Ryan led the way out of his office, out of North Bridge Music School and down the street to where his car was parked. It wasn't exactly a Ferrari, but it wasn't bad either. He opened my door for me, which was a really nice gesture. I was starting to think that Ryan was a really nice guy.
He closed my door for me, then got into the car himself. As he started the engine, the stereo automatically turned on. I recognized the song instantly. It was July by The Frightened Squirrel. I smiled. I loved this song more than words could say. It was from their debut album, an album that Will had given me when I was fourteen. I loved it back then, but now that I was older, and I understood it so much more, it meant so much more to me. The words could have been my own.
"I love this song." I said, as Ryan drove down Brighton Avenue.
He grinned. "Then you have good taste."
"I think it's my favourite song." I told him. "And not just by The Frightened Squirrel, but by anybody."
Ryan glanced my way. "Y'know, a person's favourite song says a lot about that person. Many songs are liked, and many songs are loved, but very few are favourites. And when they are, it's not just because they have a catchy chorus. It goes beyond that. This song means a lot to you, doesn't it?"
"Yeah." I nodded my head. "It does."
Ryan turned a corner.
"Where are we going?" I asked.
He smiled at that. "It's a surprise."
"Is it expensive? I don't really have much money with me-"
"Jane," He was almost laughing. "I'm paying. Don't worry about it."
"No, it's okay, don't-"
"It's not up for argument." He said firmly, still grinning. "Think of it this way - I'm paying with the money you pay me in vocal lessons. So, really, you are contributing in some form."
I chuckled. "Alright." I gave in once more.
Ryan continued driving until we reached a part of Charlottesville I had never been to before. The streets were smaller and a lot less busier. Most of the buildings were tiny, one storey cafés and restaurants. There were no street lights. The glow from the windows of the buildings that lined the street was the only thing illuminating our path. That and Ryan's headlights.
"I hate to give away the big surprise, but I really should ask. You do like Italian, don't you?" Ryan questioned, as he parked his car on the side of the road.
"Of course I do." I said, already looking forward to it.
"Then you'll love it here. They have the best Italian food in the world here. Well, excluding Italy itself."
He opened his door and got out of the car. I opened mine, and did the same. As I stepped out, I saw that he was standing before me.
"I would have done that for you," He grinned. "My attempts at chivalry have been diminished!"
I smirked. "I promise to let you push in my chair later to make up for it."
"I'd like that." He said. "C'mon. Let's go celebrate."
Ryan once again lead the way down the street. It was not only getting darker, but it was also getting colder too. I held my jacket tightly around myself, trying to retain as much heat as possible. Despite my general coldness, I was happy. Content. I felt as though I didn't have a care in the world. Ryan was nice. He was so unbelievably nice. I felt comfortable with him. It was easy, simple, effortless. Almost too easy, simple and effortless.
We soon came to a stop outside one of the tiny restaurants. Ryan pushed the door open, and held it there for me. Another attempt at chivalry. I appreciated his attempts. It was sweet.
I walked in first. Ryan followed after. As he reached me, he placed a hand on my lower back, guiding me over to the where the hostess stood.
"Table for two." He told her.
She brought us to a table at the right of the restaurant. As promised, I let Ryan push my chair in as I sat down. I couldn't help but smile. The guy knew how to treat a lady.
The restaurant was gorgeous. It was dimly lit, giving the room a very warm, homey feel to it. It wasn't too loud, but it wasn't too quiet, either. It was perfect.
I read over the menu that I was given, as did Ryan. We decided on different dishes - he went for pizza, I went for pasta. He also ordered himself a beer, while I, being underage, settled for a coke.
"So," Ryan said, setting his beer down after taking a long sip. "Tell me about this audition. It must have went pretty well."
"I guess it did." I smiled. "It was terrifying."
He laughed. "I'll bet."
"I was last up. And after hearing all these amazing singers go up there, I was sure I didn't stand a chance."
"What did you sing?"
"Hostage. It's a song by Apartment 32. Do you know them?"
"I sure do. Great band." Ryan said. He paused for a moment, taking another large sip from his drink, seemingly simultaneously deep in thought. As he placed it back down onto the table, he asked, "Is that another favourite song of yours?"
"Yeah, definitely." I replied.
"Interesting." He noted.
I was intrigued by his words. I was about to ask him to elaborate, when he did so anyway.
"I mean, July and Hostage are so different. And not only in sound, but in meaning. It's interesting. It's like seeing two different Jane's." He said. "But neither of them are the real you."
I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. Nervous habit.
"What do you mean?"
He leaned across the table towards me. "A person is like a broken mirror. All the pieces reflect different parts of us. But you can never see them as a whole. There are two many shards of glass. And some aren't as easy to see as others."
"Are you always this deep and insightful?"
He chuckled. "Only when I want to be. That's what happens when you get old. You see things differently, you get wiser. It's up to me to share those wise words with kids like yourself." He smiled cheekily. "Don't you have curfew or something?"
I rolled my eyes. "I don't live with my parents, remember?"
"Ah yes, how could I forget. I was beginning to feel guilty for holding you here against your will. Don't want you getting grounded on my account." He laughed again.
I rolled my eyes again. "I won't get grounded, and I'm not here against my will."
"Glad to hear it." Ryan grinned. "How are things with your parents?"
"I saw my mom last Wednesday. I see her every Wednesday. Wednesday is-"
"Mom Day. You mentioned that before." He chuckled. "When's Dad Day?"
I shrugged. "I haven't seen my Dad since - since the divorce." I admitted.
I watched as Ryan's face fell. A reflection of me, reacting to my fallen smile.
"Why not?" Ryan asked gently, being cautious and careful. When I didn't answer, he tried again. "Jane, you can tell me. You can trust me."
I took in a deep breath, trying to brace myself, and somehow delay time. "He just doesn't care about me anymore. He never has." I said rather nonchalantly, trying to show as little emotion as I could, to hold in as much as was possible.
He didn't ask me to elaborate, but his eyes were waiting for it. I felt like I had to say it. I had never said it before. Not out loud, anyway.
"I hate to admit it, but I don't want to see my mom. Wednesday's are annoying, she's a burden, which is terrible - she's my mom, I should love her. But that's just how it is. And as much as I don't enjoy seeing her, I'd much rather it to not seeing her at all. My dad's gone. Nobody knows if or when he's coming back. I never got on well with him. I never made any effort to, either. And now I'll probably never see him again." I stopped there, feeling that I was about to step over the edge of the cliff, into the raging sea of tears.
"It's not your fault." Ryan told me.
I nodded my head. "I know." I said. "It's his. And I hate him for it. But a small part of me, can't help but feel like it actually is my fault. And-" I stopped again, not letting myself fall off the edge. "And I hate - I hate myself for that."
"Don't hate yourself, Jane. Don't cry."
I hadn't even realised that I was crying. I brought a shaking hand to my eye and wiped a falling tear away. I was shaking, trembling.
"I'm sorry," I found myself apologizing. "I don't usually do this-"
"Do what?" He interrupted, bearing a pained frown.
I shrugged. "I don't know. Be honest? Talk about it?"
"You should talk about it."
I almost laughed. "To who?" I asked, more asking myself than I was asking him. "Nobody gets it. Mom's suppressing it all, Sam is acting like he doesn't care, and Dad just packed up and left!"
He paused for a moment. "Talk to me." He eventually said. "I know what it's like. I get it. I'm your teacher, but I'm also your friend. I don't want you to forget that. You're never alone."
I smiled, wiping more tears away. "You're so nice," I thought out loud. "Why are you so nice?"
He laughed. "I don't know, Jane."
"I might go to the bathroom - freshen up a little." I said, as I stood up. I could feel the mascara running down my cheeks. I needed to fix it. "I'll be right back," I told him.
I quickly made my way to the bathroom, head down, as to avoid eye contact with anyone else here. I didn't want them to notice that I had been crying, because I was so sure that it was extremely noticeable. I kept my gaze on the floor until I reached the bathrooms. They were empty, thankfully. I approached the mirror, and looked at my reflection. It wasn't as bad as I expected, but there was that telltale just-after-crying redness on my cheeks. I could hardly believe that that had just happened. It was so strange, opening up like that. I never do that. How did it even happen? How did he make me feel so comfortable, that I could just pour my soul out before him? I couldn't understand it.
I left a minute later, returning to our table, where Ryan sat, waiting. He really was just a wonderful person. Kind, caring, sweet. I liked him a lot.
The food arrived shortly, his pizza and my pasta were both immaculate. He was right. It was the best Italian food in the world, which the exception of Italy itself, of course.
"Do you always treat your students to delicious Italian cuisine?" I asked, as I devoured my meal.
He smirked. "You'd be the first."
I smiled back. "Don't I feel special."
"You should," He said. "You are."
I felt another grin creep across my face. He was a charmer, alright.