Another romance reject. I’m thinking about self-publishing a book of my short romance stories and I think I’ll call it Romance Rejects.
A Little Night Music
Jen took a deep breath. Her fingers fluttered over the flute keys as she began warming-up. Others doing the same surrounded her.
This community band hadn’t worked out like she thought it would. Though she’d transferred to town a couple of months ago, she still spent most evenings alone. Everyone seemed to know each other already, and weren’t willing to meet anyone else. In some ways, she felt like a fifteen-year old all over again, still trying to make friends at a new school.
Thinking back to high school, Jen played a few bars of As Time Goes By. Her music teacher loved the standards and show tunes. Hmmm. She remembered the opening, but not what came next. She started again. Her fingers played the chords automatically and by the time she came to the chorus, the notes flowed.
How fun! She played it again, the music lost in the cacophony of the other instrumentalists warming up with random bits and scales.
Wait a minute… she paused and listened. I’m hearing things. Shrugging, she continued with the song.
No, wait; there it was again. A French horn played along with her. She stopped. So did the horn. She skipped to the chorus, her fingers picking out the melody. The other player switched to the harmony line. They finished the impromptu duet and Jen stood to look at the horn section.
No one met her eyes. Either she’d imagined it, or it was a coincidence. She sat down again.
The conductor tapped his baton on the podium. He named the first practice piece and reminded them about the annual concert next week. This was what they’d been working toward all season. They played carols in the plaza downtown in December and Souza marches in July, but the annual concert was their Event with a capital E.
Jen rehearsed without thinking about the music, her fingers moving automatically. Who accompanied her during the warm-up? During the break, she strolled by the horn section.
The elderly neighbor who had invited her to join the band, two teenagers, and a dark-haired man stood by their music stands. The man had blue eyes that sparked with enthusiasm as he talked with the young men but he gave her only a momentary look.
“Hi, Mr. Edwards.” Jen stopped to greet her neighbor. Maybe he’d introduce her.
“Hello, Jen. How’s your fuse box these days?”
“Much better since I don’t try to iron and bake at the same time.”
“I hope you’re not giving up baking,” he said. “Those brownies were the best I’ve ever eaten.”
Jen and Mr. Edwards continued to chat, but none of the other horn players even glanced at her. Well, faint heart never won fair maiden. Or good looking horn player. She spoke up.
“I’m Jen, by the way, flute,” she said to the trio.
“I’m sorry,” said Mr. Edwards. “This is Tim, Josh, and Dennis, the rest of the horn section. Jen’s my neighbor.”
The three turned towards her. Tim and Josh waved but continued their conversation with the dark-haired man as he shook her hand, not even meeting her eyes.
“Nice to meet you.” He turned back to the teenagers. “Listen, you need more extra-curricular activities for your college submissions. You should think about joining the after-school program.”
“What kind of program?” Jen asked.
“It’s a music appreciation class I teach. I found some funding, now I need students. I’m trying to talk these cut-ups into enrolling.” Dennis looked at her. “Do you need any after-school enrichment for your kids?”
“Me?” Her jaw dropped. “I don’t have any kids, just a cat. And she only likes jazz.”
“I see another class: ‘Music appreciation for the species.’ It’s catchy, don’t you think? And how can you tell what your cat likes?” Tim and Josh rolled their eyes and returned to their seats.
Jen laughed. “She makes her feelings known.”
The director stepped onto the platform and Jen returned to her seat. She must have imagined the spontaneous duet. But playing the old love song reminded her of other tunes from the past.
While waiting for rehearsal to continue, she launched into Return To Me. The class clown used to do a bad imitation of Dean Martin. She could see him, one hand clutching his heart, the other outstretched as he sang. Return to me… Hurry back, hurry back, oh my love, hurry back…. Wait. She listened intently.
A horn was playing with her. She finished that song and immediately began It Had To Be You. The other instrument joined after only a few notes. She slipped into Some Enchanted Evening. The horn kept up.
She played while trying to look over the heads blocking her view of the brass section. She stretched up in her seat. The horn stopped with a strangled belch as the director rapped for their attention.
She obediently shuffled the music on her stand to find the next piece. Was Dennis her mystery partner? The notes on the sheets in front of her felt lifeless after the satisfaction of playing the old songs of romance and nostalgia.
After practice, she lingered while cleaning her flute and putting it away, but none of the brass section hung around for more conversation.
During the following week, Jen hummed As Time Goes By while walking to work and Return To Me while taking inventory. Did she imagine the whole thing? Mr. Edwards probably knew those songs, but he wouldn’t keep it a secret. It couldn’t be either Tim or Josh. That left… Dennis.
The day of the concert, Jen left work a little early so she’d have time to press her black skirt and favorite white blouse. As she set up the board and filled the iron with water, she convinced herself the spontaneous accompaniment had been an accident. It was just too unlikely, that some guy would know those old songs.
“Although, if Dennis teaches music appreciation, he’d have to include all kinds of music, right?” she said out loud to Clara. The tabby cat responded by yawning and grooming her face and whiskers.
Jen sprayed starch on the skirt and began to smooth out the wrinkles when her lights flickered and then went off.
Great. She’d left something on and overloaded the electrical circuits. And she didn’t even have any brownies to show for it. By the time she remembered her coffee maker, turned it off, and replaced the blown fuse, she didn’t have time to iron her outfit. She’d barely make it to the concert. At least the black skirt didn’t show the wrinkles.
She rushed into the auditorium with minutes to spare. She was still assembling flute sections when she heard it. Return To Me. She turned toward the horn section. No need to crane her neck this time. Dennis stood in front of his seat, playing and looking right at her. She fit the mouthpiece on and joined him for the chorus.
The director motioned for the house lights to dim, but the junior high student running the light board didn’t see him. Dennis grinned at the kid and hurried to the woodwind section.
He leaned down and spoke into her ear. “I’m glad you’re here. How could I make beautiful music alone?”
“It was you?” She searched his eyes.
“I love those old songs.”
“So do I.” Her heart thumped in time with the bass drum.
“Maybe later we can play a few more?”
“I’d like that,” Jen answered.
Dennis smiled. “Let’s talk after the concert.” He returned to his seat as the lights dimmed and the conductor raised his baton.