Sing me a Lullaby
"It's those familiar foot steps again..." I grumbled as I immediately put down the sandwich I was eating. As fast as possible, I grabbed all the piano scores of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 2 in G major, Op. 44 and tried to shove everything inside my bag before she caught up with me.
"Callum, Dear! My, are you running away from me?!" The annoyingly familiar high-pitched voice said with a thick French accent.
I quickened my pace as I walked away from the cafeteria with no intentions of looking back. The way she persistently pursued me had been getting on my nerves lately. I already said 'no' a hundred times but she's still after me.
Right now, I really wanted to sit somewhere quiet and sip coffee in peace yet here I was with the pain of my morning headache escalating thanks to the stress of being ceaselessly pursued.
"It is not very plausible to make a woman chase after a man, no matter how charming!" She shouted as we enter the main building. To be honest, I thought of that too but I was prizing my sanity over my gentlemanly reputation this time.
I strode, getting faster by the minute my eyes scanning the surroundings for possible hiding places. Before I knew it, I was pushed aback after hitting someone's back.
In front me, fellow music students are gathered around the bulletin board. There was no openings for me to pass through and I pretty much knew that she would be able to catch up with me this time again.
Her wrinkly hands curled around my arm, forcing me to turn around and face her. She did not look well, panting like she just ran a marathon when she just ran 3 kilometers. I did feel a little guilt though. Old age was quickly catching up to my quirky piano teacher, Elaine Lhevinne, after all.
"Let us... talk about this again, shall we?" She said in between breaths.
I replied curtly, "I thought this conversation was long over."
"But Callum! Surely, you cannot pass up the chance of taking part at Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition this time! It only comes every four years! Your youth will pass by before you know it!" She exclaimed.
I suddenly felt dagger stares from behind me and I did not need to turn to confirm that the students gathered around the bulletin board had all know lent their complete attention to me and Elaine. Soon, murmurs filled the hallway.
She ran her fingers on her graying blonde hair and tried to catch her breath while giving me piercing glares.
"There are many pianists in this school. Why must it be me?" I reasoned.
"Because, my friend..." A male voice interrupted.
I felt a cold shiver run up my spine when I felt someone's arm suddenly placed on my shoulder. I turned and saw Jules Goldstein, a good friend of mine and one of the most promising piano students here at Juilliard.
"What do you think you are doing?" It was a rhetorical question but I shook off his arm anyway.
He traced the outline of his stuble-free chin as he shook his head as if I was some pitiable roadkill.
"As I was saying, don't you think it's time to break out of that shell of yours?" He smirked. "You never took part in any piano competition. I would understand if you sucked but obviously, that's not the case."
I hated how he's always there at the wrong time saying things that make me sink deeper in my grave. I wonder how we even became friends.
"Exactly. Now, you still have less than two weeks to think about it. Please, do consider this opportunity." Elaine passed me a brochure before she walked away.
I had the urge to tear the brochure right at that spot. My hand quivered as I clenched my fist but I ended up putting it in my coat's pocket.
Jules looked at me with a mockingly sympathetic look. "You shouldn't pass up this chance. If I were you I'd jump at it."
"It would be easier if you were me." I sarcastically replied not even bothering to accompany it with a smile.
I heard Jules chuckle. "I think you need a break. I know just where to go." he turned to the crowd behind us and shouted, "Right guys?!"
"Hell yeah!" They shouted in unison.
The way to the bulletin board was cleared and I was able to see what the cause of the commotion earlier was all about.
"It's Francine's celebratory party after winning a Violin competition in Italy last summer." A girl said.
I stared at the invitation printed right out of MS word. I remember Mari Francine Hennessey as the girl who asked me to go out with her if she wins the competition. This is bad, I couldn't remember my reply.
"She won? What place?" I asked, my mind blanking out by the minute.
"Città di Brescia International Violin Competition, 1st place of course!" A random guy replied followed by the eruption of laughter. I felt a sudden pang of pain seeping through my temples.
Shit. The headache's back.
'Het Lot Bar'
That was what the blinking neon lights that hung outside the red-bricked establishment read. I killed my car's engine and shoved the keys down my blazer's inner pocket, then quickly stretching my leg out as I pushed the car door open. As I closed the door, my eyes caught the small bouquet of roses laid on the passenger's seat that I had almost forgotten.
In my mind was the image of Francine that day when she courageously stormed in the room where I was playing the piano. I stopped playing for a brief moment upon hearing the thunderous noise when the door banged open. I remembered how her wavy brunette hair looked golden as the scintillating rays of the setting sun seeped through the windows of the piano room at Juilliard. Her green eyes were fiery with determination but they seemed to glisten with tears as well as she stood by the door that just swung open. In her hands was the official entry form for Città di Brescia International Violin Competition held at Italy.
She did not speak at that time. She quietly closed the door behind her and she asked me to finish the piece I was playing, Mendelsshon's 'Song without Words.' I continued and she just watched silently, standing not afar.
"Just as I thought..." She suddenly mumbled softly as I ended the piece.
I looked up the grand piano and my eyes met her gaze. "What are you talking about?"
Her expression grew softer and she walked closer to me who was sitting there, bewildered by her actions.
"...Now I'm sure that I really, really like you." Her voice grew softer after each spoken word.
She held out the piece of paper, her official entry form for Città di Brescia International Violin Competition and with a confident smile on her face, she said, "I will win this. When I do, please go out with me."
Francine's a really talented violinist, she's outstanding in many ways. She's smart, came from a reputable family, beautiful; however, despite all this, I didn't recall feeling anything at that time as I looked at her. I do remember wanting to eat the leftover Casserole at home though.
I heaved a sigh and took out the bouquet before slamming the car door shut before heading for the rusting iron door of the bar.
"Look who's here!" Jules waved as I approached him and the crowd that gathered around the bartender.
"Who's here?" A familiar female voice asked in a sing song tone.
I somehow felt like turning back after hearing that female voice. I put my free hand in my pocket and forced my self to move forward though with the bouquet hanging loosely at my side. I could see petals falling off the ground, leaving a trail behind me as I neared the crowd where the Francine, clad in a simple midnight blue satin cocktail dress,stood, frozen at the sight of me.
"Congratulations." I said coolly, handing over the bouquet to her with two hands.
She smiled, looking at me and then the bouquet. "Thank you. You didn't have to."
"It's nothing." I feigned a smile. Francine smelled the roses and pressed the bouquet against her chest then she looked at me but there were no words exchanged. Maybe because we mutually knew where our conversation was supposed to be heading.
Jules came up behind me and tapped my back. "I think you two needs some private time alone."
In the dim surrounding, I could somehow recognize the face Jules made when he was actually being sincere. Immediately, he led us to the back of the bar just behind the heavy velvet curtains on the performing stage. It was quite spacious for a backstage and piles of boxes were everywhere. Everything was fine except for the moldy stench though.
"I'll take my leave." Jules saluted and grinned before disappearing behind the curtains.
For a while, none of us dared to speak until Francine finally gave in. "I heard about the competition Ms. Lhevinne was hounding you about. Gina Bachauer...isn't it?" She interlocked her long, calloused fingers and flexed them, a habit she had whenever she's nervous. I should know, I've been around her long enough.
I tried to be friendly and subtly change the topic since the piano competition was something I'd like the least to waste my saliva talking about. "So you've heard...I watched your recorded performance. I never knew you could play like that."
She blushed, casting her head down, stray hair falling down her face. "It's because I knew I had to win it."
Slowly, she looked at me who unknowingly avoided her gaze. "You remember right? The reason...I had to win it."
I didn't speak.
I heard her chuckle, her voice raspy evident of restrained bout of tears. "I wouldn't be surprised if you don't...or don't want to. What was I thinking asking such thing from Juilliard's best pianist!"
Honestly, I am ashamed of myself. So much that I couldn't bring my self to look at her. However, in the back of my head, I knew that I had to do something. I have no time for troublesome relationships...I have enough problems to keep me awake at night.
"I'm sorry." I said trying to be as sincere as I had never been before.
She looked at me, her eyes glistening under the warm light above us. She smiled but disappointment was painted across her beautiful face.
"Francine, you're a wonderful person. You are talented, beautiful. Don't waste all that by getting involved with me." I paused trying to pick out the right words. "..Because right now...I just can't find the time...or reason to fall for anyone." I continued, clenching my fists on my side. I didn't understand why a jolt of pain seemed to course through my body whenever I caught a glance of her face. I knew the pain of rejection all too well...maybe that was why I did not want to hurt her any longer.
"I wasn't really expecting you to say yes from the very beginning." She wiped a tear before it could roll down her cheeks. "You always keep people at a safe distance away from you...afraid of getting attached to anyone and only devoting yourself to your piano. For some reason, I liked that and the way you made such beautiful music."
She smiled, "But even when I already knew the outcome, I thought I had to try."
I nodded in agreement, slowly, avoiding to see her face streaming with tears. My chest clenched at the sight of her because she reminded me of my self.
"Sorry..." I said in a hushed whisper.
"It's okay...I'll just go first..." Francine replied, trying to mask her sobs.
I heard her heels tapping against the concrete floor followed by the sound of the curtains being pulled open. When I looked up, she was already gone and I was all alone in the almost empty backstage room.
I squat down and covered my face with my hand. Emotions were conflicting inside me. I was angry for my self for not being able to reciprocate other people's feelings. I was angry because I didn't know why I just couldn't open up my heart. Just when I thought the silence was going to devour me, mellifluous music produced by ivory keys of an aged piano started to fill the backstage room.
Automatically, I looked up and searched for the origin of the sound. I listened closely, closing my eyes as I tried to name the familiar sound. They way the piece was played was skillful though rough like a stage opera that only had a last minute rehearsal.
"It's Brahms' Op. 3 No. 1 Liebestreu..." I told my self. It stunned me when I realized that it could be roughly translated to Love's Devotion.
"Someone...the person playing the piano overheard us." I thought as I ran to the other side of the room which had been barricaded by empty boxes.
"Who's there?" I yelled as I pushed the boxes away. I wanted to know the person playing the piano because he might have just heard things he shouldn't have heard...and also because I had never heard such a unique way of playing before.
The first thing that caught my eye was the aged grand piano that had somewhat successfully squeezed in to the small space. I tried to see the face of the person playing but the piano desk was obscuring his face.
"How long have you been here?" I asked, my tone stiff and stern.
The music stopped but there was no reply.
"I'll ask you one more time. I want an answer this time." I said louder.
I heard the screeching sound of a chair being pushed. I waited for the person to show his face and stood patiently by the only exit of the room. Soon enough, behind the cupboards peered a hazel-eyed girl, her dark brown hair tied back in a loose pony tail, who seemed to be just in high school. Bags under her eyes could have scared the living daylights out of me if not for the warm orange light the illuminated the room.
"Sorry. I thought I'd play so that I wouldn't hear your conversation." She said in a soft voice.
I only stood there looking at her up and down discreetly. I was intrigued not only by her unique piano-playing style but also by her as a whole. This petite girl who looked like she just crawled out of some hole from underground was the person playing just now? I just can't make my self believe it.
"Uh...you don't look very happy." She said innocently and I realized that my eyebrows had narrowed while thinking.
"Okay. I'm sorry! I'll tell you the truth! I actually still heard it even when I started playing." She ran behind a cupboard as if she was anticipating me to jump over her and rip her to pieces. I almost laughed at her stupidity.
She squinted behind the cupboard. "You're not going to hit me or anything...right?" She asked, her fingers obviously crossed at her sides.
I kept a straight face and replied. "No. Not if you don't tell anyone about what you've heard."
She vigorously nodded her head as she retorted. "I promise."
I turned around, glancing at her briefly. "I'll seal the deal if you play the piano again and let me listen to it."
I caught the change of her expression from that of a hunted animal to that of someone who had just been told that her life had just been extended. "Of course! I'll do it!"
That night, I listened to the same song, Brahm's Liebestreu that the girl played wondering what one of the best classical music composer was feeling when he composed the six songs, one of which was Liebestreu - 'Love's Devotion' Was it love he felt or was he just carried away by the atmosphere of the Romantic period? I wouldn't know...I might as well just listen for a while and maybe, just maybe, I'll be able catch that romantic feeling too.
I know I haven't been active in a while...I'm in College now people :D Well that's one reason.
This will be a short story maybe just five chapters long or so. I just had to get this out of my head. For a change, it's in a guy's perspective. Callum Stiles' to be exact :) Our grumpy, resident piano prodigy.
Tell me what you think :)