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I sat next to Joey in the music hall, doing my math homework until my lesson with the band director, Mr. Berntson.
We were busy trying to figure out ellipses.
“What number are you on?”
“What did you get for number seven?”
And so forth. There was a trumpet playing in the background, in one of the nearby practice rooms. I could barely concentrate on my math, and the playing was not helping.
“Joey, I don’t get this at all.”
“Oh, and you think I do?”
I grinned at him. We were both in Holzkamm’s Algebra II class, and learning the same chapter. I thought he could have helped me, but he was equally as confused as I was.
Courtney had gone somewhere else, practicing her flashcards. Wendy was with Berntson at the moment, at her lesson.
I just sat there, trying to think and concentrate. The trumpet was presumably practicing his solo for the solo festival, which was in two days. I couldn’t help but listen. Such a catchy tune, all sixteenth and eighth notes, moving smoothly up and down the scale.
I couldn’t help but wonder who was playing. Certainly not Riley, who had caught the flu, poor babe. Clint, maybe? Or who else was going to solo festival? I vaguely wondered if it was…yes, that was it. He had to be. He was the only one I knew who was…well, I hoped.
I tried to figure out the problem again, erasing and re-penciling in an ellipse. It wasn’t working. I forgot how to find the foci, and Joey was two problems behind me. So finally, I gave up.
Wordlessly, I set down my Algebra book and pencil and got up. I walked towards the practice room where the beautiful notes were floating out of. I paused for a split second, hesitating, my hand already on the doorknob, ready to turn.
The door flew open from the other side, without me even pushing the door, and Greg Gengel stood before me, staring. We both froze, surprised.
“Hello,” he finally said, smiling.
“Hi,” I said, smiling back. “Iâ€”um, was wondering who was playing…”
“Oh, I was practicing my solo,” he said. He grinned. “It’s good, right?”
“Yeah, it is,” I agreed earnestly, “I kept wondering who it was, and what it was...”
He smiled at me. “Oh, hey,” he said, his eyes lighting up. “Do you want to hear my new song on the piano?”
I was surprised. “Sure,” I said, and we both went into the practice room. I remember thinking that maybe from Joey’s point of view, it didn’t look like a good idea. But I wasn’t going to say no.
He took a seat at the piano bench, and I stood beside him, looking at the music stand that held his musical piece. Saraband and Gavatta it said.
“I didn’t really write it,” he confessed, “It just popped into my head…”
He began playing, and instantly I was captivated. The notes, dramatic and smooth, were weaving a tale of their own in the air. I couldn’t help but watch his fingers as they slid up and down the keys, creating the beautiful melody. I listened intently, bent on drinking up this wordless tune, this piece of lovely dynamics and harmony. Faster and faster the notes went, louder and more dramatic. He reached the climax, and suddenly my arms had goose bumps and l was very alert, holding my breath, untilâ€”
He slowed, playing chords of calming peace. My breath whooshed out, and I listened again as the notes began to slow, the notes elongated and thoughtful. They kept slowing, and getting quieter, more expressive, until, the end.
He looked up at me, catching me off guard. Well? His face said to me, expectantly. I remember noticing his eyes. Hazel.
“Wow,” I said. Speechless, breathless, in the momentâ€”
“Yeah?” he said, pleased with himself.
“That wasâ€”wow.” I smiled and turned to his solo, Sarabonde and Gavatta. “Is this your solo?” Of course it was. Why did you ask?
“Will you play? I want to hear it,” I said, indicating his piece.
“Yeah, sure. Close the door,” he said as he got up, but I heard him too late; I was already at his place on the piano bench. He laughed hesitantly and closed the door himself. He took up his instrument and cleared it of excess spit. “I’ve never played in front of anyone yet, so…”
I smiled and waited patiently. He began, and I followed along, watching the notes come to life through his trumpet. They were by no means exceptionally played, like before.
“Sorry,” he apologized easily, “It’s really hard to play when you’re nervous.” I shrugged.
“Just think,” I said, “There’ll be more people than just me who’ll be listening tomorrow.”
“I know,” he said, “But I know you’re actually paying attention. Others don’t.”
This struck me as odd, although I don’t know how to explain it. And what he kept saying struck me as odd, and maybe a little too personal for just being acquaintances.
He began again, stopping here and there. “Sorry. I’m just nervous,” he said, and I remember thinking, Was he nervous because of me? How could I be making this senior nervous? And why would he be admitting to this type of thing? Unless this was just how Greg was?
I smiled. Don’t be, I thought, It’s just me.
He played his piece over again. Once it was done, he laughed hesitantly. To make him feel better, I clapped. He had ended it much better the second time around.
“I actually picked this piece only two week ago,” he said, “I found one that I liked before, but me and Berntson couldn’t get the timing right with the piano part, so we just gave up and did this piece.” I nodded.
“Wow,” I said. I was a little shy right then, since this was Greg, a senior. I knew I shouldn’t have been; he was such a nice guy. But maybe that was why I was nervous myself. I barely knew him, and only had talked to him once or twice before this moment.
“You’re…really into music, aren’t you?” I asked, the sentence half sounding like a statement of fact. He looked a little taken aback, pausing for a split second.
“Yeah,” he said, nodding, “I am. Why?”
“Well, I see you’re signed up for lessons with Berntson all the time on the â€˜Blood List.’”
“The Blood List?” He looked confused, and I laughed.
“Yeah, the Blood List,” I repeated, and told him the story behind it. He laughed, and I couldn’t help but wonder if he thought that that was an immature thing.
The awkward silence was getting to me. I was trying very hard to avoid it, yet it was inevitable. The seconds that passed were tense as I frantically tried to think of something to say.
“So, what’s your solo?” he asked me. Relieved, I told him.
“Vittoria! Vittoria!” He looked away, thoughtful.
“Who’s the composer?”
“Erâ€”some guy…Carissimmo?” I guessed, laughing. “I forget. It’s something like that.” He smiled.
“Never heard of him.”
“Oh. Well…let me go get it.” I walked out of the room, careful to avert Joey’s eyes. He watched me silently, but I didn’t want to catch his gaze. I didn’t want to see his expression. This is nothing, I kept telling myself. Greg’s just someone who happens to be here. We’re not doing anything wrong. And yet I couldn’t help but feel as if this wasn’t right, that I really shouldn’t be speaking to him, let alone share music with him.
I retrieved my book of music and walked back into the room.
“Here,” I said, opening it up to the right page. “Carissimi.”
“Right.” He looked at it, studying the notes. “How does it go?”
“Oh, well…” I tried a few notes on the piano, sitting down on the bench. It didn’t come out right, partly because I was nervous andâ€”well, just that. I was nervous. He had just played this extraordinary piece of music for me, and I was trying to play a few simple notes after. This could not compare. Not by a long shot.
“I don’t know,” I confessed, “You’d have to play it.”
“Oh,” he said, stepping up. “I actually don’t know how to play the piano, but…” he sat down next to me and tried his hand at it.
What? I remember thinking. Then how did you play that awesome melody? He had had no lessons whatsoever, and he was still a better pianist than I. An extraordinary pianist.
Now that I think about it, it was foolish to ask him at the time. He couldn’t read the notes on a bass clef scale. He tried anyway, and our arms were centimeters apart; I could feel the hairs on our arms brushing lightly together, we were that close.
Suddenly the door opened.
“Greg, isn’t it time for your lesson?” Mr. Berntson asked, as if he didn’t scare us half to death. My heart leaped in surprise, but I stayed there, frozen, as Greg jumped up. So I wasn’t the only one who thought maybe the moment had been shattered. If there even was a moment to shatter.
It was as if he had caught us stealing from the cookie jar, stepping in at just the right moment to stop everything from becoming more…intimate, I guess, is the word. He had walked in on our own little world, and I still am debating whether to be thankful or not.
“Oh, I thought I was signed up for four-thirty,” he said casually as he left the room, “let me check…”
I stayed there, catching my breath. Even now, I wondered if it had been such a smart idea to have stepped into the room. The faint thought What the heck is going on? scrolled its way across my mind, but I ignored it.
I was about to leave the practice room when Greg came back to get his things.
“Sorry about holding you up,” I said apologetically.
“No, that’s okay,” he answered. We both left the room, I, a little hesitantly, for he left his case in there.
Joey was still there, and I took my place next to him, a safe haven for me. He was still doing homework.
“Hey,” I said as Greg walked by, “If you still want to hear my solo, stick around after. I go in right after you.”
“Sure,” he said and went back into the band room.
Wendy came out, looking dejected. We made small talk, all three of us. Joey and I worked silently on the math problems while Wendy studied one of my notes handouts.
Again, I couldn’t concentrate. I listened subconsciously to Greg playing, and half listened as Joey spoke about something. Wendy talked some, and I answered, but my mind wasn’t there. It was as if I was half asleep, so I finally gave up my homework. I began putting things away and went to grab my instrument. I was a little apprehensive on leaving Joey and Wendy together, considering the whole Wendy-Kyle-Joey love triangle thing that went down last week.
I shut the swinging band door as quietly as I could, but it still shut with a little bang! Greg looked my way, and I gave him a half smile. I hurried towards my band cubby and assembled my trombone quickly, before leaving the band room again.
I took up the practice room I had just deserted mere moments ago and began warming up. Greg’s case and folder was still there, as was my trombone solo. I played a few scales and lip slurs, and finally, my solo.
I walked out of the practice room towards my two friends, who were still in the exact same spots as before. They glanced up at me, and I made a face at them.
“Have fun,” Wendy said. I went back into the band room, this time prepared. I lurked near the door, feeling like a complete and total idiot, until Berntson finally let Greg go. Berntson went back into his office while Greg took his sheet of music off the stand.
He passed me and smiled. I smiled back.
“You’ll stay?” I asked.
“Yeah.” He left the room, and I set up my music next to the grand piano.
“How are you doing, Amy?” Berntson asked me, smiling.
“Good.” I answered.
All throughout the lesson, I was wondering if Greg really had stayed. I kept glancing at the doors, and even towards the open door that led to the other side of the music hall. I didn’t see him. It made it harder to concentrate on my piece, and I was losing hope. And faith. Which was ridiculous, since this was Greg, a senior. Why should I care? Why should he have stayed behind? He probably had a million other better things to do than stay at school. He was just another guy that was in my band. And yet, I felt a little sad, because he was yet another boy that had disappointed me.
“Okay, I think that’s all,” Berntson said. “Thanks, Amy.”
“No problem,” I answered, and walked towards the doors without putting my instrument away. I looked out of the windows of the doors, still hoping I’d see him, but I didn’t. I didn’t see anybody. Wendy and Joey had left, too. Sighing, before finally giving up, I pushed the swinging doors open, just to check.
And hit an unseen character right outside. He cried out.
“Ah!” Greg said. I looked down. He had been sitting there all this time, his textbook in his lap, stuffed to the binding with ragged papers.
“You stayed,” I said, surprised.
“Yeah,” he said, “I stuck around.” I was elated. Which was ridiculous, but I was.
“I’ll be right back. Hold on,” I said, a little breathlessly, and ran inside to put my trombone away. Then I walked back into the hall, where he was busy putting his textbook away.
“Well?” I said, zipping my backpack open so I could shove my math book inside.
“You sounded good,” he said, but hesitated. I waited. There was more. There was always more, I soon realized, when it came to Greg. “I heard a few cracks here and there, but nothing a few lip slurs won’t fix.”
“Yeah?” I said, smiling.
“Yeah. Just take bigger breaths.” Like always.
“Okay.” I said, pausing. “Thanks.”
We were both still shoving things into our backpacks, so I asked, “Did you sign up for pit?”
As in pit orchestra, for the upcoming winter production, The Pajama Game. I was half expecting him to say yes, say that he was waiting to get in. Half expecting, and half hoping.
“Pit? No,” he said, “I don’t have that much time on my hands.”
“Oh.” I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. “It would have been fun.” I could tell he heard the disappointment in my voice.
“Yeah, but…” he trailed off, and then said, “I signed on with the army, so I’ll be busy.”
“The army?” I asked, and a little disapproval crept into my voice. I caught myself and said softly, “I don’t like…the army.”
He shrugged, laughing.
“You don’t like the army? That’s okay,” he said, “I don’t mind. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion.” He threw his backpack over his shoulder and I followed him out. “I signed on as a medical doctor, so it’ll get me further into life.”
I nodded as we headed into the foyer area. He walked towards the doors, and I, being prideful, walked towards the theatre. I was planning to wait until he left, and then I would call my mom and have her come pick me up. Yes, I was ashamed that I had yet to own and drive a car.
“So I’ll see you tomorrow?” I said. I had almost said Monday, but I realized it was only Tuesday, December 2nd. How funny the memory was. So selective.
“Yeah,” He said absently. We parted ways, and I was about to walk away when suddenly he said, “Oh, and one more thing.”
I paused, and he walked the few steps that closed the gap between us. I waited.
“You seem like a really fun person,” he said, “And I was wondering, could I maybe take you out on a date sometime?”
It was like that moment had just froze. Everythingâ€”time, place, me, my heartâ€”just stopped, while my mind accelerated, thinking wordless, incomprehensible thoughts. Thinking, racing, timing, predicting.
Dejlana, Aaron, cheating, breaking up, senior, Greg, dates, fun, crying, lying, pain, betrayal, Riley, Rileyâ€”
Dejlana had cheated on Aaron, had broken up with him, had begged for him to take her back. Greg was a senior. A senior. Going on a date with him would be fun, just one harmless date. And yet dates are not harmless. Not by a long shot.
If I did, If I said yes, I would be lying to Riley. I was betraying his trust, betraying my feelings, ruining everything that had built up so nicely. I would be lying to everyone, I would be hurting myself, hurting my reputation, hurting everyone…
It was so tempting to say yes. Why was it so tempting to say yes? Where was my instinct to say no? I couldn’t wrap my mind around anything. Either answer was ready at the tip of speech, ready to escape. It depended on me to say the right thing. And I knew the right thing.
My mind cleared, and the answer slid off my tongue, smoothly and easily. I didn’t even have to think about it, and yet I had. What does that say about me? Riley…Forgive me.
“Oh,” was my reaction, “oh, I’m sorry, but I have a boyfriend. Otherwise I would” Why the hell did you say that? You were NOT supposed to say that! “But maybe we could still hang out, as just friends?” Idiot, stupid, moron, loser, bakka, bakka, BAKKA!
Greg was silent for a moment, but then said, “Oh, okay.” To keep things simple and short. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yeah.” Suddenly I was overcome by a horrible feeling of guilt. He walked away, and I watched him walk, out the door and outside into the blowing wind and cold. And yet I shouldn’t have been feeling guilty. I really shouldn’t have. Maybe I should have said yes. Because he was so disappointed. And I knew what it felt like, to be disappointed.
I walked again towards the theatre, and stopped outside the entrance, my head in a daze. And suddenly it sunk in.
Greg had asked me out. Greg, a senior. I, a sophomore. Greg. Greg. Greg. Greg. Greg. A senior. A sophomore. I rejected a senior. Me. Amy. Just got asked out by a senior. Greg. And said no. Oh. My. God. Oh my god.
I couldn’t breathe. Speechless, breathless, in the momentâ€”
But I did. I inhaled, and exhaled. I concentrated, because it was something I could hold onto. I was just hit by this ton of bricks, and I needed support. I needed some, any, consolation. I needed time, I needed to be alone, to comprehend and think everything, every moment, through.
To be honest, I could see it coming. I have no idea why. It is such a long story, and it starts way back to the first football game, to the first pep band thing. I remember wondering who he was. He sat next to Kate, and I always wondered about him. Was he a nice guy? Did he like Kate? What was it about him that drew me to him?
He talked to me, on one of those beautiful fall days. Kate was talking to me, and then he said something. The memory is too vague, but I remember us three at the top of the stands, chatting before we were all designated to play. He was wearing a beige Hollister sweatshirt underneath his pep band shirt, I remember. So it was kind of chilly that afternoon.
We were all joking around about how much of a jerk he was. He was poking fun at sophomores, and Kate was making fun of him for talking, for saying the wrong things. I was laughing, and I was happy, because finally I had talked to this mysterious boy, this person that has been at the edge of my curiosity for so longâ€”
Later, Riley would tell me that he was a jerk. Riley had been late to that game, and he was forced to sit in front of him. Greg had been making fun of him, apparently, and even blasted his trumpet into Riley’s ear. Riley didn’t like this boy. I kept that in mind as I wondered even more about him. He had seemed like such a nice guy. Did he really do such a stupid thing? Maybe it was just a stupid thing, and he was trying to show off to Kate. Whatever the reason, I tried not to talk to him. I felt I owed that much to Riley.
“Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly. All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.”