I Heart Band, page 1
by Michelle Schusterman
Grosset & Dunlap
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Cover illustration by Genevieve Kote.
Copyright © 2014 by Penguin Group (USA) LLC. All rights reserved. Published by
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For the geeks,
band or otherwise
Special Excerpt from Friends, Fugues and Fortune Cookies
About the Author
Sometimes being a perfectionist just isn’t worth the effort.
I spent the entire last week of summer break preparing for my first day of seventh grade. I made a band practice schedule and stuck to it—three new minor scales, plus I memorized the school fight song (it’s the only music I had that I knew we’d be playing in advanced band).
For my other classes, I made lists. And charts. Color-coded ones—this was serious stuff. I printed out a map of Millican Middle School and drew in the routes for all of my classes, including locker stops and bathroom breaks, in red. Then I took my best friend Julia’s schedule and drew her route in purple (two classes together, lunch, and two potential bathroom meet-ups if she can make it to B-hall from English in less than a minute).
It took me four hours to choose an outfit. Normally I don’t take that long, but the first day of seventh grade is a big deal, right? I ended up picking one that coordinated with the new backpack Mom got me—light blue with red zippers and straps. The blue-and-white-striped shirt and denim skirt were hanging on my closet door handle. My red hoodie, too—Texas summers are hot, but the schools are frigid. Got to prepare for AC overload.
See? Totally planned out. And it took my dumb troll of a brother about two seconds to screw it all up.
I stared down in disbelief. Orange juice soaked my shirt, my skirt, and the sad excuse for a napkin on my lap. Across the table, Chad’s eyes widened. Then he did what any dumb sixteen-year-old guy would do after once again ruining his little sister’s life—he laughed.
(Really, it was more like a snorty-grunt noise. Total troll, I swear.)
“Chad, it’s not funny! Do you have any idea how long—?”
“Holly, honey.” Mom grabbed the nearly empty carton and handed me a towel. “It was an accident.”
“I know,” I said through gritted teeth, picking up the wet orange lump that had been a napkin and tossing it onto the table. “He slept late, ran down here a minute before we have to leave, tried to eat breakfast even though he doesn’t have time, and spilled juice all over me because he had to rush. And because he’s a troll.”
“Holly,” Mom said warningly, wiping the juice that was dripping off the table. Chad grinned, which was particularly gross because he had, like, an entire chocolate muffin in his mouth.
“Whatever.” I stood up. “I have to change. Maybe that red top and jeans will go with my—” I glanced down at my backpack between my chair and my French horn case and shrieked.
“What now?” Mom sounded exasperated. I pointed a shaking finger at my bag, soaking up all the juice that was still trickling off the table, and she winced. “Oh dear.”
She picked it up. The entire front was stained an ugly dark orange color. Chad snickered again.
“It looks like someone puked on it. Aaand here comes the freak-out,” he added when I closed my eyes.
I once heard the phrase “apoplectic with rage” used to describe being so angry you might actually physically explode. Thanks to my brother, I totally understood what that meant.
“Chad.” I clenched my fists (which were all sticky from the juice, which only increased my apoplecticness). “I swear, you are—”
“Holly, stop.” Mom glanced at her watch. “Chad, apologize.”
He rolled his eyes. “Sorry.” (At least, that’s what it sounded like. About half a muffin fell out of his mouth when he said it.)
“Holly, we’re already late,” she interrupted. “You need to change, I need to find another bag you can use, and Chad needs to brush his teeth—seriously, that’s gross,” she added when he grinned again. “Everybody move, now.”
I stormed up the stairs and to my room, wondering if Dad would start taking me to school if I got up at five every morning.
Staring into my closet, I did a quick mental assessment. My entire clothes timeline was ruined. The red top wouldn’t work because tomorrow’s outfit was red. The pink-and-brown-striped shirt was scheduled for Friday. Yellow dress? A little too dressy for the first day; I’d look like I was trying too hard . . .
“Holly, just pick something!” Mom hollered from down the hall.
“Fine!” I hollered back. “It’s not like this is important or anything!”
Two minutes later I walked into the dump Chad called a bedroom wearing the yellow dress, the red hoodie, and the biggest scowl I could manage. Mom was on her hands and knees, rummaging through his closet (and somehow not suffocating from the dirty sock stench).
“What are you doing?”
“We donated your old backpacks a month ago, remember?” Her voice was muffled.
“Yeah, and Chad’s, too,” I reminded her.
“Right—but I’m hoping we missed one. You know how hard it is to find stuff in here. He never throws anything away.”
“Mom, I don’t want to use one of Chad’s nasty old bags!” I cried. “Can’t we just—”
“Just what?” Mom straightened up and gave me her deal-with-it face. “Holly, we donated all of your old school stuff. It’s either one of his old backpacks or a shopping bag. Your choice.”
“Stellar,” I said, glaring at her. She stood on tiptoe, her navy high heels wobbling a little bit, and felt around the closet’s top shelf.
“He definitely gave me the bag he used last year, but you know
“Mom. Look at it.”
She turned it over. Her face fell when she saw what was printed on the back. “Well, that’s . . . that’s not so bad.”
“Mom.” She had to be joking. “I’m not going to my first day of seventh grade with a Batman backpack.”
Mom nodded slowly. “Okay, fine. So, paper or plastic?”
Apoplectic. Yeah, I so totally got that word.
We were late for school. Okay, not late late, but I would barely have time to find my locker—or Julia—before first period. And of course we had to drop off Chad first, just because the stupid high school was closer. And my backpack was only a tiny bit less humiliating than a grocery bag.
By the time we pulled up to Millican, I was about five seconds away from a stroke.
“Haveagreatdayloveyoubye!” Mom waved out the window as I raced up to the entrance, horn case in hand, the ridiculous bag with its obnoxiously bright yellow Bat-Signal shining like the ultimate Beacon of Nerdiness on my back. Too late, I realized my dress was yellow, too. I’d coordinated my first-day-of-school outfit with a nine-year-old boy’s backpack. Stellar.
According to my watch (which was still perfectly set to the school’s clocks, down to the second), I had just over two minutes before the warning bell. If I hurried, I could still drop my horn case off in the band hall and find Julia at her locker.
Less than a minute of talking might not seem worth it, but I hadn’t seen Julia in almost a month. Her family always spent the last two weeks of summer at the beach. And before that, she’d been at Lake Lindon Band Camp.
When I’d come home with the brochures for Lake Lindon on the last day of sixth grade, Mom and Dad promised me that I could go the summer before I started high school. Julia and I had geeked out over it together—cabins, swimming, a big concert, and a dance. Daily rehearsals, too. Every minute of every day was scheduled.
We were both shocked when we found out Julia’s parents were sending her as a surprise present for her birthday in July. I mean, I was happy for her. (And a little jealous, but how could I not be? There I was, practicing my horn every morning all by myself in my room with Chad banging on the wall, and Julia was getting to eat, sleep, and breathe band every single day with a bunch of other kids.)
Her parents picked her up after camp and went straight to the beach house they shared with her aunt and uncle and a bunch of cousins. We got to talk on the phone some, but Julia was always really busy with family stuff down there. So the last month of summer break was pretty blah without her. No wonder I was so ready to be back at school.
The halls were swarming. I apologized to about a zillion kids for whacking their knees with my horn case before I made it to the band hall. The director’s office was empty, but I noticed something written on the chalkboard:
Leave your instrument against the wall. Be sure it has a name tag.
A long line of cases stretched around the perimeter of the room. I added mine (it already had a name tag, of course), and noticed a clarinet case with a familiar purple tag that read JULIA GORDON. Grinning, I hurried back out into the chaos.
Mrs. Wendell had retired at the end of last year. She was awesome—at the spring concert, she gave me the “Outstanding Sixth-Grade Musician” award. Plus she always let me help with making concert programs and fun stuff like that.
My schedule just said “Dante” next to “Band,” so I didn’t know if the new director would be a guy or girl. My stomach fluttered nervously, although I didn’t really know why—I practiced a ton this summer. Rounding a corner, I wondered what Mrs. Wendell told the new director about me. I mean, about all the band members. But especially the ones that got awards.
Something to speculate about with Julia, if I could find her.
I made it to C-hall and saw her at the end of a row of green lockers. “Julia!” I yelled, not caring how dorky I sounded. I waved frantically, trying to get around a cluster of wide-eyed sixth-graders. “Julia!”
She was laughing too hard to hear me. Laughing at something some girl was saying. I’d never seen her before, but I noticed one thing right away—she had a light blue backpack with red zippers and straps and no orange juice stains.
I slowed down a little bit. Who was this girl? She smiled, flipping her dark brown, shiny hair over her shoulder, whispering something to Julia. Julia whispered something back, and they both giggled.
“Julia!” I waved, moving a bit faster now.
She still didn’t hear me. Closing her locker, Julia linked arms with this girl and they started walking toward me, heads close together, still giggling. They looked like they’d been best friends for years. They looked like Julia and I usually looked.
Yeah. Seventh grade was off to a great start.
I stopped dead in the middle of the hall. A sixth-grader bumped into me and I gave him a look that probably made him want to run screaming back to elementary school.
She looked up (uh, finally), and her eyes widened. “Holly!”
We squealed and ran toward each other and hugged and made a big stupid scene because that is exactly what you’re supposed do when you haven’t seen your real best friend in a month. I glanced at the new girl over Julia’s shoulder. She was smiling, but giving me the Eye. The same one I’d been giving her a minute ago.
Good. All was right with the universe again.
“You’re late! I can’t believe Holly Mead was actually not at school half an hour before the bell on the first day!” Julia shook my arm, beaming. “I’m so sorry I didn’t call you back yesterday, but—”
“I called you three times!” I exclaimed. “What on earth were you doing?”
“We got home so late Saturday night, there was a lot of back-to-school stuff to do—you know how my dad is—and last night I was—”
“She was setting a world record for most pieces of pizza ever eaten in one sitting,” the new girl interrupted with a grin, and Julia cracked up. I kept a smile pasted on my face, but my stomach dropped. Hang on—she was hanging out with this girl last night?
“Sorry, what am I doing?” Julia said, still giggling. She pulled the girl forward. “Holly, this is Natasha. We met at Lake Lindon.”
“Oh,” I said. “Um . . . hi.”
“So good to finally meet you,” she said. “Julia told me so much about you!”
Oh my God, this girl was such a phony. I could already tell.
But I just smiled and hoped it looked more genuine then hers. “So, um . . . where are you from?”
“Georgetown. My mom got transferred, so we moved here in June,” Natasha replied, flipping her hair over her shoulder. Again. “I was so excited when I found out Julia goes here, too! We practically lived together at band camp. Cabin sisters!”
“That’s why I was hanging out with Natasha last night,” Julia said quickly. “She called because they screwed up her schedule, and she—”
The warning bell rang. I forced another grin.
“Don’t worry about it. So . . . history, right?” I had Julia’s schedule memorized.
“Yeah,” she said, adjusting the barrette holding her curly black hair out of her eyes. “See you fourth period?”
“Yup. Nice to meet you,” I lied to Natasha, unzipping my backpack and groping for my schedule to double-check the room number.
“You too. And that’s a, um . . . really cool bag, by the way.” Natasha giggled, and I felt my face burn.
Ugh—Batman. I’d totally forgotten.
“Yeah, it’s a long story,” I said lightly, and Julia grinned at me. “Anyway. Have fun in history.” Wow, I could not have said an
“We will!” Natasha linked arms with Julia again, and with a wave, they headed down the hall.
So they had first period together. That figured.
If the orange-juice disaster hadn’t been enough, this Natasha girl showing up completely threw me off my game. My English teacher called my name at least three times before Gabby Flores poked me in the back and I finally raised my hand. Then in third period, the PE coach said, “Carrie Leed?” and I was all, “Here!” like an idiot.
I was a little distracted.
Understandable, considering what a mess the day had turned into.
I could not believe Julia spent the last day of summer break with some girl she barely knew and didn’t even call me. Two weeks of camp together was maybe enough to become pretty good friends, but Julia and I went back to second-grade music class. I mean, we rocked the Owl Creek Elementary talent show with a recorder duet of “Nobody Likes Me.” It ended with us tossing gummy worms into the crowd. We got third place.
How could anyone not be best friends for life after that?
And the other thing that was bugging me: I really, really wanted to go to Lake Lindon. I’d been okay with waiting a few summers, but that was before Julia got to go. I should have been there, too. We should have been in a cabin together, going to rehearsals together, the dance, the concert, everything.
But instead, she’d done all of that with Natasha.
Plus, Julia and I had both been placed in the advanced band for this year! That was kind of a big deal, since that band was mostly eighth-graders. Keeping up was going to be hard enough—band camp probably would have helped me a lot.
It wasn’t like I’d been doing anything better stuck at home—mostly just practicing, watching movies, and trying to avoid my brother’s idiot friends. And if I’d been at band camp, Julia wouldn’t have had to resort to hanging out with that stuck-up Natasha girl. Who had my backpack.
I kicked the Beacon of Nerdiness under my desk and sighed.
It was a long wait until fourth period band. I mostly spent it imagining forcing Natasha and Chad to eat actual worms.
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