Because of my late night, I woke up late the next morning, and it was almost ten before I opened my eyes and looked at the clock. I groaned. What if Clara thought I wasn’t free and had already made other plans? I sat up and reached for my phone, calling her as quickly as I could. While the phone was ringing, I climbed out of bed and started getting dressed.
“Hello, this is Clara.”
“Hi Clara, it’s Walter. I didn’t hear your message until late last night. But I’ll be heading down to the café for a few minutes and will be there until closing time. You can even come after closing time – that’s eight – if it works better for you.”
“I’ll probably come after lunch. Do I need to bring anything?”
“Just your flute and any music you want to try.”
“Great! Where is the café?”
I gave Clara directions as I tied my shoes and then ran out the door as soon as we hung up, grabbing my satchel from the foot of my bed as I passed by.
“Good morning,” I called as I entered the café.
“Good morning, Walter,” Emily said from behind the counter. “Did you just get out of bed?”
“I take it you didn’t check the mirror at all.”
“Your hair is hilarious.”
“Oh.” I ran my fingers through my hair, combing it back to its normal position. “Now that I’m presentable, may I have a quiche and two muffins for breakfast?”
“Hungry, are we?” Emily said as she got my breakfast.
“Waking at this time, I’m starving.”
“You also seem very excited.”
“Clara’s coming after lunch.”
“That’s good news.”
I nodded. “I hope so, anyway.”
“You’ll be fine. Besides, Ema’s here to break any ice that needs breaking.”
“What’ll I do?” Ema asked when she heard her name. She was standing on a stool stirring a bowl of batter.
“Do you have anything for me to do before Clara comes?” I asked Emily.
Emily shook her head. “Write, play, anything you need to.”
I sat down and pulled out pieces of sheet music, double-checking pieces and parts. Then I went to the piano and ran through the trickiest bits and made sure that I knew what I was doing with my own music. The soiree wasn’t going to be entirely original music, but there were a fair number of Christmas carol arrangements I’d done, as well as a sonata for flute and piano. And then we’d have the music Clara was bringing. I got up to talk to Emily.
“What should we do if they ask for an encore again?” I asked.
Emily shrugged. “You’re the musician, not me.”
“Can I do something?” Ema asked.
“You don’t play anything,” Emily said.
But I began nodding slowly. “I think that’s it,” I said. “I’ll pull together one more arrangement. What’s your favorite Christmas carol, Ema?”
“Silent Night. It’s so pretty.”
“How does Silent Night arranged for flute, piano, and voice sound to you, Emily?”
“It sounds beautiful, but I don’t know if Ema would really sing in front of people.”
“I would!” Ema protested.
“I’m thinking of maybe just having her sing at the very beginning, with Clara playing on flute and then the piano will come in when Ema is done. It’s already coming together in my head!”
Ema was the first one to see Clara approaching. “Is that her?” She asked, pointing to the window. I grinned and nodded.
“She’s pretty,” Ema said.
“And she plays flute?”
“What’s a flute?”
“You’ll see soon.”
Ema ran to the door and opened it when Clara got close. “We’ve been waiting for you!” she said. “I’m Ema.”
“That’s what Walter said. And you play flute!”
“Yes, I do.”
I went to the door to rescue Clara, laughing at Ema. She’ll have no problem singing in a room full of strangers, I thought. “Welcome to the Café, Clara!” I said.
“I can see why you like this place so much,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”
“Come meet Emily.”
I introduced Clara to Emily, and then we got to practicing. There were a few other people in the café, but we briefly explained what we were doing and apologized for any inconvenience we caused – but told them they were getting a free preview of the New Years’ Soiree.
The next few hours were filled with lots of music and only a little less of laughter and smiles. Clara’s musicality was even more amazing than I had thought it was, as she not only made my music come alive but gave it wings. Ema came by every so often asking if we needed any water or snacks, or if we were done so we could play with her. At last we satisfied her by saying that yes, we were finished practicing for today. Ema whisked Clara away to the back room.
“Ema will be fine singing in front of an audience,” I said to Emily.
“She knows you really like Clara,” Emily said. “That’s why she’s so fearless with her.”
“So we do the same with an audience, and put people she knows in the front. And Clara and I will be right there with her.”
“Alright, I’ll stop protesting.”
“Are you happy with how it went this afternoon?”
“Yes. The musical aspect is obvious to see. It’s going to be a great concert. Beyond that, today’s a start, but there’s no telling where it’s going to lead or end.”
“Just be patient,” Emily said. “Not everything clicks right away like it did for Javi and I.”
“Oh, it’s sure clicked right away,” I said. “But I don’t know if it’s clicked on both sides.”
Clara and Ema came out of the back room.
“I showed her the dolls you made me, mama,” Ema said.
“I need to be getting home,” Clara said. “But I enjoyed this afternoon and am looking forward to the concert.”
“Let me know when you’re free again,” I said. “We should practice again at least once more - after Christmas is probably better.”
“And you’re welcome to come over here even if you’re not practicing,” Emily said. “And even if you don’t need anything to eat or drink.”
“Thank you,” Clara said. “I’ll let you know when will work to practice again, Walter.”
I nodded. “Thanks for coming today.”
“I really did enjoy it,” Clara said as I walked her to the door.
“Me, too. Do you know how to get back from here?”
“See you later, then.”
“I like her,” Ema said as soon as the door closed.
“Me, too,” I said again. I turned to Emily. “But now that people have heard about the Soiree we need to get fliers out.”
“I’ll get them printed tomorrow,” Emily said. “And then you and Jerome can go out putting them up.”
“Sounds like a plan. Have you thought of anyone you might like to invite for the reserved seating?”
“I’m not inviting my parents, Walter.”
“Anyone else?” I said, trying to make it seem like I hadn’t asked my first question to make her think about her parents.
“The people in the Café are the only ones I really know here anymore.”
“What about Kate?”
“I was thinking about her again last night,” Emily said. “Not in regard to the concert, but just in general. I’d planned on just waiting until she got in touch with me if she needed anything, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that I can’t do that. I won’t help her like I said I would if she kept the baby, but I still want her to know I’m here for help, comfort, and support if she needs it.”
“I think she might appreciate being specially invited to the concert,” I said. “I don’t know how many friends she has apart from Jake, and we probably aren’t the kind of party she’s used to on New Years’, but it’s an excuse for you to get in contact with her and maybe a more tangible way to reach back out to her.” I shrugged. “But you’re a girl, I’m not. You know what she needs.”
Emily laughed. “You and Jerome crack me up with your obsession over the reserved seats, that’s all.”
“It’s a way to honor special people, that’s all,” I said. “I’m going to invite my parents, but only because I know they’re not going to end up standing by the door the whole time.”
“You do know more about concert etiquette than I do. I just don’t want these special events turning into ticketed concerts.”
“They won’t,” I said. “They’ll always be community events that are free. But I think we need to have them more often if this one is as full as the last one.”
“We need bigger community for that,” Emily said. “Which would help not only our concerts but also business and finances.”
I sighed. “I wish I was some rich, famous musician and could help you financially,” I said. “My lunch money doesn’t go very far – but your prices being cheaper than the rest of New York helps a lot.”
“Walter, what you do for us relationally is so much more than any money could. Strangers can provide money. Good friends are something else.”
I nodded. “They certainly are. But I still wish I could do something.”
“Your concerts help a lot,” Emily said. “They bring in a lot of business. Don’t worry about it, Walter. Jerome is helping us, and we’ll get through. It’s not hopeless, just not where we wanted to be right now.”
I looked around the little café. “Maybe we should have two concert times,” I said. “Clara and I could certainly pull it off, and more people could come that way with it being less crowded.”
Emily didn’t say anything at first, but then nodded. “I think that’s a good idea. I might need even more extra help, though, since that will mean more food.”
“I’ve volunteered my services already, though you may not want me to do much. I’ve never done much in the kitchen.”
“Does Clara cook?”
“I don’t know,” I said, and then noticed the impish look on Emily’s face. “You schemer!” Then I laughed. “Oh, I’d be so lost without you and Ema. I’ll find out if Clara is good in the kitchen.”
Since I've been writing pretty far in advance right now, know that I AM listening to your comments. ;) Conflict/tension stuff IS coming.