Many months passed, and Schroeder and Lucy began seeing each other with some regularity. They were old friends who lived on the opposite sides of town. The relationship between the two was nothing more than one of friendship, and Schroeder grew to accept the way things were.

Schroeder believed that as more time passed, the feeling he harbored toward Lucy would diminish. If he could only grow accustomed to seeing Lucy as a friend, he would not secretly pine for her. He would not lie awake in bed thinking of her and replaying their most recent conversations in his mind. By a great effort of will, he could reach deep within himself and repress his true feelings. Slowly, Schroeder thought, he could bring about a suicide of the self that loved Lucy.

There would be moments when Schroeder and Lucy were spending time together, doing the things they enjoyed doing together-eating out, going to movies, or taking a stroll around town. In these moments, Schroeder would perceive, in the way the restaurant's candle light danced in Lucy's eyes, or the way her lips tended, more and more, to curl into a warm smile, the subtle change in Lucy. Where there was once vanity and irritability, Schroeder now something more. He saw tenderness. In these moments, the dying part of himself that cared for Lucy rose up within his heart.

Lucy seemed to have a new boyfriend every other month. First it was Jimmy. Two months later, it was a boy named Tim. Recently, Lucy had gotten into a fight with and broken up with her latest, Alan. Perhaps to distract himself from thinking of Lucy, Schroeder tried to lose himself in relationships with other girls. He decided to go out with the first cute girl who seemed interested.

* * *

"We went through the whole thing," Schroeder said. "You know how the girl tells her friend to let the guy's friend know that she likes that guy's friend. It's a whole networking thing. It's the way it's done, right?"

"So what happened?" Lucy asked as she and Schroeder leaned over the old brick wall.

"Carol dumped me after one week," Schroeder said flatly.

"I'm sorry," Lucy said after a shocked silence.

"I think it was something I said. I think when I mentioned that I have a huge Beethoven vinyl collection, she decided I was too nerdy for her."

"Well, I don't think you're too nerdy," Lucy said, smiling.

Schroeder laughed.

"It's okay. I'm not too sad about it."

"I have an idea," Lucy said. "Let's go back to your house. Will you play for me?"

* * *

Schroeder opened the closet of his bedroom and showed Lucy the small toy piano that he used to pound on as a child.

"Remember that old thing?" Schroeder pointed.

Lucy and Schroeder exchanged a meaningful look. There were no words needed to express the depth of experience they had shared over that little piano. All those times Lucy leaned on the end of the piano while Schroeder indifferently played one Beethoven sonata after another. Lucy would talk on and on about the two of them getting married, or some variation on that theme, while Schroeder would pretend not to hear her. Sometimes, he would yank the piano from under her and watch, with perverse pleasure, the way her head met the floor. But she would always come back.

Schroeder cleared his throat as he led Lucy out toward the living room.

"Anyway, I have a much better piano to practice with now," Schroeder said as he pointed out the grand piano in the corner.

Lucy took a seat next to Schroeder before the piano.

"Play something for me?" Lucy said.

"Any requests?" Schroeder said.

"Something nice," Lucy said.

Schroeder thought for a minute and settled down, ready to play. He extended his fingers over the keys. Lucy observed with interest.

"Don't you need music?"

"I know it by heart," Schroeder said as he began playing.

The music came softly and slowly, the notes dancing through the air with grace and fluidity. Lucy smiled in contentment as she listened to the beautiful music.

She never used to respond to my music like that before, Schroeder thought to himself with a mixture of amusement and pleasure. Schroeder was even more surprised when Lucy leaned against him on the seat, her head resting on his shoulder.

"It's very pretty," Lucy said.

"It's by Rachmaninoff," Schroeder explained, "Rhapsody on a-"

"No, don't tell me," Lucy said. "At least not now. I prefer to think of it as 'that lovely song Schroeder played for me.'"

Schroeder finished the song.

"What do you think about when you play the piano? I always wondered."

I think about you, Lucy.

"I was thinking about a dream I've had," Schroeder said as he continued playing. He absentmindedly played one long arpeggio after another.

"A dream?"

"I had a dream that I was with a girl that I really liked, maybe even loved. We'd known each other for a long time, and we were all grown up. We're sitting on a beach together, looking at the horizon, and the moment comes. I've never told her that I liked her, but I really want to. We're sitting together, talking about the normal things that we talk about all the time. And there's an awkward moment of silence. I think to myself, now is the time to say something. Just say the three words: I love you."

"Then what happens?" Lucy said.

"Then," Schroeder went on, "I don't say it. I know that she doesn't feel the same way, and that she would say so if I told her. So I tell her nothing. They are words destined never to be spoken between us. But she knows that I wanted to tell her, and I know that she knows. And at that moment, I decide that I don't ever want to see her again."

"But why?"

"Because," Schroeder said, "I know that she never felt the same way about me. It was a one sided relationship. Always, it was me calling her, asking her out, taking the initiative. Well, maybe I don't want to be the one who has to reach out to my friends all the time. And slowly, the months become years, and I go on without seeing her. I feel the part of myself that liked her is slowly dying. And the worst of it is that I am glad to see that part of myself die. I'm glad because I still have my pride, and I didn't humiliate myself by confessing love for a girl who didn't love me back."

"And then?" Lucy prompted.

"And then I wake up."

"Schroeder," Lucy said, "is this girl me?"

Schroeder stopped playing. The whole time, he had been playing while talking at the same time. Now he turned to look at Lucy. He said nothing, but his eyes told her yes.

"You know that's not true. We're better than that," Lucy said.

"I've thought about you every day since the day you left," Schroeder confessed. "I've grown to like you. But I've been afraid."


"Afraid that you didn't feel the same way, I guess."

"I've never shared as much with anyone as I have with you," Lucy said. "I know I'm not perfect, and I've been pretty nasty at times. No one knows that as well as you do. We don't have to hide anything from one another. It's like six years just evaporated and we've picked up right where we left off, and everything is the same. Yet everything is not the same. You and I are not the same people anymore. But some things don't change, Schroeder."

Lucy leaned against Schroeder, and Schroeder put an arm around her. He kissed her on the forehead.

"What do you think, Lucy? Will this work? Do we get a happy ending?"

"I don't know. I'd like to think we will," Lucy said hopefully.

They looked into each other's eyes.

"Play for me," Lucy said, putting an arm around Schroeder's waist.

"What should I play this time?"

"Something beautiful."

And so Schroeder played again, the beautiful music rising from his keys and floating down the neighborhood streets, long into the evening.

The End