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Jo

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She was running late. So very, very late. Really, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to her, she should definitely be used to it by now, what with her talent to arrive anywhere at least a fashionable fifteen minutes late. Today of all days however, she really wished that her sense of time was anything remotely better than what it was.

It had started with her ignoring her alarm and getting up late - no, actually, it had started with her staying up until 3 am reading in that new book she had bought the day before. At the back of her head, a small voice, vaguely recognisable as her own, had sternly told her to put the book down, switch off the lights and close her goddamn eyes. She had managed to ignore it for hours - another secret talent of hers.

She had even left the thick curtains of her bedroom wide open, in hopes that the sunlight would help remind her in the morning that her job was waiting for her, outside. Her job that she loved, more than anything else. Her job that she, regardless of all her passion for it, still regularly was late for.

She rushed through her house, collecting pieces of clothing left and right and throwing them on without a second thought, silently hoping that when she would look into her hallway mirror before leaving, she wouldn’t be too shocked at her own appearance. She almost fell flat on her face when she clambered over a pile of electronics lying on her living room floor - what had she been working on again? - and managed to grab a box of custard creams, to the tune of the car waiting for her in front of the house honking repeatedly.

“Yes!”, she shouted, knowing full well that the driver couldn’t hear her. “I’m almost there.”

A custard cream in her mouth, she quickly tucked her shirt into her trousers, and grabbed her coat and the tattered, old messenger bag she loved so much. When she briefly paused in front of her hallway mirror, she was pleasantly surprised.

“Not too bad”, she mumbled through a mouthful of crumbs, taking in her outfit. Blue trousers, cut slightly short above her ankles, a crisp white shirt that she didn’t remember ironing but was glad her past self apparently had, and yellow suspenders. A look that worked just fine for a first impression.

Nodding to herself, she headed out of the house and into the car waiting outside. She was ready.

She spent most of the car ride bent over the sheet music in her lap, pulled from her messenger bag. The partitura was old, loose pages at hazard of being lost every time she turned them, but she didn’t mind. Her old mentor had left her this score, and she had cherished it ever since. Over the years, her own, untidy scribbles had joined the notes he had made in his elegantly flowing handwriting, and whenever she conducted this music, it felt like a piece of him was with her again. It was the most wonderful memory anyone could have.

As the car pulled into a parking space in front of a large concert hall, she put the score away, running a nervous hand through her hair. She had done this many more times than she could count, but meeting an entirely new orchestra still remained a daunting moment. Old insecurities would latch themselves onto her, but she pushed them away with a deep breath and a broad smile on her face. New faces! New music! Wonderful new moments awaited her and she wouldn’t let her own mind get in the way of that.

She thanked the driver as she got out of the car, pulling on her coat to protect herself against the wind that had suddenly picked up around her. Grabbing her messenger bag, she walked towards the stage door, where a familiar face was waiting for her.

“Peter”, she said, smiling, as the man in his forties held out his hand, warmly gripping hers. “Sorry for being late. Long time no see!”

“Joan”, he replied, nodding. “It’s been a while. Those piano skills of yours still up to snuff?”

“You bet”, she grinned. She had met Peter a good ten years ago, when he had still managed an orchestra of a smaller calibre. He had seen her perform the piano at a university concert, and promptly invited her to solo with his orchestra. It had been an absolute blast, so much so that Joan had found herself briefly tempted by the idea of a full piano career after all. Yet conducting had come and swept her away once again shortly thereafter.

“Alright”, Peter said as he held open the door for her, and Joan followed him into a hallway, pausing in front of another door a couple of moments later. “Give me a sec to introduce you to the crew and get them in order. They might seem a bit chaotic at first, but I promise they don’t bite. Plus, we got ourselves a new concertmaster not too long ago, I bet you’ll like her.”

With that, he disappeared through the door - a large “Silence Please” sign hung above it, currently dim, but no doubt lighting up whenever the stage was in use for a concert. At the brief moment before the door fell shut again, Joan could hear excited chatter, and she felt her heart warm. At least she wasn’t the only one who was looking forward to the upcoming days of work and the following tour. 

Suddenly, the door in front of her opened once again, and Joan hurried through, to the sounds of clapping from the orchestra. She quickly took off her coat, dropping it over one of the audience chairs, then walked up to the conducting stand, the orchestra in front of her still clapping. It made her feel a little bit awkward, as she felt she hadn’t done anything to deserve this show of respect yet, and she tried to wave them off with a polite smile. As the noises died down, she busied herself with pulling her score and baton out of her messenger bag.

Having put down both on the stand in front of her, she finally turned to the violinist on her left, much praised by Peter just moments earlier.

“You must be my concertmaster”, she said, and held out her hand. That was when she properly looked at the woman for the first time since entering the room.

Everything inside of her went strangely soft as the violinist awkwardly stood up, reaching out to give her hand a firm shake.

“Yasmin Khan  - Yaz to my friends.”

It was an odd way of introducing yourself to the woman who was technically your new boss, and the young musician must have noticed immediately, as the most wonderful, subtle blush crept over her cheeks. Without thinking, Joan gave her hand a reassuring squeeze, and smiled.

“I’m Joan Smith - Jo to my friends.”

And then, before she could stop herself, Joan winked .

Letting go of Yaz’s hand, she turned away quickly towards the rest of the orchestra, some of whom were looking at Yaz with strange, curious glances. Swallowing hard to fight down her own awkwardness and confusion over what had just happened, Joan opened the score in front of her, trying to move past this moment, whatever it had been. After a brief apology for her lateness, pulling off a lie about how traffic had been bad - she hadn’t seen a single other car on the short drive over - she lifted her baton for the first movement of Firebird , the music around her soon engulfing her and taking over her full attention.


As she sat on her couch that night, twirling a piece of electronics around in her hands - a hobby she had picked up to keep her hands busy on her off days - her mind circled around Yasmin Khan just as her fingers kept turning the shining metal around. The young musician was doubtlessly talented, and Joan found herself somewhat surprised that she hadn’t been able to find anything about a potential solo career online. Yes, Joan had shamelessly looked her up as soon as she had gotten home, and had felt only a little bit awkward about it. 

Fingertips grazing over a loose screw, Joan leaned forward, picking up a bright orange swiss army knife from her couch table. As she mindlessly tightened the screw, she thought about how Yaz had offered her a bag of her favorite tea - it was delicious, Joan concurred - and their talk in the break room. The young woman was kind, intelligent and talented, yet somehow what stuck with Joan the most was how soft her hand had been in hers, and how she had blushed under Joan’s gaze.

Drawing in a sharp breath, Joan suddenly let go of the objects in her hands, and they clattered as they hit the floor underneath.

“Oh no”, she mumbled, screwing her eyes shut. “Oh no, no no.”

She felt a weird mixture of anger and elation. Anger at herself, for the fact that it had taken her mere hours to develop a seemingly intense crush on someone who was technically working for her. Elation at the mental image of Yaz’s deep brown eyes that had somehow found its way to the forefront of her mind.

Pushing herself up from the sofa, she left her living room in three quick strides, practically hitting the lightswitch on her way out. As the room behind her fell into darkness, she tried to will her own feelings to stay there as well.

Yasmin Khan was a young, impressionable woman at the beginning of her career, and Joan was influential and famous. She would not be one of those people. She couldn’t be. She was better than that. Yasmin Khan deserved better than that.

Later that night, when sleep wouldn’t come and the feeling of Yaz’s hand had somehow burned itself against Joan’s skin, the blonde pulled the blanket over her head, groaning into the empty space around her.

“Nobody even calls me Jo.”

She knew she had already lost, but that wouldn’t keep her from fighting.