Cocky Best Friend: Samantha Cocker (Cocker Brothers Book 21)

Samantha Cocker

“How are you, Sam?” 

Confused, I tilt my head to reply, “Sorry?”

My throat dries.

You can’t be serious.

I missed my dance cue?

My audition is blown?!

Blinking at my witnesses, blood ice-cold from fear, I swallow hard. Their power and influence couldn’t be more devastating at such a profoundly awkward moment. The long fold-out table is like a barrier between me and my dreams of a successful life onstage.

On the left sits the person who asked if I’m okay — Atlanta’s most talented director-choreographer, Ms. Tasha Galloway. A former star herself, she has traveled with illustrious productions throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, South America, Russia — oh, everywhere! Since retirement, she has brought our Alliance Theater five of its six hits in the last three years. I’ve been in all of them, but only as a background dancer.

This was my shot.

They want a girl to dance with the lead male star. The role has been opened to lesser-known talents like me because the character has no lines. She doesn’t even sing. Which is good, because my voice inspires people to shield their ears.

But stars do not want zero lines. They want many.

Me?

Not so picky.

Yet here I stood, staring at my feet when the music started? How is that even possible?! I wish I could crawl under that table, grab her famous legs and beg Ms. Galloway for another chance.

Center is Broadway producer Stuart Rogess, a man who looks as if he has also traveled the world, but by yacht, and was wholly unimpressed by every square foot of our beautiful Earth.

Beside him sits a quiet, bug-like man whose purpose I do not know. But if he’s here, he is huge!

Oh.

My.

God.

Ms. Galloway inhales like her bun is yanked to the heavens. She repeats, “I asked how you are doing, Samantha. Are you okay?”

Ashamed, I whisper, “Yes.”

But…am I?

My brother Caden is moving to Chicago. We had a family dinner last night to say goodbye. Not one of our big Cocker Family BBQs. Just immediate family.

Mom was not herself.

Dad, a wreck.

My sister, Lexi, snapped at Mom, her idol.

Our baby brother, Hunter, stayed even after dinner was over. That’s how we knew how dire things were.

And our oldest brother, Max…I’ve never seen him so sad.

Dad invited us to sleep over. It’s the house we grew up in, and it would have been tragically nostalgic and heart-breaking if we’d slept in our old rooms knowing Caden is the first to leave us for good. Our family is splintering and nobody wanted to face it.

Caden’s the only one who accepted Dad’s invitation. Which was super sweet of him. And brave.

Because of this audition looming, I left with Lexi. She wanted to run to Brad, because he could distract her from anything, anytime, anywhere.

Hunter took off to whatever mysterious place he goes to.

Max had Natalie waiting.

Guilt plagued my decision. But this audition was pressing in and sleep was mandatory.

Not that I got any.

But I tried.

Frankly, I thought I’d come here, dance a few rounds and be sent home or book background, per usual. That was the goal, and it was a good one that deserved my full attention. Then I’d go help Caden pack. That’s where my siblings and most of our cousins are right now, stuffing his life into boxes that will be shipped to another state where we’ll never see him again.

Stop thinking like that, Sam!

But I can’t stop.

I just can’t.

He’s my big brother. My homie. My guy. Yes, Max is the oldest, but Caden and I are closer. He’s always watched over me, teasing me, driving me bonkers. But he’s…there.

I can’t believe he’s leaving!

What if he loves Chicago?

What if he stays forever?

“Please give me another chance?” 

Ms. Galloway leans over. “She’s a very talented dancer, Stu.”

He glares at her.

The Bug doesn’t budge.

With authority, Galloway calls to her award-winning pianist, “Kelly, again!”

Gentle music expands from nimble fingers.

This cue I do not miss.

My worries disappear as I’m transported to an imaginary world where my soulmate has snuck out of his home to see me before dawn’s sunlight steals our chance.

We’re forbidden by our families to be together because we honor different religions. But the moment our eyes met, we fell in love, with no choice but to hide it.

Since I’m alone in this audition, I imagine myself approaching where we said we’d meet, discover him waiting for me like he said he would, and fly across where we would pass one another, gazes locked over our shoulders until we had to release the stare.

I do not see the lack of him, the mirrors, or my solo reflection.

I see only beautiful him.

My troubled partner.

My perfect mate.

My ultimate demise. 

I bend and turn and float with a lifetime of training making it appear and feel, effortless. My heart expands as I dance, his invisible touch flipping my world into something extraordinary.

The song comes to an end on the slowest of twirls, my arms gracefully bent in front of my disciplined body. They fall like evaporating clouds. Although I am facing the judges, my gaze is locked on him as he leaves before his parents find him gone.

Goodbye is in my soul and in tears that hover.

I know this feeling well.

My brother taught it to me.

The room is silent.

Piano resting.

No one speaks.

And then…

“Thank you, Samantha,” Ms. Galloway blandly says. “Will you send the last girl in on your way out?”

I nod, force a smile, and silently exit.

Shit. Shit. Shit!

In a colorful waiting room my competition hears my approach and releases her leg from a long stretch above her beautiful head while standing on pointe.

“You’re up, Marion.”

“How’d it go?”

“Great,” I lie, “Knock ‘em dead.”

Gliding by, she throws me a distracted, “Thanks,” but her superior focus is already in the game.

I snatch my cherry-red dance bag from where I left it by the window, look over my shoulder to watch the door close behind her.

Sigh.

Checking my phone, I see a myriad of texts from family wondering where I am. My sister will spread the word.

I have to get cleaned up.

Lexi texts back:

We’re packing. Who cares if you’re sweaty?

She doesn’t realize I need to hide an ugly-cry in our shower. There’s no strength left in me to argue.

A quick elevator ride down and I step into a beautiful foyer. There it is to my right, the Alliance Theater, just across the street.

Turning left, I slam into my best friend.

We grab our faces—my nose, his forehead.

He grunts, cobalt-blue eyes closing as his muscles flex.