Play Me

By: Katie McCoy

You say potato, I say potahto. Let’s eat together.





Chapter 1




Ella



It wasn’t going to fit. Just looking at it, I could tell. It was too big. Way, way too big. But still, I took a deep breath and tried to relax. There wasn’t much I could do now. Somehow he was going to make it fit. It was too late to turn back, I told myself.

Keeping my gaze on Mark’s face, I watched as beads of perspiration broke out on his forehead, wrinkled with concentration. We were both sweating. I bit my lip and closed my eyes, knowing it would all be over soon. My heart pounded in my chest.

I held my breath and braced for contact. I heard Mark let out a low grunt and then nothing.

When I opened my eyes, my piano was in the middle of my new apartment. I hurried over to help him tilt it off the dolly, gently maneuvering it close to the large bay windows that took up an entire wall of the loft. It looked fantastic sitting there, beautiful and gleaming. Like it belonged. Afternoon light was streaming in and already my fingers itched to play a few notes, test the acoustics in the room.

“I told you it would fit,” Mark said, making the same expression of displeasure as he did when I messed up during rehearsal. Which seemed to be more often than not these days. The closer we got to the competition, the worse I seemed to get in rehearsal, my hands growing more and more clammy and my nerves through the roof.

“Thank you for helping me move it,” I told him, still surprised he had agreed to do so.

“Well, you were probably going to hire some idiot who would damage it. Better if I just took care of it.”

I ran my hand over the piano’s polished black surface. It took up most of the space in the tiny first-floor loft I had rented in Lower Nob Hill—there was barely any room for my bed and I hadn’t even bothered with trying to get a table or couch in there as well. Not like I could afford them with how much I was paying for rent. But it didn’t matter. The piano was all that mattered. And somehow, Mark had managed to maneuver it through the narrow door without getting a scratch on it.

“Thank you,” I told him again, but the frown didn’t budge, his attention turned to the state of the apartment. I had loved it since the moment I saw it, the old three-story building with six identical lofts, two on each floor, with their own beautiful set of windows that curved outwards. It felt a little like a fishbowl. But in a good way. Like, if a fish had to choose its fishbowl, it would probably choose a fishbowl like this.

Peering out my windows, I could see into the apartment immediately next to mine—or at least I would be able to if their curtains hadn’t been drawn. You should probably buy curtains; I made a mental note to myself. Looking up, I could see the ceiling of the apartment above the one next door, but not much more.

But when I looked back at Mark and his frown, suddenly I could see everything in my apartment that he had disapproved of. The lack of space. The creaky floorboards. The ancient sink and bathtub. I quickly pushed his doubts away. He was only my instructor now—he didn’t get to tell me where to live, even though he kept trying. He had found nothing but fault with my new place.

“Just continue to stay with your parents,” he kept saying, the one and only time he and my folks were in total agreement. “Why add to your stress with another move?”

But he didn’t understand that as much as I loved my parents, it was time to move out. I was twenty-five and had never been on my own. I had always planned my move back home to be temporary, just to get my bearings after the break-up and find my own place. My parents had clearly been hoping I would stay forever, like my sister. But they still couldn’t understand—after years of practice and graduating from the conservatory—why I had chosen to focus on classical music instead of jazz like Nina. Like them. They respected classical music, of course, they just thought it was a bit old-fashioned. They didn’t mean any harm by it, I knew that, but it was still frustrating to be around people who didn’t listen to what you wanted.

“We’re a family of free spirits, Ella,” my dad would always say. “We like to improvise, not follow sheet music.”

But I needed to follow sheet music. Just like I needed to move out. But they also thought I should focus on an instrument and genre that didn’t have so many solo performances—the very thing that tended to trigger my panic attacks. They didn’t understand why I continued to put myself through the stress of performing and they definitely didn’t understand why I had entered the Menuhin Competition.

“I’m going to go,” Mark said, smoothing back his perfect hair.

I remembered being so enamored with him those first few years. Back then I was just out of the conservatory and he was the best piano teacher in San Francisco, so of course I sought him out. I wanted to win the newly established Menuhin competition and he was considered the best person to prepare me. The competition was how I was going to prove to my parents that I could succeed as a musician. It wasn’t the money I was interested in, but the opportunity it would allow. The winner of this competition would have a hundred doors opened to them. Secretly I hoped it would allow me to teach. Even though I had a few students, mostly kids, winning the competition would give me respect and attention in the classical world. I would be able to take on students like Mark took on me. And charge them the same exorbitant fees. Because I would be worth it. And I would be able to keep my current students at their current cost. But I was getting ahead of myself. I had to win the competition first.

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