A Prima Vista: at first sight
London, June 1999
The laces stand out among the packets of black and brown: rainbow, threaded with gold. They are cheerful, they are vibrant, and they are something my parents never let me wear.
I feel the soft woven fabric between my fingers as I figure out if I can pay for these. I rarely have money of my own, but my mentor, Cynthia Beecham, slipped me cash and traveler’s checks as an emergency fund before my family left the States, which is currently hidden in my cello case.
Cynthia would not consider buying rainbow bootlaces an emergency.
I didn’t change any money at the Chunnel station after we arrived from Paris, either; even if I could get the cash out of my cello case without Lorraine or Philip seeing (and then demanding I give them the money) I won’t have the right currency until my sister Isabel and I can go out on our own when we get to Dublin tomorrow.
I sigh as I realize I’ll have to ask Lorraine to buy the laces for me, and she’ll say no because she forbids me to wear anything that isn’t approved by our stylist — herself — or utterly basic. She consented to buy me new clothes and boots today because I’ve outgrown the wardrobe I brought on this tour. My trouser hems stop above my ankles, my shirt cuffs expose my wrists, and my shoes cramp my toes to the point that it’s difficult to walk. The boots are a compromise — Harrods carries Doc Martens, which we both like, me for their style and Lorraine for their sturdiness.
She’s paying for my new brown boots (for every day) and a new pair of black Oxfords (for performances) at the cash register, while Philip looks at suits, to find one for me to wear to our performance tonight. I’d prefer to wear slim-fitting jeans and one of the creamy cable-knit sweaters folded on a nearby display table, but it isn’t up to me.
Isabel has curled herself into one of the chairs for shoe-shoppers and is reading a book she picked up at the airport in San Diego. She’s having the most fun out of the four of us, if her smile is anything to go by.
I’m not enthused about shopping for clothes at all. They’ll be as dull and ugly as the ones they’ll replace — I’ll have a black suit for performances, and for offstage I’ll have to wear brown or black trousers, white shirts, gray or black sweaters. If I’m lucky and Philip is in a good mood, he might let me get something in a color that looks good on me, like emerald green or midnight blue or mustard yellow.
I need these laces. I deserve these laces. I—
I can’t buy these laces. A check of my wallet reveals I have German marks and French francs, Italian lira and even zloty from Poland, but no British pounds. I know Europe plans to switch to a unified currency, but the magazine articles I’ve read on various trains across the continent say that won’t happen for a few more years. Not soon enough to help me.
My cello case rests against Isabel’s chair, in full view of the men’s department. If I get my cash from its hiding place, it’ll give me away.
Lorraine is chatting with the sales clerk. I swallow hard, grab the packet of laces, and take them to her. People tell her she looks young to be the mother of teenagers, and while that’s true, her beauty has become more brittle over the years, as if she’s shellacking herself against the passage of time. Isabel inherited her sharp blue eyes and chestnut hair, fair freckled skin, and statuesque height. I have her hands.
As usual with anyone who’ll listen, she’s talking about me. “We’re on tour with my youngest. He’s a cello prodigy, you see, and has been playing music festivals on the continent since April. He’s a growing boy! We had to find new things for him so he won’t look like an urchin on stage. We’re playing the Southbank Centre tonight. It’s sold out, according to my husband.”
She beams with pride at the politely bored clerk. I wince — I’m fifteen, I’m not a prodigy anymore — and tug on her coat sleeve. “Mom—”
“Here he is!” Lorraine puts an arm around my shoulders. I’m as tall as she is in my sock feet. “This is my youngest.”
“Hi,” I say to the clerk. “I’m William.”
“Hello,” he says in a soft voice. “I’m Andrew. Welcome to London.” He smiles at me.
I don’t know accents enough to guess where he’s from — and English accents sound roughly the same to American ears — but it doesn’t matter, I like it. I like his welcoming smile, his pleasantly handsome face, his dark gentle eyes. If all the English boys I meet look like this one, I’ll —
I’ll have to look and not touch. Despite what my parents think, I’ve never touched.
To business. I say to Lorraine, “Mom, could I get these?” as I hold out the packet of rainbow laces.
The smile disappears from Lorraine’s face. “William,” she begins, and removes her arm from my shoulders.
“I like them,” I say. “They’re cheerful.”
“They’re two pound,” puts in Andrew. I smile at him gratefully.
“Two pounds, Mom. I’d get them myself but I don’t have any English cash.”
“Put them back, William,” Lorraine says. “You know how your father feels about — that.”
Yeah, I know. Philip has made his feelings on that clear.
I try one more time. “They’re just bootlaces, Mom.”
“Put them back,” she repeats. “End of discussion.”
Andrew looks from Lorraine to me. I can see the questions forming, and I sigh. “Yes, ma’am,” I mutter and trudge back to the display, where I hang the packet with its siblings. The gold threads glint in the mellow lighting as if to wave goodbye.
I flop in the chair next to Isabel and eye the instrument cases. I’d pick up my ukulele to pass the time, but there are a lot of people shopping this afternoon and I don’t want to draw attention. People recognize me sometimes and that tends to get awkward.
Isabel shifts in her chair to offer me a shoulder, where I lay my head. “Is your book good?”
“It’s trashy,” Isabel says. “Mom hates it. That’s enough for me.”
I huff. Lorraine and Philip have the opposite problem with Isabel: her freshman year of high school, Isabel renounced color and took to wearing all black, all the time. “But you’re such a pretty girl, Isabel!” Lorraine made the mistake of saying once, and Isabel responded by cutting her glorious, waist-length, chestnut hair short, covering her face in deathly pale makeup, and wearing the darkest, blackest lipstick she could find.
Even her swimsuits are black, and she never goes to the beach without a coverup, wide-brimmed hat, and gallons of sunscreen. When we were kids we would run all day on the sand without a thought, and then take baths at home with baking soda in the water to sooth our sunburns.
With her study black knee-high boots, black jersey travel dress, and black coat, Isabel looks like she should be in an industrial music club, dancing on a plinth, rather than bored in Harrods. On the Continent, no matter what country or city we were in, club kids stopped us on the street to invite her to parties or ask where she got her shoes.
“What’s up with Lorraine?” she says, looking over my head. Our mother is now looking at suits with Philip, each more more boring and gloomy than the last. “The color thing again?”
“The color thing.”
Philip calls the salesclerk over with a brusque, “You!” and a snap of his fingers. Isabel and I both cringe and sink lower into our chairs.
“I’m sorry, Will. I don’t get what their hang-up is about it.”
Homophobia, I want to tell her, but that would require an entire conversation I’m not prepared to have. I say, “Thanks, Iz,” and close my eyes as she pats my cheek. Thank God for Izzy. I don’t know how I’d stay sane without her.
“You know,” she says slowly as she tangles her fingers in the curls that Lorraine takes great pride in maintaining, “you could always do something they can’t make you change. But even I think it would truely be a pity to dye or shave this.”
I shake my head. “I already look ridiculous. It’d be even worse if I shaved my hair off.”
“You don’t look ridiculous. Well,” she amends, “you’re all elbows and knees right now, but you’ll grow out of that in a few years.”
“Thanks,” I say pointedly, and she tousles my hair.
“You’ll grow into your ears someday, I promise.”
I snort and curl into the chair. I don’t disagree with Isabel, but that’s not how I want to go about expressing myself. My hair is my single physical features that I like. Isabel and Lorraine both have chestnut hair, and Philip is strawberry-blond, while mine is coppery and glints gold when the light hits it right.
I’m as pale as Isabel is with her makeup, and my eyes are different colors, which people tend to find off-putting. And now I’m gangly and boney. Lorraine constantly reminds me me to stand up straight so I don’t have a slouch when I reach my full height, which will probably be around six feet like Philip.
“We should have done this in Paris,” I tell Isabel. “Then I could have gotten something fashionable.”
“You know the parents wouldn’t let you wear anything but a dinner jacket, no matter where they bought it.” She turns a page.
I sigh. I know. Isabel will wear a black velvet dress, and I will wear a black suit with a white shirt and black tie, and neither of us can say anything about it. Never mind that Isabel would choose to be Tori Amos than Annie Fisher any day.
I would love to dress like the boys in France. I want to wear brightly-patterned sweaters with matching socks, or neutral shirts and trousers with bright scarves, or a black mock turtleneck paired with a perfect demin jacket.
What I don’t want is to continue dressing like a little boy — a somber little boy who lives in the public eye and is constantly on his best behavior. I’m not that little boy anymore, and not only because I’ve shot up four inches since we left San Diego in the spring.
A four-year-old cellist is a prodigy. A fifteen-year-old cellist is nothing more than a fifteen-year-old cellist.
Lorriane finally comes to us, and Isabel and I untangle ourselves. Lorraine sits beside me and gives me the shoe boxes. “We’ll have to find a charity drop-off for all these things you’ve outgrown. Of all the times for you to have a growth spurt.”
“I’m sure my hormones did it on purpose,” I mutter. “Just to inconvenience you.”
“Don’t be snide, William.”
I have a lot to say about my supposed snideness, but I say, “Yes, ma’am,” and pull on my new boots. They’re great boots: ankle-high, soft brown leather, standard black laces. They fit perfectly even with the typical Doc Marten tightness across the arch. It’ll stretch.
They look good. They would look better if they had rainbow laces.
Before I can contemplate this, Philip says, “William,” in the same brusque tone he used to call over the salesclerk. Isabel pats my back, and I get up to see the suit he’s decided I will wear tonight.
Philip stands beside Andrew; six-foot-four of him, with a forty-inch chest and strawberry-blond hair he wears swept back from his forehead. His eyes regard me without warmth as I walk to them, making me pull my cuffs over my wrists and wish my trouser hems weren’t halfway up my ankles.
The suit is nothing special. Black trousers and single-breasted jacket, plain white shirt, plain black tie. There are a few other, more interesting, white shirts and colorful ties nearby, which I suspect Philip was yelling about earlier.
“There you are,” Philip says, his tone severe as if I hadn’t been with either Lorraine or Isabel for the last hour. “The boy will help you get the suit fitted.”
“We could skip all this if you’d let me wear jeans,” I say, though I know from experience that he’d sooner let me dye my hair green and pierce my ears with safety pins than let me wear jeans on stage.
Philip snorts. “Don’t be absurd, William. You’re a classical musician, not a punk.” He hands the suit to Andrew. “We’ve got a performance in a few hours! Chop chop!”
I wince at Andrew in apology and follow him through the men’s department to the tailoring rooms. At least tonight is my last performance of this leg of the tour, and I won’t have to wear this dull, ordinary suit again for at least a month. There are many great suits in this department, like the evergreen shot with black, or the slate blue with white detailing, or, hell, even a gray suit can be interesting with the right shirt, tie, and shoes. Pale pink shirt, I think idly, with a magenta tie and red-tone shoes…
There is no point in daydreaming about it. They’re never going to let me wear red, let alone pink.
Alone in the tailoring room, Andrew shuts the door and I sit on a chair to take off my shoes. I change clothes in front of other people all the time, but still I’m awkward as I take off my outgrown jeans and sweater and he waits for me to put on the suit pants and shirt. I get up onto the stool for him to measure me, and look away when I noticed his face is flushed as he holds the measuring tape to my chest.
He says, “Your mum said you play the cello.”
“Yeah. I’m playing tonight at the Southbank Centre with my sister on piano.”
“Hm.” That’s kind, saying she “mentioned”it.
He’s got thick dark hair that shines in the mellow shop lights. I bet it’s soft. I bet it would feel amazing to run my hands through it first thing in the morning or last thing at night, or to feel it brush against my cheek before we kiss.
Andrew would notice if I snapped the rubber band around my wrist; to distract myself I imagine the cello part of Pachelbel’s Canon in D, the same eight notes over and over on the sheet music of your average quartet arrangement. It gives me something else to think about than the handsome boy moving around me as he takes my measurements.
Andrew holds out my arms and asks, “Is this your first time in London?”
“I’ve been here a few times before,” I tell him. “I’ve done little tours, four or five cities around the U.K.”
“Sounds nice, getting to travel.”
“Not really,” I say. “We see hotel rooms and train stations between performance venues, instead of visiting the sights.”
“That’s a pity. There’s so much beauty here.”
“I may get to see it this time.” I look into the mirror when Andrew puts the measuring tape around my neck. “After tonight we’re heading to Dublin for a break from the tour. I’m recording an album with the Coronado Quartet.”
He’s not a classical fan. Kids my age rarely are. “They’re a classical quartet out of San Diego, where I live. A classical string quartet is two violins, a viola, and a cello. The cellist is an old friend of the family and has been my teacher since I was tiny. She suggested her quartet make an album with me. Since their favorite producer lives in Dublin, that’s where we’re going.”
Andrew stops pinning my cuff to look at me. “That wouldn’t be Thomas Costigan, would it?”
“That’s him. You’ve heard of him?”
“He used to be in the Liberties. I love that band! What’s a punk musician doing, producing classical music?”
I shrug. That’s something I want to ask Thomas Costigan when we meet. “Music’s music.”
He wraps the measuring tape around my waist. I can see the glints of amber in his brown eyes before they dart away. “You’re so slim,” he murmurs.
I blurt out, “Would you like to come to the concert tonight? It’ll be classical, but, you know, good classical.”
Andrew glances up at me with a startled chuckle. “I thought your mum said it was sold out.”
“They always set a few tickets aside for guests and VIPs.” Despite the Pachelbel, I can feel myself blushing. “You could come. As my guest.”
He hesitates, then gently smiles and nods. “I’d love to be your guest. I get off in an hour so there’s plenty of time for me to get ready and get myself there. It’s at the Southbank Centre?”
He’s not laughing at me or acting grossed out. Relief makes me sag. “Right, in the Purcell Room at eight. What’s your last name?”
“Shoemaker,” Andrew says. “I’ll be there. And maybe after we can do something, you and me, if your parents don’t mind.”
They’ll mind, but I’ll deal with that later. “I’d love it.”
We both stand there, smiling at each other, and I can’t help myself — I start to lean forward, to taste that soft, friendly mouth. His eyelids flutter and he leans up to meet me.
Before our lips can touch, the slatted door is yanked open, startling us apart. Philip stands in the doorway, his face white with anger.
“William,” he grits out.
“Sorry, sir,” Andrew says. “We’re almost finished here.”
“You’re finished now.” Philip stalks to me and I stumble off the stool. He backs me up against the tri-fold mirror. “And you, you ugly faggot—”
“Dad, I can explain—”
He grabs me by the shoulder and whirls me, shoving me against the mirror. I cry out, unable to hold it back, as he twists my arm behind my back and pushes my head against the glass, hard like he wants to shatter either the mirror or my bones.
“Sir!” Andrew protests.
“You stay out of this.” Philip says harshly into my ear as he grinds my face against the glass, “How fucking dare you, cruising ten feet away from your mother. You’re not going to use the tour that I paid for to get your dick sucked. You’re lucky I don’t tell your mother what a pervert you’re being. Get out of that suit.” He gives me one more hard shove before he lets me go, and drags Andrew by the arm out of the dressing room.
I close my eyes, shaking, and sink onto the stool. My heart pounds in my ears, drowning out the sounds of Friday-afternoon shoppers. My eyes burn, my throat feels tight, my lungs won’t expand, and the pattern of the carpet swirls like a whirlpool intent on tugging me down to the darkest depths of the ocean.
I look up and catch my reflection in the tri-fold mirror. My face is red and splotchy, and tears have begun to leak from my eyes. I do look ugly. I feel ugly. My nose is too long and my chin is too weak and Philip was right, that night I came out to them, when he said no one could ever love a disgusting gargoyle like me.
This is more than the Canon in D can deal with. I wind my finger in the rubber band, twist it tight, and then let it snap against my wrist. It’s hard enough to leave a welt, but it lets me breathe again. My hands are steady as I carefully remove the shirt and trousers. I put on my clothes and new boots, and open the door to find Andrew waiting outside.
“Are you all right?” he says softly as he takes the suit.
“I’m fine,” I lie, my voice calm. “Thank you for your concern. I’m afraid I’ll have to cancel my invitation.”
“Of course,” Andrew says, his gaze on my face, and I look away. “I’m sorry. I was looking forward to getting to know you better.”
So was I, but I keep that to myself. “Well, here.” I give him the shirt, and look around for Lorraine and Isabel. When I spot them, Philip is beside them, his arms crossed over his chest and his expression like stone. I’m in for it once we’re out of the public eye. I take a breath and start towards them.
“William,” Andrew says before I go, “wait.”
I pause but don’t face him again.
“You — you have pretty eyes.”
My throat closes. I glance at him over my shoulder, and then go back to my family.
I keep my eyes downcast as Philip says, “Your mother will take you to the theater. You need to rehearse in the space. They’ll have dinner in the green room for us. I’ll deal with you later.”
“What will you be doing, Daddy?” Isabel asks him in a small voice. She must be really upset if she’s calling him that.
“I’ll bring William’s suit when the tailoring is done.”
Lorraine gives him a quick kiss, then briskly says, “Come along, children,” like she did when I was in short pants and Isabel wore her hair in ringlets, as she gathers her coat, purse, and shopping bags.
I sigh as I gather my own luggage and lift my cello case onto my back. I’m going to be sixteen in three weeks — you’d think my parents would start treating me like an adult by now, since I’m the primary wage-earner in this family. But no. I’m either a pervert or a child to my parents, and I never know which one it’s going to be.
Isabel whispers to me as we follow Lorraine, “What happened? Philip looked like he wanted to erupt.”
“He caught me about to kiss the salesclerk.”
“Oh, William,” Isabel says, and hugs my arm. She keeps hold of it as we leave Harrods and go back out to the grey, wet streets of London, where Lorraine hails a cab with a practiced hand.
On the way to the concert venue, Lorraine sits in icy silence in the back seat with Isabel, and I’m relegated to the front seat with the cab driver. He starts to speak a few times, but then closes his mouth. He looks relieved when we arrive at the Southbank Centre and he drops us off at the performers’ entrance.
There, we’re met by the venue manager, the concert promoter, and — much to my delight — Cynthia Beecham. She and Lorraine kiss the air by each other’s cheeks, then she wraps Isabel and me in her arms and kisses our heads. “My darlings,” she says as we cling to her. “I’m so happy to see you. William! You’ve grown a yard since April.”
“Puberty,” I tell her, and she tousles my hair.
“At this rate, the next time I blink you’ll be a man.”
Isabel whispers to her, “Don’t leave Will alone with Philip,” and says in her natural voice, as we walk into the venue with our arms around her waist, “How was your journey to London?”
Cynthia gives me a concerned look. I hug her to me in response. She says, “Relaxing, though it’s strange to travel alone. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have Henry or at least one child with me.”
“How is Jonas doing?” I say on Isabel’s behalf.
Isabel bites her lip, her eyes hopeful.
“He’s doing fine,” Cynthia says, more to Isabel than to me. “He’s enjoying Tibet and emailing us regularly. He misses you both.”
“We miss him too,” I say, which makes Lorraine meaningfully clear her throat. No more talk about Jonas and his travels in front of her, then.
“Where is Philip?” Cynthia asks once we’ve stowed our luggage and my cello in the artists’ dressing rooms.
“He’s at Harrods, waiting for William’s suit to be tailored,” Lorraine says. “The salesclerk was unprofessional towards William, and Philip thought he ought to oversee things. He’ll be along.”
“That’s surprising for Harrods,” Cynthia says, and runs her hand over my hair. “Are you all right, Will, dear?”
“I’m fine. It wasn’t what Dad thinks.”
“What was–” Cynthia begins, but switches gears when I shake my head, my eyes wide. “We’ve got the house for rehearsal for the next two hours. Ready?”
“I’m ready.” My cello once more on my back, we make for the stage.
I’ve played all kinds of venues this summer. I played at a movie star’s private party at his house on Lake Geneva in Switzerland. I played in a music festival in the Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens, Greece, one of the oldest amphitheaters in the world.
The Purcell Room is on the small side, about three hundred seats in a stadium layout with the stage at the bottom. The theater has set up a gleaming black grand piano for Isabel, and a chair and microphone for me. There’s a brightly-patterned rug under the chair to keep the pin of my cello from damaging the stage floor.
“Small,” Isabel says, voicing my thoughts. We give each other rueful smiles. Small means intimate, and intimate is great for a duo like us. My favorite stages are theater-in-the-round, when the audience is close enough that, even when the house lights are down, I can see the recognition in their faces when we play a favorite piece.
“I like it.”
Her lips compressed, Lorraine climbs the stairs to the door leading to the main hall and goes out to the lobby. Cynthia sits in the front row to she coach us as we rehearse, something Philip has tried to imitate during this tour. He’s not good at it.
Isabel sits at the piano bench and I sit in the chair and adjust the microphone. As she begins her warmup with scales and arpeggios, I screw the pin into my cello and rosin the bow.
The moment I draw the bow across the strings, the world falls away. In its place are me and my music, my true love and best friend. I know both of these things should be people, but I’ve begun to believe I’ll never fall in love, and aside from the Beechams I’ve rarely had the chance to make friends. Music is always there for me. Music is my company when I’m lonely, my comfort when I’m sad, my lullaby when the night grow long.
After I warm up myself with scales and arpeggios, I ease into my favorite Bach prelude. It covers the range of the cello’s tones, and helps me see how limber my fingers are today. My hands are in good shape, which means I’m ready for a proper rehearsal when Isabel is done warming up. We start with the first piece on our set list, Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise for Violin and Piano — my cello taking place of the violin — and a few of the venue employees stop bustling around to listen.
Philip doesn’t allow us to stray far from the classical canon in our performances. Debussy or Ravel is about as adventurous as we can get. I’ve begged Philip to let Isabel do an interlude where she can sing a Lied, but Philip always vetos it. Isabel and I have talked about doing something we like as an encore, but we haven’t had the courage to do it yet.
The rehearsal goes smoothly until I hear one of the upper-most doors open and in comes Philip.
My fingers slip. Isabel stops at the discordant sound and looks at me, and Philip starts down the stairs.
“It’s all right, William,” Cynthia says, and that makes Philip pause. “Start over from the previous measure.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I say. Isabel turns back to the keyboard and counts us in, and we pick up where we left off. Philip sits beside Cynthia in the front row, glowering but silent. Cynthia was his mentor when they both were in the San Diego Symphony before Isabel and I were born, and he would never dare to contradict her, at least not to her face.
As soon as we’re finished the set list, Cynthia hugs us again and says, “You sounded amazing, as always. I’ll be back before the curtain call.” We say goodbye, and Lorraine hustles us into the green room for supper, which has been laid out for us buffet-style with two chefs to serve the hot food. The spread includes fruit salad served on greens, beef Stroganoff with piles of egg noodles and mushrooms, bottles of Coke and sparkling water, and raspberry cheesecake for dessert.
Isabel and I load up our plates. Behind us, Philip complains, “I thought we were playing the Southbank Centre, not a rinky-dink back room.”
The chefs glance at each other. I want to tell them, yeah, he’s always like this, but I retreat to the dining table and sit at the far end. Isabel sits opposite me, but her face is so stressed I’m not surprised when her food goes ignored and she toys with her Coke.
Lorraine says, “It’ll be all right. The show is sold out, isn’t it?”
“Which that small room, we’ll barely break even.” He points to the fruit salad and demands, “What’s this? Our rider specifically says a green salad! William needs vegetables!”
“There’s romaine lettuce, Mr. Tracy,” says one of the chefs. “Our head chef thought it would be a refreshing change to have berries instead of a garden salad. The dressing is champagne vinegar, to complement the berries’ flavors.”
“I like it, Dad,” I say quietly. “There’s no reason to raise a fuss.”
“Oh, you like it,” Philip sneers, and picks up the bowl of salad. Before I can react he mashes the bowl into my face.
“What the fuck, Dad!” Isabel shouts, and I feel her hands on my shoulders. “Will, are you all right?”
My eyes sting from the vinegar in the dressing. I can feel it dripping down my forehead and chin. Someone presses a dishtowel into my hand. “Thanks,” I murmur and wipe my face.
“I’m getting the manager,” one of the chefs says softly, and I hear her rush out of the green room.
“Don’t contradict me, William,” Philip says, short and cold. “There’s a reason we have a contract with the venues. You’re the talent. You have to be taken care of.”
“That’s why you wasted perfectly good food, is it?” I say.
“Philip,” Lorraine warns, “not the face!” but it’s no use — he rears back and punches me in the eye. There’s a crack, my head jerks back, and warm liquid gushes down my face.
My hands fly to my nose. The room spins, and the light narrows to a pinpoint. I slide off the chair and onto the floor.
This spurs Lorraine into movement. She kneels beside me and holds the towel to my bleeding nose. “Philip Tracy! He has a performance tonight!”
Isabel kneels beside me too, holding me around my back. I’m shaking hard, and lay my head on her shoulder to steady myself. “We should cancel.”
“The show will go on,” Philip replies stiffly. “William is a professional.”
“You can’t force him to play with a broken nose!” Isabel snaps back.
Philip’s hand starts to rise and Isabel drapes herself over me. Thankfully, this is when the chef returns with the theater manager. He takes one look at us and says, “Let’s get ice on your nose,” as he helps me to my feet.
I hold onto his elbow as he leads Isabel and me to the kitchen attached to the theater’s cafe. He doesn’t say much aside from, “Watch you step here,” when we climb down a narrow staircase, but I can feel him looking at me as we go.
In the kitchen, the chefs have me sit on stack of trays filled with clean glasses, and wrap ice in a towel for me to hold to my face. We’re joined by the backstage manager and house manager, and they whisper to each other as I slump on the trays and Isabel strokes my hair.
“I hate this,” I say to her.
Her voice shakes. “I know.”
“I hate Philip for being how he is, I hate Lorraine for letting him be that way, I hate that he threatened you, and I hate that everyone in the theater knows how things are with us.”
“I know, Will. I hate it, too.”
I want to go — not home, San Diego is no better than London when it comes to being safe from Philip — but somewhere I won’t jerk awake from nightmares and won’t be made to practice until my fingers bleed. Somewhere full of color, somewhere Isabel and I can make the music we love, somewhere violence is left outside the front door.
“We’ll cancel the performance,” I hear one of the managers say, and I take the ice away from my nose.
“No,” I tell them. “We won’t cancel. The show must go on.”
“William,” one of the other managers says, “you’ve got to be in terrible pain.”
“If someone will find me aspirin, I’ll be fine.”
“I’ve got an aspirin,” an assistant says and pours out two pills into my hand.
“More,” I say, so she pours out two more. I swallow them dry, which causes the little group to give each other concerned looks and the assistant to hastily pour me a glass of water. The pain doesn’t retreat, but I push myself to my feet anyway. “Thank you all for your kind concern.”
Isabel holds onto my arm. “Will, are you sure? You don’t have to perform. We’ll have to eat the cost of the theater.”
“That won’t make anything better.”
She slumps, eyes downcast. “I know.”
“That’s brave of you,” the theater manager says kindly, his hand on my shoulder. “Your nose has stopped bleeding, so that’s a good sign. May I?” He holds his hands to either side of my face. I nod, and brace myself as he gingerly tests the area around my nose. “I don’t think it’s broken.” He pats my shoulders. “How about you lie down, and if you decide you can’t go on tonight, let me know and I’ll manage of the arrangements.”
My body feels like someone added weights to my hands and feet. “Thank you.”
“You know,” he adds, “from the rider we expected you to be a nightmare.”
“Yeah,” I say, “we get that a lot.”
He pats my back, and between him and Isabel I get safely to my dressing room.
Alone, I take off my bloody clothes, toss them into a corner, and curl up in my shorts on the little lounge sofa wedged against the wall between the doorway and the dressing table. My newly-tailored suit hangs from the back of the door in a plastic bag, and my new shoes are in a box next to my cello case. I stare at the suit, and then turn over and close my eyes. I finger the rubber band around my wrist, then slide my finger under it and twist. I pull it back, and then, as hard as I can, let it snap against my skin.
It hurts enough to make me hiss between my teeth, but it’s better than thinking.
I wake from my doze to the sound of a light tap on the dressing room door. “Come,” I say as I sit up, and the door opens to admit Cynthia.
“How are — oh, my God,” she says at the sight of me, and comes to cradle my face in her hands and inspect my wounds. I look up at the ceiling while she does. “Phillip?”
“Who else?” She makes a small sympathetic sound, and I say, “It’s all right, though. The manager took care of me.”
Cynthia releases my face. “Why didn’t Lorraine? Where is she?”
“I don’t know.” I look into her eyes. They’re damp, which makes me flinch. I hate to make Cynthia cry. “She must be with Isabel.”
“She’s not. I checked on Isabel, and she said you’d need me more.” She gently hugs me around my neck. I’m as tall as she is now, but I can still lay my head on her shoulder, which I do with a sigh. “We’ll cancel the performance tonight. You don’t even have to come to Dublin. I can take you both back to San Diego, and you could stay with Henry and me for a while.”
“We’ll be all right.” I lift my head and smile at her, though even to me it feels forced. She strokes my cheek. “We’ve come too far to cancel on short notice. Besides, I’d never miss out on the chance to record with the Quartet, or to meet Thomas Costigan.”
“You’ll meet him tonight. You could meet him now, if you want. He’s in the audience — I could bring him here.”
“After the show, please. I need to get ready.” I step back from her embrace and go to the sink, and start the water running. I wash the dried blood from my face, then run my wet hands through my hair. I finally look at my reflection, and flinch again. No wonder Cynthia was shocked. I look terrible. Broken blood vessels in my eyes, bruises blossoming around my nose. I touch my nose gingerly and hiss at the pain.
“William,” Cynthia says. “Are you sure you can handle two hours on stage tonight?”
“I’m sure.” I have to, whether I’m sure or not.
She goes back to her purse and digs around. “Let me put a little powder on you. It’ll tone down the bruising.”
“All right. Thanks.” She sits and I kneel at her feet, my face turned up.
Cynthia dusts powder around my sore eye. “You’ve grown so tall.”
“I’ve outgrown all my clothes.”
She huffs and smooths makeup around my nose. “I’ll take you shopping before we leave London.”
“Our train for the coast leaves at eight in the morning, and we won’t have time tonight.”
”We’ll do it in Dublin, then, and drag Henry along.” She smiles at me, and I smile back — and then wince at how it pulls on my sore face. Cynthia murmurs, “Oh, William,” and kisses my forehead. “Let me find Lorraine.”
”I don’t — I don’t want her.” I take a deep breath as Cynthia gazes at me, troubled. “You know what she said when Philip hit me? She said, ‘Not in the face.’ Not in the face!”
“William,” she says gently, and I lay my head on her knee “How can I help you, dear? What do you want to do?”
“I want to get through the performance tonight, and then I want to go to Dublin and record the album with the Quartet.”
“And then what?”
“And then there’s another music festival, and more tour stops, and then there should be a tour to support the album…”
Cynthia exhales slowly. “What would you do,” she persists, “if you didn’t have to make those tour stops?”
I raise my head. “Go back to San Diego,” I say promptly. “Go to the beach a lot. Go to a normal high school and then go to college — and not a performing arts college, a normal college, where I can study anything in addition to music.”
“What do you want to study?”
“Everything,” I say. “Music and history and art and dance and science and everything else. As much as I can. I want to cram knowledge into my brain until it overflows.”
Cynthia smiles. “Including music.”
“That sounds like a perfect life for you.”
“Yeah,” I mutter and drop my head. “It’s a daydream. Philip will keep me touring and playing until they have to cart me around on a gurney and prop me up on stage.”
Cynthia rubs the back of my neck. “You carry so much stress here.” She pauses. “What if we could get that life for you, William?”
I look up at her. “How?”
“I’ve been formulating a plan since you ran away last year—”
“I didn’t run away last year.” Cynthia’s hand pauses and I look away. Lorraine and Philip have hammered it into my head that I’m to tell anyone who asks that I ran away from home last fall, but — I’m tired of lying. “I was sent away.”
“Why were you sent away, William?” Cynthia says, and she sounds like she knows the answer.
My jaw trembles. It’s hard to speak — I know Cynthia loves me no matter what, but my parents are supposed to do that and they…don’t. “They sent me to conversion camp. Gay conversion camp. I’m gay and they hate me for it, and they sent me away.” I swallow hard and look at her.
Cynthia’s eyes are wet again. She puts her arms around me and kisses my cheek. “Oh, William. I’m so sorry. I never would have let that happen if I’d known.”
“That’s why they told you I ran away,” I say, holding her tight, my voice muffled by her shoulder. “They knew you would have stopped them.”
“I never would have let them send you away in the first place.” Her voice is firm. “I’ll talk to Henry tonight, and we’ll figure out to deal with that particular nightmare. Tomorrow you’ll be in Dublin. Thomas is excited to meet you, and I think you’re going to like his son, Lux. He’s about your age and a musician. You need friends your own age.”
She hands me a tissue and I wipe my face, careful of the makeup she’s applied. “Cynthia? The Quartet isn’t doing this album because you’re our friend, are they?”
“Nonsense, William,” she replies. “We’re doing this album because we want to showcase your talents. You’re capable of much more than Philip has allowed the world to see.”
“Thank you,” I whisper, and toy with the rubber band. No, I’m not going to snap it now, I decide, and move to the suit hanging on the back of the door.
There’s another soft tap at the door. “Fifteen minutes, Mr. Tracy.”
“Thank you, fifteen,” I say.
Cynthia picks up her purse. “That’s my cue to leave. I’ll be in the audience with Thomas, and we’ll come see you after the performance.” She pauses. “How honest to you want me to be with him?”
“I don’t want to talk about it with strangers yet.”
“Understood.” She pats my cheek and leaves the dressing room.
There’s no time to get emotional again. I put on the suit and knot my tie, something I’ve known how to do since I was six years old. My reflection in the mirror confirms my suspicions: the suit is dull and drab, and while the powder has reduced how noticeable my bruises are, it doesn’t hide them. Nothing about me says “professional cellist“ — it all says “tired kid who’s been in a fight.”
Maybe the audience won’t notice. Maybe between the distance and the lighting, it won’t matter. Maybe everyone will watch Isabel instead, and I’ll fade into the background. I haven’t faded into the background since I was six years old, but there’s always a first time.
I shouldn’t kid myself. They’ll all here to see me. Isabel and I aren’t even equally billed, not by my choice.
The five-minute reminder comes as I’m putting on my shoes, and I’m ready to go when the house manager herself comes to bring me to the stage. Isabel waits in the wings, wearing her black velvet dress, her face made up and her eyes red but dry. I take her hand and squeeze it, and she squeezes back.
The curtains part and the house applauds, and someone — not Philip, who considers that his duty — announces, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Purcell Room is pleased to present William Tracy and Isabel Tracy.”
We look at each other, put on our professional smiles, and go out onto the stage.
At intermission, the backstage manager puts liquid bandages on my fingertips. I drink a bottle of water and don’t look around to see if the parents have returned from wherever they went. Isabel doesn’t say much, nursing her bottle of water and doing finger exercises.
This happens a lot when Philip and I fight. Philip disappears and Lorraine goes to find him, they agree that I’m a horrible, ungrateful child, and they come up with new ways to make sure I know it.
It makes me long for Cynthia, but she’s in the audience with Thomas Costigan. I hope she’s prepared him to deal with the parents. I’d hate for him to think I’m a terror before he even meets me.
Intermission over, Isabel and I stand together in the wings. “Ready for this?” I ask her.
“I wish Philip and Lorraine were here. It’s the last show of the tour. They should see it through to the end.”
“It’s better they’re not,” I say, and she looks at me. “No nerves.”
Isabel does a nodding shrug in agreement. The curtain rises, the audience applauds, and we walk out onto the stage once more.
Like the first half of the concert, the second half is flawless. We’ve played these pieces hundreds of times if not thousands, to the point we could play them in our sleep. Saint-Saens, Debussey, Dvorak, to name a few of the composers in our repertoire, and as always my beloved Bach.
After our last piece, we take our bows to a standing ovation. The house lights rise enough for us to have a good view of the audience, and it looks like Philip’s fears were unfounded — every seat is full. I catch a glimpse of Cynthia smiling proudly, and see the dark-haired man beside her who must be Thomas, applauding and smiling.
Isabel tugs my hand, and we hurry offstage. We hug each other in the wings. “Encore?” Isabel says.
“Yes! What should we do? ‘Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring’?”
To my surprise, Isabel shakes her head. “You’ve been saying for months that you wanted to do something new for an encore. Now’s our chance.”
She’s right. Pop pieces get reworked by classical musicians all the time, not that Philip has let us do that, but we could tonight. I have a notebook full of arrangements that Isabel and I have rehearsed on our own, that tonight’s audience might appreciate.
The house manager is waiting for us by the curtains. “Are you doing an encore?”
“Yes,” I say, and Isabel beams as we take each other’s hands again and return to the stage.
The applause goes quiet as we take our places at our instruments. Isabel looks at me expectantly, waiting for my cue. We could play anything from Elvis to Leonard Cohen, Cyndi Lauper to U2.
And then I see Philip, standing at the top of the stairs that lead to the lobby. His arms are crossed over his chest and his face is full of thunder.
My hands are poised over the strings, the bow ready to play the opening notes to “With or Without You.” If I play this song, even in the audience loves it, the black eye Philip gave me earlier will be the beginning of my punishment.
I can’t. I can’t. I whisper, “Sorry,” to Isabel and play the opening notes of “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring.” Isabel sighs but joins in, and the audience makes an audible sound of delight. They love this one, audiences everywhere do. It’s a familiar, safe choice.
I shouldn’t be safe. I should take risks and let the audience see what I’m — what we’re — capable of. But it’s not going to happen tonight.
The house manager takes us to the green room, and I collapse into the most comfortable-looking of the armchairs. Isabel sits on the sofa and takes off her shoes. We thank the house manager, and Isabel waits until she’s left to say, “The audience liked the encore.”
“Of course they did.” I lay my hand over my eyes to shade them from the room’s bright lights. “Everybody likes that song.”
“Maybe next time —” She stops herself. “Will. I don’t want there to be a next time. You and I, we need to get out of this life.”
“I know.” I hold out my hand to her and she grasps it. Her fingers tremble with muscle spasms. “You can do what you like while you’re away at school. I’ll — I’ll have to figure something out.”
She looks pensive. I let go of her hand and go to the crafts table, which is laid out with snacks and bottles of water as requested in our rider. It’s all healthy — cheese and crackers, fresh fruit and vegetables with onion dip — and I think as I load up a plate that I would give my left pinky for TimTam.
“Where do you think the parents are?” Isabel says as she joins me.
“I don’t want to think about it,” I say. “They left, they haven’t come back, and if they continue not coming back let’s ask Cynthia to take us to Dublin.”
Isabel chuckles. “She would, no questions asked.”
We both turn, startled, when the door opens again. Philip enters, followed by Lorraine. They must have left the theater — their hair and the shoulders of their coats are wet with rain.
“You missed our performance,” Isabel says before Philip can open his mouth to speak. “The last show of this tour and you weren’t even here.”
“We had to discuss William’s behavior,” Philip begins.
“William’s behavior was fine. It’s always fine.” She lifts her chin. “I think we should discuss yourbehavior.”
“Don’t get sassy with me, girl,” Philip growls, and Lorraine puts a hand on his arm.
“Remember your blood pressure,” she says.
“We could have done one of Will’s arrangements as our encore tonight,” Isabel says to Philip, ignoring Lorraine, “but he decided not to because of you.”
“Iz,” I say, “it’s okay.”
“You’re classical musicians,” Philip spits. “You’re trained in classical music. You’re above that pop garbage! It’s not worthy of your time or talents or all the money I’ve spent to make you decent musicians!”
“What money?” Isabel shoots back. “You taught us yourself! And when William surpassed you, Cynthia wouldn’t let you pay her to teach him! Everything else we did on our own!”
The rage is building in Philip again, and I move to shield Isabel if he decides to get physical with her. “No one should be screaming at a headlining musician about his choice of encore,” she says.
“And no one,” says a soft, unfamiliar voice with an Irish lilt, “should be throwing punches over food.”
We all take a step and a breath, and Lorraine takes Philip’s hand. It’s the dark-haired man I saw sitting beside Cynthia in the audience earlier. Up close, he’s got a kind, craggy face and keen blue eyes. He holds out his hand to me. “You must be William. I’m Thomas Costigan.”
Philip nearly rips my hand from Thomas’s to shake it himself. “I’m Philip Tracy. This is my wife, Lorraine.”
“And this is my sister, Isabel,” I say, since Philip has forgotten she exists.
“Pleased to meet you,” says Thomas to Isabel. “Cynthia will join us shortly,” he tells us all. “She’s making a call to Henry. You both did lovely tonight.”
“Thank you,” Isabel and I murmur. I feel safer in his presence. It’s a relief to let someone else be a neutral party, to stand between us and Philip.
“It’s hard to go wrong with a beloved piece like that,” Thomas observes. “May I?” He gestures to crafts table, and picks up a plate. “Cynthia tells me you do originals and arrangements of rock songs,” he says to me. “I was hoping to hear one of those tonight.”
“William fancies himself a composer,” interjects Philip. “He’s much too young to understand the intricacies of a good composition.”
“Mozart was six when he started composing,” Thomas says, which silences Philip. “I was about William’s age when I started writing my own music. We can talk about that more once we’re in Dublin. What do you fancy doing while you’re there, William? You, too, Isabel.”
We look at each other. I say, “I thought we’d work on the album.”
“We don’t need to do that twenty-four seven,” says Thomas.
“I’d love to get to know the city,” Isabel says. “Maybe we could find a place for me to sing while you’re making the album. I love to sing.”
“We can do that. Are you thinking of a career in singing, Isabel?”
“We want Isabel to graduate from college before she makes any big decisions like that,” interjects Lorraine.
“Ah,” says Thomas, “that’s wise. I want my son to experience more of the world before he strikes out on his own, myself.”
“What does he want to do?” Isabel asks.
“Music production,” Thomas says. He tells me, “His name is Lux. He’s about your age. I hope the two of you will get along while you’re in Dublin.”
“I’m sure we will,” I say without much enthusiasm. Aside from the Beechams, I rarely get along with the children of my parents’ friends and acquaintances. Unless they’re musicians themselves, we have nothing in common, and they never understand what it’s like to live like me.
“There are many pubs that do live music,” Thomas says to Isabel. “I’m sure one or two will welcome you.”
Isabel smiles with pleasure as Cynthia bustles in. “Henry says hello,” Cynthia says as she hugs Isabel and me, and then she picks up a water bottle and cracks it open. I feel relaxed enough with her and Thomas there that I flop onto the sofa to eat.
“Will,” Cynthia goes on, and swats my foot. “Your posture is terrible.”
“But my music is amazing,” I reply, wiggling my foot at her, and she laughs and tosses me a Flake bar.
“Here’s your reward.” I sit up straight and she sits next to me. Isabel joins us at Cynthia’s other side. “It was an amazing performance. Your technique is improving day by day.”
I unwrap the candy bar and take a bite, ignoring Lorraine’s disapproving look. She’s convinced too many sweets will make me fat, and being fat will ruin my career. “I sold my soul to the devil,” I say with a mouthful of chocolate and honeycomb. “Me and Paganini will jam together in Hell.”
“William!” Lorraine says, shocked. Isabel snickers and both Cynthia and Thomas laugh.
“I’m sure the practice helps. Let me see your hands.”
I hold out my hands, palms up. Cynthia takes them to give them a thorough inspection. “No fresh blisters. That’s good.”
“The stage manager put this liquid bandage stuff on my fingers during the intermission. She said it wouldn’t interfere with my playing.”
“She was right about that.”
Lorraine, self-conscious about Cynthia looking after me in front of Thomas, comes over to us. She takes one of my hands and looks over it like she knows what she’s looking for. I watch her and wait for her verdict.
“Stop biting your nails,” is all she says and lets my hand drop.
Philip says to Thomas, “I hope you have a hotel reserved for us in Dublin.”
I want to cringe, but Thomas merely says, “I do, for the two of you. I’d like William to stay with me and my son while you’re in Ireland.”
“And I want Isabel to stay with me,” says Cynthia. “There’s plenty of room in my flat, since it will be only Henry and me.”
Isabel almost bounces from her seat in excitement. “Cynthia, I’d love that!”
“Oh, no, we couldn’t impose,” says Lorraine.
“Isabel should stay with us,” Philip says stiffly. “As should William.”
“Lux is sixteen,” says Thomas. “They’re almost the same age. He can show William the city and they can make music together. It’s going to be a long month if William and Isabel are trapped in a hotel between recording sessions.”
Philip and Lorraine look at each other, helpless. This is an incredibly generous offer, and they want to impress Thomas, but it means relinquishing control of us and they hate that. I don’t say anything, but I do clench my hands together in hope.
“I don’t know,” says Lorraine, looking at me. “William won’t be sixteen until July. He’s a child.”
“Lux is a good lad,” Thomas says. “He won’t do anything to lead William astray.”
I don’t care if Lux takes me to dive bars and crack dens, I want to be free from my parents even if it’s only for a month. I grip my hands together tighter.
“We’ll have to think about it,” Philip says finally. “We should get to our hotel. We’re up early tomorrow for the train to Dublin.”
“What do you think, William?” Thomas asks me. “Do you think you’d enjoy staying with my son and I for a month?”
I’m rarely asked what I want, and for a moment I don’t know how to answer. “Yes,” I say, and I can’t help the surprised tone. “I think I’d enjoy that a lot.”
“There,” Thomas says to my parents. “It’s all settled. I’ve discussed this with Lux, so all we have to do is get you there.”
“But,” begins Philip.
“It’ll be much easier for us to collaborate and rehearse in my home studio,” Thomas says. “I have a dedicated practice room William can use.”
Philip tries again, “Mr. Costigan–“
“I have a housekeeper,” Thomas says, “to help look after him. I’m a decent cook but Mrs. Leary is an expert.” He says to me, “Lux is learning a lot from her. He’s learned to make some very tasty meals.”
“I’d love to learn to cook,” I say, with a glance at Isabel. Philip has not permitted this for several reasons — I could burn or otherwise permanently injure my hands, cooking is women’s work, we’re not home enough for any of us to focus on cooking — and it’s yet another thing I’ve chafed against. If Thomas Costigan, the former lead singer and guitarist and main songwriter of a punk band like the Liberties, can let his son learn to cook, Philip can’t deny me it because he thinks it’ll make me effeminate.
Lux, I imagine, will look like those pictures of Thomas twenty years ago, with a mohawk dyed green or purple, wearing a ripped T-shirt decorated with safety pins and anarchist slogans, and tight jeans and work boots, a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth and piercings in various parts of his body.
I shiver. Lux is the opposite of me, and that sounds like someone I’d like to have in my life.
“Wonderful. I’ll give Lux a call tonight to warn him to tidy the house.” He stands, and shakes Philip’s hands. “See you in Dublin, Tracy family.” He gives us all a friendly wave and leaves the green room.
Lorraine and Philip sit in shocked silence. Isabel and I steal glances at each other. I’m afraid if I say anything they’ll pack us onto the next flight to San Diego.
Cynthia looks pleased. “You’re going to love Dublin,” she says. “Lorraine, you should look on this as a second honeymoon. When’s the last time you traveled without the children?”
“A long time,” Lorraine admits. “We’ve wanted to visit Ireland for years. Philip’s family emigrated from there, back in the day.”
“There,” Cynthia says. “The two of you can visit historical sites and Isabel can pursue her own interests while William is busy recording with us.” She takes both mine and Isabel’s hands and gives them a squeeze. “We should get you to the hotel and let you rest.”
I dread to think of what Philip and Lorraine might have done if Cynthia wasn’t there, but since she is, we gather our bags, Isabel and I thank the backstage crew, and we hurry out to catch a cab that will take us to the hotel. All the while, Cynthia hustles us along, not allowing Lorraine or Philip to interrupt or slow her down.
She leaves us with a cheerful, “See you in the morning!”
The moment the door closes — Philip and Lorraine are in a room down the hall, no adjoining rooms in these old European hotels — I drop onto one of the beds with a groan. Isabel sits on the other bed and takes off her shoes, and massages her feet as she looks around the room.
“Someday you’ll have your own room,” she says as if to comfort me.
“Knowing them, they’ll start requesting trundle beds again.” I lean on my elbow. “No offense, Iz, but I hope next year they won’t be able to dictate your life any more.”
“None taken. I hope so, too.” She takes off her coat, then opens her suitcase and hunts through it. I know this ritual: pajamas and a face wash, then she’ll read while I get ready for bed. Unless we’re fighting — which happens even between siblings who get along like we do — we tend to stay up talking after a show. She tells me about her book and I’ll tell her about mine, or we’ll discuss our performance, or we’ll tell each other our plans for when we can decide our own lives. I’ve never told anyone but Isabel that I want to teach as well as play in a symphony orchestra.
When we’re both washed up and in bed, we lie in silence for a while, tired out from our long day. “Iz?”
“Will.” She yawns.
“Are you excited about Ireland?”
“More than I was. Cynthia’s not going to let Philip and Lorraine keep me cooped up in a hotel room for a month. That’s a relief.” She sits up and wraps her arms around her knees. “What about you? Thomas seems determined to get you out from under the parents’ thumbs.”
“I bet Cynthia had a hand in that.”
“I bet you’re right. How’s your eye?”
“Throbbing,” I say, “but bearable.” Bruises tend to look worse than they feel because of my pale skin. By morning it’ll be purple, and my eye may or may not be red with burst blood vessels.
She shifts in her bed restlessly. “I wish I knew how to get him to stop hitting you.”
“Remove his arms.”
She sighs. “I’m serious, William.”
“It doesn’t matter, Izzy. At least he’s not hitting you or Lorraine.”
“Yeah,” she says in a small voice. “I don’t have aspirin but I do have Midol, if you need a pain reliever.”
“I don’t think I’ll be desperate enough to take Midol.”
“Don’t be precious about it, Will. One pain reliever is like another.”
I mutter, “Thanks,” and roll onto my stomach. I bunch a pillow under my chin. I feel better now that I know things will be different in Dublin, but I still wish there were someone next to me right now, to stroke my hair and put me to sleep.
I close my eyes and imagine Lux Costigan doing that for me — my imaginary Lux, I have no idea if he’s the hair-stroking kind — but then stop and remind myself that building someone up in my mind leads to disappointment. In reality, I’ll be happy if Lux wants to be my friend.