This story is by Robbie Parker and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“It’s okay dad. I understand.” Heartbroken, Maya gets the words out while holding back tears in her eyes. In one smooth motion she grabs her backpack, unfastens her seatbelt, and opens the door just as the car stops in front of her school.
“I’ll see you tonight, after…” Her dad calls out as the door closes, heartbroken.
Maya joins the swarm of students filing in through the front doors of the school when she hears her name.
“Maya…MAYA…wait!” Ana calls out above the crowd just as she enters the building.
Maya quickly ducks into the bathroom, tears finally busting through her emotional blockade. She enters the first stall and tries to compose herself. Grabbing some toilet paper she hears her best friend again.
“Maya…seriously, what the hell?” Ana exclaims with more concern than annoyance.
“Sorry Ana, I’m not feeling well—I’ll catch up with you in second period okay?” She says, hoping the quivering of her voice isn’t perceived.
The problem with a true best friends is they know when to leave and when to stay.
“Good idea Maya, I don’t want to listen to all the crap pouring out of you today,” double meaning intended, “I’ll see you later.”
When will Maya understand that she can’t lie to me, Ana wonders as she slides over and leans against the wall, waiting. How can you not love a friend like that?
Peter waits in his car hoping Maya will turn around. When she disappears into the hive of students he bows his head. Taking a deep breath he waits for the familiar feelings of shame, disappointment and guilt to flow over him and into the fathomless pit centered in his chest.
Fourteen months ago, when the pit first ripped open he found himself standing on the edge. He stared down into a void of unknown for the first time in his life, picked up a rock and threw it as far as he could. He’s still waiting to hear when it lands. It’s painful to love someone this much.
Finally, Peter drives to work.
The organization of the firm has always brought a sense of peace to Peter. Everyone has a role, every role has a need and those needs are fulfilled by everyone doing their roles. It’s simple, orderly, precise. Just like Peter.
After a busy afternoon Peter walks into his office and feels something different—something he recognizes immediately. He quickly closes the door, shuts the blinds and unplugs his phone. He wants to savor every moment because he knows the feeling won’t stay long. He sits at his desk and whispers, “Kara…”
Pain is hard.
Maya dries her tears and when she opens the stall door she doesn’t want Ana there, but hopes she is.
When Maya was six she was getting pushed around by some older girls. Ana came out of no where grabbed the biggest girl in the group by the hair and yanked her to the ground screaming, “DOES ANYONE ELSE THINK THEY ARE TOUGH?!” That was eight years ago and the girl from the successful family and the girl from the broken family have been together ever since.
“So?” Ana’s voice echoes against the tile walls.
Maya can only shake her head side to side, “He can’t.”
Then she feels Ana’s strong embrace. “I’ll be there,” she pulls back and looks her friend in the eye through tears of her own, “you need to concentrate!” Maya looks back at Ana and nods. How can you not love a friend like that?
In class Maya tries to concentrate. She closes her eyes and envisions every movement, every touch, every sound that she’ll need to repeat again tonight with perfection. Something she has done hundreds of times, but right now her mind can’t focus on tonight. Instead it pulls her back into the music instrument store when she was five. Her mom leading her by the hand.
While scanning the different instruments she can’t hear it—can’t feel it, until she sees the violin. Just looking at it brings the music out of her. She discerns music like anyone else sees color or feels emotions. There is a different song for everything in her life. The music comes to her and through her violin she’s found a way to let it out. There is the song of friendship, the song of joy and the song of family.
She hasn’t heard the song of family for fourteen months. The song left Maya when her mother died and dark songs entered her heart for the first time in her life. For months the song of anguish and grief kept all the music inside. Then she heard the eerie melody from the song of pain beating inside the closed violin case. Her chest hurt the first time she played it. The song took her heart and echoed inside the empty pit left in its place. But she played anyway. Something about the pain felt right and that pain propelled her to first chair in the Marriottsville Philharmonic Orchestra. Maya was fifteen. Pain can be motivating.
Grief is complicated.
Peter knows a lot of people are counting on him. Everyone he passes in the building depends on him being able to fulfill his role to the firm today. To close the deal he has worked on for two years. The deal that has forged ahead despite his sorrow.
Fourteen months ago he was successful at his job because of Kara. When Kara was alive his world was in perfect balance. She was nothing like him and he loved her for it. He followed rules, she broke them. He needed structure, she was spontaneous. He was smart, she was a genius. Together they filled every gap in each others lives to complete the perfect puzzle. How can you not love a friend like that?
Maya and Kara were as much alike as Peter and Kara were different. Peter loves Maya for it.
With Kara the family flowed perfectly together. Without Kara that flow screeched to a halt. Peter felt like he couldn’t give Maya what she was missing. Maya felt like she couldn’t give her father what he needed. With Kara gone, they felt more like two individuals instead of a family. So he started missing performances—focused on work. She started missing dinners—focused on friends. The pain in their chests pushed against each other like identical poles between two magnets. Peter and Maya knew they were drifting apart. A father and daughter feeling the same emotions were now separated. Because grief is complicated.
Sitting at his desk Peter remembers the last time he felt this feeling—felt Kara. Five months ago, in his darkest moment, he was seriously contemplating if Maya would be better off alone than with a broken father. Then he heard Kara’s voice.
“I’m still here for both of you. Now learn to be there for each other.”
That night Peter fell asleep on the couch waiting to ask Maya if she ever had a similar experience. She didn’t come home.
Peter looks at his watch. His meeting is in one hour. Then he remembers the car ride from this morning.
“Dad?” Maya breaks the silence fidgeting with her bracelet, “are you coming to the performance tonight?”
“I’m sorry honey—I have my meeting.” He says, breaking both their hearts.
“Oh ya,” Maya utters pretending she forgot, “it’s okay dad, I understand.”
Just then Kara’s voice roars through Peter’s head, “GO!”
Peter jumps up and for once, without thinking of consequences, runs out of his office past everyone he’s letting down. He doesn’t care.
Maya tunes her violin with the song of pain banging in her head. The conductor enters the auditorium and shakes her hand. She takes a deep breath then feels something different—something she recognizes immediately. She closes her eyes and whispers, “Momma,” then begins to play.
Peter runs into the building, Ana is there, waiting.
“I knew you’d come.” She says smiling. “Hurry up, this way.” She leads him into a back hallway and through an unmarked door into the auditorium. How could he not love a friend like that? He enters to see his girl close her eyes and start to play.
The last note fades and Maya opens her eyes to see the entire audience on their feet, but can not hear their ovation. The song of family has returned with the song of pain softly in the back ground. She sees her father approaching with tears on his cheeks and smiling. She drops her violin, tosses the bow and jumps off the stage into his arms.
Tonight she’ll tell him how she felt her mother with her during the performance. In the future they will remember this night as the night when they started to flow together. The night when Peter heard his rock land at the bottom of the pit. The night when the song of family returned.