A/N - Well here it is folks! The last chapter. Thank you all for each of you who have reviewed and for all of you for sticking with me and reading this through to the end.
Its been fun...
"…And the night shall be filled with music
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away..."
-The Day is Done, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
What goes around comes around. The circle of life. Déjà vu. Da capo. Da capo al fine. Da capo al coda. Dal Segno…
There were a million terms and clichés and yet he still couldn't figure out why he was here. The pedals were awkward, the heavy cast still in the way as he shifted his right foot so his left could have access. It wasn't the proper footing, pedaling.
It worked well enough.
Repeat from the beginning… Repeat back from the sign…
The treble cleft blurred ever the slightest. He wiped his hand across his eyes, pushing down ever so stronger on the metal bar, the notes blending, echoing across the space. The air was stifled, the small practice room, basement level, was not much on ventilation.
He had not played accompagnato, accompaniment, in many years. She had suggested Dvorak's G flat Major Humoresque to begin with. Nothing too difficult, instead full of fun and whimsy, sounding more like a day spent playing in the park between thunderstorms than anything.
They had moved on to several pieces after that, finding a tempo and rhythm, discovering the other's talents and style. She paused, the A string had suddenly gone out of tune. Marina apologized, said the string was new and not nearly properly stretched yet.
She asked him to hit the A and so Don did, several times. Marina steered clear of the pegs at the top of her violin, instead tweaked the fine tuners, small metal knobs that vaguely pass for screws. She set the instrument down, pulled out the rosin from the case and rubbed down her bow again.
Don felt his fingers dancing once more. Playing the Humoresque was like skipping, it was almost a dance as he worked his way through the first several meters and then repeated it again through to the coda. In the next movement, the mood changed to sort of a mournful sigh. It wasn't a lament or an ululation, really more a sense of deep longing, a whiff of melancholy that made his fingers linger over the keys.
Marina must have been happy with the tuning. She began to play softly in the background, taking what Dvorak wrote and bending it in another way, towards free style and notes never played. She let him lead, following steadily and searching out harmony. His fingers stumbled, a harsh note sounded out uncertainly, then melted into the background as he played out a broken chord.
A broken chord...
One or two notes played at a time instead of all of them at once. It bridged from the Dvorak to an unnamed composition the two were writing into thin air. Don played the same notes again. And again. The violin trilled in the background, those notes an octave higher than his own.
Don smiled. The skipping was gone and the mournful cry also disappeared. They were stuck somewhere in a dream song, comodo con larghezza...Comfortable, an easy moderate speed with a broad scope, wide brush strokes over an open canvas. He was flying and his broken leg was still on the ground.
He fell into a steady repetition of sounds, his left hand holding out on a chord, the right fingers running over the keys, over and over and over. Marina played them as well, then transposed them toward a melody, picking up where he left off.
They play well together, he thought. The instruments segued off in separate ways, but nothing too far apart. Charlie would say they're like parallel lines, going the same way on two different scenic routes. For a moment they both hit the same D, she went north as he played south. Parallel wasn't quite right then, Don realized. And neither was perpendicular. They just were.
He closed his eyes and let the sounds guide him to where he should go next. One note fed into another, then another. He was John Cassavetes, creating something without knowing the end from where he stood.
Marina had come by earlier that day, had pulled up to the Craftsman in an old Volkswagen Bug the color of a melting dreamsicle. He propped his crutches between his legs and she drove them out to the Valencia sector of Santa Clarita.
"It is good to see you smile," she said.
Don turned his face from the road, the breeze from the open windows and pulled down his aviators, "Feels good to get out of Pasadena."
The paseos that stretched across Valencia's roads were dotted with pedestrians and an occasional biker, spandex and not leather.
She grinned, eyes not leaving the road and instead patted his knee with light affection, "I think the time there has done you good."
He had thought so too. In a few weeks he'd go back to the office, sitting on his desk for half a day. For now he gimped around between physical therapy and doctor visits, questions still lingered if he needed another operation. His leg had been shattered and it was ever so slowly coming back together.
"Thanks for this," he said. "I needed to get out."
The right blinker ticked softly as she made the turn, "Charlie has babysat you?"
"I wish it was that." Don liked her jumbled grammar, didn't bother to correct her, "Amita hasn't learned how sneak out quietly."
Marina's brow wrinkled and then smoothed as realization dawned on her face, "And you have first seat in house, da?"
"Bingo," he replied. The young professor had been lucky too, he thought. His Glock had been locked away in the gun case, far out of reach from his spot in the recliner by the fire place.
Her shoulders shook with quiet laughter as she pulled into a parking stall near a beige stucco building. Don propped the door open and hauled himself upward from the low seat. He felt like freakin' Goldilocks. Everything was either too high or to low, to flat or pavement too broken to walk on.
The walkway was a smooth concrete, winding paths that looked as if they were designed by students rather than ground keepers. He balanced the blue Jansport on his back and followed her through the heavy oak doors.
"Every Tuesday night?"
She pushed the elevator's down button as she thumped the violin case against her legs, "Da, every Tuesday for two years."
Don acknowledged her answer with a soft grunt, "Wish I would've been there." He shifted on the crutches and then hopped through the waiting door as Marina held the elevator for him.
"You are here now, priyatel. That is enough."
Charlie watched from the window as Don and Marina left the thirty year old Bug behind. It was early evening and the house light cast shadows along the drive, lengthening the rhododendrons across the lawn.
It was midsummer now, almost July and just as warm. He had spent the day with lesson plans and some research. He was behind where he wanted to be with his Cognitive Emergence work, less chalk dust in his lungs than normal. There was something in him that was proud that he slowed down, smelled the roses, took care of his brother.
First time in a month and a half that he had let Don out of his sight.
The papers in his hand were rumpled and clammy from being held so tightly. The ink was smearing and he could no longer make out if that was a seven or maybe a two. Charlie pulled the pen from behind his ear, glanced at the equation and definitively wrote down a five.
There were certain benefits to being a human calculator.
He watched as his brother balanced on one foot, throwing the bag over his shoulder and then his arm out for balance as he stumbled. Twenty years fell away as Marina kept him from falling to gravity as Charlie remembered doting cheerleaders after a doubleheader and a stray ball left a black eye.
Don was always the cool one, he thought. And even now, that had not changed with age, the proof in the backpack with the single diagonal chest strap versus the standard double. The shadowed figures walked slowly to the house, one with a halting steady pace, the other with a slower, more fluid one.
From his spot at the window, hidden by curtains, he could hear two voices talking softly and then a short bark of laughter. He moved a little to the left to gain a better view as the musician kissed his brother on each cheek in a European fashion and squeezed his arm as she hurried down the stairs and back to her car.
The professor stepped back to the dining room and then up the stairs. After all, he still liked to spy on his brother. At least now his legs were long enough so he no longer got caught at it.
The solarium grew dusky as the sun fell back behind the earth. Charlie flipped on a couple of lamps, set his work down on the sofa by the window. He held a piece of chalk tightly, studied the lone blackboard carefully. First Alan, then Don and now even Amita teased him about how his work threatened all the free spaces of the house. So he had dragged two of the chalkboards back down to the garage just a few minutes before. A belated effort to keep the mess at least partially contained.
Charlie made a show of thinking deeply when really his mind was a floor down and a room over. He knew his dad was setting the table, that Don would be fussed over and shrugging off attention. The professor wiped at his eyes furiously. For so long, they treated him like glass. They had to, for Don was broken and still was.
The voices were louder now, they sounded good-natured and teasing. Charlie threw the chalk back on the rail, cleaned the white dust from his hands. Don was stronger now, better than he was yet with such a long ways to go.
He found that he no longer needed to force a smile on his face when he saw the cast and the crutches. Dorothy made it back to Kansas from Oz. And after all the amazing things there, still decided that there was nothing else better than home.
Charlie tapped his Nikes and headed down the stairs.
The front door opened and Don called out if there was anyone home. No one answered and from where he stood, could see the dining room table set from the entryway, the crystal goblets reflecting amber light and the china softly gleaming. It looked like a holiday magazine or maybe a Pottery Barn catalogue.
"Gee Wally, that's swell…"
Don debated between sitting at the table or maybe one of the more comfortable arm chairs. Dinner would be ready soon and his arms were tired, so he made his way to the closest dining room chair.
"There you are," there was a white threadbare towel hanging off Alan's arm as he set another bubbling lasagna on the table. One that would not be interrupted by an urgent call. "Thought I heard a car pull up."
Don smiled at his father's politeness. Marina's car was loud, needed a new muffler and something else to run properly. And she had the money for repairs until she put it all down on a payment for a viola. She said she would rather take the bus.
"We ready?" Don propped his crutches against the table in easy reach, trading them for a lone piece of beef teasing him from the pan.
Alan didn't have the heart to knock the fork from Don's hands, "Soon as your brother shows up." He finished placing the silverware, "You could have invited her to stay."
"I did, you know. She has practice tonight." Don licked at the sauce that had dripped on his finger, "This is good, Dad."
"You don't have to sound so surprised," Alan said. He flipped the towel over his shoulder and called up the stairs, "Any time now, Charlie!"
Don leaned back in his chair and threw his arm around the back of the chair next to his, catching a slight breeze as Charlie dashed in the room. He gave a slight grin at the milk Alan poured into each of their glasses.
"What? It's good for you."
"Hey, did I say anything?"
Alan raised his eyebrows, "You didn't have to."
His smile was brighter that time and Charlie's mouth had quirked up into a grin. The mood was light and the lighting warm. His younger brother raised his glass and the sound of the toast lazed between conversation and meal.
Don flexed his fingers and let his attention wander. Between his brother and his father, he could see the piano in the corner. His gaze lingered on the keys, surprised when he realized the cover was off the ivories, leaving them in plain view.
He caught his father's eye. Alan shrugged, not enough for Charlie to notice. Yet Don did, and also saw the question that maybe some time his eldest could play for him.
The table was cleared now, the chairs pushed back and away. There were lights on in the garage, accompanied by frenzied thought and care. Don gave a sigh, marked his page and set the book on the coffee table next to him.
When he was in-between surgeries, someone had left it at his bedside as a joke. It was a thick volume, heavy and hard-covered. Crime and Punishment. The prank ended up a godsend because his recovery would be at least as long as it would take him to get through Dostoevsky's masterpiece.
Don left behind duality and pawnbrokers and hoisted himself up. The lower floor was quiet now, wasn't sure where the others had disappeared to. He thought of his father's silent request, the open keyboard and slowly tugged the bench from it's spot halfway under the piano.
He liked this piano. There was something about playing an instrument that he knew so well that meant so much more than playing one he'd just been introduced to. He knew it's kinks and quirks, knew which keys liked to stick and which ones liked to go flat or sharp as the weather changed. The familiarity was beautiful and its voice unique unto itself.
It was like playing ball with home field advantage...
He placed his hands, right thumb on Middle C. Playing the notes one after another, Don heard a series of footsteps down the stairs. He thought about calling out to his father but instead broke into the Moonlight Sonata to let Alan think that he still possessed stealth.
You are a musician, Agent Eppes...
Perhaps he was, he thought. And perhaps he was at a new beginning. The music had been a long time coming. The sound of the piano in the corner void for many of the past years.
Don could hear the door in the kitchen close now, another set of feet quieting as they drew closer to the song. It was an Eppes thing, Don decided. The sneaking around, the silent witnesses. The decision to not say what should be or ask for what was needed.
So he continued on, playing in the dark, the soft moonlight giving him the dark shapes and forms in the room. His father was on the stairs and Charlie was perched somewhere in the kitchen and he was there, in the center of it all.
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?
The music played on through the night.