She didn’t breathe a word of what she thought she’d seen. Over the course of the next week she dreamt, night after night, about performing. Maren saw herself at Carnegie Hall with the dark bulk of a twelve-foot Steinway spread out in front of her. She saw the stage lights, felt the heat of their golden glow on her face. The dark piano was responsive and powerful under her touch. The audience was non-existent beyond the lighted stage, and in her dreams, it didn’t matter — the sickeningly familiar grip of stage fright was absent.

When she woke, the urge to play, to make startling music live under her hands was borderline painful. She found herself practicing twice as long as normal.

Flicking on the rehearsal room lights, she walked over to the piano and dumped her stuff in the corner. She checked her watch. It would be a half hour before her 4:00. Maren pulled out the bench and riffled through her music, looking for her warm up sheet. The tattered corner of an older piece of music caught on her finger and she paused, looking at it.

Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique.

The hair on the back of her neck rose. When had she put that in there?

She stared at the worn page for a few long moments, then, on a whim, yanked it from the briefcase and spread it across the stand. She rolled the dust cover back from the keys, carefully, as if she didn’t want anyone to hear…

She took a breath. She felt awkward there on the piano bench staring down a solo — the solo — as if she were a beginning student with no ounce of rhythm in her body.

But she could hear it. Every note of it, perfect and pure in her mind.

Raising her hands to the keys, she began to play. Maren let herself fall into the spaces between the notes, and the melody poured forth from her hands like water from a fountain. Her hands knew the notes, she felt them rolling out of her in perfect waves of delicate sound. She played and played until she was confident and powerful. She played until she resolved to perform at the Variety Show. She could do it. She’d ask Cal and he’d say ‘sure,’ and she could make that piano sing. Swaying in time with the music, Maren gave herself completely over as the sonata swirled around her, eating her up as she worked toward the climax.

I know what you want and I can help you get it.

Maren stopped, the residual chords taking on a eerie cast in the quiet. “Who’s there?” she asked.

I know what you want.

She turned on the bench, casting her gaze around her. She felt watched though she was the sole occupant of the small room. “How do you know what I want?”

Everyone wants something.

She stood, walked into the center of the room. The heating system kicked on, and the rush of air through the vent was like a touch on her arms. She jumped. “I am perfectly content with my life, now come out where I can see you. I’m tired of these games.”

A dry chuckle like moving papers reached her ears. Are you, Maren? the voice asked.

“I am,” she said, and tamped down the hollowness in the words. Goose bumps prickled up her spine. “I am content.”

The eerie feeling passed and she rubbed her hands over her face. She felt shaken and strange and wondered if she really was getting enough sleep…

The stairwell creaked outside the rehearsal room and Maren flinched, whirling to face the door. Kylie, the shy high-school alto paused on the threshold, her stare questioning. “You okay, Miss Thompson? You look like you’ve seen a ghost…”

Maren let out the breath shed been holding. “Yes, I’m fine, Kylie. Let’s get started.”

* * *
This is part of an ongoing serial story — catch up on the tale via the Serials page!

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