Expectations

I tested well on the various computer programs old Millie (I somehow forgot to call her that to her face) placed in front of me and aced the spelling exam. I won a few spelling bees when I was a younger man but I kept that to myself – I didn’t want to overwhelm the poor woman with my greatness.

I excused myself from the typing test, knowing that my knuckles were not healed enough to allow me to best a two year old. Then again, they probably give out laptops to newborns on their way out the hospital door these days, so maybe that’s a poor comparison.

I left, promising to return to complete my assessment later in the week, and spent the afternoon at the gym doing cardio and shooting the breeze with the boys. I noticed that Denis was still there but left him to his workout, not yet ready to explore that avenue.

The following day passed quickly and after a quiet dinner at home with Cara I headed out for my first piano lesson. When I kissed her on the cheek on my way out the door she shook her head, smirked at me and said something about her old man going soft in a hurry.

“Show some respect to your elders, pipsqueak,” I chided and closed the door between us before she could respond.

The name and address were scribbled on the back of a torn envelope stuffed in my jacket pocket: Don, 2240 Parker Street, front door. I left later than I had intended so, not wanting to upset the man by showing up late, I caught a taxi to Vancouver’s East Side.

The house was nicer than some on the block, more run down than others - a two storey red and grey structure with a front porch that looked to be barely keeping it together and a well tended garden in the front yard. The receptionist for Piano Dreams had mentioned that I might want to avoid the second step from the top and I thought it wise to not ignore advice like that.

I rang the doorbell and tried my best to not look too much like a rent collecting thug. Standing just over six feet tall, with a cruiserweight’s build and a clean shaven head, it was no easy task but I did what I could. It wouldn’t do to intimidate the frail music geek who I was sure would be peering through the peephole at any second.

I took my hands out of my pockets and let them hang loosely at my sides, then shoved them back in moments later. I cracked my neck, first to the left, then to the right, before forcing myself to be still.

I was caught off guard when the door was swung open – I hadn’t heard any footsteps approaching. I was even more surprised by who stood on the other side.

“You must be Nate then?” The woman in the doorway was only a few inches shorter than me, with short black hair hanging just below her ears and a runner’s body which was hidden poorly by black dress pants and a snug red sweater. Thin, black rimmed glasses, perched on a modestly pierced nose, framed deep brown eyes which were regarding me with open curiosity. “I’m sorry, you’re not quite what I was expecting – I’m Dawn, pleased to meet you.”

She stuck out a finely fingered hand which was covered with a lingering tan and I swallowed it up with my rough, over-sized mitt. She was warm and gentle in a hand that had known only brute force and gym sweat for too many years. I felt like I was soiling her purity.

“No need to apologize,” I told her. “I could say the same about you.”

“Disappointed to not be learning from a skinny guy with acne scars and an all black wardrobe?” She let loose a whip-quick laugh before turning apologetic again. “Oh, please, come in – I didn’t mean to leave you standing out there all night.”

She stood back and welcomed me into her home with a graceful sweep of her arm. The movement reminded me of a ballerina, like the one I took Cara to when I was still under the impression I was raising a lady. That hadn’t ended well at all – she decided five minutes into her first lesson that the other kids in her class were "girly airheads that were suffering from princess complexes,” and she was not shy about letting them know it. One of the girls had the audacity to slap her for that observation and Cara promptly dropped her with a right cross to the chin.

I’d had trouble that night pretending I wasn’t proud of her while I grounded her for two weeks. I never did tell her that for the next six months all the boys at the gym called her “KO Cara.”

The hallway held a faint but pleasing scent of cinnamon and I caught a glimpse of candles flickering in the living room. Dawn asked me to take off my shoes and told me I could hang up my jacket on the hook jutting from the inside of the door.

“So why the sudden interest in learning piano?” she asked over her shoulder as she led me into the warmth of her living room.

“I want to be able to play Mozart’s Piano Concerto Number 21,” I said without hesitation. Dawn stopped abruptly and I had to do a quick stutter step to avoid a collision.

“That’s very specific,” she said with a glint in her eye. “Someone tell you that you couldn’t?” A smile that was born somewhere between wry and sheepish was all the reply she needed. “Fair enough – but I’ll be honest: it’s a very difficult piece and not an ideal starting point for a beginner, to say the least.”

“That’s okay, I can be very stubborn when I’ve got my heart set on something,” I said. “And trust me – it’s set on learning this.”

She grinned and gestured for me to take a seat on the sofa. It was only as I sunk into its plush comfort that I caught sight of the piano. I admit, in that neighborhood I was half expecting either a pub refugee or a crumbling childhood instrument. This was anything but.

“That is one gorgeous piano,” I said, suddenly feeling every iota of my lack of qualification to play such a thing. She sat down in front of the shining black beauty with more than a little pride and gently uncovered the keys.

“Thank you,” she said. “Now sit back and have a listen to what, at the end of the journey you’re setting out on tonight, you’ll be playing.”

Dawn released a long breath, poised her fingers over the ebony and ivory keys, and as she began to play the earth stood still to listen in reverent silence.

The End

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