Patrick hasn’t taken up a new instrument since he taught himself guitar in middle school. That and piano and singing had seemed enough for a while, and when it wasn’t enough, everything else in his life - work, Rachel, the creeping sense that nothing was right - had taken up his time and energy and precluded him from further musical explorations.
But three weeks ago, on a flea market ramble with David, he’d spotted a gorgeous, handcrafted spruce and maple fiddle on the table of a Mennonite family, and he’d felt the old longing arise, the itch to extend what he knows into new terrain.
David had called the fiddle “a witch’s viola” and exiled him to the guest bedroom for practice, but he’d also commissioned an ebony chinrest from Jake, so Patrick knows he has his full, albeit crotchety, support.
And he knows, he knows three weeks is too little time to expect himself to have mastered something. But he considers himself innately musically talented, even if he’s too humble to say that out loud. He can just - pick these things up. There’s something in him that strives towards music, and there’s something about music that meets him halfway.
Except this time, apparently. He’s been fighting the same chord for the last half hour. He’s not prone to guitar-smashing, or fiddle-smashing for that matter, but he’s there mentally. In his mind, he’s splintering this damn thing all over David’s carefully curated guest bedroom.
The husband in question appears as if summoned, here to bear witness to Patrick’s suffering. “You’re a little flat, honey.”
Patrick grits his teeth and lowers the fiddle. “Thanks so much, David.”
David grimaces and makes a just saying! gesture with both hands before retreating to a less hostile part of the house.
He persists a few more minutes before giving it up, accepting that David had, in some sense, been correct. He’d tuned the fiddle at the start of this session, but whether from the humidity or his inexpert handling or the finicky nature of the instrument itself, something was seemingly off.
He plucks at each string in turn, listening carefully, feeling the resonance in his ears and his chest and his fingertips, twisting the tuning pegs minutely. He knows there are apps he could use to assist him, but he’s always liked the intimacy of tuning against some internal sense.
In the end, David had been right: the D string was flat. Patrick makes a begrudging mental note to congratulate his eavesdropping husband on the lucky guess.
He leaves it at that - a lucky guess, a fluke - and doesn’t give it another thought until later in the month, when he’s tamed the fiddle enough to feel comfortable interspersing it with his pre-existing practices. He no longer feels like taking a day off from the fiddle will make him lose everything; his fingers adjust more readily to the breadth of his guitar, he doesn’t fumble in transitioning between the instruments.
He’s been tooling around with an acoustic cover of a Lizzo song that he’s promised to sing at their next open mic night; he’s actually planning to sing a Justin Bieber cover, but he likes to lull David into a false sense of security. As dusk is falling, he props his guitar in the corner of the living room and joins David in the kitchen. David is chopping tomatoes and singing under his breath. It’s the very song Patrick’s just been working on. Or, well, more precisely, it’s the harmonies Patrick would have written for his cover if he had known he’s been living with a potential duet partner all this time. David sounds good.
“Who invited Art Garfunkel to dinner?”
David twists to look over his shoulder. “Who?”
David frowns. “No one’s coming to dinner. Did you invite someone for dinner?! You know I need advance warning. The portions will be all wrong-”
“No, it was a joke, I - you were singing.”
“No I wasn’t,” David says, suddenly shifty.
Patrick laughs. “Never mind. Need any help?”
“Hey, come join me,” he says, even and casual as if this isn’t premeditated, one afternoon when the store’s closed early for a holiday weekend.
David freezes in the doorway to the living room and glances over his shoulder. “Me?”
Patrick scoots down the piano bench and pats the space next to him. “We’ll both fit.”
David hesitates a moment longer before huffing and tugging on his sweater slightly as he stalks over. “I don’t like what you’re insinuating about my hips.” He perches on the bench with affected lightness, leaving a large gap between them.
Patrick wraps an arm around his husband’s waist and pulls him in so they’re snug together. “No need to leave room for Jesus in this relationship, David.”
“What are we doing here?” David demands, undercut a bit by the breathiness and smile with which he asks it.
“I felt like playing, but I missed you,” Patrick says simply. “If you don’t mind, I - I’d like you here with me.”
David pulls his lips between his teeth. “Just - to sit here with you?”
“Yeah, unless you’ve got somewhere else to be.”
It’s true that they don’t normally do this. David normally stays out of Patrick’s music. He accepts the open mic performances, he gives conciliatory smiles and shoulder rubs when something’s causing Patrick particular ire, but he treats it like a part of Patrick that he will never understand or fully share. And Patrick’s increasingly unsure why that separation has been drawn.
On the piano bench beside him, David’s mouth twists around an uncertain but flattered little smile. “No, I can - I can keep you company, for a little while. Play me something, honey.”
He twines his arms around Patrick’s nearest elbow and nuzzles his chin into Patrick’s shoulder, which will make the playing difficult, but bearably so.
He’d hoped, after urging David to sit with him that first time, that David would invite himself in the future. But David, while not known for being reserved, has funny exceptions that Patrick can’t always pigeonhole. So while he’ll float in the proximity while Patrick is practicing, he doesn’t join him without an explicit invitation. And Patrick wants him there, for the obvious reasons - he likes the way his husband’s thigh feels pressed to his; he enjoys the way David’s face twists when he’s messing around on the guitar and he hits something particularly discordant; he will rickroll David with Wonderwall long after it stops being funny - but he’s also developed, well, kind of a thing about this. He is not exactly known for being able to let things go. As much as he and Stevie tease David about not being able to compromise, Patrick, too, is stubborn and determined. He senses there’s something more here, with David and music, and he can’t just let it lay.
“Play ‘Heart and Soul’ with me,” he says, one rainy morning when David’s spending more time on his phone than actually paying attention to Patrick’s playing. He spreads his fingers over the keys, not pressing enough to drop a hammer on a string but enough to begin to feel the vibration, the hum, the thick heaviness of the sound. “Four hands make for a fun time, you’ve said it yourself.”
“That’s infantile,” David protests. “What’s next, ‘Chopsticks’? I’m flattered that you trust me with such vaunted cultural treasures.” .
“Humor me. I’ll show you how. It’ll be like the pottery scene in Ghost.”
David rolls his eyes but brings his hands up to the keys, a few octaves up from Patrick. Patrick doesn’t miss the way he perfectly matches Patrick’s placement, seemingly without trying. “Promise me I have the easy part.”
“You do. You’ll just repeat this-” He demonstrates, reaching across David so his arm is pressed to David’s chest, his right hand splayed over David’s right, gently picking out the melody. “While I stay busy down at the other end.”
“Show me again?” David asks, brows furrowed in concentration.
Patrick does, first with his fingers over David’s, then an octave lower, moving with him at an exaggeratedly slow pace.
“One more time?”
“No, I think I got it,” David murmurs, miming the fingering.
“Are you sure? This took five-year-old Patrick three weeks to learn.”
“Poor five-year-old Patrick’s parents. No, I’m ready.”
Patrick sets the tempo, does the introductory measures by himself. Able to play it without looking, he instead watches the way David’s thumb twitches against the edge of one of the white keys, keeping time.
“Now you,” he murmurs, three beats’ warning.
“I know,” David hisses, as if this is a public performance, but he comes in perfectly on time, their notes ringing together, and neither of them can seem to contain a surprised little giggle at how well it fits together, the deep, plucky lower notes that Patrick’s playing or the jaunty upper half that David’s managing just fine.
They run through the entire piece eight times before David’s fingers stumble and he tilts sideways into Patrick, laughing slightly.
“Not bad for a beginner,” Patrick grins.
“Mm. It must mean our hearts and souls are in sync.” David presses a kiss to Patrick’s temple and stands up from the bench. “I’m craving cake. Come join me when you’re done.”
Patrick tries to solve it on his own. He’s tried to coax it out of David without success, so - maybe there’s nothing there. Or maybe it’s something he doesn’t want to share. But Patrick starts noticing all the ways David notices and engages with music. The way he watches the wind chimes on their back porch when they eat outside; how he notices a flier at the cafe for a guitar club tutor at the senior center and takes one of the contact tabs for Patrick; his rapt attention when they attend a Maliseet drum circle in Elm Glen; his ridiculous, filled-up-from-inside shimmy as they blast Laura Branigan from the radio on a late night drive back from a distant vendor. Maybe this is what he’s been seeing and mistaking for something else. Maybe David feels music deeply, broadly, vitally, and can appreciate it when he does - but maybe that’s enough. It’s never been enough for Patrick, but he’s certainly capable of understanding and accepting that he and David are different.
Except. Except they stop by a music store in Thornbridge after seeing a movie, and while Patrick buys a replacement guitar strap and resin for his bow, David wanders off amidst the displays. When Patrick goes to collect his husband, he finds him plunking at an electric keyboard. Whatever he’s playing, it’s definitely not ‘Heart and Soul’.
“Sounds good,” Patrick comments, hoping, begging for David to let something slip.
David hums and leads him out the store.
Except. He comes home one day, earlier than expected because his barber had a family emergency and had to cancel their appointment. He opens the door to their cottage and hears music. Not one of David’s playlists or one of the radio stations he argues with or the soothing background music to his meditations. It’s homegrown, handspun music that tightens something in Patrick’s chest.
He quietly closes the door and walks as softly as he can to the doorway to the living room. He can only see David’s back, stretched broad and tall in perfect performance posture. Patrick, who’d learned to play by imitating his parents’ records of Joni Mitchell and Dolly Parton and John Denver, doesn’t recognize the classical piece. It’s soft and minor and moody and tentative, creeping and determined all at once. David’s hands are cascading across the keys, tumbling up and down, left hand reaching to deliver an occasional emphatic note in the deeper octaves. Their little upright piano, which Patrick had found at a flea market in the farther reaches of the Greater Elms, is in desperate need of a tuning, and yet it’s never sounded this beautiful.
Abruptly, halfway through the song, David hits a wrong note and his hands retreat. His shoulders curl inwards, his head bowed over the keys.
Patrick waits a moment to see if he’ll continue before entering the room, letting the floorboards creak so David has a moment’s warning.
When he reaches David’s side and finds his husband staring down at the piano, there’s a gutted look on his face that reminds Patrick of seeing an ex you didn’t realize you were still in love with. But that’s not quite right, and then David looks up at him, cheeks opalescent with quiet tears, eyes surprised and shaken and lonely and he understands why the expression is so familiar: it’s like seeing a self you didn’t realize you were still in love with.
David’s mouth opens, searching for words; finding none, he shakes his head helplessly at Patrick.
Patrick sinks onto the edge of the bench with David.
“I don’t know what-” David says helplessly, clearly trying to fight the emotion. “This isn’t- Um. Rachmaninoff has never had that effect on me before.”
“Oh good. I’m glad you haven’t been sobbing into the piano every time I leave the house.” Patrick has wanted to wait him out or to give him space or to solve this on his own, without David needing to tell him, but... But. He turns as best he can on the bench, their knees knocking, and rubs gently at David’s thigh. “Why didn’t you tell me you’re good at music?”
David’s brows pinch together and he looks away. “Would we say good?”
Patrick huffs out a laugh, incredulous at David’s evasiveness, even after all of that. “Yeah, I’d say that was pretty damn good, David. Unless this is you still fishing to be told you’re nice.”
“No, I’ve long since given up on that.” David taps his fingernail against a key for a moment before he rolls his head back with a dramatic sigh. “Okay, fine! I didn’t tell you because it’s not a big deal. I haven’t played in ages, and it doesn’t matter to me nearly as much as it does to you. Music is your thing. I like that it’s your thing. I didn’t want to make it weird.”
“We can both-”
“I know, but I’m not - I’m not, like, actually good at music. Yes, I took violin lessons. And piano lessons. And voice lessons. And clarinet for a hot second but that one didn’t take. And okay, there was talk about buying me a place at Julliard but I decided it wasn’t for me. But that’s not - that doesn’t mean-” He finally looks directly at Patrick, seeming like he’s looking for help, eyes a little wide like they get when he’s being excessively, uncomfortably earnest, fingertips pinching at Patrick’s sleeve. “The way you do music, honey, I can’t even - it seems like it fills you up with this... this unbearable light that spills over on everyone around you. It’s like - you feel something. I’m classically trained and maybe, okay, classically good, but - I never felt it like that. It was always about doing it for someone else - bonding with my mom, impressing the private high schools, seducing my tutor - or to meet a requirement or something. I always - I always wanted to feel it the way you seem to feel music.”
Getting the sense that he’s pressed on a bruise that, while unhealed, has gone untouched for a while, Patrick presses a kiss to David’s nearest shoulder, to his temple. “Certainly seems like you felt something this time around.”
David spreads his hands - those long, gorgeous fingers, so perfect for piano, now that Patrick has seen it - across the keys, biting his lip. Patrick rests his chin on David’s shoulder and rubs at his lower back, recognizing when David needs to be waited out.
“It sometimes, like, physically causes me pain,” David says slowly, “that I can’t make it perfect. That there’s this - beautiful aesthetic thing that I can’t make good enough. I can get every note right and it still won’t be right. So I - I feel shitty when I pursue it and I feel shitty when I give up on it.”
They sit for a moment in silence, the weightiness of the last few minutes thick in the air around them.
Eventually, Patrick lifts a hand to gently pet at the back of David’s hair. “I don’t want to be just another person telling you to do something that you’re only doing because you think you’re supposed to,” he says carefully. “But you do make music beautiful, whether it be Mariah Carey or this - get-your-rocks-off guy.”
“How dare you,” David hiccups around a laugh.
“So if there is any part of music that you miss or that you want to reenage with, and if there’s any part of my love of music that’s been holding you back - well. You’re welcome to use the piano when I’m not around, or-”
But David’s shaking his head. “No, that’s not - that wasn’t what I was trying to do. My grandma, my dad’s mom, I mean, was like that - she’d played piano growing up and my dad used the money from his first big year at Rose Video to buy her this gorgeous white baby grand, but she felt like she couldn’t play beautifully enough, so she only did it when no one was around. And I always found that sad. Like - music is obviously personal, but it feels like it’s something we should be able to share with the people we love?”
Patrick kisses him gently, unable to not. “I agree.”
“But, um.” David looks back down at his hands. “I don’t know if I - hmm. I feel like I... had to spend some time adjusting to being a person who wasn’t musical? Like. I had to learn to accept that. So I don’t know how quickly I can try to go back, or unlearn that, or whatever. Like it’s - it hurt the first time around. What if it hurts going the other way?”
Patrick doesn’t have an answer to that.
Patrick’s parents make it to the next open mic, taking a long weekend to celebrate Clint’s birthday and visit their son and son-in-law. Patrick is ever so glad he decided to forgo the dance moves he’d debated attaching to the Justin Bieber cover; it would have been particularly entertaining to watch David endure that, but he’s not sure his parents are ready.
They both hug him afterwards, as people are milling about, making final purchases, keeping David busy at the cash register.
“It’s different than I remember,” his mom comments as she pulls back, gives his shoulders another squeeze.
“I would hope so,” Patrick laughs. “The last time you saw me perform at one of these, me and my friends were a bunch of egotistical, hormone-driven jocks who thought eighteen was the best it would get.”
“Well, that’s true,” Clint nods, and Marcy punches his arm.
“I meant you, and the music,” Marcy says, still shaking her head at her husband. “It fills you differently. Or you fill it differently.”
“It still shocks her that you don’t fit into the handprint t-shirt you made when you were ten, either,” Clint jokes, and this is how David finds them, laughing through the sincerity.
But what his mom said echoes around Patrick’s head that night, and into the next day, and he plays with the shape of it like a tune he’s reworking until it comes out over Lebanese takeout after a day at the store.
“So my mom said something interesting the other night,” he says, super casually.
David looks at him suspiciously around a mouthful of falafel. “Hmm?”
“Yeah, just-” Patrick waves his fork nonchalantly. “About how she hadn’t expected my music to have changed that much. Or, more like, I had changed, and therefore the music had changed, I guess.”
David’s watching him carefully. “And do you feel that way?”
“Yeah, I’d say so.” He preps a forkful and then pauses. “Maybe I hadn’t noticed it either, since music’s kind of always with me, and I’m always with me, obviously, but since she mentioned it - yeah, it makes a lot of sense. That that part of me would be different now, too.”
David nods but keeps eating.
“Do you feel that way?” Patrick asks carefully.
David’s eyes flick up to him and then back to his plate. He swipes a piece of pita through some baba ganoush, topping it with an olive and a piece of pickled cauliflower and a kernel of feta. The construction seems intentional, delaying what he’s about to say. “So, I’m getting the sense this is important to you.”
Patrick blinks, nonplussed. “What is?”
He mistimes it so David is midbite and has to roll his eyes and wave his free hand until he’s able to reply, “This music thing.”
Patrick chuckles. “Yeah, I’d say music is pretty important to me.”
“No, the - music and me.”
“You and music are both important to me, yes.”
“Oh my god!” David cries, “why are you being so difficult about this? You’re clearly, like, hung up on my weird, shitty relationship with music, which shouldn’t surprise you given how I have a weird, shitty relationship with most things in my life. I don’t know why this one thing is possessing you like this.”
Patrick doesn’t know either. It’s been months since the initial flat fiddle string incident that set him down this line of inquiry, and he’s still grappling with why it’s got him so twisted, besides the obvious (his stubbornness, his curiosity about all things David). On a basic level, he really, selfishly wants to be able to share his love of music with David. As they’ve established, David and music are two of the most important things in his life, and to get to share those, to get to unite them? To duet with David, to discuss the woes and highs of learning a new piece, to nerd out over technical details of songs on the radio? He wants it. He doesn’t think they’ll form a folk duo and go touring the countryside, as much as that might be something he sometimes now fantasizes about when he’s trying to fall asleep, but it’s like he’s been offered a way to further entangle parts of himself.
Partly he just wants to understand. He’s realized that to some degree he always thought people were either musically inclined or not - given enough exposure, they would find that passion or they’d determine it wasn’t their thing. But he’s been thinking about the ways he was exposed to music and how music let him find and express himself; how music was tied to love and community and family; how everything David says in little nuggets of stories dropped here and there indicates that that has not generally been true for him. Music is an escape for Patrick. It’s uncomplicated, even when it’s difficult.
David’s also just, clearly, good, and it goes against something deeply ingrained in Patrick to see him resisting pursuing something he’s good at.
He doesn’t know which part of this is most relevant, most helpful, most elucidating. He doesn’t understand his own reaction any more than he understands David’s clearly complicated relationship with music.
So he tells him all of it. David listens, finishing his meal and then thoroughly cleaning the baba ganoush container with a spoon and, when that stops being useful, a fingertip.
“You don’t need to feel like you have to fix me,” he says gently when Patrick thinks he’s exhausted most of it.
“I know,” he nods. “I mean. I think I know. Maybe that’s what all of this is, at the root. I guess, maybe, I thought because we’re married, that this is the kind of thing we would do together? Help each other with this stuff? If it’s - if it’s even something you want or need help with. Maybe I’ve built it up in my head.”
David sighs and sets his dishes aside. “No, I - I don’t think you have. I - hmm. I think I both wanted you to ask me outright ... and was scared that you would?”
“I get that. When I - before I was out, there were times I wished...that people would just ask. The thought terrified me, but then I’d think about actually talking about it, and the relief that I hoped would follow- and I kept hoping that someone would ask.”
“I don’t know if I want to get back into music,” David admits. “I - I mean, I guess I do want to? But I’m scared that whatever felt like it was lacking before still won’t be there. I see the way you are with your little guitar and your singing and I - I spent, like, ten years of lessons chasing that feeling in music and admittedly that’s a lot of pressure to put on one particular hobby, but - what if it doesn’t fill me up the way I want it to? If I could find, in playing music, the feeling I get when listening to music, then great, I’d be set, I’m so there. But I, I don’t - I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life by thinking that one single thing, or person, would fix me. It’s like a recurring thing for me. Music kind of fits in with that same pattern, I think.”
“Not for now doesn’t have to mean never. Lots of people are still figuring things out into their fifties and sixties and seventies-”
“Alright, let’s focus on our forties for now,” David says quickly. “But, um. Yeah. I had a therapist who said something like that, about avoiding absolute thinking. This will never work. It’ll feel like this forever.”
“And maybe it will,” Patrick shrugs, hating a little how helpless he feels to say it. “I do really want music to feel that good for you, in the way it does for me. You seem to - there seems to be something about music, about creating it specifically, that you keep coming back to, and that seems like something worth listening to. Or again, maybe I’m projecting. But...there are also things in life that we seem to have to just... deal with. Let go of. Even if we love them, or want them, or hurt without them.”
“Okay, we’re literally talking about playing a fucking piano,” David laughs, but his eyelashes are wet.
“And the violin, and the clarinet, and singing. Don’t think I’m going to let you off easy on the singing. I am very into the idea of doing a sexy little jazz lounge duet with you.”
David rolls his eyes. “I’ll think about it. I’ll keep thinking about it.”
Patrick leans forward, braces himself with a hand on each of David’s knees so he can kiss him. “My piano is your piano. And I promise to try to keep my ego wounding to a minimum when you next show me how much more talented than me you are.”
“Oh, okay,” David laughs against his lips, cupping his neck with a hand. “This is entrapment. You know how motivated I am by showing you up.”
“I do,” Patrick murmurs. “But I also know you’ll make it beautiful, whatever you choose.”