It is the next day. Ree tries to ignore the constant tapping of fear at the back of her brain, but to no avail. The hours of the school day trickle by slowly, each moment an eternity of apprehension. What if I’m suspended, she thinks? Or expelled? Could I possibly be sent to jail? I mean, that’s breaking and entering, isn’t it? Ree’s fear only serves to make her more quiet and shy than usual, and she tries as hard as she can to blend into the background, to remain unnoticed. Her efforts prove successful for a while.
Ree is sitting on the side of the lunchroom at a table by herself. She is eating a juicy and crisp apple. A lettuce, tomato, and Swiss cheese sandwich is sitting on the table in front of her, along with several empty containers specked with crumbs of the contents they had held just a few minutes earlier. She is nervously eating her apple when she looks up to see none other than Ms. Levry enter the room and begin scanning the crowd of people as if she is looking for someone. Ree looks away, trying her hardest to act casual, as if she has no idea Ms. Levry is there. She prays that the music teacher will glance over her without recognizing her, that she will somehow melt into her seat and disappear.
But it is not long until she hears the footsteps of a young woman, footsteps which are somehow painfully discernable from the teen-generated racket that consumes every inch of the lunchroom.
“Are you, perhaps, a Miss Amarina Nelbot?”
Time almost freezes. Ree slowly turns towards Ms. Levry until she is looking just below the teacher’s eyes; she can’t bear to look straight into them. “Y-y-yes. Yes. I am,” she stutters, in an almost inaudible voice.
“Come with me,” Ms. Levry says. She waits until Ree is standing, then turns and begins briskly walking away, not even bothering to see if Ree is following. Ree feels so terrified she can hardly move. Yet she somehow manages to walk after Ms. Levry, despite every single cell in her body screaming at her to disobey the command, to stay in the lunchroom where she is safe.
The walk through the hallway is almost completely silent once the two are far enough away from the lunch room, save the sound of two pairs of footsteps echoing through the empty halls. Ree walks around ten feet behind Ms. Levry, never going any closer or farther away. A thick tension builds in Ree’s stomach as they walk in the direction of the principal’s office. But then, a change in direction – Ms. Levry turns down a side hallway instead of continuing straight ahead. Ree almost finds herself pointing out that they are going in the wrong direction, but keeps her mouth shut so as to not cause her to reach the principal faster. If Ms. Levry makes a wrong turn, she thinks, at least that will be a few more minutes of my life that won’t have been ruined by my newfound criminal record.
Instead of realizing her mistake and turning back around, Ms. Levry continues down the side hallway, in the direction of her music room. Ree realizes that the teacher’s accidental wrong turn was not actually accidental as they near Ms. Levry’s room. Ms. Levry opens the door, Ree enters, and Ms. Levry enters as well, closing the door behind herself.
“So, um, Amarina -” Ms. Levry says, sounding more confident than she looks, “Sorry, I found out your name by looking in the yearbook – but um, well, if I’m correct, you were inside the school last night after hours without permission, am I right?”
“Yes,” a terrified Ree whispers.
“And you are aware that such actions are considered illegal, correct?”
“And well, Amarina, you seem like a nice person - can you promise for me that you’ll never do something like that again?”
Ree hesitates. Why does it matter if she promises? She’s still going to be punished anyways. And if she promises, she will never be able to play piano in this room again. But she doesn’t want to risk the chance of worse punishment, so she manages a small, quivering “Yes.”
The teacher looks relieved. “Phew. Good. I wouldn’t want you to get in trouble with the school. See, me, I don’t mind so much, but the principal and such, well, they’re much less forgiving, and they’d get you in all kinds of trouble if you did anything of the sort again and they caught you.”
Ree is confused. “Wait, so, I’m not in trouble? You’re not going to punish me?”
“Why would I? I mean, at the beginning, I was going to turn you in, but as the night wore on I realized that I couldn’t let such an insanely talented musician such as yourself be locked away in juvie somewhere.” Ms. Levry begins sorting through the papers on her desk, casually organizing them into piles as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening, as if she speaks to criminal musical prodigies all the time.
Ree simply stands there, dumbfounded. “Me? Talented? I’m sorry, you must be mistaken,” she said. Had the woman no sense of hearing?
Ms. Levry laughs. “No, I’m not mistaken, darling. How did you learn to play like that? I know of pianists who play for a living and can’t play as well as you!”
“Well, I took a few piano lessons when I was in kindergarten, but I stopped after a few months. It wasn’t really until a few years ago that I started playing again, and I guess I sort of just taught myself as I went,” Ree says timidly. This praise is all so odd to her; no one had ever heard her play before, except for when she was little, and therefore no one had ever given her praise for her piano playing. As a result, she has no idea just how talented she really is, and is shocked that anyone would think she is good at playing piano, let alone think she is better than professionals.
Now it is Ms. Levry’s turn to be stunned. “You taught yourself?” She lets out a laugh of astonishment. “Wow, that’s just, wow. Really? That’s incredible! And that song, it was so complex and beautiful and full of emotion – what song was that? I don’t think I’ve heard it before.”
“You couldn’t have heard it before,” Ree says. “I make it up as I go.”
“No way. Are you serious? You’re serious. That’s crazy. In a good way of course, but that’s still totally crazy. What do your friends think of your amazing skills?”
“I don’t have any.”
“Why on earth not? No one should have to go without friends.”
“I moved here a year and a half ago and haven’t made any since.” Ree ends this statement with a look that clearly says ‘DON’T pity me,’ and Ms. Levry gets the message.
“Well then, what do your parents think of your amazing skills? I know I’d be super proud if I was them!”
“They don’t know I play.”
“How would they not know? I mean, playing piano isn’t exactly a quiet ordeal,” Ms. Levry says, “and you all live in the same building, don’t you?”
“I don’t play at home. We don’t have a piano. I come here every weeknight to play.”
“You break in that often? Really? It’s amazing you haven’t been caught.”
“I don’t like to consider it breaking in; I’m just using the knowledge I have to enter the building without harming it. I never actually break anything.”
The two ladies, one a woman and one an adolescent, are silent for a while. Ms. Levry has a thoughtful look on her face, and Ree begins to think that maybe she is reconsidering turning her in. But soon, Ms. Levry asks, “Amarina, do you think you might be up for taking piano lessons from me? I mean, your skill level is far higher than mine, but I might be able to teach you some tips and tricks. And you wouldn’t have to sneak in anymore; you could walk right in through the front door. Are you interested?”
Ree is astonished. Not only is she not being punished, but she’s being offered a non-criminal alternative that lets her continue what she wants to do. She stands there for a while, eyes unblinking, until they begin to water, and she, in a quiet voice, whispers a small, “Yes.”
And after a small bit of discussion on the time and days it will take place, Ree walks down the hallway back to lunch feeling like she’s gained her first friend.