Boston, Present Day
I was all alone backstage. Flinging props and costumes around, slamming cupboard doors, kicking a row of empty water bottles. I’d planned to clean up, but instead I was wrecking everything.
We opened The Taming of the Shrew tonight. A few months back, when I found out I’d gotten the role of Katherine, I knew I was headed for trouble. I hadn’t even auditioned for it. I wanted to play Bianca, the sweet daughter, the one all the suitors are after. But Mr. Finley, our drama teacher, wouldn’t even consider it. “Miranda, you will play Katherine,” he’d said. “The role was one of your mother’s triumphs, and you must carry on the tradition.” Inside, I’d fumed. My mother again. It was always about her.
So here it was, opening night, and I’d totally screwed up. Rather than playing Katherine with the subtleties the role deserved, I’d played her as the traditional shrew turned submissive. The woman completely tamed by her husband. Afraid to make the role my own, I practically sleepwalked through the performance. When the curtain fell, I raced offstage, defying anybody to look at me. No way could I deal with polite smiles, insincere congratulations, and, worst of all, pitying eyes that quickly darted away.
My cell phone vibrated in my jeans pocket. It was Macy, my friend and fellow actor, so I answered.
“Miranda? Are you all right?”
“Yeah,” I fibbed. I hated it when people asked me that, even friends who actually cared. No, I’m not all right. I feel like a failure and an idiot. And I let everyone down.
“Where are you?”
I heard loud music and laughing in the background, so I knew where she was. The opening night party. “I’m still changing and putting stuff away. What a mess.” I didn’t mention that my foul temper had caused the mess in the first place.
“You’re not thinking of skipping the party, are you?”
I drew a deep breath and squeezed my eyes shut. “Macy, please don’t freak out, but I’m not coming.”
“What do you mean you’re not coming? You have to come! It’s opening night.” She broke off to talk to someone, then said, “John wants to talk to you.”
“No! Tell him I’m sick or something.” John had played Petruchio, and we’d been dating, sort of. He was a nice guy, but he wanted more than I was willing to give. I heard Macy making excuses for me.
I waited a few seconds, until she was back. “What’s the matter with you?” she asked. “I’m sure he knew I was lying.”
“I ruined the whole performance, Mace! I sucked. I can’t face anybody right now.” Or maybe ever.
“You weren’t that bad.”
“Thanks. I feel much better. Look, after Sunday’s closing, I’m driving up to Maine, to our place at Acadia. I need to be alone for a while. I think I want to quit acting, Mace.”
“Oh my God, Miranda, give it a little time. Everybody has their off nights. Remember how good you were in Much Ado About Nothing?”
I spoke over the lump in my throat, my voice sounding raspy. “I had about ten lines in Much Ado! And this was more than just an ‘off night.’ I stunk from the first rehearsal.”
“This is because of your mom, right? You think you can never measure up to her. That’s so not true.”
“Mace, can we talk about this later? It’s late, and I want to get out of here.”
“Please come to the party. You’ll feel better.”
“I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” I said, ending the call. If I listened long enough, she might wear me down.
Driving up to Acadia National Park had popped into my head while Macy and I were talking. There was no reason I couldn’t go. My grandparents, who kept an eye on me when my parents were on tour, wouldn’t care. Spring break started next week, and the play, mercifully, would be over. I loved it up there. With its dense forests and deep lakes, Acadia was a great place to hide out. I could use the time to reflect on life after acting and on how I could get out of going to Yale Drama. And on what I dreaded most: telling my parents I didn’t want to be an actor. The tears I’d been holding back overflowed, trailing down my cheeks.
I spun around, my heart racing. But it was only Stephen Langford, another actor. Someone else who hadn’t gone to the party.
I brushed my cheeks with the back of my hand. “You scared me. I thought everyone had left.” He was still in costume, I noticed. That wasn’t his Taming of the Shrew outfit, though. It looked Tudor, like something a man at Queen Elizabeth’s court would wear. The first Queen Elizabeth.
“I need to talk to you,” he said. “Urgently.”
I started throwing the plastic water bottles littering the floor into a recycling bin. What could be so urgent? I barely knew him. He’d shown up at the Dennis School early last semester, just in time for auditions. Finley practically drooled when he heard that posh British accent, so it was no surprise when Stephen won the role of Lucentio. Outside of rehearsals, he never hung out with us, so none of us knew him very well.
“Why are you wearing that costume?” I asked.
“It’s not a costume. These are my real clothes.” He gestured at his outfit, and I sensed a challenge in his expression. Did he want me to question that ridiculous statement?
Stephen had grown a mustache and short beard for the play, and I now realized he looked years older than a typical high school senior. He was a good-looking guy, with full lips and a straight nose. One of his front teeth slightly overlapped the other, but that didn’t spoil his smile. Macy said she’d caught him staring at me a few times during rehearsals, but I’d never noticed.
I lowered my eyes. “Right.” I moved on to the dresses I’d thrown to the floor and started hanging them up on the wardrobe rack. They’d be in the wrong order, but someone could fix that tomorrow. “So what do you want to talk to me about?”
“Will you stop fussing with those damnable costumes!”
I felt my jaw tense. “What’s your problem?”
“Sit down. Please.” He tilted his head toward a trunk. “I need your help with something.”
I could see he wasn’t going to give up until I agreed to listen. With an irritated sigh, I tossed the last gown aside and plopped down on the trunk. “What is it?”
Stephen dropped to his knees in front of me, and I instinctively drew back. “How would you like to meet William Shakespeare?”
A laugh burst from my mouth. “You’re crazy.” I tried to stand up, but he put his hands on my shoulders and pushed me back down. My rear smacked the trunk, hard. “Shit!”
“Sorry,” Stephen said. “But I’m not crazy. Shakespeare needs our help. Desperately. All the plays and sonnets could be lost forever if we do not act now.” This guy was either the biggest drama nerd in existence or a lunatic. Probably the latter. Wonderful.
“Last time I checked, the Bard lived in a different century. Like the sixteenth?” All of a sudden, I got it. “Wait a minute. Is this for one of those cheesy reenactment things?” Reenactors are big in Boston. They’re all over the Common, dressed like Redcoats or Patriots, acting out battles or meetings or whatever. Doing a Tudor-era reenactment here seemed kind of strange, though. “Thanks, but I’m not interested.”
Excerpted from Kissing Shakespeare by Pamela Mingle. Copyright © 2012 by Pamela Mingle. Excerpted by permission of Ember, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.