To Be in That Number

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Every step felt like the spot where her knees would fail. Her heels screamed when they smacked the asphalt, a pain that reverberated in her thighs and chest. Autumn was slipping into winter. The cold bit her nose and turned her eyelashes into daggers.

Even so, she kept running.

Lap twelve was all momentum so when she reached the concrete lip at the edge of the walkway which snaked to the backdoor of the band room, she lacked the strength to forcefully stop. She skidded on athletic sneakers that had been bought and in two month’s time ruined. Painted gold on brass hung beneath her palms, cold enough to hurt. A black strap hooked to that anchor in her hands. It yanked at her neck, forcing a hunch.

But she was standing, for freak’s sake, and she’d done what was compelled of her.

Students had to vacate the lot from two to six so the band could practice. Yet, as a member of that band, Harmony lingered in the empty lot even at ten-till-seven. Her boyfriend had probably called to check on her. Her phone was in her instrument case, though. She had no way of knowing.

He was probably comfortably toasty in his apartment, a place where he and Harmony shared meals, Egyptian cotton sheets, and body heat. Her half of their duo longed for that. Instead, her palms stuck to her horn like a thick tongue to an icy pole as she blinked away the stars of oxygen deprivation.

It was long since time to go home. Everybody else was gone — everyone except her and one other.

After what felt like an hour, though no more than twenty actual seconds, Harmony received validation of her existence.

“You done?”

Her chest rose and sank in bursts. She almost talked — almost screwed herself. Instead, she nodded wearily.

“Really?” Up came Harmony’s company, all leg with marching-hardened calves. “Because I don’t remember saying you were done. In fact, I remember saying that you’d run till I was tired of seeing your fat ass going clockwise.”

In came the girl with the potty mouth; even closer to Harmony. But she retracted her fourth step after taking it, like she’d mistakenly come too close. Her hand fanned the air between them. Her nose — a flat-bridged, perfect slope which served to divide a near-symmetrical face — wrinkled. Harmony’s nose did the same when she inspected the armpits of a top she forgot was dirty.

“You smell like shit, Brehr. It’s why we tell you girls to bring deodorant in your instrument case. Tell me, do you plan on doing anything right today?”

Indignation manifested in a twitch that unlocked Harmony’s knees.

Bait. Everything out of this girl’s mouth is bait.

Harmony had done nothing but aerobics since five; squats, jumping jacks, invisible chair holds. Before that was an hour long sectional where her tone and timing had been berated unjustly in front of a dozen other saxophone players. There hadn’t been a break for anything: not water or the bathroom or the aforementioned deodorant — which was precisely the type of complaint Rachel wanted to hear from her underclassmen.

Rachel wanted a reaction, the more emotional the better. Say something about her leadership style and see how many laps she had you running. Mention how unfair she was and see if your music didn’t go missing. Rachel, the saxophone section leader, wasn’t above doing whatever it took to send her message: “Do not fuck with me.”

Why send a message in the first place?

Harmony didn’t know. Nobody did. Did she get her rocks off on screwing over doe-eyed fresh meat? A few people suspected that. It had to make her horny or something. Otherwise, what motivation is there to make freshmen cry, vomit, and sweat till dehydration? If not sadism, it had to be a lack of empathy for the plight of those younger or less skilled. Or resentment for being asked to train the generation that would replace her. Or rebellion against the idea that she could be replaced at all. Yea, Rachel could sink that low.

At the edge of a sigh, she added, “Scales. B flat, E flat, A flat.”

Harmony’s alto sax rolled upright to her mouth. Her lungs were erratically spasming. When she went to play, the tone came out wispy and weak, falling off only moments after she filled the horn with air. Running with her hands clenched made her fingers jittery too, forcing errors that she thought she’d hammered out when she started playing in Elementary school. Her scales were a wreck. She felt on the verge of fainting from forcing air that wasn’t there.

Halfway through the E flat scale, Rachel stopped her. “Nevermind. I forgot how your sound grates my ear drums.” She turned to the side and brushed Harmony off like she was nothing. “You’ve kept me out late enough. It’s cold and dark, so I’m going home. But if I were you, I’d keep running till you build enough stamina to actually play and move at the same time.” Condescending, her hand lighted briefly on Harmony’s shoulder; apparently, she wasn’t untouchable. But the way Rachel stroked her sleeve had Harmony wishing görükle escort she was. “Night, Harmony.”

The black plastic on Harmony’s mouthpiece lowered with flecks from her chapped lips. She watched Rachel climb the walkway then disappear into the bandroom.

Then, she exploded.

The roar that filled the air above her in a puff of white left her throat raw. “God-freaking-. . .” the swear at the end was chopped off. It was nailed into her head from infancy not to direct her swears at the divine. But a girl with her sort of resentment needed something to kick or throw. Harmony needed to make noise, to feel her knuckles against some solid surface. It was bad — Harmony was erupting.

There were school books in her instrument locker. She left them, knowing that she’d definitely be treated like a child the minute she and Rachel occupied any confined space together. Plus, she didn’t want to be held liable for what might be done or said in such a mental state.

Fortunately, saxophones came apart in three easy pieces. Harmony dislocated the thing unkindly, slinging the metal pieces to their spaces before throwing the black case over her shoulder.

Campus shuttles were scarce at such an hour, but Harmony pinged her location anyway. She hoped the guy or gal wouldn’t mind taking her off campus, and also hoped the extra fee for such a task wasn’t too steep. Her phone glowed with a red approximation of the time her ride would take to arrive: five minutes in the cold and a longish walk to a designated pick-up point. It’s clear when five minutes wait and a brisk stroll are enough to piss you off that you are a operating from a place of raw animus.

Seeing a text from Chris, Harmony swiped to the call menu. As her phone rang, she realized her hoodie was in the locker with her school books. The phone line clicked to life just as she started to consider turning around.

“Hey, babe. You alright?” Chris had answered on the second ring.

“Just dandy. I pity the next mailbox I see, though.”


Eyeing a fallen limb sticking out of a gutter, Harmony answered. “I’m so pissed, they’ve started looking like silver pinatas.” By the way he laughed, Harmony knew he didn’t get the joke. “How’s your car?”

“In the shop,” Chris answered. He made a sound like he was exerting effort. “Dad let me borrow one of his till I’m able to get to mine back.”

“Oh? Which one?” Harmony’s tune changed, perking up.

“The Audi.”

“You had your choice of your dad’s cars and you picked the old, gray Mercedes?”

“He suggested it over the others. We live in a college town with tiny parking spaces and blind, drunk students. He doesn’t mind it getting banged up like he’d mind his Ferrari.”

“We would have been careful,” Harmony said. It wasn’t that she was really all that opposed to anything being proposed. Combativeness just came when she was upset. Along with it came the unashamed demand for pampering, typically in the form of getting her way. “Could you please ask him for a trade? Say you changed your mind.”

Chris scoffed. The kitchen oven timer went off in the background. “Where are you? Dinner’s ready.”

Chris always changed the topic when it reached discomfort. “Almost at the pick-up for a campus shuttle. But if I’d known you were driving in style, I would have gotten you to pick me up.”

“You know I would have been there too,” Chris grunted some more. Some pan or pot made a metal clang as it landed on the counter. Harmony could practically smell the meal. Her boyfriend had a knack for cooking and a quirk for interesting dishes; not to mention a massive bulk of money to spend on the best ingredients. It all came from the same father who had the four sports cars which Chris ignored in favor of the bland, gray Mercedes.

Harmony mentioned something about the cold as a wind cut her skin.

“It’ll be worth it when you’re in the Marching 100,” Chris said, his mouth full of lasagna or casserole or some other near-winter comfort food. “All of it, including the late nights with Rachel.”

Mention of Rachel almost got Harmony going. It just so happened that her bum hit a freezing bus stop bench just as she was going to tear into the cretinous section leader. The frigid shock usurped the rage within her. “It better be,” she grumbled instead. “You know my brother finally convinced Mom and Dad to come to the homecoming game, right? They’ve paid in advance for tickets and are making the drive out.”

“Then the pressure’s on.”

“Thank you, Chris. I didn’t know that already.” Harmony spun her green-hazel eyes at nobody. “Let’s discuss how I only have six weeks to memorize all the music. Or maybe how I have to find time in that same six weeks to learn the extended halftime show. And when we’re done with those two, you can remind me of the one person who may still bar me from marching.”

“Sorry,” Chris replied.

Harmony felt a tinge of remorse. Not because she’d come off strong, but something else. Maybe it was bursa escort bayan the fact she was dating a puppy, one of those that ride along in their owner’s Coach shoulder bag. The kind that was sweet, funny, and playful but also harmless.

That was enough, though, right? It was good that she didn’t have to worry about him leaving her or doing anything to harm her. That was the goal, correct? Every girl needed a faithful, dependable man with good breeding, dimples deep as craters, and a trust fund with his name on it.

Harmony shook her negativity away. Caution lights on a sedan blinked at the end of the street. No sooner than having sat down, Harmony readied herself for her transport.

“I’ll be home in ten. My ride’s here.”

“I’ll miss you like a coyote misses his moon,” Chris sounded like he was smiling.

Harmony found herself grinning along. At least her dopey boyfriend was funny.

Chris was a pup, not a coyote. Hilarious.

The ride was more like twenty minutes. Her driver looked to be a returning student. Forty something with salt and pepper around the ears and a receding scrimmage line that made his forehead enormous in the rear-view mirror. It was welcome that he didn’t seem to notice Harmony much, since the sounds of traffic and hip hop on the speakers made great background music for a short trip to the north side of town.

It pained her that all that came to mind was Rachel. Logically, she’d spent an uncanny number of hours practicing her horn, communicating with other music students, and taking music themed classes. As a result, she and Rachel rubbed shoulders often — with enough friction to start a wildfire.

And things were getting worse. Way back in June the school band held tryouts. Hundreds of candidates fresh out of their secondary school music programs were tested to see if they had the chops to be members of one of the most prestigious music schools in the state of Georgia. The program let in 250 across all academic levels. Among them, only an elite one-hundred got to march the field to represent the school during half-time shows and nationwide competitions. It wasn’t just great for college elective credit. Being part of Goldsdale’s Marching 100 was said to be a doorway to all sorts of musical opportunity.

Harmony made it through three test stages, not just surviving but thriving above her peers. At that point, Rachel was yet another judge, a snooty upperclassman with no regard for the souls being tested with hours of exhaustive musical rigor before her. The lack of recognition was even enough to sour Harmony’s eventual acceptance as one of only twenty freshman to make the band. It came in an unmarked, dollar store envelope, typed in haste, and left on the bulletin board outside the southern building. Rachel hadn’t even signed off on it the way other section leaders had. Harmony’s recommendation came from Andrew Pine, the second chair trumpet player and Chris’s childhood friend.

Harmony’s phone buzzed in her hand. The bright blue screen read “Dad”. Like things could get any worse.

She dampened the lock key on the side of her device, silencing it. Her father was the minister of a nondenominational church in her hometown. All through childhood, he’d inspired and encouraged Harmony’s love of music with his own. Each time he called, a cord tightened around Harmony’s chest. Because no matter how much daddy wanted his daughter to love music with her everything, he never approved of her going to college for it. “I don’t want my daughter whoring herself out like those other female musicians,” he would say. Or, “Of all the musicians out there, only a tiny percentage make it big. You can count the most popular artists on your fingers! If you aren’t a superstar, you’re scraping by and I don’t want my daughter on the street — or worse, coming back home with a bunch of student debt and no job to pay for it!”

Barely enough time to leave a voicemail later, he called back. The conversation couldn’t be avoided.

Harmony swiped right this time, her screen going green as she raised her phone to her ear. No sooner than having said “Hi, dad,” did Harmony feel the crushing weight of pressure on her to succeed in college. It didn’t matter how mean Rachel had become, nor how vehement her antics. Rachel could call her fat, smelly, and inept. Rachel could make her run laps or play the same song fifteen times on repeat.

Harmony just had to succeed in music. It was the only way to prove her father wrong.

Unmounting the backseat, making sure her payment was accepted in the student shuttle app, Harmony went to the door of Chris’ apartment. “I’m just tired, Dad. Nothing’s wrong. Yea, uh-huh. My grades are good — I even have a tutor. No dad, it’s a girl. I met her in. . . O-oh. Okay. Mhmm.”

The door opened for her and a yellow glow consumed her shadow. A ridiculously charming man with a boyish face and meticulous but messy hair was the only shield against the wall of heat and the aroma of of a handmade meal. bursa escort

“Hey, sexy-. . .”

A ghastly fake cough wrangled Harmony’s vocal chords. She showed Chris the whites in her eyes and mouthed the identity of the person on the line.

“Sorry, dad! I might be getting sick after all. I’ll go lay down right now. Yes, I’ll get Penny to make me some hot tea. Yes, I’ll tell her you said hello. Can’t wait to see you guys for Homecoming. . . ‘kay. Alright, love you too. Bye.”

Her father hung up first. Harmony was left in the cold. Chris stood obedient, observing two feet of space between them with a level of care that was stretching Harmony’s final nerve.

“My bad,” he said as he stroked the thin hair at the base of his neck. It pushed the hill of his bicep higher and stretched his white T-shirt over his hard chest. “We need some kind of sign language so that doesn’t happen again.”

Harmony sighed, shrugging her saxophone off her shoulder. Chris took it, his apron ruffling as he brought it aside so Harmony could pass through the doorway. Instead of passing him by, though, Harmony ran her boyfriend down and slammed the door behind her with the angst of a teenager.

Her shortened nails dug into the angled pectoral muscles. She felt a familiar fluttering high, and it reminded her of how she needed to take out her frustrations on something solid.

“You look hungry,” he flashed teeth that must have cost a fortune in dental visits.

“Starving, actually,” Harmony answered. She dragged her right hand over his body.

“So you should eat. Then I’ll call Penny and get her to make you that tea you wanted.”

Very unfunny. Harmony’s father still suspected she was living with the roommate he’d left her with on orientation day. If he knew that his innocent, precious daughter was sleeping in the same bed with an older man who she couldn’t keep her hands off of, she just might be uprooted from University entirely. Chris didn’t get that. He hated living a lie and wouldn’t shut up about wanting to meet Harmony’s parents. It was yet another tightrope she had to walk; keeping her conservative father believing she was still a virgin while having enough sex to distract Chris from making a fool out of himself.

It was a diplomatic move.

“I don’t need tea. I’m not sick, unless you count how sick I am of seeing you with a shirt on. What did I tell you about that?” Harmony balled the thin white tee in her fists. She grinned devilishly when Chris shivered. “I don’t care how cold it is. If I’m home, you need to keep your abs in my line of sight. Them’s the rules, cowboy.”

“And what happens if Sheriff Harmony catches my abs covered?”

“That’s hard time behind bars, sonny. Don’t make me get the handcuffs.”

Chris was touching Harmony’s waist till she slammed him against the wall. Then, his hands roved with a caress softer than any man had a right to northward to where Harmony was plush and abundant. They tended to get in her way and inspired a heap of fat shaming from Rachel, so Harmony didn’t care much about the well-formed endowments perched on her chest. From what she could tell, the bosomy bombshell phase of culture was on the decline anyway, being uppended by the age of girls posing for social media specifically to push out their glutes.

Chris liked them, though. And they did make Harmony feel like a dangerous sort of woman; a classic beauty that was only enjoyed by men of wealth and status.

“Now see here,” Chris threw on his thickest southern accent. For a Georgia boy like him, it was more like going back to his roots than impersonating anyone. “I ain’t spending a day in no slammer ‘less the sheriff does something ’bout the other injustice in this here town.”

“What might that be?” Harmony raised her arms, pulling her shoulder length copper curls away from her face.

Chris seized the opportunity by holding Harmony’s body like honeydew melons. “It’s true, my abs aren’t out. At least they’re easy to access, though. What about some certain other body parts? Especially the ones I can’t access with ease?”

Harmony shifted weight onto one leg, her hip jutting out on her other side. “I’m not hiding a thing, doll. They’re all yours.”

“I don’t like having to peel off your clothes to get to the fruit.”

Harmony blew a raspberry. “You love it. . .” Then she kissed him. Her eyes closed, and her body seemed to double in weight and malleability. When she leaned into him, she sank against him. Her torso specifically spread over the heaty washboard of his well-toned abdominals. “So do I.”

Chris lost his breath at her advance, but recovered and took her lip between his.

They remained mingled, pardoning themselves from dinner in favor of eating each other. Starting in the narrow walkway, their kiss developed further into fondling, groping, and greedy wrestling. On most nights, Harmony was kind enough to pretend that they both shared their sexual experiences.

But with the day she’d just had — dad’s old adages about musicians, Rachel standing in the gap between her and success — Harmony spared herself nothing. Chris was given no time of his own. When he’d stray, Harmony would correct him bitterly. A claw to his bare ass or teeth at his neck coaxed him to stay focused in his service.

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