Page 41 of The Protege

Isabeau, sitting just a few feet away, glances up at me and her face doesn’t change, but a pink blush blossoms in her cheeks and a smile threatens to break over her face. Fuck, she’s too perfect. I watch her glance at her sheet music, the blush still bright in her cheeks, the smile still hovering at the corners of her lips. She’s thinking about what we just did together and she’s calm, not nervous in the slightest.

I look out over the orchestra, all my musicians with their instruments poised. I love this moment. The perfect silence and stillness of a thousand souls behind me, waiting. I raise my hands and give the first downbeat and the music begins. Out of the corner of my eye I can see Isabeau. My Isabeau, her bow whipping across the strings of her cello.

We play three dates in Singapore and they’re all superb. I couldn’t be prouder of the orchestra and I couldn’t be prouder of Isabeau. She’s getting to know her fellow musicians and there’s a smile on her face everywhere she goes. Seeing her so radiant takes my breath away.

On Thursday morning we have a short flight to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. The string and woodwind sections have to check their instruments with the airline due to space restrictions with our local courier and we all wait in a long queue. I wait with them rather than swan off to the business class lounge, talking to Marcus about the program for the coming weeks.

A few feet in front of us Isabeau leans sleepily against her cello case. She’s tired today, the pace of the tour and the early start catching up with her, and seems to prefer standing quietly rather than talking to the others. Her gaze wanders and she spots a piano forte a few feet away, one that anyone can play. Isabeau wanders toward it and her fingers trail idly over the keys. Plink plink plink. Then she frowns and plays a short melody. My heart starts to pound as I recognize it. A few people in the queue turn to look at her.

Isabeau plays the gentle melody again and then turns and sees me watching her. “Laszlo, play Vocalise with me?”

I look at her with a dry mouth. The piano is right there, waiting for a pianist, and she has her cello. What better way to pass the idle minutes than to play something beautiful? Except that she doesn’t understand this song causes me as much pain as it does pleasure.

A few orchestra members around us have overheard her request and they add their voices, amused by the idea of their conductor actually sitting down and playing some music for a change. My eyes lock on Isabeau and I know I can’t say no to her, even now. It will hurt me, but make her so happy.

We don’t have the sheet music but we don’t need it. This piece is burned into my soul. I could never forget it, not if I lived for a thousand years.

I sit down at the piano and regard the ebony and ivory for a moment. It’s a clean, well-kept instrument and when I play scales I find that it’s perfectly tuned. Isabeau sits on her cabin bag with her cello between her knees, bow poised, and looks at me expectantly, her eyes eloquent with feeling.

She knows.

Not the pain I feel, but she knows how special this song is to us. That it always was and always will be something that connects us on a deeper level than mentor, mentee; guardian, ward. That we pour our feelings into it when we’re unable to find the right words to say to each other.

I play, and she joins me, and everything else falls away. There’s just the piano beneath my fingers, and her. I watch her as I play, her eyes closed as she plies her bow across her mother’s cello, lost in the music, every one of her notes twining around mine. It’s as close as I’ve ever got to her, playing this piece. Closer even than when she’s snuggled in my lap in her underwear, cheeks flushed, behind reddened by my hand. Because this is the only way I get to tell her how I really feel.

We finish playing and those around us applaud. A woman with tears in her eyes comes forward and embraces Isabeau, and whispers in her ear. When she draws back Isabeau gives her a quick smile and shakes her head, and starts to put away her instrument.

I take her cello from her and look toward the check-in queue and find it has shortened dramatically. I don’t see the people around us as she stands quietly by my side. I’m still lost in the music we played. When she performed it alone in the Mayhew I heard only sorrow in the notes she played. Now there’s not quite so much grief, but I still hear its echoes. I’ve always thought that music is a far superior medium than words when it comes to communication, but for the first time in my life I feel that it’s not enough.