The Love Song of Sawyer Bell (A Tour Dates novel)

The Love Song of Sawyer Bell by Avon Gale
Author: 
eBook ISBN: 
978-1-62649-578-4
eBook release: 
Sep 25, 2017
eBook Formats: 
pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 
978-1-62649-579-1
Print release: 
Sep 25, 2017
Word count: 
62,000
Page count: 
232
Type: 
Cover by: 

This title is part of the Tour Dates universe.

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Victoria “Vix” Vincent has only two weeks to find a replacement fiddle player for her band’s summer tour. When classically trained violinist Sawyer Bell shows up for an audition, Vix is thrilled. Sawyer is talented, gorgeous, funny, and excited about playing indie rock instead of Beethoven. Their friendship soon blossoms into romance, even though Vix tries to remember that Sawyer’s presence is only temporary.

Sawyer’s parents think she’s spending the summer months touring Europe with a chamber ensemble. But Sawyer is in dire need of a break from the competitiveness of Juilliard, and desperately wants to rediscover her love of music. Going on tour with her secret high school crush is just an added bonus. Especially when Vix kisses her one night after a show, and they discover that the stage isn’t the only place they have chemistry.

But the tour won’t last forever, and as the summer winds down, Sawyer has to make a tough decision about her future—and what it means to follow her heart.

Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:

Chapter One

Vix chewed on a pen, placating the pounding headache behind her eyes with whispered promises of imminent Advil and caffeine. Her headache was work related, which was nothing out of the ordinary, but this time it wasn’t a result of singing too much or smoking too many cigarettes. It wasn’t even the unhappy consequence of too much vodka or late-night partying.

It was all Bryant’s fault.

Bryant Davenport, their fiddle player, had decided to get married a few months after Victoria Vincent’s spring tour. Which, okay, fine—Vix sang at his wedding and everything—cool, she liked romantic, happy endings as much as the next person. Then, Bryant and his new husband, Aaron, decided they had to be parents, and while they’d expected adoption to take forever . . . apparently not, because they’d received their little bundle of joy quite unexpectedly a few weeks ago. Vix was back in her hometown of Germantown, Tennessee, a suburb of Memphis full of mostly boring people, with a little less than two weeks left to find a replacement.

But the kicker, the real problem, and the reason she needed coffee and over-the-counter pain relievers? Everyone who’d auditioned so far sucked.

“I’m guessing that guy bought that violin off Craigslist a week ago,” Jeff said with a frown. He rubbed at his own temples. “And was taking lessons off YouTube.”

“No way. Any lessons would have sounded better than that,” said Connor.

“What about the . . .” Jeff flipped through a set of papers he was holding, “the second guy?”

“Nope.” That emphatic pronouncement came from Kit. “Veto.”

“He didn’t sound like he was scalding a cat,” Jeff reminded him. “At this point, that’s a strong mark in the pro column.”

“There were things moving in his beard, dude.” Kit shuddered. “Lots of them. And that is a strong mark in the con column. Twice. I’m not spending months in a van with a guy who brought his own parasites.”

Vix sighed and propped her feet up on the tattered ottoman in Jeff’s basement. It was his parents’ house, but they’d left for the Upper Peninsula in Michigan a few days earlier to escape the oncoming Tennessee summer. Since Vix and Jeff had been playing music in the Townleys’ basement since Vix was in high school, it was nice to have a familiar base of operations to conduct their auditions. On the other hand, it made her feel like a teenager again.

She pushed her hand through her hair and groaned. “Guys, this isn’t good.”

It wasn’t. Whoever they found to take Bryant’s place still needed to learn all the music, and time was dwindling with every terrible audition. Vix hated the idea of going on tour without a fiddle player, but it was looking like she wasn’t going to have much of a choice. She’d rather miss that component than have someone butcher the music on stage. Why was finding a fiddle player in the South so hard? She knew there were a lot of ridiculous stereotypes about her home region, but for fuck’s sake, it was the fiddle. They should be a dime a dozen, shouldn’t they?

“I mean, Bryant can bring a baby on tour, can’t he?” Connor twirled a drumstick in his fingers. The drum set that accompanied the sticks was in the garage, as none of the prospective fiddle players who’d auditioned thus far had progressed to the let’s see how you sound when you play with us stage. “They’re, like, real small.”

“No, are you stupid?” Kit scowled at him. “We barely have room in that van for us, let alone Bryant, Aaron, and the baby. Besides, man. A baby.”

“I’m surprised no one went for the obvious joke of how we already have a baby in the van.” Jeff grinned over at Vix. He winked.

Vix ignored him. At twenty-five, she was technically the youngest person in the band. Even if it was her the band was named after, though she’d been “Vix” to everyone but her parents since the second grade. “Kit’s the newest member,” she pointed out. “So technically, in seniority terms, it’s him.”

“I’ve been here for two years!” Kit protested.

There was a knock at the door that startled them all. Their next audition was here, and Vix’s headache was only going to get worse.

Jeff hollered, “Come on in,” and Vix readied herself to be disappointed yet again. Jesus, she wanted a Coke Zero. Water sucked and had all the flavor of . . . well, water. Ew.

The basement had a walk-out and a separate entrance, which meant they could hold the auditions in air-conditioned comfort and not have strangers traipsing through the nicer areas of the Townleys’ house upstairs. Which was a good thing, considering the guy with the beard had also left muddy footprints on the floor, and it wasn’t wet outside. But the girl who walked in for the next audition probably would have fit in well with the clean-cut, standard country décor the Townleys favored. She looked like she’d gotten lost on the way to band practice, with her summer dress; long, straight brown hair worn past her shoulders; and perfect-length fringe bangs. Vix envied girls who could pull off bangs. She looked like she was ten when she tried having them, even with the purple hair.

“I’m here for the audition,” fringe-bangs said hesitantly. “For the fiddle player?” She held up a violin case, as if maybe they didn’t know what that was.

Well, she was the first one that had showed up with her instrument properly stored, so that was already a plus as far as Vix was concerned. She peered at the girl—she was tall, but most people were taller than Vix, and looked nervous, and Vix immediately wanted to lecture her about going to strange people’s basements and why that wasn’t a good idea.

“Um,” said Jeff, when it became apparent they were all staring at her. “Are you old enough to be here?” Trust Jeff to get right to the point.

“I’m twenty-one,” the girl said. They all had to lean forward to catch what she was saying. If she played the fiddle as quietly as she spoke, it wouldn’t matter if she sucked or not because no one would hear her.

“What’s your name?” Vix thought that the girl looked vaguely familiar—but that might be because she looked wholesome enough to be in a soap commercial, or maybe a Cover Girl poster at Target.

“Sawyer Bell,” she said.

“Cool name,” said Vix. “I’m the Victoria of Victoria Vincent, which is us.” She indicated the band with a wave of her hand. “This is Jeff Townley, bass guitarist. Connor Rice, drummer, and Kit Casey, keyboardist, pedal steel player, and occasional guitarist. I sing and play guitar. And usually people call me Vix.”

“Nice to meet y’all.” Sawyer cleared her throat and held up the violin case. “Should I play?”

“Wait, you do understand this tour runs through August, right?” Vix asked, because in addition to looking like she should be working at Ann Taylor LOFT, Sawyer had to be a college student.

Sawyer nodded. “I don’t have to be back at school until September.”

“Where do you go to school? University of Tennessee?” That was where Vix assumed people from around here went to college. Most everyone she’d gone to high school with had moved from Germantown to Knoxville, if they’d done the whole college thing.

“Um.” The girl ducked her head like she was embarrassed. “Juilliard, actually.”

Juilliard . . . as in, the performing arts school? Whoa. Vix waved her on. “Okay, well, show us what you’ve got.”

Sawyer opened the violin case and took out her instrument, which was a lot nicer than anyone else’s—including Bryant’s. The wood on the body was shined to perfection, gorgeous in the flickering fluorescent light of the basement. Sawyer moved so she was standing in the little audition space they’d arranged by moving the furniture. “Any requests?”

“Something good?” Connor offered, and Vix snorted a laugh.

“Whatever,” said Vix. She didn’t want to get too excited. Just because Sawyer was talented enough to get into Juilliard, didn’t mean she’d be any good at playing their kind of music. Okay, no, it probably did, but damn it. Vix didn’t want to get her hopes up that this sweet, polite girl was somehow also a violin virtuoso.

Except she totally was. Sawyer started to play, and it became quickly apparent that she was not only better than everyone else who’d shown up to audition by a country mile . . . she was better than their actual fiddle player. Sure, she was playing something classical and boring, but the technique was undeniable. She had that spark too; the one that said, I know music, I love music, and I will play the shit out of it.

Not only that, but performing turned Sawyer from a shy girl with too-long hair and a summer dress into . . . well, a musician. She closed her eyes and swayed with the notes, her body falling into the rhythm of the bow moving across the strings. The music was pulled out of her in the same way Vix felt when she was singing, when all the words tumbled from her like a storm. Sawyer bit her bottom lip between her teeth as if losing herself in the music, and it was beautiful.

She seemed older when she played, or maybe that wasn’t the right word. More mature? Wiser? Something. Whatever it was, Vix knew without a doubt Sawyer would be amazing in their band. She could hardly believe this was real. For the first time in her life, Vix fought an urge to reach down and pinch herself. Sawyer was that good.

Hot, too. Wow.

When Sawyer stopped playing, the room was dead quiet. The echoes of the violin still vibrated through the room, and Vix could feel the chords dancing like rain over her skin. It made her shiver. Even her headache was forgotten.

“Um, so, that was . . .” Connor trailed off. “I mean, that was good. Like, really good.”

“Can you play something not classical?” Vix interrupted, because as much as it was obvious Sawyer had talent . . . they didn’t play anything like whatever that piece was Sawyer had performed. “We’re kind of an Americana, indie-rock band. So less Mozart, more Uncle Tupelo.”

Jeff glanced over at her, an eyebrow raised. Sure, that was probably a dick move, pulling out the Uncle Tupelo reference, but whatever. They were an important influence on Victoria Vincent’s musical style. So what if they broke up in 1994? She absolutely would not get this girl on board and then find out she couldn’t play anything by anyone who hadn’t died in the seventeen hundreds or whatever.

Sawyer smiled a little. “Uncle Tupelo is more alt-country than indie rock, isn’t it? Or did you mean Wilco?” Her eyes were bright and happy.

“Ha!” Jeff laughed, then covered it with an unconvincing cough and a that’s what you get look at Vix.

Before Vix could say anything, Sawyer started to play again. It began with the melody from Uncle Tupelo’s “Whiskey Bottle,” segued into Wilco’s “Casino Queen” and ended with Son Volt’s “Windfall.”

When Sawyer put her violin down again, Vix had to laugh. “Okay, you schooled my pretentious ass. Nicely done.” She hopped up to her feet. “Now, let’s see how you sound playing our music. Bring your fancy fiddle and follow me.”

They went to the garage, and Vix took her place at the microphone stand while Jeff opened the garage door to let some air in. Vix smiled fondly, remembering the days she’d spent playing music in this garage. Of all her bandmates, Jeff was the only one who’d been with her since the beginning. He was three years older than her and had dropped out of college to pursue music while living in his parents’ basement, and when Vix had graduated high school, they’d set off to find fame and glory. What they’d found was a long, grueling road to achieve any kind of notice, a few band members who hadn’t worked out for various reasons, and the knowledge that while this life wasn’t easy and there were no guarantees, they wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

They’d also found that their intense romantic relationship—which started when Vix was a senior in high school—wasn’t cut out for the rigors of touring and band life. Jeff knew Vix better than anyone and was her best friend, but their breakup had almost ruined the band and Vix knew they weren’t ever going to be anything else. That was all right. Lovers came and went, but good bass guitarists and bandmates were harder to find. Besides, they hadn’t gone through the drama of nearly ending the band over their relationship to give up their obvious musical compatibility. Losing one band member because of the situation was bad enough.

Vix turned to Sawyer, who was shyly standing on the outskirts of the group, and waved her over. “Okay, here.” She gestured to a music stand and a folder. “There’s some of the music. We don’t have fiddle on all the songs, but a fair number of them, especially from this last album.”

Storm Cell was their most recent album and the one that had gotten them the most attention thus far from both critics and fans, so they’d be playing basically the whole thing whenever they could. Vix had been hoping that whoever took Bryant’s place might want to ad lib some fiddle parts into some of their other music, though that dream had died a slow death as she’d watched the succession of terrible auditions over the last few days. She’d settle for someone who could play the fiddle parts already written, but if Sawyer was that good . . .

“We’ll start with ‘Ozone Break,’” Vix instructed as she shouldered her guitar. Sawyer flipped through the folder like a professional, studied the music, and tucked her violin under her chin.

“Ready,” she said, eyes on the music.

Vix raised her eyebrows but said nothing, and gestured to Connor to count them off. Playing a few tunes by memory was one thing, but this was Vix’s music and Sawyer probably had never seen it before, so she expected a few mistakes here and there. But the moment Vix started to play, falling into the rhythm of the words and the familiar chords of the guitar, she didn’t notice anything but perfection. She heard the fiddle exactly where she’d wanted it to be when she’d written the song, when it was an echo of a sound in her head. “Ozone Break” was an upbeat song with a bit more of a twang than some of the others on the album, and Sawyer’s playing matched it perfectly.

When the song ended, Vix didn’t look over at her as she said, “Let’s try ‘Shelter’ next,” and adjusted her fingers on the guitar. She waited for Sawyer’s murmured, “Ready,” before she began playing. Vix was halfway through the song before she noticed a few improvisations on Sawyer’s part, which fit the song nicely even if she was a little surprised that Sawyer would be bold enough to throw them in there at what was technically still an audition. Her talent was undeniable, and for fuck’s sake, anyone who played Uncle Tupelo from memory was Vix’s kind of girl.

She stopped singing and glanced at Sawyer, who was flushed and smiling, a sheen of sweat on her brow making her bangs stick out from her forehead. She caught Vix’s glance and shrugged a little. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to be pushy.”

“It was great,” Vix said, because really, they all knew Sawyer had the job. “In fact, let’s try one of our songs without a fiddle and you can show us what you’ve got. Spice it up for us, yeah?”

Sawyer’s smile was slow and easy. “Yeah,” she said, confident and poised, like she was a totally different person than the girl who’d walked into the basement and barely spoke above a whisper.

One song turned into three, and by the time it was over, they had a crowd of neighbors, a new bandmate, and Vix’s headache was nothing more than a memory.

 

Chapter Two

Seven Years Earlier

The hallway was silent and empty as Sawyer headed quickly for the door. She knew she only had a few seconds before someone saw her, and being out in the hall between classes was totally against the rules. They’d harped on that during freshman orientation enough that it was burned into Sawyer’s brain, even though she never would have considered being anywhere but class during class time.

That was before ten minutes ago, when Sawyer had the pleasure of listening to a few junior girls from the school orchestra rake her over the coals—and not because she was first chair violin as a freshman, either, though she was certain her parents would tell her that was the reason. Maybe it was, but Sawyer didn’t think they cared about orchestra enough to be jealous. Also, they played the viola, what did they care?

“Did you see Sawyer, the freshman first chair violin?”

“Oh God, you mean that unfortunate-looking creature with the long hair and those ugly glasses? Yeah, ugh, we have a hard enough time making the guys pay attention to us over the cheerleaders. Thanks a lot for being fugly, Sawyer.”

“Well, think how much better we’ll look compared to her!”

Remembering it made Sawyer’s chest feel tight and her eyes sting with stupid, useless tears. It wouldn’t have been so bad if those girls hadn’t pretended to like her during summer orchestra camp. Now school had started, and instead of being friends like Sawyer’d hoped, they’d ignored her shy attempts to say hello and were making fun of her for being ugly.

Sawyer knew she wasn’t as pretty as a lot of other girls, including the viola players. Her glasses weren’t trendy, and she wore her long hair in a messy ponytail, and she was tall and tended to hunch her shoulders self-consciously when she was doing anything that wasn’t playing music. She’d never been that interested in boys beyond a few crushes in junior high, and while some of the high school upperclassman boys were better looking than the guys her age, she would never have thought twice about trying to be someone’s girlfriend. She wanted to be someone’s friend. Was that too much to ask?

Sawyer slipped out the side door back by the practice football field—like most Southern high schools, Houston High had a practice football field as well as a pristinely maintained stadium for its beloved sport—and flattened herself against the brick wall, taking deep breaths and trying to calm herself down. Bursting into tears was a stupid thing to do. So was being outside when she shouldn’t be, so now she was going to end up crying, humiliated, and in detention. And grounded. Her parents weren’t too strict, but they’d never let her get away with breaking a major rule like this. Then again, she had no friends, so what did it matter if she was grounded or not? Her plans for the weekend included cleaning her room, violin practice, and maybe going swimming. By herself.

Choking back another sob, Sawyer tore her glasses off her face and pressed the heels of her palms against her eyes. She had to get it together and go back inside. She was fourteen now, and she was supposed to be over crying at school because someone didn’t like her. Junior high was over and done with.

The sound of someone singing interrupted her mental lecture. Sawyer dropped her hands and focused on the sound, following it like it was some siren luring her into the depths. She knew that usually didn’t turn out well, but whatever. Crashing on the rocks had to be better than high school.

The voice was unique, one you heard and remembered—and it had that hint of a twang that said the owner of the voice was no stranger to Tennessee, but it wasn’t overdone or showy. The tone was beautiful, clear and resonant. Sawyer didn’t recognize the song, but she recognized the feeling behind it—pain, embarrassment, loneliness. All the things she was feeling right now.

Over by a group of trees next to the practice field, Sawyer found the girl who was singing. She was sitting under the tree, dressed in ripped jeans, Doc Martens, and a tank top. Her hair was a mess like Sawyer’s, but in a way that looked a lot cooler—the girl’s wasn’t boring dark-brown like Sawyer’s but a bright, vibrant purple that hadn’t yet started to fade.

The girl was also smoking a cigarette in between singing snippets of a song and scribbling in a notebook. She looked up at Sawyer’s approach expectantly.

“Um.” Sawyer flushed and twisted her hands together nervously. The girl looked so effortlessly cool, smoking and singing and writing in a notebook. I bet no one makes fun of her in the orchestra room. “You’re really good at singing.” She winced. That sounded so stupid, no wonder she didn’t have any friends. “I mean, you’ve got a great voice.”

“Thanks.” The girl took a drag of her cigarette. “Holy fuck, you’re tall. If you’re gonna talk to me, sit down or something.”

The initial rush of pleasure at talking to the girl ebbed a bit at the comment about her height. Still, Sawyer wanted to be cool enough to hang out with her, so she shrugged off her backpack and tossed it on the grass, then carefully sat on top of it.

The girl snorted but didn’t say anything.

“Do you sing in the choir here?” Sawyer asked, forging ahead. She could talk about music, if nothing else. She knew music, knew it like other people apparently knew how to have easy conversations and make friends.

“Uh, no.” The girl frowned. “Do you?”

“No, I’m . . . I play the violin. In the orchestra. The school orchestra. And the Germantown Youth Orchestra,” Sawyer added, without really knowing why. Talking about how involved she was in school activities was not going to impress a girl who was skipping class. “You should sing in the choir, though.”

“I’m not exactly choir girl material.” The girl ashed her cigarette.

“They have solos sometimes,” Sawyer said earnestly. “We play for some performances with soloists. At least, that’s what Ms. Christie said.”

“It’s not that.” The girl shrugged. “It’s that I don’t want to sing other people’s music. I want to sing my own.”

“Is that what you were singing, before?” Sawyer pressed. The girl’s fingers were stained blue from what appeared to be a cheap pen, the kind that always bled no matter what.

“Why are you so curious? Why are you out here, anyway, Miss Orchestra? Shouldn’t you be inside?” The girl stubbed the cigarette out, then rummaged around next to her to get another one. She had a Diet Coke bottle next to her, half-full, and she took a swig before lighting her smoke.

“I was. But I— Well, I had to get some air,” said Sawyer, as if she were a grown-up and this was a thing you were allowed to do.

“You a freshman?” the girl asked.

She nodded. “Yeah. Are you—are you a senior?”

The girl nodded. “Yeah. But I’ve been coming out here to this spot since I was a sophomore.” She studied Sawyer thoughtfully. “Did someone upset you? People here can be such dicks.”

Sawyer smiled a little at that. “Yeah. Some girls from orchestra. I thought they were going to be my friends, but they were making fun of me.”

“Bitches, man.” The girl held out her cigarette. “Want to share? It’s my last one.”

She didn’t, actually. Sawyer did not smoke, she didn’t drink, and she didn’t cut school to talk to disaffected, purple-haired senior girls outside, either. But what the hell. High school was all about new experiences, wasn’t it? She nodded and reached out for the cigarette. “Sure.”

“Have you ever smoked anything before?” the girl asked, in a tone of voice that said she’d already made up her mind what the answer was.

“Lots of times,” Sawyer lied, bringing the cigarette to her lips. She’d seen movies, how hard could smoking be? She sucked it and blew out the smoke, pleased that she didn’t cough and trying not to make a face at how awful it tasted.

“Uh-huh.” The girl held her ink-stained fingers out to retrieve the cigarette. “Piece of advice, friend? Don’t try and be someone you’re not to fit in.”

“But maybe I’d have friends instead of people making fun of me,” Sawyer mumbled, embarrassed that she’d admitted that. It was weird. Something about the girl made her want to confess with words instead of her violin, which wasn’t how it usually went for Sawyer. Words never came as easy to her as music. Her fingers were twitching, itching for a bow, for some outlet for all the emotions she couldn’t quite hide.

“Your glasses are cool. Retro. I like them. Anyway, who cares? Fuck those girls, they’re being awful for no reason. It’s not you. So you play the violin? You want to do it, like, forever, or just in school?”

“Forever. I’m going to audition for Juilliard one day.” She said that the same way she’d been saying it since sixth grade: with enough confidence to make it sound like it was the truth.

The girl had a sharp, fierce grin. “I hope you don’t discover boys and drinking between now and then. Or girls and drinking. Whatever you’re into, I don’t judge.” She took another drag of her cigarette.

Sawyer found herself staring at the cigarette in the girl’s mouth, then blushed hotly and pushed to her feet. “I should go.” She grabbed her backpack. “I need to get back inside.” She’d heard the bell ring and knew school was over for the day—she’d ducked out of the last ten minutes of orchestra, which was her last class of the day. Not exactly the most daring version of skipping school. She wondered how long the girl had been out here singing, breathing smoke into the sky and staining her fingers blue.

“’Kay. Good luck with the fiddle,” the girl said, grabbing her notebook.

“Good luck singing your own music,” said Sawyer, and that was that. She waited another second, but the girl had clearly dismissed her already. Sawyer almost asked her name, but in the end, she was too shy to try to re-instigate the conversation.

Sawyer made her way back to the school, mixing in with the throng of students who were leaving the building from all available exits. She needed to go get her violin from the orchestra room and catch her bus, though missing the bus was a less serious infraction than skipping school. Still, she felt vaguely nauseous from nerves and guilt as she fought her way through the crowded hallways, though it was highly unlikely anyone noticed she’d been gone at all.

Despite the chatter and the noise, she could still hear the girl’s voice in her head, could still taste the faint remnants of smoke in her mouth.

* * * * * * *

Seven Years Later

Sawyer let herself into the house, breathing a sigh of relief when she saw she had a clear path from the garage to the back staircase that led to her bedroom. When she’d returned to the house, she’d seen Ms. Christie’s—no, wait, she was Mrs. Smith now—car in her parents’ driveway and didn’t want to get stuck reminiscing with her old orchestra teacher. Not when she had about sixty thousand things to do before the band left on tour.

The band. The band. She was doing this. She, Sawyer Bell, was going to go on tour with Victoria Vincent.

Victoria Vincent, who looked almost the same as she had the one and only time Sawyer had ever seen her outside of Houston High, scribbling words in a notebook. Victoria—Vix, as she’d said she liked to be called—hadn’t recognized Sawyer, but that wasn’t a surprise. Sawyer wasn’t a beauty queen by any means, but she’d definitely “grown into her looks” since being an awkward fourteen-year-old. She had the same long dark hair, but had since replaced the glasses for contacts and favored a bohemian style of dress instead of jeans and T-shirts. Either way, she doubted that moment was as indelibly etched on Vix’s mind as it was on Sawyer’s.

It’d been the first time she’d ever suspected that she might be interested in girls as more than friends, though she’d never done anything in high school but some furtive internet research. Her first year at Juilliard she’d started dating Patrick, and while she’d genuinely liked him—at least at first—she’d never been that into the physical stuff with him. The thought maybe you’re a lesbian would pop up whenever she’d find herself looking at an exceptionally lovely woman, but how was she supposed to know if it was attraction or admiration?

The idea of being romantically interested in women was one thing, but putting it into practice was something else. Sawyer wasn’t the same shy girl she’d been in high school—you didn’t make it very far in the competitive music world without learning to put yourself out there—but she’d never quite gotten over being tongue-tied with women she found interesting, talented, pretty, or just plain cool. Never mind women that managed to be all those things at once, like Victoria Vincent.

Despite spending an entire year together in high school, Sawyer and Vix had never interacted again. At first, Sawyer had entertained herself with fantasies about being Vix’s best friend, about meeting her under that tree and eating lunch, sharing secrets. Writing songs. Not kissing—not at that point—but maybe lying next to each other in the grass, sharing that cigarette though Sawyer’d never wanted to smoke another one (and, as a point of fact, never had). She’d play the violin for Vix while Vix sprawled on the ground and listened, dreaming up words for the notes Sawyer serenaded her with. Silly fantasies that spoke more to her longing for a friend than any sort of romance. But there was something in the way she felt those rare times she’d catch a glimpse of Vix in the hallways, purple hair always a mess and the color fading more and more each day, that made her think maybe it wasn’t only a hopeless friend crush she had on Vix.

But Vix had graduated without the two of them ever saying another word to each other, and in a school of almost two thousand—and with three grades separating them—that hadn’t been hard to do. Sawyer hadn’t learned Vix’s name, thinking of her only as the girl with the purple hair and the ink-stained fingers for so long, it was almost a surprise to learn she had a name.

Sawyer put her violin case on the dresser and sat on the bed, pressing her face in her hands. She could feel her skin was flushed, and she felt as tongue-tied and awkward around Vix now, at twenty-one, as she had when she’d been fourteen. She’d been almost positive that it was the same girl when she’d walked into the basement, but she’d known it for sure when Vix had started singing. The face was a little blurry by memory, but the voice rang true and clear. She wondered how many words had made their way out of Vix’s notebook and onto the sheet music Sawyer was clutching like a lifeline in her hands.

“I’m going to hang out with Victoria Vincent. All summer,” she said, out loud—though it was a whisper, barely loud enough to reach her own ears. She still couldn’t believe it. She wondered if she should mention that long-ago day beneath the tree to Vix, but the idea that Vix might not remember . . . Sawyer didn’t want to ruin the memory with disappointment. It didn’t matter, anyway. They were different people, and it was a startling coincidence. Besides, she had other things to worry about.

“Sawyer!”

Things like her mother. “Hi, Mom,” Sawyer called back, standing up and looking around wildly before stashing the black music folder under her pillow. She felt ridiculous, like she was hiding pornography or something. Technically this was her old room, anyway, since she hadn’t lived at home since leaving for Juilliard three years ago. Summer meant intensives and extra classes, performances and touring chamber ensembles . . .

That thought brought a tightness to her chest, so Sawyer pushed it aside and put a smile on her face. Her mother was a cheerful woman with Sawyer’s hazel eyes and none of her height, and every time Mom smiled at her, Sawyer thought she might die of guilt from deceiving her parents into thinking she’d be touring Europe this summer with an ensemble. But whenever she was tempted to confess, her mother started in about “my daughter, the international violinist” or similar, and Sawyer couldn’t stand the idea of disappointing her with the truth.

“Oh, sweetie, I didn’t hear you come back. I wish you could have spoken with Mrs. Smith—she was Ms. Christie, remember, your orchestra teacher? She’s so proud of you.” Her mom patted her violin case fondly. “She wanted to know if you would have time when you’re back from Europe to come and speak to the orchestra at Houston High before you have to go back to school.”

The mention of being back in school made that tightness flare up again. Sawyer’s smile was a little forced, but she gave it her best effort. “I’ll have to see what the schedule is, but sure, if I have time,” she promised, surreptitiously crossing her fingers behind her back. It was a stupid gesture, but somehow she felt less guilty if she did that when she told a lie. As if it didn’t count, somehow.

And maybe she wasn’t lying. Maybe she’d get back from this tour with Victoria Vincent and be more than ready for the hypercompetitive, cutthroat final year of school . . . before going out into the hypercompetitive, cutthroat world of trying to be a professional violinist.

“I told her I’m sure you’d be happy to talk to them, especially the seniors who might be thinking of auditioning like you did. I know how much you would have appreciated having some help with the process.”

I would have appreciated having someone tell me the truth and lock me in my room so I didn’t go to the audition. She was being ridiculous and ungrateful, and she knew it. Sawyer smiled again, still tinged with the anxiety that seeped its way into her blood whenever anyone mentioned Juilliard. She tried to remind herself of how proud her parents were of her, how they’d been thrilled at the scholarship she’d earned, how they’d come up for her performances like they would have done if she’d been playing at the University of Tennessee. But that only made the ugly, stark truth that sounded like a screech of a bow across untuned strings harder to face.

“Of course I will,” said Sawyer, fingers so tightly crossed she could feel them beginning to cramp. She thought about uncrossing them, telling herself she could always give Mrs. Smith’s orchestra students the truth.

They’ll tell you not to apply to Juilliard unless you’re ready to live and breathe music. What they mean is, get ready to drown.

Her mom gave her a hug and left her room, humming slightly off-key and leaving Sawyer standing there with her fingers crossed, trying to breathe.