A nervous shifting from one foot to the other, a stare at nothing particular, a slight fumbling of the fingers…
"You aren't nervous, are you?"
My husband jumped up at the sound of my voice and quickly conjured a smile onto his picture perfect face. "Maybe a little."
I breathed out skeptically, amused that he would be nervous about anything that involved his music. No other man – or vampire – could compete with the way his fingers glided over the piano keys to weave a flawless piece of art.
"This man must be very special."
"He is," Edward answered, now falling back to his nervous state, "He's the best."
I huffed again and took one of his white hands between my pale fingers. "Better than you? I highly doubt that."
My words managed to bring him out of his dreamy state again, and he surprised me by locking my gaze with his suddenly serious eyes, a look of utter worship crossing over his face. "Bella, Vladislav Gerasymenko has centuries of experience that I can only dream of. He has devoted his entire life to music. There is no comparison between us."
Taken aback by his abrupt change of countenance, I let his hand drop and settled to waiting in peace.
I couldn't understand Edward's apprehension. In all the decades I'd known him, he had never reacted this way to someone before. This Vladislav Gerasymenko seemed to be a very important person, for he was all Edward had talked about for weeks – I could only listen patiently as he went on and on about the different songs he had interpreted on the piano and the hundreds of symphonies that humans still listened to after all these centuries.
This idolization had all started the month before. We'd moved to Germany for a little change of scenery and were happily integrating ourselves in the local school and city life. All had been fine for the following months after our relocation, happy and normal – and then Vladislav Gerasymenko entered our lives.
He was, as Edward had explained to me, the most famous "underground" piano player the world had ever seen. As a vampire, he had the necessary time to practice – as well as the essential sharpened skills that the transformation granted. He now mastered his playing without blemish and toured around the entire world. Every now and then he chose one lucky pupil among the hundreds of musical vampires to pass on his acquired knowledge to.
And Edward had always been blessed with good fortune.
"We're very proud of you, Edward," Esme encouraged him, "I always knew you were gifted."
The rest of the family nodded in agreement, all but one – the blond vampire standing on the highest step of the flight of stairs. I couldn't hear her thoughts, but her face said it all – Rosalie was, once again, jealous of the only man who could compete with her beauty and skills.
"He'll be here in thirty seconds," Alice called from the front hall.
Edward took a deep breath.
"I know. I can hear him."
Frustrated by his needless unease, I sighed and took his hand back in mine. "You'll do fine, dear. I know you will. You're the most talented pianist I've ever met."
The whole room groaned in unison.
"It's hardly polite that you should react this way each time your family tries to comfort you. You're good, and you know it. I see everything going just fine."
Edward didn't answer, but swiftly jumped up and ran to the front entrance. He shot us all one last tense look, and turned the knob of the door.
"Good afternoon. Do I have the honor of speaking to Mr. Edward Cullen?"
The man standing on the porch erased all my amusement about Edward's nervousness.
I could easily understand why Edward would fear him - Vladislav Gerasymenko stood there in complete ease, not seeming to notice the unnatural silence in the house. His powdery skin stretched tightly across his skinny frame, each bone clearly visible through the almost translucent pallor. The contrast of his skin to his dark hair was near comical; the short beard and trimmed hair gave him a look that dated back several years. His stylish, black suit only added to that turn-of-the-century appearance.
Edward welcomed him with utmost respect. "Good afternoon, Sir. Yes, you are speaking to Edward Cullen."
The two men had entered the living room before any of us had the time to exchange looks and were now gazing over the rest of the family – one for reassurance, the other for inspection.
"A pleasure. And this, I assume, is your wife Isabella? Good afternoon, my lady."
I smiled timidly at his old-fashioned greeting and offered him my hand. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Gerasymenko."
"Professor. Ah, but my dear lady," he started, not accepting my outstretched hand, "That is no way for a woman to respond to a greeting. In my youth, women would curtsey when introduced to an older man."
The room fell into silence again, my family looking away while I imagined myself turning bright red – and thanking God that I couldn't anymore.
Edward appeared by my side a few seconds too late, apparently not quite knowing what to say, either. "Excuse her, Sir. We were all born into a different era."
The pianist chuckled and reached to grip my still extended hand. "Of course. Excuse my little joke. It is a great pleasure to meet such a beautiful creature, Mrs. Cullen."
I forced a giggle and turned my eyes to the ground as soon as I could, not entirely convinced that this stern-looking man had been joking.
Professor Gerasymenko was introduced to the rest of the family and was then seated on a chair beside the grand piano. He sat down elegantly and motioned for Edward to begin, the latter needing a few moments to do so.
"No need to be nervous, Mr. Cullen. I have no expectations whatsoever. You cannot disappoint me."
Edward nodded, but didn't take his words to heart.
"What will you perform? Beethoven? Mozart? Bach?"
Gerasymenko nearly spit out the three names.
"No, Sir," Edward answered quietly, staring at the black and white piano keys.
"This song… is an own composition of mine."
The pianist showed no reaction. "Marvelous. Do begin."
Edward rubbed his hands together briefly, shot me one last look, and began.
The first few notes of my lullaby filled the air.
"We are so proud of you, Edward," Esme whispered in his ear while embracing her adopted son.
"You were fabulous!" Emmett threw him one of his huge grins.
"Well done," Carlisle congratulated him before leaving to the hospital.
"Fine, I'll say it – you were good. You… deserved this." Edward only nodded politely at Rosalie's astonishing honesty.
I waited for my turn patiently, knowing that I would want to congratulate him with more than just words.
Once everyone had left the room, I glided to Edward's side and wrapped my arms around his neck. "Congratulations."
"Thank you, love." Edward lowered his head to the level of my lips, but I pulled away before he had the time to kiss me. He frowned. "No prize for reaching my goal?"
"You have something in mind?"
"Hmm, I can think of something…"
"I can arrange that."
The pale man circled his piano with elegant, long steps, only stopping every few seconds to play the first notes of the melody that was forming in his head.
His other hand was holding a cell phone to his ear as he listened to the low, anxious murmuring on the other end of the line.
"I assure you I gave them no cause for suspicion. You insult me with your mistrust."
The next notes shaped a chord; it harmonized perfectly with the previous melody.
"Isabella and Alice were there, as we expected. No, it was quite an interesting visit – Edward Cullen really is a splendid pianist. I am most pleased with my assignment."
He then played the two lines together, creating yet another beginning of a masterpiece to add to his wide collection. Yes, his music would never be outmatched by any earthly or heavenly force.
Did even heaven offer the level of pleasure that his melodies did?
And then he dared to put his abilities in question.
Vladislav Gerasymenko snarled over the vivid tune.
"Vladimir, you mustn't doubt me."