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Not Under Any Circumstances

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Suddenly, the doorbell rang. God, he paid so much for that fucking doorbell. Hazy, Jack pulled himself up out of the plush armchair in the living room and tried to walk, not stumble, toward the door. Ned was here! And he was glad to see his friend again. Technically, his nephew, but with only six years between them there was hardly a generational gap. And Jack was excited to see his friend again, after such a long--

“Hello uncle!”

The doorbell rang again and again

“Ned, I’m coming!” Jack laughed as he opened the door. “I heard you ring the bell”

Immediately, he was pulled in, almost over, in his own doorway, for a hug. Ned pulled away just as suddenly. “It’s good to see you!”

“Its good to see you too! Please, come in. I pay a lot to live here and there’s more than just a doorway!”

Ned followed him in, gazing in amazement as he walked through the, admittedly small, hallway into Jack’s living room. “Jack! Your home is lovely!”

“Oh, it’s really nothing. I’m just glad to see you!” Jack gestured to the couch. “Please, sit”

Ned did, sinking gently into the deep loveseat. Jack returned to his armchair and fumbled for his glass. “Can I get you something to drink?”

Ned waved him off. “No, no, I’m fine. Also, only eighteen, if you remember”

“Ah, yes, sorry.” Jack coughed and took another sip. A moment of pause, and then, “So, how are your classes?”

“Oh!” said Ned. “It all seems fine! Coming from the prep school your parents sent me to, this should be a breeze, if I may say so”

Jack laughed. “Of course. Well, I’m glad to hear it. You know, I was so pleased when I heard you’d be coming here. I feel like I haven’t seen you in ages, and we’ve always been so close.”

“Yes! You and me and Rosa, when we were kids…” Ned trailed off and smiled “Good times, huh?”

“Yes,” Jack replied, seeming to drift off into middle distance, “good times indeed”

“You know Rosa is here this year too?” asked Ned “I haven’t seen her but I think we’re meeting up soon. We all used to be such good friends”

“Yes,” Jack said. “Like cousins. Or, like brothers. You and I at least. And Rosa, does she still sing?”

“Yes, I believe so! I saw a video of her senior recital and her voice was beautiful”

“Oh, good!” said Jack, trying to keep a blank face. “When you see her, please let her know that I’m planning to offer lessons this semester. I haven’t before but my grad advisor is trying to get me to be more involved this year, and teaching is a more active role than TA’ing is, so..”

“Sure!” said Ned. “I’d be glad to! I’m sure she’d be glad to see you again. Everything can be just like when we were kids!”

Jack tried to stifle a laugh into his drink. From his seat on the couch, Ned looked around. He recognized the prints on the wall and the coffee table as a hand-me-down, though he knew Jack wouldn’t want him to mention that. The one thing he didn’t recognize though-- “Jack, is that an entire piano?”

Jack looked at him, drink in hand. “Well, yes, Ned, I am getting a master’s in music composition, and it seemed like a worthwhile investment! It’s really nothing special, anyway, just a cheap upright. But it does the job.”

Ned stood up from the cushions and walked over to the wall where the piano rested to examine it. The sheet music on the piano caught his eye. “Jack, what is this?”
“Oh, it’s nothing. Just a tune I wanted to get on paper. It got in my head, but, just a doodle, you know.”

Ned looked in closer, trying to decipher the messy handwriting of his friend.

“Between the very dead of night and day, upon a steely sheet of light I’ll lay…”