B: Talk about a time when you were driving and you sang in the car, all alone. Why do you remember this song and that stretch of road?
Nel cor più non mi sento
Jeremy laughed two days ago when he got into my car and found my usual blaring punk rock had been replaced by Italian arias on piano. I was trying to decide on a solo for my voice class final exam. He didn't laugh when I refused to let him change the CD.
When it's your turn to drive, we'll listen to what you want. He begged to drive after half an hour.
I smile at the memory, turn up the volume on Lasciatemi morire!, and hum along. Jeremy has been my best friend for seven years, since eighth grade. He's heard me belt out some power ballads before, during some of our sillier hang-outs, but he'd never really heard me sing. Until this weekend.
These songs are... weird. Like there's something missing.
That's because there is. This is just the accompaniment track. The melody is missing.
Well shit. If you're gonna make me listen to this for much longer, you'd better start singing.
So I did. First it was Alma del core, but I sang it in an exaggerated, bouncy way. Jeremy grinned at my overdone vibrato and occasional hand gesture to punctuate the music, when I wasn't using both hands to maneuver through highway traffic.
Is that how you would really sing it?
No, of course not. My professor would kill me. And then fail me.
Sing the right way. I know shit about opera, but I think I know when someone sings well.
I sang through six or seven songs in a row, concentrating on controlling my breathing and maintaining good pitch, even through the jostling as we hit potholes and bridge joints. Jeremy didn't say a word until I pulled into a rest stop and switched off the music.
That's great, Kat. Why didn't I know you could sing like that? He smiled halfway, not enough for his dimples to show.
Suddenly it felt like I'd been keeping a deep dark secret. I shrugged.
Most people don't.
It wasn't like I'd lied or intentionally hid it. It just wasn't something that seemed to come up in conversation a lot. Especially not with Jeremy. With Jeremy, I shared football and relationship trouble and surreptitious swigs of rum from his mom's liquor cabinet when we were eighteen. We shared hugs and sometimes tears, conversations about life and whether there's a god, words of encouragement and stupid inside jokes. There was never a time when I felt the need to say Hey, I like singing opera and classical stuff.
Jeremy drove the second half of the trip, and we listened to the different bands we both shared a passion for, especially the one we were driving to see. The concert was as amazing as I knew it would be, and we had a great time. It was nice to hang out in the middle of the school year, something we didn't usually get to do since we went to college in different states. Still, there was something weird. Maybe it was my imagination, but I kept catching him with this... look. I couldn't quite pinpoint what it was.
It couldn't be the singing thing, I told myself. Why would he be mad about that? That was just stupid. But he was pretty quiet. And Jeremy was never quiet.
We checked into a hotel after the concert to get a good night's sleep before driving back the next day. We said good night, climbed into our separate beds, and turned out the light. After an hour, I could tell by the sound of his breathing that he was still awake.
Did you have fun today? I asked.
Okay. You've been quiet.
So have you.
Only because you were, I said. What the fuck was this? Jeremy didn't do quiet, and Jeremy didn't do vague. Not in all the time we'd known each other.
Silence for several more minutes. So I said the most ridiculous thing any woman could say to a guy: What are you thinking right now?
Just remembering you singing in the car.
Shut up. I burst into uncomfortable laughter. You are not.
The light flicked on and Jeremy sat up in bed. I was, too.
Was too. You were pretty fucking fantastic. He chucked a pillow at my head.
Whatever. I threw it back.
He pounced. In an instant, he was on my bed, straddling my hips, forehead pressed against mine. He smelled like toothpaste and... like Jeremy. The same cologne he'd worn since junior year in high school. One I helped pick out, now that I thought of it.
When will you ever learn to take a compliment? He closed his eyes and relaxed against me. Just as his lips brushed mine, he whispered, Scoot over.
I made room and he slipped under the covers like it was the most natural thing in the world to do. My stomach knotted itself into a quivering lump.
Turn over. He slid his hand over my hip as I did so, and pulled me tight against his body. Go to sleep.
I didn't know how I was supposed to go to sleep like that, with his legs tucked behind mine, his chest against my back, his breath tickling my shoulder. Jeremy was my best friend, so of course I loved him. But did I...
His breathing deepened in a matter of minutes as he quickly fell asleep. Something inside me ached. I grabbed Jeremy's hand and held it to my chest so his arm was wrapped tight around me, and that something inside me ached more profoundly.
I turn the volume up a little more as I drive, trying to drown that same feeling growing in me now as I remember last night. The closeness. The feeling of being surrounded by my best friend, and how it was so right, and how could I not have seen that before? We woke this morning, showered, and checked out of the hotel like nothing was different. We hadn't done anything, but it felt different to me.
The dainty intro of Nel cor più non mi sento trickles through the speakers. Perfect. A song about the torment of love.
I'm still not sure that's what I'm feeling. I dropped Jeremy off in front of his dorm twenty minutes ago. He hugged me and held on longer than usual. That something continued to ache, even after he grabbed his bag from the trunk and disappeared inside. Could he really be feeling what I'm feeling right now? Could that be why he was acting so weird?
The song ends and I hit the back button to replay it. It's so perfect, this song. I sing along this time, smiling through the lines cagion del mio tormento, amor, sei colpa tu. Translates roughly to something about love being the cause of all my torment.
Amore è un certo che, I sustain the note and add an embellishment before continuing with the last line. Che disperar mi fa. Thou, Love, are surely one that will drive me to despair. But the music is light and airy. Fun, even. I imagine a woman scolding her love for tormenting her, driving her to despair, but with a wink and a knowing look, because she knows that love aches so badly only because it fills your heart near to bursting.
I cut off the driver next to me to make it onto the nearest exit. I have to go back. Not knowing if Jeremy shared my unexpected epiphany yesterday is going to drive me to despair. On a related note, I think I found the song to sing for voice class.
I pull off into a McDonald's parking lot to figure out how to get back on the highway in the opposite direction. Before the map loads, my phone alerts me to a missed call and a voice mail. Jeremy. I must have been in a dead zone when he called. I dial into the voice mail system and listen.
Hey. I'm sorry I'm such a fucking coward. This isn't how I wanted to say this to you, but I guess it's all I have right now.
There's a pause and I place a hand on my chest, where my heart is pounding like mad. Who would've thought falling in love would physically hurt this way? In message, Jeremy clears his throat before continuing.
I'm not even sure when it happened, okay. It just sort of... I just... Fuck. (nervous laughter) I need you, Kat. You keep getting better and more amazing, and I feel like I won't keep getting better if you aren't there with me.
A strange noise startles me, but then I realize the noise is me. I'm crying. Hard. Does he know how much I need him, too? Anyone can give me a compliment, tell me I'm getting better at anything, however small, but it only makes me self-consciously proud when it comes from him. I stifle a sob just in time to hear his last words before hanging up.
I love you, Kat. I love you.