The entire ride to school, I knew I should be wary of this Henry guy. I mean, I had never met him before. He could be a serial killer for all I knew. But some naive part of me felt as though I could trust him since Aunt Sandra trusted him.
He asked me questions as he drove, glancing over to meet my eyes every once in a while, as though he was sincerely interested in what my favorite kind of music was.
"What?" he asked, looking at me for the 3rd time.
"You know, Beethoven and Bach? Chopin? You probably thought I was going to say pop or something, right?" I knew that cold edge was creeping into my voice again, but I couldn't stop it.
"No," he chuckled, not noticing my blatant uneasiness. Or just ignoring it. "I just assumed that any relative of Sandy's had to like country music." He laughed again, probably trying to prevent tension.
"Oh. Well, not me." There was a brief moment of silence, and I wondered if he had given up with his questions.
I was wrong. "So why classical?" It was my turn to look at him, the relentless idiot. He looked ahead at the road, but his eyes flicked over at me. I shrugged.
"There was a classical musician below my old...apartment." It hadn't been much of an apartment. It was actually an old shoe factory with some beds thrown in. Henry didn't say anything, so I kept talking. "I had sat outside his studio, listening to him. He was playing piano that day. But I didn't hear him stop playing, it was like the music kept flowing in my mind. Next thing I knew I was falling against an open door, looking up at an old Chinese man with a graying mustache. He invited me in, and that was the first day I played piano. I've been hooked ever since." There was another silence, and I bit my lip. That had been a lot more than I wanted to share with this stranger.
"That's incredible, Ada." I looked at him then, at his surprisingly genuine smile. My mother had never understood why I wanted to play an instrument, let alone a big and expensive one. In her opinion, an acceptable instrument for our lifestyle was the kazoo "
So you play piano?" He asked. Another question.
I sighed. "Played, yes. For-" I counted in my head,"two years." Those were the years before my mother had met Richard, but after my father had left us. Richard was the owner of a few local bars where we lived in Connecticut, and wanted to move to Pennsylvania to open new ones. He had asked my mom to go with him. And I had been dragged along. Which meant that my free piano lessons were discontinued.
"But you can't play anymore?"
"It's not that I can't. Music is not something you wake up one morning and forget. It is something inside of you, something bigger than you. I just don't play piano anymore, because-" I stopped myself. Why was I telling him all of this? "I just don't," I snapped. That effectively ended that part of the conversation.
We pull into the parking lot now. Henry had long since stopped the music questions, but had switched to school. He was now filling me in on everything there was to know about McKinley High School.
"...and watch out for the lunch ladies. If you get them angry, they will spit on your food." I find myself smiling at this, though I don't know why. It's actually really disgusting. "And always, always remember to-"
"HENRY!" a high-pitched voice shrieks from across the parking lot. A little brunette is running to us, her hair flying behind her like a cape. She is short, shorter than Henry and me, and I get the feeling like Henry and her are close. This is only further enforced when she jumps into his arms and he twirls her around.
I roll my eyes. This must be his girlfriend.
"Ada, this is my sister, Jackie."
I put my hand out, but the girl called Jackie wraps her arms around me and squeezes me tight. I feel out of sorts, but I return the embrace, then quickly step back. That is when I see the bright red scar stretching from the bottom of her right eye to her lip, and I feel a jolt in my stomach. Not of sickness, but more like sympathy.
"Hi Ada!" she exclaims, readjusting the purple backpack on her shoulder, and casting a sly glance at Henry. "So this is who you were going to pick up this morning?" She looks me up and down, and I feel she's seeing a lot more than she lets on. "You are Sandy's niece, right?"
"Yes, I am," I reply. I try to look in her eyes, which are a brilliant shade of blue, but my own eyes can't seem to stop gazing at her scar. I wonder if this happens with other people, too. It must be a tough way to live, looking someone in the eyes and knowing they can't do the same with you.