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Just One Day (Just One Day #1)

By:ayle Forman

Oh, that would be lovely. Would you believe in all the years I've been doing this, I have never seen the Bard's Hamlet done by the RSC?"

Melanie gives a little moan for dramatic effect. I gently elbow her. I smile at Ms. Foley. "Well, then, you definitely shouldn't miss it."

She nods solemnly, as though we are discussing important business here, order of succession to the throne or something. Then she reaches for my hand. "It has been such a pleasure traveling with you, Allyson. I shall miss you. If only more young people today were like you. You are such a . . ." She pauses for a moment, searching for the right word. "Such a good girl."

"Thank you," I say automatically. But her compliment leaves me empty. I don't know if it's because that's the nicest thing she could think to say about me, or if it's because I'm not being such a good girl right now.

"Good girl, my ass." Melanie laughs once we are clear of the queue and she can give up her swooning act.

"Be quiet. I don't like pretending."

"Well, you're awfully good at it. You could have a promising acting career of your own, if you ask me."

"I don't ask you. Now, where is this place?" I look at the flyer. "Canal Basin? What is that?"

Melanie pulls out her phone, which, unlike my cell phone, works in Europe. She opens the map app. "It appears to be a basin by the canal."

A few minutes later, we arrive at a waterfront. It feels like a carnival, full of people hanging about. There are barges moored to the side of the water, different boats selling everything from ice cream to paintings. What there isn't is any kind of theater. Or stage. Or chairs. Or actors. I look at the flyer again.

"Maybe it's on the bridge?" Melanie asks.

We walk back over to the medieval arched bridge, but it's just more of the same: tourists like us, milling around in the hot night.

"They did say it was tonight?" Melanie asks.

I think of that one guy, his eyes so impossibly dark, specifically saying that tonight was too nice for tragedy. But when I look around, there's no play here, obviously. It was probably some kind of joke-fool the stupid tourist.

"Let's get an ice cream so the night's not a total write-off," I say.

We are queuing up for ice cream when we hear it, a hum of acoustic guitars and the echoey beat of bongo drums. My ears perk up, my sonar rises. I stand on a nearby bench to look around. It's not like a stage has magically appeared, but what has just materialized is a crowd, a pretty big one, under a stand of trees.

"I think it's starting," I say, grabbing Melanie's hand.

"But the ice cream," she complains.

"After," I say, yanking her toward the crowd.

"If music be the food of love, play on."

The guy playing Duke Orsino looks nothing like any Shakespearian actor I've ever seen, except maybe the movie version of Romeo + Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio. He is tall, black, dreadlocked, and dressed like a glam rock-star in tight vinyl pants, pointy-toed shoes, and a sort of mesh tank top that shows off his ripped chest.

"Oh, we so made the right choice," Melanie whispers in my ear.

As Orsino gives his opening soliloquy to the sounds of the guitars and bongo drums, I feel a shiver go up my spine.

We watch the entire first act, chasing the actors around the waterfront. When they move, we move, which makes it feel like we are a part of the play. And maybe that's what makes it so different. Because I've seen Shakespeare before. School productions and a few plays at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre. But it's always felt like listening to something in a foreign language I didn't know that well. I had to force myself to pay attention, and half the time, I wound up rereading the program over and over again, as if it would impart some deeper understanding.

This time, it clicks. It's like my ear attunes to the weird language and I'm sucked fully into the story, the same way I am when I watch a movie, so that I feel it. When Orsino pines for the cool Olivia, I feel that pang in my gut from all the times I've crushed on guys I was invisible to. And when Viola mourns her brother, I feel her loneliness. And when she falls for Orsino, who thinks she's a man, it's actually funny and also moving.

He doesn't show up until act two. He's playing Sebastian, Viola's twin brother, thought dead. Which makes a certain sense, because by the time he does arrive, I am beginning to think he never really existed, that I've merely conjured him.

As he races through the green, chased after by the ever-loyal Antonio, we chase after him. After a while, I work up my nerve. "Let's get closer," I say to Melanie. She grabs my hand, and we go to the front of the crowd right at the part where Olivia's clown comes for Sebastian and they argue before Sebastian sends him away. Right before he does, he seems to catch my eye for half a second.

As the hot day softens into twilight and I'm sucked deeper into the illusory world of Illyria, I feel like I've entered some weird otherworldly space, where anything can happen, where identities can be swapped like shoes. Where those thought dead are alive again. Where everyone gets their happily-ever-afters. I recognize it's kind of corny, but the air is soft and warm, and the trees are lush and full, and the crickets are singing, and it seems like, for once, maybe it can happen.

All too soon, the play is ending. Sebastian and Viola are reunited. Viola comes clean to Orsino that she's actually a girl, and of course he now wants to marry her. And Olivia realizes that Sebastian isn't the person she thought she married-but she doesn't care; she loves him anyway. The musicians are playing again as the clown gives the final soliloquy. And then the actors are out and bowing, each one doing something a little silly with his or her bow. One flips. One plays air guitar. When Sebastian bows, he scans the audience and stops dead on me. H