Always a Rush
Saturday dragged on. Jeremy and the women woke early from restless sleeps and agreed to spend the day at the theater. They watched the latest comedies, an action thriller, and some sci fi movie that Wil dozed through with her hand wrapped tightly after her headset, set to vibrate. Two calls to the police station had proven useless; no word, they said, but they assured Jeremy they would know immediately. Rhonda's parents called to let them know they'd arrived in town and where they were staying, but having never met, no one felt the need to get together.
Jeremy decided to spend that night at home, a gesture that fell on Wil's shoulders like a ton of bricks. He seemed to feel the same way about it, and they hugged before he left, their eyes sharing a silent realization that he had given up on her returning.
Wil lay in bed for a long time that night staring at the ceiling, and the next morning, she printed out a photo of Rhonda from that fall and set it in a frame beside the picture of Andrew in her room.
By noon Sunday, Rhonda had made national news as a missing persons case, and Wil had began to focus on the evening's recital. The third time Wil emerged from her bedroom to pace, Kate had turned off the TV, rose from her spot on the couch, and beckoned Eve over to them. "Time to make you beautiful," she announced solemnly, and Wil cracked a smile.
"That'll take some work," she said. Kate winked at her.
"I've always loved a challenge." She ushered Wil into the bathroom with strict instructions to take a long shower and to "let everything but the recital go down the drain." As she stood with her back to the hot water, letting it beat against the knots in her shoulders and back, she closed her eyes and went through a breathing exercise in an attempt to focus herself. Someone banged on the door around the time the water began to cool, and Wil shut it off, reaching out for a towel and wrapping it around her body.
Kate let herself in, grabbing the hair dryer and a round brush off the counter. "Come on," she said, grasping Wil's arm and pulling her out of the bathroom. The wooden chair that sat at the desk in Kate's room had been placed in the middle of the living room, and Wil was pushed into it. Once she had settled, the other two set to work. Kate brushed her hair out and styled it while Eve did her nails, then started on her make up. Eventually, they let her change out of the towel and into her black evening dress, Kate reserving the right to adjust its strappy back until it was just right. The sleeveless dress fell to her ankles, outlining her curves without clinging too tightly, and had a dipping V-neck that showed off the diamond teardrop pendant Eve was loaning her.
Her hair fell in soft waves, framing her face, and Wil had to admit that the women had done a great job.
"Thank you," she said as she studied her reflection in the mirror, then turned to smile at them. Both grinned back, then froze as a knock came at the door. They stared at each other for a moment, then scrambled for the door. Eve reached it first, pulling the door open.
All three let out their breath when they saw it wasn't the police.
"Willa! You're gorgeous!" Wil's mother pushed past the other women and pulled her into a careful hug, trying not to muss her outfit. Patricia Monroe was a whirlwind of activity, there was no other way to state it. Her short hair was always curled and – this week – was dyed dark brown with a hint of burgundy and cream highlights. She insisted on wearing glasses instead of getting corrective surgery, and tortoise-shell ovals frames her brown eyes as they stared up at Wil. The women stood a full 2 inches shorter than her daughter, but she made up for the height difference with her large presence.
Behind her came Andrew's parents, one of his sisters – Donna – and much to her surprise, Uncle Chuck. "Your father had to work today," Patricia said, "and Diann stayed home with Chad, but the rest of us wanted to be here! My uncle's been spending some time with us now that he's retired, so he decided to come along…"
Wil smiled at the group, nodding a hello. "Thank you; you didn't have to come!"
"And these must be your roommates?" Patricia asked, and Kate offered a hand to shake.
"I'm Kate, and this is Eve," she said. "If you'll excuse us though, we need to get changed." Taking the opportunity to escape, they disappeared into their room, closing the door quietly behind them.
Patricia glanced after them, then poked her head around the corner and looked the apartment over. "This is a great place," she announced, going through to the kitchen. Joan followed behind her.
"Enough room for four easily," Joan commented. "Where was your other roommate, is she going to make it?"
"Oh, um," Wil stuttered. "She can't be there," she finally decided on. She reached for her coat, pulling it on carefully. "I was about to head over, we need to be there ahead of time for rehearsal-"
"You can ride with me then!" Patricia said, sweeping back over to Wil and wrapping an arm around her daughter's. "You can point out the landmarks as we go, how about that?" She started to pull Wil out of the apartment, barely allowing her daughter time to catch her purse on the way by. Casting a look over her shoulder, Wil saw Michael's apologetic smile and he followed behind.
"You don't mind the surprise, do you?" he asked.
"No, of course not!" Wil assured them all. "It's so nice of you to come out here just for me."
As the group swept her along, she decided this was probably the best thing that could have happened for the recital. All thoughts of Rhonda were buried under the attention of two doting mothers and her other family.
When Wil got to the Hop, she had to say goodbye to her mother and Andrew's one time too many as far as her nerves were concerned. Once the concert hall had come into view, her typical performance jitters had set in, and she began to question everything from her outfit to the time she was supposed to arrive. Disengaging from Patricia's last hug, she hurried down the side of the building to the performer's entrance just shy of a jog, holding her dress up with one hand.
"I told you, I don't know!" a voice whispered, and Wil slowed. Edward stood to the side of the entrance with a woman she knew, though it took a moment to place the name. She bit her lip. She'd seen her at karaoke first, then she'd given her a ride that night she'd ditched the girls in town… Anna? Alicia?
"That doesn't help, Alice," Edward sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Just – go find a seat. If you figure it out, let me know." Alice rose onto her toes and kissed Edward on the cheek.
"I can't wait to hear you play again, finally. I'm going to love it!" she said. She spun on heel, giving Wil a small wave as she passed her. "Have fun!"
Wil watched her pass, then pulled open the door and started inside. Edward fell into step behind her, wearing a long charcoal overcoat. "Friend of yours?" she asked.
"Sister," he told her darkly. "Crazy little sister."
With a shake of her head, Wil turned a corner, and they found the rehearsal room with her name on it. "Don't let her shake you, everything's going to be fine tonight." They went inside, taking off their coats and laying them on a pair of chairs. Edward wore a stunning black suit, custom fit it looked like, with a charcoal tie that matched his coat. She realized she was staring about the same time she realized he was staring, and she felt a blush begin in her neck and work its way up into her cheeks. He gave a small, crooked grin and gestured to the door.
They met as instructed in one of the other rehearsal rooms, getting a quick run down of the evening again from Dr. Reinholdt, who informed them that her counterpart was out in the lobby mingling. When they were released to go warm up, Edward and Wil retreated to their room. Without a word, Edward sat on the piano bench, striking a single note. Wil matched it, and they ran a few scales together, falling into an easy unison.
As Wil began to reach the top end of her range, her voice wavering on the highest notes, Edward switched to play the opening to her song. With a nod, she followed his lead, beginning to sing.
I can almost feel you smiling
From beyond those silver skies
Brushing my hair off my…
"Shit." Wil cursed, stopping short, as she realized she'd skipped to the second verse. Edward's playing faltered, and she waved him on, encouraging him to continue while she joined back in.
No one knows but you
How I feel inside
No one knows but…
"Damnit," she growled, spinning on heel and striding to the chairs. She sunk into one, placing her head in her hands carefully so she didn't ruin either her hair or makeup. "This is going to be a disaster."
Edward stopped playing, hesitating for a moment on the piano bench before standing and going to her side. He placed a cool hand on her back, rubbing gentle circles.
"It will only be a disaster if you let it," he told her. "In high school, I was playing for the school production of Sweeney Todd – not exactly my idea, I lost a bet – well, the director thought it would be a great idea to have the pit orchestra dressed and made up to match the production. Something about keeping us focused on the era. I thought it was ridiculous. I was facing the rest of the musicians, and the girl on second violin had decided to wind a plastic cleaver into her hair for 'dramatic effect.'" Edward huffed. "It was dramatic all right. During the first piece, the thing worked its way out and fell onto her instrument, and she dropped both the violin and the cleaver onto the floor behind her."
Wil peeked up at him around her hands, a ghost of a smile on her lips. "Sounds like a mess."
"That was the thing, the audience never knew," he told her. "Half of the pit was laughing, of course, but the timing hit right with a joke in the song, and we had recovered enough by the time the audience calmed that even the director in the house had no idea. To add insult to injury, though, during the next performance my brother slipped my phone into my pocket before I went backstage. It vibrated in my pocket non-stop through the first half, driving me absolutely crazy. Finally, I snuck a look at it during a break, and I had about 30 text messages, each one of them saying, 'Cleave her, Eddy! She's hot!'"
She tried to hold her laughter in, but it was a losing battle. It started with a giggle, then as the stress of the night and the ridiculousness of his story caught her, she doubled over with laughter. Edward watched her, an amused smile on his face and his hand still on her back. "So – was she hot?"
His face contorted. "Have you seen Sweeney Todd? Her hair was a rat's nest, her dress was covered in dirt, and she was trying to show off cleavage despite the fact that she had none. Let's just say she was no Willa Monroe." He winked at her – did she seriously just see that? – and she laughed again, sitting up.
"I am pretty fabulous," she told him, and she shook her head. "High school musicals? You hardly seem the type."
"I assure you, I am not," he said, standing and offering her his hand. She took it, letting him pull her to her feet. "I am more of an Opera aficionado - that and old sitcoms from the turn of the century. Don't tell anyone, but I am a bit of a Friends fan, not that I expect you know it. An old flame got me stuck on it."
Wil quirked an eyebrow at him in utter disbelief. "You're kidding me. I watched that show all the time with my mom growing up." With a sly grin, she began to sing, "Smelly cat, smelly cat, what are they feeding you?"
"Smelly cat, smelly cat, it's not your fault!" Edward joined her, and the two of them laughed together as someone knocked on the door. A stage hand poked her head in the door.
"We're about to start," she informed them in a clipped tone, the odd look on her face telling them both she had heard their impromptu performance. This left Wil laughing even harder as she closed the door, muttering something under her breath. After a moment, she took a deep breath, gathering herself. She withdrew her headset, placing it atop the piano, and starting toward the door. Edward caught her elbow.
"No disasters, right?" he asked, and Wil nodded.
"No disasters. I've got this covered. Thank you."
The composers gathered in the wings, and Drs Jackson and Reinholdt smiled at them as the house lights went down. Dim lighting cast a glow on the stage, and the two professors stepped out into a spotlight, making their way to the podium.
With them on stage, Wil could see clearly past them to the crowd. There was enough light on stage to tell the auditorium was quite nearly packed, and she lost herself in the crowd for a moment. She barely registered the introductions given, following along as they joined the professors on stage, waving when she was announced. A whistle pierced the air for her introduction, and she gave an embarrassed smile, reminding herself to speak with Donna later.
When they were dismissed, Wil slipped offstage and, instead of going to her rehearsal room, lingered in the wings, watching the other performances. They seemed to get increasingly better as the recital went on, and Wil wondered what had possessed the professors to slot her last.
"You know," Edward said with a smirk, "If you keep pacing, you might wear the heels off those shoes."
Wil spun to face him, a shocked look on her face, then gave a weak laugh. "I suppose you're right," she admitted, smoothing her hands down the front of her dress.
Applause rolled into the wings, and Wil turned back to see the others walking off stage. Edward whispered a quick "you'll be great" before walking away; he would need to circle around the stage to enter from the side the piano was on. Wil took a deep breath and listened as Dr. Jackson took the podium again.
"Our final presentation tonight features the work of a junior classman who shows much promise. It is our pleasure to have her in the department, and I'm sure we can expect to see her return to this recital next year as well. Please welcome Willa Monroe."
The audience gave polite applause as Wil stepped out onto the stage, shaking Dr. Jackson's hand before he went down the stairs, taking his seat. She settled herself behind the microphone and smiled out at the crowd.
"Thank you, sir," she began, nodding down toward him. "Music has always been a means of expression and an outlet for things that sometimes can go unsaid. My piece, No One Knows But You, speaks to some of those hidden emotions. In our class, we are challenged to explore many different instruments and styles of music; while it's been an incredible experience and I've found much to love, some things beg for simplicity, and this song was one of them."
Glancing back at Edward, who sat at the piano and stared at the keys with an odd expression on his face. Looking back at the crowd, she said, "This song is for Andrew, and for Bella"
Wil left the podium and went to center stage. The microphone stand was only a few feet from the front end of the piano, and she slid the stool out of the way, preferring to stand. Around them, the lighting remained dim, a single spot highlighting Wil. She looked at Edward, nodding once, and he began to play.
Performing was always a rush. Here on this stage, practically alone, pouring her heart out through her song, Wil felt both overwhelmed and awed. The audience seemed to fade from her awareness until it was just her and the piano. In her mind, she sang for Andrew, and her eyes prickled with tears that threatened to spill. To stave them off, she closed her eyes for a moment as she sang the chorus through.
Cause no one knows but you
How I feel inside
No one knows … but you.
As the last words faded, she opened her eyes, looking out to the audience as Edward brought the song to a close. Silence followed the final chord, and Wil's heart skipped a beat before the applause started. She burst into a smile, blinking back the last of her unshed tears, and waited for a moment for the applause to quiet down. Someone, probably Kate, called out a "yeah, Wil!" that was mostly drowned out by the crowd.
Turning sideways, Wil gestured back toward the piano, and the spotlight followed. "My pianist, Edward Cullen," she said simply, and with a smile he lifted a hand in a wave.
Suddenly, his expression shifted, gaining a stricken look. A moment later, a voice rose above the quieting applause.
"Oh my God! Someone get an ambulance!"
The applause ended abruptly, in its place the rumblings of a crowd all speaking at once. Wil looked down at where the professors were, completely shocked and unsure what to do. Both of them were already on their feet. Dr. Jackson waved her over and met her at the podium, while Dr. Reinholdt hovered uncertainly at the bottom of the stairs up to the stage.
A door opened at the back of the auditorium and someone rushed in, looking around for a moment. Someone must have pointed him in the right direction, because Wil watched him sprint across the back of the house and make his way about halfway down the aisle before disappearing into the crowd. Half of the audience had risen to their feet, seeking out the disruption.
"Wait here with me," Dr. Jackson said quietly, a hand covering the microphone. The other composers and a handful of the musicians had joined them, and they stood in a small cluster. Dr. Reinholdt was nowhere to be seen, probably disappeared to coordinate with the building's security. Taking his hand from the mic, Dr. Jackson cleared his throat.
"If everyone would please remain calm and seated, we will be better able to assess the situation," he told the crowd, his voice echoing over the chaos. "We have-"
"Wil!" Donna shouted, breaking through the crowd in the aisle and rushing to the stage. "It's your uncle, he collapsed!"
Wil whipped around to face her, eyes wide, then glanced at Dr. Jackson. He looked equally shocked. "I – what? What happened?" She stepped around the front of the podium and hurried down the stairs, looking out over the crowd and trying to pinpoint her family.
"I don't know," Donna admitted. She grabbed Wil's hand and pulled her into the crowd. Some people stepped aside when they saw the pair coming, but it was still cramped, and they had to weave their way through slowly. "He stood up to applaud with us, but then he just collapsed."
They broke through the line of the crowd. Joan and Michael hovered in the aisle uncertainly, his arm around her waist, and Wil's mother sat down the row of seats next to a man in a suit speaking quietly. A second man was kneeling on the floor, checking her great-uncle's vitals. Uncle Chuck looked ashen, his features drawn, but as she studied him she could make out a faint shift in his clothes as his chest rose and fell.
No disasters? God, what a disaster this whole week was.
"They say they've called for an ambulance; it should be here shortly to take him to the University hospital," Donna said softly, squeezing Wil's hand. Wil nodded, unable to look away.