Phil moved to the side of the stairwell, cabinet in hand, letting the woman going in the opposite direction pass. "Sorry." He muttered. It wasn't very heavy, but still. He had a lot to move.
She shook her head with a slight smile, swiftly moving past him.
Phil offered a grin as she passed. She seemed nice. Maybe he'd get to know her since they were living in the same building now.
It took him hours to move the rest of his stuff, but when he looked around his less bare apartment, he smiled. It wasn't much, but it was home, and he liked it. Certainly more than his previous apartment. It had been small, damp, and the area was full of rowdy students.
Phil didn't do well with noise. He worked all day with loud customers, loud delivery trucks, the endless rustle of plastics and papers as he wrapped flowers. After work he needed a little peace.
He loved his job though. The brightness of people's smiles, always that one person who wanted to make something special, the smell of the flowers, the teenagers buying roses for the first time, then balking at the price. There was just something special about it all, and Phil loved it. He had a simple job, but it satisfied him.
He looked around his apartment with a contented sigh. Maybe he should get a parakeet for this place. Give it some character. The setting sun streaked the sky with pinks and purple through his window, and Phil poured himself a scotch.
He sat down on his couch, toying with the idea of watching some TV, but ended up deciding against it. He just wanted to sit for a little and enjoy his scotch. Yeah. He liked this place.
Phil wasn't sure how long it had been when he heard the upstairs door close, but his ice hadn't melted, so it couldn't have been too long. He grimaced at the sound. He hoped the neighbours knew the walls were thin. The last thing he wanted was to hear any more loud sex.
Something in him stilled when the first sound reached his ears.
Was that a piano?
The music started out chaotic, fast moving scales, meticulously played, yet totally uncontrolled. The musical equivalent of screaming in frustration. Then, as with any venting of emotions, it slowed, taking on a more melodic phrasing. It stopped, went back and played the section, then again. And again. Phil listened carefully to try to hear what they were trying to do. He wasn't sure, but it was soothing nonetheless.
As the night dragged on and Phil drank another glass of scotch, listening to the fragments of music and watching night take over, he started to feel drowsy. Whoever this person was, he very much liked their playing. Which said something, because he had always preferred orchestral music.
There was something about it though. The emotions were always simpler with a solo performer. This wasn't a performance though, it was practice. It was private and boring and messy, and hearing it almost made Phil feel ashamed. Like he was spying.
Still, there wasn't a lot that he could do to stop listening, and he doubted that the musician, whoever they were, would resent him for sitting in his apartment when it happened to be below theirs.
Phil was getting ready for bed when the music stopped, the subtle thump of the piano lid tipping him off. He held back from applauding. No need to be weird.
In the subsequent days Phil would come to look forwards to the piano playing more and more. Even after a terrible shift at the florists, even when he thought that all he wanted to do was collapse to bed, he would find himself lying awake, listening to the soft, lilting notes, the same musical phrases repeated again and again until the pianist was satisfied, only to move on to the next, and then to put them all together into a perfectly cohesive idea that Phil could never have heard in the fragments.
He found himself humming melodies as he worked. Becoming frustrated when they would play a piece he didn't recognise, because then he couldn't find it or look it up.
It had been two weeks since moving in when Phil decided to take things forwards a step. A short phrase that the woman had played reminded him of another piece, and, well, it had been long enough of him listening to her without her knowledge.
Melinda poured herself a glass of wine, sitting it atop her upright piano. She sat down on the stool with a gentle smile. She liked practicing. At this point it would be shocking if she didn't. After a long day of lecturing college students and tutoring the few she could stand, it was nice to come home and just relax. The piano didn't talk back. It did exactly what she wanted it to.
She had just finished her scales when the softest of noises broke forth. Melinda looked around slowly. She had better not have attracted a mouse to her home. There were stories of them getting into pianos and dying.
Her eyebrows rose when she saw a note that had clearly been pushed under her door. Melinda bit her lip. She hoped it wasn't a noise complaint. She stood, slowly moving to the door.
She picked up the note. It was nice paper, card that would be used for romantic nothings. Turning it over, she found the message, written in decent calligraphy.
'A humble request for the pianist. Shostakovich, Opus 102 - Andante.'
A slow smile crept onto her face and Melinda tried not to laugh. This was sweet. Really sweet. After all the years of people hammering on dorm walls, leaving rude notes, vandalising the college pianos, this felt special.
And she thought that she had that concerto.
After a little bit of digging on her shelf, Melinda had found the score. She smiled at the weathered pages. Shostakovich had always been one of her favourites. Passionate, sarcastic, fearless. It had been years since she had played the concerto.
She placed the music on her piano and took a deep breath before playing the first notes of the second movement. Slow, sad pieces had always held a special place in her heart. They had a sense of peace about them, a depth that many did not. As hard as it was to express herself in words, this came easily in music, lilting trills and subtle rubato.
When she played the final chord, letting it fade away into nothing, Melinda paused. The silence after the last note was always the best part. That moment of nothing. The audience held their breath, she held her breath, and the world stopped, waiting to see if there would be more, waiting for the performer to decide whether time would continue.
Barely a second after she had pulled her hands away from their resting place on the keys, heavy applause came from below her floor. Melinda clapped one hand over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud. This felt... good. It had been a long time since she had actually performed. Students and admin kept her busy, and she hadn't realised how much she had missed this. The simple connection with another person. Presenting them with the fruits of her hard work and dedication and knowing that they saw her and all she had done.
She stood and took a mocking bow to her empty apartment as the applause began to fade. She didn't know who this person was, but she hoped she heard more from them.
The next evening Melinda returned from her day at college, tired and drained, to find modest bunch of flowers at her door. She picked them up with a gentle smile. She couldn't identify all of them, some pink roses, some yellow flowers, what looked like a few small sunflowers. Her smile only grew when she spotted the card tucked in with them, simply reading 'Bravo'.
She ducked into her apartment before her nosey neighbour showed up and read to much into her now silly grin.
This was stupid. She felt like she was hiding something, like she had a secret boyfriend. No. Women her age didn't have boyfriends. She found a vase for the flowers, rinsing it out.
She didn't even know if this person was a man, let alone one she would be interested in. No, she didn't have a crush. She was just... happy to be appreciated. And hey, if it motivated her to practice a little more, that was just an added bonus.
They could be some stalker, Melinda reasoned as she prepared her dinner, or some philosophy graduate who considered themselves the 'intellectual elite' and wanted her to prop up their facade. Yet as long as they remained anonymous, she could continue to be happy about it. Just for now. She had always hated being deceived. Just another day, then she would find out who this person was.
Phil bit his lip nervously when he heard the piano playing begin anew. He wondered if she had liked the flowers. He knew it was a woman, he had heard her talking on the phone once, muffled and barely there, but definitely a woman's voice.
He hoped it wasn't too much. He didn't want to come off too strong, he really didn't. Phil knew he had a habit of that in relationships, but he hadn't meant this as a romantic gesture. He just figured that he had been enjoying the music for a while now, and he should try to give something back. To show his appreciation.
The music changed, interrupting his thoughts, and Phil looked up at the ceiling. After a moment, he smiled. Waltz of the Flowers. He guessed she did like them after all.
Phil settled back with his book and his coffee, letting the gentle notes wash over him. He didn't even notice that he was smiling until he went to take a sip from his mug. Maybe he would meet this woman, some day. On the other hand, maybe she wouldn't like him if they met. Maybe he would put his foot in his mouth as usual, or make any number of his usual stupid blunders. No. This was simple. This could be nothing, and it could be everything. And as long as it stayed like this, he could keep dreaming.
Just for a little longer.
It was a week before May started to get tired of being in the dark, during which time she received more flowers, as well as another note. It was sweet, it was. She wasn't angry, but she did want to know who this person was. Being underhanded wasn't her style. Melinda didn't play by the rules of the universe, she didn't want to pretend like this was some epic romance in her life.
She didn't want to pretend at all.
Maybe something would come of this, but maybe not. Either way, she'd rather get it over with and find out.
It wasn't difficult to listen beyond her piano playing for the softly approaching footsteps, nor did it take her long to notice that they had paused directly outside her door.
In a moment Melinda was on her feet, the next she had flung the door open.
Huh. He was... older than she had expected. Thinning brown hair, startled blue eyes, flowers in his hands.
Phil gaped. Oh no. She was... beautiful. And totally out of his league, now this was all awkward and weird, oh no. He tried to speak but only managed a stutter. After a few seconds of trying, he thrust the flowers into her arms and ran back down the stairs.
What a disaster.
Melinda looked between the flowers and where he had gone. He was... sweet, apparently. And nervous. She smiled. The flowers were nice. Another card slipped from them and she picked it up.
'Thank you for making my nights brighter.'
Melinda sighed. Yeah, he was definitely sweet. Damnit. She didn't mean to scare him or whatever she had just done. She just wanted to know who he was.
Now she wanted to know him better.
Phil slammed his door behind him and leaned against it, closing his eyes. Crap, what had he done? He hadn't expected that. Some beautiful woman throwing the door open to catch him, because clearly she was totally put off by his weird gifts and- he wasn't trying to make it romantic, he wasn't. He didn't know if she was even single, or if they were a similar age, or... Oh God, how could he?
The knock at his door made him jump a mile. When he looked through the peephole he groaned. No, not now, he was weird and his apartment was a mess but she knew he was in here.
He was doomed.
It took Phil a solid half minute to get the nerve to open the door, heart hammering in his chest. He swallowed the lump in his throat. "Hello."
Phil didn't think that it counted as a smile, but there was a softness to her gaze. "Hi." She said, holding out her hand. "I'm Melinda."
Phil tried not to wipe his palm to obviously before he shook her hand. "Phil." He was surprised at how steady his voice was.
May smiled a little. Okay, he was kind of cute. "Thank you for the flowers."
"Oh, no, thank you for playing." He said, somehow magically refraining from babbling. "I-I didn't mean- if I made you uncomfortable I'm sorry."
"You didn't." She assured. "The flowers are beautiful." Melinda held up the bottle she had brought from her apartment. "Drink?"
Phil smiled. "Please." He said, stepping aside to let her in. He raised his eyebrows when he saw the bottle. "That's good scotch."
Melinda looked to the Haig bottle. "A gift from a student." She shrugged.
Phil looked at her curiously as he drew two glasses, resting them on the counter. "You teach?"
May nodded, leaning against the other side of the counter a little. "At the university. They're good kids, but..."
"Delusions of grandeur?" He asked, handing her a glass.
May nodded. "They all think they'll be famous soloists."
Phil smiled around his glass. "Well, you certainly could."
May rolled her eyes but said nothing.
"I mean it!" He exclaimed, apparently picking up on her derision. "Have you tried?"
She shrugged. "Not really my thing."
Phil frowned. "But you're a musician."
"Yeah." She said, taking a sip and diverting. "What do you do?"
Phil laughed softly. "I'm actually a florist."
Melinda smiled properly for the first time in a way that made her eyes sparkle, and Phil felt breathless. "I should have known."
He grinned sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. "You're not the only one who can bring your work home."
"I guess not." Melinda swished the ice around in her glass gently. "So how does a florist know Shostakovich?" She asked. "You play?"
Phil laughed softly, "Oh no, not me. I'm just a fan." She watched him, waiting for him to continue, so he did. "I tried for a little while in high school, but it didn't really stick. I guess the teacher was kind of a jerk."
"Ugh." Melinda groaned, "Some of the traditional teachers can be terrible. Especially with kids. Scares them off for life."
Phil cocked his head. "Do you teach children?"
Melinda hesitated and shook her head. "Not anymore." She said softly. "But it's important that music is fun. For anyone."
"It is." Phil smiled. "My teacher was obsessed with my hand position and having my feet in the right place, and my posture." As he said the word his back straightened slightly.
Melinda smiled at the unconscious gesture. "Posture's hard to get right. Everyone thinks it has to be stiff, but it shouldn't be."
"You seem like a good teacher."
Melinda scoffed. "Tell that to my students."
Phil laughed softly. "I'm sure they love you."
"I'm sure they don't." She said with a grin, taking a sip of her scotch.
"Agree to disagree."
Melinda rolled her eyes. "You've known me for less than an hour." She said.
Phil smiled crookedly. "I think I know you well enough." He said, looking down. "You seem like whatever you do, you give it your all. I admire that."
Melinda smiled, trying not to let on how flattered she was. "Don't try to shrink me," She warned, "Or I'll have to turn it around on you."
"Hey, I'm an open book." Phil said, waving one hand. "Lover of antiques, florist, kind of sappy,"
"Very sappy." Melinda interrupted, remembering his latest note.
"Okay fine, very sappy." He amended, and was thrilled to see her grin.
Phil hesitated, looking down. "I- uh, I was thinking... I've always wanted to pick up piano again, and I know I'm not some college level whiz kid, but- well, if you have time for another student..." Melinda appeared to be thinking, so he hurried to amend his question, "Obviously I can pay, and if you're too busy I totally understand, I just-"
"How about dinner?"
Phil froze, trying to process what she had just said. "I- what?"
Melinda shrugged, a slight glimmer in her eyes. "We can have a lesson every Friday night, and after that you can buy me dinner. Call that payment."
He gaped and couldn't find his voice until Melinda started smirking at him. "I- yeah, definitely! That sounds great!" But still, he paused. "I just feel like your lessons are worth more than dinner."
She looked at him warmly. "Make it a nice place then."
Phil beamed. "Oh- I will, I promise." She was still smiling at him and his knees felt weak. It was a good thing he was sitting down.
Melinda pushed herself to her feet. "I should head home." She said. "I'm sure you've got an early start tomorrow."
Phil visibly deflated. "I do." He admitted. "But I'll see you on Friday?"
Melinda bit the inside of her lip to keep from smiling any wider. "You can come by around six. Should be fun." She gently pulled the door open.
"It should." Phil agreed, "And... thank you again for playing. You're beautiful." A moment later he flushed, "I-I mean- your playing is beautiful- and I, I love listening to it."
Melinda was sincerely grateful that she rarely blushed. "Goodnight Phil." She murmured, leaving. It was the first time she'd said his name. It felt... nice.
Phil smiled after her. "Goodnight Melinda."