Author's Note: This piece of crap is dedicated to Ekoaleko! She requested a Carl/Eve oneshot way back when and whilst at marching band practice I was finally inspired with the perfect idea for it. Enjoy!
No freaking way.
She can't be working here.
Dear Goddess, let this be a dream. Crap, crap, crap. I am so screwed.
Pressed up against the wall, face flushed the colour of his burgundy silk tie, Carl wished he could just melt into the wooden panels and disappear forever. His breathing was rushed – of course it was, he'd just had the fright of his life. The problem was, the fright didn't come from a spider or something that could just be brushed away with one's fingertips.
This was far harder to deal with.
She saw me, didn't she, he thought, feeling his face grow hotter as he squeezed his eyes shut. And any minute now, she'll recognize me. My life is over.
"Carl?" came Duke's voice from the main café area. "Where has that lad gotten to?"
Without using any sort of proper judgement whatsoever, Carl did the only thing he saw fit at the time.
He jammed himself into the wardrobe on the far side of the room.
It was as good a hiding place as any… and it wasn't nearly as stuffy or musty as a tuba case.
They joined the school band in the seventh grade: her on the clarinet, him on the flute. He sat on the end chair in the ensemble, focused constantly on the music and fingerings; she giggled along with the other girls in the woodwind section. A male flute player. Not a student in the band failed to question his sexual preference that year. Some did jokingly and realized their mistakes quickly, others did not. Others tormented the poor boy to the verge of tears – but still he took great care to strive for perfection, no matter what kind of insults struck him.
He was able to cope until the eighth grade, when the hormones kicked in. As students discovered crushes and developed couples amongst themselves, and several others became heartthrobs, the baby-faced flute player on the end chair was left alone in his thoughts. In his mind, there was only one girl – and that one girl seemed so far out of reach, even to the most popular of the boys in the school.
Blonde hair and mystifying eyes the colour of bright roses, she was the very incarnation of perfect to him. She always ponytailed her hair with a silk ribbon, wore the very latest in brand-name clothing signifying wealth in her family, and whenever she walked by she brought with her the aroma of strawberries. He didn't know if it was her hair or her perfume, but whatever it was, it tickled his senses whenever she passed him. Even in her seat, eight chairs down from him in the front row, she seemed distant, like an angel viewed through a gap in the clouds.
He followed her about while in the band room, but was careful not to make it seem like stalking. He didn't want to scare her off, and he most certainly knew she wouldn't want him to stare. But whenever the group finished playing a piece, he found his eyes scanning the chairs next to him, seeking her face.
Sometimes, it was her smile that kept him going – when he was being taunted by the others, when he was singled out for playing a wrong note, or when he just felt like he wanted to give up.
She never knew about the boys in the brass section who tore the poor flutist apart with verbal stabs to the heart. What went on after band practice, when they cornered him after the director and most of the other musicians left, was a complete mystery to her.
She never knew.
They hurled insults at him while he packed up his flute and organized his music alphabetically in the folder. Sometimes they'd get physical: kicks to the shins and punches to the stomach were no odd thing to him. But he put up with it for her. She couldn't stand quitters – he'd overheard her telling her friends this valuable piece of information one day after class. And he promised himself he'd keep doing what he loved, for her and for himself.
He endured the pain as long as his willowy body and weakening spirit could do so.
The final straw for him was on a Thursday night, early spring. He found himself cornered again, holding the shiny silver flute in one hand and a polishing cloth in the other. They took the instrument from him and threw it hard against the wall of the band room, followed closely by the boy himself. He felt the wind knocked out of him on impact; they did not cease their abuse. Before he could do anything, an empty tuba case was unlatched and his small form was crumpled up inside of it.
The latches closed.
She found him an hour later, when she came back to look for a missing piece of music. She heard his sobs from within the case on the shelf. Unlatching it, she met his eyes, which were stained bright red from his stinging tears. Her mouth dropped open at the sight of him. He'd been so strong in class…
"Carl?" came the disbelieving whisper.
He coughed and sniffed as he stood, willing his limp muscles to work again. Without a single word, he ran out the door as fast as his bruised and battered body could carry him.
He would never return.
I'm sorry, Eve.
"Open up," came a familiar voice. Carl jolted out of his reverie, staring at the door of the wardrobe in horror.
Here it comes, he thought. She'll kill me.
"It's – it's unlocked," he said softly. When his voice broke between words, he realized he'd been sobbing, just as he had that night years ago.
The door squeaked as it was opened and Carl had to shield his eyes from the light. And there she was – ponytailed blonde hair and shimmering ruby eyes, accompanied by the all-too-familiar scent of strawberries. She stared at him in disbelief, as if he was bruised and crammed into a tuba case again. He felt heat rise to his face, and he prepared for the inevitable questioning of a lifetime.
It never came. Of all the things she could have pummeled him with, instead she gently asked one thing of him, her eyes filled with wondering.
"Why did you take it?"
He knew what she meant.
I'm not holding back anymore, he told himself. I'm not the wimp I used to be.
"For you," he found himself saying.
She drew her next breath quickly, as if in shock. "Me?"
"Yeah," he said. "You never liked quitters… and I always liked you. Whenever things got really bad I'd look for you. When you smiled…"
She was beginning to blush a cherry-pink. He continued.
"…I felt like I could deal with all the crap everyone else was giving me." He shook his head. "Look, Eve. I'm sorry. I never meant to run away from you. I ran from everyone else."
She was silent for a moment, eyes gazing thoughtfully at the floor. He dared not speak again. He was waiting for her to break his heart.
"You know," Eve began slowly after a long pause, "the night you left, I'd been meaning to give you something. Would you… still like me to give it to you?"
Carl looked up at her, raising one eyebrow. "I guess," he said, silently praying that the 'something' wasn't a slap across the face.
"Close your eyes," she said. He obeyed.
"Eve," he said, eyes still shut. "Before you do anything, I wanted to tell you that I –"
He was cut off by the warm sensation of her lips on his own. He could feel his pulse quicken. The scent of strawberries rushed up to meet him as quickly as she had, and he felt a pleasant tingle rush up and down his spine.
"- love you…" he finished the moment she moved her lips away. He opened his eyes, and he took in the sight of a smile on her face that completely dwarfed the beauty of any other he'd seen.
It was beautiful, and Carl never wanted to see her without it.