I am so excited to final share with you the first chapter of my novella, Songs of Opportunity! Without further ado, here it is!
Chapter 1: New Girl
The stormy wind blew sharply into 16-year-old Rachel’s face as she slammed her car door shut. She tucked her wavy hair behind her ear and ran under the awning on the small town sidewalk to get out of the rain. She tried to dry her shiny, chestnut brown hair as best as she could by smoothing it with her hands. She glanced at her drenched reflection in the glass door and sighed, knowing that it was no use. Rachel peered into the glassy reflection of her grey-green eyes, convinced herself that she was ready, and pulled open the door that read: Music on a Mission.
Rachel took one look around the room and immediately wanted to run back outside into the storm. The thought of facing all these new people made her feel claustrophobic. She had always been shy, but she found her voice in music. People had always told her she was talented, but she could never convince herself to believe them.
As she mechanically took a few steps forward, she noticed that everyone was already in their own little “circles”, talking and giggling with each other. No one seemed interested in letting the new girl into their groups.
“It’s fine.” Rachel told herself, “I came here to learn more about music, not make friends,” though deep down she desperately wanted to belong to one of the groups.
Rachel held her chin high and walked up to the blonde young woman at the front desk.
“I’m here for the 3 o’ clock intermediate guitar and vocal class with Mr. DuPont,” she said cautiously. “I’m Rachel Evans.”
The woman glanced at some papers on the desk and then said in southern, chirpy voice, “It’s nice to meet you Rachel! I’m Sheila. I heard about your situation and we’re so glad we could help you get music lessons!”
Rachel inwardly sighed. The only people that were nice to her since she moved were the people who knew about her “situation” and felt bad for her. Rachel had moved a year ago from Pittsburgh, PA to Brooksville, TX, when her dad was hired by a new company. Her 9 year old sister, Lizzie, had been ill for most of her childhood. Between moving expenses, all the medical debts, and their brother’s college tuition, Rachel’s music lessons had been put on the back burner.
Rachel’s mom had found out about the music studio online and had called them to find out what they were about. It turned out that Music on a Mission was a nonprofit Christian music studio in the small town of Brooksville, TX that helped teens get music lessons and develop their talents for God. Rachel was grateful that this place had given her a scholarship, but it hurt her that after a year, she still had no friends and the rest of the town did.
Rachel blinked and realized that she hadn’t responded to Sheila for several seconds, “Thanks, Ms. Sheila. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be able to take lessons here. So, um, which room is my class in?”
Sheila shuffled some papers again.
“It’s down the hall to the right. Room 212. Nice to meet you!”
Rachel revealed a polite smile, “Thank you. It was nice to meet you too!”
Rachel walked down the hall and saw the door to 212. As she placed her hand on the door knob, her heart pounded and her mind greatly exaggerated the situation as it often did.
What if this was a defining moment in her life? What if she messed it up? She shook off the thoughts as best she could and turned the doorknob.
Rachel carefully opened the door, and peeked her head into the room. She saw group of teens sitting in a semi-circle, around a middle age man, who she assumed was Mr. DuPont. Dazed by the new situation, Rachel finally noticed all eyes in the room were on her and realized that she needed to introduce herself.
“Hi, I’m Rachel,” she blurted out as she blushed slightly.
As the tall man swiftly turned around, a piece of his neatly-combed greying hair fell out of place. He smoothed it back into place and said with a hint of a foreign accent, “Hello, Rachel! Glad you could join our class. I’m Edwin DuPont.” His wide mouth stretched into a smile under his thin mustache as put out a hand for Rachel to shake.
Rachel shook his hand and looked into his pale blue eyes as she replied, “Nice to meet you.”
“Just pull up a chair, grab a music stand, and take out your guitar.” Mr. DuPont said as he motioned towards a pile of green folding chairs that were stacked next to some stands.
Once Rachel was seated, Mr. DuPont spoke again, “Ok, class. Let’s do a simple exercise to make sure everyone is in tune. We’ll start with switching between some simple chords. Key of G, please. Can I hear an A, a C, and an F?”
Rachel immediately felt more confident since they were starting with such basic chords. She looked around the rest of the class to copy the strumming pattern of the other students.
The class played the chords in unison.
“Good, good!” said Mr. DuPont. “Now do a D, an E minor, and a B.”
Again, the class began to play the chords all together. Rachel easily played the D and the E minor, but for some reason, a very strange sound escaped her guitar on the last chord. She had no idea how she had messed up such a basic chord.
Mr. DuPont looked directly at her and said, “Could I maybe hear that last one again, Rachel?”
Rachel could feel herself turning beet red, but she shakily put her fingers in all the correct places, and strummed the guitar slowly. Once she realized she played it perfectly, she relaxed and the bright color began to fade from her cheeks.
Mr. DuPont smiled as he said, “There you go. That was much better.”
He turned his attention to the rest of the class and said, “Now you’ll see an instrumental song on the music stand in front of you. Take a minute to look over it and then we’ll try it one at a time.”
As Rachel glanced at the music sheet, she began to play the song in her head. She began to imagine the notes floating off of the page as she often did. It was a simple, yet beautiful melody.
She finished playing the song in her head and breathed a sigh of contentment.
“It’s so great to be learning new music again!” she thought, smiling. Her smile faded as she saw about three or four teens whispering and pointing at her. She tried to ignore them, but it was obvious that they were talking about her some negative way. “It must be the way I messed up that chord.”
Rachel kept trying to pretend that she didn’t see them even until she couldn’t take it anymore. She either had to find a solution to the problem or she was going to start crying. Then an idea popped into her head. She took one last glance at the kids making fun of her and then quickly shut her eyes, forgetting that anyone was watching her.
“Dear, God.” She prayed silently, “Please help me to get through this class. Your Word says that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Please give me the strength to get through this class. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
The sting of the kids making fun of her didn’t go away, but her heart felt lighter. Rachel decided to step out in boldness by volunteering to play the song first.
“Mr. DuPont, may I go first?” Rachel said as she raised her hand.
Mr. DuPont raised his eyebrows in surprise, but said, “Sure, if you feel ready. Go ahead! Everyone listen up.”
Rachel picked up her guitar and began to move her fingers across the strings. Rachel had never used a pick before because she liked to feel each individual and unique string with her fingers. When she finished playing the song, the whole room sat silently, which left Rachel waiting for someone to react to her performance.
“Hey, Mr. DuPont.” Interrupted a young man who was standing in the doorway, with a clipboard in hand. He casually ran his long fingers through his golden brown hair.
Mr. DuPont seemed more interested in greeting this young man than critiquing her performance.
“Why, hello Chad! Great to see you. Come on in!”
Rachel was annoyed that this guy had interrupted the lesson. He flashed smile at the students as he walked over to Mr. DuPont. Some of the girls blushed and grinned back. Rachel already didn’t like this guy. He seemed cocky.
“I hope it wasn’t too much trouble for you to take this class so last minute.” Mr. DuPont said in a hushed voice.
“Well, you know me! I’m ready for anything.” Said the young man with the same grin plastered on his face.
Mr. DuPont put a hand on his shoulder and said, “You sure are! Such a fine young man you’re becoming. Your mother must be doing something right. How is school going for you?”
“Goin’ great!” said Chad. “All A’s so far this year.”
At this point in their conversation, Rachel was getting really irritated. This guy was taking up a lot of time.
“I can’t believe this guy’s arrogance,” She thought angrily. “I mean, who interrupts a class to talk about their personal achievements? It’s like he owns the place! ”
In the middle of her mental rant, Rachel realized that Mr. DuPont was finally speaking to her.
“Oh, Rachel! Very well performed! I definitely think you’re ready to join our advanced class. That class meets on Tuesdays at 5pm. Oh, and talk to Chad after class about an opportunity to play in a performance group with some other very talented musicians like yourself.” He said as he motioned to the young man standing next to him.
Rachel had to hold back her smile a little bit so she didn’t look too excited.
“Yes, Sir. And thank you!” She replied.
Mr. DuPont turned to the rest of the class and said, “Class, most of you know Chad here. He is going to take over the rest of the class today because I have an appointment. I expect best behavior out of everyone. Understood?”
The class nodded simultaneously.
“Good.” Said Mr. DuPont. “See you all next week!” He said as he walked out of the room and shut the door behind himself.
“Oh, great.” Thought Rachel. “Guess we’re stuck with Mr. Cocky for the rest of the afternoon.”
Everyone turned their attention to Chad.
“Hey y’all!” he said in a deep southern accent revealing his sparkling white smile.
Rachel rolled her eyes as she heard a few of the girls giggle again.
“I’m Chad Rochester. No need to call me Mr. Chad or anything since I’m only a few years older than most of y’all.”
To Rachel, Chad looked like the stereotypical Texan. She could easily picture him in one of those old-fashioned western saloons, playing checkers and wearing a ten-gallon cowboy hat. Rachel could hardly keep a straight face as she watched him talk, picturing him in the Western garb.
“Alrighty.” Chad said. “Let’s hear the rest of y’all play this song. And if you’re not playing, there’s another music sheet on your stand for you to look at that you’ll be singin’ next.”
Rachel looked at the next music sheet and immediately recognized one of her favorite hymns, In Christ Alone. She was really excited until she noticed the key the song was in the key of G. Rachel usually sang In Christ Alone in either C or D, so this was low for her. She wanted to ask if she could change keys, but she didn’t want to interrupt the people who were playing.
“Great job, everyone! Let’s start our vocal warm-ups.” Chad said once they had finished. He walked over to the piano in the corner of the room. “Let’s do a simple scale.” He played the scale on the piano and sang along.
Afterwards, the class repeated it, “Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do!”
Rachel kept wanting to ask about the key change throughout warm-ups, but she was too nervous. Before she knew it, warm ups were over.
“Ok, who would like to start us off with this song?” said Chad. Without waiting for anyone to answer, he pointed to Rachel and said, “How ‘bout you? What’s your name?”
“Oh, I’m…uh, I’m Rachel. And I guess I could go…well…first, but could I…um…maybe switch keys? This is a little low for me.” Rachel blurted out trying not to sound dumb.
Chad threw his head back and laughed, “Of course you can switch keys! I don’t bite or nothin’, so no need to be so nervous! He looked at her and said under his breath, “You know, it’s people like you that I just don’t understand!”
Rachel hated it when people made fun of her for being shy. “I can’t help it!” she thought as she angrily furrowed her brow and glared into his brown eyes until he had to turn away. Chad just kept staring back, unblinkingly. He eventually just shrugged his shoulders and grinned.
Chad cleared his throat and sat down at the piano. “What key do you want to sing it in?” He said coolly.
Rachel swallowed her anger and pride. She forced a weak smile and said, “I’d like to do it in the key of D.”
Rachel closed her eyes and took a deep breathe. She heard Chad begin to play the intro to the song. As much Rachel was annoyed with this guy, she couldn’t deny his talent.
Rachel cleared her mind, and began to sing In Christ Alone in her clear, soprano voice.
Rachel loved the lyrics: “What heights of love, what depths of peace. When fears are stilled, when strivings cease. My comforter, my all in all, here in the love of Christ, I stand.” She meant every word that she sang. She sang it almost defiantly against the rest of the class.
When she was finished, she raised an eyebrow, crossed her arms, and looked over to Chad for some sort of approval.
“Pretty good, pretty good.” he said with a grin. “You have a really nice clear quality to your voice. One thing; don’t be afraid to really open up when you sing. Just let it out. You have a great voice so don’t be afraid to sing strongly. You could be a little louder. Overall, though, it was great.”
Rachel cringed at the critique. This Chad really knew how to get on her nerves. She had always had trouble singing loudly. When she sang softly, she was in her comfort zone and her voice was easy to control. When she got louder…well, it kind of went crazy.
“Uh, ok.” Rachel said though she hated the suggestion. “Thanks for the advice.”
The rest of the class passed quickly. Rachel glanced at the clock on the wall and saw that the class had run a few minutes late.
Chad seemed to notice the clock at the same time. “All right, y’all.” Chad said, looking somewhat relieved. “Class dismissed. Y’all were awesome today! Thanks for cooperating with the teacher substitution.”
As she turned around and started to pack up her guitar, Rachel remembered she was supposed to ask Chad about joining that group of musicians.
“Oh, great.” Thought Rachel, “I know I’ve got to do this, but I already can’t stand this guy!” She thought.
Rachel stood there for a few more seconds and realized she cared more about the opportunity than her grudge against Chad, so she made herself walk over to him.
For a few seconds, Chad didn’t even notice that she was standing behind him, so Rachel considered running out the door and not even talking to him.
Just as she was about to make a run for it, he turned around and said, “Can I help you?” She found herself at a loss for words, but she quickly regained her composure and said, “Um, yes. I think I was supposed to talk to you about that group that Mr. DuPont mentioned?”
He smiled and said, “Oh, yeah, that’s right. You’re the new girl.” He said with a wink. “Well, it’s basically all these really talented kids that meet once a week. I guess it’s kind of like a band. There’s a couple of extra performances that you can participate in. The kids in it are awesome, too. You’d love it! How long have you been into music?”
Rachel was glad that Chad had been a little more polite to her in this conversation. She grinned sheepishly and tried not to sound arrogant when she said, “I’ve been in lessons since I was 3. My mom was a musician, so it was kind of natural for me to take lessons.”
“Wow, that’s awesome! I’ve been playing since I was 3, too, so we’re even.” He said with a big smile. “My mom was the fine arts director at our church, so I grew up sitting in the back of long choir rehearsals twice a week after school. Speaking of which, where do you go to school? I’m at Wimberley Christian High.”
Rachel really didn’t want to continue this conversation. She was homeschooled, and Chad seemed like the kind of guy that would have a lot of questions about the subject. Besides, whenever she told people that she was homeschooled, they either assumed that she didn’t know how to spell her first name or she was the genius who was going to invent time travel.
“Well, I’m homeschooled.” Rachel said, bracing for a judgmental response.
“That explains why you’re so quiet!” Said Chad chuckling, as he gave her a slightly strange look. “Have you always been homeschooled?”
“Yes.” Said Rachel trying not to sound annoyed at one of the many familiar answers.
“Well, hopefully we’ll see you at our group on Friday. It’s called Mission Troupe by the way. It starts at 6pm. Feel free to drop in and check us out! I’ve gotta warn you though…the studio often asks the people in Mission Troupe to teach a class like they did to me today. Though if you didn’t want to teach a class, I’m sure they’d be ok with that.” He said with a sideways glance.
To Rachel, this seemed to be a challenge. “What makes you think I wouldn’t want to teach a class?” She asked angrily.
“Oh, you know. Since you’re shy and all.” Chad said, seeming to regret the words immediately after they left his lips.
Rachel finally lost it. “Why would it matter if I’m shy? I could totally teach a class, and I could definitely do a better job than you did today!”
“Whoa, calm down!” Chad said. “It’s not my fault that you’re shy!” he said as he tried not to burst out in laughter.
“You know, you need to stop being so mean to people. It’s not funny.” She said trying to make him understand that he had hurt her feelings.
Chad laughed and said, “Yes, Sergeant!” as he saluted her jokingly.
There was a pause as Rachel tried to let off her steam by breathing deeply through her nose. She tried not to let her anger get the better of her. If she couldn’t speak calmly, then she wouldn’t speak at all.
“So…we’ll see you Friday, then?” Chad said, breaking the silence.
“Well, I’ll have to think about.” She said flatly. “I just moved here about a year ago from Pennsylvania, so I’m still kind of busy trying to get to know the area and make friends. I’m not sure if I have time for the extra activity right now.” She hoped her bluff would be enough to fool Chad.
Rachel began to regret what she had said when Chad looked kind of upset.
“Hey, sorry if I hurt your feelings at all earlier. I was just trying to be funny. Hopefully we’ll see you there.”
“If? If he hurt my feelings? Seriously!” Rachel thought. “How could that not hurt someone’s feelings?”
“It’s fine.” Rachel said coldly “I’ll talk it over with my mom about the group.”
“Well, it was good talking to you, Sergeant” Chad said with a laugh. “Hey, I think that’s what I’m gonna call you from now on. Bye!”
“It was good talking to you, too.” Said Rachel through her teeth while she resisted the temptation of slapping Chad across the face.
Rachel spun around on her heels and started packing up her guitar. “Well, at least that’s over.” She thought with relief.
Rachel realized that she had walked into the studio wanting success with music. She was now walking out of the studio wanting success with friends.
As she walked past the front desk, Rachel saw that Sheila was still there. She waved to her and tried to be act friendly as she said “Bye, Sheila. Thanks for your help today! It was great to meet you!”
Sheila smiled and said, “Oh, you’re welcome, sweetheart! You just made my day! Bye, now!”
Rachel smiled as she walked out the door, remembering when she had just moved from Pittsburgh, how she was shocked by how friendly and polite people were in the South.
Rachel reached into her purse and grabbed her sunglasses and her keys.
It had stopped raining and the sun was heading towards the flat Texas landscape. The sun seemed to be melting into the ground, surrounded by blankets of fluffy, pink clouds.
Rachel loved the fresh smell outside after rain. She took a deep breath and soaked in the beautiful late spring afternoon.
Rachel put on her sunglasses and unlocked the trunk of her red Volkswagen Beetle. Her grandmother had given it to her as a 16th birthday present.
She stuffed her guitar into the small trunk and tossed her purse up to the front seat.
Rachel opened the door of the driver’s seat, buckled her seat belt, and started the car. Her radio was set on the local Christian music station. The interior of Rachel’s car was always neat and organized. She vacuumed it and took it to a car wash every weekend, which was pretty necessary with all of the sticky pollen around during springtime in southeast Texas.
Rachel looked around her car very carefully before she pulled out. She pulled out of her parking space in the town square and headed towards the highway. She glanced at the speedometer to make sure she wasn’t over the speed limit. She had just recently been allowed to drive on the highway by herself, so she definitely did not want to have to bring a speeding ticket home to her parents.
As she was driving, her thoughts wondered back to the people she had met at Music on a Mission. Sheila seemed super nice and bubbly. Mr. DuPont seemed like a great teacher so far, but he had only taught her for about thirty minutes, so she really didn’t know much about him. Chad was…well, pretty clueless. It really just seemed like he was trying to get on her nerves on purpose, but then he had acted like he hadn’t done anything. Then there were all those kids that were whispering about her behind her back. They were definitely not friend material.
Rachel pulled into the drive way of her family’s small, quaint house located in the suburbs of Brooksville, TX. Brooksville was a bit of a long commute for her dad to and from Houston for work every day, but Brooksville definitely had its benefits. The friendly, small town atmosphere with great, local shopping definitely made up for its distance from the city.
Rachel skipped up the porch steps to the back door and let herself in. “Hi, Mom! I’m home!” She called out. She was welcomed with a delicious aroma of Italian food that filled the whole house.
Before Rachel could step inside, her little sister Lizzie came running towards her and almost tackled her with a hug. “Whoa! Slow down there, little missy!” said Rachel with a grin as she hugged her sister’s thin frame and patted her golden blonde head.
“I missed you!” said Lizzie in her almost angelic voice.
Rachel laughed and said, “I was only gone for two hours! But I missed you too.”
Lizzie grinned and said, “Mommy’s making her famous Chicken Parmesan for dinner! Let’s go ask her when it’ll be done!” Lizzie grabbed Rachel’s hand and dragged her into the kitchen. Rachel could hardly keep up with Lizzie’s quick pace, and she ended up tripping all the way to the kitchen.
“Hi, Mom!” said Rachel. “Is the Chicken Parm done yet?”
Rachel’s mom, Elizabeth, tossed her amber hair over her shoulder, laughed and said, “Good to see you, too? Not quite yet, but soon. How was your class?”
Rachel didn’t exactly know how to explain the afternoon to her mom.
“Well, it was great and the teacher even invited me to join a more advanced class….”
Before she could finish, her mom interrupted and said, “That’s awesome, honey! I’m so excited for you!”
“Thanks, mom.” Said Rachel with a weak smile. “But after that things just went downhill. You see, we got this awful teen guy that substituted the second half of the class. He was good with music and everything, but he was just a complete jerk. He made fun of me for kind of stuttering when I asked him a question. Then later, he mentioned it like it was no big deal! He said he was just trying to be funny and attempted a lame apology, but I just can’t get over how clueless he was!”
Elizabeth smirked and said, “Oh, Rachel, boys do that kind of thing. Don’t you remember your older brother used to tease you all the time before he left for college?”
Rachel considered what her mom had said, but she had trouble believing that boys could think they were just being funny, when in reality they had badly hurt a girl’s feelings!
“Speaking of boys, there’s your father!” said Elizabeth. “How was your day, Ted?”
Rachel’s dad walked over to her mom and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “It was good, honey! Busy, but good. What’s this I hear about boys? He said looking at Rachel suspiciously as he scratched his balding head.
Rachel giggled and said, “Don’t worry, Dad. We’re just talking about how clueless boys can be.”
“Hey, we’re not all that clueless.” Said Ted. “I better go change clothes. Hey girls, we’re doing family Bible study tonight. Hope you memorized your Scriptures from last week!” He said with wink as he headed upstairs.
Lizzie grinned sheepishly whispered in Rachel’s ear, “I forgot again.”
Rachel frowned and raised her eyebrows at Lizzie. “Well, what are you going to do about it this time?”
Lizzie gave Rachel her sweetest smile batted her eyelashes over her big blue eyes.
“Fine. I’ll help you.” Said Rachel unable to resist her adorable sister’s plea.
“You’re the best sister ever!” said Lizzie.
Rachel rolled her eyes and said, “Go get your Bible.”
Lizzie brought her pink leather Bible to the kitchen table and opened it.
“It’s Psalm 25:14: ‘The Lord is a friend to those who fear Him. He teaches them His covenant.’”
Rachel thought about how that verse applied to her life. If she trusted God, He would be her friend, even if no one else was.
“Ok, I’m going to try to remember it now. Tell me when I get it right.” Said Lizzie
“The Lord is a friend to those who fear Him. He teaches them His…uh what is it?” “Covenant.” Rachel said patiently. “He teaches them His covenant.” Said Lizzie. “What does that mean?”
Before Rachel got a chance to explain, Elizabeth called “Dinner’s ready, girls! Put the Bible away, Lizzie.”
Rachel and Lizzie sat down at the table while Elizabeth pulled the chicken out of the oven.
“Make sure you two eat some salad.” Said Elizabeth as she pointed to the bowl on the table.
Just then, Ted came down the stairs and joined them at the table. “Let’s pray.” He said as Elizabeth took her place beside him.
They joined hands and Ted began to pray, “Dear Lord, thank you for this food. Thank you for getting us through this difficult year and helping us to accept that we made the right decision choosing to move. Help us to continue to seek Your will with our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
As Rachel looked up, Elizabeth said, “Oh, Rachel, I forgot the pitcher of iced tea in the fridge. Could you get it?”
Rachel opened the fridge and grabbed the blue and white pitcher off of the top shelf. Elizabeth had recently learned to make sweet tea, which was the drink of choice in the South. At first, Rachel thought it tasted like drinking liquid sugar, but she eventually got used to the sweetness and began to like it.
Rachel brought the pitcher over to the table and sat down. Just as she was about to dig in to the Chicken Parmesan, Elizabeth asked her a question.
“Rachel, have you thought about what you want to do for your 17th birthday next month?”
Rachel sighed. She hated this topic because she had no friends in Texas, and it was kind of hard to have a birthday party without friends.
“Not really.” She replied. “I don’t really have any friends to spend it with here. I wish I could go to Pittsburgh and visit Charlotte and Kyle, but I know that’s out of the question right now.”
Charlotte and Kyle were Rachel’s two best friends in Pennsylvania. They were siblings. Charlotte was kind and funny, and Kyle was intelligent and very mature for his age. Their dad owned a large section of the railroad in Western Pennsylvania, so they were pretty wealthy, but had never treated Rachel any differently because of their status. They were the best friends that Rachel had ever had and she missed them more than anything.
“Maybe you, me, and Mom can have a girl’s night!” Said Lizzie interrupting Rachel’s thoughts.
“You, Mom, and I.” said Rachel correcting Lizzie’s grammar. “Maybe that’s a good idea.” She thought.
“You, me, and Mom. That’s what I said!” said Lizzie with a confused look on her face
Ted started laughing, and before she knew it, Rachel and her mom were laughing, too. Lizzie crossed her arms in front of her chest and said, “What’s so funny? I don’t get it! You adults are so confusing!”
This made them laugh even more. Tears were pouring out of Rachel’s parents eyes by the time the laughter had died down.
Rachel looked around the table and realized how blessed she was to have such a wonderful family. Even if she didn’t have friends, she had the best family in the world, and that was plenty to be thankful for.
I hope you enjoyed the first chapter! Let me know in the comments what you thought!