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This is Potent Stuff
Truthful Mnemosyne whispering; Orpheus plucking a golden lyre.
Lethe is veiling sweet Charis. Tender heart trembling requires
Healing elixir from Parthenon; Kind Asklepios has gifted.
Charis revived to see destiny; lovingly caution’s uplifted.
The first time I saw Ben Butler in this lifetime, I was in grade ten. He was in grade twelve. I had just settled on the floor in the band room to do my math, waiting for Christie to finish her thirty minutes of flute practice time. It was Friday after school, and we were going to go shopping and see a movie when she was done. She’d just started playing her scales when I heard rolling laughter as he walked into the room, still chuckling over something someone had just said to him in the hall.
“Hey Ben,” said Mr. Johnson, glancing up from a box of music folios, “I switched you to room three today. The keyboard from room two is out for repairs, so I let the flute in there. Can you just use the piano today?”
“Sure thing!” he’d called across to the teacher, “I just have a motif I want to work up.” He walked into the practice room without a second look, actually not even a first look, at me with my binder and text book spread out on the grey carpet just left of the door. Glancing up from my books as he went by, I had just enough of a glimpse of him to register an average height, average looking guy with boring light brown hair as he opened the door into the small practice room I was leaning against. Nothing extraordinary at all. Nothing worth noticing in the least. Just another band geek in a plaid shirt to pass in the halls.
Until the music started.
He had played one rapid set of scales up and down and then my happy little high school world inextricably changed forever. My back against the wall of his practice room was absorbing the waves of sound as his fingers flew up and down the keys of the old upright piano. I could suddenly visualize… what? Everything. Expansiveness. Eternity. I felt myself being pulled away from the world of math into a swirling vortex of sound.
The music was somehow weaving a story, and it was as if a movie started playing in my head. I saw silhouettes of a couple running along a beach, talking in a car, rolling down a hillside, dining at a restaurant… I began to get dizzy from the racing images, my head rolling with the swirling music. I remember wondering vaguely if the chicken burger I’d had in the cafeteria at lunch might have been off; my whole body seemed to be shivering and convulsing. I was drowning in music.
“Grace? Grace! Are you okay?”
Christie’s concerned voice pulled me back to the world. I blinked at the bright lights and sudden change in my vision. “I… Yeah… I…” I couldn’t seem to form words. I just looked up at her blankly; feeling suspiciously like someone had pulled me out of a lake, like I was fighting for air.
Christie looked behind her and called out across the room, “Mr J! Something’s wrong with Grace!”
I groaned. Nothing was wrong with me. Well, I didn’t think anything was wrong with me, but then again, I wasn’t exactly feeling like my body and brain were cohabitating, either.
Mr. Johnson hurried over looking alarmed. “What’s wrong? What happened to her?”
Christie shook her head, “I don’t know. I finished my practice time and when I came out of the room, there she was looking like, like…” words seemed to fail her, “…like this!” she finished, sweeping her hand toward me in a rather overly-dramatic motion.
Mr. J seemed quite undecided about what he should do about this strange quivering creature at his feet, but at that moment, I was released. I inhaled deeply and instantly felt my head clearing.
What had changed? There was only the sound of breathing. Then I realised that the music from the piano had stopped.
I smiled up at them with an apologetic smile and discovered I had my voice again. “I’m okay; I just had a dizzy spell. It must have been something I ate.” My mind clicked in alarm as I spoke: Christie had finished her practice time? Where had I been for half an hour?! I looked at my math. I’d written two questions on the page. The second one wasn’t finished.
Neither Christie nor Mr J looked particularly convinced that I was really okay. They seemed to be deliberating about their next course of action when Ben opened the door of the practice room.
“Is everything all right? What’s going on?” He looked at them and then down to me. When he registered me, he did a double take and his eyes narrowed slightly.
What was that about?
I looked up into his shockingly blue eyes and felt the world spin again.
“It’s Grace,” Christie waved her arm dramatically again in wordless distress.
Ben studied me clinically for a moment before he nodded. “Ah. I see. Here Grace,” he said, reaching his hand out to me, “can you stand up?” He said my name with familiarity, like we’d been friends for years.
I looked at the hand and back to his face in confusion. While his eyes seemed outwardly as concerned as Christie and Mr J, behind the concern I saw something else. Was that a twinkle of amusement there? His mouth twitched just a little and I saw he was definitely fighting a smirk. Damn him. He was amused! Who was he to laugh at me? I looked away with the thought that his hand was the last one I’d ever use to help me stand, and attempted to heave myself up on my own. Damn musicians! My mother was right, nothing but trouble! I wobbled and both Mr J and Christie moved as if to catch me. Before they could reach me I felt a firm grip on my elbows, as Ben said, “Whoa there, Sweetie. Gotcha! Stand up slowly.” Mr. J and Christie relaxed their posture and Mr. J unstacked a sturdy blue band chair and set it near me.
“Sit down Grace, and put your head between your legs.”
Ben gently guided me down onto the chair. As he settled me down, he was between the others and me. He leaned in ever so slightly, whispering softly into my right ear, “I’m sorry, Grace.”
Sorry for what? Sorry for offering his hand? Sorry for being amused at my expense? Sorry for my obvious mortification? Sorry for drowning me in music? My head was between my knees in a most undignified way, but when I tilted my head, I met his eyes again. He was squatting beside me, watching me carefully, and trying to read something in my expression.
What was going on here?
His eyes were clear and calm, but they seemed troubled. There was no amusement lurking in their depths any more, but there was definitely a concern well out of proportion to what I thought he should show a dizzy girl he didn’t even know. As that thought passed through my mind, I saw something else flicker behind his eyes.
Someone he didn’t even know?
But he did know me, didn’t he?
For at that moment had the craziest sensation that I did know Ben Butler, and that I’d known him forever. Why? I looked into his eyes again searching for some explanation. Instantly I was drowning once more, this time not in the music, but in the clear blue of his eyes, and as I stared, the awareness was right there. I recognized him from…where? Just as I was within reach of the knowledge, everything went black.
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