Authors: Olivia Goldsmith
A Division of Diversion Publishing Corp.
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Copyright © 1998 by Olivia Goldsmith
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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First Diversion Books edition October 2014
To LPG, my oldest friend in both senses of the word, with sisterly love and eternal gratitude
Sylvie stood for a moment in the cool, dark hallway. It was the only dim place in the house and, though Sylvie loved the light—in fact, had fallen in love with the house for its light—she always found the comparative darkness of the hall a welcome contrast. She told herself that she really had too much to do to stand still here, one hand on the simple carved mahogany of the banister. She put her thumb on the comforting place where the curve of the wood had been worn flat by years of other thumbs. You don’t have time to linger here, she told herself sternly. But despite her admonishment, just for a moment, she would enjoy this quiet. She listened to the tiny creaks the old house made and the comforting tick of the wall clock, then forced herself to pick up the cup of tea she’d left on the sideboard. The jasmine smell filled her head.
Sylvie began to walk down the hall but, as always, glanced first into the dining room, then the living room opposite before moving down the hall toward the music room. Oh, she loved her house. It wasn’t large by Shaker Heights standards—just a center-hall colonial with only three bedrooms. But visitors, once in it, were always surprised by the grand dimensions and dignity of the house. Each of the downstairs four rooms was exactly the same size: all of them were large, light, airy rooms with ten-foot ceilings and long, high windows. Bob, at one time, had suggested they sell the house and buy a bigger one, but Sylvie had been aghast and had steadfastly refused. She didn’t need a guest room—guests stayed next door at her mother’s or camped out on the music room sofa. She didn’t need a family room:
the rooms downstairs were for the family.
Sylvie knew how lucky she was, and she didn’t take her good fortune for granted. Bob sometimes laughed at her for her little habit of checking each room. “Do you think they’re going away?” he’d ask. Or “Are you looking for something?” he’d inquire. “Not
,” she’d tell him. She was looking
her home, a place she had created slowly, over time, with Bob and the children. And she never wanted to be complacent about it.
Now Sylvie knew more surely than ever that she’d been right to not even consider selling the house. Perhaps in the old days they’d been the smallest bit cramped, but what would they do now with a larger place? Without the twins at home, the two bedrooms upstairs did stand empty, yet the rest of the house seemed to enfold and protect her. It was not a house too big for a couple, and perhaps someday when Sylvie was used to the idea that the children were gone she could turn one of their rooms upstairs into a proper guest room. Maybe she’d make a den for Bob out of the other. Then he wouldn’t have to leave his paperwork all over the desk in the corner of the dining room, though lately he hadn’t used it much, or at least kept it much neater than usual.
Sylvie moved down the hall to the music room, carrying her cup of tea before her as if the luminous white china could light her way like a lamp. She had only a few minutes before her first lesson and turned into the music room to see the usual organized clutter of sheet music,
Schirmer’s Piano for New Students
A Hundred Simple Piano Tunes
. Her gray sweater lay across the bench of the Steinway, but nothing—ever—sat on its beautiful ebony lacquered top. Sylvie felt a little shiver of pleasure as she walked into the room. There was a touch of fall in the air and she closed one of the long windows. It was too early for a fire but, with the approach of autumn, she knew that soon the time she liked best in this room, the time when she gave lessons and played while apple wood burned in the grate behind her, was just ahead. Though she certainly missed the twins, this season was always a good time for her; September, when the children had begun school and she’d gone back to her full routine of piano lessons. It felt as if the year were beginning. Students returned from their summer holidays. Sylvie remembered that Jewish people actually celebrated their New Year about now. It made sense to her.
No reason to be sad, she told herself. No empty nest syndrome here, just because the children were no longer at Shaker Heights Elementary or Grover Cleveland High. Her daughter, Irene—Reenie to the family—would settle in at Bennington, and her twin brother, Kenny, already seemed perfectly happy at Northwestern. So, Sylvie told herself, she should settle in and be happy too. She was about to celebrate her fortieth birthday and was planning a treat. Bob had asked what she wanted and she’d finally decided. After all, she wanted romance. She had everything else.
Sylvie stopped for a moment, sipped her tea, and reflected on how many marriages in their neighborhood had failed. She and Bob were one of the lucky couples. They were happy. They loved each other. But she had to admit that sometimes she felt…well, Bob was always so busy. She’d expected he’d have more time once the kids were gone, but it was only she who had more time. He had filled up his agenda with campaigning, men’s club meetings, and business. But now Sylvie would help him take the time so they could discover themselves as a couple once again. She herself could focus a little more on Bob. Men liked that, even men as evolved as Bob. She’d already ordered some nice nightgowns from Victoria’s Secret. She’d make romantic dinners. She’d bought three bottles of champagne and had them hidden in the old refrigerator in the garage, waiting for a spontaneous moment to reveal one with a flourish and let Bob pop the cork.
Sylvie smiled to herself. She wanted to lie in bed with Bob in the morning and talk and giggle instead of letting him jump up, shower, and shave by half past seven. She wanted to sit out in the backyard in the coolness of the October evenings, wrapped in a blanket with him beside her, gazing up at the stars. She wanted to spend a Sunday morning poking around a flea market, sipping coffee from a Styrofoam cup held in one hand with Bob holding the other. She looked around at her lovely room and smiled with anticipation.
Sylvie had always felt sorry for women who had to work outside their homes. She had been so very lucky. Lucky to meet Bob as early as she had, lucky that he had come back to Shaker Heights and had seamlessly become part of her family. She was lucky that the twins were both so healthy, so smart, and had never been in any real trouble. There were no financial problems. Bob had given up his music to become a partner in her father’s car dealership, and that had provided well for them. Bob seemed to have done it willingly, though it always caused Sylvie some regret. There was no doubt in her mind that he had been the more talented musician. Perhaps his talent had actually made it easier for him to give up music as a profession; Sylvie didn’t mind teaching and wasn’t troubled by the knowledge that she was almost—but not quite—good enough to tour. Her talents had been exaggerated by a loving family. Juilliard, at first a startling comeuppance, had been a pleasure—once she realized that she didn’t really have the stuff it took to be a concert pianist.
But she had become a good teacher, and she enjoyed teaching. For her it was not a fallback, the boring trap that serious musicians were so reluctantly forced into. She loved bringing music into people’s lives and found that she also liked the glimpses into their lives that the lessons afforded her. Sylvie was a woman who enjoyed the process, and for that she was grateful. She actually enjoyed teaching scales, just as she enjoyed playing them. She liked the orderliness of building one week’s lessons upon the next, and the slow construction of a musician, week by week, as a student mastered fingering, timing, and sight-reading until the thrilling moment came when music burst out in apparent effortlessness. Sylvie treasured those moments when, almost invariably, students looked up from the Steinway keyboard dazzled by their own ability to bring forth a waterfall of sound, to re-create the ordered noise that Handel, Chopin, or Beethoven had first composed.
Oh, she was lucky all right. Lucky with her material possessions, with her family, and with her ability to be satisfied. She had, thank goodness, none of her brother’s constant dissatisfaction, or Bob’s restlessness, which Reenie seemed to have inherited. Sylvie and Kenny were more alike. But then, she had never had to give anything up, to sacrifice anything as Bob had. She had gotten to keep her music
her family. She’d gotten to have it all—a good marriage, good kids, a house she loved, a career she cared about. And if Bob sometimes seemed a bit absent, if he ignored her just a little or took her for granted, they could fix that now—now that they had the luxury of this time together.
She looked at her watch. Honey Blank, her next student, was late. Typical. Sylvie heard a noise in the hall and stepped out there again. The mail came sliding through the post slot in the front door. Maybe there was a letter from one of the children. Kenny would be bad about writing, but Reenie might take the time to send a note. Sylvie knelt to pick up the pile. The usual bills, some catalogues (soon the pre-Christmas deluge would begin), and a card from her sister. Ellen was always early with her birthday greetings. Sylvie opened it.
“Forty but still fabulous”
it said on the front, with a photo of a wizened old woman in frightening makeup. Thank you, Ellen, Sylvie thought. Older but still passive aggressive, I see. Sylvie shrugged. There was a postcard from Reenie. Sylvie read it quickly. Good. It seemed as if Reenie was settling in. She had signed it
“your daughter, Irene,”
the formality of which made Sylvie smile.
But it was the Sun Holidays brochure that lit up her face. This was what she’d been waiting for. She felt as if she and Bob needed to rekindle the lamp, the light that had always been at the center of their relationship. And now, with the children gone, there would be time. Here, in her hand, was a ticket to romance. It was up to her. She had always been the spontaneous one, the one who created their adventures.
The phone rang and Sylvie took the mail to the hall table.
“Are you in the middle of a lesson?” Mildred, Sylvie’s mother, began almost every phone conversation that way.
“No, but Harriet Blank is due over any minute.”
“Lucky you. The only woman in the greater Shaker Heights—Cleveland area with no social boundaries whatsoever. After her, do you and Bob want to come over for dinner?”
“No thanks. I’ve defrosted chicken.” Bob loved Mildred, but he got enough of Jim, Sylvie’s father, on the car lot most days. As she listened to her mother. Sylvie finished sorting through the mail.
“Your father is barbecuing,” Mildred told her.