Looking back, it could have gone either way. It didn’t work out, which makes it look like fate, or a stupid decision, or both. But at the time, I did have a few things in my favor. I had everything in my name, sole access to the vault, and a clear conscience. The ending of a business partnership is taxing: physically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially. It feels just like a breakup: arguments are spat, tears are shed, and the yearning for closure. My mother warned me about the risks of running a business. I’m not looking forward to hearing her say: “I told you so.” Ugh, just save it and give me a hug. A silent hug is what I need. Maybe it’ll mend all the broken pieces inside of me and I’ll feel whole again. I’ve cut off all contact with my business partner per my lawyer’s advice. Better be worth something for three hundred dollars an hour! Jiminy Christmas!
Calliope and I first met in 1984 when we were both sixteen years old. We attended Juilliard together. We were assigned dormmates during our first year. We only had common core classes together because we were in different majors. She was a instrumentalist, specializing in cello. She knew how to play all the string instruments and then some! I was a vocalist, specializing in opera. Calliope’s dream was to be in the Philharmonic. My dream was to be on Broadway. We were both bookworms and abnormally dedicated to our studies. I mean, our folks were shelling out eighteen grand per year for our tuition, not including housing costs! We had to take it seriously. Neither of our families were rich by any means, but we weren’t poor either. Our parents worked and so did we. I was thirteen when I got my first job, at a corner market down the street from my house in Hicksville. Yes, that’s a real city, look it up! I rode my purple banana seat bicycle there every weekend. If I remember correctly, Calliope’s first job was bagging groceries at a Mom and Pop Shop in the Bronx.
Our high school and college years weren’t stereotypical such as attending pep rallies, football games, or frat parties. We went to concerts, comedy and/or improv shows, or hung out at local coffee shops for Open Mic nights. Neither of us ever drank, but we did socially Puff the Magic Dragon. We casually dated several people, but nothing serious because we’d encourage each other to take advantage of our unique experience at Juilliard. Boys were dime a dozen. Hell, you could get a guy for a nickel on 66th and Amsterdam Ave. And I don’t mean the Red-light District! Haha.. Calliope and I used to alternate hosting Game Nights, Movie Nights or Book Club meetings in our common room. Mostly because we were the only students who had large collections of board games, VHS tapes, and books! We would also have jam sessions and help each other record our own audition tapes! When we turned eighteen, Calliope became part of the Professional Apprentice Program and I became an RA. The free room and board helped cut costs when my dad became sick with Asbestosis and was put on disability. Our time was stretched thin with our new collegiate jobs and responsibilities. We were still friendly, but we gradually drifted apart towards the end of our educational careers.
As I was checking in at the front desk and putting a “Hello, My Name is” sticker name tag on my coral peplum dress; I thought about how society forces us to relive our youth by creating school reunions. What a concept. I wanna meet the person who invented this social event. Were they socially unpopular way back when? And then.. they wanted to rub their current successes in their enemies’ faces? I mean, I get it, but still.. unhealthy.
“Piper!” I heard a boisterous yet familiar voice behind me. “Piper, is that you?!”
I turned around and gasped, “Oh. My. Poseidon! Girl, you haven’t change a bit!”
“Oh, right back at ya,” Calliope squealed as she twirled me around. “Yep, still got that bubble butt!” She smacked my behind and gave me a tight squeeze.
“Oh, stop,” I blushed, swatting at her playfully. “Calliope, this is my husband, Joel. Joel, Calliope.”
“Lovely to meet you Joe,” she daintily extended her hand.
“Joel,” I corrected.
“Isn’t that what I said?” she asked, exchanging confused glances with Joel and I.
“She’s hard of hearing,” Calliope’s date chimed in. “All those loud concerts really have done her in.”
“What?” Calliope shouted, cupping her ear towards him.
“I’m Ed. Calliope’s fiancé,” he shook my hand and then Joel’s.
“Oh! Yes, this is Edwin,” Calliope re-introduced us, still shouting. “Shall we get a drink?”
We all agreed and made our way over to the open bar, which was starting to get busy. A big blue banner hung above the stage that read: “Welcome Juilliard Alumni!”
“So, what’ll ya have?” the lanky bartender asked me, placing a cocktail napkin in front of me.
“Sex on the Beach, please,” I said, strumming along to the beat playing throughout the crowded banquet hall.
“Oh, my Poseidon?” Joel asked me, raising an eyebrow.
“Yes,” I answered, rolling my eyes. “You know I don’t like to say the G-O-D word so I improvised with another deity. He may be Greek, but hey.. So am I!”
“You’re not Greek,” Joel corrected, putting his hand on my hip. “You’re Italian. Unless your 23andMe lied.”
I stuck my tongue out at him.
“Here ya go ma’am,” the bartender said, placing my pink beverage down.
“Thank you,” Joel said, placing a fiver in the tip jar. “Guess you’re in a nautical mood tonight.”
“What?” I asked, in between sips of my drink.
“Your Sex on the Beach,” Joel answered, tapping my glass. “And.. your bubble butt!” He breathed in my ear, discreetly rubbing my ass.
“Oh, right,” I giggled and snuggled his neck, we made our way over to a quiet table.
“What’ya drinking, Ed?” Joel asked.
“Oh,” Edwin fiddled with his olive sword. “Dry martini. How about you?”
“Scotch on the rocks.”
“So, what’ya do for a living, Joel?”
“I, uh, am a chef.”
“No shit? I need some cooking lessons! You teach?”
I nudged Calliope, “Looks like the boys are just fine talking amongst themselves.”
She nodded whilst sipping her red wine, “They’ve hit it off! Hey, maybe we can double date sometime!”
“Oh, for sure!” I instantly agreed, fiddling with my straw. “So, tell me,” I reached out and touched her forearm. “What have you been doing with your life for the past.. twenty years?!”
Calliope smiled, putting her hand on top of mine, “Oh, ya know, this and that!”
“No, I don’t know,” I laughed lightly. “That’s why I asked, silly!” I tilted my head, sipping my drink again.
“Well, I did get in with an orchestra after graduation. Traveled the States and a little in Canada- -“
“That’s exciting,” I interrupted, patting her forearm. “I knew you’d achieve your dream of being in the Philharmonic!”
“Thank you,” she replied, adjusting in her seat closer to me.
“So, what are you doing now? Still playing cello here in New York?”
“Oh, no, I’m a freelance music teacher.”
“Oh, fancy!” I exclaimed, holding my pinky up as I finished my drink. “You’re your own boss. Calling the shots! I can dig it.”
“Yeah,” Calliope agreed, twisting her necklace. “It has its ups and downs being self-employed.”
I straw slurped my drink dry, catching the guys’ attention for a split second. “Excuse me,” I apologized, then reverted back to Calliope. “How so?”
“Well, you gotta wear many hats: teacher, human resources, therapist, market strategist, and accountant. I’m not good with.. money.”
“Oh, I understand that,” I blinked slowly, nodding my head. “I let Joel balance the checkbook.”
“Ed is the same way,” she declared, zoning out into the crowd.
“Oh, yeah? What does he do?”
“Ed. Your fiancé.”
“Oh, yes, um, Ed is a retired Naval Officer.”
“You always did love a man in uniform!” I winked at her. “How did you two meet?”
Calliope looked up, trying to recall the moment. “We met about two years ago in Atlantic City. Ed was celebrating his retirement with his Naval buddies at the Golden Nugget, where I was performing- -..”
“What’s the Golden Nugget?” I interrupted again.
“It’s a hotel casino at the marina.”
“Gotcha, sorry go ahead.”
“Yeah, so we met there. He caught my eye because of- -..”
“The uniform,” we said together.
“I guess he was checking me out too because he put a large tip in my tip jar and winked at me,” she said with a sigh, reminiscing that moment. “So, I slipped him my spare hotel room key and the rest is history!”
“Girl, you didn’t waste any time!”
“You gotta test drive the car before ya buy it!”
“Too true, too true,” we clinked empty glasses. “Looks like we’re due for a refill!”
As we waited for our second round at the semi-empty bar, I updated Calliope of my short-lived, yet successful Broadway career.
“Wow, you toured with Andrea Bocelli?!” her jaw dropped. “Sounds like you achieved your dream too, huh?”
“Yeah, I suppose so. Ten years was a good run with Andrea.”
“So, how’d Joel handle you touring all over Europe without him all those years?”
“Oh, no, Joel and I met on tour. He was our gourmet chef.”
“Aw, that’s adorable! Who asked who out?”
“I worked up the courage one evening after dinner and asked him if he’d like to get some.. dessert.”
“Well, well.. Look at us, we were assertive as hell. Going after what we wanted!”
“Yeah,” I said. We laughed lightly, averting each other’s gaze. “What happened to us?”
We rejoined the conversation with our men, drank another round, and wandered onto the packed dance floor with our classmates. The end of the night turned into a blur. I blame it on having too much Sex on the Beach. At least I didn’t wake up with sand in my undies!
I did wake up in our hotel room above the reunion banquet hall. I slowly rolled over to check the time. Wow, it’s half past twelve! I had received a text from Calliope:
"Morning Pipes! How ya feeling? Hungover? Yeah, me too. Last night was so much fun! C'mon down to the café, I gotta mimosa with your name on it, and I'll pitch you my business idea over brunch! 💡 See ya soon!" 12:16pm
Hmm, business idea? I don’t recall her mentioning anything about a business idea, but.. how much do I really remember? Not much. Joel was still sleeping beside me so I left him a note by the night stand. Wonder if Edwin will be with Calliope? Guess I’ll find out when I get there and I’ll call Joel to join us, if need be.
I washed my face with cold water, wiped off my makeup from last night, rubbed on some lotion, brushed my teeth, flossed, mouth washed, rolled on some deodorant, spritzed some perfume on my neck, and slipped into some sweats. Hope the café doesn’t have a dress code because I am not in the mood to argue with a maître d’ this morning.. I mean, afternoon.
“Pipes! Pipes, over here,” Calliope shouted, waving her hand over her head. “Morning sunshine, how ya feeling?”
“Good afternoon,” I drowsily greeted. “Edwin still sleeping too?”
“Yeah, he’s more of a night owl. You know me, I’ve always been an early bird!”
“I remember,” I said, popping an Ibuprofen with a swig of ice water. Our waitress came over, I ordered an omelet with hash browns and a cinnamon roll. I noticed Calliope either already ate or was on a liquid diet. I didn’t bother to ask. She always had odd eating habits, so I brushed the invading thoughts aside.
“So, what’s this business idea you got?” I asked, sipping the mimosa Calliope ordered for me.
“Right,” she answered, shifting in her seat across from me. “You mentioned last night about how you’re craving a creative outlet since you became a stay-at-home Mom. I understand how you feel because my freelance gigs haven’t been a steady enough income. Ed has had to pick up the slack for our expenses and I don’t want to deplete his retirement or take his social security. So, I propose we.. you and I.. go into business together!”
I choked on my mimosa and dribbled all over my sweat pants. “And what would be the business?” I asked, dabbing my sweat pants with my cloth napkin.
“A music studio! We’d both teach. I’d give instrumental lessons and you’d give vocal lessons!” Calliope exclaimed, propping her elbows on the table, holding her head in her hands as if she was daydreaming about this business already.
“I- -I,” I began. “D- -don’t know, Calliope. I’d have to discuss this with Joel.”
“Oh, Joel seemed on board last night!”
“Really? What’d he say?” I asked, digging into my omelet that had just arrived. “Last night’s kinda hazy to me.”
“Joel said that you deserve to reignite your passion for music. You’ve been in a rut lately and that you miss being a contributing member of society. Not just contributing to your son, Reed, and the household. You crave to contribute more!”
“That sounds- -” I trailed off, pulling on my earlobe. “About right. Well, I still need to talk to Joel about this.”
“Of course,” Calliope agreed, swishing her mimosa glass around. “Ed’s already agreed to be an investor so there’s little to no risk, financially speaking.”
“I’ve never been a business owner or partner before. What would we call this music studio?”
“Oh, I got the perfect name,” she paused, gesturing with jazz hands. “Freshen Expression!”
“Whoa, I love the rhyme! Music is a form of expression: rhythmically and vocally- -”
“And our teaching, their learning is freshening up one’s skills,” Calliope finished my thought.
“Right! I’m in. Let’s do it!” we shook on it.
“Mommy,” Reed said, pulling on my dress. “Mommy?”
“Yes, honey?” I asked, shuffling a pile of sheet music on my desk at the music studio.
“I find jell-wee beans” Reed answered, clapping his hands in excitement. “Check it wike my Hallo-wee candy!”
“You did? Show me what ya found,” I said, following his lead as he held my hand.
“What happened, Reed? Where did you find the candy?”
“I help sweep floor ‘n I ass-identall-wee knocked ova tuba ‘n jell-wee beans falled out!”
I picked up half a dozen little baggies full of multi-colored pills.
“Gimme, gimme!” Reed squealed, jumping for his “candy.”
“Oh, no, sweetheart,” I raised them out of his reach. “I checked these jelly beans and they’re bad. Someone poisoned them. They’d make you sick.”
Reed cried, pouted, and decided to put himself in Time-Out near the other wind instruments. He turned around aggressively to yell at me some more and knocked over another tuba. More baggies spilled onto the wooden floor.
“Jell-wee beans!” Reed exclaimed, reaching for the baggies.
“All rise for Honorable Judge Panicucci,” the Bailiff announced, booming across the courtroom.
“Let’s do this,” I muttered to myself, shaking like a leaf as I stood up.
“The court calls Mister Edwin Ripa to the bench,” the Prosecutor stated.
“I discovered the Defendant, Calliope Lotto, was not attending her weekly Gamblers Anonymous Meetings,” Edwin testified, tightening his tie. “But she was meeting with her Bookie at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City- -..”
“Please officially state the Bookie’s name for the court,” the Prosecutor requested.
“Rufus Vizzini,” Edwin continued. “I noticed our joint bank account was overdrawn more often than not. I confronted the Defendant and she confessed to gambling away my entire retirement fund. That was the last straw, our relationship was already on the rocks, so I called off our engagement, and demanded the ring back. She pawned it..”
Ed continued and completed his testimony, then a couple witnesses gave their testimonies, and the Judge called for a short recess for lunch.
“The court calls Mrs. Piper De Luise to the bench,” the Prosecutor stated.
“Three days after I reported the drugs to the police, I was approached by the DEA to go undercover, along with the defendant’s fiancé, Edwin Ripa, to find out who her suppliers were- -..” I testified, shaking in front of the jury. I continued and told my entire side of the story.
“Thank you for your official statement, Mrs. Piper De Luise,” the Judge said, pulling on her robe. “You may step down. The jury will now deliberate and we’ll reconvene to deliver the verdict.”
I received a text from my lawyer that the jury had come to a decision and I needed to return to the court room.
“Your Honor, the members of this jury, find the defendant, Miss Calliope Lotto,” the Juror paused, making eye contact with Calliope. “Guilty on all counts of drug trafficking. The defendant is sentenced, under NY law, to twenty-five years imprisonment.”
The gallery erupted in gasps and scattered applause. Edwin and I hugged, celebrating that justice had been served. Calliope appeared to be sniffling as she was being handcuffed. She looked our way as she was being escorted out of the court room.
“Members of the Jury, this Court dismisses you and thanks you for a job well done,” the Judge said, banging her gavel.
“So, what’ll you do now?” I asked Ed, walking to the parking garage.
“I think I’ll teach,” Ed replied, showing his validation ticket to the parking vendor.
“Really?” I asked, opening my car door. “What would you teach? A Naval course on base?”
“Oh, no. My sister helped me get a job at PS 118 in St. Albans.”
“That’s nice! What’ll you teach there?”
“You know what they say: those that can’t do, teach and those that can’t teach, teach gym!”
I laughed out loud with a snort, “I have heard that!”
“We both needed a good laugh,” he chuckled in between words.
I sighed deeply, pulling out my sunglasses to mask my tears, which were a mixture of sad tears and laugh crying tears.
“My sister said they’re also looking for a new music teacher,” he said in my ear as we hugged goodbye. “I think you’d be perfect.”
“Sounds like a challenge to me,” I said with a smile. “Count me in.”