Literally no excuses for the (basically) three years since I last updated. Part of the problem with this chapter was (ironically) the way I tried and tried and tried to make it perfect and accurate over and over again. But now, I proudly present, Cosette: in reference to my love of musical theater and this debate on perfection my teacher and I had. Please check the list of trigger warnings.

Disclaimer: I don't own the PJO universe.

trigger warnings: eating disorder, anxiety, emotional abuse

Cosette Greenwalt


One of Cosette's favourite quotes was Larry Gelbart's little gem: "If Hitler is alive, I hope he's out of town with a musical." She even had it on a mug.

Really, anything to do with musicals was a bumpy and stressful time, and it didn't help that in this particular instance, everything was a thousand times worst considering there were only two months left until opening night and whoops, the lead and her standby had both been caught in a drug bust and were therefore out of commission. Still, the show must go on and so forth, so a new pair was to be cast.

Cosette sat outside the audition room with a dozen of other singers and dancers. Mom had promised that the auditions were only by invitation, and that Cosette was lucky to even be in the running. Still, there were lots of other artists there, and she was nervous. Clutching her repertoire book, humming under her breath, bending her knees and pointing her toes, smoothing out the white lace of her dress... Cosette also had a bright purple headband in her hair; it was her lucky charm at auditions, one that was peculiar enough to help Cosette stand out to the casting directors.

"I haven't seen you this nervous in a long time," Mom said sitting down next to her. "Breathe, Cosette. Nobody wants a ball of nerves, especially not for a stressful situation like this."

Cosette nodded. She and Mom had signed in at 5:00 AM, but when Cosette's name was finally called she would have liked the wait to last a few more hours. Still, Mom gave her hand a squeeze and she stood up tall with the dancer's posture years and years of fine-tuning had engraved in her, and she walked in.

Act, Cosette. You are an internationally recognised diva. They asked you to consider a part and really, the audition is a mere formality. You are, of course, going to be a star.

"Hello, it's lovely to be here today," Cosette said. She nodded politely before going straight to the pianist and giving him her sheet music. She quietly sang the first few lines to him, thanked him in advance, and walked back to the center of the room to stand smack dab in front of the casting directors' table. There were four various people there, and they were currently pouring over Cosette's headshot and resume.

"Hi," one of the casting directors there said. "What is your name, please?"

"I'm Cosette Greenwalt," she said making sure to pronounce each word.

"Excellent, you can go ahead and give the pianist your sheet music," the man with the bald spot said.

Cosette did and thanked the pianist after he looked over her song.

Everything made sense, everything was routine. The video camera rolling, the flashing cameras as she sang, the

"What will you be singing today?" A man with a bun and an undercut said. "Some Les Misérables maybe?"

That was a joke Cosette had heard time and time again, and it was one of the reasons why she'd always refused to entertain the idea to ever audition for the musical. What if she was cast as the Cosette she was named after? Her mother would never let it go.

"Actually, Castle on a Cloud used to be my audition song as a child," Cosette smiled. "But today I'll be singing Defying Gravity from Wicked."

"Interesting pick," the director said. "Go ahead."

She knew this song like the back of her hand. She could recite it ten times without a single mistake- that was Mom's rule before Cosette used a song in an audition.

And sure enough, Cosette managed to get the song out without a single false note, without a single mistake, with a daring, beaming, maybe a little crazy smile on her face the entire time. That's how she thought she'd play Elphaba if she ever ended up in her green shoes. Beaming, daring, and just crazy enough to take the giant leaps she did. Brave, too. Elphaba was brave to Cosette.

"Sounds good," the woman with the black bob said. "Could we get a full song, perhaps?"

"I have So in Love from Kiss me Kate and How Could I Ever Know from The Secret Garden," Cosette said, her heart frozen with excitement. If they asked for a full song instead of a little excerpt, it was good.

"Actually, I could go for a little Castle on a Cloud," the man with the bun said. "Do you remember it?"

Cosette knew that this was a test. Could she remember things well? Could she improvise?

"If you insist on the irony," Cosette smiled. "I don't have the sheet music for the pianist, however…"

"It's okay," the woman with the bob said. "He was one of the original musicians."

Cosette's jaw dropped but she got herself back together soon. "Wow, that's perfect. I'd be honoured. To sing."

The pianist smiled at her and shifted his hands, waiting for her to restart. Cosette took a deep breath. Time to change her energy. Act, Cosette. You are a little girl, scared and frightened, in the cold. You are no longer empowering yourself and turning tables. Go, go, go.

"There is a castle on a cloud," she sang.

The tone was wildly different. Cosette saw some faces that were even a tad bit surprised on behalf of the directors. She thought that was a good thing. She smiled when she was done and took a little curt bow. Then she felt silly and childish. Mom would have chewed her out for that one.

"Thank you, Mrs. Greenwalt," the balding man said.

"Thank you," Cosette told them before walking out.

Mom bounced to her feet and picked up Cosette's bag for her when she saw her.

"You were in there long," Mom said anxiously. "How'd it go?"

"Well," Cosette said. "Well. I feel like I'm going to be sick."

"Nothing that a cup of coffee won't fix," Mom said. "My treat: to celebrate your first day of school tomorrow."

Cosette smiled, but her racing heartbeat started up again after only a second of peace. Now that that was done with, she could worry about her first day of school tomorrow.

Act, Cosette. You're not nervous. If you're nervous, Mom will question herself and wonder if signing you up was good when you have so much on your plate already.

So Cosette just smiled even more brightly and walked out of the studio and back into the streets of New York's Theater District.

Her school was filled with child prodigies. Some were performers, she recognised several child actors; some were athletes, state champions and competitive team players; and others were academic geniuses- the kind of kids who already had college scholarships and who could recite so many digits of Pi that a pile of them would be taller than Cosette.

The building itself was pristine- just like Cosette had promised to Mom when she'd bargained to be allowed to enrol here. It'll be nice, Mom. A good learning environment. I'll do so well, and the school is so flexible for rehearsals and shows and tournaments and stuff that they'll be able to accommodate me no problem! It felt like just last night she'd had the same conversation with the same arguments as she made her school bag itself.

She followed the map that the secretary had handed to her with her schedule, asked for directions from some muscular seniors, and made her way to English class safe and sound. Cosette took a seat as pairs of friends strategized about where to sit. She ended up at the front, which was always good for her dyslexia.

To avoid feeling lonely, she pretended to be very busy. Act, Cosette. You're the secretary of defence and you're about to go in and talk to a counsel of world leaders about aliens, you're a business woman about to pitch a new platform to try and rope in some Chinese investors. You need to be fresh, important, cool and collected. Prepared. Untouchable. As everyone else touched bases with each other after a summer apart, she placed her shiny new binders and a pencil case full of freshly sharpened pencils on her desk, put a fresh coat of lipstick on, moisturised her hands, checked her phone… She just noticed a text from Roman: a picture of him lying in bed like a slob with the caption Have fun school loser.

She grinned at the screen. Roman was currently her co-star, and probably the person that Cosette texted and skyped most, to Mom's tragic despair. It wasn't anything worth worrying about for a mom, but Roman was handsome when he bothered to brush his hair. And he was three years older, which in itself was enough to ruffle Mom's feathers.

She typed back something witty when a guy sat down next to her. He had messy sandy brown hair and his eyes were soft blue. His face was kind, and he wore a white t-shirt and light jeans, a load of string bracelets around his wrist. His arms were layered in tight and compact muscles like a dancer- one of the reasons why Cosette discreetly kept an eye on him. He wasn't handsome like Roman or some Broadway actors she knew, but he was definitely cute. Like, very cute.

She found out that his name was Liam when the teacher took attendance, Liam Di Fiore (she was good at remembering names; Mom said it was a good industry skill). He didn't recognise her like her teacher did, but he was sweet and acknowledged that she was new so he told her about the school's various policies, the unspoken etiquette that helped the social order power through... He even offered that she come sit with him at lunch, which is when she met Alice, a gifted saxophone player, at lunch. They found out they had music together, and Alice promised to sit next to her which made her feel a lot better about her first day. Liam also brought forth a science and moviemaking nut named Sam Gomez de Sousa, a sloppy and sketchy character at first glance. He told Cosette within ten seconds of meeting her to check out his YouTube channel SamStupendous. With his too-tight jeans, eyeliner, trench coat and the undercut, he least likely guy you'd think would ever know his periodic table but he could supposedly name all of the bones in the human body.

After happily chatting about summer activities (Cosette stayed quiet), they were having a great conversation about how Taco Bell was probably the equivalent of McDonald's in Dora the Explorer's universe and how considering all the adventures she went on her universe was probably in constant expansion and also who let their kid cross a lake full of crocodiles with a blue monkey as a chaperone- when the bell rang and interrupted everything. Cosette cursed it internally. She wouldn't tell them, but this was the first time that she'd ever spent lunch with friends.

They promised to meet up at Liam's locker and go out to Taco Bell right after school to pursue any discussion in what Sam called a "stimulating environment" before splitting up.

Sitting next to Alice in music was cool. It gave Cosette more time to watch her –she was a sucker for people watching. Alice barely had to look at the sheet music in front of her after one first look and her head was always cocked to one side or another, her glasses constantly slipping down the bridge of her nose and her cheek always itchy apparently. She smiled a lot.

After drama class, her last period which looked like it'd be a lot of fun, she wasn't sure exactly where she stood. Was she invited to Taco Bell too or was that really just an invitation Sam had thrown Alice and Liam, with Cosette just around? She wasn't sure, but Liam's locker was near hers so she figured there was no harm in making a mad dash to grab her things and then casually talk to him until Sam and Alice showed up and either re-invited Cosette to come with them, or left without her. Cosette learned by people watching; it was how she made it backstage in shows and at auditions.

While talking to him, she got a glimpse of the inside of Liam's locker.

"Is that your little sister?" She asked as Liam shoved his gym bag in.

He looked at the pictures taped to the inside of his locker and smiled fondly. "Oh yeah, that's Celia."

There was a picture of a little girl sitting on the living room floor on Christmas morning, holding up a Barbie doll dressed in Princess Belle's tell-tale yellow dress. The doll was still half hidden in wrapping paper but the look on the little girl's face was priceless. She smiled so brightly her eyes were squinted, face framed with unbrushed brown hair. She was wearing pink pyjamas dotted with little cats grooming themselves.

There was another one where she was wearing a baggy hoody that had a gymnastic club's logo on the chest. It fit her like a dress, definitely Liam's shirt, but she smiled her squinty-eye smile with her arms spread like a superstar.

There was another one where she was in a hospital bed, her finger clipped to an IV machine, with Liam sitting next to her and holding up a Disney Princess story book.

"Why was she in the hospital?" Cosette asked pointing to the hospital picture.

"She had to get her spleen removed," Liam said. His eyebrows shot up. "Fun, right?"

"Poor thing," Cosette said.

"Yeah," Liam said. "It was bound to happen, though."

Cosette frowned.

"She has sickle-cell disease," he elaborated. "Her blood cells aren't shaped right and there aren't enough of them to carry enough oxygen through her. I think. Something like that. You'd have to ask Sam about the science."

"Oh, that's really…. I'm sorry," Cosette said biting her lip.

"Yeah, but she's a trooper. Dad had it, so they were expecting it."

Cosette spotted a picture of Liam holding up what had to be a gymnastics' medal, a man with his eyes standing behind him with a hand on his shoulder.

Liam closed his locker door.

"To Taco Bell," he said. Cosette turned around to see Sam skipping towards them, his arms looped with a clearly unwilling Alice's. Liam ducked, but Sam managed to latch on to Cosette's arm.

She smiled. She was in!

Once they arrived they pondered on what to have for a few minutes and settled for an order of Nachos Supreme and Mountain Dews. Cosette got fruit punch because it seemed slightly healthier calorie-wise, and she got teased for it by Sam, who called her 'Miss High Maintenance'. Cosette laughed it off, but she knew what kind of a cow Mom would have just at the prospect of fruit punch. Just not Mom, but also her nutritionist Kylie and the dancing coach Joel and, and, and….

She chirped into the conversation but spent most of the time laughing her, ignoring the buzzing phone in her pocket, and pretending that the nachos didn't smell like heaven had been melted in with the cheese.

"Take some," Alice said nodding her head towards the nachos.

"No thank you," Cosette said shaking her head. Her eyes had done a zero-in on all the ingredients the second she and Alice got the order to bring back to the table to survey how unforgivable eating nachos were.

Sour cream- no; beans- also a no; red meat- nope; that much cheese- Mom would have a heart attack if she found out. She liked to keep Cosette on a really strict diet to make sure she had the energy, health and shape for any show, anytime.

"Does Miss High-Maintenance want a salad?" Sam teased poking at her.

"I'm fine," Cosette said with a smile. "I don't like Taco Bell."

Liam crushed the nacho between his fingers, Alice gawked and Sam leaned away from her as if she'd just told him she'd contracted the plague.

"Impossible," Liam said.

Sam shook his head sadly. "The force has a strong influence on the weak-minded."

"Quit it," Cosette smiled, poking her straw back between her lips.

"I like your ring," Alice said looking at her hand. "Where did you get it?"

Cosette jumped on the chance to change the conversation and explained how one of Cosette's co-stars had offered to make her tea once, but had dropped the ring in her cup, and how after nearly swallowing it she'd been allowed to keep it. Her face or sound effects or something were funny enough to have the three of them peeing their pants, but they liked the story. Cosette smiled.

Overrall, she was proud of herself. First day of school: so far so good.

Liam's phone buzzed and he looked down.

"Oh- I've got to get to the gym," he said.

"Ah yes, le wild Elite Gymnasticus Manhattanus." Said Sam in a slow and deliberate Australian accent. "When the Liam DiFiore, native species of the jungle New Yorkian Cementia retreats to its breading place to mate."

"Okay, we're clearly thinking of two different gyms," Liam said pulling his backpack off the ground. "Later guys."

"Bye," Alice called. Cosette waved and gave him one last smile.

"I should head home as well," Cosette said.

"Same, I have a video to edit." Sam said.

"I guess I should practise the saxophone," Alice said.

They stepped out just as a bus drove by and Alice's big perceptive eyes latched on to the advertisement as the bus idled in traffic.

"Cosette, that looks like you," Alice said pointing to the picture.

Cosette bit her lip. The ad showed her face, true. She was wearing a crown and a pink sleeping mask on which the show's title Beauty Sleep was written in pretentious cursive letters. Show times and the slogan "Buy your tickets now!" surrounded her. At first when Cosette had seen the picture it had intimidated her. That picture was on buses, subways, posters, pamphlets, programs, even t-shirts. According to recent estimates 900 people were walking around the world with Cosette's face and crown and sleeping mask on their chests. But Mom had told her not to worry: it was good for your face to be out there, and if the show was doing right it was exploiting her "star quality", as Mom put it.

"It… is," Cosette said.

Sam and Alice looked at her, frowning.

"That's your prodigy quality?" Sam said. "I mean, how you got into Allison Blake School for the Gifted? Your pizaz, your something special, your je ne sais quoi? You work on Broadway?"

"I did my first Broadway show when I was seven," Cosette said. "I was one of the Gavroches on Les Mis for a season."

Sam's jaw dropped. "That's so cool."

"That's incredible," Alice said. "And you're in that show right now, the one with the Sleeping Beauty…"

"Yeah," Cosette said. She hoped she wasn't blushing, Mom said blushing was unbecoming. "I'm the lead. Well, not for long. My contract ends soon and my mother wants me to pull out before the musical crashes. She doesn't think it'll do well much longer. I'm back to auditioning for things..."

"Congratulations," Alice said.

They lounged outside the Taco Bell and talked for even longer, even after the bus went off. It was remarkably easy to talk about the show with Sam and Alice, possibly because they'd so often been in the spotlight too. After all, everyone at Allisson Blake School for the Gifted was there for a reason, no? It was the selling point as to why Cosette had finally broken down Mom's unwavering faith in homeschooling and tutors in favour of a real school. Cosette wasn't scared of sounding snobby (which she hoped she wasn't) or like a freak (which she really hoped she wasn't) when she talked to them. It made her feel better to know that she could, apparently, still talk to people outside of the industry, people who weren't busy casting directors or agents or actors or stressed out producers.

Once Alice realised just how late home she'd be and she and Sam left off, Cosette smiled, relaxed and content. She corrected her previous statement: her first day of school had gone great.

She popped two Tic-Tac in her mouth, put her earphones on and planned on blasting Phantom of the Opera as she made her way home, but she realised that she'd missed a multitude of calls from Mom. Oops. Cosette called back.

"Where have you been?" She asked immediately.

"I was out with a few people I met," she said.

"Where? Were you at a boy's house?"

"No, Mom, I was not at a boy's house. I was at Taco Bell."

"Taco Bell," Mom said like it was even worst. "What did you eat?"

"Nothing," she said. "I was making friends."

"That's fantastic, dear!" Mom said, changing her tune out of nowhere. "I'm so proud!"

Cosette smiled.

"Did you want to go directly to the theater and I'll meet you there with supper?" Mom asked.

"That would be great," Cosette said. "Thanks."

Technically she only needed to arrive at the theater a half-hour before curtain, but Cosette always needed more attention to her wig and costume. Besides, there was always somebody else at the theater and Cosette loved lounging around.

Today she and Roman hung out in her dressing room. It was one of the bigger ones, located underneath the stage, and Cosette had it all to herself. There was a dresser with one of those big lit mirrors that had enchanted Cosette on the first day (Mom had told her to stop acting unprofessional) and a closet with a curtain instead of a door. Some of her own stuff had been relocated to the dressing room as if she'd moved into the theater; a box of ginger tea, her iPhone charger, dance class pictures from when she was little, a poster of Channing Tatum that Cosette would never apologise for (and which regularly got stolen and set up elsewhere to scare other cast and crew members), and lots and lots of sheet music printed off the internet in piles.

Roman was three years older than she was; nineteen. His black hair was so messy that Cosette was led to believe that the show's hair stylists were magicians for taming it- which she knew they did since most of Cosette scenes, considering he played Prince Charming, were with him. His eyes were a popping bottle green and he was tall and lean.

"What are you doing?" Roman asked.

"Math homework," Cosette said.

"Ewe," Roman said. "On the first day of school? Clearly you're new since you're actually doing it."

"My algebra teacher is scary," Cosette said.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Roman said. "It's a front. Here, take it easy Co."

He snatched her notebook from her.

"Hey!" Cosette said. She bounched to her feet and chased him for it, finally succeeding after he backed up into the couch and fell. He grabbed Cosette unwittingly to try and catch himself, but she only tumbled down with him- disappearing into a fit of giggles as Roman took the opportunity to tickle her, relishing as always into how ticklish Cosette was.

That's when Cosette's mother burst in with supper.

She'd apparently looked a lot like Cosette when she was younger; rich chocolate brown curls and square face, tall and shaped like a beanpole. The only thing about Cosette that didn't scream 'Daughter of Maggie Greenwalt' was the sky blue eyes that popped compared to the rest of Cosette's perfectly normal, perfectly average, perfectly classic face. Mom had never said it out loud, but Cosette knew that her dad had had those exact eyes. Cosette had a vivid memory of chattering on and on about how she was the only one in the family with blue eyes on their way back from a family reunion, and Mom snapping at her to be quiet. Cosette had been a prodigy child, a superstar. She never got snapped at, so right away Cosette had realised that she was talking about something Mom didn't like, and there was nothing Mom disliked more than Cosette's father. Still, now that her mother was a middle-aged stage mom and not a young woman, it was hard to see that Cosette was even related to her mom. Grey streaked her hair and she walked with a stiffness to her back, as if a broom were taped to it.

"Cosette I- oh. Roman, hello," Mom said stiffly.

"Hello Ms. Greenwalt," Roman said. He got up slowly, as if that would make Mom forget he'd been pinning Cosette down to the couch seconds earlier. Sure, they were being playful and rough fighting. They'd done it a million times. But Roman knew how Mom could get.

"How are you, sweetheart?" Her mother asked.

"Good," Roman said. "Did you want to talk to Cosette or…?"

"No it's fine," her mother said. "I just came to drop off supper. I'll come back later."

She walked out again.

"Sorry about that. I didn't mean to make it look unchaste. Or give your Mom another reason to be thrilled that the show's run is coming to an end."

Cosette smacked him on the arm.

"You tell him, Co," Carmen said popping in the door frame. She did Cosette's makeup, which meant that it was time to boogie and get into costume.

"Alright Roman," Carmen said. "Get the fuck out, we're busy here."

Cosette stripped down to the clothes she wore under her costumes for quick change purposes. Usually she just got off stage, a dresser slid down the zipper, and she hopped into another costume, got zipped back up, and was dancing again ten seconds later. It was an exhausting show, but Cosette loved it.

She sat tight and pursed her lips and closed her eyes while Carmen outlined her features and put on stage make-up that would make her face stand out to the audience. She knew the drill. She had a drill here. Carmen would leave, Cosette would put her costume on, Lark would come in to put Cosette's wing on and talk about her kids off. The whole time, people would stick their heads in the doorway to taunt her, like Roman with his hair gelled back, Molly in the long fairy dress that shed glitter and the wings that made her hilarious to watch as she manoeuvred through door frames, and a few of the girls in the ensemble in their peasant costumes.

Cosette had worked her butt off on Beauty Sleep. It wasn't her first lead, but it was her first lead in a grown-up part. In a part that she'd chosen to audition for and had argued with Mom, her agent, about. It'd worked out great, too! The critics loved her (if nothing else about the show; one of the worst reviews had called the show "the bastard child of Disney's fluffy fairy tales and the Grimm brothers' original gore and brutality, abandoned on the street and beaten with sticks as a chorus of angels sang. Confused and overhwhelming.), Cosette had a blast onstage, she loved her costumes –every single swishy dress, curly wig, colourful skirt- and the cast was great. Still, the musical itself wasn't doing that well and Mom insisted that they'd pull the plug instead of opting to return for the extended run. She insisted that Cosette needed to stay one step ahead of everybody else.

And so Cosette did, even if it meant leaving behind friends.

Mom was cooking and the entire apartment smelled so good. It also just so happened that Cosette's limited attention span had just expired, and she was absolutely losing her mind sitting in her room doing homework.

Cosette snuck up behind her, wrapping her arms around Mom's waist and putting on her absolutely sleaziest French accent to sing.

"Welcome, Monsieur, sit yourself down
And meet the best innkeeper in town
As for the rest, all of 'em crooks:
Rooking their guests and crooking the books
Seldom do you see
Honest men like me
A gent of good intent
Who's content to be..."

Mom was looking at Cosette with an amused eye. She had a weakness for Les Mis. Didn't they all?

Cosette was all swinging hips and rolling shoulders and caricaturistic seductive glances and tilts of her chin.

"...Master of the house, doling out the charm
Ready with a handshake and an open palm
Tells a saucy tale, makes a little stir
Customers appreciate a bon-viveur!"

"Alright, master," Mom said, smacking Cosette with a dish towel. "Stop straining your voice and do the dishes."

"It's nice to see you again, Cosette," the man with the undercut said. It was hidden right now; his hair was down, but Cosette recognised the glasses.

"My pleasure," Cosette smiled. Callbacks were both amazing and horrible. Not getting a callback didn't mean you didn't get the part, but getting a callback didn't mean you did. Cosette was holding her hands behind her back to avoid twisting them into knots and breaking out into cold, nervous sweat.

"We'll be asking you to sing some songs from the show today with our Beast," the balding man said holding his hand out to motion to the man standing by the piano. "This is Jake Ryder. Jake, this is our first of the day, Cosette Greenwalt."

"The pleasure is mine," Cosette said extending her hand. She was blurting now. "I saw Wicked back when you played Fiyero. You were stunning."

"Thank you," Jake said. "I've had the pleasure of seeing Beauty Sleep. You must have a thing for princesses."

"You must have a thing for being transformed," Cosette answered with a smile.

Balding Man gave Cosette sheet music. Jake didn't need it: practises had been running long enough now that the entire cast was off book.

"This is the End Duet," he said. "I don't need you to run around or anything, but just as a contextual hint-"

"Gaston is dead, but he's seriously wounded the Beast," Cosette said. "Belle just found him."

"Exactly," he said. "Someone did their homework… Pianist, set the key, and then take it away."

"You'll do great," Jake whispered just before the music started.

Cosette thought she did, anyways.

Her mother was so pleased that the callback had gone well, that she allowed Cosette to do something she hadn't done since she was seven: have a friend over for the night.

It also helped that she and Alice were doing a project for music class, a research on a famous composer. Still, the work did itself quickly thanks to Alice's encyclopaedic brain, and they retired to Cosette's room where they could watch Orange is the New Black on Netflix.

Alice seemed a little awe-struck by Cosette's room. It was too crowded for a cot or a mattress, so they squeezed in her bed. The walls were completely plastered with posters from Broadway shows and signed pictures and motivational quotes and old newspaper clippings of various critiques. A keyboard was wedged under her window with stacks of music sheets and books were underneath it. Cosette's side-table was crumbling underneath various lotions, creams, moisturizers and hair products that had been integrated into her daily routine for as long as she could remember.

"That's the poster from when you did Les Mis as a kid?" Alice said. "When you were Gavroche?"

"Yes," Cosette said.

"And you've been in all these shows?" Alice asked.

"Not all of them," Cosette said. "Some of them are souvenirs from other shows, shows people I know have been in… Umm, so there's Les Misérables, there's Annie, there's Mathilda from when I was little. When I turned thirteen I looked too old for Mathilda, though. I took a year off because Mom wanted my to mature my style to match my voice, then I was in the ensemble for Rent before Beauty Sleep."

"That's incredible," Alice said. "I have a cousin who just couldn't get on Broadway… she's a secretary now."

"It's not easy," Cosette admitted. "I know it sounds cliché but it's a lot of work. I have three dance lessons a week, I see my vocal coach Carlotta every Friday and have vocal exercises the rest of the time, I see my physiotherapist Leah once every two weeks to keep my knees and ankles good, I work out a ton, I'm always in and out of auditions unless I have a part… When I was little my mom made me read for fifteen minutes out loud every night. She said it helped me know my lines and react well to random scripts given at auditions."

"I thought you were dyslexic," Alice said.

"I am," Cosette said. "I hated all that reading. I just wanted to sing and dance. I liked my dance classes much better and the singing coaches were fun, fun, fun. But she was right. It helped me get my first part. My mom's good with this stuff. She's my agent."

"That must be awkward," Alice said.

"Not really," Cosette said. "I love her. We make it work."

"I'd throttle mine," Alice said.

Cosette laughed. "But she is pretty great with driving you around for band."

"Oh yeah," Alice said. "Free rides is one of the best things about parents."

Alice spent the entire night talking about her shows and her compositions and her classes and the youth orchestra she was a part of. She talked about all the instruments she played: the saxophone, her favourite. The violin, a close second. The flute, the trombone, the guitar, the trumpet, the piano that she'd taught herself… Alice wasn't called a prodigy for nothing; she lived and breathed and dreamed jazz and music as a whole. They never did end up restarting Orange is the New Black and Cosette didn't mind. Alice wasn't very chatty in the first place, but Sam and Liam had known her for years, so Cosette hadn't heard some of her basic stories.

"We should do a duet," Alice joked. "You and I."

Cosette laughed. "We should!"

"We could," Alice said in all seriousness.

"We should," Cosette nodded.

They talked about what they could do and how they'd create their own show and tour the world until they fell asleep.

If Cosette did good, her dance teacher Enrique would usually give her the last ten minutes of studio time they had to do what she'd wanted. She got to hop around to routines she'd invented for herself off of other musicals and experiment and have fun, hidden away from the eyes of casting directors and mothers and teachers and other serious people.

Today she was Reno from Anything Goes, all seduction and booming voice and notes held up high like flags or banners proudly worn. She'd switched over to her tap shoes and had even put a scarf around her hair to feel the 50's vibe:

"In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking,
But now, God knows,
Anything Goes.

Good authors too who once knew better words,
Now only use four letter words
Writing prose, Anything Goes.

The world has gone mad today
And good's bad today,
And black's white today,
And day's night today,
When most guys today
That women prize today
Are just silly gigolos
And though I'm not a great romancer
I know that I'm bound to answer
When you propose,
Anything goes! "

"Cosette," Enrique laughed. "Your feet- do they stop?"

"Not until I tell them too," Cosette smiled. "Can you restart the song for me please? I want to do it again. It's too fun."

"How was the show last night?" Alice asked.

"Great!" Cosette replied with a smile. "How was band?"

"Decent," Alice said. "Sam, how did your test go?"

"I aced that shit," Sam said. He always did in chemistry. "Liam how did gymnastics go?"

"Great," Liam said. Then he'd tell them which move he'd finally perfected or when his next competition was.

They had a routine. They looked out for each other and cared without being too nosy, too pushy. Without shoving each other out of the amazing breather that lunch time at AB constituted in their crazy lives and back into their crazy routines…

Cosette liked their routine. She liked the circle of caring she'd formed. She thought it was an excellent balance. At the very least, she was happy.

It was the last show. Beauty Sleep's finale, an extraordinary event, don't miss it! Or so all the ads and papers had said; really it felt heartbreaking to most of the cast. Besides, if they were closing it was because their main sponsor had gone bankrupt and the spectators just weren't flowing in anymore. Not as much since tourist season was over, and the critics had called the show unimaginative, cheap, grotesque and 'searching for itself' one too many times. They all knew that things were bad for the musical, but not bad enough for their season to be cut. Mom had been right to jump ships while she could.

Despite it all, the cast stuck their chins up and took deep breaths. Or at least Cosette did, as Lark told her about her kids one last time and Milicent peeked into her room and hissed meanly again. Cosette ran her hands over her blue dress and realised that it was the last time she'd wear it, nearly bursting into tears in her dressing room. No; Carmen would kill her if she'd had to redo their makeup.

They didn't even need a cast cheer. They knew that tonight was the last night they'd all be alive together, the last time Jehanne and Marot and Tempeta would ever be angry and happy and sad and lonely and scared and in love. It was all or nothing, and Cosette was planning on giving it her all.

She did. Tonight, she was sure that she'd done beautifully.

But she cried when they bowed and after the curtain fell and the cast fell in each other's arms and Molly , Cosette's on-set mama, held Cosette to her chest for a solid ten minutes. She thought she was okay, if not a bit shaky, when she made her way back to the dressing room and stripped out of the golden finale dress she loved so much.

"Hey Co," someone at the door said. She turned around to see Roman, the collar of his shirt unbuttoned and his vest off.

"Hey," she said. She knew her eyes were still red. She was sniffly too.

Roman wandered in and spread his arms. Cosette went to hug him, feeling warm and steady against him in her tights and tank top.

"We'll keep in touch right?" Cosette said. "We'll still see each other in dance class and we won't act awkward because we were part of the same fluke, and you'll still help me with math homework and we'll meet up at Starbucks still and, and…"

"Cosette," Roman said. He said her name as if he was tasting each syllable one by one by one. "Deep breaths. Don't worry about it, I'm not going anywhere."

"Co," Liam said taking the phone from Cosette's grip. "Put it away, try to eat."

"I can't," Cosette said snatching it out of his hand and putting it down on the cafeteria table and putting her head down on the sticky plastic. "My callback was Friday. Today is Monday. It's been three days. They should have called back by now."

"They're busy people," Sam said.

"The show is so soon," Cosette said. "They need to find a new Belle."

"Cosette, the phone won't ring just because you look at it," Liam said.

But it did. Cosette nearly shrieked when she picked it up, Sam and Alice and Liam looking at her eagerly.

"Mom," she said breathlessly into the phone.

There was no answer. Mom simply blasted Be Our Guest into the phone, and Cosette shrieked.

"Congratulations, love!" Mom said. "We'll talk at home. I'm on the subway right now, but I wanted you to know. I love you."

"I love you too," Cosette said. Mom hung up and Cosette dropped the phone and bounced to her feet, grabbing Liam's arm and bringing him up too.

"I got it!" She said, shaking with excitement. "I got it, I got it, I got it!"

Other people in the cafeteria were looking at her all over the place, but Cosette didn't care she got it.

"I'm so happy!" She said.

"Yeah, that's why you're crying," Liam said wrapping his arms around her. Cosette laughed and sobbed at the same time, giddy and overwhelmed. She felt Alice's arms circle her as well and heard Sam say 'oh, what the hell' before joining.

Lukas was so happy to hear the news when Cosette got to the gym that night, that he didn't make her do weights. They stuck to cardio and stretching for flexibility.

"Don't tell your mother," Lukas winked. Even if he was her personal trainer, Lukas understood that Broadway was aerobic enough as it was that Cosette was already in good shape. He was nice and reasonable and sweet and always, always happy to see her. She loved him.

"No problem," Cosette smiled heading for the treadmills. "Bet I can outrun you."

She couldn't, of course. Lukas was an ex-Olympic athlete. But Cosette liked to make work-outs more pleasant this way. It was a way of saying Act, Cosette. You're being chased by a bear. You're at the Olympics in a distant Eastern European country. You're running for your life across an Aztec pyramid loaded with booby traps. You're being chased by a tiger. The Mafia. An angry mob condemning you to witchcraft. Motherfucking Javert is on your trail!

"You can try," he said.

Cosette had been formally introduced to the panel of scary superiors who'd been at her audition; the lady with the black bob was Roberta, the producer. Mr. Undercut was actually Dillon, the director and choreographer. The man with the balding spot was Calvin the casting director, and the last was the musical director, Harper. She'd met her co-stars; other than Jake, she met Shang who played Gaston, Brigid alias Mrs. Potts, Garret as Lumière, and Jason who played her father the inventor.

She got along with Jake and Shang perfectly. Garret as well, though he was distant and dreamy outside of rehearsal times and hard to get a hold of. The ensemble, however? They weren't so fond of her. So she knew that they were all pissed and rolling their eyes when Dillon asked for them to stop to correct one of her mistakes or missteps. Cosette felt herself shrinking into her dancing shoes adn yoga pants every time, even if blocking a new scene was always tricky business.

"Cosette, I want you to try something for me," he said getting up and coming to stand next to her, shooing away a dancer.

She tugged on her ponytail to tighten it before following his steps and counting out loud with him. Eventually she was doing it on her own.

"Good, yes!" Dillon said. "Alright, everyone. Be Our Guest, from the top."

Cosette took a deep breath and collected herself. Her back was soaked with sweat- she'd gotten at the studio hours before everyone else and she was planning on leaving hours after to make sure that she could nail her dance. If her tank top was damp now, she'd be drenched by the end of the day and that's how she wanted it.

She knew that everyone was pissed at her today for being a newcomer, for stealing their chance to become Belle- but next time she was going to be perfect. She knew it.

"Five, six, seven, eight," Dillon counted.

Liam approached Cosette after a day where he hadn't spoken to her much, and leaned against the locker.

"My little sister's sick," he said.

"Uh oh," Cosette frowned. "Is it her… her… the sickle-cell disease?"

"Yeah," Liam nodded. "And she might have to get hospitalised, because the pain's getting really bad."

"I'm so sorry," Cosette frowned closing her locker. She leaned on it, her curls brushing her bare shoulders. "Is there anything I can do?"

"Yeah," Liam said. "It'll sound kind-of silly, but you're wearing a yellow dress today and… Well, she absolutely loves princesses… Guess who her favourite is?"

When Cosette walked into the apartment (after arguing with mom about rehearsal schedules for ten good minutes of 'no mom, it's just a dress rehearsal, if they zip me up last I promise it's like I was there all along') the first thing that Cosette noticed was the dust picking up on the sofas and on the toys in the kitchen and living roomIt looked unnatural.

A woman wearing shrubs was sitting at the kitchen table, reading the newspaper. When Liam opened the door she got up and spun around. She had gentle features, a graceful neck and hair the colour of rust. The lines on her face looked new and out of place, as if they'd been added at the last minute after someone forgot that maybe this woman would have to look old and tired one day.

"Oh hi sweetheart. I'm so sorry but I have to go now to catch the subway, I'll call you during my break okay? I made supper so you can look in the fridge if you're hungry, Celia probably- oh, who's this?" She asked defaulting to a smile when she saw Cosette.

"Mom, this is Cosette. Cosette, this is my mom." Liam said proudly. "She's the princess."

"Of course," his mother smiled. "Liam's told me all about you, Cosette. It's a pleasure to meet you. Please call me Stella."

"The pleasure is mine," Cosette smiled.

Mrs. DiFiore turned to Liam with a hesitant look on her face.

"Sweetheart, Celia isn't feeling well…"

"Yeah, I know," Liam nodded putting his hand down in a gesture of appeasement. "I'll take care of her."

Stella smiled stiffly and put a hand on Liam's cheek. The look on her face was pained, as if she was forcing herself to get up and get out.

"I have to go sweetheart, I love you to death."

"Love you there and back, Mom," Liam said.

Stella waved at Cosette, grabbed her bag and left again.

"She's been working like crazy," Liam explained. "It's like the shifts never end… The night shifts are the worst though, they plough through her. Come on, I'll take you to see my first princess."

"Your first?"

"You're my second." Liam said.

He opened the door with Celia's nameplate gently, and smiled as soon as he peeked inside.

"Hey Princess," he said looking in. "I brought you a guest."

"Who?" A little voice said. Liam opened the door more and gestured for Cosette to walk in.

The room had pink walls and clouds painted on the ceiling. Stickers of Disney princesses and flowers littered the wall and the ceiling fan. There was a plastic table with tiny chairs occupied by stuffed animals who seemed to have been abandoned mid-tea party. The curtains were drawn to let sunshine in, though all there was to see was New York.

"This is my friend," Liam said sitting down on Celia's bed. "Cosette."

Celia was even cuter in person, wearing pink pyjamas and bundled up in a duvet. Her brown hair was brushed free of knots and spread all over her pillow.

"Cosette sings," Celia said.

"That's right," Liam said.

"And she's pretty like you said."

"True," Liam said.

He looked at Cosette like you're on.

Act Cosette. You're a superstar visiting a children's hospital. You're not worried about messing anything up because you know they love you and you know that you're good with people and talented and that this will make them happy.

She sat on Celia's bed too, just as far from Celia as Liam was on the opposite side of the bed, carefully mimicking him.

"How are you feeling today?" Cosette asked with a smile.

"Better than this morning. This morning my arms hurt so bad I nearly threw up." Celia said with the brutal honesty of children.

"Well that's rubbish, isn't it?" Cosette asked uneasily.

Celia nodded. "But I won't throw up now. Don't worry."

"We weren't worried, kiddo." Liam said. "I actually brought you a guest because Cosette isn't just my friend. Can you keep a secret?" He said sitting down on the far end of Celia's bed.

Celia nodded frantically, her big eyes curious.

Liam leaned towards her, put a hand next to his mouth and fake-whispered "Cosette's a princess."

Celia's jaw dropped. "Really?"

"Well," Liam said. "She's training at the Princess Academy right now."

Celia turned to look at Cosette, and she nodded as if to say yeah, it's true.

"Wow." Celia asked. "What princess are you training to be?"

She sat down on the end of Celia's bed too.

"Belle," Cosette fake-whispered.

Celia's eyes sparkled even more brightly.

"Really?" She asked.

"Really," Cosette said. "But here's the thing, I need to know if I'm a good Belle. I need an expert to help me before my big Princess test, and Liam told me that you were an expert."

Celia looked dumbfound.

"Well Princess," Liam said. "Are you an expert?"

Celia nodded. "Uh-hun. Mama and I watched Cinderella today. And Rapunzel."

"So can you tell me if I'm a good Belle? What does a good Belle have to do?" Cosette asked.

"Well, you're wearing yellow, and that's Belle's favourite colour." Celia said.

"So I pass the test?"

"Not yet." Celia said shaking her head. "Can you sing like Belle?"

"Can I sing like Belle..?" Cosette said tapping her lip with the index. "Well I wonder. What song does Belle sing?"

"Belle sings Beauty and the Beast." Celia said, blurting it out as if she was born with this particular piece of information in mind.

As Cosette recalled, Mrs. Potts sung that one. But she accepted it.

"Does she now? Well, maybe you can help me sing and we'll see how it goes."

Celia nodded and Cosette cleared her throat. This made her more nervous than a Broadway audition. This audience was much more analytic than a critic, and much more authentic than a tourist who bought a ticket package online and wasn't too sure which show they were seeing at the moment. She also realised that it was the first time Liam would hear her sing too.

Act, Cosette. You're fucking Beyoncé.

"Tale as old as time
True as it can be
Barely even friends
Then somebody bends

Just a little change
Small, to say the least
Both a little scared
Neither one prepared
Beauty and the Beast."

She met Liam's eyes and they were sparkling. He'd just turned them away from Celia; who sported the widest and most awestruck smile ever. He took her hand and squeezed, his face lit up and happy.

"Ever just the same
Ever a surprise
Ever as before
Ever just as sure
As the sun will rise
Tale as old as time
Tune as old as song
Bittersweet and strange
Finding you can change
Learning you were wrong

Certain as the sun
Rising in the East
Tale as old as time
Song as old as rhyme
Beauty and the Beast
Tale as old as time
Song as old as rhyme
Beauty and the Beast."

When Cosette finished Celia clapped. It was like a standing ovation.

"Verdict?" Liam asked Celia.

"I think you're an excellent Belle." Celia said.

Cosette beamed. "Oh good! That makes me feel much better. Thank you Celia."

"I think you're going to graduate really well from Princess Training." Celia nodded.

"Well I'm glad you think so," Cosette said taking Celia's hand. "After all, you're the expert, Your Highness."

"How's Celia, Liam?" Sam asked when Liam sat down at the picnic table.

"Oh, we brought her to the hospital last night." Liam said. "She's sleeping now, at least, so she's okay."

Alice sitting next to him put an arm around him. "You okay?"

"Oh yeah. I mean, it's not a regular thing for Celia, but at the same time she's in the hospital at least ten times a year." Liam shrugged.

"Ten?" Cosette asked concerned.

"She's too young for some of the stronger meds that could help," Liam said. "Anyways, are you guys still coming for my gymnastic competition on Saturday?"

"For sure," Alice said.

"Wouldn't miss it for the world," Cosette said.

"Sure thing, I need a little something for SamStupendous anyways," Sam said. "And, like, you know. Our friendship means a lot to me."

Sam's jokes and light attitude seemed to make Liam feel a little better.

Cosette finished her song, Home, chest heaving. The rehearsals concerning Cosette were very small nowadays to try and get her up to date before incorporating her to a number with everyone else. It was intimidating, being alone on set in tank tops and baggy sweat pants and dancing shoes, with a few people watching you and only you, on a big, big set.

Dillon stood on the edge of the stage and he watched Cosette, only nodding.

"How was it?" Cosette asked. "What's wrong?"

"I'm starting to think we chose our Belle even better the second time around," Dillon said with a smile. "Truly, I'm just... baffled."

When Cosette pulled out her iPhone to check on the iMessage conversations that Liam, Alice and Sam always had without her while she was at rehearsals, she noticed that her calendar had a new alert in it, one that she couldn't remember adding.

When she checked she saw that she had something planned for lunch on Saturday. Lunch with someone and the afternoon she'd booked off with her director was plugged in with an afternoon at the gym.

She frowned, horrified.

"No way," she said.

Once home she tracked down Mom and pulled out her phone.

"You put things in my calendar," she said.

"Yes, sweetheart."

"Suddenly I have- I have lunch with Molly and an afternoon at the gym with Lukas?"

"He was very generous with fitting us in," Mom said. "And Molly's wanted to touch bases with you for so long."

"Yeah that's the problem, umm, well two problems. First, stop coordinating my social life. Molly and I could have made plans ourselves. Also I notice that you're quick to set me up with her, but when Roman and I went out for coffee it was a high stress situation around here."

"Cosette, you know why."

"Okay, okay. Then my problem is that I have plans Sunday."

Her mother frowned. "Plans?"

"Liam has a competition," Cosette said. "You know, Liam. The gymnast? With the little sister? We all promised we'd go. We promised ages ago."


"Sam and Alice and I!" Cosette said. "Sam? The boy with the eyeliner who came over? Alice, the one with the glasses? There's no way in hell that I'm not going."

"Language, Cosette." Mom said. "It wasn't written down anywhere that you had plans."

"No, but it isn't written down anywhere that it's okay for you to man-handle my schedule." Cosette said. "Mom, this is Liam's first competition with parallel bars and his sister's in the hospital and we're not sure if his mom will come because she works crazy shifts. This would mean a lot to him."

"Sweetheart, I don't know. Marcos isn't as easy to get a hold of as he used to be…"

"I don't need to go to the gym, I'm fine."

"You've been buying us the 1% milk instead of skim."

"Because it tastes better," Cosette said.

"It has more fat to it."

"My weight is fine, Mom."

"I'm not saying it isn't, sweetheart, I'm just saying- with the premiere coming up in a week…"

"This is something I've planned for," Cosette said. "I have shifted my practise hours around so it doesn't matter that I miss an afternoon, I talked with Dillon, talked with Lukas, talked with Liam, we're going out for shakes after…"

"Shakes." Mom said. "Like, milkshakes?"

Fuck, she'd said it out loud.

At least she hadn't sworn.


"Cosette, what have I told you about fuelling your body well?"

Cosette closed her eyes.

"Well?" Mom said.

"I wasn't going to actually have one Mom, I was going to sit with them and…"

"Cosette Judy Greenwalt. Say it."

"If you put crap in, crap comes out." She said. Which, taken literally, used to make Cosette giggle when she was a child. However Mom had very specific mantras that were not to be direspected. Mom had written the Twelve Comandments of Cosette's life herself, though sometimes it felt like the list was exponential and ever-growing and no way in hell were there just twelve rules to follow.

"Exactly. Crap is not something you can afford- not now, not ever," Mom said. "Don't you see how important you are? How much talent you have, how much you can give to the world? How much hard work we've put in to get you where you are?"

Cosette closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She mustn't snap, she mustn't snap…

"Okay, here's a deal." Cosette said. "I promise not to even think about having junk food after the competition and I'll do some treadmill and a couple of weights that night. If I'm allowed to go. And when I get back home after that I promise I'll listen to the director like an angel and buy nonfat everything and I won't go out again until premiere week is over, I promise. No, I don't promise, I swear, Mom."

"Will you consider doubling your treadmill time?" Mom asked.

"Yes," Cosette said throwing her arms around her mom's neck. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

"Your mother tells me you will work just as hard today," Carlotta said handing Cosette the sheet music they'd be working with. It was a musty old Latin hymn.

Cosette was 90% sure that she had the vocal coach with the worst taste in actual music.

"What do the words mean?" Cosette asked, squinting to try and decipher the lyrics. She'd never experienced with singing in Latin before and she was starting to think that that was perfectly alright.

"It doesn't matter," Carlotta said. "What we look at here is the music and the melody."

"But I don't know how to sing it if I don't know that it means and what I'm supposed to feel," Cosette said.

"You don't feel anything, you need to look at this technically."

"I can't do that," Cosette said. "That's not how I sing."

"This is why I teach you technique."

"If it doesn't mean anything, then it doesn't matter what I sing," Cosette said.

Carlotta arched an eyebrow. "Your mother lies to me, now? You will not even work, how will you work hard?"

"Okay," Cosette said quietly. "Okay, I'll try singing it. I will."

"You will try?" Carlotta asked.

"No, I'll sing it. I'll sing it and it will be beautiful."

As it turned out, gymnasts competed shirtless.

So during the competition, Cosette saw Liam's bare chest for the first time and dang, there were more muscles to that boy than his arms. They stretched out onto a chest with a pack of abs that Cosette literally could not take her eyes off of. Physically could not.

"So let me clarify that my friendship with Liam is totally platonic," Sam said, eyes on Liam across the gym where the bars and vaults were set up. "But I'm not going to lie that I could, would and should do some things to his other gymnast friends that are…"

"Sam!" Alice said.

"Stop it Sam, you're drooling nearly as much as Cosette." Alice said tapping his hand.

"I am not drooling!" Cosette said. "Now hush up, he's about to go. That's why he's standing at the end of the mattress right? Oh God, oh God, oh God, this is too- what is he doing? He's going to shatter every bone in his ankle! No, his body!"

Liam was at the end of the runway. He broke into a sprint, jumped onto the springboard. His hands pushed off the vaulting table and he spun in the air. Cosette's eyes barely had time to register his flips. The next thing she knew he was on his feet, facing the vaulting table. He steadily straightened up, arms in the air. Everyone clapped as he took his bow.

Sam whistled. "My hero!" He cried.

"Sam," Alice elbowed him.

"Cosette's hero!" He corrected at the top of his lungs.

"Co, he didn't break his ankle. You can let go of my arm now." Alice said softly, giving up on Sam.

Cosette let go bashfully. "I'm sorry. I just… he's so good but it looks so dangerous and…"

"Cosette," Alice said. "Let. Go."

They stayed the whole day and every single event was just as impressive as the last. Sam was videotaping most of it, and Liam made him promise to show it to his mom and Celia. Between his events they'd talk and laugh and pretended to cram for tests that they had no intention in further studying for. Celia called one, she'd made up a song about how Liam was the best at everything and he was going to win 'all the things'. Sam was snarky enough to tell Liam about how Cosette was convinced he'd trip on his shadow and kill himself.

"I did not say that!" Cosette said. "And it's not that I don't think you're not good, I think you're excellent, I just get freaked out when I think that you're about to do flips and stuff."

Liam blushed and smiled. "Don't worry, I won't hurt myself."

He ended up going home with a bronze in parallel bars –his newest event- and a gold medal in vaulting. Sam was more than proud to walk around telling people to make room because America's next Top Olympian was coming through.

"Move it people, his toenails are more fabulous than you'll ever be." He told people in the subway. "Let the boy sit down, he's spent most of the day mid-air doing backflips, let's welcome him back to earth, shall we?"

"Sam, calm down." Liam said, perfectly content with standing next to Cosette, holding on to a pole for dear life in the busy cart. Cosette wanted Sam to shut up too. Liam's fingers were so close to hers...

"If these people had any kind of decency they'd give you their seats," Sam advertised, not so quietly.

Cosette was grinning.

"And don't think I'm forgetting you Miss Premiering-on-Broadway-in-a-week." Sam said noticing her smile. "All I'm waiting for now is for Alice to become, like Yoyo-Mama or something. Then you can all support me in my old age if my Nobel Peace Prize doesn't work out as projected."

"Will you stop yelling?" Alice said exasperated.

"Sorry Alice, I just thought that the good people of America deserve to know all of this." Sam said just as loudly.

"Oh thank God it's our stop," Cosette said once the subway came to a halt.

A few people clapped as Sam left the subway.

"Hey, none of that Smart-Alecs. You have all been enlightened, and should be thankfull because clearly you needed it!"

The doors closed and they managed to drag him off after a pretty amazing day.

Cosette missed most of the next week of school to practise and practise and practise, since opening night was on Friday. Everything was looking good, thankfully. The special effects, the dancing, the music and the singing had all been nailed down to perfection. Now it was just bolting-it-in practising, as Mom called it.

She came home exhausted, but not exhausted enough to not reply to the texts who were waiting for her and to watch Sam's video diary of the day- which he put up on YouTube for her whenever she missed school.

Celia came out of the hospital. She wasn't quite back-to-school material, so Liam's grandmother was going to be watching her during the day, but she was home now. Which she was happy about since it was her birthday.

That's when Cosette realised that she should give Celia a birthday present. And make sure it was an awesome one.

Opening night was nerve-wracking and everyone was panicking backstage. A costume had ripped or something? Since it wasn't hers, Cosette stayed in her dressing room to get the hell out of everybody's way and tried to zone everything out with her headphones and algebra textbook.

"I've never seen a princess with headphones before," someone at the door said. She turned around and saw Mom, holding a bouquet of yellow flowers that would match her ball gown. The ball gown. The yellow Belle ball gown that Cosette was going to wear in front of hundreds of people tonight because she was Belle...

Mom hugged her, smashing the rose petals against her blue and white opening dress.

"I'll be in the crowd during the whole show. I won't even move a muscle during intermission. You're going to do great." Mom promised Cosette. "Now just remember your footing for the first scene is always sketchy but just go with your gut because you always get on the right piece of set when you do. You have the instincts for show routines like nobody I've ever met. And don't go too high on the 'Is This Home', is your voice warmed up? Let's warm up your voice. La-la-la-la…"

Cosette couldn't roll her eyes or anything; she had to get up and hop into the vocal exercises.

"No- you had a long day of rehearsals, and Indian food." -Mom shot Cosette a glare- "Let's not overdo it. Okay, I'm leaving the flowers here, and I'll just get out of everyone's legs until it starts. Kiss?"

Cosette leaned down and kissed Mom on the cheek. She got hugged back.

"I am so, so proud of you." Mom said holding her tightly.

Cosette smiled.

She lived for this kind of thing.

And when she stepped onstage and was hit smack in the face by the spotlights and their warmth and the music errupting from the pit?

She lived for that too.

Everyone was pulled and pulling left and right for hugs and congratulations and jokes and compliments. It was opening night euphoria at its peak, and Cosette couldn't feel better about it.

Between hugs and conversations and laughter, Cosette's make-up was retouched. Jake and Shang who played Gaston were still teasing her and she was having a conversation with Brigit who played Mrs. Potts and overall, Cosette thought that maybe people didn't hate her anymore…

When it was time to sign autographs for those with VIP passes –critics and columnists and celebrities and high-paying clients or sponsors- Cosette calmed down the butterflies in her stomach. She was still wearing her yellow gown, all princessed up. Act, Cosette. You're Belle. What could go wrong?

Sure enough, the line passed by smoothly. Eventually she spotted a little girl in the line wearing a pristine red and black dress and shiny shoes with buckles and everything. Her brown curls were perfectly tamed and she was proudly sporting a tiara that was all silver plastic jewels and a plastic icon of Belle's face. Someone was holding her hand tight and making her dance around as she waited.

When it was her turn in line she smiled at Cosette and went straight for a hug. Cosette nodded to the bodyguard and held Celia close.

"You graduated from Princess Training!" Celia said before Cosette could say a word.

"Thanks to your expertise, Your Highness," Cosette said letting go of Celia.

"You sang really nicely," Celia said.

"Why thank you. I like your dress." Cosette said. Celia became all bashful.

"What'd you say, Celia?" Mrs. DiFiore said, squeezing her daughter's hand.

"Thank you." Celia said. That seemed to sober her up and suddenly she remembered to be shy.

"You're most welcome," Cosette said.

Celia handed Cosette a notebook.

"Is this for me to sign?" She asked gently.

Celia nodded, so Cosette scribbled on a signature and passed the notebook on to Gaston and Beast who went on with the role-playing. Stella followed Celia's progress across the line and she looked stunned.

Liam was wearing a grey sweater and dark slacks. He was still wearing his string bracelets, which just made him adorable, and so did his blushing as he came to Cosette holding a bouquet of flowers. He looked around nervously at this big stage, so different from the one he was used to.

"You were…" Liam shook his head. "Fantastic, Co. You were brilliant."

"Thank you," Cosette said smiling. She felt like she'd passed a test.

"No, thank you," Liam said. "Honestly, this was great. It's the first time I see a Broadway show and all, and I don't know much about music or dancing or whatever- but it was great! And you were great, and the lights were cool, and you were great, and the songs were- you were… I've never seen your eyes brighter than when you were Belle."

"You're really sweet," Cosette said.

"And, umm, yellow suits you." Liam said with a shy smile.

Before Cosette could say anything to that, she got a big hug.

"Thank you so much for the tickets, Cosette." Mrs. DiFi - Stella- said.

"No problem, I'm glad they went to good use!" Cosette said hugging her back. Stella was beaming, complimenting her and saying her talent surpassed her age, and thanking her a million more times for the tickets.

Cosette didn't have much family anyways. Most of them had been so mad when mom had gotten pregnant… whatever. Her courtesy tickets usually went to waste.

"Yeah, so," Liam said once Stella went off after Celia again to stop her daughter from mauling Gaston for being so mean to Belle. "I, umm… well, I guess it's kind of obvious, but I got these for you."

He handed her the bouquet- tiny blue flowers.

"I know that Belle wears yellow and that's what Celia was going for but that's cliché and you're not cliché, and Belle she also wears blue. You know, at the beginning… before she's a princess, when she's still a nobody… whatever, here you go."

"Thank you," Cosette smiled, nesting the flowers in the crook of her arm.

"Miss Greenwalt," someone said. She turned her head and the bodyguard was tapping his wrist.

"Right, sorry, we'll talk on Monday," Liam said. He squeezed her hand before following his family outside. Cosette handed her flowers to the guard and the line went on, but Cosette couldn't shake her real smile to put up her princess smile.

Act, Cosette. Act like this isn't the best night of your life.

On Monday Liam smirked when they crossed paths on their way up to the lockers.

"Really? The coat?" He said.

"It's cold out," Cosette said.

"I mean, it's yellow."

She smiled. "Oh, yeah. My mother thinks that she's hilarious. She got it for me on opening night."

Liam laughed. He took out his camera and showed her a picture on the phone. It was of tiny Celia sitting in a red seat, which looked huge compared to her tiny size. Her face was eager and her eyes were bright and a permanent, unwitting smile was on her lips.

"I swear, if she wasn't singing or pointing at the characters and explaining to me what was going on, this is what her face was all night," he said. "As an appropriate thank you, I think I should warn you about what the other idiot is doing. It's even more flamboyant than your mother's coat, like it or not."

Cosette spotted her locker. Sam had completely taped it over with critiques and reviews of the show printed off the internet, bits and pieces of it highlighted yellow. Alice was smiling shyly, holding a single red rose- like the one in the show.

"See that highlighted stuff?" Sam called from across the hallway. "That's all there is in there about how awesome you were. Notice that the paper is mostly yellow right now. In science we call that a good result. Three cheers for Princess Cosette!"

Alice beamed and clapped before throwing her arms around Cosette.

"Any big plans for Thanksgiving?" Alice asked, trying to cheer up an otherwise drab conversation. Sam's camera was presently held hostage by his parents until he passed his next Spanish quiz and Celia was in the hospital and Cosette was too tired from last night's show to really have any sort of emotion.

"Yeah, I might shoot myself in the foot to guilt my parents into giving my baby back." Sam said bitterly.

"Fun," Alice said trying to look happy. "Liam?"

Liam didn't answer. He'd probably spend it at the hospital with Celia, eating cafeteria food and playing with dolls. Cosette took his hand under the table. He looked up at her, blinking like a mechanical toy.

"Co?" Alice asked.

"There's a fundraiser for the children's hospital with the show…" Cosette said. "Also maybe the food bank, but my Mom hasn't confirmed that with me yet."

"Wow, shot foot, fundraisers and mysterious activities. Can I unveil my plans and try to rival?" Alice said.

Cosette smiled. "Sure Allie, what are you up to?"

"My folks are driving up to Maine to see family, and guess what?" She said.

"You're going to shoot yourself in the foot to get out of it?" Sam said. "Maybe they'll let us share a hospital room. Cosette can fundraise for it. As a bonus round Liam can visit us."

"Shut up," Liam said venomously, surprising Cosette a bit.

"Keep going Allie, what are you doing?" Cosette asked trying not to discourage her from getting excited and sharing something this big in public.

"My Aunt Grace's new husband works at Julliard; for their music division more specifically."

Julliard was a really big school for arts, and they had a huge music division. There'd been talk in Cosette's remaining family to ship her off there with her piano so she'd get a degree in something. The subtext in that plan was just so she doesn't one day crash and fizzle out like… well, you know...

"And one of my family's traditions is to make me take out my sax and put on a show whenever we get together. I've been doing it ever since I mastered 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star' at the age of three." Alice said. "So… Maybe with a little luck this uncle will hear me and…"

"That's great, Alice!" Cosette said. "I'm sure he'll love it."

"Yeah, don't shoot your foot. I'll be okay in my little hospital bed, all by my lonesome.

Liam got to his feet, snatching his bag before walking off.

Cosette looked at him and sighed.

"I'll be right back," she said. "Alice, talk some sense into this dork. We'll talk about Julliard some more in music class when nobody will bug us."

Alice looked taken aback by how ill-received her news had been. Cosette would have to kill Sam for that later, and kill him a second time for his misplaced jokes.

Celia was sacred; nobody got to say anything against the little girl or make any kind of jokes about hospitals when she was in one, and Sam should know that better than anyone.

She found Liam in the gym sector. She could hear most of the teachers laughing and talking loudly in the classroom, and team bashing and gossip coming from the change rooms. It was a very energetic and lively atmosphere, but Liam sat against the wall sadly.

Cosette smoothed down her skirt and sat next to him. Their legs were extended in front of them, and Cosette taped his foot with hers after a few moments of silence.

"Sam didn't mean those jokes." She said.

"Sam can go screw himself." Liam said.

"To be fair, he's probably the only person who'd do it." Cosette said.

Even that didn't get any reaction from him.

"How many times have you had gymnastics practise this week?" She asked.

"Once," Liam said.

That also explained his grumpiness. Usually Liam spent at least three hours a day doing hand balancing and splits and stretches (true story: the boy was more flexible than Cosette, that was scary).

"Look, I know that Thanksgiving is about family and I won't take it personally if you say no," Cosette said taking his hand again. It'd seemed to make him feel better at the table. "But I think you need to get out of the hospital a bit. I know you put a brave face on for Celia, and you probably do it very well, but it's not healthy if you don't take a break. You can't give what you don't have, you know? Would you like to spend Thanksgiving with me?"

Liam frowned. "But… you have plans…"

"I'll make it work," Cosette said squeezing his hand. "I think you need to breathe for a second."

Liam looked at their hands. "I'm not sure how much my mother will like that."

"You don't have to," Cosette said quickly. "I'm just putting it out there."

"Thank you," Liam said. He looked down at their hands. "That's… probably a good idea actually, it's not that I don't want to go- I really do- I… thank you. A lot."

She looked down at their hands for a second as well.

"Can I tell you something I don't usually tell people?" Liam asked. His eyes weren't exactly sad- they were more weary.

"Of course," she said.

"My dad had what Celia has," Liam started slowly. "Sickle-cell disease. It's somewhat hereditary."

"Okay," Cosette said. "Well, I'm glad you don't have it. That way you can do gymnastics this intensely and be there..."

"My dad died of it," Liam said.

Cosette felt like she'd been punched in the stomach.

"I'm so sorry," Cosette said softly.

"People don't die of sickle-cell disease. That doesn't happen. He took his meds and ate healthy and worked out- it was a freak coincidence and the doctors never saw it coming. It just shouldn't have happened. It doesn't happen to people. But for some reason everything backfired on him and he had a stroke in the middle of the night, and my mom only got home from work in the morning and she just found him there and she sleeps on the couch now…"

Cosette put her head on Liam's shoulder.

"You don't have to say more."

He leaned his head against hers.

"I'm just really scared for Celia whenever she has a flare-up," Liam said. "Because I don't care what the odds are; they can always be beaten."

"That's not necessarily a bad thing," Cosette said. "I mean, what are the odds for treatments to improve? Well, maybe tomorrow there'll me a new drug being tested and Celia will be a-okay by the time she's six. Maybe the next time your family will be at the hospital will be because you broke your bloody ankle doing some kind of insane flip."

Liam chuckled softly and he turned to bury his face in her hair.

"Thanks, Cosette," he said.

He whispered it in her ear.

"No problem," she said just as softly.

On Thanksgiving, Cosette was hanging out backstage a television studio with Liam. Mom was scrolling through her BlackBerry a few feet away, glancing up at Liam like he was the Antichrist every few seconds. The looks bothered Cosette, but she tried to keep her head in the game.

Act, Cosette. You are a heiress from the old land trying to convince your mother that true love trumps marrying rich. You must act pristine and perfectly for her to buy it.

Every few seconds cast members would come up to Cosette and poke her in the shoulder, drop a joke about Liam, introduce themselves, and leave. Even the ones who usually pretended that Cosette didn't exist were curious about this new male apparition.

"Hey, is this that new hobby you were talking about?" Someone said. Cosette looked over her shoulder, but she'd already recognised Jake's voice from plenty of hours rehearsing and even more coffee dates outside of everything.

"Ha, ha." Cosette said. "Liam, this is Jake. He plays Beast."

"Hey," Jake said holding out a hand, which Liam took. There were more bracelets around his wrist, these ones made of rubber bands. Celia made them in the hospital when she was bored.

"It's a pleasure," Liam said- which was the same introduction he'd offered to everyone.

"Ditto. Hey, you're the one with the cute little sister who showed up on opening night," Jake nodded.

"Yeah," Liam nodded.

"Is she around?" Jake asked. "Do I need to hide out so she doesn't ever realise that I'm not a horrible monster?"

"No need, you forgot to shave again," Cosette said tapping his cheek.

"Ouch," Jake said. "Alright, well if that's how it's going to be I'm just going to go hang out by the snack table and stop Shang from flirting too much. He already got a camera girl's number, can you believe it? People are just starting to pile in. They're showing pictures of soup kitchens and hobos unwrapping Christmas presents because America cares."

"Alright," Cosette said.

"So the people in the audience are paying to be here?" Liam asked.

"For a lot of money, yes," Jake said. "Literally- I heard the tech guys say that after you count the silent auction for costumes and random crap we signed; we're making nearly twice the money we make on a usual matinée. And that's just our segment. Crazy, right?"

Liam whistled. "Wow. That's some good Thanksgiving."

"And the best thing is, it's all going to charity," Cosette said. "No loopholes, surprisingly."

"I heard the tech guys say that too." Jake nodded.

"You spend too much time with them," she said.

"Well you kids are busy," Jake said. "Besides, Gina- you know, the music girl? She's cute and I'm keeping Shang away from her. Anyways, I've got to go bug Harry and see if I can get the host's number for my sister. I'm in charge of everyone's romantic life, didn't you know? Later."

"Yup," Cosette said.

They nearly got run over by a costume rack pushed along by a nervous looking guy.

"Is it always this crazy before show time?"

"Usually not as much," Cosette said. "But always enough to make you want to pull your hair out."

"I'd explode under all that pressure," Liam said. "Why do you keep doing it?"

Cosette shrugged. "It means that I get to sing for people. And some of them really, really like it when I do, so it makes me feel really, really good."

"But you've got to love what you do for yourself, right? I mean, I get it- I like doing backflips in the park to make Celia ooh and aah and showing off is fun. But there's always a selfish part of you that's hoarding your talent like 'this is my thing, I want it to be my escape and my fun thing. Don't touch it, it is mine'." Liam said.

"Yeah I guess." Cosette said. "I just know that I feel really alive when there's music coming out of my mouth and music all around me. And I can get that very easily on a stage."

"Why not on your own?" Liam asked.

"Because then it's just a hobby and it's not good or real enough for people." Cosette said. "But I guess that the weird part is that it's like having two crowds, being a performer. You have the crowd of people who come to see your show and want to hear you, and then you have the crowd of people waiting for you to screw up."

"Why do you even need one?" Liam said. "Wouldn't it be good enough to just sing in your room or in the shower?"

Cosette smiled. "That's my favourite place to sing."

"Do you sing there often?" Liam asked.

"Not particularly, I'm afraid," she said. Mom says it strains my voice for the show.

"You should." Liam said. "I mean, if it's good enough for you."

"Is it good enough for everyone?" Cosette asked. "That's the question."

"Why does everyone need you to be good enough?" Liam asked. "That's the question."

Mom walked up to them.

"Sweetie, the hair stylist didn't want to bother you but they'd like you to get ready."

"Oh, sure thing," Cosette said. "Come on Liam, it's just this way…"

"Cosette, what have I said about boys in dressing rooms?"

"Mom," Cosette complained. "It's not even a dressing room; it's just a mirror with a chair."

"Cosette, don't sass me."

"I'm not, Mom." She said. And she was not ditching Liam on Thanksgiving either.

Act. You are in a spy movie and you will not let your partner be taken from you because then you'll have to rescue him from a pit full of sharks or some shit. Just don't leave him.

She dragged Liam with her over to the mirrors and sat down as the stylist came down on her, bringing with her a huge smile, a tube of lipstick, and the smell of hairspray.

Cosette was hoping that Liam wouldn't start the conversation about why she performed again. That hadn't been a particularly easy one. She felt all confused now- part of her loved being onstage, that was true. But she hadn't told Liam about the small part of her that performed because Mom hadn't been able to, after she'd gotten pregnant. She didn't tell Liam about the small part of her that envisioned a Cold War breaking out in their tiny, crammed apartment if Cosette even voiced the idea that she may not sing and dance and act until the day she died.

Still, she didn't know why he even cared so much. Unless… maybe he was trying to get a secret out of her like she'd gotten out of him back at school.

"I've never met my Dad," Cosette said as soon as the stylist went off.


"Well, you told me about yours at school, so here's the story of mine." She said shrugging. "My mom was a star, like me. Our voices are nothing alike, but I'm told that I'm a lot like her. She slept around while she was on Broadway, and pop, here I am."

"I'm sure it wasn't that casual," Liam said.

"Well, there might have been nine months in between," Cosette said.

"You have no idea who he is?" Liam said.

"Nope," Cosette said pinning up her hair.

"Does your mom..?"

"I think so," Cosette said. She gripped the arms of her seat. "I think that Mom knows exactly who he is. She's just never told me."

"That must suck," Liam said.

"Yeah," Cosette said. "Sometimes. Not anymore. People don't tease me about it now, and things have gotten a lot easier at home since the money started coming in."

"Your salary goes to help pay for groceries and stuff?" Liam said.

"Yeah," Cosette shrugged.

"Shouldn't it be going in a college fund or something? Shouldn't it be yours?" Liam asked.

"I won't go to college," Cosette said. "I'm already in the business. Going to college would be a drawback. Plus, in case you haven't noticed with all your tutouring and note-giving, I'm horrible at school."

"I'm not talking about your career but for you. If you, I don't know, if suddenly your life changes when you turn twenty and you go 'hmm, I'd like to be a physicist'."

"I doubt that," Cosette said. "I know that all of this looks like a lot of work and- yeah, okay, it is. But I do love it. It's my passion."

"Well that I knew." Liam said. "I've seen your eyes when you sing. When you sing to Celia, when you sang onstage, when that- that Phantom of the Opera song to get Sam to move, or Popular at my place while I was in the shower."

"You heard that?"

"It was great," Liam said. "Stunning."

He ducked his head and looked at the ground, a red patch spreading across his cheeks. Cosette blushed in return and she wasn't even sure why.

"Anyways, my Dad…" Cosette said. "I used to be really upset about now knowing. I used to feel incredibly sorry for myself- it's shameful. But then you told me about your father and I realised… well, maybe it's harder to have lost someone than to long for them."

"That's a bit cynical of you," Liam said.

"Maybe," Cosette admitted. "But I'm really glad you told me. Just like I'm glad I told someone too."

"Yeah, carrying the world on your shoulders sucks." Liam said. Cosette smiled at him in the mirror. He smiled back.

"They missed one," he said taking a piece of her hair that was loose. He grabbed a bobby pin from her table and put it in her hair.

"Hey, these were going pretty fast." Liam said handing Cosette a napkin when they reconnected after the show, when she'd changed and everything. "I thought you might want one, so I saved it for you."

She took it from him and unfolded it as carefully as if she were unwrapping a present. It was a doughnut- maple-dipped and awesome by the smell of it.

"Thank you," she said with a smile.

"I hope this doesn't make it look like I just ate all of the food while you were on- I did find one of those tiny televisions to watch the show on- it's just that the food table is the least awkward place to hang. I thought you'd be hungry after all that dancing- that was a really good show by the way. Although I just remembered you saying that you liked maple syrup at school, I don't actually know what your favourite doughnut flavour… whatever, I'm drabbling. You're welcome." Liam shrugged. Cosette thought it was sweet, but she was panicking a bit.

He'd saved her a doughnut. That was sweet and thoughtful but the thing was she didn't eat doughnuts. She didn't eat sugar. Both for her sake, and for mom's. But she couldn't just not eat this…

Oh, screw it. She was hungry and this doughnut smelled like the food of the gods.

Act, Cosette. You are Godzilla. They're lucky you're not eating the entire city.

She took a bite and told him she hoped he wasn't bored. He'd promised that no, he wasn't. He'd apparently found some equally bored dancers who weren't being interviewed, and so he'd chatted with them for a while. He looked at all the wiring and camera angles and talked to the tech geeks. Cosette laughed as he explained the top twelve bad places he'd tried to stay out of people's legs in.

"Cosette," she heard.

She turned around and saw Mom.

Her mouth was full of doughnut, and her mother's pupils dilated.

She snatched the doughnut from Cosette's hand.

"No sugar this late, dear." Mom said in a sticky-sweet tone though her look said no sugar ever what are you doing.

"I forgot," Cosette lied bluntly.

"Hmm," Mom said. "I have your coat. Liam, where's yours honey? It's time to go and I would rather you not take the subway on your own at this hour."

"Oh, at the entrance..." He said looking to and from Cosette and her mother, sensing the tension. Mom's tone was harsh and Cosette wanted to tell her to stop before Liam figured it out. She'd done fine at pretending that she wasn't on some super-healthy diet at school- had managed to avoid pop, Halloween candy potlucks, junk food at sleepovers with Alice and fast food on multiple occasions. The second that that stopped it felt like Cosette would immediately stick out like a sore thumb and be a freak, which wasn't that new in her life but… Well, was she crazy for not wanting everything to go down like that again? That had been the idea with this year's school deep down, or at least that's what Cosette had dared to cross her fingers for.

"I'll come with you," Cosette said. "Mom wait here."

"Sweetie I'd like a word…"

"Good we live together, we'll talk then." Cosette snapped.

Her mother gave her a hard look and tossed away the doughnut.

"Did I do something wrong?" Liam asked as he and Cosette shuffled away.

"No, she's just in a piss poor mood." Cosette said.

"Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," she said, hoping that her face was cooperating and not betraying her. He found his coat quickly and the cab ride to Liam's place was one big agony and a dreadfully cold silence. After they dropped him off at his building, Cosette was expecting to get yelled at right away, but her mother kept it together until they got to their apartment.

"I'm going to sleep," she said sourly as soon as the door was locked behind them. "Feel free to scourge the fridge while I do so."

"Mom, honest to God…"

"No, really Cosette, feel free! Be my guest! Also feel free to take up smoking to ruin your lungs and stop showering and going to school and hell, sleep through your shows!" Mom said. "Really, you're so above working for what you have, aren't you?"

"Mom, it isn't a big deal…"

"A minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips." Her mom said sharply before turning away and to her room.

"I'm home," Cosette called into the apartment.

"Good. Hello." Her mother called back. She didn't move from the kitchen table where she was working at her laptop, presumably doing some research about a possible side-project Cosette could pick up. Mom had been this chilly since Thanksgiving. Cosette felt like she was in her own version of Les misérables, except instead of stealing a loaf of bread she'd eaten a doughnut. Revolutions were pending and multiple deaths would soon follow. Her mother hated Liam now, was convinced that he was somehow corrupting Cosette on a deep psychological level, and didn't even ask how her school friends were going. Not even Alice who was a girl or Sam who was gay. This was truly a crisis.

Cosette put her earphones back over her ears, not ready to deal with the silence right then, and went to lie down in her room before her show. She had an algebra test tomorrow and there was no way she was going to get a good grade, but she wanted to relax before panic-cramming. She needed to relax before panic-cramming. Oh, and the show.

Her mother's placid mood was perhaps why she volunteered to give a tour of her dressing room and of backstage for a video, which she usually wouldn't do since it would require her to miss all of Wednesday and not just the afternoon of the matinée. Still, Mom was always telling Cosette to get her face and name out there, so she knew this would thrill her. Sure enough, it did. Everything went back to normal.

"You didn't tell your Mom about this, did you?" Alice asked.

"What?" Cosette asked.

"Don't play stupid with me," Alice said poking her elbow.

"Okay, fine," Cosette said. "I didn't. Not because it's not important, but because she won't object to it once we get in."

"Yes, once we get in," Alice said sarcastically.

"Confidence is key," Cosette said. "I checked the rehearsal schedule and it'll never interfere with my shows. Maybe a tap class once, but that's it. The show itself is on Sunday, and I don't perform on Sundays. She'll be happy to hear about it once we make it in and doesn't have any bases to argue against it with."

"Suit yourself," Alice said. But she was smiling. Alice was just as excited.

They'd been borrowing the music room at lunches and sleeping over at each other's houses more and more to practise their Christmas medley: An acapella of Cosette singing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen before Alice hopped in on the piano. Cosette slid her last 'O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, o…' into the first line of Let it Snow with Alice kick-started with the piano. While Alice switched to the piano, Cosette sang a bit of The Little Drummer Boy, beating a drum of her own. Their killer last song was All I Want for Christmas is You, which they'd had a blast singing to each other in the bathrooms at school, while making pancakes after a sleepover and singing into spoons… Then they tied it all back to the first with one last 'Tidings of comfort and joy'.


Cosette loved it. She didn't care if the songs didn't mash well together or whatnot, she loved it because each song was specifically their pic. She loved it because she got to hang out with Alice a gazillion hours more than she would if there wasn't a purpose. She loved it because Alice used to play Let it Snow for her dad over the phone when he'd been deployed during Christmas, because Cosette used to sing All I Want for Christmas is You after writing to Santa Claus asking for her Dad to swing by, because The Little Drummer Boy was the first Christmas Carol both of them had learned to play on the piano… She loved it because she loved Alice, really. And that made the song worth singing and the inevitable argumentation with Mom worth fighting for.

And sure enough, the music teacher Miss Fortier loved it too and told them straight away that they were in.

Cosette came back home with a smile on her face.

She gave Mom the good news that she and Alice ("Alice is the one who's house I sleep at on Saturday nights, Mom") had been cast in the talent show, and that Miss Foster had asked Cosette to lead a choreography with some dancers at the beginning and a finale number. Cosette had been talking it through with Alice and going through various playlists, she'd been thinking that We Need a Little Christmas from Mame would be a good opening, and it was bright and happy and one of the girls from another auditions could totally sing it… The Christmas Carol's God Bless Us Everyone was nice, but too religious. Hard Candy Christmas would be nice too, but it didn't really fit the vibe Cosette was looking for, also the fact that the musical had the word 'whorehouse' in its title may throw off the administration. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas was perfect for the finale however- that much she knew. She may be a Judy Garland sucker, but she knew it would be perfect. Perfect, perfect, perfect and Mom would love the idea.

Of course, when she told Mom it was a big deal- but not because Mom was happy about it like Cosette was. She was actually angry.

"Cosette," Mom said. "Do you know what your base salary per week?"

"You never told me," Cosette said. "You always handle the contracts."

"50, 000$," Mom said. "Same as Jake- which was no easy feat- and you two get a healthy percentage of the box office. Do you know what this means?"

Act, Cosette. You are a soldier in a World War II action movie. You are about to storm Juno Beach with the Canadian army and hand the Germans their collective asses (for now). Your superior is being a dick, however you can't talk back or you'll never see the letter from your true love that they confiscated. Also you'll save them on the battlefield later. Sit tight.

"It means that your talent is precious- look at me Cosette, it is. What did I tell you about talent? What?"

"Mom, it's for school. They asked me to take care of the ouverture and finale," she said.

"Cosette Judy Greenwalt," Mom said.

"Never do for free what you could get paid to do," Cosette snapped. That's what Mom always said about talent. That's why she was pissed about Cosette singing- as if that could even affect show sellings or do any harm, any harm at all.

"So do we have an understanding?" Mom asked.

"Yes," Cosette said. "I won't audition for things without asking you again."

"No, you certainly won't," Mom said. "And you're going to have to apologise to Alice and your teacher this, this Miss Foster, because you're stepping down from this while it's still early."

"No, that I won't do," Cosette said.

"Cosette. Judy-"

Cosette interrupted her before the Greenwalt came out. "I'm the one who can sing. I'm the one with the talent. I get to choose what I do with it."

Cosette always followed scripts onstage. At least in her real life she should be free of following someone else's lines.

"I think it's really cute how you come to school on Thursdays and you still have glitter on your eyes." Liam said.

Cosette smiled gracefully, blushing and embarrassed, and wiped at her eyes. She had two shows on Wednesday: usually she came home exhausted, and she just landed on her bed like a splotch and didn't move until morning.

Liam took her wrists.

"I said cute," Liam said. "I mean it in a good way. But if it bugs you… close your eyes."

She did and she felt his gentle fingers rub the remaining glitter away.

"Just remember," Sam said. "You two are fabulous and I'm not quite sure what the other dancers and crap were accepted for since you two will be on stage."

"For Cosette's choreography at the start," Liam said. "Alice can't dance, after all."

Alice and Cosette smiled at Sam, then at each other. They'd been waiting so long for this, laughing and drinking gingerbread lattes while they practised, chasing Alice's little brothers off by telling them that Cosette kissed boys in her show and had cooties, going dress shopping together to both look stunning in red today with poinsettias and mistletoe tucked in their hair, hogging the dance studios at school to choreograph numbers and organise the bands…

Alice was so alive when she played music- she said it was the same with Cosette when she sang. They had so much fun together and they were so compatible, it was as if Cosette could drink up all of Alice's energy through a straw when they performed together.

Alice took her hand and squeezed.

"We're fine," Alice said. "But thanks, dork."

"I'm looking through the program here- they have peoples' names and their credentials- and you two are so impressive, by far the most impressive," Sam said. Two dancers doing a duet walked by and giggled and waved to Sam. "Well, I have to go fake-support some other chicks who think I'm their gay best friend. Sit tight, be brilliant, toodle-doo."

"Bye Sam," Cosette laughed as he walked off. He had his video camera in hand.

"This is going to end up on SamStupendous, won't it?" Alice asked.

"Yes, but only because we're fantastic," Cosette said.

"We are," Alice said looping her arm in Cosette's and picking up her saxophone case. "Come on, let's go make sure all your dancers are there."

"I'll meet you in a second," Cosette said. "I just want to get some vocal exercises out of the way."

Alice grinned. "You've got some pretty intense pre-show routines."

"Trust me," Cosette said. "I'm going easy right now. On Broadway it's… it's a sight."

Alice laughed. "I'll see you soon."

She checked her texts. She had one from Jake (Shang + me found your mom in the crowd. So excited to see you princess!) and another from Roman (Break your little legs, Co). Mom had texted her too, a quick reminder to do her vocal exercises and to strain properly so she wouldn't damage her voice or twist an ankle or anything.

"Cosette," one of the ouverture dancers said coming up to her. "We're having a memory blank. Is it kick kick then run or run kick kick?"

"We do both," Cosette said. "Is it before or after the part where we're in Santa's factory?"

"Oooh," she said. "Okay I get it. Still, can you come help us out?"

"Yeah, no problem," Cosette said.

This was a new position. This being in charge, this having the first idea, this organising people thing... But Cosette liked it. It had her thinking: maybe one day she could make a musical happen herself. She could write a show, maybe a one-woman show first, and then if that went well she could try putting together keys and notes and characters and witty dialogue...

One day. Maybe.

So maybe Saturdays were an extremely long day. It was the last of eight weekly shows, they had two shows that day, most people drank the night before, it was emotionally draining, physically tiring...

Anyways, all this to say that Shang, Jake and Cosette were making a nuisance of themselves by prancing across the stage, belting lyrics that weren't exactly theirs and exploding into hysterical cackles after Shang had found a blond wig belonging to one of the Silly Girls.

" Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee
Lousy with virginity
Won't go to bed 'til I'm legally wed
I can't; I'm Sandra Dee!"

By the time they'd finished wreaking havoc because the stage manager threatened to call Dillon on them with an amused look on his face, they were dogpiled in Jake's dressing room, panting.

Cosette smiled to herself. This was the kind of fun she loved about singing.

It was their last Taco Bell date before the holidays, which meant that there was even more food on the table than usual. Sam had just shown them the latest video of Cosette singing and playing the piano, which was mostly her outline and swirls of light and an interactive, ever-changing stave.

"Sam, that's gorgeous."

"You think? Yeah, well, so do 230,156 people on YouTube." Sam said.

"Oh, God." Cosette said hiding in her sweater. Liam patted her arm and Sam read off some of the comments, Alice clapping to every single one.

"Thanks to you, my subscribers rating went up." Sam said. "Hence nachos are on me next time."

"How generous," Liam said, "considering that Bright Eyes never eats nachos."

"I'll get you a salad," Sam promised Cosette.

Alice looked at her as if suddenly realising that what Liam said was true.

"That's alright," Cosette said. "I'm just never hungry after school."

She picked up a nacho and ate it. It was crunchy at first when Cosette crunched at the chip, but then the gooey amazingness of the cheese came in. It was a bit greasy but what did "greasy" have on "delicious?"

"So why today?"

She tried to convince herself that it was greasy and slimy and that Taco Bell as a corporation probably put some kind of hormone on their food to make it fattening and addicting and- nope, it didn't work.

"I had a light lunch," Cosette said. She picked up another nacho. It wasn't like Mom was ever going to find out, right? Nope.

Sam showed them some other stuff he was working on, including a very convincing Harry Potter spoof he was using his sister's friends for. Then he mentioned that he wanted to do something with jazz for Christmas time. Since Thanksgiving Alice had gotten somewhat obsessed with performing and being heard though, so that wasn't very difficult. He showed them a short documentary he was making for school about sunflowers and why they out of all plants were most likely to be alien spying devices. ('They turn to face the sun! The sun! That's not natural, the sun kills shit!')

Cosette realised how much she'd miss them over Christmas break, when Sam went to Brazil to see family and Liam hibernated in the gym and Alice went skiing in the alps with her family. She didn't know how she'd keep her sanity and exactly where her outlet from her crazy life would come.

She was embarrassed to admit it, but she cried a bit in the subway and had to walk around the block an extra time to avoid going home with red eyes.

What managed to get her through the winter break was that Liam's mother felt bad about Liam mooching on Cosette's family time on Thanksgiving, and inviting her over for Christmas Eve.

Since they'd stopped going to Midnight Mass after their Dad had died, Liam said that his mom was always testing new recipes and board games on Christmas Eve, trying to establish new traditions that didn't hurt and could maybe be durable.

Cosette didn't mind. It helped her be excited and not nervous about being over.

After thanking her at length for the Christmas roses she'd brought with her, Stella absorbed Cosette into the kitchen's routine while they waited for Liam to get home from the gym.

"He shouldn't be long," Stella said. "The competitive team had a gift exchange."

Cosette was in charge of watching a simmering pot and stirring it occasionally. Celia was so excited to see Cosette again but also unsure how to deal with her brother's friend that she sat down on a step stool and watched Cosette during this process.

"So how's your schedule looking?" Stella asked, making conversation. "Still busy with the show, I presume?"

"Yes," Cosette smiled. Stella was easy to talk to, and Cosette told her everything. Her crazy hours, the increased amount of vocal coaching that Mom was booking in her schedule (as if Cosette was somehow losing her natural touch and needed to work harder- which made her nervous), the weight of the costumes, her crazy sleeping schedule…

"Wow," Stella said as well. "See how much work it is to be a princess, Celia?"

Celia nodded wisely before saying, "That's why I'm a teacher who owns a candy shop that is also a restaurant."

Then she walked off, presumably to go tend to her blooming industry.

"Forty hours a week," Stella repeated to herself as she rolled out pasta dough. "Well, if you love it anything crazy is worth it." Her eyes darted to the pictures of Liam and Celia pinned onto the fridge. There was even a portrait of the man Cosette had come to recognise as their father.

"That's true," Cosette said.

She'd never had homemade lobster ravioli before, much less for Christmas. And at home dinner was always a strict affair at the kitchen table with pre-portioned and arranged meals. Here, Liam, Cosette, Stella and Celia sat in front of the television with their bowls of soupy pasta and yelled out trivia while playing Disney Scene It while wearing party hats (This had been Celia's idea since Christmas was technically Jesus' birthday. Celia had also made Liam paint the hats red, green and white after deciding that Jesus wouldn't want his own birthday party to interfere with the world's colour palette since he'd died for everyone's sins, so surely he wouldn't want to be a bother. No, Cosette was not making this up. Celia said that. Cosette didn't know much about religion and gods and what to believe, but she was pretty sure that Celia knew what was going on).

The television and the Christmas tree all provided sufficient backlight to illuminate their faces. She spotted the smile on Liam's face, and then realised that he was smiling when looking at her. He poked her cheek and whispered "Bright Eyes" before returning to the game to get beaten by Celia on some question about Pocahontas. Cosette herself actually did a decent job of standing her ground in this game considering how she'd watched very little movies as a child, her mother preferred to keep her busy and active and out of the house. The questions about lyrics were what saved her.

For dessert, Celia served them all fresh chocolate mousse cake with strawberries from her privately-owned restaurant, and Stella served a non-plastic alternative of zuppa inglese, an Italian dessert that Liam's grandmother had always made on Natale, Christmas, and that they apparently couldn't live without. Cosette had two pieces and that was nowhere near the amount that Liam scarfed down.

After the first round which Stella and Celia won, the two ran out to pick up a prescription that had to be filled before Chritsmas break. Liam and Cosette were far too lazy to move elsewhere, so they stayed crumpled on the couch. Cosette's head was resting on his stomach and he played with her hair lazily.

"My Mom told me the other day that she thought it was funny that you were named Cosette because Cosette was actually a Broadway character," Liam said.

"It's true," Cosette said. "In Les Misérables. She's one of the four to survive until the end of the play, with Marius and the Thénardiers."

"Oh, ouch," Liam said. "Well I'm glad she lives."

"Me too," Cosette said. "My middle name is also for a Broadway star. For Judy Garland."

"Over the Rainbow and all that, right?" Liam asked.

Cosette nodded. "She dies though. Of an overdose. She was fairly young, too. They told everyone it was just an accident, but at her funeral one of her co-stars Ray Bolger said 'she just wore out'."

"But before that she could sing," Liam said. "That's probably your mom's thinking."

"Probably," Cosette said. "My mom loves Wizard of Oz. Loves the idea that there's a whole other world out there where you could just appear one day, squish a witch and become a hero. Oh, and get cute shoes in the process."

"Count me in," Liam said. Cosette laughed.

"Hey okay, so other Broadway question?" Liam asked.

"Shoot," Cosette said.

"How well does Jake kiss?"

Cosette twisted her head to see him. "Jake..? Beast Jake? My-costar Jake?"

Liam nodded and Cosette couldn't help but smile. Not to be mean or tease him. She just couldn't help it.

"He's okay," Cosette said. "He has a girlfriend. We're only a couple for half an hour every night, so it's fairly shy. Superfluous. Mechanical. I don't know. I'm not very good either…"

"Don't be so hard on yourself," Liam said.

Cosette turned to her side so that she could face him without giving him up as a pillow. "There's no meaning to the kisses onstage. We do okay, but it's not a… it's not a highlight, I suppose. It's alright."

She saw Liam crack a smile and then he relaxed again.

"Okay, my turn to ask a question," Cosette said.

But before she could the door opened again and Celia and Stella stumbled in, Celia yelling about how it was snowing and also about how Mom had gotten skittles that they could put in the popcorn because they were going to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Cosette straightened up straight away and smoothed down her skirt. Liam sat up too, much more lazily than she did, and Celia nestled herself between them before making Liam get up and pop the cassette in the VHS.

During the movie, Cosette rested her head on Liam's shoulders. He tilted his head and she felt his floppy hair tickling her forehead and they didn't question it or make a big deal out of anything. It was what it was, and what it was was this.

She realised that she didn't really need to ask the question after all.

"Merry Christmas," was all she'd had to say to Liam after the movie.

They didn't have any performances on Christmas day, which was good. It was the first time that Cosette and Mom got to sit around the apartment without Cosette wanting to shrink into a tiny ball until she disappeared since… well, since Thanksgiving…

Cosette was wearing a baggy white cardigan that she'd accidentally stolen from Alice at their last sleepover and a red dress she'd dug up from her closet. She felt like hippie Mrs. Clause, and her fingers kept going to her neck to touch down a new necklace with a charm like a birdcage, surrounded by trebles and musical notes. Liam had given it to her for Christmas. He said he knew they'd said no Christmas presents within the group because of how broke everyone was, but he saw it and thought of her. Cosette touched the necklace nonstop ever since she'd gotten it, as a sorry compensation for not being able to sit next to Liam or touch his hand in class like they always did. Maybe to remind herself that he thought about her every now and then out of nowhere too...

Mom was wearing sweatpants, which Cosette had kind of forgotten Mom owned. She was happy when she unwrapped the weird incense burning lamp thing that Cosette had bought her on the premise that moms liked that kind of thing, but not nearly as happy as Cosette was when Cosette opened a pile of new piano books. She got some other stuff- tea to soothe her throat, a new yoga mat to keep in her dressing room before shows, a new agenda for the New Year, new tights for dance rehearsals and whatnot- but the new piano books were the fun part.

She brought the keyboard out from her room to the living room right away and got cracking while Mom made breakfast- which was looking to be grapefruit halves and yogurt with blueberries.

The thing was, these songs were all new. Some of them, Cosette hadn't heard in a while. Sure, there was the music book for the music of Les Misérables, some Christmas carols, a Disney Classics book, but some of these pieces were from composers that Cosette had only distantly heard of when she used to take piano classes. So she did mess up.

"Cosette, that's not what a-"

"I know that's not what it sounds like Mom," Cosette called back. "I just made a mistake."

She'd keep playing- usually she'd restart the piece. Then she messed up again.


"I know," she said.

This had been going on all morning until Cosette messed up a part in I Dreamed a Dream, and Mom came over to the keyboard.

"Sweetie, your wrist is slacking as you play. Why don't you try-"

"I know, Mom, I slipped," Cosette said. "I've heard the song before."

"Cosette it's a simple mistake, but this part of the song-"

"Mom, I know, it's just harder to play. Mom, you won't get it either," Cosette said switching off the keyboard.

Mom glowered but left her alone after that, though Cosette felt a bit mean for shooing her off that way. She was only trying to help, and Les Misérables was her favourite musical. Like, Jesus, how could she forget? Her name was Cosette. You didn't just end up being named Cosette unless your mother liked Les Mis and wanted a beautiful cherub of a baby. She shouldn't have been so touchy.

Then she shook herself to her senses. Mom was being a critic when Cosette was doing what she and Liam had talked about at Thanksgiving; playing for her, not an audience. She was trying these pieces for the first time; couldn't she just make mistakes and screw up so that she could be perfect later? Thank god Mom hadn't heard Cosette try to sing the vocal accompaniment under her breath. She just couldn't sing I Dreamed a Dream, no matter how much she loved it- she just couldn't connect with Fantine enough. Maybe she didn't let herself... Anyways, Mom would have freaked, even if it were none of her business and this was play not work.

Still, Cosette felt eyes on her while she sat on the piano stool. She knew that Mom was listening for hesitation, slip-ups and mistakes in the next song that Cosette would tackle.

So she just switched on the TV to see which Christmas specials were playing.

And suddenly, once she'd realised that she'd been chased away from her piano of all things, she got very, very homesick for the Di Fiore household- where she'd seen Liam walk on his hands across the living room with a goofy smile on his face, nobody telling him to stop.

Cosette was excited for New Year's Day since there was a huge party implying hundreds of Broadway's casts, crews and personnel.

Though most of the dancing and the talks and the hors-d'oeuvre snacking happened in the actual theater which had been decorated nicely, there was still quite a bit of rummaging going around backstage. Cosette sneaked back there to escape Mom's watchful eye while she was distracted by a director who'd worked with Cosette on Annie when she was little. She just had a quick text to send to Liam about how yes indeed she was surviving, and something to grab in her dressing room for school- a binder she'd forgotten last show.

"Nice dressing room," someone at the door said. Cosette looked up and smiled at Roman.

"Thanks," she said. "But there's nothing new to see here. It's not so different from what it was for Beauty Sleep."

The only extraordinary thing about Cosette's dressing room were the strings of light that she'd suspended a bit everywhere and the drawings that various little girls had sent her. (She remembered crying the first time the theater's management dumped a bag full of pictures in her dressing room accusingly, saying she ought to pick up her mail more often. Liam and Celia and Alice and Sam had started to help her answer all those drawings with pictures and praise of her own). Some pictures were tacked to the mirror, taking up a lot more space than Cosette's reflection did- pictures of of her and Mom, her with her friends, Alice in Europe, Liam with Celia dressed up in her Belle costume for Halloween (Celia could have died happy when Cosette had told her that she wore it better), lanky Sam getting an award last May…

"Yeah," he said sitting on the edge of the couch. "Did you hear?"

"Did I hear what?" Cosette asked.

"I got a part with a traveling group," he said. "It's the premiere of a new musical, Jumping for Joy. It's cute and lighthearted, I think it'll do well."

"No!" Cosette said, her jaw dropping. "Congrats!"

She got up and hugged him. He hugged her back, his hands on her shoulder blades.

"That's so exciting," she smiled, holding his hands.

"Yeah," he said. "But I'm going to miss you. I'm going to miss coming to annoy you before shows, and going out to lunch with you and helping you with homework and seeing you in dance classes…"

"I'll miss you too, but we'll see each other around," Cosette promised. "I'll still send you dumb Snapchats and tag you on weird articles on Facebook."

"No, I mean… I'll miss being onstage, being in love with you all the time…" he said. "I know I do now."

His hand found its way to a lock of her hair. Cosette's heart raced- and not the good, happy kind of racing the oh-my-god-I-will-throw-up racing.

Her door was closed. She hadn't closed it, had she?

"Roman, I don't think we're on the same page here I-"

He interrupted by leaning in and kissing her.

Kissing Roman? She never did that. On stage it had always been Jehanne and Marot becasuse that's how the universe operated. This… This… This was wrong and Cosette didn't like it. But when she pushed back against Roman, he only held on tighter until Cosette was against the wall and she literally could not move anymore but she managed to smash her heel on his foot. That got him to back off a bit- at least pull back.

"Roman, I never said yes!" She said, fuming.

His fingers curled in her hair more tightly.

"Your mom's not here. I won't tell," he said. His voice was sultry and Cosette was probably supposed to find it charming, but she panicked.

"Roman that has nothing to do-" his lips were on her neck- "Roman, no."

"Why the hell not?" he asked his voice hoarse and definitely not handsome anymore. "I see the way you look at me."

"I don't look at you any way I-" she blinked. "Get off. Roman, we're actors. We acted together, it was all just an…"

"I'm sure I could change your mind," Roman said quietly.

"Actually I'm pretty sure that my daughter's been abundantly clear about what she does and doesn't want, thank you very much."

Roman turned around, jumping out of his own skin basically.

"Good evening, Mrs Greenwalt," Roman stuttered.

"Not really," Mom said. "Get out."

The door opened. Cosette wasn't sure if she was relieved or shocked to see her mother standing in the doorway. Either way, Roman took a step back.

"Yes please," her mother said putting a hand on her hip. "And you're going to see yourself out too, right sugar?"

Roman didn't even answer a tiny bit, he just darted out. He knew he'd fucked up big time.

Roman did quickly, not even saying goodbye or goodnight to Cosette after… after…

"Mom," Cosette said, her voice like a squeak. She ran to the doorway and buried herself in Mom's arms. Mom stroked her hair, she was shaking like a leaf.

"There, there," Mom said. "There, there… Don't worry…"

"Mom I didn't want to," she said. Her heart was beating so fast and hard, it felt as if it had zipped up to her throat to rage on there. She felt cheated and angry tears burned her eyes. The first time someone had kissed her when she was her, not when she was a brave or beautiful or adventurous character, and it wasn't even a kiss she wanted… And okay, maybe some of the tears were scared too. Roman always came in her dressing room after shows and such, they always hung out. Nobody would have questioned why he'd come in, nobody would have thought anything was wrong…

"It's okay, sweetie, it's okay… did he touch you?"

"No," she said. "Just a kiss. He wouldn't listen to me."

"It wasn't just a kiss, you don't have to undermine it," Mom said holding Cosette tight against her chest. Cosette was definitely shaking now.

"He wouldn't listen, Mom," Cosette said. And he wouldn't have started to. Her door had been closed. If Mom hadn't been looking for her backstage…

She buried her face in her mom's shoulder.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I hadn't realised the door would close. You were right. It is bad."

Mom kissed her hair. "I'm just telling you what I know, baby."

Mom's family said that Cosette's father had really loved her mother until she was pregnant and that the feeling was mutual. Mom always tried to talk about how horrible he was, but when Cosette was thirteen Mom had allowed herself a glass of wine and then another on New Year's Eve, and that was the first time that Cosette had heard anything good about her father. She told Cosette about how he was even more talented than she was, but he always laughed it off when Mom offered to bring him to auditions or introduce him to people.

"Sometimes I think you get your looks from me and your talent from your father," she said affectionately, twisting one of Cosette's curls around her finger.

Cosette had listened to her talk for hours about how gentle her father was, how thoughtful and clever and cultured he was. He was charming and open-minded and he had no expectations from her. He remembered the little things, was gentle and caring and understanding and loving. She was somewhat confused about how someone who'd been nothing but good to her mother could have just abandoned her and their child, but Cosette had always told herself that in the controversy about who her father was (since Mom slept around with other cast and crew), maybe he'd gotten upset and confused and thought that he should leave because Cosette would have another father.

Still, Cosette had always known that this was why Mom hated the idea of boys in the dressing room. Because she was afraid of all the hurt and the pain and the hardships and the bother and the limitations that Cosette had unwittingly brought onto her because of that one boy seventeen years ago…

"I'll listen to you now," Cosette said quietly. Her shaking had stopped a little, but she was still scared out of her mind.

Mom kissed her hair.

"I can't abide 'em even now and then.

Than ever marry one of them, I'd rest a maiden rather,

For husbands are a boring lot and only give you bother.

Of course, I'm awfully glad that Mother had to marry Father,

But I hate men.

Of all the types I've ever met within our democracy,

I hate most the athlete with his manner bold and brassy,

He may have hair upon his chest but, sister, so has Lassie!"

"Cosette, did you have a boyfriend?" Enrique asked.

"No," she said. "Why?"

"Well, you put stilletos on, and now you're singing I Hate Men with a choreography involving a chair you climb and jump and twist around," Enrique said. "It's very angry. I'm sorry, I said I wouldn't intrude on your time in the studio."

"It's okay," Cosette said. "Technically I'm supposed to be doing my ballet positions with you anyways."

Enrique shrugged.

"And no, I don't have a boyfriend," Cosette said. "Bad experience. I'm trying to shake it off so that, you know, I don't actually hate men. For now. If another bastard jumps me, I may have to cut my losses."

When performances started up again, life became more normal. It was back to the routine until school started. Then exams crept up on Cosette and striked like cobras. She was grossly unprepared for algebra, flourished in music, did decently in English because Liam –true godsend- lent her his chapter reviews and character analyses of Lord of the Flies, which she had tried to finish on multiple occasions but had always fallen asleep for. She was pissed that Simon died. American History was alright because it'd been her tutor's favourite subject so she'd been a step ahead of the class all year.

But she just about failed algebra. She passed with 1%- one percent that Cosette certainly did not deserve and that was a pity-driven grade. Mom wasn't impressed.

"You have to spend more time on your academics," she said. Especially since Cosette had chemistry, drama, world history, gym, and psychology next semester.

"I always do my homework in the dressing room," Cosette said. "I can't help it if I'm too tired after shows to focus."

"We'll find a way," Mom said kissing Cosette's hair. "You'll do fine."

Cosette was surprised by how much she enjoyed her world history class this semester. Really, really surprised.

Even talking about cavemen and prehistoric religion and the veneration of chubby little stone statues named Venuses was cool. Cosette's notes were a healthy 1:1 ratio of doodles and actual information in this class. Her teacher, Mrs. Stoll, talked about the ancient world as if it was still alive. As if she was studying something that was all around her and not reading out of a book. She gave Cosette special handouts printed in the comic sans font or even white words on black pages after realising after a week of classes that she was dyslexic.

She studied more for Mrs. Stoll's class than she studied for anything else. Possibly because she was interested. She wrote her essays in advance and asked Mrs. Stoll to correct them for her before she handed in the final thing- it really did help her grades soar. Mrs. Stoll said it herself that half of what they knew about the past was guesswork, so no question could be dumb since the facts themselves were horrible; that helped Cosette ask questions in class since they didn't make her less perfect.

As a matter of fact, they made Cosette smarter. They made her better. They made her more perfect, and that was something she'd take any day.

Cosette's stomach was mutinising at Taco Bell that night.

Mom had packed her a teeny tiny lunch. She always did this after the holidays, went grocery shopping with a Weight Watchers handbook in hand, stopping in each alley of the store to count the calories in the basket. Her reasoning was something about making up for the splurge that happened at the holidays, though Cosette recounted exactly one dinner at an aunt's house (Cosette and her mom hadn't even stayed for dessert due to family tension) and half a turkey sandwich when she'd gone to Liam's house (telling her mom it was Alice's place). Cosette went with it, mostly because she didn't have a choice, but Alice's burrito looked so good. There was rice in it and beans too and it looked so, so, so cheesy…

"I'm going to go get something," Cosette said.

Liam choked on his sip of water and Alice dropped her burrito on the plate of nachos taking up the table.

"Hell yeah," Sam said bouncing to his feet. "I'll come with you. Show you around the menu… Tell the guy at the cash that you're with us so he treats you right- extra cheese if you know what I mean…"

Cosette nodded and let him grab her and bring him to the counter. Sam went on about the merits of every single menu item, but Cosette was overwhelmed by all the cheese and the bread and the red meat and- holy shit they probably used butter here.

"I think I'll take what Alice was eating," Cosette said.

"Ah, the rice and bean burrito. Hearty beans, premium Latin rice, warm nacho cheese, and creamy jalapeno sauce wrapped up in a flower tortilla. Excellent first choice- and from the $ craving menu? Excellent choice, young Padawan."

Cosette smiled. Sam was so happy and natural and easygoing. This had to be okay. This burrito had be to okay.

She sat down and once she took her first bite, she couldn't stop eating. She ate the entire thing like some kind of giant pig. But even knowing that, she still picked at the pile of nachos during the rest of the conversation and she even stole a sip of Sam's coke. She was like a machine! She couldn't believe herself.

And the thing was, now that she'd started eating, she just got hungrier as if her body remembered.

Cosette was pissed about having had to work out today, so she jumped on her bed singing lyrics from when she was little, from one of her favourite shows.

"We are revolting children...
Living in revolting times
We sing revolting songs
Using revolting rhymes.
We'll be revolting children,
'Til our revolting's done,
And we'll have the Trunchbull bolting.
We're revolting!"

Mom looked into the room, unamused.

"Give me your phone," Mom said.

"Liam was going to text me the results of his competition," Cosette said.

"Give." Mom said.

Cosette did.

Mom walked out.

Cosette sat on her bed quietly and did her homework.

Revolting worked so much better when you were younger with less to lose.

"Ladies and gentlemen," a loud speaker voice chimed in as the cast was saluting for their second Wednesday performance. Cosette discreetly looked around to see if anybody else knew what this was about (they didn't) before resting assured in her confusion. Then it hit her. They'd missed the Tony nomination announcements because of their show. There was… they were… No.

"Thank you for enjoying tonight's production of Beauty and the Beast," the speaker proclaimed. "We are proud to announce that during your show, our production was nominated for the Tony nominated for Best Revival of a Musical..."

Cosette's jaw dropped and she grabbed Jake's arm in excitement. The cast applauded, staying in their rightful characters.

"We are also proud to announce that you have seen Tony nominee for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role: Cosette Greenwalt as Belle!"

Cosette grabbed Jake's arm this time because she was rather sure that she was going to pass out. She ended up screaming in her hand. Jake picked her up by the waist and twirled her around. She dropped down on the ground again and buried her face in his shoulders, quivering with excitement as the room exploded with another standing ovation.

"I… I'm…" Cosette said. "I was nominated for…"

"Yes you were," Shang said grabbing her arm and pulling her into a hug. Cosette felt a bit dizzy and overwhelmed, but she managed to get a hold of herself and bow to the audience, blowing kisses to the little girls in the front row and waving until the curtain fell.

Then she started crying a bit because it was all too much, the tears had to leave to make room for the realisation. She stumbled backstage and hugged everyone and asked for her phone to anyone and everyone, "I have to call… I have to call…"

Someone handed her phone and Cosette said thank you though people were swarming in glee and pride and happiness. Cosette dialed Liam quickly and held the phone to her ear, smashing her hand against her other one, trying to block out the sounds around her.

"Hello, you're on speaker," Liam said.

"Are you still studying with Alice and Sam?" Cosette said.

"Yeah, what's up?" Sam said.

"Beauty and the Beast got nominated for a Tony," she said. "And I- I did too. For best performance by an actress in a leading role and-"

"Cosette!" Alice shrieked. "Cosette!"

"Jesus fucking Christ," Sam gasped.

"Bright Eyes…" Liam said, at a loss.

Cosette started crying. She could feel her makeup run a bit, but she didn't care.

"I'm in the running," Cosette said. "And this show and… and…"

"I'm proud of you," Liam said. "I'm proud of you, but I'm not surprised."

"Yeah seriously."

"Did they even bother nominating anyone else?"

"I could kiss you right now," Cosette smiled into the phone. "All of you dorks."

Brigid, Mrs. Potts, popped up in the curtains. She motioned behind her. "Your mom's asking for you, they won't let her in…"

Mom hadn't come to watch tonight: she must have watched the nomination broadcast online...

"I have to go," Cosette said. "I'm- I'm still onstage, I can't…"

"Okay, okay, go get a grip of yourself," Alice said. "We'll talk tomorrow, okay? Okay."

"You owe me a kiss," Sam said longingly before they hung up.

Mom had been going easy on Cosette since the Tony nomination, as if Cosette had proved that she was trustworthy. It was good; it meant that she could take the subway to the theater alone, sometimes Mom would even let Shang and Jake pick her up (which often resulted in detour trips to McDonald's or Quiznos or Dairy Queen and everyone being late). Mom brought her to Alice's house every Saturday after her last show and she'd spend the night. She didn't have to see Lukas as often. Mom stopped giving Enrique long and detailed instructions for Cosette's dance lessons, and often he'd let her hop around the studio and improvise to whatever show tune she wanted to blast on her phone- it was tons of fun.

But, of course, Cosette fucked it up.

Mom caught Cosette sneaking in a Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos taco.

Mom didn't even know what to say for the longest time.

She took the taco, threw it in the trash. Cosette's stomach twisted in nerves and in outrage. There went supper. Cosette had started feeling faint before shows- something had changed in her metabolism now that she ate after school and took bites of Alice's food when she offered. She couldn't wait for supper after, but she knew she'd be hungry after the show and want supper then too. She'd started eating while her hair was being done. If Jake or Shang texted her like tell the boss I'll be late want something from Thai Express or Subway or McDonald's? she'd reply without hesitating. She still ate healthy. She'd fill up Ziploc baggies and Tupperware containers with cauliflower and celery sticks and apples and hummus and blueberries. But she ate more. She knew Mom wouldn't like that seeing how strictly she calculated the calories and the hours of treadmill and her daily activities and everything else to help Cosette.

She went to the fridge and busied herself at the counter for ten minutes before turning around to bring Cosette a plate of what Sam would call "rabbit food".

"This is an acceptable meal," she said. "For someone who uses her body the way that you do. Understood?"

Cosette thought it looked like one of Liam's snacks.

"Yes," Cosette said.

"If you ever bring home one of these again," Mom said pointing to the garbage can. And that's when Cosette realised how angry Mom was; when she saw how her finger was shaking. "We're going to have to start discussing whether or not you're as invested in your show as you think you are, and we may have to start monitoring the way you spend your money and your free time. Understood?"

"Yes," Cosette said again.

Mom was still for a second.

"Have dinner. And I mean the healthy kind- who knows what else you've got in that bag."

"Yes," Cosette said. "Okay."

Mom ran a hand over her forehead. "Why do you do this to me Cosette? Why do you even risk everything we're worked so hard for- this beautiful figure, this beautiful body, the beautiful way it moves and sings and dances…"

"I don't know," Cosette said quietly.

"You don't even know why," Mom sighed. "This is exhausting. I'm disappointed."

"Yes," Cosette said.

"You know how acting frivolously can ruin a career,"

The part that stung was that Mom looked at Cosette straight in the eyes as she said that last part. As if Cosette didn't know. As if, as if…

Act, Cosette. Act. You are okay. Okay, you hear me? Just talk. Imagine: you have never been in your mother's room, you have never looked at all the posters all over her wall, you have never noticed how her last show was seven months before you were born.

She didn't manage to act well enough to make herself mutter another 'yes', but she did manage not to cry.

Mom went to her room, making sure to slam the door so Cosette knew for sure.

Cosette took the plate and scraped it in the trash.

She told herself she lost her appetite.

She wasn't sure how long it would take to come back.

"Want the last one?" Liam asked nodding his head towards the plate of nachos in the center. Sam was engrossed in a new editing program, and Alice was correcting Liam's math homework for him.

"No thanks, I'm not too hungry right now," Cosette said.

In gym class something went horribly wrong. Usually during their daily running –which thankfully had been moved back outside now that March was peeking through the cold- Cosette would plug her earbuds in, blast Beauty and the Beast's soundtrack and run as fast as she could to try and leave everybody in the world and every extra pound on her body in the dust. It was like an extra fifteen minutes to work out that Cosette didn't even have to stay up for.

Sometime around Cosette's second lap around the track, Cosette felt like she was going to crumple like a rag doll. It was only her second lap, but she came to a stop by Mrs. Baker who was watching all the other girls, making sure everybody ran, a stopwatch in hand.

"Mrs. Baker," Cosette panted. "Can I take a break?"

"Do you need water?" Mrs. Baker asked.

"I think so," Cosette said. "Head's fuzzy."

"Did you have breakfast?"

Cosette didn't answer and Mrs. Baker sighed. "Go to the office and ask for a protein bar and a bottle of orange juice. Tell them Mrs. Baker sent you. Eat slowly. You'll have missed the stretching by the time you get back so you may as well not come back."

"But I want to work out," Cosette said. "I mean, I want to play soccer and…"

"Go change, Cosette," Mrs. Baker said.

Cosette said okay, took her water bottle, and went back inside. She opted to sit in the library to work on a history project instead of going to the office.

"Looks like pretty serious stuff," Jake commented. He'd come to Cosette's dressing room to use her kettle and try to save his voice for the next show, and he'd been reading the school work she'd left on her dresser. The notebook was flipped to the front, and the notes were way back from the first unit of her history class.

-Culture = sign of civilisation

-Culture = a human need since everyone everywhere created one, but it is not needed for survival. After basic needs for survival are met, if you can afford to develop music and song and art and religion or a perspective on those things, you're more advanced.

"I think it's interesting," Cosette said.

"It also means you're one of the more civilised people in the world," Jake said. She laughed.

"Seriously though," Jake said. "You're right, this is interesting. I know you were most likely born on a stage, but for the rest of us? Getting here is a drag; people are always, always trying to get you to go do something else and make a safer life choice or find another career for yourself. It's ironic: my parents would tell me to go work for the government, bitch about the democrats, and then turn on the TV and admire all the dancers and actors and singers they'd see there."

"But isn't that the best thing about us? Isn't Broadway one of the biggest tourist attractions in New York?" Cosette said.

"I think so," Jake said.

"It's a strange disconnect between what people want and what they actually believe in. 'The arts' sound so good, but nobody wants to put money in anything that won't generate more money and nobody has time to sit down and appreciate and think."

"Everyone wants art, but nobody wants to deal with artists," Jake said.

"It's a disconnection between what people actually want and what they're ready to believe in. Like, I was at Taco Bell the other day –don't tell my mom- and someone was yelling at this lady behind the counter to go get herself a better job because she had an accent. Like, how could you yell at someone who's providing a service for you? If she did go and get a better job, you wouldn't get your tacos- none of us would. Why would you fuck this up for everyone?"

Jake laughed.

Cosette smiled. After New Year's, she'd thought that she'd be nervous to act and sing and dance with Jake again, but it was effortless actually- just as talking to him was. She could slip in and out of Belle just as well as he slipped in and out of Beast, and Cosette knew he had no delusions. Outside from the three hours a day where they were onstage, Jake was like a big brother to her. Besides, his girlfriend came to see the shows every now and then and they were so cute together- she followed Cosette on twitter. She'd decided that Mom was wrong: it was about the person, not the situation. She felt strangely mutinous as of late, as if she was always fighting Mom on everything.

"Well it's like us," Jake said. "Well, not us, but the cast. People are all up for thinking that artists are lazy, but they'll never acknowledge the hours and sacrifice and compromises and twisted ankles or sore throats. But then when you're successful, you're a hero."

Cosette nodded. "And even if you are successful, you have to be more successful. It's like there's a scale to measure how successful you are. I've never seen it, but it must be with the scale that measures perfection. They've got one of those too, you know."

"Deep, deep thoughts," Jake mused to himself. "I think perfection is the most idiotic concept we could have invented- especially in art. I don't think you can be."

"They want our art, but they don't want us," Cosette said quietly, echoing what Jake had said earlier. "They want our art, but they don't want us. They want our art a certain way too. Really, it's not about us anymore, Jake. It's about what people want."

The kettle finished boiling and he made his tea. Cosette told him to stop talking to her and rest his voices because she wanted him onstage tonight, not his gross standby. Jake laughed and said he'd do his best.

"Do you have food?" Alice asked.

"I forgot my lunch at home," Cosette said. Out of all the skills Mom could show off to casting directors, acting was the one Cosette thought came most in handy.

"Do you want half my sandwich?" Alice said. "I don't really like egg salad anyways."

"I'm okay thanks," Cosette said. She kept all her nutrition facts to herself: the evils of mayonnaise, the way that egg yolks were saltier than anything else and so on and so on. She was annoyed by how much of Mom's stupid little factoids she remembered. She didn't want to think about food right now. It made it worst.

She rested her head on the table. "I'm just sleepy."

Liam's hands were soon wound in her curls, playing with her hair soothingly.

Alice dropped the issue until Liam had to go track down his teachers to explain that he'd be out of town for a competition. Sam followed, and then it was just the two girls in the cafeteria.

"Cosette, you look like a robot," Alice said.

"I'm just tired," Cosette said. "The director had a ton of notes last night and I got home late."

"Tired doesn't mean your body doesn't need energy," Alice said. "It probably means that you need it more than ever to be honest."

"What are you, a nutritionist?" Cosette snapped.

"Okay, fine. If you're going to get bitchy with me," Alice was blushing and her eyes were angry and hurt and she shook with nerves, "So be it. Two can play at that game. But I don't want to be a bitch. I've noticed that you lost a ton of weight- weight that you didn't have to lose, to begin with. The boys may not pay attention as much, but I do- I notice these things. It's impossible for someone to forget their lunch as often as you do, and even then you never go and buy something or take food from us. And I notice that when we have classes together after lunch, you go to the bathroom. Every single time. So don't bullshit me Cosette when I tell you to eat your fucking food because I know you don't. You just don't."

"Leave it alone Alice," Cosette said.

Alice bit her lip.

"I've been holding this in for two weeks," Alice said quietly. "Two weeks. I knew you'd be pissed, but I was expecting you to at least hear me out. You always listen to me. You always care about me."

"I do," Cosette said.

"Then doesn't it matter to you, then, that you matter to me?" Alice said.

"Alice, if you really care about me, just shut up," Cosette said. "Shut up. I'm taking care of myself. I know how things work, and if you start saying stuff like that I'll get in trouble with the school and then they may pull me from the show and just don't, Alice. Don't."

Alice shook her head. "I can't shut up about this."

"Alice, if they pull me from the show my mom's going to kill me," Cosette said.

"It's always about your mom, isn't it?" Alice said quietly. "It's always what she wants, what she expects, what she's done for you. Couldn't it be about you now?"

"Look, give me half of your sandwich," Cosette said. She didn't want to be having this conversation. "I'll eat. I always eat before the shows, you know? But I'll eat now if it makes you feel better."

"And you're going to stay in class after lunch," Alice said.

"Of course," Cosette said.

Alice gave her the sandwich and Cosette forced it down. The food felt like lead and cardboard and it was horrible. Her throat was scratchy and her stomach felt full after the first bite.

Act, Cosette. You're a Roman senator at a luxurious feast thrown in your honour by the emperor. You're lounging on a couch without a care in the world and the food keeps coming. It's delicious, cooked by the imperial cooks themselves. You can't do anything but eat it.

Alice walked her to history, which wasn't that strange, and she sat next to the door of the classroom.

"You have class," Cosette said.

"I have English," Alice said. "Mrs. Walker never takes attendance."

Cosette wanted to scream, but she walked into history and sat in the class.

"When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm
There's a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of the lark

Walk on, through the wind
Walk on, through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone

Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone
You'll never walk-"

She thought of Alice and burst into tears.

She felt so alone right now. But she'd been holding her head up high and she'd tried not to be afraid of the things she was doing and the ways she was going about her life and, and, and…

Alice I'm sorry, she texted. Can we pretend that today never happened?

We can, Alice replied. But I know now. And I'll try to help. Always. Maybe more in little ways, like you asked. Please don't get angry at me.

I don't think I physically can be angry at you ever.

You weren't yourself today.

Don't worry about it Alice, I don't know who I am at any given time.

"Good," Sam said. They'd set up shop in the music room at AB. Lately, Sam had been making videos of Cosette singing, complimented by dancers he knew and animated trebles and animated staves.

Right now he told her to pick her song; she picked You Should Know Where I'm Coming From by Banks:

"What if I said I would break your heart?
What if I said I have problems that made me mean?
What if I knew I would just rip your mind apart
Would you let me out?

Maybe you can stop before you start
Maybe you can see that I just may be too crazy to love
If I told you solitude fits me like a glove
Would you let me out?

You ought to know where I'm coming from
How I was alone when I burnt my home
And all of the pieces were torn and thrown
You should know where I'm coming from…"

"I don't think I got it right," Cosette said. "Can I restart?"

"Nope," Sam said quickly. "I like it."

"Okay, but… I don't," Cosette said. "I sang it wrong. It wasn't good. Can I just try again?"

"Honestly Cosette, I'd let you like I usually do, but I don't want to hear that again," Sam said. "It was kind of heartbreaking and I'm kind of scared by how much heart you put into lyrics like that, not that you'll talk about me."

"It's not just about heart," Cosette said, frustrated. "It's about technique. Quality."

"Yes, but I'm looking for heart," Sam said. "And I don't know what I got, but I'm happy with it and I think you're a beautiful singer."

"Sam, don't you want this to be perfect?" Cosette said. "Haven't you ever been told to be perfect, felt the pressure to be perfect, wanted to make everything you do perfect?"

"Yeah, and then I was gay," Sam said.

Cosette's stomach squeezed. "Sam…"

"No, I'm not kidding," Sam said. "It's a plot twist no parents want. Even the liberal ones don't want their kid to spend their lives fighting for their rights and getting pushed around and sidelined. If you're like me, gay's an even bigger problem. It's still a disease. So I'll never be perfect. I just decided that that was okay. If I couldn't be perfect, I could be fabulous- and that I am."

"Do you think you'd be okay with that if there was anything you could do to be perfect?" Cosette asked quietly.

"Dunno, Cos," Sam said. "I'm not a philosopher. I can't even get my fucking eyeliner right, don't ask me about the secrets of life."

Cosette took his hand. "I think you're fabulous. No matter what anybody says"

"Of course you do," Sam said. "Who doesn't? Know, take off the earphones and help me put the mic away. We should go to the spa or something; you're so strung up babe."

Cosette laughed gingerly.

"We should," she said.

They were back in the rehearsal hall that Cosette knew so well; mirrors from the ceiling to the floor, bars on the walls, hardwood floors stretching out underneath her dance shoes… She wore them out like crazy, the ensemble was even worst. Cosette would not want to be in the costume department. Cosette didn't know how they kept up considering that they had their regular shows and rehearsals now, but these extra rehearsals for the Tony performances now.

Cosette was slung under Shang's arms as he dragged her around, singing about what a stud Gaston was and what a great misogynistic life they'd have together with their six hundred children and bigass hunting dogs. It was one of Cosette's favourite numbers, and she was glad that Dillon, the choreographer, had woven into the number they'd be performing at the Tonys.

They ended in the right position and Dillon clapped.

"Perfect," Dillon said. "I think that's good for today."

"Actually, can we retry it?" Cosette asked. "I think I was a bit wobbly."

"You were fine," Shang said. "Like a proper rag doll."

"I don't know," Cosette said. And she thought she hadn't got high enough during Belle. And while Brigid sang Beauty and the Beast, Cosette was so afraid of messing up that she hadn't let Jake lead like she usually did. And…

"It was perfect," Dillon said. "I'd throw you guys onstage if the Tonys were right now. See you tomorrow, everyone."

Cosette's stomach was still tying itself into knots and she wanted to ask Dillon if she could practise, even if he was sending everyone else home.

"Come on," Jake said. "You're coming with Shang and I. We're making you take a break."

"I don't need a break," Cosette said.

"We can either go watch a movie, or try out this place Shang says replaces the current Best Shawarma Place in the World."

Act, Cosette. You're a rogue spy who's just been captured during the WWII era after years and years of passing under the radar because you were a woman. You are currently letting your executioners lead you to the electric death so that they don't notice the razor blades in your sleeves- the ones you'll use to evade. You're going to be okay, but you need to go with it for now.

"Movie," Cosette sad. She could sleep in Jake's arm that way, at least.

"Cosette," Mrs. Stoll said. She turned around, her chest tight.

What had she done wrong? She'd studied so hard for the last test; she'd only gotten to bed at 3:00 AM because the letters were swimming so badly. She'd worked hard on her essay too; Jake had reread it for her before the show and he said that he'd learned a lot about the role of Egyptian scribes thanks to her paper and that it flowed nicely. Cosette had assumed that that meant that something was good, that it was like a song- but what if writing papers was different and flow was bad?

"Yes ma'am?" Cosette asked.

"I was very impressed by your oral presentation," Mrs. Stoll said. "On the muses? When you told me your subject I was a bit concerned that you'd stretch yourself too thinly or lack some depth in your information, but your presentation was both informative and entertaining."

"Thank you," Cosette said exhaling. "I was really nervous."

"That means that you care- though I'm sure that you've heard that before," Mrs. Stoll said. "I liked hearing you sing. I thought it was both a clever and funny introduction, and it was absolutely beautiful. You have a stunning voice."

Cosette smiled a bit. She'd started her presentation by showing the clip from the Disney movie Hercules and singing along with the muses.

"Thank you," Cosette said.

"I also thought you were creative in choosing the muses, out of all Ancient Greek divinities to present," Mrs. Stoll said.

"Apollo was already taken," Cosette said.

"You absolutely wanted a music god," Mrs. Stoll nodded.

"Yes," Cosette said. "But I think I liked the muses even more than Apollo. I hear all about muses from directors and actors, and I think that it's interesting."

"What is?" Mrs. Stoll asked knotting her hands together and resting her elbows on her desk, as if she was really settling in to listen to Cosette.

"The reasons that people act certain ways," Cosette said. "People say things like my wife was my muse for this phenomenal song I wrote, but what inspires us to do smaller things? Things that matter less?"

"Such as?" Mrs. Stoll asked.

"Living," Cosette said. "Getting out of bed in the morning, wanting things, doing things, getting things done…"

"Most people have a passion," Mrs. Stoll said. "I have my sons, my fiancé, a job I love. I'd assume you have music as your muse for being alive."

"It's a bit different," Cosette said. "The music actually has me. I'm sorry, I have to go, I have a spinning class to get to."

"Take care Cosette," Mrs. Stoll said quietly.

Cosette sat at her keyboard for hours, trying to remember more from Tommy than she actually did. All she could muster was a snip of a song:

"See me, feel me, touch me, heal me
See me, feel me, touch me, heal me
See me, feel me, touch me, heal me
See me, feel me, touch me, heal me."

Mom was pushing and pushing Cosette, still: as if to find something in Cosette that was good enough. She was getting desperate, her current goal was to have Saturday mornings off so she could sleep in on weekends. Luckily her 6:00-8:00 AM ballet class had gone just as well as jazz had gone last night. Maybe even better.

"Mom," Cosette said as soon as she came through the door. "Enrique says that my form is better than ever. He says I'm the most promising students in the studio. He did, he says soon he won't have anything left to teach me. I dance like an angel, he says."

"That's nice, dear," Mom said. She was sitting at the kitchen counter, straight as plywood, and drinking her morning coffee, picking at a gluten-free, paleo all-bran muffin. She didn't look up. She just kept looking at the computer screen, going through reviews of various Broadway shows to keep up with the newest names and the biggest shows.

No, Cosette thought, overcome by fear and disappointment and jealousy: Why do you get to sit there and drink a Frappuccino and be a bitch when I can't even get away with one?

For the longest time, Cosette had tried to use her Les Misérables music book to master Mom's favourite song I Dreamed a Dream. But Cosette didn't like it, she could quite sing it fully like anybody even attempting to play Fantine should.

She had another favourite song. She hated that it was the little Cosette's first song of the musical, but maybe it was her song too. A song her mother had introduced her to a long time ago, but very recently all at once.

"There is a castle on a cloud,
I like to go there in my sleep,
Aren't any floors for me to sweep,
Not in my castle on a cloud.

There is a room that's full of toys,
There are a hundred boys and girls,
Nobody shouts or talks too loud,
Not in my castle on a cloud.

There is a lady all in white,
Holds me and sings a lullaby,
She's nice to see and she's soft to touch,
She says "Cosette, I love you very much."

I know a place where no one's lost,
I know a place where no one cries,
Crying at all is not allowed,
Not in my castle on a cloud."

Carlotta stopped the recording and Cosette sighed, frustrated.

"That was good!" Cosette said.

"You're going too high," Carlotta said. "Cosette, your voice is an instrument. You have to care for it, polish it, keep it good. Are you doing your exercises daily?"

"Yes," Cosette said.

"No," Carlotta said. "I have perfect pitch like you. I know that you are a liar."

"I haven't done them in a week," Cosette said exasperated. "I've had a big project in world history and- and- to be honest, I've been staying up late and last night I didn't sleep at all so I don't have time and…"

"If you have time for school, you have time for job," Carlotta said. "I do not work with children, I work with adult. Just because voice is mature does not mean it compensate for you being immature and being like child, begging and sighing and giving attitude."

"Carlotta, please, I'll try it again," Cosette begged. "I'll get it right. It'll be perfect this time, I'll be perfect, I…"

"You have not done exercises," Carlotta said. "I do not work if you do not work. This is enough for today, I see you next Friday, understood?"

Mom was going to kill her if she walked out early, especially if she found out that Carlotta had sent her out…

"Next Friday," Carlotta said again. "Goodbye."

Mom was pissed and quiet on the subway.

"I thought you said you did your exercises at the theater," Mom said.

"I do my warm-ups before every show," Cosette said.

"But not your exercises," Mom said. She looked away from Cosette, straight ahead of her. "Cosette, your talent is in you. You were born with it. But you have to fine-tune it. Care for it."

"Yes, Mom."

"You're going to lose it if you don't."

"Yes, Mom."

"Don't rest on your laurels because of that nomination," Mom said. "I don't want you going lazy. You need to work just as hard, if not harder now."

"Yes, Mom," Cosette said. "Don't worry. I'll be perfect."

Cosette's eyes focused again and she realised that she was just outside of a dressing room at the theater. She was in someone's arms –someone familiar, Jake probably- and she had an amazing view of the ceiling.

"Cosette," Shang said. "Cosette?"

"Yeah," she said. She felt drowsy. Nauseous.

"She's back," Jake yelled over his shoulder to someone who was running. "Holy shit, you scared us Princess."

Dillon knelt next to Cosette. "Hey Princess, what's going on here?"

As far as Cosette could tell, she'd passed out. A sense of horror and dread took her over; oh God, what… Actually no, that feeling in her stomach was very real and very, very bad.

The bucket got to her just in time, but Cosette didn't have anything to throw up. It was all water and it burned her throat. Her eyes went lazy again.

"Cosette, stay with me," Dillon said. "Is there a bug going around school? Did you eat anything bad?"

Nothing, she should have said.

"Or is this a sugar low?" The director asked kindly.

"Yeah," Cosette said.

"Can someone get me a juice box or some Gatorade or something?" the director asked.

After the first sip Cosette felt better. She tried to get up but Jake didn't let her.

"Easy Princess," he said. "Take it easy, Co."

"I feel better."

"You still look like shit," Jake said. "No offence."

"It won't show with my makeup on," Cosette said.

"I appreciate the fighting spirit Princess, but we have ten minutes until show time. We're pulling up your standby," Dillon said.

"No, no, I can do it," Cosette said.

"We're pulling up your understudy," the director said. "And that's that. We have time to call your Mum and…"

"No, no," Cosette said. "She's running errands right now. I'll just relax in my dressing room. Drink more juice. I think I have some granola bars there too."

"Cosette you're underage," the director said. "It's not that I don't trust you, but the fact is you're just a kid. Also the union would have my head for not getting your mom here."

Not mom, not mom, NOT MOM, she wanted to scream.

Act Cosette, act. You're an adult and you're a star and you're a diva and you can pull this off. You can pull anything off. Have a hissy fit right now and get what you want before Mom-

Oh God, Mom.

The pure anxiety of it made Cosette pass out again.

"Are you okay?" Mom asked, bringing a glass of water to bed.

"I feel like shit," Cosette mumbled.

"Physically?" Mom said.

"No, I feel stupid for passing out ten minutes before curtain," Cosette said.

"Oh," Mom said. "Yes, understandably."

She put the glass of water down, tucked Cosette in and told her to get some sleep.

She bawled instead, until she fell asleep.

In the morning she found Mom asleep on the couch. She didn't wake her up, just put on a summer dress and a baggy cardigan for school. She'd nearly worn holes into the sleeves. She drank a glass of orange juice, didn't bother to make a lunch since Mom wasn't awake, and left as quickly as she could. Partially to avoid seeing Mom. Partially because if Cosette missed the subway, she didn't know if she'd be strong enough to walk to school.

She couldn't face her friends at lunch. She sat in the music room and played the piano, trying to figure out what she was trying to say.

"Just when I'd stopped opening doors,
Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours,
Making my entrance again with my usual flair,
Sure of my lines,
No one is there.

Don't you love farce?
My fault I fear.
I thought that you'd want what I want.
Sorry, my dear.
But where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don't bother, they're here.

Isn't it rich?
Isn't it queer,
Losing my timing this late
In my career?
And where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns.
Well, maybe next year."

Cosette loved the song. She loved A Little Night Music. But she didn't feel betrayed right now. She didn't feel duped. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but the bad feeling in her chest had to come up and so Cosette had to keep sitting at the piano, had to keep improvising, had to keep trying to get her last breath out.

It's like she was afraid that someone was listening.

Cosette fell asleep in history class while Mrs. Stoll was explaining the rise of democracy in Athens, and when she woke up the room was empty. Mrs. Stoll was talking with two boys- were they even in her class? Did they even go here?

"What do you think?"

"I didn't hear her sing and shit," one of the boys said. "But if she's really a child prodigy and she's got Tonys and stuff coming up, I'd say there's a fair enough chance she's Apollo."

"What about the mist," Mrs Stoll asked. "I know it's harder for children of Hermes than it is for satyrs, but does she have a scent or anything…"

"Yeah, well, there's definitely a demigod in class," the other boy said. Something in his voice made him sound older. "I think it's her, too. Connor's right about the child prodigy bit. Thing is though, we can't tell for sure right now. And, like, the gods have stopped claiming their kids and stuff."

"What?" Mrs Stoll asked.

"True," Connor said. "They're trying to leave as many of their kidlets out of the Titan War. Less deaths and stuff."

"They're making innocent children vulnerable to Kronos," Mrs. Stoll hissed.

Cosette was pretty sure she was still dreaming.

"They're dipshits," the older boy said. "I can certify this."

"Travis, watch your language."

"Oops, sorry immortals. Anyways, it is what it is. Chiron won't take her in at this point."

"There has to be somewhere for her to go," Mrs. Stoll said. "She's… Let's say she's a daughter of Apollo. Then she's too talented for a mortal. She's too talented and it's being... exploited. She's under so much pressure, it isn't healthy. I don't think she sleeps and I don't think she eats. It's like she's melted over the last few months, and she has trouble concentrating and staying awake in class. Last time she wrote a test her average slipped two percents and she was begging me for extra credit before her mother found out. She wanted her grade to be perfect. It's alarming."

"That sucks," Connor said. "We have a kid who just came in, a daughter of Ares. Turns out she was being trained by the government as a spy. Wicked, right?"

"Or horrible," Travis said. "You know. Chiron is starting to call the phenomenon demigod abuse, when powers get taken advantage of. Apparently the government used to be disgusting with Big Three kids during the major wars. Kind of like, if you chained Katie to the earth and made her grow all the wheat and shit on your farm until she didn't have any energy left."

"Yeah, it's always about Katie with you isn't it," Connor said.

Yeah, Cosette was definitely dreaming.

"I want to hear about this Katie," Mrs. Stoll said. "But later. Thank you for coming boys, I know it's dangerous right now..."

"No problem Mom," Travis said. "I can ask around camp if you like. Maybe Michael has a solution, or Chiron's will can break down."

"Maybe," Mrs. Stoll said. "He does hate to leave children out in the cold. Alright, don't keep Argus waiting any longer. Head back to Camp. Stay safe."

"We will," Connor promised before they headed out. Mrs. Stoll kept correcting and the bell rang. She crossed the room and called the office with the intercom, telling the secretary to excuse Cosette from her next class.

That's when Cosette realised that Mrs. Stoll was going to let her sleep in her class. She could have cried in happiness, but instead she fell asleep again.

Cosette was huddled on the floor of the bathroom by the sinks, her face pressed to her knees and the tears streaming down her face liberally. She'd been crying on and off since she'd gotten the text after going to find out what she'd missed in chemistry and spending half an hour with her teacher. She felt like a hot mess, except she was cold. Always cold, recently.

"Bright Eyes?" Someone said knocking at the door. "Cosette?"

That's when Liam walked in. Cosette tried to pull it together, but all she managed to choke out without feeling wheezy was to inform him that: "This is the ladies' room."

"Which is why you're here," he said. He kicked a piece of toilet paper aside before sitting down in front of her, lightly touching her knees.

"Don't you have gymnastics?"

"My practise finished already, and Alice said you hadn't come to the lockers," Liam said. "Bright Eyes, what's wrong?"

"I just got a text from my mom saying that my director's going to put my standby up all week," Cosette sniffled. "And I don't know why because I'm fine now, I'm all better, but I'm not performing until next Monday, Liam. Next Monday."

"I'm sorry," Liam said.

"Mom's going to kill me when I get home and it's all my fault. She even told me not to be stupid but I was and- and- and-"

"Co, what happened?" Liam asked. He took her hands. "What happened, why is whatever this is your fault? Why is this the first time I hear about this?"

Cosette told him about passing out last night and spooking Jake right before a show and looking like an idiot and about how angry Mom was that she hadn't even woken up this morning.

"Had you eaten?" Liam asked shyly.

Cosette hesitated but shook her head. "I had to stay late at school because I needed help with chemistry and so I had to rush to the theater, and I was nervous because Mom was watching that night and I couldn't- I couldn't make myself eat. I couldn't, Liam. I was so hungry and weak and I wanted to be strong, but I couldn't."

Liam nodded.

"I know," Liam said. "I know."

Cosette buried her face in her hands. "God, what a mess. What a shit show. I am such a train wreck, I am so sorry…"

"Don't apologise," Liam said. "I don't want to sound cruel but I'm really happy we're talking because I don't think I like the place you're in right now."

Cosette nodded and she put her head down against his shoulder.

"Liam, I feel so wrong," Cosette said. "I feel robbed."

"Why?" he asked gently.

"Because someone took what I loved and made it a curse," Cosette said. "I used to dance in the kitchen and sing in the shower and do accents at parties. I did it even more when I met you and Alice and Sam. This was supposed to be the best year of my life and it was. But now everything is a chore. Everything has to be perfect. There isn't room for anything else but perfection and I don't even think I can squeeze in anymore."

"Okay," Liam said gently, putting his arm around her.

"I practise so much, it's like I moved in to my dance studio and every time I open my mouth I'm about to blurt out one of Belle's songs. I'm at the gym so often the lady at the front desk knows my name. I never eat and when I want to try I'm too anxious to make myself do it. They've had to take in all of my costumes. When I go to school I'm still trying to be perfect. When I go out I feel guilty that I'm not working. When I go home I'm a stranger. How did it get to this, Liam? How?"

"You say you've been robbed. Who did it?" Liam asked.

"My mother's trying to live through me," Cosette said after a while. "I know."

"Hasn't it ever hit you that that's… wrong?" Liam asked.

"I guess…" Cosette said. "I guess I always felt so guilty about how she would have been the one onstage if I hadn't been born."

"I'm trying to be gentle right now but that's terrible reasoning," Liam said. He wiped her tears. "It's not your fault you were born. It's not your fault things didn't work out for your Mom. Besides, would she even be anywhere near your league? You're something special, Cosette. You're like a miracle. You don't owe anybody anything."

Cosette took a shaky breath.

"Especially not me," Liam said. "Feel free to cry in my sweater."

And so she did and they stayed there until the janitor came to clean, jumped back when she saw them.

"I don't want you to go home," Liam said.


"At least not right now."

"Okay," Cosette said. "Can I come over?"

"For sure," Liam said.

"Just don't tell Celia her princess isn't perfect," Cosette said quietly. "Her world's already so imperfect."

"Celia wouldn't care if her princess wasn't perfect," Liam said. "It would actually make her feel better about her chances of being accepted in Princess School."

Liam was gentle. Liam was soft. Liam was calm. He apologised to her and told her he had to shower but it'd only take a second.

When she realised she was alone in his apartment, Cosette was suddenly struck for a second. The shower was running. She was alone, but nobody was listening.

She could sing and no matter what she did, it would be okay.

She opened her phone (no messages from Mom), and scrolled down her playlist, pulling up a song she hadn't dared to sing in the apartment or even in Enrique's studio. But she sang it now understanding the words. She sang as if she absorbed the lyrics and spat them back out, wrapped with every emotion in her heart.

"I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted."

She was so into it, she didn't pace herself. She didn't worry about going too high too soon. She didn't worry about anything.

"I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I'm living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed."

She was so exhausted. Exhausted that she told the truth, exhausted by her honesty. She fell asleep on the couch, and woke up with a blanket around her and Celia poking her shoulders with a smile on her face, happy to see her.

Since Stella was working, Liam made zucchini and pepper pasta for supper and told Celia "I'm only giving food to people with bowls" to give Cosette the choice to eat or not. She decided to sit and do homework with them instead. She was calm enough –not rushed- to actually get through a bit of chemistry before the numbers and the letters started spinning. After Celia ran off to run her restaurant or her school or her candy shop or whatever she was up to nowadays, Cosette asked Liam for a bite. She ate. It was okay, but she didn't want more.

Celia asked her to play Barbies with her and Cosette did. Cosette watched and bounced Celia on her knees as Liam gave her bedtime medication. She watched and tried not to laugh as Liam and Celia sang along to the radio as Celia brushed her teeth. Cosette braided her hair for bed, and stood in the door frame as Liam read Celia a bedtime story. She hugged her goodnight, and then she and Liam crashed on the couch.

"What are we going to do?" Liam asked from underneath Cosette.

"I don't know," Cosette said. "There's something that Belle sings, in the ouverture for the show: "there must be more than this provincial life". She doesn't actually sing that because she hates her little town. She likes her father, she likes the book store... It's not all bad, but she just wants more. I don't want to stop singing. I just want to do it on my terms."

"You have to tell your mother," Liam said twisting a curl around her finger.

"She won't have it," Cosette said. "She's my mother. She's my agent. She has everything on me."

"She created an eating disorder," Liam said flatly. There was poison in his voice, bitterness too. "She doesn't let you sleep. She only talks to you in terms of business and possession and loves you on a merit-based system. She manipulates you and pressures you into doing things and plays mind games with you and treats you like a really hot ticket or a bird in a cage she can train."

Cosette's fingers touched the necklace he'd given her for Christma.

"This is child abuse," Liam said.

"I don't want to leave her," Cosette said. "Because then I'll be lost in the system and I'll lose my job."

Liam was quiet.

"If I could leave, I would," Cosette said nuzzling against him. "If I could disappear, I would."

"We'll figure something out so you can stay," Liam said.

"Yes," Cosette said. "I want to stay close too."

It was quiet.

"I could kiss you right now, but I don't think it's a good time," Liam said.

"I'd kiss you right now too, but I don't think it's the best time either," Cosette replied quietly. "I don't want you to kiss my problems away. I want you to kiss me."

"We'll figure something out," Liam said. "Then we'll see."

Before walking through the door, Cosette took deep breaths. She sung to herself, Billy Elliot, to try and stir up her nerves.

Cosette sat at the piano in the music room after school. She wasn't going home before going to the theater for the first time so far, she needed to keep her wits and her nerves. Billy Elliot helped.

"I was half in mind I was half in need,
And as the rain came down I dropped to my knees and prayed
I said "oh Heavenly thing please cleanse my soul,
I've seen all on offer and I'm not impressed at all".
I was halfway home I was half insane,
And every shop window I looked in just looked the same
I said send me a sign to save my life
'Cause at this moment in time there is nothing certain in
These day's of mine

Why'see it's a frightening thing when it dawns upon you
That I know as much as the day I was born
And though I wasn't asked (I might as well stay)
And promise myself each and every day that is

When you're knocked on your back an' your life's a flop
And when you're down on the bottom there's nothing else

But to shout to the top shout!"

A neighbour came out and looked at her angrily, her hair in rollers, sinking in her bathrobe.

"Sorry," Cosette said.

"It's late. Pipe down." She snapped.

"Yes ma'am," Cosette said.

So she walked in completely unprepared, despite herself.

"Where were you?" Mom asked. "I was looking for you."

"You didn't text," Cosette said closing the door behind her. "Spare me the bullshit."

"Cosette!" Mom said. She frowned. "Where were you?"

"A better place," Cosette said.

"And what's that supposed to mean?" Mom said.

Cosette went straight to the fridge and poured herself another glass of orange juice.

"We can sort that out later," Mom said. "I called Dillon today."

"Me too," Cosette said. "Well, he called me. To know how I was doing. He said I could come back on Monday, not a problem. He said they'd miss me."

"That's sweet of him," Mom said. "Today was a nice break I think, but I rescheduled to tomorrow for Carlotta."

"I don't want to see Carlotta," Cosette said.

"Pardon?" Cosette said.

"I want to sleep tonight, go to school tomorrow, see my friends after class, and then I'm going to do my homework and sleep."

"Cosette," Mom said. "But…"

"Mom," Cosette said. "I'm a good singer. I'm a strong dancer. I can act. I'm a true triple-threat. I'm a Tony nominee. Don't you think I'm good enough?"

"I do think you're good enough," Mom said.

"But you want me to be perfect," Cosette said.

"I was nominated for a Tony too," Mom said. "It doesn't mean anything."

"I know," Cosette said. "I Googled you when I was little. All the time. You were my hero. I wanted to be just like my mom. So much, that I didn't realise that my mom wanted to be just like me. That my mom wanted to be me."

"Cosette, where are you going with this."

"I'm not going to work out with Lukas so much every week," Cosette said. "I'm not going to eat like a rabbit when I eat. If I have a lot of homework or plans with friends, I'll let Enrique know and I won't go to dance. Carlotta is nasty and I'm going to work with someone new."

"Cosette Judy-"

"You have to pick," Cosette said. "Are you my mother or are you my agent?"

"I'm both. You love what you do," Mom said.

"But not how I do it."

"You are Tony nominated!"

"And it nearly killed me, Mom!" Cosette said. "It nearly killed me and I would have been fine. None of this is necessary, I am so good- I am so strong- on my own. I'm an artist, Mom. That's who I am. So I'll start acting like one, and if I don't like my contract and my agent, I'm walking away."

Mom smiled.

"You think it's funny?" Cosette said. "You think it wouldn't ruin your precious little show girl, your little pageant baby, if next week when I go back to the stage I just sit down in the middle of a number?"

"You wouldn't do it," Mom said. "You're dedicated to that show. You wouldn't let down the cast, you wouldn't leave them."

"So it's you that I should leave?" Cosette said. "I could walk away."

"No you couldn't," Mom said.

And at the end of the day, no matter how angry Cosette was, she couldn't leave Mom. She had nowhere to go.

"Cosette," Mrs. Stoll said as she distributed tests. Cosette got up and walked to the front of the class. She took her test. A bright blue 57% was written on top, making Cosette winced. This was the one class she did try in. However her head had been fuzzy and she'd been angry and moody and tired when she wrote the last test. "Stay after class."

"I can explain," Cosette said quietly.

"It's okay," Mrs. Stoll said. "Really."

Still, history class was an exercise in deep breaths and the virtue of patience. Cosette was happy when the bell rang and she sprung up at Mrs. Stoll's desk. She hoped that Liam would wait for her at the lockers- she wanted to go to Taco Bell with everyone tonight. She wasn't in a mood to eat, but she wanted to be with people. Then maybe she could go to Liam's house before swinging by the theater to watch Beauty and the Beast. She missed Jake. And Shang. Texting just wasn't the same.

Cosette stood in front of Mrs. Stoll's desk, and Mrs. Stoll took her time wiping the whiteboard. Another student, a redheaded girl with long hair and strange, glittering silver eyes, stood in the door and knocked as well.

"Is this Mrs. Nadia Stoll's classroom?" she asked.

"Yes!" Mrs. Stoll said. "Yes, yes, yes- please, do come in. Cosette, you can have a seat."

Cosette sat at the nearest seat by the desk. Mrs. Stoll sat on the desk. The ginger student came very close. She was wearing hiking shoes and hiking pants with tons of pockets and a silver parka.

"Thank you for coming," Mrs. Stoll said shyly. Cosette was surprised. Mrs. Stoll was never shy. Never. Not even when she'd been talking about dicks in Ancient Greek art compared to today's abstinence and taboo culture, and the principal walked in.

"It's not a problem," the girl said. "My hunters and I were held up in North Dakota, it's me who apologises for the delay. Your son was surprisingly civil when he approached my hunter."

"That's how I raise them," Mrs. Stoll said. "Or Zeus knows I've tried."

Cosette smiled a bit at Mrs. Stoll's wordplay.

"That's a good thing," the student said. "Sabina used to be a celebrated gladiator."

Cosette frowned.

"You must be Cosette," the girl said turning to her. "It's a pleasure to see you. I've heard you sing in a video."

"Thank you," Cosette said.

"You're truly breathtaking," she said. Cosette smiled. "My name is Artemis."

"Do you remember who that is?" Mrs. Stoll said. "Unit 3, Ancient Greece."

"Goddess of the moon and the hunt," Cosette said uneasily. "She traveled with a group of hunters. Her symbol was the bow and arrow and a doe."

"Very good," Artemis said. "This will make things much easier for you. I'd like you to join my hunt."

"Is this a joke?" Cosette asked. "Is there a camera filming? Is- this has 'SAM' written all over it."

"Not quite," Artemis said. "Your teacher approached me through her half-blood sons."

"Pardon?" Cosette asked.

"Cosette, I need you to hear me out," Mrs. Stoll said. "I remember thinking it was crazy, and I still do every day. But I've noticed how… how lost you seem. Liam, he's your… your friend I suppose. He came to me. He didn't want me to do anything, but he was concerned about you. He said he thought you might lose yourself. It's crazy, isn't it? Your life right now."

"I love my job," Cosette said. "I love my art. I love what I do."

"I know," Mrs. Stoll said. "We can see it in your eyes. But there's more to your life than that."

Cosette didn't answer. She just stayed quiet.

"What do you say that we match that crazy with a new kind of crazy?" Mrs. Stoll said. "A crazy that might help."

Cosette still felt like this was a big joke, but once the moon goddess started spewing magic, Cosette knew she wasn't lying to her.

"What do you think?" Artemis said. "My hunters don't owe me any fixed period of time after taking their oaths. Most of them spend their entire lives in the Hunt, but my priority isn't the formation of the cult, it's the protection of young girls. You could come, travel with me, and come back to New York, come back to Broadway, when you could stand on your own."

Cosette was very, very quiet.

This is what she wanted. This is what and Liam had said they'd figure out. This was the solution on her lap. She could hear Liam say I'm not going anywhere, but I want you to leave before you really do get squashed.

Her fingers were tapping out a rhythm on her desk and Cosette realised that they were pushing invisible keys to play Defying Gravity: I'm through accepting limits'cause someone says they're soSome things I cannot changeBut till I try, I'll never know!Too long I've been afraid ofLosing love I guess I've lostWell, if that's love It comes at much too high a cost!

"Do I have to join right now?" Cosette asked. "Or could you wait for me until June 7th? Something... Something important is happening. "

Artemis arched an eyebrow.

Cosette's fingers were slow and deliberate and poised as she played.

She tried to put more power in her voice, to use the piano to emphasise her words.

"Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes

Five hundred twenty five thousand moments, oh dear
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, a year in the life?

How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love,"

Liam walked into the room.

"Rent, right?" Liam asked, walking into the music room.

"Yeah," Cosette said. "The song's called Seasons of Love."

"It's beautiful," Liam said. "Or, well, when you sing it."

They both blushed.

"Can you come sit with me?" Cosette asked. "I have something to talk to you about. It's important."

"And now," the host said. "The Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical."

There was polite clapping around the room. Except for Sam. Sam was literally losing his shit and holding on to Alice for dear life as he alternated between outright panic and starstruck silence. Cosette was laughing at him and squeezing Liam's hand as tightly as possible to avoid panicking right now.

"The nominees are. Grace Menzel, Les Misérables. Tatiana Foster, Blue Like Your Eyes. Olivia Salonga, The Phantom of the Opera. Cosette Greenwalt, Beauty and the Beast."

The camera man nodded at Cosette and she smiled and waved into the camera.

"Susan O'Hara, Burn, Burn, Burn," the host said. "And the American Theater Wings Tony goes to."

Cosette had never hated the way they always took those dreadful dramatic pauses at award ceremonies more than she did now.

"Cosette Greenwalt, Beauty and the Beast."

Cosette shoulders slacked. Her forehead connected with her knee and she shrieked into her hands. Her entire row jumped to their feet. Mom was crying and squeezing Cosette's hand, stretching over Liam, but it was Liam who took her hands. Liam was the one who pulled her to her feet. Liam was the one who hugged her first. He was smiling in awe, looking sharp as a tack in his suit (he'd told Cosette it was actually a funeral suit, but upon realising that he couldn't come to her awards in a t-shirt he'd decided to make sad things happy).

"I've never seen your eyes brighter," he told Cosette, kissing her forehead (right in front of Mom!) before Cosette gathered herself and walked out of her row and went to the stage. The Tony was shoved in her hands and Cosette managed to stumble to the mic where she thought oh shit, a speech.

To be honest, she hadn't thought the Tonys would be anything more than her musical's Best Revival award (which it was) if anything (definitely not this!) She'd just wanted one last night out with her friends.

She looked up at the crowd.

Don't act, Cosette. You are happy right now, and you will continue to be happy. You look beautiful, you can feel the place where Liam kissed your forehead, you can still hear Alice clapping, Sam is probably crying.

"My speech isn't exactly going to reflect how lovely this night is, I'm a bit of a mess," Cosette said into the mic. There was a bit of laughter, which gave her time to think.

"I'm… stunned to be here," Cosette said. "I'm stunned to think that I'm in the era of these wonderful actors and singers and dancers that are all sitting in front of me- or even more dauntingly in my category…. A lot of them I also have to thank for being here tonight. Whether you were in the original cast of a musical, or you made the first costume, or sang the first bar the first time a song was sung- theater is united. We create each other and raise each other and challenge each other, which is why my biggest blessing is this room full of people- not all of which I can name tonight, but I can try. First and foremost Jake Ryder, the Beast who makes my Belle what she is and drives me around and helps me not fail at school. Shang Ho, who's so much more charming than he is onstage. Dillon Donoghue, this incredible director who believed in me and who took care of me while putting this beautiful show I'm part of together. The cast- the beautiful company I work with- there's too many of you to thank, but if I could give all of you an award like this I would. The amazing crew who makes us shine, our wonderful orchestra, I don't want to forget you either. Thanks to my agent for sneaking me into the Belle auditions at the last minute. My heart goes out to my best friends in the world, Alice who always knows best, who can always bring me back to earth whether I like it or not, who is music to my ears. Sam, you ooze confidence and sometimes I take it with your praise and it makes me stronger. And to my rock… To my rock, Liam. Who's a gem, really. But you are my rock, and you're the reason I have my two feet on the ground long enough to dance. Thank you, thank you, I'm sorry for crying, thank you. I will continue to carry the spirit of Broadway with me in my heart, and I will never stop. I think I was born for this, but this award just snaps everything into place for me. Thank you."

Cosette walked offstage without tripping and when she regained her seat everyone wanted to shake her hands, pat her back. Alice rushed out into the alley to give her a hug that Sam and Liam soon jumped in on. Maybe this wasn't proper for the Tonys, but it was what Cosette wanted. It was the kind of fierce love she treasured- and the last memory with her friends that she'd be able to carry with her.

"Congratulations," Artemis said when Cosette met her backstage, Liam at her heels.

"Thank you," Cosette said accepting the goddess' hug. It still felt strange to know that she was hugging a Greek goddess and stranger yet to think that maybe the goddess in question was her aunt. But she was a good hugger, so Cosette didn't argue.

"Are you still sure that you want to continue despite this?" Artemis asked.

Cosette looked at the Tony in her hands. "Yes. This was worth the world to me. The world, but not my life. I don't want to lose myself again. I want to do what I love in a way that I love it, and I can wait until then."

Artemis nodded. "Your mother believes you're going to the after-party?"

"Yes," Cosette said.

Artemis handed her a backpack.

"Here is your equipment for the hunt. You can go change right now."

Cosette nodded and snuck into an empty dressing room. She unzipped the dress and pulled on the jeans and the silvery parka. She tucked her hair into a crown braid and wiped off her makeup. She looked around the dressing room one last time before going outside again.

She handed her dress, neatly folded, to Liam. "You can give this to Alice, it would look good on her. Sam can keep my Tony. I just don't want my mother to have it."

"Okay," Liam said.

"I'll be waiting in the back with my hunters," Artemis said. "I'll give you two a chance to say goodbye."

She slipped away and they looked at each other.

"You look ready for an adventure," Liam said.

"You look very good in general," Cosette said.

"I'm glad," Liam said. "Sam insisted we'd end up on TV."

Cosette laughed and wrapped her arms around Liam. "I'm going to miss you."

"I know."

"If there was one reason to stay, it was for you and Alice and Sam."

"But that's not enough," Liam said. "This is about you. I'll keep my eye out on the Great White Way. I'll be there on opening night when you get back."

"I'll get you free tickets," Cosette said. "You and Celia and your mom."

"I'll buy a t-shirt with your face on it."

"Deal," Cosette said.

"Until then, remember us," Liam said. "Well, I say us, but Sam and Alice don't know I'm giving you this. However they'd approve, so here you are."

He gave her a small box, which she quickly unwrapped. It was a necklace, like he'd given her at Christmas. Except this time, the bird wasn't in a cage.

She smiled, he helped her put it on.

"You can keep the old one," Cosette said reaching into her backpack where she'd stashed it.

"I think I'll burn it," Liam said.

They could have stayed there forever, but it was easier to go quick than to wait.

"Nervous?" Liam asked.

"Yes," Cosette said.

But she smiled.

Because, like she'd been told a thousand times, being nervous meant that you cared.

Epilogue: Ten Years Later

The bed creaked under a new weight and someone jumped Cosette.

"Gentle, Aimée," he said next to her, still groggy. He lifted Aimée off of Cosette as she giggled and called for her, "Coco, coco!"

"Hi Cutie," Cosette said sitting up and rubbing the sleep out of her eyes and sitting up. Aimée leapt from her father's arms and into Cosette's lap, looping her arms around Cosette's neck and snuggling into her. "What are you doing up so early?"

Of course, Cosette knew why. She'd been at the theater all day yesterday for an emergency rehearsal with an understudy, then she'd gone out for lunch with friends from the show before the two shows of the day. She'd also napped a lot, and had missed her window of opportunity to call home before her show while they were out for supper. Aimée missed her.

"Daddy and I went to the park," Aimée said. "It was a new park. There were monkey bars everywhere."

"Mmm-hmm," Cosette said stifling a yawn. "And did you and your monkey daddy play on them all night?"

Aimée giggled beamed a toothless smile and Cosette couldn't help but smile back. She was truly a beautiful child- this reinforced their theory that she was a daughter of Aphrodite, though it was hard to tell since Liam himself didn't know. Cosette had only been 19 when Apollo had claimed her. There was something in her eyes that made her think of a girl she'd hunted with, Zoé. Aimée looked, to Cosette, like a healthy and more active Celia may have been. She was a child exactly where she should be: in the center of a loving home, which Cosette was still baffled and enchanted by, especially when she realised that she was a part of it. A rather good part too, considering how her step-daughter missed her when she worked late.

"Why don't we give Coco a chance to shower," Liam said. "Come on Monkey, let's go colour. And maybe after we can go out for pancakes before dance class, how does that sound?"

"Ooh, I like daddy's plan," Cosette said.

Aimée jumped off of Cosette and ran out to the living room to go find her crayons. Liam leaned across the bed and kissed Cosette good morning.

"How was last night?" he asked. He'd tried staying up for her, but it'd been the director's birthday yesterday and they'd gone out for drinks after the show. She'd been too tired to do more than pick one of Liam's shirts off the ground and climb into bed to suck all the heat in the world from him.

"It went better than I thought it would," Cosette said. "It was good."

"Well that much we knew," Liam said, grinning at her.

It baffled Cosette, how she could be in his bed, in his apartment, in his life after all this time and all the chances in the world that something would go wrong. She remembered the first time she'd been back in New York, during the Titan War while the entire city slept. She'd managed to beg ten minutes out of Thalia and rush to his apartment. Peeking through the window she'd seen him and Celia, crumpled on the kitchen floor, Celia tucked under his arm. They'd been making supper for themselves; Stella must be home. Cosette had smashed a window to sneak in and turn the oven off before a fire caught and she'd brushed her fingers against his hair. She'd taken a piece of paper on which phone messages were scribbled and left a message of her own. Simple lyrics, really- ones that Celia would recognise from the show, and that she hoped Liam would understand. She wanted him to know she was alright since she'd gotten the privilege to see that he was.

And then when Artemis had dismissed her from the hunt, that Cosette had briefly moved in with a brother, Will, and his boyfriend. She'd gotten a brand new agent, had updated her headshot, had started the crazy audition process once again, had worked odd jobs as she built up her reputation once again, had avoided all contact with her mother, had rekindled with her father by sacrificing to him and Artemis every meal, and had finally landed a part. And on opening night, someone had blue flowers delivered to her dressing room with the note: The balcony seats were the last ones available, but I'm here. Break a leg. Liam.

And then they'd picked up where they'd left off and they'd finally found a good time to kiss and now they were constantly zooming around from rehearsal to show to competition to training to elementary school to park to dance class for kindergarteners and they'd gotten her Tony back from Sam and now it rested on a shelf with Liam's bronze medal and the certificate that told Aimée she'd graduated from junior kindergarten and, and, and… She was rambling. There was too much to talk about, too much to love. Cosette loved her life. But she wasn't sure how it'd happened to her.

She still remembered a lot from the hunt and she thought about her family -her first family- every day, hoping they had found enough to eat that day, that their wounds were starting to heal, that the weather was nice and the monsters were fun wherever they were. But one of the things she remembered most from the hunt was not to question how and why things happened. Not to question her own strength and her ability to pull through. Not to question herself.

She was perfect, after all.

Next chapter (will come out in less than three years)

Mom and Dad hated Alex. Not necessarily because anything was wrong with him, mostly because they didn't want their baby boy to be gay, and the fact that Carter always brought home Alex was just living, breathing proof of it.

The easy solution to the problem, of course was to just deal with the fact that Carter was a girl and was technically straight as far as Carter could keep track of, but whatever.