Piano Man

Piano Man

by Joyce Sweeney

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780440219156
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 06/01/1994
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 4.17(w) x 6.84(h) x 0.72(d)

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Piano Man

By Joyce Sweeney


Copyright © 1992 Joyce Sweeney
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-0426-8


Deidre and Susie stepped from the air-conditioned building into the hot blast of afternoon. May in Florida was like August in the real world. Luckily, there were only two more weeks of school to endure.

"All right, what's the big news?" Deidre asked, shifting her books so The Scarlet Letter would stop poking her in the chest. She had found a note from her cousin Susie in her locker grating this morning that read, The world is changed forever. Details at 3:00.

"Okay," said Susie in her excited, hiccupy voice. "So Mom and I went to the mall to buy a graduation present for Son-dra and by the way, we got her a fourteen-karat gold figaro chain and I hope my mother remembers that! Because I better get exactly the same thing when I graduate high school—"

"What happened to you?" Deidre barked. She had no patience for the way Susie told stories.

"In fact, I don't see why I don't get a present this year," Susie continued. She had no patience for Deidre's impatience. "I think graduating junior high is more important than high school. I think right now we're at the biggest turning point in our lives. Otherwise, we wouldn't feel so screwed up."

"Well," said Deidre, trapped against her will in one of Susie's irresistible arguments, "how do you know Son dra isn't feeling even more screwed up than you?"

"What's she got to be screwed up about?" Susie cried indignantly. "She's the one Mom likes!"

Deidre shifted her books again. "Maybe she worries about having a sister who hates her."

"I don't hate Sondra!" Susie said, shaking her head so emphatically, it whipped her short blond hair like a flag in a windstorm. "I just wish she'd never been born."

"Oh. Okay," said Deidre. It was too hot to argue.

"So Mom decides to head for Laura Ashley or one of those tea-and-crumpets boutiques to pick out a foxhunting ensemble, and I didn't need that noise"—Susie's own taste ran to the neon and the stretchy—"so I struck out by myself and ended up in the food court—"

"Cruising," Deidre interrupted.

"I wanted a Coke!" Susie protested. "But when I got there ... there he was."

"Mel Gibson," Deidre guessed. "Reverend Dimmesdale. The Apostle Paul."

"The most gorgeous male person who ever walked the earth!"

"Right there in the food court?" Deidre asked.

"Right there in the food court. The King of the Babes. The Ultimate Warrior."

"What was he doing?" Deidre asked. "Waxing the floor?"

"He was winding up a toy pig!" Susie said with a girlish giggle.

Deidre lifted her dark curls from the back of her neck and let the breeze blow through. "This is the most romantic story I've ever heard."

"He works at Embraceable Zoo. He had one of those little pigs, have you ever seen them? You wind them up and they walk around and say, 'Oink! Oink!' and the tail spins."

Deidre yawned.

"He set the pig on the floor and when he was straightening up he happened to look in my direction and our eyes locked and, I don't know, something happened."

"Oink! Oink!" Deidre said.

"It did! It was magic! Believe me!"

"I can't believe you, Suze. I believed you the last time when you fell for the guy who came out to enclose your patio. Remember? You thought something was really going on with you two. I was trying to figure out what to wear to the wedding. Then you found out he was married and had three kids."

"This is different," Susie said.

"I don't see how. It sounds like the same story to me, except for the toy pig."

"Okay," Susie said. "The difference is he asked me out."

Deidre's jaded facade cracked like ice on hot pavement. "He did?"

"He did," Susie said. Her blue eyes crinkled with amusement. "Are you still too bored to listen?"

"No, not really," Deidre said. What made this information especially stunning was that Susie had never gone out with anyone before and neither had Deidre, unless you counted group dates or the horrible social events sponsored by Ramblewood Junior High, where you had to dance with sweaty guys you'd known since kindergarten. "I guess you're leaving some of the story out," Deidre said. "I mean, one minute he's winding up the pig and the next you've got a date. What happened?"

Confident she now had a good hold on her audience, Susie took her time, shifting her tote bag to the other shoulder, running a graceful wrist up through her bangs, centering the gold S that hung from her neck chain. "Let me describe him to you first. He's sixteen."

"What?" Deidre squeaked. "Are you kidding?"

"No, I'm not kidding. He's a tenth-grader at Taravella."

"Does Sondra know him?"

"I'm not asking her about him! This is my own private, secret thing! If she knew I liked him she'd try to steal him. His name is Curt Wyler. He knows her, though. When he said where he went I said she was my sister and he said, 'Oh, the Ice Princess.' Don't you love it? I hope all the guys call her that! Anyway, then he said, 'I can't believe you're her sister.' Tu comprends? He's telling me I don't seem like any ice princess."

"Yeah, I comprends. Did he know how old you were?"

"Sure. I told him. He said, 'You seem really mature for your age.' He and I are perfect for each other, if you go by that thing about girls maturing faster than boys."

"I don't know if I do or not."

"I do. Anyway, he said, 'I'd like to take you out sometime,' and I said I'd think about it."

"At least you didn't say yes."

"What does that mean?"

"Well"—Deidre slowed her pace a little. They were getting close to Susie's house and this was important—"I mean, I have to admit this is the most major thing that's ever happened. But you were just having fun, weren't you? You wouldn't really go out with a sixteen-year-old, would you?"

Susie's gaze was frank and fearless. "Why not?"

"I don't know!" Deidre said. She didn't know. But it was obvious, wasn't it? There had to be some reason for all the warning lights and bells going off in her brain.

"If he thinks I'm mature enough to go out with him, that's good enough for me," Susie said defiantly. "But I want you to see him, before I make my final decision. He had on these tight black jeans and a shirt that must have cost—"

"Don't describe his clothes!" Deidre said. "Describe him!"

"Dark brown hair, the very shiny kind, you know? Brown eyes, great eyebrows, cute butt ..."

"That about covers it. Well, do you want to go over tomorrow?"

Susie scrunched up her face. "Nope. Tomorrow's the day Sondra and I have to go to Delray and act like we still have a relationship with Dad."

"Tell him I said hi," Deidre said. She liked her uncle Jack. He was her mother's brother. Since he divorced Susie's mother it felt like the whole family had fallen apart. "Do you think Curt works on Sunday?"

"We can find out. I can't wait for you to see him."

"So if I think he's all right, you're going to go through with this?"

"Of course I am! I'll probably do it even if you don't like him. How could anybody turn down a chance this good?"

"I don't know," Deidre said, trying to imagine what she would do in such a situation. "I really don't know."

"I'll call you Sunday morning," Susie said, turning up her driveway. "Ciao!"

"Ciao," Deidre said absently. This was a lot to adjust to. It was exciting and scary, and it made her feel jealous too. Still, in a way, she was relieved it was happening to someone else. She could enjoy this interesting story without any possibility of getting hurt. And there was another feeling she couldn't quite identify. It was a little like ... grief.

The breeze had died down by now. The horizon was hard and shimmery. Deidre shifted her books for the third time. The five blocks between Susie's house and home suddenly seemed like a thousand miles.

The first Post-It note was on the antique clock in the foyer. Is this broken? the note said.

"No, Mom," Deidre said aloud. "Just needs to be wound." She wound the clock and began searching the apartment for other messages. Every afternoon she went through this ritual. It was like a treasure hunt.

On the cupboard was a note that said, We're running out of cereal. On the refrigerator, Let's have chicken tonight. In her mom's bathroom there was water all over the floor and a note that said, Watch it! Deidre collected and threw away all the notes, mopped up the water, put cereal on the grocery list, seasoned a couple of chicken breasts and put them in the oven. When she went to her bedroom, there was a final note she had missed, posted on the mirror. I love you. Deidre smiled. "I love you too," she said. That one she decided to keep.

Deidre was a firm believer in doing the unpleasant things first and saving the best for last. If there was a nut in the middle of a cookie, she would eat all around the edges, making a glorious, final bite out of the center. In the same way she always did her math homework before her English. She studied her problems now, struggling to focus her mind on stories she couldn't care less about. If a boat is moving downriver at 5 mph and a car is driving along the bank in the opposite direction at 10 mph ... Why would anyone want to know this, Deidre wondered. She got A's in every subject except algebra because she hated it so much. Algebra, she felt, didn't deserve any better than that.

Suddenly, she realized there was music coming from somewhere. It had been playing for a while, but she hadn't been consciously aware of it. It was coming through the ceiling from the apartment upstairs. Somebody was playing the piano! It must be the new person who moved in yesterday. Deidre had seen the van and watched the men carrying in furniture, hoping to get a clue about her new neighbor. But it had been the usual Haitian cotton sofa and wicker chairs everyone had in Florida. She certainly hadn't seen a piano. But she knew the music was live because of the way it stopped and started. The song this person was playing had the strangest effect on Deidre. It made her feel ... happy. It gave her a happy, soaring feeling inside. It was like a waltz, sort of, but livelier, with long runs up and down the keys that were curiously thrilling. The person upstairs was playing the song with great feeling. Deidre put down her pencil to listen. It was kind of familiar. She knew she had heard it, on the radio or somewhere. An older song, maybe. It made her want to get up from her chair and dance, whirl around the room, sing, laugh, jump for joy! Timidly she pushed her chair back.

But the music stopped. Just like that. She waited hopefully, looking at the ceiling, but the apartment upstairs was silent. Slowly, she picked up her pencil again. A man has a salt-brine solution that is two parts water to one part salt. If he adds enough water to ... Deidre had to swallow hard several times as she read this. Losing that song had almost made her cry.

"He grows orchids," Deidre's mother said, stabbing into her chicken. "Did you know they don't need dirt? They have an aerial root, that was what Mr. Maxwell called it. He takes them and hangs them, like, on the branches of trees. Can you imagine that? What did you do to this chicken, Dee? It's so good."

"Paprika and thyme," Deidre said absently. She tuned in and out when her mother was talking. Especially if the topic was Mr. Maxwell, the accountant her mother had just gone to work for. Deidre had nothing personal against Mr. Maxwell, since she'd never met him, but she'd already heard more about him than she wanted. She knew about Mr. Maxwell's divorce, Mr. Maxwell's trip to the Soviet Union last fall, and Mr. Maxwell's inability to digest milk products. Enough was enough.

"Paprika and thyme," her mother mused. "I wouldn't recognize those things if they fell on me. Who taught you to use those on chicken?"

"I figured it out by myself," Deidre said. She knew she wasn't going to make her mother understand culinary intuition any more than her mother could make her understand the pleasures of mathematics. Deidre's mom, who was a bookkeeper, sometimes ran up imaginary figures for fun. "Do you know anything about music?" Deidre asked, trying to keep her voice casual.

"Oh, you know. What are you talking about? I don't know anything about classical music, if that's what you mean. Mr. Maxwell does, though. He and his wife used to go to the opera together. Can you imagine—"

"If I hummed a little piece of a song, do you think you'd know what it was? I think it's something from your generation."

"You can give it a try. I'll try to remember that far back." Her mother laughed.

It was difficult for Deidre to reproduce the runs and chords that made up the song, but she did her best.

"Oh, yeah, that's familiar," her mother agreed. "I think it's some old Billy Joel something. I don't know. It sounds like you're leaving part of it out. It's Billy Joel. Not 'Allentown' but ... I don't know."

"Billy Joel," Deidre repeated. That was a place to start, anyway.

"Why did you want to know?"

"I just heard it today and I liked it. I thought I'd get a tape of it or something." Deidre decided not to say the music had come through the ceiling. Her mother might complain and get it stopped.

"Do you like my hair up or down?" Deidre's mother asked.


"Up or down? Is my neck too long to wear it up?"

"No, it looks great that way. Why?"

"No special reason. Need any help with your homework tonight?"

"No, I did it when I first got home."

Her mother looked disappointed. "Okay. You sure are a trouble-free kid."

Deidre smiled and got up to clear the table. "Dessert?"

"What have we got?"

"There's some ice cream left. And I think we have some cookies."

"Let's have both. I'm really hungry tonight. Dee? I want to ask you something. Do you think it was all right for me to tell Mr. Maxwell to call me Janet?"

Deidre was in the kitchen now, scooping ice cream. She put down the scoop. "What?"

"I told him to call me Janet. Do you think that was okay?"

Very slowly Deidre dried her hands on a dish towel and walked to the kitchen doorway.

Her mother was looking up, waiting for Deidre's answer with a strange mixture of excitement and guilt on her face. She looked like a little girl asking something of a parent instead of the other way around.

Deidre folded her arms. "Why wouldn't it be okay? That is your real name, isn't it?"

Her mother blushed. "You know what I mean. It just sounded so funny, him calling me Mrs. Holland."

"Really?" Deidre said. "I've heard lots of other people call you Mrs. Holland. What's wrong with that?"

"You know! It's so formal!" Her mother tweaked back an errant lock of hair. "You know how much I hate that kind of stuff."

"Yeah," Deidre said. "Well, if he doesn't care, I don't care. You can tell people to call you anything you want, right?"

"Right!" her mother said brightly. "That's what I thought."

Deidre went back to the kitchen and finished dessert. She set the two bowls of ice cream and the plate of cookies on the table, then sat back down at her place.

Her mother attacked the ice cream ravenously, not meeting Deidre's eyes.

"Mom," Deidre said, "do you like Mr. Maxwell?"

Her mother's blue eyes flicked up briefly, then back down. "Sure I do. You know me. I like everybody."

"Yeah," Deidre said. The rest of the meal was eaten in thoughtful silence.


Deidre was bored. After they came back from the grocery, her mother had spread papers and pencils all over the dining-room table and was punching away ecstatically on her computer. It was, she had told Deidre during a Coke break, a financial plan for a very important client.

"You're really knocking yourself out to impress old Mr. Maxwell, aren't you?" Deidre had asked.

But her mother didn't answer. Her mind was lost somewhere in the astral plane of numbers. Deidre figured even if an armed gunman came in now and started shooting up the place, her mother wouldn't know.

Deidre picked up the TV listings. Pretty bad. It was Saturday afternoon, so there was nothing but baseball games and This Old House. Susie was in Delray pretending to have a relationship with her father.

"Mom! Guess what! I think I'm pregnant!" Deidre called, just to amuse herself.

No reply. Deidre sighed and went to the kitchen to look for food.

"Honey? Would you bring me something? I'm starving!"

"Mom!" Deidre cried, rushing into the dining room. "Was that you? Did you speak?" She picked up her mother's wrist and pretended to take a pulse. "Sit right where you are. I'm going to get a flashlight to shine in your eyes."

"What are you talking about?" her mother asked. "You're not making any sense. I just want something to eat."


Excerpted from Piano Man by Joyce Sweeney. Copyright © 1992 Joyce Sweeney. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Piano Man 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Piano man is a really great one. I thought it was going to be about some lonely teenager who has a crush on an older man. So usual. I was ready to put the book back but never judge a book by it's cover. I couldn't put the book down once i layed my eyes on the first chapter. Sweeny does a work of art with emotions, expression and character. I'm going to get it for my twelve year old sister's birthday.