Nicoló Carter, Nick to his friends and, well, just about everyone else if he had anything to say about it, finished adjusting the tuning peg of the shiny, black concert grand piano. This was the third of six pianos he was tuning today at the Kennedy Center. At nearly two hours per piano, it was going to be a long day, but that’s what he got for taking vacation so he could fly to Italy for his Nonna’s birthday party.
Not like he’d had much choice about that, either.
He sighed and pushed his shoulders back, working out a kink before he sat on the bench, scooted it a little farther from the keyboard, and put his fingers on the keys. After listening to the silence of the practice room for a moment, he let the music work its way out of his heart.
Tuscany had been interesting. Mom had always emphasized the importance of family. In the ten years since she’d been gone, he and his brothers had drifted some, not really keeping in touch with their cousins scattered across the world. Cousins. Rachel. That had been an interesting twist. A new cousin no one had known about.
Nick cocked his head to the side as his fingers transitioned the piece into a minor key. Hm. Not a bad idea. He’d play with it tonight. It added…something.
The door to the practice room slammed open.
“I was told this room was reserved for me as soon as the tuner was finished.”
Nick leaned away from the fire shooting out of the woman’s eyes. At least cybernetic implants weren’t a real thing. Yet. She’d for sure opt for laser beams. That would put a dent in his ability to compose in his off time. He fought a smile and brought his piece to an end. “I just finished tuning. It’s standard practice, at least as I was taught, to verify the job when complete. The best way to do that is to play.”
“Fine. Are you quite done?” If it weren’t for the attitude pulsing off her in waves, she’d be beautiful. Long, brown hair and flashing blue eyes, and a figure that not even her dressy casual khakis could disguise. Too bad she was a diva.
“Let me just collect my bag, and I’ll be out of your way.” Nick stood, tossed one of his tools into his duffel, and gave her a mock bow as he passed her in the doorway. “Enjoy your practicing.”
The woman sniffed and the door slammed behind him.
Nick didn’t bother to hold back the laugh. Diva. With a capital D. Frankly, she seemed to have more attitude than was strictly warranted, because he had no idea who she was. And he knew—or at least recognized—the majority of the piano talents that came to D.C.
With a shrug, he strode down the hallway. Since his plans to use his lunch break to work on his composition were a wash, he’d take his sandwich out onto the rooftop terrace and eat instead. Washington, D.C. was in the throes of spring, and that was worth savoring before the summer heat and humidity got to be too much. Not that it held a candle to Texas, where he’d grown up, but it tried.
He sat cross-legged on one of the wide planters, his bag of tools beside him, and unwrapped the peanut butter and jelly sandwich he’d made before leaving his apartment this morning.
Nick took a bite and raised a hand in greeting as Luke, one of the other piano technicians who freelanced here, settled onto the planter next to him.
Duh? “Yep. You eat?”
Luke shook his head and shrugged. “Forgot to pack something, didn’t feel like paying tourist prices at either of the places here. I’ll grab something for dinner.”
Nick frowned and dug in his bag, extracting his second sandwich. “Here. You need to be able to hear the notes, not your growling stomach.”
“You sure?” Luke took the food and studied it. “I wasn’t asking for a handout. Just thought I’d enjoy the sunshine with you.”
“I’m sure. I never eat them both.”
“So why pack two?”
“Habit, I guess. Worked out well for you, didn’t it?” Nick grinned. “I haven’t had a full day’s tuning scheduled in a long time. Any idea what happened?”
“Nope, but I’m not looking for explanations too hard. My residential tunings dropped way off over the winter.”
Nick nodded. His had been waning for the last year; that was one reason he’d started adding piano lessons to his schedule. “Lessons aren’t an option?”
Luke wrinkled his nose. “Not really. I don’t have the patience. Don’t honestly see how you stand it.”
“I like the kids. They’re trying. And it’s still fun to them, that’s the big thing. They haven’t yet decided it’s all about the prestige and glory like the people who come here to play.”
Luke gave a wry chuckle. “Run into a diva this morning?”
Nick finished his sandwich and balled up the baggie before dropping it into his kit. “Yeah. I’d planned to play instead of eat, but the practice room was reserved for her.”
“Yikes. Who was it?”
“No clue. That’s what’ll make it hilarious later.” Nick sighed. “I try hard to make sure my students know no matter how good they get that they shouldn’t let it go to their heads. But I guess that’s a choice they’ll each have to make individually.”
Luke nodded and offered his empty baggie. “Thanks for lunch. I guess I should get back at it. Got a date tonight.”
“Yeah? Anyone I know?”
Luke shook his head. “Don’t think so. One of the ushers from the symphony performance I managed to snag a ticket to last weekend. College student.”
“College? Really? She know you’re twenty-seven?”
Luke laughed. “She thinks it’s hot.”
“Be nice to her.”
“Yes, Mom.” Luke rolled his eyes. “Don’t you have a piano to tune?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Nick chuckled and hopped down from the cold stone. “Catch you later.”
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