Page 22 of The Protege

I thank the delivery person and take the groceries through to the kitchen, remembering what Hayley asked me last night. “How was it seeing him again? Was it really awkward after, you know, kissing him? Do you still want to kiss him?” She let me talk and plied me with the terrible red wine, which I drank because I’ve been so jangled lately and the wine soothed my nerves. I told her that even though it was embarrassing and painful at first I’m happy I went to the Mayhew and then to Laszlo’s house because I value our friendship so much and I want to rebuild it. “And I don’t want to kiss him again. I know he doesn’t want to kiss me.”

“But you must have thought he was interested in you back then? Otherwise why did you kiss him in the first place?”

Hayley and I have known each other since I was fourteen and she was fifteen. She saw Laszlo and I together several times a week for three years and knows how I came to be living with Laszlo at the age of eight. If she thinks I was weird or gross for being attracted to my guardian she’s kept that to herself.

I gave Hayley a pained look over the top of my wine glass. “Thinking? When I was eighteen? Of course I wasn’t thinking, and he was totally disgusted with me.”

But I remember too the way he kissed me back. The way his hands gripped my hips as I rubbed against what I was sure was his…his hard-on. His gentle words of encouragement.

Then his furious rejection.

I woke up this morning with a dry tongue from the bad wine and an uneasy feeling in my belly. Yesterday I told him that the way I want him to talk to me makes me react sexually, and what if that makes him angry with me again?

But look what he’s sent me. Groceries. Groceries mean not angry, right?

In the kitchen I unpack the box, smiling to myself because it’s so very Laszlo what he’s chosen but he’s remembered all my favorites, too. Fresh orange and mango juice. Creamy yoghurt from Devon. Bircher muesli. Apples and nut butters. Raspberries and blueberries. A packet of ground coffee that smells heavenly when I open it and hold it up to my nose; I haven’t been able to afford coffee like this in forever. Wholegrain bagels, herb cream cheese and smoked salmon.

I slice off a piece of apple, stick it straight into the jar of almond and cinnamon butter and immediately hear Laszlo’s disapproving voice in my head. Three years away at university you will have picked up bad habits. I smile and dip the apple into the jar again, because I can’t unlearn every bad habit at once. Besides, I’m hungry.

This is so sweet of him. I haven’t had anyone do nice things for me since I went to university. Cake on my birthday from friends of course, but no one had the money for posh breakfasts when we had to buy rosin and strings and sheet music, get instruments repaired and buy smart clothes for performances. Music is expensive.

When I’ve set out the fruit and yoghurt and Bircher, made coffee and toasted the bagels, I call out the door to Hayley that breakfast is ready. She comes sleepily into the kitchen a few minutes later, a fluffy robe on over her pajamas and rubbing last night’s mascara beneath her eyes. “Where did all this come from?”


Hayley raises her eyebrows and sits down. “Mr. Valmary sending around breakfast. If I told my orchestra about this they wouldn’t believe me. Not the musicians who’ve actually worked with him, anyway.”

I hide my smirk behind my coffee cup, remembering what my tutor once told me, that Laszlo was very indulgent with me. It’s not a bad sort of feeling, to be indulged by a man whom everyone sees as so formidable. Maybe all that talk of him being strict with me was bluster and he’s really just going to be sweet. I like when he’s sweet. Maybe he’ll spoil me like his little pet while I play perfect, joyful notes. I could be very happy with that. I take a bite of Bircher and berries and think of the warm look in his eyes when he’d cupped my chin yesterday and said, Beautiful. Oh god, yes, very happy.

Hayley is watching me, suspicious and amused at the same time. “You’re so transparent. Stop thinking about him.”

I sit up straighter, plastering an innocent look on my face. “I’m thinking about the tour.”

“Uh-huh. I’m not going to judge you for what you’re doing and if you sleep with him then godspeed and orgasms to all. But be careful, won’t you? He was your guardian. It’s all kinds of messed up. People might be judgy and cruel or think that he touched you while you were underage. And Mr. Valmary…”