Mackenzie glared at Nanette, forcing out her line without feeling. “You’ve always been my best friend. What am I going to do without you.” Stupid. That didn’t even sound like a question, Mackenzie thought, smoothing down her thick brown hair with one hand. Oh, why do Nanette and I have to be “best friends” in the class play?
Nanette replied in an equally unbelievable tone. “I guess we’ll just have to write.” Coming from Nanette, who started rumors about Mackenzie and teased her about her braces, the line sounded unreal. More or less, the girls hated each other.
Once, Mackenzie hadn’t minded Nanette. She had hardly known Nanette up until the end of third grade, when the class had helped make an end-of-year dinner for their parents. Nanette had deliberately squirted lime juice in Mackenzie’s face and called it an accident. Being an eight-year-old, Mackenzie had started yelling at Nanette. Over the last four years, the spite had only gotten worse.
“Gather ‘round, come on!” The drama teacher said, motioning. The school’s old theater was a dull room for all the excitement it was home to. Its walls were painted a blackish color, and plain fold-up chairs filled the house.
“We’re out of time, but I wanted to give you some advice really quick.” The kids clustered around their drama teacher, Peter. “As actors,” he said, “We need to get inside our characters and leave behind our everyday selves. Does the audience come to see the actors’ own disagreements? No! Just be the characters.” Mackenzie looked away, sure that Peter was talking to her. “And more acting. We want to build up the story. Work on that before the dress rehearsal. That’s all. You’re dismissed.”
Mackenzie slunk away. She felt torn between the play and her contempt for Nanette. She couldn’t let down Peter, who expected so much of the class; or the audience, all the parents who would come. But she couldn’t pretend to be Nanette’s best friend, either! It would seem ironic and feel wrong. Besides; and this part that worried Mackenzie; even if she wanted to, was it possible that she physically couldn’t act like Nanette’s friend for the sake of the play? Normally, Mackenzie thought she was a pretty good actress. Her mind was going in circles; her feet were going in zigzags that only helped a little in getting Mackenzie to her next class.
“I like your skinny jeans,” Whispered Nanette loudly.
Mackenzie looked up, realizing that her gaze had fixed on the floor. She didn’t say, Thank you, Nanette. She didn’t say, They aren’t skinny jeans. They’re just too small. She just looked hard at Nanette and said, “Oh.”
“New concept,” Nanette said. “Sarcasm.” Mackenzie caught a sneer before Nanette walked away. She sighed and finished walking to class.
During an uneventful science class, the clouds let loose a heavy rain and showed no sign of stopping at lunch time. Mackenzie and her friends Kaylee and Alicia sat in a corner of the gym to eat. The rain poured down endlessly. Mackenzie stood. “I have to use the bathroom.”
“Okay,” replied Kaylee.
“’Kay,” agreed Alicia.
Thump, thump, thump, went Mackenzie’s Crocs on the floor of the deserted hallway. She passed the science room, the history room, her homeroom, and the theater. She stopped. The theater. She couldn’t escape from her problem anywhere, and she should have made her choice long ago. She only had one rehearsal left.
Does the audience come to see the actors’ own disagreements? She remembered Peter saying. This time, Mackenzie understood that, and she made her decision. How could she have been torn between the play and feeling ironic? She’d have to make believe.
Yes! Make believe—wasn’t that the point of acting, anyway? The only problem was that she’d need to involve Nanette, who might not agree. So what? she asked herself.
Mackenzie turned, walked back down the hall, and re-entered the gym. Kids were finishing up their lunches and chatting.
Mackenzie scanned the room, but she didn’t look for her usual friends. Her eyes met Nanette, who was sitting stony-faced under a sports banner. “Nan—” She started to call Nannette’s name, and stopped. Then Mackenzie took a deep breath and crossed her fingers.
“Hey, Nanette!” Mackenzie called.
Nanette whirled around. “Are you talking to me, Mackenzie? You should come closer.”
Blushing, Mackenzie nodded, gulped, and walked up to Nanette. “Yeah. I wanted to talk about the play,” she said, “In real life, we might hate each other.”
“Of course,” Said Nanette. “We do. What do you mean, ‘in real life’?”
“Lemme finish, okay? We need to make believe for the play. I was considering what Peter said. We really should work on the best friends thing, because I know he was just talking to us. Do you have any ideas?”
Nanette stared at her for a moment before the word burst from her mouth. “Ha!” Mackenzie didn’t know how one word could hold so much malignance. “Like I’m gonna go, ‘I know we hate each other, but let’s just pretend to be BFFs for the play!’ and we’ll live happily ever after? Yeah, right, Mackenzie; yeah, right!” She turned on her heel and left the room.
Mackenzie checked the clock, picked up her lunch box and backpack, and followed Alicia and Kaylee across the gymnasium. Though her friends gossiped and giggled, Mackenzie stayed silent. She sat through slideshows during fourth period and tried to be inconspicuous in writing class. She purposely ignored Nanette, which seemed to go both ways. Three thirty-one, just after school let out, found Mackenzie shuffling past the playground. Alicia and Kaylee went home on the bus, but not Mackenzie. She had decided on taking a detour to the bike rack to avoid the worst of the sudden rain, and was wandering around the back of the school when Nanette found her.
“Earth to ‘Kenzie! What are you doing here?”
“None of your business,” Mackenzie snapped.
“Yeah—” She stopped midsentence; wondered if it was a trick question or something; and suddenly remembered something she’d heard that reminded her of the current situation. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Her plan hadn’t succeeded at first, but would trying again help? “Why don’t we do some make believe?” she asked vaguely.
No response, just suspicious eyes tracking her. “Please?”
Mackenzie thought that Nanette would do what she did last time. Nanette hesitated before making her move, as if testing the strength of a balance beam, but the words finally came. “Okay… Do you have any ideas for the friendship thing?” She understood!
“Um, no,” Mackenzie admitted, “Do you?” Nanette laughed, but not at Mackenzie. Mackenzie was laughing too.
“Handclap games would show friendship,” Nanette offered. “How does that sound?”
“We could do them in Scene 2, and then in the last-day-of-school scene,” said Mackenzie. “Which ones do you know?”
Nanette listed a few, and soon they were chatting away. Even the rain began to let up. “You know what?” said Nanette, “We might not even have to fake the friendship thing.”