In music, the first movements of symphonies and concertos are usually written in sonata-allegro form. This form is made up of three parts: the exposition, which introduces the melody and moves away from the home key, the development, which morphs the melody into new and different forms of itself, and the recapitulation, which restates the melody and stays in the home key until the end.
In a concerto, the melody is usually introduced by the orchestra first, and then taken up by the soloist. This is known as a double exposition.
After paying for my coffee, I turn and survey the campus coffee shop. It’s crowded, not an empty table in sight.
I should’ve known better. It’s only the second week of classes. Everyone’s still getting into a rhythm, me included. There are three times when the coffee shop is guaranteed to be packed: the beginning of a semester, the week of midterms, and finals week. With six semesters already under my belt, I know this.
But I have a gap in my schedule on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It’s only ninety minutes, so not long enough to make going home worthwhile. I’ve meandered around campus during this hole last week and on Tuesday. Today I’d hoped to grab a coffee and a table and get through some reading for my Victorian Literature class with Dr. Rankin. She’s a ballbuster, and there’s no way to bullshit your way through her class discussions. But she’s also one of the best professors in the English department.
Resigned to finding a less comfortable spot on a bench outside, I grab my coffee when my order is called. But my attention snags on a fall of dark brown hair at a table in the corner. I can’t see her face from here, just the curve of her neck as she sweeps her long hair over one shoulder and bends back to whatever she’s working on, pencil in hand.
The chair across from her is empty. She’s engrossed in her homework, which I see is spread out over most of the table as I step closer. A textbook sits open on one side, and papers sprawl across the remaining real estate, with her coffee cup on top of a paper.
No matter. I just need a tiny circle of space to set my own coffee down. I can hold my book. It’s a paperback, nothing too heavy. We can do our homework in companionable silence, and I don’t have to scout out another place to work.
I have to clear my throat twice before she realizes I’m standing next to her. She has a pretty face—high cheekbones, a dusting of freckles over her nose, full, pink lips. But it’s her eyes that do me in. Large, brown, and scanning over every inch of me like I’m the best thing in this coffee shop. When they meet mine, the combination of mischief and curiosity steals my breath for a moment. I could lose myself in those eyes.
Her voice pulls me out of the spell her eyes have cast on me. “Can I help you?”
It fits her perfectly. A smooth alto, with a slight twang that means she’s not from here. The soft question from those kissable lips sends a surge of lust rushing through me.
When her dark eyebrows arch high over her hypnotic eyes, I realize I’m taking too long to answer. Clearing my throat, I gesture at the empty chair across from her with my cup. “Mind if I sit here? I need to get through some reading, and all the tables are full …”
She straightens, glancing around, and the movement causes her tank top to shift a little, pulling tight over the small, perfect mounds of her breasts.
I snap my eyes back to her face before she catches me checking her out.
She looks me over again, then shrugs. “Sure. Um, sorry, let me move some of my stuff. I wasn’t planning on sharing the table, so I sort of spread out.” She moves her coffee, shuffling her papers into a neater pile as I move the chair out as much as I can since it’s against the wall.
Squeezing into the seat, I set my cup down in the open space she’s created and give her a smile. “No problem. I don’t need much table space.” I dig out my copy of A Tale of Two Cities.
When I look up, her nose is wrinkled in the most adorable way. “Dickens, huh?”
I bite back a smirk. “Yup. Not a fan?”
She shakes her head. “No. I’ve fortunately never been forced to read him. I tried reading A Christmas Carol once. I think I maybe got through the first chapter.” She shakes her head. “Too wordy. Hawthorne’s just as bad in my opinion. I had to read The Scarlet Letter in high school, and I skipped whole chunks of that book. Not just single chapters, but groups of chapters, and when I started reading again I still knew what was going on. Clearly I didn’t miss anything of great importance.”
Chuckling, I set my messenger bag on the floor at my feet. “Your teacher didn’t notice?”
“Nope. She talked everything to death in class. It was easy to pick up on anything she deemed important that I may have missed just by paying attention in class. You always knew what was coming on her tests. Whatever she harped on constantly was sure to show up. For an honors-level class, I didn’t have to do much studying.”
Smiling now, I lean closer to her, one arm braced on the table. “I hope you’re not an English major then. Otherwise Dickens will be unavoidable for you. You’ll get a lot more Hawthorne, too, and in my experience, you can’t bullshit your way through classes without doing the reading.”
She returns my smile, her eyes darting to my lips as she leans forward too. “I guess it’s a good thing I’m a music major. There’s no bullshitting through music theory, either, but most of it’s pretty straightforward. Memorizing chord spellings and learning to analyze music. No rambling Victorians who got paid by the word.”
Laughing at that, I turn my head, trying to see her papers. “Music major, huh? What are you working on?”
She leans back, revealing a worksheet full of letters beneath circles on a staff. “Chord spellings right now. Like I said, not very exciting but pretty straightforward. We have to memorize all of this, so we know it all like that.” She snaps her fingers. “We had our first speed test yesterday. Dr. Williams makes it fun, though. She says a chord and points at someone, who then has to spout off the three notes that make it right away. If you get it right fast enough, you get candy. If you don’t, she points to someone else. But she goes through everyone and makes sure everyone gets at least one piece of candy.”
“That does sound like more fun than Victorian Literature. Does she give you good candy?”
“It was Hershey’s kisses yesterday. I’m guessing that’s what she usually does, but, like I said. Yesterday was the first time, so I can’t say for sure.”
At the mention of kisses, my eyes stray to her lips again. Her tongue swipes across them, making them pink and shiny. I set my book down on the table, my intention to get through my reading forgotten now. I can read Dickens anytime. Right now, I want to talk to her. Which is when I realize I haven’t introduced myself.
I shake my head and meet her eyes again. I could write a song about those eyes. But that’ll have to wait until later. When I get home. “I’m Jonathan, by the way.”
Her smile pulls wider. “Gabby.”
“Nice to meet you, Gabby. I couldn’t help noticing that you have a little bit of an accent.”
She gasps. “I do not!”
Nodding, I hold her gaze. “You do. Where are you from?”
She looks disgruntled now and mutters, “Denton, Texas.”
“Ah. That explains it.”
She shakes her head, still denying her accent, and sits back in her chair with her arms crossed. “I don’t have an accent. I’m from the Metroplex. Not …” she waves a hand around, “Hickville, East Texas.”
My shoulders shake with suppressed laughter at how irritated she is that I commented on her accent. “You might be from the Metroplex, whatever that means. But you do have an accent. It’s subtle and adorable as hell.”
Her eyes widen at that, her irritation falling away, replaced by surprise at my last comment.
I didn’t mean to say that out loud. It slipped out. But there’s no calling the words back, and in my experience, it’s better to stand behind what you’ve said. Don’t apologize, don’t show weakness.
Confusion flickers across her expression before she puts on a neutral expression and says, “Um, thank you?”
“You’re welcome.” I say it firmly and reach for my coffee, hoping that’ll give me time to find my way back to more neutral territory. She is adorable. Her accent, the way she wrinkles her nose, her uncertainty in the face of an unexpected compliment. But her eyes hypnotize me, and her lips …
Before I can think any more about her lips, she says, “Well, I should get back to my homework …” Her eyes are on her papers again, and she’s picking up her pencil.
A spike of panic shoots through me. I don’t want this conversation to be over. I want her to keep talking. And if she starts doing homework, I’ll have to start reading, and then she’ll finish, and I know with absolute certainty that she’ll quietly pack her things and leave without giving me another opening to talk to her or get her number or agree to see me again after this. That would be awful. To never see her again or hear that laugh or look at her eyes again.
But I need to play it cool. Not desperate and weird. Channeling all the charm I’ve gained over the years and all the training and practice at keeping my cool in front of people, I give her a smile, and ask a question I’m sure will get her talking again. “So are you going to be a music teacher?”
Her eyes fly up to mine, her brows coming down. She sets her pencil back down, assessing me with suddenly cool eyes. “No. That’s not the plan. I’m violin performance.”
I glance at her left hand, but her fingers are curled in. I rub the pad of my thumb over the rough callouses on my own left hand, the result of years of playing the guitar, and nod. “That’s cool. If I’d majored in music, I’d want to do performance too.”
Her eyes widen, surprised and interested. “Really? What do you play?”
She leans her face on her hand. “How come you didn’t major in music? Your comment makes it sound like you thought about it.”
I shrug, twisting the paper sleeve around my coffee cup. “I did. But my background is more in popular music.” That’s an understatement, but I don’t like announcing who I am. Who I used to be. Especially not to people who I just met. “The music department here only has classical guitar. It’s different enough to not be appealing. And the faculty looks down on popular music. I don’t need a side of condescension with my education, so I went with English.”
She moves her lips back and forth, like she’s debating what to say to that. I give her my practiced smile, the one that I’ve flashed in front of cameras and audiences alike, hoping to distract her. I don’t want to get into a debate on the relative merits of popular music versus classical music right now. That seems like another good way to ruin an enjoyable conversation. Maybe later, when we know each other better, we can spar about that. For now, though, I want to know more about her. “So who are your favorite composers?”
Her eyes, which have been moving over my face, a frown of concentration wrinkling her forehead, meet mine again. “Pardon?”
I let my eyes examine her face now, too. “You’re a music major. Violin performance. You must have a favorite composer.” Sitting back in my chair, I take another sip of my coffee.
Her lips quirk into a small smile, her eyes still studying my face. “Are you sure you want to ask that question? I have opinions. With a capital O.”
Chuckling, I nod. “Hit me. I’d love to hear all your Opinions.”
She gives me a look that says you asked for it, and starts in on her feelings about Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, and a few other names I don’t recognize. She’s playing a Mozart concerto, which she likes, but doesn’t enjoy his orchestral works. She prefers the romantics for orchestra.
“But oh my God,” she gushes, and I shift in my seat at the moan of pleasure in her voice, trying to slow the blood from rushing south at the sound. “The first time I heard the Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin, I just lay on my bed in musical heaven. They’re gorgeous.”
“I don’t think I’ve heard those.”
“You have to listen to them. Go on YouTube and search. Make sure you find someone good, like Joshua Bell or Hillary Hahn. Better yet, find the old videos of Jascha Heifetz. Especially the D minor Chaconne. That was his hallmark piece. It’s so beautiful.” She digs through her bag and tears a corner off a piece of paper, picking up her pencil and scribbling something, then passing it to me. “Here. I wrote it down so you can find them.”
My fingers brush hers as I take the scrap of paper, sending a jolt skittering up my arm. My eyes meet hers, and she sucks in a breath.
She shakes it off faster than I do, her eyes dropping to her homework again. She picks up her phone and pushes a button to glance at the time. “Oh, crap. I have a class soon. I guess I’ll have to finish my homework later.” Meeting my eyes again, she offers me a quick smile. “It was nice talking to you. Sorry if I bored you by going on and on about music stuff. But, well … you asked.”
Standing, she sets her backpack on her seat and gathers her papers and textbook, stuffing them inside. I stand too, not ready for this to end. “You didn’t write your number down.”
She slows as she puts the straps on her shoulders, a crooked smile on her face. “I’m sorry?”
Nodding, I pull out a pen of my own. “How else will I have someone to discuss the wonder that is the,” I stop to read the name of the piece she talked about, “Sonatas and Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin if I don’t have your number?”
The other half of her mouth has lifted, and she’s giving me a wide smile now. My answering smile is just as genuine. She takes the pen, bending to write her name and number on the scrap of paper.
As she’s handing it back to me, a voice interrupts us. “Well, lookie here. If it isn’t our favorite little freshman and our favorite former boyband star. They look cozy, don’t you think, Julia?”
I have to stifle my groan of irritation. I know these two girls. We’ve had classes together and have a few friends in common. And unfortunately, they know about my days as the guitarist for Brash, the band I was in with my brothers that had a brief moment of fame several years ago.
Gabby looks at them, her brows pulled together in confusion. “Oh, hey, Emma. Hey, Julia.”
I look between Gabby and the other two. “You guys know each other?”
Julia nods. “She sits next to us in Anthropology. We were just on our way over there. Wanna walk with us, Gabby?”
“Uh, sure.” Gabby gives me one more look, her eyes studying my face. I give her a quick smile back.
I see the moment she puts it together. Her lips part on a gasp, “Oh my God.”
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