Sometimes the easiest way to deal with a problem is to ignore it.
Wil stared at the ceiling, listening as the door banged shut outside her room. She held her breath and heard the solid thunk of the deadbolt, then let it out with a long sigh. Rolling over, she eyed the clock: 10:21. She thought they'd never leave.
Thank God their kitchen needed restocking.
Throwing off the covers, she stood up and stretched. She wore a pair of boy shorts and an old grey tee of Andrew's, too large for her but too comfortable to give up. Easing her feet into a pair of brown slippers, she went to the door, cracking it open and peering outside. She listened for a moment before darting to the bathroom.
By the time Alice and Jasper had dropped her off the night before, she'd decided she would avoid the coming conversation. Using the spare key they hid under the mat at the front of the building, she'd let herself in and went straight to bed, blissfully asleep before any of them made it home. She woke early, the sun barely showing itself through her window, and had been laying in her bed since while the others woke, started their day, and decided to go out for breakfast.
They'd called to her a few times, knocking tentatively on her door, but thankfully had not let themselves in. Apparently that lesson only needed to be learned once.
Teeth brushed and hair tamed, she went back to her room and looked around for a minute, wondering how to spend her day. They would be back soon; she knew all three had plans of cramming all weekend long for the coming tests, and Wil planned on being gone by the time they arrived. In the back of her mind, she could almost hear Andrew's voice, scornful and mocking, telling her to stop avoiding them. She glanced at his picture and shushed him.
In reality, all she wanted to do was pretend a little while longer. She knew going through the story for the girls, letting them see that part of her life, would change everything.
She hated change.
Pulling on a green sweater and a pair of jeans, she threw on her coat. Jogging to the kitchen, she opened a cupboard and pulled out a granola bar, tearing it open as she went to the door. The girls had left her purse on the table by the door, and she picked it up, letting herself out of the apartment and locking it behind her. From her pocket she pulled out a grey striped hat, tugging it onto her head and over her ears. She pulled on matching gloves and stepped outside, bracing for a cold that didn't come.
The sun was out in force, snow melting, and she grinned as she removed the hat and gloves, basking in the warmth. It was barely above freezing, but it felt wonderful, and she started down the walk almost smiling. Her life may be falling apart, but at least the sun was out.
It was just after eleven when she stepped into the music building, retreating quickly to the rehearsal room she had often stood outside listening to her pianist – Edward, she reminded herself. The strange, reclusive, yet incredibly talented and emotional Edward. Briefly, she thought of his anger when she'd first asked him to perform with her, and then the way he'd breezed in and out as though it was a huge inconvenience to spend the time for her. Irritation flared. Why had he even bothered showing up and committing if it was such an annoyance?
Taking a deep breath, she closed the door behind her and strode over to the piano. The room was fairly small, as most rehearsal rooms were, with a blackboard on one side and a set of windows on the other streaming in sunlight. The walls were white drywall, the floor carpeted, with a single rise step for the upright piano in the corner. A dozen chairs were spread out in an arc in front of the piano, blue plastic, and music stands were lined against one wall.
She stripped off her coat and slid onto the piano bench, running her fingers gently over the piano keys without actually playing. Why had Kate had to discover her secret? Why had she exploded and told them what she did? There were as few answers to either of those questions as there were to the questions she had for Edward.
Why had Andrew been taken from her at all?
"Why, God?" she murmured, softly starting to pluck out a tune. It was choppy and random, nothing she'd heard or played before, just idle hands on a keyboard as she spoke. "I just want my life back. What did I do? What did he do?"
Just once, she wished she had some answers instead of being left with questions. She let the tune carry itself for a while – it was slow and melodic, repetitious and quiet. She felt a lump rising in her throat and bit her bottom lip, fighting against it. "How can I fix this?" she pleaded, and her voice broke. Slamming her hands into the keys, she started to cry.
She wasn't sure how long she sat at the piano crying before a pair of arms wrapped around her from her right, then another from her left. Whipping her head around, her eyes landed on Rhonda, her expression warm. Kate sat on her other side, and Eve wrapped her arms around Wil from behind. "Shhh," one of them murmured, and Wil buried her face into Rhonda's shoulder and let herself cry. She knew she should be angry, should be retreating away, but for the moment she couldn't bring herself to do it.
They sat there for a few minutes, Rhonda stroking Wil's hair and Kate and Eve holding the both of them gently. Pressing her eyes closed, Wil slowed the tears, sucking in a few shaking breaths before pulling away. Make up smudged the shoulder of Rhonda's sweater, and she tried to brush it away. "Sorry," she muttered, and the other woman shook her head.
"Forget about it," she said, letting Wil go. She shifted backward, throwing a leg over the bench to straddle it and face Wil properly. Kate did the same behind her, and Eve crouched down. "You OK?"
For the first time, Wil thought about the question before answering instead of just giving empty reassurances. "Not particularly," she admitted. She wiped at her face with her shirt sleeve, trying to clean herself up a little.
"I'm sorry," Kate blurted out, looking like she was no longer able to contain herself. Her words came rushed as she continued, "I never meant to invade your privacy and I had no idea, Wil, really, I am so, so-"
"Stop," Wil told her, standing and turning so she could sit on the bench facing Eve and the others. Kate immediately froze, staring at Wil with trepidation and waiting as Wil sat back down slowly. "It was bound to happen eventually," she decided, the words taking her by surprise. "I shouldn't have hid it from you guys, but after losing all my other friends when he died… Things were so awkward. So strange. They would look at me like I was some poor abandoned puppy, and they would whisper about me, barely having the decency to do it behind my back."
"They don't deserve you then," Eve announced, shaking her head and reaching for Wil's hands. "That's BS that they treated you that way."
Wil shrugged, squeezing Eve's hands in return. "I didn't know how to act any better than they did. They were our friends, you know, together. It was weird. I kept starting to talk about him, then I'd stop and the tears would start up and…" She trailed off, closing her eyes for a moment to center herself.
"Tell us about him?" Rhonda asked.
"I'm not sure I'm ready," she told them quietly, hanging her head. "I'm afraid things will change."
"They won't," Kate assured her, then added, "But if you aren't ready, we'll wait." The others nodded their agreement, and Eve held her hands tightly, rising and pulling her to her feet. Kate and Rhonda stood beside her, and she looked at all 3 of them.
"Want to do lunch?" Rhonda asked. "We got groceries and were going to do a Denny's run."
"Come on, Wil," Eve said, letting her hands go. "You've got to be starving – it's after noon and you probably haven't eaten anything if I know you."
Wil gasped, looking at her watch. 12:24. She glanced at the door, standing open, and frowned. "You guys didn't chase anyone off, did you?" she asked.
"No, you're the only one here," Kate said, bending down to pick up Wil's coat and hand it to her. "Why?"
"I was supposed to meet my pianist here at noon…" Taking her coat, she pulled it on and reached for her purse. "I guess he's not coming." Her brow knit together, and she couldn't help the disappointment that welled in her. Hopefully he was just sick. But wouldn't he have called? Her number was right on his music. She reached into her pocket and checked to make sure her phone was on. A little blue light flashed at her, and she tucked the headpiece into her ear.
"Messages," she prompted.
"You have zero missed called and zero messages," a polite female voice responded. She sighed, opening her purse and pulling out a note pad and pen.
"Is this guy really worth it?" Rhonda asked. "He seems like a bit of a flake."
"Once you hear him play, you'll understand," Wil mumbled under her breath, scrawling a quick note.
Waited half an hour – gone to lunch. Catch you Monday –W
Shoving the pen back into her purse, she pulled out a tissue, blowing her nose. "Here," Rhonda said, handing her a compact open to reveal a small mirror. "You're a mess."
"Gee, thanks," she said, her lips turning up in a bit of a smirk.
By the time Monday rolled around, two things had happened: life had gone back to normal for Wil and her roommates as though nothing had ever happened, and Wil had gone from disappointed to upset to outright angry that Edward had been a no show.
She was fuming as she pounded on the rehearsal room door, predictably closed after her composition class. The music inside stopped immediately, and a moment later, the door started to open slowly. Wil tried to push her way in, meeting surprising resistance against the door. "Let me in, damnit," she growled, and the door gave way to her. She stormed in, spinning on heel and jabbing a finger at Edward.
"I want a good explanation why you bailed on me Saturday," she demanded. He stared at her for a moment, one lip curled up in an almost feral expression. His hair was still a mess, and his eyes were a flat yellow with none of the depth or richness they'd held the Friday before. There were still shadows under his eyes, deeper now.
"I was held up," he spat back. "I'm here today, aren't I?"
She rolled her eyes. "Oh please, you're always here at this time. I'm so sorry to have disturbed your busy schedule."
"I don't have to help you, you know," he muttered, then turned and strode back to the piano, sitting down. "Let's get this over with."
"If you're going to be an ass about it, I'll find another pianist," she fired back as she followed him, standing over his shoulder. He already had the music in front of him. Without preamble, she reached over his shoulder, leaning against his back for a moment as she pointed to a few bars before the chorus. She swore she heard him hiss as he leaned forward, pulling away from her.
"I liked your changes here," she told him, her voice still harsh, "but it didn't work with what I was doing. I'm going to change my part a bit – can you do the same thing you did Friday?"
"Of course," he scoffed. He started to play the introduction, and Wil stepped back, giving him more space. "I was looking at it this weekend and I think you could also do with a little less introduction. Try coming in…here."
She nodded, and he started again. This time, Wil came in at the point he'd told her to, and she grudgingly thought that he was right – it made more sense. They ran through the rest of the song, and as it closed, Wil set down her purse and pulled off her jacket. The weather had warmed up again, though a low layer of cloud still left it grey and dreary. She tossed the jacket toward the chair nearest her and pulled a pencil out of her purse. Leaning over Edward's shoulder, she jotted the changes onto his score. Her chest pressed against his back for a moment as she reached for the first page of music, and a shiver ran down her spine when she felt the chill he carried.
"Jesus, what, didn't you wear a coat or something?" she asked, standing back up. "You're freezing."
"Poor circulation," he commented.
"In your back?" She cocked an eyebrow at him, and he shrugged, dismissing her question.
"We ought to run it through again. I had an idea for the bridge, but I need to hear your part one more time first," he told her, and they ran it again.
It went like that for an hour and a half, the pair trading jabs and suggestions back and forth. He was an argumentative jerk, but he was also a damn fine musician, and it irked her that he had found a number of ways to improve on her piece. She was grateful at the same time, and she found herself learning a fair bit by the changes he made. By the time she suggested they pack it up, her stomach sounding protest for the length of their work.
"I could use a copy of those changes," she told Edward as he gathered up his music. "Want to grab a bite, give me a chance to take them down?"
He shook his head. "I don't date," he told her blandly, tucking the music into the black folder that lay beside him and standing. Her eyebrows raised.
"I was not asking you out on a date, Edward Cullen," she snapped. "I just want the damn music." She crossed to the chairs, picking up her jacket and purse.
"It sounded like an invitation to me." He smirked, and she gaped at him for a moment.
"You arrogant prick!" With two quick steps forward, she shoved him, snarling at him when he didn't even budge. He chuckled, raising his hands.
"Come now, there's no reason for violence," he chided her, and her eyes narrowed. "Such a fierce little kitten…" He said the last part quietly, almost like he didn't expect her to hear it, and the humor on his face fell away. Her irritation flared at his words, but disappeared quickly when she saw the look of desolation that crossed his expression before he seemed to retreat, putting on a perfectly blank expression. Turning away from her, he made his way to the door.
"I'll get you a copy of the changes," he said over his shoulder, leaving the room and closing the door behind him. Once again, Wil was left standing in his wake, staring after him.
"What the hell?" she muttered, shaking her head. Where had that come from? One minute he was acting cocky, the next it looked like…well, like she did, she realized. It all fell into place in a rush. She'd been in his shoes too many times, when things are going normally and suddenly something reminds her of Andrew. The sudden mood shifts, the uncaring exterior, his music, it all came together like a puzzle.
He had lost someone too. She didn't just suspect it any longer, she knew.
That changed a lot. Suddenly, she felt terrible for how she'd treated him. She had to make this right. Sprinting forward, she rushed through the door before stopping. She had no idea where to find him, didn't even know his number. There was no use chasing him; she was too far behind and he was probably already gone.
With a sigh, she started home. Her stomach growled again and she placed a hand on it, willing it to quiet. Rhonda was supposed to be cooking, and as she hurried across campus to their apartment, she hoped there would be something waiting for her.
Dinner was a quiet affair in front of the TV. There was little pomp and circumstance to their meals; they took places into the living room and turned on the news or the latest trashy entertainment report show, the others discussing the latest stars and their hook ups and break ups. Wil tuned them out mostly, taking bites of the breaded chicken Rhonda had made and scooping up gravy with each bite.
Once she had made her realization about Edward, she found herself fixated on it. In all honesty, she suddenly saw in him someone who understood, someone who got it. Who had he lost? A girlfriend? A fiancée? A wife? Or had it been someone else, but just as dear – a parent or a sibling? Cutting a piece of chicken in half, she jabbed it with her fork and stuffed it into her mouth. He'd said he didn't date…a gorgeous guy like him? Either he had lost a woman, or he was gay. Her lips quirked up in a grin at that thought; the mere idea of a man that good looking being gay would bring her roommates to their knees.
The questions kept rolling in her mind. How long had it been? How long had they been together? What had she been like? Deciding it had to be a romantic loss, she found herself beginning to create a story for him. A beautiful woman, at least as beautiful as he was, with golden tresses and flawless skin, the love of his life from the time they were babies, who got deathly ill and faded away before his eyes…
Wil snorted, trying to suppress a laugh, and ended up choking. Coughing fitfully, she bent over, and Rhonda slammed a hand on her back.
"You all right there, girl?" she asked, and Wil nodded, then shook her head, trying to clear her throat. The chunk dislodged, and she sucked in a breath, sitting back up.
"Yeah, yeah, fine," she assured them, standing up and waving them off. "I think I'm done though." She smirked, taking her nearly empty plate to the kitchen and dumping it unceremoniously in the sink. It clattered briefly before settling, and she turned her back, returning to the living room.
The girls had gone back to their discussion – currently debating the merits of an aging Robert Pattinson versus the younger Sebastian Gregoire – and Wil left them to it, disappearing into the bathroom and turning on the shower. She undressed quickly while the bathroom steamed up, then stepped into the stream of water and let the warmth envelope her. She always preferred her showers hot and long, and in an apartment full of women, neither of those was particularly easy to come by in the morning. Turning, she let the hot water beat on her back, easing muscles as she went back to her thoughts.
First hand experience reminded her that loss was never as romantic and epic as they made it seem on TV and in movies. There were no perfect couples, no lovestruck losses – a relationship was hard work to begin with, and when you lost it, it was usually more like a bullet to the head, sudden and unexpected, leaving plenty of mess in its wake. She started to create a new scene in her mind, Edward answer the door to find a pair of police offices, their faces grim. They would ask him if the woman lived there, and when he said yes and invited them in, they'd ask him to take a seat. He'd be concerned by then, moving slowly to prolong the inevitable moment that they shattered his world…
She turned the water off and reached for a towel. Wrapping her hair up in it, she banished her train of thought, trying to ignore the constricting feeling in her chest. That was exactly how it would go. She could still hear their voices in her mind telling her there had been an accident.
Pulling on her ankle length green robe, she opened the bathroom door, the last of the steam rolling out. She put a hand on the towel wrap on his head, making sure it was still secure, then stepped out into the hall.
"Wil – come here!" Kate called from the living room, and she turned, poking her head around the corner. Kate hopped up from her place beside Eve, who was painting her toenails on the couch, and grabbed a black folder from the coffee table. "Here," she said, crossing the room and holding it out. "Someone knocked while you were in the shower and left this on the floor outside the door."
A small yellow note was stuck to the front of the folder, an elegant script reading simply, Willa. She flipped it open and found a perfect copy of her song, hand written on beautiful sheet music with a monogrammed "E.C." in the bottom corner.
"Thanks…" she muttered, turning and going to her room while looking over the music. All of the changes they'd made were there, and a number of other comments and suggestions were scrawled in the margins. As she kicked her bedroom door closed behind her, she hummed a few bars, running her fingers over the monogram on the paper and wondering at the thoughtfulness of his gesture after their argumentative rehearsal.
By the time she fell asleep, the sheet music was covered in new scratches and thoughts, and she was officially obsessed with her brilliantly bipolar pianist.