The Loudest Silence
By: Olivia Janae
Heartsome Publishing is pleased to present The Loudest Silence, a lesbian romance set in the musical world of a Chicago orchestra.
Kate, an up and coming cellist, is new to Chicago and the ‘Windy City Chamber Ensemble’. During her first rehearsal, she is surprised and intrigued to meet Vivian Kensington, the formidable by reputation board president who also happens to be…deaf.
As Kate treads the waters of a rocky relationship with the young and foolhardy Ash, she develops a tentative friendship with her cold-hearted boss. As she does, she finds a kindness and a warmth that she never expected.
As their friendship grows into something more, Kate wonders, is Ash really who she wants? Or is Vivian who she desires? Is it possible for two women, one from a world of sound and one a world of silence, to truly understand one another?
The first thing Kate noticed when she walked in was that it was quite an impressive hall for so small a chamber group.
Kate shrank back against the gold embossed doors, feeling tiny in the ocean of steep, red velvet seats, the stage looming in front of her in a grand half-circle. The hall was unnecessarily lavish, with its tall pillars, double-decked balconies, gold-leafed walls, and its huge chandelier of cloud diffusers. It was a lot, and it was intimidating. Then again, she reminded herself, this was the home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, one of the largest and best ensembles in the country, as well as the WCCE, so… there was that.
Built to comfortably hold the CSO, an orchestra of more than one hundred people, the measly group of twenty musicians that made up the Windy City Chamber Ensemble seemed comically small on the large stage.
She was grateful for that, though. It helped the nerves… a little bit.
She bounced her shoulders and rolled her neck.
Kate had spent the better part of her life with a cello strapped to her like a child’s backpack, and while it only weighed thirty pounds, it left her shoulders and neck aching constantly.
Stretching and popping had become as second nature to her as walking and talking – not to mention something of a nervous habit. She pushed her head to the side, waiting for the usual pop as she studied the crowd ahead of her, finding comfort in the routine of it. She was nervous, and no matter how much she told herself that it was fine, that she was fine, the flutter of butterflies wouldn’t leave her stomach.
Stepping out of the way of a new arrival, she tensely checked her phone again, unsure if she felt better or worse that her screen had, thus far, remained blank. Tonight she had been forced to do something she hated, something she rarely did if she could help it. She had left Max with a stranger. She was pretty sure it won her a whole bundle of bad mom points, but they had only been in the city for forty-eight hours, so anyone she left him with would have been a stranger. There had simply been no other choice. She needed to get to work, so she hired a babysitter she had only just met that afternoon.
A horrible image flashed through her mind: Max alone and injured, her apartment empty of their few belongings, the fan still swinging haphazardly. The whole mental image was in black and white, just like old cops and robbers movies. Of course, the officer who responded to the 911 call would have his hat cocked, sounding very much like Humphrey Bogart as he explained that there was ‘very little we can do, sweetheart.’
She gave a start, realizing she had let her mind drift. She knew she had to get her head in the game, that this was why they had moved to Chicago. This was why they had packed up and moved in a week, setting a new record for quickest and most finance-depleting relocation of their many relocations. This new job with the WCCE meant that she could stop freelancing for a few years, a reprieve she was thankful for. She didn’t want to be thankful for the former cellist’s tragic accident, of course not, but… it would also be a lie to say she wasn’t, just a little bit. Her last contract had ended a few months ago, and she had been stuck. It felt like bad karma to be grateful, but this job, while not great, and with a small, local chamber group when she had grander dreams, was going to save their butts.
It also meant that she was going to have to deal with some awkwardness for a little bit, but that was a small sacrifice, assuming of course that her son wasn’t hog-tied by the new babysitter or something.
She rolled her eyes, inwardly chastising herself for being an idiot.
Kate took a deep, shaky breath, clicked on her usual crooked half-smile, and started toward the stage, hands shoved deeply into her jeans pockets.
Common practice in the world of classical music was that all auditions were posted online, and then, once the job was won, photos and a bio of the new hire were posted as well. It was just one of those unspoken rules, like slapping a big red ‘sold’ sticker over a property sign once it had been purchased. Because of this, few were all that interested in a newcomer, having already checked her out online. She didn’t mind that. She had hated the times when she’d walked into the rehearsal space and everyone had turned to stare as if she were a new zoo exhibit.
It gave her uncomfortable PTSD flashbacks, reminding her of all the first days at new schools she had suffered as a child and teenager. Each time a new family thought that the blonde-haired, green-eyed little girl was the one they wanted to foster, Kate had been forced to relocate, to start a new school in a new area, new town, new city. The fact that said family would inevitably decide they didn’t actually want her wasn’t the worst part of the scenario; it was that first day of walking into a new school, feeling all of the new and curious eyes on her. She had hated it then, and she hated it now.
The problem this time was that Kate’s photo hadn’t been posted; the audition hadn’t been listed. No one knew who she was. No one knew anything other than the fact that she had been the one out of ten cellists to win the last-minute audition to fill Hilary’s place. She was there under extraordinary circumstances, and as she walked toward the stage the constant humming of talk died until the drop of a pin could be heard. Each and every head turned to stare, looking at her as though she were both a relief and a curse.
Kate was there to cover for someone who had been hurt. The very need for her scared them, and so they stared.
Kate flinched, hiking her cello up on her shoulder as she paused at the foot of the stairs. This wasn’t her first rodeo, though, so she took a moment to steady herself and then, shoulders squared, she climbed onto the stage.
She spent a few minutes introducing herself to a number of officials in suits and ties, their lofty yet uninterested expressions all clear markers that they were board members. Once that was done, she turned to her fellow musicians, who looked a bit more like her in jeans and T-shirts.
The casual wear helped to settle Kate’s nerves a bit more. She had been worried that the performers in a chamber group this prestigious would always be in professional wear, concert blacks even during rehearsals. It had happened to her before. She had shown up to a new orchestra job in her typical, comfortable clothes to find the lot in bow ties and cocktail dresses. The whole room had rolled their eyes as if to say, with an elitist groan, ‘Freelancers.’ Kate had pretty thick skin, but it had been humiliating to sit beside the elegant, well-dressed people while wearing jeans, an ‘I heart NY’ shirt, and old, scuffed Converse.
Still, for the sake of looking her best and making good first impressions, she anxiously forced her fingers through her hair, trying to tame a few of the windblown curls. She wished she had thought to stop in the bathroom and brush it down. She got a few smiles back, but most just gave her a shifty-eyed nod and then turned back to their instruments and books of études. Nonplussed, she sat and released her cello from its confines to begin her usual warm-up routine.
“Katelyn? Are you Katelyn?” From the wings a woman floated onto the stage, her features small and sharp, her hair in a raven crop. A large, reddish-purple bruise on the side of her neck let Kate know she was a violinist. Which, if Kate recalled, also meant that this was the personnel manager she had spoken to on the phone.
She stood again, nervously running her hands over her thighs before giving her a half-smile.
Obvious relief on her face, the woman dropped some papers into Kate’s chair and shook Kate’s hand with both of hers.
“Hi. It’s so nice to meet you! Thank you again for doing this. I’m Mary.”
Kate gave a nod. “Yeah, of course. It was the fastest move we’ve made, but it was nice and easy.” Mary’s face slackened into an open and wide look of pity that made Kate uncomfortable, so she added quickly, “Thank you for the opportunity.”
“Of course. I’m just sorry it had to be under these circumstances. You come very highly recommended.”
“Yeah, well…” Kate wasn’t sure to say to that. Her hand was still trapped in Mary’s, and starting to feel uncomfortably warm, but when she gave a small pull, Mary didn’t seem to notice. “How is Hilary? Any updates?”
Hilary Ajam was, or had been, the Windy City Chamber Ensemble’s resident cellist for the last five years, and as far as Kate had heard, no one had any complaints. However, just over a month before, Hilary had been crossing the street on her bike, safely in the bike lane, when a Nissan Altima blew through the crosswalk. The hit had fractured her leg cleanly, but in her forearm the radius had been shattered, ripping through one of the attached muscles. The ten-month WCCE season was about to begin, and Hilary would not be participating.
“From what I hear, she’s good. They put some type of anchors in her.” Mary’s eyebrows drew together, trying to remember. “Extensor something or other. I don’t know, but you’re here!”
Kate chuckled, finally pulling her hand free.
There had been the audition, and Kate had won. She felt bad for Hilary. Everyone in the classical world dreaded an accidental, career-ending injury, but Kate knew she had gotten lucky as a result. The contract was for one year, and Mary had assured her that come next May, there would be another waiting for her, as Hilary would most likely need another year of rehab. Kate had never seen someone come back from that type of injury in even two years, and so she was elated for herself and for Max, sure that, for the time being, they could settle.
“Well,” Mary sighed, reaching out and giving Kate’s arm a caress, “I’ll let you get warmed up. I’m so glad you’re here. Thank you again.”
Kate nodded and sat, doing her best to ignore the eyes on her.
The musicians around her brought out their instruments and began plucking or tooting away, warming their muscles like athletes stretching before a game. The scatting of the trumpet to her left made Kate’s ears pop.
She pulled her cello to her, all at once comforted by its steady presence, but before she could begin her own warm-up, a voice spoke behind her.
“You look nervous.”
She craned her neck a little as she turned to see who had spoken, cello supported firmly between her knees. For just a split second, her eyes widened as she took in the face of the attractive woman half hidden behind a huge, upright double bass.
Kate clicked on a polite smile. The fact that she had been staring dumbly for a few seconds made her cheeks go slightly pink.
Though a moment before her expression had been bland, on seeing Kate’s pause, the bass player broke into a huge, smug grin. Kate had been gawking, and this gorgeous stranger knew it.
“I’m sorry?” Kate asked, thoroughly unimpressed with her malfunctioning brain.
The bass player’s smile had melted again, expression matching her tone. Her aloof gaze twitched between Kate and the cell phone in her hand, as though she was talking to Kate to be kind and the text she was reading demanded her full attention. Kate cleared her throat a little awkwardly, and the stranger finally looked up, her piercing olive eyes holding Kate’s gaze with intrigue and confidence. Her strong jaw, angled cheeks, and pale skin were as impressive as the long, dirty blonde dreadlocks tied in an effortless knot behind her head.
It was unusual to see a female bass player. The instrument was huge, so women usually had a harder time wrapping around it. This woman seemed to have no problem with that; her arms draped around the large instrument comfortably, her long, thin – and now phoneless – hand resting with ease across the strings.
“I said you seem a bit nervous, chica.”
The woman’s expression gave Kate the distinct impression that she was aware that she was good-looking, just as she was fully aware of the hopeful glances of the horn player to her left, who kept shooting furtive glances her way, as if begging her to look over and notice him. The woman, however, was firmly ignoring him. That didn’t surprise Kate. She didn’t need her “gaydar” to know this woman was “Kinsey-six gay.” It radiated from her like a Sapphic cologne.
“Uh, I’m not nervous exactly.”
It was more that she wasn’t entirely sure she was supposed to be there. She had won the job, yeah, but she still wasn’t sure they had meant to pick her instead of some other thin blonde with her initials. It wasn’t a new feeling, either. She was always somewhat convinced that someone somewhere had checked the wrong box, passing her forward in the audition instead of kicking her to the gutter where she truly belonged.
It was stupid – she had earned her place and she knew it, – but it always took her a little while in a new job to let go of the feeling. She hadn’t gone to a prestigious school like most of her colleagues, she didn’t come from money, and she didn’t have a gaggle of parents or cheerleaders behind her. In fact, it had always been her, alone, until Max was born, and then it had been them, the Flynn duo out to get the world.
A large part of her imposter syndrome was habit; she knew that. Kate had never really felt like she would fit anywhere; that was just a fact of life.
Then again, she could still hear the small voice in the back of her head reminding her that this job didn’t really count, that she had only gotten it because of an emergency, that they had been desperate. It warred with her logic, and though she tried to ignore it, the voice was persistent.
Of course, she wasn’t going to tell this unfamiliar woman all of that. Instead, she cleared her throat and said, “It’s more that if there’re any mistakes, then it’s all me. There’s kind of no one else to blame when you’re the only cello.”
The bass player just shrugged one shoulder. “Maaaan,” she said through her laugh, her words slow and casual, “we all make mistakes. It’s whatever. No one is going to judge you for them, at least not yet.” She gave her eyebrows a devilish and entirely charming waggle.
Kate’s own eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Wow, talk about making the new girl feel welcome,” she dryly muttered, running her hand over the comfortingly smooth wood of her cello. “Should I be expecting some type of initiation, too? Gonna make me run around the Loop in my underwear?”
“Not the first week.” The stranger winked.
Kate gave an amused snort.
“Kay, just give me some warning, and I’ll wear some cute underwear at least.”
“You really talking to me about your underwear?” the bassist cried in mock concern, her hand placed reverently over her chest as she spoke in one of the worst Southern belle accents Kate had ever heard. “I just met you! I’ll have you know that I am not that kind of girl!”
Kate gave a loud snort of a laugh.
She grinned back, her bright eyes twinkling. “Ash. Er, Campbell.” She gave her a wide smile that was all teeth. “Ash Campbell. Is me. Hey.”
A little charmed, Kate took her offered hand, noting the chipped black polish and the tattoos littered up and down her forearm. Kate turned her arm to get a better view of the largest tattoo, a poisonous-looking bite wound riddled with streaks of purple and green as though infected and bleeding. In the center were the words “Love Bites.” It looked like the kind of tattoo you got when you were freshly eighteen and had just been dumped by your girlfriend for her ex-boyfriend.
Kate chuckled while fighting the urge to roll her eyes. “That’s quite a tattoo.”
“Yeah, well.” Ash shrugged. ‘It’s a tattoo. I dunno. What can I say?”
Amused, she swallowed it down, and, willing enough to be friendly, Kate gave her hand a quick shake. It wasn’t as though she had an abundance of friends or even acquaintances here. Besides, there was something intriguing about the bass player. “Kate Flynn.”
“It’s good to meet you, Katie.”
“Kate,” she corrected with a small shake of her head. She was definitely not a “Katie,” never had been.
“Okay, guys!” Her attention was drawn back to the front of the stage as Mary called for silence and began running them through a few notices. “And of course, as you all can see, our new cellist has finally made it. Kate Flynn. Welcome! We’re so excited to have you!”
Kate nodded with a plastic smile.
Mary spent a while going over the plans they had for the upcoming season, what they would play for the first concert, and explaining who would be playing with whom, something that was indeed new to Kate. Typically an orchestra played together, all working as one to produce something beautiful, but things were different in a chamber music organization. Unlike an orchestra, the ensemble employed a mere twenty people from specific instrument sections, often hiring a single trumpet, violin, cello, and so on. Those twenty rarely played together as a complete group. Instead, different pieces of music were programed for their concerts, and then those twenty people were divvied out into trios, quartets, quintets, or sextets, depending on the type of ensemble the piece required.
Kate was pleased to find that she was placed in several groups. She hated it when the new person was held back for a while to learn the ropes. She was very much a grab-life-by-the-balls, all-or-nothing girl.
Mary’s lecture carried on forever; she was clearly a fan of her own voice. At first the length of the talk made Kate’s skin itch. She hadn’t warmed up, and she wished that she had come in earlier. This information wasn’t new. Why go on and on about pieces that were already well known to the musicians? It wasn’t as though they hadn’t played the pieces before – ten or more times.
She was just slipping into another worried daydream about her son when a flurry of motion caught her eye to the side of the stage, snapping her back to her surroundings. At first she glanced around guiltily, hoping no one had noticed her inattention, this being her first day and all. When she saw that most around her had glazed, lost looks on their faces, too, she glanced back toward the motion, struggling to see past the stage lights.
She squinted and saw a brunette standing in the shadows off stage left, back perfectly straight, chin high as she glared into the face of the man she was speaking to. She looked as though she wanted to claw his eyes out. Kate winced for him as the woman snarled, saying something that made the man cower back a step or two. She couldn’t blame him for being nervous; that woman looked fierce. Next to the angry woman stood a younger, sweet-faced Asian woman, her rich eyes sparkling as she gave a grin that didn’t seem to go with the conversation they were all having. She stared in clear concentration at the man, her hands jumping and dancing as he spoke.
Kate frowned, the lecture from Mary forgotten. She didn’t know much about it; only a few things she had seen on Sesame Street with Max, but that was the language deaf people spoke, right? Um, Sign Language; yeah, it was called Sign Language, a name she had always thought was beautiful, and perfectly described what it looked like.
This was definitely something that she had never seen before. Well, she had seen a deaf person or two in her life, someone walking down the street and talking with their partner, or perhaps on TV, but she had never seen a deaf person in a setting like this one. What was a person who couldn’t hear doing in a chamber rehearsal? Both of the women were dressed too well, too perfectly, to be anything other than there on purpose. It wasn’t like they had taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque.
The younger and taller of the two finally let her hands fall still to her stomach as if in rest position, her expression blank as she turned toward the other, expectantly waiting. The other woman’s face had only grown ever more lethal, her deep red lips curling back in open fury. She pinned the man with her eyes, saying something that made him quake in his boots as she pointed, threatening to jab in him the chest. He was in the middle of a fast and nervous nod when he turned on his heels to escape, walking just a bit too quickly for him to keep a strong hold on his dignity. Kate had a moment to feel bad for the guy before her eyes were pulled back to the women. She watched the younger woman’s eyebrows shoot into her hairline as her hands flew into beautiful, fluid motion again. The other rolled her flashing eyes in response, and with quick stabbing motions she answered in the same language.
Kate was intrigued by the mystery of deaf women in a classical music setting, but just then her attention was drawn back to Mary as she finally separated them to rehearse.
The rehearsal went as smoothly as she could have hoped. The group played beautifully, as she had known they would, and it was a confidence boost to be among them, which was great since the first gig was scheduled for only a few days later.
On occasion, as she played, her eye was drawn from her sheet music to the wings, looking for the flying hands again, almost like a tic. Despite her interest, she hadn’t been able to take a moment to watch as she wanted to. It was difficult not to keep glancing back; something about the language, something about the hand motions, about the flow – it was so intriguing.
While new to publishing, Olivia Janae is not new to writing. It has been her favorite pastime since she was young.
As a child growing up in California, it was always her dream to one day see her name on the cover of a book.
Olivia now lives in the Midwest with her classical musician wife, three cats and, soon, a baby will make six.
Outside of her love of writing, Olivia is an avid movie buff with an obsessive love of cooking, candy making, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer.