1: off beat
Sid stood rooted to the lawn and considered that this might be the worst idea in the history of Edwards High School. Okay, maybe not in the whole school’s history. But definitely in hers.
The house before her throbbed with an insistent bass beat, an umbilical cord of sound that wouldn’t release her. When the open windows began to pump out a wicked drum solo, Sid groaned quietly and took a hesitant step forward, drawn by the pulse.
Why had she let Taylor bully her into this? He’d said that all the guys from The Fourth Down were going to be here and it was her best chance out of school to tell them she wanted to be their drummer. She’d argued it was going to be a jock party. Beer guzzling, muscle-flexing jocks with cheerleader girlfriends in micro-minis and skimpy tops. “Yeah,” Taylor had sighed. “I wish I could go. Live it for both of us, Sid. It’s gonna be a blow-out.”
So here she was. But instead of being eager to join the throng inside, she gaped at the shadows moving across the windows.
Someone bumped her shoulder as he brushed by. He half turned, then pointed at Sid’s T-shirt. “In Flames. What’s that? How you’re going down tonight?” He burst into laughter, apparently overcome by his own wit, and walked away. Stumbled, actually, beer bottle in hand. Sid managed to offer him a half-hearted sneer.
The music melted into a sickly pop tune with no beat to speak of. It made Sid’s feet want to pound out a retreat. But the chance to talk to the guys in the band kept her in place. She stuffed her hands in her cargo pockets and mentally began to gather her courage.
A black wall materialized in front of her. She looked up to see Narain grinning. “Hey, Sid. You look ready to bail. Taylor warned me you might.”
That did it. She was out of here. She gave a smile that was all grimace and tried to step around him. He showed why he was a great basketball guard, sidestepping to block her again. Before she could feint past him, he grabbed her shoulders, turned her around and began marching her toward the party house.
“I don’t know why I’m friends with you and Tay. Let me go, you thug,” Sid said. “Just because you’re taller than me doesn’t mean you can push me around.”
“I’m doing it for your own good, Sid. Come on. Not only is TFD inside, but I heard that someone is interested. You know you’ll regret it if you don’t find out who it is.”
Sid barely refrained from rolling her eyes. “Why don’t you just tell me who it is?”
“‘I don’t know. I heard it from someone who heard it from someone.”
Sid dug in her heels and brought them both to a stop. “Didn’t you ever play that gossip game in elementary? You know, someone whispers something, it goes around the circle and always ends up way different from that first whisper. I’m going to walk in that house and find out there is no someone.”
“Sure there is. I trust my source.”
Sid glared up at her friend. “You can never trust a snitch.”
Narain laughed. His teeth flashed white in his milk chocolate face. “You’re scared.”
“Do you blame me? That’s a houseful of jocks. They tackle things for fun.”
“You swing the meanest hammer in carpentry class. They’re the ones who should be scared.”
A snort escaped out Sid’s nose. This time she did roll her eyes. “Fine. I’ll go in. But if I don’t find the band, secret admirer or not, I’m leaving without you.”
Narain grinned. “Lelah is probably already there, waiting for me to dance her off her feet, so I can’t say I’d notice you leaving anyway, especially if there’s a slow song playing.”
Sid hit him on the shoulder. “Jerk.”
The sprawling house was set deep in a large lot, and the noise didn’t start getting loud until they were halfway up the long sidewalk. Which was likely why no neighbours had called the cops. When Narain opened the door, the music and voices rolled over them. People were shouting to be heard. Narain didn’t try to compete. Instead he motioned for Sid to take a walk around. She nodded, suddenly feeling too tongue-tied to talk, even if she wanted to. Narain wedged his way through a cluster of laughing guys on his way to the makeshift dance floor in what looked to be a dining room with the table pushed to the side.
Sid tried to scope the place. She wasn’t short, but 5’6″ wasn’t tall enough to see anything in this crowd. A slow song wafted from the dance floor. No doubt as to what Narain was doing now. Sid sighed and moved down a hallway that seemed to separate the two halves of the house. She recognized a few faces from her classes, a few more from the sports team portraits she’d seen in the school paper, but no one she ever talked to beside Narain. Where would the band members hang out? Rocklin, the leader, was a football player. Was the party segregated by sports teams?
Half a dozen giggling girls tumbled out of a bathroom and forced Sid up against the wall. They didn’t notice, turning to wave at some guys near the front door. Off to the left somewhere, the chant of “Chug, chug, chug,” made Sid wonder where the cameras were. This was the kind of high school party you saw in movies; they weren’t supposed to really happen.
The doorway the chanting had come from was completely clogged. Rocklin was tall but even on her tiptoes Sid didn’t spot him inside. She thought she glimpsed Wes Remichuk, which was reason enough to look elsewhere. The hallway reeked of beer. She kept inching toward the back of the house, hoping now to find some fresh air. She glanced down a hallway to what looked to be bedrooms, and veered the other way.
Shrieks caused the crowd around Sid to surge toward an open door, carrying her along. She stumbled onto a stone patio. Her eyes widened at the sight of girls jostling each other and falling, fully clothed, into a kidney-shaped pool while guys stood beside the water and hooted. No doubt hoping some of the girls weren’t wearing bras.
Someone walked by and pushed a beer into Sid’s hands. She almost dropped it before her fingers found a grip. The bottle felt like a shield. If she held it, no one would push anything else at her. Last September, she and Taylor had renewed their vow to not be stupid about booze. Taylor’s cousin had been killed by a drunk driver, so he was kind of touchy on the subject. Sid figured she drummed better when her head was clear.
Where was the band? Or the guy who was supposedly interested? She leaned against the wall under a motion-sensor light and studied the group by the pool, thankful none of the ooglers looked her way. No one looked her way. Was she invisible?
Maybe she’d dressed wrong. Any of the girls she’d seen were wearing jeans and tight tops, some with midriffs showing. No band T-shirts. But I like In Flames. Daniel Svensson is an awesome speed drummer.
Feeling more than ever that she didn’t belong at this party, Sid swung around the empty side of the pool. From the patio, three steps led down to a long stretch of grass. Sid settled on the middle step and set the beer bottle between her sneakers. She needed to think, to figure out how to find the band in that chaos. Was it too much to hope that they might show up on the patio? As for Mr. Interested … He could find her or not, it was up to him.
She took a sip of beer and wrinkled her nose at the taste. Behind her, a guy whooped. This was followed by a massive splash. The girls screamed some more — why didn’t they just get out? — and a guy shouted that they should all skinny dip. This suggestion was met with yells of “You do it,” and “We need more beer!”
Talking to Rocklin in school was looking better and better. The strains of a Metallica song floated out from the house. Sid tapped her knee to the beat.
A foot scrapped on stone, just behind Sid. Mr. Interested? Her fingers froze, then lowered to grip her knee. Don’t look nervous, she thought, but her grip didn’t loosen. Someone in shorts that topped impossibly long legs sat beside her. Smooth, hairless legs.
A slightly husky voice said, “I’m glad you came.”
Sid turned her head. She knew that slender face, straight blond hair that was usually tied in a pony tail but tonight hung loose. Volleyball team. Sid searched her memory for a name. Joanne. That was it. She offered a smile. “Yeah. I heard someone was looking for me …” She glanced over her shoulder, expecting to see some shy guy hanging back.
Joanne’s look softened. “I thought you knew. It was me.”
Sid struck her crash cymbal. Hard. Clang-ang-ang!
She had practiced quietly for over an hour, covering the rudiments, but now she vented her feelings in a storm of sound. Under her touch, the drums released a wild rhythm that vibrated through the air, through her skin, through her bones into her core. She played by instinct, every solo she’d ever practiced mixing and sifting and sliding into new variations.
Devin would have known how to handle that party last night, how to play it cool. All she had wanted was to let Rocklin know she’d like to try out as The Fourth Down’s new drummer. Those guys were the suns of cool and everyone else revolved around them. With his basketball skills, Narain was closer to the centre; she was more like Neptune, on the outskirts but given the nod. (How much of that was because everyone knew she was Devin’s sister?) Today she felt as rejected as Pluto, downgraded by experts, no longer a planet.
Her drum kit wasn’t big, only five pieces plus cymbals; she knew where each drum was without looking so she played with her eyes slitted, the drums vague shadows in her vision. The sound rose, fell, rose again. Each phrase longer and more intense, until there was no ebb — nothing but the thunder of the bass, the rattle of the toms punctuated by cymbal crashes. Her arms ached. She kept drumming.
The rhythm consumed her. Seeped from the earth, through the basement and the soles of her feet. Surged through her hands. She was the beat’s instrument—
A towel hit Sid in the face. She almost fell off her throne. Her foot jerked forward to restore balance, striking the bass drum pedal. A single boom echoed through the room.
Sid breathed hard. She laid her sticks on the snare drum, plucked the towel off her lap, wiped the sweat from her eyes and peered at Taylor. “What’re you doing? You scared the crap out of me.”
More sweat dripped into her eyes. She wiped it away, then toweled her hair. She could feel a tiny rivulet running down her spine and rubbed the back of her T-shirt. The movement made her realize how sore her arms were.
Taylor stood in the middle of the room with his hands shoved in the pockets of his leather jacket and shook his head slowly.
“What?” she snapped.
“That was really .. intense. I don’t know if it was music, but it sure was intense.”
“What’s that? Your word of the day?”
He grinned. “Sure. So what’s on your mind that has you so intense? Or should I say tense?”
The tone was serious but the grin balanced it, made the question less of a threat. Sid stepped from behind her drums and flung herself on the old green sofa that hunkered between the only two windows in the room. Her dad had added storm windows on the outside hoping to muffle the sound of her drums so their neighbour didn’t complain.
She laid her forearm across her eyes and thought about his question.
“Does it have anything to do with the party last night? Wish I could’ve gone. Family gigs are boring. Narain said he walked with you into the house but lost track of you after that.”
“He only had eyes for Lelah.”
“Ha! True. Did you get to talk to one of the guys from TFD?”
“No. I couldn’t even find them.”
“Then why? Wait, let me guess. Did some Mr. Mysterious want to hook up?”
Sid heard the grin in his voice. “No. But Ms. Mysterious did.” No response to that. Sid kept her arm firmly in place. It was easier to talk in the dark. “She thought I was gay because I … hit things. I’d never thought of carpentry and drumming as hitting things. I’d been so pumped up to get to talk to the band that it threw me. I brushed her off and left.” ‘Threw’ – hah. The incident had freaked her out, but she wasn’t going to tell anyone that.
Taylor still didn’t respond. She rolled onto her side and tucked her arm under her head. Taylor now sat cross-legged on the hideous red shag rug that she could never talk her dad into replacing. With elbows on knees, he propped his chin on folded hands. His expression was blank. His expression was never blank. Guys always tried to get him to play poker because his face was so easy to read. Fortunately for him and his cash, he knew it.
She propped herself up on her elbow. “You don’t seem surprised that some volleyball chick thought I might want to date.”
“What do you want me to say, Sid?”
“Do you think I’m gay?”
“Does it matter?”
“I guess not, but why do people think I should be? Why do you think I should be?”
“I don’t know. You just aren’t interested in, you know, girl stuff. Any girl stuff. You don’t even have any friends who are girls.”
Sid glanced down at her band T-shirt and baggy cargoes. Girl stuff. Did Taylor mean clothes and makeup and all that? What was wrong with the way she dressed? It was the same way Devin dressed. And it wasn’t like she had a mom around to teach her. “So? Girls are interested in all sorts of things. It’s like how Narain says that sometimes people will be surprised he doesn’t have an accent because they think he looks like he should. Well, I should be able to dress or act any way I want without someone deciding it means something it doesn’t.”
Taylor’s expression rippled with uncertainty. He straightened and shrugged. “No big deal, Sid. Now Ms. Mysterious knows you’re not interested.”