I was sitting on the piano bench in the front parlor, trying to revive my desire to start playing. It had been a while since I’d played the piano and although I didn’t have an interest in pursuing music as a career, I’d never gone so long without at least practicing. With a mother who was a professional opera singer and a father who was a conductor, both of them famous in their own right, perhaps I should have had more interest in the ‘family business’, but I adored science and planned to go into medical research. Nevertheless, I’d inherited my parents’ musical abilities and my mother’s perfect pitch, and I’d been playing the piano since I was three years old and the guitar since I was seven.
Yet I sat there with little interest in playing anything.
“Larry, you look like you’re lost in thought,” Mom said as she entered the parlor. “Is everything okay, Honey?”
“It’s been a while since I last played,” I responded, “but I’m just not interested.”
“I’ve noticed,” Mom agreed. “It’s been, what, maybe three weeks since school ended and you still have most of the summer left, yet you’ve hardly done anything. I’ve been worried about you Larry. This isn’t like you.”
“It’s not like there’s anything for me to do, other than practice my music,” I replied. “New York might be reopening, but it’s not like I can get together with my friends.”
“It’s much the same for your father and me, only we can’t even work,” Mom responded. That was certainly true, as both the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Symphony had been on hiatus since the start of the lockdown. “Singing is one of the worst activities for spreading the coronavirus. Imagine an opera without any singing.” I couldn’t help but laugh at the thought. “At least with a full recording studio in our home, I can work on recording my next album… a solo album of course, but it’s a rather lonely endeavor. The experience is much the same for your father.”
“At least Dad has been able to experiment with conducting string ensembles,” I pointed out, “and there was that virtual live concert for the Fourth of July.” Rather than answer me, Mom just looked at me with her ‘you’ve gotta be kidding me’ look. The truth was that those string ensembles had been socially distanced, with everyone wearing masks, and the Fourth of July concert had actually been a bear to coordinate, even with most members of the symphony having their own professional sound equipment at home. Even broadband wasn’t enough to prevent dropouts during a live performance and so dedicated high-speed lines to each home had needed to be arranged. Performing together in public was another matter entirely. The playing of wind instruments had the potential to spread the virus and hence it would likely be some time before he could conduct a full orchestra.
“At least you and Dad have your private students,” I added.
Sitting down next to me, Mom put her arm around my shoulders and asked, “Is this about missing Robin?”
Nodding my head, I replied, “I haven’t seen her since the night Kyle was injured. “Now, you won’t let me go to a protest with her and you won’t even let me take public transportation to see her, nor will her father let her take it to see me. We might as well live on opposite sides of the planet.”
Then getting a crazy idea, I turned to look Mom directly in the eyes and asked, “Could she maybe come live with us for a while? Her apartment’s all torn up right now for renovations and she and her sisters are sleepin’ on air mattresses in the living room. Here, she could have the guest room to herself. She could help out with the cooking and cleaning.” We’d had a live-in housekeeper, Clara, but with the pandemic raging, she’d gone home to take care of her mother. In the meantime, my parents and I had been doing everything ourselves.
“With the three of us, there are more than enough hands to get things done around here,” Mom countered. “I know you’d like to have Robin around but you’re barely teenagers. You’re too young to live in the same house together.”
“My friend, Feck, lives with his boyfriend,” I exclaimed, “and he’s only thirteen.”
“And he just finished his senior year in high school,” Mom pointed out. “You and your girlfriend, on the other hand, just finished the seventh grade.”
“Salk is an elite middle school,” I pointed out.
“Yes, but you have a year to go there before you even get to high school,” Mom countered. “You’re thirteen, Larry. So’s Robin. Chances are the two of you won’t even be together by the time you finish the eighth grade.”
As I started to protest, Mom held up her hand and said, “I know you think Robin’s the one, and maybe she is. But you’re young and a lot could change. How will you ever know if she’s the one if you never give other girls a chance? I know you feel like you’re grown up but there’s a reason you aren’t considered an adult until you’re eighteen.”
“Seth Moore got married and he was only fourteen,” I pointed out.
“Yes, and there were extenuating circumstances, and his boyfriend was nearly sixteen.” Mom responded.
“We’ve got the room,” I pointed out once again.
“And the two of you would be on the same floor, alone,” Mom countered. “There’d just be too much temptation.”
“And that’s the bottom line,” I replied. “You’re afraid Robin and I will have sex.”
“Of course you’ll have sex,” she challenged. “You say you’re both still virgins and that you’ve done nothing more than make out, but with the close proximity, you’re bound to become involved. What if she gets pregnant?”
“Not that we’re gonna have sex, but give me a break, Mom,” I responded. “If and when we do, I’ll always use protection.”
“Condoms break, Larry,” Mom countered. Gees.
“I just wish there were a way I could see her,” I responded. “That’s all I want is just to hold her in my arms, to touch her hair and to breathe in her cologne. FaceTiming is a poor substitute.”
“I know that, Honey,” Mom replied. “Maybe it won’t be long before you can see her in school.”
She meant well, but that was perhaps the worst thing she could have brought up. “The way they’re talking about it, it could be January before we go back to in-person learning,” I pointed out. Then as an afterthought, I added, “I wonder what’s gonna happen with Freck and Kyle’s joint bar mitzvah at the end of December? It’s supposed to be a big deal, but now they probably won’t be able to have it unless it’s by Zoom.”
“Maybe they can have it outdoors, with masks and social distancing,” Mom suggested.
“In December?” I countered.
“I see your point,” Mom agreed. “At least your birthday was back in January, before the lockdown, so your bar mitzvah went off without a hitch.”
“Yeah, and Robin was there,” I added.
“What’s her favorite song?” Mom asked.
“Head over Feet by Alanis Morrissett,” I replied. “It’s one of the numbers from the musical, Jagged Little Pill, and originally from the album of the same name.”
“Hmm,” Mom responded, “I’m not familiar with that song. Can you play it for me?”
I couldn’t help myself as I started to play the piano and broke into song, “I had no choice but to hear you…” That was all it took to get me playing the piano again, but tears were streaming down my face.
“Hey Freck, how’s it goin’ man?” I asked as the face of my friend came up on the front door monitor. “Cool mask,” I added.
“Thanks man,” Freck responded. “Darth Vader rules. Anyway, can I come in?”
“Let me grab my own mask and I’ll be right there,” I replied as I grabbed my ordinary, plain black cloth mask.
Bounding down the stairs, I ran to the front door and opened it to let my friend in. It was only as I opened the door that I realized that other than the mask, I was only wearing a pair of boxers. Star Wars boxers.
“Cool boxers,” Freck exclaimed as he entered. “Those are from Rogue One, right? It might not have been from the Skywalker series, but it was excellent. I’m a huge Star Wars fan, but I guess that’s pretty obvious from my mask. Kyle barely tolerates the movies.”
“And I was about to apologize for not getting dressed,” I responded as I ushered Freck inside and motioned him to take a seat in the parlor. I sat opposite him, on the piano bench.
Laughing, Freck replied, “At home in Riverdale, I usually go around in the nude most of the time, but when I’m stayin’ with my mom, I can’t exactly go around without clothes on. She won’t even let me go without a shirt. So believe me, you don’t need to get dressed for me.”
“How’s Baltimore?” I asked. “How’s Kyle doin’?” Kyle was undergoing rehab at the Kennedy-Krieger Institute at Johns Hopkins Medical Center.
“He’s making progress every day,” Freck replied, “but he’s frustrated at how long it’s taking. His speech is getting better all the time, but he’s not used to having to wait for his mouth to catch up with his brain.”
“That boy sure has a mouth on him,” I replied, “Sometimes I thought it woulda been better if he’d had to slow down a bit and think before he opens it.”
“Yeah, that mouth of his is what got him in trouble,” Freck agreed. “I doubt the police officer would’ve reacted as he did, had it not been for Kyle’s mouth. He definitely needed to learn to think before he opened his mouth, but going through this wasn’t the way to do it.”
“For sure,” I agreed.
“Unfortunately, as much trouble as he’s having with speaking, it’s even worse with typing and texting,” Freck continued. “His fingers just don’t move fast enough for him and he makes lots of mistakes. He’s used to having his words go directly from his brain via his fingers to the page. Now, it’s almost easier for him to dictate, and that’s really got him down.”
“I can imagine,” I responded. “Is he able to walk yet?”
Shaking his head, Freck replied, “His feet are about two steps behind his brain and even with someone holding on, he falls. They tell us it’ll improve and his doctors say he should have a full recovery, but it could take as long as a year.”
“That’s gotta blow,” I replied.
“One thing’s for sure,” Freck responded, “He can’t go back to living in his house until he can go up and down stairs. In his wheelchair, he’d be stranded on one floor at a time.”
“What are you gonna do?” I asked.
“You’ll recall that my mom’s house has an elevator. I couldn’t ask for a home that’s more accessible. She’s gonna let Kyle and me live there until he’s fully recovered.”
“That’s fantastic, but won’t you miss having a swimming pool?” I asked. Freck was on the Stuyvesant swim team and was passionate about swimming.
“Sure I’ll miss it,” Freck replied, “but I’ve missed Kyle even more. Besides, there’s always Central Park. I guess I’ll just hafta take up running instead of swimming, and of course I’ll be able to visit the Metropolitan Museum and the American Museum of Natural History, now that they’re reopening.
“That boy is my life, Larry. I always knew how much I loved him, but I never realized how much he’s become a part of me. I’d rather lose my left arm than lose Kyle, and I’m left-handed. I’d do anything for it to have been me with the brain injury instead of him.”
“And just think, we’ll be neighbors!” Freck added.
“Yeah, there is that,” I replied. “Perhaps we can put in a gate, so we don’t have to walk all the way around the block,” I added. Although our brownstones were kitty-corner to each other on adjacent blocks, it was a long walk around the block to get between the two. There was, however, a four-foot stretch of overlap between the properties, separated by a concrete block wall. It would be a pain in the ass to break through, but it would be nice to have a connection between the two yards.
“I’ll ask my mom if she’d be willing to go for it,” Freck responded. “A heavy oak door with an arching top would be attractive and provide passage while still maintaining privacy,” he added. That was Freck, the architect, at work.
Then shifting in his chair, Freck asked, “Could I ask you something?”
“Of course you can. Ask away,” I responded.
“Would you be interested in giving piano lessons?” Freck asked. “My mom would be willing to pay you for them,” he added, “and she’d pay you well.”
“You’re interested in learning to play?” I asked in surprise.
“Not me,” Freck responded, “but my sisters. They had a few lessons when they were like five, but then Dad didn’t like being bothered by the noise and he made them stop, the bastard.”
“And your mom is willing to let them start up again?” I asked.
“She’s more than willing,” he answered. “She’s even ordered a Steinway Salon grand piano for the front parlor.”
Whistling, I said, “That’s a nice piano… nearly as large as this classic grand, and just about as expensive. They can cost nearly a hundred grand.”
“In the feathered walnut she chose, over a hundred grand,” Freck explained. “It was an extravagance even then, but she ordered it before the pandemic, when business was good. Not that she’s hurting or anything and I have my own trust fund, but her fashion label’s struggling these days. Her brand is very high end and the department stores and boutiques that sell it are all going bankrupt. People don’t buy her stuff on Amazon, but even if they did, the rich and superrich don’t need as many clothes when they work in their underwear from home.”
“Thanks for that graphic,” I responded.
“No problem, man,” Freck chimed in. “So anyway, the piano’s gonna be delivered next week and Mom’s anxious to line someone up to teach the twins.”
“It sounds like she’s serious about them learning to play,” I responded.
“Very,” he agreed.
“Your sisters are what, ten years old?” I asked.
“As of last week,” he filled in.
“And how long did they take lessons before?” I asked.
“They each had like three lessons when they were five,” Freck answered.
“So they’re essentially beginners,” I inferred.
“Not quite,” Freck replied. “We had a Bluthner baby grand in the living room, but my parents never had it tuned, so it sounded pretty awful…”
“Bluthner’s an unusual brand, but very high-end. Why didn’t you simply move it to the brownstone?” I interrupted.
“For one thing, it was made of clear acrylic and wouldn’t have blended with the walnut of the built-in bookshelves and furniture in the parlor,” Freck explained.
“An acrylic piano’s just for show,” I interrupted. “It lacks resonance.”
“The main reason was that my old man died after my mom had already ordered the Steinway,” Freck continued.
“Sorry man, I forgot about that,” I apologized.
“Not a problem,” Freck responded, and then continued. “After the failed attempt at lessons, the twins talked Mom into buying a Korg Kronos for them for their seventh birthday.”
“A Kronos!,” I exclaimed. “The Kronos is a high-end synthesizer intended more for professional studio recording than for consumers. Learning how to play on a Kronos is a bit like learning how to drive on a Ferrari.”
Shaking his head, Freck replied, “Figuring out all the different sounds it could produce was half the fun for them. Compared to the Korg, a Steinway should be a piece of cake.”
“Why didn’t they go for more lessons when they got the Korg?” I asked.
“You have to remember that we lived in the penthouse in Battery Park City,” Freck explained. “Dad was adamantly opposed to letting them take lessons in someone else’s home, which meant finding a teacher willing to come to the penthouse, and he insisted on interviewing the teachers himself. That would’ve been fine if he’d made himself available for interviews.”
“The fuckin’ jerk,” I responded.
“Well said,” Freck agreed.
“Well, I’ve never taught piano before,” I explained. “It’s not like I need the money either. My parents give me a generous allowance…” but suddenly, I had an insanely crazy idea.
“Your mother has a guest room, right?” I asked.
“What a strange question,” Freck answered. “Yeah, of course she does. There are six bedrooms in the house, including hers, the twins, our nannie René’s and the one she uses for her studio. She’s reserved another bedroom for Kyle and me, and there’s one she uses as a guest room. In addition, there’s a couple of sleeper sofas in the family room downstairs, in case she has a lot of guests staying over.
“But why do you ask, Larry? Are you planning to move in? Larry, what’s this all about?”
Rather than answer, I turned around, put my hands on the keys and started to play as I broke into song.
“Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live? What’s it all about…”
After I finished the first verse, Freck joined with me in singing, “And if only fools are kind, Alfie, then I guess it's wise to be cruel…”
“I guess we’re both familiar with the music of Bacharach and David, but what does it have to do with anything?” Freck asked
I answered by playing the piano and singing, “Without true love we just exist, Alfie…”
“You know, that’s one of the few songs of theirs that began with the lyrics,” Freck responded. “Whereas most of Elton John’s music originated from the inspiration of Bernie Taupin’s lyrics, Burt Bacharach was first and foremost a song writer for whom Hal David then wrote the lyrics, but Alfie was different. Hal David wrote the lyrics first, and then Bacharach wrote the music to go with it. Timeless music that has since become a jazz standard.”
“The only other teenager I know who knows as much about music as you do is Robin Arens,” I explained. “I love her man. I’ve been falling in love with her since we first met two years ago, but I’m head over feet for her.” Then I broke into her favorite song, “She’s already won me over in spite of me and don't be alarmed if I fall head over feet…”
“I love that song,” Freck responded.
“It’s her favorite, man,” I noted.
“Good choice,” Freck agreed. “I can imagine how much you miss her, ’cause I miss Kyle more than I ever thought was possible.”
“My parents won’t let me visit her, and hers won’t let her visit me,” I continued, “and since Kyle was injured, neither set of parents will let us go to protests together either. I asked my mom to let her stay with us, but she thinks we’d have sex, 24/7 if she did.”
Laughing, Freck asked, “And you’re saying you wouldn’t?”
“Hey, we’ve been good,” I answered. “Not that we’ve had the chance to do more than make out and with both of my parents at home all the time, it’s not like we’d have the opportunity, even if she moved in.”
“So you want to know if my Mom will let her stay with us for the time being?” Freck asked, “and you’re offering to give the twins piano lessons in return for it?”
“That’s the plan,” I answered.
“You know with me and Kyle moving in with my mom,” Freck responded, “she could really use some extra help with things. With the move to the brownstone, René has become more of a housekeeper than a nannie and Mom has been fillin’ in as more of a mother to the twins. With working from home, however, Mom could really use an extra set of hands. If Robin could help with watching the twins and maybe doing some of the cooking, the laundry and run errands, it’d be a big help. You need to find out if her parents’ll let her stay with us first but if they will, I’ll make sure it happens, and you don’t even have to give my sisters piano lessons if you don’t want to. Mom’ll pay Robin for her time.”
“But I’ll be able to spend more time with Robin if I do,” I countered. “It’ll be something new for me. It’ll be fun”
Laughing, Freck responded, “You don’t know my sisters, but I’ll ask my mom in any case.”
Freck’s mom was thrilled to have some added help in the house, especially when she heard she’d be helping out a pair of star-struck teenagers. Although Kyle wouldn’t be returning to New York for a couple of weeks yet, she decided she ‘needed’ someone to help get the place ready and to assist with Kyle’s care. Robin volunteered as Kyle’s friend to help with that, in return for room and board and a rather generous weekly stipend. Based on a forty-hour workweek – not that a thirteen-year-old would be allowed to work forty hours a week – it came to better than minimum wage. ‘Sitting’ was one of the few jobs a kid under fourteen could have. The same was true of teaching piano, and for that, Freck’s mom was paying me what she would’ve paid a professional piano teacher, which was into three figures per lesson. The only problem was that I’d never taught anything in my life and had no idea what I was getting into.
Putting first things first, we all went for testing for Covid-19 antigens and antibodies, and tested negative, so we didn’t need to socially distance or wear masks around each other so long as we did so whenever we went out in public. We had a gate installed between the two lots as per Freck’s suggestion, to allow easy access between the two brownstones. I offered to have the twins come over to our house for piano lessons every day during the summer and three times weekly once school was back in session, but Feck’s mom preferred that I teach them in their house, which was fine with me. After all, that was where my girlfriend would be.
I ordered a pair of iPads that the girls could use, just for piano practice, and bought the best music instruction software I could find. I figured it would make practice so much easier than working from traditional instructional workbooks – until I tried playing from one myself. Even in landscape orientation, the screen was barely adequate for the display of a few stanzas at a time. The last thing I wanted for the twins was for them to sit, scrunched up and leaning forward, just to see what was on the screen. I ended up taking the iPads back and instead purchased a pair of iPad Pros and those set me back a fair chunk of change. I’m sure Freck’s mom would’ve covered the cost, but my foolish pride kept me from asking.
On the first day of lessons, I was expecting to see Debbie first and so when the first twin approached, I naturally assumed it was her. I was sitting on the piano bench in their parlor when she bounded down the stairs, and so I asked, “Hey Debbie, are you ready to play the piano?”
“The question is, are you ready to teach me,” she replied, “and I’m Lisa, by the way. Debbie and I decided to switch today.”
“Okay…” I responded. I could imagine they got away with switching places a lot. More than likely, I’d be able to tell them apart by their playing, but they didn’t need to know that, yet. “Why don’t you sit next to me and you can tell me about your previous experience with the piano.
“I understand that you had only a few formal lessons and that otherwise you’re self-taught, is that right?” I asked for confirmation and she nodded her head. “Why don’t you show me something you taught yourself to play.”
I’d been expecting something simple, maybe a pop song she’d heard, but Lisa jumped right in with a song a quickly recognized as Synchronicity II by the Police. It’s very difficult song that’s technically demanding, and usually played on the guitar. It was a song I’d long ago taught myself to play on the guitar, but never before on the piano. Truthfully, I’d never heard it played on the piano, yet Lisa played it amazingly well for a beginner. Her playing needed a lot of work, but then that was what I was being paid for, at least in theory.
When she finished, I asked, “Where did you ever find a version of that for the piano? It was written for guitar. I’ve not heard it played on the piano before.”
“I didn’t have a guitar, so I made do with the Korg,” she explained. “It sounds way better on the Korg, with a lot of synth effects, by the way.”
“So that was your arrangement?” I asked for confirmation.
“I guess so,” she replied.
“I’m curious, why Synchronicity II?” I asked. “It’s a very technical piece.”
“Because it’s an incredibly cool song,” she replied. “I mean, Sting is better known for Every Breath You Take or Fields of Gold. Both of those have become jazz standards, but Synchronicity II exemplifies the genius of Sting’s writing. I’ve never heard a song where discord sounds so beautiful.”
“I agree,” said Robin as she descended the stairs. I rose as she approached, took her into my arms and gave her a quick peck on the lips. She in turn kissed me with a bit more fervor and the kiss only deepened into a passionate, tongue-on-tongue open-mouth kiss. It took Lisa’s clearing her throat to bring us out of it.
“How are you this morning, Lisa,” my girlfriend asked.
“How’d you know it was me?” she asked. “This was supposed to be Debbie’s time.”
“For one thing, I didn’t know that, but more to the point, when I learned that Freck could tell the difference between you two by sound, much as he can distinguish slight differences in languages, it made me wonder if I could pick up on differences based on my ability to hear subtle differences in music, and I found that I can. I don’t know that I’m hearing the same thing Freck is hearing, but there’s a slight difference in the resonance of your vowels. You have more of a nasality whereas your sister has more timbre.
“That’s fucking amazing,” I responded. “I’ll have to listen more carefully.”
“Don’t let my mother hear you use the ‘F’ word,” Lisa cautioned. “It’s fine with me and I use it too, but she’s pretty strict about it.”
“She may have met her match in Kyle,” I related. “That boy doesn’t know how to talk without using the ‘F’ word in every other sentence.”
“It’ll be interesting to see who wins out on that one,” Robin replied.
“Kyle will,” Lisa proclaimed. “He’s cute, and she’ll forgive him because of his head injury. By the time he recovers, she’ll be so used to his casual use of four-letter words that she won’t even bother to correct him.”
“That will have to be seen,” I responded.
“Your rendition of Synchronicity II was very good,” Robin commented, bringing us back to the lesson, “but it lacked the subtlety hiding just under the surface of the music. You were banging on the keys more than playing them.”
“I was gonna get to that,” I added. “Just because the music video shows the performers destroying their guitars doesn’t mean your mom will forgive you for destroying a Steinway. Let me show you what I mean.” I then played the first part of the song using exactly the same rendition that Lisa had used, but with significantly more subtlety. Lisa was quite obviously surprised by the ease by which I picked up her arrangement and played it on the piano after hearing it only once.
Looking at me with what could only be called awe, Lisa responded, “That was way better. It was amazing. You should become a professional concert pianist.”
Laughing, I responded, “You sound like my mother. The trouble is, although I have the technical ability, I lack the passion. It’s not what I want to do with my life and unless you love to play, you’ll never be a great pianist. I’m a scientist at heart and I want to go into medical research. But getting back to your playing, although the notes are technically correct, they lack the subtlety necessary to play the song well. We’re gonna spend a lot of time working on that, as well as in improving your fingering. You’ve taught yourself some bad habits that are gonna come back to haunt you as you get older. The last thing you want is to get a repetitive strain injury from playing the piano.
“I bought you an iPad Pro and a bunch of software to help you practice what we learn in our sessions. Obviously, we can skip some of the basics, but let me ask, can you read music?”
Not unexpectedly, Lisa shook her head and said, “Not really.”
“That’s not unusual for people who learn to play music by ear,” I continued. “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but Paul McCartney never did learn to read music. He can get away with it, but you can’t. It’s boring and tedious as hell, but learning to sight-read now will make all the difference in your enjoyment of playing the piano in the future.
“You’re gonna hate all the drills, but those drills are what will make reading music as natural to you as reading a book. They’ll also teach you proper fingering.
“You’re probably already aware that in Western music, we divide the notes into octaves, where each octave represents a doubling of the frequency. We label the notes with the Roman letters A through G.” I then played and sang, “C… D… E… F… G… A… B… C.”
“But what about the black keys, and why do you start with ‘C’ instead of ‘A’?” Lisa asked. “Counting the black keys, there are actually twelve notes in each octave. We only play eight of them, depending on the key.”
“I think what Lisa’s getting at Larry, is the physics of music,” Robin interrupted. “The science of physical acoustics.”
“A piano string can resonate at multiple frequencies, which we call harmonics. The primary frequency is a vibration where the string vibrates up and down along its entire length. The shorter the string, the higher the frequency of vibration and the higher the pitch.
“In addition, piano strings vibrate at harmonic frequencies, where there are multiple vibrations along the length of the string. The combination of all the different harmonics is called timbre, and it’s the timbre of an instrument that gives it its distinctive sound. It’s what makes a piano sound different from a guitar or a violin, or even an oboe.”
“I bet it’s what makes a Steinway sound different from a Baldwin,” Lisa added.
“Exactly,” Robin agreed. “Now when you play multiple notes together, the way they sound depends on how the harmonics blend with each other. When the notes blend well with each other, it’s called harmony. When they don’t blend, you get discord.”
“Now I understand,” Lisa suddenly exclaimed. “Because the frequency doubles with each octave, the scale is logarithmic, and the notes harmonize based on the wavelength, which is on an inverse logarithmic scale and hence, nonlinear. The division into eight tones but only twelve half-tones is an approximation for an inverse logarithmic scale.”
Now it was my turn to be confused. Lisa and Debbie we’re exceptionally smart girls, not unlike their brother. Although I knew more about music, otherwise I wasn’t in their league. “I’ve heard those terms before,” I related, “but I’m not sure what they have to do with music. Robin and I just finished seventh grade at an advanced science middle school, but we’ve only studied the basics of algebra.”
Laughing, Lisa said, “Gees, public school is so lame. They make you learn to walk when you already know how to fly. A linear scale is like, one, two, three, four, five. A logarithmic scale is like, one, two, four, eight, sixteen. I guess music is nonlinear because the human ear is nonlinear. Each octave represents a doubling of frequency..”
“So it reflects the design of the human inner ear,” Robin related, “but that’s probably a reflection of physical acoustics.”
“Cool,” Lisa responded. “So I wonder if Klingon opera sounds different to Klingons than to humans.”
“That’s probably true,” I agreed. Like my girlfriend, I was a major fan of science fiction and Star Trek was near the top of the list.
“So let’s go on to musical notation,” I suggested as I pulled up a basic sheet music representation of a scale on the iPad and continued, “Now if it had been up to me, I’d have used the lines to represent the black keys on a piano and the spaces to represent the white keys, with some of the spaces being wider to represent adjacent white keys. It would have been much more intuitive, but our system of music notation has been around for hundreds of years and it predates the piano. It’s not up to us to change it. So in the treble clef, the lines represent the notes E-G-B-D-F and the spaces represent F-A-C-E. Face is easy to remember, ’cause it spells out a real word, but the lines are a bit harder, so we use the acronym ‘Every good boy does fine,’ to help us remember the notes.”
Scrunching up her nose, Lisa said, “How sexist. I’m gonna remember, ‘exceptional girls, boys dumb fucks.’” I couldn’t help myself and lost it when she said that. I laughed so hard; I practically fell off the piano bench.
“Now the notes of the bass clef are G-B-D-F-A for the lines and A-C-E-G for the spaces. You can remember the spaces from, ‘All cows eat grass,’ but something tells me you aren’t gonna like the acronym usually used for the lines, ‘Good boys do fine always.’”
“How about, ‘Great big dicks fuck ass?’” Lisa suggested. Robin shrieked in response and I felt myself get hot all over. I was sure I must have turned bright red.
“Now let’s talk about rhythm, I continued as I explained the various types of notes and rests, and showed her the differences between 3/4, 4/4, 6/8 and even 5/4 rhythms, illustrating each. I then played Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. I asked Lisa if she could identify the rhythm.
“At first I thought it might be 3/4 rhythm,” she replied, “but there are four beats to a stanza. Each beat is divided into thirds, but you only showed me whole, half, quarter, eight and sixteenth notes. This song has a twelfth note I think, and I’ve heard this song before. It’s Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven. How do you draw a twelfth note?”
“That’s very good, Lisa,” I responded. “You’re absolutely right, Moonlight Sonata has twelfth notes, but we don’t call them that.” Pulling up the music on the iPad, I showed her, “Instead, there are four triads of eighth notes, but it’s understood that a triad is a single beat. So we count, wa-ah-an, tu-oo-oo, thri-ee-ee, for-ur-ur, and so on.”
“That’s cool,” she responded. “I really like this piece. Could you teach me to play it?”
“It’s a bit advanced for someone just learning piano,” I replied. “It’s a particularly difficult piece for a beginning student because it involves three simultaneous parts rather than two. Both the right and left hands play the accompaniment, with the right hand doing double duty with an added melody. There’s a lot of subtlety in the piece, and it’s just the first movement of the three movements in Beethoven’s fourteenth sonata. I’ll be happy to teach it to you after you’ve mastered reading music.”
“Shit fuckers,” Lisa replied.
“You have a mouth to challenge Kyle’s,” I responded, to which Lisa gave me a grin.
Taking the iPad off the piano, I used the instructor’s mode to make some assignments before handing it to Lisa. “I’ve given you some homework. You’ll see your assignments in this screen, when you first load the app. I’d like you to practice these drills this evening, and then we’ll go over them during tomorrow’s lesson.
“I’d appreciate it if you’d send your sister down for her lesson now.” Lisa did not appear pleased with the assignment at all, but practicing was the only way she’d ever learn to play the piano well or to sight read.
I wondered if Debbie would be at roughly the same level as her sister, but when I asked her to play something for me, she played Chopsticks. I became even more suspicious when I asked her to play something else and she played Row Your Boat, one-handed. As they were identical twins, I seriously doubted they were at such disparate levels. It was possible one practiced piano while the other pursued other interests, but then Lisa had said that said that they’d taught each other how to play.
Something very fishy was going on, so I asked Debbie, “Lisa said you taught each other to play. Why is her playing so much more advanced than yours?”
“I don’t know,” Debbie replied. “I thought we played about the same as each other.”
I was about to say something when Robin interrupted, “Ask her to play Synchronicity II.”
“How am I supposed to play something I’ve never played before?” Debbie asked.
“Because you just played it a few minutes ago,” Robin replied.
Realization dawned on me as Lisa responded, “Fuck, Robin, you really can tell us apart.”
It was time to tell her, “Even if I can’t tell you apart from each other by voice, I will be able to tell you apart by how you play, no matter how advanced you get. Now send your sister down.”
Shrugging her shoulders, she responded, “We thought we’d have a little fun with you today, but I didn’t believe Robin when she said she could tell us apart. Obviously, I was wrong. I’ll see you tomorrow, Larry.”
The lesson with the real Debbie went much the same as the one with Lisa did and she was indeed at about the same playing level as her sister. There were some differences in fingering, however, and I could easily tell them apart by their playing, but to the casual observer they were virtually identical. I gave her the same assignment to practice overnight.
I waited for Robin at the gate that separated our two back yards. She was spending the summer with Freck’s family, helping to take care of his twin ten-year-old sisters while he focused on his boyfriend Kyle’s recovery. Although I was physically present for more than two hours earlier that day, giving the twins their piano lessons, there was scant time for spending any of it with Robin. The lessons were surprisingly demanding, with hardly any downtime to spend with my girlfriend. Between each of our individual responsibilities, the only time we could actually be alone together was after everyone else had gone to bed.
It felt wicked to be sneaking around after dark on a summer night. That was both good and bad. It was incredibly exciting, knowing we could get caught, but getting caught would probably mean we wouldn’t be allowed to spend any time together at all. It would be a violation of our parents’ trust. However, it had been weeks since I’d last spent any time with her, and that was at a Black Lives Matter protest, with only about a million other people. The sleepover at Seth’s place had been just that – a sleepover on air mattresses on the Moore’s living room floor. Since Robin lived nearby, she slept in her usual bed, which at the moment was an air mattress on their living room floor, ’cause they were in the midst of renovating their apartment.
My heart literally ached for her and had it not been for the arrangement for her to help out at Freck’s place, I don’t know what I’d have done. The kiss we’d shared earlier in the day had been wonderful. Too bad it has been cut short by Lisa‘s piano lesson. What I yearned for was a full-blown make out session. What my body yearned for was much more than that, but with parents home in both houses at all times, the opportunity for that was almost zero.
A knock on the gate let me know that Robin had arrived. The gate was actually two back-to-back solid oak doors, each of which was locked from the inside. That’s why I had to meet her at the gate – so I could unlock the door on our side. Being careful to open the door slowly so as to avoid making a squeak or any other noise, I let my baby inside. She was dressed quite simply as I was, in a t-shirt and shorts – to have dressed otherwise might have aroused suspicion – but she was stunning, nonetheless.
The moment she slipped through the door, I pulled her into my arms and kissed her deeply, forgetting that the gate doors latched behind her automatically, locking in the process. However, that was the last thing on our minds. Realizing we could easily be seen from my parents’ bedroom window, I moved us to a porch swing, under the terrace off our great room. The spot was cozy and private, and the rocking motion of the swing was somehow romantic.
Resuming our lip-lock, I pulled her tightly against me and realized that she wasn’t even wearing a bra. The feel of her breasts under her t-shirt was insanely arousing and I couldn’t help but get rock hard. As my dick was up against her thigh, there was no way she couldn’t have felt it. She reached down and squeezed it through my shorts. It was so arousing, I nearly came.
Lifting her hand, I explained, “I’m so close… if you keep that up, I’ll shoot in my shorts.”
Reaching for the hem of her shirt, she said, “Well we can’t have that, now, can we?” She then lifted the hem and pulled her shirt over her head, exposing her breasts, and draped it on the back of the swing behind her. Oh… My… God!
“What the fuck are you doing? You’re gonna make me shoot for sure,” I exclaimed. I’d seen her naked once before, but that was by accident. She’d seen me too, but there was nothing sexual about it then. This was oh so different.
“Are you saying you’d rather I kept my shirt on?” Robin asked. “Don’t you want to touch them?”
“God yes, but if I do, I’ll shoot without even touching myself,” I responded.
“It seems to me then, Larry, that the only problem is that you’re wearing clothes,” she responded as she unbuckled my belt buckle. She unzipped my shorts, exposing my rigidity underneath my boxers. There was already a large wet spot that had formed there. She tugged at the waistband of both my shorts and boxers, starting to pull them down. I had little choice but to stand so she could pull them down the rest of the way, and then I stepped out of them. Now, I was pointing up toward the sky. I reached for the hem of my t-shirt and pulled it up and over my head, draping it over the back of the swing, next to Robin’s shirt.
Robin stood up, unbuckled her belt, unzipped her shorts and dropped her shorts and panties, stepping out of the as well. We were now both standing naked before each other. “Fuck,” was all I could say.
“Not tonight,” she replied. “Not until we’re a bit older. My dad said that all I had to do is ask, and he’d take me to a doctor to get birth control, but I think he’d freak out if I asked him before even starting high school.
“Now my brother reads a lot of gay stories on the internet,” she continued, “and I was curious, so I looked up some of those sites and read some of what’s on them. I could’ve done without the crudity of the Nifty Archive, but some of those stores have rather graphic detail. We need to take care of that thing you have before you have to explain to your parents how you ended up with cum stains all over your patio.”
What happened next was something I’d always remember. Before I even had processed what was happening, Robin went down on me. I didn’t even last until she finished coming back up as I literally exploded in her mouth. Except for a little bit that dribbled out and down her chin, she actually swallowed it all. Curious, I leaned forward and licked off that little bit from her face.
Making what I was sure was the face of a kid who didn’t like the taste of their medicine, I responded by saying, “I’m not sure why gay boys like it, ’cause it’s pretty nasty.” Then looking her in the eyes, I added, “I’m not sure how you could’ve done that. You hear banter in the locker room at school about how girls don’t swallow, yet you did.”
Laughing, she replied, “In some ways I think I could’ve been a gay boy more easily than a straight girl. I always was a bit of a tomboy, but I’m comfortable in my girl’s body and I don’t think I’m trans or anything like that. But thanks to my brother, I’ve read a lot of gay stories and I really get turned on by them…”
“You’ve never… you know, with Josh, have you?” I interrupted.
Scrunching up her face, she answered, “With my brother? Yuck! That’s disgusting!”
“Well the way you talked, I had to ask,” I replied. “Not that I’d have held it against you or anything.”
Stepping closer to me and putting her hand on my chest, right on my nipple, she explained, “Larry, I love you. I’m in love with you. I’ve read a few gay stories and I was curious about what it was like to go down on a boy, but the main reason I did it was because it was you and I love you. I kinda knew what to expect, and I found I liked the taste because it was from you. I want to do that again and again.” I was already rock hard again, and with that it became painful.
We ended up making out like crazy and I soon returned the favor. I know a lot of guys don’t care for the taste, but I found Robin’s taste to be incredibly sexy. We both ended up getting each other off another couple of times that night, deciding to part only when we realized that we might be caught when the sun came up. At least there was still time to get a few hours of sleep.
It was only then, when we opened the door to the gate on our side, that we realized that we’d let the door on her side close, latch and lock itself. Only by climbing over the wall, which we actually considered and rejected as unsafe, that she could return without walking around the block. We would’ve done that, but she was barefoot and besides which, having assumed she could get back into Freck’s house through the open family room doors, she hadn’t even bothered to bring her keys. We were oh so totally fucked.
“I’ll call Freck and have him open the door,” I suggested, “but my phone’s upstairs in my room. I’ll go get it.”
Robin sat on the swing and I climbed up the stairs to the great room as stealthily as I could, but when I got there, I noticed that the lights were on. I opened the door and stepped inside, where I found Mom, seated at the kitchen counter and sipping a mug of what I presumed to be coffee.
“Mom, what are you doing up?” I asked as I approached her.
“I could ask you the same thing,” she replied. “In my case I couldn’t sleep, so I decided to make myself some Sleepy Time Peach Tea, but then I heard voices coming from outside. And I heard other sounds too, so I made some coffee and decided to wait for you.” I must have turned five shades of red then, as it was pretty clear what she’d heard besides our voices.
“Did Robin get home okay?” Mom asked.
“Shit! She’s still downstairs,” I responded. “We forgot about the gate locking automatically and she’s stuck here. I was gonna get my phone and call Freck to let her back inside.”
“Is she dressed?” Mom asked.
“Gees, Mom. We’re not animals, you know,” I responded.
“Actually, in many ways you are,” Mom replied. “You’re both healthy teenagers and you let your hormones get the better of you. Not that that’s a bad thing, but you’re both too young to deal with the powerful emotions involved with that.
“Why don’t you go get your girlfriend and we’ll talk.” Boy, did we talk! We ended up talking until the morning sunlight was streaming into the garden.
Then we called Robin’s dad at the time he usually got up. We ended up doing a FaceTime conference with him. I was pretty shocked when he actually asked Robin why she didn’t come to him first – that he’d have made all the arrangements to get her birth control pills. He pretty much insisted that that’s what we do, and Mom agreed! Unbelievable.
“Children,” Mom concluded, “you really are too young to be having sex and this is far from giving you approval, but once you have sex, it would be naïve of me to assume you wouldn’t continue to have sex. The sexual genie can’t be put back in the bottle. Besides which, I know you really love each other.”
“Totally,” I interrupted, and Robin nodded her head in agreement.
“The last thing any of us wants is a teenage pregnancy or an abortion at your young age,” Mom continued. “I know you didn’t go all the way, but you’re teenagers and in spite of your best intentions, you will. That’s why I didn’t want Robin living here with us… because the temptation would be too great, but you went ahead anyway and installed Robin in the San Angelo household… or is it the Lawrence household?”
“Freck’s mom’s professional name is Sophia Lawrence,” Robin explained, “but all the kids go by their father’s name, San Angelo. I refer to them as the San Angelos.”
I just hung my head, as my mother was right. I’d done exactly as she said, going behind her back.
“I ought to ground you, but what would that achieve?” Mom asked. “I’d just be punishing you for being human. So I just have to accept that you’re together and you’re going to be together, at least for now. Better you spend the night in one of your bedrooms than sneak around behind my back the way you did last night.”
“Mom, are you serious?” I asked.
“Why wouldn’t I be serious?” she asked in return. I ended up hugging her tightly. So’d Robin.
Although we had our parents’ permission, Robin and I were both very busy and didn’t really have the time to get together all that often. We made the effort to spend at least one full day and night together every week, and when we did, we made sure it was special. Starting with a nice meal ordered from one of the better restaurants on the Upper West Side, we snuggled up together, usually in my room, and watched a movie together. Ironically, Robin tended to like the action adventure movies whereas I tended to like the romantic ‘chick flicks’. We both adored sci-fi, however, and usually stuck to watching that. After the movie, we turned out the lights and slowly made love, and I came to really appreciate why it was called ‘making love’.
Every day, I became more and more convinced that Robin was the one I wanted to spend my life with. She told me she felt the same way.
Teaching the twins proper technique and sight reading proved much more difficult than I had thought it would be, particularly with girls who were already experienced in playing keyboards and who were used to playing by ear. Every time I gave them a new song to practice, they attempted to learn to play it from memory, which was easier for them than learning how to sight read. I therefore spent far too much time on music drills, which weren’t particularly effective at teaching them reading skills. It didn’t take long for them to come to hate the lessons, which was the last thing I wanted. I was an inexperienced teacher.
I put the girls’ frequent complaints down to wining and kept at the dreaded drills, which were accomplishing nothing. It wasn’t until after Kyle returned to New York that the situation came to a head.
With Freck back in the house, it took him observing only one lesson for him to take me aside and tell me, “You’re fucking up man. You’re gonna turn my sisters off from playing music for the rest of their lives. You’re gonna make them hate music. How sad would that be?”
“But what am I supposed to do, Freck?” I asked. “They don’t want to take the time to learn how to read music. They want to play by ear.”
“So let them!” Freck challenged me. “They’re gonna do it anyway, so teach them how to play the songs they want to play. Make them learn to play them in different keys. That’ll force them to learn different techniques. You’ll also whet their appetites for wanting to play other music, and they’ll eventually have to learn how to read.
“Another thing you might try is having my sisters try their hands at writing music,” Freck suggested. “My sisters are creative and writing music is something I know they’d enjoy. The thing is, you can’t write music without learning how to read it. Well, there’s software to do that, but you can disable that feature.”
Freck knew his sisters well, and he was a genius, literally. Following his advice, his sisters came to love their lessons and indeed learned how to read music. In time I developed a friendship with them that would last a lifetime.
Disclaimer: This story is a fictional account involving gay teenage and pre-teen boys. There are references to gay sex and anyone who is uncomfortable with this should obviously not be reading it. The reader takes all responsibility for the legality of reading this type of story where they live. All characters are fictional and any resemblance to real people is unintentional. Although there are references to political figures as inspired by current events, any resemblance to a particular figure, past, present or future, is intended to be coincidental. As always, opinions expressed by characters in the story represent the opinions of the characters and are not necessarily representative of those of the author nor the sites to which the story has been posted. The author retains full copyright.