“Lunch as usual?” Salad asked of her musician customer. The stone-grey earth pony nodded her head slightly, with a small smile.
“That would be much appreciated, thank you.” she replied. “I have been the topic of discussion again?” she continued, a small note of curiosity in her voice. “Of what was I accused now?” she enquired, her tone also displaying a hint of annoyance as she raised an eyebrow.
Salad giggled slightly at that. “Oh, nothing bad. Nothing at all, actually... no, I was talking with a friend of mine. He’s... a fan of yours.”
“...oh.” Octavia replied, looking notably relieved. “Well then, that is fine. A fan, hmm?”
Salad couldn’t really tell whether this was something her customer approved of or not, but she decided there was no harm in discussing it as it was Octavia who had pursued the thread further.
“Yes, although I imagine hearing you have fans isn’t news to you.” she chuckled as she tended to the work of putting together her customer’s preferred sandwich.
“Indeed not.” came the reply, a hint of amusement in it. “...this friend of yours. Have you known him long?”
Salad paused momentarily in her work to peer at her customer curiously for a brief second, before remembering her manners and continuing her work. There was nothing unusual in the question per se, but the way in which it had been asked... there was something strange there which she couldn’t quite put her hoof on. She thought little of it though as she nodded.
“Since we were just children. Heck, he’s been more a big brother than just a friend, to be honest.”
Octavia’s nose wrinkled as she smiled in a warm manner, an expression Salad had yet to ever see from her til this point. “That must be nice...” she replied.
The sandwich-maker’s ear flicked at the sound of her voice. There it was again, that muted note of... of something. Sadness? No, it couldn’t quite be called that... Envy? No, that was too ridiculous an idea.
“Ahh, it is.” she replied, deciding to smooth over it. “That big lug has a heart of gold, I swear. And a silver tongue too, sometimes.”
The musician raised an eyebrow at that. “A smooth talker, is he?” she said, sounding slightly displeased at the thought.
“Oh no, I don’t mean like that!” Salad replied, gesturing with a hoof in a dismissive manner. “No, I mean... he always seems to know the right things to say to cheer me up, when I’m down.”
“Ahh, I see. Well, that is certainly a positive quality for one’s friends to possess.”
“Sure is. You know, it’s funny... you literally just missed him. I would have liked to’ve seen his expression if he bumped into you!” Salad replied, a smile on her face as she finished preparing her customer’s meal. “I think it’d be priceless.”
An idea then crossed the unicorn’s mind, one which had been pestering her for some time, but which she had never taken much time to consider, til now. She’s coming here fairly regularly to eat, her mind thought, and you could easily arrange for him to be here when you know she will be. So go on!
“Uhm, say. Actually...” she began, wrestling internally with the thought that perhaps this might be a bit too presumptuous or forward of her, “I could make sure he’s here some time. If, you know, you’d like to make that happen.” she said slowly, taking care not to stumble over her words too much. Whilst Octavia may have been just another customer, at the same time she was nevertheless a well-known and respected artist in Canterlot. It wasn’t like you could just walk up to her in the street and ask favours of her, after all; she was a different breed.
Or at least, that was the kind of image of her that seemed to be perpetuated by both her critics and her fans. Salad found herself subconsciously holding her breath, waiting on her customer’s reply.
The dark-maned pony’s purple irises flicked to one side for a few moments, her expression thoughtful, before a small smile played around her features. “Well...why not?” she then said, simply.
Salad let out the breath she’d been holding, a grin spreading across her features. “Really?” she said, her tone betraying more cheerfulness than she’d meant for it to.
“Of course.” Octavia replied with a simple nod, her smile spreading. “From your description, he does not seem to be the wildly fanatical sort. And you clearly care for him a lot. If a thing so simple as an encounter with someone like me will bring him happiness, then I am more than happy to oblige you.” Her tone as she spoke was warm, perhaps with even an undertone of excitement to it.
Salad’s own expression soon matched Octavia’s, a giddy feeling spreading through her as she took into account what she’d just managed to do. “Great! That’s great!” she said happily, at the same time passing the bagged sandwich to her customer. “Ah, so... when will you next be here?”
Octavia’s smile vanished, a frown replacing it as she thought about that. “A good question...” she said, her tone reflecting her expression. “I do have somewhat of a full schedule... though, I believe I could drop by for something to eat in the evening, in about...” she paused, mentally counting the days. “Three days’ time.” she stated happily.
“So, Saturday evening?”
“I’ll look forward to it. Ah, and, enjoy your lunch!” Salad said, remembering her hospitality just in time.
“Thank you.” Octavia replied, a smile creasing her features once more. “I shall look forward to it also.”
As Salad’s attention was stolen away by more customers entering the establishment, Octavia found herself a seat at a table in one corner. Much like another of the shop’s earlier customers, she was one who valued her solitude for certain things, and lunch time at a sandwich shop was one of these.
Setting the bag down on the table, she carefully nosed it open and retrieved her food from within. She bit into it, relishing the delicate flavour of marigolds mixing with cucumber hitting her tongue. The day had been tiring thus far, and it was yet to finish. Lunch was but a brief interlude amidst a tight schedule of practice and composition, working toward one large event looming on a distant, yet nonetheless steadily advancing horizon: the Summer Equinox Celebration. It was an event that had not been celebrated for a whole millennium, as it marked the pivotal point of the year where the Princess of the Moon would gain the larger share of the day. Thanks to her... absence, in recent times, the event had gone unmarked. Now, with her return, the event was one which would be celebrated once more - and she, Octavia, was tasked with the job of helping compose and perform music to fit the occasion.
No pressure, then. she mused to herself, her brow furrowed in thought. And now to make matters worse, she’d agreed to fill some more free time...
No, she corrected herself, it is not filling up free time. It is taking time out. It is not THAT unfamiliar to you.
She sighed and shook her head, the last bites of her sandwich vanishing down her throat. Taking a few moments to tidy her mane and straighten her ever-present collar and bow-tie, she rose from her seat and headed out of the little sandwich shop, pausing briefly to nod and smile a farewell to the charming filly behind the counter. This was at least one reason why, after finding this particular quaint little place, she’d kept coming. Besides the fact that the food was delicious and refreshing, the help was invariably cheerful and welcoming also - a set of attributes less readily found in Canterlot than one might think. It was therefore no surprise that she’d found herself returning here on a more regular basis recently; hence why she had felt no qualms about granting Salad’s request, she pondered. Certainly, talking to somepony that actually took interest and genuinely listened to what you were saying was a big draw to the place, and something that drew her naturally to the attendant herself.
She smiled at that. Perhaps, despite her reclusive nature, she was making a friend here and there anyway. She held onto that thought as she made her way back along the road toward the practice grounds for the upcoming concert.
Many hours later, after what had felt like a small eternity of practicing and re-writing the same sections over and over, looking for that perfect balance, Octavia found herself dragging her weary hooves along the cobbled road to home. The sun had long since set, though it was still early evening. She heaved a small sigh at the tiny redeeming thought of peace awaiting her back within her house, when a stray sound caught her ear. It was not a sound such as the song of a bird or the chirp of a night-loving insect, but rather it was the faint, barely discernible sound of a voice, singing something which drifted through the fresh night air like a soft scent carried on the breeze. She strained her ears to listen, and as though lead on by the sound, her hooves moved her in the direction of its source.
“Sur la rive en fleurs, riant au matin, viens, descendons ense -e-e-e-emble...”
Octavia’s ears perked up as she drew closer to the source of the voice. There was an accompanying roar of water almost drowning it out, but she could definitely make out the sound of a feminine voice, clearly singing the words from the Flower Duet, a song she had heard performed a number of times before by classical singers. Nevertheless, it was strange to hear such a sound here. As far as she could make out, the lilting voice was coming from somewhere below... but, all that lay down there was a reservoir of considerable size. She peered carefully over the edge, but there was nothing to be seen in the relatively unlit depths below. She sighed to herself, coming to the conclusion that she would have to be content with merely hearing the song, and not knowing whom to compliment.
It was a shame, for whoever the voice belonged to, she had considerable talent Octavia noted. Still, there were those who preferred to remain out-with the limelight - those who would sooner keep their skills hidden from the world, and save them to share only with a select few. Octavia didn’t consider herself envious of such ponies’ attitude--after all, she was of the opinion that if one was possessed of great skill or talent, then they should make good use of it--but, she did, at times, find herself envious of the fact that those who chose to do so were not faced with the same pressures or concerns that she faced daily. Those who were unknown did not have to worry about tight schedules, fast-approaching deadlines, nor what the papers were saying about them behind their backs (although she herself rarely concerned herself much with their opinions nowadays anyway). Neither were they faced, she imagined, with the immense pressure to perform, and perform well to an expected constant level of excellence... Yet, with that said, it wasn’t as though her own life was without its rewards. Were that the case, she wouldn’t still be pursuing this career, after all. The thrill of performing before a large assembly, and the feeling of conveying to so many others the emotions you felt through the medium of the music you made: that, she reminded herself, was why she still did what she did, even after having known almost nothing but music her entire life.
Below, the song drew to a close. Octavia raised a hoof to stomp her approval, but then caught herself. It would be better not to let the anonymous performer know she had had an audience; to do so would nullify the purpose of remaining anonymous. With a small smile to herself, she turned instead back toward the road to home.
An otherwise uneventful walk soon found the strings player happily ensconced in her home, lounging upon a couch with several sheets of music spread upon the table before her. Her eyes travelled across the pages, scrutinising the notes carefully as the music they represented played itself in her head. A small frown furrowed her brow. It wasn’t that the composition was bad, per se; in fact by the standards of most it could be looked upon as quite good. But Octavia was not one to settle for “quite good”. What she sought was perfection, or at least, as close to that as was possible. Her eyes scanned across the pages, her mind playing the tune to her in the tones of a perfectly tuned and in time orchestra. Eventually, she had to rest her eyes from her work. What she sought was proving too evasive for now: she found herself staring a cold reality in the face that many an artist faced in their lives, sooner or later.
“Inspiration will not simply arrive if I try to force it.”
With that simple realisation, she smiled to herself and got up off the couch. “Tomorrow is a new day. It will bring its own fresh nuances.”
With that assurance to herself in mind, she trotted through to her bed and flopped onto it, slithering her way under the covers and arranging the pillows and cushions to her liking. The bed was somewhat vast, being more than enough to easily accommodate her fairly average frame. Despite it being so large though, it had nevertheless been her preference: she had found it early on in her rapidly-moving career, and had fallen in love with it. Every aspect of its design, save for its huge size, fitted her perfectly: carefully carved images of dancing ponies and music adorned the head, and the foot was a simple sleigh design that curled almost like the scroll of the assorted strings she was accustomed to.
Besides, even the one thing that didn’t fit her perfectly was something that she felt could be changed, given time. Whether it had been a subconscious decision or forethought on her part she wasn’t sure, but either way, her home was certainly of a size that it could accommodate more than herself. The one thought that always tended to tug at the back of her mind when considering this was, however...
“Is my life built to accommodate that...?”
The question brought with it a sigh, as she banished the thought back to its usual recess at the back of her mind, and rolled over to settle down for the night. After all, she couldn’t spare time for restless self-searching and doubt when she had more important things to focus on. Her mind drifted back to the beautiful song she had heard earlier being sung near the pool of water, as she stared up at her bedroom ceiling. Her eyes began to close as she allowed herself to drift off to sleep, humming the melody softly to herself.