Via: Daily Prompt – Heard
I heard he sang a good song,
I heard he had a style,
And so I came to see him
and listen for a while.
And there he was this young boy,
a stranger to my eyes.
Startled by the shout, LJ gasped mid-inhale while preparing to belt out the chorus. She spun around to find the young boy in her rendition of “Killing Me Softly” come out of the backstage and cross over to the center where she stood. As always, Juan loomed taller and taller as the distance fell away. When he was standing even with her, she had to crane her neck to look up at his face.
And what a beautiful face he had – all fine brows, crystal blue eyes edged with dark lashes, classic straight nose, and firm mouth arranged amid the strong panes of his golden forehead, pink cheeks, and fissured chin. He looked like a cherub gracefully transforming into a man.
LJ watched his grin move and realized he was speaking. “What?” she exhaled. She always forgot to breathe when he was around.
“I said you have a beautiful voice. You actually sound a lot like Lauryn Hill, honey with a dust of cinnamon.”
LJ tilted her head, her long inky-black braid falling over the shoulder of her peasant blouse. “You make it sound like her voice is edible.”
“I wish,” Juan replied. He combed his long strong fingers through his Puerto Rican curls before lacing them over the back of his neck, his elbows pointing outwards from his head. “So are you in the school chorus,” he asked, switching gear.
LJ crossed her arms, her colorful glass bangles clinking against each other as they are jostled. “No.”
“Do you perform in a band?”
“I’m just a bathroom singer.”
“So what are you doing singing in the school auditorium?”
LJ stepped back. “Just trying to hear what it sounds like in a larger space.”
“Well, it carries. I could hear you very clearly from the backstage.”
“Sorry,” LJ mumbled, looking down at the toes of her scuffed sneakers. “I didn’t know anyone was around.”
Juan bent his spine and lowered his head to look into her eyes. “Hey, don’t be, LJ. I’m glad I caught you. How else would I find out about your hidden talent?”
LJ’s eyes rounded and she looked back at him. “You know my name?” She cringed the moment the words escaped her mouth. Could she sound more pathetic?
Juan laughed. “Of course. You hang out with Huma, right?”
LJ nodded. Of course. That’s how he’d know her. Huma was her gorgeous glamorous cousin and a senior at Carson High, the same batch as Juan. LJ was the slighter version of her cousin – as in she was shorter, skinnier and all her features seemed softer in significance when you really looked to compare. Boring brown eyes, immaculate eyebrows, small nose and crinkly lips on a thin face. Her skin tone was darker than the “wheatish complexion” that her Indian relatives admired. Moreover, she had just joined the junior cohort, transferring in from out of state, thanks to her dad’s new job. Huma had been grudgingly generous about showing her around the school and introducing her to people. Juan, LJ remembered, had taken little notice of her previously.
“Well, I’ll go now and leave you to do whatever it was you were doing.” LJ made to turn and make a quick exit.
LJ turned back.
“I sing, too.”
“I know,” she admitted, nodding. “I saw the last school musical. You played the lead.”
“Yes. I also wrote that play.” There was no shyness in the statement. In the few months since she made his passing acquaintance, watching him like so many of the female students around her, awed by his glorified presence, she had come to realize that part of his allure was his innate confidence. It was, perhaps, why he did so well on stage.
“It was a good play.” What else was she supposed to say? “Did you select the songs yourself, as well?”
“Yes, with the help of Mrs. Chimes. She’s one of our music teachers and also supervises the Drama Club.”
“I’ve heard of her. She’s apparently very fierce.”
“Nah. She’s alright once you get to know her. A little zealous, maybe. I can introduce you.”
“So you can join the club and audition for the upcoming musical.”
“Why would I want to do that?” she said on a short surprised laugh.
Juan stepped closer, stealing her breath again. “Because you have a voice that deserves to be heard. Really, LJ? I haven’t heard anyone in the school sing with as much soul as you gave into those few lines.”
“Thank you for the compliment but, no.” She made to move away again.
Juan took her hand and held her back. She wondered if he had been secretly watching Hindi movies as he insisted, “Look, LJ. I know I don’t know you well enough to impose like this, but I think you can make the cut for the lead female role with that voice.”
She sighed. If her mother knew that teaching LJ the sargam would one day result in a gorgeous Hispanic American high-school demigod to enact possibly the most romantic-but-cliched scene of Hindi cinema, she would never have paid for the lessons. Despite the fact that it might result in her daughter to star in a song-and-dance play, a dream come true for most Bollywood magazine-hogging mamas living in the Western hemisphere. “I really can’t. It’s not an option with my family,” she lied.
Juan frowned down at her. “I thought Indians were into that whole singing and dancing in the movies thing.”
“Well, that’s racist,” she admonished even though she had been stereotyping her own culture in her head just seconds ago. But she felt she was allowed to do it because she was living that life with pride.
LJ felt ashamed. “No, it’s okay. You’re pretty much right. As long as there’s minimal boy-girl physical contact, my parents would love it if their daughter performed in a musical.”
“I get terrible stage frights,” she confessed. “I did learn Indian classical music when I was younger but had some nightmarish experiences when I went to perform in front of live audiences.”
Juan brightened. “Is that all? I’ll help you with that.”
“I tried imagining them in their underwears already. I only broke out in dorky giggles.”
Juan’s eyes shone with mirth as he smiled down at her. He lowered his voice conspiratorially even as he brought down his head closer to hers, making her pulse quicken. “The trick is actually to focus on your counterpart. If you get the lead female role, that would be me.”
He oozed charisma and charm out of his every pore. “And you are so sure that would tempt me?”
“If it hasn’t yet, I’d like an opportunity to change your mind.”
He was good, she’d give him that. She also realized that this was the longest she has been in his presence and the feeling surpassed all other experiences of adolescence so far. She suddenly wanted to make this feeling last as long as she could. “What are you proposing?”
Juan’s pupils dilated and she could read it as he had realized his prey was prepped. “If you sign up for for the next musical, I’ll mentor you before you have to appear in the audition. We’re still working on the script and song selection and expect there to be at least another month before tryout date is announced. I’ll have you ready to sing your heart out no matter the size of the crowd.”
“Maybe a little too much.”
“On the contrary, I speak from experience. I used to be shy about singing in public.”
“Didn’t go with my macho image.”
“You should watch Hindi movies.”
“If you agree to the audition, I will.”
“Why does it mean so much to you?”
“I’ve come to like working on musicals; they mean a lot to me.”
“So you want me to pawn myself to further your cause?”
“I’m also enjoying this conversation very much.”
“Yes. I find it stimulating. I find you intriguing.”
“I like you.”
This story carries on to a second installation, The Fountain.