The doorway was unassuming and, without the small sign in the window pronouncing 'cello lessons – here', Kirsten would never have guessed a cello teacher was within. She found a park in a bay that was reserved more for people visiting the beach. She walked the few hundred metres back to the little red door, unable to avoid the exhaust fumes mixed in with the ocean's heady brew. Surprisingly, they smelled somewhat similar; both smells derived from ancient artefacts.
Kirsten reached the door, and after a moment's hesitation, pushed her way inside. There was a long hall, with a door at the very end. Unlike most hallways, which have doors along each side, there was only wall, void of pictures, windows or anything which would have lent character. Her footsteps lent a brisk tattoo to the area and followed her down to the second door. It was half smoked glass, half painted hard wood, and it thudded heavily as Kirsten shut it behind her. She'd come through to a small waiting area, lit by a skylight in the high ceiling above. The building had looked several stories high from outside; obviously, she'd just walked under all that to come through to this room at the back. Not seeing anyone around, Kirsten took a seat and started flicking through the only magazine she'd not read; Rolling Stone. She looked at the pictures, recognising only Bo Diddley, to whom she'd listened through high school to spite her father. She settled in to read the article about him, and was surprised when, in a paragraph about Bo's grudge against Elvis, a woman appeared from seemingly nowhere to stand in front of her.
"May I help you?" She asked. Kirsten put the magazine back on the small table and stood up.
"I was wondering if I could get cello lessons?" Kirsten smiled at the woman. She was shorter than Kirsten and probably almost thirty years older, but there was something about her that suggested a hidden steeliness.
"Sure, that's what we do. Have you ever played an instrument?"
"Piano. But that was more than twenty-five years ago." As Kirsten spoke the words, she was reminded again how much of her life had passed; slipping away from her much like her dream had that morning.
"It's amazing how quick you pick up sight reading again. Let's see…" They'd moved away from the sitting area to a small desk in the corner. The lady was flipping through a heavy ledger, checking days.
"When is the best time for you?" She asked. Kirsten thought about it. She had nothing else she was doing, and it wasn't likely Sandy would ever notice she wasn't there. Mornings were hardest, though. The house quiet, her tea cooling beside her, no one around to ask her… Ask her anything. At least in the afternoons she could start cooking dinner for her and Sandy, even if she usually put his on a plate for him to reheat later.
"Mornings are best." Kirsten answered.
"Well, I've got between nine and eleven free. How would you feel about coming three times a week?" Kirsten smiled.
"That would be great." She was already starting to feel excited about it. Learning a new skill, having something that was all her own for once… She'd already planned not to tell Sandy or the boys, knowing they'd look at each other, communicating their disapproval of her new hobby. Of course, they'd never say anything, not to the recovering alcoholic of the household. They'd smile, and congratulate her, and Sandy would inevitably make a joke about it when she left the room.
"Well, then. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays." The lady was about to start writing before she looked up to Kirsten.
"I'm sorry, didn't catch your name, dear."
"Kirsten. Cohen." Kirsten was stilted about it, almost not wanting to admit her last name for fear the woman would have heard of the still circulating news of Kirsten the alcoholic, the career woman who couldn't keep her career, the mother whose son picked a college as far away as possible.
"Right. I'm Kelsey Schubert. I'll be taking your lessons, but my son and daughter work here too. So if I'm away, you'll still have a lesson. Now, follow me, and we can run through the basics."
Two and a half hours later, Kirsten stepped out into the midmorning heat. The tips of her fingers were aching from holding the strings down hard enough to give a true note, and her right arm was tired from holding the bow up. Kelsey had offered a lot of constructive criticism, but had finished the lesson telling her she was a 'promising student.' Kirsten blew on fingers of her left hand, cooling the burning feeling that was growing as the indentations faded from her skin. She couldn't wait for the next class. Getting in the car, Kirsten flipped the CD Kelsey had loaned her into the player. It was all solo cello playing, much of it Kelsey herself. The low notes strummed through the car, and as soon as she had the gist of the melody, Kirsten hummed along. Kelsey had told her to listen to the CD at least three times a day, to help tune her ears in. Getting most of the green lights, Kirsten made it home just on noon. She let herself into the empty house, and started carrying groceries through. The lettuce was a little wilted, from the hot car, but nearly everything else had stayed cool from the ice blocks she'd packed around them. Kirsten brought her CD in and put it in the stereo. Listening to the slow, soulful orchestral piece, Kirsten took a moment to smile to herself. Someday, she'd be able to invite Sandy and the boys along to see her play in the concert Kelsey had mentioned she was setting up for all the students. Her smile faded. The boys would probably be away at college, and Sandy would be, as usual, busy with the Newport Group. In moments, her good mood was destroyed and Kirsten turned the CD off. Silence reigned throughout the house again. She walked to the fridge and looked through. Nothing but milk, juice and bottled water. Rustling through, Kirsten was hoping for a miracle. A nip left in a bottle discarded on the bottom shelf. A bottle of wine, missed in the alcohol cleansing the house had undergone before she got home. Sighing, sick of shuffling around for something she knew wouldn't be there, Kirsten backed out of the fridge and swung the door shut. Behind it stood Ryan, and Kirsten jumped, put a hand to her heart.
"God, Ryan…" She waited a moment, her eyes meeting his. They were loaded with questions, and she could practically see the accusation.
"I was just putting the groceries away." Kirsten said. She moved around to the sink, as if leaving the guilty object would still Ryan's look.
"Did you get to see Marissa?" Kirsten started peeling the onions she was going to put in the casserole she'd planned to make, and her back turned to Ryan, hoped he'd follow her question, rather than drawing back to a moment before. She knew he knew what she'd been doing, and that fact made her feel worse. He'd already had to live through his mother's sobriety and eventual spiral back into the world of the alcoholic; Kirsten didn't want to have to do that to him again. She didn't want him to think she was going to do that again.
"Yeah. And I got some books out from the library." There was a pause, and Kirsten could feel him waiting on the other side of the kitchen.
"That's good." Kirsten wiped one of her eyes with the back of her hand. The onion fumes had just sauntered up to her eyes, attacked them furiously.
"Are you okay?" She knew he was asking about more than this moment, than the tears that were starting to stream down her cheeks.
"Fine, it's just…" Kirsten motioned towards the onions. Ryan had moved around to stand beside her. She was forced to look at him, into his eyes.
"I'm fine, Ryan." Her voice was more forceful than she'd intended, and she looked away before she could register the hurt that would inevitably spring up in his eyes. Ever since her misplaced line at the intervention… She'd apologised about it since, but knew nothing could undo the saying. She'd firmly let him know, in six little words, that he was still an outsider there, and no matter what actions she took now, Kirsten couldn't undo that.
"I just have to…" Kirsten let her voice trail off, motioned towards the doorway which would provide an exit for her. She knew if she looked back at him, he'd find the truth; that it was killing her to stay sober. That maybe he and Sandy and Seth weren't enough to keep her hands off the bottle, the alcohol from her recovering liver.
Kirsten dropped the knife on the cutting board and moved away from the awkward kitchen. She walked through to her room, concentrating on flowing the stem of tears which were not just caused by aggressive onion fumes. Reaching the silence of the bedroom, Kirsten stood out of sight by the door to watch Ryan's figure retreat to the pool house. She sank onto the bed, her hands reaching for the top drawer. Sandy had been through all her cupboards, all her drawers, but she still needed to check. She was praying for the smooth feeling of glass under her hand, but found only papers, photos, pill cases. Curling up on her side of the bed, Kirsten folded her onion scented hands together and breathed in deeply, willing the tears to come.