Page 78 of The Protege

I’m jealous of every man who enters her orbit. All the times she said that she didn’t want to see you I was always so fucking happy. I didn’t want her to love you. I wanted her to love only me.

I can’t trust myself around her so I’m letting her go.

The one thing I’m thankful for is that I don’t think she suspects my feelings for her. She thinks I’m angry with her and it’s terrible to cause her pain but the truth would be worse. My love would be a curse to her, leaden as it is with guilt and poisoned with all the things she doesn’t know. A love that’s good for no one at all.

I miss her. This house is silent now she’s gone. I won’t hear the music of her footsteps on the stairs anymore or smell the melody of her hair when she presses herself into my arms; see the notes of happiness in her eyes when she looks up at me from her cello. She’s easy to adore when she’s playing and it was the music that showed me how much affection I have for her. But I fell in love with Isabeau in between the music. Over all the days she gave me that were never enough.

I still want more, but I’ll have to be content with what’s left. With all that you were left with. No Isabeau. Just the music.

Valmary

There are tears on her cheeks when she finishes. No one in the orchestra moves but I’m barely aware of them as I look at her. She knows everything now. All my heart. All my secrets.

“I never knew that you loved me, Laszlo,” she says in a tight whisper. “Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you tell me about my father? About any of this?”

I shake my head, helpless, because I know even now that I couldn’t have said such things to an eighteen year old girl. The things I said in the letter, about my love for her being poisoned with guilt, I feel the truth of that all over again. It would have ruined us.

“I couldn’t, sweetheart. I just couldn’t tell you how I felt. And the letters, all the things about your father, he made me promise not to tell you.”

Her eyes search my face, fresh tears sliding down her cheeks. “And now?” she asks, a wobble in her voice. “Do you love me now?”

I take a deep breath and lay my baton aside. I put my hand in my pocket and draw something out. I bought it in Bangkok before I flew out, knowing that there was only ever going to be Isabeau for me. I should get down on one knee but I’m paralyzed by fear and hope, holding the white-gold diamond ring in clumsy fingers like a tiny talisman. “You asked me on the day of your father’s funeral if we did the right thing, and my answer is still the same. If there was any fault I take it all upon my shoulders. I won’t ask for forgiveness from anyone but you. I don’t care what anyone else thinks of me. I only care about you.”

I can say this to her, openly and truthfully, as I couldn’t before. She knows everything now. All that I am. All that I have done.

“I’ve always loved you, Isabeau. I’ll never stop loving you. And I’m asking you to love me too, always, now that you know the truth.”

Isabeau lets out a strangled sob and runs into my arms. As her body thuds into mine my eyes close and I’m pierced with love and happiness so strong that I can only clasp her tightly against my chest, my eyes closed, thankfulness pounding through me.

My mouth seeks her lips and they’re soft and salted with tears. We’ve found our way back to each other for the final time. “My love,” I murmur between kisses. “My Isabeau.”

I fumble for her fingers and she holds out her left hand for me while I slide on the ring. She turns her hand in the light, marveling at the sight of it sparkling on her finger. It looks better than I imagined. Isabeau Laurent is going to be my wife.

She reaches up and strokes her fingers through my beard, tears shining in her eyes. “I loved you since the moment I saw you looking back at me on that cold London street. I was only a child, but I knew. And I never want to lose you again.”

A violin starts play. It’s Marcus. Another joins him, and then a cello. Then more instruments until all the string instruments are playing Vocalise. I wonder how they know before I remember that Isabeau and I played it at the airport. I’ve never cared what people think about the things I do, but all the same the sound of their playing is like a blessing. These people at least are happy for us.

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