I switch off my metronome and loosen my bow to stow it in its slot in my open case, carefully nestling my violin in its snug little home before closing the velcro strap around the fingerboard and covering it with its satin and velvet blanket. After latching and zipping the case, I stretch my arms overhead, then behind me, loosening up the muscles that have been working hard for the last hour.
I made good progress on my Mozart concerto. My violin professor pointed out where I was out of tune in my lesson yesterday and wants me to play each measure slowly to make sure I hit each note exactly right. When I can slow play a measure with perfect intonation three times in a row, I get to move on to the next measure, then string them together until I get through a phrase.
It’s slow and arduous work, but I can already tell a difference. She also has me working on some simple, one-measure-long exercises the same way, but with increasing speed each time I get through a measure perfectly three times in a row. Those exercises make my fingers fall in the exact right places more often, so correcting the intonation in the Mozart is easier than it would be otherwise.
Still, an hour of working like that makes me tired, and I finished up by playing through a movement of a Handel sonata for fun. Even though I played it last year, I can hear now where I’m slightly out of tune, places I got lazy or didn’t notice I was doing it wrong before.
But that’s why I’m here, right? To get better. And Dr. Clara Davis—Clara to her studio—is kicking my ass into shape.
I gather my music off the stand and stuff it into the pocket on my case, ready to get some dinner. But I freeze when I open the door.
Jonny B—Jonathan—has his back to me as he closes the door of the practice room across from mine. A guitar case leans against the wall next to him.
Should I say something? Or just leave? Which would be weirder?
I enjoyed our conversation after the recital last week while we walked around campus. Granted, I did most of the talking, but I do that when I’m relaxed with someone. And when I’m nervous. And he makes me feel both. Nervous and relaxed together. What would that be—nervlaxed? Renervous?
He held my hand, and I thought he might kiss me when he took me to the bench in the trees. But for some reason he backed off. It wasn’t anything obvious, but he stopped looking at my mouth quite so much, and we didn’t stay there long before he said, “It’s getting kind of late, and I have to get through some reading for tomorrow. I’ll walk you back to your dorm.” When we got there, he said goodnight and left me at the door. I watched him leave, his hands in his pockets, and he glanced back at me once, but didn’t return my smile. For the rest of the weekend I’d checked my phone whenever I got an alert, hoping it was him texting. But he never did. And I don’t have his number, so I couldn’t get ahold of him, either.
And now here he is, in the flesh.
With a small shake of my head, I start to move past him. If he wanted to talk to me he knows how to reach me. Since he hasn’t, clearly he’s not as interested as I thought.
But I only get a few steps before his calloused fingertips graze my arm. “Gabby. Wait.”
I stop, closing my eyes and taking a deep breath before turning to face him. “Hey. What’s up?”
His dark brows crinkle as he looks down at me, his eyes looking more hazel today in the bright fluorescent lights of the hallway. Standing this close to him, I’m forced to look up, taking in the sharp angle of his square jaw and high cheekbones. I forgot how much taller than me he was. But confronted with him again, I realize he’s about as tall as my brother, Lance, which means if I hug him, my nose will be level with his sternum.
Not that I’ll be hugging him anytime soon.
He withdraws his hand, running it through his hair. “Um, nothing. I just wanted to say hi. I was hoping to run into you, actually.”
Adjusting the strap of my case so it’ll stay on my shoulder, I cross my arms and raise an eyebrow. “Hi. I haven’t ever seen you in here before. Decide to change your major after all?”
A low chuckle answers that question. “No. I’m a senior. Changing my major now would be a terrible idea.”
Huh. I guess I didn’t realize he’s that much older than me. It’s been a long time since I had all the stats of the Brash brothers memorized. They’ve been out of the limelight for several years now. And since I jeopardized our last conversation, it didn’t come up before now.
“Okay, then. Well, it was nice seeing you again, but I’d like to go put my instrument away and get some dinner.” I give him a polite, closed-mouth smile, and start down the hallway.
With his long legs, he catches up to me without any trouble. “Cool. Mind if I join you?”
I glance at him out of the corner of my eye, a smile tugging at my lips. “You want to eat dinner with me in the cafeteria? Really?”
He rubs the back of his neck, following along as I head downstairs to the instrument lockers off the orchestra rehearsal room. “Umm. Could I convince you to come with me somewhere?”
I wait to answer until after I slide my case into its locker, retrieve my backpack, and snap the lock closed. “Why?”
He stops fidgeting with the latch on top of his guitar case and meets my eyes. “What do you mean?”
Crossing my arms, I lean against the lockers. “A week ago you dropped me off at my dorm after a nice night. I thought maybe you’d want to see me again. But all I got was crickets, so I assumed you aren’t interested. Which is fine, if you’re not. I’m a big girl. I get how things are. But,” I wave my hand in his direction, “now here you are again.”
His fingers tap a quick rhythm on the top of the case and his nostrils flare. “I liked talking to you when we met.” He looks away, letting out a sigh. “I just—” He stops himself and swallows before meeting my eyes again. “It hit me how much younger than me you are. And I wasn’t sure if it would be a good idea to pursue anything.”
Several different emotions hit me at once—giddiness that he does like me (I knew it!), confusion over why “pursuing anything” would be a bad idea, and a little bit of irritation. So I arch an eyebrow again. “And now? You still haven’t answered that question.”
He runs a hand through his hair and meets my eyes again. “I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you. And I finally managed to run into you. So now, can I take you to dinner?”
He gives me his most charming smile. Now that I know who he is, I recognize that smile from the profiles of the band I read in magazines when I was twelve. The magazine covers and posters all had his broody scowl, but the interior pictures for interviews usually had all three boys smiling. His smile is breathtaking. I’d thought so at twelve, and it’s even more true now that I’m eighteen and he’s a man, not a teenage boy.
Unable to control my reaction, I smile back at him. “Okay.”
Picking up his guitar case, he leads the way to the door. “Was that your Mozart concerto you were working on? I heard you play a little at the end. It was beautiful.”
I wrinkle my nose and my smile falls away. “Um, thanks. But no. At the end I was playing a Handel sonata.”
His eyebrows raise. “You don’t believe me that it was beautiful?”
Shrugging, I follow him into the hallway and out the door into the September evening. I cross my arms against the chill in the air. The sun hangs low on the horizon, bathing the campus in golden light. “It’s not that I don’t believe you. I’m just aware of my deficiencies.”
He gives me an odd look, but doesn’t press the issue. Pulling out a key fob, he presses a button and unlocks a blue Acura. Newer. Good shape. Peering in the windows, I see a sweatshirt and some books on the back seat, but otherwise it looks clean and well maintained. My dad, the mechanic, would approve. He always lectured me about taking care of my car when he finally let me have one. Marissa and Lance had both helped him rebuild the engines for their first cars. I had no interest, but he found a junker and fixed it up for me anyway. I helped some, but not as much as my siblings did with theirs. Dad had been okay with it, though. As long as I knew how to change a tire and check and change my oil, he was satisfied.
Marissa’s the one who wanted to be a grease monkey, but Dad wouldn’t let her, even though she works at his shop. He wanted Lance to take over, but Lance had other plans. I’m the only one who didn’t grow up fixing cars with Dad. I was more interested in art and music, singing in the school choirs in elementary school and moving to the violin when the strings program started in sixth grade. I started private lessons the next year when my mom saw how excited I was about it.
Jonathan holds the passenger door open for me. Guys around here don’t do things like that very often. I learned that pretty quickly when I was behind a group of guys headed into the student center one day. I figured they’d hold the door and let me go first, but nope. Not only did that not happen, but they didn’t even prop it behind them for me to grab before they went in.
In Texas, all the guys I know always hold open doors for girls. They’ll wait for you if they beat you to the door and let you go first. Always.
Here, there’s no guarantee of any such thing. It surprised me at first, but I’m starting to get used to it. So Jonathan opening a car door for me? That seems significant in a way it wouldn’t have a few weeks ago.
I look up at him for a moment, hesitating. I’m still thrown by him ignoring me for a week then suddenly showing up again.
But he’s charming and funny and easy to talk to. He seems interested in what I have to say. I know I talk a lot, especially about subjects I care about, and sometimes people sort of glaze over. Not Jonathan. He listens. To everything I have to say. Laughing at my jokes, asking questions, prompting me to continue when I try to rein myself in.
And he’s obviously been hanging around the music building trying to find me. He didn’t say that, but the implication was clear when he said he’s been hoping to run into me combined with the fact that I’ve never seen him in the building before.
Before my dawdling can become awkward, I slip my backpack off my shoulders and slide into the passenger seat, my bag in my lap.
Jonathan stows his guitar in the back seat, then climbs into the driver’s side, starts the car, and backs out of the space before glancing my way. “Any preference on where we eat? Do you have a lot of homework tonight?”
I shake my head. “No. I did most of it already. Just some theory homework, but it shouldn’t take too long.”
“So we can go to a sit-down place?”
“Um.” I bite my lip. “My bank account might appreciate something less expensive.”
He shoots me a grin. “That’s cute that you think you’ll be paying.”
“Okay. I don’t know that many restaurants around here, so you pick.”
Ten minutes later, he pulls into a spot in a parking garage downtown, moving his guitar into the trunk before we head to the elevator. He walks close beside me, almost close enough to touch, but he doesn’t reach for my hand this time. “Have you been to River Park Square yet?”
I shake my head, glancing up at him.
He smiles. “There are a few good restaurants here, so you can decide what you’re in the mood for.” After stepping off the parking garage elevator, he guides me to the escalators and down to the main floor where he points out two restaurants. I pick the more casual burger place, and we’re seated right away.
Neither of us speak while we look over the menu. Even though I decide what I want right away, I keep my attention focused on the laminated sheet in my hand, not sure yet what to make of all of this. Is this a date? He said he couldn’t stop thinking about me, but he also didn’t say what he wants, specifically.
Glancing up through my eyelashes, I find him watching me, his menu flat on the table in front of him, his elbows resting on either side of it with his hands pressed together, his index fingers resting against his lips. He seems to be contemplating me, and I shift in my chair under his scrutiny. Finally, I lay the menu down, square myself and meet his eye.
Just as I open my mouth to ask the main question looping through my brain—Is this a date?—the waitress comes up to take our order. After she leaves, he starts asking me about school, and the moment is lost.
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