It was a sunny spring morning, but there was murder in the air. Jordan Johnston was killing Pomp and Circumstance. Actually, the whole elementary school orchestra was involved. It was a musical massacre.
But Jordan's violin was especially deadly. It screeched like a frightened owl. Mr. Graisha glared at her, snapping his baton up and down, side to side, fighting to keep all twenty-three students playing in unison. It was a losing battle. He glanced up at the clock and then waved both arms as if he needed to stop a freight train.
"All right, all right, stop playing--everyone, stop. Stop!" He mopped his forehead with a handkerchief and smiled as best he could. "I think that's enough for this morning. Don't forget that this is Thursday, and we have a special rehearsal right here after school--don't be late. And if you have any free time at all during the day, please practice. We are not going to play well together if you can't play well by yourself, right? Practice!"
Jordan put away her violin carefully. She loved the instrument, and she was very good at putting it away. She was also good at polishing the rich brown wood and keeping the strings in tune, and keeping the bow in tip-top condition. It was playing the thing that gave her trouble.
But she was not going to give up on it.
She had given up on so many things during the past eight months. The violin was her last stand, her line in the sand. She was bound and determined to become a gifted violinist--instead of a scary one.
She was still a member of the sixth-grade chorus, but she didn't feel that was much of an accomplishment. Every other sixth grader was in it too.
Jordan wasn't shy about singing. She sang right out. She sang so loudly that Mr. Graisha had taken her aside one day. He was in charge of all things musical at Baird Elementary School--band, orchestra, chorus, everything.
"Jordan, you have great . . . enthusiasm. But it would be good if you didn't sing louder than all the other kids around you. The audience needs to hear them too, don't you think?"
Jordan got the message: Your voice isn't so good.
She almost always sang the correct notes, she was sure of that. She wasn't a terrible singer--just not good enough to be the loudest one. Her voice was about average.
Her friend Kylie had a gorgeous voice, high and sweet and clear--but she was so timid. Kylie barely made a squeak during chorus practice, and she hardly whispered at concerts. It drove Jordan crazy.
She wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake her and shout, "Kylie, if I had a voice like yours, I would already live in Hollywood--no kidding, I would be a star by now! What is wrong with you?"
Jordan was a careful observer of all the talented kids at her school--the ones who got the trophies and awards, the ones who were written up in the local newspaper, the ones who were obviously going to go on and do amazing and wonderful things all the rest of their lives. They were the gifted ones, the talented ones, the special ones.
And she was not one of them.
After her violin was tucked safely into its bulletproof case, Jordan began putting away the music stands. She carried them one by one and stacked them over in the dark corner of the stage next to the heavy folds of the red velvet curtain. When all twenty-three stands were arranged neatly, she folded the metal chairs and then stacked each one onto a rolling cart. She also tipped Mr. Graisha's heavy podium up onto its rollers and wheeled it over to its place next to the grand piano.
It was already warm in the auditorium, and she leaned against the piano a moment. Moving that wooden podium always made her feel like a weight lifter, and she didn't want to start sweating so early in the day. It had been hotter than normal all week long.
Jordan had volunteered at the start of the school year to be the orchestra stage manager. She arrived early for each rehearsal and set up the chairs and the music stands. Then, after rehearsal, she stayed to put them all away again.
She didn't do this to get on Mr. Graisha's good side--the only sure way to do that was to be a super-talented musician. She just liked helping out. She also liked the stage to be orderly. She knew how to arrange the chairs and music stands correctly, and she understood how to put everything away again, just right.
Her best friend, Nikki Scanlon, had wanted to be the co-manager, but Jordan enjoyed doing the work herself. Also, by the time she finished putting things away three mornings a week, Jordan was sometimes by herself, alone on the big stage. She enjoyed that, too.
And today, like the other times she'd been alone in there, she went to the center of the stage and looked out over all the empty seats.
Baird Elementary School had once been the town's high school, and the auditorium was in a separate building off to one side. It was a large room. Row after row of theater seats sloped up to the back wall.
Jordan smiled modestly and walked to the front edge of the stage. Looking out over the crowd, she lowered her eyes then took a long, graceful bow.
The people were standing up now, whistling and hooting and clapping like crazy. She smiled and bowed again, then gave a special nod to her mom and dad, there in the front row. She even smiled sweetly at her big sister, Allie, and her little brother, Tim. Of course, Tim didn't notice. He was only four, and he was staring at the blue-and-red stage lights with one finger stuck in his nose.
A young girl in a blue dress ran down the center aisle from the back of the hall, stretched up on tiptoes, and handed Jordan two dozen yellow roses--her favorite flower. With the bouquet cradled in one arm, Jordan took a final bow and backed away. The red velvet curtain parted for just a moment, and she slipped backstage.
There were people asking for autographs, plus some journalists with their cameras flashing, and a crush of happy friends, eager to congratulate her and wish her well. It was wonderful, and Jordan savored each second, as she had so many times before.
The first bell--six seconds of harsh, brain-rattling noise. It echoed in the empty auditorium. Outside behind the main building, kids whooped and yelled as they ran from the playground and lined up at the doors.
The intruding sounds did not touch Jordan's joy and certainty. She felt absolutely sure that one day her moment of triumph would be real, a part of her life.