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 series has not been Beta’d…yet…
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.
A new chapter. I have to thank all the kind people reacting to the previous chapter. It really helped making this chapter happen. So thank you.
Chapter III: A Peculiar Man
Art wasn’t really listening to the introduction of his new colleague, he was trying to figure out where he had seen his face before. He noticed how the new man’s eyes kept wandering to him, quickly looking away when Art returned the gaze. It must have been a few years back, during a night out. Had they been intimate, or did Art just flirt with him? Or did nothing at all happen? Was he rejected? Art knew they met before, but he couldn’t place his face nor remember where and when they met. I couldn’t have been much, Art would remember. Now that they were colleagues, Art had enough time to find out how, where and when they met.
After the introduction by the head master to his new colleagues Paul found himself shaking hands and being introduced on a more personal level. He was going to be one of three English teachers within a team of about fifty teachers overall, of which Art Garfunkel turned out to be one. Paul wasn’t sure if he should be excited or awkward about it. Never before had there been an opportunity to work with him, something Paul always had wanted. Yet, the rejection from about two years ago, and his very personal revelation to Art, made it very awkward.
Paul wasn’t really paying attention to all the new names and faces; he was too busy figuring out how to deal with Art Garfunkel. Should he pretend they never met or should he own up? Maybe here and now was not the time, maybe he could keep it neutral, somehow. Before Paul realized it he was shaking his hand.
The head master introduced them: “This is Art Garfunkel, he teaches maths. Paul is going to teach English.”
Art nodded: “Yes, I heard,” he smiled while he shook hands and put his left hand on Paul’s.
Paul smiled back till he was ushered on to meet the rest of the team. Art quietly followed the introduction as Paul slowly made his way through the room.
Art was nudged in his ribs by his best friend in the team: “What you think of him?”
Art shrugged: “Can’t say yet really. Only just met him.”
Sam continued: “I heard he was sent away from his last job.”
That was a surprise to Art: “Really!? He doesn’t really look like a rebel to me.”
“No,” Sam agreed. “Apparently he has his own way of dealing with things. I heard he can be quite stubborn.”
Paul intrigued Art more and more: “Hmmm, really?” he mumbled.
Sam sniggered: “Maybe he can become your new accomplice.”
Art turned to look at Sam: “What you’re talking about?”
Sam shook his head: “I’m not going to defend you forever, Art. I have a family to think of and…well…your temper can cause a lot of trouble.”
“My temper!?” Art huffed indignant.
Sam shook his head again walking away.
Maybe it wasn’t even such a crazy idea. It was certainly worth finding out why Paul was sent away from his previous job, if it was true.
It was late in the afternoon and most of the teachers were getting ready to go home. Paul would start a week later so he could get used to his colleagues, the new students and the new school. It also gave him the opportunity to prepare. He would start out taking over a class from an elder colleague who was about to retire. If everything was to a mutual satisfaction, Paul would be offered a steady job and take more classes. Paul knew, this time he couldn’t afford rubbing colleagues the wrong way, he needed this job. He had a responsibility now he had a baby, a family to provide for. Paul always expected it to be daunting, but he had not been prepared for married life and now the baby was here, it turned out it was another hurdle on top of an existing one. Being married and being a young father was not easy.
Paul was disturbed from his quiet stream of thoughts. It was the head master, coat in hand, obviously ready himself to go back home.
“You wouldn’t mind me going home, you know the way out?”
“Oh,” Paul wasn’t actually sure he remembered the way back to the front doors, but a voice rang out before Paul could say so:
“I can show him out.”
“Ah, Garfunkel…wonderful…” doubt in the head master’s voice. “Just show him out, no Tom foolery.”
Art nodded: “Don’t worry, I’ll save trouble for a later date.”
The head master laughed politely as he looked Art over; it was clear he didn’t think it was funny at all. Then before he strode out of the door he turned to Paul: “Welcome to the team.”
Art waited till the head master was out of sight. Paul looked like a little dark mouse constantly scurrying back into the dark.
“You’re nervous, huh?”
Paul barely looked up at him when he gave a barely audible reply.
“I expected you to be a music teacher,” Art tried to keep the conversation going.
This time Paul’s reply was audible: “Why would you think that?”
“Because you’re a good guitar player. Because you write your own music,” Art mused having remembered where he knew Paul’s face from.
“I’m an English teacher,” Paul said.
Art decided to ignore Paul’s last contribution: “Do you still write?”
Paul sighed as he dug out his keys: “Listen, can we do this conversation another time? I need to get home.”
Art shrugged: “Sure, no problem. Where you live?”
Paul sighed again while he picked up his bag: “New Jersey.”
“Wow, all the way in New Jersey?”
“What do you mean ‘all the way in New Jersey’?”
“Don’t they have high schools in New Jersey?”
Paul gave Art an unimpressed look, sighed again and started to walk towards the doors.
“I used up all the high schools in New Jersey. Look, I need to go home, so could you kindly show me the way out?”
Art did as he was asked in silence. So, Sam heard right. Interesting.
Paul was fiddling with baby Olive’s blankets while his wife Joanna looked on in irritation.
“No, Paul, you’re making a mess of her bed.”
Paul pulled an annoyed look and dropped the blankets: “You do it then,” he suggested already making his way to his wife to take over his daughter. These days Paul and Joanna didn’t seem to agree about anything anymore and Paul was getting increasingly frustrated and feeling trapped. When he married her, this was not what he had in mind. Maybe it was his fault, maybe he thought too light about it, maybe he did have to compromise more, but compromising was not one of Paul’s strong characteristics. Paul played with his baby daughter whom he adored while Joanna redid her bed. She still held a soft spot for Paul, to see him like this, playing with his daughter, but he didn’t make things easy for them. Still, Joanna had a strong will and would not let Paul overwhelm her.
“Paul,” she cautiously started, “I think we should find a babysitter.”
Paul snapped to attention: “What!? Why!?”
“Because someone has to look after her when I’m working.”
Paul stopped playing giving his wife his full attention, or rather to start an argument: “No, you can’t go working, you have a baby to look after."
“That’s why we need a babysitter,” Joanna tried to keep calm.
Paul shook his head: “No, there’s no need for you to work. You should be home to look after Olive.”
“I want to work, Paul.”
“Why? I make enough money.”
“I want to work, because I don’t want to get behind on my colleagues. Also, I didn’t study to throw it all away.”
This was another issue on top of so many issues Paul and Joanna hadn’t manage to work through. Paul also knew how strong willed Joanna could be and he wasn’t sure he could deal with that. Times were definitely changing, more women had careers, less women stayed home to look after the children. All those things that used to ensure Paul he would be of use slowly disappeared or changed in ways Paul didn’t feel he was equipped to deal with. And this relationship had started to feel suffocating to Paul. He just had no idea how to deal with it. Instead of finding a solution or talking it out, he left the room with his daughter on his arm leaving an exasperated Joanna behind.
Art’s thoughts weren’t on the homework he was correcting. It seemed his new colleague made a deeper impression on Art than he cared to admit. They hardly talked, couldn’t even be called ‘exchanging pleasantries’. Art hardly knew anything about him, but something about him, something in his eyes, that sadness, it struck Art. It was also something he said, for the little he said, which told Art he wasn’t a regular guy. He wasn’t exactly making a plan, deciding to improvise did not qualify as a plan, but he did promise himself to have a proper conversation with Paul, as soon he started working. Art was suddenly looking forward to the next week. To his own surprise, he was really looking forward to seeing Paul again, getting to know him. Maybe, once they knew each other better, they could even play music together. Oh, was that it? Was he secretly still hoping to find his perfect partner to make beautiful music with and astonish the crowds with their amazing harmonies? Quite it Art, that boat had sailed long ago.
The school, the teachers and the students were largely the way Paul expected them to be; the school respectable, the teachers disciplined and set in their ways and the students were unruly, chaotic and not sure what to make of their futures. Art didn’t stick out when it came to discipline; he was always prepared, always immaculate in his work and passionate about maths and teaching it to his students often encouraging them to go a bit further than the full length, usually to the dismay of those students. No, there were other things like his out-of-school activities, going out till late in the night to listen to music, and the way he worked with other colleagues, demanding more than was really necessary, according to his colleagues. Ironically, a lot of the things Paul got fired for in his previous job. However, with Art in the maths department and Paul in the English department, they didn’t get to work together all that often. It also meant the teachers were used to stick to their own group of teachers during breaks. At first Paul did nothing to change that, he simply followed his elderly colleague to the table of language minded teachers. Art let him the first week, but in the second week he grabbed his chance the moment Paul entered the teachers’ break room.
“Hey,” he started clasping Paul’s arm and pulling him into another direction: “Why don’t you sit with us today? We haven’t gotten the chance to get to know you yet.”
Paul, surprised by Art’s action, didn’t resist, followed him like a sheep and sat down in the seat that was shown to him. He had no idea why he followed instructions without thinking about it; it was nothing like him. After years of being bullied, pulled and dragged about for years without it coming to anything, Paul had enough of it. He was a grownup now, he could make his own decisions, he was perfectly able to make his own mistakes and he’d like to make them himself. However, with Art around, all that seemed off the table and Paul was back to obediently carrying out orders without thought nor protest. It was fine, he was only asked to have his lunch in a different company than he had gotten used to. To be frank, Paul had hoped Art would take the first step, because he was still too new, too self-conscience and too embarrassed to approach him.
“We met a few years back. Paul was playing, his own songs. He was good,” Art started the conversation.
“Oh, you knew each other already?”
Paul was just about to take a bite from his sandwich. Even though the bread wasn’t in his mouth yet, Art beat him to correcting the inquirer.
“No, can’t say we really know each other.”
“You just said you met a few years back.”
This time Paul beat Art to it: “We didn’t stay in contact. You can’t even really say that we met.”
“I defended you!”
“Yeah, well, then you ran out of me. Also, don’t make it sound as if you prevented me from being beaten up. You’re no hero.”
“Woa Garfunkel. It seems you met your match.”
The rest of the teachers remained quiet observing this strange theatre. Art managed to squeeze in an irritated: “Oh shut up!” before taking a defiant bite from his sandwich.
For a while both Paul and Art remained silent eating their lunch while the other teachers went on complaining about their students, how much work they had to do and the low wages they received for it and complaining about colleagues who weren’t there to defend themselves.
Out of nothing Art restarted the conversation: “Do you still write?”
Paul cautiously glanced at Art who sat relaxed munching on his third sandwich. He looked Art over trying to figure out what game he was playing. Eventually he answered: “Yeah…”
“I mean songs,” Art clarified.
Paul shrugged: “Not much.”
“You still play, though?”
Paul shrugged again as he hummed a negative.
“Shame, you were good. I was curious what you’d be writing and playing now. The music scene has changed, it’s all so much harsher now. It could do with a musician like yourself.”
Paul wondered where all that praise suddenly came from. He could have done with that years ago. Right now, it was wasted on him.
“I’m not a musician,” Paul corrected partly trying to end the conversation and partly trying to justify where and what he was now.
“An English teacher?” Art incredulously informed, “Is that what you are?”
Paul picked up his tray as he got up: “Yes, I’m an English teacher. I don’t have time to fool around and try and be some music hero.”
Art could tell Paul was feeling sorry for himself when he said it. He could tell there were a lot of lost young boy dreams and possibly an adult life that did not quite live up to Paul’s expectations and hopes. Art recognized that feeling; he had struggled and sometimes still struggled with the banality of his life, with the feeling he was not fulfilling his potential and that he was missing out on something. He could see that same pain in Paul’s eyes. He could see it in how Paul carried himself, how he dumped his garbage and tray and walked away from a difficult conversation. Once the door closed behind Paul and he was out of sight, Art turned back towards his food. He was surprised to see how much he had eaten of it since he wasn’t really that hungry. A chance on a care free evening making music seemed far away. His hopes Paul would take the bait had somewhat tempered, but he was sure the will was still there, he just had to encourage him in the right way. Thoughtfully Art collected all his waste, slowly getting himself ready to go back to class. He’d put his plan together when he was home.
Art didn’t always live on his own, as a matter of fact he was married. He wasn’t sure why though he remembered telling himself it was because he loved her. In a way that was true, he did love her, he just didn’t want to spend too much time with her. Married life wasn’t quite what Art expected; it required certain qualities which, to his own dismay, he lacked. Yes, possibly it was just because he was a man and men don’t talk about their feelings. His wife however, didn’t accept that as an excuse. About two years into their marriage Art accepted a job back home in New York, away from his wife and the place they tried to make home. He rented a small apartment and over time he not only spend week days there, but also the weekends. It stung a little when he found out his wife was cheating on him, especially since he had been faithful. After a good talk, over the telephone, they decided to have an open relationship and see how that suited them. It meant, they were both free to have boy- and girlfriends, but they were still man and wife. In the end the truth was that the marriage was pretty much over, Art believed. He was more intimate with strangers than with his wife. He hadn’t even seen his wife for nearly two months. He did talk to her, on the phone, even told her about Paul. She asked him if he was his latest boyfriend to which Art truthfully answered that he wasn’t sure, maybe more of a good friend. He also told her about their frosty interaction and his hope he could play music with him. She even helped him with his plan to defrost Paul.
This was going to take much longer than Art hoped. His wife told him to take it slow. Start with an apology, then become friends, invite him to your place or go visit him at his place. Only once they were friends suggest to try and sing a song together. Don’t rush it, you might scare him off. Besides, you don’t want to come across as desperate. No, his wife was right, he didn’t want to come across as desperate. He wasn’t desperate.
Funny that. The call to his wife had been a mandatory one and not one he looked forward to. In the end they talked for nearly two hours mapping out the plan which they dubbed ‘Operation Sounds of Silence‘ for the fact Paul didn’t seem very interested in neither talking to Art nor making anymore music. The first step would be an apology. Art also decided he wanted to do this in private, no prying eyes, no judgements from their colleagues or students. Just a quiet explanation why he ran out of Paul. That was the tricky part; Art hadn’t actually figured out for himself why he suddenly took off.
That night Art had trouble going to sleep rolling around in bed thinking of how to approach Paul. He ran through several scenes and ideas, dismissing one after another and starting from the top. Why was he so nervous about this? It wasn’t as if he had never done this before; chatting up people was one of his specialties. It also became harder to convince himself it was about a childhood dream, because that childhood dream never included Paul. Art just wanted to be the Everly Brothers with whoever was good enough to keep up with him. This time, the dream not only included harmonizing, but also things that had nothing to do with music. Art wanted to feel the warmth of Paul’s body, the muscles moving under his skin, the texture of his skin. Art wanted to know what he smelled like, what he tasted like, how it felt to be around him. He wanted to know what he liked, loved, disliked and hated. He wanted to know what made him giggle, laugh, pout and cry. He wanted to find out how to provoke any of these emotions out of Paul. All those thoughts scared Art and he almost called off the whole operation.
He lay in bed wide eyed and wide awake. It was never meant to be this nerve wrecking, was it?
Paul leant on the side of the crib as he gazed down at his young daughter. He would rather stand there than be in bed with his wife. They had another argument that evening in which things got rather heated. In the end it was Joanna who left the living room, slamming door and everything. Paul could hear her storming up the stairs still cursing. He could hear her frantic footsteps to the baby room where her motions finally calmed down. Paul remained downstairs long enough till he was sure she had gone to bed. He wondered if he should sleep on the couch for the night, not a pleasant prospect since the couch was rather uncomfortable for lying on. He went upstairs to get a spare blanket and pillow, but ended up in the baby room.
Paul poured his heart out to his baby daughter who seemed to be listening attentively. He told her how his new job was just as boring as the one he had before. He told her how his colleagues were just as stuffy as the ones he had before, well except for one. He told her how Art Garfunkel, the boy he admired in secret for years, irritated him and set his teeth on edge, but how he at the same time also seemed to be the only one with some sense and be the only one with the same insane focus on detail. He asked her if he should talk to him, get to know him better and ignore all the small irritating habits, or if he should ignore him all together with the risk of regretting it for the rest of his life. What was wise? What should he do?
When his daughter was asleep he went to his study to pack his bag for the next day. After that he sat behind his desk for hours staring at the walls while he mused about his early memories, his dreams, his attempts at making them real and the day they seemingly died a silent death. Paul could still see the grey coat and the blond afro top disappearing around a corner. He could still feel the emptiness when it was all said and done. He remembered how heavy his guitar felt and how far away the bus stop seemed. That night Paul cleared out his old desk shoving loose papers and a notebook with scribbled songs and ideas into a cardboard box, on top he threw his old scrapbook, some pages sticking together hiding teenage secrets. Old high school yearbooks also disappeared into the box and some photo’s of old class mates whom Paul hadn’t seen nor talked to for years. The box and his guitar were moved to a small storage room. Paul only opened that door when he moved into his new house, with his new wife. He didn’t check what was in the box; he simply moved it from the small storage room to his new bigger attic. The box was stored away with all of Paul’s other childhood memories. Maybe one day, when he was grey and old and had more perspective, he would find the box and unpack it and laugh at his youthful scribbles.
When his daughter was born he took the guitar down from the attic. He thought he could play her songs, he even put new strings on the guitar. He didn’t play it yet, because she was so young and still needed a lot of sleep. He didn’t play it yet, because he didn’t have the heart, he wasn’t even sure if he remembered how to. The guitar was right next to him, tucked in-between the wall and the desk. Paul’s fingers stroked the case, as if he wanted to remind himself how it felt. Art asked him if he still played and Paul told him he was an English teacher, not a musician. Yeah, that was who he was. He should read his daughter poetry and teaching her the finer points of English grammar instead of playing her songs on his guitar. He was a fool for forgetting what he was, for trying to be someone else, in a life that didn’t suit him, in a marriage which was slipping through his fingers. Was Art the answer? Paul believed for most of his teenage years he was. In his twenties he revived that belief and then he lost it at the hands of his idol. Wasn’t he too old for this dreaming anyway? Why was he still lost? Shouldn’t he know by now what he wanted to do and who he wanted to be? No, not Elvis Presley, not even one of the Everly Brothers, an English teacher. Stupid childish dreams!
Paul poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down at the table in the teachers’ room. He was one of only five or six people around, all other teachers were in their respective classes. He rubbed his hands in his face trying to wake himself up and wipe the sleep off of his face. He didn’t sleep much, sat in his study turning thoughts over in his head till he saw the first morning light filtering through the curtains. Only then he realized he hadn’t slept, but morning was there and he had to get going in only one hour time.
He sat there as colleagues disappeared to their offices, his cup of coffee cooling down and his tiredness still there. He sat staring into nothingness when Art came wandering in looking just as tired as Paul felt. Paul couldn’t help muttering: “Oh god, not now…”
Art turned, empty cup in one hand, coffeepot in the other: “What was that?”
“Nothing….I mean good morning.”
Art didn’t turn, didn’t even move, he just stood staring down at Paul, not even a ‘good morning’ back.
So Paul looked back up at him: “Is there anything I can do for you?”
When nothing happened Paul reburied his face in his hands: “Why can’t you be normal and just say ‘good morning’ back or something?”
Art noticed Paul looked as tired as he felt. He didn’t say ‘good morning’, instead he turned back to the coffee pouring it in his cup. He put the cup down on the table next to Paul.
“You want some more coffee?” he asked. “…and good morning. You look like you didn’t sleep very well tonight.”
Paul suddenly stood up, coffee spilling on the table: “You know, I don’t really want to do this right now, okay?”
Art remained seated calmly nodding: “Okay. Talk later?”
It was as if his students used his exhaustion as an excuse to riot. Keeping a class of teenagers under control was a challenge at the best of times, but that morning Paul just couldn’t get them to settle down and do as he asked them to. Both of his classes had been trying and Paul was glad to be back in his little office. Because he was the last addition and awaiting retirement of one of his colleagues, Paul didn’t have his office near the other teachers’ offices, but on the other side of the building. Paul suspected it originally wasn’t even an office, but rather a broom closet, it was that small; his desk and a few shelves only just fitted in it.
Paul sat back in his chair closing his eyes enjoying the relative peace, a half eaten lunch in front of him. He was nearly asleep when a voice startled him. In his shock he quickly sat up knocking his coffee all over the desk. Barely awake time made not much sense to Paul, nor did normal proceedings and he only vaguely registered a voice talking to him and hands with paper napkins wiping his desk clean. Paul only managed to clear his head when he realized someone was kneeling in front of him.
“I think you should call in sick,” the voice of an angel told him.
“No,” Paul disagreed: “Not I’m not call sick no.”
“Look at you, you can’t stand in front of a class like that.”
Paul sighed, maybe the voice was right and begrudgingly he agreed: “Yeah, you’re right, I can’t teach like this. Right now I don’t even speak English.”
The voice laughed then the world slowly faded out.
Paul lazily opened his eyes not yet seeing anything. For a little while he lay there slumbering, half dreaming half thinking. He stretched to wake his muscles, yawning as a hunger took hold of him he shook the rest of the sleep off. Only now he realized he wasn’t in his own bedroom. Confused he sat up looking around. Where was he? How did he end up here? Paul tried to find his last memory, the last location he remembered being at, his last activity. School! The last thing he remembered was being in his office in school. Was he still in school, in the nurse’s room? No, the room looked too homely. Paul carefully put his legs out of bed his toes tentively feeling the floor. There was warm carpet under his feet. He stood up crooked, he had to steady himself against the wall. Slowly he made his way out of the room. It soon became clear he was in someone’s house. He must be on the first floor. There were two bedrooms and a small bathroom. Paul took the stairs down. It came out in a small hallway, some coats hanging from a rack, including Paul’s coat. Ahead there was a small kitchen, Paul could see that through the only open door. There were three more doors on either side of the hallway. Judging by the position of the stairs the most interesting door was the one on Paul’s right. He pushed the door handle gingerly down and pushed the door open. Soft yellow light slipped out of the room. Paul stuck his head into the room to see a couch against the opposite wall and the familiar blond afro resting on one of the cushions. Art shifted his gaze from the tv to Paul and immediately pushed himself into a sitting position.
‘Hey, you’re up,” he chirped.
“Yeah,” Paul’s voice sounded unsure.
“Couldn’t get your address out of you properly so I brought you here. This is my flat, by the way.”
Paul was still not entirely sure: “I see,” was the only thing he said as he looked around still standing in the door.
Art stood up and stretched: “Want something to eat? I’m kinda hungry?”
He walked to the door on the left of Paul and disappeared into the kitchen. He stuck his head back into the living room: “I’m afraid I don’t have much food to offer and I’m no cook, but I can heat up some Chinese I have left from yesterday.”
Paul had wandered further into the living room taking his surroundings in. The walls were covered in bookcases, which were filled with books and LP’s. Somewhere in the middle of the rubble Paul recognized a tape machine. In the back was a small desk covered in papers and even more books, though this time maths books, Paul recognized some of the covers he had seen in school.
Paul nodded absentmindedly.
“Sit down wherever you want.”
Paul turned back to the sitting area. In front of the couch was a small coffee table covered in yet more books, a paper and what looked like all that was needed to roll a joint. Paul sat down in a chair directly facing the tv. There was a movie on he had already seen so instead Paul studied Art’s living room a little more. There was an ashtray delicately balanced on the back of the couch leaning against the wall. The hard service the ashtray was resting on was a book. Art sure had enough books. Paul took a backwards look at one of the shelves and read the titles he could read. The books ranged from adventure books to character studies, from philosophical explorations to historical explorations, from biographies to scientific studies and many other genres. Paul wondered if he actually read all those books.
After a lot of noise and smells, not all of them good, Art reappeared with two plates of steaming hot food.
“There wasn’t really enough for two, so I boiled some extra rice. Not sure I did that right? If it’s inedible, we can always order a pizza.”
“I’m sure it’s all right,” Paul assured taking the plate from Art.
“We have to eat right here, I don’t have a diner table. Don’t have much of a use for it on my own.”
Paul didn’t react, but concentrated on the food. He was so hungry, he didn’t really care the food wasn’t warmed through properly and the rice really wasn’t cooked properly.
Art took a few bites, stopped and watched Paul shoving the food into his mouth. “You don’t have to pretend the food is any good.”
Paul returned the look as he chewed: “I’m hungry; I don’t really care.” He looked down at his half empty plate: “You’re right, this really isn’t very good.”
Art laughed a short sigh and pulled Paul’s plate away: “I’ll order pizza.”
“Hey, I was eating that!” Paul protested in jest.
“I can’t have you die in my house, it’s suspicious.”
Paul now laughed too: “Yeah, getting rid of a body in this city is not easy.”
“No, exactly. I don’t have a garden I can burry you in and cutting you up to be brought out in the thrash is too messy. I’d be cleaning the floor for days.”
“It’s also a lot of work.”
“Yeah, I don’t have the time for that.”
Art disappeared in the kitchen again, by the sound of it, he just dumped the plates in the sink. A few minutes later Paul could hear him ordering pizza on the telephone.
When he returned Paul was looking at his books, reading titles, pulling some of them out to have a quick look inside. Art watched him without saying a word, but Paul apparently sensed he had returned.
“Did you read all these books?”
“No, not yet, but I’m working on it.” Art let Paul move from book to book wondering what he was thinking. Nothing more came from him, he just scanned the shelves one by one, occasionally pulling a book out to have a look at the cover and reading the summary or index. He put all the books back where he found them. An enigma this one, Art thought. There was that serious, somewhat melancholic, look on his face which he seemed to wear most of the time. Art was fairly good at judging characters and he already spotted a keen mind, constantly churning something over in that dark unreachable head of his. That was not hard, most people would spot that about Paul Simon. What most people probably missed was a bright, observant sense of humour, a little bit biting, a whole lot self-deprecating, poking fun at his own shortcomings and the situations it caused. Seeing the humour of it while secretly also feeling sorry for himself. Art appreciated that sort of humour, it was the kind he himself liked to practice. It was the kind that made him laugh the most.
Art watched Paul and Paul ignored Art reading every title of every book in the room. This situation was funny to Paul, he felt less embarrassed and uncomfortable than he thought he would. It was all right not to talk. It was all right to explore the small living room in silence. Art didn’t seem to mind, though Paul could feel his eyes watching him. This was a strange situation; Paul still wasn’t exactly sure why he was there or how he got there. It was late too, Joanna was probably wondering where he was. He should give her a call, let her know he was all right and not coming home this night. He wasn’t actually sure Art would let him stay. He was remarkably friendly to him, even after Paul snapped at him.
Art raised his eyebrows when Paul faced him.
“You live here on your own?”
“Girlfriend? ….Or boyfriend?”
“No. A wife, but she lives in Michigan.”
When Paul looked confused Art clarified: “We have an open relationship. Which means that she lives in Michigan humping the neighbour and I live here humping….uh….”
“Charming,” Paul reacted in a sarcastic voice. He looked alarmed when he realized Art hadn’t finished his sentence. Maybe better he didn’t stay at Art’s.
“Afraid I’ll try something?”
Once Paul thought about it, not really actually, so he just shrugged.
“When will the pizza be here?”
“In a few minutes.”
Art sat down on the couch, digging the remote control out after he sat on it. The ashtray dangerously wobbling. Art made himself comfortable again: “Sit down wherever you want,” he invited Paul.
“Did I freak you out? I won’t do anything if you don’t want me to. I’m more interested in what you’re doing musically, anyway.”
“I told you, I’m not doing anything.”
Art studied Paul’s body language as he said it, as he stood there, eyes wide, he suddenly looked nervous and the silence seemed to make him even more on edge.
“Shame,” Art finally said.
Paul shuffled a little closer to the chair to sit down again. This time the silence was pressing on Paul, though he was also afraid of what Art might say next.
Art broke the silence: “We could play together, in private. Just for fun.”
Paul looked briefly up and flashed him a nervous smile.
Art quickly corrected himself: “I mean making music.”
Paul, now seated, was playing with his fingers, not looking at Art. Something in him still wanted to. His deep rooted believe he was no good stopped him accepting the suggestion.
Art tried again: “I would love to lend my voice to your songs. You’re a good songwriter.”
Paul, not believing Art actually remembered any of his songs, quipped: “Yeah, right. Do you even remember any of my songs?”
“Yeah,” his eyes glazed over as he tried to remember the melody to one particular song: “One of them went something like this.”
Art hummed a few lines of what he thought he remembered from that evening a few years ago.
Paul seemed stunned, his cheeks pink. Art only noticed after finishing that Paul’s gaze was fixed on him.
“Was that right?” he wondered.
Paul’s mouth opened, but he wasn’t sure what he was going to say. He recognized the tune as one of his own. Art didn’t sing it quite right, but after so long, he remembered the main tune of it. It also gave Paul a jolt to hear one of his own melodies be sung with that angel’s voice. Now he was sure; he wanted it!
“I could bring my guitar one day,” he boldly suggested.
The unexpected suggestion and turnaround took Art by surprise. Instead of the delight he had planned to show, and which he thought would be easy to show, he displayed a slight shock.
Their eyes met as Paul awaited his answer. A smile broke out on Art’s face. Result!
Waiting for their pizzas at first they had trouble finding a start to a conversation. They took off safely discussing the school they worked at, how Paul was finding it, offset against Art’s experiences over the years. Polite conversation in which Paul compared the school to other schools he worked at, while Art gave advise how to go about certain things and who to approach if he needed something. Art was still curious about why Paul had left so many schools already. He was biding his time, waiting till they felt comfortable enough with each other that they would talk freely about things like that, or problems in the past. Paul was careful, weighing every word before he let it pass his lips. Art wasn’t yet sure if it was because he didn’t quite trust Art yet, or that was just the way he talked, as if every word had to matter. As if he didn’t want to spoil any words on things better left alone, forming tight sentences, economic but never failing to hit the target. Art liked how precise he was.
Paul started to feel like a kid in a candy shop. Now he was scared Art wasn’t going to live up to his expectations. He concluded soon Art was not a regular guy. Had his own way with words, sometimes bending even breaking sentences to fit his romantic way of expressing himself. He also had some strong ideas about teaching, about the state of the American educational system, and he had his own way of dealing with every-day-challenges. Art was nothing like Paul once imagined. It was impossible to imagine a man like that. Paul was fascinated with his view on the world and the intricate detail with which Art analysed and dissected problems. His words in thoughtful slow ideas, opinions and some solutions slowly slipping out.
They talked till Art’s doorbell rang and the pizzas were there. Art offered him so cold beer, which Paul refused. Then he could have some chilled coke, or water. Then they ate their pizza in peace and quiet, both pretending to watch the tv. Both glancing at each other, smiling awkwardly when they caught each other stare. There was an odd atmosphere building between them, not unpleasant, just odd. Art cleaned the pizza box away once they finished. Paul was about to excuse himself; it was late and they both had to work early in the morning, he’d better be off.
Art stopped that plan telling him it was late and he’d better try to lie down his head here. He would probably get a lot more sleep than if he drove home. Paul checked the clock, then his watch, confirming it was around midnight and he probably should get some more sleep.
“I’ll sleep here on the couch,” Art offered: “You can sleep in the bed.”
Paul rejected the offer at first till it was clear Art wasn’t going to accept a ‘No’. He could use the bathroom, Art was sure he had a new toothbrush he could use. Or a clean towel if he wanted to take shower. Art didn’t need to show the way, Paul already knew the way. Before ‘Good night’ they stood clumsily looking at each other. Paul looked Art over, feeling happy they finally really met, confused why it took so long. Art felt something new dawning on him, a strong emotion, somewhere between love and adoration. He couldn’t quite place it, didn’t know what it was or why it was, but it made him feel dizzy and feverish, yet so comfortably warm and safe. This was not just his new friend, but more. No, Art wasn’t in love, or was he?
“Good night,” a shy voice broke through the pink jumble of thoughts and emotions. Art’s voice was barely audible when he returned the greeting. In a daze he watched the door close behind Paul obscuring the view. He could hear his footsteps on the padded steps of the stairs and the wooden floor towards his bedroom.
This was something else and he desperately wanted to hold on to it.