Home > Heart Strings(2)

Heart Strings(2)
Author: Melanie Moreland

“Changed your mind? Are you coming with me?”

“Um, no. I’m heading home.”

A look of displeasure crossed his face. “Your mother…”

I interrupted the start of his lecture. “I’m coming for dinner. I have to go home first.”

His brow furrowed. “You live on the east side. We’re on the west. What is so important you have to go all the way across town?”

My heart started to hammer in my chest. I felt the back of my neck grow damp with anxiety. “I want to change, and ah, Brianna is calling.”

“What nonsense.”

“She needs to talk to me, Dad. I promised.”

“Fine. I’ll get the driver to take you.”

“No!” I almost shouted the word at him.

He stepped forward. “Charlotte, what is going on with you?”

“Nothing. I just… I need to do a few things. Dinner is never until 8:30. I have lots of time.”

He narrowed his eyes at me. “And you insist on taking the subway?”

“I like the subway. I listen to music, and it gives me some downtime.”

“I don’t understand you. You’re distracted. I don’t like it.”

“I’m fine.” The doors opened, and I hastened ahead of him. “I’ll see you soon!”

He didn’t chase after me. I knew he wouldn’t. Charles Prescott would never make a scene in public. Still, I didn’t stop until I was around the corner. I stood against the wall, breathing heavily, forcing myself to calm down.

He was right, of course. It was stupid to travel across town to my own condo, then head to their place for dinner.

But if I didn’t, I would miss him.

I couldn’t let that happen.

He was the only thing I lived for these days.

Even if he didn’t know.

 

 

I exited the train, my eyes scanning the area. I felt frantic tonight. The anxiety I’d been experiencing grew daily, and I was always tense until I saw him. Then my body would relax, my heartbeat slowed, and I felt better.

It happened every time.

I heard him first. The strains of his guitar met my ears, his music settling into my head, blanketing me with peace. I followed the sounds, finding him close to the benches as usual, playing. His head was lowered, shaggy brown hair falling into his face as he looked down at his hands. Streaks of white-blond mixed with the dark at the front, and I often wondered if it was bleached from time spent out in the sun. It gave him a bohemian look that suited him well. Casually propped against the wall, he was tall and broad, his chest tautly muscled under his well-worn leather jacket and tight T-shirt. His fingers were long and strong as he coaxed notes from a guitar so old, I was sure it was an antique. A battered case lay on the ground in front of him, coins thrown in by commuters glinting in the light. There were only a couple of paper bills among the collection, and I wondered, as I did every time I saw him, if he had collected enough to eat tonight. If he had somewhere to sleep.

My fingers curled around the bills I had in my pocket. Tonight, I would somehow distract him long enough to drop the money into the case. Every time I tried, he frowned at me. He let me know, silently, with his whiskey-colored eyes, he didn’t want my money. He had accepted it once—and never again. The last time I edged closer, intent on dropping in some cash, he used his foot to snap closed the lid, giving me a glare and a firm shake of his head. When I retreated and sat back down on the bench, he flipped open the lid, letting others drop in money.

Why he wouldn’t allow me to do the same, I had no idea.

As I stood, watching and listening, he lifted his head. Our gazes met, locking across the busy platform. The ghost of a smile curled the corner of his mouth. Tonight, his chin was dusted with a five-o’clock shadow, darkening the sharp edges of his jaw. Sometimes, he was clean-shaven. Other times, a beard appeared. I never knew what to expect.

His ever-present dimple deepened when he grinned. My chest loosened as I moved closer, sitting down on one of the benches with a long sigh of relief.

I never spoke to him. He never approached me. But every evening, I was there, hoping he would be somewhere in the station, playing. And every evening, he was. His music soothed and calmed me. His presence did the same.

And tonight was no different. I was ready to let the day melt away.

 

 

The first time I heard him, I was rushing through the terminal, stressed and upset. The latest project I was working on wasn’t going well. It was behind schedule, and investors were balking, threatening to pull their support. My father had been on a tear, and it didn’t matter that I was his daughter. I was included in the rant, which was long and loud. After he finally let us leave, I headed home, feeling exhausted and deeply distressed.

I hated my job with a passion. I hated every aspect of it. I did it because of obligation and duty. I was good enough at it but found no joy in the routine. Others around me lived for it, and I often wished for their drive.

My legs felt too weary to hold me up any longer, and I stumbled to a bench to sit and find enough energy to walk the short distance home. I shut my eyes, letting my head fall forward. A few minutes later, I heard it. The strains of a strumming guitar and the timbre of a low tenor singing. The notes and music filled me. As I listened, I felt a wave of calm flow through me, and my strength returned. I lifted my head, and I was met with a gaze that shook me to my very soul.

Eyes the color of the darkest, richest whiskey regarded me. His hair was long and shaggy, yet it suited him. Dressed in torn jeans and a worn leather jacket, he stood tall and confident, meeting my eyes. His brow furrowed as he observed me, still singing and playing. He tilted his head, as if silently asking me if I was okay. I found myself nodding in his direction, and it happened.

He smiled.

His dimple popped, his lips curled, and it felt to me as if the sun had suddenly burst forth in the station. I felt the warmth of his soul in that smile. Then, as suddenly as it appeared, it faded, leaving me feeling cold. Still, his eyes remained on me as he played, moving from one song to another.

I sat for as long as I could, listening. When I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer, I stood. I loathed to leave. Leave him. I dug in my pocket, knowing I had a couple twenties in there. He watched me close the distance between us, pausing in front of him. For the first time since I opened my eyes, he faltered in his movements, no longer playing. Our connected gazes, however, never broke.

I tossed the money into his case. “Thank you,” I whispered.

He resumed playing, another grin appearing on his face.

His music followed me all the way up the stairs and echoed in my head all evening.

He had been at the station every night since. His presence lingered in my mind long after I left.

 

 

Time went too fast. I knew I had to get to my parents’ place. All I wanted to do was sit and listen to him for a while longer, but I knew I couldn’t. I stood, brushing off my skirt, sliding my hand in my pocket. I glanced around, realizing how to get the money into his case. He expected me to go past him on the left and head toward the stairs. Instead, I would be heading back to the tracks, which meant I would pass him on the right where the case rested on the ground. I wouldn’t stop; I wouldn’t make eye contact. I would simply breeze past and drop it in. It was a large enough target; I couldn’t miss. To be extra sure, I balled up the bills tight in my fist.

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