Inappropriate Excitement

I could hear the trumpet’s tinny melody vaguely through the practice room wall. I stopped my playing of Claude Bolling’s “Sentimentale” (I had been repeating the insanely fast slur of high to low notes that separated the slow and fast movements of the piece) to listen more closely. Who was playing? As far as I knew, I was the only senior stupid enough to take an independent study in music during the last hour of the school day. Most other seniors with enough credits would simply not bother and leave school early to get a jump start on working that afternoon. Me, I needed the forced practice time during the school day or I knew I would never nail this piece.

I set my flute gently down on the chair that I hadn’t been sitting in (standing made for a better posture for full lungs), and gently opened the door of the practice room. I listened for the clear notes of the trumpet and began slowly walking towards them. It took exactly four steps down the hallway to figure out who it was.

It was Joe, from the Homecoming Dance.

He was the top trumpet player in the school; I should have known it was him. I paused for the slightest second outside his door, only a narrow square of glass allowing me sight of his intense concentration on his music. I started to walk away, only to hear his door open up behind me and him say, “Hey.”

“Hey, Joe, I didn’t mean to bother you. I didn’t realize you had independent study sixth hour, too.”

“Yeah,” he answered in his raspy voice. “I need the practice before Solo and Ensemble.”

“Me too,” I said quickly, my cheeks glowing red He was dating my friend Karen’s neighbor, Amy. He was completely off limits, which left me free to be as friendly as I wanted without worrying about the consequences. “You sounded really good.”

“Thanks,” he offered. “You did too. Is that jazz flute?”

Over the next few weeks, Joe and I spoke frequently. When he needed breaks from his music, he’d stop in my practice room to chat. We talked about college (we’d both applied to Michigan State and were waiting for responses), about our mutual friends, about our band instructor, about everything. I found myself liking him, a lot. I had the oddest feeling that he liked me too, even though I knew fully well he had a girlfriend.

One day, as I plodded through Sentimentale and pushed out high Gs over and over in an attempt to get my lips able to form the note reliably, I realized I hadn’t seen Joe yet that afternoon. By this point, we’d always at least say Hi to each other, every day. I looked out of my practice room window to find him sitting on the floor, his head in his hands. The hallway at this hour was deserted, and he’d clearly chosen the most private place (minus me) he could think of to have his breakdown.

I sat next to him and gently touched his arm. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

He looked up at me with red eyes. I’d never seen a boy my age cry, or at least allow others to see that he’d been crying. “Amy broke up with me,” he offered, choking out the words.

I’m not going to lie here. My heart leapt in my chest. In a classic case of proceeding carefully, I modulated the excitement out of my voice before responding: “Oh, Joe, I’m so sorry.”

Slowly, carefully, he told me the story of what had happened. Our bodies were close enough to be touching as he told me how she’d just dumped him, because she was going away to school the next year and didn’t want to be “tied down” over the approaching summer. I soothed him with words of comfort, of youth and fun ahead, of his character and how he would find someone who was more worthy of his careful thoughts and attention.

By the end of the conversation I was holding his hand. I meant this purely as a gesture of comfort to him, and that was how he gladly accepted it. But when I took my hand away, my palm was sweaty and my head was hot. I felt horrible for the amount of pain he was clearly in, I did.

But I also felt a feeling I hadn’t felt since the day I’d first held Ray’s hand. The inappropriate excitement was tight in my chest.

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