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Chapter Fourteen

Kenneth whistled as he walked through the hallway of the main building’s third floor. His hands were tucked into the pockets of his faded jean pants, and the sound of his footsteps echoed through the corridor as he walked. It was mid-day, and most of the college’s students were off practicing in the provided areas during the general free period.

What period does he have again? Kenneth asked himself as he made another turn. He let his fingers brush against the cool metal of the signs holding the engraved room numbers.

Was it twenty-eight or twenty-nine? He thought to himself as he stood between the two doors. His immediately head turned towards the door marked “28” when he heard the sound of a piano being played. He headed for it, turning the handle a little to check if Mr. Rutherford was inside. He smiled when noticed that there was no indication that Al’s instructor was in. His smile only widened when he spotted Al behind one of the two pianos at the corner of the room, and he also noted that there wasn’t a sign of Leo either.

“Hello, Al.” Kenneth walked into the room, watching Al’s fingers pause abruptly against the keys on the grand piano as his head turned towards his voice. His posture had tensed, and his brows had bent into a frown.

“What are you doing here?”

The ends of Kenneth’s lips turned down in a frown when he noted the cold tone in Al’s voice. The fan above creaked with each turn as Kenneth made his way to the empty stool by the other piano next to Al’s. He sat down, biting his bottom lip softly as he tried to think of a way to bring up what he wanted to ask Al.

It was hard.

How was he supposed to convince someone that hated him with a burning passion to enter a contest with him as his partner?

When his mind started to draw a blank and the silence became more unbearable for him, Kenneth succumbed to one of his snarky comments.

“What’s making you so cranky? Are you and Leonardo fighting?” Kenneth said, trying to buy himself time to think as he filled the silence with his voice. What he wasn’t expecting was the sad look that soon took form on Al’s face after he finished his sentence. Kenneth frowned, wondering whether he was correct.

“Something like that. We’re just keeping a distance. Why am I even telling you this?” Al mumbled as he trailed on. The sound of the birds chirping and jumping from branch to branch on the tree that was outside by the studio’s window drowned out Al’s inaudible mumbling. Kenneth looked down at his lap, wondering what to do next. He’d just been teasing him, but apparently, he’d struck a nerve.

“Ah...” Kenneth trailed, running a hand through his shoulder length dark hair as his green eyes wandered about the room. “That’s interesting.”

“Is that all you came to say, Kenneth?” Al asked, making Kenneth look up to stare at him. The area around his eyes looked tired, but his eyes themselves looked as dead as ever- like white marble dotted with black specks. Kenneth wasn’t sure what explained Al’s blindness. He’d been born like that, and that was the extent he knew.

“No,” Kenneth said. “I actually came to tell you something serious this time... Ask, actually.”

Kenneth smiled when he noticed that Al’s frown had softened and a curious look replaced the indifferent one. “I’d like to know if you’re interested in playing at a contest with me. There’ll be scouts looking for members for prestigious orchestras, so we don’t necessarily have to win to get anything from the contest, just being in the sight of scouts is enough.”

“Why are you asking me? Is it because Leo refused?”

“No,” Kenneth said defensively before looking away.

“Well, yes...” He eventually admitted. Sure, Leo had played a part in making him come to ask Al, but he’d also been personally impressed when he heard both of them play together in the practice hall. Al was good — yes, he’d admit that, and if they played together, and if they could coordinate their pacing like Al did with Leo, they could win, or get very far at least.

“And why should I say yes to you?” Al asked, bringing Kenneth out of his thoughts. Kenneth looked over at the dark haired man who had his lips in a thin unamused frown.

Kenneth sighed, drumming on his right thigh with the tip of his fingers as he looked at Al’s expression. He wondered why he hadn’t thought this through. Al completely disliked every fabric of his being. He’d thought maybe he would have forgotten about how he treated him when they were under the same instructor.

“You harassed me, insulted me, and eventually bullied me out of our instructor’s class, and now you want me to shake hands with you and accept your offer?” Alejandro continued, making Kenneth hold on to his head with both hands as he tried to think. Why was Al bringing up the past now?

“That was three years ago—”

“And so what? I should just forget about it?” Al asked, cutting Kenneth short. Kenneth looked over at the tanned man, noticing the tightness of his grip on the base of the piano keys. His knuckles had even taken on a white color. Al’s full brows were knitted into a frown, and it was obvious that he was upset- very upset.

“Look at it this way,” Kenneth started. “We work together but the scouts aren’t looking for partners, they’re looking for individuals.”

“If you compete with me you’re your own person, and you’re not necessarily doing it for my own good,” Kenneth finished, making things clear.

“And why would you think that I need scouting?” Al asked, making Kenneth look beyond him and out the steel-lined window. The branches of the tree right outside were pressing against the glass, casting a shade in the room.

“You mentioned that you and Leo aren’t working well together at the moment...” He trailed off, watching Al’s face for a reaction. The blind man’s frown deepened, allowing Kenneth to know that he’d struck a nerve. “I’m not going to ask you why, but I do know that Leo is here with you to help you play with a timed reaction more effortlessly. If you can’t work with him during this period because of some argument or decision, how are you going to properly practice?”

“I don’t know. I’ve learned enough—”

“Are you going to lie right here? Don’t play with your future Al,” Kenneth said. He cracked his knuckles before laying his fingertips on top of the piano keys on the piano in front of him.

“I might be rusty on the piano, but I think we can make this work,” he said as his fingertips pressed against the keys to play the notes of an old pop song he’d learned a couple of years back.

“You used to play that all the time,” Al’s voice said, steering the conversation away from the topic at hand.

“I know,” Kenneth said, pausing. “But enough about that, what do you say about being my partner in the contest?”

Kenneth turned a bit to watch Al’s face. The blind man seemed indecisive, but a spark of hope made its home in Kenneth’s chest when he noticed that Al’s harsh frown had softened to become nonexistent.

“Okay,” Al finally spoke up, making a smile break through Kenneth’s lips.

“Wonderful,” he said as he started to press the keys on the piano’s keyboard again. “We can talk later. I have a class during the next period.” And as if summoned, the college siren went off, making Kenneth laugh lightly as he got up from the stool he had been sitting on.

“See you later Al,” he said before making for the studio’s door. He turned the knob, slipping through the door when it opened. He then shut it behind him, before walking into the main hallway.

He wandered through the now filled corridor. The other students were moving about quickly, switching instruments and books at their lockers before hurrying to class. Kenneth moved past them, making for the studio where he was supposed to be having a practice session with his instructor. His lips curled into a smile when he passed a familiar redhead by a locker. He stopped deciding to say hello.

“Hey, James—”

“Fuck off Kenneth.”

Kenneth laughed, raising his hands up in mock surrender before he turned and continued on his way to the studio. When he got there he noticed that the master was already sitting behind his desk, going through music sheets as he hummed to the classical music he had on a loop on his CD player.

Kenneth greeted the old man before heading to his corner of the small studio. It wasn’t fancy. Just thick blank painted walls and a brown wood paneled floor. When he was given a piece to practice he couldn’t help the smile that formed on his face when he thought back to the discussion he’d had with Al.

He’d gotten him to play with him.

Success. He thought, pressing down the keys of his saxophone as he blew into the mouthpiece to play the clam notes of Minuet by Bach.

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