I quite enjoyed being a musician, but I didn’t enjoy playing for large crowds. It always gave me a crippling fear of messing up and ruining the show...and my name.
Which, in a way, was pretty contradictory in itself. In order to be a musician, you had to play for a crowd at some point. You had hours upon hours of rehearsals, then a dress rehearsal, just to make sure you were one-hundred percent ready to play for a crowd. I wish there was such thing as being a poorly closeted musician—and by that I mean people knew you were good without having to hear you play.
But I wasn’t a solo musician, so I supposed I got off the hook a little easier than I made it out to seem. I did play in my towns orchestra, full of many talented musicians. But even when I was amongst them, whenever I played for a large crowd I felt as though I was the only one playing notes; and I played a flute, so in order to be solo for a raging crowd, I’d need a great sound system and a stellar set of lungs.
Today was Remembrance Day, so my orchestra group had big shoes to fill. We had been practicing O’Canada and A Pittance of Time by Terry Kelly for months just for this very day. We all arrived dressed fancily with a poppy pinned over our hearts, butterflies filling our stomachs, and excitement just to get the show over and done with so we could extensively rehearse for our Christmas concert for mid-December.
I had met up with my two closest friends, Yvette and Geraldine, and we all secretly shared the same anxiety of messing up our parts. Yvette and I both played the flute, while Geraldine played the trumpet. Redheaded and overly confident, Geraldine had a trumpet solo. She claimed she was ready, but by the way she chewed her glossed lips I had trouble believing her.
All the ladies wore long black dresses or gowns, and the men wore white dress shirts with black dress pants and shoes. Everyone who looked plain and ordinary during the daytime hours looked sophisticated and suave as evening blended in to night. I was one of the ladies who wore a gown—a black Nina A-line Tulle formal prom gown from my graduation to be exact. I even wore mascara to make my blue eyes seem wider, and I curled the ends of my mousy brown hair.
“You look stunning.” Yvette told me as we walked into the City Hall, arm in arm. Geraldine walked slightly in front of us, a strut in her step. She had given Yvette a ride and offered me one, but I declined and insisted on walking and meeting them there. Low and behold, we showed up at the same time. It was a perk of living in the heart of town, everything was within walking distance.
The lobby walls were strewn with crafts and letters done by kids at the local schools. Some included 3-D paper poppies, letters to fallen soldiers, and DIY medals. I thought it was heartwarming how the entire town came together to honour those who fought in our country, even though it was a sad day to reflect on. I always thought Remembrance Day was the saddest day of the year.
Our orchestra was the opening act to the Remembrance Day event, which followed with a long speech from the mayor, a long mass, dinner and desert, and afterwards activities for friends and families with or without children. Our orchestra group was required to stay for all of it. We had reserved seats in the back.
“So do you.” I said back to Yvette, and she did. Her dark skin glowed beneath the golden lights, her natural hair was sleeked back in a bun, and her lips were painted plum. She wore a tight fitting gown to display all of her curves, and it had a slit from the thigh down on the left side to show off her muscular leg. There was no doubt that Yvette was as tall as she was beautiful.
“I’m really digging the dress,” she added as we pushed through the crowd of townspeople in the lobby who were here dedicatedly early. We had permission to get into the auditorium and sneak into the back room so we could get ready and put our instruments together. It was a bit of a stress, however. “But you’re not wearing heels.”
I looked up at her, eyes wide. Guilty as charged. “What makes you say that?” I squeaked.
She rolled her coal-black eyes at me. “Because you haven’t gained any height. If I wanted to hit you like a mole in whack-a-mole, I still could.”
“But you don’t even need heels and you’re wearing them. Maybe we should switch shoes,” I looked up at her and gave her a cheeky smile. “Call it even, you know?”
“Ahh I think your shoes are too small for my feet, Simone. You should’ve thought of this sooner so I could’ve taken a couple days to break them in. Instead you spring this upon me and make me self-conscious of my big feet, you little devil you.”
I laughed at her as Geraldine talked to the security guard in front of the auditorium doors. She was telling him our names, so once he found them on the list he could let us in. It took him a while to find all of our names, but once he did he opened the door and we waltzed on in. There were already a few band people in their reserved seats, but not too many to lead us to believe we hadn’t showed up early enough.
We weaved our ways through the tables and onto the stage before sneaking behind and finding the back room. There were quite a few people, all of whom were either gossiping or warming up. Our instruments had been brought and left here for the dress rehearsal, with our names taped to our cases.
Yvette, Geraldine and I all found our cases and nestled ourselves in an unoccupied corner of the room. We took off our jackets and laid them in a pile before putting our instruments together and warming up. Geraldine had a moment of panic as her trumpet seemed to be off-tune, but after oiling one of the keys she was okay.
“I’m not even all that nervous.” Geraldine commented as she closed her trumpet case. By the way her cheeks flushed red even though her pale foundation, and by the way her nerves brought out her thick Irish accent, I was able to gather that she was all that nervous.
“Really?” Yvette inquired, and I caught her quirking up her brow as I looked back and forth between the two of them. “You’re not nervous at all?”
Geraldine gave a thoughtful frown and shook her head slowly. “Nah. I’m pretty sure I got this in the bag.”
“Is this your first solo?” I had only been apart of this orchestra group for eight months, and in those eight months we had a Spring Festival and a Summer concert, both of which required no solos from Geraldine.
One of the flutes had dropped out and auditions were open, so I was quick to get my foot in the door...actually, I was the only one to get my foot in the door. By default, I won their spot. Yvette told me she liked me better than the previous flutist.
She nodded. “Yes, but I feel like I was born ready to do this. I feel pretty good about it.”
“You know all the notes?” Yvette asked.
She nodded again. “Last night in bed I practiced on my air trumpet with my eyes closed, and I got every note right. I’m prepared for a perfect performance. Oh, from you guys as well.” She added the last sentence as an afterthought.
I smiled and Yvette, again, rolled her eyes. “Glad to know you have as much faith in us as we do in you.” She said.
Geraldine gave us a wide shit-eating grin. “You know I tease, my little flutists.”
Everyone was starting to file out of the room onto the stage, so our trio followed suit. Once we were on stage we took our reserved seats. We were allowed to warm up until the curtain closed, and so far it hadn’t closed yet. We still had a little bit of time, and our music was already on the stands. Yvette and I shared a stand because we played the same scale.
I read once that practicing too much before a concert was bad luck, so I merely played the parts in the two songs I struggled most with once or twice until I was content. Yvette did the same, and once we had our flutes laid diagonally on our laps we overheard Geraldine playing her solo. She played somewhat hushed, but it still reverberated like a yell. She was spot on every note. Tonight was going to go well.
After a few minutes, the curtains closed and that was our cue to stop playing. Instantly, the sound of chatter and noise filled the room and I felt my anxiety levels spike. Like I said, I enjoyed being a musician, but I did not enjoy playing for a crowd. It brought on pressure, and I did not do the greatest under pressure. So far, however, I had yet to mess up during a show. Knock on wood it would stay that way.
All of us had our instruments and mallets in resting position, and Yvette gave my hand a light squeeze before pulling back hurriedly. I smiled to myself but was too afraid to look at her in case the curtains spontaneously opened. If I wasn’t looking forward, I would look tardy. I didn’t want to make the orchestra look bad—me, alone. I would die of embarrassment if I did.
It felt like eternity until everyone was seated. Once everyone was, the mayor spoke into the microphone and everyone quieted down. I felt sweat bead on the nape of my neck, both from the warm overhead lights and my churning stress. I barely heard what the retreating mayor had to say before the curtains were opened and the auditorium lights dimmed. The stage lights brightened, and the heat became greater.
Our composer brought his own stand onto the stage, bowed and introduced himself to the crowd, before facing us. He told us all to play a note to make sure we were tuned, and after we did and he was satisfied, we took a breath, he mouthed good luck, waved his baton, and at once we all started playing.
And as I started playing the first few notes, I felt a prickle on the left side of my cheek; something that nearly made me want to break playing and slap myself. It didn’t feel like an insect crawling across my skin, and it wasn’t induced by stress—it was a feeling I had never experienced before.
It irritated me the whole time I was on stage, like a tickle I couldn’t will away.
We played without any blemishes or faults, and we never broke composure as we sat on the stage through the speech and the mass. We weren’t allowed to slack in our seats, so by the time we were allowed to uproot to put our instruments away and seat for dinner, our backs were stiff and sore. There was a lot of griping and groaning as we stretched to the back room.
Geraldine was unusually subdued and silent as she dismembered her trumpet. “You played wonderfully.” I told her, genuinely proud of my friend. She played so strongly that I would’ve guessed she played a solo successfully about a dozen times before. Usually a soloist sounds uncertain and shaky for their first performance, but not Geraldine. She was a natural.
“Thanks, Simone,” she said, her voice chipper. “See, told you guys I had it in the bag. I saw your faces. You both thought I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
“Oh, don’t blow so much smoke up your ass. You never defeated any odds,” Yvette retorted. “I can tell you that Simone here gave you that look because she thought you were brave, isn’t that right?” She asked me.
I snapped my case shut, thankful I wouldn’t be having to play my flute again for the night. “Yes. I don’t think I could ever do a solo.” I told both of them honestly.
Geraldine gave me a small, cheeky smile. “And what’s your reason, Yvette?”
“I gave you that look because I thought you were blowing too much smoke up your ass.” Yvette said, then burst into laughter. Geraldine gave her a flat look, her hazel-green eyes narrowed. They had a sibling-like relationship, where both of them bickered back and forth with one another constantly. When there was little to no bickering, then something was wrong.
“My ass is smoking enough already, Yvette. Don’t be such a smart ass.” Geraldine teased back, the same smile returning to her face. She never joined in laughter, but by the way her dimples imprinted her cheeks, she had to resist the urge.
“K, well you know what? My ass had a choice between brain or brawn, and mine chose brain. Yours chose brawn. So your ass is big and stupid, my ass is big and smart.”
And I couldn’t stop myself from breaking silence and laughing. It came out fast, and I had to suppress the rest by covering my mouth with the back of my hand. Geraldine looked at me next. “Okay, head-ass. You think that’s funny?”
The back of my hand was no longer enough and I burst out into a fit of child-like giggles. Yvette picked up on my laughter and started to laugh, too. It was all fun and games between the three of us, and even Geraldine joined in. All three of us couldn’t have differed more from one another.
“My facial cheeks are warm,” I teased. “I think I’ll take a breath of fresh air. Am I allowed?”
“Yeah, I’m sure you are. As long as you come back,” Yvette answered as I put on my autumn jacket, zipping it up. She handed me her car keys. “Would you mind sticking my flute in the back seat? You could put yours in there with mine.”
“But isn’t that not good for the instruments?” Geraldine asked, even as she already started to slide her trumpet case towards me.
“I’ve got an automatic start. Simone will turn the heat on.”
“Oh, and my trumpet too please.” Geraldine unambiguously requested. I gathered my flute case and Yvette’s flute case under one arm and picked up the trumpet case by the handle, the keys in my other hand.
“Save me a spot at the table.” I said as I stood up and took off. I slipped as unnoticeably as I could from the corner of the stage and weaved my way through the tables. A few people grabbed my arm and told me that the orchestra played beautifully, and as a representative I thanked them and told them I was grateful for their kind words. An elderly lady told me we played the best music her ears ever heard, and her husband would’ve been proud to hear it. He was a late veteran.
It was a relief to be in the lobby but a blessing to be outside. I often felt claustrophobic in crowded areas and I was a shy person. I considered myself introverted with extroverted tendencies, because as much as I didn’t like being the centre of attention, I didn’t mind receiving attention given the right moments.
The air was frigid and dry, and I was anticipating the first snowfall. Weather stations said it would happen sometime in the next week or so, and I couldn’t wait. One of my favourite feelings was snow crunching beneath my winter boots. One of my favourite hobbies was gathering snow in my hands and watching it melt.
November was that kind of in-between month that got both rain from October, and snow for December. November was my favourite month, although I couldn’t explain why. It was just a colder version of the beginning of spring, mucky and awkward. I didn’t mind, however. Maybe I liked November because both Halloween and Christmas movies aired on television.
I turned on Yvette’s car using the automatic start, and sure enough I heard it rev way from the back of the parking lot. I didn’t mind the walk, but I didn’t like the idea of venturing too far in an unaccompanied, poorly illuminated parking lot while it was pitch black outside. I should’ve forced the security guard to stand by the door and watch me.
Once I found Yvette’s car I placed the instruments in the back seat, turned up the heat, and locked the car while still making sure it was running. An automatic start was a lot more useful then I pegged it for—you could leave your vehicle running without having to worry about it getting stolen. Win-win, right?
When I turned around, however, I quickly discovered that I was not alone. I couldn’t stop myself from gasping violently as I dropped the keys onto the ground. I didn’t bend down for them right away, clutching a hand to my chest as I looked up at the new company I had. “Sorry,” he said with a gruff voice that matched his face. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
“A-all good,” I responded, heart racing like a hummingbirds as I finally managed to bend down and pick up the keys, sticking them in my jacket pocket. “What brings you here?”
I didn’t wait for an answer, however, walking past him as I eyed the main entrance of the City Hall. This man had followed me out here. I needed to get away from him, and it wasn’t as if I could scream for help because no one was outside. Were smoke breaks no longer a thing?
His long legs didn’t prevent him from keeping up to me. He caught up to me even as I walked hurriedly, exerting no effort. “My grandfather fought in the Second World War. My family is here to honour him.”
“Oh, I see. I’m glad you could honour him tonight,” I wanted to slap myself for being so jittery and nervous. If he had something bad planned, he knew that I was able to feel it. I was a dead giveaway. “But what brings you outside?”
There was a long pause, and I could only hear our shoes smacking against the pavement. I looked down at his feet for a moment, nearly blinded by the shiny black dress shoes. I couldn’t even see my flats, my gown making my shoes disappear. I didn’t like holding my dress back if there were no stairs. I liked the feeling of kicking the fabric.
"You.” He said instantly without any hesitations. The door seemed to get farther instead of nearer the closer we got to it. I realized that I was terrified. I was going to get myself killed. I should’ve told Geraldine or Yvette to get some air with me.
I panicked on my response. “Oh, well that’s nice.”
He emitted a deep, powerful chuckle that caused my insides to stir. I was tempted to take off in a run, but I’d probably just trip over my dress since I didn’t like to hold it. Or the man would grab me because I was within arms reach. If I managed to slip past his fingertips, however, his long legs and long arms wouldn’t stop him from catching me quickly.
“I make you nervous. Do you think I’ve come out here to harm you?”
I sucked in air through my teeth. I was also, above all else, a dreadful liar. “No! Of course not!”
His hand slipped around my bicep and I instantly let out a little scream. He didn’t grab ahold of me in a threatening way, admittedly—his grip was gentle but firm, and instead of trying to shut me up he chuckled lightly to himself. “You do think I’ve come out here to harm you.” He said knowingly.
Once I managed to calm down I took a deep breath and ran a hand through my loose hair, flipping some over to one side. It was the benefit of having long hair and no specific part. I could flip my hair around as I pleased. “You did catch me a bit off guard...” I confessed, peeking at him through my lashes.
The moment our eyes met I felt that prickly feeling return to my cheek, before spreading over to the other side. In the dimness of the parking lot, his eyes seemed as dark as Yvette’s. “I didn’t mean to frighten you. I saw you leaving and I followed you.”
I was assuming that was supposed to frighten me a little less, but it didn’t. Especially by the fact this man seemed a good couple of years older than me. His ebony hair was absent of grey, but the lines by his eyes exposed age. His skin seemed weathered. Again, my response was one of panic. “Oh, I see.”
And I tried to pull my arm free so I could continue walking, but his grip on me was like iron. I started to freak out. I was almost halfway to the doors. So close, but so far.
The man gave me a puzzled look. “Wouldn’t you like to know why?”
“Oh,” I shook my head like a ditz. Hopefully my cooperation would keep me alive. “Oh, yes. Sure.”
“Because as you all performed tonight, I noticed no one except for you. I think you are beautiful,” he shifted so he was a little closer to me. He was so tall I had to crane my head up to look at him. “I couldn’t wait a moment longer to meet you.”
“Oh,” I didn’t know what else to say. I hoped my cheeks wouldn’t bloom pink. The pink was noticeable against by barely tanned skin. “Well, thank you. I should be heading back inside now.”
I went to pull myself from him again, but he didn’t let me go. I had to suppress a cry as I allowed my body to face his again. “I’ll escort you. But please, tell me your name first.”
I looked up at him. I debated on giving him a false name, but nothing was coming to me—even with the millions of names circulating the earth. My mind drew a blank, and the only name I could think of was Bertha and I was not saying that. Plus, it was only my first name.
“A French name, isn’t it?” He asked, rather than comment.
“Yes. I come from a French family.” I couldn’t help but regard them with pride, my family from the maritimes.
“I can hear the accent now that you mention it,” he sounded almost bitter that he hadn’t noticed it without my mentioning. “Nathaniel.”
I just nodded, because I didn’t know the origin. I started worrying my lip as the man—Nathaniel—allowed me to take my arm back. Instantly I placed my hands on my cheeks, trying to feel for the static because it was so predominant. It felt like fireworks were exploding on my skin.
“N-nice to meet you.” I said to him as I started to walk away from him. He stood tall and menacing in the near-blackness, like a fearless phantom. I couldn’t look away as I took my first few steps, my head glued over my shoulder. He held up his hand in a still-wave gesture, not bothering to follow me.
With my cheeks full of static, I grabbed two fistfuls of my dress and started to jog to the front doors to get away from the handsome stranger as fast as I could.
I supposed he wasn’t going to escort me after all.