The Sweet Romance
of Linda Piontak
by Andrea Lena DiMaggio
Linda learns that life and music
The story takes place seven months after the events of The Piano Lesson of Linda Piontak.
The High School Hallway:
"Hey, Menedez...wait up." Coach Taliaferro called out from the gym doorway. Tony turned and stopped.
"Have you thought about coming out for the team?" He smiled and patted Tony on the back.
"I haven't given it a thought since I blew out my shoulder." Tony felt a twinge in his arm, but it was more out of memory than actual pain.
"Oh, I remember. We missed you last season, but hey, another year of healing, right? Besides, I wasn't thinking about the outfield. You're at least four inches taller, and we could use a first baseman. Maybe if you get noticed, those scholarships could reappear. You never know."
"Sounds tempting, but I've sorta moved on." He held up the sheet music in his hand.
"Yeah, I heard you played piano," he said and shook his head, as if Tony had admitted to being from another planet. There was nothing wrong with Coach's preoccupation with sports; it was his livelyhood and his gifting as well. But being obsessed with sports did leave him unable to understand just how important music was to Tony.
"Well...just promise me you'll at least think about it, okay?" He patted Tony on the back once more before walking back down the hall. Tony stood there for a few moments thinking about what Coach had just offered. A soft voice interruppted his train of thought.
"Excuse me, can you tell me where the guidance office is?" A blonde haired girl stood eye to eye with him, leaving Tony more than a bit distracted.
"Ah...emmm... yes. It's just down the hall, make a right and then another left and ..." He saw the girl staring down the hall looking past the mob of students.
"Why don't I just take you there?" He looked at her, and she looked back with an appreciative smile.
"Thank you." She grabbed his arm as if he were escorting her to the ball. They walked down the hallway and wended their way through the crowd, finally arriving at guidance moments later. Almost as if in a Disney Channel "Original" movie, she squeezed his hand and once again looked into his eyes.
"I'm Ashley...Ashley Delgrosso. And you are?" Her smile and voice were disarming, causing him to say...
"Ashley....oh...I'm Tony...Tony Menendez."
"Well thanks again, Tony." She squeezed his arm and smiled. "You play sports?"
"Oh..nnnn...yes..I...I'm on the baseball team."
"Well, I play softball...maybe I'll see you out on the field?" She punched him in the arm playfully before rushing into the open office door.
"Ashley...." He muttered to himself before hurrying to his class.
And across the hall in the alcove of the science lab, Linda Piontak stood, crying softly to herself.
A few days later, at the Piontak house:
The phone rang and Linda thought of ignoring it as she turned the page to the Firefly novel she was reading. She struggled with her concentration, but the events of the other day kept playing back in her mind over and over.
“Honey, can you get that? I’ve got my hands full with the laundry down here.” Her mother’s voice echoed up the stairwell from the basement.
“Sure thing.” She grabbed the phone. Tony was on the other end.
“You can’t make it tonight? Are you okay? Nancy Radler got that flu so bad that she had to go to the hospital…what?" Linda shook her head.
“What do you mean you can’t come over for practice? Tony? The audition for Julliard is in three weeks?” Linda couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“Not going to the audition. Tony? What? You can’t be serious.” She shook her head once again. Her mother was just coming up from the basement and noticed her on the phone.
“Tony?” she mouthed and Linda nodded, but her expression was almost one of panic.
“I don’t understand? How about tomorrow?” Her face twisted into a worried frown.
“Oh…Okay…if that’s how you feel about it. Bye.” Her last words were drowned out by the dial tone.
“What was that all about?” Her mother looked at her with concern.
“Tony isn’t going to audition for Julliard. He says that he doesn’t feel ready. God, mom, he could blow everybody off the stage without even practiciing. What’s his problem?”
“I don’t know, honey. I agree with you about his talent, but you know he’s been hot and cold when it comes to commitment. Remember what I told you my old piano teacher used to say?”
“Yeah, I remember…you never let me forget.” Linda laughed and her mother smiled
“Eef your practisss isss mohr impohrtant to me den it iss to you, den ve haff a problem, Ja?” She said, imitating Herr Hoffmeier’s accent.
“Honey, Julliard means so much more to you than it does to him. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it’s been all along.” She half-frowned.
“But, Mom, he’s so talented. It seems like such a waste.” Linda began to tear up.
“Honey…there’s something else going on. Tony’s backed out of things before and always come around. This is about something else, right?” Her mother smiled at her with a look that said, “It’s okay, I know you need to cry.”
“Oh, mom…” Linda ran to her mother and threw herself into her arms. She began to sob.
“Ssaawww him….wi.iith a…nother….girrrllllll.” She buried her face in her mother’s sweater.
“Oh…honey….” She wanted to add, “Are you sure?” but thought better of it.
“Hee…heee…and….she were…..toooggeeetherrrrr.” Her mother had learned Lindaspeak long ago when her daughter first came to her with her ‘issues,’ and that much of what she said when she cried needed time to settle before asking a lot of questions.
“Hee’s playing….baaase….balllll …..” Her mother frowned, this time with more than a little bit of anger.
“I know, honey, I know.” She actually felt as helpless as Linda, recalling a time when she failed to talk Ted out of joining the Reserves. She still felt guilty after all those years, raising her daughter by herself after Ted was killed. Tears came to her eyes as well.
“I know.” She said again as she stroked Linda’s hair.
“I knnow it’s bee…because she’s a rrree…” Her mother quickly cut her off.
“Linda Marie Piontak, don’t you dare say it! Don’t you even think it!” She shook her head, but Linda blurted it out anyway.
“She’s a real girl, mom….a rrr…” Linda once again melted into her mother’s sweater, her heart broken in two by lies and guilt and shame no child should ever have to bear.
“That will be enough. You are my daughter. There is nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with you. You are perfect to me, and you are a girl in every way that is important….” Susan began to cry on her daughters head as she kissed her hair.
The Following Week at Menendez house:
“Gee, Susan, this was a great idea." Linda had stayed home and Tony was out with some friends from the baseball team. Laura sat on the couch next to Susan, bottle of Shiraz in one hand and a piece of broccoli and spinach pizza in the other. “More?” She held the bottle up almost above her head, laughing a bit more than what she was used to.
“Absolutely, my dear!” Susan held out her glass and Laura filled it almost to overflowing. The two smiled as Susan clinked the bottle with her glass.
“To friendship!’ Susan smiled and took a sip of her wine. Her face quickly turned to a half-frown.
“I don’t know what’s up with Tony, honey. I thought he and Linda….well, you know?” Laura shook her head.
“It’s that damn stupid baseball again.” She couldn’t hide her feelings. It makes me so angry that he was just about ready to move on….he had an audition with Julliard and that coach comes and pulls him back. I mean…how many kids play baseball? And how many kids can get an audition to Julliard? You know?”
“Linda saw him with another girl.” Susan didn’t want Laura to feel bad, but she felt she had to talk with someone.
“Oh, yeah…that Delgrosso girl…She’s okay, but that’s all he talks about. It’s like he just forgotten everything important. I’m so sorry.” She shrugged and poured herself another glass of wine before putting the bottle down.
“She thinks he’s…well because the other girl is a…” Susan could hardly speak the words, but she didn’t have to.
“A real girl? Oh come on, Susan, Tony isn’t like that and we both know it. He loves Linda.” Laura shook her head defensively.
“He picked an awful way to show it then. He hasn’t called her in over a week and he’s blown off practice twice in ten days. If he’s not avoiding her he’s doing an awful good imitation.” Susan grew angry but quickly realized her anger was directed toward the wrong person.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that since Ted died, it’s been so hard on both of us. Then her gender thing came up and everything got so much more fucking complicated. It breaks my heart.”
“You’re upset with her because she wants to be a girl?” Laura looked at her with her eyes widening in surprise.
“No, no….” Susan shook her head. “It breaks my heart that she had to lose Ted….her dad…you know what I mean, right?” Laura peered at her and put her head down.
“Yeah…I know…more than I can ever say…I know.” Susan put her hand on Laura’s arm, and was surprised to see Laura pull away. She picked up a pillow from the couch and hugged it like a doll.
“Laura, honey…I’m sorry. I know it’s been just as hard on you.” She went to put her hand on Laura’s arm once again and was met with the same reaction.
“If I tell you this…you have to promise me you won’t say a word…not a fucking word.” Susan was surprised at what she mistook for anger.
“Suhhhure. Of course not.” Laura looked into her eyes, almost seeking some proof of sincerity. Satisfied, she spoke.
“Back before I was married to Tony, just before I finished college, you know? I had someone I loved very much. Thought we were going to be together forever, you know?” Susan remembered her husband Ted and nodded in understanding; at least she thought she understood.
“Her name was Carol….Carol Mangini. Music major just like me. She played the cello.” Laura’s eyes began to mist.
“She…of course there was no marriage for us back then…she wanted to live together and I was afraid even though I loved her so much. She was so hurt…she stormed out of the dorm and got in her car…..” Laura started to sob. Susan felt helpless but she pulled Laura close and held her even as the woman continued.
“Interstate…went off the road..…gone...” Laura collapsed in Susan’s arms.
“Met …Tony…he knew…didn’t care….Loved me….” Laura stopped crying long enough to look into Susan’s eyes.
“How do you manage…I’m so lonely…I feel so ashamed…so…“ As Laura wept, Susan patted her back. She kissed the woman, her friend…a sister almost… on her forehead.
“Shhhh….shhhh…..holding you….it’s okay, honey….it’s okay….shhhhh…”
Laura continued to cry as Susan rocked her in her arms. She continued to kiss Laura’s forehead when Laura turned to look at her and their lips met. Laura’s eyes widened from surprise and embarrassment. Susan looked at her and smiled, her own eyes filled with tears as she kissed Laura again. This time neither woman pulled away and they both gave into the moment. Whether it was the wine or the years of loneliness they both felt, neither could say later, but right then love blossomed and two hearts began to knit together.
A few days later at the High School Music Office:
“Excuse me, Miss Washington? Mr. Frazetta said you needed to see me?” Linda stood in the office doorway as Miss Washington sat at her desk. She held out her hand holding up her index finger, as if to ask for another minute.
“Oh, yes Walt. That’s just great…thank you! I’ll tell her right away.” She hung up the phone and swiveled her chair to face Linda.
“Linda…I’m so glad I caught you before you left for the day. I just got off the phone with a friend of mine. He’s the director of a new program at Julliard. As you know, and I’m so sorry, but they felt your audition last week just wasn’t what they were looking for.” Linda put her head down. She wasn’t surprised, but even then being turned down by Julliard remained disappointing.
“Oh, honey…no…listen…Walt is the head of a pilot program that is designed to groom students that show promise as instructors. He watched you last month when you were teaching the class when Ida Davis was out sick. He was so impressed that he contacted me. I told him how good you are.” She smiled and Linda just stared. Even if she was accepted, the cost was prohibitive. She put her head down once again, feeling discouraged.
“Honey, the program is paid for…full scholarship for the candidate. And after we talked, Walt agreed you’re the one who deserves to be there.” You’d have to provide your room and board, but this is a good start.” Miss Washington seemed to grin, causing Linda to tilt her head in a silent question.
“Honey…I’m sorry, but we have to be honest here. They’d likely have found out about your…condition” May Washington winced at the word, but she kept speaking.
“You said not to hold anything back, so they know that you’re transgender, honey.” She smiled even as the words left her mouth, which seemed incongruous until she added,
“There’s a whole set of scholarships in each discipline for transgender students, and you’ve been awarded the one for teaching. So you won’t have to worry about room or board. You might want to bring a few rolls of quarters for laundry, okay?” She laughed softly but noticed that Linda still hadn’t lifted her head.
“What’s wrong, sweetie?” She smiled and the girl spoke.
“This is so….I can’t believe this is happening for me.” She began to tear up and put her hand to her mouth.
“I want you to know that you’re very special to everyone in this department. You know that, don’t you?” Linda nodded but her hand still covered her face.
“I know this is sudden. There are no other students under consideration for this, so there’s no pressure. You can take a couple of weeks to decide, honey. I know this hasn’t been the easiest road to hoe for you, but I want you to know we’re all in your corner.
“Thank you,” was all the girl could manage before dissolving into tears.
A few days later on the field behind the gym:
“Is that all you’ve got, Menendez?” Ashley caught the ball knee high and threw it right back at Tony. The loud slap of leather was almost drowned out by the “ow” that came out of his mouth.
“Hey, I’ve got a bum shoulder…that’s why they have me playing first..give me a break.” He laughed but Ashley just watched the ball into her glove as he threw it back.
“Aw…does the wittle baby want a bweak?” She teased. She tossed the ball to him and grabbed her warm-up jacket from the fence behind her.
“Wanna grab some pizza?” She asked as she wiped her face with her jacket.
“Sure” He said. She said grabbed his arm and squeezed.
“You ready, Freddy?” She laughed and he looked at her askance. He was feeling more and more guilty every day he practiced, and even more so in the company of this girl. He shook his head and replied.
“Ashley…I’m….I’ve got to ask you a question? Okay?”
“Sure, kiddo, what’s up?”
“Are you…do you…are you looking to…are you my friend?” He winced when he said it.
“Of course…why wouldn’t I be?” She squinted and tilted her head.
“I have to ask you a question, and I don’t want to ruin what we have.” He frowned, and she could have sworn there were tears in his eyes. He hid his face by turning sideways.
“Do you…did you…expect more out of me?” He winced again and she laughed softly
“Well, I would have expected more power out of a first baseman, but there’s always an exception." She punched him in the arm.
“No…stop kidding…you know what I mean. I mean I have a girlfriend already.” He realized it was the first time he had referred to Linda at all, and he felt ashamed. But Ashley started to laugh.
“Are you kidding me?” The question was expected, but the tone was almost jocular.
“Nnnno…I’m serious. I’m sorry if I gave you the wrong impression. We’ve been going out for seven months, and I really care about her.” His plea was almost sad, but she laughed again.
“Listen, Menendez. You play baseball, right?” He looked at her, puzzled.
“That’s rhetorical, Tony. You play baseball…You ever heard the expression, 'bats from the other side of the plate?'” She laughed once more and stared at him. He looked puzzled until she finally said,
“You moron! I have a girlfriend! I think you’re one of the nicest guys I’ve ever known, but you’re not my type! And I’ve seen your girlfriend. I can see why she’s so dear to you! You’d be an idiot if you let her get away.” She smiled once again and grabbed his arm.
“Still want to get some pizza?” She raised one eyebrow as if to say, “you say yes and I’ll hit you again, and not so soft”
“I think I have someone I need to talk to.”
At home at the Menendez house:
Tony punched in the familiar numbers.
“Hello, Mrs. Piontak? Is Linda home? She is. I’ll be over in about twenty minutes or so, will she be in by then? Okay…Be there in a while… Love you too, okay?” He hung up the phone and turned to find his mother standing in the doorway of the kitchen.
“I’ve been such a fucking moron, mom.” Rather than correcting his language, she nodded and said,
“Yes, you have been a moron, dear child.” She laughed. “Let’s talk for a bit, okay?”
“I need to talk with Linda, Mom, and I just don’t know what to say to her.” His eyes teared up. Never one to be shy about crying, he still felt embarrassed, not for the tears, but for the shame behind them.
“Just be honest with her. She may be upset and hurt, but she still cares about you.” Laura looked away, wanting to provide courage for both of them, since she needed to tell him something.
“Baby, you know I loved your dad, don’t you?” She didn’t look at him but kept looking away, mostly out of fear, but more for the same reason he had for Linda; she just didn’t know what to say.
“I know, Mom, believe me, I know he was the best thing to ever happen to us. I miss him too.”
That really wasn’t where she wanted to go, but it was true. She came to love Tony Sr. even if he was her second choice. She had found out over their time together that he was the best person she had ever known, and not a single day had gone by since he died that she didn’t think about him.
“Honey…when your Dad and I got together, I had just come off a big loss. I had been with a sweet girl that I loved but I let her go. She died in a car accident, and I felt I would never be happy again. But then your dad…..your….” She swallowed hard and went on.
“He was so patient. He knew who and what I was but he waited. He was so kind and I’ve never ever known anyone with as much integrity and strength as him. You know? He was the best.”
“Mom, I know…” He paused and smiled before adding.
“Is this about you and Susan?” He laughed and she looked at him in shock.
“It’s not like you can hide it. You light up every time she comes over. And she can’t keep her eyes off you when she’s here.” She looked at him with widening eyes as her face began to darken.
“That obvious?” She laughed softly and he smiled again.
“Let’s just say that I might be able to go to the library some day and read ‘Tony has Two Mommies.'”
“Oh honey…You know I still love your Dad, don’t you?” She began to cry. He pulled her into a hug and kissed her cheek.
“I know, Mom, and I think that he knows, too.” He kissed her on the top of the head and stood up.
“I’ll be back later, but I’ve got to go talk to Linda, okay?” She reached out and squeezed his hand.
“I love you more than life itself, baby.” He kissed her once again and was out the door.
Later at the Piontak house:
A hard rap came at the door and Susan rose to answer it. She opened the door and Tony stood with his baseball cap in his hands, almost as if he were a stranger visiting for the first time.
“Hey, honey, haven’t seen you around here in awhile.” She leaned close and kissed him on the cheek, evoking,
“Well, gosh….MOM!” He laughed and Susan’s face turned bright red. She swatted his arm playfully and laughed.
“You brat! Linda is in her room. Why don’t you just go back there, okay?” He turned to go and she grabbed his arm. “Welcome back, honey.”
Linda was lying on her stomach on her bed, transcribing a tune she had written; her earphones prevented her from noticing Tony. He leaned closer and tapped her on the shoulder.
“Hey…I’ll get the dishes right after this phrase.”
She turned and saw that Tony was standing there instead of her mother. She quickly stood up and smoothed her shorts before stepping back and away from him. She folded her arms but then found that she was hugging herself. She looked around and spied a sweater draped over her desk chair. Tony noticed her glance and grabbed the sweater. He went to drape it over her shoulders but she shied away, so he handed it to her instead.
“Well, what brings you here.” She tried to be cold and abrupt but sounded hurt, which she was.
“I wanted to apologize.” He still held his hat in his hand, which would have been ironic at any other time. As it was, the school insignia was an unwelcome reminder.
“You don’t have to apologize. I understand, and you have to do what is best for you.” She bit her tongue and looked away. She was not ready to have him see her cry.
“That’s what I wanted to talk about. I quit the team.” He half-smiled, hoping she would at least listen to what he had to say next.
“What? I thought you wanted to play.” She wasn’t glad, even if it was something she’d hoped for. It would have been wrong on any level if he quit just for her.
“Listen. I know you were upset when you found out I lied to you, and I don’t blame you one bit. You deserve more than that, and I am sorry. But that’s not why I quit…well I did quit because of you, but not for the reason you think.” She looked at him and shook her head.
“Well, which is it…did you quit for me or not?” She frowned and looked away, feeling guilty. Even if she felt it was wrong for him to trade piano for baseball, she needed to let him be who he was.
“It wasn’t for you…it was because of something you told me when we first met.” He put his hand on her shoulder and this time she didn’t resist. She turned and faced him and saw that he had tears in his eyes.
“I stopped playing because it stopped being important; I couldn’t play with feeling because I lost the love I had for the game.” He paused and looked away. Swallowing hard, he went on.
“It wasn’t just that. I found that I missed my piano.”
“My piano?” She though. She was glad to hear that at least.
“I went for days without playing and it was like I was walking around in a daze. Last week when it rained, coach canceled indoor drills, and I couldn’t wait to get home. I played Beethoven’s Emperor…so powerful but so involved and intricate and delicate in places…I couldn’t believe it…it made me feel good.” He smiled and her face brightened a bit until he added,
“But it wasn’t just the piano I missed. It wasn’t Beethoven or DeBussy or Ellington that I missed the most. It was you, Linda…you.” He put his hand on her wrist and she lifted it cautiously.
“What about Ashley? You’ve been spending every day with her. What about her?” Linda bit her lip and pulled her hand away once again. He shook his head, not at her, but at himself and his behavior.
“We’re friends…nothing more…someone I have a lot in common with, but that’s all. I promise.” He realized as soon as he said it that promise was the wrong word.
“You promised that you’d be diligent and dedicated, and you broke that promise just to impress her…I heard you in the hall.” She began to cry and turned away, leaning against her closet door. He put his hand on her shoulder and she shrugged it off.
“I can’t compete with her…you know I can’t compete, and it’s not fair to ask. Either you care about piano or you don’t.” She shook her head and turned back to him. She stepped forward and poked him in the chest.
“You act like this is all one big game. Do you know what a gift you’ve been given? Do you know how precious and dear your talent is?” She turned her head as if to gain strength before continuing.
“Do you even care how much people care about you? The sacrifices your mother has made. The favors Miss Washington pulled in to get you an audition? “ She put her hand to her face and began to weep. He stepped forward and pulled her close to him for a hug. She tried to pull back, but he held her firmly but softly and then he spoke.
“Linda…listen to me, please.” She looked up into his eyes and saw he was crying as well.
“I do know how much people care. I do know what a gift I have, but it’s not playing piano. Okay..it’s not only playing, but the real gift…the gift I wasted and didn’t treasure until I thought I lost it?” She looked at him and half-frowned, fearing and welcoming at the same time what she knew he would say.
“”You…you’re the precious gift I was given. I am so sorry that I didn’t tell you sooner.”
“Did she turn you down? I’m second best…maybe not even that. How can I trust you?”
“I don’t know. All I know is I love you. I fell in love with you the first time we met…when I touched your hand and we kissed that first day…I know I’ve let you down, but if I never get to tell you another thing, I have to tell you I love you Linda. I am so sorry I waited so long and I can only hope that it wasn’t too long.”
He looked her in the eye and she saw and felt and knew that he was as trustworthy as the day is long, as they say. She pulled close to him and leaned up and kissed him. Their tongues danced and their sighs and sobs mixed in a wonderful mixture of sweet and powerful music.
After a few moments Linda pulled back and turned away. She began to weep harder as Tony put his hand once again on her shoulder. She reached back and grabbed his hand.
“I can’t be what you need, Tony…I can’t…I’m not…” She swallowed hard and lowered her head.
“I know.” Tony knew it wasn’t an argument he could win, but he began to speak anyway.
“We’re different. You and me….we’ll never be like everyone else, but who says we have to be. I love you, and that’s all I want or need…nothing else matters…only you matter.”
“I’m…I can never have children.” She wept, not only for him but for her, feeling cheated by fate into becoming a pretender…she wasn’t real…only the image…the facsimile of what Tony needed.
“I know that’s important to you, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t important to me. But it isn’t so impossible that we can’t make adjustments. And it’s so soon to think about what we can’t have, Linda…we need to think about and be thankful for what we have.” He smiled and pulled her close once again.
“And I prefer to be thankful for you. You have healed me...made me whole…made my life real and with meaning. I love you.” He kissed her once again and their tears mingled before falling to the floor.
A while later:
Tony sat at the piano picking out a few notes. Linda was standing by the piano just watching him.
“I don’t know what to do. If I accept the scholarship, that means we’ll be apart.” Linda looked sad and confused. Tony smiled at her and looked at the sheet music on the piano before saying,
“I guess I’d better get ready…I’ve got an audition in three days, and I plan on getting to attend school….” He paused just long enough to bring a smile to Linda’s face.
“…with my girlfriend!”
“That sounds wonderful.” Linda said.
She sat down next to him and began playing.
“Diana Krall?” He looked at her and smiled
“Diana Krall.” She smiled back and they kissed. He smiled and said,
Piano Concerto No.5 in E Flat Major, Op.73 'Emperor'
by Ludwig van Beethoven
Words and Music by
Ira and George Gershwin
as Performed by Diana Krall
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