The sound of soft music reached Clara’s ears before she even made it to the top of the basement stairs.
She couldn’t help but smile at the sound. There was something so comforting about listening to piano music. There always had been. When she was a child, her parents’ home was always full of the sound of her mother’s beautiful playing. And now that she was grown, she had her husband’s music to take its place.
For some people, “home” was the smell of their mother’s chocolate chip cookies, or the feeling of a loved one’s embrace. For Clara, it was the sound of a piano.
Florian stopped playing at the sound of his wife’s approach.
“Hey, babe.” He smiled gently. “What’s up?”
“Just wanted to see what you’re up to.” She replied casually. “Still working on that same song?”
Florian nodded. “It’s coming along… slowly.” He placed his fingers back on the keys and played a few bars for her.
“Aw, I love that!” Clara smiled brightly as he finished. “That hook’s awesome!”
“It’s Lucas’.” Her husband replied. “It was a new guitar riff he’d been messing around with… I thought it’d be nice to try and turn it into something.” He shrugged slightly, his smile fading away as he spoke.
Clara felt her own smile waver. “That’s really nice. I bet Lucas would love it.” She said seriously.
To her surprise, Florian’s expression darkened at her words. He rose to his feet, walking around the keyboard as he spoke. “I wish people would stop saying shit like that. We can’t know what he’d think or want, okay? Because he’s gone.”
“I’m sorry.” Clara’s voice was soft. She knew better than to take her husband’s anger personally. He was hurting worse than he ever had, just like she was. “You know I didn’t mean it like that.”
Florian shook his head. “It’s okay. I’m sorry. I just…” He paused for a moment. “It’s the same damn line David and Mia keep using.” He said at last.
Clara nodded in understanding. “Ugh. I almost forgot. Those greedy pieces of shit…” She muttered, scowling.
Florian’s former bandmates had been relentless ever since the fire. Though they’d been kicked out of the band years ago, they were eager to capitalize on Lucas’ death, begging Florian to agree to a re-release of their old material. “Trust me, fans eat this type of shit up.” David’s email had said. “It’s just business… I’m sure Lucas would understand.”
The memory was enough to have Clara seeing red. She quickly chased the thought away, calming herself as best she could.
“Anyway,” Florian continued, changing the subject, “I’m glad you like the song so far. It’s nice to be writing again.”
His wife nodded, her smile returning. This is my chance… She took a deep breath, fighting to keep her tone as casual as she could manage. “So… have you, uh, thought about writing other things?”
He raised an eyebrow at her. “Like what?”
Clara shrugged. “Something slow… Like… a lullaby, or something?” She suggested.
Florian laughed heartily. “Honey, the twins are a little old for lullabies, don’t you think?”
“I know.” She agreed. “But… I wasn’t thinking about the twins.” Clara eyed him intently for a few moments, waiting.
It took only seconds for him to understand. “Oh my God. Oh my God! You’re… We’re…?!”
Clara grinned. “We are!”
“Finally!” Florian smiled, his eyes flicking down toward her abdomen. “God, this is amazing! I can’t believe it…”
“I know!” Clara agreed. “It’s crazy, right?!”
It had been nearly a year since Clara and Florian had decided to try for another baby. And they’d been struggling ever since. Who would have imagined it would be so easy the first time, and so hard the second, when they actually wanted it?
“How far along do you think you are?” Florian’s question called her back to the present.
“Maybe two months?” Clara guessed. “I’m gonna schedule an appointment soon so we can be sure… At first I thought it was just stress or something. But I had a feeling… So I decided to do a test.”
“So you’re sure then?”
His wife’s smile widened. “Definitely.” She assured him.
He leaned forward and kissed her again in reply. Clara smiled against his lips. She loved seeing him so excited, so happy. It was a welcome change.
“Well… We should probably wait before we tell anyone though, right?” Florian asked as he pulled away from her. “Including the kids…”
Clara nodded in agreement. After struggling to conceive, it seemed best to wait a bit longer before sharing the big news. She felt the smile slowly vanish from her lips as the thought crossed her mind. The idea of sharing the pregnancy with the rest of the family had sent a strange wave of sadness washing over her.
“It feels weird, doesn’t it?” Clara asked softly, breaking the silence. “I mean, after Mama and Papa, the first people I thought of telling were…”
“Me too.” Florian sighed, his own smile disappearing. He fell silent for a few moments before speaking again. “God, it’s just not fair.”
Before she realized what was happening, Clara felt the hot sting of tears prickling at the corner of her eyes.
They hadn’t told many people, but Lucas and Hazel had begun trying for another child too, just a few months after Clara and Florian had made the same decision. It had turned into something of an inside joke between the two couples – a game, almost. Who would get pregnant first?
Clara never imagined she’d win like this.
One stupid mistake – one cigarette not fully snuffed out – had stolen two of their dearest friends away from them. There was no way of knowing whether the cigarette had belonged to Lucas or Hazel. But either way, it didn’t matter. No matter whose fault it was, they were gone.
Their little boy was all alone now. He’d never have a little brother or sister. His parents would never have the second child they’d dreamt of. And they’d never meet this baby either. This baby would never know their Onkel Lucas and Tante Hazel. They’d be nothing more than stories and old photographs. The thought made Clara cry even harder.
“How are we gonna tell anyone about this, Florian?” Clara asked at last, choking back a sob. “How can we expect them to be happy for us when they’re going through this? When everything still hurts? When Lucas and Hazel are…” Even nearly four months later, it was too painful for Clara to say the words out loud.
Florian reached forward, pulling her into his arms and pressing his lips against her hair.
He left the question unanswered.