After dropping off Fleure at the station, I started to realize what I had just done and how it must have come over to a teenager. Had I become one of those overprotective parents? I hope she would not hate me too much for it. But it was the first time Fleure went outside of the city on her own since she came to live with me, and considering everything, it was only normal that I was worried, wasn’t it?
I walked back to my car and got behind the wheel. Now I had to make my way to Frank’s. Which was pretty close, but due to the horrifying implementation of one-way streets, I would have to drive all across to town just to arrive 2 blocks further.
Now that I was back by myself, I decided to bite through the sour apple and go visit Frank to hear him out about this Aleksei and why he had taken an interest in Fleure. I had of course researched Aleksei a bit online, and it all sounded a bit too good to be true.
I mean, why would a retired world-class virtuoso be interested in teaching a high school girl, unless he had ulterior motives. This was all very suspicious. Somewhere I had hoped Fleure would just not have gone to him. She says so often that she will do something and then never does it. When I saw she wasn’t making any effort to visit him for weeks in a row, the whole ordeal of visiting Frank had moved to the back of my head. So, yesterday evening, when she suddenly declared, “I am going tomorrow,” at the dinner table, I realized I had failed in my role as a parent by not having done a decent background check in all those weeks before she went.
But it was time to make up for that now. I had procrastinated. Who wouldn’t? I really did not want to see Frank again. I couldn’t believe I ever let myself get convinced by my friends to date him back in high school. What a girl does not do to fit in at that age... At least that short episode was the final step into knowing what I had known deep down all along. That I preferred to be with women. Not that my relationships with women had ended a lot better, but at least they had not come with the same kind of resentment.
My relationships had all been such a disaster that at one point I decided that being alone was better for me, and I just focused on my career. Well, until I adopted Fleure that is. That changed my priorities around again. She became my number one priority from then on. I had always loved my godchild. When I realized I would never have children, I had seen her as some kind of replacement for the child I would never have. Even before the accident, I always did my best to pamper her as much as I could, and to be as much of a part of her life as I possibly could be.
I remember the moment I heard that Fleure survived the crash, devastated as I was by the death of my sister and brother-in-law, I had felt relief, that at least she was still with us. But I had not been prepared for what was to come. Fleure had lost that bright spark she always had and had been emotionally destroyed. She did not even talk to me anymore except for a nod and a shake of her head. It was like that connection I felt we shared had always been a one-way street.
But I decided not to let that get to me. I would be there for her, and I would get her back from the dark place where she was dwelling. She was a young teenager. She should be having the brightest time of her life.
She even refused to wear her old clothes. All she wore was a black pair of jeans and a black t-shirt, not to speak of that dreadful white makeup and her clipping her own hair short. So, yesterday’s shopping trip really felt like a victory, even if it was not my own, I made sure to capitalize on it.
But when I heard her ask this morning if it really was alright for her to look pretty, I realized she had not just been wallowing in her depression caused by grief. She was actively punishing herself. I felt completely powerless at that moment. 2 years. She has been punishing herself like that for 2 years, and I had failed to grasp her emotions. Feeling guilty for surviving that terrible car crash for 2 years. I really was a bad parent for not catching up on that sooner. Maybe I could have done something earlier in that case. “Oh, Hilde, I am doing my best for your little girl, but I sometimes get things terribly so wrong,” I said to my sister in my mind. Not that I expected an answer. I still missed her and often talked to her in my mind like that. Hilde was always so down to earth and always knew what to do. Unlike me. By losing my older sister in a stupid accident I had lost one of the pillars in my life of which I thought it would always be there. But I had kept strong for Fleure. From now on, I would have to be the pillar she could support on after all.
In the meantime, I had arrived in front of Frank’s store. I took a deep breath and entered the music store.
With a bright smile I saw Frank enter the store from the back of the corridor, but the second he noticed it was me, his smile retracted. “W-What are you doing here?”
“Well, this is entirely on you. Since you have been giving advice to my niece, Fleure. I came to ask you a few questions about that.”
“Sure. Anything. But I have no idea who this Fleure is.”
I gave Frank a look to show him, that I wasn’t kidding. He quickly moved behind his counter to put some distance between the two of us and said “N-no violence, please. Not again! Just tell me a little more I am sure I will remember!” He was of course overreacting. I kicked him one time five or six years ago when I came in to buy a present for Fleure’s birthday. He had kept ogling down my chest with a stupid grin on his face and after several warnings, he even tried to make a move on me, so my knee had met his groin.
I mean, it was clear that this and that situation were completely different, wasn’t it? Well, at least it seemed that it would help me get some answers out of him.
“Just tell me a little more about Aleksei. What kind of man is he? Is he trustworthy? Should I be worried?”
“T-that was your niece?”
“I see you are starting to remember. Tell me more about Aleksei.”
“He was visiting me. We played together when I still played in orchestras almost 20 years ago. We became friends in Paris and often met up. After he lost his son, he retired to take care of his granddaughter. I was quite surprised to see him enter my door that day.”
I figured as much as that. But it wasn’t really giving me more information than what I read online…
“Anything more you can tell me? What is he doing in Belgium of all places?”
“His granddaughter is going to take the entrance exam to that school too. He moved here, so he could remain close to her.”
So, he was in a really similar situation to mine…
“Why would he take an interest in Fleure?”
Frank lowered his eyes and said, “I do not know.” Seeing my face distort Frank quickly added “He never took any students. He is notorious for that.”
I looked at Frank with doubt in my eyes.
“I witnessed them making a connection. They talked about something they were trying to do with their music, but I have no idea what it is, and Aleksei just said, “Hope you never have to find out,” when I asked him about that later.
That gave me some relief. At least the interest was musical and not some old man looking for a young bird to fly around him.
I thanked Frank, who looked a bit perplexed that I was suddenly acting relieved and civil toward him and left the store.
Once outside, I noticed Fleure had not yet messaged me, so I sent her a message to check everything was fine. I am sure she just forgot. I saw that I had also missed a call from the school. “Oh no…” That’s right, I had forgotten to call in Fleure’s absence today. Another batch of bad points for my parenting skills. When I called back, I got connected almost immediately and the phone was answered with the words “This is Inge Vanderstuck.”
It was Inge, Fleure’s counselor. We had often talked over the last two years.
“This is Christina, you tried to call me.”
“I wanted to let you know that Fleure is absent, and I wanted to check up with you on that.”
I explained to her the whole situation with Aleksei and that Fleure had gone to visit him today since he was only available on Fridays during the day. I mean, they told me her grades did not matter if she cleared the entrance exam so cello lessons seemed more important to me than school. After explaining everything that had happened with Aleksei, Inge said:
“How unexpected. And she even changed her appearance for him? Can we talk some more about this? This might be the breakthrough we needed. I could use some more background on this. Let’s say we talk over dinner?” Inge proposed.
Was she hitting on me? No, clear your head. This was a professional talk. It was about Fleure. “Why don’t we just talk in your office as usual?” I decided to ask.
“Oh, it seemed to me that a change of atmosphere would be good for you too.”
That touched me. It had been a long time since anyone had been considerate toward me, so I agreed to meet up with her.
“I’ll pick you up around 8 pm. Sorry, but I always work late.”
“Sure, that’s fine.”
After we finished our call, I checked my phone again for messages. No reply from Fleure. I decided to try and call. No reply either.
“That’s it. I’m driving to Brussels.”