It had been big news at the Met—world-renowned opera singer, Monica Schwartz, would be performing there this season. A coloratura soprano, she was set to star in Handel's Agrippina, in a very limited run of two weeks only. She'd already received rave reviews back in Berlin, where she'd been a permanent fixture at the Lindenoper, and was now performing stateside, for the very first time.
As managing director, it was Hermann's job to oversee the daily operations at the Met, but in this case, to especially ensure that Ms. Schwartz had everything that she needed. If for whatever reason she did not, then he was to see to it that this be rectified immediately. She was, after all, the star of the show, and Hermann's superiors were intent on keeping her happy.
Hermann had only been working there for a few months. Before that, he'd been assistant company manager at the Royal Opera House in London. Monica Schwartz would be the biggest name at the Met since Hermann had accepted the position, so this would be a test to see if he could truly handle the job. He could not afford a misstep.
There was a flurry of excitement that morning, as everyone prepared for Monica's arrival.
The orchestra had already been practicing for three weeks, but Monica herself hadn't been due to arrive until a few days before opening night—she claimed that she could sing the part in her sleep by now, so there was no need for her to get there any earlier. As long as everyone else learned their parts and was ready by the sitzprobe, to integrate the orchestra and the cast, then everything would go well.
Once Hermann got word that her car was outside, he went to meet her personally at the front entrance.
"Ms. Schwartz," Hermann greeted her with a small bow. "Hermann Gottlieb. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance."
Monica reached out a perfectly manicured hand, which Hermann took, lightly kissing the back of it. She wore an extremely expensive-looking red dress, with matching lipstick and shoes. Her dark hair was coiffed perfectly, with not one strand out of place.
"This is my son, Newton," Monica said, indicating the younger man beside her. He looked to be in his thirties, like Hermann.
"Please," he said, grinning, "call me Newt. Only my mother calls me Newton."
Hermann laughed politely, while Monica gave a tight-lipped smile.
Unlike his mother, Newt did not have a German accent. Hermann had heard that he'd grown up in the United States, with his father, while Monica had stayed in Berlin to try and repair her marriage. Apparently, their affair had been quite the scandal, back in the day. However, it appeared that the public had been quick to forgive the indiscretion, as she had remained a beloved icon of the opera world.
Hermann didn't know much else about Newt, but he was certainly intrigued.
There was not, strictly speaking, any kind of dress code at the Met, though it was still considered to be a fairly formal affair. Newt was dressed quite casually, in a pair of black jeans, and a leather jacket over his dress shirt. A loose black tie and combat boots completed the look. He had the same dark hair as Monica, although Newt's seemed to be purposefully messy. Admittedly, it did make for a rather striking appearance.
Apparently, Hermann's gaze lingered a little too long—Newt had caught him staring, and winked at him. Hermann felt his face flush, clearing his throat, then turned his attention back to Monica. "Allow me to show you to your dressing room."
He led them down the grand staircase, with its plush red carpeting, and through the winding corridors, until they finally reached their destination. Much to Hermann's relief, Monica was satisfied with it. Each of the principal singers had their own private room, unlike the rest of the cast who shared one, but he'd made sure that hers was the most extravagant.
"If there's anything you need, Ms. Schwartz, anything at all," Hermann told her, "please let me know. We will do our utmost to accommodate you."
Newt's expression soured. He strode across the room, and made himself comfortable on the chaise longue in the corner, pulling his phone out of his pocket. He popped in his ear buds, before lying down. "I'm just gonna chill out here for a bit, okay?"
Hermann was taken aback by this sudden change in attitude and, slightly annoyed, turned to go. He had plenty of other things to take care of anyway—as much as Agrippina was currently his top priority, he also had a production meeting for Carmen and a run-through of La Bohème, both of which would be premiering the following month.
It all kept him extremely busy, and Hermann had almost, almost, succeeded in putting Newt out of his mind entirely.
As soon as Monica was ready, the sitzprobe for Agrippina began, shortly after noon. Hermann had already seen videos of her performances online, though it was nothing compared to hearing her sing in person. She was truly remarkable.
Sitting at his makeshift desk in the auditorium, papers strewn about, Hermann was quickly taking notes throughout the rehearsal. On a corner of the desk was his packed lunch: a sandwich, a couple of tangerines, a bottle of water. A movement a few rows down caught his eye and, sliding his reading glasses off, he noticed Newt sprawled in one of the seats, boots kicked up on the seat in front of him. Hermann scowled, but didn't want to interrupt the rehearsal just to tell him to stop. He did, however, make a note to check that the seat was clean afterward, and forced himself to focus on what was happening up on the stage instead.
Sometimes Newt attended the rehearsals, sitting at the back of the theatre, and other times, he was nowhere to be seen. On the few occasions that Hermann had seen them interact, he'd observed a bit of friction between mother and son, though it was really none of his business.
The rehearsals were long—the opera itself was over three hours—but more or less ran smoothly. He had initially been a little nervous, but by the time of the final dress rehearsal, Hermann was quite confident that it was going to be a hit.
On opening night, the hallways backstage were bustling with activity as the performers readied themselves, the finishing touches being put on hair, makeup and costumes, until, finally, it was time for everyone to take their places.
From his spot at the side of the stage, just behind the curtain, Hermann took a deep breath.
The music swelled in the orchestra pit, and the opera began.
As the golden curtains drew apart, revealing a packed house of almost four thousand people, Monica Schwartz made her American debut. She had an exquisite voice as well as a commanding presence, and the audience listened with rapt attention, all eyes on her. All except for Hermann.
While everyone else was watching Monica up on the stage, Hermann was watching Newt.
He stood on the opposite side of the stage from Hermann, watching the opera from the wings. The bright lights illuminated his face in the shadows, as he took in his mother's performance. Despite the complicated relationship they appeared to have (and Hermann certainly knew a thing or two about having complicated relationships with one's parents), Newt seemed in awe of her all the same. Or maybe he was in awe of the effect that she clearly had on people when she sang. Either way, the result was the same—to Hermann, Newt looked beautiful.
He was dressed similarly to the first time Hermann had seen him, the same leather jacket, a slightly nicer dress shirt beneath it and, of course, that loose tie. Hermann found himself wanting both to adjust it and simultaneously tug it off.
The sound of applause startled him from his reverie, and he was astounded to realize that the first act was already over. Not only that, but it was very possible that he hadn't seen much of the opera at all.
When he looked back to the other side of the stage, Newt was gone.
As the audience filtered out of the theatre for intermission, Hermann followed and began to make the rounds. Smiling politely, he walked around, making small talk with some of the regulars, and making sure that they were all enjoying their evening thus far.
If he happened to be searching for one person in particular, well, that was beside the point. Hermann was only doing his job, wasn't he?
It wasn't that Newt didn't appreciate the opera. It was just that it was so damn long, and he didn't exactly have the attention span, or the patience, for that sort of thing. Over three hours, plus intermission, was a lot to ask of him. He was glad for the break, even if he'd been watching from backstage. Monica had reserved a balcony seat for him, but Newt didn't think he'd be able to sit still for that long. At least if he was already standing, he could move around when he needed to without bothering anyone. Granted, watching from backstage meant that he didn't have access to any of the subtitle screens, so he didn't always know what was going on. But he'd read (well, skimmed) the synopsis beforehand, so he felt like he'd gotten the gist of it.
His mom had been the one to reach out to him, the invitation an 'olive branch' of sorts, though Newt wondered if it wasn't just for publicity's sake—the reconciliation of Monica Schwartz and her estranged son. Never mind that she was the one who'd walked away from him all those years ago, but of course, that wasn't part of the narrative she was trying to create here, was it? Public image was everything to her, so Newt honestly wouldn't have put it past her. Considering that she'd been busy pretty much since they got there—rehearsals, hair and make up, costuming, and whatever other stuff happened pre-opera, they'd hardly spent any time together. Was it disappointing? Sure. Was it surprising? Hell no.
Oh well. At least Newt hadn't had to pay for anything. Monica had covered the cost of his flight and hotel, so there was that. And since he wasn't teaching any summer classes this year, he didn't have to worry about dipping into his vacation days, either.
He was trying to decide what to do with himself for the next thirty-five minutes, when a voice interrupted his thoughts.
"Oh, hey," Newt said, recognizing the guy he'd met the other day with his mom. "Hermann, right?"
"Yes, that's right."
Newt gave him a quick once-over. Unlike the the other times that Newt had seen him the past couple of days, Hermann was dressed formally, in a black three-piece suit, white dress shirt, and even a bow tie. It was a good look on him. A very good look.
"How are you enjoying the show?" Hermann asked.
"Honestly, I'm not really much of an opera guy," Newt said, then hurried to add, "uh, no offense."
Hermann smiled. "None taken. I understand that it isn't for everyone."
"I'm really only here to see my mom while she's in town," Newt explained. "We don't exactly have the best relationship, I guess you could say, but..." he shrugged. "She's still my mom, you know?"
Even if it had never really felt like it, he silently added. Newt had been raised by a single father, with the help of his uncle. When he was little, Monica would go on tour for months at a time, so Newt had barely seen her growing up. When his dad moved them to the States, she'd visited him every once in a while until, eventually, even that had stopped. Too busy, she had told him. You'll understand when you're older, she had said. He'd understood just fine, though—she hadn't wanted to spend time with him, had decided that her career was more important to her than her own kid.
Newt had learned to make his peace with it. His dad, meanwhile, had been a little more in denial. Even after they had split up, his dad used to go see her perform, would show up with flowers and everything. Newt wasn't sure what his dad had thought was going to happen, but Monica had made it pretty clear that she was done with him. After the affair, she had managed to convince her husband to give her another chance. Jacob Geiszler's wife, on the other hand, had asked for a divorce.
"Are you a singer as well?" Hermann inquired. Newt laughed.
"Nah, at least, not like my mom. I definitely take after my dad in that department," he said. "But I am a musician. Well, sort of."
Newt was, technically, a musician. Just not a very successful one. Like, at all. He'd had a band back in college, but they'd eventually broken up due to 'creative differences.' For Newt, it was all about the music, and the integrity of it, whereas the rest of the guys had been happy to just play whatever gigs they could get at the local bars, and get paid and/or laid (preferably both).
And so, Newt had gone solo, trying to make a career out of it. Turned out it was a lot harder, on his own, but at least he had his creative freedom. Even if that currently meant playing a couple of cover songs on open mic night at bars around Boston (Newt was great at writing music but, as it turned out, lyrics? Not so much). He could only dream of the kind of success that his mom had. Watching her earlier up on the stage, how the audience had been enthralled as she performed... he longed to be admired like that, to be adored.
Newt loved music, all kinds of it. He'd grown up with it all around him—between his dad, who tuned pianos, his mother who sang opera, and even his uncle, who was a music engineer, it ran in the family. He definitely wasn't interested in singing opera, though, or tuning pianos.
No, Newt was going to be a rock star.
Unfortunately, he and his mother didn't exactly see eye to eye on the subject. She thought it was an undistinguished profession for the son of an opera singer, as if it were somehow beneath her. Newt wasn't looking for her approval, but some support, at least, would have been nice.
It was almost kind of funny, given the role she was playing in the opera—Agrippina plotted against the Roman Emperor Claudius, so that her son Nero could eventually rule in his place. Newt didn't think that in reality, Monica would ever do something like that for her own son. Not that Newt would want to be emperor of anything, but that was beside the point. He wasn't completely sure that the real Agrippina hadn't done it for herself, anyway.
"Listen, sorry if I was rude the other day," Newt said. "I know you were just doing your job, it's just, well, watching people bend over backwards to keep her happy always kind of gets to me, you know?"
Hermann opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted by a stressed-looking young woman who jogged up to him, holding a clipboard and wearing a headset.
"Um, Mr. Gottlieb, I'm so sorry to bother you," she said. "You're needed backstage. The director wants to see you about the lighting situation in the next act."
"Yes, thank you Emily." Hermann turned back to Newt apologetically. "You'll have to excuse me."
Newt shook his head. "No problem."
Hermann withdrew a business card from his pocket. "Here, I—ah," he paused, and turned to Emily, motioning for her pen. She handed it over, and Hermann quickly scribbled something down on the card before holding it out to Newt. As Newt took the card, their fingers brushed, and he felt his pulse speed up just slightly at the brief touch. Hermann nodded at him, once, then turned to go deal with whatever lighting emergency was going on, Emily hovering anxiously beside him. "If you're looking for something to do during the intermission, I highly recommend the Revlon Bar."
"Oh, uh... thanks? I'll keep that in mind." Newt looked down at the business card. In the middle of the card was, naturally, Hermann's name, and at the bottom-left, his title of managing director. What surprised Newt, however, were the words, neatly hand-written, at the top of the card: 'May I see you?'
Had he really just been hit on at the opera, of all places? Huh. To be honest, Newt hadn't thought he'd be noticed by anyone while he was there, certainly not with his mom was around. But, at the heart of it, wasn't that what he really wanted? To be seen? Not just as Newt Geiszler, son of Monica Schwartz, or even as 'that loud, obnoxious guy' (which he got a lot), but simply as Newt.
He licked his lips, then looked back up at Hermann's retreating form. Yeah, Newt thought he just might take him up on that offer.
Newt waited around a bit longer before casually heading over to the bar. He didn't want to seem desperate. He was not desperate, just... curious. It wasn't that Hermann wasn't Newt's type—everybody was Newt's type—it was that Newt hadn't expected to be Hermann's type. Not that he was complaining.
Apparently whatever lighting issue he'd been called away for had been resolved pretty quickly, as Hermann was already there when Newt arrived. Newt found him seated alone at the back of the room by the terrace, idly stirring his drink.
The place was pretty fancy, which wasn't surprising—every inch of the Met seemed to be fancy. The bar was packed, full of people mingling and killing time until the next thrilling instalment began. Newt made his way over to Hermann's table, and handed the card back to him. Hermann looked at Newt, then back down at the card in confusion before smiling in amusement.
Beneath his question 'May I see you?' Newt had added the word 'Yes.'
The pleased look on Hermann's face was totally worth it. He gestured at Newt to take a seat.
"Can I get you something?" Hermann asked, as Newt settled into the opposite chair.
"I'll just have a beer, thanks."
He waved a waiter over to take Newt's order, then turned back to him.
"So," Hermann began, "Newton—sorry, Newt," he corrected himself.
"It's okay," Newt said. "I don't mind." Normally it bugged him when people used his full name—it reminded him too much of his mom—but he found that he actually liked the way it sounded when Hermann said it.
"Alright, then. Newton," Hermann smiled, "what do you do for a living? Besides being an aspiring musician."
"I'm a teacher," Newt answered, "at MIT. Biology."
Hermann raised his eyebrows. "My, that is impressive."
"Thanks," Newt said. "My mom wanted me to be a doctor, but..." He shrugged.
"And you didn't?"
"I kind of bounced around from one major to another for a while there," he said, "so I guess I didn't really know what I wanted." He laughed. "I've always been kind of terrible at making decisions. Maybe that's why I'm single."
Hermann laughed as well, noting this new information with interest. At least, Newt thought it was interest (God, he hoped it was interest.)
The waiter reappeared with Newt's beer, and poured it into a large glass for him, then moved on to the next table.
"So, how did you end up in this kinda business? You seem a bit young to be in charge of all this," Newt said, waving a hand to indicate the Met in its entirety.
"My father," Hermann replied. "He's a very big fan of the opera, and a patron who donates quite generously. He was the one who pulled some strings and got me an interview at the Royal Opera House, back in London. When this position opened up earlier this year, he encouraged me to apply. Personally, I think he just likes the perks, and being able to brag about it."
Newt took a sip of his beer. "Parents, huh?"
"Indeed," Hermann agreed.
They raised their glasses and clinked them together in solidarity.
It wasn't long before they were chatting like old friends—Hermann talked about his work at the Met, and his interest in astronomy, Newt told him about teaching at MIT, and about the terrible band that he used to be in. By the time they finished their drinks, they still had about fifteen minutes left until the intermission was over. The bar, meanwhile, was even more crowded than before, and it was getting harder to hear each other over the noise.
"Hey," Newt said, "you want to get out of here?"
They ended up backstage, in one of the unused dressing rooms. It wasn't as large as Monica's, but it was still quite comfortable. In addition to the vanity area, there was also a couch against the far wall, a couple of armchairs, a coffee table, and a piano in the corner.
"I've been hanging out in here a bit during the day," Newt confided, sitting down on the couch. Hermann took a seat in the armchair across from him, leaning his cane against the wall. "Managed to find this, too."
Newt held up an acoustic guitar, which had been propped up beside the couch. Hermann wasn't sure whose it was, or where it might have come from—most operas didn't feature a guitar in the orchestra, and of the few that did, none were currently being performed.
"Did you, uh," Newt hesitated for a moment before continuing, "did you want to hear something?"
"Yes," Hermann answered, "I'd like that very much."
Hermann shook his head. "Whatever you like."
Newt tuned the guitar, humming thoughtfully, then played the first few chords and began to sing.
"I don't take coffee, I take tea, my dear
I like my toast done on one side
And you can hear it in my accent when I talk
I'm an Englishman in New York"
Hermann chuckled at the song choice. Cheeky bastard.
Newt played extremely well, and watching him was mesmerizing. As animated as he'd been back at the bar, he was much more focused now, as his fingers moved expertly along the instrument, plucking the strings.
As the song ended, Hermann applauded. Newt seemed genuinely surprised, but pleased, by the reaction. "You have a lovely voice, Newton."
Newt ducked his head, strumming the guitar. "Heh, I don't know about that."
"It's true," Hermann insisted. It was a little on the scratchy side, but Hermann found that he rather liked it. He found that he rather like quite a lot of things about Newt.
"Well, thanks," Newt said, laughing a little. He set the guitar back down. "I'm glad someone thinks so, anyway. Most people don't."
"Then 'most people' surely don't know what they're talking about," Hermann proclaimed. "I do listen to professional singers on a daily basis, if you'll recall. So believe me, if I say you're good, I mean it."
"Oh, well," Newt grinned, "if that's your professional opinion, then."
They had stopped by Hermann's office on the way over, to grab a bottle of brandy (a gift from one of the patrons), along with a couple of glasses. Hermann poured the amber drink into each of them, and handed one to Newt, joining him on the couch. They were sitting close enough that their knees were touching.
Suddenly nervous, Hermann took a generous gulp of brandy from his glass.
"Have you been in New York long?" Newt asked him.
"Only a few months," Hermann replied, staring down at his drink. "I haven't had a chance to see much of it, I'm afraid. This place keeps me quite busy."
"I've been here a few times," Newt said. "If you have any free time, I could show you around. If you want."
Hermann lifted his gaze to meet Newt's. Newt's eyes flicked down to Hermann's lips, then back up again, and Hermann gripped his glass a little more tightly. He felt warm, though not just from the brandy. This was something else, something deeper than that.
The brandy did, however, give him the courage to finally ask the question that had been on his mind the whole evening. In fact, it was almost identical to the one he'd written down on his business card earlier, with the notable exception of one word.
"May I kiss you?"
"Fuck yes," Newt breathed. He took Hermann's glass and his own, quickly put them both down on the table, and pulled Hermann forward by the lapels of his jacket.
It was messy, and there was almost a sense of urgency to it, as if they had wasted enough time not kissing, but it was not unpleasant. Far from it, in fact. Newt's hands ended up in Hermann's hair, and Hermann wrapped a hand around Newt's tie, fingers tangled in the black fabric.
The sound of the orchestra starting up again filtered in through the open door, and Hermann pulled away breathlessly. "We're going to miss the next act."
Newt's glasses were a little fogged, and he removed them before leaning forward again. "Fine by me."
Hermann was extremely taken with Newt. He was very different from the usual opera crowd. Compared to the type of people Hermann was usually surrounded by at work, Newt was a breath of fresh air.
During Hermann's lunch hour each day, Newt would persuade him to actually leave the building instead of eating at his desk, or during rehearsal. Together, they spent time around the city—visiting the surrounding area, strolling through Central Park, trying different restaurants. Newt even convinced Hermann to be adventurous and try some of the street food, which turned out to be quite good.
They dined together every night, then would retire either to 'Newt's' dressing room, or to Hermann's office for the remainder of the evening. Newt would play the guitar, or sometimes the piano, and sing to him, or they would sit together on the couch and become better acquainted with each other. Sometimes, that meant talking. Sometimes, it meant no talking at all.
One day, halfway though the week, rehearsal finished early, and one of Hermann's meetings had been cancelled, so Newt insisted they go out to lunch early. He had a special destination in mind—the Empire State Building.
"When did you buy—" Hermann began, as Newt waved the tickets at him.
"I got them a few of days ago," Newt said. "You know, in case my mom wanted to go or something, but, uh, I don't think that's happening." Monica had a routine, which she clearly did not like to deviate from—she was always up early for rehearsals and, once they were over, she returned to her dressing room, in order to rest her voice until showtime, with strict instructions not to be disturbed.
"Newton... are you sure?"
Newt shrugged. "Whatever, I'd rather go with you anyway."
They took a cab to 34th Street, Newt chattering excitedly the whole way, listing facts about New York as if he were a tour guide. Hermann was barely able to get a word in, though he didn't much mind. He enjoyed listening to Newt talk.
"Really, dude, I can't believe you've never been here," Newt was saying.
"I told you," Hermann huffed, "I've been busy."
Once they arrived, Newt paid the driver, then hopped out of the cab, holding the door open for Hermann. Together, they took the elevator up to the main observation deck on the 86th floor. As the doors slid open to reveal the observatory, Hermann couldn't help but let out a small gasp. Newt turned to him knowingly.
"See?" he said, "I told you it was awesome!"
He eagerly led Hermann over to one of the many large windows. Hermann looked down at the ground below them, and then quickly back up again. "Oh, my," he commented, "we are quite high up, aren't we?"
"What, are you afraid of heights?" Newt asked. "Shit, I hadn't thought of that. We can leave if you want—"
"No, not afraid," Hermann answered, "just not overly fond of them."
"Don't worry, you're totally safe up here, promise. But just in case," Newt said, and reached over to take Hermann's hand, "just hold on to me, okay?"
Hermann felt a warmth bloom inside his chest. "Well, if you insist."
Newt was right. It really was a magnificent view. Hermann hadn't realized what he had been missing, keeping himself cooped up in his office all this time. They strolled about the deck, which thankfully wasn't too busy at this hour, though they were mindful of the time—Hermann still needed to be back at work in roughly an hour or so.
"You basically run the place," Newt had said when Hermann had voiced his concern, "you can afford to take a long lunch. Hell, you probably deserve it, considering all the stuff you put up with." Whether he meant his mother, or in general, Newt did not specify, and Hermann felt it was probably better not to ask, and risk spoiling a good time.
They walked out onto the open-air part of the observatory (Hermann may have held on to Newt's hand just a little tighter), and made their way over to one of the binoculars overlooking the city. Newt pressed his face to the binoculars for a few moments, then stepped aside and motioned for Hermann to do the same.
"Can you see your place from here?" Newt asked. "Do you even have one, or do you just live at the Met?"
It certainly felt that way, at times. But Hermann did rent a small apartment on the Upper West Side, even if he spent very little time in it. Truth be told, it had never really felt like home.
His mornings usually consisted of waking at five o'clock, then a quick breakfast followed by the short commute to Lincoln Center, where he would review the overnight box-office numbers, and other reports to be analyzed. After that came morning rehearsals, then various meetings, consulting with the different departments, and making sure that each evening's performances went off without a hitch.
Quite often, it was dark when he left in the morning, and dark again by the time he returned to his apartment at night. Well, dark by New York's standards—even well into the night, the city was still brightly lit. While Hermann regretted that he wasn't really able to see the stars for all the lights, the lights themselves were their own sort of constellations, in a way.
"Not quite," he said. "But I can see Lincoln Center."
Hermann turned back around just as Newt whipped out his phone. Holding it out, he squeezed in close to Hermann, so that the view of the city was in the background. "Here, come on, say cheese!"
"Newton—" Hermann began, taken completely off guard. He barely had time to register that Newt was even taking a picture, before he heard the shutter sound of the phone's camera.
"Aw, cute," Newt said, holding it up for Hermann to see.
Hermann blushed. He didn't usually like how he looked in pictures, but this one? It wasn't terrible.
They spent a little more time on the observation deck, then took the elevator back down to the 2nd floor to explore the exhibits. Newt was particularly excited about the King Kong exhibit, designed to look like an office from the 1930's, and insisted on having his photo taken in the giant gorilla's hand, making an appropriately dramatic face.
"I didn't realize that you were a fan," Hermann commented. He sent himself a copy of the picture from Newt's phone, with a mental note to set it up to be the photo on his caller ID.
"Yeah, totally," Newt said. "I mean, he's not as cool as Godzilla, but really, who is?"
After the exhibits, they grabbed a quick lunch at one of the restaurants on the ground floor. Hermann twirled his spaghetti onto his fork and took a bite, watching in quiet amusement as Newt struggled with his own. It took him twice as long to eat, but eventually he managed to clean off the plate.
"Dessert?" Newt asked once they were done. "Apparently they've got the best chocolate cake in New York."
Hermann mentally calculated how long it would likely take them to get back to Lincoln Center. It wasn't that he was in a hurry to leave—he really was having a lovely time—but he couldn't afford to stay away for too much longer. "I'm sorry, Newton. We should probably be getting back."
"That's okay," Newt said. "Come on, I'll buy you something from the gift shop."
Newt picked out a black mug for Hermann, with a drawing of the Empire State Building done in chalk. Hermann bought Newt a stuffed King Kong that was wearing an Empire State Building t-shirt.
The mug sat on Hermann's desk, and he smiled every time he looked at it.
Yes, Hermann was, fairly sure that he was completely, hopelessly smitten.
Newt was woken up by the sound of an alarm beeping. He was pretty sure that it wasn't his alarm, because it was still pitch-black in the room, and Newt didn't typically get up before the sun did. Groaning, he rolled over, squinting at the clock. Without his glasses, though, it was still too blurry to make out. "What time is it?"
"Five o'clock," Hermann murmured from beside him, turning off the alarm and turning on the bedside lamp. They'd gone back to Newt's hotel room the night before, since it had been pretty late by the time they'd left the Met, and Newt hadn't wanted Hermann going back to his place alone at that hour—New York subways could be sketchy as fuck. The hotel was a couple of blocks closer, and Hermann had been too tired to argue. Besides, there had certainly been other benefits. It had definitely been a while since Newt woke up next to somebody, or had gone to bed with somebody, for that matter. It was nice.
Newt wrapped his arms around Hermann's waist, and snuggled up to him. "Mm, five more minutes?"
"I'm sorry, dear," Hermann said, and the use of the pet name took Newt by surprise (it was a nice surprise). "I have to go, or I'm going to be late."
"I'll go with you. We can grab some coffee first."
Hermann smiled down at him. "I appreciate the offer, but I'm afraid that you'll be terribly bored the rest of the morning. Why don't we just meet at lunchtime?"
"Okay," Newt relented, reluctantly letting him go. Hermann pressed a quick kiss to the top of Newt's head, before climbing out of the bed to get showered and dressed. While Newt's clothes were strewn randomly about the floor, Hermann had neatly folded his on the desk chair, his shoes and cane resting beside the desk. Newt found himself wondering if Hermann had a spare change of clothes in his office, and, if not, whether anyone there would even notice he was wearing the same thing as yesterday.
"I'll see you later."
"Yeah," Newt said. "Lo—" he began, then stopped and cleared his throat. "Later."
As Hermann quietly shut the door, Newt fell back against the pillows with a sigh. It was ridiculously early, but he didn't think he'd be able to go back to sleep. There was too much going on in his head right now. His head, and his heart.
He'd never felt this way before. It was like... like butterflies, and blue skies, and every color of the goddamn rainbow.
Newt located his glasses on the nightstand, grabbed the pen and paper by the phone, and began to write.
That evening, Newt stood in front the fountain at the main entrance, admiring the view. "This place is really something, huh?"
"Yes," Hermann agreed, moving to stand beside him, "it is."
They'd just gotten back from dinner—having skipped out, again, during the middle of the opera. Newt had to keep reassuring Hermann that the show would, indeed, go on even if he wasn't there to supervise. Besides he had, like, a fleet of people to watch over things, all of whom had Hermann on speed dial, just in case. There hadn't been any emergencies yet.
One of Newt's favorite things about New York was the food. The pizza they'd just had been fucking amazing. The margaritas had been pretty great too, and maybe now he was just a little bit tipsy.
It looked like they'd gotten back just after the show had ended. People were milling about in the lobby, and starting to make their way outside. On their way to the dressing room, Newt and Hermann ran into some of the cast, who appeared to be headed out, Monica included.
"Ah, Newton, there you are," his mother said. Newt was honestly a little surprised to see her going out with them—she'd done a pretty good job of isolating herself, but he supposed it probably looked good to mingle. You know, in case of paparazzi or anything (were there opera paparazzi? Who knew? Definitely not Newt.)
"Hey, mom," he greeted her in return.
"We were just going out for dinner and drinks. Would you like to join us?" Monica asked them, in a tone that very much implied that she would rather they didn't.
"No, that's okay," Newt said. "We already ate."
Monica looked between the two of them in surprise. "Ah. I did not realize that you two had become... friends."
"Hermann's been keeping me company," Newt said pointedly. "Since you've been so busy and all."
"I see." She paused. "I suppose I will see you tomorrow, then."
"Have a good night," Hermann said, as she turned to go.
"I bet you guys have got your hands full with her, huh?" In the little time that Newt had spent with her, she had always been kind of a diva, and not just in the literal sense. "She can be pretty high-maintenance."
"Well," Hermann began, clearly trying to come up with a diplomatic answer, "she can certainly be, ah, challenging, at times. But we haven't had any incidents yet. In fact, the only thing she really requested was that she remain undisturbed, as much as possible."
Newt's face fell. "Wait. You... you weren't just spending time with me to keep her happy, were you? So that I wouldn't bother her?"
"No, of course not," Hermann assured him. "I've genuinely been enjoying our time together—"
"Because I can go if—"
"Newton, I am here because I want to be, I promise you." Hermann tilted his head until Newt looked up and met his gaze. "Why would you think otherwise?"
"I..." Newt paused, not quite sure how to put it into words. "People just don't... they don't usually like me that much. I guess I'm high-maintenance, too." It had to be true, on some level—between his mother, his former band-mates, all of his exes... people just tended to leave. Even his dad and uncle had eventually gone back to Berlin. There was one common denominator between all of them, and that was Newt. Which meant that there had to be something wrong with him. So it wouldn't have surprised him if this thing with Hermann, whatever it was that they had going on, had been too good to be true.
Hermann reached out to cup Newt's cheek, stroking it gently with his thumb. "Well, I like you."
Newt swallowed, nodding. "I like you too," he said hoarsely. He was pretty sure that if he tried to say anything more than that, there was a very real chance that he might cry. Instead, he leaned forward to kiss Hermann, letting himself get lost in the moment, savouring this feeling of being wanted.
When they parted, Hermann had a thoughtful look on his face.
"I have an idea," he said. "Follow me, and bring the guitar."
Lincoln Center was a bit like a maze, and Newt was pretty sure that he'd be lost for days trying to get around on his own, but Hermann navigated it like a pro. It was pretty deserted at this hour, which almost made it feel a little creepy, but there was a bit of a thrill to it, too. They passed by sets and props, all ready and waiting for the next performance, before emerging backstage. Newt turned to Hermann questioningly.
"Are you sure we're allowed to be in here?" Newt asked. Hermann raised an eyebrow.
"Oh, now you're worried about that?" he teased. "It's fine, no one will be here until morning." He gestured toward the stage, and Newt suddenly understood why Hermann had brought him there. "Go ahead."
Newt bit his lip, then stepped out onto the middle of the stage. The view was breathtaking—the bright lights, the rows upon rows of red velvet seats, the balcony tiers. He closed his eyes, trying to imagine what it might be like to perform in this kind of venue, to a crowd of thousands. He thought of all of those people who'd been watching his mom, the looks of admiration on their faces.
When he opened his eyes, the only person sitting in the auditorium was Hermann. Hermann, who actually liked Newt's music, who actually liked Newt's voice, who even liked Newt. Hermann, who was currently smiling at him as if Newt was the greatest thing he'd ever seen up on that stage.
Maybe Newt didn't need all those adoring fans, after all. Maybe just having this, having just one person look at him the way that Hermann was looking at him just then... maybe that was enough.
Earlier that morning, for the first time in a long time, he'd actually managed to finish a song. It turned out that he'd just needed the right inspiration. Newt felt the weight of the instrument in his hands, the strings taut against his fingers (he'd never liked using a pick), and let the words flow out of him.
"My head was restless like a hurricane
Then you came along,
Stopped the wind and rain
Offered shelter, kept the storm at bay
My heart was a sky, cold and grey
But you came along,
And chased the clouds away
The sunlight breaking its way through again
I believe, I believe,
It's meant to be
I believe, I believe,
In you and me
I believe, I believe,
This feeling's here to stay"
Newt tended to fall hard and fast, but he'd never actually been in love before, not really. Maybe that had been his problem—all the greatest songs were about love, and it was kind of hard to write about something without experiencing it first, right?
He was positive that this was love, though, practically spilling out with every verse, in each note he played. It was overwhelming, but in the best kind of way.
"This road is long, and I've walked it alone
But finding you was like coming home
Yeah, I hung my hat right next to yours
Kicked my boots off by the door
Felt it deep inside my bones,
The sweetest peace I have ever known
I believe, I believe,
It's meant to be
I believe, I believe,
In you and me
I believe, I believe,
This feeling's here to stay"
Hermann stood, clapping enthusiastically. Did it still count as a standing ovation if it was only one person? Whatever, that part didn't matter. All that mattered to Newt in that moment was the person in front of him.
"How did it feel?" Hermann asked.
Newt gripped the guitar. The song might have been over, but his heart continued to sing.
"The reviews have been pretty good so far, huh?" Newt asked, lifting a newspaper off of the desk, and holding it up for Hermann to see. They were in Hermann's office, Newt perched on the edge of the desk, swinging his legs, while Hermann sat at the desk itself, quickly finishing up an email so that they could go to lunch.
"Have you actually seen the whole thing, yet?" Hermann asked in amusement.
"Nope," Newt said. "Three hours is a lot, dude. I can not sit around for that long. Besides," he added with a grin, "somebody keeps distracting me."
"Excuses, excuses," Hermann replied, lips quirking upward. "It sounds to me like you're afraid of commitment."
Newt barked out a surprised laugh, just as Monica entered the room, likely there to collect her pay check for the previous night's performance—it was the one thing she made sure to do personally. She raised an eyebrow.
"I do hope that my son hasn't been bothering you too much, Mr. Gottlieb," she said to Hermann. "I know how busy you must be."
Hermann frowned at her. "No, not at all. In fact, Newton has been playing some of his music for me, and—"
"I'd hardly call it music," Monica said, wrinkling her nose. "If you ask me, I'd barely even consider it singing."
Newt gaped at her, face turning red with embarrassment. "Are you fucking kidding me? I actually put in the effort to come and see you, then you end up completely ignoring me the whole time, and you want to fucking do this now?"
"Oh Newton, don't make a scene," his mother chided. "It's unbecoming. And get down from there, you look like a child."
"Can you just not?" Newt raked his fingers through his hair in frustration. He hopped down from the desk and began pacing the room, agitated. "Shit, I don't know why I even bothered to show up."
Hermann could practically feel Newt's distress, and something inside of him snapped. Rising from his desk, he stepped forward to stand between them, his grip tightening on his cane. "Ms. Schwartz, your son is incredibly talented, even if you don't see it."
Monica regarded him coolly. "You should mind your own business, Mr. Gottlieb."
"Perhaps you should mind yours," he retorted. "Newton is a grown man. What he chooses to do with his life is really none of your concern. Not that you seem to be concerned about anything but yourself."
"Excuse me? How dare you speak to me this way!" Monica glared at him. "You just wait until Mr. Rumann hears about this."
Newt stood frozen, eyes wide, as he watched the exchange taking place.
"Please," Hermann said, pulling his phone out of his pocket and holding it out, "go ahead. I have his number, if you'd like to call him." While Hermann very much doubted that his boss would appreciate being bothered over this, he was willing to call Monica's bluff.
She stared incredulously at the phone for a moment, fuming, then turned and stormed out of the room. Her heels clicked loudly against the floor, echoing down the hallway.
"Wow," Newt said after a beat.
Hermann's cheeks colored slightly. "I may have been out of line."
"No way," Newt told him, "that was amazing, thank you."
Hermann gave him a little smile. He wasn't used to speaking to anyone that way, certainly not one of their lead performers. The smile wavered as the implications of what he'd just done began to sink in. "I may, however, have just lost my job."
"I'll put in a good word for you," Newt said, patting his arm. "Seriously, though, she'll get over it."
Would it really be that big of a loss, Hermann wondered? It was certainly a good job, but he'd never really had the passion for it, not at the level that it truly demanded. Perhaps it would be best for someone else to take over. He certainly wouldn't miss the long hours, or the stress.
Regardless of whether or not Monica got him fired, Hermann had no regrets about what he'd said. Seeing her and Newt arguing had brought back memories of Hermann's father—they'd had similar conversations over the years. Conversations where Hermann wished that he had spoken up and defended himself, instead of letting his father humiliate him. Conversations where he'd wished that someone, anyone, would have stood up for him, but no one ever had. Watching someone else go through the same thing had been unbearable, and telling Monica off had felt good.
"There is an opera house in Boston," Newt pointed out. "You know, in case things don't work out here."
"Boston? Oh... of course." Hermann hadn't really thought about what they would do once the show was over, and all of this came to an end. He hadn't wanted to think about it ending at all, but there were only three nights left to go. Naturally, Newt would be going back home after that, and they would each go back to their own lives. Hermann had never been in a long-distance relationship but, surely, there were ways to make it work. "We can still keep in touch. We could write letters."
"Letters," Newt repeated, shaking his head fondly. "Or maybe you could, I don't know, come with me?"
"Go with you?" Hermann asked, slightly dazed. They'd been together not even two weeks. And yet, during that time, Hermann felt as though they'd known each other for much longer. It was a little like finding a piece of himself that he hadn't realized had even been missing in the first place.
He didn't want to lose it.
"You're right," Newt said, backtracking. "It's too fast, sorry I—"
"No," Hermann hurriedly interrupted, "I'll go with you."
"Really?" Newt asked, as the beginning of a smile crept across his face.
"Yes, really." Hermann took his hand, and Newt's smile broke into a full-fledged grin.
Despite the incident, Monica Schwartz finished her run of the show to a packed house every night, and high praise from every review. Newt never did end up seeing it in its entirety.
At the end of the week, Hermann quietly resigned from his position as managing director, and purchased a one-way ticket to Boston.