My hand convulsively grips my cello case. I turn and see him standing by the rows of red velvet seats, the man who took me from my home when I was eight years old. Who taught me almost everything I know about music. About life. The man I’ve spent the last three years in turmoil over. Missing him like crazy. Being angry with him. Wanting him.
I don’t need to get close to know that he’ll smell like sweet peppercorns and smoky Arabian nights. He looks good, but then he always looks good, tall and lean and smartly dressed in a dark shirt and suit. A sultry mouth and hawkish nose, and not quite enough facial hair to call it a beard but just enough to scratch your nails through and feel the lovely rasping of the bristles. Hazel eyes that always seem to be moments away from warm pleasure or flashing emotion, and fine, sandy brown hair that’s too long as usual, growing down to his collar. I used to tease him about that, telling him that he has conductor’s hair, the careless mane that maestros grow so they can toss it about in passion to the music and look romantic in journalists’ black and white photographs. I was the only one who could tease him. One of the few who could make him smile.
Laszlo steps forward, and my heart leaps because I think he’s going to fold me in his arms and hold me close like he used to do. But when he reaches for me his hand closes around my upper arm, cold and hard, and he leads me out of the auditorium and along a corridor without a word. Hopeless tears prickle in my eyes. He’s still ashamed of me.
He takes us into to his office, closes the door behind us and then just stands there with his back to me, one hand braced against the door. A clock ticks on the wall and I count the seconds in three-four time, a minuet clashing with the pounding of my heart.
I should speak first but I don’t know how to unravel the apology that’s become snarled on my tongue. The last three years without him have been hell and losing him was like cutting off a limb. No, worse, like taking a sledgehammer to my cello. My world shattered the night of my eighteenth birthday and I can see that he still hasn’t forgiven me for what I did. I hid the broken pieces of my heart deep down where no one would ever find them and I don’t know what he’ll do with them if I show them to him now.
His hand slides down the wood and he turns to me. “Isabeau—”
The door opens and a man puts his head in. I recognize him. Marcus Sabol, Laszlo’s first violin and concertmaster. “Laszlo, that oboist… Oh. Hello.” Marcus comes to a halt when he sees me. He’s a stringy man in his late fifties with a shock of white hair and the energy and bubbliness of a much younger man. We never met as he joined the orchestra after I went to university in Durham, but I’ve seen him play. He and Laszlo are perfect together, working in tandem to get the most out of the ensemble.
Marcus’ eyes travel from my face to my cello case and back again. “You’re Isabeau Laurent. I saw you play in Cambridge last year. Absolutely phenomenal. Are you coming with us?”
He sees my blank face and smiles. “Laszlo didn’t even tell you why you’re here, did he, he just called his protégé back from university. Former protégé? Anyway, we’re trying to put this last-minute fiasco together with half a damn orchestra. Thank god you’re here.”
Laszlo’s expression doesn’t change but I see how his jaw clenches. Marcus has just put him in a difficult position. The first violin is the most important person in the orchestra after the conductor and he gets a say in the principal players. I should correct Marcus and come back another time. It’s not just the graceful thing to do, it’s the only thing to do if I want to put our past behind us and ask for Laszlo’s help.
The atmosphere is as tight as a bow string and Marcus’ smile dims. “You are here to audition, aren’t you?”
There are so many things I want to say to Laszlo. Most importantly that I’m sorry, but also that the happiest time of my life was when I was his protégé. That my musical career has stalled and I don’t know what to do about it. That when I play the music doesn’t even sound like me anymore.
That I need him in ways he doesn’t understand and I’m only just beginning to.
I’ve never been good at saying what I feel but Laszlo always knew how I felt when I played my cello. It’s not everything I want to say but it’s a start, and if he’s leaving for a tour then I need to say it now.
I lift my chin and look Laszlo in the eye. “Yes. I’m here to audition.”
by Brianna Hale
Released: July 27 2018
He’s always protected me since I was eight years old, the neglected girl he took off the street and raised as his own. Laszlo can feel what music needs instinctively. He can tell what I need.
My world shattered the night of my eighteenth birthday and he still hasn’t forgiven me for what I did. I’m not asking him to love me, touch me, take me to bed. What I want goes deeper than that and I have to say this out loud because it’s one thing that music won’t be able to tell him.
I want what only Laszlo can give me. I want to be his protégé again. And this time, I’m going to be so good for him.
Brianna Hale is graciously giving away
ebook copy of The Protege and a US$10 Amazon voucher
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