Jeremy cleared his throat. Paused for a moment.

I loved that moment before. It was the height of anticipation and hope. It was like diving off a cliff, knowing what would come after was terrifying and beautiful and the point of living. That moment… it was addicting.

I have let myself run on too far.

I see my reason has given way to violence.

There was desperation in Jeremy’s performance as he began, but he sounded young. He looked young. When he spoke, his words and his emotions came rushing out. Like once he’d begun his confession of love for Aricia, there was no stopping the outpour.

My soul, so proud, is finally dependant.

For more than six months, desperate, ashamed,

Bearing throughout the wound with which I’m maimed,

I steeled myself towards you, and myself, in vain…

I hadn’t realized until then that both Hippolytus and Phaedra were in love and ashamed—Phaedra because of whom she loved, and Hippolytus because he loved at all. I could see the shame in Jeremy’s performance, eating away at him, and I wondered if that’s what I looked like in my audition… if that’s what I looked like every time I thought of Garrick.

Present, I flee you: absent, I find you again.

Garrick’s eyes were on Jeremy, glancing back occasionally at the notes he was writing on the notepad in his lap. That last line was echoing through my head like music, a melody that gets stuck and won’t give you any rest.

Present, I fled him. But no matter the distance between us, I kept coming back to him. It all kept coming back to him.

Eric stood from his spot and said, “Good. Good. Let’s see you with Bliss.”

I tore my eyes from Garrick, and fumbled for the script. I walked toward the stage, my knees a bit weak, and my feet somewhat numb.

As much as I loved Jeremy, it was clear to me within minutes that he was not Hippolytus. For one, he was not the heroic, handsome young man who could turn Phaedra’s heart so inside out. He was more of a boy. He had the passion, but sometimes even that wasn’t enough.

We moved through two more boys who were also lacking—both in confidence. Those auditions went quickly.

Then it was Cade’s turn.

I’d always thought Cade’s best asset was his voice. On stage, it took on this low rumble that no matter the volume held power. And with a play that was so much about the text and the lyricism in the lines—his voice was perfect. It was always hard to read Eric’s face, but he definitely looked happier with Cade than he had the previous two auditions.

When things fell apart was when Cade and I took the stage together. We were doing the scene where Phaedra first reveals her feelings to Hippolytus. They were speaking of the death of Theseus—Phaedra’s husband and Hippolytus’s father. Hippolytus had never liked his stepmother. He didn’t know that she’d treated him poorly, so that she might more easily keep her distance because she’d loved him even before Theseus supposedly died.

We did fine through the section about Theseus’s death, but I was barely halfway through my monologue where I declared my feelings when Eric came out of the house and onto the stage.

“Stop, stop. Cade, what are you doing?”

Cade looked stunned, and maybe on the verge of being sick. “I’m sorry?”

“You despise her. As the revelation of her feelings dawns on you, you should be horrified, disgusted, even angry.”

“Of course, sir.”

“So then why do you look like a love sick puppy who returns her affections?”

As if I weren’t channeling enough guilt already for this performance, I felt the weight of my own guilt added. This was my fault. This wasn’t about the play. It was about me. He’d kept his feelings under wraps for so long, but I’d noticed ever since that party, since I’d kissed him, it had all been closer to the surface. He wore his hope like a winter coat, layered over the top of all of him.

I didn’t look at him as he and Eric spoke, because I was not sure I could keep the pity out of my face, and he would hate seeing that. So, I looked at Garrick instead. His face was drawn. Even though he was about fifteen feet from me, I felt like I was seeing him from far away. He only looked at me for a moment longer, before his gaze skipped to Cade, and his frown deepened. After a few seconds, he met my eyes again, and held me there with his stare. There was something different in this look, something changed, something that set my heart beating faster and the hair prickling on the surface of my skin.

Cade and I finished our scene without incident. It wasn’t the strongest performance he could have given, but I thought it was still the best so far. Though I was biased, I guess. I should have been happy that my friend had trouble even acting disgusted with me. But in the back of my mind, a thought was planted, its roots digging deeper despite my attempts to push it away.

If he knew the real reason I’d said maybe… if he knew what was keeping us apart, he probably wouldn’t have any trouble despising me.

I was a little unfocused through the next callback. So much so that Eric decided it was time to give me a break. Needing the fresh air, I slipped out the Emergency Exit (which was never alarmed), and I knew before I heard the door creak open again behind me that Garrick would follow.

“You’re doing well,” he said.

I blew out a quick breath. It might have been a laugh, if I’d had more energy. “Yeah, that’s why you’re out here trying to make me feel better.”

“My reasons for being out here are entirely selfish.”

I kept thinking I would get used to him saying things like that, his directness.

I never did.

“You were right. You are acting like a right bastard.”

What little heat there was in my words left when he grinned.

He walked around the side of me, staring out at some distant point on the campus. “I keep thinking that this play is a sign. It’s so much like us.”

“Am I the lust-filled mother in this situation or you?”

His eyes came back to me, dipping and scanning the curves and lines of my body. “Oh, that’s definitely me,” he answered. “Phaedra keeps saying she’s being selfish. That she hates herself for it, but she does it anyway. She can’t deny herself what she wants, even if it brings about her downfall and his.”

“And have you learned anything from our literary parallel?”

“Not really. I keep thinking that she would do it all over again if there were a chance… a chance that it could go right. Even if 99 times out of a 100 the story ends badly, it’s worth it if only once she gets a happy ending.”

“Listen, Garrick, while this parallel you’re drawing is lovely, especially with that accent, I’m a little tired of the metaphors, and being compared to doomed love stories. Just say what you want to say. I’ve been puzzling out ancient text all night. I don’t want to have to decipher you, too.”

“I’m saying that I was wrong.” He took a step closer, and my exhaustion fled, replaced with electricity under my skin. “I’m saying I like you. I’m saying I don’t give a damn that I’m your teacher.”

Then he kissed me.

I pushed him back before my heart and mind got swept away. The pleasure hit me after the kiss was already over, so that it felt like an echo. And even though I was the one who pushed him away, I missed him.

“Garrick, this is crazy.”

“I like crazy.”

The question was… did I? This was the craziest thing I’d ever done, and it both terrified and excited me. I backed away, needing the distance to think, to wrap my brain around the insanity. There were so many ways for this to go badly. But then again for the first time ever, I found my own life more interesting than the story of a character on a page. And God, did I want to know the ending.

And hadn’t Eric said I was better when I made bold choices. He’d been talking about acting, but didn’t it hold true for life, too?

Garrick’s hand brushed across my forehead, then pushed back into my hair.

“Just think about it.”

Oh, I would think about it. It would likely be all I could think about.

He pressed a quick, barely there kiss to my forehead and left me outside, my thoughts in a jumble and my heart a mess.

Chapter Sixteen

“Why in the world would you want a cat?” Kelsey asked as we left Directing the next day.

“I just do, okay? Do you want to come or not?”

She shrugged. “Can’t. Sorry. I’ve got work. Just take Cade.”

As if he’d been summoned, Cade popped up between us, and I wondered how long he’d been listening to our conversation.

“Take me where?”

I said, “I’m going to the humane society to get a cat.”

“Oh. Cool,” he said, nodding. “I wish I weren’t living in the dorms. I’d love to have a dog.”

I was aware of the careful space he kept between us, and the near continuous bobbing of his head, like the nodding had given him something to do, and he didn’t want to give it up.

Kelsey pulled her sunglasses down off her head and over her eyes even though we were still indoors. “Well, as fun as this is… I’ve got to jet. You two have fun at the pound. Don’t come home a cat lady, Bliss.” Kelsey was oblivious to the panicked look I’d shot at her. Cade and I hadn’t really been alone since the whole maybe conversation. He switched his messenger bag to his other shoulder, fidgeting like he always did when he was nervous.

“If you want to go alone—it’s cool.”

“No, no. You should come.” We had to get over this. And I only saw two ways—we got together or we didn’t. The waiting was going to kill our relationship (it was already pretty maimed). If we had to have this conversation, around cute animals was probably the best place.

“Ok. Cool,” he said.

Cool… yeah.

I was glad to be the one driving. It gave me a way to occupy my body and my mind. And it was my car, so I could turn the music up as loud as I wanted. What I hadn’t counted on was Cade being at home enough in my car to turn it down.

“So, what made you decide to get a cat?”

Oh, you know. I nearly had a one-night stand with our professor, but ran away using my imaginary cat as an excuse, and now he might want us to be together together even though it’s the worst idea ever, but I kind of don’t care either, because my body and probably my heart are telling me it’s the best idea ever. So now I need a cat so he won’t realize I was lying about the cat because I’m a virgin and chickened out of having sex with him.

“Just wanted one,” was what I actually answered.

“Oh. Cool.”

If he said, “cool” one more time I was going to scream.

I pulled into the humane society parking lot, wishing I had told Cade I wanted to go alone after all.

I needed something fuzzy and adorable in my hands, stat.

We stepped inside to that distinct medicated smell that’s reserved for pounds and veterinarians. The lady at the front desk even looked vaguely feline, like working here was in her DNA. Her face was slightly pointed, her eyes tilted, and her hair short and fuzzy.

“Hello there! How can I help you?”

“Hi,” I said. “I’m interested in adopting a cat.”

She clapped tiny hands that I envisioned as paws. “That’s fantastic. We have plenty of great candidates. Why don’t I take you back to the cat room, and I’ll give you two a chance to look around.”

We followed her down the hall, that antiseptic smell growing stronger, no doubt covering the odor of a multitude of animals housed in one place.

“Here we are.”

The room was stacked with cages, and I don’t know if the chorus of meows began at our entrance or if it was constant, but we were surrounded by sound.