It had been three years since she’d climbed out of her bedroom window. Three whole years full of pain and struggling. If there was one thing Vinyl had learned from this whole mess was if a pony saw something that did not align with their glorified view of the world they would simply pass it by. Forget the idea that anyone could make a difference. Why would anypony exert an effort to help a situation that was easier to ignore? Never mind that she hadn’t eaten in three days. Forget that she was sleeping in a shanty constructed from cardboard boxes. She was just a peddling bum and she was easier to simply ignore.
But she wasn’t just a bum. She was an artist and telling herself that was the only thing that kept her getting up every morning and coming to this street corner. As much has she wanted to give up she couldn’t. She had to stay true to the cutie mark on her flank. Manehattan was snobbish and unforgiving and each passing day saw more doors slammed in her face, but she had to keep trying. This was her only lifeline. With all of the ponies she had almost gotten too close to behind her now, all she had was herself and her music, the way it should be. Sex, drugs, and music.
An ornate carriage passing by caught her eye. It was funny to see such a sight in this side of town, but there is was. A beautiful, sparkling carriage that obviously carried somepony of extreme importance or wealth… or both. Jewels glittered around the door and she was reminded painfully of her sister back in Ponyville. She pushed the thought out of her mind. She couldn’t think about that. She could never go back there. Her parents didn’t want her, her sister didn’t want her… and she didn’t want them.
Emblazoned across the carriage door was something that resembled a coat of arms, but it was like no family symbol that she had seen before. It was two bows to a stringed instrument crossed over the body of a cello. So they were musicians. Her curiosity was piqued, but her hope for sympathy lessened. Snobbish, high class musicians turned their noses up at her beats.
Inside the carriage a young cellist sat with her head against the window. She watched streets pass by sadly. She did not like to travel through this part of town to get to their performances. It wasn’t because she was disgusted by the ponies she saw there or thought herself above them, for Celestia knew her own origins were meager enough. Her discomfort was more rooted in the fact that seeing so many ponies living so horribly broke her heart. To make matters worse, there was close to nothing she could do about it.
A noise caught her attention. It was a beat played on a zebra hoof drum, but it was like nothing she had heard before. It was both tribal and modern. It put her in the middle of an ancient war dance and in the middle of a raving nightclub. Its imagery was so vivid that she found herself momentarily stunned, unable to speak.
“Do you hear that?” she asked when she found her voice.
“Hear what, Octavia, darling,” Accelerando replied, his voice dripping with poorly disguised boredom.
“That… that music.”
“What music? Oh, you mean that deafening racket the street bums are playing on that awful drum? That is not music, Octavia, that is noise.”
Octavia frowned. An attitude such as that did not deserve a reply. Instead and got to her feet and stuck her head out of the carriage window.
“Octavia! What do you think you are doing?” Accelerando demanded, but Octavia ignored him
“Stop the carriage! Please, stop the carriage!” she called up to the drivers. After a moments hesitation the carriage pulled to a screeching stop.”
“Octavia, you stay in this carriage!”
“I’ll only be a minute!”
“What in Celestia’s name is she doing?” Bruscamente asked in a haughty voice.
“How in the world am I supposed to know?” Accelerando snapped in reply, but Octavia wasn’t listening. Instead she opened the door to the carriage and jumped down onto the filthy street. The stench of waste and sweat filled her nose. She wrinkled it a little. She really was on the worst part of town.
She followed the music up to a white unicorn. At least, Octavia was fairly certain that she was white. It was hard to tell through the filth that indicated that she had been living on the streets for far too long. Octavia’s heart ached. This girl looked like she couldn’t be older than eighteen and that was probably generous. She ought to be at home with her family, not playing out on the streets and praying for somepony to show her a little kindness. And kindness she needed. Octavia dug into the small pouch around her neck and pulled out of a few bits. She dropped them into the unicorn’s collection tin.
“Thank… you…” The unicorn’s voice trailed off as she tipped up her patched green fedora she looked up at Octavia over her round black sunglasses that she had bounded up with tape at the nose. Her electric blue mane hung limp and dirty around her astonished face. Her eyes were bloodshot and her pupils were dilated in her blood red irises. She, indeed, looked to be very young. Octavia wondered how long she had been out on her own.
Vinyl was wondering some things of her own, but they were naturally about the young woman standing in front of her. She looked to be very well kempt. High class probably. Why would she be out on the street and why would she want to help her. Most astonishingly, though, at least to Vinyl, was how unbelievably beautiful she was. She wasn’t bright or colorful. Her coat and mane were both varying shades of gray, but it was a nice effect. Her purple, lash-lined eyes popped against the grayscale. They glimmered with intelligence and grace that pierced Vinyl’s soul. For a moment she honestly had no words.
“Why did you just do that?” she found herself asking.
The mare smiled. “That is hardly a way to react to generosity.”
Vinyl shook her head, trying to clear her ever clouded thoughts. She squeezed her bloodshot eyes shut. “I’m sorry,” she said. She looked up. “Thank you… I’m just… I’m not used to ponies givin’ a damn.”
The mare’s looked at Vinyl with sad expression that made her uncomfortable. “What’s you’re name?”
Vinyl raised an eyebrow. “Vinyl,” she answered after a moments hesitation.
The girl smirked a little, as if she’d found something Vinyl had said funny. “Just Vinyl? Do you have a surname?”
Vinyl averted her eyes and started to pack up her instrument. “No, not yet,” she muttered.
“Not yet? How can you not have a surname yet?”
Vinyl scowled at the mare. “Because my family’s dead to me,” she snapped. “And I’ve been too fuckin’ busy tryin’ to survive to invent myself a new identity. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have another street corner to work.”
The mare held out a hoof to stop her. “Wait! I’m sorry! I wasn’t trying to pry. It’s just… you seem so young to be out on your own.”
Vinyl rolled her eyes. “You think you’re the first to notice? Do you know how many ponies have come up to me on this street askin’ me, ‘where’s your mother, girl? She’s probably worried sick about you!’ And you know what I tell ‘em?” The mare shook her head. “I tell ‘em, ‘If that were true do you really think I’d still be here?’"
Octavia couldn’t believe what she was hearing. This young pony… Vinyl… truly believed that her family wasn’t worried about her? What a horrible thing to think! Octavia herself may not be on the best of terms with her family, but she wrote and they wrote back. It was a tense relationship, but she knew that through all of their differences that they cared about her wellbeing. “Surely there is somepony who cares, Vinyl,” she reasoned.
Vinyl snorted. “Not that it’s any of your business, but you’re wrong,” she returned in her perhaps over-affected Hoofklyn accent. Octavia could definitely hear traces of a slightly different accent in her speech. Perhaps New Herdsey or somewhere around the Harmony Lakes near the northern border. “My mother basically threw me out and my father didn’t stop her… My sister… well… I’ve written her hundreds of times and she’s never written back, even when I gave her addresses to send the letters to, so I guess that’s speaks louder than anything.”
Octavia shook her head. “I’m so sorry… I know how it is to be sort of cut off from your family.”
Vinyl spat on the ground. “What, did Mommy and Daddy want you to play a different fancy instrument?” she sneered.
Octavia raised her eyebrows in reply. “There’s no need to be so nasty. I’m only trying to help.”
“Yeah? Well I don’t need your help, lady, or your sympathy. I’m doin’ just fine on my own.”
Vinyl pushed passed Octavia with much more force than was really necessary. Octavia stumbled. Once she regained her footing she glared at the brooding girl she was trying to help. It took a lot to get under her skin, but something about this girl really drove her mad. “They never approved of my interest in music at all, actually!” she called.
Vinyl stopped and whirled around. “What?”
“My parents… They run a rock farm about twenty miles outside of Ponyville and they are very strict. They wanted my sisters and me to remain on the rock farm to help them, but only my older sister got the talent. You know how cutie marks are. You either obey them or go mad. My parents understood that, so they allowed me to move to Canterlot to attend music school, but they did so grudgingly. Yes, I still write them and yes, I still love them, but things have been tense for other reasons as well. Maybe I don’t understand your situation completely but I think I have a little insight on family issues, don’t you think?”
Vinyl simply stared at her with her mouth agape. Octavia took this as a cue to continue. “Furthermore, considering the fact that you are homeless and playing on the streets for spare change really suggests to me that you are not, in fact, doing just fine on your own. So forgive me for want to ease your burden the tiniest bit by offering you my generosity and sympathy. And for your information I did not drop payment into your collection tin because I felt sorry for you, I did it because I can recognize a fellow musician when I see one.”
Vinyl couldn’t believe was she was hearing. She’d just gotten her ass handed to her by a complete stranger. Even worse, this complete stranger was absolutely right. She wasn’t doing alright for herself, not at all. Who was she to chew out somepony for trying to show her a little compassion? “I’m sorry,” she said finally. “I just… I’m not used to ponies actually caring.”
Her new friend smiled a little. “That is a terrible thing to have to live with. To be so young…”
“Hey!” Vinyl said. “No more talkin’ about my age, alright? I’m sixteen, so I’m not THAT young. Besides, you don’t exactly look like a grandma… although,” she grinned, “you kinda dress like one.”
The mare scowled, but otherwise ignored the slight. “I’m eighteen, but I’m not on the streets. I’m lucky. I got accepted into a prestigious string quartet as their cellist right out of music school. I have my own place in Canterlot.”
“It must be nice to have everything handed to you.”
“What, do you think it was easy? I had to bust my rump to even get noticed in music school, let alone impress anypony.”
“Yeah, well, at least it was an option for you. Look, this has been a really lovely chat, but I really do gotta go.”
The mare held out a hoof. “Wait. Before you do, take these.” She shoved a pair of tickets into Vinyl’s collection tin.
“They’re tickets to my concert tonight. Come if you want.”
Vinyl raised an eyebrow. “Not really my type of music, sweetcheeks. Besides,” she gestured down at herself, “I think I’d stick out.”
“At least consider it?”
“How’s this, I’ll keep the tickets.”
“Fine.” The mare turned to return to her carriage, then stopped. “My name is Octavia, by the way.”
Vinyl grinned, “Just Octavia? Do ya have a surname?”
Octavia rolled her eyes. “Of course I do. But you’ll have to come to the concert to find out what it is.”
Vinyl smirked. “I’ll think about it!” she called as Octavia clambered onto her fancy carriage. Then she was gone.
Octavia scanned the crowd a thousand times over, but she didn’t know why she bothered. If Vinyl had showed she would stand out from a mile away. She’d probably be able to smell her from the stage, if she was honest with herself. She wasn’t there. Not that Octavia had expected any different. Vinyl didn’t strike her as the type to be willing to sit through hours of orchestral music. But she had hoped…
After the concert and the seemingly endless autographs she was forced to sign out in the main lobby Octavia stepped outside into the crisp winter air. It was a cold day, but at least it was dry. Hopefully that meant that Vinyl wouldn’t freeze to death tonight.
“It was a nice concert,” a voice said from behind her.
Octavia spun around to see none other that Vinyl herself leaning up against the wall of the building, a smoking cigarette dangling from her mouth. She seemed more relaxed on this side of town. Octavia even noticed that her accent had relaxed into a more natural sounding tone. There certainly was something to be said for getting out of the bad side of town.
“You came,” Octavia said, inexplicably happy. “Why didn’t I see you inside?”
Vinyl shook her head and blew a puff of smoke. “I didn’t go inside. I listened from out here.”
“Why? I gave you tickets.”
“Sold ‘em,” she said simply. “Did you know that you’re worth fifty bits a pop?”
Octavia scowled. “I give you two tickets to my concert and you sell them? Really?”
“Girls gotta do what a girls gotta do, sista,” she drawled. “Still came, didn’t I?”
Octavia rolled her eyes. “I suppose so. However, I find that it speaks to your intelligence that you are now one hundred bit richer and you choose to spend it on cigarettes.”
Vinyl glanced down at the smoking death stick in her mouth, her eyes going crossed. “What this? Aww, come on… I bought food too… everypony's got her vices.”
“Somehow I get the feeling that smoking is the least of your vices,” Octavia said shrewdly.
“Anyhow… you said you enjoyed the concert?”
Vinyl got up and started to walk along the side of the building. “I said that it was nice, not that I enjoyed it.”
Octavia hurried after her. “What’s the difference?”
Vinyl glanced at her over the top of her sunglasses, which, inexplicably, she was still wearing in the dark. “The difference is like I told you. It’s not really my style… But,” she shrugged, “I can appreciate talent and skill even if it’s not my thing.”
Octavia looked at her approvingly. “I’m surprised. I’ve met seasoned critics who still haven’t learned that distinction.”
Vinyl dropped her cigarette on the ground and stamped it out with her hoof. “Trust me, so have I.”
They stood in silence for a moment, both breathing in the crisp night air. She could see that whether or not Vinyl wanted it admit it, she needed help. Octavia’s heart ached for her. She was so young and she was already hardening to the ways of the world. It wasn’t right. More than anything she wanted to help her, to protect her. She’d always had a lot of compassion for ponies in need, but it was more than that. Octavia didn’t know what it was, but she had a connection with Vinyl. It was completely ridiculous because the only thing they had in common was a love of music and even that was different. But, somehow, the connection was there.
“There was one thing I actually enjoyed, though,” Vinyl finally said, breaking the silence.
“What was that?”
“The cello solo. It was hauntingly beautiful. When it was played I felt… safe and insecure… grounded and wild… all at the same time. It was strange.”
Octavia flushed. “You’re only saying that because you know that I was the cellist.”
“Were you? I must’ve missed that earlier. Didn’t know.” She said it in such an offhand way that Octavia couldn’t tell if she was being serious or not.
“Well… I’m flattered… but I’m not as good as the other players.”
“No, you’re better. They sound robotic… your music… it has life… it’s pretty bitchin’.”
Octavia laughed. “That was almost meaningful, Vinyl… you ruined it.”
Vinyl grinned in reply. “I try.”
Octavia wasn’t sure what made her say it. She hadn’t been planning it, she hadn’t even considered it. It was just all of a sudden that she knew what she needed to do and she blurted it out before she could really consider the matter. “I want you to come live with me in Canterlot.”
Vinyl was understandably stunned. For the first time since they had met she was entirely caught off guard. “Wh-what?”
Octavia flushed. “I’m sorry… I know that was sudden. I don’t even know where it came from… but I mean it. I want you to get off these cold streets and come back to Canterlot with me. I have room in my apartment.”
Vinyl smirked. “Baby, don’t ya think we’re movin’ a bit fast? We just met today… I usually wait ‘til the second date before I let girls take me home to their place.”
Octavia turned bright red. “I don’t mean like that!” she said defensively.
“Woah, there, sweetcheeks, it was a joke. Ya don’t have to get all up in arms!”
“I’m sorry,” said Octavia. “I take a lot of things in life too seriously.”
“Maybe I should come live with you. You need to learn not to do that.”
“Perhaps… so you’ll come?”
“Why would I want to?”
“I don’t know,” Octavia said desperately. “It’s just… this is going to sound crazy… but I feel like we have this connection and I can’t shake the idea that we were brought together for a reason. I… well, I felt the same way about your music that you felt about mine.”
“Yes, I did. I could hear the notes that should have played on top on your beat in my mind… It was a heart wrenching plethora of emotions. I liked it.”
Vinyl was astonished. Of course she’d known that Octavia had recognized that she was a musician, but this… This was more. This was an admission from an real, seasoned musician that her music was not only more than noise, but actually, possibly beautiful. That was something that she’d never expected to hear in all of her life. Hearing it was enough to make her see that maybe Octavia was right. Maybe there was a connection. There was only one was to find out.
“Okay, fine. I’ll move in with you… but I don’t think your friends are going to want to share their carriage with me.”
“They won’t have too. I’m going home on my own tonight. The rest of them are attending a fancy party, but I hate them. It’s not a terribly long ride. We’ll be home by midnight.”
“Home… that’s something I haven’t thought about in a long time.”
“You’re more than welcome to call my home your home if you wish.”
“I’ll make that call when we get there. Now let’s get a move on… I have to stop by my box and pick up my things.”