“We were told our Mister Drin wished to support the symphony in general, not any of the first chairs alone,” Dance says, lifting his eyes from his empty sushi plate. Drin has gotten fairly familiar with this face and its subtle moods, but there is something else about Dance, that he’s unable to put his finger on.
This might simply be a trick of the buttery expensive light that makes the young Korean’s face look all elegant sleek lines, and the skin of his neck incredibly caramel-colored. Someone in a film, or something.
“Well,” Drin says, belatedly, after swallowing a bit of perfect tuna that deserves more attention than he’s giving it. He tears his gaze away from the Concertmaster’s visage and looks at the empty plate instead. “I said that early on. I wanted to be fair.”
He’s a little fascinated by the empty plate. He didn’t actually catch Dance being so rude as to gulp anything, but it’s gone, and there’s a Concertmaster across the table from him with a gently inquiring gaze who looks like he could devour another couple of plates like it and not even slow down.
There are two faint scars across Dance’s cheekbones that might be tribal. They certainly add to the aura of oddity the man has, that makes Drin feel he could watch this face for a very long time. Dance’s mouth has a pouting lift that makes his smile a wide double bow, with those white teeth. The man’s eyes are not always a plain brown. Not the spooky pale of anger, either. Sometimes they catch the light and turn a light amber color, which is what they are doing right now.
Drin is rather reminded of the big cats he’s seen.
“May we ask what our Mister Drin had in mind?” Dance says, in a perfectly calm, mild tone of voice.
Drin hadn’t quite worked out what he was going to say, at this point. It depended on how Dance was taking it, and he isn’t reacting in any of the usual ways.
For one thing, Dance is not looking at him with gratitude, nor with diplomatic dismissal. He focuses the same stare on Drin as he did on the sushi.
This is disconcerting.
The sushi plate is alarming, in the circumstances. Two hundred bucks’ worth of fish can go in ten minutes, if somebody eats like that in a pricey place. Drin is tempted to order more until the man admits to wanting a nap instead. Or maybe a nice scritching along behind the ears.
Of course one can demand the attention of average performers. Concert musicians are reasonably cheap, as these things go. Much cheaper than opera divas, or showgirls with a taste for jewelry at the top of their limited fame, or ballet primas or primos, or or chess people who have to travel a lot, or indie film directors, or other dedicated insane people who lack money. But Drin can’t tell if the musician he wants will be more amused or infuriated by such sleazy offers.
Oh, Drin knows how it should be done. But even he hasn’t got means vast enough to invent academic positions, sponsor theatrical events, host sweeping contests–to create entire structures which build professional reputation with the most gingerly caution. Bud Innes was no help. He claimed he was too old and too impatient, he kept his offers simple. Gossips calling his pet cellist Robert “a greedy little mercenary” made him laugh.
Dance is just looking at him steadily, face solemn. It’s a stare that belongs on the other side of a dojo mat. The man doesn’t blink often enough. His hands are poised gently over the table, and the powerful tendons in his arms lie still for once. They almost never do. He talks with his hands. He laughs with them, even. Drin has learned in these past weeks that the Concertmaster has a sense of humor, and a fairly wacky one at that, filtered through his odd English. He uses his own awkwardness as another comic tool. But he’s damned fast about that, about everything.
It’s quite a task to get him to slow down and refocus into the moment, into talking to Drin about shows he wanted to see–no movies, very little TV, just other people’s concerts. Spare cash goes to observing technique in others.
The Concertmaster does settle down when he talks about his best buddy, one of the many librarian Emmas, whom he clearly adores. He says freely, with a shrug, that he’s the gal’s queer best friend. He has no trouble looking Drin in the face and saying it. Listening to him, Drin has begun to wonder if it’s that simple.
Gravely, Drin says, “One of the sticking points in any small ensemble is an unstable first chair, after all.”
“I understand. If you have somebody in particular in mind, of course we must let the conductor know, and we’ll set up suitable auditions–”
“You’d tweak auditions so that some particular choice wins the competition?”
Dance makes a grimace. “None of the steering committee go saying it so bluntly, but yes, rumors have caused such talk. We have– I myself have– no problem with bringing in support for any of our really good younger players, and most of them– they don’t have a bean to their name. We all work hard– I– put too much work into these strings to get in the way of a significant advance in the tone and style of the–”
Drin can’t stand it. He puts up both hands in a stop gesture, and Dance pauses, brows lifted.
Then Dance says, quietly, “Begging pardon. I– didn’t mean to be–” he draws in a deep breath.
“Blunt?” Drin says, amused.
Dance exhales. “Really, Maestro Young would be most displeased at how rough– how badly– I am speaking–”
Drin says, “Why do you think I didn’t ask that damnable horror of a conductor to have sushi? And there’s a really lovely little dessert place across the street, too.”
“Because the man lives on a Midwestern white food diet?” Dance says, one eyebrow lifted.
“Why do you think I asked you to talk about an endowment?”
“Most commonly, it is because a person has developed a passion for Robert Goldstein, who we agree should be sitting in a Pre-Rafaelite painting. Quietly.”
Drin starts to grin.
Dance’s hand makes a wiping-away gesture. “We all hate his fingerings with a passion–worst of all, our poor Amalia–and yes, so awkward for the Metro’s publicity that anyone so marketable is so indifferent as musician. The red-haired third chair flautist, she is recently endowed, by the way. Your good friend Mister Engerman was most happy.”
Drin throws back his head and laughs, and laughs, and laughs. When he’s spluttered down to giggles, he sees Dance looking at him, head tilted, and looking unutterably remote.
“If our Mister Drin hasn’t quite decided, not quite sure that this or that person would be the right one for our chair, then we can try out some auditions and let our Mister Drin see who should have it.”
“You mean, you’d trot out the whole harem for the pasha, if I was interested in what their playing sounds like?”
Dance’s shoulders hunch. “Mister Drin, please, we– sorry that we– that I am so awkwardly speaking. That doesn’t begin to give our Mister Drin credit for having a fine ear, which we all know. So I do know that our Mister Drin will choose somebody who’s going to be a good Concertmaster–”
“Stop it! Hasn’t anybody ever propositioned you the same way they bid on Goldstein?” Drin says.
“Us? Myself?” he says, tilting his head. “No. No, not that we can remember. No. Or at least, not where we’ve learned about it. This–” a dismissive wave at his own chest, “–this way I am all peasant farmer, it is too dark– too ethnic, Maestro Young says that is the nice word– too common for the refined taste of most patrons.”
“Common?” It’s too loud. Heads turn.
Dance shrugs. He’s been called worse. “Our previous conductor, Walstadt, he was not sure if any of us could carry the load when– when I first arrived. The union protested, the Board ignored them, the union did not want a lawsuit. Now the Metro uses a more ensemble approach, let the audience see other people, and– I– am not hogging all the solos.”
“Ahh. No wonder my buddy Engerman thinks it was your idea.”
“This bloody orchestra needs to keep its current Concertmaster, who will have to quit and go somewhere else if that damn fool Young keeps treating you like his flunky. I want to help out. I want it done right, where you earn your chair, just as you have been– and a decent living. That’s all. And speaking of somewhere else, one of the finest chocolatiers on the west coast is just across the street, and they also make a beautiful espresso. Would you like a little desert?”
Dance’s hands make an uncoordinated little flailing gesture, and then grip each other. “I am not– I don’t understand,” he says.
“There will be chocolate,” Drin says firmly. “And — if you wish– Dance, I hope to see more of you. Tonight, if you feel comfortable. I hope you do.”
“We,” Dance says. “I– don’t know what to say. Yes. Very much, yes. How– how do you wish– me — to be?”
“Oh, Dance, just yourself,” Drin says, gruffly. “You needn’t worry about making dramatic gestures or anything. Please.”
Dance smiles then. “What, flinging across this table and giving our Mister Drin a big hug and squealing is right out?”
“You can squeal? I’ve never heard you squeal.”
“Oh, like a girl. Our Miss Emma says so. She scowls and goes all butch when we embarrass her.” Dance puts his face down in his hands then, palms flat, fingers straining wide. “We–I don’t know what to say.”
Drin lets out a long slow breath. “You say to me impatiently, ‘Oh, just pay the bill, and let’s go.’”
Dance smiles at him again. “No one properly is able to be rude so horribly as that!”
“I hope you will,” Drin tells his musician. “And it’s just Drin. No Mister needed, not for you. Why don’t you practice saying it right now? Just… Drin.”
Dance opens his mouth, shuts it again. He holds his hand out across the table, and he says, with immense simplicity, “Thank you.”
Drin grips the hand, feels the tendons under those hot dry callouses, releases it sooner than he’d like to. “Chocolate?”
“Pay the bill. And just please let’s go– our Drin.” Dance stumbles over the words, but they sound heartfelt.
“You’ve almost got it right,” Drin laughs, “a little more practice, you’ll have it perfect.”