Melancholy Melody

“Ms. Langley! No running in the hallway, please!”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Bradford. I’m in a rush. You can put me in detention later!”

Mr. Bradford just shook his head and went back to catching students breaking the hallway rules.
As soon as she reached the music room, Kate immediately settled down and sat at the piano. She took out pieces of paper from her bag and placed it on the piano. She took a deep breath and started playing according to the notes where she marked ‘from here’. After she felt satisfied, she played the whole song from the beginning, ending it with a pianissimo.

“That’s a very nice piece. Is that an original?” A voice came from behind the school’s grand piano surprised her.
“Who’s there?”
“I’m Ian; a guitarist and senior. If you don’t mind, I think the piece that you –“
“I do actually. I’m sorry, I have to go.” Kate immediately packed her things and left the music room before Ian could say anything further. She left him puzzled, yet amazed at the same time.
Free period wasn’t over yet. After the surprise encounter with Ian the guitarist and senior, Kate needed to find a way to make time fly quickly within the next fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes are long enough to continue composing her song. Then, she remembered the garden on the roof, the one the science club started out as a project just a couple of months back. It’s full of flowers now and there are places to sit too. It’s a perfect place to feel inspired.

She started humming and tapping her fingers on her lap along with the notes; studying her very first piece she had ever composed, adding in any extra details she left out and even struggling to find a perfect ending. Nothing felt right. What’s worse was that she was afraid to get near her piano at home, let alone playing it. Her mother would threaten her into selling the piano if she didn’t help her out at the family bakery once she got back from school. She thinks playing the piano is just a waste of time. In other words, Kate could only finish her song at school.

Her father on the other hand, died in a car accident soon after she turned nine. He was a pianist, just like her too. In fact, Kate never went to any music school in town. Her father taught her everything he knew about the piano, and everything she needed to know about it. He found her passion towards music even before she was in pre-k. He knew deep in his heart that she would turn into a great musician some day. But little did he know that he would not be with her when that day comes.

The piano was the only thing Kate was determined to keep after her father died. The rest of the household items had to be sold to support her family for an extra income. Even though the piano was worth thousands, it was the only thing that reminded her of the times he spent with her. After the accident, her mother had to take bigger responsibility in raising the family on her own. All that’s left was the bakery, and the piano.

Kate came back to reality when she realized free period was over. She let out a sigh before making her way back to class. Calculus was about to start very soon.

The next day was a Saturday. Weekends were always a routine to her family; all of them will be helping out at the bakery. There was no escaping it; not even homework. Her sisters, Ruth and Amy would always be whining about how much work needed to be done, or how sweaty they’re all going to be after a long day, or complain about certain rude customers that came in that very day. As a big sister, she couldn’t agree more, but it was the only way to support her mother. They pouted in agreement. Kate smiled as they walked their way to the family’s bakery.

As predicted, there were a lot of customers coming in and out of the bakery. Some stayed to finish their deadline assignments, some came to make reservations and some even came just to say hi. She had always loved to help out at the bakery along with her mother; she just couldn’t understand why she never blessed her talents just like her father. She wished her mother could just explain why the cold shoulder every time she started asking.

Kate shook her head as she tried to let it go. It wasn’t the time yet. She wanted to prove to her mother that she supports her no matter what, even if she doesn’t support her in return. She would still continue finishing her song and that one day her mother would recognize her talent. At the same time, she still had to figure out what to do and where to go after graduation. Again, she shook her head and let it go. “I’ll worry about it later,” she said under her breath while kneading dough.

***

“Kate! Did you see the posters about the school’s talent show? Omigosh, please tell me you will be joining it this year. I hate to see your talent being wasted away at that bakery of yours.”
“Laura, that’s not nice. You know how things are.”
“I’m sorry, but you know what I mean!”
“It’s a week away; I still have time to think about it.”
“Think again, missy. The last day of signing up is in two days away. If you don’t make a move now, you might miss it.”
“Miss what, Laura? Having the chance to compete against hundreds of talented students in this school?”
“Exactly!”
“I don’t know, Laura. I’ll think about it. I’ll see you in Chemistry, okay?”
“Wouldn’t want to miss it!”

Such enthusiasm; I wonder where she got it, Kate thought to herself with a smile. She closed her locker and turned around, only to bump into Ian.

“It’s you! Hey, you’re that girl who played that amazing song in the music room with the piano! Although I must add there was something wrong with… Hey!” She was freaked out by him that she started running the opposite direction, when English was only 5 feet away from her locker.
“English is this way, by the way!”
She stopped running, and then turned around. “How’d you know??”
“You dropped your textbook.” He bent down, and picked it up. He held it in his hands until Kate decided to turn back.
“Give it to me, please. I’m already late. If Mr. Bradford finds us both here, you and I will be in detention!”
“I’m late too. How about this; I give you your textbook back, and you tell me your name in return, is that all right?”
“Fine. It’s Kate. Now can I have my book back?”
“See, that wasn’t so hard. Say hi to Ms. Grover for me.”
“Whatever.”

Ian felt amused with Kate’s reaction towards him. She was the only girl who never thought of flirting around with him. Instead, she would start to run away from him like he was some sort of ghost to her and never look back. He grinned as he was watching her going to her English class, until Mr. Bradford caught him still leaning by the lockers in the hallway.

“Mr. Campbell, what are you doing here in the hallway, not being in class?”
“Oh, just love at first sight, sir.” Ian said as he started to walk away calmly, like nothing major was going to happen. He was still grinning, thinking of Kate’s retreating form.
“If I catch you late for class again, Mr. Campbell, I’ll see you in detention.”
“No worries, Mr. Bradford. It won’t happen again.”

***

“I figured I might find you here.” Ian said as he closed the door behind him, with his guitar in his right hand. Kate, as usual, was at the piano during free period every Friday.
“You again! What are you, some sort of stalker or something?”
“And you, why do you keep running away from me like I was some sort of ghost?”
“That’s not the point. I’m sorry, I need to go.”
“You see, you’re doing it again!”
“Well, I’m sorry if I’m being rude, but I can’t help myself-“
“- if you find me interesting?” Ian finished her sentence jokingly.
“Uugh. You are so annoying! Please excuse me; I believe the exit is behind you.” With all her might, Kate was trying to push Ian aside.
“Look, Kate. I can understand if we started off at the wrong edge and I’m sorry if I ever scared you or anything. I just want to be your friend.”
She stopped trying pushing him aside. She looked at him and said, “You’ll never understand.” and then walked out the door. But Ian wouldn’t give up.
“Kate! Try me.” He shouted when she was ten feet away from him. “Please.”
She turned around and walked back to the music room to show him her newly composed song. “I haven’t really finished it yet.” She said, and then started playing.

It sounded a little different from the last time he heard her play it. It was like she was trying to tell him a story, through this song. From the expression shown, he could see that she was in despair, but he wasn’t sure why. Then as the song goes on, it sounded like she was trying to break free from something, but she just couldn’t find her way out. He was already mesmerized by her playing until she came to a sudden stop.

“All you need is a happy ending.” Ian said immediately.
“What?”
“Your song, how long have you been composing it?”
“It’s been awhile now. I never really took notice of it when I started. And you’re right; it doesn’t have a perfect ending yet.”
“An ending doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be the way you’ve always wanted. In your case, you need a happy ending.”
“Really? Tell me, genius, how do I make a happy ending?”
“I don’t know anything about piano, but I think this is nice.” Ian took out his guitar and started plucking a random melody as a suggestion for Kate’s ending.
“That is nice.” Kate smiled as she was complimenting him.
“A genius is a genius isn’t it?” He was still plucking his guitar when the both of them cracked up at Ian’s sense of humor.
And then, free period was over.
“Calculus time. Gotta go!” Kate started packing her things and got ready to leave the music room.
“Kate, wait. When will we be seeing each other again?”
“Silly boy, this is high school. I’m not going anywhere. I’ll see you during the talent show.”
“You’re joining the talent show? Great! Don’t back down okay, I will not lose to you.”
“Start dreaming, silly boy.” She gave him a pat on his back and went out the door. He could understand that she really meant it.

***

“Mom, I signed up for the school’s talent show and I’ll be playing an original. You see, this is a song I’ve composed for a while now.” Kate explained to her mother as she showed her pieces of paper that only she could understand, during breakfast.
“You composed this? Wow, that’s so cool!” Ruth praised.
“Yeah, Kate. This is awesome! How many songs have you been composing??” Amy praised along.
“Just this one, actually. You guys could come and see me too. We’ll be at the main hall.”
“Ruth, Amy. Wait for me outside, please. I need to speak to your sister for a while.” Somehow,

Kate’s mother didn’t sound furious by Kate’s sudden decision. She knew this day would come, and that she had to start living with her daughters’ choices for the rest for her life. She took out an envelope from one of the cabinet drawers in the kitchen and placed it on the table. It has ‘Katherine Holly Langley’ written on it.

“What is this?”
“Honey, I’m sorry if I had been hard on you and your sisters, but I just want the best for all of us. On your father’s deathbed, he made me promised not to push any of you into doing anything that you don’t love, even if it means I disapprove of it. As a big sister you’ve tried your best to keep this family going and I really appreciate it. This is a letter from your father, written by me with his exact words just hours before he died. I thought I’ll let you read it now. You’ll need all the support you can get.”

She smiled, left Kate by the dining table with the letter and sent both Ruth and Amy to school before heading down to the bakery. Kate opened the letter and started reading it.

Dear Kate,

How have you been doing? Very well, I hope. As you know, you’ve turned 18 today. You’re a big girl now. Soon, you’ll be graduating from high school. I’m sure you’re a little scared of the future.

Don’t worry, I was scared too when I was still a lad. I wanted to enter Julliard, become a professional pianist and perform all around the world. Such a high ambition to achieve, I didn’t realize it until I fell really hard. Then I met your mom one day, and it changed everything. Because of her, I have you.

A lot of things had happened along the way during my absence I’m sure, but there’s a silver lining to everything. I hope you’ll find yours and I hope you will never stop doing what you loved most – playing the piano.

Love,
Dad.

She felt her eyes fill with tears after she’d finished reading the letter. She quickly wiped them, took the letter with her and rushed to school. She didn’t want to be late for school, on the most important day of her life, for now.

It turned out, Ian just finished his turn of showing off his talent, and it was now time for hers. She reached school on time, and ran as fast as she could to the main hall. There, the whole school was waiting for her, but she made it. She emptied her mind, sort of transferred everything to the tips of her finger and gave all her heart while playing her song. It didn’t even matter if she didn’t win; she was doing it for her father.

Ever since her father died, she never took his departure very well. She was very close to him. To face that he died in an accident when she barely hit puberty was like hitting a wall and having nowhere to go since then. She felt lost and a bit hopeless. But as time passed she learned to face it by composing a song that reminded her of him. She called it, her melancholy melody. It was her very feelings when he was gone…Until this morning. To know that her father will always be there for her was the ending to her melancholy melody – it was a breakthrough.

She was halfway through when she looked up and saw Ian across the stage, behind the curtains. He was smiling at her, giving her two thumbs up. His encouragement spurred Kate, filling her body with adrenaline. She played the last notes slowly and lovingly, as though as she was trying to show that her new beginning is starting as she was ending her melancholy melody. Again, she looked at Ian, who nodded and smiled knowingly.

After she had finished playing, Kate was surprised at the applause she got. Some even gave her a standing ovation. She bowed, and at the same time a happy grin plastered on her face. She hurried to the back of the stage, where the other contestants congratulated her and patted her back. She thanked everyone and found Ian standing at the corner, smiling at her.

“I like your ending, but you should have gone with a genius’ idea,” he shrugged, grinning.
She smiled back, “I should? Well, it was kind of impromptu.”
“I know; I could see that it came from your heart. I hope you’ll win.”
“I don’t know; you sounded pretty good too.”
“Thanks. Oh, they’re announcing the winners now!”
She won second place, but it was worth it. She knew somewhere somehow her father is very proud of her. “I beg to differ,” Ian said suddenly. “I think you’ve won first place in my heart.” He blushed slightly.
She blushed too. “I think my dad would be proud of that too.”
“So, what now?”
“I don’t know; just as long as I will never stop doing what I loved most – playing the piano.”
“Awesome.”

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