Lightning in a Jar by Cole Parker

David’s at loose ends this summer and likes it that way, hoping to goof off until school starts in the fall. With his mom pushing, it doesn’t work out that way, however.


Chapter 6


Things were going pretty well, if not ideally.  There always seems to be a fly in the ointment, no matter how halcyon the times.  Our rose-colored summer had a thorn in it, but I tried to ignore it.  After all, I was still decompressing. 

It wasn’t that bad.  I just wouldn’t let it rise to a level of importance.  But it took some resolve on my part to maintain that equilibrium.  The problem all came from one source: Lute Block.  Why he was like he was, I had no idea.  But he just seemed to like to stir up trouble.  He had the outrageous idea that he should be running things.  He was careful not to act that way when Reggie was around, but otherwise, he was a prime asshole.  He was the pebble in the hiking boot, the F-sharp in the key of D minor, the stinger in the ass end of the wasp.

He didn’t make much sense to me, but everyone has known people like him.  He wasn’t happy if he wasn’t stirring things up.  He wanted to be in the limelight, and it didn’t make much difference how he achieved that.  If he couldn’t do it by being an angel, he was perfectly happy playing the role of the devil and taking whatever heat that brought him; being in the middle of whatever was going on, being paid attention to, taking charge—that was his gig.

The other counselors and I simply tried to ignore him.  We had our campers; he had his.  He was usually pretty easy for us to ignore.

He had a great deal of bully in him.  Perhaps he’d been larger than his peers during and since childhood.  But being big doesn’t make one a bully.  It’s in the genes, I think, or learned from experiences while growing up.  So, he was the result of nature or nurture or perhaps a combination of both.  In his case, the result had been the creation of a very unpleasant young man.

His interference with me hadn’t ended the time I’d dismissed him from my cabin.  Indeed, that may have been part of the problem.  Bullies don’t like being bettered.  I’d won that round; he hadn’t gotten over that, I guessed.

What he did was come into Fox occasionally in the evenings, unannounced and uninvited.  He simply opened the door and strolled in as though he owned the place.  He didn’t seem to have any reason to be there.  He simply came in, and when I’d stand up and move to shoo him out, he’d yell over my shoulder to my Foxes, telling them they were missing a great summer, that his boys were playing games and swimming and having races and contests and if any of them were interested in having fun rather than whatever boring, nerdy stuff they were doing, they were welcome to join him and his boys.

Other times he described the great time they were all having and some of the things they’d done that day and tell Fox they were missing out by having a leader like me.  He always managed some insult or other directed at me before leaving.  I think he may have seen something in my eye as I’d approach him while he was standing just inside the door.  Before I’d reach him, he was always gone.  Which was good, because I was decompressing.  But among his favorite names to call me was ‘chicken’.

But he was an annoyance.  I suppose I should have spoken to Reggie about him, but he seemed like a boastful rooster to me, more cock-a-doodle-do than anything else and not of any great concern.  I wasn’t aware that his anger at me was growing because I wouldn't confront him as the days passed and because I had the bad tendency to dismiss him disrespectfully.  One thing, just a minor one, really, was that I always used his full name, which he hated.  He had everyone call him Lute.  Everyone did—except me.

I think that was part of it.  He grew to more and more want to fight me.  But he wanted to do it outside, not in Fox where I had a right to protect and defend.  It was clearly my domain, my responsibility.  Out in the open, it would be his word against mine what had led up to the fight.  And frustratingly to him, I’m sure, I’d always managed to avoid him as our time in camp passed by.

Then something happened that would lead to a definite exacerbation of my problem with him.

It didn’t happen right away.  If it had, things may not have eventuated as they did.  But it did happen, near the end of our days at the camp.  And it involved Nick.  But that’s for later.



§   §   §   §



Luther walked into our cabin one night, just entering as usual without knocking, without invitation, acting like he was lord and master of the universe—and especially Fox.  The boys always looked at me when he did that, as though I should be throwing him out or teaching him manners or something.  Maybe I should have been.  Instead, I chose not to create bigger waves than he was already causing.  After all, he was only coming into our cabin and making noise.  That wasn’t all that bad, all that serious, was it?

This time, as usual, he wanted something.

“All right, you guys, listen up.  We’re having a volleyball match, your guys against mine.  Since there are only five of you, we’ll only use five players, too, although everyone in my cabin wants a piece of you losers.   I’ve reserved the court—nine-thirty in the morning tomorrow.  We’ll see you guys there.  Oh, and the loser has to make the winner’s beds for a week.”

He looked around, meeting eyes, seeing if there’d be a comment.  He finally looked at me.  “You got anything to say?  No.  I didn’t think so.  Cluck, cluck, cluck.”

I was sitting on my bed, reading my book.  I’d closed it around my finger to keep my place.  “You want a comment?  Okay.  Here it is.  Go jump in the lake.  My guys are busy and have no interest in volleyball or anything like that.  So, we won’t be there.  Beat it.”

“Yeah?  Make me.”

I chuckled.  Okay, it was a bit forced, but I chuckled.  “‘Make me?’  Really?  Do you know how elementary school you sound, Luther?  ‘Make me.’  Wow, you scared me there.  Glad I was already sitting down.  Well, okay, I’ll deal with this.  Here’s my answer: I don’t have to make you.  So there.  What do you say to that?  Why don’t you just get out of here? You don’t want to, you want to stand there looking like a useless hat rack or something till lights out, be my guest.  Just be quiet so you don’t disturb my reading.”

His face got red, as it usually did when I challenged him without standing up to face him, thus preventing any physical confrontation from happening.  He’d have liked that, liked to show he was boss, that the time he’d backed down from me was a fluke.  I wasn’t giving him that opportunity.

He stared at me until I stopped looking back and instead opened my book and resumed reading.  The door slamming told me he’d left.

“What’s his problem?” Rad called out to me.

“I think his nuts are sore,” I answered.  “Sore nuts are about the worst.  Put you in a bad mood.  Either that or his mother didn’t breast feed him long enough.  Maybe both.  Sore nuts and not enough breast time as a baby would make anyone grouchy.  Don’t mind him.  He’s all noise and no substance.”  I winked at him, then opened my book back up and went on reading.



§   §   §   §



Evan and I were hiking.  My boys were out doing their own thing.  Evan’s boys, the Wyandots, had been roped into a softball game with the Potawatomis and the Kickapoos.  All three cabins had boys who liked athletic competitions.  Evan had been watching the game, watching Luther over-coaching his bunch, getting in the middle of everything that was happening and not letting the boys simply play and have fun.  I was hiking and talked Evan into leaving his boys with the Kickapoo counselor and coming with me.

We hiked for an hour, only speaking occasionally.  I could tell silence didn’t bother him at all.  Some guys, silence makes them nervous, and they have to fill it with chatter.  I’d always felt very comfortable not filling the air with unnecessary prattle, especially in a beautiful natural setting like we were walking through.

The sun was hot, and I took off my shirt so my sweat would dry faster.  I caught Evan looking and grinned.  “Pretty nice, huh?” I said, and laughed at myself.  He smiled, and said, “You have no idea.”

Then he jettisoned his own shirt.  He was white as a sheet of bond paper under his shirt, and his tanned arms, neck and face stood out in striking relief.  He was also so skinny his rib bones were pronounced.  He did a turn for me, then said, “Just so you know.  Don’t want it to come as a surprise, later.”

“Later?  What’s happening later?”

He smiled again, this time lasciviously, and said, “Probably nothing, but who knows?  Best be prepared for the ugliness early.”

“You’re not ugly,” I said.  “Just underfed.”

He only left his shirt off for a short time.  Neither of us had any sun block with us, and he’d have burned to charcoal if he’d remained exposed like that very long.

We were on our way back, nearing the ballfield, when I had to stop to get a pebble out of my shoe.  “Go on ahead.  I’ll meet you at the field,” I said. 

Evan grinned at me and said fine, he understood I didn’t want him watching me taking a piss, that some guys had that problem, and he was glad he wasn’t a shy pisser or embarrassed by a small endowment.

“I’m not pissing, I’m fixing my shoe,” I said.

“Yeah, right.  You just need privacy is all.  I’m sure it’s your toes you’re shy about.”  He laughed and walked on.  I laughed, too.  He was always making ambiguous statements; he was a master of them.  Like pretending I was embarrassed about my equipment.  And not being terribly subtle about it.  I enjoyed the gentle teasing that might or might not be teasing.

I fixed my shoe, and while I was alone, as he’d put the idea into my head, decided it was a good time to relieve myself.  I was doing so when I heard voices up ahead.  Angry voices.  I zipped up and hurried on.

Coming around a bend in the trail, I saw Luther facing off against Evan.  Luther, always seeming to be on the lookout for the opportunity to pick a fight, had his hands clenched in fists.

“You want to say that again, right to my face?” he demanded.

I kept going and called out before Evan had a chance to answer.  “Hey, what’s going on here?”

Luther turned quickly, saw it was me, and scowled.  “This SOB just told me that next time I needed to back off and let the boys play, make their own rules, have fun.  He told me I wasn’t much of a coach and was ruining it for them.  He said I didn’t know squat about baseball anyway and would probably be better off coaching girls how to knit.  He’s going to get it.  He’s an asshole.  Like you.”

“You’re not going to do anything, Luther,” I said finally reaching him and moving so I was between him and Evan.  “Try picking on someone your size, why don’t you?  You only outweigh Evan by what, about 50 pounds?”

“Yeah?  I’m happy to take you instead.   Come on, then.”

He may have attacked then, taken a swing at me, but a couple of campers must have heard us, and they’d come around the bend and were observing us.  Luther saw them watching.  I could see the gears meshing in his head: if he attacked now, there would be witnesses other than just Evan who’d be able to say what they’d seen.  I saw Luther realize he couldn’t attack me, and he got even angrier.

“Grow up, Luther.  Just grow up,” I said.  Then I turned to Evan and said, “Let’s go.” I casually put an arm around his shoulders, and we moved off, continuing down the trail.

“You guys queer for each other?” Luther shouted at our backs.  I saw the campers wince.

“That the best you can do, Luther?” I called back.  “Kids in the sixth grade can come up with better lines than that.”  I high-fived the campers, who seemed to accept it all then.  They moved off up the trail as Evan and I walked off down it.

When we were a ways farther down the trail, nearing camp, Evan said, “Hey, you don’t have to protect me!  I know karate.”

“You do?”

“Yeah.  Watch.”

He started swinging his hands and legs around, moving like a constipated chicken, chopping the air with his hands and yelling, “Yah, hah, yah,” fiercely.  I watched for a few seconds.  That was all it took for him to be winded, and he stopped and panted, “See?”

I was still laughing when we reached the cabin and the mess hall .  He was trying to look mightily offended but kept grinning, ruining the effect.

I was getting to really like Evan.



§   §   §   §



In my daily walk, visiting where each boy was doing his thing, I spent more time with Nick than any of the others.  Who can explain the chemistry between people?  I sure can’t.  I just know I was attracted to Nick, liked his personality, what of it he allowed me to see, and enjoyed spending time with him.  The possibility was I could see some of myself at that age in him—the frustrations the violin wrought, the smiles at his successes, the struggles to get things the way he wanted them.  Except he was much more into the violin than I’d ever been.

He got frustrated easily, and when he did he expressed it in a number of ways.  Stomping his foot was probably the most humorous to the observer.  I never let him know how funny I found it; I’d have been banished forever.  He found nothing at all funny in his frustrations.  He was as serious and determined as anyone I’d ever known, no matter the age.  I felt honored Nick didn’t mind me being there while he was practicing.

When he was thinking about something, thinking hard, he had a way of reaching up and twisting a lock of hair around his finger.  He’d twist it hard enough that I was sure it had to hurt.  Sometimes, he’d come back for lunch looking like he’d had some sort of half-done, weird, permanent wave put in his hair.

He was spending a lot of time learning the Cesar Franck sonata.  It’s one of the most glorious pieces in the violin repertoire and was definitely not written with a 12-year-old boy performer in mind.  The fact Nick was trying to learn it and finding some success with it said a lot about how skilled he was.

As with most violin music, solo or orchestral, this piece required vibrato.  At 12, he had already taught himself how to produce a quality vibrato, a task that only can be achieved with lots and lots of practice; this piece demanded a pure vibrato, and demanded more control of it at different loudness and over the entire range of the instrument with different fingers on each of the four strings.  Nick worked on it without showing any of the frustration he usually adopted when things were hard for him.  He was making progress, even if it was slow-going, and that was sufficient for him.

The first movement of the piece depended very much on tone quality, showing off how wonderful the instrument could sound, and while he was playing remarkably well in tune, the effort he was focusing on his vibrato was subtracting from the quality of the sound he was producing.  The entire effect wasn’t what he wanted.  He tried over and over, just a few problem measures, and couldn’t get them to his satisfaction.  I could see his frustration starting to kick in.  Then he really botched up a fingering and almost exploded.  Frustration central!  I so wanted to step in, point some things out that would help, but I didn’t.  This was his own personal battle, and learning to control his emotions was certainly part of it.  

I never let on to him that I knew something about the instrument he’d chosen to play.  He wanted to learn it by himself, and while I knew that was the hardest and slowest way to make progress, I respected his wishes.

He’d sometimes mutter, too.  He’d be playing a piece and stumble over something and end up talking to himself, calling himself all sorts of names.  Whatever he did, he wanted it to be perfect.

I never offered any advice, only encouragement.  And I had to be very careful there, too.  If he thought I was patronizing him, he’d kick me out in a flash.  Happened more than once.  But I was there often and long enough that he got used to me and may even have liked me there.

The cabin he’d found to work in had quite obviously been used as a practice cabin at some point as there was an old upright piano in it and quite a few folding chairs, all collapsed and stacked along one wall.  The sonata he was working on was written for piano accompaniment, and I often saw him glancing at the piano as he worked.  I realized how much he’d have liked to have a piano player working with him.  It would have been more fun, and the piece would have sounded better.  As written, the piece is a bit melancholy until it soars in the final movement.  The piano brightens it, but just as the violin part is demanding for a violinist, the piano part is also a bear.

When I was done making the rounds of my boys that day, seeing how content they all were with their individual specialties, especially Rad and Zach, who had other passions to indulge in this summer than just their artistic ones, I found Evan down by the lake.  He was watching his boys as they were learning to paddle canoes without falling into the lake too often.  All were wearing life jackets.  All needed them.  But the boys were having a hell of a good time, laughing every time their canoes would tip over.

I couldn’t get Evan to leave them, not when they were on the lake, so I just sat with him, and we talked while both of us kept a keen eye on the boys.

He did most of the talking, probably because I wasn’t saying much.

Eventually, “David?”

“Huh?”

“What’s going on.  You’re sure not with me here.”

“Shoot!  Okay, yeah, I’m just wondering about how I’d import a piano player out here.  Nick would like one.”

“Uh-huh.  And if Nick wants it . . . ”

“Oh, come on.  I’m not that bad.  I just feel for the kid.  I do like him, too.  He works so hard, he’s so serious, and he hasn’t had much in this life.  His mother is working all the time when she can, and he’s so shy that he doesn’t fit in much of anywhere.  They’re poor.  His mom speaks perfect Italian and very little English.  His dad ran off after getting her pregnant and bringing her here from Italy.  She was a teenager, knew no English, had no real education, and she was stuck alone with a baby.  She brought him up alone, but it’s been a struggle—still is one. 

“Nick’s only here with us this summer because it’s free.  She’ll probably work more hours and save money because she doesn’t have to look after him or feed him this summer.  Maybe that’s part of his shyness, his home circumstances; I don’t really know.  I do know he’s gotten less shy in Fox because I have some really nice boys, and they’ve gone out of their way to include him.”

I stopped to swat a mosquito that had landed on Evan’s neck, then went on as he rubbed the spot.  “He’s working on a violin sonata that really needs a piano accompaniment for him to feel the piece.  But I can’t figure out how to do that.  I can’t afford to pay anyone, and there’re the logistics that make it impossible anyway.”

“So maybe this is another case of him not having what he wants?” Evan asked sympathetically.

“Yeah, and I hate that.”

“How much do you hate it?”

“What do you mean?”

Evan didn’t answer, just looked out over the lake and the boys.
There was a significant pause before he turned to me.  With a sneaky smile on his face, he asked, “Do you hate it enough that if I can find a way to unburden you of this dilemma you have, you’ll give me a straight answer on something?”

I paused, too.  Then, “You know, for you to say that means you’ve already got my problem solved.  As for the other part, hey, I’ve got no secrets from you.  Ask anything you want.”

“It’s not the asking that’s hard.  That’s my part, and it’s easy.  Your part is the answering, and you’ve already equivocated with your answer.  You might try the same thing again without a pledge.”  He smiled to take the sting out of the words, should I have felt there was one. I smiled too.  “Sure, ask away.”

“Okay.  I told you I was gay.  You didn’t react at all.  Now, we’ve spent quite a bit of time together.  We’ve become friends.  And you haven’t mentioned anything about my being gay.  Most people would have.  It’s just one of the things that have made me wonder.  So, I’ll ask: are you gay?”

“Why would you ask that?”  I was a little shocked.

“See?  Equivocation.”

“Uh, I just was surprised.  I’ve never been asked that.  Why would you think I am?”

“I don’t, necessarily.  I don’t think you aren’t, either.  I just don’t know—and would like to.  You’ve given me hints that maybe you are, mostly from things you don’t do.  You don’t talk about girls.  You don’t mention a girlfriend.  You were in the Army, yet you almost never use cuss words, which to me shows a heightened sensitivity.  Obviously, none of that means anything.  As I said, I don’t know.  But I can hope, and rather than hope, I can ask now that I have you pinned down.”

“How are you going to get me a piano player?” I asked.

He laughed, starting slow and letting it build.  He had the sort of laugh where anyone hearing it gets pulled in, and soon I was laughing, too.  We both sputtered out at about the same time.

“So are you going to answer?”

I nodded.  “Yeah, but it feels odd because of never having to answer it before.  So, for the first time ever: Yeah.  Probably.  I probably am gay.  The thing is, I’ve never done anything with anyone.  It’s not shyness exactly, and I think if I liked girls I’d have dated one.  But it just seems harder if you like boys.  There’s more at risk when you ask one.  In high school, I was sure long before I asked anyone on a date that I’d have to go into the Army to get away from my mother.  So I didn’t date.  If I had, I’d have looked for a boy to ask, and I didn’t want to go into the Army as an out-of-the-closet gay.”

I stopped and sighed.  “I’ll probably start looking for someone when I begin college.  It’s time, and I’m ready.  When I do get around to looking, I’ll be looking at men as potential partners, not women.”

He smiled.  “Good.  That’s very good.  Now I can . . . well, now hope can thrive.  Now, for your pianist.  I’ve got one.”

“You’ve got one?  Where?”

“One of my Wyandots plays.  The thought of him together with Nick, though . . .  I only know Nick from what you’ve said, but this guy, he’s about 180 degrees from that—outspoken, loves to argue about everything, questions everything you say, the most self-confident boy I can imagine.  I think he’d run over Nick like a steamroller over a pop can.  Still, he qualifies: he plays the piano.  He tells me he’s really good at it, and I’d think he was simply boasting, except he isn’t like that.  If he says it, it’s probably true.  But good enough to play top-notch chamber music?  I have no idea.  But he has told me he misses his piano out here in the wilds.”

“Then we’ll just have to have Nick audition him.”

Evan broke out laughing again, and he laughed even longer than when he was laughing at me.  “Audition Dillon!  Fat chance.  He’ll audition Nick and tell him that’s what he’s doing.  He’ll also tell Nick what he thinks of his playing, and if it isn’t up to Dillon’s standards, he’ll tell him that, too.  No, it won’t be Nick auditioning Dillon, that’s for sure.  It’ll be the other way around.” 

When Evan saw me scowl, he stepped back a little.  “Look, Dillon isn’t mean.  Not really.  He’s just outspoken and very sure of himself; it’s just who he is.  My other kids aren’t quite sure how to take him.  He’s a piece of work.”



§   §   §   §



When his boys were finished with their canoes, we waited till they’d all showered and were back in their cabin.  They were used to me hanging around with Evan by now and paid no attention to us.

Evan pointed Dillon out to me.  He was about the same size as Nick, perhaps a bit sturdier looking.  It seemed to me that Nick had actually gained some weight while here, making me wonder if he got enough to eat at home.

Dillon’s hair was a dark chestnut, so dark it could look black if the light was dim.  We had taken him outside to talk to him, and standing in the sun, I could see variations in the deep-brown color, almost like lighter highlights.  His hair was long and very clean.  He had it combed and parted in the middle, as some boys did, rather than wear it in the traditional mess.  Somehow, even without a dryer, his hair looked voluminous and soft, the sort of hair that made you kind of want to run your fingers through it.  He had a golden tan from being outside so much this summer, although for all I knew, he kept it even in the winter.  He was a very good-looking boy, some of that probably coming from the self-confidence that seemed to seep from his pores.  He stood very straight and looked me in the eye when I was talking.

“I hear you’d like to have access to a piano, that you’ve been missing the one you have at home?”

“Why?  You know where there is one here?”

His voice was both soft and strong at the same time, rather like melted bittersweet chocolate that is so, so smooth but has a bite to it and a sharp aftertaste.  I smiled.  The way he asked that almost put me on the defensive.

“I might,” I answered.  “Evan tells me you’re good.  Of course, that was just you saying that and everyone knows 12-year-olds are consummate braggarts.”

He gave me a dirty stare, but I could see a smile trying to work its way out, and his eyes got a bit brighter.  I could tell: he liked to be challenged.

“I do alright.  You know anything about piano music?  I mean, say, have you heard of Rachmaninoff?  Chopin?  Lizst?”

“You mean ol’ Serge, Freddy and Frankie?”

“Frankie?  Frankie!?”  You’re nuts!”  He turned to Evan.  “Evan, you’d better start keeping better company.  This guy’s disrespectful.  How could he change Franz to Frankie and expect to get away with it?  The others are almost as bad.  I’d say dump this guy, dump him fast, you want my advice.”

Evan didn’t bother to reply.  He simply laughed.

Dillon turned back to me.  “Okay, so you know them.  Well, I play pieces by all of them.  I’m working through the Rachy Preludes right now.  That good enough?”

“That sounds better than good enough, although you calling him Rocky completely obliterates your objection to Frankie.  Annihilates it!  Kaboom!  Okay, the deal is this.  I’ll get you set up with a piano if you’ll accompany one of my Fox boys.  He’s a violinist, he’s working hard on a sonata, and he’d love having the piano part to play against.”

Dillon was shaking his head.  “I don’t want to waste my time with a kid my age on violin.  I already know how to play Twinkle, Twinkle.  No deal.  And any musician, and real musician, knows it’s standard practice to call Rachmaninoff Rachy.”

I didn’t bite right then and join in a one-upmanship argument.  I needed to straighten him out on Nick first.  “This kid you’d be working with is really good.  I’d say he’s as advanced on the violin as you are on the piano, probably more so.  But you know, there’s no reason at all to fuss about it, and by the way, you don’t argue worth a damn; there’s no difference at all between Rocky and Freddie, and Freddie had a better sense of humor than your man Rocky, who was something of a sludge.  But that’s neither here nor there.  My point is, why not give it a try with this kid?  You’d probably have as much fun playing the piece as he would.  You might be good together.  You might even make a friend.  Whoa, a friend!  And if it doesn’t work out, what have you lost?  Think about it?” 

He scowled.  “Well, it’ll be a waste of time, but, why not?  Might be good for a laugh.”

I didn’t like the sound of that.  Should I tell him about Nick, his shyness, his retreating manner, his fragility?  Somehow it seemed I’d be doing Nick a disservice if I did that.  No, I decided, just let them meet and the chips fall where they may.

But, still worrying a little, I decided I should say one thing.  “Dillon, I have to tell you this.  Don’t laugh at him.  He’s deadly serious about his playing, and he gets his feelings hurt easily.  Say anything you want.  But don’t laugh.  You won’t have reason to, but . . . just don’t.” 

Dillon gave me a funny look, then turned to Evan.  “When do you want to do this?”

“No time like the present,” Evan said, and the three of us took off hiking up to Nick’s hideaway.



§   §   §   §



Nick was practicing as usual when we reached his work cabin.  Dillon grabbed my arm and just held it, listening for a moment.  Then he sort of smiled.  “This might be interesting,” he muttered.

I knocked, and we entered.  When Nick saw it wasn’t just me, he pulled back into himself and looked down.  I was sure Dillon saw that. 

“Nick, you know Evan.  This is Dillon, from his tribe.  He plays the piano and says whatever you’re playing, he can play, too.  So, if you want to hear this piece as it was intended to sound, you might give it a try.”

Nick looked at me, not the others.  “Can he really play?  This isn’t for amateurs.”

“Funny, he had the same question about you.  Why don’t you two try it, we’ll see what happens.”

Nick took a quick look at Dillon before dropping his eyes.  Dillon was studying Nick.  Nick walked over to his backpack, rummaged around and pulled out the piano part for the Franck.  He handed it to Dillon, only meeting his eyes briefly.

Dillon walked to the piano, set the music on the rack, then played a few chords.  “My God,” he said.  “It’s in tune.”

“Reggie told me he had all the pianos here tuned before camp started,” I explained.

“Wait a sec!  There’s more of them?”

I laughed.  “Yeah, I fooled you.  But it was for a good cause.  You’re going to enjoy this.  Trust me.  That is, if you’re good enough to play the part, which I seriously doubt.”

Dillon had been scanning the score.  He hit a couple of experimental chords, then looked at Nick, ignoring me and my barb entirely.  “You tuned up?”

Nick nodded.

“Start at the beginning?”

Nick nodded again and lifted his violin to his chin.

There’s a very brief piano intro to the piece before the violin enters.  Just hearing those few notes played, I already knew something: Dillon was indeed good.  He played with feeling, with understanding of the mood of the piece just from scanning the music even though I doubted he’d ever even heard it.  He framed the notes and the sound, and it was almost magical, the way the mood in the cabin suddenly shifted.

Then Nick came in, and I felt chills running down my spine.  I’d given up the fiddle when I was 18.  At 12, Nick was as good as I’d ever been.  He listened to how Dillon was setting the mood and played to that.  Their musical sensitivity fit together perfectly, and it was the first time they’d ever played together. 

And then it all fell apart.  Nick stopped.  Dillon heard that and stopped, too.  Nick said, “No.  No, no, no.  See the marking. It’s accelarando there, not l’istesso tempo. If you don’t speed up, the energy lags.  Follow the notation.”

Dillon looked up at him.  “Hey,” he said, “you do understand I’m sight reading this, and that you’ve been working on it for three years or so, and even with all that, you still were flat on that high B.  Did I stop to correct you?  No.  I let it go because of my magnanimous heart.  You want to try it again and see if you can get it in tune this time?”

“I was not flat!  Maybe you need your ears tuned.  Yeah, again, and try not to mess it up so badly this time.”

Dillon gave him an evil glare, then started playing like the angels were singing again.  When Nick started, the chills returned.  I grabbed Evan’s arm and pulled him to the door, and we walked out.

“Hey, they’re incredible!  I was loving hearing them play.  Why do you want to leave?”

“Because I just saw something I never thought I’d see.  Nick stood up for himself!  He argued back with a kid he doesn’t even know!  He just doesn’t do that.  He shuts down when there’s the least hint of a confrontation.  The only thing I can think of to explain what just happened is that when it comes to music, he has the confidence he lacks in every other area of his life.

“They were simply marvelous.  But we had to leave.  I want them to be alone so they can work out whatever their relationship will be.  They need to do that without our interference, without any adults looking on.”

Evan obviously saw what I was thinking because he nodded.  I rushed on before he could speak. 

“You probably saw what I did; they were both shocked at how well the other could play.  I think getting those two together might have started something really special!  And it might be the best thing ever for Nick.”


Continued


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