Keys to Success

He could hear her manipulating the piano beautifully as he walked up the driveway. He knocked loudly and she stopped playing, and came to the door.
“Don’t you have a key?”
“I didn’t want to be rude.” He dropped his key into her hand and stepped inside. “Can I keep my shoes on?”
“Are they clean?”
“Clean, or clean enough?”
“Don’t bother.” she sighed.
“Alright,” he said. “I’ll take them off.” He propped the door open with his shoes, loosened his tie, and fanned his face. “You’re still playing well.”
“Yes. It’s much easier without the burden on my fingers.” She snuck away around the corner. “Let’s start with the kitchen.”
“Geez,” he followed her in, fanning himself. “It’s hot today, huh?”
The portable appliances and larger utensils were all on display. “The fridge is off limits, so don’t think of halving the cake.” she said.
“Don’t worry; cake is for celebrating. Do you have any lemons I can suck on?”
“Very funny,” she said. “Well, obviously the big things stay, but as for these, I’d like the blender and the mixer, and you can take the other appliances.”
“Sure, sounds good.”
“Well in that case can I have the bread maker too?”
“Sure, whatever.” He checked his watch. “You don’t even make bread.”
“I might now. I’ve always wanted to try putting a bun in the oven.”
“At least my jokes are funny.” he said. “Let’s not forget why we’re here.”
She eagerly started marking each of his things with a red sticker. “You won’t use the china at all, will you?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“I’ll give you all the stainless steel bowls and day-to-day dishes for it.”
“You can’t have everything,” he said. “Let’s just split the dishes down the middle.”
“That’s not how it works.”
“No – I’m pretty sure that’s how it works.”
“It ruins the set,” she said. “I can’t have guests over on mixed plates.”
“You eat out all the time.”
“There was a reason for that.”
He helped himself to a glass of water, looking over at the empty piano bench. She sighed stubbornly and walked over to a bookshelf in the next room. He followed her on his own terms. “I don’t know whose is what here.”
“Mine are the not-dusty ones. You only bought the cookbooks and romantic comedies – by the way I can’t stand My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”
“Here,” she said handing him the red stickers. “You go through it – and I didn’t like Zombieland.”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Neither did I.”
“But you laughed.”
“So did you.” He turned to labeling the book collection, and she separated a stack of old postcards in two piles for him and her.
“Do you have a place yet?” he asked.
She hesitated briefly. “I’m living with a friend.”
“I hope he likes new stuff.”
She refused to acknowledge his little smirk, and quit the postcards for the piano, picking up where she left off before he came in. He took his time casually marking the books. She approached the finale of her trademark song, although she’d transposed it to a different key than he remembered. He watched her play, spotting the few blemishes that undermined the overall harmony of the instrument.
He tacked a red sticker on the piano and she halted short of the finish line, glaring up at his little smirk.
“I need to take the piano.”
“Just ‘take’ it? It’s our piano.”
“It was given to me as a gift.” he said. “It means a lot to me.”
“you don’t even play. It’s just furniture to you.”
“Well, that’s not how it works.”
“The only reason he gave it to you is because of me.”
“I worked hard for that client. It’s not my fault he’s considerately wealthy.” He sipped on his water.
She swallowed and her mouth became dry. “You know I need this.”
He checked his watch in stubborn silence.
“Come on, I can’t teach kids on a plastic keyboard, let alone practice.”
“Aren’t you applying for jobs?”
“All the schools are full; you know that.”
He reverted to silence and checked his watch again for effect. The blood started to leave her fingertips from gripping the bench.
“Come on, you can have everything else – even the china – just let me have the piano.”
He waited for her.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked.
“You chose another life, so I’m taking this one. Besides; it’s just a piano, right? There are plenty of others like it.”
She turned sour. “I can’t afford to pay you off—how much do you want?”
“Well, I could take the white keys and you keep the black ones – or – you can take everything else, and I’ll take the piano.”
“This isn’t a secondhand store.” She fanned her face with The Marriage of Figaro.
He looked around at all the boxes, labeled possessions, and memories valiantly on display. “You had me fooled.”
He checked his watch as she looked for something to say.
“I’m going to be late,” he said, playfully tacking a red sticker on her forehead, “but I’ll be back.”
He began walking out. She grabbed the postcards and followed after. “Can you take these on your way out?” She dropped them in his arms.
“What are these?”
“Garbage.”

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