It had become a pet name.
I turned with a glare, half smiling as Dakota sauntered into the room, smirking at me. “Nerd,” I responded, despite how immature I sounded.
I knew how I was perceived by others– average height, average build, my dark hair recklessly chopped off to my chin, my face splotchy and broken out despite being in my mid twenties. The only thing I liked about myself was my eyes; one a faded teal, one bright grey-blue, they were haunting and piercing and gorgeous. It had taken years for me to find an aspect of myself that I liked, and I shamelessly enjoyed that part of myself. Other people would talk about how bubbly I was, how pretty my smile was, how happy I always was, and occasionally– when I put effort into my appearance, which was rarely– how pretty I was. Not soul scorchingly, heart stoppingly gorgeous, but pretty. I was like Mary Poppins’s awkward sister– painfully average in every way.
Awkward, considering I’d actually played Mary Poppins, but that was beside the point.
Dakota had managed to snatch the pencil I’d been twirling from my fingers and stroll away with it, tucking it behind his ear while he chose his costume as usual. Sometimes the guys liked to mix it up and trade kilts out– which didn’t matter so long as whatever they wore matched and fit, according to the director. He ignored me as I kept up a running conversation with the girl beside me, and for some reason, it irritated the hell out of me.
Valerie had come in a good two months after I had. I was enamored of my show now, possessive, and damn proud of it– both the performance and the work we did behind the scenes. Valerie was less enamored but a dedicated worker, and cute too– blonde hair cropped off and fluffy, bright eyes, a pointed, pixie-sharp face. She could scorch someone with a look, outwit anyone if she put effort into it, and she had a damn good eye for damages to costumes. Whenever I detached myself from a situation, she’d pull me back effortlessly with an anecdote about her life before she’d moved here. I totally didn’t have a girl crush on her (yes, yes I did).
Her boyfriend was being a dick, or insensitive, or something to that effect, flouncing around with some other girl who was obviously an over-interested hussie. “Val honey,” I said when she trailed off, both of us staring at Dakota, “he says he’s not sleeping with her, but she seems like the type to whine and nag and beg until he gives in.”
“That’s exactly what I’m thinking!” She turned to me and launched off into her fears about the bae, and I listened– mostly– as I side eyed Dakota following his routine. He walked back up to me once his costume was shoved into the bag, poked Valerie in the belly to distract her, and then pulled the pencil from behind his ear and tucked it into the pocket of my black polo (because whenever I’m backstage I have to look like a grownup Wednesday Addams).
“Thanks,” I said dryly, and Dakota made a face at me and then headed away.
I sighed. “He does that all the time.”
“So ask him why.” Val shrugged. “Couldn’t hurt.”
I blinked at her, then I smiled. He was friends with me on Facebook– something I’d sarcastically wrangled him into during pre-show crunch one day, as he was checking his props. That meant I could message him on my phone through messenger. I could ask him.
I whipped out my phone as the calculating, mischievous smile spread across my face. I pulled up messenger on my phone with that smile fueling me, and ignoring the flutter of anxiety, typed up the words that had been bugging me for nearly a week.
So do you call me that because you think I’m an idiot or because I’m oblivious?
Valerie smiled at me. “You go, baby. Drag his ass.”
I didn’t hear back until we’d gone out for lunch, good hour before we were needed for the show. When my phone buzzed, I’d been laughing at something Val had said, expecting my sister, my brother, or my best friend from back home to have responded to any of my previous texts, as they usually did around this time (knowing I was on lunch). I trailed off when I saw Dakota’s name appear on my lock screen, obscuring the picture of my sister and I. Frowning, I opened the phone to see what he’d said.
Second… so he thought I was oblivious? My frown deepened as I blocked Valerie and the others out, trying to decide on how to respond. He beat me to it.
It’s not a serious nickname either.
I sighed. He was a jokester, a class clown. Of course he’d call me names, poke me, prod me, and act like a five year old with a crush. He did it, rarely, to Val as well. People kept telling me he was a flirt, but it seemed somehow more concentrated on me. Meaner, almost?
I pursed my lips, deciding to show a little sass, a little forgiveness, maybe even a little niceness. Sometimes I was nice rather than antisocial, bitchy, and all around poor at communicating.
I was just curious. I didn’t really think you were serious. You don’t strike me as a total asshole.
When I sent it, I closed my phone and put it in my purse, shoving myself back into the conversation at hand. My manager sat across from me, a gentleman named Richard (Rick for short) who stuttered and laughed when he was nervous, but could do a quick change so fast the performer’s head would spin. Beside him was Heather, who spoke slowly unless she was passionate about the topic, and who was anal about costumes to a quietly obsessive point. Mindy chattered incessantly with their rapt attention, and though she was funny, I always found myself uncomfortable by her two-faced demeanor– giggly and teasing one second, serious and downright mean the next, followed by a smile and “I’m just kidding!” Ruby sat on the other side of Val, another coworker I wasn’t always fond of– pig nosed and beady eyed, she would slack at her job and simper at Rick, then turn around and tell the rest of us what to do, as if she had authority over us. She was on her phone (when wasn’t she on her phone?) whimpering about another girl who had recently moved away, who she was so enamored of it bordered on creepy– as that girl had been a high school volunteer, just eighteen to Ruby’s twenty-six.
Lunch at Pizza Hut, since we were all pretty much broke, meant we only had to walk across the street to get back to Chance. We went as a team, as we always did, waving at people as we passed. In an old, historical part of town, you’d think tourists would overrun the streets, but we saw some of the same faces (in the same cars) every day. It managed to have a small town feel, despite the amount of visitors who came by, especially to see all of the productions at Chance, or the haunted buildings, or the historical hot spots… or, I realized, anything about the town. Harper Cove was marvelous, close to the sea, warm most of the year. It was temporary for me, but it felt like home. I wanted to stay here.
“Keep up, Piper!”
I hadn’t realized I’d fallen behind, even though it was only a few steps, until I heard Ruby’s sharp call, and scampered to keep up.
“Halloween show tonight, right?” Mindy said, catching my attention.
“It’s September,” I pointed out, and Mindy nodded.
“We start the show pretty early. We have two night shows closer to Halloween, too; a kid friendly one and an adults only one.”
“Huh.” frowning, I followed the others into the theatre, ducking through a small, nearly unnoticeable door to the side of the theatre that led backstage.
“No, that was last night.” Ruby, phone in hand, sidestepped a performer who was laying on the ground with her legs in a V against the wall. “We have another tomorrow night.”
“Fun,” I said. “I need to see this.”
“You’d better see Cinderella, too,” Mindy said, speaking of the night show.
“Yeah, isn’t it over in October?” Heather’s low, soothing voice was a welcome change compared to Ruby and Mindy’s higher pitched whines.
“What a shame,” I said, pouting slightly. “I love the dance scene.”
“The dresses give me life,” Heather added. “They’re so sparkly.”
“They’re a pain,” Rick interjected, and we all rolled our eyes.
“Worth it,” Val said. I giggled.
“So apparently my plan is now to go see both. I’m so glad we get in free.”
“We get to usher, so we’re still low key working,” Mindy corrected. “We just get paid with a free show. If we don’t mind standing.”
“Worth it,” Val said again, and I laughed even harder.