by M.B. Guel
Billie Alvarez is your average punk rock loving high school senior who just wants to hang out with her best friend, Rex, and get her ex-girlfriend back. In a half-baked attempt to impress her by auditioning for the lead part in the school musical, Billie gets turned down because she’s a girl trying out for a traditionally male part. When her online rant about the school being homophobic goes viral, she must navigate her newfound fame along with the typical drama that comes with getting through high school.
Between rehearsals, trying to get her band back together and an endless onslaught of online admirers, Billie must decide what’s important to her. Is it the fleeting happiness of getting attention online? Figuring out what she wants to do after high school? Or getting her ex back?
Then there’s her co-star in the school play, who’s getting much more interesting now that they’re spending more time rehearsing together.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"It is no secret that the pandemic (aka the pan-Demi-Lovato, panini, panorama, and all other amusing names that have been penned to soften the blow of this terrible time) impacted the way most of us saw the world. For me, one of the many things that changed was moving to work from home. This meant a lot more staring at my computer and immersing myself in social media in a way I hadn’t before. It was never more clear which influencers were fake representations of what they wished their life was like and which accidentally stumbled upon fame. In an attempt to find a brief distraction from the dumpster fire outside of my window, I found myself fascinated with people like Caroline Calloway who were so fake, it’s unclear whether or not they even know how fake they are.
The fickle and performative nature of internet fame was like looking into a very small Gucci sponsored fishbowl and I was curious, what was it like to be thrown face first into that crystal bowl of lemon infused water? What might it be like for a reluctant teen to find themselves surrounded by such a thing?
Thus, the character of Billie Alvarez (a clueless, idiotic teenager who is thrust into the limelight), and my idea for Internet Famous, was born."
“Billie Alvarez, you are a new level of cocky to come in here and think you’re going to just join the AV Club,” June said as she crossed her arms. Billie couldn’t help but admire the way her dark hair matched her thick eyeliner. The fluorescent lights cast a harsh shadow over her usually soft and pixie-like features. With her long limbs, she could be mistaken for being tall when she was sitting, but she was almost half-a-foot shorter than Billie. Billie always loved how June dressed—tight black leggings ending in beat-up combat boots and a stylishly ripped T-shirt that showed off her black cami underneath. Her pale skin almost matched the bright white of the shirt.
Billie smiled smugly, wide enough that she knew her dimples were popping. June adjusted her septum piercing, a telltale sign that she was irritated. Probably wouldn’t be the best time for Billie to tell her she had some purple lipstick on her teeth.
“But…that’s why you love me, right?” she asked with a bright smile.
June blinked at her. “You can be such an arrogant prick, you know that?”
“That’s what all the girls say,” Billie bragged, leaning back and slinging her arm over the empty chair next to her. She ran her hand through her short, choppy locks, thick, dark hair falling over her eyes for a moment before she flicked it away. She had dyed the ends a bright aqua in preparation for getting June back, and she was pretty stoked with it. Straining her eyes upward to try and get a glimpse of her own hair, Billie caught June’s eye roll and cleared her throat, sobering a little. “I mean uh…not all the girls because…I don’t care what all the girls say. Just you.”
She leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees and tapping her heavy boots on the dirty linoleum of the school’s AV room. June’s intense gaze was becoming too much, and Billie chose to look at the wall of outdated electronics instead. There were old televisions, VHS players, and even large tape recorders all along the shelves—the typical accoutrements of the average audio-visual club, if it was for high school in the eighties. Would it kill them to get a VR headset in here or something? Anything to bring the club to the current decade. Or maybe a good spring cleaning to get rid of the heavy smell of burning plastic in the air.
Not that any of that mattered to Billie. She wasn’t interested in producing the school’s lame-ass Homeroom Show or lighting the stage for the school functions. All she wanted was June back, and so far that didn’t seem to be something that was going to happen. Billie was, frankly, confused. She really thought that whole “forcing June to spend time with her” approach was the way to go.
She smiled so wide at June it made her cheeks hurt. “So whaddya say? Let me take you to Sonics?”
“No,” June said simply, lips curled in a tight smile. “The closest Sonic is an hour away.”
Billie groaned, letting her head hang between her shoulder blades in defeat before looking back at her ex-girlfriend. “Come on, Junebug, the drive is what makes it romantic.”
“No,” June said firmly. “Don’t call me that anymore. You lost that privilege when you flirted with some girl on TikTok. Plus, since when is sitting in traffic on the 5 romantic?”
“It didn’t mean anything!” Billie repeated for what felt like the thousandth time.
June stood so forcefully that the legs of her chair scraped behind her, threatening to tip over. “Out. Please. As the president of the AV Club, I have the authority in this room. And I’m telling you to get out.”
Billie sighed dramatically as she stood and dragged herself out of the dimly lit room. The door practically slammed behind her as she stepped into the hall. Rex sat outside with their knees bent to their chest, waiting for Billie and looking down at their phone. They pushed their thick glasses up the bridge of their nose, unfolding a long, lithe body like a scarecrow as they stood. Their bright pink hair shaved close to the head clashed with their neon outfit but somehow managed to complement their darker complexion. Rex’s style could only be described as messily specific; there was an effortless sort of queerness that radiated off them that Billie envied and admired, but they were both weird enough for each other.
“Did it go as well as I thought it would?” Rex asked with a grin.
She threw them a look and adjusted her backpack on her shoulder. “I’m just saying…if June would talk to me—”
“She doesn’t have to talk to you, bro. You deserve everything she’s throwing at you right now. I love you, but you flirted with another girl.”
“On the Internet!” Billie headed toward the cafeteria. She swore she could find her way there with her eyes closed, just by following the scent of pizza crust. “Nothing you do on the Internet counts as anything!”
She used social media as much as the average teenager. She had a bit of a following in the young and queer community, which was admittedly a little addicting. So yes, she was guilty of posting the occasional thirst trap where she kinda looked at the camera and played with her face. She didn’t quite get it, but she saw other lesbians doing it on TikTok and figured it was the thing to do.
Rex frowned and tapped their chin. “You know, that’s not exactly true. You can still get arrested for the things you do on the Internet.”
“Well, this is different. It was stupid, empty flirting. I flirt with everyone, you know that.”
“Again, not exactly true.” Rex shook their head. “But I’m loving your determination here. Truly inspiring.”
“Three years. We were together for three years.” She dramatically kicked open the cafeteria door in her frustration.
She was so caught up in her moaning that she almost missed how all students seated at the tables closest to the doors jumped when she kicked open the door. She and Rex took their usual seats in the back corner. A few of the other students looked at them with the briefest flash of fear in their eyes, but most ignored them. They both had been graced with the reputation of being “tough,” probably because of Billie’s clear infatuation with the color black, heavy boots, and piercings. It wasn’t anything extreme, just a few more than normal cartilage piercings, a nose piercing, and a fake lip piercing. But she would never tell anyone the lip ring was fake because then she’d have to explain that she was too scared to pierce her lip.
“I think it’s time for you to move on, Billie,” Rex said, as they pulled a crumpled paper sack from their messenger bag.
“Didn’t you hear me talk about how we were together for three years?” she asked, pulling out her own lunch. She unwrapped the foil to see the leftover tacos her abuela had made the night before. Three years of her life with June. Three. Practically a millennium for high schoolers, but for lesbians, it might as well have been a week.
“Lucky,” Rex sighed, gazing longingly at her lunch. “I’ll trade you my chips for a taco.” She passed them one of the tacos. “And because you were together for three years doesn’t mean it was supposed to last. Time to get over her.”
“I can’t just get over June,” Billie said through a mouthful of taco. “You don’t just get over someone after that long.”
Rex shrugged. “My parents got over each other pretty quickly after the divorce. And they were together for twenty years.”
“Okay but that’s different. Divorce is a special case.”
“You know, almost fifty percent of marriages end in divorce.”
The voice came out of nowhere, and Billie actually jumped. Lois was standing next to their lunch table. A shorter girl with long, dark brown hair that reached the middle of her back, contrasting with her light-freckled skin, she was dressed in a simple skirt with a billowy blouse tucked into it that accentuated her thick curves. Billie couldn’t help but look. Lois had dark eyes and always seemed to have a thousand questions. She always looked like she was about to go to court or a job interview. And apparently, she was also very good at sneaking around unnoticed.
“Where the hell did you come from?” Billie asked.
Lois blinked, a light tint on her full cheeks. “Well, technically, I was born in Milwaukee but that’s not what you meant. I’m walking around giving out fliers for auditions for the school musical.”
She thrust one at Billie who let it flutter in front of her. The paper was highlighter yellow with nineties clipart of old convertibles, a boy and a girl in fifties clothes sharing a milkshake, and at least three-too-many musical notes. She frowned and looked back up at Lois. “Open auditions? Since when? I thought all you drama nerds had enough members to cast the entire show yourselves.”
Lois huffed and held her stack of fliers close to her chest. “Well, about ninety percent of the club decided they weren’t going to do the musical this year. They said Grease was too controversial.”
“Grease?” Rex asked.
“Yes. They said that with the current state of our country, they couldn’t support a musical that supported the idea that a woman should change herself for a man,” she said stiffly. “Completely forgetting that it is an American staple of musical theater.”
“I guess I see their point,” Billie mused, mostly to get a reaction out of Lois.
She was delighted to see more red creep up her neck. They didn’t have many interactions, but Lois was in some of her advanced classes, so they ended up chatting once in a while. She didn’t have a problem with Lois, but she knew the rest of the kids tended to get annoyed with her. It was too easy. Lois was always thrusting her hand up in the air during class to the point that even the teachers looked exasperated when they got to the latter months of the school year. Lois was very smart. And she didn’t let anyone forget it.
“If Mr. Sanders let me adjust the play the way I wanted to…Well, anyway, it’ll be me performing all of the parts if we can’t find people to fill the other roles,” she sighed, then perked up. “Though I can’t pretend I haven’t been training for this my whole life. Grease was the first musical I memorized all the parts to.”
Billie finally read the flier, immediately finding the small text at the bottom that stated: Must be prepared for long nights of rehearsals. Dress, lighting, collaborating with the AV Club, etc.
A bad idea lit in her mind. “You do rehearsals with the AV Club?”
Lois nodded. “I’m sorry to hear about you and June by the way,” she said softly. “I know you two have been together a long time—”
“We’re not broken up.”
Rex snorted. “They’re totally broken up.”
“We’re not,” Billie said and then added, “Not…for long anyway. I’ll be at your tryouts.”
Lois smiled a little shyly, pulling her bottom lip between her teeth. “Really? You’ll be at the auditions?”
“Yeah,” Billie said, smiling cockily. Just the simple smile from a girl and she didn’t even care that Lois corrected her about something so weird. She leaned forward on her elbows toward Lois. “What’s your favorite song?”
“That’s a loaded question,” she said, a faraway look in her eyes. “But if I absolutely had to pick… ‘Still Hurting’ from The Last Five Years.”
Billie frowned for a moment. “That sounds like a bummer.”
“Well, either way I look forward to seeing you at the auditions tomorrow,” Lois said, bouncing on the balls of her feet in excitement. “Bye, Billie.”
“Must you flirt with every skirt you see?” Rex asked, eyebrow raised. “If you recall, that’s why you’re in this position to begin with.”
Billie at least had the decency to blush. “I wasn’t flirting with her.”
“You pretended you were going to try out for her musical to make her smile. That’s flirting. By the way, all these years and you’ve still never taught me how to flirt.”
“That wasn’t just flirting. I was serious.” She took another big bite of her taco. “I’m ’onna try out.”
Rex snorted into their taco. “But why?”
“Because I’m a genius. June doesn’t want me in the AV Club. But she can’t stop me from joining the musical, whereupon she’ll be forced to spend time with me.”
Rex frowned. “Um…this seems…like a poor choice.”
“No, it’s a great idea. All those long nights together in the gymnasium…her lighting my face, me throwing out my best charm.” She wiggled her eyebrows. “Foolproof.”
“If by foolproof you mean totally guaranteed to make you look like a fool, you’re correct. Can you even sing musical numbers?”
“Do you not remember The Violent Pussies?” Billie pointed to the patch on the arm of her jacket—black with bright pink stitching of a cartoon cat holding a switchblade. “June fell in love with my voice. As soon as I showed up in her dusty old garage to try out for lead singer, she was hooked.” Billie sighed wistfully, remembering being a freshman with far fewer piercings and hair pulled back into a messy ponytail. She hadn’t hit her growth spurt yet but she was still gangly and tall for her age. “Before I had even reached my peak gay.”
“She was the drummer so it could have been Stockholm Syndrome. And singing in a high-school rock band is very different from fucking Grease. You have to act, first of all, which means memorizing a bunch of lines. Then you have blocking, choreography—”
“When did you become a musical theater expert? It’s not that different.” Billie carefully folded up the flier and put it in her pocket. “Operation Get June Back is officially a go.”
Rex finished off their taco and hummed. “I’d rather be part of operation Make Billie Realize She Fucked Up and It’s Over.”
“Ha ha,” she said, throwing a stray piece of shredded cheese at Rex. “Where’s the childhood best friend loyalty?”
“Buried in the backyard with my Power Rangers lunchbox you destroyed in second grade,” they said with a thin smile. “As much as I hate this idea, I also like watching you make a fool of yourself. Proof that I really do love you.”
“You’re a gem, you know that? It’s gonna be great. You’ll see. This will work, easy-peasy. I’m going to be the lead in the school play.”
Rex frowned. “Um, no way you’re taking that position from Lois.”
She shook her head, a conspiratorial smile on her face. “I’m going to take the male lead.”
“Because I need as much stage time as I can get so that June is forced to look at me longer.” She smiled even wider. “Plus, if she sees me singing to Lois, her jealousy will go through the roof.”
“You know, this might be the worst idea you’ve ever had,” Rex said, their voice thick with affection.
She snorted, smiling at Rex. “Thanks, babe. Remember, you hitched your ride to this crazy train.”
“Something I regret every day.”