Disclaimer: Stephanie Meyer & Little Brown Publishing own all rights
Edward almost overslept the next morning, but the unmistakable sensation of Jack’s rough tongue on his hand finally forced him to stop ignoring the alarm. His routine started immediately: coffee, walk Jack, work out, eat, shower, then off to the concert hall. The routine brought him a sense of comfort and control. It had been a way to cope with his divorce, offering him something to focus on beside the fact that he was waking up alone. That was in the beginning, when he was mourning the loss of his marriage. In truth, their marriage hadn’t grown in years. Instead, he and Bella had outgrown each other. There would always be memories laced with joy and laughter mixed in with the stuff he’d rather not remember. They were still friends, even though they didn’t speak often.
He felt out of sorts that morning but blamed it on his late start, briefly wondering why he hadn’t woken up on time, what had thrown him off. Eying the baby grand in the living room as he left for his walk with Jack, he wished he had a moment to play, as it often helped him relieve stress. Then again, he hardly thought his neighbors would appreciate it at that early hour.
When he got to his office, he found an urgent email from Angela Weber waiting for him in his inbox. It was brief and said something about a family emergency and asked that he call her on her cell phone. Anxiety clutched at him. As he dialed the number she had given in the email, he hoped it wasn’t anything serious. Part of him also wondered how much this was going to affect his orchestra; Angela was his first chair cellist.
The news was grim, and his heart went out to Angela and her family. Her mother had suffered a severe stroke, and Angela was flying back home to help care for her for the foreseeable future. Edward offered his genuine concern and told Angela to come back and audition for him when she was available to do so. As he hung up the phone, he made a mental note to call his mom later; news like this always put things in perspective. He shook it off by focusing on what this meant for his orchestra.
This put him in a very serious predicament. In a little more than a month, it would be opening night for the annual Holiday Concert. The repertoire wasn’t necessarily difficult, but it would take time to get a new first chair cellist up to speed. He didn’t have a second chair; that was the position he’d been holding auditions for. His third chair, Eric Yorkie, wasn’t up to the challenge.
Flashing blue eyes and blonde hair danced briefly through his head, followed by precise fingers and rare passion for playing. He felt like Fate must be laughing her ass off watching the tapestry he had woven unravel. His lips twisted into a boyish smirk before they fell almost instantly. She’d never accept. Maybe if he asked very, very sweetly. He found the pile of files on his desk and quickly rifled through them until he found hers. Opening it, he easily located her contact number on her resume.
He picked up the phone on his desk and, with the eraser end of his pencil, he precisely jabbed each numbered button in its dead center. He heard it ring.
“Hello?” a detached, musical voice answered.
“Miss Rosalie Hale?” He figured taking a more respectful tone wouldn’t hurt.
“Yes. Who is this?”
There was a pause. “Maestro Cullen. What can I do for you?” she asked sweetly. A little too sweetly. Edward hated when he had a hard time differentiating between sarcasm and sincerity.
“I’d like to talk to you…” he stammered. This would be easier in person. If he were able to read her expressions, determine what she might be thinking, he’d be much better able to bargain with her. “Can we meet somewhere this afternoon?” he asked.
Another pause. “Yes, I think I’m available. Can you meet me at four o’clock?”
He ran through his schedule for the day. He might have to rearrange some things, but he’d make it work. “That will be fine. Do you have a preference as to where, Miss Hale?”
“Ummm…629 Oak Creek Drive. I’ll meet you in front?”
“Excellent. Thank you, Miss Hale,” he said, ready to hang up; no need to press his luck.
“What is this regarding? If I may ask.” Sincerity or sarcasm, he couldn’t tell.
“Of course. I’d like to discuss your future with this orchestra.”
“I didn’t realize there was anything to discuss after your comments yesterday.” she said. He definitely detected annoyance. Just a smidgen.
“That was yesterday. Today, I’d like to discuss a proposal. Are you open to a discussion?”
Another, longer pause. “Yes. I’ll see you at four, Maestro Cullen.”
Edward’s last name lingered in the air as Rosalie placed the phone back on the charger. She couldn’t help but shake her head at the turn of events. Mr. Holland jumped onto the counter beside her and they stared at one another, the cat’s eyes widening as if to say, “Well, that was interesting and unexpected.”
She nodded in agreement. It was interesting and unexpected, as was he.
After the previous morning’s audition, she’d figured that her interactions with Edward Cullen would be few and far between. That would have been fine with her but then, there he was again. First at Archie’s. The unexpectedness of his presence threw Rosalie for a loop. She did her best to make it through the conversation. She reminded herself that, while they were no longer on his turf, she should still monitor her words. His stature in the music community was significant, even if she’d found his conduct to be small and petty. The conversation was lukewarm, at best, but she couldn’t deny the heat that coursed through her when he found his way into the empty bar stool next to her.
Edward Cullen inexplicably angered and intrigued her, all in the same breath. She wanted to have nothing and everything to do with him.
That scared her more than she could say.
She’d made a quick escape from Archie’s the night prior, yet their conversation was still bouncing around her mind. After she stopped being angry at his dismissal, she could see what he meant by her attitude. It wasn’t the first time she’d gotten the feedback, but it was decidedly the most blunt delivery she’d ever experienced. She knew that her pride sometimes got the best of her, but her pride was also one of the things that put passion in her playing. And none of that made what he had to say any easier to take; she’d heard it, but that didn’t mean she had to like it. Once he’d returned to the stage, she’d decided the right call was to head home.
If she had stayed, she might have had more to drink, especially with the knowledge that he was there. And drinking more was not what she needed in that situation. No matter how well Edward Cullen touted his piano playing skills for Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree, she didn’t need to share any more performances with her peers. Edward had already seen her lay her heart on the line once that day; she wasn’t ready to open herself up to anyone again, especially not influenced by alcohol. Pushing her way through the crowd toward the door, she said quick goodbyes to familiar faces in the crowd. Bundled into her coat, scarf, and gloves, she glanced toward the back corner of the stage once more, seeing the pianist bent over the ivory keys of the upright.
Her body returned to Mr. Holland and her cozy little apartment, but her mind never left him.
And now he had called. Her curiosity was piqued and she wondered what was so urgent that he’d need to speak to her in person rather than on the phone. Her days were never the same, always a class here, and lesson there. On this particular day she had afternoon classes to teach, two in a row, then a break from four to seven, before giving a private cello lesson at a student’s home. Auditions for the State Regional Orchestra were at the end of January and a few high school cellists in the area had hired her to assist with technique, transitions, and audition pieces. Of course, after her own audition, she couldn’t help but second-guess if she was really the one who should be assisting others.
She’d taken a shower after returning from the smoky bar, because while a jazz bar was atmospheric with its lingering smoke, she just smelled like an ashtray. She attempted to cleanse her body of the effect that he had on her, her blood from the cologne-scented oxygen she was able to breathe, under the smoke of the bar. Come morning, she tried a different tactic and took a bath instead, trying valiantly to relax her muscles and her mind. The tub was a tad too small for her long body, but she did her best to unwind and erase the arrogant smirk and the indifferent green eyes from her memory.
She feared what her reaction would be when she met him in front of the school. Hopefully the cold air would be a slap in the face she’d need to keep a cool head, to remain detached. She knew she needed to give him a chance, to hear him out and keep her temper under control.
Her cello called to her from its resting place on her bed, its siren song luring her to play once more. She didn’t have much time before she needed to get to the school, but she knew that before she could face him, before she could spread her love of music to others, she needed to remind herself of that love. The cello whispered promises of relief, of understanding, of contentment. Once more, it found home, resting on her thigh. Exhaling loudly through her nose, she closed her eyes and gave herself a pep talk. She hated doubting herself, it was not in her nature and it wasn’t how she operated. The fact that Edward Cullen made her doubt herself did peculiar things to her psyche, to her very being. It wasn’t so much that he was critical of her; she’d been dealing with critics her entire career. No, it was the way he presented the information, the smugness and the condescending attitude that permeated everything he did and said. Not only to her, but to everyone. Their phone conversation and the fact that he made reference to her possible future with the Philharmonic had her mind racing, trying to figure out what he could possibly want to discuss.
Briefly she paused, considering what would bring her out of the funk, out of this Edward Cullen-induced haze, and back to the music, to her love.
Massenet. Meditation from Thais.
As she played, she could hear the absent piano notes accompanying her cello, and although she tried to resist, her mind formed the vision of him. He sat on a piano bench, his fingers gently caressing the keys, his eyes following her as she leaned to and fro, feeling the notes with her soul. Her solo song became a duet; she played with the idea of him. Once she’d finished the song, she was more in control of herself. She opened her eyes. All that remained was the ghost of his phantom notes.
Rosalie was ready. Ready to see him. Ready to discover why he insisted upon speaking to her in person.
“Only one way to find out.” From the cat’s vantage point as her audience, perched on the window ledge, Mr. Holland nodded in agreement.
Time skipped merrily along, as did Rosalie with her class of toddlers and preschoolers and their caregivers. She’d learned never to assume that it was just mommies in the classroom; there were nannies, and a few grandmas as well.
Near the end of the second forty-five minute session, Rosalie found the starting note of the aptly titled “Goodbye Song” on her silver metal pitch pipe. As soon as it flashed under the fluorescent lights, it called them to attention, something not to be underestimated for a room full of little ones. They lit up, each of them wanting to see the small circular instrument that made the noise. Quickly pocketing it, she started singing in her rich alto voice, “Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye! I’m so sad to see you go. Lots of hugs, from up high…” She flung her hands up toward the ceiling and made her voice abnormally high. “…to way down low.” Again showing them visually the change in pitch, her hand went down to the ground, her voice following suit. The children mimicked her movements and giggled at the silly faces she made with each line of the familiar song. Her voice was muffled by the children who clambered into her lap, wanting to be the first of the group to get hugs from Miss Rosalie. She continued to sing as she received hug after hug, “We say ‘so long,’ ‘farewell,’ ‘adios.’ I wonder who I’ll miss the most…” Going around the room, each child’s name was sung. The ones who were old enough sang the names along with Miss Rosalie. The parents made their best attempts, testing their memory recall skills, which they lamented weren’t the same since having kids.
She felt eyes searing her and she turned to see a figure standing just outside the doorway. It wasn’t unusual to have visitors, but they usually came closer to the beginning of class. Caregivers and children often came by to a class to check it out before signing up for the semester. Rosalie always welcomed them with a smile and handed them some sort of instrument, a scarf to dance with, or a spot along the edge of the play parachute they were using in class. People new to the class were always a bit thrown by the props that she used, but Rosalie found that children used all five senses to learn. The tactile objects helped them feel the music, the way she felt the music while playing her cello. There was nothing better than seeing a child dancing in time, shaking bells or spinning with a scarf, in their own little world.
There was something different about this man though. Perhaps it was the fact that she rarely had men attend her class. Regardless, it caused her to do a double-take and her eyes widened slightly when she realized it was Edward Cullen. Glancing secretly at her watch, she thought she might have been behind schedule but rather saw that he was ten minutes early. Well, he asked for it. Smiling brightly, she waved a hand, motioning for him to enter the room. He looked a bit unsure as he walked through the door, going no further than the door frame and leaning his back against it. Is the Maestro showing fear? His demeanor was quite different from the man Rosalie had encountered yesterday; she chuckled inwardly that he was now on her turf. His coat was draped over his forearm and her eyes quickly did an inventory. She took in his dark green cashmere sweater, which, she noted, made his eyes stand out even more than they did on their own, and slacks. Hastily, she looked away, turning back to the class. When she did, she noticed that most of the women in the room were checking him out, too. And they weren’t nearly as discreet as she’d been.
Clasping her hands in front of her, she asked the children, “Who’s ready for cleaning and then hand stamps?” Passing out the hand sanitizer gave her a task to do, something to take her attention from him. She reminded herself what was important in that moment; her class, the children.
“Miss Rosalie? What-what-what stamp is it today? Is it a doggy like lastertime?” Three year old Sammy bounced in front of her, tugging at her shirt with each bounce. She smiled at his conglomeration of last time and yesterday as she quickly pressed her hand to her chest so she didn’t wind up flashing the children, the caregivers, and… him.
“Not a dog this time, Sam-I-Am. I have a star for you today.” He held his tiny hand toward her and she pressed the rubber stamp on the pad before pressing it to his skin. “Bah-bum,” she sang on the resting tone, Sam chiming in.
The children were naturally curious as well. Plus, they didn’t have the inhibitions that the adults came to form over the years. They stared at Edward, but their questions were directed to the person they knew, Rosalie. It was one of the many reasons Rosalie enjoyed teaching them so much: they missed nothing, their minds were constantly thirsty for more.
“Miss Rosalie?” Emily pulled on her shirt after she received her stamp, whispering to her conspiratorially, “Who’s that man?”
Rosalie leaned toward Emily and stage-whispered, “That’s Mister Edward. He plays music, too.” She continued to press stamps onto the children’s hands but secretly, Rosalie was interested in seeing how Edward would handle the children. The music commonality was all it took for the kids to surround Edward, firing questions at him. The caregivers stood back, watching the kids as they encircled Edward. Some started forward in an attempt to rescue him, but Rosalie just shook her head slightly and shrugged.
“What kinda musical instra-instra-instruments do you play?”
Edward looked around, appearing almost sheepish. “Well, I play the piano,” he offered.
Rosalie chimed in. “Oh, he’s being shy. He can play lots of instruments. And he’s a conductor for the Philharmonic!”
The children oohed at the fancy terms. Leah’s tiny hands found her hips and she tilted her head to the side, her silky pigtails flipping. “What does that mean?”
Rosalie’s smile was laced with saccharine. “He waves around a little stick and tells other people what to do.” One of the caregivers snorted, trying to cover a laugh. They didn’t know the extent or reason of the strife between Edward and Rosalie, but they’d be blind not to sense the underlying tension below the surface, even while the two adults played nicely in front of the children.
“We have a piano right there, Mister Edward.” Leah pointed at the grand piano that held a prominent place in the room as though he could have, somehow, missed it. “Can you play us a song?”
As much as Rosalie wanted to see how this would shake out, the teacher for the next class had arrived and it was time to wrap up. Edward seemed to sense that they needed to clear from the room, so he turned to the children and knelt on a knee. He was never one to let an opportunity like this one pass him by. “I’ll tell you what. How about I talk to Miss Rosalie about when I can come back again? Plus, next time I’ll even bring my stick, which is really called a baton.” This wasn’t an offer he’d dare to make, except that he was trying to get in Rosalie’s good graces. He had no experience with children. They made him nervous. Almost as nervous as the prospect of the conversation he was about to have.
The caregivers and children quickly dispersed after Edward’s promise, and Rosalie packed her things quickly, having the routine down to a science. She closed her bag and looked down, feeling him approach behind her.
“Well, that was fun,” he growled in her ear quietly, his breath warm against her neck.
Rosalie was caught off-guard by his close proximity, but she’d never let him see it. “I never said you should come inside. You did that on your own accord.”
“I was a few minutes early, so I wandered in. I hope that’s all right. This… isn’t what I expected I would find.”
“Well, I like to keep people guessing.” She didn’t know why she said it. It wasn’t something that she normally did, but with him, she felt as though she had to stay on the defense. She turned, still finding him abnormally close. They stood eye to eye, neither of them breathing for a moment. “Now, why don’t you tell me why you’re here. Maestro.”
He took a deep breath and a step back. “I have a proposition for you, Miss Hale.”