Rowan followed the teacher out of the practice room. The church basement smelled like musty walls with a faint waft of old cooking and something else not quite identifiable.
Ms. Corning closed the door and handed over a stack of piano books for Rowan to hold while she finished the lesson notes. Once she was done, Ms. Corning capped her pen and traded back, passing over the notebook and accepting the books in return.
“Big plans for the week?” Ms. Corning asked with a smile.
“Not really.” Rowan shrugged. “Homework. Practice.” A tiny, knowing smile sneaked through.
Ms. Corning laughed. “It’s your birthday on Friday, right? Doing anything special?”
“Maybe dinner with my parents and my—” Rowan stopped. Having a relationship with Addison wasn’t exactly a secret, and all their parents knew. Still, it probably wasn’t something to say in front of Ms. Corning. She seemed a bit old-fashioned.
“Your what, dear? I didn’t catch that.”
Rowan blushed, the heat spreading head-to-toe. “I’m kind of, you know, going out with someone.”
“Oh!” Ms. Corning’s smile grew. “I’m old enough to remember when that was called ‘going steady.'” She laughed. “I never did that myself at your age.”
Now Rowan was curious. “Why not?”
“Because I’d have been expected to go steady with a boy, and I wasn’t interested.”
Rowan held back from staring. Maybe there was a reason Ms. Corning said it, something she’d spotted in Rowan that made it all right to explain.
“I didn’t know,” Rowan said.
“Hm, I thought everyone did.” Ms. Corning shook her head. “I haven’t been secretive about my wife, not even here in the church we attend together.”
Now Rowan did stare. “You both go here? I thought you just taught piano lessons in the basement.”
“You make me sound like a vampire, dear.” Ms. Corning laughed again. Her voice was as melodious as her piano playing. “Yes, we’re members here.”
“I know some kids at school who go to a different church,” Rowan explained. “They have to hide stuff from their families.” Feeling bold, Rowan added, “I’m lucky I don’t. They’ve been okay with it that I like all different people.”
“Ah, I see. Well, my wife is bisexual, and she never told her family until we were together. I think I’m lucky too. Even as old as I am, my parents were always wonderful.”
That explained it, at least a little. Ms. Corning hadn’t learned at home the same kind of shame some of Rowan’s friends had. Rowan liked that, something the two of them had in common. And Ms. Corning’s wife was like Rowan, which was nice too.
“I guess I could say I’m bi,” Rowan said. “Sometimes I say pan, sometimes I use different words.”
“From the sounds of it, you’re enjoying having a relationship, too. I love how the world has changed since I was a girl.” She sighed, but it was the happy kind, not the sad kind.
They stepped out into the late afternoon sunshine. It was breezy but still warm, like the weather hadn’t made up its mind to shift yet.
“Thanks for talking.”
“Any time.” Ms. Corning’s expression was soft, but then it turned all business. “But you keep on top of those exercises I gave you, you hear?”
“Yes, Ms. Corning.” Rowan hid a smile.
“See you next week, same time?”
Rowan spotted Mom’s car and headed for it with a wave. “Same time next week!”