A Stranger in Lawndale
a multi-part story by Belle Book

Part Two: No Business Like Show Business

Quinn, Sandi, Stacy and Tiffany had gotten their food and were now sitting in the food court, eating their meals. They were all having cheeseless pizza and diet soda, along with other stuff each person preferred. Quinn and Stacy were both having ridged chips while Tiffany was having celery. Sandi was also having celery but had added carrots to it.

As they were eating their cheeseless pizza, Sandi said, "That young man that approached us is a real heartthrob."

Tiffany said, "Ye-ah. Heart-throb." For a brief moment, Stacy felt like asking Tiffany if she had any real thoughts of her own instead of just echoing whatever was being said. But Stacy didn't really want to do such a thing, so she kept her thoughts to herself.

Quinn then said, "Yeah, but if his actions around Stacy were any indication Tiffany, I think you, Sandi & I might have some real problems getting his attention."

"Gee Quinn, I'm surprised you are thinking that way," said Sandi. "Aren't you the one who always wraps guys around their little finger?"

Quinn admitted, "Usually, I can do so. But there was one time even I couldn't do that." (2)

Now Stacy was curious. "When was that, Quinn?" she asked.

However, Quinn's attention was turned to something else. "Oh, look!" she said. "I think that Derek's just arrived at the food court!" They all turned around and sure enough, Derek Powell had just arrived. Although Stacy briefly wondered if Quinn wanted to change the subject, she stopped wondering when Derek spotted them and headed on over.

Derek had a shopping bag now, presumably filled with health and personal care products. After getting a chair and sitting it at their table, he put the bag down under the chair.

"Hi Tiffany, Sandi and Quinn," he said to Stacy's friends, smiling. Then he turned to Stacy and gave her an even more brilliant smile as he said, "Hello, Stacy."

"Hi!" Stacy replied, smiling brilliantly herself.

"So, Stacy, you told us while we were in line that you had something to tell us but that you were going to wait until Derek had joined us before you told us," said Sandi. "What is it?"

Stacy said, "Well, Derek may not know this, but you three might remember the one time when I was Upchuck's assistant for his magic act at Lawndale High," Stacy began. (3)

"How can I forget?" Sandi said, frowning visibly. Stacy couldn't really blame her. After all, Stacy had put one over on Sandi during the magic act.

"No, I don't know about this," said Derek. "After all, I'm just a newcomer and never went to Lawndale. But I'd like to hear about it."

So Stacy told him about how Upchuck did a magic act at the mall, tearing up a bill for the four of them and then restoring it perfectly. Stacy had wondered how he did it and Sandi had mocked her for her curiosity. However, when Stacy asked him how he did it, Upchuck would only tell her if she became his assistant for an escape act he was planning later on. She agreed and not only learned how he'd done the trick, she learned how to cause a distraction so Upchuck could escape from a locked trunk without the others knowing how -- even pretending to cry.

"That was really clever!" Derek said. "However, I'm curious about this Upchuck fellow. I take it that's not his real name."

"No, his real name's Charles Ruttheimer III," Stacy explained. "But we call him Upchuck."

"Sounds like a real loser," Derek said.

"No girl wants to go out with him," explained Sandi. "Nothing can possibly compensate for the total shame and humiliation involved in a single date with Upchuck. He's got the worst come-ons you can ever imagine!"

"Yeah," said Stacy. "Still, he didn't use that many come-ons while I was helping him. Anyway, that got me thinking about whether I might have something else going for me besides my looks -- like acting skills. And when I began seeing my therapist, I told her what I was thinking. She said it was worth a shot and after learning that there was a Drama Club at Lawndale High, she suggested I get in. I'm thinking of doing so this fall."

"Stacy, I've said that we shouldn't do stuff where we might have to let someone else choose what clothes we should wear," Sandi said.

"Yeah, you've said that," Stacy agreed. "But I still want to try it. And just this morning, I found an opportunity to try acting."

"What is it?" asked Quinn.

"Mr. O'Neill called my house," said Stacy. "He's the English teacher at Lawndale High, Derek. I was about to go and see my therapist when the call came and I answered the phone. He's planning on doing a summer theater project, and the first play he's thinking of putting on is Love's Labors Lost, whatever that is."

"I know what that is," said Derek. "It's a Shakesperean play about a King and three lords who decide to devote themselves to scholarly pursuits, fasting, sleeping little and avoiding women. All of which is patently foolish."

"I'll say!" said Quinn. "I couldn't live without guys following me around and doing stuff for me!"

Derek smiled a bit before continuing. "Anyway, Berowne, one of the young lords, realizes that such defiance of love is unnatural, although he takes the oath anyway. But at the same time, the Princess of France and her ladies, including a young woman named Rosaline, are coming to the King's court -- he's the king of a place called Navarre -- and the King has to see them. Of course, the King falls in love with the Princess and his lords fall in love with three of the ladies of her court -- including Berowne, who falls in love with Rosaline. It's really funny."

"I can imagine," said Stacy, smiling back. "Anyway, I was thinking of trying out and I told my therapist. She said it was a good idea to at least give it a shot. I'd also told my mother, but she really put down the whole idea."

"Mr. O'Neill called my house as well and asked Daria -- my sister -- & I," said Quinn. "But I refused because I didn't want to be embarrassed like I was the last time I tried out for a school play (4), and Daria would never volunteer for anything like that. But if you want to try out, go right ahead, Stacy.

"I agree," said Derek. "In fact, I'd like to join you. I like plays, especially Shakesperean ones, and have even taken part in a couple of them."

"Ye-ah, go-right-a-head, Sta-cy," said Tiffany in her glacially slow voice.

"Oh, all right then," said Sandi. "If you want to try out, then go right ahead. But don't blame me if it doesn't work out for you. I also got a call from Mr. O'Neill but I refused. As I said, I don't want to give up my right to choose my own wardrobe."

"Thanks Quinn, Derek, and Tiffany!" said Stacy. "What part are you intending to try out for, Derek?"

Derek thought for a moment, then said, "If I decide to try out, probably Berowne. He's the most important character of the group, and the most realistic. And if I try out for that part, maybe you should try out for Rosaline, Stacy. We'd have quite a few verbal battles together."

"Maybe I will," said Stacy. "But I'll also try out for some other parts in case I don't get that one. What are the other female parts in that play? Besides the Princess of France, that is."

"Well besides the Princess, there's her other two ladies, Maria & Katharine. Also, there's a dairymaid named Jaquenetta," Derek said. "Rosaline's a brunette. I think Katharine's a blonde and since the King and the lord who's in love with Maria -- teases Berowne about loving a brunette, I think Maria's also a blonde. I'm not sure about Jaquenetta. The ideal beauty back in those days was a blonde, you see."

"Well, I'll try out for Rosaline, but if that doesn't work out I'll go for Maria or Katharine," said Stacy. "I can wear a blonde wig if I have to. Anyway, we're going shopping soon. Want to accompany us?"

"Not a whole lot, but I do want to be near you, especially when we go for the audition, so okay," Derek said.

A little more than an hour later, Derek took Stacy and their packages to his car. He was going with her to the auditions for Love's Labors Lost.

It had been an interesting shopping experience for him. He didn't know what the latest fashions were -- never really wanted to -- but he did have an eye for color. Always did. So when Stacy asked him if a certain light blue dress was right for her, Derek suggested that he see it on her before he decided. When he did, he liked it. It looked good on her. Then Tiffany asked if the same dress looked good on her. When he saw it on her, however, he had to say that he thought it looked better on Stacy. It didn't go as well with Tiffany's coloring as it did with Stacy's.

Quinn flirted with him, trying to get his attention, and that caused Sandi to try to steal him away. Derek wasn't going to let this go much farther, so he said that he was more of a one-girl guy and asked if either one was a one-guy girl. Quinn stared and then looked down as she told him she wasn't -- yet. When Sandi saw that Quinn had given up, she dropped her interest in Derek as well. Typical. She was only interested in Derek if Quinn was.

After about an hour of shopping, Stacy explained that she had to go over to the location of the former alt.lawndale.com cyber cafe which later became a coffe house (5). Apparently Mr. O'Neill was going to make it into a summer theater house. It was there that the auditions were going to be held -- in a half-hour. The others wanted to continue shopping but Derek volunteered to take her to the place. Before they left, Quinn wished Stacy good luck, which pleased Derek.

Derek let Stacy in his car before putting their packages on the back seat, getting in the car and driving away from the mall. He turned to Stacy and asked, "Would you mind giving me directions to the former coffee house?"

Stacy agreed, giving him what turned out to be pretty good directions. On the way, she said, "You told me you had just moved to Lawndale. I wonder what made you decide to move here."

"I have a sister named Rachel," Derek explained. "She spent some time here in Lawndale. Last year, she told me about her time in Lawndale and I decided to check it out for myself. And since I spent two years working after I graduated from high school, I decided to attend college here."

"What's Rachel like?" asked Stacy.

"She's a real knockout," Derek began. He knew he had to somehow explain Rachel's predatory behavior towards the two guys she'd been involved with while near Lawndale, but he didn't want to reveal that she was a kitsune. "She doesn't have much respect for most guys other than me, unfortunately, but I think she had some bad experiences with guys that shaped her attitude."

Luckily for him, they pulled up at the former coffee house shortly thereafter, so he didn't have to talk more about Rachel. There were already a number of people who were in the place. Most of them looked like they were either in their senior year or just out of high school -- except for one guy on the stage. He had brown hair, a pink buttoned-down shirt with a pocket in the front, gray pants and brown shoes. Presumably that was Mr. O'Neill but he had to make sure.

"I take it that's Mr. O'Neill, Stacy?" Derek asked. "He's the only guy that looks old enough to be a teacher."

"Yeah, that's him," Stacy confirmed. "He's a really sensitive guy -- or at least he tries to be, but he's more emotional than sensitive. He's got problems with allergies, he seems to be scared of his own shadow and he's in a relationship with the science teacher, Ms. Barch. Watch out for her -- with the exception of Mr. O'Neill, she hates all guys."

"She does?" Derek asked, really surprised. "Why is that?"

"She went through a bitter divorce five years ago (6)," said Stacy. "She constantly says that she went through twenty-two years of unconditional servitude only to be dumped by her ex-husband for a younger woman. Actually, she rants more than she says it."

"Thanks for the warning," said Derek. "I'll remember that if I ever meet her. I wonder why she dates Mr. O'Neill if she hates guys so much. "

Before Stacy could answer, Mr. O'Neill suddenly called out, "If I could have your attention, everyone?" Everyone turned to face him. He said, "Welcome to the first ever Lawndale Summer Theater. Our first play will be Love's Labor's Lost. Does anyone know what the play's all about?"

Derek raised his hand, of course. Mr. O'Neill saw it. "Ah, good!" he began, and then he saw who had raised his hand. "Uh, do I know you?" he asked.

"No, I'm a newcomer," said Derek. "My name's Derek Powell. But I love Shakespeare, and I know what this play's about." And with that, he proceeded to explain it to everyone else there.

"Excellent, Derek!" Mr. O'Neill said. "Now that you all know what Love's Labor's Lost is all about, I'm going to start the auditions process. First up, I want those who will be trying out for the part of Berowne, one of the lords attending the King of Navarre; and those who will be trying out for the part of Rosaline, one of the ladies attending the Princess of France."

Derek and Stacy both raised their hands, so a moment later Stacy and Derek was on the stage, along with a bunch of other guys and girls, all of whom looked to be either still in high school or recent graduates. One of the guys had curly red hair, freckles and a smarmy grin that Derek didn't like all that much.

"Well, well, well, is it just me or were you with Stacy Rowe?" the freckled guy said.

"Yes," said Derek. "I met her and her friends today when I went to the mall to buy some stuff for my apartment. I decided to accompany her when I learned she was going to try out for this play."

"Interesting," said the freckled guy. "So your name's Derek Powell. I'm Charles Ruttheimer the Third."

Charles Ruttheimer the Third? Uh-oh! Derek thought as he remembered what Stacy told him. "I've heard about you from Stacy," said Derek.

"What did she tell you?" Upchuck asked, grinning suggestively. Now Derek knew why no girl really liked Upchuck.

"Enough to know why girls dislike you so much," said Derek. "May I give you a word of advice?"

"Sure," said Upchuck.

"Drop the ultrasuave act," Derek said bluntly. "It only works in movies and on TV. And maybe in real life if the guy's gorgeous enough to get away with it. But you aren't, so if you want to get a date you'd better accept that it won't work."

Upchuck looked stunned. Maybe he never had someone say something like that so bluntly. After a moment, he sighed and said, "Maybe you have a point. Maybe I'm not the ultrasuave type after all. Too many girls don't want to be seen with me, after all. Maybe that's why."

"It probably is," said Derek. "I'd suggest trying to find out why you try so hard to be ultrasuave. It might help you out -- a lot."

At that point, Mr. O'Neill interrupted. "Okay, now that I have all the guys who are going to play Berowne and all the girls who are going to play Rosaline onstage, I want you to pair up and practice this scene." He handed scripts to all of the would-be actors. Derek glanced at it and realized this was the scene where Berowne had his first witty conversation with Rosaline. "Once you pick your partners, you must practice for a half-hour, then we'll do the auditions."

Derek knew who he was going to pick as his partner, so he went right over to Stacy. "Will you be my partner, please?" he asked her.

"Sure!" Stacy said, delightedly. "But I don't recognize some of the words."

"It's the language," said Derek. "I'll help you out if you ask. Let's start practicing, all right?"

A half-hour later, Mr. O'Neill was ready for the auditions to begin. He'd heard some of the people practicing, and some of them were really good -- like the young man who knew the plot very well. Now what was his name? he thought. He had a bad memory for names. Then he checked the list and remembered.

"Okay, it's time to start the auditions," said Mr. O'Neill. "Charles and Brooke, you're up first." Charles and Brooke stood together and began reading their lines. For once, Charles didn't seem to be using his usual approach to girls when reading his lines. This may be why Brooke didn't try to kick him the way that Sandi had done once. Charles did a good job as Berowne, but there were probably better girls than Brooke to play Rosaline.

"Nice job, Charles!" Mr. O'Neill said. "Brooke, that wasn't such a great job. Charles, you might get the part if none of the other guys are as good. Next, please!"

Several couples came -- and went. None of them were as good as Charles but there was one who was better than Brooke and might get the part if there weren't any better girls. "Next up -- ah, Derek Powell and Stacy Rowe!"

Derek and Stacy stood facing each other and Derek began. "Did not I dance with you in Brabant once?" he asked. Stacy retorted, "Did not I dance with you in Brabant once?"

And in that instant, Mr. O'Neill saw it. The magic that was needed to have a great onstage couple was there. And as they continued the byplay, he was more and more impressed. They emoted very well, knew their lines and had genuine stage presence. He knew these two were the right ones for the parts!

"Excellent, guys!" said Mr. O'Neill. "I don't think we need to look any farther. You two have the parts!"

Derek and Stacy looked stunned for a moment, then Stacy squealed in delight. "I got the part, Derek! I got the part!"

"So did I!" said Derek excitedly. "And we'll be working together!" And at that point, Stacy rushed up to Derek and hugged him. He returned the hug, and then he looked at her.

Was it just Mr. O'Neill or was there something going on between them? But whatever he sensed, it was there only for an instant before Derek released Stacy and said, "Great job, Stacy!"

"I think Derek really likes Stacy," Charles suggested as Derek and Stacy moved to one side so they could watch the auditions continue. "And I think the feeling's mutual as well."

Mr. O'Neill had to agree, but he also had more parts to cast. "Now that we have the parts of Berowne and Rosaline cast, let's cast the parts of King Ferdinand of Navarre and the Princess of France," he said. "Any volunteers?"

Stacy watched from the side of the stage as people auditioned for the various roles in the play. Derek stood beside her, also watching the auditions. Whenever Mr. O'Neill would announce the people who got various parts (beginning with Mack, who got the role of the King of Navarre; and Jodie, who got the role of the Princess of France); he wouldn't know who they were so Stacy often had to explain to him who they were.

However, when Mr. O'Neill was casting guys first for the part of Don Adriano de Armado and later for Costard, she didn't have to explain who one of the guys trying out for the part was. As soon as Derek saw Upchuck trying out for the part of Armado, he recognized the guy and had to explain how they'd met. "I had to tell Upchuck to drop his ultrasuave act -- quite bluntly, I'm afraid. I'm not sure if he actually believes his own act or if it's just a defense mechanism."

"Well, at least now you know why he's called Upchuck," said Stacy. "Do you think he'd be a natural for Armado?"

"I think he'd be a natural for either the part of Armado or the part of Costard," said Derek. "Armado wants to be part of the King's company, but he's not too good at it. When he falls in love with Jaquenetta, he writes bad love letters and worships her as if she's an unapproachable goddess. Meanwhile, Costard mispronounces various grandiose terms and is asked to deliver two love letters to different women -- and gets them mixed up! Later, they all take part in a play-within-a-play for the lords and ladies and Costard apparently believes that Armado got Jaquenetta pregnant and challenges Armado to a duel -- Costard likes Jaquenetta himself."

Derek was proved correct as although one of Quinn's entourage, Kyle, got the part of Armado; Upchuck did get the part of Costard. Now Mr. O'Neill was casting for the part of Holofernes. Stacy was surprised when she saw David Sorensen amongst the people auditioning for that part. Derek must have noticed her surprise, for he whispered quietly to her, "Is that guy familiar to you?"

"Yeah," said Stacy. "He tutored Quinn last summer. When three guys who practically worship Quinn fawned over her after learning of her tutor, Sandi decided she should be tutored as well. Tiffany & I followed her. Unfortunately, none of us lasted long -- apparently Sandi & Tiffany never tried."

"I'm not surprised," said Derek. Then he frowns. "I hope I didn't upset you with that comment."

"Not really," said Stacy. "It's true. I did try but when I learned that David Sorensen had dropped Sandi & Tiffany, I allowed my insecurities to get the best of me and I ran off crying. I shouldn't have done that. (2)"

Derek nodded. "You probably shouldn't have allowed your insecurities to get the best of you, but I don't think you were really ready to be tutored."

At this point, the auditions begin. They involve the opening of the first scene where Holofernes appears, so not only will it be an audition for the part of Holofernes but also auditions for the parts of the curate, Nathaniel, and the constable, Dull. Stacy recognized the other people auditioning, including Ted DeWitt-Clinton, who once suggested that there be less room in the Yearbook for clubs and sports (7); and the dumb jock Kevin Thompson.

When Kevin has a hard time with saying the Latin words "haud credo," Stacy hears Derek whisper to her, "Can't blame him for having a hard time understanding it. Not many people learn Latin nowadays."

"True, but Kevin's so dumb he was actually held back a year," Stacy whispered back. "In fact, it's impossible for any teacher to teach Kevin. It might be possible to teach Brittany if she was separated from Kevin, but the only thing Kevin can learn is football."

Derek looked surprised. "Maybe he's a savant of some kind," he suggested. "He could be great at one thing and horrible at just about everything else. But he'd be perfect for the part of Dull. The constable was always dumb on the Elizabethan stage, and one of Shakespeare's best comic characters is the constable Dogberry from Much Ado About Nothing, a dumb guy if I ever saw one. Anyway, I hope you don't mind if I change the subject, but I forgot to ask you why your mother treats you so badly. And what about your father?

Stacy sighed. "My father isn't home much. He works -- a lot," she explained. "I think he's become a workaholic. As for my mom -- I think she's bitter over what her life had become. I've heard her say that she came from a very small town halfway across the state and that her ancestors founded the town. When she was in college, she met my father. He was ambitious, he came from a pretty good family and her parents liked him. She wasn't in love with him, but she wanted to fulfill expectations, so she married him after they graduated from college."

"While love isn't the only thing you need for marriage, a marriage without some form of love is a bad idea for at least one person," said Derek. "I think this was a mistake for both of them -- or at least for your mother."

"I think you're right," Stacy agreed. "Right after marriage, my dad was offered a job as a bank teller -- in Lawndale. That's not his job now, of course. He's part of the management now. But before I was born, he was a bank teller. When my parents moved here, my mom wasn't happy. She was no longer the big fish in a very small pond -- the Sloane family was. And she realized that they'd always be the big fish in the small pond of Lawndale. Maybe that's when she started to become bitter. Then she became pregnant with me, but I heard my birth was so difficult for Mom that she got her tubes tied afterward.

"Meanwhile, my dad was starting to move up in the bank. Unfortunately, my mother was becoming more and more bitter over not being as influential as the Sloanes. I don't know if she was taking her bitterness out on my father and that's why he began spending more and more hours at work or if his ambition was making him a workaholic. Either way, he was spending less and less time at home and so my mother began taking out her bitterness on me. She began telling me that I was a dummy and that I was practically worthless. And it only became worse."

"I hope she didn't hit you," said Derek. "At least that would be something, even if words can hurt just as much as sticks and stones."

"No, she never hit me," said Stacy. "She didn't need to -- her words did the trick. Maybe that's why I gravitated towards Sandi and once I got into middle school and high school why I became totally dependent on her or Quinn -- Quinn was mentally stronger than I was and Sandi was so intimidating."

"Your mother was wrong to do that to you," said Derek. "And although I can understand why your father started spending more and more hours at work if she was taking her bitterness out on him first, but he was also wrong to neglect you."

Stacy privately agreed, but before she could say so she heard Mr. O'Neill say, "Okay, we have three more parts filled in. David, you've got the part of Holofernes. Ted, you'll be doing the part of Nathaniel. And Kevin, you'll be playing Dull."

Derek then said, "Why am I not surprised?" And Stacy began laughing.

1. From Rey Fox's fanfic "Kitsune".
2. From "Is It Fall Yet?"
3. From "Life in the Past Lane"
4. From "Fair Enough"
5. From "Cafe Disaffecto"
6. From "Is It College Yet?
7. From "The New Kid"

To be continued...