“First day at your new school Madeline.” Dad said as I sat at the table. He’d made me a bowl of oatmeal, although given that my stomach was churned up with nerves; I wasn’t sure I’d be able to eat much.
“Don’t remind me.” I groaned. Starting at a new school four months into senior year hadn’t been all the appealing. Dad had been offered a better job managing the Veterinary clinic here and we had to go where the money was.
“That’s not my Madeline, you love school.” He replied looking over his newspaper at me. He was frowning. I lifted a spoonful of the warm oatmeal to my mouth and force fed myself. He’d put honey in it, just like I preferred but even that wasn’t enough to coerce me into eating it. It wasn’t his fault he was under the impression that I loved school. I’d let him think that for as long as I could remember. He had always strived for my success, my career plan had been set in stone from the very first day I’d walked into preschool.
“I’m just a little nervous I guess.” I mumbled. “I only had a few friends back home, and now I need to make new ones.” I smiled as I thought of Jack and Kristen. We’d been friends since fifth grade, when I’d told them I was leaving we all cried and then promised to keep in touch, I hoped more than anything we’d stick to it. It was just me and dad, it had been for most of my life and it was lonely.
I was four when my Mom died in a car accident. She had been travelling out of town for work and she never returned. I was young, but I still remember the day the police officers arrived to tell us. They had stood on our doorstep, their blue caps in their hands. They had looked down at me, sadness in their eyes. They had talked to dad, voices not much louder than a whisper. I hadn’t been able to make their words out, but once dad double backed into the staircase behind him, and let out a weak strangled gasp; I knew it was bad.
I placed my spoon down, my thoughts were overwhelming me today already and my appetite was suffering.
“Don’t be nervous.” Dad reassured me. “You’ll always find a friend inside the pages of a book.”
I smiled and nodded, but I knew deep down I was just humoring him. I loved to read, the way fiction could pull you from reality and transport you into a make believe alternate reality appealed to me on a level that felt so real. He wasn’t talking about fiction though, he was talking about textbooks and the never ending crusade to make me reach my potential in the wonderful world of medicine. Except I couldn’t even give blood without feeling woozy.
I didn’t want to read text books, and I didn’t want to pursue medicine. All I had ever wanted was music, to make it and let it carry me away to the same alternate reality fiction books could.
“I’d better go. I wanted to check out the science lab before class.” I lied, and for a second I felt guilty for doing so, until I reminded myself of the alternative. The path our current discussion was headed down barely ever ended well. It would start with books, then extra credit, internships and finally the slam dunk, College.
“Oh alright. Would you like a ride?”
“No, it’s fine.” I smiled standing. “The bus will be by soon.”
“Alright, well have a good day.”
I walked out of our new house. It was smaller than the one in New York had been. I walked down the steps, looking down at the pitiful gardens. The landlord had told Dad the house had been empty for a while, and the garden had suffered, but it didn’t seem like the only thing that had suffered, judging by the flaking white paint on the weatherboards, the whole place was in need of some serious TLC.
I walked to the school bus stop a few houses down and waited with three other kids. They looked at me, and it occurred to me then that Harrison Falls was a small town. They probably could spot a new kid a mile off. When the big yellow bus pulled up the other kids climbed on first, the portly bus driver with long burgundy hair tied back in a ponytail, looked at me and tilted her head. While I guessed she was in her forties at least, she had a baby face, with elven features and intense green eyes.
“You’re new here aren’t you?” She smiled as I stepped on to the bus.
“That obvious is it?” I mumbled tugging on the strap of my bag.
“Harrison Falls is a small place, and I’ve been doing the bus run for ten years.” She closed the door behind me. “Welcome, I’m Geraldine, although almost everyone calls me Gigi.”
“I’m madeline, but I prefer Addie.” I exclaimed as I walked up the aisle.
“Well Addie, you go on and take a seat and we’ll hit the road.”
I walked down, all the seats were taken already, and I didn’t want to ask anyone if I could sit beside them. I was about to accustom myself to standing when a voice beside me called out.
“You can sit here if you like.” I looked down to my left. A girl in all black, with purple streaked hair grinned up at me. I nodded and took the seat. “I’m Greta.”
“Addie.” I held my hand out and Greta laughed then shook it. She pointed to my bag, already over flowing with textbooks and sighed.
“So, big on study huh?”
I pulled the zip tight and for a moment I wished I could open the bus window and throw my bag away. I didn’t care about any of the advanced classes dad had insisted I do. I didn’t want to be a doctor. Instead I settled for dropping my heavy bag down onto the old rickety bus floor. Maybe if I was lucky a hole would corrode underneath the weight.
“No.” I mumbled. “Not willingly anyway.”
“Oh, I got you, your Mom and Dad on your case?”
I hated having to explain my Mom’s death to people, usually I’d get one of two reactions; pity or sadness. Neither were things I wanted to deal with. It was easier if I just didn’t tell them.
“So what’s your class schedule like?”
I pulled it from the pocket of my dark blue jeans and unfolded it. Greta snatched it from my hands before I could see what class I had when. Dad had been told a student chaperone would meet me in the office to show me around. ‘A fellow scholar.’ Apparently.
“One of these things just ain’t like the other one.” Greta mused in a sing song voice. She held the piece of paper out to me.
“Huh?” I replied.
“Advanced Chemistry, Advanced biology, Advanced English, Advanced science and Music.”
“And?” I sighed. It was only a matter of time before Dad realized I had switched the MA to a MU on my subject selection sheet before we’d sent it off. It had been wrong, and I had known that as I held the pen in my hand, but I hadn’t been able to stop myself. I’d had a weak moment.
“Well are you sure there hasn’t been a mistake?” She replied. “I’m sure if you went to the office they’ll fix it up.”
“It’s not a mistake.” I replied.
“Really? Well I guess we’ll be sharing a class together then! You’ll love Mr Scott. He’s super young, but don’t let that worry you. He’s an amazing teacher.”
I nodded, I wasn’t worried. I hadn’t been able to take music since junior year. Dad had called it the year I needed to focus on study and grades alone. I’d been barred from anything musical, a brain drainer he’d so eloquently put it. I needed the release though. It had been too long and despite sleepovers at Kristen’s yielding some late night music marathons, I was so tightly wound that I was just waiting for a cog to spring, and for everything to unravel.
“As long as I’m surrounded by music.” I replied.
“So like, why don’t you tell your parents you’re not into the academic thing. Plenty of people make a go of music these days.”
“My Dad doesn’t think it’s an appropriate life choice. He thinks it’s dangerous.”
Greta let out a slow breath. “Wow and I thought I had it bad when my Mom banned me from going to a Jensen concert for three tardies at school.”
“My dad would probably ground me until I left home if I skipped school.” I muttered.
“What about your Mom?” Greta asked innocently. I looked down and tried to avoid the question, but I could feel her eyes on me.
“She’s not around. She died when I was young.”
Greta didn’t reply with the usual “Oh, I’m so sorry.” And don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t horrible to hear that anyway. People didn’t always know what to say, and saying that was fine if you had to say anything at all. Instead greta placed her arm around me and said cheerfully.
“Well I bet you’re like her.”
“It’s probably why your dad is so hard on you. Maybe you remind him of her.”
I nodded, she was probably right. I’d seen enough photos to know I looked just like her after all. The same light blue eyes, pale skin and dark almost black hair. Maybe my personality matched her too. Maybe that played in to my father’s reasoning, but deep down I knew that he had sacrificed so much to raise me. He and Mom had been so young when I was born. Dad dropped out of med school and went to veterinary college instead so that he could provide for his family. I owed it to him to be the best I could be.
“So, um excuse me for asking, but If your dad is so hung up on academics why is he letting you do music.”
I frowned and looked down at my hands. I hadn’t planned on telling anyone about my betrayal. I already felt enough guilt about the entire situation. There was just something about Greta that put my mind at ease, perhaps against my better judgement I decided to tell her.
“I vandalized my own subject form before I sent it in.” I admitted.
“Rebel…” she whispered leaning in. “Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me.”
When the bus pulled up at school Greta insisted on showing me around. Apparently the school chaperones were usually just jumped up social climbers who wanted to ‘nitpick the new meat.’ Not that it mattered, I didn’t really want to hang out with anyone else anyway. Of course, because of my stupid schedule my classes were different and I had to go through that awkward first moment in the classroom four times. Thank god lunch broke it up a little. Greta told me Mr Scott would more than likely insist I do a welcoming performance. So far everyone else in the class had, and the two other new students had as well. I think she could tell by my obvious look of worry that I was afraid.
“You’re a musician right?”
“Yeah. I’m rusty though, Dad banned all music last year I haven’t played for about 18 months.”
I still remember the day it took my guitar away and said it was for my own good. It was the summer before I started junior year, I was playing almost non-stop until my father came in. He told me that this airy fairy music thing was sucking up all of my time and that for now until my schooling was finished I should focus on something of value. Then he had walked out, like nothing had happened, because of course to him it hadn’t. To me, well to me I had lost my lifeline.
I nodded and stared down at my lunch. I was neither hungry, nor happy. Music was supposed to be my savior, but now it was going to be just as dreadful as everything else.
By the time music rolled around my brain hurt, I wanted to climb into bed and let a good night’s sleep wash away the torment, but it wasn’t an option. Greta had told me where to go, and she said she would meet me outside, but when the second bell rang I stepped inside the classroom without her. The class was unlike any of the others. It was almost like a mini auditorium. The seating was tiered, and centered around a stage full of state of the art instruments. The teacher didn’t even have a desk. His paperwork lay on the stage in the far right corner and there was a stool sitting on the ground beside it. I sighed with relief, the headache I had been plagued with disappeared. I was home.
“Can I help?” A male voice interrupted my daydream, I redrew my focus to him. His green eyes were like stones of clean emerald, he regarded me with a friendly lopsided grin. His hair sat just below his ears, offsetting his slightly squared jaw, of which was sprinkled lightly with stubble, he was beautiful. I looked down and smiled, he was wearing a t-shirt for my favourite band, the shirts were limited edition from when hardly anyone knew who they were. They had only ever made 100 of them. I had one, buried deep in the bottom of a suitcase in my closet. This was what fate felt like. My heart was thumping.