"We can still be friends, right? I don't want you out of my life."
Marie closed her eyes and let out a shaky sigh. The lump in her throat seemed to rise painfully, choking her. Marie slowly opened her eyes and stared at her reflection in the mirror of her dressing table. She couldn't face the day like this. She was drained and she looked the part too. She needed to get herself together before anyone saw her. Gray circles surrounded her lifeless eyes and her skin was pale beneath the foundation. She had tried to cover it up best she could. Hopefully no one noticed. She wanted to avoid talking about what happened for just a little while longer. At least until she could successfully pretend it didn't bother her as much as it did.
She still wanted to be friends, yes. She really still wanted to be friends, but not right now. She wanted to go back to the time where she could ignore her feelings. The way it was at the beginning when she didn't think, she'd swoon every time he touched her. But there was no going back to that. And things would never be the same now that he knew.
Marie dropped her head into her folded arms on the dressing table and sighed heavily. Her chest burned. How was she going to be able to get through rehearsals? Prof's bashing would just be the final nail in the coffin. She had managed to convince her parents and Giselle that the long week left her fatigued and they let her sleep in past brunch with Eric. Sunday was easy. Everyone was peaceful on a Sunday and believed she spent the day reading. Luckily Giselle was still in too much of a happy buzz from Eric's visit to feel the need to tease Marie about Derek.
There was a rap on the door before it flung open. Marie jumped up.
"Marie!" Giselle smiled brightly from the door. "It's rehearsal day!" She sang and bounced on her toes. Marie's lip tugged at a smile. Giselle loved rehearsals and had complained about missing them for all of her exams. Her smile fell. "What's wrong? You look horrible," she said. Marie almost rolled her eyes. "I'm fine. I just had some trouble sleeping. Nothing a coffee can't fix," she said and rose from her chair. Giselle's brows lowered suspiciously. "Okay, yeah, we'll grab some on the way."
"Josh, please just give me another project. I don't care."
"I can't have you juggling this project with another, Derek. This client is a big deal. I shouldn't have given him to a newbie in the first place, but you impressed me with the renovations so I'm giving you a chance to prove yourself on a different platform. Don't screw it up. I need your focus entirely on the Jackson project."
Good luck with that, Derek thought sarcastically as he leaned forward slightly with his hands on the desk that separated himself from Josh. "I can handle it," Derek persisted. He needed more work. He needed a distraction. If he didn't have work, he thought of Marie.
All day. What she was doing. When she was going to start talking to him again, if ever.
Josh lifted an eyebrow. "Trouble in paradise?" He guessed, making Derek flinch and straighten up. Josh lifted his palms in defense. "Hey, we've all been there. What did you do?" He asked, making Derek look back.
"How do you just know it's my fault?"
Josh raised an eyebrow suspiciously. "So it wasn't?"
Derek paused and looked away. "Yeah, I screwed up. That, and she's too good a person to be saddled up with someone like me."
"Okay, look, sit down," Josh said and gestured towards the chair opposite his desk. Derek blew out a breath of air and sat down. He gave his boss a neutral stare as he waited. Josh looked back with calm eyes. "Trust me, work will distract you but it's not what you need right now. Do you think you two can work things out?"
Derek felt his heart tighten. He dropped his eyes and shook his head. "It's better if we don't," he said before raising his eyes again. Josh nodded. "Okay, well then do something else. Go spend some time with your family. Take a drive. Get a drink with some friends. Move on," he said. Derek stared at him blankly. Move on. Something about that pulled at his nerves, annoyed him. Just move on? Like it was as simple as that.
Josh seemed to pick up on his thoughts and raised his brows slowly. "Or fight for her if you don't want to lose her. Derek, I'm just your boss. I don't know Marie well enough to judge how involved you were. Take the rest of the day off and go talk to someone or get some space. Just don't let this influence your work. I like you, but there's a reason I'm paying you each month."
Derek nodded. Josh was right. He couldn't bring his personal issues to work. "Yeah, thanks. I'll sort myself out and treat this project like my first."
Josh smiled. "Good luck, kid."
Derek nodded as he stood then walked out of the office.
"Marie! Why is it always you? Can't you just get through one sheet without a mistake?"
Marie's eyes shot up from the keys to her professor, her fingers coming to an abrupt stop. What did she do wrong this time?! Marie felt her chest begin to heave. Every crude remark was bringing her closer and closer to the edge. Tears burned the back of her eyes and throat. Her mind was a hazy fog and seemed to be getting worse as time passed. She wasn't sure how much longer she would be able to endure this.
"What's the matter, prof?" Giselle asked with her violin hanging from her hand. Although her sister's voice was calm, Marie could see Giselle was starting to lose her patience, but she wasn't sure with whom. It was about the seventh time Prof. Tech had stopped them with a comment on something Marie did wrong.
"She's behind pace. Can't you hear it? I would have thought as such a praised musician, you'd have a better ear," he said with a glance in Giselle's direction. Marie's jaw dropped and her eyes widened. She looked at Giselle who seemed to mimic her expression.
"I'm sorry, professor, but I didn't hear anything wrong with Marie's playing. A few times before, yes, but that was just due to her-."
"She's a Balaco, Giselle. There's no excuses. She's been practicing longer than you have and she still can't do it right."
Marie dropped her eyes and slowly drew her fingers away from the keys.
"Can I please be excused?" She asked. Her chest was burning as she tried to suppress the tears. She needed to get away for a little while, compose herself before she burst out crying in front of her sister, professor, and younger cousin, Jonah, who was standing near the other side of the stage with his cello, observing quietly.
"Not until you perfect this piece," he said acidly and gave her sister and Jonah a level gaze. "All three of you," he said and stepped back. "Let's run through it again."
"Professor, can't you see she's upset? We've been practicing for hours. A fifteen minute break won't set us back," Giselle tried. He looked at her. "Do you want to be ready for the show or not?" he asked. "We'll be fine," Giselle insisted. "Fine?" Prof. Tech laughed mockingly. He gestured towards Marie. "She's far away from 'fine'."
"That's because you're not giving her a chance."
"She has had plenty of chances. Teachings can only take you so far if you lack talent and skill. Let me be the one to say what you all are afraid of saying; Marie is not a good enough pianist."
Marie flinched and lowered her head as well.
"That is enough! Thank you for your opinion professor, but we really don't find much need for it."
Marie felt her eyebrows lift at Giselle's impoliteness. She lifted her head slowly and looked at her sister. Giselle's eyes were ablaze, her cheeks gaining color.
"She shouldn't have such a great part in this show. She's barely ready for it," Prof said.
"Marie has performed in this show every year since she was sixteen."
"Yes, but back then it was just an annual show. This year people expect nothing short of greatness. If she didn't possess the last name Balaco I highly doubt she would have made it past auditions."
Marie dropped her eyes and felt her heart sink.
"Then you clearly don't know my sister, professor."
"I've been the one tutoring her for the past few months and let me tell you-."
"Has it ever occurred to you, professor, that Marie just doesn't thrive because your teachings are a bit more than harsh on her? You have her play for hours on pieces she doesn't even enjoy. Music shouldn't be like that. Music shouldn't upset her as it does when she's under your guidance. She would never tell you herself because she has too much respect for you, professor, but I'm not Marie and for the sake of her well-being as well as my own peace of mind -."
Marie looked up when her sister gave a pause. The tension in the room was thicker than butter. She had never seen Giselle like this before. "- I'll be Marie's tutor from now on. Your services will no longer be needed. I'll take over until Marie chooses to replace me."
Marie's throat closed and her mouth went slack. She couldn't say anything even if it were necessary.
"Well then, if that's the way you feel." Professor Tech looked at Marie with a stiff movement of his neck. "I wish you the best of luck with your new tutor," he said before leaving the stage through the back door. Marie heard the door all but slam then Giselle turned around. Her sister dropped her shoulders and gave a heavy sigh. Marie noticed the sheet music clenched in Giselle's fist at the same time Giselle did. She wasn't sure when Giselle had grabbed it off the stand. Giselle looked down at it then tore it up, surprising Marie.
"What are you doing?" Marie asked when Giselle walked over to her bag in the corner of the stage. "Screw that stupid piece. We're not doing that. We're composing our own," she said. Marie felt her eyes widen. "Giselle, it's three weeks before the show, we-."
"I've composed some of my best pieces in mere hours, Marie, and I'm feeling pretty damn inspired right now," Giselle said as she paced back towards her sister. Jonah, who had been absent during all of this stepped closer as Giselle returned with clean music sheets in her hand.
"Yeah, let's do this. I wasn't such a big fan of that old piece anyway," he said. Giselle smiled at him. "I didn't think you were. Move up, Marie."
"But . . . what are we going to tell dad?" Marie asked as she made space for her sister by the piano.
"Dad can do or say whatever he wants, if he really wants some Balaco magic then he'll just have to sit back and trust that we've got the same blood running through our veins as he does and we're going to deliver a legendary performance - our way."
"Yes, but . . . What about Prof. Tech -."
"Prof. Tech can piss off," Giselle said with her eyes raised to the ceiling. Marie's eyebrows shot up at the crude language. She had never seen her sister so upset before. "He doesn't get to treat you that way and expect me to just sit back and let him. He doesn't get to make you feel like garbage whenever he wants to. I'm not allowing that man to tutor you any further." Giselle looked at Marie. "You are an amazing pianist, Marie. Don't let anyone tell you differently," she said. "I agree with Giselle. You're not half bad," Jonah pitched in.
Marie lowered her eyes. "But what if he's right? What if I'm not up to Balaco standards?"
"Marie, look at me." Marie lifted her eyes and met her sister's straight on. "You have done too much to prove yourself to start doubting now. You've put in countless hours, you've never skipped a single lesson or class, you've performed in every show dad has ever asked you to perform in and you did so without blundering once. One man's opinion doesn't define you. Especially not that one." Giselle gestured towards the exit. "And we're going to prove it in this show."
Giselle turned to look at their cousin. "Jonah, what do you like to listen to most? What inspires you?"
Jonah pulled up his shoulders. "Lounge music," he said, almost apologetically. "There you go! That's what I want to hear. Something different from myself. This is going to be great." Giselle brought her hands together in a clap. Even Jonah was surprised at this point. "I did not expect you to react that way. Your pretty unpredictable, Giselle," he said. Giselle smiled and looked at her sister. "Marie?" She asked and held her eye. Marie stared at her sister until she felt the pressure lift off of her shoulders. She sighed and smiled reluctantly. "Alright, let's do this," Marie said and turned towards the piano.
"I'll grab my drum pad." Jonah ran off excitedly. The two sisters laughed at his enthusiasm.
Butterfly: Aw, you're so cute. I'm almost happy with the next chapter.
Miha: Had me smiling throughout the entire comment. Thank you so much! And don't sweat it. It takes me some time to reply anyway so you can relax ;) Hope you're felling better
Anonymous: Haha. Anytime. Ah, I love res life! (Short for Residence. We call it res life since we don't use the word "dorm"). My roommate hates change too, but she's trying to see every new change as an adventure, and that's exactly what it is :) Thank you so much :)
Change the Melody - Chapter 18"We can still be friends, right?"
By Simone Reeds