My fingers slide over slick keys without pause or mercy, I am fervent. Unsettled. It will be forty minutes before lunch finishes and the auditorium is filled with yet another painfully gleeky power ballad montage. Each minute hisses past me much faster than it should; tiny flashes, ticking along, racing in time with my strained and desperate fingers.
I feel.. out of sync with the world.
Playing the piano always helps to clear my mind, to reset my system if anything intrudes on my stalwart equilibrium, but in these scrambled moments my mind is still a mess. I have been irrevocably unbalanced. So much so, that I struggle with my thoughts, what am I even trying to get out of my system?
My eyes, which have been gazing ahead, unseeing, flicker when I see a shadow move through the curtains skirting the edge of the stage and at once I am hit. I am struck. Not with fists or steel but with the intrusive return of what has brought me here today.
My mind is awash but my melody does not falter, my fingers never stumble. I am fervent. Unsettled. But I am brilliant. I close my eyes and allow myself to remember.
It happened one hour and forty five minutes ago in gym, the most awful moment of my life to date. I was just about to finish changing, pulling my gym top over my head when I heard footsteps behind me.
I could tell by the distinct sound those God awful shoes made against the tiles. She was late. She was never late. This threw a spanner in my day because she was always early, and because she was always early I was always late; waiting until the last possible minute in order to avoid a situation like this, a scenario which had haunted my nights and clouded my days for what seemed like forever.
Me, her, us, alone. Not good.
My mind screamed my muscles into gear and I quickly finished changing, spinning around to face her.
"I see you've found something better to do with your time Berry."
I spoke mid-spin, straining in my effort to appear effortless in front of the most confusing compilation of atoms on the planet. I hated this girl, I hated everything about her, but most of all I hated the things she made me think, or, my stomach dropped in shame at the honesty in my bones, the things she made me feel.
She was flustered and jittery, all flailing limbs and desperate tugs of cotton as she tore off her clothing to change. I blanched, but I did not move. I could not move. I felt as though an assault was taking place; my eyes bruised, powerless victims to the strength wielded in that darkly toned skin, in those softly curved shoulders, a gently straining bicep.
I sighed at the ache in my neck my carefully sculpted expression was causing and looked away for a moment. She cleared her throat and the flush in her cheeks warmed mine in turn as she began to tug on her gym shoes.
"Contrary to popular belief Quinn, I am not above running late upon occasion and, forgive me for being so forward, but you've clearly found standing there watching me instead of actually going to class to be a better use of your time because now you're just as late as I am. So I don't think you're in a position to comment on the matter."
My jaw clenched. I hated it when she got verbose, sixty four words expelled from her lips when all it would really take was ten. It was unnecessary and dangerous and so very Rachel. I was immediately frustrated by how much of herself- her thoughts, her feelings, she gave away so freely, so unconsciously.
It made me ache with resentment and.. all my cognitive function stopped with the harsh, frightened gasp that escaped her lips.
She had been hopping on one foot trying to frantically tie up her right gym shoe when she inadvertently jumped on the edge of her school bag, losing her balance and pitching violently to the side. My insides lurched as my body responded without thought, hands snapping out towards her and sinking into soft hips. I felt sick with pleasure at my fingers pressing into her skin, it felt… unknown, impossible, like home, like the end of a circle.
Like sheathing a sword, or driving one into your gut, I couldn't tell which.
This was the sixth time I had ever touched Rachel Berry and I was angry, livid, seething. I should have torn myself away or left the room or let her fall but I didn't do any of those things and that made me even angrier.
I tried to, but this was the first time it had ever been like this; this close, this dangerous, and I was touched.
Her fingertips burnt like hot coals into my shoulders. It hurt, it hurt so much. I gripped her harder, a little too hard I thought, though I did not care to loosen my grasp, before roughly placing her back on two feet.
And that was when it happened, when my balance shifted, when the careful pool of tranquil indifference I projected to the world began to ripple and churn.
I looked at her, my intentions of backing away and packing the past two minutes into another wonderfully neat box in my mind faltered. She was breathing hard and.. I furrowed my brow.. looking at me?
Rachel was standing, on two feet, nails pressing into my shoulders and looking at me with those stupidly expressive eyes in, what was it? Shock? Bewilderment? Discomfort? I couldn't tell, all of my years of study and my reading and my learning and my knowledge about everything I thought I needed to know in life amounted to nothing because in that one moment Rachel was looking at me with an expression of barely contained something and I did not know what it was.
God, I thought, how I hated this girl.
My fingers retracted all at once and her nails tore at my skin as I pulled away, she was biting her lip desperately but no apology left her mouth for the injury. No apology, no sound, no words. She had no words. She was silent, staring, standing, in a strange kind of repose. It was beautiful.
I walked away from her to go to gym.
I walked away, and I definitely did not look back.
I knew that she was watching; her shoes would always give her away. I had been tearing away at the piano for the better part of thirty minutes and she was watching me.
My eyes slid back open as I shut our sixth touch into a perfectly white box and pushed it into a dark room in my mind to join the other five.
I still felt unsettled, bottled up and bubbling with pressure.
My mind rationalized that Rachel did not know that I knew she was there, that this moment would not come again even if I had the will to let it. My mind rationalized and my heart burned, this was my condition, and so my fingers changed their rhythm and I began to play a different tune. Listen. Each note was a plea. Please, listen. I could not even begin to think about what had transpired in the locker room today, could not begin the dissection of fact from fantasy to discern if anything had even happened or if it had just been another painfully damned imagining.
All I could do was play and unravel myself to her the only way I knew how; with all of my walls intact. This is what I could do. Rationalize, and burn. So once again I poured myself into the piano. Listen, I played.
Listen. Please, listen. Because this is how I feel when I touch you. If my fingertips could cry out, if the longing within them could somehow shift into melody, then this is what it would sound like. Sadness, a journey, and so, so much want. Endless want, which quickens my heartbeat until I feel as though my chest will surely sag from the weight of this tragedy I see unfolding.
Because that's how I feel when I touch you.
I feel wanting, wanting for more, endlessly. And I don't think that will ever change, which is why I will not touch you again. When these final notes reach their peak and fade, when these last precious bars thrum into me with life and love and something quite past anything I have ever experienced before, it will end. And it will not happen again. Because there is no room for this in my life, there is no place for you.
I lick my lips in distress; I had not meant to add that part, not even in the safety of my own thoughts. I don't even notice that I'm crying until my finger slides off of the side of a key, it's jarringly flat tone out of place in my story and insulting to my abilities, I am brilliant, and yet, I have faltered.
My pool is still and deathly calm once more, but I am unsettled, deeply, and so, so close to losing myself. I hear shuffled footsteps begin to fade into the distance, the side stage door closing quietly in their wake and I am left wondering if Rachel knows what I have tried to tell her. If she knows that this can be my only goodbye, ridiculous and desperate as it was, through nothing but a piece of improvised music and delivered when we have not even had anything to say goodbye to.
I wipe the last remaining tear from my eyes and stand, fingers brushing over the keys in.. regret?
I do not regret. I rationalize. I go to sit in the audience and wait out the last remaining minutes until the auditorium is once again overrun by laughter and friendships and other things I do not understand.
I rationalize I say to myself.
But my heart still burns, along with my shoulders.