Andy felt his breath quicken as he realized that Soneya was actually approaching him. His eyes darted between her and the beer in his hand, his heart thumped noisily in his ears. As his nerves almost managed to overwhelm him, Andy managed to pull himself together just as Soneya stepped around a group of people in between Andy and her. Then she was standing before him.
Her beauty, her presence, her perfume, her auburn hair, lustrous and shining. The scent of rosemary and mint that he had always remembered. Her eyes – shimmering jewels, vibrant and alive. Everything about her that Andy had remembered and dreamed of from the moment that he had been brought back to life in that trauma room so far away became very real, very tangible in that single moment. Soneya offered her hand to Andy and he took it, hesitantly at first – until he caught himself and grabbed onto his rational state of mind – then he firmed his grip on hers. The feeling of her hand in his was electric. When she spoke, her voice made his heart almost stop.
“Congratulations” Soneya repeated smiling politely. “I just wanted to say that I thought you were superb this afternoon. That piece is a favorite of mine”
Andy nodded respectfully. He could feel his cheeks flushing just a little.
“Thank you,” he replied softly. “It was a pleasure to play it – if a little scary. I haven't performed for such a large audience before”
“Well one would never have known it. I think you managed to capture the entire audience's imagination today”
Soneya sipped her champagne and looked around her at the people mingling.
“How are you finding Australia?” she asked. “Is it your first time here?”
“It's very hospitable. I've enjoyed this city very much. It's very different to Chicago...very warm...and I don't just mean weather wise”
He shifted nervously on the spot then gazed at her - almost as if he was hoping she would recognize something within him telling her he was Denny.
“You're Soneya Llewellyn right?” he finally said, tripping a little over his words.
Soneya met his gaze, caught off guard by his question.
“I...I am” she responded surprised. “How di...”
Andy turned and gestured discreetly at Jochen Zinski.
“Zinski pointed you out to a few of the performers earlier. He told us that you were visiting to present the trophy at the end of the week”
“Oh,” Soneya said, nodding. “Yes. He invited me to attend personally. It was his idea to name the award”
“He...must have been pretty special huh”
Again Soneya nodded, looking down and away from Andy momentarily.
“He was...very special”
Again an awkward silence threatened to settle upon them. Andy tried to think of something, anything to advance the conversation further. Little did he know that Soneya was thinking exactly the same thing. She felt extremely nervous and unsure of herself in his presence. She felt a powerful attraction to him but she betrayed nothing of this outwardly.
“How long have you played the guitar?” Soneya asked finally, finding the words that he couldn't.
“Since I was about eight years old,” Andy replied, relieved for her question. “Some would say I came to it quite late. Most of the contestants here probably started when they were still in diapers so I feel as though I'm on the back foot a little”
Soneya smiled at his quip.
“Well, if today was anything to go by I think you'll be a definite contender. It's a wonderful event. Are you excited about the finals?”
“I think terrified is perhaps a more appropriate feeling right now” Andy said. “I've never done anything like this before...but I am looking forward to the final though. I think I'll spend the next few days taking in some of the other performances and seeing what I'll be up against”
Soneya nodded, lifting her brow slightly.
“Oh...well that will be nice. I...I guess I'll probably see you again then”
She felt herself feeling light headed and realized as she lifted her glass to her lips that she had emptied the champagne from it completely.
Andy looked at it and gestured towards the bar.
“Could I get you another drink?”
Soneya considered his offer. She wanted to say yes but she suddenly felt her nerves getting the better of her. She looked over her shoulder at Joss who wore a wicked half grin as she chatted with another group of people – every so often stealing a glance over in Soneya's direction.
“I probably shouldn't,” Soneya finally decided. “I fear if I have another I won't be able to walk. This stuff is pretty potent”
Andy smiled warmly as she offered her hand again.
“I just wanted to say how lovely your performance was” she said.
“Thank you. Perhaps I'll see you again”
“Perhaps you will”
Soneya stepped back, holding his hand a moment longer, holding his gaze a moment longer then she turned and headed back to where Joss was standing. He watched her go unable to take his eyes off her until he realized he had forgotten to breathe.
Michyko appeared beside him then and tugged at his arm.
“There you are! We've been looking all over for you. Have you had enough praise thrust upon you yet?”
“I think so,” Andy smiled, still gazing after Soneya who had disappeared into the crowd as if she had never been. Michyko followed his gaze fleetingly.
“Well a group of us have decided to hit a pub in the City that was recommended to us. Want to join us?”
“Yeah...that would be cool”
Michyko gave him a silly grin.
“Who are you looking at?” she ribbed him conspiratorially.
Andy squirmed uncomfortably and blushed.
“Nobody,” he said a little too quickly and Michyko studied him with mock suspicion.
“Nobody – a likely story. Come on – we'll miss the cab”
Andy followed Michyko out of the Pavilion, looking back to where Soneya had been standing with her friend – but she was no longer there.
Soneya and Joss had hailed a cab just outside the Garden not too long after. As they rode towards the City Joss noted a curious expression on Soneya's face and she smiled wickedly.
“You're definitely attracted to him aren't you” she teased mercilessly. “
Soneya screwed up her nose at Joss.
“Oh stop it. You're a pain in the arse”
But deep down Soneya couldn't deny that Joss was right.
“Well I think he's hot” Joss persisted, trying to get a rise out of Soneya.
Soneya just laughed softly and gazed out through the window as it passed by. She felt an old, familiar warm glow within that she hadn't felt in a long time.
* * *
While the others from the Chicago group went on a tour the following morning - none of them were performing - Andy decided to slip out early and walk down to the Gardens from the hotel to see the performances. He had hardly slept a wink. All he could think about was Soneya, their meeting in the Pavilion and their brief conversation, the touch of her hand. Though he had intended to watch the concert heats for the genuine purpose of studying his competition, now that he had made contact with her and that contact had been good, all he wanted to do now was to find her again.
His walk took no more than approximately twenty minutes. He crossed over a wide thoroughfare separating the Fitzroy Gardens from the smaller Treasury Gardens, noting that a sizable crowd was already gathering on the lawns in front of the conservatory. Though it was not quite 10AM, the intense summer sun was beginning to warm the city significantly and Andy felt beads of sweat forming on his brow. Quickly daubing them away, he made his way into the Gardens, instantly trying to appear as casual as he could without making it obvious that he was looking for her.
Aside from the concerts today, the Gardens were playing host to several other gatherings related to the International Festival. There were several stages set up throughout the Gardens that were to play host to a number of visiting performers from all across the world. They ranged from blues and roots artists, to South American and Spanish guitar virtuosos to jazz outfits sourced locally and from the UK, the US and Europe.
Andy stopped by the Pavilion and purchased a coffee and a muffin – he hadn't had anything to eat so far today – then sat down to browse through the days program. He had made a mental list of a number of artists who he wanted to see perform while he was here including a name sake of his Doug de Vries – a celebrated Australian guitarist who had caught his eye as well as Slava Grigoryan – a former Kazakhstan native who'd immigrated to Australia with his family as a child and who had become one of Australia's most prominent classical guitarists. He chatted with some of the performers from the previous day's heat with whom he had become acquainted, received yet more congratulations and well wishes for Saturdays semi final then he managed to extricate himself and wander off to take in some of the musical acts for today...
...and hopefully bump into Soneya.
How was he going to tell her?
Andy had wrestled with the prospect through an almost sleepless night and he was still no closer to resolving it. The idea was preposterous and even he had had difficulty in coming to terms with it in the beginning. Soneya had always been a very grounded person and didn't have much time for anything of an existential nature. The only way that he felt he could convince her would be to spend some time with her - get to know her in his guise now and then reveal himself to her. But he only had a short window of opportunity. Their encounter last night at been painfully brief and the chances of finding her amongst the hundreds of people moving about the Gardens today were slim. Andy felt an uncomfortable knot of panic tighten in his chest. If he didn't take the chance at some point while they were here, together, in Melbourne the chance would be lost to him perhaps for good.
He meandered up to an old stone band stand far from the conservatory and took in a performance by Doug de Vries and a jazz quartet which had attracted a sizable audience. He sat on the grass, every so often looking around in the hope that he might spot her somewhere in the crowd.
But she wasn't anywhere to be seen.
After an hour or so, Andy eventually made his way back to the southern end of the Gardens, to the conservatory where the afternoon heats would be taking place. He stopped by the Pavilion to purchase a mineral water then he made his way across the lawn to find a spot on the grass where he could view the performances best.
Andy turned around at the sound of her voice to find Soneya and Joss relaxing on a rug on the lawn just a few feet away. His heart skipped a beat as Soneya waved to him and he smiled warmly.
“Hello again” he greeted, placing his hands in his pocket and walking over to them as casually as he could, trying desperately not too seem too eager.
Soneya was wearing a light cotton dress with a pearl colored cardigan and large sunglasses underneath an overtly large sun hat. A pair of leather sandles lay near her feet. She looked positively radiant.
Soneya lifted the brim of her hat as he approached.
“Beautiful day once again isn't it” she said. “We've really turned it on for you don't you agree?”
Andy nodded reservedly and lifted his hands to his eyes to shield them from the mid morning sun.
“I'm finding Melbourne a little addictive actually. I could get used to this”
Soneya got to her feet and gestured to him to come closer before turning slightly towards Joss who also got to her feet and brushed down a pair of three quarter length cargo pants. She wore a multicolored sleeveless top that showed off tanned arms – the product of spending hours out running. She had always been something of a fitness fanatic.
“Andy DeVries, I'd like you to meet Jocelyn Banister a very good friend of mine”
Andy stepped forward to take Denny's sister's hand and noticed a small tattoo of a humming bird on the inside of her left wrist.
That's a new one, Andy thought to himself.
“You can call me Joss” she greeted. “Though I'm sure you've already heard this a bunch of times I have to say I thought you were amazing yesterday. There's a real buzz for you out there already”
Andy blushed and scratched the grass nervously with his foot.
“Well there's a long way to go until Saturday and I'm not taking anything for granted right now...there are a lot of better performers here than me”
“Are...you here to watch the heats this afternoon?” Soneya ventured hopefully to which Joss nudged her elbow with a discreet grin.
“Yeah. I thought I'd see if there was a patch of ground up near the front so I could get a good view of the performers...but somehow, I think I might be pushing my luck”
“You could join us...if you'd like” Soneya offered.
Andy gave the pretense of considering her offer even though inside he was nearly bursting. He nodded and smiled again.
“Thank you. That would be nice”
They made room on the rug and then sat down to watch the afternoon heats, during which they shared a conversation that seemed very natural and very easy to sustain. Joss gently maneuvered it by asking Andy questions about himself, encouraging him to talk a little about life in Chicago – how incredibly cold it was there right now in contrast to here in Melbourne. He talked about the Conservatory and Veldtman as well as working and playing at The Pub. During the concert heats Andy's concentration drifted towards the performances, studying them with a practiced eye, making mental notes of how each of candidates played their way through their pieces. Soneya found herself stealing discreet glances at him – watching his expressions, the way he made subtle movements of his head as he listened to the music as though he were moving with it. There was something so familiar about him and so attractive but she felt an troubling, distracting guilt at the feelings she was having. It felt wrong to be entertaining this attraction she felt. It was as though she were somehow cheating Denny, being unfaithful to him.
Andy could sense her attraction too but felt unsure of whether it was real or not. He noticed Soneya looking at him and every so often he did the same, their eyes meeting for just the briefest of moments before both of them bashfully looked away from one another. She was so beautiful, she hadn't changed at all. She was exactly as how he remembered her from his memories – Denny's memories.
During an interval Andy excused himself so he could go to the bathroom and once he was out of view, Joss nudged Soneya in the ribs.
“What do you think?” she interrogated Soneya eagerly. “He is definitely interested in you”
Soneya flashed Joss a disapproving glare but she couldn't maintain the facade. “Alright, alright – he is very cute. But I am not here to meet anyone Joss. I know that may have been in your plan but I just...don't need that kind of complication right now”
Joss shook her head at Soneya, fishing a bottle of wine out of their picnic basket and pouring them both a glass.
“Soneya...You are a beautiful woman but you are as stubborn as my grand mother. Denny wouldn't have wanted you to remain alone forever. He would want you to be happy. Why don't you allow yourself the chance for a little happiness. This guy is interested in you and you're sure as shit interested in him”
Soneya tilted her head slowly with a pained expression on her face.
Joss leveled a disapproving stare at her.
“You're stalling for an excuse Soneya. If you don't at least ask him out for a coffee – I will”
Soneya's shoulders slumped then in a gesture of defeat and she laughed wearily, sipping from her glass.
“You are relentless”
Joss nodded triumphantly and looked over Soneya's shoulder. Andy was coming back.
“Here he comes”
Both women smiled a little too broadly at Andy as he approached causing him to look about and check himself over.
“Do I have something on my face?”
“Not at all” Joss replied patting the rug and gesturing towards the basket. Would you like a glass of wine?”
Before he could respond she had poured him a glass and was handing it over.
Andy sensed that something was cooking between the two of them as they continued to watch the concert. Joss kept whispering in Soneya's ear - he could see her out of the corner of his eye.
She was probably trying to engineer something, Andy thought amused.
Joss was the perennial social butterfly had always been adept at playing match maker when there was even the slightest whiff of potential romance. Andy wanted to slap his – Denny's – younger sister on the arm the way he'd always remembered doing but had no trouble in restraining himself. In her presence, a whole new flood of memories sprang forth from Denny's consciousness and into Andy's – memories of his childhood, of growing up with Joss. They had been inseparable as children.
As the performances continued Andy explained what it was that he was keen to study about the performers. How they presented themselves on stage, how they played the pieces they had chosen. The performance wasn't merely an exercise in the technical mastery of the guitar or the music but it was also a performance of emotions. One needed to feel the the music, know it's history and it's meaning and apply those to the performance. Soneya listened to him intently, absorbed by his genuine love for the art of the guitar. She was moved by his enthusiasm for it, describing the stories behind the pieces themselves. It was clear that he had a deep knowledge of music – a passion for the guitar.
The concert finished towards late afternoon and the trio remained on the rug as the crowds of people began to disperse slowly but surely towards other parts of the Gardens while other remained, continuing their picnics and BBQ's with the clear intention of staying around long into the evening to take in an concert by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
Joss looked at her watch and gestured wordlessly to Soneya that they had to think about heading off. Soneya's expression approximated something akin to disappointment, her brow furrowing at Denny's sister worriedly. Joss pointed towards Andy with her eyes and pursed her lips tightly as though she were saying 'ask him'.
Soneya felt her pulse reverberating in her ears, felt her breath quicken almost involuntarily as a rush of adrenaline surged through. She couldn't believe she what she was about to do.
Turning to Andy she smiled.
“We have to go,” she said, clearly disappointed. “We're meeting Joss' parents for dinner on the other side of the City and we're sort of running against the clock”
“Oh...okay” Andy replied. Inwardly his mind shouted – 'What are you doing?'
They stood up and Joss began packing up the picnic basket while Andy and Soneya stood to one side.
“Well – I've had a lovely time” Andy said warmly. “Thank you for inviting me to join you”
Soneya nodded, fidgeting with her hands and biting the inside of her lip. Clearly she had something more to say.
“Me too...,” she said, pausing clumsily.
She closed her eyes and took a quick breath.
“Umm...are you free at all...tomorrow? I thought maybe you'd like to – you know – have a cup of coffee. If you have time”
Andy felt dizzy with joy but he contained himself – barely.
“I would love to,” he said quietly, smiling broadly. “I don't have any commitments tomorrow as far as I know so...yeah...”
Joss watched the two of them gazing dumbly at one another and screwed her face up out of view of them both. It was all she could do to stop herself from giggling uncontrollably.
Andy checked his watch and looked up at Soneya.
“Shall we meet at my hotel at say, about 10? I'm staying at The Windsor”
Soneya nodded slowly, unable to pull her gaze away from his, unable to wipe the smile from her face. Andy stepped forward and took her hand gently.
“Thank you” he whispered hypnotically before nodding to Joss. “Nice meeting you too Joss”
“Likewise. I'll look forward to Saturday”
Andy turned away slowly without taking his eyes off Soneya and parted. As he crossed over a path and under a line of trees his smile broke into a broad grin and he felt a rush of endorphins course though him.
He could not believe his luck.
Copyright © 2009, Dean Mayes.
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