Donny pressed the keys of the piano down and felt the slighest bit of relief at the sound. His nightmares had become less frequent over the years, but no less violent. He had woken covered in sweat with the face of Michael burned into his eyes and the words "get out" on his lips. After making sure Julia was still asleep, he had made his way downstairs to the piano. They had put the piano in the room furthest away from the bedroom, so if Donny needed to play, he could without waking everyone up. He began. Intricate, complicated melodies came out as he tried to keep his mind off the past. C G E flat B... he frantically composed new melodies, wincing at wrong notes. A noise drew him out of his head and he stopped playing. A quick galnce at the clock informed him it was 3;12 in the morning, too early for anyone to be up. A shaly inhale and a deep exhale let him know where the sound was coming from: the kitchen. Quietly, but quickly, he entered the room. There was his daughter, Katie, leaning against the counter, drinking some water. Tear filled eyespeered at him in surprise above the rim of the glass cup.
"Katie?" he asked, concered. "What happened?"
"Nothing, I'm fine." She tilted her head so Donny couldn't see her face and tried to walk past him. He reached out a hand to stop her.
"If it was nothing, you wouldn't be crying at 3 am. Whatever it is, you can tell me." He leaned down a bit so he would be more her height.
"Really, I'm fine. There's-" A sob cut off her next words.
"Kathryn June Novitski." Even though is daughter was 16 and a junior in high school, her full name still had the same effect that it had had when she was three.
She gave up and blurted, " There's just a lot going on at school." Donny remained silent, seeing if she would say anything more. Katie exhaled. "I have an English paper due tomorrow and an American History test. Ther's a packet I have to complete for math still. On Thursday, I have a chemistry packet due and our daily math homework and an English test. Then on Friday, I have to give a speech and have a chemistry quiz and a math test. I don't even get the weekend off because on Monday, I have an American History paper due and a Spanish unit test. I feel like I'm going to throw up any my feet are tingling because I feel so nervous. My head hurts from trying to focus. I can't sleep and I don't have a lot of the work done, which means I'll fail all my classes." As she was talking, her voice got faster and faster. When she finished, she tried to calm herself, but a panicked look remained in her eyes. Donny felt an arrow pierce his heart at his overstressed and panicking daughter's tirade. Julia was better than him when it came to talking about feelings, but he knew from years of panic attacks what they felt like.
He cut her off."OK. What we're going to do is tomorrow, you can sleep in. We'll take you to school at lunch time and say you had a doctor's appointment. We can go though the stuff you have to do and break it down so you have time to do it." Katie opened her mouth to protest, but Donny kept talking. "You need to get some rest."
"I can't sleep." Donny knew what that feeling was like. Of course, there were two different reasons they couldn't sleep, but the anxiety and dread that kept them both up was the same.
"Want to learn the piano? Sometimes that helps me take my mind off things." Katie hesitated. She wanted to go back to bed. This wasn't her first time not being able to sleep due to stress, but it was the first time someone saw her like this. Normally, she would push through it to finish her homework and fall into a fitful sleep for the few hours she had left before school. She didn't like that her father had seen her this way. "I promise, its fun." He half smiled at her and she nodded and grudgingly followed him to the living room, knowing if she went back to bed, she would feel the panic filling her up, forcing any thoughts of sleep out of her head. Even now, thinking about her to do list brought bile to her mouth and and her feet feel like they were getting stuck to the ground. She sat beside her father at the piano. "This is middle C..." Her fingers clumsily found the keys and a halting melody came from hte piano. The panic began to reced. She focused on the tune, letting it draw her in and shield her from the outside world. About an hour later, she put her head on Donny's shoulder and feel asleep. Donny kept playing for awhile, but eventually picked her up and carried her to her room. Then, he shut the door slowly, twisting the handle to minimize the noise of the door shutting. He walked down the hallway, hesitating at Julia and his room. Her slumber form still hadn't moved from when he had left. As he took the first step in the door, Michael seemed to appear before him and shake his head slowly no. So, Donny made his way back downstairs and started composing again. "Katie's Song" he called it. The melody was simple, so if she ever wanted to play the piano again when she was overtaken by stress it wouldn't be too hard for her. He added a second more complicated part for him in case something like tonight happened again and he got to play with her. She wouldn't go through all the sleepless nights and panic attacks alone like he did. Not while he was here. And with that he kept playing.