Pairing: Simon & Garfunkel
Summary: What if they didn’t meet as teenagers, but at a later time? Could you imagine them falling in love again?
Review: this is the first chapter in this series that has been beta'd. Thanks Nofritari!
Disclaimer: Even though this story is based on several things both Paul and Artie said over the years, this is in no way biographical. It’s an exploration of an alternative timeline.
Here's the 4th chapter (or 5th, depending how you count it) of Stranger to Stranger. I hope you enjoy.
Chapter IV: Words and Melodies
Suddenly everything was much easier. Paul regained control over his classes and got back to actually teaching. His concentration was a bit off; his mind kept wandering back to Art who was teaching a few floors higher up. The best way to deal with that was talking, so that was what Paul did. In one class he discussed a book, trying to get the students to think about the characters, the plot and what they thought the writer was trying to get across. In another class he talked about the history of English and put the students to work, figuring out the differences between American English and British English. Overall, it was a successful day. He got work done, he got students to learn something, and he got back on schedule for exams. He wondered how Art was doing. Was he also thinking of music once he put his students to work? Was he also thinking about last night?
Paul got himself an empty note book. It was going to inhabit his teacher’s bag and lay on his desk in class. It would get picked up when Paul got the time to write new songs or ideas for songs. It was good to be back, it was invigorating; new ideas flowed from his pen in rapid fashion. The music was in Paul’s head, he never learned to write music. It didn’t matter, the music was the easy part, the words needed working, which was what the note book was for. Paul liked how it looked like he was doing English, how easy it was to hide what he was really doing.
Art didn’t really think of the night before, because he wouldn’t let himself. He knew he wouldn’t have the discipline to concentrate on his work. He knew if he took time out to think about what happened and how it made him feel, his mind would soon drown in emotions and feelings he couldn’t control. So he made sure he was doing maths with the students, presenting mathematical problems and trying to solve them through discussion in the classroom. He made sure they explored every avenue, dissected every solution and wrote out every proof in detail. He did this in every class he had that day. He took the opportunity to explain new material, inching ahead of his schedule. His students would be more than sufficiently prepared, because their teacher was in love. Interesting concept.
Only in his office, with a fresh cup of coffee, to prepare the next day and some homework to correct, did his mind wander to the night before. He slept on the couch, very aware Paul was asleep above him in the bed. Art couldn’t suppress a smile nor the glint in his eyes. Life seemed so much brighter. Paul at least wanted to play music, maybe even play other games, which came as a surprise to Art. He was used to having to be subtle, drop little hints, see if the bait was taken. In this case Paul popped the question. Actually, he guessed Art’s sexual interest, didn’t shy away when Art made some innuendos; he didn’t give permission either. His reaction turned Art on, made him fantasize, made him giddy. It put him into motion, walking to the other side of the school where Paul’s office was. He wasn’t entirely sure Paul would be there, but since it was late in the afternoon, he sure didn’t have any classes. He might have gone home but if he was still there, not many people could disturb them. Even most of the teachers had gone home by now. Hopeful he hurried through the empty hallways, his footsteps echoing against the brick walls. It was very dark on the other end of the building making Art’s hopes evaporate. It was clear it had been a while since the last person had left, all the lights were off, all the doors were closed. Right at the end of the hallway was the door to Paul’s office, a small room where they used to keep paper, stationary, empty notebooks and fresh chalk. The team was at full capacity when Paul signed his contrac, so all offices were taken. This made it necessary to turn the small closet into an office and it was redecorated to fullfill that function. The idea was, once the old English teacher retired, the new one would not only take his job but also his office.
The door was closed, Art couldn’t detect any light coming out from under the door; the room didn’t have any windows. He was about to try the door handle and got a shock when the handle moved on its own volition. The door swung open to reveal Paul, bag in hand, coat on his arm. He nearly stepped into Art, instead he staggered backwards just as startled as Art. They both took a few moments to readjust their composure. To Art’s relief Paul beamed at him, it automatically pulled Art’s face into a grin.
“I was just on my way out,” Paul informed. “You’re going home too?”
Art’s face fell for a split second: “Oh,” his voice disappointed.
He quickly recovered and smiled: “I was hoping we could spend some more time together.”
“Sure,” Paul nodded, “but not tonight; I need to get home.”
“Oh,” Art once again failed to hide his disappointment.
“Unlike you, I still live with my wife and she expects me to come home. Especially since I didn’t at all last night.”
“Yeah,” Art understandingly whimpered. He followed Paul a few steps behind.
Paul saw the disappointment on his face. He wasn’t entirely sure what Art had hoped would happen, but he should have realized Paul needed to go home. He showed Paul a weak smile when Paul glanced at him again. He was still following Paul out of the school all the way to his car. Only after Paul threw his bag in the backseat and was ready to take place behind the steering wheel Art stayed a few steps away from the car.
Paul turned to Art before getting in: “Thanks for yesterday.”
Art nodded another weak smile.
Paul looked Art over one last time and then got in his car. Art was still standing there watching when Paul drove off the parking lot and disappeared out of sight. There was no real reason for Art to stay there, he could just as well go home. Thing was, he didn’t really want to go home without Paul. The empty apartment would just remind him of the sad state of his personal relations, especially the one with his wife. Worse even, it reminded him he wasn’t sure what he wanted from life in that area. He knew he was supposed to settle down and start a family. He knew he wasn’t supposed to entertain multiple intimate relations with different people with different genders. He sure couldn’t go ahead and chase after a married man with a young baby. That just wasn’t fair.
With his feet in the dirt, his toe stabbing out an imaginary cigarette, he stared forlorn into the distance. Nothing more than scabby buildings and dark grey roads. Never before had Art felt so lonely. What was he going to do this evening? Go out on his own? Nah, he wasn’t going to pick anyone up. Go home and watch TV? That didn’t seem that attractive either. Stay at school and do some more work? Why not, at least it would take his mind off things.
He cast a last melancholic look at where Paul’s car disappeared out of sight, turned and walked slowly back into the building. Only now he noticed it had gotten chilly. He pushed his hands deep into his jeans pockets, his shirt not giving him enough shelter from the wind. A lonely, dark figure moving towards a deserted grey school building. Art battled the depressing imagery with mathematical problems already going through his head.
Paul turned the key cautiously and tried to make no sound opening the front door. He didn’t feel like facing his wife explaining where he was last night. He could easily hide or forget to tell her about his new best friend or the funny fuzzy feeling he had just thinking about him. No, best he didn’t mention Art, he wasn’t actually sure he could hide how excited he was about this new friendship. Paul tried to sneak upstairs, but he was spotted.
“Where you going!?” her voice urgent.
Paul stopped halfway up the stairs, a disappointed sigh escaping him. He turned and went back down and into the kitchen taking his time. She stood at the work surface, in the middle of cooking, a knife in her hand, a partly cut vegetable in front of her. She looked expectantly at Paul.
Paul tried a smile to soften the situation, his wife still looked suspicious.
“Uh, yes,” he started scratching his head. “I didn’t come home last night.”
Joanna rolled her eyes: “Yes, I noticed. What do you have to say for yourself? Couldn’t you have called?”
Paul grimaced: “I forgot, sorry. I was at a colleagues place.”
Joanna bit her lip, studied his face, tried to sniff the faintest trace of perfume.
“Yes?” She said as if she didn’t believe him. She repeated now confirming this time: “Yes…The headmaster called, if you got home all right. Of course I told him you didn’t, since you weren’t home at all. I suspected you were at your colleague’s place, since she was to bring you home.”
That situation Paul hadn’t considered yet; it seemed more natural. Should he go with it?
“No! He’s a guy, not a female. I’m not cheating on you, if that is what you think.”
Joanna didn’t look convinced.
“You can call the headmaster and ask,” Paul suggested.
That did the trick, Joanna relaxed momentarily before tensing up again: “What happened? Why did you leave school early?”
Paul, who thought he was off the hook, was trying to escape again. Her prying eyes scanning his back.
“I didn’t sleep well the night before, I was tired. I nearly fainted in front of the class.”
Joanna’s eyes cast down as she remembered the night; they fought. Paul didn’t sleep in bed with her. She never really thought about it, assumed he slept on the couch. When she looked up Paul disappeared up the stairs.
It was so easy, so logical and natural, neither Paul nor Art had to think about it. As they became closer they readily found they shared a lot of interests, views and perfectionism. The first time Paul went to visit Art with his guitar they played and sang till one of the neighbours started pounding on the walls. Unlike past collaborators Paul was willing to slave over the vocals and harmonies and Art was patient and supporting when Paul was searching for the chords and melody, all in the name of music. They shared an unspoken rule that every line deserved the most attention till it was just right. At the same time they started working on bringing their voices together.
To their delight their voices fitted together quite nicely and it didn’t take Art much prodding and convincing to take it a level higher and bring their pronunciations and timbre together. That was one of the things they were working on. Art was learning the songs Paul had written, writing harmonies for them and thinking out arrangements they would then try to record with Art’s old tape machines. Their ideas about music were fairly similar, but they had different ways of execution. It was then they started arguing finding out the other man was just as stubborn as themselves.
Paul was spending more time at Art’s than at home. They also started to leave school early to work at Art’s place on the preparations they needed to do for the next day at school. This way they had time left to work on their music, beit practicing or writing. Usually, they started with playing music, shaking the school business off and relaxing into the music. Sometimes they’d next launch into another session of vocal training, still preening on their harmonies while Paul was also learning to deliver stronger and steadier vocals. Other times Paul would show a new song to Art and they’d work on that, or Paul would go to work on a new song while Art was writing a harmony to an existing song. Most of the time they got so taken up by their music, they would forget time and forget to eat. Sleep usually automatically followed when sights blurred and they had trouble keeping their eyes open. Neither was very concerned about their regular job.
Paul felt happier than he had the last year. He was writing and playing music again, it made working his teacher job less exhausting and his overall existence bearable. It helped Art was a great motivator, he assured Paul the songs were good and encouraged him to keep going. Paul always was happiest when writing new music, now with Art around it basically gave him an extra spring in his step. He was still anxious about performing in public; the sour taste of his last and failed performance was still in his mouth. Art didn’t push him, only tried to paint an image of what it might be like, how wonderful it could be. The problem was, he couldn’t be sure it would be a success. He still wanted to get back on stage and sing for an audience again; he missed the applause and delight on people’s faces. He missed sharing that state of bliss and joy, so from time to time he stuck his toe in the water to see if Paul had changed his mind, if only a little. They could be so beautiful together.
Paul sat scribbling ideas on paper, completely engrossed by the act of writing. To Art he looked like, the rest of the world wasn’t there. Art finished work on the harmonies of a song. He sat up to talk to Paul, but stopped himself when he saw Paul completely emerged in a new song. He looked peaceful, for a change not melancholic and sad or worried. It warmed Art’s heart, especially since he’d gotten to know him as an insecure man. Insecurity which often cast Paul into depression. Of course the slow failure of his marriage didn’t help, nor did his perfectionistic and controlling nature. Art analysed that it all stemmed from that insecurity, the fear he didn’t matter in any way, the fear that the things he did didn’t matter in any way, and the crippling dread that nothing he did or was, was good enough. There was no need for Paul’s fears, Art thought. Paul was one of the brightest people he knew, a very talented musician and even a good English teacher. Art also knew that taking away those fears wasn’t going to be easy, because they were so deeply ingrained in Paul’s nature. Instead, the best thing Art could do, was stand by him, giving him the support he needed and ensuring and encouraging him.
Art had been reflecting for quite a while and Paul still didn’t seem to have noticed. Art came around to the indescribable feeling he grew used to since he knew Paul. He cared for him deeply, wanted him to do well, wanted him to be happy and most importantly, wanted him around. Paul made Art’s life more complete, brighter, more interesting, but also more complicated and rougher. It didn’t take away from the love Art was feeling.
“What are you working on?” Art prodded, his voice soothing and calm.
He finally had Paul’s attention, eyes dark and wide, as if he was wondering where that voice suddenly came from. Paul looked down at the paper again, just words, no melodies. The melodies were in his head and the chords were in his fingers. If he picked up the guitar, it would come spilling out.
“I could never write songs like yours,” Art mused hoping Paul would join the conversation. “I tried, but the quality was poor, juvenile, silly little songs.”
He paused to give Paul a chance to react. When nothing came he decided on another strategy: “Wanna show me what you’ve got?”
Paul’s eyes were going over the paper and for a second Art thought he lost him.
Instead, Paul finally joined the conversation: “It’s nice to write songs. It’s as if…” Paul hesitated. He was clearly searching for the right words.
“It’s as if they take…the worry from me. It lifts something, as if it solved a problem.” Paul appeared slightly confused. Art gave him all the time he needed to express his feelings.
Paul brow furrowed into an agitated frown: “Of course it never really solves anything…”
When he faced Art, the negativity slid away: “Do you get that with singing?”
Art smiled and nodded. He pointed at the paper: “You want to show me?”
Reaching out to his guitar he replied: “Yeah, sure. It’s not finished yet, though.”
“That’s all right,” Art shrugged: “Maybe I can help finishing it.”
Paul unpacked his guitar with care, Art observed. Almost as if it was alive, a vulnerable baby. His fingers stroke along the body, like a lover caressing his muse. Art thought he would do that with his instrument if he had one. Hold on, he had an instrument, his vocal chords. He had to admit, he didn’t take that good care of his vocal chords with all his smoking.
Paul took a little time tuning his guitar while Art took the opportunity to pour himself a glass of wine. Paul wasn’t drinking along, he had a glass of cold water standing by. Art watched those hands, silky movements adjusting the tension on the strings, picking out the sounds with his right hand. Paul was a lefty like Art, to his delight. Unlike Art, Paul did manage to use his right hand more; Art never learned, he was a true lefty. Paul settled into his playing mode; back a little arched, a serious look on his face as he found the first chords and started to play a new song. It was calm like a water stream, deep like a still lake. It was worried and tired and expressed the state of the political environment they found themselves in. It was a typical window into what kept Paul’s mind busy, buzzing with worries. The tune was melodious and pulled at Art’s heart strings. He instantly loved the song and wanted to put love into it with his voice. He let Paul play it, finish it without him interrupting. A presentation of a new song was always very personal, especially when you’re Paul Simon. It was almost like a confession, or a declaration. In this song Art could feel it as clear and true as the paper on his table. It was one thing Art loved about Paul’s songwriting. Another was Paul’s honesty about and with the songs. Sometimes Art believed you could get to know him a great deal if only you listened. Of course, on a wider scale, Art believed that was the reason the songs were so good and could speak to a bigger audience. If only they got to hear them; the rest of the world was really missing out.
Paul was looking expectantly at Art. The long silence made him nervous, he needed to know if it was any good. A weight fell off of him when Art’s gaze met his, a smile broke through, and almost broken hearted he assured Paul: “That was beautiful.”
Paul’s shoulders slumped, the tension going from his shoulders and neck, a sigh escaping his mouth.
“You think so?” he asked, still a little doubtful. “You’re not just saying that?”
Art shook his head: “No, I’m not really the kind to lie about it. I’m not very good at it.”
Now Paul finally dared to smile: “Good.” He put the guitar back in its case, not quite put away, but resting.
“I would love to sing harmonies to that,” Art enthusiastically chirped. “We could each take a verse to sing solo and the rest in harmony. I think that could work really nicely.”
Paul raised his eyebrows at Art: “You sound like you’re preparing a performance.”
“You can’t keep this from the world, it’s too good,” Art defended.
Art could see the lines on Paul’s face contorting back into a worried and doubtful grimace.
To ease Paul’s worries Art suggested: “We could try and record them and see if someone wants to listen to them. No need to play them live if you don’t want to.”
Paul picked up his pen again, his eyes gradually moving away from Art and back to his paper with scribbled lines. Art had started to recognize that motion; Paul was still not completely happy with the song.
A lot of their evenings started to look like this. Both enjoyed this new routine; everything seemed to fall in place automatically. They didn’t need to ask, they never arranged to work together like this. One day at school, not long after Paul spent the night at Art’s, their eyes met and when the evening fell they walked to Art’s car and drove off together. Paul wanted to work on a new song, Art wanted to sing, both needed to do some schoolwork. When they arrived at Art’s place, Paul set up a small improvised working space on Art’s couch and breezed through his homework and immediately moved on to his songwriting. Art joined him in the small sitting area not long after peeling some loose papers out of Paul’s notebook and stealing a quick glance at the lines written there. Paul didn’t look at all that amused at first, till Art let him know he liked what he read and asked if it was in a song?
A few minutes later Paul was playing a beaten up guitar Art had with Art sitting opposite him humming a potential harmony. They naturally moved into working out the chords and harmonies and before they realized it, they were singing together.
For himself it was relatively easy, Art concluded, compared to Paul’s situation. He was already living separate from his wife and there were no children involved. Still, getting a divorce was another matter, it seemed so resolute and final. However, Art wasn’t sure Paul would agree he had a situation. Yes, he was fighting with his wife a lot. No, things weren’t getting easier and they seemed to grow apart further and further. Paul was still putting effort in trying to make things right. He took no steps to end it and kept Art at arm length. Art reasoned, it was only a matter of time. Nature had the funny habit of breaking what would not bend and Paul’s marriage was slowly approaching breaking point. Art wasn’t even sure Paul was aware of it, that his marriage couldn’t be salvaged.
Absentmindedly he grabbed the phone and dialled his wife’s home number; he didn’t think of it as his home anymore. He almost didn’t think of her as his wife anymore, just a good friend. Funny how things go. Art played with the telephone cord as he waited for the phone to be picked up. Paul was everywhere in his thoughts, during his schoolwork, during preparing and eating his meals, during relaxing in front of the TV, or listening music, or reading books. Somehow everything reminded him of Paul. No-one had ever made such an impression on Art and Art wasn’t even entirely sure why.
His wife’s voice was familiar and soothing. Art launched straight into his fascination with Paul, as he called it. His wife, an observant woman, quickly analysed Paul was more than just a fascination to Art. She again wondered if he was his new boyfriend and Art told her about his wife and how their relationship was not an open one. She understood the situation, warned Art to behave, to not mingle in the marriage but let Paul work this out for himself. After all, Paul wasn’t his boyfriend, Art said so himself. Art made some inarticulate noises, giving away his real feelings. His wife knew better than to press on; that just didn’t work with Art, he would just shut down. So she warned him one last time not to meddle.
Then there was the funny subject of their own relationship and marriage. What did they want out of it? In the last couple of months their marriage had been a long distance relationship with not much contact. Did they want to keep that up? With what goal? Was it even worth holding on to? Shouldn’t they both move on? To his own surprise, Art was reluctant to let go, only finding that out when his wife told him she wanted to move on. Was there someone else, was she in love with someone else? Art felt a sting of jealousy, he felt like the support his wife had been was suddenly pulled away from him. He felt a little lost and desserted. In the end, he had to admit there were no good reasons left to let their marriage live on.
Joanna tried to read Paul’s thoughts, she tried to look through his eyes into his mind, but Paul was guarded, his eyes like dark curtains hiding his inner workings from the world. It wasn’t hard to tell thoughts were always going through his mind, though he often looked more troubled than he really was. Just that was what sometimes made it hard to handle Paul. He would get annoyed when you assumed something was wrong when there wasn’t, but he would also get annoyed when something was wrong and Paul wasn’t very good at letting things go. He had a talent for getting into arguments, and then didn’t know when to stop. It was a delicate line to walk and Joanna was growing tired of it. At the start of their relationship, Joanna had been the calming factor for Paul. She soothed his mind, calmed him down and helped him get things into perspective. It was a difficult task, especially since Paul wasn’t easy to convinceof anything once he made up his mind, his worries and anxieties shooting in extreme opposites. Joanna felt like everything was about Paul, everything revolved around what Paul wanted or thought. Revolved around Paul’s insercurity and Paul’s inability to put things at ease on his own. The marriage was suffocating her, but divorce was so final.
Avoiding fights they tiptoed around each other, got out of each other’s way and took turns looking after Olive. Paul thought of the vows he made to Joanna that gloomy afternoon, as if the weather predicted the outcome of their marriage. He had been sincere and he was sure Joanna had been too. The first years was exciting, because it was their first year as a married couple. The second year they found out Joanna was pregnant. In the third year Olive was born. With every passsing day, a bit of the romance got lost in the daily routine and life decisions started to point out Paul and Joanna were very different people with very different ideas about what family life should look like. But like most couples, they tried to make the best of it and stumbled from hurdle to hurdle occassionally falling flat on their faces.
Paul was a little easier to get along with the last couple of weeks. Joanna never met Paul’s colleague and new friend, but if he managed to calm Paul down, he was all right in Joanna’s book. Besides, at least Paul wasn’t having an affair. The only thing that bothered Joanna about it was how much time Paul spent at this guy’s place, almost more than at home with his family. Yes, when she found out this guy could join him in making music, Joanna had encouraged him to take up the guitar. She figured, if Paul could get back to his hobby, he might find an outlet for all of his frustrations and anger. She just tried to save her family, and her family had been suffering under Paul’s outburst and arguments. Now it seemed he was spending almost all of his spare time on music, in the company of this guy. Yes, there were less arguments, but mainly because Paul wasn’t there half of the time and the other half he simply wasn’t really talking to Joanna anymore. Joanna decided it was wise to get to know this new friend; possibly he could help work this out.
All through her musings she had been staring at Paul with Paul ignoring her while he played his guitar to his baby girl. He looked so peaceful, almost happy and content even. It warmed Joanna’s heart to see Paul so involved with their daughter. She almost felt guilty for disturbing him out of his song.
“Paul?” she started: “Why don’t you invite your friend over this weekend? I would like to meet him and maybe you can show me what you two have been working on.”
Paul’s attention snapped to his wife; he had nearly made himself forget she was there.
Paul stammered: “Oh uhm, uh, dunno, we’re not quite ready to show anything.”
“You can invite him for diner at least, can’t you?”
Paul’s eyes studied his wife, wondering why she came up with that suggestion. Paul had been away from home pretty much on purpose, ignoring the fact Joanna didn’t like it. Paul’s reasoning was, it was better than fighting all the time. He refused to think any further than that.
Reluctantly he agreed: “Sure, I can invite him for diner.”
It was a shallow victory to Joanna; she wasn’t even sure what she had won. God knows what Paul had been telling him, how he painted her to his new friend.
Paul was more disciplined, Art observed as he walked into the teacher’s room for coffee that morning. Paul was always in school about thirty minutes before classes started. He would start with getting himself some coffee, talk to a few colleagues and then retreat to his office to get his stuff ready for the first three classes. He was always on time and he was always prepared. Art excuted his working day by the principles of chaos, which meant he arrived at school whenever, sometimes in time for coffee other times even late for his first class. He was always prepared though; math was not just a job to Art, it was also a hobby and an outlet. Doing math cleared his mind and calmed him down, because it was dependable. Other than that, his schedule was a mess, so was his office and the desk in the classroom never stayed neat for long when Art was using it.
This morning Art was a little late, but allowed himself a cup of coffee and he walked straight into Paul heading out to his office.
“Hey,” Art greeted, his day immediately brighter.
Paul’s eyes cleared when he saw Art: “Hey, good morning.”
“Everything all right?” Art queried, always worried about Paul. He quickly added: “And good morning to you too.”
Paul laughed; he had gotten used to Art skipping the pleasantries.
“Hey, would you like to come for dinner this evening?” Paul was surprised he dropped the invitation this quickly, even looked surprised.
“At your home?” Art increduloudly asked.
Paul nodded: “Yeah, my wife cooks. It was her idea.”
“Oh, I see,” Art hesitated in accepting the invitation.
This could be awkward. On the other hand, showing his more sane, conventional side to his wife could earn him more time with Paul. She didn’t have to know Art had a crush on her husband. She probably wouldn’t even figure it out, wouldn’t consider it.
“Sure,” he eventually accepted.
Paul started to move towards his office again: “Talk to you later.”
“Uhuh,” Art confirmed as he admiringly watched Paul walk away.
That day all the teachers had a collective meeting to discuss general subjects. This meeting the annual music night was on the agenda. Art had informed Paul about the night already, made it very clear he was going to partake and he would love it if Paul did too. Paul wasn’t sure about it yet. He could help organize the night, but he didn’t want to perform. Perform together? Paul wasn’t sure they were ready for it and Art agreed they needed to polish up their act, but Art also believed they could be ready by that time. Or they could use the night as a try-out. They were teachers in English and maths; nobody expected them to be musical talents. According to Art, it was a perfect oppertunity to test the act they had been working on for a few weeks.
Paul sighed as he approached the door of the teachers’ room where the meeting was held. He hadn’t seen Art since lunch, he was bound to be around. The room was already filling up with teachers when Paul entered. Paul briefly wondered how much he was alienating himself from the language teachers when he made his way to the science teachers in search of Art and an empty seat. Usually, Paul found both right next to each other and this case wasn’t an exception. Art grinned broadly at Paul when he saw him.
“Sit down, I saved you a seat.”
“I can see that,” Paul said as he sat down.
Art leaned in to Paul: “I’m going to enter us,” he studied Paul’s face, then added: “For a performance spot.”
Paul shot Art an annoyed look: “Yes, I get it. Just hold your horses; I’m not sure I’m ready. I was more thinking of helping with the organization.”
“Yeah, you could do that too.”
That was one trademark Paul didn’t like about Art, only hearing what he wanted to hear.
Paul kept quiet during the meeting; he only put his hand up when they were asked who wanted to help in the organization. Art put his hand up when asked for musical support to the students and performances. Art was way too enthusiastic in signing up to perform, in Paul’s opinion. At the end of the meeting it was noted that Paul was signed up for organization and performance, earning him an appreciative comment from the headmaster. Paul just smiled politely and shrunk into his collar.
After the meeting they walked out together, colleagues exchanging dubious glances as they noticed the pair together again. The buzz started with the students; they noticed too and were the younger brothers and sisters of the love generation. They reasoned, since both their English and maths teacher were of that generation too, they might be dabbling in some free love. The teachers caught on later, the older conventional ones after that. Paul couldn’t help notice people’s heads turning, whispering to each other and glaring at them as they passed. Art looked oblivious to it, but Paul suspected he just didn’t care all that much. Maybe he should create a little distance between them, go home after work like any normal family man. Thankfully, most teachers didn’t think much of it, certainly didn’t think something immoral was going on; they had just become very good friends. Art should watch his step though; he already had a reputation and could refrain more from gushing over how talented Paul was. It looked suspicious, especially coming from Art’s mouth.
Paul needed this job and was on his best behaviour, carefully dividing work from pleasure. Art didn’t make things easy for him; he often came to Paul’s office. He talked about their music ventures to the other teachers and Paul had been spotted climbing in Art’s car on a regular basis. If he pushed this too far, if people were getting the wrong ideas, he could find himself in dangerous waters. He needed this job.
Paul speeded through the corridors away from the teachers’ room and the curious eyes, Art in tow.
“You’re in a hurry.”
Paul didn’t even look back at Art when he replied: “Yeah, I need to get some stuff from my office and then I need to go home.”
“Oh,” Art sounded disappointed in his usual way. Paul had gotten used to it, ignored it now.
Since it was late there were no students roaming the corridors and the two teachers soon arrived in Paul’s office without any fuss. It was only then that Paul stopped to look at Art.
“Are you ashamed of me,” Art asked.
“No,” Paul exclaimed: “People just get weird ideas about us.”
Art shrugged: “So?”
“Relationships at work, especially between teachers, are a no-go.”
“Paul, we don’t have such a relationship.”
“No, I know that, but they don’t.”
“And you think the head master will fire us based on the fact that we get along?”
Paul pulled an irritated face at Art: “The rumours are persistent…”
“But not true,”Art interrupted.
Art could tell that did nothing to take away Paul’s irritation and he knew what he was about to say wouldn’t achieve that either.
He continued anyway: “Gawd, I wish they were true.”
Paul leaned on his desk, trying to stare some sense into Art. Art glared back for a little while. Paul was tough and steadfast in his opinions. Art already found that out and decided to let it go and averted his eyes.
Eventually he tried to calm things: “Calm down, okay. It’s not like we’re all over each other, no matter how badly I want it. The head master’s got nothing to fire us for, not even anything to reprimand us for. Schools are always filled with rumours and gossips. Let them; they’re going to anyway.”
“That doesn’t mean we have to feed those ‘rumours and gossips’.”
“We’re not feeding anything. We get along and happened to have found each other in music. That’s a work relationship if anything. Besides, we now have a good reason to spend a lot of time together working on our music.”
Paul had to admit, their performance for the music night was a good excuse.
It turned out, the school’s music night was a perfect excuse to spend time together working on their music. Paul suspected for Art it was also a cover for more personal intentions, though so far he hadn’t acted on them. Paul had to admit, on a personal level, he enjoyed hanging around in Art’s apartment. It made him feel sheltered and protected. It gave him a place to quietly and freely work on his music, with a partner who believed in him and supported and encouraged him. He wasn’t sure he wanted anything more from it, he wasn’t sure the funny fuzzy feeling was amounting to more than just friendship. He was also still married; he cared for his wife and he loved his baby daughter.
Paul had been staring at Art for a while, he didn’t even realize he was. Art was working on a song Paul wrote earlier, writing the harmonies. There was no evidence Art noticed Paul staring and yet, Paul was sure Art knew, probably even before Paul realized it. His features were fine and delicate; clear pale skin over chiseled cheekbones. His clear blue eyes only just let on about the man behind those eyes. Never before had anyone been so patient and motivating to Paul. He started to believe in his own writing. He was even toying with the idea of bringing it to the stage, together with Artie, like he dreamt for so long. The school’s music night could be the perfect place to test where they stood and how audiences might receive them, just like Art argued.
Now that the songs were there and they had a setlist worth, they needed to practice; they needed to fine tune their voices to each other and bring their pronunciations together. Art was meticulous in that, dragging Paul through hours and hours of repetition. Art didn’t feel guilty and Paul indulged him because Paul had made Art wait and rewrite harmonies because Paul was just as meticulous with his songwriting. It took them quite a while to hit the sweet spot where both were on exactly the same wavelength and the same pronunciation. It took even longer to perfectly fit their voices together to a point where Art’s pure clear voice complemented Paul’s deeper gentle voice. They were adapting and bending till their shared voices hit a tremor that simply soared. The first time they managed it they both shut down in surprise and shock. So that was what they had been missing out on. Lord, that sounded good, and it felt good too, it felt right. They stared at each other, eyes wide in shock. As reality sunk in they burst out laughing.
Something clicked and Art wasn’t thinking. He lunged forward, grabbed Paul and put his lips against Paul’s. The taste and touch of Paul’s lips weren’t long on Art’s; Paul jumped back in alarm leaving Art embarrassed. The blood that colored his cheeks were now completely draining making Art look pale and somewhat sick.