Once More From the Top Epilogue


Three years later…

“Where’s Daddy?”

Carrie sighed at yet another question from her precocious daughter. “Izzy, honey, you need to sit down.”

“Mom… mee,” the little voice insisted. “Where’s Daddy?”

“Daddy’ll be out soon, but remember you have to sit still and be very quiet. Okay?”

“Is that piano for Jack?”

“Yes it is.”

“It’s bigger than our one at home. It’s like the one at his school. Like Elly’s piano.” Despite Carrie’s efforts to get her to sit, three-year-old Isabella Reilly was standing in her seat—Row H center—in Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall. Her long black hair shone in the theater house lights, her dark almond-shaped eyes sparkled. “Mommy, here’s Elly and Uncle Noah and Aunt Margie.” The sweet voice carried through the concert hall as the newcomers found their seats next to Carrie.

“Carrie, let me take her.” Julie’s voice came from behind them as she reached over the seats to lift Isabella into her lap. “Iz, honey, we have to talk softly here. The orchestra’s going to play pretty soon and we want to hear.”

“And Jack. Jack’s going to play, too!” Isabella stared at the people sitting in the row behind Julie. “My big brovver’s gonna play dat piano!”

“Is he?” The older woman smiled. “Is your big brother Jackson Reilly?” The woman scanned her program and then met the dark eyes staring at her.

Carrie watched her daughter’s face light up as she nodded her head vigorously. Suddenly the child’s attention was drawn to the back of the auditorium. “Mommy, here comes Grammy and Pops and everybody!” Isabella again made her announcement at full volume as the seats around Julie filled up with Liam’s parents and brothers and sisters and Jack and Isabella’s cousins. Hugs and kisses were exchanged, and Carrie hoped they weren’t making too much of a spectacle of themselves. Isabella was passed down the row of relatives, finally ending up back with Carrie. “Mommy, when does Daddy come out?”

She glanced at her watch. “Just a few more minutes, Izzy. See? The orchestra’s getting seated.”

“Where’s Jack?”

Julie leaned forward, whispering to Carrie, “I should’ve brought my duct tape, kiddo.”

“She’ll be okay when Liam comes out.”

Isabella gave Julie a look full of childish wisdom. “Everybody hafs to sit down and be quiet when Daddy comes out, Aunt Julie. Dint you know that? He’s the one who tells the musi… musi… cans what to do, so everybody hafs to be quiet and listen.”

“Are you going to sit down and be quiet when Daddy comes out?” Julie’s voice was full of skepticism.

“Course I am!” Isabella’s dark eyes widened as Carrie grinned. The child was clearly appalled that Julie would even ask such a question. “Daddy would be sad if I dint. Tonight, I hafta hear the… the French… French horns. I promised Daddy I’d listen for the French horns.” Isabella tugged on Carrie. “Mommy, show me where the French horn people are sitting, okay?”

The audience members near the Reilly party murmured among themselves, clearly delighted as they pointed to the tiny beauty dressed in a pink ruffled dress and with the pink ribbon in her hair.

She’s Maestro Reilly’s little girl.

Carrie could hear the buzz around her.

Isn’t she precious? They adopted her from Korea.

Putting her lips against Izzy’s sleek dark head, she inhaled the sweet perfume of her daughter’s hair.

The child had joined their family just over two years earlier when she was nearly a year old. They’d registered with an adoption agency almost immediately after getting married, but Isabella Grace came to them through a friend of Liam’s from the International Violin Competition in Indianapolis. Her parents and two brothers had been killed in a terrible car fire in South Korea when Izzy was less than a year old. Liam’s colleague’s connections cut the red tape to a minimum and in just weeks, final papers were signed and they flew to Seoul to bring her home. The girl charmed them all from the moment she came into their lives. In no time, she had Liam and Jack wrapped around her little finger.

Jack graduated from Interlochen in June and, much to Carrie’s pride and delight, had been accepted to Julliard. On this warm September evening, he was making his debut at Carnegie Hall, accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Liam would be on the podium. The two had been rehearsing for weeks, ever since she and Liam and Izzy had returned from Venice. Carrie’s heart pounded as she waited for them to come onstage.

Jack seemed nervous when she’d left him backstage earlier, but he looked so handsome in his black tails. She imagined him with Liam in the wings, their heads together as they encouraged one another for the last time before taking the stage.

The orchestra was quiet now. Izzy craned her neck trying to catch sight of Liam. Finally, the house lights blinked. After a long moment, Liam entered from stage right. Carrie caught her breath as she always did when he appeared onstage anywhere in the world. His hair was a touch grayer, but he was tall and straight and handsome in his black tails. Only Carrie and Will knew that she was sometimes icing his right shoulder after rehearsals.

The announcer’s voice was deep as the house lights dimmed. “Ladies and gentlemen, tonight Carnegie Hall welcomes to the Ronald O. Perelman stage in the Isaac Stern Auditorium, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Liam Reilly. And the debut of an extraordinary young pianist, Jackson H. Reilly.”

To a burst of thunderous applause, Jack came out from stage right, walked slowly up to the piano, and sat, tossing the tails of his coat out behind him. Liam stepped up on the podium and picked up his baton, scanning the orchestra. Although Carrie couldn’t see his face, she knew he was giving the musicians a goofy grin and his private thumbs-up. Orchestra members around the world talked about Maestro Reilly’s traditional seven seconds of silliness before getting down to business. It was so typically Liam and endeared him to the musicians after long hours of tough rehearsals.

The people in front of her whispered to one another. Isabella leaned forward from Carrie’s lap. “Shh. My daddy’s on the box, so you be quiet now,” she admonished in a voice that carried all the way to the stage of the huge auditorium.

Carrie closed her eyes, bit her lip, and tugged little Izzy back against her as she heard Julie and Charlie snickering behind her.

The audience broke up when Liam turned around on the podium. “Thank you, Izzy.” He smiled down at his daughter, without a moment of embarrassment. He caught Carrie’s eye and winked. Her heart soared.

“You’re welcome, Daddy.” Izzy didn’t miss a beat, completely comfortable having the exchange with her father in front of over two thousand strangers.

Liam turned, lifted his baton, and glanced over at Jack, who sat smiling with his hands in his lap. The orchestra members kept their eyes on the Maestro, instruments at the ready. Jack lifted his hands to the keys of the beautiful old Steinway. Then he nodded, and together, father and son began to play.


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