Ian poked his head through the partially opened door, hoping to eavesdrop.
“Claire, I cannot continue as your son’s instructor.” Mr. Ashton’s voice was firm as he sat across from Ian’s mum.
“But… he needs to learn to play the piano.” She leaned forward, desperation pulling her shoulders together. “He seems to have a natural talent.”
“That’s why he needs to move. He’s already exceeded my ability.”
“Move? Move where?”
“I would suggest Manchester.” Mr. Ashton placed two brochures on the table. “Chorlton High School has an exceptional music program where Ian will have the finest instructors. They even have a recording studio on campus.”
“High school? He’s only eight years old!”
“Yes, I recommend Claremont Primary School in the interim.” He pointed to the second brochure. “They also have an excellent music program… although I’d contact the high school as soon as possible and find a private tutor.”
“Are you suggesting I drive an hour to take my son to school each day?” Her voice rose an octave by the end of her question.
“Or you could rent a flat and stay during the week.”
“That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard!” Ian’s mum stood suddenly, pushed her chair away—along with her usual proper demeanor—and balled her fists.
“Ian?” Mr. Ashton peeked around Ian’s mother. “Could you please come in and sit at the piano?”
“Yes, sir.” Ian pushed into the room and obediently settled on the piano bench. Leave Buxton? Music program? Recording studio? His heart raced with excitement.
“Now, Claire, what is your favorite hymn?” Mr. Ashton asked.
“God Save the Queen,” she said.
“Ian, would you please play God Save the Queen for your mother?”
Without opening a hymnbook, Ian played the hymn from start to finish, without a single missed note. When he was done, he brushed his shaggy, brown hair off his forehead and smiled at his mum. She dropped into her chair and gaped at him.
“Now, what is your least-favorite genre of music? One you would never play in your home?” Mr. Ashton pulled open the glass door on a shelving unit, revealing rows and rows of colorful CD cases. Ian raised his chin, trying to peek around his teacher at the cornucopia of music.
“Probably jazz,” Mum said. “It grates on my nerves.”
Mr. Ashton pulled down a case, carefully removed the CD, and loaded it into the player. After pushing a few buttons, he found a song and let the music play for a moment. “Ian, have you ever heard this song?”
“I want you to listen to it all the way through, as many times as you need, and then play it on the piano.”
Ian turned back to the keys and concentrated on the notes while listening to the strange music. He understood why his mum didn’t like it. But he saw the notes dance before his eyes, feeling the rhythms and hearing the intricate delicacies of the individual sounds. He listened only once and then placed his fingers on the keys and plunked a little, trying to mimic the song. He stopped. “Could I hear it one more time?”
“Of course.” Mr. Ashton started the song over, and Ian listened all the way through again. This time when his fingers danced across the keys, the song was almost flawless.
“An hour isn’t such a long drive,” his mum whispered.
* * * * * * *
Journal Entry 1: Twelve Years Old
Tomorrow I start Year Seven of secondary school, and I’m really nervous. My mum suggested I start a journal to help me adjust. I’ve never written in a journal before and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with it. But I’m not sure I’m comfortable going to high school either. I think I’ll be okay because I’ve been going to Chorlton High School for years for private music instructions. My mum hired the band teacher, Mr. Hayworth to be my tutor years ago when I transferred from Buxton to Claremont Primary School. I’ll also have my best mate with me, Kai. I haven’t seen him all summer. He probably won’t even remember me. I hope I don’t get into any trouble. I heard the head teacher is really strict. This whole journaling thing isn’t helping. It’s just making me more nervous. I think I’ll go play piano for a little while. That should help me relax so I can go to sleep. Big day tomorrow. Wish me luck! -Signed, Ian Taylor
* * * * * * *
“Stop, stop, stop!” Ian called out above the noise of the high school band. “The bass guitar is out of tune!”
Mr. Hayworth lowered his baton, and every head in the crowded band room followed his gaze. “Ian, you can’t just interrupt class like this.”
Even though he was only twelve, Ian knew every inch of the music rooms, and each instrument within. He’d been coming to Chorlton High School for tutoring since they’d moved to Manchester.
Ian ignored his teacher and mentor. Mr. Hayworth was used to Ian’s antics, but many of the kids in year seven were transfer students from schools in Manchester and the surrounding region. The first day of high school was never a good time to cause problems in class. Some mouths gaped, some kids looked annoyed, some amused. All had raised eyebrows.
Ian carefully set down the trumpet he was holding, pushed back his chair, and weaved his way across the room. A kid named Andy stood with a bass guitar in his hands and the strap strapped around his shoulder.
Kai Burton, Ian’s best friend from Claremont Primary School, sat next to Andy and held an electric guitar on his lap. Kai’s brown eyes sparkled with mischief as he stuck his foot out to trip Ian, and Ian glared at Kai before turning to Andy. Although the guys were playful and impish outside the band room, music was the one thing Ian took seriously.
“May I?” Ian didn’t wait for Andy to reply. He just lifted the guitar strap off Andy’s neck and slid the bass guitar from his classmate’s hands into his own. Expertly sliding the strap into place as if he played every day, Ian sat on a nearby chair and began turning the knobs on the head of the instrument. He strummed a few chords, tightened a few knobs again, played a few more notes, and smiled as he stood to hand the guitar back to Andy. “There you go.”
“You’re really weird.” Andy’s smirk told Ian he was grateful rather than annoyed.
As Ian passed Kai, his friend rolled his eyes. “Show-off.”
“You’re just lucky I tuned yours before class,” Ian mumbled on his way to the brass section.
* * * * * * *
Journal Entry 2: Twelve Years Old
School was better than I thought it was going to be. Kai remembered me and was glad to see me. We made friends with a kid named Andy who plays the bass guitar. He’s not very good, but he has potential. Maybe I’ll tutor him. I’m jealous that Kai gets to sit by him because Kai plays electric guitar. Maybe I’ll switch instruments. Mr. Hayworth says I can pick whichever instrument I want. I think I wanna try them all. -Signed, Ian Taylor
* * * * * * *
Journal Entry 3: Twelve Years Old
Some of the kids think I’m weird. I’m a skinny, geeky, music freak who can play any instrument but can’t play football. Whatever. At least Kai likes me. He doesn’t look at me like I’m weird, like everyone else does. I miss my dad. I live for weekends. -Ian Taylor
* * * * * * *
Journal Entry 4: Twelve Years Old
School’s better, I guess. All I really want to do is stay in the band room. Andy has been nicer to me and of course Kai is my best mate. Mostly everyone else ignores me. I don’t care. I just wanna jam. -Ian Taylor
* * * * * * *
Journal Entry 5: Thirteen Years Old
It’s been a long time since I wrote in my journal but school just got out and I’m bummed that I’m going to be away from Kai and Andy for the whole summer. I’m excited to see my dad, though. I’ll spend the whole summer home in Buxton. We’ll keep our flat in Manchester for when school starts again. Year eight. Wow! -Ian Taylor
* * * * * * *
Journal Entry 6: Thirteen Years Old
Year eight starts tomorrow. I’m back in Manchester. I didn’t write in my journal at all this summer because I forgot my journal at our flat. Oops. All I did was climb the peaks and play piano. I think I sort of learned to write music. I don’t write it down or anything so it doesn’t really count. The sounds are just in my head. My mum and dad didn’t know that’s what I was doing. They wouldn’t understand. Maybe I’ll talk to Kai about it. He’ll understand. If he still wants to be my pal. I haven’t seen him in months. -Ian
* * * * * * *
Journal Entry 7: Thirteen Years Old
Kai and Andy and I are still best mates! I guess I’ve grown over the summer because most of the kids in year eight are my size now. Kai is still taller than me, but I don’t look so small and geeky anymore. Maybe I’ll make some other friends. The kids seem to laugh when I say something funny. Maybe I’ll be the funny kid at school. Sincerely, Class Clown
* * * * * * *
“What’s your problem, pal?” Kai’s voice filled with anger at the kid who had accidentally shoved him against his locker. Ian was shocked by the hatred in Kai’s expression. Andy stood at Kai’s shoulder and raised his chin.
A year and a half into high school and Kai was a head taller than most students at Chorlton. At fourteen, he was already filling out like a man. This scrawny boy was no match, but he furrowed his brow and puffed his chest as they locked eyes.
“Excuse me for tripping.” The kid narrowed his eyes in hostility. “You shouldn’t have left your satchel so far out into the hallway that my feet got caught.”
“I can leave my bag anywhere I want.” Kai balled his hands into fists as Ian wormed his way in between his best mate and the kid who was stupid enough to cross him.
“Guys break it up.” Ian stepped forward, offering himself as the middleman. “You must be new. I’m Ian.” Entering a new school halfway through the year was hard enough but getting beat up on the first day wasn’t a good way to start things off.
The kid still had his eyes narrowed at Kai. He looked down at Ian’s outstretched hand with disdain, but reluctantly shook it. “Gary.”
“You’ve met Kai.” Ian gestured with a nod and pulled Andy over into the circle. “… and this is Andy. Come say hello to our new classmate.”
“What’s up?” Andy raised his chin in reluctant greeting, his sandy brown hair hanging low on his forehead.
“There, now we’re all friends,” Ian said. “We’re going to get on just fine, right?” He raised his eyebrows and looked pointedly at Kai and then Gary.
“Whatever…” Kai turned and sauntered away as if he owned the hallway. Andy regarded Gary coolly for a few more seconds, looking him up and down, before following Kai.
“It was very nice to meet you, mate.” Ian nodded and strode down the hall.
“Ian,” Gary called after him. Ian turned back and raised his eyebrows. Gary’s expression softened. “Thanks.”
“See ya around, Gary.”
* * * * * * *
“What instrument would you like to play today?” Mr. Hayworth asked Ian as he walked into class.
“I’m feeling the snare drum,” Ian replied, rubbing his chin as if contemplating.
“Oh good, you can help our new kid learn the ropes.”
Ian turned toward the back of the room where Gary poked around in the percussion section. “It’s Gary.”
“Great! You’ve already met.” Mr. Hayworth clapped him on the shoulder, effectively nudging Ian in the direction of the drums.
Ian approached the back of the room, apprising Gary as he did. The kid’s sullen expression, and the way his dark brown hair hung low over his eyes, hinted at a troubled past. But Ian wasn’t concerned about his mysterious new pal. He wanted to know the important details. “How long you been playing?”
Gary startled, but he regarded Ian. “Since I can remember. You?”
“I don’t know.” Ian sauntered around a snare drum and picked up a set of sticks. “…A while…” Ian twirled one of the sticks in his right hand, challenging Gary with his eyes and a tiny smirk.
Gary answered Ian’s smirk with narrowed eyes and stepped around the opposite snare. He didn’t bother with the sticks next to the drum but pulled his own set out of his jacket pocket. They were beautiful, with just the right amount of wear but none of the dents and scratches of the practice sticks. Ian gulped, envious of his new dueler.
“You first,” Gary said.
Ian didn’t even think as his sticks flew in an intricate rhythm he was sure could never be matched. He never broke eye contact with Gary.
He played for almost a half-minute before stopping, expertly crisscrossing the sticks and holding them steady.
Gary held Ian’s eyes and copied the complicated pattern of beats as if they’d been laid out in front of him on a sheet of music. He ended in a similar manner and raised his eyebrows.
“You go first this time,” Ian said.
They still hadn’t broken eye contact. Ian sensed they’d drawn the attention of other students in the band room. Gary changed up the rhythm and added some complexity, challenging Ian to rise to his level. Ian held his own as he copied Gary’s pattern.
When he was nearly finished, Ian nodded just slightly in invitation, and Gary’s sticks flew along with Ian’s almost as if they were copying each other in perfect synchronicity. It only took a few seconds to realize they were playing the drum solo from Welcome to the Jungle by Guns N’ Roses. It was just simple enough to be an easy duel for the talented young drummers, but complex enough to be quite impressive to their growing audience. They played through to the end of the solo, and Ian reached over and rolled a simple crescendo on the cymbal.
The entire band room erupted in applause, and amidst the chaos, Ian and Gary reached across and shook one another’s hands. Their smirks had become full grins. He wrapped his arm around Gary’s shoulder and turned to Kai, who stood beside Andy. An unspoken understanding sparked in their eyes. The four young men regarded one another. Something big shifted in Ian’s life. “Mates, I’ve got a brilliant idea.”
* * * * * * *
Journal Entry 8: Fourteen Years Old
A new kid started at our school today. His name is Gary and he plays the drums! Like, really, really well! Kai didn’t like him at first until Gary and I played drums together and now Kai likes him, and so does Andy. We’re going to start a rock band together! -Ian