The big kids are boring. Dav is showing off for Callie and her friends. ‘Course, his dad Pen is saving practically half the people in the whole world by letting them stay in his house during the storm, so it’s okay to brag. Lucas wonders if Uncle Russ has ever saved any people. He bets that he has.
He stands at the foot of the stairs, shifting from foot to foot. Okay, where’s Mom? With Mister Two Horses – bet she’s gonna kiss him or something. He doesn’t wait to find out. Mr. Gerritson? He’s helping two little girls zip their sleeping bags together. No other adults look like they’re paying attention, which is good, because he knows he looks guilty. His mother would say he looks like he’s about to do something he knows is wrong. He’d get caught for sure. With a last sneaky look around, he darts up the stairs. Something is going on up there, and he wants to know what. Like right now.
Somebody is playing something. It sound like a violin, but… different. Cooler, maybe, even. They’re playing a bunch of notes like they do during the part before the curtain rises. Lucas likes that part best. It’s kinda messy, but cool. The notes dance around like colors, they swirl like dandelion puffs in the wind. “Flap your hands all over!” dancing. After the curtain rises, all the notes march along like they’re supposed to. Like holding your neighbor’s hands when your class takes a field trip.
But parts of it don’t sound right. He can tell where they are, and it makes his ears itch. Oooh, his throat itches, too. Well, good! He opens his mouth and closes it a few times before the Invisible Centipede comes out from the notch of his throat and crawls away on its invisible leash. It feels hot, the place where it’s come from. It will, until it crawls back in.
Mom doesn’t know about the centipede. If she did, she’d freak. That’s why it’s a centipede — it’s supposed to be a joke. Can you make jokes with yourself? Lucas thinks so. His face smushes up in concentration, and he grunts a little, and the centipede skitters across the air in the liviing room, jangling Dav’s Sounding Apparatus. If it wiggles just right, it’ll make the right notes, the notes Lucas hears in his head, and then the itching might stop.
The notes ring out, loud enough to hear over the wind, and Lucas grins. Last week he couldn’t do this from all the way upstairs, not even if he used the Awesome Tentacle of the Kraken instead of the puny centipede. He’s getting stronger. The notes from the bedroom have drawn him closer, so that he’s in serious danger of Interrupting the Adults and getting punished. He can’t seem to help it; his sneakers just keep taking him closer to the door. Well, if he gets in trouble, he can say that it’s Mom’s fault. She made him put the shoes on, after all.
Yeah, and saying that would get his butt spanked for sure.
Some of the notes sound good, but some of them don’t. He hops impatiently on one foot and tries to itch his ear, which just makes him lose his balance and almost fall on the ground. Whoah! He pushes himself upright against the wall, and the centipede’s leash snaps. The chimes jangle. Oops, well, he’s gone. Invisible Centipede on the Rampage! This thought makes him giggle uncontrollably, which makes a chime-like sound of its own.
The music repeats what it did before, like it’s asking a question.
They still don’t have it right! Well, no hopping this time. Lucas groans a bit from the effort, and the Mighty Tentacle of the Most Awesome Kraken unfurls itself from his throat. Mom says that there’s a chakra in his throat there. Lucas has no idea why, but sometimes adults don’t make any sense. Maybe it just is.
The Kraken slides down the bannister and winds itself around the biggest set of chimes. They clang so loud that a few of the people downstairs yell. Sorry! He doesn’t get it right, so he tries again, while it’s still ringing, and this time he slides the tentacle around the chimes as they ring, adjusting, until they make just the right noises. It makes his ears feel better, and he does it again, humming it loudly so that it rattles his head a little bit. Yes! He shoots, he scores, he wonders if he could play basketball with the Kraken thing! Maybe.
The door in front of him opens. Mister Barret bends down and looks at him. He has to, Mister Barret is very tall. “Would you like to come in?”
Lucas’s eyes bulge. Would he? Heck, yeah. He nods energetically. The room is full of grownups doing mysterious things, and there’s a guy with a… whatsit. It’s not a violin.
“Please,” says a voice from inside the room. Somebody he hasn’t heard before. He remembers how people sound. “Please come in. What’s your name?”
So he trots in to see who’s talking to him. Mister Barret’s vest smells interesting, and looks more interesting, but that doesn’t distract him for long. “I’m Lucas. Pleased to meetcha!” He grins widely.
“I see you know Barret,” says another tall man. Lucas knows his voice already. The new guy is different. But the tall man says, “I’m Drin, this is my lady Emma, and my husband Dance.”
“Hi, Lucas,” says Emma, with a nod.
Something rasps on the floor, and then the new voice says, “Pleased to meet another musician. You made the chimes sound?”
What’s on the floor is a length of…something… that flashes blue and green with little flecks of purple, rapidly, in little chasing patterns, as if it’s breathing. Above that, is the man holding a bow and the curved wooden thing that looks sorta like a violin.
“Uh-huh.” Lucas nods, then looks at Dance’s face warily. “Did I screw something up? Was I Interrupting?” He looks worried, and says the word with the capitol “I”.
“Not at all,” Dance says.
“Wow.” A million questions chase across his brain. He squints at the something on the floor, goes over and stares at it, reaches a hand out, then stops shy. “Coolio.” He looks up at Dance. “Is this your pet?”
Dance throws back his head and laughs. It’s a loud laugh, a big deep roaring laugh, bigger than the room can really hold. Then he calms down, and he smiles at Lucas, and he says, “Thank you, I needed that very much.”
“You’re welcome.” Lucas says soberly, although he smiles. That guy’s laugh is bigger than the room. Scarywicked.
And the very end of the glittering thing lifts up, comes right off the floor and coils into a little spring, and Dance says, softer, “You can touch it, if you wish.”
Wow, really? He reaches out, very gently, and pets the glittery surface of the — whatever it was. It felt… it felt like… “This feels like a snake. We went to the zoo once and a nice lady let me pet one. She had a mole on her nose. It was reeeeeeally big — the snake, not the mole — but not as big as this one.” He pats it a bit, like it’s the neighbor’s dog. He hears the lady, Emma, chuckle. So does Mister Barret. That’s good.
“Do you want to tell him?” Drin says.
Dance gives a little shrug. “He lives here. He’s used to –people like me.”
Emma says, “I’m not sure anybody ever gets used to you, Dance,” but she’s laughing.
Ohh, Lucas wants to ask what they might want to tell him, but he’s too polite to ask. No, that wasn’t right. If you ask, they’re less likely to tell. If you wait, sometimes whatever it is comes right out. Lucas waits, looking between Drin and Dance.
Dance smiles. “Can you be brave?”
Lucas nods emphatically. “Yes, I can. Mom says I’m always brave. I’m almost seven.”
Dance looks at him doubtfully. “I’ve frightened some very brave men, you know.”
That gives him pause. For maybe like half a second. “I’m brave enough.”
The tail comes up and pokes him. “Are you sure?”
He giggles like a maniac, and swats at the silly snaky thing. “I’m sure sure, ok?” Are snakes supposed to be smart like this? Maybe if they’re talking snakes like in that Disney movie. If it started singing “Trust In Me”, though, he was running. He didn’t want his eyes to go all swirly like Mowgli’s. No.
“Good,” says Dance, and the tail sweeps up and takes the bow from his hand, and draws it across the viola’s strings, and begins to play.
It sounds terrible. That nasty off-tone. Lucas makes a face. “How did you teach a snake to play a vio- instrument?” Then he remembers Mister Two Horses. “Is it a circus snake?”
Emma starts to laugh. She flings herself down on the bed, and laughs.
After a moment Drin starts to laugh, and so does Barret, and then Dance is looking at Lucas, and he’s starting to laugh too.
Lucas shakes his head, bewildered. These people don’t look like kids, Mister Drin even has grey hair, but they sure don’t talk like grownups. “I thought grownups aren’t ever supposed to be silly.” Amazing. This is fun!
“Oh, you haven’t met the right grownups,” Emma says, and reaches over and pokes Drin, grinning.
Drin says, “I blame it on musicians, myself,” and looks down his nose at them. Somehow it looks so silly they laugh harder.
“Can you teach my mom how to be silly like this? She’s been sad lately and I don’t like it. Maybe it would help.”
Drin looks at him. “We’re hoping to, yes. We have hopes for Mister Two Horses, who is good for people. He makes them laugh.”
“He gave me a marble.” Lucas says.
Barret says then, “You remember how some of the circus people have to be careful with people, or they’ll scare them?”
“Uh-huh. Because they’re like way different than people are supposed to be.”
Mister Barret looks up at Dance and wiggles his eyebrows, and they all crack up again. Even Lucas laughs this time. Mister Barret has way silly eyebrows.
“Well,” Dance says, “I’m way different.”
“How different? You look… regular.”
Dance takes the bow out of the grip of the snakey tip and sighs. Then he plucks a tissue out of a shirt pocket with it, and wipes his nose, and coughs into it. “This is–” he gives a silly little flourish of the tissue, “my tail.”
Mister Barret mutters, “This is your tail on drugs, this is–”
Emma cracks up again, rolling a little on the bed.
“Your — t… tail?” Sheer amazement. For a moment. Then horror. “It’s on your butt? I was petting your butt?? I’m. Really. Sorry.”
“I did say you could,” Dance says, mildly.
“Wow.” A guy with a snake tail that can play the vio-whatsis. “I bet you can play piano with it, too.”
Dance blinks at him, surprised. Then he says, “I hope to grow into it enough to do that, yes. Thank you.”
Lucas regards Drin then, head tilted. “May I ask a question? Ummm, I mean, like another question?”
“Why is Emma your lady and Dance your husband?”
“Well, I call her my wife, but the law would not recognize it as we do. Dance and I are domestic partners, under the law. We are a trio, to have and to hold, until…” and he smiles at them both.
“Oh, ‘kay.” Lucas nods. Sometimes adults made sense, too. “Thank you.”
Dance says then, “Can I ask you a question, Lucas?”
“Sure! It’s only fair.”
“Did you make the chimes sound like that to give us the tuning?”
“What are you tuning? Oh, the vio-whatsis.” He looks apologetic. “Yeah, sorry, it wasn’t quite right. It was making my ears itch.”
Dance coughs into his hand, and wipes his face with the cloth that gets folded on the chin rest of the thing he’s playing, and he smiles at Lucas. “It’s a viola, a larger cousin of the violin. It needs your help. We need your help to get it right. Shall I try to get it right again? Can you make the sound, in some way?”
“Ok, it goes like this.” Lucas’s voice is pure, clear boy soprano. He sings the notes. “Like that.”
Dance’s fingers pluck through the strings, and when he hits the wrong one, Lucas shakes his head, waving his arms. Dance smiles, and begins adjusting the tuning peg. Ding-ding-sing-sing, the note sounds. Lucas nods hard enough to make his bangs flop up and down. Yes yes yes!
The bow lifts gently in Dance’s hand. “Tell me, please, if it continues to sound correct.”
He’s got it.
“One more time.” Lucas says. His face scrunches as he listens. Dance obliges. “It’s PERFECT.”
Dance bows deeply. “We are obliged to you, Lucas.”
“You are very welcome,” he answers carefully, and bows, too, giggling a bit.
He turns to Drin with his eyes shining. “I want to learn how to play the viola, too.”
“I think that could be arranged,” Drin says gravely. “We should warn you that it is a lot of work. Very hard work.”
“Ahh, but what’s work, when you really love it?” Dance says, smiling, and the bow sweeps down across the strings, and amazing, sparkling, intricate things begin singing from the viola.
“Whoah.” Lucas whispers. The sound is doing something to his eardrums, and the inside of his head, it’s thrumming. It feels crazygood and really wierd a the same time, like… like — well, not like anything else he’s ever heard in his life. This is the coolest thing everever.
In a pause where Dance is using the cloth again, Emma murmurs, “You can tell your mom we said we’d help you learn viola, if you want.”
Lucas whoops and slips out the door with one last smile at Mister Drin, to go tell his mom that he’s going to learn to play the viola. Mister Drin said he could.