Soulville Records had seen artists grow, mature, rise, and fall for over ten years. On this Sunday it was empty.
Molded in James Baldwin’s image, it had gone through some drastic changes in the past year. When Maude walked by James’ office, she held her breath, a habit she’d developed when Alan Lewis had taken charge of Soulville and ousted her uncle James. It was irrational because Alan had been kicked out of Soulville and could no longer force her to do what he wanted, to be the pop star he wanted her to be. The office had been restored to its initial setup. Alan’s frills had been removed. Still, his influence on her career had been detrimental.
Everything she had worked for, her dreams, everything had turned against her. All that was left was a sour taste of defeat where her pop career was concerned. But she still had a new chance to start over in France. To launch a new career, to turn a new page.
She headed to the Steinway grand piano in the middle of the lobby. Soulville’s mascot. An ancient instrument only she could play.
She sat on the bench. Her fingers travelled lightly on the keyboard without making a sound. Keys yellowed by time, the wood a little damaged, less replenished, less shiny than a concert-black exterior.
Her fingers placed on the keyboard, the notes came naturally to her. Chopin’s Prelude no. 4 in E Minor was the saddest piece and the most appropriate to express the pain the discovery of her grandfather’s secret had given birth to.
Nothing was more romantic than playing a sad tune on a cursed piano. Searching for beauty in the midst of pathos was a skill she’d forged through tears.
“Beautiful piece.” The voice came from behind her back. His voice came from behind. Although Maude had sworn she would never, in any circumstance, jump at the sound of his voice again, she couldn’t help herself and placed the blame on the fact she had been certain the entire floor was deserted.
When she turned her head, Matt appeared in full view, leaning against the door of the room he pompously called his creation room or Violetta depending on his mood and audience. She had once called it a torture chamber, but had since grown fond of the room and adopted Matt’s pet names.
His stance had gained a seriousness foreign to the Matt she’d first met over a year ago. The paparazzi portrayed him with a smirk or a cool, nonchalant look more often than not. But the Matt that stood before her had lost something of his immature boyish stance, his dark blonde hair pulled back and his gray eyes shone with a new reflectiveness.
Perhaps Rebecca’s influence on him, Maude thought without mild regret as she shuffled her scores and stashed them in her bag. She silently apologized to the scores she usually treated with the utmost respect.
“I was just leaving.” She rose and would have vanished swiftly had his voice not stopped her.
“Is everything alright?” he asked, moving towards the grand piano. “That was a pretty sad piece. Like a funeral march.”
His simple question could only give birth to a difficult reflection.
Regarding him, everything had gone haywire. The sooner she could move to France and never see him again the better. But she couldn’t tell him that, not after everything she’d said right after her performance in Aida. The scene, still vivid in her mind, played over and over like an unpleasant video. It had genuinely seemed like a good idea at the time to clear the air. She’d run to him after her performance and gushed about how jealous she’d been about him and Rebecca and that she was past all the madness and hoped they could be friends.
How stupid she presently felt! She’d come off the stage after a standing ovation, still in her Egyptian costume, had found him, and had made a complete fool of herself. He’d given her a single yellow rose, certainly out of pity for her frightful state. He probably thought she had lingering feelings for him because of all the nonsense coming out of her mouth that day. His assumption would be true, but she’d die rather than let him in on her secret.
“I’ve learned something about Elder Williams. It could break apart my entire family.”
Matt didn’t press her with questions. He wouldn’t badger her with interrogations when answering them would cause an immense amount of pain.
“Chopin is perfect for the mood in that case.”
“You’re leaving tomorrow, right?” His eyes were on the piano, not on her, which was a relief. He pressed a random note on the lower part of the piano, a signal of doom.
Maude nodded though he missed the silent response. It was a question to which he already knew the answer.
“Good thing I caught you here, or you would’ve left without saying goodbye.” Matt pressed his elbow on the keyboard, propped his head in his hand, and stared straight into Maude’s eyes...
End of the excerpt! Did you like it?
A French Princess in Versailles will be out June 30th, 2014!