The room was hot. Cory plucked at the front of her shirt, peeling it away from her skin. Thibault kept playing. Her stomach felt sick. She shifted in her chair and watched. The Hawk still stood over the kid from behind, glaring at the top of his head as he faltered measure after measure. Thibault’s playing had become so soft it could barely be heard. The sound of blood pumping in Cory’s ears crowded out the music. She jiggled her leg on the ball of her foot and looked over at the whisperer, sprawled out in his chair, his clarinet resting comfortably across his lap. He was tall and looked older. A senior. He watched the Hawk toy with his prey, too, but his face was passive, detached.
He turned back in her direction, and Cory felt her face flush, worried he had caught her staring. Leaning over, he whispered, “That poor slob. If there’s one thing the bandleader can’t stand, it’s incompetence. Don’t bother showing up if you’re not prepared.” He shook his head from side to side. “Schroeder’s going to finish him off.”
Something in her stomach roiled. Was she prepared? She thought so when she signed up for this, but now she wasn’t so sure. What would this guy do to her? I don’t even want to be in the All-Star Band. Regular school band is good enough. As if someone else had control of her body, Cory reached down and pulled the bell off her clarinet. She yanked the pieces apart and stuffed them into the case. The whisperer looked at her and a confused expression swept over his face. She snapped the case shut, grabbed the handle, and raced for the band room doors. As she threw her body against them, she heard the director’s voice behind her.
“I guess we scared another one off. Or perhaps she just couldn’t stand Mr. Thibault’s playing!”
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