Five, Six, Seven, Nate!
The Fun’ll Come Out, Tomorrow
In musicals, characters break into song when their emotions get to be too big.
Whereas in life, of course, I break into song when my emotions get to be too big. Without getting paid for it, I mean.
“Nate, will you two keep it down up there? It’s almost midnight.”
That’s my dad, who has apparently forgotten how exciting my future is about to become. And that people sing and dance in their (incredibly small and poorly decorated) bedrooms when they’re excited. Loudly.
“Sorry, Dad!” I shout. But I do this thing where I mouth “I’m not” right before. Gets my best friend laughing, every single time.
“I ought to pack for tomorrow,” I say to Libby between huffs and puffs. We have a long-standing Sunday tradition where we belt the entire score of
Godspell until either the neighbors call the cops or I lose my voice. It’s our version of church. “I guess I’ll need socks? I should pack socks.” But this Sunday is different.
“Refocus, Nate,” Libby says, dragging me to my own desk. “I’ve gotta get home soon. And we have your first Playbill bio to write.”
Cue: hopping, hollering, Dad cranking up “the game” downstairs.
Libby retrieves a stack of beat-up theater programs from her bookbag. “Let’s study bios.” She has a step-uncle in New York who sends her his Playbills. Can you imagine the luck? This is probably how most normal boys feel when they rip open a pack of baseball cards, suffer through that stick of “gum,” and then . . . I dunno. What do boys do with baseball cards? Fan themselves in the stadium heat?
“Flip to the ensemble bios,” I say. “We can bypass the stars.” We scan the little biographies that actors write about themselves, trying to settle on relevant information I might use to craft my own for E.T.: The Musical. “What the heck am I even going to write? I’m allowed fifty whole words to describe a life spent hiding from bullies in bathroom stalls.”
“That’s a good thing,” Libby says, chewing on her lip like she’s still hungry. Which you’d know is impossible, if you’d seen the way Libby ate even the crusts
on our pizza tonight. “Fifty words,” she continues, grabbing a pencil sharpener from my Zorba mug, “means we get to use a ton of adjectives to tell the world where you got your training.”
I see where she’s going with this. Libby is, among other things, one of the great acting coaches of our time. She’s also the only one I know—but come on, I’m not even old enough to drive and I’m going to be on Broadway. Wowza. Even thinking about it again—
“Nate, you’re shaking.”
—makes me shake. “I’m just so . . . excited!”
Did you know that “excited” is Latin for “actually-kind-of-nervous-but-in-the-greatest-way-possible”?
“Well I, for one, am jealous,” Libby says, re-piggying a pigtail. “Not only are you making your Broadway debut—”
(Squealing, jumping, possibly a bedside lamp being broken.)
“—but you also get to do your homework online. Not that you participate in class, anyway.”
I take this as a compliment.
Knock knock knock, and I practically pee my pants. “Nathan.” You know when you didn’t even know you had to pee until your dad pounds on your door with the kind of strength that’s usually reserved for killing a burglar?
“Your mother and you are leaving early,” he says from
the hallway, and then lopes away. That’s all he has to say. Everything is implied with Dad. . . . so tell that girl to go home is implied, as is . . . and stop squealing, because boys don’t squeal.
“You do know you look like him,” Libby says, “when you make that face—right?”
( . . . and don’t come back home until you’ve made us some money. That’s also implied. Though I’m not sure I ever want to come back. Not unless they name a local street after me. Nate Foster Way. Heck: Nate Foster Freeway.)
“How about this,” Libby says, slipping on a purple Converse. Oh God, she really is leaving me soon. “How about you just make it ultracool. The bio? Like, don’t even list your junior high theater credits. Just thank people. Important people who have shaped your career. Like . . . peer mentors. Or whatever.”
I grin. “Like . . . best friends?”
“Forever,” she says, fast.
She kind of wrinkles her nose the way you might see in a cartoon sneeze, fending back unexpected tears. But this is no cartoon. And I’d know, because I’ve been chased to the edges of cliffs several times after school.
“Who am I going to watch cartoons with in New York?”
“We’re almost in high school, Nate,” she says, switching tones. “We’ve got to pull it together and
quit it with the cartoon business. I’ve been humoring you, but. Come on.” Brilliant move. Nothing averts sobs like insulting somebody.
“Well . . . I should clean out my closet, then, I guess.”
Which is technically true but probably won’t happen until the very last minute, once my alarm goes off. There’s too much to do tonight: get a rough draft of my bio down; brush my dog, Feather, one last time; vomit myself to sleep. While thanking the universe in between heaves.
“Yeah,” Libby says, opening her bookbag and heading for my bedroom door. “And I should get home. My mom’ll worry that I’m here so late.”
“Yeah,” she says, smirking. “What if you put the moves on me or something?”
I’m about as dangerous to a girl as a tube of mascara, but maybe that’s the joke.
“Your bookbag’s open,” I say.
“Are you giving me a going-away present?”
Libby never lets me go on a journey without supplying all the basics that any idiot would remember to bring. Like donuts, primarily.
“No, Nate. I was sort of hoping you’d have something to give me.”
I scrunch my face.
“Something tangible with a hint of your essence, Nate. Like . . . a piece of clothing. Or an old Indian-head nickel. Or something.”
I laugh. “When did you get so, like, Eastern medicine?” Miss Saigon is one of my favorite shows, so I actually know quite a bit about the Far East.
“Since none of my mom’s chemo treatments took hold,” Libby says, skin turning a shade of white that could rival unused towels, “and she started looking into alternative therapies. Is when.”
Sting. “Oh. I’m sorry. Wow.”
“Yeah. I didn’t . . . I haven’t had the heart to, like, bring the mood down. Since you’ve been talking nonstop about E.T. for two months.”
“Oh God, Libster. I’m really—”
“Not that I wouldn’t. If I were—you know—you.”
God, I am such an awful person. An awful friend. And selfish. I look myself over. And fat.
“You are not fat,” Libby says, reading my mind and dropping her bookbag. “So just stop it. They hired you as you are, Natey. Show up the way they hired you.” She swigs from a two-liter of Mountain Dew that I hadn’t even realized was in her coat. “You think Meryl Streep would lose weight just to please some costume designer?”
I think Meryl Streep would kill herself if the person
she were playing was dead. But I get Libby’s point.
“For comparing me to Meryl Streep, I mean.”
And at the mere mention of her name, we both burst into Oscar-worthy tears. And sort of fall into each other.
This is it. Good-bye, Jankburg. Hello . . . everything.
I hear Dad trudge up the stairs again, but I hold Libby tighter. And before he can knock knock knock, I have the guts, boiling beneath seven slices of pizza and a lava of molten Coke, to shout at the top of my everything: “Leave us alone, Dad. This is a pivotal moment.”
Libby pulls away, her tears stopped quick like a clamped hose, and sniffs back a goob of snot. “Wow,” she says. “Where’d that come from?”
“Here,” I say, putting her hand on my rumbling stomach.
“Nah,” she says, wiping a crystal tear from her pudgy porcelain face and placing her hand on my heart. “Here.”
From outside my room, my father’s feet squeak in the carpet as he turns in his thousand-year-old slippers, stomping away to take it all out on my mom.
And I know exactly what to give Libby as a going-away present.
“What was that for?” she says.
“I don’t know. I’ve never . . . had one.”
“Well, you could at least have opened your mouth a little,” she says, holding her lips like they’re a wounded butterfly.
We both hiccup at the same time.
“If I’d known that was coming, I’d have skipped the last piece of pizza,” she says, letting her lips go like they might fly away.
We both can’t believe I did that. Kissed someone. Finally.
“I’m . . . I’m going to leave on that note,” she says for maybe the millionth time. “Your mom is gonna be pulling the Grand Caravan into the front yard in about five seconds.”
But Libby’s wrong. I’ve got longer than five seconds till the next chapter of my life starts—the first one worth singing about.
Heck, I’ve got five hours till my alarm goes off. Maybe I’ll even sneak Feather into bed, where he’s not allowed for all the obvious mom reasons. Five hours’ sleep is five more than Libby and I got on New Year’s, and that was only a couple nights ago. Look at us now! Barely yawning.
“I feel like I’m going to fall over,” Libby says, her eyes fluttering—like the butterfly forgot which body part it was playing.
“Let’s sit on my bed,” I say, “and listen to our favorite song.” And never say good-bye. “And I’ll see you on Skype tomorrow night, from Queens.” Assuming my aunt has high-speed Internet. She must. She’s under forty.
“You have the headphone splitter?” I say.
“Was Sweet Smell of Success robbed of a choreography nomination?”
Libby pulls out her iPod, but we’re practically asleep by the time the song even starts. And maybe it’s my murky brain fluid talking, but I get the perfect idea for a going-away gift.
“Gimme your bookbag,” I murmur, and Libby does, not even opening her eyes.
I drop it in—the green rabbit foot that hangs by my bed. Libby gave it to me as good luck, forever-and-a-half ago. And carrying it to the audition, that fateful New York day—with that flipping green bunny foot scratching a green bunny nail into my pale Natey thigh—look where all that luck landed me.
My heart speeds up again. This is actually happening. Tomorrow night at this time I’ll be avoiding muggers in Times Square.
“There’s a surprise in there for you,” I say, zipping up Libby’s bookbag.
“Good,” she says, pulling the earphone from my head, “I was hoping you’d settle on the rabbit foot.”
“Nah,” she says. “Didn’t have to.”
I guess we both know that the kid with the sick mom could use the rabbit foot more than the kid who’s escaping junior high torture.
A light pokes through the slats of my blinds. I sit up straight.
“It’s not a burglar, Nate,” Libby says, yawning so hard I can hear pepperoni digesting. “The sun’s just coming out.”
“?‘Betcher bottom dollar,’?” I say. God, I wish there were a boy role in Annie.
“Careful, Nate,” Libby says, turning a pillow over to find the cool side. “First you kiss me, then you talk about my bottom. People will say we’re in love.”
“There’d be worse things.”
(There’d be worse things than being born a boy who chases girls, believe you me.)
“Broadway’s gonna be a piece of cake after middle school,” Libby whispers. “You just have to carry our three rules around with you like a loaded water gun.”
“One?” Libby says. She’s the only thirteen-year-old who gives pop quizzes.
“We text each other so often that our phones break.”
“Sing as loud as possible, as often as possible, in as many rehearsals as possible.”
“—in order to get more solos. And possibly replace the lead. That’s right. And three?”
“I steer clear of Jordan Rylance—speaking of leads—at all costs.”
“The little Via Galactica.”
“Watch your mouth,” I say, chuckling at our always hilarious routine: substituting Broadway show flops for swearwords. (Via Galactica played for, like, four days in 1972, at the Uris Theater. It is only a quasi-flop because it’s the same theater where Wicked plays, now. So it’s automatically sacred, in a way.)
“I’m telling you, Nate, avoid Jordan Rylance. Pretend from day one that he’s contagious with something.”
Libby knows Jordan—the (luckiest) kid (ever) cast as Elliott in E.T.—from before, when she used to go to the fancy performing arts school with him across town. Before her mom got sick. Before Libby had to move to Jankburg, and meet me, and reroute my drifting destiny like a gust of glittery wind.
“What are the odds of two boys from the same hometown getting cast in the same Broadway production?” I say, and I really wonder it. I wonder it deep into my mattress, which I feel like I’m falling into, now.
“What are the odds we’ll even fall asleep tonight?” Libby says, or I think she does.
We’re too busy falling asleep. One last time.
Legs intertwined. Wicked on repeat. Bags not packed.
Before the second adventure of my only lifetime starts—with no lucky rabbit foot in sight.