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Where The Wind Blows

Where The Wind Blows

Book excerpt

Chapter 1

“‘The Priiiiiiiiiince of Peeeeeeeeeeace,’” Brooke sang, eyes closed as the sound reverberated through the university’s choir room. Music rolled over, under and through her, soothing away the stress of the day. That’s what I’m talking about.

“That sounds great,” Dr. Davis gushed, clapping his hands together. “In fact, all the Messiah sections are coming along beautifully. This concert is going to be amazing. Now, for the carols. Please take out the packets I gave you last time. Sopranos?”

Brooke lifted her head from her music and regarded the director intently.

“There’s a descant on ‘Hark! The Harold Angels Sing!’ Only do it on verse five. The rest of the time, plan to carry the melody. We’ll have the first altos only on the alto line, and second altos on the tenor line. Everyone understand?”

Heads nodded around the choir room.

“And there’s a bass solo on ‘Lo, How a Rose.’ Kenneth, I know I didn’t mention it when I asked you to do the bass solos on the Messiah, but do you mind?”

“No, that’s fine,” a low, mellow voice replied.

Despite promising herself she wouldn’t look, the sound drew her gaze to the upper row, where a tall, bearded black man shuffled through his music.

“In German?” Kenneth asked.

“Yes,” Dr. Davis agreed. “That’s the only verse we’ll do in German. After your verse, we’ll invite the audience to join us, and end with low light, candles and ‘Silent Night.’”

Murmurs broke out in the choir. “That will be lovely,” the elderly woman beside Brooke breathed.

“I agree,” Brooke whispered. A strand of medium brown hair slipped out of her messy ponytail and obscured her view of the stately bass. Impatiently, she smoothed it back. Quit staring, she ordered herself. You’re thirty, not thirteen. Just because someone is talented… and handsome doesn’t mean you should drool. Sing, Brooke. Eyes on the music. Her gaze remained fixed, drinking in the details of the oh-so-handsome Kenneth Tyrone Hill.

“All right, everyone,” Dr. Davis said, calling the attention of the room back to him. His voice never rose above a whisper, but the way he ran his hand over his shiny, bald head and ruffled the wisps of silver hair above his ears showed he was ready to move along. He turned to the tenor section. “Gentlemen, please note that on page twelve the arranger has changed your harmonic line. It’s a cool line, but one you might not be expecting, so please note the changes.”

Paper rustled. Pencils scratched. Brooke continued to gaze at Kenneth. Just one moment more, she promised herself, and then I’ll go back to concentrating.

At that moment, as though he had detected her gaze, Kenneth turned in her direction. His warm brown eyes lit up and crinkled in the corners as he gifted her with a friendly smile.

Brook’s cheeks heated. Swallowing hard, she willed herself again to look away, but it was impossible. Kenneth Hill had the most compelling brown-eyed stare.

“Ken, would you please?” Dr. Davis said.

Kenneth broke eye contact with Brooke, and his cheeks darkened. “Certainly. Accompanied?”

“No,” the director replied. “Here’s your note. I’ll get you a pitch pipe next time. Miss Schoeppner?”

The accompanist cleared her throat and played a single note on the piano with the gravity of a performance for a king or emperor.

Kenneth lifted his music, inhaled deeply. A moment later, his robust basso rolled through the rehearsal room. “‘Es ist ein rose entsprungen,’” he sang.

The low, sweet tone of his voice crept up Brooke’s spine, and agreeable shivers rolled down her arms, setting her fingertips tingling. I haven’t been this attracted to anyone in so long. Even better that he’s safely unavailable.

Smiling to herself, she returned her attention to the director, waiting for the cue.

“‘Lo, how a rose e’er blooming,’” she sang, enjoying the old, familiar tune. Through and around the many voices of the symphony chorale, she could pick out Kenneth’s appealing tone. It gave her a thrill. What would it be like to sing a duet with him? I think I would enjoy that.

A smile tugged at her lips as the familiar carols wove a magic spell on her senses. One thing that’s nice about singing is that we can start Christmas in October and no one worries about it. Of course we have to practice.

The rehearsal ended happily, with chatter and snippets of music from various singers.

She indulged in another lingering look at her favorite bass, as he made his way slowly through the rehearsal room and out the door. Then, with nothing left to capture her interest, she meandered to the coatrack and retrieved her jacket. It’s not that late in the year… yet, but at night, it’s certainly getting cold.

“Wow, Brooke,” Mrs. Schumacher said gently, “you should take a picture. It would last longer.”

Brooke’s cheeks heated. “He’s just so talented. I hope it wasn’t too obvious.”

“It was,” her colleague assured her, “and so you should talk to him.”

“Oh, I couldn’t,” Brooke replied. “I’ll just have to be more discreet.”

“Why couldn’t you? He was looking at you too, when you weren’t paying attention. You know, both minutes.”

Brooke laughed nervously. Setting her music on top of the water dispenser, she shrugged into her coat. “Don’t make fun of me, Mrs. Schumacher.”

“You should call me Nancy. We’re not at school in front of hordes of teenagers here.”

“Nancy, then,” Brooke agreed. “He’s way out of my league; a professional opera singer about to embark on a European tour. I’m the assistant director of a high school choir.”

“A very prestigious magnet school for the arts,” Nancy corrected.

Brooke pushed open the heavy metal doors of the rehearsal room. She stepped out into a courtyard with a fountain in the center, her friend in tow. The water sprays threw colored lights into the night sky, catching the woman’s eye and making her smile.

“And,” Nancy continued, “you’re not just my assistant. You’re also the director of an award-winning girls’ choir and freshman choir.”

“I know,” Brooke said, “but that still doesn’t seem equal. Oh, watch your step!” She shoved an abandoned broom handle out of the walkway with her toe.

“Thank you, Brooke,” Nancy said, patting her arm. “Oh, and you should know, I submitted my retirement to the human resources department and the principal last Friday, effective the last day of school.” She cackled with glee. “Arizona, here I come, and may this be the last winter I ever shovel snow again, as long as I live.”

“That’s great, Nancy.” Brooke paused squeezing her friend’s hand gently.

“Yes, I’m so ready, but that changes things too, you see. I mean, think about it. Once I retire, we’ll need a new head director, which is an even more prestigious position. Sounds like exactly your league. Besides, I’ve always heard he’s very nice.”

“So have I,” Brooke mumbled. Then, not wanting to say anything more, she yawned a big, fake yawn. “Listen, I’m beat, and I have class bright and early tomorrow morning, plus sectionals. I’d better get home while I can.”

The fountain lights changed colors, illuminating Nancy’s dubious expression in a soft, pink glow. “All right, then. See you in the morning.”

Brooke hot-footed it into the parking lot, dodging around various cars and motorcycles as she made her way to her aging Freestar. Quickly turning the key in the ignition, she skirted the line of exiting singers and made her way to the rear exit of the parking lot, preferring the long drive on city streets to the freeway. Even late in the evening, she didn’t care for the speed or density of the traffic.

Twenty minutes of twisting, turning and waiting at red lights led her to the base of a four-story building. Once, it had been a stately home, but now, the interior had been carved into apartments, including the attic walk-up efficiency she shared. Thankful for a designated angled space along the curb, she parked her vehicle, locked it up, and headed inside.

The formerly-grand staircase only contained vestiges of its former beauty. Time had rendered the luxurious scarlet carpet thin and flat. The ornate handrails sported scratches and fingerprints. The need for privacy had led the owners to enclose the stairs with drywall, in order to create apartments on either side.

Up and up Brooke climbed toward the attic, passing cheap doors decorated with plastic zombies and paper ghosts in preparation for Halloween. Her own unadorned door awaited her, its white paint peeling. She knocked twice and waited. No one answered, so she pulled her key from her purse and let herself in.

The dark interior had the empty silence of an unoccupied room. Another minute of quiet listening did not reveal her roommate’s quiet breathing from behind her privacy curtain in the east-side alcove, so Brooke turned on the overhead light, revealing a threadbare sofa facing a small, wall-mounted television, a table with two chairs in the center, a kitchenette along the rear wall, and a small enclosure that lent a hint of privacy to the pocket-sized bathroom.

Brooke quickly rounded her own privacy curtain and hung her purse from the footboard of her bed. Yawning, she ducked back out again and made her way to the kitchenette, where she retrieved a gallon of milk from the 3/4 -sized refrigerator and poured some into a mug, adding a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg, and popping it into the microwave.

Good thing Jackie isn’t here. She always fusses about my hot spiced milk, even though I don’t bother her to drink it. I wonder whose bed she’s spending the night in tonight… or if she had to stay late at the hospital.

The microwave beeped. Brooke took her steaming mug to the sofa, sprawling across the fading green cushions. She felt no compulsion to turn on the television. Instead, Brooke sipped her hot milk, eyes unfocused as her busy mind played through the rest of the workweek.

Women’s choir. Sectionals. Planning period. After-school rehearsals Tuesday and Thursday, and then on Friday, the opera. I wonder what the MJAMA Vocal Society will think. They’re pretty hardcore musicians, but they’re also high school students.

Brooke drained her drink, but cradled the cup in her hands another minute, enjoying what remained of the warmth. The building’s heat struggled to compensate for the thin insulation in her attic, leaving a drafty chill in the room. Her eyes slid closed. Girl, don’t pass out on the sofa again. Go to bed.

Moving quickly, before fatigue could claim her, Brooke rinsed her cup and ducked into the tiny bathroom to brush her teeth. By that time, the last vestiges of her strength had drained away. She shuffled through the apartment to the entryway and switched off the light, then made her way by feel to her bed. She tossed her jeans and sweater onto the floor, tugged her nightgown out from under her pillow and collapsed. Sleep claimed her in moments.

Chapter 2

“That sounds wonderful, ladies,” Brooke cheered, making a closing motion with her hands. “This is going to be the best part of the whole concert.”

Big smiles, some complete with braces, broke out on the faces before her.

“Don’t get complacent. It’s a long time until our concert, and we have much, much harder pieces to learn. Now, go home, and don’t forget; those of you who are coming on the field trip need to be back in an hour and not a minute more.”

A blonde girl raised her hand.

“No, you didn’t turn in your paperwork on time. I told you I needed permission slips and payments no later than yesterday or you won’t be on the list. You’ll have to come with a parent.”

The girl sulked as only a disappointed rich girl can while the rest of her class meandered down the risers, their sneakers stomping on the metal planks. The heavy door of the choir room groaned open as the girls dispersed in a chattering herd.

“Brooke?” Nancy called from her office, which was set off to the rear of the choir room, with a glass wall so she could oversee rehearsals she wasn’t leading.

Brooke crossed the room. “Yes, Nancy?”

“Are you sure you don’t mind staying so late? I swear you work until seven every night.”

“As opposed to what?” Brooke teased. “I share an efficiency with a near-stranger. There’s nothing there to hold my attention. I’d rather be here. This is my true home.”

“You might try a date,” Nancy suggested.

“What’s that?” Brooke cupped her hand around her ear and pretended to be deaf. “I can’t hear you.” She giggled and changed the subject. “Anyway, I won’t be here until seven tonight. The school bus is leaving for the opera hall at six. And on that note, I have a couple of things to finish up before I head out.”

Nancy gave her a purse-lipped frown. “Before you run off, I heard a rumor that they’re planning to post the head director position. I’m sure it’s a formality. Rules, you know? But you have to go through the motions. Just wanted to let you know. Be on the lookout.”

“Thank you,” Brooke told her colleague sincerely. “I will certainly do that.”

Waving to Nancy, she made her way into her office, tucked between Nancy’s and the corner. Unlike her boss’s, hers had a solid wall and a non-soundproofed door. Still, it was a nice place to escape to.

Brooke plunked into her comfortable office chair and rolled her mouse to activate the computer. One click started her classical music soundtrack. Another brought up the internet, where she quickly updated her participation grades before taking a final check of her plans for the rest of the evening. Permission slips. Tickets. Paperwork for the bus. Roster checklist. The ritual comforted her ever-present anxiety to a certain degree. The minutes passed quickly as she busied herself with mundane tasks, until the time arrived to meet the students in front of the school at the bus lane.

Darkness had long since fallen, ratcheting mid-fall chill down to wintery iciness. Winter. Ugh. It’s going to be so cold. No matter how many years I spend in this city, I can’t adjust. Zipping her coat, she stepped out beside the bus. The driver operated the arm to open the door.

Various cars waited in the student parking lot. Some belched exhaust from their tailpipes as shivering parents waited to ensure their child’s safe delivery to the bus. Others sat empty, the students having gathered inside the school’s vestibule to pass the time chatting.

At Brooke’s arrival, students surged around her like a wave from the ocean. Or maybe from Lake Superior, she thought wryly. The ocean’s a long way from here. Though the actual number of students attending the opera was small, a pack of high school students always sounds like a flock of tropical birds; a chirping, chattering cacophony of hormones and conversation. Brooke loved their energy.

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