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How to Get to Carnegie Hall

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Dave hasn't seen Emily since Labor Day, the last weekend of the summer sweeping them together for one last lazy day in the park and then sweeping them apart as she went on tour and he went back to school. They'd both been in shorts and t-shirts that day, and he thinks nostalgically of the disgustingly hot weather as the wind slides icy fingers down the gap between his scarf and his coat and he shivers. Despite the addition of two or three extra layers of clothing, he easily picks her out of the swirling crowd of people heading down into the subway station. Her hair whips and curls with the wind beneath the white knit ski hat she's wearing, and her cheeks are as red as her wool coat. He speeds up, eager to close the last small distance between them.

"Been waiting long?" he says.

She smiles up at him, and if he didn't know better, he'd think she could see him. "Just got here," she answers. "Come on." She takes his hand and they join the crowd moving down the stairs.

The train is pulling in when they get to the platform, and they let themselves be jostled onto it, pressed close by the masses of holiday shoppers and excited kids who've just gotten out of school. The air in the subway car smells of damp wool and body odor, interspersed with the familiar chilly whiff of winter when the doors open, so Dave leans down to breathe in the scent of Emily's hair. He can feel her shiver when his exhale makes her hair flutter against her cheek. She looks surprised but doesn't mention it. Instead, they talk about his classes and her concerts.

When she'd first started traveling, he'd been resentful that he couldn't go with her, that Mr. Theo had hired tutors to read to her and help with her homework and do all the things he'd gotten used to doing for her. He'd worried she'd come back to him and things would be different, if she bothered to come back to him at all. His worries had been ridiculous, of course, but he still feels twinges of that anxiety whenever she goes away, and it's only now that they're together again that those twinges disappear.

She's in the middle of telling him a funny story about the alleged curse on the tuba that belongs to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the weird guy who showed up to repossess it, when the conductor announces, "Fifty-ninth Street/Columbus Circle."

Emily interrupts herself to say, "This is us," like he doesn't know, but instead of heading down to the B or the D, she leads him up to the street. She moves like she can see, and sometimes he envies her that confidence, even now.

"I thought we were going to see the tree," he says once they're back out in the cold air. He huffs a little, the wind making it hard to catch his breath after climbing all the stairs.

"We are," she says, twining her arm through his and leading him south along Broadway, "but I have a surprise for you first."

The sidewalks are even more crowded now, tourists and shoppers slowing down to stare into shop windows. They weave in and around the throngs, hand in hand. Dave's palms sweat a little inside his gloves and he tells himself it's because of the thinsulate lining.

"We need 109," Emily says. She takes a few more steps and stops, head cocked, though it's not a question when she says, "This is it."

"Yeah," he says, smiling up at the Steinway Hall sign on the building, "it is."

She rings the bell and someone buzzes them in. It's warm inside, and surprisingly quiet, given the large, airy space and the pianos on display.

"Miss Gregory, it's so lovely to see you again." The salesman or maitre d' or whatever he is comes over and Emily lets go of Dave's hand to take his. Dave pulls his gloves off and shoves them into his pockets, then surreptitiously wipes his palms on his coat. "The rehearsal room is ready and waiting. May I take your coats?"

"Thanks, Mr. Beauchamp," Emily says, easing hers off under the strap of the messenger bag slung across her torso. Dave follows suit and pockets the ticket the guy gives him in return. Transactions complete, Emily takes Dave's arm, though he's pretty sure she knows exactly where they're going. He brushes his fingers over hers briefly, pleased. "Mr. Theo booked it for me."

Dave nods. "Cool."

The room is large enough to hold a grand piano, a couple of cane-backed chairs, and not a whole lot else. "Please let us know if you need anything," Beauchamp says, and closes the door behind him with a quiet click.

Emily unslings her bag, drops it onto the floor next to the bench, and sits, fingers already flexing. Dave ignores the uncomfortable looking chairs and settles on the floor against the wall.

She warms up with a few quick exercises and then plays the sprightly opening measures of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3.

It's always easy to lose himself in the music, but now he keeps his eyes open so he can watch Emily's face as she plays, the familiar furrow of her forehead as she concentrates, the way she lights with joy from within when the music flows through her. His ass is falling asleep and his knees are stiff by the time she's done, but he doesn't care.

"Come here," she says, holding out one long-fingered hand.

He joins her on the bench, suddenly dizzy from the scent of her hair, the way it frizzes around her glowing face like a halo. The tops of his ears burn and he's glad for once that she can't see him; he hopes she can't hear the way his heart has sped up, prestissimo.

She takes his hand and places it against her cheek. Her skin is soft and faintly sweaty. "Dave," she says, tipping her chin up towards his face. Her lips are pink and slightly parted.

"Hey," he says, feeling stupid and awkward, because this isn't them, even if he's started wanting it to be. "Can I?"

She reaches out with her other hand, presses it to his cheek, her thumb running over his lower lip. He swallows hard, and lets her guide his mouth to hers. Her mouth is warm and tastes of wintergreen lifesavers. She makes a small, needy sound when his tongue slides over hers, as beautiful as any music he's ever heard, and he wants to hear it again and again, wants to never stop hearing it. He moves his hand from her cheek to trace the delicate bones of her face, then tangle his fingers in her hair and hold her still so he can keep kissing her forever, or at least until he needs to breathe again.

Long before he ever wanted this, long before he'd ever even thought of it, people had teased him about being her boyfriend, and he'd laughed scornfully. Now, he can't believe he'll be that lucky.

"Mm," she says when he eases back. "That was pretty good." The bright flush on her cheeks and the way she's smiling take most of the sting out of the words.

"Only pretty good?" he asks, bringing up his other hand so he can stroke her cheek, trace the whorls of her ear.

"Mm," she says again, humming against his mouth and pressing her chest to his, warm softness of her body sending a thrill through him.

His heart is beating fast enough to take wing, and he slides his lips along the arch of her cheek, the curve of her jaw. "Then I guess we'll have to practice."

Emily twines her arms around his neck and laughs into his kiss.