Authors: Jennifer Laurens
The sight caused a tremor deep inside of me. I wondered why he closed his eyes. What was he thinking about?
The class was silent.
“That is Aria in B Minor.” His reverent tone whispered through the air. The class still hadn’t made a sound. The piece was just as Mr. Christian had said, unforgettable. For the first time, I was excited about singing.
I volunteered to collect the sheet music after class and took my time, hoping everybody would get out of there fast so I could have a few moments alone with him. I couldn’t believe some of the girls hung around. All giggles and smiles, I recognized their signs of flirting.
“I love to sing,” one said.
“You’re, like, going to be sooo good for this class,” another kissed up. “Our last teacher was so like lame.”
“Uh-huh. We sang the dullest songs. That song was hot.”
Mr. Christian busied himself with stacking sheet music on a nearby shelf. “I’m glad you like it.” He watched me bring the music over and smiled. “Thank you, Eden.”
I hoped to touch his fingers again when the music passed from me to him, but didn’t. “You’re welcome.” I snuck a glance at his hands when he neatly slid the stack of music on the shelf.
I shot the loitering girls a get-lost look behind his back and they took off. I had one minute before his next class came in.
“That was a cool piece of music,” I said. “But what I heard you playing yesterday was even better. Was that one of your own?”
He stopped fiddling with the sheet music and faced me. “Yes, it was.”
“Will we get to sing it?”
“Why? It’s so good.”
“I’m not finished with it.”
“You know best,” I said. He looked impressed by my comment. I wanted to continue to impress him. “What do you think about when you write music?”
His mouth opened as if he was going to answer but the door flew open and a bunch of kids blustered in.
“Excuse me,” he said, then squatted down to the boombox. Instantaneously, the same relaxing classical music he had played for our class quieted the rowdy students.
“That really works,” I told him.
He looked out over the students with a grin. His chin was firm, almost stubborn looking. Long, dark lashes framed his blue-green eyes. He had a masculine nose, sharp but not pointed. Again, I checked out his hands, now set casually on his hips. The graceful beauty of his fingers sent a flood of want through me.
When I looked at his face, he was watching me. I swallowed a knot, embarrassed, not sure how much of my appraisal he’d witnessed. “I’d better go.”
The green in his eyes flickered. “Yeah.”
“Why don’t you want to go to the plaza?” Brielle asked at lunch.
“I need to talk to Mrs. Carlson.”
“You’re not in trouble are you?”
“No, of course not.”
“Then why see your counselor?”
I walked with her toward the student parking lot, anxious to get rid of her so I could double back to Mr. Christian’s classroom. I was hoping to catch him playing and singing again.
“Where is everybody?” I asked. Matt, Josh and Tanner were nowhere in sight.
“I told them I’d wait for you. They’re already at the plaza. This isn’t about Matt, is it?”
“I didn’t think so.”
I hugged her. “You have fun. I’ll go tomorrow, I promise.”
“K.” Brielle tapped across the cement in her pointy heels with one last wave at me. “Bye.”
I headed down the hall with my insides fluttering. A cool breeze lifted my long hair and chilled my neck. Music trickled through the halls from the speakers at Senior Park, a low pumping beat that stirred my need to see Mr. Christian.
At Mr. Christian’s closed door I stood with my heart pounding. I heard nothing at first, and worried that he wasn’t there. Slowly I opened the door and peered in. The room was quiet and empty.
I shut the door silently behind me and tried to ignore disappointment. The faint scent of his cologne hung in the air, teasing me. I closed my eyes, took in a deep breath. I’d stay whether he was here or not.
Drawn to the piano, I set my bag and books on a seat and crossed to the beat up black instrument. I lowered myself onto the bench, running my hands along the worn finish of the seat, then placed my fingers on the cool ivories and closed my eyes.
In my mind I heard the song he had played. When my fingers accidentally pressed into the keys and blundered out nonsensical notes, I cringed and let out a laugh.
Then I heard something from the small office that adjoined the music room. I jumped to my feet and moved away from the piano, my pulse skipping.
Mr. Christian appeared in the door holding a stack of papers against his chest. He looked surprised to see me.
My face flushed with heat.
“I didn’t know you were here,” I said.
He came out. He’d taken off his coat and the sleeves of his yellow oxford were rolled up. His tie was loose around his neck. “I was going through some of this old music, seeing what was in here.”
“Scary?” I clasped my hands behind my back and nodded at the pile in his arms.
He chuckled. “Sort of, yeah. But some of it’s good. I think the office needs a good clean out.”
“No doubt.” I drew closer. “I thought maybe you’d be in here practicing.”
For a moment he didn’t say anything, just looked at me. “Yeah. Well, I’d like to be, but when I inherited this job, I inherited the task of getting things in order. I couldn’t sit here and indulge knowing the office needed an overhaul.”
“Can’t that wait? I mean, aren’t you anxious to play your own stuff?”
“Sure. But this is my job. I can play anytime.”
“So you have a piano at home?”
“I do. That’s why I can’t justify playing on school time.”
He headed back into the office and I followed him. The room was tiny, maybe six feet by eight feet, lined with shelves, packed with papers. Inside, his cologne filled my senses.
“Need some help?” I asked.
After setting the pile down on a stool he looked at me.
“I’m sure you’ve got friends you’d rather spend your lunch with, Eden.”
My heart flipped when he said my name. “They’re at the plaza.”
“Is that where all the kids eat? I noticed nobody stays around here for lunch.” He stepped up on the stepstool and reached for another pile of music on the top of one of the shelves.
“Juniors and seniors leave.” He wore scruffy topsiders.
My gaze wandered up his pant legs. When he reached up, the hem of his shirt lifted out of his waist band. I caught a glimpse of plaid boxers. “Are you from around here?”
He thumbed through dusty piles. “Torrance.”
“Yeah?” I liked that we were both from the South Bay.
That he knew everything I knew about the area. “So, which high school did you graduate from?”
“Man, some of this stuff is really cheesy.” Gathering another large bundle, he stepped down. We were so close, his knuckles brushed my arm and he looked at me. His eyes were darker in the small room, more intense. Maybe it was just that we were closer than we had ever been. I could see each eyelash.
“Want me to take those?” I reached for the pile in his arms and for a moment he considered.
“Sure, just put them on the floor by the door.”
“So you’re making a garbage pile?” I headed out the tiny room with my arms full.
“They’ll make a nice bonfire. Kids around here do that?”
“Some…druggies mostly. They hang on the beach below the cliffs.” I met him back inside the office ready to take another stack.
“Jocks and preps had the bonfires at South,” he said, placing another pile in my outstretched arms. His hands brushed my forearms and rivulets of warmth shot up my skin.
“Which group were you in?” I asked.
He climbed back up on the stepstool, scanning the upper shelves. “I was the lonely artsy type.”
“I can see that about you.”
He chuckled. “That obvious, huh?”
“I don’t know about the lonely,” I began, my gaze steady on his, “but most definitely artsy.”
He looked at me long enough that my breathing stopped. But I didn’t take my gaze away. I held his, in a silent game of who-can-look-longest. Finally, I said, “What’s all this stuff going to be? More bonfire fuel? Or are these masterpieces keepers?”
“Not keepers. Wallpaper. Toilet paper. Puppy paper. You have any suggestions?”
I kneeled down next to the piles, flushing with heat because of the intense way he’d looked at me. “Oh, my…”I said with plenty of sarcasm. I held up,
My Heart Will Go On
. Out the corner of my eye I saw him draw near, baggy beige pants and scruffy topsiders.
He squatted next to me. “The bane of high school choral groups.” Our arms almost brushed. I felt warmth from him.
“You mean every choral group sings it?”
“At least once. Overdone saccharine from the first note. Turns the audience into anesthetized zombies. We sang it every year when I was at South. I think Mrs. Roberts had a thing for that movie.” He picked up a piece of the sheet music and looked it over.
“I like the song,” I said.
He seemed to consider my answer and time stretched taut as a wire between us. “Tell me what you like about it.”
“I don’t know.” But I did. “Who wouldn’t want to find love like that?”
His head tilted a little. Because he was so close and his eyes seemed to deepen in color, I picked up one of the pieces of sheet music. It trembled in my hand.
Suddenly he stood, and I was left to look at his shoes.
Warily my gaze crept up his legs, his body and to his face.
The corner of his jaw was in a hard knot.
I set the sheet music down and stood, afraid I had somehow turned him off. Boys could be disgusted by honesty. But then I realized he wasn’t a boy. He was a man.
Were men disgusted by honesty?
He said nothing. The air around us hung with uncertainty. An empty hollowness I was too familiar with opened up inside of me and I wondered if I had just lost something I’d been reaching out for.
“I’ll take this saccharinely sweet stuff to the garbage bins.” I started to pick up a stack but his hand wrapped around my wrist. I froze. Delicious fire shot through my body where his skin met mine.
“Don’t.” His voice was coarse. “We’ll keep them after all.” He let go of me and I looked at where he’d touched me.
He stepped back. “I need to get back to work.” He inched backward toward the open door of the office. I didn’t move. Then he turned and went inside.
For hours after he’d touched me, I felt his fingers around my wrist. As if I’d been infused or burned. Or branded. I kept putting my hand over the area. Though I wanted more than anything to go to his classroom after my last period, that would look ridiculous. I didn’t want to come off as some obsessed groupie.
My schedule was short because I was a senior, and had worked my butt off the first three years of school so I could have a more laid back final year, but for the first time in my four years at PVPHS, I didn’t want to leave school.
I headed down the outdoor hall, the nearby sea air filling my senses as I went to my locker. There, I dumped my books inside. Leesa watched me silently. As usual her face was rounded in a smile. “You look happy,” she said.
The comment stopped me. “I do?” Didn’t I always, was what I really wanted to say.
She nodded, her fuzzed hair fluttering in the chilly breeze.
“Thanks.” Puzzled, I closed my locker.
I walked toward the faculty parking lot, winding my way to the main covered walkway to the final strip of buildings and outdoor halls that would take me to the lot. I thought about what Leesa had said. It was requisite that my friends and I walk around with smiles. We were the best dressed, lived in the biggest houses, belonged to the right clubs, drove the nicest cars. That was more than the picture of perfection—it was the reality show of perfection.
Of course, the show was a façade. None of us ever talked about that though. Verbalizing meant admitting that we were all about the show, some intricate spectacle that might run down, like a clock inevitably unwinding. Then everything would stand still. Others could examine us.
What kept me going was trying to beat that failing clock and get out on my own. No one noticed when a clock told the perfect time, precision didn’t require notice. But when something stalled, the very fact that it was immobile meant something was wrong and left you vulnerable for examination.