Maia had been up since seven that morning finishing the homework she had scheduled to do before Angie arrived tomorrow. She had spent a couple hours practicing her audition piece with Paul the night before, prepping for the audition the following Wednesday. With the book suggested from the Piano School, Maia and Paul played through it, choosing between three pieces they felt demonstrated Maia’s abilities the best, but were not beneath her. Every night since then they had worked for almost two hours together, irritating Maia. A stage parent in training, Paul stood too close behind her left shoulder and Joey had to intervene to set parameters of where he could stand and not stand.
Maia never had a stage parent who read music as well as Paul, nor one that had already been to competition and had a degree in music and had done juries in college. While he was an asset, Paul also annoyed her when he would stand over her shoulder and stop her in mid phrase. What he didn’t realize was that Maia knew when she made a mistake, that she was trying to finish the phrase before backing up, if anything but to perfect what she had been playing after the fact. Paul wanted her to correct it immediately, change her muscle memory so that she didn’t make the same mistake.
Joey spent more time trying to encourage communication between the two siblings until he found himself texting Ruby for help. She suggested setting up boundaries of where Paul could stand and where he could not. Joey, the mediator, intervened and photocopied the score and placed a barstool from the studio’s soundboard near the back of the piano. Paul could see her hands and the keyboard. With a snort, Joey returned to his chair and his book, staring Paul down when Maia would stop playing and glare at Joey for help.
Paul could have put this audition off for another week, knowing how busy she was this week with schoolwork, and clearly, she resented him for scheduling this amongst her own mayhem. Ruby reminded Maia that she had this well under control. After arguing with Paul again, Maia stomped off and went to her room to calm down, only to have a panic attack and felt like she couldn’t breathe. She texted Joey who ran upstairs to find her shaking and on the floor. Waylaid by that panic attack on Wednesday, Ruby stopped to see her on the way up to the secluded Wellness Center she owned in the mountains the next morning. Paul and Maia didn’t even speak that morning. She took her coffee and pop-tarts upstairs to her room until Ruby arrived. Able to watch the horseshoe driveway from her window, she could see when Ruby’s Jag drove through the gate.
What Paul didn’t understand was that she already had a full plate with school, and now in the first week of classes, he had scheduled her an audition for Winston’s Piano School. The panic attack had set her back in her studies, and she lost the last two hours she needed that night. Now three hours behind schedule, she had too much to do before Angie got here on Friday morning.
Maia was finally able to start her Italian 2 homework again around ten that night, trying to shake off the after effects of the Ativan Joey gave her. Luckily, she had hidden away a Coke in her desk drawer and had only a few swallows in her glass of ice water. She polished off the ice water and poured in the Coke, careful not to let it spill over. Maia had sucked it down fast as possible, trying to get the full effect of the caffeine and get rid of the evidence by refilling the glass with water in the bathroom and hiding the coke can in the water closet’s trashcan. Maia was in the middle of typing a paper when Paul ordered lights out at midnight. Joey was shocked that she was awake and functional after the Ativan, hoping she had knocked herself out for the night. A frustrated Paul told her to save her work and go to bed, that whatever she didn’t finish, could wait until tomorrow. What they didn’t understand was that she didn’t have many of those tomorrows left. Before she knew it, Maia would be in school, and already Joey said that lights out would go back to ten instead of midnight. This meant that she had exactly seven hours to do all her homework and piano from the time she got home from school until bedtime. Time management would be of the essence for her and she could not let herself get behind, no matter what.
Being completely incapacitated that night because of the panic attack lost her three hours and two chapters that needed read and six discussion questions that needed completed. Those got moved to Thursday morning while she ate the pop-tarts and drank her coffee. She even shut her door to let them both know she didn’t want any disruption by asking her to talk about her feelings or apology until after Ruby arrived.
When the gate opened, Maia left her books and checked herself in the bathroom mirror, putting on Chapstick before leaving the room altogether. She should have done more than run a brush through her hair this morning. She should have curled it like Joey taught her. When she put the cap on it, Maia realized how that how she looked never mattered to her before. Seeing her photos in the newspapers really changed her. After finding the online editions, Maia printed the articles and kept them in a folder in the bottom of her dresser drawer. They weren’t flattering, but she did make the newspaper. Any free publicity is good publicity, right? Besides, she was more of a hero than a villain to the public.
Descending the staircase, Maia slowed up, seeing Paul there at the door, clad in acid washed jeans a white Gucci T-shirt that Maia disliked, because it reminded her of the dealers and pimps she came in contact with on the street. He turned and furrowed his brow at her, and she stopped on the staircase and lowered her eyes. He put his hand on his hip, making his large gold Gucci watch flash its reflection from the sunlight.
“Don’t be that way,” he said to her. “You can act your age and put away the pouty puppy dog look. You get no sympathy from me.”
“What do you expect from me?” she asked him, sarcastically. “I don’t need you to point out when I’m not perfect. I know when I’m wrong. Maybe the person who needs told when he’s wrong is you!”
“I was trying to help you. It’s all I have been doing all along.”
“Paulie, stop,” said Joey coming into the room. He wasn’t dressed for work, but had on a button down shirt with a mint green narrow stripe running through it and jeans. Did he take off the day to referee them? “Ruby’s here. Let Maia talk with her.”
“I’m fine with you helping me, but let me think for fuck’s sake. I can’t stand being smothered.”
“Watch your mouth,” he ordered as Joey opened the door for Ruby.
“I don’t need to watch my mouth, you do it for me, all the damn time!”
“Welcome to hell,” said Joey, opening the door for Ruby.
“I see that,” said Ruby as the two continued to squabble, now moving into Italian.
Ruby and Joey watched them as they escalated. Her sunflower turban high on her head contrasted with her eggplant wool overcoat beautifully. Maia threw her a begging look with her eyes but kept fighting with Paul with her mouth.
“Whatever they are arguing about, they don’t want us involved, so they are arguing in Italian,” said Joey.
“Well, that’s about to end,” she said. “How long have they been at this?”
“About five minutes now.”
Ruby, hearing enough, took off her leather gloves and put two fingers in her mouth and whistled loudly, making Paul and Maia stop arguing.
“Good morning, family. Paul and Joey, let me talk with Maia for a little while. We need some privacy, so I need you guys to go somewhere that eavesdropping and interruptions will not occur,” she asked as Elly entered the room and approached Ruby for her coat and gloves.
“Would you like a cup of coffee, Ruby?” asked Joey.
“I’m okay, but I think Maia might need a glass of water.”
Elly appeared to take Ruby’s coat. “I’ll bring you in some water,” she said to Maia as Paul stormed off and Joey rushed after him.
“Levati dalle palle!” said Maia after Paul. Joey stopped, knowing some words in Italian and that she just told her brother to piss off. He put his hands on his hips and to say something before Ruby intervened.
“That’s really enough out of you,” said Joey to her. “He has bent over backwards for you. You need to check yourself, right now.”
“You guys need to back off! My three parents never hovered the way you guys do. Just let me be!”
“Joey, let me,” said Ruby. “I’ll see you in a few minutes. Let me chat and with Maia, all right?” Joey furrowed his brow and locked his jaw as he stared her down. Maia, who opened her mouth to say something, shut it when he put up his hand and walked away.
Maia rushed down the stairs and dropped her jet pack at her feet as she embraced Ruby.
“You’re okay,” said Ruby, hugging her to her chest. Maia’s tears wet the caramel-colored cashmere sweater set. Ruby just brushed it off as nothing as Maia led them to the soft chair behind the piano so she wouldn’t be heard.
Ruby let Maia vent about the whole situation.
“I wasn’t in favor of you going back to school so soon,” said Ruby, hearing Maia’s overwhelmed emotions spilling over as she tucked her legs up under her.
“I know, but school is okay as long as I’m on my schedule. They don’t understand that when I get off schedule, I get overwhelmed.”
“Have you always been this way?”
“Yes, for as long as I can remember.”
“Have you always set your own schedule?”
“Since I was like ten?”
“I see,” said Ruby, with a smile. “How does that make you feel when they interfere with your schedule?”
“It really pisses me off,” she said, “and this curfew when I’m already behind pisses me off even more. I didn’t need him to set up this audition this coming week as well, you know?”
“I get it,” she said.
“But he does not.”
“Have you told him that?”
“If I tell him I can’t do it, or to cancel it, he will think I’m a quitter—”
“How are you doing with your schoolwork?”
“I’m managing. I want to be completely caught up on day one. I want to test for the year two language classes this year so I can walk into year three and get the college credit for year four. In order to test, I have to meet the requirements, which are certain assignments and tests. I have the syllabi for them, and I have been doing that work as well. I haven’t done Italian grammar since the third grade, so I have had to reteach myself certain things. Conversational Italian is very different from the formal Italian they are requiring. The French is easy. I will easily test out of that because I did it in school, but the Italian is challenging to me.”
“Have you told Paulie and Joey this?”
“No, I don’t want them to think I can’t handle it.”
“So instead of communicating with them, you have been having tantrums.”
“I just need for them to let me be.”
“Maia, that is not an option here. You have been so sick. You are still on oxygen. You have been through a huge trauma and instead of doing your work, you are covering it up with schoolwork. Any other teenager would be smoking pot or cigarettes or drinking alcohol. You are doing schoolwork.”
“They are so lucky I value my life more than that. Though if I weren’t on oxygen, I probably would have smoked a pack of Marlboro Menthols by now—”
“Oh Miss Maia, you can stop that fantasizing all you want. Putting up with a tyrant is not lucky. You can communicate with your brother and his partner without having tantrums and swearing at him in Italian.”
“I’m no different now than I was before all of this. I had parents who just let me alone—”
“Who created a monster of her own making and placated her because she’s a genius.”
Maia smirked. “Basically, but they valued education—”
“That is bullshit. Paul and Joey are both college educated. Both graduated with honors, Joey suma cum laude while working full time and putting himself through college. Paulie never got a C in any class—even elementary school. So, you need to stop making assumptions about them, or looking down your nose at them with your high IQ. A test score does not make you a better person. Being a better person is what makes you a better person.”
Maia said nothing and pulled her knees up to her chest. Ruby stopped talking and let that sink into Maia. “I haven’t heard you say that you want to go home to Chicago.”
Maia shook her head and wiped a tear that fell from her eye before it fell past her cheekbone.
“I realized that St. Nicks is just what I have wanted all along. I hate the idea of uniforms and dogma, but I have wanted to do IB for years. Jonny couldn’t afford it and my piano lessons, and he certainly can’t afford it now.”
“So, you are living the good life right now. Winston’s Piano School and International Baccalaureate paid for, you got your own bedroom, you have all of your needs taken care of.”
Maia nodded. “I’m trying to make this work, Ruby, like we agreed.”
“Try harder. There are rules here, Maia. A totally different parenting style than what you are used to, and you need to realize that they are still trying to figure this out for themselves. Unlike Jonny and Jimmy, they haven’t had you for fourteen years. They haven’t even had you for fourteen weeks, Maia.”
Maia sighed and nodded.
“I’m going to talk with them now. Stay here and think about what we talked about.”
Maia nodded. “Thank you, Ruby.”
Ruby nodded and got up from the ottoman and left Maia in the living room. Maia tucked her head into her knees and sobbed. She was about to screw this up for herself. For the first time in her life, she had everything she ever wanted, and she was steps away from being moved home to Chicago and back to where she was before all of this. A minute later, someone sat on the ottoman in front of her and was stroking her hair. She lifted her head to see Elly there, handing her a tissue box. Maia pulled one from it and blew her nose and wiped her eyes.
“It’s not that bad, is it?”
Maia nodded. “I really screwed everything up.”
“It only takes a few words to change that, and a lot of action on your part. The boys only want what’s best for you, baby.”
When Ruby returned about a half hour later, she found Maia in the same place, but on the ottoman was a few pieces of posterboard covered in highlighters and sharpies.
“What I have left to do before next Monday.”
“I see. Bring it with you.”
Maia followed Ruby into the den with her posterboards. “Leave those on the bar,” said Ruby as they entered the den. Maia set the posterboards on the bar, spreading them out so the four posterboards were laid out.
“Maia, come join us,” said Ruby as Maia dawdled. Maia did as she said, and Joey and Paul sat on one side of the large sectional sofa and Ruby sat in the middle joint and Maia sat on the end.
“Who wants to start?” asked Ruby.
“I’m sorry,” said Maia, shocking them. “I am overwhelmed, and I didn’t want to tell you that, because I don’t want you to think less of me or that I can’t handle it.”
“I accept your apology, Maia,” said Paul. “We have rules here. I get that the adults in your life let you do as you please, but you can’t do that here. Someone has to say no to you for your own good.”
“Agreed,” said Joey. “You need to rest. We only agreed to let you go back to school because you love school. We saw it as a way to get through a very rough time for you, rather than let you sit and stew until September.”
“I appreciate that, but I have a lot of work to do, and I need you guys just to let me do it.”
“What would happen if you didn’t have it all done before next Monday?” asked Ruby.
“I would start school behind the eight ball. IB is challenging. It’s not going to be easy if I don’t have the work done before I start school. I would feel better if I had it all done. The audition is putting me behind schedule.”
“Okay, I get that. Do you want me to cancel it, and have you audition this Summer for the Fall?” asked Paul.
“No. I can manage the piano work if I have the schoolwork caught up. I know that if I don’t have the schoolwork managed, the piano work is going to suffer.”
“So, let’s put off the piano school,” said Joey. “It’s not the end of the world if you don’t start this spring.”
“I can’t imagine not having lessons for much longer. My skills are already lacking from not playing for five months.”
“What if I were to get you a teacher and you just did lessons for right now?” asked Paul.
Maia said nothing and sighed. “I’ve done piano lessons at the college level for some time now. Are we going to be able to find me a teacher who can teach me at the level I have been at?”
“I will collect CV’s if I have to in order to find the right teacher, Maia,” said Paul. “We can interview them together.”
“Sounds like more work than I have time for right now.”
“Can we see where you are at with your schoolwork?” asked Joey.
Maia nodded and they got up and walked over to her posterboards spread out on the bar.
“The black sharpie shows the days that you have completed?” asked Ruby.
“Yes,” she said, as they saw each day mapped out. They were all shocked at how many assignments were on the lists and that which seemed to be added to them in another pen ink. On the daily schedule was the audition piece added to each day, chunks of time just for scales in the middle of the day and then the audition piece in the evening.
“Maia, what is all this?” asked Joey, seeing the Italian 2 schoolwork added on in the end.
“I have to do the required classwork for Italian 2 in order to test for it this year. You have to have all three years to get the college credit.”
“Maia, do you really need the college credit?” asked Paul.
“I would like to have as much of my requirements done as possible so I can concentrate on the music major and graduate with my bachelor’s degree sooner so I can go onto Julliard or Curtis for my Masters.”
“So, you have a long-term plan?” asked Ruby.
“Since I was like ten.”
“Wow,” said Ruby. “Most ten-year-old’s are more concerned about the new Mario Kart game, not college credit.”
“Most thirteen-year-old’s are into their iPods or cell phones,” said Joey. “It’s okay to be a kid, Maia,” he said, putting his hand on her shoulder until she turned to him. He hugged her and she began to sob.
“Hey, hey,” he said, as she wanted up in his arms. He reached for her and she hugged him and cried. “What’s going on?”
“I just don’t want you…to…to think…I can’t do it.”
“Oh Maia,” said Paul, reaching for her. “Do you realize how much you have gotten done? Shit, even I didn’t realize how much you had to do.”
“Where did you find out about the Italian 2?”
“Friends, what a word,” said Ruby.
“Yeah, imagine that,” said Maia, who wiped her face. “They got me the syllabus and I added it in. It’s not as easy as the French, I’ve had to teach myself the grammar.”
“Ah ha,” said Joey. “That explains it. Between that and the piano—”
“Exactly,” said Maia.
“Why didn’t you say so?” asked Paul.
“I didn’t want you to think—”
“So, you put your pride above our relationship?” asked Joey.
“I didn’t think of it that way.”
“Maia,” said Paul. “We can’t help you if you don’t communicate with us. You had options available to you. You could take an incomplete in Italian 2 and do the coursework over the Summer. It does not need to be done this semester.”
“I need to make up piano time this summer. I don’t think you understand how rusty I am. If I were to go to competition in June, I wouldn’t even place.”
“Maia, your peers have not endured what you did.”
“Please don’t pity me.”
“No one is pitying you, Maia,” said Ruby. “We are asking you to find a way to limit yourself. Something has to go.”
“I can get the rest done and work on Italian 2 all on its own after Angie goes home.”
“How far are you on the Italian 2?” asked Ruby.
“I’m on week six, so I’m right now halfway into October and just finished the first paper and I’m ready for the first test. I already emailed my teacher and talked to her about it.”
“Wow,” said Ruby. “Most parents do that kind of communication. You are able to communicate with a teacher on your own?”
“Jonny is a professor. He expected me to communicate with my educators.”
“Maia, you are not an adult,” said Joey. “If you had come to us—”
“You would have said no.”
“You better believe it. You still aren’t well enough to get off oxygen.”
“I’m still going to do this, whether either of you like it or not. Getting college credit for a language is two classes I do not have to take later.”
“Okay, I get it,” said Paul with a sigh. “I don’t like it, but I get it. Let’s talk about the audition.”
“I want to do it.”
“Look Maia,” said Paul. “It’s too much. Let’s get a teacher.”
“You still have your diversion to get through. We have no idea what your summer is going to look like yet,” said Joey. “I think you need to put off the piano school until the fall.”
“Could I do the audition piece to see what they say?”
“Do you really need that validation?” asked Ruby.
“I need to know where my skill set is compared to what they are looking for.”
“I get it,” said Paul. “A good teacher could tell you likewise.”
Maia sighed and nodded.
“If you pass the audition, and they offer you a spot in the Piano School, are you going to say no to them?” asked Joey.
“Probably not,” said Paul. “We need a teacher, Maia.”
Maia sighed and nodded in defeat. “Fine,” she said.
“Okay, I’m going to make some calls and get that process rolling and cancel the audition.”
“Thank you,” she said.
Ruby left soon after and Maia retreated to her room with her posterboards. When Joey found her an hour later, Maia had already crossed out the audition practicing from her posterboards with blue rather than a black sharpie. He had brought her up a sandwich and a small bag of her “Red Doritos” as she called them. Beside them on the tray was a can of Coke, and a piece of chocolate cake and a dessert fork. No longer in his jeans and the broadcloth shirt he had worn this morning, he had sweat through a T-shirt and was wearing shorts.
“How is it going?”
“Better,” she said with a sigh.
“I see the boards have been updated.”
“What are you working on?”
“RCIA, I have only one chapter left of the bookwork.”
“Until you are caught up?”
“Until I am done,” she said, holding up the workbook that was lopsided with wrinkled pages.
“You could have finished it with the rest of the class,” said Joey.
“I got interested, and thought, before I started St. Nick’s, I needed to make up my mind for myself before I fall in love with St. Nick’s and do it for the wrong reason.”
“I see,” said Joey, putting his hand out for the workbook. Maia reluctantly handed it to him. He pushed the sandwich tray in front of her. “Eat,” he said, taking the workbook. He sat on the ottoman and paged through the 150 page book while she chewed a bite of her sandwich. He read a couple of her answers, shocked that the spaces provided were fully filled, not a singular sentence ever in a blank block. Each answer proved her knowledge, and more than that, her desire to become a Roman Catholic.
Joey closed the book. “Where are you on your journey?”
“I think, right now, I would ask Father Tim when I could be confirmed.”
“Really?” he asked.
“I need to go to confession.”
“Okay,” he said, shocked.
“But I’m not good at the beads.”
“Penance makes rosary practice perfect,” he said, getting up. “Paulie and I go on Thursday afternoon, in about an hour.”
“So how do I do it?”
Joey laughed. “So you go in, kneel and say “Forgive me father for I have sinned.”
“Nope, you got to list them then.”
“How far back?”
He laughed. “Recent ones I think are fine.”
“Oh, right. All of them?”
“What you can think of or consider relevant.”
“He’s going to tell you what penance to do. How many rosaries, Hail Mary’s, etc.”
“You go out to the pew, kneel on a kneeler and do them.”
“All at once?”
“Then it’s done?”
“Gotcha. And I got to do this every week?”
“Okay, I’m going to finish my lunch and that assignment then I will be down with my beads.”
“Beads, Rosary, all of them got them.”
“Religions. They say and do the same things, just use different words.”