Speech and Debacles by Heather DiAngelis
General Release Date: 31st May 2022
Word Count: 70,490
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Who knew Speech and Debate could be such a thorn in the side?
Drama class is nothing like Taryn Platt’s favorite TV show—no one has broken out into song yet, and there isn’t nearly as much kissing. But the seventeen-year-old is surprised to find one thing going the way she’d hoped. It turns out she’s not half bad at acting. When her Drama teacher recruits her for the school’s powerhouse Speech and Debate team, she can’t believe her luck. Even better when she finds out the guy catching her eye, Riker, is one of the team’s strongest competitors—and hopefully he got
the hint that she likes boys as well as girls. But when painful, amped-up cramps invade her pelvis, performing on demand and getting close to Riker become increasingly less feasible.
Up until junior year, Riker Lucas had one life goal—break into the world of voice acting to perform video game voiceovers. Then one look from the green-eyed new girl from Speech brings on a second goal—getting himself over the hurdle of actually talking to her. The task proves impossible when a nagging inner voice constantly reminds him how worthless he is, how he doesn’t stand a chance.
Taryn’s pain worsens, keeping her out of commission at the most inopportune moments, and Riker’s oppressive self-denigrating thoughts steal his interest from his favorite activities. As Riker and Taryn float closer together, then farther apart, they both must work to find ways of coping—or they’ll miss out on each other as well as their performance goals.
Reader advisory: This book contains mentions of depression, social anxiety, and chronic illness.
Taryn Platt had dragged herself to school today, but the logic behind the gesture escaped her—besides the obvious fact that Grandma had made her. Even her mom hadn’t said more than, “You should probably get moving.”
Taryn powerwalked through the crowd toward the Arts Wing, her backpack bouncing on her shoulders with each overextended step. Because Grandma wouldn’t accept any excuses to stay home.
Grandmas were unreasonable like that.
Yesterday, Taryn’s arrival at a new school on her first day of junior year had been a miserable mess of trudging through hallways and forgetting names. Now here she was on day two, unprepared for a second round of suffering but required to endure it all the same. A different set of classes than yesterday, a new set of people to remember. Block scheduling was a royal pain in her jean-clad butt. And, good lord, this gigantic school hadn’t made it easy.
Taryn’s previous school hadn’t come close to the square footage—acreage—of this place, even if the student population had been larger. Apparently, that’s what happened when you switched from an inner-city school to the rich suburbs…from Mom’s foreclosed-on house downtown to Grandma’s detached home, complete with paved driveway and pruned flowerbeds.
A boy whizzed past, grazing Taryn’s shoulder and leaving a cough-worthy draft of cologne in his wake. A girl two paces ahead skidded and caught herself before weaving onward, as if passing cars in traffic via squeaky-clean tennis shoes. Everyone in this deep sea of backpacks had mastered the fine art of arriving to class on time.
She turned the final corner to the Arts Wing and slowed. The crowd was considerably thinner here. Hell, maybe she was early for the first time since starting at Fir Grove High School.
Now if she could only find her damn Drama class.
Taryn retreated to the wall and tapped her phone to life to check her schedule, like she hadn’t already memorized it. There it was in plain letters—Drama III, Auditorium 1B. Surely this school couldn’t have more than one auditorium, let alone enough auditoriums to break them down into sublevels “A” and “B.” Her old school had shared the “auditorium” with the gymnasium, which meant there was definitely no room for a Drama class—let alone Drama I, II, III and IV, one level for each grade.
A gold placard above the double doors in front of her said “Auditorium 1.” No “B” in sight. With a deep breath, she climbed the five steps to the main entrance. Then she pulled open one of the large red doors. Inside the auditorium, the lights were dim—not a single student.
Day two and I’m lost again. Typical.
Maybe there was another door around the corner. Taryn’s lack of experience aside, she was pretty sure auditoriums had multiple entrances.
She pattered down the steps, turned to the right and sped down the hall and around the corner. The damn bell was going to ring soon.
Halfway down the hall, she came across another door that, judging by its position, must have been a side entrance to the auditorium. She tugged on it and peered in but was met once again with a dimly lit empty room.
Another door down the hall led to a dark backstage area. Definitely no classes going on in there. Just a quiet area with shadow-filled corners, the kind of place she’d love to escape to and catch her breath.
But no time for that. She turned another corner at the end of the hall, sped past several closed doors with no windows that apparently didn’t lead to classrooms. At least by now she had a shallow understanding of how the wings were dispersed across the campus—the sciences just past the registration desk, the humanities near the main entrance and so on. As such, she’d intended her first day in the Arts Wing to go much smoother than this.
Only two more corners before she was back where she started. Based on her luck, the next hall sure as hell wouldn’t have the room she was looking for. Then she’d be stuck going to the office with a desperate plea for help. “I found an auditorium but apparently not the right one?” Pathetic.
On the next turn, something sharp jabbed into her shoulder.
“Ow! What the—”
“Holy—” came a voice several inches above her.
Her hand flew to her shoulder as she took in the victim of her rush. She’d somehow managed to run into a freaking elbow, of all things. A very pale elbow connected to a very pale arm speckled with blond hair.
“I’m so sorry,” the voice said.
Right. Elbows were typically attached to human beings. Taryn looked up to find a boy a head taller than herself. He had the widest cheekbones she’d ever seen, despite his frown. Freckles dotted his face, and on top of his head was a swooped-up arrangement of whitish-blond hair.
She blinked hard, struggling to recall where she’d been headed before her shoulder had rammed into the cutest freaking elbow she’d ever seen—a thought she’d never expected to pop into her head.
“That’s okay. It only hurt a little.” Or maybe more than a little.
One side of his mouth crooked into a smile. “I’ve been told I have sharp elbows, so you know, I’m a walking hazard.”
She laughed as he stepped aside. He splayed his hands out to give her the full go-ahead.
Above them, the bell rang. Taryn looked up at it, as if that would make her hear it better. At least she wasn’t the only person still in the halls. Being late didn’t feel nearly as bad when someone else was late, too.
“Shit. I have to go.” She stepped past him. “Thanks for the elbow warning. I’ll watch out for them next time.”
Jesus H., stop embarrassing yourself.
“Noted!” he called after her as she sped down the hall. She glanced over her sore shoulder for a quick smile to acknowledge his remark, but he’d already disappeared. It was only then that she realized she should’ve asked for directions. Too late now. And probably for the best, since stumbling through an awkward question to a cute boy would have been slightly more humiliating than showing up late for class. Or so she assumed.
She heard the correct auditorium before she saw it, a jumble of words wafting toward her. When she reached the door, almost a full hallway circle from where she started, it was wide open, with “Auditorium 1B” above it. She slipped inside and halted.
The teacher was already at the front of the room. Instead of assembling the students, though, he was lost in conversation with a tall boy who was clutching a tan satchel slung across his torso. Neither seemed to notice her.
She took a step forward, unsure where to sit. A couple dozen students were scattered throughout the room in the most casual classroom setting she’d ever seen. The red padded seats of the auditorium angled to the back of the room in an upward slant. While two walls were made of concrete, the other
two were flimsy wooden partitions that extended from floor to ceiling. They wrapped around two sides of the room like a curtain, blocking the students into a makeshift room with theater seats but no stage.
There were far more rows of seats than necessary. The students in the room could sit two to a row with room to spare. And for the moment, that seemed approximately how they were spread out. Was the teacher just supposed to shout across the room?
She found a bare spot halfway up the rows and slunk over. It was probably a rule against nature to be shy in a Drama class, but to hell with that. People could come to her if they wanted to talk.
Not that they would. But that wasn’t the point.
If the teacher had noticed that it was time for class, he gave no indication. In fact, no one in the room seemed to give a flying flip about the clock or the bell or whatever schedule all the other teachers cared about at this fancy, multi-auditorium school. Come to think of it, that guy in the hall with the elbow spears hadn’t been in a hurry to get to class. For his sake, she hoped his teacher cared as little about punctuality as hers did.
The door to the room closed. Her ears perked up at the sound.
But the teacher hadn’t been the one to close it. No, a pale arm was retreating from the doorknob. The guy from the hall, showing up late as if he knew the teacher wouldn’t care, in stark contrast to her desperation to find the room
He walked up the stairs at the edge of the auditorium, passing rows of seats. Then he glanced her way.
She swallowed hard and darted her gaze to the front of the classroom, where the teacher was continuing his side conversation. Cute though he might be, Elbow Guy was not her type. Not only had he been late for class, but he’d been walking in the opposite direction of the classroom when the bell rang.
Still, her hand found its way to her shoulder, rubbing the sore spot. There’d probably be a bruise by bedtime.
Satchel Guy at the front took his seat, and the teacher glanced at the clock. The students in the auditorium phased out their conversations, as if they knew the time had finally come.
The teacher cleared his throat. “Welcome, welcome, welcome. This is Drama III, the class for juniors where none of your dreams will come true, but at least you’ll have fun. If you didn’t sign up for Drama III, or if you have some weird agenda against fun, then now’s your chance to split.”
Chuckles bubbled around the room as the teacher looked around expectantly. No one stood.
“Good. Welp, I’m Mr. Banley-Zimmerman. Most of you probably know that, and if you didn’t, then I probably don’t know you yet. Rest assured, we’ll get acquainted. Sorry in advance for that.”
More chuckles. Okay, so this guy was a bit…eccentric. Maybe that came with the territory for Drama teachers. At her old school, the few people actually paying attention would’ve rolled their eyes at a guy like this. Here, though, the students just went with it.
And hey, maybe that was a good thing. Maybe she was in good company for once.
Because yeah, she’d always had a thing for acting, even if she’d never done it. She had no clue if she’d be any good at it, no idea if she’d one-hundred-percent freeze the moment she was on a stage.
Except this was where she wanted to be. Just like the characters on Timbre!, also known as the greatest TV show of all time, period, where a group of teenage misfits formed a musical theater club. The show was also known for its power ballads, shocking revelations and super intense kissing.
Hells yes to all the kissing. Girls kissing girls, boys kissing boys, boys kissing girls. Enough to give Taryn’s bisexual heart all the feels. Which might or might not be why she ran a fan account with more followers than there were students in her school.
Not that she would ever admit that to a single soul inside Fir Grove. Announcing she was a super fan probably wasn’t the way to make new friends fast.
Unlike the characters on Timbre!, Taryn couldn’t sing—of that much she was sure. But if going to a new school meant new beginnings, then now was the time—the only time—to take a leap and get on a stage. To show up for a fine art she loved but had never practiced beyond observing her favorite television show.
Maybe she’d suck at acting, maybe not. Either way, no backing out now.
Taryn blinked. Did someone just call her name? She looked left, then right. A few people watched her, and others looked around the room like they were also confused.
With a glimpse at the front of the room, her heart stuttered. Mr. Banley-Zimmerman stared directly at her, a goofy smile on his face.
“Are you Taryn Platt?” he asked. His voice was gentle, neither mocking nor unamused.
She blinked again. Speak! Tell him it’s you!
“Yeah,” she croaked.
Wow, way to go, Ms. Hidden Talent Actress.
“Thank you kindly, Taryn.” Mr. Banley-Zimmerman tapped at the tablet resting on the podium in front of him. “Gavin Varns?”
The attention now off her, Taryn closed her eyes as the teacher continued taking attendance. How long had she been lost in television fantasies? What else had she missed the teacher saying?
If she’d been paying attention, would she have caught Elbow Guy’s name? Not that she needed it or anything. Because, again, he was most assuredly not her type. Though, one more look couldn’t hurt…
She opened her eyes and glanced down the row. Elbow Guy leaned back in his seat, one ankle crossed over the opposite knee. And his eyes were already on her.
She blinked twice on reflex and looked back to Mr. Banley-Zimmerman—a much safer focal point. He cleared his throat and moved to the first row with a stack of papers, likely syllabi. She could do this. She could gather her nerves and be awesome at Drama class. Definitely.
No one would find out she didn’t belong.
About the Author
Heather DiAngelis produces scholarly publications by day and writes young adult novels by night. If she has enough energy on the weekends, she can be found binge-watching shows with a cat nearby, losing lightsaber battles against her husband and sons, and perpetually wishing for more time. She focuses on the intersectionality surrounding queer characters, with the hope that a teenager will someday find themselves in one of her stories.
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