At seventeen, Lucy Tan was offered the lead in the school musical Queen of the May. She turned it down in favour of working on set design with her beloved teacher, August Herron. Later, she wishes she hadn't. As she grows older, Lucy realises her life calls for a lot of compromises. She works at her dream job, but since that means being off the grid and unavailable for half of every year, sustaining a romance is difficult. Catch and release is her solution, but that’s a compromise, too. What she needs is a man she can put in cold storage…or maybe one with an off switch.
She doesn’t find one like that, but she does find Paris, who is sexy, gorgeous and devoted to her pleasure. She can’t exactly take him home to meet her parents, though. For one thing, he lives in fairyland, where he spends most of his time attending to the needs of lonely women. For another, he has a weird aversion to wearing clothes.
But Lucy is determined. This is her life, and this time, she’s going to play the leading role.
Lucy Tan, 2011, Diversity High
When she was sixteen, Lucy Tan tumbled into love with August Herron.
In the classroom, she spent long dreamy periods learning every line of his face, watching his deft movements, and bathing in his air of sparkling enthusiasm.
She learned to split her attention, so half of her was intelligent, studious Lucy, applying herself to projects and assignments, answering questions and volunteering well-formed opinions. The other half spent those same classes inventing scenarios where she helped him with something important, and he kissed her and then they—
And then he’d be mortified because teachers aren’t allowed to kiss students.
Okay, so she helped him, and he gave her a special smile.
Class was ending. She was vaguely aware of Nelis Winter packing away her notes across the aisle.
Someone rustled busily away behind her. She smelled a waft of marmalade.
One of the fay…and probably a full blood.
God, Lucy, what are you? Nine? Special smile indeed.
A long, slow meeting of eyes?
God, Lucy, you’re so—
She couldn’t think what she was.
He’d spoken to her, and she hadn’t heard. She cast her mind back, hoping some residual echo might tell her what he’d said.
“Lucy?” August Herron gave her a quizzical smile. Her name sounded lovely in his soft voice, with the little upwards tilt.
“I’m sorry, Mister Herron. I was thinking about something else.”
I should say, Master Herron. That way you’d know I know what you are.
Lu-cy, don’t be an idiot. He doesn’t care what you know. He barely even bothers to glamour his ears. A quarter of this class has at least one fairy in the family pot…
Mercifully, he just smiled and repeated the question, coming down from his desk On High to stand beside her as the classroom emptied around them.
Ohhhh, you smell so good! Broad bean flowers…
“Are you up for the lead in Queen of the May?”
She got up in an undignified scramble, feeling sweat forming between her shoulders.
Don’t smile too broadly. It makes your eyes disappear.
He wasn’t a tall man, but even standing, the top of her head was about level with his chin.
“Why?” She knew she sounded wary, but she had to get this right. He didn’t teach drama, so what reason could he have for wanting to know?
“If you are, then the best of luck. I think you’d nail it.”
“But if you’re not, or if you’re going for a smaller part, I’d like you to help me with set design.”
“I’d love to.”
“Great. Let me know as soon as you decide.”
Lucy had already auditioned. She’d been singing and dancing since she was four, and she knew she was good. The musical was the story of a modern girl who found herself in Merrie England, where, over her protestations of sexism and exploitation, she was crowned Queen of the May and used her influence to improve the lot of the village maidens. It was fluffy and dated, but it had lots of parts, and Bess, the heroine, had some amusing solos. The finale, called Beat of My Own Drum, would really weed out the competition. Bess had to carry a strong melody line above a chorus of thirty singing a different tune.
Despite her powerful singing voice, Lucy knew she had little hope of playing Bess, who spent one whole soliloquy pointing out that she stood taller than all the guys.
She had run through the scene at the auditions to predictable jeers from boys, who said yes, if they were on their knees…
It hurt. She wanted to be Bess.
Grow up, Lucy. No matter how hard you work, you won’t grow a head taller and be big, blonde and beautiful. You’ll be cast as a village urchin…or maybe the comedy pedlar girl. Being passed over because you’re not a good-enough singer or actor is one thing, but being passed over because of your genes is worse. You can improve your skills, but if you’re short and mostly Chinese, you’re short…and mostly Chinese.
Now, of course, she was glad she wouldn’t get the part. Helping Master August Herron with set design? Yes, please. She was dancing on air, and she wondered why she hadn’t said yes right away.
Drama was the last class of the day. After the siren wailed, Jenny Shackleton said, “Lucy, a word.”
“Yes, Ms Shackleton.” She stayed behind as Miffy and Melanie Smith, the ill-assorted cousins, clumped noisily past her.
“You’re in for it now, Tan,” Melanie muttered, more in hope than from conviction.
Lucy frowned. The teachers of Diversity High seldom told one off in public. They were much more likely to ask for help with a trifling task…and then unleash on the luckless student.
But I can’t be in trouble. I haven’t done anything. Or am I in trouble for fibbing about the audition? I didn’t tell Mister Herron I hadn’t auditioned. I said…
Her thoughts tangled.
Ms Shackleton shooed out the cousins, who showed signs of hopeful lingering, and closed the door firmly behind them.
“Am I in trouble, Ms Shackleton?”
Jenny Shackleton smiled. “Not at all. I just wanted to give you the heads up before I finalise the cast list…I’d like you to play Bess.”
For a moment, the words made no sense, and then Lucy felt a surge of astonished delight. Then she remembered lovely Mister Herron and the sets.
She couldn’t do both. All sections of work on the Year Eleven musical occupied the same time-blocks.
She gave herself a few seconds to envisage each scenario and came to the only decision she could countenance.
“No, thanks, Ms Shackleton.”
Jenny Shackleton’s face, which had been benevolent and smiling, blanked in amazement.
A penny dropped with a small, almost audible, chink.
Offering the part to me is some kind of policy statement.
“I’m nothing like the way Bess describes herself in the songs.”