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College

1.

I was in so much trouble. I’d always been in trouble but this was something else. This was suspended for three days, almost expelled, put in counselling, parents brought into school for a two hour chat trouble.

I’d been caught wagging, not for the first time. I’d been caught tagging- that was the first time I’d been caught and not the most wholesome way to stretch my creative endeavours, I know. And- just to hit the trifecta- I was caught outside the school, spray can in hand, at the exact moment I took a hit from a handmade bong. There was just no getting out of that. That had tipped me from stoner dropout but who cares to potential baby criminal.

“This is really serious.” Miriam, the school counsellor was saying. “Is this getting through to you?”

“Oh yeah.” I said. “Yeah I totally get it.” They all exchanged a look that suggested I did not, in fact, get it. Miriam looked over my head and up at my parents.

“I have an idea to get him engaged.” She said over my head. “Also means he’d be supervised after school for a couple of hours a couple of days a week.” They looked at each other and shrugged. I could read the exhaustion in their eyes. They would try anything. Miriam looked at me over her glasses with a bit of a smile.

“You’ve got quite a voice on you don’t you?” She said. I felt my face grow red.

“No.” I lied. I do, in fact, have quite a voice. A powerful tenor. I took singing lessons once a week but I kept that pretty under wraps, because, you know, it was fucking lame.

She smiled at me.

“School musical is coming up.” She informed my parents. Oh my god.

“No.” I said quickly. “I’ll take detention everyday.”

“Hector, just an audition.” She said firmly.

“You can drug test me. Every day. You can check my bag and locker and shit for spray paint…”

“That will be happening regardless.” My mother said.

I whined and stamped my foot and begged and pleaded for anything other than this form of cruel and unusual punishment- but I didn’t get my way.

—-/—-

“What will you be singing?” Ms Sayers smiled warmly at me as I stood with my hands shoved deep in my pockets in front of her and Mr Marsh. Ms Sayers was the head of the music department, but really more invested in the orchestra. Mr Marsh would be leading the musical…fucking shocker. He was practically a walking musical himself.

“I cannot see the city.” I muttered. I hadn’t loved any of the choices, I’m not really a musical theatre kinda guy. Mr Marsh smiled at me and gave me a bar on the piano. I sighed and began.

As I finished the two looked at each other.

“That’s something.” Ms Sayers said slowly. “Can you do that with anything?” She turned to Mr Marsh. “Try something contemporary.” He started to play ‘Let it Be’ which, um, not exactly contemporary, but I obediently opened my mouth and sang a few bars.

“Excellent party trick.” Mr Marsh muttered. “Alright. Thanks Hector.” I grinned as I left the room, satisfied I’d totally fucked that up.

–/–

Mr Marsh caught up with me later. I was in the library, reading. He sat next to me and folded his arms.

“Next time you try to throw an audition you should know it’s virtually impossible to sing that consistently off key unless you know what you’re doing.” I looked up at him. “And you should work on all that lovely vibrato. It’s a dead giveaway that you’re very talented.” Dammit. I sighed.

“Please don’t put me in the musical.”

“Why not?”

“It’s super lame?” I winced as I realised I was talking with someone who probably studied Musical Theatre and still starred in shows occasionally.

“If it’s so lame why do you take singing lessons? Why are you in the choir?”

“That’s just singing. It’s not…” I threw my hands up in a grandiose gesture. Mr Marsh laughed and mimicked me. “Look.” I sighed. “You remember High School right? I’m sure it sucked just as much for you as it does for me. I’ve somehow managed to stay under the radar for four years and I really don’t want to paint a giant target on my back for the last one.” Mr Marsh sighed and pressed his fingertips together.

“You already painted a target on your back by getting suspended.” He said frankly. “People might not have known who Hector Raleigh was before, but they do now.” I sighed. I had noticed more people were saying hi to me. And more people were turning away from me and whispering.

I might have made the tiniest bit of a name for myself.

“Manaia does the musical every year and he seems to be doing ok.” He pointed to a guy just outside the library, Manaia, one assumed. He was dressed in a sports uniform- I didn’t pay attention to sports so it could have been any team, but it was one of the fancy gold and black ones so he must have been representing the school in something. He was massive, one of those lucky guys who was already over 6 feet and probably still growing. I was still hoping for a growth spurt. Spoiler- it wasn’t coming. His hair was curly and just above his shoulders. I frowned poker oyna at him.

“That guy does musicals?” Mr Marsh laughed.

“See? I don’t know where you’re getting your stereotypes from.” I rolled my eyes.

“Netflix I guess.” I looked at Mr Marsh and sighed. “Please. Just don’t put me as the lead. I’ll do the chorus or something. If I have to.”

“Alright. Not the lead. On ya Hector, I think you’re gonna enjoy this.” He leapt up and marched away before I had a chance to change my mind.

I know how it is in American TV shows but in Wellington, NZ, in my year it was definitely cool to be involved with the school musicals. I mean, kids like me didn’t think it was cool, and a few of the tougher guys from the wrong side of the track clearly agreed. But those big glowing kids, the ones with the attractive personalities and usually photogenic genes- the popular kids- they were all over it. Something about being the centre of attention, maybe.

So that’s why they announced the leads in Assembly on Friday morning, in front of everyone.

I was at the back with my mates. Well, I was with some art students I knew ok. My mates skipped this, every Friday. Unfortunately I had my very own personal escort in my home room teacher who was eyeing me right this second. So I stuck around. Not like I had a choice.

“Morning.” Mr Marsh yawned as he stepped on stage. He always was a little rough around the edges until after lunch and his 4 or 5 black coffees. He glanced at the restless crowd of teenage boys in front of him and I could actively see him trying to shake himself into giving a little pep. He grinned. “Thanks to all who auditioned. So much talent in this hall alone. Unfortunately I have limited parts to give out and one of them is going to Meg from Wellington Girls since none of you can consistently hit those notes…” I mentally checked out. There was a smattering of applause after each name and, as tradition, the boys whose names were announced stood in their seats so we could admire them, I guess. “And finally we have our two leading men- Hector Raleigh will be our Judas this year and Manaia Tuhoe will be Jesus.” My head jerked up. What? Oh for fuck’s sake.

The guys around me exploded with laughter and I turned bright red. I wasn’t gonna act like it phased me though- the only thing lamer than being cast in the musical was being lame about being cast in a musical- so I threw my arms in the air as though I’d won an Olympic Gold. I encouraged the guys to start a chant.

“Hector, Hector!” I bowed. I glanced across the aisle where Manaia was getting similar treatment, only unironically. I didn’t remember his name but I definitely remembered the six foot whatever guy currently standing up with a huge grin on his face. He looked so cocky, and so damn happy. I wanted to bring him down a peg. I decided to grab his hand across the aisle. He looked surprised but he was good at playing along. I led him up to the stage, encouraging people to cheer for us as we got there. I thrust our hands into the air as I frowned at Mr Marsh. He smiled benignly. Fuck you, I mouthed. He looked away, pretending not to see.

We were quickly ushered off stage by our Vice Principal and the crowd calmed down. I realised my hand was still entwined and Manaia’s and I was leading him to my seat.

“Coming with?” I enquired. He blushed and dropped my hand.

“Uh- hey…” He muttered. I looked at him, but he didn’t seem to have anything to add so I raised my eyebrows.

“Hey?” I shrugged him off and joined my friends.

—/—

“That’s just straight up bad casting.” I slouched into Mr Marsh’s office and threw myself on a chair. “And you promised I wouldn’t be a lead.” I folded my arms petulantly. He slowly put his laptop down and took his glasses off.

“I promised you wouldn’t be the lead. And you’re not. Manaia is.” He folded his arms, reflecting me somewhat mockingly. “As for the casting I think you two could have great chemistry. I think you proved that today.”

“I don’t even know Manaia! And isn’t Judas meant to be some… badass, manly dude?”

“Maybe actually watch Jesus Christ Superstar and tell me who Judas is meant to be after that. And then tell me why you think we cast you.” I frowned at him and sighed.

“This is the Worst Thing that’s Ever Happened to Me.” I said. Mr Marsh laughed.

“Ok, Hector. If that’s true then I’m happy your life has been so stable.”

“It’s just so much… dancing and… glitter.”

“We can hold the glitter.” I bit my thumbnail as I looked at him. His face was so calm.

“What can I do to make up for it? Please? Anything?”

“Why are you this anxious about it?”

“It’s not my thing! I don’t like being the centre of attention!”

“Yes you do. You’re always causing scenes. That’s the fifth assembly you’ve attended this year and the fifth assembly you’ve disrupted this year.” I grinned a tiny bit at that. Huh. Five for five, nice.

“That’s different.”

“Because you’re in control of that.” I frowned. canlı poker oyna

“Uhhh…”

“I think getting you up on stage is going to be really good for you Hector.”

“Fuck you.”

“Watch your language.”

“Sorry.” I bit my tongue. I really couldn’t afford to get in any more trouble and I think he knew that. I groaned as I looked at Mr Marsh. I could see I wasn’t winning this one.

2.

We started rehearsals. Everyone seemed to know all their parts and had seen the musical several times over. I… showed up. Obviously I didn’t normally do this sort of thing so I didn’t know anyone there.

Manaia did. He knew fucking everyone. He was cracking jokes and telling stories… he was kind of magnetic, people were drawn to him. They wanted to be part of that warmth. They wanted him to see them, call them out. Exalt them.

I didn’t like him at all. I thought he was loud and a show off and full of it. I sat quietly on the side, reading a book. I was good at reading. I used to be good at melting into the shadows. That’s why I got away with skipping class to smoke for so long. But Manaia wouldn’t let me do that, would he? His eyes sought me out for some reason. I could feel them. Everyone could. He has that kind of gaze. He’s the worst person I’ve ever met for hiding emotion- it’s probably why he’s such a good actor. Everything is at the surface, ready to go.

I glanced up and caught him staring. He looked away. I glanced over his group who were all also surreptitiously stealing glances. I wondered what I’d done wrong. Maybe it was how I was dressed. I tried not to play it up in school but I know my jeans are always a little tighter than anyone else’s. My shirts are always ironed. My shoes are polished and usually Italian leather.

We sat in a circle and started discussing how we felt about the show. What it meant to us politically, what we drew from it. Everyone seemed to have long winded answers and a lot of thoughts. Everyone seemed to find a little bit that they held dear, that reflected their own life. I didn’t know the musical so I kept my mouth shut.

“What about you Manaia?” Ms Sayers was leading this session. “You always see a lot of subtext, what’s your take?” Everyone turned to Manaia. He’d been quiet since we started. He was blushing a little.

“Nothing no one else has said.” He said. Ms Sayers wasn’t having a bar of that.

“Come on, what’s the hot take?” He shrugged and grinned. His whole body seemed to shift a little as he relaxed.

“You don’t want to know, Ms Sayers.” She rolled her eyes.

“Try me.”

“Well Jesus and Judas… they were totally… you know… with each other.” Everyone laughed as Manaia grinned and sat back. He wriggled his eyebrows at Ms Sayers and she shrugged.

“You’re not the first person to think that. What do you think Hector?” Oh shit. I hadn’t seen the musical. I had no idea. I looked at Manaia and he stuck his chin out just a little. Defensively. I glanced around. I knew my crowd.

“Oh yeah.” I said, staring Manaia down. Two can play at this game. “Convert me, daddy.”

“Enough.” Ms Sayers said as the group hooted and laughed at me. I grinned and winked at Manaia and he turned away, frowning. I was really good at gay chicken.

We continued to talk and I realised I was going to have to catch up at some point, because I had nothing to add. I just sat there feeling stupid and trying to read my book under the table. We split into groups, to work through the text and discuss subtext and motivations and stuff. Obviously I was with Manaia. He sat next to me and pulled the book off my lap. Bold and kind of dickish move. He looked at it thoughtfully.

“John Waters?” I grabbed it back.

“Fuck off.”

“Sorry, man.” He seemed a bit taken aback by my iciness. I sighed. No need to be a dick, it wasn’t his fault I was here. I rested my head on my arm and looked at him.

“Sorry.” I sighed. I looked half heartedly at the score on the table and up at him. “You seem to know a bit more about this than me. Why don’t you tell me my motivations?” Manaia laughed.

“Well I don’t think you’re gonna like my interpretation, Hector. I wasn’t joking before. I think Jesus was buggering Judas something criminal.” He grinned at me. Goddamn his teeth were white.

I blinked at him from where my arm was resting over the table. I shrugged.

“Musicals are already gay. Lets roll with it.” Manaia frowned at me.

“You know I am right?”

“What?”

“Gay.” I sat up a little and looked him over.

“Oh.” I said with a small smile. “You got me.” He shook his head.

“For real.” I looked him over.

“Yeah, ok.” Manaia rolled his eyes.

“You know, I think you’re more narrow minded than you look.” He said.

“Whatever, Mr. Prom King.” I sat up properly and pulled the score towards us. “Come on. Lets get through this.” He sighed and brought his chair in close, and started explaining the plot to me. I was so far out of the loop I didn’t really get the Christianity internet casino stuff or the musical theatre stuff. He knew enough for both of us though.

I noticed halfway through his thigh was resting against mine. For some reason I didn’t move. For some reason I almost leant into it. For some reason my hand fell down to my lap and almost spilled on to him, just barely resting between us.

—/—-

I was sitting on the benches near the netball courts doodling and trying to pretend I hadn’t heard the bell when I felt someone gently tug on my ponytail. I don’t think I’ve ever been so offended in my entire life. I whirled around to see Manaia grinning at me.

“Come on pint glass, that was the bell.” I glared at him. I wasn’t sure what made me madder- the hair pull, or the demeaning new nickname- and having to choose was rendering me speechless. He laughed at my expression. “Come on.” He offered me his hand. “English.” I took his hand wordlessly and let him pull me up. Had we really been in the same English class all year? I’m sure I would have noticed… although maybe I’d notice more if I actually went to class.

He walked beside me, thankfully in silence, and I started thinking about an idea I had for some photography when I realised he was tugging my ponytail for attention again. That unwelcome touch was so jarring I managed to find my voice again.

“Do that one more time, I dare you.” Manaia grinned.

“Don’t tie it up like that then. It’s way too tempting.” Asshole.

“Your honour, the defendant had their hair up and it was ‘tempting’. Accused should be cleared of all charges.” I was trying to hurt him with my glare but he was totally immune. He just laughed again and pulled me into class.

We were paired together for the second time this week and it was Manaia’s turn to be in way over his head.

“You haven’t actually read The Handmaid’s Tale have you?” I realised slowly as his points made less and less sense. He looked really tired all of a sudden.

“I saw the TV show.” He joked. His tone was a little flatter than usual though, and his eyes weren’t twinkling. I stared at him.

“You good?” I asked after a beat. He blushed.

“Yeah. Ah. Just with Rugby, and Netball, and Chess and Debate and the Musical I guess… I just sort of don’t have a lot of time for reading.”

“Jesus, dude. You need to prioritise.”

“I do. That’s why English is last. Figure I can cheat off you.” I rolled my eyes.

“I actually meant prioritise as in get some sleep but thank you so much for choosing me as your patsy, honoured.”

“Hey man, something tells me I’m going to be carrying this musical alone, it’s the least you can do.”

“Just because I think musicals are the gayest thing ever doesn’t mean I’m going to suck.” Manaia frowned at me.

“Don’t use gay in that way.”

“In what way?”

“Like ‘lame’. That’s not on.” I blushed in spite of myself, being called out on my language by a jock.

“I actually meant it as in gay, men loving men and all that but I take your point.”

“Why do you think musicals are gay?” Manaia stared at me. “Try to answer without flicking your wrist.” I swallowed. Oops. Totally called out.

I noticed as I was thinking that his hand was dangling dangerously close to my hair again.

“Hey, John Key, watch it.” I swung my head away. He laughed and it broke the tension. “Alright.” I leant over the desk. “Let me help you with that essay.”

—-

He walked me to my next class, Art History, all the way down in the basement, and he leant against the wall chatting to me about his upcoming netball game. I asked to be polite but he really could ramble on. I was nodding and pretending I cared when the sun lit him up from behind, filtering through us curls and making his dark skin glow. I could practically hear my heart beat faster.

Oh no.

“Hey what’s up?” Man, I need a new face. One without emotions written across it. I blinked and turned away from Manaia.

“Sorry, just gotta be on time…” I started to head downstairs when he caught my shoulder.

“See ya tomorrow, pint glass.”

——

I thumped down in my seat and banged my head on the desk.

“Hey Hector. It’s Art History. Not Drama. You want to save it?” I glanced up at our teacher.

“Sorry.” I mumbled, sitting up straight. I tried to focus on Futurism and Boccioni but my mind was wandering. Wandering way too far in a direction I didn’t like.

“Hey, you know that guy Manaia?” I asked my mate Connor. He blinked at me. Yeah, we were meant to be discussing our thoughts on Italian facism but I had something on the brain.

“Manaia, THE Manaia? First 11? Rugby, Soccer, and Netball? Lead in all the school plays? Leader of the GSA? Head of Seddon House? Probably going to be Dux this year? That Manaia?”

“Jesus Christ.”

“And that, in your musical yeah.” I rolled my eyes at him. Such a comedian. “I know.” He said, watching my face carefully. “But hey, you might pass all your classes this year so you have that going for you.”

“When did he transfer here?”

“What do you mean? He’s been here since Year 9, same as us.” I frowned at Connor. There was no way. I would have noticed him.

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