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  1. “Alright, can I hear your Moskowski?”
  2.  
  3. “Mos- Moskowski?” Noel mumbles, avoiding eye contact. He frantically flips through his music book, hands shaking slightly as he checks pages at random. He doesn’t know where the piece is.
  4.  
  5. “Yes. Very good, Noel,” I exhale, “The etude?”
  6.  
  7. Noel spends of what feels like another half minute searching for the piece before he finally finds it. He gives me a very brief glance, as if asking me to affirm that ‘Yes indeed this is the piece we have been learning for a good month now, am I on the right page?’
  8. Never a good sign, but I sense a sliver of guilt growing at the back of my mind. Let him play first. Perhaps he’s finally decided to practise this week.
  9.  
  10. “When you’re ready.”
  11.  
  12.  
  13. It’s … interesting to say the least. It has been four weeks and Noel has not managed to play left and right hand parts simultaneously. Noel’s not untalented. He can play decently if he wishes, he just hasn’t been practising. I know he enjoys piano; I’ve seen that slight smile that he nervously suppresses when he masters a difficult passage, he knows what it means to play music, not just the notes, and the satisfaction that comes from it. He knows what it means to convey a story, to make a piece your own, as if it were you yourself singing the ????
  14.  
  15. Noel continues to contort his fingers into random chords, like an infant playing with a typewriter.
  16.  
  17. “Noel.”
  18.  
  19. He immediately stops playing, but doesn’t face me.
  20.  
  21. “Did you practise this week?”
  22.  
  23. He manages to rush out a “Yes”, before going on to list everything in his life that was supposedly hindering him and his progress in music. I stop him before he gets to number five.
  24.  
  25. “If you did, then great. I just want to check that everything’s okay because honestly I haven’t heard much improvement over the past month.”
  26.  
  27. Noel slouches and looks with an inordinate amount of intensity at the floor.
  28.  
  29. “You really need to start motivating yourself to practice. The exam is in less than a year. If you’re not willing to put in the work I’m going to have to call it off. We’re just wasting my time and yours. I’m not trying to scare you but I just -”
  30.  
  31. Noel’s still looking at the floor, when his face starts scrunching up in an absurd manner with the most ridiculous frown I’ve ever seen him wear. He lets out a long, drawn out whine - something I can only describe as a butchered, croaky, whale’s song, before completely dissolving into tears.
  32.  
  33. I can’t help but raise my eyebrows. I almost thought his was feigning a cry to mock me, but I take another look at him and his nose is completely pink, the skin around his eyes already beginning to puff up. I’m too surprised to do anything, to react to this beyond almost throwing a tissue box at him in panic. He catches it in his lap and gives me a juvenile glare. There are no coherent thoughts in my head, just a single question echoing in my head that I dumbly repeat to myself, while waiting for something meaningful to form out of this mess.
  34.  
  35. What!?
  36.  
  37. The door to the studio swings open abruptly. It’s the other piano teacher from the studio downstairs.
  38. “Sorry, Sarah I was just wondering if…”
  39.  
  40. His gaze slowly moves to Noel, then back at me. I expect him to be just as dumbfounded as I am, having taught him before me, but instead he approaches Noel with a gentle pat on the back, before bending over to reach his eye level. He quietly asks if he’d like to take five outside, and Noel ‘timidly’ (hah!) nods and shuffles his feet outside, ensuring another several sobs are clearly heard by his old teacher.
  41.  
  42. As soon as the door clicks closed, he speedwalks towards me, head tilted with a scornful, incredulous expression.
  43.  
  44. “Sarah you can’t do this, do you understand?”
  45.  
  46. Right. This is how he wants to act. Even after giving up on him.
  47.  
  48. “I wasn’t yelling at him. All I did was ask him if he wanted to seriously continue-”
  49.  
  50. “No, no. I don’t want to hear the excuses. You can’t just make a boy cry like that. It’s. cruel.”
  51.  
  52. I can’t tell if he’s kidding or not, but his expression is completely solemn.
  53.  
  54. “Cruel? I’m not cruel. He’s eighteen, he needs to be able to take criticism and not collapse into tears when people ask him questions.”
  55.  
  56. His brows furrow for a split second, “Wait, really he’s eighteen?”
  57.  
  58. “Yes,” I frown, “He’s not a child.”
  59.  
  60. “Okay,” he dismisses, “But you know how boys are. You know that they’re sensitive, and emotional. And all I’m saying is, is that you, as a tutor, need to understand that.”
  61.  
  62. I have no words to counter this awful, embarrassing act he’s putting on.
  63.  
  64. “You need to be gentle with them. I know it might be hard to relate as a woman, but boys are delicate beings, you need to be careful with them. It’s a bit different when you’re teaching girls.”
  65.  
  66. I keep starting sentences to retaliate. To tell him how outrageous he’s being. To let him know that, no, I shouldn’t be giving Noel special treatment, and that he should be learning resilience and grow up like the rest of the world’s eighteen year olds.
  67.  
  68. “What?”
  69.  
  70. He rolls his eyes without any thought for subtlety. “Look, I didn’t want to bring this up,” he glances through the door’s window to check that Noel isn’t watching, “but have you ever considered that perhaps… there may be some other reasons,” guestering vaguely with his hands, “you should be more lenient with him sometimes?”
  71.  
  72. He folds his arms and shifts his weight from one foot to the other. I give him nothing.
  73.  
  74. “It might be,” he reduces his voice to a murmur and I lean in, “It might be that time of the month.”
  75.  
  76. It takes me exactly two seconds to process what he’s suggesting.
  77.  
  78. “Okay. Get out.” I make a beeline for the door and swing it open so fast it dents the wall behind it. “I don’t have time for this.”
  79.  
  80. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” he does an awful job of stifling his laughter behind pursed lips before ducking his way out of the studio.
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