Summary: The events of "Terror in New York City" remind Jeff of things that should not be lost.
I do not own Thunderbirds. If I did, I wouldn't be so nervous about my first post…
Thank you to mcj, rabidkookaburra and ms imagine for their betas on this. It wouldn't make half as much sense without them. As always any and all reviews are most gratefully received.
Jeff sat in silence as the sun slid below the horizon. The final sunlight lit the piano, casting a pall of red on its white gleam.
"The boys are in the infirmary, Mr Tracy. Would you like to join them?" Kyrano said.
"I will. I just need a few moments."
"Of course sir." Without a sound, Kyrano slipped from the room.
Gently, Jeff ran his fingers over the piano keys. In his mind's eye he saw Thunderbird 2 fall from the sky with smoke pluming from its engines. He thought how close he had come to losing the music all over again.
Jeff didn't play the piano. That had been Lucille's joy. She would have called herself an average player, but Jeff had fallen in love as he leaned on the back of the piano and watched her. It started on the piano in the coffee shop she worked in, then on the second-hand upright that he bought for their engagement. She used to compose little tunes that got caught in his head for days.
The white grand piano had been the one yearning that she wouldn't let Jeff oblige. She had a savings account that she paid into monthly – the Grand Account. She deposited a small amount when the cash was tight and a bit more when things went well. It was loose change, but always her own money. It became a bit of a game for Jeff to help the Grand Account without her knowledge. He'd leave five dollar bills in his shorts and a quarter down the sofa. They went into the bottle on the fridge, and every month the bottle went to the bank.
She died before she had saved enough for the dream piano. Jeff couldn't even bear their engagement piano in the house. He donated it to a dance class in town. He gave all the sheet music to the dance teacher and thought no more about it.
Three years after Lucille died the bottle mysteriously emptied and was placed back on the fridge. The boys took to filling it again. Even Jeff found himself putting in fifty cents when he wasn't thinking about it. The next month it was emptied again.
Jeff asked his mother, who remained silent on the matter. "It's for nothing Lucille wouldn't have wanted," she said and refused to divulge anything further.
On the third month, Jeff waited in the shadows of the kitchen and saw his eldest son put the bottle of coins into his school satchel. All day at work he considered what he would say to Scott.
It was hard, because both man and boy disliked talking about the missing woman in their life. There were no raised voices, but the conversation was fraught. "For the piano," Scott had explained at last.
"But you hated it," Jeff said.
"It's not for me. Alan never learned and I thought maybe Grandma could teach…"
Jeff raised an eyebrow. Scott lied so rarely that he was dreadful at it.
"It was for Virgil," he admitted.
Jeff raised the other eyebrow. His middle son wanted a piano?
Scott misinterpreted the look and thought his father didn't believe him. "Virgil plays the school piano sometimes. He's really good, and it'd be alright for the Grand Account to get a little piano for the garage."
Jeff remembered the piano lessons. He remembered the boys' dislike of sitting so long and the tortured cries of the piano as they hammered it. When he thought about it, though, he also recalled that Virgil had sat the longest and could even have been said to have coaxed music from the instrument on occasion. He had forgotten.
Then another memory returned, unbidden. The days after the funeral had been full of silence. Jeff had been trying to work when he had heard the little melody that Lucille had been working on. For a moment he had thought that it was his wife's fingers on the keys, but when he reached it, there had been no Lucille. Virgil had been picking out the notes one finger at a time.
Jeff had yelled, but the boy did not cry. He closed the piano lid. Scott and John were standing in the doorway. No-one said a word.
The next day the removal men took the piano away.
"I checked in the bank," Scott was saying, "and there's enough for the piano, but we needed to pay the man from the music shop to bring it and put it in the garage."
"You're not going to put a piano in the garage."
Scott looked like he might argue and then sighed. "No sir," he whispered.
He couldn't bring himself to look in his middle son's eyes at breakfast the next morning. Virgil seemed not to notice, but Jeff was not fooled. The boy missed nothing. However the strain between Jeff and Scott was palpable.
The cool atmosphere filled the house for days. Scott stopped eating at the table, while the other boys picked at their food. Tempers frayed and there were more arguments.
As Jeff was sitting with the newspaper a couple of days later, he overheard John asking Gordon, "Why are you crying?"
Jeff stopped reading to listen.
"I wanted…" a few hiccoughing sobs. "I wanted to play with Scott in the paddling pool, but no-one loves each other any more."
Typical Gordon melodrama, Jeff thought, but there might have been something in it. And it was all over some stupid piano.
Jeff sought out Scott. He was playing the games console and looked unimpressed when Jeff coughed at the door.
"I wanted to talk," Jeff began.
"I've given the matter of the piano some thought."
Scott still did not reply. His fierce blue eyes were focused on Jeff.
"I…" Jeff began and then changed his mind. His whole pre-planned speech about not having the space for the piano and that it would just be a fad vanished on his tongue. It was Scott's determination and fierce honesty that made Jeff blurt out the truth. The whole truth.
"I'm sorry I was angry." He paused. "You might not remember that a few days after your mother died, Virgil was playing one of her songs. For a moment I thought it was her, and that made it worse. I was angry and scared and I shouted at Virgil."
"I remember," Scott said quietly.
"I decided then that I would never have another piano in the house. I didn't want to be reminded."
Jeff expected pleading of some sort. "You should come to the school recital on Thursday," Scott said simply and turned back to his game.
"But," Jeff began.
Scott interrupted. "If you want to know why the piano is important, you should come."
Jeff sat in the second to last row of Martin and Bartholomew's Middle school auditorium. He was marvelling at his sons. Scott was selling tickets with one of the special needs kids at the door. He had left Jeff's own ticket on the fridge door at home.
John had been forced from his books long enough to sell programs, although right now he was being seduced by, or seducing, a pretty classmate.
Gordon sat at Jeff's right hand side, swinging his legs and talking non-stop about everything. Alan was absorbed in a handheld games machine.
There was no sign of Virgil, but Jeff suspected that he might be involved in the concert itself.
"Mr. Tracy!" An older woman bustled over to him. "We don't often have the pleasure."
"Work demands I'm afraid," Jeff answered a little icily.
Mrs. Branklehurst, the school principal missed the subtlety. "But I am so glad to see you tonight. The boys are such a credit. And this is young Alan and Gordon."
Gordon said, "Good evening," with his most charming smile.
The teacher was enchanted. "It is nice to meet you, Gordon. And you Alan."
Alan ignored everything but his racing game.
"You must be so proud tonight. I'm sure he'll do very well indeed. He's quite talented, Miss Ross says. Raves about him, but he really is quite a serious boy. You know, I didn't think we would persuade him to do it. I think your Scott had something to do with it, of course. It will be so nice to hear him at last, although I do hope…"
Jeff interrupted. "Is Virgil playing?"
"Why, of course," the teacher said. "Solo, second act. Something he and Miss Ross have been working on. Original I think. Called, oh I can't remember it, but the program will have it. John Tracy, put your eyes back into their sockets and away from Alice's assets." John flushed. "Let me have a program."
She flicked through the advertising to the listing. There it was, Virgil Tracy playing 'Magic Fingers', arranged and composed by L. Tracy and S. Ross.
Mrs Branklehurst was talking again, but Jeff wasn't listening. He was furious and afraid all at once. He felt John's hand on his shoulder. "Dad," the boy said. "Please, just listen."
Jeff managed to sit through the first half somehow. He chewed through a hundred emotions to the accompaniment of the Junior Orchestra and a number of fair to middling soloists.
"Dad," Gordon whispered during a round of applause, "do you feel alright? You look like you've…"
"…sucked a lemon," Allan finished. "And then you look like a beet and then a… Ouch!"
Gordon's foot had connected with Allan's shin.
No, he didn't feel alright, Jeff admitted to himself. He couldn't decide how he felt. He was furious because Virgil was going to play Lucille's music, but proud that his son was doing this, then angry at Scott and John for suggesting that he come. For seconds he felt relieved that Lucille's music would be played and then his terror would return.
The second act seemed even longer than the first.
It was only when John put a hand on Jeff's knee that he realised he was shaking. He wanted to go up there and take Virgil home to a quiet house with no music. Except he kept hearing Lucille's melody echoing in his head.
Virgil slipped onto the stage as Miss Allan introduced him. Jeff's ire was raised even further when the woman told the audience that this was Virgil's music to remember his mother who had passed away. Jeff felt John cringe at his side and watched as Virgil's colour went beyond pale into ghostly. Then he sat at the piano and played.
In later years Jeff remembered little of the actual performance. If he tried to recall it, a series of images came to his mind instead.
The first image was of Lucille playing the engagement piano in their old apartment. She was picking out a melody and muttering under her breath. It was an old memory, but now a tale of music ran through it like water in a stream. Virgil was playing the soundtrack to his mother's fingers.
The second picture was of his middle son seated at the piano on the school stage. His fingers danced and his expression was a study of concentration. The small frown that creased his features was the same one that Lucille wore when she played and thought no-one was watching. There was no music to fit the picture in his head. It was a silent movie in his thoughts.
The final image could never have happened. It was his imagination, yet the sense of it was as strong as any memory he possessed. Lucille sat beside him in the audience. She held his hand and watched Virgil in rapt attention. He couldn't hear the music's delicate melody. Lucille whispered at his side. "That was how it was meant to sound."
The applause was real. Virgil stood, bowed. John, Gordon and Allan clapped with the others.
Then it was onto a final song from the choir. Gordon tried to say something, but John tutted him to silence, and Jeff was glad. He wiped away his tears. As the concert ended and the audience left there was no evidence of the way the music made him feel. His eyes may have been a little red, but it couldn't be helped.
Virgil was standing behind Scott's shoulder in the parking lot when Jeff and the other boys arrived. The stance was not lost on Jeff. Scott was protecting his younger brother from whatever their father might do.
Jeff didn't trust himself to speak. He unlocked the car and boys filed in with uncustomary silence. Not even Allan spoke on the way home. Gordon fell asleep and John stared out of the window. Virgil was still pale and Scott sat straight beside him. They drove home without talking.
The boys even went to their rooms in silence. There was a magical hushed quality about the proceedings. Scott organised toast for supper, then washing and brushing of teeth. For once Allan did not complain about going to bed and John did not whistle as he looked for pajamas. Virgil stayed as far away from his father as he could.
Jeff checked on each boy as they slept. Allan and Gordon still shared a room, although Allan was keen for one of his own now. Both slept; Allan spread over the whole bed with a thumb firmly in his mouth. Gordon had somehow tangled himself in the covers again. He was upside down clutching a corner of his duvet. Jeff gently unravelled the mess and tucked the boy back in. He stirred slightly, but did not open his eyes.
John was asleep atop a book. He had crumpled one of the pages ('the Seas of the Moon') under his ear. The bedside lamp was still on. Jeff rescued the book and turned off the light. He ran his fingers through the blond curls.
He walked past Virgil's room.
Scott slept too. Jeff had half expected his eldest to be awake. He was under the duvet and whispered something in his sleep. Jeff closed the door quietly behind him as he left.
He ended with Virgil's room. The boy was curled into the foetal position under the blankets. All that was visible was a touch of dark hair. Jeff tiptoed closer. This boy was his mother's double; like watching the woman he loved made new. Jeff touched the hair fondly. He was crying again because he knew he could never love this little one the way Lucille would have done.
Before he left, he put the glossy brochure he was carrying on the bedside table.
The next morning was the only time in his life Virgil had been awake and up before his brothers. He slipped quietly to his father and said, "Thank you." The other boys made much more commotion. Gordon and Allan danced around the table waving the catalogue triumphantly. John grinned from ear to ear and slapped Virgil heartily on the back. Scott strutted around, giving a drawn out tale of how Virgil had been persuaded to play only after the threat of physical violence. And Virgil sat in the middle like the calm eye of a hurricane and smiled.
Now, years later, Jeff sat at the slightly elderly piano they had bought the next day. The room was dark and quiet.
Thunderbird 2 was nestled in its hangar downstairs, damaged but repairable. Virgil was in sick bay, but he had survived. Jeff could feel the anxiety leave him in the warm memories. He imagined the room filled with music and laughter again.
He pressed a note on the piano and thought of Lucille. Then he closed its lid and went to see his son. He smiled. He found he couldn't live with the silence again.