A short story.
Claire was quiet. She didn’t talk much in 5th period Chemistry. They were lab partners, but Greg couldn’t quite bring himself to joke with her like his other classmates. He barely spoke to her acutally. She just seemed so unwilling. Almost like she hoped he wouldn’t try to engage. The assignments were easy so it didn’t matter. They just worked silently. She barely looked up from her notebook except to answer Mr. Fulton’s questions when he came around to their table. Half the time Greg couldn’t even hear what her responses were.
He didn’t get it.
He’d seen her before.
She’d been different. Alive and laughing. Two weekends ago on a whim he’d taken a drive to a nearby state park with a lake. It was almost an hour from town so he’d been surprised to recognize somebody from school. Walking along the tree line he’d heard laughter down by the waters edge. The wind was up and it was chilly that day and not too many people were visiting the lake. He’d not have known it was her if she hadn’t looked right at him. She’d been chuckling and sort of skipping along, looking down as little splashes sprang up at her ankles. He was surprised how emotive the scene had been. Before the smile died and recognition registered in her face, she’d been unfiltered. Grinning and engaged in something by the shore. She’d hurried away without a word. That had not surprised him.
Watching her move off into the distance, Greg closed the gap between the trees and the water. There were faint prints left in the soft wet ground where she’d been walking. He stood looking at them a while before he made his way back to the beat up old Ford pickup he drove. She surprised him again that day…he hadn’t thought to see her again.
But there she was zipping past in a car even older than his with all the windows down. He could hear her belting out the lyrics to some classic rock song. Guns & Roses maybe? She didn’t notice him pulled off the road in his truck.
Unfiltered again. Claire.
But here…in 5th period chemistry she’d never even smiled let alone sang a song. He’d never had another class with her. Come to think of it, he wasn’t even sure when she’d moved to his school. She didn’t seem to be involved with anything. No clubs or sports. All he saw was the silent chemistry. But he was drawn to her. Maybe it was her total withdrawal from him. A wicked irony. He tried not to let his confusion show.
He didn’t get it. Was it him? He was trying to keep it casual…
She felt nauseous. As the final minutes of 4th period wound down she began to feel that familiar sensation of lightheaded anxiety. Miss Benning was still rambling on about the gallery opening and the details for student submissions. Claire had it all written down. She’d finished her piece weeks ago and Miss Benning already had it in the store room. Labeled on a pedestal waiting to be moved into the space for the show. She hadn’t thought about the show in days. She was distracted. She didn’t want to go to 5th period. She couldn’t miss it though. The stupid class was required. She didn’t hate chemistry and she wasn’t bad at it, she just didn’t care. But it wasn’t even about the subject. It was the one flaw in her afternoon schedule of creative energy.
Greg was in 5th period Chemistry. Greg played guitar and drums in the school jazz ensemble/rock band. She hadn’t known schools could have rock bands. Her old school hadn’t. This school had a marching band, a jazz ensemble, a rock band, and an a capella group. She’d seen Greg play at her first assembly here last year. Right after Principal Lavinno was finished announcing the fundraiser plans, she’d introduced The Flaming Raisins. Claire thought the name was hilarious. Greg had been on drums that day and he was good, really good. She’d remembered nights on the road with her dad and thought Greg was already almost as good as most of the drummers she’d seen on tour with him. He’d be brilliant by the time he graduated. In that moment she had wanted to tell him so.
She couldn’t though. Not without telling him other things. About her life. He’d want to talk about music. He’d want to know things she could never say.
Her dad was gone now. She still kept it buried. The headlines had been awful. Calling her father a statistic. Just another tragic yet not unexpected loss to the music world. They’d moved her here to find some anonymity. She’d never been photographed on tour with him. Dad had made sure of it. No leaked photos of his daughter. He didn’t want any stigma attached to her. Claire had never thought she’d find music here in this little town. Not music that rattled her ribs and made her skin prickle.
After that first assembly she had seen Greg again. He was on the football field. Just sitting on the 50 yard line alone with his guitar. It was almost dark and she’d been heading home. She’d often cut across the school property on the way home from work, but she rarely met anyone. She’d stopped dead by the bleachers when she’d first heard the strumming. It was obvious he was composing something. He kept strumming a series of chord progressions then stopping suddenly to start again. He’d change a few notes and go back to the beginning. She’d found herself sitting in the shadowy recess of the bleachers and listening to him work. When he’d finally begun to sing she knew she could never be open with Greg. She could never get to know him. Not after everything she’d seen and been through with her father. No musicians. It was a promise. She’d made it years ago, half joking on her birthday. Dad had miraculously not had a tour date and they’d had dinner together. He’d gone quiet and then they’d talked about the future. Somehow he’d coaxed the promise out of her thought it was accompanied by an exasperated chuckle. “Love anybody Claire, anybody but a musician…,” his words were crystal clear in her memory even after all this time.
Then…2 birthdays later and he was gone. And the promise was iron. Her heart couldn’t imagine breaking it now. And not with this guy who had it all. Greg did have it. His voice was as raw and honest as his lyrics. The song he’d written that night haunted her. Reminded her of her father. She’d used to sit in his studio as a girl. Under the piano or on the amplifier. Watching him write. Mesmerized.
She cherished those memories. The prickles she’d feel on her arms when he’d start to sing. Those memories were inexplicably connected to her father. She couldn’t share them with someone else. She couldn’t feel them with someone else. She’d promised.
When she’d caught him watching her at the lake she’d been stunned. He’d seen her without the mask on. The silent mask of disinterest. The mask she wore to prevent closeness. Truthfully, he had been as stunned as she was. She had seen his face change from neutral curiosity to startled confusion when he realized who she was and took in her behavior. Claire only wanted Greg to see her as the silent cold lab partner. Anything else would be too hard. Too hard to explain. To hard to resist.
After that trip to the lake, she’d caught him looking at her a bit more closely in class. She even thought he’d been about to say something once or twice. He would drum his fingers on the stone top of the lab table and then shift towards her slightly. Then he would stop and relax again. She’d begun acting tired in class, putting her head down and paying less and less attention to the lectures. Mr. Fulton had been forced to reprimand her a few times for not working actively on assignments. She could feel Greg watching her in these moments. Like he was trying to see into her head.
She didn’t get it. She wished he didn’t notice. Didn’t he see she could never be casual?