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I follow them up the stairs. Around the corner, through the throng of people, down the hall and we’re there. Room 209. It was that simple, that quick, and that painless.
We stood awkwardly in the hallway outside the room, awaiting our fateful performance. I stood farthest from him, as usual. In my book, avoidance was the best cure to a foolish crush. And this was the most foolish crush of all.
Through my mind ran the recording of what our quartet was supposed to sound like, over, and over, and over. The three of us had listened to it the night before, when he hadn’t come to our rehearsal.
After a moment of staring at the obnoxious orange lockers across the hall from us, I glanced down the line at each of their faces. My friends, Nicole and Liz, stood between him and me. Nicole looked like she was prepared, which she was, and like she wanted nothing more than to get this over with. Her face spelled anticipation--but certainly not nervousness--as she whistled her part over the commotion in the hall. Liz was sitting in the chair, holding the bari up, and playing with her neck strap. I could tell she was just the slightest bit nervous on the inside, but never would Liz Graham show any form of vulnerability. That was just not how things worked with her. Then I saw him. He was standing straight, staring right at the closed door. His face was rigid and serene. Watching him, I realized, was making me even more nervous than I already was. I noticed that my foot was tapping wildly and I stopped immediately. My hands were clammy, and I was biting my lip as my eyes bugged out of my head.
After a few more agonizing seconds, the door creaked open and, taking charge, he led us into the room. The others followed, and as usual, I entered last. Seconds later, some of our friends scrambled into the room and filled the empty seats that consisted of the audience. I stared right at one of them, the one I had specifically asked not to come because crowds make me freak out, and started hyperventilating inside. I think I hid it well, though, because no one seemed too worried about me.
We gathered around the stands and arranged ourselves as we always did. He was across from me and next to Nicole, who was facing Liz, who was beside me. I took one last peek at the judge and the room was suddenly freezing. I began to shiver and shake, and I almost started laughing right before we began. But I didn’t. I just played my part as I had so many times this past week. And when we came to my solo, it was actually in time really well, which I hadn’t expected.
Not a moment too soon, though, we were done. I took another glance around the group and everyone looked proud. Except for me, I’m sure. I was still clammy, my legs were visibly vibrating now, and I was about to burst into tears I was so nervous.
“Alright, guys, I have heard a lot of fantastic quartets today, and you are certainly not an exception. I love how the soprano was added to the mix, too. Great job!” the judge said, writing in a few extra notes before returning the score to him. I nearly sprinted down the hall afterwards, and he was a few yards behind.
As we packed up in the gym, my breathing was irregular and I was still calming down from my almost break-down. “That wasn’t so bad, now, was it?” he asked, hovering over me.
“Uh…yeah. Yeah, that was bad,” I said, more so to myself than to him.
A small smile played on his lips and he said, “You’re too hard on yourself. That solo part, it was perfect. And I know you did a great job because we were all together the entire piece. Relax. You did well, and you deserve to acknowledge that.” He waved as he walked away, and I let the tears fall.
This week was finally over. No more mornings crammed in the tiny practice room, shaking with anxiety as he led our rehearsals, no more awkward moments waiting for Liz and Nicole while he went over my part, no more having to fret about our performance, no more having to worry about him so much more than usual. Now, I was back to fantasizing from the next seat over, praying I don’t make a complete fool of myself, and dreaming at night of impossible hopes. I was back to collapsing at every smile, smirking at every sarcastic remark, and blushing through every conversation. I was back to being little, old, hiding-on-the-sidelines, disguised-by-silence, yearning-for-more me.