The year it all changed, the year I lost my goody-goody attitude, the year I lost my virginity, the year I fell in love with someone completely unexpected.
Who the hell am I? Well, the name is Alexandria Fern Scott but most people call me Fern. To say a little about myself before that joyful, painful year, I was a bit of a band geek. (Well, I kind of still am.) What does that mean? It means that when they held sign ups in the fifth grade, I was first in line. I wanted to play trumpet, unlike all the other girls who wanted to play flute or clarinet. In the time after that, I threw myself into it, taking lessons and pushing into the state/county path. Although I was the district's pride and joy, our band was not.
Unfortunately, the school seemed to have trouble holding anyone in the spot as middle school band director so we had a new person every year. This took its toll on all the musicians and the band began to suffer. The eighth grade director, Mrs. Johnson, was my favorite off all the ones I'd had prior to tenth grade and encouraged me to try new things in music. I ended up composing several pieces and switching to French horn, a choice I never regretted. As in the words of my private instructor, "You're a complete natural at the French horn and you're better at it than you are at the trumpet."
Needless to say, I was pleased and continued to play the socks off everyone in the state on two instruments. I figured in high school we'd have one band director the whole time, one that could appreciate having me as a student for a length of time.
No such luck.
At the end of freshman year, Mr. Harvey announced that he had been offered a position as a principal in a very fancy school upstate and he was taking it. We were getting a new band director, a guy named Mr. Dempsey. He was young, only a year out of college but absolutely brilliant, if a little on the crazy side.
I didn't care; I was already prepared to hate him. Mr. Harvey was supposed to have been my constant and he failed me so I would hate whoever came in his place.
"You'll like him, Ferny," he told me as I was helping him pack up the room on his last day at the school. "He's brilliant. And he's a French horn player. He'll be coming in soon."
I sighed. "I don't care, Mr. H," I told him.
"Give him a chance," he replied. "I know you Fern, and I know him. You'll get along famously."
"Whatever," I said, packing his conga drums into a box.
"Am I interrupting something?" a male voice asked.
I looked up and saw a man in the doorway. He was tall and lean with chocolaty brown eyes behind silver rimmed glasses. His face held an easy smile and his thick brown hair flopped casually over his forehead.
I straightened. That guy was hot.
"Hey David," Mr. Harvey said. "No, we were just arguing about something. Fern, this is David Dempsey. David, this is Alexandria Scott. She prefers to be called Fern."
David offered his hand for me to shake and I took it. "It's nice to meet you Mr. Dempsey," I told him.
"Please," he said. "Call me David."
"Okay David," I said with a smile. He released my fingers. It left a warm feeling there.
Mr. Harvey smiled at us. "Why don't we go out and get lunch?" he suggested.
"That would be great," David said. "Where?"
"Alfredo's okay?" Mr. Harvey asked.
I nodded. "Today's the pizza, pasta, Pepsi special," I said. "Although, Coke is better than Pepsi but lets not get into that debate."
"You guys go there often?" David questioned.
"Yeah," Mr. Harvey answered. "I've known Fern since she was a seventh grader and I was helping with marching band. I've never seen anyone so dedicated. She and I started going out for lunch because I had to drive her back and forth to county, state, and all honors orchestra and band."
"I take it she's the brilliant musician you've been telling me about?" David said. "The composer/trumpet player/French horn player you've been singing about?"
Mr. Harvey nodded. "The one and only. Wait until you hear her play. Words cannot describe it."
I blushed. "I'm not that good."
"Yes you are," he argued. He grinned. "Come on, let's go eat. Who's driving?"
"Can I?" I asked. "I passed driver's ed with a 98 percent!"
Mr. Harvey rolled his eyes. "I'll probably regret this later when we get pulled over by the cops but go ahead. Just don't crash it." He handed me his keys.
I smiled. "I passed the test under Mrs. Macmillian, the toughest instructor. I think I can do this."
"Okay," Mr. Harvey told me.
Fifteen minutes later, I was grinning as we pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant. Mr. Harvey was shaking but David sat calmly in the back.
"What are you shaking for, Robbie?" David asked. "She's a good driver."
I beamed and flipped my dark brown hair over my shoulder.
"It's not that she's a bad driver," he said. "It's just like being a father while his little baby girl learns to drive."
Although I had never told him this, I had grown to think of Mr. Harvey as my father. My dad had died when I was in the seventh grade. He kind of took over his place when I needed him. Right then would have been the perfect time to tell him except for the small fact that David was in the car. I simply gave Mr. Harvey a meaningful smile.
"Shall we go in?" David suggested.
"Sure," I said, unbuckling my seatbelt, handing the keys to Mr. Harvey, and getting out of the car. David pushed my seat forward to get out of the two-door sedan and we all walked into Alfredo's together.
"Hello Robbie, Alexandria," Tony, the owner, greeted us. "And who is this handsome fellow? Did Alexandria finally get herself a boyfriend? Now you treat her nice young man, she's very special."
"Tony," I said in extreme mortification. "Please stop before you embarrass us both further. David is the new band director for the high school."
Tony had the grace o flush.
"Oh," he said. "The special in the usual way?"
"One third cheese, one third veggie, and one third pepperoni with spaghetti marinara all right with you guys?"
"Make it diet Pepsi, will you Tony? I'd rather like to fit into my bathing suit," I said.
"Yes m'am, Alexandria," Tony said, going back into the kitchens, leaving us to sit in our favorite booth by the window. David slid in across from Mr. H and me.
"So," David said. "Tell me, Fern, where do you want to go to college?"
"Yale," I told him. 'They've got the music programs I want, plus the writing and the prestige of being an Ivy League school."
He nodded. "Big dreams," he said. "Yale is an awesome school. I went there for a competition. I went to Ithaca and spent most of the time studying in London."
"Cool," I said. "I've always wanted to go to Europe. I always thought I'd go to Oxford."
"That's a good school," David answered. "Just not much of a music school."
"Del State was a good program," Mr. Harvey offered.
"Yeah but look at the average SAT scores and Academics. I could get an 800 SAT and still get in," I reminded him. "I could've gotten in and gotten a hefty scholarship as a seventh grader.
"Okay," Mr. Harvey said. "Shoot down my dreams of you getting a full scholarship to my old school."
I grinned. "You bet," I said. "If it makes you feel better, I'll apply."
David laughed at our joking manner. As he did, his knee brushed mine and I flushed for some reason.
Tony came by with a pitcher of soda and three glasses. "Tina will bring out your food in a minute," he informed us.
"Okay, Thanks Tony," Mr. Harvey replied.
David watched him leave before turning and looking at me. "So Fern, you're a tenth grader, right? How old are you?"
"Sixteen on November first," I said. "I took Drivers ed early."
"Cool," he replied, nodding. "Sweet Sixteen. What do you think you'll do?"
"My mom wants to throw a big party with all my friends and family. I'm thinking forties night or a luau," I told him.
"Interesting," he answered. "Forties night… I've never seen that done before."
I smiled. I liked being different. That was my explanation for the black converse sneakers, black clothes, tiara, and band tee shirts.
"Thank you," I said.
David grinned at me as a teenage girl set a massive pizza, a huge bowl of spaghetti, and three plates on the table. "Here you go," she said. "Let me know if there's anything else I can get you."
"Thanks," I said, taking a slice of veggie pizza and putting it on my plate.
Mr. Harvey wrinkled his nose. "How can you eat that?" he asked.
"You know why," I said. "I refuse to kill innocent animals for food."
"Really?" David said, taking a slice of cheese pizza. "Interesting. I agree with you about the not killing animals but I like meat. I don't eat red meat though."
"Well you're better than most people I know," I said. I looked at Mr. Harvey pointedly.
He threw up his hands in resignation. "Hey! Don't look at me like that. The animals would die anyway."
"Yeah yeah yeah," I replied. "That's what they all say."
We continued eating without further discussion of our eating habits.
"Can I drive again?" I asked eagerly as we walked out of the restaurant an hour later.
Mr. Harvey handed me the keys. "I'll ride in the back this time though."
I laughed as I pressed the button to unlock the car. Mr. Harvey climbed in the back and I sat down in the driver's seat, sticking the key in the ignition. David slid in the passenger's side and buckled his seat belt.
"Go easy on me, will you Fern?" Mr. Harvey requested from the back seat.
I grinned at him in the rearview mirror. "Sure thing Mr. Harvey. I'll drive to the best of my ability and avoid car crashes."
He muttered something unintelligible as I backed out of the parking lot.
"Would you mind sticking around a bit so I can hear you play?" David asked once we were on the highway.
"Sure as long as you can give me a ride home," I answered. "Mom works until Midnight tonight."
"Okay," he replied. "What does your mom do?"
"She's an ER doctor," I told him. "It's good money but the hours really suck. She usually has to work really late."
"I bet," he replied. "My aunt used to work in the ER. Sometimes she'd have to pull the holiday shift."
"The story of my life," I said. "Mom actually volunteers for them since I'm older, Dad's gone, and she has to pay for my college by herself."
"Where is your dad?" he asked. "Divorce?"
I shook my head. "He died when I was in the seventh grade. Car accident."
"I'm so sad for you," David said.
He didn't say he was sorry. I appreciated that because I didn't want people to feel sorry for me.
I pulled into the parking lot outside of the band room and got out, handing the keys to Mr. Harvey.
"I have to go for now Fern," Mr. Harvey told me. He gave me a quick hug. "I'll call you later so we can discuss the details for tomorrow."
"All right," I told him. "See you later."
David and I proceeded into the band room. While he was setting up a music stand and two chairs, I screwed the bell into my double horn and placed the mouthpiece in. I loved my horn. I had found it on ebay for $350, an incredible deal for a horn for worth over $2,000. Even though I'd had it for two years, it still shined like the day I bought it.
"That's a nice horn," he said. "Is it new?"
I shook my head. "I just treat is like it's made of glass. No dents or scratches on it."
He held out his hands and I handed him the instrument very carefully. Being careful not to drop it or get fingerprints on it, David looked it over from all angles.
"Nice," he appraised. "Maestro, right? Real silver or nickel?"
"Silver," I told him.
He handed it back to me.
"That horn had to cost you," he replied. "Jeez, it's worth several thousand."
"Three hundred fifty dollars," I informed him. "Ah, the magic of ebay."
"That's a steal, he said. "Why don't you warm up while I see what I want you to play?"
I nodded and began going over my scales up to five flats and sharps. He flipped through the filing cabinets and the pieces in my folder before selecting a piece I had played and memorized in the eighth grade.
I looked up at him briefly before starting off. It was a relatively difficult piece when I was in the eighth grade. The sixteenth note combinations had driven me crazy before but they didn't bug me anymore. I played it perfectly, paying special attention to the articulation and dynamics that I had often ignored. I loved that piece. It was sad and slow and yet somehow bright and happy at times. I had been required to play it for an audition on my French horn for county band.
He nodded as I played the last note. "You're really good," he praised. "You sight read like that?"
I shook my head. "I played that in the eighth grade. If you'll look on the outside of the file, it says 'County Band.' I had to play it for the audition."
"Oh," he said. "Let me find something else. This time, tell me if you've had it before."
He shuffled through reams of solos. "Do you want some help?" I asked. "I know which drawers I've been through and the ones I haven't."
"Please," he said.
I stood up and went to the very bottom drawer of the French horn cabinet. We had a huge library of music so each instrument had their own two filing cabinets. I'd been digging through them since I was in seventh grade and had sight-read almost all of it. I only had one drawer left. Mr. Harvey had ordered some new music for me but it wasn't in yet.
"This is the only drawer I haven't been in yet," I told him. "The rest is either way too easy or I've already done it."
"Really?" he said. "Jeez. I'm going to have to order you some more music."
He began flipping through the solos. "Are you sure you even want to attempt some of these? They're really tough."
I glanced over his shoulder at a piece he was currently scanning. "That one doesn't look too bad. Yeah, the sixteenth and thirty-second note combinations can be tricky but if I slow it down by about fifteen beats per minutes, I can probably get it."
He stared at me over his shoulder as if I was speaking another language.
"You're kidding right?" he asked.
"Well, I guess I wouldn't have to slow it down that much," I said, misunderstanding. "Maybe just ten."
"That's not what I meant," he said. "I had to play this in college and stumbled through it badly and yet I still nailed first chair and you're talking about the things I never thought of."
"All right," he said. "Let's see how you do on this one."
I stood up fully and picked up my horn as he set the music on my stand. I briefly looked over it before putting my horn to my lips. As I had decided previously, I slowed it down a notch to make it easier to play. It was fast and had some complex rhythm combinations that I barely made it through but I didn't really stumble until I hit the section where it slowed down drastically. I played the first few notes unevenly before getting it back under me.
"I can do better," I said automatically when I finished. That was my automatic response when I made even the smallest mistake while sight-reading.
"It's not funny!" I told him. "I messed up in a really easy section, I should have accented those arpeggios more, my dynamics were off, and a probably could have gone faster if only I'd tried harder."
"It's not that," he said. "It's just that you played it better the first time than I ever could and yet you say you need to do better. I agree with you on the things you can improve but don't you realize how amazingly you just did?"
He shook his head. "You have no idea how incredibly gifted you are," he told me with another shake.
I smiled briefly.
"You can pack up your horn," he told me. "I'll take you home."
"I don't want to leave yet," I told him. "The house is just too empty. Can I stay and help you get organized?"
"Sure," he replied. "If you can stay until five, we can go get something to eat before I take you home."
I nodded gratefully. "Thank you."
"Let's start by tearing down these old posters and fingering charts," he said. "I've got new stuff to hang."
"Okay," I agreed. I grabbed a step stool. At only five feet tall, I was too short to get some of the photos Mr. Harvey had hung up near the top of the room. "I think we should take the trophies off the shelves and force the office to give us the extra trophy cabinet that they've been saving for the football team."
"Is it empty?" he asked.
I nodded, laughing silently. "They got it in 1974 and we haven't won a single thing to put in it."
He laughed with me. "I'll call down and see what I can do."
With a little finagling on his part and some heavy duty lifting from both of us, plus two custodians and the principal, the trophy cabinet was in the band room half an hour later.
"Now remember, if the football team wins the championship, the cabinet comes out right away," the principal reminded us.
"Yes sir, Mr. Bunting," David told him. We watched him leave. "Is he always like that? Such a… a…"
"Go ahead," I told him. "I will not repeat anything you say."
He grinned. "Is he always such a prick with a stick up his ass?"
I smiled. "Unfortunately, yes. He nearly had a coronary when he realized I was here. Did you see? I'm the school pride and joy apparently."
He laughed. "Published at 14?" he asked. "Jeez. No wonder he's crazy about you."
"You actually paid attention to his babbling about me?" I asked. "I tuned him out rather quickly."
He grinned. "It was interesting to hear what he had to say about you," he told me. "A B in algebra?"
I nodded. "And it was almost a C. I got lucky. The teacher graded me on the curve. I really don't like math much. And it was Trigonometry, thank you very much. He always forgets to mention that."
"Seriously?" he asked.
"Yeah," I told him. "Academic challenge program. It's an accelerated path so I can complete a year of college before I leave high school."
"Cool," he said. "I wish they had that when I was in high school."
I smiled. "It's a good program but it's really tough. We go faster than a normal class so I get a lot of homework."
"Sounds tough," he said. "I barely passed Calculus in college and yet you're a tenth grader about to start pre-calc."
"Well, yeah," I said. "But is not likely that I will do very well in pre-calc as I barely made it through Trig."
"I can help you if you really need it," he offered. "I made it through pre-calc pretty well. It's just when they start getting into the really complex stuff that I get lost."
"That would be great," I said as I placed the marching band trophies in the cabinet. There were still too many to fit inside the massive cabinet so I placed the rest on top. "It's rather sad isn't it," I said, surveying my work.
"What?" David asked.
"We have too many trophies to fit inside this cabinet and yet the football team has nothing to put in it," I told him.
He laughed. "True," he replied. "I'm going to go strip the decorations from the office. Would you mind pulling everything down from the bulletin boards?"
"Sure," I answered, turning my back on him as I walked over the Dan's board. Dan had graduated that year. He had served us well as a tuba player and everyone loved him. One of the smaller bulletin boards had been dedicated to him and his fan mail. I decided to pack everything up and save it to give to him at the band banquet the following night.
As I tore down all of the posters, pictures, and notices from the boards, I thought about David. I was completely breaking my promise to myself. I was supposed to hate him. Instead I found myself drawn to him as a kindred spirit. More than that though probably. I could tell I was already developing a crush on him. Too bad he was a teacher and the school had an anti-fraternization rule.
I stopped after I stripped the last board. The walls were so bare and blank. All of the pictures and things I had come to know were gone and I was left with an empty room. It was the end of an age; the age of innocence, the age of oblivion, the age of everything I had known prior. And at that moment, I knew things were going to be very different.