“Did you like that?” Dad asked, beside me, reaching out to stroke my hair. And then I turned to him, and sealed my fate.

“Dad, I want to be an actor.”

It was out of the question, before the words even left my mouth. He was too protective of me. I was too fragile. The tuition fees were too high, even if I stayed at home and became only a day student. They had a rigorous audition process, and students from around the world came to try out - having been trained and performing since they could walk. Students that were to grace the stages of this school would go on to appear in Hollywood; their names in lights. They would sing on Broadway and at the Metropolitan Opera, they would tour the world. Their parents were wealthy, perhaps successful actors themselves. This was not the school for a chef’s daughter who had a dream, and nothing more.

That was nine years ago, and I haven’t forgotten a moment of that day. Although it may not be a reality, this essay asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, not what I was going to be. Every year, I watch the Oscars with the knowledge of one who has seen the films a thousand times. I download bootleg copies of West End performances, and order theater textbooks from university bookstores, even though I’m not enrolled in their courses. I think every single one of my pleasure reads is about actors, about the stage or the screen. I still memorize monologues and I post them on YouTube, although no one ever watches. It doesn’t matter. The pure joy of doing that is enough for me.

My father thinks that this was the last I knew of the school. Sure, we go to see the shows, and I occasionally talk to him about the actors we’ve seen there. But to the best of his knowledge, I spend the rest of the time at home, working hard to get high grades, and go to a good college. He wants me to be a writer, or a researcher - perhaps a historian - with a Master’s degree or a PHD. He wants better for me than what he has - only an 8th grade education and minimum wage to support us. He hasn’t taken me to work since that day when I was nine; it’s as if, even then, I was outgrowing his profession, I was better than that. He wants me to find something unstressful that has flexible hours that I can do from home. But home is the last place I want to be.

At least twice a week, I wait until I know he’s busy in the kitchens, and I sneak in to the school. I could navigate the route in my sleep by now. The classrooms are mini theaters in themselves, and there are so many observers and auditors; local drama classes coming for field trips, potential students, that no one notices if I sneak in. I always sit at the back, knowing where to hide out of the light. I could watch for days on end, listening to the lectures, watching the rehearsals. By the time we go to see the shows, I know every line and step off by heart. I can sing every note, bring every emotion forward, and recite every line. I try to follow along with my age group, so I never look too suspicious sitting in the back row. The lectures and lessons are different from year to year, and I always take notes. I have notebooks full of them, hidden under my bed upstairs. Although sometimes, it’s a pleasure to watch the first year students, just six or seven years old, acting out performances well beyond their years, without even breaking a sweat. I know the theories of Stanislavsky and Uta Hagan like the back of my hand. I know stage right, stage left, upstage, downstage, backstage, everything. I can listen to almost any Shakespeare quote and tell you who said it, where it’s from, and what it means.

Most of the students, they don’t stay the full twelve years there. They enter late, or leave early, either for fame and fortune, or for broken dreams. Some of them barely make it a year, the classes are anything but easy, and the directors are as hard on them as they would be to any professional actor. I probably have been there longer than any of them, with nine years of sneaking in under my belt. I long to be in front of an audience of more than my stuffed animals and five people on YouTube, to try to apply what I’ve learned.

But I’ve learned to face reality. I’ve not been able to go to the school for a week or so at a time when I’ve been ill myself, and I realize how lucky I have it. When my energy is low, I just have to open my laptop. But when I finally do make it back, I feel so full of life. The school rejuvenates me.

So that’s what I want to be when I grow up, an actress. And that was the day I decided it forever.

I hit save, and spell check, re-reading quickly before I hit submit and ended the test. I wanted to forget writing it as soon as I was done; bringing back up those feelings was going to stick with me. As soon as I saw it was submitted, I shut down the computer and got up to stretch. I had been typing for four straight hours, finishing most of my assignments, ahead of time as usual. But now, Dad would be home, and I wanted to get a head start on dinner.

Most of my ingredients had already been prepared, in the professional way that he had taught me. I had learned about food safety before I learned not to stick my fingers in light sockets. I couldn’t help putting some in my mouth as I was preparing it, everything tasted so good today. Some days, my appetite seems to leave me, but at that moment it had returned with a vengeance.

Just 62 days until Oscar Nominations posted! My phone beeped with a text from my friend, Sarah. Sarah was my kindred spirit, my best friend. We had met online via a forum where we were discussing actors and movies, and exchanged phone numbers the next day. Despite having never met, we texted each over several times a day with little updates and messages.

I smiled, typing back a huge smiley face, and then went back to stuffing peppers. Dad had warned me that this was my one downfall in the kitchen; my phone. I teased him that one day, I would make fried cell phone, and his face told that he wouldn’t put it past me.

Is your Dad home yet? Does he know who is cast in this year’s winter performance? That beautiful HBO-pretty Luke you wrote me about?

I glanced at the clock before replying. Although I couldn’t attend the school, I badgered Dad for information, and always saw every performance they put on. This year, the most promising of all was a senior named Luke, who had the lead in every show. The last show’s program said he already had an agent and would be moving to LA as soon as his schooling was done.

Not home yet, but soon. I’ll tell you as soon as I know, but I don’t know when they are posting the cast list.

Living next door to a theater school was like having my own personal Hollywood, and at least I had Sarah to share it with, rather than sitting in silence all day long.

The clock chimed 6pm just as I heard the door open. Dad was a bit late, but not overly so.

“Hi!” I called to him, turning around just as I finished the last of the cutting. He smiled at me as he stepped into the kitchen.

“There are only two professions in the world where one is used to being greeted with a huge knife. Serial Killer and Chef. Be careful, Amy.”

“Sorry,” I said, turning around and putting it down again before giving him a hug. Being homeschooled often meant I didn’t see another living soul all day. “You’re late. Was the cast list posted for the winter show?”

“What?” He looked at me, confused, before he clicked in. “Oh. I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” I gave him a horrified look. How exactly could he spend all day there and not know? “But it was due any day now. And isn’t that why you were late? Students all checking the cast list?”

“The headmaster was going on and on about the use of so much red meat in food,” he replied, hanging up his coat. “These may be drama students, rising stars, but they are still normal kids who like burgers and fries. Geez… Anyway, what are you cooking?”

“Stuffed Peppers.” I had begun to set the table, wondering exactly how messy these peppers were going to be.

“Did you finish your assignments today, or do you need to continue to work?” He asked, and I nodded.

“No, I’m done. I’m so glad I don’t have to take calculus any longer.” Calculus had been the bane of my existence, and it was mandatory up until 10th year. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to do with my life, but I knew math wasn’t going to be in it, so the moment it became optional, I had stopped. When I had math on my plate in 8th and 9th year, and had begun taking courses online by myself, I had spent about every evening in tears trying to figure it out. Dad had not been much help then, having stopped taking math in 8th grade himself, to train as an apprentice chef. It hadn’t helped that he had told me, with a rueful smile, that math was also the bane of my mother’s existence when she was in school. I just felt more doomed than ever before.

“What did you do today, then?” he asked, reaching to pour himself a glass of water.

“English, mostly,” I replied. “A little French and world politics.” I took a breath before posing my next question. However, before I could ask him about colleges, he cut me off.

“And how are you feeling?”

“Fine,” I replied, a bit annoyed. This was his question every second moment of the day. I received two phone calls and five text messages a day from him, asking the same thing. “I even cleaned my room during lunch.”

“Are you sure you’re feeling fine, then? You cleaned your room?” He gave me a teasing glance. “Who are you and what having you done with my daughter?”

“Aliens,” I replied, as the oven dinged. “That’s what happens when you get left alone all day. You’re an easy target for abduction.” I pulled the food out of the oven, putting it on hot plates on the table.

“Tomorrow I’ll be late again,” Dad said, as he sat down, taking another swallow of water. “Possibly into the evening. In fact, it’ll likely be that way all next week”

“Oh?” I looked up, surprised. Tomorrow was Friday, and we usually rented a film and ordered in dinner. It had been a tradition since my childhood, and while the movies had changed from cartoons to dramas, the ritual remained the same.

“Next week they are having auditions for the winter semester, so they’ll have an overload of potential students flooding the school, which means the cafeteria will be extra busy. I need to make sure things are prepped and ready so we don’t get slammed. The last thing the headmaster will want is for us to appear as though we are not top quality. Even if that means we’ve just run out of fries and pizza.”