Nick made short work of assembling boxes and filling the office supply orders that had come in overnight. Delivered in twenty-four hours or it’s free was one of Knickerbocker Office Supplies and Fine Writing Papers’ guarantees. The store, an Upper West Side landmark, predated the Lincoln Center shopping complex and cinema.
He kneeled on the floor, his long legs sticking out behind him like two speed bumps. He braced his ears for the squeech of the tape gun as he pulled it across the cardboard school bus display he was assembling to hold back-to-school supplies. He shook the box to check its strength when he was pushed off balance. An “aww” followed by a thunk and the backside of a woman on her hands knees pulled his attention. A high, glossy black pony tail wagged at his face. A tattoo of a musical score wound around her ankle.
“Are you okay? Nick stood to his full six feet and offered his hand.
She sat back on her heels and rubbed her heavily ringed hands over her ears, checking that she wasn’t missing what looked like a dozen earrings.
Her eyes scanned the area. “Sorry. I didn’t see you on the floor. Thank goodness for hard cases.”
As she turned her head, Nick saw another tattooed musical score that cascaded below her earlobe and disappeared under her shirt. He followed her gaze to a battered violin case poking from underneath a metal rack of coloring books for adults.
Nick rescued the case. “Were you going to rob us?”
“Huh?” She pulled a face of confusion and sucked in her bottom lip.
“Machine gun, violin case?” He held his hands out and shimmied from side-to-side.
“No gun, it’s a violin. This is the one I use to teach. My performance instrument is at home.”
“I teach too. Art, at LaGuardia High. This is my part-time gig. For the employee discount,” Nick said in a conspiratorial whisper.
“I won’t break your cover.”
You didn’t come in to land on the floor. Can I help you?”
“I need to fasten sheet music to a music stand.” She made a clamping gesture with her fingers.
“The kids can’t keep the music from sliding onto the floor and it makes a commotion. Maestro Mueller demanded I do something.”
Nick had similar problems with his students. “Let’s try binder clips.”
He headed toward aisle five and returned with a variety of colors.
“I’ll take red and yellow. The kids will like them. Thank you, Nick.” She pointed a long thin finger where his name tag was fastened.
He rang up her purchase and read her off the credit card. “You’re most welcome, Lauren Castle.”
“Your last name is Schloss, German for Castle.”
“Smart, I like that in a man.” She touched her temple and then her hair. “I almost forgot.” She released her pony tail and shook her head. A long wave of dark hair framed her face and made her blue eyes sparkle. “Maestro Mueller demands that I cover my rings and ink.”
Lauren stopped in several times over the next few weeks. Nick suggested reward stickers, highlighter markers that clicked like pens, and sticky note flags to mark music passages.
“You’ve got the best teaching tricks,” Lauren said. “Mueller wants more flags. They don’t damage the books. She smiled when Nick handed her the packs. His hand brushed hers in the exchange.
Nick pulled back, afraid he had been too forward.
“I forgot to take off my nail polish. Do you sell polish remover? Mueller will pitch a fit if he sees this.”
Nick shook his head and stared at her short rounded, black nails.
“Can you change the color?”
Lauren fisted her hands and tapped them together. “I don’t wear any other colors.”
“I have an idea.” Nick splayed open an art case. “It’s quick-dry paint, in a pen. I’ve been experimenting with them”
“This pink rose is nice.” Lauren held it against her hand. “I can’t do it, I’d make more of a mess than what I’d be covering up.”
“May I?” Nick rolled up the sleeves on her sweater, exposing even more musical score and sat her behind the counter. He shook the pen and in short order expertly covered her nails in rose.
“You owe me two more roses,” she said
“Ten rose fingers and two flowers would be a dozen.”
She touched the side of his face. “It looks nice with your brown eyes as an accent.”
Nick grabbed her hand and held onto it as he ducked under the counter and produced a permanent black marker.
“A finishing flourish.” He pushed aside the hair covering her neck and touched one of the tattooed notes and then drew it on her pinky. “Mueller won’t even notice.”
She admired her hands and he nodded his approval.
“Can I ask you something?” He said.
“The musical score that’s um…all over your body.” His face heated not wanting her to realize he had been watching her. “What is it?”
She removed her sweater, exposing a pink spaghetti strap camisole. She turned her back and revealed an intimate amount of the score. “Bach’s Double Violin Concerto.”
“Someday I’ll find a partner for the other part.” She blushed and buttoned her sweater. “Would you like to hear me play this Saturday at Lincoln Center? I have a solo.”
That Saturday, Nick sat transfixed waiting for Lauren’s solo and watched Maestro Mueller’s precise, powerful movements. Nick was grateful for the conductor’s perfectionism. It had brought them together. Mueller gave her a subtle nod, bobbing his head as she played the first notes, pleasure on his face. Lauren’s hair was neatly pulled back revealing her tattoo. She played with her eyes closed, commanding the violin to sing. Nick pictured her inspiring her students with her passion. Along with his own. A program rested on his lap with two roses. The start of an exceptional season.
Sharon J. Wishnow is a writer from Northern Virginia. She is excited to publish this latest piece in Everyday Fiction. She has an MFA from George Mason University and is a board member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She is represented by Ann Leslie at Dystel, Goderich, and Bourette. Read more of her stories online at www.sharonwishnow.com and connect with her on Twitter @sjwishnow.