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Don't Ask Me Why: Chapter 19

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Marie had forgotten how much she loved the flute. After leaving it alone for almost a whole year, coming back to it she remembered a lot more than she expected. Her apartment wasn't the best place, but she managed for a few weeks of Winter Break, and then started going to the practice rooms.
The practice wing was one of the nicest segments in the music school of the the performing arts center. It was three floors tall, white-washed halls, and each room had their own pianos. Marie didn't know piano well, but she played them once in a while. They were unusually busy all the time except weekends, people coming and going, and people waiting in line for rooms. Lots of vocal majors used the rooms, even the operatic singers. Even at night it was busy, but Marie was more certain to get a room then. Thus, every night Marie went with her flute the the practice wing, usually taking a high floor so she had a nice view and could be most alone. Tone warm-ups, scales, and the like were her usual routine, and she had one solo to practice on her own, the Hindemith Flute Sonata. It was rather hard for her, but she liked to work at it slowly to use her time. A single hour each evening was all she needed. Marie had no teacher, but it was no use anymore since she wasn't a major.
To Marie's surprise, she almost never saw Alex. He must have been a day-practicer, and only a handful of times saw him walking outside below the windows. Ernest was never to be found either, or Tanya.
The thought of seeing Ernest the coming Tuesday night made Marie shudder. She had no choice now, or did she? There wouldn't be a single session he wouldn't be there, it seemed, so she couldn't back out now.
"Yes, what a nice trick... then again, what if he just assumed I knew? I must be leading him on for sure now."
At the back of her mind, she admitted that she had little against Ernest now, and that any day now, she may crack.
Then a thought hit her.
What if Alex was there Tuesday night as well?

Marie arrived a few minutes early on Tuesday night so she could look at the music. There were no emails, so the music wasn't announced ahead of time, and so no preparation was possible. It felt strange to walk into the orchestra rehearsal room, as if her old musician days were being resurrected again.
She held her breath. In a second, Marie surveyed the room before drawing up her poker face.
There were many musicians in the room, most of them strangers, although she thought she recognized a few faces from working at the box office. All the grad conductors were there, standing together in the back, talking and holding scores. There was one professor as well, who was talking to some other musicians at the moment. Ahead of her, Marie saw another flutist sitting down, warming up with rapid scales. Marie was to be next to her as 2nd flute, but she was fine with that. She didn't want any more added pressure.
Alex was sitting as principal, and playing through his music right at that moment too.
Having everything to hide, Marie discreetly walked through the chairs to her own, looking down at the floor the whole time. The flutist sitting there stopped playing and smiled to her.
"Hello! What's your name? Are you a new transfer student?"
"No, I'm not unfortunately," Marie said shyly. "My name's Marie, but I'm just a worker here at the performing arts center. I have an Associates in general music though."
"Ah do you? Well, it's nice to you have you here nonetheless, my name is Joanna," they shook hands, and Marie sat down beside her. "Don't feel pressured tonight, these are always so much fun. I'm a 2nd year grad student, and I've enjoyed doing these sessions a lot."
"So you do get some training out of it then?" Marie wondered.
"It's applied learning, yes, plus you get to know what it's like to conduct," Joanna smiled.
"Do you know Tanya, the choral conducting student?"
"I do," Joanna suddenly frowned, "We've known each other since last year, lots of classes together. Do you know her?"
"Yes, she's my best friend..." Marie suddenly regretted saying that, not only because Joanna didn't seem to approve, but also because she had begun to doubt that herself. Marie shifted where she was sitting, and looked away from her.
Marie caught Alex glancing at her, but only for a moment.
It was finally time to begin.
Marie now realized what this Lab Orchestra was designed for. It was conducting lab for the grad conductors, and they each were going to receive coaching. How this hadn't occurred to her before, she couldn't understand.
The pieces that she had to sightread were Dvorak's 8th Symphony and Mozart's 41st "Jupiter" Symphony. Both were fascinating pieces, and Marie enjoyed playing both, but she was highly distracted by her surroundings. She could observe Alex the whole time, and she could see him struggle with his part sometimes. Plus, she knew Ernest was right behind her, and probably not looking at his score as much as he should. Trying to play her best, Marie knew that he was probably scrutinizing her carefully.
When it was his turn to conduct, Ernest came to the front. He was wearing a very nice outfit with black pants and a dress shirt. His light brown hair was also well-kept. Perhaps he was feeling rather self-conscious now, and when he stepped onto the podium, he was unusually grave, staring down at his stand.
They began the 3rd movement of the Dvorak 8, a melancholy and dance-like movement. Marie's part was not difficult, and she mostly looked around, but not too closely at Ernest. She didn't want to get eye contact with him, and listened around her instead. Marie had never been in a orchestra, not even a small one, so this was an amazing experience to play with such advanced musicians. Plus, she was encouraged by the fact she could keep up with everyone.
Alex was sitting 10 feet in front of Marie. She could even hear his individual cello because only two others were with him.
Unlike his public performances, Alex had his glasses on now, but Marie wasn't able to look him straight in the face anyhow. He felt like a safer object to leave her eyes on while she listened. Ernest may have been watching her with his peripheral vision, but she couldn't tell.
They got through the whole movement without stopping, and the director complimented Ernest highly.
"You are becoming increasingly mature, Ernest. I like how you're becoming more clear in your mind to get exactly what you want. However, let's try one part over that I think wasn't exactly the way you wanted, the transition to the trio?"
"Sure, let's do that," Ernest said to the orchestra, "Four measures before that key change..." He glanced at Marie for a split second.
They re-did that transition, and it went fine.
"Good enough, anything else you want to work on?"
"I'd like to try some of the 2nd movement too."
"Ok, go ahead."
This movement was extraordinarily lyrical and complex, and Marie enjoyed the little part that she played. She gained a little more confidence to watch Ernest with what he was doing. Ernest looked like he was concentrating immensely, his face very stern, but mutable to each change of emotion. He followed the path of the music quite well, and Marie couldn't help being impressed.
And a little saddened.
It wouldn't be long now.
The whole session was two hours, but it went by pretty quickly for Marie. She became tired and was losing her focus at the end.
"Thank you for letting me play with you," she said to Joanna.
"You're welcome! Glad to see a new flutist! I hope to see you again, you play very well."
"Thank you. I will be coming around this semester," Marie smiled, and put her flute away.
Getting up, Marie saw that everyone was standing around a table, writing something on a sheet.
"Is that sign-in for pay?"
"It is," Joanna replied.
Marie went over. Alex was just there signing in his name, and turned around. He met Marie's eye.
"I didn't expect to see you here, Marie," Alex said calmly.
"Neither did I, a few months ago. But, here I am, I was accepted to be a part of the Lab Orchestra."
"I'm sure you did well enough to get to continue being here," he replied.
"I hope so, it was a lot of fun. Tired now though!"
"Yeah, it's pretty tiring. I'll see you around," he waved, and walked out. Marie frowned, and was tempted to follow him.
"Hey, how did you like it?" Marie swung around to see Ernest standing there, smiling as usual.
"Oh I'm so glad you invited me, I really enjoyed this. If I can't be in a school ensemble, at least I can play here."
"Exactly," Ernest replied. "By the looks of the scheduling this year, you may be called on for at least two more, perhaps all the meetings, if none of the other flutists sign up."
"I'm just fine with that! and..." Marie hesitated for a second, "You are a good conductor."
Ernest nodded his head graciously. Marie could tell he was highly gratified.
"Seeya," Marie said quickly and turned away.
Marie left the building then, and it was late at night. All was quiet, except for some wind in the branches of trees. She could see the stars above pretty clearly as she walked to her car.
Marie was intensely sad now. It looked like she had no more hope left for Alex. She couldn't possibly do anything to gain his attention, let alone admiration. He was too independent, too isolated. She wanted someone who would reciprocate her feelings as well. And Ernest seemed to be the most patient, long-suffering man she ever knew. He seemed to have all the time in the world to wait for Marie to change, to crack.
But that wasn't the case. He would be leaving at the end of the semester, and then Marie would be free of him. Unless he was going to step up his game, and very soon.
That seemed the most likely.
Marie sighed.
"But why does it not feel right? What's wrong with me?"
It wouldn't be the last time she asked that question to herself.