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The technician on the other side of the window gave Louis a thumbs-up. Louis lowered his steely gaze to the orchestra that remained frozen in anticipation of his verdict.
"Thank you, gentlemen. It was; ..."
For a second he tried to come up with the words to express his satisfaction.
"It was right on," he finally said with a smile.
He set his baton on the side of the podium and gathered the score. The heavy soundproof door opened, and the director barged into the studio, beaming.
"Perfect!" he shouted. "I swear to God, you're saving my movie. Matter of fact, I'm going to use the score from start to finish. No point wracking my brain with post-production and those damned actors. They're driving me nuts, every one of them. The second theme, the one I told you I like so much, with all the violins? I want it to be swelling, you know? Like, haunting. We're going to have the audience in tears!"
In the spacious recording studio, the musicians were putting away their instruments. Some had worked with Louis before, and admired him unconditionally. If they gave him their best effort, they knew he'd be a pleasant conductor. Fussy but patient, demanding but always courteous. Louis preferred to record in Paris whenever the producers—and their budget—allowed. So he was popular with the local musicians' union.
"It was missing a bit of emotional impact, you know?" the director continued. "I couldn't be more adamant about that. We need maximum emotional impact."
Louis nodded but said nothing. He thought the director had no talent whatsoever. His stupid film was going to tank at the box office in eight days, tops. No music in the world, no matter how amazing, could turn his flick into a masterpiece.
"Buy you a drink?" the director said, clutching Louis's arm.
"Sorry, I've got to go home. I promised my son I'd spend the evening with him. I'll see you on Monday for the mixing."
It wasn't just an excuse. He did need to spend time with Frédéric. He'd neglected him too much the past few days. Though he knew better than to hold his breath, he wished that highway traffic wouldn't be too heavy for once.
Coming out of the studios in front of the Palais des Congrès, Louis saw that the sun had already begun to set. The early evening was cold and dreary, matching his frame of mind. The music they'd recorded he'd composed in just five days. It was completely melodramatic—"swelling" and "haunting," just as the moron director liked.
He regretted thinking that instantly. Looking down on the people who hired you only meant that you were belittling yourself. Of course, all movie directors wanted the same thing—for the audience to reach for their tissues. Like it or not, Louis excelled at exactly that. And he'd been given a full orchestra to work with, something increasingly rare in this day and age. Why was he complaining?
He got to his car and searched for his keys. They'd escaped through the hole in his jacket pocket and found their way into the lining. He took his time fishing them out, all the while admiring his brand new red coupe, an Alfa Romeo. A beautiful thing, as elegant and as powerful as the manufacturer claimed. He'd managed to make Alix crazy with envy when he bought it. Their passion for sports cars would undoubtedly ruin them one day if they didn't stop trying to one up each other. Twenty years ago, their father had made the mistake of giving them driving lessons at the Montlhéry racetrack, and both of his children had fallen in love with speed. Since then, despite their fair share of traffic violations and suspended licenses, nothing could stifle the passion.
Louis tossed his score on the back seat and slid behind the steering wheel. With a little luck, he'd be able to make it to Notre-Dame-de-la-Mer in time for supper. Back at the house, Frédéric was probably scratching his head, wondering what to take out of the fridge.
Louis was about to put the car in gear when someone rapped on the window. He lowered it.
"I loved the recording! Musicians are always better when you're the one conducting. ;..."
"Where were you hiding?" said Louis, staring at his sister.
"In the booth, behind the consoles. And I couldn't believe it. Everything was just so tight, start to finish!"
"Alix," he reminded her, "you know nothing about music."
"Maybe. But I know that everyone was thrilled. Here, you forgot the CD of the recording. You always leave too quickly."
"What are you doing here anyway?"
"Just happened to be in the neighborhood for a meeting, and I thought I'd drop by to see how you were."
Leaning against the roof of the coupe, she looked at him with an unabashed tenderness.
"Frédéric is waiting for me," Louis said.
Alix backed away from the car with a sad look, so Louis said in a softer voice, "Are you coming over on Saturday?"
"I'll be there before lunch, but only if you let me try this new toy of yours."
Before driving off, he smiled at her with the ridiculously youthful smile that got her every time. Their resemblance wasn't as striking as it used to be. When they were young, people confused the twins all the time, especially before Alix started wearing skirts. Later, of course, their differences became more pronounced. Now, they both had the same dark eyes and straight nose. But Alix's brown hair was now dyed blond, and she'd put on a few extra pounds. Meanwhile Louis remained as thin as ever, bordering on emaciated because he was so tall. His attractiveness came from his high cheekbones and narrow face, the hard expression of which sometimes morphed into an irrepressibly childlike smile. But Louis was clueless about all that.
The Porte Maillot was clear, and traffic was smooth on the Boulevard Périphérique. A few minutes later, Louis emerged from the Saint-Cloud Tunnel. He slipped in the CD and listened to the beginning, brows furrowed. There was a slight discord with the violins, which he'd noticed while conducting, but nobody else would ever pick up on it. As a whole, the piece was pretty good, almost great, and there was no doubt that the soundtrack would be a hit.
Louis laid into the accelerator on the other side of the Marly Forest, where the highway shrank to three lanes. The hum from the six cylinders was tremendous. Alix was going to go nuts when she took the car for a spin tomorrow. At the Mantes tolls, he tossed a few coins into the collection basket and heard a nasal voice say, "Payment rejected."
He should've used the electronic payment lane. Two highway patrolmen on motorcycles glanced at him as he searched for more change, but they seemed more interested in the slick hood of his sports car.
A few miles later, he pulled off the highway to take the secondary road that ran along the Seine. Night had fallen and only a slight shimmer could be seen on the river. The clock on the dashboard read eight o'clock as Louis made a left after Port-Villez, heading for Notre-Dame-de-la-Mer. He took the road that snaked around the hill, and the car's headlights scanned the bushes on the roadsides without encountering another car the entire way to the house. It was his favorite place in the world, and he knew he'd never let go of it. If he'd wanted to sell, he would've done it when Marianne had died.
In front of the tall wooden gate, Louis pushed the button on his remote control. When the doors opened, he saw that Frédéric had turned on all the lights in the house. Or else, more likely, he'd forgotten to switch them off in the morning.
Inside, a synthesizer and drums wailed. He stood at the foot of the staircase, absorbing the onslaught of noise for two minutes, and then shrugged. Tomorrow morning, if Louis remembered correctly, his son had a math test. Frédéric should be studying instead of torturing the keyboard.
Louis made his way up the stairs and into his son's room. A teenager that Louis had never met was beating the living daylights out of a drum set, while Frédéric pounded on the keyboard. The concert came to an abrupt end when the kids realized that Louis was standing there.
"That was an interesting piece," Louis said in a deadpan voice. "Why don't we eat now?"
"Hey, Dad. You know Richard?"
"No, I don't. Hi, Richard. Are you joining us for dinner tonight?"
"Nah, gotta go," the young man mumbled. One second later, he was gone.
"How's he getting home?"
"He's got a moped."
Frédéric's room was a complete wreck, as always.
"I didn't realize how late it was. But I did put the shepherd's pie in the oven!"
Shepherd's pie was Frédéric's favorite food—that or spaghetti and meatballs. Louis went over to his son, a look of concern on his face.
"You didn't study at all, did you?"
"Well, you know, it's math. ;...; I don't get it."
"You're not trying to get it; that's not the same thing!"
Hearing his son's tone, Louis knew to drop it. After eight years of living alone with Frédéric, he'd learned to read him—his rebellious outbursts, his pangs of anxiety, his passions and fears. Dealing with high school was the root of most of his moodiness.
"I'm famished," he said simply.
Relieved, the teenager passed him on the landing and sprinted down the stairs with his father on his heels, a game they played all the time. The kitchen was huge, and Frédéric had set a couple of plates, paper towels, and utensils on the table.
"Did I scare off your friend?"
"Of course not! Well, actually, maybe.... You know, you are sort of intimidating."
Once in a while, Louis ran into kids who were supposedly friends of Frédéric's, and they'd ask him to sign CDs. They wanted to make sure that Frédéric wasn't messing with them, that his old man really was the Louis Neuville, the man who'd written the scores to Home of the Brave and Setting Sun, which had become cult classics of their generation. Frédéric often showed the kids around the music room and sat at Louis's piano, grinning as he massacred a few famous melodies. Even if he'd wanted to play them right, he couldn't; Frédéric had quit taking piano lessons after two years of torture.
Louis opened the oven door and saw that the pie's creamy sauce was erupting from the top like some kind of volcano.
"Let's have some salad, too," he said with forced enthusiasm.
"The lettuce looked awful. I tossed two bags in the garbage."
"We have to eat some vegetables," Louis mumbled. "Or anything that has vitamins."
Frédéric felt bad, so he fetched the fruit basket on the counter while his father opened a bottle of Chablis. During the week, they managed as well as they could. No matter how many times Louis went to the store, something was always missing. Every Saturday morning, Louis's youngest sister, Laura, inspected the contents of the fridge and cupboard. Then she'd launch into a sermon on proper diet, before leaving to buy "real" food. Louis and Frédéric did indeed eat and live much better on the weekends. The house was full of people, the kitchen smelled wonderful, and three generations lived together with laughter and endless card games.
Frédéric slouched on a chair. "Don't worry," he said. "Laura will cook something good tomorrow!"
He liked his aunt Laura because she was so nice to him. But he also liked his aunt Alix, his uncle, his grandfather, and his two little cousins. He'd come to hate Sunday evening, when everybody left after supper. This routine of lonely weeks and family weekends had started seven years ago. Frédéric knew that he was spoiled, pampered like a baby even, because his mother was dead. His father had the difficult role of trying to instill some level of discipline in his only son when it came to his education. Monday through Friday, it was up to his father to find the time to raise him despite a very demanding profession. He managed to finish his days at a decent hour so he could attend parent-teacher meetings, drive Frédéric to fencing practice or the dentist, and be around for dinner. Every evening, Louis would goof off with Frédéric, get him to discuss what was happening in his life, and try as best he could to fill the void of the absent parent.
"How did the recording go?" asked the teenager between two bites of an apple.
"A-OK, as they say."
Louis didn't want to drift away from the topic he intended to tackle with his son. He swallowed hard and said, "Your last report card was a disaster."
"Yeah ..." Frédéric admitted with a pout.
"You could at least have good grades in French. And history—all you have to do is learn and remember. How can you fail that?"
"Oh, that teacher is a moron! He's a stickler for dates. We're not in grammar school anymore...."
"And a D in English, that's the teacher's fault too? Quit feeding me BS! You're never going to make it to college if you keep this up! I'm telling you, if you don't shape up, you're going to spend the summer in England. I'll find an English-language program for you there, and it's not going to be some silly summer camp, let me tell you."
Head down, the teenager said nothing. After a few seconds of silence, Louis got up to retrieve the shepherd's pie in the oven. Frédéric remained quiet, brooding.
"Go ahead," Louis said. "Help yourself ..."
Sixteen was a miserable age for a boy. Peach fuzz, the soreness of growing pains, the unconvincing attempts to act like a rebel, and very little common sense.
"Why are you upset with me? You should be upset with yourself."
"We always talk about the same thing," Frédéric said.
"But it's my job. Who else is going to do it?"
"I hate studying. I hate high school. I hate the teachers and their grades! I'll never be a good student, and you might as well get used to it!"
"You want me to get used it? You think that this has to do with me? We're talking about your life, your future. Not mine!"
"Dad ... Please don't yell...."
Louis was about to explode but caught himself just in time.
Raising his voice at Frédéric had never amounted to anything good. Frédéric and academia were not a good fit, though it was best not to acknowledge that fact in front of him. And seeing his father angry only made Frédéric want to retreat into his shell.
"Sorry, Fred. Come on, eat. It's going to get cold...."
Louis had a sip of Chablis while his son helped himself to a gooey slice of shepherd's pie. Maybe Laura would be better at talking to him about school. A victim of her professional training, she usually spoke like a psychoanalyst in obscure and abstruse terms. But she still had a nice touch with Frédéric, unlike Louis, despite all his efforts. He poked the pie with his fork, giving it a gloomy look.
"I guess you would've preferred something else," his son said, trying to be nice. "I'm sorry...."
Sure, but what? What could Frédéric cook?
"Don't you have a fencing match coming up?"
"End of April."
Louis kicked himself for having forgotten the date. He didn't have the luxury of being like those parents who always seemed out to lunch. Frédéric really counted on him.
"I wouldn't mind watching a movie tonight," Louis said. "It's still kind of early...."
In front of the giant flat-screen TV, they could sit as father and son, shoulder to shoulder, often sprawled on the couch, laughing at the same jokes, feeling moved by the same emotional scenes.
They wolfed down the rest of the pie, filled the dishwasher, put the pot in the sink to soak, and headed for the TV room. Frédéric wasn't quite as tall as his father, but it wouldn't be long before he caught up. Tall and slim, brown hair cut like a teen pop star, he was starting to attract girls' attention.
In the semi-dark room, Louis watched his son as he popped the DVD into the player. A good-looking teenager, no doubt, but fragile and vulnerable under the cool demeanor.
"How about those opening credits?" Frédéric said with a wink. "The music's incredible."
Vaguely annoyed by his opinion, Louis listened to the music for a minute and then said, "Seven notes. The guy played around with the same freakin' sequence of seven notes...."
Frédéric gave him a loving punch on the knee to shut him up.
Excerpted from The Man of Their Lives by Françoise Bourdin, Jean Charbonneau. Copyright © 2000 Belfond, an imprint of Place des éditeurs. Excerpted by permission of Publishers Square.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted July 10, 2012
The story was extremely engaging and well written. The characters were well developed and interesting. I felt like the story stopped without ending. It left alot for the reader to conclude. I like an ending. How about Alix and Tom? Is there another book?
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Posted September 7, 2012
The book was a good romance story. I would have given it 4 stars, but it leaves too many issues hanging. Needed an epilouge or something...Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 2, 2011
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