Arlen was quiet most of the next week, during which I divided my time practising, playing duets with Nipples, and walking the grounds with her. The mild weather had begun to melt the snow. She also made a stab at teaching me how to cook, teaching me a few dishes that I might serve Arlen when he arrived. She had the patience of a saint.
I couldn’t chat much with Charlie either. Nips had taken to spending the evenings gabbing with me in my room until either we passed out from the alcohol, or fell asleep, several times waking with her next to me in my bed.
What I wanted desperately to speak with her about was Arlen. How should I greet him? Should I be his fantasy? What should I wear? She wouldn’t want to hear that, and she wouldn’t want to hear about Charlie either. They didn’t see each other much at Uni. Nipples and Sandra were the star postgraduate composers, while Charlie was a lowly undergraduate, a talented trumpeter, and only a part-time composer – basically a non-entity. A flash of jealousy scarred Nipples’ face whenever I mentioned her. She knew about us, somehow.
Sandra was a different story. Something seethed underneath, and Nips wouldn’t discuss her at all, other than repeated warnings to be careful. I had to formulate an action plan for that visit on my own.
Amelia sent me a number of emails, mostly asking about Nipples. Was she all right? Was she eating enough? Was she lonely? Was she having a good time? Did I like her music? If I didn’t know better, I would have thought there was something between them, but aside from some online contact, Nips claimed they had hardly met, other than for a short lesson while Amelia was in town for a première.
Emails came irregularly from Liz and Laura as well, enquiring about my plans with Sandra, but also warning me about the fragile Nicole. Both were concerned about their visits overlapping, even by only a few minutes. The seemed to know too much, as though they all discussed us behind our backs.
When it came time for Nipples to leave, I felt an attachment to her, perhaps motherly like the others, but more profound, as if she was someone who needed my protection. I would miss her and contrived to invite her up for Easter break to rehearse her violin piece, if nothing else. Dunrig was at its most vibrant during the spring, with flowers bursting into bloom below the cherry trees. We would have to make way for the tourists, but other than Easter Sunday, the early season was clear, although the Estate staff would be all over the grounds like a rash, tarting the place up.
My annual recital was early in the summer – hopefully I would be five months pregnant by then – but I hoped she could come. Perhaps if I played her piano Preludes, she might be more inclined to come north. Aside from the tourists, June was the most idyllic month at Dunrig. Even the ghosts made themselves scarce unless I summoned them. Nips would like June in the castle.
I missed her already, and she hadn’t left yet.