Author’s Note: Before we get into this Prelude chapter, I’d like to give a massive shoutout to the fabulous JoieWilder for her incredible renovations to the Rosebrook house for the new generation. It looks amazing!
“Oh come on, you stupid fucking machine!” Mari slammed her palms angrily against the desk in front of her as she stared daggers at the glowing computer monitor.
The same flashing error message popped up on the screen, just as it had before: “No internet connection. Please check your router settings.”
You don’t think I’ve checked them already, you stupid piece of shit?!
Mari held her face in her hands for a moment, and struggled to calm herself.
She’d called the computer repair service over two hours ago, and the guy still hadn’t shown up yet. So she’d continued trying in vain to fix the problem… and made herself more and more irritated in the process.
Mari couldn’t help but feel a bit ashamed at her outburst. Managing her anger was one of the many things she’d worked hard on for years with Dr. Durand, and she’d been getting pretty damn good at it, if she said so herself. But after all the stress she’d been dealing with lately – between starting her new job, helping Gabriela fill out university applications, and planning for the boys’ 8th birthday – Mari’s computer troubles had been enough to push her over the edge.
With a heavy sigh, she crossed through the entryway into the music room.
I’ve just gotta get my mind off that stupid computer. Mari thought to herself as she pulled out the crumpled sheet music and placed it on the stand in front of her.
Humberto had been sending a lot of students her way lately. And while that made for lots of fun and a decent amount of extra cash, it also meant little time to practice on her own.
Mari smiled softly to herself as her fingers glided effortlessly over the ivory keys. Until she’d picked up that new job down at the theater, private lessons had been her only source of income for quite some time. It felt good to finally have a real job again… And Mari was fairly certain it wouldn’t have been possible if Humberto hadn’t put in a good word for her with the theater director.
I’m so lucky to have a friend like him. She thought happily. He does so much for me…
Now if only he knew how to fix a fucking computer.
“AHHH! What the fuck!” Mari leapt to her feet at the sound of an unfamiliar voice over her shoulder.
Her heart pounded in her chest as she turned around to face the intruder – a tall, bespectacled man she’d never seen before, who stood uncertainly in the front entryway. Who the Hell is this loser?
“What are you doing here?!” She demanded harshly.
“Well, uh… You called for someone to take a look at your computer, didn’t you? I mean, this is the Rosebrook residence, isn’t it?”
Mari felt her cheeks begin to burn with embarrassment at her startled reaction. “Y-yeah, I called… More than two hours ago.” She replied, irritated. “And haven’t you ever heard of knocking?!”
“I did knock.” The man replied calmly. “About five times, actually. I nearly gave up and left… but then I heard that beautiful playing, so I figured there had to be someone home.”
Mari’s expression immediately softened at the man’s words. “Sorry… You just startled me, that’s all. I shouldn’t have snapped at you.” She apologized, smiling tentatively at him. “Guess I was a little too into it…” Mari shrugged slightly. “It was my own fault.” But it still took you forever to get here. She added mentally.
“It’s okay.” He assured her. “I get it. And, uh… It really was beautiful… So thanks for the performance.” The man’s lips curled into a crooked smile. “Jeez, if I’d have known I’d be treated to a free show like that, I would’ve dressed a little nicer.”
She shook her head. “Nah, no one dresses up for the theater anymore.” Mari teased. “So you’re fine.”
“Oh, good.” He made a show of sighing in relief. “Because we charge by the hour, y’know. So I guess it really would’ve sucked for you if I had to go home and change.” The man laughed softly, then paused for a moment before continuing. “So… I take it you’re speaking from experience?”
“You’re a professional, I mean.” He smiled. “Knowing all about theater-goers and stuff.”
Mari nodded in understanding. “Oh, yeah. I, uh, used to just teach piano lessons.” She explained. “But I just started working down at the Ambassador Theater… I play with the orchestra.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty awesome… I don’t play with the normal symphony though.” Mari clarified. “I’m part of the pit orchestra.”
The man smirked slightly. “Ah… So you’re a glorified backing-track.”
Her eyes widened. “What?! What the Hell is that supposed to mean?!” Who the fuck does this guy think he is?
“Hey, hey, I didn’t mean to piss you off or anything.” He replied, raising his hands defensively. “Sorry. I just mean, well… Everyone’s usually paying attention to the singers, aren’t they?”
“It just seems like kind of a waste, to me.” The man shrugged as he spoke. “I mean, I’m no expert… But you really are pretty damn good.”
Mari felt her cheeks flush slightly. “Thanks.” She said softly. “That’s really sweet of you to say.”
He smiled at her for a moment. The warmth in Mari’s cheeks deepened.
“Just being honest.” The man replied kindly. “And… Not that this little chat hasn’t been really nice and all, but… Aren’t I supposed to be here for a broken computer or something?”
Mari couldn’t help but giggle. “Oh shit, sorry!” She rose to her feet. “Come on, I’ll show you.”
“Okay, shut the fuck up.” Mari doubled-over in laughter, wiping away a few tears from her eyes. “There is NO way in Hell that actually happened!”
“I swear to God!” The young man insisted. “We ate the WHOLE thing.”
Mari stifled a few more giggles. She couldn’t even remember the last time she’d laughed so hard. This guy was hysterical, and so easy to talk to. It was so strange to think that she’d only known him for a couple of hours.
Couple of hours…
Mari reached in her pocket and checked the time on her phone.
“Shit…” She muttered, rising to her feet. “I’m sorry. I’ve gotta leave in a few minutes to pick up my kids.”
Though she could not quite explain why, Mari found herself instantly regretting her words. Way to drop a bombshell, Mari. She winced inwardly, and waited nervously for his reaction.
There was the briefest flicker of surprise in his eyes for a moment, but he simply smiled. “I was wondering who those handsome little devils might be.” He nodded his head toward one of the family photos on the wall.
Mari’s eyes fell on the photo of Tobias and Stefan, and felt a warmth wash over her. “Yup, those are my boys.” She smiled proudly. “They’re great kids.”
The man nodded kindly. “You and your husband are really lucky.”
“Just me.” She corrected him. “Their dad, uh… isn’t in the picture…”
“Oh shit, sorry.”
“It’s okay.” She smiled gently. “Don’t worry about it. So… How much do I owe you?” With great reluctance, Mari led him back toward the front door. “You said you charge by the hour?”
It had really only taken him about half an hour to fix the problem… but he’d stayed around for much longer than that.
“For you… No charge.” His lips stretched into a smile. “You treated me to that beautiful music earlier. Let’s just consider this the price of admission.” The man gave her a small wink, and Mari felt a flurry of butterflies in her stomach.
“A-are you sure?”
He nodded. “And listen… if you have any more problems with your computer… Just give me a call, okay?” The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a small white business card. “But, uh, we can cut out the middle-man next time.”
Mari nearly choked with laughter. “Oh my fucking God.”
“This is NOT a real business card.”
“What are you talking about? It’s got my name on it and everything!” Jonas appeared to be struggling to keep a straight face as he spoke.
“Please tell me you didn’t pay for these.”
“Are you kidding?” Jonas laughed. “Who the Hell would pay for business cards? Haven’t people heard of a pencil and paper?”
“So… Why do you have them, then?”
Jonas’ smile widened. “My buddy Felix works at a printing company. Wanted to test out some of their new cardstock, so he offered up some free business cards. And I figured, “Why the Hell not?” So I designed this ridiculous piece of crap… Just for fun, y’know? Figured he’d give me a dozen or so…”
The young woman looked at him expectantly.
Mari covered her mouth as she let out a loud snort of amusement, then wiped a few tears of laughter from her eyes.
“So here.” Jonas chuckled as he reached back into his pocket. “Take a few more… Please. Uh, I mean… Y’know… Just in case.”
“Oh good, one for every room of the house.” She teased, leading him through the front entryway and onto the porch. “I’ll be sure to give you a call the next time I screw up the wifi settings.” Mari promised.
“Or the next time you feel like giving a free concert, I hope.” Jonas winked at her one last time. “Nice to meet you, Miss Rosebrook.”
She stood and watched him leave, fighting off a wave of strange and conflicting emotions that had suddenly washed over her. Excitement, fear, sadness, joy, hope…
Mari couldn’t remember the last time anyone had made her feel this way.
With a small sigh, she returned back into the house and headed for kitchen, business cards in hand. Don’t be ridiculous, Mari. She told herself firmly. It was just some mindless chit-chat. It didn’t mean anything…
And even if it did… A second voice seemed to say. Remember what happened last time. Don’t do this to yourself again…
But Mari hesitated. She just couldn’t stop thinking about him.
His crooked smile. The sound of his laughter. The playful glint in his eye…
She slipped the small pile of business cards back into her pocket.
Better safe than sorry. She decided.
I mean, you never know when the computer may decide to act up again…