The problem, Roderich decided, was not so much that she didn't know he existed, but that he kept acting as if she didn't exist.
It wasn't something he'd been trying to do, not exactly. It was…just his way. Just some defense mechanism that kicked in whenever he was around a girl he liked, and considering just how very much he had grown to like Elizabeta Héderváry over the course of their junior year, well, about the only way he could succeed in putting any more distance between them would be to start flat-out insulting her. Already there were rumors going around that he disliked her, and for no better reason than that she was popular.
In truth, it was the opposite; he liked her in part because she was popular—because she had the kind of warm, vibrant personality that simply drew people toward her. When she'd performed a Hungarian folk dance at the last talent show, accompanied by a piece by Strauss, it had clinched it; suddenly and inexorably, he'd found himself smitten.
At the cafeteria table, finishing the last of his canned coffee, Roderich sighed. Across from him sat Ludwig Beilschmidt, diligently hunched over his chemistry homework—homework that had been assigned not more than two periods prior. Ludwig was a rather bizarre combination of jock and nerd, only a sophomore but already taller than his older brother, Gilbert, and at least twice as mature. Roderich supposed it was that last trait—combined with their relatively similar temperaments—that had contributed to them becoming something like best friends.
Ludwig glanced up from his notebook, well-aware of what the sigh had been in reference to. "Why don't you just ask her out?"
"Oh, sure," Roderich scoffed. "Like it's ever that easy. And furthermore, that's extraordinarily rich, coming from you. Remind me again which one of us actually checked out Dating For Dummies from the library?"
Ludwig had the grace to blush at that, the ruddiness standing out starkly against his otherwise pale complexion. Trying to regain his composure, he dropped his eyes back to his homework and cleared his throat. "You should know it had some surprisingly decent advice."
Roderich huffed. "I don't need advice. What I need is—"
It was frustration with himself, combined with the general irritation that came from being interrupted, that made him veritably snap the word—"Yes?"—and upon turning his head and finally seeing who it was that had called his name, Roderich began to wonder if he shouldn't just plan to major in self-sabotage once he got to college; clearly he had a natural proficiency for the subject.
Elizabeta stood there in all her pretty, amiable glory, trying to not let her smile falter in the face of his icy wrath. A little nervously, she shifted her books in her hands. "Um—I mean…it is 'Roderich,' right?"
"Ah—yes." The words came out far less rancorously, but still far stiffer than he would have liked, so he tried again. "Yes." He adjusted his glasses—a nervous tic of his—and made the conscious effort to relax his brow. If he couldn't manage to exude friendliness, maybe he could step it down a notch and aim for merely 'polite.' "I—I'm sorry about… I didn't mean to… I've had a lot on my mind," he finished lamely. Ludwig made some noise—a short laugh he rather awkwardly turned into a cough—and Roderich made a mental note to kick him in the shin later.
Clumsy though his apology was, it was apparently good enough, because Elizabeta smiled. "It's okay. I did kind of sneak up on you," she admitted. "Anyway, I was hoping I could talk to you. The history club is thinking about putting on a…ball-slash-dance workshop, I guess you'd say. We'd have to get a better name for it, obviously," she laughed, "but the idea is, like, we'd teach people how to do the minuet or whatever, and then everyone would do it all together. Anyway, it was suggested I talk to you about what kind of music to play. Like maybe you could help me work up a playlist of specific pieces?"
Roderich blinked. "Uh—sure," he stuttered out. Music was good. He could talk about music for hours—and comfortably, at that. Perhaps the powers that be had decided his love life had suffered enough and so were throwing him this one, small bone out of pity; it was the only thing he could think of to explain such a serendipitous turn of events. "What kind of dances are you planning to do?"
Elizabeta laughed again and self-consciously tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. "Well, we haven't exactly decided yet. It's still just in the beginning stages, as far as planning goes. But we were definitely thinking the minuet, probably the polonaise and quadrille, maybe the waltz or polka… We're having a meeting this Thursday, after school, to hash out more of the details. I was…hoping you might be able to attend?"
Thursday. What was he doing Thursday? It didn't matter. He could reschedule, if need be. "Ah—sure," he said again. "I'll be there."
He was rewarded with a bright, beautiful grin, and she actually bounced a little in sheer excitement. Roderich was fairly certain he was in love. "Great!" she said. "I'll see you then!" And with that, she was off.
With a small, parting wave in her direction, he turned back around to see Ludwig staring at him in something like stunned admiration. "Well, that didn't seem so bad," the sophomore said.
"Only because she asked me about the one topic I care about more than I fear rejection," Roderich pointed out dryly.
Ludwig shrugged. "Still, it's a step in the right direction."
Thoughtfully, Roderich fiddled with his empty coffee can, his mind already going over potential dance pieces in his head. "Yes," he said, and a small smile couldn't help but come to his mouth, "it is, isn't it?"