Authors: Lyn Gardner
Olivia, Tom and Eel raced up the steps of the Swan Academy of Theatre and Dance and into the entrance hall. Georgia was standing by the staircase looking anxious, with Aeysha and Katie by her side. A number of Swans were milling around, greeting each other delightedly and showering each other with hugs to show how pleased they were to be back at school at the start of a new term. Eel pushed her way on through the crowd to where her friend, Emmy, was standing.
“Where have you two been?” demanded Georgia of Olivia and Tom. “And why haven’t you been answering your phones?”
Aeysha grinned. “Georgia’s a bit het up. I told her you’d both decided to run away and
join a circus. I said you weren’t coming back this term and were chucking in the Swan forever.”
“Never!” said Olivia and Tom in unison, which made everyone laugh.
gullible,” said Georgia, so crossly that it made everyone laugh again.
“Sorry, Georgie,” said Tom as he felt in his pocket. “I didn’t realise my phone was off. But we’re here now, and assembly hasn’t started yet so we haven’t missed anything important, have we?”
Georgia shook her head.
“It’ll start any minute now, though,” said Katie. “Lots of people are in the hall already.”
“But where have you both been? I can tell from the look on your faces that you’ve got a secret,” persisted Georgia. “Come on, spill.”
Tom glanced at Olivia, who shook her head. “Sorry, Georgie,” he said. “It’s got to stay a secret for a while yet.”
Georgia looked put out. “But we’re your friends, you can trust us,” she said. “You know we’d never give any of your secrets away.”
“Oh, Georgia, of course we know that,” said Olivia. “I’d trust you all with my life!” But it was clear from the hurt look on Georgia’s
face that she wasn’t placated. “Listen, Georgie, it’s not even certain that what we can’t tell you about is even going to happen. When I know that it is, I promise that you, Aeysha and Katie will be the very first to know.”
“Just my luck that I’ll be off in Yorkshire filming when something exciting is about to happen,” said Katie.
“But that’s really thrilling too, Katie,” said Olivia. “We’re all really made up for you. You so deserve to have got that TV series.”
The others nodded enthusiastically as the first bell for assembly rang loudly. Olivia could see her grandmother, Alicia Swan, slowly making her way down the stairs on her way to the assembly hall.
As they turned to go in, Olivia noticed a boy she had never seen before slouched against the far wall, watching them. He saw her glancing his way, and very coolly raised an eyebrow and gave her a casual salute. An amused smile played around his lips.
“Who’s that?” hissed Georgia as they crowded into the hall.
Olivia shrugged. “Never seen him before in my life.”
“He must be new,” said Aeysha. “Bit full of himself, isn’t he? Most people are pretty nervous on their first day at the Swan.”
“Anyone who looks like that probably has every reason to be mega confident,” said Katie.
“Well, I suppose he is very good-looking,” said Aeysha, a little grudgingly.
“Good-looking? He’s drop-dead gorgeous,” breathed Georgia. Then she added dreamily, “I hope he’s in our class.” Then she realised everyone was staring at her and blushed like mad and wished she hadn’t said anything.
“Oh, Georgie girl, I always thought you only had eyes for me. I’m crushed,” said Tom. “My heart is shattered into a thousand tiny shards.” He swooned dramatically, making the others laugh and giving Georgia a chance to recover herself.
“Don’t worry, Tom, I’ll lend you my superglue to stick it back together,” said Olivia, just as her phone rang. She answered it hurriedly, aware that the school prefects were giving her the evil eye.
“Hey, I’m in assembly so it’s got to be quick. Any news?” She listened and then squealed. The prefects tutted loudly. Aeysha, Georgia and
Katie looked at each other surprised. Olivia was not a squealer even when she was really excited. But her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were shining. “OK gotta go, thanks for telling me.” Olivia looked wildly around and spotted Eel standing with Emmy in a gaggle of her classmates just ahead of them.
“Eel! Eel!” Eel swung around at her sister’s voice. “It’s on, Eel! It’s on!” Olivia cried just as the hall was beginning to quieten. Tom gave a low whoop but Eel let out a great shout of excitement and high-fived her sister, making everyone turn and stare at her and Olivia.
“What is it? What’s on?” hissed Georgia urgently. “Tell us!”
But at that moment Alicia’s crisp tones cut through the noise. “Olivia. Eel. If you’ve quite finished, perhaps assembly can begin.” But even their grandmother’s reprimand couldn’t stop Eel jiggling from foot to foot or the grin spreading across Olivia’s face.
“After,” she whispered to her friends out of the corner of her mouth. “I’ll tell you all straight after. I promise.”
Alicia Swan looked around the hall at her
pupils. She loved the start of the new school term. Whenever she thought that she had failed her Swans – which was almost every day – she comforted herself with the thought of how eager they all were to return to the school after every holiday. Many of them had their difficulties, but so many blossomed at the Swan.
She had been delighted to see Katie Wilkes-Cox and Kylie Morris chatting away to each other, and she was thrilled by the progress of both her granddaughters. Olivia had such a strong, loyal circle of friends, and Eel was a cheeky little devil loved by pupils and staff alike. Eel’s dancing was quite extraordinary for somebody just nine years old, particularly as she had started taking lessons so recently. Alicia felt honoured to be getting a chance to nurture such a talent but she was also aware of so much that could go wrong: injury, illness, a sudden growth spurt that could out-fox even the most gifted.
She glanced towards the new boy, Alex Parks, who had sauntered in at the last minute and was leaning against the wall at the back of the hall looking around as if he was enjoying some private joke. At his audition he had demonstrated undoubted acting talent and he
had a good strong singing voice, which was why she’d offered him a place at the Swan. He was certainly good-looking enough to have a shot at modelling. There was a charisma about him, too. She could see some of the Year Nine and Ten girls nudging each other and giggling. She just hoped he wasn’t going to be trouble. She had a feeling he probably liked to play the bad boy. If that was the case, she didn’t want any of her hard-working Swans distracted by him.
Alicia cleared her throat. “Good afternoon, Swans,” she began. “It’s lovely to see you all back here for another term. We’ve an addition to the school this term: Alex Parks will be joining Year Nine and will be taking the acting and musical-theatre strands.” She nodded towards Alex. “I’m sure you’ll all make him very welcome.”
Kylie grinned and whispered to Katie. “I reckon Georgia’s not the only one who’d like to make him feel welcome.”
Katie shrugged. “Maybe, but I reckon Aeysha’s right. There’s something arrogant behind that pretty face. Anyway, I don’t suppose he’ll give any of us a second look.”
Alicia was continuing to speak. “As you
know, a number of Swans are already playing the West End or filming this term, and Katie Wilkes-Cox and Sara Asgard are our latest successes. They will both be going to Yorkshire for a month a little later in the term to film a new TV series,
, which is set in an Edwardian orphanage.” Olivia and the others grinned at Katie as they joined in the cheers.
“As usual,” continued Alicia, “all job opportunities and upcoming auditions will be posted on the notice board near my office. Year Nine will be staging
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
at the beautiful Campion’s music hall just down the road for parents and friends at the end of term. I’m sure it’s going to be lovely. I’ve seen some of the drawings for costume designs, which Lily Carmichael has done, and they are very elegant. A mixture of modern, Edwardian and 1930s chic. The idea is to create something timeless. Sebastian Shaw, who is directing, has decided to set the play in a garden with a bower and garlanded swings. I think it will be quite magical.
“There will also be a junior evening of choral work.” Alicia smiled at the juniors. “I am very much looking forward to hearing Year
Three’s staged version of TS Eliot’s
Macavity the Mystery Cat
as it’s one of my favourite poems.
“Now, those of you in the school who are keen singer-songwriters may be interested in this: there is a nationwide competition taking place to find the country’s best songwriters under the age of eighteen. An impressive array of judges from the industry has been lined up. Anyone who is interested should come and see me and I’ll give you the details. It would be good to have some Swan entrants. You can enter singly, in pairs or in groups. Collaborators are allowed as long as they are under eighteen. If there’s enough interest, old boy Kasha Kasparian has offered to come in and give a couple of workshops to help you develop your ideas. Kasha, as I’m sure you know, recently signed to Dumbfounded Records.”
There was a buzz of excitement. Kasha had only left the Swan last summer, but at seventeen he had already had a number one hit, was busy at work on an album and had some gig dates later in the term that had sold out almost as soon as they’d been announced. Everywhere he went he was followed by screaming teenage girls.
Alicia looked at her watch. “I hope this is going to be a very happy and productive term for all of you. Now, to your first lessons, please.”
Everyone was turning to leave when Alicia called: “Olivia! Tom! Can you and your friends take Alex to acting class with you? Help him out for a few days while he finds his feet and his way around, would you? The Swan is such a warren, he may need a bit of looking after.”
Olivia and the others nodded, and Alex swaggered lazily towards them. Georgia gave him a big welcoming smile.
“Hmm,” muttered Aeysha to Katie. “I’m not sure he needs our help. I reckon that Alex Parks won’t have the slightest difficulty in looking after himself.”
Olivia and the others pushed their way through the throng of children towards the Ashcroft studio where they would be having their first acting lesson of the term with Sebastian Shaw. They had been told to prepare a speech from
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
so they knew the class was also an informal audition.
But Olivia’s mind wasn’t on the play. Her brain was busy processing the news that she’d had by phone just before assembly began. Now it was confirmed, she was bursting to tell her friends. She didn’t think she could bear to sit through acting class without sharing it with them, although she would have to swear them all to secrecy. But she also knew she couldn’t say anything while Alex was around.
She was suddenly aware of him at her side, and that he had asked her a question that she hadn’t heard. She felt embarrassed.
“I’m so sorry Alex, I wasn’t listening properly. What did you say?” she asked, with a luminous but distracted smile.
“Olivia, you never listen!” said Georgia, shaking her head and raising her eyebrows as if she were dealing with a difficult toddler. “Alex was asking about the Swan panto last year. I was telling him how much fun it was.”
“Let me guess,” said Alex, giving Olivia an intense, moody stare. “You played the beautiful princess.”
Georgia looked put out, and Tom raised an eyebrow just a fraction. Olivia gave a great peal of laughter that sounded just like a lovely bell.
“Goodness no,” said Olivia. “I was the back end of the pantomime horse. It was mint. Georgie was Cinderella. She was dazzling.”
Georgia looked pleased and suitably bashful as they trooped into the Ashcroft studio. Kylie and Connor were already there, putting out the chairs.
“Alex, you can put your things down
there,” said Olivia, pointing him towards the corner. “Kylie, Con, could you look after Alex a moment? There’s something the others and I have got to do quickly. By ourselves.” She gave him an apologetic little smile. “Sorry, Alex. It’s just that it’s private.”
Alex put his hands up. “Don’t mind me,” he said, looking directly at Olivia. “Be as mysterious as you like. It’s always so alluring.” Olivia wasn’t really listening, but Tom looked irritated and Aeysha seemed to be struggling not to laugh.
“I’d be more than happy to look after him,” said Kylie, looking pleased. She flashed Georgia a little smile of triumph as she walked towards Alex.
“Come on, quick!” said Olivia to the others. She beckoned them out of the studio and into the corridor where it was quiet. Georgia looked back towards Alex a little wistfully. She didn’t want Kylie getting too friendly with the new boy.
“Georgia! Are you listening?” asked Olivia, brusquely.
Georgia bristled at her tone. “Of course I am!” she snapped. “I just think you were really
rude to Alex. You’ve hardly listened to a word he’s said to you and then you just dumped him on Kylie, even though we were the ones Miss Swan asked to look after him!”
Katie and Aeysha exchanged a glance.
“Sorry, Georgia,” said Olivia, looking surprised. “But this news isn’t for sharing with strangers, and I thought you were dying to hear it.”
“I was, I mean I am,” said Georgia, still glancing back towards the studio.
“OK, I’m going to let you all into a big secret, but you’ve got to promise not to tell until it’s announced in a couple of weeks. If it gets out and I’m to blame, I’d die of shame.”
Everyone nodded vigorously.
“Of course we won’t tell,” said Georgia a little shortly. “Cross our hearts.”
Olivia grinned excitedly. “Dad’s doing another stunt. Down by Tower Bridge. That’s where Tom and Eel and I were this morning. We went to see the site. He’s there now with Pablo making preparations. It’s taken months to get permission. At one point, he thought he’d never get it because a Russian guy called Viktor wanted to do something similar, and it’s been touch and
go which one would get the go-ahead. This Viktor guy is pretty young and inexperienced. He’s done some stunts in Eastern Europe but he’s virtually unknown here and hasn’t done all that much high-wire. What he has got, though, is a hot-shot manager behind him, a guy called Ethan Rees, who Pablo says always gets the deals he wants. But not this time!”
“What’s Jack actually going to do?” asked Katie excitedly. “I mean, he’s already walked across Tower Bridge on the high-wire.”
“It’s much more thrilling than that,” said Olivia, her eyes shining. She paused dramatically and whispered: “He’s going to live on a high wire stretched across the Thames for thirty days and nights. Sleep there, too, right on the wire. Whatever the weather. Nobody’s ever done anything like it before. If he succeeds, it will be a world record.”
“But that’s insane!” cried Katie.
“That’s what Gran thinks, too.”
“And she may be right,” said Tom. “It’s certainly going to be a challenge. I just hope he’s got good waterproofs.”
“If anyone can do it, it’s Jack,” said Olivia firmly. “But not a word to anybody. We don’t
want to spoil the announcement when it’s made in a few weeks’ time. Promise?”
“We promise,” chorused her friends. Olivia smiled. She knew she could trust them not to tell a soul.
Just then, Sebastian Shaw, the acting teacher, poked his head out of the door and enquired dryly, “Do you lot intend to grace us with your presence, or don’t you want parts in the show?”
“Sorry, Mr Shaw,” they chorused as they walked back into the room. Olivia slipped into the nearest empty seat that, much to Georgia’s annoyance, just happened to be next to Alex. Georgia plonked herself down grumpily into a seat in the row behind.
Alex turned to Olivia as she sat down and whispered something to her. Then he casually put his arm along the back of her chair, taking care not to actually touch her, but as if he were staking some kind of claim. Olivia was completely oblivious to what was going on, and to the fact that Georgia was looking daggers at her. But Tom, Katie and Aeysha didn’t miss a single thing.