Chapter 13

“I try to wash the pain away from me
And when I touch your hand
It's then I understand
The beauty that's within.”

                        - “Everywhere,” Michelle Branch


            He paused, raising his dark head as steps echoed in the small corridor outside the rehearsal room. He quickly took his fingers away from the piano keys, letting the last strains of the chord fade out. Please don’t come in, please don’t come in.

            “There you are, you punk!” Chris bellowed.

            JC heard Justin laugh as the footfalls outside sounded loudly and rapidly, leading away, with Chris’ heavier steps following. He heaved a sigh of relief after everything was quiet again.

            Carefully placing his skilled hands back on the keyboard, he began playing one of his favorite pieces; Beethoven’s Fur Elise. His mind had already memorized the notes, and he watched, almost detached, as the music flew out from beneath his fingers. And yet the music did nothing to calm him.

            Bobbie…always getting on my case. The notes came more fervently.

            Sick of all the damn critics. I can’t do anything right. The pace of the song picked up.

            Everyone’s happy but me. His hands were practically pounding out the music now, and JC’s jaw was clenched under the emotions. The stress built and built, driving him harder and faster. Finally…

            I’m a failure, he thought as he slammed down on the piano. A worthless failure. The storm before was only a trickle now, as he forced himself to take a breath and compose himself. He rubbed his eyes and stretched his back, hearing something crack but not caring.

            The shining white keys gleamed up at him from the darkness, like even the piano was smiling. The image was too much for him, and he pulled the wood panel over the keyboard, covering it from his sight.

            Then JC rested his cheek against the cool, rough wood, feeling something rise up in his chest. He stifled it though, and squeezed his eyes closed, shutting the world away.


*                       *                       *


            Hannah’s hand was gripping the brass doorknob, fighting the urge to burst into the room and cradle Josh in her embrace. Stop it, you idiot. He doesn’t need to see you right now.

            She had been following Chris as he pursued Justin through the winding halls backstage, helping him try to get his Gameboy back. But when they had rounded the corner, her acute hearing had picked up on some music. A C-minor chord, to be exact. So as Chris hurried after Justin, she had stayed behind, knowing that it was Josh.

            That had been fifteen minutes ago, and now both her sore hand and heart were aching for Josh. No one could mistake the emotion behind the traditionally romantic song. She forced herself to take her hand away from the door, and backed up a few steps for good measure.

            How can I help you, Josh? Just let me in. But she knew he wouldn’t do that, at least not with her. She couldn’t recall any time when he had actually opened up and talked to her, like a real person and peer, not a silly kid. She had known him for so long, though, and knew she could help him heal- if he’d just let her.

            Something scraped from inside the room- the piano bench being pushed back- and Hannah quickly stepped into the alcove of another room a couple of feet away. Soon enough, the door swung open and Josh stepped out, his hair looking more disheveled than usual and his body practically radiating tenseness.

            He didn’t glance in her direction as he turned the other way and walked down the hall, returning to the auditorium. Hannah peeked around the side of the opened door, wanting to run to him and ease the worry from his body. But she knew she couldn’t.

            Waiting until he had turned the corner, she emerged from the alcove and slowly made her way back to the stage. And for some odd reason, she wanted to cry.


*                       *                       *


            JC stood on the stage, his arms crossed across his chest and his left foot tapping the floor edgily. “I swear, she’s never on time.”

            Lance rolled his eyes. “Jace, this has been the first time. Give her a break.”

            “I just want to get out of here,” he muttered back in reply. “I can’t stand it anymore.”

            Lance frowned, something about his friend’s words striking him as more than simple impatience. He opened his mouth to ask him about it, but at that moment Hannah chose to make her entrance.

            “Ah, glad to see you decided to join us again,” Sondheim boomed, looking strictly at her. She mumbled a quick apology, coloring under the glances of the entire orchestra and scattered spectators in the audience. Not to mention all the guys.

            She made her way to her seat, trying to ignore the one ‘N Sync member standing closest to her.

            “Smooth,” he commented under his breath so only she could hear.

            So much for that plan.

            She fixed her silvery eyes on him, and JC couldn’t help but stare back. The emotion in them…he couldn’t quite pinpoint it. Not anger, embarrassment, or even annoyance. It was something…just different. He couldn’t turn away, and simply gaped like a dolt as she refused to be the first to break the eye contact.

            Finally she cast her gaze downward, either dissatisfied with what she saw in him or simply dismissing him at the moment. As she turned her back to him, JC uncomfortably cleared his throat, wondering why he felt so…

            “Hey, man, what’s up with you?” Lance whispered, nudging him discreetly. He tipped his head towards Sondheim, who was now glaring at them warningly.

            JC shook his head and gave Sondheim a weak smile, then sighed with relief when the older man raised his arms to signal the musicians to raise their instruments.

            Get a grip, Jace. You’re falling apart here.


*                       *                       *


Someday the clouds will clear

And someday the rose will bloom.

But until that someday’s here

In my mind plays a mournful tune.


I say that you’ll notice someday

See me the way I’m meant to be seen.

I hope that you’ll hear what I say

Instead of simply listening.


I’ve waited forever it seems

For reality to come from dreams

And I’ve prayed endlessly

For someone like you to need me.


            “What’s that?”

            Hannah instinctively covered the paper in front of her with her hand and turned to see who was behind her. The dark eyes regarded her curiously. Bobbie.

            “Nothing, just a way to past the time,” she explained hurriedly, hoping that the other woman wouldn’t press the issue. This particular poem she was writing was more personal than the others, and she had no desire to give someone else a glimpse into her private life.

            “Writing, huh?” Bobbie asked, smiling widely and sitting down next to Hannah. “I write too. Not poems or anything, but articles for a magazine. Can I take a look? If you wouldn’t mind, of course.”

            Hannah looked at her friendly expression, and knew she couldn’t refuse. Bobbie was practically the only person, other than the guys, to offer a gesture of kindness. And she was definitely the only other female she remotely knew in New York, now that Lillian had gone back to MIT. Come on, Hannah, it won’t hurt you to let her see it. Giving in to her thoughts, she handed the paper over.

            Bobbie’s eyes flickered over the lines, and she nodded every few seconds. Then she pushed the highlighted hair out of her face and smiled approvingly. “This is good. Really good. I’m impressed.”

            Hannah laughed self-consciously, reaching for the paper. “It’s nothing. I’m not even done yet, to tell you the truth.”

            “I can’t wait to read the final product, if this is only a rough draft,” Bobbie answered. “You know, Han, I’m glad that we’re getting to know each other a little bit better. I have to admit, I was a little oblivious of everything a couple of weeks ago.”

            Hannah shrugged, knowing she was talking about how the frequent arguments with Josh had received all of her attention. “That’s okay.”

            They smiled a bit awkwardly at each other, then lapsed into a silence. Hannah glanced around the rest of the auditorium, noticing that Josh had disappeared again.

            “I have to go shopping today, to find a dress to wear for the Grammy’s. But I hate shopping alone,” Bobbie said, sighing. She glanced over at the other woman. “Maybe, if you’re not busy…”

            Hannah raised an eyebrow at the way she trailed off. “You want me to go with you?” she asked, unable to keep the disbelief out of her voice.

            Bobbie immediately cleared her throat and colored a little bit. “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to. It was just a suggestion.”

            “What? Oh no, I’d love to come. I was just a bit surprised, that’s all,” Hannah reassured her. It was kind of odd to see Bobbie embarrassed. She doesn’t seem like the type of person to lose control.

            “Great!” Bobbie stood up, glancing at her watch. “I’ll meet you outside after rehearsal is over, alright?”

            Hannah nodded, and watched as Josh’s girlfriend walked away. What did I get myself into?


*                       *                       *


            “What about this one?”

            Hannah cocked her head contemplatively and studied the green dress held out for her. It was tight, with sequins and thick straps along the shoulders and back. “No, I don’t think so. Try that black one.”

            Bobbie nodded and disappeared behind the dressing room curtain.

            Hannah sat down on the plush divan in the waiting area among masses of brightly colored gowns and dresses. The techno-classical music playing over the store’s sound-system was making a mockery out of Liszt.

            The two of them had been searching for Bobbie’s perfect outfit for three hours now, and this particular boutique had too many choices to decide from. So, Bobbie had decided to try them all.

            But in all honesty, Hannah was actually having some fun. She had never really gotten the chance to do something light and trivial with a girlfriend before. No, practicing the cello definitely ruined that. And Bobbie was a nice person, once the ice between them had broken.

            The shrill ringing of a cell phone interrupted her thoughts.

            “Han, that’s mine. Could you answer it for me?” Bobbie called out.

            Hannah picked the silver phone up and pressed one of the many buttons on the keypad, hoping she wouldn’t accidentally hang up. “Hello?” she asked tentatively.

            JC frowned and looked at the small screen of his cell, checking the number. No, it’s right. “Who is this?” he demanded.

            “This is Hannah. Josh? Is that you?”

            “Brat? Why do you have Bobbie’s phone?” he asked, confused. Since when did those two start hanging out together? Did I miss something?

            “I’m helping her find a dress,” Hannah said slowly, as if that explained everything.

            Okay, I obviously did miss something. “Excuse me, but when did hell freeze over?” he

            “What?” came Hannah’s reply. “Are you alright?”

            He let out an exasperated breath. “Yes, I’m alright. Look, where’s Bobbie?”

            Hannah peered at the drawn curtain. “She’s trying on a dress right now. Should I get her?”

            “Just tell her to meet me at Raphael’s, seven-thirty, okay? This is important, Hannah, don’t forget,” he warned her. Important. That’s an understatement. “Don’t screw this up!”

            She scoffed. “Calm down, dork. Contrary to your opinion, I am able to relay a simple message.” She hung up the phone before he could argue back.

            “Man, sometimes I just want to-“ JC bit out, jaw clenched. He shoved his cell phone into his pocket and took a calming breath.

            “What’s biting your ass?” Joey asked bluntly. Lance narrowed his eyes at his more uncouth friend and gave him a sharp nudge.

            “Jace is gonna do it tonight,” he stated. “There’s no turning back.”

            “Huh?” Joey looked between JC and Lance blankly. “Turning back from what?”

            “I’m breaking up with Bobbie tonight!” JC exclaimed. “Officially. Once and for all. I figured that this game was just getting too tiring. It’s better for the both of us to make a clean break.” He felt a weight coming off somewhere deep inside of him, and he suppressed the urge to grin like a fool.

            “Oh. Well, go for it then,” Joey advised. “Maybe now you can stop eating all that gourmet crap she likes. I mean, don’t get me wrong. She’s nice. But you’re a guy! You have to start acting like it!”

            JC shook his head, chuckling. “Thanks for the support, Joe. I guess.”

            “So how are you going to tell her?” Lance asked.

            He shrugged. “I haven’t figured that part out yet.” All I know is after tonight, I’m a free man.


*                       *                       *


            “I still can’t believe it! Raphael’s?!” Bobbie exclaimed, a look of delight in her eyes. “That’s one of my favorite restaurants! Jace is such a sweetie.”

            Hannah nodded mechanically, having drowned out Bobbie’s incessant comments of JC’s romantic prowess and consideration a long time ago. He had never shown her anything like that, and he never would. It was both disheartening and grating to hear of something she’d never experience.

            “Are you sure the dress is okay?” Bobbie asked, swiftly changing the subject and motioning to the long plastic bag draped over her arm.

            “It’s fine,” she reassured her. “I’m sure the people at the Grammy’s will love it too.”

            “I just love going with Jace. You have to come this year, Han. I’m sure someone will be able to get you in,” Bobbie suggested.

            Hannah stared at her. “Um, I am going. I’m playing in the orchestra, remember?”

            Bobbie looked at her blankly. “Oh yeah! Sorry, Han, I completely forgot.” She laughed lightly and ran her fingers through her hair. “What are you wearing?”

            “I guess whatever Sondheim wants me to wear. Probably black,” Hannah answered, lifting her shoulders. It wouldn’t be glamorous, but she wasn’t there for the clothes anyway. Still, it would be nice to just look wonderful for one night, to earn some double-takes.

            Bobbie glanced at the slim watch on her wrist. “Oh no, I only have an hour before I have to meet Jace. I should head back to my hotel now.” She smiled at Hannah and began walking to the edge of the street to flag down a taxi.

            “Oh wait!” she burst out suddenly, turning back around. “Do you think I could read the rest of your poems? They’re really good.”

            “Well…” Hannah hesitated, not comfortable with letting another person see some of her most personal thoughts. Still, she is a writer. Maybe she could offer some input. “Alright,” she assented, reaching into her handbag and giving Bobbie a small notepad.

            “Thanks, I know I’ll enjoy reading this,” Bobbie said, tucking the notepad into her own sleek black purse. “Thanks for coming with me today. It was fun!”

            Hannah waved as she hailed a taxi and climbed in. Then she turned in the other direction to walk the few blocks back to the hotel. At least one of us will be having some fun tonight.



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