Yoso was thrilled when I asked if he would be interested in giving a brief recital on the occasion of the dedication of the house. I even went to the trouble of introducing him to April and the girls so that they would not be taken by surprise when he turned up on the day.
He took the opportunity to acquaint himself with the piano. I’d had it tuned by the firm that looked after the palace instruments, and Yoso was almost in another world as he played a few pieces. I think April and the other girls were in another world. By the looks on their faces I guessed they had never heard classical music played by someone as good as Yoso.
Satisfied that the piano was in tune, Yoso got up to leave. On an impulse, he opened up the piano stool and found a whole lot of manuscripts, some of them annotated in messy handwriting.
“Oh,” he said, “this is interesting.” He placed one of the sheets on the stand, read through it, nodding his head occasionally, and then began to play. The piece of music sounded familiar but I couldn’t place it. When Yoso finished his eyes were shining.
“That’s amazing!” he exclaimed.
“What was that?” I asked. It sounded familiar somehow.”
“It’s an old song called The Entertainer, but I’ve never seen it arranged like that before. I wonder who did that?”
“It might have been the O’Keefes’ mother,” I said. She was a concert pianist. But, then, Miss O’Keefe said she and her brother both learned to play on this piano, so it could have been one of them, too. Or their father. He was a conductor.”
“Well, whoever it was, they were pretty special. Most people wouldn’t have been that adventurous with a piece of music like that. Do you think they would mind if I played it at the dedication?”
I shrugged. “I’m sure they would be happy to hear it. Are there any others you think would be good?”
Yoso had a quick look through the manuscripts. He found an arrangement of a Strauss waltz that sounded beautiful. “That’s another one that I wouldn’t have dared muck around with,” he said, “but it works!” He decided to play that one, too.
* * *
I went with my escort to pick up the O’Keefes, who were thrilled to get a ride in an IG cruiser. We landed in the grounds, and the guard guys helped the elderly siblings into the house. I had been concerned that the girls and the O’Keefes might not hit it off, but I need not have worried. The brother and sister were soon regaling the young girls with tales of their life in the house. Whether the tales were tall or true I have no idea, but the girls hung on their every word. There was much merriment.
Everyone else had already arrived. Errol and the four top executives were there, representing Döhm Corporation. A couple of the media unit people were also present. They would film the afternoon’s proceedings so that HI had a record of the occasion. I intended to give the O’Keefes a copy of the finished video. Kashuba and Masoko were present on behalf of HI. Yoso was there, naturally, and all of the Wolfgirls. Darm was there, too, simply because he was a great friend of HI. There was a hubbub of conversation as everybody mixed and chatted.
When we were trying to decide who would perform the dedication ceremony we had hit a blank wall until someone suggested that the Wolfgirls themselves might like to do it. They were a little daunted by the prospect, but also thrilled to think that we thought enough of them to ask. In the end it was decided that the two youngest girls—Emily, who was twelve, and Josie, who was thirteen—would take on the main roles.
I called everyone to order. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today—” I didn’t get any further as I was drowned out by laughter.
I started again, grinning. “Seriously, we are here today to dedicate this house to service with Help Incorporated. I hope you have all met each other already, but if you haven’t there will be plenty of time for that. First, there will be a brief ceremony, then refreshments will be served. Now, if you will follow me…”
There were exclamations of surprise when I led everyone into the music room. As Miss O’Keefe had told me, it had been added on to the side of the house. It was about six metres on each axis, but it wasn’t square. Four multi-paned windows, each three metres high and more than a metre wide, separated by narrow wall panels, were arranged in a semicircle. They enclosed about half of the space, and looked out over the harbour. The ceiling over the windows was a half-dome, and the grand piano was positioned under the centre of it. The windows had internal shutters instead of drapes, and the wooden floor was highly polished. A simple chandelier hung from the centre of the dome.
We made the O’Keefes comfortable on the chaise longue, and everyone else took seats on chairs we had hired for the occasion. I introduced Emily and Josie, who had apparently decided to take the mickey out of a couple of us.
Josie gave a little bow towards Darm. “Your Imperial Highness…” Darm looked startled, and the rest of us cracked up. I don’t think anyone there, other than me, had ever heard him addressed formally.
When the laughter subsided, Emily looked towards me and dipped her head. “Our esteemed leader…” I dipped my head in return, grinning. There was more laughter.
Josie continued, “Miss O’Keefe, Mr O’Keefe, ladies and gentlemen…”
Emily took up the mantle. “We have done a little research. Mr Patrick Sullivan was a builder. He could not find a suitable home for his new bride, so he built her one. This house. It has stood here for 126 years! Patrick and Aileen had a daughter, Bridget, who became a celebrated concert pianist. She married Thomas O’Keefe, the famous conductor, and as a wedding gift, Thomas gave Bridget the piano you see in this room.”
Josie continued. “Thomas and Bridget had two children, Mary, who is now 95 years old, and Thomas junior, who is 93. These two grew up in this house. They learned to play the piano, taught by their famous parents.” She smiled. “I believe their nanny stood over them and made them practice when their parents were away on tour.”
Mr O’Keefe said, “Did she ever, that old biddy!”
His sister laughed. “Well, you were always wanting to slack off, so she had to do something.”
“Like you can talk,” he responded. “I remember she had to drag you out of hiding quite a few times!”
We all laughed. The siblings had twinkles in their eyes, so I wasn’t sure that their tales were the absolute truth.
Emily took up the story. “The piano hasn’t been played for a long time now. Mary and Thomas both suffer from arthritis, and they had to give up playing many years ago. Echo thought it would be nice for them to hear their mother’s music again, so he asked someone special to come and play today. Please welcome Yoso!”
We all entered into the spirit of the occasion as Yoso, blushing, stepped up to the piano. He had gone all out, and was wearing a morning coat, the tails of which he ostentatiously flicked behind him as he took his seat. I looked over at the O’Keefes. They were both smiling broadly, and each was wearing a look of eager anticipation.
Yoso began with his upside down rendition of Chopsticks, which got us all laughing, then played Für Elise beautifully. He went through a series of classical pieces, then a few of his own, finishing with the piece Darm and I had loved the first time he played for us. Most of those present had not heard it before, and were rapt. There was silence for a few seconds after that last high note faded, then bedlam as everyone applauded.
When the noise died down, Yoso stood and turned towards the O’Keefe siblings. “Miss O’Keefe, and Mr O’Keefe, Echo brought me here to meet the girls one day recently. While I was here I decided to check out the piano, and I found some old manuscripts in here.” He pointed to the piano stool. “Two of those were amazing arrangements of pieces of music, the likes of which I had never seen before. I would now like to play those for you.”
He turned back to the piano, sat, and began.
I watched the O’Keefes, wondering how they would react. Miss O’Keefe gasped, apparently recognising the first few notes. She looked at her brother, who was nodding and smiling. By the time Yoso finished that first piece they were both beaming. At the end of the second one Miss O’Keefe was dabbing at her eyes, but her face carried a broad smile.
Yoso turned to the siblings. “How did it sound?” he asked.
“Oh, Yoso,” Miss O’Keefe said, “I haven’t heard those pieces played properly since I last heard our mother play them. She didn’t write them, of course, but she arranged them, and no one else was ever able to play them the way she did.”
“Until now!” her brother added.
“Until now,” she agreed. “Yoso, thank you. Thank you.”
Yoso was smiling from ear to ear. “You’re welcome,” he said. “I enjoyed playing those. As I said, I’ve never before seen arrangements like those. They’re actually quite difficult to play.”
“Oh, don’t we know that!” Mr O’Keefe said, chuckling. “We both tried and tried, but we could never quite get either of those pieces right. It was so nice to hear them played well again!”
I stood to call the gathering to order. “I think it is time for the dedication—the reason we’re all here today. Josie and Emily… back to you.”
The two girls went over to the O’Keefes and helped them to their feet, then walked them over to the narrow section of wall between the second and third windows.
“Miss O’Keefe and Mr O’Keefe,” Josie said, “we would like to invite you to unveil this plaque and formally name this place.”
With the siblings standing either side of the wall, each reached up and pulled a cord that drew back a cloth, revealing the plaque. It read:
in celebration of three generations
of our family who called this place home
we name it
Sullivan O’Keefe House
dedicated on 15 august 2167
Mary and Thomas O’Keefe
grandchildren of the first owner,
“We name this residence Sullivan O’Keefe House,” Miss O’Keefe declared, in a strong voice.
“And we dedicate it to the work of Help Incorporated,” added her brother. “May it be a safe and happy haven for the Wolfgirls and all who follow them!”
There was much applause as the O’Keefes, supported by Josie and Emily, made their way back to the chaise.
‘Sullivan O’Keefe House’. It had a nice ring to it. We ended up with that name because the siblings were keen to have their grandfather’s name remembered. They suggested the name ‘Patrick Sullivan House’. I was equally keen to ensure that the O’Keefe name was included, since they had been so generous. In the end we met in the middle and used the two surnames.
Over refreshments, and at Miss O’Keefe’s request, Yoso played more of the piano stool music. A few more of the pieces were complicated arrangements and she and her brother were astounded that Yoso managed to play them well without ever having seen them before. They had a long conversation with Yoso after he finished playing.
Before they left, the O’Keefes told me they would allow me to establish a music scholarship. They wanted me to name it the Sullivan O’Keefe-Help Incorporated music award. Their sense of humour shone through when, with twinkles in their eyes, they told me it should be known by its acronym. I didn’t get it until they told me to write it down, and pronounce it as two syllables… SO-HI.
“We want the recipients to aim high,” Thomas said.
I roared laughing. “Done!” I said, shaking their hands.
It stood to reason that because Errol had chosen Yoso to represent me, we were almost exactly the same age. My birthday was a few weeks after Yoso’s but I thought I had managed to keep it secret. I guess that was part of my ‘lie low and stay in the background’ thinking. We’d always at least acknowledged birthdays at the orphanage, but mine always made me think of my parents and wonder why they had abandoned me. Somehow, it was simply an annual reminder that life had passed me by.
Now that I had DöhmCorp and HI, though, I had something to live for. I now had people who depended on me and looked up to me. Celebrating my birthday just didn’t occur to me, although coming up to the first one post-orphanage I felt different. “Perhaps,” I mused, “I should turn it into an annual review of what I’ve achieved, rather than a reminder of what might have been.”
I didn’t get a chance to do that, however, because my birthday was taken out of my hands.
Several months earlier, the Breaker guys had put on an impromptu party for Darm’s fifteenth birthday. He was delighted, because he usually had a low-key dinner with his parents to mark the day, and he lapped up the attention and joined in the fun.
During that evening, someone had asked me when my birthday was. I’d made some throwaway comment about it and we’d gone on to talk about something else. Unknown to me, Haza had overheard the exchange, and decided that my response was not good enough. He asked questions, found out my date of birth, and talked Kashuba into allowing him to organise a party.
Knowing that I’d probably try to veto it if I knew he was doing anything, Haz resorted to misrepresentation, and came to me with a proposition.
With my full approval, and cooperation and help from Kashuba, Errol, and a lot of other people, he planned EDO—Echo’s Day Out. Although I wasn’t entirely happy with my name being used, Haz convinced me that, as owner of DöhmCorp and head of HI, it was the logical title. Kashuba was rather amused because Edo was a period in Japanese history, and it was also the previous name for the city of Tokyo.
EDO was to be a grand day out for everyone involved in HI’s outreaches. Little did I know that ‘Echo’s Day Out’ had a more personal meaning, and that I was the only person who was in the dark. My birthday party was organised right in front of my eyes, and I didn’t suspect a thing. To throw me off the scent even further they scheduled EDO for two days before my actual birthday.
HI hired a popular amusement park for the whole day. All the rides and attractions were free for the invited guests, who included the Breaker kids, the Ferals boys, The Wolfgirls, the other scallies packs we were helping, the students at our school, FTS members and their families, members of the sports centre, families who used the services we provided at Breaker Two, members of disadvantaged groups who benefited from HI’s services, HI staff, and people like Yoso, Arden and Rebecca, Jake and Anna, and Abi and Ben. Unknown to me an invitation was also extended to DöhmCorp staff, palace secretariat staff, and IG personnel. Haza had even included the kids and staff at my old orphanage.
Because it was simply (I thought) a wonderful opportunity to have fun, I did just that. I thoroughly enjoyed mixing with everyone. I did all the kid things—I bought fairy floss, tried (unsuccessfully) to win prizes, nearly made myself sick by riding on a wicked roller coaster too soon after I’d eaten junk food, and had my photo taken with a couple of the park’s real-life cartoon characters. I took an enormous number of photos, and got drenched on a canoe ride when Darm deliberately capsized the boat.
The adults smiled indulgently at our antics but, hey, we were still young and we were enjoying ourselves!
It was great to see all the kids having a ball. I don’t think I saw a single glum face all day. People kept asking to have their photo taken with me. I even gave Haza a high-five, and congratulated him on organising such a successful event.
Darm and Yoso, my closest friends, stuck right by me all day.
It was nearly 4 pm when Yoso dragged me across the park’s central ‘town square’, insisting that he wanted to try another ride. Darm shrugged his shoulders and simply followed us. We were right out in the middle of the square when, suddenly, the rides stopped, the music and noise of the attractions fell silent, and the hubbub of voices ceased. For a few moments it was eerily quiet. I thought there had been a power failure until Happy Birthday began playing over the public address system. Everyone there, apparently clued in, joined in singing to me. It turned out that Darm and Yoso had been delegated to ensure that I was standing in the square—and that all the guests had been asked to gather there—at the appointed time.
Hearing several hundred people shout out “Happy fifteenth birthday, Echo!” at the end was truly special. I was thunderstruck, and several of those who happened to be nearest me snapped pictures, capturing the dumbfounded look I was wearing.
Fortunately, they left it at that. As soon as the song finished the rides started up again, the noise of the other attractions resumed, and everyone went back to what they were doing.
I knew without a doubt that I’d been duped, but I couldn’t keep an ear-to-ear grin from splitting my face. Strangely, there was no longer any sign of Haza!
In a private moment later, at Breaker One, Rey and Tyras took me aside. Rey played a tune and Tyras sang. I soon had tears streaming from my eyes because the song expressed the joy and appreciation the two boys felt for the changes HI had wrought in their lives. When they finished the song we joined in a teary hug. Words weren’t necessary.
I think I floated back to the palace on a cloud. What an amazing day!
Copyright © 2020 Alien Son