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Yellow Flag


He was coming off the last turn, racing three wide for the finish, Dad on his left, Kris on his right, trapped between them. Through the roar of the engines he heard the metallic shriek of their doors scraping. Uncle Kale’s voice came through the headphones, “Gas it, Kylie, get out of there.”
Kyle thought: If we cross the finish line together I will never get out of this car. I will be stuck in here forever.
Even as he dreamed, he knew it was a dream, the old one, the yellow caution flag dream, the early warning dream. Something’s going to happen today.
He forced himself awake the way he always did, braking hard, letting Dad and Kris pass him to the checkered flag. He was unstuck, free.
But he was nowhere.
He woke up sweating.
Be careful today.

Kyle wasn’t surprised at breakfast when Dad said, “We could use you tomorrow.”
He felt the orange juice come back up faster than it went down, pure acid. “Got a trumpet lesson. Then the quintet’s going to Charlotte for a master class.”
Dad’s long face looked tired. He sounded apologetic. “I need you. Billy went to Atlanta for some heart tests.”
Mom said, “You can re-schedule your lesson.” Kyle thought that was her way of saying, I’m not on your side this time.
“I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.,” said Dad. “The new sponsors’ll be there. Kris comes in top ten we can make this deal.”
The orange acid went back down and pooled in Kyle’s stomach. Dad didn’t have to say how bad Hildebrand Racing needed to make this deal.
Mom said, “I think you should do it.” As if she was pleading with him to make the right choice.
That made it worse, Kyle thought, putting it all on me, as if I really had a choice. It was a con job. Pleading has never been the Hildebrand way. Great-grandpa Fred ordered Grandpa Walter into the car and then Walter ordered Dad into the car. Dad never had to order Kris, who jumped in when he was four years old. Never could get him out. Only reason I escaped.
“Need you up on the roof,” said Dad. “Kris’ll listen to you”
Yeah, right. Kris’ll listen to me. And still push the pedal through the floor.
What could he say? “What time?”
“Knew I could count on you.” Dad smiled. “We can drive out together after school.”
No way. Miss rehearsal tonight and get stuck tomorrow three hours from home without my own car. “I’ll go in the morning. Be there by nine.”
Dad hesitated, but Mom said, “I’ll make sure you’re up.” So she was half on his side.

Fridays in spring crept on forever at Goshen High. All day Kyle felt like he had one foot mashing the gas, the other standing on the brake. His motor was running hot while his wheels spun in the groove. Sweat ran down his back. He felt numb and horny and sleepy and jittery. He sleepwalked from English to History to Geometry. He heard himself answer a question in Environmental Science but it might as well have been someone else. Teachers droned on, trying not to let their eyes flick toward the windows where the thickening yellow light banged against the glass, calling them outside. Kyle’s eyes were stuck on the glass.
He didn’t remember what he ate for lunch or who sat with him at the band table.
He didn’t wake up until he tightened the thumbscrew on his music stand in the band practice room. He always woke up for practice. But he also started thinking about tomorrow. It wasn’t fair. Racing is Kris’s life, not mine. I’ve got other things to do.
“So why don’t gorillas play trumpet?” He hadn’t noticed Nicole sit down next to him. As usual, she was all in black. The little round face with big dark eyes peeked out of a cloud of curly black hair. She answered her own question. “Gorillas don’t play trumpet because they’re too sensitive.”
“You know how French horn players say hello?” said Kyle. “They say, ‘Hi, I played that piece in kindergarten.’” He liked trash talking with her, even the dumb old jokes.
She laughed. A big, unself-conscious sound. Behind her back, some kids called it her New York honk, but he liked it better than the constipated simper that usually passed for laughs in Goshen.
“What’s the difference between a trumpet player and a terrorist?” said Jesse, lowering the twin pillows of his gargantuan butt onto his chair with a fat plop. “Terrorists have sympathizers.”
Nicole laughed louder and Kyle felt a twinge of jealousy.
Mr. G bounced into the room in his plaid pajama pants and throwback Sketchers, wearing yet another T-shirt from an obscure band. Molly’s Brain Fart. Jesse and Nicole had made up a band name for him – Terminal Hip. He loved it, said he was going to have T-shirts made.
“Let’s perpetrate some sound,” he shouted.
They warmed up with Ravel’s “Pavane for a Dead Princess,” a beautiful piece they had played at the Charlotte Classical Festival last month. Kyle and the other trumpet, Todd, led them into the melody with quick bright sounds that opened doors for Del’s tenor trombone. Mr. G nodded and pointed his baton and they were surrounded by the warm, rich tones of Nicole’s French horn and Jesse’s tuba.
Kyle felt good for the first time all day. He felt safe and sure inside the music, working together with friends. He felt …complete.
As usual, it was over too quickly. Mr. G. rapped his baton on a metal stand. “Okay, before we get serious. Some business. One, who’s driving tomorrow besides me?”
For a moment, Kyle was confused. Kris is driving tomorrow, in the Relco 250 at Monroe Speedway and I’m going to be spotting for him on the roof.
“I can’t make it,” said Kyle.
“You are joking,” said Mr. G. “You know how hard it was to get a high school quintet into a Brooklyn Brass master class?”
“I’m really sorry, but…”
“This better be good,” said Mr. G. “You’re having brain surgery.”
It’s a long story you wouldn’t understand, smartass. My family needs me to help close a deal that will keep Hildebrand Racing alive. Pay my way to college. Pay for music lessons. Maybe you understand that. “I have to be at the track.”
Mr. G’s face got hard. “We’ve talked about this before, Kyle. The quintet’s a commitment. You’re on this team or you’re not.”
Del said, “It’s not like we’re going to play tomorrow.” His family had raced; he understood.
Mr. G rolled his eyes. “Sooner or later, you’re going to have to make a decision, Kyle.”
Mr. G let it hang in the air like a sour note. Kyle imagined telling Dad that he couldn’t make the race.
No way.
Or telling Mr. G to go stick the baton.
Maybe later.
Kyle looked down and fussed with his spit valve. He felt a light punch on his arm. When he turned Nicole was nodding at him. He wasn’t totally sure what it meant, but he decided she was on his side.