FIRST FIVE PAGES
It was still dark when Sophie started playing the Vivaldi. She kept her eyes closed, bow flying through Mendelssohn and Haydn, submerging her worries, each note taking turns at holding them down before tossing to the one after. The morning grew warmer amidst the first strains of Bach. Sophie played on until the faint sound of his cello started up somewhere out there in the drifts of her mind; she almost leaned into it by habit before jerking open her eyes, her bow stilled.
One of the windows in her tiny London studio overlooked a school, the low buildings unimaginatively placed in the middle of a standard-issue space. At Trinity, her room had overlooked a stone fountain in a small park that was mostly empty but for the old man who came every day and sat on the bench for an hour, no matter the weather. He would read his paper, sometimes a book, eat a snack, or just sit there facing the cracked, empty bowl of the fountain.
Sophie sighed and stood up, packing everything away. Her phone vibrated underneath her violin case.
Are you still coming to dinner tonight? Mum x
Despite telling April that she would know it was her, Sophie’s mother insisted on signing off on all her texts. Today, she found it endearing, before remembering she still hadn’t told her parents about the concert; posters had already started appearing at the usual places and it was only a matter of time before they found out. She hadn’t even told Robby yet, though her best friend had been back from Vienna for more than a week now. But it felt selfish to want him all to herself when his mother needed him more. Sophie headed to the other side of the room to put the kettle on, careful to avoid the invitation crammed under a pile of junk mail on the narrow table she used for bits and bobs. But the carefully worded note in Paul’s loopy handwriting followed her, just a couple of steps behind.
Sophie first met Paul Clark on the day she turned nineteen, late in her first semester at Trinity. It was a week after the college’s winter concert, where he had performed Bach’s Cello Suite in G Major better than several professionals she’d heard. Here was a 21 year old going places, and sure enough, their director had made a special announcement that Paul was moving to Philadelphia after securing a coveted place on the exceedingly competitive Curtis Post-Baccalaureate Diploma programme. Sophie had felt a twinge she recognised as jealousy. An irrational jealousy that she wasn’t a part of his life, he who played music that tunnelled into the spaces underneath her doubts and rendered them insignificant.
But here he was bumping into her at a local coffee place many Trinity students liked to frequent. He was standing right behind her in the line when she spun around to see if any of her friends were there; she hated sitting alone. As she turned, she brushed against him, knocking a folder out of his hand. A few loose pages fluttered out. Sophie instinctively bent down and gathered the ones within reach; looking up at him only once she had stood back up and handed them over to him.
Those grey-blue eyes were intense, but friendly. He looked so serious, so put together, so damn sure of his place in the world. Even at the concert, she’d wondered how he was only two years older than her. But then he started playing and all else was forgotten.
“Your performance at the winter concert was my favourite of the night.”
Sophie cringed inwardly. She was still waiting for her change, half-turned towards him. But the next moment, she was rewarded with a shy smile that was endearing in its contrast to the absolute confidence of his playing.
“That’s very kind. Thank you.”
“Your father was in the Rizzoni Quartet, wasn’t he?”
Paul had already put his hand in his pocket for his wallet, in anticipation of being next in line. He looked up at Sophie’s question and something like surprise passed across his face. She looked at her feet. Why had she asked a question she knew the answer to? Damn her need to keep this conversation going. Sophie was about to swivel back around to see where the barista was when Paul spoke again. This time, there was something in the tone that made her glance up and hold his gaze.
“I wouldn’t have thought that many people from our generation would know who they were…who he was.”
“My mother used to play their music on the days my father was out of town on one of his conferences. She didn’t say it out loud, but I think they made her tolerate the long hours I made her play with me and my dolls.”
This was far from the poised conversations she’d staged in her mind since the concert. But it drew a real smile from him, one that Sophie hadn’t dared to hope for, even in her daydreams. It was just the beginning.
Now, on the Tube to her parents’, Sophie nudged all unwanted Paul thoughts under her seat, placing her palms flat on her knees, as if that would keep everything in place. She snuck a look around the busy carriage to see if anyone had noticed. Just then, they pulled into the next stop and the person standing across from her got off, exposing a small square of the window. With her slight frame, brown hair flecked with dark gold, oval face and wide-set brown eyes, Sophie looked like neither of her parents. As a kid, she took it personally, looking nothing like her mother. In her rebel teenage years, it was as a matter of pride, a badge of her uniqueness. Now in her twenties, Sophie was undecided. Call it a sort of uneasy truce. She swallowed the tears suddenly built up in her throat as the train slowed down at Raynes Park and she got off.