He was one of the stars of the football team. I was a "band geek". He was funny and always surrounded by people. I was usually alone with my books. He was the most photographed senior boy in our final annual with one hundred and thirty six pictures. I counted. You know how many pictures there were of me? Not counting the individual pictures they put in of everyone, there were two. Both of them, I was part of his background. In one, I was reading. In the other I was looking at him.
Looking back, it seems that I was always reading or playing my music or looking at him. I wasn't alone in that last. Every girl was looking at him. But, he was the only guy who never tried to get in any girls pants. I mean, I wasn't one of the lucky ones. I never had the chance to go out with him. Who wants to go out with a girl with lenses so thick she looks like an owl or teeth that could eat an apple through a picket fence? Not anyone else, but more importantly, not him.
But, girls talk, you know? And all I ever heard were complaints that he didn't try anything. They would talk about the others trying something, and how they sometimes let them succeed. But, never him. Not him.
That was then, though, and this was now. Everything I had eaten for the last month was haunting me in my guts. Would he notice me? Would he see me? Would he care about the changes I had gone through? The changes I had gone through for him?
"I know that look. It's too late to chicken out now."
"I'm not chickening out." I whispered, not daring to look up at Claudia. "I'm just..."
"Girl, look at me." I didn't want to. But, when she bent over in front of me almost touching the top of my head with her forehead, I had no choice. I wished, once again, that I had her eyes. "Look. I don't care about this thing one way or another except for this. It's eating you up inside like a cancer. You have got to face him and then either live your dream or get over him and move on."
"I know." I whispered. My eyes were burning and she seemed to shimmer in my sight.
"Besides, you know these jocks let themselves go after high school. He's probably already bald and has a beer belly. Probably married the head cheerleader and they have some kiddo in the homecoming court already."
"I doubt that." I laughed and wiped at my eyes. "You don't know him like I do. He's different."
"Then I bet he brought his boyfriend."
"Stop that." I laughed and swatted at her with my towel. "He is not gay."
"Honey, I call them like I see them." Claudia's laughter had died and she looked completely serious now. "If he never touched a single girl he went out with, like you say, and he isn't hooked up already. Then he's most likely gay. I just want you to promise me that, however this goes, this is it. It's over. You'll give one of the guys back at Juliart a chance."
"I don't know if I can-"
"Just a chance." Claudia's fingers touched my mouth as she spoke. "Not marry the first one when we get off the plane. But go out on a date with one or two. Give real life a try instead of this fantasy you are living in."
She didn't understand. No one did. If he could just see me, he would know I was the one for him. I knew he would. He couldn't help but know it.
When I spotted him at the game, I knew she was wrong. I would never be able to move on past him. And I didn't have a snowballs chance in hell of getting past that social barracuda on his arm. It wasn't one of the old cheerleaders. They were gathered close around him, and more than one was literally green.
I sat with the band and talked with the only person other than him I cared anything about seeing, my old band director. Once, when the band struck up a song, he turned and our eyes seemed to meet. That moment seemed to stretch forever. He smiled and waved. I lifted my hand to wave back, but he had already turned away again.
God, how could I have been so stupid? I wondered as I excused myself and started down the bleacher steps. I didn't care about the half time show with the latest blond bimbette waiting for her tiara. I had never cared about the game, except when he was playing. I was here for him. And I shouldn't have been. The last five years of making myself over into someone pretty enough to notice were all for nothing.
Memory guided my steps and I ended up passing through the band hall to the auditorium beyond. I had not been in this building since I was handed my diploma and went off to college. But, before that I had spent hours here alone with this old piano.
A tear slid down my nose and fell on one of the keys. It was almost hard to believe that the weight of it hadn't sounded the note. Without a conscious thought on my part, my finger reached out to stroke the wet key. As always, the note reached into the very core of my being and pulled my heart out.
My other hand reached out and stroked another key. I closed my eyes and gave myself over to the music. Let it leech out my sadness the way tears had never been able to. The chords hammered at the pieces of my heart, breaking them smaller and smaller and mending them at the same time.
When that song was through, there was more in there. I could not stop. I didn't want to stop. This time, though, it wasn't sadness but the love that had stolen my breath away the first time I had seen him smile at me. I was caught up in the storm of emotion tearing at me as the love and the sadness that it was unrequited tossed my heaving heart adrift in the ivory and ebony.
When there was nothing left to come out, my hands stilled and I let the pedal off the floor. The final note drifted away into silence. And then I heard a jarring note shatter the musical spell.
"I thought that might be you, but I wasn't sure until now."
Oh, God! It was him! He was here. He had heard my music. He was looking at me even now.
Aware that the careful make-up job Claudia had done on me was now a smeared mess, I turned away from him and started to rise.
"Laura, wait. Please."
Wait for what? So he could see how hideous I looked now? Now that all of my careful preparations had been destroyed? I was three steps away from the bench and headed for the door when his next words made me trip.
"Of all the things from high school, I miss your music the most."
"What?" I held my hand up to try to block the lights so I could see him. "When did you ever hear me play?"
"All the time." His voice was approaching the steps to the stage. I could see him appearing from out of the shadow. "I used to bring my lunch in here and sit and listen to you play every day. I went to all of your recitals. No other music has ever touched me the way yours did."
"I-I never knew anyone else was here." I stammered, drawing my legs up under my skirt. He stopped and knelt down with his hands on his knees.
"I know," he said. "I was afraid that if I ever said anything, you might not come here anymore during lunch. It was nice. Like my own private concerto every day. But tonight... you've never played like that before. Your music was always beautiful. But, tonight was like the hand of God reaching down and touching me. Please. Before you go, would you please play something else?"
"B-but, what about your girlfriend?" I hated myself for asking. "Isn't she waiting?"
"Sylvie is just a friend. And she knew I was here to see you all along. She's fine."
"Oh, um. Ok, then." I stood and moved back to the bench. I settled my skirts and looked at the keys blankly. "What, um, what would you like me to play?"
I jumped at the nearness of his voice and glanced over my shoulder to find he had moved closer. So, close in fact that he was almost touching me. I closed my eyes and murmered a quick prayer that this was real and not some hallucination from falling and hitting my head trying to run down the bleachers or something.
"What you played before almost destroyed my heart," he whispered softly. "Could you play something to mend it?"
My hands were shaking as I tenderly caressed the first notes out of that old piano. The chords were nervous. Shakey. A tremulous virgin's first kiss. A boy trying to get up the nerve to ask out the girl of his dreams. A girl wondering if the boy would ask.
"I don't understand how you can put something so beautiful into being," he murmered. "I've tried and tried and I can not make anything worthy of your music."
"Oh, please," I laughed as I continued to play, the notes taking on the joyousness of him asking and her saying yes. But, now the nervousness was of how to act on that date. "You were a football stud. You were among the top ten in our class. You were in the play. You did lots of things."
"I tried lots of things," he sank onto the stool beside me. I winced as I hit a wrong note, distracted by his nearness. "But, nothing I did was as beautiful as what you do. Nothing I have ever done or will ever do will last as long as what you do."
"You're just saying that to be nice." I was hitting more and more wrong notes, but the dischordance wasn't wrong. It was right somehow. It fit the magic of the moment, the spell of the music.
"No, I'm not." He said. I glanced over to see a tear leak from the corner of his eye. "I tried music first, then painting, photography. Anything and everything I could think of, but nothing hits the heart like what you do. I've listened to other music, studied other people's art. None of them have your gift."
The tremulousness, the nervousness was gone now. My fingers hammered and danced among the keys, tapping out joy for all I was worth. I wanted it louder. Louder than the pedals could make it. I wanted the whole world to here this joy, to feel it.
"I fell in love with you when I heard your music the first time, Laura."
"Wh-what?" I felt like I was choking on my heart as my hands froze. As I turned and looked at him, I felt like my eyeballs were going to fall from their sockets.
"I'm sorry." He bounced to his feet and took two steps backwards. "I shouldn't have said anything. I came here tonight, and then followed you here to tell you that. It's okay though. You don't have to say anything. I'll go."
The bench fell over as I stood. My skirt caught on the legs and I stumbled. His arms were there. Perhaps I wouldn't have fallen off the stage if he hadn't caught me. Perhaps I would have recovered and been fine. But his catching me stopped me from a wound worse than falling and breaking my neck. If he hadn't caught me, I would have broken my heart. I would have broken my music.
"You are my music." I whispered into his strong chest. "My teacher told me I was perfect, but had no feeling. I walked out of class that day almost in tears and ran into you. You helped me gather my sheet music and smiled at me. Your smile is all I see when I play something happy. You with someone else is all I see when I play something sad. I don't see the notes on the page. I don't play chords and... and... I play you. You are music. Without you, there is none."
I had done it. I had told him. After all this time. Now, I wanted to throw up. Or at least sit down and put my head between my knees so I wouldn't. But, his strong arms held me up, held me to him. I was going to faint. I felt like several of the strings of the piano had snapped halfway through the piece I was playing.
"I never knew," he whispered. I felt his breath in my hair, then his lips pressed against the top of my head.
I tilted my head back and looked into his eyes. This shining moment was what I had been waiting for all my life. This glorious song of love and contentment. But, there was more waiting. I just knew it. So much more.
I lifted my lips until they touched his. It was magnificent. My heart soared like a bird's song with it's delicate wings fluttering in my breast. I needed more, so much more. I stretched out my tongue to taste his lips. His mouth opened and let me in.
I felt his hands sliding up my side, his palms pressed against the sides of my breasts. We were building towards a crescendo, the musician in me could feel it coming. How high the crescendo would reach, I didn't know. But, I wanted the music to ride it as far as it would.
I moaned in his mouth as my hands reached behind me to unzip the dress that I had so carefully selected to look good for him, but was now in the way. I stepped back, breaking our kiss and the top of my dress fell forward into his hands, baring my breasts to his view.
"Oh, my god, I was wrong." He whispered as he stared at me.
My hands started to reach to cover myself. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. How could I have been so stupid?
"There is something more beautiful than your music after all." He continued as he dropped that inconsequential scrap of material and stepped towards me again.
I felt like my face would shatter, I was smiling so hard as I reached for him in return. His hands were like a harpists as he played me like the finest instrument. His armature was firmer and surer than any horn player as he worked me with kisses. I reached the first cresendo of climax laying atop that piano with his head between my thighs.
There was no denoument, but a crescendo of another type as I dropped to my knees before him and reached for his belt. No flautist has ever applied their lips and fingers to the notes the way I did to his flute of skin. He throbbed within my mouth in tempo to our rendition of the oldest dance.
Not even the sour note of the pinch of pain when he took me on that piano bench could spoil the song of joy I screamed to the heavens that my dreams, my music, was becoming real. I thought the concert ended when he spasmed and lost the beat within me, as I felt the warmth soaking into me. I prepared to give him, to give us, a richly deserved ovation. But it was only the end of the first movement.
Again and again, he took me on that stage where I had thought of this moment as I played that piano. We could hear the band come in and leave until all was silence. The game would have long been over. People were waiting for us. Yet still my maestro coaxed note after note and chord after chord from me. Now pounding into me like a kettle drum, now drawing sweetly across me like the purest tuned violin.
But, no concert may last forever. Every musician tires eventually, no matter how much they may long to sing just one more. And so, after the final coda, we lay there on that wooden floor, a sweaty disheveled mess, gasping for breath.
"So, what now?" I asked.
"I would say that's up to you," he smiled over at me.
"I could move back here."
"And give up your music?" He propped himself up on one elbow and stared at me. "Not just no, but hell no."
Didn't he understand yet? Without him, there was no music. I felt wounded. I wanted to weep. After all of this, he didn't want me?
"But, I will graduate in December," He said as he stroked my nipple. "I was thinking about graduate school, but... nothing says I have to go here. I mean there are other schools out where you are that I could study something other than music, right?"
"Really?" I gasped. "You mean that? You would come out there with me?"
"Only if you want me to," his hand pulled away and I wanted to moan for the loss of his touch. "I mean, I guess I could stay here and just buy your cd when you get famous."
It took me a moment to realize he was teasing me. I hit him in the shoulder and he smiled and leaned over me to kiss me.
Dressed again, and outside, I studied our hands where our fingers were intertwined. Somewhere in the distance, horns were honking and people were yelling.
"It looks like we won," he said, pointing at the scoreboard that was still lit up.
"I'll say I did." I smiled. He smiled back at me a pulled me in for a kiss.
"There's other places you could do that you know?" A voice called. "It's fucking freezing out here."
I looked over to see the beautiful woman who had been sitting with him leaning out the window of his car. Jealousy surged through me, then died. He wanted me. He was going to follow me home.
"So, how is this going to work anyway?" I asked, looking up at him. "You'll just... I don't know. Move in with me or something?"
"Or something." He smiled and his fingers flexed in mine. "We have a couple of months to talk about it. We can try it however you want it. Just promise me you'll play for me again."
"Always," I whispered as I leaned in to kiss him. "Just promise me you will play me again."
"Laura, Kevin, I hate to be a party pooper and I am really really happy to see it worked out for you guys but I've been sitting here for two hours. Can we please either break this up or move it somewhere I can get warm? Please?"
We laughed and I reluctantly let his fingers go. As he walked away from me towards his car, it was the last time I would ever see him. He was killed thirty minutes later in a wreck with some drunk football players who's celebration got out of hand.
I didn't know anything about it as I drove back to the hotel where Claudia was waiting for me. I didn't know a thing about it the next day as we boarded our flight home. The first I knew was when Claudia set me down and showed me a web page news story about the accident. According to the story, the whole town was in mourning for the three boys killed in the crash; the quarterback, the receiver who caught the game winning pass, and the tailback who had already signed with some college or another. She made me keep reading. I screamed when I read the names of "the couple in the other vehicle".
Did they mourn him too? Or was five years too long for them to remember he was once a star on that same field? And they weren't a couple. We were. He was mine. Finally, after eleven long years, we were going to be together. Would they have mourned that too? Or just the drunken louts who stole him away from me, who stole my music?
I tried to follow him. I would have too, except for one tiny miracle. While I was being treated, it was discovered that I was pregnant.
I had trouble reaching the keys during my May recital. Partly, the tendons in my arm were still stiff where I had cut them. Partly, my huge abdomen was getting in the way. I was too tired to play a curtain call for my standing ovation. Carrying twins will take a lot out of you. But, as I stood there on that stage to accept my bouquet of roses, I felt him applauding too.
I still feel him there, listening, every time I play. Whether it is on a stage in front of a thousand people, or an audience of two listening to a lullaby at home. When the music pours out of me I can feel him.