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The Blue Guitar

A modern telling of the Orpheus-Eurydice legend
While sweeping the hallway, or emptying the trash cans, or making sure the bathrooms had paper towels and toilet paper, Orrin thought about Emily. So what if I’m the janitor and she’s a lawyer’s personal assistant, I’m just as good as anyone who works at Ainsworth and Thelin…she'll see.

Orin was determined to get up the nerve to ask her out. He believed that if she got to know him, she would see that he was a lot more than a janitor. He knew that if she heard his music she would see the depth of his spirit. If only she could hear me play, she would know who I am. But he had no way to make that happen.

He always took his time and did an especially good job around her desk. When he dusted the filing cabinets and shelves, he carefully removed everything before spraying the cleaning solution. He found things to do in order to have more time around her. He watered the plants and wiped the glass and dusted the frames of the paintings. He’d take her coffee mug and rinse it out, then ask if she wanted more coffee. He liked it when she'd smile and look up from her computer and say, “Thanks, Orrin, I'm fine,” then get back to work.

He hated how shy and nervous he was around her, but one day, before she came to work, Orrin prepared to surprise her with flowers he’d bought from the Save-way Supermarket. He had a vase in the storage closet so he filled it with water and put the small bouquet of daisies and zinnias in the middle of her desk and, wanting to be mysterious, did not leave a note. From the hall, he saw her surprise when she walked in and asked her assistant, Gloria, if she knew where the flowers came from. Gloria said, “I have no idea. They were here when I came in.”

Later, when Orrin came back to the office, he put down his mop and bucket and asked, “How’d you like the flowers, Emily?”

She had moved the vase to the side so she could work, but looked at them, then up at Orrin. “I love them. What a nice surprise, but I have no idea who gave them to me.” She looked at Orrin, tilted her head and smiled. “Did you give them to me?”

“ Sort of.”

“ What do you mean sort of, Orrin? Either you gave them to me or you didn’t.”

“ Yes, I gave them to you. I thought they would make your desk pretty.”

He wanted to ask her to go to the movies, or at least have a cup of coffee at the café down the street, but stood there like an idiot, afraid she’d say no, so instead he asked if she wanted a piece of gum.

“ Gum?”

“ Yes, it’s spearmint.” He pulled out a stick of gum from his pocket. “Do you want some?”

Before she could respond, the telephone rang and she put up her finger indicating he should wait for one minute. Orrin watched her writing down a message and number and thought how beautiful she looked with long dark hair that fell below her shoulders, blue-green eyes, a radiant face with little makeup, and glossed lips which made him think of kissing her. He loved the way she dressed, usually in blouses or colorful sweaters that made it difficult for him to not look at her breasts. She wore short tight skirts, or slacks, and always had on long dangling earrings. She was petite, probably just over five feet tall, and Orrin thought she was not only beautiful, but sexy. He often had fantasies about her where, after a movie, she’d hold his hand, or hook her arm around his elbow, and they’d go someplace for coffee and she’d gaze into his eyes, then invite him to her apartment where she'd push him up against the door and they’d kiss before making wild passionate love on the floor.

Orrin stood in front of her desk with the piece of gum in his hand and waited for her to hang up, and when she did, he asked her again, “So, do you want some gum?”

“ No, thanks.” Emily turned back to her computer. “I’ve got to get to work now, Orrin.”

“ Me, too.” He picked up his mop and bucket. “Enjoy the flowers.”

“ I will.” She smiled, leaning over to sniff them. “That was sweet of you.”

Orrin really wanted to ask her out and kept walking past her office, trying to get up the nerve to ask her. While he worked, he practiced what he wanted to say. “How about dinner and a movie, Emily?”

He repeated the question over and over and tried to sound confident and suave. He practiced it while mopping the bathroom, looking at himself in the mirror. “How about dinner and a movie, Emily?” He kept saying it in different ways. He'd put his hands in his jeans pockets. He cocked his head to the side and smiled, then, in a deep voice, asked, “How about dinner and a movie, Emily?” He wanted to sound like George Clooney even though he felt like Woody Allen.

After repeating the question a half a dozen times, he took a deep breath and closed his disgusted eyes and shook his head from side to side. I wish I wasn't so damn shy and stupid.

When he opened his eyes, he noticed a fleck of dirt on his faded denim shirt and brushed it off. He was determined to walk into Emily’s office and ask her out. I've just got to do it . He combed his long, dark, curly hair before leaving the bathroom.

Orrin had let his hair grow long after he got back from Iraq. The army had cut it short when he signed up, but when he was discharged two years ago, he let it grow long. Sometimes he wore in it a ponytail, but usually it just curled down to just above his shoulders. He liked how thick, curly and wild-looking it was. He had high cheekbones with a sharp nose and wondered if he looked like the father he hadn’t seen since he was three. His mom said he was half Native American, and he could see a little of that in the mirror.

He moved his face closer and looked into his blue eyes. Orrin, you can do this. You can win her heart. You’re a good-looking guy, smart, talented. She will fall in love with you once she knows who you are. Once again he thought, if only she could hear my music .

Orrin stood outside her office, and repeated the question once more. Finally, he took a deep breath and walked into the office. Emily was working on the computer with her back to the door. He walked up to her desk, took a deep breath and just as he opened his mouth and said, “How about…” the telephone rang. She looked up at him, lifting her finger again, then answered the phone. “Oh, hello dear. I’m so glad to hear your voice.”

Orrin stood there and pretended he wasn’t listening to Emily’s happy voice, “Of course, I’d love to have dinner with you and go to see that movie. I heard that Julia Roberts is great in it.” She paused. “See you at six. I love you, too.”

When she hung up she looked at Orrin with that smile that made his heart leap. “Were you getting ready to ask me something?”

“ No. I was just wanted to see if the flowers were okay.”

“ Well, I think they’re fine, Orrin.” She nodded and went back to working on her computer.

Orrin stood at the edge of her desk and looked at the yellow daisies and the red zinnias, then at Emily. He stood there with his hands in his pocket. After a minute, she turned to face him. “What’s wrong, Orrin?”

“ Nothing, Emily. Nothing’s wrong.”

He glanced over at Gloria standing at the filing cabinet. She turned and looked at Orrin, and then at Emily. Orrin took a deep breath and stood there wishing he could think of something to say, but he couldn't. His mind was clay. Emily turned back to her computer and continued what she was doing.

Orrin hated how shy and awkward he was around her. He knew it was stupid to ask her if she wanted gum, but he never knew what to say. If only I could get her to hear my music she would know who I am. He knew that his music was special. He didn’t know why, or how he had come to love playing the guitar, but it changed his life. Something comes over me when I play, and I can say through my music what I can’t say in words.

He remembered the day his life changed and often thought how things happen that impact your life in ways you can't explain. When Orrin was twelve, they moved to Roxboro because of a man his mom had met on the internet. They had just moved the week before. His mom and dad split when he was three and Orrin barely remembered him. They were never married and she had Orrin when she was nineteen, so it was just Orrin and his mother.

He didn’t know any of the kids at school since they all had cliques and he was so shy. It was a Saturday and Orrin had decided to explore the town and was walking down Ridge Avenue past different stores when he walked by one that sold musical instruments. He was surprised when he saw the sign over the front door, Music for the Ages , and something made him stop and look in the window. He saw a drum set, trumpet, keyboard piano, banjo, and a violin, but what caught his eye was the blue guitar in the corner of the window. Orrin was drawn to that guitar. Something about the color and shape sent a tingle through him, and instantly, he knew he had to have that guitar. He must have stood there for ten minutes just staring at it before he went inside. He heard a bell jingle over the door and saw an old man with shaggy white hair and wire-rimmed glasses behind the counter. The man looked up at Orrin, then went back to putting strings on a violin.

It was a small store--dingy and dark. In addition to instruments it sold CDs, but also had a table with old record albums. A sign over the table said, Vintage Records—Used .

Orrin asked how much the blue guitar was. The man looked at him and said a thousand dollars, then walked over to the window and brought it over to him. Orrin knew nothing about guitars. The man told him it was a classical guitar with nylon strings instead of wire and that he knew the man who made it. He handed it to Orrin. “Hold it. See how it feels,” and added, “It was originally twenty-five hundred dollars, but no one wants a blue classical guitar, so now it’s a thousand.”

Orrin had never held a guitar before, but when he cradled it in his arm, then gently plucked one of the strings, he felt that tingle again, a strange vibration. He strummed it and loved the rich sound it made and again, the vibration rippled through his body. He put his finger on the lowest string at one end and plucked, then moved his finger up the string a little more and plucked again, then one more time, he plucked, then told the man, “I love the sound of this guitar. It’s beautiful, but there’s no way I could afford a thousand dollars.”

The man nodded and said he was selling it for the person who made the guitar, an old friend of his since childhood. He thought for a minute, “Maybe I could sell it cheaper, but I have to ask my friend.”

He told Orrin his friend had been making guitars his whole life, but this was the last one he would ever make, then added, “I don’t know why he painted it blue. I told him it was nuts, no one would buy a blue classical guitar.” He paused and looked at Orrin, then narrowed his eyes. “I like the way you look holding that guitar. For some reason I think you should have that guitar. Maybe my friend would sell it for a lot less than a thousand dollars. I could ask him.”

Orrin looked at the guitar, then back at the man. “Thank you, but I doubt I could afford anything. We just moved to town and we don’t have much money.” He strummed the guitar again, closed his eyes and felt that strange sensation again.

“ What’s your name?”

“ Orrin,” he answered and plucked the string again, and again, the sound sent a tingle through his body that thrilled him.

“ I’m Hermes.”

“ Hermes, like the Greek god?” Orrin asked, surprised. “I love mythology. It’s one of my favorite things to read. Hermes was the messenger.”

“ My family is Greek. My parents named all of their children after Greek gods, but I tell most people my name is Herman because if I tell them my real name, I get strange looks. No one in this country is called Hermes.”

“ So why did you tell me your name was Hermes and not Herman?”

“ I’m not sure, but when I saw you holding the guitar that my friend made I wanted to tell you my real name. It just felt right. Some things you can’t explain. By the way, my friend’s real name is Apollo, but he calls himself Paul for the same reason I don’t call myself Hermes. We grew up together in Greece. Both of our families came to America when we were fifteen.”

“ Apollo.” Orrin raised his eyebrows. “Wasn’t Apollo the god of music and poetry?”

“ Yes.” Hermes laughed. “I see you know your mythology.”

Orin studied the man's face and thought about the unusual names. He noticed the stubble on the man’s chin, his thin mustache and wire-rimmed glasses, but then he looked down at the guitar he was holding and couldn't resist plucking the strings a few more times. He loved the sound and the vibrations. He closed his eyes and strummed gently with his thumb and felt transported, oblivious to the way Hermes was looking at him. He opened his eyes and handed the guitar back to Hermes and said he had to go.

“ Listen, Orrin, come back tomorrow. I will talk to my friend…maybe we can work something out. I’m usually closed on Sundays, but I’ll be here. Come at noon.” As Orrin left, Hermes returned the guitar to the window, and Orrin took one final look at it then walked back to their house, which was actually his mom’s boyfriend’s house. The guy’s name was Jeffrey and he was ten years older than Orrin’s mother. He was a building contractor, who had several men working for him and was a pretty decent guy. Not many men would take in a woman with a twelve year old son, but Jeffrey had invited Orrin’s mom to come visit, and a few weeks after that they were all living in Roxboro.

The next day was Sunday and Orrin went back to the music store at noon, saw the closed sign on the door and thought it was strange that Hermes had told him to come back. He stood in front of the window and stared at the blue guitar, wondering what could possibly be worked out since he knew his mom had no money for a guitar. Just then, the front door opened and Hermes invited him in. When Orrin entered, he saw another old man with a white beard and wearing a black Greek fisherman’s cap on his head. He was sitting on a piano bench and when he saw Orrin, he smiled and looked into Orrin’s eyes.

“ So you're interested in my blue guitar.” Those were his first words. No hello, no introduction, but Orrin figured he must be Apollo.

“ Yes, I don’t know anything about guitars, but I liked holding it,” Orrin said, glancing up at Hermes standing next to him.

Apollo turned to his friend. “Bring us the guitar, please,” then looked back at Orrin.

When Hermes handed it to him, Orrin cradled it in his arms and plucked a string and immediately felt that tingle again. He looked up and noticed the strange way Apollo was looking at him. Orrin looked away and plucked the string again. He held his finger there, then moved it up a little and felt the sound vibrate through his whole body—the same strange sensation he’d felt the day before.

Apollo and Hermes didn’t say anything but just listened to Orrin plucking and strumming the strings. After a few moments, Apollo put up his hand for him to stop and looked at Orrin before speaking. “Listen, I will give you my guitar and I will teach you to play it.”

Orrin could not believe his ears and felt like he was going to cry. “Why would you do that?”

“ I don’t know for sure. I love that guitar and I will not be making another one, but when my old friend Hermes told me about you, I had a feeling. I can’t explain it and for some reason I wanted to meet you, and now I know I want you to have my guitar. I have played the guitar all of my life and I have a feeling I can teach you to play like no one else. What do you think about that?”

Orrin didn’t know what to say and couldn’t believe this was happening to him, but that was how he got the blue guitar and learned how to play. Still, he was curious why he had been given the guitar, and the first day he went to Apollo's house for a lesson, Orrin asked, “Why did you give me the guitar?”

Apollo looked into Orrin’s eyes before speaking. “The reason I painted the guitar blue was because I knew whoever wanted to buy it in that color was meant to have it. There are no other guitars in the world like it, but when I met you and saw how you loved it, I knew you were the one to have it. It’s as simple as that. Does that answer your question?”

“ I guess so,” Orrin answered, still wondering why Apollo thought he was meant to have the guitar, but he just accepted the man’s answer.

He began going to Apollo's house, first one day a week, then two, then almost every day and Apollo taught him to play. He told Orrin he was a natural and gifted musician and instructed him to let the nails of his right hand grow long in order to play properly. Orrin’s mother objected to the long nails, but once she knew the reason for them, she left him alone about it.

Apollo taught him to read music and said he wanted Orrin to eventually be able to compose his own music, but he must first learn the music of the masters. Orrin learned to play classical guitar and Apollo introduced him to the music of Bach, Scarlatti, Vivaldi and many others. He also taught him to play flamenco, the music of the gypsies, as well as the folk music Apollo had known as a child in Greece. They listened to Apollo’s recordings of Andre Segovia, Jose Thomas, Narciso Yepes and many other guitarists, but Orrin especially loved listening to Apollo play. He loved how the older man seemed to be looking out into space when he played, hardly looking at his fingers. Orrin studied the way Apollo played, and knew he wanted to be able to play like that. He thought that Apollo’s playing was better than any of the great players he’d listened to and marveled at what a master he was, not just as a musician, but as a craftsman who made beautiful guitars. He often thought about Apollo, the god of music and poetry, and when he watched and listened to his teacher playing, Orrin knew he was experiencing something special, but could not articulate what it was he felt.

One day, Orrin asked Apollo why he hadn’t become famous. “You’re better than anyone I’ve ever heard. You’re a master and you’re living in a small town making guitars.”

“ Being famous is not important. Making beautiful music is all that matters and I love making guitars so that others can make beautiful music. I’m very happy. I have made a lot of money selling my guitars. Musicians come to me from all over. A few of my guitars have been played on concert stages all over the world, but I wanted to be left alone. Believe me, I am content with my simple life in this little town.”

Often, after their lessons, Apollo would make tea and they would eat goat cheese on crackers while Orrin enjoyed listening to the stories of Apollo’s life in Greece and how he had learned to play the guitar. The man told how his wife Elena died when she was young, how beautiful she was and how much he had loved her. “She was the love of my life and all the music I have ever written was inspired by her. She was my muse.”

One day, after a lesson, Apollo asked Orrin if he knew the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Orrin remembered reading it, but didn’t recall much until Apollo told him the story about how Orpheus played the lyre and his music was so beautiful and enchanting that everyone loved his music, how he fell in love with Eurydice and how she was drawn to his music and became the love of his life. They married, but one day she was bitten by a snake while she was out walking in a field and died. Orpheus’ heart was broken and his music became very sad. He was inspired to go to the underworld and beg Persephone and Hades to allow his wife to leave. He played a love song dedicated to Eurydice on his lyre for them that was so beautiful and haunting it made the gods of the Underworld cry, and they decided they would allow Eurydice to return with him on the condition that he must not look back to see her until they were no longer in the Underworld. Orpheus agreed and was overjoyed that he now had the love of his life back; however, just as he was one step away from being back on the surface, a moment of uncertainty came over him, a horrible feeling that he would lose her. He turned to look at her, and she suddenly disappeared and returned to the Underworld. He lost her again. She was gone and his broken heart returned. From that day on his music was filled with longing and the pain of his loss. He would sit under a tree with his lyre, looking up at the sky with his eyes closed and play the sad music that filled him. He would pluck the strings and the sound of his mournful music made everyone who heard it cry and feel sorrow for the tragic loss.

After hearing the story of Orpheus, Orrin often wondered if his music would ever draw someone to him like Orpheus’ music had. Orrin remembered the few times he had met beautiful women who had attracted him, but his shyness made it impossible for him to even talk to them. He would just feel awkward and tongue-tied, so he composed music expressing his feelings, but for some reason, he never had the opportunity to play it for them.

Orrin took lessons from Apollo for two years, but then his mom and her boyfriend broke up and Orrin and his mom moved away. Orrin didn’t want to move and wished he could stay in Roxboro and live with Apollo, who was more like a father to him than anyone in his life, but Apollo was old and Orrin’s mom really needed him to get a job and help support them. He was almost fifteen when they moved away. He wasn’t doing well in school in the new town, hated the place and he never made friends. All he wanted to do was play the guitar and he practiced all the time and never did his homework. He remembered Apollo telling him something Mark Twain had said. “Never let school get in the way of your education.” They’d both laughed and Apollo told Orrin he had never finished elementary school, but instead became an apprentice to a guitar maker in Greece. After that, playing music and making guitars was all he ever wanted to do.

Orrin didn’t know whether he would ever get the chance to play for Emily, but felt certain that if she could hear the music he was composing for her, she would know he was a lot more than just a janitor at Ainsworth and Thelin and fall in love with him, but he also realized that was unlikely. She was already in love with someone else.

Orrin knew he was lucky to get the job as a janitor for a large, prestigious law firm. When he got back to the States after two tours in Iraq, it was hard to find a job. The economy was bad after what had happened on Wall Street. He didn’t know much about that. All he knew was that a lot of the guys coming back had trouble finding jobs. Some were homeless and many were really messed up, both physically and mentally.

Orrin still had nightmares about what he had seen there. It was dangerous and he remembered not knowing who they were fighting. They’d walked the streets with their uniforms and guns and never knew when a bomb would blow up. He knew they were supposed to be fighting terrorists, but it was impossible to know who was a terrorist and who was not. He remembered seeing a bunch of his friends get blown up riding in a truck in front of him and thinking he could have been in that truck. That had happened more than once.

When Orrin returned back home, he lived with his mom for a while, in a small apartment over a dry cleaners store. He would smell the steam that rose from the first floor. His mother worked as a waitress in a pizza shop and had a boyfriend who often stayed in the apartment. Orrin felt like he was in the way and the man, Ben, didn’t like Orrin’s music, while Orrin couldn’t stand the loud heavy metal music Ben played. When Orrin finally got the job as a janitor he moved into his own apartment on the third floor of an old house. The old woman who owned it, Mrs. Rose, was deaf and so she didn’t mind that Orrin practiced and composed music late at night.

One day, Orrin got up the nerve to see if he could play music in a restaurant. He had heard about a place called Mama’s Café that had different musicians play at dinner and throughout the evening, so he got up the nerve and asked if he could play there. He had to audition and noticed that when the owner, Julie, heard him play, her eyes widened and she seemed mesmerized by his music. She called a few of her employees over to listen and Orrin observed their reactions. Julie said she had never heard anyone play the way he did. That really surprised him. He’d hardly ever played for other people before. He had in Iraq, but only a few of the soldiers liked his music and most thought his blue guitar was weird.

It was hard to describe Orrin’s music. It was a combination of classical, jazz and blues. Though he loved classical music--especially Vivaldi, he’d started listening to jazz guitarists like Django Reinhart, Larry Coryell, Kenny Burrell and a few Delta Blues guitarists like Honey Boy Edwards, and somehow he combined all that into his own music.

So, there he was playing background music in Mama’s Café on Friday and Saturday nights. Julie couldn’t pay him, but she gave him dinner and he could have a beer, or sometimes a glass of wine, and he would sit in the corner and play. He had a large glass cookie jar that people put tips in. Sometimes he made forty or fifty dollars. It was nice to make the money, but what really mattered to Orrin was the way people listened.

Even though they were there for dinner, or to sit at the bar and drink, when he played, he could tell people liked his music. It was amazing how the whole place would get quiet and instead of providing background music, it was like he was performing. People even applauded and Julie told him that he was the only musician playing there who got applause. She told him that her business was much better when he was playing, and that he was drawing people there. She even made a sign with his name on it which she put in the window when he played— Tonight, Orrin Star . Star wasn’t his real name, but for some reason he chose to use that instead of his true last name, Richardson. The name just popped into his head. Things like that happened to him. It was like his music. The melodies and harmonies just came to him in a way he couldn’t explain.

He often pictured the way Apollo looked up at the ceiling when he was playing the music he'd composed for his dead wife. When Orrin played, he would do the same thing. He looked up at the ceiling, then his eyes would close and the music would come to him. He was playing music for the girl of his dreams. He must have been doing something right because so many of the people who heard him play at Mama’s would drop money in his cookie jar and tell him his music was exquisite, and some women said it made them cry. He started seeing the same people come back week after week, and it made him feel good to see how deeply his music touched them.

One Friday night, he was playing with his eyes closed so he hadn't seen Emily sit down at a table with a tall man. When he opened his eyes, he couldn’t believe she was there and would hear his music. He saw the surprise on her face when she glanced at him, but she continued talking to her boyfriend. At first, she wasn't paying any attention to his music. Orrin tried not to look at her, but a few times, he glanced over and saw her holding her boyfriend’s hands across the table and felt a painful thud in his heart. He tried to concentrate on his music, but occasionally, when he glanced in her direction, he noticed that she had stopped talking and was listening to his music. Several times their eyes met, but she would quickly return her focus to the conversation with her boyfriend. When they finished dinner, they both came over and her boyfriend put two dollars in Orrin's cookie jar, but Emily smiled and said, “Orrin, I didn’t know you were such an amazing musician. Your music is beautiful, it really is. I loved it.”

When she left, Orrin couldn’t get her words out of his mind. He was so happy that she had found out he played the guitar and was more than a janitor. On Monday, when he was sweeping the hallway, he glanced in and she looked up and smiled. Their eyes met and Orrin felt she was looking at him differently. When he finished sweeping and cleaning the bathrooms, Orrin went into her office to empty her wastepaper basket and she stopped working and smiled.

“ Orrin, I was so impressed with your music the other night. It was beautiful. I’ve never heard music like that. Where did you learn to play like that?”

Orrin was stunned and happy to hear Emily’s reaction and it made it easier to respond. “I’ve been playing since I was twelve and my music is the most important thing in my life. I live to play music.”

“ Really? I’d love to hear you play again sometime.”

“ Well, I play at Mama’s Café every Friday and Saturday night. You could come there and hear me play.”

He was emptying her wastepaper into the larger recycling trashcan and was about to leave when he turned to her. “I have an idea, I could play for you after work. It’s a nice day. We could go to the park across the street and I could give you a private concert.”

“ That would be lovely,” she said. “But I’m meeting my boyfriend, Allen, after work.”

“ Oh well, maybe some other time.” He tried not to sound crushed.

A few days later, Orrin composed music that reminded him of Emily. He played it in his room for two nights, and the next day he brought his guitar to work and went to her office and said, “I want to play something that I made up for you.”

She stopped what she was doing and Orrin sat down on a chair in front of her desk and took his guitar from its case. “It’s called, Rhapsody for Emily .”

When he played, his fingers moved gracefully and delicately up and down the guitar strings. He looked up at the ceiling and closed his eyes and moved his head from side to side and in his mind he could see Emily's face, her green eyes, her dark hair, her lovely radiant skin. The haunting melody and mystical chords that came from his fingers expressed the love he felt when he thought of her. When he finished and looked at her, he saw tears in her eyes. Gloria had stopped what she was doing, and she looked like she was going to cry too.

“ That was so beautiful Orrin, thank you. I loved it. I can’t believe you made that up for me. It made me want to cry.”

Gloria came over and stood in front of Emily’s desk. “Orrin, I didn’t know you could play the guitar so beautifully. I’ve never heard anything like that before.”

Orrin didn’t know what to say, but felt relieved that Emily liked it. He sat there, holding his guitar and tried to think of something to say other than thank you. Emily just looked at him. After a minute or so, Orrin stood up. “Well, I better get back to work.” He put his guitar in its case and left the office.

Once in the hallway and out of their sight, he took a deep breath and leaned against the wall, hardly able to believe he’d had the nerve to play that music for Emily. While he worked, he hummed the melody and thought how she’d looked at him when he played. He was happy and wondered if Emily would go to the movies with him, or for coffee if he asked her, but then he thought about her boyfriend and sighed at how nuts he was to even have such a crush on her.

The next Friday night when he was playing at Mama’s Café, Julie came over and again told him how many people had said they loved his music, and that they’d been telling others about him. She said his playing had helped her business and even her staff commented on how his music added so much to the atmosphere and that their tips were better when he played. Of course that thrilled him, but what really thrilled him was that late that night, about a half hour before closing, with just a few customers in the café, Emily came in by herself. She was wearing jeans, a white peasant blouse that revealed her shoulders and a yellow silk scarf around her neck. She looked very different from the way she did at the office. She sat at a small table in the corner and smiled when their eyes met. She ordered a glass of red wine and listened to him play. When he played, he looked up at the ceiling with his eyes closed as if praying for the music to come to him, but a few times he glanced over at Emily and loved how she was listening with a slight smile on her lips and her eyes gazing at him as if seeing him for the first time.

Orrin knew this would be his last piece before the café closed. Only one couple remained, finishing their dinner. Orrin decided to play the Rhapsody for Emily and could tell she recognized it by the way she smiled and closed her eyes and listened. Orrin played it slowly. He knew he had never played anything more beautifully and could feel tears in his eyes and on his cheeks as he played, even though his eyes were closed.

When he finished, the other couple got up, put some money in his jar and left. Emily still sat at her table and after Orrin put his guitar in his case, he went over. “Mind if I join you?” he asked, carrying his half-finished glass of wine.

“ Of course not.” She smiled up at him.

“ I’m glad you came to listen to me play.” He sat down.

“ I’m glad I did, too. I love your music. It’s really special, and I love the piece you wrote for me. I haven’t stopped thinking about it. No one has ever done that for me before. I was really touched.”

“ Thank you.” He smiled and sipped his wine.

He didn’t know what else to say, but was glad that Emily was beginning to see that he was a lot more than a janitor, something he had hoped would eventually happen.

Orrin knew Julie and the others wanted to clean up and close, but they didn’t seem to mind that the two of them were sitting and finishing their wine. While they were talking, Orrin kept looking at Emily’s blue-green eyes, her long dark hair halfway down her back and liked how she looked in the low-cut peasant style blouse and jeans. I don't believe she's here. She's so beautiful.

“ When I came here with my boyfriend, I was surprised to see you. I had no idea you played the guitar.”

“ There’s a lot you don’t know about me,” Orrin said, gradually feeling more confident and sensing her interest in him.

“ What else don’t I know about you?” She sipped her wine and looked at him over the rim of her glass.

“ Well, I’m not just a janitor. I’m a composer and I’ve been playing the guitar since I was twelve. You already know I’m shy and do stupid things like offering you gum when I don’t know what to say.”

“ But you brought me flowers…that was sweet of you.”

“ Well, I thought you would like them.”

“ I can’t tell you how much I love your music. You're so talented. I came here tonight because I couldn’t stop thinking about the song you wrote for me, but it was something else I felt.”

“ What did you feel? I’d love to know. I never get the chance to talk to anyone about my music. Playing here is good and people give me tips so I know they like it, but would you tell me what you felt?”

“ Passion, I felt your passion, but when I watched you play with your eyes closed, it’s as if you are someplace else, in another world. It’s fascinating. How did you learn to play like that?”

“ You’re going to think this is strange, but when I was twelve, I saw this guitar I play in a music store. There was something about the blue color that made me want to touch it and I knew I had to have it. I wasn’t sure why at the time, but the guy who made it, gave it to me and taught me how to play. His real name was Apollo, you know, like the Greek god of music, but everyone called him Paul, and he said I was meant to have this guitar and that was how I learned.”

“ Apollo, that is strange. I’ve never heard of anyone named Apollo.”

“ I know. He was a master and he taught me how to play, but I had to stop taking lessons when my mom and I moved. He inspired me, and all I've ever wanted to do from the day I met Apollo was play and compose music.”

Emily gazed into Orrin's eyes, seemingly captivated by what she was hearing. She just looked at him and finished her wine just as Julie came over to the table and said the restaurant was ready to close.

“ Let’s go for a walk,” Emily said. “It’s a warm evening and I’m enjoying getting to know you.”

“ Good idea,” Orrin said, surprised. He sensed her fascination with him and quickly emptied the cookie jar without counting, stuffed the money in his pocket, picked up his guitar case and joined Emily who was waiting for him at the front door. It was late and the streets were empty. They walked down the street for several blocks, then through the park until they sat on a bench overlooking a pond. Orrin couldn’t believe he was actually sitting there with the most beautiful woman he had ever known. He could tell by the way she sat next to him with her arm touching his that something special was growing between them. She picked up his right hand and looked at his long fingernails, then lifted his hand, brought it to her lips and kissed it.

Without saying the words, Orrin knew she was falling in love with him. He was already in love with her. She moved her mouth to his. He turned and they kissed, first gently, tenderly, then she put her hand on the back of his head, pulling him deeper, harder against her lips. Her tongue opened his mouth. Their tongues touched and he tasted the warm wetness. He put his arms around her shoulders and they embraced. Her breasts pressing against his chest thrilled him. Their tongues swirled. His hardness strained against his jeans. Suddenly, she pulled her mouth away and gasped.

“ Come home with me. I don’t live far from here.”

When they arrived at her apartment building and Orrin saw the doorman, he could see it was a pretty fancy place. They took an elevator to the fourth floor and Orrin wondered how she could afford to live in such a place, on a secretary’s salary. When they entered, he could see it was a large carpeted apartment with a sliding glass door at one end and a balcony that overlooked the city. A long white couch with light green pillows filled one wall. Several large white chairs faced it. He glanced at the large glass dining room table with six high-backed chairs surrounding it. Everywhere he looked were smaller tables, lamps, paintings. He noticed the fireplace and high ceilings. Orrin felt out of place being in such a fancy apartment. When he put his guitar case down, Emily came over to him. “I bet you’re wondering about my living in such a fancy apartment, aren’t you?”

“ Yes, I am. This is quite a place.”

“ My father is quite wealthy and I’m kind of a daddy’s little girl, so this is a gift. He pays for the apartment and my job lets me pay for the utilities. I bought a lot of the furniture on my credit card, but some of it’s from our summer home at the shore.”

Orrin suddenly realized that he might be out of his league with a woman like Emily who was from a wealthy family. They would never accept a guitar-playing janitor.

Emily put her arms around him and they kissed again, before she said, “I think I'm falling in love with you.”

“ Well, I’m already in love with you. But you knew that, didn’t you?”

“ Not really, but when you played the music you wrote for me, I knew what you felt. Your music stole my heart. I know that sounds corny, and I feel like a silly schoolgirl, but you swept me off of my feet. That’s why I came to the café tonight. I’ve never felt anything like this before. I can't explain it.”

“ But you have a boyfriend, don’t you?”

“ Yes, that might present a problem, but I have a feeling that Allen will soon be history. I don’t know what will happen with you and me, but right now I know I want to make love with you.”

She put her arms around him and embraced him. He felt her breasts crushed against his chest and he could smell her fragrant hair. They kissed—their tongues touching, dancing, swirling. She took his hand and led him into her bedroom. When they fell to the bed, she pulled him down on top of her and wrapped her legs tightly around his body. They kissed madly. His hardness bulged in his jeans and her locked ankles gripped his ass, pulling him harder against her jean-covered pussy. They were grinding and humping until she pushed him onto his back and straddled him.

He pushed her onto her back, knelt over her and started unbuttoning her jeans. His cock was throbbing to be in her. She took over and unzipped her jeans. He stood up and rushed to take off his jeans while she squirmed out of hers. He took off his T-shirt while she removed her soaked, pink panties. She sat up and lifted her peasant blouse over her head and revealed her grapefruit-sized breasts covered by a pink bra. When she removed it, Orrin leaned forward and started kissing one soft breast, then licked her hardened nipple, while his hand rubbed her other breast. She arched her back and pressed her dripping pussy against his hard cock.

“ Oh please, I want you. I need you.” Her urgent words inspired him to grab his hard cock and place the head at her dripping entrance. Slowly, he moved his cock up and down her wet pussy lips and loved the soft, succulent, petal-like sensation. He felt her hands gripping his ass before he entered her, inching his way deeper, filling her, the tightness squeezing his cock as the thrilling sensation of her warm wetness gripped his hardness. Her moaning was like music to his ears and urged him to thrust harder and deeper while she arched her back, her hands pulling him deeper, their bodies moving faster and faster, their hungry sounds growing louder and louder. He felt her her body tensing, trembling.

“ Cum in me. I’m safe. Oh please, please, I want it all!”

Her words excited him and caused him to thrust faster and faster, harder and harder, filling her with each thrust. Just as she convulsed, her screaming, “Oh my God. Oh, yesss! Oh, Orrin!” brought him to the verge of erupting as her tight pussy gripped his swelling cock. His thrusting became wilder and suddenly, in an overwhelming orgasm, hot gushes of his cum filled her overflowing pussy causing her to scream louder. Her screaming became sobbing as tears rolled down her cheeks. When he collapsed on her, he kept his cock in her soothing warmth. Her arms and legs wrapped around his body kept him deep inside her. As they lay there, panting and gasping, unable to move, Orrin could feel their hearts beating against each other and knew that the bond of love that had entered their lives was profound and a gift from the gods to be cherished.

In the afterglow, Emily lay with her head on Orrin’s shoulders, her body half on his, her leg draped over his body. They didn't speak but wallowed in the warmth and peace of their embrace. At that moment Orrin knew that the difference in their lives didn’t matter.

The next day was Saturday and they spent the day together. After talking over breakfast, they stood on the balcony and looked out at the city. They made love again, took a walk through the park and sat again on the bench by the pond where they had shared their first kiss. Later, back in her apartment, Orrin practiced while Emily read, lying on the couch across from him, but she seemed unable to stop looking over at him as he played his guitar, looking up at the ceiling and closing his eyes.

While he was playing, her cell phone rang and Orrin heard her say, “Oh, hello, Allen,” and she went into the other room to talk. Orrin wondered what would happen, would she say they had to talk, would he become part of her history? He stopped playing, and suddenly felt painful pangs that he would lose her. He closed his eyes, feeling vulnerable, and wondered how someone like Emily could have a relationship with someone as poor as he was.

When she came back into the room, she came over to him. He looked up and tried to hide how frightened he was. She kissed his head, his cheek, his lips and told him she was going to meet Allen that night, that he had tickets for a concert at the Academy of Music. She told him that she really wanted to come to the café and hear him play again but couldn’t get out of this date.

Orrin looked away and his fear of losing her rose in him like an approaching storm. He put down his guitar and walked to the big window overlooking the city. She came to him and put her arms around him, pressing her body against his back, then kissed the back of his neck and his shoulder. Orrin was confused and disturbed until Emily said, “I’m going to tell him tonight that I want to end the relationship.”

Orrin turned to face her. Their eyes met and he knew she could see the tears in his eyes which were starting to overflow. She touched the tear on his cheek then kissed him. “I love you, Orrin. You have nothing to worry about. I don’t know what will happen with us, but right now, I know I only want to be with you.”

Orrin swallowed and savored the touch of her finger wiping the tear. He loved how she smiled and could not believe that this was happening to him. It was unbelievable that the woman he loved was saying what he wanted to hear. All he knew at that moment was he wanted to play music because what he felt was beyond words.

That night, just before closing, Emily came into the café and sat at the same table in the corner. Orrin didn’t see her at first because he was playing with his eyes closed, but when he saw her smile at him, looking lovely in a low-cut black dress, a pearl necklace on her throat, her dangling earrings, her dark hair falling over her shoulders, his heart leaped and the music he played was light, happy, and sweet. Just by gazing at each other, he knew she had told Allen it was over, and that she could hear what he was feeling and expressing through the delicate sounds that came from his guitar. It was the music he felt when she’d told him she only wanted to be with him.

Months passed. Orrin had quit his job as a janitor and devoted his time to his music—practicing, composing, most of the time at Emily’s apartment, but he still loved his small room on the third floor of Mrs. Rose’s house. He didn’t require much money and the tips he made at the café came to more than a hundred dollars for Friday and Saturday. The café started serving brunch on Sundays, and he started playing for a few hours during brunch, but then he decided he also wanted to be a street musician. He wanted to play his music at different places around the city. He didn’t want to get an agent and play concerts in theaters or fancier clubs than Mama’s Café, even though many people who listened to his music said he could make recordings and be famous if he wanted to.

He loved playing in the park during the day when there were a lot of people strolling. They would stop and listen and toss coins or dollar bills into his open guitar case. He loved when children stopped playing and came over to listen. He would open his eyes and look at them as they stared at his long fingernails plucking the strings, his other hand moving rapidly up and down the guitar, creating his unique mixture of classical and jazz.

People of all ages stopped to listen—old men, young men, girls with torn jeans, older women with wrinkled faces and rouged cheeks. Many people snapped their fingers, bopped their heads when he played more bluesy music, but there would be silence when he played Vivaldi, or his version of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata , or music that Paganini wrote for the lute.

A newspaper story was written about him which brought even more people to the park to listen and he often made forty or fifty dollars playing for the crowds that gathered around his bench. He liked to think that this beautiful spot by the pond where he and Emily first kissed was his theater and he didn’t want more.

Emily’s parents were furious with her for breaking up with Allen because they knew he had a promising career as a lawyer and her father wanted them to get married and to groom Allen to become a partner in his firm, but they were even more upset when they met Orrin by accident after stopping by uninvited on a Saturday morning and saw his long hair, his worn jeans and found out he was a street musician, a guitar player, and to their eyes, a bum. They shouted at Emily, questioning her sanity and threatening to take away her apartment if she continued this ridiculous relationship.

Orrin didn’t know what to say or do to comfort Emily when she had the huge blowup with her parents. He didn’t want her to lose her apartment or to be so pressured by her parents, but she reassured Orrin that she didn’t give a damn about the apartment, she wanted him in her life and nothing but her love for him mattered.

Orrin’s music became even more beautiful, happier, and lighter, and listeners smiled when they listened, but sometimes when the thought of losing her came over him like a dark cloud, his music was filled with sadness, and he could see by the look on peoples’ faces as he played that they were moved by the sad melancholy his music expressed. With Emily in his life, he had never been happier, or more creative, and their days together—taking walks, cooking, bike riding, making love—sometime with wild abandon and other times, slow, sweet and tender—was beyond anything he could have expected.

One day, after playing music in the park, he decided to surprise Emily and go to her office with flowers. He hadn’t been there for at least six months because it reminded him of his days as a janitor, but on an impulse, he walked into her office and saw she wasn’t at her desk. He saw Gloria crying.

“ What’s wrong? Where’s Emily?”

“ It’s horrible,” Gloria said, wiping tears from her eyes. “Emily’s in the hospital. She was hit by a car when she was at lunch. The guy was drunk. She’s in a coma at Jefferson Hospital. It’s pretty serious.”

Orrin was stunned. He dropped the flowers and dashed out of the office and ran the five blocks to Jefferson Hospital. He ran, carrying his guitar case, as quickly as he could. He found out what room she was in and felt panic as he waited for the elevator. When he got off at the eleventh floor and found her room, he saw her on the bed with tubes in her nose. Her eyes were closed and the nurse was taking her pulse. He ran to her bedside. Just then, the doctor came in and Orrin asked how she was, what was going on, would she live?

He was told it was very serious—her leg and her pelvis had severe fractures, plus she had a collapsed lung and serious head injuries. She would be in intensive care for quite a while.

“ Will she live?” Orrin asked.

“ I don’t know,” the doctor said. “It’s very serious. She’s in a deep coma. She won’t even know you're here.”

Orrin went to her bedside and leaned over to kiss her and felt her dry, cold lips. He held the hand that did not have a needle in its vein. He could tell she was hardly breathing and he just looked at her closed eyes, her pale face, her dark hair draped on the white pillow.

He couldn’t take his eyes away from her. Seeing his beautiful Emily in a coma and hoping she wasn’t fading, he didn’t know what he would do if she died and was no longer in his life. He remembered Apollo telling him how he felt when his wife died, how he’d mourned and never stopped loving her. He remembered the story of Orpheus and how his pleading music inspired Persephone and Hades to release Eurydice from the underworld.

Orrin glanced down at his guitar case and suddenly wanted to play his music for her, hoping somehow she would hear his longing for her, his wanting her to be well. He took his guitar from his case and stood by her bed. He closed his eyes and started to play softly. His heart sent music to his fingers and, as he touched the strings, his music was like a prayer he hoped could bring Emily out of her coma and back to his life. Somehow he felt the coma was like Eurydice being in the underworld, and he was Orpheus playing to the gods to give him one more chance to have his love with him where she belonged.

He looked down at her closed eyes as he played. The music was gentle, delicate, each note filled with his pleading for her to hear and see him standing there. His fingers moved gently, then with more passion, more intensity, wanting to reach her, he closed his eyes as he played, and then opened them and saw her eyelashes flicker, a slight movement, and then she slowly opened her eyes and looked up at him. Their gazes met and lingered. He thought he saw a small smile on her lips and his playing grew louder. His fingers moved faster. He played chords he had never played before. His fingers struck the strings louder. Discordant chords rang out and expressed his rage at the drunk driver. His music filled the room and could be heard in the halls as he played fiercely.

He was terrified he would lose her and just before he started to play softly and tenderly, he struck two thunderous chords. At first, he didn't hear the shouting behind him, or feel his arms being grabbed by a nurse and two orderlies who shouted at him to stop playing. Orrin continued playing the discordant chords and looked at Emily’s eyes fluttering open. He ignored the nurse shouting at him to stop playing, but the two orderlies grabbed him and roughly pulled him from the room and yelled, “This is a hospital. You can’t make noise here.”

Orrin struggled to break loose. “Leave me alone. My music is helping her.” But it was too late. They pushed him against the wall across from her room and said he had to leave or they would call the police. One of the orderlies went into the room, grabbed his guitar case and gave it to him before shoving him down the hall. He still gripped his guitar.

Before he left, he looked back in the room and saw her eyes were closed. He wished he could play for her and knew his music could bring her back, but now he was being forced to leave. He felt helpless.

When he went back to see her the next day, she wasn’t there. He was told that she had died. They were sorry, but there was nothing they could do. Orrin was devastated. He didn’t know what to do. He walked around the city unable to believe that the love of his life was gone. He continued to play at Mama’s Café, but his music was now so sad and mournful that people stopped listening. The owner, Julie, knew what had happened to Emily, but told Orrin he had to play lighter music or she could no longer have him play. He understood and knew he had to find a way to play music that touched people and made them feel better, not sad, not the music of loneliness and death. He knew Emily would not want him to be so sad.

While walking home from the cafe one night, he remembered the music his old teacher, Apollo had played for his wife, Elena, after she died, and how happy he looked as his fingers played so delicately. Apollo had said he believed she was listening and it made him play with all of his heart.

That memory of Apollo inspired Orrin to compose music that expressed his love for Emily. When he played and closed his eyes he could see her face and the lovely smile that came to her lips as she listened. The new music poured out of him more and more, and this was the music he played at Mama's Cafe and in the park.

One day he realized that something strange had begun happening. It started slowly, but every few weeks a man would tell him that he had brought his sweetheart to the cafe to hear Orrin’s music and propose marriage. Orrin would smile up at the happy faces of the man and woman standing next to him. That happened several times and it always mystified and delighted him.

He also noticed as he played in the park that many couples started holding hands. Some told him they’d met while listening to his music. He looked forward to seeing an old couple who came to listen almost every afternoon. They brought folding chairs and eventually told him they had been married for fifty-two years. Orrin loved the way they held hands and closed their eyes when he played and he knew they were remembering their life together.

A month later, Julie told Orrin that a couple wanted to get married in the cafe and wanted him to play his music at their wedding. Other weddings took place at the cafe after that and Orrin was always asked to play. It thrilled Orrin to know that his music could reach into people's hearts and bring love to their lives.

Though he knew he would never forget Emily, as time passed, Orrin wondered if he would ever meet another woman who made him feel like Emily had. Then one night, a woman he had never seen before came in by herself and sat at the same table where Emily had always sat. She had darker hair but there was something in the way she listened and smiled that warmed his heart and reminded him of Emily. He found himself looking over at her and playing a new melody that was inspired by the way she smiled and listened.

Before she left that night, the woman came over to him and told him his music was not only beautiful, it was magical. She said she'd be back and smiled again. Orrin watched her leave, then glanced down at his blue guitar, certain his music was bringing a new love to his life.

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