I wrote this up last night. It felt so good to write a short story without having to worry about making an entire book out of it. It gave me an odd sense of freedom, of release, of free spiritedness – and then… as I finished it… I realized… it might actually need subsequent short stories. Which my sister aptly named ‘chapters.’ Another project. But I look forward to it ^_^ Because I’m already in love with Cassie and Eli!
The Department-store Pianist
I didn’t like fancy department stores. From the crystal chandeliers to the frozen-faced mannequins sporting designer clothes, it all gave off a feeling of overwhelming snobbery. Even the people there seemed snobbier, like they knew I was only a middle-class citizen who didn’t belong. The only reason I was here was because my sister Cora needed a new pair of dress shoes to wear to her best friend’s wedding, and apparently I was a ‘second opinion.’ However, the minute we entered the shoe department, she seemed to forget my existence. I meandered through the evening gowns and jewelry, but after forty-five minutes I found myself in the furniture department, bored. I sat down in a large, welcoming chair. It was plush, leather, and cost three thousand dollars, but I didn’t care. I curled up and waited. I felt out of place – me, in my jeans and tee shirt – in a place where the air itself breathed class, elegance, and wealth. I wasn’t exactly dirt-poor – I went to a nice school, and it wasn’t as if I didn’t get three meals a day. But… I sighed.
A smooth grand piano shone like an onyx mirror in the center of the department. I couldn’t play it – I couldn’t play any instrument. I drew – I doodled on everything. Notebooks, paper napkins, my leg – but I was out of my league when it came to playing the piano. I watched through half-closed eyes as people filtered in and out of the department, dithering over expensive couch-and-ottoman sets and looking at me as if I were an out-of-place display. One woman came in, probably in her forties, who looked as if she ate the aforementioned class + elegance + wealth mix for breakfast. Her hair was perfectly cut and styled, her sharp, dark eyes searched for flaws in the coffee table she studied, and she wore her dress with all the professional style of a model-turned-businesswoman. But it was not she who caught my eye; it was the boy who stood slightly behind her. I guessed he was her son, and when they came a little closer I realized he did not really fit the category ‘boy.’ He looked to be eighteen or nineteen, and while he wore nothing fancy – just jeans and a button-up shirt – they still looked expensive. Calvin Kline, I guessed. The guy was taller than his mother by at least five inches and his dark, tousled hair was pulled carelessly into a short ponytail. He was really cute – I couldn’t help but notice – but there seemed to be something a little ‘off’ about him. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, as he stood with his hands in his pockets and his beautiful dark eyes staring blankly at his posh surroundings.
I wanted to draw him, but I had nothing to draw on except my hand (which doesn’t bother me) and I had no pen (which stopped the endeavor before it began). I had almost fifteen minutes to observe him walk silently behind his mother as she examined various pieces of furniture, and I recognized what was ‘off’ about him. He was autistic. I knew several autistic kids from my art class – none of them had it too badly, and they were nice enough even though I had never had a long in-depth conversation with them.
I heard the mother say something gently to her son, and he looked down at her and nodded with that same vacant expression on his face. I felt bad for him. He had all the makings of a model, but there was no life in his eyes – just empty. I stifled a sigh and watched as the mother left, leaving her son standing awkwardly in the middle of the department.
He walked with slow, deliberate steps toward the piano in the middle of the room, and I found myself glancing around for any sign of a store employee. If he sat down at that piano, he would most likely be hauled outside. After all, it was baby grand Steinway and probably cost at least a hundred thousand.
I bit my lip as he sat down on the bench and let his fingers run over the pristine white keys. You’re going to bring management down on you, I thought, silently urging this guy not to embarrass himself. He pressed down on a key I couldn’t identify, and I winced. Here it comes.
But instead of the tuneless pounding I had expected, I heard the first few notes of a song even I recognized – Fur Elise. I loosened my grip on the arms of the chair and straightened, watching him. He was probably twenty yards away, so I stood up and walked closer. I approached him from behind, so as not to startle him. The simplistic sound of his first few notes became more complicated as his left hand joined his right, and then he was playing. Really playing. I had never heard more passion, more feeling, poured into one song. It was mesmerizing, I found myself holding my breath as the notes rose in a crescendo and his fingers flew with astonishing speed, so fast I thought he would stumble. He didn’t. His notes flowed like a waterfall, and I stood within ten feet of him, watching with wide eyes.
I wanted to watch his hands, but I found myself drawn to his face. In place of the void there was life; his dark eyes almost sparkled with energy and sheer pleasure as his long fingers danced with the keys. I had never liked Fur Elise that much before, but as he played it became my favorite song.
All too soon, it drew to a close and the piano fell silent. He dropped his hands to his lap and stared at the instrument for a moment, as if he was gazing into the face of a lover.
“Excuse me, sir, I’m going to have to ask you to please step away from the piano.”
I was jerked out of the fantasy world my mind had entered and I realized an employee stood there, all dress suit and polished nails and falsely sympathetic expression. The tag on her lapel read ‘department manager.’ The young man looked at her for a moment as if he did not know why her voice was harsh, and then he turned his head and looked at me.
My heart skipped a beat. I hadn’t expected him to notice me. He blushed, a faint touch of pink, and looked away.
He stood up and walked away from the piano with those slow, cautious steps, as if the world was going to leap out and attack him. I stood, feeling sad for some reason I couldn’t explain. The manager looked at him with an eagle-like expression, shot the same sharp look toward me, and left the department with clicking heels.
I wanted to say something. Wow, you’re really good. That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard. Where did you learn to play? Don’t mind the department manager. Thank you for playing.
But before I could pluck up the nerve, before I could get my mouth open, his mother came back, walking toward her son with a harried expression. She barely glanced at me before taking his arm. I heard her say “Come on, Eli.”
As they walked out the door, he turned and looked over his shoulder at me. His eyes met mine for a brief moment, and I could have sworn that the faintest of smiles touched his face. It was gone too soon, like a ray of sunshine that peeks through the clouds for a split second before it is smothered.
That was the last I saw of him. That was six months ago, in June. I haven’t forgotten him, though, and for some reason I think of him as mine.
My strange department store pianist with the dark eyes and the entrancing music and the faint did-I-imagine-it smile.
I want to tell him ‘thank you for playing.’
I hope I see him again.