I nodded, swallowing the lump in my throat.

“She was beauty itself. You never saw her perform?”

“No,” he said, watching every aspect of the show. “But seeing this stage, I can only imagine.”

We watched in silence for a few moments before he leaned over again. “Is Sarah aware of what we wish her to aspire to?”

“Please.” I met his eyes. “There’s nothing worse than a distracted actor, especially when we have to pull off something as complicated as this. After this is over…”

“I understand,” he said, and leaned forward again.

To my surprise, we got to the middle of act two, past the party scene, without anyone doing anything too horrible. There were a few things I made note of, in my head, but it wasn’t anything major. However, in scene three of the second act, Charlie opened his mouth to sing the Phantom’s big number and promptly choked. He tried twice before I stood up.

“Whoa,” I said, making my way up the steps. “What’s happening?”

“I don’t know.” Even speaking, his voice was cracking. “It just happened.”

“Ok, take a break. We don’t want to overwork your voice before the show.”

“So, should he just mime, or what?” Sarah asked, standing beside me in a gown that went halfway across the stage.

I almost laughed; she looked so annoyed to be done up in purity and innocence, her piercings and eye makeup removed and a brown wig on her head.

“Just uh…” That one stumped me. We didn’t have an understudy for him. We had originally cast one and then lost him to a Broadway show, and in the chaos, I guess I had never bothered to re-cast. Luckily, Amy was always thinking on her toes.

“You do it, Liam,” she called, standing in the wings.

“I’ll be better tomorrow, Liam, I promise,” Charlie said, but I could hear the pain in his throat.

I could only pray that he actually took care of himself. I nodded, and sent him off to his dorm, and looked up to the lighting crew.

“Restart from the top of the scene!”

I had seen the show run so many times that I knew every line and movement. But no matter how many times I rehearsed it, I knew I probably wouldn’t be the right choice for the Phantom. I always pictured myself as more of the suave romantic Raoul.

Somehow, we managed to get through the show without too much chaos, despite the fact that I felt like I was half wandering through the stage, taking cues from people’s body language.

By the time we came to the end, I was physically exhausted. Thomas stood up, and the rest of them stood with him, in unison. It was creepy to watch as they moved as one. It was like they could read each other’s thoughts. I knew Shields were in tune with each other, but I didn’t think they were telepathic.

What bothered me the most about it was watching Sarah, standing at the edge of the stage, watching them. She was practically balancing on her tiptoes, and I knew she was longing to find out about this part of her that was brand new. Like me, on my first supernatural transformation, I had longed for the presence of other vampires, wanted to find out everything about them. But I just needed her attention for the rest of the show

“I’ll see you tomorrow night, Liam,” Thomas said, his voice oddly quiet and yet echoing through the theater.

“Call time is 6 pm,” I answered, and Thomas nodded, and then they were gone.

“Alright, everyone, that’s a wrap!” I called to the rest of the cast, who giggled a bit at my film terminology.

Amy stood up on her tiptoes to kiss me and I gave in gratefully, placing my hands on her shoulders.

“See, I told you everything would work out,” she said quietly.

I smiled. “Sure, except I’m standing here singing a part I’ve rehearsed maybe once in my life, and if Charlie isn’t better tomorrow, I’m going to kill him myself.”

“But you and I, together on stage again,” she said, squeezing my hand.

A thought crossed my mind and I winced. “This means I might have to kiss Sarah. Dear God, someone find Connor and explain to him about a stage kiss before my life is in danger too.”

Amy let out a soft giggle and reached up to kiss me again, gazing into my eyes. In that moment, I felt like we were the only two people in the world.

“What if I just swept you up right now and ran away?” I whispered in her ear, and I felt her shiver in anticipation of my touch.

“Then we’d have a lot of angry actors,” she finally said, her breath hot on my ear and her lips brushing against my neck.

I was more tempted by that thought than ever before. “Didn’t I teach them that the show must go on, no matter what?”

She wrapped her arms around me, squeezing tight as the chaos continued around me. “Soon, Liam. One day.”

“One day,” I whispered back, a promise to myself and to her.

The theater began to clear out soon, cast and crew glad to be released.

“Don’t party too hard!” I called after a group of seniors, who laughed and waved as they left.

I had told Connor to let the vampires back into the guest accommodations, and to rejoin us at dusk in the field behind the school, where I had the witch meeting us.

Arianna was a friend of Porsche’s, a rebel, like her, who chose her own path in life. In her 30s, with a small child at home, Arianna sold her powers to support herself and her child. She didn’t differentiate between vampires, werewolves, Shields or ghosts, all creatures paid the same price for the spells they needed. Mostly, it was love potions or voodoo dolls, but sometimes, she was called upon to do real magic, like I was asking her to do. I supposed it was one way to show equality. The only doubt I had in my mind was whether it would be enough.

“If it doesn’t work,” Amy said, as we walked down the hall to get some lunch, “then I don’t know what will. This is everything we’ve got.”

“Is there any way your mother can help?” I asked, playing with our fingers, intertwining.

Amy looked up at me. “I mean, she’ll be there. I don’t know how she can help, aside from watching over us. She can’t really exist outside the theater, even with thirty Shields in there. She seems to be able to get places quickly though. She was following me around the wings, pretending to be my costume mistress.” Amy smiled, a smile that was halfway between sad and happy.

I supposed that would be exactly how I would feel if my ghost mother could rejoin me.

“Perhaps we can ask her if she’s willing to help us communicate? Do you think she’ll agree to that?”

“Sure.” Amy nodded. “She said she’d help us anyway she could.”

“Right.” I squeezed her hand. “Then there’s nothing left to do. Let’s bind Sarah and then… it’ll be curtain time in less than a day.”

“Even with you as the Phantom?” she teased me.

“The show must go on, Amy. Even if the lead is reading from a script,” I replied. “Come on. Let’s talk about something other than the show. Or vampires. Or anything other than you and me.”

She smiled, following me into the office, lunch quickly forgotten.

I pulled on a coat, preparing for the night cold. Liam had warned me that the binding spell could take a while, and the last thing I wanted to be was the weak human, freezing cold outside. In order for the spell to work, and Liam to take Sarah’s protection without being affected by her powers, he needed to be in his supernatural form.

I shut my door and met Sarah in the hallway.

“That’s new,” I said, commenting on a black lace coat that dropped to the floor.

She shuddered. “Connor got it for me. And after being in that frilly dress, I needed some Goth time.”

I laughed, taking her arm as we made our way through the back of the school and out to the field. There was a fire burning, which I hoped no one would notice. It was a bit suspicious to have a blazing orange fire surrounded by a few people in the back of the school, where we did outdoor theater.

Standing by it and warming her hands, was a tall woman, dressed nonchalantly, save for a huge pentagram pendant around her neck.

She looked up. “Amy,” she said, reaching for my hand. She was in her mid-thirties, with a bit of extra weight around her middle, and chipped nail polish on her chewed fingernails. I didn’t know what I was expecting, I had never met a witch before. But now I realized how easy it must have been to pass them on the street, to never be aware of this whole world that I was now deep inside. “It’s so nice to meet you. And you must be Sarah, oh my.” She pulled her hand back from Sarah’s handshake, smiling. “Definitely a Shield.”

“Yep,” Sarah replied, looking about. “The boys are coming.”

I looked up, seeing their two figures approach in the darkness, and took a step back.

I had seen Liam before in his vampire form, but never Connor. With their fangs coming over their lips, and their eyes dark as coal against their pale faces, it was a bit frightening. I noticed they kept their distance from us as well, keeping to the other side of the fire.

“Are we ready?” Liam addressed Arianna, and his voice seemed growly, deeper than it normally was.

Arianna nodded. “Whenever you are. I need you here, and you here, and Connor, is it? You need to be the anchor between them, here.”

“I’ll just… be here.” I took a step away from the triangle she had made.

Liam glanced up at me. “You don’t have to be here, Amy.”

“It’s ok. I want to be. It’ll be ok.” I rubbed my arms for warmth and then stepped back, as Arianna took her place over the fire.

I could feel the magic in the air as soon as she started chanting. Everything felt alive, stronger, and louder. I felt like I could see colors that I couldn’t before, like the world was a different place, with a whole new power I could never feel. The trees seemed to be talking to the grass, and the wind communicating with the sky.