Chapter 15: Dolce, ma non troppo

This surge of emotional-turned-physical nausea came upon me suddenly, like the mother of all stomachaches topped with a heart attack. I shied away from the door in clumsy, mechanical steps, shoulders hunched. "Just walk away, Sam," I breathed to myself. "You don't have to…. No. Shit." I stopped, flung my hands out, and climbed the stairs back to the door. I stomped my foot. I folded my arms and stared at the door. I made obscene, threatening gestures at it. I ran my hand through my hair and pulled at the roots. My hand almost closed around the handle at one time, but I turned around again, rubbing my palms on the front of my pants. "Dammit. Fuck. Come on, you can do it. Come on, come on, come on. It's not that difficult, just open the fucking thing."

I hadn't had it like this since after the dance. All my pent up dread and anxiety I'd been storing since then, all the little problems I'd closed the door to at the first sign of pain and tried to forget were back with a vengeance, made worse for all my waiting. Double helping of shame and guilt with a side of self-loathing, coming right up.

And for what, so I had to spend three minutes in the dark behind a door, prepping myself to go talk to another human being? This was all his fault.

I was going to talk to Daniel. No one was making me do it. I wouldn't be able to hide behind anybody. My inner mantra of he's just a person, some random person wasn't really helping. Because he wasn't just some random person anymore.

I had no idea what I was going to say. How was it possible that I could get through this? How was it possible anyone got through this?

But it was stupid to carry on with the dramatics. I squared myself before the door, tightened and loosened my shoulder muscles, rocked my head to both sides to crack my neck, and sighed. "Okay. Okay. No problem. Just do it. No big. Not a problem. Just gonna have a talk. I can do this. I can do this. Stop talking to yourself." I sighed again. "Okay." And I opened the door.

The rooftop didn't exactly sizzle in the afternoon sun, because that implies there being some form of liquid water around. What it did was bake, and a constant but mysterious breeze kept it only just bearable. The sun-bleached tiles of the roof reflected most of the light anyway, but made it seem like you were walking across a desert. Like there should have been a cactus and a set of spurs on your sandals to complete the effect of crunching across the dust.

I was surprised to find the flat space was only the roof for part of the building. There were lower sections of classrooms and practice halls under this roof, and then there was this massive wall continuing to rise up past everything. I suppose it must have been the top part of the stage, all the pulleys and catwalks and stuff. Besides a few ventilation fans and satellite dishes, the roof was pretty sparse.

And after I ran out of things to casually observe, there was Daniel.

I saw him right away, sitting up against the taller part of the building, where the roof continued up. It was a smart place to sit, as the catwalks-and-pulleys roof, which went up quite a ways higher than where we were, cast a small shadow so only Daniel's ankles were in the sun as he sat with his legs outstretched.

He had on khaki cargo shorts and a faded cotton T-shirt with some witty saying on it I didn't understand, his feet were bare and he'd set his sandals on his saxophone case. His hands rested in his lap, eyes closed, eyelashes curling angelically over his cheeks, his head thrown back half resting on the wall, half rolling on his shoulder. A slight smile on his lips. I tried making pretend it was the first time I'd ever set eyes on him, to see what I'd think.

I sighed. Just get it over with. I walked toward him, making a racket over the loose gravel that had somehow found itself on the roof, and cleared my throat when I stood in front of him.

"So, uh… did you write this?" I asked, not very nicely, fishing around in my pocket and handing him the note, pulling away before our fingers touched.

He smiled and tucked it absentmindedly into his own pocket. "No. It was dictated." He closed his eyes again after he said this.

"You had the word roof dictated? Seriously?" I wasn't sure if I wanted to sit. "So we… what, have to talk?" I prompted. The remorse feeling wasn't going away, in fact it was getting worse, and I wasn't actually sure if he hadn't fallen asleep again. I shouldn't have said anything.

He shrugged, eyes closed. But still awake. "Don't have to."

I almost fell over. I'm sure he was trying to make it less awkward, but another whole day with this sickness poisoning me from the inside? Sounded like a blast. In fact, it turned even this perfect sunny day into a decent excuse to consider throwing myself off the roof. "Sure."

He opened his eyes. "But it wouldn't be a waste if you want to talk," he said quickly. Backpedaling like mad.

"No." I shrugged. "I mean, you know. Whatever. Unless you want to." I couldn't stare at him now that he had his eyes open. "What were you doing, anyway?"


"Oh." I'd thought he was just sleeping. "Why?"

"To keep my mind off of all the stuff we could be doing right now." Accent mark over could.

He startling me when he looked up with what was obviously naked lust on his face. The hunger in his eyes wanted. Wanted to pin my arms above my head and drip kisses into my mouth, wanted to mark my skin with its teeth.

I laughed nervously and pretended to be fascinated by a passing pigeon. "Okay. Thanks for sharing."

Carefully, I sat next to him. But not too close. The tiles in the shade were warm but not cooking. I fell back against the wall and, beside me, Daniel settled down as well. Our ankles sunbathed. I caught my breath from my romp on the stairs. After that look of his I wasn't nearly comfortable enough to close my eyes and drift off, so I sat up and picked at my cuticles.

I didn't want to tell him not to stare, but it was just the tiniest bit disconcerting when he didn't immediately close his eyes again.

"You look exhausted," he said.

"I haven't been sleeping lately."

He leaned over and kissed me, just a chaste little thing that didn't even make it fully onto my lips, landing skewed slightly onto the corner of my mouth.

He smiled a little. "I meant from coming up the stairs."

You know how when you scare a cat it tenses and its fur stands up in every direction like it's just exploded? Yeah. I felt a little like that. Like I'd been hit my lightning. My eyes almost teared up I was blushing so bad. "You're so fucking weird," I muttered.

After that we sat quietly, although I couldn't hear worth a damn anyway with my blood pounding in my ears like that. Sitting against the wall and looking out across the expanse of baking white tiles was like sitting on the bow of a ship. The building was on a bit of a hill, so when you looked out from that spot you couldn't see any other buildings or trees. Just blue sky and the occasional sheep-fluffy white cloud rolling by. And other than the kiss this wasn't going at all like I had thought it would. I had been expecting a bombardment of questions, something legislative with more paperwork to sign, so we could flatten this out and examine it to death and figure where we stood.

The questions never came. I suppose I also in some way expected him to make a move on me—and, well, the kiss—but besides that he remained quite still. Always the gentleman, despite that look I'd seen in him.

Feeling suspicious, I observed him in profile, safe to do so when he closed his eyes. Out in the natural light I could see he was getting a tan. He glowed with the health of summer. His hair was probably a lighter shade of that dirty-blond brown than it would be in the winter, but I had no way of knowing. The fine hairs on his legs were golden in color. He had the smallest traces of sunburn across his cheeks, and I spotted a small mole on the side of his neck. His hands even at rest appeared strong but somehow graceful, as did his feet. The material of the shirt on his chest moved up and down in an easy, contented rhythm.

Suddenly, Daniel laughed. "Sam, that's not helping," he said before half opening his eyes, not very fast but fast enough to catch me.

I faced forward. Shit. "Sorry," I blurted out, my shame a sharp coppery taste in my mouth, the guilt a mosquito-buzz in my ears. I had to say something. "I didn't think it got to you this bad."

Yeah. Way smooth, Sam.

Daniel just stared. "I'm a regular nothing-special-about-me human male. How did you think it would get to me?" He might have sneered a little, but he let up on the glare. "I'm wondering more about you, you know. You're turning out to be more punk than I thought. It's like you're made of ice. Nothing gets to you."

That's not true. I'm actually unraveling on the inside. Thanks for that by the way, you asshole. "Should I leave?" I asked instead, because in case you haven't figured it out, sometimes I'm a bitch when I'm annoyed.

"No. Don't be a such douchebag."

I rounded on him. "What the fuck did you just say?"

"Sam, you were being a douchebag. Don't even pretend you're offended." He raised an eyebrow. "If you don't chill I'm gonna have to kiss you again."

I folded my arms and slid down on the wall. Not a peep out of me, no sir.

He made a point of returning the favor of scanning me and I fidgeted, kicking off my shoes and slouching against the wall to find a suitable position. He'd closed his eyes by the time I'd built up the courage to check on him again. The only difference to show he had ever had them open was that he was smiling a little.

Well, fine, let him stare. I didn't care. It was a beautiful warm day and if he was going to be a bastard and not talk then now was the time for a nap if there ever was one.

But that wasn't working. Nothing was working anymore. I couldn't fool him. I could probably not think about it for a while, but if only a few days did this to me what was the point? I was going to end up inadvertently killing myself or my stomach was.

Unexpectedly, at ground level against the side of the building, a guitarist started playing. The sound was surprisingly smooth and clear, carried up to us on the updrafts of air along the sides of the building. We sat in silence and listened.

Personally, I wanted to get up and drop one of the satellite dishes on them. How dare they belittle my crisis by playing nice music?

Daniel slipped on his sandals, went over to the side of the building, and looked down. "Wanted to see who it was," he said as he plopped down beside me again.

His shoulder brushed mine and I couldn't stop from rolling my eyes. Liar. You wanted to get closer and were too embarrassed to do it without an excuse…

"And," I said.

"Couldn't see from this height," he admitted guiltily. "How's your hand?"

I need to get away from you. The idea came to me like all crazy thoughts come to decent people—suddenly, desperately, like a fever, making me quiver with foreboding. I had to get as far away from him as I could. I liked kissing, sure, kissing was great—but I liked kissing Daniel. I liked him dictating notes to me that magically turned into cranes by the time I got them. I liked that little surge of adrenaline I got just because his hand was on the small of my back. All these little things I hadn't noticed over the last week. Kyle was right. I was an idiot.

But it was the only way to make this stop. I had felt fine all day, all day. Then this, I sit down next to him and I can't even think about looking him in the eye without remembering Riley's expression when he caught us, that horrible feeling in my gut like I'd gotten caught red-handed at the scene of a murder, and I could never be forgiven for something so heinous. Bullshit, all of it. When had I ever cared about that kind of thing?

But for some reason it mattered this time and if Daniel wasn't there I could put all of it behind me and forget it ever happened.


I came round with Daniel's hand firm on my shoulder, gently shaking me awake, saying my name. "Hey. We should probably go." I sat up blinking, trying to figure out if I had fallen asleep or merely fallen into a heavy daydream trance.

I could barely open my eyes. With the sun on its way down the heat of it was less intense, but the angle of sunlight completely ate up our small sliver of shade. The sun was now in that perfect position to burn directly into my eyeballs. I squinted up at the dark smiling silhouette standing over me.

"If we stay too much longer we'll be burned to a crisp," he said.

What about the talk? The words came without warning in my mind and I almost said them aloud. There hadn't even been a talk. I couldn't help but feel anticlimactic about that, and yet my spring of anxiety twisted tighter.

I let him help me up anyway, not even thinking. He pulled me to my feet but didn't step back, so for a few very short seconds after getting to my feet we were uncomfortably close.

"Uh, sorry," I mumbled, as if it wasn't my fault in the first place for not stepping back. His hands, I remembered looking at them on his lap: delicately boned but strong, they were warm and dry… The second I noticed that, my stupid arms broke out in goose bumps, seemingly for the sheer joy of driving me an inch closer to hysterics. I mean, for Christ's sake, warm dry hands? Are you kidding me?

Daniel just smiled and I looked down. Our hands were still together, but his were completely open and relaxed. I was the one holding onto him.

I could have gnashed my teeth. At him. At me. I threw his hands down and crossed my arms over my chest. I looked down at the tiles. We stood there, and I wished for my piercings back, something to put me back in normalcy, something to remind me who I was even while my head determinedly twisted itself off my shoulders with a "Fuck you, I've got mine" attitude. Going without them crept up on being worse than going naked.

Daniel heaved his case over his shoulder and we walked to the door, not speaking. It was quiet again; the guitarist must have disappeared while we were napping.

"Our first sunset," Daniel joked. Hesitantly, but I didn't think anything of it. I don't know why it never occurred to me that he would be just as scared as I was.

"What are you talking about, it's got like fifteen minutes."

He set his case down. "Should we wait?" he said, a little biting.

There was a pause. "Yeah." I surprised both of us. But, I mean, he was practically challenging me. No way could I let that go.

So we turned to watch the sun go down, not speaking. And it wasn't exactly a chummy silence at that.

"Are you okay?"

The only reason I didn't glance at him was that was exactly what he wanted. "What?"

"You seriously don't look so good. How are you feeling?"

"Shut up, I'm fine." I turned away.

"Are you—"

"I said I'm fine."

I wanted to get the hell out of there. Riley would tear us a new one if we dragged ourselves in after dark. Hell, the man was probably already monitoring our rooms, suspecting we were out alone somewhere together. God, and he'd be right, too. I wanted to run for the hills and not say another word, especially didn't want to say anything touchy-feely, or girlish, or anything that would open up a can of worms of embarrassing.

Daniel sighed. It was getting hard to see his face in the dusk. "Riley's probably popped a vein in his forehead from the suspense of waiting for us to get back after dinner." I appreciated the calm tone of his voice, even if it didn't do me any good. He turned a little to face me and Jesus he touched my arm, but for some reason that didn't excite a goose-bump reaction. "You started to sunburn," he said.

Somewhere deep down, I was screaming. Then there was another voice in with mine that sounded suspiciously like Kyle's, including being its usual bitchy self and telling me it was a stupid idea and I shouldn't do exactly what I was thinking about doing.

"Uh… you too. Here," I said and touched his face where I'd noticed the red earlier. I had been counting on him to stop me or at least smirk and blow it off as nothing, but in hindsight that was dumb. He stood still as my fingers slowly brushed over the cheekbone. I could scarcely breathe, felt like some little kid whose inquisitiveness has gotten him into something that he doesn't know how to get out of. A black hole, say. Daniel watched me with those eyes, but they were soft and he had an air of peace about him, as if he could forgive me being completely awkward with it, didn't matter to him in the least.

With my hand on his face he had to be able to feel me shaking. "I, ah…still kind of hate you, I hope you know that," I said. And it came out perfectly convincing with my hand on him like that and everything.

Yeah. Perfectly.

He searched out my eyes, studying me. I had to look away and it took everything in me not to fall into the silence and fill it with pointless rubbish words. I tried to meet his gaze and kept failing, and he smiled. Not exactly the response I was fishing for with the I-hate-you comment.

Those lips have been on mine.

If my life were a movie, the soundtrack would have stopped. It was that kind of suspenseful something's-going-to-happen quiet.

"What are we even doing here?" I said suddenly.

Daniel's eyelids lowered and he leaned into my touch, filling my palm with his cheek. It got me panicked and all of a sudden I didn't know what to do, what to say. Run away. Jump. We were only six stories up. I could make that. Maybe. "I'm not sure," Daniel said in an obscenely ordinary tone of voice, but what a relief for him to speak instead of just pinning me down and letting me flounder from his eyes. "Here physically or here philosophically?"

A feeling of cold swept over me, hot-flash in reverse. I frowned and somehow demagnetized my hand from his skin. "I mean what happened to that talk that was so important, huh? We didn't even have it, so what was the point of doing this? And I suppose you're going to say we should have one for real tomorrow or the day after instead? Well, the answer's no." My fists clenched. "I shouldn't have even agreed to this. I mean, what are we doing here? I so do not have time for this shit."

There was a pause, and he sort of leaned away from me. "I'm not sure how to answer, besides maybe ask you to remind me never to make you seriously angry?"

I rounded on him. The spring had been let go. "You are making me angry. When did you get the impression you haven't been pissing me off since about… oh, I don't know, our first phone call?"

"Do you really want me to answer that?" he replied.

I bristled even as I blushed. "You… no, you know what? Fuck you. You have been a thorn in my side for an entire week and I don't give a damn about you, whatever impression you received to the contrary. You irritate the fucking hell out of me and you're absolutely impossible." I kind of couldn't stop yelling. "And why are you still here? Why are you putting up with me, anyway? What kind of person just stands there day after day and takes that from someone? You really are a stalker, aren't you? Do you have nothing better to do than sit on a roof all evening doing nothing?"

"All very good questions." He looked like he wanted nothing more than to just melt through the cracks, anything to get out of the conversation.

"No," I snapped. "No! Are you kidding? That's not good enough. What do you have to say? Why are you doing this?"

Any courage I might have had abandoned me in a second. Carefully, Daniel took my hand and brought it to his lips, kissing the fingertips and closing his eyes like that was the only thing that mattered just then. Only thing in the world. And I just stared, mesmerized stupid.

I winced my eyes closed and retracted that hand. My voice came out quiet. "Don't fucking touch me." I glared at him. "Just answer the question."

"There are just so many to choose from." He sighed and tucked his hands into his pockets. "This is really important to you, huh."

"No, sometimes I just feel like yelling." The sick nausea feeling was evolving into sharp jabs of pain. I'd heard about getting stomachaches from anxiety but this was ridiculous. "Duh. Yes, it's important. Yeah, I need to know why. I… Look, we should have done this hours ago. Would you just answer the question? Just do that and we can be done with each other and we don't have to play this stupid game anymore, okay?"

"In that case." He slung his sax over his shoulder and walked past me.

It took me a second before I whirled around. "Where are you going?" I demanded.

"None of your business, is it?" he said over his shoulder.

It was like getting slapped in the face. What? Was he allowed to do that? That wasn't how this was supposed to go. "But we're still talking."

"You're still talking."

"Well—no! Fuck that." I ran after him and yanked him back before his hand could graze the door. "I am not going to stand up here and carry out this entire worthless dialogue by myself because you won't engage, you bastard."

I was pulling back so hard that when he stepped back of his own will I lost my balance and fell sideways onto the ground. At least half a dozen vengeful little pebbles attempted to become one with my scraped forearm. "Fuck. What is your problem?" I yelled up at Daniel. He'd propped his saxophone up against the wall and was looking down at me with no expression on his face.

"You make it sound like I pushed you. What's your problem, out of curiosity?" he said.

"Fucking… gravity!" I ended lamely. I felt like a child having a fit sitting there on the ground. God, what was my problem? "And you, walking away. You never just walk away! The only reason you ever walk away is to get me to chase after you, and I do it every time because I'm an idiot. And now my ass hurts."

"That's not why I walked away," he said, and the unruffled tone in his voice made me pay attention. He knelt down on one knee to look me in the face. "If the only outcome of this conversation is that we'll be done with each other, then I just won't have this conversation."

"We're going to be done with each other whether we have it or not," I shot back. "I just have some questions I need you to answer first."

"You're just going to have to try harder to get the answers to those questions, aren't you?"

He turned to leave again and all I could do was watch from the ground. "You asshole. You are not seriously leaving."

"I am leaving, seriously."

"Fine." I shot to my feet. "Fine. Fuck you! That's only exactly what I've been trying to get you to do for the last half a month. And don't even think about calling me again. Don't even think about it. If you're thinking about it, stop—because I don't ever want to hear your annoying nasally voice ever..."

I thought I heard him chuckle, but he didn't look back. Just threw a lazy wave over his shoulder. See ya.


The roof door closed behind him with a soft click.

I stood for what seemed like a long time, not moving, watching the handle and picking at the bottom of my shirt. Because it had to open again. This would not be the real world if it didn't open again. He always came back. Always. I wasn't sure what I was going to do when he did, if I was going to be happy or angry about it, and what I was going to say, but it was going to open.

But it didn't open.

Leaving me standing all alone like a fool in the dark.

A fresh wave of queasiness pain rolled through me, pulling my mind away from Daniel for just a moment. Deep breathes took the edge off, quelled the ripped-in-two feeling, but I had to sit down or something. I walked over to the guardrail running along the edge of the roof and went to my knees, falling back on my calves. It was just annoying. I didn't have time for my body to fuck me up on top of everything else. And Daniel, shit, what was his problem?

No, this was good. This was great. Just what I'd been wishing for all these days, just hoping for every minute. Now I could move on and forget about all this crap and have one second not spent on ridiculous internal soul-searching emotional inquiry. I could have time to breathe again.

But what if I couldn't forget? What if it got worse? It should have tipped me off then and there, when it wasn't the thought of not being able to forget that got me panicked, but that I needed him in case this got out of hand and there was no one else to lean on. I mean, who else? May, Rhea, Miles? God, certainly not Kyle, or Katie. No. There was no one else. Which is so completely backwards now that I think about it, but it just goes to show I wasn't exactly in what you'd call a stable mindset.

I gave my head a few solid bangs on the metal bars. Such an idiot.

"Okay, I take it back," he said somewhere above me. "It got to you."

I turned around so fast I fell sideways again. Yes, Daniel was standing there. Yes, I felt relieved. God, did I ever hate that I felt relieved. "What the fuck? How did you do that?"

He had the nerve to look baffled. "Do what?"

"Get back up here without me hearing!"

"I don't know. You looked like you were somewhere else. Deep in thought." He frowned. "Are you sure you're okay?"

"None of your business, is it?" I glared at him. That seemed to be all I was good for lately, just glaring. "I knew it. I knew you weren't gone. You're never gone! What are you doing here this time? Why are you still coming back? And thanks for noticing," I said, wrapping an arm around my middle. Like that was going to help at this point. "You bastard. Pulling a stunt like that. I still need my answers."

"Give me a break," he mumbled, rolling his eyes.

"No, I am not giving you a break. I'm scared and I'm tired and I'm pissed off, and fuck if you're leaving before I get an explanation."

"You mean, like I just did two minutes ago?" All he got was a double-intensive glare in return. He sighed. "You're not the only one who's tired, Sam. Try making yourself emotionally vulnerable day after day and not getting any response from the other side. Or how about making yourself vulnerable day after day to a whiney, openly hostile brat and getting shot down every single time? You know—hypothetically."

"I didn't even know what you were doing the first few days. You were just annoying. Hell, I still don't know what you're doing." I managed to get that answer out fast, but it was automatic: in my head I was just staring up at him, speechless. Called out.

Daniel crossed his arms. "It makes you so tired when you try and try and never get an answer," he said.

I turned around so I sat with my back to the guardrail. "What if the answer's no?"

"At least it would mean you cared enough to be honest. But that's a pretty foreign concept for you, isn't it?" he said. "Being honest with yourself?"

And in my head, my jaw dropped. He's not supposed to be that sharp. This time a handy automatic response utterly failed me. "Well, fuck you! And besides, you're answering my questions, not the other way around, and hey—" He came down on his knees, very very very close and his hand touched my shoulder, just pressing me back against the railing. His heat burned through me. "Would you get the fuck away and give me some space?" I said through gritted teeth, voice jumping in surprise. I reached for his arm to push him off, but he caught that wrist with his other hand and pinned it down. "Space, Daniel, space! What the fuck is wrong with you?"

"What is this, some kind of defense mechanism? If you spaz out enough I'll go away?" He tilted his head to the side. "Would you settle down?"

"Same answer for could you try being normal for two seconds," I snarled. "No."

He sighed. "It always has to be about you, doesn't it. Sam this, Sam that. You're absorbed in your own little world and good or bad, if it's directly in front of you chances are you aren't going to see it."

"That's okay." I suddenly remembering I was supposed to be fighting him off. "I like being self-absorbed. It's quiet and it's safe, and it doesn't have you in it. At least I listen, occasionally. I keep telling you to leave me alone and you won't, you never listen. I told you to go away, I keep telling you, and it's like you just don't hear it. Find someone else to bother, you stalker!"

"Why?" He winced a little from my thrashing around, but otherwise sounded, acted calm. He was a lot stronger than he looked.

I stared at him. "What do you mean why? What happened to why not? I want my life back!" In a last ditch effort, I tried to pry him off with my knee, but wasn't quite limber enough to get it between us. "I want things to make sense again! I don't want to have to deal with this gay thing, I don't want to have to think about that look Riley gives us, I don't want to think about you!"

Thank goodness he had me pinned because, seriously, would have jumped after allowing that to slip out of my subconscious. There were a few seconds of the most horrible silence, then his face took on a quizzical expression even as he worked to keep me still. "You think any of that's going to stop just because I'm gone?"

"Ego much? At least maybe if I can get rid of you it'll stop you from doing any more damage." I wished I could have covered my face. I was making it worse. I'd done every little thing wrong.

"Are you even listening to yourself?"

With a sigh, I collapsed against the railing, too tired to push back any more. I was even a little out of breath. "Why me? Answer that one little question. Why are you doing this?"

"You called."

I narrowed my eyes to slits, tilted my head as if I hadn't heard him right. "So if I hadn't called and you had still sat next to me that first day, you wouldn't have started following me around? We wouldn't be here?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know?"

He laughed. "Maybe it would have, maybe not. How am I supposed to know for sure?"

"So why me, then? You don't even have a reason, it's just another irrational whim of yours?"

"Because—" He blinked. "I… I think I love you?"

I grimaced. "I mean really answer it, stupid. For real. And even if I believed that, you ever heard the saying if you love it you should let it go? Seriously, man…"

Why did I suddenly feel like I might be sick for real?

Why did that sentence out of everything make me want to run away? He wasn't serious, was he? No, he couldn't be serious. Not really serious. If only I'd interrupted him before he had said it—

Slowly, Daniel released me and got to his feet. I did as well, before he could change his mind and decide he'd rather pin me again.

Daniel gave me a calculating stare, not taking his eyes off me for a second. "I was serious," he said.

"Shut up," I said. "You don't even know what you're talking about. We've barely known each other for a few weeks, you can't love someone in that short of time."

The calmness in his gaze was unnerving. Then the ubiquitous, needle-sharp: "Why not?"

"Because," I said, my own eyes narrowing as he took a step in my direction. "I mean, I know next to nothing about love but I still know you—you just can't." He didn't stop getting closer. "That isn't enough time to get to know the other person." He was reaching for my wrist. "You don't know me." He was too close. "How could you possibly know if you love me or not, dumbass? Just because I let you goad me into dancing with you that once, which was a horrible, horrible mistake, I might add…"

In a moment of stillness, Daniel leaned in, kissed my forehead. His lips were cool, and curved into a smile. "Fine. You win. It's lust, then," he murmured.


"And you ask dumb questions sometimes."

I shoved him. It was like trying to take the offensive against an old piece of chewing gum. Instead of flying off, he bounded elastically back, even closer than before. "That is not a dumb question. That's actually a very good question and if you roll your eyes one more time I'm throwing you over the fucking guardrail—" The last word ended in a grunt, as the gut pains returned.

Daniel sighed. So unhurriedly I couldn't even fight against it, he slipped his arms around me, pulled us close. We were cheek to cheek, and I hated it. Hated how he was keeping me up, how he could feel me tense, and how he could feel how the majority of it simply melted away when his hand ran down my back. I grabbed his arm but somehow couldn't push him off. I closed my eyes and clutched at his shirt. Dammit…

"Quit making yourself sick because of me," he said into my ear.

I sighed into it. It still hurt but I could speak normally now. "It's not like I'm not doing it on purpose or anything."

"What can I do to help you?"

"How should I know?" I snorted. It didn't sound very convincing. "In case you didn't pick up on that, this doesn't happen to me very often."

"What doesn't happen very often?"

My eyes shot open, and I stared out of the corner of my eye, somehow expecting to meet his face, but just getting a close-up of his hair instead. "The, uh, I. What?"

"The being ill thing, the boy thing, or the anybody thing?" he said. "I thought it was just because we're both guys, but I'm seriously starting to wonder."

"You jerk," I muttered. "I know girls."

"You know a girl, who's actually more like a swamp beast from Beowulf."

"Well... yeah, I needed a longer recovery time from Katie. But I could know girls. No need to rush."

"Right," he said, perfectly understanding.

"I was going to move on to other girls."

"I know."

"Plenty of fish in that pond."

I would have bet he was smiling. "Half the species' population, yes, that's true."

"Yeah." Was it too late to pretend I didn't completely hate this? "Right, so… good, that we're on the same page with that, and everything."

Yeah, probably just a little too late.

His hand moved up to the back of my neck, just a gentle support. "If you have better things to do," he said, "and the answer is no, I am completely okay with that, just so you know."

"Daniel—" I said, and got a tiny thrill from it. I still hardly ever said his name outside my head, least of all to his face. Fuck. No! Concentrate! "Are you kidding? Are you kidding? You couldn't have just said that when we were face-to-face sometime last week? The answer's no, now and forever, so get off."

Shock of all shocks, he did. Sort of. He seized my shoulders and pulled us apart, so we were eye to eye. I had to blink in surprise from the seriousness in his face. It was almost scary. I had never considered him in that light before, as truly intimidating, just like I hadn't thought about him as a good musician. He ran his hands through my hair and the realization hit me that I was a few hours too late in realizing. Sure he vandalized shit and was prone to bouts of the crazies, but I'd never thought it through to that conclusion exactly, that he could be badass enough to silence me with a look, or a touch, or that I thought I might just possibly really like him.

He held my face still to look at him, a tentative gambit somewhere between a gentle demand and a firm request. Begging permission and not giving me a choice, just this once. When he kissed me for real, on the lips, my eyes didn't close, still so shocked despite having been waiting for it since stepping onto the roof. I closed them when it finally felt too strange to keep them open, when I may have tried shyly to reciprocate.

I had a flash of Mr. Riley and spooked myself right the fuck out. I stumbled away without thinking, poised to make a run for it. "God… no, this isn't… someone's gonna see!" But he pulled me back against him. "Quit, stupid! Did you hear what I said?"

"It's dark out, nobody's going to see." It was jarring, the way his voice didn't align with the rest of him. The rest of him was just intense. "Sam, if this wasn't your thing, why haven't you said so by now?"

"I have," I said, miraculously fitting the words together in a coherent manner. Miraculous because I was having trouble seeing anything beyond his mouth, which was hovering dangerously close to mine once again. "I did say something, I had to have, you just weren't listening—" That mouth pressed down suddenly, cutting me off with embarrassing efficiency.

He drove me to the point of panting before he let up the second time, and then he bowed his head to attend to my neck. His words came muffled and I was too focused on breathing through a heady blush to interrupt him. "If your answer is no, tell me. Tell me right now. I want to hear you say it if that's how you feel. But if the answer isn't no," he said, pausing, "please don't just shut me out anymore. Please."

"That's not fair." I groaned. A frustrated one, but not in that way. Maybe just a little bit in that way, but it was mostly an I'm-so-annoyed-with you groan: a preferable evasion to the reality of the inescapable noises trying to force themselves out of me, the small helpless yes sounds that would be all he needed as far as a green light. Like he was having a problem with that as it was. I couldn't let them out. It'd be all over for me if I let them out. "That's not fair. This is so not the time."

"When is?"

"Never, but even more never when you"—are holding me like that—"have me in a death grip. We had our chance for that talk, and we didn't. What was your plan for all this?" This had to be what all that meditating was for at the very least, Jesus…

"I didn't have one. I'm playing it by ear," I felt his tongue brush my own ear, emphasizing, "like I usually do."

He could have felt me shudder all the way to my toes. "How could you not have a plan?" I probably should have been trying to pry him off, but he was keeping the aches and pains away, after all. "I mean, I never know what I'm doing, but I can't believe you didn't. I thought you were supposed to have some kind of plan or something."

His soft laugh blew against my hair. "Supposed to? Nobody has a plan for sure. You make it up as you go along and if you do mess up, you just keep going. You learn from it and you keep going. The world is not going to stop and wait for you while you figure out your shit."

Who ever said band camp couldn't teach you important metaphors for life lessons? He wasn't kissing me anymore and he'd probably had no intention of going beyond that for the sake of giving me just a taste, leaving me wanting more. I suppose you can do that when you have the self-control of a fucking saint. But I sighed, still mostly winded. "I was… never much good at improv."

"It takes practice."

His hand touched my face and we came apart, not looking at each other at first. When we did, it felt new, somehow. Fresh, different.

The sun had been down for a long time, and the single light on the roof turned our faces into sharp planes of shadow and light. I got the impression just by looking at him, that we might fit perfectly.

But it was too soon. It wasn't right yet. Or was it?

I snorted. "Right," I said at last, and I could hear my old self in my voice. "Like hell you didn't have a plan." He smirked until I pinched his cheek and gave it a tug. Then his eyes went wide and shocked, like he'd tried biting into a lemon and had it bite back. "Yeah. Like I was going to buy that malarkey for one second."

"Ow, ow, ow…" His hands flitted over mine, clawing at the air but not touching, desperately yearning to pull me off. "I really didn't have a plan, I promise. Please let go of my cheek, please? It kind of hurts."

I let go. Getting a little of my own back, as it were. "So what do we do now?"

He rubbed the side of his face. "What do you want to do?"

"I…" I covered my eyes and sighed. "That's not what I asked."

"Maybe it should have been."

And then, if you can fit this in your brain, there was an awkward moment.


That, of all things, was the awkward one.

"Oh, for crying out loud," Daniel said, rolling his eyes. "Did that feel awkward to you, just now?"

"Uh. Yes."

"What the hell. That's so lame."


Maybe it wasn't so weird that was the weird moment. Nothing really to talk about now, nothing but the promises of kisses to distract us, and this big empty silence. I just wanted to be myself, but for the life of me couldn't figure out what that was anymore. If I'd still had all my piercings and all my convenient punk labels on, I'd know. And it probably wouldn't have been that I really wanted to get his pants off.

We both took a step away and pretended like we weren't looking at each other. But, shit, what else were we supposed to be looking at?

"We could start over," Daniel said.

"…you fucking masochist," I muttered, but he shook his head.

"I didn't mean just the conversation. I meant everything."

"Oh. Like we 'started over' in the elevator?" I sighed. My throat was dry. Clearing my throat didn't help. "Yeah. Right. That worked out brilliantly, didn't it?"

Daniel tapped a thoughtful finger to his chin. "It got you to take my shirt off, didn't it? I'm kidding," he added when he caught the look on my face. "But there still is plenty of time for a third chance. We have another three weeks, right?" After which we would never see each other again. I couldn't believe that, as smart as he was, he had just happened to overlook that. Or that I had overlooked that. Maybe that was the point.

I'd already lost all hope of escaping this when I let myself dance with him. I shrugged. "Okay. We start over."

"I'm Daniel. First chair tenor saxophone."

"I'm Sam," I said. "Percussionist of low chair status." After a pause… "I hope you weren't under the impression this fixes everything."

He shook his head. "No, I understand. But it helps, doesn't it? Don't you think so?"

I hesitated. "I—"

My phone rang. Tchaikovsky ruining my perfect groundbreaking moment. I suddenly understood why Riley hated all cell phones, and why Daniel wasn't much of a Tchaikovsky fan. Fucking phone! Goddamn French making the fucking Russians make this sonuvabitch Overture! Damn you to hell Napoleon!

I closed my eyes in a sigh. "Hold that thought," I said as I and dug around in my pocket. "One second. Please. Don't move." I checked the incoming number before accepting the call but didn't recognize it. They'd better hope some higher power was watching over them if it was a wrong number. I barely had enough sanity to handle one rogue caller, much less two.

I put my cell to my ear, itching to give them a rant they'd never forget. "Yeah?" I said, hoping they could hear my sneer.

"Practice, Sam?" the voice reminded me. The voice. The silken, mellow voice, with half-lidded eyes and the patience of a tiger. Miles's voice.

Shit, I mouthed, wincing away from the receiver. "Fuck—I mean, yeah, hi, sorry, I'll be right down I'm so sorry I just forgot—" Without waiting for a reply, I scrambled with my fingers to punch the OFF, feeling dangerously lightheaded. God. I'd forgotten for a moment there was a world outside the roof.

Okay, anything else? I thought sarcastically. Something I'm forgetting, maybe?

Oh, yeah. Daniel. Right.

I looked back. "You're absolutely right, Tchaikovsky sucks. I'm switching to Beethoven from now on. I think I might even have the 5th on here, which is horribly lame because everyone does it but, um, yeah. I…" seriously have to stop rambling like a virgin "have, uh… detention."

His eyes got wide. "What? With Riley?"

"Huh? No, with Miles."

Daniel frowned. His tone was light, conversational. Like we hadn't been having a heartfelt conversation a few seconds before my phone, and a make-out session before that. "Really? I've never heard of him giving detentions."

"They're more like practice detentions. Music lessons." The sudden look of terror on his face was, shall we say, alarming to me. "And why the hell did you just look like you saw someone getting scalped? What's wrong with practice detentions with Miles?"

"Well…" Daniel sought the words. "I've heard they're a little tough."

I felt a tick starting above my left eye. "Tough? How tough? What do you mean tough? Scalping tough?"

"Like you don't survive them usually," he said slowly, and I continued to stare. "Osten had a lesson with Miles right before he quit. I mean, everything I've heard is all hearsay," he said to assure me. "It might not be true."

"Oh, yeah, sure," I said, almost yelling. Riding high on a faux-high from Miles's call and the fact that I'd just had a Talk with Daniel and we were still speaking to each other and weren't missing any limbs or vital internal organs. "Hearsay. That makes it so much better. What, does he take you back and chop you up into little bits and use you to muffle the drums? Is that why the jazz room smells like decaying flesh?"

Daniel tried to hide his laughter by bringing his hands up in a hushing motion. "You know, I think maybe it would be better if you didn't know the hearsay. Knowing beforehand could just make it worse. If you go in and find out for yourself, maybe it won't be so bad."

"Daniel Hunt," I said, raising my eyebrow. "Forever the voice of impracticable optimism."

Daniel smiled guiltily. "Maybe Miles is like a ninja and he circulates these rumors to make him seem like more of a badass than he actually is."

I grabbed the front of his shirt and drew us together so I could look him right in the eye. "Are you insane?" I hissed, glaring at him from point blank range. "That's the best you can do to reassure me before I go to my doom, that our teacher is a ninja? You're not very good at this game. Besides, the man's a professional pianist. If there are rumors, they're all true. Shit!" I yelled, when the 1812 started up again in my back pocket. I dug the phone out and this time I recognized the number. "How did you even get my number?" I demanded at it, of course not getting an answer.

From a few feet away, Daniel exhaled. Apparently, I'd scared him a little bit with my sudden outburst. "Dr. Miles, I presume?"

"Yeah." I shook my phone as it rang again, just once. "No! And you just shut the hell up, alright?" I said. "I heard you the first time and I seriously doubt showing up to practice with a hard-on is going to help my learning process, so shut up and wait your damn turn, and I will get there when I get there."

I threw it back in my pocket, disappointed because I didn't get to dramatically close the one-sided conversation by thumbing the off button. No satisfying click and dial tone.

Very slowly, I became aware of Daniel a little off to the side, not taking his eyes off me but looking like he was about to laugh. "Bet you're glad he couldn't hear that," he said.

A gave a low, dangerous chuckle. "Don't even joke." Even more slowly, it dawned on me what exactly I'd said. I pointed at Daniel, aiming my finger toward the center of his chest, but too far away to actually touch. "Hey."

Daniel stood straighter. "Yeah?"

I narrowed my eyes. "You just… forget you heard that. Alright?"

"You mean forget about you yelling and having a long, drawn-out domestic abuse fight with your phone, or forget about the part where you're going to practice with a hard-on?" he asked. Innocence defined.

I must have made a face, because he laughed a little, and crossed over his heart with his finger. "Forgotten," he promised.

"Yeah, like hell." I lowered my hand and made for the door, but he called me back. I turned around, fingers on the handle and one foot already on the other side.

"What?" I said. "I'm late for a meeting with a ninja pianist."

"If you don't survive the lesson," he said, unsettlingly serious, "I just wanted to tell you that I wasn't joking. About any of it. But if you do survive, what with us kind of starting over and all that, you can just… forget you heard that. Alright?"

I could only stare dumbly for a few seconds. Then I lifted a finger and crossed over my heart, not breaking eye contact with Daniel. "Okay," I said, already planning my next few steps. If I could get my feet to move, I could probably get off the roof before the blush hit my face.

He was still smiling as I looked away and closed the door behind me.

What a fucking weird evening.

It wasn't until I was a few floors down and still walking that I realized I didn't feel like I was going to be sick anymore. It'd all just disappeared. Now all I felt was lightness, like if I tried jumping up and clicking my heels together I would keep floating up until it went through the ceiling. Which, for some sudden reason at that moment, didn't sound painful at all. I felt happy.

That's a bizarre feeling for me.

And I'm sure being crazily aroused might have had a little something to do with it, but still.


I'd managed to calm down enough to be presentable when I met Miles down by the practice rooms. There was someone waiting with him, and I saw too late it was Kyle. Kyle saw me, stared, and without any warning started laughing.

The strangest thing about it was it sounded healthy. Just ordinary, genuine laughter. Not the Ming the Merciless tells Dr. Lector a joke laugh you'd expect from Kyle. It started out as a small chuckle, and ended with his head hanging over the back of the chair, boisterous out-loud hilarity. He wiped at the corner of his eye. "God, finally."

Miles glanced down at him. "What are you going on about?"

Kyle jumped to his feet, arms reaching out to the sides. "What am I going on about? How about Sam's first successful deep sea fishing expedition?"

"Uh... right, what are you going on about?" I said, glaring at him to keep his distance which he either didn't notice or, more likely, ignored. He got close and pointed to my neck. "Wow, Samuel, that must have been a monster octopus. Just look at the size of those sucker marks."

I covered my neck, blushing something terrible. "Get the hell away from me!"

"Did I interrupt something when I called?" Miles asked me calmly over his half-brother's antics.

"Oh. No, no!" I shrugged, fighting off Kyle with one hand. "Psh, no, we were just wrapping things up when you called."

"We?" Miles began and Kyle cut him off.

"Of course we. Him and the octopus. Don't pretend you don't know." Kyle gave a leisurely stretch and began to amble away, still laughing. "I'm going to go congratulate Daniel," he damn near purred as he passed me, just for the two of us to hear.

"Fucker," I muttered under my breath. He just winked at me, weakly, with as much movement as he could get out of the eye closest to me. The one with the brand new shiner on it. Dr. Miles stood up and started fiddling with his key ring when Kyle turned the corner, still chuckling to himself in random spurts.

I went up to Miles. "Are you going to report us?"

"Report who?" he said airily. "You and your cephalopod friend? From the sound of it, I can already guess it's not something I want to get involved in and I don't know what you're talking about in any case. Do you understand?"

I smiled a little. At least one adult in this hell acted his age. Although I wasn't entirely sure if he was being serious about the octopus or not.

"Right. So. Um… Dr. Miles, can I ask you something?" I said and thought, Probably should have started out with an apology for being late. But this was too good to pass up. A mature adult, and he and Kyle were related, apparently. Maybe he could give good advice without being psychotic about it like a certain someone.

"Does it concern the nature of perfection?" Miles said, flicking off a key and trying the next one.

I thought about it. I guess if you were going to be poetic about it… "Yeah, sure."

"The kind of perfection you will be obtaining in this practice room before you taste freedom or experience the feel or natural sunlight on your skin again?"

I almost gulped. Pianists. Eeek. "Uh… no, maybe not so much like that. It's kind of personal."

Miles paused. "Ah."

I sat on one of the chairs as he fought with the lock. I was pretty sure I could trust him with this. It wasn't the kind of thing I could really just ask around, and my pride forbid that I ask another student. "This is just between us, okay?"

"Yes, of course."

"So…" I inhaled. "If someone says they've fallen in love with you is it the same as them being in love with you? I mean, do you think they're serious? Do they really feel that way or would it be more like a figure of speech if they said that? Like, what if you've only known them for a week? That isn't really possible to seriously fall in love with someone like that, is it? Or if you do feel something and it isn't love, what is it? Would that make it just lust?"

I must have been on a serious endorphin high to not automatically try to strangle myself after saying something so idiotic. I think I just started thinking out loud, forgetting there was someone there listening to me. Even Miles turned around and gave me a funny look. I returned it. The hallway went silent.

Awkward. Slowly, I looked behind me to make sure I was even the one he was looking at. "What?"

"Sam," he said, crossing his arms. "Are you talking about you and me?"

A/N: Yeah, so… it's up. .__. Haha… um. Just... random, I love the idea of what happens when Sam's around other punks and his cell phone goes off (and it's the 1812, of course, haha). I can just picture them looking at him like, Dude. Classical punk? And the ah... octopus mark was a... um, hickey. Haha. Sorry if that was confusing :D

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