After my usual two-second lunch, I hurried to the library to get some work done.
In my notebook my Symphonians waited for me. Through them I plunged into another world: something like the show “Friends,” only with instruments.
See, I’d always been pathologically shy, where it just scares me to speak to people. I had a horrible time my freshman year. I was so depressed and isolated that some days I didn’t wash my hair. I wore the same sweatshirt until the cuffs got all worn at the edges, and I could not approach people for anything. I had problems with bullies that year, too, and because people ignored it when the bullies heckled me. So, I created my own friends. The Symphonians were everything that friends should be – fiercely loyal, generous to a fault, always loving.
And now I was a junior. I’d found my feet – washed my hair, wore cotton tops and comfy jeans and white tennies, so I wasn’t a total wreck. I liked to think I look nice, no need to be a supermodel, but nice, and I smiled a lot at people. It was just the talking part that gave me fits.
I headed to my little table in the reference section. When I rounded the corner of the stacks, I stopped. Noel was sitting there, working on what looked like a makeup exam, black hair rumpled, his black fedora sitting next to his arm. Before I could look around for another table, he looked up with those dark brown eyes. "Hey, Kathy. Did you want to sit here?"
“Um, sure,” I said. “Thanks.” When I sat down, I scooted my chair a few inches away, hoping Noel didn't notice. I wanted to scoot over farther, but despite my discomfort I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I pulled down the sleeves of my big cardigan (the library was freezing) and opened my green notebook, chewing my lip, and escaped into my work. Revisions, revisions, endless revisions. I loved ‘em, because I loved my people.
It was late. The concert was over, and most of the Symphony had gone home. Backstage, Roderick leaned on the piano, stuffing his tie into the pocket of his dress shirt while Jeremy and Penelope demolished another sonata. All three were still dressed in their black suits or dress, their regular concert attire. Penelope had black, curly hair that she wore loose around her shoulders, though she had it tied it back when she played her viola. Jeremy, who’d thrown his tie over his shoulder, his wavy blonde hair rumpled, was complaining about the way Penelope played her sonata, but the trumpeter wasn’t doing a very good job himself of showing her how it should be done. Jeremy gave up and began pounding out some Van Halen songs. Penelope covered her ears and rolled her eyes, but jokingly.
Roderick alone saw Violet heading toward the backstage door. Though Violet was about 25, about the same age as the three friends, tonight she walked like an old lady, with careful, small steps. Roderick thought, what does she do to herself to walk like that?
The three Symphonians were loitering around the piano, enjoying each other’s company and making a racket. It had been a while since Violet had loitered with them. That bothered Roderick. Has she stopped hanging around with us because I’m … interested in her? Violet was married. He’d never approached her. He had his reasons.
But to see Violet heading toward the back entrance in that dress like a black tulip, limping as if she hurt, stirred him. Now Penelope and Jeremy saw Violet, and he saw they all missed each other from the regretful, lingering looks they exchanged.
“Violet,” Roderick said. Saying her name made his blood leap in his veins. His dark hands tightened on the piano’s case. She turned, the dress flaring slightly around her ankles, and regarded him like a stray cat, ready to run.
Roderick waved her over. “Come here and hang out with us.”
“Yeah.” Jeremy eagerly leaned forward, arms crossed on the piano’s sill, to look around Penelope. Everything he did was with that boyish, wide-eyed enthusiasm, as if all his life was a variation of flying down the ice after a hockey puck. “We hardly ever see you any more. Where’ve you been?”
Violet, her clarinet case at her side, shrugged one shoulder so it touched her wavy brown hair. “I’ve been busy.” But Roderick thought that her face changed while she said it, as if she did not like being busy, whatever that entailed. Yet she took a step toward them. “Then again, it’s no fun being a hermit.”
“Play an upside-down etude for us,” Penelope pleaded, her brown eyes concerned as always. “It’s obvious that Jeremy and I can’t handle this instrument.”
“Yes, and it shows,” Violet said briskly. As if rising to the challenge, she came to the bench, her black dress swishing around her ankles. It had a fine, wide skirt to it that belled out as she walked: Roderick’s favorite. “Move aside, people.” And there was a spark of that ferocious Violet he’d always known. Roderick smiled.
Violet attacked the piano with grace, her fingers everywhere at once, something from Czerny’s School of Velocity. She fell into the music, her fingers flashing across the keyboard. Roderick loved to listen to her, as if the music was speaking to him. Then Violet played “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” in the style of Chopin, grinning. She messed around with Chopin etudes. First it was “Paradise City” by Guns ‘N Roses in Chopin’s style, then some Green Day, then “The Thrill is Gone” by B.B. King. The Symphonians cheered and made jokes, and Violet bantered back. She caught Roderick’s eye and grinned, which made him feel like he could lift a car off the ground. Something passed between them, a spark that he saw leap in her eyes.
(Today I could feel the emotions leaping between Roderick and Violet like living things, intense. Why was my heart pounding as I revised this scene? Why was I feeling so self-conscious as I scribbled more notes in the margins?)
As if abashed, Violet ducked her head to the keyboard. Her music suddenly turned terrible, jarring, filled with what sounded like wrong notes, except there were no right notes.
“What in the world is that?” Penelope raised her head like a displeased queen.
Roderick watched Violet frowning over the keyboard. From where he stood, he could not see her hands at work, only the sweet movement of Violet’s body as she chased down the notes. “It’s from the opera Wozzeck,” Roderick said. “It’s the final so-called aria after Wozzeck kills his cheating wife and the man she was with.” Roderick’s stepfather used to play in an opera orchestra.
Violet spared him a sidelong glance, then turned her eyes back to the keyboard before anything else could pass between them. “So-called aria, my foot. It’s good music, so deal with it. Besides, that’s how the world is.”
“Not necessarily,” Roderick said lightly, wishing she’d look at him like that again. “Maybe there is such a thing as a happy ending.”
“Ha!” Jeremy cried, leaning on the piano. “Cooper, when have you ever thought that?”
“Don’t want to hear it, Richardson,” Roderick muttered.
But just then Violet glanced at the clock – and stood bolt upright, so fast that the piano bench tipped slightly. The piano fell silent. “He’s right,” Violet said, grabbing her purse. Was that fear in her face? And what brought that on? She’d been there for only a half-hour. “I can’t stay,” Violet said. “I gotta go. I’m sorry.”
“I don’t want to miss my ride.” Violet raced out the door, her black dress flaring behind her.
Everyone stared after her. Roderick was floored.
Penelope said, “Did we offend her?”
Jeremy shook his head. “I don’t think so. She’s probably just late.”
But Roderick stared at the door, which was still slowly closing, was nearly closed, after her swift exit. That fear on Violet’s face was way out of proportion to missing a ride.