|"Come on in, guys!" Jon said, unlocking the door for his band members. They exchanged fist bumps and greetings as the four boys entered the house of their lead guitarist.
"Hey dude, I don't have a guitar. Two strings broke on mine. Your sister has a guitar, right?" Sean asked. He had brilliant caramel-golden eyes that sparkled with intelligence and his perfect physique was proof of the days he spent running and swimming every week. His curly, dark brown hair touched his eyes and his shoulders. The way he held himself spoke volumes. He stood with confidence, with the air of someone who got what they wanted; yet something about him–the slight curve of his eyes, the lack of tension in his jaw–denoted kindness and warmth, like he wouldn't force anyone into something they didn't want.
Jon, their host for the day, nodded. His face adopted a thoughtful expression. "I'm not sure if she'll let you use it though. She's fine with letting others use her acoustic guitar but she hasn't let me so much as touch her electric one." he said. Zac, their drummer, raised an eyebrow. The action accentuated the small, horizontal scar on his forehead; a memento of a careless encounter with a pair of scissors.
"How come? Is it super expensive or something?" he asked. Jon shook his head as he led them to the basement stairs.
"Nope. Pretty standard for an electric of that quality; a thousand dollars or so, if I'm not mistaken." he said, his voice echoing off the concrete corridor. The wooden door opened and the quintet entered the soundproofed music room.
"Maybe she's just selfish." Nicholas said. He was their keyboardist, and the tallest out of the five. He went over to the keyboard and turned it on, fiddling with the settings.
"Nah. Elise's not like that." Timothy remarked. Timothy and Sean knew Jon's sister, Elise, quite well as the three of them were in their school's yearbook editorial club. Timothy began wiring up the electric piano to his laptop, his nimble fingers easily setting everything up patiently. The blonde boy was quickly absorbed in his task of tweaking the settings on the instrument and duly ignored the rest of the conversation.
Jon shrugged. "You can try to ask her. She's probably upstairs in the study." he looked at the time before running a hand through his dark, scarlet-tinted hair. "I'll give you half an hour to bug her, and if you actually get it I'll give you ten bucks." the boys let out a chorus of laughter and Sean sighed. Inside, a chill ran through him.
"It's going to be difficult, isn't it?"
"Yep. Still wanna try?"
"Do I have a choice? Either that or I waste my time here." Sean said, heading for the door already.
In his heart, he hoped he wouldn't have to face her.
Ascending the stairs, Sean made his way around the familiar house. He had been a part of the band for a year and a half; they had practiced at Jon's house countless times now.
Peering into the open doorway of the study, he found it empty. Going further down the corridor, he didn't bother with the master bedroom or Jon's room, but stopped outside the last door. He was too scared to go in, too scared to confront the past.
Then he heard faint sobs.
Sean peeked through the crack of the slightly open doorway. The sobs from earlier stemmed from the small figure sitting on the edge of the bed, facing away from the door. A beautiful guitar lay on her lap, and she was running her hands over it mindlessly.
"This guitar has...too many memories." she murmured, another tear dripping off her cheek. She sniffled a little, but made little sound otherwise.
She was silent for a moment before she continued talking.
“I used to study in the private school. Before I transferred here, to the international school.”she said. Sean listening closely; their school had two branches; one was a private school, and the other was an international school, where they currently studied. Timothy, Jon and Sean himself had studied for a few terms in the private school before transferring as well.
She was talking to herself, trying to sort out her thoughts. Or so Sean tried to convince himself. She didn't know he was there… right?
“I… I wasn't popular with the guys. I didn't have the looks going for me. Plus, I wasn't very outgoing. So the guys… thought I was weird. They didn't know a girl that didn't like going out and partying. They didn't like me.” She stopped for a moment, trying to phrase things correctly.
“Except him. You know him, I think. He’s in Year 10 this year with me.”
“He respected me.” Elise continued. “And he was kind. He never said a bad word or lifted a hand to me. And when no one wanted to, he talked to me.”
Sean clenched his fist and unclenched it. He knew this story too well.
“I fell in love with him. You might say I’m young and I don’t know what love is, but I know I did. We would talk about anything and everything until I fell asleep on the other end of the phone. Looking back… I guess… I thought…” she murmured softly.
“It was a secret until we transferred here, at coincidentally the same time. Then, we started talking less as the amount of classes we had together dwindled over each term. And I saw the recognition starting to fade.”
Elise let out another muffled sob. “Do you know how scary and painful it is to watch someone you love forget you? My grandfather has Alzheimer’s, and he doesn't recognize my father anymore. You go up to someone you love, and they ask you ‘Who are you?’. I…”
She stopped, trying to calm herself down. “I told him. I still remember the date; 31st of October, two years ago.” she said. “He was cool about it. He said ‘Yeah, okay.’ And we never spoke again.”
A cold, wrenching feeling tore at Sean’s heart. What did being the most popular boy in school mean if all he could do was hurt the only person who really loved him for who he was? He was horrible. What was he doing with all those flirty cheerleaders and volleyball players when his best friend and the only one who had cared about Sean Aaron Fernandes and not Sean the surfer or Sean the popular guy was still crying over him after two entire years?
Another silent tear. “I…” she hesitated, then continued. “We were in the same music class in the private school. We played the guitar together. Tuesdays, right before lunch. He used my guitar a lot because his didn't always work with the school amplifiers. He used you.” the dark-haired girl said, caressing the instrument on her lap.
“He loved it. The sound, the weight, the finish… he said it was beautiful. I agree.” Her hands ran up the neck, playing what seemed to be a guitar solo, without plucking. “The beautiful mahogany. The perfect matte finish. The crescent-patterned bridge markings. The flat, polished knobs.” She said, a faraway look on her face, as if she was speaking to someone only she could see. “He held it so many times, teaching me songs, chords, techniques…” Elise murmured. The red curtains cast a radiant glow on her face, hiding her paleness, making her tears shimmer.
“It was so painful, watching him turn away.” She said, shaking her head.
“After that… I got a boyfriend. A few, in fact. I wasn't serious about any of them, but they were crazy over me. They obeyed my every whim; you would think that I’d be pleased. But whenever they held my hand or hugged me, I would just think of Sean.” she sighed, looking down at her hands.
“He was always there in my heart. Just like that poem; how does it go?” Elise wondered for a brief moment, looking up but closing her eyes. She was rocking herself back and forth gently, a primal, soothing habit. Her lips parted again after a pause and she started speaking in a gentle, rhythmic tone.
“So I picked this flower,
And pulled it apart,
Soon all its pieces,
Grew into my heart,
But then I realized,
This flower that grew,
Was not of leaves and petals,
But pieces of you...”
She finished reciting, a distant look on her face. She stared out ahead, as if she was hoping the sunlight filtering through the curtains would save her from her drowning emotions.
“He was like a rose. Sweet, beautiful. But when I made a move, he hurt me. Now that the wound is healed, I can’t… I can’t help but remember his sweetness, the memories… He grew in my heart. He’ll always be there.” she said sadly. Her hands gripped the guitar tightly, as if she could hide from all her feelings through that action. Sean saw her knuckles turn white. Without knowing it, he had mimicked her action and he released his fist, trying not to hit something.
He was horrible. He was nothing without her. He hated leaving her alone, he hated not talking to her. Over what? Over an apology he was too scared to make. He had no right to, after making her cry like that. Every time he came over for band practice, she would definitely hide in her room. He didn't know that each time, she had been crying and talking to herself, trying to soothe herself. People would say that she was insane, but he knew that it was her way of letting out all her emotions before they exploded and she lost control in front of others.
“I miss him. I wish… I wish something would happen. He doesn't talk to me, he doesn't seem to care. His eyes look away when I run into him at school, and I…” she choked and stopped, putting the guitar down next to her and hugging her knees. “I wish something would change.” she said, her voice trembling with thick emotion.
For the first time throughout her entire monologue, she spoke, but not herself.
“Please. Go away.” She murmured her voice like downy wings, laced with sleep, sorrow and regret. Sean remained at her door in confusion, until a thought formed at the back of his head.
She’s talking to me.
He looked at her again, and saw her fragile self, the real Elise underneath all the strictness and seriousness. Scared and helpless, drowning in her fears and troubles.
He could help. He could do something.
He pushed the door open and stepped into her room. She made no move to lash out at him or look at him, sitting there as still as a statue. His heart pounding in his chest wildly, he reached out and hugged her softly.
“You still don’t love me, do you?” she asked, her voice soft and resigned. He let out a sigh, breathing in the scent of her olive shampoo.
“I don’t… but… can you teach me how to love you?” he asked carefully. Deep inside, he already knew how to, as surely as his heart beating against her back solidly.
Her long hair covered her eyes, but the dim sunlight streaming through the curtains highlighted her lips, which curved in a beautiful smile; the first smile, Sean realized, that he had seen from her in two and a half years.
For a moment, they shared something beautiful, something perfect. In a chaotic world, endless tranquility enveloped them, and all of existence sloughed away. Only the two of them remained, in the small circle of his warm embrace.
And with quiet delectation, they both knew that the other was unwilling to move away from it.
And so they stayed, two hearts beating as one, nothing as audible as the undeniable synchronization, the perfect forging of hearts.
“Yes." she whispered. "I can.”