Anna Semenovich prigrela.., p.1

Pickup Notes, страница 1

 

Pickup Notes
 


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Pickup Notes


  Table of Contents

  ONE

  TWO

  THREE

  FOUR

  FIVE

  SIX

  SEVEN

  EIGHT

  NINE

  TEN

  ELEVEN

  TWELVE

  THIRTEEN

  FOURTEEN

  FIFTEEN

  SIXTEEN

  SEVENTEEN

  EIGHTEEN

  NINETEEN

  TWENTY

  TWENTY-ONE

  TWENTY-TWO

  TWENTY-THREE

  TWENTY-FOUR

  TWENTY-FIVE

  TWENTY-SIX

  TWENTY-SEVEN

  TWENTY-EIGHT

  TWENTY-NINE

  Thank you

  (Untitled)

  Honest And For True

  Chapter One:

  A strange fascination for the Rumours album

  PICKUP NOTES

  by Jane Lebak

  Playing viola in her string quartet is the only joy in Joey’s life. It’s certainly not her job as a tollbooth operator or her toxic family. But the only reason Joey isn't a "starving musician" is that peanut butter is cheap, and you can buy day-old bread for a dollar. Her quartet needs to start making money, and soon.

  HARRISON: the fearless first violinist who’s always driven the group.

  SHREYA: the secretive second violinist who seems to have one foot out the door.

  JOSH: the cellist who only now is facing up to a stutter that’s kept him bound by shame.

  JOEY: the violist, who broke Josh’s heart and in turn had her heart broken by Harrison.

  She’s always hidden behind her music. It’s better that way. No one notices the viola.

  When a bride gets so drunk she forgets she hired a classical string quartet, Shreya stuns everyone by ripping off a guitar riff on her violin. Suddenly Harrison sees dollar signs in the air: they can fuse rock music with classical quartets, even if it means changing their entire repertoire.

  But changing their playlist starts twisting the friendships the quartet members have formed with one another. Harrison promised that no matter what, they’d always have their music. But as the relationships begin cracking under the strain, it’s going to take a lot more than promises and a new repertoire to save the quartet.

  Philangelus Press

  Boston, MA USA

  Copyright © 2016, Jane Lebak. All Rights Reserved.

  By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the author. So there.

  Cover: C.K. Volnek

  Print version ISBN: 978-1-942133-19-3

  Library of Congress Control Number: 2016933558

  Also by Jane Lebak:

  Half Missing

  Honest & For True

  The Seven Archangels Saga

  The Father Jay Stories

  Dedicated to Thomas

  ONE

  Bach hated me, and I didn’t blame him. After the thousands of horrible mistakes I’d made playing his pieces, he had to be lurking somewhere in the afterlife plotting one lady musician’s untimely demise. I’d bet he’d do me in with a method that involved rosin, bow hair, and maybe a music stand flying out of the dark.

  He hated me, and yet I loved him. I was flying up the scale as I played Kodály’s viola-solo transcription of the Fantasia Cromatica, a nine-minute piece that made it sound like I was going down in order to go up again, eight-note clusters that took me in a little back-and-forth so that each time I ended up one step higher than the last, and then I’d repeat the whole thing all over again.

  I’d propped the sheet music on top of my dresser using the library’s copy of The First Man in Rome. I’d never nailed this piece the way I wanted to, but oh, the tension and the pauses, the climbs and the hesitation before the repeats. It was a rhythm like breathing and life, and it took everything out of me to keep my fingers flashing over the right places on the fingerboard.

  With my arm cocked all the way under the instrument, my wrist twisted at an angle that would make most orthopedists shriek, but that’s what I had to do to hit the highest notes. And then I’d stretch out my arm again and let my fingers race down the fingerboard toward the scroll so I could plummet those sounds back to a low C, the lowest a viola could go.

  Throaty. Beautiful. It was precision and it was hunger. It was glory and it was yearning.

  It was also really, really difficult, so when I screwed up one of the runs, I stood for a minute, breathing hard. I’d try it again from the top. It wasn’t like Bach could hate me any more, right?

  In the next room, my apartment door opened.

  All the hairs raised on my neck. I was the only one in the building. At least, I’d thought I was. My grandparents had left an hour earlier to go bowling, as I’d discovered when I’d dropped off the rent check on their table. No one should have been here, and certainly no one should have climbed up to the attic I called home.

  I replaced my viola in the case, calling, “Hello?”

  I stepped out into the kitchen and found my sister, of all people. “What are you doing here?”

  Viv looked momentarily startled, but then she forced a laugh. She swept her gaze around my kitchen, like the British Queen inspecting preparations for a royal ball, her chin high as she studied the chipped dish in the rack and the cracked linoleum. She couldn’t have missed the overdue bills on the table, festively dressed in their pink envelopes and so very politely referring to me as Josephine.

  She folded her arms. “I always forget how you live like a rat.”

  While all my apartment’s inadequacies piled up in my head, Viv strode into my bedroom where I hadn’t made the bed or put away my laundry. She shook her head. “If this is the best you can do, you should be the one living at home with Mom.”

  She was only three inches taller, so it made no sense to feel tiny beside her, ever the “little” sister. But with her dancer’s body that hadn’t changed even after having a baby, she illustrated the difference between “slender” and “skinny.” Add in her unpilled sweater and brand-name jeans, and well, you get the picture. How could brown-eyed-brown-haired-and-starving compete with blonde-and- curly-haired-and-limber?

  She lifted the book off my nightstand and smirked. Northanger Abbey.

  I took it from her and shoved it in my jeans pocket. “Where’s Zaden?”

  “Mom took him to the park so I’d have a few free hours.”

  I snorted. “And you came here? Your social life sucks?”

  She grinned. “I’m apartment hunting.”

  She let that hang.

  Apartment hunting—?

  My fists clenched. “The hell you’re getting my apartment. If you recall, you forced Mom to kick me out when you wanted my room for the baby. Besides—” Please don’t let my voice break. “—I live like a rat.”

  She laughed. “This place? Why would I want this? I’m here to see everything I don’t want.”

  If there were justice in the world, even a tiny thimbleful of justice, lightning would have struck through the window and left a pile of dust I could have eliminated with one whirr of Grandma’s mini-vac. Viv? Huh, no, haven’t seen her for weeks.

  I frowned. “Are you also ready to get a job?”

  Her eyes flared. “I have a job!”

  Returning to the kitchen, I called over my shoulder, “Holding the door so Mom can load drapes into her car is not,
in fact, a job.”’

  Viv’s voice flattened. “What would you know about having a job? Is your squawking viola putting food on the table?”

  I pivoted. “My music’s fine.”

  “I can see how fine it is. What’s it like being a failure?” The Queen of The Low Blow raised her eyebrows and pointed to the peanut butter jar on the counter. “Oh, wait, it is putting food on the table, although not jelly too.”

  “Get out of here.” I edged her toward the hall, but she still wore that smirk. “We’re supposed to starve for our art, don’t you remember? Some things are more important than jelly.”

  As soon as she hit the hallway, I slammed the door.

  What the hell? I paced to my room and folded my half-load of laundry. Strutting into my apartment and pretending she wants it and telling me I’ve failed—like she’s such a success?

  Jeans. Sweatshirt. Socks, balled. Underwear. Another pair of socks. And Viv. In my head: Viv, Viv, Viv.

  Damn it, I would make it as a musician. No, my string quartet wasn’t playing Carnegie Hall, and no, we wouldn’t get a record deal, but that didn’t make us failures. And someday my family would come hear my quartet in concert, and then they’d realize what I’d worked for.

  A text came in on my phone from my quartet’s first violinist.

  Hey, Joey, how can you tell a viola is playing out of tune?

  Oh, do go on. How can you tell a viola is playing out of tune?

  Thirty seconds later, the next text arrived: The bow is moving.

  So funny, Harrison the Ever-Helpful, and also ever-ready to remind me that violas are the dumb blondes of the orchestra, and we even have our own blonde jokes. Or viola jokes.

  When I finally finished cleaning, Viv was gone, but she still wouldn’t clear out of my brain. It must be nice to have Mom for your own personal banker. How’s it working out, using up the unlimited minutes on your cell phone?

  When the hurricane in my head reached Category 5 and I still hadn’t won the argument, I went back to my bedroom and picked up my viola. I cradled it in my hands, then pressed my lips against the tense strings and let the smell of wood and rosin surround me.

  I let off a long breath.

  That. That was life, right there.

  Then I noticed the time. Oh, crap! I hid my viola in the back of my closet under the eaves, then yanked on three layers of my warmest clothes. I grabbed my jacket and raced down the block for the bus.

  After I arrived at work with sixty seconds to spare, I donned the cornea-frying yellow vest that was all the rage in Nowhere. Cue the applause: I worked as a toll-booth operator.

  That’s what you got with a BA in music, funded entirely through student loans. And whoa, the day I got that first loan statement in the mail, payment due on receipt? I applied for every job I could. Down at city hall the guys gave me a good ribbing when I mentioned playing the viola. “Why are violas bigger than violins?” said the guy behind the counter, and as I folded my arms, he guffawed, “They’re not! It’s that the violists’ heads are smaller!”

  Despite my small head, or maybe because of it, I got the job. And it was fine with me. Standing in an upright coffin? Fine. Inhaling exhaust fumes? Fine. Paying off my steep loans? Perfectly fine by me. I could have done a lot worse.

  At the time clock, our security guy pointed to the conference room. “Ted wants everyone in there.”

  You might think (as I did on my first shift) that these talks would be about security, accuracy, or arm position to prevent repetitive strain. And if so, you’d be as wrong as I was.

  In a room crammed to critical mass with reflective yellow, Ted preached as if Jesus Christ had just saddled his horse. “You have to remember—” He always shouted like he was competing with the tunnel traffic. “You have to remember you’re the last faces the drivers see as they exit Brooklyn! A positive interaction will last all the way to Manhattan.”

  As his words thrummed on, on, on like a drum machine, I fingered the third movement of Mozart’s “Dissonance Quartet” against my upper arm.

  Ted raised a fist. “We’re going to increase traffic through our tunnel and show up those folks at the Manhattan Bridge and the Queens Midtown Tunnel!”

  Speaking for my glassy-eyed coworkers, a reduction in traffic would be more welcome. Thank goodness the city had disapproved Ted’s request to select a random operator to wave at passersby suited up as Batty, mascot of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.

  Thus infused with goodwill, I headed out to become a human vending machine. I clicked on the space heater beneath the register and tuned the radio to the classical station. (A customer complained once about the offensive music. What’s offensive, you ask? Dvorak.) I set my cell phone face-up on the counter. Everything was in order.

  Well, one more thing. Last year I bought a bobblehead of J. S. Bach, and I plugged him into the radio so he could bob in time to the music. The Bach-Bopper cost fifteen bucks I should have spent on, you know, food, and the dude ate batteries, but whenever he started dancing, I giggled.

  Then I opened my lane and it was eight bucks. You want to go leave the borough and you don’t have an EZ Pass? Eight bucks.

  Half an hour into my shift, I got something else: a text message from my favorite cabbie. “What lane are you on?”

  Between vehicles, I replied, “3, outbound.”

  Every lane was in operation, and when the traffic report came on, I got to hear about us. Outbound on the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, expect fifteen-minute delays. I had a ton of cars in line. Well, more than that. Four cars is a ton. I’d calculated that on my first night.

  After traffic came weather (Cold? In February? Never would have guessed) and next came Mozart’s G Minor symphony. Yeah. I could do anything while listening to that.

  My plastic Bach agreed as he dipped and pivoted.

  Deep into the rush hour, I hadn’t shut my window for forty-five minutes, but I’d fully warmed up: the greeting, the pay-out, the send-off. The smile I forced for most but which came naturally when a driver was cheerful despite the backup. I recognized some regulars, like the woman whose 1985 hair and eyeshadow were visible from six cars back, who sometimes handed me a package of M&Ms with her toll. In the past I’d gotten hellos, cups of coffee, pamphlets asking if I’d found Jesus, and business cards from drivers asking me on dates.

  An SUV lurched to a stop in front of my window, the driver’s face purple. “What the hell took so long? I’ve been in line twenty minutes!”

  The first thing that popped into my head was, The radio says fifteen. What I actually said was, “I’m sorry, sir.”

  He slammed his fist into the dashboard, and I jumped. “How long should it take to get money? Five seconds? Why’d it take so long?”

  I don’t know. Why is it taking so long to complain?

  Behind him, someone slammed the horn and didn’t let up. Startled, I looked up to see a yellow cab.

  I grinned. My favorite cabbie.

  The guy in the SUV shoved me his money, and I punched the button for the toll arm. “Thank you, sir.”

  Tires squealing, he launched onto the BQE, no longer my problem. Heaven help the other drivers.

  Pulling up, my favorite cabbie met my eyes, his mischievous brown ones almost hidden beneath his Yankees cap. The same Mozart played from his radio as from mine. Third movement, minuet.

  “Thanks.” Biting my lip didn’t hide the compulsive smile. “My hero.”

  The cabbie averted his eyes. He had an EZ Pass unit, so he didn’t need to wait in traffic. But he kept the unit shielded for trips through the BBT, and he always handed me a yellow sticky note with his toll. His hand brushed mine, and calm spread through me like when I touched my viola.

  I glanced at the note. A hedgehog behind the wheel of a taxi, profanity symbols over the roof. I stuck the sketch to my window.

  He had a passenger, so he only winked before pulling through. Between each of the next five vehicles, I looked at his drawing. “Don’t swear too much,
I whispered to the hedgehog. “You’ll get tipped better.”

  A salt-spattered Ford Fiesta came into my lane, and the woman stared at me. No payment. Just...watching. Ah, my favorite: drivers who took a swat at the city government by being a pain to the lowest-paid employees.

  “That will be eight dollars, Ma’am.”

  “That’s robbery,” she exclaimed.

  You mean, “Highway robbery.”

  I gave the automatic, “I’m sorry.”

  The woman pointed to the bar. “Then let me through.”

  I frowned. “If I do that, I’ll lose my job.”

  She tossed her head. “I refuse to pay.”

  Looking in her eyes, I saw… I don’t know what I saw, except that this woman’s smirk, the way she expected to get whatever she wanted, her disregard for the drivers behind her… It told me that to her, I was no one.

  Trying to control my voice, I said, “I’ll just call security, then.” And I pushed the button.

  The siren sounded, and lights rotated on top of my booth.

  The woman’s mouth opened. “What are you doing?” She grabbed a bunch of coins and bills from the console and hurled them at my window. A quarter struck my arm, but most of the coins ricocheted off the glass and two bills fluttered to the pavement.

  While I plastered myself at the far side of the booth, she shrilled fifty names at me, names I could hardly hear over the ringing in my ears. Bitch. Idiot. I’ll get you fired. Were the other operators staring? The other drivers? But what could they do? She was right on the other side of the sliding door, and I wasn’t allowed to leave the booth. I had nothing in here to defend myself. Just a radio playing a symphony Mozart wrote in the last years of his life when he was hemorrhaging money and couldn’t find a way out.

  Security arrived in the form of Walt, a guy twenty years and fifty pounds my better. She gave him a mouthful while he kept pivoting his glance between us. Afraid my legs would crumple, I wedged myself up onto the stool. He was going to take her side and I’d get a write-up and Ted would put me on admin leave and I’d end up bankrupt. But wasn’t the whole exchange on camera? How soon would a panel review the tapes? Or was it cheaper just to replace the grade-three civil servant?

 
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