Here’s the third iteration of Stefanie’s world about to shatter, post-critique group.
Chapter 2 – third draft
“How far did you travel?” Stefanie accepted a CD from the last of the giggling middle school groupies and autographed its case without breaking eye contact.
When none of the girls answered, their teacher cleared her throat and said, “About an hour. You’re all they could talk about for weeks.” Behind thick glasses, the teacher’s eyes caught those of Stefanie’s mother, who staffed the sales table. Her head dipped to Anne in appreciation. “They’re jealous of how supportive your parents have been of your love of music.” A smile twitched the corner of her lips as she turned again toward the prodigy. “It couldn’t have been easy to relocate when you were accepted to Juilliard at such a tender age.”
Stefanie realized she’d been holding her breath. She could handle mundane compliments — the faint praise of amateurs who wondered, “What if?” They always saw a bit of themselves in her.
Except for the part where they ran outside to play with friends while Stefanie practiced six hours a day.
“Yes, of course,” Stefanie said. “My mother’s made it a point to always be here to help.”
Stefanie’s brows arched in surprise when the teacher offered the musical score of the Mozart Concerto in D for an autograph, instead of the usual picture or poster or recording. Flustered, she stared at it without noticing the slow exhale and exchange of glances between the older women.
Anne shook her head slightly. “Did you have any musical children of your own?” she asked the teacher.
“Sadly my husband and I were never able.” The tallest student, a lanky brunette, stepped to her teacher’s side and threaded an arm through the crook of her elbow. “But I have my girls, don’t I?”
As Stefanie stood, still pondering where exactly she should autograph a musical manuscript.
The teacher turned and spoke directly to Anne. “So often, music’s not viewed by the parents as anything important. When time or money gets tight, lessons are the first to go.” The brunette laid her head gently on her teacher’s shoulder and burrowed in, noticeably saddened.
Stefanie made a quick decision to scrawl her name at the bottom of the final movement after the cadenza, and handed the sheet music back to the teacher.
Reverently the teacher passed it to the tall, teary-eyed girl. The now subdued group of girls turned to walk away, but from behind the sales table Anne strained to make out the teacher’s words of comfort to the brunette. “You’ll study this piece on your own, and we’ll still meet once a month after school.”
The lobby had cleared as quickly as it had filled. “Well that’s it for tonight, mom,” said Stefanie.
Anne startled visibly, so intent was her concentration on the departing music instructor.
“Can you pack the crates? I’m beat. Gonna go change.” Stefanie hoisted the shoulder strap of her flute’s carry case, and took small stiletto-heeled steps down the hall toward the backstage entrance.
“Stef, come back. Now!” Anne said quickly. “We need to talk.”
Talking wasn’t part of their mother/daughter post-show script. Stefanie threw a haughty look over her shoulder.
“Come here,” Anne said sternly, jaw clenched, eyebrows raised. In a voice just above a whisper she added, “It’s important.”
This definitely wasn’t part of their normal duet. This was her ‘you’re-about-to-get-a-lecture’ tone. No doubt Anne had noticed the exchange of icy glares from her backstage perch at the conclusion of the performance.
“What?” Stefanie shot back. “The conductor’s an ass. I did my part.” Hearing her voice echo down the marble foyer, she continued in a whisper. “Thank God I practiced the way Mr. E. always taught. Prepared for anything.”
Anne huffed a deep sigh. “It’s not about your little musical run-in with the maestro.” She exhaled another longer sigh, and dropped her own voice conspiratorially. “He’s a little weasel who’ll get what’s coming to him.”
Stefanie’s shoulders released in visible relief. Maybe there won’t be a sermon after all.
Anne reached under the display table for the wheeled case in which souvenir CDs and posters would normally be packed by now. “No… it’s Mr. E.” Her hand found only the strap of her purse under the table, and she set it next to the stack of unsold recordings waiting to be stored. She stalled for time. Measuring each word carefully, she continued, “I… couldn’t tell you earlier.”
“Tell me what?” Stefanie demanded. “Did he call? Because you know I hate it when you screen my calls on show days.” She slammed her flute case down on the table. Plastic disc cases rattled, and a vinyl display stand fell over.
Anne pulled back, a look of panic and horror on her face.
“I’m not twelve anymore, mother.”
Anne’s shock turned to anger. “How many times have I told you to respect that instrument you’re carrying? If that case cracks open and the flute – that flute that cost more than my car – gets damaged…”
“Tell me what, mom? Did Mr. E. need me to do something?” Stefanie’s voice was louder again, more insistent.
“It’s just that you should take better care of your instrument. There’s no money for a replacement.” Anne fought back her irritation. Three deep breaths, then she made and held eye contact with her offspring. “You shouldn’t let things like phone calls distract you on performance days. I’m here to make sure nothing gets in your way.”
“In my way?” screamed Stefanie, her voice rising on the last word and echoing uncomfortably down the empty but public hall. “Mom, you’re in my way. It was cute when I was flying cross-country touring sweet-sixteen concerts, but honestly it’s a little old now that I’m twenty-three. Like, maybe I could get a date or something – if you weren’t always dragging me back to the hotel after every show.”
Anne’s expression softened. “Yes, well… that’s a discussion for another day. I’m a little tired of it, too.”
Stefanie saw the hurt in her mother’s eyes. “I’m sorry. I know you work hard to make all…” she waved an arm, reaching for the right word, but it eluded her. “To make all… this possible.” Her apology didn’t have the desired effect. “I mean… the jewelry sponsors, the shoes, the gowns, the arrangements. I know it must be… a lot of work…” Stefanie’s voice trailed off. “But Mom, I work hard, too.”
“Sweetheart, I need you to calm down. I just couldn’t tell you the news before the show. Your contract is iron-clad, and these appearances don’t pay as well… or come along… as often as they used to.”
Resentment flared. “Oh, get over yourself. I’d rather not have the it’s-time-to-settle-down-and-teach-for-a-living fight here in the lobby.” Stefanie turned to walk away. “You must be getting desperate to drop appearances in public like this.”
“Why, you…” Anne’s head pitched back, and words spewed out. “Is it so much to ask that you give me a little respect after all I gave up for you?”
“Sure, mom. Let’s just pretend you’d rather be a nobody, still teaching an evening writing class at the crappy community college instead of jet-setting with a famous musician.”
“Stavroula Marie Petros!” Anne exploded. “I’m trying to tell you bad news about the only person you’ve every truly cared for… besides yourself… and all you can do is be hateful.”
“Oh my God.” Stefanie turned so fast the heel of her shoe twisted and she lost balance. “What did Mr. E. have to say? Isn’t he able to pick me up at the airport?” Stefanie deftly reached down and removed her loose shoe. “We’re supposed to go see his band play tomorrow night.”
“Stef…” Anne lowered her voice. She stepped out around the table, and reached for her daughter’s hand.
Stefanie passed her the shoe.
A heavier sigh escaped Anne, her lips narrowing, head shaking in a combination of nerves and frustration. She stepped closer, and with her free hand, she grasped her daughter’s chin to force eye contact.
“I’m trying to tell you Mr. Eugenides was in an accident yesterday.” Compassion softened her voice. “Drunk driver hit him when he left rehearsal.”
“What?” Stefanie screamed. Panic ripped through the façade of perfectly applied makeup. “Oh my God!” Already off balance from having one shoe on and one off, she tipped forward into her mother’s arms.
Anne barely pointed the spiky heel away in time. She hugged Stefanie close. With her free hand, she instinctively reached for the shoulder strap of her daughter’s flute case to save it from falling. When her fingers found only the prickly sequins of the gown, she remembered its violent slam onto the table, and compassion mingled with stoked anger.
After scarcely a moment, Stefanie pulled away. She moved to her mother’s purse on the table. Her cell phone was normally stored there on performance days. She ripped open the outside pocket, grabbed the device, swiped her passcode, and opened a web browser with choreographed ease. “We’ll change our tickets and go back tonight, mom. There’s bound to be a late flight if we pack and get a taxi now.”
“Stef, that won’t do any good,” Anne said, still holding one sparkly stiletto.
“I can’t believe you, Mom! He’ll be laying there alone in the hospital. You know he doesn’t have any family.”
Anne set the shoe on the table and grabbed for Stefanie’s wrist.
Stefanie twisted and passed the cell to her opposite hand.
“It’s too late,” Anne whispered.
“Mom, it was a matinee concert. It’s only five o’clock,” Stefanie said. “There are probably a couple of flights to Boston if we can’t get the very next one.”
“I mean there’s nothing you can do now.” Anne pulled gently on the wrist under her fingers, and forced Stefanie to look deep into her eyes. “Stef, he’s dead.”
Stefanie’s jaw dropped. Her brows knit in puzzlement, then disbelief. Her eyes widened and became glassy, then the body of the naïve child Anne once held in her lap collapsed forward into waiting arms with a cry of absolute anguish.
The cell phone clattered to the marble floor. But both women stood oblivious, clinging to each other for support as the world evaporated around them.
I’m setting this aside now to move toward Chapter 3. I’ve gained a better sense of Stefanie’s voice through this exercise… not to mention insight into the mother’s world. You see, Anne DIDN’T want to leave that community college gig, despite what Stefanie thinks. And she NEVER gave up the dream of writing and publishing a book of her own.
And YOU shouldn’t either.
So pick up your pen and write with me this week! I can’t wait to find out who we’ll meet next.