It was dark by the time Tom dropped us off after we had finished the lodge. Granddad had done our chores. Since they had no idea when we would return, Granddad and Grandmom had had supper when we arrived. Jason, Wesley and I found plenty to fix for ours.
After supper, I decided I'd put in an hour of practice. It went very well I thought and I decided I'd just not worry about the concert and didn't, for the next hour or so!
When I walked into the den, Jason and Wesley were having a ball laughing at an article in the Asheville Citizen-Times. The article was in the Lifestyle section and headlined, "Teen Heart Throb Also Plays Piano." The two had told me when I agreed to an interview I wouldn't like what came of it. They were right. Why are talent and performance not what reporters latch on to when writing about an artist? They don't and the article proved it. The stuff they chose to write about was
"celebrity" stuff. There were paragraphs about my parents being killed, my living with my grandparents
"in culturally impoverished Haynes county," about my playing baseball, being an honors student, all sorts of stuff--except about my playing.
And the pictures. There were pictures taken during the rescue of Jonathan--the ones from the hospital, not the news conference ones--baseball pictures, school pictures. All in all the article and pictures took the half the front page of the Lifestyles section. All that and the only mention of my playing aside from the headline was a closing sentence,
"Oh, and he also plays piano." There wasn't even a mention of the upcoming concert!
There was a second article in the Arts and Culture section about the next week's concerts. Maestro Alexis had been interviewed and talked at length about the program. He did emphasize that I would be soloist and he anticipated my touring with the orchestra during the summer.
Professor Jamison had also been interviewed and he told how I ended up coming to him for lessons. He said he knew my style and technique would continue to develop and pointed out I was only sixteen.
"He's young; he's talented; he's energetic and enthusiastic. Most of all, I suspect, he loves to play and it shows. That's important."
The article even included excerpts from an interview with Madame Lipinsky, my old piano teacher in Durham. She had said she always knew I would go far.
The picture accompanying that article was one of me in formal wear Grandmom insisted I have made. It was done by one of the best professional photographers in Asheville who had been recommended by Maestro. While I liked, Jason and Grandmom were both thrilled with it. In all Mr. van Oppen's finely, I was standing beside my piano, looking like I was making love to it, I said. Grandmom and Jason disagreed.
"You look like a serious artist, which you are," Grandmom insisted.
I don't remember much of the week before the concerts. I had a few nightmares--you know, I appeared on stage and then realized I am naked, or couldn't find my music, or couldn't hear the orchestra. I found myself being called to attention at school when I was daydreaming, often "playing" a piece on my desk.
Jason pretty much gave me a wide berth in spite of the fact that he insisted on driving me to rehearsals. I came home Monday night a nervous wreck and admitted I had been so engaged in thinking about the concert I almost rear-ended a logging truck--sure death had it happened. When Jason insisted ion driving me, I asked about his job he said his crew could handle things without him and it did.
A couple times over the weekend he asked me about something and I snapped at him. When it happened again Wednesday on the way to Asheville, I burst into tears and started blubbering apologies. Jason pulled into the emergency lane, stopped the Jeep and just held me close and said he knew it was nerves.
It was, of course, but when I mentioned the incident to Maestro Alexis I added nerves were no excuse for being rude and hurting the person I loved more than life itself. I guess I thought he's tell me it was OK and just nerves, but he didn't. He surprised me when he said,
"You're right. It's no excuse."
Wednesday helped in a lot of ways. Seeing how I was treating Jason and Maestro Alexis bringing me up short about it was a part of that. A very good rehearsal in which Maestro had to stop very few times to go over a bit and the fact that it was, with one exception, the orchestra which was messing up boosted my ego.
I thought it never would, but Friday finally arrived. All the family thought I should cut school, but I went on anyway. Of course, for all I learned I may as well have stayed in bed. But I think the same could be said for the whole school--teachers as well as students. It was, after all, the last day of school before spring break.
As soon as school was out, I went home, showered and got dressed. I was getting into my glad rags just before the concert, so I dressed in casuals and put my formal wear in the Jeep. Jason was again driving me and I was glad. Wesley and the grandparents left before us. They were having dinner before the concert, but I wasn't. I knew if I had dinner before it would likely end up in the toilet if I were lucky and on stage if I wasn't.
Friday's concert was sold out early, partly because it was a regularly scheduled part of the season and season ticket holders accounted for well over three quarters of the audience. The weekend's concerts were also part of new efforts to introduce more people to symphonic music and to the hometown symphony.
I think everyone was surprised when half the tickets were sold as soon as the Saturday performance was announced. The marketing people had developed a sales pitch designed to capitalize on children, parents and friends visiting western North Carolina for Easter. A lot of tickets were purchased by those who wanted to having bragging rights about Asheville's cultural side.
By the time I had changed into formal wear Friday, I was so nervous I was afraid I'd faint dead away as soon as I stepped on stage. I guess Maestro had some sense of my anxiety and when Jason had walked me to the green room, Maestro asked him if he'd like to stay backstage. He got a great smile on his face and,
"How'd you know?" Maestro smiled and showed him where he could sit and see the stage after he had walked me to the wings. When I was ready to go on stage, Jason kissed me and went to take his place.
The first half of the concert was, for me, a sheer delight as I played the Grieg, which I dearly love. In the second half, I had played Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini immediately after intermission. I also had the last piece, Beethoven's
Maestro announced an encore a solo--and I played Carr's Rondo: Yankee Doodle from his The Siege of Tripoli. When I finished, the audience stood and kept on and on applauding. Maestro finally held up his hand, looked at me and asked, "You have something else you can play?" and laughed. "Takai's Fantasy on the Theme 'Astro Boy'," I replied. Maestro looked shocked, shrugged and bowed to me. "I guess you get to choose," he said. When I finished, I bowed and we left the stage as the audience finally stopped applauding and started leaving.
All in all, it was a grand and wonderful concert and I was really high as Jason met me in the wings, hugged me and gave me a great kiss, which I returned. We didn't care who saw.
The grandparents and Wesley came backstage as soon they could make it, but had to wait on me as I was swamped by people--young and old--who wanted programs signed and that sort of thing.
When I finally got free, the grandparents and Wesley kept hugging me and telling me how great I was. Even normally reserved Granddad kept hugging me and laughing. I wondered where Wes was and said so. Wesley said, "He said he had tickets for Sunday when Luke and Matt will be here. Said tell you he knew you were tops."
"Well, we're going on home," Granddad finally said, hugging me again. "Jason, be careful driving home."
As they were about to leave, Maestro Alexis came up and I introduced them--again. I had introduced them after the Sampler, but Maestro could hardly have been expected to remember as he was very preoccupied that evening. "You have a wonderfully talented grandson," he said.
"But I suspect you have known that. What you may not know is how his manners and good heart have impressed those who have met him here--from first fiddle to the janitor--and of course, the conductor."
The grandparents thanked him, and as he turned to walk away, Granddad again reminded Jason to drive carefully and Grandmom said, again, "And do get something to eat," as if I would starve myself to death.
Maestro turned and asked, "You haven't eaten?"
"No, he hasn't and for that you can be thankful," Jason laughed.
"The kid had a habit--well, you don't want him to eat when he's under pressure."
"Mrs. McElrath, he and I are both due at a reception right now, but I promise I will see that he eats before I let him go and if it's too late, I'll give you a call and my wife will put these two up for the night."
The reception was for symphony Patrons, a designation which cost them a thousand a year--but as Jason reminded me, with a grin, "They do get two season tickets and all the watercress sandwiches they can eat."
The sandwiches weren't watercress, but nothing I really wanted to eat. I needed real food--soon.
By the time the reception as half over, my face hurt from smiling and my fingers from signing programs. I posed for pictures with men and women and generally stood around being nice. I thought I'd die of hunger--well, if I didn't die of thirst first. I sure didn't want to drink any of the sweet punch on an empty stomach. What I really wanted was plain, cold water. When I finally caught Jason's eye and gave him a signal, he took a punch cup to a drinking fountain and brought me a cup of much wanted and needed water.
As I drained the cup, I saw a woman in a dazzling black gown headed toward me and recognized her at once. It was Mrs. van Oppen. When she reached me, she grabbed me and kissed me on both cheeks and said, "Douglas, you were absolutely magnificent! I was so pleased that I had a tinny-tiny part in your evening. And to be honest, my young man, Mr. van Oppen never looked as splendid as you did in his outfit and he was a real looker. He, and the tailor, would be pleased. And who is this handsome young man by your side? He is by your side is he not?" Mrs. van Oppen asked and raised an eyebrow.
"Mrs. van Oppen, this is my partner, Jason Talltree." I responded without hesitation, then caught myself, wondering how Jason would react. "Jason, Mrs. van Oppen."
"Mrs. van Oppen, delighted to meet you. Thank you for making it possible for my partner to look as splendid as he does," Jason replied and I breathed a sigh of relief. 'Course I should have known Jason didn't care after kissing me in front of God and everybody.
"I'm only glad the outfit has found someone worthy of filling it. But enough of this mutual admiration. Douglas, are you like Mr. van Oppen was? He could never eat before a concert."
"I can answer that," Jason chuckled, "not only can he not eat, but it would be a disaster if he did."
"Then let's split the joint in a few minutes and go to my place for some real food," the previously very dignified woman said as she did a Roadrunner "poised to run" stance.
"Would love to," I replied, "but Maestro is planning on Jason and me accompanying him for dinner."
"That's fine. He'll be coming to my place as well. I guess Elizabeth, his wife, hasn't told him yet."
"Then let's roll," Jason said, offering his arm to Mrs. van Oppen.
"Want me along?" I asked.
"Oh, you can come along or you can hang around and my driver will bring you along with Maestro and Elizabeth. Your choice."
I laughed and said, "I don't want to put a crimp in Jason's style. You two go on and I'll be be a 'nice young man' a while longer and come along with Maestro and his wife." As I spoke, I saw Maestro coming toward us with a absolutely stunning woman on his arm. When they reached us, Maestro said, "Douglas, my wife Elizabeth Jamison; Elizabeth, Douglas McElrath."
I did the bow and hand kissing thing and then said, "Elizabeth, delighted. My partner, Jason Talltree."
Jason shook hands and Mrs. van Oppen said, "I am spiriting Jason away from Douglas. My driver will meet you all at the stage door." Jason offered his arm to Mrs. van Oppen and the two headed for the stage door.
"You certainly had a handsome friend," Mrs. Jamison said. "Is he just a friend or...."
"Elizabeth, don't you think that's a bit personal? Maestro asked.
Ms. Jamison blushed and said, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be rude, but I thought you introduced him as your partner...."
"I did; he is; and you were not at all rude," I replied. "And if I'm not being rude, you're Ms. Jamison?"
"Surprised you haven't noticed a family resemblance. Professor Jamison is my brother."
"I guess I can see a family resemblance," I replied, "and I must say it looks better on you than on him," and laughed.
"I see you have discovered the power of flattery," she laughed in turn, "but, Alexis, let's get out of here. I'm starved."
When we got outside, a large black Cadillac, land yacht vintage, was waiting. When we came out of the door, a driver in a smart uniform hopped out of the car and started opening doors. I was unsure of where I should sit until Maestro took my arm and ushered me into the back. The driver had seated Elizabeth so I was between the two--but not squeezed! The old car was big, roomy, elegant and looked as if it had just come off the show room floor.
I didn't know Asheville well, but I did realize we were headed in the direction of the Biltmore Estate, prime attraction of Asheville. Just past the entrance to the estate, the driver turned right into Biltmore Forest which is spelled M-O-N-E-Y. It's one of those "if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it" neighborhoods. We finally arrived in front of a huge house, Tudor style, set in a beautifully landscaped area. The landscaping was designed to give a feeling of the house being alone in the midst of an ancient forest and accomplished that very well.
Mrs. van Oppen met us at the door, took our coats and handed them to a maid--a real one with the little white cap, frilly apron and all. Taking my arm, she showed us into a large, elegant library. "Douglas, Jason assured me your grandparents wouldn't mind if you two have a glass of champagne to celebrate a wonderful concert and magnificent playing on your part." As she spoke, she handed me a glass from a tray the maid brought, then took a glass for herself. As soon as the rest of the party had a glass she raised hers and said, "To Douglas who plays as good as he looks!"
When we had finished our champagne, she said, "There's more if you would like, but I'm starved and I know Jason and Douglas are. They are growing bo...young men." She lead us into a dining room where we had a wonderful meal, although there were a couple things I couldn't identify.
While we were eating, she asked about Jason and my background, how we had the same grandparents, how long we had been a couple, that sort of thing. Before long Maestro and Ms. Jamison joined in. Finally Jason laughed and said, "I thought there were supposed to be only twenty questions or is this a new game?"
"We are just completely taken with you two," Ms. Jamison said. "Today it seems all you hear about are teens in trouble, then you two show up. Douglas, Alexis tells me you play as though you were much older and with much more experience, yet you have lost your family, are gay--and let's face it, that means you have had to face a lot of heartache and now because you and Jason are a couple, a lot of nonsense no doubt."
Maestro then brought up the rescue of Jonathan and that started a whole new conversation. Finally Mrs. van Oppen said, "Dessert in the library. Coffee, tea, hot chocolate?" When she got that all sorted out, we went into the library where we had some kind of wonderful chocolate desert and Jason and I had hot chocolate rather than coffee or tea.
Finally Mrs. van Oppen said, "Children, it's 12:30 and we all should have been in bed long ago, but it has been a wonderful evening. Alexis, I'll take care of the boys and Chandler will drive you home. If you like, come by for brunch, say 11:00. We'll let these two sleep in a bit."
After Maestro and Elizabeth left, I said, "We really need to call the grandparents. I'm sure they are long in bed if they are not awake worrying about us."
"No need to worry," Jason responded. "I called as soon as Mrs. van Oppen and I arrived."
"I was really pleased with your handsome partner, Douglas. We were barely in the door before he was on the phone. A very responsible young man."
"I guess we are pretty careful to keep the grandparents aware of what's going on. After all, we would be out in the cold without them."
"I hope it's more than that," Mrs. van Oppen said.
"It is. Of course it is. I guess it's sometimes hard for teenagers to say it, but they mean more to me than anything else in the world--well, except Doug. I was, literally, without family and without a roof over my head and they took me in and love and care for me more than my own mother did. Yes, Ma'am, they mean all the world to me," Jason said, almost teary eyed.
"Of course, I'm a natural grandson, but as Jason said, they mean the world to me as well."
A few minutes later, Mrs. van Oppen was showing us to a guest room. "There's toothbrushes and paste and all that stuff in the bathroom," she said. "I suspect you'll not want them, but there are PJs in the chest. I'll let you two sleep in and we'll have brunch at 11:00."
We said our goodnights and within minutes, Jason and I were in bed, snuggled in each other's arms, sound asleep.
I guess I was really tired as I slept through the night and if I even dreamed, I forgot it when I was finally awakened when Jason kissed me. He was already dressed.
"Doug," he said, "you need to get a move on. We're expected at brunch in twenty minutes."
I hopped out of bed, made a bee line to the bathroom, bled my lizard, then showered and got dressed, all within the allotted twenty minutes.
Maestro and Elizabeth did show up for brunch. It was a very relaxed time and we lingered over it until almost 12:30.
"If I'm going to get back for a performance tonight, I need to get to "culturally deprived" Haynes county," I finally said.
The drive home was uneventful beyond the fact that Jason kept going on about how proud he was of me and my performance. I'll admit I soaked it up big time.
Saturday night's concert was a real test. Just after the last note of the opening number sounded, the lights went out. The emergency lights came on, of course, and when they did, a gentleman in uniform--a policeman--was walking toward Maestro. The two talked briefly and a minute later, Maestro walked to the front of the stage and said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I have been advised that the emergency generator has malfunctioned. If you will make an orderly exit, it would be helpful. It's a pleasant night outside, so if you like, just wait around and as soon as the situation is cleared up, the concert will go on."
The orchestra went out the stage door and as we got to the alley behind the theater, there were police in strange gear waiting to go in. Jason was waiting for me outside and about the time he reached me, Maestro called out, "If you all will gather 'round, I'll tell you what I know."
We all gathered in the parking lot behind the theater and Maestro told us the police had cut the power to the building because they had received a phone call telling them there was a bomb in the theater. "I don't know the ins and outs of it, but apparently it was supposed to be connected to the power somehow. I guess we need to expect this sort of thing after 9/11. Anyway, I noticed some of you brought your instruments"I guess the piano's not yours so you weren't concerned about it, Douglas," he grinned at me. "I'm told we'll be allowed back in as soon as the police are sure it's safe. In the meantime, we might make some music for the audience on the sidewalk."
In five minutes, those with instruments had gathered a couple blocks from the theater in a tiny park and started an impromptu concert. Not only were the concert goers enjoying it, but also a sizable crowd who were just out strolling in a pleasant spring evening.
Thirty minutes later, we were back in the hall and Maestro told the audience, "I'm sure you all know we just had a bomb threat. I am very pleased with how well you handled it. While we'll start the concert from the beginning, of course, I think we all need a few minutes to get in the mood." He then announced "America the Beautiful" and invited the audience to join in. He had the orchestra and me play a couple other things and the audience sang. It took care of the nerves because in the singing, we all came together. In a way I had never realized before, the audience is as much a part of the concert as are the musicians. I hoped I remembered that. When I mentioned it to Jason later he said, "Yeah, well, how would a concert differ from a rehearsal if you didn't have an audience?" Good question.
Sunday's paper had a front page story about the bomb scare at the concert and the music editor raved about the concert and the professionalism of the orchestra in light of the scare.
When we finished Saturday night, Maestro told us the Sunday afternoon concert was only about half sold and apologized for scheduling it. "I'd hoped the matinee would be a real draw Easter afternoon. I was mistaken." We all assured him we knew he was working to make the orchestra known and, obviously, Asheville wasn't there yet.
Sunday morning, Wesley and Jason were up and ready to do chores before I was awake, but as they started down the stairs, I heard them and called out, "Hold up."
Jason came in to our room, kissed me good morning -making a face at my dragon mouth- and said, "We thought we'd let you sleep in since you have concert this afternoon."
"I'm not special," I responded.
"Well, you are special, but that has nothing to do with chores. You got home late last night, had a real tense time with the bomb scare and all that. So let me and Wesley pamper you just a little bit." He kissed me and rushed down the stairs to join Wesley.
While we were eating breakfast, the phone rang and Grandmom got up and answered it. When she came back to the table, she said, "That was Wes Bushyhead. He asked if the eleven o'clock service was still at eleven. I told him it was at ten thirty. "
When Grandmom had finished we were all laughing. When we calmed down a bit, Jason asked, "Did you tell him the Sunday service was still on Sunday?"
Grandmom realized what she had said and laughed, then added, "Well, we all still talk about the eleven o'clock service and it had been at ten thirty at Grace for at least ten years. Guess Episcopalians are wed to an eleven o'clock service, but don't care when it is."
"Yeah," Wesley said, "like the midnight Christmas Eucharist is at eleven."
"Anyway, he wanted to know because he had guests who will be coming to Grace. Didn't say who they were and I'm surprised Wes even agreed to come with them."
"He against church?" Wesley asked.
"He was once a faithful member at Grace. Ten-fifteen years ago, I guess, when his mother and father were ill, he asked the priest--it was before Fr. Hansen's time--to bring them communion and he refused when he couldn't find their names in the church register. Fool didn't know there had been a mission in Sadies Cove. When the people started moving out of the cove, it was closed. Fr. Hansen and Wes have become friends, but Fr. Hansen doesn't push and Wes is not ready to budge yet."
I wondered how the people would react to Wes when he showed up, expecting him to be wearing his "mountain man Indian" outfit. I was the one in for a surprise. Wes showed up dressed to the nines and had two people with him. As soon as I saw them I realized they had to be Matt and Luke. One had a head of blond hair even curlier and blonder than Hank and the other had black hair which he wore in a braid which reached below his ass--and a cute ass it was!
It was definitely spring and we were standing outside in the April sun when they arrived. Wes introduced them and when he did, Matt said, "Understand you have a concert this afternoon."
"Yeah, and it looks like the audience will be outnumbered by the orchestra."
"Don't count on it. Wes said there were only a few good tickets left when he logged on to check on tickets he had ordered for us."
While we were talking, Tom and his parents arrived. Introductions were made and it was time to go inside.
I always thought Easter with baby chicks, dyed eggs and a dead man scaring people was a strange mixture of nonsense. I guess maybe when I was older and thinking about death, it might have more appeal, but not now. With that attitude, I was prepared to daydream during the sermon--Granddad once said daydreaming during a sermon probably produced more results than most sermons. Fr. Hansen agreed with him! Fr. Hansen tried hard, but his Easter sermon was no better than his usual. I guess I'm just not into sermons. As Mr. Dennison said, I guess I go for the pomp and circumstance of it all.
Grandmom hadn't told us, but when Wes called, she had invited him and his guests to dinner. She had invited Tom earlier. We had a grand time at dinner although I ate little. Even with all going on around me, I got butterflies about the concert, especially since I knew Matt would be in the audience.
Jason and I got ready to leave for Asheville before the others. Jonathan was going with Tom. Tom has asked Hank and Beth to ride with them and they did. Brad, Jeremy, Josh and Kathy had all come to the Dennisons for Easter weekend and they were also attending the matinee.
I guess the pretty Easter Sunday helped attendance. Maestro suggested grandkids had finally driven grandparents to seek an escape from chaos and the concert seemed like such an escape. For whatever reason, there was a grand audience.
The concert went very well and Matt hugged me as soon as he could get backstage and said, "Good to see another noble savage who can make music. And while I definitely prefer my instrument to yours, you are damn good. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
When we were on our way home--Jason and I were alone and as much as you can in a Jeep, I was snuggled against him--he said, Wes told me he had checked with everyone and all agreed to gather this evening at his place for a simple supper. We'll fast after that until the sweat is over. After supper, we'll hike to the lodge where we'll bed down. Everyone will be up before sunrise, but we'll find out about that this evening. Wes was wondering if you could make it. He said Matt had told him he suspected you'd be worn out after three concerts. 'The let down alone is enough to take the starch out of him,' Matt had said.
"Maybe it'll hit later, but right now I feel pretty good. Anyway, it's only 3:30 now--when are we to be at Wes's place?"
"He said about 5:30-6:00 would be a good time."
"Great, I can take an hour nap and be ready to roll."
Jason tucked me in and before he was out of the room, I was sound asleep.