Page 46 of The Protege

Da-da-da-dunnn. Da-da-da-dunnn.

Laszlo ends the last beat with a flourish, his index finger pointing into the air. There’s a pause, the orchestra silent, and he pivots slowly toward the audience so they can see that he’s wearing a pair of dark glasses with mirror-ball rims. He’s undone two more buttons on his shirt and a gaudy gold medallion is glinting on his chest. He tries not to smile but as the titters break out in the audience he grins, pointed canines showing. Still looking at them, he gives another downbeat and we start to play, but instead of the tense, insistent notes of the famous symphony a disco beat breaks out. Laszlo sweeps back around to us, and the audience begins to cheer and whoop as we play A Fifth of Beethoven from Saturday Night Fever. Laszlo has rearranged it for a full orchestra, giving the synth parts to the woodwinds and the drum machine to the percussion section. The string section is almost the same as the original symphony.

It sounds fantastic. Most of the audience probably know that Laszlo’s in the middle of conducting performances of Beethoven’s original symphony on this very stage and hearing us play the disco version with the same solemn, talented conductor while he’s wearing mirror-ball sunglasses is too much, and they go mad. We do three reprisals. The cello part is delicious to play, all dark, deep notes that build and build beneath the bright woodwinds and steady drums. This is what I love about playing with an orchestra, the way all the parts coalesce into something with a huge force of energy and emotion behind it. This is why I don’t want just to be a soloist.

Laszlo hugs me long and hard when we get off stage and I wrap my arms around him as tight as I can. It’s our last performance together for some time at least and we both know it. He buries his face in my neck, holding me closer than he has in a year, his breath warm against my throat. It brings tears to my eyes how close he is and I realize how much I’ve missed him even though he’s been at my side every day.

“I’m so proud of you,” he whispers fiercely. “Do you know that, sweetheart?” I look up at him, breathless. I want to tell him now, that I love him. That I’ve always loved him. I open my mouth to speak.

Someone calls out to Laszlo and he pulls away. A photographer from one of the daily newspapers has come backstage and wants a picture of him with the four soloists.

Laszlo puts one arm around me and gathers the other three to us. All the orchestra is there, whistling and yelling out to us as the photographer raises his camera and we can’t stop laughing. I’m looking up at Laszlo as the flash goes off.

“Mr. Valmary, what do you think Beethoven would say if he knew his symphony was being played on the same stage as a disco remix?”

Laszlo starts to laugh at the journalist’s question, but then quashes it. “My orchestra is happy and the audience enjoyed a great show. That’s all I care about.” He turns his back on the photographer and calls out to everyone, saying that it was the most fun he’s ever had onstage at the Mayhew and we did the place proud.

It takes a long time to pack up and get changed as no one seems to be in a hurry to go home. We’re all high on the performance, laughing and giddy. Everyone wants to say goodbye to me and the three others who are leaving the orchestra after tonight. I’m going to miss them so much. Finally I peel myself away and find Laszlo outside by the stage door, talking to the handful of waiting parents. The mirror ball sunglasses are still on top of his head, glinting in the darkness.

I glance at them and grin. “Suits you.”

“Do they now?” he asks with a smile, slinging an arm around my shoulders and giving me a squeeze before hailing a cab. I feel higher than ever. He hasn’t touched me this much in months.

When we get home he flops on the sofa and I make us coffee, my back to him as he talks about the performance. I try to listen but my heart is hammering in my chest. I remember what he said this morning.

I’m eighteen now. I can do whatever I like.

“You performed so well, sweetheart,” he says as I put a cup of coffee next to him and sit down, butterflies rioting in my belly. I need to say something. Do something. By tomorrow morning the magic of tonight will have past and I won’t have the courage to speak up for months. Maybe even years. I can’t let us grow apart while I’m away at university.