The phone was ringing. Laurie groaned, 'Don't let this be Elizabeth again', she thought. The door of the refrigerator snapped shut as she hurried out of the kitchen.
'Hello, this is Elizabeth.'
'Oh, help', Laurie prayed. “Hello Elizabeth. You’re still out of luck. Keith hasn't come home yet.”
First there was silence on the other end of the line, then Elizabeth sighed. 'Please, when he gets there, have him call me immediately.'
'I'll tell him that the minute I see him, Elizabeth, I promise.'
'Thank you, Laurie. Bye.'
'Bye.' Laurie looked at the receiver, shaking her head. This was the sixth time that Elizabeth Billings had called this afternoon. She was a good friend of her brother Keith.
Laurie heard a noise outside. It was the family bus. The motor died, then she heard steps, a key was being stuck in the entrance door and her brother Keith appeared.
'Hi, Laurie,' he greeted her, threw the keys on a plate and hung his jacket in the wardrobe.
'Keith, for heavens sake, where have you been? Elizabeth kept terrorizing the whole family with her phone calls this afternoon. She said that you and she had a date after school, but you hadn't shown up.'
Keith stopped dead in his tracks, glancing at her with an expression of guilt on his face.
'Don't look at me like that', Laurie snapped. 'She's waiting for you to return her call. Quick, she just hung up. Here's the receiver, it's still warm.'
Laurie held it in her outstretched hand, wanting to toss it over to him. But Keith didn't react. He just kept standing there. She could see him thinking. Then he shook his head.
'Not now, I'll be in the garage.' He turned around and hurried out of the room.
Laurie looked thunderstruck. Normally, Keith and girls were like bees and honey, and Elizabeth was one of the girls Keith liked especially. At least that was what she thought. She remembered how happy he had been on the day of their first date.
'What was that?' Danny's head peeped up from behind the sofa. He held a comic book in his hand. 'Was that our brother Keith, Mr. Hazel-eyes, Mr. Sweet-face? He reminded me of an alien.'
Laurie laughed. 'Danny, you're right. That sure wasn't his normal reaction.'
Now, they noticed the lights flickering as the amplifier was turned on, then dimmed as the sound of Keith's guitar filled the room.
'He probably has an idea for a song and is afraid to loose it,' Danny guessed.
'Or maybe he's having a fight with Elizabeth and just doesn't want to talk to her,' Laurie suggested.
After a few seconds, the sound of the guitar broke off. Danny and Laurie exchanged glances, stunned.
'Now, that's unusual,' Danny stated.
Shrugging her shoulders, Laurie returned to the kitchen and Danny opened his comic book again.
A week later, the situation hadn't changed; only Elizabeth had stopped calling half a dozen times a day. Keith didn't talk much. He came home late in the afternoon, went straight into the garage, played a few bars and remained invisible for the rest of the day.
After dinner on the seventh day, Shirley couldn't bear it any longer. She peeped through the kitchen door and watched as Keith, Chris and Tracy sat on the sofa playing a board game.
On first glance, everything seemed normal. On second glance, the situation was far from being normal. Shirley could see that Keith had won the game by 100 points. Chris was in tears, looking pitiful, and Tracy held her doll in her arms, refusing to keep playing.
Normally the children loved playing with Keith because he let them win, in a way that they could never figure out how he did it. He was great at losing, joking around, making fun out of his bad luck.
Today was different. He seemed absent minded. He definitely wasn’t with them in the living room. Shirley wanted to know where he was, so she called to him.
'Keith? Could you please help me for a second?'
He came in the kitchen, looking angry, as if he wasn't very happy about being interrupted in his daydreaming.
'What's wrong, Mom?' he asked.
'Please sit down.'
He sat down on a chair near the kitchen table and waited, silent as during the last seven days.
'Nothing's wrong with me, honey. But what about you? You just seem to be lost in a world of your own. Can I help you?'
Keith looked at her.
'I'm fine. I just have a lot of work to do, that's all.'
'Work? What are you talking about? You're coming home late from school, you don't talk to us, you don't even play your music.'
Keith looked uncomfortable.
'Mom, let's call it a school project.'
'A school project? Is that school project preventing you from talking to your brothers and sisters? And to me?'
'Please, I don't want to talk about it.'
His voice was very small and he started playing with his ring nervously, looking down in his lap. Shirley regarded him suspiciously. He was pale. The dancing lights in his eyes were missing. Something WAS wrong. He definitely wasn't very happy at the moment.
'Look, Keith, you seem to be absent minded, fine. Something's bothering you, fine. You don't want to tell, fine. But how long will this go on?'
Silence, more fumbling with the ring. What was wrong with this kid? Now she was getting angry.
'Keith, how long? You could at least look at me.'
He looked up in despair.
When Laurie returned from being with her friend Susan that evening, Shirley was sitting in the living-room reading the newspaper.
Laurie sat next to her. 'Good evening, mom. Anything new with our patient?'
Shirley folded the paper and groaned. 'Hello darling. Yes, I had a talk with Keith today. In other words: I was talking, he kept quiet as usual.' She sighed.
'Didn't he say anything at all?' Laurie asked.
'Yes, between intervals of roaring silence, he said he had a school project.'
'The project, of course!' Laurie slapped her hand on her forehead.
'What do you know about that, Laurie?'
'The students from the last two years of San Pueblo High and Meadowville High are supposed to work together on projects. I'm in one as well. Why didn't I think of this before?' Laurie exclaimed.
'Well...?' Shirley began hesitantly.
'Well, we could decide whether we wanted to work as a pair or in groups. We are supposed to pick a project all by ourselves, the teachers won't help us. The only task is that we should come up with something that we haven't done before,' Laurie explained.
'What for? What are you doing? And what about Keith?' Shirley wanted to know, looking somewhat relieved.
'I have no idea what Keith is coming up with or in which group he is going to work, but I'm in a group of fourteen people. We want to prepare a fashion show. Some of us will design a few clothes, others will sew and I'm one of the models. Audrey Saunders knows someone who could teach me how to walk down the catwalk,' Laurie giggled.
'Sounds great.' Shirley smiled.
Laurie nodded, 'It is great. Every project must be finished by March of next year. There's going to be a stage show. The money will go to a children's fund.'
'This doesn't explain everything, but at least it's a start,' Shirley nodded. 'Let's see how it develops. Maybe he will talk to us soon.'
'Yes, mom. My big brother is a secret to me as usual, but he can't keep quiet forever.' Laurie giggled again, kissed Shirley on the cheek and went to bed.
The next evening was different. During dinner, Keith kept glancing at his wristwatch, shoveling the food inside his mouth, chewing rapidly. Then the phone rang. Keith stood up with a jump but Danny was even faster. They raced into the living-room and Danny won the game.
'Hello?' he yelled into the receiver, trying to evade his brothers' hands.
'Yes, he's here. It's for you.' He held the receiver out to Keith.
'I know, stupid.' Keith snarled, as he snatched it out of Danny’s hands.
When Danny returned into the kitchen, the rest of the family was smiling. They could hear Keith talking.
'Yes, I'm fine. No, I was waiting for your call. When? Now? Of course. I'll be with you in a minute. I know the place. Yes. Should I bring anything? No? Fine, see you in a bit.' He slammed the receiver back down.
'Mom, I'm leaving.' Keith almost yelled. 'I won't be home late. I'm taking the bus and I'll drive carefully, I promise. Bye.' And he was gone.
'Keith!' Shirley cried. 'You come back here and eat up.'
But he was already out of reach. They could hear the noise of the bus starting up and pulling away from the house.
'What was that about?' Laurie wondered. 'Back to normal?'
'I bet he has a new girlfriend.' Chris grinned.
'It seems so, darling,' Shirley laughed.
'I wouldn't be so sure about that.' Danny sat down on his chair slowly, looking shaken. 'That was a male voice.'
Danny blinked. He wondered what had woken him up. It wasn't dark in his room because he had forgotten to close the shutters and now the moon was shining on his bed. He pulled the blanket over his head and tried to fall asleep again.
Useless. He couldn't breathe properly. Then he heard a noise. And then again. Someone was whispering. Outside !! Now a car door was being shut.
Danny threw the blanket away and sat upright in his bed. It was almost one o'clock. 'Who on earth is that,' he wondered. He stood up, walked to the window and peeped through the curtain. There was a light shining under the garage door. Someone was in the garage at night !
Danny's heart made a jump. Burglars in the garage! What about the instruments and the equipment? He rushed to his door, ran down the staircase and tip-toed through the kitchen door. As he reached the garage door, the light went off. Danny paused and ducked behind a bush. Then he heard a voice again. No, that couldn't be, he gasped.
That was Keith with someone else. Hiding deeper in the bush, he observed that the garage door was opened and Keith appeared with a tall man.
"Now that you have seen it," Keith whispered, "what do you think?"
"That's perfect. I'm really looking forward to Friday."
"Fine. We'll be alone. I'll see to that."
Danny frowned. Friday then. OK, dear brother, Friday's the day!
Keith and the other guy walked to a parked car.
"See you Friday, Alex. I'll call you tomorrow, bye."
The car drove off but Keith stood on the pavement looking after it for quite a while. Several minutes later he turned and Danny could see his face. Keith looked worried. That was strange. What was going on?
When the front door was shut behind Keith, Danny stood up and brushed the dirt from his hands and knees. Now what was that about? A guest late at night, who was given a sight-seeing tour around the garage? And a big brother who acted very peculiar, if not weird. That was a secret according to Danny's taste. And he was determined to solve it.
„Do you think we’ll need new shoes, Laurie? “
“We sure will, Debbie. “
The two girls stepped off the bus and paused for a minute to take a look at the nearest buildings.
“Debbie, it must be on the other side of the street. Carol said that we should keep our eyes open for a glass front and brick walls.” Laurie pointed across the parking lot. “There it is, see? Come on.”
The girls crossed the street and Laurie peeped through one of the windows of a red building.
“We still have a few minutes left. Can you wait a second? I just want to get the latest issue of my teen magazines. I’ll be right back.”
“Laurie? Why do you want to read that? You have the most famous teen idol living right in your house. You can get as many stories as you like.”
Debbie grinned while Laurie frowned at her.
“Ha, ha. Very funny. I bet you want to live with my brother, don’t you?”
Debbie grinned even more.
“Go ahead. I’ll wait for you right here.”
Laurie grimaced but then she turned around and headed for the newspaper stand.
Her girl-friend looked after her, still giggling. From the corner of her eye she suddenly saw a familiar face ducking behind a parked car. Curious she stepped closer and discovered Danny who was trying to make himself invisible.
“Danny? What are you doing here?”
With a sheepish grin, Danny stood up and brushed the dirt from his pants and hands.
“I’m just doing some window shopping. Honest.”
“Laurie, look who I found.”
When Laurie approached the ill-assorted couple, she became angry at once.
“Danny – what are you doing here? You are supposed to be at home right now. You have been spying again, haven’t you?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Does mom know that you’re here?”
Danny winced. “Yes. No. Not exactly.”
Laurie raised her eyebrows. “Not exactly? Danny ! What have you told her?”
“I’ve told her that I’d go over to Punky’s. Which I did. I wanted him to come with me. Which he didn’t. So I came here by myself.”
Laurie stared at him blankly. “You came here by yourself? What do you mean by here?”
Danny pointed at the building with the glass windows. “There.”
Laurie’s impatience grew by the minute. “Danny. This is a ballet studio. What in the world are you doing here? You tell me now, or …”
Danny grinned his mischievous grin. “Or what?”
“OK, just keep calm. Keith is in there.”
“Keith is in there? So? How do you know that? Did you follow him? Did he tell you? Have you been eavesdropping again?”
Laurie stopped to take a breath. Danny grinned again.
“Of course he didn’t tell me. Don’t tell me that you’re not curious.”
“Me? No. not at all. Let’s pretend Keith is in there then
a) he can go where he wants to
b) it’s none of your business and
c) why do you want to know?”
Danny sighed. “Keith is definitely not taking ballet classes. And yes, I want to know what he is doing in there. He’s been in an odd mood recently. I assume that you have noticed this as well. And I’m sure that this building has something to do with it.”
“Possible”, Laurie agreed. “But it still is none of your business.”
“Well,” Danny added. “I don’t want to talk about family business in front of strangers.”
He cast an evil glance at Debbie.
“Don’t listen to him, Debbie. He’s awful.”
Debbie smiled, not taken aback at all. “I’ve known your little brother for quite a while now, Laurie. And I’m awfully glad that I only have an older sister.”
Danny stuck out his tongue.
“Danny!” Laurie exclaimed. “That’s enough now. You’ll go home at once. Then I won’t tell mom about your behavior.”
“But Laurie …” Danny pleaded.
“No. Bye Danny. Debbie and I will go in there now. Because of you, we are late already. Our friends will be waiting for us. And you are leaving this minute.”
Laurie turned around and opened the door of the ballet studio. Debbie blinked at Danny and followed her.
Danny grumbled. Then he murmured “Yeah, bye. If you meet Keith, tell him I said Hi. And to Alex as well.”
Then he grabbed his bike and pushed it across the sidewalk.
Two hours later, Laurie yawned. She had spent the afternoon practicing how to walk on a stage. She had never thought that simple walking could be so difficult. She and Debbie had met a couple of girls from the other school. They had laughed and joked, teased each other and giggled like little girls do.
But Laurie was glad that they could go home now. She was tired and had a headache. Her feet hurt as well.
The group of girls stood outside in the hallway, discussing their next meeting, when Laurie heard music playing in the studio ahead. Curious, she left the girls and turned to the door. It had a small glass window through which she could grab a glimpse inside the room. Her eyes widened in awe.
A boy was dancing – no, she corrected herself immediately – flying. He took off and turned around in the air like a feather in the wind. No sound of his landing could be heard. Not a single thump. There was just the soft melody of the piano. She could not take her eyes off him. He was dark haired with an athletic figure.
Seconds later, she felt someone standing next to her, smiling. It was Nancy, her teacher.
“Who is he?” Laurie whispered.
“That’s Alex, our best student”, Nancy replied and Laurie could hear the pride in her voice. “He is wonderful. Just look how he absorbs to music.”
Laurie could only nod, not being able to talk. In the corner of her eye, on the opposite side of the studio, she suddenly saw someone else in the room. Alex wasn’t alone. Laurie gasped. Her brother Keith was quietly sitting on the floor, cross-legged, backed up against the mirrored wall. He followed Alex’ moves with his eyes, just like Laurie had done seconds before.
She didn’t want him to notice her, so she quickly pulled herself away from the small window.
“Did you notice the boy on the floor?” Nancy asked. “He comes every day and watches Alex practicing. He never moves, never says a word. He just sits there motionless. It’s been more than a week now.”
Yes, I saw him, Laurie thought, I saw him.
That evening was the same just like all the other evenings before. After dinner, Keith went to the garage, played his guitar for a couple of minutes, and then sat in the darkness for at least an hour, doing nothing.
The last chapter. Nothing spectacular. Just a little reassurance which everyone needs once in a while.
The story is dedicated to my dear friend Silvia. She encouraged me to finish it some time ago because she was the biggest David Cassidy-Fan on earth. And she was my best friend.
Thanks for reading.
Friday at last, Keith thought. No more fooling around. Alex is coming this afternoon. Now I have to get my family out of the house.
At the breakfast table Keith observed his mom and Laurie. They were chatting about the weekend. Reuben and two officials from their record company were invited for dinner on Saturday. Danny was looking at him. Keith sighed.
‘Mom’, Danny was wide-eyed innocence. ‘Didn’t you promise to take us to the movies this afternoon?’
Keith choked on his cornflakes. No way. That was impossible.
Shirley looked surprised.
‘Yes, you are right, Danny. That’s what I said. Do you still want to go? I’d be happy if you let me out this time. There is so much to prepare for the weekend.’
‘Oh yeah, me too, please’, Keith chimed in. ‘I have homework to do.’
‘Homework is important, Keith. You are dismissed. But Mom, you promised to take us to the movies and get us some ice-cream later.’
‘All right then,’ Shirley agreed. ‘Which movie do you want to see?’
While the children were making suggestions Keith observed Danny out of the corner of his eyes. That kid was definitely up to something. But he had other things on his mind to think about.
Keith was waiting for Alex in front of the house. He was very nervous. When he saw his car approaching he jumped into the street and waved. The car stopped. Alex grinned.
‘Hey, Keith. What’s up? Ready for take-off?’ Alex opened the door of his car, climbed out and grabbed a bag that was lying in the passenger’s seat.
‘We have the whole afternoon for ourselves. Come on in.’
Keith opened the door to the garage and Alex whistled through his teeth.
‘It’s even better in here in daylight. Well, I’m ready for a good rehearsal. What have you planned?’
Keith grabbed his guitar and strummed a few chords.
‘To tell you the truth – I don’t have a song ready for us. Let’s just get going and see where it takes us.’
‘I’m OK with that. Let me change clothes first. Where can I do that?’
‘Oh, the bathroom is just through that door to the right.’
Alex left the garage and Keith put down the guitar.
‘Oh boy’, he muttered through his breath. ‘I’m so not ready for this.’
A couple of minutes later, Alex returned and Keith grinned at him. Alex frowned back.
‘Keith,’ he said. ‘Didn’t you say that we were alone this afternoon? Do you have a little brother who likes looking through bathroom windows? I saw a shadow next to it. And when I opened the shutter, a small boy vanished around a corner’
Keith first looked thunderstruck, then angry.
‘I’ll kill him – when I find him. Be right back,’ he snarled and rushed out of the garage door.
Alex grinned. But when Keith re-appeared empty handed, he shrugged.
‘Let your brother watch us if he wants to. I have nothing to hide. Come on, let’s do some serious working. I’m dying to know what you have in mind for the dance.’
Keith looked at him, biting his lips. He took his guitar but he didn’t make a move to strum a chord.
‘Alex, I guess it’s time to tell you the truth. During the last couple of days I’ve been sitting around the house like in a – no, not dream. It was a nightmare. Since I saw you dance I haven’t picked up an instrument.’
‘What’s wrong, dude? That sounds serious.’
‘Alex, you should ask someone else to work with you in the project. I know, it sounded like a good idea to get together both of us. I would have loved to write a tune for you and I would be thrilled to see you dance to one of my songs …. but …..’
Keith broke off. He was feeling like a fool.
‘Keith, what are you talking about? I don’t want to team up with someone else. This is all new to me as well. I haven’t thought about choreographing before. I have always done what someone else wanted me to do. Dancing to my own directions can go horribly wrong, who knows.”
‘That’s not the point, Alex. It’s not that I’m scared about writing a tune that you can dance to. I’m scared about writing at all. YOU are the real artist here, not me. I’m just a teen idol, a pop singer who is followed by screaming girls. I feel tiny and small compared to you.’
“Nonsense. Ask yourself: is it because of others that you compose, sing and perform or is it because you want it. There are a lot of things that I can’t do. I can’t cook and I can’t do the job of a dentist – and I definitely can’t sing or compose.
What we have both in common is determination. Determination to grow in our field, to practice, to move on, to do our best. And that’s what our audience likes about us.
‘That’s your opinion? Alex, you should give lectures in motivation and commitment,’ Keith beamed. ‘You’re absolutely right.’
That was part of my nightmare. I was looking at my guitar and was longing to play. I wanted to turn my feelings to music but I couldn’t grab a tune. Oh Alex, it was so awful. Music is a part of me, that’s for sure.’
Alex grinned back.
‘See? And now let‘s get to work. As a matter of fact, I’m getting cold.’
Keith plugged in the amplifier, sat down on a stool and soon he felt oblivious to his surroundings. Only his music was important now.