Leah on the Offbeat

By: Becky Albertalli


I DON’T MEAN TO BE dramatic, but God save me from Morgan picking our set list. That girl is a suburban dad’s midlife crisis in a high school senior’s body.

Case in point: she’s kneeling on the floor, using the keyboard stool as a desk, and every title on her list is a mediocre classic rock song. I’m a very tolerant person, but as an American, a musician, and a self-respecting human being, it is both my duty and my privilege to blanket veto that shit.

I lean forward on my stool to peer over her shoulder. “No Bon Jovi. No Journey.”

“Wait, seriously?” says Morgan. “People love ‘Don’t Stop Believin’.”

“People love meth. Should we start doing meth?”

Anna raises her eyebrows. “Leah, did you just—”

“Did I just compare ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ to meth?” I shrug. “Why, yes. Yes I did.”

Anna and Morgan exchange a capital-L Look. It’s a Look that says here we go, she’s about to dig her heels in.

“I’m just saying. The song is a mess. The lyrics are bullshit.” I give a little tap on the snare for emphasis.

“I like the lyrics,” Anna says. “They’re hopeful.”

“It’s not about whether they’re hopeful. It’s about the gross implausibility of a midnight train going, quote unquote, anywhere.”

They exchange another Look, this time with tiny shrugs. Translation: she has a point.

Translation of the translation: Leah Catherine Burke is an actual genius, and we should never ever doubt her music taste.

“I guess we shouldn’t add anything new until Taylor and Nora are back,” Morgan concedes. And she’s right. School musical rehearsals have kept Taylor and Nora out of commission since January. And even though the rest of us have been meeting a few times a week, it sucks rehearsing without your singer and lead guitarist.

“Okay,” Anna says. “Then I guess we’re done here?”

“Done with rehearsal?”

Welp. I guess I should have shut up about Journey. Like, I get it. I’m white. I’m supposed to love shitty classic rock. But I kind of thought we were all enjoying this lively debate about music and meth. Maybe it went off the rails somewhere, though, because now Morgan’s putting the keyboard away and Anna’s texting her mom to pick her up. I guess that’s game over.

My mom won’t be here for another twenty minutes, so I hang around the music room even after they leave. I don’t really mind. It’s actually nice to drum alone. I let my sticks take the lead, from the bass to the snare and again and again. Some fills on the toms. Some chhh chhh chhh on the hi-hat, and then the crash.



And another.

I don’t even hear my phone buzzing until it pings with a voice mail. It’s obviously my mom. She always calls, only texts as a last resort. You’d think she was fifty or a million years old, but she’s thirty-five. I’m eighteen. Go ahead and do the math. I’m basically your resident fat Slytherin Rory Gilmore.

I don’t listen to the voice mail, because Mom always texts me after—and sure enough, a moment later: So sorry to do this, sweetie. I’m swamped here—can you catch the bus today?

Sure, I write back.

You’re the best. Kissy emoji.

Mom’s boss is an unstoppable robot workaholic lawyer, so this happens a lot. It’s either that, or she’s on a date. It’s not even funny, having a mom who gets more action than I do. Right now, she’s seeing some guy named Wells. Like the plural of well. He’s bald and rich, with tiny little ears, and I think he’s almost fifty. I met him once for thirty minutes, and he made six puns and said “oh, fudge” twice.

Anyway, I used to have a car, so it didn’t matter as much—if I beat Mom home, I’d just let myself in through the garage. But Mom’s car died last summer, so my car became her car, which means I get to ride home with thirty-five freshmen. Not that I’m bitter.

We’re supposed to clear out of the music room by five, so I take apart the kit and carry it into the storage closet, drum by drum. I’m the only one who uses the school kit. Everyone else who plays has their own set in the finished basements of their personal mansions. My friend Nick has a customizable Yamaha DTX450K e-kit, and he doesn’t even drum. I could never afford that in a billion years. But that’s Shady Creek.

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