Title: Omens

Author: tarotgal

Fandom: original fiction

Rating: G

Summary: "May I ask why it is you thought it perfectly all right to show up here with a bad cold and risk infecting the whole orchestra?"

Author's Notes: Though I tried very hard, I was unable to find any sheet music so I just had to take a stab at that part. Sorry! I tried! If anyone wants to give me the music I'd be happy to rewrite it so it would be accurate. And, yeah, origfic. These characters would not get out of my head :-)

Beginnings & Endings Challenge Bunny: 10

Feedback: I'd love some!





     Guided by my right hand rather unconsciously, my baton gracefully swept to one side, then the other. The tip moved upwards to a spot in the middle of both the sides, then, quickly, shot straight down. And that was a measure. Four beats in four-four time. Hardly challenging but for the fact that in several it changed to six-eight then seamlessly back again. I stared down at the music, not really needing to do so. I knew it so well I practically breathed in time to the piece now, not to mention hummed it constantly. It was not only an important song, but the title song of the entire performance. This was not one in which we could afford to make a single mistake.


     So when I heard the mistake, I could not easily overlook it. My head snapped up and my eyes zeroed in as though they were attracted like a magnet. There it was: first violin, second chair. I noticed that he held his bow at a strange angle for what he was supposed to have been playing. It was no longer moving, as well. And I noticed that he was not looking at me or his music or even his instrument. Instead, he was looking up at the ceiling. I could not imagine what he found so intriguing about a bunch of lights, wires, and fixtures that would have caused him to abandon the piece. Moreover, he was not watching me to see my disapproval regarding his mistake or to jump back into the piece. He simply sat, staring upwards.


     My attention was drawn from him by the need to signal a soft symbol crash with my left hand. The percussion section was always somewhat slower than normal during this point in the song. I detested my mindless conducting mode, feeling that it was terribly unfair to my orchestra, but I slipped into it for a moment so I could look over to Mister Second Chair Violin. He was no longer staring at the ceiling. Instead, his head snapped down and his eyes fluttered closed. The lower half of his face was pressed against his upper arm. I watched him sneeze into the sleeve of his black turtleneck.


     I sighed inwardly. That sneeze explained a lot. As did his dazed expression when he pulled his head back up, repositioned his violin, and tried to jump back into the piece. He blended in with the rest of the string section almost seamlessly, but I heard another mistake not a minute later as we hit the retardando. I looked over to see him sneezing again, slightly more powerfully. I was delighted to see that no one else seemed distracted by the disturbance. I should have expected no less from these professionals. But the presence of the sneezes still weighed on me. They were a bad omen.


     The piece finished rather nicely, all things considered. I nodded my approval and set down the conductor's baton. I usually used my hands only during rehearsals, but as our first performance was nearly upon us, I'd decided to pick up the baton. I used a new one for every musical and, despite the fact that they were all bought from the same store, each one had a slightly different feel to it. So I liked to practice a bit with a new one.


     Pushing up my sleeve, I glanced at my watch. "Good work, all. The notes are minor so I'll give them at the start of tomorrow's rehearsal. We're going to try to tackle the entire first act so be ready." Everyone had already started to pull out their cases. "Matthew, may I have a moment before you head out?" I called out over the sound of the orchestra packing up. My second chair violin made eye contact then nodded as he gently placed his bow into case.


     I made some notes on my score and some more on the journal beneath it. Several members came over to discuss various issues with the music and I answered them while keeping one eye on Matthew. He had packed up already but apparently was waiting for most everyone to leave before approaching me. And that alone verified my assumptions. I explained to several of the clarinets that we would do a quick pitch check before going over the second stanza in the third song tomorrow. There were less technical comments as well, many people wishing me a good evening and others mentioning inside jokes as they passed by.


     The rehearsal hall emptied slowly but surely. When there were but a few people left, Matthew finally left his seat and came up to me. My highly attuned ears could detect a sniffle at a hundred paces and I was certain of hearing several as he approached.


     "I know," he said rubbing a hand against the back of his neck. "It says allegro not vivace. I do always seem to rush. I'm sorry, Maureen."


     I shook my head. "You've been anything but rushing today, Matthew." It was a chance to admit it, even though I was certain he would not. He had come this far, there wasn't much sense in stopping now.


     "Are you..." He pretended that the wipe of his hand against his nose meant nothing at all. "Are you referring to--"


     "I'm referring to the fact that you've been sneezing your way through rehearsal. May I ask why it is you thought it perfectly all right to show up here with a bad cold and risk infecting the whole orchestra?"


     He rubbed the back of his neck again. "I... I don't have a cold." While I had seen people try to deny their illnesses before, I had to admit that he was one of the worst I'd ever seen.


     I raised an eyebrow. It was a skill I taught myself in the third grade so that I would look more dramatic if I ever got into show business. Little did I know I'd end up on Broadway and all that people would see of me would be my back or the top of my head in the pit. "Needing to sneeze in the middle of playing? Making several mistakes? And what was that then?" I crossed my arms over my chest. Perhaps that was a little too dramatic, but so be it.


     He looked down at the floor. "It's not a cold. It's just a little sniffle if anything. I was hoping no one would notice."


     "I noticed." I notice everything. That's my job. "And the reason you're here with even a sniffle a week before our first show?" I tapped my score of Singin' in the Rain. "Instead of staying in bed resting and getting better?"


     "I'm sorry," he shook his head, looking up at me. "I just..." He stopped, then drew a sharp breath. His blue eyes shut. He lifted his arm and sneezed into the crook of his arm again, this time he was wearing his coat and the sound of the sneeze was muffled by it. "hahhChfffffff! Excuse me." He sounded absolutely broken up about it.


     Fearing he might do something more dramatic than I and start crying with regret, I held up a hand. "What's done is done."


     He sniffled and looked up at me, his brown hair flopping over his face where it had fallen.


     "But I don't want you coming to rehearsals tomorrow if you still have the sniffles."


     He nodded and his mouth fell open again. And, again, he buried his face in the crook of his arm. "huhCHIFFF! hahhShffff! hahChuffff!" He blinked a few times and lowered his arm. "Maybe it's a cold," he admitted. He rubbed the back of his hand against his nose rather boyishly and sniffled again.


     "Maybe you should go home and sleep," I said, nodding as convincingly as I could. After a few seconds he nodded along. "I'll see you out," I said, packing up my sheet music, journal, and papers. I put my baton in a thin case and placed it carefully in my bag. Quickly I pulled on my black peacoat and slung the bag over my shoulder along with my purse. Then I took his folder of music and his violin. I stepped down and linked my arm with his. Up close like this, he looked younger than he had across the room. Or perhaps he simply looked sicker and more vulnerable. "I need to be sure my second chair violin is going to recover in time for the first practice run this weekend. Do you have medicine? Can you get home all right or should I call you a cab?"


     He shook his head. "I'm taking the subway. Just a couple stops down the line. I've got roommates who can look after me. Don't worry."


     But I made it my business to worry. I worry about the difference between the flute section's piano and pianissimo. I worry that if we don't know the music perfectly backwards and forwards we won't be able to change seamlessly to follow the cast. I worry my istesso tempo is not going to be precisely the same as it was twenty-four measures before. I worry that just one tiny mistake will make an actor or actress lose place and the whole show will fall apart. So, naturally, I worry about the health of my second chair violin. "I'll just walk you to the station, then. I'm taking it home myself."


     He smiled and nodded. "Thanks, Maureen."


     I nodded back as I guided him out of the building and into the chilly New York streets. "Just promise me you'll stay home the next time you're sick. Because you're just terrible at trying to hide how sick you are."


     Chuckling, he raised his hand. "I absolutely promise." He cupped his hand to his nose and mouth a moment later as that 'I need to sneeze' expression I had seen several times already crossed his face. "hahhh-Chshhhh! huhhChishhhh!"


     I handed his instrument back to him and dug in my purse for my pack of tissues, wondering why I hadn't thought of them earlier. He took them gratefully and wiped his nose dry. I smiled and took his arm again as we continued down the block.


     As was usual when preparing for a new production, I began to hum parts of the score. He must have recognized this because he chuckled again. Before I could say something, I felt a drop of rain on my cheek.


     In all the time since we'd begun work it had not rained once. Everyone thought it would be a good omen if it rained at least once before our opening and everyone had been trying to convince me that I should be the one to go out and sing to invite it over. Sensible as I usually was, I had dismissed the idea each time. Incredulously, I looked up to see the rich grey clouds blanketing the sky. "No jokes," I said, tightening my grip on his arm. "And no telling anyone about this. Far too embarrassing."


     He shook his head, trying to restrain his laughter by this time. It had begun to drizzle and the weather's status would probably be upgraded to rain by the time we reached the station. "I won't tell a soul. Especially as I won't even be at rehearsal for a day or two, remember?" I laughed and quickened our pace. Being out in the rain would not be good for him, no matter how good an omen it was.