Page 49 of The Protege

Isabeau is a few meters ahead of me, sandals on her feet and a long skirt draped around her hips. I watch as she scoops her heavy red hair up and fans the back of her neck. She must remark on the heat to her companions as one of the violinists passes her a tie and she pulls all her hair up into a messy bun on top of her head. A member of her group points at something hanging from a stall and I see her laugh, her green eyes lighting up.

Beautiful girl.

I feel a throb of need and wonder when I’ll get to touch her again. I remember the feel of her heated flesh beneath my hands yesterday afternoon, the sharp intake of her breath around the gag as I spanked her. The burn of my hand and the way she melted into my lap as I worked her over, all her tension flowing away, my arousal growing the more she surrendered to me.

How, I wonder, bemused by the soporific heat and my sheer delight as I watch Isabeau, did we get here? It’s as unexpected as it is welcome after missing her for so long.

The morning after her eighteenth birthday I opened the paper as a distraction and found myself staring at a photograph of her in the Arts section. A photograph of me, as well, and the other youth orchestra members. My fingers touched the small, colored square in despair: Isabeau in her red satin dress and the birthday jewelry I gave her. Her whole being lit from within as she gazed up at me. I stared at her face, so tender and innocent, and grabbed my phone.

Call her.

No. Give her space.

Fucking call her, she’s upset.

But guilt always stopped me. Did I want to call her for her sake or for mine? And, more cowardly, would talking to her mean that I would have to confess my feelings for a girl who was only just eighteen? I cringe inwardly even now at the thought of telling her.

One of the viola players approaches Isabeau’s group, trying to get closer to a stall but not able to find a way through them. Instead of getting the attention of one of them and asking them if she can pass, she pushes through, knocking Isabeau aside and muttering something at the same time. The smile is wiped from Isabeau’s face and she watches the viola player pay for her purchase and leave, a hurt expression in her eyes.

Isabeau’s group seem to be exchanging annoyed words about the woman as they move off down the road. Suddenly they all laugh. Curious, I draw a little closer and hear the tail end of what my protégé is saying. “…into a dumpster without hitting the rim.”

The cellists and violinists laugh again, and I feel my eyes narrow. She better not be doing what I think she’s doing.

Isabeau speaks again and my suspicions are confirmed. She’s telling viola jokes.

Viola players have been the butt of orchestra jokes for hundreds of years, probably because viola parts have a reputation for being simple, though the instrument itself is no easier than any other to master. All the same, violas are demeaned and viola players have a reputation for being less than intelligent. I’ve heard all the jokes. What is the definition of perfect pitch? Throwing a viola into a dumpster without hitting the rim. How can you tell if a violist is playing out of tune? The bow is moving.

Isabeau’s opening her mouth to tell another joke when I clear my throat behind her. She jumps and turns to me, and the smile dies on her face.

“Miss Laurent, may I speak to you privately?”

Everyone in her group slinks away, stifling nervous laughter. I watch them till they’re out of hearing distance. Then I lean down, put my face close to Isabeau’s and say in a low and seething voice, “That is not how I expect a member of my orchestra and especially not my protégé to comport herself with her fellow musicians. Snide little jokes? If I hear one more unprofessional thing out of your mouth I will pull your underwear down in the street and spank you right here, do you understand?”

Her lips part in shock and she breathes in sharply. “Sorry, sir.”

But I’m not finished. “If you’re having problems with someone in the orchestra you go to your section leader or you come to me. You do not sink to their petty level.”

Swallowing visibly, she manages, “Yes, sir.”

I watch her for a long moment, driving my point home. She doesn’t try to excuse her behavior and I’m glad. Even though the viola player was exceedingly rude to her Isabeau’s not trying to shift the blame for her own bad behavior onto someone else. “All right. You can go back to the others.”