The case sat in the left corner of the room, in plain sight for anyone who enters the room to see. Normally, it wouldn’t be noticeable in the lineup of two electric guitars, but the silver bow that reflects the light from the ceiling draws their attention right to it. The sleek curves reveal what’s hidden inside, and it’s that fact that taunted Keith.
It killed him to know that inside lies a brand-new acoustic-electric guitar… and it isn’t for him.
Instead, it’s a Christmas present for his youngest brother. A fact that bothered Keith right to his bones. He’s the musician of the family; ever since he’d started banging on the drums at age three. To say his parents were grateful that he moved onto instruments that could be quieted, like guitar and piano, was an understatement. Still, they’d never kept him from pursuing his passion. They didn’t discourage his four brothers from their dreams either. Anything they wished to pursue, their parents stood behind them one thousand percent.
But that didn’t change the fact that while Finn appreciated music as an art, he was more interested in his books and sciences.
Keith absently twirled a guitar pick in his fingers as he lay on his bed, staring at the black case. It had only been sitting there for two days and the temptation to open it and play those strings was strong.
And Christmas was still three weeks away.
* * *
It began with a simple request from his mother.
“Come here, Keith,” his mom said, motioning for him to follow her upstairs. “I need you to hide one of Finn’s presents in your room.”
“Uh, sure,” Keith replied. He rolled off the couch where he’d been watching a rerun of a popular 90’s show. He followed her up the stairs, drumming along the railing to a song that was repeating in his head. There was always music playing in his head. Most days it was the music of his favorite bands, and he’d find himself humming the lyrics or even singing them quietly to himself. Then other days, like that day, it was just a new melody playing. Something he’d recently recorded onto his laptop and couldn’t stop playing.
Virtual blasts interrupted the music as they passed one of the open doors in the hall. Inside Keith saw his brother Gavin blasting away creatures on his television. His mumbles as he played were the result of being yelled at one too many times for swearing at the screen. Though Keith knew his brother still used a few choice words at the game when he lost, he at least kept his volume under control.
Keith stopped at the entryway of his parents’ room, watching his mom venture over toward the closet. He leaned against the door, head bobbing to the melody that began once more, and picked at a loose thread on his shirt. It was one that his mother nagged him about throwing away, but it was from his first concert when he was only nine… there was no way the shirt was going. At least not until it was a pile of threads on his floor.
His mother turned away from the closet and the music came to an abrupt stop.
In her hands was a black guitar case.
His eyes were glued to the case as she lay it on the bed and undid the clasps. The clicking rang through his ears and everything went in slow motion as he watched his mother open the case to reveal a deep-sea colored Yamaha APX600 acoustic-electric guitar.
“Th-That’s for Finn?” Keith asked, walking slowly over to the bed.
“Yes,” Mom replied. “He’d mentioned a while ago about wanting to learn to play.” She smiled at her middle son. “Isn’t it nice?”
Keith didn’t look away from the guitar. Nice? Nice was smooth-talking your way out of detention. The vintage car his dad worked on in his free time was nice.
This was beautiful.
Keith longed to run his fingers across the gleaming blue-green surface. Pluck at the newly wound strings. He just caught himself reaching for it as his mom closed the case, locking it back up. She held it out for him to take. Heart dropping to his stomach, he took the case and tried to keep a straight face in front of his mother. He looked at her and asked one of the questions that was now eating at him.
“Why do you want me to hide it in my room?”
His mother offered him a smile before walking back over to her closet. “Because honey, it would look less obvious hidden in your room. And your father and I really don’t have the space to keep that hidden in our closet.” She shook her head as she shut the door. “At least not with his golf clubs taking up so much room.”
A snort escaped Keith’s lips. His dad did own too many golf clubs for his own good.
“You don’t mind keeping it in your room until Christmas Eve, do you?”
Keith’s eyes snapped to his mom. As always, her eyes were full of joy over finding a great gift for one of her sons. He couldn’t show his disappointment or continue to question her about why she’d gotten Finn this extravagant gift, when he was the one who’d appreciate it more. Hewould be the one to actually create beautiful music from its strings.
But instead, he gulped down the words and nodded his head.
“I don’t mind at all, Mom.”
* * *
“What are you doing?”
Keith slammed the case shut as his eyes landed on his second eldest brother. “What? Nothing! I’m not doing anything!”
Nigel quirked an eyebrow and leaned against the doorframe, almost in a challenging way. As if he were daring Keith to lie. Keith tapped at the case. He wasn’t sure that Nigel knew who the guitar was for, or even his other brothers for that matter. The only people aware of it were his parents and himself.
“Really? Because it looked like you were eyeballing the guitar Mom and Dad got Finn for Christmas.”
Okay, so Nigel knew as well.
“I was just looking at it,” Keith said with a shrug. “Not a big deal.”
“If you were just looking at it, you wouldn’t be looking so guilty right now,” Nigel countered. He sauntered over toward the short row of Keith’s own guitars, stopping by the deep red Epiphone Les Paul that was Keith’s very first electric guitar.
Keith’s lips turned upward as he looked at the guitar his brother stood by. It was the first one he actually bought with his own money five years ago, just after his eleventh birthday. He’d done everything he could to save up the money for it. It had actually taken him over a year of saving his allowance, doing extra chores, and doing favors for their neighbors. He’d mowed lawns, shoveled driveways and sidewalks – the Mercier’s was by far the hardest as their estate was huge, but earned him the most money – and every cent went into his old piggy bank.
Yes, that limited edition guitar, named Roxy, was his favorite one. Not that he’d say that in front of his other babies.
Turning away from Nigel, he clasped the locks on the case of the Forbidden Guitar, as Keith now called it. He’d just have to wait until Christmas, which was still two weeks way, before he could play it. Finn surely didn’t know how to play and would ask him for help. Then Keith would be able to show his youngest brother how to properly place his fingers on the strings to make chords, learn the basic scales…
Two weeks was too far away.
A hand fell onto Keith’s shoulder. He shifted under his brother’s closeness but didn’t take his hands off the case.
“Do yourself a favor and don’t do anything stupid, Keith.”
Nigel’s words rang through his ears long after he was gone, and Keith still stood there staring down at the case. It was the words that prompted him to finally lift the case from his bed and place it back in its corner, right between his Gretsch G542 Jet Club, aka: Gretchen, and Roxy.
* * *
Keith loosened his tie and dropped his school binder onto the kitchen table. Better to get his math homework out of the way now while he had some peace and quiet. Mom and Dad were still at work, Gavin had hockey practice, and Finn had Chess Club.
While his classmates complained about mixing the alphabet with math, Keith rather enjoyed it. It was simple problem solving to him, and yes, he could see how he’d be able to use algebra in real life. Maybe it wouldn’t be an everyday occurrence, but it would still be useful some day. Only he wouldn’t be doing it on paper, and it would be applied to real life problems.
An example being simple time management skills. A person needs to calculate how much time their morning routine takes to figure out when they’d have to wake up in order to make it to work or school on time.
The real problem with his homework was that it was too simple, and that allowed his mind to wander. Where else did it wander but upstairs? Right to that forbidden guitar sitting in his room, still untouched; unplayed.
Christmas really needed to hurry the heck up.
What bugged him the most was that his parents chose himto be the keeper of the guitar. The resident musician. Why not keep it James’s room? He was still away at college, at least until that coming weekend. James was the most mannered of all the brothers. He’d never think to touch it.
Or why not Nigel’s room? He was another one who’d mind his own, especially without a musical bone in his body. Any instrument he’d attempted to play growing up he’d failed miserably at. Maybe not totally due to a lack of talent, but a lack of passion. His interests were elsewhere, as in the Le Cordon Bleu where he’d most likely be attending after he graduated.
And then there was Gavin.
Wait, no. Bad idea.
Gavin would have already ruined the guitar somehow if he’d been the one Mom and Dad chose to hide the guitar. Either he’d have been careless with it or would have completely lost it somehow in his dumpster of a room.
That still didn’t explain why Mom and Dad couldn’t have chosen Keith’s eldest brothers instead. They were both much more responsible and trustworthy with, well, everything.
It was a test. It had to be.
Keith let out a dry laugh as he wrote down the answer to another problem. Of course that’s what it was. His parents knew how he was with guitars. How he itched to play in any moment of his free time; to see what different sound each guitar would produce when his fingers played along their strings.
It all made sense now. His parents wanted to see if he’d be able to control himself. It was one thing if the guitar was his and he’d stumbled upon it while being nosy, but this was different. The guitar wasn’t even for him, which makes the temptation all that much stronger.
Well in that case, this was a test Keith determined that he wouldn’t fail.
* * *
“Put it down.”
Keith startled at the sound of Nigel’s’ voice. When had he gotten home? He was supposed to be out with his friends or something, wasn’t he?
“What are you talking about?” Keith asked.
Nigel nodded at him. “The guitar. The one that isn’tyours… Put it down.”
Eyebrows furrowed, Keith looked down and realized he’d been holding the deep-sea guitar in his hands. He yelped, almost dropping it in his shock.
“What…? I-I don’t even remember taking it out of the case,” Keith said to his brother. His blue eyes widened in pleading, hoping his brother would believe him. He carried the guitar back over to the open case, placing it gently inside and then locking it back up.
His heart was racing. He’d almost failed, and he had no idea what he was doing. The last thing he registered was changing out of his school uniform, celebrating that he wouldn’t have to wear the constricting coat and tie for another two weeks. For the first time that week, music was the last thing from his mind. He’d only wanted to go back downstairs and eat some of that leftover poutine before Gavin did.
Yet somehow the Forbidden Guitar ended up in his hands.
Nigel walked over to him and took the case to place it back in its corner. Keith followed and picked up Roxy, slinging her strap over his head and immediately strumming a few chords. Something he thankfully hadn’t gotten to yet with the Forbidden Guitar before Nigel caught him.
A familiar melody flowed out of Roxy; one that was soothing to Keith. His muscles relaxed with the music. He continued to play lightly as he looked to Nigel, who was humming slightly the tune of ‘O Christmas Tree’ – the very song Keith was playing.
Nigel leaned against the closet door and crossed his arms. “Do you want me to keep it in my room instead?”
“You almost played it just a moment ago.”
Keith stopped strumming. “I can do this, Nigel. Christmas is only three days away.”
He pulled Roxy’s strap over his head and placed her back on her stand. His eyes didn’t even wander to the case sitting next to it. Keith faced his brother with a new determination.
“I’ve made it this far. I’m not going to give up now.”
* * *
Keith laughed along with his brothers at the movie they were watching. It was their annual viewing of classic Christmas movies the night before Christmas. A tradition that had been around for all of Keith’s sixteen years.
Along with that tradition came the mini food fight he and his brothers had while decorating cookies that their mom baked. Keith could see a smudge of frosting remained on Finn’s cheek. As they watched the movie, their parents also picked out presents for each of the boys to open.
One present each on Christmas Eve.
Their parents never went in any particular order. They chose at random who would open a gift next. This year Nigel was first, as it was his last Christmas while still in high school, and found that a custom chef’s jacket awaited him. He now wore it proudly as he sat between James and Finn on the sectional.
It seemed that their parents were giving the more extravagant gifts this Christmas Eve. James had gotten a new leather satchel for school, complete with his name embroidered on front. It fit James well, personality-wise, that is. He’d always been the scholar of the clan, proven true by his current major in History and Celtic Studies at university out in Toronto.
As the athlete of the family, Gavin had gotten a personalized jersey of his favorite hockey team, the Calgary Flames, the team he hoped to one day play for. Keith was sure the next time the brothers played hockey against their neighbors and longtime friends that Gavin would be showing off his jersey, all while commentating the game as he played.
That only left himself and Finn to receive gifts.
It wasn’t until the first movie ended that any of them moved, even if only to stretch after sitting for so long. As Mom went out to the kitchen to check on the final batch of Christmas treats, Dad came over to Keith and tousled his hair.
“Why don’t you go on upstairs and grab that gift hiding in your room?” he said.
So Finn was next.
Keith stood up from where he sat on the arm of loveseat that Gavin was still sprawled out on. His brother’s eyes were glazed over as he watched the credits of the movie play. Keith resisted the urge to kick him and nodded.
“Sure thing, Dad.”
The Forbidden Guitar was still right where Nigel had placed it only two days prior. While Keith had spent the past two mornings staring at it as he got ready for the day in the morning and for bed at night, he hadn’t touched it. He was proud of himself as he picked up the case now, ready to bring it downstairs and let his parents present it to his youngest brother.
Mom was back in the living room and Gavin looked alive, though still on the loveseat, as Keith came down the stairs. All his family now alert for the next gift to be given out. Keith dutifully handed the guitar case to his dad and sat in his previous spot as Dad handed the guitar to Mom.
Keith waited with a pounding heart for his mom to hand the case over to Finn, who sat on the other section of the couch with a grin on his face, sending a flash of anger through Keith’s bones. That bratty thirteen-year-old already knew it was for himself. Keith assumed Gavin must have spilled the beans. He was never good at keeping a secret for longer than a week.
It wasn’t until Mom was standing right in front of him that Keith realized he’d been zoned out, thinking of how Gavin could have possibly found out about the guitar. Behind her, his Dad and brothers were watching him, all with smiles on their faces. Keith’s brain took a second to register that the case was still in his mother’s hands, and that she was holding the case to him.
“Merry Christmas, Keith.”
* * *
The strings were tuned to perfection after an hour of playing when Keith finally set the deep sea Yamaha on its new stand, just to the left of Roxy. He’d only played it in its natural acoustic setting, as it was close to midnight, but it played beautifully.
He reached out and touched the top of the guitar; a small love tap.
“Until tomorrow, Eve.”
Cross posted on Wattpad