The room fell silent. Mr. Schroeder, the Hawk, strode in and eyed the assembled students like a border collie sizing up the sheep. He flipped open a large music score on the director’s stand and pulled it toward him.
“All right, people, ‘Pomp and Circumstance.’ Let’s try to get it right for a change. You’ve got two weeks until graduation, the seniors won’t be here to carry you, and I don’t want to be embarrassed by your playing.” He raised his baton. “One, and two, and . . .”
After only a few measures, Cory knew it was off. The rhythm dragged, the brass was drowning out the woodwinds, and the whole thing sounded off pitch. The baton slammed down on the edge of the stand so hard Cory thought it would snap in two.
“Stop!” Mr. Schroeder’s face was red. “What’s wrong with you people? We’ve been at this for months now. Brass! If you’re going to blast us out of the room, at least do it in the right key.”
He descended the podium and walked past Cory to the back row. Waves of frustration radiated off him. He stabbed his baton at the sheet of music in front of one of the trumpet players. The kid’s face was as red as his wavy hair.
“Here, Mr. Ryan. It says right here, key of G. Let’s hear it. Trumpets only.”
The Hawk stood, arms folded. Cory placed the bell of her clarinet on her knee and clutched it to her body. She prayed the trumpets would get it right this time, watching as the terrified redhead raised the instrument to his lips.
The loud, sour notes wafted through the band room and escaped out the open windows.
All at once there was an enormous crash, followed by complete silence. The trumpet players held their instruments inches from their lips, mouths open. Liam Ryan was lying on his back on the floor with his trumpet still clasped in one hand, the music stand on top of him. Everyone stared. Nobody moved. They had all seen Mr. Schroeder smash the back of the stand in a fury, sending Liam Ryan, startled, over backward on his chair.
“Well, get up, you idiot,” the director snarled. “I’ve told you all a million times not to tip back in your chairs.”
“You pushed him!” Cory was on her feet.
Mr. Schroeder swung around to face her. “I didn’t push him,” he barked, then zeroed in on her. “Sit down, Miss Iverson.”
Behind him, the other trumpet players scrambled to help Liam up. Cory’s legs were shaking. Mr. Schroeder had her locked in his bird-of-prey stare.
“Sit down, I said!”
Cory remained standing. She felt a hundred eyes on her, watching. She looked over to Kevyn and saw a faint smile. Mr. Schroeder marched toward her, drawn in by her defiance like a heat-seeking missile. Sweat broke out under her arms. Her hand itched for a crop—she knew what to do with a dominant horse that tried to invade her space and threaten her—she’d back him off with a smart tap of her whip. Mr. Schroeder was in her personal space now, too close. She could see the gray hairs in his dark moustache and the tiny red veins that snaked along the tip of his nose. His voice was steady and low.
“You sit down now or I’ll throw you out. And don’t you ever—”
“You hit a student!” The words flew out of her.
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