By Kennedy Northcutt ©2012
See Part 1 for all the important stuff.
Staring out at yet another beautiful sunset over Crystal Lake, Brandan couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the purples, oranges and magentas that blazed across the sky. It was a perfect ending to yet another perfectly peaceful and relaxing day.
And she was bored.
Sighing heavily, she tried to muster some energy to make the trek into town to the small diner for dinner. She didn’t want to go anywhere. It was too nice and too peaceful. A lone loon called across the lake to its mate. Another call answered from a different direction. A flock of Canada geese in a lopsided V-formation honked their way toward the lake and landed somewhere in the marshes on the other side.
Brandan watched them with half-closed lids. She wore a pair of cut-off jean shorts and a grungy gray t-shirt with a purple Vikings emblem on the front. She’d been painting all day and didn’t want to expend the effort on changing into something else. A blotch of red paint covered a portion of the Vikings emblem, where she’d accidentally brushed against the door. There were a few splotches of forest green here and there, too.
At least the cabin looked a little more lived in and a little less like a derelict. Not that Brandan really cared. Except that a few of the town’s inhabitants had commented when she arrived there a few months ago. That was in the spring. She’d stayed for two weeks and would have stayed longer, except that she got a call from her service that one of her patients had torn his rotator cuff and needed immediate surgery.
Determined to return before the end of the long, hot summer, Brandan finally managed to squeeze in a month of vacation, much to the chagrin of those at the clinic and her good friend Terrance. For once, she didn’t listen to their protests or their praise for her change in attitude since her return from that first trip to the cabin.
So, there she was. She watched another flock of geese about a hundred yards out from where she sat in her lounge chair. They were very vocal as they skimmed along the water until they finally made a somewhat graceful landing. Brandan could tell they were a family by the way they all stuck close together. Two males set to work guarding the rest as they took turns feeding on the plants below the surface of the clear water.
Brandan sighed again and got up from the chair. The geese honked and moved farther out on the lake, but she didn’t really care. Padding toward the freshly-stained cabin with its bright red door and green trim, Brandan went inside without a backward glance. Cool air from the wall A/C hit her as soon as she entered the spacious two-story, open dwelling. The stone fireplace hadn’t been needed all summer. That had been the first thing she had tackled upon her return. It was spotless.
She walked through the open living room to a set of pine stairs that led up to her loft bedroom and bath. Once upstairs, she shed her work clothes, padded into the bathroom and hit the shower. The steamy water felt good as she washed away the dirt and grime from her efforts that day. When she was finished with her shower, she grabbed one of the freshly-laundered, thick towels and quickly dried off. With the towel wrapped around her hair, she padded back into the bedroom, grabbed a white cotton t-shirt and a pair of kaki shorts, underwear and her hiking boots from the closet.
Stepping back into the bathroom to blow her hair dry, she glanced at herself in the mirror and frowned. The darks circles were still there. She hadn’t slept well in weeks and couldn’t figure out exactly why. Things at work were fine. Her patients weren’t giving her any trouble. Terrance enjoyed the hours she spent at the free-clinic.
So, what was wrong? What was missing?
Brandan finished drying her hair and went back downstairs. She grabbed an iced tea from the sparse refrigerator and walked outside. Crickets were chirping loudly and the mosquito zapper was working overtime. Stepping away from the cabin, she looked up at the night sky and saw a few stars twinkling above. There was still just enough light to see shadows of geese gliding across the lake. Several were on dry land and honking noisily nearby.
The loons called back and forth to each other as Brandan leaned against the deck railing, sipping her tea and considering her options. She could drive into town and eat dinner at the small café. Or…
The loons continued calling to each other and distracted her. Their calls were so forlorn that it touched a chord deep in her soul. Brandan suddenly thought about Caitlyn Bradley. She hadn’t thought of the woman in weeks, but the sad loon song just seemed to bring Caitlyn to mind for some strange reason.
Brandan missed Caitlyn. Ever since saying her final goodbye at Caitlyn’s last appointment, Brandan hadn’t really given the musician much thought. She was too busy with work to do more than go home and crash in bed after a long day. But now, with the loons calling across the lake to each other, Brandan couldn’t help herself. Her heart was as heavy and sad as the loon song that drifted across the lake.
Taking another sip of tea, Brandan watched the last glow of sunlight disappear as more stars came out overhead. She wondered where Caitlyn was and what she was doing. Had she returned to New York and was she performing with the New York Philharmonic again? Brandan didn’t have access to the internet, much less decent cell phone service. She couldn’t search the internet to find out. Not that it mattered. They had parted ways with very little words exchanged between them.
All Brandan knew was that Caitlyn’s hand was healed and there was no reason for her not to go back to her music. The surgery was a success—so much so, in fact, that Brandan was scheduled to receive yet another fellowship for her breakthrough in neural arthroscopy. Sam was also hounding her to appear with him at his next symposium. Brandan had managed to put him off, but knew it was only a matter of time before he figured out a way to rope her into it.
Staring up at the stars overhead, Brandan wondered if Caitlyn ever thought about her. Her heart ached every time she recalled the day Caitlyn insisted Brandan do her surgery. It was one of the most painful and heartbreaking days of Brandan’s life. It ranked right up there with that fateful day her parents were killed in an automobile accident on their way back from the lake.
Brandan still remembered that day vividly, like it was yesterday. She and her brother stayed home with Mildred, because their parents wanted to celebrate their 10th anniversary at what was then just a weekend cottage on Crystal Lake. It was a chilly weekend in late October and word of an early snowfall was quickly spreading on both the radio and TV.
Her parents were only gone two days when they decided to return home. Brandan knew her father was behind the wheel of the two-passenger sports car as the first flakes started falling. The brunt of the snow storm hit unexpectedly, bringing with it white-out conditions and black ice that no one could have predicted. The small car spun out of control on the highway and collided with a jackknifed semi trailer. Her mother died on impact, but her father made it to the hospital. He died later that same night from acute organ failure. There was nothing the doctors could do.
Brandan never got to say goodbye to either of them. And she refused to say goodbye to Caitlyn, either. But that was different. Caitlyn was a survivor.
Breathing in deeply of the fresh air, Brandan refused to shed anymore tears over the musician or a relationship that was never meant to be. As the night grew darker and the shadows disappeared, Brandan couldn’t help but feel like the loneliness was pressing down on her like a heavy weight. The loon song went from a duet to a solo and suddenly Brandan wanted nothing more than to head back to Minneapolis, pack a bag and fly to New York City to find Caitlyn Bradley and tell her exactly how she felt.
It had been months and she still couldn’t stop thinking about Caitlyn. Her eyes that sparkled when she laughed.The smile that lit up her features. The little crinkle thing she unconsciously did with her nose. Brandan missed everything about Caitlyn. She really liked her.
“Who am I kidding? I love her,” she said softly. She then spread her arms wide, tilted her head back and proclaimed loudly, “I love Caitlyn Bradley!”
Silence echoed in the stillness that followed. Then the geese suddenly started honking loudly and the loons seemed to join in the song. The entire lake came alive with a cacophony of noise in answer to Brandan’s proclamation.
“Yes! That’s right! I love Caitlyn Bradley and I don’t care who knows it!” Brandan smiled into the darkness.
Lights twinkled. Traffic was at a standstill on the street below. A neon sign flickered and sputtered in time to its own music. People crowded the sidewalks. The heat was oppressive and made everyone edgy. There was no escape from it, except to duck into one of the theatres on 42nd or Broadway.
Lifting a glass of merlot to her lips, Caitlyn sipped and watched the activity below. She rested her forehead against the window, drawing some measure of coolness from the glass. Her apartment wasn’t exactly swelteringly hot, but it wasn’t air conditioned, either. She wanted nothing more than to return to the theatre and enjoy the air conditioning.
“You okay, chica?” Rosemarie asked from across the room.
“Yeah,” Caitlyn turned to look at her friend with a wan smile.
“¿Que pasa? ” Rosemarie studied Caitlyn from the loveseat she was lounging on. She sipped her own wine. “Why are you so sad, Cat? You’ve been like this ever since you came back to New York. It’s not like you.”
Caitlyn turned and learned back against the floor-to-ceiling window with a heavy sigh. “Nothing’s the same.”
Rosemarie noticed the slump to the younger woman’s shoulders. Caitlyn also still favored the hand she had severely injured in the car accident. Rosemarie couldn’t really see any of the other injuries Caitlyn had suffered. She had recovered remarkably from that fateful night, even if it had taken months for her to get back to the condition she was in.
“What’s not the same, chica?” Rosemarie prodded. “Come. Sit down and talk to me.”
Caitlyn walked over to and slouched into an overstuffed armchair with her legs dangling over one arm. She actually managed to do it with her wineglass in her hand without spilling a single drop of the dark liquid.
Glancing up at the ceiling fan overhead, Caitlyn tried to gather her thoughts.
“New York, for one,” Caitlyn finally replied. “It was always so vast, so big and full of possibility. Now…” She finished with a shrug and downed the remainder of the wine in her glass, then poured herself another. “I kinda miss Minnesota.”
“You once told me that you could never go back there to live permanently,” Rosemarie said. “You said it was just too…What did you call it?”
“I don’t remember,” Caitlyn swallowed a healthy mouthful of wine. “It was probably while I was still all starry-eyed and innocent. When I thought the sun and moon rose and set over Manhattan.”
“Minneapolis is just so much cleaner, more open,” Caitlyn said. “And you can drive a few minutes in any direction and find fields, grass, trees.”
“You can find those things here, chica. You just have to get out of the city.” She winked. “But we have so much more to offer than that backwards place you’re from. They don’t have decent bagels and schmear.”
“They do,” Caitlyn argued. “You just have to know where to find them.”
“Okay, where else can you find a pizzeria next to Chinese takeout across the street from Tai, Italian, and the finest seafood on the planet? Eh?”
“It’s not about the food, Rosie,” Caitlyn sighed and swallowed more wine. “Or the fact that there’s a bar on every corner and a grocery down every block. It’s not really about New York, at all.”
“Then what is it, amiga?” Rosemarie studied Caitlyn in concern. “Is it that Maestro Abraham replaced you at first-chair? Is it that you had to leave your family? What?”
“It’s…” Caitlyn sighed, downed her wine and finished off the rest of the bottle. “We’re out of wine.”
“There’s more in your fridge.”
Rosemarie got up and went to the open kitchen area, grabbed another bottle from the refrigerator, opened it and returned. She poured more of the dark-red liquid into Caitlyn’s glass and added more to her own.
“Than’s,” Caitlyn slurred.
“De nada, chica,” Rosemarie lay back down on the loveseat with her legs dangling over the side.
Soft strains of music played in the background as the two women silently sipped their wine. The Caitlyn suddenly looked up at her friend.
“Wha’ were we talkin’ ‘bout?” She slurred drunkenly.
“You,” Rosemarie gave her a pointed glare. “You wanted to tell me why you’re so sad.”
Caitlyn nodded. “Ah, yessssss.” She stared up at the ceiling fan again.
She looked so serious that Rosemarie snickered. “Just spill it, chica. And not the wine.” She snickered again at her little joke.
Caitlyn giggled then sobered. “I’m in love.”
Rosemarie sat up and set her wine glass on the low table between them. She studied her friend who was still studying the ceiling fan. There was a telltale wistful smile on Caitlyn’s features.
“In love?Since when?” Rosemarie finally asked.
“Mm,” Caitlyn’s face fell and she rested her wine glass on her flat stomach. “Tha’s the thin’, Rozie. I’n it?”
“You’re not making any sense, chica,” Rosemarie moved to sit on the edge of the table in front of Caitlyn. “Who are you in love with?”
“Brandan Stone,” Caitlyn blurted, then was lost in a fit of silent giggles and drunken snorts. “The mir’cle do’tor who fissed my han’.” She sobered again as she raised the appendage and studied it.
“So, why did you return to New York?”
Caitlyn continued to study her hand through half-closed lids. The wine was doing its job. She was relaxed and ready to drop off to sleep.
“We can’ be t’gedder,” Caitlyn replied sleepily. “Ssstupi’ rules.”
“You’re not making sense, chica,” Rosemarie said. “What rules?”
Caitlyn’s eyes closed and her breathing evened out. “S’upi ru’essssss,” she repeated as she drifted off to sleep.
Rosemarie grabbed the afghan off the back of the couch and covered Caitlyn with it. She considered carrying her friend to her bed, then thought better of it. Caitlyn was deceptively heavier than she appeared and Rosemarie didn’t think she would be able to get her there without dropping her.
“Sweet dreams, mi amiga,” she kissed the sleeping woman on the forehead. “See you at rehearsal tomorrow.”
After putting the wine bottle back in the refrigerator, Rosemarie grabbed her purse and silently left the loft. Caitlyn continued to sleep and only mumbled a little in her sleep as the big door closed behind her friend.
“So, this is it? You’re just up and leaving? Just like that? I can’t believe you would do this to me!”
Brandan ignored the questions and exclamation, as she continued packing clothing into a large suitcase. She considered and discarded several choices, resolving to keep things simple. If she needed something, she could always purchase it once she was settled.
“Talk to me, girlfriend,” Terrance sat down on the edge of Brandan’s stripped bed. “What is up with you, lately? This is not rational. You are not acting like the Brandan Stone I know.”
“Love is irrational,” Brandan replied with a shrug.
“Love?Since when?” He gave her a skeptical look. “I thought that ship sailed months ago, sugar. You said you moved on. There was no going back. The Love Boat collided with the good ship Lollipop and they both sank to the bottom of the ocean.”
Brandan stopped and glared at him. “What the hell are you talking about, Ter?”
“New York City, sugar! Why the sudden need to move there?” He shuddered. “I grew up there. It is not all bright lights and big city. I should know. The Big Apple has a rotten core.”
“Because Mount Sinai offered me a boatload of money to share my innovative surgical skills and techniques with others, maybe?” She countered. “And this will give me the chance to fix what I totally screwed up.”
“You didn’t screw anything up, sugar,” Terrance said softly. “It just wasn’t meant to be. Besides, Johns Hopkins offered you the chance of a lifetime. Why didn’t you take it?”
“Who says I want to live in Maryland?” She rounded on him in anger. “And who says we weren’t meant to be together? Who says fate didn’t send Dr. Sai to me with that outrageous offer, so I can finally have my happy ending? Hm?”
He sighed. “But what about all this?” He held his arms out to indicate the bare room they were in. “And what about Johns Hopkins? They offered you the chance to teach—permanently. You said that was your dream.”
Boxes were organized neatly and grouped so the movers would know which ones to take and which ones to leave behind. There was a pile of boxes marked for donation to the local homeless shelter and another pile that would go into storage. The entire house was that way. Brandan had spent the last few weeks boxing and organizing everything for the move.
“I don’t want Hopkins. I never did,” Brandan replied flatly. “And this stuff means nothing without someone to share my life with. The offer in New York is a solid one. I took it. End of discussion. And all my stuff is ready to go. The realtor put the house on the market yesterday and there’s nothing left for me to do here, except get to the airport, get on that plane and head to New York.”
“And your aunt and brother?”
“They’ll be fine,” she couldn’t keep a hint of doubt from her tone. “Aaron has a steady job now and Aunt Millie loves her place. She said so when I offered to give her the house, rent free, and she refused. She has a whole posse of women who love her. She’ll be fine.”
“And what about me, sugar?” He stuck his lower lip out in a mock pout.
She stopped what she was doing and sat down on the bed next to him, then wrapped an arm around his shoulders.
“You know you’re always welcome to come visit me in New York, Ter,” she gave him a wan smile. “I’m sure your family would appreciate it if you came to see them.”
He quirked a brow at her.“In prison? I don’t think so,” he shook his head and his loose dreads bounced gaily. “’Sides, since Momma passed last spring, it just ain’t the same.”
“Then you can come see me in my new digs,” she said. “We can do the whole tourist thing—catch a few Broadway shows, eat at all the finest restaurants, take the nickel tour of Staten Island and all the museums. It’ll be fun.”
“You tryin’ to turn me into one of your white friends, sugar?” He scowled at her and then just the barest hint of a teasing smile show.
“Or we could visit all your favorite haunts,” she shrugged. “I’m just not sure your homies will be too thrilled having all six-foot-two of me in their midst.”
He snickered. “But it sure would give ‘em something to talk about for months afterward.”
She squeezed his shoulders. “I’m gonna miss you, my friend.”
“Me, too,” he conceded with a heavy sigh of resignation. “Who am I gonna get to fill all those extra shifts you used to take? And who’s gonna scare the daylights outta all the loiterers when the snow falls and no one wants to leave the warmth of the clinic? Hm?”
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll find another sucker or two to take my place,” she gave his shoulders one last squeeze. “Try the university hospital. They always have a few eager young interns who are looking to earn some extra Brownie points.”
“A bunch of young pups?” He considered that for a moment. “Hm, maybe you have something there.”
She saw the sparkle in his eyes. “And now I’ve lost you.” She deadpanned as she got up and continued packing. “Try not to scare too many of the boys away while I’m gone, Ter. You have a very limited pool to play in you know.”
He shook himself out of his reverie. “There’s always those theatre season tickets you gave me.”
She chuckled. “Yeah. Try not to get me into trouble for giving those to you.”
“No worries, sugar,” he beamed. “I will treat your seats with the utmost respect and the reverence they deserve.”
“Just don’t make out with your date in front of the other patrons, Ter,” she rolled her eyes. “They frown on that sort of thing, you know.”
He crossed his heart and held up three fingers. “Scout’s honor, sugar.”
She snorted. “You were never a Scout, my friend.”
“Nope,” he agreed. “Don’t mean nothin’ though. I give you my word, sugar. Your seats will remain a shrine to your magnificence.”
She shut her suitcase with finality, just as a car horn honked outside. “And that’s my cue.”
Terrance quickly grabbed her suitcase for her in a rare show of chivalry. “Man, what the hell you got in this thing? Rocks?Bricks? ”
“Clothes,” she shot back over her shoulder. “Enough to last me a couple weeks.”
“Enough to clothe all of Africa, by my guess,” he muttered as they headed downstairs.
He grumbled all the way down the stairs and across the foyer. Brandan took pity on him and grabbed the suitcase. She carried it out the front door and to the waiting taxi. The taxi driver took it from her and put it in the trunk.
“Well,” she said. “I guess this is it.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Terrance stepped forward and hugged her. “Take care of yourself, sugar. Don’t let the vipers get you.”
She returned the hug and then stepped back. “I won’t. And you take care, too. Ter. If you need anything…”
“I’ll call you,” he watched her slide into the back of the taxi. “Not like you’ll be able to do anything all the way over there in New York, but it’s good to know.”
Brandan let the window drop down. “You’re always welcome to visit, my friend.”
“Ditto, sugar,” he waved as the taxi pulled away and headed up the driveway. “Take care of yourself, Brandan honey,” he said quietly as the taxi disappeared from sight. “I hope you find her and the two of you figure out this whole love thing you got going on.” He then turned and looked up at the mansion in front of him. “Hello, beautiful. The two of us are going to become really good friends tonight.”
Caitlyn tried not to wince as Maestro Abraham pounded his baton on the music stand for the umpteenth time. Her head was still throbbing painfully from the residual hangover she’d woken up with that morning. Pain relievers didn’t seem to help much. And neither did the Maestro’s mood.
“Two nights until the performance, people,” he growled. “What is the matter with all of you this evening? You act as if you’ve never seen the music before. Now, let’s take it from measure twenty and, this time, don’t let the tempo lag. This is a Christmas song, not a funeral dirge.”
Caitlyn glanced up the row to where Rosemarie was seated. Her friend glanced at her with concern and then smiled. Setting her fingers on the strings of her cello, Caitlyn felt the residual ache in her hand from all the work she’d done in the past few weeks.
The hand was cooperating, for the most part. There had only been a few moments when she didn’t think she would be able to play all the notes in a particular piece. But that didn’t mean she was giving up. It wasn’t in her nature to give up. Except…
Glancing up, she caught the maestro watching her intently. His arms were raised and he stood frozen, as if expecting to begin at any second. Caitlyn readied herself for the downbeat and set her bow to the strings in anticipation. She was ready.
He gave the signal and the orchestra began and was immediately cut off again.
“No, no, no, people!” He glanced around in frustration, as he slammed his baton on the music stand and it broke in half. “Ms. Bradley!”
Caitlyn’s head snapped up. “Yes?”
“Would you please return to first chair and show Emily exactly how this piece is played?” He waited for Caitlyn to drag her cello up the row as everyone else shifted down one chair. “I know I can count on you, Ms. Bradley.”
Quickly glancing over the familiar notes, Caitlyn studied the various measures that the maestro had been focusing on for weeks. Crescendos and decrescendos.Ritards.Dynamics. She took it all in in a matter of seconds.
“Are you ready, Ms. Bradley?” He asked suddenly with his arms raised at the ready.
“Yes, Maestro,” Caitlyn set her cello and waited for the cue to begin.
“Let’s take it from the beginning, then,” he said. “And I want to hear this played flawlessly this time, people.”
Caitlyn felt beads of cold sweat on her brow as the cue was given and the piece began. The piece was difficult, at first, but she soon settled into the flow of the music as her bow slid over the strings and the fingers of her left hand glided through each measure. She knew the piece by heart. But playing first-chair was a bit more challenging than the seventh-chair part she’d memorized.
Then she was at the measure with the cello. She poured every last ounce of passion into those measures and felt the exhilaration build inside her. Her headache vanished. The world around her disappeared. All she knew was the music that flowed around her like a soft breeze. Her solo ended and the rest of the orchestra came back in like a thundering herd. The percussion section began its crescendo at the end of the piece until the walls around them were vibrating.
And then everything stopped with the last crash of three symbols. Strings were silenced. The stillness that followed was fairly palpable. No one spoke. Nothing moved. Even Maestro Abraham just froze in place like a statue. The last echoes faded as everyone waited with baited breath.
The applause came from Maestro Abraham first. He turned that applause on Caitlyn with a brilliant smile.
“Bravo, Ms. Bradley,” he said with a slight bow. “Bravo.”
The orchestra erupted into loud applause, whistles and whoops of appreciation. They all stood up as they continued to applaud in Caitlyn’s direction.
For her part, Caitlyn just sat there blushing to her roots. Her hand was cramping unmercifully, but she ignored the discomfort as she basked in the glory of her return to the spotlight. Her fellow musicians continued their applause for a few more seconds and then sat down, one by one.
There was a buzz of excitement from the group that hadn’t been there in weeks. Rosemarie even gave Caitlyn an enthusiastic double thumbs-up and a broad grin.
Maestro Abraham held up a hand for silence. Once the murmurs and noises stopped and everyone settled back down again, he looked around at them all. His gaze then settled on Caitlyn.
“Well,” he began in a stern tone, “I suppose it’s settled, then. You’ve once again earned your place, Ms. Bradley. Welcome back.” Someone whooped and one of the percussionists tapped a cymbal with a drumstick. Maestro Abraham merely waited to continue. “It is wonderful to have you back where you belong.”
“At last!” Rosemarie shouted and received several chuckles and nods.
The maestro nodded at Caitlyn, too. “On that note…” Several groans followed. “Yes, yes,” he put up a hand. “I know. Bad pun. But really. On that note, I dismiss you all and look forward to seeing all of you back here tomorrow night for dress rehearsal.” More groans. This time they were followed by eye rolls and the shuffling of bodies and equipment. “Don’t be late, people!” He continued over the din. “And try not to celebrate Ms. Bradley’s triumphant return, too prematurely.” He looked pointedly at Caitlyn. “We still have a performance at the Kennedy Center two nights hence!”
Caitlyn just sat there as everyone else around her was suddenly in motion. Instruments were packed up and the musicians dispersed in not time. She waited for the chaos to die down and then sat there in the first-chair position and looked around her. She tried to imagine herself at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, sitting right there in the first-chair cello spot. It was difficult to imagine.
“Daydreaming again, chica?”
Caitlyn looked at Rosemarie with a smile. “Trying to imagine what it will be like on opening night.”
Rosemarie sat down next to her. “Like it usually is.Nerves.Excitement.Maestro Abraham pulling his hair out.” They both chuckled. “How is your hand, chica?”
Caitlyn flexed her hand and winced slightly. “Stiff. Aches a little. It’ll be fine.”
“A little nervous,” Caitlyn replied. “But I’ll be fine.” She sat back with a sigh as her headache returned. “Still a little hung over from last night.”
They both chuckled again.
“No more wine for you, chica,” Rosemarie chided. “But we do need to go out and celebrate. Everyone is headed over to O’Malley’s for beer. Will you at least come and have one with us? I think they want to make a toast to you.”
“Okay,” Caitlyn nodded. “One beer should be okay. No wine, though.”
“Absolutamente nada,” Rosemarie grinned.
They packed up their instruments and left the rehearsal hall together, arm in arm. Walking the few blocks to O’Malley’s, they entered the dimly-lit bar to find the place packed. There was Christmas music playing loudly and lights dangling and twinkling in the ceiling above. The bar itself was decorated for the holidays and the bartender, Jake, wore a set of reindeer antlers that jingled when he moved.
“Hey!” Someone shouted. “They’re here!”
Caitlyn and Rosemarie were a little overwhelmed when a crowd of people converged on them as they walked in the door. Someone took their coats and they were both handed mugs of beer.
“To Caitlyn Bradley!” Another shout went up and glasses were raised high.
“Here! Here!” Came the reply in unison.
“Come on, you two,” Brenda pushed through the crowd and grabbed Caitlyn’s hand, leading them toward the back of the bar. “We saved you a seat.”
“Congratulations!” Caitlyn received a hug from one of her fellow cello players, Tabatha Xie.
“Yes, congratulations!” It was then Emily Cook’s turn to hug her. “I’m so proud of you, Caitlyn!” She beamed and didn’t seem a bit disappointed that Caitlyn had taken her spot. “You were simply amazing tonight!”
“Absolutely,” another woman nodded. “You deserve the honor. Your solo tonight…” She turned to Emily, “No offense Emmy…”
“None taken, Elsa,” Emily replied.
“Anyway, it was incredible, Cat,” Elsa Kosnowski continued in her slight Eastern European accent. “It touched me deeply and I almost forgot to come back in at measure fifty-four. I was just so moved by your passion and your…”
“Yes, yes, Elsa,” Rosemarie interrupted the bleach-blonde. “You are always moved when Caitlyn plays.”
Everyone chuckled at Elsa’s sudden blush that she tried to hide by downing the remainder of her beer.
“Were you surprised at all?” Brenda Brubaker asked Caitlyn.
“I was totally surprised,” Caitlyn replied as she sipped her beer. “I wasn’t expecting it at all. Not when I’ve been sitting seventh chair since my return.”
“He didn’t want to move any of us up,” Emily added. “Even on tour. Maestro just wanted you to return, whole and healthy, as if you never left.”
“Me, too,” Caitlyn smiled sadly. “I really missed you guys.”
“And we missed you,” Elsa winked at Cat, who blushed.
“To Caitlyn!” Rosemarie lifted her mug high and everyone did the same. “And to the Phil a successful opening night. May we move the audience to a standing ovation!”
“Here! Here!” They all drank.
“And to my friends,” Caitlyn added with a warm smile. “You guys are the best!”
“Here! Here!” They drank again and then the group slowly dispersed.
Some joined other groups of revelers, while others moved to the bar to order more drinks. Caitlyn sat down in one of the vacant chairs and just watched people as she slowly sipped her beer.
“I missed you, Cat,” Elsa sat down beside her and scooted her chair closer. “The tour was just not the same without you.”
Feeling uncomfortable with the woman’s close proximity, Caitlyn moved to a different chair and put an empty chair between them. Elsa remained where she was and pouted just a bit.
“I missed it, too,” Caitlyn said. “Especially the music.”
“You didn’t miss me?” Elsa leaned closer on the table.
“Elsa,” Caitlyn looked point blank at the woman, “we were never…” She let the words hang and just finished with a head shake.
“I know, liebchen,” Elsa sat up and finished off her beer. “I heard you found someone.”
Caitlyn tried not to let her disappointment show. She didn’t want to think about that heart-wrenching choice or relive the pain all over again.
“It wasn’t meant to be,” she said. “We’re just from two very different worlds.”
“Ah, I see,” Elsa nodded her bleach-blonde head. “So, you’re back on the market then?”
“No,” Caitlyn quickly replied with a pointed frown. “I’m not. I’m completely off the market so I can concentrate on my music.”
Elsa pouted again. “Such a complete waste, liebchen. You are depriving the world of the chance to experience your beautiful spirit.”
“I share my talent. That’s enough.”
Elsa studied her for a moment. “She meant that much to you?”
Caitlyn swallowed over a sudden lump in her throat. “I don’t want to talk about it, Elsa. Please, just leave me alone.”
“Okay, fine,” the woman got up and headed to the bar without another word.
Rosemarie came back over with a pitcher and took the vacated seat. She poured more beer into Caitlyn’s mug and topped her own off, too.
“Elsa bugging you, chica?”
“Then why the sad face? This is a night to celebrate.” She clinked her mug against Caitlyn’s. “No sad faces, chica.”
Caitlyn gave her a wan smile as she sipped her beer. She couldn’t help but think of Brandan and what they could have had together. That brief kiss they had shared together made Caitlyn want so much more. It had awakened feelings inside that she’d thought long gone. It wasn’t fair. And she only had herself to blame for not taking Brandan up on her offer to have another doctor perform the surgery.
Glancing down at her hand and flexing it, Caitlyn tried to imagine what her life would be like without the full use of it. It still ached from her exertions earlier that evening, but the discomfort was well worth it. She was back in her coveted place in the orchestra. No one could take that away from her.
But that didn’t mean her heart didn’t feel like someone punched a hole in it. She could feel the ache in her chest as much as the one in her hand. It was palpable and real and hadn’t diminished one bit since her return to New York.
“You need to get laid, chica.”
Rosemarie’s unexpected declaration almost had Caitlyn spitting her beer across the table.
“What?” Caitlyn quickly recovered her composure.
“You heard me. You need a good lay to get your mind off things. Athletes do it. Why shouldn’t musicians?”
Caitlyn chuckled. “I cannot believe you just said that, Rosie.”
“I can’t believe you didn’t take Elsa up on her offer,” the Hispanic woman looked pointedly at Caitlyn. “It’s not like she wasn’t drooling all over the table or anything. And those breasts of hers were practically falling right out of that blouse of hers, chica. Don’t tell me you didn’t notice she was wearing a pushup bra just for you.”
“I’m not interested in Elsa—or anyone else, for that matter,” Caitlyn replied.
“No, you’re too busy pining over that woman back in Minneapolis,” Rosemarie said. “Well, unless you believe in miracles—which you don’t—then I suggest you just put tall, dark and gorgeous out of your mind and move on. Find someone else.”
“I don’t want anyone else,” Caitlyn frowned. “I don’t want anyone. I just want my music. Is that so hard to believe?”
Rosemarie leaned forward on the table. “Sex is a natural part of life, chica. It is a great stress reliever. Believe me. I know.”
Caitlyn winced. “I can’t believe we’re having this discussion, Rosie. What you and Jorge do in the privacy of your bedroom is your business. Not mine.”
“Hey,” Rosemarie gave her a playful grin, “we don’t just do it in the bedroom.”
Caitlyn rolled her eyes. “TMI, woman.TMI.”
“What does that mean? TMI?”
“Too much information,” Caitlyn supplied.
“Oh,” Rosemarie’s grin widened. “That is nothing. I’ve never told you about all the positions we’ve tried.”
Caitlyn blushed to her roots. “Please, don’t. I’m begging you.”
Rosemarie chuckled. “I will spare you the intimate details, chica.”
“Thank you, my friend,” Caitlyn finished her beer and poured herself another. “Bottoms up.” She saluted with her mug and downed half of it.
“Can I join you ladies?”
Both women looked up as one of their fellow musicians sat down in a vacant chair across from them. He eyed their half-empty pitcher with interest.
“Apparently so,” Rosemarie looked at him with a scowl. “But get your own beer, Albert. You can’t have ours.”
His chubby face fell into a boyish pout.
“Aww, come on, Rosie,” Albert Simmons whined.
Caitlyn grabbed the half-empty pitcher and poured beer into his glass. “Don’t mind, Rosie. The next pitcher’s on me, anyway.” She smiled at the grin he gave her. “So, how are you, Albert? How’s the brass section treating you these days?”
“Spectacular,” he replied as he sipped his beer. “I love it. It’s fun.”
“The tuba is fun?” Rosemarie was skeptical.
“Absolutely,” Albert replied with a grin. “You should try it sometime, Rosie. Takes a lot of hot air to get it going.” He chuckled. “I could see you playing tuba.”
Rosemarie narrowed her eyes at him. “Are you saying I talk a lot, Albert?”
Caitlyn snickered behind her hand.
“Not at all, Rosie,” Albert didn’t quite sound convinced. “Not at all.”
Rosemarie glared at Caitlyn. “¿Y tu, mi amiga?”
Caitlyn held up her hands in surrender as she continued to giggle. “I plead the 5th on this one, my friend.”
Rosemarie continued to glare at them both. But their laughter was too contagious and she was soon chuckling right along with them.
“Jorge says the same thing,” she finally conceded. “Good thing he is deaf in one ear.”
They laughed harder and continued laughing until there were tears in their eyes. The beer kept flowing and the revelry continued until the wee hours of the morning, when they all decided it was time to head home.
“Ju coming, chica?” Rosemarie waited by the door for Caitlyn, who was a little too drunk to walk straight.
“Wha’ time’s it?” Caitlyn staggered to the door and awkwardly donned her coat and scarf.
“’S three a.m., I think,” Rosemarie replied a little blearily. “You’re drunk, chica.”
“I know,” Caitlyn awkwardly finished tying her scarf as the door opened and let in a blast of icy air. “Ugh! ‘S win’er alrea’y.”
Rosemarie peeked outside. “Not snowing, yet.”
Caitlyn hunched her shoulders as they walked outside, arm in arm. It was still dark out and Caitlyn was grateful. What little light there was from the streetlights was enough to make her wince.
“You’re s’posed to not le’ me drink so much,” Caitlyn slurred. “Some frien’ you are.”
They both walked drunkenly up the sidewalk of the deserted street. Caitlyn leaned more heavily on Rosemarie, who was only slightly less drunk. The dimly-lit street was mostly deserted and there was a chill in the air that foretold of the coming winter.
“Not my fault you’re still pining over your lost love, chica,” Rosemarie replied.
They were so intent on putting one foot in front of the other and staying upright that neither woman realized they were no longer alone. A shadowy figure followed them for several blocks.
They both turned around so suddenly that it was all they could do to stay on their feet.
“What?” Caitlyn squinted in the darkness to try to make out who was there.
“Who?” Rosemarie got out just as the figure stepped into the light from a nearby streetlamp. “Maestro Abraham? Is that you?”
“Yes,” he cautiously moved closer in order not to scare the two women.
“Ou’ for a nigh’s stroll?” Caitlyn eyed him suspiciously.
“I saw you pass the rehearsal hall and thought I’d better provide an escort,” he explained.
Rosemarie let her fear show. “You scared the life out of us, Maestro.” She breathed out a shuddering breath.
“Di’n’t scare me,” Caitlyn grumbled.
Noticing that Rosemarie was having a difficult time holding Caitlyn upright, Tony Abraham moved to her other side.
“Let’s get you home, Caitlyn,” he said and received a glare from Rosemarie over Caitlyn’s head. “Er, Ms. Bradley.” They were silent for a few more blocks. “So, how was the celebration?” Two sets of bleary eyes snapped up to glare at him. “Okay, I’ll be quiet now.”
“We’re here,” Rosemarie stopped them in front of a building and pushed the door open. “You have your key, chica?”
“’N my purse,” Caitlyn was fading fast.
“Why don’t you get the key and I’ll carry her up,” Maestro Abraham suggested, as he lifted Caitlyn easily into his arms.
Rosemarie took Caitlyn’s purse from her slack fingers and found the key. She quickly unlocked the door and they headed upstairs. Three floors up and they came to Caitlyn’s door. Rosemarie used the house key on the door and they entered the open loft.
“Should I…” Maestro Abraham looked around for a place to set his burden.
“Put her on the couch,” Rosemarie removed her own coat and threw it over the back of a chair.
Caitlyn was nearly unconscious as Rosemarie went to work removing her scarf, coat and shoes.
“Brnnnn,” Caitlyn mumbled in her sleep.
“Shhh, go to sleep, chica,” Rosemarie tucked an afghan around Caitlyn.
“Should someone stay and keep an eye on her tonight?” Maestro Abraham sat down in a chair and made himself at home. “I’m not doing anything.”
“I…” Rosemarie turned to him with a frown. “I don’t think so, Maestro Abraham.”
“What?” He shrugged. “Do you think so little of me, Rosie?”
“I think you would take advantage of Cat in her condition,” Rosemarie said, point blank. “Why don’t you go home? I’ll stay with her tonight.”
“You have a husband to go home to, Rosie,” he said. “I don’t have anyone waiting for me. I can stay.”
She sat down across from him. “Jorge will understand. And I don’t trust you.”
He smiled charmingly. “Why don’t you trust me?” He then looked at Caitlyn and back at Rosemarie. “She’s a grown woman.”
“She’s not your type.”
He narrowed his eyes at her. “And what is my type?”
“Blonde, busty and straight,” she replied.
He studied Caitlyn for a moment. “She’s gay?”
Rosemarie’s brow rose. “You didn’t know?”
“I…” he sat forward, still studying Caitlyn. “She doesn’t look like a lesbian.”
Rosemarie snorted. “And what does a lesbian look like?”
He shrugged. “Certainly not like her. She’s…” he waved a hand in Caitlyn’s direction. “She just doesn’t look like any lesbian I’ve ever seen.”
“Beautiful?” Rosemarie added with a grin.
“Feminine,” he frowned.
“Stereotypes, Maestro. You should know better than to judge a book by its cover or a piece of music by the notes alone. People are people. There is no type. We all possess a number of qualities and layers that make up the person we are.” She looked pointedly at him. “Some might say that you compensate for a serious lack of self-confidence by sleeping with bimbos.”
He met her challenging glare with one of his own. “Are you calling me a gigolo?”
“I’m not calling you anything, Maestro,” she didn’t back down. “I’m just saying that one should not judge a person by their actions or looks alone.”
He slapped his knees and stood up. “Well, since there’s nothing for me to do here, I guess I’ll be going.”
Rosemarie got up and followed him to the door. She gave his attire a quick once-over before he had the chance to leave.
“You might want to dress warmer, Maestro,” she suggested as held the door open for him. “It’s getting colder out there.”
“I’ll be fine,” he adjusted the collar of his wool sports coat a bit higher and shifted the fashionable scarf he wore around his neck. “See you tomorrow, Rosie.” He tipped his fedora slightly at her.
Rosemarie closed the door and locked it behind her before returning to the open living room. She studied Caitlyn for a moment. The woman was sleeping soundly and hadn’t moved a muscle.
“You dodged that bullet and didn’t even know it, chica,” she sighed as she tucked the afghan under Caitlyn’s chin. “Sweet dreams, mi amiga. I hope you don’t wake up with another hangover.”
Rosemarie collected her coat and purse, then headed for the door. She didn’t have any intention of staying overnight with Caitlyn and figured the woman would simply sleep through the rest of the night. She just didn’t want Maestro Abraham trying anything with her friend. Using Caitlyn’s key to close and lock the door, Rosemarie then slipped it back under the door and left.
Once outside, she looked around to be sure the maestro wasn’t around, Rosemarie headed home at a brisk pace. She didn’t have far to go. Only a few blocks. And the chill in the air was enough to keep her moving quickly.
Brandan unpacked the final box that had been delivered just that morning and made sure everything was in its proper place in her new apartment. The place had a spectacular floor-to-ceiling view that overlooked Central Park in the daytime. At that moment it was dark outside.
The entire space was gorgeous and cost her a pretty penny. It was well worth every cent. She liked the stark white walls and carpet that contrasted with the natural pinewood ceiling high above. She had purchased black leather furniture to add more contrast with all the white. She even had a rack over the kitchen that held a full set of black pots and pans.
Not like she would ever use them. She didn’t cook.
Pottery Barn and Ikea were her new online favorites. And they both delivered. Their prices were a bit inflated, especially in New York, but that didn’t bother her in the least. She was now making more money than she knew what to do with. She even decided to invest it and now had a decent investment portfolio to show for her broker’s efforts.
Setting a replica black and white Ming vase on the mantle above the white-marble fireplace, Brandan stood back and gave the room a quick once-over. She nodded in satisfaction and sat down on one end of the leather sectional. The room was brightly lit with recessed lighting in the ceiling and a few floor lamps scattered around. She had considered getting a baby grand piano, too, but quickly scratched that idea. She didn’t need a piano, especially since she couldn’t play a single note and didn’t have time to learn how to play, much less read music.
But she did have her Bose sound system and a brand new wall-mounted 80" wide-screen TV.
Using a remote control to dim the lights and start a fire in the gas fireplace, Brandan tried to relax. It had been such a long time since she’d had time to herself away from work that she really didn’t know what to do. She considered watching something on TV, but really wasn’t in the mood. She then studied the books stuffed on recessed shelves next to the fireplace mantle. She’d managed to collect quite a few over the years and had read almost all of them.
Not in the mood to read or go to bed, Brandan flipped on the stereo system and turned the volume down. The music was nice, soothing. The soft strains of a cello…
Brandan quickly hit the power button on the controller and the music abruptly ended. She didn’t want to be reminded that Caitlyn lived somewhere close by. And she had no idea where the woman even lived. Soho?The Bronx?Queens? Manhattan? The latter was unlikely. She was a musician, after all.
Brandan stared up at the ceiling high above. She counted the knots and then caught herself. Boredom was not something she was used to.
Standing up, she headed to the suspended staircase at the far end of the room. Once up in her loft bedroom, she quickly shed her t-shirt and shorts, then padded into the bathroom. She flipped the lights on and nearly squinted at the glaring brightness. She quickly dimmed the lights and went to the full-sized tub, sat on the edge and turned on the water. Lighting a few candles around the edge of the tub and adding some lavender bath soap, she waited a few more minutes for the tub to fill.
Once she was satisfied with the water level, she sank into the steaming water and relaxed back against the side. Staring up at the night sky through the skylight above, Brandan let her mind wander. Try as she might, however, she couldn’t think of anything except Caitlyn Bradley.
Thoughts of the woman seemed to fill her every waking moment, even when she wasn’t consciously thinking about her. New York itself seemed to vibrate with Caitlyn’s very presence, even though there were several million other people all crammed together in the small space. Brandan couldn’t go anywhere without wondering if Caitlyn had been there.
Even the time she spent at Mount Sinai had her thinking about the time she had spent with Caitlyn after the accident that had finally brought them together. Her heart still ached at the bitter loss and it had been months since she had even seen the woman.
But Caitlyn’s face was right there in Brandan’s mind’s eye, as if she had only seen her yesterday. Slapping the side of the marble tub in frustration, Brandan sank below the surface of the water in an attempt to shut her mind off from thoughts of the woman.
As she came up for air, finally, the distinctive ringing of her cell phone in the other room had her jumping from the tub and grabbing the nearest towel. She dripped water all the way across the bathroom and into the bedroom in her excitement to get to the phone.
“Hello?” She said a bit breathlessly. Her expression fell instantly when she heard the voice on the other end. She silently scolded herself for believing for a moment that she could conjure Caitlyn’s voice from her own pitiful musings. “Hey, Aunt Millie.” She tried to sound excited by the call and failed miserably. “No, I’m fine. I was just in the…er…I was a little busy. What’s up?” She sat down on the edge of her bed with the towel haphazardly wrapped around her and listened intently to her aunt. “Oh, really? When did that happen?” She listened again. “Is he okay? Do you need me to fly home and…” She listened again. “Oh, I see. Yeah, I understand. I was just…” Another interruption. “No, I know he needs to figure this one out on his own. I just thought…” Yet another interruption. “Yes, I see. Well, keep me posted on what happens. Okay?” She nodded. “And how are things with you, Aunt Millie? Besides this latest setback with Aaron.” She listened. “Oh? You don’t say. And the two of you are…” Her brow rose as she listened to her aunt’s revelation. “Seriously?You and another woman? Aunt Millie, I…Well, yeah, I kinda thought maybe it was possible, but you never dated anyone all the time Aaron and I were growing up. Not even after we moved out on our own. I guess I’m a little surprised.” She listened again. “Okay, so you got me there. I suppose it shouldn’t come as such a surprise, considering my situation. And, no, I have no idea where Caitlyn lives. I’ve only been here a week. Still getting used to where everything is.” Another pause. “No, I haven’t visited the any museums or the Statue of Liberty, yet. Give me a break, Aunt Millie. I just got settled into my new apartment.” She rolled her eyes. “Yes, I’ll send pictures just as soon as I take a few.” She sighed. “I miss you, too, Aunt Millie. No, I won’t be flying home for Christmas. I’ll probably be working through the holidays. Not sure exactly what they’ll have me doing, yet.” She lay back on the bed, then sat back up again when she realized her hair was still dripping wet. “Yes, I’ll be sure to call you when I get the chance on Christmas Day. Okay, bye, Auntie Millie. Love you, too.”
Brandan hung up, tossed the phone onto the bed and went back to the bathroom. She shed the towel and sank back into the lukewarm tub. Not wanting to stay in the tub any longer, She hopped out, turned on the water in her glass shower and washed up. Grabbing the other towel from the rack, she quickly dried off her body and wrapped her shoulder-length hair in the towel. She then leaned against the counter and stared at herself in the mirror.
Thoughts whirled around in her head as she tried to sort through what her aunt had said on the phone. Aaron nearly overdosed and checked himself into rehab to get cleaned up. He had finally hit rock bottom. He lost his job and was kicked out of his apartment. With Brandan gone he had nowhere to go and ended up in a flop house with other drug addicts. It was only by some stroke of luck that the place was raided that night. The police found him and he was rushed to the ER. Although his stay in the rehab facility wasn’t exactly voluntary, he had no other place to stay. So, he was there until he could clean up his act and get off the drugs.
Mildred then dropped the other bomb on Brandan. She was dating another woman. They’d been dating for about three weeks and were enjoying each other’s company immensely. Silvia was a widow to her partner of thirty-two years. They had been very much in love all the way up until Gertrude’s death from colon cancer a few years back. It had taken Silvia all those years to finally get past her partner’s death. She thought she was too old to date had no wish to go through that heartbreak again. But Mildred wasn’t a woman who gave up easily.
With the persistence of a woman intent on winning over the most stubborn of hearts, Mildred kept right on pursuing Silvia until the woman relented and finally accepted an invitation to dinner. They had a great time and Mildred said Silvia was the woman for her. They were madly in love but taking things slowly in deference to Silvia’s wishes.
Brandan hadn’t even known her aunt was a lesbian. Then again, it made sense. It had to be there with someone somewhere in the family. Didn’t it?
She grabbed her robe from the back of the door and tossed her towel onto the rack. Grabbing her hair dryer, Brandan blew her hair dry and then walked back into her bedroom. The lights were still on downstairs, so she went down and turned them all off. She put the fire out in the fireplace and then stood at the window looking out at the darkness beyond. A few lights shone in the distance, but not many. Central Park wasn’t a place wanted to frequent after dark. And there were enough trees to hide most of the lights on the walkways below.
Brandan let her head rest against the cool glass as she just stared off into space. Her thoughts still whirled as she tried to make sense of her life. And then she thought about Caitlyn Bradley. Where was she and what was she doing?
Glancing at the clock above the sink in the kitchen, Brandan realized it was well past three in the morning. She had a front-row seat at the Philharmonic’s performance at the Kennedy Center that evening. Would Caitlyn be there? If so, would Brandan be able to get backstage to see her? The likelihood of that happening in New York was slim to none. She didn’t know anyone at the Kennedy Center who would let her go backstage. Besides, the performance was being broadcast on national TV. There would probably be strict security all over the place.
Her only recourse was to wait at the backstage entrance and hope that Caitlyn would eventually see her. She just hoped there wasn’t a big crowd of wellwishers and fans. The likelihood that Caitlyn would find her in a crowd or vice versa was even slimmer.
Deciding that it was time for bed, Brandan made her way back upstairs, shed her robe and climbed naked between the covers. Caitlyn’s face dominated her thoughts as she fell into a deep sleep full of strange dreams that centered around the musician.
It was opening night and the nervous excitement backstage was palpable. Caitlyn had arrived earlier that afternoon to warm up in the calm before the storm.
The cameras and camera crews arrived shortly after she did and were set up everywhere, but she just ignored them as she went through her opening night routine.
A woman in a headset came over to her and stopped just on the other side of her music stand. Caitlyn finished doing a set of chords and looked up at the woman.
“You can’t be here, sweetie,” the woman said as she chewed her gum. “This is a closed stage and no one is allowed here until the musicians arrive.”
“I’m one of the musicians,” Caitlyn replied with a polite smile. “I think it’s okay if I warm up. Don’t you?”
“Oh,” the woman took a step back. “I guess it’s okay, then. Sorry, sweetie.”
Caitlyn glanced at her cello and then up at the woman who continued to stand there. “Is there something else I can help you with?”
“You always come in so early?” The woman continued to smack and chew her gum. “I mean, it’s not even four yet. Rehearsal doesn’t start until six and curtain isn’t until seven.”
“I need to work out some nervous jitters,” Caitlyn explained. “Opening night is always a bit hectic and I like to get here early so I can calm down a bit.”
“Ah,” the woman nodded. “Same here. I got a whole crew setting up cameras and sound equipment all morning. But I like to come back early, so I can run through all my cues without interruption. Helps calm my nerves.” She held out a hand to Caitlyn who shook it. “Name’s Trish.”
Caitlyn almost commented on the fact that the woman was interrupting her, but thought better of it. Trish seemed nice enough, especially for a New Yorker. Most of them didn’t strike up a conversation with a complete stranger so easily.
“So, Caitlyn, what’s it like?”
“Performing with the New York Phil? Kinda cool, if ya ask me.All those bright lights and the applause.”
Caitlyn studied the curly-haired brunette for a moment and then shrugged. “What’s it like to work behind the scenes of a film crew?”
“Touché,” Trish held up her thumb and forefinger and clicked and winked. “Guess I deserved that one.”
Caitlyn couldn’t help feeling that the woman was actually flirting with her. She just didn’t know what to do about it. Trish was attractive enough, in a slightly butch-meets-femme kinda way. She had pleasant light-brown eyes and long lashes, full lips and even white teeth. Her curly hair was cut just below her jawline and her eyes sparkled in the lights from the stage. She just wasn’t…
“Can you excuse me?” Caitlyn got up and carried her cello with her. “I need to get ready for the show tonight.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Trish watched Caitlyn leave.
After putting her cello safely in its case, Caitlyn turned and nearly ran right into Tony Abraham.
“Maestro,” she exclaimed as he steadied her. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you there.”
“It’s okay, Caitlyn,” he smiled at her. “It’s getting pretty crowded back here.”
They both moved aside as two burly workmen moved some equipment past them. Tony had to move in so close to Caitlyn that they were practically breathing the same air.
“Sorry,” he was finally able to take a step back once the workmen were past.
“It’s okay, Maestro,” Caitlyn hugged herself uncomfortably at the look he was giving her. “You’re here early.”
“You, too,” he replied. “Nervous jitters?”
“Yeah,” Caitlyn nodded. “It’s a little too busy for my usual warm ups, though.”
Just then, Trish passed by and eyed the two speculatively. Caitlyn just caught the woman mumbling something about being completely off about her. At that moment she was mildly grateful to Tony Abraham for his presence, even though she still wasn’t completely comfortable being alone with him. Then again, he wasn’t really looking at her like he usually did.
“Is there something wrong, Maestro?” Caitlyn asked in a low voice. “Are you having second thoughts about me being first-chair cello?”
“No,” then he added, “Why do you ask?”
“Because you’re acting a little odd,” Caitlyn said.
He tried composing his features into a stoic mask. “I’m just a bit curious, is all.”
He cocked his head and studied her. “You’re really a…” He changed position nervously, unable to quite put his thoughts to words. “You don’t exactly look like…um…”
Caitlyn shook her head in confusion. “I’m sorry, but what are you talking about, Maestro?”
He leaned in close. “Tell me that you don’t really prefer women over men.”
Caitlyn’s eyes widened in shock. “Excuse me?”
He moved back. “I’m sorry. That didn’t really come out the way I wanted it to.”
“Who told you that, Maestro?” Caitlyn shook her head. She didn’t like talking about her sexual preferences, especially not with her boss. “Did Rosie say something the other night? I vaguely remember you being there when we were walking home.”
“She did,” he nodded. “I think she was trying to protect you.”
“I offered to stay the night with you,” he explained a bit shyly. “You were a little…er…”
“Drunk?” Caitlyn offered.
“Yes,” he leaned against the wall next to her. “I think Rosie thought I might try something. So, is it true? Are you really—you know.”
“A lesbian?” She whispered pointedly and he nodded. “Yes. I am.”
His expression fell. “Really?”
“Really,” she replied matter of factly.
He waved a hand from her head to her feet and up again. “How is it possible?”
Caitlyn crossed her arms over her chest and raised a brow at him. “How is it you can sleep with every bimbo from here to Los Angeles and back, then have the gall to ask me that question?”
“Yeah, I thought so,” she turned her back on him and walked away without a backward glance.
On her way out to the lobby, Caitlyn met up with several musicians who were just arriving.
“Hey, guys!” She greeted them with a smile and wave.
“Hey, Kit Cat!” One of the trumpet players greeted her. “How’d your little pre-performance jitter-gitter go?”
Caitlyn stopped and looked at him in confusion. “My what?”
“It’s what he calls your pre-performance routine,” the guy next to him supplied. “Don’t mind Jason. He’s got the hots for one of the crew. A delish hunk in lighting.”
“Oh, poo, Mattie,” Jason rolled his eyes in exasperation at his friend. “He’s not hot. He’s absolutely gorgeous. Better looking than Brad Pitt on a bad hair day.” He then gave Caitlyn a conspiratorial wink. “Not as delish as that number who came to see you in Minneapolis, Kit Cat. But I wouldn’t mind taking him home in nothing but a big red bow.”
The others chuckled.
“How…” Caitlyn began and then thought better of asking him how he remembered that night and who she was with. Jason remembered everything. He also had a really big mouth and loved to gossip. “Never mind.”
“You heading back to your place to get dressed, Kit Cat?” Matt asked as he fidgeted with his tie. “I am so over this monkey suit. Can’t believe old Maestro Bimbo Bopper is making us wear these tonight. Why can’t we wear something more fashionable?”
“Because our music is supposed to be the star attraction, honey,” Jason replied. “And that red cumber bun just looks sexy on you, Mattie. So, get over yourself.”
“Bite me, Jace,” Matt replied.
“You wish, honey,” Jason air-kissed him. “Now, what’s the deal with all the vans out back, Kit Cat? It looks like the press is gearing up for the holidays.”
“You know this is going out live, right?” Caitlyn said and almost laughed at their surprised looks. “It’s being filmed and broadcast live on national TV tonight. Something about the Kennedy Center Holiday Special. Didn’t you get the memo?”
“Oh. My. God.” Jason suddenly went white as a sheet. “You’re kidding, right?”
“No,” Caitlyn replied. “There’s a TV crew here and everything. They’re broadcasting this performance live on national TV. No joke, Jason. Maybe your parents will finally get to see you and realize that you left Ohio for a reason.”
“Oh, you did not just say that,” Jason glared at her.
“They sure don’t know he’s a flaming homosexual,” Matt added with a glib smirk. “Too bad the cameras can’t convey that sentiment.”
Jason unbuttoned his suit coat and opened it to reveal a rainbow cumber bun. “Speak for yourself, honey. Maybe I’ll stand up with my coat unbuttoned during that duet of ours.” He smirked back. “Maestro sure would get an eyeful.”
“Are you three done?” One of the other trumpet players finally spoke up. “We need to warm up if we’re going to be on television. And I know the both of you will be in the restroom applying cover up for most of our warm up time, so…”
Caitlyn snickered. “I’ll see you guys later. I need to go change into something a bit less…” She looked down at her sweatshirt and jeans.
“At least your scarf passes muster,” Jason commented snidely. “I’d lose that frumpy look, though, honey. It’s so unattractive on you.”
“Thanks, Jason,” Caitlyn rolled her eyes. “Bye, guys.”
Caitlyn headed out the lobby entrance and cringed when an icy blast of wind hit her. It was bitterly cold outside as she headed toward the nearest subway entrance. Two trains and a short sprint later she was at her loft. She quickly unlocked the door to the entryway and stepped inside. She shivered slightly from the cold as she passed her mailbox.
Continued in Part 7
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