Claire had been pacing the room nervously for a while now. Why had she agreed to that? For some strange reason, the idea had pleased her when Andrew... -Andrew? she had meant Dr. Stuart, surely-, had first suggested it, but why she had actually accepted going to that concert with him was now beyond her. She should have said no straight away, there was no way this could be right. But he had been so polite, so attentive, since that evening when he had kissed her, that there was no denying him. And she didn't dare, nor want to, deny him.
She was grateful he hadn't tried to kiss her again, but also disappointed. Perhaps it had meant nothing to him? It shouldn't matter to her one way or the other! But it did! It did matter to her! And now she was even eager to spend some leisure time with him. What was she doing? Why was she looking forward to this? It was wrong, wrong, WRONG!
Maybe it wasn't too late to back off yet. No, she couldn't; he would be here any moment, and there was no excuse she could give him, anyway.
Dr. Stuart had made it very clear that it wasn't going to be a very sophisticated affair, just a small gathering where one of his oldest patients was going to perform. That's why Claire had chosen this simple but charming outfit, which had immediately captured her attention when she first saw it in that little shop around town. It was the first clothing she had bought with the money she had earned working as a nurse, and it made her extremely happy.
But now that she found herself actually clad in it, she was afraid it left much of her skin exposed. Her ugly skin. As she adjusted the bow in her blouse she fretted at how low the neckline was cut. Was she really appropriately dresed? What would he have said about it? No, she should stop that train of thought! From then on, she would dress the way she chose; having to dye all her clothes black was punishment enough for her.
She was still lost in her thoughts when she heard a knock on the door. He was here already. Claire straightened her clothes one last time and went to open it.
There he was, indeed, as good looking as ever. She hadn't seen him dressed in evening clothes before, and the dark suit he had chosen to wear fit him like a glove. And he was giving her that look again. How did he manage to make her feel confident and anxious at the same time? She felt those, now familiar, butterflies in her stomach again.
"Are you ready, madam?" He gallantly asked her from the other end of her threshold. "Am I allowed to tell you how gorgeous you look today? Is that a new dress you're wearing?" Oh, no, he had noticed!
"Y-yes, and thank you." She smiled coyly. "I'd invite you to enter, but..."
"Let me guess. Your landlady doesn't allow for her tenants to have male visitors." Claire nodded and had to chuckle inwardly at how close to the truth he had come.
The piano recital was to be held in a small concert hall downtown which was intended, as Dr. Stuart himself had explained to her, for intimate musical soirées.
They arrived a little early, so there were still very few people there, and as soon as they entered, Claire was taken by the beautiful appearance of the room. It was but a small mirrored room decorated for the occasion with some plants and a tapestry which hung on one of the walls. The piano, in all its glory, was displayed in the middle of the floor.
The place was nothing compared to the lavishness and grandeur of the theatres to which she was accostumed. Of course she had only gone to those hateful opera premières he used to take her to, just to show her off. And she wasn't even expected to enjoy herself in any of those occasions. But never in her life had she attended a solo instrument concert, and that instrument being her beloved piano, she knew she was going to love the evening.
A while afterwards, the staff working at the theatre dimmed all the lights in the room, leaving the piano alone illuminated, and everyone took that as a hint to be seated and wait for the concert to begin.
The programme was very appealing to Claire -a selection of some piano works by Robert Schumann- and she was sure she could have played every piece by heart herself. Besides, the performer's subtle rendition tugged at her heart in a way only music could make her feel.
But all the while Claire couldn't help but notice Andrew's eyes fixed on her rather than on the piano across the room from them. Normally, she would have shuddered at having a man pay so much attention to her, and trembled in fear for the outcome of such an audacity. But there was no one to torment her now, and she was even tempted to look him back. She lacked the courage to do so, however, not completely trusting her composure if she did. She just kept staring directly ahead of her, and she felt herself blush as the tiniest of a self-conscious smile slowly spread across her lips.
The concert went on for a little longer and all the audience seemed to be having a great time. They all sat in awe and silence, no doubt enraptured by every note as they reverberated and filled the room with that beautiful music.
Once the recital was over, Dr. Stuart insisted on them going to meet the performer, since he was an old acquaintance of his, after all.
"Oh, Stuart, there you are." The man said, recognising him immedialy, as he rose from the piano stool. "I'm glad you could finally make it. And I see you haven't come unaccompanied."
"I'm glad we came, you outdid yourself today, Williams." Both men shook hands. "May I introduce you to Mrs. Claire Parker? Mrs. Parker, this is Mr. Edgar Williams."
"Enchanté, madame. A beautiful name for a charming lady." Mr. Williams took her hand in his to kiss it as he spoke, and she slightly lowered her head in acknowledgement of his compliment. "Claire, Clara. Perhaps you know that Mr. Schumann's wife is called Clara."
"Yes, yes I do. And I've even learnt some of her compositions," she answered spiritedly.
"Mrs. Parker is a very accomplished pianist herself, and also writes her own music." Dr. Stuart added, and Claire felt flattered that he should think so.
"Is that true, Mrs. Parker?" Mr. Williams asked her, apparently interested.
"Oh, well, I'm afraid that Dr. Stuart exaggerates a little."
"Nonsense, madam." He was curt but his statement was accompanied by a warm smile. "Stuart is not at all prone to exaggerating. If he says you're talented, I'll just take his word for it. I'd love to take a look at those compositions. Is there a chance that you might show them to me?"
"I think... I could find some things, yes." But in truth Claire had no clue as to how she could find some sheet music to show him since everything she had written was penned under some alias or other.
Their conversation lasted for some more minutes, after which Dr. Stuart, being the gentleman that he was, offered to accompany her to her lodging.
"Now m'lady is safely back home," Dr. Stuart said as they walked along the corridor that led to Claire's rooms. "I hope the evening was as pleasant for you as it was for me."
She averted his gaze before answering. "I loved going to that concert with..." She stopped herself as she was about to say 'with you'. She didn't even know why she would want to say anything like that. "I... I just loved going to that concert. Mr. Williams' performance was exquisite. Thank you for inviting me, Dr. Stuart."
"Wouldn't you call me simply Andrew? At least when we're not working. I'd love to hear that word coming from... your lips." He moved forward, slightly leaning in closer to her, but then he frowned, and retreated back again, as if having second thoughts. "And you gave me leave to call you Claire, isn't that right?"
She had to nod her agreement, remembering that in fact she had done just that. But somehow, her throat refused to let his name escape her lips out loud. She shouldn't take that step. She knew she shouldn't, but... "Thank you... Andrew," she finally uttered under her breath.
Once Dr. Stuart said his goodbyes, Claire shut the door behind her and let herself drop against it. She had so much enjoyed her evening she felt like laughing. And she decided then and there that she'd make the most of these new experiences and emotions for as long as she could. She knew far too well they wouldn't last forever...
Author's note: Not much I wanted to say here except once again thank you all for giving this little story a chance. Your continued support and feedback is what keeps me motivated in those moments when I feel this is too heavy a load for me and I won't be able to make it to the end. So, a big THANK YOU to all my readers, you guys are awesome! :-D