Jane joins one of the choirs at university; not the most prestigious one, she's not got the voice for that, and anyway it's quite enough to be going on with, keeping up with her lectures and tutorials as well as making the rehearsals and still having time to breathe.
She loves it though, wouldn't give it up for the world; voices taking flight up through the pillars in the stained-glass-light of the chapel on Sundays, the rhythm and the joy of even the saddest requiem. Sometimes she looks down at the xeroxed sheet music in her hands, thinks, how many times has this been remade, the same notes in new voices; and she shivers a little, because the resonance is beautiful and terrifying all at once.
Jane meets a boy in the choir, about the same age as her; his name is James, and he's funny in a droll kind of way and he's also sweet, and he buys her tea at a caf in town. It rains, because it's nearly December, and they talk about their families, their classes, the choir. James is a tenor, Jane is an alto; they contrive to sit just across the aisle from each other at rehearsals.
After Christmas, in the New Year, James gives Jane a ring: a plain silver band set with a large pink stone. He tells her he made it. 'My father's a jeweler. We get to mess around in his shop, sometimes.' Jane loves it, and says so, warmly, and kisses him in the lamplit quad. She wears the ring on the middle finger of her right hand every day.
Coming out of a bookshop in the town one glorious Saturday, Jane bumps into James with another boy, slightly younger; the family resemblance is striking enough that she realises at once this must be his brother—one of his brothers, I can't remember his name—
'Jane, this is my baby brother Will,' says James, 'Will—my girlfriend Jane,' and Jane shifts her books to one side, offers her hand. Will takes it, says hello. He looks ill, Jane thinks. Under the floppy hair so similar to James' own, Will's face is peaked, the smile strained. He looks tired.
She says, earnestly, as she does everything, 'Hullo, Will, I've heard so much about you.'
'Have you,' says Will, laughing a little, but there's something in his eyes that's not quite right, and there's a faint line of worry on James' cheerful open face. 'Well, just wait 'til you hear my side of the story.'
James sputters indignantly and Jane laughs, and Will's grey eyes come to rest on her ring. He blinks once, twice, and then— 'May I?' he asks, and takes Jane's hand in his, turning it over, studying the ring from all angles. Jane can feel the pulse in his fingers against hers; and for a few moments it's as if her heartbeat is entrained to his, and she's puzzled, almost frightened, because suddenly Will's pale face is familiar but she can't remember who he is, and when did she meet him, exactly..?
'It's perfect, James,' Will says, at last. He releases her hand and the feeling is gone; noise from the high street rushes in to fill the vacuum left behind. 'Lovely work. Dad made it, did he?'
His voice is light, teasing; James punches him jokingly in the arm and says, 'Shut up, you saw me making it, you were there the whole time—'
'You two met in the choir, yeah?' Will asks Jane, and she nods.
'Yes, that's right. And you, Will, do you sing, or—'
He shakes his head. 'Used to—not now. Well, a bit, for fun. Us're a musical lot, us Stantons, though, it's in the blood, or something.' He gestured at the books in Jane's arms. 'What've you got, then?'
'Oh—' she holds them out, 'a few things that looked interesting, King Arthur, mythology.'
Will's face seems to spasm, but it's so quick that Jane shakes herself inside, just a trick of the light, clouds over the sun, or something, and Will is nodding approvingly over the names on the spines.
'Loomis, Weston, Frazer—oh yes.'
'Growing up it was always my little brother Barney who was mad about King Arthur and the knights,' Jane says, 'we used to play these crazy games—anyway, I suppose I've caught the bug, now.'
'He's an artist, by now, isn't he,' Will says, and his smile is somehow all wrong, like he's not... not really there.
Jane blinks and stares and her heart kicks over and she says, 'Well, yes, yes he is, but how did you know—' and James is looking at her as if he wants to say sorry, I'm so sorry, I'll explain later. He puts an arm around his brother's shoulders and gives Will a little squeeze.
'We're going to get some lunch, Jane, want to come?' He speaks easily, but still, the furrow in his brow. 'Just at the usual place.'
But Jane doesn't want to, not today, not with Will; and she's a little ashamed of what she feels is cowardice, because she does pride herself on being able to deal with things, no matter how frustrating or unpleasant.
'I've got to get back,' she says, turning a little pink from the lie, not quite a whole lie, not exactly, there's certainly plenty waiting for her on her desk back at the college. 'But I'll see you tonight at rehearsal, won't I?'
James nods like he understands, isn't angry, isn't disappointed, and she loves him quite a bit then, for that and because it's so clear that he adores this rather strange brother of his. They kiss, briefly, rub noses; and Jane says, 'Goodbye, Will, it was so nice to meet you.'
Will grins, then, unexpected and genuine; it makes him look even younger somehow, and he replies, 'Goodbye, Jane Drew.'