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A Secret Chord

by Alexandra Y. Caluen

A romance novella about what happens when meeting everyone's needs requires unconventional thinking.

Janis Vaughn was doing all right with her music career. She was still young enough that spending most of her time teaching, and playing on other people’s records, didn’t look like ‘gave up’ or ‘couldn’t make it.’ What she really couldn’t make was ‘up her mind.’ Then her friend Victor asked a favor. It was something easy to do, that she was happy to do. But the reason he needed it made her take another hard look at her life. It was one thing to hold back when reaching out could literally cost you your career. It was quite another thing to hold back when the worst that could happen was ‘well, I tried.’

So she tried. The first album was a modest success, leading to a local tour. Janis was loving every minute of it. And when she met Stefan – another musician, another teacher, a guy the right age who was smart and sexy and understood what she needed (at least at the piano) – she thought she had it made. But it wasn't all good, and it got less so over time. When they were together, things were fine. There simply wasn't enough 'together.'

If it hadn’t been for her tour manager (and instant BFF) Niall, Janis would have been all alone for most of the year. Fortunately, they liked everything about each other. He was the man of her dreams, except for one thing: she was straight, and he wasn't. They each needed something the other couldn't provide, because there are some things you don't ask even your best friend to do.

And then they met Geoffrey, a man who might be their missing link. Janis and Niall had to decide: what if the worst that could happen was ‘well, we tried?’

Publisher: Independently Published
Pairings: M-F, M-M-F
Heat Level: 3
Romantic Content: 5
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Bisexual, Gay, Polyamorous, Straight
Protagonist 1 Age: 36-45
Protagonist 2 Age: 36-45
Protagonist 3 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Famous / Not Famous, Love Triangle, Menage
Word Count: 29200
Setting: Los Angeles and London
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Same Universe / Various Characters

It was on the third night home, when they were all in the study and Janis was noodling on the piano, that the mask came off. She wasn’t even aware of the exact moment, because he was sitting behind her. She was playing ‘Over the Rainbow,’ a competition piece from two decades before, but putting some new stuff in because she could and why not. She loved playing that song, there was so much scope for improvisation. She never sang it because it always made her cry. She was staring into space, hands creating some kind of ornamented cadenza at the end of the song, and then focused in on her mother’s face, which said HELP.


Janis snapped back into real life and turned around. Niall was bent forward, head on his knees, hands wrapped over the back of his neck, shuddering. She thought Hell, shit, fuck, what have I done, and jerked her head to say ‘out please.’ Her parents both stood up and moved toward the door. Her mother leaned in and spoke very softly by her ear. “What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know. Whatever he needs. Can you close the door?”

“Sure, honey.” Her mother patted her shoulder and went out. A second later the door closed.

A second after that Janis was on her knees in front of Niall. “Sweetheart, precious, what? Can I help?” He raised his head; she was shocked by the devastation on his face. Tears were streaming; his whole body was vibrating with pain. “Jesus Christ, Niall.” He’d created enough space that she could worm her way in and get her arms around him. She kissed his face, then pulled his head down onto her shoulder. After a moment he hugged her tight, still weeping silently. “God, Niall, howl if you want to.”

“It doesn’t help.” His voice was shaking too. She was surprised he could speak at all. “It only upsets everyone else.”

“Tell me. If you can. When you’re ready. Take your time.” She kept talking, utter nonsense, reassurance and confusion and helpless love. It felt like a very long time before the tremor in his body subsided, before his breath evened out. Finally he sighed. She didn’t let go of him, and he didn’t try to sit back.

“Your knees will pay for this tomorrow,” he said eventually, sniffing.

“Fuck my knees. Can you tell me?” Still holding him tight. She heard him swallow.

He inhaled, exhaled, inhaled again. “Two years ago tonight the love of my life died. His name was Oliver. He was thirty-eight years old. We were together for ten years.” Another deep breath. Janis was biting her lip, trying not to cry herself. “It was his birthday. We’d had a bit of a party, at a pub in our neighborhood. He had a drink and sort of grimaced, stood up and said ‘what was in that muck, I’ve the head from hell.’ He put a hand to his temple and then he just … went down. Like a marionette if the strings were cut.” More breathing, but no more tears. His voice was steady. “I screamed for help and someone called. His eyes were open, staring at nothing. He breathed for a few minutes more, but he was dead before the ambulance arrived.”

“Niall.” Janis was fully crying now.

“Massive aneurysm, they said. No way to predict it, no way to prevent it. We meant to marry. It was going be legal in three months.” He sighed, loosened his hold, and sat back. Janis wiped her face. “Thank you for bringing me here. I might have thrown myself off the falls.”

“I had that thought.” She sniffled. “What did you do last year? How the hell did you survive?”

“I went to see my parents. Then I went to London and stood on a bridge and thought seriously about stepping off into the Thames. But we had the rest of the tour, and you were such fun that most of the time I could stop seeing his face. Stop hearing myself scream for help that was no help at all, because nothing could have helped.” She cried some more. He stroked back her hair and kissed her forehead. She raised her face and he kissed her mouth, hard and heartfelt though with his own mouth closed. “I came to America three months after he died. We’d been too many places in England. Everywhere I went, I saw him. It wasn’t big enough.” He didn’t have to add ‘for this grief;’ she heard it anyway.

“What do you need, sweetheart? That fucking song, I’m so sorry, what can I do? I’ll do anything.” She waited.

“I still don’t want to shag you,” he said after a while. “But could I sleep with you.”

“You precious idiot. Was there some part of ‘anything’ that was unclear?” He actually laughed, a sort of cough. She clambered stiffly to her feet, cursing her knees and her general gym-avoiding laziness, and gave him her hands. “Do you want anything? A drink?”

“No, pet, thanks.”

“Go wash up then. I’m going to have a word with my mom. You know which one is my room, I’ll be there in a minute.” He stood up, kissed her - again on the mouth - and then went out of the room. She followed him once she was sure her legs would support her, shying away from imagining that experience.


A SECRET CHORD can be read as a stand-alone story but the concluding M/M/F relationship continues in full-length novel A BRAID OF LOVE.

About the Author

A long time ago and three thousand miles away, I wrote my first novel - a historical romance - during graduate school. Twenty years later I finally dusted it off and published it. Since then I have written and published many more novels and novellas; all romance, most contemporary. My characters (of various genders and ethnicities) range in age from eighteen to sixty-five, with the average falling in the mid-thirties. I'm inspired by authors like KJ Charles, Laurie R. King, Dick Francis, and Jennifer Crusie. I've lived and worked in Los Angeles since 1995.