From Where You Are
Chapter 1: Pretty Things
From where you are to where I am now is its own galaxy.
Be a star and fall down somewhere next to me. –Rufus Wainwright
The classroom was too hot; the windows at the back were open, but only a pathetic little breeze managed to make its way inside, doing nothing to cool the room. The air seemed thick, and the whispers from the back of the room could hardly be heard, even though they were the only noise apart from the squeak of chalk on the blackboard.
"You really think it'll work?"
"Yeah, I've heard she's a complete pushover about this stuff. Jack had her last semester and he said they always got out of doing the homework."
The two girls whispered excitedly from the back row. They leaned across the aisle to talk, their eyes glued on the back of their professor at the front of the room, who was too busy writing on the board to notice their murmurings. It had been clear, even from the first day, that this wasn't a teacher who cared very much about discipline in the classroom.
"You ask her."
"It's your birthday. You do it."
They abruptly fell silent as the professor turned to face the class again, wiping chalk carelessly from her hands as she spoke. She was at the center of the room, but she wasn't commanding anyone's attention. She was merely going through the motions of lecturing.
"So, as you can see, I've written you a few examples of scales in both the Dorian and Phrygian modes."
The professor took several quick steps over to the piano near the door of the lecture room. Her voice was nearly monotone, and like everyone else in the room, she looked as though she wanted to be anywhere else besides the stuffy room. She pressed down on a few keys.
"Let's look at the F scale. It's obviously in the Dorian mode as it has an A flat, a B flat, and an E flat." She played the scale as she spoke. Though everything else about the woman seemed dreary and drab, her playing was not. Her hands jumped gracefully over the keys, looking alive with energy.
The professor played deftly as she quickly ran through the rest of the examples she had written on the board. "Homework is the same as on the syllabus, pages 27-30 in your workbooks. It'll be due on Monday at—" She paused mid-sentence, mouth open, as one hand shot up from the back of the room.
One face was looking back at her with rapt attention; one face in a sea of boredom and complacency. The other students were low in their seats, eyes glazed over. Some fanned themselves. One boy in the third row was asleep, his head down on one arm, the other hanging over the side of the desk. Several people were busy texting on their phones.
It was late Friday afternoon, and music theory did not appear to be a particularly riveting subject for the students.
The professor gestured for the girl to speak.
"Professor Elliot," she began, smiling confidently. "I have a question about the homework. You see, tomorrow is my birthday—my 21st birthday, and I really want to give your homework my full and undivided attention, but under the circumstances I think that'll be pretty difficult. Is there any chance it can be due on Wednesday instead?" The girl widened her eyes imploringly, looking all innocence despite the cheek of her question.
Anne Elliot eyed the student thoughtfully for a moment before glancing at the roster. It was only the second week of classes.
"It's Faye, right?" Anne asked, and the girl nodded. Anne looked thoughtfully at her for another moment and then the corners of her mouth curved to form a light smile.
"I think we should hear a song to celebrate your birthday."
Ignoring Faye's look of confusion, she pulled the bench forward and sat down at the piano, her hands in the air over the keys.
"So, F-A-Y-E…" Anne paused, her head half tilted to the side. "F, A, and E are easy enough. But that Y…." She looked down at the keyboard counting silently through the keys. "It would transfer to a D."
She played the notes tentatively, and the resultant sound was discordant and not particularly pleasing. She wrinkled her nose at the sound. "Hmm. We'll have to raise that up a half-step. There."
She played the four notes again, one at a time, and nodded at each one. She adjusted the bench, and without another word began an improvised song based on Faye's name.
If the students were expecting a rendition of Happy Birthday, they were quite mistaken.
Under Anne's skillful hands, those four simple notes were transformed, gaining complexity as she added their respective thirds, fifths, and dominant sevenths. The melody she played was sweet and bright. Her fingers danced over eighth notes and flew through complicated rhythms.
Then with a simple lowering of another half step, the song darkened and became a haunting minor melody. Anne lingered over certain notes, the emotion building as the music crescendo-ed. The song was beautiful, though there was something bittersweet about it. Just as the song reached its peak, she returned to the major key she had played in the beginning, the notes soaring from her fingers once again until she slowed, reaching the finale of the song. With one final twinkling of notes, she ended the song.
Anne looked up for the first time since sitting down. The last notes of the song seemed to hang in the air, lingering. Every face in the room was fixed on her in unwavering attention. The boy in the third row was actually awake, his eyes wide. More than one mouth was gaping open.
Anne smothered down a playful smile as she stood. Her soft voice carried across the totally silent room. "What a pretty name Faye has." She looked at the clock on the wall which was silently ticking away the minutes. There were still ten minutes left of the class.
"I think we'll end early today and—" Anne looked at class, and her eyes drifted over to Faye as a smile broke out across her face. "The homework will be due…on Wednesday. Have a good weekend."
In an explosion of noise, everyone began moving at once. Papers were gathered, and chairs scraped against the linoleum floor with a terrible screeching noise. An excited murmuring ran through the room. Most of the students were looking at Anne as though she had sprouted another head. Suddenly, the mouse of a woman they knew had turned into someone else entirely.
Faye and her friend were deep in animated conversation as they left the room. Finally, Anne was the only person left. She gathered her lecture notes, ran her finger lightly over the keys and then turned off the lights.
The lounge had been silent as Anne gathered her containers from lunch and prepared to leave for the day. There was just something in the air on Fridays that made it impossible for anyone to stay late and work. Minds were already far away, daydreaming about weekend plans, and the bodies soon followed. Teachers let their classes out early so they might leave and avoid the evening traffic on the drive home. Students shot off to prepare for their weekend revelry.
Anne always found herself as the last one around the department, her footsteps echoing in the unusually silent corridors. But she enjoyed this time, savored the quietness. She liked to be the one to turn off the lights and lock the doors. It beat suffering through the rush hour traffic, which was where she was currently stuck.
She let her arm hang out the open window as she waited to move an inch forward. She could hear the muffled sound of the radios from other cars and the engines of the cars next to her. The sun was setting directly behind her, and the fall air, which had been so stifling during the daytime, was finally cooling down.
Of course it always seemed to happen that the traffic jammed directly in front of Elizabeth's billboard. Anne had only seen her half-sister in real life a handful of times, none of which had been very rewarding or fulfilling experiences, but she saw her sister's billboard every day. If it wasn't exactly a friendly face, at least it was familiar.
In the ad for Calvin Klein, her sister pouted magnificently for the camera, her eyes sultry and intense in the black and white. Anne sometimes surreptitiously checked her own reflection in the rearview mirror, but to no avail. She and Elizabeth did not share a single feature, not even the famous Elliot eyes. No, Elizabeth was their father's child in more than just looks, while Anne was her mother over again.
She had long ago given up wondering how her mother, the quiet singer-songwriter, had, however briefly, fallen in love with the cocky and self-absorbed Hollywood actor that was her father.
They had never married, not even after Anne was born. She wondered if her mother had known the relationship was doomed. Surprisingly, they had managed to remain friends after the break-up. She had always secretly thought that her father was still in love, but that her mother had moved on. A funny, far-away look always came into his eyes when he spoke of her mother that made Anne suspicious, but nothing ever came of it.
Anne had lived with her mother in Manhattan, but she always spent her summers feeling thoroughly uncomfortable in her father's house in Los Angeles, and when her mother died of cancer during her senior year of high school, she had lived with her father until she went to college.
The traffic inched forward, Elizabeth's image slid slightly to the right, and Anne thought about her students and the day's class. She laughed to herself; their faces had been so funny.
She found herself shaking her head. It was comforting to know that her playing still moved people; she still had it! She hadn't played like that for the students for some time. She didn't know what had possessed her to do it today…
Except—except she hadn't been able to take their looks of boredom and disinterest today. The boredom extended to more than just the subject, she knew. It wasn't the music that bored them; it was her. She had always found it difficult to engage the students, but suddenly she was finding it harder and harder. She didn't understand.
The traffic wasn't moving, so she pulled down the visor to look at her reflection. She was seven, maybe eight, years older than her students. That was all. She wasn't ancient. What did they see?
Dark hair, pulled back into a tight ponytail more often than not. She didn't have the stunning, striking beauty of her half-sister, but she was pretty enough. She was a small and slight woman with delicate hands and wrists. She wore a standard pair of black pants and sensible shoes to class most days.
She looked closer in the mirror. There were lines around her mouth that hadn't been there before, and she was too pale; it made her look ill, almost anemic. She raised her fingers to her face, running them over her skin. She stared into her own pupils. The dark circles were swallowing her eyes, and the eyes themselves were pensive and sad no matter what she did.
Anne was stymied, trapped in an unfulfilling job for which she had no passion. Her life was wasted, was wasting a bit more every single day. To know what potential she had in her hands, and to not use it day after day…
Teaching had never been in her plans. She wondered if the students could see that, if they could tell how little she cared about teaching. Was that why she had never been able to really connect with them?
Because she wasn't so different from all her students. Her forehead creased as she thought. Really, she wasn't. Her life until age 21 had been relatively uneventful; she shouldn't have had a problem bonding with her students. Faye and her chatty friend—Anne had been just like them.
She gaped at herself in the rearview mirror, wondering if her senior year at university had really happened eight years ago. All the memories were so fresh. It didn't feel like nearly a decade had passed. Anne could remember everything as though it had just happened...
"I don't know…" Anne hedged, looking uncertain. She dug her heels into the asphalt of the parking lot outside of her dorm, trying to slip out of her friend's grasp.
"Come on," Jules Hamilton said, laughing. She latched onto Anne's arm and propelled her forward another few feet before Anne stopped again. Jules grabbed her by both shoulders this time.
"We need you, Anne. You know it won't sound right with just Lucy and Jim." She leaned in conspiratorially, her eyes bright and snapping. "You know they can't carry a beat by themselves. They won't keep the tempo and that will ruin everything. And we need you to fill in the other parts." Jules hiked her gym bag higher on her shoulder and looked at Anne imploringly. Anne still felt doubtful, but she felt herself begin to cave under Jules's persuasion.
"Listen, are you coming or not?" Peter said, breaking in for the first time from her side. "This amp isn't exactly weightless, you know. If you're not coming I'm not gonna bother dragging it any farther." He adjusted it clumsily in his arms, as if to demonstrate how heavy it was.
Jules could see the signs on Anne's face as she began wavering, and she shot Peter a happy look.
"Oh, stop whining. She's coming. Aren't you, Anne?" Jules grabbed onto Anne's slender wrist and Anne had no choice but to be dragged to the car. "Her keyboard is already in the trunk, anyway, so we have ransom."
Anne sat nervously on one of the benches on the lower floor of the local mall. She wiped her palms several times on her jeans. Now that Jules's plan was in full swing, she couldn't help feeling the tingles of excitement that came before every performance, however unorthodox this one might be.
The five people who had crammed into Jules's car made up some of the finest students at the prestigious New York School of Arts, and they were about to put on an impromptu ballet performance of the pas de deux from the first act of Romeo and Juliet for some very unsuspecting mall patrons.
Lucy was absentmindedly tuning her flute while Jim plucked at his violin. Jules was sitting on the floor, her legs spread far as she reached to stretch out her calf muscle. She had already exchanged her street shoes for a dingy pink pair of pointe shoes. Peter was by the stairs that led to the second floor of the mall, using the stair railing as a barre. Anne had never been in such a surreal situation. She couldn't believe what they were about to do. Jules, however, was beaming as she rose from the floor.
"Buck up, Anne. Don't look so much like you're going to throw up. It's making me nervous."
She laughed despite herself, but she looked up from her keyboard with her eyebrows drawn down in worry. "Jules…"
But Jules waved her off. "Too late; it's show time. Wish me luck!" Before she could say anything in response, Jules ran up the stairs to the second floor, which was serving as their balcony for this performance. Peter stood waiting at the bottom and Jules gave him a little salute before they both turned to look at Anne.
She took a deep breath and looked back down at her keyboard. As soon as the three musicians had set up at the benches, Anne had been noticing the curious glances that strangers had been giving them. She knew that in a moment they would draw the attention of everyone in the plaza.
For a moment her mind went entirely blank, but they had been working on the ballet for their Workshop for months, and she'd had the piece memorized long ago. Even if her head was unsure, her fingers knew what to do. She took another deep, stabilizing breath, glanced at Jim and Lucy, who had moved to stand beside her, and quietly counted off the start of the music.
Anne had known Jules before the Workshop, but they had formed an easy friendship during the rehearsals. Still, no matter how many times she saw it, Jules's dancing never failed to move her, to touch that place reserved for especially beautiful moments.
Offstage, Jules wasn't particularly remarkable. Pretty, vivacious, but nothing out of the ordinary. Onstage…she was something else entirely.
Anne concentrated on the opening measures. The piano, flute, and violin echoed oddly in the wide space of the mall. The deep, plaintive opening notes sounded so strange and bare without the rest of the orchestra. Anne filled in the parts with piano that needed to be filled. She concentrated on the keys and not the movements of Peter and Jules in the periphery. She knew what she would see if she looked up; Jules real persona was vanishing as she stepped into character. She didn't act like Juliet. Suddenly, she just was Juliet.
She felt the gush of air that disturbed the hair around her ears as Peter flew past her, completing a series of grand leaps. He went hurtling past her, throwing himself through the air. A crowd of onlookers suddenly appeared, his movements catching the eye of everyone in the vicinity. As Jules finally rushed down the stairs and joined him, Anne looked up for the first time. She couldn't resist.
The fact that Peter was wearing mesh shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt that said 'Dancers Do It Better' while Jules twirled in a purple leotard and bubblegum pink slip skirt under the harsh florescent lights made no difference. They might as well have been on a darkened, moonlit stage in full regalia. They were just as arresting. Jules flowed around him and she wilted nearly in half in Peter's arms, like a snapped flower. They made it look effortless. Jules didn't just dance with her feet but with her eyes and her expressions. She had beautiful extensions and amazingly flexible hips. Like all of them, she was destined to be something great.
The crowd formed a wide circle around the group, leaving the two dancers room to move. People were gaping down from the second floor too, leaning over the railings to see what was happening below. With the music soaring and swelling, Anne closed her eyes again, loosing herself in it as the dancers separated only to join again in another stream of movements. They twined together, furling and unfurling, but always returning to each other like magnets.
Finally the music was slowing, the tension in the piece growing as all the jumping and leaping abated, leading to the moment of the kiss. Anne played her final notes, watching as Jules rose on her pointe shoes to kiss Peter, slowly and sweetly, hinting of the powerful emotions that fueled the rest of the ballet.
It didn't matter that Anne knew that Peter was in a serious, long-term relationship with someone else and that Jules was the biggest flirt on the campus. Just for those minutes, they had been Romeo and Juliet. After one last glance filled with so many unspoken words, Jules ran once more to the mall stairs and her make-shift balcony, while Peter looked on after her.
There was a four second moment of silence, and then with a sound like an explosion the entire crowd of mall patrons burst into enthusiastic applause. Jules traipsed down the stairs, glowing and laughing. She and Peter bowed over and over, smiling at the cheers they received. Anne and her fellow musicians were also applauded, and she rose from her seat on the bench to give the audience an awkward little bow of her own.
The noise died slightly as Jules raised a hand. "Romeo and Juliet will be playing the next three weekends at the Kellynch auditorium. Tickets go on sale tomorrow. If you liked our little preview, you'll love the real show." Her clear voice carried, but before she could say more, two mall security officers arrived on motorized carts.
"Busted!" Jules exclaimed happily, and those near enough to hear her in the crowd laughed. Anne felt a sinking feeling of apprehension in her stomach, but the officers looked more amused than irate. One even helped her carry the amp to the motorized cart as they were escorted from the premises and asked not to return to the mall.
Lucy and Jim sat in one cart with the instruments, and with a mechanic whir, they were zoomed away to the exit. Anne, Jules, and Peter crammed into the second cart. With no other available option, Anne hopped onto the back, which wasn't so much a seat as a ledge. However, they didn't have a large distance to cover.
As they started to pull away, the crowd burst into applause again, this one peppered with laughter, and Anne gave one forlorn little wave before the unsteady lurching made her grab onto a handhold. Behind her, Jules and Peter were laughing, and she couldn't help giggling herself. It had been an unforgettable performance.
1. The section in Italics denotes the past.
2. If you're curious about the ballet scene this chapter features, youtube the Romeo and Juliet pas de deux featuring Alessandra Ferri and Julio Bocca.
3. The subject of this chapter is atypical. Everything will really begin in the next chapter, and Captain Wentworth will be introduced...
4. I'd love to know what you think!