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The Temptation of Savannah O'Neill Molly O Keefe 2022/8/3 13:52:47

He smiled, cracking his fingers as he walked over to it. He lifted the lid and pressed the slightly yellowed middle C, expecting the worst.

It rang out clear and in tune, echoing around the books and paintings.

He sat and closed his eyes for a second, remembering those lessons next to his father, and laid his fingers across the keys, Rachmaninoff coming back to him like a storm.

The music filled the room with lightning and he lost all sense of time until the door creaked open and Savannah stood there, staring at him as if he were a ghost.

“Oh—” he said and stopped, the music coming to a halt. “I’m so sorry. I—”

“Keep playing,” she whispered. She stepped into the room, and through a shaft of moonlight he saw tears in her eyes. “Please.”

Surprised, he nodded and finished the movement, trying hard not to stare at her as she stood there crying.

THE NOTES LINGERED, trailing across her skin like gossamer spiderwebs, and it was as if she’d been dipped backward in time. A pain, thick and clogging filled her throat and she was mortified to realize she was crying. Crying in front of Matt.

She stepped into the shadows and wiped her eyes, somehow full and drained at the same time.

He’d made this happen. Matt had called her from sleep and filled her with this sudden loneliness, this bittersweet pain, and she’d walked down here to feel more of it.

The long years she’d spent alone were suddenly too heavy to carry and she sank into a wingback chair across the room from the piano.

“I’m rusty,” he said after a long moment of silence. “But I’ve never made anyone cry before.”

She laughed. At him. At herself.

“It’s been a long time since anyone played the piano here.” She sighed.

“That’s a shame,” he said. “It’s a beautiful instrument.” He ran the backs of his hands across the keys, the sound a musical zipper undoing her, note by note. “Do you play?”

She tilted her head back to smile at him. “Not well.”

“Sadly, Katie has no interest.” She cleared her throat, all the words sticky. “My brother, Tyler, is the musician.” She remembered those nights, after the shock wore off and the place began to feel like home. Tyler would play and Carter would sing and Savannah, young and happy and so blissfully unaware of the way her family would further splinter apart, would dance and dance and dance. “When Tyler left…” She shrugged and stared at the ceiling, wondering how to put all that pain into words. “Everything got quiet.”

“I know that kind of quiet,” he said, his voice low, and it was as if some lock deep inside Savannah got jimmied open and things she didn’t like to feel came bubbling up—empathy, kinship, a certain understanding.

It was dangerous to feel this way in the moonlight, with this man. The two were a reckless combination.

“What happened?” she asked.

“My mom got cancer when I was eight, she left that kind of quiet when she died.”

“I’m sorry,” Savannah said, and his answering smile was ghostly in the moonlight.

“I’m sorry your brother left you.” His fingers stroked the keys, making phantom sounds that pinged through her. “How long has he been gone?”

“Ten years.” For ten years quiet had crept over this house until it felt like a tomb. And she was buried alive in it.

“Yes, but it’s been a while. We went to Vegas once when Katie was little, but he hasn’t come home since he left.” She talked about it as if it wasn’t hard. As if her family’s absence wasn’t an open wound on her heart.

“Do you have other family?”

“My oldest brother is in Baton Rouge. He’s in city politics there and is trying to keep this part of his life quiet.”

“This part?” Matt asked hitting a C sharp that reverberated through her body.

“The Notorious O’Neill part,” she answered, keeping it vague. “Our colorful family.”

“Ah, colorful family. I know what that’s like.”

He shook his head. “She was…” He paused. Sighed. “Blissfully, perfectly normal. A kindergarten teacher.” He played a slow rendition of “The Wheels On the Bus.” “She made dinner every night and sewed the holes in my clothes and washed my mouth out with soap when I swore. My father was the colorful one.”