The little orchestra played together only once more, at Stillville High's graduation ceremony. They played with style and confidence and, as they had become accustomed to doing, nailed it. The audience roared their approval and dressed in their rented suits and dresses, all the musicians rose to accept it. Komali waited quietly off stage, allowing the kids to revel in the adulation until the applause finally began to calm down. Then she took a deep breath and walked out onto the stage. Immediately, the cheers and clapping started up again and in good humor, Komali smiled and accepted her dues. Finally, only after she had approached the microphone and attempted to wave the noise away, did the crowd quieten down.

Komali's speech was short and lighthearted, containing all of the mandatory congratulations to the graduating class and thanks to businesses who had helped sponsor her musical instrument supply. Briefly, Komali mentioned Kasandra and her parents, wishing them all the very best and encouraging empathy from the other parents and students.

"Okay," she finally breathed. "Now all that stuff is done, I would like to thank all of the musicians in our little orchestra for their unbelievable dedication and commitment this year. It is because of those things that we won the Junior Canadian Orchestral Competition this year." She had to pause as yet another round of cheers and applause drowned her out. "Guys," she said to her kids, "you deserved it. And you deserve everything the committee has awarded you. The brand-new instruments you are holding now belong to you. The envelopes sitting behind your sheet music contain cheques that also now belong to you, or rather to your continued education, whether it is musical or otherwise." She waited as all the teenagers read the amounts written on the slips of paper, smiling at some of the reactions.

"There are two of you, though, that have been given something more; scholarships to two of the world's most prestigious musical programs. The chosen musicians will attend either Roystov's Hall in Berlin, Germany or Dame Marchestri's College in Venice, Italy along with other handpicked students from around the world. The decision was not an easy one in either case but above all, I needed to be sure that the chosen student would understand and be able to use the opportunity to its full advantage. You all love playing but not all of you possess the passion and fire I have seen in these two. Jonathon DuMonte, First Violin, and Dawn Henderson Lead Flutist, come on up."

The two teens bounced up into the stage and hugged Komali before taking the envelopes, hugging each other, hugging Komali again, then running down to hug their families and friends. The orchestra cheered louder than the rest of the room and for a few minutes, Komali could only stand and smile.

Seeing her still waiting at the microphone, the audience gradually became quiet once again. "When I began studying to be a teacher," she began, "I was told, as were many like me, that one day I would have a student that surpassed everything I could expect of them. Someone who would stand out without even trying and who would become a symbol to me; a symbol of why I had chosen to be a teacher. I am lucky. I met that student very early in my career and while I am sure I will meet others, he will stand alone for many reasons. His natural talent exceeds my knowledge and ability to teach. He is extraordinarily skilled and given the right opportunity, will continue to grow.

"Cory," she said simply, speaking directly to the boy. "I know you wanted one of those scholarships and I'm sorry I couldn't give one to you."

"That's okay," he smiled, bravely trying to hide his disappointment.

"You're too good," Komali finished. "You have the ability to be a great cellist and neither of those programs would have helped you get there. I would have given anything to get you to a place where you could have received that guidance." The boy's face had fallen even further and Komali could see the sheen of unshed tears in his eyes. "But luckily for us, we both know someone who can not only get you to that place, but has already arranged it. Ezio Carlesco has worked with some of the finest cellists of our time, and thanks to Ms. Robyn Jones, composer and philanthropist extraordinaire, you are the recipient of a personal invitation to study with Senore Carlesco at his home in Tuscany, and to be his apprentice and helper for three years, or until you sell out at Madison Square Gardens, whichever comes first." She held out an envelope and grinned, unable to fight back tears of joy. Cory approached slowly, a look of surprise and amazement on his face. Finally, after he had hugged Komali and read the letter, he shook his head in disbelief and looked Komali straight in the eye.

"I'm gonna do you proud, Komali," he promised.

Komali smiled. "You already have," she told him, and then stepped back as the orchestra enveloped the boy and hoisted him up into the air as if he was the winning quarterback.

Komali retreated back into the wings and smiled warmly as Robyn handed her a tissue. "Philanthropist extraordinaire?" the composer asked, slipping her arm around the teacher.

"Three years in Tuscany working with Carlesco," Komali stated. "I stand by my choice of words."

"Hm," Robyn replied. "Is this where I mention that Ezio is a lousy card player?"

"No," Komali laughed, turning to embrace her lover. "No, it most definitely is not."

"Well, you are looking very happy with yourself," Komali smiled as Robyn walked out onto the back patio where the teacher lay soaking up the hot summer sun.

"What's not to be happy about?" Robyn grinned back. "I've just paid off the last of my medical bills, your mother just called to assure me that she likes me, I already have three students on the calendar, I almost got bowled over by four rambunctious dogs and a hamster and you are wearing a bikini. All is good in my world."

Komali closed her book and stretched, aware of Robyn's eyes on her. "Well, what could possibly be better?" she asked.

"I feel like playing something," Robyn admitted.

Komali laughed. "On guitar or cello?" she asked, swinging her legs over the side of the lounger.

"Neither," Robyn grinned, walking closer and holding out her hands. "I know a much better way."

"Oh god," Komali groaned, taking Robyn's hands and allowing herself to be pulled to her feet.

"Face it, Teach. You and I make sweet music together."

Komali sighed. ""You are so damn corny." Robyn chuckled and leaned down for a kiss but Komali pushed past her and headed for the house. "Seriously! It's almost enough to stop me from asking you to marry me," she shot back over her shoulder.

"What?" Robyn spluttered, turning and staring after Komali, a moment later following her into the house. "What did you just say?"

There was no answer, just the opening notes of the wedding march drifting faintly through the open door, punctuated by the sound of an apple falling from a nearby apple tree.