The Composition of a Lie
Rachel A. Robins
There is always that one girl. The girl that has everything - looks, popularity and an adequate dose of brains. Jessica Jewkes was that girl and a member of the school band. Bands rarely produced the popular kids but it did spit out Jessica ... the flute-playing heroine of the eighth grade ... and I wanted to be just like her.
Although we had never met, the summer after my seventh-grade year would intertwine our fates. Ms. Leeman was a Diamond-Level premier patron of our local symphony and had taken it on herself to bring better music education to all local student musicians. She sponsored, organized, promoted and was named CEO of the first annual Southern Utah Young Musician Music Camp. I hesitated as I stepped into a building at the community college and looked for the flute room. A high trill caught my ear as I turned the corner and saw Mrs. Brown, the flute teacher, gazing heavenward in ecstasy. I knew immediately who she was smiling at: Jessica Jewkes.
Jessica swayed side to side as weightless notes poured out of the instrument, creating sparks and shimmers across the room. She was perfection personified. I tripped over the coarse carpet beneath my oversized feet and shattered the mood like a baseball nailing a window. I received an insincere smile from Mrs. Brown and melted into the nearest chair.
Our first exercise was to partner up and tune by playing the same note and making the appropriate adjustments until our flutes merged as one. As luck would have it, I was paired with Jessica. I had never actually spoken to her before and I felt like a child approaching a Disney Princess. My throat tightened and I felt my palms become moist. I murmured a timid hello and felt my fingers grip my flute like a lifeline.
Jessica looked at me and gave a snide laugh with a big eye roll: "How boring is this? I can’t stand spending days with Mrs. B. She´s such a loser."
I gasped audibly, my mouth falling open in shock as all my pre-conceived notions of sweet Jessica drifted out the window as fast as a stack of sixteenth notes.
With another smile, she asked my name and suggested I tune to her because she had perfect pitch. Of course, she did. Sharla Carter from the rival school watched Jessica through narrowed eyes as Mrs. Brown called on Jessica to demonstrate. The only male flutist, Danny Gibson - skinny with bright red hair and wire-rimmed glasses that were only held up by his large nose - clenched his fists as Jessica shined. Danny played technically as well as Jessica but with a fierceness that didn´t look pleasant coming from fingers on a flute. While Jessica swayed to the music, Danny convulsed in rapid jerks. If there was a woodwind-abuse hotline, I have would have reported him.
The morning moved on until the bell sounded announcing lunch time. We sat outside together in the sweltering sun as I surveyed Jessica between nibbling bites of peanut butter and jelly sandwich from our pre-packed camp lunches. She had dark-blonde hair streaked with highlights that fell upon her rounded shoulders. Her brown eyes were illuminated with pastel-colored eye shadow, eyeliner and thick mascara that my parents had forbidden me to wear. White teeth glistened as she made fun of everyone in sight. I choked on my perfectly-cut carrot sticks as she mocked Mrs. Brown’s praise.
Patsy Smith caught my eye and shot me a disapproving stare. Patsy was in my church congregation and obviously wanted to remind me that I knew better. I felt a pinprick at my conscience which was quickly dispelled by laughing even harder as Jessica poked fun at Patsy´s "pizza-face" and Sharla’s “flat-as-a-pancake chest”. Jessica rolled her eyes in Patsy’s direction and began walking towards the campus. I followed like a lost puppy.
The fierce June sun beat down on the parking lot creating mirage waves in the distance, obscuring my vision of what was ahead. The parking lot had a gentle slope. We climbed to the top and found a sun-bleached golf cart with the college logo emblazoned on the side. Jessica´s chatter tapered off and she surveyed the golf cart.
"Who´s the moron who left it parked here? Let´s take the brake off and watch it roll!" her brown eyes lit up in anticipation and a giggle bubbled out of her throat.
"We´ll get in trouble for sure," I replied, "and it belongs to the college," I said reverently.
Jessica leveled her eyes at me and said the word that no teenager wants to hear ...
I felt a trickle of sweat roll down the back of my Young Musicians T-shirt.
"No, I´m not," was my shaky reply.
Jessica took a step back, dropped her chin and looked at me with her penciled eyebrows arched in a question.
My sand-coated throat became a vice, shutting off all oxygen. I could feel my hands shake as Jessica´s eyes bored a hole into my back. My eyes darted back and forth as I scanned the area for witnesses. There was no one. No students, no college staff, no campus police and no Patsy Smith shaking her head.
My heart pounded against my chest so loudly I could drown out a marching band. Ba-bump. Ba-bump-bump. Ba-ba-bump. The rhythm of crime wasn´t catchy. My feet slowly inched forward on the pavement. It felt like I was walking on steaming lava rocks. The oppressive heat beat on me and sweat began to pour off my forehead in buckets. I was suddenly assaulted by the sharp smell of alcohol from my melting hairspray.
The golf cart was just out of reach. Jessica hissed at me to hurry. I loomed closer, placing my damp hand on the bumpy exterior of the cart. I felt the scraped paint, the damaged door, the worn leather on the steering wheel. The interior was spotless, the sharp smell of Windex lingered like a ghost. I peered under the steering wheel and saw the emergency brake. My hand shook as much as Doug when he played a Bach Air. I reached down. I lifted the lever and backed up as the cart began to roll. I stumbled as my hands flew out to protect me. The heat from the pavement felt like a brand.
A male voice in the distance shouted. Jessica swore softly and told me to run for it. Our feet beat on the hot pavement until we reached the cluster of cars on the opposite side of the lot. I hid behind a blue Grand Am and raised my eyes to see the cart careen down the parking lot. I hid my face and heard the loud honking of a car and the scream of tires on the road. Bile rose in my throat as my peanut butter and jelly sandwich fought its way out of my churning stomach.
Jessica reveled in the excitement and gave me her whole-hearted approval but her long-sought praise sounded out-of-tune and hollow.
As class began, I gazed at the painted-wood door that was propped open as the air conditioning blew in a heavily-scented perfume. The air grew thick with the strong scent that reminded me of Saturday shopping with my mother at the J.C. Penny perfume counter. A wrinkled jeweled hand pushed the door open and Ms. Leeman stood before us. She wore tapered black slacks and a peach frilly top set off by diamond earrings and red lipstick. Her mouth opened as she spit out tightly clipped words informing us that college security claimed someone from our music camp caused a golf cart to roll. Ms. Leeman would question us individually until the culprit was apprehended. A manicured finger pointed at Jessica to interview first.
Jessica flipped her hair and threw a pointed look my way as she walked confidently out the door. I stared at the mud-colored carpet, guilty thoughts playing in my head like a stuck record. They returned quickly. Ms. Leeman smiled as Jessica sweetly patted her shoulder.
“Not a word" she hissed under her breath as Ms. Leeman signaled for me to follow. The carpet caught me again and I barely missed knocking Ms. Leeman over. Her red heels cut into the floor as I followed her across the hall. Her heavily-lidded eyes held mine as she asked if I knew anything about what happened.
My heart beat faster than a snare drum solo.
"Well?" she questioned. A fermata of silence quivered in the air.
Against all my instincts, I met her gaze and lied. Lied with the effortless rhythm I should not have possessed. The words wrote themselves and flew out of my open mouth.
I don´t remember much else about the music camp but I do remember the guilt. I remember the guilt that ate at me like a starved flesh-eating African piranha. The loud clap of knowledge thundered in my ears that Jessica was no friend. She had played me far better than she´d ever played her flute.
I never spoke to Jessica again. The next spring she was caught smoking and was suspended from school. A couple of years ago I saw her arrest picture in the newspaper for shop-lifting to feed her drug habit. She must have traded her flute for a different kind of pipe ...
The day the golf cart rolled changed me. I begin to form my own identity outside the shadows of others. Like a fledgling bird, I learned to fly and when true friendship came - I was ready. I learned I could only hear perfect harmony when I was at peace with myself and that was a lesson worth more than the Diamond-Level symphony patronage.