Leo took a hold of Al’s hand freely as they walked about the park. Easterphina couldn’t make it early to pick him up after the orchestra practice so Leo stayed behind to spend time with him.
“Will she be here soon?” Leo heard Al ask as the dark-haired man took his hand away from Leo’s briefly to arrange his bangs.
“She should be here in about two hours or so,” Leo said as they continued to walk through the park’s path. There were kids about the place, and some of them looked on in awe at Al’s walking stick.
Leo smiled, knowing the children wouldn’t be able to put one and two together.
“Kenneth came by the studio asking for you. I’m sure he went to talk to you, how did it go?” Al asked as Leo ran his free hand through his blonde hair as he thought back to Kenneth’s confrontation.
“I told him that I won’t be able to play with him,” Leo said, turning his head so he could look at Al. The darker man looked like he was straining his ears to listen to the sound of playing children. The wind had brushed aside his long bangs that he’d tried to put back in place before, exposing his eyes. They were coated over with white, and his pupils stayed fixed and unmoving. Leo couldn’t help thinking that the way Al’s thick eyebrows and lashes framed them made them look oddly captivating.
“Oh,” Al muttered, taking his hand away from Leo’s before tucking it into the pocket of his grey coat.
“I was actually wondering why he didn’t ask you,” Leo started, “He has played with you before under the same instructor. Not only would it be easier to get along, but your playing is exceptional.”
Leo watched Alejandro shrug at his statement. The young man let out a shy laugh. “Actually, we never got along, that’s why I had to change instructors.”
“Oh,” Leo muttered. He wanted to probe Al a bit more, but he decided to stay out of it. Besides, it wasn’t in his place to bring up a topic that seemed like a touchy subject.
“Do you want to get something to eat while we wait? Your sister is really taking her time,” Leo said, making Al chuckle. A small smile made its way to Leo’s lips as he watched him laugh. There was just something about making Al happy that comforted him.
“Yes, can I have a corn dog? I can smell it, don’t lie to me and tell me a stand isn’t close by,” Al said, making Leo chuckle as he took his hand. Leo led him down the part to the small stand at the corner.
“You should consider taking Kenneth’s offer if he eventually asks you to play with him,” Leo muttered as he took a bite from his corn dog.
They were sitting on a bench that outlooked the park’s playground. The evening was already painting the sky in pastel yellows and Reds. Easterphina’s practice seemed to have been further extended.
Leo watched Al shrug. The dark haired man mumbled something inaudible under his breath before taking another bite of his corn dog.
“Will you be coming for any orchestra practices this week?” Leo asked as he watched Al eat.
Al shrugged, playing with the hair by the side of his ear. “I’ll come early in the week. I have a lot to practice since Mr. Rutherford wasn’t around the other day. He’ll want to see what I did on my own.”
Leo nodded, smiling brightly as he looked towards the park. “Claire and Marie are going to be making themselves regulars.”
Al sighed beside him, making Leo look towards him. A worried look was playing on his face, and Leo’s suspicion was only proved when Al aired his thoughts.
“She’s supposed to be here by now,” Al muttered, making Leo reach out to tap his shoulder in comfort.
“I’m guessing her rehearsal has been extended, and she probably can’t get to her phone. You know how the instructors can be.”
Al nodded, sighing at Leo’s response. A small smile graced Leo’s lips soon after. Al and Esterphina’s closeness was something Leo felt fortunate to experience from a looking mirror. He wasn’t close to his one and only brother, and Marie was the only one he could clarify as being close to him.
“You and Esterphina are really close,” Leo said out loud. He watched Al’s lips turn up in a smile.
“Yes, we’ve been like that since we were kids. I have four other siblings, but I’m closest to Ester.”
“Wow, you guys are six in number?” Leo asked after doing the basic math. Al laughed, nodding his head.
“Like every other person in college, we’re not from around here. Music kind of joined me and Ester at the hip, seeing as we had to move here together. She’s really the only reason I’m here. If there was no one to be with me, I’d rather have stayed close to home.”
Leo nodded at Al’s words before glancing at the dirt floor. It was getting late, and he had to go home too. “I think we should call or text Ester. Maybe I can escort you home by myself.” Leo offered.
“You have a point,” Al said as Leo watched him search his pocket for the small brick-like Nokia phone that made Leo chuckle. Al turned towards the direction of his voice with a menacing look, before pressing the button that called Ester.
He let out a frustrated sigh when Ester didn’t pick up.
“Do you know your address, and do you have the keys?” Leo asked. Al nodded, mouthing the address under his breath just to make sure he remembered.
“Then I’ll just leave a text for Ester before we go,” Leo said as Al picked at the lint on his trousers. Al wasn’t sure if letting Leo take him was a good choice. They knew each other but they were sort of strangers. He frowned to himself, shaking away the thought. What was he afraid of anyway? Leo kidnapping him?
They left the park soon after, and Leo helped Al into a cab when they found Leo tried to get the nervous expression off of Al’s face by distracting him with the music pieces on his phone. It was obvious that he wasn’t comfortable with the arrangement, but they couldn’t do anything about it.
The cab stopped at a neat looking apartment complex a few minutes later. Leo got out the taxi cab with Al, before looking at the building with critical eyes. The place looked similar to the apartment complex he lived in, but it was a little worn out compared to his. It was obvious that the building was old.
“The second floor, right?” Leo asked, leading Al into the building. Al hummed in agreement at Leo’s words as he followed him up the stairs. They finally got to the second floor and stopped at the wooden apartment door. Al searched his pockets, taking out the spare keys that he had on him in case of situations like this.
Leo helped him unlock the door. It creaked open, letting Leo look into the neat living room. The place didn’t look used so much. Understandable, seeing as Al and Esterphina were out for most of the day.
“You have a nice place,” Leo said as he took note of the clean tiled floors and brown wallpaper. Al walked into the apartment, slipping past Leo and making him look towards him with worry. Leo relaxed when he saw that Al knew his way around.
“You can leave now,” Al muttered as he felt the soft red sofa with his hand before settling down on it. “Please, can you turn the CD player on before you leave? There should be a CD inside already.”
Leo’s eyes moved to the CD player sitting on the floor next to the TV stand. He also noticed the piano keyboard set up at the far left of the room. He headed for the CD player, turning it on before looking towards Al. Al Let out a hum of pleasure as a smile made its way to his lips. The music playing was the piano piece ‘Endure’ by Ivan Castro.
“Aren’t you leaving?” Al asked when Leo took the space on the sofa beside him.
“Are you desperate to get rid of me?” Leo laughed as he watched Al look away in embarrassment.
“You know, if this is about leaving me alone by myself you should know that I can handle being on my own,” Al started, tightening his grip on his walking stick. “I’m not as disadvantaged as you think I am. So if this is about pity, please leave.”
Leo frowned, before placing his hand over Al’s hands that were already white from gripping at his walking stick too tightly.
“I just want to spend time with you,” Leo said, reaching out to rearrange Al’s bangs. His hair felt slick and smooth. “Is there anything wrong with that?”
Al took his face away, tuning before mumbling an inaudible string of words under his breath. He didn’t mention anything about leaving again so Leo took that as permission to stay.
Esterphina came back to the apartment around eight in the evening. She thanked Leo, engaging him in brief conversation before bidding him goodbye.
Leo let out a sigh as he got into a cab to head to his own apartment. He had never thought about how Al felt about how he was being treated. Leo tried to imagine himself in the same position and he realized he would have reacted the same way Al did. He wouldn’t be able to see anything he perceived as pity as any other thing than a blow to his self-confidence.
He bit his bottom lip, wondering if there was a way to show Al that that wasn’t what motivated his actions. He smiled, thinking that maybe he could involve Al in the orchestra.
He did want to be part of one in the future after all.