“When I was a kid, um…maybe eight or nine, my mom made me start taking piano lessons.” Charles said absently, while eating French fries.
David paused just before taking a bite from his ridiculously large burger. He glanced across the table at Charles, bewildered.
“Dude, I’ve been your best friend for like 13 years and I’ve never once seen you touch a piano or keyboard that didn’t have a mouse attached to it.”
“Are you gonna bite that, because your sauce is starting to run.” Mark jabbed his finger at the meat patty sliding from David’s double stacked burger. “Okay C, I didn’t know we were talking about piano lessons, but I’m all ears. What’s the significance here?”
“Yeah, what’s your point,” David muffled between bites.
“You’re such a slob,” Mark said as he watched David wolf down the burger.
“Well, that’s the thing. Dave’s been with me since we were pee-wees in grade school, and you came along three years ago, Mark. You guys are my dogs, and you’re supposed to share with your friends, right?”
David glanced over to Mark and nudged him with his elbow. “He’s having a moment, isn’t he?”
“No I’m not having a moment, doofus. I’m just trying to get to a point, because I want to know what you guys think.”
“About what exactly,” Mark interjected. “You haven’t really said anything, C.”
“He’s getting there, professor. Take off your psychology hat for one second, will ya?” David quipped.
“Are you two dorks finished? May I please continue, or is this witty banter destined to continue?” Charles said, staring at his friends across the table. His dark brown eyes darted back and forth between David’s Hazel eyes, and Mark’s deep blues.
“Sorry, C. Go ahead.” Mark said, folding his fingers on the table and leaning in to listen intently.
“Yeah dude; my bad. Please…continue.” David chided. Charles rolled his eyes and huffed. David was always the antagonizer of the trio.
“So yeah, I took a few piano lessons when I was a kid. The thing is, I always loved the sound of the piano, you know? The resonation of the keys, the harmonizing of the chords, the warm hum of mezzo forte, and the sharp pluck of forte-play always seemed to relax me. To this day, the sound of an acoustic piano works wonders to set me at ease.” Charles glanced through the booth window, lost in thought.
“Okay, so we’ve established your love for the piano, C.” Mark started. “But what’s your issue with it? Where is your sense of conflict and…”
“Dude, please!” David erupted. “Do you seriously have to analyze the guy? We’re not in class! Take it down a notch, before your hairline begins to recede.” David turned back to Charles and began to eat the fries off his friend’s tray. “Go on, C. What’s on your mind, man?”
“Sorry, C. Go on.” Mark apologized.
“The thing is…I hated learning to play. I mean, I seriously hated learning to play the piano. I was never any good at it. Practicing the scales off the major C was one thing. But trying to train my fingers to do the other major chords was a nightmare. And don’t even get me started on the black keys!” Charles closed his eyes and began to tap his fingers across the table top, as he remembered where each finger fell across the familiar weighted keys of his childhood family piano.
“C, you’re the most purpose driven dude I know. If you quit years ago, then maybe piano just wasn’t meant for you to learn.” David said. “So why’s it bothering you now?”
“Because, I’ve been taking lessons for the past six weeks.” Charles said. “Every Wednesday night, at seven, I’ve been learning at the church down the road.”
Mark and David exchanged puzzled looks, before they turned their collective attention back to Charles. David raised his hands in wonderment. Mark simply sat stoic; his fingers still clasped together.
“Dude, you succeed at everything you ever attempt. This is no big deal! So why would you hide it from us?” David questioned.
“Because, he’s afraid of failing at it.” Mark said. Charles met Mark’s eerie, knowing, blue steel stare and felt himself shrink into the booth cushion. “Look at me, C. That’s it, isn’t it? You’re afraid of failing at this, so you’re actually thinking about quitting, aren’t you?”
David’s eyes darted back and forth between his friends. “What? Is he right, C? Are you scared of the piano? Do you want us to tell you that it’s okay for you to quit? ‘Cause if that’s what you’re after, then you can forget it.”
Charles bowed his head toward the tray on the table. His brown eyes caught David’s gaze for a split second. “I suck, Dave. It’s just as hard for me today, as it was when I was a stupid kid, not paying attention.”
“So you’re just gonna give up, is that your plan Charles E. Smith?!” David yelled. “Let me remind you of something. When I thought I was gonna lose my scholarship if I didn’t pass Calculus I, who inspired me to try harder at the thing I feared the most?”
“You did, C.” Mark said. “And when I told you guys I was seriously thinking of switching my major to Psychology, who encouraged me to talk to my parents about it?”
“Yeah, that would be you again, C!” David said. “You’re always the backbone, man. You always see things from a brighter perspective than we do, always pushing us to try harder, to be better, to not give up. I may not completely believe in that Bible of yours, but if that’s what makes you the strong guy we know you to be, then you better wake up. Right now, you’re letting the enemy convince you that you’re no good at the thing you love. Who cares if you suck, C! You gotta keep doing this because you never quit anything. If this piano playing makes you happy, despite the fact that you’re terrible at it, then you have to keep playing.
“He’s right, C. He can’t make it to class, but somehow he’s listening to the lectures.” Mark said.
Charles twiddle his thumbs, as he listened to his friends.
“C, you quitting your lessons negates everything that makes you who you are.” Mark said. “That’s why you hid it from us. You’re afraid of how we might look at you, had we known. Well the truth is, you’re afraid to really try. And you have been for a really long time, haven’t you?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I guess so, Mark.” Charles said.
“No man, there is no, ‘I guess so’. You know you’ve been running from this. You’re going to keep going, C.” David demanded. “Dude, you’re gonna beat the devil at his own game, as you church folks like to say.”
Charles and Mark both chuckled and stared at David. There were brief moments in their relationship when the most profound statements managed to slip from his lips. Here and now, Charles was glad he’d shared a secret fear with his best friends, over lunch.
“Are you gonna eat the rest of those fries, or can I have ‘em?” David asked.
It’s been twenty years since that afternoon spent in the burger shack, eating lunch with good friends. Charles stroked the salt and pepper stubble across his chin, and smiled, as he watched his seven year-old son practice the major C scale. Little David was frustrated, but determined to someday play as good as his father.
“Daddy, did it take you a long time to learn how to play?” David asked. His tiny fingers beat hard against the weighted keys.
“It sure did, champ. In fact, I was just thinking about the time when I almost gave up on it. But, uncle Dave, and uncle Mark somehow convinced me to keep on trying. And that’s what I did.”
“Is that when people started to buy your music?” David asked, staring into his Dad’s smiling brown eyes.
Charles looked into his sons brown eyes, and remembered a time when he too sat at a piano and dreamed of making wonderful music. “You know what? That was the time when I decided not to give up. And eventually, yes, people started to buy my music.”
“When I get bigger, I‘m gonna play awesome, and sell my music, just like you Daddy.” David said. “I’m never gonna give up.”
“That’s right, son. If it’s what you really love, you can never give up. Now let me hear that scale one more time.”
Charles planted both hands across the keyboard, and played the scales with his son.