A Season for Fireflies - Rebecca Maizel

ONE

“CUT! CUT! CUT!” MS. TAFT SAYS WITH A SIGH. “I swear, you two are going to send me to an early grave.”

She means Wes and me.

“Shouldn’t have cast best friends for the leads,” I hear from the front row, but before I can make a face at my other best friend, May, she sticks out her tongue at me. She’s Hero in this spring’s play, Much Ado About Nothing, and the velvet fabric of her dress spills over the armrest of the auditorium chair.

I’ve been standing on this stage since school ended two hours ago and I’m starving. I know it’s nearly time for a dinner break but if I take my cell phone out of my pocket, Taft will confiscate it. Nearly on cue, it vibrates.

“Wes, don’t reach for Penny’s arm during this scene,” Ms. Taft says, and walks onto the stage from the first row of auditorium seats. “I know I sound like a broken record, but Benedick doesn’t know he’s in love with Beatrice yet.”

Wes takes a purposeful step back from me and sticks his hands in his pockets. Great. Nice work, Taft. He always sticks his hands in his pockets when someone is making him uncomfortable. The vibration against my hip bone buzzes again. Get the hint, I am at rehearsal. I silence it by pushing the top button without Taft seeing me.

Ms. Taft goes on. “The characters are still bickering and arguing as they always do, so it doesn’t make sense for you to touch her like that, in such an affectionate way.”

“Okay, okay, I got it,” Wes says quickly.

“Ms. Taft,” I say, stepping forward and overenunciating my words. “Wes isn’t doing a very good job of acting.”

“Oh, here we go,” Taft says with a roll of her eyes. She’s always telling me I like to share my opinion a little too much. But I just grin and turn to Wes.

“We’re actors!” I say it really slowly and loud. “See, acting is when you pretend you’re someone else and you—”

Wes steps forward and smacks me on the arm with his script. I jump away, laughing, when my phone buzzes yet again.

“Food’s here!” May calls, and everyone drops what they are doing at the same time. Taft puts down her script. “I’m starving.” She heads backstage, her curls flying behind her. I slip my phone out of my pocket.

“Penny!” Wes calls. “I have to talk to you.” I shake the phone at him, signaling for him to wait a sec, and disappear behind the curtain. When I pick up, it’s Bettie, my parents’ housekeeper.

“Penny, I’m sorry to bother you,” she says quickly after I say hello. “Have you heard from your dad? He’s tried to call you. He’s on his way home.” I check the time. It’s only 6:45 and Dad was supposed to be at the Best Of Rhode Island Gala with Mom. Her business was voted Best Event Planning and PR company in Rhode Island two weeks ago.

I step closer to the curtain so the fabric muffles my voice. I immediately think of wine bottles on the counter and the steep staircase in our house. The drinking wasn’t so bad before. I barely remember her drinking when I was a kid. But the last two years, she drinks every night. “Is everyone okay?” I whisper.

“Your mom’s okay, but she got into a very public screaming match with one of her client’s mothers at the Gala. She pushed the woman. The news is planning to run a story. It’s bad, honey. She’s been ousted from her own company.”

Ousted. Pushed.

“I’m here now and your dad is on his way—but I wanted you to know, honey. So you wouldn’t be surprised when you got home.”

She says something about “what I should expect when I get back” but she hangs up before I can hear anything in the background like voices or Mom crying.

When I step back out, May joins me but this time in her regular clothes.

“Pizza’s here! Are you guys deaf?” She means Wes and me, as we are the only people left out here. It doesn’t appear that Wes heard me on the phone, which is good.

“I’ll be right back,” Wes calls from the other side of the backstage. May loops her arm through mine. I touch her arm with my fingertips when I would really like to squeeze and have her tell me that my family hasn’t been outed—that my mom is okay.

And it only occurs to me that I didn’t know, right until this