Behind the Piano
The weeks until winter break fell into a comfortable pattern and passed faster than Wil expected. Weeks were filled with class and homework, finalizing papers and preparing for midterm review. She knew from last year that January came quickly, and once the holidays were over there was little time to study. Weekends were usually spent in the malls with Kate, Eve, and Rhonda, finishing their Christmas shopping and talking about their trips home. Rhonda was meeting Jeremy's parents over the holiday, and to listen to Kate and Eve, it was the biggest news since Oprah's second retirement.
Wil was dreading the holidays, and spent as much time as possible focusing on the wonderful plans the girls had. It would be her first Christmas without Andrew. She had no idea what to do. His mom had called a week ago and invited her over for coffee a couple days after Christmas, and if there was anything to look forward to, it was reconnecting with her second family. Joan St Croix was as much of a mother to her as her own, and she'd feared losing touch when Andrew passed, but between email and the occasional call they had kept up well.
Every other day, after music composition, she secreted away to the rehearsal halls and settled in front of the same door. Only once had her pianist not been there, a beautifully sunny day that had melted the snow and cheered almost the entire body of Dartmouth. Wil, however, had been in a sour mood that day, realizing for the first time the strength she drew from the music. Some days the songs were full of pain or anger, other days love and peace, and somehow they always seemed to mirror her own thoughts.
She often found herself wondering about the pianist. Whoever it was, they had obviously felt a loss much like her own, and a few times she had stood from her spot on the floor and went to knock before hesitating. It seemed like such a personal time to interrupt, and she would not have appreciated the interruption as she stole away bits of comfort from their playing.
Once, she had chastised herself on intruding on the private moment entirely, and she vowed to not return. Her resolve was weak, and two days later, she'd found herself in the same spot anyway.
Finally, the last week before break was over. Wil stood with everyone else as her music composition class clamored for the door, many of them ready to pack and hit the road. She tucked her tablet into its bag and threw the bag over her shoulder, clutching her purse in her other hand. Rhonda would already be at home, obsessing and packing, and she'd promised to get home as quickly as possible to help her…still, she planned on at least stopping by the piano room one last time.
"Ms Monroe?" the professor interrupted her train of thought, and she paused at the door. A classmate cursed behind her and she stepped aside, making her way over to where the professor stood.
Dr. Jackson was no older than her parents, perhaps 45 tops. Flecks of grey were dusted in his chestnut-colored hair, and he had a wicked grin when he unleashed it, along with a fair sense of humor. He was fit, his trim build clad in a red turtleneck and dark jeans, and his hands were buried in his pockets as Wil paused at his side.
"I won't keep you long, but I wanted to speak with you for a moment," he told her, smiling. "Every year, at the end of term, we hold a recital for some of our composition students – a small affair, only 5 or 6 songs of varying styles, but it highlights some of the best work that comes out of our classes."
Along with a sense of humor, he had a flair for the dramatic, and Wil hid a grin when he paused and gave her an expectant look. "Yes, sir?" she asked, giving him exactly what she knew he was hoping for.
"Your piece has been chosen to represent the sophomore class this year," he revealed, face breaking into a huge smile. "Congratulations!" He turned to his desk and offered her a bundle of papers. "Three copies of your piece in print; you'll need to arrange your own performers for the piece. First rehearsal is at 6, downstairs in the performance hall, the first Friday back."
Wil accepted the music, tucking it into her tablet bag and taking a breath. "Thank you, sir," she said earnestly. She zipped the bag closed quickly, hoping to hide the shaking of her hands.
"And Ms Monroe – I don't have to explain what an honor this is," Dr. Jackson told her, and she nodded as she turned to leave.
"No, not at all. Thank you again," she assured him, clutching her purse as she left the room. She made it all the way to the stairwell before allowing herself a quiet squeal, pressing a fist to her mouth. Her piece – her piece! – had been chosen as the sole sophomore contribution to the recital in February. The class had been told about the recital, encouraged to attend if they had any intension to continue in composition courses, and it had been impressed upon them that no one should expect inclusion in an introductory course like theirs.
OK, Wil, breathe. She grasped the handrail for the stairs and started down slowly, trying to keep the bounce from her step. Her composition was an acoustic two part – vocal and piano. She quickly decided she would sing it herself; that would make it easy to get someone familiar with the piece in time for the recital. Accompaniment would be more difficult; the piano part was intricate and subtle, beyond her ability. She had composed it with her computer playing back the notes, having tried only once to play it herself. It had been a disaster.
Unfortunately, all of her musical friends had been shared friends of hers and Andrew's, and had all drifted away after the accident. Well, they had drifted, and she had pushed them away, the gaping hole where Andrew had fit being too awkward when they were together. Since then, she had made few friends, isolating herself…
Her feet took her the familiar path to the rehearsal rooms, and she stopped short. Of course! She did know one pianist, sort of, and he was certainly skilled enough to play the piece.
There was only one problem: they had never actually met. Wil didn't think the pianist even knew she existed.
With a frown, Wil reached for her bag, pulling out one copy of the sheet music and glancing it over. She had to try, she realized. The only other option was to find and hire a pianist she didn't know at all, and while that could be done, she loathed to do it. This piece of personal, a part of herself she rarely showed. She had taken a chance revealing it like this, and she was glad to share it in the recital, but to have a stranger perform it didn't feel right. Her pianist would understand, would know the emotion behind it, and could convey that like no stranger could.
Gentle notes flitted down the hall toward her, telling her that her chance was now. Straightening, she walked in an unrushed pace down the hall, then raised her hand to knock. She paused, biting her lip. Was this the right idea? Would they understand and accept the interruption? Should she leave her pianist in peace, find someone else? Swallowing her doubts, she let her fist make contact.
The music inside stopped the moment the first knock rang out, and Wil found the silence startling. In her mind, Andrew coached her to stand firm, and she tried to draw strength as she waited outside the door. She heard no sound from within, no footsteps of someone approaching the door, and briefly she worried that the pianist may not even answer. What then?
The tweeting of a phone sounded behind the door, ending as quickly as it began. She strained to listen, to get her first glimpse into who the pianist was – she didn't even know if he was a man or a woman! – but nothing came.
Seconds dragged on like hours, and after a few minutes, Wil sighed. No one was going to answer. Head hanging, she began to turn away, then froze.
The handle moved, and with a soft creek, the door opened.
Before her stood a man of average height, but that was where "average" ended. Wil's first thought was that Rhonda was wrong, and that Hotness was not found in a classroom, but here, behind the piano. His build was lean but sculpted, clad in black jeans and a coal-colored sweater, and his features were severe, hard lines drawn in high cheekbones and a strong jaw. His lips were a deep burgundy, contrasting sharply with his pale skin, and they were pulled down in a frown. Beneath a mess of bronze hair, his eyebrows were knit together, and he stared at her with intense topaz eyes.
"What?" he growled, and she took a step back, lips parting in shock at the harsh greeting. For a moment, she thought he might strike out at her somehow, there was such anger in his eyes. There were dark circles beneath them, though, and they reminded her of herself a few months ago. It was this commonality that gave her the strength to step back toward him, ignoring his anger.
"I know you don't know me," she started, "but I've been listening to you play for the past month. You're incredible, and I was hoping you would perform with me in the winter composition recital." Her words sped up as she said them, but even before she was finished, he was closing the door.
"No," he said simply, turning away. Panic gripped her for a moment at the easy rejection, and she thrust a foot out, catching the door before it latched.
"Listen, just look at the piece, all right? Here." She grabbed a pencil, jotting her number at the top of the sheet music and shoving it through the narrow opening of the door. "Call me if you have any questions. We rehearse in the performance hall here, first Friday back. Think about it?"
She held out the papers for a moment, waiting for the expected rejection. Finally, to her surprise, he took them from her, then shut the door firmly without another word. After a moment, the piano music started back up again with a hard edge, hammers hitting strings a little too firmly to produce an eloquent sound. It was no song Wil recognized, though she could tell there was a gentle undercurrent being lost in the strong way he played.
All she could do now was hope. Turning away, she left the music building behind and went home to pack her car; she had a flight to catch in the morning.