What He Doesn't Know(10)

By: Kandi Steiner

I sat my beer on the lid, settling on the bench as my fingers automatically moved for the keys. As the first notes filled the empty house, I found a little peace, but not the way I used to. It was almost like a fake assurance, a lie saying everything was okay when it was so far from it.

Music used to save me, but it had died along with my family three years ago.

A mass shooting. A man who might as well have shot me dead, too, for how he stole every bit of joy in my life.

I closed my eyes, trying to feel the song I’d been working on for my family, trying to capture what they meant to me in the chords I played, trying to portray the pain and loss I felt now that they were gone. I frowned, reaching for the right sound, one that seemed so out of my grasp.

The more I tried, the more frustrated I became, because no matter what my relationship with music was, it couldn’t bring my family back — and it couldn’t fill the hole they left behind.

My phone lit up on the kitchen counter just feet away from me, the loud vibration of it jarring me from the song. I tried to push past it, but the moment was gone, the notes I’d been chasing vanishing like smoke as I ran my hands through my hair.

I didn’t have to look to know it was my former roommate, Blake, who was responsible for the interruption. No doubt the text would be asking if I’d managed to unpack anything yet.

But I didn’t move to answer it, nor did I unpack a single box that night. I just made my way back to the sliding glass door, lighting another cigarette and drinking the rest of my six-pack until it was time to go to bed. I sat wondering how the hell I’d been hired to teach at one of the top prep schools in the nation, how the hell I’d ended up back in the town I never thought I’d step foot in again.

And how I’d managed to run back into Charlie Reid after so many years.

That Friday, I stayed after the last bell had rung for my first tutoring session at Westchester.

“Good. Now, when you’re practicing scales, I want you to take your time. Focus on your hand position instead of just slogging through. It may seem like it’s not a big deal, as long as you’re practicing them, but right now is the time to build good habits,” I told Matthew, watching as his face twisted in concentration.

He was my first victim at Westchester, my first one-on-one experience with a child and not a college student. I didn’t have it in me to tell him I was just as nervous as he was. When I helped out at Juilliard, it was always with already-skilled musicians who were struggling more with growing pains than actual music-related issues. It’d been more of a therapy job, which was also a joke, since I didn’t have a single thing figured out myself.

“Trust me, I wish I’d have put more time and effort into this kind of stuff when I was your age,” I told Matthew. “Would have saved me a lot of headaches retraining at Juilliard.”

He nodded, his fingers finding the keys again as he played through the same set we’d just finished. I watched him move, his hands a little more arched this time, his fingers skating with more ease over the keys. He still needed a lot of practice before he could move on to the more advanced pieces some of his peers were playing, but he had potential. And he listened. That’s all I needed to be able to work with him.

When he finished, I sat down at the piano next to him, gesturing for him to watch me play the same sheet of music. It was an easy piece, an old nursery rhyme set in E major. I played it easily, forcing myself to go slow so I could talk Matthew through some of the points I’d been making with him that afternoon. He nodded along, taking notes in a small notepad, and when I finished, he smiled toothily at me.

“You make it look easy.”

I chuckled. “You’ll do the same one day. Go ahead, run through it one more time.”

As he played the first few notes, I noticed Charlie leaning against the door frame just behind us. I squeezed Matthew’s shoulder to let him know I was still listening before strolling up to her, returning her soft smile.

“It’s nice to see you playing again,” she said first, careful not to talk too loudly over Matthew’s practicing. “I always loved to watch you play. Or rather, to hear you.”

“Different tunes back then,” I pointed out.

The corner of her mouth twitched at a grin, though it didn’t fully expand. “Yes. Much more angsty and sad, but you were a tortured soul back then.”

“Still am,” I teased.

“I’ll warn Mr. Henderson to keep the teenagers away from you, then.”

Charlie’s hair was up in a bun again, wrapped tight and sitting high on her head. Her long, slender neck was exposed in the dainty light-yellow blouse she wore, and even though it was casual Friday, she still wore a navy skirt similar to the one I’d seen her wear the first day. She’d been in a skirt or dress every day that week, and though I’d only seen her briefly at lunch each day, we were beginning to fall back into our old steps.

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