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Sixth Chair

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I pushed the doorbell. The door opened instantly to Kevin, one of my friends, whose house it was.
"You're late!" He scolded with a good natured smile. "What took you so long?"
I stepped through the doorway and laid my cello on the ground. I gestured to it.
"I ran a little late at rehearsal. I haven't even been home yet. I hope you don't mind the instrument." It wasn't so much a hope as an order. I was here at seven instead of six-thirty, and I had no intention of calling my parents to take my cello home. It had been a year or so since I'd seen my friends from my old middle school, all of us having dispersed to various high schools, and Kevin had been nice enough to reunite us.
"Not at all," Kevin said. I followed him to the kitchen, where my old buddies had taken over.
"Finally!" Dean, another of my friends, exclaimed upon seeing me. "Maestro Nathan shows his face."
"It's nice to see you too," I said, taking a seat at the table and staring somewhat despondently into space, my head reeling with the day. It had been more interesting than usual. I smiled distractedly.
"Your lucky you got here before we entirely demolished the food," Kevin joked. He poured a glass of soda and handed it to me. "You look like you saw a ghost. Have a drink and tell us the story."
"Was it some long dead composer, returned to haunt you for butchering his masterpiece?" Tyler, a fellow musician, but something of a musical rival, as a flutist, asked.
"Maybe that happens when the band plays, but not for us," I teased in return. After a moment's consideration, I added, "though, maybe she was a ghost."
"She?" Dean said with a stifled laugh. "This is guaranteed to be good."
"We all know how incredible Nate is with girls," Ethan said, speaking for the first time and pouring himself another cup of soda.
I glared at him a little. "Don't bring that up."
"Which one?" He asked.
"Any of them."
Kevin interrupted our spat. "Well, tell us all about this ghost girl."
I sighed. "I'm not getting off the hook, am I? Settle in. This might take a bit."
"No rush." Dean leaned back in his chair.
***
I zipped my backpack closed over my books and shut my locker, not looking forward to orchestra rehearsal after school with Gulley High. It was all the way across town, at their school, and, while I often, somewhat unfairly, griped at my school's orchestra for not having a clue, they were a professional symphony next to Gulley. As I mentally braced myself for a cavalcade of incorrect bowings and badly played notes, I slung my backpack over my shoulder. The upside was that I was going over to Kevin's afterward. That would just make the mess feel longer, though.
I weaved my way through the swarm that inhabited the halls of Trout Lake High School, making my way first to the band room to recover my cello, then out to the front doors. I was lucky, and had no homework due tomorrow. That was convenient. I stepped through the wide front doors, being sure not to hit anyone or anything with my cello. I crossed the lawn, which was teaming with teens, and found my mom waiting in her car in the parking lot. I stowed my things in the back and climbed in. Being only a freshman, I couldn't drive yet, but I was a little glad of that. I didn't particularly fancy the notion of piloting a hunk of steel at high speeds in areas containing people. I buckled my seatbelt as I made a sound of disgust.
“What is it?” My mom asked.
“Just this whole thing with Gulley,” I replied. “I don’t understand why we need to have a ‘cooperative concert’ with them.” I placed all the sarcasm I could on the words ‘cooperative concert.’
“Just make the best of it,” My mom told me.
We traveled the rest of the distance in relative silence. I replied to most stimulus with an annoyed grunt. Eventually the car pulled into the parking lot of Gulley High school.
“We should be done at six or so,” I said, opening the trunk and collecting my cello. I shut the trunk with a loud outpouring of my annoyance.
“I’ll see you then.” My mom pulled out, leaving me there with my cello, my orchestra, and a mass of doubtless incompetents.
The wide double doors of Gulley opened into an even wider entrance hall. I looked down the hall, searching for any sign of where I should be going. I had never been here before, and was profoundly lost.
At that moment, the doors behind me opened again. I turned my head to see who it was.
My heart skipped a beat and my stomach fluttered. I realized I was staring and quickly turned my head.
The newcomer who had such a profound effect on me was a girl. Her black hair fell to her shoulders and curled slightly once there. Her eyes were wide and beautiful. She was a little shorter than me. Everything about her face was intoxicating.
Then she opened her mouth to speak. Her voice was high pitched, but not shrill. It floated gently above everything.
"Are you looking for the band room?" she asked.
"Is that where the rehearsal is?" I asked like an idiot. Of course it was. The cello across her back and the fact that she asked me about the band room told me that much.
"It is. I'll show you there." She took off down the hallway, and I followed her, my mind sluggishly trying to process what was going on.
It wasn't just her looks that knocked the breath out of me. I'd seen pretty girls before. No single aspect of her could be called the greatest in the world, but the combination of her hair, her eyes, her lips, her fingers, all surrounded by an effortless grace and accompanied by that sweet voice left me in awe. My brain eventually came to the conclusion that she was from Gulley, and evidently played the cello, like me. That wasn't a great sign, but even wild musical incompetence wasn't about to ruin her.
"I've completely lost my mind," I thought. I had barely met this girl and heard two sentences pass her lips and...
Oh, what lips they were.
I physically smacked myself in the head, drawing a glance from the girl. She said nothing, but continued walking.
After a minute or so of walking, we arrived at the band room. Chairs and stands had already been set up, and some of them were taken. I saw a couple people from Trout Lake and waved at them.
"Thanks," I told the girl and laid my cello case down to unpack. She nodded at me and headed over to some others who I assumed went to Gulley. I surreptitiously shot a number of glances that would have made me look like a complete creeper had anyone seen them as I prepared my instrument and bow. I just couldn't tear my gaze away from her.
Once I was unpacked I took my cello and bow in one hand and my sheet music in the other and strode to the chairs already set up for the orchestra. The first four chairs were already taken, three of them by Gulley kids. I begrudgingly took the fifth chair. At least I was on the outside. I hoped my stand partner would be someone from Trout Lake and not someone from Gulley. Maybe I was just biased by my school pride, but I'd heard Gulley play. It had not ended well.
I didn't get my wish, but I was easily happier with the outcome. The girl who'd led me to the band room took the sixth chair. I mentally celebrated. It probably hadn't been me that'd moved her to sit there, but I was happy either way.
The rational part of my brain kicked in then. What was I thinking? I had no idea who this girl was. I didn't even know her name. For all I knew, that violist over there was her boyfriend. For all I knew, she thought I was exceedingly creepy, on which count she would probably be right. For all I knew, she was an alien in disguise come to end the Earth.
None of those things really bothered me, though. I was being completely foolish, and I knew it. It was unbelievably irksome. The girl unfurled her music and for a second, we made eye contact. Almost immediately, both of us broke away, staring into space. I fought the urge to look at her again. Neither of us spoke as we waited for rehearsal to begin proper. Eventually, a man I took to be the orchestra director from Gulley positioned himself at the conductor's stand. We played through the pieces we all already knew from practicing back at school and at home. It was a good thing I knew the songs, because I couldn't keep my mind from straying one seat to the right. She was even more lovely when playing, somehow. Her graceful fingers worked magic on me, and her face took on a look of comfortable concentration. It was incredibly distracting.
I wasn't particularly bothered by the questionable notes emanating from behind me, and even the bizarre and random bowings from someone in front of me were barely able to get past the thick wall of infatuation that had clouded my young mind. The whole time I thought of ways to introduce myself, to make her notice me, but each one was more ridiculous than the last, and I had no real intention of using any of them. I eventually stopped once I got to the Shakespeare quotes. That was just too far.
Too soon for me, six rolled around and we were dismissed. I packed up after only a few words to the kids from my school, all the while sneaking glances at the girl. I picked up my backpack and my cello.
I gathered every shred of courage my befuddled mind could muster and walked toward the girl. My mind was filled with all the things to say. I could practically taste the words.
Halfway to her, all the introductions fled. My mind went blank. Still, I soldiered on.
I was almost to her. I thought I saw one of her friends see me out of the corner of her eye. That was when I lost it. I turned without a word and walked out the band room doors. Down the hallways of Gulley. Away from that girl, those eyes, that face. Out the front doors. It was for the best, I told myself. I half believed it.
***
I realized I'd crushed my plastic cup and was shaking slightly.
"Now I'm here," I said.
My friends were silent for a second.
"She was really something, I guess," Dean said. I nodded. "What'd you say her name was?" He asked.
"I didn't," I replied, a little ashamed, "I have no idea what it is."
"Wow." Kevin reached for an empty bowl of chips and leaned back, a little disappointed.
"I guess I'll see her at the concert, but it's all a moot point. The same thing will happen." I sighed.
"You'll never know if you never try," Ethan offered.
"I suppose so. Maybe I'll be braver next time. Maybe if nothing happens, it will be just as well," I said, resigned.
"Maybe."
The room was silent.
"Who's up for a game? Uno? Yahtzee?" Kevin asked after a long silence.
I smiled. "You're going down."





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