Autumn Chen dodged the light traffic as she crossed the street, her violin case in hand. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons she spent with the Lamberts who lived just across the way in a stately, red-brick townhouse. In fact, the Lamberts owned the whole three-story house while Autumn and her family occupied half the second-floor of a townhouse divided into condominiums.
Ellen Lambert had been helping fourteen-year-old Autumn with her music, serving as the accompanying pianist to the budding violinist. But their session seemed more of a pleasant way to spend the afternoon in the company of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart, a labor of love rather than a labor of arduous practice. At least that was how Ellen approached it. She encouraged but never lectured or corrected, and Autumn felt she had improved greatly under Ellen’s tutelage, certainly not from those boring lessons inflicted upon her by old Mr. Stanislaw, her former violin teacher.
Her parents wanted her to become a concert violinist, her mother a definite Tiger Lady when it came to prodding her prodigy to greatness. Expectations ran high. Autumn was slated to become a phenomenal violinist and attend the Julliard School of Performing Arts. Her eleven-year-old brother, Quentin, a gifted and expert math whiz, was destined for MIT. Their parents expected nothing less. After all, their father, Lee Chen, served as a senior attorney with the Justice Department, while their mother, Carrie Wu-Chen—a tenured professor at George Washington University—taught international relations and economics.
Now Autumn skipped up the three steps and stood on the front stoop of the Lambert house. She pressed the buzzer and waited to hear the click of the front door, indicating that Ellen or Charles had pressed the button on their end to allow their visitor entrance. But when no click seemed forthcoming, Autumn pressed the buzzer again. Now the intercom came to life.
Ellen Lambert answered the summons, her voice a bit tinny and fuzzy through the small speaker. “Yes? May I help you?”
“It’s me, Ellen, Autumn.”
“Oh, Autumn!” Ellen pronounced as she acknowledged her pupil. “I didn’t know we had a session today. Is it Tuesday already?”
“Yep, it is. Where have you been, in outer space all weekend?”
Ellen tried a light laugh. “Something like that. But you’ll have to excuse me, Autumn. I’m not feeling very well, a bad headache. May we skip today and take an extra hour on Thursday?”
“Yeah, sure. It’s okay with me. I hope you’ll feel better soon.” Autumn couldn’t imagine that Ellen suffered from mere aches and pains. To the teen, her teacher always looked beautiful and played the piano like an angel.
“Thank you, darling. In the meantime, why don’t you practice the Veracini concerto in our music book? We’ll try it this week.”
Autumn sighed. She had hoped to get out of practicing all together. It was too nice of a day to be stuck inside. She’d rather go to the park and look at the hot boys on skateboards rather than tackle the music of an ancient dead composer. “Okay, I suppose. Say why don’t you text me?”
“I don’t text, dear, I use the phone to call people and I write letters.”
“I bet you don’t have a Facebook page either, or even do Twitter or Instagram.”
“No, I’m a very private person, Autumn, and I don’t care to put my personal life on exhibit so everyone in the world can see what I’m doing.”
“I get your point. Some of my friends go overboard with pictures and stuff. I did do a video recital for YouTube because my mom wanted to record me for posterity. But I’m not sure I did so well.”
“Let me be the judge of that,” Ellen tempered. “I’ll go to YouTube and find your video. Now then, try to have fun with the Veracini piece, and I’ll see you on Thursday.”
“Okay, maestro, I’ll try.”
“And have a good day.” With that, Ellen ended the transmission.
“Bye,” Autumn said to the metal speaker. With another sigh, she slowly descended the steps and then stood by the cherry tree that grew in the square planter between the cement slabs of the sidewalk. The buds on the cherry’s branches, ready to burst into white leaves and then succulent fruit, heralded the fact that spring had arrived.
Autumn had been weighing her options. As Ellen suggested, she could go home and practice the new piece, or do her math and history homework. This way she would have it done before dinner rather than wait until later. Her parents expected her to practice her violin every day and then put in two solid hours of study time. Autumn lived and breathed the same old routine—three hours of practice, dinner at seven, two hours of homework, and then ready for bedtime at ten. On weekdays, the television remained off, although both she and her brother secretly streamed their favorite shows on their smart phones and tablets.
Now if she wanted to shake things up a bit she could scuttle practice and homework and go shopping. Ballard’s Department Store had a colossal sale going on and she wanted to find the perfect outfit for Jenna Brillstein’s birthday party. Autumn had been invited to the party—held on Friday night for both guys and girls—because her best friend Gracie Willard had been invited, and as everyone knew friends stuck together. Plus, the most attractive guy in school, Taylor Holloway, would be there, and Autumn wanted to make a great impression...or at least try to catch Taylor’s attention.
He took piano lessons from Ellen Lambert on Thursdays. And so on Thursdays, Autumn arrived a little early in order to see Taylor before he left his lesson before she began hers. She had yet to speak to him; the dozens of “hi, Taylor” speeches she rehearsed in her bedroom simply vanished from her mind when she saw his handsome face and his rad bod. Unfortunately, Taylor probably didn’t even know she existed. He never acknowledged her in school or when he passed her by in the Lambert house. But Autumn planned to remedy that at the party, finally working up her courage to talk to him. Of course, she would need the right tools for the occasion, a slinky dress and high heels to definitely catch and keep his attention.
With that in mind, she ran back home to exchange her violin for her denim shoulder bag with the fringe along the bottom and the peace sign stitched in front. The new leather wallet inside held a crisp hundred dollar bill, the money and the wallet birthday gifts from her grandmother. Spend it wisely, Grandma Mae Wu had advised. Well, what better investment could she make than a new outfit and maybe some makeup to help snag a date with Taylor Holloway?