He’d first met Crystal at the auditions. It was his first year as a theatre instructor, following the first job offer he’d received after completing the “Troops to Teachers” certification process when he’d left the Army. There wasn’t much need for art specialists in public schools, but he also covered technology applications classes. He’d also spent 10 years as a computer systems manager, installing communications components from Fort Bliss to Fort Bragg, and as far as Afghanistan. He didn’t like to think about Afghanistan.
Crystal wasn’t in choir, wasn’t in the high school band. But for some reason she’d picked that day to come up on the stage and sing “With You” from the musical Pippen. He hadn’t heard a teenager sing like that before. Every note was perfect, gentle, heartbreaking. When the call-backs were announced she was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t until the next day that he’d been able to tell her she’d earned the starring role.
He found her as she left her advanced Algebra class. She’d walked by him, so he’d called after her.
“Hi, I’m Mr. Ray, you auditioned yesterday. I was hoping to see you at the call backs.”
“Oh… yeah. I had some things to do.”
“Listen, you auditioned really well. In fact, we’d like you to take a part in the musical.”
Crystal didn’t smile, her eyes didn’t change, in fact she looked a little sad. “That’s great, Mr. Ray but I really don’t think I have the time. I just wanted to see if I was brave enough to audition, you know?”
“You mean you don’t want to be in the musical?”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
Franklin had never talked to her before, but he knew there was something dark behind her reason. Perhaps it was the way the corner of her mouth pulled her smile down instead of up, like she’d wished she didn’t have to try to put on a happy face. Perhaps it was the way she’d looked behind her before she said it.
“Well, if you change your mind,” he said, “My office is upstairs, 257. I’d like you to think about it, at least. If you can’t make the musical we’ll be holding auditions for our winter play in a few weeks.”
That afternoon while Franklin was turning off his computer and getting ready to head to the teacher’s lounge for some coffee before heading home, Crystal knocked on his door. He let her in, and she fell into his arms, crying. He knew this wasn’t appropriate, he knew that under no circumstances was he to touch a student, but he held her just the same, her face pressed tight against his chest. He felt the tears bleed through to his skin. And she cried and cried.
Stephen had followed her there, wanting to see if she’d go home like she said she was going to. He’d wanted to sneak up to the men’s room, see if anyone was inside and take her in. She’d made up some stupid excuse. He’d offered to walk her home, but she’d said she told her friend Suzzie she’d meet her for a class project. So he’d left, just long enough for her to think he was gone. Then he’d followed her.
Now she had her hands around that idiot new teacher.
Stephen took a knife from his pocket, the one he always carried with him, and thought about it for a moment. He put it back in his pocket, and knew what he would do.