The Piano Lesson
of Linda Piontak
by Andrea Lena DiMaggio
Linda discovers that even a tutor can
Tony backpedaled as fast as he could. The ball jumped off the bat at an angle that sent it flying in the gap, and he was fairly sure it would end up over his head, ending the game with a long hit. He leapt at the last second and came down with the ball like a sno-cone in his mitt. He crashed against the wall. As the ball popped out of the glove he had the presence of mind to use his free hand to catch it before it hit the ground. Three outs...game over...Tigers win…..He replayed that dream over and over.
In reality, the ball sailed over his head and the tying and winning runs scored. Ballgame over...Panthers win! He had slammed to the turf on his throwing arm.
He grabbed his sore shoulder. More serious than first suspected, he had torn his rotator cuff when he landed. Tendonitis quickly set in after the operation, and he found he would likely never play with the skill he had, since he couldn't even hit the cutoff man, much less reach home plate. At best, A or AA ball would be something he could shoot for. So he needed to explore other options.
"Oh fuck." Tony said as he looked over the college brochures on his desk. His Mom was trying to encourage him to look into a liberal arts school that might give him a scholarship for his piano playing. The tendonitis in his shoulder remained somewhat painful, but did little to dint his musical skills. Never the less, his Mom had arranged for a tutor of sorts, someone to help him hone the skills he already had. She had gotten the name of a very talented girl in his school who was considered to be on a par with any of the available adults in the area. So he sat in his room, waiting for the girl to arrive. A moment later he heard a soft knock at the door.
"Tony, can you get the door? I've got Skipper in the tub." Laura Menendez called out from the bathroom.
"Okay, Mom," Tony called back and ran from his room to answer the door. Opening it, he found a girl about his age standing on the porch. She wore jeans and a Forest Green sweater over a Canary yellow top. On the porch next to her sat a brown leather briefcase.
"Hi, is this the Menendez house?" The girl asked softly.
"Yes...are you Linda Piontak?" Tony responded with a smile. The girl seemed too quiet to be a tutor; like she was almost afraid of her own shadow.
"Yes," she said, holding out her hand in greeting. Tony had never shaken hands with a girl before. He reached out and shook her hand, feeling as awkward and shy as he thought she might have been only a moment before.
"I'm glad for the opportunity to help you. Is your mother at home? I wanted to thank her." Picking up her case, she smiled while looking past Tony.
"Oh, hello, Linda..." Laura said as she wiped her hands. Skipper, their Sheltie, came running out past her and sat at Linda's feet.
"I'm awfully glad you came; the school recommended you very highly. Thanks for coming on such short notice." Tony looked back at his mother as if to say, "Okay...enough already...leave us alone."
"My pleasure, Mrs. Menendez." This was a girl who would have curtsied if girls still did that. She smiled and looked around the living room, finally finding what she was seeking.
"Oh God! A Steinway Baby Grand? Mrs. Menendez…this is beautiful." Tony failed to see what all the excitement was about. Laura walked over to the piano, beckoning Linda to join her.
"Could I?" Linda was going to be helping Tony hone his already excellent skills, but she felt the need to seek permission to play.
"Of course, go right ahead."
"Thanks," Linda said, sitting down at the bench. She stretched her fingers once, closed her eyes and began to play. Reverie by Debussy played with such deft as Laura had ever seen, even when she had performed before she left the concert circuit to raise a family.
“Oh my, Linda, who taught you how to play like that?” Laura asked when she finished the piece.
“Ummm…no one.” She looked down at the keyboard, embarrassed.
“What do you mean? Are you telling me you taught yourself?” Laura’s eyes widened as Linda nodded.
“My Dad was a concert pianist. I sort of watched him play.” She almost winced, fearing that she wouldn’t be believed. Laura looked at her and smiled.
“He must be superb to produce a talent such as yours, sweetheart. Where does he play?”
“He was killed in Iraq in 2003, when I was ten.” She said which produced a frown from Laura.
Tony looked at her and felt sorry as well. “My dad died in Afghanistan about the same time. Sucks, doesn’t it?”
Tony’s remark was met with, “Tony, what a thing to say…That’s terrible!”
“That’s okay, Mrs. Menendez, I understand…it does…suck.” She bit her tongue to keep from crying. Seven years had done little to heal the pain that the girl still felt.
“He was so good, and he’d wait for me to catch up. He’d play a run and sit back and let me try. He never said ‘that’s wrong, but, here, Lee…’ Linda stopped in mid-sentence. “Umm, he used to call me Lee…” She looked nervously at Tony and his mother but saw no reaction.
“Every day! He never ever turned me away; even when he was practicing for a concert. He’d pick me up and put me on the bench next to him and play and stop…..letting me fill in or play counter-point.” She wiped her face with her sleeve.
“I’m sorry…I miss him so much.” She looked at Tony for sympathy and found little, seeing instead a blank expression; as if someone very hurt dwelt behind the eyes.
“I’m going to go into the family room and read for a while. If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to ask, okay?” Laura said as she stood by the door, leaving the two teens alone.
“Why don’t you play something, okay,” The girl said softly. He looked at her and nodded. Sitting down at the bench, he turned and asked,
“Does it make any difference what I play?”
“I don’t know, you tell me?” She smiled back at him, but her expression was one of almost secrecy rather than agreement. He thought for a second and began to play Chopin’s Polonaise. His fingers flew across the keyboard, every note in place, perfectly in time and nothing missed. As he finished he smiled to himself. He turned to her and she wore a half-frown.
“You don’t really care for Chopin do you?” She looked at the music sitting on the stand.
“Actually, no. I don’t really care for his melodies. Just doesn’t….I don’t know…..” His voice trailed off and he looked down at the keyboard like a child about to be scolded.
“Tony?” Linda seemed almost apologetic in her tone. The two were so tentative toward each other.
“You’re not in trouble. As a matter of fact, your playing is superb.” She smiled at him and looked at the grand instrument sitting before her.
“Then why the frown? You just said I was superb, but your face makes it look like you hated it.”
“Let’s just say I didn’t care for it. Because you didn’t care for it. And I didn’t say you were superb; just that your playing was superb.” She half-frowned again and looked down at her shoes. It was getting difficult already.
“What’s the difference? That doesn’t make any sense.” He shook his head and glared at her. It was getting difficult already.
“The playing was flawless; technically, you’re head and shoulders over almost any pianist I’ve ever heard, much less worked with.” She paused but quickly cut him off and resumed.
“But there’s no heart in your playing. You already told me you don’t like Chopin and it came out in your playing; you made no connection with the instrument or the music.’
“I still don’t understand; if my playing was flawless, then how can it be wrong?” Tony shook his head and wondered what he needed to do to impress her.
“Music is more than just notes. Say for example, you come up in the fifth inning. There are runners on second and third and one out. The time before, same pitcher, same circumstances, but the pitcher …does he pitch to you the same way?”
“No. He’s going to be more aggressive earlier, and more careful later.”
“And do you swing the same way?” She smiled, seeing he was beginning to catch on.
“No, Sometimes I’m less aggressive earlier in the game.” What’s this got to do with me playing piano?
“Well, for one, each time you get up, even if the circumstances seem the same, the pitcher and you the batter are approaching it differently, right?” He nodded and she continued.
“And if you pinch hit, are you thinking the same way as if you started the game?”
“No, I’m thinking contact….just get the run in ‘cause it’s my only chance.”
“So every time it feels differently, right?’ Tony smiled and nodded more enthusiastically.
“Each time you sit at this bench, every time you play, even if you’ve played it a thousand times, it should sound differently. Your run up the keyboard for a rondo should be different every time, since you aren’t the same person who sat at the keyboard the last time. Maybe you’re sad about something that happened that day, and the sad part of the piece touches you. Maybe you hit a triple the day before and you feel more confident. The strength and power of a piece might pick up on your confidence. It’s how you feel at the moment.”
“You said ‘the piece might pick up on my confidence?” What does that mean?"
“Music is organic….it’s alive, and the emotion of the moment plays back and forth between you and the piano…you know….symbiotic?” She smiled and saw he didn’t know what she meant.
“Like a pitcher and catcher on a good day….they work almost as one, right?
“Yeah, in tune almost?” He smiled at the turn of his own phrase.
“That’s how you need to be with the piano. You’re…”
“I’m the pitcher and I decide what pitch to throw?” He smiled.
“No, you’re the catcher. The Piano decides what to play based on the suggestions you make with your fingers. Like a curve instead of a slider; a fastball instead of a curve, right?” Tony nodded again.
“How do you know so much about baseball?” He asked.
“My dad used to take me to the games when I was little. Before….” Her memories of her father, as wonderful as they were, always brought tears to her eyes since they would always be in the past.
“I know, me too. He absent-mindedly put his hand on her arm. She pulled away sharply but said nothing.
“So….what do I need to do?” He asked.
“It’s not as simple as that. First you have to determine if you really want to make a connection with your music. If you can’t or don’t want to, nothing I can say or do will help you become a better musician. Oh you might win a competition or two, but without feeling, your music will be just well-played notes. But if you make a connection….wow!” She smiled at him and continued.
“Watch as I play, okay?” She placed her hands gently on the piano, closed her eyes and began to play Clair de Lune. Her eyelids fluttered and her mouth almost seemed to sing silently as her hands danced gently, almost like a slow waltz. She finished and her hands came to rest on the keyboard almost reverently as her eyes opened as if out of a trance. Tears welled in her eyes as she turned to Tony.
“My dad’s favorite piece. I feel him hold me as I play and it makes the pain hurt less; the loneliness goes away for awhile.” I love this piece, and in a way, it loves me back.” She blinked out a tear and smiled.
“I’ll never play with the technicality that you do. But if you connect? Let’s try something. Okay?”
Tony was becoming mesmerized. Linda wasn’t a beautiful girl in the usual sense of the word, but Tony saw just how much beauty almost exuded from her, like her soapy aroma and the wisp of a few hairs that fell across her eyes.
“I’m going to play that again. Place your hands on mine when I play and see if you can feel the keyboard talking back? You know….the piano responding to me?” He nodded and she turned her head. He looked at her profile and he noticed a slight raise on the bridge of the nose and a scar under her right eye. Idiosyncrasy can be attractive in the right context. He placed his hands on hers and she began playing.
“Right here…in this next stanza…my dad would always turn to me and wink.” As she played it, her hands sent a shudder into his, like a feeling he had never experienced. Unconsciously, he gripped her wrists hard.
“Ow…stop...oh…” She turned her face to meet his and their lips brushed softly before she pulled back.
“I…I think you get the point,” she said nervously as she stood. She smoothed the front of her jeans and turned away, her face turning red.
“Wow…you are good. My mother must be paying a lot for this, huh?
“Oh…um…I’m not being paid.” She said, glad that he had changed the ‘subject.”
“What…you don’t get paid for this? Why not, you’re excellent.”
“Did you get paid this season for playing centerfield?” She tried not to be clever, and even harder not to laugh, succeeding at neither. Her voice was soft and almost like a little girl’s.
“No…I’m in high school…I don’t get paid…I play because…”
“Because you love to, right? Well that’s why I teach piano.” She gathered her music and placed in her briefcase.
“I want you to pick three pieces out of your entire repertoire that you really like. I don’t want you to consider who would want to hear it or what it might do for a judge at a competition. You just play what you like, and we’ll start from there, okay? I want you to play each piece two times a day, and keep a journal.”
“What? Why do I need a journal?” He looked at her the way you look at the kid who reminds the teacher she forgot to assign homework.
“Three pieces twice a day, no playing Sunday. I want you to see if you notice any change, however small in the way you play each piece. Day to day….moment to moment after a while. Okay?”
Tony nodded as she walked slowly to the door. She backed up to the door, paying attention to him as he walked over.
“Thanks for coming by. Hey mom, Linda’s leaving.” Laura came into the living room and walked quickly to Linda, offering her hand. Linda shook it and smiled.
“Thank you for letting me visit. I look forward to working with Tony. He’s quite talented, Mrs. Menendez. She walked out the door and down the steps. As she got to her car, she looked back once at the house and frowned. Blinking back tears she started the car and drove off.
Susan Piontak had just gotten off the phone when Linda came through the front door.
“Laura Menendez just loves you to pieces, dear.” She said as she walked into the living room. She noticed that Linda wasn’t paying attention so she walked over and sat down on the couch, patting the cushion next to her.
“What’s wrong, honey?” Susan asked.
“I don’t want to go back, Mom. I can’t” She grabbed a tissue off the coffee table and blew her nose.
“Did he say something? What did he do?” Susan looked worried, but Linda placed her hand on her mother’s arm.
“Nothing, Mom…He’s really a nice guy.” She turned away and bit her lip. “Too nice.” She shook her head and the tears began to flow once again.
“Please, honey. What did he say?” Susan pled. Linda shook her head once again.
“Mom, I just can’t go back.” She turned her head and looked out the front window.
“He grabbed my wrist.” As soon as she said that she realized how her mother would take what she said and quickly corrected herself.
“No, not like that. You know the exercise I do with the kids, where I have them sense the notes thorough my hands?” Susan nodded.
“Well, after the exercise, he still held my hand. He was just holding my hand and I turned my head. We….we sorta ….kissed.” She put her hand to her mouth, as if she were correcting some wrong.
“That boy kissed you?” Her mother stood up quickly and started to walk to get the phone.
“No…no….Mom….stop…it wasn’t like that at all. I got startled and I turned my head and we bumped lips. Only a second.” She realized what she had said and she looked at her mother as if to plead for forgiveness.
“Oh, baby, it’s alright” Susan sat down again and hugged her daughter.
“I can’t go back. What if he finds out?” She looked down at herself and shook her head.
“Honey, we knew that eventually someone would find out; there was no way we could hide forever.” Susan’s own eyes had filled with tears. She pulled her daughter to her and hugged.
“I know…but….I didn’t want it to happen this way. Mom? He’ll figure it out and then the whole school will know.” She put her face against her mother’s shoulder and sobbed.
“I honestly don't think he'd do that." She said. "The time I talked to him on the phone there was just something about him, honey." She rubbed Linda's back and said,
"I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’ll get through this.”
“Like I got over Jeff?” Linda said almost bitterly. “It still hurts when I think of it; like it’ll never go away.” She shook her head once again.
“Oh, god, honey, I don’t know. Jeff didn’t mean to hurt you, you know that don’t you?”
“Yes…. But it still hurt. I know he meant well, but we went and got the dress for the dance. He kept telling me I’d look good. Mom…we’ve known each other since fourth grade. I thought….but then he didn't ask me to go. He didn’t like me that way. He didn’t make fun of me, I know, but he still to this day thinks of me…you know.”
“I know. I’m sorry, Linda.”
“Maybe I’m wrong…maybe I should go back to the way things used to be."
“Oh, god, no honey. You’re exactly who you should be. You’re my daughter, and there’ll be no more talk about turning back now.
“Mom, how did you feel when I told you that I felt…well that I wasn’t a boy after all? Did you get upset…we hardly ever talked about this, but I need to know? Do you just put up with me? Am I crazy, Mom?” Her eyes seemed to plead once again.
“If you’re crazy, honey, I am too! You bring me joy every single day.” She smiled.
“But that doesn’t answer my question. What did you think?” Linda was hoping at least for a soft let down. She really couldn’t handle honesty right then, but she wanted so much to know at the same time.
“Of course I was surprised, honey. We…well for the most part; your father and I raised someone we thought was a boy. When you came to me it was…a shock, but once I thought about it I figured you knew how you felt. Maybe if it was another mother’s child I might have felt differently, but I love you."
“So you put up with this because you’re my Mom? Oh god.” She started to weep.
“No, no…..I mean being your Mom helped me understand because I already knew you.”
“What do you think Daddy would have said?” Another question that begged both an answer and no answer at all.
“He would have had a hard time with it. He was a very religious man, and something like this would have made him ask a lot of questions.” She half frowned.
“I hope he would have listened to my answers,” Linda said as she wiped her face with a tissue.
“Oh, no, honey…not you. He would have had a lot of questions to ask himself, you know? And maybe have a conversation with God? I don’t know, but I do know in the end, he would have made it work…it would make sense to him where he could still believe what he believed and still accept you. Your dad was like any other person; he was human and he had his moments, believe me, but he loved you more than anything. You do know that, don’t you?”
“Yes…I just need to know…you know?” Linda looked at her mother, and Susan Piontak looked back at her daughter with as serious a look as she could muster.
“No matter what you have been or ever will become, you are first, last, and always my baby. You are my daughter. Okay?
“Okay.” Linda hugged her mother and got up. She looked at Susan and her eyes pled one last time. Susan picked up her expression and said,
“I’ll call his mother back tomorrow. You’ve got enough to do with all your other students; that’s true enough. Maybe another time, I’ll suggest. By next spring he’ll have another tutor and he’ll have forgotten all about you, okay?’ Susan prayed desperately that she was right.
Tony walked down the hall at the end of fourth period. He had planned on going to guidance to talk about the schools he and his mother looked into, but as he went down C-Hall he noticed Linda coming out of the Music office.
“Hey…Linda…wait up,” he yelled. The noise of the students in the hall may have prevented her from hearing, but it was more likely her desire to fade into the crowd quickly. Tony picked up his pace and reached her just as she was rounding a corner. He grabbed her arm.
“What…oh…hi Tony.” Linda’s face began to turn red.
“I…I just wanted to tell you….well, I’m sorry you can’t work with me anymore.” He half-smiled and let go of her arm.
“I really think you’ve got so much talent, Tony. I think you’d do well with any tutor, and there are a lot of good schools that should take a look at you.”
“Oh, that’s not why I wanted to work with you. You know the other day…I wanted to apologize. I never would….I’m sorry.” He put his head down fast enough not to notice she had lowered her head as well.
“I just wanted you to know that if your schedule ever eases up...well… you know.” He looked up and Linda was smiling but she had tears in her eyes.
“Hey, I’m just as broken up about it as you are, but geez?” He laughed at this own joke, leaving Linda to cry.
“Tony, please. I have to go.” She went to step away but he grabbed her arm again.
“Just tell me you’ll call me if you get more time, okay?” Tony looked into Linda’s eyes and he spotted something he hadn’t noticed before - fear.
“Linda, what’s wrong? Did I say something wrong? Geez, I’m sorry.” Tony put his hand on her arm one last time before she pulled away and ran down the hall. Tony shook his head and walked to his next class wondering what he might have said or done.
A few weeks later:
Tony was playing some jazz improv when his mother walked into the room.
“That yours?” She asked with a smile.
“Yeah,” he said with a frown.
“Still miss her? You barely know the girl.” His mother seemed to dismiss his mood, but he noticed the smile on her face.
“I saw her at the mall today. She was picking up some sheet music at Perkin’s Piano. She didn’t say much but she did say she’s awfully sorry she can’t help you. Mr. Contini in town is a great teacher, hon. I’m sure you can learn from him.” She half-smiled and walked over to the bench where he sat. Rubbing his shoulders, she continued.
“I’m sure if you call her, it might cheer both of you up. At least you can be friends in school. Her mom said that she hasn’t made many friends since they moved here apart from the handful of kids she works with. I’m sure she’d appreciate a call, okay?”
“Mom…I don’t want to start something that isn’t going to go anywhere.” He said to her as he lazily poked at the keyboard. The jazz had morphed quickly into blues.
“So if she can’t be your girlfriend, you can’t be her friend at all? Isn’t that selfish?” She sat down on the bench, pushing him sideways. She began playing a bass line to the tune he was improv’ing.
“Oh come on, mom. It’s not like we’re friends already. I’m sure she can find someone else’s shoulder.” As soon as the words left his mouth he regretted saying them.
“Oh shit, mom, I’m sorry. Can we talk?” She quickly ignored the expletive, since whenever Tony asked to talk, it was serious, and needed her attention.
“Sure, sweetheart. What’s up?”
“I’m worried about me. I think I’m sorta goin’ crazy or something.” He frowned and put his head down.
“Well, we always knew you were crazy, honey. You had to get something else from me besides your good looks.” She laughed and put her hand on his back and continued.
“Sounds like something really serious.” She patted his back. “Let me set the mood, okay.” She teased as she began playing an improv in a minor key, like a theme from a movie. He laughed and sat up.
“Come on, I’m serious. This is serious. Maybe the most serious talk we’ve ever had.” He half-frowned and shook his head.
“Is it okay for me to like boys?” He said it almost as if it were the worst thing to be or do, which he was convinced it might be.
“You mean like ….really like them? I suppose it would depend on you, wouldn’t it?” She continued playing softly and went on.
“If you like boys but you don’t think it’s right, you probably need to think about why you think it’s wrong. But if you like boys and it’s okay, then it’s more how you deal with other people’s opinion. Either way, it’s a very important question, and I’m sorry I teased.” She stopped playing and hugged him before continuing.
“But I have a question for you, okay?”
“Suu…sure. What?” Tony winced, wondering if he had just lost his mother’s respect. In fact, her pride in her son grew as she saw his heart. He wasn’t asking for himself alone.
“The way you acted when you found out Linda couldn’t continue teaching you; I thought you had it bad. Like with Nancy Vitrone last summer, you know? I don’t mind or not mind about who you like, as long as you’re kind and considerate. But I just thought that you liked girls, you know?” She leaned over and looked into his eyes.
“Well, that’s the thing mom…I do like girls…a lot. It’s just. Oh fuck.” This time she didn’t ignore the expletive. The look on her face evoked his sheepish,
“Sorry,” accompanied by a shrug. He continued.
“Linda is like nobody else I’ve ever met, Mom. She’s sweet and smart and really...nice, you know?”
“I know, Tony. Something about her makes you feel special.” She smiled, remembering Tony’s dad.
“Well, she is special, but I…oh fuck.” This time Laura looked at him, realizing this was more serious than she first suspected.
“What’s wrong, honey?” She asked with the look that only a concerned sympathetic mother could manage.
“I….I think Linda……” He bit his lip. He didn’t want to be right about this…He was torn enough, and another dimension to an already painful feeling was something he didn’t need. But he said it anyway.
“I think Linda is a boy.” It didn’t feel great, but it felt better than not talking.
“Oh, gosh honey. Why would you think that?” She wasn’t discounting what he said. Something about Linda seemed different to her as well; not bad or strange or wrong…just different. She wanted to hear her son because at that moment it was more about him and his conflict.
“I don’t know…something about her face maybe….the way she talks…not what she says, but her voice…it doesn’t…oh fuck I don’t know. Am I fucking crazy? Am I gay?” His eyes started to mist.
“Why would you say that, honey?” Again, she wasn’t looking to judge or analyze her son; only to have him voice his heart.
“Be….because…I still like her. Even after knowing she might be a boy…I like her...a lot.”
“Okay…that makes sense….that you’d wonder…if that is the case, honey.” She rubbed his back and tilted her head in thought.
“Well, I know you’re no more crazy than most people, so no…you’re not crazy.” She smiled at him.
“As far as gay? Do you like labels? Is that something we taught you?” "We" being her and Tony Sr. She always included him in their talks, since she felt his presence every day, and his memory was always in the back of both of their minds.
“No…I just didn’t want to disappoint you. You know?” He wiped his nose with his sleeve.
“Honey, you could never disappoint me…no matter what. But who and what you are isn’t a matter of pleasing or disappointing me. That’s what you have to determine; it's not my call, sweetheart.”
“I don’t understand? I thought you…I don’t know what to think.” He looked at her with pleading eyes.
“Who you are isn’t up to me honey. You may have gotten your dad’s and my genes, babe, but who you are to become is up to you and God I suppose”
Tony looked at his mother and sighed. She could feel the tension leaving his body as she rubbed his back.
“So the question you have to ask yourself is this: Not what is Linda, but who is she, and is she a friend and a good person and someone you want to be with, no matter what may or may not happen between you. Can you be her friend?”
“I think so…yes.“ Tony smiled at his mother. He looked at the keyboard. He began playing a familiar tune, one of his Mom’s favorites. After a few bars, his mother joined in and began singing.
“The best is yet to come…come the day you’re mine.” She smiled, knowing in her heart that somewhere her husband was smiling as well.
A few days later:
Tony walked down the hall. He had just talked to the baseball coach. They finally both admitted what everyone feared all along. Tony wouldn’t be playing on the team this season, or his senior year for that matter. No arm and no power equaled little opportunity. He had thrown himself into his music almost maniacally, however, as a sort of compensation. Mr. Contini was very helpful, and Tony had offers from six schools for a full scholarship based on his audition tapes and his competition successes.
“Hi Tony” He looked up and found that Linda was standing in the hallway. Her face was a welcome sight; even after being considered for admission into several schools, he still remained disappointed about having to set aside baseball, and he could use a friend.
“Do you have any time to talk?” Tony looked at her and nodded with a slight smile.
“Sure…I’ve been trying to get a hold of you to talk as well. Let’s go outside. I’m not hungry so missing lunch isn’t a big deal” He smiled and held the door open to the courtyard next to the cafeteria.
“I’ve been wanting to talk to you ever since you said we couldn’t work together.” Tony tried to smile, but his frown was too hard to conceal.
“I know…Me too. I’m sorry, but I was afraid if I talked to you in person, I might….” Just the thought of it made her eyes mist up.
“Look…I know we don’t know each other all that much, but maybe you and I could be friends?” Tony looked into her eyes, searching for some answer regarding her withdrawal.
“My mom says she thinks I can trust you. I’m not sure, but I’ve got to trust someone. I’m begging you…please…” She began to cry. He went to put his hand on his arm but she pulled away.
“Oh god…I can’t. I just can’t.” She pushed past him and ran into the cafeteria. He went to follow her but his path was blocked by two girls walking into the courtyard. By the time he got past them, Linda had disappeared.
“Oh fuck. Son of a bitch,” He muttered to himself as he stepped into a near-empty hallway.
“Oh Mom…I screwed up big time…Mom?” Linda walked into the kitchen just as her mother came up the cellar stairs, carrying a box of canning jars.
“Linda, honey, what’s wrong?” She pulled her daughter and hugged her tight. Linda began to cry; Susan could feel the sobs shaking the girl.
“I was going to tell him, but I couldn’t…I was so afraid. I just wanted to be honest, but I can’t…he’ll hate me. I couldn’t bear that!” She wept.
“I know this is so hard for you, honey, but if you want to be a friend, you’ll have to be honest, even if it hurts. I know you can’t tell everybody…maybe hardly anyone at all, but something inside me tells me you can trust him.” She stroked her daughter’s hair and continued.
“But I’m not going to force the issue. Maybe the time just isn’t right? Let it go for now, honey.” She continued to hold Linda in her arms. She squeezed Linda’s shoulder and pulled back.
“Let’s just have a girl’s night in, okay…maybe watch a movie? I’ll order something from Thai Palace.” She smiled and went to walk to the phone when the doorbell rang.
“Well, that’s awfully fast service.” She laughed as she walked to the door. Opening it she found Tony Menendez standing on the front porch. Laura stood behind him.
“Hi, Mrs. Piontak, is Linda home?” Tony asked.
“Yes, she’s in the kitchen. Hi Laura, how are you?” She smiled and welcomed a hug from Tony’s mom.
“Just great Susan. I hope we’re not intruding.” She smiled awkwardly
“Oh, gosh no…come in. We were going to order out for Thai, Like to join us?” Linda heard her mother and was going to rush out to stop her when Tony walked into the kitchen.
“We didn’t quite finish our talk. I think I need to say something. After I finish I expect you’ll either say I’m the nicest guy you ever met or you’ll hit me hard enough that my mom will feel it!” He laughed, which she took as a pause. She went to speak but he interrupted her.
“No, I’m sorry, but let me finish. If I don’t say this, I’ll never get it out, okay?” She nodded nervously, her eyes still filled with tears from before.
“I like you…a lot. Probably more than any girl I’ve ever met.” He paused to collect his thoughts and she spoke.
“No, Tony…you can’t…you don’t know everything about me. I’m sorry, but it’s true.” She bit her lip and looked under the pass-through into the living room where her mother and Mrs. Menendez were talking. Susan looked back and smiled, as if to say “It’s going to be okay.” What surprised her was Laura Menendez’s nod and smile. She turned and Tony was smiling with tears in his eyes.
“I had already thought how special you were when you first played Debussy. You really started to become important to me, but when I put my hand on yours…when I felt the emotion of your playing, that was it.” He smiled again, relieved that he had gotten that far.
“I know you respect my talent and my gift to teach. If I felt I could help, I would have continued, but I’d just get in the way of your progress. I can’t teach you.”
“That’s okay. I’m all set for school. If you feel you want to or you can find the time, okay, but that’s not why I’m here.” He turned and looked out the kitchen door window, afraid he wouldn’t get out the next part if he had to face her.
“Then what? You want to be friends? You can’t be friends with me, Tony. I’m a freak. You can’t be friends with a freak, Tony, it’s not fair to you and it would hurt me too much.” She was going to walk out of the kitchen, but Tony blocked her way.
“Linda…I know. I didn’t know right away, but I know now. And it doesn’t matter. You’re not a freak. Stop saying that ‘cause it isn’t true.” He grabbed her softly by the shoulders and looked her straight in the eyes.
“Let me go, Tony. I can’t do this. I just can’t. You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.” She shook her head and went to pull away. He held her softly but firmly.
“I know you’re a boy…okay? Oh…shit…not a boy, but you were a boy…I don’t know how to say it, but no matter…it doesn’t matter to me. I want to be a friend to you.” She looked at him and shook her head.
“No…no.no.no.no. you can’t. I’m ….”
“You’re Linda Piontak and you’re my friend…no matter what, okay?” He looked at her once again and back through the doorway to his mother. She smiled and she had tears in her eyes, matched by Susan as well. He hadn’t planned anything other than wanting to encourage her, but her tears helped him make up his mind.
“It’s okay, Linda. It’s okay.” He leaned close and kissed her. His second real kiss ever, not counting the accidental kiss they had before. Nancy Vitrone was pretty and very popular, but that kiss was selfish and meant nothing beyond the moment. This was entirely different; innocent and sweet with someone he cared about.
She kissed him back softly and tentatively, her first kiss ever. She surrendered to the moment, and relaxed in his arms. A few seconds later she pulled away from him suddenly. She looked into his eyes, not fearful, but calm, and she began to weep; not out of shame or embarrassment, but out of finally feeling that she was not a freak...that she actually belonged. Laura heard the sobbing and went to walk into the kitchen, but Susan grabbed her arm and shook her head. They looked at the tender scene playing out in the other room and smiled at each other and nodded.
“It’s alright” Tony said, over and over, while holding the sobbing girl. She put her head on his shoulder and soon her sobs were replaced by peaceful silence.
“It’s alright,” he said again as he stroked her hair. He looked at her and smiled, finally feeling secure and peaceful himself.
Polonaise Op. 53 in A flat major by Frederic Chopin
Reverie by Claude Debussy
Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy
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