Still Life with Strings (9 page)

BOOK: Still Life with Strings
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Snorting, I reply, “Oh,
God. Did you really mean to say that?”

He continues, smiling
happily, “Yes, Jade. Yes, I did.”

“I think they might
have given you too much meds. You know sometimes that stuff works like truth
serum.”

Pretending like he
needs to lean on me for strength, despite just claiming his injury was only a
little cut, he puts his arm around my shoulder. “This was a great night,” he
declares. “I love being around you. You really know how to live.”

We’ve just reached his
car when I slip out from under his arm and open the passenger door for him.

“Yeah, I know how to
get my new friend stabbed and his car almost stolen. Such a great life I live,”
I reply mockingly as I start the engine.

We’re driving out of
the hospital when Shane says, “It’s better than being sheltered. You live in
the real world, Jade, and you don’t know how desperate I am to join you.”

Turning from the road
for a moment, I give him a funny look. “You live in the real world, too,
Shane.”

“I live in a world of
privilege.”

“Just because it’s
privileged doesn’t mean it’s not real. It means you’re fortunate.”

He shakes his head and
reaches out to put his hand on my arm. “It’s stifling and fake. And so fucking
lonely. I want you to teach me to be like you, to live like you.”

For a while I remain
quiet. Then I reply, “My life is one long series of fuck-ups, bad luck, and
mistakes. I have nothing good to teach you. By the way, we’re almost in
Ranelagh. Where’s your house?”

“Turn left here,” he
says. “And I’m not letting you change the subject. Teach me, Jade.”

“You’re very strange
sometimes.”

“Teach me.”

“I’m not sure…”

“Jade, please, just say
yes.” He squeezes my arm. “I need this. You don’t know how much.”

The sincerity in his
eyes startles me; he seems almost desperate. And so, despite the fact that I
have no clue what I’m signing myself up for, I reply, “Okay, Shane, I’ll teach
you.”

He grins big. “Thank you.
My house is just at the end of this street.”

I let out a breath and
park outside the red brick Victorian house. It has a really nice garden and
white plantation shutters on the windows. Getting out, I throw him his keys.

“I need to call for a
cab to bring me back to mine, but my battery’s dead,” I say as he catches them
easily.

“Come inside. You can
use the house phone.”

I eye his place warily,
wondering if it’s a good idea that I go inside. He opens the door and turns to
look at me when I haven’t moved.

“You coming in or
what?”

“Yeah,” I answer
finally, and walk into the foyer. The place has obviously been lovingly
restored; it even has those old coloured tiles on the floor. Shane leads me to
the living room and shows me to the phone, where I quickly dial Barry’s number.
It rings out with no answer, so he must not be working tonight. Putting the
phone back down on the receiver, I try to remember the number for my local taxi
rank.

Shane’s sitting on his
vintage brown leather sofa, watching me. We lock eyes for a long minute, a
dozen emotions passing between us.

“Barry, the guy who
drove you home the other night, he’s not picking up. I need to Google the
number of another rank.”

Shane reaches into the
pocket of his trousers and pulls out his sleek black iPhone. “Here, use this.”

I walk to him and reach
out for the phone, but when I grab it, he doesn’t let it go.

“Stay,” he breathes,
gaze intense.

“What?”

“Stay the night.”

“Shane, I can’t.”

Gripping my wrist with
his other hand, he pulls me down onto his lap before I can resist, and then his
hands are in my hair, trailing down my spine.

“We can’t do this,” I
tell him, breathing heavily. My thighs are straddling his waist, and I can feel
him hardening against me.

“Jade, please, just let
me….” He trails off and pulls my face to his. Then he does the sweetest thing
by running his nose along my nose before nuzzling my neck. It’s so simple, yet
feels incredibly intimate. I close my eyes, wanting so much to give in and let
him slip inside me. All he needs to do is hitch my dress up and undo his pants.
So very fucking easy, and yet I know I have to be strong. Temptation is around
me all the time, and Shane is just another form of it.

Shakily I open my eyes
and get off his lap. He watches me, a sad expression on his face. He knows I’m
not going to stay. Without another word, I quickly search for a number on his
phone and then call a cab. The lady on the other end tells me a car will be
there in ten minutes, but that could be ten minutes too long if I have to stare
at Shane and think of all the things I can’t allow myself to have.

I look around the room
for a distraction and see his violin perched on a stand. Walking to it, I run
my fingers over its surface.

“It’s an original
Stradivarius,” Shane says in a quiet voice, almost like he’s telling me a
secret.

I turn to him,
open-mouthed. “You’re joking.”

There are only a couple
hundred of these violins left in the world, and Shane just leaves this one
sitting in his living room for anyone to steal. Is he crazy? It’s at least worth
several hundred thousand euros, if not millions.

“Not joking,” he
replies, smiling.

“Uh, shouldn’t this be
locked up in a safe or something?”

“Now, where would be
the point in that? The beauty of an instrument is to play it, not to leave it
to get dusty in a safe. Besides, it’s insured up the wazoo.”

I can’t stop staring at
the violin, a piece of wood that was created perhaps two hundred years ago.
What historical figures have held it in their hands? What great musicians have
made it sing for them? Hundreds of multi-coloured fingerprints rise up on the
shiny wood, dancing along its length, telling a thousand tales of music. I
blink, and they’re gone.

“But how can you even
afford this? I know your string quartet was popular but….”

“My grandfather left me
a sum of money when he died. The rest I took from my own savings. I dreamed of
having this instrument since I was a boy, and then a few years ago I finally
had the means to pay for it.”

“Wow.”

“You sound impressed.”

“I am impressed, very
much so. But you need to keep it locked up when you’re not at home.”

Shane shrugs. “I
usually do. This time I forgot. Anyway, very few people would think it was
anything other than a plain old violin if they saw it.”

“Hmm, that’s true.” I
hesitate before continuing impulsively, “Play something for me.”

Shane tilts his head,
studying me, then nods and goes to pick up the instrument. I watch him; he
hasn’t even started playing yet, and I’m already enraptured simply by the way
he moves. Bringing the bow to the strings, he plays a slow, sad tune. I
recognise it from his album, the one I’ve been listening to far too much. He
only gets a couple of notes in when there’s a harsh knock at the door, breaking
my too short reverie.

“Damn, that’s the
taxi.”

Shane nods, placing the
violin back on its stand. “We’re forever being interrupted by those blasted
things,” he says, referring to the other night in my kitchen.

“Yes, strange that,” I
say with a smile.

“Are you working
tomorrow?”

“I am.” God, why is my
voice coming out so breathy?

“I have two concerts to
play, so I might see you around.”

Walking to him, I give
his wrist a light squeeze. “See you tomorrow, then.”

And I go, walking
straight out the front door and leaving behind what could very well have been
an incredible night I’d never forget.

 

Eight

 

The next day I walk into work tired as
hell. I had a rough time of it trying to get Pete up and ready for school this
morning. Then I had to talk down an anxious April, whose first day as Lara’s
child-minder is today. She might act like the cock of the walk most of the
time, but April is prone to panic attacks, especially when she has to try
something new.

In the end I got them
both out the door with just enough time to shower, have breakfast, and take
Specky for a quick walk before my shift. I’m manning the first-floor bar again
today, and when I walk in I spy two men seated off to the side, deep in chat. I
immediately recognise one of them as Shane, and the other I’ve never met
before.

I take over from my
co-worker and start restocking the fridges with bottles. Shane and the man he’s
talking to are close enough for me to hear most of their conversation; I
quickly catch on that he’s a journalist and Shane’s being interviewed for some
magazine or newspaper. I guess it makes sense, since he is sort of a celebrity
in the classical music world.

“So, you’re enjoying
being back on home soil?” asks the journalist.

“Oh, sure. It’s great
to play around the world, but there’s something that little bit special about
being home. My parents used to take me to see concerts in this hall when I was
just a boy. I idolised the violinists in the symphony, and now I’m one of them.
Plus, there’s a great sense of community in an orchestra that you don’t get in
smaller groups.”

The journalist
chuckles. “It must be very fulfilling, but let me ask you, your departure from
The Bohemia Quartet was somewhat abrupt. You say you left for health reasons,
but now you’re playing again, so what I want to know is if that was really the
reason why you left?”

Whoa, diving straight
for the juicy tidbits there. Shane’s jaw flexes ever so slightly, but he
quickly covers his anger at being asked such a personal question by laughing
good-naturedly. “Yes, that was the real reason. I know everybody likes a good
scandal, but in this case there wasn’t one.”

“So why haven’t you re-joined
the group? You’re obviously back to health now.”

“As you probably
already know,” says Shane patiently, “our manager, Jack Campbell, replaced me
with a new violinist, Andrew Hollows. He’s a very talented musician, and I
couldn’t have asked for a better replacement to bring the group into a new era.
Besides, it was time for a change.”

“But didn’t you just
say you left for health reasons?”

“Yes, but I also wanted
to move on with my career, do something different.”

“You just mentioned
your manager, Jack Campbell. Might I ask you about your relationship with his
daughter, Mona Campbell, the concert pianist?”

Mona was his fiancée?
Perhaps that’s who the album
Songs for Her
was named after. He must have
really loved her to have done that. Shane drums his fingers on the table for a
moment, and I wonder if it’s a sign that he’s getting ticked off with this line
of questioning. He swallows visibly. “What would you like to know?”

“Word is that you two
were engaged to be married, but she broke it off. Now she’s in a very public
relationship with the Bohemia Quartet’s cellist, Justin Burke. Do you still
keep in contact with either of them?”

“I wish them both every
happiness, but no, we’re not still in touch.”

“Sounds like there’s a
story there,” the journalist replies brazenly.

Shane doesn’t say
anything, but simply eyes the man like he can’t believe what a prick he’s
being. Neither of them have noticed my presence in the empty bar, so I decide
to interrupt and give Shane a little break from the interview.

“Can I get you guys
anything to drink?” I ask, approaching their table.

Shane’s eyes widen when
he sees me, confirming my suspicions that he didn’t realise I’d come in. Damn,
now I feel bad for eavesdropping. He might not have wanted me to know some of
the stuff that was just said.

“Oh, an orange juice
for me,” says the journalist, and I turn my attention to Shane.

“I’m good,” he says
abruptly, and I frown.

Perhaps I shouldn’t
have interrupted, but I was only trying to help. I walk back behind the bar and
pour an orange juice into a glass of ice. I don’t really want to return to
their table, given Shane’s somewhat frosty reception, but I don’t have another
choice now.

Silently, I place the
glass down on the table and quickly return to my station. Shane doesn’t meet my
eyes the entire time, and I can’t tell if he’s pissed off or just embarrassed.
They’ve moved on to a lighter, less personal topic now. I lose myself in my
work, focusing intently on stacking glasses and stocking the bar for this
afternoon’s event; a famous opera singer has flown in from Italy to do a
handful of shows, and she’ll be accompanied by the house orchestra.

I like opera. Even
though I can’t understand the words, somehow my brain translates the emotions,
in the same way an instrumental piece can tell me a story with no words at all.

I’m in the small
storage room at the back of the bar when I get a text from Alec telling me
he’ll take care of dinner tonight for April and Pete since I’m going to be
working until eight. As I type out a quick thank-you in response, I hear
somebody enter the room from the soft click of a shoe. Turning around, I find
Shane standing mere inches away from me.

“Uh, you’re not
supposed to be in here,” I say while his eyes roam my face. Tingles seize my
chest at his closeness. I can feel the air of his breath hit my cheeks.

“I know. I just wanted
to apologise for being cold with you earlier. It wasn’t you — I was just pissed
with the guy interviewing me.”

Sucking in a quick
breath, I nod. “Yeah, he seemed to be going right for the jugular. How are your
stitches?”

“They’re fine, a little
stingy and a lot itchy. You look good in that shirt,” he says, the words
tumbling out like he hadn’t meant to vocalise the thought.

I give him a small grin.
“This is my work uniform. You’ve seen me in it before.”

“And you’ve always
looked good in it.” His hand moves to my shoulder, his thumb brushing slowly
back and forth.

I swallow.

“So, um, what was the
interview for?”

He rolls his eyes and
smiles. “They’re doing a feature on me in
Hot Press
, though you’d think
it was for a gossip mag by the way that guy was carrying on.”

“Yeah, stupid nosy
bastard,” I reply jokingly. “Asking lots of questions like it’s his job or
something.”

Shane squeezes my
shoulder and narrows his eyes, but he’s still smiling. “Think you’re clever,
huh?”

I raise my chin and
continue to taunt him. “Yes, I think I’m very clever, Shane Arthur.”

He moves an inch
closer. “Oh, really?”

“Mm-hmm.” His chest
rubs off mine, and now I’m pushed up against the wall.

He dips his nose to my
neck and inhales deeply. “You smell good,” he whispers, and I momentarily lose
the ability to speak. The next thing I know his mouth is on my neck, sucking,
and I let out an involuntary moan. Jesus. My willpower is really being tested
as I force myself to pull away from him. His body is hard and strong, so it’s
difficult to pry him off me, especially since he seems so determined to keep
his mouth on my neck. If I don’t stop him soon, he’s going to leave a mark.

Perhaps that’s his
intention.

Finally, I twist my
body, duck, and swing under his arm. My chest is rising and falling quickly,
and his gorgeous brandy-coloured eyes have grown dark with need. I move to the
door, wrapping my fingers around the handle.

“You’re taking
liberties here, Shane. I already told you where we stand.”

His eyes dip at the
ends sadly as he continues to stare at me. “Yeah, that’s right, you did. I’m
sorry, couldn’t help myself.”

“Well, you should’ve
tried harder. I can’t be in a relationship. You know this.” My words come out
sounding weak and desperate. I really need him to stop pushing, because if he
doesn’t, sooner or later I’m going to give in.

He walks to me and
takes my hand into his. “I’m sorry, Bluebird. I promise not to do anything like
that again.”

God
.
How could I ever stay mad at a face as beautiful as his?

I look at him
seriously. “You promise?”

“Cross my heart.”

“Okay, then.”

He smiles big. “So, um,
now that we’re friends again, could I ask a favour?”

“You can ask,” I allow.

“Well, I’ve got to do
this ridiculous photo shoot for the
Hot Press
interview, and I was
wondering if you’d come with me? You know, for moral support. I hate doing
these sorts of things, but it’s good publicity for the orchestra.”

My lips curve in a
grin. “You’re doing a photo shoot! Of course I’ll come. When and where?”

The idea of watching
Shane getting dressed up by some stylist like a living Ken doll is oddly
appealing to me. Perhaps I’ll get to watch him try on outfits, catch glimpses
of his perfect body. You know, like the best and worst kind of torture all
rolled into one.

“Tomorrow at lunchtime
in the Clarendon Hotel. You don’t have a shift then, do you?”

I shake my head. “No,
tomorrow’s my day off. I had planned on doing some busking, but I’ll put it off
to go with you.”

“Great. They’ve booked
a suite. I’m not sure how long it’s going to run, but there’ll be food, so you
won’t get hungry.”

I hold up a hand,
laughing. “Hey, you had me at photo shoot, there’s no need to sweeten the deal
with free food, although it’s always a plus.”

Shane lets out a breath
as though in relief. “Thank you so much, Jade. It would have been torture going
alone.”

When he says this, I
realise that what he’s told me is true; he really doesn’t have any friends. I
feel quite honoured that he’s allowing me into his life, but I also plan on
remedying his friendlessness, so I say, “If I come with you to the photo shoot,
will you come somewhere with me this Sunday?”

“Sure, I’m not working.
Where do you want to go?”

“It’s a surprise, but I
promise you’ll like it.”

“Has it got to do with
you teaching me how to live?” he asks slyly.

Hmm, I’d forgotten
about that one. “Yeah, in a way I guess it does.”

“Then I’m all in.”

 

For the rest of the day
I’m rushed off my feet with work. It’s almost a full house for the afternoon
and evening concerts, so I don’t get the chance to see Shane again. We
exchanged numbers before leaving the storage room, and when I get home I’m
tempted to send him a text. I don’t even have anything important to say, but
for some reason I feel this need to touch base. I hate to admit it, but I love
interacting with him, love talking to him about anything and everything.

I resist the urge and
instead give in to a different temptation, one that I’m sure to regret. I
Google his ex-fiancée, Mona Campbell, and discover that she’s a semi-famous
musician just like Shane, and a concert pianist at that. She even has a Wiki
page. My gut sinks when I see how drop-dead gorgeous she is. The facts I glean
are that she’s twenty-nine years old, the daughter of manager mogul Jack
Campbell, is world-renowned in her field, and has the silkiest chestnut brown
hair I’ve ever seen.

There are one or two
old pictures online of her and Shane when they were together, taken at some
sort of awards ceremony. They look perfect. There are also a couple of newer
ones of her with the cellist, Justin, and I don’t get it, because he’s not half
as good-looking as Shane. Deciding to cut myself off — otherwise, I’ll be
browsing through pictures for the rest of the night — I go and check my emails.

A notification tells me
that Shane Arthur has just added me on Facebook.

Interesting.

I laugh out loud when I
check out his profile and see he’s got a grand total of 1,213 friends. Well,
now, I’m definitely going to have fun with this. Immediately clicking to accept
the friendship, I go straight to the private message function and type:

Jade Lennon, 21.43 p.m.: Only in this day and age can a man
have 1,213 virtual friends while still having no friends at all. Here’s to
number 1,214 being a real one ;-) P.S. How did you find me on this?

At first I put a few
kisses at the end but then decide that might give him the wrong impression, so
I change them to a winky face. Scrolling down his wall, all I see are messages
from women proclaiming their love of his music. One girl called Suzy Carmine
has posted almost every day for the last month. That’s kind of alarming, taking
into account the fact that Shane hasn’t responded, but only “liked” the first
few. A couple of minutes later he writes back:

Shane Arthur, 21.50 p.m.: It’s pathetic, right? They’re all
fans and work contacts. I’m thinking 1,214 is going to be the magic number.
Found you through your phone.

BOOK: Still Life with Strings
11.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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