The Shepaski family had an old piano in the family room, but no one had played it for years. “It came from my grandmother’s house when she died,” Joanna told Shara one night. “I haven’t played it in ages because I’m usually over at church on that piano.”
“Is it in tune?”
“We had it tuned when the school pianos were tuned. Maybe a year ago. Feel welcome to tinkle on it anytime you please. And if you need help with any of the choir pieces…” Joanna hoisted herself out of her chair and took a step toward the piano bench where Shara sat.
“No, I think I’ve got that all under control actually.” Shara enjoyed her temporary position as choir accompanist. The music wasn’t too difficult, and, though she’d rarely been in a church since her parents died, the creaky confines of Rock Harbor Community Church gave Shara a sense of security. She put her hands on the battered keys. Maybe this loving God everyone around here believes in will take care of stuff for me.
“Momma said tinkle!” Emma giggled from the dining room railing. Joanna patted the child’s soft blond hair as she passed by on her way to her room.
“You hush, little girl, or I’ll come up there and tickle you!” Shara called, making the child giggle more. Nate joined her and the sounds of children’s laughter grew.
“I can be funnier.” Shara started playing softly. Kids are so easy.
“Yeah?” Nate leaned over the railing and watched her.
Both children fell on the dining room floor in a heaving, giggling heap. Shara smiled and kept playing softly. This was their favorite game. As the laughter subsided, Shara didn’t even look up from the cracked, yellowing keys. “Butt!”
The laughter echoed through the house. “What on earth are you doing out here?” Joanna demanded as she huffed out of her room.
“Bef’ny is saying funny words!” Emma chuckled.
“Really? Like what?”
“Nothing really, Joanna.” Shara stopped playing and looked up at her. “All I said was something like, ‘NAKED!’”
Both children roared anew and Joanna rolled her eyes. “You’re all goofy. I’m going to lie down.”
“I’ll send Drew up when he gets in,” Shara said over the din. “Now, you two, hush up and come down here. Instead of a story tonight I want to play a piece of music for you and see if you can make up your own story in your dreams.” Shara waited as the two arranged themselves on the floor near the piano. She smiled, remembering herself, a child no older than Nate, watching worshipfully as her mother played some magical piece of music that gave her dreams of castles and princesses and stars.
“What’s the name of the song?” Nate asked.
“This is called ‘Moonlight Sonata’ and it was written by a man named Ludwig von Beethoven.”
“Beethoven? Like the dog from the movie?” Nate wanted to know.
“Nothing like the dog. This man was a brilliant composer and he was deaf.”
“What’s deaf?” Emma asked.
“It means you’re not breathing no more,” Nate informed her.
“No, that’s death, Nate. Deaf means you can’t hear.”
At that moment, Drew opened the door and Shara stopped talking.
“Daddy! Bethany is telling us about a man named Beethoven, only not the dog,” Nate ran up to his father and hugged him.
“Yeah, and he was death,” Emma spoke solemnly from where she sat. “That means you can’t hear.”
“So, it’s music appreciation night?” Drew leaned his briefcase on the banister.
“A little. I thought I’d play for the kids before they went to bed.”
“Great. Bryan, you can put your stuff on the table.”
Shara nearly choked on the lump in her throat as Bryan walked into the house. She turned to face the keyboard. There was something about him that unsettled her every time they met. Shara knew without a doubt he did not trust her. In her few weeks with the Shepaskis, Bryan had come over to the house at least a dozen times, always cold to her and always, always studying her with his piercing dark blue eyes.
“Play, Bethany!” The children resumed their seats.
Shara put one tremulous hand on the keys and played the first chord too lightly. She continued, calling the music from her memory, her confidence increasing with every note. Minutes later she finished and the final notes faded in the air to silence. She looked at the children who stared at her with enormous eyes.
“Wow.” Nate could have been sitting in Sunday School; he was so still with his hands folded in his lap.
“Wow.” Emma was his mirror image and his echo.
Upstairs there was a smattering of applause from Drew and Joanna, who leaned over the railing above to listen. She turned to thank them and her eyes met Bryan’s.
“That wasn’t bad.” His words came in a flat tone. He gave her another dark look and climbed the stairs.
“Thanks.” She was, as always, uncertain of what he was really thinking.
“I’m gonna dream about fireflies at night,” Nate hopped up the steps to his room.
“Fi’fies!” Emma cheered, following him.
“Good night, kids.” Shara closed the piano lid and followed them upstairs. Drew and Joanna led the children to their rooms for nighttime prayers. Bryan sat at the table and worked on the papers in front of him. Shara crossed the dining room to the kitchen to get a diet cola.
“Why do you drink that crap?” He arranged papers and books in front of him.
“I like it.”
“No one likes it. You women just drink it so we all think you’re on a diet.”
Shara looked at him. Head bent over his books, Bryan wasn’t even looking at her. “I don’t know about other women. I know I drink it because I like it. It’s not as sweet as regular soda.”
“I have to walk over to church and run through the hymns for Sunday.” She passed by the table and went back downstairs.
“Don’t get lost.”
“I doubt I’ll have trouble crossing the parking lot.” She looked up at him as she put on her coat.
He gave her a quick glance. “You never know.”
She shook her head and closed the door behind her. “How someone so rude ever got to be friends with Drew and Joanna, I’ll never know,” Shara muttered on her way across the parking lot to the church.