Alejandro sat across Leonardo on the cafeteria table. The others had varying projects to attend to during their lunch break, making Leo and Al the only ones present in the meantime.
He ate quietly, straining his ears in case Leonardo said anything. He occasionally heard the other man hum or heard his cutlery clattering against his ceramic plate.
The silence was nerve-racking and led Al to search his mind for something to talk about, anything at all but nothing came. The silence was dreadful and he didn’t want to come off as boring or uninteresting to Leo.
“How did you see our last class,” Al heard Leo say, saving Al the stress of trying to start up a conversation himself. A small smile of relief graced the pianist’s lips before he directed his gaze to where he believed Leo’s voice had come from.
“Good,” Al answered, shrugging as he felt the table’s surface for his paper cup filled with water. Master Rutherford had left Leo and Alejandro to their devices during the last class, allowing them to play any piece of their choice.
Al felt his face flush when Leo’s hand pushed the paper cup into his hand that had been probing the table for the past minute.
“You pushed it further than usual the last time you dropped it,” he heard Leo say, trying to offer an explanation. Al nodded, muttering a small ‘thank you’ before bringing the cup to his lips to drink.
“I liked it too,” Leo continued, his voice pausing shortly, “our class that is.”
Al noted the pause in Leo’s voice. It was obvious he wanted to make himself clear although Al wasn’t sure what else Leo thought he might assume. Al nodded at his words, brushing the strands of stray hair behind his ears.
There was a pause in the conversation after that, and soon the sound of cutlery against ceramic plate was what filled the void.
Leonardo had somehow taken over Al’s care in the college grounds from Esterphina to an extent. It was convenient for everyone. Leonardo and Al spent most of their time together since they now shared tutors, and although Leonardo was often irritated by most people’s presence he found Al interesting to be with and talk to. It wasn’t a burden to Leonardo at all. Al could do practically everything by himself; he just needed someone to be around him.
“I’m taking the orchestra today. Master Rutherford will be there with me today but after that, I’m on my own,” Leo muttered. Al could hear the slight nervousness in his tone. It was small, but obviously there.
“Oh, I remember you saying you were actually majoring in conducting...” Al trailed, putting a spoon full of rice into his mouth.
“Yeah,” He heard Leo sigh from the other side of the table, “would you like to come along with me today? Just to listen, I’m not sure if you’ve heard the school’s orchestra before.”
“I have.” Al shrugged. “I listened to them last year but this set is practically new. Most of its members graduated last year so it’s probably filled with newcomers now.”
“True. Would you mind being there, you know, for moral support?” Leo asked with a small laugh. A smile played on Al’s lips as he nodded his head in agreement.
“Good, you’ll be following me to the orchestra hall after lectures end today then?” Leo asked, earning a nod of approval from Al. Al felt his chest warm. He wasn’t sure why Leo was asking him to come along but it was a clear sign that his companionship was valid.
The orchestra room was large; a lot larger than most of the lecture rooms. To be more practical you could probably fit six lecture rooms into the orchestra hall. It was grand, a little larger than the school’s official multipurpose hall.
Al was sitting at a corner as he listened to Leonardo and Master Rutherford discus. They were not too far away from, and he could hear most of the conversation. Most- because the orchestra members were chattering and someone occasionally tested out their instrument just for the sake of it. The unsynchronized playing of instruments topped with all the chattering was giving Al a headache as he tried to distinguish one voice from the other. He started to wish that they’d start the practice already so that music would take the place of the noise.
Al placed his hands over his ears in distress. The noise made him panic and caused him distress, it reminded him of the fact that he wasn’t in control, and that’s why music was his comfort. Music represented order and it was something he had power over, something he could control.
“Are you okay?” Al heard Leo’s voice say as a hand made its way to his shoulder. He shook his head, muttering his distress about the noise to Leo.
“Quiet down,” he heard Leo say to the orchestra before he heard the man squat down to be on the same level as his sitting figure. The orchestra seemed hesitant but soon their loud chattering had turned to hushed whispers.
“Are you okay?” Leo asked again as Al felt a soft hand on his cheek. Al nodded, feeling his face warm up at the touch. It was a weird feeling but he admittedly liked it.
“That’s good to know,” Leo muttered, tapping Al’s shoulder in a friendly manner before getting up to attend to the orchestra.
Al could hear Master Rutherford’s voice. He was introducing Leonardo as their coordinator and from the groans and sighs, Al could hear he could already conclude that most of them weren’t happy about it.
After a brief period of introductions, Master Rutherford led them in a song before handing the position of conductor to Leonardo. AL smiled, realizing he’d chosen to lead them in a song they’d done before. Leonardo was trying to conduct them according to the altered tempo he and Al had chosen, but the playing stopped abruptly when one of the violinists stopped to raise their hand.
“That’s not the right tempo,” Al heard the high pitched voice of a female say smugly.
“I’m aware of that. My friend and I arranged this version the other day,” Leo answered calmly. Al felt a play at his brows. He wasn’t sure why Leonardo was brushing off the girl’s obvious rude tone.
“It’s still not the right tempo... Why should we play that? Aren’t we doing the classic version?” Another voice chirped in as silent murmurs filled the hall. Al tried to concentrate on a certain set of voices but he gave up when they blended in hushed tones.
“I know many of you are new here,” A heard Master Rutherford’s voice speak above the rest, “but you should be aware that you’re talking to Leonardo Abate who has been the top of his year in the following instruments; the violin and piano, and who is now a present student of conducting. I approved of the new arrangement, it’s a lot more vibrant than what everyone is used to. You can thank Leonardo and Al there for it.”
Al felt his face heat up. He was sure the whole orchestra’s attention was now fixed on him, A few minutes passed before the room was filled with another set of hushed whispers.
“Now that you know who he is and what he’s capable of I’d like you to give him your full cooperation,” Master Rutherford said. Al soon heard footsteps making their way past him. The master was probably leaving the orchestra to Leonardo’s care altogether.
“Well then,” Leo’s voice started, interrupting the silence, “I think we should get back to practicing.”
“They were rude to you,” Al commented as he and Leo headed towards the car park. Leo was holding on to Al’s shoulder in support as they looked about for Esterphina’s car.
“It doesn’t matter,” Leo said as they continued walking. “Most people come in here thinking they’re one of the best at what they do. It’ll take some time to rearrange that pride to give way for humility,” Leonardo said as they heard a loud whistle.
Esterphina was calling out to them, waving her hand high above her head as she paced about the spot around her red car. She was wearing a pair of baby blue faded jeans and a pale baby pink top.
“We’ve found her,” Leo muttered, leading Al to Esterphina’s car.
“How was it?” Esterphina asked when they were I earshot of her car.
“Fine,” Al answered, covering his eyes with a palm to prevent the painful blur of colors that was forming.
“See you soon, maybe during another rehearsal,” Al heard Leo say, making him grin as his sister took his hand. Leo was inviting him to come again and it made him oddly happy. He tried to control his smile as he muttered a small ‘of course’.
Leo muttered a small goodbye before leaving Al and his sister alone.
“You know, he doesn’t seem as bad as people make him seem,” Ester started, guiding her brother into the passenger seat. “People say he’s rude and won’t give you a second look if you’re not part of his small group of friends. They say he’s a bit like Kenneth, just better.”
“He’s nothing like Kenneth,” Al blurted as a frown formed on his face. He knew Kenneth, Kenneth had been horrible to him — Kenneth was just an all-around horrible person. He wasn’t sure what to make of what Ester had said about Leo. Leo’s on friends had poked fun at something similar. He couldn’t see it too be honest. Sure Leo could be a little self-absorbed in his thinking, but he was nothing like Kenneth — not even close.
“You’re only here because everyone pities you.”
Al blinked, trying to forget Kenneth’s words. He was helped by the sound of Ester’s door slamming shut and the engine of the car starting.
“I’m glad he’s not like that,” Ester said as she drove the car out of its parking spot, “Kenneth was pretty horrible to you,” she recalled, thinking back to Al’s first year at Dansol when Al and Kenneth had shared the same tutor.
“Yeah,” Alejandro stuttered, remembering too, “Yeah, he is pretty horrible.”