Chapter 15

“You'll hold me in your arms, 
And say once again you'll love me, 
And if your love is true, 
Everything will be just as wonderful.”
	-“Lover’s Concerto,” The Toys


            Hannah walked slowly beside Josh, picking her way around the puddles left from the evening drizzle. His cologne wafted over, and she breathed in the strong scent before letting out a deep breath.

            JC glanced over at her, hearing her sigh for what had to be the third time since they left his hotel. “Something wrong?” he asked, nudging her with his elbow.

            She shook her head, slightly embarrassed that he had noticed her sighs. “No, I’m just…happy.” She glanced sidelong at him and smiled. This was what she wanted. Strolling companionably along with the person she loved. To anyone they passed on the street, the two would look like any other young couple. The thought of that made her warm inside, but she quickly stifled the feeling with reality. Come on, silly, he’s with Bobbie.

            “So…” JC began, searching for something to say. “How are your parents doing?”

            “They’re great,” Hannah answered. “Still living in the same house. But I won’t be able to see them for a while.”

            “Why not?”

            “The itinerary was changed,” she explained regretfully. “Now there’s no time to make a stop in Bowie before heading to L.A.”

            JC nodded understandingly. “I know what that’s like. Well, be glad that you can return to your normal life in a few weeks. The soonest I can see my family is in August.”

            “But that’s seven months away!” Hannah exclaimed. She observed Josh’s shrug, and wished she could stop time and let him be with his family for as long as he wanted.

            “Yeah, but that’s the breaks. So be grateful that you’re leaving soon.”

            Leaving soon. Hannah hadn’t even been considering that inevitable fact. What would she do after the Grammy performance? Go home and play matinee concerts again? She had just been reunited with Josh, but apparently fate had a sick sense of humor, because he’d be gone as quick as he’d come.

            She looked up from the grainy wet pavement and realized that they had stopped walking. The hotel loomed in front of her. The gleaming gold-framed glass doors and sparkling lobby had never looked so depressing.

            JC stood next to her, bouncing up and down on his heels to warm himself up in the mid-winter cold. He watched Hannah as she stared motionless at the hotel.

            “What’s wrong?” he inquired curiously.

            She turned around and stared up at him, some sort of emotion shining in her gray eyes. Suddenly, JC felt something in his throat tighten. He frowned, puzzled, and cleared his throat.

            “Nothing’s wrong,” she replied softly. “Thanks for walking me over.”

            “Sure, it was no proble-“

            Before he could finish her arms were around his lower back, and her face was buried in the front of his coat. He staggered back a tiny step before regaining his balance and tentatively smoothing her disheveled hair.

            “I’m sorry,” Hannah burst out, moving away before he was able to say anything. Her cheeks were red, but it could have been because of the cold. She awkwardly fixed her crooked glasses. “I’m just- I’m so glad that we’re…okay.”

            “Hey,” he said quietly, “I’m glad too.”

            She nodded, smiling, and gave him a small wave as she went into the hotel.

            JC turned around, bemused but charmed at the same time. Stepping lightly down the street, he pulled out his cell phone to tell Dre where he was.


*                       *                       *


            “You’re getting better and better every day,” Hannah complimented, smiling at the five men in front of her. The stage was relatively empty, the musicians for the moment tending to their own business during the break. “I’m impressed.”

            They all smiled back modestly at her, even Justin, who had been visibly strained the past few days. Well, all modestly except for Chris.

            “Step back, child, because you should be impressed!” he bragged, preening sickeningly. “I am the Diana Ross of their Supremes. The Jagger of their Rolling Stones. The Uncle Jesse of their Full House!”

            Lance quirked an eyebrow at him. “Why’d you say Diana Ross first? And Full House is a TV show, not a band, idiot. And why do you keep obsessing about Full House, anyway?”

            “Yeah, man, I’m starting to think there’s something going on between you and those Olsen twins,” JC joked.

            “Olsen twins?!” Joey asked, immediately perking up.

            “Good job, Jace, now you’ve gotten him started,” Justin groaned, getting into the fun of the moment.

            “Mary-Kate and Ashley. Ashley and Mary-Kate,” Joey began with fervor. “I wonder why people always have to say Mary-Kate’s name first. Why can’t Ashley ever be first? I bet she gets mad sometimes. I know I would. It’s all like ‘Mary-Kate this’ and ‘Mary-Kate that.’ Why can’t it ever be Ashley, huh? Why?!

            Hannah stared at him. “Oookay,” she muttered. “Well, I’m going to grab a drink from the soda machine before Joey gets a little too excited.”

            “I’ll come with you,” Justin volunteered, getting up from a violist’s empty chair. He needed some help, from a female perspective.

            “Yeah, I’m a little thirsty, too,” JC commented, standing up. But at that moment Bobbie appeared on the stage, holding a bottle of water.

            “I got some for you, babe,” she called out, waving the bottle in the air.

            “Oh. Never mind, then,” he said, smiling dismissively at Hannah and Justin and heading over to his girlfriend. My amazing writer of a girlfriend.

            Hannah didn’t let her hurt show and instead led the way to the closest vending machines. “What’s wrong, Justin?” she asked as she slipped a dollar bill into the slot.

            He sighed and leaned against the wall. “I don’t know what to do about Lily.”

            She looked at his miserable blue eyes and felt her heart soften. “Are you two fighting?”

            “No! At least, I don’t think we are,” he answered, confused. “The thing is, she’s been acting so strange lately. I was on the phone with her, and I think she was crying.”

            She frowned. “You think she was?”

            “Lily was trying to hide it,” he explained, appearing to be close to tears himself. “I don’t get it! I’m her boyfriend, she shouldn’t hide anything from me. I can help her!”

            Unless, Hannah thought, whatever she’s hiding is about you. She didn’t know what had made Lillian so distressed, but it wasn’t her business to know in the first place. The only thing she could do was comfort Justin as best she could, given the circumstances.

            “Justin, you may feel that you can fix anything in the world, but in Lillian’s head you can’t. And forcing her might make her clam up even more,” Hannah said sensibly, grabbing the can of Coke and heading back to the auditorium with Justin following her. “She’s coming here in a few days, right? Well, show her then how much you care. Maybe it could lay her doubts to rest.”

            He thought over her words, nodding slowly. “Alright. That sounds good. When she comes, I’ll show her just how much I love her. How much I can help her.” He smiled, the clouds disappearing from his eyes. “Thanks, Hannah.”

            She shrugged sheepishly, wishing that she could help Josh that easily. “No problem.”

            Now that his worry over Lillian was momentarily laid to rest, Justin was able to offer some words of condolence. “Hey, I heard that you were a little…upset. Because JC hooked up with Bobbie again. Sorry about that. I thought they were breaking up, too.”

            She peered at him. “And who told you about me being upset?”

            Justin cleared his throat, getting the feeling that he wasn’t supposed to know about that juicy little fact. “Um, Lance.”

            Hannah sighed, resigned. “Lance wasn’t supposed to tell anyone. I hadn’t even realized that he noticed my reaction. But it’s kind of useless to feel this way, huh?”

            To her surprise, Justin shook his head. “No,” he answered honestly, “I don’t think so.”

            She gave him a small smile. “Well, it’s useless when it’s me and Josh.”

            He chuckled and ruffled her hair as they climbed back onstage. “Keep the faith, Hannah. Good things come to those who deserve it. You just gotta wait, that’s all.”

            “Okay, everyone, back to your seats and positions. Let’s make this one perfect,” Sondheim boomed before she could reply.

            Justin stepped into his place next to JC, who was guzzling down a bottle of water. Justin gave Hannah a wink before turning around the face the empty audience.


*                       *                       *


            “Hey, Bobbie, can I read one of your poems again?” JC asked, looking earnestly at his girlfriend who was stretched out on his hotel bed, watching Leno.

            “Oh. Um…” Bobbie trailed off, trying to think of an excuse for not having the notepad of poetry with her. She had returned it to Hannah earlier that day. “It’s in my room right now. I’m working on a new one.” She noticed JC’s disappointed expression. “Why?”

            “I just like them a lot,” he answered. “I never knew you were such an amazing poet. Why didn’t you ever tell me before?”

            “Poetry is a private thing for me,” Bobbie replied, uncomfortable. The tiny niggling of guilt was growing inside her. Stop it! I mean, Hannah doesn’t know. And what she doesn’t know can’t hurt her. Besides, you’re with JC again, and that’s what matters.

            JC smiled at her, oblivious to her unease. “You can share anything with me, baby.” He leaned over and kissed her lightly.

            She laughed tensely. “Thanks, Jace. I know.”


*                       *                       *


            Hannah sat in the middle of her bed, cross-legged and pensive. Letterman was on, the light from the screen dimly illuminating the otherwise dark room, but the volume of the TV was turned too low for her to pay any attention. Her notepad was propped on her knee, and she tapped her pencil thoughtfully against her lower lip, trying to think of a good line to end her stanza.

            ‘To know you is to love you, and to love you is for life.’ She nodded to herself, quickly jotting down the line before flipping the notepad shut and tossing it to the side. She clicked off the TV with the remote and buried her face into the slightly lumpy pillow.

            I just have to wait, that’s all.


*                       *                       *


            “Oh my gosh, look at that one!” Hannah exclaimed, grabbing Lance’s arm and dragging him over to the window display. She was tempted to press her face to the glass like a little child, but managed to resist the urge.

            The honey color of the wood at the neck of the cello blended into a warm shade of caramel, and the f-holes on the instrument were lavishly and exquisitely carved. Even the scroll and its pegs were elaborate and elegant.

            Lance peered at the cello. “Yeah. It’s…pretty.”

            “Isn’t it though?” she breathed, looking adoringly at it. A warm breath tickled the back of her neck.

            “What’s so pretty?” JC asked, gazing over her shoulder into the display. It was filled with models of violins, flutes, and cellos, propped on rich red velvet. “That cello?”

            Hannah nodded excitedly, almost hitting his nose with the back of her head. “Look at the quality of the wood. I bet it has the best sound.”

            JC smiled, amused. It was an experience to go window-shopping with Hannah. Instead of venturing into Manhattan, she had insisted that the three of them head to the small alleys in the music district, explaining that she had often gone there during her Juilliard days. And as soon as they had stepped out of the taxi, she had run off eagerly, leaving him and Lance standing dumbly in the middle of the sidewalk.

            An hour and a half later, she still hadn’t calmed down.

            “Well, let’s find out,” he heard himself saying. Then to all of their astonishment, including his own, he was suddenly leading her into the small store.

            “Josh, I can’t!” she protested. “This is Litz’s! No one actually comes in here except the prodigy musician children of philanthropists! We’ll be kicked out or something.”

            He shook off her objections and walked boldly into the refined establishment, straight up to the mature man who was behind the glass counter. “Hello, my friend would like to try that cello in the window. The one on the left.”

            His blue eyes looked assuredly into the dark ones of the man, who contemplated him a second before nodding.

            “Yes, sir,” the man answered. “Why doesn’t your friend have a seat. I’ll bring the cello right over.”

            Hannah sat gingerly on the high-backed cushioned chair in the middle of the room, looking worriedly at Josh. He merely smiled confidently at her. Lance, in the meantime, had wandered over to gaze at the big double bass in the far corner.

            “Here it is, miss,” the man said, coming over to her and placing the cello in her grasp. “Is this bow acceptable?”

            “Oh, it’s perfect,” Hannah replied dreamily, staring intently at the cello propped between her knees. Her fingers ran gracefully over the fingerboard before she placed the bow on the strings. Then, not even noticing the two pairs of eyes observing her, she began to play.

            JC watched her, not feeling the tender smile creep onto his face. Her head was bent thoughtfully to the instrument, as if she were attuned to its every utterance. Those quick fingers of hers darted about lightly, pressing down the strings in the exact places to create an incredibly mellow sound. She was right. The cello did have the best sound. And she had never looked so happy. Not even when she had hugged him. A sudden surge of jealously wiped the smile from his expression. Whoa. Where did that come from?

            A few moments later, Hannah ended the quick song with a flourish and savored the echo of the last note. She looked self-consciously up at Josh and the employee. The dark, oddly bright, hue of Josh’s eyes took her off guard for a second. Why was he looking at her that way?

            “Wonderful, miss,” the other man said, smiling genuinely at her. “I’ve never heard that cello played like that before. You make it come alive.”

            Hannah thanked him, turning red. “I saw it in the window, and I knew it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.”

            “Well, thank you, miss,” he answered. “I crafted it myself. It always makes me happy to hear a real musician compliment my instruments.”

            Crafted it himself? But that must mean…Hannah stared at him, suddenly noticing the refined air about him and the knowledge in his eyes.

            “I’m Sidney Litz,” he introduced, shaking first her hand and then Josh’s. “Not many talented people come in here anymore. Only the clumsy children of the local benefactors. But don’t tell them I said that.”

            Hannah laughed. “Believe me, I’ve always dreamed of coming in here.”

            Mr. Litz smiled at her. “Then you should have done so sooner. Feel free to come back any time. Maybe I’ll have a new cello next time.”

            JC grabbed Lance, and they followed Hannah out the store, the little bell on the door ringing as they left.

            “He was nice,” Lance decided as they continued to stroll down the sidewalk, the two men flanking Hannah. “Not snobby at all.”

            Hannah agreed. “And he’s an amazing craftsman, too.” She turned to smile tremulously up at Josh. “Thank you for dragging me in there. That was the best experience I’ve ever had.”

            The strange jealousy from before was pushed out of his mind, and JC looked into her dancing silver eyes, catching the wonderment in them. He opened his mouth to reply, but instead of a casual ‘you’re welcome,’ he found himself saying, “Do I deserve hug in return?”

            “A hug?” she asked, a little confused. Since when did Josh want to hug her?

            “Yes, a hug,” he answered, taking her confusion for aversion and getting offended.

            “Well, yes, of course,” Hannah said. She launched herself into his arms, overcome again with happiness. The woodsy, clean scent of his cologne surrounded her, and she closed her eyes in bliss. This was where she wanted to be, forever.

            JC closed his arms around her, feeling incredibly warm and comfortable. He chuckled a little at the enthusiasm in which she had hugged him. The equal enthusiasm in his returning embrace didn’t register on his mind, nor did the fact that he was firmly in the middle of a relationship with Bobbie. What was important at that moment was the simple tenderness he felt.

            Lance stood awkwardly to the side, looking discreetly at his two friends. Even though they were merely hugging, the sight was strangely intimate. He cleared his throat, loudly, and they broke apart, one appearing flushed and the other smugly satisfied.

            “So, back to window-shopping?” he asked, raising an eyebrow at them.

            “Yeah, let’s go then,” JC said, briskly walking ahead.

            Hannah followed more slowly, wondering what had just happened.


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