Left, Right, Left (p. 1)

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Erin Borchardt came to Tuesday's practice on crutches. She strode awkwardly but deliberately through the door of the music room, refusing to admit her unease at walking with a broken leg. Kevin Henning turned away from her. He did not want to be reminded of the incident that had injured the drum major that past Friday. Of course, trying not to think about it only brought back a vivid recollection of the trouble he had gone through to smuggle St. Stephen's Academy's flag out of their stadium after Erin fell.

Kevin turned his attention to his instrument - a trombone that was, according to the label he had recently attached to the case, a piece of crap. As usual, the slide needed oil. He had trouble remembering why he had decided to buy an instrument of his own, when the school's trombone still worked fine. Just when he had finally gotten a lifeguarding job, he had saddled himself with another financial commitment in the form of trombone bills. He could see ten movies with what one month's installment cost him. Maybe there had been a time when he thought band was loads of fun.

"Hey, Kev, you should try some of this stuff. It works better than regular slide oil."

Kevin turned to see Jeremy, a senior and fellow trombonist, holding out a small bottle of bright blue liquid.

"No thanks."

Kevin looked up to see what instructions Erin was writing on the blackboard. In thin capitals, the message read, "PRACTICE TODAY ON FIELD. BRING INSTRUMENTS AND MUSIC FOR BIG BAND SHOW." Kevin groaned. Since Erin didn't have to play the songs in the field show, she had decided to include "Take The A Train," "Straight, No Chaser," "Sister Sadie," and "Sing, Sing, Sing" in a single show. Though they may be jazz classics, they were not meant for the ability level of the Slate Hill High School Marching Band.

Erin was putting the finishing touches on a pair of exclamation points, her blond head bobbing sharply as she rammed the dots into the board. A wispy brunette, clearly broadcasting her freshmanhood by the protective way she clutched her clarinet, was waiting by Erin's side.

"So -- are you okay?" she asked.

"Sure. I just slipped on the wet grass after the game at St. Stephen's on Friday. Now let's get going. It's five after already, and we need to practice."

Kevin opened the spit valve on his trombone. There was a bit more to the story than Erin let on. She had been conducting the Alma Mater before the game began when they noticed that the St. Stephen's band had begun to play the "Hey Song." She had suggested that the Slate Hill band revenge itself for that show of disrespect by claiming some serious band booty - specifically, the large purple "ST. STEPHEN'S" flag that flew over the stadium. It only took them a few minutes to circle around the stadium after the game and lower the flag. But in escaping, Erin slipped on the wet grass. Kevin had smuggled the flag back to Slate Hill while Erin headed to the medics.

"Hey, Kevin," called Erin. "Can you get the podium for me?"

Kevin stuck his instrument into Erin's helpfully outstretched hand and lifted the aluminum podium from its place against the wall. "First you make me carry your flag, and now the podium," he muttered.

"They were so cocky the whole game," Erin explained. "They think just because they pay however many thousand dollars a year to go there they can be jerks to us. They deserved it."

"Yeah, they definitely did." Kevin didn't have a problem with stealing his dignity back from St. Stephen's. But it irritated him that that dignity went hand in hand with the honor of the Slate Hill band.

Most of the band was already out among the weathered blue yard lines that turned the student parking lot into the Marching Band practice field. A clot of girls - mostly freshmen - had formed around the 45, discussing which Backstreet Boy was the cutest. The percussion section was dodging among their drums as they tossed a football back and forth. Rachel wandered around the sideline, playing Star Wars music on the fiberglass sousaphone.

Looking at her limp black hair and the heavy stance required by her instrument, Kevin wondered what had ever possessed him to ask Rachel to Homecoming the previous year. Among the tittering freshmen on the 45 he caught sight of the long-faced junior flautist who had been his girlfriend for the three months leading up to Easter. And standing in her place two steps off the 40 was the blond tenor saxophonist who had shot him down on the first day of band camp. Those three constituted his entire romantic history. That was, he realized, incredibly pathetic.

One car was left in the lot - a striking red Camaro. Kevin noted, with some surprise, that the blond, athletically built individual climbing into the driver's seat was his old friend Matt Rowley. He remembered spending many a Junior High afternoon at Matt's house, playing Nintendo and filming a hilarious version of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street."

"Hey, Matt!" Kevin called.

Someone sitting in the car commented derisively, "I heard the Marching Band stole a flag from St. Stephen's." Matt laughed once, slammed the door, and revved his engine. The Wu-Tang Clan began to shake the Camaro's walls as Matt pushed his way through the Backstreet Boys discussion group.

Erin caught up as Kevin set the podium at its place at the intersection of the 50-yard line and the sideline. He took his trombone from her hand and walked away.

"Set to the top of 'Sister Sadie,'" she announced, clunking her crutches up onto the platform atop the podium. The percussionists shuffled to their places and shrugged on their drum harnesses. The discussion at the 45 broke up more slowly, each girl trying to get in the last word. Kevin stationed himself in his spot next to Jeremy.

"Band to a ten-hut!" snapped Erin as she negotiated the podium steps. A halfhearted and disjointed reply of "hut" rose from the band as a few stragglers leaped into their spots in the giant bow-tie formation.

Erin sighed. "On Friday, this was the number where I saw the most problems. I realize it's a tough piece, and it's weird being at another school's field, but there were some of you who were way out of step, and the front part of the gate maneuver at measure 24 was pretty sloppy.

"I think we can do a much better job this week when West Mountain comes here. They're our archrival, so we need to put on a good show. I'll be counting on all of you. So let's try this. Band, horns up!"

Jeremy's trombone snapped up into playing position on Erin's cue. Kevin's followed, with a distinct jostle and flop of flip folder pages. He was one of a handful of people who hadn't memorized the music for the big band show yet.

"One, two, three, four!" cried Erin, and the band lurched into motion. Penciled-in notes on the music instructed Kevin to move backward, collapsing the bowtie into a straight line. Rachel was right next to him in this formation, filling his ear with loud bass notes. As the band shifted into a V shape, Jeremy dashed out to the 50-yard line for his solo.

With the sousaphone to his right and the quad toms behind him, Kevin doubted he would be able to lose the beat. But the other band members were not so fortunate. The raspy notes that reached Kevin's ears indicated that Jeremy was lagging behind, and pulling the trumpets with him. Kevin sighed and went back to thinking of creative ways that he could kill Horace Silver for having written this song, provided he wasn't already dead.

Then Kevin saw Erin waving her arms exasperatedly. He lowered his trombone. Soon everyone else quit playing as well. "You need to watch me!" Erin scolded. "I heard two different tempos going on in that section. Jeremy, you keep dragging in the solo, which is getting everybody else off the beat. You did on Friday, too."

"Maybe Kevin could play it," offered Jeremy. "Those sixteenth note runs keep messing me up."

"We can try it that way. Kevin, are you okay with the solo in this one?"

"No, not really."

"Why not?" asked Jeremy. "I heard you play it during band camp. You were the one who finally figured out that weird rhythm four before 48."

"Come on, Kevin, I know you're a solid player. The solo section in this piece really needs someone to hold it together."

"So you want me?" The compliment didn't really flatter Kevin. It only reminded him of the time he had wasted alone in his room playing scales and etudes.

Erin smiled. "Come out and take charge. Be a leader!"

Kevin didn't want to be the vital link in the band. But he looked down and saw that his feet were moving toward the 50-yard line. He couldn't think of a way to decline Erin's request, so he gave a deep nod of assent. Erin sighed, relieved.

"You need to watch the people around you," instructed Erin. "Remember, if you're right and everybody else is wrong together, then you're wrong."

She looked down at Kevin. "Don't try to be fancy about it. Just play what's written and watch my hands."

Kevin ripped through the solo section, making up in volume what he lost in accuracy. He could feel his tempo pulling at the band, wrestling with the one Erin was dictating to the rhythm section.

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