I stood at the back of the room, idly scratching the cast on my right hand while trying to remember how to breathe naturally. The flickering candles in the middle of each table provided most of the lighting and I was having trouble spotting Dawn, despite there being only a few guests who were not in their seats. I was searching the area to my left when she appeared silently on my right, giving my heart a thorough stress test.
“Yet another immigration lawyer who’s willing to donate his time to work for Alex and his family,” she said as she handed me an ornately decorated business card. I tucked it in my shirt pocket with the other four cards we’d already collected without looking at the name. I had the honour of carrying them all since Dawn’s outfit, a thinly strapped black dress with a neckline just low enough that my eyes had trouble behaving like gentlemen, was without pockets.
“We’ll meet with them all next week to figure out who genuinely wants to help and who just wants to get their name in the papers,” I replied before letting my eyes wander around the room again, feeling a little more relaxed now that she was there. “I still can’t get over what they did with the place.”
The Palace had been transformed almost literally overnight. The outside rings had been dismantled and stuffed upstairs while the ropes were removed from the middle ring and a dark red carpet had been draped over its canvas. Now, instead of two sweat-covered behemoths wailing on each other, a beautiful polished piano took up the middle of the ring and a microphone stand admired it from a few feet away. The outside walls had been hidden behind black curtains that had been donated by an events company in exchange for a brief acknowledgement at the start of the evening.
Fifty round dinner tables, with eight chairs surrounding each and floating candles as their centerpieces, had been donated by a hotel just up the street that had been accompanied by a modest cash contribution from their staff. As I surveyed the results of all that hard work I caught sight of Bomber, looking surprisingly comfortable in a tuxedo, bringing a bottle of wine and two empty glasses to the table nearest to the ring. The boys had volunteered their time to help out and Dawn had set them to work, splitting them between wait staff duty and acting as doormen.
Between them and the handful of off duty cops who were in attendance, we were probably the safest place to be on a Saturday night in Vancouver.
“It’s really incredible,” Dawn said as she leaned her left shoulder against my right. “I’m glad I didn’t run screaming in the other direction when Doug offered to let us use it. Have you had a chance to tell Alex yet?”
“No – every time I see him he’s in the middle of being embarrassed by someone giving him either too much attention or too much money,” I replied with a smile. When he’d been told that he was to say a few words before introducing the final performance of the evening I had thought he was going to be sick.
The night had been a smashing success, easily surpassing our meagre expectations. The total amount wouldn’t be finalized for another couple of days but we knew that the money we’d already raised, combined with free legal services, would enable us to get started on the immigration paperwork much sooner than we could have hoped.
“There he goes,” Dawn whispered. The guests gradually fell silent as Alex climbed the ring steps and made his way to the microphone. Then, just as he grabbed the stand, a lone pair of hands began to clap and soon every other person in the room joined in as they rose to their feet. A few shouts and whistles joined in to make the noise level truly spectacular before Alex finally succeeded in getting everyone to sit down and shut up.
“I know it is not much,” Alex began with his eyes on the carpet at his feet, “but know that I mean this from the center of my soul: thank you.” More encouragement was yelled his way before peace was restored. “I am glad so many of you could come tonight, to see this wonderful collection of performances. I do not know about the rest of you but I have to say that so far the duet is my favourite.”
This announcement provoked another round of cheering, mine louder than most. Cara and Mel had surprised me with a beautiful duet of Johnny Cash’s Walk the Line, with one of Dawn’s better students playing piano, and had really stolen the show. Seeing Cara up there in the spotlight, singing her heart out, my chest nearly filled to bursting with love and pride. When they announced, after their performance and the applause had finally settled down, that they had raised over three hundred dollars at their school I damn near cried.
“But there is still one more to go, the main event of the evening,” Alex broke in with a smile. “So I would like to bring up our final performers of the evening. Join me in welcoming to the ring the two people responsible for this incredible evening: Miss Dawn Evans and Mister Nate McDaniel.”
I offered Dawn my arm and she took it with a smile. We made our way to the center of the room to a standing ovation that I told myself was mostly directed at Dawn for her unfailing efforts in putting everything together. All I did was train the boxer; that certainly didn’t deserve that kind of praise.
“Thank you very much everyone,” Dawn said as I took a seat behind the piano. Alex patted me on the shoulder before trying to make his escape but Dawn blocked his way. “And thank you even more for the generosity and support you’ve shown to Alex and his family tonight.
“The money we’ve raised tonight will go towards all the applications and paperwork that need to be done in the coming weeks, and the travel and living expenses for his mother and sister once they’re here. So before we begin, I’d just like to let everyone know that your efforts so far have already raised over… ten thousand dollars!”
I drew great satisfaction from watching Alex’s face as his brain tried to register that number. First there was a blank look in his eyes, then they widened slightly and his eyebrows shot skyward. Then, as the applause and cheering from the guests reached a crescendo, his jaw dropped and tears began to well in his eyes. Alex swept Dawn up in a hug that lifted her off her feet and then came over to squeeze the life out of me.
“Settle down, settle down!” I shouted with a laugh. “You’re welcome, already. Jeez.”
Alex released me, patted my head, and then escaped to ground level without a word. Dawn had to wait a while before the noise died down enough for her to finish her speech.
“Once again, thank you all for coming. Now, for your final performance of the evening, Nate and I will play Mozart’s Piano Concerto Number 21. We hope you enjoy it.”
“Apologies in advance for screwing up,” I whispered as she took a seat to my right. We had been practicing almost every night for the last four weeks and there were still several parts that I just couldn’t seem to get right. Dawn had been patient with me, far more than I had been with myself.
“You’ll do fine, just relax,” she said before gracing me with a peck on the cheek. I glanced over at Doc, who was seated at the nearest table to my left, and gave him a nervous smile. He folded his arms across his chest and his eyes silently asked when I’d be getting on with the playing.
Dawn poised her right hand over the keys while I did the same with my left. Underneath the piano she took my injured hand in her left and gave my fingers a gentle, encouraging squeeze. Then, with a synchronized deep breath, we began to play. We played for Alex, for each other, for the love of music. It was not a flawless performance by any means but it didn’t need to be.
It was, like everything else in my life, a work in progress.