I wrote this, most likely on some kind of sugar high the day before it was due, for part of a writing “packet” I had to turn in as my final when I took a creative writing class. It’s loaded with marching band references most people won’t understand, and if some people with marching band experience read this, they might not find it terribly accurate.
The bus pulled into the Canon ISD Stadium at 8:00 am for the Canon Marching Band Festival, but Mr. Avery wasn’t letting us get off yet. Most kids were asleep. Megan and Adair were sitting behind Chase and me. They were both listening to Megan’s pink iPod and they kept kicking the back of our seat to the beat. I knew they were listening to “Party in the USA” because I could hear it. I wished they would quit it; my back was staring to hurt.
“Miley Cyrus sucks,” I said.
“Yeah,” agreed Chase, “but she’s kinda hot.”
I frowned. To me, Miley Cyrus looked like she was ten. “Gross.”
“Charlie, did you just say Miley Cyrus was gross?” Megan gasped, poked her little black-haired head up over our seat and yanked the headphones out of her ears.
“What about Miley?” Adair shouted over the music only she could hear.
“Miley Cyrus is a famous singer and actress. She even has her own clothing line. I’m pretty sure that makes her cooler than you two losers.” Megan stuck out her tongue at us through her purplish lips.
“Not for long!” Chase got excited. “Not when our band gets discovered!”
It wasn’t much of a band. It was Chase, our Mexican pal, Ricky Martinez (Ricky Martin when we felt like being mean), and some guy named Jed he met at the bowling alley who was like thirty years old. One day Chase told me I was the manager and since then I’d been going to his house every Sunday night for band practice. So during every practice, I ate my weight in Cheetos while sitting on Chase’s couch and watching the band, or “Attack of the Weasels,” play Guitar Hero, the real instruments lying in the background untouched. I’d stopped going recently, though, because Jed was starting to creep me out. I thought he’d been going to Chase’s house to hit on his mom, but it was starting to seem like he was more interested in Chase.
“Ha!” Megan scoffed. “Your band? Your band sucks more than the school’s macaroni and cheese.”
That was low. The mac n’ cheese at our high school smelled like curdled milk and tasted like what I imagined that stuff inside glow sticks, the glow juice, tasted like. Chase swore he once saw the lunch ladies dumping it onto the cook top from a vat of toxic waste so we were really just eating toxic waste that had congealed to look like cheesy macaroni. Megan said he was stupid but secretly I believed him. I mean, you had to admit, it explained a lot.
“Oh yeah?” Chase said. “Well, Miley Cyrus’s clothes are ugly.”
“Oh, good one!” Megan cried and rolled her eyes.
“What about Miley’s clothes?” Adair yelled. “Ooh, I’m wearing a pair of her leggings underneath my band shorts.” She pulled up a leg of her black sweatpants so we could see her green, leopard-printed leg. Then she added, “For warmth. I have to wear layers so I don’t get too cold.”
“Oh, that’s so cool! I didn’t know those came in green,” Megan chirped.
“Thanks! It’s great ‘cause I can’t get in trouble for not being in the dress code, either,” Adair said.
Our school’s dress code was nothing short of Nazi. Whenever we performed at a football game or marched in a contest and you were wearing something that wasn’t Greenville High School merchandise, it had better have been green, gold or black.
With a hiss, the bus doors screeched open and Mr. Avery stepped inside with the cold air and his usual nauseated expression.
“Hey, Band,” he droned.
“Hey, what?” everyone groggily droned in response.
“The upperclassmen bus is experiencing some technical difficulties, so-”
“Technical difficulties?” a girl asked.
Mr. Avery sighed. “Okay. Someone smeared a big wad of gum all the way down the aisle so they can’t leave the bus until they’ve cleaned it up, which means that you can’t leave your bus either because I can’t have you wandering off and getting into shenanigans and embarrassing the school.”
One guy snickered. “What kind of shenanigans would we get into, Mr. Avery?”
Mr. Avery scowled. “You know what I’m referring to.”
We all did. He was referring to The Cool Whip Incident.
“Dude! Cool Whip!” Chase whispered.
“Alright. We’re the second band to perform today. We march at 9:30. As soon as this gum situation is taken care of, we’ll head over to the warm-up area.”
Right after he left, everyone started whispering about The Cool Whip Incident.
“Man, can you imagine if somebody filled Mr. A’s bald spot with cool whip?” Chase said. I snickered.
“Ugh, are people still talking about that dumb cool whip thing?” Megan asked sourly. “That happened, like, forever ago.”
“Man, if I only knew who The Whipper was…” Chase stared off into space and I think he started to drool.
Last year, at the Peterson Marching Festival, some kid broke into the room where they kept the trophies and filled them all with cool whip. It would have been no big deal except there were an unusual amount of bees buzzing around that day. When the drum majors went out onto the field for the awards ceremony, the bees sensed the whipped cream and dive-bombed straight toward the drum majors whose schools had won something, which was pretty much every single one of them. It was pretty hilarious, watching twenty kids run around on a football field, screaming and trying to keep the bees out of their helmets. They looked kind of like beekeepers because of their solid white outfits, too. The bees probably would have quit chasing them except none of them would put down their trophies for fear that another drum major would steal it. It was definitely the highlight of an otherwise boring day, but Peterson ISD got in trouble for it so they couldn’t host a competition this year. They were pretty angry, then rumors started circulating that some kid from our high school did it. An unidentified student in a Greenville t-shirt was allegedly seen sneaking in and out of the trophy room (a.k.a. the Announcers’ Box) and our school had to take the blame for it, even though there was no solid evidence. If you ask me, the whole thing was Peterson’s fault for being so cheap they used hollow trophies.
Mr. Avery burst through the bus doors, this time being shadowed by Susan, the assistant band director. “Alright, folks, the gum came off quicker than I thought. Loading Crew, you get off first, then sophomores, then freshman.”
“How come Loading Crew gets to leave first?” a freshman whined.
“So they can unload your instruments from the trailer. Would you rather do that yourself?” Mr. Avery said grimly.
The freshman shook his head and sunk down into his seat. Chase got up and clambered out of the underclassmen bus because he was in the Loading Crew. He wasn’t too big or anything, but he was pretty strong. Body-building was his self-proclaimed number one hobby, right after sleeping, eating, and video games. He could carry a saxophone and three trombone cases at the same time without so much as a grunt. Jed was always commenting on how muscular Chase was, usually at least once per Sunday. He’d say things like “How much can you bench press? ‘Cause you look like you can lift a lot,” and “You’re so strong, I bet you could even pick me up.”
The sophomores started the journey to the end of the bus once the Loading Crew got off.
“What time is it?” Megan asked as we shuffled through the procession.
“Whatever time it is, it is way too early for me to be awake,” Adair groaned and twisted her blonde locks into a ponytail. I liked the way her hair looked when she had it up like that. She looked really pretty. “And I’m cold.”
“Adair, we’re all cold, it’s like thirty degrees outside,” Megan said dryly and kept her eyes in their eternal state of rolling.
Outside, everyone started complaining about how cold it was and a couple of band moms left to go to Wal-Mart and buy hand warmers, you know, those little bags that you rub and they get hot and then all the guys put them down their pants when the Band-Aides aren’t looking and test who can last the longest. All the band parents were in these cheesy black t-shirts with giant Band-Aids on them that said “Band-Aide” on the front and “Greenville High School Band Parents 2009” on the back, followed by a list of all their names. It was kind of weird but they seemed pretty proud of their cleverness.
“Okay, Kiddos, everybody blow warm hair through your instruments to keep them from getting cold!” Susan shouted gleefully and clapped her ugly, puke-green mittens together.
“Warm hair?” Adair asked me. I shrugged and smiled down at her. She and Megan were both pretty short, but she was plumper than Megan, who had her rail-thin arms around her for warmth.
“Did you mean to say ‘air’?” A sophomore in a pink cap asked Susan.
She spewed out a puff of white breath. “No, I meant to say ‘hair’, Silly, I was joking.” She added a little giggle to prove her point.
A few suck-ups laughed, then the girl in the pink hat muttered, “That’s not funny.”
Susan looked all pissed off and commanded her to take off her hat because it wasn’t in the dress code. The girl told her that technically her gloves weren’t in the dress code either because Greenville green was forest green, not vomit green. Adair looked really cute when she and Megan tried to stifle their laughter. Susan was scowling and said that her gloves were knitted from a combination of forest green and gold yarn, so they were in the dress code, and that the girl had better take off that hat or so help her God she’d take it off for her. The defiant pink-hat girl told her if she was going to make her take off her hat, she had to make everyone else take off their dress code-violating clothes, too.
See, Susan was really short and chunky. She was always red in the face and she wore these grandma sweaters all the time. Basically she just looked harmless and until that point she had been, so nobody expected her to go around and collect every stitch of clothing that wasn’t green, gold, or black, but she did. When she got to Adair, the mound of clothes was bigger than the both of them combined.
“Ok, Missy, off with that sweatshirt,” Susan said.
“What?” Adair said. “This is gray.”
“But it’s gray,” she whined. “It’s practically black.”
Susan stared her down until she took it off and threw it on the pile.
“Oh, man,” Adair said, “I’m freezing my butt off.”
“You’ll be fine, you’re going to be working up a sweat soon anyway,” Susan commented.
Poor Adair was shivering so hard inside Megan’s arms it looked like Megan was about to collapse.
“Do you want my sweatshirt, Adair?” I offered. She looked up at me, her huge, light brown doe eyes glittering, and cracked a thin, pink smile. Megan raised an eyebrow.
“Really?” Adair beamed. “Are you sure you won’t get cold?”
“Well, if I do, I’ll just force you out of it,” I teased and pulled off my black hoodie.
“Really, Charlie? Getting her out of her clothes so soon?” Megan said with a sly smile.
I could feel my face heating up as I waited on Chase’s response, but I didn’t hear anything.
“Hey, where’s Chase?” I asked while Adair put on my hoodie. It swallowed her whole, but at least she was warm. I’d begged my mom not to buy me a size extra-large, because I wasn’t an extra-large, but she did anyway, just in case I grew a few more inches. I was already six feet tall. I wasn’t sure how much more she expected me to grow.
“Growing boys need fabric!” she’d said.
“Chase is in the Loading Crew, remember?” Megan said and slapped her forehead sarcastically. Ordinarily, I liked Megan’s derision, but she was starting to get on my nerves.
Adair smiled brightly and thanked me for the sweatshirt. I blushed again, but Megan didn’t say anything, thank goodness.
“Hey, Band!” Susan called with her giant wad of clothes.
“Hey, what?” everyone replied lowly, shuddering from the cold.
“The Loading Crew’s done. Go get dressed and fetch your instruments!”
“Did you hear that?” Megan said angrily. “She told us to fetch. Like we’re dogs.”
Megan had problems with authority.
“Calm down,” Adair said, “we all hate her.” They walked over, arm in arm, to the uniform racks. I didn’t see Chase with the rest of the Loading Crew members, so I figured he was probably just getting dressed. But then I didn’t see him at the uniform racks.
Mr. Avery appeared out of nowhere and announced he’d found the tuners, which I guess he’d been looking for, and plopped the big plastic box full of tuners and cords on the cement. He had the habit of fading in and out of existence.
“Let’s go, People!” he yelled. “We’ve got to be at the warm-up area in five minutes!”
Freshman started scrambling to get into their dark green bibbers and frantically ran around trying to find band moms to help them hide all their hair in their helmets. My fellow sophomores and I hurried into our gold-trimmed jackets and zipped each other up before going to the band moms for hair maintenance. The juniors slowly slid their legs into the bibbers and tried to avoid the band moms’ hair tables to steer clear of the dreaded task of wearing their hairnets. The seniors carried their jackets to the warm-up area and shoved their helmets over their unkempt, unsprayed heads.
I tried to tail the seniors to the warm-up block, but Chase’s mom caught me.
“Oh-ho-ho, where do you think you’re going, Buddy?” she said with a big grin and dragged me over to her hair table. “Your hair’s gotten longer. Looks like you get to be inducted into the Males-With-Hairnets Hall of Fame!”
I smiled weakly. I’d begged my mom to take me somewhere, anywhere- I didn’t care if it was a salon or Supercuts- to get my hair cut before this contest so I wouldn’t have to wear a hairnet like the girls had to, but it was too late.
Mrs. Wilkins saw my grimace. “Oh, Dear, don’t worry. Chase has to wear one, too. I keep trying to take him to my salon with me but he won’t come. He says he likes his long hair,” she said while she poked and prodded my scalp with bobby pins. “You know, I think he wants long hair because of that Megan girl. She seems like the long hair type, and I think he’s got a little crush on her.”
I hadn’t seen or heard any indication that he liked her, but he was kind of a mama’s boy. Maybe he did like Megan.
“Speaking of which, have you seen Chase?” Mrs. Wilkins asked. I said I hadn’t.
“Oh, well,” she said, “he’s probably around here somewhere. Here, tilt your head down so I can get it all nice and hair-sprayed.”
Reluctantly, I leaned down so she could entomb my head with hair glue. Then, in slow motion, her hands came down, the hairnet stretched out on all her fingers, and crowned me King Dork.
“Ooh, Charlie!” she squealed. “We need to find a mirror so you can see yourself in your first hairnet.”
Just in the nick of time, Mr. Avery said everyone had to be at the warm-up area immediately. I didn’t want to see my lunch lady of a reflection.
“Sorry!” I shouted as I shoved my helmet over my hairnet and quickly pieced together my trumpet. I heard Mrs. Wilkins yell, “Goodbye, Dear!” as I ran to the warm-up block, where most of the band was already in formation and beginning eight-to-fives.
“Four half notes on Concert D!” Susan shouted into the megaphone. “Eight-to-five!” She slapped her ancient drumsticks together and clicked off four beats.
“Dit, dit!” screamed the underclassmen with beats five and six, getting pumped up. The upperclassmen simply droned “duhr duhr” to no discernable rhythm. I looked in front of me toward the flutes. Megan and Adair were striding in perfect unison, toes high, but Adair’s flute angle was sagging. I hoped she’d get it up soon so Megan or an upperclassman, or worse, Susan, wouldn’t yell at her for it. She hated getting in trouble. She was sweet in that way.
We reached the end of the distance we were allowed to cover in our fundamentals block, turned around in four counts, and played Concert C in two whole notes to eight counts while marching forward, then backward. Whereas the flutes had been in front of me, I was now in front of them and was able to look ahead to the trombone section where Chase should have been, only to discover that there was a hole in his spot. We turned back around after covering the section of Canon’s parking lot we were assigned for warming up, marched backwards and forwards twice more, then Susan made a horrible joke, then we marched forwards and backwards three more times.
The simple eight-to-fives were completed, so Susan made us do slides. I hated doing slides and contorting my back like that. Our torsos had to face the front while our legs went every which way. It hurt. Then we had to do four-to-fives, six-to-fives, ten-to-fives, and twelve-to fives before doing one set of two-to-fives.
“Two-to-fives!” Susan cried with a malicious smirk. “One, two, three, four…”
“…dit, dit!” the band yelled with her.
Ninety-nine band kids surged forward on the following count one and leaped across five yards in two massive steps. Where was Chase?
After rehearsing the complicated parts of our music, Mr. Avery popped up, threw tuners in the hands of every section leader and disappeared again. I looked over at Daniel, the trombones’ section leader, and he didn’t seem to notice Chase’s absence. Adair was tuning her flute and Megan caught me staring at her. She mouthed “creeper” to me but winked. Marching always put her in a better mood.
“Hey, Charlie, wake up,” my section leader said, waving a hand in front of my face. He clipped the tuning cord onto the bell of my trumpet and told me to play a C.
“C for Chase,” I muttered.
“What?” he asked.
After getting water from the Canon employees, we walked over to the stadium entrance in formation, so I couldn’t walk with Adair. One of the Canon staff members looked a lot like Chase, but of course it couldn’t have been him. I looked for Mr. Avery but he wasn’t around; I looked for Susan and saw her talking with Jason, the drum major, so I ran over to them.
“Isn’t it great?” Susan said. “The first show this season with no holes. None! All the kids are here. Can you believe it?”
“Susan,” I interrupted breathlessly, “Chase is missing.” Jason sternly stared me down with his pristine white drum major uniform.
“It’s Ms. Hemheroyd,” she snapped. “You kids need to stop calling me by my first name. It’s disrespectful.” With a last name like that, she should have wanted kids to call her by her first name.
“Oh, um, sorry, Susan,” I said, then corrected myself, “I mean, Ms. Hemheroyd. Chase is missing.”
“No talking,” she barked, then went back to talking to Jason.
“Hey, I’m serious,” I said, “Chase Wilkins is gone.”
“That’s ridiculous,” she scoffed, “I was just telling Jason about how we have no gaps this time.” Jason nodded.
“Seriously,” I said, “he’s gone. G-O-N-E gone.”
“I don’t need a spelling lesson,” Susan retorted, “but I do need you to get back in line.”
Trying to reason with Susan, I realized, was like trying to reason with a polar bear, a polar bear in a frumpy green sweater. I got back in formation and was soon followed by everyone else when Jason ordered us to get into the line we formed to march onto the field.
I began to mildly panic. My dad wouldn’t have been proud; he thought worrying was a woman’s job. Our show was seven minutes long. How long did it take people to get abducted by kidnappers? Aliens? Angry Peterson employees who were out for revenge?
I ran away.
“Charlie, what are you doing?” Megan hissed behind me. “We go on in two minutes!”
I wasn’t sure where I was running, or why, for that matter, but I was running and I eventually found my way up into the stands, trumpet in one hand, yelling, “Chase! Where are you?” to the crowd, only to receive a “huh?” in response from a few spectators. I’m sure I looked like a crazy person, or maybe some kind of disturbed wannabe-superhero, with the shiny gold cape on my back and the gold sequins on my pants and the giant gold plume on my head, perhaps like King Midas’s evil twin. Whatever I looked like, I was on a mission…
…until Chase walked out of the Announcers’ Box disguised as a Canon staff member. My jaw hit the floor, or rather the bleachers.
“Dude!” he whispered excitedly. “I just filled up the trophies with spray cheese!”
“Hey, how come you’re not down there?” He pointed to the field, where Greenville was marching on. I sighed.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were planning on reenacting The Cool Whip Incident?” I asked.
“I couldn’t tell anyone without taking the fall for The Whipper! And I’m not The Whipper.”
“It’s just that if I told you, I’d accidentally tell Megan, who’d tell Adair, who’d tell everyone,” he reasoned.
“I guess that makes sense,” I grumbled. “How did you get a staff member’s uniform? And no one noticed that you were gone. Why is that? And why did you choose canned cheese to fill the trophies with? Are bees even drawn to cheese? And where did you get the cheese? And why are you even reenacting The Cool Whip Incident, anyway?”
He smiled. “Questions later. Now there is cheese.” He extended a can of spray cheese and I accepted, too tired to care anymore.
We sat in the bleachers, swigging cheese and watching the band until they finished. They looked really good. Their lines were straight, their arcs weren’t crooked, and their horn-ups and horn-downs were crisp. We were probably going to place in finals. Chase and I trailed behind them all the way back to the trailer, where I took off my uniform and put away my trumpet. Then I had a thought.
“Chase, it’s freezing out here. There aren’t any bees.”
He seemed confused, then a look of distress slowly overcame him. “Oh, crap.”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Susan coming at me.
“Where were you?” she demanded. “We had a hole because of you! You were trying to sabotage the band’s victory, weren’t you?”
“Chase wasn’t there either!” I cried in defense.
She looked at him, then back at me, then back at him and studied his outfit carefully. “Yes, he was. You’re lying.”
Chase just stood there, dumbfounded. “I wasn’t there.”
“Don’t lie to me,” Susan hissed, spraying spit on his face. He winced. “And you,
she turned to me, “You were gone and you’re a liar. Band detention!”
“No, he’s telling the truth,” Adair chimed in from out of the blue.
“Adair?” I smiled. “Where did you come from?”
“Young lady, don’t lie.”
“But I’m not lying,” she protested.
“Band detention!” Susan yelled through the megaphone, despite her uncomfortably close proximity to us. Then she waddled away, off into the foggy distance.
Adair smiled at me and my face turned cherry red. “So, what do you have to do in band detention?” she asked.
“They basically just make you pick up trash and file sheet music after school in the band hall. It’s not so bad, just sort of tedious.”
“Well, I bet it’ll be fun if I’m there with you.” She grinned and all the blood rushed to my cheeks so fast I thought my head was going to explode. Then she started laughing. “You’re still wearing your hairnet!”
“Oh, no!” I exclaimed, absolutely humiliated, then I became even more embarrassed when I saw I still had the aerosol cheese can in my hand.
“Here, I’ll take it off,” she said and leaned up on her tip-toes to snatch it off my head. “Are you blushing?”
“Yep,” Megan said, her hands on her hips.
“Huh? Wha—Where did you come from?” I asked.
“I heard about The Cheese Incident. I forgive you for bailing on our prelim performance.”
“Okay…thanks?” I looked around. “Where’s Chase?”
“He went off with some guy named Jed.”
“Okay,” I murmured.
“Hey,” Adair said, leaning against me, “the band moms are serving lunch early, and they have roast beef ‘bandwiches’ this time. I know that’s your favorite.”
“Okay, I’ll catch up with you guys in a minute.” I wanted to find a trash can so I could toss the spray cheese. After I threw it away, it dawned on me: Jed.
“Oh, crap!” I muttered.