The Maestro Ch. 04bybarabajagal001©
Author's Note: Thanks, as always, for the encouragement and patience of those of you still reading. I had in mind this chapter from the very beginning, but really struggled with the right words to say to bring it to life. I haven't decided whether I'll write more chapters, but as I've come to really love what Claire and Sebastien have together, I'm sure I'll have a hard time getting them out of my head. Anyway, this is the end, for now...
Darkness. Anticipation. It was a night very like the one five months prior, when everything had changed forever. A young lady trembles as she takes her place before an audience of hundreds, saying a silent prayer that everything goes well. The lights flare and the music starts abruptly, catching her off-guard. Faltering only slightly, it is enough to rouse his notice. The heat of his glare, the warning it brings, makes her head spin. She nearly misses her next entrance, and finds that something else is missing; that indelible connection they once had, the deep thread of connection between them that had always been there, even before they first touched. It was gone. She was just an accessory now on his stage, a puppet who could not even follow her Master's cues.
After the show, the usual applause, and a panicked breakdown in her dressing room. What was happening? A knock on the door. He has come. She tries to provoke him into an argument, but it is useless. The invectives he had hurled at her before still stick in her mind, but he no longer utters them. She means so little to him now that he does not even raise his voice in anger. He will not compromise his symphony for a silly little girl, he sneers derisively, and if she cannot pull herself together, she will be dismissed. He exits, stage left. She cries over him, for the first time.
It had been a trying few months and, despite having nearly everything a woman could possibly want - loving family, fulfilling job, excellent salary, her own little apartment, freedom - Claire felt that her world was slowly ending. Even the joy had nearly gone out of performing, what with the object of her current malaise ever-present on stage with her, supposedly guiding her, leading her through each performance with grace and moderation.
She had taken up an unlikely dalliance with Sebastien Boulet, the conductor of the symphony for whom she sang the solo soprano role. He had been more than just her Maestro on stage, but her Master in bed as well for a short time. In January, she had refused to break up with her boyfriend to be his alone, and found that she had in effect refused his bed entirely. He had not called her to him one single time, and at first she thought he was letting her stew, still playing their game.
Soon, however, she noticed that the tenor of their communications during rehearsals had changed. His eyes no longer held the same heat as before. He neither threatened nor praised her, and it was very like it had been when she first joined the symphony. Impersonal. She felt awkward inside. Watching him chat casually with other musicians before or after rehearsal made her hot with envy. It was supposed to be she who had something special with him. Yet, he would now hardly look her in the eyes, much less say any word he didn't need to.
Claire had taken to waiting around after rehearsals to speak with him privately, but he was never alone, and when at last everyone else had gone, so had he. He was assiduously avoiding her, she noticed, and it bothered her.
She had tried to call him, and Sebastien would not pick up. The one time he did, it was with the curt admonition to stop calling him. She hardly heard this, struck instead by the tinkling laughter of a woman in the background. So he was seeing someone else.
She finally had to admit to herself, it wasn't just the lack of attention. She missed him. Missed the connection they had, the burning lust she felt in both of them, simmering just under the surface whenever they were together. She missed the caress of his hands on her skin, missed his scent - cedar and violets - missed the murmurings of French in her ears. Though she hated to think of it, she missed his occasional tender handling of her as much as she missed his harsh punishments. Could it be, she felt... something more? She dismissed those thoughts. They were useless now.
Winter dragged on, and Claire was feeling lonely. She saw Todd twice a week, and wondered if she should finally take him to bed. He was so patient with her, and as much as she appreciated not having to make excuses to him, she was frustrated with his lack of initiative. He would not so much as attempt a lascivious glance or a deep kiss.
Instead, she broke up with him. His polite confusion disgusted her, and she knew she had done the right thing. She could pursue anyone she wanted now... except, perhaps, the one she wanted.
She realized she was more disgusted with herself than with Todd. She should have broken things off ages ago. She should have given Sebastien what he wanted. Now it was too late. She had already lost the game.
As January drew to a close, thick storm clouds were knitting together off the coast, and Claire's performances were lackluster. She was still lovely, her voice floating ethereally over the heads of concert-goers, but she no longer felt like the shining jewel on stage. She was growing more timid, eating less, sleeping poorly. When she arrived for the last rehearsal of the month, she felt as if everyone was murmuring about her, how drawn and pale she was. She waved away those who approached her concerned.
Sebastien was deep in conversation with a knot of musicians, and she saw him draw his brows together in consternation. He glanced over his shoulder at her, seemingly lost in thought for a moment, then turned back to the musicians. He seemed to be assuring them of something. Her heart gave a funny little leap when he moved in her direction.
"Claire, the others are worried you are not quite well," he said, sounding quite unconcerned himself.
"I'm fine," she said, her voice nearly a whisper.
"You certainly look it," he replied, with a trace of irony. "If you cannot perform your duties, perhaps you should take a leave of absence." After a short pause, he added, "You see, it is precisely for this reason that I kept my address from you; if you cannot obey, there can never be anything between us."
A sharp bolt of pain arrowed through her. She felt mortified. Pining over a man - even this man - was so ridiculous. It wasn't like her. She lifted her chin at him defiantly.
"I can do my job. Thanks for your concern," she said.
"See that you do," he said, as he walked away.
Another performance, another party with symphony season ticket holders, the type of event intended to encourage subscribers to purchase next year's season tickets early. Orchestra musicians were all encouraged to bring their significant others, really make the gathering personal. Claire, with no date and no prospects, was hoping to skip the party and go straight home to mope. The note she found slipped underneath her dressing room door dashed any hopes of doing this. It was written in Sebastien's thin, slanted hand, and it simply said, "Everyone is expected to attend the party. You are no exception. Be there."
Claire frowned down at the note. A few weeks ago, she might have thought he was giving her an excuse not to attend the party, and setting up another opportunity to punish her at the same time. Now, she thought he might just mean it. Pulling a dress from the closet, she shimmied into it, taking a moment to appreciate the way it fit her slim frame. Of course, being depressed was never fun, but she had wanted to lose those five pounds anyway. She'd had to go without a bra, but the dress lifted up her modest breasts, giving her an extra inch or so of cleavage. It left her shoulders, neck, and wrists bare - all of Sebastien's favorite places to see her twisted up.
She wasn't looking forward to this, and her spirits fell even lower when she overheard a group of musicians near the front talking about Sebastien's "date," evidently someone he'd described as a "friend," but these particular ladies were sure it was code for his boyfriend.
"I always wondered if he was gay," one woman was gushing.
"You say that about everyone," retorted another.
Oh no, thought Claire. Though she was immediately caught up in conversation by some of the musicians, she cast her eyes quickly around the room, and sure enough, Sebastien was aiming directly for her, handsome René in tow.
"Ahh, there is our lovely soprano now," he said as he reached her, lifting his voice to attract the attention of whoever was in earshot. She opened her mouth to reply, but he hastened on. "I'd like to introduce you to my very good friend, René." Claire blinked in confusion, but of course he wouldn't want her to speak familiarly to him. When were they supposed to have met?
She held her hand out to René, as one does in an introduction, and he took it, bringing it up to his mouth to kiss it. He winked at her, almost too briefly to see, and she felt something being pressed into her palm. She cupped her palm slightly around it.
"Enchanté, mademoiselle," he said in a low voice. Looking into his eyes, she couldn't suppress a memory of being pressed between the two men. Sebastien holding her so close to him, the powerful pleasure that had shot through her. She shivered.
"You are alone tonight, Claire?" Sebastien asked.
"Obviously," she said, with a little smile.
Not to be deterred, he persisted, "But, where is your boyfriend?"
Her mouth contracted in a slight scowl before she could control it. "How behind the times you are, Sebastien," she said, drawing out his name, enjoying the sound of it. His eyebrows drew together. "I haven't seen him in ages," she continued airily. She couldn't be sure, but she thought this revelation piqued his interest. "What of you, Maestro? Haven't you been seeing a lady yourself?" she asked, trying to be casual.
"Hm? Oh, Sarah?" The easy way he answered her felt like a barb to her heart. He chuckled softly as he added, "My sister has been visiting me." Claire hoped the relief didn't show on her face, but it explained the laughter over the phone.
"I'm sorry to hear about your boyfriend," he was saying.
She couldn't help the little laugh that burst from her lips. "I very much doubt that," she said, with a hint of bitterness, and walked away.
Claire was confused. She wanted to be angry. The way Sebastien had paraded René around, sending her the occasional significant look, as if to say, see, this is what you could have had, if only you had obeyed me. This wasn't confusing. This was exactly what she would have expected... if he had not been totally ignoring her up to that point. So, he did still care, at least enough to get some perverse pleasure out of tormenting her.
Then she remembered the thing René had given her. She had dropped it into her purse casually, and now that she was alone, at home, she could retrieve it. It was a small piece of paper, folded over, and all that was written on it was an address. She looked up, saw in the mirror that she was smiling.
So, the game was still on. Claire didn't know why René had secretly passed her what must have been Sebastien's address, but she could at least assume that Sebastien had mentioned something about their break. If they were as close as he said they were, he had probably said even more than that. She hadn't decided what she would do with her newfound information, but she carried the slip of paper on her at all times, like a talisman. Even after she had memorized what it said, she kept it as a reminder that she knew something Sebastien didn't know that she knew, and it made her feel powerful.
When she passed him in the hall, she greeted him by his first name, and enjoyed the way it pissed him off. In rehearsals, she took liberties with her performances, forcing him to pay more attention to her, trying to reign her in and do what he wanted. When he snapped at her for ignoring his directions, she would smile sweetly at him and promise to do better next time. The odd thing was that he didn't ask to speak to her privately, didn't tell her off for her behavior. It was almost like he didn't want to let her see that her needling was getting to him. Oh, but she did see.
In the meantime, she was gratified to notice that some little spark had returned between them. She caught Sebastien looking at her, like she had done something interesting. Instead of mindlessly following his directions, there was a tug of war that was so delicious. Perhaps she was deluded, but she thought the music was even better than usual.
During one rehearsal, she admitted even to herself, she'd been a real pain in the ass. At one point, she was sure that he had been on the verge of expelling her from the auditorium for the night, and she realized she had gone too far. Truth is, she didn't want the rest of the orchestra figuring out that there was something up between them. If they did sense it, there would be too many questions, and Sebastien would certainly tell her in no uncertain terms that there would be nothing between them ever again. In fact, he very nearly had told her so, but had stopped short of uttering such a final phrase.
Still, she got the sense she had been baiting him too much this evening, and resolved to be better behaved in the second half of rehearsal. It passed without any trouble, and Claire was pleased to get back to her dressing room and go on a run. She had skipped too many night runs lately, being too busy moping - if it wasn't raining, that is. She just ran and ran, sixteen blocks one way, then taking the long loop back. She rested her back against the outside wall of the symphony hall when she returned, letting the chill breeze dry the sweat on her skin.
She washed up in the ladies room, and was walking toward the exit when she heard it. The piano. Something tense, atonal. She didn't recognize it, but she was pretty sure whose mood that fit tonight. Ignoring her inner voice telling her to go straight home, she headed toward the auditorium. The music changed as she approached, becoming more somber, dark, brooding. She didn't recognize this either. He had his back to her, slowly playing the thrumming chords. She came closer until she was right behind him, and still he made no sign that he had noticed her. Sheet music was scattered across the stand above the keys - Schoenberg, Mozart, Grieg.
Leaning over until her lips were near his ear, she said quietly, "You can't ignore me forever, Sebastien." He frowned, but whether at the music or the moniker, she did not know. "Eventually we will have our little tête-à-tête, even if I have to chase you down."
She straightened and went to walk away, when she felt his hand catch her wrist. He turned halfway to face her, his expression a mask of indifference.
"I will not agree that we have anything further to discuss, but if you are so eager to talk to me, why not now? We are alone."
"I'm tired," she said with a smile, drawing her wrist free of Sebastien's grasp and walking offstage, well aware he was letting her go. She heard him grunt behind her, then return to his playing.
It came to a head one night, the final performance in a set of three. She had been so sweetly obedient in rehearsal that she knew he expected absolute perfection during the evening's performance. It had been almost tempting to give it to him, but the arrogant way he flicked his hand absently at her to cue her in made her decision for her. The fact was that she had disagreed with his arrangement of this piece from the very beginning. As the performer, her interpretation of the piece should have been taken into account, but Sebastien had not allowed her to weigh in.
So tonight, she ignored him. She sang it her way, and no matter how many furious glances he gave her, she refused to be pulled back in. She didn't have to follow him, and he knew it. The applause she got at the end of the night was invigorating, and she shot a triumphant look back at Sebastien. The look in eyes made her heart stutter. He looked like he wanted to kill her.
That night, she wanted to make a quick getaway to avoid him, but people kept coming up to her, offering their congratulations. "I've never heard such an inspired performance of that aria!" they would say, and she would dutifully pink her cheeks and thank them demurely.
She finally escaped back to her dressing room, and when she flicked on the lights, she was astonished to see Sebastien sitting in her armchair, facing the door, fingertips steepled in front of his chest.
"Maestro, you startled me!" she exclaimed.
"Oh, now I am Maestro?" he countered bitterly, rising from the chair and pacing in front of it. Furious energy swirled around him, and she was distressed to notice that her knees weakened. He was so alluring when he was angry. Finally he whirled to face her. "Were you trying to humiliate me?" he demanded.
Her jaw dropped; it was far from the question she had expected. "No, Maestro, of course not!"
"Then what was your purpose, clearly defying my direction in front of an audience, not to mention the orchestra?" She could not remember the last time he had actually raised his voice at her, and she continued to stare at him in consternation, her mouth opening and closing when nothing she wanted to say seemed right.
Finally, she firmed her jaw along with her resolve, and said, "I needed to show you, I don't obey you because you threaten me, or force me. I obey you because I want to."
"Is that what this is about?" He looked like he couldn't believe what she'd just said. "I told you before, that's done with now. All that we have is here, on the stage, and as I am the conductor, you should heed me. I shouldn't even need to say this to you."
"That's all bullshit!" she spat, and Sebastien looked taken aback. "You won't fire me, because I'm good. Your patrons like me. And, you still want to fuck me," she said, coming closer and glaring into his face.
"I would not come closer if I were you," he warned. She made a frustrated hmmphing noise, snatched up her purse, and stormed out. She would finish this tonight. But not here. She wanted to catch him off guard, and the way to do that was on a little slip of paper in her purse. Fishing it out, she hailed a cab and gave him the address. She knew Sebastien would have to come home sometime tonight, and she intended to wait him out.
In the cab, she tried to come up with a strategy, but everything sounded stupid. She'd just have to wing it.
Dashing into his building, she first checked the garage. His car was gone. It was probably waiting for him at the symphony hall. Good. She got into the elevator, and then realized she couldn't remember - or perhaps never knew - what floor his apartment was on. She sat in the corner of one of the benches, drawing her knees to her chest and resting her stockinged feet on the soft satin.
It took much longer than she expected for Sebastien to return; perhaps he was moodily banging away on the piano again, she thought. She checked her watch: eleven o'clock. The elevator didn't get much action this late at night, but roamed the shaft anyway, as if with a mind of its own. The steady up and down lulled her into a doze, and when the soft dinging sound indicated someone had come aboard, it was a struggle to open her eyes.
Indeed, it was Sebastien standing there, facing the doors, apparently having taken no notice of her at all.
He turned, and she thought she had never seen him more genuinely shocked than in that moment.
"Why are you here?" he hissed.
"Sebastien, we need to talk."