by Andrea Edwards (Univ. of Mount Union)

Third Place

Fifty-one, fifty-two, fifty-three, and touch down. Hopping off the final step, I swing around the railing of the narrow winder staircase, making a dash through the parlor as quickly as I can. I silently pray that heading to the garage through the staff’s wing wasn’t a mistake. Momentarily I pause, midstride, for the fifth time this morning. In the center of the parlor I stretch forward, not unlike a flamingo, and cram my fingers into the heel of my Rocket Dogs groping for the edge that belonged to one of the microscopic socks I had mistakenly squeezed my foot into this morning. It’s evident that I will pay for this mistake rest of the day; even though I had been about 72% sure that these weren’t mine in the first place. I wobble a solid thirty seconds before I manage to recover only the corner of my left sock.

“Annie?” Oh, fuck me. It’s not even 8:00AM yet, and I don’t have time for this today. I’ve got AP Calc homework to go over before I can finalize Friday night’s plans with Freddy during our study hall, a gift our band director has so graciously bestowed upon us. Of course his gift of study hall that is supposed to replace sectionals three days a week is only penance for the two days of jazz band he forcefully volunteered us for. At least he’s started splitting the sectionals up so that those of us sentenced to jazz band only have to listen to the brass and percussion sections today. The woodwinds’ struggle is just a little more than I think I can handle this morning. There are honestly only so many times that we can be subjected to the torture of listening to three oboes attempt to play in tune with two bassoons before we riot. I guess mandatory jazz recruitment does have its perks.

“Annie, honey did you hear me? I asked if you’d be around tonight. Your grandfather and the rest of your uncles are coming in from France. I would just love if you—” my mother’s exuberant request from her perch over the stiff cream-colored chaise lounge on the other side of the room is cut short by a blunt “huh,” stage left. Great. From the corner of my eye, I can see that my father has entered our little morning soiree from the outer hallway. I’m almost shocked to see him skulking out of his office this early, but I know that with Lydia overseeing the rest of the mansion’s staff stranger things have happened. But surely no good can come of this.

“Huh what, Jordan?” my mother snaps. The very, very French have not even arrived yet, and my mother is already done with him.

“I thought that I had banned them from these premises. That’s all.” Well that’s good. That’s productive. I’ve heard this little spat a thousand times—and it’s never a short one.

“Honestly, Jordan who do you think you’re kidding? You know well and good that your father is just as bad as mine can be.”

“Can be? That man hates me. More than he hates my father.”

"He hates you because you are a carbon copy of your father. Except you eat meat.”

"Firstly, I am no such thing, and secondly, that is not the point. I don’t give a damn if Louis is coming or not. He and my old man can hash it out and fight pettily over my mother’s attention their entire visit. I don’t care. What I will not tolerate, however, are your intolerable brothers.”

“What about Nathanael? I thought you liked him.”

“Oh, I do. He’s the only one of the lot that can be reasoned with, but Lord knows the two of them will be the last to arrive. They always are. The only thing my sister has ever managed to do in a timely manner is to code some program or beat some video game. Alyssa hasn’t ever really been much of a traveler, even after she married Nathan.”

One of our ugly floor-length clocks begins to chime at odd intervals, which evidentially means that it’s 7:45. If I’m trapped between these two much longer I’m gonna have to sit at the infamous traffic light of punishment for a solid six and a half minutes—which is simply not acceptable because Freddy is waiting for me with our coffee by the soda machine outside the gym. Thank God for Wednesdays. And coffee. And Fredric.

I pray that Jordan’s unusually early morning sass at mother is enough to keep them bickering until I’m good and gone, that’ll leave this colossal mess for Lydia to deal with. Though not formally defined in her working contract, she has become quite the peace keeper around here over the years. I hold my breath, gingerly step sideways toward the outer hallway, far away from the parlor, and ultimately, toward the outside world. My hopes are instantly dashed when with one ungraceful slip of my right foot I receive a renowned hiss from my sister’s asshole cat, Toby. If he wasn’t stark black and it weren’t almost Halloween, I’d have zero respect for him right now.

“Watch the cat, chéri! And I never did get an answer. You’ll be around won’t you?” She asks, turning to me. She ignores his rebuttal entirely.

“Is that even a question Caren?” Jordan says, “It’s how long until Halloween?” Two days, sixteen hours and fifteen-ish minutes, but who’s counting? “…I mean this one can barely be bothered about Christmas dinner or her big New Year’s birthday party, but Halloween? Have you met this particularly peculiar child of ours? I’m actually rather perplexed to see her standing here now because…”

I utterly refuse to be dragged back into this. As much as I adore our little parental conferences, I’ve got a lot of shit to get done before Saturday; which includes costumes to finalize, coffee to drink, and pretty much anything other than this. So before he can finish his sentence, and before she can retort, I make my around the cat, out of the parlor, down the hall, past Lydia’s room, out into the garage, and gone.

“Son of a bitch, son of a bitch, son of a bitch, that sneaky little son of a bitch” is all I mumble again and again as I fly down our lonely little street, my left hand clenched tightly to the base of the steering wheel. My lovely twin and I have separate cars, but unlike every other gift we have ever received on our birthday, our cars are different. Different style, different shape, different year, different color, different gas mileage, and yet my darling other half manages to mistakenly borrow my car, drain my gas—despite the fact that she drives a freakin’ hybrid— and leave her junk littered throughout. Regularly.

Once I finally hit the main drag, I’m trapped for not one, but two complete cycles at the light of punishment, scenically located smack dab in the center of our small village green, directly between the grand old gazeebo and the Piccadilly Tea Parlor. In the time it takes for three other cars, Mr. Hall, and the old circus couple from around the corner over on the other end of Kirk Street to make some of the slowest left turns I think I’ve ever had the misfortune of witnessing, I’ve only managed to collect about a third of my sister’s crap that has accumulated in my car.

After a few more questionable stops at the last three or four stop signs, I’m finally able to bank the last right turn (likely a little too sharp for the men in blue staked out on the corner across the street) into the school’s pitiful parking lot. I break-check into spot number 394, helplessly watching as my bag flops over on the passenger seat, vomiting the entirety of its contents onto my once partially cleaned floor. Fabulous.

The bad feeling that I’ve had all morning about number five on the homework creeps into my head again as I begin shoveling in a variety of items— most of which probably aren’t even mine— back into my book bag. The derivative of sine is cosine. But it’s not negative because that’s cosine. SLAM—that’s probably not so good for my car door. But all I have to do is raise the power and divide by the power to… no. Wait. That’s an integral. The sine is right, but to take the derivative with respect to “x” I only have to…”

“HELLO? ANNIE! For fuck’s sake, can you even hear me?” This is how my sister, that dodoppleganger bitch, greets me after her utter devastation of my car? I’ve only taken maybe eight or nine steps into the south side of the school when one of her hands yanks the sleeve of my jacket, ripping the small hole near the cuff even wider as she spins me counterclockwise toward her hoping to acquire my full attention. Her other hand impatiently CLICK CLICK CLICKs a pen at me exactly three times over and over. Judging by her stooped posture, cocked right hip, and slightly labored breathing she acts as though I have inconvenienced her in some way. CLICK CLICK CLICK. How darling.

She begins to lecture me about what I assume is the history of how my car became an abandoned warzone, and how it was totally not her fault and even, perhaps, why she’s wearing my shoes. CLICK CLICK CLICK. I look around and notice that there is an extreme lack of tall redheads with iced coffee waiting for me across from the new gym by our soda machine. CLICK CLICK CLICK. I watch some kid try to get a Dr. Pepper from the machine only to be let down by Sprite Zero. CLICK CLICK CLICK. That’s rough. CLICK CLICK CLICK. At this point, I’m about 63% positive that I did an integral instead of a derivative on number five. CLICK CLICK CLICK. CLICK CLICK—

“What?” She’s doing this on purpose. I know that she knows that I know that she’s doing this on purpose. CLICK CLICK CLICK.

“Well Banannie,” she says with another goddamn set of clicks, “Had you been listening, you’d know I’d asked that if you absolutely had to prove that a line segment, let’s just call it AD, bisects another line segment, that we can just call BC, how would you go about doing so?” She gives me this annoyingly toothy smile just before I close my eyes and pretend for a few savory seconds that we were not, in fact, conceived at the same moment in time. CLICK CLICK. Amanda and I may look alike, and we may have similar tastes in music, and receive the same gifts on holidays, and hate the same people, and share the same genetic code, but there is one startling difference between us: my sister’s glaring inability to do math. We graduate in less than eight months or so and she is just now taking basic geometry—for the third time. CLICK CLICK CLICK.

“Well can you help me or not?” The first bell drones above us signaling that we need to get our asses to first period, but Freddy still isn’t here and I still haven’t had a drop of coffee since 7:23 yesterday evening. Both of my socks have retreated to the toe of my shoes entirely, my derivative is still a fucking integral, I can’t even recall the last time that I saw my cellphone, and now this psychopath who has violated my vehicle, stolen my shoes and is trying for, quite possibly, the rest of my sanity is rapidly clicking her pen into oblivion. CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK.

I should kill her. “Jesus Christ, just give me that, here. Here. Here. Here. Here. Here. Just stop with the goddamned pen.” I snatch the pen, which looks suspiciously like Freddy’s, and the single sheet of paper that she appears to be calling finished homework from her hand while my own stupid smug watches me intently. I scribble a halfhearted answer, probably the best thing that she could ever hope for at this point, as fast as I know how to. Shoving the paper back in her direction, I pocket the pen and take off for the band room.

Where the hell is Freddy? This couldn’t have been a worse morning, and now I don’t even have a way to contact him. Maybe he’s sick? Or what if he broke something? But what if he’s dead? Good Lord I can see it now: his car up in flames upside down in a ditch as he’s lying face first in the mud with all of his long limbs twisted around him like a sad pretzel drowned in coffee and blood—all because of me. All because of our stupid daily rituals. All because it’s his stupid turn to get our stupid coffee as we drink it next to the stupid soda machine and watch stupid people try to get their stupid desired beverages in vain.

Well at least it’s just sectionals today. If he’s really not here or even if he’s running late—which is totally unlike Freddy, very like me, but totally unlike Freddy—then maybe I can convince Mr. Kelly to let me use the phone in his office to call him. Oh God. Where is he? He’d have told me last night if he couldn’t come in today. He’d of told me this morning before I woke up if he was sick this morning. Ugh, but I don’t even know where that damn phone is and—oh shit. There he is.

The last bell rings which means that I’ve arrived between these depressingly gray double doors right on time. By no means am I on time to the standard of band people, but I’m here nonetheless. Why in the world is that son of a bitch ginger in here already? And why the hell is he sitting behind the drum set? Where the hell is our coffee? We gave up on playing marching band music three weeks ago and he only plays the marimba and xylophone for like two songs. On everything else he either plays the chimes or the triangle or the woodblock or the whip crack…or nothing. Plus, since some of us were forced to play in jazz band this year we should be behind the band room in the auditorium having a study hall, not suffering in here during sectionals while just under half of the band attempts to play Sleigh Ride. Again. This isn’t promising.

Mr. Kelly, our self-declaring merciful band director toddles out of his office, and that’s when I notice that there are only about twenty kids in total across the front three rows of chairs. Upon seeing me, his dark and beady little eyes narrow with an arguably over-melodramatic sigh, “Annie."

“Yes?” He crosses his arms and frowns a little deeper than when he’d first emerged from his dimly lit dwelling.

“How long have you been in band?”

“About eight years now.” His appearance is striking. His face is very pug-like, though his outfit, posture, and even his walk very much resemble an angry penguin. Or perhaps a hungry one.

"High school band.”

“About three—four years now.” A more astute observer might ask me why I’m still in high school band.

“And about how long has it been since summer vacation ended?”

“About three months or so.” Brad is sitting in the second row between the saxophones and the trumpets with a bass trombone in one hand and a straight tenor trombone in the other.

“And what’s the date today?”

“October 27th.” I really hope that one of those is for me.

“Day, Annie, day. Not date. DAY.”

“Wednesday.” The look on Freddy’s face behind him leads me to believe that it might not actually be Wednesday.

No, Annie. It’s not. For God’s sake, you’re a senior now. I know the school hasn’t had a jazz band for the last thirty years or so, but by now you should know your schedule: jazz on Tuesday and Thursday, study hall Wednesday and sectionals on Monday and Friday. Not every day can be a Wednesday. For your sake I hope that trombone solo is ready. Now go sit down, tune, and warm up.”

“Of course it is, sir.” Oh, fuck me… at least I can try and improve it.

“Oh, I’m sure it is. Now, go. Let’s start with Take the A Train.”

As I weave my way through the crooked arcs of chairs and music stands I silently wonder what key this solo is supposed to be in. I slide into the chair next to Brad and notice that a blueberry muffin sits on top of my thin yellow folder full of jazz music marked Trombone 4 sloppily written in thick ugly permanent marker. Brad hands me the heavy-ass bass trombone, and as I slip my fingers over each of the small levers, I test the main slide for movement. Unsurprisingly, it’s pretty stiff, but that’s probably the least of my problems right now. I turn around to see Freddy waiting at the drum set as patiently as ever. Raising his eyebrows he continues to air play and mouths the words “you’re welcome.”

The podium groans in agony beneath a flimsy looking aluminum stool as Mr. Kelly climbs up and begins to count us off. I’ve got a good eight full counts of rest before I need to turn around and play. In that time all I can do is roll my eyes, shake my head and mouth the words, “Why is it never fucking Wednesday?”