Chapter 14: The Show Must Go On
Cyrus stared out the window, watching the snow fall thick and heavy. He sighed. It was Friday night, and he was alone. A year ago, that wouldn’t have bothered him - it would have been normal even - but now… Now, Cyrus was wondering where Hayden was.
About to put a record on, Cyrus remembered that the Winter Showcase was tonight. Hayden told him that it was stupid, but, for once, even awkward socializing seemed to beat sitting in a dorm room alone. Not giving himself time to back out, Cyrus grabbed his scarf and jacket and headed out the door.
Cyrus trudged through the snow, hoping this wasn’t a total waste of time. The concert was to be a casual affair, held in the back of the student lounge. The lights were low when he arrived, for they had transformed the lounge into almost a concert setting. There was a low stage with a piano in the corner and a drum set in the center. Speakers flanked each side, and there was currently a thin boy sitting on a stool and strumming a guitar at the front of the stage.
Cyrus stood near the back, mixing in with the crowd and watching. The boy finished up his song and left to a round of applause. There was a moment of down time, so Cyrus wandered over to the refreshments table and ladled himself a glass of punch. He was perusing the cookie selection when someone coughed into the microphone.
“I’d uh… I’d like to dedicate this song to the person who got me into classical music,” the boy said, “which led to piano. So, uh, yeah.” Everyone’s voice sounded different on microphone, but Cyrus would know that one anywhere. He turned around to find Hayden sitting at the piano bench, fingers flexing over the keys.
Cyrus stared for a minute. Before he figured out what was happening, Hayden began to play. The first familiar notes of Clair de Lune drifted out over the hall. Hayden’s playing was smooth and soft, gliding along like he was made to press those ivory keys. Cyrus was completely enthralled, finding himself unable to take his eyes off of Hayden. He moved through the crowd until he was near the front, off to the side of the stage.
It wasn’t a Christmas song, but no one seemed to care especially. When he hit the last note, the hall erupted in applause. Hayden stood up, blushing, then turned to exit the stage. Suddenly, his gaze landed on Cyrus, eyes widening in surprise. Cyrus shot him an encouraging smile as Hayden hopped off the stage, coming to join him in the corner.
“Hey,” Cyrus said eloquently.
“Hey,” Hayden replied, looking sheepish. “I thought you weren’t going to come.”
“I got bored,” Cyrus replied. He struggled to phrase his next question in a way that didn’t sound accusatory. “Why didn’t you want me-“
“I was nervous,” Hayden blurted. “I, uh, just started trying to learn piano a few weeks ago, and I didn’t know if I could… Guitar is one thing; I’ve been playing for years, but piano is new. I didn’t want to embarrass myself.” He glanced at Cyrus, then away again.
Cyrus could hear what he wasn’t saying. I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of you. As if Cyrus’s opinion mattered at all. “Well, you did great,” he offered. “And for just learning too; I’m really impressed. How’d you pick Clair de Lune?”
“To be honest? Because of the Styx song. But then I heard the real version on one of your records, and wow. It was just so much more. I don’t know, I really liked it,” Hayden admitted, rubbing the back of his neck almost in embarrassment.
“Good choice. It’s one of my favorites,” Cyrus said.
“Really?” Hayden asked. He laughed lightly. “You and I should start a band,” he joked.
Cyrus snorted, “I can’t play any instruments.”
“There’s always the triangle,” Hayden pointed out. “Every musician needs a faithful trianglist.”
“Trianglist? Is that even a word?”
“Why shouldn’t it be? Triangle players have just as much right to a name as anyone else does,” Hayden said, turning his head so that Cyrus could hear him as he pushed through the crowd of people towards the refreshments. “So, what do you say? Will you be my faithful trianglist who will follow me to the ends of the earth?”
Cyrus could tell by the look in his eyes that Hayden wasn’t being serious, but that didn’t stop him from replying honestly. “Of course I will. Ignoring the fact that I don’t have a triangle, nor have I ever played one.”
“Trust me, it’s not rocket science,” Hayden said, grabbing himself a paper plate and loading it with cookies. He looked out at the sea of people, asking, “You want to stay for the rest of this, or just take our cookies and run?”
“The second one,” Cyrus said. “I only came out of boredom anyway. Glad I did, though.”
Cyrus thought he saw a light blush creep up Hayden’s cheeks, but in the odd light of the lounge, it was hard to tell. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s blow this popsicle stand.”
As soon as they stepped out into the cold night air, Cyrus was hyper-aware of the silence in relation to the pounding music he had just left behind. Therefore, the scream sounded all the louder in his ears. Cyrus’s head snapped towards the source of the shout just as Hayden said, “What was that?”
Cyrus was at a loss. Shooting him a meaningful look, Hayden took off down the path. Cyrus hesitated for a minute, but followed him. What other choice did he have? The snow lay thick on the ground, and Cyrus literally slid around the corner. A path cut through the center of the common area, and in its center stood two boys, towering over one on the ground.
Cyrus and Hayden shared a glance before Hayden called, “Hey!” One of the boys turned and Cyrus’s stomach dropped. It was Mike, naturally. “There a problem here?”
As they got closer, Cyrus could make out the dark form of a freshman crumpled in the snow. Mike sneered. “Nope, no problem. Why aren’t you in the lounge playing your prissy little music?”
Hayden frowned. “Because I’m out here stopping you from beating up on some poor freshman?”
While Hayden kept Mike and his friend occupied, Cyrus headed over to the boy on the ground. He offered a hand to help him up. There was a scrape down the side of his face and he was covered in snow, but he seemed okay.
“Stopping me?” Mike replied. “Huh.”
“What did he ever do to you, anyway?” Hayden continued. “What, was he walking in your snow? Breathing your air?”
“He’s just poor filth. His dad’s the English teacher; it’s the only reason he can actually afford to go here,” Mike spat, his face twisted in disgust. “He doesn’t deserve-“
In the dark, no one saw Hayden’s fist flying at Mike’s face until it hit. Cyrus bolted towards him, hissing, “Hayden! What are you doing?” Even Hayden wasn’t so stupid as to start a fistfight with Mike, or so Cyrus had thought a minute ago.
Hayden pulled his fist back for another punch just as Cyrus stepped between them, pushing Hayden away and leaving his back to Mike. A large hand gripped Cyrus’s shoulder and spun him around. He had a vague notion that he should turn away before pain exploded across his jaw in a jarring impact.
“Cyrus!” Hayden cried.
Cyrus’s senses were a little blurry, but he got the feeling that another punch was coming just as Mike’s buddy warned, “McMillan’s coming!”
Mike let go of Cyrus’s shirt and took off down the path, his friend in tow. Hayden hurried over to Cyrus and wrapped a steadying arm around his shoulders. “Come on,” he said. “We should get out of here before she comes too.”
Cyrus nodded, then winced. He looked around, but the freshman was gone. He and Hayden made it down the path and safely away from the lounge where the Assistant Headmistress was headed when Hayden finally said something. “You shouldn’t have done that.”
“You shouldn’t have either,” Cyrus muttered in reply. “Words are just as good as fists.”
“Yeah, but you ever try to teach manners to an ass?” Hayden responded. “But you punch one- then he feels it.”
“Then I feel it,” Cyrus grumbled.
Hayden frowned, his forehead creasing in lines of concern and regret. “Really sorry about that, man. I didn’t mean for you to get dragged into it.”
Cyrus rolled his eyes. “At least it was for a good cause.” He paused before clarifying, “By that, I mean the freshman, not saving your sorry ass.”
With one of his arms still slung across Cyrus’s shoulders, Hayden shook in a laugh. “Yeah, well, that’s fair.”
It wasn’t that Cyrus needed help walking, but he still found himself missing the contact when Hayden withdrew his arm as they reached the dorms. He had the odd urge to fake a stumble, just so Hayden could catch him in that strong grip. The feeling passed just as quickly as it came, so Cyrus ignored it, heading inside to slump on the couch.
“Be right back,” Hayden said, fishing something out of one of his drawers and disappearing out the door.
Cyrus let his head fall back to rest on the couch cushion, his jaw throbbing. As much as he might have complained, he didn’t regret stepping into the fight to defend Hayden. He was actually really impressed that Hayden had stood up to Mike in such a bold way. Not that Hayden seemed to care much about the rules against fighting, but it just didn’t seem like his style. Nevertheless, it was brave.
When Hayden returned, he held in his hand a ziplock bag filled with snow and ice. He sat down on the couch next to Cyrus and smiled sheepishly. “I figured since this was my fault, I might as well try and make you feel better.” Hesitantly, he reached up and pressed the cold bag against Cyrus’s face.
Even with the freezing cold against his jaw, Cyrus felt an undeniable heat building in his stomach. He knew that he shouldn’t feel this nervous, but looking into Hayden’s eyes caused his chest to knot up. This was ridiculous. These feelings didn’t mean anything; they were entirely irrational. He pushed them away, blaming whatever odd thoughts were coursing through him on having just been hit really hard in the head.
“Thanks,” Cyrus said, taking the bag from Hayden’s hand, their fingers brushing briefly.
Hayden looked away abruptly, muttering, “No problem.”
They sat in silence for a moment. “What you did back there…it was really great of you to stand up for him like that,” Cyrus said eventually.
“It wasn’t for him,” Hayden said so quietly that Cyrus nearly missed it.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
Hayden shook his head. “Nothing. Never mind.” He ran a hand through his hair, making it stand up into ragged spikes. “It’s been a long day. We should probably get some rest. Everyone will be leaving in the morning.”
“Yeah,” Cyrus said. “Sounds like a plan.”
Hayden stood up, looking back down at Cyrus. “Are you sure you’re okay? Your jaw’s getting a little…purplish.”
“I’m fine, Hayden,” Cyrus assured him. “Don’t worry about me.”
Hayden looked like he wanted to protest, but he didn’t. “Okay, well… ibuprofen’s on the dresser.” He moved to leave, then suddenly stopped and cursed.
“What’s wrong?” Cyrus asked.
“I dropped the cookies at some point,” Hayden replied, looking so devastated that Cyrus couldn’t help but laugh. “It’s not funny! I worked hard for those.”
Smiling hurt his jaw, but Cyrus couldn’t resist the grin spreading across his face. “Guess you’ll just have to wait for the next concert.”
“Next? There’s going to be another?”
“Sure, once our classical pianist and trianglist act becomes a nationwide sensation,” Cyrus joked.
“Try worldwide,” Hayden corrected him. “Don’t sell your triangle playing abilities short.”
As Hayden flashed a grin and left, Cyrus closed his eyes. For the first time in years, Cyrus had hope that he might actually have a decent holiday. The more he thought about it, the more he began to believe that, if he played it right, he might even have a great one.