Main > Series > Chapters > Fame Book 1 > Chapter 4

Retarded. A label, a classification, a buzzword. Shorofsky argued for Troy Phillips, and Shorofsky won; as far as he was concerned the term simply didn't apply to a boy who may even have had an edge in talent and ability on anyone else in the school. To turn him down, for any reason, would be an act - and here Shorofsy thundered, has clenched fist held dramatically aloft - of criminal folly.

Nobody saw him wink at Dave Reardon afterwards. But even though the act was calculated, the effect was one hundred per cent sincere. Shorofsky wanted the boy in his class, in his care; and he got him. The papers were processed through, and Troy Phillips took his seat in the music class between Bruno Martelli and Coco Hernandez on the next Wednesday morning.

A few curious glances were thrown his way, but Troy simply sat with his pencils arranged neatly on the desk and his hands folded before him. He said hello to Bruno, and although he didn't say much else it was easy to see that he was burning with pride.

Shorofsky came in with a stack of papers, which he split into two poles and gave to the nearest students to hand out. 'As your exams are returned,' he said drily, 'you may experience a wave of nausea . . . '

A wave of nausea was duly experienced by the class. Coco Hernandez groaned aloud when she saw her grade.

'Apparently,' Shorofsky went on, 'the subject of harmony failed to capture your enthusiasm. Let's hope the situation's changed by Friday, when you have another exam on this material.'

Bruno sighed when he got his own paper back. It was the usual story; a flawless grasp, terribly expressed. In academic word, his keyboard skills tended to show up rather less well than his bad habits.

Shorofsky was by now behind his desk and lowering himself to sit in his swivel chair. 'Luckily for you all,' he said, 'we can begin preparing almost immediately. First I should like to introduce a new student, Troy Phillips.' Troy made an intent study of the desk before him, knowing that everyone would be looking his way. 'Mister Phillips is a very fine singer indeed, and I invite you to hear him at your earliest possible convenience.' He winked a Troy, much as he'd winked at Dave Reardon a few days before. 'It will be worth it. And now, if we can all turn to page fifty-four . . . '

'How 'bout right now?' Coco cut in, after a quick glance at the uninviting weight of the harmony textbook on the desk in front of her.

Shorofsky looked up, momentarily jolted from his track. 'Excuse me?'

'How about if he sings a song for us now?'

'But what of our rules of harmony?'

There was a faint and slightly desperate rumbling from the whole of the class. Right now, anything would be preferable to the rules of harmony.

'Mister Shorofsky,' Bruno said, with a grin that told Shorofsky that one of the darts had been stolen from his own quiver and was about to be used against him, 'the basic rules of harmony have been with us for centuries, long before today's fickle musical styles and they will be here for many . . . '

Shorofsky made resigned damping motions with his hands, as if he was trying to push back an irresistible tide in the certain knowledge of failure. 'I get the gist,' he said. 'Well, if the rest of the class is willing to postpone the inevitable . . . '

The rest of the class showed its feeling in a roar of approval as Bruno and Troy mad their way up towards the piano.

'What do you want to sing?' Bruno said as he got himself seated.

'Do you know Penny Lane?'

'Sure.'

Bruno vamped an introduction, and Troy launched in. It was a nervous start, but within a couple of bars he'd found confidence. Shorofsky leaned back in his chair and watched; he watched Troy, and he watched the reaction of the music class.

It was as he'd known it would be. Troy was knocking them dead with a powerhouse performance - all shyness gone, all uncertainty forgotten, he was transformed. Retarded, Shorofsky thought angrily. Well, it all depended on your criteria. How typical of the modern world - when we fail people, we invent a label and make out that they've failed us.

Shorofsky let his attention drift to Coco Hernandez. What he saw there was a reaction that differed slightly from that of the others. She was recognising Troy as an exceptional singer, but there was something else, a slightly feral quality in her eyes that told Shorofsky that she was identifying a threat of some kind.

A little competition would do her talents no harm at all; it all depended on how she handled it. Coco's position as the 'best' of the singers at the School of the Arts had been assured for too long, and Shorofsky had noticed that it had taken some of her edge away; unconsciously echoing Bruno Martelli's thought of the week before, he'd begun to feel that there was something missing in her attack. Instead of feeding on her own hunger, she was starting to sound just a little like some facelifted old crooner on her tenth farewell tour.

Well, perhaps that was unfair. But Troy was making her think hard, and that was good. As for Troy himself, he was bringing the song to an end in grand style. A little too much John Lennon and not enough Troy Phillips perhaps, but that was natural and it was nothing that wouldn't be overcome.

Bruno hit the last chord, Troy ended the last note cleanly, and the music class leapt to its feet. The kids crowded around the piano, swamping Troy in a sudden wave of enthusiasm and appreciation, and Shorofsky was satisfied to see that Coco Hernandez was right there in the middle of them. He watched the backslappping and the handshaking with an indulgent smile - but then his smile slowly died.

Troy was getting anxious, seeing faces crowding up on all sides and finding no way out. Shorofsky tried to speak, but the noise was too much for him to be heard. Troy was struggling for control. He looked longingly towards the door. Someone's hand grabbed his shoulder, and started to shake.

That was it. Troy broke free, roughly forcing his way past four or five astonished students. He tripped and almost stumbled, but he recovered his balance. He'd gone from the room before anyone knew what had happened.

There were blank looks, stunned faces. Ther chatter had abruptly become an uncomprehending silence. Shorofsky knew exactly what had happend, but he knew that he couldn't explain it.

'He's . . . very shy,' he said, which wasn't entirely untrue. 'I think you overwhelmed him. Please fend for yourselves until I return.'

He went after Troy, and caught up with him no more that fifty yards away. The boy was muttering something that sounded like, She was right, she was right. He gave a start when Shorofsky gently touched him on the shoulder.

'Who was right, Troy?' Shorofsky said.

'Mother . . . said to stay.'

'Stay where, Troy?'

The boy took a couple of deep breaths. He was starting to get his control back, but his nervous glance at a couple of drama seniors going by on their way to the lockers told Shorofsky that he was afraid of being overheard.

Shorofsky looked around. The nearby classrooms were all in use, but there was a walk-in supply closet cross the corridor.

'Step into the office,' Shorofsky said, and he led Troy over.

Once inside, with the musty smells of chalk and new paper, Shorofsky switched on the overhead light and closed the door. Troy said, 'Can you keep a secret, Mister Shakof . . . '

'I can,' Shorofsky said quickly, to avoid any extra awkwardness.

'Tight?'

Shorofsky nodded.

'I go to another school, too. You won't tell?'

'I won't tell.'

'It's a school for kids like me. I'm not . . .' Troy motioned vaguely, back in the direction of the classroom. 'I'm not like those kids. I'm different. I won't ever be like those kids. They're better than me.'

'I don't think that's true,' Shorofsky said firmly.

'At the other school, they're all like me. At that school, I'm better.' He looked at the floor, sorrowfully. 'It was a mistake. I made a mistake. I'll go back. I . . .'

'No,' Shorofsky said. 'You didn't make a mistake. You did a very brave thing, and I have the greatest respect for you.' Troy calmed a little. Shorofsky went on, 'Listen to me. Next month there will be a very important music festival. I would like you to be the lead singer representing this school. Will you stay?'

Troy looked up. Shorofsky saw disbelief, hope, the glint of a single crystal tear. Troy was back from the edge.

But Shorofksy was now walking dangerously close to it.

The reaction down in the teachers' lounge was just as Shorofsky had been expection; disbelief, incredulity, and a certain amount of apprehension.

'He was going to leave the school,' Shorofsky insisted. Lydia Grant and Elizabeth Sherwood were both looking dubious; Dave Reardon seemed to be thinking something over. 'I had to do something!'

Reardon said, 'I thought the whole idea behind "mainstreaming" was to treat him like any other kid?'

'Do the other kids know about this yet?' Lydia added.

Shorofsky shook his head. 'No, I . . . '

'Well, when they find out, I'd give some serious thought to hiring a bodyguard.'

'It's easy for all of you,' Shorofsky protested. 'Is he taking dance? No.' He turned to Elizabeth, who had been listening but who so far had said nothing. 'Is he taking English? No.' Now Reardon. 'Is he taking drama?'

'Yes,' Reardon said promptly, which stopped the conversation in its tracks for a moment.

'David,' Elizabeth said gently, 'he barely reads.'

'But he can read,' Reardon pointed out. 'Acting is acting. Reading is reading. Drama might just build his confidence.'

'And it might tear him apart. It can tear anybody apart.'

But Reardon had obviously thought it through. 'One thing's for sure, this kid's got guts. And if he wants to be treated like every other kid, I say give him a real chance. Not some kind of . . . free ride.'

Now Elizabeth was getting really worried. She turned to Shorofsky. 'Benjamin,' she said, 'it does seem to go against everything we wanted for Troy.'

Shorofsky took a breath, and looked at each of them. 'You're all right, every one of you. In the long run, I suspect that I may be guilty of a slight error in judgement. But -' And here he looked directly at Elizabeth, not in accusation but more in appeal - 'I would like to have seen any one of you listen to that frightened voice, and look into those confused eyes, and do anything different.'

And then, in silence, he turned and walked out of the lounge. His problems weren't over. Even if there wasn't some kind of explosion when he went public about the cancelled auditions, there were going to be questions; questions that he wasn't sure how to handle.

He could stall it for a couple of days. No more.
 

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