Time in Willow Creek: 6 months, 2 weeks, 4 days
The piano in the shed haunted Harold ever since the day he discovered Juliana playing two months ago. That sound. He couldn’t forget it; he tried. The memories it brought with it were enough to keep him away for a short while. But, you never forget your first love.
Harold knew he was a crotchety old man. For the most part, that would never change. However, he couldn’t deny there were some elements of him he had complete control over but was not in control. He knew it was affecting everyone around him and didn’t care for a long time. But, as of late, he felt himself growing tired of carrying around dead weight. It had been almost 26 years; it was past time. Juliana had awakened something inside of him he tried to keep in a coma. He couldn’t fight it anymore and went out to the shed to tune the piano. He opened the door and took a deep breath before he went looking for his tools. Harold had all kinds of wrenches, hammers, levers, and everything a handy man could ever need to take care of a piano; he was old school. Electronic chromatic tuners were for pansies, he would say. He knew exactly what all the keys were supposed to sound like. First he used his tools to fix loose and sticky keys. Then he and his trusty tuning fork went to work on the sound. It took him a while to get her perfect after she hadn’t been touched in more than two decades, but when he was done, she sang. He dusted the lid and gave her a nice polish. There you are, he said to himself. She was beginning to look like herself. Harold stood back and smiled as he gazed upon his old friend. His next thought was to sit down and play, but he hesitated. That old pain returned and tried to paralyze him. His heart ached as he thought about his son, Blake, whom he lost. He used to play for him. That pain kept him from playing all that time. But, before the piano was his and Blake’s thing, it was his and Harriett’s thing. And before it was his and Harriett’s thing, it was his thing. The piano was his first love; he forgot. A few tears formed in his eyes as he overrode his feelings to flee for the first time in more than 20 years. My boy…I gotta let you go. He wiped his eyes, sat down, and played.
He played a song he hadn’t played since long before he and Harriett met. It was a tune he enjoyed playing as a young man back in the days when all he thought about was his piano. The first few bars were painful, and a few tears escaped his puffy eyes. But he pushed past those painful feelings and found his rhythm. He was surprised he even remembered how to play that song. After a while, he felt a feeling he had not felt in ages: joy.
It was lunchtime, and the only other person at home was Juliana. She was eating in the kitchen when the sound hit her ear. At first, she was shocked and couldn’t believe what she was hearing. It excited her to hear he had tuned the piano. That was the moment she realized Harold was not angry with her that day she ran away from him. Was her playing the catalyst behind this sudden burst of interest? Regardless of the answer, she had to get closer. She tip toed outside and carefully sat on the steps of the shed and listened. The experience in his playing was very obvious. He wasn’t some kid who quit playing in 8th grade and decided to pick it back up again 50 years later. She heard decades upon decades of a honed craft. There was a cool breeze blowing her hair across her face. It tickled her nose, but it was the most perfect moment as she closed her eyes and listened. Harold played several songs, and she heard every one. Each song he played was more enthusiastic than the last. The joy he felt grew stronger and beamed through every note, and she could feel it. After a few songs, she began to reminisce about her father again. She was transported back to the days when she was four years old and just learning how to play. He would put his hands on hers to teach her. She was so wrapped up in her memories, she didn’t realize the music had stopped.
She didn’t hear the door open, but she felt the vibrations from his footsteps walking beside her. He was shocked and a little embarrassed to see her, but if he had to be discovered by anyone, he preferred it was her. She wouldn’t make a big deal out of it and would let it be. Juliana was startled and gasped when she found she was caught, but she didn’t run away that time. As a matter of fact, she wanted to make it known that she wasn’t afraid anymore. “You play beautiful,” she said.
He briefly paused as he wasn’t expecting her to say anything. That was the first time she ever said anything directly to him. He thought he owed it to her to respond truthfully. His truth went all the way back to when they first met. Harriett did not consult with him when she decided Juliana could stay. His initial attitude toward her had more to do with the disrespect he received from his wife than actually being displeased with Juliana. He felt like Harriett and Hillary thought he was worthless and did not deserve respect because he sat around and watched TV all day. He was still the man of the house no matter which way they sliced it, and leaving him out of important decisions such as inviting a foreign stranger into their home was emasculating. His daughter still acted like a teenager at times and thought money grew on trees. He was concerned about living on a fixed income now that he was retired although he never told anyone. No one listened to him or even asked for his opinions. Then came Juliana. She feared him, and he liked it because it was the only respect he got those days. She didn’t talk much, minded her business, and didn’t cause trouble. He felt sorry for her when her date with Axel blew up in Harriett’s face. He understood why she stayed out of sight for a week. But, he didn’t really begin to pay attention to her until that afternoon she asked for his permission to leave the house. She didn’t have to do that; his daughter certainly didn’t care to. From that day forward, he decided to pay attention to her. No one knew this, but he was listening to every conversation that took place in the kitchen. He noticed how much she had progressed in her Simlish skills. He learned she was a respectful young lady who did not take what they were doing for granted. He learned she liked to have fun but wasn’t a barfly like his daughter. Recently, he discovered there was a man in Juliana’s life. He didn’t know the specifics, but he got the impression she liked this guy from the way Hillary teased her. In so many words, Harold had taken a liking to Juliana and decided not to blow her off and return the compliment.
“So do you,” he said.
Somehow, Juliana felt like she and Harold should talk about their common interest, but she was still thinking about her father and began to cry a little. “My papa…” She got choked up and took a deep breath to try again. “My papa…” She wanted to tell him about how he taught her to play, but she was overcome.
Harold didn’t know anything about Juliana’s history, but he knew those tears. He had cried quite a few of his own. It touched him to know they shared a similar experience—one that had impacted their lives in a major way. In that moment, he was 100% ok with Juliana. And, in his mind, he welcomed her into the family. But, he was a man of few words and didn’t make many gestures of any kind. He certainly didn’t make big deals out of anything. He needed to let her know she didn’t have to be afraid to go into the shed to practice. He wanted her to play and get better. And, perhaps, he would keep playing too. But, he hadn’t decided if he wanted his family knowing he was playing again. So, he simply said, “Keep practicing,” and walked away.
Juliana’s phone rang, and it was Kevin. He usually called a few hours from then to let her know his schedule in reference to art club. She had no idea what he wanted and was glad to hear from him. She wiped her eyes and answered the phone. “Hello?” She sounded a lot happier than she was seconds ago. Hearing the change in her voice clued Harold in that it was the mystery man. He wanted to stay and eavesdrop, but she deserved some privacy. So, he smiled and kept walking toward the house.