Rain showered against the windows of the auditorium over the ripple of murmurs in the audience. Roisín raised her violin to her shoulder and rested her chin upon it, laying the horsehair bow across its strings. She caught a glimpse of movement to her right and raised her gaze to see Granuaile murmur something to Aednat with gray eyes locked on her and a simper on her lips. Maybe it was the way Roisín curled the auburn locks that reached her shoulders. Perhaps there was something amiss with her black dress or heels that she had not noticed. She dropped her eyes and evaluated her clothes to ensure that all was well, and decided that nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary. Maybe her crimson lipstick smeared, or maybe one of her painted rose earrings was missing. She reached up and made sure each was there. Perhaps…
The scarlet drapes parted and the conductor leapt into expressive action as he led "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" at the edge of the stage. Roisín breathed as steadily as she could manage and searched out the McCallisters in the audience to calm her nerves while she played the song from memory. She recognized the man and his wife seated proudly close to the edge in the second row. Anya was seated beside Liam with crossed arms and a scowl as she slumped down in the chair. Aisling and Eilidh were squirming as girls often do, but their eyes were on her and smiles were on their lips. She smiled back at them as well as she could and continued to play without affliction.
That orchestra was an essential aspect in her life. Each melody played seemed to be laced with elegance and sophistication with such a talented accumulation of devoted musicians. Roisín seemed to get lost in the music as she played, until she realized she closed her eyes. When she opened them, Aednat met them and wrinkled her nose as though she was hearing something unpleasant.
Perhaps Roisín was out of the rhythm and did not realize it. That idea startled her so that she screeched the horsehair bow across a string. Aednat clamped her mouth shut to prevent laughter, and Roisín sensed her cheeks reddening. Maybe everyone in the audience heard that as well, she realized with a thundering heart. Maybe the conductor noticed it and was disappointed in her. Perhaps the other girls were only needling her to get a reaction. But how could she know?
Tears started to prick the corners of her eyes, but she pursed her lips and breathed in and out as steadily as she could manage. She searched out the McCallisters again and started at them until her mind was cleared, then continued to stare only at them or the conductor until the curtains drew closed.
Roisín leaned down to pack her violin and bow back into their case after she retrieved it. Tears bleared her vision. When she closed the case and snapped it together, she rose only to be shouldered past by Colleen, who shot a look of disdain over her shoulder before clustering with the other girls.
The rain dissipated into mere droplets on the windshield during the ride home, then disappeared. A rich crimson rose lay across Roisín's knees as she leaned her head against the backseat window while her adoptive parents discussed the performance and praised her role in it. She remained silent until they arrived at the Victorian cottage and emerged into the crisp December air. The veil of clouds above had parted to reveal patches of shimmering stars. Rain glistened on the petals and leaves, and every visible surface.
Anya started toward the door ahead of everyone else, until Liam caught up and laid an arm around her shoulders. Eilidh scampered down the path with Aisling squealing at her heels and Aoife pleading with them to start calming down. Roisín trailed along behind them all with her violin case in her grasp.
"Start upstairs, girls, and get ready to get in the bath and go to sleep!" Aoife called as she entered the house and her children scurried under her arm and across the house with Meade chasing after them. Liam came up behind her and kissed her cheek as he dropped his coat on the hook beside the door.
"We are going caroling tomorrow, before our Christmas Eve service," Liam explained to his elder girls while they stomped their shoes on the mat and came in behind him. "So we should choose the songs."
"I am not going," Anya said as she started toward the stairs.
"Stop," Liam said. She stopped moving, but did not turn around. "This is a tradition we do as a family, but we cannot do it as a family without someone in our family. You must come, and the attitude you have shall help determine whether or not you enjoy it."
Anya stormed up the stairs and a slammed door rattled the windows. Liam smiled at Roisín and reached out to her.
"I can put that rose in a vase," he proposed, and she passed it to him. "And since you are clearly proficient in the realm of music, why not go sort through the music sheets and choose the carols?"
The tears that were rising to her eyes all night started to trickle down her cheeks. "Why don't you ask Anya, since you love her more?" Embarrassed by the words that tumbled out of her mouth, she rushed up the stairs and to her room, then slammed the door behind her with another stream of tears.
Relieved that Aisling was not in the room, she meandered to the ebony velvet curtain and pulled it along the rail and around the area of her bed, onto which she cast herself and started to cry. The rose and rain potpourri in the crystal saucer on her nightstand soothed her until, after some time, there was a knock at her door.
"Come in," she pushed herself upright and smeared her palms across her eyes, clearing her throat to regain composure. The door creaked open and Liam appeared beside the section of the curtain he nudged aside. Her rose stood proudly in a vase in one hand, and in the other was a cup of tea that he passed to her as he sat down beside her. She smiled her appreciation and accepted it. "I am sorry about what I said. It was wrong and ridiculous and I don't mean to be such a mess."
"You're forgiven," he assured her with a smile. "So what started all that?"
Roisín considered this inquiry with a squirm of discomfort in the pit of her stomach. "You pay her much more attention in some ways. So I thought you seem to love Anya more than me."
"That is not true," he gave her shoulder a squeeze. "Each person I love has a special place in me heart, and that means you. And each person I love," he clasped a hand against his chest, "I love with me entire heart."
"So why do you pay so much attention to Anya?" Roisín ventured uncertainly.
Liam stared across the room as he chose the way to convey his point. "She has a lot of pain that requires a healing touch," he answered eventually. "I know that you have some yourself, but I suspected you had some sense of security in your life because your orchestra has been a consistency. And you and I have something in common with music. I would love to play some with you, so why don't we practice together sometime? Might be a good way to spend time together."
She sniffled one last time and nodded with a smile. "All right, sounds good."
"I'm so sorry if I made it seem that I love one more than another," he continued. "And I sincerely want you to know what a lovely performance you had tonight."
Roisín released a sharp laugh in spite of herself. "I was horrible. I made so many mistakes!"
"You were not horrible," he corrected. "And anyway, mistakes are what teach us. The more difficult something is, the more we strive to overcome it, and the sweeter the results. Anything you can't seem to overcome, we can start on together when we start practicing. Good night, love," he pressed a kiss to her head as he rose and started out the door. "And I expect that music to be chosen and laid out!"
She smiled to herself. "Will do."
As the door closed, she sipped her tea and kneeled down beside her violin case, beside her bed. She unlatched and opened it, revealing the azure lining and the beloved instrument. She gently raised it out if its imprint and set it on the bow to open one of the sheet music compartment. There was a stack of papers with brittle beige edges, which she sorted through until she reached the Christmas carols. As she settled on some to seek out downstairs to present to Liam, the door creaked open and Aisling scampered to bed as the room was consumed in darkness. "Good night, Roisín!"
"Good night, love," she answered as he rose to switch on her lamp. She kneeled back down and counted twelve carols. Then she opened one of the rosin compartments and extracted a worn photo of a woman that resembled her, whose auburn tendrils reached down past her shoulders and whose smile illuminated the scene. Roisín stared at it and pursed her lips. After some time, she replaced it back in the case and closed it. She sneaked downstairs to where the McCallisters stored their sheet music and sorted out the same songs she chose in her room, then sneaked back upstairs to get ready to go to sleep. After accomplishing these, she crawled beneath her covers with tears streaming across the bridge of her nose and murmured the stanzas of "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" until she drifted into sleep.