The regular Tuesday rehearsal had taken longer than planned because the trombone section had made a hash of their parts. It was already four thirty and Moira was furious. She banged her fist on the steering wheel. She was supposed to be in Vanderby by seven and in her Dairy Princess finery. Yet here she was, not even out of the Twin Cities, fighting traffic, and still in her jeans.
Trombonists are the worst! she thought. Then she spoke her anger aloud: “If I can practice a full solo to perfection while going to high school---carrying a 4.0 average, too---they should be able to get their lives together enough to learn twenty bars properly.”
Making a face at one of the drivers who was trying to edge in ahead of her, Moira cursed under her breath. She’d never say any such thing aloud. At sixteen and in an adult profession, she’d learned to use her niceness well. Outspoken---but said sweetly. That was the way to do it. However, this day wasn’t going as planned. And Moira preferred things to go the way they were written down in her schedule book.
Easing out onto Route 35W, she slipped a rehearsal tape of her solo into the tape deck, and listened critically as she drove. There was one run that still gave her a bit of trouble, though she doubted anyone---not even the conductor---had noticed. But of course she knew. And who else counts, after all?
Suddenly, she remembered she hadn’t phoned her parents, so reluctantly, she pulled over onto the grass and stopped the car. Her part of the driving-alone bargain was to stay in touch. And really, she thought, they aren’t asking much.
She turned on the phone, which she’d turned off during rehearsal. Orchestra policy insisted on it. And they were right. Nothing worse than ten different cell phones going off while the musicians were wrestling with a difficult passage. Since it was orchestra policy, her parents couldn’t complain.
She glanced at the readout. Yes---three messages, all from her mother. She’d better call before her father got the police involved. Stage parents can sometimes be the worst, she thought. Especially her parents.
Her mother picked up on the first ring. Moira started talking before her mother said hello. It was better if she didn’t let her mother get a word in.
“Just leaving the city, Mom,” she said. “Got a late start. Not my fault. You wouldn’t believe how bad the trombones were. We had to go over their stuff eight times. Eight! Really! What a mess. Maestro was not amused.” Of course no one called him Maestro except as a joke. “And they wanted to put me behind the strings. Behind! I reminded Maestro that my contract called for me to be between the winds and the strings so I can hear. Good contract. Thanks, Mom.” She could almost see her mother smiling at that.
“Call when you get to Vanderby,” her mother replied, the moment Moira took a breath.
“I will.” And she would, too, or there went her driving privileges. “Love you.”
Next she called Helena, the chief Dairy Princess, to tell her that she was just leaving the city. Helena made rude noises on the phone in return, adding she’d stall everyone when they got to Vanderby. “But get here before it’s dark. And don’t dawdle.” Dawdle was Helena’s favorite word.
“I never dawdle,” Moira said, meaning it. Then she turned off the phone. There was no time to lose if she was going to make the photo shoot.
She made a face at the thought, though: another photo op. What a waste of good practice time. She’d only tried out for Dairy Princess in the first place because her parents thought the exposure would help her career. The whole thing was supposed to take only a few days of smiling competition, interviews, crowning, a few parades. The event itself had been a bit silly, and a bit sweet. She liked the girls. Well, some of them. Especially Helena, who had a smart mouth. And Kimberleigh, who was a black belt in karate but looked as if she’d never done anything more strenuous than file her nails. The rest of them were pleasant enough, and very serious, or at least serious about being Dairy Princesses. However, not a one of them knew anything about classical music, which was a drag. Their musical tastes ranged from sugary pop to dance, with one---Chantelle---going for rap. Which in Moira’s opinion was as close to music as ad copy was to poetry.
But a week of being a DP was about as much as she was willing to invest, with her busy schedule. And here, six days after the last of it, the local paper suddenly wanted to do a full spread in their weekend edition about the controversy boiling up around the new Vanderby mayor, a Mr. McGuigan. Which the princesses were somehow part of, though she wasn’t sure how. Since the princesses had each signed a contract to do appearances for a full year---though no more than one a month---Moira had been stuck. Besides, the dairy people had been so accommodating, working the shoot around her schedule of rehearsals, she had nothing left to complain about except that she had to do it.
Shut up, Moira! she scolded herself, as she often did.
By seven fifteen, driving lead-footed all the way, Moira was beyond Duluth and heading toward Vanderby and its Trollholm bridge. Her mother’s typed instructions had been perfect so far.
“Thanks, Mom,” she called at the window, as though her mother could hear her all the way in St. Paul.
Moira was glad she hadn’t driven with the other girls anyway. The time alone had given her a good start on listening to a tape of what would be her newest solo, a piece called “Waiting on the Princess,” written especially for her by Daniel Berlin, Minnesota’s most famous composer, world famous in fact. He’d never written for harp before, which made the piece very difficult, and it would be a good stretch for her. She was about to play the tape again when a green sign announced the turn for Vanderby.
She pulled off the main road and onto a dirt drive her mother had marked as “Very rural.”
“That’s an understatement,” Moira said aloud, looking at the pine trees that threatened to crowd her off the road. She almost missed the smaller path, her mother had marked in large letters: “DON’T OVERSHOOT.”
It was bumpy, so she slowed down to fifteen miles an hour and when that seemed too fast, she downshifted to about eight. Then the trees opened up a bit and there, ahead of her, were several cars and a van parked near a gray stone bridge.
Moira breathed deeply. Made it!
Pulling between Helena’s bloodred Acura and the newspaper’s gray van, she stopped the car and popped the trunk where her princess dress, crown, and shoes were carefully placed. She leaped out, waving at the other girls who’d draped themselves in various positions along the bridge’s low stone walls.
The photographer was already set up and taking some early shots of individuals. Behind them the sun was just starting down behind two towering pines.
“I’m here!” Moira shouted. “I made it.”
Helena stood, putting her hands on her hips, and looking every inch a royal. Her Dairy Princess crown glittered red in the sun’s rays. “For goodness sakes, girl, stop dawdling and get dressed in your gear!”
“I’ll be quick.”
The photographer turned and growled at her, “Mighty quick, honey. Before the light goes, please.” He moved onto the bridge with the girls, leaning in for close-ups. She could hear him talking rapidly to them, cozening them, getting them to smile. “Like the princesses you are,” he said. “Not cheese, caviar.”
“Caviar . . .” they replied dutifully, smiling prettily and opening their eyes wide, though Moira doubted any of them had ever actually tasted caviar. She had, at her first symphony gala. The stuff was fishy-tasting and awful.
Moira had just started to turn back toward her car to get into her princess clothes, when she heard an odd, rushing sound, like the timpani in Stravinsky’s “Rites of Spring,” loud, insistent, pounding. She listened more carefully. No, it sounded more like a train.
But we’re nowhere near any train, she thought, looking over her shoulder toward the sound.
And then she saw it, a wall of water rushing down the river, almost as high as the trees. It was heading right toward the bridge---toward the girls and the photographer---traveling with the mindlessness of any natural phenomenon.
Moira spun around and ran toward them. “Get off the bridge,” she screamed. “Now!” She pointed to the water galloping their way.
For a moment everything seemed in motion, the girls and the photographer looking up, seeing Moira, hearing her, following her pointing finger. And then, like deer in the headlights, they stopped. None of them moved, not an arm, not a leg, not one step off the Trollholm Bridge.
The roaring water rolled over them---and they were gone.
Copyright © 2006 by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple