So . . . you may already know this, but I’m going to just come out and say it right from the start so we can get it out of the way and move on to more important things.
Yup, D-E-A-D. Dead. Rhymes with Fred?
I’ve actually been dead for almost a month already.
If I were a cartoon character, I’d have X’s over my eyes and my tongue would be hanging out the side of my mouth. (You’re totally picturing it right now, aren’t you?)
But here’s the thing: Being dead isn’t how I thought it would be at all. That’s cause technically I’m a ghost. So is my best friend, Cecily Vanderberg.
T.G. (Thank ghostliness!)
She and I crossed over right around the same time, and now we live together in our dorm, Jane Austen Cottage, and we go to Limbo Central Middle School.
Weirdly, a month feels both super long and super short at the same time. I guess that’s because even though everything is still pretty new for us, SO much has happened already. Like, so much. Cecily and I are totally kicking butt here.
Killing it. (Pun intended!)
First we won the Ghostcoming dance-a-thon, then we started our very own dance club (the Limbos), then I discovered I have an awesome ghostly photography superpower, and then we—
“Lucy?! Hello? Limbo to Lou?” I hear a voice call out across the lunch table.
That’s me: Lucy. And Lou. Well, Lou’s my nickname.
“Oh, uh, yeah, sorry,” I say. “I was just—”
“Lost in a trance?” Oliver Rennert says. He’s one of our closest friends, even though we’ve only known him, like, a week. He’s also my VP of the Limbos. Oh, yeah, and his older brother, Miles (handsome, brooding, musician-type), is kind of into me, I think? Maybe. I’m not exactly sure. Stay tuned for confirmation on that . . .
“I’m not lost,” I say, smiling. “I’m right here. What’s up?”
“Did you NOT hear what Briana and Chloe just said?” Oliver asks me, with an appalled look on his face.
“If I say no, are you going to yell at me?”
“We really need to do something about those inner monologues of yours,” he jokes. “But speaking of monologues, Briana and Chloe are in first period English together, and Ms. Barnard announced that she’s starting her Shakespeare unit today!”
“Okay . . . and?”
“Wait a minute—do you not know about the Shakespeare unit? How can you not know about the Shakespeare unit?!” Oliver asks, incredulous.
Cecily and I just shrug.
Like I said, we’re new here, so we’re still learning how Limbo works. Limbo the afterlife and Limbo the school. Oliver is our age but he’s been here longer. So have a lot of our friends, which means they know way more about, well, everything, than we do. With normal subjects like English and math, we’re right on schedule. But with ghost subjects, like Famous Apparitions or Beginner’s Telekinesis, we have to start from the beginning. And when I say beginning? I mean BE-GIN-NING.
Even though I had perfected walking by the age of two down in the World of the Living, new ghosts can’t walk— they can only float. When I first got here, I was completely see-through and I couldn’t physically touch anything because I didn’t know how to manipulate energy yet. I literally couldn’t even sit down without falling through the chair.
Mortified, table for one?
Things are much better now, though.
“Everyone knows about the Shakespeare unit,” Briana Clark continues, boinging one of her espresso-colored curls. “It’s, like, the coolest assignment we’ll ever get in school.”
“Okay, so what is it, exactly?” I ask.
“Each year, Ms. Barnard combines all of her English I sections and has them perform one of Shakespeare’s plays for the whole school,” Briana explains.
“I love Shakespeare,” Cecily remarks. “His plays are so romantic!”
“You mean the ones that aren’t about tragic deaths,” I say.
“Even the tragedies always have a love story,” Cecily replies. “Love AND death together? That’s, like, Limbo in a nutshell.”
“Well, the play we’re doing is a comedy,” Chloe adds. “So no dead people. I mean, except us.”
“And, Ms. Barnard is holding auditions this afternoon!” Oliver cries.
“How do you know that already?” I ask. “We don’t have English till next period.”
“I’m ahead of my time. Here,” he says, passing us the assignment that Ms. Barnard handed out to her first-period English class.
“Oh, Twelfth Night! This is so cool!” Cecily says. “I’ve never been in a play before.”
“I’m trying out for the leading man, Duke Orsino,” Oliver tells me, “and you have to try out for Viola. She’s the female lead. Can’t you just see it? The Prez and VP of the Limbos in the two starring roles . . .”
“I’m in the school musical every spring,” Briana offers. “So I’m definitely trying out for Viola.”
“You-know-who will probably try out for Viola, too,” I say, looking toward the end of our table at Georgia Sinclaire:
a.k.a. Black Mop Head McScary,
a.k.a. Meanest Mean Girl to Ever Haunt the Afterlife,
a.k.a. Bane of My Nonexistence,
a.k.a. Ex-Girlfriend to—
“Colin!” Georgia calls out across the room, standing up and waving her hand in the air to motion him over.
I immediately spot Colin Reed walking toward our table, lunch tray in hand. Colin, my handsome, Year Two, first- week-at-Limbo ghost tutor, who also might be into me as more than a friend but it’s impossible to tell because Georgia keeps getting in the way.
Colin nods in Georgia’s direction, acknowledging her call, but drops his tray next to me on our side of the table and plops down.
Lucy, 1. Georgia, 0.
“Hey,” he says, all dreamy-like, brushing his sandy-brown, slightly sideways hair away from his beautifully chiseled face. I catch a glimpse of the silver ring he wears on his middle finger.
You know what’s really annoying? When you like a boy and he acts like he likes you back, but then out of nowhere he decides to get back together with his ex-girlfriend, who makes Dolores Umbridge look like Cinderella’s fairy godmother, only to dump her again and reappear acting all nonchalant like he has no idea why you’re three shades of CONFUSED.
Welcome to my afterlife.
“Hey yourself,” I say back, trying to sound chill.
“What’s everyone freaking out about?” he asks, looking around the table.
“The Shakespeare unit, my liege,” I say, dramatically sweeping the back of my hand across my forehead to strike an acting pose.
“Ah, I see, my lady,” he replies. “So, how was the rest of your weekend as an honor winner?”
Remember how I mentioned I’m kind of a pro when it comes to ghost photography? Well, last week I entered a photo exhibit in the Limbo Central Museum of Contemporary Art amateur art show and won an honorable mention.
Ghost powers rock.
“It was very honorable,” I say. “Hey, thanks again for nominating me for the show. It was really nice of you.”
“It was an awesome show,” he says. “I mean, even if you didn’t hang any photos of me in it.”
“Well, you weren’t really all that available for picture-taking,” I say, my subtle way of reminding him that he spent the better part of last week following Evil McScary around like a puppy.
“Right,” he says, smiling slyly and nodding his head. I see his left dimple appear and I can’t help but smile back. “I guess Miles was just more accommodating than I was.”
Yikes. Okay . . .
Did I use a photo of Oliver’s brother, Miles, in my show exhibit? Yes.
Does that mean I like Miles more than I like Colin? Ask me again later.
Does Colin think that’s what that means? Most likely. Magic 8 Ball says? The outcome does NOT look good. “Well, you did lend me your camera for the week,” I say, trying to distract him from the Miles thing. “I found that very accommodating.”
Colin stays quiet, pushing the food on his plate around with his fork.
“And I’m really glad you came to the show, too,” I say, to make him feel better. And because it’s true. “I was pretty sure Georgia would never set you free long enough to make an appearance.”
“Me too,” he says. “Thankfully, I’m going to be free all the time from now on.”
Hmm . . . is this breakup actually going to stick?
“So, are you trying out for the play?” I ask, changing the subject.
“I was thinking of going out for Viola,” he says with a smirk.
“I hear she spends most of the play dressed as a boy, so it wouldn’t even be that far of a stretch for you.”
“Could you imagine?” He laughs. “Georgia would hunt me down.”
“I think I’m first on that list—you’re going to have to get in line.”
“Next to you?” he says. “Any day.”
My knees feel a little weak, and I can sense my head tilting to the side uncontrollably like I’m falling into a daydream, or possibly into HIS FACE when—
The first bell for sixth period rings, and lunch is officially over. Oliver, Cecily, and I have English next period. Colin smiles and leaves with a wave, and the three of us head over to Ms. Barnard’s classroom.
“So, what’s going on with you and Colin?” Cecily asks, nudging me excitedly as we make our way down the hall. “Seems like there are some sparks flying!”
“Don’t tell me you’re back on him,” Oliver says, like he’s already bored of the conversation even though it just started. “Miles is WAY better.”
“I hate to state the obvious here, but you’re a little biased, being that you’re related to Miles and all,” I say. “Besides, I’m not back on anybody. We were just talking.”
“I know you, Lou, and I don’t think you were just talking,” Cecily says. “I think it was more than that. Shakespeare is already working his magic!”
Oliver just rolls his eyes, hooks his left arm into mine and his right arm into Cecily’s, and sighs. “‘Lord, what fools these mortals be!’”
“Actually, that line’s from A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Cecily corrects him. “Wrong play.”
“Wrong guy!” Oliver replies, laughing. “Now get thee to class, or it’s ‘off with your heads!’”
“That’s Alice in Wonder—”
“Don’t you dare say it!”
“Saved by the bell,” I say.
Oliver smiles. “Time to storm the castle!”
At four p.m., students from all of Ms. Barnard’s English I classes are lined up outside the auditorium to audition for a role in Twelfth Night. An hour and a half is NOT enough time to prepare for a play audition if you ask me, but no one did.
“Can we recap the plot quickly one more time?” I ask Cecily and Oliver.
“Okay: Viola and Sebastian are twins,” Oliver begins. “They’re on a ship when WHAM! it gets caught in a storm, and the ship sinks. Viola washes ashore on the kingdom of Illyria. She thinks Sebastian is done-zo.”
“Like us!” Cecily chimes in. “So, Viola dresses like a boy to find work in Duke Orsino’s household.”
“That’s me!” Oliver sings.
“You don’t actually have the part yet,” I remind him. “Just you wait,” he says. “Anyway . . . Orsino is obsessed with this Countess Olivia, who couldn’t care less about him. Instead, Olivia falls for Viola disguised as a guy. Meanwhile, Viola is actually falling in love with yours truly. Cue one big fat love triangle. Eventually, Sebastian, who’s not as dead as Viola thought he was, shows up in Illyria, and since he and his twin sister now both look like dudes, everyone is confused.”
“And let me guess, they all live happily ever after?” I ask. “Precisely,” Cecily replies.
“Obviously there’s other stuff that happens,” Oliver adds.
“Yeah, like there’s a funny side plot with Olivia’s butler, Malvolio, and her maid, Maria, and some other guys, too,” Cecily offers.
“But you probably don’t need to know that,” Oliver chimes in. “Okay, I must leave you two now and go over my lines one more time.”
“Good luck!” I call out after him, but he turns around and gives me the Look of Death.
“You NEVER EVER say that in theater!” he cries out. “You say, ‘Break a leg.’”
“Oops. I take it back, then,” I reply. “Break a leg!”
But he just exits in a huff. Jeez, actors can be so sensitive! Cecily and I see Mia Bennett and Trey Abbot, and we walk over to hang with them. Mia is also one of our closest friends here, and Trey is her boyfriend.
“So, let me get this straight,” Jessie Rodriguez says, walking over to us. “In Shakespeare’s day, only men could perform plays for the public, so they had to play both girl and guy parts. And that’s why Ms. Barnard is casting guys in girls’ roles and girls in guys’ roles?”
“Well, she’s not definitely doing that,” Mia says. “It’s just whoever is the best for the part gets the role. Boy or girl. She does it like this every year. It’s more authentic to the time when Shakespeare’s plays were first performed.”
“I think it’s nice that she honors her grandfather’s memory like this,” Briana says.
“Uhm, what did you just say?” Cecily’s eyes pop out of their sockets.
(No, not really. Gross.)
“You don’t know? Ms. Barnard is actually related to Shakespeare—she’s his granddaughter!”
“Okay, Limbo is officially the coolest place ever,” I say, jumping up and down with excitement.
“So that’s why she takes it so seriously,” Mia tells us.
“I don’t know . . . I think it’s kinda weird,” Jessie replies.
“I think it’s kinda cool,” says Trey.
“I think if a guy gets cast as Viola or Olivia, I’m gonna crawl under a rock and die,” whines Cecily.
“At least you’ve got one part of that game plan covered already,” I remind her.
The dead part. Ha. Get it?
“So, what part are you auditioning for?” I ask her.
“Well, at first I thought I’d play it safe and audition for Olivia since there are, like, a million girls auditioning for Viola. But then I thought, what do I have to lose?”
“So you’re auditioning for Viola, too, then?”
Cecily and I already kind of went head-to-head last week over cheerleading and dance club, and I DO NOT want that to happen again. We have kind of a history of this that goes back before afterlife, too. Did I mention i used to be a pretty serious ballet dancer back in life? Cecily and I used to dance together. Long story, but Cecily and I used to be more frenemies than friends because we were always going out for the same parts. And there was this one time when I got the lead in a recital, but then I got injured and she took over my part. That definitely did some damage . . . Whatever we decide to do here, we’ve got to have each other’s backs."
Afterlifelong friends forever. (And all that.)
“Yes, I’m auditioning for Viola,” she says hesitantly. “Cool,” I say. “Me too.”
“Break a leg,” I tell her, and I mean it from the bottom of my non-beating heart.
“Oh, yeah, break a leg!” she replies genuinely. “And, Lou?”
“Whatever happens . . .”
“You don’t even have to say it.” I give her a hug.
A few minutes pass in silence, while Cecily and I quietly go over lines in our heads. “Hey, Lou?”
“Can we just say it anyway? It’ll make me feel better.” “Whatever happens . . . You and me? We’ll always be GOOD.”
“So, how many people are trying out for Viola, anyway?” Mia asks, reappearing by our sides.
“Oh, about a thousand,” I reply, smirking.
“Me, Lou, Briana, Georgia, Kelly Fitzpatrick, Sasha Kats, and Allie Kit,” Cecily replies. “And that’s just the people we know about.”
“I’m surprised you and Trey are trying out at all,” I say to Mia. “I figured you’d be quite content to paint up a storm backstage.”
“And miss the possibility of seeing Trey in a dress? No way!”
“Ha! Well, there’s no guarantee, you know,” I remind her. “Still worth it.”
“Heya,” a voice comes from behind me. I turn around, and there’s Colin with a big smile on his face. “Ready to claim another first-place prize, Lady Viola?”
“Not so fast,” I say to him. “There are about twenty other far more talented and experienced people auditioning for the role. I think I’m pretty low on the choice list.”
“But somehow you always seem to end up on top, don’t you?” he says sweetly, like I’m some kind of superhero.
I feel slightly faint, but I pull it together.
“Well, the same can be said for you, Mr. Football Star, a.k.a. Duke Orsino?”
Just then the door to the auditorium opens and Ms. Barnard steps out with a Tabulator in her hand. The hallway goes silent.
“Hello, my dear students,” she says. “Auditions are about to begin. Please pass the Tabulator around and sign your name on the audition call list. Students will be called in alphabetical order. Each student will have approximately ten minutes on stage. You will begin by running through a scene of your choice as the character of your choice. Then you will run through another scene of our choosing, as a character that the casting directors choose for you. Casting will go up by nine a.m. tomorrow. Break a leg, and remember what my good friend, the great actor and director Konstantin Stanislavski, always says: ‘There are no small parts, only small actors!’”
Just then Georgia McMonster appears next to Colin.
“Hi, Colin,” she says, all fake-sweet and innocent. “I’m so nervous! Are you nervous? I’m auditioning for Viola, what about you?”
I slowly start to feel my lunch curdle inside my stomach. This girl has done nothing but sabotage my afterlife since the moment I got here. She’s thrown balls through my head (literally!), tried to get me expelled, messed with the Limbos, AND stolen Colin from under my nose like seventy-five times.
“Cool,” he replies calmly. “I’m going for Orsino.”
Make that soon-to-be seventy-six.
I still can’t believe she’s trying out for Viola. I mean, I guess I predicted it, but it’s still SUPER annoying. Normally I wouldn’t get so worked up over something like this, but this girl just makes my blood boil.
Well, not really, you know, because I don’t actually have blood running through my veins anymore. But she totally would if I did.
The only way this mean girl is getting the part of Viola is over MY DEAD BODY.
(You know what I mean.)