(Love is) Thicker than Water

by Jennifer A. Howard

The day Andy Gibb died, we kept the lights off all of fifth hour. We were supposed to be getting ready for festival, but the sopranos were too sad. Our director took one of them into his office and some of us sat on the risers, playing cards or getting homework done in just the light that came through the windows. The guys kicked a flattened pop can around the back of the room, calling out a complicated score-keeping that seemed unrelated to anything they were actually doing. We took turns watching the door in case the principal came by. If he did, we could be in our spots in a matter of seconds. As long as Mary, the accompanist, gave us two bars of the madrigal's introduction we would be in sync, even if Mr. Leonard and Polly were still behind the locked door of his office.

I was dating one of the tenors, a tall boy better suited to golf than chorale, but his other fifth-hour option had been sociology, and that required a research paper. We both had study hall after class, so we could be out of there and back at my house by 1:45. My parents were teachers and didn't get home till after four. So we didn't have to make out in the soundproof practice rooms at school like some other people. He could play can-hockey and I didn't care. Jackie was teaching me shorthand and we wrote notes to each other. Though I would misread her all the time, because you pretty much just have the line and the curve, in a trillion various combinations, so everything looks similar. On the day Andy Gibb died, I thought she wrote, "Polly is a sleuth," when she meant "slut." She had to say it out loud for me. "Slut."

Jackie might not have liked her, but Polly was okay. And while I could never imagine kissing a guy with a beard, Mr. Leonard wasn't that old. Matt and I had all sorts of time alone but he didn't know what he was doing any more than I did. I'd mostly just go along when Matt put his hand down my jeans, even when I wanted him just kissing me, maybe his hand up my shirt some. Polly and I had gym together, and she asked me once if I'd ever had an orgasm, and I said I didn't think so, and she said, "Oh, you'd know if you had."

Not that she could describe one. She said it was like being shocked, or like getting flattened from the feet up with a rolling pin, things that didn't make sense or sound good.

Matt's friend Bill must have scored somehow, because the guys all called out at the same time. I could never tell what the word was—"chicken," maybe, or "wicked"—but it clearly signified some special maneuver that didn't happen very often. Bill looked happy with himself and I think he was coming over to where we were sitting when the girl at the door shouted, "Places!" Jackie and I got into line with the other altos, and Bill was right behind us, clearing his throat to get ready. Mary was at the piano. Eight counts and we were singing. It was in German, so it was nonsense to us, although it was something about nature, a garden and a stream. I think it might have been a love song.

We didn't need Mr. Leonard to direct us through it; festival was next week. When Polly came out of the office and took her spot it didn't really change the sound of all of us together. You couldn't hear her voice in particular, or mine either or anybody's. It took another minute for Mr. Leonard to come out and start wagging his baton about, but by that time we knew we were safe, that the principal hadn't been headed to this room after all, and we stopped singing. Mr. Leonard said, "Let's keep going, since we're here," but we didn't feel like it. Andy Gibb was dead, somebody reminded him. Matt came and stood behind me and I leaned back against him. Polly looked at the cement floor, and when Matt kissed the top of my head I felt something slink and curl deep under my stomach. I didn't mean to, but I pressed myself, my hips, backwards against him almost hard enough to push him over. He steadied himself and held onto me tighter and we didn't fall. Mr. Leonard went back into his office and Polly didn't go after him, and we kept the lights off, some of the girls working out the harmonies to "Shadow Dancing" with Mary in the half-dark.

Jennifer A. Howard is a fiction editor at Passages North, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, Redivider, Blue Mesa Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Sycamore Review, Southeast Review, and the W. W. Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward.