Home > Heart Strings(3)

Heart Strings(3)
Author: Melanie Moreland

I inhaled and slung my messenger bag over my shoulder, walking toward him. Luck was with me as a few people stood in front of him, listening. He often drew a small crowd, which always pleased me, especially if they dropped money in his case. I felt his eyes on me as I approached. At the last minute, I veered to the right and went past him with hurried steps. I dropped the wad of bills into the case and watched them settle next to some coins. His guitar playing faltered, but I kept going, feeling satisfied. He accepted it from everyone else. I was his most appreciative customer, and it was important to me.

I waited on the platform to head back to my parents’ side of town. I stepped on the train and sat down. Glancing up, I was met with those intense eyes through the glass. With his guitar in its case and slung over his shoulder, he had his hands on his hips, looking at me in disapproval from the short distance. Unable to help myself, I gave him a thumbs-up.

His smile appeared—the one that lit up my world, the dimple in his cheek deep and prominent. As the train pulled away, he stepped back, then, in an old-world gesture I didn’t expect, laid his hand over his heart.

Mine sped up at the sight.

 

 

“I thought you went home to change.”

I lifted my wine to my lips, stalling for time. “Brianna talked longer than I expected.”

“You could have called her from here.”

“She wanted to Skype.”

“You—”

“Enough questioning Charlotte, Charles,” my mother interrupted. “Is Brianna all right?”

“Yeah, she’s fine. Man trouble,” I offered lamely.

My mother huffed through her nose, her impatience clear. She only approved of Brianna because of her parentage, not because she liked her as a person. I wasn’t sure my mother truly liked anyone. “There usually is with Brianna.”

My father made a strange noise. “At least she has a man in her life.”

My head fell back with a sigh. “Really, Dad? You can’t let up on that?”

He handed me the potatoes, frowning when I passed them on to my mother. “A woman your age should be married.”

“I’m only twenty-six—hardly in my dotage. When I meet the right person, I’ll get married.”

My father made a noise in the back of his throat, but otherwise changed the subject.

“Is that all you’re going to eat? I noticed you barely ate your sandwich at lunch during the meeting. You’re far too thin these days.”

“Okay… Can we stop the picking on Charlotte today?”

Mom laid down her fork. “Enough. Both of you. You’re ruining my appetite with this bickering. Charles, let the girl live her life.” She turned to me. “Show your father some respect. He deserves it.” She cleared her throat. “We are your parents, and given what we have experienced, we have every right to watch over your health. Are you unwell?”

“No,” I assured her. “I am perfectly healthy. I saw the doctor last month. Everything is normal,” I stressed.

“Then your father is right. You are too thin. Eat your dinner.”

“I’m fine. I wasn’t hungry at lunch.”

My father lifted the bowl of potatoes again in my direction. “And now?”

With a sigh, I accepted the potatoes, adding them to my plate. I wasn’t overly hungry, but if it got him off my back, I would eat the damn potatoes.

After dinner, I helped clear the table. It was June’s night off. I missed our housekeeper’s sunny disposition, but I would see her next time. I was loading the dishwasher when my mother spoke.

“You know your father is concerned, Lottie. He has told me how distracted you are in the office.”

“I’m fine.”

She frowned. “You aren’t yourself.”

I wanted to ask her if she knew who I was anymore. But I refrained.

I shut the door, straightened up, and met her serious, dark-brown eyes. Like my father, I had blue eyes, but I was built like my mother with the same chestnut-brown hair. Although hers might receive a little help these days from her favorite salon. I was small, with delicate features, the same way she was, and inside, we were both fighters. We simply fought things differently.

Except lately, the fight had gone out of me.

“It’s…work.”

“What about it?”

I shrugged, unsure how to say the words aloud.

“Are you not happy with the project? Perhaps your father could put you on a different one.”

I dragged in some much-needed oxygen. “I’m not sure I want any project, Mom.”

Understanding widened her eyes. “Lottie. Have you talked to your father about this?”

“I can’t. I don’t know how to. You know his expectations.”

“You need to speak with him. He would listen to you. He is your father, first.”

I wanted to ask her if she honestly believed that. It felt as if he were Charles first and my father a distant second. It had been that way for years.

Since the day we lost Josh.

She reached over the counter, clasping my hand, her voice low and sad. “You can’t bring him back by giving up your life, you know. He’d hate it if he knew you were trying.”

“I know,” I mumbled, shocked by her words. She never spoke of Josh. In fact, she rarely spoke of anything personal with me. She lived a life she’d once laughed at. Lunches, spa days, afternoons with “the ladies.” My parents lived in an expensive high-rise, had a housekeeper who cleaned, cooked, and did the shopping. The woman in front of me was coiffed and perfect, totally unlike the memories I still carried of my mom, pushing a grocery cart, me trailing beside her as we snacked on an open bag of crackers and she instructed Josh what brand of cereal he was allowed. Those days ended years ago. My mom, or Jo-Jo, as my dad called her, disappeared the day Josh died, and Josephine replaced her.

Our gazes locked, and for a moment, I saw her pain. For a moment, I thought she was going to say something else, but she straightened her shoulders, and the cool mask I was used to seeing reappeared.

“If you need to do this, please approach your father carefully. He has already lost enough.”

I heard the subtle warning behind her words, and I shook my head wildly. I thought of the look that would cross his face if I told him. The crushing disappointment. I couldn’t face it. I couldn’t be the one to do that to him. I already owed him so much.

“It’ll pass, Mom. The latest project is very stressful. As soon as this next project completes, I’ll take a little time off. Maybe Brianna and I will go on a vacation. I’ll be fine.”

She sighed, folding a dish towel and laying it on the counter. “I’ll be watching, Lottie.”

 

 

I stood, reaching for my coat. “I had better get going.”

Mom stared at me knowingly. “Escaping while your father is on the phone so he won’t insist on a car for you?”

I bent over and kissed her cheek. “You know as well as I do that Rodney will watch me walk down the street to the subway. I am perfectly safe. I have a five-minute walk on the other end.”

She shook her head. “So independent.”

“It’s all I have.”

She regarded me, frowning. “You have a great job. Remember how important your father’s company is to him, Lottie. Many people would love to have your opportunities.”

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