Close Enough for Jazz

The alarm went off at 5:00am. I was up and out and ready by 5:20. Bed made. Hair combed. Deodorant on. I didn’t want to be late. I always follow the rules.

This morning was perfect. Even gray skies and a light powder of perfectly white snow – just like in my game Xenon 6: Battle for Galactigar. Mom made fried eggs and toast with jam. She knew it was big day for me, but I played it cool. We got to school at the exact time for me to help with the equipment – just like Mr. J asked us to.

It was short drive to the competition, but me and Mikey sat together. Everyone was sleepy; it was pretty early. We got there, unloaded the stuff, and got set up. The band got tuned up. I didn’t like it when Mom made a big deal out of me making Jazz I, but she likes to brag on me. Anyway, I did practice all summer: my teacher told me to practice two hours a day. I always follow the rules.

Tuba is what fat boys were supposed to play, and I follow the rules. I sweat through halftime shows on the 50-yard line in the fall and sit on my padded ass in the stands in the winter. But when I heard Bruce moved away, and Jazz I needed a bass player, I was all about it. Used Fender off Craigslist: check. Lessons: check. Practice till my fingers bleed: check. Result? The only sophomore in the top jazz band. Would anyone see me? Nope. But, they would hear me. Like I said: perfect.

The set went perfect. Like no negatives on the critique for the rhythm section. Then we all went down to the cafeteria for food. There was a long line, and a couple of the kids cut the line. Mikey and Scott and me waited. We are all rule-followers. I got pizza, chips, and Mt. Dew. By the time I paid, there wasn’t much space at the round table, so I sat right next to the group. We all have matching shirts, so it didn’t really look like I was sitting alone; I was right next to the whole crowd. Everyone talked and laughed and joked – we knew we’d made the cut for the final showcase later that night.

After lunch, we all just kind of hung out around our homeroom space. Some kids watched other bands, but almost everyone just sat around and talked or got on their phones. Some of the seniors went out back with kids from other schools; they were totally smoking pot. I kind of wished I would’ve brought my DS, but I didn’t want to look like an idiot. It’s hard enough to be the sweaty fat kid.

After a while we went back down to the cafeteria for drinks and snacks. We had to wait until 5:00pm to get the official word about the showcase. No one was really watching, and they had these kind of mini-pies next to the cupcakes. All the kids got cupcakes and Pepsi; they paid and sat down where we had lunch. Except there was space this time, so I knew if I hurried, I wouldn’t be the kid at the other table again. Without really thinking about it, I took a pie, and walked right past the cashiers and sat down.

Maybe no one noticed. Maybe the adults thought I’d already paid, but whatever – I was sitting with the whole group this time. Cherry pie isn’t really my favorite. I really like apple or chocolate much more. But, hurriers can’t be choosers, and, anyway, I was sitting with the group. My seat was saved, so I got up to go buy a drink.

It was just then that I saw her: a volunteer mom at the cashier stand. Looking at me like she knew.  She seemed to stare through me as I walked around the cordons, weaving in and out obediently. I selected another Mt. Dew, and walked purposefully over to the accusing volunteer mom’s cash box. I smiled.

“Two dollars,” she said.

“Here you go!” I chirped, handing her a crisp twenty. Mom had given me forty dollars for food. Usually she only gives me twenty, but this was an all-day and potentially late-night trip. As the volunteer mom counted out my eighteen dollars change, sweat trickled down my back, pooling along my first fat roll. I smiled at her, wondering if she was gonna say anything about the pie. My brain darted around the maze of excuses I could make, but my ability to be a creative liar was hampered by my desire to get back to the table and be the bassist in Jazz I.

I could feel her laser eyes boring through the back of my skull as I rejoined the group and gobbled my pie just in time to head back to the auditorium. I made sure to put the pie wrapper in the garbage, and I recycled my pop bottle. Like I said, I follow the rules.

We got back to school about midnight. I helped unload all the stuff, and even got to carry in the first place trophy. I called Mom after everything was done even though some of the older kids took off to party right away. Just as Mom pulled up, Mikey said – real quiet like – “I saw.”

I turned around and said, “Thanks, Mr. J. That was a great trip.” One of Mom’s rules is to be polite to teachers, especially those who put in extra time. I try to follow the rules.




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