Dinner was always the worst part of the day.
It was the time his parents chose to discuss his future – the future they’d planned for him. As Miles sat across from his father, picking at his food, he tried to drown out the conversation with his own thoughts.
He’d made up a plan to return the notebook. The Girl was bound to return to the park eventually. He’d continue using the route he always had, bringing the notebook with him wherever he went. Then, when he next saw her, he’d return it. Easy.
And when he did, maybe he could ask for her name this time. If he could manage to spit the question out.
As he ate, he tried to keep his eyes away from his father to discourage conversation. He ended up staring at the picture on the wall.
It was of Andrew. It had been taken at some sort of event – a tournament, winning a prize, something like that. Miles' older brother’s eyes stared at him: always there, always watching. It had been like that for years, ever since he’d died. Miles sometimes wondered if his mother had put the picture there on purpose, so Andrew could be with the family during meals. It seemed like the strange, desperate thing she’d do.
In the picture, Miles’ brother looked happy, smiling that bright, charming smile everyone always praised him for. People remembered him like that – the good, ideal version of him. Not the partying, drunken version who’d gotten himself killed.
“You have soccer practice tomorrow, right, Miles?” His father’s voice cut through Miles’ thoughts.
He had to look up to meet the man’s hazel-colored eyes; eyes Miles had inherited. “Yeah.”
“And I trust that’s going well?”
Miles thought back to last week’s practice. How Coach Evans had yelled at him for missing a goal. How ragged he felt after practice. How his teammates completely ignored him, except for Zachary.
“It…it’s fine,” he said after a moment. His dad wouldn’t want to hear that it was going badly. That might disappoint him.
“I’ve heard you’re doing well,” his mom jumped in. She pushed a strand of her chestnut-brown hair away from her face so she could adjust her glasses closer to her eyes. “Not as good as Andrew was, of course.”
“He’s going to be better than Andrew,” his father responded. He looked to Miles. “Whatever it takes, make sure you surpass him. Extra practice, new kinds of training – anything.”
Miles looked down at his hands. You should be honest with them, he told himself. Say how you just want to quit. Stand up for yourself.
But instead, all he said was, “I will.”
His father looked pleased.
“I’m so glad you quit piano to start soccer,” his mother commented. “It was about time you started doing something useful.”
“And a good thing that we sold that piano,” added his father. “It took up too much room, anyways.”
The reminder of the beautiful, hand-made piano that used to sit in the living room made Miles’ shoulders slump. How many hours had he spend in front of it, pouring his soul into his music, spilling all his emotions into each key, each note? It was gone now: all because his parents decided it was distracting him from ‘more important things’.
“Besides,” his mom added, taking a bite of food. “Being part of a soccer team will be better for your university applications. Much more than just knowing how to play an instrument.” She swallowed. “Being from a small town and all, you have to do what you can to stand out.”
Miles nodded silently. He knew his mom had a point. Against students from bigger cities, he didn’t stand a chance. Not if ‘piano classes’ was one of his main achievements – regardless of how much he’d loved it.
“Speaking of schools,” his father cut in. “You need to get serious about university, Miles. It’s really late in the game to apply.”
“I could always wait a year,” he said quietly. He pushed his food around on his plate, not having much of an appetite. “Graduating early means I have extra time. It wouldn’t hurt to get some more work experience before going to college.”
Graduating a year ahead had been one of his greatest achievements. Of course, it would have been nice if it had been his choice, his accomplishment, not something his father had pressed him to do. ’Andrew didn’t manage to graduate early, no matter how hard he tried’, the man had said. ’You’re smarter than he was. You’ll be the one to do it.’
“You know what school you want to go to,” his father pointed out. “And you have the program in mind. There’s nothing to wait for.”
No, you know what school you want me to go to. A school that’s halfway across the country, with a program I don’t want. Miles felt his stomach twist. The words were on the tip of his tongue, waiting to be spoken. He swallowed them, then mumbled an apology.
Without saying anything else, he stood up and took his plate to the sink, then headed upstairs. His mother’s disapproving gaze followed him. He tried to ignore it, but a part of him wanted to stay, to apologize again. Instead, he headed up to his room.
When he walked in, he found Rocky lying in a small ball of fur on his bed. The elderly cat lifted his head when Miles walked in, giving him a blank stare in greeting. Miles smiled to himself and rubbed the cat’s graying ears.
“Haven’t see you much today,” he said. “How’s it going?”
In response, Rocky just went back to sleep.
Sighing, Miles headed to his desk, which sat against the wall next to his bed. The shelving on the wall stretched high above him, almost to the ceiling, housing books, writing supplies, and the occasional plane model. He’d spent hours at this desk, hunched over pages of writings and poetry. After losing music, writing poetry had become his main creative outlet. The hours he’d used to spend at the piano were lived here, in his chair, scribbling his soul onto a page.
He sat down and opened a worn leather journal. As he did, he noticed the Girl’s notebook on the edge of the desk, where he’d put it earlier. It looked like a little piece of joy, a streak of color against the dull background of his room.
For a moment, he was tempted to peek inside. To see what she was always drawing. He banished that thought almost instantly; she deserved her privacy.
He took a pencil from meticulously placed pencil-holder, then tapped the point against the page, thinking of the words to write.
His parents’ voices floated through the crack under his door. He instinctively hunched his shoulders, as if he had something to hide. Not even his own mother knew about the poems he spent hours writing. There were times where he’d been tempted to tell her, to tell anyone, but he knew what the response would be.
‘You should focus on more important things.’
‘Andrew never wrote poetry.’
He pushed those thoughts away. They didn’t belong here – not in his room, his small sanctuary. Here, it was just him and the page.
And, of course, Rocky, who had now fallen asleep on the bed.
Miles waited for a moment, letting the words twirling in his mind settle down. His thoughts wandered to his parents’ comments about the piano – those brought back memories of when he used to create music, years ago. The ring of each key as he pressed it, the feeling of being one with the instrument, like it was an extension of himself. The complete peace of playing. He hadn’t felt that peace since he’d given music up for his parents’ sake. Maybe he could recreate it through poetry.
Slowly, he began to write.
Music soars and dips.
It softens hearts
and speaks words unsaid.
It takes emptiness
and makes it whole.
It takes tears
and makes them sing.
He stopped writing. He’d barely gotten anything on the page, but…he couldn’t write about this. He wanted to, yes – he desperately needed to express his love for music, for playing, the thing that he’d thrown away – but…if he wrote this, it would just drag him back. It would just remind him that those feelings of wholeness and freedom were gone now. That he’d given them up to focus on other things, for no reason other than the wishes of his parents.
He had to let go of it. Music. Piano. He had to leave it behind, just like he’d one day have to leave poetry, no matter how much that would hurt.
He shut the notebook, cutting off his unsaid words and ignoring spike of pain that shot through his chest when he did.
It was best to stop while he was ahead.