When the Chinese Zodiac Meets High School Band Class
“Charles Dunford the Fourth?”
I raised my hand.
The director looked over his moon-shaped spectacles and grunted. “An ox, eh?”
I shifted in my seat. “Yes, sir.” She hadn’t brought up any of the other kids’ zodiac animals. Why mine?
“Dunford, huh? Hopefully you’re nothing like your father,” he muttered.
My mother said that every day.
Some of the other teenagers nonchalantly looked around the room, probably to get a glimpse of a fabled ox. The Dunford family—my family—had a bit of a reputation. It wasn’t so much of a fairy tale as it was a curse.
A big, fat, nasty, curse.
A petite blond looked shyly over her shoulder at me. Unlike the others, she met my gaze with her blue eyes and gave me a little smile.
Rabbits. I couldn’t not like them. They were all so…cute. And nice. I returned her smile. Hers grew wider before she straightened and returned her attention to the front.
A small group of boys in the back corner began to whisper. It might not be about me, but it probably was.
“Ignore them,” the kid behind me said. “They’re idiots.”
I was planning to ignore everyone. Why get attached when it would only be a matter of months before my father offended someone with his himselfness and we had to move. Again.
An ox was supposed to be strong and dependable, not an anger-management problem.
A voice whispered from behind me. “Hey, oxy, you want to pull a cart for me?”
I took a deep breath.
The director continued to call roll.
The voice behind me was back. “Why don’t you have a nose ring? I heard all ox have nose rings.”
Another joined in. “Do your feet turn into cloven hooves during a full moon?”
Unfortunately for me, my father’s temper had passed on to me. I’d been working on controlling it, but stupid horses always got my blood boiling. They were full of energy and idiocy. Just because some circles called them noble, didn’t make them good, and it certainly didn’t make them smart.
I kept chanting that in my head as the director finished roll call. When he did, he looked at me. “Charles Dunford.”
“The fourth,” I muttered.
“Your father played the tuba.”
A literal chorus of sniggers went up at that.
I ground my teeth together.
“Are you following in his footsteps?”
“I haven’t chosen an instrument yet, sir,” I said in the least gruff voice I could manage.
“Well, we could use another bass drummer.”
I shrugged. I could hit something with a padded stick while walking. How hard could it be?
The horses laughed.
The director shot them a warning glance.
They quieted down, but kept snorting.
The blond girl in front of me raised her hand. “Sir, if Charles isn’t set on any one instrument, can I train him as a drum major?”
The girl turned around and smiled at me again. “We’re going to need someone with some backbone when I graduate.” Yes, rabbits were nice, but they were also smart. Her blue eyes sparkled while her lips curled. Not in bad way. In a challenge.
Well, a good ox never backed down from a challenge.
“Huh.” The director set his roll book down and stared at me over his spectacles again. “Not a bad idea.” His eyes drifted to the horse corner, then back to me. “In fact, that’s a capital idea. If you’re willing, Mr. Dunford.”
“Wonderful. Miss Gligt will get you a whip, and we’ll put you in the back of the formation.”
“A whip?” I thought drum majors used whistles.
The rabbit smirked. “Learn to crack it and you just might make something of yourself.”
I had no idea what that meant, but her blue eyes were looking into mine again, and I was pretty sure I would do whatever she said if she kept smiling at me.
This wasn’t the worst start to a school year I’d ever had.