Mel Corbalis hadn't expected the River Heights Music Festival to be so packed. River Heights was a tiny town; it was far from competing with even the population of 62,000 that Mel had been so familiar with back in Greenwich, Connecticut. But even so, the entire time that Mel had been performing her cello music, the festival area had been jam-packed with thousands of people. In all honesty, Mel hadn't thought that the gig would get her this much attention.
But now, all of the big crowds and cheering people were gone. The festival grounds had become bare and clean, and Mel was left to pack up her things alone. Not that Mel minded; she was used to being alone. In fact, she usually preferred to be alone. Last year, when she had attended Waverly Academy as a senior valedictorian candidate, she had learned that keeping to herself had actually been a good asset for keeping her sanity. Besides, it wasn't like it would have made a big difference if she had really tried to hang out with a few of the girls at Waverly. No one would have accepted her, what with the gothic image she hadn't been afraid to portray.
In addition to having no friends, Mel felt like an outsider in her own family. What started it off was her choice in 'different' clothing apparel. Secondly, the pink streaks in her hair didn't help her family problems either. It seemed that they only amplified the fact that she was different. Her mother was supposed to have come to this very festival, but alas, she had found some way to get out of it again.
But loneliness was only a detail. Mel thought that her overall experience of the River Heights Music Festival had been awesome.
Even if putting her things away was proving to be a little bit difficult.
"Oh come on, you stupid thing." Mel frowned and attempted to pick up her troublesome black skirts for what seemed to be the millionth time. "Ugh, why did I need to buy this idiotic dress?"
Two months ago, when Mel had first received the invitation to perform at the River Heights Music Festival, she had decided to buy a formal dress with which to perform with. She had bought a custom-made Victorian gothic-style black dress from a girl in Japan who was just starting up her own fashion line. It was a good deal; the dress was of excellent quality as well as handmade, and the price had been pretty cheap. The only bad thing about the dress was that it made maneuvering ridiculously hard.
"Come on, dress." Mel growled, trying to yank her skirts up without ruining them. "How am I supposed to reach my barrette if you don't cooperate with me?" She reached her fingers towards the floor in a vain effort to pick up the hair barrette that she had dropped on the ground.
"Hey, do you need some help?"
Mel didn't look up. "I'm fine, just give me a minute." She leaned down a little closer to the ground. Still, there was no victory.
"Stop running away from help and let me pick that up for you."
Mel stood up straight. Standing in front of her was a guy who didn't look much older than herself. He had messy black hair that stood up on all ends, pale skin, heavy dark makeup around his eyes and on his lips, and a tattoo of a skull on his left arm. He was wearing a black jacket and a pair of dark jeans. In the back of Mel's mind, the idea danced around that this guy was very cute.
"Whatever," Mel said. She offhandedly ran her fingers through her black-and-pink hair. "If it wasn't for my stupid dress, I wouldn't be having this problem right now."
"It's fine," the guy said. He handed Mel her barrette. "I'm Henry Bolet."
Mel took the barrette from Henry and slid it back into her hair. "Mel Corbalis, average person and cello player extraordinaire," she said a little sarcastically.
Henry shoved his hands into his jean pockets. "You were one of the cello players earlier?" At Mel's nod, he continued, "You were pretty good."
Mel could tell that this Henry character wasn't one for small talk. He was feeling awkward, and she was aware of the fact. "Look," she said, turning around to the small table behind her and beginning to put her cello away. "The festival is over, and the area's supposed to be closed down. What are you even doing here?"
"I've kind of got an automatic backstage pass, not that it matters. I came with two of the volunteers here, Ned Nickerson and Nancy Drew. You probably wouldn't know them," Henry replied.
Mel's eyes widened a bit. "Oh yeah, I know them. At least, one of them," her mind backtracked to her senior year at the all-girl school, Waverly Academy. That year had been an interesting one, to say the least. All of the valedictorian candidates had been targeted by someone calling herself the Black Cat. A few students had even gotten injured because of these ridiculous pranks. Near the end of the semester, Nancy Drew had gone undercover at Waverly, and had ended up solving the mystery of the Black Cat. Mel had noticed Nancy around the festival grounds, and she had said hi to the girl, but really, Mel didn't want to be hanging around Nancy that much. She didn't trust Nancy. Heck, why would Mel trust a girl who had randomly barged out of her closet?
"By your tone of voice, I bet you mean Nancy," Henry said.
"Yeah." Mel finished putting her cello in its case and turned around. "She sort of solved a mystery at this girls' school I attended last year. She's not my friend or anything, but she's not a bad person."
Henry nodded, leaning against one of the higher tables in the music room that he and Mel were currently in. "She solved a mystery for me too, back home in New Orleans." He shook his head. "It was crazy. She just showed up one day because of her boyfriend, Ned – who I know from college – and the next, I found out that my late uncle's gardener was freaking evil." He shrugged. "It wasn't much of a surprise. I used to hear her chanting all this weird voodoo stuff late at night, anyways."
Mel's eyebrows shot up from her pink eyeshadow. "Voodoo? Seriously?"
"Yeah," Henry replied. "I've kind of been stuck around weirdos my entire life. First it was my late Uncle Bruno, who had twenty-five glass eyeballs - yes, you heard me, twenty-five glass eyeballs – and then Renee, the voodoo lady, and then," He paused, awkwardly shifting his gaze to the floor, "and then came Summer, my ex-girlfriend. She had this insane doll collection that cost her hundreds of dollars. I dumped her because she was making me pay for all of her dolls, as well as everything else she wanted."
So the emo boy could make interesting conversation.
"That's too bad." Mel said. "I never really cared about stuff like romance, so break-ups have never been a problem with me. But I can relate about the crazy people thing. Back in school, there were a few of us competing to be valedictorian, because whoever was valedictorian got a scholarship to whatever university she wanted. It was a pretty big deal, and all the students took it as such." She shook her head. "That school was not normal, and I'm glad I got out."
Henry looked slightly amused. "School was the only part of my life that was normal. Sure, one of my classmates had a girlfriend who was a well-known detective, but..." he shrugged. "It was a bit of normalcy before I came back to New Orleans."
Mel smiled. She was actually enjoying talking to this Henry guy. "It sounds like we both have crazy lives."
"Yeah," Henry said. He stood up straight. "Well, I should probably go find Ned and Nancy. They worry like heck, and I didn't exactly tell them I was wandering around. Um, how long are you staying? Like, in River Heights, I mean."
"I'll be doing gigs with a few of the other musicians around town for the next week," Mel said. "If you want to know where we're performing, I can give you a list of places. It's really just going to be some restaurants and stuff like that, not anything fancy."
Dear Lord, that sounded intelligent. Mel felt like slapping herself in the forehead, but thankfully, Henry didn't seem to notice her awkwardness.
"That would be cool," Henry said.
Mel turned around to the table again. She found a piece of paper and a pencil, and quickly jotted down the dates of the gigs she and the others would be playing. "Here," she passed it to Henry, trying to sound nonchalant. "I can understand if you don't come. Life is busy, and there's nothing we can do about that."
"Don't worry about it," Henry said, his dark eyes locking with Mel's own green eyes. "I'll be there."
"Awesome," Mel said. "I guess I'll see you then." She picked up her cello case, prepared to leave.
"Do you want me to walk you to your car?" Henry asked.
Mel looked at Henry for a moment. "Yeah," she said, smiling a little. "I think that's a pretty good plan."
The next few minutes consisted of Mel talking to Henry about everything under the sun; her favorite songs to play on the cello, where she was from, and also some random facts about Henry as well. The more Mel talked with Henry, the more she realized that he was a really nice guy. He was definitely acting different now compared to how awkward he had seemed when Mel had first met him.
Before too long, the twosome did end up walking to Mel's car instead of just talking. Henry helped Mel load her things into the car and then bid her a farewell, telling her again that he'd be at the performances.
As she drove away from the festival grounds in her car, Mel couldn't help but smile to herself. For some reason, she knew that Henry would keep his promise to come to her shows. And for some reason, she felt very happy about that fact.