Cast of Thousands, chapter 22

They separated to change. Jess tingled with the hope and joy of making a new friend. She whizzed through her clothes and took off for Chorus, afraid of pushing her luck with Mo by hanging around her too much. She lingered in the multi-purpose room, staring at the soda machine and fantasizing about buying a Yoo- Hoo just to see how it tasted. She almost never had sodas at home, and especially not sugary milky fake-chocolate ones.

Reluctantly, she crossed the room and went to Chorus. That class was a real buzz-kill. The girls behind her didn't try too much today, but she spent the whole time waiting for them to start something.

The three of them were busy gossiping about some other girl they knew who already had a boyfriend. "Oh my gawd, she is such a slut," one of them was saying. "Like, he totally only wants her because he thinks she's going to put out."

"Do you think she's gonna?" another one gasped.

"Like... whatever. I don't even care, she is such a skank. I think it's just sad."

Jessica listened to this with half an ear, wondering in the back of her mind whether they actually thought someone their age was going to have sex with some twelve-year-old little boy. Or vice versa. They sounded like every parent's idea of a good public service announcement for abstinence.

Finally the class was called to order and music handed out. They had been practicing a medieval round for the past week. At the teacher's command, they all creaked lugubriously through the dirge. "Ah poor bird, take thy flight, far above the soo-oo-rows of this sad night. Ah poor bird, take they flight...."

The song might have been pretty if it had been performed by actual singers. Their sopranos were shrill, and the baritones sounded like they were mumbling. Everyone in the middle, Jessica included, just creaked rustily through it.

"That was terrible! You're not paying attention. Melanie, put that book away, and you three, stop talking and start singing with the rest of us!"

They tried it again, with slightly more success. The teacher sighed. "I never thought I'd say this about this song, but let's take it a little faster this time. Come on, everyone, pick up the pace!" She smacked the podium with her pointer in rhythm to the words. "AH poor BIRD, take thy FLIGHT. Not 'aaaaah poooooor biiiiiiird, taaake thy fliiiight.' Try it again."

Everyone gasped the song out in staccato bursts in their efforts to comply with these orders. Jessica personally thought that Ms. McFarland should know better than to give such emphatic examples to a class of literal-minded seventh-graders. They were now singing, "AH! Poor BIRD!! Take thy FLIGHT!!"

Ms. McFarland rubbed her forehead tiredly. "Better. That was better."

The rest of the hour went much the same way. Jessica enjoyed herself more when they moved to songs that had already been well-rehearsed, which didn't sound good but at least didn't stop every few minutes for correction. She could sing freely that way, and her voice got more or less lost in the crowd so it was unlikely that the girls above her would pick on her about that. As the school day ended, Jessica ran outside humming snatches of medieval madrigals under her breath, and found her mother hanging out in the old truck she used for hauling furniture around, kicked back with her heels on the dashboard, blasting country music.

Jessica said teasingly, "Mo-om, you're embarrassing me!" and climbed in.

"Wouldn't be doing my job if I weren't." Joyce turned the engine on and pulled out of the parking lot. "So how was school?"

"Uh...." Jess looked blank.

Joyce laughed. "You can't have forgotten already! You just came from there!"

"My secretary will have to get back to you on that," Jess said in professional tones. "Why do you have the truck? Did you sell something?"

"Yep," Joyce said with some satisfaction. "Place in Dixon took a desk and gave me an order for three more."

"Yay Mom!" Jess cheered.

They parked in the driveway of their little house. Leaping through the kitchen door, Jessie sang loudly, "Ah poor BIRD! Take thy FLIGHT! Far above the SOOORROWS of this sad NIGHT." She punctuated the words with bounds up the stairs. Missy flattened herself against the ground, running for cover.

Chapter 23?