The music for this chapter: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6Q5H6qzvVXbQK0GOLQa4jr?si=7313c723a099412e (copy pastable version in the comments)
Since I mentioned them, I also added Popper's etudes. These are mostly used as technical finger studies. I did my best to find a version for you all that wasn't too dry...
The days went by quickly after encountering mom’s ghost. I started practicing again with more vigor than ever. If that event had taught me anything, it was that I was on the right path to being reunited with Lise. But there seemed to be a lot more going on than I understood. I couldn’t wait to tell Aleksei about everything that happened. Somewhere I hoped he would be able to explain to me some of the things that I could not really make sense of.
In the meantime, I had finalized an adaptation of Solveig’s song for the cello. I hoped Aleksei would not be too furious about my second piece for the contest, but I really wanted to play this song for mom. I could imagine him becoming hypercritical of these scores once he found out I did the adaptation myself. At least I did my best to not make it hyper cheesy like those transcripts often are. It was safe to say, that because of all this, I was pretty anxious to face him again this Friday.
In the meanwhile, I also did my best to stay attentive to any sign that Lise could be giving me. Seeing how vague mom’s sign was, it could be anything really, but I was sure she must be trying to give me a sign somehow.
Today, it was Wednesday again, so I had another appointment with Ms. Vanderstuck. I would have to miss out on a lot of practice time for that again. I had been losing a lot of time for practice lately. One of the biggest reasons was that instead of walking directly to school like I used to do, I had started to meet up with Sara at the big square in the city center in the mornings I did not want to scare her, so I had decided to just start wearing the new clothes I got with Aunt Christina on a daily basis. Not because I liked wearing those clothes myself of course. Just so Sara would not have to be ashamed of having a friend like me. I wouldn’t want her to become the target of gossip.
We always met up, right in front of city hall between the pillars at the front of the building. I could hear people call us the girls with the big guitars, but luckily nobody tried to talk to us… I could see it frustrated Sara beyond words that nobody recognized our instruments as cellos. I did not really care, but she seemed to be passionate about educating the world about the existence of the cello. It was really cute and funny to see her pout every time someone called our instrument a big guitar.
Since we went to different schools and were in different grades, that was the only moment we could meet. I know I sacrificed some of my precious practice time, but every time I saw that defenseless smile of hers, it became impossible for me to do anything that could possibly remove it from her face. I imagine having someone like her around is what it would have been like if I had a little sister.
When I told her that I had created my own adaptation for the contest, she looked at me with big eyes and said, “You are either a genius or a fool.” Well, I could get where she was coming from. Being original at a competition wasn’t always the way to go. She then told me that her teacher had picked Popper’s etudes as her second piece. A technical piece made to show off the technical know-how of the musician. I often played those as a warm-up, but they could be taken to the next level if you wanted. We talked some more until we noticed all the other kids started to go to school.
That was our sign to say our goodbyes, of course with a kiss on the cheek. Since it had been a couple of years since I had greeted someone like that, I had been shocked the first time she just reflexively gave me a kiss when we parted ways. It was like a blast from the past that hit me like a cannon. My own reaction made me realize how much estranged I had become from normal daily interactions.
Even though I was only participating in this friendship for Sara’s sake, I had to admit it felt nice to get along with someone in a normal way.
During classes, I started to pay attention to English and French, since I needed those for my new school, but in other classes, I just studied scores and played music in my mind. Today I was reading Schubert’s 8th. The famous unfinished symphony. Reading orchestra scores was something I needed to get used to. Depending on the piece there were up to 16 lines that were played simultaneously. I could see why Aleksei wanted me to do this. Every little note made by any instrument had its importance and place. Every change of character that I made in my mind on one line had immediate implications for all the others. They were all separate but all one at the same time. I started to see the genius of those famous composers. It was hard to believe Mozart composed his first symphony when he was only 5 years old. I could not just read this, I often had to make little notes and replay it again and again in my head, until I could make it sound and feel like I wanted it to.
When school was out, like every Wednesday afternoon, I found myself in that fear-inducing waiting room of my counselor, who was once more “exceptionally” running late. Since I was already used to her running late, I used my time to read some more scores.
When I heard voices approach her door, I put away my book. The voice of the other people sounded familiar, and a second later, when the door opened, my hunch was confirmed when Sara emerged with Ms. Vanderstuck.
The second she saw me, Sara immediately ran to me, gave me a kiss, and said “Have fun, I’ll message you later.” Have fun? Is that something you say before going to a counselor? I was pretty sure I wasn’t about to have fun… I nodded, but I was a bit self-conscious because Ms. Vanderstuck was watching the two of us with a broad smile on her face.
While Sara made her way out, I made my way with Ms. Vanderstuck to her office, and we took a seat in our usual spots. Me on the sofa and her in her armchair.
She started off by saying: “I like to keep everything above board, so I want to tell you that I have spoken to your aunt. She had forgotten to call in that you would be absent last Friday, so I was forced to check in with her. She told me you found a cello teacher. Can you tell me more about him?”
I nodded. “His name is Aleksei. He is a really famous cellist. He promised to help me achieve my goals.”
“What? Is that all you are going to tell me? In that case, tell me more about that goal.”
Luckily, I had the perfect excuse. “To get ready for the exam of course.”
I could see Ms. Vanderstuck did not believe a word of what I had just said. I knew I was a bad liar, but she could not really call me out on it at this point, because I was most certainly preparing for the competition and Aleksei was helping me with that. I could hardly start talking about bringing back the dead with music to a psychologist now, could I?
“I am sorry, but I need to ask a couple more questions to be certain that he isn’t taking advantage of you. Not that I doubt your abilities as a cellist, but it is a bit weird that a virtuoso like him would suddenly take in someone as young as you, so I must ask… Do you know his motivation? What is your deal with him?”
I should avoid problems for Aleksei. Private as he is, I am pretty sure he would not be happy if they suddenly started investigating him. Well… I could just answer in vague terms with what I knew…
“He told me my playing reminded me of his late son. As for our deal, so far, he only made me make one promise.”
“I had to promise not to hurt myself. He would only help me if I promised that.”
Ms. Vanderstuck looked surprised. “That’s all?”
I nodded. She seemed a bit troubled by my answer. But at the same time, it seemed enough for the time being since she changed the subject.
“I just witnessed you made a friend.” She said with a smirk on her face. After all my tirades about not needing other people and that they would only hold me back, I could see she was having an inner field day. Having difficulty facing her directness, I turned my gaze to the ground and said “It was too hard to send her away. It seemed like she needed it.” That’s it, I was only being friends with Sara for her sake after all.
“So, you are friends with her out of pity? That is not very nice… I bet she would be really hurt if she would hear that.”
Why did she always need to twist my words? “It’s not like that!” I shouted a panicky with a little anger in my voice. What if she told Sara and she would not talk to me anymore? “It’s not like I don’t like having her around. It’s just…” I quickly stopped my sentence. I really should not say more than truly necessary.
“Just what?” I could see on Ms. Vanderstuck’s face that she was placing great importance on the answer to that question.
“N-nothing.” I really did not want to answer her. I had taken my knees to my chest and held them with my hands. “It’s not important.” I tried to play it off, but I should have known better.
“Then why are you fighting answering so hard. If it isn’t important? Just look at the posture you have taken in the meantime… You are subconsciously fighting to have to tell me something simple with your entire might.”
I looked at my posture. When did I do that? “Remember the techniques I taught you to calm down. Now take a deep breath and release all the tension in your muscles.” While using those breath techniques, little by little I noticed how tense I had gotten and managed to let it all leave me again.
“Better?” I nodded. I felt a lot more relaxed again.
“Then try to tell me why you can’t admit that you want to have a friend around.”
I felt myself grow furious in 2 seconds and shouted “I can’t do stuff for myself! Not when it is all because of me that Lise…” I realized I had been tricked and was talking about things I knew I should not talk about. I focused back on my breathing and started to calm down again. Ms. Vanderstuck looked a little worried at me but seemed to be glad I was calming down by myself.
“Isn’t it about time that you finally told me that story? The story of why you need to punish yourself. I think I might be able to help you better if you told me what happened through your eyes.”
I realized it was the first time that question did not send me into a complete state of panic. I took another deep breath to make sure I was calm. Maybe it was indeed the time to tell someone what happened that night.
“What I tell you won’t leave this room?”
“I am bound by doctor-patient confidentiality. If that is what you are asking.”
“So, you won’t tell my aunt? I don’t want her to hate me.”
I noticed a reaction on Ms. Vanderstuck’s face that I could not entirely place the second I mentioned my aunt. But she quickly recovered.
“If you don’t want me to, I won’t.”
I nodded. I took another deep breath and started telling the story that I had never told out loud. The story of the last time I saw Lise and my parents.