His eyes were bright. I told you, it's a surprise.
Is it safe?
I am suspicious these days and that makes Lochlan sad. Instead of spending our days working for extra money to get through the lean times between towns toward the beginning of autumn, we are preparing to go home at the end of this run. Usually we would stay on for another few weeks, almost right up until school but things have changed. I tremble in my sleep. I have black circles under my eyes. I am afraid when he leaves the camper and I hold my breath until he comes back. He has shifted all of his energy into keeping me distracted.
You're going to love it. That's all I want to tell you so that I don't ruin this.
He turns into the field abruptly. We are on an unmarked dirt road off the highway, rutted and pocked with holes. We bump along forever, jarring our teeth against our skulls, rocking deliriously as the truck shifts and heaves over the bumps, falling into the dips and highlighting a total lack of remaining suspension.
Finally he says There! He leans over and presses his head against mine and points his finger out in front so that I can follow it.
There is an upright piano in the center of a field of lavender.
I gasp. My first thought is he engineered this, only Lochlan doesn't have a piano and he hasn't left me alone for weeks now and this has clearly been here for a while. He lies anyway. I didn't do this, Bridge. I heard about it on the line.
He keeps driving until we are closer and then he turns the truck off and I am out the door, running straight through the tall flowers until I reach out and put my hands on the top.
I bring my hands up to my face and then drop them to run my fingers across the weathered cover. I don't dare open it. Maybe it's empty. Who leaves a piano in a field? It's from the forties, says the faded remnant of the maker's dated signature.
Play for me.
He opens the cover to reveal yellowed, cracked keys. They are ruined but intact. I reach out and press middle C. Clear as a bell. Someone has tuned this. This is no accident. I smile breathlessly, ducking under to see if there are pedals. Yes. He tests other keys and laughs. This is amazing, isn't it?
Look at this. Can you imagine playing outdoors, Locket?
No. I can't. You should show me.
He smiles and winks. He totally engineered this. I'm sure he thinks I am dying. I've said twelve words in three weeks, up until now. I don't eat. I'm becoming a ghost. His insistence that the show go on (someday he will run the show, I'm sure) rings of comfort in times of great difficulty. (Through them, you will be entertained, Bridget and that will help you forget.)
But it didn't help, it just kills more time. That's why we're leaving early this year, with a promise to be back next summer. Hopefully by then I will understand what has happened because as it stands now, I don't. I only know that I became collateral damage in a war between Lochlan and Caleb. Everything will be different now. Everything is different now.
Dutifully I play the beginning of Fur Elise and a smile lights up his face.
Keep going! I wish I brought a camera.
I shift gears and give him a little of Heart and Soul and he grins and slides me down the bench, pushing in next to me. We used to play that song on the piano at my house once I taught him how. I play bits and pieces of a few more songs. I feel happy suddenly.
I like this, Bridget. It sounds so poignant.
What does that mean?
Touching. Special. Intense. Like you.
I shake my head.
Yes, you. Keep playing. We have to be back at four.
You go. I'll be staying here.
I can't do that, Bridget. Oh, here we go.
You don't get to decide. I hold my tiny patch of dusty, sun-baked ground.
Yes, I do.
You don't own me. I'm staying.
He looks up to check the time, using the sun. I'm a little bit sure he isn't human, he's good at too many things and even completely sure of his doubt, if you can believe it. He squints through his curls and then looks back at me. He does own me. He has the temporary paperwork to prove it but he doesn't say that. Instead he scolds me gently. Half-father, half-lover, it's no wonder we were doomed to fail.
We're leaving in fifteen minutes. Play until then and we'll come back tomorrow.
I sit and stare at him. We won't be back. Tomorrow has no free time scheduled. His touching plan has backfired and now he's taking this small bit of happiness away the moment I get my hands on it.
Did you do this just to hurt me then?
Jesus, Bridget, no. I did it to make you happy. To give you a little break.
But we have to leave and I'm not ready!
How long did you want to stay then?
I don't know.
You don't want to go back at all, do you?
If we leave the show you go home, peanut. I won't be there when you have nightmares.
I burst into tears. I am twelve years old, I don't know why I have to make these decisions. I don't want to be at the show anymore but I want to stay with Lochlan. You are my home. Maybe we can figure something out. Maybe we can just run away and find a place to live.
And do what to make ends meet?
He laughs and it breaks the tension. I am encouraged.
We could do it, Lochlan. We'd probably be okay.
He shakes his head. We wouldn't be okay. But do you see? He walks away and comes back, kissing me hard on the cheek. This is why I love you, Bridget. Your dreams. You live inside a perfect world you created in your head. Your dreams are real.
I shiver when he turns around. Gosh, I hope they aren't. Every dream sees the big bad wolf coming for me. Lochlan steps in front of me and is eaten first. When Caleb takes off the wolf's head and licks his lips I start screaming and wake myself up. When my eyes open again Lochlan has set the piano on fire with his mind and is walking away. I run after him yelling his name above the roar of the flames and he stops and waits for me. He keeps saying he's sorry but I don't know what for.