Drowning in a sea of fear and uneasiness, a young musician stared across the dining room of the newly established private club. Patrons were pouring in on this fateful Saturday evening and the building would soon be filled to capacity. Tony finished his entree and quickly consumed the beer in his hand as the waitress handed him another. He was a well trained pianist, having studied with a great professor, but public performance had always proven to be his bane. Slipping out the back door Tony thought, just one more cigarette.
What is my problem? I've ran the set list more times than I can count. There's not a song on there that I can't easily play. Besides, the place is packed and ripe for the picking.
Having been unemployed for the last few months, Tony didn't have a choice at this point. The landlord had already been more patient than could be expected. And so had the owner of the club. He had already been provided a free meal and an unlimited flow of alcohol, so cowering down was not even an option. As the crimson glow reached its end with one last gratifying rush followed by a haze of determination exhaled, Tony threw it down and returned inside.
As tempting as it was to return to his seat and feign ignorance, Tony moved toward the piano and sat down. He looked across the room to see a few familiar faces that brought him the smallest shred of comfort. Some of his friends had made it out to his first night. His cousin, a guitarist, was there with his wife, and a young woman who could arguably be called his greatest fan, was there smiling and waving at him.
Jan's presence might prove to be a double edged sword, considering that any comfort that she might bring could be countered by the pressure to impress. Tony had to admit that he was fond of her, as most men were who had met her. He had thoroughly enjoyed playing piano for her in the past and helping her with the music to the noteless set of lyrics she had written. And now she's here to see and support me, Tony thought with a smile. As pleased as he was with her arrival, he couldn't help but notice that there was still someone missing out there.
If only Lynn were here...
With trembling hands and fingers, Tony began his first song. It was a simple and safe song to start his set with, the song that he had played more than any. Things were going smoothly during the verse, chorus, and second verse until he reached the flat seven tonic chord that preceded the second chorus.
Damn! Okay, just keep it together. It was just a stumble. Most of them didn't even notice.
But Tony knew without a doubt that Jan had noticed. Even if he couldn't have seen the concern in her eyes, she was an artist with a keen ear, a lover of music. Besides, she had heard him play this song before without error. Continuing through to the end of his first song, Tony continued to stumble with his fingers slipping off the keys due to them shaking nervously.
At least he got the final chord right. Now to start the second song. It was in a way tougher key than the first. Tony wondered how in the world he would play this one when he could barely play the one before it.
Oh wow. What timing! But hey, twenty bucks is twenty bucks.
The owner of the club had just dropped a twenty dollar bill into Tony's tip jar. It felt painfully like pity and a bit condescending, but for someone as broke as Tony, pride simply doesn't pay the bills.
He began the second song by playing the intro to perfection and moved through the first minute of it without any issues at all. But every time he allowed himself to be distracted by the crowd, another mistake would plague the performance.
If only Lynn were here. She'd say something, I'd laugh, and I wouldn't be nervous anymore.
To his absolute surprise as he looked up for a moment from the keys, someone was there. Standing slightly to his left with a gentle smile on her face was Jan. Tony looked up and gave her a glance that must have cried out with the frustrations of failure and embarrassment.
Don't look at them. Don't worry about them. You've got this. Play only for me.
It was just a handful of words, but they rang out into Tony's soul causing the fear and shaking to dissolve like the resolution of a dissonant cadence. Tony finished the second song with ease, and during the third song Jan was sitting next to him on the bench. It reminded him of the more casual atmosphere at her home, where he had often played only for her before. In fact, it was as if they had been transported to her home and to her piano. It was as if they were the only two people in the room.
Jan remained with Tony for the next few songs, until the end of the first set. The fourth song was her favorite song ever, so as Tony played, Jan softly sang the lyrics into his ear. Could this really be happening? Does she really? Even with such happily distracting thoughts in his head, the serene calmness that was now inside Tony allowed him to play without fault. They were like two strings resounding in sympathetic harmony. Even the more difficult Chopin pieces would give him no trouble.
One set was down, two more would remain. As Tony got up from the piano for a break, he realized that he was so focused on Jan that he didn't even know how the tip jar had become full of one, five, and ten dollar bills. After a hug and a heartfelt sentiment of thanks, the two said goodbye. Tony stepped out the back and Jan left the club, but not before letting Tony know where he could catch up with her later.
As Tony returned to the piano, he noticed that there was a check inside the tip jar. The check was made out to him personally for twenty thousand dollars, though he wouldn't find that out until he was finished with the third set. Counting tips in public was, in his opinion, not the act of a professional performer.
Tony didn't meet up with Jan later that night. As much as he wanted to, he knew in his heart that he was in no shape to begin a new relationship. His already incredible respect for her had grown exponentially at the club that evening. As he predicted, Jan made the most of her evening. She would be the life of the party, the delightfully social butterfly that she always was. Upon arriving home, she pulled out a small black notebook from a drawer in her bedroom and began to journal the events of the day. Tony would go on to play many more times on several different stages. As the years progressed, the memory of that first show would fade. But somewhere hidden in each collection of melodies that he played, the essence of that special woman would echo on through that fleeting moment of silence that followed the resolution of each final cadence he would ever play.
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