Heart Strings

Chapter One

It was Liam’s first day at McAuliffe middle school. He had been transferred when the School district decided they needed a Magnet school and Chose Hart Middle school. They promptly eliminated both the Gifted student program and the Music program so they could devote more time to raising test scores and teach lowest common denominator style.

His Father Connor had opted to take the morning off and get his son situated in his new school. He had parked his beloved 1960 Simca Vedette convertible at the curb and plucked one of three guitar cases from the rear seat.

Liam hoisted the other two and his mostly empty book bag and followed his Da.

"Good morning, gentlemen how may I help you today?" inquired a slightly rotund redhead with a pleasant voice.

"I’ve a new student for you here,"

"Oh I do love a Scottish accent the redhead replied."

Liam almost injured himself holding back the laughter that was desperate to escape his mouth.

"Just kidding, it’s Irish isn’t it." she corrected.

"No actually we’re Welsh." But that was the devil coming out a bit in Connor."

This did nothing to relieve the pressure on Liam.

"Don’t you believe a word of it Grace, Dubliners can’t be trusted to speak their own name truthfully." This last came from a man in his mid thirties.

"Michael Patrick Hanlan as I live and breathe. What the bleedin' hell are you doing here?" Connor exclaimed.

"I teach here now, I came in last year. I remember you had a boy, this must be him."

"This is my son Liam; he had to transfer from Hart when they dumped the advanced curriculum. In other words he’s too bloody smart to attend there anymore."

"How do you do Liam, I’m Michael perhaps your Da here has mentioned me a time or two."

"Yes sir he has, He said you two were great mates."

"We were chiselers together and terrors of the streets."

"What do you teach here Sir?"

"English grammar and comparative literature."

"The feck you do, you can barely speak the bloody language." Connor laughed.

"Oh, sorry miss about the bad language. Connor said remembering he was in a school office.

"Well I have duties to attend, can’t have our charges acting the eedjit."

Connor retrieved a card from his jacket and handed it to Michael.

"Let’s us get together for a pint and catch up eh?"

"Doesn’t that sound grand," said Michael smiling.

Michael made his way outside to shepherd the students along and prevent foolishness.

"Well Mr. Dennehy if you’ll sign these two forms we’ll get a student to show Liam to the music rooms and he can store his instruments." Grace said cheerfully.

"Certainly um Grace is it? And again, sorry about the bad language."

"You must not have spent much time at a middle school lately. Some of our students are um, let’s say colorful in expressing themselves."

"Hi Miss Grace, Mr. Hanlan said you needed a guide" A tall, pleasant looking ninth grade boy interrupted.

"Good morning Charles, yes this young man is Liam and he needs to store his instruments, do you have your key?"

"Yes Ma’am I can take him over there and put his gear in the visitor locker and Mr. Levi can assign him a permanent place."

"That will be wonderful Charles, thank you."

Liam faced his Dad and said, "Wish me luck." He hugged his Father’s chest and picked up the two cases he was carrying earlier, and Charles took the third from Connor. He held the door that exited to the campus as Liam thanked Grace and they were on the move.

"You still hug your Dad in public?" Charles asked.

"Why? Is that a problem?"

"No, I think it’s nice, my Dad decided I was too old to do that last year, I kind of miss it. I still hug him at home and I forget occasionally when I’m playing ball and I get a hit. So are you a refugee from Hart?"

"Yeah, that was a right cock up; what did they think they were playing at anyway."

"Um, where are you from?"

"Oh I was born here but I ended up being raised by me Shan in Dublin."

"I thought maybe Irish but I didn’t want to piss you off by guessing wrong."

"Oh there’s no worry to that. Da was takin’ the piss with yer Miss Grace because she said how much she liked a Scottish accent.

She said she was only havin’ a go at him but then he told her we were Welsh. That’s where Unc Um Mr. Hanlan came in. Kinda funny that."

"Um yeah, I think I got all that. So did you read your orientation booklet?"

"Yeah, have I crossed it already? Sorry, I meant have I messed up already."

"Oh, no your cool, but a couple things you should be aware of. There’s a zero tolerance policy for hate speech like the "N" word or Fag or queer or anything bigoted. It trips a lot of new people up. Black kids can’t even say the "N" word."

"That seems fair, I never use it myself. Even when it’s in a song like "Step it up and go" or something."

"Who’s that by?"

"Yer feckin’ kiddin’ me right? John Lee Hooker sang it. He’s an old Chicago Blues man."

"Nope, sorry, I never heard it."

"Oh well, is this it then?"

"Yeah," chuckled Charles. He unlocked the door and led Liam to a locker marked visitor that had a key in the lock. "Here you go, just like the airport. Put you instruments in and lock the door and take the key; no quarters necessary."

"Thanks Charles, I appreciate the help."

"No probs man, and call me Charley, only Miss Grace calls me Charles."

"Okay Charley, you got it." Liam said with a smirk.

"What?" Charley asked.

"Nothing, it’s just in Dublin being a Charley isn’t complimentary. I just have to adjust."

"Do I want to know what it means?"

"Probably not, but you can Google it if you want. I’ll keep it to me self."

"Hah you did it again. You said Me self instead of myself. I thought I was hearing things."

"Oh sorry, I was fine until Da and Mr. Hanlan got me going."

"No it’s cool, do you write that way too?"

"No, I’m careful to use American spelling and grammar. My accent isn’t usually this strong but I was with Dubliners all the week end and it’s back with a vengeance."

"Oh that’s cool Liam, but why do you say week end as two words and not weekend as just one."

"Not sure really, English is pretty regional in spite of globalization. I use slang that Americans don’t understand and I stumble on some of the current terms."

"Okay dude, I get it, do you have your schedule?"

"No, I didn’t get one."

"Can you find the office on your own?"

"Sure, it’s just across the quad near the Caff."

"Okay cool, just ask Miss Grace for your schedule and she’ll grab someone who’s going that way and they’ll show you the way. I have some stuff to do before my first class."

"Okay Charley, thanks for all the help, maybe I’ll see you later."

"You’re welcome, and welcome to McAuliffe."

Liam turned and walked back to the office and Grace knew what he was there for before he spoke. "Wait here a bit and I’ll get you another guide."

She picked up a walkie talkie and called Mr. Hanlan. "Could you send me a student that has first period Physical Science with Mr. Culver?"

Ten minutes later a boy with longish but very straight blond hair walked in.

"Good morning Daniel, how are you today?"

"I’m fine Miss Grace, how are you?"

"I’m doing great Daniel, would you be a dear and show Liam where your science class meets?"

"Sure Ma’am, no problem."

"Thank you Daniel, you’re a sweetheart."

"You’re welcome Miss Grace."

Daniel stuck out a hand and Liam shook it.

"If you’re ready we can go, I need to drop my guitar in the music room."

"Ha, I’ve just come from there. This seems like a nice school, it’s newer than Hart."

"Yeah it is, I heard what they did at Hart, It sucks completely. Um how old are you Liam? If you don’t mind me asking."

"I’ll be twelve next month, how about you?"

"Same here, on the eighteenth to be exact. Did you skip a grade too?"

"Yes I jumped over fourth and went to fifth. Then in sixth they started the Gifted program at Marshall and then Hart had one but it got dumped for being elitist."

"Well you can’t have a school program that discriminates against dumb people, it might hurt their feelings."

Liam laughed at Daniels dead on the mark cynicism. "Couldn’t they just give them another feckin’ trophy."

This time Daniel laughed. "I hear you man."

"I could have brought this tomorrow but Monday is the only day Mom can drive me to school."

"Same here, Da took the morning off to help me get me guitars shifted."

"Da?" Daniel inquired.

"Yeah, my Father."

"You’re Irish aren’t you?"

"Oh, yeah, well actually I’m American but I was raised in Ireland. It’s a long story that it appears I’ll be tellin’ til’ I’m shattered."

"No it’s okay, you don’t have to explain, I just meant we’re Irish. My Mom and me we’re Sullivans from Cork or at least we were a hundred years ago. I’ve never been there but I want to go someday."

"It’s a wonderful place, I miss it a lot."

"So what’s your family name?"

"Dennehy, I hope we’re not supposed to be enemies from the old sod and all that shite."

Daniel laughed, it was a pleasant sound to Liam. "I hope not, I kind of like you, I think we’re the two youngest guys in this school."

Liam pulled the door of the music room open and held it for Daniel.

A man sat at the desk and greeted Daniel and asked if Liam was a new student.

Liam introduced himself and explained the circumstances that brought him there.

"Yes I heard all about it, it’s shameful. I’m your instructor, my name is George Levi just like the trousers you’ve got on there. Will you be bringing your instrument in tomorrow?"

"Actually I brought them today. Charley let me in and they’re in the visitor’s locker."

"Well let’s get you a locker assigned, how about the one next to Daniel here?"

Liam retrieved his cases and put them on a table to be inspected by Mr. Levi.

"I have my standard class guitar, one for busking or jamming and a baroque in case I am called upon to perform Boccherini or anything baroque."

"You play Boccherini? May I hear a demonstration?"

"Certainly, how about the Pasacalle from "Night Music"?"

Liam strummed the Baroque guitar and checked that the tuning hadn’t wandered. He launched into the piece made recently popular by the movie "Master and Commander" Whenever he played it while busking or just practicing in the park people would say it was from the score of the movie. He had given up correcting them. When he had finished Mr. Levi and Daniel both stared at him a moment.

"I think Gregg’s long reign of terror is at an end Daniel."

"I think you’re right sir."

"Eh, who’s Gregg?" Liam asked.

"Gregg is our lead first chair guitarist when we play as a group or ensemble. And he’s a bit full of himself," said Mr. Levi.

"He’s not really that good, but he’s good enough that nobody challenges him. The problem is that he thinks it gives him some kind of authority. You’ll see if you want to play guitar on the quad," Daniel informed him.

"I presume that is a reproduction since you aren’t accompanied by an armed guard." Mr. Levi surmised.

"Yes sir, Jasper Willows made it about fifteen years ago. It was one of his last." Liam explained.

"And the other two?" Mr. Levi inquired as Liam handed the guitar to Daniel to examine.

"This is my class room guitar; I’m very fond of it. It was made by a woman in Oregon. I thought she passed away until she showed up in the park where I was playing with my friends. She recognized her work immediately and then joined us to play for a while. Would you like to take it for a spin?"

"Sadly no, I’m still recovering from wrist tendon surgery and I haven’t regained my fine motor skills in my left hand as quickly as I hoped. Perhaps you could play something?"

"Sure, um how about Rondo Alla Turca?"

"You can’t go wrong with Mozart." Mr. Levi agreed.

When Liam had finished the piece Mr. Levi and Daniel clapped enthusiastically along with a girl that had entered the room as Liam began playing."

"Would you believe that I bought this at a thrift store, it had cheap steel strings and stickers all over it but I was able to restore it and all the binding was intact so I just had a couple cracks to repair and there you go.

"You’re not just a technician you play with great feeling, I am impressed." Mr. Levi said.

"Whoa, who is this? He’s pretty and he plays great. Gregg is really f.. um screwed isn’t he." An eighth grade girl observed.

Daniel grinned at her and nodded.

Liam traded guitars with Daniel and began to put the Baroque away. He uncased his third guitar. It was a well worn Gibson 1930’s L12 arch top guitar.

"This is a pawnshop find, I paid three hundred for it. Last estimate said it was worth about eighty-five hundred. Some idiot had spray painted it orange and black. But they left the Gibson inlay alone so the woman at the pawnshop who was very rude insisted that any Gibson was worth three hundred minimum. She was really stroppy so I didn’t mind getting a deal. I usually tell people that they’re selling too cheap but I made an exception for her."

"So what will you play on that?" asked Mr. Levi.

"I’ve been working on an old blues tune called "Shuffle Rag."

"Oh yeah that’s an old Big Bill Broonzy song, didn’t he call it "Hey Hey Baby" or is it the same song?" Daniel asked.

"Oh cool, a fellow blues junky. "I believe you’re referring to "Guitar Shuffle, it did have two names. There are lyrics but I don’t know them but as an instrumental it’s the "Guitar Shuffle", He changed up a little but it’s the same meter and style just with lyrics."

"I haven’t gotten the hang of his base notes yet they don’t seem to be on the beat." Daniel complained.

"You’re right Daniel, he had weird syncopation but keep at it and you’ll get it; just add an extra count like about a quarter beat"

Liam handed Daniel his Burton and asked him to join in or be ready to take it.

"This whole tune revolves around B-7, A and B." Liam told Mr. Levi.

He began playing as he sat on the edge of a table and watched Daniel counting in as he sat on a stool across the aisle.

Liam played thirty bars and nodded at Daniel who picked up at thirty three seamlessly. Daniel played sixteen bars and handed it back. They played the last sixteen together.

"Holy shit that’s great," Cheri exclaimed.

"Daniel, you’ve been holding out on me. If you can play that you could be near the top of your class. What gives?" Mr. Levi asked.

"I um, Sir could we talk about it later? We’re going to be late to class," an embarrassed looking Daniel asked.

"Oh my, I have kept you late. Put away your instruments while I write you a note."

The locker was cavernous; Liam figured six cases would fit with ease. He carefully cased his guitars and Daniel helped him put them away.

They collected the note and said their goodbyes and moved out quickly to avoid being too late.

"What’s this Sullivan, did you get tired of being a third wheel and scrounge up your own lab partner?" The Teacher demanded playfully."

"Um No sir, this is Liam, he’s a new student from Hart. And Cheri asked me to tell you she’s running an errand for Mr. Levi so she’ll be a bit late."

"Ah yes another refugee, well now we have enough for everyone to have a partner."

"Good Morning Liam, I am Dr. Lewis Culver which basically means I’m a bigger nerd than any of you people."

A black kid jumped up and said, "Hey, what do you mean by "You People" in a militant fashion. But the kid couldn’t hold a straight face and started giggling. "Sorry sir, I had to."

"Very funny Ralph, what do you propose I call you and your class mates, aardvarks?"

"Earth pigs Sir?" Liam asked.

"I’m sorry? What do you mean young man?"

"Aardvark sir, it means "Earth Pig" in Dutch and Afrikaans."

"Okay, I think that rates the nerd hat." Said Dr. Culver as he rang a small hand bell.

The other students began to chant, "Nerd Hat, nerd hat, nerd hat" and then cheered when the teacher removed a hat from a cabinet. It had once been a Bowler but now the brim had been cut to resemble a crown. It was bedecked by buttons with nerdy scientific wording such as "E=mc₂ and other math and chemical symbols. It was also studded with Mardi Gras type jewels, beads and sequins and it had been painted gold.

"This is a first Liam, we’ve never had a new student Nerd out in the first fifteen minutes of class before. And just to put you at ease this is not a stigma but an honor. It is bestowed for spontaneous application of obscure knowledge relevant to the matter under discussion."

"So you’re saying I’ve made my nerd bones then? You know "Leave the Super Collider take the cannoli, Mario Puzo, that sort of thing?"

"Oh we’re going to have to add something to the hat nerdlings. Mr, Dennehy has just upped the bar."

"How about a sash in a really unattractive color, it could have "Super Nerd" printed on it." Cheri, the girl from the music room with bright red highlights in her jet black hair suggested from the classroom door. She handed a pass to the teacher and took her seat.

A chorus of assent went up and Dr. Culver agreed as well.

"Thank you Cheri, that’s a wonderful idea.

"Take your seats gentlemen; let’s salvage the rest of the time we have left."

Daniel tugged Liam to an unoccupied station and they sat on the stools provided.

"You are freakin’ awesome quick man." Daniel whispered.

Liam grinned at him; he was enjoying this new school so far. All the time he and his Da had spent verbally sparring had paid off.

Liam raised his hand and the teacher acknowledged him.

"Dr. Culver where are you in the syllabus? We were just starting with cellular mitosis."

"Okay, first it’s Mr. Culver or Mr. C. I don’t use the title here. And to answer your question; if we get through the introduction to organic chemistry this week we will begin with cellular activity next week."

"Thank you Mr. C."

"Did that hurt?" Dr. Culver asked.

"No sir, I just never ran into anyone with your attitude towards a doctorate, at least nobody who actually had one."

Mr. Culver chuckled and returned to the lesson plan.

Liam was already familiar with this subject and shadowed Daniel leaning in so he could read along with him. He was able to get a nice whiff of the boy; just soap and a little sweat but not offensive. Even his breath was pleasant.

He would have to find out where to get his books. And get an idea how the campus was laid out. He wouldn’t be able to count on sharing all his classes with Daniel; although he wouldn’t mind. Liam had known for a while that he preferred boys over girls for just about everything. Telling his father was the most difficult moment in his life until it was over and his father had taken the announcement calmly and told Liam it didn’t change his feelings towards him. He had made it clear that he loved and respected his son. He considered him a fine young man and would be there when needed.

Liam adores his Father.