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nearer and farther than they

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All music is what awakens from you when you are reminded by the instruments,
It is not the violins and the cornets . . . . it is not the oboe nor the beating drums--nor the notes of the baritone singer singing his sweet romanza . . . . nor those of the men’s chorus, nor those of the women’s chorus,
It is nearer and farther than they.
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1855)

 


 

Blair had always loved the first day of school growing up: new fall wardrobe, new teachers to impress with her wit, new girls to recruit under her gilded thumb, and all the opportunity to make herself the best.

Perhaps that is why she loves her job so much, that first day of school feeling comes back with every new contract, each one a challenge, and there’s nothing Blair Waldorf loves more than a challenge, except perhaps winning one.

This contract is a new beginning in many ways. It’s certainly not the first one she’s had in her years as a harpist, or even her first one at the podium as a conductor, but it is her first long-term project (in classical music, six weeks is long-term), and it’s her first opera contract, working with singers and stage crews as well as an orchestra.

It is probably preposterous that she even got this job, she had really only just got her doctorate, and she’s only ever been an instrumentalist who works with other instrumentalists (the vocal majors at Yale drove her insane). But her old friend Epperly had recently taken over this company, and was determined to bring as many women onto the creative team as she could, and, luckily, she had remembered Blair when building her roster for the summer festival season.

(Though, if asked, Blair would say luck had nothing to do with it, she worked hard to get here, and she had earned the respect that was given her.)

And so, here Blair was, standing in her rental cottage by the water in picturesque upstate New York, with a summer wardrobe of concert blacks and the old humming anticipation of the first day of school.

Sure, she hadn’t directed an opera before solo, but she’d assisted on enough during her DMA, and she had a built-in appreciation for the art form thanks to her father and his husband. She had selected her chosen pieces with care: two one-acts, the ever-popular L’Enfant et les sortilèges (she was always a fan of both Ravel and Colette), and the hidden gem Il Segreto di Susanna (she’d had to lobby hard for that one, but Epperly had trusted her, plus the small cast made it an easy budget sell). She was looking forward to this summer, this program, and she felt like—after years of school and struggling in the shadows—her career was finally beginning.

 

The first rehearsal is nothing short of a disaster.

It starts out fine enough, her pianist is decent, her lead mezzo prepared, but it quickly devolves into chaos from there. Said pianist, the scruffy-looking guy she’d spotted at the first staff meeting that morning, does his best to support, and play out singers’ parts, but there’s only so much ten fingers can do. And so, in the middle of the poorest excuse for a pastoral chorus she’s ever heard, Blair loses her patience.

She distantly thinks as she lectures her cast, that this is probably the most intimidating she has ever been as a conductor. Her teacher for her DMA, Dr. Reuther, would be proud. After a full speech (though rant may be more accurate) covering the importance of showing up prepared, being a professional, and being a good colleague, she dismisses her cast of singers with the mandate that they show up to her rehearsal prepared next time.

At least this was only a first sing-through, so there weren’t any other company members to witness her absolute trainwreck of a day.

As the cast empties out of the room, she angrily scrolls through her score, half-wishing she’d brought her full print one in with her today rather than her tablet. There’s something therapeutic about dramatically flipping through actual pages.

“Well,” she hears a low voice resonate to her right, “I guess our morning just freed up.”

Her eyes flick over to the source of the voice, seated at the piano. Dan Humphrey, her assigned repetiteur. She hadn’t met him before, but he’d come recommended by Epperly, and Blair trusted her high standards. He did seem competent enough so far, it’s not like Ravel is easy to play. He’s her age, meaning young to be an assistant director, let alone a full music director (which is what she is, thank you very much), but he’s capable, and not...unpleasant to look at.

But all these amiable qualities vanish with the next thing he says.

“Don’t you think you were a little harsh?”

She stares back at him, incredulous, “Excuse me?”

He shrugs, “It just seems a bit unreasonable to me, throwing them all out like that.”

Where the fuck does this guy get off? Her eyes flit to the last pair of singers leaving the room. “Is it not unreasonable to expect professional musicians to show up prepared?”

“No, not unreasonable,” he says, voice infuriatingly mild, “but A: most of them are students, and B: I don’t think they’re as unprepared as they appear, they’ve been prepping alone, and they’re adjusting to working with others.”

Blair purses her lips, “If they were actually as prepared as you say, then it wouldn’t be a problem now, would it?”

“Maybe for someone as skilled as you,” there’s a light behind his eyes, like he’s enjoying this argument with her. “But there are a lot of moving parts here, it takes more than a minute to put them together.”

She shakes her head firmly. “I won’t stand for anything less than perfect. And you shouldn’t either.”

And he laughs. “That’s not how art works, Dr. Waldorf.”

She gives him her best withering look. He meets it head on, unperturbed, which only makes her madder. “Don’t question me in my rehearsal room, Mr. Humphrey. I can’t have that in front of the cast.”

He blinks, realization dawning over his face. “It won’t happen again,” he says coolly, but sincerely, “but please: consider giving them a day working with me before you go on the offensive again.”

“Fine,” she concedes coldly. “But if this happens again I’m holding you personally responsible.”

“I’ll take that bet,” he says with a grin as he stands. “I’ll go tell Epperly to put it on the schedule for tomorrow.”

Blair watches Humphrey leave the room, using all her willpower to not throw her baton at the back of his head.

Their next sing-through that afternoon with the two-person cast of Segreto goes much more smoothly, so Blair is able to close her first day without feeling like an entire failure.

She gathers up her things to leave the rehearsal space, but Humphrey himself makes no move to indicate he’s leaving as well.

“Have a good evening, Dr. Waldorf,” he calls out lightly as she heads towards the door.

She acknowledges him with a cold Hmmph and stalks out of the room. Her first gig directing at a summer festival, and she gets stuck with Greenwood Lake’s Benedict Arnold.

 

Surprisingly though, the traitor keeps his word.

At the next rehearsal two days later, her entire cast is off book. There’s still plenty to address—especially since Humphrey is helpless when it comes to coaching French—but there is a marked improvement, and Blair begins to feel like this summer might not be a total failure after all.

Despite whatever help he might have given between those first and second sing-throughs, Humphrey continues to be a thorn in her side.

Not that he’s a bad musician—in fact, he may he one of the best pianists she’s ever worked with—it’s everything else he does, like his pathetic attempts at small talk during their AGMA-mandated breaks, or the fact that the cast keep fawning over him, or his abysmal little jokes, like how every time before the fire aria he’ll mutter to the soprano in a lackluster Billy Crystal impression: “Have fun stormin’ da castle!”

Humphrey also seems to be incapable of dressing professionally. Maybe the boogers junior college he works for during the school year allows the horrid plaid button-downs or the absurd t-shirt/jeans/blazer combo, but that doesn't mean that Blair should have to suffer for it.

Blair grows increasingly curious about where the hell did Epperly find this guy? In staff meetings and in overhearing discussion amongst the singers, she gleans that he is a trained collaborative pianist, and a New Yorker (though being from Brooklyn barely counts in Blair’s estimation), and that he just moved back to the States after a long stint in Italy.

The latter she learns when Epperly tells her that Dan is hosting Italian conversation hours for the singers to practice the language. Blair’s ready to write the whole thing off as a suck up move, but it could actually be useful, or, Humphrey could fall flat on his face, and that would certainly be gratifying to witness.

So, she resolves to go, if only to track the progress of her cast, and to seem like she’s a company team player, figuring that she could just observe as a director.

And she does, for half an hour, listening to the singers stumble through talking about their hometowns with varying levels of proficiency, until Humphrey turns towards her with that sideways smile and asks, “E Lei, Maestro Waldorf?”

All of Blair’s Italian knowledge exists in relation to her fluency in French, so her response pours out molasses slow, her brain translating from English to French to Italian, while that fucking smirk on Humphrey’s face only grows. After she finishes her sentence, he nods, then proceeds to correct her grammar, and it takes every ounce of professionalism Blair possibly has left not to smoosh that smug crooked grin with her hand. She’s played the harp for almost two decades now, she absolutely believes she’s capable of ending a man with her bare hands.

“He’s insufferable,” she complains to Serena on the phone that night, flopping dramatically down onto her bed.

“He must be really hot,” Serena muses, nonchalant.

“How - why - what gave you that idea?” Blair sputters.

“B, you wouldn’t be this annoyed if you weren’t attracted to him. So is he?”

Blair gulps, her mind betraying her with a memory from rehearsal that morning. Humphrey’s outfit had been shockingly inoffensive, and there was something...nice about the way his arms looked at the keys with his sweater sleeves rolled up. “That is so beside the point, S. We work together.”

“Ah, but babe, that’s what makes it fun.”

Blair rolls her eyes, not bothering to hold back since Serena can’t see her. “That’s your thing, darling, not mine.”

Her best friend has had many an office fling, but Blair has never been much good at it. There had only been relationships (really just the two), and after a couple attempts at other programs she had come to the conclusion that any intra-company activity was not worth it. Especially not with Dan Humphrey, who she was determined to loathe for all of eternity. Or at least the end of the summer. Whichever came first.

“Fine,” Serena sighs, “suit yourself. Are you making other friends?”

“S,” she scoffs, “this is a job, I don’t need to make friends.”

“Maybe you don’t need to, but you’re always on a job.”

Blair supposes she can’t argue with that. Due to the travel they each have to do for their careers, it’s been forever since she and Serena had been in the same place. Homesickness is a familiar ache now, commonplace enough to fade into the background, like breathing or blinking, only making itself known when she thinks about it, like on these phone calls.

“Just promise me you’ll try, B. Go out for one drink.”

Blair glances around the living room of her rental, luxurious, comfortable, but empty. “I suppose I can do that.”

“Good,” Serena chirps, “We just bought our tickets for your shows, by the way, we’re so excited!”

“We?” Blair asks lightly, knowing her best friend only uses plural pronouns to indicate one thing.

“Colin and me! I can’t wait for you to meet him…”

Blair smiles as she listens to S go on about her latest love. Colin must be fairly recent, but according to Serena’s digest, he is pretty impressive: venture capitalist, art collector, looks dashing in Ralph Lauren. On paper, he sounds more like Blair’s type, but for the fact that she had happily walked away from that type years ago. Blair’s listened to many a spiel like this one, Serena gushing about the latest recipient of her affection, sweet and giddy and effusive right up until it all falls apart. And then, however much time later, will come the account of Serena picking herself up, dusting herself off, and starting over again, often leading into a report on the newest partner. But for now, Serena ends this report with the same typical declaration:

“...I think he may be the one, B.”

“That’s great, S,” she says, trying to convey as much optimistic sincerity as possible.

After hanging up, Blair wanders back into the living room to where her harp is set up. She sits down, absentmindedly running her fingers over the strings before beginning to play through her favorite interlude. After years of Christmas gigs, she should probably be tired of this piece, but it still remains one of her favorites, lovely and familiar, romantic with just enough 20th century idiosyncrasy to keep it interesting. And since she knows it so well, it’s the perfect opportunity to think over her conversation with her best friend.

Serena does have a bit of a point, Blair does tend to keep to herself during these gigs. It takes her a while to warm up to people, and many contracts aren’t long enough for her to reach that point. But on the other hand, there isn’t enough time for them to let her down either. She’d decided a long time ago, ever since she began her DMA, really, that Serena and Nate—her oldest friends—are all she needs. Or wants to need.

Blair does not carry all the girlish envy for Serena that she used to, but listening to her talk tonight, Blair does feel a little bit jealous for how easily Serena lets herself fall, and fall, and fall, without ever seeming to crash and burn.

The Britten interlude ends as quietly as it began, Blair letting the last glissando linger in the open space of the room. Maybe taking S’s advice is worth the try.

 


 

At Serena’s behest, Blair heads out the next evening to avoid looking like a total shut-in, but as she sits at the bar, cocktail in one hand, score in the other, she feels a little foolish. Her job was so demanding, she had to be turned on to people all the time, her off hours were the only time she got to herself, she wasn’t sure she wanted to spend them with the singers she had to work with all day.

She’s contemplating settling up and continuing her study at home when she hears behind her:

“Oh thank god, someone who’s not a singer,” Humphrey plops down onto the stool next to her, completely oblivious to her withering stare. “If I have to hear one more thing about the Met finals I’ll walk into the lake.”

“I’m sorry, are we friends?” she snipes, in no mood to pretend like she wanted his company.

He turns away from her to face the bar, looking chastised enough for her to almost feel a pang of remorse. Almost. “No, of course not,” he answers, “I just - I saw you here and I wanted to take the opportunity to apologize.”

“For interrupting one of my rare evenings off?”

He shakes his head, “For how I acted during that first rehearsal last week. I’m sorry, I was out of line.”

She looks down at her drink, surprised by his sincerity, “Oh.”

“I shouldn’t have called you out like that,” he turns back toward her as he speaks, “I thought...I thought that advocating for the cast was part of my job, but I didn’t realize advocating for you was part of it, too. And I -” he waves a hand at himself, “have to deal with enough by just being a not-straight man in this job, I can’t imagine all the bullshit and pressure you have to contend with. I’m sorry, Waldorf. Really.”

Blair stares at him for a minute, completely taken off guard by his apology. “Thank you, Humphrey,” she manages to say.

He nods, “May I buy you a drink to make amends?”

She reaches over to shut her tablet case closed. “Sure, but you’ll need to buy more than one to make up for your Italian class.”

Dan does at least have the grace to look sheepish. “I’m sorry about that too. You just have such a command over French, or anything when you're at the podium really -” her eyebrows fly up at the compliment, “seeing you out of your element was hard to resist.”

She narrows her eyes. “I should send you back to the singer’s booth for that.”

He lifts his hands, eyes widening in exaggerated horror, “Have mercy, Maestro, I beg you!”

She rolls her eyes. “Fine. One drink, Humphrey. We do have to work in the morning.”

He smirks at her, “That we do.” He signals to the bartender, ordering another gin and tonic for her, and a beer for him.

“How long were you in Italy, did you say?” she finds herself asking after they receive their drinks.

He takes a pull of his beer. “Three years, nearly. Wow,” he gives a shake of his head, “it’s hard to believe it was that long.”

“Why did you stay that long?”

“I’d lived in New York City my whole life,” he answers, face thoughtful, “I mean - other than grad school - and I just...wanted to be someplace else, do something else with music, you know? The work in New York was good, but it got to the point where I couldn’t face another day playing 16 bar cuts of The Last Five Years.”

Blair looks at him blankly, the title not registering.

His eyebrows shoot up. “The musical? Jason Robert Brown? You know what -” he holds up his hand, “I’m not going to explain, because I love that you don’t know what I’m talking about.”

She presses her lips together, willing herself not to laugh. “Color me relieved.”

“You’re welcome,” he says with a grin, before taking another drink. “You’re a New Yorker, too, right?”

“Born and bred,” she shoots him a close-lipped smile. “Though, this tiny upstate town is the closest I’ve been in a while. The traveling’s been non-stop for me lately.”

“I know how that goes,” Dan muses, picking at the label on his bottle. “Still, it’s a pretty great place to be from, you know?”

“Yeah,” Blair agrees absentmindedly. “Is that why you came back?” Why was Blair still asking questions? She wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer. Humphrey was just...a puzzle. One she wanted to solve. And surprisingly easy to talk to.

“Oh, I guess so,” he answers with a tilt of his head. “That and all the usual reasons,” he waves his bottle dismissively before bringing it to his lips. “Ran out of gigs...ran out of money...bad breakup.”

“How bad?” she presses, curiosity getting the better of her.

“She went to Austria for a contract and slept with the first baritone she could find.”

Blair winces around the rim of her glass. “So...pretty bad,” she surmises.

He shrugs, a half-hearted lift of his shoulders that Blair doesn’t quite believe. “It’s my own fault really. I broke my own rule: never get involved with a colleague.”

She looks at him closely. “It was a singer wasn’t it?”

He freezes, eyes flitting over to her. “How’d you know?”

“Because it always is.”

He laughs. “Can’t argue with that. And anyways,” he clears his throat, “that’s also why I’m hiding out in this corner with you, in the safety of the knowledge that nothing will happen -” he gestures between the two of them “- here.”

She cocks an eyebrow, “Because of my enduring disdain for you?”

Dan blinks at her in confusion, and she wonders fleetingly if she had finally gone too far. “That too, I suppose,” he says, his eyes flicking down to the ring on her left hand.

Oh. Right. She had forgotten she’d been wearing it. Force of habit.

“Well, then,” she lifts her glass to him, “here’s to hiding from the other people we work with.”

Dan laughs again, the action taking over his whole face, down to his shoulders, that movement too genuine for her to disbelieve. He lifts his bottle towards her, the clinking of the glass ringing like an alarm.

 


 

“So tell me: what is with the crossword puzzles?”

Dan turns to her, face overwritten with confusion.

“At rehearsal?” she prompts.

Blair and her cast have just wrapped a fairly successful (if fairly dull) day of staging rehearsals. It was slow going, with brief bursts of music in between long sessions of blocking and talking with the stage director, during which Blair had been left to sit at the stool behind her podium and watch the rest of the team work. Many conductors, she knew, opt to leave this tedious part of the process in the hands of their assistant, but Blair has never been one to drop any sort of slack. This is also her first time conducting an opera, not assisting, and this artistic director—Raina Thorpe—is another of Epperly’s handpicked creatives, so Blair chooses to stick it out for professional curiosity and feminist solidarity.

Plus, opting out would mean leaving the music direction aspect of the rehearsal to Dan Humphrey, and she is definitely not willing to do that.

Humphrey has, however, since their talk a few days ago, proven to be fairly trustworthy. Her cast of singers is prepared and ready to work at every rehearsal, and even on the most difficult passages of the Ravel, he follows her without ever breaking a sweat or dropping a note. Or if he does, she hasn’t noticed.

He’s proven to be true to his word in other aspects as well. He hasn’t called her out in front of the cast since, though after, when they are supposed to be going over notes, he’ll fight her on the most infuriating details (she knows he’s better at Italian, but does he have to be so damn smug about it?). He even seems to take joy in arguing with her.

Humphrey also, Blair’s noticed, has stuck to his declaration about not getting involved with colleagues. Over the past two weeks, she’s seen him refuse invitations from two of her sopranos, one stage manager, three of the tenors who are principals in the other festival shows, and her baritone lead in Segreto. She refuses to think about it too much, because she has her own set of rules, but after this first staging rehearsal, Blair found herself insisting that he still owed her at least one apology drink, which he easily accepted. Another thing Blair refuses to think too much about.

“Well,” he answers, “staging can be brutally boring, so I have to have something to keep my brain busy.”

Blair supposed she couldn’t fault him for that.

“I used to bring a book with me,” he admits, tilting towards her conspiratorially, “but then I would get too into whatever I was reading, which did not end well for me.”

She arches an eyebrow, “ I can’t imagine that it would.”

“The Times crossword is the perfect balance,” he says with a crooked grin. “The last thing I need is to anger you any further, Maestro.”

Her lips purse in an effort not to answer his smile. “I don’t know,” she says casually, “at this rate I won’t have to pay for another drink for the rest of the season.”

Dan laughs at that, warm and loud, and Blair brings her glass up to her lips to keep from smiling in return.

“Your ring,” he blurts out, eyes glued to her hand. “You’re not wearing it.”

“Oh,” she turns her hand to take a look, “guess I forgot.”

He nods, Blair might almost say he looks disappointed.

“It’s not real,” she offers. “I just - I wear it on contract so men leave me alone.”

Dan shakes his head, a little huff of disbelief escaping his mouth.

She can already feel herself prickle in defense, “What?”

“It’s just fucked up. That you have to worry about that at all. My best friend is a filmmaker, and she does the same thing.”

Blair lets out a breath, setting her glass back down on the bar. “That’s life in the arts, I guess.”

“That sucks. I’m sorry. If it helps, thanks to Vanessa, I’m well-practiced at the fake boyfriend schtick.”

She lets out a half-hearted laugh. “I don’t think I need that kind of help, but thank you, Humphrey.”

He tips his glass towards her in a toast.

“There was a real ring once. Real guy too,” she has no idea why she offers this, only that she has a feeling that he gets it. “And even though it didn’t work out...I noticed that the ring was pretty effective in keeping away unwanted attention.” She shrugs, surprised at how casual she is able to discuss it now. “So I treated myself to a trip to Tiffany's.”

“What happened?” Dan asks softly.

“He just... he acted like this wasn’t a job. He wanted me to be the corporate wife who looked good on his arm and threw cocktail parties and kept my harp in a room at the far end of the house. So, I tossed that stupid diamond back in his face and got a doctorate instead.”

His head tips back suddenly, laughing loudly, like he wasn’t expecting it. “Good for you.”

She lifts her glass to him before downing the rest of her drink. She’d much rather blame her flush on the gin. “What about you?” she asks bluntly, needing to gain back some ground after all this vulnerability. “You and the cheating singer ever get that close?”

He snorts, “Hardly. We were both so focused on building our own careers, and then we both started taking more contracts, and Olivia started winning competitions and everything else just kind of fell to the wayside.”

Blair holds up a finger, thinking as she swallows another drink. “Wait - Olivia? As in Olivia Burke? As in Cardiff finalist Olivia Burke?” Harold Waldorf watched every year, and had spent almost their entire monthly call last June raving about this new soprano discovery. Blair’s father was an opera queen through and through.

Dan winces. “That’s the one.”

His hands fidget a lot, she notices, traveling restlessly from his glass to his hair to the buttons on his terrible plaid shirt to the bar to the back of his neck. He does have nice hands, she thinks, her gin-misted eyes lingering on him. Humphrey away from the piano holds himself very differently from Humphrey at the piano, here he’s a little more retreated, folded in on himself. Not that Blair spends much time looking at him in the rehearsal room, she’s far too busy working then, if her eyes ever flit to him, it is solely for a cue, or to make sure he’s not about to make another inane joke.

“Idiot,” she mutters under her breath.

“Who, me?” Dan asks, his mouth turning up in a half-hearted smirk around his glass.

“No,” Blair finds herself answering, “Her.”

He blinks at her, stunned, his hand falling back onto the bar, his guarded expression falling open.

“One of the faculty at Yale - she would always say to any music major who would listen: “Marry a pianist. Your life will be so much easier.’ This girl apparently didn’t get the memo.”

He huffs out a chuckle, “She’s not a Yalie, maybe that’s where I went wrong.”

Blair hums, all feigned nonchalance, “Could be.”

 


 

After a lifetime on the Upper East Side, Blair is an old hand at these sorts of parties. It’s served her well in her career, the skill of making small talk, remembering names, stroking egos. She’s always enjoyed it, in the way that she enjoys what she is good at. Plus, she loves a chance to put on a dress that isn’t black or sleeved or sensible for sitting at a harp and have a glass of Dom, or two.

But even she needs a breather after talking to Marlene Fletcher, one of her mother’s old friends from Manhattan, so she veers towards the French doors, connected to the balcony. This cocktail party is at the summer home of one of the company’s main donors, right on the water, offering a stunning view as the sun sets.

She only gets to enjoy the view for a brief second however, until Epperly finds her.

“Blair, I’m begging you: please don’t hide out here.” Epperly slumps against the railing to Blair’s right, taking a long drink of the cocktail in her hand. “You’re so good at this sort of thing, and I already had to force your pianist into being social.”

“Dan’s here?” Blair hadn’t seen him. Then again, her attention has been wholly taken with the champagne and conversation with Epperly’s grand tier list.

“Oh yeah, not that anyone would know,” Blair’s old friend sighs, “And now he’s just talking with Marcello again, why can’t all my creative team be as good at this as you?”

Blair’s eyes follow the wave of Epperly’s hand, and she spots him near the grand fireplace, deep in conversation with the conductor of the mainstage production. He looks surprisingly good, black suit, white shirt, the tie is positively tragic, but you can’t win them all, she supposes.

“How do you know Dan, anyway?” she blurts out suddenly. It must be the champagne.

“Oh, I met him while I was working at NYU. He was a student there,” Epperly takes another long sip, apparently in need of a break from the party as well, “He was always reliable when I needed to book a pianist for something. I thought he might go the soloist route, but,” she shrugs, “lucky for me, he didn’t, and lucky for us, he applied here and requested to be put on your shows.”

Blair’s glass stops midway to her mouth. “He what?”

Epperly knocks back the rest of her drink, “Come on, B, I want to introduce you to the host.” She hooks her arm through Blair’s, and Blair’s question goes unanswered for the rest of the night.

 

Multiple tedious donor conversations and glasses of champagne later, Dan finds her.

“Evening, Maestro.”

“Humphrey.”

“Do you hate these things as much as I do?” he asks, tugging on his collar.

“Not everyone abhors polite society and dressing appropriately like you do. Speaking of which, you should take off that tie and shove it in your pocket right now.”

“Did you drive here?” he asks with barely contained amusement, giving her a once over.

“I don’t drive,” she announces breezily, “Manhattanite, remember?”

“Then can I give you a ride home? If you came with Epperly, I know she’ll be another hour at least.”

“How could you possibly know that?” she parries back, defensive at the implication that she needs to be saved.

“I’ve seen her work these events before. And witnessed her in action at all the outreach that we’ve done this summer.”

Oh. Right. Humphrey did work for this company that didn’t include her rehearsals. There’s been a whole slew of festival programming that she hasn’t even thought about.

“Are you sure you’re good to drive?” she asks skeptically, eyeing the glass in his hand.

He only smiles, unintimidated, “I switched to club soda after one, I figured I would need to be on call, since all the chorus baritones have been passing a vape pen between them ever since they got here. For the season.”

She makes a face, “Classy.”

He shrugs, “They all piled into one of the more responsible soprano’s SUV half an hour ago, so you won’t have to worry about anyone smoking up your ride.”

Blair sighs, “I suppose I’ll allow it then.”

Dan grins, “The honor is all mine. And this tie was my grandfather’s by the way.”

“If only he’d been buried in it,” she says sweetly.

He laughs loud enough to startle the elderly couple six feet away.

 

“What?” he asks when she halts at the curb to survey the Subaru, her head tilted.

“I just thought,” she muses, “you’d be driving something more pretentious and hipster-y.”

His face crumples in amusement. “Sorry to disappoint.” He does, to his credit, open the door for her while she climbs in, and shut it before moving over to the driver’s side.

“It’s my mom’s,” he offers as he starts the car, “She’s teaching in the city for the next six weeks, so she loaned me her car while I’m here.”

“Is she a musician, too?” Blair asks.

“Nope, but she is an artist. Mostly painting, but she did have a pretty intense ceramics period for a couple years there. She lives in Hudson, but since she’s staying in Brooklyn until after my contract, she let me take Judy here,” he pats the dashboard fondly.

“Judy?” Blair asks in dubious disbelief.

“What?” he says teasingly, “That’s her name.”

She stares back at him, sometimes she just couldn’t fathom Humphrey’s particular brand of surrealism.

“My sister and I grew up with this car,” he explains, “Mom and Jen were on a big A Star is Born kick for a while. Hence, Judy. She’s been very good to us,” he says with exaggerated fondness.

“Okay,” she waves a hand, “please stop anthropomorphizing the vehicle. Not while I’m in it.”

He shakes his head, smiling, “Fair enough. Wait -” he says suddenly, “I’ve been driving us back to the apartments, but I just realized I don’t actually have a clue where you’re staying.”

Oh, right. She’d forgotten. “I’ll pull it up,” she announces, taking her phone out of her purse.

“Really?” he asks, eyebrow arched as she pulls up the map instructions back to her address.

She dismisses his protest with a wave and sets her phone on the empty dashboard mount. “We live in the age of the GPS, Humphrey, get into the twenty-first century already.”

“Ah, but the twentieth has such better music.”

She giggles, almost in spite of herself. It must be the champagne. It must also be the champagne that makes her blurt out: “Did you really request to be assigned to my shows?”

Dan’s eyes stay fixed on the road, but she sees his shoulders stiffen. “Yeah, I did,” he admits.

“But why? We didn’t know each other.” She feels an old twinge of panic, left over from her adolescence. She had been in the center of the Manhattan social gossip scene for a while, especially when she and Chuck were together. It hasn’t been a problem in her little career bubble, thankfully, but she’s still wary that someone will creep up knowing too much about her past.

He takes a deep breath, “It wasn’t to do with you, not really. More with the repertoire. Although,” he adds with a sideways smile, “if I had known what I was getting myself into I might’ve thought differently.”

“So you asked to do the rep?” Blair asks, letting her head fall back on the headrest behind her.

Dan nods. “L’Enfant—it was more petty than anything else.” He glances over at her with a sheepish grin. “We did it at grad school, and this other guy was assigned to it - really annoying, just a jerk, really - and he’d complain all the time about how hard it was. So, I wanted to take the chance to prove I could do it.”

“And is it that hard?”

“Fuck yes,” he laughs, “not that that guy will ever hear it from me.”

Blair chuckles, peering over at him from the passenger seat. No, she thinks, not unpleasant to look at.

“And Segreto,” he continues, his tongue turning over the Italian much more easily than the French, “I had never heard of it before, but then I looked up the libretto, and it read like a screwball comedy. Like Kate Hepburn could be the lead.”

She smiles, “That’s why I picked it. That and the music.”

Dan shoots her a grin. “And I thought I ought to take the chance, because what if I never got to see it again, let alone play it?”

“You will,” Blair drawls confidently, “I’m bringing it back.”

“Good,” he says, equally confident, “but I highly doubt you’ll ever want to hire me again.”

She makes a noncommittal eh, “You’re not that bad.”

He raises his eyebrows, his face lighting up, “Was that a compliment, Maestro?”

She rolls her eyes, “Don’t let it go to your head.”

He chuckles, shaking his head, turning his attention back to the road. “It is a beautiful piece,” he says in a low voice. “You chose well. And, there’s something special about discovering something new, even if it’s a century old.”

Blair nods her head slowly, but stays silent.

“But then again,” Dan adds, his tone gone playful again, “maybe it just appeals to the Brooklyn hipster in me.”

She snorts in laughter, unable to hold back, but she’s having trouble remembering why she should.

“Okay, Maestro,” he says as the car slows to a stop, “Your GPS says this is the place.”

She turns to glance out the window. “And so it is. Good night, Humphrey.”

He smiles, the curve of his lips barely visible in the glow of the street lights. “See you at the office, Waldorf.”

Blair climbs out of the car, but Dan stays there at the curb, waiting until she’s entered her cottage before he drives away. She doesn’t even have the heart to be annoyed by it. It feels...nice. Safe.

 


 

The days after the donor party by the water pass in a blur, and then, all of a sudden, the instrumentalists arrive, and it’s time for the part of the process Blair has been waiting for: the orchestra rehearsals. After weeks of working with singers, Blair finally feels in her element again at the podium, all the moving parts coming together.

Dan is there, too, being her de facto assistant and the keyboard player for the pit, but he’s much more tolerable without a room full of singers to showboat for. Or maybe she’s growing accustomed to his poor sense of humor. That or being away from the city—any city—for so long has finally driven her to madness.

In contrast to that very first sing-through, the sitzprobe goes off pretty smoothly. Most of the issues are a result of putting the orchestra and the cast together for the first time, the main one being the instrumentalists playing too loudly. Not that Blair could blame them, she was one of them, after all.

The sitz means the daily schedule concludes later than they had grown accustomed, and it’s even later for Blair, who stays behind to finish up the notes for the first rehearsal. Dan also stays with his own notes—he had time to take them now that he’s only playing one orchestral part rather than a dozen at once. When he plops down at the production table across from her, with his smug smirk and score of nearly illegible notes, Blair almost feels the temptation to hit him over the head with her own full scores (hardback binding and all). But, she’s forced to admit, his perspective turns out to actually be helpful, catching details she had missed while focusing on balancing the orchestra.

They’re finishing up their document to send to the stage manager when Blair asks:

“So why’d you become a pianist?”

Dan cocks an eyebrow, but still answers, “Childish rebellion, mostly.”

She tilts her head in question.

“Any chance you’ve heard of the band Lincoln Hawk?”

Her forehead creases in thought, “Actually, my high school boyfriend listened to them.” She can still see the album cover sitting on Nate’s old stereo in her mind’s eye.

He chuckles, “I’m surprised a very serious artist such as yourself has.”

She stares back at him pointedly until he continues.

“My dad was the frontman,” he explains, “so, he really wanted to teach me to play guitar when I was a kid. I don’t think he meant to be so pushy, he just really wanted to share that part of his life, you know? But,” he shrugs, “Mom brought us by the studio one day, and I was just really fascinated with the keyboard. And that’s all I wanted to learn, really.”

“So, the rebellion was going from stoner rock to classical?”

“Exactly,” Dan confirms with a laugh, “it did kind of become the battleground du jour of my parents for a while, because they both thought the other was pushing an agenda. Then my little sister wanted a drum kit, which gave them a front to unite against.”

“And did she get one?”

“My parents got her a sewing machine instead. But, speaking as the one who had to share a wall with her, I’m not convinced it was an effective compromise.”

Blair laughs. “So your sister didn’t go the music route?”

He smiles, a little wistful, “Not professionally, no. She’s a great songwriter though, better than our dad even, and she has bullied me into accompanying her at many an open mic night.”

She nods, letting out a small hmmph of a chuckle, twirling her stylus in her hand. “Is that why you chose the coach route? Performing with your sister?”

Dan cocks his head, as if surprised by the question.

“Epperly said...she thought you would do the soloist thing when you were a student.”

He shrugs. “I thought about it, and I love the rep, but...it’s hard to break into that world. And I knew there would be less of a shortage of accompanist gigs. When I started doing things like that sophomore year, I made more in a week than I did in a month as a cater waiter. Though granted, I was not a very good waiter.”

“It is hard to picture,” Blair agrees.

“My dad, too,” he continues, “he had that mindset of: ‘this is the only thing I want to do, and the only way I want to do it,’ and he did eventually get there, but - I think he was unhappy for a long time. So I just decided that any kind of work I could get, soloist or no, it’d be worth it as long as I could call myself a musician.” He glances up at her from the spot he’d been studying on the table. “I’m rambling, aren’t I?”

“Absolutely,” she answers, though she oddly doesn’t want him to stop.

He grins. “And, I don’t know...so much of that kind of work can be - lonesome, I guess? There’s something to be said about being part of an ensemble, that’s why I love this part of the process,” he taps on the full score opened between them, “when everything starts to come together.”

“Yeah,” she muses, “I like it, too.”

His eyes narrow. “I think you just like being surrounded by your own kind again.”

She raises her hands in surrender, “You got me, I am first and foremost an instrumentalist.”

He laughs, deep and low, the sound setting off a hum of electricity in Blair’s stomach. Then her tablet lights up with a notification, and he glimpses the time on her screen.

“I should go,” he says, sounding almost regretful, “I have an early call for this outreach thing tomorrow.”

“Oh, sure,” Blair shuffles her scores around on the table. “I can finish typing these up.”

“Are you okay to get home?” he asks, the concern in his voice and eyes sets off another thrum, this one a nervous pulse in her chest.

“It’s just a five minute walk,” she answers, waving her hand dismissively, “I’m good.”

He nods, looking as awkward as she feels, “Then I guess I’ll see you...right back here.”

She bobs her head in agreement. “Good night.”

“Night,” he says with a smile.

Blair watches him go, then finishes sending their notes to the stage manager, silently cursing herself for feeling so moronic.

 


 

With the flurry of rehearsals and meetings and outreach events, the final dress rehearsal for her double bill sneaks up on Blair, and then, all of a sudden, the preparation (save for the notes she and Dan send to the cast afterword) is complete, and after a day off, it will be opening night. She almost laments that the time passed so quickly, but that’s the nature of these gigs after all.

Also apparently caught in a fit of nostalgia, Blair’s Susanna and her husband—now in town for the performance—take Segreto’s small cast and creative team out to dinner at one of the nicer restaurants downtown, just around the corner from the opera house. It’s quite pleasant, actually, Blair feels the urge to silently congratulate herself See, S, I can so make friends.

After dessert, the group breaks off and trickles out at their own pace, until it’s only Blair and Dan left, having one more drink before last call.

“Can I ask you something?”

“You can, but I might not answer,” is Blair’s reply.

“Why’d you become a conductor? I looked you up, you were already a great musician.”

She blinks at him, a little stunned at the compliment. “I just like being the center of attention.”

“No that’s not it,” he says dismissively, sitting back in the booth. “You like the challenge.”

“Do I?” she arches an eyebrow.

“You like having to learn everything, see it on the score in front of you and pull it all together. I bet you were the kid in orchestra class who learned everyone else’s part and was super obnoxious about it.”

“And I bet you were the kid with the floppy head of hair who hid out in the practice room all the time.”

He laughs, unaffected. “Guilty. And,” he continues, “you were probably also the popular girl, too, ran all the social clubs, dated the captain of the football team.”

She purses her lips.

“You did, didn’t you?” he leans back in, highly amused.

“It was the lacrosse team, actually,” she says stiffly.

Dan laughs again, head falling forward, shoulders shaking. He’s terribly annoying, but there’s something nice about the sound of his laugh, how uninhibited, almost childish it is. “And how is Captain Lacrosse these days?” he asks coyly, propping his chin up on his hand.

Nope, he’s just annoying.

“He went to the west coast. UCLA, and I went to Yale. But we’re still friends.” She should give Nate a call. There’s a tiny thrum of guilt in her chest, she hadn’t talked to anyone from home except Serena since rehearsals started. It was always just easier to block the rest of the world out when she worked like this.

“Yale’s a great school,” he says, impressed.

“Yeah. You went to Steinhardt, right?”

He nods in confirmation. “Close to home.”

“And then Michigan?”

Dan grins wide, “Waldorf, did you memorize my resume?”

“No,” she snipes defensively, “I just seriously vet anyone I consent to work with.”

“I’m honored that I passed.”

“Only barely,” she says. “Why Michigan?”

He shrugs, “There was a teacher I liked, so I went to study with her, and there was a decent amount of gigs to be had.”

“In Ann Arbor?” she asks, skeptical.

“Flyover country needs music, too, you know.”

“Doesn’t mean you have to go to the middle of nowhere to give it to them.”

“It wasn’t exactly the middle of nowhere. The summer contract I did at Lake Michigan, now that was the middle of nowhere.”

“Even worse than here?”

He shakes his head gravely. “Not even close. At least here all the buildings have air conditioning.”

“Oh,” she tilts her head with a pitiful expression, “the suffering you’ve done for your art.”

“Indeed,” he agrees. “That summer was also when I began my don’t date colleagues policy. Well, it started as a ‘don’t date tenors policy’ and kind of spiraled from there.”

“It is always the tenors isn’t it?” Blair sighs, “You’re just as basic as the rest of them, Humphrey.”

He rolls his eyes. “It was a summer program like this. He was,” Dan shakes his head, like he’s still dazed at the memory, “a lot of things, but it was never going to last. And after the fallout, I thought it was best to stay away from singers and colleagues entirely.”

“We don’t meet much of anyone else,” she remarks mildly.

“Nah, I guess not,” he smiles crookedly. “I don’t know,” he sighs, bringing a hand to the back of his neck. “So many people in this work are happy doing the ‘love-the-one-you’re-with’ thing...Liv, my ex, was one of them...but I don’t think I’m cut out for it. I fall too hard and too fast, you know?”

Blair did. She had tried it too, with Louis during her summer residency in Monte Carlo, then with Carter during her DMA. It hadn’t suited her either, but she’d given up hope on another kind of life when her engagement to Chuck had fallen through. Oh well, she had thought, she wasn’t meant to have the whole package.

She knew plenty of women in her field who did: partner and babies and a career at the podium, and Blair applauds them and supports them, but she can’t get past that block in her brain that tells her “for them, not for you.” She had to be the best, and that didn’t leave room for anything or anyone else. It hardly left room for herself.

She takes another sip of her drink before she says, “No wonder you like opera so much.”

He smiles, “It’s the only medium as dramatic as me.”

Blair laughs. Maybe she could make room.

 


 

Blair’s show gets the customary dark day between the final dress and opening night to rest, but she finds herself working the next night anyways. It’s nothing major, just a small concert for the donors, but since the singers are working every other night, Epperly programmed this one to give the instrumentalists a chance to shine. Blair had jumped at the chance, because even though it was technically her day off, she was happy to get to play for an audience again.

They’re performing in the ballroom on the top floor of the performance hall, a small platform stage erected at one end. Blair had arranged for some crew members to pick up and drive her harp over from her cottage, and was laying in wait for her time in the program (towards the end, of course).

She watches most of the program from the east wall of the ballroom, enjoying the string quartets, the wind ensembles, the percussion piece, waiting as long as she can before slipping “backstage” (i.e., out the side door to make her entrance). Before she does, Dan appears at the piano to play a piece.

He, like the others before him, and like Blair will be expected to do when it’s her turn, gives a brief introduction of the piece to the audience, something about Petrarch’s sonnets, how Liszt proved he could write a cantabile better than most Italians, and something along the lines of, “He did originally set this for voice and piano, but since Ms. Lawrence declined to join me; you'll have to settle for just the piano arrangement.” Blair rolls her eyes, but smiles in spite of herself.

And then Dan starts to play.

He had established himself as a collaborative pianist, and he’d told Blair as such, but as she watches him, she can see what Epperly had meant at the party a few weeks ago. Dan is a born soloist; there’s a magnetism to the way he plays when it’s just him, when there’s not a vocalist or an orchestra or hell, even a conductor to follow.

It’s a conversation Blair’s listened to and participated in her entire life: what really makes a good performer. Her dad and Roman had several opinions, most of which she agreed with, about technique meeting talent, charisma mixed with skill, that elusive combination of what it means to have “it.” The closest anyone’s come to defining it to her is Blair’s harp instructor at Yale, Dr. Whitmore.

“The best musicians: they’re the ones that make you breathe with them.”

Dan is one of them. As he plays, Blair can feel her chest moving with the rise and fall of the melody, the tide of music flowing from his fingertips, breathing with him.

Italian is not her strong suit, that had been established, but she remembers studying the sonnet Dan had mentioned in his intro in undergrad. She can’t recall all of it, but as she listens, her mind turns the first and last lines (the only two she remembers) over and over.

Pace non trovo, et non ò da far guerra...
...in questo stato son, donna, per voi.

She keeps thinking about them long after he’s left the stage, until the stage manager working the concert has to get her so that she makes her call in time.

Blair makes her own introduction, smiling to herself at how the crowd of donors and opera queens lights up as soon as she says the name Verdi. This piece is one of her favorites to play, and has been ever since she learned it for her graduate recital. She knows plenty of musicians who grow weary of playing the same solo rep over and over, but Blair never gets tired of this one.

Traviata is one of the first operas Blair ever remembers seeing. Her father was a classical music enthusiast in his own right, and growing up, trips to the Met were their thing. Blair can’t remember which soprano she first heard sing this melody (though Harold Waldorf most certainly does), but she has never forgotten how she felt, watching that woman in her beautiful, otherworldly gown, creating music that made Blair think I want to do that.

The piece is so familiar that Blair can surrender to the muscle memory, letting the music move through her fingers, allowing her to think of the poetry she memorized more than a decade ago.

A quell'amor ch'è palpito
dell’universo intero
misterioso, altero
croce e delizia al cor.

Blair lets the final chord ring before settling her hands back on the strings, stilling the vibrations. It’s only after she lifts them that she hears the applause reverberating in the room. She stands, takes her bow, and when she comes up, Dan’s is the first face she sees.

 


 

The reception is like any other post-performance meet and greet. She does enjoy it, soaking in the praise from audience members and her fellow colleagues, but Blair also feels a bit drained, in an exposed and prickly sort of way she sometimes feels after performing. So, she takes her leave a little early, arranging with stage management to come around to transport her and her harp back to her temporary home.

She wanders back into the hall while she waits for the crew, expecting it to be empty, but sitting hunched over the piano, fingers moving silently over the keys, is Dan.

She clears her throat, announcing her presence. “Epperly won’t like that you’re hiding here.”

His eyes fly up, looking every bit like a doe caught in the headlights. “I stayed long enough to make the rounds. But I’m no good at those things. It was only a matter of time before I stuck my foot in my mouth and made some rich person hate me. Like when I first met you.”

“I didn’t hate you.”

He grins. “Sure you did. I thought you were going to garrote me with one of the piano strings.”

Her mouth twists, fighting a smile. “Still might. Contract’s not over.”

He laughs, the deep sound echoing in the empty room.

“But why are you?” he asks, “Hiding, I mean. You’re a natural at this part of the job.”

“Oh,” she waves a dismissive hand as she strolls over to where her harp sits, “the crew is coming around to move my harp.”

He nods thoughtfully, his eyes traveling to the instrument, then back to her. “You were beautiful tonight.”

A smile plays at her lips. “You mean I played beautifully?”

“That too.”

The smile takes over, like it always seems to do when she’s around him. “Do you remember your first recital piece?” she wonders aloud.

“Rachmaninoff, Prelude in G. Wait,” he holds up a hand, “did you mean a real recital or just those programs your teacher put on for parents when you were little?”

“The latter.”

“Then yeah, the Rachmaninoff.”

Blair rolls her eyes, sending all the sarcasm she could to where Dan sits at the piano.

He ducks his head grinning, “No, it was...” he chews on his lip, briefly lost in thought, “the theme song from Peanuts.”

“Basic,” she teases, “I bet you related a lot to Schroder.”

“Who didn’t?”

“Did you have a Lucy van Pelt to lie on top of the piano too?”

“Why, you offering?”

She tries to suppress her laugh, but it just comes out as a snort, the light breaking over Dan’s face impossible to miss. There’s something in the way he’s looking at her that sets her cells humming. Like that first sounding of A440, right before she takes the podium. Like the beginning of something.

She idly traces a hand over the mahogany neck of her harp. “I played my first when I was twelve. ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.’”

His eyebrows raise, jaw dropping, “Nuh-uh.”

“Oh yes. My mother and I love Cyndi Lauper. The first DVD we ever bought was Vibes.”

His head tips back, rumbling bass clef laughter escaping. “Now that’s an arrangement I have to hear.”

“Too bad,” she says, walking over to him, moth to a flame, “I’m off the clock.”

He laughs again, softer this time, his eyes following her as if she’s the light. “So,” he clears his throat as she sits on the bench next to him, “big show tomorrow.”

“Opening night,” she nods in agreement.

“You nervous?”

“Of course not,” she scoffs. “Are you?”

“Oh, absolutely. I always get nervous.”

She thinks of the way his hands fidget anytime they’re away from the keys. They’re doing it now, elegant fingers tapping on his knees as they sit together, shifting about, never settling. “I find that hard to believe.”

“I’m better at managing it now, making it work in my favor,” he stares into the space ahead of them, then glances over at her, blinking in surprise, like he can’t really believe she’s that close. “But school auditions? I was a mess.”

“Really?”

He nods. “Tests too. I was impossible to be around during SAT prep time.”

“So was I,” she confesses quietly, looking at him consideringly.

“What?” he asks just as quietly.

“I don’t know it’s just - you seem so unflappable.”

He snorts, shaking his head, looking down at the piano. “I am very capable of being flapped, I assure you.”

“No I mean it,” she insists, wanting to say something real, genuine, past the banter. “I wanted to thank you, Dan.”

His eyes fly up to meet hers, wide in soft surprise, a question already forming behind them.

“If our first day was any indication,” she explains, “I probably would have run this show into the ground. But you didn’t let me, so. Thanks.”

Dan’s chin dips, lips tugging up in a smile, “I don’t believe you would have, but - you’re welcome. And,” he continues, “just in case I get too flapped to say it later: it’s been a real privilege working with you. You are…” his eyes flit back up to hers, holding her gaze like a magnet, “brilliant. And determined. And a little bit terrifying,” he chuckles, “and I’ve learned a lot from you.”

It hits her then, the fact that this job is almost over, and then they’ll both be on to the next thing. “That sounds an awful lot like a goodbye.”

He shakes his head, “I didn’t mean it to be.”

It hits her then, too, that she really doesn’t want to say goodbye to him. “Dan?”

“Hmm?” he hums in response.

“Why did you choose that Liszt for tonight?”

He looks down at the keys in front of him, hands fidgeting, considering the question. “It’s always been one of my favorites. And I’m a sucker for the poetry,” he says with a crooked smile. “But I guess there’s also…” he glances back up at her, face turning solemn, “I wanted to say something I couldn’t find the words for.”

“Yeah,” Blair replies, holding his gaze, “I think that’s what I wanted to do, too.”

Ah, fors'è lui...

“Blair,” he breathes, “I -” One restless hand comes up to her shoulder, his thumb gently pushing the strap of her dress back up into place when it slips.

Her breath grows shallow as she finds herself leaning towards him. “But what about your rules?” she asks coyly, her eyes dropping to his lips.

She can’t lift her eyes away from his mouth very long, but she catches the flutter of his eyelashes before he answers, “When it comes to you, I’m afraid I’m pretty helpless.”

Blair reaches up, fingering the lapel of his jacket, pulling him that much further in. “Helpless, huh?”

“Completely at your mercy,” he murmurs before he—finally—kisses her.

His hands go to cradle her face, gentle and deliberate as his lips move with hers. And for the second time that night, Blair is breathing with him.

Blair has centered her entire life around music, around sound: creating it, controlling it, immersing herself in it. But this moment feels entirely quiet, a perfect kind of stillness.

Mysterioso, altero

She could spend a long time kissing Dan like this. Quite possibly the rest of her life. Or the rest of the season. Whichever comes last.

And then her phone rings.

She breaks away, and Dan groans in protest, lips chasing hers.

“Ignore it,” he pleads roughly.

“I can’t,” she sighs into laugh, glancing down to see the message from her stage manager, Donna. “That’s my ride,” she says, apologetic.

"I'll drive you," he offers distractedly, going in for another kiss.

She pulls back reluctantly, setting a hand on his chest to hold him back. She can feel his heart thumping hard under her palm. "Judy doesn't have enough room to transport my harp," she says wryly.

“Fine,” Dan sighs, tilting her chin up for one last kiss. “I know better than to argue with the conductor,” he gently runs his thumb over her bottom lip.

Blair smiles under his touch, “Exactly.” She strokes a hand over his face, tracing the hard line of his jaw, feeling the prickle of his stubble on her fingertips. “Rain-check?”

He smiles softly, leaning into her touch. “You know where to find me.”

 


 

A major perk that Blair unabashedly loves about being a conductor is having her own dressing room. Knowing that Donna is going to collect her any minute for her call, she pauses in front of the mirror, giving herself one last check. On the counter in front of her is a trio of opening night gifts. Two are customary: a box from Li-Lac, with a note containing the phrase she taught Nate way back when they were teenagers: Toi, toi, toi! and a bouquet of peonies with the customary Go get em, babe! from Serena. The third is a new one: a bouquet of yellow, red-tipped roses, with a hastily scrawled In bocca al lupo!—DH.

She exits her dressing room at Donna’s bidding, following the hallway down into the pit, pausing to hear the orchestra tune. It’s the final piece of preparation, that cacophony, and she feels more than ready as she steps up to the podium to the applause from the audience.

She gives a smile and a bow of acknowledgement before turning to face her orchestra. She sweeps her eyes over the players, making eye contact with as many as she can manage before beginning. Then her eyes finally land on Dan’s, his face illuminated by the stand light resting on the piano, just enough light to catch the grin and wink he shoots her way.

Blair smiles wide, and lifts her baton to prep the first beat, feeling invincible.