Title: Black and White Piano Keys
Disclaimer: I own nothing except the songs they write, and for that, I apologize. The one lyric I don't own is from What to Do by OK Go.
Summary: "You are the words to my music. You are the chorus to my melody. You are the beauty behind the beast."
A/N: Betad by silverdragon87. I am beyond excited to post this and I hope you all like it! It's in three parts, linked at the bottom.
He wasn’t there because he wanted to be. He was there because Spencer had gotten tired of all his bitching and moaning about his English capstone project and dragged him there. It wasn’t that it was horrible; he’d just rather be trying to figure out how to pass the very last class he needed to graduate instead.
Ryan Ross was a senior at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, UNLV. As a senior in the English department (he was an English major), it was required to take a capstone class, which was kind of like an assessment of whether or not you were deemed worthy to graduate. Ryan thought it was just another elitist move on the University’s part.
He only thought this, of course, because he couldn’t come up with a project idea for his final portfolio presentation. Everyone had a project already and was excitedly preparing for their last semester of school; everyone except Ryan.
He’d been wracking his brain for the past two weeks since school had started, and he couldn’t come up with a thing. Some were writing novels, others were writing screenplays, some were making lesson plans for future classes, and Ryan, he had nothing.
Ryan loved writing. It was his life, literally. When things weren’t going the way he wanted, he always sunk into his notebooks, scribbling late into the night until all light had faded and the scratching of his pen was a mere sound in the darkness.
Spencer, his best friend and confidante, knew this. So when Ryan had stopped complaining and started writing, he knew it was time to get him out. Out of the apartment, out of the writing department, away from his favorite spot by the fountain outside the library. He’d taken him somewhere he’d never been before—the music department.
Ryan didn’t know why Spencer had made him come, and he wasn’t happy when Spencer announced they were going to see the music department preliminary concerts. They did this at the beginning of each semester in order to compare and contrast the student’s performances at the end of the semester. Ryan never even knew this happened.
Of course, he didn’t know much beyond his own college, and he wasn’t particularly interested. He was one of those people who got easily lost in their own worlds, ignoring those around them, even if they didn’t mean to do so.
Spencer knew this too, so when he forced Ryan out of the apartment and into the music building, Ryan was surprised. He wasn’t happy, though. He didn’t see how seeing a concert of amateurs would help him come up with an idea for the capstone.
He was forced into a seat near the front, settling himself in one of the red-cushioned chairs. In front of them, a stage rose from the ground and a variety of instruments sat in corners, waiting to be used. Ryan assumed most students had their own instruments, but then, a piano would be hard to carry around.
"Spencer," Ryan whispered in a pained voice as he fidgeted in the chair. "Can I go now?"
"It hasn’t even started." Spencer rolled his eyes and poked Ryan to stop his twitchy movements.
Ryan frowned, but settled down. He sighed loudly, though, as to accentuate his boredom. Spencer just ignored him, knowing he got like this sometimes.
Ryan was resigned to watch the performances and settled into his chair, sliding as low as he could go. There weren’t very many people in the small auditorium, but Spencer had said it was open to the public; it was just that few people knew of it. Ryan thought that should have been a clue.
Bored, he listened to the short introduction given by some man in a suit, and then watched uninterestedly as a girl holding a flute tightly walked onto the stage. She looked extremely nervous and her hands were shaking as she raised the instrument to her mouth.
Ryan listened, but only because there was nothing else to do. He was desperately wishing he’d thought to grab his notebook before Spencer had shunted him out the door. Spencer had taken care to hide it, though, before springing the trip on Ryan.
The girl finished and walked off stage to a smattering applause. Ryan didn’t know that much about music except what he knew from his own intuition, but she’d played decently, he thought.
Ryan liked music, of course. How could someone not like music? He could play the guitar, though only moderately, and nothing like those he idolized. He listened to classical music sometimes, and always wished he could play something beautiful like the violin or the cello, something that’s melodies filled him with passion and desire, something soft and beautiful.
He dealt in words, though. Words were his escape, how he survived daily life. He needed them.
The next few performances were average, Ryan thought, and when the third boy left his stage with his violin, Ryan sighed.
"Okay, I got out. I saw someone play Vivaldi. Can I go now?"
Spencer shook his head. "There’s a still a few more to go. Just relax."
Ryan hated when people told him to relax. He huffed instead and crossed his arms tightly across his chest, glaring at the stage where the curtains had closed.
When the curtains opened again, the piano had been pushed to the front of the stage and a bench now accompanied it. Ryan heard the professor calling a name and a boy emerged from the left side of the stage.
There wasn’t anything particularly remarkable about the boy. His dark hair was long and combed down. Ryan thought he looked a little dorky in his white, button-down shirt and tight girl jeans. The boy wasn’t looking anywhere but at the piano, and his teeth had pulled his full bottom lip into his mouth.
Ryan watched with feigned indifference as the boy sat down. He wasn’t sure what it was, but something about the boy interested him.
The professor said something else and the boy nodded, raising shaking fingers to the keys.
Ryan wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting, but the moment the boy’s fingers hit the keys, it was magic. The nervousness seemed to melt out of his fingertips as they glided over the black and white piano keys. Ryan could feel the music swelling, whipping around him and taking him away to a place he’d never seen.
He didn’t know the song, but it wasn’t important. He watched with real interest now as the boy played, his fingers dancing over the keys like a ballet dancer. Every note was perfect, to Ryan’s ears anyway.
The boy swayed with the music, his head bowed against the keys as his fingers moved. It was like a swan dance, so beautiful and graceful. Ryan had a desperate urge to engrain the image in his mind. This boy loved the piano, it was obvious, the way he caressed each key, lingered on each note to the perfect moment, let his fingers grace the ivory softly.
Ryan couldn’t help staring as the boy played the song to a finish, ending with a silence so resolute Ryan was almost afraid to breathe. The boy was still for a second as the last note wavered and died, then lifted his head and let out a breath.
"Thank you, Brendon," the professor said from somewhere in the audience and the spell was broken.
The boy nodded and rose from the bench. Ryan saw him clench his hands and release as he walked away, his head still on the ground.
"Wow," Ryan breathed, staring after the boy. He was long gone and Ryan could only see the black of the stage corner.
"Told you it was a good idea."
Ryan could hear the smirk in Spencer’s voice before he even looked at him. His expression immediately fell into scowl as he glanced at Spencer.
He just shrugged moodily, slipping further into his seat and bracing himself for the rest of the performances. After that boy’s, how could any compare?
The rest went on, but Ryan wasn’t paying any attention. His mind was still on the boy, the one who seemed to understand the piano so well, as if it were his own invention. Ryan wished he had something like that.
The performances ended pretty quickly after that and Ryan was glad to stand and turn to leave. He was stopped, though, by Spencer’s hand on his arm. He frowned.
"What?" he asked, annoyed. "I came, I listened, I’m done. Now let me go so I can pick a fucking project so I’m not stuck here forever like you."
Spencer ignored Ryan’s snappy attitude and led him down the row and out into the lobby. Ryan felt like he was at a fucking symphony concert instead of a dinky little school performance. There were little paper cups with punch and cookies on napkins. He didn’t take any, but stood moodily with Spencer, waiting for God knew what.
Spencer munched a cookie with yellow sprinkles while they waited, looking around him. Ryan just sighed every so often to enunciate his annoyance.
"Oh!" Spencer made a noise and hastily finished his cookie, grabbing Ryan’s arm and dragging him through the crowd to a group of people that had just emerged from backstage.
Ryan tried to dig his heels in, but he weighed so little that it hardly mattered. Spencer was tugging him along as though he were a rag doll. Giving up, Ryan sighed loudly and let Spencer pull him forward.
"Brendon!" Spencer called over the heads of the people milling around.
Ryan tapped his foot impatiently, wondering when he would be able to leave. He couldn’t see who Spencer was waving at, brushing his crumb-covered hands on his jeans. Ryan’s wrinkled nose went unnoticed as a boy came towards them, maneuvering between the crowd.
Looking up, Ryan was shocked to find the piano boy in front of him. He looked much happier now than he had when walking to his piano earlier. He bounced a little as he approached them, his smiled wide and bright.
"Hi, Spencer!" the boy greeted Spencer, hugging him tightly. Ryan was shocked that Spencer accepted the gesture without so much as a protest.
"Hey, Bren," Spencer replied, ruffling the boy’s hair as he was released. "You played really well today."
Brendon smiled and Ryan could swear he saw a faint blush cover his neck. "You’re just saying that," Brendon mumbled, glancing hopefully at Spencer.
"Of course not!" Spencer rolled his eyes. "Seriously. You are seriously awesome."
"Yeah, well, so are you," Brendon said happily, smiling widely again.
Ryan was confused. Who was this boy and why hadn’t he ever met him if Spencer was friends with him?
"Oh, this is my friend Ryan," Spencer said suddenly, as though just remembering he was there.
Ryan scowled but couldn’t do much more when Brendon turned his bright smile to him.
"I-uh-hi," Ryan said awkwardly, mentally hitting himself for sounding so stupid. He was a writer for God’s sake. He could have come up with something better.
"Hi!" Brendon sounded genuinely enthusiastic with each of his words and Ryan wondered how he did it. "Did you watch?"
"Um, yeah," Ryan replied. "You’re good."
Brendon laughed. "Spencer tell you to say that?" He glanced at Spencer, who just shrugged.
Ryan frowned. "No. You are."
Brendon’s smile fell a little but he pulled it back up. "So do you go here?" he asked Ryan a second later.
Ryan was confused as to why his compliment had fallen so flat, but he decided it was best to ignore it. "Yeah."
"He’s a senior," Spencer added when Ryan added nothing more.
"Cool," Brendon said, his eyes widening. "What’s your major?"
"Are you going to teach?"
Ryan’s face twitched into a scowl again. He hated when people asked him that, as if that were the only career available to English majors or any kind of language major.
Brendon saw this and quickly backtracked. "Sorry, I mean, are you gonna write, like novels or something? Be the next Hemingway?"
"More like Poe," Spencer muttered, snickering, and Ryan elbowed him in the side.
"I don’t know." He shrugged. "I haven’t really thought about it yet."
"But aren’t you going to graduate soon?" Brendon tilted his head to the side, looking innocently confused. Ryan wondered how someone like Brendon could be so innocent.
He shrugged again. "Only if I actually come up with an idea for the fucking capstone," he grumbled.
Brendon looked confused again, but smiled anyway, as if it were some joke he wasn’t in on. He turned to Spencer instead.
He looked at him for a second, and then his mouth fell open, his eyes widening. "Are there cookies here?!"
"Oh no," Spencer muttered, grabbing Brendon’s arm as he tried to go around him. "No, Brendon, you don’t need sugar."
"Spencer," Brendon whined, sounding pitiful and his lower lip jutted out. "I need it."
Spencer scoffed. "What you need is some Ritalin and a good kick in the ass."
Brendon’s eyes widened comically. "You’re mean, Spencer Smith!"
"I’m just prolonging your life."
"Still mean." Brendon pouted. He turned to Ryan, who was taken aback when he leaned into him suddenly. "Ryan," he said, his voice begging and sweet. His puppy-dog eyes were on him and Ryan didn’t know what to do. "Can I have a cookie?"
"Uh…" Ryan stared down at him, a little scared by Brendon’s closeness so soon.
"No, you can’t," Spencer interrupted before Ryan had time to think of an answer.
Brendon moved immediately away from Ryan and huffed childishly. He stuck his tongue out at Spencer, who merely rolled his eyes.
"You know when you do that it means you want the person to kiss you," Spencer pointed out and Brendon made a face.
"I don’t want you to kiss me, Spencer," he said. "Who knows where you’ve been."
Spencer pretended to look offended. "At least kissing me won’t give you a sugar high."
"Who says I don’t want that?"
Ryan just stared as the two boys talked. How could they be such good friends and Ryan didn’t even know who Brendon was? He couldn’t have been that self-involved, could he?
His mouth was hanging open slightly in a completely unattractive manner. He couldn’t figure it out and he didn’t understand anything. It didn’t matter, though. He didn’t want to be there anyway, but then Brendon was asking him a question and he was forced to tune in.
"When are you graduating?"
"Wha—" Ryan jerked back to reality, realizing Brendon was speaking to him. Brendon looked mildly amused at how he’d been spacing out. Shaking his head, Ryan searched for the right answer. "This May, but only if I pick a project for the capstone."
"It’s just some stupid class for English majors. We have to make some sort of project and present it to a professor at the end of the year."
"Ooh, what kind of project?" Brendon asked interestedly. Everyone else around him seemed forgotten as he focused on Ryan.
"I don’t have one yet," Ryan admitted grudgingly. "I’m probably going to fail it."
"No, you won’t!" Brendon replied confidently, and Ryan wondered how he could be so confident when he didn’t even know him.
"How do you know?"
Brendon shrugged. "I can tell. You’re really cool."
Ryan raised an eyebrow and glanced at Spencer. Spencer was just smiling and shrugged when Ryan looked at him.
"And me being cool will help me pass the class?"
"No, but it’ll help you pick a project. I bet you come up with something really amazing."
Ryan felt it would almost be mean to dash Brendon’s bubble of happiness with the truth that he wasn’t amazing and he wouldn’t come up with anything cool for his project. He’d probably just end up writing a book of poetry, or taking what he already had and shoving it together in a book.
"I have an idea," Spencer spoke up, and Ryan turned to him sharply. Spencer rarely offered ideas unless he really liked it.
"What?" Ryan asked uneasily. Ideas that weren’t his were rarely good.
"You’re a writer."
Ryan just stared.
Spencer ignored him and looked at Brendon. "And you’re a musician."
"Um, I play the piano…" Brendon said slowly. He also didn’t look exactly confident in Spencer’s idea either.
Spencer looked between them and sighed when they weren’t able to read his mind.
"Ryan, there’s your project!"
What?" Ryan just stared at him. He didn’t get it. He prided himself on his intelligence, but Spencer just wasn’t making any sense.
Spencer shook his head as though they should understand. "You can work with Brendon."
"And do what?" Ryan’s eyebrows were raised as he waited for the grand revelation Spencer obviously had worked up.
"Your project, write songs, make a portfolio."
"Of songs?!" Ryan asked in disbelief just as Brendon said, "With me?!"
They both looked at each other and then back to Spencer, who was smirking like he’d just come up with the solution to life’s existence.
"What? It’s perfect! Ryan, you write the songs, Brendon, you put them to music and then you present them at the end."
"I don’t think that’s allowed," Ryan said flatly, although he had no idea if it was or not. Mostly, he didn’t want to work with anyone else. His writing was private and sharing it with Brendon, a person whom he’d known for only ten minutes, was just not something he would do.
The look Spencer gave him was disbelieving and Ryan scowled. He knew Spencer knew he was lying.
"Come on, Ryan," Spencer said matter-of-factly. "You need a project."
"I know I do!" Ryan snapped. He didn’t need Spencer telling him that.
Spencer sighed. "So do it with Brendon!"
Ryan glanced at Brendon, who looked uneasy at the whole idea. "I don’t even know him! How do you even know him? You’ve never talked about him before."
"Yes, I have," Spencer replied, his tone hardening. "You just don’t listen."
"Yes, I do!" Ryan realized he was nearly yelling and that people were beginning to look, but he didn’t particularly care. Beside them, Brendon was looking nervous at the people staring at them and the way Ryan’s voice was rising.
"No, you don’t," Spencer argued, his voice at least at a normal level. "You’re always stuck in that notebook of yours like it’s the only thing that exists. I’ve talked about him before, you’ve just never bothered to pay attention. If you had, you might have known why I wanted you to come today."
"To get me out of the house," Ryan sneered back.
"And to get you away from that stupid notebook!"
Ryan’s eyes widened as he stared at Spencer. "My notebook is not stupid," he whispered and turned, pushing his way through the crowd until he reached the fresh air of outside.
He stumbled down the stairs and continued around the building until he found a cool, shadowed alley-way behind the building. Leaning against the cold brick, he sighed, wishing he had his stupid notebook to clutch to his chest.
He knew he was being irrational, but sometimes Spencer just didn’t understand. He wasn’t a social person by nature and he didn’t go out partying like everyone else. He’d much rather be at home scribbling thoughts in his little black notebook. It knew him better than anyone else, as sad as that was to admit.
Ryan sighed as he stood, acting like a child, in the alley. He knew he’d overreacted, but he didn’t want to face Spencer so soon. He was stubborn in that respect.
A noise had him recoiling slightly, staring at the entrance to the alley. There was another noise, like someone tripping over a garbage can, and a tall figure appeared in the entrance.
Ryan recognized Brendon’s low voice and sighed, leaning back against the building.
"Did Spencer send you out here to drag me back inside?"
Brendon paused. "No."
Ryan was surprised. "Then what are you doing?"
There was another pause in which the only sounds were of cars passing on the street beyond.
"I have a notebook too."
Ryan looked up sharply, frowning through the shadowed darkness. Brendon wasn’t looking at him, but at the ground, pushing a rock on the ground.
"But I don’t write words in it," Brendon said quietly.
"What’s in it?" Ryan asked, curious despite himself. He couldn’t deny that little spark in Brendon that came out when he was playing the piano.
Brendon shrugged, glancing up, his mouth quirking into a smile. "Music. Notes. Compositions."
Another shrug. "I have to for class, but I do otherwise too."
Ryan didn’t know what to say, but Brendon looked so sweet and open, as though he could talk to him about anything. Instead, he sighed and glanced away.
"It’s not that I don’t want to do a project with you," he said finally, feeling awkward, as though they were having the talk or something. "I just don’t like… I mean, they’re my words." He paused. "That probably makes no sense, but they’re mine, and I’ve always been bad at sharing. Even when I was five, I didn’t want to share the red marker, because it was mine."
He realized how stupid that sounded, but he couldn’t explain it any better without sounding like a completely selfish prick.
"I… know what you mean."
"You do?" Ryan looked up sharply. Even Spencer didn’t understand that.
Brendon shrugged. "Yeah. I don’t show anyone my compositions. I always write new stuff for school."
Ryan sighed, feeling like a real idiot. Spencer was right. He needed to pick a project and this one was staring him right in the face. It was so obvious that he couldn’t see it.
Beside him, Brendon was swinging his arms a little and humming softly to himself as he stared around the alley. He looked so young and Ryan wondered how old he was. He wondered how he’d gotten to be so talented. He wondered a lot of things.
"Look, Brendon," he said after a moment, breaking the silence. "I know I don’t know you, and Spencer’s really pushy, but maybe he was right. Maybe we should do this."
"You mean, like, write songs and stuff?" Brendon sounded uneasy.
"Yeah." Ryan shrugged. "It could be fun. I mean, it’s just for school."
"Right, school," Brendon muttered. He glanced up at Ryan and was quiet for a second, then smiled and Ryan felt like some sort of weight had been lifted at the sight of it. "I guess we could try."
Ryan laughed, but only slightly. "We could."
"Good, we will." Brendon grinned. "Just, listen to me?"
Ryan frowned. "What makes you think I wouldn’t?"
"Uh, Spencer talks about you a lot…" Brendon smiled sheepishly, and Ryan scoffed.
"You shouldn’t believe everything you hear," he told him.
Brendon laughed. "I don’t, but Spencer did say you were a word whore."
"A word whore?" Ryan repeated incredulously. "What’s that?"
"You, apparently." Brendon grinned, and Ryan scowled.
He glanced up and raised an eyebrow. "Anything I should know about you before we get started?"
Brendon just smiled. "I’m addicted to Red Bull!"
"Oh God," Ryan groaned, just imagining a Brendon hopped up on sugar. Brendon just giggled and pulled him from the wall.
"Come on, let’s get back to the party. I want a cookie!"
Ryan sighed as he once again let himself be pulled into the music department and made a mental note to never give Brendon sugar.
"So," Spencer said, loudly and obviously. "What are you working on?
Ryan scowled and quickly shut his notebook, pulling it to himself. "Nothing," he replied.
Spencer nodded disbelievingly. He walked around where Ryan sat on the dingy, brown couch of their apartment and placed his hands on the back, looking down at Ryan.
"So you haven’t been working on song lyrics at all?"
"What makes you think that?" Ryan asked loftily, gripping the edges of his notebook tighter, the little metal spirals pressing into his fingers.
"I’m not allowed to?" he asked. "I thought you liked my voice, Spencer."
Spencer raised an eyebrow. "It’s all right, but you know who I like better?"
"Queen?" Ryan sneered and Spencer scoffed.
Ryan rolled his eyes and frowned, staring at the dented coffee table in front of him. Spencer had been dropping hints like that ever since the concert. Ryan hadn’t told him that he’d agreed to the project, but he had a very strong suspicion that he already knew.
"I didn’t know Brendon sang," Ryan commented off-handedly.
Spencer smirked. "Uh huh."
Ryan scowled, keeping his eyes on the television. He knew Spencer would just gloat as soon as he told him.
He hadn’t been working on songs, or at least, not for very long. It had only been a few days since he had agreed to work with Brendon on his capstone project. He’d told his professor about the idea, who’d been thrilled and almost too excited. Ryan thought that maybe the professor was just happy that he’d finally chosen a project.
Now that he finally had a project, it was a matter of figuring it out. He’d never written songs before, but everyone said it was just sung poetry. But then, Ryan had never been good at the whole rhyming thing. He just hoped he didn’t fail miserably.
Spencer had left the back of the couch to plop down on the opposite end of the couch, still smirking triumphantly at Ryan.
"So are you going to say I was right and just get it over with or do we have to continue this charade a little longer?"
Ryan merely shrugged. "I have no idea what you’re talking about."
Spencer chuckled. "You are a horrible liar, George Ryan Ross."
"And you are not my mother, Spencer James Smith, so stop middle-naming me," Ryan countered, opening his notebook again and disappearing behind it.
Spencer just smirked, still watching him. Ryan scowled, knowing it was pretty much useless to keep anything from Spencer. He’d known him since he was six and had fallen off his bike in front of Spencer’s house. Spencer’s mother had taken him in, given him cookies, and fixed his knee. He and Spencer had been best friends ever since.
Spencer was one of the few people who knew Ryan well. He knew when he was lying and when he was upset. He could tell when he wanted to be alone and when he just said it, but didn’t mean it.
It was impossible to keep a secret from Spencer, and Ryan knew it. He wasn’t ready to admit defeat yet, though, and remained stubbornly silent as he scratched away at a doodle on the page.
This went on for several moments; Ryan would glance up to find Spencer still watching him, that infuriating smirk on his face, then scowl and look back to his notebook.
Just as Ryan was about to crack and storm off to his room, there was a knock on the front door—without even waiting for a response, and before Spencer had moved to stand up, it was swinging open and a tall boy entered.
A rush of cold air accompanied the boy and Ryan shivered.
"For fuck’s sake, shut the door, Jon!"
Jon just smiled and closed it behind him. He padded into the living room in his normal pair of flip-flops and jeans. He had on a baggy UNLV sweatshirt and flopped down into the ripped armchair next to the television.
"What’s up?" he greeted them as if he hadn’t just barged into their apartment unannounced or uninvited. It was alright, though. He was like a third roommate.
"Ryan’s got a secret," Spencer replied and Ryan growled.
"Does it have to do with your project with Brendon?"
Ryan stared. "How do you know who Brendon is?"
Jon shrugged. "Spencer talks about him all the time. I met him last year. He’s pretty awesome."
Ryan’s mouth fell open. How was this possible that everyone knew who Brendon was, except him? He wasn’t that oblivious!
Jon just laughed at the look on his face. "Yes, Ryan, Brendon did exist before you met him."
If Ryan thought that Jon would be any help, he had been wrong. He just scowled and folded his arms again, silently pouting.
Spencer rolled his eyes at his attitude and turned to Jon. "Did you say something about a project?"
"Yeah, Brendon told me he and Ryan were going to write songs or something."
"Really?" Spencer asked, his tone far too interested than was warranted. Ryan didn’t meet his gloating eyes.
Jon shrugged. "Something about a portfolio or I don’t know. Brendon was a little hyper. I think he got a hold of some Red Bull."
"Not writing songs, eh, Ryan?" Spencer asked, and Ryan could just hear the triumph in his voice. He didn’t even need to look to see the smirk.
"I wasn’t writing songs," Ryan protested coldly, then added quietly, "I don’t know how to write a song."
"It’s like poetry only—"
"Sung, I know," Ryan interrupted Jon, annoyed. That really didn’t help him at all.
Jon didn’t look perturbed by Ryan’s interruption, but then, Jon was pretty laidback and they were all used to Ryan’s attitude by now.
"You’ll be fine," Jon assured him. "Just watch out for Brendon."
"What do you mean?"
"He’s a hugger."
"And don’t give him gummy bears, whatever you do," Spencer added insistently.
Jon laughed. "You mean like that one time at the mall when you—"
"I prefer not to think of that," Spencer interrupted, closing his eyes as though trying to erase the memory.
Ryan felt left out again. How could everyone know Brendon except him? He wasn’t possibly that self-centered. He refused to believe Spencer had ever spoken of Brendon before, and it was all some big hoax, although that didn’t explain how Jon knew Brendon.
"So just remember," Jon said simply. "No sugar and no Britney Spears and everything will be fine."
Ryan realized he’d spaced out again and had no idea what the Britney Spears thing meant, but if Jon said it, it must be true.
Ryan had never actually been inside the Music building on campus, except for the concert Spencer had dragged him to the week previously, the one that started it all. So when Ryan approached the tall building, he felt a little intimidated. Inside were musicians far more talented than he was, and he wasn’t even there to play. He was there to write.
Swallowing his fear, Ryan opened the double doors to the building and slipped inside. It was quieter than he expected. He guessed he shouldn’t have expected there to be all sorts of musical sounds seeping through the walls. He imagined the rooms were pretty soundproof.
Picking his way through the unfamiliar territory, Ryan found his way to the room that Brendon had told him to meet him at. It was far within the building and Ryan did manage to catch a few snatches of music as he passed by open doors .
Clutching his notebook tightly in his fist, he meandered through the hallways, searching for room 113. It was another five minutes before Ryan even reached the right hallway. The Music building was much more confusing than any other building. Of course, it didn’t help that Ryan kept getting lost in thought, and then lost in real life.
Finally, he found the right room. He couldn’t hear anything from outside, but when he cracked the door open, he was immediately filled with the rich melody of the piano. It seeped out the door and down Ryan’s spine, filling him with a warm glow, kind of like hot chocolate at Christmas time.
He just stood in the doorway for a moment, listening to the sound of Brendon playing the beautiful instrument. The piano was in the middle of the room, like Ryan always saw in music videos, and Brendon was sitting on the plain wooden bench, his fingers drifting over the keys. His eyes were closed for a second as he played, letting the music fill his whole body.
It stopped as suddenly as it had started, though, and Ryan realized Brendon was staring right at him. He blinked a little, realizing he’d been caught staring, and took a tentative step inside the room. His notebook was still held tightly in his hands and he pressed it against his leg as he approached Brendon.
Brendon’s hands were off the piano, resting in his lap, as he watched Ryan come closer. Finally, he smiled and bounced up a little.
"Hi," Ryan replied, feeling out of place and awkward. He glanced around, looking for some sort of chair to sit in, but there didn’t appear to be any. The bench on which Brendon sat was fairly narrow, and he doubted, even considering how thin he was, he would fit. "Um…" he said, still glancing around.
Brendon’s expression was confused for a second until he realized what Ryan was looking for. "There are some chairs in the storage area," he offered, and at Ryan’s blank look, laughed. "I’ll go get one."
He left Ryan alone in the piano room and Ryan didn’t know what to do. He stood awkwardly for a minute until he was sure Brendon was gone, he then carefully approached the piano. It was a baby grand and Ryan wondered where the University got the money for that.
Setting down his notebook on the bench, he ran a finger along the ivory keys softly. He’d never known how to play the piano. When he was younger and his mother had forced him to go to church, he used to sneak into the sanctuary when everyone was gone and play with the piano, but he’d never had any sort of lessons.
Ryan felt a little rush of excitement as he pressed down the C key and the note wavered for a second. The side of his mouth quirked into a smile, but it was gone almost immediately as a voice scared him.
"Not thinking of upstaging me, are you? Don’t tell me. You can play piano?"
Brendon had returned, a blue plastic chair in his hands. He was smiling and it widened as Ryan jumped away from the piano as though he’d been burned.
"Actually, I can’t play much of anything," he admitted, moving quickly away from the instrument. He snatched his notebook off the bench as Brendon set down the chair, still smiling, and went back to the bench. He sat on it with one leg on either side, his knee bouncing a little.
Ryan took the blue chair slowly, frowning. It wasn’t exactly what he was used to. He preferred sitting in the big, comfy armchair in his apartment, even if it did have a rip down one side, and stare out the balcony window as he wrote. Sitting in a stiff, plastic chair was quite a change.
When Brendon didn’t say anything, Ryan added, "Well, I mean, I can sort of play the guitar, but I’m not a genius or anything."
Brendon laughed. "Well, I’m not exactly either, so don’t worry. You’re in good company."
Ryan nodded. He didn’t know where to start and, with Brendon looking at him expectantly, he began to doubt the whole thing.
"Look—" he started, but Brendon seemed to sense what he was going to say before he got past the first word.
"I think you need a story."
Brendon had pulled up his legs on the bench, crossed underneath him and was looking seriously at Ryan. Brendon just smiled at his question and propped his elbows on his knees, resting his head in his hands.
"A story. A song is a story, right?"
"I guess," Ryan agreed slowly. In truth, he had very little idea of how to go about this.
"So you need a story."
"Well, like, what?" Ryan asked, feeling completely inept. Brendon was already better at it than him, and English was his major.
"I dunno." Brendon shrugged, reaching into his back pocket and pulling out a red lollipop. Ryan eyed it nervously, remembering what Jon had said. "What do you want to write about?"
Brendon’s question distracted him from the candy and Ryan frowned. He didn’t know! He wanted to write something to help him pass the class, of course. Epic stories weren’t exactly his forte, but he doubted Brendon would accept that excuse.
"I… I don’t know," Ryan said helplessly. "I don’t write songs."
"You write poetry."
"Please, do not say that songs are just poems."
"Well, they are."
Ryan scowled. "It’s not the same!"
"That’s why we need a story," Brendon insisted, popping the lollipop out of his mouth. Ryan could see that his tongue was already bright red from the candy. "What kind of music do you listen to?"
Ryan shrugged. "Alternative, classical, pretty much anything except rap and country."
Brendon just laughed. "That doesn’t really narrow it down. What kind of movies do you watch?"
"Romance, I guess…" Ryan trailed away, feeling stupid. He didn’t really watch that many movies either.
"How about Disney?" Brendon asked, his eyes lighting up. The sucker was back in his mouth, making his cheek puff out on one side.
"I guess, yeah," he agreed, wondering where Brendon was going.
"What’s your favorite?"
Ryan paused. He’d never really thought about it before. He didn’t watch Disney movies all that often since he turned ten.
"The Little Mermaid, I guess," he said after a minute.
Brendon nodded thoughtfully. "Know what mine is?"
Ryan just shook his head. Judging from Brendon’s personality, he really doubted he would ever be able to pick a favorite.
"Beauty and the Beast," Brendon replied promptly, his smile widening.
Brendon took out the lollipop, licking around the side. "One, because the songs are awesome." He climbed up on the piano bench, the lollipop held out like he was singing to the sky. "Madame Gaston, can’t you just see it, Madame Gaston, his little wife! No sir, not me, I guarantee it! I want much more than this provincial life." Brendon grinned at Ryan’s open mouth and climbed back down. "And two, it’s a beautiful story. The fair maiden who overcomes so many things, prejudices, to be with the one person she really loves."
Ryan was still staring at Brendon. Spencer was right when he said he could sing. It was almost as mesmerizing as his piano playing, even if he had been singing a Disney song.
Brendon had stopped talking several minutes ago and was giving Ryan a weird look.
"What?" he asked, stuffing the lollipop back in his mouth, looking rather childish.
Ryan shook his head quickly. "Nothing. So Beauty and the Beast?"
Brendon shrugged. "I wish my life were a fairy tale."
Ryan sighed, agreeing. "Yeah."
Brendon’s eyes lit up suddenly and his mouth fell open excitedly. "Oh my God! A fairy tale!"
"Huh?" Ryan felt very ineloquent today.
"We should write a fairy tale!"
"It’s supposed to be songs," Ryan pointed out.
"Well, yeah, but there’s a story within every song."
Ryan just looked at him, and Brendon blushed.
"Okay, maybe that was stupid. I’m not really good with words and stuff. Never have been. This one time, in high school, we were supposed to be writing these imaginative papers for English, and mine was about this guy who lived in a potato, no really. But he was allergic to starch, and when I got it back, it was bleeding red." Brendon nodded, not noticing Ryan still staring at him.
Ryan couldn’t help the smile that crept onto his face. Brendon was just too… cute might have been the word, but it wasn’t what Ryan thought. Funny, was what he thought.
"It’s not stupid," Ryan said finally when Brendon had fallen silent and was staring at the floor.
Brendon looked up hopefully. "It’s not?"
"No, it’s just… I’ve never done that before."
Brendon looked relieved and he cracked a smile again. Ryan felt like somehow when Brendon smiled, everything seemed just a little brighter. He shook away the thought, though, as he tried to focus on why he was there.
"So, a fairy tale?" Brendon asked, sounding excited again. He turned toward the piano, plinking out a sweet little melody, and even when his fingers left the keys, he was still humming it.
"Yeah," Ryan agreed, actually thinking that maybe Brendon was on to something. "So where do we start?"
Brendon thought for a minute, then grinned mischievously. "Once upon a time…"
Ryan couldn’t help himself and smiled at Brendon. He was young, and at times childish, but Ryan believed he had a lot more in him than sugar and softly played melodies.
Flipping open his notebook, Ryan picked out his favorite pen. It was a fancier pen that wrote in dark blue ink. He hated writing in black ink and never did. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair, disliking the hard plastic. He made a face, but tried to ignore it for the moment. This wasn’t about comfort, it was about getting his capstone project done.
"So once upon a time," he said out loud, his pen motionless over the lined paper.
"There was a boy," Brendon supplied. He was still sucking on his lollipop, licking his lips as he took it out and held it thoughtfully. His lips were a bright red now, as was his tongue.
Ryan glanced at him and smiled. "A carefree boy."
Brendon caught his eyes and an eyebrow came down, but he was still smiling. "A carefree boy," he repeated. "He loved everything about life, you could almost say he was naïve."
Ryan nodded slowly, looking back at his paper. "But he was naïve in a beautiful way."
Brendon smiled and licked the lollipop. It was nearly gone. "He was innocent and young and lived in a cottage in the woods in a land far away."
"He lived with his father," Ryan murmured, his pen scratching along the edge of his paper. "But his father wasn’t well."
Brendon gazed at the piano and picked out a chord, pressing it softly into the large room where it lingered long after Brendon’s fingers left the keys. "The boy tried everything he could to help his father, but in the end, there was nothing he could do and his father died."
Ryan was silent for a few minutes, thinking. This part of the story reminded him of his own father and how he’d never seemed to be good enough. Ryan found himself wishing his life truly was a fairy tale, but knew that he always had to face the cold reality of life.
"This is kind of depressing for a fairy tale," he said finally.
Brendon shrugged slowly. "All fairy tales start out sad, get worse, and then finally, get better. It’s how they work."
"Why can’t things start out good and stay that way?"
Brendon glanced at him and shrugged, finally biting off the last little bit of his lollipop. Ryan could hear the crunch of the candy as Brendon thought.
"Because if everything was happy all the time, how would that be interesting?"
Ryan had to agree he had a point, even if it wasn’t what he wished. He gave a half-shrug and looked back at his notebook. He had the beginnings of a doodle, but no words.
"So the boy, his father died…"
Brendon nodded, turning on the bench to the piano fully. "And the boy was lonely, with only his faithful dog, Quail, to keep him company."
"Quail?" Ryan interrupted the story. "What kind of a name is that?"
"He’s a German Shepherd-Australian Blue Heeler mix," Brendon explained calmly.
Ryan raised an eyebrow but didn’t argue. The dog probably wouldn’t be important anyway. He would let Brendon name the dog Quail and deal with it later.
"Okay, so the dog’s name is Quail," Ryan prompted slowly, still rolling his eyes slightly. "And then… the boy spends a lot of his time wandering in the woods, lost in thought."
"Because without his dad, he has no one," Brendon supplied. "But one day, when he’s wandering in the woods, he meets a strange girl."
"Right," Ryan muttered, his pen moving quickly over the page as his doodle increased in size. When he couldn’t write, he drew. The margins of all his notes from classes were almost black with doodles. "The girl’s pretty…"
"She’s really pretty," Brendon said softly. "But he doesn’t know who she is, even though she’s very well-known."
"He talks to her, and he really likes her, but she leaves without telling him her name."
Brendon paused. "How come they never tell them their names?"
Ryan shrugged, looking up from his doodle. He had slid down low in the hard chair as far as he could go, and was still uncomfortable. He wished he was at home in his chair by the window. "Because that would end the story too soon."
"Hmm," Brendon said simply. He let his fingers drift over the piano keys softly, not pressing any. He let his finger fall on a single note before letting go suddenly and the sound died immediately. "If she doesn’t tell him her name, how does he find her again?"
"They meet in the forest again," Ryan replied. "She comes to him when he’s out walking with… Quail."
Brendon grinned as Ryan pronounced the word carefully. "And she talks to him again, but won’t tell him anything about her. He wants to talk to her."
"She does talk a lot, but not about the truly important things," Ryan muttered. "She prefers to keep some secrets."
Brendon laughed. "The boy keeps meeting the girl in the woods and they fall in love, but there’s a problem."
Ryan was silent for a moment. "She’s already betrothed."
"To a prince," Brendon added. "A handsome, talented prince, and the boy think he has no chance with the girl."
"Does he give up?"
Brendon shook his head. "No, because the girl loves the boy."
"And love conquers all?" Ryan asked sarcastically. He’d always had trouble believing that part of the story. Just because someone was in love didn’t mean everything would magically turn out alright.
"Well, sure," Brendon said. "Until the sequel."
"Sequel?" Ryan was definitely not writing a sequel.
Brendon shrugged. "Well, there doesn’t have to be a sequel. They could just live happily ever after."
Ryan paused. "I’m not sure I can do happily ever after…"
"Why not? It’s just three words." Brendon was looking at him plainly, his head cocked to the side.
Ryan shook his head. "It’s not that easy."
"Yeah, it is." Brendon moved his head back upright and played a quirky melody for a second. "Some things are just that simple; you just have to see it."
Ryan was unconvinced but didn’t argue with Brendon, who seemed to believe so firmly in the concept. Ryan didn’t feel like bursting his fairy tale bubble so soon. The real world was not so nice as make-believe.
Instead, he just shook his head and removed his pen from the page where his doodle had evolved into a medieval crown. He sighed as he stared at it.
"So that’s our story?"
Brendon smiled and nodded. "I like it," he stated simply.
Ryan nodded vaguely. "And how does it translate into songs?" This whole project idea was still foreign to him. Songs were not his forte.
"It is the songs," Brendon explained, and Ryan merely raised an eyebrow. "The father dying, meeting the girl, getting to know each other, the horrible twist of betrothal. It’s all the songs."
Ryan thought for a minute, slowly figuring out what Brendon meant. Usually he was not this slow, but something about the project, or maybe it was Brendon’s smile, made him forget thoughts almost immediately after he had them.
"How do we start, then?" he asked, flipping to a clean page of his notebook.
Brendon just smiled. "We already have. But I can’t do anything until you write something."
Ryan stared at him. He was right, of course. He blinked, wondering where to start. Shifting uncomfortably, he thought that get finding a better chair would be a good way.
Brendon noticed him squirming and smiled. "How about you call me when you’ve got something and then we can meet again."
Ryan glanced at him, feeling a tiny twinge of disappointment at Brendon’s suggestion. He shrugged, though, and stood up, telling himself the feeling was just at the enormousness of the project they seemed to have taken on. Writing a novel sounded pretty good right now.
"Well, I guess I’ll call you then," he said finally.
Brendon just smiled wider. "Okay!" He sounded so enthusiastic. "This is gonna be awesome!"
Ryan didn’t have the heart to contradict him, and so, let Brendon bounce in his seat and grin like a child at Christmas. He just nodded and turned, leaving the room to the sounds of Brendon letting his fingers fall on the piano keys like rain, a beautiful melody following him out.