Tracy reveled in the quiet darkness of the autumn dusk. Trees shook their leaves at her as the soft breeze rustled through them, and above her, stars shone fitfully. Except, of course, for the evening star. Venus hovered just above the horizon, beckoning her on.
This was her time, her alone time, away from the dormitory full of girls who giggled over their latest crush, or handbag, or shoes. It sometimes seemed to Tracy that their response to anything was either giggles or screams, usually accompanied by jumping up and down, preferably clutching the hands of another girl who would also be screaming or giggling and jumping up and down.
Of course she was now trivializing them, she realized. Surely the tears and hysterics that Esther had exhibited when her mom died were real? But then, Tracy thought, what was wrong with me? When Dad died three years ago of leukemia, I cried alone, when no-one could see me, and I still do now and then. I miss him terribly, and I know Mum does too, but we did not curl up into tantrums.
A brief melancholy swept her, and she kicked at some fallen leaves, but then the night grabbed her again. Such a perfect night. Not cold, not hot, just pleasant through the thin sweater she wore over her leotard. And the anticipation of the movement class rehearsal, the next to last before the show would be put on in the nearby University auditorium.
She walked a bit faster, eager to get to the hall, when she suddenly shivered. Damn, someone walking across my grave, she thought. The pleasant anticipation of the evening so far suddenly seemed a bit sinister. Or maybe it was just the thought of her father.
She shook herself, mentally and physically, to get rid of the feeling, and was glad to see the light spilling from the open door of the school hall.
The movement classes, part of the acting course she was taking at Lincoln High, had had two results – she now had scrapes and bruises from leaping on and off furniture, sliding across floors and tumbling across the stage, and she had found a courage she had not known she had. She also idolized, as only an eleventh grader can, the physical movement teacher, Miss Jonker.
Tracy was thus doubly glad to see her teacher tonight. For one, the sight of her sturdy frame dispelled any lingering fears, and for another, the excitement with which the teacher greeted her was infectious.
“Oh good, you’re early! We have a great surprise tonight for everyone.”
Tracy grinned. “Hi, miss Jonker, what is it?”
“I’m not telling right now. I’d like to tell everyone. Go in and start warming up for now.”
Tracy was soon joined by the rest of the class, John and James, the twins Amber and Andre, Marla, Heidi, Rose, Cathy and Mike. They stretched and bent, limbering their muscles for the intense effort to come.
Miss Jonker came through the doors from the hallway, accompanied by a thin girl with lanky black hair. Behind them came a bunch of people, all dressed in black, all carrying instrument cases.
“Listen up, everyone!” Miss Jonker clapped her hands for emphasis. “ I’d like to introduce you to the musicians who are going to play a piece specially composed for our show by their leader, Julian.”
The kids looked at each other – music? The whole idea of movement class was that is wasn’t dance. For that you took ballet or jazz or modern or all three.
Miss Jonker continued, “Now I know we don’t usually do movement to music, but when Julian came to me and played me this piece, it was so perfect for what we are doing that I couldn’t resist asking him if we could use it.”
Him? So Julian was not the skinny girl who was standing next to Miss Jonker. She wondered who it was.
“And so, Julian,” and miss Jonker ushered forward the girl, “please introduce everyone to us and maybe you could then play the piece through once.”
At this the girl raised her head and his eyes caught Tracy’s. How could she ever have thought him female? And lanky hair? The long black hair hung free and untrammeled, gleaming like the pelt of some wild cat, and the piercing, hawk-like eyes shone from a thin and sculptured face. His mouth was full and yet masculine, and the slight stubble that defined his jaw line struck slight reddish glints from the lights.
His voice seemed to echo from a thousand miles away, and time hung suspended.
“Thanks, Christine, but maybe we should watch them before playing.”
And then he looked away and the world snapped back into focus.
“We’ve got Mary on keyboards, Ethel on the cello and Sean on the base, and Andrea doing percussion. Chan does the saxophone and I myself play the flute or the clarinet. We call ourselves Bruits…”
“French for sounds.” Tracy broke in.
He looked at her again, and the skin on her arms tingled. “Yes, exactly. And you are?”
Miss Jonker broke in, “That’s Tracy and next to her are the twins Amber and Andre, over there are Marla, Heidi, Rose, James, Cathy, John and Mike. Okay everyone, let’s run through our program once so that they can see what we do, and then we can try it with the music.”
The next half an hour Tracy concentrated on the physical moves. Flips, somersaults, slides, catches and being caught. The final pyramid flowed together and then burst apart, as each person did their own signature tumble to get off stage.
The musicians applauded them, all except Julian, who simply inclined his head at them in a slightly sardonic bow.
“OK, that was great. Take five while the musicians tune up, and then we’ll run through again. Amber, when you cross with Cathy, please try and match her tempo next time!”
The instruments were brought out and the usual cacophony of a group of musicians tuning up ensued. Finally it seemed as if everything was now in tune, and Miss Jonker called them back on stage.
“Don’t listen to the music as a guide for your movement, keep the tempo we practiced, but listen for the intensity and the emotion, OK?”
Julian called up, “Remember the intro!”
“Oh yes, there is a five count intro. So get into your starting positions, and think of the curtain going up as the first five counts of the music.”
A haunting note sounded from the flute, echoed by the saxophone, and then a ripple of sound moved through all the instruments, a ripple that was suddenly a melody and they moved. The movement and the music seemed made for each other, and at the end of the practice session there was a long moment of silence from Miss Jonker before she ran to Julian and threw her arms around him.
“Brilliant! Just brilliant.” He hugged her, and then acknowledged his musicians.
“Take a break everyone. There’s some coffee and tea and I brought some fruit for those who want some.”
Soon everyone was sitting somewhere, in little groups that reflected their own socialization. Chan was the only one of the musicians who had crossed to the kids side, and he was earnestly talking to Amber while her twin Andre scowled darkly. Not surprising, as Amber had one of those faces that made men think of supermodels, and Andre was fiercely protective. Also in their group were Heidi, Rose and Mike. The other musicians were huddled over some coffee, and the rest of the students were sprawled on stage, stretching and massaging sore muscles.
Tracy watched as Julian disengaged himself from Miss Jonker and sat down in one corner. He lifted the flute to his lips and it was clear that the moment it touched his lips nothing else existed for him. He was playing softly, so soft that it was almost on the edge of hearing, yet, for those who listened it was a powerful melody. Not one she had ever heard before, Tracy thought, but still one that seemed so familiar.
Now she could study him more overtly, and without the danger of meeting those mesmerizing eyes. He was thin, but not unhealthy. It was the thinness of one born with long thin bones and a natural athletiscism.
He was clothed in black, garments that seemed made of some kind of combination of silk and leather. It was the only way she could describe the way in which the clothes seemed both soft and hard-wearing, and flowed over his body. It seemed to be three garments, maybe four. Some close-fitting pants with metal studs at the pockets, a long-sleeved shirt with a rounded, high neckline which was not quite a polo-neck fit, and some kind of metallic thread at the hems and neckline. Maybe another shirt beneath? And over it all, a coat cut like a dress with a narrow waist and flaring skirts, but now, as she really looked at it, not feminine at all. It was more battledress than runway. There were silver chains looped through an epaulette and draped around one sleeve, lending a slight swagger to the coat that it did not need.
Then another thing struck her. Most musicians swayed to the music as they played – some more, some less – but all seemed to play with their whole body. Julian was a statue, unmoving except for fingers which lifted fluidly to coax the notes from the silver tube.
And then Miss Jonker broke the spell.
“OK, OK, we’ve only got another hour, let’s run through it one more time. The show is in a week, and we need to be perfect!”
Tracy was in the office, again. It seemed that however hard she tried, she just could not concentrate on home economics, and inevitably her attention wandered at some crucial point, at which time Mrs. Green would swoop down on her and ask her to explain the difference between sauté and grill, or rolled hem and flat hem, or running stitch and chain stitch, and she’d have no answer, and end up being sent down.
She sat on one of the hard chairs, set in a row besides the entrance to the principal’s office, and waited for the inevitable ‘whatever is wrong we can help you’ speech from Mr. Peever.
And then the door opened and Mr. Peever emerged, with a young man at his side, and two older men behind them.
“Not to worry, not to worry, I’m sure he’ll fit in with no problem. Neil, if you’ll take this note with you to Mrs. Castle’s classroom, room 412, she’s your homeroom teacher, and will organize a locker and your schedule. Welcome to Lincoln High, welcome. Now, sirs, if you’ll come with me we can get you to our bursar, Mr. Adams.”
The three adults walked away down the hall, leaving the young man standing, clutching the note.
“Any idea where room 412 is?”
Tracy looked at him. He was blondish, nice looking, blue eyes, real California surfer tan and nice white teeth as he smiled at her.
“Yeah. You take those stairs up one flight and then turn left. It’s about halfway down the corridor.”
“Thanks. As you might guess, I’m new here. Just come in from the west coast. I’ll be in your class, I guess. Twelfth grade, right? I’m Neil Juvay.”
“I’m in eleventh grade, so we won’t be seeing much of each other.” She ignored the hand he’d stretched out for shaking.
“Eleventh grade? You look much older than that. Although I suppose that’s not a compliment, is it? So, not older, just more mature, wiser. Eleventh grade girls tend to be very giggly. And you never know where we’ll run into each other.” He grinned at her, then walked away down the corridor to the stairs.
She couldn’t help but watch him walk away, even though she wanted to. At the stairs he turned, but instead of waving, he did the finger pistol point and shoot. And then bounded up the stairs before she could react.