I left Ryker’s room and immediately wanted to go back in, but I had to be in gym class in fifteen minutes and I still had to get down there and change. I pause outside the door but ultimately start my descent down to the gym, which turns into a run so I’m not late.
Fifteen minutes later I’m changed and on the field ready to do hundred-meter dashes. I notice the guy who had Ryker pinned against a wall earlier is lined up waiting to run also. I have no clue if we're the same age or if he failed his gym class last year.
“Alright, you all ready to do the hundred-meter dash?” Coach Gerald asks.
He’s a man in his forties with long curly brown hair down to his neck, a ball cap, shorts a golf-shirt, soft face, and twinkling blue eyes.
There are about thirty of us in this class. Split halfway in gender, too.
“Yeah!” some students answer.
“Okay, we’ll have the boys go first, I need seven or eight of you on the starting line. Julian holds the record at 11.15 seconds, let’s see if any of you can beat his time or he can improve,” he replies.
I, Julian, and six other boys get on the start line. I see Ryker walking along the back balcony, probably to get to his classroom. His ears are covered by headphones.
They say people tend to do better at things when they have an audience. The other twenty-two students are standing off to the side out of the way. We ready ourselves.
“Ready, set,” Gerald says.
I know Ryker has paused on the balcony and is watching.
“Go,” he shouts.
We are off.
At my old school I played football, it was my main sport but I also ran track and ran for an hour every morning. It consisted of a lot more laps of the school here and the scenery was a lot more mundane but I still enjoyed it. I started a little slower than Julian but kept a few paces behind him until the last twenty meters where I pulled ahead. I pushed myself and kept going until I crossed the finish line. I stopped and tried to catch my breath. I’d beat Julian.
“Porter, good job. New record: 10.45 seconds,” Coach states patting me on the back.
I turn to go get my water bottle from the edge of the field and see Julian glaring at me. I ignore him, Ryker moves on his way after Gerald spots him and eyes him. But I feel him continue to watch me from out of sight for the rest of the class. I go the back way to the change rooms after class hoping to catch Ryker but instead, I’m greeted by Julian and his pals.
They block the door.
“What do you want, man?” I ask just wanting to get out of my sweaty clothes.
“What is your deal with the freak?” Julian asks.
“You a fairy boy, too?” one of his pals asks.
“Don’t you know he’s crazy?” the other one questions.
“If you’re trying to recruit me to get close to Ryker, it’s not going to work. He’s my friend. Now piss off,” I reply pushing past them.
Julian grabs my shoulder and hauls me back and pins me against the wall. He looked massive next to Ryker but he’s only four inches taller than me. I grab his wrist and twist and he steps back.
“Think before you pick on people,” I comment and go inside the change room.
I exit out of the locker room the main way and walk through the halls. I have a free period now so I go to the library, I spot Ryker, I don’t know if he also has a study hall or lied about going to class.
I tap him on the shoulder and he jumps, this time I don’t find it weird because he has headphones over his ears. But whenever I’m around and he doesn’t know he still seems to jump as if he can’t hear me coming or my song.
“Did you see me beat Julian?” I question.
I’m still a bit giddy that I beat the school record.
“You mean did I see you make an enemy out of one of the most popular guys? Yeah, I did see. You should be careful, Porter,” he replies.
“I just ran a hundred meters, if he can’t handle being beaten by less than a second than he needs to grow up, mentally obviously,” I reply. “You shouldn’t have to deal with that, you can’t help what you were born with.”
“Humanity has changed but it hasn’t changed that much. It will always be behind. As things change and become different there will always be those people who don’t get it. Who will hate, discriminate, and all that because we learn as we go and are influenced by others rather than forming our own opinions, unless you’re the exception and you are one of those people who are in the minority, then you accept, understand or repress it if others around you dislike who you are,” he adds, stoically.
The library is quiet and in semi-darkness with the windows closed. There are only five or six other people in it aside from the librarians each sitting in their own corners studying. Ryker continues to skim through one of his textbooks, which is covered in colorful stick notes with messy handwriting.
“When is your music class?” I ask.
“Last period, makes it easier so I don’t have to come back to the room after having the class, I can just stay after everyone leaves,” he replies.
I wish I’d taken more artsy classes, I wish I could play an instrument with him.
“I wish I could play an instrument,” I repeat out loud.
“I could try to teach you piano, it’s one of the easier ones to learn but I’ve never taught anyone so I don’t know if I’m a good teacher,” he answers. “If you asked one of the music teachers I’m sure they wouldn’t mind teaching you, you still have two years here, you could get fairly good in that time,” he replies.
“How long have you been playing for?” I ask.
“Since I was seven,” he replies.
A whole decade.
“Who wanted you to start? Did you want to learn?” I ask him.
“My mother,” the tone of his voice has shifted a bit again. “I showed musical understanding from an early age, I would try to correct my older brother when he was learning.”
“What does your older brother do now?” I question having heard nothing about the fact that he had a sibling.
“He gave up playing piano when he realized he wasn’t going to get ahead of me. I haven’t seen or heard from him since I came here. I don’t know if he still lives in his apartment or what,” he answers.
“What’s his name?” I ask.
“Ezra,” he replies. “We got really close before my father shipped me off. He was getting over me being a better musician. He was…” he stops.
“What?” I ask.
Ryker looks up and then around the library.
“Nothing,” he replies.
I accept he wants to keep some secrets for now.
“Do you want to go get lunch?” I ask.
“We’ll be the ones getting a detention if we’re caught sneaking off campus,” he comments.
“It’s not like you enjoy being here,” I reply.
“No, but I do enjoy getting my diploma and getting the hell out of dodge,” he comments back. “Can’t do that if I get detention too many times.”
“No, but you gotta live a little before you become an adult and get stuck doing mundane things nine to five,” I reply.
“You’re a real high school career killer, ya know?” he replies flipping the textbook page.
I smile. I like his sarcasm and sassiness.
“Do you at least want to go get food from the cafeteria before it becomes crowded?” I continue.
He glances up from his textbook.
“I guess that would be a good idea,” he replies.
“Are we allowed to bring food into the music rooms?” I question.
“As long as you don’t destroy or dirty the instruments, why?” he asks.
“I want to hear you play more,” I reply as he gets up and puts his textbook in his bag.
“And you couldn’t wait until after school to sneak up on me again?” he replies.
“Nah, I think you’ve been jumped enough for the week,” I reply.
“Fine, let’s go,” he replies picking up his bag.
I feel the eyes watching us as we leave the library together. We go across the hall, up some ramps and out the nearest exit, and to the cafeteria across the field. It’s moderately empty, about fifteen people, we get food that’s contained, easily movable, and not messy.
Some granola bars, crackers, chips, and ramen.
We leave the cafeteria after ten minutes and walk back to the main school building across the courtyard and take a staircase up to the second floor. We walk down the hall past the music classrooms, past the private room I found Ryker in yesterday to the last room. He slides open the door, inside the window leads to the balcony that overlooks the courtyard. The sun is shining in and dust particles are dancing in it.
Ryker turns the sign on the outside of the door to occupied and slides the door closed. We set our bags down on the floor. Ryker opens one of the granola bars and eats it as he studies the piano in this room. He adjusts the seat and tests the keys. He eats a pack of crackers before he sits down.
I open the instant ramen that I poured hot water into before leaving the cafeteria. I’m about to start eating when Ryker starts into a quick upbeat symphony, I recognize the song but I can’t place it without the lyrics as always.
I get up and go to stand behind him so I can see his sheet music, “Heaven Knows” by Five for Fighting. I can hear lyrics over the notes he plays now.
Tell me where the good men go, before I wash away. Walk me down the old brick road so I can die where I met you. Hold me like we’re going home, turn your tears to rain. Bury me, beautiful. Heaven knows how I loved you.
Ryker pauses partway through the second chorus. He starts hitting keys individually as if expecting something in response from them.
“Is something wrong?” I ask.
He hits another key and waits but I don’t hear anything.
“Are you hearing something I’m not?” I ask.
He shakes his head.
“Sorry, it’s nothing. I must’ve hit the wrong key,” he replies.
He flips through the pages of sheet music he has that he must have printed off from the internet. He stops after a while and holds the makeshift music sheet book out to me.
“Pick something,” he replies.
I take the book and start flipping through.
A knock comes on our door. We both turn as it slides open.
“Oh, hello, Ryker. Practicing, are we?” a teacher in a blue pin-stripe button-up shirt and black dress pants with an Asian complexion but blue eyes says.
“Hello, Mr. Yaw. Yeah, I hope you don’t mind. Do you need the room?” Ryker replies.
“No, it’s fine. I just came to get an extra cymbal, one of the ones on our drum sets broke,” he replies.
“And who is this? Is he new?” he asks turning his attention to me.
“This is Porter,” he introduces.
“Does he play?” he asks.
“No, but he wants to,” Ryker replies.
I’ve found the song I want Ryker to play. It’s not as happy-go-lucky as the last one.
“Maybe we’ll find someone to teach you,” he replies. “See you later, Ryker,” he calls as he exits the room.
I hand him the sheet music with “Everybody Lies” by Jason Walker.
He sets it back on the rim of the piano and starts but he starts to sing this time, too.
“We do what we have to when we fall in love, we say what we need to get out when it’s not enough. Whether it’s to yourself, or looking at someone else. Everybody lies, lies, lies. It’s the only truth sometimes. It doesn’t matter if it’s out there, somewhere, waiting on the world to find. Or buried deep inside, everybody lies. Just being honest, we’re playing for both sides, it’s easy to deceive when the trust has broken his mind,” he starts.
I jump in after as the piano builds, and his voice goes quiet but he continues to play. He stops playing after he finishes the song.
“Or maybe your talent is singing,” he comments.
We smile at each other momentarily, but it fades quickly from his face. He gets up from the seat.
“Sit,” he states.
I set my food aside and sit in the seat in front of the piano.
He flips through the book behind me to a simple song with labeled notes and places it back in front of me. He starts telling me how to arrange my fingers on the keys and which notes go with the notes on the music notes on the paper.
“Just go slow until you get used to it,” he replies.
He’s right next to me leaning over my shoulder. I can feel his breath on my ear.
“Right,” I reply.
I’m nervous now. I start going slowly, with long, drawn-out pauses in between the keys than is probably normal or necessary. It sounds like a broken or glitching rendition of the song it’s supposed to be. Ryker slides onto the bench beside me. His leg brushing mine. My breath hitches but I keep my eyes on the keys.
“Stop, play these three notes in order with your left hand, I’ll do the other four with mine,” he replies.
I pause and lower my right hand so it’s out of the way of the keys. I play the three keys in order and he plays the other four alongside them and it sounds a bit better, less broken-up, and choppy. We repeat the line of notes over and over until it sounds like what it’s supposed to and we’re playing in sync together. I peek over at Ryker’s hand as it dances across the four keys, that’s when I mess up on my end.
Ryker smiles, “It helps to look at the keys until you get used to it and your muscles remember where the keys are.”
He moves over to the other side of the bench, on the other side of me.
“Play those four notes now, and I’ll play these three,” he replies.
I move over a bit and switch hands.
Ryker sets his fingers on the three keys and starts up and I follow slowly. I notice his hand moving, as if playing the four other keys on his leg. I try to follow it but watching confuses me more so I stop and focus on my hand and the keys.
“And once you get used to each hand separately you can try playing with them together. I guess it’s about practice as with anything,” he replies looking at me.
Our faces are a few inches away from each other, our eyes almost line up when sitting down. I stare into his green eyes for several seconds, trapped in the pain I know is hidden behind them.
“Do you want to try again?” he asks breaking the spell.
“Sure, I guess,” I reply.
He gets up and stands behind me. I take a deep breath and start again with my fingers doing all seven notes in between them over and over again with a mistake every several seconds. I pause after several rounds, a little annoyed.
“It takes time, Ezra couldn’t play all the way through a song without making a mistake until a month after he started,” he adds.
“What about you?” I ask.
He hesitates again.
“Honestly? All this was too easy for me, they started me on things people three years ahead of me were doing and the only reason I started there was because of how short my fingers were. I would’ve started on harder things but I had trouble reaching the keys. But I’m what they call a prodigy and I’m not bragging. I actually hate that word. But it’s what my music teachers have always called me. Some think it’s because I was surrounded by music from a young age. Either way, I’ve always been ahead of the game so don’t feel bad if it takes you a while,” he replies.
He glances at his phone.
“Lunch is almost over,” he replies.
“Can I walk you to your next class?” I ask cautiously turning around.
“Sure,” he replies.
We clean up the room and grab our bags and Ryker starts to lead me towards his next classroom.