Page 48 of The Protege

It’s as if he’s slapped me out of a dream. I’ve never seen him look at me as he’s looking at me now, with such naked fury and revulsion.

I revolt him.

A panicked sob rises in my throat and I jump up off the sofa and run from the room, shame and horror pouring through me. I get to my room and slam and lock the door. What have I done?

“Isabeau!” Laszlo pounds up the stairs after me. He tries the handle and then starts knocking on the door. I’m pressed back against it, one hand to my mouth as I shake with silent tears. Laszlo keeps talking through the door but I don’t know what he’s saying. The blood is roaring so loud in my ears. He doesn’t think of me in that way at all. He watched me grow up and he thinks of me of his daughter, and I just kissed him and called him daddy.

What the hell is wrong with me?

Years of hope and love and adoration have warped my brain and I’ve just done the most disgusting thing I could have ever done to Laszlo and now he hates me. I saw it in his eyes. I sink down onto the floor and press my hands over my ears, begging for this all to be a bad dream.

I take it back I take it back I take it back.

Sometime later the knocking stops, but he’s still in the house. I’ll have to face him if not now, then in the morning.

I can’t. I wipe the tears from my face and look around the room. I need to get out of here, just for a while, until he stops being angry with me. Until I figure out how angry he really is. Cello. Overnight bag. There’s nothing else I need. I force my mind into silence as I hastily pack some clothes and sneak downstairs. All is quiet. Laszlo must be in his room. I think about leaving my key on the hall table, like the day I left my father’s house forever. But I clutch it convulsively as I close the front door quietly behind me. I’m coming back. I’m not going to lose Laszlo.

Three streets away I order a ride with an app on my phone and when it arrives it takes me across London to Hayley’s flat. Several times I try texting her to let her know I’m coming but I don’t know what to say. I just pray that she’s home. She was at the concert tonight, in the audience, and maybe she went on somewhere for drinks afterward.

Twenty minutes later I buzz the flat, and wait. There’s a light on in her living room window and a few seconds later she sees me through the video com and buzzes me up.

Seeing my disheveled appearance and bags her eyes go wide. “Isabeau, what’s happened?”

I don’t know what to say. It’s like a waking nightmare. Did I really kiss Laszlo? Did he really look at me like he’s never been so disgusted in his life? In a choked voice, I manage, “I had a fight with Laszlo.”

Hayley motions me into the flat. “Oh, shit. I’m so sorry. Do you want to talk about it?”

I shake my head, my eyes burning. I just want to be alone. Hayley puts me to bed in her flat mate’s room, as she’s away on holiday.

Automatically, I undress and get into bed and lie there, my eyes wide open in the darkness. Everything’s so surreal. My phone’s silent. If Laszlo’s realized I’m gone by now he’s not calling me, and reality begins to sink in. I’m eighteen and I’m going to university in a few months’ time. I don’t need a mentor or a guardian anymore so there’s no reason for him to come after me. I’m an adult and he can just cut me lose.

Staring at the bedroom ceiling I realize everything’s over between Laszlo and I, forever, and I start to cry.

Chapter Eighteen

Laszlo

Now

Bangkok. Riotous, hectic, filled with flowers and color and spice. Even the occasional wafts of stagnant air from the canals are welcome because they remind me that I’m a world away from stately, quiet Hampstead. I burn my mouth on a curry filled with unidentifiable vegetables and I feel more alive than I have in months; happier too, my shirt clinging to my back in the humidity as I walk down Khaosan Road, eyes grazing the stalls.

We’re more than four weeks into a five week tour that has encompassed much of Southeast Asia. I’m so proud of the orchestra and what they’ve achieved. I’ve pushed them more and more in each city and they responded beautifully. This is what it means to be a musical director, having the proper control in order to tailor a performance to an audience and drawing on the strengths of my musicians. I want more of the receptive audiences like these in Asia. I’m tired of playing it safe.

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