He sat alone at the piano.
It wasn’t anything new- he would always sit there, usually with a drink, after each performance. Sometimes the other people in his group gave him a quick “good job” or a friendly nod, but for the most part they respected his wishes to be left alone. Every night, he would perform, then sit at the piano until the bar closed. No one really knew why; maybe he didn’t even know himself. All he knew was it helped.
One such night, he sat there. He wore dark clothes, as usual: a black sweater on top of a white collared shirt, long, flowy black pants decorated with intricate designs in grey thread, finished off with shiny, polished platform boots. It might seem almost dreary- all the black clothing along with his black painted nails and slight eyeliner that he wore- but when he played everything came to life in a perfect symphony of style.
He had just finished performing, and was surprised to find a girl walking up to him. She was almost the complete opposite of him- she wore a white dress top that hung off her shoulders, high waisted light denim jeans with rips at the knees, and white shoes with a faint flower design.
“You did a great job,” she told him.
He looked up into her hazel eyes, staying silent.
“I’ve seen you perform a few times now.”
“You always sit here after.”
“I just don’t understand why.”
He kept his eyes locked on hers, but made no effort to reply.
“You obviously love to play-“
“What makes you say that?” his deep voice startled her.
“Anyone could tell by the way you perform. It’s pure passion, then when the show’s over you just sit here. It doesn’t make any sense.”
He frowned. “You might be missing the point.”
“Care to explain?”
“Not really. I’ve already said far too many words.”
She laughed. “Far too many, huh? You haven’t even introduced yourself.”
“You’re the one who walked up to me,” he reminded her.
She sighed and extended her hand. “I’m Kendra.”
He reluctantly shook her hand. “Ronodin.”
“Well, Ronodin,” Kendra said, smiling, “whether I’m missing the point or not, you’re incredibly talented. And whether you think so or not, I think you do love to play.”
“Remind me again why you’re here?”
She pursed her lips. “Well I came over to tell you that you did a great job. Then you decided to ignore me and I happen to hate being ignored.”
“I can tell.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
The corners of Ronodin’s mouth turned up, the closest thing to a smile he’d managed in a while. “You’re an interesting person, Kendra.”
“That was meant to sort of end our conversation,” he said.
“Not impressed with me anymore, are you?” He felt her gaze burning into the side of his head.
“Play something,” Kendra said.
“I don’t take requests.”
“It's not a request. Just play something.”
He sighed. “Jazz? Or something else?”
She paused. “Something that would help me get the point,” she said, remembering his comment from earlier.
“This song is honestly nothing at all… but uh, it helps me sleep at night,” he said and began to play.
She expected it to be just piano, as he was a pianist, so when he sang along she was surprised, but quickly found he was as talented a singer as he was a piano player. (For best effect go listen to the song Art is Dead by Bo Burnham- this is the song Ronodin is singing- I’ll put some of the lyrics but not all) His voice was raspy at parts, but the emotion it contained was completely genuine.
“Art is dead…. entertainers like to seem complicated, but we’re not complicated. I can explain it pretty easily- have you ever been to a birthday party for children? And one of the children won’t stop screaming ‘cause he’s just a little attention attractor, when he grows up to be a comic or actor, he’ll be rewarded for never maturing- never understanding or learning that every day can’t be about him; there’s other people you selfish asshole! I must be psychotic, I must be demented to think that I’m worthy of all this attention…” (this is where I skip the middle of the song so go check it out for the full experience) “I am an artist, please god forgive me. I am an artist, please don't revere me. I am an artist, please don't respect me. I am an artist, you're free to correct me. A self-centered artist, self-obsessed artist. I am an artist… but I'm just a kid, I'm just a kid… and maybe I'll grow out of it.” With the final chord, his passion that came whenever he played vanished as quick as it appeared.
“Did you write that?” Kendra asked quietly.
“You know you could probably have a bigger career than playing here every night.”
“Do you really just not care?”
“Do you ever stop talking?” He shot back in an annoyed tone.
“Make this one of those times, if you will.”
She scoffed. “Seriously?”
“I’ll make this painfully clear, Kendra. I don’t like people. You seem nice and all but I just- I don’t do social interaction, okay? There’s a reason I sit here every night until the bartender kicks me out, and it’s not so girls will come talk to me.” He wouldn’t meet her piercing gaze.
“You ever thought that maybe talking to someone every once in a while might be beneficial too?”
He looked up from the floor to the music stand on the piano, pain simmering behind his dark eyes. “It never even crossed my mind,” he said bitterly. “You should go. It’s getting late anyways. You’ve probably got places to be tomorrow.”
“Well, no actually, tomorrow’s a Saturday so I don’t have school.”
“You’re in school?” He asked skeptically.
“I teach school,” she corrected. “I work at Ellison Academy- I teach English.”
“Ellison…” Ronodin muttered, then he chuckled. “Just my luck.”
“What’s wrong with Ellison?”
He sighed. “Nothing, really. It’s just- you know the Dean?” Kendra nodded. “He’s my uncle.”
“No, I just made that up on the spot,” Ronodin rolled his eyes. “Yes, really.”
“Well that’s cool,” Kendra said. “I’ve really only spoken to him once- for my interview.”
Ronodin let out a slight sigh. “So I’m guessing you haven’t met my cousin?”
She shook her head. “Probably not.”
“Good. You don’t want to.”
He opened his mouth to reply, then he stopped himself. “Nevermind. Why am I even telling you this? I just met you today… for heaven’s sake.”
“I don’t mind.”
“Well I do. Look, Kendra, it’s been nice. It has. I actually kind of hope I see you again, but that doesn’t mean… god, how is this so hard… you should go, is what i’m trying to say.”
“Really? That’s just it? ‘Alright first person to even notice me in who knows how long, it’s been nice but I’m done with this conversation so you can just leave.’ No goodbye? Maybe even a freaking high five?”
Ronodin smiled faintly. “A high five, hm? I guess I could arrange that.”
Kendra grinned, until he stood up and it was abundantly clear he was almost a foot and a half taller than her. He held his hand high in the air, an impossible height for her to even dream of reaching.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me. How was I supposed to know you’re a skyscraper?” She complained.
“You asked for a high five,” he responded.
“Fine.” She looked up at his hand, preparing to jump.
She leapt into the air, not really even coming close to his hand, but on the way down she landed wrong on her ankle and crumpled to the ground.
Ronodin cursed. “Oh god, I’m so sorry. Are you okay?”
She nodded weakly. “I… uh… I don’t think I can walk on this.” He extended his hand to her, and she gratefully took it. He pulled her off the ground, and she balanced on one foot before gingerly trying to put pressure on her left foot. She cried out in pain at the attempt.
“I’m not a doctor,” Ronodin said, “but that might be broken.”
Kendra laughed even though she was clearly holding back tears. “Oh, that’s so embarrassing.”
“I uh… I don’t have a car,” he admitted. “But you need to get to a doctor.”
“I’m sure I can call someone,” she assured him. “Maybe my brother will show up if I promise him money.”
“Sit here,” he sat her down on the piano bench. “I’ll figure it out.”
He quickly ran over to the bar and was in rushed conversation with one of the bartenders- a tall woman with long dark hair who wore bright red lipstick. She turned to her coworker then hurried over to where Kendra sat.
“I’m Vanessa,” she said. “Your friend here says you hurt your ankle?”
“Yeah,” Kendra said. “Long story but I just came down on it wrong. I won’t be able to drive, but I'm sure I can find someone to come pick me up-“
“Don’t bother,” Vanessa said. “I’ll drive you.”
“You really don’t have to do that.”
Vanessa sighed. “It’s not a big deal. It gets me off work anyways, so it’ll be fun. Is your friend coming too?”
Kendra looked at Ronodin. “Uh… if he wants too I guess.”
Ronodin hesitated. “It’s mainly my fault. I’ll come.”
Vanessa nodded. “Alright, who’s carrying her?”
Kendra felt odd being carried by a man he had just met that day while having just being driven to the hospital by a girl she’d also just met, but everything about the situation was also quite funny.
“I’ll admit this is a first for me,” she said.
Ronodin stayed silent.
“Don’t ignore me again please.”
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “I’ll stay here as long as you need, ok? And I- I’ll pay for the bills and everything. I feel terrible. You’re great actually, and I’ve just been the usual jerk that I always am, and again, I don’t even know why I’m saying any of this.”
And for the first time since meeting Ronodin, Kendra found herself without anything to say.