Word of the young woman missing from the Dartmouth campus spread quickly. It was Kate that remembered no one had given Rhonda's parents a call, and she insisted on being the one to call despite the police offering to do it. Wil had closed herself in her room for the call, already overwhelmed by the ordeal of filing the report. Visiting the police station had been a necessary hell, drudging up memories better left buried. She lay in her bed awake long into the night, arms wrapped around her framed photo of Andrew as she relived the most difficult days of her life. She tried to steel herself for what was to come, and by the time she drifted off she was almost able to convince herself she was ready to face the coming storm – almost. When she woke the next morning to see cheery reporters with bright smiles telling the area about Rhonda, she realized how wrong she was.
The police had advised them to stay home from classes that Friday, in case they needed to be contacted and, one young man had said, to avoid the rumors and talk that would surround their roommate. Jeremy had offered to join – or form – a search party, but in a rural area the police assured him they were much better off coordinating their own efforts than accepting help from the public. Feeling restless, Jeremy had retrieved Rhonda's car after the police had given him the go ahead and was driving around town, visiting some of Rhonda's favorite places again and making sure they'd seen the news.
Kate and Eve took off for the day, claiming retail therapy was exactly what they needed. Though Wil had been invited, she didn't feel up to going out, though that left her pacing the apartment alone.
"I can't take this anymore," she grumbled, switching the TV off. She reconsidered, then turned it back on, flipping it to audio and pulling up her stored classical music. Mozart filled the room, and she took a deep breath, reaching for her tablet. She wasted the afternoon attempting to write an essay on music theory, cobbling together paragraphs she knew would need massive work later. It passed the time at least.
"Dinner's ready!" Kate called out as she and Eve came through the door carrying a pair of red canvas bags. The smell of Chinese food filled the apartment, and Wil's stomach growled in response as she saved her work and set the tablet down. They placed the bags on the coffee table and went back to take off their coats.
"Anything?" Eve asked, biting her lip. Wil shook her head. "I didn't think so, but I'd hoped maybe with all the attention it's getting, they might have some word."
Wil opened one of the bags, pulling out the little bags of forks and spoons. She tore into one, withdrawing a fork and grabbing a random container. "Thanks for the food," she said, opening the box and finding beef lo mien.
"Should we call?" Kate asked, getting her own food and sitting on the arm of the couch.
"They said they would call if there was any news," Eve told her as she got a can of soda from the fridge.
"I guess." Kate heaved a sigh, and the three of them ate in silence. None of them seemed to get much down before setting the food aside, the second bag completely untouched. "So when are you leaving, Wil?"
Wil frowned, glancing across the couch at her, then cursed. "Damnit, I forgot. I am so not in the mood tonight – I'd better start making some calls to let them know I won't be there." She rose, reaching up for her headset, and Eve caught her arm.
"What do you think you're doing?" she asked, shaking her head. "You've been working non-stop for this recital!"
"Rhonda will ream you out when she finds out you skipped this because of her," Eve interrupted, still not letting go of Wil's wrist. "Don't expect me to stop her, either."
Heaving a sigh, Wil pulled her arm away. She knew Eve was right; where ever Rhonda was, what ever had happened to her, she would want Wil to go ahead with the recital. "Fine," she said after a moment. "Fine, yes, I'll go. I don't want to be on the receiving end of Rhonda's wrath." With a weak chuckle, she glanced at the clock. "I'd better change; even if we don't actually need to dress for it, I can't exactly show up in yoga pants."
It took nearly an hour for Wil to get the motivation to get dressed and ready to leave the apartment. Staring at herself in the bathroom mirror, she touched up her make-up and ran a hand through her hair. She could still see the dark circles under her eyes, and her face looked drawn with worry, but it would have to do for at least an evening. She straightened the collar of the black and white blouse she wore and turned away from her reflection.
"Knock them dead!" Kate said as she stepped into the hall, pulling her into a hug. "If we hear anything – anything! – we'll call and leave a message. Check as often as you can."
Wil returned the hug, and offered one to Eve too. "Call me when Jeremy gets in, all right? Just so I don't worry?" she asked, and Eve nodded, pressing her car's activator into Wil's hand.
"You make sure you bring this back to me," she said, and they both laughed weakly. An awkward silence settled on them, and Wil gave a wave, going down to the parking lot and letting herself into her roommates' car.
The Hop – Dartmouth's Hopkins Center – was fronted by huge windows that looked out onto the evening quietly. It stood off on its own, an odd looking building by any contemporary styles, with tall arches over glass fronts that lit beautifully on concert nights. Wil pulled around to the parking lot and made her way in the performer's entrance, bypassing the vaulted ceilings and pageantry of the foyer for the more familiar hallways and rehearsal rooms backstage. She peered through a small catwalk onto the Spaulding Auditorium stage, its wooden panels standing to either side of the worn red curtain, dim lights shining down. Their instruments and stage was set, the grand piano to one side and the others' instruments placed across the stage. Dead center stood a microphone stand and a tall stool.
"Down here, Ms. Monroe," a voice called, snapping her attention away from the stage. Dr. Reinholdt waved her into one of the rehearsal rooms, and with chagrin she realized she was the last to arrive. She moved over to stand with the group of performers and composers, trying to summon the energy to look properly embarrassed. She was sure she failed.
"Now that we're all here," Dr. Jackson stated, "We'll run through the timing for Sunday. Our recital is at 5pm, and I expect all of you to be here an hour early to warm up and prepare. Come in the way you did today and meet in this room; from there, we will split you among the rooms so you may each warm up as you see fit without interruption. At 5, composers will need to be ready to go on stage; Dr. Reinholdt and I will introduce each of you, at which point you may either take a seat in the audience, or return backstage if you are also performing.
"We will be performing in the same order as our first rehearsal; that order will be posted in each of the rehearsal rooms backstage for your reference. I will introduce the composer of the work, who is invited to come to the podium to introduce their piece. Feel free to speak a little about what inspired the piece and make it personal to the audience. When the composer comes onstage, that will be the performers' cue to enter as well. After the performance, composers, be certain to introduce and thank your musicians.
The group looked around at one another, a few shaking their heads, and Dr. Reinholdt clapped her hands. "Splendid!" she announced. "Take 15 minutes to warm up while we walk the composers through their part."
Dr. Jackson stayed behind while she led them out of the room. Wil filed along after the other composers, and they made their way across the hall and onto the stage. It had been nearly a year since she'd been on stage, and for a moment the magnitude of the auditorium took her breath away. There was a certain electricity of being on stage, even without a crowd, and she fed on it, trying to keep her focus in the moment.
"We have the front row of this section reserved for you," Dr. Reinholdt was saying, gesturing to the house left section that sat beside the stairs onto the stage. A podium sat in an alcove on that side of the stage. "You'll have easy access onto and off of the stage. We ask you remain at the podium; do not venture out onto the stage unless you are performing. Please keep your comments about the piece short and relevant. If you're unsure how to introduce your piece, we are both available to help you after this rehearsal."
She waved a hand, gesturing them to follow, and started to lead them backstage. "You're welcome backstage before the performance if you want, or you can just take your seats in the audience. Please remember, this is a free recital, so invite anyone you wish! We typically have a fairly full house for these recitals, and I expect no less this time." With a smile, she stopped and faced them, Dr. Jackson joining her. "We're very excited to have your works; we're both very impressed. Now, those of you who are performing I'm sure will appreciate time to warm up as well; the rest are welcome to take a seat and enjoy the show!"
There was a moment of chaos while the six composers went their separate directions. Wil paused a moment, glancing at Dr. Jackson, who pointed to the second rehearsal room down. She smiled and nodded her thanks, then joined Edward, who sat casually behind an upright piano. When she entered, he gave a crooked half smile.
"You look tense," he commented, earning a roll of Wil's eyes.
"You ready?" she asked with a hint of challenge. His smiled widened, and he gave a soft chuckle as his only answer. After a moment, Wil shook her head. "Fine. I need to warm up. You do whatever." Turning her back to him, she reached up and touched her headset. "Check messages," she said softly, and a polite voice informed her she had none. Sighing, she took it out of her ear and pocketed it.
"Waiting for a call?" Edward asked behind her. She ignored him, beginning to sing scales. Her hand remained on the headset in her pocket. Why hadn't anyone called? Shouldn't Jeremy be back by now?
He was a grown man, she chastised herself. He was probably out getting a much deserved drink. Wil wasn't much of a drinker, but she wished she was getting one herself.
Shaking her head, she spun back to Edward, who still sat behind the piano. His eyes were trained on her, back to the vibrant amber color they occasionally were. "Let's run through," she told him, and he nodded, beginning the introduction.
I can almost feel you smiling
From beyond those silver – "Oh!"
The headpiece in her pocket was vibrating. She snatched it, tucking it into her ear just as it quieted. She prompted it for messages, and after a moment's delay Kate's voice spoke in her ear.
"Jeremy's back. See you in a while."
Wil took a deep breath, relieved as she put the headpiece back into her pocket. "Sorry," she said quietly. "Let's go again."
Edward began the introduction again, indulging her. Jeremy was back – no word on Rhonda though. That meant she was still missing. How long were people missing before the chance of finding them dropped? Was it already too late? When she was done, she would call the police station herself to get an update.
When Edward cleared his throat, Wil realized he'd stopped playing.
"Were you planning to join me at some point?" he asked, his voice bland. She cursed, running a hand through her hair.
"Yeah, sorry. It's just – bad night," she told him with a shake of her head.
"I've heard that before." Edward nodded toward the door. "We should just do this out there. An audience will focus you."
Wil strode away from him and collapsed into one of the chairs. A bad dress rehearsal made a good performance, she told herself. She could only hope that held true. Wishing her headpiece out of her pocket, she cupped in between her hands and stared at it, willing it to vibrate. After a few minutes of that, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She drew the air in for a slow count of 5, then back out for the same count through parted lips. The breathing exercise was one of the first things she'd learned as a singer, taking the air deep into her diaphragm, and the routine of it centered her.
Or it did until she felt the weight of the headpiece in her hands again. Worry twisted her gut, and she let the air out in a whoosh and leaning back. She let her head fall backward and lean against the wall.
Typically, Edward would have found something to tease her about by this point. Any time she'd taken a break in their rehearsals, he had either mocked her about her lack of attention span or asked her if she wanted him to leave, a barb in his voice almost challenging her to do so. Today, though, he softly began to play on the piano. It took her a moment to recognize Voraldi's work, but it was a rich and subtle piece that she'd listened to many times. She let the music wash over her and tried to lose herself in it while they waited.
Three times, she tucked the headpiece into her ear and checked for messages. Three times, she was disappointed, and after the third she slipped it back into her pocket with a resigned acceptance to the fact there would be no call.
A soft knock sounded at the door, and it opened without waiting. One of the other musicians stuck his head through and cleared his throat.
"You'll be up next," he said in a graveled voice. She glanced between the two of them, Edward at the piano still playing softly, Wil pulling herself from the wall and blinking as she finally opened her eyes. She smiled at him, nodding, and he shut the door behind him.
"Ready?" Edward asked as he stood up, closing the lid over the keys of the piano. Wil considered a moment before giving him an honest answer.
"No, but I suppose I have to be."