On a lark, I thought I'd start serially posting my novel The Symphonians, bit by bit. I figure that by the time I've posted the whole thing, I will have achieved publication. It's 338 pages long, so settle in.
Chapter 1 – JUST ANOTHER HEART IN NEED OF RESCUE
Concert band finished early, so there was time to talk before the next class began. As I headed to the instrument room with my bass clarinet, I saw three girls crowded together reading the same romance novel. They’d wait until everyone had finished the same pages before turning to the next page. Romance! I rolled my eyes. Just look at that cover, I thought. The man had conveniently lost his shirt, so he was able to show off his firm six-pack abs. And he had absolutely no chest hair. Maybe he had his chest waxed. I wondered if he’d screamed like a baby when they ripped the wax off. And the woman’s dress looked ready to fall off at the slightest touch. Man and woman strained toward each other, lips parted expectantly, their long locks (his black, hers blonde) rippling in some kind of gale-force wind. Tangle city. Ha!
And then I realized three pairs of eyes glared at me over the top of the romance novel. Whoops. I stopped chortling and slunk away to the instrument room.
The instrument room was crowded and warm, and it smelled like one of the freshmen went too heavy on the perfume, but I pulled in my elbows as I swabbed out my bass clarinet, singing quietly. I watched the adjoining tuba room from the corner of my eye. When Noel set his tuba, bell-down, in its place, I smiled at him, then ducked my head like some goofball.
“Morning, Kathy.” Noel came over to the partition dividing us and set his dimpled chin on it. His bodiless head looked like a serving of John the Baptist. I liked that comparison -- until I thought of dancing to him like Salome. I had to duck my head again. Hi! I’m a fire engine!
Jo, putting up her trumpet, saw Noel’s head sitting there without its body. She shrieked, "Don't do that!" and ran out.
"You look seriously spooky like that," I ventured shyly. It was suddenly getting warm. I pushed up the sleeves of my cardigan.
Noel's disembodied head gave me a Cheshire cat grin, his dark-brown eyes crinkling. "I know. That’s why I do it … hey, Kathy, has anyone told you you're kind of sexy?"
More blushing! Lots of it! "I am not!" I made as if I would bop him with the neck of the bass. Noel ducked, bonking his chin against the partition. He said stuff like that to girls all over school and put his arms around their shoulders. As far as I could tell, though, he wasn’t a player, just a nice guy. Noel had even given me a friendly hug a few days ago, which I liked, but at the same time made me shrink into myself. Still, never in a million years would I be . . . oh, even the word made me blush! "Besides, I'm a hermit. I mean a Kermit. No, I do mean hermit. Don't I?" I put my hand over my face and giggled insanely.
"You’re kind of cute when you get flustered. Come on, let’s get together and ‘do the things that lovers do.’"
“Er … read books, right?” I squeaked.
I laughed, embarrassing myself more when I snorted like a pig. Noel gave me a “bye y’all” wave and left. I snorted some more just to make fun of myself. Oh, it would be so nice to have my brain attached to my mouth!
Me? Sexy? Ha! I closed the bass case.
Still, a few months ago Noel had taken off his fedora, leaving his black hair all rumpled, and asked me to the Christmas dance. It wasn’t a big deal, just a small-town school dance, but I’d had a few random daydreams about going. When he asked me, I thought, here’s my chance! Except I lowered my eyes to hide my standard four-alarm blush and stammered, “I’m not the type to go out with guys.”
Noel tried to smile and be a good sport. “You don’t go out with any guys? Or just guys like me?”
"I'm sorry! Just any guys! Or gals," I added, even more flustered, realizing how I’d sounded with my declaration. That kind of talk around here can get you walloped upside the head with a Bible. “I mean, it’s nothing against you, really. You’re nice.”
"I’m nice.” Noel melodramatically clutched his heart as he headed up the hall. "Thanks, Kathy. Just rub that salt into the wound."
That took place four months ago and I was still vexed at myself. I really didn’t want to hurt Noel’s feelings. Social occasions made me feel awkward. Also, I’d never been out with anybody, ever, so I don’t know what the heck I would do with myself. They need to have manuals for high-school juniors who have never been on a date, never kissed a guy, so when they do go on a date, they won’t look totally stupid. Though I would be embarrassed to buy a book that says, “I’ve never gone out with actual men!"
I closed my bass case and clicked the latches shut. A strange, suffocating feeling descended like a cloud over my heart. I went to the door of the instrument room. Noel had gone to the percussion section to join several students in a game of Speed. They had turned the big bass drum sideways and were slapping cards down on it, fwip fwip fwip, then lunging to grab the stack. “Welcome to Fiasco High School, home of the Debacles!” one of them shouted, and the others laughed. I loved to watch them. I wished I could join them, but I never knew what to say.
Why this unhappy feeling? It felt hard to breathe.
I shook my head and left the instrument room. I must be coming down with something; I would take a zinc lozenge just to be safe.
The morning sky was dark with a thundercloud. The windows were open, letting the humid April wind whistle in and cool the heat of so many bodies crowded in the bandroom. Northwest Missouri was always humid. Rain sprinkled the new spears of grass that pushed through last year's dead blades. Lightning flashed as maples lashed under steel-grey clouds.
Just then the lunch bell rang. Students buzzed around the bandroom, gathering books, putting away nail polish and CD players. Noel picked up his backpack, chatting with his friends. A black fleck bit my heart like a bit of sub-zero emptiness.
I dug my Symphonians notebook out of my backpack and impulsively hugged it to my chest, but this time it didn’t seem to do the trick.