Rhapsody in E Major
(The E stands for Ethan)
Chapter One: Orientation
Oh, good, I'm on time.
And by on time, I mean twenty minutes early. Yeah, I've never been late for anything in my life. I scan the mostly empty gravel surface for a suitable location, and pull into one of the closest spots to the band hall. Okay, maybe I should have left it for the tuba or bari-sax players, but, hey, my instrument case is pretty heavy, too—and ridiculously bulky, I might add. It's about three times as big as my horn.
I'm in the process of getting out of my car when John pulls into the space beside me. I wave brightly at him, and he practically launches himself from his truck into the parking lot.
"Ethan! I feel like I haven't seen you in months!" He says enthusiastically.
I grin wryly. "Well, it might have something to do with the fact that you've been out of the country all summer? I see that you got quite the tan in the Caribbean." It's true—he's a lot darker than I remember. Kind of looks funny with his sandy-blond hair, but I'll get used to it.
"Haha, thanks. Hey, new car?" He gestures to my vehicle. My car, well, it's not exactly the most manly car you've ever seen. It's very short, and small. The car horn is very…polite. Like, it says "excuse me" rather than "MOVE BITCH." It's also…very, very bright green. But on the other hand, it gets great gas mileage. Hey, I'm lucky to have a car…I got my license back in December, and I've practically gone a year having to borrow my mom's suburban when I needed to go somewhere. Okay, more like half a year, but still…Anyway, about a month ago they finally found a good deal, and I ended up with the green thing. I love my car. I named him Kermit.
"Yeah," I say with a smirk, "You like?"
John blinks. "It's, um, cute?" He offers, and I roll my eyes. I'm going to have to get used to people making fun of my car. I know they're just jealous. They all wish they had tiny green cars. John moves to grab his baritone from the back of his black-and-rust colored truck, and I likewise open Kermit's back door to extract my horn.
"Hey, Ethan?" I hear as I pull on the shoulder strap of my marching french horn.
"You haven't seen Alan lately, have you?" He asks. "I haven't heard from him at all since I got back from vacation, and I'm afraid he's mad at me for not being able to talk to him for so long. You guys are almost twins, so I figured you'd know," John babbles, earnest nervousness bubbling up from his normally cheery demeanor.
"It's not anything like that," I say quickly to quell his fears, "Alan's been sick for the last week or so. Some weird summer case of the flu, I think. He's better now, but he won't be at practice today," I explain, and add, "Sorry I didn't tell you. I didn't think about it."
"Oh, good," the baritone player visibly sags with relief.
Alan, by the way, is my best friend ever. We've been inseparable since kindergarten. Go ahead and laugh, Ethan and Alan, haha, we're a furniture store, I know. I promise I've heard any joke you can possibly think of. Most of our other friends refer to us as "the furniture twins" despite the fact that we look NOTHING alike. Alan is short and fair, with curly dirty blond hair and green eyes. I, on the other hand, am one of the tallest people in band, with dead-straight dark red hair and blue-grey eyes. Oh, and Alan is dating John—they've been going out for over a year, now.
As for me? Contrary to popular belief, I am straight. Teenagers are so dumb—just because I don't have a girlfriend, and my best friend is gay, I apparently also get labeled as such. My real friends know I'm not, but you'd be surprised how many people honestly think I like guys. I don't. And even my friends tease me about it pretty much all the time. I don't get it. I mean, it doesn't really bother me, or anything, but it just gets…annoying, you know?
Ahem, back to the point.
John and I are trudging up the hill to the band hall, waving occasionally as we spot people we know. Today is the orientation for this year's marching band season—juniors like John and I will be hearing this speech for the third time, but it'll all be new to the incoming freshmen, so we have to sit through it. I can only imagine that it will be worse next year, when we're seniors.
Tomorrow, though, the real work begins. Up at the crack of dawn to teach marching fundamentals to the freshmen, and review them for us upperclassmen. About the time it starts getting really hot—and I mean really: We're in Texas, and it's July—the entire band will form a block and we'll do block drills for, like, an hour. Then more fundamentals. After that, we're released for a blessed hour to go get lunch, and at one PM, sectionals begin. From one to two, its instrument-specific sectionals, from two to three, it's brass or woodwind sectionals, and from three to four, it's full band rehearsal.
All in all, band camp sucks. It's nothing like American Pie.
Oh, but it's all so worth it. When you finally have that show all together, and you're in uniform, marching under the stadium lights, the only thing you feel is accomplishment, the only thing you think is 'I understand now. This is what we worked for.'
It sounds really cheesy, but there's nothing like the sensation of a show well marched.
Heavy instruments in hand, John and I make it to the top of the rise upon which the noble establishment of Hillcrest (ironic name, I know) high school sits. Luckily for us, the band hall is on the outskirts of the campus, and easy to access. In fact, the gravel patch is the unofficial band parking lot. No one else ever really parks there. We like to think it's because they respect the hard work and effort we band nerds put into our music, but really it's because the lot is in horrible shape, and all the others are smoothly paved in concrete.
Sigh. Band doesn't get any love. In Hillcrest, it's all about Friday Night Football. I'm a little bitter about it...but...That thought vanishes from my mind the instant I open the door to the oh-so-familiar band hall, and the faces of all my friends come into view.
I kick my cube of a horn case against the wall by the door and leap into an exuberant flailing run over to where most of the French Horn section is congregated, making some upperclassmen laugh and roll their eyes, while probably scaring the poor freshmen to death.
Haha. Freshman year. Good times.
"Ethan," my friend Samantha says over a fit of giggles at my antics, "You're so weird!" I grin and slip my arm around her waist.
"I know, but that's why you love me, babe," I stage-whisper, and lean over to nip flirtatiously at her ear. Sam laughs again and swats at me, saying, "Down boy, down."
I obligingly let her go and greet the other horn players.
Emily and Matt just wave, Claire murmurs a "Hi, Ethan," Liam smiles widely and gives me a, "Long time no see," but it was the horn section leader who really ended up making a big show.
"Eeeethaaaaaan!" Austin whines, enveloping me in a frantic hug that makes me stumble backwards.
"Whoa, Austin, I always knew you had a crush on me, but you've never been so forward about it before," I say the words jokingly, but Austin still releases me with a glare. I dip my head in apology, and he quickly gets over it.
"Listen, man, you have got to help me with those freshmen. They're fucking horrible." Ouch, poor fishies. Harsh much? I staunch a bit of inward pettiness—Austin is absolutely not suited to be a section leader, but since he is the only senior in the section, Mr. Davis put him in that position anyway. Pretty much any of us juniors would do a better job than he could.
"Hey, you're the section leader! Do it yourself!" I say the words bluntly, and plainly. Okay, maybe I'm a little bitter about not being picked for section leader this year. Just a little. Really. Hardly bitter at all.
Austin persists. "But Ethan! You're the best player in the section, and you're way more patient than I am, and when you explain things they actually make sense and—"
"Flattery will get you nowhere. Come on, dude! You were picked! Step up to the plate!"
Actually, I am feeling rather flattered. And perhaps 2 percent more willing to help with leaderly duties.
It is kind of what I had wanted all along.
"Please?" The plea is earnest, and I roll my eyes, won over. I really need to learn to say no.
"Alright, alright," I mutter, mentally adding a few not-so-nice phrases about Austin's mother. "I'm gonna go grab my horn," I excuse myself, and walk back over to the door, where my instrument remains alone and forlorn beside the trash can.
Why the hell did I even bring that thing today? We're not playing any music. Nevertheless, I grab the handle, not bothering with the shoulder strap, and begin an adventure to find my band locker for this year. I search up and down the French Horn block before finding my space—exactly where it had been last year, of course. It looks a lot different, though—the lack of signs and posters on the plain metal bars probably have something to do with it.
I glance up around, and find that my locker is entirely surrounded by unfamiliar names. Great, freshmen everywhere. Gross. Freshmen smell funny. I sniff at that thought, and open the cage and essentially throw my marching horn in, wondering to myself about what kind of ridiculous poster I should decorate my space with, this year. Last year it was a movie poster for—don't laugh—Legally Blonde. Probably did not contribute to the "rawr I am manly man and I am not gay" thing I have going on. Well, at least I think I have that going on. But hey, pretty much everyone in band knows my sense of humor by now.
Except all those freaking freshman that now surround me. Just another group to convince of my intensely straight straightness. Sigh.
"BAND TEN HUT" A yell sounds from the front of the band hall, and we all freeze, myself and a couple of other smart-asses jumping to the attention posture. I don't even bother to turn around.
"Alright," the voice is softer, "At ease." I relax and whirl about to see the familiar sight of the band directors—sans one. I frown. Mr. Russel retired last year, after having been the director here for—seriously—forty years. Russel started working here when the current head director, Mr. Davis, was born. He was like a permanent fixture at Hillcrest, and now he's gone. It's disconcerting to think of. Still, Mr. Davis and Mrs. Wilson are there, so not everything's helter-skelter.
Helter-skelter. Did I seriously just think that? Anyway, Ms. Adams will be up from the middle school tomorrow to help with band camp, and supposedly some mysterious person had filled the job vacancy that Mr. Russel had left—I might have resented that a little. You just can't replace forty years of dedication to the Hillcrest marching band.
"Okay, upperclassmen, we need the chairs out in an oversized concert set."
Someone yells, "How many do we need?"
Davis shoots the sophomore a look, and says, "I don't know. Just use all of them."
I shrug, and catch John's eye, motioning toward the Jazz-slash-storage room attached to the main band hall. He nods, and we go to retrieve the racks of plastic chairs, mostly so that we don't have to deal with the annoyance of actually setting them out. I'm just a little OCD about the spacing, and I freak out a tiny bit if the u-shaped set is lopsided. So, I figure, if I don't see it, it can't bother me.
Ten minutes later, a flute player is setting out the last chair, and it's time for orientation to begin.
John, Samantha, myself, and a couple of other juniors have placed ourselves in the corner of the set closest to the door—when this is over, we'll be the first ones out of here. Mr. Davis steps onto the director's stand, not that he really needs the extra height—he's six foot five and skinny as a twig—and clears his throat. About a hundred and twenty band nerd heads snap to him, and I sigh. I pretty much have this speech memorized.
"Alright, kiddies, welcome to band camp. I'm Mr. Davis, the head director here, so, as far as you're concerned, I'm God." I smirk. Davis and his sense of humor.
"To my left is your other God, ahem, Goddess, Mrs. Wilson, who needs a raise for having to deal with me on a daily basis." A general chuckle ripples through the band, as the short, plump Mrs. Wilson rolls her eyes and shakes her head, smiling brightly.
"I'm sure you all remember Ms. Adams from middle school. She will be joining us bright and early on the morrow. The final director is, I'm afraid, not here yet. Mr. Sanford has replaced the retired Mr. Russel, and will be here…well, he should be here now, but things happen," Davis waves it off, although his face shows annoyance. Davis hates lateness, which is probably why I'm one of his favorite students.
Say "director's pet" and I will hurt you. Severely.
I look up as Mrs. Wilson takes the stage. Ah. Podium thing.
"Okay, as much as we all hate it, we're going to have to cover a few ground rules so that this year will pass smoothly and harmoniously. First, no drinking or drugs, second, respect each other, third, no freshman hazing—" upperclassmen smirk at each other, "—fourth, no sex, and last, leave the drama in the theater."
Someone giggles because she said 'sex'. How immature. Okay, so maybe I had giggled when I was an underclassman. Maybe. Just maybe.
Davis begins, "Now, our schedule for the next two weeks is pretty simple. Arrive at the field by 8:00. Yes, Karen, that's eight in the morning," he says, looking at a sophomore who had misunderstood last year and showed up at eight PM. Well, that was her excuse. She had really just wanted to ditch practice.
"And by eight, I really mean seven forty-five, unless you don't want to get to warm up," he pauses, grinning evilly as a collective groan sounds from the band.
The orientation continues haphazardly for a while, the only semi-interesting part occurring when the drum majors, two seniors: Kate and Harry, and the band president, Angela, get introduced. Harry and Angela are my friends; it's nice to see them recognized for all the effort they've put into making our band amazing these last few years.
Finally, the time we've been awaiting comes, and Mr. Davis pulls out a nondescript yellow envelope. We all lean forward in our seats a little. You see, there's this slightly sadistic, yet strangely wise, tradition that the directors have—they don't reveal what the theme of our marching show will be until the first day of band camp, which is, of course, today. The directors take turns picking out the music (with approval from the others), and this year it's Ms. Adams' turn. There's been a lot of speculation over the summer as to what she'll have chosen, but nothing for sure had been leaked. Anyway, it's a pretty smart ting to do, because if it wasn't for that, I know that I wouldn't be at this
"And now," Mr. Davis says in his deepest, most announcerly, dramatic voice, "for the moment you've all been waiting for. Drumroll please." Pretty much the entire band snarls, but I look back to where the percussion section is congregated in time to see the drumline captain smirk and grab one of the ratty marching base drums, giving it a nudge to set it rolling across the floor.
Davis sighs. "Very funny, Ben. Haha. Now could you pick that up? Those drums are valuable and expensive." I mumble a 'yeah right' under my breath. They might have been expensive seven years ago, when they were new. Now it would be a mercy to burn those sad things and dance around their pyre.
But the Hillcrest band doesn't get nearly enough funding from the district, so no luck there. We're stuck with them. After a while, the humor fizzles out, and the attention shifts back to the tall skinny director. He basks in the 'spotlight'.
"Okay, I guess I'll go ahead and tell you what the music is—" But he doesn't, then, anyway, because the door opens, and a medium-height, somewhat portly man with thinning brown hair hurries through, looking stressed out.
"I'm sorry I'm late, Roger, Anne, I got a little lost on the way here…not quite familiar with the town, yet," he says regretfully. Mrs. Wilson says something to him that I can't make out, and he nods, looking relieved.
"Um, students, this is our new director, Mr. Sanford. Say hi to Mr. Sanford, kiddies," he commands us, and there's a halfhearted response. We're all a little pissed that we still don't know what the show is this year.
"Okay, back to what I was saying. Our esteemed middle school band director, Ms. Adams, seems to be something of a secret theater aficionado, for the music that she had picked out for Hillcrest to march to is…" He pauses dramatically, and a few of us hiss, "The music from the original Broadway musical by Stephen Sondheim, Sweeney Todd."
I nod—I saw the movie; I didn't much care for the story, but I'll admit that it had great music. Around me, I hear disparaging comments mingled with enthusiastic ones. I'm kind of neutral...I'm excited to see the music, though. A second later, there's silence again and I see Samantha beside me turn around to look out the door. I follow suit, curious to see who showed up late.
The first thing I notice is the almost-cube of a marching French Horn case. Oh, one of the freshmen showed up late. Poor kid probably got lost. I feel kind of sorry for them even as I'm slightly jealous that they got to miss the entire orientation.
"Oh, that's right!" Mrs. Wilson says, before turning to the new director and saying something too softly for me to hear. He shakes his had and says, "No, you do it," followed by a quieter statement; I only manage to pick out "embarrass him."
Mrs. Wilson nods, and turns to address the band. "Attention please, band. We have a new student transferring in from East Cove. I'd like to introduce Ryan Sanford, who is a…junior?" She leans over to confirm this with Mr. Sanford, who nods, "and plays the French Horn."
We all turn around to take a better look at the new director's son, who has a nervous smile on his face that just screams that he's really thinking of escape routes.
He has that brown-black hair that looks one or the other depending on the light, straight, but longer than mine, and it keeps falling in his big, deep blue eyes. He doesn't look much like his father at all.
I can't look away. There's a sick, fluttery feeling in my stomach, and my brain seems to have shut out all thoughts other than 'he's cute.' I manage to snap myself out of it, mentally slapping myself upside the face. There is no way in hell that I'm in the least attracted to this kid. There' no way. I'm straight. I like girls. Boobs, long eyelashes, curves, vaginas, and estrogen. Lots and lots of estrogen. That's what I like. Estrogen.
Oh, wait, no, that's not what I mean at all. I could do without the estrogen, actually.
That's not what I mean either...!
I'm straight, dammit!
I realize I'm still turned around, and hurriedly shift in my chair to face the front. Mr. Davis addresses the new kid. "You've missed the orientation, but I'm sure I can find someone to fill you in…" His eyes scan the assembled musicians, and I'm silently pleading 'please, don't pick me, oh, God, please shield me from the evil gaze of Mr. Davis.'
His eyes meet mine and settle there. It's official, if there is a God, he hates me. "Ethan, would you mind staying a bit afterward to show Ryan around?"
There's absolutely no polite way to refuse. I'm backed into a corner. I smile brightly, and chirrup, "Sure! No problem!" I twist around, still beaming, and wave at the scared-looking French Horn player, who is still as gorgeous as he had been twenty seconds ago. Dammit.
He waves back shyly, and I hear Mrs. Wilson say, "Alright, students, class dismissed. Remember, eight o'clock tomorrow. Be there or I'll have to ask Mr. Davis to sit on you." I mock gasp in horror, and John snorts a laugh. Samantha mutters, "Like that would be painful. That man turns sideways and he disappears. Well, except for his moustache…" I giggle, imagining that happening, and quickly stifle it with my hand.
Of course, my mind then turns back to my undesired task. Look, I'm a social person, and I love people. Normally, I would jump at the chance to show a transfer student around. Normally. The strange leap my stomach did whenever I glanced at the new kid, however, was definitely not normal. It also definitely had nothing to do with attraction of any kind.
Oh-so-reluctantly, I stand up when the rest of my group does, but instead of congregating in a corner of the band hall to catch up after the summer, I simply smile, wave goodbye to them, and amble over to where Ryan is still standing by the door, marching horn slung over his shoulder. Keeping that bright (and fairly false) grin on my face, I make an effort to act completely normal.
There is an awkward second where each of us waits for the other to speak. Before it morphs into a full-blown awkward silence, I go ahead and jump in.
"Hi, I'm Ethan." Wow, that was lame.
He almost laughs. "I know. Mr…uhh, the director said it." There is a full-blown awkward silence. I'm trying to deal with the fact that the only word I can think of to describe his voice is sexy. It's not too low, but it's not girly sounding, and smooth as velvet. "I'm Ryan?" He offers, after a moment, and I do chuckle.
"I know. Mrs. Wilson said it." I pause, worried that he thought I was mocking him, which I kind of was, but not in a mean-spirited way.
"Um—uhh, do you wanna go find your locker?" I offer quickly, gesturing in the general direction of the French Horn block. He nods, and I dip my head toward where we're going, and begin heading off.
For a few seconds, we both examine the tiny paper stickers on the lockers with names printed in ridiculously tiny lettering.
"Aah, found it," he murmurs and opens the metal-wire door that is—of course, knowing my luck, directly above my own. The instrument is shoved into the slot, and Ryan turns toward me, still looking like he wants to bolt.
I have to do something about it—something in my nature forces me to put people at ease whenever they're nervous like he is.
"Dude, calm down. No one here bites," I pause and grin evilly, wiggling my eyebrows, "Well, I take that back—there's this saxophone player…she's kind of infamous for it." I smirk.
His blue eyes go wide for a second, before he figures out that I'm joking, and he laughs—it sounds genuine. My work is accomplished. I might feel a bit more pride than I should, but hell, I'm just glad that he's not all tense and shit anymore.
"So, shall I show you around the building?" I offer gallantly, leaning back against some lockers.
"Sure," Ryan accedes, and I gesture for him to follow me. The building the band hall is in is the music department building, which is basically divided between the band and the choir—who essentially avoid each other at all costs. All musicians have a superiority complex. Even within the band, that's apparent. Brass instruments are always better than woodwinds, and, of course French Horns are better than all other brass instruments. You'll hear differently from other sections, but I know I'm right.
Ahem. Anyway, the layout of the building is rectangular. At one end, we have the band hall, at the other, the choir room. In between, there are offices for the directors of both music departments, and a multitude of practice alcoves and storage spaces (And bathrooms, but that goes without saying). Oh, yeah, and attached to the band hall are the Jazz and Percussion rooms, by the way. I always forget about those, since I don't ever really go in either of them.
I debrief Ryan on where everything is. "Through those doors you'll find the directors' offices—the big one is Davis', Wilson and Russel—Ah, um, I mean, Mr. Sanford will each get space in the other office." I had completely forgotten that Ryan was the new director's son by that point.
"If you go all the way down this hall, you'll end up in the choir room, but practice rooms and such line the walls. Oh, where the hallway branches down there? Bathrooms, and the music library. Watch out—Mrs. Wilson is very protective of her library."
There's also a single 'practice' alcove down that hall that I deliberately neglect to mention—it's at the very end of the hallway, and no one ever really goes down that way, and the only practicing that goes on in that room is the practicing of face sucking, and, well, sometimes sucking other things.
I don't want to talk about the time I found Aaron and Ashlyn in there. Noooo…my eyes…I'm forced to relieve it. It buuuurns. I had been such an innocent little ninth grader, too.
I snap back to reality, realizing that I had stopped in the middle of the hallway and completely gone space cadet.
"I'm sorry. Zoned out there for a second." I smile brightly, and am rewarded with an answering grin from Ryan, which, I unfortunately must add, caused my heart to flip-flop in my chest a little. Dammit, he's cute. No! Bad mind! No traitorous thoughts like that!
"Ryan!" I hear from the door of the office; it's Mr. Sanford's voice. "Mr. Davis wants to talk to you for a minute," he finished.
Ryan nods and mouths a "thanks" at me, and disappears into the office. His father steps out and makes a beeline for where I'm still standing.
"Thank you for showing Ryan around…uhh…?"
"Ethan. Ethan Jacobs," I prompt.
"Yes, Ethan. Thank you. He's been going to the same school since kindergarten, and I feel awful about making him move like that." He looks genuinely regretful; it makes me warm to him a little…most parents simply don't realize the trauma of a sudden school change, or they simply don't care.
"It's no problem, sir," I reply, "Um, is that all you need from me?" I ask, hoping my phrasing isn't too rude. I don't really mind staying late, but I promised Alan that I'd visit him and tell him what had happened—not that he doesn't know; he's been in band as long as I have.
"Yep," the director says. I nod, and head straight for Kermit, trying to keep Ryan's face from popping up every time I blink.
Dammit, I've never felt so immediately attracted to anyone before. Except that I'm not attracted to him. I'm a guy. He's a guy. I are straight manly man. Rawr. I like to, uhh…lift weights, and grunt a lot. I am so manly. There is no attraction.
I'm lying to myself, and I know it.
This is going to be one hell of a year.
Author's Notes: Whew! This story is practically writing itself. Considering it's usually like pulling teeth for me to be able to write, I'm thrilled. Anyway, since this is the first chapter, I'd like to do something of an introduction.
I'm Rachel, and you can pretty much call me whatever you want, although my typical online alias is "Sei." I'm a complete band nerd myself, and I've honestly been wanting to write a high school band centered story for…over a year. Then, Ethan invented himself, and the story basically began writing itself. The hardest part so far is deciding on the names for my characters…The structure of the band is a lot like my own. If I've used any terms that someone is unfamiliar with, please let me know, and I'll be sure to explain.
I'd absolutely love to hear what you think so far, if you've got a moment to spare! Thank you very much for reading the first chapter of Kiss my Brass.