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"Well, I can," she said. She smiled back, but this time it wasn't mocking. "I'll tell you what," she went on. "Since neither of us got first chair the right way this year, why don't we make this double or nothing? Whoever Dr. Chambourg picks gets the orchestra job and the seat."

I stuck out my hand. "You got it. Deal."

She gave me hers and we shook on it. "I hope you realize what you're getting yourself into," she warned. "There's a really good chance that I'm going to beat you."

"That's fine," I said. "As long as you play your best."

Kathy won. I can't say I was surprised, but it was a relief to have it confirmed for me. This time, I gave up my seat and the orchestra job without a fight. This time, I felt as if she truly deserved both honors.



Though my music career wasn't turning out as I'd hoped, I received some good news: Mr. Wilson liked my latest set of paintings so much he decided to enter them for me in a local art contest.

"I love the contrast of the colors," he said, admiring the series, which consisted of four paintings titled, "Anger," "Madness," "Depression" and "Broken." "And I like the way the figures are visible from a distance but when you come in close, the lines just look like splashes of paint." It's probably not too much of a surprise to hear that the character was based on Josh. But instead of painting a portrait from when I'd seen him at his best, I ended up recreating him at his worst. I didn't tell Mr. Wilson that my work was based around my ex-boyfriend. He thought I was an "artiste." Admitting that I painted these pieces during a breakup just sounded pathetic.

That said, I never expected to hear from Josh again. But, as always, he was ready to surprise me.

I was thinking about everything as I walked toward my house on a balmy Friday. It had been a rough week -- math and chemistry exams, and a history paper -- and it was a relief to be out in the fresh May air. I'd chosen to walk home that day, hoping that I could clear my head of logarithms and the French Revolution.

As I approached my porch, I was surprised to see someone sitting there and a familiar station wagon in the driveway. It was Josh. He looked pale and tired, as if he hadn't been sleeping much, and he really needed a haircut. But his casts and crutches were gone. As I came closer, he stood up with the help of a cane.

"Look, I'm free," he joked.

I eyed him in disbelief, still in shock that he was there.

"Well, aren't you going to say something?" he asked "Congratulations, perhaps?"

"It -- it's great," I stammered. "I'm glad you're able to walk without crutches again. Really. How long has it been?"

"A couple of weeks. You should've seen my mom," he said, beaming. "She was thrilled. She actually taped me walking the other day, as if I were a toddler or something. Driving's kind of difficult because my leg still feels weird, but it's only a few minutes to your house." He twirled the cane around like a baton. "I should be rid of this thing soon. Although, I'll admit, I'm growing sort of attached to it. It's like this cool third leg."

I didn't laugh. "We need to talk, Josh."

He grew serious. "We sure do."

The two of us just sat there for a minute, the same way we had when we were in Central Park. Finally, he turned to me and began talking. "Mel, I'm so sorry for the things I said to you at my house. I was just upset and I was a total jackass."

"I'm sorry for the things I said to you, too."

"Well, I knew the video would come up a" and you're right. My plan was real shitty and I never should've roped Ken into it. But you'll be happy to know that I 'fessed up to Kathy last week on the phone. I didn't mention you or Ken, but I told her about everything else: the roach, the fake letter, the messed up recital. I thought she deserved to know. She took it pretty well, by the way," he added. "Though she did call me a few choice words before calming down. And oh, you'll love this -- she made me refer to her as Queen Kathy, the most magnificent, amazing, beautiful woman who ever lived and to whom I shall henceforth bow to and worship. She was seriously testing how far I'd go with an apology."

"What did she make you do?" I asked. I giggled softly. The idea of Josh worshipping Kathy was so absurd.

"Let's see. When I'm fully recovered, I have to give her a pedicure, carry her books to class, detail her car and call her 'Your Highness' in front of everyone," Josh said. He sighed. "Plus a"- and I swear, I am not kidding here a"- I have to bow down and kiss her feet in the middle of the hallway. She's really taking advantage of me here, but I'm okay with it."

"She's Kathy," I said, shrugging. "I'm glad you talked to her. It means a lot to me -- and it took guts to do that."

"Hey, you're the one with the guts," he told me. "I heard all about what you did with Kathy and the orchestra. I take back everything I said about you being a hypocrite."

"No, you were right about that. It was just everything else you said that p.issed me off." I playfully shoved him. It was nice to be able to talk to him without arguing. It wasn't quite like old times, but it felt comfortable.

"See, that's the thing," Josh mused. "When I first decided to come clean a few weeks back, I was doing it for you. I hoped maybe you'd take me back." He took my hand. "I've missed you, Mel."

"I've missed you, too," I said. My eyes p.r.i.c.kled.

"Well, when you're healing from a bunch of broken bones, you have a lot of time to think. I've realized how messed up I've been lately, with the scheming and partying, and acting like a douche in general. And so I've made some important decisions about my life."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. Check it out -- I've decided to go to college." He handed me a stack of brochures. I flipped through them.

"Columbia, Juilliard, NYU a"- these are impressive." A particular one caught my eye. "Harvard? Seriously?"

"Yep," he said, proudly. "I know that getting into there is a longshot, but you never know. I'm hoping that an essay about my childhood spent on the road with my mom, the quotes *rock star,' will intrigue them enough to make them forget about the rest of my, um, colorful record."

"This is great," I said, "but where did this all come from?"

"From you," he said. He squeezed my shoulder. "I want to be more serious and have goals like you. You make me want to be a better person."

"But you have goals," I reminded him. "Remember how you're planning to be a starving musician in the city?"

Josh laughed. "Oh, I'm still going to record an alb.u.m some day. But at least I won't have to crash in your dorm in the meantime." He leaned in close. "I still haven't told you all of my news."

"There's more?"

"Mmm-hmm. After I spoke to Kathy, I told my mom about everything that went on this year. Everything. She was furious. For the first time ever, she actually acted like, you know, a mother. She made me call Mr. Francis." He groaned.

"Oh no, what did he do to you? I'm surprised he didn't re-break your leg."

"Well, he wasn't happy, I can tell you that."

"Are you getting expelled?" I asked.

Josh whistled in awe. "Believe it or not, no. They figure that me getting hit by a car was punishment enough. But after screaming at me for about an hour, he and my mom talked and made some decisions for me. I'm no longer a part of the school music program."

"Seriously? What about your music career?"

"I'll still have that," Josh said. "Sort of."

"What do you mean?"

Josh turned red from embarrassment. "It seems Mr. Francis is opening a music sleep-away camp in upstate New York this summer," he explained. "He needs counselors. So, he's, er, recruited me to be the brass teacher-slash-counselor-in-training for the 10-year-old boys. Of course, this is strictly 'volunteer' on my part," he added. Josh's expression turned to panic. "God, Mel, can you picture me being an authority figure to a bunch of little kids?" He shuddered. "I don't know the first thing about that."

"Given your usual maturity level, I'd say you're perfect for the job," I chuckled. "I'm just surprised that Mr. Francis thinks so."

"Apparently, he doesn't hate me like I thought," Josh marveled. "During his talk to my mom, the words 'potential,' 'responsibility' and 'slacker' came up a few times. He thinks that this will be much better for me than an expulsion from school. He has this idea that if I'm in charge, I'll learn to take stuff seriously. I think he's planning to treat this like boot camp or something. Teach me to be all that I can be."

"Which is a lot," I pointed out.

"Maybe you're right. Then again, this will be the perfect opportunity to pass on my legacy on to those kids." He winked. "Don't be surprised if you hear stories about Mr. Francis waking up to find frogs in his bed or his underwear on the flagpole."

"I wouldn't expect any less of you," I said. I stopped smiling. "Josh, I'm really proud of you."

"Thanks." Josh again blushed. "Melinda ... there's something else that I've been wanting to say for a while ..." He took a deep breath. "I love you, okay? And I'm sorry that it's taken me so long to say it -- unless you want to count when I said it at you during our argument. But I really don't want to." He smiled. "I love you so much. And I hope you still love me." I was so thrilled to hear him say that to me, I couldn't speak for a second. Our fight seemed like it had been a lifetime ago. "I do love you," I told him. "I've never stopped."

He breathed a sigh of relief. "So we both love each other." He laughed. "That is just so cool!"

"It is," I hedged. "But let's face it, whenever we hook up, things get out of hand. How can we be sure that if we get together everything won't fall apart again?"

"I guess we can't," he said, shrugging. "But would it make you feel any better if I assure you that I'm capable of being as boring as the next guy?"

"I don't want that," I said. "I like that you're crazy. I just don't want all the schemes and the lies. I want to be able to be with you without having to look over my shoulder to see what trouble we're in all the time."

"Well, would you give me a second chance? Would you be willing to start over, pretend none of this happened?"

"I'm willing to see what happens," I said.

"Well, then, how about this? Why don't you let me take you on that date I promised for Valentine's Day? A normal date --dinner, a movie, a nice walk by the lake under the stars..."

He didn't get to finish because I leaned in and pressed my lips to his. He took me in his arms, and I melted against him. I relished the familiar feel of his hands sliding up my back and his fingers in my hair. I tightened my grip around him and kissed him even more intensely.

For a few minutes, the world stood still. Finally, he pulled back in surprise, his blue eyes wide. "Whoa, Mel, what are you doing?" he asked, his lopsided grin spreading across his face.

I took his face in my hands, kissed him again, and smiled. "Creating a diversion."

.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR.

Naomi Rabinowitz has always loved being creative. Raised in Nesconset, NY a"- a suburb on Long Island a"- she was introduced to the arts at an early age. Her mother, Joyce, is a pianist; her father, Melvin, plays piano and guitar; her grandmother, Esther, was a talented knitter; her late grandfather, Morris, was a violinist; her late great uncle, Sid Robin, was a well-known jazz musician, who penned the lyrics to the popular big band hit, "Undecided."

Naomi's parents, who were both teachers, frequently took her to museums and concerts. During their summers off, her family traveled. By the time she was 15, Naomi had been to several European countries, as well as China, j.a.pan, Israel, Egypt, Russia and Mexico.

Naomi's love for writing emerged when she was in the second grade and her poem, "The Four Seasons," won first prize in a local literary competition. She became interested in journalism in junior high when her English class was selected to write for Newsday's "Kidsday" column.

She had as much passion for music. Though she began playing piano when she was three, she switched to her "true" instrument, the flute, when she was nine and eventually added tenor sax and clarinet to her list so that she could play in jazz band. She performed in almost every musical group from wind ensemble to orchestra (but never marching band!). In 2008, she released her jazz alb.u.m FLUTE PATH.

Naomi received a B.A. in English from Binghamton University and an M.A. in magazine journalism from Syracuse University. From 1998-2012, she worked as a reporter/editor for national TV magazine Soap Opera Digest.

These days, Naomi writes, plays jazz flute and designs jewelry for her businesses Naomi's Designs and MayaGirl Creations. She lives in Queens, NY with her husband, Jonathan, and their cat, Maya. You can find her at: Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/NaomiRabinowitzAuthor.

Twitter: @NaomiRDesigns.

Blog: handmadewirejewelry.blogspot.com.

Etsy: www.etsy.com/shop/naomirabinowitz.

Www.etsy.com/shop/mayagirlcreations.

CD Baby: www.cdbaby.com/cd/naomirabinowitz.

iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/us/alb.u.m/flute-path/id289863534.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS.

I have so many people to thank, I'm not sure where to begin. First, there's Marybeth Luczak, who's edited several versions of BAND GEEK for me over the years. I appreciate you sticking by me from my draft to its later inceptions! Then there are those many friends who've done reads for me and have shared valuable opinions, including Amy Greenhouse, Kristin Bruton, Ellen Barton and Randy McDonald. Thank you to Dr. Marianna Strakhan for your comments and help on the medical scenes and a big GRACIAS to my cousin Rachael Rifkin, who edited this final version. I'm so glad that you tracked me down on Facebook!

To Scott Muller, my favorite former band geek from way back, thanks for pushing me to get up on stage and play that jazz flute solo during our high school concert. Your friendship means the world to me. To Isabel Rivera, thanks for inviting me to play with your band and for encouraging me in my musical endeavors. To Ilayna "Lani" Kootz, I can't begin to express how honored and lucky I am to have you as a lifelong friend. I hope that you like your literary inspiration, Lana. And to my wonderful girlfriends: Suzanne Bagley, Karen Greenberg, Michele Rosow, Teri Cohen, Tali Maron and Marina Strizhevsky, thanks for all of your encouragement in my writing and other pursuits.

I'd be nothing without my family, who's been there for me every step of the way and has always encouraged me to follow my dreams. A big, loving thank you to Mel and Joyce Rabinowitz, Esther Rabinowitz, Martin and Sharon Edelstein, Deborah, Joseph and Annika Tomaras, Judy Edelstein and Fran Bellin, Anna Sanders, Morris and Mildred s.l.u.tzker. Though some of you are no longer with us, you're still near and dear to me.

A special thank you to my amazing husband, Jonathan Edelstein, who was there to comfort me when I received rejection letters and was eager to celebrate with me when I finished each chapter. I love you and am grateful to have you in my life.

Finally, thanks to all of those band and orchestra members who were a part of my life in Sachem, Binghamton and Syracuse. I'll always cherish our time together. Band geeks forever!

end.





CHAPTER DISCUSSION