Authors: Katie McCoy
Copyright © 2016 Katie McCoy
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the
author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or
dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cover design by Social Butterfly PR
You say potato, I say potahto. Let’s eat together.
It wasn’t going
to fit. Just looking at it, I could tell. It was too big. Way, way
too big. But still, I took a deep breath and tried to relax. There
wasn’t much I could do now. Somehow he was going to make it
fit. It was too late to turn back, I told myself.
Keeping my gaze on
Mark’s face, I watched as beads of perspiration broke out on
his forehead, wrinkled with concentration. We were both sweating. I
bit my lip and closed my eyes, knowing it would all be over soon. My
heart pounded in my chest.
I held my breath and
braced for contact. I heard Mark let out a low grunt and then
When I opened my eyes,
my piano was in the middle of my new apartment. I hurried over to
help him tilt it off the dolly, gently maneuvering it close to the
large bay windows that took up an entire wall of the loft. It looked
fantastic sitting there, beautiful and gleaming. Like it belonged.
Afternoon light was streaming in and already my fingers itched to
play a few notes, test the acoustics in the room.
“I told you it
would fit,” Mark said, making the same expression of
displeasure as he did when I messed up during rehearsal. Which seemed
to be more often than not these days. The closer we got to the
competition, the worse I seemed to get in rehearsal, my hands growing
more and more clammy and my nerves through the roof.
“Thank you for
helping me move it,” I told him, still surprised he had agreed
to do so.
“Well, you were
probably going to hire some idiot who would damage it. Better if I
just took care of it.”
I ran my hand over the
piano’s polished black surface. It took up most of the space in
the tiny first-floor loft I had rented in Lower Nob Hill—there
was barely any room for my bed and I hadn’t even bothered with
trying to get a table or couch in there as well. Not like I could
afford them with how much I was paying for rent. But it didn’t
matter. The piano was all that mattered. And somehow, Mark had
managed to maneuver it through the narrow door without getting a
scratch on it.
I told him again, but the frown didn’t budge, his attention
turned to the state of the apartment. I had loved it since the moment
I saw it, the old three-story building with six identical lofts, two
on each floor, with their own beautiful set of windows that curved
outwards. It felt a little like a fishbowl. But in a good way. Like,
if a fish had to choose its fishbowl, it would probably choose a
fishbowl like this.
Peering out my windows,
I could see into the apartment immediately next to mine—or at
least I would be able to if their curtains hadn’t been drawn.
You should probably buy curtains
; I made a mental note to
myself. Looking up, I could see the ceiling of the apartment above
the one next door, but not much more.
But when I looked back
at Mark and his frown, suddenly I could see everything in my
apartment that he had disapproved of. The lack of space. The creaky
floorboards. The ancient sink and bathtub. I quickly pushed his
doubts away. He was only my instructor now—he didn’t get
to tell me where to live, even though he kept trying. He had found
nothing but fault with my new place.
“Just continue to
stay with your parents,” he kept saying, the one and only time
he and my folks were in total agreement. “Why add to your
stress with another move?”
But he didn’t
understand that as much as I loved my parents, it was time to move
out. I was twenty-five and had never been on my own. I had always
planned my move back home to be temporary, just to get my bearings
after the break-up and find my own place. My parents had clearly been
hoping I would stay forever, like my sister. But they still couldn’t
understand—after years of practice and graduating from the
conservatory—why I had chosen to focus on classical music
instead of jazz like Nina. Like them. They respected classical music,
of course, they just thought it was a bit old-fashioned. They didn’t
mean any harm by it, I knew that, but it was still frustrating to be
around people who didn’t listen to what you wanted.
family of free spirits, Ella,” my dad would always say. “We
like to improvise, not follow sheet music.”
But I needed to follow
sheet music. Just like I needed to move out. But they also thought I
should focus on an instrument and genre that didn’t have so
many solo performances—the very thing that tended to trigger my
panic attacks. They didn’t understand why I continued to put
myself through the stress of performing and they definitely didn’t
understand why I had entered the Menuhin Competition.
to go,” Mark said, smoothing back his perfect hair.
I remembered being so
enamored with him those first few years. Back then I was just out of
the conservatory and he was the best piano teacher in San Francisco,
so of course I sought him out. I wanted to win the newly established
Menuhin competition and he was considered the best person to prepare
me. The competition was how I was going to prove to my parents that I
could succeed as a musician. It wasn’t the money I was
interested in, but the opportunity it would allow. The winner of this
competition would have a hundred doors opened to them. Secretly I
hoped it would allow me to teach. Even though I had a few students,
mostly kids, winning the competition would give me respect and
attention in the classical world. I would be able to take on students
like Mark took on me. And charge them the same exorbitant fees.
Because I would be worth it. And I would be able to keep my current
students at their current cost. But I was getting ahead of myself. I
had to win the competition first.
My palms began to sweat
just thinking about it, the skin on the back of my neck prickled. I
had made it through the first few rounds of smaller performances, but
each time had to cope with the panic attacks. I hated it, but besides
small coping mechanisms and tricks to keep me from passing out before
I got on stage, there wasn’t much I else I could do to battle
them. It didn’t help that Mark insisted it was all in my mind
and that if I just tried harder, I could be over them.
Was there anything more
pathetic then a concert pianist who was terrified of performing? If
so, I’d love to find out so I could feel slightly less like an
enormous loser who had chosen the worst possible career path for
herself. But I loved classical music and I loved the piano. I didn’t
know how to do anything else. Even so, I was getting to the point if
I didn’t win this competition—if I couldn’t prove
to my parents, to Mark, to myself that I could make a living through
my playing—then I would have to seriously reconsider what I was
doing with my life. Either I’d conquer my panic attacks, or
they’d conquer me. I had made it through the first few rounds
of the competition and I wasn’t ready to admit defeat just yet.
Mark had cared about
the music just as much as I did. It wasn’t his fault that we
hadn’t worked out romantically. As he had explained, I was just
too young. And undisciplined. And unfocused.
His talent had
definitely been the thing that attracted him to me in the first
place, though he was quite handsome as well. Tall and blonde, with
classic good looks, he was known throughout San Francisco for his
legions of female fans, as well as his talent as an instructor.
“Greek statue” was his nickname, though I was starting to
wonder if it was more in reference to his stoic personality rather
than his attractive face.
Even though he was
nearly ten years older than I was, we had connected over our love of
music, and I had moved into his place soon after we started working
together. But I had felt a strange relief when I ended things. I had
found his touches and kisses enjoyable, but it always felt like there
was something missing. Perhaps it was me. Mark certainly thought so
and made sure to tell me that our age difference—namely my
immaturity—was the real reason I couldn’t handle a
relationship with him. Apparently my lack of sensuality in the
bedroom was the reason it never would have worked out anyway. That
wasn’t a surprise. It had been at the root of all my other
break-ups. I was starting to believe that part of me was defective.
Along with all the other defective parts of me. Too bad I didn’t
come with a warranty. My libido would hardly be the only thing I
would send back to be replaced.
But then I thought
about one of my neighbors that we had passed on our way in. Tall and
lean, he had been wearing a torn shirt and five o’clock shadow.
Dark hair, thick and mussed like he had just rolled out of bed, and
well-muscled arms that were decorated with tattoos. Normally I
preferred my men clean-cut, with clothes that didn’t look like
they had survived a natural disaster, but my entire body had gone hot
at the sight of him. His brown eyes had caught mine for just a second
and I was pretty sure that everything below my waist had melted in
that moment. It was a startling sensation, but not entirely
unpleasant. One that I definitely wasn’t too familiar with.
Mark said, bringing me out of my red-hot memory. I felt myself blush
as if Mark could read my mind. He wouldn’t approve. “I’m
going to leave now.”
I said, shaking my head. “Thanks so much for your help, Mark.”
“Well, just repay
me by getting the fifth stanza right next time,” the Greek
statue said and left.
As the door closed
behind him, I was suddenly aware of how quiet it was. Back at Mark’s
place or at my parents’ house, there would be music—jazz
or classical—emanating from every nook and cranny, whether it
was my father listening to his favorite records in preparation for
his class on music theory, or my mother blasting the latest album she
had been sent to review, or my sister, Nina, playing the horn in her
own room. It had never been silent.
I flopped down on my
mattress that was shoved into the corner closest to the kitchen that
I was sure I was never going to use. Cans of Campbell’s chicken
noodle soup were what I lived off of. All I needed to survive was a
can opener and microwave. Unless my life depended on me locating the
box I had packed it in. Then I was a goner.
I surveyed my
apartment. It was small, but it was mine. I got a thrill. I was on my
own, truly on my own. And it was quiet.
Even though the thing I
wanted to do the most at the moment was play, I knew that there was a
good chance I’d get lost in it and lose track of time. I really
needed to unpack, so that I wouldn’t be scrambling to look for
my clothes and toothbrush and other necessary items in the morning. I
also needed to figure out which bus I needed to take to get to the
location for the upcoming round of the competition next week since I
was so used to coming across the Bay from my parents’ place
My excitement dipped as
nervousness rose in my chest, squeezing my heart painfully. No, no,
no. The last thing I needed right now was a panic attack. Taking a
deep breath, I reminded myself that the next round of the competition
wasn’t for another week. I had plenty of time to practice. And
now I could practice on my own, without Mark or my parents
interrupting to tell me what I was doing wrong. This move was a good
thing, I told myself. It was going to help.