Maren hustled down the hallway toward Cal’s office. She had to do this before she wimped out. Butterflies jammed her stomach. She could do this. Cal was a good guy, she had nothing to fear from asking him to put her on the show schedule. Nothing to fear at all…

Her steps slowed, then stopped as her mind related all the thing that might happen if she went through with it. Music, gone; fingers frozen on the keys; the first, terrible snickering from the audience as she fumbled over the keyboard in vain, trying to reclaim some semblance of professionalism… Her, running off stage under Cal’s disappointed stare… It would be worse thsn her failed senior recital at the end of her college days, and worse because she lived in Brisby — she couldn’t escape the pity, the derision… A cold sweat broke out on her brow, and Maren leaned her back to the wall. God, she was hyperventilating just considering being out of the pit! How could she even begin to think she could perform a solo? How stupid was she?

Then, she thought of her dream: commanding that powerful Steinway, the way the music rolled from her hands…

You will sound stunning…

She straightened her shoulders. Now or never. She marched down the paneled hall and rapped smartly on Cal’s door.

“Come in,” he called, and she stepped in. Cal was up to his elbows in papers; it looked like a tornado had rolled through. He glanced up. “Maren!” he said in surprise, and he leaned back in his office chair. He pulled his reading glasses off and set them on a precarious stack next to the telephone. “What can I do for you?”

“I wanted to talk to you about the show.”

“Oh, yeah, I’ve been working on the schedule–”

“I want to do a solo,” she blurted.

Cal said nothing. Maren slowly opened an eye to see him looking at her, mouth agape. Inwardly, she cringed.

“Um… Ah…”

“See, I was thinking you could put me on right after I get done with Vic and Marty, and then you could put Miss Poulan on right after since she’ll have her own pianist and it wouldn’t disrupt things too much.”

She waited for Cal’s response and felt her heart sink as the silence stretched thin.

“Ah, Maren,” he began, hesitant, “Maren, what about the… your… You know the…”

“Stage fright?” she supplied, miserably.

“Uh, yeah. What if–?”

She flopped down in the overstuffed leather chair next to him. “Oh, who am I kidding?” she wailed. Maren looked away, closing her eyes against the sudden, irrational tears that threatened to spill.

“Hey hey hey, relax, okay?” he said gently. “I didn’t say no. You took me by surprise. I just wanted to know if you had a plan.”

His hand found its way onto her knee, and Maren found it unusually comforting. She paused. “A plan?”

Cal thought for a minute. “Yeah. Listen: why don’t you work something up and play it for me first, and the. We’ll go from there.” He gave her an encouraging smile.

Maren felt a tiny flutter of hope in her chest. “Okay,” she agreed.

* * *
This is part of an ongoing serial story — catch up on the plot via the Serials page!

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