Natasha’s fingers danced over the keys of the piano.
As she played, her eyes fell closed. She let herself be swept away in the tune that was coming from within her heart. She didn’t keep track of the melody, didn’t bother to write down the notes as she would normally when playing something new. A tear made its way to her closed eye, this was a different melody, this was a song that had been born within her heart, a passage of emotions that took her through the past years, from when she had first met Stephen.
He had been charming, sweet, and warm; he was handsome and athletic, a popular boy in school. She, on the other hand, was the outcast, the reject. Her mother spent more money and time drinking than providing for her, and so Natasha was left to fend for herself. She couldn’t read the blackboards in class, but her mother wouldn’t take her to the optometrist, they didn’t have the money, she had told her daughter. Natasha was sure that she could be a better student, but she didn’t think that she would ever be given the opportunity.
Then things had changed. Stephen had approached her one lunchtime; she had been sitting alone, far from the others in her class. They didn’t want to associate with her anyway. She had suffered before, and as he approached, her nerves had been steeled for whatever was coming. She remembered the fear, though, even now, that she had felt as he approached. She had gotten used to the pranks that the other students would play on her over the year, but no matter how prepared she was for being the centre of their cruel entertainment, every new day hurt some more.
“Hi Natasha.” Stephen had said.
“Hi Stephen.” She replied, no matter how many times she told herself that ignoring them would be the better option – at least if she didn’t participate, eventually, surely, it would stop being fun – her resolution was countered by the fact that at least if they were making fun of her, they knew that she existed, and existence, even in its lowest form, was better than being invisible.
“What’s up?” He asked.
Please, just get it over with. Her mind shouted at him, meanwhile, Natasha smiled up at him. “Not a lot, as usual.”
She was being too smart, now. She chided herself silently, telling herself to just say only what was necessary, and wait for the game to be over. What happened then shocked her, though. Stephen crouched down and rested his elbows on his knees, looking up at her.
“Sorry,” he said softly, looking up at her. “Obvious questions are something I’m quite good at.”
She looked into his eyes, and realized that inside his gaze there didn’t seem to be anything malicious or teasing about him. He smiled at her apologetically, Natasha swallowed, still unsure whether she should smile back or not. She didn’t really know what to say. Thankfully, Stephen saved her from starting the next line.
“So I guess you’re wondering what brings me over here, huh?” He asked.
She couldn’t believe it; looking into his eyes, she would have assumed that he was more nervous than she was.
“Umm…yeah, just a little.” She managed to stammer.
His fingers clutched together, wringing amongst one another, he switched one hand to the top, and then the other. He always played with his hands when he was nervous, clutching, fidgeting, wringing and moving – she had learned that in the years since that day.
“Well…” He started, looking at his hands. “Umm…”
She found herself smiling, only ever so slightly, but it was the happiest expression that she had shown at that school until then. Watching the most popular boy in the school tongue tied over her was actually somewhat amusing, and she felt her nerves relaxing a little. Finally, Stephen managed to continue.
“I was, I guess, just coming over to talk to you. I…I wanted to get to know you.”
“You what?” She said, gaping at him.
“Well, it’s just…I’ve seen how everyone treats you, and, I’ve never really had the chance to get to know you, but I always felt bad about it.”
Now she was beginning to understand, “So I’m your pity case?”
“No!” He said, blushing slightly. “I…I’d want to know you even if you were popular.”
“Of course you would,” She said. “Everyone wants to know the popular kids – you should know that.”
“That’s not what I mean, Natasha. I’m just…trying to be nice.”
She had almost yelled at him, then, part of her, a stubborn, proud side of her that said she would not let him pity her because she was poor and unpopular wanted to scream at him, to tell him she would be no one’s charity, that she didn’t need him, but the rest of her, and the part that she listened to, told her to give him a chance. She bit her lip, and looked down at him.
“Okay,” She said, and moved a little, looking at him expectantly.
That first conversation had gone well, and by the end of the lunch period, the two were laughing with one another. Natasha had found it odd to laugh, particularly at school.
The only real time she found herself laughing, in her life, was at the piano lessons that her uncle Rodney paid for her to attend. She never knew why he paid for them, after all, it was the only association she had with him. She had long ago figured that he paid for something for her to feel better about himself for never associating with his sister, and his niece. Still, piano gave her a chance to release, and it was something that she was good at, that was being proven every year as she improved.
The friendship between Natasha and Stephen had blossomed quickly, over the next months they watched movies, had dinner or coffee together, and began to grow their friendship stronger. It was December, after school had finished for the year, three months after that initial conversation when Stephen asked her if she would be his girlfriend. Natasha hadn’t been sure what to say, at first, she had known that she wanted to say, but to actually suddenly be calling herself Stephen Jones’ girlfriend was something completely different to the friendship that they had developed. He was still pretty much the only person at school who talked to her, certainly, since he’d started talking to her, others had looked upon her with a little more kindness – and the pranks had stopped – but she still knew that she was the outcast. They might have said hello to her, and they might not whisper behind her back, but they still did whatever they could to ensure that they didn’t have to associate with her.
Being his girlfriend, though, could things be okay?
Still, she wasn’t sure that she wanted to say no, and she was sure that she wanted to say yes. Even if it was selfish, she didn’t want to give the opportunity up, and so she said yes.
That afternoon, he said he had a surprise for her. Taking her away from school at the end of the day, he took her to a place where she had wanted to go all year. The optometrist tested her eyes, and prescribed glasses for her. Stephen paid for the appointment, and the glasses, telling her that it was his Christmas present for her. Natasha had cried that day, the first time in her recollection that she had cried in front of someone.
He had been so good to her, and by the time the new school year was starting, Natasha was comfortable with him, and on the first day of school, she was proud of herself when her classmates stared and whispered as she and Stephen walked into the school hand in hand. She wasn’t afraid; she knew he would protect her.