Home > Playing with Fire(9)

Playing with Fire(9)
Author: L.J. Shen

Nameless Chick gasped. “That makes no sense. Everyone says you’re loaded.” I didn’t answer. Getting dicked by one of my frenemies didn’t make her a certified accountant.

“Do what you gotta do, man. Let me know if I can help.” East hoisted his duffel bag over his shoulder, putting a lid on the subject.

“Maybe he’s got the hots for Toastie,” Reign mused. “And he’s looking for leeway. I mean, she is smokin’ once you put a bag over that face.”

“The burn victim?” Nameless Chick flattened a hand over her chest. “Isn’t it tragic? One of my sorority sisters knows her from high school. Heard she was in cheer and drama before she turned this way. She was real pretty, too.”

I had no doubt I was going to knock every tooth out of Reign’s mouth at some point in my life. He was a mean bastard and picked on people constantly. Anything to make his idiot friends laugh. His choice in female companion was obviously just as poor.

Reign cackled.

“Seriously, man, shut up.” Easton collared him, swinging his body so he was an inch from crashing against the wall.

We reached the double doors of the entrance and split. Reign and East had practice, and Random Chick was off, probably doing random shit. I was about to head out when I heard shouting coming from the crack of the door by the exit.

“Fire! Fire!”

It was coming from the makeshift auditorium, where theater and arts rehearsed these days while they built a brand-new theater across campus grounds.

I burst through the doors.

They were rehearsing. Phew.

The door was ajar, practically inviting me to take a look. It wasn’t like I had anything better to do. I had half an hour to burn before I met Karlie at the food truck.

I propped a shoulder over the doorframe, folding my arms. Tess was onstage, wearing a nightgown over a prosthetic pregnant belly, her hair pinned up, charging to the other corner of the stage, producing a wailing sound that could deafen a whale.

A fuckboy from theater was chasing her, clad in a wife beater, a cigarette hanging from the corner of his pinched mouth. He tried to sound Southern, but it came out like he had blisters the size of my balls on his tongue. I didn’t know anything about theater, but I could recognize shitty acting when it hit me in the face with a shovel. No shade to Tess, she was a perfectly good lay, but I would buy the Hitler-is-still-alive-and-lives-with-2PAC conspiracy—logic and math be damned—before believing their acting.

My eyes drifted around the auditorium. The blonde girl from the food truck was there. Greer or Gail or whatever. Toastie. I spotted the back of her head. She sat in one of the back rows. Her white FILAs were propped on the back of the seat in front of her. Her long legs were clad in faded skinny jeans. She had the same pink hoodie and gray ball cap I saw her sporting at the truck. Her long, golden hair spilled across her back and shoulders, making her look like a Gothic angel.

Reign was about as perceptive as a can of Spam, but he wasn’t off base. Greer-Gail was fuckable to a fault. Not that I was about to touch her. It had nothing to do with her face. Scar tissue never bothered me—my heart was 100% made out of that shit. But she had an attitude the size of Mississippi, and I had a strict no bitch-porking policy in place.

I’d left her the ballet shoes as a little ‘fuck you.’ Honestly, I had no idea what I was trying to convey with the shoes. I’d felt like an idiot when I bought them, and even worse after I’d left them on the food truck’s stair. Whatever. Who cared if it was lame to put them there? I wasn’t trying to woo her ass.

The director of the play, Cruz Finlay—another student who thought wearing a beret and a scarf in the Texas heat made him look artistic, as opposed to a complete moron—asked the actors to start the scene from scratch. I stepped deeper into the room so I could check out Greer-Gail-Whatever’s face uninterrupted. All this talk about her scar, and I barely saw it, but she was so self-conscious about it, I was inclined to believe it was a sight.

I only got the right side of her face. The so-called “normal” side. Her eyes were glued to the stage. She mouthed all the words along with the actors, both Tess’ lines and the dude’s. Crazy thing was, they were reading from the pages, and she knew everything by heart.

It was pretty obvious Greer-Gail had a boner for acting, but I doubted she’d pursue it. Didn’t take a genius to see she was all tangled up in her I’m-a-victim narrative.

“I don’t want realism. I want magic,” Greer-Gail mimed, echoing a third actress onstage, and I had a feeling the line applied to her more than anything else in the play. She seemed hella bitter about her own reality.

I was so fascinated by Greer-Gail reciting an entire goddamn play without anyone taking note, or even realizing she was there in the room, that it took me a second to notice the rehearsal was over.

“First run-through under our belt, and it is a complete and utter train wreck. Tomorrow. Same place. Same time. God.” Finlay threw his hands up, peering at the ceiling like Lord Almighty had better shit to do than watch this crap. “Give me actors.”

Or a punch in the face, I thought. You can give him a punch in the face, too, and nobody will fault you for that, his parents included.

“West!” Tess cried, hopping from the stage and charging toward the double doors. She discarded her fake belly on one of the seats, not breaking her pace. My stance was lax, lazy, and unflappable. Everyone’s eyes turned to me. Tess made it sound like I’d just come back from a tour in Iraq. Greer-Gail swiveled her head. Our eyes met as Tess flung her arms around me, peppering kisses over my neck and cheeks.

I’d told Tess a one-time lay was the only thing on the table, and we’d had our first and last hurrah last weekend. She said she understood, but women rarely did. I removed her from my body, making a mental note to remind her we weren’t a thing.

Greer-Gail offered no reaction as she watched us, but she didn’t stop watching either. Her face was blank. Her eyes were a shade of blue I hadn’t seen outside psychedelic paintings. Pale and arctic, like a snowflake. I had a feeling she allowed herself to look because she wasn’t used to anyone noticing her.

Well, I did.

I noticed she was fucking glaring.

My eyes asked, Did you get the ballet shoes?

Hers answered, Drop dead, asshole.

I may have been paraphrasing, but whatever her eyes said, there was profanity in it.

Greer-Gail turned her head back to the empty stage, rearranging her feet on the seat in front of her. I was about to walk over and ask what the hell her problem was, but my phone buzzed in my pocket, just as Tess tried to pull me into the auditorium, blabbing about her role in the play.

I took my phone out of my back pocket.


Seriously? Twice today? I hit decline, turned around, and charged over to my bike without a word. Tess knew better than to follow me. I got into my bank app and transferred whatever money I had in my account straight to my parents before heading off to see Karlie.

I’d live off ramen for the next couple weeks. Wouldn’t be the first or last time.

I spent the ride resenting my parents and Tess and Reign and Professor Addams and even Greer-Gail-Genevieve.

And with every turn I took, the temptation to lean to one side, to throw myself off the bike, to veer off a cliff, was there, scratching at my insides.

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