68w, 17hLyra & Bon-Bon
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The next day Audrey brought Lyra to a house a few streets away. Lyra watched her as she pressed the doorbell with a single finger and then stepped back to wait on the porch, arms crossed in front of her.
Lyra was dressed in some of her new clothes. Blue jeans, and a green sweatshirt. These clothes fit her better than the ones she’d arrived in, but those had been made in Equestria. They might not have even been intended for a human originally. These felt perfect.
“I haven’t seen Nathan in weeks,” Audrey said. “This is the perfect excuse to come by and bother him.”
From what Lyra was able to gather, this Nathan was another human. Lyra wasn’t sure why Audrey would have given the same name to that little object she was always tapping her fingers on or occasionally holding up to her face and speaking to.
“He’s a musician?” Lyra asked.
“Tried to be,” Audrey replied. “That was a few years back. He never really got anywhere. He said he was trying to sell his old guitar on eBay, along with a bunch of other things, but I told him you’d be interested.”
Lyra was about to point out that Audrey had just said that she hadn’t seen Nathan in weeks when the door opened and another human greeted them. A male, with dark hair just past his ears, and a black shirt that read “Aperture” across the front. As was typical for most human males, he was a few inches taller than either of them. He scratched his head.
“Hello…” he said, as if he hadn’t expected them.
“You remembered we were coming over, right?” Audrey said.
“Yeah, of course.” He gave a glance towards Lyra. “So you’re...?”
“Lyra.” She put out her hand for a handshake, and he took it. She was getting good at this.
“I’m Nathan. You’re the one who was interested in the guitar, aren’t you?”
“Come on in. I’ll go get it for you.” He turned and headed inside. Audrey followed him, and Lyra tagged behind her.
There was music playing, growing in volume as they came into the living room. Humans seemed to love music even more than ponies did. They would play recordings of it practically everywhere – stores, restaurants, sometimes even out on the streets from their carriages. Lyra tried to locate a phonograph in the room, but she still couldn’t see one.
It was hard to understand many of the words past the chorus – “walk this way, talk this way” – but the repeating instrumental motif could really get stuck in your head. Lyra could recognize it as rock music. It was different than what she’s heard in Equestria - heavier, with different instruments - but wasn’t everything here different? This was what she was going to learn.
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen you. What have you been up to?”
“Nothing much,” he said. “Enjoying the summer. Making a little money. So how’d you meet her?” He nodded towards Lyra, who was busy examining a half-empty bottle of Mountain Dew on the coffee table.
“It’s complicated. I’ll tell you later,” Audrey said.
“That’s cool,” he said. “It’s just great to finally find a buyer.”
“Well, not exactly. More like borrowing.”
“Alright...” He nodded slowly. “What’s the deal there?”
“Oh, um...” Lyra had been watching how the humans interacted with interest. It caught her off guard to be addressed directly.
“She’s pretty dead-set on joining a rock band,” Audrey explained. “Even though she’s never played guitar before.”
“If nothing else, she definitely looks the part...” Nathan said.
Lyra grinned. “Thanks!”
“And you don’t have it listed online, do you?” Audrey said.
“Relax. I never even got that far,” Nathan said. “eBay’s pretty confusing when it gets to selling big stuff like that. I was trying to figure it out, but I didn’t get very far. And from the looks of things, I’d be lucky to even get two hundred for the guitar.”
Lyra wished she knew more about what the humans were talking about. It was still fascinating just to observe them.
She noticed that he had one of those big black boxes in his living room, too. Lyra thought she’d heard Audrey’s father refer to theirs as a “TV,” whatever that stood for. The one in this house had a list of words – “Resume, Options, Quit.”
Audrey had noticed it too. “Looks like you’ve been hard at work.”
“Well, I was. Earlier,” Nathan said. “I’ve been selling a ton of stuff. I managed to list a few old games, some books. I’ve got a lot I’m getting rid of besides the guitar.” He turned to Lyra. “So, you said you were just a beginner?”
“Oh, um… I’ve never really tried guitar before. I wanted to learn something new. I play the lyre. I heard that’s not very popular around here, though.”
“A lyre?” Nathan said. “I guess if you found someone who played ocarina, you could start a band.”
“Really?” Lyra said, cocking her head. If she found out what that was, that could make things easier.
“She doesn’t really get sarcasm,” Audrey said.
Nathan laughed and said, “Anyways, I’ve got some beginner’s guides, too. You can borrow those to help you get started. I’ll get all of that for you. It’s just upstairs.”
“Thank you so much,” Lyra said.
Lyra waited with Audrey in the living room, listening to the footsteps from upstairs.
“I wonder if he’s even chosen a college yet,” Audrey said, settling down on the couch. She glanced over at the television again – those words were still there, not moving. “He’s never really had much motivation, though. I’m not even sure what he plans to study.”
“He’s still in school, too?” Lyra said.
“Of course,” Audrey replied. “He’d better start looking into colleges soon. We’ve only got a couple years of high school left.”
It had been over four years since Lyra was last in a classroom. Eventually she’d have to go back, probably. Human schools were probably completely different than in Canterlot. She’d never really learned the full history and culture of her own race, and that was making it hard to fit in. What she’d studied all her life only went up to a certain point.
At least her musical talents were still just as useful here as it was in Equestria. And for now, all she had to worry about was finding some steady income. Then she could worry about other things, like school, or going back to find wherever she’d been born...
A few moments later, Nathan returned carrying a large black case. He unzipped it – it seemed to be made of nothing more than stiff fabric, nothing at all like the hard instrument case she used for her lyre.
“Man, I don’t think I’ve even taken this thing out in years,” he said.
“Um… can I…” Lyra was watching him intently.
He nodded. “Go ahead.”
Lyra took the guitar, and Nathan showed her how to put the strap over her head and shoulders. She moved her hands into a position that was comfortable – right hand on the strings, left holding the neck.
“It’s a Les Paul, but don’t get too excited. It’s just an Epiphone. This is one of the cheapest ones they make,” Nathan said.
“Um… okay,” Lyra said. Another inanimate object that the humans had given a name like their own. Interesting.
This wasn’t quite like the guitars Lyra had seen in drawings, not even like the ones she’d seen ponies play a few times. Those were usually made of wood. She ran a hand over the smooth black face, and plucked a few of the strings with her fingertips. They felt too loose. She found the knobs at the top of the neck and tightened them, but it still sounded too quiet.
“Uh, I don’t think it sounds right…” she said.
“You need to plug it in,” Nathan said. He picked up a long cord and handed her one end. He pointed to a metal tip. “This goes in the end. I’ll go get the amp for you.”
He headed back up the stairs. Lyra searched over the body of the guitar and found where the end of the cord clicked into place, and moved across the strings. It still didn’t sound right. Way too soft. She wasn’t quite sure why she’d assumed that attaching a cord would change anything, but Nathan had sounded like he knew what he was talking about. The guitar was missing the hollow chamber inside, she realized. Without it, the sound just wouldn’t project. It was even quieter than her lyre.
He returned with a small black box. Taking the other end of the cord, he fit it inside. “You’ll probably want to adjust these.”
She watched him twist some knobs on the box. They were small, just large enough to take them in between the forefinger and thumb. The varieties of uses for fingers was really amazing.
“What do those do?”
“That's the amp. It’s how you adjust your sound." He pointed at each one in sequence as he turned them. "You’ll want this one about 5, usually keep the treble up a bit higher, add some reverb...”
She was completely lost.
“Now try,” he said.
Her fingers strummed the strings, and this time she jumped at how loud it was.
“It’s… supposed to do that?” she said.
“I could turn it down a bit for you,” Nathan said. He adjusted something again on the amp.
She tried a bit more, and found that she actually liked the sound. It was unusual - nothing like what she’d expected from a stringed instrument. Or any other kind of instrument, for that matter. But somehow Lyra still found it musical. After listening to some more, she realized this was a sound she had heard in a lot of human music over the past couple days.
The physical act of playing it, though… That felt great. One hand was using the strings, which wasn’t entirely unlike her lyre. But her other hand had to move along the neck, adding a whole new dimension to how this instrument was played. Both hands, each of her fingers, they all had to work independently in order to play this. But the challenge made it exciting. It felt like she was a filly again, learning to play her first songs in music class.
“I’ve also got a tuner, it’s somewhere in here...” He dug around in the case. “I’ll show you how to use it.”
Lyra was busy with the knobs at the top of the neck. “I think I’ve got it.” She played one string at a time, testing the sound.
“Just by ear?”
“That’s how I’ve always done it.” She tried a few more notes, one at a time, and nodded.
Nathan scratched his head. “Try it out for a bit,” he said. “I mean, I never quite got the hang of it, but yeah.”
Lyra smiled. She slid her left hand along the neck, trying a few different positions and hearing what they sounded like. “I think I like this,” she said. “Just give me a little time. I think I can figure it out.”
She tried a little bit more, her fingers quickly learning their way around the strings.
“Do you mind if we step out for a while?" Audrey said, gesturing towards the door. "I wanted to talk to Nathan about something."
“That’s fine,” Lyra said, staring at her left hand as it moved along the neck of the instrument.
“Just keep working at it,” Nathan told her. “Try to get used to it.”
She nodded, but she was lost in concentration. Audrey led Nathan out into the hallway, still listening to the sounds of Lyra’s playing. One flat note at a time, repeated over and over until it sounded right.
“So what do you think of her?” she said.
He stared at her. “What do you mean? I guess she’s kind of cute, but - “
Audrey shot him a look. “That’s not what I meant. She seems a little... off, right? I wanted your opinion on that.”
“Well, yeah, I guess she's not really what you'd call 'normal.' You said you met her a few days ago. What's her story?”
"What she's told me is that she just found out that she's adopted and she's trying to find her real parents. And she was sent away from home with nothing but an old photograph of them that she was found with as a child."
"That's... a little dramatic," Nathan said. "How did you get into this?"
“She was in the park down by the statehouse a few days ago, playing her lyre. The hair kind of got my attention.”
He nodded. “Yeah, I can see that.”
“But… once I actually started talking to her, it turned out she can be a little strange.”
“I could’ve told you that.”
“You have no idea.”
From the other room they could hear a few off-key notes and screeching feedback from the amp. They both winced simultaneously.
“Sounds like she’s getting the hang of it,” Nathan said. “Anyways, you were saying?”
"That's part of it," Audrey said. "You saw how she didn't understand anything about how an electric guitar worked. She gets that way with a lot of electronics. It's like she's never seen them before."
"Maybe she's Amish," Nathan suggested.
"With hair like that? I don't think so."
"Get serious, here." Audrey's eyes narrowed.
Nathan waved a hand. "Okay. Start at the beginning."
“Well, we weren’t exactly off to a great start. I started talking to her. She asked me where she could go to eat, so I took her to McDonald’s. I thought that wouldn't be a problem, but I’m pretty sure she’d never been to one before. She didn’t even know what the food was. And it turned out she was a vegetarian.”
“Oh,” Nathan said. Then the realization hit him. “Oh. Yeah, that’s… That’s not good.”
“The look on her face... It was like she’d committed a murder. She probably felt like she had…” Audrey said, shaking her head. “But while we were there, I was just kind of making friendly conversation, and she said some other things that bothered me.”
“Well, apparently she’s been living on her own since she was twelve. Her and some other girl who she called her roommate,” Audrey said. “They might have been runaways. But Lyra doesn’t even realize that it was anything out of the ordinary to live on her own at that age.”
“You’re serious? Where exactly do two preteen girls go to live and not get found by child services – or worse?” Nathan said.
“She won’t tell me. Every time I try to find out where she came from, she just tells me the same thing – that it ‘doesn’t matter.’ I don’t even know her last name.” Audrey paused. “Well, she doesn’t know her last name. Or she just won’t tell me.”
“And you’re letting her stay at your house, even though you know nothing about her.”
“After everything she was saying, I started to get worried about her. She really has no idea what she’s doing,” Audrey said. “I was able to convince my parents that she’s harmless. And she’s pretty much determined to make her own money… hence this whole thing with joining a band.”
The sounds were gradually becoming closer to something musical. Nathan paused for a moment to listen. “So before this, she said she just played a harp.”
“When she came up with the idea to try guitar, I figured she’d be able to do more with that. I don’t think she’ll be able to actually try out for a band for a while, though.”
“A harp’s pretty interesting, though. Where did she learn to play that?”
“Believe me, I’d like to know. I’m hoping that she’ll open up if I give her some more time,” Audrey said.
Nathan leaned against the wall and folded his arms. “So what has she told you?”
“Nothing I can really use. She claims her mother - adopted mother, I guess - was a meteorologist. And she mentioned a few of her friends.” Audrey paused, and they could hear a few notes being played. Lyra was trying to play a scale, and coming fairly close. “Let’s see… Someone named Twilight, and then there was Diane. But at first she called her Pinkie. But she said that Twilight wasn’t a nickname.”
“If she was making those up, she’d have gone with something more sensible.”
“I do think she’s telling the truth, when she says anything at all. But she’s still avoiding telling me anything specific about where she’s coming from or why she left. At first I wondered if there was something going on, like… abuse.” Audrey hesitated. “But she seems too cheerful. Actually, she seems a little sad to have left home.”
“Then what do you think is wrong with her?”
“Maybe nothing. Well, not in the 'disorder' sense. She's naïve, but her lack of understanding seems mostly culturally-based. I get the feeling that she can actually be pretty smart. The only problem is what culture she’s coming from, and how she ended up in the middle of Iowa when she hardly understands how American society works. And you saw how she reacted just now with the guitar, how she didn’t even expect it to sound like that.”
“So what are you going to do with her?” Nathan asked. "I mean, how long can she stay at your house? It sounds like it'll already be impossible for her to find out who her parents are supposed to be."
“I realize that..." Audrey said. "I’m starting to think that all she really needs is a hand up. She’s definitely willing to work for what she needs; she just needs a place to stay for a while. So I’m doing that much for her.”
"All I can say is that you're in way over your head, Audrey."
"Not as much as Lyra is."
Then they heard something – a simple, familiar riff. One that they’d both heard not that long ago. Nathan and Audrey looked at each other, then headed back to the room where Lyra was practicing.
“I think I’ve got it now,” she said.
“That’s Aerosmith...” Nathan stared at her in disbelief as she played the riff a few more times.
Lyra let the guitar hang from its strap. “I heard this as we were coming in. I thought I’d try it out.”
“You’re sure you’ve never played before?” Audrey said.
“I’ve always been a fast learner. Music’s my special talent.” Lyra gave a shrug.
“That’s one way of putting it...”
Lyra stared down at the guitar again, still trying to familiarize herself with the new instrument. She’d never even dreamed that something like this could be possible. The sounds were unlike anything she’d ever heard.
“I’m not the best musician myself,” Nathan said, scratching his chin. “And even if you’re not exactly Joe Perry - ”
“Of course not. I’m a girl,” Lyra said.
“ – I still think you could probably audition for a local band if you really wanted to,” Nathan finished. “You’re already about as good as I was ever able to manage. Somehow.”
“How did you pick that up so fast?” Audrey said.
“I told you. Music’s my special talent. I’ve always been a fast learner.” Lyra turned to Nathan. “I can really have this?”
Lyra frowned. "But - "
"I’d still like to make something off of it,” Nathan said. “I’m letting you borrow it for a while.”
“I could pay for it. Just give me some time to make money.” She’d liked this instrument. It felt right. She might start playing it full time.
He nodded. “Sure. It's not worth that much, but that’s fine.”
“I’ll buy it from you as soon as I can afford it. I promise,” Lyra said. She carefully set the guitar back in its case and zipped it back up. There was a strap to carry it on her back.
“I’ll take this, Lyra,” Audrey said, taking the amp by the handle on top.
“I'll get those beginner's guides, but I'm starting to wonder if you'll even need them,” Nathan said. “You sound great. You’ve really got a knack for it.”
“You really mean that?” Lyra could hardly believe her own ears. To hear that from a human - and about their own kind of music, too! It was such an honor. “As soon as we get back to your house, I want to start practicing right away!”
“You’re serious about going through with this,” Audrey said.
“Of course!” Lyra said. “My parents always told me I should focus on my music career. Ever since I first picked up a lyre they said I could go far with it.”
“They probably didn’t mean joining some guy’s garage band, though.”
Lyra smiled. “Probably not.”
She wasn't about to tell either of them, but her parents hadn’t even wanted her to become human in the first place, much less start playing human music. She wished that they could see her now and know that she was doing alright. Things were starting to look better already.