Chapters 1-3 of “Because”
I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing this!
~ R.K. Slade, Author of Because
Chapter 1 of Because by R.K. Slade
It’s so hot out here today.
I close my eyes for a few seconds. It feels like forever since we took an actual break.
In my mind, I see a big tall glass of water. Then, like a changing scene from a nature documentary, it transforms into a bubbly stream. The vivid frame in my head morphs into a rushing waterfall surrounded by lush green plants with butterflies fluttering about. I can almost hear the birds singing.
I have a water bottle, but when we’re working out here in the sun all day, we can only take a break when the director says so. Those few, short refreshing minutes can’t come soon enough. I can’t stop thinking about the cool, thirst-quenching liquid. I lick my lips as discreetly as I can.
It's only the third day of two grueling weeks of all-out torture. It's voluntary, though. We all willingly signed up for this. Not a single one of us out here on this grassy field wants to quit. The sticky August heat makes it hard to breathe, like something is pressing against my chest. The occasional gnat buzzes around my head, but I won’t move when I’m standing at attention.
I’m like a statue, you little devil insect. Can’t make me move, won’t make me move.
It’s hard work keeping my elbows out and arms high. Hours of holding my trumpet at the proper horn angle are beginning to take a toll. My arms are on fire.
Even though I'm wearing a lot of sunscreen, I can still feel my skin baking. My chops, the muscles around my mouth, feel like mush, so fatigued from playing my instrument for hours. My feet are tired from all the marching and standing. It feels like I've been walking around on this field forever, but it's only been two days and a few hours.
This is band camp.
"Hey, Rigs," Chewie thinks he's whispering.
Yeah, not so much. He's the worst whisperer ever. His real name is Charles, but for as long as I can remember, he's proudly gone by that silly nickname. He's not even a Star Wars fan. He says his dad gave him that nickname when he started growing a peach-fuzz mustache when he was ten years old.
"Rigs, psssst. Rigs!" Chewie says.
Only my close friends call me Rigs. I'm pretty introverted, so I don't really have a lot of friends.
It's kind of cool, though. We found out last spring before school got out for the summer that our opening show would be Beatles themed. I mean, we're literally playing the song Eleanor Rigby, the song that I was named after.
My parents were big fans of the Fab Four from Liverpool. When Mom found out she was pregnant, they decided to name me after their favorite song, Eleanor Rigby. Dad really wanted to call his baby girl Eleanor - Ellie for short. But Mom got her way, and the name Rigby won out. So that's me, that’s who I am, Rigby Raines...
I try not to linger on that memory for too long. The pain is still too close to the surface.
Even though I’m standing at attention, I turn and sneak a peek over my right shoulder to see what Chewie wants. He's standing there looking goofy with that massive sousaphone. I don't understand why he likes lugging that monster around all day. It's like a big tuba that's been unwound and then reconfigured just so that tuba players can wear it for parades and marching band.
"Riiiigggsss!" Chewie is relentless. "Can I have some of your water? I left my canteen on the sidelines." His sweaty, moppy brown hair is in his eyes.
Of course, he's the only person in the whole band who actually brings a military canteen to practice and then forgets it on the sidelines.
Typical Chewie. It's hot here in Georgia in the summer. Like, almost one hundred degrees, and muggier than you think, hot. We don't get many water breaks, though. I have a small water bottle that hooks onto my belt bag. Yeah, don't laugh, it's a small fanny pack. It's practical.
"One more time!" Mr. Zimmer, our band director, calls out through his crackling megaphone. He's pretty cool, but I'm sick of hearing those three words. Over the next two weeks, we'll hear them again and again.
We’re working on learning new formations. Once we get a shape down, we head back to the previous form, get set, and then while the director counts out loud, march back into the new shape. It takes hours and hours of this to get the finished “drill” onto the field for halftime shows, but it's worth it.
"Here you go, Chew." I hand him my bottle as we head back to our previous spots.
He has to be quick to sneak a drink in between sets. We're not always on the same part of the field, but our marks in this section of the show are close to each other. As we continue to learn this drill, each section of the band will occupy different areas of the field as the music changes. It's like a set of pictures that moves with each part of the song. All of the members of the band are individual dots that make up the whole picture.
"Thanks, Rigs," he pants. "It's hot out here today."
He heads back to his first dot a few yard lines over. I'm standing at mine waiting for Mr. Z to call out the next command. A few yard lines over, a guy in the clarinet section that I never really talk to is wearing one of those hydration packs It’s got a long rubber tube that comes over his shoulder. He can take a quick sip anytime he wants. It’s like he’s got the holy grail of summer band camp strapped to his back. Water on demand.
That’s actually pretty smart. Chew should really get one of those.
All this thinking about water has me so thirsty right now. I reach down for my water bottle. It's not there.
What the...where's my water bottle? Crap! Chewie still has it!
"CHEW!!" I call. "You've got my water…”
"RIGBY!" A piercing voice stops me in my tracks. It makes my skin crawl.
I turn uneasily to see Taura Jacobs staring me down with eyes like icy daggers. She's the trumpet section leader, and basically the band's self-proclaimed queen. She knows everything about everything and everybody seems to think she's so great. She’s giving me the stank eye like I just insulted and slapped her.
I don’t know why she always singles me out. I’m basically a nobody in the trumpet section. I like it that way. I hate being in front of people. I think I’m too nervous, or anxious, or something. The only time I ever played a solo was that time during concert band that I accidentally played during a rest. The whole band was silent and I honked out a right note at the wrong time. I was so embarrassed that I wanted to hide in my band locker.
"GET BACK TO YOUR SPOT AND QUIT TALKING TO THE SOUSAS!" She snaps. She looks like a grumpy cat when she's hissing out all those bossy orders.
She’s always been so harsh to me. Such a bully. Cruel at times. I don't know why. Maybe it's because I'm shy. Maybe it's because I can't ever come up with anything to say back to her. She's been the bane of my existence since we all started band together in the sixth grade.
Her family moved in from somewhere else. She just kind of swooped in and became the popular girl. She carried herself like she just knew she was better than everyone else. And instead of everyone seeing her for the witch she is, she became everyone's role model. It's like everyone was mesmerized by her even though she acted like she could care less about them.
Taura has that look that makes people like her. She's actually pretty. Tall and lean. Her outfits are always color-coordinated. Her ponytail is constantly in a perfect bow or flowing flawlessly out of the back of her matching baseball cap. Even in middle school her hair was perfect. What kind of seventh grader has model status hair? Taura, of course. I can't stand it. I have to wrestle with my straightener for what seems like hours to get this frizzy, ginger hair to behave.
Taura acts as if everyone else is beneath her. I mean, it feels like she cares more about the *idea* of band than the actual people in it. To top it off, now she can officially boss me around and get away with it. Mr. Zimmer made her a section leader. Somehow he thinks she's perfect. I guess he didn't get the memo about her. I don't know how he can't see what I see.
She's such a jerk.
"Ok, Taura." I mumble softly. My ears are burning. I'm embarrassed. I hate being singled out for anything. It makes me extremely nervous. I wish I could just stand up to her...but I can't.
I've never been able to. I'm not brave. I'm not bold. I'm not fearless. And at the moment, I’m just shy, quiet, and scared to say anything. Just me.
Chapter 2 of Because by R.K. Slade
One of the reasons I love band camp so much is that it takes my mind off of the grief. I lost my mom to cancer last year. It’s been rough.
Her name was Juliet. They named me Juliet, too. It's my middle name. My trumpet was actually hers. She played it in the marching band when she was my age. It's literally the most important thing I own. I don’t know what I’d do if anything ever happened to it. It’s my only tangible connection to her.
When I was in fourth grade, she gave me this trumpet. Sometimes, on a rainy night, when we didn’t have anything better to do, we used to pull out old photos of her in the marching band. We laughed at how funny and cute she looked in her uniform. There were even pictures of her conducting in front of the band. She was the drum major, the leader and field director of the band, her junior and senior years.
For as long as I can remember, I've been playing the piano. She was my first and only teacher. She taught me everything I know about music. We would sit at our family piano for hours on end. She used songs by the Beatles to teach me how to play. Songs like I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Hey Jude.
Over the years, I progressed to the more complex classics. She would have me play Bach and Mozart. I even tackled Beethoven’s piano works. I think that, out of all of them, Beethoven is my favorite. There seems to be such emotion captured in his compositions. The pieces were difficult, but I mastered them fairly quickly. My mom was a great teacher.
Now she's gone.
When she slipped away, my world turned dark. It seems like I’m always under a storm cloud. She was like true north on my compass. I feel completely lost. I just don't understand why it had to be her.
Dying of cancer is not a pretty thing. We got the diagnosis, and then seven months later she just faded away. She didn't even seem sick before. But they say that's how it goes. I don’t even know who “they” are.
Now it's just me, dad, and my music. I haven't really touched the piano, though, since Mom...since she left. My anxiety seems to have gotten worse. The marching band has been kind of therapeutic, though. I can get lost in the trumpet section. It's like I'm invisible.
Band has really been the one thing that allows me to experience somewhat of a distraction. They say music heals, right? I'm able to exist in all my weirdness right in the middle of a big crowd of people, but all I really have to focus on is playing my own part, marching with the correct foot, and being where I’m supposed to be on the field.
Without Mom, I feel so lonely at times...but I also can't stand big crowds. It's kind of a paradox.
All I have ever wanted was to make her proud of me. I ended up being so much like my dad, though. Quiet and shy. He calls it extreme introversion. Mom balanced us out, though. She was the life of the party and was born to be drum major.
Chewie really tries hard to keeps tabs on me. Sometimes it's annoying, but I do love him. I mean, I'm really lost right now, but he has been there for me. I guess other people know about what happened with my mom, but nobody really tries to say anything.
I mean, what do you even say to somebody like me?
So here I am, standing on my dot with my cherished, old trumpet. It's not as shiny as it used to be. The second valve sticks at the most random times. When I tried out for marching band this year, it got stuck right in the middle of my C scale. I sounded like a duck.
I guess that's why I’m last chair, the bottom of the trumpet section. Fine by me. But sometimes I actually dream of being like my mom. Out there in front playing solos and leading the band. But I don't think I could ever do that. I would probably die of stage fright or have one of my panic attacks.
One time in seventh grade the band director thought it would be a good idea to make everyone run through their individual parts to check and make sure the section had the music down. It was just during a rehearsal but when it was my turn to try it I froze. I literally sat there staring at the music as the room started to spin. My hands shook and my eyes watered, and I thought my heart was going to pound out of my chest. It was my first legit panic attack. It was so scary. Nobody said anything, or tried to help me out of the awkward silence. I'm just not cut out for the up-front stuff.
That's what really makes it tough, though. I WANT to be drum major, standing in front of the band conducting the music. I WANT to play solos. I WANT to follow in my mom's footsteps. But every time I think about it I get so nervous that I can't function. Maybe it's because I’m shy. Maybe it's anxiety. I don't know. I just can't handle it. And it tears me up inside because I want it so bad.
Have you ever really just wanted to make someone proud of you? You know, because you love them so much, and your world would not be right if you couldn't make them smile? That's how I feel. Except, my mom’s gone, and I’ll never see her again. It leaves a big hole inside.
All I've wanted since I was little was to be like her, to see her smiling in the stands as I followed in her footsteps. It's like I'm stuck between two really big things. I'm too scared to try out for drum major, but I really want to, more than anything, because it would make her proud. This really sucks.
Maybe next year.
Chapter 3 of Because by R.K. Slade
The trumpet section is lined up across the front hash marks now. Those little white lines mark off each individual yard and make it really easy for the band to find their spots. I'm standing on the left side of the field at the 30-yard line. The guy next to me is named Reggie, but we don't talk much. Well, I don't talk much. For three days, he's been quoting Harry Potter and asking everyone if they want to be in his fantasy Quidditch league. He's on his dot between the 30 and the 35-yard line.
The next person is on the 35, and it continues like that through fourteen trumpet players. Taura steps in and out of the form to bark orders at the freshmen and makes a point to always to include me in her rants. She has a talent for singling me out.
God, I wish she would just leave me alone.
If it's not one thing, it's another. It's like Taura knows every single button to push, every word to say that will totally wreck me. I get so flustered around her. She's so confident. I'm not.
What really stinks is I KNOW that I'm as good a trumpet player as anybody here. Jason, the guy two spots over from me can barely play a G over the staff. But he's ok. He's been nice to me so far. Carlos, one of the freshmen this year, plays jazz like nobody's business, but he kind of keeps to himself. And then there's Kayla. She tries really hard, but for some reason always sounds like she needs to empty her spit valve. Taura, the leader of our pack, is pretty decent, though. She...
"Rigby!" Taura snarls at me snapping me out of my thoughts. "Quit daydreaming and get in your spot. If Mr. Z yells at the trumpets again because you're off in la-la land, you'll pay in push-ups."
Like this is some sort of military boot camp. Well, apparently Taura seems to think it is.
Cracked notes? Push-ups.
Crooked lines? Push-ups.
Taura wakes up on the wrong side of the bed that morning? You guessed it. Push-ups.
Oh, wait, that's actually every morning. Taura is the very definition of the wrong side of the bed when it comes to me. I still can’t even really put my finger on the exact moment that she started bullying me. I don’t remember a particular reason. She has just always had it out for me.
I think I could take her, though. Right here and right now. I could run up to her right now and just lay her out. It would feel so nice. I imagine raring back and punching her in the face. I envision her wobbling on her feet and then hitting the ground hard like a fighter who has taken too many punches to the face.
I literally chuckle out loud.
“You think that’s funny, Riii-gby?“ Taura mockingly stretches out the syllables in my name.
"Um," I stutter. "No, I was just thinking about..."
"INCOMING!" The voice from behind us sounds like a squawking goose mixed with a young bear cub. Poor Chewie, 16-years-old, and his voice still cracks all the time.
"HEADS Uhhhhhhh..." Chewie warns.
BAM! My water bottle hits Taura square in the nose.
She grabs her face and doubles over, dropping her perfectly polished silver trumpet into the soft grass of the field. She immediately starts sobbing as a red stream of blood begins to pour from her nose like a faucet. She's dazed and stumbles, blinking her eyes rapidly as tears begin to blind her.
Crap. Crap. Crap. That has got to hurt!
There's a part of me that is enjoying this. Taura screams as she trips over her trumpet and loses her balance. We all hold our breath for a split second as she flails wildly trying not to to step on her instrument. We’re all thinking the same thing.
Not the instrument!
Down she goes. Like a sack of potatoes. She hits the ground with a dull thud and for about five seconds her sobbing stops. Her eyes go wide. The wind is knocked out of her. Nobody knows what to do.
"Owwww!" She gasps loudly, finally catching her breath after a few seconds. The sobs tumble out of her like quick, chirpy hiccups.
That has to hurt. The whole trumpet section is now gathered around Taura trying to help. Carlos is offering a towel. Kayla is trying to get Taura to lean her head back. Reggie is just standing there with a shocked look on his face. Jason is pacing back and forth nervously.
"I am so sorry! So very sorry, Taura!” Chewie says as he runs up with a shocked look on his face. “I was just spinning that bottle around on my finger, and it must've slipped. It got so much air...so much air."
It's one of those metal bottles with the carabiner clips on it. Apparently Chewie was trying to see how fast he could get it to spin on his finger, and he lost control of it.
"Shut up, you...loo...oo...serrr..." she sob whines. "You're soo...oo dead."
Why am I enjoying this so much?
I am smiling on the inside. I must be smirking on the outside, too. Taura's teary eyes catch mine for a split second, and she knows. She sees my satisfaction. She can tell that I'm enjoying this. It infuriates her. But she can't do anything about it. At least not with a busted nose that's bleeding everywhere.
In her stare, in that split second, her eyes go from hurting and embarrassed, to furious and determined. I'm not sure how or when she'll attempt to get revenge, but she will. I can see it in her angry eyes. She always has to have the last word. She is always right.
Just for this moment, though, I'm content in knowing that for once she's the one that's embarrassed. Somebody is the center of negative attention and it's not me.
Because - Book One in the Time's Song Series
• Print Length: 370 pages
• 56 Chapters, 72,000 words
• Release Date: June 22, 2016
Because - Book One in the Time's Song Series (by R.K. Slade)
Can music save you when your world comes crashing down around you?
Talented teen musician Rigby Raines is an extremely shy introvert who loves the Beatles and Beethoven. She wants only one thing in life: to follow in her mother’s footsteps as drum major of her high school marching band.
Still reeling from the unexpected loss of her mom to cancer last year, she is torn between her anxiety and stage fright and the desire to honor her mom.
Bullied for years by Taura Jacobs, self-proclaimed band queen and trumpet section leader, an unexpected discovery allows Rigby to face the past and experience a musical adventure of a lifetime.
Does Rigby have what it takes to conquer her fears, stand up for herself, and win the drum major tryouts?