@ClanGoddess87: I met a great new man today!
Soon, the flood of questions came back. Who was he? How did I meet him? I sometimes wondered if I had more online friends on Twitter and Facebook than real, flesh and blood companions.
Growing up in a wee Scottish castle didn’t engender closeness with the neighbours, and that wasn’t helped by being the heiress of an outcast line in the Johnstone clan. We weren’t rich either. The income from tours of the public areas of the castle barely covered the cost of upkeep and the estate staff. The bulk of the work was provided by the many volunteers from the surrounding village. “Surrounding” meaning a mile and a half away. The paid staff were twice my age, while the average of the volunteers was around 75.
My mother, who died just as I began at the University of Glasgow, had married young to a distant clan cousin. My father was sixty when I was born. Ordinarily, I would have been expected to marry within the clan, but there were few left around my age, and I couldn’t bear them. In my lineage, that wouldn’t have been a problem, since the women invariably married much older men. Now, all the elders cared about was an heir, which I was happy to provide if I found the right man. I wasn’t even required to marry him.
Since my mother’s death, I have spent only the weekends at the castle, preferring to spend my week in my digs at Uni. I found a few friends there, but the men either were too keen to attach themselves to the owner of a castle or dismissive of me as clan heiress, a fact that leaked out in my first days of university. Sheila Johnstone of the main branch outed me, successfully quashing the competition.
After graduation, I continued at Glasgow, hoping for a Ph.D in music, while remaining within driving distance of Dunrig Castle, overlooking the Clyde. My few gigs in the city paid for the flat, where I was close enough to practise on the pianos at Uni.
For some extra cash, I agreed to help at a small music analysis conference in the department. Most of the papers were flat and uninteresting, so I amused myself with my iPhone at the registration desk, tweeting to my ever-growing following, mostly in America. Completely ignored by my colleagues, I received weekly marriage proposals from heritage-mad Americans. If I was going to marry, I wanted to fall deeply, head-over-heels in love, something which by the age of 24, I despaired would never happen.
I wasn’t exactly ugly, but I would never claim to be pretty, just thin with a little more on my hips than I would like, and a little less on my chest. With mahogany hair and brown eyes, I didn’t project as the typical Scot, and I usually hid my tartan as underwear. As heiress, I was expected to wear it in public at all times.
“Do you think you could point me to the café?” he had asked. I couldn’t identify his accent – possibly English, or more likely American or Canadian. Whatever it was, he had an English intonation, probably from having lived in England for a long time. He reminded me of my father when I was quite young. He didn’t make it past my tenth birthday, but he was tall and proud, yet shy, perhaps too shy. My mother had explained that he had married late because of that shyness, but like her mother, she had always had her eye on older men. Hence, our branch of the family was severely matriarchal.
“It’s out that door, bear to the right, and look for the sign for the Brasserie near the archway,” I replied, sounding as cheery and Scottish as I could. Like many of the “upper-class” Scots, I was raised with an English accent, but in public I tried my best to sound Scots. An Edinburgh accent was easier than Glaswegian, so I opted for that, but it telegraphed my otherness.
Ten minutes later, he was back. “I’m afraid I couldn’t find it.”
Bored and underutilized, I answered, “I’ll show you the way.”
“Thank you so much,” he replied.
Halfway there, I broke an awkward silence, asking, “Are you giving a paper?”
“No. My wife wanted to visit Glasgow, and when she heard about this conference, she found a reason to drag me along. I’m not really an analyst.”
“What do you do?”
“I’m a composer. Are you in the Music Department here?” he asked, finally showing some initiative.
In that brief exchange, I had decided I liked him. I liked him a lot. I fancied him, in fact. “I’m a post-grad pianist,” I replied. “What kind of music do you write?”
“Instrumental, mostly. I’m very slow, however, so I don’t have a huge works list.”
“Anything for piano? I play a lot of contemporary stuff when I can, and I’m putting a recital programme together now.”
“A few pieces.”
At that point, we arrived at the Brasserie. “This is the place,” I announced.
“Thanks,” he replied. “I’ll see you later.”
I didn’t want to leave him, but it would seem awkward, and I needed to return to my post.
I met a great new man today!
What was it about him? He was shy, quiet, and had come contrary to his own volition. He was also married. Like my father, he was blond with a little grey on his severely balding head, tall and awkward, not physically awkward, just socially. We had that in common.
“He’s a composer,” I tweeted.
“Is he famous?” my following asked. I hadn’t even read his name tag.
“No. Probably not,” I tweeted. I didn’t want to divulge how little I knew him, nor that in a quarter of an hour, he had become my obsession. I looked through the list of delegates, ticking the names of those who were giving papers, narrowing the field to six who weren’t. Two of those, I knew by sight, so he was one of four that remained, all from English universities.
When he returned a half hour later, his coat obscured my view of his name tag. He waved as he passed, slipping quietly into the back row of a session, discussing some arcane theoretical analysis. At one particularly mind-numbing proposition by the speaker, he glanced at me and rolled his eyes. I fought the urge to go and sit next to him as had the other volunteer who had joined the audience. Someone had to sit at the desk, and it allowed me to discreetly thumb my iPhone.
“What’s he like? Is he a hunky Scot?” asked USclanHunter.
“He’s a kind and thoughtful man,” I tweeted, “Not a Scot, but tall and wiry. Could have some Scots blood, though.”
After the paper, he disappeared into the toilets. Again, I was tempted to plant myself near his place in the back row, but the next paper promised to be worse: Row formation and ascendancy in the works of Babbitt.
Ugh! Too much mathematics.
Minutes later he was back in his seat, thumbing a pencil and doodling on a pad of manuscript paper. He glanced towards me, smiled and redirected his gaze towards Sinead, an Irish third-year undergraduate, staring at her for several minutes as if mesmerized. Like me, she was tall and thin, with long straight chestnut hair and hazel eyes. She had long elegant fingers, perfect for strumming languid glissandi on her harp.
Prettier than me. I was out of luck.
Again, he looked back at me and smiled. Was he embarrassed? I’d caught him eyeing a pretty young woman. Impetuously, I snapped a picture of him with my phone. He chuckled, feigning disapproval.
“Eirica?” Oops! I’d been caught by Hamish McCreedy, the director of the conference.
“Yes?” I replied, turning innocently towards him on the other side of the desk.
“I’ve got to chair the next session. Would you mind taking some more pictures?”
“Sure, why not?” I answered, taking his fancy camera from him.
“Maybe you can upload them onto my laptop later. I’m not that great with technology, and I have to make sure the delegates can find the restaurant for dinner.” I hadn’t been invited to the formal dinner, unfortunately. Only the students in the analysis seminar had, but none had bothered to come to the conference.
I decided that I could take some photos for myself, too. After asking Sinead to look after the desk, I slipped up the aisle towards the front of the hall. I shot a few obligatory photos of the speaker, the audience, and then my man, deep in thought, ignoring the speaker altogether. He wrote something down and glanced back at Sinead.
At the break, he sipped a cup of tea while another delegate rattled on about something inane. Not on tea duty, I milled around and snapped a few more pictures. The other delegate said something to Sinead as he caught her walking past. While she explained something to him, my friend watched on, more interested in her, perhaps than the other delegate, a loud American who had delivered a paper earlier in the day. My friend asked her something, to which she nodded in my direction.
Instead of my friend, the American made his way towards me. “I hear you have played the Boulez Second Sonata,” he said, reaching out to shake my hand. My friend had taken the opportunity to disappear back into the lecture hall.
“Yes,” I replied, “last year.”
“I wonder if you would be interested in looking at this piece of mine?” he asked, producing a score from his briefcase.
I looked at his name tag: George Coulter, Yale University. “Sure,” I replied taking the score. “I’m not sure when I’ll have time. I’ve got a recital coming up.”
“Maybe you’ll consider performing it.”
“I’ve already picked the programme,” I lied. “It’s an all British affair, I’m afraid.”
“Take your time,” he said. “It’s very difficult, and I’m told you are the only person around here that could even consider it.”
“Perhaps,” I shrugged. There were others who could play it, but they were consumed by romantic composers, like Chopin, Liszt or Alkan. He was trying to butter me up.
“Let me know if you decide to play it. I’ll come out for the performance. I was hoping to visit again next summer, if you find anything appropriate.”
“I’ll have a look at it, but I won’t guarantee anything.”
A captive, I listened to him prattle on and on about the theory of his music, asking what composers I liked, and if I had played so-and-so’s music – I hadn’t heard of him. Soon, I was rescued by a greying American woman, who asked him something about the dinner. I stood by politely as they spoke for a few moments, then indicated that I was obliged to take a few more pictures. I took one of the pair of them, and then fled back to the hall.
My friend was back in his seat, texting a message to someone before slipping his phone into his pocket. I took the opportunity to snap another picture of him. He moved like a ballet dancer, every motion finished to the tips of his fingers, even as his eyes followed Sinead back into the hall.
Sitting at the registration desk, I looked back through Hamish’s pictures, finding one of me giving directions to my friend. I would save that one for myself. In the meantime, I took a look at the one on my iPhone. Perfect! It caught his relaxed grace with a hint of a smile. I posted it to my Facebook page, so my friends could see him.
“I think I’m in love,” I twittered. I don’t know why I posted that. I wasn’t in love. This was an infatuation, and since he was married, he could only ever be a sperm donor for me. I didn’t want to marry anyway, but I would gladly take him as a lover.
About halfway through the next session, he received a text, packed up and left. The next morning, he arrived after the first session, waving a subtle hello to me before taking his seat. I had downloaded eleven pictures of him from Hamish’s camera and posted them all. I limited my personal comments about him to Twitter, where I could remain anonymous.
Although Sinead sat two seats away from my friend, there was no interaction between them. She was too close for all but the odd glance. At the lunch break, however, he walked straight over to me and handed me his business card. “I don’t ordinarily push my music on people, but you can listen to a couple of excerpts on my website, and if you are interested, I’ll send you a score. I’ve got a long set of piano pieces and a piano concerto that has never been played. I hope you don’t mind. You expressed interest yesterday, and I … well … that set me thinking …” he trailed off, looking embarrassed.
Arlen Stewart from Leeds University. Now I had a name for him. “That’s okay,” I said, holding out my hand. “I’m Eirica Johnstone, by the way.”
“I know,” he smiled. “I read your name tag,” he chuckled.
“Are you from around here?” he asked, clumsily making conversation.
“My family is from Dunrig, down on the Clyde, not far away. I live on campus during the week, though.” That wasn’t what he was asking. “Do you live in Leeds?”
“York, actually. I’m only at the university one day a week.”
“Are you … American?” I asked, not wanting to let him go so quickly.
“Yes, I grew up in Chicago, but I’ve lived here for a long time.”
“If you’ll forgive me, I’m sorry I don’t think I’ve ever heard of you.”
“I’m not surprised,” he shrugged. “I’m better known in the States, but not particularly well known anywhere. I teach, mostly.”
“Here, let me give you my email. That way you can …” Too forward. Damn.
“No,” he interrupted. “If you like my work, contact me, but … you know … professors befriending students … that’s not …”
“I don’t mind …”
“You don’t know anything about me,” he interrupted again. “Check me out, and then we’ll see. You can’t be too careful these days.”
If it was an obsession before, now it had grown to trust … and desire … mostly desire.
“I wouldn’t want to get an irate phone call from your parents.”
“No chance of that. Both are dead,” I replied bluntly.
“Anyway,” he said, trying to divert the conversation. “I have to sneak out during the next session, so I thought I’d speak to you now.”
“Do you fancy some lunch,” I asked, desperate for more time with him.
“I’m meeting my wife. I’m not sure she’d understand.”
“Well if I don’t see you before you go, have a safe trip home.”
I did see him, but his wife had joined him, so all he did was nod when he left. Although he continued to stare at Sinead during the session, he again instigated no contact with her. I’d won.
During the late session, I looked at his website. He had a few well-formed works listed and some excerpts from the piano piece. I loved it. I think.