Staccato Heartbeats

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She could tell there was a fight brewing.

Not that fights happened a lot at Brighton. In fact, they rarely happened at all. Generally speaking, art school kids weren’t prone to fisticuffs.

But there was definitely something happening in the south quad. There was a group of people gathered along one of the walkways, blocking her view of two individuals who seemed to be in each other’s faces, though punches had yet to be thrown. As she got closer, she recognized one of the participants as Wally, a film major who wanted to be a director and she was pretty sure the only reason he wanted that job was because he thought it would entitle him to boss people around. He was built like a linebacker, so he definitely had the intimidation factor going for him, though his opponent, who Piper was surprised to see was none other than the delicious Rocky, seemed anything but scared.

Not wanting to lose her project partner due to a suspension from fighting, Piper pushed her way through the crowd and stepped up beside Rocky and Wally, sighing in frustration as she said, “Problem, gentlemen?”

“Back away, Piper,” Wally growled, his glaze flitting to her for only a second before returning to glare at Rocky. “I’ve got this handled.”

“Handled?” Piper snorted, wondering if Wally genuinely thought this was normal behavior, “Are you two about to beat the shit out of each other in the schoolyard? Have we as a society not moved past that cliché?”

Furrowing his brow in confusion, Wally focused his gaze on Piper again, although his hands were stilled balled into fists at his side. “Huh?”

“Look, Wally,” Piper exhaled deeply, stepping between the two idiots and pressing a flattened hand against each of their chests to push them apart before turning to face Wally fully. “I really don’t have the time to explain what a cliché is to you right now. I have a class to go to and so do you, so why don’t you go overcompensate for your small penis somewhere else?”

His face turned immediately red and he parted his lips to argue, but Piper fixed him with a fiery glare to make him aware that she wasn’t in the mood to put up with his bullshit and he ended up just letting out a reluctant sigh and muttering, “Whatever,” before turning and walking away.

With a triumphant grin, Piper turned around to face Rocky as the crowd dispersed, to find his gleaming as he stared at her from behind a closed fist over his mouth where he was doing his best not to burst out laughing. Just when he thought she couldn’t be any more amazing, she proved him wrong.

Placing her hands on her hips, she quirked an eyebrow. “You’re not going to go all alpha male on me and tell me you can fight your own battles, are you?”

She thought the whole concept of defending someone’s honor was a little ridiculous and outdated and she really hoped Rocky wasn’t offended by her standing up for him, so she was pleasantly surprised when he shook his head and lowered his hand from his face and laughed. “No, actually, you’re kind of my hero. I’m not really supposed to be getting into fights.”

“How come?” she asked, tilting her head to the side. She wondered if he’d been in fights before and was on some sort of probation.

In true bad boy fashion, he smirked and replied, “It’s a long story.”

The truth was that they were at the point in their acquaintance that Rocky felt comfortable unloading that kind of secret on her. But what scared him most was the fact that he was pretty sure one day he would be.

“You know,” she rolled her eyes and let out a frustrated sigh, “being mysterious isn’t going to make you sexier.”

That wasn’t true at all. She found the fact that she knew so little about him to be extremely intriguing.

He lifted his eyebrows in surprise, his smirk widening. “Does that mean you already think I’m sexy?”

“Maybe,” she replied, deciding that lying wasn’t going to accomplish anything. Besides, she wanted him to know where she stood if they were ever going to have a future. Her smile widened. “What were you guys about to rumble about?”

Rocky shrugged nonchalantly. “He’s just an asshole.”

“Agreed,” she nodded. “But surely there’s more to it than that.”

Despite the persona he tried to convey, Rocky didn’t seem like the type of person to resort to violence for no reason. So if he was on the verge of coming to blows with Wally, she was sure his rationale was legitimate.

And it was. But Rocky knew there were some things he needed to keep close to his heart.

“He said something insulting about my personal life,” he muttered and before she could ask for specifics, he continued on with, “Will you meet me somewhere after your last class? I wanna show you something.”

She could have pushed him for more details but she decided to let it go. She understood the importance of secrets. There was always some information that you only conveyed to the people you trusted the most and she and Rocky just weren’t there yet. It was okay. She was determined that one day they would get to the point where he felt like he could tell her anything. That was her goal. And Piper Irwin never gave up on her goals.

But that didn’t mean she couldn’t tease him just a little. She fixed him with a glare, though her lips were still lifted into a smile. “You’re deliberately being cryptic, aren’t you?”

“Maybe,” he replied, unable to keep from grinning himself.

She rolled her eyes and laughed. “You’re a jackass, Rocky McIntire.”

“You’re gorgeous, Piper Irwin,” he countered.

It wasn’t the first time he called her gorgeous and she was pretty sure it wouldn’t be the last, but that didn’t stop her stomach from erupting into butterflies and her breathing to hitch as she replied, “Where do you want to meet?”

“I’ll text you,” he replied, grinning as he turned to walk away.

She watched him until he disappeared into the building where his class was and sighed as she turned to make the trek to her own class, her stomach knotting in excitement at the afternoon to come. She checked her phone for messages an embarrassing number of times before she finally received one telling her to meet him at the entrance to the park near campus.

As soon as her class was over, she dropped by her apartment to pick up the battery operated portable keyboard she used when she wanted to play or write outside before heading to their meeting spot. She arrived a few minutes early, so she people watched from a bench until she spotted him strolling towards her, backpack hanging from one shoulder and his violin case swinging from the other hand.

“So this is the big surprise, huh?” she quirked an eyebrow upwards, wondering if there was more to the story, because Rocky didn’t seem like the kind of guy to be so…obvious. “The park.”

“Yep,” he nodded, not at all fazed by her lack of appreciation. “Follow me.”

She walked beside him silently as he confidently led her down one of the paths bordering the park before taking a left and cutting through the grass. Once they reached a line of trees, Rocky began to follow a dirt trail through the small section of woods, which eventually opened to a stream.

“Wow,” Piper breathed out, her eyes wide in amazement when they came to a stop, inhaling deeply to breathe in the smell of the water and smiling slowly at the beauty of nature. “This is beautiful.”

“I know,” Rocky grinned triumphantly. “I like to come here to write. So, I was hoping we could just meet here the days the weather is nice.”

“Works for me,” she agreed, watching as he set down his violin before shrugging off his backpack and pulling out a blanket. Throwing it open on the grass, he dropped down onto it and she did the same, setting her tote bag and keyboard to the side before nodding towards his violin and asking, “Would you play for me?”

He flashed her a sheepish smile. “Kinda putting me on the spot here, Irwin.”

It wasn’t that he disliked playing for other people. After all, violin performance was his major. But he wasn’t sure he was emotionally ready to play for Piper. Playing for a professor or a large audience was easy, because to be quite honest, he didn’t really care what anyone thought. But he liked Piper and he already knew she was a fantastic musician and he was just a little bit intimidated by her.

“I’m gonna hear you play eventually,” she rolled her eyes. She figured it was inevitable if they were going to write a kick ass duet. To soothe his fears slightly, she added. “I’ll play for you after.”

“Fine,” he let out a frustrated sigh, but she can tell he wasn’t actually that irritated as he unbuckled his violin case and quickly tuned the strings before setting the instrument on his shoulder.

She held her breath as he began to play, sweeping his bow over the strings slowly and sweetly, mesmerized by the movement of his fingers and arm. He closed his eyes while he played, allowing himself to be immersed in the music and giving her the perfect opportunity to immerse herself in him. She loved the way he seemed so relaxed as he played, so completely at peace with himself and his music.

She studied the way his lips were constantly lifted into a small smile as he played his classical version of an indie rock song and when he lowered his bow and violin to his lap when he was finished, she breathed out, “You’re incredible.”

“Thanks,” he mumbled, his cheeks flushing involuntarily because no matter how much he didn’t want to admit it, her opinion actually meant a lot to him. To break the tension of having to bask in any more compliments, he said, “Your turn.”

Always happy to perform, Piper pulled out her portable keyboard and settled it on top of the blanket, wiggling her fingers to loosen her muscles before starting on a piano version of her favorite pop song. She grinned the entire time her fingers flew over the keys and as he watched her, Rocky couldn’t help but think that he’d never seen anyone look so completely content in their life.

She grinned at him once she finished playing and there were about a million positive adjectives running through his mind, but he was also certain that Piper was fully aware of her talent, so he went with the response, “Not bad, Irwin.”

“Thanks,” she replied, setting her keyboard to the side, “Do you have any preferences for our piece?”

He didn’t really. He’d thought a lot about his senior piece since he’d heard about the degree requirement as a first year, but he didn’t really have any specifics other than the tone. Which is what he told her with a shrug. “I just want it to make people happy.”

She wasn’t sure why that response left her breathless and a little bit flushed, but it did, so she widened her smile and responded, “I think we can do that.”

They worked companionably for about an hour. They would each hum possible combinations of notes or phrases that could be used for the main melody. Taking turns, they would play their creations on their instruments to see if they sounded as good in real life as it did in their heads, writing down the success on staff paper and hurriedly erasing the failures.

As much as Piper was enjoying the easy comfort they’d set into, she was still itching to know more about her sexy and mysterious partner, so she tapped the end of her pencil against her mouth and asked him, “Truth or truth?”

“Such a hard choice,” he laughed, surprised and just a bit anxious as to where this conversation could possibly be headed. “Truth.”

She thought about starting off with an easy question about his favorite something, but she figured that if she truly wanted to get to know him better, she should get a little more personal. So she asked, “How many girlfriends have you had?”

“Two,” he replied automatically, his muscles tensing slightly. It wasn’t a particularly probing question but he knew if she had a follow up, they’d end up in dangerous territory, so he got rid of that possibility by lifting his eyebrows teasingly and saying, “Why, you wanna make it three?”

“You wish.” she rolled her eyes, but to be honest, it didn’t sound like a horrible idea.

“I kinda do,” he admitted softly, asking a question of his own before she could comment, “How many boyfriends have you had?”

“None.” She shrugged. It was the truth and she wasn’t at all embarrassed by it. Not that she hadn’t been privy to her fair share of stolen kisses and partially drunken makeouts, but she’d never been in an actual relationship before. Because to be entirely honest, she hadn’t found a guy who made her want more.

Rocky lifted his eyebrows in surprise. She was beautiful and confident and bubbly and he was pretty sure that she had half the guys at their school wrapped around her little finger, so it came as kind of a shock that she’d never dated anyone. “Really?”

“Is that so hard to believe?” she laughed.

“Kind of, but not in a bad way,” he replied, trying to figure out how to say what he wanted to say without sounding like a jackass. “I just figured you had your pick of the litter.”

“Yeah, well, I have high standards,” she shot back.

“Good,” he nodded, oddly proud of that statement. “You shouldn’t settle.”

“I won’t,” she assured him. “Truth or truth?”

He furrowed his brow. “Isn’t it my turn?”

“You technically already asked me a question.”

“Fine,” he sighed, deciding that he didn’t care if she was making up her own rules to this game as long as they just kept playing. “Truth.”

The truth was that she had about a million follow up questions. But she also wanted to say what had been on her mind since the first time their eyes met. “I think you’re gorgeous, too.”

And she meant that. Completely. Every time he smiled in her direction her heart rate picked up a bit and she was kind of surprised that she hadn’t passed out by now.

“I think you’re playing this game wrong, Piper,” he said, his voice dangerously low as he kept their gazes locked, leaning towards her slightly.

Although her breathing hitched slightly, she didn’t back down. “I play by my own rules.”

One side of his mouth quirked upwards into a smile and she wasn’t disappointed for long that he broke their stare because his gaze dropped to her lips as he whispered, “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” she breathed out, leaning into him as well, mentally preparing herself for what his lips would feel like on top of hers, only to have their trance broken by the buzzing of his cell phone.

He pulled away quickly, digging his phone out of his pocket to check the screen before cursing under his breath and shooting her an apologetic glance as he shifted to his knees and begin to pack up his things. “I have to go. I have to be somewhere.”

“Okay,” she replied, doing her best to hide her disappointment as she stood and packed up as well. “Same time next week?”

“Can’t wait,” he grinned, genuinely meaning his words once they were back in the main park. With one last wink in her direction, he whispered, “later gorgeous,” before sprinting away.

Once again, she found herself staring after him, her entire body warming with anticipation for their next meeting.

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