didn’t think so. He put me as an understudy for Roy, one of the poker players that only show up for a few scenes towards the beginning of the play. The two leads, Drew Jones and Tyler Thompson, were fantastic. I can see why they were cast. But their understudies were Rick Ortiz—who could sell a joke but not much else—and Eric Motts—who performed everything at an extreme. I wished I’d at least been an understudy of one of their parts.

During blocking, we understudies all sat in the front row and made notes in our scripts of where to stand and when to cross, but once that was done we sat in the back. I worked on homework for other classes, or on memorizing for the play. The others usually screwed around on their phones or played card games. Every now and then we’d get up on stage, but most of the time Mr. Obrecht was working with the real actors.

A couple weeks from the show, I asked Rick if he even knew his lines.

“Yeah. ‘Boo-hoo, my wife left me,’ ‘Clean up your mess,’ and ‘Oh no, my meat loaf!’ I think that’s about it.”

I stared at him, slouched in his chair, legs kicked up on the next row of seats, his belly pushed into a round lump at the crook of his body.

“I know them,” he sat up straight, “I just don’t know them as well as Tyler. We hardly ever get a chance to rehearse.”

“You can still run lines with yourself—or one of us.”

“I have. I do! What does it matter anyways, we’re not even having an understudy show.”

“Do you know what an understudy is?” Anna spoke up.

Rick looked around, found Anna—she was seated in the row behind the two of us. “Huh?” he said.

“Never mind.”

“What did you—”

“You’re an understudy in case one of the actors can’t do it,” I said. “Not for your own sake. Let’s run lines.”

“I said I know them.”

“Great, then you should be good at running them.”

“‘Oh, I don’t know, what have you got?’” Anna prompted.

“I don’t see why you’re picking on me—” He put up his hands. “Eric’s the one that only knows the first scene.”

I glanced to Eric for his response, but he had earbuds in.

“We can gang up on him later,” Anna said. “Now come on, ‘What have you got?’”

“Onion broil.”

At that point Mr. Obrecht yelled “Y’all in the back! We can hear you, quiet!”

“Come on,” Anna said, “let’s run this outside.”

As the two of them went out to run lines for the Pigeon sisters scene, I walked over to Eric and had the same conversation I’d had with Rick, except when I prompted him with a line, he said, “Uh …”

So I started learning Oscar’s lines.


* * *


“What are you working on?” Maya asked

“Memorizing.” I wrote carefully, neatly, and deliberately each letter of each word of the monologue.

“Bullshit.”

I looked up. Maya was frowning. “What do you mean?”

“Bullshit you’re memorizing, like two weeks ago you said you’d finished.”

“I know,” I said. “I’m done memorizing Roy, I’m memorizing for Oscar now.”

I looked back to the paper.

“Isn’t Eric the understudy for that part? Oh, but you think he’s shit—which he is—”

I chuckled at that assessment.

“—and so you’re … then you’re memorizing for a part that you’re most likely not even going to play just because you don’t want Eric to.”

“Yes, and he’s hardly memorized at all.”

“Damn. That’s ridiculous. I mean, it’s unrewarding enough being an understudy, but now you’re going to double that by being ready to play two parts.”

“I guess. It’s not hard though.”

“What, are you one of those superhuman, photographic-memory-type people?”

“No, I’m just quick at memorizing.”

“By rewriting?” She leaned over my desk, red hair whipping against my arm. “That’s what this is, isn’t it?” She tapped the paper.

“Yeah. And no. I mean, no and yes.”

“I have no idea what you’re saying.”

“I don’t do it by rewriting, but yes that is what this is. I just make meaning with the words, figure out why every single one of them has to be that word—from the character’s perspective. And once you think of it like that—and once you study a text so closely—it sinks in pretty quick.”

“Yeah, I get that. I do that kind of stuff after memorizing though.”

I went back to writing, ready for her to talk about her memorization process again.

“All that characterization stuff,” she said. “I can’t do it until I’ve got a grip on the lines. Then I get way into the character—thinking about what they do outside of the scene, thinking about things that aren’t even really relevant to the play.”

I looked back up. Maybe I could benefit from hearing about another actor’s process. For the moment, I was interested.

“Even thinking at random times, What would Cecily Pigeon do if she was in this situation I’m in right now? And having conversations between myself and the character.”

“That sounds very …”

“Obsessive?”

“You could say that. But it works—I mean, you’re a good actor because of it.”

She beamed. “Thanks, Edward.”

“Yeah.” I went back to writing.

“Do you … would you like to go out some time?”

I put my pencil down. “Go out?”

“Yeah. Like, get coffee? Or something? I think it’d be fun.”

I kept staring at the word I’d just written. Take. The black, scratchy marks against the pulpy white paper. “No thanks.” I tried to come up with the rest of the line.

“Okay.”

it anymore, I wrote, and continued writing the rest of the scene. I didn’t look up from the paper until the beeping ring of the bell.

I kept working on memorization during Acting IV, the final class of the day. I focused on the step of my feet when I walked to my white sedan. But once I was on the highway, and the monotony of green trees was whipping by, I couldn’t distract myself from thinking, What the hell happened? Maybe it was nothing. Just her being friendly. But it seemed like more than that. Which was impossible. And why was it nagging at me so much?


* * *


On November twenty-fifth, two weeks before the show would open, Tyler didn’t show up to class. Drew told Mr. Obrecht that Tyler had texted him, saying he had a severe fever, and would probably be out for the next week. Eric Motts stepped in that day, and the next, and slowed the process down to a tedious, jerking trudge.

On November twenty-sixth, Drew told Mr. Obrecht that Tyler had texted him, and the fever was due to a neutralizer overgrowth, and he wouldn’t be back for the next three weeks. Mr. Obrecht dispensed a few swears. Once again, Eric Motts was atrocious. After the rehearsal, while everyone else packed up, I walked down the aisles to where Mr. Obrecht sat. All I could see of him was his bald scalp with its fringe of faded brown and gray hair. Reaching him, I asked, “Mr. Obrecht?”

“Yes Edward?” He turned his always flushed face toward me.

“I wanted to let you know, I’ve completely memorized Oscar.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I memorized the part of Oscar. For the play. So, in case you want to replace Eric—

“I cast Eric as the understudy for Oscar,” he said, with no indication of what he meant by it. “Let me see then. Drew!”

Drew had his backpack on, heading to the door. He turned around.

“Drew, come over here!”

Drew came over. “What is it?”

“Go through the first scene of act two.”

“Like … both parts?”

“No, just your part. Edward will be Oscar.”

Drew looked at me quizzically. “Alright then. ‘That’s funny, isn’t it?’” he began.

And we went. All the words I had been hunched over, closely studying, bloomed into life right there. We sparred and danced and pushed and pulled with the lines, and I had trouble not cracking up at some of them.

“That’s fine,” Mr. Obrecht said after a couple minutes.

“Holy crap!” Drew said. “I thought we were screwed, but—I mean, that was maybe as good as Tyler!”

I turned to Mr. Obrecht. “So, am I—”

“No,” he said. “I’m going to give Eric a couple more days to pull his shit together. Then I’ll consider putting you in.”

Within a couple days, Eric had act one mostly memorized, but act two was still awful. When I went up to Mr. Obrecht at the end of class, Drew was already there talking with him. Drew wasn’t tall, but he had a full figure and a hard jawline that made him seem like he was on equal footing with Mr. Obrecht. “So, you’re putting Edward in, right?” he asked.

“No,” Mr. Obrecht said. “Eric’s getting off-book, he’ll play Oscar.”

“But he’s still not memorized fully,” Drew said. “Edward knows the whole thing!”

“I didn’t ask Edward to know the whole thing,” Mr. Obrecht said. “I cast Eric as the understudy for Oscar, which means I wanted him to play Oscar if something happened to Tyler. Not Edward.”

“Edward would be so much better though,” Drew said.

“Edward, you would be good. But Eric is better.”

“Okay,” I said.

I walked away, jaws clamped together.

“That’s such bullshit,” Drew said, walking with me.

“Yeah.”

“God damn it!” he hissed.

“Not anything I can do about it.”

“No, but … shit, that sucks!”

“Okay Drew.”

“Doesn’t it?”

“There’s no need to get worked up over it.” I stopped by the door. “It’s not going to accomplish anything. There’s especially no need for you to get worked up over it, because you’re still in the show. You still get to perform. You’ll still put your hard work to use.” I took a breath.

“It does affect me though. I have to act alongside Eric. It’s like, worse than acting alongside nothing, nothing at least doesn’t clash with my performance. Thin air doesn’t try and turn the play into garbage. Eric is—” Drew combed the air with his hands in search of a word.

“Like I said, there isn’t anything I can do about it.” I walked out then, and headed across campus to the parking lot, and chomped on my teeth again.


* * *


When the show was done and over, people talked about a cast party. Exams were next week, so the person throwing it, Rick Ortiz, decided to have it the first weekend of winter break—two days after our last day of school. A few people were going to kill their neutralizers over the break. I saw no reason for that, since the break was just three weeks long. I imagined it was just teenage rebellion, a way to assert their brief independence from the tyranny of school. I had no intention of going off my neutralizers, or of ceasing work—my work being a play I’d started writing. I debated whether or not to even go to the cast party. I’d never enjoyed them in the past, with their drunkenness or the inflated drama—but that had been Georgia High. I liked the students at Silver Path more than those at my old school, and I thought that, probably, no ridiculous ‘did you hear about’s would erupt from the party. So, I decided I’d go.

I parked at the curb of 317 Glenview at seven o’ clock, when the thing was set to start. The tall house was only half visible through the foliage of magnolias, but after walking down the driveway I could see three figures on the porch. White-haired Anna and black-haired Rick sat next to each other in wicker chairs, while the spike-haired broad-faced Eric stood leaning against the porch railing. As I joined them they were talking about the awkward curtain calls.

“We’d rehearsed it to bow when the lights came up, but they just never came up,” Eric was saying. “So finally—”

“Hey, Edward!” Anna waved.

“Hi,” I said as the others greeted me.

“We’re just sitting out here waiting for people to show up,” Rick said.

“Oh, is no one inside?”

“No, we’re the first ones,” Eric said.

“So, are you still infected?” Anna asked. An “infection” was how she referred to the neutralizers.

“Yes,” I said. “I didn’t see the point in killing them for three weeks. Are you ‘infected’?”

“No.”

“Why?”

Anna leaned forward, cocked one eyebrow. “‘Why?’ Really?”

“Sex?” I asked.

Rick laughed.

“Not sex then?”

“Yes, Edward, sex,” Anna said.

I wondered with whom, but I didn’t ask. Had couples arranged, ahead of time, to have sex over the winter break?

“It was just funny the way you said it,” Rick said. “Like she’d called on you in class and you were just like, ‘sex? Maybe? Is it C., Sex?’”

They all laughed. I gave a chuckle. “Okay. Once again, I just don’t see the point.”

“Of sex?” Eric asked.

“I mean, biologically speaking …” Rick started.

“Shut-up,” Anna said. “There’s not some grand purpose, Edward. Maybe it’s harder to understand while you’re infected.”

“Maybe,” I said.

“I’m getting kind of cold,” Rick said, standing. “You guys want to go inside?”

We went in and got some drinks—sodas in red cups. Rick’s parents weren’t around, but no one had brought alcohol. I’d heard Rick asking people to chip in if they were going to drink, so I supposed no one did.

“Have any plans for winter break?” Anna asked.

“Like vacationing?” Rick asked. “No, I’m just staying here.”

“Yeah, me too.”

“Same,” said Anna. “We should hang out.”

“Really, none of you are going anywhere?” Eric asked.

“Is that surprising?” Anna asked.

“Yeah. I’m going to Colorado, to Powderhorn.”

“Great for you,” Anna said.

“Man, rich people, right?” Rick said.

Anna glanced around Rick’s place, at the kitchen’s granite countertops, at the high, vaulted ceiling, at the sprawling home entertainment system, then looked at him.

“Yeah, I know,” he said. “It was a joke, Anna. I’m not an idiot.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

Joseph was the next to show up, who had actually played Roy, then April, one of the Pigeon sisters. Drew showed up some time after that, and Maya and Kayla, and more people I wasn’t as familiar with who’d done tech for the show. One of the tech people brought weed, and a group migrated out to the back porch with them. I stayed inside by the snack table, drinking soda. Maya came up to me.

“So Edward. I’m guessing you didn’t kill your neuts?”

“No,” I said.

“Not surprising.”

“And you did?”

“God no!”

“Okay.”

“No, it’s better I keep them, I think. I don’t want to get wrapped up with anyone for just a couple weeks and then go through hell when I get infected again.”

“Yeah, me neither,” I responded.

“I mean, I guess to some people they can just turn it on and off like a switch. Get rid of the neutralizers, go wild, then take them again and it’s like it never happened. Maybe I would be able to. I’m not sure. It’s not worth the risk though.”

“Yeah.”

“I would guess anyway. Maybe it is.” As Maya went on about how she was before she was neutralized, I saw Drew and Eric talking. I didn’t like seeing Eric talking to anyone, least of all Drew though. Eric had probably never said an interesting thing in his life, and didn’t deserve to talk to someone who was actually worth a shit.

“It got sprung on me so quickly though!” Eric was saying.

“But you were the understudy, you should’ve known them anyway!”

“… but just kissing definitely wouldn’t be worth it. I don’t know. You’re in the same boat, right, or no?”

“Kissing?”

“Being a virgin?”

“… weren’t even going to have an understudy show,” Eric said. “Would you have put in that much effort?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Same boat.”

“I guess we can’t miss what we’ve never had then.”

“I guess.”

“… Edward did and he wasn’t even Oscar’s understudy!” Drew said.

“Well of course he did!” Eric laughed. “Of course Edward did!”

“What was that?” I asked, side-stepping away from Maya.

“Talking about how Eric flubbed his lines during the Saturday show—skipped a whole scene, I had to ad lib like crazy to get back,” Drew said.

“Oh yeah,” I said. “You were fucking up all over the place.”

Then Maya and Drew both burst out laughing. I cast a blank look at them.

“I’ve never heard you swear!” Maya laughed.

“Have you not?”

“No,” Drew said.

“Damn,” Eric said, mock-offended. “That cuts deep, Edward.”

“Fine.”

He laughed, and went outside. Maya followed. I went and sat down on the sofa. Aside from Drew, who was getting food from the snack table, everyone was now outside. I checked my phone. Seven forty-two. If people didn’t come back in, I’d leave in a few minutes. I didn’t want to smoke because I’d be driving home, and didn’t care for artificial feelings.

Then Drew sat down next to me.

“What’s up Edward?”

“Just sitting here,” I put my phone away.

“You know, I had really pegged you for a stoner.”

I raised my eyebrows at him. He smirked. I laughed. “It doesn’t seem worth it to me.”

“So you’re still on the neutralizers then, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, I thought about killing them. Just to see everyone through a different lens. But I wouldn’t have done anything. It would’ve been weird going back to school and having had some fling with,” he gesticulated, “Kayla or something.”

“Yeah.”

He frowned at me. “Do you say anything else?”

“Yeah.”

“Do it then.”

I considered for a moment. “Eugene O’Neill is pretty cool.”

“As in … Long Day’s Journey?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.” He looked amused. “Care to elaborate?”

“Well all his characters are in constant conflict with themselves. His plays are a really good source for monologues because of that. Every other line of dialogue in his plays is, ‘Screw you! Aw, I didn’t mean it.’”

“Okay,” Drew said. “I’ll have to check him out. Shakespeare’s like that too, with a lot of the soliloquies anyway.”

“Yeah, but that’s cheap.”

“Did you just call Shakespeare cheap?”

“Yes, I did. He just shows you exactly what’s going on inside the character’s head by having them talk to the audience. With Eugene O’Neill, the monologues are characters talking to other characters.”

“It’s part of the style though—it’s not as though there’s the one soliloquy in Hamlet—if there was then it’d be cheap, but no, there’re soliloquies throughout.”

“Is it just Hamlet making the soliloquies?”

“Um … I think so.”

“There’s not a Claudius soliloquy in there somewhere?”

Drew thought hard about it. “He might have a few monologues, but he’s always got someone else in the room …”

I pulled out my phone and looked it up.

“But then—so you’re fine with Hamlet’s soliloquies?” Drew asked while I stared at the loading search results.

“Yes. As a matter of personal preference, I like plays that don’t remind me that they’re plays. But I guess it’s fine if—” The page loaded. I clicked on the first result, it loaded, and I read, “O, my offence is rank it smells to heaven.’”

“That’s Claudius by himself?”

“No, he’s chatting with his pal Guildenstern.”

“I don’t know, he might’ve—”

“About killing Hamlet’s father.”

Drew laughed. “Well, okay then, that soliloquy is a cheat. The rest of them are fine though.”

“Okay.”

He laughed again. “I like how you aren’t bothered at all by the ghost in the beginning. Like that’s not a cheat.”

I shrugged. “It’s part of the conceit. I let it slide.”

“‘Let it slide.’ Just let Shakespeare slide on that one, how considerate.”

“He’s not God.”

“I know, but he was pretty damn good.”

“Yeah.” The door opened then. Anna and a few others came in. “Over done to hell, but …”

“Well yeah, of course. Still good though.”

“As far as a source for monologues, Eugene O’Neill has him beat.”

“I don’t know, there’s some Shakespeare monologues that haven’t been done to death.”

“Obviously ‘to be or not to be’ is tired, ‘oh that this too, too … ’”

“‘If we mortals have offended,’” Anna said.

“Yeah, that’s another bad one,” I said. She sat down on the chair, one leg resting on the arm, one resting on my leg. The weight of her on me, and how comfortable she looked there, felt nice. Like the weight of a dog resting its head on your lap. But Anna wasn’t a dog, she was a round-hipped girl with breasts and thighs, and one of those thighs was in contact with me.

I got up. “You … want the chair?” I asked Anna. It had occurred to me—what if my neutralizers were dying?

“Uh, you can sit there,” she said.

“No, I think I’m gonna go home,” I said.

“Aw, really?” Drew looked genuinely disappointed. I’d have to talk to him more later, I decided.

“I’m feeling a little sick.”

“Oh, sorry,” Anna said.

“See you around Edward,” Drew waved as I walked to the door.

“Bye,” I waved. I walked across the lawn to my car and sat in it. I hadn’t felt turned on by the move, but that feeling was something. I didn’t know what. It seemed awfully close to romance, and I still had a half-year of school left to get through.


* * *


I never ended up hanging out with Rick or Drew, and I certainly didn’t get together with Anna over the break. Family visited us during Christmas, my Aunt Willa and Uncle Tim. They shit-talked the neutralizers, said they were destroying our youth. Jokingly, they said it, of course. Still, that really pissed off Mom.

What a sad youth they must have had, if sex and lust were the only things that brought it value.

I finished writing my play too, over the break. It was a play I’d started as a short scene for my playwriting class. Then it’d been about two brothers then. Now it was a sprawling family drama. As much as I tried to reign it in, it was difficult to cut anything. Eventually, when it was seventy pages long, I determined it was finished, and put it out of mind until I could find some venue or competition to submit it to.


* * *


School began again on January seventh. English IV was the first class of the day. I got there early, the first one. Kayla got there next, then Anna, who took the seat next to me. Normally she sat in the back and talked with Maya.

“Hey,” she said.

“Hey. How was your break?” I asked.

“Pretty good,” she said. “So, are you friends with Rick?”

“We’re friendly.”

“But are—do you talk to him often?”

“What’s often?”

“Sorry. Never mind.”

“I mean, I usually talk to him in the classes I have with him.”

“Then that’s often,” Anna said. “Right?”

“I don’t know.”

“It is. Just … ask him how his break was.”

I stared at her. “Why—”

“See if he says anything about me.”

“Okay.” I nodded.

“And then tell me if he does.”

I nodded. “What happened between you two?”

She bit her lip. “Well, that’s the question, really.”

“You … made full use of your hormonal freedom, I imagine.”

She laughed. “Full use, yes.”

“So isn’t it over now.”

“Yeah, probably. That’s how these things go. But maybe not.”

“Are you two going to date?” I chuckled.

“I don’t know. Something.”

“Isn’t the point of being non-hormonal that you don’t have to deal with,” I gestured vaguely at her, “this kind of stuff?”

“The point of being non-hormonal is that it was the only condition on which my parents would allow me to go to a performing arts school.”

“Oh.”

The first bell rang. More people filed into the class, chattering about the break.

“Well,” I said, “I think it’s a bad idea to get involved, in any kind of way, with anyone here.”

“Thanks for the tip, Ed.”

The first chance I got to talk to Rick was in ATT. I debated whether I should even do it. Anna was a really good actor, and so was Rick. What if they got caught up in some petty nonsense? What would happen to their performances? Drama was infamous for it’s “drama” at my old school, and no one knew how to keep their personal problems off the stage. But I’d already told Anna I’d do it, so I sat down in the seat next to him—not my normal seat, but it didn’t matter, because people constantly moved around in that class.

“Hey Rick,” I said.

“Hey Edward.”

“How was your break?”

“Fun,” he said.

“How was not being neutralized?”

“Funner still. Funner? More fun? It was great.”

Drew sat to my left, behind Rick. “Is it some state secret, who it was?” he asked.

“Who what was?” Rick asked.

“Because I can take a guess from how the two of you were acting at the party,” Drew said.

“Oh. Yeah, we hooked up. Anna and I.”

“You missed it, Edward, but they were … obscenely flirtatious.”

“‘Obscenely’?” Rick said. “For real?”

“Yes,” Drew said.

“You’re just jealous.”

The conversation lulled for a moment.

“Do either of you talk with Anna much?” Rick asked.

“I usually eat lunch with her,” I said.

“Cool.” Rick bobbed his head. “Could you ask her what … like, what our relationship was over the break. Like, what she thought of it.”

“Why don’t you talk to her about it?” I said.

“Wait, wait, Rick,” Drew said. “Are you still interested in her?”

“Yeah.”

“How?”

“True love.”

My mouth opened, Drew leaned in, Tyler, sitting behind us, chuckled.

“I’m joking,” Rick said. “Jesus, you guys. I don’t know! I like her though.”

“And you think that this is a good idea? To pursue this?” I asked.

“Yeah, especially after your track record?” Drew asked.

“This is different. There’s no lust or anything in it, it’s … it’s different.”

“What is your track record?” I asked.

“Getting cheated on,” Rick said.

“I would not get into a relationship with her,” I said.

“Why not?”

“Because with relationships comes bullshit.”

Drew shook with laughter. “With relationships comes bullshit. -Edward Warwick, 2021.”

“Well I don’t even know if she feels the same or—”

“She does, I talked to her earlier today,” I said.

“Wait, she does?” Drew said.

“Don’t act so surprised asshole!” Rick said.

“No, it’s just … that’s really strange. I would not have expected that. Just because … like, an entire semester has gone by without anything like this, and now two people are … good luck to you, Rick.”

“Thanks,” Rick said. “And thanks, Edward—your commentary aside.”


* * *


Once Rick and Anna hooked up, the social ecosystem of Silver Path changed. It was like Rick and Anna had given everyone else permission to start dating. It wasn’t really dating, although it looked a lot like it. There was no sex or physical attraction involved. And it wasn’t so casual. There were only two other couples that I knew, one comprised of Eric and Joseph and one of Tyler and Kayla—at least, I thought it was Tyler and Kayla. It seemed like a large group had formed. Maybe it was the fact that there was one male and he was rather charismatic, but the group seemed like a cult to me.

The first production we were going to do was a showcase of scenes and monologues, and I was cast in a duet scene with Tyler from Much Ado About Nothing. For his part, he was always as focused on the task as he had been during The Odd Couple, and as great an actor—although I discovered he wasn’t really conscious of his acting, or his craft, it just came to him naturally.

One day he asked me if I wanted to get lunch with his group. I wasn’t sure if he was asking me out, or asking me to join, but he’d asked Drew if he wanted to come and Drew had said yes, so for that I agreed to go. It seemed like any time I was with Drew I was also with Rick, Anna, or both of them, and they dominated the conversation. We walked to a nearby ABC. I got a bagel, and sat across from Drew on one end of the large table that had been dragged together by Tyler.

“How’s your monologue going?” I asked Drew quickly, right when I sat down.

“Boring.”

“Really?”

“No. During class anyway. There’s not much left for me to do—and like, I don’t want to just practice it to death.”

“I see.”

He sipped something creamy and iced.

I looked over at the others—Tyler, Kayla, Melissa, and April, talking about bro tanks.

“So, do you understand this group at all?” I asked Drew.

He laughed. “Not really.”

“What’s the idea, every single one of them likes all the others?”

“I don’t think so … because,” he leaned in and lowered his voice, “I know Kayla and April don’t like each other—they might even dislike each other—but I think, to be in the group, at least one person in there likes you.”

“And you like someone in the group.”

“Yeah. Probably that same person that likes you.”

“Unless it’s like No Exit.”

“So like, April likes Kayla, Kayla likes Tyler, and Tyler wants April to say he’s a good person?”

I laughed. “Something to that effect.”

“Or A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

“That would be where Tyler and Kayla like one another, but then April likes Taylor, and—”

“Taylor?”

“Uh,” I laughed again.

“Taylor? Really?”

“What are you two talking about?” Tyler asked.

“Be quiet Taylor,” Drew retorted. He looked back to me and grinned. I wished I could keep talking with him for the rest of the day.


* * *


I wanted to eat lunch with Drew again, but I didn’t know how to insert myself into such a situation without being invited. Fortunately I didn’t have to, because Drew began to eat lunch at the table by the oak, where Anna, Rick, Maya, and I sat. He didn’t join us every day, but he ate lunch with us at least twice a week. I was always a little excited to see him sitting there beneath the tree when I walked up. Often he and Rick would talk about Next to Normal, the musical they’d both perform in in late February, and I’d resign to chatting with Anna, who was equally distanced from all things musical theatre. I was considering asking Drew if he wanted to go see Electra at the community theater, but he sounded pretty busy. The week before the show, they even began doing rehearsals at lunch, and it was just Anna, Maya, and I at the table.

One of these days, I asked Anna, “How long are they rehearsing?”

“All the damn time,” She said.

“Musicals are like boot camp,” Maya said.

“So are plays,” Anna pointed out.

“You don’t have to run up and down the stage in a play though.”

“‘Run up and down the stage’? It’s Next to Normal, it’s a family drama. I don’t think they’re doing any West Side Story shit.”

“Still, they’re more demanding.”

“I’m unconvinced of that.”

“So,” I broke in, “After school even?”

“Duh,” Anna said. “From like, two to six every day. They’re called practically all day for the dress rehearsal and the first performance day.”

Electra was on Thursday, at eight. As I grew distracted in US government I started debating whether or not to ask Drew to go to the show. I figured I’d talk to him in Acting IV, and make a decision based on what he had to say about his schedule. He sat down in front of me just a few minutes before the late bell rang.

“How was lunch rehearsal?” I asked.

“Bad. April didn’t show up, Kayla was late. Hopefully people will get their shit together by tomorrow.”

“Oh. That sucks.”

“Yeah. Well, after school rehearsals have been going smoothly.”

The late bell blooped a few times.

“How long do those last?” I asked.

“Four hours. Two to six. Sometimes six thirty, if notes go long.”

I was in the process of forming my next question, when Mr. Obrecht cleared his throat loudly and droned, “Uh … Yeah, Tyler, Rick, Kayla, Drew—just, those of you in Next to Normal, Ms. Pollon has you guys in the theatre. We worked it out, so you don’t have to do the readings, I’ll put a Z in the gradebooks for those so it won’t count for or against you … but this musical better be awesome, because this is getting ridiculous.”

There were chuckles through the class. Drew picked up his stuff. “No rest for the weary,” he said, and filed out of the room with the others.


* * *


For the next couple days, I hardly saw Drew at all. And not seeing him, I knew with extreme certainty that I wanted to see him. So in between classes I asked Drew if he wanted to go see Electra. His eyes widened and he raised his eyebrows for a moment, and then he said, “Sure.”

It occurred to me, when I was already in my next class (not with Drew) that he may have thought I was asking him out on a date.

In Acting IV I asked Anna what I should do in acting.

“So you weren’t asking him out? You were just asking him as a friend then?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

“That was a mistake.”

“Was it? Can I not just have friends?”

“You should’ve invited multiple people,” Anna said.

“I don’t want multiple people, I just want Drew.”

“Really? What about me and Rick? We could join you.”

“Are you not hearing me? I don’t want other people.”

She stared at me for awhile.

“You are so full of shit, Edward.”

“What—”

“Alright,” Mr. Obrecht stood from his desk, “pull out your scripts.”


Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-34 show above.)