Trevor sat still and silent at one end of the dimmed high school auditorium’s front row. Back straight and hands folded on his lap, he admired the fine, blonde locks that fell shy of Competitor 18’s puff-sleeve dress shoulders. He respected the accuracy with which the two-time runner-up performed the same Handel minuet all would that evening, but knew she posed no threat to his impending three-peat.

This was the third year they and 18 other now eleven-year-old Royal Conservatory of Music piano students vied for Middlesex County’s Kiwanis Club Festival gold medallion, but the first during which his palms sweated. His confidence in his own talent led him to blame his butterflies on having to wait until after the contest for supper, as per his mother’s victory party timetable.

As he watched her on stage, he wondered why Competitor 18 appeared cuter than only a year ago. Her recital dress was new, but no more pretty than the one she had worn then, with the same white tights and patent leather Mary Janes. Nothing – not the wrinkle in her freckled, button nose as she finessed a tricky trill, the way she shut her eyes during long rests, or her half-puckered lips when she turned the page – struck him as different. He knew something had changed, though.

He had the hots for two girls in his grade five class at school but, for reasons unknown, neither inspired the attraction he now felt for 18. Not even Candi DiPaola – who he had liked weeks before he snuck into their empty classroom at recess and found dozens of doodled hearts, each with their initials and T.L.F. written in it – made him feel the way she did right now. So captivated, he joined the other competitors, and the family- and teacher-populated audience behind them, in polite applause as she left the stage.

The self-satisfied smile she wore while she stepped down the stairs hinted she thought well of her chances. Too bad for her, Trevor mused. Tonight, hundreds of hours of after school practice on his secondhand upright at home would again be cashed in for gold-plated glory.

He shut his eyes and allowed his mind to drift as the adjudicator called Competitor 19, a heavyset, ginger boy to his immediate right, to the stage. It had started three years before, the afternoon he and his older sister Charlie had arrived home from school and – as they did every weekday – dropped their backpacks in the entry closet to grab their street hockey sticks and gloves.

“Hi guys!” their mother half-shouted from the living room.

“Hi mom!” Charlie hollered from behind the foyer wall. “We’re going out front to play!”

“Wait! I have something to tell Trevor!”

“Ha ha,” said Charlie, as she ran out.

“Get in here, Trevor. I have a surprise for you.”

“They’re picking teams, mom!”

“Put your stick down, and come inside.”

He sighed, leaned his Sher-Wood against the wall, and – hopeful she might appreciate his eagerness to play – ambled to the living room gloved.

She grinned when he entered, and then waved her arms – like one of Barker’s Beauties – at a weathered, upright piano near the front window. “Happy birthday, honey!”

“A piano?”

“It’s your present, from me, your dad and sister. It took some scrimping, but we love you so much that we wanted to give you something special, something you’ll be able to enjoy for the rest of your life.”

Trevor glanced out the front window as Charlie backhanded a balding tennis ball top shelf on the goalie’s stick side. “Thanks, mom.” He sneered at his showboating sister’s over-the-top fist pumps. “Can I go now?”

Her smile disappeared. “Don’t you want to hear about the rest of your present?”

“There’s more?” he replied.

“Well, don’t sound too excited. And look at me while I’m talking to you.”


“I’ve signed you up for lessons, and – surprise, surprise – you start in an hour!” She turned for the kitchen. “That gives you enough time for a snack before we leave for your teacher’s apartment.”

“What if I don’t want to play the piano?”

She turned to face him from the doorway. “After we spent so much on this? No sir-ee, little man. Now, put those gloves in the closet and wash up, while I fix you some milk and cookies.”

He looked outside when she turned away. “Mom?”

“Stop your whining and hurry up, Trevor!”

Startled by 19’s elbow jab to his bicep, he turned to faced him. “Go,” said the ginger boy, with hushed urgency. “It’s your turn.”

“Is Competitor 20 present?” Trevor looked over his shoulder to spot the silhouetted adjudicator, seated at his table behind the small audience.

His opponents snickered as he stood. 18 went one further when she stuck out her legs, ankles crossed, in what he took for a blatant attempt to trip him up. He stopped in time to avoid contact, but she held her shiny shoes up off the floor.


Trevor scaled the stage stairs on shaky legs. He glanced at the crowd on his way to the bench and noticed Charlie hide a yawn. How could he blame her? All present had sat through 19 playings of the same two-minute piece, which most had heard practiced too many times to count at home over the last three months.

Seated on the bench, he set his fingers over the opening keys, rested his Hush Puppies’ rubber sole over the sustain pedal, and shut his eyes.

His mind strayed to his teacher, Miss Kobrina, a Persian concert pianist who had impressed European audiences as a prodigy on tour a decade before they met. He imagined her behind him, where she stood during his lessons, leaning over him so the ends of her straight, black hair tickled his neck, and her bust hung level with the corner of his eye. Mistakes committed in response to either distraction earned his hands her rubber-tipped pointer’s sting. “Start again,” she demanded after each snakebite-like strike. And so he did, and then again, and again, week after week, until she believed him ready for the final test. “Now, you do blindfold.”

Applause snapped him back to the here and now. He returned to his seat to wait with the others, while the adjudicator tallied and ranked scores. To his right, 19 through 15 were goofing around, as children forced to sit too long will do. A peek back for his mother found Miss Kobrina’s dark eyes. She raised a hand and turned him around with a circled finger.

Trevor wondered how his mother had failed to see that he played not because he enjoyed it, but out of fear he might disappoint her. She had to know, he thought, and then wondered why she take the fun out of his life to the point of ignoring the small bruises that appeared on the backs of his hands after lessons.

His father appeared sympathetic. He sought compromise by bringing home sheet music for his favourite TV show theme songs – S.W.A.T., Hawaii Five-0, The Six Million Dollar Man but it only meant more time at the keyboard. He wondered why people called it  ‘playing the piano’ when it was anything but.

The adjudicator clopped up the stage stairs in wood clogs. He drew his eyeglasses and a set of note cards from his crested blazer’s inside pocket, and then cleared his throat. “First, my thanks go out to this year’s participants, and not only for their inspired performances. I am equally grateful for how well they’ve trained their parents and instructors. Not a single cough or sneeze!” He cracked himself up, but the weak audience response saw him get on with it.

“Before we proceed, I’d like to share something you might not know about Handel’s Minuet in A# Minor. It is, in fact, a wonderful example of the style galant, which – after the complexity of the late Baroque period – was associated with French music characterized by a return to classical simplicity.”

Charlie’s loud, long yawn drew the laughs he had sought, a moment before.

The adjudicator frowned and flipped his cards. “We heard several excellent performances this evening, but two stood out for me.” Trevor glanced at 18, who sat up in her seat. “Both were technically perfect. To be sure, they were so precise that I found myself in the awkward position of being unable to decide which competitor most deserves this year’s third grade medallion. As such, I have consulted the Festival Rulebook, and found an official remedy. According to rule 15, section III, paragraph (a), I am bound to ask all present to remain seated as Competitors 18 and 20 play the piece for us once more, a playoff round, if you will.” A quiet, collective sigh arose from the audience. “Now, people. I know you don’t want to miss Charlies Angels or whatever else you watch at home on a Wednesday night, but rules are rules. There is no other way.” The adjudicator clunked off stage and returned to his table. “Competitor 18, please.”

Trevor shut his eyes when her fingers hit the keys. He listened with vigilance for an error, but her second effort was as clean as the first. He was proud of her, knowing she had overcome the same pressure he felt, but her “beat that” look as she found her seat restored his will to win.

“Thank you, Competitor 18,” said the adjudicator, amid another kind round of applause.  “And 20?”

On his way to the stage, Trevor debated whether he should throw his chance at a hat trick. It would gut his mother and teacher, but might relieve some of the stress they heaped on him.

Back on the bench, he reset his fingers and shut his eyes to begin. Soon, he was Evel Knievel, soaring high on his Harley over umpteen side-by-side Greyhound buses. He was Jonathan E, surmounting all odds to score for Houston on the ultra-violent Rollerball track. He was Reggie Leach, speeding down the right wing to fire a blistering slap shot off the crossbar and in, for the sudden death overtime win.

He held the final note a half-second after the strings had stilled, and knew he had nailed it again. The patient audience applauded once more as he stood off the bench. On his way to his seat, he noticed 18 had shut her eyes, as though she was praying.

The adjudicator returned to the stage and cleared his throat. “Before I declare this year’s winner,” he said, “I should mention this was the first time I have invoked the playoff rule, at any level of competition, so you are all witnesses to something special tonight. As I’d expected, each pianist repeated the minuet error-free. The rule, however, allows for only one playoff round per competition. Thus, I must decide between two very fine performances. It reminds me of a time when I, too, was an up and coming prodigy. It was 1958, and –”

Competitor 19 cut off his reminiscence with a long, loud, didgeridoo-like fart that scattered his opponents left and right, as groans rose from the crowd.

“He stole your thunder!” heckled a father.

“Ha ha ha ha ha!”

“Please!” The adjudicator stomped a clog. “Competitors, take your seats, at once! This is serious business! And would audience members please control yourselves? Your children’s futures hang in the balance!”

“Ha ha ha ha ha!”

He waited for silence. “Given what we’ve heard from our playoff performers, I relied on my extensive knowledge not only of Handel’s works, but of his biography to determine how he might have played the piece himself. With that in mind, and with all other things equal, I based my determination on which pianist’s interpretation had come nearest to the composer’s intention with regard to touch. And so, it is my esteemed honour to present – on behalf of the Middlesex County Kiwanis Club – 1975’s gold award for level three Royal Conservatory of Music piano to Competitor 20, London’s very own Trevor Swain.” The crowd offered an extended round of applause. “Trevor, please join me on stage to receive your prize.”

“Way to go, Trev!” Charlie shouted above the crowd.

Trevor rose from his seat, but held his place when he noticed 18’s gaze hit the floor. He took a step as a tear fell off her cheek and onto her pretty dress. Another step brought him near enough to lean in and whisper. A small smile replaced her pout, when she took the hand he offered. She wiped her eyes with the back of her free hand on their way to the stage.

The adjudicator moved to intercept them before their feet left the stairs. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but there can be only one winner. Competitor 18, please return to your seat.”

Trevor’s spine tingled as she caressed the back of his hand with the soft pad of her thumb. “Could I have the medallion then, please?” he said.

The adjudicator looked out on the crowd. “We’ve invited a photographer from the London Free Press,” he said.

“I’m not going up there unless Competitor –” Trevor turned to face her. “What’s your name?”

Her blue eyes sparkled under the stage lights. “Hope.”

“… unless Hope comes with me,” he said, loud enough for the audience to hear.

The adjudicator glared at her and pointed at the front row. “Take your seat right now, young lady.”

“Let her up! Let her up! Let her up!” chanted the crowd.

Hope moved up one step to stand face to face with Trevor. She set her free hand on his shoulder and kissed him, on the lips.

“Aww!” the crowd swooned as adrenalin surge through Trevor’s body. The tweens gazed into each other’s eyes, while the adjudicator drew the plastic-case that held the medallion from his blazer’s side pocket. Trevor was too busy returning Hope’s kiss to notice.


Mrs. Swain checked her appearance in the rearview mirror, while they waited in their fastback Mustang for a light change in a left turn lane. “I’m so proud of you, honey,” she said, and then patted her son on the knee. “Let’s have a look at that medallion.”

“Why?” he asked as he found his reflection in the passenger window. “It’s just like the others.”

“Because it’s important to me, that’s why.” He reached for the radio’s power switch, but received a smack on the hand before he touched it. His mother held out her open palm, when the light turned green. “Medallion, please.”

“I don’t have it.”

“What?” The driver of the car behind them tapped his horn. “You didn’t leave it at the auditorium, did you?”



“Where is it, then?”

“You should drive, mom,” advised Charlie, from the back seat.

Their mother turned on the blinkers, rolled down her window, and then waved those behind them around the Mustang. “We’re not moving until he tells me where it is,” she said.

“I gave it to Hope.”


“Competitor 18, the girl who kissed me.”


“She played as well as I did.”

“Woo-hoo!” teased his sister. “Trevor’s in lo-ove. Trevor’s in lo-ove.” She stopped when she glimpsed her mother’s unimpressed eyes in the mirror.

“Wrong,” said the latter. “You won, fair and square.”

“How do I find her phone number?” Trevor asked.

“Good question. We’ll need it to get your medallion back.” His mother shut off the hazards.

Charlie flipped through the festival program as they waited out another light change. “It says here she’s from Granton.”

“Is that close?” asked Trevor.

His mom faced him with a frown. “She’s a farm girl.”

“She’s a great kisser.”


“Your brother’s eleven, Charlie. That’s too young to have a girlfriend.”

“Anyway,” he said, “I’m done with piano.”

“You need a break, that’s all,” said his mother. “Summer vacation starts in a couple of weeks and, after your last lesson and exam, you won’t have to play again until September.”

“I want an electric guitar.”

“Cool!” said Charlie. She and her brother sang along when he turned on the radio.

I wanna rock ‘n’ roll all night, and party every day!