Cotton candy can come right before betrayal.
Here’s how in Part Two of “East and West.” (Click here to see Part 1 in a previous post.)
Rachel, the clarinet player I’d been hanging out with since Ally dropped me, said we should go to the concessions to grab some fries during the third quarter when the band knocked off playing and Mr. Toonis let us roam.
After we made it through to the snaking line for grandstand food, I couldn’t help myself and went for the cotton candy, longing for that sugar spun into great swaths of pink-colored air. Always pink. I didn’t ever go for the blue cotton candy. It didn’t seem right for sugar to become blue.
Rachel got her fries and we settled into our individual greasy and sugary goodness when Ally walked up, flanked by her new cheerleader friends.
“Still like the pink, don’t you, Hannah?”
It was awful, I thought, awful to have someone who now hates me know all of my favorites. To know so many secrets it would be a cinch for Ally to crush me.
Was that why she talked to me now for the first time in months? To crush me? My hand shook as I tore off a small piece of cotton and folded the soft sugar into my mouth.
I couldn’t help but think sometimes about how close we used to be. How she would come over to my house every night. In the third grade, we played house and stay up half the night talking about nothing. Later, we told each other which boys made our hearts thump. She’d laugh at what I said about my screw-ups in algebra and then we’d get the giggles, laughing at her parents or my parents or her little sister. If they dared to stick their heads in to see what was so funny, we’d only laugh harder, not able to tell them. It felt like nothing would change us.
Last week, I woke in a sweat after the wildest dream on the planet. I never had dreams that left me shaking before. Since Ally started hating me, I did.
In the weirdo dream about the Russian mafia, I was in the old house—the one on the hill where I had my best memories. Before moving to the valley. Before dad lost his job and we downsized from the place near the lake to a two bedroom in downtown Alderton.
Anyway, in the dream I never saw Ally. We were packing up, leaving the house forever and giving it to some other family who could afford it. My parents had left me to clean while they took my little brother to make one last load to the rental.
This part of the dream was exactly like the way it played out in the history of my life. It sucked. But it felt good to have the cleaning, boxing, and hauling almost over.
In real life, I picked up the house phone I always thought Mom and Dad should have gotten rid of. We all had cell phones. What was the point?
“Yeah, so I’ve been thinking about it, Hannah.” Ally sounded a little surprised I picked up as if she hoped to leave a voicemail I might never get. She hadn’t talked to me at school really for weeks. Just a wave hello and then she would move off with her other friends.
“I really can’t come to your party tomorrow,” she went on. “My mom checked out Blueberry Park, and it’s a little too scary for us. She saw a vagrant there once.”
“Oh. Okay,” I said. My heart was hitting the inside of my chest. Maybe it sounds dumb but this was the moment I knew our friendship was over. Ally had made all of my birthday parties since I was two. Of course, I’d never had one at a public park before. We’d always been at the private park on the lake. “Talk to you later then, I guess.”
“Yeah. Have a good birthday,” Ally said.
For a long space after she hung up, I stood there holding the phone until that nasty beeping started in like it happens with those things that still have a cord to the wall. I put the phone back where it belonged.
Now, I looked at Ally standing over me at this football game and felt a sort of scream building. Except Ally had a new kind of expression on her face—one I hadn’t seen in a long time. She looked happy to see me.
“Well? You do like the pink, don’t you?” Ally reached out and hugged me. Hugged me. I stood now between her and the two larger cheerleaders with blue and white pom-poms hanging at their sides. It wasn’t hard to be bigger than Ally. My dad used to say she was only 85 pounds soaking wet. At 5’6’, I had to reach down a little to give her a small squeeze back while I tried to shut my hanging-open mouth.
Rachel got pushed out to the side, and I could just make out her hats over the top of the other girls. I could also hear her fiddling with her clarinet keys like she does when she is extra nervous. The sound made me want to stay with the cheerleaders, far from the band world. I held onto my trumpet a little harder, knowing it would be stupid to try to hide it behind my back.
I didn’t want to be embarrassed about being in the band or happy about Ally’s attention. I wanted to stand straight and tell my one-time friend to shove off while stomping back to Rachel and holding my head high.
But I didn’t. Something sad and needy inside me made me feel like a puppy who had been ignored for a long time and finally now got a pat on the head. I felt ready to follow Ally around anywhere she would lead me if I could only have a moment in the light of her attention. My straight-A brain knew I was fooling myself, but my stupid heart couldn’t stop reaching out to Ally.
So I let the girls mess with my trumpet and try to make any sort of sound. They giggled when I showed them how to hold their lips and make a sort of raspberry. Then they took turns spitting into the mouthpiece I’d worked two summer jobs to pay for.
While they did that, I hardly noticed Ally had me by the arm and was walking me somewhere else. It was too late by the time I realized what was happening. They had me flanked and locked in when we reached the East drum major.
“We brought her for you, Michael!” said Tiffany, the tallest one, bouncing on her heels and making the cheerleader skirt flip up.
“Yeah. It was easy.” Ally let go of my arm and looked over into my eyes, the disdain easy to see again. It felt like that phone call in the old house all over again.
I wanted to run but couldn’t picture how to elbow my way past the pack of smooth legs standing firm around me, waiting for the Michael guy to say something.
“Hey,” said Michael. The boy I had been duped into meeting stood about an inch taller than me. He didn’t have a strong build but his face looked kind under the chocolate-colored hair he obviously swept back from his forehead whenever he stopped in at the mirror. I wondered if he could possibly be serious about talking to me while I was trapped between the Glee Club and a girl who hated me enough to pretend to like me.
“Hey,” I said back, not believing how ridiculous it all was–shame making me want to dig a hole right under myself with my own trumpet for a shovel.
“Oh, yeah. Those two are marriage material. For sure,” said Ally. The whole pack of cheerleaders twittered at her wit.
Then, thank God, they moved off. I think they just wanted to make Sophia happy and had enough fun. Or something.
I stood rooted, not wanting to stay but also needing to wait for some distance from the pom-poms before moving safely back to my corner where I could find Rachel again. I wondered what she thought of me walking off with Ally and felt stabs of guilt. How stupid could I be?
“A Bach Stradivarius?”
Michael was talking to me again. He knew what kind of trumpet I had.
“Um, yeah,” I said and started to make my escape by stepping back and looking toward the West side of the stadium.
“My teacher says those are great, and that I should get one. I’m trying to save up to make Mr. Lyman happy.”
I turned back to look at this guy. He wasn’t built like one of the football guys smacking each other on the field below, but he held a power in the way he stood that pulled me toward him in spite of myself and even though my gut was still twisting from Ally.
“Mr. Lyman is your teacher?”
“Yeah. I take lessons from him. Since I was twelve.” He was fiddling with the keys of his trumpet now and clacking them rapidly without seeming to notice what he was doing. Just like Rachel did with her clarinet. It half annoyed me and half made me like him more.
I shook my head to clear it. If I let myself get into him, it would be letting Ally set me up with a nasty backstabbing trick complete with pom-pom carrying cheerleaders. I couldn’t handle that.
“Well, I should be going now,” I said now that those pom-poms were at least out of my sight.
“Did they trick you or something? I didn’t ask them to, you know.” He had stopped clacking the trumpet keys and looked me straight at me with green eyes that, I swear to God, almost made me swoon like the heroine in some stupid Bond movie or my Russian mafia dream. So, of course, I turned and looked another way. Better to dwell on Ally, I thought, than fall into some other sort of drama.
I stood for a while, not looking at him and taking in the atmosphere of another band. It wasn’t much different from what I’d find on my side of the football field. The teenaged kids with instruments on cold bleachers laughed and looked at the director on occasion just like we did over on the West side.
Maybe that’s when Ally and I started to part. Maybe it didn’t have so much to do with the money I didn’t have or how cool I wasn’t. Maybe it was when she quit band because I was always beating her at the first chair thing. Maybe that was it.
“Still thinking about those girls aren’t you?” Michael was talking to me again. I turned to see him standing next to me with his horn up to his mouth, ready to play Louie Louie, the song I had memorized down to the last eighth note and also the biggest earworm in the history of bands blasting at football games. “Play with us instead,” he said from the corner of his mouth right before he took a breath.
“I can’t stop wanting to be her friend,” I said, thinking he couldn’t hear me over the sound of the band as it ripped through the air. Thinking he was a little too observant and why was I talking to him at all.
He looked down at me instead of playing along. Leaning down, he said, “Then she’s always going to mess you up like this. Girls are that way.” He gave me one intense stare that made me not care at all about Ally. Then the guy on the other side of him jabbed him in the ribs and Michael picked up right where everyone else played right before the ‘yeah, yeah’ business of that stupid song.
“I’ll call you then!” I heard him shout as I walked off. How did he think he was going to manage that? Had Ally given him my number? Did she even know it anymore?
I caught myself walking back across the backside of the field toward Rachel and my own band half-fantasizing about getting together with him and then seeing Ally’s surprised face. Again, I thought the drama was over. I guess I forgot I was in high school.