787 words (3 minute read)

1. Elma

Three Months Prior


The maestro always stares at me. There are thirty people in the room right now, but I’m the only one he’s looking at. And his eyes just bore in, like he’s trying to see the color my soul. He notices every movement, focuses on every note. He stalks me with his gaze measure after miserable measure, because I’m the pianist.

I’ve played with the Straythern University Orchestra for six years now, and for each one of those years Dr. Maldonado has had exactly the same look on his face, disturbingly similar to the gape of a lecherous, drunken seventy-year-old waiting for the chick across the bar to bend forward and expose an inch of her bra. The difference here, however, is that Maestro doesn’t see me as sexual, or even female, for that matter. All I am to him is a channel for sound.

Whack. His baton hits the lectern in front of him a second time, and his angry, almost artificially tenor voice rolls in a shrill ring across the room.

"Dead! Again!"

The flautists fear him. The first chair violin cannot even look at him. Maldonado’s unpredictable temper is legendary within the walls of Straythern, and is the sole reason we lose more musicians than we should to other universities. He is kind to no one .... except me.
Whack. "Esteban, you’re timing is abysmal!"

This particular diatribe is directed at the tympanist, who merely tightens his long, dark pony tail, sighs, and nods in resignation. Then to me in a softer voice, he whispers, "Once again for the percussion section, please, Elma." Baton up.

Fifty minutes later, the day’s battle has ended, and my fellow musicians begin to file out of the rehearsal hall with heavy eyes and slumped backs. On my way to the door, I meet Esteban, who seems unfazed by the maestro’s pounding focus on his shortcomings.

"Hanging in there?" I ask with a smile as he packs away sheet music into his rucksack. Turning to me, he offers a happy smile that dents his high cheekbones and exposes pearls of perfect white teeth.

"Hell, at least I’m not first oboe." With that, he grabs my waist, pulls me to him, and kisses me long and full on the mouth.

* * *
I’ll miss that kiss. Esteban and I have been perfecting it for just over two years, having first met in this very same rehearsal hall. He came to the university three years ago on a post-graduate fellowship in percussion, a well-regarded musician across both the classical and contemporary lanes. He was unlike anything I’d ever seen before; lean and slight and quiet, but very present all the same. Especially for a sleepy little town like Winter Rain, New Hampshire, Esteban was exotic; tattoos in all the right places, cool, with a sexy Aztec look about him. His musical timing was enviably perfect to boot. I could feel him in the orchestra in just the same way I felt him in my body--steady, dependable beats delivered at just the right pace to take you up and away.

But now, after three years of pounding out beautiful rhythms together, Esteban was moving on, musically speaking at least. A good friend of his from LA had started a band, and had been surprisingly successful right off the bat. Now they were planning to open for a fairly well-known act in a tour across Asia, and since their current drummer had a newborn son and wanted to stay local, they needed a top-shelf replacement. I imagine three years of maestro whacking on his lectern was just about all that a free-spirit like Esteban could take.

Classic-- I look at our harmonious relationship and start imagining how the name Elma Montes-Plumosa would look on the top of my personal checks, he gets an offer that comes once in a millennium and that he’d be crazy to refuse, and here we are. Or at least, here I am.

Tomorrow, my world changes a little. For the moment, though, Esteban and I can still walk hand in hand across the quadrangle and toward his little apartment on the south side of town, where we’ll pack up the few remaining bits of his Straythern life, eat Chinese food while perched on a couple of packing crates, and make love in the twin bed I’ve come to snuggle into so comfortably. Tomorrow, he’ll be a world away, but today I can still touch him, see his dazzling white smile, and watch his inky black mane blow behind him in the late summer evening, alive in the wind.

Next Chapter: 2. The Sister-Friend