Book 1: Once Upon an Ending
The door opened, and I sat up so quickly I almost fell off the piano bench. I grabbed the edge of my seat for balance as the hottie from the parking lot walked into my practice room.
Holy cow. My piano lesson had just become my best one ever.
Up close, he looked even better. His dark hair flopped over his left eye, his black jeans had a hole in the right knee, his long-sleeved tee shirt had a sweet cartoon of the band JamieX on the front of it. JamieX! That was my favorite band ever, and I knew every single song by heart. I had three JamieX tee shirts, but I wore them only to bed because my mom thought they were too radical for a classical pianist. But he was wearing one!
A flash of bright colors peeked out from the cuff of his right shirt sleeve, and I blinked at the show of red, blue, green and black. Tattoo? For real? It looked like it wrapped all the way around his forearm down to his wrist. How far up his arm did it go? So freaking cool.
The uptight Mueller-Fordham School of Music was not the kind of place where well-muscled guys with tattoos hung out, but here he was. Barging in on my piano lesson.
He strode unapologetically into the room, his gait easy and confident as he took over my practice room like he owned it. This rocked. As he walked across the room, I stopped playing and leaned to the left so I could see past Miss Jespersen and get a really good look at him. I mean, why not? This moment was going to be the best moment of my summer vacation, so I needed to make it count.
His jeans were just the right looseness over his butt, and there were a set of car keys hanging out of his back pocket, like he’d shoved them in there without bothering to make sure they were going to stay put. He was a guy who didn’t bother to make sure things were right, because he just assumed that he could handle whatever happened.
I wanted to be him.
Crusty gave an annoyed sniff. “We’re in the middle of a lesson.”
“I know.” He tossed a cocky smile in our direction. “Sorry to interrupt, but I need to grab a few chairs.” He didn’t sound at all sorry, and his apology was so breezy that I realized he wasn’t at all afraid of Miss Jespersen.
I sat up straighter and checked him out more closely. Who was he?
Crusty drummed her fingers on the piano top. “Just be quick, Rafe.”
Rafe? Totally hot name. I bet he’d never worn a tie in his life. I sighed and leaned on the piano as he hoisted four chairs like they weighed nothing. Cute and strong. He had to be at least sixteen because of the car keys. Plus, of course, I couldn’t forget the tattoo. This guy was at my music school? How was that possible? Why had I never seen him before? I was there all the time. My hot guy radar should definitely have picked him up before now.
“Rafe? Are you coming or what?” A girl strode into my practice room. Her chest was huge, her shirt was twenty sizes too small, her hair was long and highlighted. Her white shorts showed off tanned legs, and her wedge sandals were about two inches higher than I’d ever been allowed to wear. She was wearing gold dangling earrings that reached her shoulders, and her nails were neon green with black stripes. She was beautiful, she was sexy, and she walked the same way Rafe did: oozing confidence and not caring at all what anyone thought about her.
My elation from getting up close and personal with Rafe withered away in the sea of insignificance that suddenly sucked me down. I grabbed my ugly-girl photo off the piano and shoved it under my hip. Suddenly the purple toe nail polish hidden inside my shoes didn’t seem quite so rebellious. It felt a little pathetic, actually.
Rafe grinned at the girl. It wasn’t the careless smile we’d gotten, but a real smile, one that made his green eyes crinkle. He even had a dimple on his right cheek. “Can you grab two music stands, Angel? I’ve got the rest of the stuff.”
Angel? As in, that was her name, or as in, that was his cute little pet name for her? I decided maybe I didn’t like her. I hunched over, trying to shrink behind the piano so neither of them would notice my pleated black shorts and my crisp white shirt.
“Keep it quiet, please, Rafe and Angel.” Crusty tapped the sheet music in front of me. “Ignore them, Lily. Go ahead and play.”
“You want me to play now?” I gaped at her as Rafe and Angel clanged stands together, making Angel giggle and whisper to Rafe to be quiet. As if I was going to play boring classical music in front of them. They practically radiated attitude, and I was so not going to humiliate myself. I mean, it was bad enough that I was wearing Crusty-approved attire and had a horrific photo of me shoved under my butt. Playing Chopin would be a kiss of death I’d never recover from. “Please let me wait until they leave,” I whispered, begging Miss Jespersen with my eyes. If she had any mercy, she would understand—
“Lily. Play.” Crusty pinned me with her most evil glare and I realized I was outranked in a major way.
Oh, God. This was too embarrassing. Please let him suddenly go deaf. I felt my cheeks heat up, and I ducked my head as I started to play. Of course, I couldn’t help peeking over at them, just to make sure they weren’t watching.
A little part of me died when I saw Rafe look over at me. My fingers stuttered over the keys, and the chords clanged like I’d just killed them. Rafe lifted his eyebrows at me, and heat burned my cheeks.
My fingers forgot to play, and my hands dropped to my lap as I stared at him.
Crusty cleared her throat, and a small smile curved Rafe’s lips. “Go ahead, Lily,” he said.
“You…know me?” Oh, no. Had he seen my photo in the paper today?
“Miss Jespersen just said your name.”
“Oh, right. I forgot.” Relief rushed through me and I almost felt dizzy . He hadn’t seen the picture in the Globe. Life could go on another day.
Rafe readjusted one of the chairs that was resting on his shoulder. “Don’t let us stop you.”
There was something slightly mocking in his tone, but there was something else, too. Something that made me think that he’d noticed I was a girl. My belly got warm, and goose bumps popped up on my arms as we looked at each other.
He didn’t look away, and chills bumped down my arms. His eyes were such a deep green, matching some of the colors in his tattoo. Intense, especially the way his dark eyelashes framed the green. I’d been wrong about him. He wasn’t just some arrogant guy. There was something deeper lurking there, something that reached inside me and grabbed hold.
“Come on, Rafe.” Angel brushed past him, her shoulder intentionally knocking against his, like she wanted me to know that he was hers to touch. “Let’s go.”
Rafe and I both jumped at the interruption, and he nodded. “Right behind you, Angel.” He gave me a final, speculative look that had my fingers tingling, then he turned and walked out, yanking the door shut behind him with his foot.