FAWC 2: Virtuoso
(Author’s note: This story is a submission to the second Friendly Anonymous Writing Challenge (FAWC). The true author of this story is kept anonymous, but will be revealed on August 16th, 2013, in the comments section following this story. Each story in this challenge is centered around a random determination of four “mystery ingredients.” There are no prizes given in this challenge; this is simply a friendly competition.)
(The mystery ingredients for this story were Humility, Phrase, Energetic, and Color.)
* * * *
Everybody hates a prodigy. Or at least, no one really wants to be friends with one. The only two emotions that a gifted child evokes within his or her peers are unbridled jealousy or extreme awe. These children are from another world entirely, one where their fortunes have been touched by God.
Lei Qian was a prodigy. At age five, she had given her first classical violin solo performance. At age nine, she had been accepted to Juilliard. She released her debut album when she was just eleven, topping the Billboard classical albums chart. Now at nineteen, she had a number of notable awards under her belt, played with the top orchestras and musicians in the world, and gave more than a hundred performances around the world each year.
Her entire life had been spent with a violin for company.
Because of her many engagements, she had been homeschooled. The other music kids that she learned with couldn’t look past her extraordinary and frequent accomplishments to be her friends. Her brilliance was so far removed from the gifted children and even adults that she played with that none could look beyond it. She had been the star among prodigies. Fortunate, and alone.
She spent most of her time with her parents. Her father was her manager and her mother saw to the day-to-day little details of her professional life. The traditional Chinese culture she had inherited from her immigrant parents had simply never made her question the arrangement. However, lately she had begun to wonder if she could come out of the persona she had become and be just a girl.
Normally, she bore the fame and fortune well enough. After all, as her mother said, her talent was a gift and she had the responsibility to herself and the world to perfect it. But sometimes, just sometimes, she wished she’d had a normal childhood – with friends and sleepovers and trips to Disneyworld. She’d had none of that.
And a boyfriend. She’d never had one of those either. Sure she had fumbled around with boys and lost her virginity in the disastrous search for one, but it had never worked out beyond those first few dates. They could never look past who she was.
All that changed the year she turned twenty.
* * * *
Lei emerged from the dressing room in a white dress that gently swirled around her calves. This was paired with white strappy heels and accompanied by a single white peony in her hair. The only touch of color, or non-color, was the black sash that tied into a bow at her waist, matching her striking black hair and eyes.
Her mother looked her up and down once, then smiled, her eyes crinkling at the corners. “You look lovely.”
“Thanks, Mama.” Lei adjusted the skirt a bit and smoothed her hand down the front. She looked the same as she had in every other concert she had given.
She always wore white for her solo performances. The trademark color and her name had earned her the nickname ‘White Flower’ in the review sections of newspapers and magazines. It suited her; not just her sense of dress and style, but her entire personality. She didn’t know whether it was a case of her growing into the name or the name growing on her, but now she had become the personification of grace and beauty that the entire image evoked.
Lei walked around the backstage area and entered the empty hall as she always did before a performance, and like always, Carnegie Hall took her breath away. The colossal view of the multiple balconies dwarfed her, at the same time enclosing her in an embrace that spoke volumes with its hushed silence. The beautiful moldings and plush velvet seats spoke of the grandeur of music that demanded respect from artists and audience alike.
Bowing her head and closing her eyes, Lei gave the hall its due. She stood silently for long minutes, feeling the space flow into her body, then opened her eyes and took in each detail. The muted gold and burgundy, the pinpoints of lights shining down on her, the pools of light under each floor and the high arch of the ceiling.
These moments before a performance were her meditation, her way of minimizing distraction. After the ritual, she went back to her dressing room and spent the last few minutes concentrating on the program for the evening.
As the appointed time approached, she got deeper and deeper into the mind-space that amplified each noise she heard, made her acutely aware of each separate muscle in her hands and back, and slowed time to a crawl that would slow still further and inch forward – until she entered the actual performance, and then she wouldn’t be aware of anything but the music flowing around her and in her head, the weight of the bow across the strings, the smooth wood of her instrument and the soft blackness behind her closed eyes.
The entire time on stage felt like an otherworldly experience. It couldn’t be explained in words. She had tried many times, in interviews or with her parents, but had never been able to describe how time both flew and slowed down, how her body was both strung to its highest tension and utterly relaxed, how she could never really remember the notes she played or the way her body moved. It was a space devoid of all thought; it was merely the physicality of the score that her body remembered, the rhythms that were burned into her unconscious and the movements that she just knew to make to produce what she did. It was like attempting to explain the timeless fluidity of a flowing river. There just were no words.
Lei came out of the spell only when the applause started. The next half hour was bows and smiles and acknowledging what seemed like hundreds of people who wanted to congratulate her. The concert had been a success.
After thanking her well-wishers and fans, she withdrew into herself as soon as she got into the car on the drive back home. After a performance, her whole body ached as she wound down from the high and she felt as exhausted as her entire life’s energy had drained out of her. Her parents knew not to address her as she fell asleep in the back seat on the long drive to her apartment.
* * * *
The next day, her parents came in to take her to the airport for the three-month long recital tours she would hold across Europe. Her parents were accompanying her as she did to almost all her engagements.
“Ready for London?” her father asked.
Lei nodded. The Europe tour was her favorite tour of the year as she got to play in some of the world’s most legendary locations and they were always well-received, with deeply appreciative audiences and good reviews.
Her father continued, “Your birthday is as soon as you return. What would you like as your gift?”
Lei had completely forgotten. She took a moment to think about it but there was only one thing she truly wanted. She just didn’t know if she could tell her father who had been the driving force in her life.
“Well…,” she began.
Seeing her hesitation, her father turned his undivided attention on her. “What is it?”
“Actually, I was thinking….”
Her mother and father were both looking at her expectantly.
“If I could take a break,” she said slowly.
“Break? What do you mean?” her mother asked.
“I’ve been working non-stop since I was… well, all my life. I just wanted some time off, you know, from recitals and traveling and practice and… everything.”
“No practice?” her mother echoed. “How can you not practice?”
“Just for a few days, Mama,” Lei said. “It’s not like I’ll forget anything. I’ve been doing this as far as I can remember.”
“Du wan juan shu, xing wan-li lu,” her mother retorted. Reading ten thousand books is not as useful as walking ten thousand miles.
“Yes, I understand that, Mama.”
“And yet you say you will not practice? The only way you can achieve true mastery is by practicing, not sitting back and telling yourself that you know enough.”
Her parents just sat there looking at her. Lei could see the confusion in her mother’s eyes, as if she just couldn’t understand what she was saying or why. Her father though, his expression was hard to read.
“What would you do on this break?” her mother asked.
“I don’t know… take a vacation, go on trip…”
“But we are already going to Europe tonight.”
“Not that way, Mama. That’s for work. This could be just because I wanted to go somewhere. Just because I felt like it, and I wouldn’t have to practice all day. I could maybe see the world a little instead of being shut off in a practice hall somewhere.”
Her father still hadn’t said anything.
Lei turned to him. “Dad, I know this is a little unusual but I just want to have some time to myself.”
“How long would this break be?” he asked finally.
“A couple of months maybe.” She shrugged. “Perhaps next summer.”
“You have commitments,” he said slowly. “You’re booked to perform in various places until the November of next year.”
Lei lowered her eyes and nodded. “Maybe the year after,” she responded half-heartedly, but that was too far away and all of them knew that in her life, she couldn’t plan time for herself so far along in the future. Her life was ruled by concert schedules and opportunities that were fixed months if not years in advance.
There was no hope of deviating from the path that had been laid out. So she silenced her heart and returned to the careful rhythms of her ordered life.
On her birthday, she received diamonds.
* * * *
The Europe tour was a success and had garnered unprecedented reviews. As soon as they returned home though, Lei’s mother fell ill. She had been coughing at the tail end of the tour and Lei suspected that something was wrong, but the last couple of days had been so hectic that there was no time at all to see to it. While traveling back, her mother who usually couldn’t sleep on airplanes slept for the entire length of the flight.
As soon as they got home, Lei forced her mother into bed and ordered her to stay there.
“But there is your Philadelphia recital,” she objected. “We need to go and get the dress for it.”
“That’s fine, Mama. I’ll take care of it,” Lei assured her.
“No, no. I’ll come with you.” She made as if to get up but Lei stayed her with a firm hand on her shoulder.
“There’s no need for you to come with me when you’re not feeling well, Mama. I can get it by myself… it’s just going to be a simple white anyway.”
* * * *
She found a dress that was characteristic of her style in only a half hour of the two she had allotted to the task. It wasn’t that hard to find a basic white dress. This one had black panels at the sides, on either side of her waist and then the white gently encasing her thighs.
Getting herself a muffin and a cappuccino at one of the coffee shops close to the store, she bagged the only available table there and planned to spend a good part of an hour people-watching and enjoying the unexpected time alone.
No sooner had she settled down though when a guy approached the table.
“Excuse me, could we share the table?”
Lei wasn’t too keen on it, but a quick glance around told her that every other table was still occupied and she was the only single occupant of one. “Of course,” she said gracefully while gathering her shopping bag and depositing it on the floor next to her.
“Devil,” the guy said as he pulled back his chair, and thanking her with a polite nod, sat down.
“My name,” he explained.
She stared at him, at a loss for words.
“And yours?” he prompted when the silence began to turn a little awkward.
“Lei,” she said quickly, still stunned that someone could be named Devil.
He certainly looked like one, with what seemed like a perpetual devilish glint in his eyes. As Lei took more of him in, she realized that he was actually very good-looking in a rugged, bad boy sort of way. His short, spiked dirty blond hair and chiseled jaw with the shadow of stubble certainly added to the image.
As she wound down this mental assessment, she realized that she was staring at him… and he was staring right back. Flustered, she lowered her gaze and took a sip of her coffee.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Yes, of course,” she replied, looking down at her cup.
“Hey, listen, if you’d rather sit alone…”
“No, that’s not it,” she said quickly.
“Uh, nothing really. Nothing.” She took another nervous sip. This was ridiculous. She was behaving like a schoolgirl who had never talked to a boy in her life, fumbling and making a fool of herself. She pulled herself together and gave him a smile. “It’s just that… that’s a very unusual name.”
“It is? I’ve known a couple of Devins growing up.”
“Oh! You said Devin. I thought… I heard….”
“Devil,” she admitted hesitantly.
He started laughing at that. “Now I’ll admit this is not the first time I’ve been called a devil,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, “but definitely the first time my name has been thought to be Devil.” He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table and cradling his cup with both hands. “Actually, it’s from the root word ‘divine.’ So you see, I just might turn out to be from the other camp.” He waited a beat before repeating, “Might.”
He flashed a quick grin that was more than a little captivating and Lei caught herself staring at him again.
“Sorry, I just misheard. I’m probably just jet-lagged,” she said to cover up her confusion. “I just flew back from London a few hours ago.”
“Wow, London. That sounds interesting. Vacation?”
“Work,” she replied. “I was engaged to play there. I’m a musician.”
“And what do you play?”
His eyebrows went up at that. “A true-blue musician, huh? And here I automatically assumed you were in a band when you said you were a musician.”
“Well, I do play with a band on occasion,” Lei said with a smile. “But no, not the kind of popular music you probably were thinking of.”
“I really know nothing of classical music,” he admitted. “I’m pretty much a punk rock guy.”
“And I know nothing of punk rock,” she responded.
“How about I take you out to dinner and you can play a recording of your favorite music piece for me and I’ll introduce you to what I like?”
It was so out of the blue that Lei was rendered speechless for the second time in a matter of minutes.
“Are you asking me out?” she finally managed.
That captivating grin again. “Yep.”
A number of responses ran through her mind in the second it took for her to respond, but the one that came out of her mouth was, “I can’t. I’m going to be in Philadelphia tomorrow.”
Devin shrugged lightly and the conversation moved to other things. They spent the better part of an hour talking over coffee. Nothing of consequence really, just the getting to know each other kind of first conversation, but something about him seemed to mesmerize Lei and she who had wowed audiences of thousands tripped over her words with him.
She couldn’t really put her finger on what it was that was so exciting about him. She found herself noticing every tiny detail in order to figure it out. She noticed the way he drummed his fingers on the table in little bursts or the way he always seemed to be in motion even while sitting down. The way he played with the sugar packets on the table with long fingers or his obvious masculinity that he seemed to be unaware of. All of those things were interesting, but still couldn’t explain the magnetic fascination.
Then perhaps it was the fact that he was like a breath of fresh air away from her cloistered life immersed in music. Or maybe it was the way his eyes seemed to create a tingle low in her belly when he looked directly into hers and held her gaze for long moments. Everything about him was so alive, like it was electric, and Lei felt herself drawn to him. His livewire personality was like a contrast to her demure nature.
As the hour drew to a close and Lei realized that she needed to be heading back, she felt the utmost unwillingness to leave. She was enjoying the break from her ordered life too much. The very fact that she was sitting there with him was something extraordinary. She couldn’t remember when she had last been with someone removed from her world purely for the enjoyment of being with them.
She reluctantly started to make her excuses, but Devin surprised her yet again.
“When will you be back from Philadelphia?”
Lei paused before answering. “Next week.”
“Would you like to meet up then?” he asked casually.
And just at that moment, Lei decided that she would. It was all too simple to take his number and tell him that she would call him when she got back.
* * * *
The week that followed was an interminable wait. She couldn’t wait to meet him again. Lei didn’t know how she made it through the Philadelphia concert but she did it with her usual dignified grace. Inside her though was a state of constant anticipation.
The day she returned, she called him.
Their first few dates were the typical getting to know each other stuff but by the time they eased into the third week of seeing each other, they knew that this was going to be something long-term.
The thing that was the most valuable to her was that he didn’t really know who she was or the extent of her repute as a musician. As he had admitted, Devin didn’t listen to classical music, and to Lei, that was the most normal she could be with anyone. She was just another girl dating a guy, not Lei Qian the violinist dating a guy, which had come in the way of every relationship she had tried before then. When she left her persona, her music, her graceful self and her violin behind, she discovered sides to herself that she didn’t know she had.
And that made her fall a little more in love with him every day.
Lei needed to dig deep into the perseverance that had been her mainstay through all these years in order to discipline herself enough to keep up her strict schedule. Fortunately, the years had given her resources that held true. When she was practicing her craft, she could almost banish the thought of his twinkling eyes into the back of her head, but it was the moment when her violin was packed up and she was alone that he invaded her thoughts.
She loved that Devin was a perfect contrast to everything she was. He was as energetic as she was graceful, bold and flirty to her shy manner, the talker to her listener, and when they finally dipped into it, the leader to her follower in all things sexual. The sizzle between them had been evident right from the beginning, and when they finally consummated their relationship, Lei finally understood what had been missing from her life.
Making love was like playing music. Lei came close to what she felt during a performance when Devin made love to her. His deep kisses transported her to a place where she felt her body come alive and time slowed to the extent that she could feel each moment, each touch of his on her body. His expert hands on her swept her up into a passion that was uncontrolled in its urgency, but also carried a taste of the intensity that held her when she played.
Foreplay was akin to the euphoria of the moments leading up to a concert, with passion building as Devin played her like a well-loved instrument and she responded to his every touch; drugged and focused solely on the warmth of his body and his moist mouth on her and his hands on her most private of places until she wasn’t aware of anything but the sensations assailing every part of her being.