“How are you enjoying your classes with Leo?” Al heard Claire ask, making him turn towards her voice. They were in the school’s cafeteria sitting at one of the tables at the center of the room.
“They’re fine,” he muttered, trying to zone the voice of the other students talking into the background. It was frustrating to be at the hall or cafeteria because it was usually too noisy for him to handle. He could handle noise, but it proved just too difficult when he had to talk to someone in the mix.
“They’re just fine?” He heard her ask as a sigh followed immediately after. “I loved having him in my class, but now I’m all alone,” she muttered as Al heard the noise of cutlery falling to the wooden table — Claire must have dropped her fork.
He frowned in confusion, feeling the table for the cup of water that had been beside him. When his fingers touched the cool body of the cup he took a hold of it before bringing it to his mouth for a drink.
Al had somehow joined Leo’s friend circle in the past two months they’d been under the same instructor. Al liked Marie. Her voice was soft and she was kind when she spoke to him. He felt James was a little distant but was nice when he wanted to be, and Claire was— well, Claire.
Around Leo Claire was nice — a little too nice, but when he was out of the picture and she and Al were alone together she was probing and purposefully rude. Today was one of those days that circumstances made them eat alone together. Leo had an emergency meeting with the orchestra, and James and Marie had extended classes. Al was beginning to feel uncomfortable due to her questions. He just wished he could get up and leave.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it in a bad way. Leo is great, and he’s helped me a lot in the past month,” Al said, feeling his tray for the spoon that has been provided. The noise in the hall was giving him a headache, and so was Claire’s loud chewing.
“I see,” he heard her say as the chair she was sitting on creaked with her adjustment. Al paused eating when he felt her adjust the table a little too.
“Sorry, someone was making to pass,” she said immediately after. Al nodded, his dark hair falling around his face as he bent his head to continue eating.
“How do you see Leo?” Claire asked all of a sudden. Al paused eating again. He was never going to finish the rice if she kept asking him questions.
“Why are you asking me all these questions?” he asked instead of providing an answer to Claire’s question. “Are you using the answers to do anything?”
“No,” he heard her say, making him sigh as the corner of his lips bent down in a frown.
“Then I don’t think I have to answer them, please let me eat in peace,” he begged as he picked up his fork again.
“You like him, don’t you?” Claire said out of the blue. The sentence made Al feel dizzy but he continued to eat. He didn’t want to seem phased by the question. He squared his shoulders, refusing to give Claire a sign that she was right, but Al was very transparent, his fidgetting being enough to give him away.
“I guess I’m right then,” he heard Claire say. His mind was then flooded with her follow up words, ” don’t read too much into his kindness. The feeling isn’t mutual.”
“You’re a top piano student, focus on your music. I thought like you once. I liked Loe... I probably still do, but he’s never interested... Never will be. Maybe he’s a little interested in Marie, but not you and me,” she continued to talk despite Al’s silence that served as a timid refusal to engage in the discussion.
Al continued to eat, but his movements were slow and his mind was now flooded with questions.
Of course, he never thought otherwise, but why? Why was he upset all of a sudden because Claire mentioned it?
He couldn’t understand it.
He started to cuss himself for agreeing to go to lunch with Claire alone since the rest had obligations to attend to. He could have gone to stay with Esterphina but he didn’t want to seem like a nuisance by intruding into her social space.
Claire kept quiet from then on and Al was allowed to eat his food in peace. The only problem now was that Claire had implanted a seed of worry in him. He wasn’t even sure why he was worrying. Of course, Leo didn’t see him that way, but it was upsetting to hear it from someone else.
The break period ended and the sound of people filing out of the cafeteria took over the chatting.
“We should be going,” Claire said, taking hold of Al’s hand from across the table. There was silence for a while until she spoke up. “Come on now, are you still upset over what I said? I was just giving you some advice.”
She let go of his hand afterward, and soon the sound of her chair moving told Al that she was getting up. She was soon by his side and helping him up to a standing position. She took hold of his shoulder to steady him before handing him his walking stick that had been resting at the edge of the table. She then helped him walk out of the cafeteria.
Claire dropped him off at the next studio he was supposed to be at, leaving immediately after. Al found his way to the stool he usually sat on when he came into the particular studio. He knew it was the one he had classical piano lessons in because of the distinct feel of the door’s lock and the sound of the fan above. It was the room with the walls that weren’t properly padded and was automatically the edge of the building, facing the school’s entrance.
“Hey, how are you doing?” Al heard Leo’s voice ask. He could hear Master Rutherford shuffle in the background. He could tell that it was him. The master’s movements were light as if he were sneaking about while Leo’s were confident and loud.
“We should be moving to practice another piece today,” Al heard the master say as the sound of the footsteps made their way towards him.
“Leo can take it with you,” Al heard as the seat beside him was pulled aside and the master settled down, his calm humming close to Al’s ears.
“Leo, put the CD player on. I want Al to listen to something,” the master said, and soon after the soft music was playing in the background.
“Try and master this, especially the sharp change in pace midway,” the master advised as he played along with the music coming from the CD player. Al nodded, catching the keys Master Rutherford played after the second try.
“I’ll leave now,” Master Rutherford said, followed by a short silence. “Leo, come.”
Al soon sensed Leo’s presence beside him. He was used to the light and fluttery feeling he got when he was around Leo, but somehow what Claire said had succeeded in making him feel anxious about it. He felt like he was taking advantage of Leo’s kindness by simply feeling the way he did.
“Al, aren’t you listening?”
“Oh,” Al said, coming out of his thoughts. “I am. I zoned out for a bit. I’m sorry.”
He heard Leo let out a sigh before he heard the sound of the keys Leo started to touch lightly. Al placed his fingers on the piano keys in front of him before he started to play too, and make attempts to match Leo’s pace.
The period soon came to an end, and the two men got to call it a day. The master left the room soon after the bell went, leaving them alone together.
Al waited on his stool as Leo walked about and packed up his things.
“We can leave now,” the blond man said, placing a hand on Al’s shoulder to help him off the stool. Al got up and as they got to the door Al paused, making Leo stop.
“What’s wrong?” Leo asked as the sound of the students in the hallway blended in his own. Al thought for a bit, trying to form a comprehensive answer.
“Stop being so kind to me,” Al finally let out. He didn’t hear anything from Leo apart from steady breathing for a while. They were so close and Al could hear the small ‘what?’ that was uttered in confusion soon after next to his ear.
“Stop being kind to me... I-I’m not taking it well,” Al tried to explain as he ran a hand through his dark shoulder-length hair. He felt dizzy from the conversation like he was going to faint. He wondered how he was going to explain things to Leo without making his feelings clear or coming off as unappreciative.
“I don’t understand...” He heard Leo trail while he was still thinking. Al let out a frustrated sigh before shaking his head a bit at Leo’s words.
“I’ll accept your help in the studio, but please try not to be anything but formal with me outside of it,” Al continued as his right hand tightened its grip on the head of his walking stick.
Leo was cut off when Esterphina’s voice rang through the hallway as she called for her brother. Soon, Ester was by the door with them and holding on to Al’s free hand. She thanked Leo for being with him before dragging her brother away with her and ending a conversation she didn’t even know had been happening.
As Al’s sister chatted on about her day, Al couldn’t help but think back to Leo. He might have not fully understood what Al had tried to tell him, but Al hoped he grasped the basic message.
I don’t want to be a nuisance. He thought as his sister helped him into her car. I shouldn’t read too much into his kindness.