Please Teach Me How to Play
I stood silently in front of the mirror, my hands frozen on either side of my head. There really wasn't any reason why, other than I'd been styling my hair before my thoughts ran away with me…
I was ugly.
I couldn't think of another word for myself, besides stubborn or sarcastic. I had thought this before and I was thinking it now: I was a disgust to myself, and no doubt to everyone around me. My mother (when she still lived with me and took care of me) had been a beautiful woman; almost remarkably so. She wouldn't be out of place in this castle. She had charmed away all the men from their girlfriends in her hometown, only to dump them all crassly on an impulsive trip to Greece. There, she'd married a stupid Greek guy, married him on some stupid little island, and eventually had me. Both were beautiful people, but I had inherited nothing of theirs, except Tomas' wild, black Grecian hair.
There was no way Caius found me of interest because of my looks. Not on God's green earth.
My eyes blurred with tears, surprising me. I heard a soft tsking sound behind me and whirled, catching sight of Aro leaning against the doorframe. I swallowed my anger at his intrusion, speaking civilly.
"What do you want?"
"My brother is growing impatient, dearie. He seems to think I am detaining you on purpose."
"Can you do hair?" I asked bluntly.
He blinked once. "Pardon?"
"My hair. I'm not leaving until I get some of this stuff to work." I blinked those naughty tears away, shaking the hairspray can in my hand violently.
Aro tsked again, appearing beside me in the mirror. "Stop, child. I will do my best for you." He set it down gently on the vanity, reaching for a comb instead. I stared sullenly at my feet as he eased through the tangles, taming my hair until I looked somewhat neat and presentable. He reached for the can again, his long hair just brushing my shoulder, and shook it carefully before spraying a light amount over my rowdy curls.
"There." He sounded satisfied. His hands patted the softness hanging down my back, as if delighting in the texture. He was such a child. I shifted away, wanting his hands off me, now that he was done.
"Do I look all right?"
He took in my neat blue dress (it matched my eyes), my silken slippers, and the light touch of mascara to my lashes. "Very lovely, my dear. Very natural."
I decided to take that as a compliment, following him nervously out of my huge, blue-themed bedroom. We had only gone a little ways before I stopped, feeling a wave of anxiety come over me.
Aro stopped, his brows raised in a question. "Adara?"
"Is he… is he in a good mood today?"
He chuckled. "Oh, Adara… when is he ever?"
"This isn't funny," I snapped, my temper flaring in my panic. "I'm scared of him when he's… you know…" My hands were starting to shake.
Aro stepped closer, his feathery voice a little gentler. "Little one, you are perfectly safe. He is the last person who will ever hurt you."
I looked up at him. God, I wanted to believe that. Everyone was acting so… so weird about me and Caius lately. As if something corny and magical were happening, and I was the only one who didn't know about it. I was tired of not having answers. Hell… I was just damn tired. I wanted to go home.
Aro pressed a soft handkerchief into my hand, and I realized I was crying again. "Preciosa… you are at home here. You are safe. We frighten you, I know, but we do try to be charming to our guests."
I could hear his voice lightening, as if he was holding back a smile. I sniffled, blowing my nose as quietly as I could. I didn't offer him his kerchief again, obviously, but I attempted to cheer up a little.
"That's better," he beamed. "Come now… we only have a short ways to go."
We did not go to Caius' rooms, as I'd expected, but instead to what Aro termed la salla della musica, or music room. I didn't see him immediately, as we entered. It was actually not one room but two, separated only by a fourth of a wall on either side, with symmetric golden pillars. Everything I saw had a white or brown or golden theme. Four windows lined the walls, with two in each room. It was bright enough that I blinked for a moment, temporarily blinded.
Aro smiled down at me. "You like the light?"
"I didn't know it was daytime," I whispered.
"I apologize. My brother placed you in a room with no windows?"
"None that I've seen."
He made a noise of disapproval, but I shook my head. "It's all right. Do you have instruments in here?"
"Several." He pointed to a delicate piano off to my left, right next to the window. I let my eyes adjust before walking over. I was astonished to see the white keys glitter and change color in the light, like a fish's scales. The black keys were normal.
I looked up to see Aro adjusting a flowery drape. "What are they made of?"
"The keys? Ah… they are pretty, aren't they? Ivory, with mother-of-pearl inlay." He came closer, playing a gentle chord. I was no musician, but it was obvious he was no amateur.
"What is mother-of-pearl? A gemstone?"
"No, it is the inner layer of a mollusk, usually oyster or abalone. It does look like an opal gemstone, though, doesn't it?"
He was in a good mood this morning, I'd noticed. Not too giddy and fake, which made me relax a bit more. I was just happy he was willing to answer my questions. I sure as heck didn't feel comfortable asking his brother anything.
Aro lifted his head, causing me to do the same. "Brother!" he exclaimed.
Speak of the devil, I thought. My fists tightened at my sides.
Caius stood in the entryway to the other room, scowling at both of us. (Or at least I think he was. That could just be his face.) He had foregone his cloak today, and I had to admit he looked rather nice. He was clothed in neat black trousers, a matching vest, and a white long-sleeved shirt beneath. He wore no necktie, but had left his collar unbuttoned.
"You're late," he said.
"Don't blame little Adara, brother," Aro went on in his annoying, cooing voice. "Look how very lovely she looks this morning."
Caius didn't look at me, but at his brother. "Did you look over the paperwork I left in your study?"
"I have not had the opportunity, but I shall do so now." Aro turned airily, coming over to me. He gave my hand a courtly kiss before gliding to the doorway, leaving the two of us alone.
"So." I said flatly.
Caius turned his unnerving red gaze on me. He indicated the piano. "Do you play?"
"Not at all."
"Your parents didn't drag you to tiresome lessons?"
I would have smiled, if the memory of them wasn't so unpleasant. "No."
He frowned. "They didn't care about your musical education?"
"That sounds about right."
"Come here," he commanded. I followed him into the other room, seeing more than just several instruments collected there. Some were antiques, protected with glass cases or hung on walls, but others were ready for experimentation. Silver flutes, a strange-looking organ, violins, a magnificent harp in the corner, and something that looked like an oboe.
"You don't play any of these?"
"No." I was growing embarrassed. I felt like a dunce, just being around him. I looked away from the perfectly-carved violins to see him staring at me. The blush in my cheeks grew worse.
He approached, and I suppressed the urge to run. His black shoes nearly stood toe to toe with mine. I could feel him looking down at me. "You're very short," he remarked.
Good thing, I thought angrily. I don't have to see eye-to-eye with you.
"Genetics," is all I said aloud.
"From your father?"
"No. My mother."
"She must have been beautiful."
I paused, surprised. Was he… complimenting me? Was that possible? "Thanks," I muttered. "I thought so, too."
"You didn't like her, did you?"
"Not really." I was growing edgier by the moment. When had this conversation turned into an analysis of my childhood? I lifted my head, staring him in the face. "I don't want to talk about my family. Or me. I want you to tell me why you asked me here."
He ignored my demanding tone, shrugging his shoulders. "My brother and Renata visit with you. Am I not allowed the same?"
"Why not? I am frequently bored, Adara."
I scoffed. "Boo-hoo. Read a book."
He exhaled a sharp sigh, and I saw him tilt his head towards the ceiling, his jaw tightening with effort. "I am trying… to be civil."
I felt bad… a little. "Maybe you should practice more," I mumbled.
"I seldom meet anyone I wish to 'practice' on."
"Practice with yourself, then," I offered.
He looked at me incredulously. "What… talk to myself?"
"It's not such a crazy thing to do," I defended. "It helps you sort your thoughts out."
He shook his head slowly. Remarkably, some of the anger had faded from his face. "You are a strange girl, Adara."
I noticed at this point that we were both staring at each other, and it was a little more than awkward. Just when I was scrambling for something, anything, to say, Caius lifted his hand.
I flinched away.
"I won't hurt you," he said, irritated again. "Stand still, for God's sake."
I did, but panicked again when his fingers touched my cheek. "What are you doing?!"
"Your makeup," he whispered. "It's smeared under your eye."
I stood very still, watching him lift his hand to his face for a moment. His red tongue darted out, wetting the tip of his thumb before once again coming closer. I closed my eyes. His thumb felt very cold against my skin, but not unpleasant. The wetness as he smeared away the mark left an odd, tingling sensation. Almost like a burn, but again, not unpleasant, either.
"I like you without it," he said suddenly.
I opened my eyes, seeing him standing a few more feet away from me. His eyes were deep burgundy, and they scared me a little.
"I don't," I said sadly.
"I…" I felt a hard little pain tug in my chest. I'd never said this before. "Um… I don't think I'm very… a-attractive."
He didn't move, but I saw his eyes flash. "Is someone telling you these things?"
"No, no… I've always felt this way. Always."
He was silent for a long moment. I began to regret saying anything. Why someone as old as he was would ever give a damn about a teenage girl's insecurities was beyond me.
"I'm sorry," I blurted out.
I caught a glimpse of his face before lowering my eyes again to the carpet. His snow-white hair flicked at his cheeks, bringing his full, reddened lips into stunning focus. I thought I'd seen a smile, but I'd looked away too quickly.
"Do you want a man's opinion?" he asked.
I didn't, but I said, "Yes."
"From where I stand, five feet away from you, it is difficult for me to contain myself." His words were rushed, forceful, and so husky I looked up again in astonishment. His eyes were on fire. "You are surreally beautiful, Adara."
"Gosh," I said.
I'm pretty sure he smiled then, but it was more in the lines of his face than in an actual physical movement of his lips. His words absolutely tickled me. Tickled, warmed, delighted. I let them sink in. Let them all melt into the veins of my body until my heart beat a little faster in excitement. I was blushing like a Red Delicious apple.
"Have I offended you?" he asked, while I floated somewhere on cloud seventeen. "Adara?" His voice sounded strained as I came to.
"No," I said softly. "I… guess I needed to hear that. From someone other than a friend, I mean."
"Bella thought you were beautiful?"
"Yeah." It hurt to talk about her, but hopefully he wouldn't say her name again. "She hated the way she looked as much as I hated myself. So… we decided instead of hating together, we'd complement each other every day. Even when we felt like crap."
He took a few steps, but somehow that five feet turned into just five inches. "I wonder what young Edward sees in her."
"I wonder what you see in me," I mumbled.
"I've already told you."
"No… you just said I was beautiful." Isn't that more than adequate? my conscience said sarcastically. But I needed more… now that he wasn't enraged and shouting at me.
He paused, then took a breath. "You remind me of—"
I jumped in desperately. "Wait. Not your dead wife. Please, pleasedon't say that."
His face lit with anger before calming again through visible effort. "Don't interrupt me," he said coldly.
I fell silent.
"I was going to say that you reminded of una piccolo fata."
"Uh… a what?"
He actually looked shy for a moment. "Forgive me. In my tongue, it means "little fairy."
"Oh." I smiled timidly. "That's really nice of you."
He smiled back, and I saw it for reals this time. It was… well, it was one of the most beautiful expressions I'd ever seen on a face. I felt my heart pick up its excited rhythm again.
Cool water washed over my right hand. I realized it was his skin, looking down as he clasped my fingers with his. He squeezed them gently, and I smiled.
"I don't mean to be rude…" he began.
I sighed, trying to pull my hand free as I felt an insult coming. He wouldn't let me.
"… What did my brother put in your hair?"
I stared up at him. "Just… just some hairspray."
"I don't like it. It masks your natural scent."
I nodded, still confused. "My hair is very messy. I need that stuff, Caius."
His face lit up with that gorgeous smile again, hearing me say his name. I hadn't meant to, but I liked his reaction very much. "Please don't wear it. You're lovely the way you are."
Which would have sounded corny coming from anyone else's mouth but his.
"Okay," I said shyly.
He gave my hand another squeeze, leading me to the piano in the next room. "Come. I'll teach you how to play something."
"I'm not musically gifted."
"How would you know? Your parents didn't let you learn."
And he grasped my wrists between cool fingers, placing them onto the gleaming keys.
This is my favorite chapter of the story thus far, and I hope it was one of yours, too. Our dear, bitter Volturi lord is softening
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