Page 25 of The Protege

I told Hayley that I don’t want a physical relationship with Laszlo. I’m such a liar. I want him so much it aches, and I drive another finger into myself, curling my fingers over and over, trying to ease the burning desire for him. I need something thicker than my fingers. I need him.

Isabeau, what the fuck are you doing?

Laszlo’s voice, cold and angry. My eyes fly open and I yank my hand out of my pants. He’d be furious if he knew I was doing this. He can’t possibly know but that’s not the point. I need the security of him more than I need to get off and that means not cheating the little things. I trust him and he should be able to trust me.

I turn over in bed, wrapping the blankets tightly around myself. I won’t masturbate over Laszlo. I’m keeping to our arrangement. I’m a good protégé. A horny, unsatisfied, but good protégé.

Now all I have to do is keep this up for the whole five-week tour.

Chapter Nine



Warm air indolent with the scent of late-summer roses is drifting into the lounge and Isabeau and I are sprawled at either ends of the sofa. I keep one eye on the score spread out in my lap and one eye on her, waiting for her to look up from the copy of Fahrenheit 451 she’s reading for English class.

I liked having her in my orchestra for her debut last week and it’s given me an idea. Finally she places a bookmark between the pages and I say to her, “Isabeau. How do you like your youth orchestra?”

She looks up in surprise at my question. “It’s fine. I mean, good,” she amends quickly, as if anxious not to seem disloyal. So, she’s not overly attached to it.

“How do you like your conductor?”

Isabeau hesitates, and then says with a wrinkle of her nose, “He’s all right. Not as good as you. Not as patient as you, either.”

No loyalty for him? I have to hide a pleased smile. Even better. “How would you like me to be your conductor?”

She sits up, excited. “But you’ve already got eight cellists and I’m only fourteen. Or do you mean you’re going to take over the youth orchestra? Please say yes.”

“No. I want to start my own, from scratch, and I’d like you to be the very first member.” The thought came to me yesterday as I looked around the empty Mayhew stage at three in the afternoon, around the time that schools were getting out. Why should the space go to waste so many afternoons a week when there are promising young musicians who could be playing there? I have the time. What’s more I have Isabeau, and why should she be playing for some second-rate conductor when she could be with me? I want more of her music in my life. She does so much of her playing without me and I feel like I’m missing out on something precious.

Her eyes grow wide. “Really? You mean that? Yes please, Laszlo. Will we play at the Mayhew? Will it be a proper big orchestra that performs symphonies? Can we do Scheherazade? I love Scheherazade.”

I feel my heart glow golden at the excited expression on her face. “Yes, at the Mayhew. And we can play Scheherazade and all sorts of other pieces.”

Isabeau squeals and comes over to hug me, knocking the score out of my lap and onto the floor. “I’m so happy you’re going to be my conductor!”

I hug her back fiercely, feeling very happy about that, too.

Auditions for the new Royal London Symphony Youth Orchestra begin the very next week but it takes nearly a month to put a full ensemble together. The amount of young talent that I hear is heartening. Every now and then there are rumblings in the classical music world that young people are all learning the guitar rather than the flute and violin, but my worries are put to rest by the dozens of talented musicians I hear.

I want to make Isabeau first cello because she’s the most talented, but she’s also the youngest and I worry that the sixteen- and seventeen-year-old cellists will make things hard for her or tell her that she’s only first because she’s my favorite. It wouldn’t be a stretch because she damn well is my favorite but there are orchestra politics to be mindful of. In a year or two I’ll move her up to first or second, but for now she’s fourth, and delighted with her place.

For our very first concert, just before Christmas, we perform The Carnival of the Animals and Peter and the Wolf back-to-back, and it’s a massive hit. All the parents and friends of the orchestra give them a riotous standing ovation, but most important of all is that my orchestra is incandescently happy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Isabeau smile as much as she does when she takes her bows with the rest of the orchestra. The next morning there’s a small, amused piece about the performance in the Arts section of the newspaper and I find the journalist’s tone both irritating and pleasing: my little orchestra that did so well.

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