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October 16, 2008
"Shit...shit...shit... Come on! It's the fucking pedal on the right!"
Traffic on Lake Shore Drive made me wish I drove a tank sometimes so I could just crush idiot drivers like the one in front of me. I was running late for the afternoon lessons, and I hated being rushed. I was supposed to be at Siobhan's over a half an hour ago but got wrapped up playing my piano before I realized I would not make it before my student arrived.
I gritted my teeth as we crept slowly along, and when I was finally able to take the exit I needed, it only took me a few minutes to pull up to the stately home owned by my new "boss." I had been helping Siobhan give lessons for about a month now, and I could honestly say I was enjoying my time. The three students I was working with were in high school and had been taking piano since they were young children. Today's lesson was with Bree Newell, and at only fourteen, it was obvious she had the potential to make a career out of music if she dedicated herself to her playing.
When Siobhan had asked me to help with her students, I wasn't quite sure why I agreed, but after doing a little research, I soon found out that she was one of the most sought out instructors in the city. I had even called my own instructor from when I was a child, and he concurred that she was one of the best. A quick Google search showed that several of her past students had gone on to schools like Eastman, Julliard, and Berklee College of Music. I also found her name mentioned in conjunction with several pianists on album liners ranging from classical to jazz and in bios for orchestras around the globe. I wasn't able to find out much more about her, and while we had discussed a wide array of composers and musical genres, as well as her father's experiences, she never delved into her own life, and she didn't ask me about mine either. Out of respect I didn't pry, but having lost my own love, I knew Siobhan lost someone close to her as well.
I grabbed my jacket off the passenger seat and hurried out of my car to the front door, which opened before I could knock.
"Calm down, lad. She's playing her warm up, yer fine."
Siobhan's full round face was smiling up at me as I ran my hand through my hair to try to smooth it down. I was long over due for a haircut, and I knew with the traffic fiasco I just survived it must have looked like a nest.
I walked into where Bree was playing a piece that she knew by heart and played flawlessly. I stood by her, and as she noticed my presence, I could see the beginnings of the blush creeping across her skin. It was safe to say that Miss Newell had a crush on me. She was a sweet kid and as gangly and gawky as I had imagined Bella had been at that age. I enjoyed teaching her and made sure not to let her know I was any the wiser about her crush. We progressed through her lesson with Siobhan's watchful eye, and Siobhan took great joy in teasing me once Bree had departed the house with a shy wave.
"Oh, stop it. I'm old enough to be her dad."
Siobhan's throaty laugh quick turned into a coughing fit that to my trained ears sounded anything but good. I directed her to a chair and wished I had my stethoscope with me as I was certain there was fluid in her lungs. Our eyes met, and she quickly waved me away.
"No use worrying over something that can't be changed, lad."
"Tell me what's going on."
"Bum ticker, but I'm sure you guessed that already."
Shit. My guess would be CHF. Congestive Heart Failure.
"When were you diagnosed?"
"It's been a few years now. I'm doing alright, no need ta worry about me."
I began peppering her with questions about her treating physician, medications she was taking, valve replacement, and when her last exam was before another wave of her hand silenced me.
"I thought you quit being a doctor," she said, giving me a look that let me know she had no intentions of answering any of my questions.
"I'm just concerned, Siobhan."
"I know ya are, and yer a sweet man fer being so, but I'm fine."
I knew we were done discussing it. For now. She was a stubborn old bird, but I had a stubborn streak as well. I also happened to have a father that was a top cardiac surgeon that I'd get involved if need be.
"Okay, okay. You let me know if things change, alright?"
She smiled and patted my hand. "You'll be the first ta know."
While that fact made me feel good, it also saddened me. Siobhan really was all alone in the world. I promised myself that I'd be there for her, and would make sure she knew she had someone now, someone that really did care whether she lived or died.
I helped her to the kitchen, and by the time I left, she was preparing her supper. The early darkness of the fall evening enveloped me as I got in my car and saw my phone sitting on the passenger seat. It must have slipped out of my jacket pocket when I grabbed it earlier. I quickly checked and saw that I had a new email. An email from Bella. An email that I quickly read.
Anger bubbled in my gut. I read the email over and then over again and by the third read through I was still pissed. Goddamn Alice.
I sent a quick text.
Where are you?
I threw my phone down and started the car. I headed north on Lake Shore Drive and didn't take my normal turn that would lead me back to the Fordham. I kept on going. Driving all the way to Evanston and Alice's driveway, where I stomped out of my car, up the porch, into the house, and up the stairs to her office where I stood in the doorway glowering at my sister.
"What the fuck, Alice?"
"I'm sorry?" she asked a bit indignantly.
"What. In. The. Fuck did you think you were doing by telling Bella those things?"
"Bella contacted you?" she asked excitedly, completely disregarding the fact I was livid.
"Not the point, Mary Alice. Why did you tell her I quit medicine? What gave you the goddamn right?"
"Oh, screw you, Edward," she cried, throwing down the piece of fabric she had in her hand. "Don't barge in here and be all shitty with me. Bella is my friend, my sister, and I can tell her anything I want!"
"I'm your brother, and it wasn't your place! If I had wanted her to know I would have told her. Instead I get this email from her that basically tells me to have a great fucking life and, Jesus, Alice. It just wasn't yours to tell!"
"Wasn't mine to tell? Wasn't mine? This is my life too, Edward. Your decisions have affected my life too! Mother is a nightmare to deal with, Rose and I have to keep Bella's secrets from you, and yours from her. I've had enough of it!"
She covered her face and broke down in to tears. Great, I made my baby sister cry. Alice's tears were like kryptonite. I walked over to her and wrapped her up.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bust in here and be an asshole. It's just..." I trailed off, because I really didn't know how to say what I was feeling about Bella's email.
Alice looked up at me and wiped her eyes. Mascara was smudged all around them, and she looked like a total mess. She was really pale, much more so than normal, and I was instantly aware that something more than just our fight was going on with her.
"It's okay, Edward. I'm sorry too. I know you didn't want Bella to know, I just missed her. I miss her so much, and I feel like everything is falling apart. I'm exhausted, my emotions have been all over the place lately, and yesterday I had a really shity call with Mother so I immediately called Bella and it all came rushing out."
I nodded and wiped my thumb across her cheek. She noticed the black smeared on it and quickly grabbed a tissue. After cleaning herself up and blowing her nose, she smiled up at me.
"She emailed you though, right?"
"Alice... it wasn't a good email."
"What do you mean?"
"Here," I said, thrusting my phone at her. "Read it yourself."
She took my phone from me and read the email. She finished and looked up at me like I was insane.
"Are you insane? How is this a 'bad' email?"
"Because, Alice. She leaves no opening for reply. I can tell she worded everything just so. It's cut and dried. She's closing the door."
Alice rolled her eyes and thrust her hand back toward me. I took my phone and stuffed it in my pocket. I then buried my hands in my hair and let out a frustrated groan.
"What am I going to do, Alice?"
"Email her back." She said it like it was the simplest thing on earth. "Just email her back. Let her know what's going on and ask about her."
She was starting to bounce on her toes, and I shook my head at her. The range of emotions she displayed in a five minute period were astounding. If I didn't know better I would say that she was—holy shit.
"Hey, Alice? Are you still on birth control?"
She looked at me like I had two heads. "No. I stopped a few months ago. I'm giving myself another month to get them out of my system before we start trying, if you really need to know."
I laughed. Exhaustion, mood swings, and no birth control. Great, my baby sister was pregnant, I was sure of it, and I didn't want to be the one to break it to her.
"Edward, just email her, please?" she begged, getting us back on topic. "I really think there is more for the two of you if, you know, you work at it."
She had an expression I couldn't quite decipher, but I didn't have the nerve to ask her if she knew something or "knew" something.
"Let me think about it, okay?"
I gave her a hug and made my way out to my car after declining her invitation to stay for dinner. I placed a call and waited for the deep, Southern voice to pick up.
"Hey, Son. What's up?"
"Pick up a pregnancy test on your way home."
"Just do it," I said and disconnected the call.
~October 21, 2008~
"Do you want to email Bella?" Sue Clearwater asked.
That was the question I had been rolling around in my head for the last five days. I knew that I did, I was just scared to. I spent all weekend drafting response after response and deleting them all. One would sound desperate and the next aloof. I couldn't get it perfect, so I didn't send anything. I had been preoccupied during Riley Murphy's lesson yesterday and when I sat down on Sue's couch this afternoon I told her about Bella's email, my visit with Alice, and the last five days I'd spent in hell wondering if I should email her back.
"Nothing sounds right."
"What's does 'sounding right' mean to you in this situation?"
"Not pathetic, not assholish."
She held back a smile. "Well, since you are neither, you should be fine."
"Is that the power of positive thinking, Doc?"
"Something like that. Would you like to talk through what you want to say to Bella after all of this time?"
"That's just it, I don't know what I want to say, and I guess when I don't know what to say, I just say nothing."
"But saying nothing isn't sitting well with you, is it?"
"No." I hung my head. Bella's email had really thrown me. When I hadn't heard from her after my birthday comment on her blog, I just assumed that was it. I mean, she had to know it was me, and she didn't say anything. She didn't even say anything about it in her email. She made sure to ask me no questions and leave me no room to work with as far as replying. Just "have a nice life."
"What about 'thank you?'"
I looked up at Sue. "Thank you?"
"Yes. Thank her for wishing you well and wish her the same. Simple, direct and honest. Edward, I know in your heart you desire Bella back, but you need to understand—one email isn't going to achieve that. Stop putting pressure on yourself to craft the 'perfect' response. Just give yourself a break. Start slow."
I felt so completely idiotic. Sue was right. I had built this into a huge issue when I all I needed to do was basically be polite.
"Sue, you really know your shit, don't you?"
She couldn't hold back her smile after that. "I really do, Edward."
I drove over to Siobhan's after my appointment with Sue and was able to focus on the lesson. Tanya Denali was by far the most gifted student I worked with, and she was preparing to apply to Julliard. Her girlfriend, Irina, was planning on going to Parson's for photography and was currently shooting Tanya's lesson for her own application portfolio. I was trying to stay out of the way, but Irina insisted that she wanted to capture the "organic nature of the teacher student relationship." Who the hell was I to argue with that? I basically forgot the girl was there and focused on pushing Tanya through her audition pieces. By the time we were finished, we were both exhausted. Siobhan sat in her ancient wing-back chair and nodded appreciatively.
"Excellent." I knew from her tone, she meant more than Tanya's playing, and I couldn't help but swell with pride.
"Thanks, Edward. I really appreciate all your help," Tanya said as she rubbed lotion onto her hands, making sure to work the cream into her fingers well. Taking care of one's hands is vital as a pianist, and as Tanya slipped on her gloves to make sure her hands stayed warm, I knew she'd do everything she could to make sure she was ready for Julliard.
"We have more time ahead of us, and I plan to work your butt off the next few months. No mercy!" I said, giving her a wink letting her know I was only partly kidding.
"Good. I have to get in. I just have to. It's all I've ever wanted."
I saw the naked ambition and desire in her eyes and for a moment I was overcome with jealousy. She was a seventeen-year old girl, and she knew her future was a career in music. I swallowed back my regrets at having given up my chance at the same thing so easily. I hadn't fought for my dreams at all.
"Well, girls. It's time for ya to be heading home. We don't want yer parents wondering where ya are now, do we?"
"No, Mrs. O'Rourke," Tanya answered and helped Irina pack up her camera equipment. The two girls bade us goodbye, and I collapsed in a chair across from Siobhan.
"You alright, lad?"
I smiled and nodded. "Can't change the past, can you?"
"No...no, ya cannot." Her voice was filled with a terrible sadness, and I looked up alarmed.
"Should I be asking how you are?"
She let out a deep sigh and instead of answering stood up and walked out of the room. She came back with a framed photograph of a man and a young girl. The girl resembled Tanya a great deal, but I could tell the picture was taken in the late sixties or early seventies.
"Wow, quite a resemblance."
"Isn't that the truth? The first time I saw Miss Denali I almost broke down."
"Who are they?"
"That would be my Liam and my Maggie."
When she saw my confusion, she clarified, "My husband and my daughter. This was taken a few weeks before they died."
The news stunned me. I mean, I knew Siobhan was "Mrs. O'Rourke" and assumed she was a widow, but I had no idea she had been a mother as well. Before I could stop myself, I had asked what had happened to them.
"Automobile accident. They were headed to a competition, my Maggie played the cello like her father, and were hit by a truck. Then they were gone."
"It was a long time ago, but every year around now I get melancholy. Time passes, but some wounds never heal completely."
I reached over and grasped her hand. "I'm so sorry it happened."
"Ach, Edward. I appreciate it, but I think you know a thing or two about loss yerself, don't ya?"
"You mean Bella."
"Is that what her name is?"
I nodded. "We've been divorced since this summer, but I lost her a long time ago. It was my fault. I was so concerned about my plan. My stupid plan."
"Where is she now?"
"She's Welsh, is she?" I could hear surprise in her voice.
"No, no. She left Chicago to travel after the divorce. She had always wanted to explore, and I just never had the time. Now she does."
"Does she know you still love her?"
I looked up into her pale blue eyes. Eyes that had seen so much over their seventy plus years. Eyes I couldn't bring myself to lie to.
"No, no I don't think she does."
"Hadn't ya best be telling her then?"
I let out a heavy breath through my nose. "If only it were that easy.
I popped the cap off another beer and opened my laptop. I had forced myself to eat something upon arriving home before tackling my email to Bella. I wanted to get it done. I needed to.
Opening up her email to me, I hit reply.
I hope this finds you well. Thank you for your email. I apologize for taking some time to reply to it. I did quit my residency—it was what needed to happen. As I'm sure Alice told you, it didn't go over well, but I can't really worry about that anymore. I'm spending my time now teaching piano, if you can believe it. I suppose I have you to thank in part for that as well. The case and music you sent me were great finds. Thank you for sending them; I really appreciate you thinking of me.
I really wanted to end the email there, but Bella deserved something else from me besides my thanks.
I'm sorry, Bella. I'm sorry for the way I treated you and that you had to be the brave one to take this step for the both of us. I, too, hope you find happiness and wish nothing but wonderful things for you. Please be safe. I think of you fondly.
I hit send and hoped like hell that she responded quicker to me than I did to her.