The score was close, but Bruce and Ashton pulled off a win at their game of Euchre. It was not thanks to Ashton since he was completely distracted by having Michelle in his line of sight and the piano music drifting across the room.
By the last few hands, it was obvious Ashton would need to walk across the room and see what music books were in that stack on the shelf by the piano. He was surprised to find the draw to that corner even stronger than the draw toward Michelle.
Bruce sensed the change as well because he cleared his throat after playing the winning card and Ashton barely noticed. Ashton’s body leaned on the arm of the chair and his head tilted so that his ear was reaching toward the music.
A knowing look came over Bruce’s face and he raised his eyebrows. “Do you play?”
“Huh?” Ashton looked down at the cards. “Oh, we won. Good game.”
“Do you play?” Bruce repeated his question.
Ashton coughed lightly and gathered the cards into a pile. “A little.”
“What’s your favorite song to play?” Bruce asked.
Called to Serve, Ashton thought, then cleared his throat. “Um, well, I’m not very good.”
“How long did you take lessons?”
“My mom made me take them,” Ashton said, shuffling the cards for the third time.
“Why did you stop playing?”
Ashton shrugged. He didn’t want to admit to his new friend that he stopped playing when he stopped going to church. He didn’t want to go into details about how he had let down his congregation when he hadn’t shown up on a day he’d been assigned to play in a sacrament meeting.
“I’m tired,” Roger said, clearing his throat. “I don’t think I want to play a second game.”
“You just don’t want to get beat again,” Bruce said.
Ashton didn’t argue or even pay attention to the rest of their banter. He pushed his chair back and rose from his seat, his feet moving as if by their own free will. Reggie didn’t seem to notice Ashton’s presence by his side and Ashton didn’t interrupt him, just carefully lifted the stack of piano books from the shelf and sat on a nearby sofa, spreading the books out beside him.
Jazz, Mozart, Easy Listening, Christmas Carols, definitely not. It was August. Too soon to start Christmas music by most everyone’s standard. Traditional Hymns, maybe. He set that one aside, Best of Pink Floyd, really? Best of Bryan Adams. That was do-able. He flipped through the music book. Summer of ’69, no, You Belong to Me, uh, no, I’m not Victor, Ashton thought. He chuckled and kept flipping. Please Forgive Me. Perfect.
Ashton looked up just as Reggie was finishing a song and he cleared his throat. “Hey, man, can I cut in?”
Reggie turned on the piano bench, surprised to see Ashton there, surrounded by piano books. “You wanna play?”
“If you don’t mind…”
“Nah, be my guest.” Reggie pushed back the piano bench and stepped away.
Ashton moved as if in a trance, adjusting the bench, testing the pedals to make sure he was the right distance from the piano, and resting his fingers on the keys. He didn’t bother warming up or playing a scale. He studied the lines on the staff, took a deep breath, and lowering his shoulders, played.
The simple rhythm felt natural even though he’d never played this song, and he played all the way through once before starting over. With hesitation, he added the words, expressing his feelings through the sultry words describing how it felt the first night, the first time their eyes met. He wished he knew what it was like to have a first kiss with Michelle but pushed through that part of the song. The most important words were right out of the title itself: please forgive me.
Ashton ended the song with a sigh and lifted his hands from the keys, staring down at them as if they were delicate traitors that had called him across the room and seduced him back to this place in his life. Dang, that felt good.
“Is there anything you can’t do?” Victor’s snide remark pulled Ashton from wherever he’d been, back to the present day and time, and Ashton looked up to a room full of people staring at him.
Ashton chuckled and pulled a line from his mom’s favorite musical, The Sound of Music. “I don’t think I’d make a very good nun.”
An older gentleman laughed out loud, obviously knowing exactly the scene where the Baroness asks Maria the same question Victor had asked Ashton, and Maria’s snarky reaction. None of the younger guys seemed to understand the joke, but Ashton could tell Michelle did by the way she pinched her lips together as if trying not to laugh.
“Whatever,” Victor said, turning on his heel, heading back over to the pool table.
The crowd dispersed somewhat, and Ashton turned back to the piano. He didn’t feel like flipping through the book to find another song to play but couldn’t get his favorite hymn out of his head. A mainstream hymnbook wouldn’t contain this one, so he had to pull it from memory.
Ashton had played Called to Serve so many times in those two years, he easily drew it from the darkest reaches of him mind. He didn’t sing this one out loud but knew one other person in the room would hear the words right along with him. He slowed the tempo way down so that it was reverent rather than the powerful anthem it was written to be.
Called to serve him, Heavenly King of glory, chosen e’er to witness for his name. Far and wide we tell the Father’s story, far and wide His love proclaim. Onward, ever onward, as we glory in His name. Forward, pressing forward, as a triumph song we sing. God our strength will be; press forward ever called to serve our King.
He stared at the keys for a long time, letting the notes settle into the air around him, oblivious to the conversations, card games, and clicking of billiard balls against one another.
Ashton closed the fall board over the keys and pushed the piano bench firmly into place. Reggie didn’t approach the piano again, and Ashton didn’t rejoin the games.
He gulped as he met Michelle’s eyes from where she stood with a pool stick in her hand waiting for her turn. He blinked and looked away then turned to a sliding glass door that led into a courtyard with a winding path beyond. He didn’t know where he was going, or why, he just walked.
Eventually the sidewalk led back to the parking lot where Ashton stumbled upon the waiting limo. He leaned against the car and let the afternoon breeze blow through his shaggy hair. He could almost smell the ocean from here.
Eventually the rest of the group made their way out to the limo and they all climbed in to ride back to the mansion. No one mentioned Ashton’s piano performance or his absence.