‘What if I don’t want to drive a taxi?’ said Jasmine, her arms folded tightly across her chest.
Bridgett shrugged. ‘If you want to be a part of our play then you’ll have to. It’s the only part left.’
Jasmine turned to Rosie, Kelly and Mel for support. She found only silence.
The five girls were standing at the bottom of a grassy embankment that made up one corner of the primary school oval. Above their heads, the air was filled with tiny insects that caught the late autumn light.
Jasmine stared back at Bridgett and reigned in her temper. Just. After all, she was the newcomer, the new girl at school. It was up to her to fit in. Or so everyone kept telling her. But a taxi driver? Who wanted to be a taxi driver in some stupid, made-up play?
‘Maybe she could be the talent show host?’ offered Mel. ‘The one in America.’
The play was about a singer, played by Bridgett, who travels to America to perform in a TV talent show. Which she wins. Bridgett had come up with the idea. She wanted them to perform the play at her grandmother’s ninetieth birthday party.
‘Rosie’s the host,’ said Bridgett with an uncompromising flick of the wrist. A small girl with a quiet face raised her hand in acknowledgment. Bridgett continued. ‘I’m the contestant, and Mel and Kelly are judges. There are no other parts.’ She turned to Jasmine who was pretending to watch the insects circling above. ‘So, are you in or not?’
It sounded more like an order than an invitation and with no-one else to hang out with Jasmine felt she had little choice.
She spent the rest of the lunch hour watching her new friends act out ‘Bridgett’s Day of Fame.’ Except for the part when she had to pretend to drive a taxi, and open the door for Bridgett to get in, and then open the door for Bridgett to get out.
The most annoying part was that Bridgett was an excellent actor and singer; exceptional in fact.
‘She goes to acting classes,’ explained Rosie through a yawn. She and Jasmine were walking home together, their houses only two streets apart.
Jasmine gave Rosie a quick look as the slight girl suppressed a second yawn. ‘Sorry. My stupid brother was up half the night crying. He’s got some baby virus, thing.’ She smiled. ‘Don’t get me wrong. I think you were good too.’
Jasmine tried not to gawp. After all, Bridgett hadn’t seemed to think so, tutting at her every movement, re-adjusting every slight gesture.
‘Don’t worry, she does it to all of us,’ said Rosie. ‘She’s just a little …’
‘Bossy?’ offered Jasmine.
Rosie looked shocked for a second then grinned. ‘Do you think so? I’ve never really thought about it before. We’ve known each other for so long that I suppose I’m used to it. To her.’
Jasmine wished she’d kept her mouth shut. ‘Sorry. I probably shouldn’t have said that.’
‘That’s OK,’ smiled Rosie. She paused at the steps of a one-story, red-brick house and hesitated. ‘You shouldn’t let it get to you, though. Bridgett’s alright, really.’ She looked like she might say something more then turned and ran lightly up the steps.
But it did get to Jasmine. In fact, it made Jasmine feel isolated, unwelcome and miserable.
The next few weeks of term crawled by with each practice session slightly worse than the last.
‘You need to speak up, Jasmine.’
‘Pay attention, Jasmine.’
‘Face the audience, Jasmine.’
‘Too fast, Jasmine.’
‘Too slow, Jasmine.’
By week five Jasmine was seriously beginning to hate going to school.
‘Are you coming to my place on Saturday?’ asked Rosie, catching Jasmine as she slouched into assembly.
Jasmine shrugged non-committedly.
‘It’ll be fun,’ added Rosie. ‘We’re having a dress rehearsal. Of Bridgett’s play.’
Great, thought Jasmine with a silent groan.
Rosie draped an arm around her shoulder. ‘Mum’s making brownies. The ones with white chocolate buttons.’
Jasmine gave in. It wasn’t the brownies that decided her, it was Rosie’s kindness. The only good thing about being part of Bridgett’s group was that she was gradually becoming friends with Rosie. And right now that was also about the only thing keeping her sane.
‘You’re not doing it right,’ announced Bridgett in a tone that tightened Jasmine’s chest into a knot. ‘You need to stand further back when you open the door or the audience won’t be able to see anything.’
Jasmine looked across Rosie’s back garden and caught Rosie’s eye. To her dismay, all she received was a quick wink. She glanced at Kelly and Mel. Both girls were staring steadfastly at their fingernails. Jasmine couldn’t believe it. As usual, not one of them wanted to upset Bridgett. She could see it in the anxious look on Mel’s face. It turned her embarrassment into a sudden fierce anger.
The next time they played out the scene, she pretended to swerve the taxi and crash.
There was an awkward silence.
‘I was just trying to liven up the scene,’ lied Jasmine. Her heart was beating surprisingly fast. ‘I mean, wouldn’t it be more exciting if your character almost didn’t make it to the theatre in time for the contest? It would make the story a lot more interesting.’ She emphasised the word interesting.
The look of utter disbelief on Bridgett’s face was so satisfying that Jasmine realised that she’d stumbled on the perfect way to get her own back.
‘I’m just trying to add a little drama,’ she said when the taxi ‘accidentally’ rolled over during the second take. ‘The audience will love it. Really. They will.’
Bridgett brushed grass from the sleeves of her sports’ top and got back to her feet. ‘Is that it?’ she said. Her tone was scathing. ‘Or do you plan to run me over in the next take?’
Not a bad idea, thought Jasmine but she only smiled sweetly. ‘Actually, I did have a few other ideas,’ she said.
Jasmine mentally went through every terrible TV soapie she’d ever watched and listed some of the dumber ideas. ‘Bridgett’s family could be desperately poor,’ she began. ‘Maybe her father owes money to criminals, or her brother is in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Or maybe her grandmother needs a life-saving operation. It would make the audience more sympathetic to your character winning the singing contest. Think about it. A dying grandmother. What could be better?’
There was an odd look on Bridgett’s face but Jasmine ignored it.
‘Let’s face it,’ continued Jasmine. ‘Your character isn’t exactly likeable, is it?’ She held up five fingers. ‘She’s bossy. She’s loud. She’s arrogant …’ As she ticked off everything she hated about Bridgett, the girls fell silent. Jasmine didn’t even notice. ‘And she’s selfish and stupid. I mean who wants to sympathise with someone like that?’
When Jasmine looked up, Bridgett was walking away and the others were staring back at her.
‘That was mean,’ said Rosie quietly and turned to follow Bridgett.
The following day Bridgett was noticeably absent from school.
Jasmine went looking for Rosie. ‘You don’t think it’s because of what I said?’ she asked. Although she wasn’t sorry for what she’d said, she wasn’t exactly proud of herself either. ‘I mean, that’s not why Bridgett’s absent, is it?’
Rosie gave her a long searching look then sighed. ‘No, Jasmine, that’s not why she’s absent.’
Something in Rosie’s tone made Jasmine feel strange inside. ‘I didn’t mean to say those things,’ she continued, part angry, part mortified. ‘It just sort of happened.’
‘I know,’ said Rosie. She sounded sad rather than angry.
‘How’s Bridgett?’ whispered Mel, sidling up beside Jasmine, her question addressed to Rosie.
‘Why is everything always about Bridgett?’ muttered Jasmine.
‘How can you be so unsympathetic?’ snapped Rosie, and tiny prickles ran up and down Jasmine’s arms.
‘What do you mean? Why should I be? All she does is boss us around.’
Rosie looked away. ‘Never mind,’ she said quietly. ‘Forget it.’
Jasmine was left feeling sick and uneasy.
At around midday, the teacher called Rosie over. She looked serious and their whispered conversation just added to Jasmine’s unease.
‘What was that all about?’ she asked when Rosie returned to her seat.
Rosie let out a sigh. ‘Do you really care?’
‘Care about what?’ snapped Jasmine.
Rosie studied her face for a second. ‘You mean you don’t know? I thought you did. We all did.’ She took a breath. ‘Bridgett’s grandmother has been really sick. For weeks now. We all thought she was going to die.’
The classroom wobbled as Jasmine’s mind tried to fit all the pieces together. She thought about her words the day before. Or maybe her grandmother needs a life-saving operation. It would make the audience more sympathetic to your character winning the singing contest. Think about it. A dying grandmother. What could be better? No wonder they had all looked so shocked.
Jasmine’s whole body flushed hot then cold. ‘You thought I said those things on purpose?’ she began.
Rosie stopped her. ‘I’m sorry, Jasmine. Bridgett said she’d told you. And she made us promise not to talk about it.’
‘Well she didn’t tell me,’ replied Jasmine angrily.
‘That’s why she’s not here today,’ continued Rosie. ‘She’s at the hospital. I thought it meant the worst but it’s not. Her grandmother’s going to be OK. Bridgett’s gone with her mum to arrange to bring her home.’
Jasmine felt confused and angry. ‘Is that why she’s been such a … ’ She hesitated. ‘Pain? I thought it was me. I thought she hated me.’
Rosie stared at her in dismay. ‘Hated? You should have said something.’
Jasmine flared. ‘I did say something,’ she began, then realised that she hadn’t. Not really. Not in actual words. She’d just thought about it, and let the anger build up inside. And felt silently miserable. ‘Couldn’t you see what she was doing?’ she finished.
It was Rosie’s turn to look embarrassed. ‘I guess. I mean I knew you thought she was bossy. But you always seemed to handle it, her, so well. I mean you never looked like it really bothered you. And we all thought you knew. And … well, Bridgett’s been so afraid and upset lately. I guess I was so worried about her that I didn’t really see anything else.’
‘I’m not going to apologise,’ mumbled Jasmine, embarrassment mingling with annoyance.
Rosie shook her head in sympathy. ‘You don’t have to. Look, I’m really sorry, Jasmine. I should have seen how you felt. If I’d realised, I’d have said something. Talked to Bridgett.’
The feelings that had squeezed up inside Jasmine’s stomach slowly began to unravel. It felt good, but it also left her anxious and reluctant about seeing Bridgett again.
She needn’t have worried. When Bridgett arrived at school the following morning, she was grinning like an idiot. ‘It’s my grandmother’s birthday in two weeks,’ she declared over lunch. ‘So we only have two weeks left to practice.’ She suppressed a cough. ‘So I thought we might have a practice this weekend. At my house. If you guys have the time?’ She sounded so nervous, so un-Bridgett-like, that Jasmine looked up and caught her eye. Bridgett gave her a quick, self-conscious smile. ‘And I was thinking. I really like your ideas about my character, Jasmine. Maybe she does need to loosen up.’ She took a breath. ‘Be a bit more likeable.’
It sounded a lot like an apology and Jasmine stared back in amazement. Bridgett’s face was pale, her eyes slightly puffy and rimmed with pink. There was a vulnerability there too. To Jasmine, it came as a complete shock.
Likeable? A more likeable Bridgett was something Jasmine could cope with. She held Bridgett’s gaze and decided to accept the apology. It didn’t mean they had to be friends. Not yet. But at least it was a start.