The night came quickly. I came in when the AA people got to the church to open up so I could practice my piano. Since Gene the choir director died, the people at the church asked me if I wanted to play for them, as a temporary thing until they found someone new. I wasn't doing anything, so I said sure. On Tuesdays, after I'm done with whatever after-school stuff I'm doing, I ride over to the church to practice, and on Thursdays I play for the four or five people who come to sing in the choir. I've been teaching myself how to play the organ... all those feet and hands and pedals and buttons. It's nerve-wracking. I can almost play with my left foot.
I'm seventeen. I know I look younger than that, but you're gonna have to deal with it.
The first few weeks after my new job started, my Tuesdays were spent half practicing, half sorting music. I developed a system for sorting the new music and the old music. The new music goes chronologically from soonest to latest in the grey box, and the old music goes alphabetically in the black box. Then the music cycles to and from the back room, where all the church's music is in two tall filing cabinets that date back to the jurassic period. But Gene hadn't kept things sorted, so now I was going through piles and piles of music that hadn't found their folders, or didn't have folders. It was a menial task, but it kept me busy.
As a seventeen-year-old, I am acutely aware that my “look” doesn't appeal to the female of my generation. I'm scrawny and pale. I do have bright blue eyes, but I think they sit too close together, and besides, my glasses get in the way. My hair is brown and uninteresting; I hate haircuts as much as George Harrison did. But I don't play guitar until my fingers bleed. I get bored.
That is to say, I have spent some time trying to get the attention of girls. But the first time I ever got it is when I wasn't even trying. I was practicing.
Like I said, it got dark earlier than usual, but I was still in the sanctuary pounding away at the keys. I always made sure all the doors were closed so the sound wouldn't bleed too much into the hallway and disturb the AA meeting. That didn't stop recovering alcoholics from poking in and listening for a while. I didn't care too much; if they wanted to listen, let them. Far be it from me to interfere with their recoveries.
At this particular moment I was trying to play with my eyes closed and failing at it. Occasionally I'd have to open my eyes to change chords or if my fingers weren't where I thought they would be. Watching blind people play piano got me into it; I figured I should learn in case I ever went blind. Now, I can play without even looking at the piano at all. That's what practice does.
Out of the corner of my squinting eyes I saw a girl my age or slightly older leaning in the far doorway, in the back of the sanctuary. I had a feeling she was pretty, which surprised me. I never saw pretty people coming in or out of AA, but maybe I wasn't looking hard enough. I didn't want to glance at her because I didn't want her to go. I decided to play further up the piano so maybe I could see more of her out of the corner of my eye.
She looked pretty from what I could tell: short round black hair; thin. She didn't take up much of the doorframe, so probably not tall. She was dressed in blacks and greys. That's all I could see without making my eyes hurt from straining.
She began showing up regularly to my practice sessions and I got to see more of her bit by bit. She was absolutely pretty, but in a broken sort of way. She was thin with a roundish face. She always wore black, grey, white. Sometimes there was a hint of red or purple, but not often. She'd sit in the back, then she'd stand in the aisle in the back, and eventually I stopped thinking about her too much so that I didn't have to constantly play when she was there. I would sort music while she was there, and that was OK, apparently; she didn't leave right away.
One day I was kneeling on the ground sorting music using the front pew as a table and not paying attention. I'm almost always paying attention, but I guess I was tired, or maybe I hadn't had enough coffee that day, and suddenly she was sitting in the front pew about three yards from where I was sorting music.
“Whatcha doing?” she asked. I knew that's how she sounded!
“Sorting music. It's dull.” I looked at her. She was staring straight ahead, maybe looking at the piano. Her hands were in her lap and her knees touched, making her feet turn in in that cute way that girls sometimes turn their feet in when they sit. See? I'm babbling now. That's what happens to me.
“How'd you get here?” she asked.
“Drove.” I drive a 1986 Chevy whose red paint is very quickly wearing off. Still drives like a champ, even if I have to drive with one working wiper in the rain.
She looked at me and scrunched her face. It was damn cute. “Damn” is the only curse word I afford myself.
“You're not old enough,” she said.
“I'm seventeen,” I told her.
“No shit,” she said. I panicked for a second and looked at the unadorned cross above the chancel, which made her say plainly, “Sorry, God.”
I shrugged as if it hadn't bothered me, even though it so clearly had, and went back to sorting. “Preacher Boy,” they sometimes called me at school. Idiots.
“Are you really seventeen?” she asked.
“Cool,” she nodded. “Me, too.”
I looked at her. She had green eyes.
“I'm Liana,” she said. She put out her hand to me. She didn't look like a Liana.
“Edward,” I said. I took her hand. It was cold, but soft. Her fingernails were painted deep red. She had beautiful hands. Instinctually I put my other hand on top of hers, to warm it, and looked at her green eyes. She wasn't smiling, but I'm pretty sure those eyes were.
Sorting music isn't fun exactly, but it's something that needs to be done, and it gave me something to occupy myself so I didn't have to look at her the whole time and melt into a steaming puddle of flesh seeping into the red carpet. So, after I let her hand go, a while went by with just the sound of paper moving. I was nervous. She was just sitting there. Couldn't tell you what she was thinking. She could have been thinking anything. Why was this seventeen-year-old stuck at a church sorting music? Why did he look like he was fourteen? Is Edward even a cool name? She could have been thinking anything. Until she slid closer and leaned into me.
“Can you drive me home?”
“How'd you get here?” I asked.
“It doesn't matter. Can you drive me?”
“Why are you here?”
“Edward.” My heart skipped a beat. I never liked my name before.
“Sorry, it's AA, isn't it?” I asked, being vague.
She sighed. “Look, I had a problem, I've been dealing with it, and I'm trying to stay away from it. I've been sober for a few weeks now. But if you tell anyone I'm here, I'll kill you.”
My eyes went wide. I didn't want them to. I wanted to look tough, or calm, or indifferent. Fail.
Originally I thought this girl was there with her father or mother or someone else, just tagging along or offering support. Apparently she had been drinking for who knows how long. I couldn't imagine that. Not to say I don't believe in drinking; I have the occasional glass of wine with dinner if I'm invited to do so. It's OK stuff, but not something I'd go at in large quantities on a daily basis.
“I won't tell anyone. Promise,” I said.
“How did you get here?” I asked again.
She turned away. “Someone drove me,” she said finally. Then she turned back to me and added “Please?”
Why did she want me to drive her home? Me? Of all the guys she could probably get in the world, all of whom would be jumping for joy to drive her home, why would she want me? I'm just a straight-laced white boy who likes music and theatre. It's a wonder I like girls.
Then I remembered, she's here because of AA. She's a recovering alcoholic... a seventeen-year-old recovering alcoholic. Which probably means she's dangerous in some way, reckless or something. Maybe she's too dangerous for some of these guys. She's damaged. She's unclean. She's scared.
I wanted to help.
“Yeah, let's go.”