Read Revived Spirits Online

Authors: Julia Watts

Revived Spirits (8 page)

On the other hand, maybe she could practice making a friend with the Havards’ daughter. How hard could it be? They’d probably have a lot in common—music, for instance—and it would be easy to arrange to spend time together, with Liv going over most days to practice on the family’s piano. Suddenly, the world didn’t look so lonely.

When their train sped up to the platform and stopped, a recorded male voice boomed, “Mind the gap, mind the gap,” meaning the space between the train and platform, and the four of them scrambled on after the rush of departing passengers cleared away.

They settled into their seats as the train pulled away from the platform. A refined, velvety female voice took over the announcement chores and Anthony closed his eyes, sighing at the way she said, “Sloane Square.” Cal shook his head at him and made gagging noises.

But their goofiness wasn’t annoying her so much now. Friends could have fun together being silly, she told herself. Maybe she was about to make a friend she could kid around and laugh with.

They arrived at the Havards’ home, a beautiful white stone townhouse four stories tall, graced by iron window boxes brimming with colorful flowers. Mrs. Wescott rang the doorbell, which they could hear chiming inside, accompanied by the barking of a dog.

The door swung open, and a plump woman with a friendly, open face and the frizziest hair Liv had ever seen, beamed as she said, “There you are! Come in, come in!” She stood aside as they entered a large foyer with a stone floor. “Ah, the Wescotts. Lovely!” She pumped Mrs. Wescott’s hand. “I’m Tatiana. Delighted to meet you.” She turned to Liv. “And this must be our musician—Liv, is it?” Liv nodded and let her hand be engulfed in Mrs. Havard’s. The woman’s regionless British accent reminded Liv of a television special, where the Queen had greeted guest after guest in refined, well-modulated tones.

As Mrs. Wescott introduced the boys, a small white dog with a very business-like air came forward, sat down in front of Mrs. Wescott, and raised his paw to be shaken.

Mrs. Havard explained, “Baxter’s our official greeter. He’s a Westie—a West Highland White Terrier. We bought him as a watchdog, but he seems to think he’s an ambassador.” Baxter wagged his tail furiously and licked each visitor in turn.

“It doesn’t matter,” she continued. “McGinty’s taken over that part of the job.” She paused and looked around. “I don’t see him any—”

She was interrupted by the sound of beating wings and a blur of green, as a very large macaw swooped down from the top of the staircase, squawking in Liv’s ear before it came to land on Anthony’s shoulder. “Cool!” he and Cal said together.

The boys might think McGinty was great, but Liv felt she could take him or leave him. While she wondered if he could sense it, the bird flew uninvited from Anthony’s shoulder to her head.  Mrs. Havard tut-tutted, doing nothing about it at first.

“McGinty has a perch in every room, but he prefers human heads, though he knows better than to try that on us. Visitors, I’m afraid, are fair game.”

It didn’t seem fair at all to Liv, and she wondered if McGinty had mites. Mrs. Havard frowned at the bird, but he didn’t budge—just waited stubbornly for his mistress to come get him. Finally, she picked him up and put him on her own shoulder. Liv wondered if McGinty would think he owed her one now and try to pay her back on her next visit.

No daughter had come out with Mrs. Havard, and Liv felt let down. But as they began to climb the limestone staircase, she heard the sound of a piano. Maybe the girl was practicing. Her new friend.

They wound their way up, and the noise grew louder. Someone was torturing a piano, pounding on the keys with plenty of wrong notes and no attempt to slow down or correct them.

Mrs. Havard never lost her serene expression as she escorted them down a hall that ran the length of the house and bypassed the rooms: a reception room, where the noise was coming from, a large dining room with a giant table piled with stacks of music, and a kitchen, where she stopped and motioned to them. “Here we are.  Come right in, everyone.”

She pointed to another enormous table and kept walking, detaching McGinty’s claws from her sweater and placing him on his perch. He lowered his head and stared at Liv as the family pulled out chairs and seated themselves.

Mrs.Havard’s hot,sweet tea was delicious,and the sandwiches, fruit and cookies made Liv realize how hungry she was. Everyone tucked in, and Liv strained to hear her mother and their hostess over the banging of the piano.

Before anyone was ready for second helpings, the battering noises stopped, and the kitchen door swung open. A slender girl with stringy blond hair tramped in. Her watery green eyes, framed by pale lashes, might have been pretty if not for the frown lines between them. “I’m Frederica,” she announced, scraping a chair away from the table, and thumping into it. Her mother handed her a plate and pointed to the tray of sandwiches and cakes.

“Well, my dear,” she said to Liv, pouring a cup of tea for Frederica and topping off the other cups, “tell me what music you like to play.”

Liv politely began listing the pieces she’d be practicing on their piano. “Mozart—I’ve just begun a sonata. And I’m working on a new Bach Invention.”   Mrs. Havard’s enthusiastic nods and smiles encouraged her to go on. “There’s something about the way the melodies twine around each other—”

She stopped when Baxter leaped into her lap and began licking her face. “I hope you like Bach, too, Baxter!” She laughed and hugged him. “You’re going to hear a lot of it.”

Frederica shot Liv a sour look. “Baxter dislikes counterpoint. He particularly hates Bach.” She drank down the last of her tea and brushed crumbs from the white gauze top whose long sleeves were barely paler than her hands. Without a word, she stood and left the room.

“Yeah,” whispered Anthony into her ear. “That’s because he used to be a Scottie until Princess Pound-a-Lot started playing the piano, and his hair turned white.”

Frederica punched out a few more passages with alarming gusto, while the piano and everyone’s ears took a beating. Liv felt sorry for Baxter, hunkered under the kitchen table. She could guess why tea had been served here instead of in the dining room— more space between the guests and the noise. Even cheerful Mrs. Havard winced a little now and then. Her shoulders had visibly relaxed when Frederica stopped.

Now the strains of a Chopin Nocturne began to drift through the open transom above the door separating the kitchen from the dining and reception rooms. It was slow, as if she might be just learning it, and her playing was weak. Baxter tolerated it nervously. He settled into an uneasy sleep under the parrot perch, twitching an eyebrow. Liv made a mental note: Ask Mom to pick up doggie treats at Sainsbury’s.

As if anxious to steer the subject away from pianos, Mrs. Wescott commented on the stringed instruments they’d seen in the reception room: a small violin in its open case and a half-sized cello on a display stand. Did Frederica play any of those?

“Oh, mercy, no!” Mrs. Havard caught herself. “I mean, not anymore—that is, she used to.” She blushed and looked at her husband, who’d wandered into the kitchen to stack a plate with sandwiches.

Mr. Havard, a tall man casually dressed in khaki shorts and a polo shirt, grinned. “Well, come on, one might as well say it—I mean it’s no crime to be tone deaf. It’s just a crime to deny it.” A wrong note on the piano was followed by the bang of a fist on the keys and some rude words. McGinty cocked his head at the sound of Frederica’s voice and flew over the door through the transom.

Mrs. Havard said, “We started Frederica out on violin when she was very small, but couldn’t stand the out-of-tune problem. We switched her to cello, hoping she’d improve while playing something not quite so high-pitched.” Poor Frederica. It didn’t sound like much of a cure to Liv, just a way to feel like a failure twice.

Mr. Havard said, “It didn’t work, but we let her keep at it for awhile because she seemed to enjoy it. At group recitals, her teacher would slip a cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper under the bridge of her strings and tell her it was a ‘special way for her to play’. She never caught on. When the teacher couldn’t take it any longer, we talked Frederica into focusing her talent on the piano.”

He sighed as Chopin grew louder and more tortured. “Which, I must say, she plays beautifully on pitch, thanks to our piano tuner.” He blinked, refilled his mug with tea, and stood up. “Lovely to meet you, but I’d better retreat to my office and get some work done.”

Liv had cringed along with everyone else at the banging. Still, you had to wonder if her parents’ complete honesty might be a little hard for Frederica to take.

The afternoon hadn’t been a success. The only Havard who wanted to be friends with her was Baxter. McGinty didn’t like her much. Mr. and Mrs. Havard were nice enough, but they were grownups.

Then there was Frederica. A total disaster. She was no one Liv would ever pal around with by choice, but it irritated her that she didn’t get to make the choice. Who did this girl think she was, disliking her for no reason?

Chapter Twelve

Liv waited with the crowd for the green “Walk” signal. The traffic that screeched to a halt would hurtle down the street again in seconds, and she wanted to be clear of the double-decker bus whose tires nearly grazed the opposite curb. A few stragglers joined her on the narrow pedestrian island, just as the light went red for them. Bus, taxis, cars and a motorcycle—all shot forward at racetrack speed.

Now the traffic came from the left, and after three days in London, the reversal seemed almost normal. Liv focused on not getting run over, but once safely across, she allowed herself the pleasure of observing everything.

Even the broad sidewalk was interesting. Liv was making a mental Things I Like Better about America/Things I Like Better about England list, and the sidewalks had to go down on the England side. A repair crew was smoothing a bed of sand and hoisting new rectangular stones to lay in it. So much prettier than boring concrete, and ready to walk on right away.

Mrs. Havard had called the previous evening to tell Mrs. Wescott that Liv could “pop round” today at ten. So here she was, music books in her backpack, a Mozart sonata streaming through her iPod, taking in the sights and smells of a beautiful June morning in South Kensington. The sidewalks were lined with new-leaved trees, and the azure sky was accented by row after row of tall, white stone buildings. Liv smiled at all of it.

She passed a tiny SmartCar, parked in a pixie-sized space at the curb. Its yellow front and back were paired with black doors, and it looked like an overgrown bumblebee. She could see herself in a red one when she turned sixteen, rather than the MiniCooper that had once been part of her driving fantasy.

Tucked alongside the music in her backpack was the box. Liv, Cal and Anthony agreed that it wasn’t safe in their rented apartment, but were at odds over who should be in charge of it. Liv had insisted it was safer with her—the dependable, responsible one. It was a lonely role to play, and neither boy had said goodbye when she left the flat.

She rang the Havards’ front doorbell and was immediately buzzed in. The door above swung open, and down the stairs, growling at every step, came Baxter. He took his job as greeter seriously, and harrumphed like a grumpy little watchman who hadn’t been expecting to be put on duty so early.

Liv stretched out her hand. “Hey, Baxter, how’s it going?” The stubby tail gave two polite wags, and the blunt, wet nose rubbed across Liv’s bare toes in her flip-flops. Baxter snorted and turned around to lead the way up the stairs. Two steps up, he halted, turned and leaped back to Liv. The shaggy terrier had to stand on tippaw to sniff the pocket of Liv’s capris. Chewsticks! His chin quivered and worked itself up and down as he tried to explain to her how much he loved chewsticks.

“Is that you, Liv, dear? Come on through to the kitchen.” Mrs. Havard’s cheery voice drifted through the reception room. Liv made her way past the grand pianos with Baxter in the lead. She pushed the door open, entered the kitchen, and scanned the room for attack birds.

McGinty glowed like an evil jewel in the sunbeam that shone on his perch. Liv would have felt better if he’d been in a cage. It took him a full minute to give her a stony stare, one eye at a time. He chose not to fly over and bite her head.

Mrs. Havard said, “Oh, so you’ve decided to be friendly today—good boy!”

The macaw lowered his head—a submissive-looking gesture. Liv had never petted a parrot before. She stepped forward and stroked his wing feathers. McGinty leaned into the stroking and closed his eyes as if in rapture.

Encouraged, she reached for the top of his head. McGinty opened his sharp beak wide and cut an eye toward Mrs. Havard, who was occupied filling glasses with orange juice. The beak moved closer, and Liv jumped when Mrs. Havard brought down her palm on the tile countertop with a thwack. “Don’t you dare, you beast! I’m sure she’s delicious, but she’s our guest. That’s a fine way to repay her attention, you rogue!”

She spread a piece of toast with Marmite and placed it on a dish with the words, “Spoiled Bird” painted on the side. “Come get your treat, you naughty boy!” It didn’t seem like much of a dressing-down for someone who’d just tried to dismember an innocent bystander.

Mrs. Havard pointed to her eyes and back at McGinty, then turned to the stove to deal with a whistling tea kettle. A jump and a wing flap landed McGinty at the end of the counter, where he leaned over as if to pick up his toast. Keeping one bright eye on Mrs. Havard’s back, he opened his mouth and stretched toward Liv. Liv broke eye contact and held up her hands, palms forward. McGinty, clearly pleased, took his toast and returned to his perch.

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