"Thank you! Five stars, coming your way!"
She slammed the door of the black sedan and pulled up her stockings before starting a respectable jog towards the house.
More like a palace really.
New Jersey Transit had not been kind to her, and Rey had needed to call an Uber from the-middle-of-nowhere-Jersey just to arrive at a decent time. She didn’t want to ruin Finn’s chance of gratuity just because she was late.
She clutched the violin case close to her side. She always felt a little cumbersome walking around with an instrument, but ever since Luke had bought her a brand new - expensive - leather case for her violin, she felt even more self-conscious. Her plastic case had been fine...
Rey followed the catering staff through the gates to the backyard.
A national landmark, probably.
She stood gaping at the open grass, meticulously placed trees, pond and — were those geese?
A caterer nudged her out of the way. She apologized to their retreating back.
She found Finn waving at her from a Steinway grand piano. On the lawn. Wow.
She checked the time on her phone as she scampered to him.
3:02. Not bad for a 3PM call. Early would have been better.
“All good?” Finn asked as she came closer.
“Look at this piano!”
“I know!” He beamed at her. “I met the wedding planner. He’s actually best man too. He’s... prickly.”
Finn made that face. That face that said he’d been holding his tongue several times already this afternoon.
Rey looked around again, taking in the latticework arch and the seating arrangements and — yes! Real geese! — and the covered area where the reception would take place. She and Finn weren’t needed at the reception. Apparently there was a swing band playing tonight. They usually left right after, but sometimes the bride and groom would offer them champagne and even a plate of food if it was buffet-style. She wouldn’t hold her breath today.
She pulled her sheet music from her purse and set herself up on the music stand. There was a chair for her too, which answered the question of if they preferred she sit or stand.
Finn already had his iPad set with the sheet music pulled up. Just as she turned to Finn to go over some of the newer music, a pale, thin, ginger man in a tux clipped his way over to them. He looked like he had recently been assaulted by every person in his presence.
“Oh, you’ve showed up?” He didn’t wait for her response before saying, “Are we on schedule over here?” He said “ssshhedule” and she almost asked him what part of the U.K. he was from.
“Yes, absolutely,” Rey responded. She twisted the cap off her water bottle.
“You won’t have that on display during the ceremony, will you?” He sneered at her purple water bottle with a Deathly Hallows sticker on the side.
“Um, no. I’ll put it away, of course.”
He raised his brows at her, like he didn’t believe her. “Well, feel free to... tune up, or whatever it is you do. Guests will arrive in twenty-six minutes, so be sure to be playing by then.” He said this while walking away, and then stopped, and looked around her. “Did you need someone to help you with retrieving your case from the car?”
It was clear he was not the someone she should wait for, but she had no idea what he was asking.
“My... my case?”
He looked as if he was not going to suffer these fools lightly when he said slowly and deliberately, “Where is your cello?”
Rey stared at him. She heard Finn stop twinkling the keys behind her.
“My what?” She craned her neck, hoping she would hear him differently that way.
“Celllloooo!” He bellowed at her. “Good god, you’re daft.”
Rey was too confused to feel offended.
“I’m a violinist.”
The ginger man - Hux, based on his emails... or Mr. Hux? - blinked at her unamused.
“I specifically asked for a piano and cello.”
“And we specifically have never advertised ourselves as such,” she said, lifting a haughty brow back at him. “Your email asked for this duo, and this duo is piano and violin.”
Mr. Hux scowled at her. She guessed that his scowl could usually change the words that came out of people’s mouths, but not today.
“Oh, good god!” He snapped, falling apart suddenly. His fingers pinched the skin between his eyes.
Rey looked to Finn. His eyes were wide and his mouth opened and closed, like he almost had something to say.
She turned back to Mr. Hux. "I assure you, we're very good."
"Gwen specifically wanted a cello," he moaned.
Rey frowned. People always thought they wanted cello when really, they wanted a string quartet. She'd played this game before. She and Finn had worked with a few of her friends from the orchestra to widen their appeal, branching out to include a second violin and a cello, but they'd ended up losing money, splitting everything four ways. When they raised their rates, no one had bitten.
Suddenly Mr. Hux whipped around to look at her hungrily. "Can you play cello?"
Rey pressed her lips together. Of all the stupid questions...
But unfortunately she did play cello a little bit. Luke had given her a few lessons when she was younger, making sure she had a fully-rounded education. She now understood that he'd been testing her at all the strings to see where she would fit best.
Rey gave Hux as polite of an expression as she could muster. "I can play the imaginary cello about as well as an imaginary violin."
"What's going on here?" A woman with silky black hair and smart eyes appeared over Hux's shoulder. She was in a charcoal grey bridesmaid's dress.
"Baz, thank god," Hux said. "We need to call Ben."
He dragged her away, speaking animatedly to her in a hushed voice.
Rey turned to Finn. "So... are we playing?"
Finn spread his hands across the Steinway and said, "They will have to pry my fingers off this beauty if they want me to go."
Rey tuned her violin, checked her hair in her compact, and tugged at the stockings again.
Finn started playing, drawing attention from the caterers and ushers. His background was in classical jazz, so he knew how to get people's attention with spiffy versions of Sinatra and jaunty renditions of Ke$ha songs.
Rey didn't have a background in anything. Luke always described her to others as self-taught, but that didn't really fit, seeing as he was her mentor.
At eleven, she'd escaped the noise of her foster homes to the solitude of Maz's Music Shop in Queens. Maz would let her wander and flip through books, play with old record players, and listen to the music lessons behind closed doors. Rey had been fascinated by the violin lessons especially. The heavy, somber melodies carrying through the thin doors had captivated her.
On a slow Friday morning, when Rey had skipped school to wander to Maz's, the small, bent woman had grabbed an older looking violin and bow and a child's music book from the rack. She'd taken Rey through the beginning finger exercises and postures, moving quickly to basic scales. When a customer came in, Maz allowed Rey to go into one of the practice rooms, and four hours later, Maz had stood in the doorway with a frown on her face. Rey had pulled the bow back from playing the last song in the kid’s book, and asked, "Was it not good?"
Maz had blinked, shook her head, and made Rey promise that if she never caught her at the shop when she was supposed to be at school, Rey could come by on Friday evenings to use the violin.
About a year later, Maz gave her the violin. And a year after that, Luke Skywalker had started visiting the music shop on Friday nights. She hadn't known him then, but she started to see the same bearded man stop to listen to her when she'd played at the 14th Street subway station after school. A few times he had a beautiful woman with braided hair with him, and once the woman had approached her while the twenty people applauded, and handed her a $100 bill, saying, "Tuck this away, love. Don't let this sit in the case."
Rey had stared up at her with wide eyes and said, "Do you... do you want change? You can have what's in the case—"
The woman had smiled and patted her cheek.
When she entered high school she'd been sent to a different foster home in Staten Island, and hadn't seen Maz or Luke for several months. She still tried to play at 14th Street, but she only saw Luke there once. He'd paced quickly through the tiled walls, but then stopped, bumping into commuters, when he heard the strands of Mozart from her corner.
When she stooped to collect her change, Luke had introduced himself. And asked her if she would meet him at Maz's that weekend. So, Rey took the ferry over and began weekly lessons with Luke Skywalker, the conductor of the New York Pops. His sister Leia, the woman who had given her the $100 bill, had been First Chair for years, after her brother, and after their father.
At 3:23pm, Mr. Hux stomped back over to the two of them.
“Alright, it’s settled.” A satisfied expression graced his pointy face, which did not spell good luck for her and Finn. “A cello is on the way.” He folded his hands in front of his chest, like thanking a higher power. He lifted his eyes to the heavens and said, “Gwen owes me. So much.”
“What do you mean?” Finn asked.
“Our friend is a cello-ist.”
Rey would have corrected him if it wasn’t for the creeping fear that had her eye twitching.
“I don’t play without Rey,” Finn said. “If you won’t have her play, then I’ll be leaving too.”
Hux huffed and snarled at him. “You imbecile. Little Miss Rey, here, will play the cello.”
Rey stared at him.
“I’m... I’m a violinist.”
“You just said you played cello not ten minutes ago!”
Hux was clearly at the end of his rope, but Rey was still trying to grasp hers.
“I don’t... I—“
“I don’t have time for this,” Hux drawled. “I need to finish getting dressed. As soon as that cello arrives I better hear the approved song list.”
He marched away from them, checking his watch.
Rey stared, open-mouthed at his retreating back. She spun, and plopped down in the chair, flipping open the music binder.
“Rey, don't listen to him. He clearly has no idea what he’s talking about. You can play the violin. Or let his friend join us on cello.”
She stared down at the music, flipping page by page, imagining the fingering, creating the bass clef under the treble with only her eyes.
“Don’t stress. Please, Rey.”
“No, I can do this. I can do this.”
Luke had taught her how to read music after she’d finished with the beginner’s books Maz started her on. Unfortunately, her violin music for these songs was in treble clef, which meant she would need to turn off a part of her brain and just read the note on the page, and tell her fingers to play that note, regardless of the octave.
She heard a truck rattle up the drive. She looked up to see a valet —a fricken valet. For a suburban wedding — take the keys. A dark-haired man pulled open the small door to the backseat and tugged out a cello case.
Well, fuck. It looked like she was doing this.
She stood to greet this Ben. And her muscles froze in place when Kylo Ren walked toward her, cello case in hand.
She’d never really thought his name was actually Kylo Ren, but…
He was more than just a cellist. He was a recording artist. Not that that meant much in the classical world, but still. She’d met him for the first time three years ago. Well, could she call it “met him” if he still didn’t know her name?
On her eighteenth birthday, Luke had given her a contract of employment with the New York Pops. She’d taken a seat in the violin section, stepping in for someone going on maternity leave. She’d stayed for the past three years, moving towards the front every season, watching carefully as Leia led the string section.
Across the stage, Kylo Ren played with the cellos and basses. He showed late to every rehearsal, even missing one or two performances where emergency subs had to be called. He never spoke to her. He never spoke to anyone accept Leia when he questioned a bowing or a tempo, loudly, proudly, self-righteously. He threw a chair once during rehearsal, and had been suspended for the rest of the current season.
He was also the most amazing cellist Rey had ever watched in person. She’d come to the rehearsal rooms at Carnegie on a Sunday morning at 8am to fit in some extra practice time, and she’d spent 45 minutes peering at him through a doorway while he worked through Bach’s Cello Suites, stopping every now and then, and starting from the beginning. She never heard anything wrong with the previous play, but his face would show his disapproval, sterner and harder.
He moved with the music. Like it couldn’t help but pour out of him. Luke always told Rey she was too tense and needed to flow more, showing her videos of Hilary Hahn and Sarah Chang. But Rey couldn’t ever feel the music like they did. Like Kylo Ren did. It was all very dramatic, she preferred a quiet passion.
Sometimes she could see it though, when she watched Kylo Ren play. She could see how important it was to have the music flowing through you like water.
And now he was bringing her a cello at a backyard luxury wedding in New Jersey.
The brunette girl Baz met him in the driveway, jumping up to kiss his cheek happily, before taking his garment bag from him.
He stopped in front of her, assessing. She was pretty sure he didn’t recognize her. “You needed a cello?”
She looked down. Thank god it wasn’t his Stradivarius cello that he used at Pops. Leave it to Kylo Ren to have multiple cellos.
“Er, yes,” she said. “Thank you.”
He laid down the case, bending swiftly to his knees and popping the locks. He looked up at her through a curtain of his hair and said, “Did you forget to bring yours?”
She didn’t hear him at first, staring down at the silky finish of the wood, a beautiful stain for a beautiful instrument. He lifted it by its neck, and handed her the cello, grabbing up the bow.
“Um, yes.” She took the neck, careful not to touch his fingers. “No, I mean.” She turned to her chair, sitting and situating herself. “I brought my violin. I’m… I’m a violinist.”
Just as she was about to put the spike into the grass, he dropped a rest at her feet. She looked up and he was scowling down at her.
“Do you play cello?”
“Yes.” She left it at that and started flipping through the music to the beginning, placing her fingers on the fingerboard and silently working through the fingering in her mind. She was not about to test out these octaves while Kylo Ren stood two feet away, towering over her.
“That’s violin music.”
“Yes, I’m aware,” she hissed. “I’m a violinist, remember.”
“Then why aren’t you playing violin,” he said, like it was easy.
“Because Gwen – whoever that is – wanted a cello.” She kept her eyes off him, wishing him elsewhere.
“Gwen is the bride.”
She looked up, against her wishes. His eyes were on her fingers and she immediately shifted to a better positioning.
“Are you about to ruin this wedding?” he asked.
She narrowed her eyes at him.
“Rey’s really good,” Finn piped in, and Kylo Ren turned, like he was seeing him for the first time. “She can play anything. She’s like a child prodigy.”
“Finn, don’t—“ she tried.
“She’s been playing violin since she was eleven,” he continued, and Kylo Ren cut him off to glance back at Rey.
“Eleven?” he said, in a mocking tone. “How impressive.”
She pressed her lips together. True child prodigies start playing at three, so she knew he was in no way impressed.
“If you’re so concerned, why don’t you play?” she said.
“I can’t. I’m in the wedding party,” he said simply.
She blinked up at him. So, he knew this Hux person and this Gwen person well then. Of course, he probably also lived in a mansion in Jersey. Probably a mansion in Manhattan. Wherever one could find one of those, Kylo Ren was in it.
Mr. Hux stood on the veranda waving at him, rushing him inside.
Kylo Ren or Ben or whoever he was gave her one last haughty stare and then walked away on long legs, taking the stairs up to the main house three at a time.
Ugh, she hated when people did even two at a time. What kind of obnoxious giant would—
“Rey, what do you need to practice?”
She jumped, and turned to “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” The bride’s processional song.
At 3:35 they finally began playing the from the beginning of the books. “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” “Ave Maria,” “A Thousand Years.” The usuals.
Either Gwen or Hux had interesting tastes though; a few Radiohead songs had snuck into the binder. Traditionally Rey would take the melody line and Finn would take accompaniment, but they focused in on each other, having quick conversations before songs. Sometimes Rey would get to sit on the bass line while Finn sight read the parts he wasn’t comfortable with. But when Rey turned the page to “Numb” by Linkin Park, she laughed and told Finn she had this.
She let her eyes drift, feeling the melody that she’d screamed to when she was five or six in her foster homes. She had more than a few fond memories with these songs.
She followed through the fingering, humming through a melody. She looked over at Finn and he smiled at her.
Finn and she had met in her last foster home when she was transferred six months before her eighteenth birthday. They’d moved out together to a studio apartment in Harlem, bonding over music and food. Finn taught piano and Rey played in subway stations until she started at NY Pops, finally seeing real money for the first time in her life.
Finn let the final tinkering notes play from Numb, and Rey looked up and found the chairs almost full. She checked her phone.
She looked over at the doors to the house and found an anxious Hux nodding at her.
She and Finn switched their music to “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” It was a very quick melody that Rey had perfected years ago on the violin. On the cello… she was having trouble visualizing it all.
“Rey, are you feeling good?” Finn asked. “Do you want to just take bass line?”
“No, no,” she said, eyes flying over the page. “I can do this. Just take it the tempo down 5 BPM.”
Hux nodded at them again.
Rey raised the bow, muscles in her arm already tiring without the proper stamina for the cello.
She met Finn’s eyes. They breathed. And began.
Rey kept her eyes glued to the page for the first eight measures. She slid through the page without breathing, finally taking a moment to glance back at Finn when he took solo on the next eight. She looked at the procession, seeing Hux link arms with a pretty woman, following Kylo Ren as he escorted the Baz girl down the aisle. She barely got a chance to note the charcoal grey tux on him before picking up the bow again and joining Finn.
She wasn’t pleased with the way she was playing. She knew she could do so much better with practice. And she tried not to dwell on the fact that she was playing on Kylo Ren’s spare cello. Or the fact that she would not have worn a skirt this short if she knew she would have a cello between her knees.
Kylo Ren’s cello.
She looked at Finn, and he gave her an encouraging nod. She looked ahead in the music, remembering how she had the violin part memorized so she didn’t need her eyes on the binder.
Rey knew it was inside of her. She closed her eyes, transposing fingering arrangements, letting her ears turn off to just make sense of the notes in her brain and her fingers.
She opened her eyes, pulling the bow across the final chord.
The audience was standing, facing the latticework arch. The bride had made it down the aisle.
She looked at Finn as the minister told everyone to take their seats. He beamed at her, shaking his head, laughing.
She guessed that meant she pulled it off.
With shaking fingers, Rey turned the page in the binder to the ending processional, looking over the solo line and figuring what she’d have to do. It would be much easier than “Jesu.”
Once the ceremony was under way, she glanced back up, finding the tallest woman she’d ever seen in a white dress with a man who could be no more than 5’6” as her groom. She looked even taller with Hux and Kylo Ren standing next to her.
Next to her?
Rey realized that Gwen, the bride, had two men behind her, and the groom had two women. Rey smiled. That’s what she’d probably have to do one day, with Finn as her Man of Honor.
From where she and Finn were seated, she got to watch the bride’s side of the wedding party. Hux’s face was pinched. She supposed he might be crying.
Kylo Ren shifted on his feet, staring right at her.
She looked down at the cello, looking for anything he’d be displeased with. Dirt from the lawn, ladybugs crawling… fingerprints. Nothing. Keeping too careful an eye on his second favorite cello.
Possibly his fourth favorite. How was she to know.
She watched Gwen take Dopheld Mitaka to be her wedded husband. And she watched Kylo Ren’s eyes slip to her and Finn more than once.
She wasn’t going to take off with the cello. Chill Ren. Or Kylo. Ben, actually.
He looked at her again. She wondered if the photographs would show him looking off, distracted.
The minister pronounced them wife and husband, in that order, and Rey lifted the bow, turning her attention to “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga.
The bow slid across, popping the little sounds that Gaga usually made – Ra ra ah ah ah-ah. Roma ah ah ah-ah.
She smiled at Finn as he slid a glissando down the keys to join her on the down beat.
The audience chuckled as they recognized the song. Dopheld and Gwen danced down the aisle. Hux and Kylo Ren decidedly did not dance. She and Finn played out the wedding party and then continued another verse and chorus until resolving into an ending.
“You’re pretty great at that,” Finn said, nodding to the cello.
Rey smiled, stroking the neck, feeling the smooth polish. Finn didn’t know anything about strings, so he wouldn’t know that the bowing was all wrong or that she had skipped notes in “Jesu.”
Finn brought over the cello case, and laid it open for her. She took one last glance at the beautiful cello before closing the case, and then searched the crowd to see if there was someone in charge she should leave it with.
A few ushers were taking guests to the reception area across the lawn, but without Hux, there was no management.
“Why don’t I find Hux and our money, and you figure out what to do with that.” Finn pointed to the cello case.
Rey wandered for a bit, carrying her violin in one hand and the cello in the other. She slipped inside the house, eyes glazing over as she took in the interior. She pressed herself between caterers and photographers, trying to maneuver her cases around.
The Baz girl bumped into her coming out of a small bathroom.
“What are you doing in here?” she hissed at Rey.
She blinked back at her, and stuttered, “Sorry, I’m just… I’m looking for Kylo – er, Ben. I have his cello.”
Baz frowned at her and said, “You can leave it upstairs in the men’s room. First bedroom on the left.”
Rey thanked her and started a search for the stairs.
Baz called out, “Next time try to remember to bring your instrument.” She spun and walked away before Rey could even think about biting back at her.
She huffed and twisted into a new room finding a circular staircase, spiraling widely to a second floor. She turned left at the top and poked her head into an empty bedroom, clothes and shoes and discarded belts thrown everywhere. Empty glasses of scotch mingled with cologne bottles.
Yep. Found the boys room.
Rey set down the cello in a safe corner, away from bottles or liquids of any kind. She pushed a curtain aside to look down on the reception, seeing wine glasses and hors d’oeuvres floating through the crowd. She smiled down. It was a nice wedding. Well-planned. Beautiful location, beautiful weather. She and Finn had played far worse.
She scanned the reception for a black head of hair, hating herself a bit for wondering what Kylo Ren thought of her cello playing.
“Your intonation is awful.”
She spun, finding the man himself taking up the doorway.
Rey blinked at him, wondering what she was supposed to do with that.
“Well, thanks for bringing your cello,” she said, choosing to ignore his insult.
He stared at her, gaze sliding over her.
“How long have you been playing?”
There was something tense in his body language. He didn’t lean in the doorway. No hands in his pockets. Instead he held both sides of the doorframe in both hands, leaning into the room like he’d just dropped in to tell her something.
“I started violin when I was eleven.”
“How long with cello,” he specified.
“I don’t… I don’t play really. I had a few lessons when I was fifteen, but I mainly play violin.” She swallowed, looking away from him.
“You weren’t looking at the sheet music,” he said.
“No,” she said, quietly, “I memorized it.”
His lips twitched, like he was going to ask her something else, but then nothing.
“Thanks, again, Kylo—“ Oh lord. “Ben. Thank you.”
His eyes swept over her again.
Well, fuck. Now he knew that she knew who he was. Knew that maybe she’d downloaded his first track on iTunes with his strings group The Knights of Ren.
She looked down at a half-empty bottle of scotch, and pined for a drink herself at this point.
She lifted her violin case and moved to the doorway. The one he was still blocking. Good god, he was large.
He stepped aside once she was close enough, and she squeezed past him, brushing his shoulder.
The air felt different in the hallway. And she was just starting to stumble down the stairs, feeling him still watching her, when he said, “You need a teacher.”
She stopped, foot hovering. He stared down at her, lips moving again, like he was going to say more. Was it a fact? Or an offer?
“I have one. I’m a violinist.”
She swept down the stairs and out the front door before he could respond.