Authors: Phoebe Walsh
Tags: #romance, #comtemporary, #Music, #sweet romance, #clean romance
Romance in A minor
A musical romance
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ustine was waiting for the bus in Elizabeth Street when the heavens opened.
She had joined the mass of office workers huddled together under the pedestrian overpass, but a mist of droplets drifted in and made everyone wet anyway. People shielded themselves by covering their heads with jumpers, bags, the occasional newspaper and if they were lucky, an umbrella.
The bus arrived, with fogged-up windows and windscreenwipers going at the max. When the doors opened, people ran from their shelter across the torrential rain, up the steps to the bus and into the stuffy wet-dog-smelling air.
Justine waved her card in front of the machine and joined the throng of people standing in the aisle, avoiding shopping bags, a pram and people's legs. The driver was shouting, "Move to the back, please! Let other people get on. This bus will not depart unless you move to the back!"
People moved and jostled.
Justine was sardined between men with wet suits and wet umbrellas, while trying to avoid being poked with handbags and poking other people with her bag in turn.
A male voice said, "Oh, hello."
She turned around, meeting the eyes of a man perhaps a few years older than herself. His eyes were brown and smiling. His blue shirt was wet through at the shoulders, but the rain had made little impact on his curls which were kind of wild and went in all directions. His hair was a bit too long, but it was cute.
She frowned at him. "Were you talking to me?" The words were out of her mouth before she realised that they sounded kind of rude, but now that she thought about it, there was something familiar about those curls. He carried a long and narrow cloth case on a strap slung over his shoulder. If she wasn't mistaken, there was a flute in that case.
"Darren Wood, from the conservatorium. You're Justine Feldman. You play the cello."
"Uhm, yes." She
play the cello back then, two years ago. "I'm afraid I don't remember you more than vaguely."
"I was two years above you."
A flood of emotions washed over her. Second year at the conservatorium of music. Parties, concerts and more parties. Practice, auditions, missing out. Frustration, heartbreak. Tears and despair.
She nodded at his flute case. "I guess you're a professional musician now?"
"How are you finding that?"
"I'm doing all right. I got a paid position in an orchestra, I teach a few students and play in private gigs. I even just got a mortgage."
"Congratulations." It was so hard making a living as musician. The sting of jealousy that she felt surprised her.
He succeeded where I failed
Yes, now she remembered seeing him on the stage, where the stage lights made his hair shine as silver as his flute. It was awesome hair, untameable, like the music from his flute.
He played with his eyes closed, and his expression utterly absorbed in music. He didn't even have a stand with sheet music on the stage. There could have been no one in the room and he still would have played the same. She remembered being mesmerised with how effortlessly his fingers moved, and beautiful and warm his flute sounded and she knew she would never, ever, be as good as he was.
He asked her, "What about you?"
She shook her head. "I left halfway through third year. Too competitive. I don't know if I was good enough." There had been a whole lot of other things going on, but there was no need to elaborate on those.
"That's a pity. I like the cello a lot. It's such a wonderfully mellow instrument."
"Yeah." And while the rain pelted on the roof of the bus, her mind was filled with memories of that one time she got a break. She was chosen to play with the great violinist Hiroshi Hideka. He was an awesome teacher and after the performance the two of them had received a standing ovation. Well, the honour was more his than hers, but it felt good. She could see the warmth of his smile after the performance, a smile that said
You will get there
. At the time, she had so wanted to believe that, but the seeds of doubt had already been sown.
"What do you do now?" Darren's voice cut through her thoughts.
"I work... for an insurance company." Checking claims, entering claims, helping customers. Useful work, if sometimes distressing when people were rude to her, but mostly it was just a desk job that she shared with a couple of other office girls. There was always lots of gossip and laughter. It was such a different life from that of a musician. More mundane, but with not half as much stress.
He asked, "Do you still play?"
"I haven't played for a while." Meaning that her cello had stood in its case in the spare bedroom gathering dust.
Sometimes she'd look at it and wonder what it would be like to play again, but Tom always complained about the neighbour's kid playing the clarinet. He had done so much to help her through that difficult period after she had given up her music study, when she'd been depressed and aimless. She didn't want to annoy him.
Darren stuck a hand in the pocket on the outside of his flute bag. He withdrew a card which he gave to her. It said
Darren Wood, principal flautist, North Sydney Symphony Orchestra, teacher for medium to advanced students
. "I do a lot of work with small ensembles. We can always use cellos."
"Oh, but I couldn't. I'm awfully out of practice." And she didn't really want to go back to paying for expensive lessons and all that kind of stuff.
"You'll get it back easily enough. Hey, none of these groups are pretending to be virtuoso ensembles. Most of the players have other jobs. We play music because music is meant to be fun. We play easy pieces, often for functions. You know, weddings and things. Ring me if you're interested."
"I... don't know." It sounded like fun, but... there were so many buts, she couldn't even begin to list them all.
The bus was coming to a stop. "You'll have to excuse me. I have to get off here. Ring me. I'd love you to come." His brown eyes were playful.
"I'll... think about it."
While he hopped off the bus, Justine put his business card in her pocket, where it felt like a big burning, flashing beacon. The last she saw of him was his hair, a quick glimpse of wild curls in the space between two fellow passengers.
A lot of other people had gotten off at the stop, and Justine could get a seat next to a lady who was reading a newspaper on a tablet. She glanced over the top of the lady's hand at the headlines. Corruption in the police force, wars in the Middle East. Did anything ever change? Her eyes were tired.
When it was her turn to get off the bus, the rain had almost stopped even if the traffic was still going through big puddles. She crossed at the traffic lights, and went into the supermarket where she picked up the usual things for dinner with Tom's explicit instructions. Lean mince, not that substandard stuff, tomatoes, but not too soft and not too hard, bananas, a couple of sports drinks, a bottle of soy milk and a bag of oranges. They lived in the building above the supermarket and rather than wait for the lift, she struggled up the stairs with all the shopping bags.
Justine and Tom lived in a spacious two-bedroom apartment on the fifth floor. It had a small hall, with doors to the bedrooms and bathroom. The living room-kitchen area was to the right, with trendy black stone benchtops, white cupboard doors and stainless steel washbasin and appliances. The living room window had a view towards the city over the roofs of the old terrace houses in the next block.
Justine dumped her shopping bags on the pristine and empty island counter and put all the shopping into the cupboards and fridge.
Then she went to wash her hands in the bathroom
because you never know who has touched all that stuff in the shops
. On the way back to the kitchen, she stopped at the door to the spare bedroom.
The cello stood in the far corner against the wall behind Tom's exercise equipment. She would have to climb over the rower to get it, and would have to wipe all the dust off the case before she could even open it.
In her mind, she could feel the neck of the cello rest against her shoulder. She could feel her fingers press on the strings. She could hear the mellow tone that made the wood vibrate, which she could feel wherever she touched the instrument.
It was just a few weeks ago that Tom had waved a sweeping hand at "your stuff" in that corner of the room that made the exercise room cramped. He was absolutely right. The apartment's living areas were nice, but the bedrooms were tiny. It would be nice if the flotsam and jetsam of their previous lives fitted neatly in a cupboard.
The cello would be worth a few thousand dollars. If she wasn't going to play again, it was just useless money sitting there. She had even looked up a few places where she could advertise it. But then she imagined someone calling about it, coming to have a look at it, and walking out the door with the thing that had been such a big part of her life. Her eyes became teary just from thinking about it.
So she had told Tom, "Maybe later."
Tom had sighed and walked out the door. He hated mess, and she completely understood why. You should see his mother's house, with shelves upon shelves of dusty, yellowed and dirty knick-knacks, often stacked haphazardly. It always smelled of cats. That place would turn anyone into a neat freak. And she liked the apartment tidy.
But... sell her cello?
Justine turned around.
Tom came into the kitchen from the hall. His suit was a very stylish grey, with a crisp white shirt and a red tie. He wore his short hair combed back from his forehead, but it was his expressive mouth that attracted her. He had a strong, masculine face, with the hint of a tan from his beach runs. His eyes were grey.
He came to her and kissed her on the lips.
"Why are you wet?" His company provided a car spot so he drove to work and had managed to avoid getting wet.
"Didn't you see the rain?"
"You were caught in that storm?"
"Why didn't you call me? That's why we have the car, so that we don't get wet, and that we don't have to catch smelly public transport when it's raining."
He went to the kitchen bench and gathered up the plastic bags that Justine had forgotten to pack away and that lay all over the counter. He bundled them into a ball and stuck those inside the cloth bag that hung inside one of the kitchen cupboards for that purpose.
"I'm sorry, I didn't know you were coming home early." She would have put those bags away sooner.
"It's a special day today."
"A special day?" Justine wondered what she had forgotten. Not his birthday, not their anniversary. Then sometimes he would declare "special days" when he'd done well on the share market or signed a big client at work.
"Let's go out to dinner tonight."
"Oh yes, I feel like going to Pietro's." Their pizzas were the best ever.
day. We need something more classy than that. I've booked a table at The Terminal."
"Ooh! That's certainly very classy." Was there a reason for spending that much money? She looked down. "Hmm. I better get changed then."
"Yes. I'd like to see you in something nice."
Justine went to the bedroom and opened the door to the wardrobe. For a while, she stood staring into the mass of office clothes and gym clothes and casual party clothes. A few of her dresses were a bit more formal. She'd wear the red one—no, it had tight sleeves that would be too hot if the muggy weather decided to stick around, and it being late November, that was likely. Maybe the blue one. She pulled it out and held it in front of her. She liked the blue dress. It suited the sleek darkness of her hair. But she'd worn it the last time when they went to The Terminal. The people who worked and came there were all hung up about fashion. They would think she had no other clothes.
She hung it back in the wardrobe. She pushed aside a few business suits and found a grey velvet dress that was definitely a winter number and would have her looking like a beet before she'd even finished the entrée. There was also a yellow backless dress that was great for parties but too risqué for a classy restaurant. It wasn't comfortable to wear either, because with the strapless back, she felt that some vital part that held the dress in place was missing and she felt compelled to check it all the time for boob emergencies. That wasn't going to be suitable for a restaurant.