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  “Lose the hat,” the director orders as Annabelle and I arrive at the gym after school. It’s been transformed with streamers and balloons, and a big band is setting up on one end.

  I gather up my nerve and say, “Um, I’m not sure I should….”

  “Why not?” he barks, checking a little video screen in his hand.

  I lift the hat off my ear.

  “Keep the hat,” he commands. “Just stay in the background. Far in the background.”

  I nod, and we scurry to the bleachers to join the other extras. I actually need to go put more ointment on my ear, so I tell Brenda I’ll be right back and hurry to the girls’ locker room. I’ve only made it to the gym teacher’s office when I hear the yelling. “I told you it’s the role of a lifetime!” Madison’s unmistakable voice shouts. “How could you turn it down?”

  I duck into the empty office and hold my breath.

  “Because I’m tired of playing the same guy in every movie,” Jake explains. His voice is loud, too, but not as loud as hers. “I want to challenge myself. I want to explore my craft. I’m not like you. I don’t want everyone following me all the time, just waiting for me to mess up or whatever.”

  Madison groans. “Why are we even bothering to do this? Here, take the ring. I can’t even fake-date you anymore.”

  “Are you fake-breaking-up with me?” he asks, sounding amused.

  “Yes!” she says, sounding anything but amused. She storms past me, thankfully not looking into the office. He follows a minute later, pushing the ring deep into his front pocket.

  I let out my breath and hurry into the locker room. There’s more drama behind the scenes of the movie than there is in the movie! By the time I finish and get back out, half of the extras have been placed in different parts of the gym. Annabelle waves to me from the dance floor, which, as far as I can tell from all the tape marks on the floor, is where a lot of the action will be taking place. The rest of the kids are either seated at the round tables, standing at the food table, or posed in small groups. Brenda calls off a few more names and directs them where to go. When she consults her list and says, “Rory?” I stand up. But so does Boy Rory. We look at each other and quickly sit down. “Sorry,” we both mutter. Brenda points to Boy Rory and tells him to join the extras on the dance floor. Then she tells me to sit at the table farthest away from the dance floor, and to keep my bad ear always facing away from the camera.

  I nod and take my new seat, which is only a few feet away from the crew and the video monitors. Amanda Ellerby is at my table, along with Kira and two seventh grade boys who never would have noticed me before, but who now stare at me as though they’ve never seen anyone with a baby elephant’s ear. I wish I could text Annabelle and tell her what I overheard between Jake and Madison, but the director has a strict no-texting-on-the-set rule. Brenda comes over and tells us to start working on our fake-talking and fake-laughing. I don’t feel much like laughing. The two boys pair off, so Amanda and Kira and I fake-talk, which is really hard with three people because you never know who you should be looking at. After a while, we give up and start real-talking instead. Since I can’t talk to Annabelle and Sari, I decide to share what I overheard with them. Kira practically faints, like, she seriously turns pale and her eyes flutter. “They broke up?” she says, her voice catching at the end.

  “Well, they were never really going out, right?” Amanda says.

  “Right. It was all for publicity.”

  “Boy, the tabloids would love this!”

  “We can’t tell anyone, though,” I insist, questioning my decision to tell them in the first place. “It wouldn’t be fair.”

  “Don’t worry,” Amanda says. “I know how to keep a secret.”

  We both turn to look at Kira. But she’s in her own world. The director finally starts shooting the scene, and we switch back to our fake-talking. It’s actually kind of fun pretending we’re having a conversation. I decide I like Amanda. She’s fun. Kira is still sort of shaking, so she just pretends to keep sipping from her fake soda. Well, I guess it’s real soda, but she’s not really supposed to drink it.

  Since we’re so far in the back, we can’t hear what the actors are saying on the dance floor. But we can hear what the crew says about it. Apparently everything was going fine until Madison refused to kiss Jake, which she was supposed to do at the end of the last song. Then Madison storms past us, followed by the director and Brenda. Brenda stops near our table to discuss the options with the crew. Amanda and I scoot our chairs over a few inches to hear better.

  “We’re almost done with the footage,” Brenda says, consulting a screen. “We just need the kiss. It doesn’t even have to be her face, we can do a back-of-the-head shot and digitize the rest of her later. But you-know-who has decided she no longer wants to kiss her fake boyfriend.”

  Amanda and I exchange surprised glances. So the crew knew all along! Then it hits me. I jump out of my chair and hurry up to Brenda. “Sorry for eavesdropping, but if you can do a back-of-the-head kiss, then how about just using someone else with dark hair?”

  Brenda looks skeptical, but the other crew members nod. “That could work,” one of the guys says.

  Brenda turns to me and says, “I assume you’re going to suggest yourself? And, no offense, but that” — she points to my ear — “would be hard to digitize out.”

  I shake my head. “Not me. Her.” I point to Kira, who is still pretending to sip from her cup even though the director yelled cut ten minutes ago. “Her hair is much more like Madison’s. In fact, from the back, if Kira were standing on a box, they might as well be the same person!”

  Okay, I might have gone a little far on that last part, but Brenda goes off to consult with the director, who has returned from his apparently unsuccessful visit with Madison. I can’t hear what they’re saying, but it looks heated. Finally, they both nod, and Brenda comes over. She snaps her fingers in front of Kira and says, “Stand up. Time to make your dreams come true.”

  Kira, clueless, follows her obediently. Amanda turns to me. “Wow. I can’t believe you did that. You could be the one kissing him.”

  “Nah. The ear, hat, and everything.”

  “Uh-huh,” she says, unconvinced.

  The kiss is being filmed on the other side of the gym, so we can’t even catch a glimpse of it if we stand on the table, which we try as soon as we’re sure the director can’t see us. Since everyone else has to stay in their assigned spots, too, no one really figures out what’s going on until one of the crew members yells out, “Watch out, she’s gonna hit the floor!” a split second before we hear a thump. I’ve got to hand it to Kira, though. According to a report from Leo, who was only a few feet away from the action, after Kira fainted, she brushed herself off and got right back up on that step stool. Fifteen minutes and six (I’m sure not very painful) takes later, the director finally yells, “That’s a wrap!” and everyone claps. Well, everyone except for Madison. But judging by the fact that after the director wrapped the scene, Kira fainted again, I’m pretty sure Madison doesn’t have to worry about being permanently replaced anytime soon.

  After the big dance night, the next few movie scenes take place in various hallways before or after school, where all we have to do is fake-talk at our lockers or pretend like we’re hurrying to class. Thankfully, over the course of the week, my ear has become human-sized again, and Brenda is finally able to stop positioning me with my back to the camera. The twenty-dollar bills from each scene are piling up nicely. It’s really a great gig. I’m going to miss it when it ends.

  I’ve already spent five dollars of my movie earnings on extra thick tape for Bunny’s cage. He definitely can’t chew through it, because each morning he’s still in there, just as I left him. He’s been very sweet, too, and I feel guilty for any mean thoughts I may have had, or any accusations I may have flung his way. Sawyer really likes him, too, and I think the feeling’s mutual. Bunny thumps his back paws a lot when Sawyer is around, which I’m prett