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CAROL TOSSES her cheerleader hair in disgust. If only she didn’t have to walk home from school with Penny. What a loser dweeb.
Penny hugs a violin case as if it contains the holy viol of the blessed St. Cecilia herself. She never shuts up about her precious instrument and her private lessons. Tuning her out, Carol thinks about the football team, ranking the players from least to most desirable.
Today, Carol also schlepps a violin. It’s school property, assigned to her by Mr. Barry, who has warned her that she’ll lose her lowly second violin status if she doesn’t improve. A lot. Orchestra practice is tomorrow and Carol needs the extra-curricular credit. She intends to practice after dinner tonight, for a change.
Penny blathers on about the prizes she has won at the Music Festival. In the school orchestra, she’s in the first violin section, which is amazing for a grade niner. Next year she might even make first chair. Penny’s colourless eyes become big and round as she contemplates this ultimate honour. Her oily skin glistens.
Carol waits for Penny to pause for breath. Then, she tells Penny that the senior orchestra members are unhappy with the younger recruits and that the older students are going to boycott practice tomorrow in protest. Carol isn’t serious. She knows, though, that this will irk Penny no end. It does shut the brat up for the last few yards of their walk home.
At dinner, the landline phone rings. When nobody makes a move, Carol’s mom rises and, rolling her eyes, leaves the room to answer it.
After, she asks Carol what on earth she has said to Penny. Penny’s mom has accused Carol of bullying and doesn’t she know how much Penny’s violin cost and how much her private lessons are and how many prizes Penny has won? She has said that Carol might be pretty and popular but she is too conceited for her own good.
Carol explains the situation. Her mom isn’t mad and her father chuckles. Carol’s mom agrees that Penny is obnoxious. Poor Penny, Carol’s dad says. So unattractive. She clings to that violin the way a sailor on shore leave clings to a floozy. Pardon my French, he says, but it’s true. And, don’t fret about Penny. She has no other gifts — unlike you, Carol; you’re talented in so many more important ways.
Carol apologizes the next morning and Penny forgives her. They walk to school in peace. At orchestra practice, though, Carol starts a whisper campaign. She drops strategic words into a gossipy cellist’s ear. Soon all the older students have resolved to talk to Mr. Barry about booting out the grade niners. Better yet, nobody intends to speak to Penny ever again.
Carol leaves it up to the others to execute the plan. Her hands are clean and her conscience clear. She looks angelic and Mr. Barry smiles at her, as she glides her bow across the strings of her violin.