There are certain things you know you'll always remember. Like the way Miracle stares at me when we hear the gunshot. Our eyes lock fast. Hers shine with resignation, pain and the kind of love I can only begin to understand. Suddenly I can't catch my breath. I'm beyond anything I ever wanted to feel. It's low and high, intertwined like a double helix, and I mumble to Monica G as I rush offstage, my body racked with dread.
But this isn't the end. Not yet. I stumble back under the lights, bury my head in Miracle's chest and try to speak. Don't, she says. She has the last lines. There's nothing else for me to remember, nothing to do but watch her and let the final moments roll over me. My eyes burn as I look and listen but I don't fight it. I want to be fearless like Miracle. I want it to hurt so everyone can see.
Then there's just silence stretched out in front of us in the darkness. I wipe my face as we scramble offstage, and Miracle grabs my sleeve and whispers something I can't quite hear. I nod anyway, feeling wounded and amazed. It's like we're all incredible--me,Miracle, Monica G, Charlie Kady, Y and Z, Jamie and everyone else who made this happen. We're even better than last night and the night before that. It makes me wonder just how good we could be if there was a next time. Everyone claps for us. Not just polite applause but like they really got it. On stage we hold hands and bow, and the feeling just keeps growing. We did good; we did awesome. I love these people next to me, Miracle channeling Meryl Streep and Monica G squeezing my hand and Jamie pulling strings in the background and Y and Z looking deep in love with each other, beaming with pride. I tell you, if you could bottle what I'm feeling right now, you'd be a billionaire. My cells are singing an anthem.
They're still singing when I stride out to the lobby afterwards. I'm swarmed by people clapping me on the shoulder and hurling praise in my direction. Then it's Dad's turn and he grins at Nina like he's showing me off for the first time. "Mason, you were fabulous," she says with a smile. "You should be so proud."
Nina's the only one of Dad's girlfriends that I've ever spent more than thirty minutes with, and I thank her and shift my focus to Brianna, next to her. Brianna happens to be the only one of us who isn't smiling. She's a thirteen-year-old tragedy-in-waiting,that kid. The face of gloom. As far as I can see, it doesn't have much to do with Dad and Nina's engagement either. She's been like that ever since we met.
"Your dad tells me you're off to celebrate now," Nina says with a cheerful nod. "Don't let us keep you."
I smile wider because Nina's got my number. Yolanda Solomon's extremely cool parents have handed over their house until one-thirty. There's not a second to lose. "Say hi to Burke for me, okay?" I tell her. Burke is Brianna's six-and-a-half-year-old brother.He's so normal that you'd never guess they share DNA.
"Will do," Nina replies. "I'll see you at the engagement shower."
The engagement shower's doubling as a housewarming party. Everything but the wedding has been pushed forward on account of Nina's landlord selling their condo--they weren't supposed to move in with us until the end of September. Not that I mind. I only have a year and a half before I go away to university, and Nina's okay.
"Do you need any cash?" Dad asks. He was here on opening night too but he wanted to come back with Nina.
"Well, I won't turn it down." My jaw aches from smiling so hard. It's impossible to stop.
Dad pulls out his wallet and hands me forty bucks, and then I'm edging my way through the crowd towards Jamie. "You guys got a ride?" Yolanda asks, tapping me on the shoulder. "Miracle still has a couple spots in the van."
"We're cool," Jamie says, charging towards us. "We're going with Charlie and Chris." I never have a clue what's going on. Jamie always handles the logistics.
"Perfect," Y says, scanning the lobby for Zoe. "See you at my place."
"Have you seen Kat?" I ask, turning towards Jamie. Kat Medina was Jamie's discovery when her family moved to Glenashton from Kitchener three years ago. She's about five feet tall with this cute little Filipino accent and curves like Jennifer Lopez. I think Jamie meant to keep her for himself, but that didn't work out; Jamie can never hide anything from me. Besides, Jamie isn't Kat's type. Lucky for him, I'm not either, which means we all evolved into close friends instead.
I can't count the number of nights the three of us have hung out in Kat's backyard along with her girls, Michelle Suazo and Sondra, barbecuing ribs and eating her mom's pancit noodles. Used to be that nearly every time a bunch of us would watch slasher movies together, I'd get a late-night call from Kat, scared to shut her eyes. I'd camp out on the phone with her talking about the funniest, most nonthreatening things I could imagine until she was too dog-tired to be freaked out anymore. Those movies don't spook her as much now but we still do the late-night conversations when one of us can't sleep.
"I think she already left with Hugo," Jamie says. Hugo's this half-Asian, half-black senior from the track team--the flawless-specimen-of-the-human-race type that Kat always falls for. They've been together two months.
"Okay," I tell him. "Let's roll."
And we're off. Charlie cranks M.I.A. on the stereo and in no time we're pulling into Yolanda's drive, helping her and Zoe set up the coolers and munchies. "Can someone call for pizza?" Z asks, looking right at Jamie. If you want something done right, he's your man. He's always one of the most responsible people in a room, even when he's partying. Two months ago I saw him steal this guy Anthony's jacket (with his car keys inside) at the end of a party to stop him from driving drunk. He was scared Anthony would pound him into the carpet, so wouldn't admit to taking it at the time, but what counts is that he stopped Anthony from climbing behind the wheel. In the end someone else might've too, but Jamie's usually the first one to think of these things.
"I'll start the pizza fund," I volunteer, fumbling around for one of Dad's twenties. People are already sauntering through the front door, grabbing beer, and I point them in the direction of the pizza fund and talk to Charlie Kady and Dustin over the sound of the music. None of us have come down from our performance high yet and we don't intend to. The music gets louder and the beer chills and before you know it everybody's there and it's happening just like Y and Z planned--the perfect party. From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Lighter Side of Life and Death by C. K. Kelly Martin. Copyright © 2010 by C. K. Kelly Martin. Excerpted by permission of Random House Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.