She's just...sitting there.
She doesn't know I'm here yet. She probably thinks I'm locked up in my room still, as per usual. Routine well-ingrained is very difficult to overcome, under normal circumstances. But today is going to be anything but normal. Today is going to change everything.
All I have to do is step out of the shadow, walk out of the hallway, and say it. I know I am right in this. I have to be. Otherwise, she's tempted me with memories of another, invaded my mind and filled me with a hope I'd given up on. Otherwise she has broken my soul.
Oh Maker, don't let me be wrong...
I remember the first time I ever saw her. I doubt she does, though. I'd been on my way home, all those lost moments ago. I remember, I'd bought some fine seed-bread for tea with friends...the friends I had in that life. I was merely passing, but the streets had been overflowing with crowds that day, for reasons I'd never kept track of. It was a party. They started early in that life, and lasted an age before they died, all in celebration of nothing more than being alive. They were carefree, the ones that attended these huge street raves. I never went to one myself, not on purpose anyway. But that's where I saw her, as I struggled on the borders of the crowd, trying to resist the forcefulness of the music she controlled. Atop the stage of a fountain she stood tall, waving back and forth, leading the crowds with her, moving them, shifting the masses with the simplest twist as the music about her bent to her will. It was compelling, driving, not the calming, soothing notes I was used to, but it affected me all the same. I moved too, even as I tried to escape. But I never got out. Cheers broke out behind me that day, and when I turned around, she was before me, an ecstatic grin plastered manically across her features.
And she kissed me.
I was frozen there for eons, while in five seconds she had moved on, her overflowing energy and happiness flowing across other individuals, their lives a little brighter for sharing in her immense joy. But I stood there, shocked, mired in the wonder she'd decided to share with me. It felt like ages before I regained myself, only to scurry away in near panic. I looked back from the far side of the crowd, only to see her in an embrace with another, flying so high on the atmosphere she'd created that I doubt she ever really did come down. I was just another pretty face back then. Like I said, I doubt she remembers that day like I do.
The first time I met the girl before me, though, is a completely different story. The past has become relative to me, and nothing of my past life can be allowed to affect what I have gained in this one. So the girl in front of me now, and that performer I met years ago and eons away, can never be reconciled. Not truly. Not with my life as it is.
That day, I'd spent hours at recitals, showcasing myself and what I'd learnt. That's what you have to do when you have a complete bursary to music college as a savant in the art of sound. It was a lie, of course. I knew how to play, just not...as I am now. But I could never explain that to these people, that couple who had offered me kindness when I'd been found, lost and terrified, in a new world, as one of them. When they'd taken me to their own home and offered me comforts I could not yet understand, I had latched onto them. They had taught me everything together, so much so that I now felt no shame in calling them 'Mother' and 'Father'. They had been my gateway to a future in this life. Mother's violin, and Father's being the headmaster of the foremost music college in the country. I'd learnt to play their music before I could speak their tongue, and within months, I had been installed in a private room on the campus the day I could converse adequately, and had begun classes. Every day since had been filled with music theory and practice, starting from scratch, with a whole past life to draw from. None of them ever knew that, though; they just assumed I was a gifted girl.
Well...I suppose I was. I was before all this, I was when they found me, and I am now. My past, present, and future may all be variable, but at least I had that to cling to. My identity never changed if I stuck to what made me...me.
These thoughts weighed heavily on me most days, but I always comforted myself with how lucky I was to have the chance at a good life. Father was doing everything he could to help me, he really was. Their kindness never ended. But today, I nearly wished they cared just a little less because, to help me to learn how to surmount the social obstacles that still daunted me after months of this life, they had finally decided to give me a roommate.
I walked up to the room's door, fumbled with the keys. I still handled things clumsily, not quite used to my new form even then. I looked at the the long, slender fingers that wrapped about the doorknob, but I shook it off and let myself in. I placed my bag on the counter, removed my scarf, let down my charcoal hair. This was usual. Routine. What wasn't usual is the sounds of music already wafting through the place. Music I never listened to. Too many memories.
"Oh, hey, Roomie! What's up?"
And there she was. Mother and Father's latest gift, a lesson in sociology to help me make friends here. In that immediate moment, I detested her. The way she sprawled over the couch, limbs every which way, her diamond-blond hair splayed about her, her speakers set perilously on my bare coffee table, surmounted by a pair of sunglasses. As I took it all in, she looked at me curiously.
"Yo, uh...Alice, you okay?" She asked, pulling herself upright.
"Alicia..." I muttered, flicking on the coffee maker on the counter, ignoring her.
She shrugged. "What evs, I'm still gonna call you Ali."
I nearly cracked my coffee mug.
I know I should just ask her. Or tell her. She's holding her necklace still, set with one ruby in silver. It looks like a knick-knack I know, but it's much more that that. She looks so down, running the silver links through her fingers, staring at the flashing stone as it catches the lights from her speakers, now set against the wall, unused. In the silence, I can see that she is losing hope. Just like I did.
Oh, why can't I just step from this shadow and ask her if she and the one I wish her to be are the same?!
I heard more and more of her, after that stolen kiss in the street. She began popping up in the media, on famous stages, and on street corners when the fancy took her. I saw her twice in one week, standing proudly atop the tallest nearby surface, elatedly raising the masses that gathered to her like bees to a beautiful flower. I ignored her. I avoided her. I spent my time in the music halls, where her name was mentioned only in passing, as the name of a malevolent sprite here to whisk away all our hard work with one twitch. She controlled the crowd, unified and divided them, making waves that would have smothered us and our older art. She could have drowned us. After mere months, the youngster from a small city out on the borders of the land was swelled with her wildfire rise to fame. She could have swept the classical scene under the carpet with ease. But she didn't.
I never understood that. She didn't push classical music, or country, or any other genre, beneath the one she created, but she tied them all together. She made herself a conduit for swirling sound, a means through which the groups of fans of different genres came together. She was a force to be reckoned with, a bane of puritans everywhere. She made one of many. I wouldn't have done that. I would have been worse than she.
The second time I ever saw her, I was pacing circles around the third level atrium of the city's finest music hall, weighed down by the request of the board for me to appear before the Maestro himself. I had made a point of arriving early, my instrument strapped to my back as always. Dull sounds of my steps echoed about the huge, empty, baroque hall, the gentle sounds of playing echoing up from an ensemble of proteges on the bottom floor doing nothing to soothe me. In the months before, less and less patrons had heard my recitals. For all I knew, that meeting was the end of me.
But as I walked around and around that cavernous atrium, she passed me by. She walked past with a confident meandering step, her eyes featureless behind tinted glass. I nearly choked, seeing her there, in the very place I thought she was strangling to death. I brushed past her and continued my circuit to forget her. Only she passed me again. And again. I was in shock by the third pass, and she didn't help by raising her goggles, her eye winking above a confident smile. How happy I was that when next I passed the Maestro's office door, I was ushered inside.
I was elated to hear from him that I was not to be released, but was in fact considered a possibility in the concert hall's next move, out into the world, away from its own baroque comfort. I approved. I would take my art to the crowds, just like she did! I'd show her what classical could be! How wrong I was to assume to compete with her.
That concept fell apart when, as I left the Maestro's office filled with hope and determination, I heard her enter where I had departed. I turned just in time to see her point at me and exclaim, "I want her."
My roommate was unbearable.
I tried to explain to Mother how difficult she was, but she didn't listen, only saying that I would need to learn to adapt, to co-exist, if I wished to overcome my past. As if she could ever understand my past, that section of myself that none of them could ever understand. My new life was but months old, and I didn't want to have to talk to another one of them out of my classes, not when they were so...loud, when I was still sensitive to the world, like a newborn flinching from a mother's touch.
Still, panicking and begging for release after two days was still an overreaction. I stared at my door after being declined yet again, almost scared to enter at all. I forced myself, pushing the door open, dropping my bag on the counter, letting my hair down, reaching for the-
"Heyo, your coffee's on the table, Ali."
I felt like screaming
Instead, I turned and looked at her, sitting on the couch cross-legged, something I still did not do. The mere thought of it was painful: my legs...my legs couldn't do that. She seemed perfectly comfortable, though, except for her uncertain smile.
"Hey...we need to talk, I think."
"Yes," I cleared my throat, "yes, I think we do."
Maybe she'd be reasonable? Maybe she'd leave of her own free will, and we could avoid this whole mess? I could hope for that, at least.
"So, my name is...Valerie. Valerie Smith."
"Smith?" I asked. "That's an odd name, Valerie."
"Better than Doe," She smirked, "and Please, call me Vee. Everyone does."
I beetled at her. "I did not choose my name, it was given to me when I lost my old one."
She actually looked surprised. They had not told her my story, it seems. "I...I'm not sure what you mean, but I apologize. Look, the house-master came by today and told me that you complained about me yesterday...and today. Did you?"
A sigh escaped her lips, a defeated air. "I'm sorry, I didn't know I was bugging you so much. I 'm not very good at dealing with...people. But maybe...maybe we can cut a deal?"
"A...deal?" I asked, taken aback, "What do you mean?"
She looked uncomfortable now, but she hid it well. "I just need to stay here for a few weeks, okay? Then I'll be out of your hair. Hey, maybe you'll even find I'm not that bad? I'd like to get along with you. Friend over foe, right?"
That struck a chord. Friend over foe. I knew that one. "I...of course...Vee. I'll try not to be so sensitive. I am still learning myself."
Valerie nodded with a small smile, before asking conversationally. "So I, uh, I saw your timetable. You play in the string section? So what do you play; Violin, double bass...cello?"
"Violin," I answered, "but I can play all you listed. And yourself, Vee?" I was being as conversational as I could. Friend over foe...
"Piano," She said mechanically, "Just started today for my first practical lesson. Theory is going to beat me one, though."
I wasn't sure if I was annoyed or merely unwilling to talk, seeing how friendly she was trying to be. I decided to try and hold this conversation as practice. That was the point, anyway. "I take it you don't have a great theoretical background, then? What kind of music are you studying for?"
She waved a hand dismissively. "I'm studying classical like you, but I don't really, well, get it like you do, ya know? I'm not gonna be here long anyway, so it's not that important."
I could not conceive a reason why she would say such a thing: "Well, then why are you paying for the classes? You strike me as a far more... 'contemporary' person. You could just drop out." Perhaps I was still trying to convince her to leave of her own volition, even though I could see she felt set on staying. Her answer, though, left me reeling.
"Oh, I'm here on a scholarship, but I'm just here til I find a friend of mine. If...when I find her, I'll be gone."
She was so strong. I saw it in her eyes that day, and the days before, and the life before that. I knew she was, because she knew it too. Not now though. I can see her eyes. Eyes that used to glimmer with hope and strength, glistening with tears. She thinks she's failed. I can see her running her fingers over the facets of the ruby in her hands, remembering. I know I am right. If I'd spent just a few minutes looking at her, rather than ignoring myself, I'd have known sooner. But...why can't I move to her?
They wanted me to play with her.
I don't even know why it mattered to me so much that lifetime ago, but it did. I wanted to be 'pure', not to mix my craft with hers, even if she was nothing but the nicest soul. In fact, maybe that's why I disliked her to begin with. Either way, I didn't really have a choice after that. I'd brashly agreed to the Maestro's plan, even before He had explained fully. Playing in the streets for adoring crowds I wanted, but collaborating with her could never be so grand in my young eyes.
How wrong I has.
It was more than grand. It was regal, euphoric, exquisite. The first time we played together, my fear had nearly gotten the better of me; the screams coming from beyond the shallow stage were near-feral, and my heart nearly stopped at the thought of their barely controlled energy breaking loose and washing me away, but she was there. She calmed me with a word and a touch, a gentle pressure that led me to the centre of the stage. I don't know if I heard her, or if I imagined it, but either way her message was clear.
Just like we practiced.
And how we had practiced. For hours on end, at the concert hall, and in her hole-in-the-ground studio. I gritted through those precious moments with her, flinched at my desperately-missed time with her. But she never was anything short of perfectly polite, calm and collected in every situation, never fumbling, at least never for me to see. I heard in the media of her errors, her...liberal side, but I could not fault her that, not when I saw how euphoric she was under the the spell that she herself wove, through music and sheer charisma, the only kind of magic I could ever hope to achieve. That was why, even as I performed that first night, fully centre-stage, playing the emotions of the crowd even as she moved in the background, I felt sick. She was the reason they were there, I was just a sideshow, playing something new for their enjoyment. Even as they stared at me, they saw her. I saw her. Nothing I did could compare to her. I thought of how she had given me that chance, after nothing but a passing glance. She had little but her music, but I felt, still feel, that she was better at heart than I could ever be. I was jealous that she could be so much better than me. And as the show came to a close amid roaring applause that first night, and we bowed together, side by side as equals, even in our overwhelming victory, I still managed to hate her.
I bent my mind to the name over the following days. It sounded constructed to me, at least as bad as my own title. And her story...I had to find out more about her. Luckily, I had Father.
I asked him if he would give me some of Valerie's background, but he called it confidential information. Of course he did. Nonetheless, begging to Mother worked a charm, and soon Father cracked. He gathered as much information as he could to attempt sating my curiosity. Unfortunately, very little could be turned up. She had been found by a talent scout, playing an old piano on a street corner til the keys fell apart. Then she made new ones, fixed it, and played on. She began to draw an audience, once she had mastered the instrument, but many noted her declining condition, hunger and exposure eating at her already small frame. The scout was moved to sympathy, and she was offered entry to a school elsewhere, but after three months, she moved to another. And then another. Just like she planned to move on from here.
"I'm just here til I find a friend of mine."
Memories from another time raced around the edges of my mind that day. Valerie had no records prior to her entry to her first school. It was as if she had simply appeared out of thin air. And she was looking for a friend. A friend she'd lost?
As I walked hesitantly up to my door, I repressed any thought of such things; they were impossible, too much to even dream of. I had stopped hoping for salvation. I didn't want to be reminded of what I missed so deeply when I had finally come to terms with my new life. I just cut the thoughts off, opened my door, put my bag on the counter. I let my hair down as I turned on the coffee maker.
She sounded so unlike herself, I was drawn to listen. I looked at Vee, sitting on the couch, holding something in her hands.
"I just wanted to know if, uh...If you recognized this...?" She lifted a fine silver chain, set with one glimmering ruby.
I locked myself in my room, slamming the door, running from her falling face, whose eyes I should have recognized immediately. Eyes that radiated disappointment and shame that made me want to go to her, tell her the truth, but I didn't. Inside, turmoil ripped at me. Outside, I was apathetic. A face I had set in stone since the early days of this life, a dam against the misery I'd felt at my loss, turned cold at her reaching out subtly to the friend she thought she'd found.
And I turned her away.
That was hours ago. Now, my door is open, my heart accepting, my mind reeling. I'm giddy, but still, I cannot move. I pull back into the hallway, a soft sob escaping my lips. I lean against the wall, sobbing into my hands.
I look at the long digits, smooth, nimble and still unfamiliar. My eyes trace up to the faint reflection on the opposite wall. A mirror. And in the mirror, a girl. A girl holding her hands before her face, staring at herself as tears gather in the corners of her eyes. It isn't me. But every inch of her frame, from her chocolate skin to her charcoal hair, is what I am. But unwanted. Accepted, but unwilled. I look at my body, and see a vessel.
I look at her, in the lounge, and I see, under her downcast air, what we used to be.
What I lost.
We were famous.
All across the land, those screeching crowds gathered in droves to hear us, to see us perform in ways I never thought I would. I was always up front, surrounded on all sides by a growing plethora of artists and instruments, and towers of speakers we could never before afford. But I always had spotlight. She made sure of that.
As is often the case with rising starlets, it began with rumors. If we walked to close together through the mobs, we were harboring affections. If we were seen eating dinner together, we were an item. If we embraced, we were deeply in love.
We hugged each other on stage after every show
Our rise was electric, startling. She earned thousands a night, as did I. She used it to help new artists rise along with her, and I used mine to promote the concert halls that suffered more from our union than they ever did from her alone. Together, we made every gathering a party, every meeting an event to attend. She was perpetually friendly, almost intimate with our fans and patrons, while I was collected and professional. In private, though, the roles were reversed: I was a boat upon a tossing sea without an anchor, while she had a compass and a map. She understood what I was feeling, while I hadn't a clue.
And in my ignorance, I still thought I hated her. I was so naive.
It was dubbed the Genesis Show. We returned to that small stage we had first performed on, in that grand city where we had both found our fame. The crowd was made up of our most loyal and infatuated fans, all of them waving wildly before we'd even begun. We had a new song to play that night, one we had both worked so very hard on.
I stood to my cello, as I did every day, every show, but this time I shared the limelight. She had brought her keyboard. She had the instrument hooked up to dozens of controls and devices, too many for me to ever contemplate using effectively, but of course, she had that advantage. The controls about her glowed in blue as she shouted at the excited masses;
"Are you ready to rock?!"
And were they. We started slow, built majestically, before dropping the entirety of our wills into that beat that shook the open-air concert to the ground. She kept the tempo and played through, letting me at least pretend I was leading, even though she controlled the emotion of the whole spectacle. But right then, I didn't care. I played with her bass and wobbles, climbing up to meet each high and filling the lows. I anticipated the rise and fall, waiting impatiently for the next chord to challenge me. She never failed to provide when I wanted it most, and she built beneath me and filled the gaps, just as I did for her. We complemented each other perfectly. Suddenly, I felt that it wasn't her spell that kept the crowd rapt, it was ours. I nearly faltered on the final chords in my rising pride and excitement. I finally believed that those screaming ponies were screaming for me too.
We had played long and loud, and at the end, the crowd barely had the energy left to call for an encore. But they got one. I was spent with the effort of standing there, but she was as cool as ever. She walked up to my side as we faced the crowd that evening, and we bowed for their applause. Then she turned to face me, a mischievious smirk stretching her lips.
Then she kissed me.
I'd felt it before, her overflowing passion having driven her to intimacy before, but this was different: all of her passion, her flair, her unbridled energy was not directed at the mass as a random gesture of ecstasy, but was directed solely at me. In that touch, I knew she would stand by me, and as we broke apart, and she raised her tinted goggles to let me look into her eyes, I knew I would do the same. To think I ever hated such a beauty was blind and unthinkable.
She pulled forth a pair of silver chains, both set with stones. One she gave to me, set with a sapphire that glowed in the light, and for herself, a necklace that held a shining ruby.
To think that that was the night I vanished.
I spent hours in my room. The door remained shut, the lights off, the blinds shut. I rocked back and forth on my bed, rubbing my limbs for warmth to dispel the chills running across my skin. Thoughts sprung unbidden of my last and first day, the crossing point where my old life left me and the replacement swallowed me up. The night I'd spent with her out on the town til the small hours of the morning, the welcome to the palace of the Royal Sisters in celebration of our success, the merger of the great arts, the banquet, the love that bloomed under ethereal lights, dancing under candelabras of spinning gold to music I never heard, but felt in my heart of hearts. I remember still, gestures given, feelings returned, touches in the light where most feared to show their true selves...
The theft of my cello case, and my precious necklace within.
No petty thief was it that stole the material reminders of my ascension to grandeur and my final realization, but a practiced deceiver that broke those ties I clung to. I was not her only victim, either; the Royals themselves had suffered loss: a crown, I saw, it's star flashing as I gave chase to the encumbered thief through the dim halls and forgotten corridors of that Castle. I heard behind me cries, pleas, and the thief's name:
How I wish I could have caught her, but I failed. In my haste to recapture my cello case, the rare instrument and the irreplaceable necklace within, I merely followed, mindless, heedless of the shouts of warning behind me. The voices of demigods could not stop me, for in that case was a whole new history that I planned on building for myself. For myself and her, together. No single, immoral, lowly thief would take that from me. I followed that coward til she vanished, and even then I followed her. In that moment I would have chased the cur to the ends of the world to reclaim what was mine.
Only I never expected to actually achieve that.
One mirror later, and I was cowering in an alleyway, stripped of all that made me whole. But she had followed me. Back when I arrived, I had scrambled away, naked, cold and afraid, without looking back. But if I had cast that glance over my shoulder, would I have seen her collapsing behind me through whatever force had ripped me from my life? Or did she appear later? Was she left cold and alone while I found warmth and comfort? Did she struggle alone, almost in vain, to find me through the night, and further, into the bleak future she chose over her bright past?
I think she did. She would. So I lay there, on my bed, rocking myself and almost wishing I'd fall asleep. This was a cruel joke of this life, I told myself, it couldn't be real. I'd go out there and ask her if she was who I wished her to be, and she'd look at me with confused eyes, and politely ask who I meant. She'd snap my spirit if she did that.
But if I didn't ask, did I have any spirit left at all?
That was an hour ago. Now I'm standing here, staring at a reflection I thought I'd come to accept as mine, and, in glances, at the girl on the couch, sitting amongst her shattered hopes and broken dreams. I could fix that. With a soft word, I could send her into triumphant joy. The thought of what she'd given up in a moment's notice after I'd foolishly dashed our futures for the sake of trinkets, the idea of what she'd gone through just to keep the hope of us alive...
She deserves more than that. Her eyes, her heart, her soul ware all the same, so near to me, and precious. But I fear for myself. If I am the one dashed by some cruel trick of fate, I shall never recover. That lost once is all the more bitter when offered and stolen again, and my strength is spent on merely existing now.
Have you ever seen a heartbeat line? The ups and downs show you're alive
One step down, into the light. I am strong enough, and if I am not, Her memory will preserve me.
She turns and looks at me, scrubbing a tear from her face, "Y-Yeah, Ali?"
That name. A name custom picked for me. I couldn't wear it anymore. The future be damned
I point at the ruby and silver necklace clutched in her hands. "Canterlot Genesis Show, thirty-seventh Wither Street. The final show. Thank the maker, you finally found me, Vinyl."
She doesn't move, her eyes darting about trying to take in the full scope of what I am saying. Her knuckles burn white about the gem in her grip. Then, she jumps up, crying out, and in moments, hands wrap about my neck, Her arms different, but her emotion is the same.
"Oh, Octy! I knew I'd found you! I've been looking for months....I-I thought I'd lost you, but...It doesn't matter. Now, we just need to get home and-"
"Vinyl," I reach up and pull her ecstatic face around to mine, "I've got you again. I am home."
And I kiss her.