by Eric Stevens

How DARE she yell at me like that! That bitch! Sophie walked down the sidewalk next to her apartment, earbuds placed firmly and playing nothing. She wore her sunglasses, though it was almost dark. They hid the redness and occasional tear that escaped the corners of her dark brown eyes. Three years… THREE YEARS of putting up with her drinking, the random guys… She glimpsed two men walking towards her, laughing and blocking the sidewalk, clearly not paying attention. Undergrad frat boys. Get the fuck out of the way! She sped up her already brisk pace as she approached, her long grey skirt fluttering as the autumn air blew in multiple directions.

“Excuse me,” She muttered as politely as she could manage, sidestepping the boys who glanced at her with surprised looks.

“Damn girl not even watching where she’s going,” She heard one of them say under his breath. The benefit of wearing earbuds without anything playing was you could occasionally hear what others actually thought of you.

She rounded the corner of the sidewalk past the student center and came in view of the chapel–her favorite place on campus. She wasn’t religious at all, but the small building with the stained glass windows and cute garden gave her a warm feeling, and she took solace in the knowledge that it would most likely be empty. She opened the large oak door and peered in. Silence. She smiled, let out a deep breath, and walked inside.

The large lamps hanging above gave off a dull incandescent glow, barely illuminating the old pews and dusty lectern that stood apart from the baptismal in the very back. Small doors next to the baptismal lead off towards the two bathrooms. To each side of the lectern stood an organ and a piano, both untouched, and covered in dust. She looked to either side of the auditorium and saw the stained glass windows, depicting images of Christ preaching to the masses. She walked to the middle of the room and sat on the edge of one of the pews, letting her large blue bag sit next to her and pulling out the laptop that sported stickers of her favorite movies.

Sophie opened the lid and the image lit up to reveal the word document she had been editing before the fight happened. One week… She groaned. Her thesis was scheduled to be defended a week from tonight, and she didn’t feel prepared. On top of that, she now had to deal with a roommate that had just blown up at her for suggesting she talk to a counselor. Sophie perused the document numbly, staring at the words that stared back but not actually reading.

Three years. Roommates for three years and she blows up at me like that… Was I really in the wrong here? I was just trying to be a good friend! She felt another tear sting her eye, this one unblocked by the sunglasses that now hung from her collar. She sniffled for a second, then turned her eyes back to her computer. No. She’ll calm down. After all, she has Jason now, or Jared, whatever the hell his name is this time. Maybe she could just use some alone time like me. She scrolled towards the beginning, preparing to memorize every word of the large document in preparation for the barrage of questions she knew would come. I should’ve brought some coffee. I wonder if the Starbucks on campus is still open…

Her train of thought was interrupted by the sound of the oak door opening behind her, and she turned in surprise. A man stepped into view. His face was long and clean shaven. He was tall, and several years older, sporting loose fitting jeans and an old leather jacket. Looks kind of shady, Sophie thought as he walked inside and closed the door. In his hand he grasped a manila folder, and he made his way across the room. As he walked past Sophie, he glanced at her in surprise, but quickly changed his expression to a warm smile and nodded towards her without saying a word.

Sophie realized her mouth was open slightly and closed it. Jesus Sophie calm down, it’s just some guy. He’s not too creepy. Maybe he likes the silence too. She looked back at her computer, but with her peripheral vision she eyed him as he made his way up the steps and walked towards the piano. He set the folder on the bench, pulled out an old rag from a pocket inside his jacket, and wiped down the keys. After he finished, he took off his jacket and opened the folder, pulling out several pieces of paper that he placed on the music stand sitting on top of the keys. Sophie continued to stare in wonder, she’d been coming here for almost two years and had never seen anyone else come in–let alone play the piano.

He wiped off the bench and sat, ancient wood creaking under the unfamiliar weight of someone who hadn’t sat there in years. He reached out towards the piano, and with his index finger, pressed the middle C key firmly. A tone spoke from the instrument, reverberating off the rustic walls and stained glass of the chapel, breaking the silence of the room. It sounded foreign and old, but also right.

After that, he unbuttoned the cuffs of his striped shirt and rolled up his sleeves, revealing dark arms spotted with black and silver hairs. Sophie’s eyes rose slightly. Kind of cute. His right arm looked burned on the outside, as if he had raised it up years ago to shield himself–or someone–from something. He straightened his back and placed both hands on the piano, closed his eyes, and played a single chord. It was powerful, changing the mood of the empty chapel from loneliness to solemnity. The sound rang in Sophie’s ears and she felt a slight shiver start from her neck and make its way down her spine, raising the small hairs on her arms. One word came to her mind to explain the sensation: Life.

The man stared at the old piano and smiled, whispering something. A moment later, he began a song. Slow-paced and deliberate, he walked a steady beat of notes and chords with his left hand while the right played a weighty melody filled with highs and lows that kept Sophie’s mind on edge and constantly wondering what the next note would be. The song lasted several minutes before he finished, leaving a lasting tone in the stale air of the chapel. Sophie felt another tear reach her eye, but this one wasn’t caused by the fight with her roommate.

He continued to play for over an hour. Sophie closed her laptop halfway through the performance, realizing she wouldn’t be able to concentrate on anything. Each of his songs brought different moods and emotions to the chapel and Sophie’s heart, and left her with raised hairs on her arms and a burning sensation behind her ears.

After an hour, he finished playing. The bright and airy feeling of his last chord made the chapel seem more alive than it had been in years. He stood up, and began putting the sheets of music into his manila folder.

“Don’t stop,” Sophie heard herself say, and immediately felt deep pangs of red come creeping up her cheeks. Oh god. Why did I say that?! WHY?!

The man looked up and stared at her. His lips curved upwards at the corners in a slight smile. His face looked weary, but his hazel eyes told a different story. “Well I have to get back to the house soon to let the dogs out, but I can play one more song if you’d like.”

“I–oh uh, I mean if you want to–dogs are cool!” Dogs are cool? What the hell are you saying Sophie?! Get ahold of yourself! Sophie tried grinning but had a sneaking suspicion that it looked more like a grimace.

The man looked puzzled for a second, and then burst into laughter–full and deep. “You’re right, dogs are cool. You seem pretty cool, too.” He walked back towards the piano and sat down. “I wrote this a little while ago. It’s kind of sad, but you’ve heard everything else I know,” He shrugged.

Sophie shook her head. “I’m sure it’s great,” She said, the red leaving her cheeks for a moment.

The man sat up straight and began. He was right, it was sad. The song seemed to darken the already dim incandescent light, and the tings of melody coupled with the deep strokes of the bass chords filled Sophie’s ears with beauty and despair. Anguish filled her heart, and she welcomed it.

As he finished playing, she wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her blouse. “Thank you, that was beautiful. All of it was.”

The man stood. “Well that’s really kind of you to say. What’s your name?”

“Sophie,” She replied. “What’s yours?”

“I’m Logan,” He said. “Well Sophie, I was in kind of a bad mood but your compliment just made my week. This is my first time here, a friend of mine said there was a piano here no one uses. Looks like I’ll owe him a drink.” He grinned and reached for his jacket, slipping it on.

“I have to ask,” Sophie said, “Why write something so sad? It’s so pretty I just…”

“Do you think it would’ve been better if it wasn’t so sad?” He asked.

“No. It was perfect the way it was. Maybe I don’t know what I’m asking.” Sophie became flustered all of a sudden, jamming her laptop into her bag.

“I guess I’m just a fan of the minor keys. Sometimes life sucks and you just wanna yell at the world how much it sucks, you know?” He said. “But just because life can suck doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful too.” He shook his head. “Ah, don’t listen to me, I don’t know what I’m talking about.” He grinned and started towards the door.

“No, I think you’ve got it all figured out,” Sophie said, smiling. “Will you be coming back here to play? I come here a lot.”

“Well then of course I will!” Logan exclaimed, then blushed profusely and turned his head. “Uh I mean, yeah. I’ll be here next week,” He said.

“Great,” Sophie said, “Write something happier this time!”

A week passed. Sophie spent most of it with a noticeable glow on her face. Her roommate broke down when she arrived home from the chapel–bawling and explaining that the new guy (It was Jason, Sophie found out) had left in quite a spectacular fashion after their latest fight about what to have for dinner. She apologised to Sophie, who hugged her and told her it would be alright. She even claimed she would start looking for a counselor, which shocked Sophie.

Her thesis defense day arrived a week after meeting Logan. The questions were tougher than she expected, but afterwards one of the professors stopped her on the way out to tell her she did a good job. Great, now give me a good evaluation and I can get a job and start paying off these loans, She thought.

Sophie headed to the chapel after her thesis defense–making sure to stop by the Starbucks this time for a cappuccino–and opened the large oak door expectantly. It was empty. Well, it’s only 6. Maybe he’s letting the dogs out? Or at work? Does he work…? Realizing she knew next to nothing about her piano man, she went to her normal pew and sat down, sipping her foamy cappuccino as Jesus preached towards her from the stained glass window. She pulled out her phone and browsed her favorite sites, checking the time every five minutes and growing more and more uncomfortable. After hearing the wondrous tunes from last time, the silence seemed boring.

At 6:45, the door opened, and a smile leapt onto Sophie’s face as she wheeled around in anticipation. It wasn’t Logan, but a man wearing a blue uniform and hat, sporting small hedge clippers on his belt and a watering can in hand. The gardener.

She felt an unexplainable rage fill her body as the gardener nodded towards her and moved swiftly towards the back of the chapel, watering the large plants that sat on either side of the bathroom doors. He left shortly after without a word. Did I do something wrong? Maybe he thought I was weird? Is he just busy? Will I never see him again? Am I crazy? She crossed her legs and sipped her cappuccino, vigorously tapping her finger against the screen of her phone.

At 8:00, she bowed her head. He’s not coming. I’ll never see him again. She looked at her phone one more time and saw a new email: A notification from the university. Her thesis evaluation was complete. She felt her heart sink, and she placed her head in her palms. I know I failed it. Those questions were ridiculous and I looked like a total fool. I failed it. I’ll have to try again, and that’s more loans. I already can’t pay these… I don’t have a job yet. And he’s not coming. She started crying openly. Her eyes turned red and she took deep breaths as the tears streamed down her cheeks. She kept her face in her palms. What am I going to do? How am I going to tell my family? Why didn’t he come? I was an… She felt a hand grasp her shoulder lightly.

Sophie lifted her face out of her palms and turned around to see Logan staring down at her, a concerned look in his face. “Is everything alright? I just walked in and saw you crying. Is there anything I can do?”

Sophie was stunned, and she tried to gather herself immediately. “Oh! I-uhm, no I’m ok, it was just a long day is all!” She smiled through the tears. “I had to defend my thesis and just–other stuff… I’m sorry,” She turned away.

“Hey don’t apologise, bad days happen to all of us. Wait here, I’ll be right back.” Logan walked towards the bathroom, dropping his manila folder on top of the lectern before disappearing from sight and returning a moment later with a handful of tissues and a plastic cup with water. “Good thing about these old-timey places is the bathrooms are always nice,” He said. He handed Sophie the tissues and water and she grasped them, embarrassed.

“Thank you. I’m sorry you had to see that, honestly,” She said while she dabbed her eyes and sipped the cool water.

“Like I said, don’t apologise,” Logan replied. “Also just FYI: I’m pretty sure that’s holy water.”

Sophie snorted with laughter and Logan smiled. “That’s more like it,” He said. “Sorry I’m so late. I was, ah,” He started to blush. “Well I was putting the finishing touches on this new piece. I wanted to make sure… You liked it.”

Sophie grinned. “I’m sure I’ll love it.”

Logan stood and went to the piano. “I call this one, ‘Dogs are Cool.’” Sophie put a hand to her forehead and shook it. Logan laughed. “Kidding, just kidding. I did take your advice though,” He unbuttoned his cuffs once more and rolled up his sleeves. Once again, Sophie’s eyes rose. “I wrote a happy song.”

“Not a fan of the minor keys today?” Sophie asked.

Logan cocked his head. “Why would I be? I’m here. With you.”

About the Author:

Eric Stevens

Eric Stevens is a fiction writer from Alabama. He is a freelance writer and enjoys writing short fiction as a hobby. He currently lives near Orlando, Florida, where he is working on a new novella. To read more of his work, visit ericstevens.journoportfolio.com.