I close my eyes and take a deep breath as the curtain parts. I know the stage is set for music. They think I am an excellent pianist and extremely talented. They are not seeing past a designer evening gown.
A smile forms on my face. I enter the stage and wave. Polite applause fills the auditorium. I cannot make out a single face.
“You’re sure you want to do this?” Mr. Barlowe asked. I take the pen and painstakingly scrawl my name on the line.
“It’s mom’s piano.” I mutter. “I hate playing, but he could at least have let me play it one last time.”
Mr. Barlowe doesn’t argue as he hands me a copy of the agreement, but looks me straight in the eye. “Jen, we all appreciate what you’re doing. This benefit concert will be a blessing to many families.”
“Yeah. Sure. Whatever.” I snatch the paper and hurry away before he can add more to a wound pickled and salted.
I flex my fingers, walking calmly to the grand piano sitting in the center of the stage.
Mom’s earrings feel heavy and wearing her necklace nearly chokes me. I wish I could throw up. But that would prove dad right.
“No more piano lessons, Jen, isn’t that great?” My dad laughs as I look at him in confusion.
“I don’t have to go to old Mrs. Simmons anymore?” The idea is tempting and I think of how good it feels.
“Never.” Dad says suddenly, he looks at me hard. “You hated playing the piano and I know you can’t play. You only took the stupid lessons to keep your mother happy. She’s gone and took her music with her. Don’t you ever try to bring it back.”
“Never is a long time, Dad.” I say.
“Not long enough.” He pats my shoulder and goes on having torn my world apart. I hate piano. I love mom.
I sit carefully, smoothing the gown as I position myself. The keys are a mass of chocolate and vanilla pudding.
Except for I cannot eat them. Placing my fingers on the keys, I try to look as if I know what I am doing. My mind is blank.
“Practice your piano, Jen!” Mom’s suggestion is softened with “please” and the promise of ice cream later.
“I hate practicing.” I pout, dragging my feet.
“But you love playing.” Mom teases.
“No I don’t. I like watching you play.”
Mom pats my head. “Then someday you’ll play like me.”
“What if I don’t wanna?”
Mom kisses my cheek. “It’s inside of you Jen. Your hands will always know the way to bring your heart to life.”
I think my heart is dead. My eyes close and my fingers caress worn ivory. I can now feel the audience.
Everyone is waiting. I dare not disappoint them.
My hands begin to move, but not of my own accord. Music fills the air but all I can hear is my heart breaking in two.
“I love you Jen and God does too.” Mom says the words with her dying breath. Now I know the meaning of heartbreak.
I don’t know how much time has passed. I stop playing and someone touches my shoulder. I have to open my eyes to see them.
It is Mr. Barlowe giving me a tissue. He wants to know if I am all right, he says I am crying.
I don’t know how to answer that. So I ask him if my father is here. He says that I can stop playing now.
The concert is over. I move stiffly to my feet and see my father standing at the edge of the stage. I am vaguely aware of applause filling my head with pounding intensity.
Dad is crying. I hear him call my name. But I walk past him.
I wonder if God still loves me.
Mr. Barlowe tells me that we have raised a lot of money. Hundreds of people came. He offers me a contract.
I wish I could remember my name.
Dear God, please fix me. I'm broken and I need to hear your music.
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