Today's Reading

CHAPTER 1

The stage is empty. Only the ghost light glows from center stage, throwing light out in a circle on the black floor. Even though I cannot see in the pitch dark beyond, I feel the vastness of the empty auditorium as I step toward the light. I feel the moment when the light finds my face. It is utterly still and silent. I sing a ballad, of course, because every musical and every Disney movie has that song. The song where the main character tells everyone what they want the most. Ariel wanted legs, Simba wanted to be king, Evan Hansen wanted to belong.

My ballad is simple. I want THIS. The stage. The spotlight. An audience that leans forward to listen and hear every story my character wants to tell.

I wish I hadn't argued with my mom about piano lessons when I was younger because if I had taken them when she wanted me to, I'd probably be able to write my own ballad by now. Write a musical starring me and telling my story. Some girls see their life as a movie: long, lingering shots of their mundane and magical moments, their moody feelings. Not me. Hands down, my story is a musical. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, and plenty of random dancing and bursting into song. If I lived in New York City, I'd see a Broadway show every day. But I don't live in the greatest city in the world. I live in Riverbend, Indiana. Seven hundred and fifty-nine miles away from any Broadway show. I mean, yeah, University of Indiana has hosted many touring companies. But it wasn't the same. Anyone who loves musical theater understands that.

I told my parents repeatedly that the only thing I want—birthday, Christmas, both, whatever—was to go see a real Broadway show. In New York. I even found the cheapest flights, where we could stay and everything. They were sympathetic to my plight and offered morsels of hope that "one day" we will get there. It was too expensive right now.

I knew my wish was akin to asking for a pony to put in our backyard. But at least you don't have to keep feeding a trip. It was a one-time thing.

Who was I kidding? If I got to go to a real show, I'd instantly be begging to go to the next one.

During our conversations, I knew money was only part of their concern. My parents didn't travel often and never very far. They visited family or stayed close to home. Adventurous trips were not in their repertoire. I was the adventurous kid of our family, always pushing to explore and experience. I could imagine that traipsing off to New York City sounded scary instead of exciting to them. They were satisfied with their everyday normal while I was itching to explode out of it. I loved my utterly normal family. But I wanted more.

I brought my arms up and out in a dramatic gesture seen at least once in every Broadway show. Dropping my head back, my heart silently belted out the ballad stanza about how people here don't understand me.

Except for one. My brother, Josh.

A pang squeezed in my chest and my head fell forward as images flipped through my mind. Images of his engagement to Jessica, their wedding, and him moving the last of his boxes out of our house into his own grown-up home. Mom said I needed to give him space now, but I didn't understand why. Just because he got married didn't mean he stopped being my brother.

To banish Josh and my urge to text him, I looked up tickets on broadway.com to see how much it would cost to see Dear Evan Hansen for tonight's 8:00 p.m. show. A mere $259. Sigh. Why did Broadway have to be so expensive? And so far away

"Whatcha lookin' at, Amelia?" Six-year-old Emma jumped in between me and my phone, yanking me from the stage back to my basement and knocking the phone from my hand and into the pile of cushions and blankets strewn over the floor. Although we weren't related, Emma looked a bit like me. Her hair was redder than my own, but I had way more freckles than she did.

"Nothing," I told her, letting her little sister Ainsley paw through the blankets for the phone. When she dug it out, instead of handing it to me, she tried to unlock it.
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