Classic Round Robin

~ Music of the Soul ~

Chapter 9
by Tunnel Dweller 1

 

Gerda stood with her eyes still closed. “It’s Avram,” she stated more than asked. “It’s an old love song. He played this for me before …. When we were young and happy … and so in love.” Her eyes opened slowly, as if she were waking from a dream. “I told Amos I didn’t want to see Avram, and he left me to this anyway.” Looking at Catherine with a heartrending sigh, she asked, “What do I do, Catherine?”

“I can’t tell you that, Gerda. It has to be your decision. Amos obviously wants you to see Avram, but I’m not a part of those decisions. Just know that I’ll be here if you need me … for a shoulder to cry on or someone to listen to vented frustrations …. They’re both good men, reasonable men who care about you. Make your decision around that.” After a brief pause, Catherine added, “And it looks like Amos wanted the two of you to have the freedom to speak without the pressure of his own presence while it happens.”

“Amos may have made that decision as much for himself as for me,” she answered ruefully. “This isn’t an easy time for any of the three of us.”

Catherine nodded in sympathy.

“I can’t deny Avram his music. From what Amos has told me, he’s gone much too long without it. If he’s going to be here at the center often now, I suppose it’s inevitable that we’ll meet sooner or later, isn’t it?”

“Probably.”

“And better on our own terms than as a surprise?”

“Probably.” Catherine gave the older woman a small smile as she watched her gradually making her decision.

“And sooner would be better than later … which would only give me more time for it to hang over my head like a boulder.” She looked over her shoulder at the door to the studio, then back at Catherine. “What do I say to him? How do I explain?”

“Say what’s in your heart. Tell him what you need him to understand. I don’t get the impression that Avram would try to force anything from you that you aren’t prepared to give freely.”

“No. That would not be the man I knew.” Looking at the door again, Gerda said softly, “It might as well be now. Will you be here for a while … in case I need that shoulder?” she asked, looking back at Catherine. “I don’t know how long Amos thinks he needs to be away.”

“I’ll wait in the reception area. If you want me to disappear later ... leave you alone … I can do that, too. Whatever you need.”

Gerda touched Catherine’s arm appreciatively, took a deep breath, walked to the door, and let herself quietly into Studio Three.

***

Catherine watched as the door to Avram and his music closed behind Gerda, her heart aching for both of them, as well as Amos. Then she turned and walked out to the reception area where she found Elliot sitting in one of the hard metal chairs in the reception area.

Putting on his best smile, he told her, “I didn’t know where you were, and I didn’t want to leave without saying goodbye.” He started to stand as he spoke, but Catherine caught his arm and sat in the chair next to him, pulling him back down to have him sit with her.

”I should apologize to you,” she said, looking up at him.

“For what?”

“For not being entirely honest about why I asked you here.”

“You asked me to donate to the symphony. And the center associated with it seems to do good work in the community. I have no problem supporting that. What weren’t you honest about?”

“Did you mean it?”

Elliot now looked totally confused at the new direction of the conversation.

“That you could be interested in my life without expecting more of me than I can offer?”

“If it’s the only way I can see you now and then … yes. You seem committed to whoever this man in your life is, but I have a lot of respect for you, Cathy. Not everybody could come back from what happened to you. You survived, changed your lifestyle to benefit others, stood up to a lot of obstacles and dangers to do your job well.” Taking in a breath and looking down, he added, “I’m ashamed of the role I’ve played in some of that. But you always seem to come out of it stronger. I’m trying to be a better man, and you don’t allow me excuses. I need that. I need someone who knows where I’ve been and when I’ve improved … someone who doesn’t let me get by with less than I should.”

“Even knowing there’s no chance of anything more between us?

“Even knowing there can’t be more.” He paused thoughtfully for a moment. “But I’d like it to feel comfortable … be able to have an easy conversation and not feel like you’re looking for the next ulterior motive to drop.”

Catherine tersely nodded her acceptance, looking less than comfortable right then.

“Why did you apologize? What don’t I know?”

“There’s a man here … two good men here … who find themselves in a predicament not of their own making. They’ve both lived through a kind of hell you and I can only imagine … and one of them may need to talk to someone who can do what you’ve said you can do.”

“I don’t understand.”

Catherine pointed out that Avram was a very private man and would have to be approached carefully; then she explained the situation presently playing itself out, finishing with, “She just went in to talk to him. I have no idea what will happen.”

Elliot breathed out sympathetically. “I don’t envy any of them.”

***

Gerda closed the door as silently as she could and stood for a long moment … in spite of her own age, unprepared for age to also be so obvious on the man she only remembered as her young and well-loved husband.

“It’s as beautiful now as it was then,” she forced herself to say loud enough that he could hear it.

Avram froze in place, the music stopping in mid-phrase, and he turned toward the voice in disbelief, knowing who he would find.

“Gerda,” he whispered, violin and bow still in hand.

“Yes,” she answered just as quietly.

He placed his instrument and bow in a chair and walked toward her, almost reverently taking her in his arms.

Gerda was tense against him at first, but she gradually relaxed and returned his embrace. She could give him this moment … could give herself this moment. “You got old, too,” she said gently.

“We were supposed to have done that together,” he answered softly from where his head rested on hers. “I looked and looked for you, but I was told you had died.”

“There are degrees of death, Avram,” she responded sadly. “We both learned that.”

“Yes.”

He stepped slightly away from her but took her hands in his as he spoke to her gently. “You married again?”

“Yes.”

“Amos?”

“Yes.”

“I saw the donor’s plaque. I suspected.”

“I wasn’t going to see you, but he arranged for me to be here this morning … and then left. I suppose it was for the best. We couldn’t avoid each other forever. I’m sorry, Avram.”

“You couldn’t have known that I had lived, either.”

“Another of those degrees of death,” she answered evasively, shielding him from the truth.

“Sit with me for a while?”

They turned two of the rehearsal chairs around to make for easier conversation and sat near one another, Gerda with her hands folded in her lap and Avram with his forearms resting near his knees, his hands clasped together. “How long?” he asked. “You and Amos?”

“Thirty-six years.” She took a deep breath, and a tear escaped to roll down her cheek. “I never forgot you, Avram. Our time together was the happiest time of my life, but I’m not the same person I was then. Even if you had found me right after we were liberated … I wouldn’t have been the same woman you were trying to find. I was here for a while. I worked; I met Amos when we were both relatively new to the country. Amos and I … we had the camps in common. We had both lost something of our old selves. It wasn’t like what you and I had, but we’ve had a good life. We’ve been content.”

“He’s been good to you? He seems to be a good man.”

“He has. And he is a good man. A lesser man wouldn’t have pushed me to see you. I was afraid to open the past again.” She paused for a moment. “He has fears, too.”

“But he doesn’t need to have fears … is that what you’re saying?”

“Avram, none of us are the same people we were before the war. Amos and I … we helped each other find solid ground again. I have two fine, grown sons who don’t know their mother was married before. There’s a grandchild … a family I can’t walk away from. I’m … we’re all too invested in one another for me to do that.” Other tears joined the first one. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Avram sat up and took her hand. “I couldn’t ask you to leave your family behind, Gerda. If the situation were reversed, I know you wouldn’t ask it of me, either. We’re not that different from the people we were.” His thumb stroked across her knuckles, bringing both of them memories of their courtship and marriage. “I don’t know what’s worse, thinking you died all those years ago and knowing I’d never see you again … or knowing you didn’t … and I can see you, but I can’t have you with me.”

Gerda withdrew her hand. “I don’t know what to say. Nothing will make this easy … for any of us”

“No.” He took a deep breath, looking resigned. “But we’re all safe, and we’ve survived before. We will again. I’ll always love you, Gerda … but I won’t make you uncomfortable with it. We’ll find our way through this.”

“Thank you,” she answered, covering his hand with her free one before she stood.

Avram stood, too, and held his arms out. “One last time?”

Gerda walked into his arms more easily this time and rested her head on his shoulder. They stood, tears on both faces, lost in the past for a long moment. And then she moved away.

Turning as she placed her hand on the doorknob, she told him, “I’ll always love you, too, Avram.” And then she was gone.

Standing as Gerda returned to the entrance, Catherine didn’t need to wait long to know what was expected of her. Gerda stopped long enough to thank her and tell her to go home … that she would take a taxi and do the same. And she walked out to the street, leaving Catherine in the reception area.

“Any idea how to read that?” Elliot asked.

“Without seeing Avram … not even a clue,” she answered. “I should go home. I have work to do.”

“I’m about to call my driver. Can I offer you a ride home? Is that acceptable? No strings attached, nothing inappropriate to our agreement. Just a ride home. I won’t even walk you to the door if you don’t want me to.”

In a pregnant couple of seconds, several thoughts ran through Catherine’s head. She knew Elliot would do his best to live up to his word … but she knew it would make Vincent jealous. Not as much as it would have once because they trusted one another, but she would feel that same amount of jealousy if Lisa were to even be in town again. Of all the things she could worry about, Elliot trying to force himself on her definitely wasn’t one of them. Trying to continue the way they agreed upon was his decision; and if he were trying to better himself and she could help, she probably should. She could offer him a supportive friend … and continue to feel guilty that she knew he wanted more. It wasn’t nearly as intense a situation, but she certainly had an empathic feeling for Gerda at the moment.

Decision made, she answered, “I’d appreciate that.” At that point, she saw Rolley coming out of Studio One, and turning to Elliot, she said, “While we wait, I need to see someone. I won’t be long.” Striding toward Studio One, she called “Rolley, do you have a minute?”

He turned in her direction. “What can I do for you, Ms. Chandler?”

“You could come to a concert next Saturday… a week from today.”

“I was looking at the calendar in the employee’s room this afternoon. I don’t think there’s a concert scheduled for that Saturday.”

“The children are giving a concert Below. You remember those, I’m sure. I hear you were part of them for a while.”

“I don’t think so. Maybe someday, but not now.” He turned to get back to work.

Then Catherine dropped her next encouragement. “I was hoping you might bring Avram.”

Rolley turned back toward Catherine in surprise. “Mr. Kozinski?! He ….”

“Three years there, and now he’s a helper. He’s just getting back to his music … like you are … but for him, it’s been decades. He’s never been to the concerts, never let on until recently that he knew anything about music, but he might let himself enjoy it now. He loves the children, and they love him. It would be a shame not to encourage that.”

Rolley turned, looking in awe in the direction of Studio Three where the earlier soft, easy love song they had heard from Avram’s violin had been replaced by a sad, plaintive melody that was rapidly burgeoning into a faster, angrier sound.

“If he’s just getting back to the violin after decades, I can’t think how amazing he must have been before.”

“Vincent would love to see both of you there.” After a brief pause, she amended, “Vincent would love to see you anywhere, anytime, whenever you’re ready. He sent his love.”

Rolley hung his head and shook it slowly side to side. “I don’t know.”

“I just thought I’d mention it now … while you still have an entire week to think about it.”                                         

“You don’t give up easily, do you?”

Catherine grinned unrepentantly and answered, “If Vincent won’t, I can’t, either.”

“I’ll think about it. No promises,” he answered with a very small smile at her determination. “’Night Ms. Chandler.”

“Goodnight, Rolley.”

Wearing a small smile similar to Rolley’s, she turned back to the reception area where she found Elliot holding her coat for her.

The car should be here in a couple of minutes,” he said as she slipped her arms into the coat sleeves. “Do you want to go straight home?”

“That would be wonderful. This has been a very long week. Enough ups and downs to do a roller coaster proud.”

“This place could use some more comfortable chairs,” Elliot observed as he watched for the car. “It’s hard to sit here for long.”

“I thought about that earlier. I think I’m going to arrange for something soon.”

“Let me take care of it. We’re redecorating a big part of our second floor. There’s perfectly good, and much more comfortable, furniture, including a reception desk, that we have to find a home for anyway. Looks like something they could use here.”

The conversation continued as they left the building and entered the car … proceeding comfortably, as Elliot had said he hoped for.

“Will something from an office building the size of yours fit in here?” she asked as they entered the car.

“I was an architect before anything else, Cathy. Being aware of the space in a building is my job. It would fit. Might be a close fit, but most of it would fit. The rest could probably go in an office or two. And the conference room furniture has to go, too. Do they have any use for that?”

Catherine laughed. “If it fits, I’m sure they’d love it. Right now their conference room furniture consists of one of those folding tables with metal legs and a plastic edge around the tabletop and more metal folding chairs. It’s worked for them for a while, but it isn’t pretty … or comfortable. These people are going to adopt you, or make you their mascot or something.”

Elliot barked a laugh and answered, “I’ll call Mr. Beiber tomorrow and ask if he’s interested … and give him the furniture measurements.” He paused and chuckled. “If they make me a mascot, would I have to wear one of those stupid suits?”

Catherine laughed with him, trying to imagine the dapper Elliot Burch in that sort of outfit, and they fell into easy general conversation until he dropped her off at her apartment building.

***

Vincent tapped on the glass of the sliding door on Catherine’s balcony about ten that night, and Catherine put on a warm robe and slippers to meet him on the balcony. She went straight into his arms, turning her face up for a kiss … and wasn’t disappointed.

“I like the kissing,” she said with a flirtatious smile. “You’re good at it, you know.”

“I didn’t know. I haven’t had occasion to be told one way or the other before.”

“Well, you are.”

“I like the kissing, too” he answered with one of his irresistible little smiles as he pulled her closer to him.

“Come inside, Vincent … please,” she asked, huddling against him. “It’s as unusually cold tonight as it was unusually warm when we had our cookies and hot chocolate evening. We can light a fire, and I can make us some tea, or maybe more hot cocoa.”

He looked hesitant, but knowing how cold Catherine was tipped the scales in her favor. The kissing didn’t hurt in the weighing and balancing process, either. They decided on tea and sat with it in front of the fire.

After they finished their tea, Catherine curled up next to Vincent on one of the sofas and told him about the events of the day.

“Did you see Avram?”

“No, but I have the feeling his music spoke for him. It was considerably different before and after Gerda left. At least he’s finding his way back to his music.” She was quiet for a long moment before she offered, “I invited Rolley to the children’s concert next week … and encouraged him to see if Avram would come. I hope I didn’t overstep.” 

“You did what I would have done if I had been there. What did he say?”

“At first he wasn’t at all encouraging, but he finally said he’d think about it. No promises, though. I shamelessly used Avram as an excuse to consider it, and Rolley was rightfully amazed at how well Avram plays after such a longtime away from it. It might do both of them good to see music and innocence in the same place.”

Vincent leaned to kiss her forehead. It was getting easier for him to allow himself that freedom, and Catherine encouraged him by brushing a little kiss on his cheek.   

“He looks good, Vincent. His eyes are clear, no outward signs of drugs, he’s handling his job responsibly, he’s playing the piano again, and Amos had him accompany Avram this morning. The connections between all the people there are beginning to play with my mind. Amos seems to have a knack for pulling them all together and making it work. You’d like him, I think.”

After that, they talked for a while until the little kisses and embraces interspersed through the conversation became their sole activity. When the kisses became a bit more intense than before, Vincent exercised his self-control and went home.

***

Rolley had spoken to Avram about the children’s concert, and they both spent time talking themselves into attending. They formulated a plan to avoid attention before concert time, though. They decided they would slip into the upper level of the library a bit late and move to the back, staying out of sight as much as possible until the concert was over.

Rolley was welcomed home warmly, and Avram discovered one of the older teen-aged boys who was developing into an excellent violinist. As he had done for Rolley and his music reading skills, he offered to work with Marcus.

***

Two weeks later, Vincent and Catherine stood outside the chamber where the grand piano still sat. Marcus and Avram and their violins were there, Marcus working on a solo that would later be played with piano accompaniment, Avram enthusiastically encouraging him.

Marcus had just finished the section of the music he was asked to play, a fiery, emotional, and difficult passage.

“That was technically perfect,” Avram praised. “Every note in its place, technique executed beautifully. But I want to hear more of you in it. That’s when it becomes music. This music is supposed to tell the joy of efforts resulting in reaching your goal. At the beginning of that last passage, there’s the realization that it’s happening, and the joy of it builds to the triumph at the end. But none of that will ever reach your audience through perfect technical skills. You have to use your own emotions, commit them to the music. Your music should be a gift from your soul to the souls of those in your audience – to hand them the joy, or the sadness, or the fun, or the love that you feel when you play. Don’t just begin that passage. Launch it, and let yourself be a part of it.

Avram picked up his instrument and began to play, making the music speak for him.

An awed Marcus took a second or two longer than usual to respond when, “Now try it again,” finally reached his mind.

“I know you can do it,” Avram encouraged.

Marcus took a deep breath and situated his violin properly as he exhaled. Then he closed his eyes for a moment as he had seen Avram do before he made a sound. When he came to the end, Vincent and Catherine finally made their presence known with applause.

“Thank you, Marcus. That was beautiful,” Vincent told him, putting an arm around Catherine’s shoulders. “Our souls accept the gift yours just offered.”

Not satisfied to accept only Vincent’s word, Marcus looked to Avram, who, with a huge smile, placed a hand on the young man’s shoulder and said, “As does mine. I knew it was in you.”

Marcus beamed with pride as Avram said, “Our time is nearly up. I believe that’s a good place to stop for today. You and the music have reached today’s goal.” He bowed respectfully to Marcus and said, “Now, bow to your audience. Then you may put your instrument away and go.”

Marcus turned to Vincent and Catherine and gave them a bow worthy of a large audience.

“When you practice this week, use what you discovered in yourself today,” Avram reminded him.             

“Yes, Sir,” Marcus answered as he prepared to leave. “I want to tell people what I just did, but I don’t know how.”

“It’s hard to explain things that belong to the soul, Marcus,” Avram told him. “Perhaps your music will have to speak for you.”

Marcus nodded. “Thank you, Avram. Next week same time?”

“I will look forward to it.”

As Avram put his instrument away, Vincent and Catherine praised Marcus on his way out, then they entered the room.

“Your gift reached our souls, too, Avram,” Catherine told him. “Each time I hear you play is more beautiful than the time before.”

“I didn’t think music could feel this way again. It seems it fell back into my life when I needed it most. I’m grateful to all of you who helped that along.”

“You’ve been good for Rolley,” Vincent told him. “We’re grateful you’ve helped him.”

“We’ve been good for each other … both of us finding our way back to our music … figuring out our places in the world. I feel like his grandfather, but we get along fine. That Burch guy is okay, too. He’s been by the center a couple of times to talk to Ezra and Amos. You should see the new furniture he sent for the building.” He chuckled. “The place looks a lot classier now.”

“He told me he was going to do that, but I haven’t been back since he did,” Catherine said with a smile. “Something to look forward to.”

“He heard me playing the last time he was there and complimented me. Asked me if I wanted a drink … said he was going to stop at the bar on the corner and didn’t want to drink alone. I don’t know how he did it, but he had me talking about things I just don’t talk about. We ended up talking about loving women we can’t have. You wouldn’t have anything to do with that, would you?” he asked, giving Catherine a look that left her squirming a bit. Then he relented, smiled at her, and admitted, “It’ll take us some time and some getting used to, but it probably did both of us some good to talk about it.”

Catherine looked relieved, and Vincent laughed lightly and gave her shoulder an encouraging little squeeze.

“I’ll be going now,” Avram said, picking up his belongings. “See you next week.”

When they were alone, Catherine turned to Vincent and asked, “Should I still expect you tomorrow night?”

“Barring drastic and unforeseen difficulties, I will be there at ten.”

“I have work to finish for tomorrow. I should get back. Walk me home?”

***

When Vincent arrived on the balcony, he leaned to kiss Catherine. It was becoming an expected greeting. They spent a short time looking out over the city and comparing notes on the day they were now putting behind them in favor of the evening ahead.

“The moon is full,” Catherine mentioned.

At first Vincent seemed to wonder where that statement came from, then Catherine’s expectant look jogged his memory. “Ah. The fortune cookie.”

Catherine smiled. “It’s still cold out here. Will you come inside again?”

This time there was no hesitation about entering Catherine’s apartment when Vincent was invited in. The apartment line had been crossed, the kissing line had been crossed, and he was feeling very much in charge of his self-control … his biggest concern for so long.

“I have some videos I thought you might like,” Catherine mentioned as she closed the sliding door. “They’re mostly travelogues … sort of … great views of other parts of the world. And I found one about the Globe Theatre. And there are a couple with trips my dad and I took when I was in junior high. There’s some redeeming footage of Irish countryside and mountains and villages in the Alps, but they also come with pictures of Dad and me … complete with braces and embarrassing junior high fashion sense.”

“Let’s start with one of those,” Vincent interrupted with his flirty little smile.

“Might as well get it over with, I guess,” she answered with a chuckle.

A few minutes into the tape, Catherine groaned, “I don’t know what I was thinking when I actually volunteered to show you this.”

He put his arm around her shoulders and kissed her head before he teased, “If you recall, the fortune cookie didn’t say you would have an enchanting evening. It was talking to me, and I’m enchanted.” That earned him a backhanded swat to the chest, and he laughed. “Is that you skiing?” he asked.

“Yep. My dad spent a lot of time with some kind of camera in his hands. Being the only child, I ended up in front of the cameras a lot.”

“So you have a lot of pictures?” he asked hopefully and pulled her into his lap.

She laughed.  “We’re done with that for tonight after this one. The Globe Theatre is next.”

After alternating between paying attention to the videos and paying attention to each other, rewinding a lot of missed footage, and sharing tea and the hors d’oeuvres Catherine had picked up that afternoon, they lingered at the balcony door before Vincent left for the tunnels.

They had already built trust and friendship. The first lines beyond that had been crossed, and they were both confident that other lines would be crossed before long. The life that had once seemed to be such an unlikely dream now seemed like a probability shimmering on the horizon, almost within reach. And each of them fell asleep that night with thoughts of a life together in the not too distant future.

 

THE END

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