Author's Note: This was originally written for the LJ com iyfic_contest's Week 158 "High School AU" theme, where it tied for third place. It was first posted on September 16, 2008.
I'd had the basic concept in the back of my mind for awhile, but I hadn't decided whether I wanted it to be a long fanfic, a short fanfic, or an original of some kind. When the "High School AU" theme came up (with no word limit! My favorite… -grin-), that decided it. I wrote this pretty quickly, all things considered, so I hung onto it after that week in hopes of making some edits before posting it here. Now that I've finally gotten around to sanding a few of the rough edges, here it is…
"You are such a jerk!" she screamed, fists balled at her sides, apparently unconcerned by the fact that her voice had carried throughout the auditorium, stopping the rest of the cast in their rehearsal mid-scene.
"Chill out, will ya?" he pleaded, holding up two placating hands and glancing out at the people onstage warily.
"I will not chill out! I can't believe you would do this to me today, of all days! The homecoming dance is coming up in just a few weeks. What am I supposed to do, go by myself?"
"Oh fuck that—you wouldn't even notice if I were there or not, bitch! You're always too busy waving your little hand at all your fucking admirers…"
"What did you call me?"
"I called you a bitch, bitch!"
Out in the seats of the auditorium, about halfway back, Kagome heaved a sigh and set her script and clipboard aside, dropping her head into her hands. She knew she really ought to get up there and stop them before they derailed the rehearsal any further, but she just couldn't seem to muster the strength. What with an early rehearsal of the chamber ensemble that morning, teaching two blocks of choir (unfortunately including the ninth grade men's choir, which was always hopelessly out of tune) and a block of AP Music Theory, sacrificing her free period to a deadly dull staff meeting at which she had learned that the superintendant was making further cutbacks to the music program's funding this year, and then coming here to try to make at least a little progress on their upcoming production of Oklahoma!, she was developing a migraine the size of the good old "Sooner State" itself. And Laurey and Curly, bickering in the wings, weren't helping one bit.
"Fine, if you wanna leave, then just leave!" she heard Cassie scream at last.
"Oh, I'll leave all right," Brad shot back. "I didn't even want to do this stupid play in the first place!" Heavy footsteps thundered across the stage floor as the quarterback of the football team stormed out from backstage and down the steps into the auditorium, running a hand angrily through his wavy blonde hair. "Teach that bitch to talk to me like that," he muttered furiously to himself, ignoring the fascinated stares of his classmates and fellow cast members, spread throughout the room. He paused briefly at the end of the row where Kagome sat and turned to her, grumbling, "Sorry, Ms. Higurashi—I'm gonna have to drop out. Too busy…" And then he carried on his way, shoving through the door at the back and disappearing out into the lobby.
Well, if that wasn't just the icing on the cake.
Kagome pinched the bridge of her nose, trying to will her headache into submission for just another half an hour or so, after which she could go home and collapse into bed. Around her, the auditorium fidgeted with excited whispers and a stifled giggle or two. Finally, she stood and walked down to the edge of the stage, calling out, "Alright—we've still got a lot of work to do. Can I see everyone out here for a minute please?"
The whispers grew louder as principals and chorus members came out from back stage and meandered down from where they'd been sitting in little clusters around the auditorium. Kagome felt a pang of sympathy as she noticed Cassie hanging back from the others, over near the curtain, her reddened eyes belying her stoic expression. "Listen," she continued, addressing the cast at large, "I think we've done all we can with the dream ballet for now. Sam, it looks like we're going to need you to take over the role of Curly after all, so make sure you really start working on those lines this week. I'd like to run through 'All Er Nothin'' a couple of times tonight, so if Ado Annie and Will Parker could stick around for just a few more minutes, I think the rest of you can all go home."
There was a round of applause in favor of the early release, and soon everyone was scattering for the doors, probably hoping to get out of there before she changed her mind. In the midst of the chaos, Kagome climbed up onto the stage and followed Cassie back into the dressing rooms, where she was putting away her rehearsal skirt and shoes, perhaps hoping to avoid the others' scrutiny.
"Hey—are you alright?" Kagome asked gently, and Cassie looked up, seeming slightly startled.
"I'm fine. It's really not a problem, honestly. I'm just tired."
Kagome nodded, understanding. "Well, if you'd like to talk at all, you know I'm always here."
Cassie smiled and swiped at one of her eyes, looking on the verge of tears again. "I know. Thanks, Ms. Higurashi."
"Alright. Well then go on home and get some rest. I'll see you tomorrow."
Kagome stayed around with Ado Annie and Will for awhile longer, but when Will went up on his lyrics for the tenth time in a row, she finally decided to call it quits. The day hadn't been a total loss, she tried to tell herself as she drove home, enjoying the calm of the trees and wetlands that spread out on either side of the highway, the quiet peacefulness of the growing dark. After having lived for nearly ten years in New York City, she had developed a great appreciation for open spaces. That was part of the reason she'd chosen this tiny little district outside St. Cloud, Minnesota over larger ones in Chicago or New York, or even Boston, all of which had offered her positions. But no, she had chosen this little town—and she loved it. She truly did.
Except whenever they had a budget meeting.
The trade-off of living in a small town and working in a small school district was that there wasn't all that much money to go around. And what little money there was almost always went to the sports programs first; the arts programs, including the entirety of the music program, always just had to make do with whatever was left. The orchestra program had been stripped to bare bones as it was, and by the sound of things, if they weren't able to come up with some funding from somewhere, it wouldn't exist at all by next year. That was why Kagome had taken on the task of putting on this play in the first place. Not necessarily to make money directly from the ticket revenues—that was difficult to pull off even in a large district, much less in one their size—but because, as she saw it, part of the reason the sports programs drew so much funding was because they attracted a lot of attention. The music programs tended to fade into the background—a choir concert here, a chamber ensemble performance there, but never anything really impressive and exciting, never anything to rival the thrill of a football game for an average citizen. Maybe if she could get people excited about the music program, show them how wonderful it was, and how much it benefited their children's self-confidence and self-esteem, maybe she could gain a few advocates, even some donations—and maybe, just maybe, she could keep this program alive a little bit longer.
But not if she lost all her principal cast members. Brad had been having enough difficulty with his part as it was—that was why she had assigned him an understudy—but poor Sam was sure to struggle with it. He had a lovely voice, really, and he had a charming personality one-on-one, perfect for Curly—but whenever he was on stage, he seemed to freeze up. Not stage fright, per se—he just got very stiff and robotic. All in all, she had the strong feeling that he would be much more comfortable remaining in the chorus. Truthfully, knowing Cassie, and what little she knew of Brad, she suspected it was quite possible that they would make up eventually. She only hoped that it would be in time for him to resume his part in the play…
Unfortunately, a week went by, and Brad was still a no-show. What was worse, Sam seemed to be having even more difficulty with the part than she had feared. He kept forgetting his lines, and every time he did so he got even more nervous, so that by the time they were halfway through any given scene he looked more like Jack Bower waiting for Laurey to press the button that would fire nuclear weapons on Washington D.C. than Curly trying to finesse her into accompanying him to the box social.
And then of course there was Cassie. She was alright on her lines, but she kept getting distracted and missing her entrances, or getting annoyed and snapping at people—usually Sam, which perhaps partly explained his Jack Bower look. A couple of times Kagome pulled her aside and asked her pointedly if she needed a minute or two to compose herself, but Cassie always answered that she was fine and carried on with the rehearsal. At any rate, they were making some progress, but not nearly enough. And when Kagome thought of all the things they had yet to arrange—costumes, sets, training the tech crew volunteers to run the lights, and then of course bringing in the orchestra—it seemed almost impossible. At least she had some help on the musical end of things. Miroku—the tenth grade European History teacher, but also the director of the school's marching band—had agreed to act as conductor and rehearse with the orchestra while she was rehearsing the cast. From the sound of things, the instrumentalists were coming along relatively well—but still, they were only high school students after all, and combining them with the singers would be a whole different ball of wax.
In any case, she couldn't worry about any of that until they had at least finished blocking the second act. And they had awhile yet—a month or so, at least—before they actually had to be ready to perform. They would be ready.
Catching herself fretting about the play yet again while she was supposed to be looking over a stack of music theory assignments, she refocused her attention and circled another set of parallel fifths, another voicing error, another incorrect chord symbol. She was actually managing to get into a rhythm twenty minutes later, when there was a knock on her office door.
Breathing a silent sigh at the interruption, she turned and answered, "Come in."
To her mild surprise, Cassie appeared from around the doorframe. "Hi, Ms. Higurashi."
"Cassie—what's up?" she asked, clearing a stack of papers off of the extra chair beside her desk and offering the girl a seat. It wasn't exactly unusual for her students to visit her during her free period—sometimes, when they had study hall or independent study, they would come down to play the piano or page through the music library, or even just to chat when she was available—but Cassie hadn't been around for awhile, and with all that she had on her plate, Kagome hadn't really expected it.
"Are you busy?" Cassie asked her, looking more tentative than usual, broken somehow. It troubled Kagome to see her this way.
"Not too busy. What can I do for you?"
"I just…wanted to talk. About Brad."
Kagome gave a slow nod, prompting her to continue.
"See, we've sort of been fighting a lot lately—well, you saw what happened last week. He hasn't spoken to me since then."
"Have you tried speaking to him?"
"After the things he said to me? Of course not."
"I see. Well, do you want to tell me what you've been fighting about?"
"Mostly the play. I mean, he mainly did it because I asked him to try out, and then when the coach started pressuring him about his performance in football practice—"
"The coach has been pressuring him? Why?"
"I don't know exactly. Something about being late or moving too slow or not catching enough passes—I don't know. I'm not a big football person."
"Hm," Kagome muttered pensively. "Well, that explains a few things."
"And you know just the other day in gym class, the coach pulled me aside and asked me if I'd like a slot on the cheerleading squad."
Kagome frowned. "Why did he do that?"
Cassie merely shrugged. "Said he thought I'd be good at it. I told him no, of course—I'm too busy already."
"Good," Kagome interjected, a bit too hastily. "I mean," she continued, trying to soften her reaction, "you are pretty busy, after all…"
Fortunately, Cassie didn't seem to have noticed. "I—I just don't know what to do. He usually would have apologized by now. Why do you think it's taking him so long?"
Kagome stifled an amused smile. "Well, I know you might not like hearing this, but all I can tell you is that if you really care about him, you may have to be the one to make the first move this time. You may not be happy about some of the things he said to you, but he's probably not too happy about some of the things you said to him either. Sometimes you just have to be the bigger person and apologize, even when you think you're right."
Cassie's spine straightened slightly, but she didn't seem to take offense. "Well, I don't know. I guess I'll think about it…"
"You do that," Kagome nodded as Cassie got to her feet and headed for the door.
"Hey—thanks," she said, turning back with a morose smile.
Kagome returned the smile understandingly and replied, "No problem."
As Cassie closed the office door behind her, Kagome tried to return to her work, but once again she had trouble focusing. This time, however, she had something a little different on her mind.
Once the end of the day bell had finally rung and the majority of the students had stampeded to freedom, Kagome shoved aside the still half-finished pile of music theory assignments, grabbed her sweater off the back of her chair and slipped it on as she headed for the athletics wing, her low heals clicking on the linoleum floor. A chilly fall breeze hit her as she stepped out the back door and crossed the parking lot to the football stadium.
She could hear the grunts and thunder of running feet even before she rounded the end of the stands into the stadium itself, and sure enough she found the football team running drills back and forth across the field. For a moment, she paused to watch them, slightly bemused at the sight of these athletic teenaged boys running headlong into padded iron bars. She had only a vague notion of what this was supposed to do for them herself, and she found herself wondering what conclusions aliens from another dimension might draw about human culture if this activity were their first exposure to it.
A whistle sounded from several yards to her left, and she heard the coach shouting something about tackling; all at once the boys reconfigured themselves and started tackling each other in a very organized fashion, like some strangely choreographed bar fight.
Shaking her head, she refocused on the task at hand, marching down the edge of the field to where the coach stood talking with his assistant coach, arms crossed over his chest, a clipboard in one hand. She knew them both, of course—it was a small school—but she had rarely spoken to either of them one-on-one. After all, what reason did she have to do so? She'd never had the faintest interest in sports—gym class had been the bane of her existence all through her own high school experience—and in any case, they were her greatest competitors for funding. They were, for all intents and purposes, the enemy.
"Excuse me, Coach Takahashi?" she interrupted firmly, coming up beside them.
He frowned and nudged back his baseball cap as he turned to look at her, mildly annoyed at the interruption. "Inuyasha," he corrected offhandedly. "What're you doing out here?"
"It's come to my attention that you pressured one of my students into dropping out of my play."
"Brad McGavin," she clarified pointedly.
He glared and replied, "You mean my lead quarterback? Yeah, I heard he quit your play—it was affecting his game. And to answer your question, no, I did not 'pressure' him into quitting."
"Oh no? And yet you admit it was affecting his game. You mean to tell me that you didn't ride him about his mistakes in hopes that he would quit the play and devote all his attention to your football team?"
"Hey, he's the quarterback—if he doesn't bring his A game every day, the whole team suffers."
"Ah-ha!" she pointed an accusing finger at him. "So you did pressure him!"
"Calm down, will ya?" he placated, holding up his hands as if to ward her off. "What's your problem anyway? Look, if one of my guys screws up," he gestured to the players with the hand holding the clipboard, "I have to tell him. That's the way it works. That's how they get better. If he felt like he had to quit your goddamn play to support the team, that's his problem."
"Oh, so what I'm doing is just some 'goddamn play,' but football—now there's something important in life. Who cares about some stupid play when there's a game to win, right?"
"Did I say that? I did not say that."
Her eyes narrowed. "Well you were thinking it."
"Look," he tossed the clipboard carelessly to the ground and crossed his arms over his chest, squaring off against her, "the kid's got a shot at a scholarship this year, a real shot. You wanna mess that up for him?"
Kagome sighed. "Of course not, but it's only September—he has plenty of time for that."
"Not if he keeps playing the way he's been playing."
She crossed her arms as well, taking a different tack. "And I suppose the fact that you tried to get my Laurey to switch to the cheerleading squad is just sheer coincidence."
"Who's Laurey?" he asked, looking sincerely confused.
"Cassie Campbell—she's playing Laurey in the play. You still want to argue that you're not trying to undermine me?"
"Hey, I'm just trying to run a football team here. Brad's having issues with his girlfriend, so I offered her a spot on the cheerleading squad so they could spend more time together, and maybe he'd get out of his slump—end of story."
"Right. And my play has nothing to do with it."
"Oh my god," he muttered, staring back at her bemusedly, "you are actually nuts. Seriously. Is this paranoia a usual thing with you?"
Kagome let out a growl of frustration—but it seemed this guy wasn't in the mood to be cooperative. "Look," she said, drawing herself up to her full height—which still didn't match his, "just stay away from my cast, alright? We've got a monumental task ahead of us as it is."
"Fine—whatever. Mind if I get back to my job now?" he snapped, turning away without waiting for her to answer. She set her teeth, but decided she had done as much as she could for the moment. Some people were just difficult, and there was no getting around it.
As she turned to head back out of the stadium, she was surprised to find Brad kneeling near the edge of the field, fiddling with his shoelace. This wouldn't have been all that surprising, were it not for the fact that his shoelace was already neatly tied—he was just sort of flicking the strings back and forth.
"Hey," she greeted, coming to a stop before him, and he looked up suddenly.
"Hey, Ms. Higurashi," he replied, standing up with a sort of attempted casualness. "How's the play?"
"It's alright—much better when you were there though. We really miss you at rehearsals."
"Mm-hm," she nodded. And then, hesitating only slightly, she added, "So does Cassie."
This brought a light of surprise and something like relief to his face, and Kagome felt quite certain she had made the right choice. "She does?" he asked quietly.
Kagome nodded again, and added in a conspiratorial whisper, "Don't tell her I said so though."
He nodded back quickly. "Oh—I won't."
"Well, I guess I'll see you around then. And remember, if you ever feel like coming back, the door is always open. We could really use your help."
He nodded again, a little more slowly this time. "Okay. I'll…I'll think about it."
"You do that…" she said with a smile—and then continued out of the stadium, feeling rather pleased with herself.
The next morning, Kagome was just finishing up an email to Miroku about the progress of the orchestra rehearsals when a loud banging on her office door made her jump. "Come in?" she answered, somewhat unnerved. She turned around in her seat in time to see Inuyasha slam the door shut behind him, his expression livid.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" he demanded.
"About what?" she replied, genuinely lost.
"You know what. Brad told me you tried to lure him back into your stupid play."
She rolled her eyes. "Oh, so you don't mind being the pot, but you don't like it when I'm the kettle."
"You started it!" she clarified, getting to her feet. "You were the one who pulled Brad out of my show and left me high and dry."
"Oh will you please let that go," he said, pacing away with a dismissive gesture before turning back. "I told you, I never told him to quit in the first place."
"Well then what do you care if he joins up again?"
"Because," he stepped forward again, "he's just starting to get back up to speed—if he goes back to the play, he'll get all mopey again."
"He's mopey because he broke up with Cassie, not because of the play."
"Whatever—who knows what these kids are thinking anyway. The point is, don't mess with him."
"Fine," she planted her hands on her hips, "then don't mess with me."
He smirked. "What, you wanna fistfight for the kid or something?"
"Of course not," she said coolly, narrowing her eyes at him. And then she let out a weary sigh, putting a hand to her forehead, shoulders drooping in defeat. "Look—I'm going to level with you here: I'm in a tough position. The arts budget is in real trouble, and if I can't find a way to raise our profile and hopefully a little money, they're going to cut the orchestra program completely next year."
"So?" she snapped, offended. "What do you mean, so?"
"I mean—it's the orchestra," he shrugged, looking nonplussed. "It's not exactly essential to life."
"Oh, and football is?"
"Maybe not essential, but a hell of a lot more important than orchestra. At least football gets you outside, gets your heart pumping."
"So does a Beethoven symphony," she countered.
"I'll believe that when I see it."
She met his gaze impassively for a moment, and then she turned back to her desk and sat down. "Nevermind—do whatever you want. I guess I can't expect you to understand."
She returned to her email, typing another line or two, but it was difficult to concentrate when she could feel him staring at her from over her shoulder, still standing right where she'd left him. Finally she turned around again, exasperated. "Is there something else?"
"No—it's just…alright, fine. The kid can be in the play—you happy?"
She raised both eyebrows in mild surprise. "How magnanimous of you," she replied dryly.
"Lay off, alright—you win. Just try to keep the rehearsals from conflicting with the practices, okay? And whatever you do, try to keep those two from fighting. Can't believe I'm saying this, but it looks like if he and Cassie don't patch things up by the homecoming game, we're sunk."
Kagome smiled in spite of herself at that, and nodded. "I'll do my best. You could help out a bit though—maybe talk to Brad and see if you can get him to apologize. It doesn't sound like Cassie's likely to do so any time soon."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever," he grumbled, then turned and wrenched open the door leaving it to fall closed slowly behind him. Shaking her head, Kagome turned back to her email once more.
Things seemed to be looking up during the following weeks. Sam seemed more than happy to relinquish his spotlight to Brad once more, and although the young lovers themselves continued to bicker from time to time (in the wings, in the hallways, in the dressing rooms, and once, unfortunately, over the auditorium speakers when they forgot to turn off their body mikes), they seemed to have come to a tentative understanding. In any case, their performances were definitely improving. If anything, in fact, the bit of animosity between them helped feed some of the more caustic scenes between Laurey and Curly.
As for the rest of the play, everything was coming along nicely. The dancers in the ballet sequence were a little unsteady still, and the sets were still being painted (even with Kagome, Miroku, and a few steadfast volunteers from the Concert Choir working overtime to finish them), but most of the costumes were in order, and the major chorus scenes had been blocked. Even Will Parker was getting better with his lines, and the whole cast seemed determined to help each other out in any way that they could. More than once, Kagome went back into the dressing rooms, where the chorus members often sat around chatting when they weren't needed, and found Sam and Cassie running the lines for the Laurey and Curly scenes, after Brad had left for football practice. All in all, she was quite proud of the lot of them—and she was starting to think that maybe, just maybe, this would actually work.
The homecoming game took place the weekend before the show was set to open. Kagome hadn't been to a football game since her freshman year of high school—she'd only gone to one, and she'd been so bored she'd vowed never to go back—but she figured since Brad was the star quarterback, she really ought to be here to support him, at least. And after all, ever since their conversation in her office a few weeks earlier, Inuyasha had been quite cooperative, sometimes even adjusting his practices slightly when she really needed more time to work. Not only that, but from the sound of things, he had been the one to convince Brad to ask Cassie to the homecoming dance.
The game itself was as boring as she had remembered, but she bucked up and cheered along with the rest. Admittedly, it wasn't that hard to get into the spirit of things, surrounded by all these excited young people. She felt at once a part of them and separated from them—sharing vicariously in their enjoyment of the game and the atmosphere it created, and yet also feeling her age, nostalgic for some of the things she had missed out on when she was younger. She had always been in such a hurry to grow up that she suspected she had sped by some of the scenery along the way.
When the winning touchdown had been scored, and Miroku had led the marching band and the ecstatic crowd in a triumphant rendition of the school's fight song, the noisy, elated teenagers jostled their way out of the stands, heading for the high school gym where the dance was to follow. Kagome remained in her seat until the crowds had thinned out a bit, for fear of getting trampled, but then trailed off after them at a lazy pace, hands in her coat pockets. Over by the entrance to the locker rooms, she saw Cassie with her arms around Brad's neck, giving him a victory kiss, and smiled to herself.
The dance was a semi-formal, but most people had opted for more casual attire, having just come from the game. The gym lights were lowered, and there was a DJ stand set up at one end of the room with all sorts of colored lights mounted above it, casting a rainbow of patterns across the room and the people out on the dance floor, swaying to some mellow, alternative rock song Kagome didn't recognize. She shrugged out of her coat and left it and her purse at the coat check before stepping inside.
A lot of people seemed to be dancing in big clumps, but there were some couples as well. She'd forgotten the unique atmosphere of a high school dance, that feeling of formlessness, as though half the people there were still waiting to be told what to do, not exactly sure when or where they were supposed to start dancing. She knew she really shouldn't feel awkward just standing around—after all, she was one of the teachers, only here as a chaperone—but she did. And looking around at the other kids standing awkwardly around the edges of the room only made it worse. At least they had the excuse of being teenagers. Adults weren't supposed to be awkward.
The crowd out on the floor grew steadily as people became more accustomed to the room and shed their inhibitions. She began to recognize faces in the dim lighting, people from the cast and her choirs and music theory classes, other teachers and administrators. She spent a few minutes chatting with Mr. Avery, the twelfth grade Modern Problems teacher, and Mr. Johnson, the Psychology teacher, though all the while she kept an eye out for Brad and Cassie. Of course, she had a stake in their happiness insofar as it affected the outcome of her play—but truthfully, she honestly wanted them to be happy as well. Cassie was one of her best and brightest pupils, but that also meant she put a lot of pressure on herself to succeed. Sometimes Kagome wished she would just let herself relax a bit and enjoy this time of her life while she still had it.
She had just located the pair of them dancing together up near the DJ stand when a voice addressed her from behind.
She turned to find Inuyasha standing a couple of feet away, hands in his jeans pockets, still wearing his blue and gold windbreaker with the school crest emblazoned on the front. "Hi," she answered, mildly surprised. "I didn't think you would be here."
"I don't usually come to these much—just the homecoming one."
"Right—I guess that makes sense." She glanced back over at Brad and Cassie, who were still swaying to the music, lost in each other's eyes.
Inuyasha followed her gaze. "Looks like things are on the upswing with those two, huh."
"Yeah—I heard you had something to do with that," she replied, giving him a grateful smile.
"Did you? How did you hear that?"
"Oh, you know how it is around here. Dave told Hallie, who told Steph, who told Dustin, who told Jan, who told Charlie and Greg in the hallway while I happened to be walking by. No secrets in this place."
He chuckled. "I guess not." Then he paused for a moment in thought, clearing his throat slightly. "Then does that mean you heard about—"
"The time you split the seat of your pants during girls' volleyball practice?" she finished coyly, and nodded. "Yep—I'm afraid so."
He gave her a disgruntled look and crossed his arms over his chest, mumbling, "Those girls are running extra laps next week…"
Kagome grinned, but decided to take pity on him by changing the subject. "So, how about this place, huh? Remind you of the wild days of your youth?"
He snorted. "Not really. I never went to any of the dances in high school."
"Really?" she asked, genuinely surprised. "Come on—you're a jock, big man on campus and all that stuff."
"Not in high school, I wasn't. The closest I ever got to being 'big man on campus' was being captain of the martial arts club—which didn't exactly have a high coolness factor where I grew up. Actually, I spent most of my time alone in my room playing video games."
"You're kidding. After that lecture you gave me about how important it is for kids to get outside and move around?"
"How do you think I found that out?" he replied with a wry half-grin. "What about you—book-worm extraordinaire?"
She laughed. "Well, a little, I suppose. I definitely wasn't big on sports, and I did a lot of reading and spent a lot of time hanging around the choir room—but what I really wanted to do was be an actress. I actually studied music performance in college, moved to New York and tried to make a go of it. Needless to say, things didn't work out quite the way I'd planned—so I decided to go into education instead."
"Yeah, I had something like that myself. I started out as a bio major, looking to go into sports medicine, but money was sort of tight. I had to drop out for a year and get a job, and when I went back I decided I ought to set my sights on something a little simpler, less expensive. Med school just wasn't in the cards."
Kagome opened her mouth to respond, but a minor commotion caught her eye, and she turned to see where it was: There, across the room, though some fifteen feet closer than they had been before, were Brad and Cassie, and it was as if that charming, starry-eyed moment they'd recently witnessed had never happened. They were standing toe to toe, glaring daggers at each other, arguing in the closest thing to a whisper one could achieve in a crowded gymnasium. They were too far away for Kagome to make out any of the conversation, but the tone was definitely clear.
"Uh oh," Inuyasha muttered, "trouble in paradise."
"Damn," Kagome sighed. "And things were going so well…"
Inuyasha shrugged, chuckling. "Hey, it's high school—what do you expect, true love?"
"No, I suppose not. But I hoped it would at least last through the prom."
"The prom is six months away. That's equivalent to six years in real-world time."
Kagome smiled and glanced back at him. "Fair enough. I guess I was expecting too much."
There was a brief silence as they watched Cassie continue to snap at Brad, before turning away and leaving him to appeal to her back. Then, apparently making a decision, Inuyasha turned to Kagome and said, "Can I ask you something?"
She looked at him curiously. "What?"
"Why do you care so much?"
"About this whole Brad and Cassie thing."
"I told you."
"Oh come on—I have a hard time believing that the success of your play in collecting funding for the music program hinges completely on whether or not these two are together. There's got to be another reason."
Kagome shrugged dismissively. "She's one of my students—I've known her for a long time, and I want her to be happy. Is there something wrong with that?"
"No. But we're their teachers, not their matchmakers."
"I know, I know. I guess…I don't know. I just see a lot of myself in her, I suppose. I was always so driven, so sure of myself, so ready to tackle any problem. I think maybe in all that running around, I may have missed a few things along the way." Inuyasha smiled at that, and Kagome shot him a defensive look. "What?"
"Nothing—it's just…I know what you mean. That's all."
She watched him a bit longer as he turned back to observe the bickering couple across the room once more.
"So," she said finally, as Cassie brushed Brad's hand off of her shoulder and rounded on him again, "what's your motive then?"
"Why are you going along with this? You clearly don't have any great love for the music program, and you don't seem to have a personal stake in these kids beyond wanting Brad to get a scholarship. What's in it for you?"
"Well," he began, still not turning away from Brad and Cassie, "it's not so much what's in it for me as what's on the line."
She frowned. "What's on the line then?"
"My job, for one thing."
"Your job depends on keeping Brad and Cassie together?" she smirked.
He rolled his eyes. "No, of course not—but it does depend on us doing well this season. We've been in a slump lately, and ticket sales and activities fees are dropping off, which is a big hit to the school's funding. If I don't turn it around this year, I'm out—they'll bring in some new hot-shot, straight out of college with an entry-level salary."
"Wow. I'm sorry," she replied, feeling a little guilty.
"Don't be," he shrugged. "That's the way these things go. Anyway, without Brad, the team falls apart, and without Cassie, Brad falls apart—so keeping them together is in my best interests." He slanted a mildly sheepish look at her out of the corner of his eye. "I guess that sounds kinda selfish, doesn't it."
"No," she said quickly—but he gave her a skeptical look, so she amended, "Well, okay, yes—a little. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. I mean, it's not like you're acting against his interests. And like you said, a scholarship is his best shot at college—so he needs to do well this year too."
"Yeah. I suppose."
"Oh, crap," he interrupted her under his breath, and she followed his gaze back over to where Cassie stood alone, Brad just disappearing around the edge of the door out of the gym.
"Oh, no," she murmured herself.
"Looks like we're back at square one."
"Square one?" Kagome groaned. "I don't have time for square one—we're performing next weekend. Whatever this is, they'd better get it worked out by Monday, because I don't even want to see what will happen if they don't."
"Hey—who's that?" Inuyasha asked.
"Hm?" She looked around where he was pointing—there was someone standing next to Cassie now, with his arm around her shoulders. She had to squint slightly to make him out. "Oh—that's Sam. He's in the play."
"Nothing," he murmured, shaking off the pensive look and turning to her. "Listen, you want to get out of here and get a bite to eat? I haven't had anything since before the game, and the school food is crap."
She laughed, but shook her head. "Sorry, I can't—I've got an early morning tomorrow. Rain check?"
"Actually, I should probably get going myself—want to walk me to the parking lot?"
He grinned and offered her his arm in a mock-jaunty fashion. She laughed again and took it. They stopped by the coat check for Kagome's things and then headed out the back door.
"I'm around in front," she said as they set off around the building. "Guess it would have been smarter to park back here, but I don't spend much time in the athletics wing. I'm used to parking up front."
"No problem. It's a nice night for a walk," he replied.
"Really? I've got a coat, and I'm already cold—you sure you're okay in just that windbreaker?"
"'Course I am. The games always get me pumped up."
"Even when you're not playing?"
"You'd be surprised how much energy it takes to run things from the sidelines. Lots of pacing and shouting."
"Something tells me that's right up your alley," she commented slyly.
"What makes you say that?"
She shrugged, smiling. "I don't know—you just seem like the type."
"Yeah, I guess I am. Hard not to run out there and kick their asses myself sometimes though."
Kagome laughed. "You know, you won't believe me, but I know exactly what you mean," she replied as they slowed to a stop beside her car.
"No," he said, coming around to face her, "I believe you. I've heard the ninth grade men's choir."
"Oh, no," she moaned, covering her face with her hands, "is it that obvious?"
"Kagome, if I can hear how bad they are, they're pretty bad."
She laughed. "I can't believe you even came to a concert—which one did you see?"
"I've seen a few," he said offhandedly, glancing down at his feet. "First one was the fall one, two years ago."
"What a coincidence—that was the first one I directed."
He flicked his gaze up to meet hers, just for an instant, and then flicked it away again. "They're pretty good overall though," he replied, clearing his throat slightly, resting a hand in his back pocket.
Kagome kept her eyes on his face, considering him. A crack along the lines of 'this from the man who disparages Beethoven' crossed her mind, but something stopped her from saying it. Instead, she nodded. "Thanks. I'm really proud of them."
"Sure. You should be," he said simply.
There was a long moment where they merely stood there in silence, Kagome fingering her car keys in her gloved hands, Inuyasha with his hands in his back pockets. And then he looked down at the ground, rocking back on his heels, and said, "Well, I'd better let you get going. I'll see you around."
"Of course—see you around."
"Bye," she said, lifting a hand in a half-wave as he turned, glanced back at her again, and then continued on his way toward his own car. After another moment, Kagome climbed into the driver's seat and started the engine. On the way home, she didn't think of the play once.
The following week was hell on wheels, what with all of the last-minute details that needed to be taken care of before the performance could go up—but on the bright side, Brad and Cassie held things together relatively well. They were very clearly not speaking to each other off-stage, but they did a pretty good job of not letting that seep through into their performance.
The first two nights went okay. Not perfectly, but okay. There were a few misplaced props, and Will Parker skipped a page or two of dialogue once (for which Ado Annie chewed him out sternly afterwards), but all in all Kagome was confident that most of the problems would not have been noticeable to anyone not as familiar with the show as she was. On the third and final night, however, things were finally looking up. Will Parker remembered all his lines, Brad's "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'" was radiant, and all the baskets for the box social were exactly where they were supposed to be.
And then they hit intermission.
Kagome slipped backstage just to tell everyone what a great job they were doing, and to make sure there were no major problems, only to hear a knock-down-drag-out screaming match taking place in the boys' dressing room.
"Dammit, bitch, will you lay off me already, for fuck's sake?" Brad roared. "I already said I was fucking sorry—what more do you want?"
"Hey! Don't talk to her like that, asshole!" Sam's voice broke in, taking Kagome by surprise.
"This is none of your business—butt out, jackass."
"I don't care—you've been treating her like shit for weeks, and I'm not gonna stand for it anymore!" Sam continued, undaunted.
"Oh yeah? And what are you gonna do about it?"
"I'll fucking show you, asshole!" Sam shouted, and Kagome rounded the doorjamb just in time to see him lunge at Brad, his fist clipping the quarterback hard across the face.
"No!" Kagome yelled, grabbing Sam's arm—but he ignored her, his focus on his opponent.
Brad cursed, spitting out blood, and then rounded on Sam, looking murderous. "Little twerp," he growled, making a move to hit him back, ignoring Kagome's startled protestations. But someone shoved past her, knocking her off-balance—and when she looked up again, there was Inuyasha, his arm across Brad's chest, holding the livid football player back from his would-be victim, who was still trying to shrug Kagome's grip off of his shoulder.
"Hey—chill out, alright?" Inuyasha barked. "You wanna get kicked out of team sports for fighting just so you can beat this kid up?"
Brad gave a frustrated grunt, but seemed to lessen his resistance.
"I didn't think so," Inuyasha said, stepping back cautiously, though he still kept a firm hand on Brad's shoulder. "Everybody else okay?" he asked, glancing back at Cassie, who seemed utterly dumbstruck, Kagome, and Sam, who still looked angry, but didn't seem on the verge of any further violence.
"I think so," Kagome replied, still slightly shaken. "That nose looks pretty bad though—that should be looked at."
"Yeah," Inuyasha agreed, turning back to Brad. "Come on, kid—let's get you cleaned up." Brad wrenched his arm out of Inuyasha's grip petulantly, but let himself be led out into the dressing room hallway where there were sinks and paper towels.
Kagome, for her part, turned to fix Sam with a stern expression. "What on earth has gotten into you?"
"Look—I'm sorry, Ms. Higurashi. I shouldn't have hit him. I've never hit anyone before, actually, but—I just couldn't take it anymore. He's been jerking Cassie around for months, and I just couldn't let him keep doing it to her." He flicked a glance over Kagome's shoulder to where Cassie stood. "I just…couldn't."
All of a sudden, Kagome realized what she probably ought to have realized weeks ago. And just as suddenly, she began to feel guilty for all the meddling she'd done on Brad and Cassie's behalf. Somehow it hadn't seemed quite so…inappropriate at the time. In any case, she felt she could hardly be angry at Sam for acting as his conscience saw fit, considering that she herself had had a hand in creating this mess in the first place.
"Well…" she glanced at Cassie, then at the doorway where she could see Brad leaning over the sink, then back at Sam. "We'll just talk about this later, alright? Right now, we're halfway through a show, and it doesn't look like Brad is in any shape to do the second act. Are you okay to fill in, Sam?"
A startled look crossed his face, but he set his jaw and nodded determinedly—then looked over at Cassie once more, who was watching him astonished, as though she had never truly seen him before.
"Good," Kagome said. "I'll make the announcement in a couple of minutes."
She went back out into the hallway to find Inuyasha tending to Brad's bloody nose. "Is it broken?" she asked as Brad gave a violent wince.
"Not sure," Inuyasha replied, narrowly avoiding Brad's elbow as it jumped towards his own nose. "I'll have to get him to the hospital to have it taken care of."
"Would you?" she said, relieved.
"Sure, no problem."
"Thank you, Inuyasha. For everything."
He met her gaze for a moment after he'd wiped the last of the blood from Brad's face, then nodded shortly and put an arm around the quarterback, leading him off down the hallway towards the exit.
Kagome watched him leave for a moment, but soon shook herself out of her trance. "Places, guys!" she called out, ducking into the two dressing rooms. "Places!"
With the small exception of the fact that they'd switched lead actors at halftime, the second act actually went surprisingly well. There was a fire, a confidence in Sam that Kagome had never seen him display onstage before—and even Cassie seemed to have discovered a new freshness and energy and excitement. When they performed the reprise of "People Will Say We're in Love," there was something genuine in their elation with one another. And when the cast came out for their final bows to a standing ovation from the audience, Sam surprised them all by sweeping Cassie up into another kiss, which she seemed more than happy to return.
An hour or so later, after the audience had all left, the cast and crew were hard at work disassembling the sets and sorting through all the props and costumes. Kagome was checking off a list of borrowed props that had been collected at the front of the stage, when she looked up from her clipboard to see Inuyasha strolling down the aisle toward her. "Hey," she smiled, "how's Brad?"
"He's alright." Inuyasha came to a stop beside her, leaning against the edge of the stage. "His parents are with him. Turns out it was broken, so he'll be out of practices for a little while."
"Oh," she winced. "I'm sorry."
"Don't worry about it—we'll make up for lost time, it's no big deal. How did the rest of the play go?"
"Oh—you missed quite a finale," she replied, turning back to the stack of props and continuing to mosey along, checking them off.
"Did I?" he asked, following her. "Was it better than last night, when Brad tripped on the haystack?"
"Much," she said with a laugh. And then she paused and glanced back at him, realizing what he'd said. "You saw the show last night?"
He nodded. "And the night before."
"Why? I thought you didn't go for this kind of thing."
"Well," he shrugged, "I figured I could use a little more culture in my life. And anyway, I figured after this is over, it'll be a lot harder for me to find excuses to run into you."
She smiled, glancing down at her clipboard, blushing like a schoolgirl. "Oh, come on—I'm sure you could think of something."
"Well, there's one," he smirked, pretending to think hard. "I'm pretty sure you still owe me a dinner. Any chance I could cash it in tonight?"
"Oh, I wish," she said, nodding toward the mess of props and set pieces covering the stage, "but we've got to finish striking the set, and that'll probably take all night the way things are going."
"Well then how about I stick around and help you, and I'll buy you breakfast instead?"
Kagome grinned, fanning herself with a Scarlett O'Hara simper. "I do declare, Mr. Takahashi, what kind of girl do you think I am?"
"The kind who needs a lot of heavy boards unscrewed and moved around?" he guessed.
"You got it," she replied, laughing.
He shrugged out of his jacket and went off to grab an electric drill and join the project. All across the stage, the various cast members disassembled their many weeks' labor piece by piece, collecting the props and costumes at the front of the stage to be returned to their rightful owners. Off in the wings on the stage left side, Cassie and Sam sat with a pile of skirts between them, checking the labels on the tags and sorting them into the appropriate piles. They talked about the play, about the lines they'd missed, about the social studies paper due the next week, about the new Chipotle on Grand Street. Every once in awhile they flicked their gazes up to look at one another and beamed, blushing, stars winking in their eyes—only for each other.
A/N: A little OOCness, I know. But I finally decided that there were more things I liked about it than didn't like about it, and I wanted to get it officially posted.
Anyway, the germ of this idea was to sort of twist the classic Inu/Kag high school fic by making them the teachers instead of the class president and star football player (or bookish nerd and pothead delinquent, or head cheerleader and gamer recluse…). Other than that, a lot of it is vaguely based on my high school (our colors were blue and gold, we did Oklahoma! my senior year, the psych teacher actually was named Mr. Johnson, we choir nerds really did hang out in the music wing during breaks… ;)
So, twist on an old cliché meets personal nostalgia. Hope you enjoyed it!