Disclaimer: Stephanie Meyer & Little Brown Publishing own all rights
“Is there somewhere nearby we can talk?” he asked, as he wasn’t familiar with this part of the city.
“You said something about a proposition…” she crossed her arms over her chest, a bemused smile on her full lips. When he didn’t offer any response, she finally answered his question. “Sure. There’s a coffee shop not too far away.” She turned to lead the way out of the school and over to the Starbucks a few blocks down the street.
Jack, his tail wagging and smiling a goofy grin, was waiting patiently for them outside, where Edward had fastened his leash to a tree.
“This is your dog?” Rosalie asked suddenly.
“Yes, this is Jack. Jack, meet Miss Hale,” he said, noticing her glare with surprise. Edward didn’t understand the annoyance in Rosalie’s eyes; perhaps she wasn’t a dog person. “He was a stray,” Edward quickly continued as he unfastened the leash from the tree. Maybe hearing Jack’s sad story would soften her up. “He was so thin and skittish when I first found him. It was weeks before he would get close enough to take food from me.”
Once freed from the tree, Jack moved toward Rose and nosed her hand. Edward was surprised by Jack’s easy acceptance of her. He wasn’t as shy as he used to be, but it still normally took him time to warm up to strangers. He had no such qualms about Rose, though. She knelt down and her hands automatically scratched in all of Mr. Holland’s favorite spots. Dogs and cats can’t be all that different, after all, she thought. “Hi, buddy,” Rose greeted him. He greeted her back with a nice slobbery kiss on her cheek. Rose chuckled and wiped her cheek with her hand.
Edward watched and couldn’t help but smile. He loved when Jack wiggled his way into someone’s heart. Bella hadn’t been overly thrilled when he’d brought Jack home that night six years ago, and they’d never really bonded. He watched Rose stroke Jack with the skilled, knowledgeable hands of a pet lover and decided it must not have been a dislike of dogs that earned him that glare. He had hoped the visual cues he would get meeting her face to face would help with the discussion he was about to have. However, his complete inability to read the motive behind her expressions left him somewhat disarmed, a feeling he was not at all familiar – or comfortable – experiencing.
“Shall we?” he asked, offering his hand to help her stand. She put her gloved hand in his and let him pull her up. She reached up to adjust her hat, giving her an excuse to look away from Edward’s intense green eyes as they set off down the street, walking three abreast. Jack was in the middle, his head bobbing back and forth between them as they made awkward small talk.
“Do you have any pets, Miss Hale?” he asked, remembering how she seemed to know just where Jack liked to be scratched.
“Yes, I have a cat. Mr. Holland,” she replied tersely. She was growing exasperated with the awkward silences and idle chatter, wondering why this infernal, well-dressed man with his angular good looks wouldn’t just tell her what he wanted so she could get on with her life.
“Mr. Holland. My mother loves that movie.” When Edward mentioned his mother, a soft smile found its way to his tense mouth. It didn’t escape Rosalie’s notice, even though she wished it had. It was much easier to be annoyed with him when he had that smug look on his face.
“How old is he?” Edward asked after a moment. Trying to be casual. Small talk didn’t suit him.
“Mr. Holland is a she, and I’ve had her since I graduated from college,” she replied. She did not offer a reason for naming her female cat after a Richard Dreyfuss character, despite Edward’s curiously cocked eyebrow.
Edward was socially awkward on his best days. On this particular day, when he was facing an unbelievably uncomfortable conversation, he couldn’t help but cringe at his pathetic attempts to fill the silence. The harmless questions continued as they walked, and it was not lost on him that she told him as little as possible. Even her answers were non-answers. For some reason, even the age of her cat was off-limits to him.
He could hardly fault her for that after what had happened the day before. Then again, her poking fun at him for “waving his little stick around and acting important” just now made them even in his eyes. He bristled in irritation at the memory, and at Rosalie’s continued efforts to make an already uncomfortable situation even more so.
The coffee shop wasn’t busy and Edward was grateful for the tables and chairs lined up under heat lamps on the sidewalk outside. If they could stay outside, at least he’d have a friendly face at the table for the conversation. He led Rose to a table and began to tie Jack to his chair.
“I’ll hold his leash. I don’t mind,” Rosalie offered. Edward smiled and handed her the lead.
“Thank you. Now, what can I get you?” he asked.
“A tall chai latte, please.” He nodded and left her sitting with Jack.
She leaned down to Jack and whispered in his floppy ear. “And so we meet again. Let me ask you, is he always so uptight?” He answered with a long drawn out yawn. Rose chuckled again. “A real bore, huh?” she said and leaned back in the chair. A moment later Edward returned with their drinks. She took the lid off of her cup, blowing on the steaming chai and wondered why he was staring down at his cup of what appeared to be coffee in disappointed disgust. He looked up and caught her watching him, but before she could ask what was wrong, he spoke.
“Miss Hale, no doubt you’re wondering why I asked to see you.”
“Yes. Indeed.” She kept blowing on her chai, peering at him over the rim with hardened eyes. Rosalie was determined to remain annoyed if she could.
“Something beyond my control has arisen and I find myself in need of another cellist. Despite our rough start yesterday and your… other challenges, I’d like you to fill the seat,” he said. He gave his cup another annoyed grimace before tacking on, “If you’re interested, that is.”
She didn’t respond, just watching him, pondering, thinking and taking her sweet time about it. There was something else in her eyes too, perhaps a little spark of determination, he wondered.
“Which chair is it, may I ask?”
“What happened to your first chair? That wasn’t the seat I auditioned for,” she said. Edward briefly related the reason for Angela’s hasty departure. Edward then decided he should be upfront about his expectations of her and her time.
“This will require a lot of sacrifices on your part. You will need a great deal of additional practice in order to get you up to speed on the cello solos coming up. Remember, my instruction isn’t negotiable. When you are on my time, what I say goes. That must be understood.”
His piercing green eyes scrutinized her unreadable expression. She looked calm and unaffected, as if she’d been told the day’s weather forecast. Edward was surprised by her serenity given what he’d seen of her temper, but he wasn’t one to mince words. She needed to understand what working with him would mean, what he expected of her.
“I understand, Mr. Cullen, but why me?” she questioned. “As you made clear… several times yesterday… my performance was decidedly lacking in certain elements, disqualifying me for second chair…” She didn’t complete the thought, but Edward knew that she was not going to let this go without him eating at least a little bit of crow. Her eyes were wide and innocent. Her mouth however, barely concealed a satisfied smirk. Edward sighed. This woman was beyond conceited and infuriating and beautiful and…
“You have talent, Miss Hale. As I’m sure you are aware,” he said flatly, before he hesitantly sipped his coffee, grimacing before the cup reached his lips.
“I had talent yesterday, too,” she returned.
“Agreed,” he sighed. “Circumstances have changed and I have my reasons. Are you interested or not?”
He wasn’t prepared to explain to her that, yesterday, he wasn’t willing to invest the time necessary to teach her self-discipline, simply for her to be just another cellist in his orchestra. But he was willing to make that investment if she was willing to be first chair, and make a long term commitment to him and the orchestra. He saw and admired her obvious gift. If he could only break her of her bullheadedness, she could be not just excellent, but magnificent. He saw it in her.
She was silent for a moment, thinking, sipping on her chai.
“What time are rehearsals?”
“Nine o’clock in the morning, Tuesday through Thursday. Performances are Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, for the most part. Mondays off. Of course as I mentioned, I’d need additional rehearsals from you in the beginning. If you’d be willing to stay a few extra hours each day, I’m sure you’ll be where I need you to be within a month.”
The idea of extra rehearsals alone with him filled her with vexation; the two of them alone enduring grueling rehearsals would lead to raw nerves. Yet, she felt she had to prove that she deserved what he was offering her. It was a challenge she couldn’t ignore, to show this arrogant, debonair Edward Cullen exactly what she was made of.
“I’ll agree on two conditions,” she said.
Edward eyed her suspiciously. He hated the fact that she was in a position to negotiate terms, but he had no other viable options, so he quirked an eyebrow and invited her to share her conditions. “Yes?”
“I’ll agree to take your direction if we work out a rehearsal schedule that allows me to continue teaching my classes, and if you keep your promise to the kids to come play for them. Oh, and wave your little stick around. Mustn’t forget that part,” she added smugly and hid her smile behind her cup of chai. Edward only grumbled incoherently.
“Agreed, Miss Hale,” he said grudgingly. Silence filled the space between them. They continued to sit there together, Jack curled up between their feet under the tiny table. They made inconsequential small talk, the kind one makes when the matter of business has been discussed and there’s nothing left to speak of with a stranger. Edward dared not say too much for fear of saying something he oughtn’t. Besides, I’m not interested in her or where she came from, he lied to himself. So instead he sipped his horrid Cool Whip free coffee in disappointment, while Rosalie savored her chai’s velvety smooth flavor and rather enjoyed watching Edward’s socially uncomfortable misery.
Yes, she thought to herself, this should be very interesting indeed.
“To close, let’s work on Dvořák, Cello Concerto in B minor. Miss Hale, if you please?”
The musicians leafed through their sheet music, while Rosalie stood from her place amongst the line of cellos, gracefully making her way to the soloist’s chair. The violinist had placed it next to Edward’s podium at the start of the rehearsal, each soloist taking his or her turn in the chair. She’d not yet had the chance to sit there, flanked to the conductor’s podium. Granted, she’d imagined it many times in the past week, rehearsing non-stop in her apartment and the small practice rooms of the hall.
Rosalie had watched Edward closely through the rehearsal. From the moment that he walked in the airy rehearsal room, her eyes were upon him, finding him out of all the people who surrounded her. She watched as he placed his travel mug on an empty chair behind him and as Jack was rewarded with a good scratch behind the ears before Edward motioned to him to lay down with a flat palm held parallel to the ground. Her eyes flashed in response to the baton and his movements, the white stick an extension of his arm, much like her bow and cello were an extension of her body. His movements were crisp when needed, slow and nearly dance-like at other times. A wayward piece of hair fell forward, over his forehead, as he moved and soon after they had started the session, he’d stripped off the knit sweater he’d worn, looking far more casual in a black t-shirt and jeans. The left sleeve of his t-shirt was slightly pushed up and she was able to see his bicep tense with his movements. Just doing my job. Hell, he told her to watch him and she was working very hard on her listening skills.
In opposition, Edward was doing everything in his power not to look at Rosalie Hale. She made her way to the chair beside where he stood and he finally allowed himself to look at her. Her hair was pulled back, clips on both sides and a ponytail. Wheat. He’d settled on the color of wheat for her hair. Sitting rigidly in the chair, she looked up at him, her eyes sparkling in the low fluorescent lights. Though they were not bright, somehow the light found her eyes and he saw determination and vigor. Rosalie slowly tapped her ring finger twice against her cello as he watched her. He was perplexed as to the reason why, but he didn’t dare ask.
Within her, he saw what so many others seemed to lack in music. They were technically more than capable, but somehow there was a loss of love somewhere along the way. Maybe they weren’t playing for themselves. He reasoned that he’d rather have a musician with too much passion than not enough. Passionate people let their emotions rule them, but as long as those emotions were working for and not against him and his orchestra, he encouraged it, channeling the passion into its correct place. Technique could be taught; passion could not.
Clearing his throat, he forced himself to look away from her, busying himself by flipping through his own sheet music. The notes on the page were just that until the musicians made them more. The baton was clicked against the top of his music stand and he brought both hands up, signaling to the musicians to prepare. After counting off the beats, Edward cued the French horns, the section raising their instruments in unison. A measure after, Jessica’s oboe sang out, the violins quickly echoing the sentiment. “Lovely, Jessica!” Edward praised as the other musicians chimed in, the tempo increased as he waved his baton to guide the crescendo grew as he waved his baton to guide the build.
Rosalie’s cue came quickly and she vaguely heard the woodwinds playing behind her as she leaned into her cello, the bow lined up with the f-holes, her fingers pressed against the board. Throughout the session, she’d curiously taken in Edward’s interactions with the other musicians. It had not escaped her attention that while the pompousness she’d experienced was present, he chose a more relaxed approach when pointing out what he considered to be a performance error. Often times, he would stop the group’s playing and approach a musician’s chair, quietly murmuring about pacing or a flubbed note, pointing at the sheet music on the stand before them. The session was rigorous and Edward proved to be very much a perfectionist, although Rosalie had expected nothing less.
Periodically, with other soloists, he had used his baton to indicate on the sheet music where he was looking for a different interpretation or tone. Those exchanges were also quiet; in spite of her proximity to the podium, she could rarely hear the feedback he offered, but she noted again that he was patient, if still demanding and swift, with his comments.
She expected the same interactions when practicing her solo. They hadn’t been able to match their schedules up to that point, so they had not yet had any individual sessions to work on the piece. Regardless, she’d been hard at work since getting the sheet music from him at their Starbucks meeting. He’d brought it along in anticipation that she would say yes.
Surprise and a flash of disappointment coursed through her veins when he barked out her surname. “Build on that note,” followed by a gritted out, “and don’t forget the resting note.” He didn’t look at her when he said it, just called her out in front of the other members of the orchestra. She tried to rationalize his behavior at first; perhaps her predecessor had preferred it this way. Perhaps he was frustrated as it was the last piece and they were running late in regards to time. But he carried on this way throughout the piece, each time saying her name as though it was a curse and following it quickly with some sort of criticism. Each time she bit her tongue. Each time she hoped that the blood rushing through her ears in anger did not make its way to the surface and show off its presence in a tell-tale blush. Each time she reminded herself of her promise to take his instruction, unchallenged.
His comments weren’t off-base and, most of the time, she could appreciate his critique. Yet, it was difficult for her to completely lose herself in the music this way, constantly being on her toes and waiting for the next command or criticism to be hurled her way. She didn’t play at her best with that type of feedback and it only instigated more negative feedback on his part.
The rehearsal ended with little fanfare and he dismissed the musicians with a wave of his hand and a brief “See you tomorrow.” Rosalie was out of her chair like a shot from a cannon, quickly making her way to the practice room where she’d stashed her case before the schedule session. She had arrived early to practice and she returned to her sanctuary once more. The small room housed a piano and its bench and a solitary chair. The door closed behind her, but not before Jack slipped through, having followed her silently out of the auditorium and down the hall.
She turned, startled and a bit unnerved to find Jack staring at her. Rosalie reasoned that it wasn’t his fault that his owner was a rude and pompous ass. He stood next to her, waiting silently for acknowledgment. Once he was satisfied with the behind-the-ear scratches, he rolled onto his back and offered his belly to Rosalie, looking for belly rubs. Rosalie remembered what Edward had said about Jack being a stray and knew it must have taken him quite some time to be comfortable submitting to a human like this. She rewarded him with belly rubs and coos, before finally telling him that she needed to practice more, otherwise his owner would have her head on a platter. There might have been some colorful language dispersed within that conversation, as well.
Pulling her hair from the ponytail, she swept it to the right side, over her shoulder. She was getting a headache, and although she knew it was psychosomatic, the pull of the clips and bands seemed to contribute to the tension beginning to pulse at her temples. Her cello found its home again and she poured her soul into her playing, Edward’s voice ringing in her ears. Build on that note, don’t forget the resting note. Slow it down, no reason to hurry. While she didn’t agree with his method of singling her out, that voice spoke to her during her solo practice, made her think and understand more of what Dvořák was exuding through his notes.
The chair faced away from the door, which soundlessly swung open. The air in the room changed, the hairs on the back of her neck alerting her to his presence. She knew it was him without turning around, and her bow paused, mid-measure. The click of the door latching into place sounded loudly in her ears.
“I thought that these rooms were sound-proofed. How did you find us?” She spoke quietly and Jack stayed curled next to her foot, clearly not fazed by his owner’s interruption of their one-on-one time.
“Jack left a trail of breadcrumbs. Well, one big grey breadcrumb, anyway.” He held up the sweater he had shed earlier. “This was outside the door.”
Rosalie’s eyes met with the dog’s and she muttered traitor under her breath. Yes, he was Edward’s dog, but she thought they’d bonded over the agreement that he was an uptight jerk. Apparently, I now know where loyalties lie.
Pulling the piano bench from where it was neatly tucked under the upright, he sat, his back toward the keys, which was usual for him. Their eyes locked and for a moment, it seemed that all oxygen had been depleted from the room.
“Clearly, Jack has already made himself comfortable and while he has quite the discernible ear, he is unable to provide the necessary guidance. It’s evident that we need to work together on your solo, among other things, so I believe I’ll join you.” He invited himself, which was his right and what she expected, but still, she was annoyed by what had happened earlier during the rehearsal. She continued to observe him, and he looked on, expectantly. “Do we have something to discuss before you continue your practice?”
Rosalie leaned forward, resting her elbow on her knee, so that their faces were closer together. Her low alto voice was deceptively even. “Why did you feel it necessary to call out your criticism of my playing in front of everyone during the rehearsal? I noticed that you didn’t do that to anyone other than me and I was wondering what made me so lucky.”
Jack moved from his spot, finding a new place in between where the two sat, toe to toe. Edward’s hand automatically went to scratch behind his right ear and Jack nudged Rosalie’s hand with his nose, only satisfied when her fingers were scratching behind his left ear. The act of soothing Jack had an automatic effect on both of them; blood pressures lowering, the tension in the air dropped infinitesimally. Edward spoke. “It’s possible that I was testing your attitude within the group setting. Which you passed, with flying colors.” He grimaced at their current conversation. “Thisconversation leaves much to be desired, however, Miss Hale. This is my orchestra and, my rehearsal space as well. Please don’t forget that. We’ll be in for quite a difficult few months if our interactions continue as such.” Without thinking, Edward leaned toward her, his eyes pierced hers.
“I’m so glad that you’re able to look at me. I thought there might be something wrong.” Rosalie reminded herself to be polite. Polite, but firm. Her snarky comments were not becoming and would get her nowhere. “I don’t believe I’ve given you any reason to question my awareness of what is yours, Mr. Cullen. I took your direction while we were in there,” she motioned vaguely in the direction of the rehearsal hall. “I’ll continue to do so while we’re in here, but I will not tolerate being treated differently. I didn’t say anything while we were in front of the orchestra and I waited until we were alone to speak to you. I’m simply asking for the same courtesy when at all possible. I would feel remiss if I didn’t say anything.”
She’d continued petting Jack, the soft warmth of his fur in her fingers helping her to keep calm and focused as she attempted to ask for the respect she felt common courtesy afforded her. “I’d apologize for pointing this out but-”
At that moment, they both moved their hands toward the center of Jack’s head and their fingers touched.
The current that passed through them made them both internally gasp and simultaneously pull their hands back. Jack shrugged at the loss, feeling as though it was okay for them to ignore him for a bit and perhaps pay attention to one another. The moment was brief and over nearly before it had begun, but neither of them could deny that there was something there. Denial outwardly was always possible, but not their innermost thoughts. That quiet whisper was the same in the back of both their minds. Maybe this is the more I’m searching for.
Rosalie’s voice was softer this time. “Mr. Cullen, contrary to what you might believe, I value your feedback. I’ve already found your comments insightful and beneficial, in the brief time I was practicing here. I do want to be here and I do want to work with you.” Nodding, she picked up her bow and brought her hand to the cello, once more tapping it twice with her ring finger.
“Good. Because I want you here.” There were so many ways she could have taken this, so many ways he could have meant it. She didn’t ask him to clarify. Instead, he turned to the piano, a genuine smile gracing his lips as he started to play the opening notes of the Dvořák.
“Shall we play, Miss Hale?”