tagNonConsent/ReluctanceChords that Bind Ch. 15

Chords that Bind Ch. 15

bypoeticlicense91©

My Dear Readers,

Someone requested a Valentine's update, which was entirely within the realm of possibility at the time when. (After all, we get some romance and intimacy in this chapter, even if it's not specifically Valentine's themed.) However, work got in the way. I hope you can forgive me for my tardiness. I had a lot of fun bringing these two together in this chapter. I can only hope you like it and understand that in reality, they're still getting to know each other in a lot of ways. Your votes, comments, and feedback genuinely make my day, so I'll thank you again for your support and for continued courtesy you do me by suspending your disbelief and not mentioning typos and comma placements.

Xoxox

--Poetic License

***

The next morning found James and Cecilia in bed well after 11 o'clock. It had been a late—if glorious—night. Cecilia woke to the steady, soft sensation of James's hands running up and down her back. It had to be the best way to wake up. James smiled as she rolled over to get her bearings. Then he gave her a tender kiss on the forehead. No—that had to be the best way to wake up. "How'd you sleep?"

"Mmmmm... very well Sir. And you?"

"Best night's sleep of my life," he said with conviction.

"Oh. Good. Last night was amazing. I hope..." Cecilia trailed off.

"Yes?"


"I'd hoped it was a good evening for you too," she said shyly.

"It was a night never to be forgotten. Your trust in me was breathtaking. I'm so glad you chose me."

Cecilia didn't know how to respond. James stroked her cheek. "I'm glad too," she finally said. James considered his feelings and rather than explaining them, he kissed her deeply.

***

Luckily, in Philadelphia, brunch is something of an all-day affair on the weekends. James took Cecilia to Honey's in Northern Liberties. Over world-class pancakes and La Columbe coffee, James laid out the rest of their stay in Philadelphia. They needed to return to Cecilia's apartment and sort which things she wanted to keep and have sent to England. James had two more performances and then they'd have a couple of extra days to pack her things up before James needed to be in New York.

"It shouldn't take long," Cecilia said. "There's not much worth bringing back." Her voice caught though. She'd be leaving the city for good this time.

"Is everything alright?" James worried she was having second thoughts.

She nodded though. "It is. It's—just a lot."

James nodded. He didn't know what he would do if she said she didn't want to leave. He didn't want to think about it, especially if he wanted to continue to think of himself as a gentleman.

"Clara and Abe will be excited you're coming back," he said to divert the subject.

"I don't know. They're probably glad to be rid of me."

James made a noise of disbelief into his coffee. "Far from it. They wanted you to stay."

"Really?"

"Yes. Why would you say that?"

"Because, well they just kept saying how good it would be that I was going home..."

"That's my fault. I told them not to interfere. I thought getting you here was what was best for you. But, they loved having you there." James paused, letting his own feelings on that score go unspoken. "They didn't want you to leave."

"Should we let it be a surprise then?" Cecilia looked at him conspiratorially.

He felt himself smiling. "Alright then. It'll be good to see their faces. Although, it'll be hard to keep from telling them. Speak of the devil!"

James's mobile buzzed on the table. Cecilia saw Abe's name flash on the caller ID. "I'll call them back when we're done here."

***

They drove back to Cecilia's apartment. James phoned Abe while Cecilia started sorting through the things she thought she would keep. Very few of her clothes—most from her parents, and very frumpy—made it into the 'save' pile. All of her books and notebooks were coming to England.

James came into her bedroom and looked at the heap of old clothes. "Wow. Lot's to save?"

"No. I'm tossing all of these. If I'm getting a chance to start fresh then I don't want these."

James noticed the bitter tone in her voice. "I just told Abe that you were safely back where you belong, and that we parted on good terms," James cracked a smile. "It sounds like Clara just had a spanking on your behalf."

"What?!" Cecilia worried how she could have brought that on her friend.

"Apparently, Abe had quite a time telling Clara to be supportive of your returning home."

Cecilia was momentarily appalled that that was a spankable offense. "What?"

"I told you they didn't want you to leave," James said with a smirk.

***

That evening Cecilia wore a sleek black cocktail dress to the Kimmel Center—it was one of the few items of clothing from her old life that would be making it into this next chapter.

She didn't have a box seat this time and had a difficult time disguising her arousal at James's playing. It was exquisite, and Cecilia knew the piece well enough now to anticipate some pauses and phrases. She felt her damp panties and couldn't wait for James to finish. It seemed somewhat sacrilegious to rush such a piece and such a performance, but Cecilia was probably the only person in Verizon Hall to refrain from calling for an encore.

For his part, James played impeccably. After taking his final bow and walking offstage, the concertmaster came over again. "Remarkable playing James. Perhaps tonight you'll join us for a late dinner. I'd love to meet the woman who replaced Natasha Dubnikov."

"Cecilia isn't a replacement. And I'd rather not discuss Natasha, Mark."

Mark, the concertmaster and first violinist, caught the tone in James's voice. "That's only to say, I hoped you were feeling more sociable this evening."

"As long as you know that Ms. Dubnikov is an off-limits topic for conversation, then I think we'd be delighted."

This was one of the reasons why James chose a different venue for last night's dinner. His brief affair with Natasha wasn't one of his proudest decisions, and the musical community was still whirling with the gossip.

Mark smiled, "Forget I mentioned her. Although, it seems to me the reports of her affect on your playing were overblown. If anything, your command these last few nights indicates that it was your affect on her that was the key to your 'Rachmaninoff Romance.'"

James rolled his eyes at Mark's allusion to a magazine story featuring him and Natasha. Despite his nosiness into James's personal life—which was more Natasha's fault than anyone else's—Mark was perceptive. "Let's just say that it wasn't meant to be, and that Natasha's affect on my playing is very different than the affect Cecilia has."

"That's fine by me. I thought we could go to Girasole."

***

"Sir?"

James looked up. (He never gave her rules for address, or any rules for that matter. She simply always referred to him by his title.) They'd just dropped off her boxes of books, DVDs, clothes, and sentimental items at Fed-Ex. Cecilia was right about sorting through her things. She wouldn't be bringing much back to England.

"Do you have a performance tonight?"

"No, actually. We have a free night before going up to New York. Is there anything you wanted to do?"

"I was wondering if you'd want to take a walk in Fairmount Park?"

James smiled. He didn't know what he thought she'd want to do, but it was such a simple request. Natasha never made anything so easy. Neither did Josephine. "I'd love to get outside for a bit."

They climbed into James's rental and drove north to one of Philadelphia's best-kept secrets.

Fairmount Park lined both sides of the Schuylkill River. One section was lined with idyllic boathouses for the university rowing teams, and the park itself was spacious and green.

After a few late nights with some of the musicians from the orchestra, James felt content to be on his own with Cecilia. The evening with Mark and his partner Phil had actually been good fun. But the couple and a few of the other musicians in the restaurant were eyeing Cecilia with curious interest, and James didn't feel like sharing or explaining this new relationship, especially given the context of his most recent love affair.

A walk in the park suited James just fine. The last vestiges of summer were fading into autumnal colors. Shyly, Cecilia held James's hand and they watched the sun sparkle off the water as the rowing teams practiced, speeding by with elegant motions. They spotted a hawk with a fish in its talons. Sometimes it was hard to believe there could be anything but people this close to the city, but a painter turtle basking in the late afternoon sun proved them wrong and surprised them again.

"I always wanted to take someone up here for a stroll," Cecilia said after a time. "It's really pretty up this way. Thank you for indulging me."

"I wouldn't call this indulging you. If I'd known it was here I would have suggested it myself. I'm surprised this is what you wanted to do with your last night in town."

"What did you think I would want to do?"

"I'm not sure. Maybe see your parents? Or some friends?"

Cecilia's smile flickered. "No. I don't want to see them."

"Can I ask why?"

Cecilia didn't answer for a moment; James was about the change the subject. "They- they might think they loved me once. But they've been lying about that for years, to me and to themselves. They liked the idea of me. But if I deviated from what they thought I should be... well, they weren't very kind then."

James knew there was something there, underneath the surface. He was surprised how familiar it sounded.

"When I went to college, I realized how much I hated the confines of my family. I'd never had any real freedom. They were manipulative and abusive. It just took me that long to see it."

"I'm sorry. You don't have to say more if you don't want to." James wondered if Cecilia would one day think the same thing of him.

Cecilia went on. Unable to stop now that she started, "When I graduated, Dad told me I should try to be a secretary. After all that work and study, he still thought my degree was a waste. Maybe it was . . . I was working in a restaurant before . . . everything happened. I was never any good at numbers or math. He was an engineer. He wanted a boy, and when that didn't pan out he wanted me to be like him anyway . . . join the military, work in the applied sciences. He didn't want to pay for me to study philosophy or literature."

"I'm sure that's not true. You're capable of a lot more. You're incredibly bright Cecilia. He was wrong. And I'm glad you didn't listen to him."

She seemed to be recollecting her relationship with her parents and instead of looking at James, stared off into the distance. "My mom was the worst though. Jesus, she could be mean."

"Did she- did she hit you?" James wasn't sure he wanted the answer.

"Oh, yes. Usually, over cleaning something. She has a bit of OCD when it comes to cleaning. She also loved to scare away my friends. Any time I started to build a friendship, they would finally come over to the house, and she'd find a way . . . sabotage it somehow. The one time I stood up to her while my friend was over . . ."

She shuddered and trailed off. James listened to this stream of conscience recollection with rapt attention.

"He always sort of told her to stop. Dad, I mean—until the one day, when she didn't listen; he didn't do anything. She always got away with it. Right up until I left the house. Maybe if I wasn't such a disappointment, he would have made her stop."

James's free hand clenched into a fist. He didn't like how casually Cecilia tried to recount her mother's abuse or her father's failure to protect his daughter. She'd been through more than he'd initially understood.

"So that's why I don't want to see them. Besides, I don't know how I'd explain what this is." She motioned between herself and James. "They have very set ideas on relationships and marriage. I couldn't begin to go through all of that with them."

Cecilia angrily wiped a tear off her cheek. James stopped walking. "I'm sorry. You didn't need to hear all of that. I just- I just..." Cecilia descended into an incomprehensible babble. He wouldn't want her now. She was too damaged.

James pulled her to him and held her protectively, feeling the tears soak through his shirt. He rubbed her back in large circles. His chin rested on top of her head. "Cecilia, I want to know everything about you. I don't care about your parents or what they think, but I do care about you. Do you need to go back to the car? Or—" he didn't like this suggestion, but he said it anyway, "or do you need me to leave you alone? Tell me what I can do."

His solicitous questions overwhelmed Cecilia. "I don't know. Can you just keep holding me like this?"

That he could do.

He sat them down on the grass and held Cecilia until the tears gave out. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get all—"

"Shhhh. Stop apologizing." James kissed her forehead. "It is going to be getting dark soon. We probably need to walk the other way back to the car. Want to get a bite?"

Cecilia nodded.

They headed back to the car, which was parked behind the Art Museum without saying anything more. Occasionally, James would squeeze her hand in his own, and she would crack a weak smile. Her cheeks were red from crying, but this personal and emotional exchange made James feel like they had a connection beyond the first unlikely obstacles that brought them together.

He couldn't do anything about the things that happened in Cecilia's past, even the parts over which he took ownership, but he sure as hell was going to make sure she was never alone in that place of pain, loneliness, and shame again.

They ate at an English pub on Rittenhouse Square, because James suffered from a bit of homesickness. James told her some annotated stories about his time in Philadelphia when he studied at Curtis, leaving out most of his parents' role in discouraging him from playing. Cecilia saw through his version of events though, even if it was subliminally.

"Were your parents proud when the graduated from conservatory?"

James looked down at his Yorkshire pudding. "More or less."

"What did you play? For your final recital?"

"Ravel's Left-hand Concerto, Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Sonata, and I also conducted selections from Elgar's Enigma Variations. That was a dedication to my Uncle Clive. He was the most excited when I completed my training. He was my first teacher."

"Didn't your family come to hear you?"

"Clive did. My parents were in the continent and didn't want to fly all the way."

Cecilia hesitated. "Will I meet them one day?"

James took a pull on his Old Speckled Hen. "I'm afraid they're dead. Clive died two years after I graduated conservatory. He had cancer; he was a fine organist and kept playing until he was in hospital. My parents never did approve of all that though."

"What about your parents?

"Car crash a year before that." Cecilia was surprised at how calmly he spoke about the loss of his family.

"I'm sorry James. I didn't mean to . . ."

He smiled a bit sadly. "Well, I consider myself lucky. Abe was the brother I never had, so I don't feel too sorry for myself. And there's Clara too. And you now."



***

Early the next morning, James and Cecilia found themselves in 30th Street Station boarding the Amtrak to New York.

"I find I prefer to travel by train, even if it isn't always practical. Have you been to New York?"

"Once or twice on school trips. Just saw the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center and tourist stops."

"It's a shame I'll be performing both nights we'll be there. I'd love to show you the Met or the Guggenheim."

"I'd like that. Maybe you could show me the British Museum when we get back to London?"

"You haven't been yet? I was sure Clara or Abe would have seen to it by now."

"No. They suggested it. Abe offered to go with me . . .but I didn't feel up to it then. I was afraid to leave the house." Cecilia partially admitted her depression after James left on his tour.

"I'd be honored to take you to see one of her majesty's jewels of the realm." The overly formal declaration made Cecilia laugh.

The train ride only took a little over an hour. James had them in a taxi and driving to the Meridien. Having company for the rest of his tour—and such good company at that—made James relish traveling again. Cecilia felt a bit worn out, having never traveled so rigorously before. James encouraged Cecilia to rest while he went to Carnegie Hall to practice and check in with his agent.

***

James's agent Roger was good at his job. But because of this he could be somewhat overwhelming and, overall, James was happy to keep these in-person meetings infrequent.

"Now James, don't think I'm not grateful for all the extra publicity, but couldn't we have timed this business with Natasha a bit better?" Roger's effusive American-ness was somewhat calmed by the atmosphere of the Lambs Club.

James balked at his agent.

"This is why I need you to answer my calls now and then. You agree to do a recording with Deustche Gramaphone one minute, and then the next Natasha's giving interviews—without you—saying it's all over before anyone could cash in!"

James sipped his dirty martini and continued to take in his agent's complaints.

"Couldn't you have kept it going long enough to make the recording? I never have anything that good to work with. If you'd told me, I could have swung a deal with Steinway."

James heard enough. "You never have anything that good to work with? Has something been lacking in my playing?"

Roger faltered. "That's not what I meant. Of course not! If anything—"

"If anything, it's improved since I broke it off with Natasha."

"James, this whole tour has been marvelous. Really, but no one really cares outsi—"

"You certainly don't seem to," James bit back. He didn't like where Roger's head was on this.

"Now, James," Roger was indefatigable, "You know I do. In fact, some of your recordings have seen a spike in sales. The old ones with Natasha, in particular..."

"Roger! That publicity stunt was all Natasha. I don't make a habit of revealing my personal life. That's half the reason I left her. The case with her is closed. I don't think we'll be touring together anytime soon." James had had enough of Natasha's wiles following him. "Consider this subject off-limits."

Roger caved and pivoted. "Right then. Well, thankfully, there's a visiting critic who gave you a glowing review in Philadelphia. I can work with that, I suppose."

"I'll have you know that was the best performance of my life, Roger. I hope you can work with that. But I will need some time off once I'm back in London." James's mind wandered to Cecilia. He had lots to catch up on with her.

"You're the boss, James." Roger could be obsequious when he sensed he'd pressed James too hard.

"I'm glad we understand each other."

***

James returned to his hotel room with a large box tucked under his arm. The rest of his lunch with Roger went quickly, now that the man had his marching orders. James used the extra time to find something for Cecilia to wear tonight. He was surprised at his own selection. Something about it was playful, and he hoped that Cecilia would like it.

Cecilia was fast asleep on the king-size bed. He hated to wake her, but at the same time wanted to show her his surprise. He set the box down and bent over her: His very own sleeping beauty. It was amazing she could sleep so deeply. He took in this unguarded version and then kissed her cheek. And then her neck and jaw. She stirred, and James's kisses grew bolder. His lips found hers and coaxed her to consciousness. He smiled when she returned the kiss. "Mmmm..."

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