Chapter 14

(1995)

 

“You ready for this?” said Tyrice, picking at his french fries at a table in the Union.

“Yeah, I think so,” I said.

It was the day before the trip, and I was packed and ready to go.

“So what do you think you’re going to say?” asked Terrence.

“I’m gonna tell her how I feel. I’m going to be entirely honest. Tell her that I miss her.”

“How long a trip is it?” asked Spencer, munching on a taco.

“It’s like six hours.”

“Dog, that’s a lot of time to discuss feelings and shit,” said Tyrice. “You need more than that. You need to build up to that. Get her talking. Get that magic going.”

“Well, I can’t really talk to her much about the summer because that was spent with another girl. Well, I guess I could talk about my classes so far.”

“I’m gonna teach you something,” said Tyrice, “It’s called the eighty-twenty rule.”

“Oh yeah? What’s that?”

“You need to let her talk eighty percent of the time. Show you know how to listen. People love to talk about themselves. I’m not talking about the third degree. Just show interest in her.”

“Except for one subject,” added Zach. “Don’t get her talking about other guys. That’s friend zone territory. You don’t want none of that shit.”

“When you’ve got her warmed up, sharing and shit, then you lay on your feelings,” said Tyrice. “Tell her that you can’t stop thinking about her. Tell her it’s over with that other chick. Tell her that’s how you feel, man. Just keep it real. Namsayin?”

I was feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of all of this. It seemed like there was lots of room for error.

“Call her tonight, man,” said Zach. “Say, ‘hey, listen, can we do a little catching up tomorrow on the bus?’ Something chill like that.”

“Ok, I’m trusting you guys. I’ll give it a shot.”

That night I did call her at her apartment. Her roommate answered.

“Hello?” she said.

“Jennifer? This is James. Is Laura there?” I said.

“Um…let me see.”

I heard the phone clunk as she set it down to find her. She was gone for about twenty seconds.

“I’m sorry, but she’s not here. Do you want to leave a message?”

This threw me off. I had expected to speak to Laura. It just felt like a weird thing to leave a message about. It felt like it would make things too formal. So I said, “No, that’s ok. I’ll catch her tomorrow at the bus.”

“Ok. Cool,” she said.

“Ok, bye,” I said.

The choir gathered in the back of the Catlett Center near the loading dock at 7:00 A.M. There was a lot of excitement and buzz. I looked for Laura, but I couldn’t find her. There were two busses, and I had no idea which bus hers might be. The smell of diesel exhaust and bus toilet deodorant brought back memories of choir trips with Laura in high school. I began to yearn for her and those times.

After loading my bags, I stepped on to the bus. I craned to see her through the line of choristers in the aisle, but I could not. I slowly made my way toward the back. Then I saw her. She was sitting with Jennifer.

“Good morning,” I said.

She smiled and said, “Hey, James. What’s up?”

“Are you excited?” I said.

“Oh totally, I’ve never been to Kansas City.”

I was trying to figure out how to get Jennifer’s seat, but the line was piling up behind me.

“Well, I guess I’ll see you around,” I said, lamely.

“Ok. See ya,” she said.

And so, I walked on. I thought back to how Tyrice had said how critical it was that I get that seat by her and how I’d failed. Maybe once we got going, I could get Jennifer to switch me for a while, I wondered.

I found Zach a few rows back, shaking his head and grinning. He had saved me a spot.

“Plan B?” he said.

“I don’t have a plan B.”

“Don’t worry about it. You have the whole trip to connect. You just gotta get her alone for a little while. I’ll help you out. Ok?”

At around 11:30, we stopped at a McDonald’s for lunch. We piled out of the bus and walked into the restaurant. Zach and I managed to get in line with Jennifer and Laura.

After we made our orders, Zach said: “Do y’all mind if we join you?”

She turned to Jennifer, who was not paying attention and then to us. “Sure. That would be fine.”

After we had gotten our food, we sat down, and Zach said, “So, that was some party, right?”

“Oh yeah. We had a really good time,” said Laura. “Not like some other parties I’ve been to recently.”

I got the feeling she was talking about her party from the summer. I tried to avoid eye contact with her.

Zach said, “Yeah, well, some parties just don’t turn out the way you hope them to. Namsayin?” he said, both to Laura and to me. He kicked me a little bit under the table.

“Um…yeah. Some parties we say or do things we regret,” I said.

“Yeah, well…” she said.

“Yeah, and some people are just assholes,” said Jennifer, glaring at me.

“Laura,” I said, taking a leap, “Do you think we could talk about this? Maybe on the bus?”

She looked at Jennifer then at Zach. “Zach, can you swap seats with me when we get back on?”

Zach gave me a quick smile and said to her, “Yeah, no problem.”

The silence as we boarded the bus was awkward. There was no small talk to be made now. I let her sit by the window, and I popped a breath mint while she wasn’t looking before I sat down next to her in the aisle seat.

I started in, “Look, you didn’t want to date me, and besides, I saw you with that Chad guy.”

“It’s not just about Stacey. I got in trouble with my mom for all the booze you brought, and you made a drunken ass of yourself if you recall. Making out in the pool. Being rude to my parents. Making fun of my brother for not wanting to jump off the diving board. You really fucked up, James.”

“Well, what about Chad? I saw you two together. You were getting really friendly with him,” I countered.

“Chad’s mom had just died in the spring. That was the first time he’d gone out for a couple of months I was just comforting him. Nothing is going on between us.”

She stared hard at me as I digested what she was saying.

I no longer had a leg to stand on. “I just….” and I could feel the very beginnings of a tear coming. “You just really threw me off. I mean, every summer since we’ve been in college, we’d gotten back together. I really wanted to be with you. I really want to be with you. That whole thing with Stacey and me was because of how hurt I felt by you. I want to be with you.

She turned away and looked at the back of the seat in front of her. Her profile was so perfect to me. Big lashes. Her nose had a little pointy curve to which I adored. Her brown hair was brushed over to one side, still streaked with summer, her face dappled with freckles. Her nose was turning red as she began to tear up.

“You know,” she said. “It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I just wasn’t quite ready for all of this. You know? It’s like I’m coming home, and there you are, not just for a summer, but for what? For the whole year? Forever? We’re not the same people we were in high school. We’ve both changed. I’m not really sure who you are anymore. You don’t even look the same.”

“I just thought if I looked cooler that you might pay attention to me.”

“Believe me; I would have paid attention to you. You’re my…my person. There isn’t anybody else. There never has been, but it’s just complicated.”

I sat in silence for a moment or two. It was complicated, especially now that we weren’t kids anymore and would be graduating college soon. Neither of us had a clue what would be next.

“Maybe I have changed,” I said. “So why not get to know me? Maybe you’ll like me.”

“Of course I’ll like you, James. I love you. I don’t want to date anybody else.”

“But you don’t want to date me.”

“I just don’t know.”

“Well, can we at least talk about it?”

She turned her whole body to me and looked me in the eye as if she were examining my heart in some way–as if she were deliberating. “Let’s just take a little time during this trip to think about it. I just want to have some fun. I don’t want this trip to be about us. Just give me a little space, and when we get back, we’ll go over to O’Connell’s or something and talk about it. Can we do that?”

I took a deep breath and let it out. “Yeah. Of course,” I said, touching her lightly on the leg. Something about touching her for the first time in months made it very hard to get up and go back to sit with Zach. It was just so casual–so comfortable as if my hand belonged there. Then she put her hand on mine and held it there for a moment.

“Good,” she said.

Jennifer gave me a sulky look as we exchanged seats. I know she was being protective of Laura, but I didn’t feel much like thanking her for it. I sat down next to Zach, and he said, “Well?”

“Well,” I said, “I was wrong about Chad. She was never seeing him. She was never seeing anyone. I think she still really likes me, maybe even wants to get back with me, but she needs a little space–just during the trip- to have a little fun and hopefully sort through her feelings.”

He slipped me some skin and said, “That’s what I’m talkin about. See? I’m telling you, you’re getting back together, man. She still digs you. You just need to be cool for a while. Show her that you’re mature enough to give her the space she needs without making it all about you.”

I sighed, sat back in my seat, and put my knees up against the chair in front of me.

“Yeah. I guess you’re right.”

“Yeah, I’m right. Trust me. I’ve got you, man.” Then he gave my leg a pat and a gentle squeeze.

“So, do you have a girlfriend?” I asked impulsively.

“Naw, you know me. Just playing the field.”

“You seem to know a lot about relationships, though.”

“Just watch a lot of Dr. Phil,” he said, chuckling and grinning.

We were on our own for dinner. Zach and I decided to check out the Italian restaurant around the corner from the hotel. It was a small restaurant with red and white checkered tablecloths—old school. We both ordered the lasagna.

I was never good at eating and talking, so I scarfed down my food, burning my mouth.

“Geez, James. Slow down. You’re going to choke,” chided Zach.

“Sorry, can’t help it. Besides, I’m already finished.”

“So, how are you feeling about the music?” Zach asked, still eating his food.

The music we would be singing was a twenty-five-minute work called Missa Carminum Brevis, a secularized Mass blending in folk song with the text of the Catholic Mass. The previous year’s choir had sung it in the spring concert, so we were able to learn it quickly. We had all fallen in love with it, and we had rehearsed it incessantly until we were all so proud of it. We would be part of an evening of select high school, collegiate, and professional choirs from all over the world. It was a real feather in the cap for the school and for Dr. Baker, a testament to the excellence of choral singing in a state known for its oil, college football, and country singers.

“I love the music. It is just so awesome, but I’m a little nervous. I mean, the very first time I will be singing with a college choir will be in a national spotlight for the elite of choral music.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s a real trip.”

“Would you gentlemen care for dessert this evening?” said a dark-haired waiter with a bushy mustache.

“I do. I’ll have the cannoli,” said Zach.

I scanned the menu and saw something I’d never tried: spumoni. I didn’t know what it was, but it seemed very Italian, and that’s why I was there. “I’ll have the spumoni. And can I get that with a scoop of ice cream?”

“Sir,” said the waiter. “Spumoni is ice cream.”

Zach laughed, which caused me to laugh.

“Ok, just the spumoni then with a coffee,” I said after composing myself.

After dinner, we decided to head to our room and watch a movie.

“Spumoni is ice cream,” said Zach when we got to the room. “Can I have a side of one gallon of ice cream with that?” he said, laughing openly and deeply.

“Well, I didn’t know, I thought maybe it was cake or something? Hey, I’m gonna take a shower, ok? Pick us out a movie.”

“Alright, Chief.”

Once I was naked, and the shower was hot, I stepped in and began washing the bus ride off me. I began to think about Laura and how things might go. Could Zach be right? Did she really want to get back with me? I wondered.

“Hey,” said a voice behind me, startling me.

It was Zach, and he was naked and in the shower with me, his body lean and muscular, water beading on his dark skin.

“What the fuck, Zach? What are you doing?”

He grinned and said, “I just thought you might want some company.”

“What for?” I said, alarmed and perplexed.

“You know, a guy can help another guy out, right? It’s not a big deal.”

Before I knew what was happening, he was pulling me close and kissing me. I had never kissed a guy before. It wasn’t the same as kissing a girl. Masculine, rougher, a little scruff on his lip rubbed against mine. I pulled away. “This is not my thing, Zach. Would you please get out?” I said as politely as I could.

He grinned and nodded. “Alright, alright. Can’t blame a guy for trying,” he said, holding up his hands. Then he stepped out of the shower and pulled the curtain back.

The shock of it caused my heart to race and ears to burn. I turned around and tried to turn off the water, but I turned it the wrong way, and I had to jump aside to avoid the scalding hot water. I quickly turned it the other way, and the water cut to a trickle. I turned it a little firmer, and it stopped, leaving me dripping and my mind whirling around the thoughts of Zach’s intrusion.

I dried off as quickly as I could, losing my balance, only just catching myself with my hand on the counter. I had planned to put on my sleepwear–a pair of gym shorts, and a Hardrock Cafe T-Shirt–but I pulled on my clothes and tripped out into the hall instead. I thought maybe he would come after me, but I was relieved as I stepped on the elevator to see that he hadn’t.

There were other kids in the lobby here and there. I looked around for Laura for a moment but decided that if even if I had seen her, I should keep my promise to give her space. So I stepped outside and found some of the other basses smoking cigarettes and cracking each other up.

They stopped when they saw me, and a tall skinny kid said, “Dude, are you ok? You look like you’re about to hurl.”

“Na, I’m fine,” I said, shaking my head, trying to seem casual.

One of the others held out a pack of cigarettes.

“Really, no, I’m ok, just…well, something kind of weird happened, and I’m kind of freaked out.”

“Oh yeah?” said the skinny one as he dropped his cigarette on the sidewalk and stamped it out with his Chuck Taylor hightops. I’d seen him skateboarding on campus a few times, but I’d never had a conversation.

“It’s, uh, kind of a delicate matter. I can’t say without screwing up someone’s life. I just really need to avoid someone for a while.”

The one with the curly mullet and a wispy mustache motioned me closer and pulled out a paper bag from his coat. He unscrewed a bottle from inside and took a small sip before offering it to me.

I took it and took a couple of stinging gulps. I had expected whiskey or Vodka, but it was something stronger. I must have made a funny face because the others laughed.

“Take it easy! That’s fucking Everclear,” said the guy with the mustache. “190 proof.”

I choked and laughed. I was calming down.

When I got back to the room, head spinning a little from the liquor, Zach was asleep. I slipped into my shorts and t-shirt as quietly as I could and got into bed.

I began to think over the day. I hadn’t expected to be kissing a guy for the first time–the last. I’d never really thought about what it would be like, and I certainly didn’t see it coming, but now that I was over the initial shock of it, I thought that it was actually kind of nice to get that kind of attention from someone. I was even kind of flattered. I craved his approval, and what better approval could there be?

Although I had desperately wanted to get back together with Laura on the trip, I found that I had a sense of patience about it now. I chastised myself for thinking she was with Chad. I felt that it would have been better if I’d just asked before drawing a conclusion. I wouldn’t have gone after Stacey, and things might have gone smoother. But, I thought, Stacey was freakin’ hot. And I thought of all those times in my truck and her room. Maybe Laura and I needed that kind of space, I thought, as I drifted off.

When I awoke, Zach was ironing his tux shirt and humming a tune from the program.

“Good morning,” he said cheerfully. “Have some coffee. He picked up a paper cup with a plastic lid and set it on the bedside table next to me.

I sat up and picked up the coffee. It was a little too hot, so I took the lid off and set it back down to cool off. “So are you gay or what?” I asked.

He took a deep breath, exhaled, continuing to iron. “It is what it is, know what I’m saying? I like girls, but sometimes I like guys. Can you be discreet about this? My homies can’t know.”

“Sure. But why me? Did you think I was gay?”

“Naw, it’s not like that. I just thought–you know–you could use a little cooling off after your talk with Laura on the bus. That’s all.”

“Oh, ok,” I said, perplexed.

“Are you sure you didn’t like it? Even a little bit?”

“Look, I’m sure you’re a good kisser and all, but I just don’t feel it. No offense.”

“It’s alright. I didn’t really think you were. I just thought we could help each other out. I’ll drop it. We don’t ever have to talk about this again. Are we cool?”

“Yeah,” I said, “We’re cool. No one has to know, ” I said. I took a cautious sip of the coffee, and Zach resumed his humming. We didn’t speak more than a few words as we got ready. It would be awkward for a little while.

We all gathered in the hotel lobby, and Dr. Baker gave us the itinerary.

“Ok, ok. May I have your attention. We’ve got to be ready to sing in the hall in one hour. We will walk over there. It’s only a few blocks away. You should have your music with you. If not, this would be a good time to quickly get it. I’ve been to the hall. It’s very live. Much more so than Holmberg Hall. We’ll need a little time to get used to it. We’ll do some warming up and work a few spots, and then we’ll go in. We’ll run the whole piece and then rehearse it a little bit more if we need it. We get forty-five minutes on stage. Any questions?”

A few students excused themselves to get their music, and many began walking over to the concert hall. I saw Laura, but I decided to let her go on ahead of us.

There were many hundreds of people in the lobby and lined up outside the rehearsal space talking excitedly. I thumbed through my music, rereading notes that I had made throughout and counting through some of the mixed meter passages.

“Hey, James,” came a friendly voice.

I looked up, and it was Laura.

“Hey,” I said, surprised. “I thought we were going to give each other space.”

“Well, guess what. It’s my space, my rules. How are you feeling about the concert?”

“Um, well, it’s pretty exciting. I’m kind of nervous, though. This is like a big fuckin deal, right?”

“Um, yeah. These are the best choirs in the country. Chanticleer is gonna be here. They’re like a big deal international professional men’s group. The Bulgarian Women’s Choir is supposed to be spectacular. So yeah, it is like a big fuckin deal,” she said, smiling and nudging my arm.

“Where’s Zach?” she asked, looking around.

“Um, I’m not sure. We came in together. Maybe he went to the bathroom.”

“You guys seem like really good friends. I’ve seen you with him and his friends around campus. So, are these like your friends now?”

“Yeah, those guys are really cool. I guess they kind of adopted me through Zach.”

“Ok, well, just thought I’d say hi. I’d better find Jennifer.”

“Ok. Then I’ll see you at warmups.”

She gave me a big smile and walked off. I admired her ass as she walked away. She had a few more curves than the year before, and I liked it. I wanted once again to be able to be close to her body, kiss her neck, smell her. I was so close.

Eighty voices in such a small space were deafening as we warmed up in the practice room down the hall from the concert hall. Dr. Baker put us through our paces, warming us up slowly from the middle of our voices to the depths and then to the heights.

“When we get into the hall, you will notice a few things,” announced Dr. Baker. “The lights are very bright and might get a little hot. Also, the acoustics are absolutely perfect, but you might have a hard time hearing yourselves. It’s not like the halls and churches we’ve sung in where your voices bounce back to you. This hall will take your voices and fill the whole space never to return. Sing by feeling. You know what it feels like to sing the dynamics that we need. You may feel the need to over-sing, but you could hear a pin drop on this stage from the top balcony. You will be plenty loud enough, even at your softest dynamic.”

I turned to Zach, and he looked as if he were soaking in the experience. I had been feeling a little standoffish since the shower, but I put my hand around his shoulder and gave him a squeeze just as he had done to me a dozen times since I first met him. My affection and gratitude for him were running very deep those days.

“Alright, Choir,” said Dr. Baker. “We’re up. We will practice our entrance. Sopranos, basses you will lead, tenors follow, then altos, and sopranos. Please enter as if this were the real deal…quietly and professionally.”

We shuffled into our places and collectively began to focus. The risers were set up for larger choirs, so we didn’t need to take up the whole space. Instead, we found our ways to a center spot careful not to trip and fall off, something that had happened to a girl in my high school choir at the beginning of our final concert senior year.

It was not a large hall, but more than enough for the number of people who would be attending. The lights obscured any view of what it looked like from the stage. When we found our places, Dr. Baker adjusted his stand and placed his music on it. Our pianist, Philip, adjusted the piano bench, then Dr. Baker spoke.

“Alright. This is it. Philip will play the first few notes of the opening tenor line. Do not hum your first note. I want you to internalize it as perfectly as possible. Those of you who have perfect pitch, if the pitch sags, I would ask that you help us get back on track, but if it’s just not happening, you’ll just have to adjust. However, I’m confident that our energy will be so high that we won’t have pitch problems. Philip will play pitches for the beginning of each movement just to keep us firmly into the key. Let us begin.”

Baker stepped off the podium, and we all dropped our folders to our side. Because of the short notice, we were going to be allowed to sing with the sheet music. Then he stepped on to the podium and lifted his hands as a gesture for us to open our folders. Philip gave us the first notes of the Latin chant that would start the first movement. We all took a collective breath, and Baker cued in the tenors.

The sound was even more perfectly blended than in our rehearsals. The hall seemed to pull our best sounds forth from our bodies as we wove the music together into a living tapestry.

When we were done, a single person clapped from somewhere in the orchestra seating. Baker turned, and we practiced our bow. We practiced a few spots again, but we knew we were ready. We were about to peak just in time for that evening’s performance.

Our outing for the day was the Kansas City Zoo. The beginnings of fall were showing as we walked the zoo grounds. Zach was very popular in the Choir crowd, and I hung back a bit while people joined us, and girls flirted with him. I was feeling shy and was starting to feel a little excluded. I mean, it’s not like it’s Zach’s job to get to take care of me in any social situation, I thought.

I was hoping that Laura might show up, but she was with another crowd, and I did not see her the entire time we were at the zoo.

We were treated to a barbeque lunch at a private outdoor eating venue where we were entertained by a western band called The Settlers. Their harmonies were like that of The Sons of the Pioneers, which made me think of my grandfather, who used to play them for me when I would visit as a child.

After another couple of hours at the zoo, the busses took us back to the hotel to rest and get ready for the evening performance. Zach was quiet with me in the room, and we were both in need of a nap, so I set the alarm, and we both napped until it was time to get a sandwich dinner provided to the choir. Afterward, we put on our tuxes. I could still wear my choir tux from high school, but I could tell Zach’s tux was newer and far more expensive. He looked like a movie star about to walk the red carpet. My tux was needing a dry clean and was limp on my lanky body.

“Looking good, my friend,” said Zach grinning.

“Dude, not as good as you. Where’d you get that tux?”

“It was a birthday present from my parents this year. You like it?” he said.

“Looks great. Hey,” I began hesitantly, “Are we good?” I said.

“Of course we are. Why wouldn’t we be?”

“You know. Because of what happened.”

“Hey, I took a chance. Thought maybe there was something there. But I was wrong. No harm, no foul?”

“Of course not. I’m actually kind of flattered. No one’s ever hopped in a shower with me in a hotel room. If I were gay, I’d be sucking your black dick right now!” I said, and we both laughed uproariously.

When we took our seats in the balcony of the concert hall, the place was packed. I took a look at my program. There were five choirs before us, and we would get to see four of them. Afterward, we would see an all-gay male choir from Dallas, a Bulgarian women’s choir called Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares, then the top billing Chanticleer men’s ensemble.

The college choirs we got to see were great, but I didn’t think they were as good as we were. My stomach fluttered, and my palms were beginning to sweat as it became our time to get up and head for the warmup room.

“Alright, Choir,” began Dr. Baker when he got there. “I want you to know that no matter what happens out there tonight, you are standing shoulder to shoulder with any of those choirs that you just heard. This is becoming one of the best choirs I’ve conducted in my career, and I’m so very proud of you and the work you’ve done with me. I want you to take a moment now to visualize what we must do. Close your eyes with me.”

I closed my eyes and began to breathe very slowly from my gut as I’d been taught.

“Your first sounds need to pull the audience in immediately. Don’t over-sing it. Support the sound, but let it just float out of you into the space. Listen to each other. Press your voices into each others’ until you feel the harmonies and dissonances buzzing and blending. If you can hear your voice over your neighbor’s voice, then you are not blending. I know it’s a different space than you are used to, but the room will do some of the work for you. Lean on that. Work with that. Use the spaces in your head to fill with the vibrations of your voice so that your resonance is filled with substance and color. You know how to do this. I don’t care if you’re a voice major or a computer science major, I expect no less. Now open your eyes. Look around you. Turn to the person next to you and say, “We are one voice.”

I turned to Zach, and he locked me in his bright gaze, and we said it in unison to each other. “We are one voice.”

“Ok. Line up. Basses first, just like we practiced,” said Dr. Baker.

A woman entered the room and spoke to him. He nodded and raised his hands.

“Ok, we’re next. We are going to very quietly line up in the hall. When the choir ahead of us is completely off stage, we will be announced. You will go on and wait for me. I will come in. The audience might applaud. Philip will play your opening pitches, and we will begin. Enjoy this, people. You deserve to be here. Let it be a beautiful moment that you can treasure for the rest of your lives.”

As we lined up, we could hear the other choir singing the end of a very lively African-American spiritual. I knew from the program that it was a Moses Hogan arrangement of Elijah Rock. When they sang the last note, it sailed through the hall until there was silence. The crowd erupted. I took a deep breath and shut my eyes for a moment. They would be off the stage soon, and I would be crossing the stage to the top level of the risers.

I was very mindful of my steps as I ascended the risers, careful not to trip or slip. I don’t think I could have taken the embarrassment of that. My heart was pounding so hard that I could hear it in my ears when I took my place. Then I felt Zach’s hand wrap around mine, and he gave me a little squeeze and let go. It calmed me down a little, and I began to focus.

When everyone was in place, there was a beat of nearly pure silence. Then Dr. Baker strode out to the middle of the stage, turned to the audience which applauded, and he bowed. He laid his music on the stand, waited for the accompanist to be ready, then he looked at us. It felt like he looked at each one of us individually. His eyes glimmered, and he smiled warmly. We were a single thing, an instrument. He held his hands up, and we opened our folders. He cued the pianist, he held out his right hand before us, and with a very subtle beat, he cued in the tenors, and we began.

I don’t remember everything about the performance. It was as if I was in a trance that was bigger than myself; collective. My voice spun out of me like it never had before, but it wasn’t just my voice, it was all our voices coming out of me at the same time. Something was happening to us on stage. We were becoming something that we weren’t quite yet until that moment. We had become a choir. No longer individual voices, but a singular thing. Baker conducted so freely and precisely, and we were with his every beat.

After our final notes, the hall was still–no coughing, no talking, no clapping, no movement whatsoever. Our voices reverberating through the hall until, finally, we could hear ourselves if only for a moment. Then the clapping began like a crack of thunder. People began to stand up. Calls of “bravo” came from the balcony. Dr. Baker had us bow. Once, then twice, then a third time, until finally, the applause faded, and he cued us to exit the stage, one row at a time.

I was dazed as we hit the hallway. There was a hush over the whole choir. We knew we had to be quiet while the next choir entered, and we knew we had done something extraordinary. Then someone grabbed my hand and turned me around. It was Laura. She was beaming at me. And before I could say anything, she was kissing me. I didn’t even have the wherewithal to kiss her back, but I could taste her as our lips parted, a flavor I had not tasted for more than a year, and it melted me a little inside. Before I had a chance to say anything, she had left, and Zach was clapping me on the back.

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