I took a break from studying to drink some coffee from my mug. I had made it during a carnival when I was eight. More so than making it, I painted an image on a white, premade mug. I remember I had tried to paint a musical note, but the result was a muddled mess of black paint. But at the time, I was proud.
I shook off the feeling of nostalgia and averted my attention back to the textbook in front of me. I had no time to reminisce about the past if I wanted to get good grades. As everyone always told me, good grades get you into a good university, and a good university gets you a good job.
“Evan, sweetie, how’s everything going?” my mom asked softly. She had let herself into my room without me even realising.
“Everything’s good. I just need to finish reviewing this last section.”
“Alright, but don’t stay up too late,” she said while motioning to the clock on my bedside table. It read 1:48am.
“I know, mom. Good night.” With that, my mom left my room, leaving me alone with my books.
I couldn’t hear her soft footsteps as she walked down the hall to her room, but I could hear my father’s heavy stomps as he followed her. They were arguing again. Even without listening, I knew my father was going on about how my mom should be tougher on me. But, no matter how much they argued, they shared one common goal. They wanted me to become a successful doctor. This was an expectation that was ingrained in my brain long before I could even talk.
Eventually, everything was quiet again. I sighed before bringing my attention back to studying. I needed to get a good mark on my exam next week.
The library was so loud that I couldn’t concentrate. It was like I was drowning in the sounds of chatter over unread textbooks. I gathered my papers and neatly filed them into my 3-inch binder before wandering the halls in search of a quiet place to study. I eventually found myself in front of the theater room. I checked the schedule sheet next to the doors to see if it was in use today. It wasn’t.
I walked in and sat on the stairs, using a higher step as a makeshift desk. I basked in the quietness. Suddenly, gentle strums of a guitar pierced through the empty theatre. Annoyed at the interruption, I turned around with a grunt to see what was going on. I saw a girl standing in the middle of the empty stage with her eyes closed. The scowl on my face melted away the moment her rich yet sweet voice filled the capacious theater.
I was too far away to see her properly, but I could tell from her singing that she was beautiful. She was beautiful in the way she stood tall, sang proudly even though she expected no one to hear, and sang with so much passion that it seeped out of every note. She was beautiful in the way that I could never be. She caught me in a trance and made me forget about studying.
The song ended. I felt a pang of emptiness inside, but it wasn’t long before reality hit. Before she could open her eyes, I packed up my belongings hastily, bolted out the door and headed straight home.
I couldn’t get the thought of the girl out of my head. Something about her performance impacted me in a way I couldn’t quite put my finger on. But I wasn’t ready to find out; I had to prepare for my exam.
After the last bell rang, dismissing me from my last class, I found myself walking towards the theatre room again. I told myself it was because it was a nice place to study.
I sat down on the stairs again, but, this time, a bit closer to the stage. I told myself it was because the lighting was better.
I opened my notes and start reading, but even after an hour, I couldn’t make it passed the first page. I told myself it was because I wasn’t sitting in a chair.
I heard a familiar progression of chords start behind me, but this time, I wasn’t upset about the interruption. In fact, I felt tension I had unknowingly built up dissolve. I turned around to see her performance. As I had expected, she sang with a certain delicacy and strength that worked together to create a perfect blend of raw emotions and passion. I was so captivated by her voice that I forgot to leave before she finished.
She opened her eyes and met hers with mine. I braced myself for a look of anger only to be greeted with a kind smile that seemed to warm up the room. I felt relieved and embarrassed. She sat herself down on the edge of the stage across from where was I was seated.
“Al,” she said.
“Sorry?” I asked, genuinely confused.
“My name. It’s Al.”
“Al as in…?”
“Right. Al. I’m Evan.”
“Evan,” she repeated. “You were here yesterday, too.”
“Yeah, I was. I didn’t know you’d be here. I was just trying to find a quiet place to study.”
“No worries. To be honest, it was nice having someone listen to me sing. I haven’t had an audience in a long time.”
“How come? Your voice is gorgeous,” I said. I felt my cheeks flush red. “I-I mean–”
“Thank you,” she interrupted. She smiled san incredibly sincere smile.
Al taught me a simple song on the guitar. By the end of the day, I was strumming chords on her guitar while she sang.
“Do you have any exams?” I asked her.
“No,” she answered. She flashed me a smile, but I couldn’t feel the warm radiance that had always followed. Before I could respond, she added, “Didn’t you say you had a lot to study?”
“Yeah, I have a couple exams coming up next week.”
“Then why are you always hanging out with me?” she teased. Her warmth returned.
I let out a sigh before looking down at the guitar. I smiled.
“You could say I’m living in my childhood dream right now. Studying can wait.”
Al offered to lend me her guitar to practice over the weekend. I refused at first, but I ended up agreeing with no intention of practicing.
When I got home, I tucked the guitar away before my parents could see it.
I studied all day.
I brewed a fresh cup of coffee after finishing the last one all too quickly. The rich aroma filled our modest kitchen. I poured the coffee into my old mug and hesitated before taking a sip. I hated how coffee made me feel, but I knew I needed it to stay awake.
I walked into my room only to be greeted by my father. He had his ever-present stern facial expression, but today it was masked with disappointment and anger.
“Son,” he started before I had a chance to react. “What have you been doing this past week?”
“Studying,” I replied firmly.
“Any new hobbies?”
“Then why is there a guitar hidden in your closet?” He asked the question so casually that it almost slipped my mind that this was an interrogation.
“I was holding on to it for a friend,” I said back. It was technically the truth. He didn’t have to know that Al wanted me to practice. But I couldn’t help but let a drop of sweat roll down the side of my neck.
“Son,” he said more assertively. I flinched. “Don’t lie to me!”
He grabbed my arm aggressively as a starving predator would to his weak prey amid his rage. My mug was knocked out of my hand. It flew across my small room, crashed into a wall, and shattered into small fragments.
I looked at the broken pieces of my mug on the ground. It wasn’t the nicest mug, but it held a memory I held on to for so many years. I could either go through the time and effort to fix up a plain mug with an ugly painting of a music note on it, or I could throw it away and forget about it. Any other day I would have tossed it, but today, I was more compelled to fixing it.
“All your fun and games can wait until after you find a stable, well-paying job.”
Without taking my eyes off the broken pieces of my favorite mug, I nodded.
I picked up the debris from the destroyed mug and wrapped them in a towel. I decided to fix it after I’ve finished my exams.
I walked into the theatre after school as always. Al wasn’t here yet. I opened my books and started to read over my notes. My first exam was going to be tomorrow. I had planned to come in to drop off her guitar and go straight home to study.
She didn’t come.
I came to school early to ask the office secretary for the whereabouts of Al.
“You said her name was Al?”
“Well, that’s awfully vague. Do you have a full name?”
“No, but she had an amazing voice. She must have been active in the music department. Does that help?”
“No, hon. You’re going to have to give us more information if you want to find her.”
Dejected, I dragged my feet over to my biology class. We were having our exam today.
With Al gone, I was alone. However, I have realized that studying and becoming a doctor is not the only solution for having a good life. A good life is what you do what you truly love…
From the radio: “And this is a new single from Evan Michaels, everyone!”