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The Mentor

I don't usually have to do much research when it comes to my Short Stories, but this one pushed me. Ideas hit and I want to run with them, but I couldn't, I had to learn and find out details I didn't already know - like learning about gun laws in the UK. It's part of the reason I love writing, there's always something new to learn. But anyway, here is this week's short story - The Mentor.


the-mentor





The Mentor


Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 2 filled the vacant concert hall as Charley’s fingers flew over the ivory keys of the black piano. Fluorescent lights from above bounced off the piano as the harmonies chimed. She looked at the empty tiered seats with their green worn cushions and a tear welled in her eye. Blinking, she looked back at the piano. She swayed with her eyes closed. The air-conditioning was spewing an icy breeze, but she didn’t mind it, even without the intense stage lighting keeping her warm. She drew a deep breath in through her nose and beamed.

“Hey Charley!”

Louisa stood by one of the many music stands arranged in a semi-circle around the Grand Piano, and Charley smiled.

“Congratulations!” Louisa laid sheets of paper on the stand. “I heard you landed a position in Berlin. How great for you.”

Charley continued to play her favourite piece. “Thanks. Yes, I’m looking forward to it.”

“When do you start?”

“In a month. They gave me time to get my living arrangements in place.”

“Well, that’s just great. I’m so pleased for you. It’s just a shame you’ll be leaving us.”

“I’m sure you’ll manage.” Charley turned the page of her sheet music. “It’s not like Maestro is going anywhere.”

“I know, I know. But we’ll miss you.”

“I’ll miss you too, Louisa.”

Louisa blew a kiss in Charley’s direction as she sauntered off stage. Charley glanced at the stand with the papers in place and then at her watch. Rehearsal was due to start in an hour, musicians would wander onto and off stage preparing. A thump at the opposite side of the stage grabbed Charley’s attention, and she grinned, watching George haul his Cello across the floor.

“Congrats,” he took a breath. “Charley!”

“Thanks George.”

“Before long you’ll be conducting for the Proms!”

Charley giggled. “Maybe. I can’t wait to start training with Berlin Philharmonic but moving to a new country is scary.”

“You’ll make it work.”

“Thanks.”

“Well,” George pointed off stage. “better get the music.” he wandered away.

Out of the corner of her eye she glimpsed movement and smirked as John strode towards her, his arms crossed in front of him. He stared at her, not smiling, and she wondered what was wrong.

“Everyone’s heard, huh?” he said.

“Yes, I guess so.”

When he reached the grand piano he leaned over, resting his elbows on the glossy lid. “You’re still quitting?”

Charley rolled her eyes. “C’mon John, we’ve discussed this. It’s the chance of a lifetime, I can’t pass it up.”

“I thought you might’ve changed your mind, decided to stay with me.”

She stopped playing. “You told me to be the best I can be. You told me to reach for the moon. So I did. I reached out to Berlin. For so long now, you’ve been telling me how I could be the next Herbert von Karajan, so why shouldn’t I try? I want to better myself. I want to be the best-known female conductor.”

John lifted his hand and rubbed his chin, fingers rustling the bristles of his unshaven face. He let out a forceful breath through his nose and stared at her. Charley sat at the piano, hands resting on her lap, and waited for him to continue.

“How long have you known you’re leaving?”

“The day I found out, I told you. You’ve known as long as me.”

“There’s someone else, isn’t there?”

Charley’s brows pulled together, and she smirked. “What?”

“You’ve met someone in Berlin, haven’t you? And you don’t want to tell me about them.”

“No John, I haven’t. I’ve been faithful,” she shook her head. “there’s no one else. I’m doing this for me.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“You know what? I don’t care. I’m supposed to be celebrating, and you’re turning it into this awful thing I’m doing to you. You know me. You’ve been such a great mentor, John,” Charley reached out and touched his hand. “and I care about you, but this is not about YOU.”

John stood and walked towards her, “You’re right,” he said, “are you taking your new music?”

“Of course. It’s my music, why wouldn’t I?” She turned on her seat as he stood beside her.

“I thought you’d want one last performance before you leave,” he rested his hands on her shoulders and massaged, making her turn back to the piano, “And maybe you could perform your own piece?”

“Really?” Charley turned her head, grinning, but he pressed into her shoulders, keeping her in place. “You mean it?”

“I mean it.” He pressed harder on her shoulders and she winced. “Why not practice now, I’ll call the musicians and you can get started.”

“Oh that’s fantastic. Thank you so much!” Charley ignored the painful massage and shuffled through her sheet music, selecting the sheet she wanted. She played.

“You play, I’ll gather the crew.” John said.

John leaned over and kissed her head. He lifted one hand but continued to massage her with the other. She played her melody, imagining the chorus of the orchestra following her instructions. She saw herself standing at the podium, waving the baton and grinning as she made her last performance. The cheer of the crowd rang in her ears as they yelled for more. They would hear her music, her own arrangement, and they would see she was someone to remember.

Something sharp pinched at her neck, “Ouch!” Charley stopped playing. She turned her head and reached up to her neck, rubbing the site. John looked at her, blank faced.

“Relax.” He massaged her shoulders again. “Go on, play.” 

Charley turned, her shoulders tensed, and played the piano again. She got into the swing of playing but frowned when her vision blurred. The keys merged into one, the notes written on the paper doubled. She blinked. Again. Her heavy eyelids only opening halfway. Her head swam. She tried to play, but her arms and fingers collapsed, pressing on the keys. As her body slumped and her chest tightened, she felt John wrap his arms around her. He leaned her back and looked into her closing eyes. 

“It’s okay, Charley,” he brushed her hair aside, “I’ll take care of everything.”

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