From the breathless silence of the dark stage, a harp played a few notes, followed by a simple melody, Greensleeves. It seemed to Fort that the harp was daring the cello to follow it. The cello quietly joined in. As the music swelled and became more intricate, the two larger moons peered over the rim behind them, illuminating the stage. The sound grew as the light grew. The effect was perfectly timed and executed, and utterly magical.
The full stage lights came up to a thunder of applause. Sabaku set his cello on its stand and stood up to offer his arm to the harpist, who was dressed in a golden gown that matched her instrument. They both walked forward and bowed. “Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce the celebrated harpist Rochelle Gunderson of Gothenburg, Sweden, Earth. Her next selection will be played on an Irish lap harp,” he announced as she gracefully disengaged her arm from his and seated herself.
She swept the smaller instrument off of a nearby table and set it in her lap. Softly, very softly, she began to play Brahms’ Lullaby.
Fort hardly was listening to the music. The brooch was dead weight in his pocket. Should he give it to her now, or after the show? Should he suggest going to The Pound afterwards? Did he dare try to reach for her hand or try an arm around her shoulders? Would she take it the right way? He watched her out of the corner of his eye, hoping for some nonverbal cues to follow.
To his surprise, Alix stiffened as if the music disturbed her deeply, which made no sense at all. What could be wrong with it? Her discomfort had nothing to do with him, he hoped. He couldn’t see her face, for she’d turned away. Fort followed her line of vision and decided that she was watching either the Moores or someone over in their vicinity.
He reached for her hand, brushed it really, and found that it was like ice. She turned with a sharp intake of breath, startled by his touch. He saw a moonlit glimmer of tears about to brim over. Her eyes were pleading, intense, and unfathomable.
“Alix, what . . ?”
She stood abruptly, awkwardly, scattering her program and the cushion. Her voice was a jagged whisper, and tears were leaking from the corners of her eyes. “This was a mistake. Just leave me alone. Don’t follow me, don’t talk to me, don’t care.” She pushed toward the aisle, trying to brush him aside. “I’m sorry. I have to go Now.”