Song 9 ♪ Jog

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I stood face to face with Ashton. Well, face to chest. I had to crane my head back to meet his eye. He had his arms folded and was looking down at me like he wanted to start a fight. I lifted an eyebrow.

"Ready?" he asked me.

"Are you?" I asked back.

His lips twitched, but he didn't respond to that. He counted backward form three, and when he hit one we both took a deep breath and let it loose between our lips. The result was a fart-like sound. We repeated it one more time together. Then we did the do re mi scale forward, and backward. We kept doing warm up exercises for a solid five minutes. He'd taught them to me after it turned out that the Mother Superior had commanded him to work with me, and so every after school special with him — his words, not mine — had to start this way. It was Friday, our third and last lesson of the week, and I couldn't wait for the weekend so that I could catch up on all the freaking homework I hadn't been able to do because of these lessons.

I couldn't begin to explain how ridiculous I felt doing the exercises. Or how hilarious it was that this intensely good looking guy didn't give two shits about joining in, too. The whole thing was weird.

He clasped twice when he thought I was ready. "Okay, I called in some extra help for today."

We both looked at the music room's door as it opened, as if on cue. I recognized the guy from our class. He also sat at the back but on the opposite corner, always wore black Beats headphones around his neck, and his hair was even longer than mine.

"Glad you could make it." I detected some sarcasm in Ashton's voice.

The other boy grunted as he bee lined toward the piano next to us. He sat by it and looked up at me, as if noticing me for the first time.

"I heard you're good. If you're not, I won't waste my time any further here."

Well, no pressure then.

I rolled my eyes. "Nice to meet you, I'm Vera."

"Lincoln Choi." He pulled a strand of glossy black hair behind his ear. "I'm the pianist for the orchestra."

Ashton leaned his elbow on the closed piano. "Link here has won a few awards for his piano skills. But I wouldn't call him a prodigy because of that."

Link glared at him and my jaw dropped.

"You have a really lousy way of asking people for help if that's how you treat them," I said.

Ashton laughed and Link narrowed his eyes at me. The latter said, "careful, one more insult at him and you may be this close to getting on my good books."

"What I meant to say is," Ashton continued, waving a hand. "That he's a prodigy at other aspects of music. He's a composer and producer, and he's here to help me find out what your vocal range is."

I felt like I was slapped in the face. A composer and producer?

"Professionally?" I asked, but they ignored me.

"I'll play a key," Link said, exemplifying. "You'll sing it. Easy. Three screw ups and I'm out."

"She won't screw up," Ashton said with much more confidence than I felt. He looked at me. "Ready?"

"Wait." I lifted my palm up. "What are you going to do?"

He folded his arms again. "I'm going to observe."

Link played a key with no warning. I realized I was supposed to join in already, so I tried to sing it as best as I could. This went on for a while. With every new key my voice went higher and higher. He plunged me to the low keys all of a sudden, and it became harder to follow along as he switched around between what I felt like low, high and medium. All the while Ashton walked slow circles around me. At some point he pushed my shoulders back, forcing my spine straight. It did ease the knot in my throat and my voice came out clearer. I didn't know how long we did this, but I did notice that Link hadn't just up and left.

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