I have Alice.
If she had no one else, she had Alice, who believed in Etta even when she was playing at her worst. Of the two Brits in her life, she was grateful that at least this one seemed to care and love unconditionally.
Alice pulled back, touching Etta’s cheek. “Everything all right, love? You’re not having second thoughts, are you?”
“No!” God, she couldn’t give Alice any excuse to cancel the debut. “Just the usual nerves.”
Alice’s gaze narrowed to something over her shoulder; Etta started to turn, to look and see what it was, only to have her instructor touch one of her earrings, her brow wrinkling in thought. “Did your mum give these to you?”
Etta nodded. “Yeah. Do you like them?”
“They’re…” Alice seemed to search for the word, dropping her hand. “Beautiful. But not half as beautiful as you, duck.”
Etta rolled her eyes, but laughed.
“I need to…I think I ought to make a call,” Alice said slowly. “Will you be all right to start warming up by yourself?”
“Of course,” Etta said, startled. “Is everything okay?”
Alice waved her hand. “It will be. If I’m not back in a few minutes, make sure they let you have your turn onstage—you’ll need the most time, since you couldn’t make the dress rehearsal. And the Strad—which one are they giving you again?”
“The Antonius,” Etta said gleefully. It was one of several Strads in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection, and the very first one she’d been allowed to play.
“Ah, the golden child. It’ll take a bit of work to get him to behave himself,” Alice told her. “I don’t care what your mother says about preserving them for the future. Holding incredible instruments hostage in glass cases. You know that—”
“—the longer you silence a violin, the harder it is for it to find its true voice again,” Etta finished, having heard the argument a hundred times before.
A Strad—a Stradivarius—one of the stringed instruments crafted by the Stradivari family of northern Italy in the late seventeenth, early eighteenth centuries. The instruments were legendary for the power and beauty of the sound they produced. Their owners didn’t describe them as mere instruments, but like humans—temperamental friends with moods that could never be fully conquered, no matter how skilled the player.
No matter how lovely her own violin was—a Vuillaume copy of the “Messiah” Stradivarius she had inherited from Alice—it was still just that: a copy. Every time she thought of touching the real thing, it felt like sparks were about to shoot out of her fingertips.
“Back in a bit, duck,” Alice said, reaching up to give her an affectionate tap under the chin. Etta waited until she was safely down the stairs before turning back to squint her way through the darkness.
“There you are!”
Etta turned to see Gail, the concert organizer, hustling and wriggling over the stage as best she could in her long, tight, black dress. “The others are backstage in the green room. Need anything? We’re running through warm-ups one by one in order, but I’ll introduce you to everyone.” She looked around, a flash of disappointment crossing her face. “Is your instructor with you? Rats, I was hoping to meet her!”
Alice and her late husband, Oskar, had both been world-renowned violinists, and had retired to New York City when Oskar became sick. He had died only a year after Etta started taking lessons from Alice, but at five, she’d been old enough to form a true impression of his warmth and humor. While Alice hadn’t played professionally in years, and hadn’t had the heart to try after Oskar passed, she was still worshipped in certain circles for a breathtaking debut performance she’d given at the Vatican.
“She’ll be back,” Etta promised as they made their way to the green room. “Will you introduce me to everyone? I’m sorry I couldn’t make the dress rehearsal.”
“Evan couldn’t make it, either. You’ll be fine—we’ll get you situated.”
The green room’s door was open, and a current of voices, pitched with excitement, rolled out to meet her. The other violinists studied her with blatant curiosity as she walked in.
They’re wondering why you’re here. She squashed the voice down and sized them up in return as Gail went around the room and rattled their names off. Etta recognized two of the three men present—they were older, near retirement age. Evan, of course, was still onstage. The organizers had balanced out their number with three women: an older woman, herself, and another girl who looked to be about Etta’s age. Gail introduced her only as “Sophia,” as if no last name were necessary.
The girl had tied her dark, nearly black hair back from her face and pinned it up into an old-fashioned twist. She wore a plain white shirt tucked into a long, dark skirt that fell to her ankles, but the outfit wasn’t half as severe as the expression on her round face when she caught Etta studying her, trying to place whether they’d crossed paths at a competition.
“Mr. Frankwright, you’re up,” Gail called as Evan made his way in and introduced himself. One of the old men stood, was handed a gorgeous Strad, and followed.
No one seemed in the mood to talk, which was fine by Etta. She put on her headphones and listened to the Largo all the way through once, eyes shut, concentrating on each note until her small purse accidentally slipped off her lap and the lip gloss, powder, mirror, and cash she’d shoved into it went scattering across the tile. Evan and the other man helped her scoop it all back up with faint laughter.