SCALES Jennifer lived at a military housing complex in Milvain. Her condominium was located two blocks away from the army base where her husband Travis had been stationed. She hadn't heard from him in eighteen months. He went missing in action during a tour of duty in the Middle East. His commanding officer hadn't seen him in more than a year. Jennifer phoned Sergeant Williams and searched his unit's website every week, but the news was always the same. Travis was gone. He was all but dead. Although Jennifer had gotten used to living without Travis, she refused to believe the worst. She still loved him and thought of him every single day. There was a photo of him wearing his blue service uniform that Jennifer kept in a brass frame next to their wedding pictures above the fireplace in the living room. Whenever someone asked about Travis, she lied and said he was fine. Sometimes she told her friends he would be coming home soon. On a Tuesday evening after the July long weekend, Jennifer was staring at herself in the full-length mirror that occupied the south corner of the master bedroom. She had just finished teaching a piano lesson to a twelve year old named Jerrika. The girl was a red-haired prodigy who came from a musical family. In four years, Jerrika had already won two local competitions and a scholarship from the Royal Conservatory. Jennifer hated to admit that her student was better than she was, even if it was true. Jennifer hurriedly began to fix her hair and makeup. Another music hopeful was on his way, and she want to look presentable, if nothing else. He was her only male student, and he was scheduled for lessons on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Jennifer ran a plastic pink comb through her long curly hair, which was somewhere between dark blonde and light brown. Then she wiped her face with a moisturizing makeup removal pad before she applied a fresh layer of foundation. She felt two wires digging into her ribs, so she unhooked her bra and slipped it off through her sleeve. There was no time to put on another one because, at that moment, the doorbell rang. Startled by the sound, Jennifer ran out of the bedroom and raced toward the front door. The bell ran a second time before Jennifer unlocked the door. She peered through the spyhole and saw a teenage boy in a white t-shirt and denim shorts on the front step. He was over six feet tall and had short, sandy hair. Jennifer noticed a silver Raleigh mountain bike perched on a kickstand several feet behind him. She opened the door and looked up at his pale blue eyes. "Hi, I'm Sean," the boy said. "I'm here for my first lesson." "I'm Jennifer," she introduced herself. "Come on in." Jennifer led Sean into the living room where her shiny black Wurlitzer stood. She caught him staring at her cleavage for a second before he turned his head away and sat on the bench beside the upright piano. His face turned from pink to bright red with embarrassment. But Jennifer wasn't surprised by his reaction. That's what happened when a woman with large breasts wasn't wearing a bra. She opened the fallboard and showed him the basic keys. He practised his scales for half an hour. Then he learned his first song, which was Beethoven's Symphony No. 9. "You're really good Sean," said Jennifer. "Have you had piano lessons before?" "No, but I mess around on my gran's old piano sometimes." "You're the best new student I've ever had." "Thanks Jennifer. I play guitar, too. My band is called The Druids. We're a power trio like Muse and Green Day." "How did you guys get started?" "We met in high school. That's also how U2 began in Ireland." "A lot of great things come from small beginnings. Steve Jobs founded Apple in his parents' garage." "I use my parents' garage, too. My dad soundproofed the walls so the neighbors wouldn't complain about the noise. Jennifer could tell that it was a real effort for Sean to keep himself focused and to look her in the eyes. Under the circumstances, he was playing quite well. He was a teenage boy with hormones, after all. In hindsight, she realized she should've put on a cardigan or a hoodie over her tight blouse. "You're already sounding like a pro, Sean. You should play Ode to Joy for your girlfriend." "I don't have a girlfriend. Well I did, but we broke up." "I'm sure your parents would love to hear you play." "How much is it? Twenty bucks is all I can afford. I'm saving for school." "That's fine. Are you going to Milvain College?" "Yeah, I'm starting a BFA in Music in September." "Cool. You certainly have the aptitude for it." "I should go now. I have band practice." "Okay, just work on your scales, and leave the money on the coffee table on your way out." "See you next time, Jennifer." It was seven o'clock when Sean left. Jennifer was tired and collapsed in her bed shortly after the lesson. She had worked ten hours that day, eight hours at the office and two hours at home. Juggling two jobs was challenging, but there was no other way to make ends meet while Travis was MIA. Because he hadn't been declared dead, she wasn't eligible for a widow's pension. In addition to a lack of closure, she also had dwindling finances. * * * * * Two weeks later, Sean asked Jennifer about Travis. She was reluctant to talk about him at first because of the inevitable waterworks that would follow. "How long as he been gone?" Sean wondered. "A year and a half," Jennifer told him. "You must get really lonely being by yourself all the time." "It's really not that bad. I keep myself busy and I have friends here on the base. Army wives." Jennifer felt her eyes watering, so she wiped them with a handkerchief that she kept in the top drawer of the coffee table. "You're too young to be living here like a widow." "I'm not that young, Sean. I'm ten years older than you." "Really? You don't look that old. You could pass for a college girl." "Thanks. I just haven't had any kids, and I don't smoke or tan." "You should write a book...on how to not look your age," he joked. "Don't be silly. I can't write. I majored in music, not English." "Hey, what's that in your hair?" Sean flicked a tiny dust ball out of Jennifer's hair. "I was vacuuming under the furniture today," she told him. "That's okay. I get dirt under my nails whenever I mow my parents' lawn." He flicked more dust bunnies off her shoulders and her forearms. Before she knew it, he was unintentionally feeling her up. His flicking movements were starting to tickle her, so he stopped removing the fluff from her blouse. He also caught the scent of her perfume. It smelled like a mixture of jasmine, roses, and musk. "Sorry, I shouldn't have done that," he apologized. "No worries. We should get back to our lesson." Jennifer taught him two new chords that evening. Then he learned Amazing Grace and Shenandoah. He was a fast learner who could play songs from memory. Sean noticed Jennifer yawning when he finished the second piece. "You look so tired," Sean said. "I have to work tomorrow morning," said Jennifer. "Do you teach in the daytime?" inquired Sean. "No, I'm an executive assistant at Heather's Kitchen, the cookbook company. I don't have enough students to teach music full-time." "I have a job, too. I work part-time at Road Boys. We sell skateboards and surfboards." "I've heard of Road Boys. One of my other students rides a Susan Storm skateboard to her lessons." "We need a skateboard park in Milvain. Then kids wouldn't have to ride in parking lots and empty pools." "You should start an online petition or something." "I might just do that," Sean decided. It was the middle of summer. Bright slivers of yellow-orange sunlight pierced through the beige Venetian blinds that covered the living room windows. The condo was exceedingly hot because the air conditioner was off. Jennifer got up to turn it on, but she tripped and landed on her taupe polyester sofa. Sean went to check on her. "I'm all right," she said. "I just lost my balance." "You need to take better care of yourself. I think you're working too much." "Maybe you should take care of me," she joked. "Now who's being silly?" "I should get you a glass of water." Sean went to the kitchen and poured a glass of water from the cooler that stood beside the pantry. Then he brought it to Jennifer, who was sitting up on the sofa. She took a sip before she set it down on the coffee table. "I'm such a klutz," she said. "You're really pretty, you know." "You're flattering me again." "If you want me to stop, then just say so." As they sat beside each other on the sofa, he ran his fingers through her long, curly hair. He caressed her shoulders and her upper arms while she sighed beneath him. He released his hands and turned away from her. But before he could get up, she grabbed his forearms and pulled him back onto the sofa. He leaned in until they locked lips. His kisses were long and lingering. "I don't want you to stop. I haven't been with a man in a really long time." "Jennifer, I should probably tell you something. I've never done it before." "You're a virgin. Really?" "Don't act so surprised. I was saving myself for someone special." "Am I special?" "Yes, you are." Sean closed the blinds carefully to avoid breaking the plastic horizontal slats. Then he removed his shorts and t-shirt. He tossed them on the floor beside the sofa. Jennifer unbuttoned her blouse and unhooked her bra. Sean pulled off her leggings and her panties. He was swiftly losing control of his manhood. It seemed to have a mind of its own. She didn't ask him to use a condom because he'd never been with anyone else, and she was on the pill. He gently climbed on top of her, and they made love. "Are you sure you're a virgin?" she asked him afterward. "I wasn't lying to you. It was my first time." "You're really good for someone who's never done it before." "Thanks. I guess I'm a natural at most things." Sean put his arm around Jennifer, and they cuddled on the sofa. "Can I call you Jenny?" "I haven't been Jenny since I was ten." "What did Travis call you?" "Usually Jen, sometimes Jennifer." Jennifer lay in Sean's arms for an hour until he told her he had to go home. * * * * * The next day was Friday. Sean was practising with his band in his parents' garage. Justin noticed something different about him. Sean was more confident, and his voice sounded more relaxed. "What's up with you?" Justin asked him. "Nothing," Sean insisted. "Why do you ask?" "There's something unusual about you. Hey Alex, doesn't Sean seem different?" "Yeah, he does. He's not the dork he usually is. His vocal range is wider, too." "I think I know what it is," Justin said. "What are you talking about?" Sean demanded to know. "You nailed that soldier's wife, didn't you?" Sean didn't say anything, but his face became flushed. Justin and Alex stared at him for a minute while he fiddled with the settings on his amp. "It's true, isn't it?" Justin asked him again. "Of course it is," said Alex. "That's why his face is turning beet red." "Okay you guys," Sean broke his silence. "I slept with Jennifer." "Congrats Sean," Justin said as he slapped him on the back. "You're a man now." "Don't tell anyone. Her husband's in the army. Those guys are tough. If Travis ever came back and found out I slept with his wife, then he could literally kill me." "He's been gone for almost two years," said Alex. "Dude is probably dead." "Yeah," Justin agreed. "If he were alive, then he would've come back a long time ago." Justin and Sean tuned their guitars while Alex changed his drum heads. In their year as a band, they had written three original songs called "Werewolf Boys," "Bloody Weekend," and "Vampire Babes." They practised for an hour before they decided to call it a night. "I still don't know why you're taking piano lessons," said Justin. "I like music," Sean told him. "We can add keyboards to our tracks so all our songs don't sound the same." "Hey, that's a great idea," Alex commented. "I can get us a good deal on recording time at the Crimson Studio," said Justin. "How come you never told us before about your industry connections?" Alex asked him. "My sister just started dating the studio manager a week ago. Kristen goes through boyfriends like I go through guitar strings." * * * * * A week later, Justin drove Sean and Alex to the Crimson Studio in his parents' brown Dodge minivan. It was large enough to hold their guitars, drums, amps, and microphone stands. He turned on the radio to a classic rock station on the FM dial. A musician was plucking the delicate, magical strings of a mandolin in a melodious fashion. "Wake up, Maggie. I think I got something to say to you," a raspy male voice sang. "Who is that?" wondered Alex. "It's late September, and I really should be back at school," the song continued. "You seriously don't know who that is?" Sean chided him. "No, I don't. I'm only eighteen, for Pete's sake." "That's Rod the Mod," Justin informed him. "Rod Stewart." "Maggie May was based on a true story," Sean added. "Rod lost his virginity when he was sixteen to an older woman he met at a jazz festival." "Yeah, the dude was a real womanizer in his prime," said Justin. "He was married three f***ing times!" "Wow!" Alex exclaimed. "I can't even get a date, let alone get married." "We just finished high school, you dork," Sean teased. "Why would you wanna get married?" "Yeah, we got our whole lives ahead of us," Justin mused. The song continued as Justin turned into the parking lot beside the Crimson Studio. He found a spot next to the producer's space. Then he shut off the engine, and the music stopped. * * * * * Daniel was the manager of the Crimson Studio who was dating Justin's older sister. He let the boys into the building and showed them around. Then he told them not to break anything before he left. The Druids walked through the studio and set their instruments down on the hardwood floor. Sean tuned his Fender Strat while Justin replaced the strings on his Ibanez bass. Meanwhile, Alex assembled his Tama drum set in the back of the facility. He had drawn the band's homemade logo on the bass drum with a blue felt pen. "I think we should do a Fleetwood Mac cover," said Sean. "You want us to play Fleetwood Mac?" Justin cringed. "They're a legendary band," Alex said. "I saw them with my dad last year." "You went to a concert with your dad?" Justin teased him. "Oh shut, up you turd!" Alex shouted. "Stop fighting, you two," Sean scolded them. "I taught myself to play 'Go Your Own Way' last night. Then I found the bass and drum parts at a music website." Sean zipped open the side pocket of his guitar case. He pulled out a stack of white sheets and handed them to Justin and Alex. Sean had become the singer of The Druids by default. His low tenor sounded richer and more resonant than the other two. He managed to juggle vocals and guitars quite well. After he played the opening chords of the cover, he sang the first verse. "Loving you isn't the right thing to do. How can I ever change things that I feel?" He continued singing while Justin and Alex played the bass and drum parts. In one year of practising, they had become a very tight band. They sang the chorus together, like any other group would. "You can go your own way. Go your own way. You can call it another lonely day. You can go your own way. Go your own way." After they recorded the cover, they sat down in the control room. Justin manipulated a recording program on the studio's only computer while Alex and Sean sipped grape-flavored energy drinks that they bought in a vending machine beside Daniel's office. "Ya know, that's actually a great song," said Justin. "Lindsey Buckingham wrote it," Sean told him. "He plays his guitar without a pick. His fingers are tough as nails." "That guy is my hero," Alex announced. "I got his autograph when we saw the band last fall." They stayed for two more hours and used the time to recorded their three original songs. Justin mixed them himself. "I gotta get going," said Sean. "Have you got a date with your Mrs. Robinson?" Justin mocked him. "Her last name isn't Robinson. It's Smith." "I was talking about the old lady in that movie The Graduate." "I've never seen it." "Well, you should stream it sometime on the net. It's right up your alley." "Don't listen to him," said Alex. "He's just being an asshole." "Aren't we all assholes?" Justin remarked. "No, we're not," Sean disagreed. "Then you should call up my ex and tell her that," Justin laughed. It was almost midnight by that time. Justin picked up his bass and left through the front door of the studio. Sean put his guitar in its case while Alex disassembled his drum kit. They tucked their instruments in the back of the minivan. Justin started the Dodge's engine and drove them back to their parent's houses. They didn't talk much on the way home because they were all tired. Their recording session had been productive, but very long. * * * * * Sean saw Jennifer twice a week for the rest of the summer. She taught him piano and made love to him in the master bedroom. Sometimes he stayed the night. Sometimes he left early if he had to work at Road Boys the morning after. On the Labor Day weekend, their relationship came to a head. Sean decided he needed to see Jennifer on Saturday night. He didn't want to spend the long weekend without her. With a wide grin on his face, he rode his silver Raleigh to the military housing complex. He parked the mountain bike in front of Jennifer's unit. Then he skipped up the steps that led to her door. Like a kid visiting his grandparents at Christmas, he rang the bell excitedly. But when the door opened, a tall man with a dark brown buzz cut appeared before him. He was dressed in a white tank and black jeans. Sean's wide grin quickly turned into a look of confusion. "Hi," Sean said. "I'm one of Jennifer's piano students." "I'm her husband Travis," the man told him. Travis stared at him with a stern expression on his face. Sean could tell that something was up, but he didn't know what. Did Travis know what was going on between Sean and Jennifer? "Come in, Sean. I'll let Jen know you're here." "Thanks Travis. It's nice to finally meet you. Jennifer talks about you all the time." "Of course she does." Travis disappeared into the master bedroom and spoke with Jennifer while Sean waited beside the door. Although their voices were muffled, Sean could tell they were having an intense discussion. Five minutes later, Jennifer came out. She was wearing an oversized denim shirt and black leggings. "Can I talk to you outside?" Sean whispered. "Okay Sean. Whatever you want." Jennifer opened the front door and she left the unit with Sean. They went outside and went for a walk around the complex. "Why didn't you tell me he was back?" Sean asked her. "He just came home this afternoon. There wasn't time." "Are you going to tell him about us?" "I already did." "Then why hasn't he killed me yet?" "Travis understands. He was gone for a long time, and everyone thought he was dead." "Where does this leave us?" "I can't see you anymore, Sean. You should probably find another piano teacher." "You don't understand, Jenny. You were my first. I love you." "Sean, I'm married. And you have your whole life ahead of you." There were tears forming in Sean's eyes. It was impossible to hold them back. "How could you do this to me?" he asked her. "You knew my situation from day one." "I'm gonna go now. I guess this is goodbye." "I'm sorry, Sean. I never meant to hurt you." "It's too late for that now." Sean left in a hurry before Jennifer could see him crying. He was a man, after all. Men weren't supposed to cry, even when they got dumped. While the tears began to fall, he sped away from the condo complex on his mountain bike. He found himself singing verses from that old Rod Stewart song, but he changed the lyrics to suit his own situation. "Wake up Jenny. I think I got something to say to you. It's early September, and I really should be back at school." As the reddish-orange sun began to set, he turned onto Main Street and passed by Milvain College. The gigantic brick building was surrounded by poplar trees and a green courtyard. For the first time, he was anxious to meet new people so he could get the soldier's wife out of his system. He rode straight until he reached the boulevard that led to his parents' house. "You made a first-class fool out of me, but I'm as blind as a fool can be. You stole my heart, and I hate you so damn much."