The following story is about the development of a fully consensual and loving relationship between a man and a pre-adolescent boy. At some point through the story's progression, there will be a graphic display of sexual acts between the man and the boy meant to show the natural progression and development of an intimate and caring relationship. If the topic of man/boy sex offends you, or if this material is illegal in your place or residence, or if you are under legal age, please leave now.
Any similarities between the characters in this story and any persons living and/or dead is purely a coincidence.
This story is protected under the nifty archives license agreement, and the author (me!) releases the right for nifty and nifty alone to post it on the internet. Please do not post this story anywhere else without my consent or knowledge.
It is here where I try to give you some of the character background I know I have been neglecting for most of the story. I suppose I wanted to wait until Josh and Steven could share it together, but I also realize there are some things that the reader should know before reading forward. So, I hope that this answers some questions, and at the same time, raises even more.
I hope you enjoy this chapter, and please don't forget to let me know what you think of it at email@example.com.
"Are you sure you're ready to do this Josh? There is no pressure if you feel like you're not ready." Steven said in a voice barely audible.
Josh nodded his head slightly. "I'm ready. I want to do this."
Steven gave a brief nod, and then added in one last whisper. "Remember what we discussed last night, and you will do just fine."
With that, Steven spun around, facing the rest of the class. "I would now like you to put your hands together for Joshua Chambers, not only for playing a fine selection of Joplin, but for being brave enough to play in front of his classmates."
Once Steven had finished his announcement, the class clapped, or at least some clapped. Josh knew that maybe only half of the class really cared about the stuff Steven taught. Though most of the other half really didn't care, some actively took opportunities to make their displeasure known. Though Steven didn't let that kind of behavior continue for long, Josh knew there were just some students Steven would never be able to convince. Still, even if he knew he wasn't receiving the warmest introduction, he knew it was important to do this.
This would not only be the first time he played the piano since the festival, but his next performance for Steven in front of people. Even if they were only his classmates, it was still important. Even if he wasn't competing anymore, it was still a chance to set things right, in front of an audience. Though he knew there was no reason for Steven to run, and nowhere for him to run to, Josh felt like this was something he had to do.
It had been Josh's idea. He had gone over to Steven's house last night, and took the risk yet again that his mother would catch him. Monday, when everything had come spilling out, Josh had gotten home in the nick of time. Luckily his mother had been too exhausted to notice he hadn't eaten the dinner she set out for him, and he was sure she wasn't going to be home any earlier tonight either. Then there was the fact that he had missed community service for the church. He figured if he just told her he wasn't feeling well, she would let it slide. All they had been doing for that anyways was going around to people's houses, picking weeds and spraying insecticide. It was just about the worst thing he could imagine doing, especially if father Roberts or one of the nuns went with them. They would make sure to get every last weed, and kill every last bug. Josh was getting so sick and tired of doing these things for people he didn't even know.
Instead, he rode home with Steven as he usually did, and told him that as long as he got home before eight, he would be okay. Steven asked if his mother knew he had come back... and he didn't know what to say. So he lied again. He didn't want Steven feeling any worse than he already did. He knew that Steven already felt bad about the whole music festival thing, and Josh didn't want him feeling guilty for getting him into trouble. If Josh was going to get into trouble this time, it would be his own fault, and not Steven's.
So he had gone over. Steven asked him to play again, and Josh almost had, but stopped himself. He told Steven he wanted to perform for him again, except this time, make it go more like it should have. Steven was supportive, but was unsure of how to accomplish it until Josh suggested performing in front of the class. Steven told him how touched he was by that, and how much it meant to him.
Now it was time again, time for him to perform. Though the pressure wasn't as much, and the song wasn't as hard, it was still important that he do well. It was important that Steven was pleased, and maybe just a little bit, that his classmates were impressed.
With a slight tremble to his walk, Josh made his way over to the piano he knew so well. It was the first piano that Steven had heard him on, and it was the first piano where he really learned the difference between playing the piano, and playing the piano well. He was going to play that piano now, and he was going to play it as well as Steven had taught him.
He sat down at the piano and took a deep breath. He didn't have his music with him this time, because he didn't need it. He knew this song well. It was another song that he and Steven had spent hours on, and wouldn't have been able to play at all without Steven's help. True to Joplin and his style, Josh began fluttering his fingers across the piano. When the class heard the tune of the song, some of them actually sat up in their seats. This was their first day studying any kind of music other than classical, and Josh was willing to bet that some of them had never heard music like this before. The first time he had heard Steven play this, and then another rag that he had called ragtime revival, he was truly amazed. Though he knew he couldn't play the really hard ones, he had spent a lot of time with the Maple Leaf. Now it was time to show it off.
Once he got past the first section, he let his body swing into motion, playing softly in some parts, and more loud in others. When he got the theme really kicking, one of the kids actually started clapping. He wasn't sure who that first kid was, but as soon as one started, it seemed like the whole rest of the class joined along. By the time be got closer to the end of the song, where the stride bass and bouncing melody got really tricky, the whole class was clapping in time with the rhythm. Instead of getting all nervous like he thought he would, his playing actually got better. He honestly didn't think he had played the piece as good as he was playing it now, almost banging out the rapid rhythm of the song, his fingers flying across the keyboard at an almost uncontrollable pace.
"The Maple Leaf Rag, everyone," Steven announced as Josh pushed himself away from the piano, throwing his head back. The applause was thunderous. Several kids actually whistled. Even Steven had a look of awe on his face. "Very well done!" Josh smiled up at Steven. He had finally done it. That was how it should have gone at the festival, and he was happy now it could finally go that way.
Steven wrapped up his lecture with some final words about ragtime, and what other composers had contributed besides Joplin, but the class was still buzzing, even after he handed out the assignments. Once Steven dismissed the class, Josh eagerly sprang out of his seat, in hopes of telling Steven how relieved he felt. But before he could even make it half-way across the room, he felt someone tug on his shoulder from behind.
"Josh! That was totally awesome man. I had no idea you could play like that!"
Josh spun around sharply, and was amazed to find Will staring straight down at him. Being one of the few 8th graders in the class, it surprised Josh greatly that he was even talking to him. Roger was also there by his side. Ever since Will had invited Roger to his band, Will and Roger seemed to be inseparable.
"I could really use a guy like you on the keyboard," Will said all buddy-like, putting a hand on Josh's shoulders.
Roger, who had been lingering behind Will several steps, not making direct eye contact, finally spoke up when he heard Will's announcement. "Wait! What about me? I thought I was on the keyboard!"
Will simply rolled his eyes. "Just yesterday you told me how much you wanted to be second guitar. You saying you're not interested anymore?"
Roger stepped up closer. "You mean I can? I've been practicing a lot at home. My mom even bought me a guitar last week."
Will turned a bit, so he was facing both Josh and Roger. "Well, there you go. Now's your chance to take on a bigger role in the group."
"Sweet!" Roger shot a fist up in the air.
"So what do you say Josh? With you in the group, we might be able to do some serious stuff. You heard of The Smashing Pumpkins right?" Josh could only nod his head slightly. "We could do some serious Melancholy with you in the band. Yeah, there's a lot of stuff that I just know Roger here wouldn't be able to do. No offense Roger." Roger however seemed too excited to be bothered.
"So, you in my man?" Will asked, looking him directly in the eye.
It was all happening so fast. One second, he was completely ignored by pretty much everyone in class, and now he was being asked by one of the coolest boys in the school if he could join his band. It was like instant celebrity. If he had known this would be the result, he would have played for the class far sooner. Except... he didn't think he would have had the courage until now.
"Yes! I mean... yeah man, that's cool." Josh said, trying to contain his own excitement.
"Cool. We practice every Tuesday and Thursday after school, or whenever we feel like it. Sometimes we just hang out, and you're welcome to swing by. Maybe we can hear some more of that ragtime stuff. My ma has a pretty good piano, so you can play that too if you want."
"Sure, okay!" Josh still couldn't believe this was happening.
"Alright then bro, we're on for tomorrow night, so show up if you can, and we'll jam."
Almost as quickly as he had come up to him, he was gone. Off to do the important things that eighth-graders do, Josh guessed. Once Will and Roger were out of the room, he took a long breath. He had actually been invited to a band! He kinda liked Will too. In the school band, he thought Will did a really good job playing the trombone. So, he must be pretty good at the guitar too. Though Will wasn't mean, like a lot of eighth-grade bullies he knew, he still wasn't the kind of boy Josh thought he could just go up and talk to, even though he knew he let Roger, who was also only a sixth-grader, hang around him.
When Josh turned around to face Steven, who had only been a few feet away by his desk, had probably heard everything. Steven gave him a big thumbs up and Josh could only smile back. It was just immensely cool that he had gotten invited, and he knew that none of it would have happened if it hadn't been for Steven.
There was still one thing that worried him though. Josh didn't know how to play any rock music at all.
Steven's fingers danced elegantly down the keyboard. Before Josh was due to arrive, he had decided to give Debussy's Toccata from Pour le Piano a go. Unfortunately, his carpel tunnel has not getting any better. Only a few minutes into his playing, the muscles in his fingers began to ache. He knew once it began, the pain would slowly increase until it became impossible to direct his fingers in any meaningful way. It helped, however to give them a rest after each piece. He was usually able to get an hour of practice in that way. Long enough to stay in practice, but not near long enough to play anything serious. Not long enough to play though the many piano concertos he once knew.
Steven did his best to push aside that other pain, the pain of regret. Sometimes though, that pain crept up on him, despite all his attempts to ignore it. Yes, it was true that he might have become someone truly great, a name to be remembered alongside Vladimir Horowitz and Arthur Rubinstein. Everyone had said so, even when he was small.
He truly hadn't ever considered teaching as a profession, especially with the "problem" he had developed. When he had become a teenager, a very large part of him wanted to spend all the time he could with boys younger than himself, almost more than he had wanted to play music, though he didn't understand why. But when he realized this desire was linked to his forming sexuality... that's when he realized anything like teaching was out of the question. He had already established a reputation for being the "responsible" and "proper" boy his parents had demanded him to be, and could not allow himself any indulgences. Even though his father had rarely ever been home, his mother worked hard to ensure that not a minute of Steven's time was wasted. So, he had buried his feelings, and embraced the prodigal image that his mother, and everyone else had imposed on him. Music had then become both his excuse and his release at the same time.
Now, during the past seven months, he had been faced with it again. Faced with a problem that he had managed to ignore for pretty much the entirety of his adult life. His suspicions about becoming a teacher had been correct. Almost on the very first day, Joshua Chambers had walked into his life and changed it forever. Despite all his promises to keep some measure of emotional distance from him, his every attempt had failed. Despite his every attempt to keep the stone barriers up, every minute he was with him, every time he heard him play, every time he allowed himself to feel Josh's playing, large chunks of that wall came tumbling down. Now there was nothing left of that wall, and Steven had no choice to admit to being hopelessly, emphatically in love with the boy.
Now his greatest fear was letting that love cloud his judgment. Already he had let Josh back into his life. Seeing how Josh was last Monday, when he had explicitly left school early to visit him, showed him that the solution did not lie in separation. It had truly shocked him down to his very core seeing Josh react the way he had. Even though he knew, almost right after leaving the festival, that leaving Josh abruptly had not been the right decision, he had no idea Josh felt strongly enough to do what he had done. Then there was everything that had happened after that...
Now Steven was faced with the reality of trying to keep the relationship together, despite how hard he knew it was going to be. Already, he had to lie to the principal, telling her he had no idea where Josh had gone. The lie was actually Josh's idea, and he was right. Since Josh's mother hadn't been home, there was no way for the school to know he hadn't just gone straight home because he was feeling sick. Yes, his mother would find out, but he would simply tell her that the school had messed up the absences, and that he had really been in the nurses office, and the nurse had forgotten to inform his teachers.
The responsible side of Steven told him it was a bad idea to follow along with Josh's idea, but that soft, love-struck side melted as soon as Josh put on that puppy face, asking Steven to trust him.
Luckily enough, Josh had only needed to serve a lunch detention for running home sick instead of going to the nurses, and Josh's mother had accepted his fabricated story. Steven could only hope that Josh's mother wouldn't inquire any further, but Josh had assured him it wouldn't happen.
Now, two weeks after the music festival, everything seemed pretty much back to the way things were. Josh had to be home before his mother, but it seemed like she had been getting home at even later hours. Josh, of course, wanted to stay as long as he could, and Steven found himself powerless to stop him.
After Josh's beautiful playing during class, he attacked the piano with his usual rigor and zealous determination. At times, it was almost impossible to get him off the piano, even though it had been great to hear him play again. There were other times, however, when he didn't want to play at all, instead wanting to sit close to him. Whether Steven was reading, or watching something on TV, Josh would snuggle up against him, which took him completely by surprise the first time. When Steven put his arm around him, the boy only snuggled closer, occasionally looking back at him, smiling widely.
Seeing that smile only fueled his need to hug him all the closer, and even though he followed through with that feeling, he stayed his need to go any further. He knew in his heart that what Josh needed now was closeness, pure and simple, and for Josh's sake and the sake of his future, he dared not go further. Again he was resolved to do his best, no matter how hard it became for him. For now, Steven would take all that he could from that simple closeness and relish the hugs and the occasional soft pecks on the cheek.
It had been when they were like that, with Josh snuggled tightly to his side while watching a movie, when he had asked. The question seemed to come completely out of the blue, and yet again took Steven by surprise.
Josh had asked if they could go to a baseball game together. Though Steven couldn't be sure, he suspected there was something important behind his request, since baseball didn't seem like something Josh was interested in at all. So he had ordered tickets for the earliest game he could find. Besides, there was something... something about taking a boy to a baseball game... and Steven would do anything to keep that smile on Josh's face.
With Steven's fingers shooting with pain to finish Pour le Piano, and his mind having become clouded with a barrage of concerns, worries, and sorrows, continuing the piece seemed like an impossibility. His playing slowly came to a stop, leaving him to stare at the notes on the page in front of him, no longer able to play.
Luckily, his mind was spared from its downward spiral when the doorbell rang. Steven looked down at his watch. It was twelve on the dot, exactly when he had asked Josh to show up. Pushing all thoughts aside, Steven pushed himself away from the piano and walked to the entrance way. The sight that greeted Steven's eyes was once again completely unexpected. Josh was wearing an oversized tee-shirt and a baseball cap with the Colorado Rockies printed all over them. He almost looked like a completely different boy than the one who normally showed up at his door.
"My goodness, look at you! Looks like your all ready for the game today. He even has his own mitt," Steven said, shaking his head, unable to keep a grin off his face.
Josh turned the mitt over in his hands. "Yeah, it was buried in the back of my closet. I haven't had it out for a long time." He put it on real quick and held it up for Steven to see.
"We'll have to throw the ball around sometime, huh?"
Josh smiled and nodded. For a few moments, he had the look of a boy who had his every wish fulfilled, but it dissipated quickly. "Except I'm not really that good at catching it," Josh said, taking the glove back off.
Steven just shook his head. "I bet you're not any worse than me. Though I might be good at getting my hands to do what I want them to, my legs are another story entirely!"
Josh smirked a little. "I guess we can both be bad together then."
"That's about right. So, you ready to head off?"
Josh shook his head eagerly.
Though the trip to the field was pretty quiet for the most part, there was still a warm feeling in the car. Steven put some Liszt on, and both of them hummed out the melody to the 2nd Hungarian rhapsody when it played. As they got closer to downtown, Josh started asking about some of the buildings, especially what some of the tall ones were called. Steven more than happily filled in all the gaps he could, even though he couldn't name them all himself.
"Haven't you been to downtown before?" Steven asked Josh, after passing by the capital building.
"Yeah, it's just been a while. My dad brought me down here a few times, but he only knew about the capital building," Josh said, his eyes still watching the buildings go by.
"Well, we will have to visit some other places sometime. There's a lot to do around here, like the art museum, the national history museum, and the mint. Maybe the next time we come down here, we will buy your birth coin. They print out a special coin each year."
"Cool! Maybe we could find your year too, you think?"
Steven chuckled. "Maybe, but it was probably so long ago that those coins would have rusted."
Josh gave Steven a brief frown and punched his shoulder playfully. "Geez, you're not that old."
Luckily, the parking at the stadium wasn't a hassle. Since they had gotten there over an hour before the game, they were able to get a reasonable spot. The walk to the field was pleasant, with the sun shining warmly, but not too warmly, on their backs. Once inside, there was a decent crowd, but still light enough for them to maneuver easily, and find their seating section.
"Can we stop and get some hotdogs?" Josh asked, putting on his puppy-dog face again.
"Absolutely." This was Josh's day at the field, and Steven would do all that he could so that Josh would enjoy it.
Before stepping up to the vendor, Josh grabbed Steven's hand, and walked them both up to the man behind the cart. "We'd like two hotdogs please, and a side of nachos." Josh ordered expertly.
Steven didn't say a word, simply paying, then letting Josh take their dogs to the dispensers, watching him carefully add ketchup, mustard, and relish. Having seen where their seats where, Josh knew right where to go, and led them onto the first level, a little over a dozen rows down. When they got to their seats, Josh paused for a few moments after tucking his glove away and adjusting the food on his lap. He seemed to be taking in the atmosphere, studying the field, watching the players throw the ball around.
"Who do you think is going to win today?" Josh asked.
Steven had the sneaky suspicion that there was a specific answer Josh was expecting, but unfortunately, he had no idea. He did the best he could by dragging out what little knowledge of baseball he did have. "Well, from what I've heard, the Rockies are doing pretty good in the nationals this year, and have a better record than the Cardinals, so I guess the odds are in the Rockies favor."
Luckily, that answer seemed to satisfy Josh, as he simply nodded his head, taking a bite into his dog. Not wanting to detract from the atmosphere, Steven ate silently with Josh, as they both watched all that was happening around them. People were arriving steadily, and the mascot began his trek around the crowd. When Steven pointed out the purple triceratops, Josh smiled widely, waving a free hand in his direction.
After what didn't seem like very long at all, the crowd was asked to stand for the national anthem, then the game began. Josh looked very into it, standing when the crowd stood, and shouting when they shouted, and of course "doing the wave" when it came around.
When the inevitable happened, and one of the Rockies hit a home run, Josh went crazy. "Woo hoo, home run!" Then Josh turned to him. "Did you see that daddy?"
Steven looked at Josh for several long moments. It seemed to take both of them a while to realize what Josh had just said. As if time had slowed down to a crawl, the lighthearted look Josh had worn all day slowly melted from his face. It was almost as if he had awoken from a dream, and the pain Steven felt for being the cause was jarring.
"I'm sorry." Josh said quietly, tilting his head down, so that his face was hidden by the bill of his cap.
"No Josh, don't be sorry," Steven said, taking Josh's hand. "If anything, I feel incredibly honored, and would count myself as very fortunate if I could call you son."
Only just barely, Steven could hear a tiny sniffle. "Really?" Josh asked with his head still down.
"Absolutely," Steven assured the boy.
Josh seemed to let this soak in, as if he hadn't really understood it before, but was now finally beginning to. Steven, sensing how critical this moment was, decided that now as the right time to hug Josh close, despite anyone who might have been watching.
"Everything will be alright, I promise."
Those words, coupled with the close hug, seemed to open the floodgates of emotion within Josh. Josh hugged Steven back, every bit as tightly as Steven was hugging him
"I didn't want him to leave, Steven. Why did he have to go?" Josh said, his voice shaking as badly as his body.
"Shh." Steven said, smoothing out Josh's hair. "I don't know, but I promise you I'll do what I can to help find out why."
Josh shook his head, not out of anger, but frustration. "No, he told me why he left. He said it was for a lot of reasons. He said it was because he could no longer live with mom. He said he had family in Europe he had to take care of. He said that he and mom disagreed about a lot of things. But he said that none of it was my fault."
Steven remained still, gently stroking Josh's head. "And none of it is honey. The best you can do is hope that both of your parents remain civil, and do as much as they can for you."
Josh nodded his head slightly. "I know. Dad does send letters, but he doesn't call. Mom says it's because international calls get too expensive, and that he was going to a place that had very little money."
Steven was at a loss for what to say. There were so many questions he had, but he knew Josh wasn't in the right frame of mind to answer them. He also suspected that there was much Josh didn't know, and only his mother would be able to provide all the answers. Steven felt powerless himself, knowing there was so little he could do to truly help him with regards to his father. There was only one thing he could do.
"Josh, you know that no matter what, I'll be there for you. I promise you, as long as I'm able, I'll never leave your side. At least... as long as you'll have me."
When Josh brought his head back, a little bit of what had been there all day began to show through again. "Then I want you forever!"
"Your wish is my command," Steven said, lifting Josh off his feet in a big hug. Again Josh was laughing. With a smile back on Josh's face, all seemed to be right with the world again, and they both sat down to enjoy the rest of the game.
Though Josh didn't seem as animate about what was happening this time, he allowed the atmosphere to keep him in good cheer, until the game was over. Fortunately, Steven's predictions had been right and the Rockies had won, three to one. They took their time making their way to the exit, since they wouldn't be able to make any speed with the number of people leaving.
When they had finally made it to the car, Josh turned in his seat to face Steven. "Thank you so much for bringing me. I'm sorry for acting up earlier."
Steven shook his head. "There is no need to apologize. Though I don't know what it's like to have lost a father like you have, my own father was hardly around either."
Josh nodded his head and remained silent for a little while, watching as Steven maneuvered them out of the crowded stadium parking lot, seeming deep in thought. "Why wasn't your father around?"
Steven shrugged his shoulders. "My father was always on business trips. And when he did come back, he would only be around for a few days. He really didn't seem to take much interest in me. Sure, he would ask from time to time how I was doing in school, and he paid for all my piano lessons, and college as well, but... it always seemed like his work was more important to him."
"Oh..." Josh remarked softly. "At least when my father was around, he was really nice. He took me to a lot of baseball games, and soccer games too. My dad loved sports. He was even in his own minor league soccer team, and I went to his games all the time."
"Wow, it sounds like you and he were really into it. No wonder why you have all the paraphernalia. Were you on any sports teams at your last school?"
"Yeah. I used to be on a soccer team, but I quit when my dad moved away."
By the sadness in Josh's tone, Steven should have guessed the answer. Josh had probably quit all sports related things when his father had left.
"My mom didn't really like me playing sports anyways. She was always scared that I would get hurt. I sprained my ankle pretty bad once at a game. I remember dad having to argue with mom a lot to convince me to play again. So, when dad left, that was it."
"Do you miss being able to play then?" Steven asked.
Josh's face turned into a half frown. "Yeah, a little. I mean... I liked to play and all, and I really liked playing with my dad. But, I would get frustrated because so many other kids on the team were a lot better than me, and would always get the ball. So, in a way, I guess I was kinda relived when I had to stop."
Steven nodded his head. Though it sounded like his absence from sports hadn't been voluntary, he was willing to bet that Josh wouldn't have continued it if he had the chance. Maybe it did have a little to do with Josh feeling he wasn't good enough, but he suspected that his participation would have stopped because his father had left.
"Well, I know what it's like to be bad at sports. I was on a soccer team too once, when I was little, and I hated it. I would always trip over myself, and I could never kick the ball. If anything, it was the ball that kicked me!"
Josh laughed a little bit at that. "Yeah, I know what that's like."
"So, if you don't mind me asking, how did you get involved with the piano?" Steven asked.
Josh screwed his face up a little. "Well... it was actually because of church. There used to be this really nice organist lady. She taught me how to play a lot of hymns. Eventually, she even let me play a few songs for the choir once."
"The church organist... Did she let you play on the organ?"
Josh's face broke into a small smile. "Yeah, a little bit. She would let me play it when no one was around. She mainly taught me on the piano in the choir room."
"So, how long have you been playing then?" Steven asked.
"Umm... I guess we started a couple years ago, when I was eight, I think. But she moved away right after I finished the 4th grade." Josh said.
Steven's eyes widened a bit. "You mean, you only had lessons for one year?"
Josh shrugged. "Yeah."
"And, she only taught you how to play hymns? Where did you learn to play Mozart?"
Josh shrugged again. "My dad used to listen to a lot of classical music. But he didn't know how to play very well. He showed me how to read music though. When dad left... he left me all his music CDs, because he knew how much I liked to listen to them."
"So, you just started playing them yourself then?"
Josh nodded his head. "Yeah. After the organist moved away, I asked my mom for some music, for some of the Mozart on one of dad's favorite CDs. Then I just started playing it, and trying to figure out how to play like how it sounded on the recording."
Steven blew out a small whistle. "Wow. That's a very impressive thing. When I heard you play for the first time, I figured you had to have some sort of professional training. I had no idea you had to figure it all out yourself."
Josh made another funny face. "It's not that impressive... I really wasn't all that good. And the organist showed me how to do things like how to play chords, and play both hands."
"Don't sell yourself short. There is a big difference from playing hymns, and playing Mozart. You had a pretty good feel of how to do a lot of things when I started teaching you, like fingerings for arpeggios, chromatic scales, and trills," Steven said.
Josh shrugged his shoulders again. "I just tried
to play it how it sounded. Sometimes it was hard to figure out what fingers to
use when it wasn't marked on the page, but if I practiced it a lot, I would get
it. I still couldn't really make it sound like it was supposed to though."
Steven breathed out a small sigh and put a hand on Josh's knee. "Josh... you're always doing that, not giving yourself the credit you deserve. You have come so far, in the period of time I have been teaching you. Your technique is far better, and you are tackling much more difficult songs. Your ability to so quickly absorb the things I teach you... well, lets just say there are a lot of adults who consider themselves pianists that haven't learned the skills you have."
"But, I wouldn't have learned any of those things if it hadn't been for you," Josh said, looking up into Steven's eyes.
Steven shook his head. "Yes, I may have been the one who taught you, but it was you who had to do the work to learn it. Teaching is not one sided, the student needs to be willing and able to learn, and you have learned at a very rapid pace. Josh... you played the Moonlight Sonata for the festival. That's an incredibly challenging piece of music for someone your age. You might not have played it perfectly, but there are few adults who can, let alone children your age. You have a lot to be proud of. You have a gift, a gift that can easily lead you to excellence. Don't berate yourself. Don't belittle a talent that many people could only wish they had. Allow yourself to gain confidence from what you can do. You have to start believing in yourself."
Josh leaned further back into his seat and stared out the window, seeming to take his words in and ingest them. His Rubenstein disk was playing again, playing one of Chopin's piano sonatas. Both he and Josh seemed to tune into the music that was playing. At some point Josh had closed his eyes, simply letting the melody absorb him.
Steven stole as many glances of him as he could as he drove along. Steven was truly worried about the boy. Having learned for the first time what kind of relationship he really had with his father, he was now just beginning to realize what kind of void he had left behind. Though Steven had always known Josh missed his father greatly, he hadn't realized how much until today, at the game. Having his father leave like that... after having been so close... and still being able to put an effort into learning the piano when there was no one to teach him... it was truly amazing.
Now, almost without realizing it, it seemed, he was filling that void that the boy's father had left behind. Though Steven had already figured that Josh looked up to him like a father, he didn't think he looked up to him as a father. Knowing that simultaneously shot feelings of fear and joy down Steven's spine. Part of him was very honored that Josh thought so highly of him, and part of him was also worried that he would never be able to fill the shoes of Josh's father. He knew he could never be like Josh's father, he could only hope that he could be enough for Josh to at least be happier than he was without him. And for that, he would surely try his hardest. Try his hardest to bring Josh happiness, and make him feel better about himself. It was the least he could do for all the joy the boy had already brought him. Steven would keep trying, for as long as he could, to give Josh what he needed, with no strings attached.
Through the car ride home, Josh had thought about what Steven said. Josh knew Steven was right. He knew he should feel proud of himself for being able to play such hard pieces on the piano. But, for some reason, he didn't. Maybe it was because of what happened at the festival, or maybe it was because he could never get his playing to sound quite like the recordings. There was a large part of him that didn't think he could ever play like Cody, or like Steven, no matter how hard he tried. He didn't know why he felt that way; he just did, despite Steven's attempts to convince him otherwise.
"You have to start believing in yourself." That's what Steven had said.
Josh stood at the door to his apartment. He had told Steven he needed to be home right after the game because his mother needed help with dinner. He really hated having to lie to Steven, but he just didn't know any other way. He still hadn't told his mother that he had started going to Steven's again. Instead, he had told her about the band that he had been invited to, and he was spending time at Will's house. While that had been true on some weeknights, there had been others where he had just gone to Steven's. They had started his lessons again, though this time Steven told Josh there was no need for payment. Steven had seemed to accept that his mother was okay with everything, and things could go on as normal again. In a way, Steven's acceptance made things easier, so even though he felt bad about lying, he knew Steven would trust him.
His mother, on the other hand, was a different story entirely. She had almost seemed relieved when she heard that his lessons were over. Maybe some of it was because she wouldn't have to pay any more, but he knew most of it was probably because she didn't like him spending all his time at Steven's. She didn't like him practicing on the piano so much, and not doing his school work, even though he tried to convince her that all his work was getting done, even if he didn't do it all at home. He really didn't understand why she didn't want him over at Steven's... it's not like she was ever at home anyways. Even on the weekends.
Today however, she was getting off of work early, and though she didn't need any help with dinner like he had told Steven, he had told her that he was only going to be at Will's for a few hours. Still, how would she know the difference when she was never home? Lying about this now seemed like the only way, and Josh could only pray that he would be able to get away with it.
Josh looked down at the cheap digital Velcro watch around his wrist. It was already past four. If he was lucky, his mother wouldn't be home yet, and he would have time to change out of his baseball clothes.
Of course, it wasn't meant to be. He could tell she was home the moment he opened the door. More than that, there seemed to be someone in the kitchen with her. When Josh came around the corner, he stopped dead in his tracks when he saw who was sitting at the table with his mother.
It was Father Roberts, from church. Josh's first feeling was one of terror, assuming the worst. Would he be caught in the intricate web of lies he had created?
That and a thousand other thoughts raked through Josh's mind as his mother stood up, and asked him to take a seat. She didn't say another word as she waited for Josh to put his things down and pull up a chair. Once he was situated, she quietly left the room.
Father Robert's himself remained quite for a while, looking at Josh. It was as if his eyes were peering into his soul, as if trying to extract the truth out of him. The Father's eyes didn't look angry, however. If anything, they looked sympathetic, as if he felt sorry for him, or something. When Father Robert's did speak, his voice was soft.
"Josh, while I'm here on the behalf for your mother, I also came because I am a bit concerned myself. We both think it's time to talk to you about a few things. You are beginning to take the first steps into a whole new world, a world of complexities where answers are no longer as black and white as they had once seemed, but very grey. I know you must be entering a part of your life where you must have so many questions, and I just want to let you know that both I and your mother are here for you, and you could feel free to ask us at any time." Father Roberts paused for a moment, as if searching for the right words to say. "Though it is good for you to find some of these answers on your own, the path to adulthood is fraught with difficulty. I would like to make this process easier for you if I can, and at the same time, help see you through to your upcoming confirmation."
Father Roberts reached out a hand, and placed it on top of Josh's. "It's important for you to realize there is another source you can draw from. God is there for you, and if you ever feel like you're in doubt, you can pray to him. God is watching over you, he is watching over all of us, and if you have faith, he can surely help show you the way."
Father Roberts then drew back, his eyes still searching. "Your mother also tells me that you have made some new friends recently, and have been playing in a band with them. While we both think it's good for you to associate with children your own age, and have found some acceptance with your peers, it is also important to keep your own counsel. You're a smart boy Josh, let your conscience be your guide. Don't let yourself be easily persuaded into something you feel is wrong."
As Father Roberts voice became more sympathetic, Josh knew he was approaching the real reason for why he was here. Inadvertently, Josh braced himself for what was to come.
"Now, whether your decision to neglect your community service last week was the result of peer pressure, or having to do with something else, it really doesn't matter at this point. What matters now is that you learn from your mistake, and remember what I have said. I only ask that going forward, you try to be more open with us about your problems, so that we may better help you."
The pressure that had built up in Josh's chest during this whole conversation seemed to evaporate. But it didn't really go away due to what Father Robert's was saying, even though his words were comforting. He mainly felt better because all that he had worked toward the past few weeks was still intact. Father Roberts and his mother still really had no idea what was really going on.
In a way, he kinda felt bad about skipping out on his community service. After all, Father Roberts hadn't really done anything to deserve his negligence. It was his mother he was mad at. It was his mother that didn't want him hanging around Steven. While he wasn't sure how Father Roberts would feel about it, he knew that if it angered his mother, Father Roberts would be disturbed by it as well. He also know that, despite Father Roberts best intentions, if he told him anything, it would eventually get back to his mother.
"One more thing that I think is worth mentioning." He spoke up again. "Beware temptations of the flesh. Such things can be very dangerous and are considered to be the fruits of the devil. Though your friends may not do so maliciously, they may lead you down the dangerous paths of sin. And all those paths surely end in disaster."
Father Roberts bowed his head, and rose smoothly and slowly from his chair. "If you have any questions Josh, you know you can come to me. For now, say your nightly prayers, and trust in your mother to know what's right for you."
Josh stayed seated in the kitchen after Father Roberts had left, running his fingers through hair that had been sweaty from his baseball cap. What exactly did he mean, "beware temptations of the flesh?" Josh shook his head, having no idea at all. But it wasn't important. What was important was that everything was still okay, just as long as he did all the things his mother wanted him to do for church. The best way he could think about it was simply to treat it as another chore.
He would do it, if that's all it took to ease his mother's suspicions. As long as she was satisfied with how he was doing in church, and in school, everything should be okay, and she would have no reason to question him.
Josh smiled to himself. In a way, it was almost easier this way, even if guilt did occasionally plague his conscience. Like Father Roberts had said, things were not black and white, and even though it wasn't completely right, it was better that he, his mother, and Steven continued to believe the lies he had created. This way, everyone would be happy.