Mom taught Shae to play the piano when she was seven and her short fingers were the only thing that got in her way. Sitting still, she watched the white and black keys and everything she saw on them was painted in the same distinct colors. She heard the way notes fit together, and if her pulse wasn’t her own perfect metronome, she faked it well enough to fool even herself.
She mimicked Mom until she didn’t have to anymore. Then she played as if she had never learned, but always known. One hand pulled out melody, the other harmony, like white rabbits from a hat. When her timing stumbled, she just muttered about wanting to stretch her fingers and kept going.
When I was five, I pulled Mom to the piano, grinning, jumping up and down on the end of her arm because of what I figured I had stolen, spying over Shae’s shoulder. I played for her with one hand, half the right notes with all the wrong timing in between.
“Ta-da!” I shouted at the end, with my hands over my head, and she grinned back at me.
“Did I do it right?” I asked.
Terius faltered on the first step inside the open stone hall. “You’re still awake?” he said, seeing his cousin, Zain sitting at the rich redwood piano situated in the far corner. He looked a little disappointed, but not all that surprised, as if he’d hoped that Zain would have had the better sense of the two of them, but knew that he didn’t.
“Too full,” Zain said, patting his stomach, with one hand still idly pressing the ivory keys.
It had been hours since they’d eaten, but his mother’s welcome dinner was nothing short of culinary excellence. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to him. She was a woman who could have paid for someone else’s talent in her kitchen, but chose to complete the hot and time-consuming chore herself. Because she liked it. And anyone who enjoyed themselves in a task like that usually put in enough practice to be very good.
But Zain didn’t remember the food from when he was small, sitting around her table every night. He thought, maybe, it was just that he hadn’t yet been out on the ocean to learn about the rough nutrition of months aboard ship. Or maybe, it just hadn’t left an impression because he had never known anything else. Or because he was just too young. But he had taken a single bite of his juicy, pink-in-the-center, two-fingers-thick steak that night, and decided he was going to stuff himself.
Terius ran a hand over his own stomach, and nodded sympathy. Coming across the hall, he dropped onto the piano bench beside Zain. He sat with his back to the piano, and leaned forward over his knees.
Tamzen had a piano which sat in one sunny corner of the receiving hall. It was a thing of beauty, curves like waves that met with the firm angles of the keyboard so that the whole thing looked like an ocean breaking itself against a cliff face.
When she was younger, before it had been hers, she had sat for hours and imagined that it might sing like an ocean too, if it was played correctly. Her mother had played slow, somber things on it, and formal things, and never anything so sweet as a waterside breeze or lively as wave foam. Tamzen sat beside her, when her fingers were still too small and her hands too careless to be allowed to touch the keys, and she watched. She learned the sounds. She memorized each tone as her mother coaxed it from the piano, and sorted out her favorites.
Once, just once, in the dark of midnight, she crept down and pressed them. Just her favorites. One after the other, then two at a time to see how they sounded together, then three or four in rapid rolling motions to make them hum against each other. The sound echoed in the quiet house, and her heartbeat hammered and her fingers shook, and she looked over her shoulder every few seconds, certain her mother would hear her. After just a few minutes, she ran back upstairs. She never crept down again.