Bethany hurried out of her bedroom and bumped into Mizzy coming out of the bathroom.
“Thanks for telling Mum on me,” her little sister snapped. “I’m in the doghouse thanks to you. I’m not allowed to go round to Jade’s after school.”
“I don’t know what you’re on about,” Bethany told her, shaking her head. “Anyway, come out of the way. I’m late.”
“You told her I was making a nuisance of myself at the precinct,” Mizzy continued, refusing to let Bethany past.
“As a matter of fact, she didn’t,” a familiar voice called up the stairs.
Diane was putting her coat on in the hall and had heard their squabble.
“Mrs Jones saw you at the precinct. You and some other girls, she said, making a nuisance of yourself. She said it was a pity you didn’t listen to the music, especially as our Bethany is such a good player. So don’t go blaming her because you can’t behave yourself, Mizzy. I felt really ashamed.”
“Serves you right. Come on, Mizz, I need to get in the bathroom,” Bethany said, chuckling.
“Ellis had a dig at us, too,” Mizzy moaned.
“Ellis?” Bethany felt her heart skip a little beat.
“Yeah, he was watching you play. Said you were talented. Jade reckons he fancies you.”
She slunk off into her bedroom and left Bethany wondering why Ellis hadn’t said hello.
She was still thinking about him when she reached the clinic.
“Who’s first for treatment?” she asked Sunita.
“Your favourite patient,” the receptionist replied with a mischievous grin.
“Oh, no! Not Mrs Latimer-Davies.” Bethany groaned. “I could do without her this morning.”
“Good morning, ladies,” came an imperious voice behind them.
Mrs Latimer-Davies seemed determined to be more awkward than usual, her feet more tender as she winced and protested. Bethany soon discovered the deeper cause of her gripes.
“I wonder,” Mrs Latimer-Davies began casually, “if it’s quite proper for staff here to consort socially with their clients or their clients’ families.”
“I wouldn’t know,” Bethany replied, concentrating on her work. “You know, Mrs Latimer-Davies, if you wore sensible shoes for a while it would give your feet a chance to recover.”
Mrs Latimer-Davies ignored her.
“Perhaps I should have a word with your supervisor,” she said. “Surely she’d know the policy on personal relationships with clients.”
Bethany knew very well that Mrs Latimer-Davies was trying to goad her about Des, but she didn’t react.
“There you are. All finished,” Bethany went on briskly. “Ask Sunita to give you an appointment in a month. Sorry to rush you but we’ve a very busy clinic this morning.”
Honestly, she was thinking, that woman was for ever trying to interfere in her poor son’s life!
As she called for her next patient she glanced round to see if Des had come to pick up his mother. Then she heard Mrs Latimer-Davies asking Sunita to call her a taxi.
“My son has a client who insisted on an early appointment. Really how urgent can it be to see a solicitor? Some people think only of themselves.”
Bethany smiled to herself, sure the irony of her words escaped Mrs Latimer-Davies.
The coach to Blackpool filled up in the customary formation so Bethany wasn’t seated beside Rachel, who sat with her euphonium near the front. Lacey wasn’t playing, but still sat in her usual place with the cornets near the back. She beckoned to Jason and he sat down beside her with a groan.
“It’s going to be great . . .” Lacey began excitedly.
“Sshh, please.” Jason groaned. “I had a late night last night. I need to get some shut-eye.”
Lacey looked disappointed but other band members nearby began to tease him, and the commotion soon drew the attention of Ken, seated at the front beside the driver. He slowly made his way to the back as the coach moved off. As he passed Janine, Bethany noticed him stop and say a few words to her. Janine smiled up and Ken patted her shoulder before he moved on. The smile dropped from his face as he noticed Jason’s puffy face and bleary eyes.
“Are you fit to play your solo?” he demanded. “This competition’s vital for us if we want to get to the finals.”
“I’ll be fine,” Jason protested with a sulky face.
Ken gave him a piercing look, then turned to Bethany.
“Have you got a copy of the solo?”
“Er . . . yes,” she began, panic suddenly thumping in her chest.
“Have you practised it?”
“A bit but I didn’t expect to be . . .”
“I suggest you go through it now. Jason here doesn’t seem fit to do it justice. You’ll have to be ready, just in case.”
Ken left Bethany to sort herself out. After a stunned moment to collect her thoughts, she unpacked her cornet and tentatively put it to her lips. Her hands felt clammy with anxiety, her fingers clumsy on the valves, but she went through the finger positions over and over until she felt more confident.
“That’s not bad,” one of her fellow players told her. “When we get off the coach, we’ll go through it with you before we go in the theatre. You’re cramped there in the seats, but you’ll be fine when you can stand up and give it some welly.”
She hoped he was right, but she also hoped she wouldn’t have to do it. Bethany took a deep breath. She wouldn’t let the band down if she had the chance.
She felt better after trying the solo aloud in the car park. It wasn’t easy with coaches arriving and bandsmen and their supporters milling round. Others were practising, too, before they went into the Winter Gardens. It took all her concentration to hear herself above the bustle.
“You’ll do,” Ken said, watching her intently. “How do you feel about taking the solo?”
“Nervous,” Bethany admitted.
“Good. That’ll stop you getting complacent. Come on, let’s do it.”
The ornate theatre was packed with bandsmen and their supporters, a rainbow of uniforms and many familiar faces. Bethany spotted Ellis with Kemington Silver. He glanced over, smiled and waved. Bethany waved back. Was his smile warmer or was it just her wishful imagination? She took a deep, calming breath, needing all her concentration.
The contest started. The competition was fierce, so much talent and so much beautiful music. Kemington were on right before Addersley. The Addersley players paid their utmost attention to their great rivals.