The Piano

"What's that?" Blink asked, stopping abruptly in the middle of the street.

Mush stopped walking and looked tiredly in the direction of whatever had caught Blink's attention this time. It was already past midnight. At this rate, they wouldn't make it back until sunrise.

They had been the last ones to leave the restaurant. Again.

Mush had found Blink asleep underneath one of the tables, passed out was probably more like it. One look at the empty glasses on top of the table told him that Blink hadn't been paying attention to how much he was drinking.

Everyone else thought it funny. Mush would have too, except for the fact that he had to get Blink home. Well, he didn't have to. But he did anyway. By the time he got Blink up and walking, the others had gone.

He didn't have to keep an eye on Blink every time they went out. Just like he didn't have to answer every question Blink asked. But he did.

"It's a piano," Mush answered patiently. Sure enough there was a slightly dusty upright piano sitting on the brick sidewalk. A casualty of spring-cleaning, no doubt.

"I know that. I meant, what's it doin' out here," Blink said, stumbling a few steps toward it.

"Maybe they're movin' it," Mush offered with a shrug, hoping Blink would forget about it, "Come on, let's go."

"At night?" Blink gave him a look that seemed to say Mush was being the unreasonable one. He studied the piano intently and with a wide-eyed wonder that Mush hoped was just a result of being drunk. It was like he just found a hundred dollars sitting on the curb.

Blink circled around to the front and touched the dusty keys lightly. His fingers ran across a folded piece of paper that was where the sheet music should have been. Opening it, he squinted at the letters. Not being able to make the words out, he turned the paper upside down and tried again.

Mush sighed and walked to the piano. He took the piece of paper from Blink's hand and read it for him. "The piano is junk. Says here, anyone who wants it can take it."

If it was possible, Blink's good eye grew wider. He looked at the piano with a sudden amount of clarity.

"Let's take it."

"Are you nuts?" Mush said, regarding both the piano and Blink with doubt. The last thing he wanted to do was drag a banged-up, old piano through the streets. He had more than enough trouble on his hands making sure Blink didn't fall over and crack his head open.

"We'll be the only lodging house with one," Blink said, "Wait 'til everyone sees it."

It was too late. Blink was already imagining having the piano for himself, a smile slowly spreading across his face. Once he got an idea in his head, it was nearly impossible to part him with it. Even if it was stupid. Especially if it was stupid.

"You are nuts," Mush pronounced.

Blink started pushing at one end, not noticing Mush's lack of enthusiasm or the fact the piano wasn't going anywhere. He also was blissfully unaware that he was pushing in the wrong direction.

"Alright, alright," Mush said finally. If it meant he would get to sleep sooner, he would lug the stupid piano back. "You get on that end. No, Kid, that end. That end. Where am I pointin'? Okay, pull it towards you."

Mush ended up doing most of the work, which is what he expected anyway. Blink tried his best to help, but his idea of 'helping' involved hanging onto the side of the piano and singing at the top of his lungs.

By the time they got back to the lodging house, Mush was exhausted. Blink staggered inside and collapsed into a chair, still singing. Mush had to manage getting the piano through the door by himself. A few crushed fingers later, it was in. He took his hat off and wiped the sweat from his forehead.

"You happy now?" Mush asked.

Blink grinned and nodded.

At least he was happy. That made the trip worth it.

"I'm goin' to bed. You think you can make it yourself?" Mush asked. "Blink?"

Blink had fallen off the chair and was now sprawled out flat on his back. This would be good for another ten minutes. Mush was tempted to just leave him to sleep it off. Blink, on the contrary, was entirely amused by the fact he was on the floor.

"Hey Mush, you ain't so ugly from down here."

"Thanks," Mush said, offering him a hand up, "Come on."

Blink attempted to pull himself up and almost made it to his feet before he lost what little balance he had. He tripped over his own feet, Mush's feet and finally the chair, bringing them both crashing to the ground.

"God, Blink," Mush muttered, rubbing his elbow. He just wanted to go to sleep.

He tried to disentangle himself from Blink, but that proved to be difficult considering Blink was more interested in laughing. He couldn't help but be annoyed and no amount of smiling on Blink's part would change that. He let out a weary sigh. Honestly, sleep was all he wanted.

Sleep. Yes, just sleep. Nothing else. Not a thing.

He tried to remind himself of that as Blink's head rested against his arm. He also tried to ignore Blink's warm breath against his skin. He didn't have very much luck.

"Let's just sleep here," Blink murmured.

"What?" Mush managed. He couldn't help but feel his heart beat the slightest bit faster.

"Your finger's in my ear," Blink said in the same quiet tone before he started cracking up again. He couldn't be serious if his life depended on it.

"Get off." Mush rolled his eyes and pushed Blink away from him.

"Mush, I'se kiddin'," Blink said, trying to catch his breath, "Don't gimme that look. You think I'm that drunk?"

"Nah, just drunk enough to be an ass," Mush said as he got to his feet. He pulled Blink up quickly, not giving him a chance to fall over again. Blink took a few unsteady steps toward the staircase before veering right back to the piano. Mush rubbed his temple, anticipating a headache at any moment. It was going to be a very long night.

"Play a song," Blink said, "We got it all the way back here, let's give it try." He was still full of energy, something that made Mush more tired simply by looking at.

"No. It's too late, it'd wake everyone up," Mush said, not bothering to correct Blink that it was 'he' that had got the piano back, not 'we'. " 'Sides, I don't know how. Neither do you."

Blink didn't look phased. He wouldn't let a simple fact like not knowing how to play a piano stop him from having his song. Glancing over his shoulder, he gave Mush a smile as he stretched out his fingers and pushed down on the keys.

"Blink, no. No-"

Mush covered his ears and grimaced. Not only was the piano louder than he expected, but the sound that came forth was something similar to a cat dying.

The grin on Blink's face quickly faded. He didn't stop playing, though, his brow growing more furrowed with each discordant note he played. He stepped on the foot pedals, hoping that would make a difference. It didn't. He tried playing lots of keys at once, but that only made the noise louder and more awful to listen to. Blink kept on striking the keys, trying to find one that worked.

Out on the street, dogs began barking, only adding to the racket. Banging on the walls from upstairs and angry shouts confirmed Mush's suspicion that the piano had indeed woken everyone one up. In fact, it had probably woken up everyone in a five-block radius.

"Would you quit that?" Mush had to yell to be heard over the horrible symphony of dogs and the piano. He yanked Blink away from the keys and went to put the cover down, but it too was broken and wouldn't move.

"It's broke," Blink said hopelessly, trying one more key just to be sure. It played two different notes, both horribly off-key.

"No kiddin'," Mush said, grateful to be able to hear himself think again.

"This white one works, and that black one kinda works. And those things down there don't seem to do nothin'."

"It's outta tune, Blink," Mush said.

"Oh yeah?" Blink brightened, looking at the piano with less frustration. "Where do we get more tune? How much does that cost? What? What's so funny?"

Mush shook his head and tried not to laugh.

Blink frowned. He did look genuinely upset over the fact the piano didn't play, though Mush couldn't imagine why. It wasn't like someone would throw out a perfectly good piano. It was trash for a reason. Of course, Blink didn't often think things through.

"Why you so worked up over it anyway? It don't matter if it's broke. Nobody knows how to play anyhow."

"I don't know," Blink shrugged and fell silent for a moment. "I got it 'cause of you."

"Oh, no you don't," Mush stopped him before he went any further, "I didn't want it, Blink. Don't you try to pin it on me. This was all your idea."

"No. I meant, well, I guess," Blink said, awkwardly trying to find the right words for what he wanted to say, "You like music, right?"

"So?"

"Well, I thought if we had a piano then you could have music all the time," Blink said, "I thought'd make you happy. But it's broke."

Mush waited for the punch line. He waited for Blink to drop the act and start laughing.

Blink didn't. He looked at the piano glumly and then back at Mush. He was serious. But that couldn't be. Blink was never serious, at least not when it came to them. And his idea of making people 'happy' was confined to joking and clowning around. He certainly didn't go around bestowing pianos on people.

"So you made me drag this broke piano all the way back here 'cause you thought it'd make me 'happy'?"

"It don't sound good when you say it like that," Blink admitted. "But did it? Make you happy, I mean."

"Sure, Blink," Mush said slowly, still trying to figure out what Blink was up to, "Thanks."

"You ain't happy," Blink said, slightly deflated.

"No, I am. Really. It's real nice. It's just what I wanted," Mush said, trying to sound more sincere, "I never had a piano before."

A piano. Yes, that's exactly what he wanted. A big, broken piano that sounded like a cat dying. Mush forced a smile to his face, if only to lift Blink's spirits. It was a thoughtful gesture. A drunken gesture, but still thoughtful. Of course, Mush could think of several other gestures Blink could have made that didn't involve large-scale musical instruments.

Before Mush could offer any more words of reassurance, Blink turned toward him. He had a small smile on his face, the same one he got when he had a brilliant idea. Without any more warning, he kissed Mush.

Mush closed his eyes and enjoyed the brief moment.

Too soon, Blink pulled away and looked at Mush with a lopsided grin. It seemed he had gotten the reaction he wanted. Mush was startled, and had to make the conscious effort to close his mouth as he looked back at Blink. He wasn't expecting that. But the surprise of it made it all the better.

"Why'd you do that?" Mush said finally.

"I thought'd make you happy," Blink said.

"Oh."

"Did it?"

"Yeah," Mush said with a smile. This time it was an honest one.

"More than the piano?"

"Yeah." Mush laughed. It was much better than the piano.

"Really?" Blink looked a bit hurt. "Is it 'cause it's broke? I can fix-"

Mush didn't let him finish the thought. He leaned closer to Blink and kissed him lightly on the neck. He lifted his eyes to see Blink was smiling, apparently he had forgotten all about the piano. Mush kissed his lips just as he was about to laugh. He fell back against the keys and a loud burst of noise erupted from the piano.

Neither heard it.

Outside on the street, the dogs began to bark once again.

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