Rosa wasn’t half as keen on the band idea as Wynter thought she’d be.
“I could make new friends. That’s what you want me to do, isn’t it?”
“You have friends.” Rosa spread raspberry jelly on her toast evenly and methodically to every corner, as she always did. “You have Stacey and Keira and Sharmila. Why don’t you form a band with them?”
“I don’t think they play any instruments.”
“You could be a singing group, like the Andrews Sisters.”
“My grandmother had all their records. Very catchy tunes.”
“It’s a pop-punk-rock band. We’re gonna play Blink-182 and My Chemical Romance.”
Rosa’s put down her knife with one corner left to go. “Chemical… what? I don’t think I like the sound of that. Whose idea was this?”
“Jesse’s. He said it’ll make the kids like me.” Wynter thought back on the conversation. “Actually, I think it was Indio’s idea originally. Jesse somehow took all the credit.”
“Well, I wouldn’t pay too much attention to any ideas either of those boys come up with.”
The dismissive way she said it, as she pinched toast crumbs off the table and dropped them onto her plate, made up Wynter’s mind. She was going to put together a pop-punk-rock band and it was going to be awesome.
Wynter found Arthur Yu in the music room, as always. She slipped in, unnoticed, to listen to him practicing with headphones on—loud enough that she could hear the song. He was drumming along to Linkin Park.
He noticed her, mid-song, and yanked off the headphones.
“You’re good,” she said. “Is that Somewhere I Belong?”
“I’m allowed to be here.”
“I know. Have you ever played in a band?”
Arthur looked like a startled javelina. “Uh… what band?”
Wynter remembered what Jesse had told her about taking charge. She said, “My band, the Clockwork Toys.”
“Aren’t you in eighth grade?”
“Why are you asking me to be in your band?”
“Because you play well. Really loud and confident. I like it.”
“Who else is in the band?”
“So far, you and me. We can audition for the others. We need a lead guitarist and a bass player, or someone I can teach to play bass.”
“Sam Hawthorn plays guitar, and that idiot Hunter whatshisname.”
“So, you’re in?”
“I guess so.”
“It’s a commitment, Arthur. We’ll rehearse every Wednesday after school, and a few lunch breaks, too.”
“I have Chinese at four on Wednesday.”
“What does that mean?”
“My parents are making me learn Chinese. Because, duh, I am Chinese. I have to learn how to read and write it.”
“We’ll be done by 3:30. Can you introduce me to those guitar players?”
“I don’t know them. They’re eighth graders. They would never talk to me.”
“I guess I’ll track them down. We’ll meet here tomorrow at lunchtime, okay? See where things stand.”
“If I’m staying late on Wednesdays, I’ll have to tell my parents I’m studying in the library.”
“That’s up to you.” Wynter wasn’t too keen on encouraging kids to lie to their parents, but that was their problem.
“Are you the lead singer? What’s your name?”
“Wynter Wild. We’ll play awesome music and you’ll be the coolest kid in seventh grade.”
Arthur beamed and started up his drums again.
Wynter didn’t know many of the kids’ names in eighth grade, but she discovered Sam was in her science class. Her first impression was that he was immature, fooling around with a beaker of ammonia and trying to get an unsuspecting boy to sniff it when they’d been emphatically told not to sniff it. She decided to go after Hunter instead.
She wasn’t keen to let Stacey know her plans yet, so she wasn’t going to ask her or anyone else for help. She found the year book in the library and memorized Hunter’s picture—a sharp-featured boy with high cheekbones and dark overlong hair, the sort of boy her friends would probably call hot. Objectively, this was true, but Hunter has a sullen mouth and a sly look in his eye that made him look like he might be hard to handle.
Undeterred, Wynter wandered the school grounds Tuesday lunchtime looking for him.
She found him with a group of friends at a bench on the lawn, under a tree. Hunter sat on the table, feet on the seat, which was against the rules but made him look cool. All the better, as she planned to have a cool band. He talked animatedly at the five kids sitting on the benches, like he was holding court.
Wynter went up to him. He didn’t stop talking—some funny story about seeing a teacher in no makeup in Target on the weekend—until he realized she was staring at him. He trailed off and gave her a dirty look.
“Do you play guitar?”
“Uh, yeah. And?”
“I’m putting together a band. D’you want to audition?”
Hunter laughed. His friends laughed.
“She’s that retarded girl,” one of the boys said, raising another round of sniggering.
A girl with a shock of red hair elbowed him sharply before asking, “Aren’t you the girl who made up all those lies about being an orphan in Montana?”
“That was performance art.” Wynter wasn’t sure what that meant, and by the look of them neither did they. Still, it shut them up.
“What band?” Hunter said, with a smirk that said he’d deign to indulge her for a second.
“A rock band. I’m the band leader. I have a drummer. I need a guitarist and a bass player.”
“So, you’re like the manager?”
“Vocalist and guitarist. And, yes, the manager.”
“You can sing?” the redhead said. “You always sound like you’ve got a sore throat.”
“I’ve heard her sing, Sarah,” the other girl said. “She’s in my music class. She’s good.”
“Thank you,” Wynter said, though she was more concerned with the way Hunter was whispering to the boy nearest him. He was totally uninterested in her offer. Maybe he’d be more approachable without his courtiers around him. “Look, we’re getting together in about ten minutes, room 305. Come along if you’d like to audition. You can use one of the school guitars.” She started to walk off. She felt she hadn’t given him much of an incentive. Turning back, she said. “I hope you show up. It’s gonna be a cool band.”
Wynter headed to the music room. She’d already checked with Ms Driscoll that she could use it and the drum kit. She found a couple of guitars in the storeroom along with a box of random strings, and sat re-stringing and tuning the guitars, waiting for Arthur and possibly Hunter.
Arthur finally showed up, looking guilty.
“You wouldn’t believe what I told my mom yesterday. I invented a geometry test next week as an excuse to stay behind on Wednesday to study. Later I’m gonna have to invent a grade. I’ll give myself a B plus. She’ll never believe I got an A for geometry.”
“You’ll have to tell her the truth eventually, you know. We’ll aim to play at a school dance or concert, something like that.” She’d seen posters around the school for these sorts of events.
“You’re very confident about it.”
Her confidence came solely from Jesse’s assurances. “Do you want to play on stage at dances and parties?”
“Then we’ll make it happen.”
“Did you find a guitar player?”
“Maybe. He might not show. Let’s play something. Do you know Numb?”
“I know every Linkin Park song.”
“Let’s do it.”
Wynter played the intro from memory and was pleased to see Arthur bring down his volume to match her acoustic guitar and mic-less vocals.
Half an hour and several songs later, Wynter figured Hunter was not going to show. She wasn’t ready to give up on him yet—she’d give him until next week.
“Any ideas where we can find a bass guitarist?”
“No one plays bass,” Arthur said. “I know a cello player.”
“How does that help?”
“Aren’t they kind of the same instrument?”
“Cello strings are a fifth apart, guitar strings are a fourth apart. Bow versus pick. Vertical versus horizontal. I’m not seeing any similarities.”
“They’re the same size. Ethan’s really talented. His sister’s in my homeroom and they’re both in the orchestra. His mom makes him play classical and he hates it. He listens to Shinedown in secret. I think he’d say yes. I’ll ask his sister to ask him.”
“Would he want to learn bass?”
“He loves Linkin Park.”
“I’m about done with Linkin Park, Arthur.”
Arthur was not only enthusiastic on the drums, he was enthusiastic about his recruiting role, too. By Wednesday he’d procured Ethan the cellist, and brought him along after school.
“He looks the part, huh?” Arthur said. “Tall, big hands.”
“D’you want to learn bass guitar?” Wynter asked him.
Ethan was clean cut, not at all like a rock musician, and came complete with a look of nervous anticipation. “Yes, but I already have cello and piano lessons. My parents aren’t gonna pay for more.”
“I’ll teach you. In fact, if you come to my house on Saturday, my brother will give you a masterclass.” It was Caleb’s visitation weekend and while she hadn’t mentioned any masterclass to him, Jesse should be able to persuade him if she failed. This was mostly Jesse’s idea, after all. “By the time you leave, you’ll be a bass player.”
Ethan was looking happier about it. “Where can I get a bass guitar?”
“You can play regular guitar for now.” She indicated one of the guitars she’d restrung the day before, a cheap nylon-string acoustic, and started unwinding a string. “I’m taking off two strings. You just play these four. The actual bass is tuned an octave lower, so the strings are much thicker, and the neck of the guitar longer. But this’ll give you an idea of how it works. The strings are E, A, D, G.” She showed him. “Figure out your major scales starting on those open strings. Then learn to play the arpeggios. That’s all you need to know for now.”
Ethan took the guitar and put the strap over his shoulder. It was too short and he looked ridiculous. He didn’t seem to realize.
“I can find a YouTube tutorial,” he said.
“We could have a bake sale to raise money and buy a bass guitar,” Arthur said.
Wynter didn’t know what a bake sale was. She nodded noncommittally. “We’ll learn four or five songs, and by April or May we’ll be ready to go on stage.”
“And then we’ll graduate and go to high school,” Ethan said. “I’m going to private school twenty miles from here.”
“We’re gonna be an awesome band,” Wynter said. “I never said we’d be long-lived. Can you sing?”
“I was a choir boy.”
Wynter had read that puberty book. She knew about boys’ voices breaking, and Ethan’s certainly had. “Can you still sing?”
“Yes. Do I have to sing in the band?”
“You’re my backup vocalist. Choir singing is good training—you know about parts and harmonizing. This is gonna be amazing.” Except they still had no lead guitarist. “We may be a three-piece.”
Ethan and Arthur were eager to play again the next day, and so Thursday lunchtime found them back in the practice room. Wynter had lugged an old electric guitar of Indio’s to school, along with a practice amp, which raised a few questions on the bus. The word was out. So far, Stacey and her friends had nothing to say about it.
“When we get you an electric bass and amp, you won’t believe how great it sounds,” she told Ethan after they played through a couple of songs. She’d printed out the lyrics and chords as a guide for his bass line. “And Arthur, you’ll be able to play harder, really go for it—”
The door opened, and there stood Hunter with his electric guitar.
“Hey, guys. I’ve decided to join your band.”
“What changed your mind?” Wynter said.
“You sound pretty good from out there. I brought along my amp.”
He’d also brought along his girlfriend Sarah and her friend Fiona, the two girls Wynter had seen with him earlier. The girls sidled into the room and stared at Arthur and Ethan like they were alien creatures.
“No friends allowed in the room during rehearsal,” Wynter said. This had been one of Jesse’s suggestions when she called him last night, excited to update him about Ethan.
“They’ll be quiet.”
The girls weren’t quiet—they giggled.
“Absolutely no friends allowed.”
Hunter shrugged dramatically. “Okay, okay.”
He threw the girls a pleading look and they left. Wynter didn’t care if they listened from outside the door, but she didn’t want the distraction of having them in the room.
Hunter plugged in his amp. “What are we playing?”
“You need to audition,” Wynter said.
“What? They didn’t have to.”
She handed him one of the songs they’d been working on. “We’ll play this. You can do a fancy lead break if you want to.” She pointed at the page. “Right here. I’m more interested in your rhythm playing.”
Hunter was looking less certain by the second. “Okay, well, my thing is my solos. But I can do this. Easy.”
“We’ll see. No vocals, just the music for now. After that, we’ll see if you can sing.”
“Lead guitarists don’t sing.”
“You’re a rhythm guitarist right now. If you can’t do rhythm there’s no point seeing what else you can do.”
“God, you’re bossy.”
Arthur hit his drumsticks to count them in. Hunter missed the first bar because he was too busy being indignant. He caught up and wasn’t too bad. Halfway through he was enjoying himself. Arthur and Ethan were clearly pleased with the new sound. Hunter did an overblown solo when he was supposed to, and then missed his cue to go back to rhythm and completely screwed up the ending. She could teach him all that.
“Let’s do the next one,” Wynter said.
“Do you have anything to say about my audition so far?” Hunter was fishing for compliments, a huge grin on his face. “These guys loved it.”
“I didn’t love it. It was fine, but you need to play as part of a team. Next one. We’re in E major. Ethan, that’s E, A—two open strings—and B on the second fret.” She played the notes for him. “Hunter, turn down your amp and we’ll sing.”
They played the song and discovered Hunter couldn’t sing at all. At least he knew it.
“Okay, thanks for coming,” Wynter said. “I’ll let you know tomorrow.”
“Are you auditioning anyone else?”
“Then why do I have to wait?”
“Because we’re gonna discuss whether or not we want to be a four-piece.”
Hunter scowled, grabbed his amp and marched out.
“He’s awesome!” Arthur said.
He really wasn’t, but he wasn’t too bad. Wynter put her finger to her lips. “Don’t tell him that.”