Tentatively, I stepped inside. JC flicked one of the switches on the wall and a single row of lights illuminated enough of the room that I could now see. It was a fairly small room with nothing much in it except for a baby grand piano on the far wall.
I heard the click of the door behind me and turned to see JC had shut us in. My heart was pounding, my palms sweaty. “Did we just break into a meeting room at the Four Seasons?”
He shrugged as he walked past me, heading toward the piano. “I wouldn’t call it breaking in exactly. Nothing got broken that wasn’t already broken.”
My pulse quickened. “JC!”
“We aren’t supposed to be here!” If it was possible to yell and whisper at the same time, that’s what I was doing.
JC, however, talked at a normal volume. “Relax. It’s fine.”
Relax. As if. I was a rule follower. And this? This was definitely breaking the rules.
JC had reached the piano now. He pulled out the bench to sit on it then he looked back at me. For the first time since I’d found him on his mysterious phone call, he really looked at me. The way he usually did. With lust, with desire. With camaraderie. With intimacy. “Come on,” he coaxed. “Trust me.”
Always with the trust me. He had me with those words.
I crossed the room to him without another question. At the piano, I leaned into the curve and tried to settle my nerves by rationalizing the situation. Nothing was going to happen. No one was going to discover us. And if they did, what kind of trouble would we get in? JC was a valued client. He’d get a slap on the wrist. That’s all.
I managed to calm myself. Until JC pushed back the lid over the keyboard and played a few notes on the high end. “Oh my God, what are you doing? Someone will hear you.”
I detested how I sounded like a complete stick-in-the-mud. It wouldn’t have surprised me if JC were more than a little irritated with me about it.
He met my eyes, and I braced myself for his chiding. Instead, he gave a reassuring smile. “Gwen. Calm down. I’ve done this before. It’s fine. The walls in here are pretty thick. They’re designed to keep noise in. And if anyone does hear, they never complain. People like the sound of a faint piano in the background.”
He was so confident, so sure of himself. “You have permission to be here, don’t you?” I asked. “You’re trying to push my boundaries.”
“No. I don’t. I just want to play the piano. So sit down and shush so I can.”
It wasn’t his commanding tone that convinced me. It was the hidden plea underneath. I heard the need in his words. It echoed the unspoken need that kept me with him. Whatever had upset him from the phone call, this was how he needed to deal with it. This was his coping mechanism.
And for whatever reason, he needed to share it with me.
It shut me up. “Okay.”
I sat down on the ground and hugged my knees to my chest as JC started to run his fingers up and down the keyboard. Basic scales, but they were rhythmic and smooth and I suspected he had good technique despite not having a clue about what good technique was.
“I didn’t know you played.” I didn’t know anything about him. Why this specific thing I didn’t know was surprising was beyond me.
JC shrugged, even as his hands ran meticulously up and down again and again. One scale after another. “Rich parents who liked to occupy their child so they didn’t have to spend time with him.”
His response had been unexpected. He’d never shared anything about himself. I felt like a child clinging on to a beloved kite string in a windstorm the way I clung to this tidbit of information.
I wanted more of it. Tentatively, I pushed him. “They gave you lessons so they could ignore you?”
“Shh,” he said. But he nodded.
I might have said more, but his scales transitioned then into something familiar. A melody I knew inside and out. The piece was haunting and stirring and reflected so much from my past that it was hard to put it in context in the present. I closed my eyes and let the dark notes fall over me. Let them drown me in memories.
Her. Young. Happy. I could still picture her doing dishes while the cheap tape recorder played a collection of her favorites. It was her most cherished possession. Her only possession.
I hadn’t listened to the music in a long time now, but for a while, after her death, I listened to it all the time. Playing it until the tape had worn and long stretches of silence interrupted what had been her favorite sounds.
This song was equally bitter and sweet. Hearing it hurt as much as it healed. And JC, playing it now—I recognized it was the same for him. The way his back bent over the keys, the way his dynamics grew and subsided organically. He felt as he played. He felt deeply.
By the time he’d finished, I’d forgotten my anxiety about our whereabouts. He too, seemed lighter. His shoulders relaxed and the tension about him was almost gone. He took his hands off the keys and placed them into his lap.
He didn’t look at me for several seconds, for which I was glad. He’d played brilliantly. He was obviously a very skilled musician. And I needed the time to focus on those aspects of his performance instead of what the piece had done to me.
Finally, when he snuck a glance my way, I was ready. “That was stunning, JC. Truly.”
He nodded once, and I realized he was uncomfortable with praise. So strange. He deserved so much praise.
But if that wasn’t what he wanted, I’d have to connect in another way.
I swallowed the lump in my throat. “Philip Glass.” Specifically Metamorphosis II. I hadn’t known the names of the pieces when she played them, but I’d learned them when I bought a CD for Norma as a Christmas gift years later.
His head turned to me, his eyes surprised and pleased. “Very good. Not many people can identify him.”
There weren’t any solo piano pieces I could identify except Philip Glass. “My mother loved all his music. She was obsessed.”
I didn’t usually answer questions about my mother. But he’d given me a piece of his past when he’d mentioned his parents. It seemed only fair to return with a piece of my own. “She died when I was seven.”
“Complications due to pneumonia.” I didn’t tell him that the main complication was that she’d had her lungs kicked in by my father when he was on a tirade. It wasn’t mentioned on her medical chart either. No one looked into it. No one asked. It was the norm in the area I lived in. The poorest hospitals didn’t often spend much time on the cases of patients who couldn’t pay for their care.