``Can I help you?''
I looked back, it was Lance. I had seen him before; too smart, and with a boyish look that my daughter and her friends probably made fun of. The sort of guy that in fifteen years will be considered a great catch, but right now can barely get a hello from a girl. Shame, these guys are great boyfriends. Ah, one day he will be fine.
``No, don't worry. Go enjoy the party.''
``It's early, none of my friends arrived yet. I thought you might need some help, Mrs. Post.''
He had probably been ignored by Harriet, or worse, and now hoped that some of his friends arrived. ``None of my friends arrived.'' It's Harriet's party. He didn't even noticed his flop. But until ``his friends'' did, he didn't want to be sitting alone. He does not have much concept of what ``party'' means.
``Well, since you are offering... Here, take this to the table.'' He gladly took the tray and carried it to the table. He was promptly back, and leaned against the door. I was finishing the cake dressing.
``It looks very nice.''
``My mother makes a great chocolate and coconut cake. She burns some of the coconut rasps and mixes with the dressing, it's really good.''
``This is a family recipe. I make it for every party here. Once I decided to make something else, for variety, and everybody complained.''
``What is it? Chocolate and almonds?''
``Yes.'' He was watching me intently. ``Do you cook?''
``Me?'' He laughed. ``No, I just eat.''
``Well. Here, taste and see if there's enough sugar.''
I gave him a spoon, and he tasted. ``Very good. It's really good. What do you add to it? Nutmeg?''
I looked at him, astonished. ``How do you know?''
``The taste.'' He shrugged. ``It is good, really.''
``I'm surprised you found out so quickly. Some of my friends have been trying for years to discover what is the secret ingredient. Maybe I put too much this time?'' I tasted it, but it tasted as usual.
``No, no, it's great! I just... Well, tasted it.''
``You should be a gastronomic critic.''
``Would love to. Be paid to eat well.''
I looked at him; he was as skinny as one can be.
``There's another secret ingredient. If you can find it, I'll bake a whole cake for you.''
``Really? No, I don't want to give you work.''
``It will be no work. And I doubt you'll find out.''
He took another spoon. This time he licked it with the tip of his tongue, slowly, then licked a bit more, closing his eyes, only then licking the whole spoon. He was just tasting it, but I found it oddly arousing. I imagined him licking me for a split second, before shaking the thought away.
He had his eyes still closed.
``There's a strong taste of vanilla.''
``Yes, there's vanilla, but it's not it.''
``Yes, cloves. You're getting there, it's the only one left.''
He opened his eyes. ``Can I have a glass of water?''
``Sure.'' I filled a glass. ``So?''
He drank in small sips.
``I'm thinking. It's... I've tasted it before, but...'' His eyes were wide. ``Is it apple sauce? It can't be.''
It was my turn to be amazed.
``How... Nobody ever could... Did Harriet tell you?''
``No, she didn't. It's a great idea! It's slightly sour and yet very sweet.'' He was proud of having found the secret ingredient. Then he remembered the bet. ``But please, Mrs. Post, don't worry about the cake.''
``No, you deserve it.''
``I really don't want to be a bother...'' I knew he didn't. It was obvious in his eyes.
``No, don't worry. Next time I bake one I'll make another for you.''
``It's very kind of you.''
``Now, let me finish the cake, before you eat the dressing trying to figure what brand of chocolate and butter I used.''
He laughed again. ``Take the tray that is inside the refrigerator to the table and go have some fun.''
He took the tray, but I was not sure about the fun.
It was unconscious. He was just nearby.
``Lance, would you help me?''
The party was more crowded than I thought it would be; Harriet had invited everybody she knew, apparently. I figured I could get a lot of space by moving that table away.
``Sure.'' He grabbed the other end of the table. When he saw that I was picking it with him, he offered to call some friends to help.
``Don't worry, it's light. It's just too big for me.''
He helped me to take it upstairs, and I brought it to the music room. It was a bedroom originally, but I could never get pregnant a second time. When Harriet started to have piano lessons, it became the music room. She never enjoyed the lessons and now only I would play occasionally.
``You have a piano,'' Lance said, when we had put the table down.
``Yes. Do you play?''
He nodded, not looking at me.
``I study at the conservatory. I'm thinking about having a career in music.''
``I did not know that.''
He looked at me, then glanced at the piano and at me again.
``Do you want to play?''
``Sure, if that's what you want.''
``Just one piece. I want to hear it.''
``It's not a good piano.''
``It does not seem bad either. Is it tuned?'' He opened the keyboard.
``I think it was last tuned three years ago.''
He played a chromatic scale.
``It's not bad, I've heard much worse.''
He reached the highest-pitched octave, which was badly out of tune. He winced.
``Doesn't matter. I won't play that high.''
He started to play a familiar Chopin prelude. I sat by his side, watching the fingers slide on the keyboard with ease.
``You play well,'' I said.
``Do you play, Mrs. Post?''
``No, not half as well as you.''
``Let me hear.''
``Come on. You probably play beautifully.''
I wanted to play, but I knew I was much worse than him. You're getting old when you are ashamed to be outperformed by a fifteen-year kid; you are old when you know that a fifteen-year will certainly outperform you.
``Come on. At least Pour Elise.'' He played the first bar with his left hand. I joined. We ended playing it on four hands, and restarting from the beginning when it ended. He started to play variations on it while I had trouble to keep the original version flowing. At some point he was doing something so odd to keep up with that I couldn't play anymore. But I was laughing.
``You are talented.''
``No, I am not.''
``Don't say that. You are.''
``Not enough to be a professional.''
He seemed to know himself better than I knew myself. I could hear the loud bad music downstairs.
``I think you could, if you tried. To be among the best.''
He looked down. ``I don't know if that is what I want. Playing eight to ten hours a day, everyday, years and years. It's so tiresome.''
``You'll have to work eight hours in whatever profession you pick.''
``Music is worse. You play, you know that. You spend a whole day practicing to correct a single bar.''
``Let me hear your favorite piece.''
``Do you want to?''
``Yes. Come on. Let me close the door. Or do you like that music?''
He laughed. ``I hate that music.'' I closed the door. ``It has no melody. It has no harmony. I can barely call it music.''
I sat by his side, smiling.
He started to play. I recognized it after a few bars.
``The Goldberg variations.''
He nodded. ``I won't play them all.''
He played three of them, then stopped.
``You can do it. If that's what you want, go for it. You'll make to the top.''
``Thanks, Mrs. Post.''
I looked at him, his big eyes were very close to me.
``You can call me Laurie.''
``Does Harriet pick on you too much?''
He shrugged. ``No. Not really. Why?''
``I wish you were her boyfriend.''
``You're a great boy.''
He didn't like to hear `boy'. He seemed to not care about the phrase, though.
``You don't seem to agree.''
``Well... I hear that from mothers, not from girls.''
``You will, when they grow up.''
Damn. Now I had to tell him.
``In ten years.'' I should have said `soon'.
``That's a long time.''
``In ten years you'll be beginning to be famous. Is that a long time too?''
He shrugged. I touched his face.
``Now, don't worry. You may find someone soon. Harriet is not for you, don't even try. She's too mean and futile.'' My own daughter, why am I saying that? But I know that Harriet could crush this boy in a week. Or less. Three days saying maybe, one day kissing him, and he'll be chasing her like a puppy following its mother.
``They all are,'' he said.
``Wait until you go to college.''
How long? Three days saying maybe? One kiss?
But he's lonely. He's nice. He is talented.
He's my daughter's friend.
Not a real friend, more an acquaintance.
I'm old. Too old. I'd be Humbert Humbert, female version.
That girl didn't seem to mind. A boy will mind even less.
That was only a book.
He's moaning, closing his eyes. Why?
Because my hand is on his crotch.
Take it out. Now.
You can't just take it out. Now say something, or he'll feel bad.
``Lance...'' Say something. Come on, anything. Anything.
Shit, he's kissing me. No, he's not. He is. If I don't move now, he'll kiss me.
His lips are so warm, his dick is so hard... And my breasts... His hand is on my breasts! I never thought he'd be so bold.
I break the kiss.
``Lance,'' I start, before he can say anything. Because he'll either screw everything up or say something so nice that will put me under his spell, even though he won't know. What to say? Anything, just say anything this time. ``You can come play the piano whenever you want. I'll have it tuned Monday. Come.''
He smile. He was so tense.
``Now go to the party. I'll see you Monday.''
He stands up, uncomfortable with his hardon, and walks out of the room. He lingers a moment before closing the door, certainly watching me.
Shit, what am I doing? I lie over the keyboard and jump at the dissonant noise.
``At least Pour Elise.''
I have to start practicing. Maybe he can give me some lessons, because I know I'll give him some.