Tuning Up

by PeterG09

As a second violin I sit on the conductor's right, next to the four first violins. They are all at least Grade 6. I'm going for Grade 3 next month. Beyond the seconds are the cellos. Across the back are the various brass and percussion instruments, then down the other side opposite us are the woodwind (bassoon, oboes, clarinets, flutes). It is an unconventional layout, because usually the upper strings are on the conductor's left, the lowers on the right, and the woodwind and percussion at the back, but it is the only way to fit us all in to the old school chapel where we rehearse.

On my right is Chloe who is also Grade 3. We share a desk and as I'm on her left I am the page-turner. This means that at the end of a right-hand page I stop playing and flip the page while she keeps going. It's a typical school orchestra and we make exactly the sound you might expect from a scratch collection based on whoever is learning what that year. We're all rather tightly packed in. This can be a problem for the strings as you risk having your eye poked by the bow of the person on your right. Whoever sits behind the bassoon (if there is one) gets that instrument blasting at them so they can't hear what they themselves are playing. Most wind instruments dribble condensation. Some of them have to be drained from time to time. The woodwind are self-draining, with the added fun of the flute dribbling into the lap of the person on the right. This all means a lot of silly jokes.

We rehearse on a Wednesday afternoon, and that makes a nice middle of the week. You go home with the last tune you played going through your mind. The sporty lot have their matches at that time. If you're musical but not sporty you're in the orchestra. All the rest have TA or Scouts or something like that.

The others think I must be a special friend of Chloe's, but that's not true. All the boys are supposed to fancy her, which is odd, because as far as I know she has no regular boyfriend. Maybe she does, but they're not at this school. I've heard a story that she likes girlfriends rather than boyfriends. Not sure what that means as most girls seem to hang out with other girls in any case.

She and I chat when we're not playing, but that's about it. It's only music we talk about. I don't know if I fancy her. She has that long straight hair that girls spend so much time brushing and fiddling with. They do that flicking thing. She has a nice figure and a pretty face and good legs so she should be very attractive. Some of the boys are jealous of me because I sit next to her, but they don't need to be, I'm looking somewhere else when I'm not looking at the music. Even then when I glance up I see who I fancy, sitting almost directly opposite me and playing flute. Shoulder-length fair hair, blue eyes, a friendly open face, an easy smile. Long fingers on slim hands and a slender body. Definitely not athletic but beautifully built. Enough to give me something to think about at night as I go to sleep. And enough to pass the dreary hours of double maths.

His name is Jay. He's in my year, but in the other form to me. If will-power would do the job I'd strip him bare. I've seen him a couple of times in his PE kit. His legs are better than Chloe's. I fancy the pants off him, quite literally. I imagine what pants those legs end in under his shorts. Does he wear boxers (yuck!) or briefs? In my mind he's like one of the paper dolls that my Mum apparently used to play with as a kid. You hang different clothes on them. I think white would be nice, perhaps white with red edging? I don't think I've ever actually seen underwear like that but it looks nice in my mind. Maybe he has matching vest and briefs in my special favourite pale blue.

We joined the school together as Year 7s and he's always been in the parallel form. I don't suppose he even knows that I exist. I know he does and I often miss an entry at orchestra because I'm looking at him and not counting the bars. I've tried to imagine how I might get together with him so that I can pledge my undying love. It's so soppy. I think in my mind I've started to act out something from my Mother's Mills & Boon romances. I know it's daft but I have to do something to deal with the feelings I have. If any one else knew what I was thinking the bullies would be on to me and I'd be dead. Maybe literally. So I dream.

I imagine undressing him, and kissing and hugging and stroking and caressing that lovely body. I'm lying next to him and he is giving me back the love I'm offering. And I'm losing myself in the blue pools of his eyes, and running my fingers through that hair.

One Wednesday was February 14th. There was an anonymous envelope waiting for me on the kitchen table when I came down for breakfast. I just knew that my Mother had done it in order not to make me feel unloved. Mum pretended to be surprised, wondering aloud who it was from. I knew that she was trying to get me to tell her about someone I fancied. I couldn't do it, because I'd have to admit to my family, and out loud to myself, that girls didn't interest me at all. So I shrugged it off by saying it was probably a mistake and not from anyone I knew.

That day in school there were lots of giggles going on over who had got cards. If anyone had asked me seriously I might have said I had one (strictly true) but only if the thugs asked me and that would be to make fun of me so I would say 'none'.

To play the flute you apparently have to make a sort of kissing mouth to get the air to come out right. Apparently its called an embouchure. Jay is very good at that mouth and it drives me insane to watch him play.

We were going to rehearse the opening movement of Mozart's Sympony No.40. The one that goes Diddy-dum diddy-dum diddy-dum dee, diddy-dum diddy-dum diddy-dee. As usual I was looking over the top of the desk at Jay. He lifted his instrument to play and made the kissing mouth at Chloe. My heart thudded as it always does. We got about three pages in to the score. I leaned over and flipped the page and there was a Valentine card. All hearts and flowers and glitter. Must be for Chloe. I turned it over: there was no name. As I moved it so that we could play on I glanced up and saw Jay looking at Chloe. He made a proper kissing mouth to her. I could not look right to see if she had caught it. I assumed she had. Several more times when I knew the flutes were about to make an entry I looked at Jay and saw him blowing a kiss to her.

The rehearsal finished as usual and we all started packing our instruments away. Chloe finished and left while I was still tidying up the music scores. Then I saw Jay coming across the chapel towards me. I was in turmoil: was he going to actually talk to me?

"Did you like it?"

"Like what?" I was tongue-tied. I was completely unprepared and confused. He was actually speaking to me.

"The card."

"Oh I think Chloe left it for me. We didn't talk about it. She just left it here."

"Oh. Um…er…yes. It was from me"

"You left it for her?"


Once I cleared the fog from my mind I found that I needed to know what was going on. The more time I spent thinking about this strange conversation the more tangled up it seemed. I decided that I had to talk to Jay.

At school next day there was a note in my locker. It had been pushed under the door. It was unsigned but I knew who it was from. It just said 'Can we meet again?' The 'i' had a dot instead of a little girly heart over it. I quickly shoved it to the bottom of my book-bag.

During first break I wrote a note of my own: 'Yes. Back of the bike sheds. Tomorrow after class .' I sauntered casually down the corridor past all the lockers. When I thought it was safe I slid it into Jay's locker. I knew very well which it was because I had watched him open it often enough.

The rest of the day passed in a haze. I got through lessons without getting more than a telling-off for not paying attention in maths. Finally the last bell went and we were let out. I put my stuff in my locker and found another note: 'See you their.' I saw the mis-spelling but I didn't notice that the 'I' had a heart and not a dot over it

I made my way as casually as possible to the bike sheds. Being winter not many kids had come to school by bike so there were few of them around. Behind the shed was the meeting place where the daring ones had a crafty cigarette. Someone had once even smuggled a can of beer in to school and shared it out there. The teachers must have known about it but it was probably best to leave well alone. At least that way you knew where the usual suspects could be found. I waited for Jay with a mixture of excitement and dread in my mind.

What I got was Chloe. Just when I did not need her or anyone else to get in the way. But she seemed to be expecting me to be there. "Hi" I said. "'lo" she replied. "I got your note. So what d'you want to see me about?"

I had a sudden and sickening understanding of what was going on. She and Jay had adjacent lockers. They were down the corridor from mine so I had only ever seen them at an angle when Jay was using his. I had put the note in the wrong locker.

Desperately I scrabbled around for something to say. I burbled out some rubbish about the half-term music study camp that was just a week away. "You got me here for that?" she asked. I burbled some more. It must have been obvious that I was making it up as I went along, and not too successfully. She asked me who I was waiting for and in my confusion I said "Just Jay". She muttered something about 'waste of space' and stomped off. I slumped to the ground and tried to work out whatever had happened and what to do about it. I couldn't see my way through the mess so I decided to do nothing and just hope it would blow over.

The music camp was not a camp at all. It took place in a huge house that had been converted to an activity centre. There was a big hall that could hold the whole orchestra, and lots of smaller rooms where groups like the wind band and the sax combo could rehearse and try new pieces. The accommodation was in an accommodation block of study bedrooms that had been set up so that they would suit adults, hence there were mostly single rooms and just a few doubles. They were like little bed-sitters with their own showers and loos. There was a separate cafeteria block where all the meals were taken. Most of each day was taken up with practice and rehearsal, with morning and afternoon breaks and a decent amount of free time after lunch. At the end of the week the parents were invited to come to a concert where everything we had worked on was performed, then they were free to take us home.

We got to the centre on Sunday in two coaches. They were going to leave at eight-thirty in the morning because of the distance we had to go. We were all on our coach, having loaded up the luggage and instruments and the teacher did a roll-call. Everyone was there except Jay. He came running across the playground and got on board. I was sitting in a window seat and Chloe was sitting in the aisle seat of the row in front. Jay came down the aisle and to my surprise Chloe got up and let him take the seat inside hers. So I couldn't see him at all, while I had a side view of Chloe through the gap between the seats. I have no idea who was sitting next to me. The coach set off amid much parental waving and calls of "See you soon".

There was a stop for a snack and break and then around twelve we reached the study centre. There was a lot of horsing around because everyone was hyped up. There was a meal of sorts waiting for us. But first we were allocated our bedrooms and had to take our kit to them.

We grabbed our bags and were told to get back to the cafeteria in twenty minutes for lunch. There was a lot of milling around. I found my room. It was on the first floor. There was not much time to explore but I did see that there was a sort of French door on to a balcony that ran across the back of the building. Then I hoofed it over for lunch.

After lunch we all had to assemble in the big hall and got instructions for the week and the 'elf 'n safety stuff. Nobody listened to any of this. There were printed rehearsal schedules for us to collect. I noticed in the break before we had our first session of the afternoon that Jay and Chloe seemed to be spending quite a lot of time talking together.

Eventually supper came around. I tried to find a seat near Jay while at the same time hoping he would try and find a seat near me. It didn't work and I ended up with some of the others of the string section. That was OK but not at all what I had in mind.

We had free time after supper. Bed-time was nine-thirty which actually meant in your room and door locked by then. Whether you went to bed was up to you. The Sixth Formers were allowed to stay up later, but for us mere mortals there was strictly no walking around in the corridors.

There was not much to do after curfew. I had my phone so I could listen to music. I had a couple of books as I like reading more than scrolling rubbish on the phone. There was no TV in my room.

I had a shower and then I was sprawled on the bed when there was a scrabbling noise at the door. Funny, because everyone was supposed to locked up safely. Someone had pushed a slip of paper under the door. I went to investigate.

"Open your window door now. J"

Jay? For me? Surely another mistake. Still I had to find out. I had the wit to turn the bedroom light of so that no-one outside could see whatever was going to go on, then I went to the French door. I could see someone standing on the dark balcony outside. I got the stiff key to turn and pushed the door open. It creaked a bit and I guessed it had not been opened for a long time. And there was Jay, large as life.

"Can I come in, it's freezing out here."

I pushed the door right open, he came in, I quickly closed the door, locked it and pulled the curtains shut. I was just about to turn on the light when he said "don't do that just now". He sat on the edge of the bed and said there was something he had to talk about. I wanted to know what he was doing here when there was supposed to be no walking around. He pointed out that it was the corridors we were not allowed to walk around. After all this time of fantasizing about him and desperately wanting to be near him and talk to him, this was he best we could manage. It was pathetic.

The balconies across the back of he building were separated from each other by low walls. Jay had been allocated he room next but one to mine and had got here by climbing these walls. So much for how, now what about why?

"Why are we sitting here in the dark?"

"We had a bit of a problem early on."

"We? Who's we?"

"Chloe and me."


"Yeh. When I got to school this morning I was really nervous and I had to go to the loo before the journey. Then I found I was late and I ran for the coach and left my bag behind with all my clothes and stuff in it. I've got nothing but my flute that was with the instruments."

"So where does Chloe come in?"

"Well, I hadn't anything to sleep in so Chloe's lent me a spare pair of her pyjamas."

"You're wearing Chloe's pyjamas?" This was getting weirder and weirder.

"Yes. And that 's why the light is off. But there's more. You're going to hate me but I had to see you."

"What more?"

"I got a bottle of juice from the cafeteria to drink in my room. Only I spilled it all down my front and Chloe helped me rinse my trousers and shirt. And …"

"And what?"

"Chloe lent me a pair of her pants. Mine were wet. I knew you would hate me."

"Hang on, Chloe lent you her pyjamas and her pants? So what are you wearing?"

"Like I said, her pyjamas and pants."

"So why are you here instead of being with Chloe? She's your girlfriend".

There was a long pause broken only by Jay drawing breath. Then very quietly he said "She's not my girlfriend. She's my sister. Didn't you know?"

Well, obviously not. Not a clue.

And then things started to drop into place. The Valentine's card was for me. From Jay. Jay and Chloe had the same surname so they got lockers together. I'd put that damned note in the wrong one. All the chatting-up between the two of them was her trying to persuade him to talk to me. Going to the loo before the coach set of was because he had finally decided to nerve up and do just that, and he was a bundle of nerves. And all the time I thought he didn't even know I existed.

The kissy lips as he played the flute were for me. No wonder Chloe didn't respond. But she knew who they were aimed at and did her best to get her brother to act. Brother? I was still having trouble processing it.

Then he let me turn the light on. The pyjamas, while surprising, were perfect. Dark pink trousers, light pink top, decorated with butterflies.

I didn't know what to do. All my dreams had come true suddenly and I was unprepared. Jay obviously didn't know what to do either. He sat next to me so that our legs were touching, and that was pretty thrilling. Maybe he expected me to take initiative. I was so confused that I could not have co-ordinated tripping over my own shoelaces. We talked a bit about school and our two classes. Then he finally did the first positive thing either of us had done: he fumbled a clumsy hug. I was not ready for it but I hugged him back and that seemed right.

And just as I had dreamed and fantasised I undressed him, and kissed and hugged and stroked and caressed that lovely body. I lay next to him and he gave me back the love I offered. And I lost myself in the blue pools of his eyes, and ran my fingers through that hair.

Every time during the week when I looked at Jay, which was often, I got a big grin back. And the music? Frankly I can't remember a thing, I was far too tired.

I have to report that Chloe had the best possible taste in underwear. Boy shorts that were just a bit too tight for him. Pale blue. Perfect. Gorgeous. Definitely.

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