Page 75 of The Protege

It’s easy to smile a little because I’m glad for him. Laszlo works hard and he deserves to keep moving onwards and upwards.

“But it means going a long, long way away, and soon. So I’m going to turn it down.”

I shake my head. “No, you can’t. I know you’re restless at the Mayhew. It’s the new concert hall in Bangkok, isn’t it? They’ve asked you to be the musical director.”

He doesn’t say yes but I know I’m right. And I’m glad for him.

I keep walking but he stops me with a touch on my arm. His eyes are pleading. “Come home with me, sweetheart. Please? Let me take care of you. You old room is there, just as you left it.”

Just as I left it. I cringe away from the memory. Laszlo’s home belongs to another Isabeau, and she fled years ago.

“Hayley’s waiting for me,” I manage, and I pull away. Hayley’s flat is uncomplicated by regret, or love, or pain, and I’m feeling too much of all three right now. I love Laszlo even through all the guilt and pain, but he doesn’t love me back. We were given one chance to try and make this work and it didn’t. We’ll never find our way back to each other now.

But I have to ask him one more thing before I go.

“Did we do the right thing? The day you offered me the whole world and I took it without looking back.”

Laszlo steps toward me and his voice is low and urgent. “If there was any fault that day it was all mine, not yours. I will never, ever let you regret what you did. Not for one hour. Not for one second. I take it all upon my shoulders.”

I can’t look at him. I’m already feel myself pulling away because I can never see him again after this. It will hurt too much.

“No one and nothing can judge me except for you. Only you, Isabeau. If you think I did wrong I will spend the rest of my life trying to put it right.” His voice becomes choked and his fingers touch my chin, as if he wants me to look up at him but he doesn’t want to force me. “Please let me put it right, Isabeau.”

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Isabeau

Now

When I left my father’s home at eight years old it was the work of a moment to fill my schoolbag with a few personal things. I look around at nearly two decades of my father’s cluttered belongings and feel overwhelmed by the job ahead.

All right, I think. I’ll approach it like a piece of music. You don’t just launch into playing a new symphony from the opening bar. First you study the piece, getting a feel for it as a whole and where the trickiest parts are. I walk from room to room, identifying personal possessions and valuable items—very few of either—that could be donated to a charity store, and what needs to be thrown out. I’ll need to hire a truck or a skip or something.

There are a load of shoeboxes under the couch by the mattress my dad slept on and I hook them out and start going through them. They’re full of letters, dozens of them, the paper crinkled as if they’ve been taken out of their envelopes and read many times.

They’re are all addressed to my father in a slanted, spiky script I’ve seen on hundreds of scores over the years. Shock pierces the fuzziness in my head.

Laszlo’s handwriting.

Letters with postmarks from five years ago, eight years ago, thirteen years ago. Right back to the time I came to live with him. I didn’t know that he wrote to my father.

I choose a letter at random dated two and a half years after I came to live with him, when I was ten.

Laurent,

Isabeau had her Grade One cello exams today. The examiner gave me a copy of her performance and I pass it on to you.

Valmary

There’s a CD with the letter and I play it, and that day comes back to me so vividly that I can see it. The hot room, the examiner scratching out notes. My father listened to this recording, and I wonder what he thought. Was he pleased to know I was still playing the cello? Did it make him proud? Why didn’t Laszlo tell me he was writing to my father?

I turn to the next letter, another short missive, this time with the addition of my school picture, a skinny redhead with the biggest grin on her face.

Laurent,

Isabeau’s teachers tell me she’s a bright, kind and conscientious student. They don’t tell me anything I don’t already know, but it’s good to have one’s high opinion confirmed by others.

Valmary

I find myself smiling at Laszlo’s words, and reach for another letter. This one is longer.


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