My father never asked me where I had been. I made up some cock-and-bull story about visiting my sick maternal aunt in Ohio to tell Jipper Henderson. Birdy Braft was kind enough to let me keep working at Johnny C's Diner.
So I picked up where I left off as if nothing had changed when, in reality, everything had changed. More than anything, I missed Hope. I had a choice – forget I was ever Pup and just go on with my life the way it was – or take a chance and try one more time with Hope as Paul Lipton. I realized it was my only hope.
I waited for a Wednesday when I knew Mrs. McClary would be at the club playing tennis before I mustered the courage and determination to walk up the hill to Hope's house. I kept thinking about what Hope's Piano Mentor Harold had said to her – about having the courage and confidence to do what needed to be done and that's why I finally decided to confront my insecurities and face Hope once and for all.
I could hear her playing the piano as I stepped onto the front stoop. I sucked in my breath and rang the front bell. A few moments later, the door open and there stood Hope – dressed in cutoff shorts and a tee shirt, her hair pulled back in a ponytail. She was clearly surprised to see me and I could sense that she wasn't very happy in general. I gave her a long Pup-like stare as I stood bravely facing her.
"I heard you were missing," Hope finally said.
"I was in a car," I said. "And I decided to keep on driving. Somewhere over the rainbow." It was what she had told Pup the day she took him to Fontaine's for his dog food.
Hope looked at me like I was nuts. "What are you doing here?"
"I wanted to hear you play the piano," I said.
"How do you know about that?" She wanted to know. "I keep that part of my life a secret."
"I heard you're better than Martha Argenrich," I said.
She squinted at me. "No, I'm not," she whispered.
"Well, you will be someday," I predicted. "Because I know you are worthy and good enough." Again, parroting Harold's words.
"How do you even know who Martha Argenrich is?" She asked with disbelief.
"Can I listen to you play?" I asked hopefully.
She stared at me for a very long time. She told Pup that Cameron found the piano boring and pointless and never wanted to waste his time sitting around listening to her practice. "You want to listen to me play the piano?"
I stared at her as my response and she kept looking at me as if she was trying to figure something out. Finally, she stepped back and let me into the house. I followed her into the living room and I took a seat in one of the easy chairs while she sat on the piano bench. She looked down at the floor where Pup used to lay.
"Something missing?" I asked.
"Yes," she said sadly. Then she glanced at me. "You really want to listen to me play the piano?" She asked again.
"I'd lay at your feet and listen to it all day if I could," I replied.
She played 'My Dog Has Fleas' and then looked at me and smiled. "Inside joke," she said.
I smiled in reply.