The Cello

A Heritage High Story

(2013 – 2014 school year)

Chapter One

The cello sat on a stand in the corner of the high school music room.

It wasn't an overly impressive specimen of its kind. The spruce top had darkened a bit with age as had the maple sides and back. It certainly wasn't created by a master of old. Antonio Stradivari would surely have said that it wasn't worth the effort it had taken to craft it. It was a simple school cello and fairly representative of its kind. Yet even in its dark little corner it shone as if freshly polished and its strings were bright.

The cello belonged to none of the many students in the school's orchestra program. No one really knew who owned it, although anyone who may have taken the odd moment to wonder, of which there were very, very few, guessed that it most likely belonged to one of the high school's three music teachers.

They would have been wrong.

For some music students, the cello had almost obtained a legendary status. It seemed no one ever approached that little corner, not even in curiosity. Anyone that approached the instrument felt an unexplainable need to stay back at least a few feet, as if to maintain a respectful distance. Some of the more excitable students claimed to feel a coldness radiating from the old cello. A few even claimed that they'd heard someone playing the cello after school had ended for the day, but when they'd gone to investigate the room had been dark and empty; the cello sitting silently on its stand in the corner. Luckily, the story of the haunted cello didn't last much more than a couple of weeks.

For second chair cellist and senior Veronica Duvall, it was a mystery that she'd decided to solve before she graduated at the end of the school year.

Ronnie, as she was called by her friends, had been in the Heritage High music department since she first started as a freshman in the Concert Orchestra. She'd been playing the cello since early in second grade and quickly moved into first the Honors Orchestra, then the Symphonic Orchestra, and finally, ever since the middle of her junior year, she'd joined the Alternative Strings Ensemble program in addition to her Symphonic duties. She was also friendly with each of the three music teachers. Clive Remington taught and conducted the Elementary Strings and Concert Orchestra. Megan Davis taught and conducted the Honors and Youth Orchestras while the Symphonic Orchestra and Alternative Strings Ensemble duties were handled by Deirdre Kline.

Of the three – and she'd been under each at one point or another during her high school career – Ronnie preferred Ms. Kline, although Ms. Davis wasn't all that bad, either. Mr. Remington, on the other hand and only in Ronnie's estimation, was a bit full of himself and had a tendency to discount student input as being worth not much more than the howling of voluble canines. At least Ms. Kline and Ms. Davis would occasionally listen to their student's ideas relative to which music pieces to present and even suggestions regarding individual musical arrangements. And of those two, Ms. Kline was the easiest one to approach and have a reasonable conversation with.

Which was why Ronnie decided to wait until all of the other student musicians in her seventh period class had left for the day before approaching the usually smiling teacher.

She pushed a strand of her long brown hair back behind an ear as she slowly laid her own cello in its case, placed the bow in its holder, and snapped the clasps of the hard-shell case shut. Her eyes, only a slightly lighter shade of brown than her hair, drifted over to see Ms. Kline still sitting on the piano bench reading over the sheet music for The Piano Guys arrangement of One Republic's Secrets; one of the three pieces the Alternative Strings Ensemble would be playing at the Spring Orchestra Concert still - or only, depending on how you looked at it - two months away. Her warm, blue-grey eyes were completely focused on the staves and notes of musical notation in front of her to the exclusion of all else. A pencil was gripped between her teeth while a pen rested behind one ear covered by blonde hair only just barely showing signs of individual strands of silver encroachment.

"Ms. Kline?" Ronnie ventured in a soft voice.

"Ronnie," the teacher said, her eyes still not leaving the score in front of her, "what do you think about the cello in the descending transition between the first refrain and the second verse?"

Ronnie's mind quickly switched gears and she thought a few moments before replying. There was a reason Ronnie was second chair cello. Within a group, she was mistress of her instrument and there were none better, at least not at Heritage. On her own, however, she became too nervous and clumsy. But she also had a sharp mind and an ear for musical detail. "Actually, I've always wanted to hear what it would be like with the piano taking that section."

"The piano…hmm," the forty-nine-and-holding (read fifty) years old teacher mused. "Maybe. It might be interesting. I remember they used a harp in their video, but we don't have anyone skillful enough to pull it off on the harp."

"They used a lot of brass and woodwinds in the video as well, but unless you want to bring in the guys from the Concert Orchestra or Band…" the brunette shrugged and allowed her rolling eyes and grin to answer for her. None of the guys in either Concert or Band had the capability, or the balls for that matter, to take on this type of arrangement, even if they'd had the full orchestra version of the score.

Deidre's soft chuckle answered her along with a laughing "touché."

"I think Sandy's still available if you wanted to try it out," Ronnie offered, remembering that her friend Sandy Patterson, an accomplished pianist in her own right, had mentioned wanting to practice with them a time or two.

"Hmm, I'll think about it," Deidre nodded, "but you were going to ask me something before I interrupted you, weren't you, Ronnie?"

Ronnie looked at her in confusion for a moment before she remembered what she'd been planning on asking. "Actually," she started in a much softer and less assertive voice, "I was wondering, if it wouldn't be too personal a subject, if I could ask you about…the cello."

The senior didn't miss the tightening of her teacher's teeth on the pencil in her mouth, nor her suddenly frozen posture, before she seemed to shiver and then relax, a sadness in her eyes that hadn't been there just a moment before. Ronnie took it as a good sign that Deirdre at least hadn't pretended not to know what exactly it was she was asking about. Her reaction, on the other hand, didn't make her feel anywhere near as positive.

"You'll need to ask Lindsey about that," her teacher responded with a weary sigh. "It's her story, not mine, to tell."

"Lindsey? Lindsey Armsby? The music department's secretary?"

"That's right and, if you don't mind, Ronnie, that's all I really want to say on the matter."

"I-I'm sorry if I asked something I shouldn't have," the younger woman murmured contritely, yet her teacher only looked up at her, finally, and smiled.

"Don't worry, Ronnie, you didn't. It's no secret really, it's just," blue-grey eyes seemed to be drawn against their will to the cello standing mutely in the corner, almost like a shrine, "you need to ask Lindsey." Deidre seemed to take a moment to look her over before smiling again. "In fact, it might not be such a bad idea if you did."

"You're sure? I mean, I really only asked to satisfy my own curiosity."

"Yes, I'm sure," the slender woman nodded, "but she's probably already gone today. Why don't you try to catch up with her after school tomorrow? That will also give me a chance to let her know you'll be stopping by."

"Warn her, in other words," Ronnie worried anew, wondering just what kind of landmine she might have stepped on. "I'm really not sure…"

The piano bench scrapped back on the thin, industrial carpeting as Ms. Kline stood up. "Please, Ronnie, talk to her. I think you'll find her a lot more open and willing than you might imagine. And it might do her some good."

"If you think so," Ronnie said, still not so sure herself, but that damned cello had been bugging her for so long that she figured she might as well take the chance and ask Lindsey. What's the worst that could happen?

-oo-

"No," the young woman sitting at the desk in the music department's reception area/office said without preamble as soon as Ronnie walked through the door after school the next day.

And she really was a young woman. No more than in her early to mid-twenties, Lindsey had long raven-black hair that reached nearly to her waist, a slender (some would say 'skinny') build, slightly bushy eyebrows that were a match to her hair color, stark blue eyes, and an ascetic face. She would never grace the cover of Mademoiselle, let alone the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated, certainly not while wearing those narrow, rimless glasses, but what she lost in beauty points she usually made up for with her personality.

A personality that appeared to be sincerely lacking today.

"Oh, come on now, Lindsey," Megan Davis chided from where she was sitting cross-legged on top of a desk across the room, her ever present acoustic guitar on her lap, "you know as well as I do that you need to talk about this with someone, and if you think we're too close to it, Ronnie here certainly isn't."

"No," Lindsey repeated her previous answer to a question that had yet to be asked. "I'm not going to discuss my private life with some random high school student."

"You know as well as I do that Ronnie is anything but a random student," the equally black haired and slender-bordering-on-skinny Megan argued, punctuating her words with a strummed E-chord.

"I don't care if she's Mother-Fucking Theresa, Dr. Ruth, and Sandra Day O'Conner all wrapped up in the Fifth Amendment, I don't want to talk to her, I don't have to talk to her, and you can't make me talk to her."

"It was three years ago!" Ms. Davis exclaimed with another heavily strummed E-chord.

"Three years, three months, three days, three hours," Lindsey slammed shut the notebook she'd been working on, "I don't care! You and Deirdre don't get to play with my life! You have no right!"

"Sure we do," Megan replied with a calm grin, completely ignoring the seemingly irate secretary while hitting the E a third time, "we're your friends. By definition that gives us the right to meddle in your affairs anytime we deem necessary."

"Friends? You're my friends? Well, I can remedy that situation right now!"

"No, you can't," Megan shook her head grinning. "It's not up to you whether we're your friends or not. That's our decision and you just have to live with it."

"Not if you hit that damned A I don't, Megan Davis. I get plenty of satisfaction, thank you very much!"

"Um, student here, guys," Ronnie mumbled while raising her hand.

"Sure you do," Megan laughed, flicking her right hand up with two fingers showing and pumping them up and down, "unless you're talking about that 'toy' we got you for your birthday two years ago."

"Oh, geez, TMI ladies," Ronnie blushed.

"Yeah, like you haven't rosined up the old bow now and again, Veronica," Megan laughed as she played the A-chord that constituted the first four chords of the Rolling Stones song (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction.

"Look," Ronnie lifted her hands in surrender, "maybe this wasn't such a hot idea after all. I mean, I don't really need to know the story behind the cello."

"See! Even Ronnie agrees, so let it go!"

"No, she's capitulating without knowing the whole story…which is rather the point now, isn't it?" the black haired, elfin teacher currently dressed like a flowerchild from a commune raised a pointed eyebrow.

"ARGH! Why are you being so damned infuriating?" Lindsey threw up her hands and getting up from her chair.

"And why are you being so damned stubborn? You're the one that said you needed to talk about it with someone that wasn't directly involved." Megan continued to press, still in that same calm voice.

Ronnie could easily understand how frustrating it would be to argue with someone that refused to raise her voice. Her ex had been the exact same way. Always calm, cool, and collected when what you really wanted was a knock-down, drag-out screaming match.

Not that she wouldn't give her left tit to have the opportunity to argue with her again even if it was frustrating as hell.

"I'll…look," she gasped, the suddenness of the emotion and the knife-sharp pain in her chest hitting her hard enough to roughen her voice, "just…just don't worry about it. I, I…"

"Oh shit," Megan spat as she jumped down from the desk, taking only enough time to set her precious guitar down with a clang of strings before running to the crying teen and taking her into her arms. "Sorry. Sorry, Ronnie," she crooned in the taller girl's ear. "I wasn't thinking. I forgot."

"I-it's not your f-fault, Ms. Davis," Ronnie somehow got out between soft sobs.

"Come over here," the music teacher told her softly, directing her gently to a seat in one of the desk chairs. "Just breathe. It's going to be all right."

"What the fuck is going on?" Lindsey asked, still in an angry, loud voice.

"Not now, Lindsey," Megan shot back, obviously trying to stay calm.

"What, you want me to tell her my story, but I don't get to know hers?"

"NOT NOW!" Megan exploded, taking Lindsey aback with her vehemence. "Later," she said in a softer voice as Ronnie tried desperately to get her emotions back under control. The young secretary's jaw dropped open when her friend screamed at her, but she closed it with a snap and took her seat again. The black haired music instructor looked up at Lindsey again. "Could I ask you to get her a cup of water?"

"Sure. Fine, Whatever," Lindsey rolled her eyes but did as she was asked, grabbing a paper cup and filling it with water from the cooler in the corner of the office, grudgingly bringing it over and handing it to Megan. "Look…" she started as Megan handed the cup to Ronnie and the young girl started taking small sips, "I'm sorry I blew up. It really isn't anything to do with you. It's just," the secretary sighed and started to look a bit sheepish at the way she'd been acting, "it's hard for me. I'm not normally a…sharing kind of person."

Ronnie waved her hand at the woman as she took one last deep breath.

"It's not your fault either, Ms. Armsby. It's neither of your faults…yours fault? Not sure…doesn't matter. It's not your fault. It just sometimes hits me with no warning," she tried to explain, although there really wasn't any way to explain it; not without a long, drawn-out story.

Long, drawn-out story?

"Um, Ms. Armsby," she turned to look up at the young woman, "maybe we could make a deal? I'll tell you my story if you tell me yours? I," she sniffed again and ran the back of her hand under her nose. Megan pulled a tissue from the pocket of her jeans and handed it to her. Ronnie nodded her thanks and blew her nose before she continued. "I could probably use someone to talk to as well, about…about Laney." Tears started rolling down her cheeks again just at the sound of her name.

Lindsey looked hard at her for a moment considering and then, coming to a decision, nodded slowly. "I guess I can understand that."

"Good," Ronnie sniffed again, then used her sleeve to wipe away her tears. "Could I maybe interest you in a cup of coffee?"

"Sounds good," Lindsey replied slowly and, for the first time that afternoon, smiled at her.