A victim of date rape and a single mother, Kendra struggles with anger, distrust, and feelings of abandonment as each person in her life fails her. When she turns to God as her heavenly Father, she finds hope and healing and is finally able to offer forgiveness to the man who hurt her.
As Kendra’s fingers touched the keys, the beautiful, haunting melody of “Moonlight Sonata” flowed out of the baby grand piano as if the two were one, created together as one organism. For one short moment she lost herself in the music and almost succeeded in forgetting the woman sitting nearby on the living room couch, judging the lovely tone of the hammers on strings to decide if the instrument was worthy of purchase. What tragedy or grief had inspired such genius in Beethoven? she wondered again as she played. The terrible loss of his hearing, or unrequited love? If she had Beethoven’s genius, perhaps she could take the tragedies in her own young life and produce beauty like this. But with her own mediocre talent, all she could do was return to this sonata at every crisis she faced, allowing it to express her own heartbreak or despondency. Now it seemed fitting to play it this one last time, when she was on the verge of losing her music forever.
At the end of the first movement she stopped and turned to her one-woman audience. She had never mastered the third movement and decided it would be unwise to attempt more than the first, especially as tears were beginning to well up in her eyes.
“Well, you play so well, and it’s really lovely.” The woman rose and lifted her hand to touch the fine mahogany. “Probably too good for my girls, but I don't want to buy a cheap piano. My husband said to get something nice. How much are you asking?”
Kendra swallowed. Start high, not low, her mother had advised. “I'd like to get seventy-five hundred for it.”
“Hmm.” The woman touched one of the keys with a light frown. “I saw one in a store for five thousand. I was hoping to not spend more than that.”
"I think this is worth more than five." She didn't like to haggle, it seemed indecent somehow, but she didn’t want to give away her treasure for nothing. “What about six and a half?”
The woman pursed her lips. “Well, I'll give you six. I think it's worth that much. I'll give you five hundred now, and the rest when we come to pick it up. We're going to need movers for this. I'll have to let you know when we get it scheduled.” All business, she opened her purse, took out a wad of bills and began to count them.
Feeling bereft, Kendra nodded and took the bills as the woman counted them out. “We have to be out of the house by the middle of June. That’s the only reason I’m selling the piano, because I’m moving, and won’t have room for it in my apartment.”
“Okay, I'll certainly get it before then. Thanks so much. Nice to meet you—”
“Nice to meet you, Kendra. It's a lovely piano. I hope my girls play as well as you do someday.”
Kendra stuffed the money into her jeans pocket and pasted a smile on her face again, waiting until the woman had disappeared inside her car. Then she returned to the piano stool and dropped onto it, tears blurring her vision and spilling on the black and white keys.
It was silly to be crying over a piano, she knew. Of all the things she had lost in her life, the piano was really nothing, a piece of wood and ivory and string that could easily be replaced someday. Not like losing a father, a brother, a mother, a home, a career, a future. But maybe that was why this was hitting so hard today. It wasn't losing the piano itself, but all that it represented, everything from her past that had disappeared, her present that was changing so rapidly, and her future that would never be.
She heard the rattling of the doorknob and quickly dried her tears just as her mother, arms full of shopping bags, glanced through the living room doorway and saw her sitting there.
“Kendra? Who was that car pulling out as I pulled in? Was it someone looking at the piano? ”
“Yes.” Kendra dried her hands on the side of her jeans. “She decided to buy it. She agreed to six thousand and put five hundred down.”
“Six thousand! Well, that's not bad, is it? That will make a nice down payment for your car after you give Patsy her rent money. I really don’t want you and Elizabeth riding around in that piece of junk you’re driving now.”
“Yes, I was happy she offered that much.”
“I'm so relieved that it sold. Now all the big pieces are gone, except for your bedroom set that you're taking with you, and a few other things that your brother wants. I hope Gregg gets them out soon. Have you decided if you're taking the little kitchen table and chairs?”
“No, Patsy says that she doesn't need it.” Kendra’s future roommate had a two-bedroom apartment already and most of the rooms were furnished. No room for the piano—just a bedroom for Kendra and her daughter Elizabeth to share. It was all Kendra could afford on her bank teller’s salary.
“Okay, I'll tell Gregg he can have it.” Her mother set her bags on the couch and opened one, taking out rectangular jewelry box. “Look what I got for you for the wedding. Isn't this pretty?”
Kendra opened the box to reveal a silver necklace with rose-colored stones. "It's nice.”
“I thought it would go well with your gown. I found earrings to go with it too. Let me put it on you.”
Bonnie came close to her daughter, unclasping the necklace, then looked more closely at her face. “Kendra, what's wrong? Have you been crying?”
Kendra stared down at the piano keys. “A little.”
“Oh, goodness, child! You weren't crying over the piano, were you? You don't even play it that much anymore.”
“Yes, I do. I play as much as I have time. And—and I was hoping that Elizabeth could use it when she gets older.”
Bonnie put the necklace back in its box and dropped down into the rocking chair. “Elizabeth can have her own piano someday. A smaller one, not a baby grand. Really, honey, of all things to get upset about.” Bonnie snapped the box shut. “I'm just relieved that it sold.”
“You don't understand,” Kendra began, and then her throat closed up and she couldn't go on.
Bonnie sighed. “You mean because it belonged to Daddy. Is that it?”
Kendra ran a finger over one smooth white key. “It belonged to Daddy, and it was part of everything that we planned for when I was young. You know how hard I worked on my audition music— I had that dream of being a concert pianist. Or maybe just a music teacher, if that didn't work out. And then when Elizabeth was born, I didn't have time for my lessons anymore, and I couldn't go to college, and had to get a job. But at least I had my piano. Now I don't even have that.”
Bonnie frowned down at the floor, as if searching for a comforting response. “I wish we could have kept it for you somehow. But it seems ridiculous to transport it all the way out to Gordon's house in Chicago, when we wouldn't even use it. And you need a safer car, so it just seems sensible to sell it.”
“I know.” Very sensible from her mother's point of view. Bonnie was moving on to a new life with a new husband in a new city. She didn't need or particularly want reminders from the past, even the happy marriage that had ended in death five years ago. Her life had taken a wonderful turn for the better when she decided to marry a man she had met through her work and move with him to Hong Kong for a year. And during the recent months of her mother’s sudden bliss, Kendra had tried to hide the grief she felt herself in losing the last vestiges of her childhood, and the anxiety that occasionally bordered on panic as she pictured herself all alone in the world with a small child and no one she could depend on. She felt tears well up in her eyes again and bit her lip to try to suppress them.
“Oh, Kendra.” Kendra couldn’t tell if her mother were more sympathetic or annoyed. Bonnie reached out and patted her back. “Listen, honey, I’m so sorry you’re feeling this way. I know it’s a big change, but I thought you might be excited about moving in with Patsy. If it doesn’t work out, maybe you can come out and stay with us when we get back from Hong Kong. But it just wouldn’t work to take you and Elizabeth over there. We’ll only be gone for a year at the most, and then you can come see us in Chicago. Maybe you can move in with us—if Gordon thinks it’s okay—”
Kendra glanced sideways at her mother’s conflicted expression. It was the first time her mother had tacitly acknowledged what Kendra had suspected: Bonnie’s fiance really didn’t care for the idea of Kendra and Elizabeth living with them. She forced herself to voice the question that she had kept to herself ever since her mother had unexpectedly announced these wedding plans. “Why can’t you just wait till Gordon gets back from Hong Kong to get married? Why the big rush?”
Bonnie frowned and twisted the new ring on her finger as if groping for words. “I know it’s hard for you to understand, Kendra. I know I seem old to you, but I’m only forty-eight, and I don’t want to be alone for the rest of my life. In a few years you’ll be married and gone, and I’ll be all alone. I’ve dated a few men since your dad died, but no one that I really clicked with. No one that I could imagine settling down with, until I met Gordon. I know I’ll never meet anyone else like him again. If I don’t take this chance now, I might never have another one. And—and—a year is long time, especially for people at our age. If I wait till Gordon comes home next year, things might be totally different. Do you understand?” She studied her daughter’s face, clearly seeking reassurance.
If you don’t snatch Gordon up now, someone else will before he comes home again, Kendra thought with a sense of irony. He wants you to come with him and you don’t want to take the chance of losing him. Even if it means selling my home and uprooting me and Elizabeth.
She felt a stab of compunction. She did want her mother to be happy. Her mother had been a great support to her during the last four years—first during her traumatic pregnancy and then in the early days of trying to raise a child alone. The midnight feedings, sleepless nights, trying to finish high school while caring for an infant—she couldn’t have managed without her mother. Bonnie had grieved after Kendra’s father’s death, and now she had found someone new. Kendra should be happy for her. And in one way her mother was right. If Kendra were given the opportunity to begin a new life with a new husband, would she refuse it to stay home and be a companion to her mother? She knew she wouldn’t.
Aloud she said, “I do understand why you want to marry him. But I feel so alone. You’ve always been there for me, and now I don’t have anybody.”
Bonnie ran her hand across her daughter’s shoulders, back and forth in a scratching motion, the way she often had when Kendra was a child. “Well, you have Kyle. You seem happy with him. You wouldn’t want to move away and leave him, would you?”
“No.” Should she confess her other disappointment to her mother? What reaction would she get to that? “You know, I was really hoping that when I told Kyle that I had to get my own place, he would suggest we could move in together. But he didn’t. When I made a comment about it, he said that he couldn’t afford to move out of his parents’ house yet.”
“Oh, gracious, I didn’t know you were even thinking about that.” Bonnie fell silent for a moment; her hand fell to her side. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea, Kendra. You’re both pretty young for a serious relationship like that. Now I know you’ve had to grow up early, but Kyle hasn’t, and he’s probably not ready for that kind of commitment. And you don’t want to start a long string of live-in boyfriends, do you? That’s not the way to raise your daughter.”
Kendra shook her hair back from her face. “Of course not! You know I’m not like that. But—but I was hoping that in a little while Kyle and I would get married. Don’t you think that could happen? You know, Sarah Pruitt had a baby in high school and just got married last month.”
Her mother gave a light shrug. “Sarah married the baby’s father. Kyle doesn’t have that same feeling of responsibility. For your sake I hope he does decide to settle down soon, but he’s only twenty-one. I wouldn’t count on it, Kendra. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
Kendra fell silent. Kyle was very loving and kind to Elizabeth, but he wasn’t her father. As her mother had said, he could choose how much responsibility he wanted to assume, and at the moment it wasn’t very much. She and Kyle had been together for five months now and he was her first serious boyfriend, her first love. The happiest day of her life was the day he said he loved her too. But what did that actually mean to him? If he wasn’t willing to be committed to her, to be available to her in her hour of need, what did he mean by love? That he had warm and fuzzy feelings for her, that he was physically attracted to her? She didn’t like these thoughts, but they had been recurring more and more.
“Listen, honey, I’m sure it will all work out in time.” Her mother spoke half-brisk, half-comforting tone that said she was ready to move on to happier subjects. “I’m sure you’re just nervous about this big move, and that’s understandable. But you’re such a brave, strong girl, with all that you’ve gone through at your age.” Bonnie rose, pulled Kendra to her feet and drew her into an embrace. “You’re such a good mother to Elizabeth, you work so hard, you’re so reliable and dependable, and I’m proud of you. And you’re beautiful, too. I know that once you get settled in with Patsy, you’ll develop a new life and a new set of friends, and everything will work out. You’ll see. As for Kyle, just take things one day at a time.”
“I’m sure you’re right.” Kendra wiped her eyes against her mother’s shoulder, trying to take comfort in her mother’s praise. Of course her mother thought she was beautiful; all mothers said things like that. Pretty enough in spite of her straight, plain brown hair and glasses, with a nice figure, but not someone who really turned heads. But the other compliments were probably true, anyway. She was dependable and she tried hard to be a good mother. She pushed her dejection to the back of her mind to be faced later, alone. “Oh, I meant to tell you that when you were gone, the restaurant called. Something about the choice of desserts.”
“Oh, thank goodness, I was waiting for her to get back to me. I’ll go return that call now.”
“And you’re getting married at St. Michael’s? You talked to the priest about that?”
“Yes, we’re meeting with him the next time Gordon comes out from Chicago. It seems like a waste of time—I mean, we’ve both been married before and should know what we’re doing—but that’s his policy. I guess we have to follow his rules if we want to get married in the church.”
Kendra rose from the piano stool and helped her mother gather up the bags littering the couch. “Remember how when I was little we used to go to church all the time? Now we only go at Christmas and Easter, or for weddings and funerals. You know, I miss that sometimes.” Looking back, her childhood aroused a terrible sense of nostalgia. Compared to the turbulent years afterwards, it seemed so happy and secure, with God in heaven and her father on earth, protecting his family as he should. Now her father was far away and God seemed nowhere to be found.
“That priest!” Her mother almost spat the word. “All the money we gave to that church over the years, and where was he when your father was sick?”
“He came sometimes—”
“A very few times. Well, he can find someone else to hit up for money from now on.”
Kendra wondered if her mother was more angry at the priest or at God, who had seemed deaf to her prayers during that terrible time and during the years since. “Sometimes I worry about Elizabeth. I feel she’s growing up without any religion at all. Do you think that’s bad for her?”
Her mother shrugged. “Well, you can take her to church if you want to, Kendra. I did my duty when you kids were little. Although sometimes I wonder how much good it did.”
Kendra had no answer for that. She had always believed in God, mostly because it seemed easier than not believing, but where was he really during the hard moments of life? Had he cared at all about her father’s tragic battle with brain cancer, and then the struggles that had engulfed the family since then? Did going to church make a real difference, or did she simply want to provide for her daughter the illusion of peaceful security that she herself had known as a child? Elizabeth would never know a father’s love and care. Kendra hoped she would eventually have a stepfather, but at the moment even that possibility seemed far away, if her mother was right about Kyle. She wasn’t sure, but maybe knowing something about God could give her daughter a bit of the security that was missing in her life.
She was starting toward the kitchen when from the floor above she heard a small voice call out in a high-pitched sing-song, “Mommy! Mom-meeee!”
Bonnie turned around, glancing toward the ceiling. “Isn’t that child asleep yet? ”
“I put her to bed a half hour ago,” Kendra whispered. “Maybe we were talking too loudly.”
They both stood silent for a moment, listening, and then heard the scampering of little feet across the floor above and down the stairs. The child’s tossled dark head peered at them over the bannister.
“You naughty little girl,” Kendra laughed, but in her present emotional state she didn’t have the heart to be stern. She set down the bags as Elizabeth ran to her. Kendra picked her up and nestled her against her shoulder.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Elizabeth complained against her ear. “I heard you playing piano. I want to play piano.”
“Oh, just for a minute, but then you need to get back to bed.” Kendra kissed the top of her head and stroked the tangled dark curls, so different from her own straight, lank hair. Elizabeth was her consolation for everything she had missed out on: college, her piano career, her carefree youth. And surely if she had waited twenty years, she couldn’t have produced a more beautiful child. Even strangers stopped to admire Elizabeth. She knew that the child looked nothing like herself or her own relatives, and was secretly grateful no one but herself knew where Elizabeth’s beauty had come from. It was the only thing Elizabeth had received, or would ever receive, from her father.
She carried her daughter to the baby grand, sat on the stool and perched Elizabeth on her lap. The child banged on the keys for a few minutes while her mother bounced her on her knees. They had played this way together so many times, but soon the piano would be gone.
She felt tears come to her eyes and quickly she tried to think about something else. She had to be strong, for Elizabeth’s sake if not her own. She couldn’t indulge her grief and anxiety this way. What could she find to look forward to?
“Elizabeth is having a birthday this month!” She shook the hair back from her face and forced a bright note into her voice. “How old are you going to be, honey?”
Elizabeth turned from her concerto and held three fingers up to her mother.
“You’re growing up so fast!” Kendra bent down and kissed the warm little neck. “It seems like you were a baby just yesterday!”
“I’m not a baby!” Elizabeth pounded louder on the keys.
“No, you’re a big girl. Did Mommy tell you that we’re going to the zoo on Saturday? Kyle is taking us. We’ll see zebras, tigers, giraffes—it will be fun.”
Elizabeth stopped her banging and again turned inquisitive blue eyes up to her mother. Kendra could see the wheels turning in the little head. “Is he my daddy?”
Kendra smiled. She had wondered when Elizabeth might ask something like that. “No, he isn’t. Not yet. He’s just—well, Mommy’s friend.”
The child thought for a moment, concentration in her eyes. “Where is my daddy?”
Kendra’s heart fell. That was another question she had anticipated and dreaded. She chose her words carefully. “I don’t know where your real daddy is, honey. That’s why you never see him.” She kissed the child’s dark curls. “But you know, if he knew what a beautiful little girl he has, I’m sure he would want to see you.”
It was a lie, of course, but a necessary one. Elizabeth’s father was a scumbag, and Kendra prayed that she would never cross paths with him again. If he knew Elizabeth existed—which Kendra had done her best to prevent—he would never acknowledge her or want anything to do with her. But that was a painful truth she could never tell her daughter.
* * *