I pulled into the small parking lot at the back of the converted Victorian that housed the offices of the attorney who’d contacted me and parked in one of the narrow spaces. Besides my Mercedes, there were three other cars. Did they belong to the people who worked here? Other clients? Or was it possible they were here for the reading of Papa’s will too? If so, who could they be? As far as I knew, I was the last of our family.
Stephan had gone first. The firstborn. The only son. Taken along with his wife and tiny daughter at the hands of a drunk driver just shy of ten years ago. Momma had gone next. They’d said it was from the pneumonia, but I knew better. She’d died the day Stephan died. She’d just not taken her last breath until almost five years later. Then Margo. The baby. Cancer had stolen her away last year. And now Papa was gone too. He’d never been the same after Momma died. Margo had had to put him in a home when she got sick. And there he’d died. Alone.
I’d left home at seventeen with the help of multiple forged signatures, mentors, and eventually scholarships and never looked back. I’d kept in touch with Margo but hadn’t returned. Not for any of them. Not for the funeral of my brother and his family. Not for Momma’s funeral. Not for Margo’s or Papa’s either. I’d escaped and been afraid I’d be sucked back into the poverty somehow if I came home even for a visit. I’d been ashamed of the second-hand clothes and the run-down houses. Our lowly status had been fodder for endless taunting and bullying in school.
I’d built a new life after I’d left and had an amazing career. I was busy. I was a world-renowned violinist. You couldn’t just cancel a concert that big. People paid a lot of money to come hear me play. I had an obligation to my fans. What I really was, was a . . . I cut that thought off with a shake of my head. Best not to go into what I really was right now. That wasn’t anything I wanted to face and if I did, it certainly wouldn’t be here. Couldn’t be now. I was going to be late.
Warm air wafted over me as I stepped into the tiny offices of Schulman, Tate, and Meyers exactly at the time of my appointment. The young woman behind the desk looked up from her computer and smiled.
“Good afternoon. I’m Bethany and you must be Ms. Compton.”
I managed a wan smile. “Yes. Please, call me Karina. I have an appointment with Bradford Tate at two. Sorry for cutting it so close.”
“Oh, that’s really no problem Karina. Mr. Tate is running a little bit behind. He’s asked me to apologize on his behalf and let you know he’ll be with you just as soon as he can. If you’d take a seat in our waiting room, I can bring you something to drink. We have coffee, herbal tea, or bottled water.”
I glanced to the worn leather chairs gathered around a small magazine covered coffee table in what had once been a living room. A fire burned in a brick fireplace giving the whole space a homey feel. A cup of tea sounded heavenly, but too indulgent for the occasion. I turned back to the receptionist.
“Thank you. Water will be just fine.”
I’d just opened my email on my phone and Bethany had just taken her seat at her desk when the door opened. A blast of cold air accompanied the entrance of a man. He was tall, well over six foot. There was something about his curly blond hair and intense green eyes that stirred something that felt like a memory but nothing I could grasp onto. He caught me staring at him and I looked away.
He went to Bethany’s desk. “Hey Beth. Sorry I’m late. That old truck of mine is a bit temperamental when the temperature drops.”
She smiled up at him with a familiarity that stirred up inexplicable feelings of jealousy in me. I shook my head at my foolishness and redirected my attention to the emails I’d been reading. It wasn’t long though before I was covertly watching their conversation again.
“Don’t worry, Bradford’s running late so you’re good. Momma says her knee is telling her we’ll get some snow out of this storm. Want some coffee?”
His smile went all the way to his eyes filling them with warmth. I envied Bethany. How long had it been since I’d had a smile like that directed at me? Sure, I had fans who claimed to adore me, but their smiles were mostly manic and insincere. I’d even had Raul. My mentor and once upon a time my lover. But it had been more a relationship of convenience than one of emotion. It had ended almost six months ago when he’d found his next project pupil. Were Nate and Bethany a couple? The cold fingers of jealousy appeared again, and this time wound their way around my chest and squeezed. I forced air back into my aching lungs and my attention back to my phone when he agreed to her offer of coffee.
The two of them were still chatting when an older man walked out with an elderly woman. He bade her good-bye with a promise to be in touch soon. This must be Bradford Tate. I was surprised when he turned his attention to Nate and not me. The two men greeted each other with obvious affection.
“Nate, good to see you.” They did that handshake hug thing men who are well acquainted and like each other do. “I see our Bethany is taking good care of you. I’m going to have a conversation with Ms. Compton then I’ll ask you to join us. Sound good?”
“Sure thing, Bradford.”
By the time the attorney made his way over to me, his expression had lost most of its warmth. “Good afternoon Ms. Compton. If you’ll follow me, we can get this process started. I’m sure you have a busy schedule to get back to.”
After witnessing his exchange with Nate, his coldly professional demeanor hit me like a slap in the face. I stuffed all that down and turned on the persona I adapted when dealing with my managers and accountants.
“I’m not in any hurry Mr. Tate. My flight doesn’t leave until seven.” I followed the attorney down a narrow hall to his office with an unaccountable feeling of loneliness.
He closed the door behind us without acknowledging my response then settled in behind his desk and motioned me to one of the guest chairs. “As you know, you’re here to hear the terms of your father’s will.”
I nodded. I couldn’t understand why Papa would have needed an attorney or a will. We’d been poor. There’d been little money. Sometimes no money. There’d been times we’d eaten from the same pot of soup for a week while huddled together in a house no bigger than a shed with just each other for warmth. I wasn’t aware that things had changed any from when I’d left home. Once my career had taken off, I’d sent money to them to help. First with day to day living expenses, then funeral costs, money for Margo’s medical bills, and to help pay for Papa’s care, but every check had been returned.
“I’m sorry Ms. Compton, this may be out of line, but I’m going to speak my mind. Your father was a dear friend of mine. The pain of your leaving home and your failure to return even when your mother died haunted him until his death. If he hadn’t asked me to do this on his death bed, I would never have even informed you of his passing. If . . .”
Whatever more he’d been going to say was derailed by the buzz of his intercom. Bethany’s voice came through with a slight electronic hum. “I’m sorry to interrupt Mr. Tate, but Harlon Cates is here and needs to speak to you urgently.”
Without apology, the attorney rose and went out shutting the door behind him. My eyes stung and my heart ached from the words he’d said. I deserved all of it. I’d been a horrible daughter and sibling and the guilt of it was a heavy weight.
I looked around the small office hoping to find something to distract me from my thoughts. I almost cried out when I saw it. There on a small table by the side door sat what had to be Papa’s violin. Was that why I was here? Had Papa forgiven me in death and left me his most treasured possession?
I got up on shaky legs and went to stand at the table. I couldn’t believe it was here. So much emotion came with that tattered black case. With indrawn breath, I lifted the lid. There sat Papa’s violin. My throat tightened and tears stung the backs of my eyes as I looked down at the instrument. I ran a fingertip along the satiny wood. My touch was feather light, but the memories slammed into me with enough force to knock the breath out of me. I’d been such a fool. Images of so many happy times washed over me. Frozen snapshots of time showing Momma, Papa, Stephan, Margo, and me gathered in the living room of whatever hovel we’d called home at the time listening to Papa play. Dreary surroundings made beautiful by the laughter, the bond of family, and the music. Ah, the music. No matter what we were going through, music was Papa’s answer to it. Happy times. Sad times. Up, down, times when things were okay or when we were barely scraping by, all were embraced by Papa’s music. Each occasion celebrated or endured on the notes of a song.
With trembling hands, I lifted the violin from its case. First, I held it aloft. Studying it. It wasn’t a priceless instrument. Nothing to be coveted by anyone. It was a cheap thing Momma and Papa had found in a thrift shop years and years ago. It paled miserably when compared to the masterpiece I’d been gifted by my mentor and teacher. My lover. But if asked to choose which was the true treasure, I’d not hesitate to say that this one I held now was the priceless one. This one had the value beyond silver and gold.
I hugged it to me. Regret was a heavy weight in my chest. Why? Why had I run? Why had I thought that life with my family was something to get away from? Something to be ashamed of?
“The violin isn’t for you Ms. Compton. The violin goes to Mr. Kripe. That’s why he’s here.”
I jumped and turned around to find the attorney and Nate. I hadn’t heard them come in.
I laid the violin tenderly back in its case and went to join the two men at the desk. I looked at Nate. “Papa left it to you? I don’t understand. Why would he do that?”
Mr. Tate spoke before Nate could. “Your father did leave you something.” He opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a small wooden box. I recognized it as one that had sat on various fireplace mantles and dressers over the years. It had been Momma’s momma’s if I remembered correctly. He slid it across his desk to me and sat back with arms folded across his chest. “It’s locked, but he said you’d know where to find the key.”
With trembling fingers, I pulled the locket out of my shirt and pried it open to reveal a tiny key. Locket and key had come to me in the mail almost six months ago. About two months before Papa had died. There’d been no note. No explanation. The writing hadn’t been anyone’s I recognized. It certainly hadn’t been Papa’s and he’d been the only one left at that point. The post mark from this town had been all that had made me think it was more than yet another gift from an admirer.
I slipped the key into the lock and turned. The tiny lock popped open. I slipped the key back into the locket before removing the lock and setting it aside.
I glanced in Nate’s direction. Had it been he who’d sent me the locket? He was obviously someone Papa had cared about if he’d left him his violin. He was watching me with an oddly hopeful look. I gave him a puzzled tilt of my head then turned my attention back to the box. Inside rested a piece of paper and under that another key. This key was bigger. More like the key to a door lock.
The writing on the note was Papa’s. It was the wavy disjointed penmanship of the elderly, but I had no doubt it was his. The note made my world tilt. My princess. I love you so. Please, find your way back home. Find the notes to your song. For me. Love Papa. Tears streamed down my face. I pressed the note to my heart and picked up the key. Home. This was the key to home. I leapt to my feet and turned to face Nate.
“I’ve got to go. I don’t know who you are. Who you were to Papa. But if he left you his violin you were special to him. Better to him than I was, and I want to thank you for that. For loving my Papa.” I turned to the attorney. “I don’t blame you for hating me. Thank you for everything.”
I dashed out of the office with a wave in Bethany’s direction. Thirty minutes later I was facing the run-down shack that had been the home I’d run from. The last place I’d had a family. The last place I’d ever been happy. And the only place I’d ever felt truly loved.
The key fit the lock just like I’d known it would. I stepped into a place of wonder. Every bit of all the walls of the tiny living room was covered in snap shots. I had vague memories of Stephan getting a camera one Christmas when things were good and of him constantly snapping picture after picture then selling pop bottles and aluminum cans to pay for processing and buying more film. Now here they were, every last one of them a cherished memory.
I walked the room in tears wondering who had taken the time to do this. It had to have taken hours. On those walls I found home again. It wasn’t a place. It was the people who loved you. I saw the day Papa gave me my first violin. My success had been because of him and I’d never even told him thank you. I also found a curly haired boy with intense green eyes. I found Nate. The lost little boy who my poor family had harbored when needed. The little boy who’d loved the violin as much as I had. As much as Papa had. Then the teenager I’d fallen hard for then been crushed by when his family had moved just before our junior year of high school.
“He never stopped loving you, you know.”
I turned to find Nate standing in the doorway. “Who, Papa?”
He walked toward me, his smile crooked and vulnerable. “Well yeah, him too.”
My heart stuttered. Was he saying what I thought he was? Once I’d allowed myself to remember, the memories of our time together had rushed back in.
He stopped in front of me. His green eyes searching and filled with hope. “Do you remember Rina? Can you come back home? Can you find your music? Can you hear your notes?”
The power of the mind to protect the heart is truly amazing. But now, face to face with the past, it was like those fifteen years had never happened. I was once again a teenager in love standing in front of a boy who amazingly still adored her.
My answer was a single note from the heart whispered on tears and joy. “Yes.”
Two years later
I couldn’t believe it had already been two years since I’d left New York and the prestige of my former life. Nate and I had married a little over a year ago in a small ceremony at the courthouse. I still got calls begging me to return to the city, but I had no desire to do that. We’d remodeled and moved into the home Papa had left me and I loved our tiny house and the life we shared. The melody of happiness that surrounded us had swelled to a crescendo with the news I’d shared with Nate when he’d gotten home from work earlier.
Nate drew me into the living room and settled me onto the couch with an endearing tenderness. He stooped and rubbed a hand over my belly as though caressing our unborn child before sitting in Momma’s old rocking chair. He picked up Papa’s violin and smiled at me. Love shown in his eyes. “I think this calls for music, don’t you?”
As the notes of the song filled our little house happiness filled my heart. The song he played was Papa’s love song. The one he’d played for Momma the day she’d told him she was pregnant with Stephan. It crossed my mind to get my violin and join my music to his, but I knew that wasn’t what this moment was about. This moment was his celebration of our life together, the love we’d found in each other, and the joy of our unborn child all carried out on the wings of love and the notes of a song.
By Rylee Black ©️2020
This story is based on the above photo prompt for Writers Unite! Find more stories for this photo prompt and others at the Write the Story tab of the Writer’s Unite! website here