Frederick gazed beyond his daughter’s face toward the waiter.
“It was my opening night, Dad,” Laura was saying. “You were the only one who wasn’t there. And I was the lead.”
Finally, the waiter made eye contact. He tapped his empty martini glass. “I’m sure you were marvelous.”
She grunted. “No wonder Mom doesn’t love you.”
Was that an exit line? Her mother had been so good at parting shots, insults timed perfectly with departures. But no. His daughter was a different kind of actress; she’d sit this out just as she always did.
Never mind. After two martinis, the restaurant shimmered silver-white, candlelight dancing on the oversized mirrors, the piano tinkling distantly, sweetly, casting him back to his mother’s piano, a time when he’d played Chopin, played for hours held within the music’s silky white dream.
Laura was watching him.
“I’m sorry I missed it,” he said, hoping she’d look away. Their waiter approached with his martini. “I’m preparing for a case.”
“That’s what you always say.”
He lifted the martini to his lips and savored its liquid heat.
She glared at his drink. Twenty-four, she wore a silk blouse, lipstick, diamonds, but flat-chested and freckled, Laura struck him as a false note. She always had.
“Why don’t you get a drink? A glass of wine maybe–”
“I called your office this morning. Did you get the message?”
“Can’t we just relax?” Another burning sip, and he listened to the far-off music, a Chopin. “Listen to it,” he murmured, “one of his nocturnes… isn’t it beautiful?”
“What are you talking about?”
He snapped awake, startled and annoyed. “Never mind. You wouldn’t understand, being more Beethoven in nature.” Like her mother: grandiose, dramatic, and deaf. He smiled. “So… how are things with Peter?”
“‘Peter’? God, Dad. His name’s Philip.” Her face flushed. “And we’ve only been together seven years.”
“Sorry! Philip. Of course it’s Philip.” He exploded with laughter. Other diners shot glances, but God help him, he couldn’t stop himself. Desperately, he waved his hands–sorry, sorry–rocking back and forth in his seat. Laura had turned pale. But he’d order her a drink, and she’d forgive him as she always did.
“You’re pathetic,” she said.
She’d spoken so softly, so gently, that he wasn’t sure he’d heard her right. “I’m sorry?”
Eyes sparkling with pity, she shook her head–just as his mother had done, arthritic hands curled in her lap, watching him play. He wasn’t talented and never would be. No matter how much he loved the music, his love meant nothing; it was useless. “Laura?”
She lay her folded napkin on the table and stood to go.
She crossed the restaurant, fading from view, disappearing from sight. He stared after her for a long time.