Beth fought to keep the tears at bay as she examined her trembling fingers.
With a calming breath, she slammed her hands against the piano, forcing them back under control.
Her eyes were dry. The dead ends of her hair disheveled. Her body pleaded for sleep, but she would not acquiesce.
Beth looked around the room, not re-focusing on the piano until she was certain everything was in place. Her floor was vacuumed. Her closet organized. Her bed made and unused. Nothing out of place. Nothing to distract from her work. No excuses.
Satisfied, she rested her fingers on the keys, ignoring their pain. Then she played a melody, both soft and beautiful.
As the song took form, a moment was created. A moment without past or future. Without regret or anxiety. A moment where beauty existed, untouched, and untainted by the World.
There was no room for loneliness here. Only beauty. No room for doubt, or shame, or pity. There was no need for any of it. In this moment, there was only pride.
Beth allowed herself a trembling smile. In this moment, and in this moment alone, she felt beautiful, because she had created something beautiful.
She imagined performing the melody for a crowd. Thousands of people watching her play, enraptured by her melody.
If only she could show them. If only she could offer proof of her worth.
She imagined playing for her future children. Surrounding them with a sense of comfort and security that she had never known. A moment of beauty offered as a gift for her beloved.
Then a finger slipped. An errant note, and the moment had passed.
There was no crowd. There were no children. And loneliness crept its way back into her heart.
She let out a scream and slammed her hands down on the piano. A cacophony played in unison with her soul.
A life in discord.
“Shut. Up!” Someone yelled through the wall. “You’re keeping everyone awake!”
Beth bit back her retort, anger warring with guilt.
She held her fingers back over the piano, whispering an apology to her parents. No. One parent. Just one.
Suddenly, a knock came at the door, nearly startling her out of her bench.
“What?” She asked, struggling to regain her composure.
Her brother poked his head through the doorway. “Sounded pretty decent,” he said, studying her face.
She arched her eyebrow, her lips pursed together in an effort for self-control.
When she didn’t say anything, he stepped in, closing the door behind him. “You been practicing over in Cali?”
Beth shook her head, her eyes flicking between her brother and the piano.
“No? You don’t keep your roommates up at two in the morning?” He asked with a playful smirk.
“Shut up, Chris,” she said, a smile cracking through her scowl.
“There she is,” Chris said in mock celebration. “My little sister has returned from the d…”
Beth cut him off with a look, tears immediately forming on the cusp of her cheeks.
“Sorry,” he said sheepishly, “wasn’t thinking.”
A heavy silence followed, both of them lost in their own thoughts.
After a moment, Chris slipped a cigarette from his pocket, followed by a lighter.
“We’re not supposed to smoke in the house,” Beth said, her voice wavering.
“That was mom’s rule,” he said, inhaling the smoke as he sat on her bed.
“We’re in her house, aren’t we?” She asked, raising her voice. “Then we follow her rule.”
“It’s still her house!” Beth yelled, shaking as she stood, her hands balled into fists.
For a moment, Chris just stared at her, both of them unblinking. Eventually, he looked away, biting his lip as he put the cigarette out against his jeans.
That was the first time she’d realized Chris was fully clothed.
“You’re pretty well-dressed for two in the morning,” Beth said, straining her voice back toward civility as she sat back down.
It was Chris’ turn to fall silent. His hands trembled as he pushed himself further onto her bed, laying his head against her pillows.
“Wasn’t tired,” he said eventually, eyeing her stuffed animals.
“Liar,” Beth teased, doing her best to ignore the lingering smoke.
“I wasn’t,” Chris said defensively. “I couldn’t sleep.”
“No, I mean you lied about me keeping you awake.” She said accusingly.
Chris shook his head. “You were keeping dad awake.”
Beth frowned, turning back to her piano. “I doubt he’s sleeping either.”
Chris sat up in her bed, running his hands across the ragged fur of her teddy bear. “He typically falls asleep around now,” he said eventually. “Takes him awhile of just lying in bed, but he manages it most nights.”
Beth chewed on her lip, hearing the unspoken accusation. She would know more about dad if she had been around. She would have been there to say goodbye to mom. He doesn’t say it. But she’s all too aware.
“Anything else I should know?” She asked, tongue in cheek. But she meant it. More than anything.
Chris didn’t say anything, not wanting to hurt her feelings. As if that mattered anymore.
“Has he been… okay?” Beth asked, daring to meet her brother’s eyes.
“I guess,” Chris said, shrugging, tossing the teddy bear back on her bed. “He’s not really himself, but he’s… functional.”
Beth nodded, understanding how it felt to be merely functional. To be on the outside looking in on yourself. “He didn’t say a lot yesterday when I got in. He just kinda gave me a hug and then zoned out in the living room.”
Chris rolled to his feet, running his eyes across her walls. “Does your room look like this in LA?”
Beth chuckled, shaking her head. “It’s smaller there, and there’s hardly anything on the walls.”
Chris slapped the poster on her door, smirking back at her. “No ponies in LA?”
“Nah,” Beth said with a dry grin. “Not much room for them. Especially with a roommate.”
“Ooh,” Chris said, his eyes alight with interest. “Roommate? How old is she?”
“None of your business,” Beth said, her voice thick with disapproval.
“You don’t know, do you?” Chris asked with a wink. “Or you do know and you think she’d be into me…”
Beth rolled her eyes, turning back to the piano.
“Do you have late night conversations with her like this?” Chris asked teasingly. “Is she the sister you never had?”
Beth looked back, hurt by the levity in his voice. “No.”
Chris went quiet. “You did want a sister,” he said eventually.
“Because you were a dingus,” Beth agreed.
“Still am,” Chris said proudly. “There’s actually a dingus club that opened up a few years ago off 7th street. I’m kind of a big deal over there.”
Beth found herself smiling wider than she had in some time. Until Chris opened his mouth again.
“So, I don’t know if dad told you… it sounds like he didn’t…”
Beth furrowed her eyebrows, clearly uncertain of what Chris was referring to.
“I’m giving the eulogy,” he said, stumbling over his words. “And I was wondering if you wanted to add anything, or…”
Beth suddenly felt hollow. She had figured she wouldn’t be the one giving the eulogy, but only because she assumed their dad would give it. But for her brother to be chosen over her…
“Why?” Was the only word she could muster.
It was Chris’ turn to look confused. “I mean, I thought you might want me to say a few words on your behalf or something.”
“No,” Beth cut in. “Why you? Why would dad choose you?”
Chris’ face grew red as he fought back his retort. Instead, he pulled out another cigarette, angrily lighting it.
“I was close with mom,” Beth continued, raising her voice. “I understood her!”
“You left, Beth!” Chris shouted back, suddenly standing over her. “You haven’t known her in years!”
“We still talked!”
“Once a month!” Chris said, the cigarette in his hand shaking. “If that. You weren’t with her. You didn’t hold her hand through the seizures. You didn’t watch her mind go. Help her up and down the stairs. You didn’t know her at all.”
Beth rose to her feet, though she didn’t remember deciding to stand. The truth of his accusations resonated through her. He was right. She knew he was right, but to hear them outlaid was too much.
And almost as bad as knowing she let her mom down, was the fact that her brother resented her for it. She was flawed. And those flaws were now exposed for everyone to see.
Still, something in her fought. Attempting to scrounge together what pride she could manage. Wearing it like rusted armor to protect her from the truth. “I still knew her…”
“Not in the end,” Chris replied, his voice soft. Tired. “Not like us.”
“I…” Beth tried to say, but the breath caught in her chest. Her hands shook, not from anger, but fear. “No,” she tried to say, but her chest seized up.
“Beth?” Chris said, concerned. “Are you okay?”
Sweat began to bleed from her pours as the room swam around her. “Help,” she whispered as she struggled to breath.
“Beth!” Chris yelled, catching her before she hit the ground. “It’s okay. It’s gonna be okay.”
“Don’t let me die.” She panted as he gently laid her on the carpet.
“I won’t,” he promised, wiping the sweat from her face. “I’m going to bring you to the hospital.”
“Don’t. No hospital.”
“I bringing you,” he insisted, picking her up.
“No.” But she didn’t have the wherewithal to argue.
She felt like she was dying, all of her fears overwhelming her at once. But even amidst that feeling, she didn’t want to be a burden. Not on her brother or her dad. Not when they’d already lost mom, but it was too late.
She was the burden of the family. Not her brother. She was selfish and weak. The failure. Not beautiful. And still, she fought.
“Don’t bring me,” she said, barely registering the stairs as Chris carried her down them.
“I’m going to take care of you,” Chris cooed, holding her eyes with his. “It’s going to be okay.”
And in that moment, she believed him.
This is the beginning of a series of short stories based on the nine enneagrams. If you’re not familiar with the enneagram, there are nine of them, and there will be nine short stories to represent each one. These stories will also be tied to each other.
I’m not any kind of expert on the enneagram, but I do think it can be a nice tool for the creation of characters. And it’s my goal during these stories to show what it is like to create characters based off of constructs such as the enneagram.
So, #1 is the Reformer. Their basic desire is to be good. To be Perfect. They’re afraid of being defective. They run from their brokenness. So my goal was to portray that as succinctly as possible and then help the character to find love even amidst their brokenness. The lesson being that they don’t have to be perfect to be worthy of love.
The tricky part to any of this isn’t setting any of this up, the tricky part is helping them to change.
For someone to change, their worldview has to be challenged and broken. Not from argument, but from action and consequence. So my challenge to you is to go back to the story, and look at how I am challenging Beth’s worldview.
I hope you enjoyed it!