"A poignant and timely socially conscious narrative."
It's always been you—you know that, right?
At a prestigious New York City performing arts school, five friends connect over one dream of stardom. But for Joy, Diego, Liv, Ethan and Dave, that dream falters under the pressure of second-semester, Senior year. Ambitions shift and change, new emotions rush to the surface, and a sense of urgency pulses between them: Their time together is running out.
Diego hopes to get out of the friend zone. Liv wants to escape, losing herself in fantasies of the new guy. Ethan conspires to turn his muse into his girlfriend. Dave pines for the drama queen. And if Joy doesn’t open her eyes, she could lose the love that’s been in front of her all along.
An epic ensemble piece in the vein of Fame and Let’s Get Lost, You in Five Acts is a eulogy for a friendship—the heartbreaks, the betrayals, the inside jokes, the remember-whens. And the tragedy that changed everything.
|Publisher:||Penguin Young Readers Group|
|Sold by:||Penguin Group|
|File size:||1 MB|
|Age Range:||12 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Copyright © 2016 Una LaMarche
It’s always been you—you know that, right? You didn’t have to be onstage for me to see you in a spotlight; when you were around, everything else faded to the background, like some cheap cardboard set. Looking back, it doesn’t even seem real, what happened with us. I see you in flashes, a fouetté turn that won’t end, my eyes focusing for a split second, grounding me in between spins: your smile, your laugh, the way you looked so mad when you got nervous. The curve of your waist in your leotard. Your silhouette on the train that night, looking out the window with the whole city stretched out behind you like some crazy constellation. The weight of you in my arms as we prac- ticed our lift, and how our eyes locked, so full of trust.
I swore I’d never let you down. I didn’t know then it was a lie.
Where Talent Meets Opportunity
Spring Semester Calendar:
January 4 First Day of Classes January 8 Senior Showcase Auditions
January 16 Martin Luther King Day (Campus closed) February 20 Presidents’ Day (Campus closed)
March 11–12 Admissions Auditions, Class of 2021 April 17–28 Spring Break (Campus closed)
May 1–5 Senior Tech Week (Opera, Theater) May 8–11 Senior Tech Week (Music, Dance)
May 12 Senior Showcase Performances (Opera, Music) May 13 Senior Showcase Performances (Theater, Dance)
May 14 Senior Showcase Gallery Show Opening (Visual Arts) May 15–19 Final Exams
May 22 Senior Awards Luncheon
May 26 Commencement Ceremony
127 days left
Pas de couru, tombé, manège of piqué pirouettes. I ran the steps in my head, over and over, one after another like sub- way cars hurtling through an endless tunnel. Every move, every turn, every line of each leg, each elbow, each vertebra every second had to be on point. En pointe. I had to be on my toes, literally, and light on feet that felt like bricks by the end of each rehearsal. The puns were endless, but, as we liked to joke back then, the struggle was real.
“She’s not even paying attention.” Liv flicked the back of my neck through my scarf with a thin, icy finger, and I heard you laugh.
“What?” I snapped back to life, or as close to life as I could get in the unforgiving January chill. My breath danced in front of me in a quick burst of cloudy vapor.
We were huddled at our usual spot at the Revson Fountain even though the marble was so frigid that sitting down meant sacrificing all feeling below the waist. Liv and Ethan always bitched about my love of the fountain because it wasn’t the squares, or the steps, or the clock, or any of the other “normal” hangouts. You were the only one who understood why I wanted to go—had to go—where we could pull our sore legs up against our jackets and look out at Avery Fisher Hall, those big cement columns encasing the delicate glass interior like a ribcage, and behind that, deep inside, its beating heart: ballet.
“He’s here,” Liv sighed, turning my head manually with her hands. “Three days late, but who’s counting, right?”
Of course Liv had seen him first. She’d always had a knack for knowing when a fellow Beautiful Person was in her orbit, almost like her brain came equipped with a thermal sensor for figurative hotness.
“Calm down, he’s not even that famous!” Ethan scoffed, peering through his glasses across the square. “He was basically only in one movie, six years ago. I don’t know why everybody’s flipping their collective shit.”
Despite its proximity to greatness in the heart of Lincoln Center, the Janus Conservatory had never had a celebrity before. I mean, there were plenty of famous alumni, and even a few teachers who used to be big deals. But all of the students, regardless of talent, were decidedly wannabes. Until Dave Roth. Ethan was upset because Dave’s sudden second-semester senior year transfer was all anyone could talk about, which meant that everyone had stopped talking about the original play Ethan was producing for Senior Showcase. It was no secret that he liked to think of himself as the star of the drama majors, even though he’d switched from acting to directing sophomore year.
“Yeah, he’s just a normal dude,” you said matter-of-factly. You’d been perched next to me on the icy marble, bouncing restlessly on the toes of your well-worn Converse high-tops, but then you leapt down in front of me, holding out a French fry like a long-stemmed rose. “C’mon, you have to eat,” you grinned, your eyes twinkling out from your messy mop of dark curls.
“I am eating,” I said, inspecting my locker-smushed turkey- and-spinach wrap with trepidation. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get much down with the wave of nausea I’d been riding all day. You, on the other hand, could pound junk 24/7 and still dance circles around everyone else—including me. It was completely infuriating. You shrugged and popped the fry into your mouth. “A ‘normal dude’ who played Angelina Jolie’s son,” Liv said. “I mean, didn’t he win a Golden Globe?”
Pas de couru, tombé, manège of piqué pirouettes. My Showcase audition—the single performance that would likely determine my entire future—would begin in three hours.
“No!” Ethan practically screamed. “He was nominated for a Golden Globe. Which means nothing, by the way. It’s a drunken circus.”
“You guys need a hobby,” you laughed, crumpling up your greasy paper lunch bag. “And you,” you said, putting your hands on my knees, “Need to chill. You got this.”
I forced a tight smile. Senior Showcase would be attended by industry VIPs and recruiters from elite companies all over the country. If I didn’t do well at the audition, I wouldn’t get a featured role. And if I wasn’t featured, I would barely be seen, which would mean that I could probably kiss a professional dance career goodbye, effectively rendering the previous ten years of my life a complete waste.
“Shit, remember that hospital monologue?” Liv asked, ignoring you. She reached out and caressed Ethan’s face, sending a blush racing up his already winter-pink cheeks. “I’ll always . . . be . . . with . . . you,” she whispered, her face contorting into a mask of tragedy. Then she burst out laughing.
“You’ll always be crazy,” Ethan said, but his eyes on her were soft and reverent.
I took a tasteless bite of my wrap and looked across the plaza to where Dave and Ms. Hagen, the drama head, were standing near the entrance to the Metropolitan Opera House. He was cringing against the cold, wearing only a knit skullcap and a pretty flimsy-looking green hoodie. L.A. Boy’s going to have to get himself a proper coat, I thought, feeling a little flutter in my chest that, for once, wasn’t born of pure dread.
I don’t know if it’s fair to say I had a crush on Dave Roth; it was more like a curiosity . . . made slightly more interesting by the fact that he looked like some kind of lush-lipped boy bander crossed with a Greek statue. And in a graduating class of 125 that was 70 percent female, any new Y chromosome was bound to make waves. Besides, Janus never took transfer students. It had been founded in the 70s by a crazy-rich art lover named Roberta Zeagler who had, according to the quote carved into a block of marble in the lobby, wanted to “democratize the path to cultural greatness.” That meant it was a free ride—tuition, supplies, even pointe shoes, which were $80 a pair and lasted one or two days—and, presumably, that talent was the only factor considered in the application. But each class only had room for twenty-five students per major, and there was a single audition period every spring, no exceptions. No one knew what Dave had done to get special treatment.
“P.S.,” Liv said, turning to me like she could read my mind. “I saw his medical records in the nurse’s office this morning, and he’s six-foot-one, one hundred and sixty pounds, and does not have any STDs.” She plucked a baby carrot out of her ever-present Ziploc baggie and snapped it in half with her incisors. I knew Liv well enough to know that A) “saw his medical records” meant “opened the nurse’s file cabinet when she left the room”; and B) she was gearing up to play matchmaker again. She did that every so often—made a big show of trying to set me up with someone, and then lording over me how I never followed through. You never liked that; you always told me I should stop letting her act like I was some kind of pet project. What you didn’t understand was how far we went back, and how I helped her, too. Liv was just a lot louder about it. But then, she was the actress. Drama came with the territory.
“He seems more like your type,” I said, trying to deflect attention.
“He’s probably gay,” Ethan said, unconvincingly. “Anyway, you basically live in the nurse’s office, so that’s not exactly Sherlock-level sleuthing.” He smiled down at something on his phone. “And for the record, Wikipedia says he’s only five-nine.” “I have adrenal fatigue, asshole,” Liv snapped. (Another Liv translation: her “adrenal fatigue” was what the rest of the world called “a hangover.”)
“Can we talk about something else?” you asked. You climbed up onto the bench and leapt into a perfect tour en l’air, landing with a squeak on the soles of your ratty sneakers. I rolled my eyes. I loved cheesy Hollywood dance movies— that was an established fact—but doing ballet jumps in street clothes was a little too Fame-y even for me.
“Attention whore,” Liv grinned, tucking her crudités lunch back into her enormous purse.
“Enjoy this, Ortega,” Ethan said. “It’s your official last day of being the Cute Guy.”
“Aw, you think I’m cute, E?” you asked, plopping down next to Ethan and draping an arm across his shoulders.
“No one thinks that,” I said with a smirk. That was a bald-faced lie, of course. Everyone loved you, and I wasn’t blind. You were the world’s biggest flirt and a straight-boy ballet dancer. Back on our very first day at Janus, I remember being instantly drawn to you, but not in the way other girls seemed to be. Standing there in Ballet 1 with the tags on my brand-new leotard still scratching that unreachable spot between my shoulders, I just got this déjà vu feeling of already knowing you. It had felt, somehow, that you had always been there, and I just hadn’t noticed until that moment.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re cute if you’re not famous,” Liv said, pretending to check her texts while she took a zoomed-in photo of Dave with her phone.
“We’re not unfamous, we’re pre-famous,” Ethan shot back. “Which is better than peaking at age eleven, if you ask me.”
“Make sure to lead with that when you meet him.” I laughed, trying to ignore my stomach’s enthusiastic somersaults.
“I probably should go introduce myself,” Ethan said, fondling the script sticking out of his messenger bag. “I could use a big name in my play.”
“Oh, so now he’s a big name,” Liv teased. She wiggled her eyebrows at me. “You know what they say about guys with big names.”
Even in the icy air, my cheeks lit up like burning coals. “Please,” I groaned. “I have to focus.” But I was secretly sort of grateful to her for taking my mind off of my audition.
“Aaaaand, that’s my cue,” Ethan said irritably, shoving his hands in his pockets as he stalked off toward Dave and Ms. Hagen.
“You guys are worse than us,” you laughed, shaking your head.
“Don’t be jealous,” Liv chided. “You’ll still have your dance groupies. But he’s new, and hot.” She reached over me to ruffle your hair. “It’s just like Shakespeare wrote: ‘Everyone has their entrance, everyone has their exit.’”
“Speaking of entrances,” you said, nodding toward Ethan. We all watched him make contact. It was like some nature documentary, where two species at opposite ends of the food chain face off on the Great Plains. Ethan immediately started gesticulating wildly.
“Ten bucks says he’s already name-dropped Arthur Miller,” Liv said. She was the only one of us who’d been allowed to read Ethan’s top-secret Showcase script, because Ethan had not so secretly written the leading role for her.
“Maybe he’s showing off your Godspell photos,” you said. Liv and Ethan had first become friends in ninth grade when they had played Jesus and Judas, respectively. In many ways, their relationship still mirrored that doomed Biblical pair.
“Maybe he’s inviting him to your party,” I said, my heart starting to race at the heady thought of Dave Roth, in a warm room, close enough to touch. Liv’s parents had left that morning to visit her aunt in San Juan, so she was throwing what she called a “soirée” for “a select group of dope people.” Knowing Liv, though, that could have easily meant the entire senior class.
“God, I hope not.” Liv cringed. “I actually want him to come.”
“You’re not both seriously into this dude already, right?” you asked incredulously, looking back and forth between us. I met your eyes and made a face like, You don’t know my life, and you looked legitimately taken aback. “I expected more from you,” you sighed. Your lips stretched out over your teeth like a smile but your eyes were flat.
“Excuse me, what kind of patriarchal bullshit is that?” Liv asked, turning on you. “Joy can do whatever, or whomever, she pleases. And you don’t get an opinion.” We high-fived over your head, and you held up your palms in surrender.
“OK, OK, I’m sorry,” you said. “I was just—”
“You can make it up to me,” Liv interrupted. “Jasper’s not invited, for obvious reasons, so I need your help making sure our good friend Mary Jane makes an appearance.” Just before Christmas break, Liv had broken up with her boyfriend of almost two years, who also happened to be Janus’s primary pot connection.
You raised your eyebrows. “C’mon, you know I don’t smoke. Stop stereotyping my people.”
“Excuse me, I’m Puerto Rican,” Liv said.
“Puert-Jew-rican,” you corrected with a smirk. “Olivia Gerstein.”
“Now who’s being racist?” Liv snapped. “Plus, I know your cousin Dante deals. Jasper was always pissed about how he was moving in on the uptown schools.”
Your smile disappeared. “I don’t know anything about that,” you said. “That’s his business. Not mine.”
“Fine, sorry. Forget I asked,” Liv sighed. “Just bring a six- pack of something, then.”
“What do you want?” you asked, turning to me, the tension of the previous seconds gone as if it had never happened.
I rolled my ankles, drawing circles on the stone with my toes. I’d been dancing all morning in class, and had made a point to stretch the hell out of my feet beforehand. “You’re flat in the wrong places,” Ms. Adair would often chide, looking me over like she wished she could telepathically force the curve of my hips down into my arches. But I could already feel my muscles tightening and shortening. It was torture to sit still.
“I want to speed up time,” I said.
You rolled your eyes. “What do you want to drink tonight? We have to celebrate.”
“Don’t say that yet,” I said, smacking you in the arm. “You’ll jinx it.”
“Damn, girl!” you cried, rubbing your triceps. “You’re a ballerina, not a boxer.” You’d known me for four years, but you never seemed to understand: To get where I wanted to be, I had to be both.
“I just don’t know how you’re not freaking right now.” I did know, actually. Being a guy meant you were one of seven dancers competing for the male roles, not one of eighteen competing for the female ones. Boys were always needed in ballet, and boys who could dance like you…? They were golden.
“I guess I just don’t think there’s anything I can do right now to change what’s going to happen,” you said with a shrug. Or maybe it was a shiver. It was freezing outside. Your words would come to haunt me later, but all I knew right then was that I was definitely an asshole.
“You could get drunk,” Liv suggested.
“Fine,” you said, “Aside from getting wasted or breaking a leg or something, there’s nothing I can do between now and then to seriously change whatever I’m going to do in that room.”
“Are you saying it’s fated?” Liv asked, peering over at Ethan and Dave’s tête-à-tête. “What the fuck are they still talking about?”
“Nah, I don’t buy into fate,” you said. “I just mean you can’t prepare past a certain point.
“Are you kidding?” I looked at you incredulously. “I feel like I can’t prepare enough.” Ballet was all about drills and repetition. There was no room for whimsy.
“I just mean . . .” You squinted up into the bright winter sun. “Like, you have to learn the steps and then trust that they’ll be there when the time comes.”
“I wish I could switch brains with you,” I sighed.
“You’d be downgrading.” You grinned, showcasing two deep dimples. “But sure.”
“Shut up, they’re coming back,” Liv stage-whispered, immediately pretending to be engrossed in her phone.
“They?” I glanced up to see Ethan practically running toward us, trailed by a reluctant-looking Dave. He looked straight at me and I lost my breath.
“Relax,” you laughed. “He’s just a pretty white boy. I hear they’re very tame.”
“Remember,” Liv said under her breath, “We have to balance out Ethan’s bullshit by being cool.”
“Don’t act like you don’t love him,” I said, relishing the opportunity to tease her back for once. Even though it was easy to make Ethan the scapegoat of the group, he was smart and funny and even kind of good-looking when he wasn’t frowning like the world was about to end. And as much as Liv gave him shit, I knew she cared what he thought of her. Once, when she was drunk, she’d told me he was the only person she’d ever met who might be an actual genius.
“Whatever,” Liv sighed as Ethan and Dave reached the bench.
Up close, Dave was taller than Wikipedia had given him credit for, and hotter than seemed fair to the rest of the gene pool. He gave us a tight smile when Ethan introduced him.
“Dave, this is Liv, Diego, and Joy,” Ethan said. “Liv you might recognize from her appearance in Law and Order: SVU as Teen Girl Number Three, and Diego and Joy you probably saw on the landing page of JanusConservatory.com.”
It was true, that was the only fame we could claim to date— the year before, a photographer had come to school for a week to “capture life on campus,” according to the release form our parents had to sign, and a shot of you, me, and a few other dancers lined up at the barre during group class had made it onto the website. We were in profile, eyes focused, spines straight, left arms extended in tendu. Words floated above our heads: where talent meets opportunity. Based on the graphic design, you were talent, and I was opportunity.
Opportunity. The fact of the Showcase auditions, which I had blissfully forgotten about for approximately two minutes, settled back into its permanent spot at the forefront of my brain, and a fresh wave of nausea washed over me.
“Hey,” I said to Dave, when it seemed like my turn. With game like that, it was downright shocking I was still a virgin.
“Dave has graciously agreed to audition for my play,” Ethan told us, beaming.
“It didn’t really feel like I had a choice,” Dave said, shoving his hands in the pockets of his hoodie. His lips turned up in a little half-smile while he read our faces, trying to figure out if it was cool to rib on Ethan within the first ten seconds of meeting us.
“I’ll be there, too,” Liv said. Her mouth glistened with a fresh coat of gloss I hadn’t even seen her apply. “So if you need someone to shield you from the drama-department drama, let me know.”
“Thanks,” Dave said. “I literally haven’t met anyone yet.” He looked around the square, shivering. “Is this, like, the lunch hangout?”
“For a select group of masochists,” Ethan said through clenched teeth.
“It’s only the most beautiful place in Manhattan,” you said, nudging my shoulder. I looked up at Dave, trying to think of something witty to say, but his eyes were on Liv.
“I’m having a party tonight,” she said, leaning into you casually—a physical checkmate. “You should come.”
“Cool,” Dave murmured noncommittally.
“OK, well, I for one am freezing my nuts off, so can we please move this lovefest indoors?” Ethan asked.
There were murmurs of agreement, the shuffling of books and bags, the metallic swish of zippers.
“Are you OK?” you asked. I looked up; the others were waiting impatiently.
I shook my head, tucking my knees up under my chin. Getting off the bench suddenly felt huge, like a step I wasn’t ready for. I knew you were right—that there was nothing I could do to predict what was about to happen in the audition room. But it didn’t make me feel calm; it just made me feel powerless. I wanted to fast-forward, skip ahead to when everything had already been decided. (If I could go back, I would stop time, just so you know. Freeze us forever when we were all together, when nothing had broken. I’d give it all up to go back to that day.) “I need a minute,” I said.
“You know you’re gonna own that audition,” you whispered, crouching down next to me. “You’re gonna blow the doors off that room.”
“Yeah?” I smiled.
“Yeah. And someday—” you pointed to the banner stretched across the front of Avery Fisher Hall, advertising the New York City Ballet’s production of Sleeping Beauty “—that’s gonna be us.”
“I’m holding you to that,” I said.
“Hurry up!” Liv yelled. But I still wasn’t ready.
It never got old: the theaters rising up out of the square like mid-century modern monoliths; the twinkling lights, like distant stars; the water that leapt tirelessly behind us even when temperatures dropped below freezing; the tourists crossing back and forth, arguing in foreign tongues, snapping pictures of our city; the dancers we could sometimes spot with their telltale duffle bags and muscular calves, walking quickly with spines so straight they could balance plates on their heads. It felt like the center of the universe, especially with those tiles that radiated out to the edges of the square, drawing paths to the door of each theater, fifty feet and a million dreams away. The future seemed tangible and invisible all at once back then, like a specter, like a promise. Like seeing your breath on a cold day.
There one second, and then—gone.