I am waiting for his anger to finally kick into action, but he is still perfectly composed and patient with me.
“I’m never going to get this.” I huff in aggravation and harshly press down on the keys.
“You will. Just focus.”
He positions his hands on the keys and starts slow. His movements seem so easy and simple that they fool me into believing that I can do it. It’s already been a week and I still can’t memorize that damn sheet. I know how the song goes. I know how it should sound. But tell that to my god damn fingers that can’t seem to synchronize with my mind.
The demand in his voice brings me back to watching his fingers gracefully gliding over the keys like it’s nothing.
“How can an old person as yourself memorize all of this?”
I expect the movement of his fingers to halt and for him to scold me. But instead he pushes my shoulder back with his with a smile on his face, all while his fingers keep playing all the right notes.
“Stop.” I place both of my hands on top of his to stop, “We should call it a day.”
He sighs and shifts sideways so that he can face me.
“Why is it that you can’t focus?”
I committed a crime.
“I’m just tired.” I run two frustrated hands down my face.
“Tell me what’s bothering you.” He squeezes my shoulder gently trying to comfort me.
“Nothing is bothering me. I’m just tired.”
“I don’t believe that.” He cocks his head to the side.
I’m still not looking at him, because I know that he has always known when something is bothering me. It’s the second year that I’ve known him and I don’t understand how he knows me so well from so little time with me away at Washington.
“You can tell me anything.”
I know that I can tell him anything. He knows everything that has happened. I know that I shouldn’t trust him at all. I know that I should’ve stayed away from him after all the times my mother has warned me about him. But I didn’t stay away. I came to him and I trust him and I don’t have a single doubt about him.
“I know that I can. It’s just not really important.” I say, “I don’t know why I can’t get this right. Maybe the song is too hard for me. Can’t we choose something else?”
“The song isn’t hard, Cher. You just need to focus. I can tell that your mind is out of it since you walked in here on Monday.”
“I’m pissed that I can’t get it right.” I throw my head back and groan, “I should go home and practice it again.”
“Your head is not in the right place, and I can guess what it is...” He pauses and I pray that he doesn’t bring it up, “I know what will get you back on track.”
“Monsieur Lucas...” I can’t help the whine that escapes me, but I don’t fight him as he positions my hands over the keys.
“Trust me. It’s been a while since you’ve played it.”
It’s true. It’s been a month since I have last played this piece. I don’t know how he figured that out.
He presses down on the keys that start the song. He doesn’t have to do anything else. I know every note. I don’t need a sheet for this. I don’t need to keep my eyes open to know that I’m pressing on the correct keys. I know it by heart. It is engraved my heart, and I would never forget it.
I close my eyes as my fingers start moving on their own. They don’t need my brain’s guidance. My fingers glide over the keys with ease and confidence. Feelings take over me. Memories fill in every empty space in my mind, and remembrance replaces all the focus I have been trying to collect. My body is completely taken over by goosebumps as I’m flooded by millions of emotions.
“She’s at it again?” I hear Natalie’s voice form behind me, but I pay no mind to her.
I hear Monsieur Lucas shush her as to not distract me. Once I start, I am dislodged from this entire world and everyone in it. It’s just me and my thoughts.
“That was perfect.” He compliments me when I open my eyes and my fingers halt, “Now I think...” he takes the sheet and hands it to me, “When you go home, you’ll be able to practice it and perfect it.”
“She’ll practice it again?” Natalie settles down onto the bench beside me with a loud groan.
“She’s been playing the same music over and over again. It hurts.” She over-exaggerates and covers her ears.
“I’m sure that she’ll get it this time. She just needed a push in the right direction.”
“Thank you.” I smile gratefully at him as I stand up.
“Leaving so soon?”
I’m about to answer him, but Natalie locks her fingers around my arm and yanks me back down.
“No, she’s not going anywhere. I’m thinking maybe we could eat dinner at your house tonight?” Natalie casually asks him without any introductions.
Last year, Natalie’s mother and Monsieur Lucas broke off their engagement. I don’t know the details and Monsieur Lucas never talked about it with me. He would come more often to the bakery and talk to me and I have found myself drawn to him and I enjoyed spending time with him whenever he was around.
One night while we were talking over tea, he mentioned that he owns a small music studio and he offered to give me lessons if I’m interested. At that time, I would’ve given anything for that kind of distraction so I agreed in a heartbeat. I first began taking piano lessons last year a month before I left for college. It was my one and only outlet after everything.
I have been spending so much time with him, almost most days of the week, for more than three hours, just playing the piano and talking to him. I am not the only one who’s been spending more time with him, but also Natalie. Ever since Monsieur Lucas and Ms. Louise broke off their engagement, he has magically become one of the best people she ever knew, and if she said that if she had any idea how a great father figure he would’ve been for her, she wouldn’t have pushed him away. But then she takes it back and says she prefers it this way.
A soft smile is on his lips, “I would be delighted if you’d join me for dinner.”
“No, I can’t.” I stand up again, and push Natalie’s hand off me, “I promised my mom that I’ll be home for dinner tonight.”
Natalie pulls my arm back down forcing me to sit down. “I’ve already spoken to your mom and she said that you can stay over for dinner at my place.”
“But I already ate three times at your place. She’ll get suspicious.”
My mom hates Monsieur Lucas’s guts and she’s warned me about him a million times. He never talks about what’s between them and I have given up. I don’t ask any of them about it. I just lie to my mom about where I stay late but I’ve done it already three times in a row, and I can’t afford her asking me any questions.
“I believe she’s right.” He interjects, “I think Cher should eat dinner at home.”
And what’s crazy about it is that he supports me on hiding it from my mom and I don’t mind it at all.
“No.” Natalie shouts, “Look, I have already spoke to your mom and she’s fine with it. So, we’ll eat at my place and you know what will get you all excited?”
I really don’t want to know.
“Gabriel is back with Vivian.” She throws her hands in the air, squealing.
“No!” I drop my head onto her shoulder, “Why did he bring her this time?”
She pushes me back and flashes me a teasing smile, “That was Valery. Tonight, he’s bringing Vivian.”
I stare at her long enough that she breaks out laughing.
“He’s been on a nine-day job and he didn’t get some, and it’s natural—”
“Okay.” Monsieur Lucas claps his hands together, “I don’t think you should be discussing this now.”
“Oh, come on. We’re all adults here.”
“I think it’s time for you to leave.” He points toward the door.
“Are you kicking us out?” Natalie places a hand over her heart feigning offense.
“You.” He corrects her with a smirk, “It’s time for you to go home.”
“Whatever, you old man.” She rolls her eyes but doesn’t fight the smile that appears on her lips. “Come on, Cher.”
“Thank you.” I say to him, “I’ll try to practice it again.”
I take the sheet and fold it neatly, placing it in my bag. A small, warm smile spreads across his lips and he opens his arms to hug me goodbye like he always does.
“No need to thank me.” He says, “My door is always open for you if you change your mind. I know how Gabriel and Natalie can be when they’re in the same room.”
“Again, Lucas. Real funny.” She rolls her eyes as she bends down and grabs her purse.
She locks her arm with mine and waves to him. “See you on Monday.”
“Take care and clear your mind, Cher.” He waves back as she drags me out of the studio.
“I’ll try.” I yell back.
I'm lying. My train of thought has deviated out of the right track into god knows where and is no longer in check after what I've done. There's no going back. I'll have to bear the consequences of my stupid, stupid heart.
“Cher.” Gabriel swings an arm over my shoulder, “How are you doing?”
“I’m well.” I tilt my head to look at him, “But that is until I meet Vivian.”
Gabriel throws his head back and laughs, “You haven’t even met her yet.”
“I’m sure she’s delightful.” I roll my eyes, “Where did you take her first? The hotel room or the airplane’s bathroom?”
“Cher.” He says, tone full of seriousness, “I’m a gentleman. Of course, I took her to the hotel first.”
“Good lord.” I scrunch my face up in disgust.
“You know, Cher...” He drops his arm and circles his fingers around my arm, turning me to face him. “Vivian isn’t really my type.” He backs up until my back is flat against the door and tucks a strand of my hair behind my ear, “We still have a shot.”
Ever since Gabriel has been updated with everything that happened with Ace and me, he has stopped his advances to give me some space. He understood why I couldn’t give him what he wanted for me. I couldn’t give him my attention, and certainly, not my love. He has been very understanding and he even offered to talk to me whenever I wished to. Simply, he has been amazing.
But every once in awhile, he would turn flirtatious and try to spark up something between us. And lately, I still don’t understand why I always say no.
“Hmm...But Vivian is here.” I cock my head to the side as if in thought, “That would be disrespectful.”
His eyes light up and his lips stretch into a wide smile, “So you’re considering?”
“I’m not sure.” I answer him truthfully, “I was just thinking that maybe we could—“
“For the love of god.” Natalie groans as she yanks Gabriel back, pulling him away from me. “Get off my best friend.”
“Hey!” Gabriel’s voice is laced with fury, but Natalie doesn’t show any signs of sorry. “We were talking.”
“Whatever. Vivian, your girlfriend, is waiting inside and she’s so fucking annoying. So go in there and shut her up.”
“Fuck you, Natalie.” He shakes his head and stomps his way into the house with clenched fists.
“I know.” She rolls her eyes at me, still no sympathy whatsoever. “He has to get over this silly crush. You’re not interested in him, and I mean he should’ve understood that by now.”
“What if this time I was actually—” she silences me by covering my mouth her hands.
“Don’t you dare say that!” She jabs a finger at my chest, “You don’t like him, Cher. You don’t like him at all. So don’t torture yourself and him along the way.”
I push her hand down, “I do like him, Natalie. I like him so much because he’s an amazing person. I don’t know if I’ll love him and maybe I won’t be able to, but why can’t I try? I need to get myself out of this and focus on myself. There is someone who is willing to try for me, to try and that’s all I ever wanted. He’s willing to give it to me and he knows everything that has happened. I want to try with him.”
“I know, boo.” She sighs, “But what if it doesn’t work out?”
“Then at least I tried.”
I need to reconsider this before I talk to Gabriel. I need to be certain that I am willing to try and for real this time. I need to get my head out of his cloud and stop thinking about him forever. And maybe the opportunity has been standing in front of me all this time and I haven’t really been looking.
“Look, all I’m saying is give it some time.” She holds both of my hands and squeezes lightly, “Don't talk to Gabriel today, okay? Let it die down today and talk to him tomorrow.”
“Maybe you’re right.” I pull my hands out of hers and run a hand through my hair, “Maybe it’s unfair to him.”
“No, that’s not what I’m saying.” She says quickly, “Just wait till tomorrow. Think clearly, because maybe you’ll change your mind later.”
I don’t know what it is about what she said made my stomach turn. I didn’t like her words and I didn’t understand the meaning behind them. And I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to know so I kept quiet.
Dinner doesn’t last long, because as soon as Gabriel clears his plate, his girlfriend runs out of the house sobbing. This happens after time he brings a girl home after a long trip. She falls for his looks and sweet words and he sometimes likes them back, but it never lasts.
“Tu devais vraiment faire ça? You really had to do that?” Mrs. Louise glares at Gabriel for the hundredth time.
“Je suis de retour, non? I’m back, right?” He replies shrugging his shoulders.
“You’re not really setting a great example for me.” Victor teases him with a small smile.
“You’re a man now.” Gabriel ruffles Victor’s hair, “You don’t need my guidance.”
“Øh, s’il vous plaît.” Mrs. Louise rolls her eyes at him before she rises and carries her plate to the kitchen.
“Vivian wasn’t so bad, Gabriel.” Natalie reaches for the spaghetti bowl and refills her plate, “Now that I think about it, she is the most tolerable of them all.”
“I agree.” Victor and I say simultaneously.
“Give me a break.” Gabriel raises the wine glass to his lips and sips, “She couldn’t keep her hands to herself.”
“You mean...?” Natalie leaves the question dangling in the air and Gabriel nods.
“Right here, right across the table from my mother.” Gabriel laughs, “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining but she was disrespecting my mother’s presence so that’s a no for Vivian.”
“What did she do?” Victor looks up at Gabriel confused.
“Nothing buddy.” Gabriel laughs.
“You wouldn’t want to know.” I tell him honestly.
“Cher, your mom just texted me.” Natalie raises her phone to show me, “She says she wants you back so that you could talk.”
“No, stay for a while, Cher.” Gabriel holds my hand, “It’s still early.”
“One second.” I frown, “Why didn’t she just text me?”
“I don’t know.” Natalie doesn’t meet my eyes and chugs down a glass of water, “Come on.”
She doesn’t wait for me and walks out of the dining room.
What the hell?
“I have to go.” I slip my hand from under Gabriel’s, “I’ll see you later, I promise.”
“Cher.” He gets up too and pulls me to him, “We didn’t finish talking.”
“I know.” I place my hand on his chest and gently push him back, “And we will, but right now, I need to go. I’ll text you, okay?”
His moves are hesitant as he lets me go and steps back.
“Okay.” He smiles at me, “See you soon.”
“Bye.” I wave at him and Victor with a smile.
“So will you tell me what’s wrong?” I ask Natalie after I climb into the car.
She shakes her head and starts the car.
“I prefer not to.”
She looks at me with so much sympathy in her eyes that it makes my heart drop.
“I don’t want to be the one who breaks the news.”
She interrupts me, “Your mom will explain everything and you can then decide what you want to do. Everyone will do what makes you comfortable.”
“Okay.” I chuckle nervously, “I hope this isn’t as bad as it sounds.”
“I hope so too.”
There is no playfulness in her voice. All my hopes that this is another one of her silly pranks are gone. I don’t know what kind of news my mother holds for me and from the looks of it, they’re not the greatest of news. Worry laces around the strings of my heart when we stay quiet all the way back to my house. And no matter how many times I try to push the uneasiness away, it still lingers in my heart.
Natalie doesn’t turn the radio on. Natalie doesn’t utter any stupid remarks. Natalie doesn’t make fun of my book obsessions. Natalie stays quite. It’s not like her at all. She is eerily quiet. She’s always jittery, giddy, playful. Now all of them are temporarily gone which only worries me more and forces me to expect the worst.
The car comes to a stop and she climbs out of the car without a word. I follow her because I don’t know what to expect. I’m guessing that she’s coming with me to console me after whatever my mom will throw at me.
Natalie’s phone rings and she stops midway on the stairs to answer it. I continue walking to get this over with. I just want to know what the hell is going on and why she’s acting so weird.
“Yeah, I just drove her back.” She answers as I open the front door.
“No...” she says, “I drove her to the house.”
I hear footsteps shuffling around the kitchen. I assume that my mom is there and that’s where I go. I take in a huge ass breath preparing myself for what’s to come. I step into the kitchen expecting my mother turning around to face me and her face is riddled with worry.
My lips are clamped shut when my eyes make contact with the only pair of icy glassy eyes that always disconcerted me.
His voice reaches my ear and I smile because he’s not really here. This can’t be real. He’s not here. I refuse to believe it, believe my own eyes. I turn around to face Natalie, and her face is slightly red, her eyes frantically roaming my face.
“Tell me that he’s not really standing here.” I point to where I think I saw him.
“Cher, your mom was going to tell you. She told me to bring you back and I assumed the house but she meant the bakery. I got confused or maybe I wasn’t thinking clearly.” She babbles and takes a step forward. “She’s on her way here, and—“
“So he’s actually here.” I say, my mind not still accepting it.
I look back at him and find him standing motionless behind the counter with a glass of water in his hand.
“You’re in my house.”
It isn’t like he doesn’t know that he’s in our house, but he’s fucking shameless coming back here and stand in our kitchen like he’s welcome here. I’m saying the words so that maybe, somehow my mind can comprehend what I’m seeing. This isn’t my mind playing tricks with me anymore. He’s here and Natalie can see him too.
“I’m just here for—“
I raise my hand in the air cutting his sentence short. I can’t listen to his voice. It’s sickening.
“You’re standing in my house.” I utter sharply.
“Cher, let’s leave and wait for your mom—“
“We?” I ask her, “We leave? I just said that we’re in my house. He should get out.”
“I’ll get out.” His voice reappears.
I turn around and raise my hands in the air, frustrated, “And what gave you the hint?”
“There’s no need for the hostility. I wasn’t planning on staying.” His words are one thing and his movements are another.
He’s not moving. He has said that he’ll leave, yet he’s still standing behind the marble island.
“Ace, you should really leave.” Natalie warns him like I’m about to attack him and at the moment I think I might.
“Hostility?” I almost spit the word in his face and to my surprise, I walk closer to the kitchen island. Closer to him. “You call this hostility?”
“Yes.” His eyes are sharp. I hardly recognize them, but then again, when did I ever understand him. “I didn’t do anything. I wanted to see my mom.”
“Then you should’ve fucking called before showing up here unannounced and—”
“Cher?” I hear Adrian’s voice and I feel his cool hand pull my arm back. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” I breathe out and force a smile on my face, “Everything’s...just fine.”
“Honey.” My mom runs in after Adrian, her eyes moving quickly between Ace and me.
“So when were you going to tell me that he was visiting?” I try to stay calm, not for anyone’s sake except Adrian’s.
“He just came today, Cher.” Paulina speaks up and I’m not sure when did she get here.
“Yes, none of us knew that he was coming.” My mom continues.
“We were going to talk to you first about this but we didn’t have the time.”
“I don’t understand anything.” Adrian speaks up, “Did he do something to you?” Adrian turns me around so that my face is to him.
He did a lot.
“Why do you assume I did anything?” Ace shoots at Adrian.
“Maybe because she was yelling at you before I came in.” He snaps back at him, “What did you do to her?”
“Adrian, stop. Just because you’re upset doesn’t mean you take it out on him.” I circle my fingers around his wrist and pull him with me, “Let’s go.”
“Cher, you don’t have to go anywhere.” Paulina interjects, “Ace and I will leave. I’ll pack my bags in the morning.”
“What the fuck is going on?!” Adrian has been looking for an outlet for all his bottled feelings and Ace is an easy target, “Did you fucking touch her?”
“Ace.” Paulina calls his name loudly, “Don’t answer him.”
Ace zips his lips together and I can tell that he’s about to burst, wanting to throw an insult or comment at Adrian.
“Adrian, stop.” I whisper in his ear, “Wait for me outside and I’ll follow you right out .”
“Go on, Adrian.”
Adrian glances back one more time at Ace before he leaves.
“Well, this is a pleasant surprise.”