Broken Juliet
Author:Leisa Rayven

“These masks exhibit specific emotional traits. I’d like you all to take a few minutes and choose one that appeals to you.”

 

Everyone goes over to the masks. As they talk and laugh among themselves, Ethan stands at the back, waiting for the crowd to subside. I go and stand beside him.

 

“Hey.”

 

“Hey.” He barely looks at me.

 

“You bailed on me this morning.” He shoves his hands in his pockets, and the muscles tighten in his jaw. “Are you … upset with me? About what happened? I mean, I know you said we should wait, and I pushed you to do it anyway, but—”

 

“No.” He shrugs. “I’m not upset with you. I was just … I had stuff to do and I didn’t want to wake you. Everything’s fine.”

 

His words are reassuring, but they don’t make me feel any better. “So, you … enjoyed it then? Me? What we did?”

 

He drops his head, and I see the hint of a smile as he leans down to whisper in my ear. “Cassie, only you would want to discuss sex in the middle of acting class. Can we please talk about this later, when we’re not in a room full of people?”

 

“Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Later.” I know he’s right, but my ego deflates more every second. “When, later?”

 

He sighs and leans down again, so close his lips brush against my ear. “Yes, I enjoyed it. A lot. You were, without a doubt, the best I’ve ever had. But thinking about it right now isn’t going to end well for me. So please, for the love of inconvenient boners everywhere, let it go.”

 

His confession makes me beam. It doesn’t excuse him leaving, but at least I know he had a good time.

 

Erika gestures to us. “Mr. Holt, Miss Taylor … less talking, more mask choosing, please. I’d like to get started.”

 

By the time we step forward, there are only two masks left: one with a large nose and heavy, frowning brows, and one that looks like a child, all round eyes and soft cheeks.

 

“Aggression and vulnerability,” Erika says as she leans against her desk. When I pick up the child and Holt goes for the other one, she clucks her tongue and swaps them around. “This is a far less obvious choice for you both, don’t you think?”

 

Holt tenses, and for a second I think he’s going to argue, but Erika stares him down until he turns and goes back to his seat.

 

Erika then calls people to the performance space in pairs. She gives prompts for improvised scenes that use only body language. It’s difficult, and everyone struggles, but Erika pushes them to give more. She’s scary today, and by the time she calls me and Ethan to the stage, my hands clammy.

 

“Miss Taylor, you’re representing strength, but in a negative context. Bullish, domineering, uncompromising. Mr. Holt, you’re the opposite. Sensitive, open, trusting. Begin when you’re ready.”

 

I slip on my mask. It’s tight, which makes it difficult to breathe. My vision is limited to the small eyeholes, and I have to turn my head to see Ethan.

 

He glances at me for a few moments before putting on his own mask.

 

I take some time to center myself, then move toward him and make myself as imposing as possible. It’s not easy when he towers over me. Still, I try to be aggressive and intimidating.

 

“Feel what you’re doing, Miss Taylor. Inhabit the emotion of the mask.” I grab Holt’s shirt and silently order him to the floor. He shies away, feigning fear, but his movement is awkward.

 

“Mr. Holt, your mask represents submission and vulnerability. You have to embody those characteristics. Open yourself up.”

 

Ethan tries to do what she’s asked, but he throws out cliché gestures that make him seem more angry than vulnerable.

 

I can tell that Erika is disappointed in our effort. A few minutes later, when she calls a stop to the exercise, Holt all but rips off his mask and stalks back to his chair.

 

Erika collects the masks and places them back in their box. “I know that today was difficult, but it should get easier. Your final assessment in this subject will account for fifty percent of your acting grade, so I expect you all to deliver your best work.”

 

Ethan raises his hand.

 

“Mr. Holt?”

 

“Can we swap masks next time?”

 

“No. The mask you worked with today will remain yours for the rest of the semester. I think you’d better get used to exploring your vulnerable side, Mr. Holt.”

 

The look on Ethan’s face is so disdainful, it’s almost funny.

 

 

 

 

 

THREE

 

 

MASK

 

 

 

The Grove’s acting school is the most prestigious in the country, so it stands to reason that their standards are extremely high. Still, I don’t think any of us were prepared for just how difficult some classes are proving to be. Especially masks.