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To the Beat of my Heart

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Royal blue double doors stood in the way of Waverly’s first day of band camp. The sun was blistering and it was barely seven in the morning. Her instrument, a freshly polished trumpet, was safely secured in its case and her backpack was stuffed full of snacks, sunscreen, spare socks, chapstick, and a large container of ice water. Wynonna sat in the driver seat of her old faded blue F150, fingers tapping away at the steering wheel just waiting for Waverly to get the courage to finally get out of the vehicle.

“You take all the time you need baby girl, it's only the first day of being ‘freshmeat’,” Wynonna rolled her head back into the headrest and gave Waverly a tired smile.

Waverly took a deep breath, a rather empty attempt at calming her nerves. She knew Jeremy was probably already inside; a friend she’d made during auditions at the start of summer. They had pledged to stick together if they both made it past auditions. It had been nerve wracking to say the least but knowing that she at least already had one friend gave her hope that high school wasn’t going to be all “hell” like Wynonna made it out to be.

“I’m just nervous,” Waverly whispered and proceeded to double check her backpack a final time.

“I was nervous on my first day of high school too. That’s just part of it. At least you’re already better off than I was. You’ve already got that nerd boy as a friend and if anyone gives you trouble then let me know and I’ll sick Haught Pocket on them,” Wynonna reached out and steadied Waverly’s shaking hand as she attempted to rezip her backpack closed.

That’s right; Nicole. Mocha eyes, fiery red braid, disarming dimpled smile, and Wynonna’s best friend since they were freshmen themselves just two years prior. Definitely not someone Waverly was crushing on and definitely not an upperclassman who didn’t need to be worried about one of the rookie brass players. Waverly let out a shaky breath before steeling herself with a tight grip on her instrument case and backpack. Letting her cheeks puff out as she forced the deep breath out of her lungs she opened the truck door and jumped out. It was cutting it close, but she definitely didn’t want to be late, especially since she’d been sitting in the parking lot for the past ten minutes with frayed nerves and a patient older sister.

“Thanks Wy! I’ll text during our lunch break,” Waverly closed the door and smiled at Wynonna through the downed window, “I’ve got this!”

“That you do babygirl! Have a great first day of camp and don’t forget the sunscreen. Gus will be upset if you come home red as a tomato,” Wynonna reminded her and then cranked the engine on. Waverly gave her the bravest smile she could and then sharply turned on her heel and stomped her way up to those striking blue doors.

She vaguely heard the truck putter away as the noise level thundered behind the band doors. Various instruments blared and the erratic percussion sounds threatened to drown everything out, even through thick steel doors. She pulled at the door and the sound behind them exploded around her. The room was crowded from excited freshmen and experienced seniors trying to guide them around to where they needed to be to start the day. The band kids that had found their places had their instruments out and were warming up. There were no seats out but the music stands were in multiple rows that curved around the podium at the center of the room towards the back wall. To her left was a wall of lockers just past the percussion line that seemed to have every player just strumming along to whatever beat they wanted to tap out. At the base of all the lockers seemed to be where everyone had piled their backpacks and supplies for a full day of camp.

Waverly did a quick scan to see if she noticed any familiar faces. She did pick out Jeremy as he excitedly waved to her as soon as he saw her. He was in frayed cargo shorts and a faded Star Wars t-shirt, his baritone almost looked bigger than he was. She smiled and waved back then pointed to the pile of backpacks to indicate she was going to set her stuff down. She drew her shoulders in, in an attempt to make herself smaller, so she could slip past the percussion line. She was slightly disappointed that Nicole wasn’t there yet, hoping to at least start her band camp experience with a smile from Wynonna’s best friend.

She placed her bag down and reached in to pull out the 3 ring binder they were instructed to bring. She zipped the bag up and popped open her case to pull out her trumpet so she could join the brass line and introduce herself to her section leader. As she got herself ready she began buzzing her lips as a warmup and running through the scales in her head. She was trying her hardest to not let her nerves get the better of her but as she stood up and her eyes locked with mocha ones across the room it was inevitable that she tripped over her own feet. She managed to steady herself but she could feel the heat blaze across her cheeks as Nicole chuckled across the room from where she stood with a row of other, what Waverly assumed to be, upperclassmen.

Waverly politely excused herself through other kids as she made her way to the row of trumpet players and found an empty music stand. She propped her 3 ring binder there as she noticed most everyone else had as well and smiled at the kid next to her. He looked just as nervous as she was and his hands were shaking as he tapped his fingers against the keys of his trumpet.

“Hi! I’m Waverly,” She attempted to give him her brightest smile and hoped that this was a good start to making additional friends in the band.

 

“Um, hey,” He blinked at her before seeming to get his bearings and smiled back, “I’m Robin.”

“Rookie too?” She brought her trumpet to her lips and began to blow air through it to warm up the brass.

“That obvious?” Robin chuckled and shifted on his feet, “You?”

“Yep. I almost think we could easily look around the room and tell who all the rookies are. Pretty sure I’m not the only one wracked with nerves,” She smiled again as her statement got a full laugh from Robin. Yep, so far she was making friends and the day looked to be promising.

Before she could ask Robin anything else the room seemed to settle into a focused energy as their band director, Mrs. Lucado stepped out of her office and took to stepping on top of the podium in the center of the curved lines of music stands and kids in front of her. “Band-ten-hut!” All the rookies stood frozen while the rest of the band snapped to attention with a deafening yell “Devils!” that echoed through the room.

Waverly and Robin didn’t dare move but Waverly paid attention to how the other seasoned trumpet players stood with their backs straight, chins slightly raised, and their instruments held parallel to their chests in front of them. Those without instruments, such as Nicole and the dark skinned beauty next to her, held their arms with a slight bent in the elbows at their sides with chins slightly raised and eyes trained ahead. No one moved a muscle which froze Waverly in place from matching the stance of the older members further down the trumpet line.

She caught movement of a trombone player to her left who moved after a few long seconds after everyone else to match the stance of the person next to him. Mrs. Lucado’s eyes immediately snapped towards him and she could almost hear the sharp inhale of fear from the people next to him.

“Welcome to band camp. Rookies, first lesson! Look at the seasoned person beside you. When we call you to attention, as I just did, you are to take that stance and not move. Little advice, if for whatever reason your hormone sludged brain prevents you from snapping to attention, at least be smart enough to not move. I’m less likely to see that you’ve failed a simple instruction unless you draw my attention to it. Anyone who is caught moving from here on out will either do push ups or have to take a lap around the field.” Mrs. Lucado made a pointed look at the trombone player and he visibly gulped. Silence filled the room and Mrs. Lucado turned to the person standing to Nicole’s side and stepped off the podium to whisper to her briefly. Waverly focused intently on not moving a muscle. She did not want to get on her band directors bad side on the very first day of band camp.

Sweat started to build up against the back of her neck, her shoulders stiff and thighs starting to cramp. Mrs. Lucado took to the podium again, “Rookies, look around and mimic this next stance; PARADE REST!” Everyone who knew what that instruction meant spread their feet shoulder width apart and their instruments fell to a relaxed stance at their waist. Waverly quickly mimicked the stance and immediately felt relief as her knees unlocked and feeling began to return to her toes.

“Excellent work everyone. Now listen up, I don’t like repeating myself. This week of camp is going to be focused on the music and basic maneuvers. Next week is when you’ll all learn the drills, or at least as much of it as we can during the week. Whatever we don’t learn will be saved for band practice after school starts and it won’t be pretty so come to camp ready to work,” Mrs. Lucado pointed to the row of students behind her, “These are your section leaders. Their direction and command are as good as coming from me. What they tell you goes, and that especially means that if they tell you to take a lap, do push ups, jumping jacks, or whatever, you will listen and do them. Should you feel that they are abusing their power, then you can bring your concerns to your drum major Shae Pressman, or myself, and we will look into it.” Mrs. Lucado pointed to the person standing next to Nicole, who stood there smirking at the entire band, but what made Waverly’s gut jump painfully was the look of pride on Nicole’s face. She briefly recalled Wynonna complaining weeks ago about how her ‘best friend suddenly had no time for her since she discovered someone else's perky tits.’

“There is a lot to get done today. Section leaders will begin handing out your sheet music as well as setting up their rookies with their flip folder and your marching lyres. They have sheets with who has paid for these and who still owes, so I hope you’ve remembered the fees that were due today if you haven’t already paid them. If you’ve forgotten your fees then you’ll be running laps every day until you’ve paid them. Shae, after everyone is set up I want to hear warm ups happening so we can begin sight reading before nine sharp.” Mrs. Lucado turned towards their drum major and received a nod in return. With a final look over the band she gave a final shout, “At ease!’ and then turned to head back into her office.

Everyone relaxed from their stances and then the room began to bustle as section leaders pulled pile after pile of small sheet music into a stack and began handing them out to their rows of kids. With Waverly at the end of the row she made sure to stack whatever extras that made it down to her and place them neatly into a pile to hand back to her section leader. All the notes were tiny and Waverly groaned at how difficult this music was going to be to read. She knew she wasn’t the best sight reader but she was determined to give her all to memorizing everything.

Eventually her section leader made it down to her and Robin and provided them with their flip folders and lyres and showed them how to attach the lyres to their trumpets, and provided which order they should store their music in their flip folders. He was super nice and patient with them and she felt comfortable that she could ask him any question; which didn’t to be the case for everyone as she noticed the kid who moved after attention was called getting chewed out already by his section leader.

As each section leader finalized getting everyone ready to begin they stuck their hand in the air for Shea to track their progress so she would know when to start everyone on warm ups. Once the last section leader raised their hand Shae’s voice boomed out with command, “Band-ten-hut!” Seasoned kids snapped to attention with ease but pretty much all of the rookies stumbled. Waverly didn’t feel like she stumbled too terribly but she felt a chill as Shae’s gaze lingered on her and Robin before drifting over to a few of the other rookies who struggled. Despite it being her first call official call to attention, she felt disappointed in herself for not nailing it right away.

“Okay, we are going to start with our warmups. If your section leaders were smart, they’d have you put that sheet at the front of your flip folder so you’ll be ready to go. If not, quickly flip to it and get ready,” Shae lifted her arms and those paying attention and who weren’t new to this, lifted their instruments to their lips in a cohesive fluid motion. Waverly did her best to mimic their stances and felt somewhat confident when she wasn’t told to take a lap or do push ups. Her focus shifted all over the room as they all began to follow along to the sheet music in front of them which was basically different variations of their scales.

The second Shae heard the tiniest mistake she was yelling for them to stop and start over. Her lips were beyond numb by the time they were able to make it through the entire warm up without having to start over. Then they were moving on to learning the first number of their show. The idea was to sight read together as a band before breaking into sections to practice in different classrooms.

They only made it a few seconds into the song before Shae was stopping them and giving directions; directions that they needed to mark on their sheet music and Waverly was suddenly very aware of a crucial object she had forgotten, a pencil. Luckily her new friend was a welcomed hero and let her borrow his so she wasn’t missing out on any important notes.

“Alright, we are going to break up into sections. Section leaders you know which areas are yours for practice. We’ll do private rehearsals until eleven thirty and then we’ll meet back here for a run through before taking our lunch break,” Shae stepped down from the podium and then the band room erupted into what seemed like chaos as everyone dispersed. Robin smiled at her and then waved awkwardly behind her. When she turned Jeremy was waving back and then made a funny face towards them both.

She and Robin started to follow the rest of the Trumpet section when something tapped on her shoulder. She turned and instantly faltered as the most brilliant dimpled smile stunned her. Nicole waved a mechanical pencil in the air, “Hey, rookie.”

“Nicole! Hi!” Waverly smiled around the sudden dryness of her throat.

“Don’t keep your section leader waiting but uh, I noticed you forgot a pencil and I have a spare,” Nicole continued to offer the pencil in the space between them until the action finally registered in Waverly’s consciousness. She reached out, fingers slightly grazing against Nicole's as she took the pencil.

“Thanks,” Waverly swallowed, breath hitching as Nicole’s smile widened and deepened the dimple on her left cheek. Definitely not a crush on her sister's best friend.

Someone called out and snapped Nicole’s attention away from Waverly, and if she had investigated the interruption she may have found an irritated drum major instructing Nicole to reign in the attention of her percussion line. Nicole turned one last time towards Waverly with a parting smile, drum stick twirling through long slender fingers before yelling at her section to stand at attention and get ready for their run through. With quick feet Waverly turned hastily and hoped to find where her section had disappeared too.

Sectional practice was definitely less intense then when Shae was yelling at them all for every mistake. Conner, their section leader, was patient with them and let them at least get through the entire song a few times instead of drilling the same few bars over and over again. It wasn’t even lunch yet and her lips were definitely chafing and her tongue felt swollen in her mouth. At least all the run throughs were helping her memorize the music and for some parts she was already not needing to pay as close attention to the sheet music. Maybe this was something she could do after all. Not that she’d doubted herself...too much.

Just when her stomach was starting to cramp from hunger they were all filing back into the band room to do another run through. The pencil Nicole was letting her borrow was tucked behind her ear and as she swept her eyes over the percussion line, the pressure of it against the cartilage was ever present. And then it wasn’t, but that was because Waverly was void of noticing anything but the muscles rippling in Nicole's forearms, biceps flexing and smirk on display as the percussion line continued their cadence as everyone filed back into their rows. Nicole had her snare strapped to her torso and was walking the line while everyone else’s drums were still on their stands. Nicole turned her back to pace the other direction and Waverly’s dry throat returned watching as back muscles pinched into definition.

Robin bumped shoulders with her and managed to snap her out of her, more than likely, inappropriate staring. She swallowed thickly and gave Robin a small appreciative smile before falling in line behind him as they filled in the last of the trumpet section. It was only a few seconds before the snare line was tapping out the last of their cadence with a few stuttering odd beats and then when the line finished there was one final tap and Nicole groaned.

“Lonnie, you’ve gotta count it out but it’s okay you’ll get it,” Nicole’s voice carried over the mostly quite band room as everyone anticipated the call to attention as Shae stepped up on the podium. Waverly and Robin snapped into place in almost fluid continuance of the rest of the trumpet line. At least they weren’t on their drum major’s radar for potential laps as Shae’s gaze zeroed in on different sections, including the percussion line.

“Alright, from the top and if we can make it all the way through with an acceptable performance we can break for lunch,” Shae raised her arms and everyone raised their instruments. Shea’s arms began to snap the count.

They only made it halfway before Shae stopped them all. With a snap they all reset and began again. By the fourth playthrough they finally made it through the entirety of the song and with a relieved sigh they were dismissed for lunch. Robin shoulder checked her again and asked if they could eat together, she happily accepted. Jeremy joined them as they picked a corner of the band room that no one else had congregated too. She almost, very briefly, wished that Nicole would wave or join them or say something at all but her hope for it died when Nicole slid up next to Shae and seemed to be the only reason that Shae smiled at all.

“I hear they’re together. Supposedly the it couple this year,” Jeremy was fresh for the gossip but all it did was make the peanut butter of Waverly’s sandwich seem to stick to the roof of her mouth that much thicker. So Shae, her drum major, was the chick with perky tits that Wynonna was upset for taking all of Nicole’s free time. And now Waverly, who decidedly did not have a crush on Nicole, had to see it every day at band, plus practice, future football games, competitions, and whatever else she didn’t know about. But it was ok right? Because it wasn’t a crush. Anyone who wore a bright blue tank that perfectly framed all the defined muscles of their back, biceps and forearms, and paced wearing their snare drum against their chest and expertly rapped out the beat with their drumsticks would have Waverly just as entranced. Right? Ok so maybe not currently were any of the other drummers capturing her attention at all.

Half way through lunch Shae announced that for the next few hours they would be outside for technique practice and to hydrate and apply plenty of sunscreen. For now they wouldn’t need their instruments so to place them neatly at their spot in their section. Waverly made sure the three of them drank plenty of water and she applied sunscreen and chapstick to her already sore lips.

It seemed that lunch was over way too quickly since she had two new friends to socialize with but what came next seemed very exciting. They all lined up outside in their sections and the only person to bring their instrument was Nicole who was tapping out the beat for them to learn to march too. For everyone but the rookies, it was a refresher lesson to work out all the cobwebs from concert season and the summer break. For all the rookies, it was nerve-wracking torture. Heel-toe, heel-toe. Left, right, left. Which foot was her left foot? For someone who had lived with both feet all her life, it seemed ridiculous how many times her brain sputtered to remember which was her left for her to start on.

Her shoulders burned with fatigue from holding her hands out to mimic holding her trumpet and she dreaded when they would actually do this with their instruments. She thought she was in great shape with her daily yoga but she was seriously underestimating the physical capability that band kids developed. It didn’t help that her mind wandered back to Nicole ,who was already wearing her snare outside before anyone else had their instrument, and the fact that this was Nicole’s third year, so the endurance in those shoulders and arms must be godly at this point. She was partly jealous at her rookie level but also highly impressed in her sister's best friend.

She tripped over her feet again; seriously which one was her left? Nicole noticed and Waverly saw the attempt to hide the laugh at her expense. Maybe Nicole was so noticeable today because Wynonna and herself hadn’t gotten to really spend anytime with Nicole all summer. Maybe this was just hyper-focusing because she had missed a proxy friend for a long month and a half. Ugh, she needed to focus. She needed to get a damn grip of herself.

Her shoulders felt burnt, definitely a little on the raw side, when they all were ushered back inside for the final hour of the day. Mrs. Lucado joined them, standing behind as Shae directed them through the number they’d been practicing for the day, only this time they were now marching in place to count as they had learned outside. It definitely helped but seriously, which foot was left.

Everyone was dismissed for the day but Waverly took the time to get Jeremy and Robin’s numbers added to her phone and carefully packed her backpack and trumpet up. She fully planned on taking a shower and getting some dinner before practicing for however long Gus, Curtis, and Wynonna could stand it. She’d probably end up out in the barn for the night so she could play properly and work on her air support.

A pair of ratty tennis shoes filled Waverly’s vision as she finished zipping her backpack up. She recognized them instantly. She smiled up at Nicole who was shouldering her own bag and twirling one of her sticks in her free hand, “Hey Waves!”

She smiled and then remembered the pencil still tucked behind her ear, “Oh, here you go. Thanks for letting me borrow this.”

“Nonsense. You keep it, I’ve got plenty,” Nicole gave her that million watt smile and brought her twirling drumstick down to tap out a beat against her thigh, ”Uh, Wynonna texted and asked if I could bring you home. She got caught up doing something.”

“Oh you mean someone,” Waverly chuckled despite the twinge of disappointment of not having her sister pick her up.

“Yeah,” Nicole shrugged as she leaned down and grabbed Waverly’s trumpet.

“You don’t have too,” Waverly stood, shouldering her bag and reaching for her instrument case.

“Come on Waves,” Nicole moved out of Waverly’s reach and started leading them towards the parking lot, “I can’t wait to hear all about your first day of band camp.”

“It was,” She paused trying to find the right words. She was exhausted, sure, but also with a new wave of energy just wanting to get home and practice. She couldn’t wait for tomorrow and the possibilities of new friends and learning the next song and practicing additional marching techniques, “exciting and also kind of overwhelming. I kind of want to take a nap and shower but I need to practice.”

Nicole popped open the trunk of her black ‘99 Honda Civic, a car Waverly knew how proud Nicole was to have. She’d worked on the homestead for Curtis all last year to save up for and continued to do some odd jobs where she would be able to afford all the repairs the junker had needed. But Nicole was proud and not many students of Purgatory High could say that they bought their own car, paid for their own insurance, and was completely independent from mommy and daddy like Nicole had desperately needed.

Nicole placed their bags and Waverly’s trumpet in the trunk and then unlocked Waverly’s door. She didn’t have automatic locks, yet. But it was on Nicole’s upgrade list that she had dreamily written out on a wish list notebook that Waverly knew was always in the bottom of Nicole’s backpack. Waverly climbed in and groaned at the hot seats that instantly stuck to her exposed skin. As soon as Nicole started the car she cranked the air on full blast with a sheepish smile while peeling her own thighs off her driver’s seat.

“How was your summer?” Nicole broke the silence after they had been on the road for a few minutes. It was at least a thirty minute ride to the homestead, twenty five if you were Wynonna.

“It was short but long. Kind of missed seeing you around. I know Wynonna is a bit peeved with you about your lack of appearance,” She turned to study Nicole’s face which was slightly pulled into a grimace.

“Yeah, she mentioned in passing that I’m a traitor for finding company other than herself. I think she’s just jealous I’m telling someone else that their ass is top shelf,” Nicole laughed at her own joke. Waverly’s gut flipped in what she was not saying to be jealousy.

“Maybe I’m a little peeved too,” Waverly whispered and turned towards the window with a sigh. Not a crush. Nicole was older, way cooler, and despite them growing up somewhat together since Wynonna and Nicole bonded, there was a gap between them. She just needed to crush on someone else. Someone more obtainable.

“Sorry I wasn’t around this summer. But we’re in marching band together now and we’ll see each other way more now with games and competitions,” Nicole offered.

“Will we though? You’re dating Shae right?” Waverly shouldn’t have asked. The answer was going to hurt.

“Yeah, but we’ve been friends forever and despite my absence this summer I’m not going to put you and Wynonna on the backburner just cause I’ve got a girlfriend now,” Nicole looked from the road towards Waverly with an honest smile, one that brought that jump in the gut again, “I promise.”

“I’ll hold you too that Haught,” Waverly offered her own honest smile in return while mentally and desperately trying to not get her hopes up. She knew how Wynonna got when a new boy toy presented itself, especially at the moment since Nicole was driving her home and not her sister. Additionally, Nicole had already disappeared on them because of a girlfriend. Better to just let what would happen, happen, and not let herself get disappointed. Because it would only be disappointing if this was actually a crush and it was most definitely not.