The Soprano Ch. 03bybarabajagal001©
Thursday morning the mail came late, not until nearly six when Claire was heading out the door to meet with Sebastien. There were a couple of bills, a postcard from Portugal (where one of her childhood friends was vacationing), and a card in a lilac envelope. It wasn't just any card, either. It was an invitation to a wedding, sort of a last-minute thing put together by some friends at home who hadn't been planning to get married but suddenly found it had become important to them. Everyone would say the bride was pregnant, though Claire was pretty sure she wasn't. There wasn't any shame in it anyway, but there would always be whispers.
This invitation put Claire in a bit of a bind. Ordinarily it would be the kind of event a girl in a relationship would want to bring her boyfriend to. Of course, in some significant ways, they were not in an ordinary situation. Well, Sebastien would understand, she thought. And he did.
And in fact it seemed to Claire that he felt a little relieved to have her gone for that weekend. He had a lot of work to do, he said. He wouldn't have much time to spend with her anyway, and he agreed the wedding wouldn't be the right occasion to introduce him to her parents. Only perhaps, if she found a moment, she could at least let them know she was dating him? He had sounded a trifle irritated, and she understood.
It's just that she had grown really fond of her special secret. Their relationship, his very existence as her lover, was a secret she cherished. But she knew the time would come that she would have to tell her parents...and everyone else. She just hadn't expected it to be so soon.
Sebastien seemed very distracted as he kissed her goodbye, though he promised to call her.
Her parents picked her up at the airport back at home, happy as anything to see her after such a long time. They were definitely her parents, she reflected. She had her mother's eyes and love of food, and her father's eyes and aptitude for singing. They drew her into a long hug and then showed her to the car.
"Baby, I wish you'd come in last night. Aren't you tired from the flight?"
"Mom, it was cheaper to fly in this morning. And I'm not tired. The flight was only an hour long. I just have to change and I'll be ready for the wedding."
"If you say so."
"Hon, let her alone. She's a big girl," said her father, giving her a wink in the rearview mirror.
"Thanks, Dad. What's new with you guys?"
"Not a lot. The Andersons finally got a divorce and that, plus one new prenuptial agreement, paid for our vacation to Mexico."
"Uh, well, good, I guess," she said, amused by her father's cavalier attitude toward the legal situations that paid the bills. At one time he'd been a firebrand, a young public defender out there doing his civic duty. Then he'd met her mother, a sweet pre-med student aiming to become a pediatrician, and his thoughts turned more to family things. They moved together to a smaller, gentler town, where he set up his own private practice and she got hired at an established doctor's cohort. He was still doing a civic duty, but one that could be more amusing and, even more importantly, less dangerous. And yes, Frank and Jill became beloved pillars of the community.
No less so when a few of their siblings relocated to the wonderful town her parents so loved, bringing their adorable children and their marketable skills. Okay, so it wasn't like her family had founded the town or turned it around from certain bankruptcy or anything. But it was a smaller town, and genuinely nice people were always welcomed with open arms. In fact, everyone was so happy, Claire might never have been born. Her parents were satisfied with their life, their time with their nieces and nephews and occasional dinners at the homes of their clients.
But then Jill's sister Dena had gotten pregnant again and though it hadn't been planned, Jill blamed her sympathetic hormones when she found out that she was going to have a baby, too. And then Claire came, and her parents wondered why they had waited so long to have her. She had been the light of their lives. Still was, maybe.
"Baby, are you sure you're okay? You're awfully quiet," said her mother, looking at her in concern in the mirror.
"I'm fine, Mom. Just thinking about how nice it'll be to see everyone. It's been too long since I came home."
"Yes it has. Everyone has been asking after you."
Shortly, they arrived at the church and Claire ducked into the bathroom to change into her dress. She hadn't wanted anything too fancy for a casual afternoon wedding, so she'd brought a grey cotton dress with butter yellow detailing. Sebastien had bought it for her on a whim when they passed it hanging in a shop window. With her hair twisted loosely up and a little yellow flower pinned in, she thought she looked pretty cute.
On impulse, she pulled out her phone, snapped a picture of herself, and sent it to Sebastien. He hadn't seen her in the dress yet, and she knew he would love it on her.
By the time Claire made it back out into the church, others were arriving. She located her parents and went to sit with them.
"That's a lovely dress, baby. Where did you get it?"
"It was a gift," she said without thinking.
"Oh? From whom?" She didn't want to lie, but right that minute didn't seem the appropriate time for the truth, either. Luckily, she was saved from having to answer when the music started. She turned, along with everyone else, to see the doors open and her friend Annie float through the doorway with her fiancé Rob. Annie was beautiful; really, they both were in their pressed, fancy clothes. Neither had gone strictly traditional. Annie was actually wearing pants. She hadn't worn a skirt in twenty years, and she wasn't starting again now. She was in a dove grey pantsuit and Rob wore a navy suit with tie to match.
They looked so happy, so in love. Claire felt her heart skip a beat, her thoughts turning to Sebastien. It would have been nice to have him here by her side. But no matter. She would see him soon enough, and in the meantime she wouldn't have to bore him with introductions to half the town.
The ceremony was short and sweet, and pretty soon everyone had moved outside, where the reception was taking place in the unseasonably warm weather. Claire sat at a table with her parents; her cousins Heather, Mark, and Elliott; and some of her childhood friends. Susan and Leah were alone, but Megan had brought her husband Carey.
Conversation was pretty much what she expected: news from around town, how her new job was, how she liked the city, how she was faring living alone. Then the question she'd been dreading came.
"So...how do you like your boss? Quite a looker, isn't he?" asked Leah.
"Yes, well, he is, um, very attractive, yes." Her friends, her cousins, her parents were all looking at her expectantly. "And, of course, very talented, very good at what he does." She felt her cheeks beginning to pink. Should she tell? They were sure to notice her awkwardness. Then she was saved from having to answer again.
"Hey, beautiful. Long time, no see." Claire looked up to see one of her very best friends from high school, Alex. They had dated briefly back then, but decided they just weren't ready for anything serious. They'd never tried it again, though Claire was pretty sure he'd wanted to.
"Want to dance?" he asked.
"Sure," she said, grateful to get up and away from the prying eyes of her tablemates. Of course, it was probably just her imagination. Still.
They danced around under the light of the fading sunset. Little lights were beginning to come on around the courtyard and a string quarter was playing soft, easy tunes to dance to.
"It's been a long time, Alex."
"Too long," he replied, and she thought he seemed very serious. "Claire, I've been thinking. Do you remember when we were fifteen, we made that pact that if we were both unmarried by thirty, we'd marry each other?" Warning bells began clanging in her head, but it was already too late.
"Sure, but we're not thirty yet."
"No. But by the time we're ready to marry, we might be. We could start dating again, and in a few years..."
"Listen, you know how much I care for you, Alex. But I can't. There's...someone else."
"Oh. Is it serious?"
"Am I going to be dancing at your wedding soon?" he asked, trying to keep his voice light. Claire opened her mouth to answer before realizing that she didn't know what to say. It wasn't really true that she hadn't thought about it, but she tried not to dwell on the topic. Sebastien had never brought it up, and neither had she.
"We haven't really discussed marriage yet."
"Well, how serious can it be, then?"
"It's hard to explain. I've never been happier with anyone else. He's just...very special."
"That good in bed, huh?" Claire frowned up at Alex before giving in and laughing.
"You have no idea!"
They wandered back to the table together after doing a few more turns around the dance floor. Claire thought her secret would be safe with Alex...until she was forcibly reminded that she hadn't asked him to keep it a secret at all.
"So," he said, addressing the table, "why hadn't I heard about this Mr. Wonderful that Claire's dating?" The silence was so immediate, so painfully obvious, that he spun to face her and demanded, "They don't know? You haven't told them!"
Well, the cat was certainly out of the bag now, and it wasn't going back in without a fight.
"Shit," she said with feeling. "No, I haven't told anyone yet. It was kind of a secret."
"Why didn't you say anything?" This from her mother, trying very hard not to look offended.
"Because...because...it just sort of happened, and I never found the right time to tell you, and because...well, because of who he is," she finished lamely.
"And who is he?" prompted Alex. Claire blew out her breath in a sigh. Her parents weren't going to like this at all, she just knew it.
"He's...kind of my boss."
"Kind of...your boss?" her mother echoed.
"Oh! I see." The others were more or less quiet, perhaps not sure what to say, so Claire barreled on into the silence.
"It's not what it sounds like. Neither of us meant for it to happen and we don't let it interfere with our work." Anymore, she added silently. "Actually, the orchestra doesn't even know about it. He's really very professional and he would never let it get in the way of his symphony's success."
"Dear," her father said, interrupting her as she began to ramble, "you don't have to defend yourself to us. You're not doing anything illegal, and I assume he's not married. Just relax." She smiled at him gratefully, saw now that the others were nodding along.
"I just like to know that you're happy, baby," said her mother finally. "And you are?"
"Good. Then when do we get to meet him?" Urgh.
It was after eleven when Claire was finally able to escape to bed. Not that she was actually intending to go to bed right away. She was just tired of getting the third degree about Sebastien and she wanted some time to herself. Climbing the stairs to her old bedroom, she heard her parents still chatting in the kitchen and she felt almost like a teenager again. Then she remembered that she was going to bed early, slipping into a sexy nightgown, and pretending to be asleep while she called her boyfriend – it was just like old times!
She danced up the rest of the stairs, positively giddy. Maybe she'd even talk dirty to him; then it would be exactly like high school again. Her parents' bedroom was downstairs. They hadn't known then, and they wouldn't know now.
The last door on the right went to her bedroom, and she found it pretty much unchanged from the day she'd moved out over a year ago. Of course, she hadn't taken all of her things – she'd left most of her furniture and bought all new things for her new apartment. Well, new things and new-to-her vintage pieces, too. The brass bed was still in the corner, underneath the window, and it was covered in bubblegum pink linens. Not exactly her style anymore, but it would do.
She pulled her short, lacy nightgown out of her suitcase and slipped it on over her bare skin. Leaving her clothes on the floor by the door, she grabbed her phone and her book and headed to bed. She didn't have long to wait before her phone rang.
"Good evening, mon abeille," Sebastien said. His voice was soft, and it sounded so sexy to her.
"Maestro, I was just thinking about you," she replied suggestively. He didn't take the bait.
"How was the wedding?"
"Good, nice. I, um, I told my parents about us."
"How did they take it?"
"Pretty well, I think. They want to meet you."
"I imagine they do. Are you going to bed soon? It is getting late."
"Oh, I'm already in bed," she teased. "I wish you were here with me."
"Do you now?" he asked, sounding amused.
"I do. I've been, um, reading that book I told you about. It's...it's amazing. It's crazy, but it's amazing." She looked down at the book she was holding. It was a classic, over fifty years old and still as revolutionary and amazing today. It was a story, a (perhaps not so ironically) French story of a woman who voluntarily submits to sexual slavery. Claire had been slightly disturbed while reading it, but also found that so much about it turned her on.
"Oh? What is so amazing about it?"
"I dunno," she replied, suddenly feeling shy.
"Tell me." His voice had gone so much lower suddenly; it sent a chill down her spine.
"Just...just the way that she has to do whatever they tell her, even if...even if..."
"If..." he prompted softly.
"Even if...you know, people are watching. Strangers. It's crazy."
"You have been watched."
"It's different. It's...they're in the same room with her and they're so close to her and...mmm."
"Claire, I want you to touch yourself. Right now, for me." Claire blushed, although she was alone in the room and she had intended to do exactly that at some point. She slid one hand up her inner thigh and found herself already so wet. "Are you?"
"Yes, Maestro." Her fingers circled around, over and over, and she sighed softly into the phone.
"So you would like to perform, mon abeille, is that what you are telling me?"
"No, no, that's not...I don't think I could...no." She said no, but the tightening low in her body said yes. A low moan slipped out of her mouth, and she heard Sebastien's answering sigh.
"You lie," he hissed softly. "Claire, do you want to come?" She was growing so warm, bringing herself just to the edge of pleasure and backing away. Of course she would have preferred he was there with her, but she'd been pleasuring herself for years before he came along.
"Yes, Maestro, I do."
"Then think of it, Claire. You tied up and helpless. Me whipping you. And others, countless others, watching, waiting to touch you, perhaps even to whip you."
She was thinking of it, and it sent her over the edge. A choked moan escaped her lips as her hips jerked beneath her fingertips. Sebastien was laughing softly, and then he bade her good night and hung up on her.
Sebastien sighed inwardly as he straightened his tie. He was beginning to feel like coming here was a big mistake. He already missed her; how much worse would it be if he took this job? And how could he justify the fact that he hadn't even told her he was coming here? She would be so upset if she knew. But...it was only exploratory, wasn't it? If, after meeting with the hiring committee, he decided the job wouldn't suit him, he would simply come home and never mention it. That would be all right, wouldn't it?
He shook his head and left the hotel room, heading down toward the lounge where the mixer was being held. It was one of those small, fancy rooms usually called the Fireplace Room or the Library. There was, in fact, a fireplace, as well as a number of overstuffed sofas and armchairs. In the corner, a bartender in a snappy uniform was mixing cocktails.
There were about twenty others in the room milling about; he supposed he must be about fifteen minutes late, and the others had arrived on time. He recognized a few of the other conductors – Atlanta, Baltimore, Portland – and someone else. Someone he never expected to see again. And she saw him right away.
"Sebastien!" she called as she approached him. "I was hoping you'd be here."
"Julia, hello," he replied, exchanging kisses on the cheek. "I had no idea you would be here."
"Oh, hadn't you heard?" she asked breezily. "I'm on the board of directors – not the hiring committee, unfortunately, but I suppose that's probably for the best, given..." She trailed off, but he knew what she was talking about. He hadn't seen her for almost ten years, but he still remembered the year they had spent together as students – and lovers – in New York City.
She hadn't changed much, he thought. Still naturally slender with deep brown eyes and shiny, black hair that fell to her waist. Tonight she was dressed in a pink, floral-print silk gown with matching heels. Ten years older, and yet he thought she had never been more lovely.
Julia Lin was the daughter of Korean immigrants – very wealthy Korean immigrants who could afford to do anything and everything for their beloved only daughter, including sending her to a private school to study the harp. Sebastien had met her during his studies at the same school, and had been immediately attracted to her. They'd dated and had a lot of fun – not to mention a lot of sex, the kind of sex young, energetic people who think they're in love have.
But they hadn't been in love, not really. Sebastien's willingness to apply for jobs outside the area and Julia's disinterest in moving with him told them both that. So he'd moved away, and she'd taken a position with the symphony for several years before becoming an independent harpist – and an operations manager at a philanthropic organization – or so he found out as she chattered to him about what she'd been up to since they'd last seen each other.
"Listen," she said, laying a hand familiarly on his arm – too familiarly, he thought, for this person he barely knew anymore – "I'm not seeing anyone at the moment. How would you like to blow this party and go to dinner?"
Guilt grew in the pit of his stomach. Bad enough he was here, how much of a betrayal would it be to go out with an ex-girlfriend? Especially one who was very definitely asking him out on a date. He felt his phone buzzing in his pocket. Withdrawing it, he saw that Claire had texted him. Miss you, it said. He started to tap out a reply when he saw a handy opportunity to escape.
"I'm sorry, Julia, could you excuse me? I'm afraid there's a small issue I must deal with."
"Sure, of course," she said. He walked out of the room and into the hallway, feeling very much like packing his things and catching an earlier flight home. He even contemplated taking a plane and surprising Claire in her hometown, but what would be the point? She was heading home tomorrow, and he would see her then. He wasn't sure if he really missed her so much or if the guilt was just eating away at him. He should tell her.
Sebastien finished his reply: Miss you, too. He sent it, feeling like it just wasn't enough. Leaning his head back against the wall, he heard – and tried to ignore – the sound of footsteps coming toward him.
"Maestro, very pleased to see you here tonight. I see you've made the acquaintance of Ms. Lin. Charming young woman. A capable and interesting recent addition to the board."
Sebastien sighed softly before replying, "She was the one who brought up my name, wasn't she, Leonard?"
"She did, yes." There was a long pause before he spoke again. "Is everything all right?"
"What could be wrong?"
Leonard eyed him suspiciously, and said, "Why don't I introduce you to the hiring committee?" Sebastien nodded, and allowed Leonard to pull him back inside the room. Julia looked up from the conversation she was having with another candidate, but she didn't approach him again until people had begun to return to their hotel rooms. She didn't say a word, just gave him a little smirk, a wink, and her business card.