Page 2 of The Protege

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.”

Chapter Two

Laszlo

Now

She’s even more beautiful than I remember. Cheekbones finer, features more delicate. The years apart haven’t changed how I feel about her, but nothing could change that. Not my regret, my pain, my guilt. My anger. Even when I’ve been mad as hell I’ve still wanted her, the one woman in the world I can’t have.

I watch her smiling at Marcus as he takes her coat and suitcase so she can unpack her cello, her curtain of red hair falling in front of her face. She used to wear it up at home and while she was practicing, but she always, always wore it down while she was performing, the thick tresses spilling over her shoulders. I want to step forward and put a stop this but the thought of seeing her like that again, sitting at her cello and playing for me, holds me rooted to the spot. She and Marcus move past me out of the office, deep in conversation about the best audition piece for her. I listen to their voices as they fade away down the corridor.

What would I have said to her if Marcus hadn’t come in? I don’t even know where to start with all the things I want to say to her. I’ve never forgotten how things ended between us and I regret how I lost her. She left a hole in my world and my heart that I’ve never been able to fill. I don’t even know if she wants these truths from me. In three years she never tried to contact me.

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