The first day I came to the School, the very first day, you called to me:from your lonely home in the attic, where you shuffled across dusty floorboards without anyone ever suspecting you lived there;from beneath the eaves, where you tinkled out sad and haunting and beautiful melodies on the forgotten piano;from the space just above my room, where you were miserable and self-pitying, watching the girls below with lightless eyes, waiting for someone right.Waiting . . .for me.I could have saved myself, I know. I could have run away and never come back. But I had never seen anything like you and anyway, I was only fifteen . . .~I was bored with the School from the very beginning, hating my classmates, girls richer than I who flipped their polished hair in my face as they walked past. Otherwise they ignored me, but I didn't mind. I was better off by myself, keeping quiet in classes, eating lunch beneath an oak tree and pretending to study in my room all night when the others, who were also pretending to study, sneaked from room to room to paint nails and curl hair and giggle about the headmistress' seventeen-year-old son.Ethan.His steel-eyed mother, so strict with us, allowed him complete freedom. How odd to have a handsome boy roaming a school full of girls at leisure, I thought, but he was there, confident and capable of melting a heart. Even though I wanted to be immune to him I often thought of his long-legged gait, his rakish crooked smile, those velvety blue eyes and his shining black hair, worn just a touch too long. Everyone whispered excitedly when he passed by, as if he wouldn't notice. Only I remained quiet, my light brown eyes tracking him from behind several heads of blonde hair, and I thought he'd never notice me.Well. He did.~More than once, as I sat by my window half-heartedly completing my studies, I saw Ethan stride across the lawn, whistling softly, and disappear into the garden shed. This was always moments before a girl—a different one each time, nearly—had let herself inside to wait for him. Sometimes they stayed in there an hour or more, sometimes only a few minutes, but when they emerged, separately, they both had a certain satisfied look in their eyes that had never been in mine.Ethan never looked at any of the girls during the day, sparing not a glance even for the ones he met in the garden shed. I knew this because I watched him so obsessively, my mouth pulled down, my eyes deep and mournful. Soon I began to catch him looking at me instead. Even so, I knew he would never ask me to meet him in the garden shed. He would never lower me to the embarrassing level of those stupid, easy girls he could charm with a few romantic words.I would be different. I would be important to him.~I heard your music the first night I spent at the School. It came from right above my head. I thought I was dreaming.After three more nights of your songs, I realized I wasn't.You were calling me, beckoning me with quiet piano notes it seemed only I could hear. I answered with my boredom, my wistful nature, my desire to change the expression on my face into something not so sour. I didn't put on a wrap or slippers as I left my room, eager to find the source of the songs. I moved down the shadowy hall, hypnotized and near tears with the sweetness of your notes, until I found myself facing the attic door.The attic was forbidden, of course, but the overly strict rules of the School didn't concern me. My floor, the third floor, roomed the fewest girls, and no one liked coming up there anyway, as it was darker and colder than the rest of the floors. I was unafraid of someone discovering me.So, I opened the door and climbed the dark stairs to discover you.The piano was in the middle of the floor, old and scratched and upright. The back of it faced the door, faced me, but it was angled in such a way I could see you sitting at the bench, head falling obsessively over the keys. You were mostly bathed in shadow, only a few patches of white skin showing in the moonlight that streamed through one tiny window. You didn't look up right away but I knew you had heard me come in because you stopped playing."That was beautiful," I said.Now you looked up, shoulders still hunched, squinting at me. I memorized your gaunt cheekbones, acute jaw, slashed eyebrows, and rectangular eyes. Your face was so sharp, so white in the moonlight, strands of lank black hair falling across it. Your only soft feature was your mouth, wide and lush. But you did not smile at me. I walked forward until I was close enough to see the color of your eyes—ice blue—and see, too, the overwhelming bitterness they contained."I'm Claire," I said. "Claire Toussaint."Something flickered in your hard, cold eyes.And then.I was.Lost.~You never let me see you outside the shadows. Daylight was forbidden. Every night I leaned dreamily on the piano, my eyes expressing a certain tenderness and wonder that daytime would never have allowed me. I listened to your songs of sorrow and fear. I felt them in my chest. Your melodies left me drained and helpless. I sank to the floor, weeping silently on my side, looking up at you with blurry adoring eyes. Something huge and dark loomed behind you."How did you get here?" I asked."This is where I fell," you said.One time you stood as I walked in, your torso long and lean, muscles and bones casting shadows on your skin. The darkness behind you fell over your shoulders like a cape. You were so tall and forbidding but your eyes had begun, sometimes, to soften for me.Now you said, "I will write songs for you. I will write them about you."I stood in front of you, nearly toe to toe, looking up into your severe face. My eyes were wide with worship. I was so young but I knew you had fallen in love with me. Even though you never smiled. Even though you never touched me. You said I wasn't grown so I said I would wait. I didn't say I would do anything for you, but you must have known.Your songs to me were poetry without words. In them my hair was dark chocolate melting in streams on the width of your chest. My eyes were earthy and sunlit, weighed down by dark lashes that fluttered against your bladed cheeks. My hands were little birds singing on your skin."Why did you choose me?" I asked. "Why did you call to me, and none of the others?""I called to everyone," you revealed. "Only you heard me."I felt relieved, and heartbroken.~It was Ethan's smile that really disarmed the girls. He could make them do anything he wanted. They would give him much of the money their parents sent each month, even if it meant they wouldn't have enough for themselves. They would offer him the first bite of sweets they received from home. On weekend trips into town they would buy him gifts or run errands for him. I observed all this with a sickened feeling in my gut. He was so good at being charming. So good at getting his way.It scared me. I was frightened for myself.Before too long I realized I had no reason to feel so. For some reason Ethan slid under my power, secretly offering me the treats he had gotten from others, slipping me little presents bought with their money. I didn't know what to do, so I kept everything lined up on my windowsill: a tiny bouquet of honeysuckle; a green votive candle; strawberry lip balm; an antique silver key; a crystal to hang in my window, to catch the sun that never shone; a delicate half of an oyster shell, lacquered in a bright, shiny coat of pink.I never thanked him. I always took what he handed me, my mouth never moving to form a smile, my eyes dour as ever. He smiled enough for both of us, velvet eyes glimmering, knowing something about me I didn't know myself. I always turned away before he could see me blush.~"I've turned sixteen," I said hopefully.Still, you did not touch me. I ached for you."I touch you with my music," you explained. "It is an extension of my physical form. I am able to manipulate the sounds however I wish. It wraps around you like the finest cloth, yet elicits the most forceful of emotions. It feels better than the touch of mere fingers.""Thank you," I said, chagrined.And you continued using me as your muse.~My father sent a car to take me to dinner in the city for my birthday. It was the first time I had seen him since he'd dropped me off at the School. We ate in a dark, quiet restaurant and had to whisper across the table. But we didn't have much to say to each other. I wanted to hate him for sending me to the School, for getting rid of me, but how could I? I had found you.After dinner the car was taking me back and I made the driver stop to let me out. I moped along the drizzly city sidewalk, past bars and laundromats and diners and nameless businesses shut tight for the night. People streamed about me, the crowd growing thinner as the night wore on. The car crept up the street behind me. I didn't know where I meant to go or what I would do once I got there.Then I saw him.Ethan sat inside one prettily lit diner with three girls from the School. He leaned back against the booth, angling his body away from them, his eyes moving restlessly above their heads whenever they weren't looking. I stood outside the window, arms crossed before me against the chill, watching him without moving until, at last, his eyes met mine through the glass.That night, I chose him.The car waited patiently across the street as we wrapped ourselves together in the rain, standing beneath awnings and tasting each other's lips. I responded to him more eagerly than I would have thought possible. My eyes were closed and I savored his touch, never having fathomed, despite dreaming of it often, how much pleasure a boy's hands could give me.You had never touched me. I needed someone who would. You had never pressed your hands against my clothes in anticipation of the skin beneath them. You had never raggedly whispered my name in my ear. I had dreamed of such moments with you, and yet it was Ethan who gave them to me.I needed.Someone.We rode home in the dark, late. The School was lifeless and cold in the rain. Nobody waited up for us.As we crossed the curving drive and let ourselves in the front door, though, I thought I could feel someone watching.~"We know," the girls said to me the next day. "We know about you and Ethan." Their made-up eyes were hard."I don't know what you're talking about."I denied every rumor. Most were untrue anyway. I told lies to protect myself and Ethan. My face didn't change if he passed me that day, nor did his, but still no one believed me. No one liked me any better or worse. I was still an outcast, they still whispered about me, they still hated me.I expected it from them.Not you.You were angry, your eyes like knives in my heart. In your songs I became the worst of betrayers, my lips a fountain of lies. I wanted to die. You were so hurt. Your stony glares had the force to bruise my skin. Your hateful words were sharp enough to make me bleed."He was there," I said desperately. "I needed someone."You said, "But I will never leave."~Time had passed without me knowing it. All the girls, including me, went home for the winter. When we returned, I looked unenthusiastically for Ethan, only to learn he was still gone on a trip. I told myself I was glad. I didn't need him as a distraction.I gave you time. I spent many unbearably lonely nights in my room, imagining your restless footsteps above me. I longed for you, desperately, but I understood I couldn't return until you called me again. Once, hearing you play had brought me to tears. Now, hearing nothing did the same. In the dark, my eyes were always wet. Sometimes I thought maybe you were crying too, weeping sounds so distant and broken I had to strain to hear. I felt wretched for what I had done to you.I became the living dead. My mind was never connected to my actions anymore. I missed you. In desperation I tried to create on my own the songs you had played for me, transcribing words and shapes as faithfully as I could. I fell so far behind with studies. They could have kicked me out but I remained, sorrowful and duller than ever, deaf to the rumors I was depressed because Ethan didn’t want me.No one realized I didn't care about him. You were the one I had lost, and you were right above me.~One day Ethan returned, a demon after my soul. He wanted to speak with me but I ignored him. I was too busy fearing I would never see you again."I didn't have time to say goodbye," Ethan said. "I thought about you every day I was gone. You're what brought me back. My heart breaks to see us like this, Claire. Believe me. You aren't like the other girls. I will die for you, Claire."I refused to listen.~I didn't hear the music, but on the last night of school I heard footsteps outside my room, much too late for anyone to be walking around. I slipped out of bed and peered down the hall. A girl in a white nightgown disappeared up the attic stairs. I followed her, full of jealous rage.You sat at the piano just like the first time I came to you. You looked up, ignoring the stupid younger girl who had answered your call, and came to me. I stood at the edge of the stairs. Your embrace trapped my arms so you could touch me without being touched in return. Your chest was cool beneath my cheek.But I was angry. I wrenched free and reached for the dark thing always looming behind you. My fingertips brushed feathers and you recoiled with a look of fury. Again, you felt I had betrayed you."What happened to you?" I asked. "What did you do?"Your flinty eyes dropped in shame and you did not answer.I knew, I knew, I had always known, something deep and terrible lurked inside you, like the dark thing at your back.When I woke at the bottom of the stairs Ethan's face hovered above mine, his velvet eyes bottomless with concern."You fell," he said, "and you're hurt. I think your leg is broken."It wasn't your fault. It couldn't have been your fault.Even as Ethan spoke, I could hear her dancing to the music you played, her footsteps light across the floor. Each step was a new tear from my eyes. Each note was a stab to my heart.~I lay in bed at home, miles from the School, as my leg heals. I can think only of how you hurt me despite my obvious devotion. I had been mad, wild, insensible for you. I had loved you blindly. You are the betrayer after all. I want to break your fingers so you can never play for another girl again. I will mangle that girl's feet so she can never dance for you. You are a poison in me. I plot various forms of revenge.A kind of wounded hatred twists my face. "I will kill you," I whisper passionately into my empty room. "I will cut the feathers from your wing. I will rip the bone from your back. I will savage you."I am no longer sad, but filled with fury.I never thought of Ethan until he came to visit me one day, sitting by my bed and grinning as he slipped his hand beneath the sheets. Before I knew what I'd done I was returning the smile.It was then I realized how much I owe him. I never thanked him for anything, not even for finding me when I'd fallen and getting me help. Terror overcomes me when I imagine losing him as I've lost you. There will be no one to hold me in the dark. No one to undo me with a smile.He has become . . . important to me.But it's so hard to forget you.I remember you saying, once, you would never leave.At least I will always know where to find you.