This story was written for amymorgan, as part of The Fandom Gives Back auction of summer 2010. My sincere gratitude for her donation, her idea for this story, her music suggestions, and her incredible unwavering support of my writing. I can't thank her enough.
The First Movement
December, 1986- Bainbridge Island, WA
The warm scent of gingerbread cookies drifted through the house as Elizabeth Masen put the last of the dirty bowls in the sink. She'd been baking all week, it seemed. Making the usual amount of Christmas cookies took forever with a three-and-a-half year-old underfoot.
Not that she was complaining. Her son Edward III was a source of joy she could never have anticipated. If he distracted her – and that happened every 15 minutes - she never begrudged him. She enjoyed letting him "help" her.
Now that the cookies were in the oven, Edward kept wandering near the stove. That made Elizabeth nervous, so she took him to the piano. Edward loved music and would almost always stop what he was doing to listen, whether she played a tune herself or had merely turned on the radio. She adjusted him on her lap and started to tap out a classical piece.
Edward watched, fascinated, as her fingers moved across the keys. She wondered if he was absorbing what she was doing, so she played very carefully. When the timer for the oven sounded, Elizabeth slid the toddler to the floor. After a quick glance around to make sure the baby gates were in place, she ran to the kitchen and pulled out sheets of cookies.
As she was placing the trays on her stove, Elizabeth heard the unmistakable sound of the piano. But it wasn't the usual cacophony created when a young child bangs on the keys.
Returning soundlessly to the living room, Elizabeth saw her son standing in front of the piano, with his arms extended just enough to reach the keys. She watched as he slowly moved his fingers, his little face a study in concentration. Meticulously, Edward was repeating the exact part of "Für Elise" she'd played minutes before.
December, 2010 - Seattle
Bella Swan tapped her pen absently against a yellow legal notepad as she read, for the third time, the letter which had been forwarded by her boss, Carlisle Cullen. It was written by someone named Edward Masen, whom Bella had never heard of but who was rapidly becoming her least favorite person in the music world.
"Dear Mr. Cullen,
I am writing to request an audition with DigiClassic Music. As a classical pianist, I would like to record with your label, and I would be honored if you would let me perform for you. Your reputation for excellence is as esteemed as your musical genius, and as such I would consider DigiClassic the only venue for my talent."
Cockiness? Bella thought. Or reality-based confidence? As the vice-president of artists and recording for DigiClassic, she'd seen more of the former and far too little of the latter.
"I'll be in Washington for the coming holiday, and I would be honored to meet at your convenience. Please see the attached list of curriculum vitae. I trust it meets your high standards."
Masen had included almost five pages of references, names of original compositions and their premiere dates, settings for juried performances, and of course, his education. Bella noted the dates and location for that last category, then quickly looked online for corresponding editions of The Philadelphia Inquirer. She searched the paper for "Edward Masen."
Several hits came up, and Bella started with an article from September. "Curtis Institute Scores Major Talent Coup," the headline crowed. She raised an eyebrow skeptically and began to read.
"Edward Masen, a brilliant pianist who recently completed studies at the Royal College of Music in London, has been appointed to a teaching position at the Curtis Institute of Music - with the rank of full professor," the article led off. "Considering that he is only 27 and hasn't completed his PhD, this is highly unusual.
"But his talent and skills are such that Curtis fought hard for him, competing against other prestigious schools like Juilliard, Harvard, the Boston Conservatory and the Royal College itself. The school made a special arrangement with the University of Pennsylvania which allows Masen to pursue his doctorate there while teaching at Curtis.
"According to a Penn source, it took little, if any, effort to get Penn to agree. Key faculty from its prominent graduate program in music jumped at the chance to share Edward Masen with Curtis.
"Masen has been sporadically performing at leading concert halls in the United States, and is widely viewed as an important up-and-comer among classical pianists."
Bella scanned the rest of the article, then hit "print."
Why haven't I heard of him? she wondered. The note Carlisle attached to Masen's letter more or less asked the same question.
After I received this, I checked with some friends on the East Coast. Apparently Edward Masen is the real thing, Carlisle had written in his elegant cursive. We should know more about him. See me.
Translation: Aren't you supposed to tell me about major prospects?
Carlisle had hired Bella for her keen eyes and ears. She possessed the background to understand true classical talent, and he relied on her to find and sign names worthy of the DigiClassic label. Bella's instincts were flawless, and Carlisle was usually lavish in his appreciation. At the same time, he had little patience for missed opportunities. He viewed it as negligence. This was enough motivation to keep her scouring college auditoriums, online music sites, and arts sections of newspapers and magazines while also cultivating a reliable network of sources.
It wasn't a nine-to-five job, but Bella had the physiology of a musician. She was used to working odd hours.
Bella was not, however, accustomed to failure. She released a deep breath of exasperation. By now, Edward Masen had completed a semester. It's possible his reputation had already attracted the attention of agents, publicists, managers, or other music labels. First, she'd have to placate Carlisle. Then, she'd have to investigate this Masen character and see if he was a true prospect.
Bella pulled the article out of the printer and race-walked down the hall to Carlisle's office. She knocked at his door without bothering to check with his secretary.
"Carlisle, it's Bella. I wanted to talk to you about the information you gave me this morning," she said.
She stepped into the spacious office suite where floor-to-ceiling windows afforded an impeccable view of downtown Seattle and beyond. Bella, however, directed a scowl down at the plush carpet. It was difficult to think of a sufficient excuse for why she'd missed this prospect. She was less concerned about Carlisle's anger, which was rare, than his disappointment, which was devastating.
Bella handed Carlisle the article and gestured to the paper's banner. "I found this
information on Edward Masen. It seems to be the most comprehensive of what's available online right now."
Carlisle smiled in a way that made Bella think he'd already read the article but was at least pleased she'd moved on it quickly.
"I thought about flying to Philly, but the semester will be over in a day or two. His letter says he's coming back west," she noted. "I want to call him today and arrange for him to meet with us here. I can make it clear we're interested." Bella wanted to leave no possibility that anyone would scoop Masen up before DigiClassic had the chance to hear him, especially since she hadn't found him first.
Carlisle nodded and thought for a moment before responding. "I think that's a good idea." As if discerning her concerns, he added, "Masen reached out to us, so I'm hoping that means he isn't looking anywhere else."
"The article in The Inquirer says he's pursuing an academic career."
"This writeup is several months old," Carlisle pointed out, "and clearly, he's interested in more than teaching. Talk to him and get back to me right away."
Bella nodded and turned to leave, sensing her dismissal. On her way out, Carlisle called to her.
"I have a good feeling about Masen." A pause, then another nod. "You can get this."
She smiled at her mentor, unable to disguise her relief at his words. "I won't let you down."
"I know." Carlisle gave her a final smile, then returned to the papers on his desk without further discussion.
On the walk back to her office, Bella began forming the conversation in her mind. Masen had written directly to Carlisle, which meant she'd have to carefully present herself as Carlisle's sanctioned representative. He had to accept her and not press to speak only with her boss.
Another idea spurred her to jog the last few yards back to her office. Sliding into her chair, she logged back on to the Internet and went immediately to YouTube to search for Edward Masen. Seconds later, she had several videos to choose from.
The first, a performance of "Benediction de Dieu dans la solitude" by Franz Liszt, was shot at the Royal College in London. It wasn't an easy piece, but then, many by Liszt were challenging to interpret. She clicked on "play" and prepared to be underwhelmed.
Instead of the standard still image of Liszt, a piano, or an angel to go with the audio track, there was a video of the performance. When the opening notes sounded, Bella was immediately drawn to the countenance of the young man she saw in front of her.
Even though the quality was slightly grainy, she could plainly see his expression: reverential, focused, almost other-worldly. She knew the feeling of being transported to another place by a beloved piece of music, and Bella recognized it immediately in Masen's face and body language. He was not merely playing a Liszt composition on the piano. The Liszt composition had overtaken him and was passionately working its way out through his limbs, his hands, and his expressions.
Gradually, the sweetness of the music lured Bella in as well. The piece had some dramatically repetitive qualities to it, and the fervor built gradually. Even through the acoustic shortcomings of the computer, Bella could feel its emotion. She sensed that Edward Masen played not what was requested of him, but whatever he could complement. Some pianists attached themselves to classical pieces as if they were the new rightful owners. Bella knew that Masen was exactly this breed of intuitive musician.
The notes drifted off in a high refrain before a lower key took over. At this point, Bella would normally have logged off the Web and moved on. But she couldn't stop watching the tall pianist who swayed and dipped in front of the keyboard as the music commanded his movements.
Bella watched as he stopped playing and moved his hands away from the keys, resting them in his lap. His head stayed slightly bowed. The video ended, and a single credit with Masen's name and the title of the Liszt composition appeared.
Switching quickly to Google, she looked up The Curtis Institute. On the home page, an article trumpeted Masen's arrival for the fall semester. Most of it recycled the Inquirer article as well as Masen's CV. What really captured her attention was his photo in the upper left hand corner of the article.
He looked intense. Focused. Determined.
And handsome. Edward Masen was extremely good looking: a strong jawline, a graceful neck, piercing eyes that showed clearly even in the three-inch shot. Bella had no idea whether the photo was candid or posed. Either way, Masen dominated the camera.
Bella picked up her phone and pressed it against her lips. She stared at the picture and composed the conversation in her head for a few minutes, then dialed.
December, 2010 – Philadelphia
It was cold, but not snowy: typical Philly weather for this time of year. Edward strode quickly through Rittenhouse Park on his way back to the Curtis Institute.
The close of the fall term was about a week away, and Edward was thinking typical end-of-the-semester thoughts. Since he was both teacher and student, he had the worries of each but very little time for both.
There were compositions to evaluate, which involved intensely critiquing performances. There were papers to grade for his theory class. He had to finalize his own music pieces for his doctoral course work. And a number of orchestra directors were pressing him to join them for special appearances, asking for commitments well into the summer.
A plastic shopping bag worked its way through some bushes and tangled at Edward's feet. He kicked at it absent-mindedly, worrying about the piles of papers which awaited his return from lunch. Edward hated paperwork of any sort because it interfered with everything else he wanted to do. The trees around him were decorated with Christmas lights, but the holiday cheer failed to lift his spirits.
The double-doors to the Locust Street office stood tall and Victorian, with understated wreaths hanging on each one. He pulled the left door open, barely breaking his stride, and took the stairs two at a time to his second-floor office.
As he passed the secretaries' desks, Mrs. Cope flagged him down.
"Professor Masen," she called out. "You have messages." She held them out as he passed.
Edward stretched his arm to grab them with a "Thank you" before continuing down the hall to his office.
"Professor?" Mrs. Cope said again. He stopped and looked at her expectantly.
"That woman from the record company called several times, and probably left some messages on your voicemail as well. She's quite persistent. I thought I'd warn you." Mrs. Cope sounded as if she disapproved of such aggressiveness. He hid his smile at her judgmental frown.
As soon as the door was unlocked, Edward threw down his satchel and hung up his coat. His office furnishings were sparse – a desk and chair, plus two other uncomfortable wooden straight-back seats. Two tall bookcases held books and folders jammed with sheet music. If he couldn't fit a piano in a room, he cared little about the rest of the decor.
Flipping through the messages he'd just received, he found a couple from his students and one from his dissertation advisor. Edward hoped his mother had called him back, but there was no note, and Mrs. Cope would be sure to write that down. He'd have to call her again.
There were several slips with the name "Bella Swan." Frowning, Edward tried to think whether he knew anyone named Bella Swan, until he saw the additional note his secretary had written: "From DigiClassic Music." This had to be the woman she was referring to.
He looked at his watch – it was almost four here on the East Coast, which meant it was nearly 1 p.m. in Seattle. Though a number of other pressing tasks demanded his attention, he set them aside. Edward's nerves tightened in a bundle in his stomach, but he was determined to get this done. He dialed the number, then sat back and waited.
A low, melodious voice answered, "Bella Swan."
He cleared his throat and said, "Yes, Miss- Ms. Swan. This is Edward Masen. I'm returning your call."
There was a brief beat of silence, and then he heard the same voice almost whisper, "Edward Masen." He waited, confused, until Bella cleared her throat and said, "Mr. Masen. Thank you for getting back to us today."
Us? Edward thought.
"We received your letter-"
"Excuse me, but who's 'we'?" Edward asked, annoyed but polite.
"Carlisle Cullen and myself. Carlisle read your letter and was impressed with your credentials. He asked me to contact you, since I'm his A&R - artist and repertoire - vice president," she explained.
"I know what A&R means," Edward said irritably. Her condescension annoyed him even though he knew, at this point, she had the upper hand.
"Of course. I apologize," Bella said smoothly, shifting gears. "We'd both like to meet with you when you're in Seattle. Carlisle in particular is very much looking forward to hearing you play."
Edward was somewhat mollified. "I'm flying into Seattle on the 9th, when the semester is done. I'll have a few weeks before I have to return to Philadelphia. What day were you looking at?"
"How about the 11th?" she suggested.
"That would work." He hesitated, and tried to make his voice light. "So tell me: what will I have to do?"
"We'd like you to play several compositions – it's your choice as to what they will be. Whatever you think would sound best," she said. "Usually we record an artist and listen to the pieces several times. We make our decisions based on these auditions."
Bella knew Carlisle wanted Masen, and that it was her job to make sure DigiClassic signed him. But something kicked in during the middle of this conversation, and she found herself determined not to let Masen know that he was practically a shoo-in. Let him work for it a little bit. She suspected he'd really give them his best if he knew the contract hung in the balance. And based on what she'd seen on YouTube, his best would push the label's already sterling reputation into the stratosphere.
"Okay. I'm sure I can come up with some possibilities between now and then." Edward's throat suddenly felt dry.
"How about 11 a.m. on the 11th? Just to make it symmetrical," Bella said, trying for some levity. She offered to provide a car, but Edward declined. He preferred to have his own transportation; it made it easier to control his departure, if necessary.
Edward hated the whole idea of signing with a record company, but he was determined to pursue it. He'd go through with the audition and give them his best performance, which he knew would be substantial. There would be no question that he'd succeed.
After they hung up, Bella felt some pangs of worry. She didn't want to antagonize him. At the same time, it was also part of her job to make sure the talent didn't call all the shots with the company. She'd smooth the path for any artist who needed it, but not at the expense of her own reputation or the company that Carlisle worked so hard to build. No matter how excellent Masen was on the piano, she had to stay on guard.
Bella tried to put him out of her thoughts while she handled arrangements for other clients. A violinist who was performing with the Cleveland Orchestra called to complain that the supplies provided through the orchestra were inferior. Bella dispatched a contact to find better strings for his bow, though she highly doubted his complaints were accurate. Often it was better (and quicker) to appease the prima donna than to argue. In addition, a pianist who was on his way to San Francisco became stranded in Minnesota due to weather. She contacted the administrative director of the orchestra and explained the delay, knowing the pianist was in no frame of mind to do so.
Bella dodged the bullets, solved the problems and soothed the egos, but she never did manage to get Edward Masen completely out of her mind.
April 2001 – Forks, WA
Charlie and Bella Swan sat at their kitchen table, which was almost completely covered with letters, forms and catalogues.
"I'm sorry, Bells," Charlie said, pushing his chair back. He ran his hands through his hair a couple of times out of sheer frustration. He hated failing his daughter like this – his only child, who deserved so much better.
"It's okay, Dad," Bella said automatically, fighting her tears and disappointment. "I know there isn't anything you can do."
"I looked at it every way I can," Charlie said. "I worked these numbers up and down, but honey, neither of these schools will give you enough money to cover your expenses. " He gestured to the letters from the New England Conservatory of Music and Oberlin College.
"Dad, don't worry about it." Bella covered his hand with hers.
"I wish I could help you out more. Your mom's life insurance policy didn't leave us much. And I'm afraid I've got almost nothing saved," Charlie said, shaking his head.
"I'll just go to UW. They have a good music program, and they'll give me enough for just about everything. Really, I'd be stupid to turn it down." Bella pushed aside her deep desire to leave Washington and study at one of the best music schools in the country. Her talents on the cello were apparently good enough to have her way paid by the State of Washington, but not any top institutions.
Charlie looked miserable. "Hey," she said, nudging him with her shoulder. "It means I can come home some weekends and holidays, too. You won't be rid of me that fast."
He put his arm around her and kissed her forehead affectionately. "Well, that's a relief," he said.
Bella managed a weak smile for her father. She thought perhaps she was almost as good at acting as she was at music.
December 2010 – Seattle
Her day planner lay on Bella's desk with a packed "to do" list for every hour through the next two weeks. Fortunately, Christmas Eve fell on a Friday, and DigiClassic's offices were closed. She'd get up early and drive to Forks to spend Christmas weekend with Charlie. Bella wrote a note to check online for the fishing lures she knew her father had his eye on. Thank goodness Charlie was so predictable. It made things like Christmas and his birthday a lot easier to take care of.
Several post-it notes were stuck to the entries for the past couple of days to ensure she didn't forget anything for Edward Masen's audition. The recording studios occupied two floors below the administrative offices; the suites were well-equipped, and Bella booked the top sound engineers for the 11 a.m. appointment. She'd reserved a studio that contained a fine Steinway grand piano. She was anxious to hear him play on the best instrument owned by the most prestigious classical recording studio in the country.
When the receptionist called to inform her that Edward Masen had arrived, Bella remained at her desk for another few minutes, partly to think and partly to refrain from appearing overeager. Her gaze fell on a cork bulletin board to the right of her desk.
At the start of her employment with DigiClassic, Bella began collecting pins from musical institutions she'd visited for interviews and prospects. Now they crowded the bulletin board, arranged in a pattern that mimicked the geographic layout of the United States. She touched the tips of her fingers to the New England Conservatory pin before gathering her organizer and heading downstairs to finally meet Edward Masen.
Normally, facing a new prospect generated a particular kind of excitement. Bella loved that feeling of discovery, of finding a talent whose light had previously remained under a bushel of anonymity. But today, there was an extra layer of anticipation that kept her stomach fluttering for the brief elevator descent to the lobby. She noticed that her legs felt almost leaden, as if they were reluctant to move.
This is odd…Am I nervous?
She rounded the corner at the far end of the elevator hall and stopped.
Edward Masen stood with his back to her, carefully reading the short biographies that accompanied pictures of DigiClassic's major artists. The large color photos hung on a wall display at the opposite end of the room from where Bella stood, so she was able to watch him unnoticed. She recognized his hair – it was a bold shade of auburn, and locks of it stood out at rebellious angles all over his head.
Suddenly, Edward turned around and looked straight at Bella, where she waited without understanding her own uncertainty. He regarded the lovely brunette who stood in the recess of the hallway, watching him. Edward had little idea of what to expect from a record company executive, but Bella Swan seemed very pleasing. She exuded warmth from clear across the lobby. He saw it in her eyes – large and brown, even at this distance – and her expression, and even in the way she held herself.
He stepped in her direction, then hesitated.
The intensity of his stare rooted her to the spot, and Bella felt that this silent exchange was the first, and more important, introduction they'd have. Something told her to savor this moment before the realities of business shaped the way they would be with each other. Bella drank in the small intimacy of it for just a few more seconds before speaking.
"Mr. Masen?" she asked, the question a formality. Bella extended her hand, and Edward immediately took it in his own, infusing her with heat and a tingling sensation that practically reached to her elbow. His long fingers curled around her palm until they touched the outside of her hand. She could feel their strength even though his grip was gentle and polite.
"Yes. Ms. Swan?" The smoky richness of his voice almost destroyed her business mindset. Bella frantically pulled together her professionalism and cleared her throat.
"Please, call me Bella."
"You as well," he said, tipping his head to her.
"You want me to call you Bella?" she inquired, more flirtatiously than she knew was appropriate.
He laughed, and the timbre of it was exactly as she'd hoped. "No, I mean – please call me Edward."
She warmed to his smile, which was wide and appreciative. "The studios are just a couple of floors up. Carlisle Cullen will meet us there," she said, gesturing toward the elevators.
Edward nodded and clutched his messenger bag tightly. He was suddenly nervous even though he'd never been anxious about performing, not even when he auditioned for his school admissions. It always came so naturally to him that he never had to worry about it. There was a great deal more riding on this, though.
When the elevator doors opened, Bella stepped ahead and led Edward to Studio 3, the largest and most technically advanced facility that DigiClassic owned. She unlocked the main door to the engineering suite, where she immediately called Carlisle to let him know Edward had arrived.
The studio was visible through the glass that separated the two rooms of the suite. Bella caught the look of appreciation that swept over Edward's features when he saw the grand piano that occupied much of it.
"Come," she said softly. "Let me introduce you to what you'll be playing, before Carlisle gets here." She gestured toward the piano.
"This is a Steinway Model D," he said reverently, passing his hand over the top.
"Yes. We give our artists the best to work with," Bella said, delighting in his expression. Edward's gaze was entirely focused on the piano, with a look that is normally reserved for the love of one's life.
And perhaps it is, Bella mused. She found herself wondering who this man was. Brilliant musicians could be eccentric, prickly, demanding, and mind-numbingly frustrating. Often, their humanity wasn't terribly visible, but their talent made up for it. Where did Edward fall on that spectrum? What - or who - else was important to him in his life?
The studio door closed, and Carlisle briefly touched Bella's elbow in acknowledgement before striding over to Edward, his hand outstretched.
A different look of awe came over Edward's face. "Carlisle Cullen!" he exclaimed before Carlisle could speak.
"That's me," Carlisle said, smiling broadly. "And I assume you are Edward Masen?"
"You played the definitive version of Holst's 'The Planets' in 1981. You and Glenn Gould," Edward said, his eyes wide. "It was in Toronto, right?"
Carlisle smiled and glanced down at the floor. "Thank you," he said modestly. "Yes, we did that piece in Toronto. It was one of the best nights of my life."
"It's brilliant," Edward said in a rush. "It's so inspirational. My mother has all your recordings. I'm so sorry you're not playing anymore," he added sincerely. "You're among the best of all time."
"You're very kind," Carlisle responded, still smiling. "I still play, just not professionally."
"Of course," said Edward, suddenly embarrassed. "I apologize."
"No need," Carlisle said kindly. "I couldn't live without playing. Now I just do it for my own enjoyment, or my family's. Arthritis does impose its limitations." He clapped his hands together energetically. "So! I can't tell you how eagerly we've been waiting for you to play for us, Edward. What will you start with?"
Edward pulled out a folder with sheets of music inside. "I'll be playing 'The Mephisto'."
Bella noticed Carlisle's smile grow wider. He was enjoying Edward's bravado.
She, however, thought Edward was either insane or the victim of a self-confidence that was beyond measure. "Mephisto" was complicated, layered, and difficult for even the most accomplished pianist. The only musician she'd ever known who could master it was Horowitz. If Masen can pull this one off… she thought, and gave a minute shake of her head.
Edward arranged the sheet music on the piano and positioned himself on the bench. The recording engineers had arrived with Carlisle, who returned to the engineering booth with Bella.
With no prologue, Edward launched into the staccato opening of "Mephisto." Bella and Carlisle listened, entranced, while the notes flew; the almost discordant sounds and rampant scales tripping off of his fingers as if they were launched, not played.
The music soared, then gentled, as Edward leaned and moved with its direction. There was no one else in the room; no one else in the world as far as he was concerned. Bella knew it before she saw it in his face. He'd given himself over to the composition.
The song moved along with each tempo change in quick succession, but Edward more than kept up with it – he commanded it, soothed it, teased it out of the keys. Bella watched as the passion poured forth from Edward's body. His eyes were closed in intense concentration; his entire body stirred with each musical phrase. Even the engineers were enraptured and silent, watching Edward instead of the meters on the board.
He brought them all to the edge of the cliff, and then stopped where Liszt had ended it. Edward remained motionless, hunched over the piano keys.
A minute of silence hung in the air.
"I think we've found our next artist," Carlisle said softly.
Bella stirred when Carlisle spoke. Without thinking, she pulled open the door to the studio and hurried to where Edward sat, still facing the piano.
She opened her mouth but couldn't think of a response adequate for what she'd just heard.
"Very impressive, Mr. Masen," she finally said, despising her words for their weakness.
Edward stood awkwardly. "Thank you," he replied. "I have some other pieces I'd like to play…"
Carlisle walked in, watching the two of them with a small smile. "What else did you have in mind, Edward?"
"Well…um…" Under Bella's constant gaze, Edward suddenly seemed flustered. "I thought I'd try Chopin's Prelude Number 4."
"Very nice," Carlisle nodded in appreciation. "A somber piece, but lovely." He motioned for Bella to follow him. "Let's allow Edward to play the rest of what he's prepared for us."
They returned to the engineering room as Edward began the slow introduction to Chopin. "We should have the legal department draft the contracts as soon as possible," Carlisle said.
"I'll get on that as soon as we're done," Bella replied.
The two of them had already discussed the terms that DigicClassic would offer: a $1 million, two-year contract, with exclusive rights to the company for two records. He would receive a generous percentage from the sale of his CDs. The revenue from any live performances would be split between DigiClassic, the artist, and the venue.
The question now was whether the terms would be acceptable to Edward.
Carlisle led them to his office, giving measured but meaningful praise for Edward's audition. Bella knew he was trying to gauge the pianist's mood, and she nervously glanced Edward's way almost every fourth step along the hall. He remained silent, and she detected a tension in his posture that she couldn't read.
She wished she knew what to say to Edward, but as long as she couldn't yet accurately read his mood, she knew it was smarter to remain silent. She felt slightly thrown off her game in his presence. In the last hours since they'd met, she found it difficult to concentrate on her actual job.
Bella stood at the floor-to-ceiling window, arms crossed, merely listening while her boss and Edward discussed music, the industry, composition, and teaching. A secretary brought in the legal documents, and Carlisle skimmed through them to make sure everything was in order. Before handing them over, he said, "I want you to know, Edward, that we genuinely value our artists here. I have no interest in cheating anyone."
"I would never think otherwise," Edward said, a puzzled look on his face.
Bella knew for certain at that point that he'd never worked with an agent or another recording company. Carlisle prided himself on fairness and honesty, but artists generally didn't trust in that at signing. Time and experience proved that he stood behind his promises.
"I've been in your shoes, and I know what it's like to suddenly have to deal with the business end of music, after you've spent your life playing for the love of it. Please be sure to have your attorneys look these over carefully. I think they'll agree it's all very fair." Carlisle picked up a notepad and pen. "Who represents you? I need to note the firm's name for our file."
Edward hesitated. "I don't really have a personal attorney," he finally said. "I'll probably ask someone from my father's company to review these."
Bella was amazed. This went beyond inexperience. She'd naturally assumed Edward had an attorney on retainer.
Carlisle remained silent for another beat. "By any chance, are you related to EA Masen Industries?" he finally asked.
"Yes," Edward said cautiously. "My father's the president."
Bella tried again not to register shock. Edward was no poor but brilliant graduate student. He came from several generations of wealth amassed from the rich minerals and resources of the Pacific Northwest.
"That's a company that's been around for quite a long time."
"It was founded by my great-grandfather," Edward said, apparently waiting to see where Carlisle was taking this.
"Very reputable," Carlisle responded, nodding in agreement. "And while I'm sure your attorneys are among the best, they may not have much expertise in music contract law. You may want to ask one of them to refer you to a firm with more relevant experience," he added diplomatically.
Edward nodded tersely. "Of course. Thank you for your advice."
Bella offered to take him back downstairs, still reeling from the news that he was from one of Seattle's oldest, wealthiest families. Even though Edward Anthony Masen III rarely appeared in the society news columns that often mentioned his parents, she should have recognized him.
She was determined to not let his background affect her, though, particularly while his relationship with DigiClassic was in its early stages.
Bella retrieved Edward's coat from the receptionist, and turned to face him fully for the first time since they'd met hours earlier. He was staring at her intently, his head leaning slightly toward her. Unique green eyes looked as if they were trying to read something from her own face.
She blushed and glanced at the floor briefly to regain her composure. "Edward, if you do sign with us – and I hope you do-" she said emphatically.
"I believe I will," he interrupted.
Bella paused, a little thrilled at his eagerness. "We'll have to talk carefully about what compositions you'll play for your recording. I'll be working with you, if you have no objection." There was no way on earth Bella would let some underling take that assignment.
"I'd like that," he replied quietly, still with that intense gaze. It didn't wash over Bella so much as envelope her like a velvet blanket.
How does he do that? Bella thought, still flustered.
She slowly offered her hand in farewell. He responded by grasping it in his own warm hand for a moment – enough for Bella to again get the feel of those long, resolute fingers. She felt a quick shiver that ran down the length of her body.
"I'll be in touch with you, Edward."
He nodded. "You have my cell number. I'll be in Seattle for the next several weeks." He backed away for a couple of steps as if reluctant to break their connection, then turned and strode out the revolving doors of the building.
Bella returned to her office with her mind in a thousand different places. Edward taught, but he didn't need the money. He could compose and play for every waking hour of his existence and never have to worry about making a living. She couldn't understand how someone would forgo that life, but she didn't know Edward well enough to guess his reasons, but she wanted to know them. And him.
He's a client. You can't dip your toe in that water.
But Edward seemed a mystery that was worth the risk. She wanted to get closer to his brilliance, of course, to be in real proximity to his musical genius. Yet there was much more to it than that. The passion she'd seen as he played spoke to a particular longing of her own.
Edward drove back to his parents' home with his own inner turmoil. He felt foolish over his lack of business acumen. His main concern was getting them to see that his talent merited a contract. He was very confident about his musical abilities, but he'd never thought beyond that to the business end of the music industry, as Carlisle called it.
He had little choice but to follow Carlisle's advice and find a good lawyer. That meant informing his father of this conversation with DigiClassic's representatives, a prospect that Edward held in the same regard as removing his own fingernails with pliers. The elder Masen was sure to ignore Edward's accomplishment with the record company in favor of highlighting his son's folly in revealing his lack of legal proficiency.
There wasn't much Edward was looking forward to about this whole process. Possibly, the saving grace was the woman he'd just met. She intrigued him. He felt both soothed and enervated by her, and the only thing that would calm that contradiction would be playing the piano in her presence again.
In just a few days, Carlisle alerted Bella that he'd received the signed documents that legally made Edward a DigiClassic artist. He noted with silent amusement the look of relief on her face, and recognized it as more than the satisfaction of signing an excellent musician.
Bella found herself in the odd, dating-like limbo of wondering whether she should call Edward or wait for him to call her. She finally screwed up her courage - a feeling she was also unaccustomed to - and called him to set up the appointment to discuss the first CD.
They arranged to meet on the 16th, and Bella noted that DigiClassic's annual holiday party would be held that following Saturday.
"As our newest artist, you're certainly invited," she told him. "In fact, we really want you to come."
"I'm not much of a social events person," Edward demurred. "Is this a requirement?"
"No, of course not," Bella said as she scrambled to think of a way to convince him to come. It wasn't just to show him off. She knew she was creating ways that they could see each other under very legitimate circumstances. But she could also feel his reticence across the phone line, and she tried to put him at ease about it.
"It's not a huge affair," she assured him. "And it's definitely not limited to lawyers and engineers. Quite a few of our artists show up. We try to keep it intimate and enjoyable."
Bella hoped she wasn't lying. It wasn't always easy to predict what faction of the DigiClassic community would predominate at the holiday party. One year, when a lot of engineers showed up, a heated argument broke out over which "Star Wars" film was the best. It took months for Bella to recover from that.
At least, she knew she'd at least see Edward in a few days. She reserved a small conference room and cleared her schedule for that day.
Thank you for reading! The next chapter will be posted next week.
I could never have written this without piperann_25, who helped me understand the soul of a musician and recommended a number of great classical compositions. Thanks also to chriserlyn for her music suggestions.
Finally, thank you to my beta, writingbabe, and my prereader, isabeausink. They willingly dove into a 17,000-word "one shot" and emerged with many great edits and suggestions to improve this story. As always, I owe them an enormous debt for their insight, encouragement, and most of all, their friendship.
You can still donate to Alex's Lemonade Stand!