In the inky dark, with a soft breeze whirring from the HVAC system in the distance, she could almost have been outside. Then came the soft fluttering and rustling of people shifting around, waiting, restless. She was the one they were waiting for. Shutting her eyes, she steeled herself and took a deep breath. Then, her high ethereal voice was filling the theatre. The growing warmth of a weak spotlight made her skin glow. Finally, as she reached a crescendo, the throbbing violins flared to life behind her.
The spotlight grew brighter, hotter, and she was dimly aware of the rest of the stage being lit to show the orchestra playing away serenely. The concert went smoothly, almost too quickly. Before she knew it, Claire was being applauded and introduced as the symphony's new professional soprano. She bowed slightly in her silky lavender gown, and headed offstage.
As she approached her dressing room, the conductor overtook her. Pressing his hand warmly to her shoulder, he smiled slightly and said, "You were lovely tonight, Claire," in a low tone, his thick French accent nearly obscuring his words. Claire smiled and ducked into her dressing room. Heaving a sigh, she dropped into the oversized armchair she'd had brought in for her, taking a moment for herself before going out to join the party. Opening night always took it out of her, and opening night with a new symphony was something else again.
She had been drawn to the city with the promise of mild weather, an excellent salary, and the freedom to take on additional work whenever it didn't conflict with the symphony's schedule. She hadn't been adequately warned about the conductor, however. His name was Sebastien ("say-bas-TYAWN, NOT se-BAS-chen, PLEASE") Boulet, but he insisted that they all call him Maestro, and was somewhat gruff in that stereotypically French manner. He always wore suit pants, but would frequently be seen in a charcoal gray or white turtleneck shirt. All he needed was the beret, she thought to herself. Sebastien was unlike most conductors she had seen, who keep their backs ramrod straight and their movements harsh and precise. He swayed, almost danced, his lithe frame graceful on the podium and his baton floating and bouncing along to the music.
She could tell that he really "felt" the music, and she guessed that he would be an amiable enough person to work with. It soon became clear that this was not the case. He was never cruel, nor even too impatient, and yet he commanded such respect and attention that it was considered almost rude to come before him and make such elementary mistakes as playing a wrong note. Players were expected to practice their new pieces extensively in the month-long hiatus between season's end and summer rehearsals.
He was very exacting, and difficult to please. This caused most in the orchestra to strive even harder to earn one of his rare full smiles and compliments. Claire was no different, but it wasn't just the dearth of platitudes that drove her. From the moment she first saw him conducting, she had been very taken with him. When she came in to audition for him, she remembered, her breath caught in her throat. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but some part of him exuded such sensuality that it surprised her.
Sebastien's facial features were strong and somewhat pointed. He had a thick shock of black hair, with similarly thick eyebrows shading brown eyes. His nose was a little large for his face, but not unpleasantly so. Her instant attraction should have been a reason to turn down the position. After all, stories of conductors' dalliances with their young, pretty sopranos are commonplace, and Claire didn't want that to be what she was known for. Still, the city was vibrant and attractive, and once she'd visited, she couldn't imagine living anywhere else.
In the three months since she had begun rehearsing with the symphony orchestra, she had learned to obey Sebastien's every command. When he wanted her to start, she started; to stop, she stopped. She made herself endless notes, practiced everywhere from her shower to her car. When, at the end of her third week with the symphony, he smiled adoringly at her after a particularly stirring solo, her heart fluttered. She redoubled her efforts.
She had sensed a change in him after she had made her first real error, in his eyes, being late to rehearsal. She had been running late, and was rushing to get to the symphony hall before rehearsal started. She had dashed in as the orchestra was tuning their instruments, and she saw Sebastien's shoulders tighten when the door snicked shut behind her.
"You're late," he had said tartly.
"Yes, Maestro, I'm very sorry," she had gasped out, breathlessly. He had turned to look at her, as she tried to catch her breath, a light sheen of sweat glossing over her skin. Her hair must have been a mess. The expression on his face had been inscrutable, but the look of dark knowledge in his eyes had shaken her.
After that day, their few private rehearsals had become the source of anticipation and near-terror for Claire, as she was both excited and frightened by the energy that crackled between them. He generally accompanied her on piano, or sat in the front row if their pianist was there, but it always felt like he was close. Touching her, inside her head. She had to fight to keep her concentration with Sebastien staring at her.
In group rehearsals, he virtually ignored her. But whenever they passed in a hallway afterward, he looked at her with such intensity she didn't feel she could stand it.
She was very relieved now that opening night had come. Rehearsals would still be numerous, but she would have the confidence of someone tested, instead of the constant nerves and fear that she might fail. She had been applauded, thunderously, had gotten a smile and a compliment - perhaps the season would be a breeze from here on out, but she wouldn't hold her breath.
As she thought back over the previous few months, she recalled meeting him just outside her dressing room door tonight. Why had he touched her? This was something he never, ever did. And the smile? Strange. He was rarely so pleased.
She shrugged out of her dress and into something a little shorter, a little darker, a little more scandalous. She pulled her chestnut curls up into a loose bun, tendrils floating over the back of her neck. It was going to be awkward to go out and socialize with the wealthy patrons of the symphony, none of whom she had previously met, and all of whom were no doubt going to make it a point to introduce themselves. As someone young and fairly attractive, this would no doubt mean plenty of propositions as well.
As she swung the door open to go out, she nearly ran directly into Sebastien, who looked nearly as surprised to see her, as he had clearly been poised to knock on her door. There was a pause as both composed their thoughts.
"Ah, Claire, there you are. I thought perhaps you would allow me to escort you downstairs," he said in the inflectionless way he often had. It was part of what kept the orchestra on guard, and it had the same effect on Claire. He held his elbow out to her, and she hoped the surprise didn't show on her face this time.
Offering physical contact twice in one night? What was going on? She would probably never know. Still, she rested her hand delicately in the crook of his arm.
"I'd be pleased to, Maestro." One corner of his mouth crooked upward, and he led her to the party.
It wasn't so bad, really. Sebastien introduced her to everyone as the symphony's ingénue, and though Claire blushed prettily on cue, she wasn't sure really whether to feel complimented or insulted. After a few moments, she was drawn into conversation with a wealthy couple, and lost track of Sebastien entirely. She ended up chatting amiably with a few different people over the course of the evening, but noticed once or twice that Sebastien, while in conversation with others, would nevertheless have his eyes on her. She left the party early, and was relieved to be on her way back to her dressing room, alone. A pair of running shoes was calling to her.
Singing was like the ultimate energizing activity for her. She felt so transcendent afterward that when she was much younger, she would do dangerous things like speeding on coastal roads or driving with her headlights off at night, to amplify the thrill. When she started dating regularly, she would go home after practice or a performance and fuck her boyfriends' brains out. Then she had taken up running, and never looked back. It didn't matter how late rehearsal ended, she always went for a run afterward. The symphony house in this city was downtown, near the vibrant city blocks she so loved, but there was also a large, well-lit park a few blocks away. If she really pushed herself, she could jog alongside the beach for a short time before turning back to the symphony. She took the shorter route tonight, already tired from the concert.
Claire paused outside the symphony hall to stretch out all of her muscles, and then slipped in through the backdoor to the dressing rooms. The lights had been turned off, and the shadows in the corners were thick. It was so utterly quiet. The party seemed to have ended long ago. She slipped into her dressing room and changed into the light cotton dress she'd worn to the symphony hall that day. She kept her own light off, letting the pale glow from the hallway illuminate things just enough to see. She wandered out, and noticed there seemed to be a light coming from the stage. As she approached, she heard the first pensive notes of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata thrumming from the piano. "Almost a fantasy," he had written at the end of the title, and indeed it had always sounded to her like a dream.
She tiptoed to it, wondering which of the orchestra players had stayed back to do a little playing. Few had pianos in their apartments, of course, and it was always a treat to play on the concert grand they had on stage.
When she peered out from around the curtain, she was therefore shocked to see Sebastien, slightly hunched over in front of the piano. He played so tenderly, his fingers practically caressing the keys. His eyes were squeezed shut and it was clear to her that he was somewhere else entirely. She wondered what he was thinking. She stood and watched him until the final notes of the first movement had died away, and then let out a little sigh.
Sebastien's head jerked up and he searched the back of the stage with narrowed eyes. Claire stepped back hastily, and when she saw Sebastien rise from the piano and head her direction, she made to leave.
"Who's there?" he called out, but she didn't answer. She had almost made it to the hallway, where she could duck into any number of dark doorways without being seen, when she felt a firm grasp on her upper arm. He yanked her around to face him, and the furious look on his face faded into something more like derision.
"Ah, mon abeille, it is you," he said softly, pushing her firmly against the wall at the back of the stage. "You should be more careful where you go sneaking about." His voice was low and dangerous.
"I wasn't sneaking," she retorted.
"Your footsteps did not announce you."
"You're not exactly in a private place, Sebastien, so you shouldn't expect to be alone," she said, not even totally believing it herself. His eyes narrowed and he stepped closer to her, pressing his body up against hers in a firm line.
"What did you call me?"
Her eyes widened slightly, "Ah, Maestro." She looked up to meet his eyes, glaring down at her. A smile ghosted around his lips.
"Are you frightened, Claire?" he asked, drawing out her name. She shivered slightly. "What do you think I'm going to do to you?" He tightened his grip on her arm, and she made a small noise. It didn't hurt, and she didn't particularly want to think about why it felt good. She was relieved when he let her go, admonishing her to be careful.
Spears of sunlight streaming through the window awoke Claire. She shifted under her warm down comforter, cuddling into the pillows, and then sat bolt upright. Fearing the worst, she glanced at the clock and saw that it was already 8:45. Rehearsal started at 9:00, and she knew she would never make it. Cursing her obviously faulty alarm clock profusely - she hadn't set it the night before, she would find out later - she dressed hurriedly and ran out the door. She checked her watch as she finally came up to the symphony hall - 9:15. Sebastien would be furious. She tiptoed into the auditorium, noting that the orchestra was already in full swing. Sebastien's conducting was a little shorter, a little fiercer today. Her chair stood glaringly empty right up front, and she sensed the irritation rising off him like waves of heat.
When she got close enough to the stage for the musicians to see her, many of them looked her way. The expressions varied from warning to boredom to sympathy to eye-rolling. She knew the moment Sebastien was aware of her, because his back straightened and he cut off the orchestra at once. The silence stretched out thickly in the minutes that followed. She shifted nervously on her feet.
Finally, he turned to face her, his expression carefully blank. He looked down at her from the stage, narrowed his eyes.
"Thank you for at last gracing us with your presence. You could have at least dressed the part," he said sarcastically.
Claire looked down, vaguely embarrassed to notice that she wasn't wearing anything professional. She had just grabbed what was closest to the bed, and hadn't noticed she was essentially in pajamas until that moment, a tank top and loose shorts. She couldn't find a bra, so she'd gone without, and she hoped it wasn't very noticeable. At that moment, she felt a prickle over her skin as he continued to stare down at her, and her nipples hardened. She was so mortified that she wanted to drop dead. Sebastien's eyes slid downward, and he opened his mouth, but seemed to think better of whatever he was going to say. Abruptly, he turned back to the orchestra and signaled them to continue on from the place they had stopped.
After an hour of this, Sebastien stopped them again a final time. "That's fine for today, I think." As everyone turned to gather up their materials, he caught Claire's eye. "Not you, mon abeille," he said under his breath. "Go to my office, and wait for me there." He turned away from her, dismissing her. She didn't like it, but she trudged up to his office, and flounced down in one of the chairs unhappily.
She realized she had never been in his dressing room. No one really went in there. She was unsurprised to see prints of Paris, endless sheaves of sheet music, a photograph of who she assumed were his parents, a bouquet of lavender on the table. It was cold. She crossed her arms over her chest, then looked up as he entered. He leaned coolly against the opposite wall and mirrored her, crossing his limbs and looking down at her.
"Maestro, I apologize. I promise it won't happen again."
He waved this away. "This promise means nothing, Claire. You promised the same last time, and when you were hired, I believe I made it very clear that punctuality was more important than almost anything else at this symphony."
"Yes, I know, and..."
"You see," he interrupted her, "once you have begun coming late to rehearsals, it's only a matter of time before you are missing one here and there, and no longer listening to my direction. My word is law," he said firmly. "Do you understand, mon abeille?"
"What are you calling me?" she asked in a small voice.
"mon abeille, it means, ah, my little bee."
"Pet name?" she asked, raising her eyebrows.
He flushed slightly, looking angry. "Very well, Claire then, if you please."
"It was okay," she said, even quieter.
"I think you do not really know what discipline is. I think you come on time to be courteous and you practice your singing because you like it, but you do not know what it means to be disciplined. Even what you are wearing shows that you have no discipline."
"It was an accident! Besides, there is nothing wrong with what I am wearing!" she said, cringing inwardly, as it wasn't really true.
Astonished, he pushed her arms away from her chest and gestured at it with a hand. "One does not wear a shirt such as this without undergarments in a public place unless attention is desired. Is that what you wanted? To divide my attention between the orchestra and your, ah, breasts?"
Flushing, she shook her head. "Of course not!"
"Ah, come now. You were going to be late anyway. You could have chosen to dress, at least put on underwear. You are wearing underwear, aren't you?" Claire didn't answer, and started to cross her arms again. "No, leave them down. You wore it, you can live with it."
She glared up at him, and was chagrined to feel her nipples hardening again under his gaze. Amused, he prodded one of her nipples with the tip of his baton. "Honestly, how could you show up like this, and not think every man in the room would wonder what else you weren't wearing?"
His question hung between them. She flushed dully and stood up, vibrating with anger. "Fine, I'm not wearing any! Does it make you happy to embarrass me, Sebastien?"
"I think you did well enough yourself." He stood very close to her and leaned down to her ear. "You forget your place, mon abeille," he said softly, harshly. She pushed away from him, but found her arms twisted painfully behind her back. She struggled, and he pulled her tighter in against him. Her breath quickened. When she felt him press his hips into her, grinding what must have been his erection into her ass slightly, she felt a little sick and incredibly turned on at the same time. Her heart felt like a runaway freight train. She felt her wrists being bound together with something, and she cried out.
"Scream if you like," he said carelessly. "Everyone has gone." She did scream, and promptly felt a thick wad of cloth stuffed into her mouth. "I just don't particularly care to hear it." He slid his hands up over her ribcage, cupping her breasts. She felt a little jolt of pleasure, her nipples throbbing. She tried to kick out behind her, and he dumped her to the ground. "Would you like me to tie your legs to something?"
She shook her head vigorously, as much to answer as in the hopes that the cloth would fall out of her mouth. No such luck. He picked her up and placed her in a kneeling position on the chair, her upper chest resting against the back of the chair. She couldn't see any way out, and didn't know what to expect next. She felt her shorts being pulled down over her ass, and whimpered out in protest. He did not caress her, as she thought he would, however. After what felt like a lengthy pause, there came a soft tapping on her ass cheeks.
"You need to learn discipline, Claire, and if I must be the one to teach it to you, so be it." The tapping increased in speed and intensity, and after a while, she felt a soft warmth spreading over her skin. It stopped, and then she felt a more sharp stinging sensation. She wiggled her bottom away from it, but it came again and again. Tears came to her eyes, and she tried to twist her head and look. "I'm just warming you up, mon abeille," came the disinterested voice behind her. When her ass was tingling all over, the swatting stopped. A soft rustle of cloth.
Then, thwack! She heard a loud smacking sound and felt an incredible pain as Sebastien's leather belt was cracked across her ass cheeks. Heat washed over her lower body, and she yelped loudly, muffled by the cloth in her mouth. "Ah, yes..." he murmured, and belted her again, five times, ten times. Soon, Claire noticed that the heat was not only spreading over her buttocks, but also between her legs. With each smack rode a growing wave of pleasure. She shivered all over, distressed and embarrassed that she might be enjoying it. At fifteen, she felt wetness on her inner thighs, and prayed Sebastien wouldn't see. The belting stopped, bringing her considerable relief.