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Little Red Riding Hood II: A Love No Longer Ignored

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“Not your left! My left!” Preston motioned with his hands, almost losing his grip on his thick script. “It’s the goddamn stage left! Pay attention , Neil!”

“Why don’t you do it yourself then?” Neil spoke under his breath. He’d been moving one of the decorations that Dolf had made for the past hour, Preston dissatisfied with every location they tried to place the cardboard tree at. It wasn’t his fault the guy couldn’t make up his mind and wanted to work his fellow campers to the bone.

Preston rolled his up his papers. “What was that!?”

“Nothing! Nothing.” Neil sighed, dumping the tree next to one of the various pots filled with flowers. He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, cracking his back. “So, whats this new play even about?”

“After the… incident from Parents Day,” He glared at Neil, momentarily eyeing Nikki who was testing out lights above him, “I wasn’t able to finish my masterpiece of a play. Poor gram gram barely knew what was going on.”

Nikki yelled from the stage light grid, already tangled up in some cords. “It’s not our fault our parents loved wrestling!” She fooled around with a few lights, turning them on and off to accentuate her words.

“Yes! Well, nonetheless, I want to finish it! A good play must reach its end, garner an audience to allow a conclusion!” Preston turned his hands into fists, feeling passion begin to flow through him, “We must allow my characters to reach their peaks! They must go through the trials and tribulations before allowing a happy ending! Otherwise, the audience is left yearning for more in the worst way possible!”

“Even if no one wants more.” Neil tacked on.

Ignoring him, Preston continued. “So, if you must know, my play will be a reimagining of Little Red Riding Hood!”

Dolf, who’d been busy painting a scenic background, appeared excited. “Oh! So artistic!”

“No, it’s not!” Neil argued, “A reimagining has been done so many times I’ve lost count! Mega-corporations pay big bucks to a mouse and a director to make something that’s considered a classic edgy instead!”

“No way a teeny tiny mouse made all those movies!” Nikki laughed, hanging upside down on the grid, “He wouldn’t even be able to hold the video camera!”

Preston sighed, tapping his foot to the wood paneling, “Keep that up and I won’t let you audition! You’ll be alongside Nurf as a stagehand!”

From behind, Nurf wrapped a meaty arm around Neil’s shoulder and held him tight. “We’ll have fun! I’ll get to boss you around, make demeaning comments, and ridicule everything that you do because you’ll be under my wing and when you get to be lead stagehand you’ll do the same I did to continue the cycle of abuse.”

“Nurf,” Neil wheezed, scratching at Nurf’s biceps, “Too tight!”

Letting him go, Nurf waved to Preston and Neil before returning behind the curtains to assist Nikki.

In all honesty, the stage was coming along pretty decently. At least for something attended to two times a week for only an hour or two by a bunch of prepubescent campers, some of who actively tried to sabotage it either through coincidence or pure malice. But that's beside the point. To Preston, even if the trees were cardboard and the costumes handmade, each time he witnessed all the pieces slowly come together it was enough to make his heart soar. If he wasn’t so busy he’d probably recite a sonnet.

Walking up to the stage, David kept Max in tow in one of his hands. “Alright, Campers! It’s all looking great!” Letting Max loose, David wiped away a tear, “I’m so excited to see your performance, Preston! Bring life back into the theater!”

Groaning, Max simply hopped up to the wood paneling and stood next to Neil, not caring he’d toppled a flower pot in the process. He whispered a joke into his ear, causing the two of them to laugh and get a dirty look from Preston.

“Thank you, counselor!” Preston nearly yelled. “I’m excited as well! If you’ll help me gather the campers I would like to make an announcement!”

“Sure thing!” David clapped his hands, alerting all the campers to join him by the seating arrangement. “Alright, kids! Make sure you keep your ears, and mind, open!” Taking a moment to count heads, he shot Preston a thumbs up.

He cleared his throat, “As some of you may know, I have an upcoming play and I must have full participation if I want it to succeed!” He ignored the collective groans, “Which means that I must find out sooner than later who is qualified for which role! Hopefully, as David mentioned to me, I shall be holding auditions soon! We must give our future actors time to rehearse!”

Max raised his hand, as did a few other campers. David called on him first, though.

“Yes, Max?”

“Yeah, so, can I not do this?”

“Well, if you want to be a helping hand backstage-“

“No, like, any of this.” He crossed his arms, leaning into the log seat. “I’d rather cut my ears off than be a part of some shitty play.”

“Now, Max-“

The campers with their arms raised murmured in agreement, cutting off David before he could continue.

“Yeah! We shouldn’t have to if we don’t want to!”

“None of us are even part of drama camp!”

“It’s against our own interests to participate!”

“Plus it’s really lame.”

David shot up, fists to his sides. “Now that is enough!” He glanced over to Preston for only a moment, barely holding back a gasp when he noticed how beaten down he looked. “It may not be an ideal for many of you but for Preston this is important! As a camp, we all stick by each other even if that means doing things that we may not enjoy! I won’t call out names but think back to each time we focused on each of your camps despite no one wanting to be involved! Give Preston the respect you would want in return, gosh darn it!”

Stomping his foot, David stared back to his campers before grabbing the clipboard attached to a belt loop on his pants and pulling a pencil out of his pocket.

He smiled twice as bright, “And because I know you all will be considerate of Preston and his feelings, I’ll allow the auditions to go on for half an hour!”

Max hopped off of his seat, “I’m out.”

“And anyone who doesn’t audition will be cleaning bathrooms with the quartermaster the rest of the month!”

Grumbling, Max got back onto the log as Preston handed out small slips of paper to each camper.

Preston spoke as he passed by each camper, his words louder and louder by the second. “For the audition I want you all to remember these lines and recite them to me! There is no wrong way because I want you all to dig deep, deep down and find the soul for your words! How you feel the lines should be said will let me know how you will do in whatever role I assign! Now, rehearse!”

By the time he finished his explanation, he was looked as energized as his words were. Of course, no one bothered to move from their seats but that didn’t phase him. Taking it as prompt practice, Preston didn’t do much else except take a seat on the edge of the stage and place his stopwatch for half an hour. He was swinging his legs as he impatiently waited for his friends to start auditioning, after all it wouldn’t be long now before-

“Hey, Preston?”

“Space Kid!” Preston jumped off the stage. “Are you already prepared to audition!?”

“Yup!” He took a few steps back, ignoring the gazes behind him and instead focusing on not fogging up his helmet.

Preston grabbed the slip from his hand, “Well,” Sitting down with his legs crossed, he waited. “Give it to me!”

Nodding wildly, his helmet wobbled. Raising a hand as close to his forehead as he could, he posed. Preston was already eating it up. “Hark! Hark! Hark!”

Watching Preston scribble a few things on the back of the paper, Space Kid began to sweat.

He fumbled, losing his pose. “Um, I-I mean! The bark at heaven’s gate sang!” As Preston scribbled, Space Kid took a few steps back, “He stirs t-to water at his sprang!” The louder Preston’s pencil was, the damper the ring of sweat at his forehead became. “O-Oh, phallic-” One more step behind him and Space Kid tripped on a rock. Staring up at the sky, he groaned.

Tsking, Preston simply got back to the top of the stage. “Thank you for auditioning! But we’ll need to keep you on call until everyone has auditioned!”

Sitting up, Space Kid pouted before heading back to his log seat.

And as such, went all of the auditions. Ranging from Ered’s lackluster but accurate performance to Harrison’s visually spectacular but verbally damning audition, Preston only kept his face as straight as he could as each camper tried to woo him in their own ways. Of course, he was polite as possible, not counting his momentary anger when Nikki went completely off script and recited her own naughty made up limerick. Feeling the seconds tick on his stopwatch, Preston’s eyes lingered on Max as Nerris began to adlib the script she’d been given. Her creativity was impressive, but her slight lisp would make stage presence terrible.

Giving her a few claps of his hands, he shooed her off. Only mentioning the same thing he had to everyone else, she returned to her section of the magic camp.

With her absence, only Preston and Max were left. Three minutes remained on the stopwatch and neither bothered to make a move. If it weren’t for the fact that Max’s slip of paper was laying beside him crumpled into a ball, he would have hoped that Max had simply wanted to make sure his lines were perfected.

Resting his chin on his hand, Preston watched Max get up from his seat as the stopwatch chimed. It was officially half an hour since the beginning of their practice and Preston could only hope that the best could come out of Max. It was a stretch, he knew, but it was the last audition of the day.

“So, you really want me to audition.”

He nodded quickly, “Of course! We need to know everyone’s potential no matter their enthusiasm!”

Sighing, Max handed the ball of paper to Preston before taking a few steps back into the center of the patch of grass. Clicking his tongue, he recited his lines. “Hark, hark, the lark at heaven’s gates sings.” He motioned his hand upward without thought, “And Phoebus ‘gins arise, his steeds to water at those springs.” Rolling his eyes at the flora of the words, he continued. “On chalic’d flowers that lies; and winking Mary-buds begin. To open their golden eyes; With everything that pretty is,” He glanced to Preston for only a moment before lifting his gaze back up, “My lady sweet, arise. Arise, arise.”

Standing up as fast as he could, Preston stared at Max, his hands grasping at air. “Max! That was… that was…”

He snickered, “Shit, did I actually make you quiet for once?”

“Fucking amazing !” He grabbed Max’s shoulders and shook him back and forth. “I know who’ll be lead! Besides me, of course.”

“W-What!? I barely showed any emotion!”

“But you recited the lines perfectly ! Not a single misplaced pause and by not expressing emotion you fit the role to a T!”

“There’s, like, seven fucking lines! It’s not rocket science to recite less than 20 words in thirty minutes!” Shoving Preston off of himself, Max dusted off his shoulders. “I only did this so that I don’t get bathroom duty. I swear if you fucking put me as lead, Preston.”

Humming, Preston only smiled. “Alright, fine.” Grabbing his pile of strips of paper, he headed with a grin towards David’s cabin. “But you’ll be getting your script tomorrow!” He ran off before Max could say anything more than a few curse words.

---

Slamming down a pile of papers, Max stared at Preston as he sipped on his coffee.

“It’s seven in the morning, leave me alone.”

Preston didn’t let his smile fade. “Now, Max! That is no way to act in the morning! We have a long day ahead of us and I’ll need your help!”

“I’m not gonna help. Fuck off.” Max turned to the side, no longer giving Preston eye contact.

“But you must! The theater awaits your acting and that can’t be done until we edit my script to perfection!”

“Well, then you can go edit your script to perfection by yourself. I’ll be busy not doing boring shit like that today.” Really, Max would sulk during whatever activity they would be doing but it wouldn’t be the worst in the world. Maybe even a little entertaining if he was lucky.

Overhearing Max, David grinned as he passed by the table the two sat at. “Really, Max? That’s super! Because I never would’ve expected you to look forward to our session of types of dirt and plants for nature camp! With so many hours of us walking around and doing nothing but enjoying each other’s company, I thought you would’ve hated it!” David hummed as he left the table, “I guess some people do change.”

“If you edit my script with me, you don’t have to do nature camp.” Preston tacked on the moment David left, not missing a single beat.

Grumbling, Max snatched one of the two packets off the table, “Fine. But I won’t like it.”

“Superb! We can go right now!” Grabbing the papers on the table in one hand and Max’ wrist in the other, Preston called out to David and Gwen, “Counselors! We’ll be editing my script!”

Before even getting a nod or a wave goodbye, Preston dragged Max out of the mess hall and towards the section for theater camp. The stage was empty aside from a few permanent props meant to set a mood. It was dusty despite having been worked on only the day prior and made it appear as dingy as the efforts put into it. In Max’s opinion, he thought that no amount of hard work would be able to make the camp stage shine the way Preston constantly imagined it would. But, despite thriving on negativity, he couldn’t get himself to say that to Preston face to face for one reason or another.

Sitting down on one of the log seats, Max properly checked out the script. “Alright, so, what's the shitshow you got planned?”

Getting comfortable, Preston sat close to point out details in his own copy of the script. “A retelling of the classic story of Little Red Riding Hood! No one will expect it!”

Max rolled his eyes, “Okay. So, where do I come in? You said you gave me some main role?” He flipped through the packet, unable to find any exact character assignments.

You will be the wolf!” Preston smiled large and wide, “A poor, misunderstood character! You will show that there’s more to a person than just their appearance! That-” He glanced down at Max, speaking a little softer, “That there’s more than meets the eye! Underneath tough words and harsh criticisms, there is someone with good intentions even if the rest of the world doesn’t see it or refuses to!”

Speechless, Max decided instead to bring the attention back to the written. “A-Alright. I guess that’s decent.” He landed on a random page. “But, see, I turn a page and already there’s, like, too many damn problems to count.”

Preston scoffed, “Where!? My writing is amazing I’ll have you know!”

“Yeah, no.” Opening a pen with his mouth, Max began to scribble over the page with red ink. “You’ve got grammar issues, some of these words just don’t fit, I think you mixed lines up, and you got the worst fucking spelling mistakes. I mean, Jesus Christ, are you dyslexic or something?”

“Yes, actually,” Preston turned quiet, “I am.”

“Oh.” Max turned away for a moment, temporary guilt seeping in, “My bad.” He scratched the back of his neck sheepishly.

“You didn’t know.” Preston cleared his throat, trying to maintain a positive outlook, “But that doesn’t matter! Because you’re here to help out with my play! By the time we finish editing this play, it’ll be Broadway material!” He could already see the award nominations now, the crowd cheering him on.

“We’ll be here for a while then. I swear, I’ve never seen writing this shit.” He flipped the script to the beginning, realizing just how long the play was meant to be. “You know what, tell me the play and then I’ll know where you fucked up in the script.”

Clapping his hands in joy, Preston cleared his throat. “Well, be ready for an absolutely spectacular retelling of a beloved classic!”

Max leaned back on the seat, letting a smile peek through his usual facade. Editing the script, he let Preston’s voice fill his ears and let his mind wander for once.