The handshake is quick, yet I don't miss the roughness of his skin. Different from Pastor Thomas's, whose hand was hardened from lifting. This hand is a musician's, the calluses deep and worn at the fingertips.
"You play the guitar?" I ask, even though I know the answer.
The other guy unlocks their office door and turns to join the conversation. "And the violin and the cello, and pretty much any instrument he picks up. This guy's a virtual Mozart."
Cameron actually looks a little embarrassed by the praise. It's endearing and unexpected. My ex, whose name shall no longer pass through my brain, loved accolades. There wasn't a compliment he didn't enjoy.
"I'm Nate." He, too, shakes my hand. "I'm the one behind the glass wall banging on the drums." Nate's younger than I think Cameron is, not that I'm an expert at judging or anything. If I had to guess, I'd say Cameron's in his twenties, and Nate maybe nineteen. He still has that skinny just-out-of-high-school look, complete with acne on his cheeks.
"Jan," I say again.
"Where will you be working?" Cameron slides his hands in his front pockets and rocks back on his heels a little. He must do this often. The jean material is faded there, and the pocket seams are slightly frayed.
"I think for Ralph? I don't really have a whole lot of details yet. I just know I'm here to help support the staff."
"Ah, well, maybe we'll get lucky and they'll send you our way."
"Not sure if that would make you lucky. Unless you count my third-grade recorder skills a worthy accompaniment to your famed brilliance."
He laughs again, and I find myself leaning closer as if his joyous demeanor might bounce from him to me and make all my troubles disappear.
"I'm an excellent teacher...in case you ever want to expand your skills." He reaches two long fingers into his chest pocket and pulls out a small navy guitar pick. "Consider this a coupon for three private lessons."
"Only three, huh?"
"That's usually all it takes for me to see if there's potential."
I take the pick slowly, feeling pretty certain we are no longer talking about lessons. It's then I realize that not only has Nate disappeared into the band room but also that Cameron and I are no longer on opposite sides of the hallway.
Oh good grief! I'm flirting outside of a pastor's office, and so blatantly that a teenage boy felt the need to excuse himself. This is a new measure of low, even for me.
"Does Tuesday evening work for you?"
I'm too horrified to follow Cameron's train of thought. "What?"
"Your first lesson. I'm free tomorrow night."
There's a glimmer in his eyes that I don't miss this time. Probably because I know it's very likely plastered all over my face, too. The attraction is mutual but needs to stay stuffed down and buried under the huge oak tree in my aunt's backyard.
Getting involved with anyone while in my current state of vulnerability is a bad idea. Getting involved with a guy who spends his time singing about a God whom I doubt exists, well, that's just reckless. And my days of leaping into the unknown are over. At least until all the broken bones heal.
"No. I'm sorry, Tuesday's bad for me." I take two deliberate steps back, and his smile fades ever so slightly.
"Well, maybe another night?"
"I don't know, but thank you for the offer." I grip the guitar pick in my fist, irritated by how it already feels like a treasure. "Nice to meet you." My goodbye is more curt than I intend, but I don't want there to be any confusion—for either of us.
Margie and Eric are still engaged in deep conversation when I finally enter his office, but they both stop talking as soon as they see me. I've obviously interrupted something important. "I'm sorry. I thought maybe you'd forgotten me. I can go back out into the hallway until you're ready."
"No need. Margie and I are finished." Eric again shatters any cliché I had about church staff. No suit and tie, no wire-rimmed glasses or Bible in hand. Instead, he has a full gray beard that comes to a point, a plaid shirt that could be a twin to the one Nate is wearing, and black skinny jeans. Since when did senior adults get so trendy?
"You must be January. I can't tell you how thrilled we are that you're here," he continues with yet another Grace Community Church handshake. "Have a seat."
Margie excuses herself with a tap on my shoulder. "Come see me before you leave, okay?"
"Sure." I take the cushioned chair across from Eric's desk, hoping the sting in my cheeks is from the blistering wind and not from how his enthusiasm makes me feel like a fraud.
This excerpt ends on page 20 of the paperback edition.
Monday we begin the book The Light at Wyndcliff by Sarah E. Ladd.