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Don't Ask Me Why: Chapter 18

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It was mid January, and the weather was dull and cold, gray clouds covering the sun. It was early morning when Marie walked from her car to the Performing Arts building, wrapping a warm black scarf around her face. It wasn't her first day back on the job, but it was the first day of the new semester. After a nice break, everyone was eager to get back into the game, and many exciting things were planned for the following months. Marie knew she had dozens of concerts to program, and hundreds, possibly thousands of tickets to sell. The Spring Semester was always the highlight of anyone's year at the Performing Arts Center.

At noon that day, Marie went to the inside cafe of the building. The sun had come out, but it was too cold to go out into the courtyard, and so instead she waited at a table inside with a cup of coffee. There was no snow on the ground, but there could definitely be some showers at the end of the week.

"Marie!!" she turned around to see Tanya run-walking toward her from down the hall. Although they didn't live far from each other, it had been three weeks since they last saw each other.

"So glad to see you again, Tanya!" they embraced, and Tanya took a seat next to her. "How is this next semester looking for you?"

Tanya shook her head. "Another killer. Only this time, a bit worse... two projects simultaneously. I hope I get enough sleep," she laughed softly.

"Yeah, I bet that's hard. I will support you the whole way, though, and go to as many concerts as I can!"

"You're so sweet, Marie, I appreciate it," Tanya smiling, but her eyes were wandering, first looking behind Marie down the hall, then looking outside. Something was on her mind, but she wouldn't say. Tanya fidgeted with her fingers, something Marie never noticed before from her.

"Are you busy today?" Marie inquired.

"Not to much, but I need to get on a regular schedule of research and studying, also practicing. Are you?"

"I have to make up a few recital programs, but nothing to bad yet."

"Good for you," Tanya's suddenly drifted, and her eyes froze at a point behind Marie. Tempted to look, Marie slowly turned her head in that direction.

It was Ernest.

He wasn't heading in their direction, but had come out of an office and was talking to someone in the hall. But he could head his way toward them.

Marie and Tanya looked at each other and didn't say anything for a moment. Marie knew she had to be cautious, but the Tanya's oddly fearful look made Marie doubt if Tanya was actually thinking about her.

Suddenly Tanya took a deep breath. "Marie, can I--" she suddenly cut herself off and stood up abruptly.

"What?" Marie was confused.

Tanya stared gravely at Marie, but didn't speak. What was on Tanya's mind?

"I'll talk to you later," she looked up again behind Marie, and turned down the hall, in the direction opposite of Ernest.

Marie understood nothing of what was going on, only that Tanya suddenly abandoned her, and Ernest was coming toward herself from down the hall.

Staring down at her cup, pretending not to see him, Marie continued sitting where she was, but instantly she felt his presence behind her, and heard him slow down his pace.

Marie took a deep breath.

"Ernest! How was your break?" Marie turned around with the most authentic smile she could offer him.

"Hello, Marie, it was good!" Ernest moved up next to her, but didn't sit down. He was carrying a backpack and also a laptop briefcase. "How was yours?"

"It was good too, I did some practicing, you know."

"Flute? That's great! You think you're ready for an audition?"

"Yes, I'm doing it at the end of the week."

"Even better! You'll get in, I know it."

"Oh, we'll see..."

"Anyhow, I'll see you around," he waved lightly, smiling as well as he normally did, and went on his way down the hall.

Strangely, Marie was getting more comfortable around him, more than she expected. She sighed, and threw her coffee cup away before walking away back to her office.

At the end of the week, Marie and Tanya met up again for dinner together. Here, they spoke more in depth than they had at the cafe lounge.

"Guess what, Tanya, I got into the Lab Orchestra!" was the first thing out of Marie's mouth when they sat down at their favorite place.

"Oh, congratulations," Tanya's voice was warm, but she was staring down at the menu with an expressionless face.

"I prepared a solo for the two ensemble directors who listened to me, and then they made me sightread a score. I actually did pretty well, and they were satisfied. We're going to start up these sessions already next week, it'll be fun!"

"Yeah, you may see me there soon," Tanya spoke casually, still looking at her menu.

Marie started. "What?"

Tanya looked up, and bent her head to the side. "Don't you know what Lab Orchestra is?"

Marie thought for a moment.

"To teach musicians how to sightread?"

Tanya laughed. It was rather mockingly, and Marie flinched in dismay.

"Well tell me what it is then!" Marie said with some edge in her tone.

"Oh Marie... you said Ernest told you about this, but he didn't give you any details?"

"No, he didn't."

Tanya shook her head.

"It's a con act to meet you, Marie. Watch out."

"What?" Marie was still confused.

"He's there every session, Marie!" Tanya cried exasperatedly. "He's going to be conducting you!"

Marie's eyes went wide, and she kept silent about it for the rest of the dinner. Tanya figured she ought not put salt on the wound.

When they were leaving, Tanya asked Marie when her birthday was.

"It's very close now, next week on Wednesday. You know there's a concert that night, some guest artists. I'd like to see them."

"How exciting! What a great way to celebrate!"

"It is, then I can go out that night afterwards. Too bad I have work at 8:30 every morning though."

"Illness may work in your favor then," Tanya smirked.

Marie laughed. "Oh, I sure hope I don't drink too much, that would be awful."

"But it's your 21st, Marie, you have to celebrate hard! That's the only way to do it, as I always say!"

"No, 'hard' is too hard for me, I admit."

Tanya shook her head. "Well, I'll have to do some more convincing later then."

Marie didn't like the way she said that. Almost condescending.

By the time Marie was home, she had a sick feeling inside her.

"Ernest! Why was he so deceptive? Perhaps he knows my misgivings, and thinks he can undo them with manipulation. But now there's Tanya. She is changing... what's with her? She's become so mean... what have I done to her?"

Marie had no clue why everyone wanted to control her now.