We exit the music room and take the stairs back down and walk across the courtyard where we encounter Julian and his buddies for the second time today. The guy couldn’t leave us alone once we were in his sights, could he?
There were four trees in this grassy court area and it was surrounded by hedges. You couldn’t see in unless you were right at the entrance or above on the balcony around. Julian was doing this in a much less public place this time so he couldn’t get caught, not that any of the students would have tattled on him, his reputation held too much weight around here, if you attempted to destroy his, he would obliterate yours. He just had that kind of power here.
“Isn’t that cute, they’re walking to class together. The only way this could be gayer is if they were holding hands,” Julian comments.
“And where are you going together? Oh, right, to class. Does that make you gay?” Porter spits back.
I see Julian’s face go through a range of emotions and land on distaste. He steps closer.
“Julian!” some girl calls down from the balcony.
He turns and looks at her. She looks familiar but I can’t place a time or name to her. Her hair is long, brown, and curly. She’s wearing a plain white t-shirt, knee-length shorts, black runners, and has a lavender colored sweater tied around her waist.
“What, Maya?” Julian questions.
She seems to shrink back a bit but I see her eyes glance at me and then back at him.
“We’re in the library today for English, we’re going to be late,” she states. “Remember?”
I think she’s trying to deter him from bothering us. I still don’t know where I recognize her from.
“We’re coming,” he huffs a little annoyed that he can’t continue what he was doing with us.
He turns around but glares back at us before exiting the courtyard with his friends in toe. Maya smiles and winks at us before turning and walking away to meet up with Julian. It really bothers me that I can’t place where I’ve seen her before. Maybe it was just around the school but I don’t think so. Her name sounds familiar and she recognizes me from somewhere obviously otherwise she wouldn’t have acknowledged us.
“Who was that?” Porter asks.
“I think it was Julian’s girlfriend, she might have just saved our asses, too,” I comment.
I knew a girl named Maya was Julian’s girlfriend but I’d never had a face to put to the name before.
I turn and continue walking through the courtyard to the other side.
“Do you know her? She winked at us,” he replies.
“I don’t know,” I reply.
Was he jealous?
We continued back into the school building to my classroom. Porter follows behind me. I stop in front of room 344, my biology classroom. The classroom is empty, Mr. Ivory must have gone to the staff room to get a cup of coffee before classes started.
“This it?” Porter asks peeking inside.
“Yeah,” I reply.
He stands in front of me for a few seconds, seemingly nervous.
“I’ll see you in the music room after school, I guess,” he finally states.
“For more practicing or listening?” I ask, sarcastically.
“A little bit of both,” he replies, smiling.
I smile a bit, too.
“You should get going, you don’t want to be late,” I reply, nodding down the hall in the direction his class probably is.
“See you later,” he replies, turning.
“Yeah, see you,” I say.
I go into the classroom once he’s out of sight and sit in the back. I’m still trying to figure out where the hell I recognize Maya from. I put on my headphones so the sound won’t become overwhelming as people start arriving. I pull out my textbook and flip to the section we are starting today. I start skimming through it when someone taps me on the shoulder. I jump because with the headphones on, playing music I can’t hear them coming as well as I could have with them off. I turn and see Maya.
I remove my headphones cautiously expecting to see Julian pop out from behind her.
“Sorry about Julian,” she says.
“It’s fine, you’re not the one making him throw me up against walls and stuff,” I reply. “Why did you do it, though? Porter has his reasons, I guess. But you’re Julian’s girlfriend.”
“You don’t remember me?” she asks.
“You’re familiar,” I reply, honestly.
“We went to middle school together,” she replies. “Sixth through eighth grade?”
“We did a science project together,” she continues.
I probably did the research and she did the presentation because I could never hear myself speak or think during presentations with all the people in the room. I wasn’t bashing her, she tried to help and she memorized the information so well she barely used the cue cards I prepared for her.
“Was that in eighth grade?” I ask.
“Seventh, actually,” she replies.
I nod, I remember her now. The compound science project we had to do, too. I remember drawing out the compound on the poster paper she’d gone out to buy, she was leaning over the side of the desk watching me. She wasn’t like some other people I worked with, she didn’t bully or talk over my headphones, similar to talking behind a person’s back but the only reason I didn’t hear them was because of the headphones.
I was pretty sure she got teased for working with the crazy, special needs kid. But in the end, she was polite, nice, and cooperative and I commended her for that. I don’t know if that was just who she was or if her parents raised her that way. Most parents gave me dirty looks in elementary school from what I remember, and my mother would glare back at them even though she was the same way. She thought I was just as crazy as the rest of them, I wonder what she thought now that she was dead, do you think when you’re dead, a ghost or in heaven?
I didn’t know she was in this class until now either. We’d never spoken before today though either, at this school anyway.
Maya’s song sounded like a quick jutting guitar, upbeat, and happy.
“Who’s was your friend earlier?” she asks.
“Porter, he’s new,” I reply.
“That’s why I haven’t seen him around before. Julian says he’s in a lot of his classes,” she replies.
That was disconcerting. Julian might try to go after him and pick on him more since he has easier access to him.
“I can’t tell if Julian’s younger than me or he’s failed his classes and repeating them,” I wasn’t trying to bash him, to be fair my insults were nothing to compared to what he’d done to me.
“He’s our age,” she replies. “Do you still play the piano?” she asks turning away from the Julian topic.
“Yeah, Porter and I spent the lunch hour playing, while I was playing and trying to teach him,” I explain.
“He seems like a nice person,” she replies.
“He’s just used to being an outcast, like me,” I reply.
“You’re different, there’s nothing bad or wrong about that,” she replies.
Mr. Ivory comes running back carrying his coffee, almost sloshing it over the sides of the cup. He sets it down on his desk. Maya wonders off to her usual desk as others start to flood in. I put my headphones back on. Mr. Ivory does attendance and starts the class.
I can’t get those lines out of my head.
You’re a good person, Ryker. Different, but good.
You’re different, there’s nothing bad or wrong about that.
Said by two different people who barely know anything about me, personally. After years of hearing the opposite from not only my classmates, and teachers but my own parents it was weird to have both of them say different.
Biology ended an hour later and I walked back across the balcony to my music classroom to go to Mr. Yaw’s class. I entered the room where Mr. Yaw was sitting waiting.
“Did you have a fun time during lunch?” he asked.
Mr. Yaw had moved to this country at fourteen from Japan. He’d become a music teacher after studying at Yale University and moving to this small town. He said I was one of the best and youngest piano players he’d ever met. When I was his class he wasn’t really teaching me because I was way ahead of the curve, it was more so practice so I didn’t become rusty, I enjoyed it enough.
“Yeah, I guess,” I reply taking a seat at the piano. “We're going to do more after school.”
“Porter is nice, isn’t he?” he asks.
“Yeah, he is,” I reply looking over the keys of the piano.
“Do you like him?” he poses.
The second person I’d ever come out to as bisexual was Mr. Yaw. My brother, Ezra was the first. They were both loving and accepting. I wish Ezra called me, I missed him.
“He doesn’t know that I’m bi, even if he…” I stopped, I wasn’t going to out him.
“But do you like him?” he asks.
I study the sheet music on the rim of the piano.
I had distanced myself so much from people, I think I had also distanced myself from the possibility of finding anyone who liked me back.
“I don’t know,” I reply quietly.
“You’ll find someone Ryker, someone who loves you for who you are despite everything,” he reminds me.
People start flooding in and I put my earplugs in and adjust my seat so I can see Mr. Yaw conducting.
Everyone gets settled at their instruments, the trumpet, violins, tubas, and cellos. He gets us to do solos, starting with the violins and ending with me, and then the others play together. The class goes fairly well and ends without incident.
People start flooding out as the last bell rings.
“Have you considered entering the school talent show?” Mr. Yaw asks as I pack up my sheet music to move some doors down away from the clubs and gyms so I don’t need my plugs.
“It would be hard to play,” I reply pointing to my ears.
Sometimes, I wish they had an off switch to the songs of people or that I needed to be in contact with the person to hear it.
“Maybe you can talk to Porter about it, once he gets better then?” he replies.
“Sure,” I reply.
“Have fun practicing,” he calls as I near the door.
“I’m sure we will,” I reply as I leave.
I walk down the hall to the other private music room with the piano and slide open the door and leave it open for Porter. I set my bag down by the piano and go over to the window and sit looking out into the courtyard. Soon the floor of the courtyard will be littered with orange, yellow, and green leaves from the trees. For now, I just watch the wind blow through them.
It’s peaceful here, after school and Julian didn’t bother me here like everywhere else, mainly because he knew Mr. Yaw was never far and usually listening. Mr. Yaw had taken me under his wing when I first arrived, and I was grateful. I think he saw the young kid who moved from a new country who was poked fun of for being different, in his case, it was because of his descent and accent rather than my ability to hear odd things but I guess he too was an outcast all the same.
“Ryker?” I heard Porter call from the doorway.
I was glad he’d at least announced his presence this time.
I turned around, was that why he was nervous earlier? Did he like me or was it a crack? Some doubt in being my friend and not having a normal high school experience?
“Hey,” I reply, spinning myself back around and hopping down from the window sill.
“Are you going to play first or are we going to practice?” he asks.
“I just played for about half an hour, you can practice while I rest for a bit,” I reply.
I go over to the bag and pull out the sheet music as he pulls up a seat.
“Do you want to try a different starter song or continue with the one I showed you earlier?” I ask.
“I guess we can try a different one,” he replies looking over at me.
I set a different sheet of music on the rim of the piano and start pointing out the basic keys in the center of the piano. I explain which fingers to use for each and he makes attempts to play. It’s still mostly broken bursts of music but it isn’t that bad, I have no idea honestly if he’s learning, though, either or if I’m teaching in the right way. Since I skipped the early classes and it’s been years since I’ve been instructed on much I don’t really remember them.
After about half an hour he stops, “I think it’s your turn.”
“My lessons used to be an hour and a half long, if you want to learn you got to put in the practice,” I warn him.
“What’s the rush? You’re not going anywhere, are you?” he questions.
“Move over, then,” I reply.
He gets up and I sit down and start playing “Robin Hood” by Anson Seabra and after I play “Antidote” by Faith Marie. Porter just sits beside the piano entranced by my hands whispering the lyrics to the second chorus of Antidote.
“No one knows what goes on up inside my head. There’s a new kind of poison and it’s starting to spread. No one knows what’s goes on up inside my head. They don’t think I need help but I’m scaring myself. I just want to be okay. I just want to be okay.”
He pauses as I play through to the bridge but doesn’t sing this time. I turn and look at him as the line: All I ever thought I was, was a mistake. His eyes are shiny and he looks sad. I stop before the last chorus, I slide closer.
“A little too sad?” I ask quietly, leaning forward.
He laughs a bit, “Yeah, maybe,” he replies, wiping his eyes.
“Sorry,” I apologize.
“No, it’s fine. It’s me, not you,” he replies.
“I’ll play something better,” I reply, quietly.
I close the sheet music book, this was one of the songs I’d memorized long ago after I got good enough and had played at least once a week since mastering it. I start the introduction, and Porter seems to perk up a bit. It’s “Feels Like Home” By Josh Kelley & Melissa Etheridge. I liked the song for how it represents what you’re supposed to be doing with your life. Ezra’s apartment used to be home for me, I guess I’d felt homesick being away from it for so long but since I wasn’t sure I could go back there after four years I guess here with Porter wasn’t so bad.
I started playing “It Will Be Me” by her after and singing.
I did like Porter, I realized as I continued to play. But I still didn’t know if he liked me. I continued playing and Porter started to sing along.
“As you go your way, and I go mine, a light will shine, and it will be me. Past the ever after. There’s a place for two. In your tears of laughter, I’ll be there for you. In the sun and the moon. In the land and the sea. Look all around you. It will be me.”
I sing the last chorus by myself before stopping and looking over at him.
“Do I hear Melissa Etheridge being sung?” Maya asks popping in.
“Yeah, Julian’s not with you, is he?” I question.
“Of course not, Ryker. I wouldn’t do that to you,” she replies.
“So, you do know her?” Porter questions pointing at Maya.
“We went to middle school together,” she replies.
I wish she hadn’t shown up, I was enjoying my alone time with Porter as much as I appreciated her saving us from Julian.
“Yeah, I guess,” I reply quietly.
“Can I sit and listen?” she asks.
“Actually, we were just about to go get some food,” I start.
“Right,” says Porter, I think he’s caught on even if it isn’t for the same reason. “And then we were going to do our homework.”
I start to pack up.
“Maybe some other time?” I say, honestly not wanting her to feel completely shunned and that we are ungrateful.
“Right, sure. I’ll see you tomorrow in Bio,” she replies, as we walk towards the door, Porter looks at me, probably because I didn’t tell him this either.
I didn’t know or remember, I swear.
We go down the stairs towards the back exit to the cafeteria.
“You went to middle school with her?” Porter questions.
“For two years, it’s not like we were best friends or anything, do you remember every single person you went to middle school with?” I counter. “I told you I didn’t know if I knew her, it’s not like I said no.”
“Do you want to get food and come back to my room?” I ask trying to salvage it because I want to talk to him, I want to at least come out to him, so he knows.
He looks at me. “Okay,” he answers finally.
We walk to the cafeteria get some food and walk back to the dorms, taking the stairs to the last floor. I stop at my door and look at where they carved “Pied Piper”. I unlock the door and go inside with him. We set our bags down, I take off my sweater and go into the bathroom to see how my back is healing, there’s dried blood encrusted onto the back of the shirt, so I walk back out of the bathroom half-dressed to get a new shirt. I pick a new shirt off of my dresser and toss the other one in the hamper.
I slip the other one on and turn to see Porter who has seated himself on the bed. He’s blushing a bit. I think that made it a bit more evident that he might like me.
I go over to the bed and sit beside him, he starts picking at some sesame crackers he picked up in the cafeteria.
“Porter, can I tell you something?” I ask, quietly.
“Of course,” he replies, looking back at me. “What is it?”
The anger or confusion or whatever he felt about Maya’s presence is gone and he looks concerned again, but I’m still nervous.
“I’m bi,” I murmur, quietly.
“So?” he replies.
“Some people say you have to be one or the other, or think it means I just like guys or girls,” I reply, quietly.
“I would be the last person to judge you for who you like,” he replies. “That and I already knew.”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
He reaches over behind the lamp on my bedside desk and pulls the pin I bought last June out.
“I saw it the first day I was in here,” he continues.
I’m a little embarrassed that I build this up in my head, as a big deal when he already knew. The more I think about, the more stupid it sounds, too. Why would he reject who I was if he’d already accepted the fact that I could hear life and death songs and himself?
“Does your family know?” he asks.
“Ezra does, and Mr. Yaw,” I reply quietly, looking at the floor. “My father has a hard enough time with who I am without knowing who I like.”
He reaches over and ruffles my hair.
“You are who you are, you can’t help or change who you are, and I think some of us wouldn’t want you to,” he adds.
I look back up at him and his face is inches from mine His dark eyes reflecting me.
“No one should compromise themselves for others, especially if they are only trying to love themselves and not hurt anyone,” he adds.
He removes his hand from my hair but I catch it before he can pull it away completely. He stops, looking back and forth between me and our hands. He looks a little scared and nervous again. I let go of his hand and look away nervously, thinking I’ve made a mistake.
“Ryker,” he whispers.
I look up at him again and I feel his lips smash against mine.
Maybe his nerves had got the better of him for a moment before he realized what I was thinking. Maybe that was why he hesitated.
We kissed for a few seconds his hands moving back up through my hair before he pulls back to look at me.
“I wasn’t sure, and you didn’t come out to me right away. I didn’t want to force any of my feelings on you too soon,” he states, quickly dropping his hands.
“I wasn’t sure either until today,” I murmur.
He smiles at me and leans forward to kiss my forehead.
“We both have homework to do, I should leave so we actually get it done,” he replies after moving a piece of hair off my forehead.
I smile, “I’ll see you tomorrow,” I say, quietly.
“You bet you will,” he replies, smiling still.
He gets up and collects his things and opens the door, he smiles back at me before he steps out closing the door behind himself.