Authors: Sarah Fox
got old. Not for me, at least. As Maestro Hans Clausen flicked his baton to signal the end of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 1 in D Minor, the audience rose amid a thundering of applause. A thrill of happiness ran up from my toes, right out to the tips of my fingers. We'd pulled off a successful opening of another season for the Point Grey Philharmonic.
My fellow musicians and I stood as one to acknowledge the audience. I soaked in the appreciative applause that filled the theater, enjoying every roaring second. In time the noise died down and the audience members jammed up into bunches as they tried to file out of their rows and head for the lobby.
With the first concert of the new season truly over, I scooped up my folder of music and wended my way through chairs, music stands, and other musicians until I reached the wings of the stage. From there I made slow progress as I headed down a carpeted hallway with at least twenty other members of the orchestra, many of whom were walking slowly to chat with one another and created a human traffic jam.
Eventually I reached the musicians' lounge where we stored our instrument cases and other belongings during concerts and rehearsals. I tucked my violin and bow safely away in their case and placed it in my locker. I would take my instrument home with me later, but the night wasn't yet over.
“Ready to head to the reception?” Mikayla Deinhardt, my friend and stand partner, leaned against the neighboring locker.
I unfastened the clip at the back of my head and let my dark hair fall over my shoulders. “Almost.” I tossed the clip onto the shelf in my locker and shut the door.
As I ran my fingers through my hair to make sure it was free of tangles, first violinist Janine Ko removed a hot pink handbag from her locker. Aggie, a viola player, and Melissa, a flautist, immediately zeroed in on her.
“Oh my gosh! That's gorgeous!” Aggie gushed.
“Is it a Michael Kors bag?” Melissa asked.
Janine beamed at them. “Yes.”
The women continued to chatter excitedly about the handbag as I secured my locker door with a combination lock.
“Now I'm ready,” I said to Mikayla. But as I turned around, a cascade of blond hair swatted me in the face.
Wincing, I stepped back and hit the bank of lockers. Mikayla grabbed my arm to steady me as I wavered off balance. I blinked and saw Elena Vasilyeva, the Point Grey Philharmonic's concertmaster, fixing her long and ridiculously gorgeous blond hair right in front of me.
I glared at the back of her head, my distaste for her stemming from far more than getting swatted in the face by her golden locks. Finished with her hair, she now stood with her hands on her hips, talking to two of her fellow first violinists.
“It's probably a knockoff,” she said, her accented words disdainful. “There's no way she could afford a real one.”
I realized that she was referring to Janine and her handbag. Unfortunately, Janine realized that too. Her smile faltered and she returned the handbag to her locker, turning her back on the rest of the room.
Anger bubbled up inside of me as Elena swept past Janine and out of the musicians' lounge, walkingâÂas alwaysâÂas if she were strutting along a catwalk in a fashion show.
I growled under my breath, my eyes following Elena until she disappeared from view.
Why did she always have to be so snooty? Even if I hadn't discovered that she was involved with the man I'd fallen for a few months earlier, I still wouldn't have liked her. She always acted as if she were superior to everyone else. And poor Janine. Elena's words must have hurt all the more because Janine idolized her. She always hung on the concertmaster's every word and tried to emulate her hairstyles and fashion choices. Sometimes I wanted to shake Janine. She'd be far better off just being herself.
“Forget about Elena,” Mikayla said, noting my reaction and giving my arm a tug. “Let's go to the reception.”
I let her pull me toward the door and we joined the trickle of musicians heading for the theater's swanky reception room. I did my best to push Elena from my thoughts, not wanting to let her ruin my night. The successful concert had left me with a happy buzz running through my body and I was looking forward to the next part of the evening. Although the Point Grey Philharmonic didn't follow every concert with a reception, doing so was a tradition for the opening of each season. For our benefactors and season ticket holders, it was a chance to mingle with the musicians and the board of directors. For me, it was a chance to partake of some free food and the occasional glass of champagne.
When we reached the reception room with its red carpet, floor-Âto-Âceiling windows, and fancy arched ceiling, my eyes went immediately to the food tables. I let out a quiet sigh of disappointment when I realized that the spread didn't include finger sandwiches. Oh well. Mini sandwiches were my favorite party food of all time, but the tables still held an array of other tasty morsels I wouldn't hesitate to sample.
Several nonmusicians had already arrived and waiters dressed in black and white glided through the room, balancing trays of filled champagne flutes. I nodded a greeting at Dr. Daniel Beaufort, the vice chair of the PGP's executive committee, and aimed myself at the food tables, Mikayla at my side.
“I'm starving,” I whispered to her, my eyes on the spread of catered food.
Mikayla grabbed my arm to halt my progress. Just in time, apparently. A portly, elderly man stepped into our path, hunched over a cane with a silver handle.
“Good evening, ladies.”
With reluctance that I tried not to show, I tore my eyes away from the free food and focused on the man before us.
“Hello, Mr. Major,” I said as Mikayla added a greeting of her own.
The man smiled, apparently pleased that we knew who he was. It would have been hard not to know, though. I'd never spoken to him before, but I knew perfectly well that he was the PGP's most generous individual financial supporter. For that reason it was probably a good idea not to brush him off in favor of an enthusiastic attack on the generous plates of food spread out behind him.
“How are you tonight?” I asked.
“Very well indeed. Particularly because of the delightful company.”
As his watery, pale blue eyes raked over me and Mikayla, a smile that could only be described as lecherous pulled at his thin, dry lips. I wanted to gag, but managed to refrain for the sake of the orchestra's financial future.
“Would you ladies like to join me in a glass of champagne?” He gestured to the nearest waiter, who came over and presented us with a tray of champagne glasses.
“Of course,” Mikayla said. She smiled at the elderly man, but I could tell she enjoyed his company about as much as I did.
We each took a champagne flute from the tray, and the waiter disappeared into the growing crowd.
Mr. Major raised his glass. “To beautiful music and .Â .Â .” His eyes roamed over our bodies again. “ .Â .Â . to even more beautiful musicians.”
I stifled another gag and managed a weak, insincere smile before sipping at my champagne. I would need something stronger if I was expected to spend much more time with the old sleazebag.
“Evening, ladies, Mr. Major.” Maestro Hans Clausen appeared by my side, a charming smile on his face. “I hope you enjoyed the concert,” he said to Major.
Hans put a hand to the middle of my back as he addressed Major again. “I'm sorry to steal Midori and Mikayla away from you, but I need to have a quick word with them.”
“Of course.” Mr. Major raised his champagne flute to me and Mikayla once more as the maestro ushered us several feet away.
As we came to a stop next to a pedestal displaying a bust of Beethoven, I stepped to the side so the maestro's hand no longer rested on my back. “You need to speak to us?” I might have sounded suspicious, and I was. What could be so important that it couldn't wait until another time?
“Actually, no.” Hans flashed his charming smile again. “But I thought you might need rescuing from Mr. Major. He's known for his .Â .Â . rather inappropriate interest in young, beautiful women.”
“Thank you, Maestro,” Mikayla said. “Much appreciated. He did have the effect of making me feel a desperate need for a thorough shower.” Her eyes drifted to Dave Cyders, one of our bassoonists, where he stood across the room. “Will you excuse me?”
I wanted to grab her arm to hold her there but she was already gone, leaving me alone with the man I'd had a short-Âlived relationship with the previous spring. Until I'd discovered that he was a jerk and a liar. His good looks and charismatic smile had charmed me in the beginning, but finding out that he was carrying on with Elena at the same time had doused the flames of attraction with icy water.
Since then I'd managed to maintain a professional relationship with him for the sake of my career, but I still wasn't keen on spending time alone with him. Mikayla knew that full well, and yet she'd abandoned me for her bassoonist boyfriend. I shot a glare at her retreating back before returning my attention to Hans.
“I'm sure we could have handled Mr. Major on our own, but thank you anyway.” I stepped toward the food tables, intending to distance myself from Hans, but he had other ideas.
“Midori.” He put a hand to my elbow to stop me.
I sighed, perhaps somewhat dramatically, and turned back to face him. “I thought you didn't need to speak with us.”
“Well, no.” He rubbed the back of his neck with one hand, reminding me of how I used to like running my fingers through the blond hair at the base of his skull when we kissed. “But I was hoping to tell you something.”
“Elena and I have broken things off. For good this time.”
I blinked at him. “I'm not sure how I'm supposed to respond to that. Sorry? Congratulations?”
“I just wanted you to know.”
“I don't know why.”
It was his turn to sigh, but that didn't move me, nor did the disappointment in his ice blue eyes.
“I thought we'd come to an agreement,” I said. “Months ago.”
“Then let's stick to it. Besides, I'm seeing someone.” I didn't wait around to see his reaction to that news. “Excuse me.”
Relieved to have extracted myself from that conversation, I finally made it over to the food, grumbling to myself in my head as I went. Did Hans expect me to throw myself into his arms? There was no way that would happen. Besides, Elena had once told me that Hans always went back to her. Why would I believe things would be any different this time? Even if their breakup really was final, I'd never go back to someone who'd treated me as Hans had, even if I wanted to. Which I most definitely didn't. I'd well and truly moved on, and I wished he would do the same.
Pushing thoughts of Hans from my mind and focusing on the enticing spread of food, I bypassed the mini quiches and zeroed in on the colorful petits fours. I selected a chocolate one and took a nibble.
“Those look delicious.” Mikayla reached past me to snatch a petit four with pink and white icing.
I narrowed my eyes at her as she tasted the little cake.
“Mmm. They are.” She took a second bite before noticing my glare. “What?” she asked once she'd swallowed.
“You totally abandoned me.”
“I did, didn't I? Sorry.”
“So much for loyalty between stand partners,” I said melodramatically. “Leaving me to suffer in my time of need.”
“I'm sorry,” she said again. “I sensed incoming awkwardness and bolted.” She finished off her petit four. “Are you going to tell me what he said to you?”
I let out a huff, but decided to let her treachery slide. “He wanted to tell me that he and Elena have broken up.” I rolled my eyes. “Did he really think I'd care?”
“Of course not.”
“Good. You're much better off with Aaron,” she said, referring to my boyfriend.
I washed down my last bite of cake with a sip of champagne. “I know.” And I did. Aaron was gorgeous and sweet, with a British accent that made my knees weak, and he'd never given me any reason to believe he was anything but genuine. He was worth a hundred Hans Clausens.
“Speaking of Aaron,” Mikayla went on, “when's he coming back from London?”
“Tomorrow.” The word came out with a heavy sigh.
“Wow. Such enthusiasm.”
I cringed. “I didn't sound enthusiastic?”
“Um. No.” Mikayla eyed me over her champagne flute as she took a long sip. “What's going on?”
That was the truth. At least, I thought it was. Aaron had spent the last three months in the UK and Europe, touring with his cousin's band, so I hadn't seen him in person for what felt like ages. Maybe I was worried that our relationship wouldn't be quite the same after such a lengthy time apart, but surely such a concern was unfounded. Wasn't it?
I decided a quick change of subject was in order. “How are things with you and Dave?”
Mikayla had been dating the bassoonist for over four months now.
“Great,” she said. “But you're changing the subject.”
Darn. I should have known she'd notice.
“We'll talk later,” I said as I took a step away from her. For some reason that I couldn't quite pinpoint, the thought of discussing Aaron any further made my stomach twist into knots. “I'm going to speak to Ernest. He looks lonely.”
I escaped from the questions I knew Mikayla wanted to ask and approached Ernest, a short and rotund French horn player in his late fifties. His normally pale face was flushed and he stood by himself at the edge of the room, one hand fiddling with the lapel of his tuxedo jacket as he stared through his thick glasses at the crowd of mingling Âpeople.