Chapter Five

Clare's heart fell to the pit of her stomach. She shakily lifted a hand up to her hair to tuck a curl behind her ear. She swallowed and nodded. Eli put all his weight on the cane, and hobbled over towards her. His face was chiseled into a scowl that pulled his brows together and made his face sour. Clare swallowed again as he came closer. Soon, they were standing so close that she could practically smell his cologne - the kind that came in the black skull bottle that he had to order online.

"Apparently you're my Alice," he said, biting at the name, 'Alice.'

"Yes," Clare nodded, "So I saw on the casting list."

Eli's scowl deepened, clearly unimpressed by what she'd said, "I just wanted to set a few ground rules if I am going to be your director and your lead."

"Understandable," Clare nodded once, sharply. She honestly didn't understand what the point of this whole conversation was. She just wanted to have as limited contact with Eli as possible; and this conversation was definitely not helping her achieve that. She shifted her weight, and folded her arms across her chest. She hoped whatever he had to say would be short, sweet, and over soon.

"I think we should just try to stay out of each other's way as best we can. We need to put on a great performance, and we have to work together to do that. As much as I hate it, we do have to just bite the bullet and get this over with."

"I know that."

"So I think we should be professional and cordial and stay out of each other's hair. You say your lines and I'll say mine. Got it? And outside of practice, we go back to..."

"Pretending the other does not exist."

Something changed in Eli's eyes. Clare chalked it up to her imagination, or maybe he was just tired. Eli cleared his throat, "Exactly. So are we on the same page?"

"Apparently. Now, are we actually going to practice, or are you going to stand here and lecture me some more on what I already know?"

Eli sighed, "Come on," he lead her back over to the stage where the rest of the cast was waiting.

Ms. Dawes was flipping through her yellow legal pad. Once Clare had joined the others, she passed out copies of what they had of the script so far. Eli still needed to work on his ending, though he really didn't feel like thinking about that at the moment. Maybe it'd come to him soon. It needed to come to him soon. Ms. Dawes was already displeased that they were working off of an unfinished script.

"Alright," she cleared her throat, "Let's begin. I'd like us to just sit in the chairs and read through the script. Just to make sure we are comfortable with it and get a good feel for your characters."

Clare was about to take a seat far from Eli when Ms. Dawes stopped her, "Clare, please sit next to Eli. Most of your lines are to each other."

Clare tried not to let Ms. Dawes see her frustration. She switched seats and took a spot next to Eli who scooted as far away from her as he could possibly be without falling out of his seat.

"Okay, let's begin," Ms. Dawes cleared her throat.

They began reading through the script. Clare had to admit, Eli had done well with it. They read through their parts without any trouble. Professional, just as Eli had said they should be. After the script had been run through once, Ms. Dawes asked that everyone start memorizing their lines. She also asked that Eli work on finishing the script. He just nodded.

"Okay," she continued, "Well, I think this play is going to be fantastic. I am so glad we are all working so well together. Tomorrow, meet back here at the same time as today. We will be using the scripts again, but I do want you to start memorizing your lines."

After rehearsal was dismissed, Clare gathered her things and met up with Adam who had been standing in the back of the auditorium.

"Sounds good so far," he said as she headed over to him.

"You think?" Clare asked nervously, "I just hope I will be able to perform in front of all those people. I am probably freaking myself out, but I just don't know if I can. Especially with Eli there..."

"You two didn't kill each other today," Adam pointed out, "I'm impressed."

Clare smiled a tight smile, "We agreed to keep it civil. At least during practice. After practice though, we can go back to pretending the other does not exist."

"Oh really?" Adam raised a knowing eyebrow, "And just how well do you think you two can do with that?"

Clare was about to say something when Eli hobbled up the aisle. Adam quickly helped him by taking his book bag. Clare realized then how hard it must be for Eli to navigate the cane and his backpack.

"Thanks," Eli mumbled, "So, are you still coming over to help me with this script?"

"You're helping with the script?" Clare turned back to Adam.

"Yeah, mostly to be a wall for Eli to bounce ideas off of. Do you have any suggestions for how he should end the play?"

"She doesn't," Eli was quick to reply, "Come on, Adam."

"No," Adam folded his arms over his chest, "I think Clare might have some good ideas and I want to hear them."

"She doesn't have any good ideas," Eli rolled his eyes, "Come on. Cece is waiting."

Instinctively, Clare piped up, "Tell her..." then realized that that was no longer appropriate. Eli furrowed his brows at her for a moment and she honestly wished she could melt into the carpeting. Adam, sensing the escalation of the tension quickly said -

"Maybe he's right. We should get going. I wish you could come and help us with this script. Between us, Eli hasn't a clue how to end the thing."

"Hey!" Eli gently slugged Adam with his free hand, "I have ideas."

"Really. And how are you going to end the play?"

"I...I have ideas."

Adam snorted, "See you, Clare."

"Have fun," she called after them. She sighed, feeling stupid for wishing she could go with them like Adam had suggested. She missed how things had been with the three of them. Now, they'd never be the way they used to. She felt her stomach churn slightly as she adjusted her backpack on her shoulder and headed out to meet her Mom. This was definitely harder than she had expected it to be.