Look, a ridiculously long chapter! This one happens to be 16 pages and 6400 words long, and I wrote most of it out by hand before typing it. The product of being bored in class is... writing about another school... apparently...


Chapter Fifteen

Tutor

"So what happened with Gillian?"

Lindsay and I had just collapsed onto seats in the cafeteria, carrying trays laden with questionable-looking stuffed pasta shells and some unquestionably gorgeous chocolate cake.

"Okay, well, she came up to me before class………" As I explained to her what had happened, I picked up my fork and tried to cut one of the shells. It was much more difficult than it should have been, and I knew it would be foul. I pushed it aside.

"And she kept calling me Primrose, which Roxi Cadence did too………. Are they friends or something?"

"Yeah, them and the girl who plays Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Dazzlingly beautiful and stone cold. But why'd they call you Primrose?"

"William Primrose was about the most famous violist ever………" I sighed. "I guess they think I think I'm better than I am."

"What an obscure way to make fun of somebody," she said, sticking her tongue out at me.

"You'd know it too if you were an orchestra dork," I crossed my eyes back at her.

I sighed. "I don't know if I should worry or not though…….…" I said, thinking aloud. "I mean, you told me about what she did to that cellist—she ruined him and she didn't even really do anything! I hate to think what she could do to me."

Lindsay swallowed laboriously. "I don't think……… you need to worry very much. I mean, what can she do if you don't let her get to you?"

"That's what Susana said………" Lindsay looked confused. "She said 'she can only hurt you if you let her,' when we were passing notes earlier."

"Well, she's right," Lindsay grinned, brandishing a dripping forkful of pasta at me. "Gillian's all about the psychological stuff. But, uh, do still be careful on the Blue Room steps at night, just in case?"

I laughed, agreed, and went to eating. Apparently I'd been a lot hungrier than I'd thought, because even though these shells were obviously left over from last night, they disappeared greedily from my plate.

I was just about to start in on the cake when Susana materialized on the seat next to me. Startled, I set down the bite I'd been about to eat and looked over at her.

"Hey."

"Hi," she replied. "Hi, Lindsay."

I looked over at Lindsay, whose fork, also full of cake, was hovering seconds away from her mouth. "Hey………"

"You two know each other?" I asked. I'd had the impression that these two only had the vaguest notions of each other's existence.

"We worked together on history projects last year," Lindsay said, still eying Susana strangely. Susana, in turn, was looking at Lindsay but trying not to look at her. It was bizarre. Something had quite obviously happened between the two of them, but I wasn't about to ask what.

"Okay……… So Susana, what's up?"

"Oh, I thought you might like an escort to the next class. You have magic theory, right?"

I retrieved the crumpled schedule from my back pocket again and examined it. "Yeah, I do."

"Well, Carthage wanted Meryl Delsandro to take you under her wing; show you around and all. But I thought you might've wanted to avoid her at all costs." She raised an eyebrow at me and grinned.

Oh good god. I returned the gesture. "Thanks."

Susana seemed ready to stand up, but I looked back at Lindsay. I hadn't seen anyone else from the Blue Room come into lunch yet; I couldn't imagine where they were, but I didn't want to leave Lindsay alone. I glanced anxiously up at the line, and saw a girl who I was pretty sure was Taryn standing next to another girl I was nearly positive was Pippa. I turned back to her.

"Is it okay if I just………"

Her eyes were clouded and dark now. "I knew this would happen."

I heard it, but remembering what had happened with Jordan, and with Lindsay at breakfast the other day, I was reasonably sure she hadn't said it aloud. But just hearing it made my heart sink unhappily—I was drifting from her because I had been Chosen, just like she had said would happen.

But even though her eyes held no mischievous spark and I could hear darkness tearing at the edges of her voice, she tried to smile. "No problem. I think I see Taryn and Pippa anyway. I'll see you tonight." With a jolt, I realized I wouldn't see her until dinner or afterwards, because after magic theory, I had orchestra for the last three hours of the day.

"Okay," I hesitated. "See you then."

I turned to Susana, who seemed to have picked up on the tension. Her voice was bright and high when she spoke, apparently trying to lighten the mood. "Shall we go then?"

"Yeah, all right," I agreed, and followed her regretfully to the instrument closet, where we picked our cases from the mass that crowded its floor, then out into the relatively silent hallways. Everybody seemed to be in lunch now, but I guessed from the authoritative way Susana led me down the hall that we weren't obligated to be there if we didn't want to be.

I glanced at my watch curiously. It read a little past noon—class didn't start for an hour; I had to wonder what we were going to do till then. Susana halfway answered this question without trying to—she produced a cell phone from some unknown pocket either in her backpack or in her case, I didn't see, flipped it open, and pressed a button.

"Katharina?" she looked up at me as she talked. I replied, looking back questioningly. She simply gave me a conspiratorial grin and turned back "Yeah, I'm with Caitlin. Yes, that Caitlin. Have you eaten? Well, hurry up and come to 166. Mmhmm, I know. One of them will kill the other before it's over. Yeah. Okay. But lines suck, we can have fun! …Right. Okay, see you in a few minutes then."

"Katharina?" I asked inquisitively. I remembered her, of course, I just wondered why Susana was bringing her to meet us.

"We're going to have fun with magic," she chirped. "And we're going to teach you some stuff so you can get rid of your tutor faster."

My tutor………. I assumed, since they were plotting to help me get rid of him or her, my tutor wouldn't be Susana or Katharina. And, I thought, remembering the initiation, they're the only really advanced ones here, apart from………

"Oh, dammit, it's Meryl, isn't it?"

Susana snorted. "Yes, sadly enough. Fiona would have put you with me or Katharina, but you've got Lucia's class first—she teaches magic theory—therefore, she chooses the tutor. And Carthage agrees with her, which is, of course, the final say in any and everything around here."

"Great," I groaned. "How much magic do I have to know to get out of it?"

"You have to have basic control of your powers, whatever they may be, you'll need to be able to get to and from Equinox on your own, and know how to structure a really simple spell at the very, very least. Lucia'll probably want to keep you with Meryl longer, because she 'just knows so much!'" she wrinkled her nose in distaste. "Just learn fast."

We were outside a door now, room 166, and Susana opened it without a second thought, saying only, "Lucia won't mind," to my skeptical expression. With that, she stepped inside, and I followed her.

The magic classroom was amazing—unlike anything I'd ever heard called a "classroom" before. It was almost like a New Age shop, with large, many-colored candles spread out everywhere and a huge selection of crystals on top of one bookshelf. Bookshelves lined the walls, coming up about to my waist, where, on the opposite side of the room, the same sort of large windows that were on every outside wall in this building began. Plants and books and all sorts of other odd things I couldn't name overflowed from these bookshelves. One round table was situated in the corner, but it was empty except for a few candles and what might have been a crystal ball, and it looked disused. Splayed over the rest of the carpeted floor were a myriad of pillows, apparently to sit on, though the couch in the other corner looked inviting too. To my surprise, there actually was a blackboard in the room, on my right, covered in strange diagrams that I couldn't begin to comprehend. There was also a door to my right, presumably leading into the next classroom. Over all of this wafted the husky scent of sandalwood, leaving me feeling somewhat lightheaded as I made my way wonderingly into the room.

"And this is where we learn magic?" I asked, looking around dazedly. The room was obviously the same as the rest of the classrooms around the school, but there was a strange feeling of something there, as if the air was vibrating, humming.

Susana nodded, arranging some floor pillows into a mattress-y shape. "This room, and next door."

Not knowing what to say next, I said nothing, and instead wandered a bit further into the classroom. I was just examining a book—one of many copies of Witchcraft, the book I'd noticed in the library before, which seemed to be a textbook now that I looked at it—when the door crashed open behind me, I jerked up in surprise, cracked my head on the bookshelf, and cursed loudly.

I straightened up to the sounds of Susana and Katharina laughing heartily at me. I didn't know if they were laughing at the head hitting or the obnoxious swearing, but it didn't really matter much.

"God damn, Katharina, that hurt!" I complained, but laughing a little too.

She shrugged and gave me a cute grin. "Not my fault you're a klutz!"

Susana, I noticed, had wandered off since I last looked up. I spotted her over at the windows, where she was drawing gauzy, white curtains to diffuse the light. Then she moved over to one of the myriad candles in the room, but there was no lighter and no match anywhere near her. Curiously, I watched as she cupped her hands around another wick, paused a moment, and took her hands away. A tiny flame now flicked on the end of it.

"How did you do that?" I exclaimed.

Susana grinned and beckoned me over. I joined her beside a few more unlit candles. "Put your hands around the wick."

Dubiously remembering the last time she'd tried to teach me magic, I copied the position her hands had taken.

"Okay, and now, feel the heat of your body, and of the world around you. Got it?"

I closed my eyes and tried to fight off thoughts of this will never work… One deep breath, inhale, exhale, and I reached into the depths of myself, feeling for it. And, suddenly, incredibly, I was very uncomfortably aware how very warm my neck was, how my hands and calves gave off heat. Keeping my eyes squeezed shut, I nodded in Susana's general direction.

"Gather that energy between your hands and center it on the wick. Kay?"

I pulled the heat in dancing tingles up from my calves, down from my neck, from everywhere, until it wound around my arms into my hands, then into a little swirling ball that I knew was there because I could feel its heat emanating back onto my palms.

"Now imagine it igniting a spark. Really feel it, and don't feel stupid about it either, or it won't work. But that spark will light the candle."

The little ball of energy churned lightly, very lively under my scrutiny. But how do I make it spark? I wondered, and a thought materialized in my head. That little ball felt like a tiny sun hovering between my palms; I could almost see it in my mind's eye with sunspots and little tiny tongues of solar flares. And if the sun exploded, it would probably make a spark or two………

Feeling slightly stupid despite what Susana had said, I pictured the tiny sun in my mind, as though I could see through my hands. Its outside spun sinisterly, and I sensed its agitation on the inside, urged it silently to just blow.

Go, come on, explode, light the candle………

It was roiling now, writhing in fiery discomfort, and I willed it to go faster, more and more agitated, until………

"SHIT!!!"

It exploded. On my hands. And it hurt.

But the candle was lit, at least.

Susana and Katharina were laughing at me again, and I completely understood, as my hands had gone flying out to the sides with the force of the explosion. But it didn't stop me wishing they wouldn't laugh—my hands hurt like Hell.

"Fantastic! But you know, you could've just had it light it on fire!" Susana gasped.

"Oh my god………" shaking my stinging hands out, I grinned. Of course! I rolled my eyes at my own stupidity—it was obvious now. "I don't know why I didn't think of that."

They sniggered, but I was sure now it wasn't just because it was me, just because I had been really, really stupid.

"I'm not so good with this magic stuff, am I?" I laughed self-deprecatingly.

"Yeah, not so much right now," said Katharina. "So why don't we try that again, without the whole blowing up thing, yes?" she suggested. "Meryl'll have you for weeks if you keep doing stuff like that."

I agreed, so we tried it again, and then again. And again. I didn't need to make it blow up anymore; I just had one of the tongues of flame reach out and lick the wick now, but that left me with an unfriendly ball of extra energy between my hands that would rebel against me when I tried to reabsorb it and just blow up anyway.

About fifteen minutes to class I finally got it—I lit a purple candle with little wax swirlies on it without causing myself significant bodily harm. Susana and Katharina had me do it on several others, just to be sure, and I was just finishing lighting an red candle that smelled like cinnamon when a willowy blonde woman walked through the door.

I guessed this had to be Lucia—very tall, very thin, but in a completely au naturale kind of way. Her hair was strikingly white-blonde, her eyes a deep blue, and she dressed like a flower child hippie. She gave us a curious glance as she came in, then smiled slowly and serenely with her eyes on me.

"Hello Susana, Katharina. And Caitlin," she added, though she had looked at me at me the whole time. Her voice was languid and melodious, and I kind of wondered if she was the type who might make "special brownies" on her day off. Or her day on, in this case. "I know you from initiation, of course. I'm Lucia, the assistant magic professor."

"Hi," I replied falteringly. She seemed completely unfazed that three students should just be hanging out in her classroom uninvited. This school is bizarre………

"We're teaching her some of the basics," Katharina said, gesturing to the candles. "She did most of these, and we were going to do the bridge-over-water thing next."

She nodded approvingly, that dreamy smile still in place. "You two and Meryl don't divide responsibilities well, do you?"

I raised an eyebrow at this lucid comment, glancing to either side to see what the other two girls' reaction would be. But they obviously knew Lucia a lot better than I did, because this seemed expected. They both grinned and shook their heads.

"Well, you girls teach her well then……… I'll be back in for class." And she wandered back out through the second door that presumably led to the other magic classroom.

Once the door closed, though, I had to ask. "Um, is she a little………" I trailed off and made a gesture to my lips like smoking. They laughed.

"I've always kind of wondered about her, you know," Katharina said. "I think she's just that way without any help, and that's kinda scary."

We laughed, and I was sort of glad to be in on the joking and not the cause of it.

There was not enough time to really learn anything else very well before class started, so the three of us just sat down on a few of the big fluffy floor pillows, each of us stretching out comfortably, and waited for the bell. Katharina and Susana made conversation about people I didn't know, and Susana and I talked about orchestra that morning. I found out she was also a singer—she didn't even want to be a violin major, but that her parents wouldn't pay for the school any other way, so she had no choice. Surprising, because she was so good, it didn't seem like she was forced into it, but I didn't pry. I couldn't imagine not being allowed to do what I really loved……… It must be torture for her.

Over these conversations, people started filtering in. Several people from orchestra, like the English horn player, whom I recognized, walked in together, followed by a very unnerving set of triplet girls with very wide eyes. Katharina whispered to me that the one in the middle had been held back a year but the other two hadn't. I sniggered.

Next came a few actors I didn't know, followed by Hayden Delsandro and a couple other guys, including the first trombone player. Then, to my surprise, Dezi, with a tall, black-haired, effeminate boy with glasses. I hadn't noticed a crystal necklace on her, but then, I'd been distracted by Roxi Cadence before………

A lone girl, chubby with curly blonde hair, walked through the door looking thoroughly disgusted, and within a few seconds I found out why. Meryl Delsandro, leading a pack of girls who appeared to be both younger and older than her, strode into the classroom looking regal. Everyone's gaze shifted to the door as she entered, even Hayden's, though he couldn't have found anything particularly special in her, being her brother, and people faltered in their conversations.

How can she hold that much power?

She soaked it up. Glowing from their attention, she smiled a half-haughty half-smile, led her group over to a cluster of pillows near the front of the room and sat down, just as the bell rang.

"It's always like this," Katharina whispered in my ear as Lucia wafted back in.

"I understand why everyone else hates her," I hissed back.

She gave me another of those cute little innocent grins that belied her spark of sarcasm and looked like she was about to speak when Lucia gave a little clap. The rest of the candles sprang to life, more shades leapt to cover the blazing windows, and we were plunged into flickering twilight.

I gaped.

The rest of the class seemed more or less unfazed, and Katharina and Susana laughed on either side of me. This must be how it starts every day……… I thought wonderingly, both at the casualness of the magic and the sheer ease of it. All she had done was clap her hands………

Will I be able to do that?

"She may act completely stoned, but she's completely brilliant," Susana said, interrupting my train of thought strangely appropriately.

"She doesn't do the Phoenix Moon though………" said Katharina. "It's like, she finished her Power Quest and just quit, just got out, but not before Edmonton got her with teaching. So what's going to happen to Meryl."

Susana and I snorted, but our conversation was stalled again by Lucia, who announced, "Okay everybody, we're gonna need textbooks today, so everybody go grab a copy of Witchcraft."

There was scrambling confusion over friends getting friends books, then the ones on the wrong end of the bargain crowding around the shelf I'd smashed my head on, which, conveniently, the three of us had sat right in front of. Easier for getting books, but hardly worth it with half the class stepping on our fingers to get their own. One of the triplets—the dumb one, I was pretty sure—managed to step on my foot, which was a feat, considering I was sitting cross-legged. A few more moments of bustling, bumping book-fetching, and everyone was more or less settled again, and Lucia continued.

"Kay, we need page 147, 'Requesting Powers from a God or Goddess.'" There was a great rustling and flipping of old gold-edged pages that smelled like libraries and learning. "So, silent reading!" sang Lucia. "Through page 150, please!"

I groaned inwardly. Silent reading was not what I had expected from my first-ever magic class, but I looked down obediently anyway.

On Requesting Powers from a God or Goddess

It was pretty and stuffy and hopelessly old-fashioned, but how could any classical musician claim to be turned off by antiquity? And anyway, the book's age-musk was drawing me in, entrancing me, making my eyes dance over the words without letting me consider the possibility of not.

Without the aid of certain Powers—

"Powers" was capitalized and I wasn't quite sure if it meant abilities or deities—

—doubtlessly most Power Quests would fail even before properly begun. However, aided by the God or Goddess of the Quester's choosing, he or she may obtain most useful abilities granted by the chosen Deity.

First, one must choose a Deity from whom to request a Power.

I supposed it must be capitalized because it came from a god or……… something.

The Deity must be chosen with the utmost care and precision, for Gods and Goddesses may only grant Powers within the domain over which He or She rules. The retribution from an offended God who could not grant the Power requested would be more terrible than any punishment a Quester could incur upon himself over the course of his own Quest. We shall say no more of this here, for our purpose is to educate the reader on the proper protocol for requesting a Power so that he or she may avoid such wrath.

Let us look into an example. If one wishes to be able to see the truth, one would have several options depending on the purpose and the pantheon of Gods and Goddesses he or she knows best. If the Quester wishes to be able to tell if someone is lying and is most familiar with Greek mythology, he or she could choose Apollo, the God of Truth and Light, or Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom. Asking Hermes, the God of Thieves and Liars, would be a mistake, for, although he could aid the Quester in becoming a better liar himself or herself, he would be incapable of adding anything to do with truth-telling to the Quester's abilities. However, if this same Quester wished to be able to not only see lies but the truth which they concealed—

I sighed. The enchantment of the book was wearing off disappointingly fast, and now I was bored. I understood the point of needing to choose the right God-slash-Goddess for your request quite well; I didn't really need more of an example. For a book on magic, it's not exactly the most thrilling thing……… Mundane, even………

Impatiently, I skimmed the page for the end of the example—but then saw it was followed by another, and another after that on the next page. Sighing again, I resigned myself to the vaguely interesting discourse on God and Goddess choices and went back to reading. It went on for another page and a half with examples, and then started on the procedure for summoning the God you'd finally chosen. Most of this didn't make any sense to me—but I supposed that was why I had to have a tutor, even if it was Meryl.

Though that did make me wish I already knew how to "consecrate a space" and the difference between "evocation" and "invocation".

I was finished before almost everybody else—which kind of worried me, but I guessed it was because there was so much in there that I didn't understand and had just had to skip over.

Oh well, my mind sighed. I'll understand it soon enough.

When everyone else had looked up from their books, Lucia stood up and launched into an incomprehensible explanation, apparently explaining the ritual further, judging by the diagrams she drew on the board, full of circles and arrows and numbered steps to follow. Then she paused.

"Okay, so, can anybody tell me why we'd need to do this instead of regular human magic that we already have?" she asked, surveying the class with a vague smile.

Meryl's hand shot quickly into the air—I noticed that several of her friends who had been on the brink of raising theirs deferred to her as soon as they saw her hand. Lucia nodded to her, the vague smile glowing just a bit.

Meryl replied with a haughty smile of her own. "Because," she said, her voice sniffy and excited at answering all at once, "the normal human magic we practice is based on visualization, that is, bringing something into being by willing it so. Therefore, there are some things we can't accomplish through that method, such as flying or animal communication"—We can do that? I wondered—"so for abilities like those those, we have to ask the Powers."

Lucia's vague smile turned very definite at this answer. " 'Xactly right," she said, dropping the "e" on the beginning of "exactly." Meryl beamed.

"So what if you do something to anger the Powers? Specially the one you supposedly got your new power from. What happens?" She looked around the class, but before Meryl could answer again, she continued. "They take it away. That's what makes this kind of magic particularly dangerous—you could be on another plane, say, and in a risky situation where you need that power you just got. But if, say, your being on that plane offends the god-slash-goddess you got that power from, you could be stuck on a sketchy plane among entities who don't mean you well without the power you need to escape, just like that." She snapped her fingers. "So you've gotta be careful. Maybe before you go to that sketchy plane, you could contact that god-slash-goddess and tell them you're going in their name or something like that. You gotta be careful with the Powers," she said, very seriously; admonitory, almost. "They're ancient, and very used to formality, to being bowed down to. So if you disregard that, you're pretty much screwed."

Her vernacular was so bizarre. I suspected she must've been an absolute genius before she and Mary Jane met, but now her vocabulary was a mix of stoner and bibliophile. Because no matter what Susana and Katharina said, nobody could be that convincing without outside influence.

The class continued in the same track, discussing the benefits and dangers of Power-granted powers—a phrase that got extremely confusing if you tuned out for a moment—and tossing around terms I couldn't possibly understand as of yet. Susana and Katharina seemed to get it all right though, because they were scribbling down notes in spiral notebooks just like the rest of the class.

I considered writing something, but knew it wouldn't be helpful to me later, so I doodled randomly on the page in front of me till the end of class. When the bell finally rang, it cut Lucia off in the middle of a sentence. She looked startled, but then waved us off.

"Homework, construct your own ritual to request a power………" she called over the noise of us packing up. "Decide on a viable power you might actually need and choose a god to request it from……… due next class, kay?"

I shoved the textbook back into the bookshelf behind me, and when I turned back, it was to see a pair of jean-clad legs right in front of my face. I jumped, and looked up. "Meryl?"

"Hello Caitlin," she said, as casually as someone whose crotch was not a foot away from my nose.

"Hey," I replied, leaning back so that I could actually see her face. "What's up?"

She offered a hand to me. Feeling strange, I took it, and she pulled me up to eye level with her. "I've been appointed to be your tutor; I'm sure you've heard," she said without preamble.

"Umm, yeah, I'd heard………"

"So I think we should meet as soon as possible. You're so behind, and you'll never get it on your own."

I stared at her.

"Anyway," she continued, not really giving me a chance to think, "when do you have your study hall? I can get out of any class you need me to; I can afford to miss a day or two."

She waited expectantly, and I realized what she wanted me to do. I fumbled in my back pocket for my schedule. "Um, I've got my first study hall on Wednesday, first period………"

"Hmm, that's a little later than I was hoping. You don't have one tomorrow?"

I scanned my classes for Tuesday—a lesson, a quartet rehearsal, something called "Spellcraft", and orchestra. An easy day, I hoped, but no study hall. I shook my head. "Nope. Nothing till Wednesday."

"All right, fine, Wednesday it is then. It'll be all right—that's one of my study halls too. So I think we should start even before classes officially start, if possible, because the library will be quieter and we'll have more time. Okay?"

"Sure………" I watched, stunned, as she flounced away to join a group of her friends waiting at the door. Tutoring on Wednesday……… Hoping I remembered and wondering if I was capable of forgetting, I gathered the rest of my stuff and followed in Meryl's wake out the door. I had orchestra now, so I assumed I had to go back to the amphitheatre—

"Hey."

I jumped for the second time in five minutes. "Oh my god, is the entire magic class out to kill me?" I said, looking down at Susana, who was the source of the voice.

She raised an eyebrow at me. "We don't need to be; your Quest is already on that for us." I giggled weakly. "I thought Meryl might corner you like that. Shall we go?"

"Oh, sure! Thanks for waiting………."

She shrugged. "I figured you would appreciate the company, especially after that."

I smiled, and we passed the walk through the grounds discussing Meryl and what she was likely to try to teach me, most of which I couldn't begin to comprehend on Susana's brief descriptions of the concepts. But I was glad she had waited—she was a much more welcome companion than Meryl, and I was grateful to have someone who was part of both music and magic.

We reached the grove of tree stumps, and we had to separate to find a free place for our cases. We weren't so late that rehearsal had already started, but most people had already made it to their seats, and I didn't want to be nearly late to my second rehearsal in a row, so I unpacked hurriedly, strummed my strings quickly to make sure they were in the realm of the same pitch they had been this morning, and trotted onstage.

"Hey-hey," Dezi greeted me as I flopped into my seat.

"Hey," I replied, but the conversation didn't go much farther than that. Schpitz was already on the podium, flipping through the pages of his score, so I decided I might want to warm up. Dezi had already opened the Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture to a really unfriendly-looking sixteenth-note passage and had returned to practicing it slowly—I followed her lead. There is no good fingering for this!

Just when I was about to have a brilliant breakthrough on the subject, a sharp tapping managed to cut through the noise of the orchestra warming up. Almost immediately, all sound died, and we sat staring mostly attentively at Schpitz.

He surveyed us magisterially. "My musicians," he began. Is he always going to call us that? "So far our repertoire this year has been very easy only. Beethoven's Egmont Overture, Mendelssohn's Fifth—middling schools play these."

I caught Susana's eye across the orchestra. "Middling schools?" I mouthed, and she snorted. I was glad Schpitz's eyes were centered vaguely on the air above the second trumpeter's head—we could make fun of him this way.

"But this and next week, our concerts will be much more difficult. Dvorak's Eighth—this is not easy; neither is the Romeo and Juliet overture. The Chaminade flute concertino shall have reduced strings and very few brass and winds; this is our easy piece, although staying with the soloist is often very challenging as well.

"This week is—what you call?—a warm-up for the next, for next week we play Berlioz's Harold in Italy. We have not yet chosen our viola soloist, though I am confident that whoever is chosen will do very well." And here he gave Roxi Cadence a proud, fiercely appraising look. He expects her to get it……… I wondered if I had a chance at it—quite aside from wanting the solo, Roxi and Gillian's challenges this morning had set my little competitive heart afire. "My violists, come to me after rehearsal. I will give you music. You are not obligated to audition, but if you feel yourself capable, you are strongly encouraged.

"Finally, it pleases me to announce that this year the voice department will be undertaking Mozart's The Magic Flute. Our concertmaster, Susana Fell, will be playing the Queen of the Night—" I almost clapped—she hadn't told me that!—but nobody else moved, "—and the rest of us, barring instruments and players who are not needed, will play in the pit.

"So you should all be prepared to work! Now, take out Dvorak………"

"Are you trying out for Harold in Italy?" I muttered to Dezi as we rifled for our music.

She shrugged. "I think so, but I'll never get it. Roxi's been principal since her sophomore year, and she's a senior now."

I cursed quietly. "Never unseated once?"

"Don't think so—"

"From the beginning," Schpitz called over her, baton raised.

The music blossomed beneath his undulating hands, but throughout rehearsal, I kept catching glimpses of Roxi's gleaming blonde hair over the stand, hearing obnoxiously and inappropriately loud snatches of tune, and wondering about Harold in Italy. It wouldn't get out of my head—I had never had any kind of rival before, and now I had two. I wanted to show them……… something; what I could do, that I could hold my own against them, just something.

Despite that, though, rehearsal was incredible—I'd never been asked to do such in-depth work. Schpitz, regardless of all his eccentricities, was a very good conductor, and he actually understood the music and tried to get us to understand it too. By the end of rehearsal, I was glowing—this was why I had come here.

"Now, everyone, letter Q………"

I straightened up in my seat. He'd been rehearsing the brass for quite a while, and—as was general lazy-orchestra-player etiquette—the strings had taken the opportunity to relax and stare off into space. Eagerly, I wedged my viola beneath my chin and searched the page for a letter Q, with Dezi beside me doing the same thing.

"Umm………" Her bow flew to the page, landing right under a box with a little "Q" inside it. "There!"

"Thanks," I whispered as Schpitz gave his downbeat.

I threw myself completely into the music—meaning a long, rambling chain of oh shit, what was that note? and this is gorgeous thoughts, periodically interrupted by I wonder what's for dinner. We actually ended up playing through to the end of the movement, making that the longest stretch we'd managed all day. The last chord was even in tune, which was something my old orchestra would've never come close to on the first try. I did think I heard some very out-of-tune wind player splatting in and out, but it wasn't till Schpitz cut us off, looking irritated, and it kept going, that I realized it was the bell.

Everyone waited, staring expectantly at Schpitz—I noticed Susana was already halfway to her feet—but he didn't seem to want to move. He remained frozen with his hands still in the air until the bell had finished its insistent tirade—and he dropped them to his side.

"Good work today," he called over the babble that erupted at this sign of dismissal. "Violists—see me."

Susana bolted backstage before the rest of her section had even stood up. Jeez! I remembered she'd told me earlier that she hated orchestra—I hadn't really believed her, but now it was painfully obvious. Why won't they let her just major in what she wants to major in………?

A sharp poke in the shoulder distracted me from my thoughts. I glanced up to see Dezi, looking expectantly back at me. "Sooooooo, do you want to go get the music?" she asked, drawing out the "so" into a singsong thing.

I glanced at our stand, momentarily confused—then I got it. "Oh! The Harold in Italy music! Yeah, sure, let's go!"

Heart beating slightly faster now in anticipation, I hopped up, and she and I scampered up to the back of the podium, where Roxi and Lyssa, her stand partner, were already standing with Schpitz.

He examined us all with broad, deep superiority, although he was slightly shorter than me, the shortest of the four students. "Are these all?"

Dezi nodded, innocence veiling every feature. "Yes sir, just us."

He nodded back to show his understanding. "All right, then we begin. I have copies—" he turned back to his podium and counted off four white booklets into his hand, then handed one to each of us. I stared at the cover, little bolts of excitement flashing through me.

HAROLD IN ITALY

Hector Berlioz

Solo Viola

"The auditions," Schpitz continued, and I looked back up at him, "will be held on Friday as usual. You will do excerpts of the Berlioz as well as excerpts your auditioners tell you. Then on Saturday, not Friday night, as I remind you every week, Roxi, the results will be posted. I suggest you all prepare well the entire piece; we will read first thing on Monday."

We nodded mutely.

"So good luck for you all. You will play very well." This sounded more threatening than it should've, but we all thanked him politely and ran offstage to pack up.