One of his entourage had her hand on his back, a tall wiry redhead who looked young enough to be a student herself, pushing him gently through the crowd. Liam was holding a newspaper up to his face, shielding it from view. However, standing on the other side, I could see he looked tense, paler than this morning, his jaw tightly clenched. And then he was gone, inside the auditorium, and I found myself standing outside the doors.

“Right this way,” someone said, and I looked up. She was a 6th year student, I recognized her from the hallways, and the few times I sat in on her classes. She was shoving a paper into my hand, and hurrying me inside. “Move along please. Only students, no one else.”

“What?” I asked my heart in my chest. Did she know my secret? After all these years, was it going to be a preteen girl who called me out? But she seemed already to be speaking to someone else, a mother standing at the front of the line with her arms around someone who was obviously her daughter. I ducked into the room before anyone else spotted me, heading to the second row to take a seat. Only then did I look down at what was in my hand.

Below it was a script; an excerpt from what I quickly read was Beauty and the Beast. But it was the headline that got me. I must have gotten my dates mixed up - today was not the dress rehearsal. Today was the auditions for the scholarship that everyone always buzzed about. Every two years, Leopard Academy held auditions for one talented student to win a full scholarship to the school, for as long as they needed to attend before graduating. This was an old tradition that Liam’s Grandfather had started, although I imagine it was even more popular now that Liam was the headmaster. The spots were coveted, people came from other countries just to be here today. And here I was, sitting in the second row, technically in line.

Before I could even get to my feet, or pull out my phone to text Sarah, another girl sat beside me, putting her feet up on the chair in front of us.

“Uh … Amy,” I said, reaching out to shake hands.

“Did you bring a hardcopy of your headshot and resume?” Alicia asked, rummaging through her bag frantically. “I mean, of course I sent it online, but I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to bring a hard copy too?”

“Uh ... no.” I replied, with a shrug. After all, it was the truth, I wasn’t carrying a hardcopy of my headshot and resume with me. Never mind that I didn’t actually have either.

“Oh. Well, I’m sure it’s fine then.” She settled back into her seat, relaxing. “How long have you been acting?”

“Uh…not long,” I managed, looking at my watch. This place was packed and it was starting to look like even if I wanted to leave, I couldn’t. Not without attracting a lot of attention to myself. “You?”

“Since I was a fetus,” she replied, with a smile. “My mom did an ultrasound commercial when she was pregnant with me. And I did some diaper commercials, and it’s been go go go ever since.”

“Oh,” I said, impressed. She really did mean she had been acting forever.

“And I spent five years as a minor character on Lazy Workers,” she said, looking me up and down to see if I recognized her. I didn’t, but I nodded enthusiastically anyway.

“So…if you have all this experience…why do you want to audition here?” I asked. “I mean…if you’re already a full time actress, isn’t that a dream come true?”

“Well…” she bit her lip. “It was. But things have been hard since my Dad left…and I haven’t been able to get much work lately. So my mom thought this would be a good opportunity for me. Plus, hello, Liam Swift is the head master here,” she nodded towards the stage, where we had seen Liam disappear. “He can teach me anything, anytime,” she winked at me.

“Sure,” I replied. I wanted to ask her more, about what it was actually like to be an actor; how it felt when it was your job and not just something you did because you were so in love with it. What was it like, to act every single day and get paid for it? I was about to open my mouth when the curtain rose. It seemed nothing official was starting quite yet, but Liam and his cronies were on the stage now. The redhead I had seen earlier was standing at the edge of the stage, scanning the crowd. Finally, she turned to him, and nodded.

He stepped forward, clearing his throat. Before he even got to say a word, the lights dimmed and a wave of applause broke out, followed by cheering. Liam glared out into the crowd, waiting for it to settle before he spoke.

“Welcome to the Auditions for the scholarship fund. Students the academy have funded over the years have gone on to do great things including TV, movies, and Broadway. Every second year, we accept one person, gender and age not being a factor, and fund them for as long as they need to be at this school - Kindergarten through graduation, if need be. This student will have the same rights and privileges of any student here at the Academy. It’s quite the opportunity.” He paused for applause. “So hopefully, it’s in one of you. You’ll each get two minutes to read the script, and then you’ll be asked to move on. If the panel likes you, you’ll be asked for your contact details outside when you exit. So, let’s get started,” he said, indicating that the rest of his entourage should head down to where the panel normally sat, in front of the first row, facing the stage. “Rows one and two, come line up. And please, two minutes, and then exit. Nothing more,” he said, and then walked away from the microphone, oblivious to the applause.

My heart hammering in my chest, I stood up, forced out of the row by the rest of them. My mind was already turning. Could I pull this off? I could at least try, just for experience. I was never going to get it, not with the likes of girls like Alicia in the crowd…but why not try? Just for fun. I had time, especially if it was only two minutes per girl. My lunch break wasn’t over for another forty five minutes and there were only twenty girls ahead of me. I could make it and then run back. Besides, Adam wouldn’t mind if I was five minutes late. Taking a deep breath, I went to line up against the wall with the rest.

“So,” Liam’s voice boomed as he spoke into the microphone at the panel table. “Two minutes, one of the judges will read opposite you, and then head over to the left exit. If Porsche asks you to give her your contact info, please do.” He waved his hand over to the redhead, and I raised an eyebrow at her name, giggling. Porsche?

“I’m guessing that’s his newest thing then, helping out,” Alicia whispered to me. “Lucky.”

“Who’s first?” Liam asked, silencing us. With a gulp, the first girl stepped forward. I closed my eyes, trying to calm down. This was it, I was trapped, and I had to go through with it. I just hoped I wouldn’t make a complete fool of myself.

I was shaking as I inched closer and closer to the front. Each time a girl read, Alicia would either roll her eyes in disapproval, or shake her head, as if there was no hope left.

“That’s Candice Manther,” she said, as a new girl approached the panel of judges. “Her resume is about three times the size of mine, and she certainly has a salary from her last show. What the hell is she doing here?”

“Maybe she wants a chance, like everyone else?” I said, shrugging. My hands were clenched in fists, as I tried to control my nerves. “Hey, look, I think I changed my mind…”

“What? No!” Alicia turned around, grabbing me like we had known each other for years. “Don’t let the likes of Candice Manther put you off. You deserve a chance just like anyone else.”

“Right,” I replied. My heart was beating fast, and my mouth had gone dry. Of course I wanted a chance, I wanted to act, and it’s all I ever thought of. If Sarah were here now, she’d be bouncing off the walls. But in this crowd, I didn’t stand a chance. Not with girls who looked vaguely familiar, girls who already had tons of training and a resume longer than the line up to this audition. Still, as I looked over the script in my hands, I felt myself drawn to the words. Like many others in the line, I began to whisper the words over and over to myself in my head. It was a short script, only a couple of pages, and I quickly indentified that it was more about expression and body language than the actual words.

I became so absorbed in the script that I barely noticed how close I was to the front. However, when I heard somebody say ‘Next!’, and there was an awkward silence, I realized that it was my turn.

The lights were bright, and I could barely see the panel in front of me. Liam looked at me with annoyance and I quickly realized I was standing too far back. Moving forward, onto the masking tape ‘X’ they had put down, I nervously held my ground. He was staring at me. He could probably see right through me and my lack of training.

“I’ll read now,” he said, and that surprised me. There had been twenty girls in front of me, and they all had someone else on the panel read opposite them. Liam had not uttered a word…until me?

“Right,” I said, folding the script and putting it in my back pocket. He raised an eyebrow.

“No, I uh…have a good memory,” I replied, which was true. I also didn’t want him to see how badly my hands were shaking.

“Whenever you’re ready then,” he said, never taking his sharp eyes off me.

I took a deep breath, closing my eyes as the lines flashed through my mind. And then, opening them to face him square on, I started talking.

“You think I’ve ever cared what you are?” I said. I surprised myself, the first line of a monologue was always difficult for me. But here it was, flowing through me. The words just spilled through my mouth, almost as if I had nothing to do with them. “I have never cared what you are or what you look like.”

“And what kind of future do you think we would have?” Liam snapped, as the Beast to my Beauty.