October 16, 2010- two years ago
In every person’s life there are extraordinary moments that can change the course and direction of one’s journey forever. Thomas knew the instant he heard Rachel Pearson play her violin that this was one of those moments, and as the years that lay ahead of him totaled their worth, this day would be valued more than most. He would always remember this evening; the night that extraordinary had walked on stage and into his life, forever!
Rachel closed her eyes as she stood under the bright lights and prepared her soul for the music she would create. She played her violin as if her life depended on it; and in many ways it did for it was her only source of comfort. And while the idea of extraordinary was completely foreign to Rachel, on this night it would force its hand and alter the course of her life forever.
Oblivious to the change that was blowing her way, Rachel played as she always did, trance like, as if she were one with every stroke of the bow. She extracted the beautiful notes from the Stradivarius and when she played, the past and future ceased to exist. The only thing that mattered was the melody that resonated here in the present.
Those who heard Rachel play knew they had encountered a musical genius with string and bow, but for Rachel her music had nothing to do with skill. It was about transcending the trapped life that had so cruelly been dealt to her.
While the audience sat in awe and were overjoyed by the beauty of what they heard, joy would quickly turn to great sorrow if they were to catch a glimpse of the soul who wielded the beautiful instrument. They would ask themselves, how could something so beautiful come from this broken and battered person?
This was the exact thought that ran across Thomas’ mind as he listened to the melody her heart played. He saw past her musical gift and straight through to the depths of her soul and was greeted by her only companions pain and sorrow.
He couldn’t explain how or why he saw her the way he did. It was as if someone had parted a glorious veil and beckoned him from beyond to catch a glimpse of the brokenness dwelling behind the soft light. The picture that settled in his mind was one of a patron at a museum, standing before a priceless work of art analyzing the emotion that it evoked. And as Thomas looked upon this intricate portrait of sorrow he realized it did not sadden him, but instead caused something within him to shift deep and wide. The need to protect was strong and nothing like he’d ever felt.
Thomas was a man of great character and true feeling, but nothing could have prepared him for the magnitude of what he felt in that moment; the power of feelings for someone he didn’t even know! But as Thomas gazed at the lovely soul on stage, he knew that he did know her, he had experienced a part of her and he was branded; forever altered.
The loud applause of the crowd brought Thomas out of his thoughts. He was dazed and shaken, his eyes wet with feeling. He joined in the applause, while struggling to understand what had just happened.
It was then that he saw it, the dazzling flicker of light that caught his eyes like a beacon and forced his gaze to the ring that rested on her left hand. An inexplicable loss, bright and unyielding, reached out and touched him.
Thomas’ mind raced as he tried to grapple with what was happening to him. Thoughts of fate and destiny tried to find their footing; two words that were rarely a part of his thoughts. Instead Thomas believed in hard work and making good choices, but somehow this was different, he had felt something beyond hard work or choice. The feelings he felt had depth and a substance so profound, it was beyond his comprehension.
As the crowd continued their applause Thomas thought about the wild swing of his emotions. In one moment he had felt hope for a perfect stranger, but as the gold and diamonds sparkled in the blaze of the artificial lights of the stage, hope no longer existed only confusion for he knew the soul who had touched him so deeply would never be his to know.
Saturday Oct 11, 2012. – Present Day
“Rachel, there you are!” Thomas exclaimed. “I have been looking for you!”
Rachel stared back at Thomas with a hesitant smile on her lovely face. Her brilliant red hair gleamed in the light and her warm hazel eyes soothed the ache in his heart.
“Yes Thomas I am here and I’m sorry, but you’re too late,” Rachel said with such sorrow, her voice confident and sure.
“I can’t be too late!” Thomas said as he felt the panic rising in him.
He saw in her eyes that she wanted to believe him but instead he heard her say, “You are too late Thomas I’m bound to another, you’re too late,” she said over and over as she drew further and further away from him.
He tried to run after her, to grab a hold of her and begged her not to leave him. If only he could catch her he would make her see that they were meant to be together, but Thomas’ feet wouldn’t move, they felt shackled. He cried after Rachel to stop and to come back. Why won’t my feet move, he thought to himself?
Filled with panic Thomas cried out again, “Rachel, please don’t go!”
Thomas woke with a start and was breathing hard! The light was shifting into his room and for a moment he didn’t know what time of day it was. Two years later, this is how the dream still left him; ragged and disorientated!
He lay back in his bed trying to catch his breath, doing his best to keep the emotions at bay. It had been a month since he’d last had the dream but the memory and the feelings of the night he’d first seen Rachel were still as vivid as if it had just happened yesterday.
As Thomas stared at the ceiling he remembered leaving the Barbican that night and the oath he had made to forget about Rachel, and to never look back. In the light of day Thomas did everything he could to remember that oath, but his dreams had a mind of their own and they rebelled. And even now as the twinkling of dawn pushed away the darkness of the dream he couldn’t help but think back to that night two years ago after he made his way to the nearest exit before Rachel left the stage.
That night Thomas had found a cab in less than a minute and climbed into the dark interior. The closing of the door jarred Thomas’ senses and he mumbled to the driver his address on St. Giles High Street, in the heart of London’s West End, then sank into the musty leather seats. He felt drained and exhausted. And as he watched the city lights flash by, Thomas couldn’t shake the sense of loss. How could one brief encounter with a complete stranger affect him so severely?
Thomas knew what he felt was not normal but he felt it all the same and knew he had to forget. But how, he asked himself as he stared out of the window. How does anyone forget such a moment? Thomas knew that he had not seen or heard with his eyes and ears but with his heart and soul and with that understanding was a quiet desperation to see her again and to protect her.
While sitting in the darkness of the cab he pictured in his mind a man who unexpectedly stumbled onto the most priceless thing imaginable; and found himself desperate to do what he could to protect it. He knew that Rachel didn’t belong to him but the same desperation clawed at Thomas’ throat like a cold hand and left him feeling stifled. Needing some air, he rolled down the window to drink in the cool London evening.
The cab driver looked at him through the review mirror and asked, “Do you need me to pull over?”
Thomas didn’t reply, but lifted his hand in forward motion signaling the driver to keep going. All he wanted was to be home and to sleep. Thomas told himself that by morning Rachel Pearson would be a mere figment of his imagination.
The car arrived in front of his building, an eight story high rise, and Thomas paid the driver and mumbled a thank you as he exited the car. He climbed the stairs to his second floor flat and unlocked and opened his door. His house was as dark as he felt, but Thomas didn’t bother turning on any lights but instead walked straight to his bedroom and collapsed on his bed and slept.
That was the first night he had dreamt of Rachel. And in his dream she had been so real. He remembered hearing music play in the background. He had recognized the piece, Bach’s Partita No 2 in D minor, and it had washed over him like warm rain. The music reminded him of his childhood. In his dream he had thought of his mother and father dancing in the living room; their favorite thing to do when Thomas and his brother Parker were in bed. His parents didn’t know about the many times they had tip toed down the stairs to peek around the corner and watch them. The warm memories pulled him deeper into the dream, beckoning him like a siren until he had found Rachel and then all the joy he’d felt crumbled away like dust.
Thomas had woken from that first dream with tears in his eyes, and he had been even more determined to forget Rachel. For a brief moment he had thought of his mother and wondered if talking to her would help. But as quickly as the thought came, he had set it aside. He was convinced that talking about Rachel to anyone was the worst thing he could possibly do; for if he did hopes of forgetting her would be lost forever.
Thomas tried to push aside the thoughts of that night and the first time he had dreamt about Rachel. He kicked back the covers but continued to lie in bed and willed his pulse to return to normal. He no longer woke from the dream calling out to her, but two years later his determination to forget Rachel Pearson made a mockery out of him.
The alarm clock went off and Thomas groaned. He pressed the off switch, rubbed his eyes and turned his thoughts to the day ahead in an attempt to chase away the memory of Rachel.
Tonight was a big night for him; it was his first movie premier. For most actors the chance to appear on the silver screen was the highest rung on the ladder of one’s career. He was looking forward to celebrating with his friends and colleagues, but the residual effects of the dream still lingered and cast a long shadow on the day and evening to come.
Oct 16, 2010 – Two Years Ago.
Rachel was bound and her jailer was relentless; as relentless as a hungry lioness with the scent of prey in the air. But thoughts of jailers and lions never entered Rachel’s mind when she played. Here she was free, bound only by the peace her craft gave her. Pain and sorrow still had their place, like the backdrop of a great play. But when she made her violin sing, the roles changed and the prisoner became the jailer and the prey became the predator. Years ago Rachel had discovered that music was the great equalizer in her life.
When the final note was played Rachel said goodbye to peace and took her bow before the awed crowd. Always the gracious performer, she turned to the orchestra behind her and lifted her hands to applaud them. Each member of the orchestra stood nodding their heads in approval, for they knew they stood in the presence of a truly great musician. Rachel turned back to the crowd for one more bow and that’s when she saw him. Thinking back she didn’t know what drew her eyes to the tall blond in row ten, seat seven, but for one brief moment there was a sense of knowing and a connection that surprised her.
Rachel exited the stage and made her way to her dressing room and tried to not think about him, whoever he was. When she opened the door she was greeted by a beautiful bouquet of white roses. She reached for the note nestled in the pearl white petals and opened small white envelope. She knew who the flowers were from even before she read the card.
They were a thank you from the London Symphony for honoring the music patrons of London society with her glorious talent. The note also included the Symphony’s standing invitation for her to join them as a permanent member of the orchestra. The best orchestra in the world was added along with a, yours Truly - Valery Gergiev, Principle Conductor for the London Symphony. Rachel smiled, and for one brief moment wished she could accept Gergiev’s offer. She sighed to herself, and knew that her twice a year visit would have to be enough.
Rachel had received similar offers from other symphonies she was invited to perform with each year, but the London Symphony was the one she hoped one day to accept. A look of sadness flickered across Rachel’s face as she resigned herself to the fact that hoping for something that would never be possible was futile. She had stopped hoping for many things a long time ago.
Making a commitment to the orchestra would require connection and the building of relationships and for Rachel it wasn’t possible. The mere thought terrified her back into her reality of being alone. She would be content with guest performances, always in a different place. Rachel glanced down at the note and knew that saying no to Gergiev had been very hard, but not as hard as it was to say no to the children.
In the summer months Rachel volunteered her time to work with very talented child musicians. She provided each boy and girl with a month’s worth of intense private lessons. When the month was over she gave each student a short list of to dos and a long list of praises. On their last day together she shook each one of their hands, wished them the best and never saw them again.
The parents of these children would have paid a small fortune for the month that Rachel tutored their child. But payment was never accepted and when parents begged and pleaded with her to continue the lessons; Rachel would politely refuse, recommend a good teacher and gently usher them out of the door. The thud of the door closing to her home was an echo of the door closing to her heart. Closed forever to connection, love and belonging.
Closing the door for the last time to each child filled Rachel’s heart with sorrow. And when they were gone the only thing left for her to do was to play her violin, each note pushing the pain and the longing away.
After the first summer Rachel swore she’d never do it again; the sacrifice had been too great. But like a saint who craved penance she found herself accepting eight more students the following year. She told herself it would get better; a foolish wish from a woman, who as a child once believed the same thing.
Sitting at the dressing table Rachel folded the thank you card and placed it in her clutch resting on the table next to the roses. She looked at herself in the mirror and tried to see past the image who stared back at her. She didn’t know who she hoped to find, but whoever it was didn’t appear, and Rachel knew she never would. She stood up from the table and changed into her street clothes. As she grabbed her belongings and the roses Rachel took one more parting glance at the mirror then softly closed the door behind her.
Standing outside of the Barbican Rachel glanced up at the night sky, savoring the chill of the fall night air and after a few moments hailed for a cab. Finally, one arrived and Rachel tossed her bag onto the other end of the seat and climbed into the car, holding the beautiful roses on her lap. She gave the driver her address. It was a twenty five minute drive from the Barbican to her house in Harrow and she was exhausted.
Rachel glanced down at the roses she held and thought of each child she had tutored and the month she had spent with them. Like the slide show of a digital photo album, Rachel recalled each child’s face and something special about him or her. She knew she should stop, but for a moment their faces filled her heart with something more than pain.
When the slide show in Rachel’s mind came to Olivia pain returned. She pictured the doe eyed, nine year old and immediately thought of herself. Not because she looked anything like Olivia physically, but because their souls were mirror images. Two shattered lives cut from the same cloth. Of all the children that Rachel worked with the past two summers, Olivia had touched her in a way that none of the other children had.
During the lessons Olivia didn’t say much about her home life, but she didn’t have to; like Rachel she told the story when she played her violin. Olivia was so transformed by the music she played she was almost unrecognizable. When Olivia stopped playing the brokenness flooded in like the tide’s return at evening. Rachel was too afraid to ask questions, and she continued with the lessons. At night when Olivia left after her lesson was over, Rachel prayed that she was wrong and tried to imagine that she went home to loving parents. She pictured Olivia with a mom and dad that would do anything to protect her. She imagined parents that nurtured her in the way that parents are entrusted to nurture their children.
When she thought back to her time with Olivia, it had been so difficult and even now Rachel tried to push the thoughts of Olivia from her mind. But all she could see was the look on Olivia’s mother’s face when she had picked her up that last day. In a cold and indifferent tone, Mrs. Cavendish offered Rachel a significant amount of money to take Olivia off her hands for one hour a week. In that moment Rachel had felt more rage at the indifference in Mrs. Cavendish’s attitude than she had felt for all the torment she had experienced in her own life.
Rachel looked at Olivia’s mom and for a brief moment imagined herself putting her arms around Olivia and saying to her mother, Please keep your money Mrs. Cavendish, I’ll happily take Olivia off your hands forever, and slamming the door in her face.
Instead Rachel said to Olivia’s mother, “As I explained Mrs. Cavendish, I only provide a month’s worth of lessons. If something should change I’ll be glad to give you a call.” Turning to Olivia she knelt and said, “Goodbye Olivia, I have enjoyed our time together more than you know.” Rachel shook her hand and closed the door to her heart one more time.
The sound of the cab’s horn pulled Rachel back to the present and she realized she was just two blocks from her house. She pulled enough money out of her clutch to pay the fare and tip and gathered her things. She was desperate to be home; thinking of Olivia always made her long for the impossible.
Saturday, Oct 11th 2012 – Present Day
Thomas finished his last cup of coffee and made a mental list of the things that had to be done by this evening. The most important was meeting his parents for lunch at his restaurant, Parker’s. They were coming to London for the premier and they had agreed to meet there at one o’clock.
He missed his parents and was thinking of his mom in particular. Dreaming of Rachel always brought the old feelings to the surface and he had to suppress the urge to call his mom and tell her about that night and the last two years. Even now Thomas found himself glancing at his phone, but knew he couldn’t make the call. His parents would never doubt his sanity, but talking about Rachel would bring him one step closer to taking actions that he was sure to regret. Rachel was married or at the least engaged and pursuing her wasn’t an option.
Thomas rinsed his coffee cup and placed it in the sink. He picked up his phone, wallet and keys and headed out of the door and down the stairs into the crisp fall air. Thomas was glad he had worn his thicker coat; the days seemed colder than usual. Fall had always been Thomas’ favorite time of the year and he took a brief moment to notice the few trees on the city street and the golden and ruby hues they were taking on as the temperatures dropped.
As he made his way four blocks west to pick up his tuxedo, Thomas couldn’t help but think of what day it was. In five days it would be two years since the performance at the Barbican; two years since he’d last entered the place he’d loved going to as a child and as a man.
He didn’t want to think about what day it was, nor about Rachel and how twisted up inside he felt over what for many would seem so insignificant an encounter. Why couldn’t he forget? Sometimes Thomas thought he was going mad. Every red haired woman he saw was like a beacon, and he noticed them everywhere he went. The worst moments were when he would see a woman with the color of Rachel’s hair, with her back to him. Thomas’ pulse would race and he would hold his breath until he saw her face. And when he finally did and realized that it wasn’t her, all of the pent up emotions whooshed out of him like a battered sail. Anticipation was immediately replaced by a confusing mixture of relief and disappointment. What would he have done if it had been her?
Then there was the guilt that was associated with Thomas’ thoughts and feelings. Seeing the ring on her finger should have been the end of something that had never begun. Thomas could not imagine involving himself with someone who belonged to another; it went against everything he believed. But it was as if his conscience was at war with his emotions and the battle ground was as vast as the continent.
What he believed in was true love, honor and commitment. And in a time when so many were disillusioned by the idea of lasting love and marriage, when commitments were treated so casually, Thomas looked to his parents. Their love played out like a well choreographed dance full of passion. And even now, after thirty five years of marriage there was no question that his parents were more in love with each other than ever.
A stranger looking in would remark on how easy it was to be in love and committed when your life was perfect. And his parent’s lives did seem ideal. They both had wonderful careers along with the perfect house and children who loved them. Thomas’ father Nigel Croft was a successful engineer and his mother Judith was an award winning commercial artist. The house they lived in had been in the Croft family for generations and was located on a beautiful estate in Coventry. And Thomas did love his parents, but their lives had not gone unscathed by pain and suffering; they had not been spared the crushing blow of tragedy. But through it all his parents love and commitment for each other endured.
Thinking about his parents and their strength fortified Thomas’ resolve to move on no matter how maddening or impossible it all seemed; nothing could be worse than what they had all faced together. He was determined to persevere if it took him his whole life. Thomas silently prayed it wouldn’t come to that; for he wanted the same kind of love that his parents had and he believed that one day he would find the same.
Twenty One Years Ago
“You can do it Thomas!”
They had crested the top of the hill and stopped so that Parker could give Thomas his pep talk. “Get the bike going, keep it steady, don’t move your legs and then hold out your arms and let go. I know you’ll do it and I’ll be right behind you.”
Thomas stared down the bottom of the hill and took a deep breath. He knew it was time. The first time he saw Parker riding his bike without holding onto the handle bars he knew one day he would do the same, but the timing had to be right.
When Thomas woke up that morning he had known that today would be the day. Like a voice in his head whispering, It’s time Thomas, he knew that he was ready.
Thomas threw back the covers and ran over to Parker’s bed and tapped him gently. “Parker, Parker wake up.”
Parker let out a small moan and then opened up his eyes and blinked. He stretched like a cat waking from slumber.
“Today is the day Parker,” Thomas said.
“The day for what?” Parker mumbled the question.
“The day I fly!”
Parker blinked a few times trying to free his mind from the threads of slumber and then slowly understanding dawned across his face. Parker jumped out of bed and asked, “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure, very sure,” Parker replied.
Instantly, both boys scrambled to put on their clothes and raced down the stairs. They entered the kitchen and were greeted by the smell of bacon and the sight of their mother slicing fresh cantaloupe. Their father was also there, sitting at his usual spot at the table, drinking from his favorite mug and reading the paper.
The mug Thomas’ dad held was painted with bright colors and on one side was a picture of two stick figures, one larger than the other, and they were holding hands. Written on the other side, in the hand of a child was, Dad and Me. Towards the bottom the artist had left his signature, Parker. The mug had been a birthday gift from Parker two years ago.
The morning Parker gave his father the mug changed Parker forever. Upon receiving the gift Nigel Croft lovingly took it from Parker and smiled at him and said, “How wonderful Parker! This is my new favorite mug.”
His father took the mug that his coffee was currently in and poured it into the colorful stick figure mug and smiled at Parker.
In that moment something shifted inside of Parker. He no longer loved his father with the simplicity of a child’s heart. A child’s love that was expectant and sometimes demanding. Instead Parker felt something new and different, he felt love and gratitude at the display of intentional love his father had shown him.
Parker’s heart over flowed with the joy of his discovery and unable to contain these knew feelings, Parker grabbed his father around the neck and held onto him never wanting to let go. He inhaled the sandal wood scent of his father’s aftershave and tears flowed freely from his full heart. Parker felt his father rubbing his back and nuzzling the side of his head. After a few moments Parker pulled back and looked into this father’s eyes. He saw tears in them and a look of understanding and thanks passed between them; in that moment words were unnecessary because their hearts had spoken to each other.
From that day on, Nigel used Parker’s mug every day. A few weeks after Parker had given his dad the mug his mother brought his Dad’s morning coffee to him in a different cup. His father asked Judith where Parker’s mug was and she told him that it needed to be washed.
Parker’s father stood and kissed his wife thank you and went to the kitchen sink, washed Parker’s mug, and transferred the coffee. He sat down at the table and went back to reading his paper, as if nothing had happened.
Judith wiped tears from her eyes as she looked at her husband with a smile on her lips and her eyes glowing with love for the man who cherished their boys.
Two years later on the day that Thomas would fly, Nigel Croft was still drinking his coffee from Parker’s mug.
“Good morning!” The boys shouted with excitement as they ran into the kitchen.
“Good morning sweethearts!” Judith replied as she wiped her hands on the kitchen towel and bent down to give each boy their morning hugs and kisses.
Across the kitchen they heard their dad say, “You boys seem very excited this morning. Do you have big plans for the day?”
Parker looked at Thomas waiting for him to say something and in a serious but excited tone Thomas said, “Today’s the day I’m going to fly!”
At first no one knew what to say.
Nigel was the first to speak and with a knowing grin said, “Well that is very exciting.” Flying ones bike was a rite of passage for all children and everyone who has ever ridden a bike knew it to be true.
“Will you come watch me Dad and Mom?” Thomas asked.
“Of course we will,” exclaimed his mother. “We wouldn’t miss it for anything. But first let’s eat.”
A short while later on top of the hill, Thomas’ dad straddled his own bike; he was standing behind the boys as Parker gave Thomas his pep talk. Thomas’ mother waited at the bottom of the hill trying not to look concerned and doing her best to keep mental images of mangled bodies at bay. But Judith was proud of Thomas for his perseverance and his bravery.
At the top of the hill she saw him straddle his bike and take a deep breath. She thought for a moment that his lips quivered. “I’m so proud of you Thomas. You can do it!” She yelled up to him from the bottom of the hill.
At hearing his mother’s words Thomas pushed forward and steadied his bike. He felt gravity pulling him and he let go. Thomas locked his gaze onto his mother and felt the adrenaline and exhilaration of flying down the hill on his bike, with his arms free. Pure, unadulterated joy surged through him as he realized he had done it!
Parker and his father followed him down the hill, Parker’s arms were wide open as he whooped and hollered at the top of his lungs, “Go Thomas!”
They all met at the bottom of the hill, dropped their bikes and ran to each other hugging and laughing and congratulating Thomas.
“I did it!” Thomas exclaimed with joy.