As the crescendo climaxed, laughter punched Nate and Mindy’s guts like a box full of trapped cats. Nate tried silence, but it didn’t work. Mindy’s hands flew to her mouth, awaiting the applause to mask her irreverence. They both bit their lips between their teeth, trying to hold the laughter in, but bursts of hilarity flapped from their mouths like air from a loose balloon.
Mr. Farnsworth straightened his bowtie and cast a scornful look across the darkened highschool auditorium. Signaling their condemnation, he silently invited others to join his disdain. It quieted them for a moment. Until the tuba solo. As the bulky instrument rumbled a long, low note, Mindy turned to Nate and whispered, “Excuse me.”
Nate exploded. A string of snot shot from his nostril and Mindy roared with laughter, pointing a finger at him and drawing looks from at least a dozen people. Nate felt the glaring eyeballs and buried his head in his lap, shaking and convulsing until the song ended. Silence. Then applause.
“Thank God, it’s over,” Nate cried. He was sweating. Mindy’s face was a dark crimson. She didn’t say a word, but bobbed in her seat, resisting turbulent guffaws. Before she could get herself under control, the fattest woman she’d ever seen waddled on stage, stuffed into a shiny, white dress like a watermelon in a sock. Nate’s eyes went wide. “It’s…” he giggled, “it’s never over…” his voice turned soprano, “‘til the lady fatter than Mr. Farnsworth sings!” He roared, then caught his breath.
Mindy’s jaw dropped. “Don’t say that!” she hissed, but shaking with mirth. “She has an eating disorder.” For a second, Mindy’s face turned serious, but then her lips creased upward in a smile. “She ate dis order of cheese sticks, dis order of bacon, dis order of wings, and dis order of nuggets!”
Tears streamed from Nate’s eyes as he cried with laughter. His lips felt permanently curled, and he turned his head away from Mindy, trying to catch his breath and not drool on the floor. When he stopped shaking, he glanced at her. “You know her favorite machine at the gym?” Another burst of laughter escaped his lips. Mindy raised an eyebrow. “It’s the one where she puts in quarters and snacks come out.” He cackled and slapped his knee in amusement.
Mindy’s face locked, and a line of slobber dribbled down her chin as she sniffed a laugh. “You are terrible,” she snapped at Nate. “You wouldn’t say that if you knew her condition.” Nate tilted his head. “She was diagnosed with a flesh-eating virus,” Mindy said. Nate furrowed his brow. “And the doctors only gave her forty-seven years to live.”
Nate’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. He couldn’t breathe. He dropped his head between his knees and covered it with his hands, shrieking with glee. “Let’s… just… stop,” he finally squeaked out. Mindy only stopped because laughter clogged her throat.
The fat lady finished her song, and after the short applause, a threatening silence lingered in the auditorium. When they glanced up, Mr. Farnsworth’s face looked like it was melting. It was rage they saw, but they were in too deep to stop. Trapped in an intoxicating bubble of hilarity, there was nowhere to hide.
“Go!” Mr. Farnsworth shouted, his voice a torrent of fury. “If you’re not leaving, we are not performing.” All eyes turned toward Mindy and Nate, but Farnsworth’s rage only drew more uncontrollable giggles from them. He was a man-eating monster with greasy curls and fingers like sausages. He shook his little phalanges at them, but they couldn’t stop laughing. They couldn’t breathe. They couldn’t do anything but laugh until it pained their cheeks and hurt inside their noses. “We can’t…” Mindy said, panting. She sucked in a lung of air. “We can’t… stop.”
Mr. Farnsworth laid his baton on the stand and huffed off the stage.
A low murmur seeped through the crowd, and heads turned in Nate and Mindy’s direction. They bit their lips and lowered their heads in shame. It was time for them to go. Because of their lack of self-control, they had made a mockery of the school concert, obliterating any elegance parents may have found in the performance. They stood, red-faced and humiliated, preparing to exit the row.
Just as Mr. Farnsworth was descending the steps, he tripped over an extension cord and tumbled into the orchestra pit. Half a dozen teenagers dove to escape his plummeting girth. He smacked the floor with all the graceful elegance of a tuxedo-wrapped cow patty.
He quickly stood and brushed himself off. The percussionist hit the classic three-note ba-dum-tss, and the room erupted with laughter.
Nate and Mindy secretly slipped out, smiles wide across their shiny cheeks.