Chapter 12:

Interlude: Baby steps

Phantom Adagio

The music for this chapter:  (Copy pastable version in the comments)


(Christina’s POV)

I cursed myself while I watched Fleure run away. They told me a thousand times that I should not push her to tell me things she did not want to tell me. But since she had been so forthcoming earlier, I had let my guard down and just reacted on instinct. Something in me wanted to run after her, but I knew that would make her feel worse and she had said she would just go home.

I sighed. I had pushed her away again. Well, at least that gave me something to talk to Inge about over dinner tonight.

As I walked back to my car, I overheard a row coming from over Aleksei’s wall. He was having a fight with a woman. I decided to wait and listen. Maybe I could find out a little more about him…

“It’s nothing like that. I am telling you, Nastya. I have taken in a student.”

Nastya… That must be his granddaughter.

“Grandpa, you won’t even teach me and call my music stale, but you can take in some stray dog because their mother is cute? How is that fair?”

She was asking some pretty good questions. I wanted to know the answer to that question too… Why was someone like Aleksei taking in someone like Fleure? Not that I looked down on Fleure’s talent, but she was still young and learning, and he was at the level where he could be teaching the best of the best in the world. If I had to believe Frank, he had even never taken in a student before.

“I have taken a student because I could see they needed my help. The mother has nothing to do with it. Don’t be so ridiculous. Like I would still care about such things at my age. It’s just that I could see the dangerous road ahead. It’s the same one your father took. Without help, it will end up in tragedy just like with your dad. I just want to prevent something like that from ever happening again.”

“Not that ridiculous story again. Those are nothing but ramblings of a mad man, and you know it! It hurts to say it, but my father went crazy after we lost mom. The only thing that matters in music is the technique of the musician, how much they practice, and staying loyal to the scores. Playing everything as closely as possible to what the composer intended.”

She sounded extremely righteous when she was saying that.

“You are forgetting feeling and language. For a piece to come to life you need to put your feelings inside and communicate something to those who listen. Otherwise, everything you play is just stale.”

“Those are semantics. Romantic ideas of fools that do not understand the beauty of the mathematics in music.”

Shortly after that, I heard a door being smacked and they clearly went inside because their voices turned into a murmur that I could no longer understand. I guess the show was over.

What was that all about? Was Fleure actually doing something dangerous? I had read his son had committed suicide. Had that not been correct? I wondered if there was more to it. Now I was going crazy with worry. I looked at my phone and noticed I had gotten a message from Fleure to say she was on the train home.

“Okay, Christina. Nothing to worry about. At least now she is messaging me to let me know where she is. So that is already a small progress.” I said to console myself, “Don’t get too greedy. Baby steps are the key in this situation. But that conversation I overheard kept playing in my mind. What on earth was Fleure doing that one of the best cello players in the world felt it was necessary to help her? I knew I could not talk about this with Fleure. She would just shut down and run away again. Maybe I should mention it to Inge. She might have some good advice.

I got in my car. I did not really know what store she wanted to visit, so I decided to just pay Frank another visit. I was pretty sure Fleure had another of those self-deprecating reasons for refusing to go shopping. Thinking she is not worth it to have comforts. It hurt me tremendously when she said something like that. It was just too sad. As a teenager, she should be having the time of her life.

I really wondered why she felt so guilty. It was an accident. A terrible accident. But wasn’t it time to leave it all behind? It had been over 2 years already. For a teenager that should be an eternity. I decided to just go ahead and buy a bunch of scores without her asking for it, I was pretty sure she would just use them. If it became necessary, I could just say they are mine and let her borrow them from me. I wasn’t going to let her defeat me that easily.

When I arrived at Frank’s 25 minutes later, he was surprised to see me again. “Uhum… T-twice on the same day. I must have done something wrong.” He lamented. Again, he put himself behind the counter so that I could not get closer than a meter. Really…

I started explaining what Aleksei had asked Fleure to do. To read music instead of listening to it.

“UHUM” Frank scraped his neck again. Once you realized that nervous tick of his, it became really irritating. “That old man. He will never change… will he.” He went to the back of his store and returned with a pile of books wrapped together in plastic.

“This is a bundle with orchestra scores of famous concertos and symphonies intended for the conductor. I think it will be perfect for what she needs to do.”

“I know your store is small, but can you get me something like a weekly bundle with new stuff?”

“Uhum.” Another scrape… “I think we can work something out. I see you like to spoil her.”

“Of course, I do. I am her godmother. I have every right to spoil her!” I even considered it my duty to spoil her. If only she would let me.

I paid Frank for the bundle. He gave me a huge discount since I was going to buy a similar set from him weekly. Which I had to admit was nice of him. I was going to buy it anyway, so he did not need to do that.

During the entire transaction, he kept looking at me wearily as if I was about to go berserk. Really… That man knew how to get on my nerves. I detracted the few good points he just earned with the discount again.

After that, I drove home. When I entered, I could hear Fleure play her cello. I never needed to check if she was home. I could hear it the second I got in. After all, she was always playing the cello.

I gift-wrapped the books I just bought and put them on the table so she would find them when she ate dinner tonight. I was glad I would not be here. That way, if the curiosity got the better of her and she unwrapped it, it would be much harder for her to refuse them. I put a little note with her name on the wrappings so that there would be no doubt that it was for her.

After that, I prepared for my evening out. It had been ages since I went out for dinner with someone. My sneaky surprise for Fleure together with the prospect of eating out had put me in a good mood so I walked with a spring in my step toward my room. I picked out a dress for this evening. I still had over an hour, so I decided to take a quick shower first.

While under the shower, I was humming to the song Fleure was playing. Rachmaninoff’s cello sonata. Even without the piano, I could recognize the erratic melody anywhere. I had heard her play it so many times that I could sing it from back to front in the meantime. Listening to her melody. I noticed there was a different mood in her music today. It wasn’t all sad and depressing, there was some joy packed inside the melancholic tune. Like she was celebrating lost days. It touched me more than her music had ever done. It cut right through the bone. If that was the difference that one lesson of Aleksei was making, I was wondering to what heights she would climb if she started to visit him weekly.

After I finished my shower, I put on my blue-green cocktail dress and put some light make-up on. I wanted to look dressed up but not too dressed up. After all, this was not a date, but I would not mind if it was one, and the way I was invited left some room for interpretation. Inge was a caring and beautiful woman, so I would not mind dating her. But I had no idea if she considered other women as a partner. I knew she was divorced, but that was about it.

When I came out of the bathroom, I noticed the cello music had stopped, so I knocked on Fleure’s door.

“Come in!” I heard her say in a rather atypical cheerful tone. I had expected her to be still mad at me or all apologetic after running earlier in Brussels.

What I then saw was something I never expected to see in this room. What was happening? Fleure lay on her bed with her phone in her hand, smiling at the screen. Just like a regular teenager.

“What are you doing?” I asked a bit baffled. She looked up and said “Oh, nothing. I was just reading a message I got from my friend and was thinking about how I should reply.”

What was this? Had hell frozen over? I wanted to know more, and not be too greedy at the same time either, so I did not dare ask too many questions. But I was a bit worried that it might be a boy, so I tried to reply indirectly, so it didn’t sound like I was giving her the third degree.

“That sounds like fun! Be sure to introduce me to her one day.”

“Sure. I’ll introduce Sara to you if I ever bring her over.” She answered. Sara. Luckily, it’s a girl. If it were a boy, I would need to find a way to have that talk with her. Now I felt super excited. This was the first time she ever talked about someone as her friend since the accident.

“I will be out tonight. There is some dinner for you in the fridge. Just put it 4 minutes inside the microwave when you get hungry.

Fleure turned around and looked at me inquisitively. It was really rare that I wasn’t home for dinner and that I did not leave someone in the house as a chaperone. After checking me out she said, “You’ve got a date, haven’t you?”

Oh no, was my dress too much? Was it saying date after all? Seeing the panicky look on my face Fleure said:

“Don’t worry you look great. I am sure you will impress him.” Fleure turned back to her phone and said “Rest assured. Even I can microwave a plate. Have fun tonight!”

Did she just comfort me when I was getting nervous? Today truly was a day full of firsts. I wanted to give her a big hug but decided not to. I also decided not to go into the fact that I was having dinner with Inge. It might be confusing for her at this point to start the entire talk about me preferring women.

My phone buzzed. When I checked I noticed the words “I am in front of your door.”

Well, no more time to change. I guess this dress would be it. I took a deep breath and said “I got to go. I’ll see you tonight. There is a little present for you on the kitchen table.”

I quickly took off after those words leaving Fleure no time to react. Mission completed. Now came the harder part… I hope Inge would not think I was overdressed.