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.
I am sorry it has taken me so long to post this next chapter. I got a little burnt out and a little over-critical of myself. I had to step back and tell myself that writing something is better than writing nothing, even if it isn't perfect. So, with that said, please forgive me for any inconsistencies that you see. Since I am posting as I write, I know that there will be, and it would just be too difficult to go back and fix them.
Once again, thank you to everyone who has sent me an email, your kind words are greatly appreciated! Please feel free to drop me a line anytime at email@example.com
As usual, Josh was the first kid in his class into the music room. He had made it out of his other class and into Music Appreciation in little under a minute, successfully cutting the time necessary to be in the hallways to an absolute minimum. A little out of breath, Josh hefted his backpack into the desk chair and pulled out his notebook. He was about ready to close the bag, but his hand stopped when the bag's contents shifted to reveal the box of envelopes. After giving the box a long hard look, he looked back at Steven, who was busily erasing the board from the previous class.
Should he do it now, or should he wait till later? He had been carrying around the box now since the beginning of the week, trying to think of good people to ask, but he was still as of yet unsuccessful. Josh looked up at Steven again. He was almost done erasing the board now. Josh might not have been able to think of any other kids to ask, but he knew for sure he wanted to ask Steven. He just wasn't sure when the best time to ask was. Steven always seemed busy, and he didn't want to bug the teacher when he was preparing for a lesson. But now the week was almost over, and if he did not ask soon, he might not get a chance.
His decision made, he pulled the box out of the bag and stuffed the bag under his desk. Josh tentatively sat at the edge of his seat, watching Steven, waiting for a good time to spring. Now the teacher was sorting some papers on his desk, organizing the homework that students from the previous class had turned in quickly, and rather carelessly. Once Steven had the papers into one nice neat pile, Josh leaned off his seat, hunched on his legs. But he sat right back down again when he saw the teacher pull out a large text from his desk drawer, his brow furrowed in concentration as he leafed through the pages.
It was when Steven finally closed the book and shoved it aside that he finally pushed off from his desk and began the trek to the front of the room. Then when he was about halfway there, from seemingly out of nowhere, one of the students from the previous class walked up to his desk.
"Mr. McNealy?" Asked a rather chubby girl in a thick nasal tone. "I have a question for you. It's about the test from two weeks ago... I was wondering why the answer to number four was `a' instead of `c'?"
Immediately upon hearing that voice, Josh stopped dead in his tracks. Josh stood there for a while in disbelief, listening to Steven calmly answer the pudgy girl, thinking maybe she would just go away after that one question, but instead she asked another, and then another with that same dumb look on her face, with that grating nasal tone. Finally Josh, with the box of birthday invitations that he had been gripping so tightly in his hands that the tape his mother had used to seal the top had popped off, had to turn around. With his shoulders slumped and his face downcast, Josh went back to his desk.
Josh would have probably spent the rest of the time until class began sitting there staring off into space if it weren't for the two boys who came into the room only a few seconds after he had taken his seat. Usually Josh wouldn't have paid any attention, but when he saw that they were heading straight for the piano, he watched with blatant curiosity.
"Alright Roger, lets see if you got what it takes," said the older boy.
Josh recognized the older, black-haired boy as Will, from his band class.
"I only know a few songs right now, and I'm really not very good at them," the smaller boy said as he pulled out the bench and raised the cover to the keys.
"Doesn't matter. All's you need to do is read some music, play a few chords of electric piano when we need it, and maybe change to a couple other sounds for some cool effects. Don't worry, it'll be real easy," Will said.
"Okay," Roger said, still sounding unsure.
At first, Josh didn't recognize the song, mainly because Roger kept stopping, and going back to the beginning. It took a little while, but eventually the melody line came out, and though it was a little garbled, Josh recognized it as a song from one of his favorite videogames.
"Oh hey, I know that song. Isn't that the theme to Final Fantasy?" Will asked.
Once Roger played though a little bit more, he paused and shook his head. "Yeah, it's that harp part that always played at the beginning of the really old games, you know, like the ones on the Nintendo. It's in the newer games too, but now it's usually at the end."
"Yeah, I thought I heard it in Final Fantasy Ten. I never played the old ones." Will shrugged.
A smile crept across Josh's face. He'd played all of them.
"So, can you play any more of it?" Will asked again.
Before responding, Josh saw Roger glance quickly back over to Steven, but when he saw the teacher was still busy with the girl, he nodded. "Yeah, but I don't know all of it. I downloaded it from the internet, and its five pages. I only know three."
"That's fine. Just play what you know." Will said more quietly.
Again Roger played, from the beginning. It really did sound like the theme to Final Fantasy. It sounded pretty good, even though Josh knew it was only a repeating arpeggio with a few melody chords in the baseline.
"Wow, that's pretty cool. You're pretty good. So, what'da ya say? Wanna join up?"
Josh could tell Roger still looked a little unsure, but Roger's words were to the contrary. "Yeah. Okay, I guess."
"Sweet deal!" Will exclaimed, clapping Roger on the shoulder. "We'll see ya on Tuesday then, okay?"
Roger tentatively nodded his head.
"Well, I better get outta here since this isn't my class." Will gave a quick wave, and then turned to leave.
As Josh watched Roger put the cover back down on the piano keys, he could only shake his head in stupid wonder. How come Roger can get invited into a band and I can't, Josh thought to himself. Josh could play the piano way better than him. It's probably because he always hangs out at the lunch table with the older kids, Josh realized. Somehow Roger had made friends with the 8th graders, but the only way Josh thought that was possible was if one of them was Roger's older brother. Josh shook his head. Who cares anyways? The band has got to be stupid if all's they need is someone who can barely play some video game song.
But despite the thoughts going though Josh's head, he still found himself watching Roger as he walked past, picking a seat clear in the back. He looked down at his box of birthday party invitations, now popped open from his anger at the pudgy girl who was STILL asking Steven questions. If there was even the slightest possibility that Roger might be interested... the possibility of inviting a boy who liked to play the piano like him, even if he couldn't play as well, sent chills down Josh's spine. Deciding to ask now before he had lost all of his nerve, and the some other freakish interruption, Josh got up and headed to the back of the room.
"Hi Roger," Josh started slowly.
Almost appearing startled, Roger looked up from his desk to see who was addressing him. "Oh, hey Josh. What's up?" Roger asked nervously, looking around the rest of the classroom.
"I... well, I kindof overheard you playing the piano, and..." Josh shifted to the other foot, a surge of indecision overpowering him. Should he just come out and ask? Would Roger just think he was weird if he did? But, if he didn't ask now, then... Josh shook his head, forcing himself to continue. "I thought what you played was really neat, because I like to play the piano too."
"Really? You play the piano? I just thought you only liked the French horn," Roger said, sitting up in his seat.
Josh couldn't keep himself from smiling. "I like the French horn okay, but I like the piano a lot better."
Now Josh had Rodger's complete attention. "Yeah, me too. I don't really like the sax either, but my mom makes me play it. So, how long have you been playing the piano?"
"Ever since I was really little. I can't even remember. Maybe when I was like three or four," Josh said, almost beaming. It was SO exciting talking about this with another boy.
"Really, wow! You must be a lot better than me then, cuz' I only started a year ago." Roger said.
Josh shook his head. "Naw, I'm not that good. I mean... I'm okay, but..."
Josh turned his head real quick when he heard several students walking in, talking loudly to each other as they threw their bags down into the desk chairs behind him. He glanced back at the clock. He was running out of time. "So... I kinda got a question for you. Would you be interested in... well, that is if you aren't already doing something else, maybe you could come to my birthday party?"
There was a long period of silence before Roger finally responded. "You want me to come to your birthday party? Really? When is it?"
Now it was Josh's turn to pause. Hastily, he opened the box and pulled out an invitation.
"I kinda got these letters. They say when and where the party is. Here." Josh handed over a card.
Roger opened it and looked at it for several moments with a scrupulous stare.
After waiting a few seconds, Josh spoke up again. "So... it's in a couple weeks. It's the weekend after next actually, on Saturday. You're not doing anything, are you?"
"Um, I don't think so, but I'll have to check with my parents. Can I let you know later?" Roger said.
"Okay, that's fine. Just let me know anytime. There's no rush okay? I mean... as long as you tell me before the party, it will be okay. Okay?" Josh said, almost tripping over his words.
"Yeah, okay, I will." Roger said, nodding at Josh, putting the card in his folder.
In his excitement, Josh almost tripped over a desk on his way back to the front row. He couldn't believe it. He had actually asked, and it really sounded like Roger was interested. He was so sure that Roger would just say no, or at least make up some reason why he couldn't come. And if Roger said yes, maybe Steven would...
It was right when he was taking his seat again when the teacher walked over to the door to rustle the last few kids loitering out in the hallway into the room, telling everyone to take their seats just before the tardy bell rang. The teacher made a few quick announcements and began his lecture. Today they were finally going to talk about Beethoven, and Josh couldn't wait. After only a quick introduction of topic, Steven went over to the piano and started playing a song Josh knew intimately.
"Alight, first question. Can anyone tell me the name of that song?"
Somehow, Josh resisted the incredible urge to raise his hand. He knew that Steven knew that he knew the answer to that question, and he didn't want Steven to think he was showing off, so he remained silent. Unfortunately, no one else in the class raised their hands either. When the teacher glanced around the class, Josh thought he saw Steven's eyes linger on him for a moment, but it was so quick that he couldn't be sure.
"No one knows? Well, put this tune in your memory banks because it's important. This song was very important to Beethoven; it was one of the first songs he had written for the love of a woman. And this particular woman's name was Elise, hence the title Fur Elise."
Recognition of the name appeared on several of the student's faces, but it still amazed Josh that no one else had really known the name of that song. He had learned that song when he was six.
Continuing on with the little quiz, Steven played several more songs on the piano, songs that Josh knew by heart. Finally, on the last song, Josh had to raise his hand. But Steven didn't pick him right away. In fact, now his eyes glanced over him several times. Finally though, after what seemed to Josh like several long minutes, Steven finally called on him.
"Yes, Mr. Chambers?" Steven said in his teacher's voice.
"Yeah um, isn't that the Moonlight Sonata?" Though Josh was very sure of the answer, he was still very unsure about asking it.
"That's correct. Now, I sure hope everyone here, besides Mr. Chambers can remember these songs, because they are going to be on the test next week."
There was an almost unanimous groan from the entire class.
"Oh come now. Don't give me this `uuh'. All you have to do is listen to your CD's a few times. Look on the bright side though. At lest that part of the test will be easier than the written essay," Steven said, his usual quirky sense of humor showing though, earning the even larger typical groan from the class. But this time, for some reason, Josh couldn't as easily tell the teacher was joking.
Without further hesitation, Steven launched into the rest of his lecture, over viewing Beethoven's childhood. "...Beethoven was a very special child. By the time he was 5, he could already play the violin beautifully, and at 7, he was already performing for the public. Only a year later, he was good enough to get noticed by the composer Ch. G. Neefy, who introduced him to the works of Mozart and Bach, composers I hope you all still remember." Several in the class nodded their heads slightly.
As Steven continued to lecture, Josh couldn't help but become more and more enraptured in the story of young Beethoven. Of how he got noticed by several nobles and teachers in Bonn, and that his first composition was published when he was only ten years old. How amazing it must be, Josh thought to himself, to have something published in your name when you're only ten. Josh tried to imagine himself composing something good enough to get published. He tried to picture some famous piano player, walking up on stage, opening up music with his name on it, playing it to the awe of the entire crowd. The picture was almost laughable, Josh could barely play some of the things other composers had written, let alone write things that they would want to play. Beethoven must have been really really smart, and much more talented than Josh.
Having zoned out so completely, Josh almost missed another of Stevens's questions to the class. "So, it was in his late twenties when something began to happen to Beethoven, something that would change his life forever. Something that would even change the way he thought about music. Can anyone tell me what happened to Beethoven?"
Though Josh was still as unsure about answering as he had been before, something within him desperately needed the attention Steven seemed to be absenting on him.
"Yes Mr. Chambers?" Steven gestured stiffly.
"Didn't he become deaf?" Josh asked tentatively.
Steven nodded. "Yes. And can anyone tell me, did Beethoven go deaf right away, or did he loose his hearing over time?" Steven asked again, not looking at Josh once.
Again Josh shot his hand into the air. And again Steven waited a long while before answering him.
"It took a while right? He didn't become deaf right away." Josh said, carefully watching Steven's reactions.
Steven nodded his head slowly, and then turned to pace the front of the room. "That is correct. It took nearly seven years for Beethoven to loose his hearing. During that time, he became more and more withdrawn. He became suspicious of his friends, and became harder and harder to talk to. He was ashamed of his deafness, and didn't want anyone to find out. After several years, Beethoven's doctor saw the horrible effects the deafness was causing in his life, and he decided to send him to the countryside, in hopes that the quiet would help improve his hearing. Unfortunately, it didn't, and Beethoven was driven deeper into despair, almost to the point where he contemplated suicide." Steven said in a somber voice, walking behind his podium, picking up the remote to the stereo.
"But he didn't right?" Josh asked when Steven's back was turned. "He didn't commit suicide, because he wrote all that music after he became deaf, right?" A small amount of urgency played though Josh's voice.
Steven took a deep breath. "No, he didn't kill himself. If anything, after his return from Heiligenstadt, his music became even greater. Eventually, the only music he heard was the music in his head, which was ever playing. In his mind, he could hear the entire symphony, every instrument, every note, every rise and dip in sound, though he agonized to get it all correct on the page," Steven said, pressing a button on the remote, playing the high-high-high-low, high-high-high-low's of the violins Josh immediately recognized. "Can anyone tell me what symphony this is?"
Now Josh didn't hesitate. "Beethoven's 5th!" Josh almost shouted.
Though the look couldn't have lasted for more than a second, Josh saw the teacher look straight at him, and it was truly one of the strangest looks Josh had even seen him give. If Josh had the words to describe it, he would have said that look had been full of both anger and sadness at the same time.
The rest of the class only saw Steven nod his head. "Beethoven's 5th. Its basic theme is so simple, four notes repeated over and over, repeated across octaves, and shifted, but still the same four notes. In so many ways Beethoven broke the mold. His 5th symphony, and so many others, truly flew in the face of what music was at the time. Beethoven truly paved the way for composers to come, ending the classical period and opening the doors to the early romantic period. Music was never quite the same after Beethoven."
The teacher continued to let the music of the 5th symphony flow, and Josh found himself getting lost in the beauty of its notes. The music, playing softly now, combined with the story of the rest of Beethoven's life, and how Steven told it, hit a strange note within Josh. Listening to Steven tell the story of how Beethoven had wanted so badly to direct one of his own symphonies, his 9th, it was almost like he could tell that the music meant as much to Steven as it did with Beethoven. The way Steven told the story, it was like Steven himself felt sorry for Beethoven as he was directing, hearing the music perfectly in his head, but unable to properly direct the symphony itself.
Josh almost wanted to cry when Steven told the class about Beethoven's death, not long after his performance of the 9th. As if by fait, Beethoven had died on a stormy day, though the storm in his heart was probably greater than the storm outside. Josh tried to imagine how Beethoven's nephew Karl had felt, seeing the composer die in a fit. To see a man who had given so much to music go out like that... By the end of the lecture, though he wanted to, Josh was unable to ask any more questions, still trying to absorb the depth of Beethoven's story.
It took Josh several minutes to recuperate and gather his senses from the great story of Beethoven's life. As he slid back into reality, noticing that the students were already picking up their bags to leave, he more urgently now more than ever needed to ask Steven. Getting out of his seat, Josh buried his fear regarding Steven's recent odd behavior, and strode up to his desk, with his box of birthday invitations in hand.
"Um, St... I mean, Mr. McNealy?" Josh asked in a quiet voice.
"Yes Mr. Chambers, what is it?"
Though Steven didn't sound angry, he still sounded... different than he normally did. Once again, Josh had to shake off that funny feeling he had, hoping it was just his own reservations and not Steven's change in behavior. I was wondering maybe... do you think you would like to come to my birthday party?" Josh asked in a voice more quiet than Steven's.
Steven's eyes blinked several times, and for the longest while, that soft expression on his face didn't change. But, ever so slowly, Josh saw the slightest hint of a frown, and that same look in his eyes ever since that weekend they went swimming. Steven began in a very quiet tone. "Josh... I'm not sure if I should."
Josh's eye brows scrunched up in confusion. "What do you mean? Why not?"
Steven shook his head. "I'm just not sure its appropriate." Steven took a deep breath, his eyes locked down on his desk. "I... I'll think about it okay, but I can't give you a definite answer right now, okay?"
With a frown he couldn't hide, Josh shook his head slowly. "Okay. Well, I have these invitations. My mom kinda made them," He said a bit jokingly, trying to lighten up the mood. "Here, take one." Josh held out an invitation.
After a while, Steven finally took it.
"Well, let me know what you decide okay?" Josh said after another long period of silence.
Steven only nodded.
Slowly Josh turned to leave the room. For a long time, he walked down the halls in a daze, not even thinking about where he was headed. Why was Steven acting so strangely? Was it something he had done wrong? During lessons, he was more distant, and not as talkative, and in class, he seemed even more formal than usual. Josh had decided to ignore it, thinking he was just imagining things, but now... the way he answered the question about his birthday party...
"Something's wrong," Josh said to himself. "I said something... I did something... something that made him mad, and... and I have to find out what."
Josh's fingers scrambled across the keyboard, trying in vain to gain purchase on the fastest part of Debussy's Clair de Lune. Try as he might, he couldn't wrap his fingers fast enough for the rolls when the song hit its highest note. Josh took a deep breath and stilled his hands, using his foot to tap out the melody. Once he felt confident he had the rhythm correct, he tried playing the notes more slowly, like Steven always suggested.
Josh remembered the first time he tried to play something fast with Steven. Steven had immediately told him to slow it down, tap out the rhythm, and cycle though the same bar again and again until he felt comfortable with it. And it had worked too. With Steven's guidance, Josh had mastered the fast part or Mozart's Alla Turka, the Fantasy, and even Debussy's Reverie. Or... at least well enough, Josh thought.
Now, Josh was stuck again, and slowing it down and repeating just wasn't working. His fingers just wouldn't bend the right way, no matter how many times he tried to play it. Josh threw up his hands and turned toward Steven. The expression on Steven's face hadn't changed since they had begun. Though Steven was sitting next to him, pulled up in his stool in his usual position for the lesson, his behavior was not at all usual.
For what seemed like the entirety of the lesson, Steven was focused on something else, only giving a mere nod or shrug when Josh asked if what he had played sounded right. There were even times when he was sure he had played it wrong, and Steven had said nothing.
"Steven... I need your help." Josh asked in a quiet voice.
"Yes Josh, what is it?" Steven asked, still distant.
"I can't seem to get this part right. Can you help me?"
Steven was quiet for a long time before answering. Finally, he sat up in his chair, and looked at the piece of music Josh was pointing to.
Though Steven did help him readjust his fingering, and showed him how to roll his hand correctly, he didn't do it with nearly the energy Josh was accustomed to. It wasn't that he was mean or anything... his voice was soft and calm. It was just like... Josh couldn't think of how to describe it.
The remainder of the lesson continued in much the same way. It wasn't that Steven never helped at all, it was just that... Josh could tell there was something serious on Steven's mind, and he hoped so badly that it wasn't because of him. He could tell that Steven was deeply bothered, and he wished there was something he could do. Something so that he could have his old teacher back.
When Steven asked him to stop in that same soft, almost empty voice, Josh did so without question, and they both stood up, Steven heading for the door. But before Steven could make it out of the Studio, Josh pulled at his sleeve.
"Steven... I kinda got a question for you." Josh began in a voice almost as soft as Steven's.
"Yes? What is it?"
"Well... do you remember yesterday after class? I was just wondering if you had made up your mind about my birthday party." Josh said, trying his best to push out the words.
Once again, there was that incredibly strange look on Steven's face, but it didn't last long, and it was soon replaced with a look that was far more familiar.
"Josh, I already told you that I don't think that it would be appropriate. Aren't you going to have other friends there?" Steven asked, clearly trying to mask his anger.
Josh looked up at Steven, his face strewn in question. "So, what's that got to do with it?"
Steven looked at Josh as if he were stupid. "Josh, how would it look to your friends if their teacher showed up? What would they think?"
In all honesty, Josh hadn't thought of that. He supposed that it probably wouldn't look too good to Roger if Steven was there. But even then, he wasn't sure what Roger would think.
"I didn't think about that." Josh said, his shoulders slumping.
"No, you didn't. Did you?" Steven's face was stern.
Josh had to stand there and think. He didn't know how long it took for him to gather his thoughts, but thinking about it only seemed to make it worse. Yes, it was true that Roger might think it's a little strange having the music teacher over, but once Josh told him that he was his piano teacher too, he was sure he would understand. And there was also the fact that Roger was still the only kid he had managed to invite.
It almost sounded like Steven thought he had all the friends in the world, and he guessed if that was true, then he probably shouldn't invite him. But it WASN'T true. Josh didn't have anyone. And Roger wasn't really his friend, he barely even knew him. Steven was the only person he really wanted to come to his party.
Josh was about to protest when Steven spoke up again. "I'm sorry I can't go to your party, but it just wouldn't be right for your teacher to be there. You should go have fun with your friends and not worry about a washed up old man."
"But..." Was all Josh could get out before Steven opened the door, pushing Josh out with a hand pressed against his back.
"No buts. You will just have to do without me. You've lived almost all your life without me in it, so I'm sure you'll do just fine at your party. Now go!"
Steven didn't even look back before closing the door, and just like that, Josh was standing alone on the patio, completely at a loss for wards, and even more at a loss what to think. Almost unexpectedly, his eyes began to well up. He could feel the onset of tears beginning to form. Before he unwontedly screamed out the immense pain he was feeling and the tears could flow uninhibited, he ran for all he was worth.
Josh's Mother was rapping her fingers on the table, endlessly making that thrump thrump thrump, thrump thrump thrump sound she always made whenever she was getting impatient. This time though, she wasn't waiting for the waitress. Already she had brought out their second refill. Again Josh's mother glanced at her watch.
When Josh's mother spoke, he already knew what the words would be. "I don't think your friend is going to show up honey. It's already six. You did give him the invitation right?"
Unable to wipe the scowl off his face, Josh responded. "Yeah mom. I told Roger it was at 5:30pm, and he said that his mom would bring him." For probably the fiftieth time, Josh turned in his seat, looking back, just to make sure that nobody new had come into the dining area. When he didn't see anyone he almost vengefully grabbed at one of the balloon strings and started twirling it in his fingers again.
"I think we should go ahead and order now." Josh's mother said after a few more minutes of rapping.
Josh let go of the balloon. "Ah mom, can't we wait just a few more minutes?"
"I'm sorry honey." Was all she would say, right before flagging down the waitress.
"We're sorry we took so long, but I think we are ready to order now." Josh's mother explained to the waitress.
"Oh, It's no problem, we're usually not that busy for dinner anyways." Then the waitress turned to Josh. "No turnout huh? I'm sorry kiddo. I would have thought you had plenty of friends busting down the door for a cutie pie like you. It's a wonder half the girls in the school aren't chasing after you. Such an adorable thing."
Josh's scowl only deepened.
"So, what'll ya have birthday boy?"
Before Josh could answer however, a sound came from the front of the restaurant caused him to swerve for yet another hopeful look. This time though, it was most definitely not a false alarm. When he realized that it wasn't Roger who had raced though the entryway, but rather someone much larger, he had to do a double-take. After smoothing out his nice black button-up shirt, he made a steady pace right to their table.
Josh was out of his seat and hugging the man in front of him before he even realized what he was doing. "STEVEN!" Josh grinned up at his piano teacher, giving him the largest grin he could muster. "You came!"
Only when Josh had finally managed to pry himself off Steven did the man finally answer, giving him a soft pat on the shoulder. "I wanted to come apologize to you in person Mr. Chambers."
Josh stepped back a pace. "Apologize for what?" In Josh's mind, right now, the fact that Steven was here, was more than enough.
"For the way I handled your invitation. It was your decision to invite me, and I shouldn't have questioned you. I was being disrespectful. You wanted to invite me, regardless of what your friends thought, and I shouldn't have second guessed that. It was wrong, and I just wanted to apologize." Steven explained, still remaining at a respectful distance from the table.
Josh was flabbergasted. He had no idea what to say, and he could see in Steven's eyes how sorry he was. Thankfully, his mother came to the rescue.
"Well, sounds like water under the bridge to me, why don't you go ahead and sit down Steven," Josh's mother said with a smile.
"I haven't arrived early, have I?" Steven asked before taking his seat, seeming to notice for the first time that Josh and his mother were the only ones at the table.
"No, everyone was supposed to show up a half-hour ago." Josh said with his face downcast.
"Oh, I'm very sorry to hear that. Were you expecting a lot of your friends?" Steven asked, his face writ with concern.
Josh wanted to scream, what friends? But he didn't. Instead he shook his head. "I was only expecting a few, and they had to cancel because of family issues." Josh quickly shot a glance at his mother, telling her in no uncertain terms to keep her mouth shut.
"That's unfortunate." Steven empathized.
Josh shook his head. The truth was, all he really wanted was for another kid to show up so it wouldn't just be him and his mother again. But the fact that Steven showed up was way better than Roger, or any other kid.
"It's okay. You're here now," Josh smiled broadly up at Steven.
"Why don't we go ahead and order then." Josh's mother said when Steven had settled in.
"Yeah!" Josh piped excitedly, his mood completely turned around from what it was just a minute ago.
Not wasting a moment more, Josh rattled off his favorite pizza toppings, and happily colleted all the menu's and gave them to the waitress. Though the table was just as quiet as it was before, now that Steven was here, it felt like a real party. Josh started trying to think of some things to say to break the ice, but once again, his mom came to the rescue.
"So, how have the lessons been going? Josh has been doing okay I assume? I don't know about when he's at your house, but I know he hasn't let off the piano one bit when he's at home. I honestly don't know how he's able to play so much without his fingers falling off."
Josh couldn't help letting out a giggle at his mom's words. She was right, there was no point in denying it.
"He does indeed practice a lot, and I know it's paying off. Just in a few short weeks, he's picked up all the notes to Clair de Lune, and that's no small accomplishment in and of itself. When you put on top of that the fact he's almost got it up to speed, well... I think there very few ten-year-olds who can make that claim."
"Eleven now!" Josh reminded him.
Steven nodded his head. "Even still. Debussy's Clare de Lune is considered college level material in music school, so you're way ahead of the game Mr. Chambers."
Now Josh was truly glowing.
"Oh, that's definitely great news. I'm glad to hear Josh is doing so well. Now if only he would do his homework as much as he plays the piano..." Josh's mom said with a snicker.
Both Steven and his mom burst into laughter, and try as he might, he couldn't help but follow suite. Once they had all settled back down again, Josh's mom turned to face Steven more directly.
"So Steven, we haven't gotten a chance to really talk. I'm afraid I don't know a lot about you, other than your currently the music teacher at Josh's school. Have you been teaching for long?" Josh's mom asked casually.
Josh, not really knowing the answer to this either, sat up and listened closer.
"Actually, this is my first year teaching. An old friend of mine is fairly high up in the school district, and made a recommendation for me. The job was open, so I decided to take it."
Josh's mother slowly nodded her head. "I see. So though you haven't been teaching for a while, I assume you have been in the music world for a while."
"Yes. Like Josh here, I started playing the piano at a young age. My parents were always very supportive of it, and let me participate in all the competitions. When I was a junior in High School, I won the state music competition, and was invited to study at Indiana University. So, I packed my bags, and set off. From there events played out very rapidly. Before I knew it, I was part of the School's symphony, and I was studying under some of the best musical minds in the country. It was probably only about a year after graduation that several of the competitions I preformed in paid off and landed me into the Chicago Symphony, and there was no way I could pass that up." Steven said.
"The Chicago Symphony, that does sound impressive!" Was the only thing Josh's mother could say. "So, what happened with that, if you don't mind me asking? Why are you no longer performing?"
If Steven looked irritated by his mom's question, he didn't show it. "Unfortunately, I developed a bad case of carpel tunnel." Steven gave out along sigh. "I had been playing with the symphony for about three years, and I was approached by a major record company. It was going to be the chance of a lifetime. It felt like I was on top of the world then, and everything was going right."
"It was when I was trying out that it happened. Right when I was storming through the last movement of Rachmaninov's second piano concerto, the sharpest pain I had ever felt shot straight through my hands. In that moment, my fingers completely ceased to function correctly. Once the pain had faded, I hoped against hope that it was a one-time affliction, and the interviewer let me try again. But the pain came back even quicker the second time."
"When I went to see the doctor, my worst fears were made real. I had a bad case of carpel tunnel, and I would never be able to play the same way again."
Josh sat there with his breath held. Not in all the times he had visited Steven had he ever mentioned this. He had even played a few pieces, like the Ballad in the very beginning. There was no way Josh would have thought Steven was injured. He tried to think back in more detail, trying in vain to see if he should have noticed any signs. The truth was, he probably hadn't been paying that much attention. And, for the most part, Steven didn't play. Most of the time, Steven only played through the sequences that he was having particular problems with.
"So, after the money ran out, I moved back here with my parents. That was two years ago now. There was a time in there when I had never felt more lost in my life, and I had completely lost all hope."
Josh wished so badly he could think of something good to say, but he couldn't think of anything. He just couldn't imagine how hard it could have been not being able to be a famous musician, and having to teach stupid little kids instead. Stupid little kids like him.
"I'm so sorry to hear that. How tragic that must have been for you." Josh's mother said, sounding truly empathetic. "How did your parents take it all? With you having to move back in again?"
Steven paused for a few moments, as if he was unsure of how to answer. "Well, my mother was just as distraught over it as I was. She was more than willing to help with anything I needed. She was never anything but supportive."
Josh's mother seemed as deep in thought as Steven. "Well, that's good at least. But what about the other people around you? I mean... I assume you had a wife at the time, or at least a girlfriend."
Josh wasn't sure what to make of that question. The only thing he could do was wait to see what Steven would say. But if Steven had any discomfort, he did not show it.
"No. I lived alone for the most part. I saw a girl during college, but it didn't work out between us. And after graduation, it was one competition after another to position myself into the symphony, and to get recording contracts. I didn't really have time for a relationship."
"And what about now? Is there anyone that you are seeing?"
Josh couldn't explain why, but these kinds of questions always made him squirm uncomfortably in his seat.
"Not really. I have only been in my house since mid-summer, and haven't really had a chance to get out and meet anyone. Teaching and grading papers has taken up a lot of my time."
Josh knew that was true. There were a lot of times when he practiced after their lesson, and Steven was still grading papers after he left. Steven had even said one time how much he hated it, and that if it were up to him, he wouldn't have the kids do nearly as much, which Josh was completely in favor of.
"Well, maybe I can help in that regard. I know a few women who are really looking for a stable man in their lives, and it sounds like you have things under control now." She said, almost like she hadn't even heard his last statement.
Josh groaned inwardly. She always did this. He was sure she meant well, but it just seemed wrong that she tried to connect every guy she ever talked to with a girl. What was worse, she always seemed to be bugging him about it too.
Steven only smiled slightly and shook his head. "I don't think I am quite ready for that kind of commitment yet. I'm still trying to find the right balance in my life."
Josh's mom gave Steven that same smile she gave to every other guy Josh saw her talk to. "I understand. You just let me know when your ready, and I'm sure we'll find the right woman for you."
The silence after that was only broken by the waitress as she started shuffling things around on the table, trying to fit the pizza in. "You just let me know if you need anything else cutie pie, and it'll be right out." The waitress said, patting Josh on the shoulder before leaving.
"Let's dig in, shall we?" Josh's mom said.
The pizza, belonging to one of the best pizza places Josh knew, was practically devoured minutes after they started. After he made sure everyone had grabbed their second piece, he dived in for the third, still hungry due to an early breakfast and no lunch.
Once they were all done, and the plates had been taken away, Josh's mother took the opportunity to retrieve the presents that had been sitting on the open chair. They were wrapped in white paper covered with brightly colored balloons and letters spelling out "Happy Birthday". Also, on top the presents was a small birthday cake, which she placed squarely in front of Josh.
"Let me get the candles out, they are in my purse." She said.
While Josh's mother was busy sorting though her purse and arranging the presents on the table, Steven leaned closer to Josh, examining the cake. Though it was small, the cake decorator had still managed to fit "Happy Birthday Josh" on it, with what looked like several quarter-notes and a treble clef. "Looks good, huh Josh?"
Josh smiled and nodded.
Once the eleven candles were on the cake and Steven had helped to finish lighting them, they both sat back, and with a queue from Josh's mom, they started singing happy birthday. "Make a wish and make it count." Steven said, once they had finished.
Josh had already known the wish he was going to make when he had come into the restaurant, and already that wish had come true, so he supposed he would have to make another. Josh thought about all the things coming up, and about the piano competition. Once he thought of that, it was easy what to wish for. Not missing a beat, Josh drew in his breath and blew for all he was worth, not giving even a single candle flame a chance to survive. When every candle was out, Steven clapped his hands, which caused his mother to follow suite, if a bit discontinuous.
"So, the birthday boy gets to cut the first piece, right?" Steven asked.
"No, that's okay, I'll cut it for him." She said, quickly grabbing up the knife.
Any other time, Josh wouldn't have given this a second thought, but he clearly saw Steven's reaction even if his mother hadn't. He looked... puzzled.
Uninhibited, his mother neatly sliced out three equal pieces of cake, giving Josh his first, and saving the last for herself. It was always like this, whether it was a cake, or a casserole. Josh never cut his own serving, and now, for the first time, he thought that might be a little strange. But when he looked back at Steven, and saw that they were both waiting for him to take the first bite, he dismissed the issue.
The cake itself was delicious. His mother had gotten him angel's food cake, his favorite. At least she knew what kind of cake he liked. Once they were finished, his mother cleared away the plates and pushed the presents forward. "Time to open your presents."
"Oh, wait a second." Steven said, hastily digging into his coat pocket, hung on the chair behind him. He pulled out a slim, square shaped present, wrapped in paper with pianos, and floating notes. "I almost forgot!"
"Oh Steven, you didn't have to buy him a present."
"I wanted to. It was the least I could do to make up for the way I treated Josh." Steven said, placing his present aside the others. With that typical look that she usually gave when she was annoyed and didn't want to show it, she waved her hand dismissively.
Josh, judging that it was best to open his mother's present's fist, pulled the first one off the stack. Testing its size and weight, he quickly came to the conclusion that it was a book, and a heavy one at that. Maybe, if he was lucky, she had gotten him that fantasy series he had been looking at when they had stopped by at the bookstore a few weeks ago. He had asked his mom if he could have it, and she took one look and shook her head. No Josh. Look at this, a dark elf? Honestly Josh, what were you thinking anyways. Come over here, I think I found a book you'll like. She had said, leading him away from the adult fantasy/Science-fiction section, and into the children's section.
Once he had all the wrapping paper off the book, any hopes that it would be something interesting were dashed. The front and back cover was a plain dull red, and the pages were onion thin, with a gold lining on the edges and a built-in bookmark stitched into its binding. The only thing that distinguished it was the writing on the spine. "King James Bible," it said.
"With your confirmation coming up soon, the Father and I felt it important that you have your own copy of the bible. We would both like you to study it as well as you can between now and then. Father Roberts also has a few specific passages he would like you to memorize. Alright honey?"
"Yes Mother." Josh knew better than to argue anything with her concerning church. It just seemed like another one of those things that he had to do.
Just by the size of the next present, he already had a suspicion of what it was. It was in that typical shaped box that department stores gave you to put clothes in. His suspicions were confirmed when he gave the box a little shake. Trying not to look too disheartened, he unwrapped and opened the gift. Like he had expected, it was a blue, pullover sweater.
"Thanks mom." Josh said, putting on his best fake smile.
"Your welcome honey. I know you're outgrowing some of your older sweaters, so I thought it was time I bought you a few new ones." And so, that was what the next gift turned out to be as well, though it was a dark forest green. Now Steven's gift was the only one left.
Josh didn't hesitate for a second longer, somehow knowing that this present wouldn't be the same old stupid stuff that his mom always bought him. In no time, he shredded the wrapping paper and turned the gift around in his hands. When he caught a glance at the title of what he had already suspected was a CD, he smiled widely. "The best of Chopin, preformed by Arthur Rubenstein," Steven hadn't let him down.
"Thank you SO much!" Josh said, springing out of his chair, wrapping Steven in a big hug.
Steven smiled and pulled away slightly. "I figured since you liked to listen to me play the Ballade so much, you should have your own copy. And Rubenstein plays the Ballades better than I ever could." Despite Steven's warm smile, Josh could tell there was still something troubling him.
Eventually, when Josh had sat back down, Steven spoke up again. "There was another thing I wanted to give you Josh, but I thought it best that I ask your mother before hand."
"What's that?" Josh asked, at the edge of his seat.
Steven turned to face Josh's mother. "About a week ago, tickets went on sale at the performing arts center for the Nutcracker Ballet. I thought Josh might be interested in going."
If Josh had been any more excited, he would have probably overturned the table. "The Nutcracker! Oh WOW, can I go mom, pleeeease?"
"I take it he's never been to it before." Steven said with a smile he couldn't hide.
"Unfortunately not. He's been wanting to go the past several years, but we haven't been able to afford the tickets. And they just keep getting more expensive." She explained.
"Mom, you gotta let me go. I wanna go SO bad!" Josh begged, practically tugging at her sleeve.
"When did you say the performance was?" Josh's mother asked.
"It's the weekend before Christmas, three weeks from now. It's a Saturday matinee," Steven said.
She seemed to mull those facts around in her mind for a while, and Josh knew that this was the critical time for him to put on his best face. The kind of face that said: If you give me this, I promise to be good for the rest of my life. Eventually, Josh could see that her resistance was wearing thin, so he added an extra "pleeeeze..." for good measure. Finally, she caved in.
"Fine, but I don't want him out past eight." Josh's mother said.
The last bit of seriousness hadn't mattered though. Josh still threw his arms around her, thanking her profusely.
Josh couldn't believe it. What had started out as probably one of the worst birthday parties yet had turned completely around into one of the best. He could only remember one other party where he had been so happy, and now it seemed like so long ago he could barely remember any more. For a few brief seconds, he was overwhelmed by sadness. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't remember the face of his father. But he didn't let that familiar misery set in, because now at least, he had Steven.