As L.L. put our car through its paces, slaloming around shoppers, sightseers and such, I had a bit of time in which to wonder how it was that I had gotten out of showing my lack of familiarity with a stick shift, and the choir area. At least, I pondered it some, when I wasn’t giggling and laughing at L.L.’s awe-inspiring, exciting and yet fully controlled driving. While both thrilling and scary, it was no less thrilling to watch her face, as she calculated where to drive straight, where she could sneak through traffic, and where we could get totally nuts on a stretch of empty road and do a little drifting. The best part of it was how I could recognize her very familiar expressions, on her not-so-familiar face, and how I couldn’t help but feel a swelling tide of love for my sister. I set aside, for the moment, that I would have to wake up from this dream someday, and get back to my own life, and just enjoyed what I was able to experience here and now.
We pulled in to the parking lot right at the start of school property, since that’s also where the running track is, with the music building on the opposite side from us. L.L. set the fuel disconnect, grabbed her duffle, pocketed the key and started off across the track, leaving the top off. Quickly, I hurried after her and retrieved the key…after standing in front of her, two hard tugs on her arm and threatening to assault her ticklish spots. I didn’t put up too much of a fuss otherwise, though, and after that little jaunt, I completely understood; our little speedster is fun! I paused for a bit, contemplating going right back in the car, but decided that I needed to pee, I wanted to get a better look at my script, and I had to hear L.L.’s singing voice. Somewhat reluctantly, I put the key back in my purse, and turned once more to follow her to the Music building.
This close to starting, the entrance was busy, with various people going in, and slightly fewer red-and-blue-clad ones coming out. We threaded through the crowd with relative ease; my small stature worked well for me, especially when slipping through the huge wake caused by my bigger “little” sister. Just before going in, as she got her sheet music from her duffle, I caught L.L.’s attention.
“Hey, L.L., Good L…ighting is important to keep your eyes healthy,” I sagely smirked. The initial spike of fear on her face was both upsetting and entertaining to me; the spike of fear on my face when I caught her oh-so-casually tossed duffle, and struggled to keep from pitching over, seemed to satisfy her. I hammed up moving the bag, and laughed with her, as she went in, then dropped it as soon as she disappeared, breathing a little hard. Ten seconds later, she poked her head back out, so I had to lift the thing again, and head-nodded her to get back inside. I think she was more concerned for her stuff than her poor, put-upon sister, but such is the life…I snorted, as I got too corny for myself to stand. Still, that bag was heavy. I got my legs into it, and managed to shuffle the two of us over to a bench outside the practice room. I timed my stagger to chuck the bag underneath the bench, and gratefully sat down.
Ten minutes later, after all of the stragglers finally made it in, I was listening with half an ear for my sister, while I looked over the musical script. After a few more minutes, I had to stop – I recognized her singing, and even though I was just getting into the script, I had to acknowledge, li’l Sis was good! She had a great range, and better modulation. It occurred to me that she was singing 2nd soprano, so she had to get some real high notes, as well as blend with the altos. My own voice was starting to hit baritone range, but was still strongest in tenor. I’d even sang alto for a couple years in church choir, as I went through puberty, and my speaking voice is, to me, still too high-pitched for my comfort. «Well, now it’s just fine for a 5-foot-3-inch woman, slightly higher-pitched than Mom’s, and likely so is my singing voice. I should check it out when we get back. » I closed my eyes and listened for more nuances in her voice. Which is why I jumped like I got goosed, when an unfamiliar baritone spoke in my ear, “Good music or bad wishes?”
“Ssh, my sister is singing in this part,” I whispered, blushing. I turned towards my interrupter, and started blushing more; he was cute. I turned away and motioned towards the door, as my sister’s nice soprano voice came through. We listened until my sis finished her solo, and was singing in part again. «Nice job, Sis,» I remarked to myself, then apologized for shushing him.
“No, that’s fine, she sings well. I’m Lee, by the way, L-E-I-G-H, Leigh Templar.”
“JoJo Bates,” I introduced, turning back to shake the hand of the man that had me jumping like a “Scream” extra, and get a better look at him.
I couldn’t help but get a better look; the more I looked the better it got. He wore navy slacks and a red-with-white border-trim cardigan, over a collared, navy shirt, a nice step up from jeans and a T-shirt. Now, don’t get me wrong, most folks can do quite well in jeans and a T, but it’s so typical, it’s almost a uniform for the college-aged. He was slightly hunched and leaning on the wall next to me to talk, so I could only estimate his height as near to my old height of six feet. His face, though, was another step up. A straight jaw line, but with just a little baby fat for cushion, and a matching chin. His mouth was wide, “generous”, with full but not too-thick lips, just enough to press on. A nose long and straight as an airplane’s wing, yet gently rounded in a ball at the tip, just big enough to nibble on….A smattering of freckles high on both cheeks, of roughly equal number, but arranged differently. His ear lobes blended smoothly into his face, which seemed a good thing as his ears might have stuck out otherwise; they also had a distinct, thick ridge line on the outer edge that just begged to be played with, especially since his hair was long enough for his ear tips to be playing “peek-a-boo” in. His hair auburn, and matching eyebrows, that didn’t want to keep still; best of all, green eyes, beautiful green eyes, not like cartoon grass-green, but brighter than usual in shade. I’m a sucker for green eyes, and his were like opals. They had slight traces of brown in them, like freckles in his eyes…
I had to turn away; “How about that choir singing,” I lamely ad-libbed. «I can’t concentrate, and if I can’t concentrate, my ears will stop working. If my ears stop working, I’ll miss…. Wait, what in the world was that? Why am I staring at his eyes, besides that they’re bright green and gorgeous? Was he listening to her, when she sang, because she’s really good, and good things should go together. Why am I working so hard to breathe?» I glanced at him again; he sat down next to me, his lower lip sticking out as he nodded in appreciation. « Oh, yeah, that’s why. Is my mouth closed? Is my tongue still in my mouth? Say something, dumbass, and quit staring!» I dropped my eyes –«No, his crotch isn’t any better than his face!»– to the ground, and I swear on my mother’s life that I did not try to check out his butt…more than twice. Honest, I was looking at the door, and his butt just got in the way…ahem. « So why is he here, again? »
“So, why are you here?”
“Someone told me I’d see some cute girls here.”
“Aren’t you a little old for high school girls?”
“It depends on what they’re doing. Take my sister, for instance.”
“No thanks, I already have one.”
He snickered. I giggled. It wasn’t that funny, but his snicker was; it sounded like he was choking a duck. I couldn’t help it, if he did that snicker, I was going to laugh at it. I hope he never thought up a good joke at a funeral, because he might get away with strangling that duck, but my giggle would attract attention.
“Wait – Bates…you wouldn’t happen to be Ella’s sister, would you?”
“Nope, sure wouldn’t. L. L., on the other hand…”
“–has four fingers and a thumb, I hope, or things could get awkward.” He waggled his eyebrows as he said it, and it cracked me up.
After I put myself together again (Take THAT, Humpty-Dumpty!), I continued the conversation. “So who’s this guy suggesting you find cute high school girls in Choir?”
“What guy? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“But you said, ‘Someone told you you’d see some cute girls here,’ right?”
“Hey, you got that right, congratulations!”
I grabbed at the far corners of my skirt and nodded in a sit-down curtsey, which started another round of duck-strangling and giggling.
“So, who…oh, duh.” I nodded behind me, towards the practice room, saying, “Your sister is in there, isn’t she?”
“Yes, Sandy is in the choir; from what I hear, her and… L. L.” – so he is learnable, good for him – “are friends, even.”
I nodded noncommittally; I’m sure L.L. talked about Sandy, and if I hung out here, I’d hear more about her. For now, though, I was flying blind. I racked my brain for new topics of conversation…
“So, does she have those same funny eyes like you do?” « What?! NO!! Don’t talk about his eyes, get off…stop talking about his eyes!»
“Hmm? No, hers are regular brown eyes. Why, what’s wrong with my eyes? Are they blood-shot? My cat’s eyes aren’t showing, are they?” Staring right at me, he crossed his eyes.
Out came the giggle laugh-track, again. «I hope I’m not messing up the choir practice.» I put my hand to my mouth, then full-blown covered it, as I snuck another glance at him. “Um, no, your eyes are fine, nothing’s wrong…well, when you’re not crossing them like a freak, and making me laugh, please stop!”
“Stop what? I don’t know what you mean.” He shrugged, eyes still crossed. “What’s so funny about my eyes?”
“I’m not looking at you…” I determinedly faced the choir room. “So, why does your sister want you to see cute high school girls?”
“Well, the ugly ones are a little hard on the eyes, or so I hear; I wouldn’t want to get any funny looks. Okay, seriously, what’s wrong with my eyes?”
“Nothing, I’m sure they work just fine, forget I said anything about them.”
“About your eyes.”
“What about them?”
“Forget I said…oh, ha-ha, you got me. So why are you here checking out – HA HA! –“ I had turned back around to begin a regular conversation again, and the dingbat still had his eyes crossed! All that time he’d waited until I was looking at him again, and he was still clowning around! I had to stick my right hand in my mouth to stop the explosion of guffaws. I whacked him on the shoulder, a good L.L.-worthy hit. He winced, hamming it up, but just a little. «Yeah, you better recognize…at least you stopped crossing those…those eyes. Not gorgeous, they’re very nice, but…who am I kidding, they are gorgeous, and girls must love them.» Glaring at him, daring him to do something else goofballish, I asked again, “Why does your sister want you checking out high school girls?”
“What? She doesn’t, she’d be mortified if I even gave any of her friends a second glance. But just because this is a high school, doesn’t mean that I’ll only see cute high school girls here.” He winked as he finished.
I smirked in reply. “Nice recovery, I’ll give it an eight; you were a little wobbly on the dismount. So, what else do you do, besides check out high school girls and make goofy faces?”
He sighed; «Yes, » I said to myself, «I’m going to ri…rib you on that “I see cute people” crack you made. Just bow down to me, and everything will be just fine.»
“I’m a college student, a junior in fact. Pre-med, majoring in Chemistry. How about you?”
“I like mature men, not high schoolers.” I grinned at him, watching as he got steadily more uncomfortable. Once his mouth started drooping, I gave him a break, momentarily touched his arm, and gave him my own stats. “I’m a sophomore, Electrical Engineering. So I guess I engineer being shocking, and you…are still making your own chemistry.” I smiled, and nodded toward the choir again. “Is this your kind of music, Mr. Chemistry, or are you just in it for the chicks?”
He hung his head down, and cruel me, I smiled at it. Then, he lifted his head…and his eyes were crossed again. I bubbled silently in appreciation. He uncrossed it, and said, “Not just for the chicks. Sandra’s the singer, I’m just a fan. I love choral music, musicals, Gregorian and Carmelite chants, anything polyphonic. We live just far enough from here that it makes more sense for me just to wait here for her, and lucky me, I’ve gotten to hear them polish up the songs and get them really good, like now.”
Being a music lover of broad tastes, I was rapt with interest. “Ooh, so what about the more dramatic rock groups, like ‘Within Temptation’ or ‘System of a Down’?”
His eyes lit up. “What, no Evanescence?” Again, with the eyebrow waggling.
I smiled ruefully. “Well, I love Amy Lee’s playing, and her voice is good too, but weren’t you talking choral arrangements? I mean, if you’re just going for ‘axe and fiddle’ music, why not bring up Metallica’s S&M album?”
“Hey, if you want to bring S&M into a music conversation, I guess it’s nice that you’re so, uh, confident, but I’d like to get to know a girl first.” He winked some more and brought out a cheesy grin.
I didn’t get it; Evanescence was okay to mention, but Metallica isn’t? “But Metallica is a rock legend, sure they had some down time in the ‘90’s, but they’re still a great…” Then I noticed the smirk, and the waggling. “okay, not Metallica..oh, ‘S&M’, what, are you, eight inside?” I brought the back of my right hand up to my forehead, as I gazed imploringly to the heavens. As I hoped, he recognized overly dramatic when he saw it.
“Seven; maybe I’ll be eight next year. So I guess you’re a big rock fan, huh? Funny, I wouldn’t have expected an engineer to be so passionate about music. Or about…other things.”
“Well, engineers have to be passionate some time – how else are there going to be little engineers in the world?” I smiled and winked back at him. “But, while I prefer rock, I love all kinds of music – well, except rap, and rap-like hip-hop. Hmm, I’m kind of weak on jazz; I like to listen to it, but I don’t pay much attention to the details.”
“Right, I guess because that’s L.L. thing.”
«…sure, let’s go with that theory.» I gave a little encouraging smile at that line. «I need to find out more stuff about this family I never had, especially if I keep running into folks who know more than I do.» “Right. Wait, you said you like musicals? What kinds of musicals do you like?”
He just gave a soft, warm smile, and pointed at my script. “That one is one of my favorites.”
The ambient noise level went up a notch, as some people had come in; I thought I recognized a few as returnees from the rush at 10:30. I picked up the script and hugged it to my chest, scooting close to Leigh…to let the other people sit down, as well as to be able to speak softly over the increasing population. “Now you’re just pandering; you saw that I’m doing this one for school, so it’s a favorite of yours. Are you serious?” I wasn’t mad at him, but I wanted to be able to talk straight with him some times. «I like talking with Leigh, and I feel almost disappointed that he’d feel the need to change himself to try to match up with me. Now that’s some irony for you; if there’s one person in the world that should not have anyone else changing for her sake, it’s me.»
“This time, I’m serious as a heart attack. I like good stories set to music, so that, Phantom, Godspell, I really like.”
“Really, it’s no joke.”
“Prove it. Sing something.”
“Well, I don’t really sing that well…”
I think he started to say more, but there were a lot of people around. As I looked at my watch, a couple of marching band guys wandered in, raising the level even more; I almost couldn’t believe it, but that clock-in-my-head agreed with the one on my wrist saying it was just before noon. « Wow, I didn’t think it was possible to suppress that time sense.» I leaned in close to his ear, traced that prominent ridge, and whispered, “To quote from ‘Phantom,’
I smiled and looked at him. He looked at me. He started to lean forward to talk, but the choir door flew open, and L.L. came storming out, looking mad enough to chew rocks. She saw Leigh next to me, and her face got a little “sad” in it, but then went back to mad. She bent down to get her duffle, muttering something about being glad to knock dust off her feet. For a bit, I wondered if she wanted to leave early, but she went over to the girls’ bathroom, while another, angry girl, with suspiciously similar features to Leigh, stormed up to us, and started shouting, “Get up Leigh, we’re outta here!” She grabbed his hand as soon as she got in range, and looked as if she would just as soon bite it as use it to drag him off. With a puzzled and embarrassed look, Leigh got up, and tried to calm the girl down, but she was having none of it, continuing to storm off out the door, when she couldn’t get him moving fast enough. With an apologetic expression, Leigh followed the Storm Girl. «Sandy, I guess that was. I wonder what happened at the end of their session, to get the two of them so upset?» A couple of minutes later, L.L. came back out, shoved the duffle in my hands, and barely stuck around long enough for me to waddle out the door, hands full of big bag. She had a sports bottle in her hand and ran over to the track as if she were doing a relay. Hopefully, running her brains out for an hour-and-a-half would calm her down. I continued to stagger through the mini-crowd, and past the track, to put the duffle in the car.