A few hours later, I was biking to my aunt’s house with a backpack stuffed with all my music scores and choir costumes. My cousins and uncle were at home, and they all witnessed me informing my aunt that I was quitting the choir, and that it unnecessary for her to talk to my mom about it because I intended to talk to my parents myself. There’d been a flash of surprise and dismay in my aunt’s eyes, but it was quickly followed by relief, and whatever smidgeon of hope remained in me shriveled and died.
When I greeted my cousins, they waved back automatically before turning away and leaving the room. There was no invitation for me to stay a while, no requests for me to critique my cousins’ numbers for the concert like they used to. It was nothing less than I expected. Just as I expected that by the end of the week, all the Andradas would be treating me with careful politeness and subtly shutting me out whenever the subject of music came up. After all, I was invisible now. And nobody in my family spoke to invisible people, not if they could help it.
Much harder was telling my parents that I quit the choir. Moreover, that I was quitting my piano lessons, too. There was no reason for them to keep throwing money away on me when there were Ray and Jess to invest in. Besides, it wasn’t as if I was running away from home. I was still going to help Dad transcribe his work on the computer. I was still going to shake Jess out of her mood swings and periodic bouts of laziness. I was still going to needle Ray about the flubs he made during rehearsals. Nothing was going to change. Well, nothing important, at least.
It all sounded so reasonable when I was practicing my speeches inside my head. But it still took me an entire day just to screw up enough courage to even broach the subject. Mom was furious, of course, and nobody does furious like an opera diva. She paced the floor and jabbed at the air, going on and on about how I was being rash and impulsive and defeatist, how my adolescent hormones were keeping me from appreciating the possibilities in my future, and how all I needed was to practice more, to study more, to work harder, harder, harder.
And Dad? He barely spoke a word to me at all.
School failed to offer much of a reprieve from the tension either, what with the news that I’d quit the choir spreading within a day. Unthinkable! An Andrada turning her back on anything involving music? Unheard of! Hadn’t her brother been winning competitions left and right? Hadn’t her sister been performing solos since babyhood? Come to think of it, what did Zoey do, anyway?
It seemed everywhere I went, I could see Camille’s pasty fish-face smirking at me. I could hear her whispering in the hallways, her words passing from mouth to ear to mouth: “What, Zoey? She’s got the most awful voice. She can’t hit a note if it slapped her in the face. Did you know her own aunt kicked her out of the choir? And Zoey’s been playing piano for years, but she still plays like she’s got hammers at the ends of her arms. Honestly, her last name is the only reason the teachers let her pass Music.”
“Ignore them. They’re all just overreacting,” my best friend Marni counseled me. “By the time the Christmas concert is done, everyone would have forgotten all about it.”
I smiled in gratitude, then spit out the strands of hair that had found their way into my mouth. With a sigh, I undid my ponytail and retied my hair in a bun, wishing I could wear a cap in school and knowing I’d probably be undoing that bun later on to nibble on my hair again, all completely unconsciously. When I was a child, I had a tendency to chew on my hair, a disgusting habit Mom cured me of by threatening to burn my hair, and when that didn’t work, by forcing me to get my wavy hair—my one claim to vanity—cut boyishly short, and making me wear a cap for good measure. I thought I’d broken that habit years ago and so let my hair grow long again, although I still wore caps as a reminder. The stress was obviously unearthing some old vices. At this rate, I was going to end up with split ends a whisk broom would envy.
“I’m wondering, though—what about the Christmas concert?” Marni went on. “Isn’t it a tradition for everyone in your family to perform in that concert? What’ll you do now?”
I packed up my lunch box and got up to stretch my legs. We’d taken to eating lunch underneath a tree in a corner of the school grounds to get away from the stares and whispers. Truthfully, I’d never been so glad to have Marni around. In the past, I’d been so busy with my lessons that I never had much of a chance to make friends, but Marni more or less attached herself to me after I’d rescued her from a would-be admirer who was coming on a little too strong. Marni was beautiful, ladylike, smart and mature, but because she had no interest in music whatsoever, my family didn’t quite know what to make of her. Mom hinted every now and then that I ought to encourage her to take up an instrument or attend a recital or a concert. I did no such thing, of course. Marni was Marni, and I loved her the way she was. And to her, I was Zoey first, an Andrada second, a distinction I was only now beginning to appreciate.
“I told my parents I’d help out with the programs and stuff,” I answered. “Uncle Gary’s handling production, but I seriously doubt he’ll let me help. I could probably show the audience to their seats or something. That way, I can still say I played a part, right?” I added weakly, hoping I didn’t make the prospect sound as dull and unsatisfying as it did to me. I became aware that I was tugging strands of hair out of my bun, and stuck my hand in my pocket.
“Hmm,” Marni murmured. “You know something? That’s a fantastic idea.”
I blinked. “What is? Me being an usher?”
“No, you designing the programs. I bet you’d do a great job of it. Will they let you do the backdrop, too? Not likely? That’s too bad. Your artwork would look awesome onstage.”
“My what? Artwork?” I gave a short laugh. “You don’t mean my doodles, do you?”
“You call them that, but I know for a fact that your drawings are amazing,” Marni replied with a sniff. “You make the most interesting class notes with them. Don’t you ever wonder why our classmates keep borrowing your notebooks every time we have exams? No, you probably don’t, huh? You probably don’t even know they’ve been photocopying your notebooks and passing them around.”
“They what? Have they gone nuts? Am I going to get into trouble over this?”
She stood up, and together we started back to class. “It’s a little too late to worry about that now. I just mentioned it because you never noticed what the others were doing with your notes before, or that people actually love your drawings. But I understand,” she added sagely. “Your drawings don’t have anything to do with music or your family, so they’re not important to you.”
“They’re important to me,” I protested, then trailed off when a memory flickered in my mind: my aunt inspecting the music scores I’d surrendered—specifically, at all the cartoon animals, musical symbols and caricatures I’d scrawled all around the borders—and giving me a genteel dressing-down for dirtying the music sheets.
Marni glanced sidelong at me. “But not that important, right?”
“Music is my life,” I muttered. And that was that.