"No, Troy, you hold the sword with the pointy end toward your enemy!" hollered Sharpay.
Troy's face heated up like the stage lights on set and hastily turned it the right way. "Sorry," he mumbled.
Don't get him wrong. Troy liked musicals as much as he liked basketball, Gabriella, and Zeke's sumptuous crème brulees, but when Mrs. Darbus sang out that the musical production for this year was "Julius Caesar" by Shakespeare, even Troy had some doubts, especially when Caesar was supposed to burst into a touching ballad while he was stabbed. Not before. Not after. While.
"Now say your line again, and—"
"Feel the character!" barked Sharpay over her brother Ryan's instruction. "Live Brutus. Breathe Brutus!" Mrs. Darbus seemed to have contracted a terrible illness (not really, she just wanted an extended vacation) and left all the play making to the Terrible Twins…er the Evans. Now Sharpay was channeling her spirit.
Troy sighed and readied himself for another overwhelming run-through. He had secretly hoped they would do something with a love theme, like the romantic Romeo and Juliet, or even Sleeping Beauty. All his daydreams consisted of Gabriella and him sharing their first lip-lock on stage, mindless of any of the audience in front of them. All for the sake of the arts of course, he thought hastily.
Sadly, Mrs. Darbus had war and gore on her mind. With an almost dangerous zeal, she cast Troy as Brutus, and ironically, Gabriella as Caesar (as there were very few female parts in the cast, and Gabriella was just so good). Instead of planting a big, wet one on his beloved, he had to stab her manically.
Not the kind of emotion he wanted to portray in front of the world, and especially in front of Gabriella.
Troy snapped back to attention to Gabriella who was in front of him, trying hard to look angry and condemning. Really, he nearly melted at her eager, dimpled smile.
Gabriella cleared her throat, and in a strong, leading voice, recited, "Know, Caesar doth not wrong, nor without cause will be satisfied."
Troy hid a smile behind his sword. Gabriella really did no wrong, not in his mind, anyway. The only wrong there was between them was that after the small kiss he had shyly placed on her cheek, he hadn't enough courage to further it on.
Sharpay as Metellus trilled her lines, popping out her hip and waving her fingers so that everyone could see the Purely Pink nail polish she had artfully applied on them.
Now it was his turn. "I kiss thy hand, but not in flattery, Caesar…" Heart pounding, he kneeled down and took Gabriella's small hand. He could feel his face flame up as he kissed her hand softly. She was so lovely…he could kiss her forever.
"Uh, hello?" demanded Sharpay. "Brutus's lips are not glued onto Caesar's hand."
"Right. I was…I was done," he sputtered, standing up and ducking his head, so he wouldn't have to face Gabriella's inquisitive stare. "I was…just…trying to remember my lines. That's all."
"You don't have any lines after that," snapped Sharpay. "After the rest of the cast says a few lines, all you do is kill her. I mean Caesar. And now, continue!"
Kill her? How exactly did Sharpay meant by 'kill' her? Was he supposed to decapitate her? He glanced at her slim neck, where a thin necklace hung from it (one he had hidden in her locker during Valentines, with no note or name). Quickly dismissing it from his mind, he looked again. Her stomach? His eyes flickered to her stomach for a second. Too cruel. The last appropriate choice would be her heart. He imagined her life's blood rolling down his silver blade and shivered. No, definitely no.
"Okay, cut!" said Sharpay to Troy's relief. "Here, I've got this for you." She slapped a little pump in Gabriella's hand. "I thought of it myself," she said impressively.
"I thought I thought of it—" Ryan argued.
"No, that was me," she cut in. "Once they pretend to stab you, squeeze the pump and a blast of blood will come squirting out. Not real of course." She made a face.
"Corn syrup and food coloring," explained Ryan.
"Only make sure you don't squirt it at me and my designer clothes," said Sharpay, flipping her hair back.
Troy couldn't help but say, "Why do we have to use fake blood?"
"Because real blood could get us sued," said Ryan impatiently. Troy felt sick. It was a secret he held deep, deep inside him, but the truth was, he hated the sight of blood. Especially if it was shooting out from Gabriella's heart like Old Faithful.
"Isn't that PG 13?" he tried again desperately.
Ryan shrugged. "It increases the drama! The misery and disgust everyone in ancient Rome must have felt! Blood is definitely a must," he said enthusiastically.
"Yeah, whatever. You thought of the stupid idea anyway," snorted Sharpay. She lifted up her bugle horn and shrieked, "Back in place! Remember Gabriella. Big squirts. Big jets of red goo!"
Gabriella peeked at Troy, who looked paler than she remembered. She tried to cast a reassuring glance, but his eyes weren't focused on her.
Raus, the big-eared kid who played Casca (one of the men who had to stab Gabriella…Caesar), shouted, "Speak, hands, for me!" With that, Raus jabbed his plastic sword into Gabriella's side and she screamed with pain. Fake pain, Troy thought wildly. Acting pain. Then, a geyser of colored corn syrup shot out and splashed onto the stage.
He felt like throwing up and restrained himself from catching Gabriella as she stumbled like the great actress she was. As his discomfort mounted, everyone else took their turn stabbing lustily in her gut.
"Now you!" shouted Ryan triumphantly. "The last blow by Caesar's best friend! Make it good, people!"
Troy held his sword high and caught Gabriella's eyes, frightened and filled with immense pain. It shook in his hand for a while, until he dropped the sword. He couldn't do it.
"CUT!" screamed Sharpay, before standing before Troy and jabbing an accusing nail at him. "What are you doing? Brutus is supposed to be brutal! Even Gabriella's doing a better job than you are."
Gabriella straightened up and watched him curiously. Was it her imagination, or was Troy looking highly unsettled? And almost…scared?
"Sorry. I'll do better," he said. So she was acting. He felt so caught in the moment that it felt like everything was real. Even though it was a play, he felt like a complete traitor. And with Sharpay yipping at him, he felt like a failure too.
The bell rang. "Well, all of you have the parts down," said Ryan assuredly. "Remember, opening night is tomorrow! Just make sure—"
"If we don't get a standing ovation, I will work you to the bone cleaning up this theatre," threatened Sharpay, gesturing to the red syrup. "Thankfully for you, Zeke will be cleaning tonight." She fluttered her eyelashes and waved at her baker-boy.
As they filed out of the theatre, she called after them, "Dane, make sure your costume stays on this time! Raus, no licking off the corn syrup, even if it's on your face! And Troy, for goodness sake, stab her! Hurt her if you want! This is a production, people, sacrifices, sacrifices!"
Troy rushed out of the theatre, ashamed and his cheeks steaming hot. He didn't notice Gabriella following him until after he was near the water fountain.
"Is something the matter?" she asked worriedly.
Troy immediately chose that time to bend over and take a big gulp of water from the fountain. He grunted, indicating his full and dripping mouth.
"You looked really uncomfortable up there," she ventured. "Are you feeling okay?"
He sloshed the water in his mouth, motioning again to his bulging cheeks.
"It's the blood thing, isn't it?" she asked gently.
Troy shrugged. Yes, it was the blood thing. But that wasn't all of it. It was pretending to hurt her so badly that the distress in her eyes reached him like a knife. Even if it was just a play, it was so realistic. He nodded. No way was he going to tell her the whole reason.
She smiled, "You can swallow, you know."
Troy gulped down his mouthful of water, coughing as a bit of it went down his windpipe. "I'm fine," he said. "Thanks."
As he watched her beautiful curls bounce behind her as she left for geometry, his heart flew twenty feet up in joy. She actually cared. He was definitely in love.
"I'm so excited," whispered Gabriella to Troy. The lights beamed like the heavens were shining down on them. Troy peered through the curtain. Thankfully, the seats were filled. He thought 'thankfully' because Sharpay would have had their heads if there were one empty seat left.
"I am..." His voice dwindled away. He was about to say 'I am too,' but he was more nervous than excited. He wiped his palms on his toga. Gabriella furrowed her eyes in concern.
"Troy, I'm not sure what's going on, but…" She heard her cue and caught Sharpay glaring daggers at Gabriella. "I've got to go, okay?" She touched him once on the shoulder, jolting him out of his reverie, and flew on stage.
The first two acts went without a glitch. The crowd was especially good-humored that day, and Sharpay was so pleased she actually paid them a compliment.
"This is actually going well without me in the main role," she marveled backstage to Troy. "Remember, one of the most important parts in the play is up. And you're in it. You mess up, and I am so going to blacklist you. Theatres in this country won't hire you."
Troy gulped and nodded. If he ruined the show, he would die of shame. He sneaked a look at Gabriella's shining face. He hadn't the heart to ruin it for her. You just gotta grit your teeth and stab her, he thought determinedly. For Gabriella's sake.
He was ushered onstage, and even though his heart hammered, he spoke all his words perfectly. He even remembered holding his lips on her hand for the appropriate two Mississippi's.
Just as he was beginning to feel less quaky, the reenacting of Caesar's death began. Everyone took their turns stabbing Gabriella, and the blood poured out. He winced as she gasped with pain and nearly had to look away as she fell. A hush went through the crowd. It was time for the last blow by Brutus.
Troy stood there, his sword raised above Gabriella, who was on her knees and hands, gazing up at him in desperation. He stopped breathing as he caught the look of utter despair glimmering in her eyes and he uttered a soundless cry as he watched her helplessly reach up to him. Stab her. Hurry up, he thought numbly. The sword teetered in his grasp, but it didn't fall.
Gabriella felt confused. It had been more than enough time to wait. Troy was supposed to kill her now. The audience was waiting. She had promised him after school yesterday she wouldn't activate the pump when he took his blow, so it wasn't the blood. If it wasn't the blood, what was it?
She saw her own look of desperation mirrored on Troy's face, but his was real. Gabriella was a good enough actress to know the difference between acting and true emotion. She could almost detect an inward battle inside him.
That was when a light flashed in her mind. She knew. She finally understood why he found such a simple action so difficult.
She stood up, her clothes still soaked from the corn syrup, and smiled at Troy's complete look of confusion, his features still touched with anguish. She reached up and brushed a lock of his hair behind his ear. "Et tu, Brute?" she recited breathily before leaning in and kissing him right on the lips.
The audience was dead silent, shocked beyond measure. When they were sure it was intentional, they went wild. The chemistry team exploded as the math club started adding up the seconds they were in love's embrace. The basketball team roared delightedly. This was a better production than they had thought it would be.
Troy combed his fingers through her silky hair and leaned in, taking in every touch, every precious heart beat. Blood rushed through his head, rendering him deliciously dizzy. His mouth parted and he whispered huskily, "Musicals are so much better than basketball." Gabriella pulled back a little and laughed before falling again into his arms, her head tilted up to receive his lips.
"What are they doing?" shrieked Sharpay, nearly bursting a heart vessel.
"Those two are genius! They're making the crowd go wild!" whooped Ryan.
And who could blame them? It was the first production anyone beheld such a heated, passionate kiss between Caesar and his Brutus.
The quotes are from "Julius Caesar" by Shakespeare. For an epilogue, let's just say the cast didn't need to clean up after themselves. Mrs. Darbus came back from her vacation to find out Sharpay was 'terribly ill' (she too felt like she needed a vacation, especially considering the circumstances). And Troy and Gabriella? They shared many more 'Brutus-Caesar' moments ever after.