Authors: Abby Cooper
After a quick snack stop, we got home and I went straight over to my stash of piano books and flipped through them. There were some songs I knew really well. I had played them sort of recently when my grandparents came to visit.
Mom came over and sat next to me on the bench.
“So what do you think?” she asked.
I thought it was a bad idea. I thought it was basically asking for more bad words, more itchiness, more gunky goop. But at the same time, I had come this far with the mystery-note writer. I had followed all the instructions, done all the hard things, and survived. And if there was a chanceâeven a teeny tiny, barely there chanceâthat this person could get me Explorer Leader, well, I couldn't really quit now, could I? Especially since Mr. Todd had made it official on the morning announcements what Nice Andy and I already suspectedâthat at the show he'd be revealing who made the next round. He probably wouldn't pick someone who didn't bother to show up.
“I'm going to do it. I'll sign up tomorrow.”
Mom's eyes welled up and she looked like she might cry. I couldn't tell if it would be a good cry or a bad cry. Maybe it was a scared cry. I felt a little like scared-crying myself.
The night of the show, I was a nervous wreck. My palms were so sweaty that I couldn't touch anything without leaving a disgusting liquid trail behind. My heart was lurchy like
, and it pounded so hard and so fast that I actually thought it was going to leap out of my body and do some laps around the room without me. And mixed with all of that was the terrible feeling that I was going to throw up or forget how to breathe or both at the same time.
“Hey,” Dad said as we piled into the car. My hands were shaking so much that he had to open my door and put on my seat belt for me like I was a little kid. “At least the weather's nice tonight. Not a cloud in the sky. That's gotta be a good sign, right?”
Mom squeezed his shoulder.
“Elyse is going to be great,” she said, more to Dad than to me.
He cleared his throat.
“Of course she is. No doubt in my mind. Who wants to listen to some smooth jazz?” He pushed the radio on.
“Are you okay, sweetie?” Mom asked.
“Sort of,” I said, practically choking on my own spit. I couldn't even say two words without feeling like my whole body was going to collapse. I glanced down at my lucky gold-star socks.
You can do it,
they told me. But they were not very convincing.
“It's going to be good, sweetie,” Mom said, reaching from the front seat to awkwardly grab my hand.
I held her hand for a second, but then I let go since I felt a little bad about getting my nasty, sweaty hand all over her clean mom hand. I guess she didn't care, though, because she reached for it again, and held it all the way until we got to school.
We paid, went in, and grabbed some spots near the middle of the crowd. I looked around for a friend, but Jeg was late (and I probably wouldn't sit with her anyway), and Olivia was sitting with all her siblings. Plus, a little tiny piece of me liked sitting close to a clean mom hand. Not that there was any way I was going to hold it at school or anything. But it was nice to know that it was there.
The auditorium had been decorated with signs. “Help us go to Minnesota!” one said in loopy writing. “Let's Explore More!” said another in small, nearly illegible writing. Another one asked in a bold green marker, “Who would be the best Explorer Leader?”
I thought. I would do a great job. I would plan the trip perfectly, and it would be organized, exciting, and fun. And I might even plan things I knew other people would enjoy, like talking about silly stuff and doing boring things.
I would probably call them something else on the schedule, though.
Based on the interview with Mr. Todd, it felt like my chances weren't great. But if I could do this showâand the note writer saw me, somehow, and could change Mr. Todd's mind before he made his announcementâthere was still hope.
All the posters with the past Explorer Leaders had been moved from the hallway into the auditorium. There was Cody again, and Jordan, and even more people from years and years and years ago. People from before I was alive. People from before color printing had been invented, even. People who were now famous, successful, and happy. And all because they got their start as Whitman Middle School's sixth-grade Explorer Leader. Each and every poster had compliments written around the pictures of the people, just like the ones I had already seen. To have a poster like that one dayâwith my picture and my compliments, to look back at forever and ever and everâwould be the best thing that could possibly happen.
Well, the best thing besides getting through this show without throwing up, that is.
The lights dimmed and my stomach did a thousand somersaults. Ms. Sigafiss went up on stage.
“As one of the sixth-grade teachers and the chair of the fund-raising show, I'd like to thank you all for coming tonight,” she said. “With your support, our sixth graders will be able to go on a fully funded three-day excursion to Minnesota this winter. We are still looking for interested chaperones, so please contact Mr. Todd if you're available. Without further ado, here are the people you came to see: our wonderful, amazing sixth graders!” She smiled so wide I thought she was going to break her face.
I whispered to Mom, “She never smiles like that. She's really an evil genius.”
Mom laughed. “Sure, honey.”
Mom patted my leg. I was starting to get really sick of people patting my leg all the time.
Jeg finally showed up and went straight to the stage, with Kevin following close behind. Jeg looked like she was ready to rock out while Kevin was dressed like he was going to play bingo with his grandparents. The crowd cheered like crazy.
“Summer lovin',” Jeg sang into the microphone, “had me a bla-ast!”
“Summer lovin',” Kevin sang, horribly off-key, “happened so fa-ast!” Kevin didn't seem to be bothered too much by the fact that he would never be a famous singer. He was laughing in between words, galloping in circles around Jeg, and doing crazy dance moves that didn't even come close to being actual dance moves. Jeg joined in, spinning in circles and finally ending the performance by jumping on Kevin's back. They struck a pose, and Jeg gave Kevin bunny ears behind his spiky black hair. The entire audience was hooting, even Dad.
I spotted Olivia in the crowd and we shared an eye roll and a shoulder shake. I don't know what show everyone else was watching, but whatever we had just seen was totally ridiculous. As I did a quick scan of the crowd, I noticed Liam in the very back row. He was looking at Kevin in the same I-want-to-be-you kind of way Jeg always looked at Snotty Ami.
“Those kids have major audacity,” Dad whispered to me. I didn't know exactly what audacity was, but it sounded like something Dad thought I should get.
A few flute players took the stage, which, from the program, meant I was next. It was time to get up there. Dad threw an arm around me and squeezed me close, his eyes twinkling. “See you when you get back. Love you.” It was pretty nice of him to say, I guess, but I couldn't shake the feeling that he didn't
know if I could do it. I didn't really know if I could do it, either.
I don't remember how I got to the stage. I was so nervous that I couldn't even feel my own body, couldn't feel my feet touching the floor, couldn't feel anything except for the butterflies in my stomach and the sweat drowning my hands. But somehow I got up to the front and I was there and my hands trembled and I thought they were going to fall right off my body and walk away, maybe go have ice cream. But they didn't.
I turned my attention away from the people, away from Ms. Sigafiss introducing me and Jeg staring blankly and Kevin whispering something to his friends and the Loud Crowd giggling and Nice Andy flashing me like ten thousand thumbs-up signs and Liam breathing and the lights going down and a hushed sound where people were quiet but they weren't really quiet because they were thinking about me in their minds, probably really bad, mean things, but it didn't matter because I was looking at the piano and the piano was looking at me and it said,
Chill, Elyse, chill and play, and only look at me, and play. And do it. Now.
And I took a deep breath, and I did it.
I, Elyse Everett, did it.
And when it was over, people stood up and clapped and cheered and hooted and hollered. And by people I mean real-live people who weren't my parents. Actual people! Relief flowed through my entire body. I could breathe again.
I did this!
“That was amazing!” Mom gushed as soon as I floated back to my seat next to her. “Honest to goodness, sweetie, that was the best I've ever heard you play that song.” She had tears in her eyes. “My baby. I'm so, so, so proud of you. It was incredible.” She hugged me until I was so squashed I was pretty much a human pancake.
Dad gave me a hug after Mom finally let go. “Nice job, kid.” He opened his mouth like he was going to say something else, too, but he zipped it right back up. But I didn't need him to say anything, because I could already feel the words springing up under my clothes.
AMAZING. INCREDIBLE. BRAVE.
(That last one was from my own brain.)
It was the weirdest feeling, after that. The show continued, and I watched, but it was different from before. I was actually part of it now. I clapped and cheered, even for the Loud Crowd's dance. I smiled at people. I was here. I wasn't sure, but maybe this was audacity. It felt a lot like happy.
At the very end of the show, Mr. Todd went up on stage and thanked everyone again for coming. Then he paused and I took a huge deep breath, because I knew what was coming after that pause. The room went dead silent. He said, “I want to take this opportunity to also thank and congratulate every student who interviewed with me for the Explorer Leader role, and I appreciated your patience as I went over my notes and gathered teacher recommendations. I know whoever leads our trip will do a wonderful job. Unfortunately, there can be only one, and we still need to narrow the playing field a little more. I want to congratulate the following students, who are moving forward to the next round. Please come up on stage when you hear your name so we can all give you a round of applauseâ¦”
I held my breath.
“Ami, JaShawn, Andy, andâ¦”
Please, please, please.
Nice Andy and I high-fived on our way up. The whole crowd clapped for us like we had already won whatever competition was coming next. With the bright lights shining down on me and the applause booming in my ears, I almost forgot that Snotty Ami was on the stage with me, probably making some snotty face and thinking of names she wanted to call me.
“Final challenge, Explorer Leader hopefuls,” Mr. Todd said with a giant grin. If principal-ing didn't work out, I was starting to think Mr. Todd might have a pretty solid future as a game show/reality TV host. “I'd like you each to create an activity you think would be fun for our trip. Write it outâin detailâand turn it in to me before winter break. May the best activity win. Thanks again for coming, all, and congratulations to our final four!”
I grinned into the audience, my brain already buzzing with ideas. Was the note writer out there? Had he or she seen my amazing performance? And seen how I'd made it to the final challenge? Maybe whoever it was actually knew what they were talking about, and now I really did have a chance at becoming Explorer Leader. At being a face on a poster that would be hung at fund-raising shows for years to come. At being someone people would love and admire and continue to love and admire long after the Explorer Leader-ing was over.
And even the smallest chance at all of this happening was better than what I had before the show. I'd take it.
What's up, lady? How's the future? I have to tell you, things have been looking up since the last time I wrote. Ever since the fund-raising show, I've been a doing dynamo. Something clicked, finally, and I actually did what I've been wanting to doâdo! And now I'm sort of acting like a normal human being!
I hope when you read this you'll still be doing stuff, because I have a lot of lost time to make up for. Here are the goals:
1. Start doing more stuff.
2. Eat lunch with people in the cafeteria.
3. Try to actually like Nice Andy for other reasons besides the free beef stew and string cheese.
4. Make an amazing activity, and convince Mr. Todd that I would make an excellent Explorer Leader (though, no, I am not blue, and I do not want to sit on that stupid couch).
5. Find out who's writing me the blue notesâand why. Here's what I'm thinking at the moment:
â¢ It has to be someone who knows I have CAV, because of all the this-will-make-you-feel-better lines.
â¢ It has to be someone at school, because that's where I get all the notes.
â¢ It has to be someone who has a TON of blue paper.
â¢ None of these clues really narrow it down much at all.
It must be so nice to be in the future. When you read this someday, you'll totally know who the note writer is, and probably the answers to all the other great mysteries of the universe, too. And don't worry about it or anything, but if you don't know who wrote the notes, I, Elyse of the Past, will be
mad at you.