An Unexpected Muse

Connor had no idea why he chose to take the bus that morning. The town he lived in was small and he could have walked to the school from his tiny apartment building in fifteen minutes, perhaps a bit longer, since Connor was a slow walker due to the fact that he was constantly deep in thought. Yes, he could have walked, but he had chosen instead to take the city bus that went through Milestone every day on its way into the city, and he didn't know why. The short ride did give him some time to work on his song, though. More time than he usually had, anyway.

"Anyone sitting here?" a voice asked somewhere above him.

Connor blinked and looked up from the sheet music he'd been scribbling on, directly into the face of what could only have been a stranger. No friend or foe of Connor's had ever smiled at him as openly as this man was.

He couldn't have been much older than Connor—maybe about twenty-five. His dark blond hair, which fell lazily over his laughing, piercing blue eyes in a way that was probably supposed to look casual, contrasted starkly with Connor's own chin-length black hair. He continually brushed this hair back out of his deep green eyes (which were sorrowful and somehow much more expressive than his face) so that he could confront the world with a properly serious expression as he shoved his hands deep into the pockets of the black hooded sweatshirt he always wore to go with his plain black outfits. The only spot of color on him, in fact, was the silver crucifix that he wore around his neck to match the crucifix earring that dangled from his left earlobe. The blond man's clothes, however, were infinitely more colorful and out of place with each other. The black blazer he wore was draped casually around him, and his wine-colored tie hung loosely around his neck over the white dress shirt that contrasted sharply with his black dress pants. He obviously had a barbarian's taste in colors, but for some reason, it suited him. The two were obviously as different as night and day, and yet, here they were, staring at each other in the middle of a crowded bus, their expressions as dissimilar as their personalities obviously were.

"Take it if you want it," Connor replied to the man's question after a moment of appraisal, before turning indifferently back to his work and proceeding to ignore the newcomer completely.

The blond man blinked, nonplussed, as he took his bag off his shoulder and dropped it onto the seat before sitting down next to it. "I can't have done something to offend you," he finally said, after observing Connor for a moment. "I just met you."

"You didn't offend me," Connor replied, irritably erasing his last line.

"….You broke your pencil."

"Thank you for that very helpful information."

"Yeesh, what's eating you, kid?"

"Nothing."

"Then why haven't you even said a proper hello to me? It's only polite."

There was laughter in the man's voice as he spoke, and Connor looked up at him in surprise. The thought of this man, who had just shoved his way into a stranger's personal space without a second thought, caring about manners in any way somehow struck the boy as quite hilarious, and he began to laugh in spite of himself.

The blond smiled happily. "I knew I could get you to laugh."

"Now how do you know how often I laugh?" Connor demanded, finally allowing some amusement to show through his stoic exterior. "Maybe I love to make people laugh. Maybe I'm a born comedian."

"Maybe," the man agreed. "But….I doubt it." There was no humor or mockery in his tone, however—just simple, honest humor. "So what are you writing?"

Connor blinked at him in confusion. "What—? Oh. Oh, nothing." He quickly shoved his papers into his bag. "Just some blurbs." Then he retreated into the corner of the seat and shoved his hands into the pockets of his sweatshirt.

"O….kay."

They sat there in silence for a moment, before the man asked, "So where are you headed?"

"School," Connor replied, before reaching into his backpack, pulling out an Ipod, and beginning to play with the buttons.

"Oh. I'm going for coffee."

"I didn't ask."

The man chuckled. "Nope, you sure didn't. You aren't much of a talker, are you?"

"Not when people I've never met won't stop bugging me with things I don't want to talk about."

Another laugh. "Touché." The blond stood as the bus began to slow, slinging his bag over his shoulder. "Well, this is me."

Connor looked out the window and focused his gaze on the little diner across the street. "Right. See ya."

"See you around, Ace," the blond replied, before moving towards the door a few feet away.

Connor continued to stare out the window for a moment, before finally letting his eyes stray back to the stranger, who was waiting behind a large group of people to leave the bus. "Who are you?" he asked, just as the man was about to step off.

A large, disarming grin broke out on the blond's face. "Name's Logan Chase. You can call me 'mister'."

That was the day Connor Jamison met Logan Chase, and the world tipped upside down.

XXX

Connor Jamison forced his eyes open, not really wanting to drag himself out of the dream, but doing so anyway. The room around him seemed unusually dark after the blinding morning light in his dream, and he lay in his bed for several moments before his eyes began to adjust. Dimly, it occurred to him that he felt a cool draft of air coming from somewhere, and without really thinking about what he was doing, he pushed the covers back and climbed out of bed, shivering as his bare feet touched the cold wooden floor.

He stopped in front of the window, its curtains drawn against the moonlight. No, that wasn't right, he decided. He pushed them back. The moonlight and the frosty February air immediately entered and spilled over everything—the bed, the floor, the walls, the windowsill…. It was this last one that Connor sat down on now, reaching for his guitar as he did so.

This guitar was always leaning against the wall, it seemed. It wasn't used much anymore, and was battered and tired-looking, but it spoke to him the way nothing else did, the discordant notes it tended to play before it was perfectly tuned somehow soothing his turbulent soul. He needed that right now.

His mind was already wandering as he reached for his sheet music….

XXX

Connor's mind was wandering again.

It was so rare that Connor actually managed to pay attention to anything in the classroom that few people noticed anymore. His teachers had all given up on him long ago, writing off their work to capture his attention as wasted effort.

All the teachers, that is, except for Logan Chase, a new resident of Milestone, Colorado who had taken a job teaching literature at the local high school. He was a patient teacher, but an impatient man, and he didn't take kindly to students who ignored him.

Connor had always been the shy sort. But in spite of his withdrawn nature, he had felt himself being drawn towards his teacher from the moment they'd met, the way a paperclip was drawn towards a strong magnet.

"Mr. Jamison?"

Connor blinked stupidly as he was pulled sharply out of his reverie by a warm, yet commanding, voice. "Huh?"

"Am I boring you with all this education stuff?"

"Oh….no, Mr. Chase. I'm sorry…." And he found that it was the truth.

Mr. Chase smiled and nodded. "Just pay attention for another…." He checked the clock. "Twenty minutes, and you're free for the weekend. Okay?"

Connor nodded.

"Okay." Then the blond man turned his attention back to his class, though Connor could have sworn the teacher had one eye still on him, and there was a glint in that eye that made him uneasy, but tingly and excited at the same time. Then Mr. Chase was speaking, and Connor forced himself to pay attention. "On Monday, we start our poetry unit. We're going to read and analyze and pick these things apart until we forget why we ever wanted to read them in the first place, and then you'll all blame me because I wasted an entire month of your precious lives."

"Then why would you teach it to us?" one of the boys in the back asked. "If you know we'll hate it?"

Mr. Chase smiled a small, crooked smile. It was amazing, really, how one simple question could change his entire demeanor. It was just one of those strange quirks that made him an amazing teacher and an endearing man. "Why, indeed…." Then he shoved his hands into the pockets of his black blazer and crossed over to the window, where he gazed out into the crisp September sunlight with a faraway look in his eyes. Then he spoke in a quiet, serious voice that was so out-of-character for him that the entire class did a double take. His voice was hushed—reverent, almost—but filled with a deep underlying passion that sent a thrill running through his student's veins as he recited quietly to the glass, "'My whole soul waiting silently, all naked in a sultry sky, droops blinded with his shining eye: I will possess him or I will die. I will grow round him in his place, grow, live, die looking on his face, die, dying, clasped in his embrace.'"

Even Connor shivered slightly as Mr. Chase's voice faded into silence and he turned away from the window to face his class after a long pause. "How many of you guys would like to talk to a girl like that?"

The room was silent for a moment (whether it was in awe, or from surprise at the sudden change in the teacher's manner, could not be certain), and then a quiet murmur of assent answered the question. "And how many of you ladies would love to meet a guy who could talk like that?"

The positive reply was much more enthusiastic this time.

Mr. Chase smiled. "Ya see, guys? It's my job to teach you that classic poetry isn't just a bunch of boring old dead people slapping weird stuff down on paper. It's so much more than that. It's the language of passion, of romance. There's so much raw emotion there for you to pick up on and if you read it the way it's meant to be read….poetry is never boring. Robert Frost, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Emily Dickinson….they all wrote convincingly about life and death and passion and romance and the world, and they did it so well that even long after their deaths, they still have thousands of people captivated by their work, and do you know why they did it?"

There was no reply, but now Connor was sitting perfectly straight in his seat, his attention caught by the tone in his teacher's voice. This was a man with a true love for poetry, and Connor didn't realize it at the moment, but the words were stirring something inside him that he had never felt before.

"Well, ladies and gents, believe it or not, most well-known poets probably never expected their works to be studied in high school classrooms across the country, or the world. Truth is, I don't know why they wrote. No one can know for sure, really. But I think they did it because they had a message to convey, emotions to get out, and poetry was the only way they knew. If you all go into this unit with that idea in mind, you'll realize just how passionate—and compassionate—these poets really were. They wrote about themselves, guys. About subjects they knew and believed in—or didn't believe in. And once that idea settles in your minds, you'll be able to grasp a lot of concepts and figure out a lot about these writers. It should be pretty interesting to see what you guys come up with."

The bell rang at that moment, and Connor found the unexplainable urge to deflate with disappointment.

"Hold on a sec, guys," Mr. Chase said, raising his voice over the sudden din that resulted from some of the students' rush to leave the classroom. "Your homework for this weekend is to find at least one poem that appeals to you. I don't care if it's from the internet or a book or a magazine, or anywhere else, as long as it's something that you like. We'll look over and talk about these poems on Monday, and then we'll start in on some of the more famous poets in my own collection. We'll cover all different kinds of poetry, and close out the unit by writing some of our own." He shot them all a grin in reply to the terrified looks on their faces, his gaze lingering on Connor for a moment longer than it did the rest of the class. "Have a good weekend."

That was the day when Connor began to feel truly close to Logan, feeling that the literature teacher was someone who would understand him and the sensitive side that he kept to himself.

XXX

Connor's hands had begun to wander over the newly-tuned strings of his guitar now, plucking out a tune that its composer wasn't paying much attention to. The boy didn't know why he bothered with sheet music sometimes—once he'd composed something, it remained permanently in his fingertips, to call upon at a moment's notice, whenever he needed it.

Connor Jamison wasn't good at much, but he did have that.

There were moments when Connor was almost certain that he saw Mr. Chase looking at him differently from the way he looked at his other students. But those moments were so sudden and so fleeting that Connor sometimes wondered if he'd imagined them. A sudden sinking sensation in his stomach occurred at that thought, which in turn brought on the question of why he even cared, and then he wondered if maybe he hadn't been imagining things, and of course that put him back at square one. It was a very vicious circle.

Even the day before, he would have fled from such thoughts, or at least fought them for a while before giving into their pull, but tonight he just let things happen as they wanted to, and before he knew it, he was falling into the clutches of another memory.

XXX

Connor sighed irritably as he entered his classroom, his head buried in his bag as he walked. Teachers and students alike moved out of his was as he wandered past them in a distracted fashion, sparing him only a confused glance or a "Good morning, Mr. Jamison" before continuing on with their lives.

"Lose something?" a laughing voice asked somewhere above and slightly to the left of him.

Connor blinked and looked up, before slinging his bag back onto his shoulder and replying, "Uh….no. No, it's nothing. Never mind."

Mr. Chase chuckled. "Right." And that was all he said as he followed Connor into the classroom.

The room was empty, as the students most likely wouldn't start arriving for another ten minutes. Connor put a great deal of energy into ignoring his teacher, right up until he reached his desk.

"….Connor?"

Connor looked up, startled, and realized it had been nearly ten minutes since he'd last spoke. "Huh?"

"You okay?"

"Oh….uh, yeah, I just…." He paused, then plunged ahead. "I was writing a song, you know? And I just couldn't come up with the right ending for it, and I lost it yesterday. I guess I dropped it on the floor in here, or something, but….someone picked it up, and they….they finished it for me. And it's….really good."

There was a twinkle in Mr. Chase's eyes as he smiled, looking faintly bemused, and highly amused. "Really? Huh….you don't say…."

Connor could have sworn he saw Mr. Chase wink at him as the teacher went to his desk and greeted the small group of students who had just arrived.

And that was the day Connor fell in love for the second time in his short life.

XXX

The dreams had started that night.

Looking back now, he thought maybe that had been the moment he really knew. He couldn't definitively say what it was that caused him to realize it, or even to experience the feelings he had been forced to come to terms with, but he felt, deep in the core of his soul, that he was ready to deal with them now.

The music flowed out of him now, playing the notes and giving him the words faster than he could write them down. This was the first time he could ever remember composing so easily. But tonight wasn't a normal night, somehow. Nothing had changed, and yet everything was different.

Connor had never really had any faith in anything. There had simply been nothing there to believe in. He was eighteen going on thirty-five, living on his own, with no one to love and no one to love him.

But the day had finally come.

Connor Jamison had found something to believe in.

Or, more to the point, someone.

And in his small, comfortable home just outside town, Logan Chase sneezed in his sleep.