Today's Reading

I wait for Dad to ask me about Makayla's sister, who is an incredible drummer. He doesn't. He continues talking to Reid like I didn't try to speak, like I couldn't possibly contribute something valuable to this conversation.

Like I wasn't once a musician myself.

"We won't know for sure until we hear how everyone meshes."

I am invisible.

Finally, after another Pop-Tart and what feels like endless band chat, Dad closes his binder and heads to his studio in the basement to set up for Reid's lesson. Reid stands and brings his cereal bowl to the sink, so I reach into my backpack for my laptop, ready for thirty sweet minutes of alone time, just Melted and me.

I open the file.

"It's not too late for Boiled."

I jump, my fingers jamming into my keyboard. "Why are you so fixated on this?"

"Imagine if Adina could instantly boil anything she touches. She'd be unstoppable!" Reid says. "Think about it. Artists need to be open to criticism, Natalie. Collaborative."

"Right. Except we're not collaborators."

Reid's jaw tenses. "I know."

"So why are you still standing here? Don't you have a clarinet to blow?"

Reid nods and takes a step backward. "As a matter of fact, I do."

He descends the stairs, not missing a beat. His cheeks don't flush, not even when I emphasize "blow." Reid woke me up before the sun and co-opted my parents... and I couldn't even make him blush? Everything makes Reid blush! I'm seriously off my game.

What a waste of a line, honestly.


An hour later I'm waiting in the wings, my cowriter cannot stop pacing, and our talent is late.

In this case, the wings are the bench across from Mrs. Mulaney's office, where I sit scrolling through my phone while Henry grows more annoyed with each step. Fitz is supposed to be here by now. As the de facto leaders of LHS's drama club, we're supposed to present Melted as a unit. Henry and I as the writing and directing duo behind the scenes, and Fitz representing on the onstage talent.

I stare at my phone, watching our Team Melted group chat light up.

Makayla Okoye
7:29 AM

Arjun Patel
(Fire emojis)
7:29 AM

Arjun Patel
Tell us everything ASAP. I know we subscribe to being a low stakes org but...
7:30 AM

Makayla Okoye
7:30 AM

Arjun Patel
(no pressure!!!!)
7:31 AM

Makayla Okoye
(some pressure)
7:31 AM

I swallow the lump in my throat. Cool. Pressure. Cool cool cool.

I get it though. We've always branded ourselves as a low-commitment come to have fun! club. We're not serious thespians like the musical theater kids or intense musicians like the band. We're a mix of athletes and scientists, quiz bowl captains and future politicians, all bonded by our mutual appreciation for the 'yes and' technique and putting together a solid production. For us, theater is in the B story in our life. But the best character moments are always in the subplots. So the thought of losing it?

It rattled us more than we expected it to.

So we came up with a plan. A low-budget proposal Mrs. Mulaney and the school committee cannot refuse.

I switch into my private group chat with Henry and Fitz as it buzzes with an update.

Fitz (Not Ava)
7:35 AM

"We should've told her to be here thirty minutes ago," Henry says.

"Fitz stopped falling for that years ago."

Henry exhales restless energy and pushes his clear plastic frames up the bridge of his nose before taking his own phone out of his pocket. He runs his fingers through black hair as he scrolls automatically through his phone. It sticks up in every direction, like he didn't bother to brush it. Pillow Pet hair, we call it, since his sleepover pillow of choice when we were kids was Ribbit the frog, which always left his longer-on-top style extra tall the next morning. That's how long Henry has been my best friend—since the era of Pillow Pets.

"She'll be here. Hey—" I pat the empty bench space beside me"—let's do a run-through?"

This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.

Monday we begin the book Enduring Freedom by Trent Reedy, Jawad Arash.

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