Chapter 1:

New Beginnings

The Smile

It was your average Monday morning to start a new semester, I sat by my only friends I had in my Math class cracking jokes. As the class wound towards its end, I couldn’t help noticing that across the room was a girl who had a smile that brightens up the whole room. I couldn’t help but stare and then I heard somebody call out my name, “Hey Mark what are you staring at you little perv.”, I couldn’t help but be shocked so I just looked at him and said “C’mon Troy why do you always have to be so loud all the time?” As he laughs it off, Our other friend Nik asks us “Hey while you two screw around, have you figured what we are gonna have for lunch.” As soon as he ended his question we both said with conviction “Cheesesteaks!”. As we start heading out the door the girl passes by and waves at us. As my stomach flutters with nerves, I hear my friends argue which one of them she was waving to. On the way to Sandwiches Galore, they ask me which one of them I thought she waved to, as I said me, they both started bursting out in laughter as they both ask “Why would she wave to the guy who only wears short hoodies?”, as to I respond “Women love the shy guy who’s different.”. As we continue joking about who she waved too we enter the shop and are greeted by the owner. “Isn’t it the three musketeers, I assume it’s the usual.”. You can never come to this place without having their cheesesteak with mushrooms and hot peppers. As we talk about our plans for the weekend coming up, in walks the girl from math. As Troy and Nik try to finally solve their argument I get up to throw my trash away and head outside. As I’m waiting for them to come outside I put on some of my favorite music, some good old R&B. As I am listening, the restaurant doors open, I turn around asking “Did y’all find out which one of you she waved too?”. As I finish turning around and look, there she was standing there wearing her beautiful smile on her face, as she responds “No, they are still trying to one up each other they haven’t noticed I walked out here.”, as I struggle with getting the right words to come out of my mouth, she speaks again “You’re in my math class right? You always have a smile on your face when you're with those guys, yet whenever I see you alone you always are looking down and humming music.” As I stand there, still struggling to speak she continues, “You know if you smiled more and waved back to those saying ‘Hi’ to you maybe they would talk with you more.” As she leaves all I could mutter out is “Hey Valerie you have a great smile, and its awesome that whenever I see you, you are always smiling.” As she heads off she turns her head back at me with a small smile, and heads inside. A few moments later my two friends head back outside, in awe as Troy immediately asks the question “What did she talk to you about?” And Nik quickly adds in “she probably asked him to stop staring at her in class.” As they both laugh, I say “No she asked me if Nik was single and I told her no, he is dating a girl in a different state.” As we all keep joking with one another all I could think about is the fact that she went out of her way to talk to me, not only that she notices me too when I’m alone.

As the school day ended, it was time for us to go to clubs. Troy went off to play baseball, while Nik left for the manga club, Nik and I had always looked at Troy as a player who had the potential to possibly even go pro in baseball, but of course we never told him that. For me I am in the school band, I play the trumpet and much of my time after school is spent practicing in the Band Room. Music has always been important to me, and is the reason why I have the friends I have now. Troy and I bonded with our similar love for R&B, while Nik played so much country he eventually wound up making me listen to it. As I enter the band room, I am greeted by some of the most beautiful notes from a piano I have ever heard. As I quietly sneak my way into the room, I see Valerie playing the piano with such a serious look on her face, missing her famous smile, as she finishes her playing I couldn't help but clapping. She turns around and sees me standing there and immediately she asks me what I think of her playing. I responded faster than I ever had before saying “That was probably some of the most beautiful pieces of playing I have ever heard!” In shock all she could say was “Wow, you really love music don’t you Mark, this is the first time you’ve talked to me while stumbling on your words.” Embarrassed, the only thing that would come out of my mouth was “Oh yea, well this is the first time I’ve ever seen you with that serious look on your face.” The room went quiet for a good 10 seconds before she started laughing and mocking me, saying “Man, someone really worked up their courage today!” There was a feeling of more embarrassment and shock building up inside me that I started to leave the room when she calls out to me “By the way, what are you doing in here?” As I try to ignore her and continue leaving she begins playing again, this time it was Moonlight Sonata composed by Beethoven. The sound coming from that direction stops me dead in my tracks, as much as I wanted to leave, my body would not let me. Valerie stops playing and repeats her question again, but this time, with more seriousness behind it. “I’m here to practice for Band.” I said. “But I see that you are already practicing here so I will just practice at home.” As I grab my Trumpet, I am startled by her asking me to play a song, “Oh, lets gauge your skill level, play me your most favorite song to play.” A mixture of nervousness as well as excitement begins to build within me. I place the case on the floor gingerly, I put the mouthpiece in, and bring the instrument to my lips. With closed eyes, I begin playing. As I finish playing, before I could tell her what I choose to play, she immediately says “OMG! Louis Armstrong’s La Vie En Rose, it's definitely an amazing piece to know how to play.” I become shocked, and am unable to speak before she says again “So shy, unable to talk, but when it comes to music, there is nothing holding you back huh? That is really amazing.” She follows up once more, “I am unable to play for an audience mostly, but it is something I want to be able to do eventually.” After she finished that last bit of words I hastily answered “Why are you afraid to perform?” she opens her mouth, but before she is able to speak I continue, “You have such a beautiful tone I’ve ever heard, hell you might’ve even been considered as a virtuoso if you did play for people.” As I awaited her answer I finally realized how rash I was being and immediately looked back down and apologized. As I expect to be ignored, I hear her laughter once again, “What are you sorry for, you are the first person to have ever heard me play piano, and even said I’d be considered as a virtuoso.” As her laughter subsides, she continues “You really have a passion for all this music stuff huh.” I finally am able to control my emotions and respond normally, “Music is the one thing that I’ve ever been interested in as a career path.” I felt awkward saying this aloud, but I continue “Whenever I play or listen to music, it seems like everyone else around me disappears." After saying that I expected to be laughed at and mocked, but instead she just sat there in silence. After a while, she begins to start speaking. Not wanting to hear what she said, I packed up my instrument and tried to leave. Once I left the room I decided to go relax at my favorite spot, there is a little bench next to a creek not too far from the school. As I watched the creek flow and listened to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, my phone began to ring. As I answered it I am bombarded with many questions from Nik. “Mark, where the hell are you? Valerie came to the manga club saying you just bolted after you guys talked in the band room.” When he finally gets done talking I try to respond and am immediately interrupted, “Dude go back there and apologize, she obviously wasn’t making fun of you so why the hell did you bolt? You know what nevermind I gotta get back to my club, I’ll give you a ride home after so hurry up.” As the phone hangs up, I start to mutter to myself but then realize that he was right. She didn’t once laugh at me when I talked about my passion for music, so why did I leave? As these thoughts start filling my head I walk back to the band room, I notice that there is a lack of presence I never noticed before. The room was empty. As I wait a bit for her to possibly return I decide to pull out my instrument again, but as I open the case I notice a sheet of paper. It reads ‘I am sorry that I made you feel out of place, and pressured you too hard. -Valerie’ while reading this my heart starts to tense up and regret starts to build up.

As I sit thinking over how I messed this situation up I get a call from Nik asking where I was. After we found one another we start heading towards his car. Trying to avoid the obvious questions that were about to be asked I put in my earbuds. However, as I start to grab them Nik stops me and says “What went wrong dude, at first you couldn’t take your eyes off of her, but now you won’t even try to talk with her.” Nik stops for a moment but then continues. “Listen man, I know Troy and I joke around with you alot, but you need to realize that there are gonna be girls out there who are looking for a guy like you. You’re kind, and smart, and most importantly you’re our friend, don’t be afraid to be who you wanna be around anyone.” Once he finishes I hastily look down to avoid talking, but once Nik wants to know something he won’t quit until he gets his answer. So I told him, “I don’t know man, first odd it was about her face and how pretty everything about it was, but when I talked to her I kind of felt like she wasn’t for me.” Saying this just made me hope the conversation would be over. However, Nik being one of the few people who really knows me yells “Bull!” After I tell him to lower his voice he continues, “We both know that girl made you happy that she went out of her way to talk to you. I mean you smile and laugh with me and Troy, but with Valerie, you were really different. I’ve never seen you act that way!” As we approach Nik’s car we get in. The conversation continues with Nik saying “Honestly man tell me what really happened, and don’t lie to me. If you do, I'm gonna slug you in the arm.” Knowing that I am gonna be unable to escape this topic I tell him the truth. “Well it started off with me listening and watching Valerie play the piano and it was really amazing.”

Nik interrupts me, “Oh, so she thought you were a creep again.”

“Shut up.” I say

I continue, “No she was telling me how I was the first person who ever heard her play, and that her dream is to perform on a big stage with an audience but has stage fright.” As I stop Nik just looks at me wanting me to finish the recap. “So then she asked me to play her a song, which I did, and she made a few jokes about how I’m super shy until it came to music. So I explained to her my love, felt embarrassed and ran.”

After hearing this Nik can’t help but laugh. As he looks at me dumbfounded he says, “Man I thought something serious like you confessed to her happened. But it turns out, Lil’ Marky has a crush.”

Once he said that the car was completely silent, until we heard a knock on the window. It was Troy, his practice just ended and he wanted to go grab food before heading home. As Troy loads his gear into the back of the car and hops in the backseat we head to this little Chinese Barbecue place.

“God nothing beats this place after a long practice.” Troy exclaimed. Once Troy saw the expression on my face and asked what was wrong.

“Nothing” I said. After I said this I got hit hard in the arm. “Ow!” looking at Nik I asked, “What the hell was that for?”

“I told you, if you lie again I will hit you in the arm.” As he said this there is a big smirk on his face, as if he has been wanting to hit me for a while. “Now tell Troy the truth or I will hit you again.”

This time I chose not to speak, and as I saw Nik getting ready to hit me again, I slugged him.

“Jesus, that freaking hurt.” Nik looking at me goes “Fine. Hey Troy wanna hear how dumb Mark is?” I try to stop him but he continues, “So Valerie tried to talk with him, but after a few minutes he ran away like a little girl.”

A short second after he said this a huge laugh burst out of Troy. “Holy hell dude you almost made me choke on my food. Jeez, Mark a little slow in that department aren’t you.”

As they continue laughing at me I finally decide to speak up. “Listen guys, that was the first time I ever expressed myself to somebody. It was embarrassing so I decided to run. I couldn’t stand being laughed at after that.”

“Well dude, it seems like you won’t have to worry too long, I doubt she will ever wanna talk to you after that.” After hearing Nik say this I choke on my food. As I am trying to stop coughing, Troy decides to comfort me, “Listen who knows, she did care enough about you to reach out to Nik, maybe she will try again, it might take some time.”

As we finish our dinner we all head our separate ways. I am the first to be dropped off and as I am saying my goodbyes both Nik and Troy say “Don’t worry about it too much Mark, there is a whole school year ahead of us.”

As I entered my house all I could do was go in my room and try to fall asleep. I Hope tomorrow will be a better day.

Joe Gold
Arashi Sensei
pulp 6 6 6
The Smile

The Smile