Jordy bit his bottom lip. As he’d approached the quadrangle ten minutes earlier, his palms had begun to sweat and a knot had formed in the base of his throat. He knew that this was his last chance. If this didn’t work, nothing would work, and he would have to kiss his true love goodbye.
The quad was filling with students. They came in small groups, laughing and chatting. It was a beautiful night for a show. Most wore solid color t-shirts sporting Greek letters. The stars burned bright in the clear Texas sky making the tall iron streetlamps almost irrelevant. Jordy wondered if, from the stars’ perspective, the gathering of so many students in solid color shirts looked like a splotchy rainbow. The thought made him smile. He couldn’t help but wonder if things would have turned out differently if he had joined a frat.
“Hey bro,” a boy said from behind Jordy.
Jordy turned to see Skylar standing behind him. Skylar lived on the same dormitory hall as Jordy. Usually, Skylar walked around shirtless to show off his abs, but tonight he was in a green t-shirt with the Greek letters Phi Epsilon Chi across his chest. His blue eyes seemed almost as bright as the stars.
Grabbing Jordy by the shoulders, Skylar said with a smile, “What are you doing here? I didn’t think a bookworm like you left the library for stuff like this.”
“It’s my first time,” Jordy said, looking at his shoes.
“Damn, bro, first time leaving the library? But you’re like a sophomore, right? I’m just kidding,” Skylar said, squeezing Jordy’s shoulders and then stepping forward to stand next to him. “Bro, you’re going to love this. I mean, the Nightingales are crazy talented. There ain’t no show on campus like this here show, bro.”
“Yeah,” Jordy said with a sigh. “I’ve heard.”
“I swear, bro, they like all end up on Broadway, you know?” Skylar said, putting his arm around Jordy. “A girl gets in that crew and she’s set for life.”
Jordy bit his lip again. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s what they say.”
“What’s that you’ve got, bro?” Skylar asked, noticing the small purple flower Jordy held in his hand.
“Oh,” Jordy said, looking down at the flower. “It’s from my mom’s garden. It’s a Clematis.”
“Bro, you always carry around flowers with you?” Skylar said with a grin.
“No, um,” Jordy said, gently twirling the flower’s stem between his fingers. “I brought it to give to someone.”
“Nice,” Skylar said. “My man. Mr. Smooth.”
Jordy laughed to himself. “Yeah,” he said, looking at the flower again.
“I can’t believe you’ve never been to one of these,” Skylar said. “My boys and I come every month. This is, like, the place to be on a Thursday if you want to find a la-dy. You know what I’m saying?”
“I thought the Nightingales weren’t allowed to date?” Jordy said.
Skylar laughed. “I ain’t here for them, bro. Take a look around.”
Jordy scanned the crowd. It seemed like a typical fraternity/sorority event to him. Good looking people standing in groups of matching t-shirts, talking, laughing, and flirting. The mob was growing and pressing in closer around the steps to the building in front of them. The crowding made Jordy’s stomach turn.
“Bro, no one comes here to hook up with a Nightingale,” Skylar said. “You come here for all the girls that didn’t make it in.”
“I don’t follow,” Jordy said.
“They’re going to watch and then be all disappointed they didn’t get chosen, then they’re going to need some comfort from a caring guy like me, bro,” Skylar said with a confident gleam in his eye.
“Huh,” Jordy said.
“You’re probably here for the music though, right? You play, like, trumpet or something?”
“Piano,” Jordy said.
“See,” Skylar said, nodding with pride. “My boy, Jordy says things, and Big Sky remembers.” Letting go of Jordy’s shoulder, Skylar pointed with both hands at a group of women wearing pink shirts. “La-dies!” he called. Turning back to Jordy, he said, “You and me, bro. After. Them over there. Big Sky’s gonna hook you up, bro. You’ll see. We’ll put that flower you’ve got to good use.”
Jordy took a deep breath and looked back at the stars. He wondered about the ones that didn’t shine as bright. He wondered if they were muted out of regret. Did they once burn bright, but then miss their chance, so now they were soft? If tonight didn’t work, would he be soft forever too?
A hush fell over the crowd as a thin girl in a light brown, form-fitting dress appeared on the steps. In the traditional Nightingale style, her blonde hair was pulled back into a tight bun and she wore dark red lipstick. She stood in front of the crowd and nodded. In reply, the crowd burst into applause.
As he clapped wildly, Skylar leaned close to Jordy again and whispered, “The witch has arrived.”
“Susanna,” Jordy said. “Her name’s Susanna.”
“I’ve never met her,” Skylar said. “I just know she’s the worst. I heard she’s not even a student here. She just hangs around to make sure the Nightingales keep their vow.” Skylar said the final four words in a tone that sounded so similar to the one Susanna used, it made Jordy think Skylar actually knew her well.
“She the grad assistant in my Music Theory class,” Jordy said.
“Yeah, but I bet she’s been a grad assistant for like fifty years,” Skylar said. “She’s pure evil.”
Jordy laughed. “I’m not disagreeing.”
Susanna held her hand up and the crowd again fell silent. A line of seventy girls emerged from the building behind her. Despite slight variations in the color of their hair, each was dressed and made to look exactly like Susanna. Their steps were in sync as they formed four lines on the stairs of the building. While the rest of the crowd was struck by the precision of the large group, Jordy could only see one face. Even though she was dressed to blend in, Jordy could pick her green eyes from any crowd.
“Jorinda,” he whispered to himself.
“What was that?” Skylar asked.
Jordy broke from his trance and looked down at his flower again. “Nothing,” he said.
“No, bro. You said something,” Skylar said with a smile.
“I was just clearing my throat,” Jordy said.
“Yeah, okay,” Skylar said. “Keep your secrets, bro. Big Sky will find out. You can’t hide it from me.”
Jordy laughed. Looking up again, he forced his eyes to scan the group, hoping Skylar wouldn’t notice that he only cared to see one.
“Tonight, for your enjoyment,” Susanna said in a powerful voice that filled the quad, “we will be singing a medley of Marvin Gaye classics. Now, it is my honor to give you, the Nightingales.”
Standing perfectly still, the choir of girls burst into an acapella rendition “Ain’t No Mountian High.” Jordy listened intently, trying to pick out Jorinda’s voice. There were moments when he thoughts, maybe, he could hear it poking out about the crowd, but he couldn’t be certain. It seemed her soaring soprano was buried in the mass of voices.
Watching her sing, he thought back to the hours they’d spent together in practice rooms. Jorinda sitting next to him on the bench, singing softly as he played, occasionally leaning her head on his shoulder. He inhaled, trying to remember the smell of her perfume. He felt again the desire to kiss her, to hold her, to tell her how much he loved her. The feeling wasn’t difficult to recall. He’d had it since they were kids, since they were old enough to feel such things.
The crowd cheered as the chorus shifted into a version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”
“Back when I was a freshman,” Skylar said as he stared at the rows of girls singing, “I went to this one party. This was before rushing and becoming as awesome as I am right now, of course.”
“Of course,” Jordy said with a smile, surprised that Skylar would choose this moment to open up to him.
“I met this amazing girl. We laughed all night. I didn’t even hit on her or anything. We just talked, you know? It was great. We sat on the back porch of this random house and talked for like, three, maybe four hours. Then the sun started to come up and I went to walk her home, but that witch was waiting for us in the front yard.”
Jordy was surprised by the dark turn Jordy’s voice took when he brought up Susanne.
“She didn’t even say anything to the girl,” Skylar said. “She just looked at her, and the girl ran off crying. But then she came up to me, and I was totally frozen. I mean, I didn’t know what was going on. I was so confused. And that witch got right in my face and said, ‘Don’t you ever speak to one of my girls again.’”
The choir transitioned into a rendition of Hitch Hike. Jordy could feel the medley building to a close. “So what happened?” he asked.
“With the hot girl I talked all night to?” Skylar asked.
“Yeah,” Jordy said.
“Third row, fifth from the right,” Skylar said. “Haven’t spoken to her since.”
“It happened to me in a practice room,” Jordy said.
Skylar gave a knowing smile.
“We were working on a piece for her voice lesson. I was her accompanist. I mean, we’ve known each other since we were little. We actually picked this school because we both got in. So we were working on this song and there was a knock at the door. And she opened it. And there were, like, ten girls outside. And they were all singing. And Susanna gave her this golden invitation. And she looked back at me.”
“You told her to take it, didn’t you?” Skylar said.
“Of course I did. It’s the Nightingales. What was I supposed to say? Choose me? Pick me over your future? I couldn’t do that.”
“Bro,” Skylar said, sympathetically.
“After the girls had all left with her, Susanna came into the practice room and told me that our relationship was done and that I should never speak to her again.”
“Bro,” Skylar said again. “I’m so sorry. How long ago was that?”
“A year or so,” Jordy said.
“Damn,” Skylar said. “That’s rough.”
“Yeah,” Jordy said.
The choir made their final transition into a climatic version of “Let’s Get it On” and the crowd roared with joy.
“Did you say anything back to her?” Skylar asked.
“To who?” Jordy said.
“To the lead witch,” Skylar said.
Jordy laughed. “No, I just sat there, looking stupid.”
“She’s terrifying,” Skylar said.
“Yes, she is,” Jordy agreed.
The choir wrapped the medley with a massive five-part chord and the crowd went wild. The girls didn’t smile. They didn’t bow. They remained stoic, accepting the thunderous applause as if it were the only possible outcome of their performance.
Locking his eyes on Jorinda, Jordy said to Skylar, “Excuse me. That’s my cue.” Stepping forward, he pushed his way through the cheering crowd, transfixed on his goal.
Susanna began to speak to the crowd a word of thanks, but Jordy paid no attention. He pressed ahead, squeezing between audience members, offering quiet apologies, and then, suddenly, he found himself at the front, standing before the rows of girls.
“Please come back next week,” Susanna said to the crowd, “when we will perform an arrangement of Stevie Wonder songs.”
“Jorinda!” Jordy called, interrupting Susanna.
“Excuse me,” Susanna said, glaring down at Jordy.
“Jorinda!” he yelled again.
Jorinda looked down from where she stood and smiled. “Hey, Jordy,” she said. Her voice sent a shiver down Jordy’s spine.
Susanna’s eyes grew fierce. “Don’t speak to him!” she demanded. “The Nightingales do not fraternize. We live our music. We are our music.”
Jordy held up the flower he brought so his love could see it. “Jorinda,” he called again, “chose me.”
The crowd stood in stunned silence, watching and waiting for what came next.
“No!” Susanna shrieked. “No! Never!”
Jorinda smiled. “From your mom’s garden?” she called.
“Drove back and picked it yesterday,” Jordy yelled.
“Say another word to him and you’re out!” Susanna shrieked.
“It’s your favorite,” Jordy called.
“Don’t you move,” Susanna yelled. “Not one step! You took a vow!”
“I miss you,” Jordy called. “I shouldn’t have let you go. I should have said, ‘Pick me.’ I’m sorry. I’m saying it now. Pick me. Chose me.” He held the flower out again toward her.
Jorinda smiled. Touching the shoulder of the girl in front of her, she slowly stepped down to the next step, and then the next. With each row, the joy in Jordy’s heart grew.
“You’re done!” Susanna screamed. “You’re out! Don’t come crying back to us! You’re finished!”
Jorinda took the flower from Jordy and sniffed it. “You’re right,” she said. “It is my favorite.”
Jordy smiled and said again, “I’ve missed you.”
Leaning forward, Jorinda pressed her lips to his. Jordy’s knees became weak at her touch and his head spun. The crowd cheered.
Pulling back slightly, she said, “I’ve missed you too.”