Unconditional, page 27
It was 4:45 on a Friday evening, almost time for the library to close and the work week to be over for Valerie. That was when, of all people, Perry stepped up to the counter as she was scanning a stack of books, checking them back in. He smirked at her, his eyes completely obscured by a pair of sunglasses with mirror-like lenses.
“First time ever I see you in here,” she remarked. “You read?”
“Do I read? Hmmm. Very condescending of you to assume I don’t, young lady.” He laughed, letting her know he was only kidding around.
“Okay. Well, do you?”
Valerie smiled, even though it saddened her a little to see him. They hadn’t spoken since that day of the boardwalk concert, when she’d shown up without her violin and was only able to sing backup. That was the same day she’d informed the band that she was taking a hiatus, at least temporarily, until either she or Zed could replace the instrument.
“I do. I love the sports page in the paper. Read it religiously.” He removed his sunglasses and hooked them onto the front of his shirt.
“That’s something. You’re reading more than a lot of other people.”
“And I love sci-fi. Vampire books. Freaky stuff like that.”
“Oh, now that’s interesting. I can see you being a sci-fi guy, Perry.”
“Got something you want to check out now?”
“Nope.” He rested his arms on the counter.
Getting him to talk was sometimes a challenge, unless the subject was music, but she tried anyway. “How are the guys?”
“Fine. Everybody misses you. That’s why I brought you something.”
Valerie couldn’t finish her sentence. From behind the other side of the counter, Perry brought a musical case and set it down in front of her. She recognized the shape immediately.
“A violin. Yep. Not as nice as the one Zed broke, mind you. But we went in on it together, me and the guys.” Perry shrugged. “It’ll do until you get your fixed.”
Her eyes moistened. “I can’t believe you guys did that for me. That’s so sweet.”
“Uh, well…open it. See if you like it. And if you don’t…” He stopped her gently with a hand on her wrist. “Use it anyway. Please, Val, just for now. We miss having you in the band. And our sound’s not the same without one of our musicians.”
She glanced around. Most of her coworkers were busy cleaning up for the day and the supervisor was nowhere in sight. Ivy, the new employee, was busy checking books out for patrons. She returned her attention to Perry.
“I’ll pay you guys back,” she promised.
“You don’t have to, sweetie. It’s really not that good a piece, but it was the best we could do on short notice. It’s used. Picked it up at the music shop.” He went on, “Not everybody’s got a violin player. I mean, a guitar player, a pianist—I can find one of those anywhere. But someone who can play the violin? That’s special. You’re special, Valerie.”
She looked from him to the instrument. It actually struck her as more beautiful than the one that had been destroyed.
“Practice is tomorrow morning. Couple hours.” He grinned. “See ya there.”
“Sure. Of course you will.” She pushed open the waist-high door and came out from behind the counter. “Thank you. Tell the guys I said thank you, too.”
“You can tell them yourself tomorrow.”
Perry was awkward when it came to physical affection, it simply didn’t come easily to him. Yet he accepted her hug with a chuckle. He replaced his sunglasses back onto his face. “I put the music we’re working on for this week in the case, too. I think it’s a song you’ll like. There’s a violin solo in it. See ya tomorrow.”
“Okay. See ya, Perry. I love you guys.”
He had started walking away but looked back at her. He stammered, “Uh, well, well, we love you, too, Val.”
A secondhand violin. Nowhere near as expensive or exquisite as the other one had been. Yet as she inspected it, she realized she’d never owned a grander, lovelier instrument.
A guitar player, a piano player—I can find one of those anywhere. But a violinist is special.
What was that other thing he’d said, too?
Not the same without one of our musicians.
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord. It hadn’t been that long since her violin had been gone, but it amazed her, how much she’d missed it. That scripture, Psalm 98:4, had been more than just a well known and often-recited verse in her life. To her, it had been a source of inspiration, the fire that had kept her from quitting several times when she was learning to play.
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.
With great care and excitement, Valerie carried her new violin, safe in its case, out to her car. She placed it onto the passenger seat beside her. With that scripture in mind, she opened the Bible on her cell and found a similar passage in Psalm 149.
Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp. For the Lord taketh pleasure in his people…
“Thank You for providing this instrument, Lord,” she prayed in a soft voice. “And You put it upon my friends’ hearts to do that. I didn’t even know they valued me that much as…a fellow musician…or a friend.”
The phone rang. She closed the Bible and saw that it was Josh calling her.
“Hey, I know you just got out of work, right?” he asked on the other line.
Valerie turned the key in the ignition. “I am just about to leave the parking lot as we speak.”
“Oh, so…you want to pass by the beach? Let’s go for a little walk. I’d like to talk to you about something.”
In that moment, her heart sank. How could that happen so rapidly? One moment she was feeling happy and blessed, and in the next she felt like her world was about to crumble around her. All because she could recall similar times when Zed had called her, asking if they could meet, that there was “something” he needed to discuss with her. Invariably, that “something” had always signaled the end of their relationship.
She sat, not pulling out of the parking spot. Valerie had the phone tighter to her car.
“Where do you want to meet?” she asked.
“Over by where the stage was for the concert. I can be there in ten minutes.”
“I’ll probably make it in fifteen, with traffic.”
“Okay, baby. I’ll wait for you.”
“All right. See you in a few minutes.” She set the phone down in the car’s console and glanced at her eyes in the rearview mirror.
He was going to tell her that it was over. She had heard something in his voice, something that didn’t sound quite right. She had thought that before, too, the last time he’d asked her to meet him on the beach because he needed to talk to her about something.
Maybe she’d only been a summer romance to him. Well, the summer was now drawing to an end.
The problem was, he had become more than that to her.
“Oh, Jesus, maybe I shouldn’t have told him,” she whispered as she pulled out of the parking lot behind the library.
She’d chosen to be honest with Josh. To tell him the truth about what had happened to her violin. He hadn’t seemed upset that she’d seen Zed again, though he’d been concerned that she’d let him into her apartment when he’d been drinking. Josh was right about that. Anything could have happened.
Then again, maybe his request to talk had nothing to do with her old boyfriend. Maybe he had just come to the decision that he wasn’t ready for a serious relationship. That seemed to be a recurring theme with the men in her life—not that there were that many of them.
She’d been hoping that Josh would be the last, and only, man in her life. Yet as she drove in the direction of Wildwood, she felt her heart grow heavier with the possibility that he was about to walk out of her life.