8. “I watched her fade away – watched her die!”
Vinyl all but staggered into Room 219 as if she had come from a fight. It felt like it too. She flopped into her chair and spent a moment staring at the ceiling.
“Well, Tavi,” she sighed. “It’s done.”
It was indeed done – and it had been just as fraught and invasive as she had feared. Reporters, in her experience, were often like sharks in shallow water, latching onto exposed limbs of ponies who weren’t paying enough attention. There were some decent journalists out there but they were rare and, unfortunately, didn’t last long if they didn’t sharpen their own ruthlessness against that of their competition. Those at the press conference had all been sharp toothed and Vinyl had sat before them with a sense that she was about to cut herself and give them fresh blood to chase.
Indigo had played up the notion that the conference was to confirm she was taking a sabbatical, the reason being her desire to stay at Octavia’s side. Needless to say, each and every one of the reporters there had read Quillpoint’s article and Vinyl had been spoilt for choice over which waving hoof to pick to ask the million-bit question: Were you and Octavia Philharmonica lovers?
She hated the sense that her relationship with Octavia was being made into a side-show attraction. Even worse was the grubby feeling that clung to her afterwards. Vinyl wished she could have asked permission to air their dirty laundry in public, but the certainty that this was something she had to do remained constant inside her. Her love for Octavia was nothing to be ashamed of, she kept telling herself. When even that didn’t stop her trembling knees on the carriage ride to the press conference, she imagined it in Sapphire’s voice.
“If you love her, you love her. Ain’t nopony should tell you that’s wrong. Too much crap in the world as it is to stamp out even a little bit of love.”
If Vinyl had to sacrifice the only pony she had ever loved just to get ahead in the music industry then … then maybe she was in the wrong career!
Telling herself this, however, was different than feeling it. She had been wedded to her career for so long. It formed so much of who she was. If she didn’t have her career, who was she? DJ-Pon3 wasn’t Vinyl Scratch, but was Vinyl Scratch just DJ-Pon3 without the stage lights? Taking this risk created a knot of dread in her guts that would not go away no matter how much she told herself she was doing the right thing. It had gone on too long. Music was her core. Being a music artist was her. It was the only job she had ever had – everything she did revolved around it. She had organised things that way four years ago and now the claws were sunk deep. She had wanted it that way. She had.
She should have done things differently. She should have admitted to their relationship four years ago. She should have realised what she was doing to Octavia. She hadn’t. She had chosen her career back then and now she had to deal with the consequences of that decision. It felt like a choice between one misery and another, which the press conference had done nothing to dispel.
“Now I guess I just have to wait for all my sponsors to cancel their contracts,” Vinyl said, tilting her head towards the bed. Octavia, of course, did not reply. “Maybe it won’t be so bad. Maybe Indigo was just blowing smoke. He doesn’t know everything.”
Except the inner-workings of the music business. Except exactly what it took to get to the top and how steep the fall back down was. Vinyl groaned and covered her face with her hooves.
“I wish I could talk to you about this, Tavi,” she whispered. “Properly talk to you. I need somepony removed from the situation but who has my best interests at heart. One or two of those journalists said it was touching that I want to stay with you while you’re like this, but the rest were just interested in getting a sound-bite of me saying ‘I’m gay and I’ve been hiding it all these years’. I’m not sure which would sell the most magazines: me being gay or me being dishonest about it. Indigo says that the sponsors will hate the sexuality thing most and the fans will hate the dishonesty. I can’t please anypony, no matter what I say – but if I say nothing I’m just making myself miserable.”
She slid lower in her seat, wondering when life had got so complicated. Her eyes started to close, dragged down by a combination of mental and emotional fatigue. She had been living on her nerves for days in the run-up to the press conference. Additionally, leaving the hospital for the first time in two months had been more daunting than she had expected. Just breathing air that didn’t smell vaguely of antiseptic had been odd. The world outside was the same as it had always been but she had stepped cautiously, as if there were hidden bear-traps all around the parking lot where her stretch-carriage with the tinted windows waited.
Vinyl wasn’t aware of falling asleep. She was, however, acutely aware of waking up. Being shaken roughly by somepony so you fall out of your chair tends to have an adverse reaction – in her case, flailing limbs and rampant cursing.
“What the –” Her stream of expletives halted abruptly when she saw who had shaken her. “Quaver?”
“What,” Quaver said without preamble, “did you think you were doing?”
“Huh?” Vinyl blinked, trying to orientate herself. She was on the floor. Her butt hurt from falling on the floor. Quaver had put her on the floor. Why wasn’t she punching him already? “Wait, I mean … huh?”
“Declaring to the whole world that you’re Octavia’s secret lover?”
Click. Click. Click. Boom. Everything fell back into place like some nightmarish jigsaw in her head. “How the hay do you know that already?”
“Come off it, Scratch,” Quaver scoffed. “It’s all over the radio.”
“It is?” What time was it? That had to be some kind of speed record. “Oh.”
And of course, Quaver had rushed right on over here to tackle her about it. He didn’t seem to have brought Cavatina or Coda as back up, so he must have been in a real hurry.
Vinyl shrugged, feigning nonchalance. “Well, it’s not like you didn’t already know Tavi swings that way.”
Quaver’s eyes burned. Vinyl took a moment to get a better look at him and noted that his mane wasn’t quite as coiffed as usual. The dark brown sweep had several locks running in the wrong direction, as if he were a dam and they were leaks springing out through cracks in the brickwork. Vinyl had always thought Quaver seemed made of stone, which gave extra weight to a situation whenever he finally did lose his temper. Now the lines around his eyes were tight with scrunched up fury and his mouth was a hard, grim line.
The quartet had visited a lot over the last two months; enough that Vinyl felt increasingly wrong about bad-mouthing them to the nurses. She had settled for avoiding them whenever they were around. It was practically the only time she left Octavia’s side voluntarily, sneaking back to be with her once they were gone, sneering dully at the gifts they had always brought. The small room was littered with tiny mementos of a life they had shared with Octavia that Vinyl had no clue about, even as her curiosity about it grew. What was the significance of the spring of dried lavender Coda had left on the windowsill? Where had the picture of a smiling Cavatina and Octavia propped on the bedside cabinet been taken? Vinyl had recognised the one of the whole quartet taken at the Grand Galloping Gala, posing with the other musicians of the evening – plus one pink pony at the front she also recognised from her own gig in Ponyville, then again at the royal wedding. Vinyl remembered that mare introducing herself as Pinkie Pie and whooping next to her as she laid down some wicked tracks for Princess Cadence and Shining Armour’s first dance. Pinkie Pie had been energetic, enthusiastic and an all-around party animal the whole evening.
Vinyl’s interactions with Quaver had been limited to curt nods in the corridor ever since that first awful meeting. He had not wanted to speak to her and, despite her curiosity, Vinyl had not wanted to speak to him either. She figured she would get the same effect by sticking scorpions on her head and letting them sting her ears and eyes.
She wasn’t wrong. Quaver was now incandescent with fury.
“That,” he said, snapping off each word like an icicle he wanted to stab her with, “is not the point. You announced to the world that you are her lover. Not were. You have aired her private life to all and sundry, and you did so without her consent, fabricating a relationship that no longer exists just to satisfy your own monstrous ego in this charade of a fairytale fantasy you insist on perpetuating. How could you do that to her?”
The impulse to respond with an insult was instinctive. The urge to knock him flat was even stronger. Vinyl had to hold herself back. She stared at him; at his flaring nostrils, blazing eyes and a posture wound tight as a spring. Outrage was written in every fibre and every hair. To say he was angry at what she had done would be an understatement.
Yet his anger came from a sincere place. He wasn’t mad for himself, he was mad for Octavia. He cared enough about her to defend her when she could not defend herself and, much as it galled Vinyl to admit it, she couldn’t fault him for that. She could be as maddened as a bulldog chewing a wasp, but she couldn’t fault him for wanting to protect his colleague and ...
And friend. Yeah, Tavi’s his friend too, isn’t she?
“Are you done?” Vinyl asked calmly – far more calmly than she actually was. Quaver had an uncanny knack of making her want to break things just by being in the same room.
“Am I allowed to talk now? I mean without you interrupting.”
“You brazen little –”
“If you’re going to start using cuss words, at least make them count. None of that ‘blasted’ or ‘golly gee whizz’ baloney.”
Quaver fizzled with temper but nodded at her to speak. “All right. I’ll do you the courtesy of trying to explain yourself – though I warn you now, I doubt you can say anything that will make what you have done tolerable.”
Vinyl gathered herself. All the reasoned arguments she had practised surged to the fore of her mind but what came out was simply, “I had to.”
“You did not ‘have to’!” Quaver thundered.
She held up a hoof. “My turn, remember? Now, I don’t know why ponies are saying I’m Tavi’s current lover – I made it real clear that our relationship ended four years ago. What I was trying to do was explain why I’m doing what I’m doing now.” Her eyes shifted to Octavia’s face. “And why I’m going to do what I’m going to do next.”
“What?” Quaver’s voice became wary.
“She isn’t getting any better, Quaver. I talked it over with Doctor Thorntree, her neurosurgeon, and some of the other staff here. There’s a limit on how long the hospital will consider her … viable.” That was the word, right? She remembered it from somewhere in all the medical jargon but wasn’t sure if she had plucked it from the correct place or was even using it correctly now.
“Viable?” Quaver echoed. “What does that mean?”
“It means that after a certain number of months the hospital recommends that coma patients be moved to a long-term care facility. Some hospitals offer this on site but Manehattan General isn’t one of them.”
“Long term … you mean a nursing home?” Quaver put two and two together. “How many months does Octavia have before that happens?”
“It depends on the individual patients and how they react to medi-magic and scientific medicine. For Tavi? Not many more. She’s stable apart from the coma – her organs are healthy and she has the potential to live a long life with the right care, but she doesn’t have any life-threatening injuries anymore. Her head wound responded really well to all the treatments they’ve done. She’ll have scarring, but when her mane grows back properly it’ll cover that.” Vinyl sighed. “But they can’t induce her to consciousness with either drugs or magic. She’s like … like Sleeping Beauty.” She gave a bitter laugh. “So maybe what you said about the fairytale fantasy wasn’t so farfetched, just without the ‘happily ever after’ part.”
“A nursing home?” Quaver said again, his voice strange, as if he was choking on a piece of food that had gone down the wrong tube.
Vinyl glanced at him and saw the shock in his face. It had replaced some of the fury. She understood what he was thinking and feeling at that moment. she had thought and felt it herself when Doctor Thorntree introduced her to Doctor Crabtree and the two of then gently told her why Tavi couldn’t stay at Manehattan General indefinitely.
When Vinyl thought of hospitals, she thought of places where ponies went to get better. Patients only emerged when they were fully recovered or on their way to their own funeral – good health or death, those were the two reasons you left. Since Tavi was not at risk of dying from her wounds anymore, that only left the other reason: she would leave when she was healed. That was clearly the assumption Quaver had made too, even if only subconsciously. He had assumed that while she was still in a coma she would remain here, but Vinyl had done her research and knew different.
“There is a second option,” she said. “That’s the one I’m going for.”
“You?” Quaver snorted, wrenching himself out of his daze. “You don’t get to make decisions like this on her behalf.”
“Apparently I do.” One final breath for good measure. Or maybe it was good luck. He was between her and the door, after all, and he had proven before that he wasn’t above getting physical when somepony pushed him far enough. Then again, four years of gruelling training to look good in media appearances had left her more toned than the last time they had tussled. She reckoned she could take him. “Octavia told you how her aunt died, right?”
“What?” Quaver blinked. “Uh, of course. Cancer.”
“Lymphoma, to be precise. Her family had a history of it. Her aunt was the age Octavia is now when she died. Her own mother – Tavi’s grandmother – died of it too when she wasn’t much older. Tavi has known she’s at risk of contracting it ever since I met her. Well, I guess it was kind of hard to ignore after she’d just lost her aunt to it.”
“Tavi? Tavi, what’s wrong?”
“Don’t c-call me th-that.”
“I woke up and you weren’t there. Hey, are you crying?”
“You friggin’ are.”
“You and that stupid w-word.”
“Sorry, sorry, but Tavi, what’s wrong?”
“N-Nothing, I j-just fancied a cup of t-tea.”
“At three o’clock in the morning? I’m surprised you didn’t wake everypony in the fri- … in the whole dorm.”
“It’s always t-time for t-tea.”
“Here, give me that. You’re in no fit state to deal with hot water. I’ll pour it into the teapot; you sit down at the table. No, don’t try holding the kettle away from me. I can be trusted to make tea, since you spent so much time teaching me the ‘proper’ way.”
“It’s fine. You’re not. You look terrible.”
“I … had a bad dream. One of the bad dreams. You know the ones.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I know them.”
“It was … so real. I woke up and it was like I was a filly again and it had only just happened. It was so real …”
“No, don’t hug me. I’m being terribly silly. It was … it was years ago. I should be past all that by now.”
“Not if it ain’t time for you to be past it.”
“Better. I … I suppose it was worse because I haven’t had one of those dreams for a while.”
“Should I ask which one it was this time?”
“Aunt Melodia. I was … she was …”
“You don’t have to tell me, love. Not if it hurts.”
“No, I-I want to. Then maybe it won’t keep going around in my head so much. It feels like my brain is about to explode. It was the morning I found her. Everything, clear as crystal. I got up, realised I was late for school because nopony had woken me, and went into her room in case her alarm clock hadn’t gone off. Part of me knew something was wrong the moment I opened my eyes. She used to get up with the dawn so she could rehearse downstairs in the practise room until it was time to wake me. That was before the cancer made her so ill, of course. Some days she was so weak she went back to bed the moment she was alone, but she always woke me and took me to school, even on bad days. I think she was frightened that if I was out on the street alone I’d be in an accident like … like Mum and Dad. Every day she’d walk me right up to the school gate, kiss me goodbye and say “Well-bred fillies live by the precept ‘grace under pressure’, Octavia.” Then she would lean in close and whisper, “But if that doesn’t work, kick them in the shins while nopony’s looking”.”
“She sounds like a heck of a mare.”
“She was. She really was. The morning I found her I … I was devastated. I called the emergency services but I knew … I knew she was gone. But in the dream, when I got to her bed and tried to wake her like I did then, it … it …”
“It wasn’t her! It was me, as I am now. Me, asleep forever, like she was!”
“Tavi! Tavi, c’mere. No, don’t push me away. It’s okay, love, it was just a dream.”
“P-Partly, but p-part of it was real. I l-lived it, Vinyl. I l-lived through it. I watched her fade away – watched her die! It was horrid, just … just horrid. During her treatment I c-could see her bones sticking out. She was like a … a skeleton covered in fur. And not much fur after it started falling out …”
“Hey, now, shhh, shhh, I’m here.”
“The worse she got, the more mornings I’d wake up and worry that would be the day I lost her. She was all I had after Mum and Dad … and I was watching her die right in front of me. I don’t know which was worse – not getting to say goodbye to them or getting to say goodbye to her a little bit more every day. She pretended she was fine and that nothing was wrong when it was so obvious she was ill. She wanted to carry on like usual and I couldn’t … I couldn’t deny her that even when it felt like my heart was breaking. Even I just wanted to cry about how unfair it was. She used to wear these floaty scarf things wrapped around her head so it wasn’t so obvious that her mane was gone. She had floaty dresses too to cover what was left of her tail. We went on shopping trips to these little boutiques in the boho district to buy them and she’d let me choose because my fur is the same colour … I mean was. Was the same colour.”
“I’m sorry, Tavi. Nopony should have to go through that.”
“Exactly! Vinyl, you know my family history. You know I’m at risk of getting it too. I can’t make you go through what I went through. I can’t -”
“Hey now, don’t talk dumb.”
“It’s not dumb, it’s -”
“It’s dumb. D-U-M, dumb!”
“That’s not how you spell it.”
“Whatever. Yeah, your family history for this sort of thing sucks worse than an industrial vacuum, but right now you’re healthy and you get regular checks to make sure you stay that way. You’re doing everything you’re supposed to and then some.”
“But I might not always be healthy!”
“Shh, you’re gonna wake everypony!”
“Aunt Melodia thought she would be healthy forever and she was wrong! She planned to get old and retire from the orchestra and teach students and – Vinyl, if I get sick, you can’t stay with me.”
“You can’t. You simply can’t. I won’t allow it. I won’t let you live through what I lived through. You can’t stay with me. It’s too big a risk. If I get cancer like Aunt Melodia, you are to walk away and not look back, do you understand me?”
“Welcome to Crazy Town, population: you.”
“Vinyl! I’m being serious!”
“So am I. You? Are talking like a crazy pony. Maybe I should start padding your room -”
“Vinyl, stop being facetious!”
“I would if I knew what that meant. Tavi, you’re talking like you’ve already been diagnosed with a terminal illness. You’re fine. Mad as a diamond dog licking piss off a nettle, but I’m gonna chalk that up to sleep deprivation and the aftereffects of bad dreams.”
“But Vinyl -”
“No buts. Serious face moment. See my serious face? Serious face means you shut up and listen. No, no, no – you shushy, me talky. Tavi, Nopony knows what the future holds. Yeah, your genes gave you fantastic musical ability but are sucktastic in other ways. You could say the same for my genes. You know about my mom – and no, this isn’t a ‘my family angst versus your family angst’ thing, this is just me making a point. If all we do is worry about turning out like the adults in our lives, I could worry about becoming an addict and screwing up my life the same way she did.”
“That’s silly. You don’t even drink alcohol, let alone anything else.”
“But I could. If I worried about my hypothetical future based on her past, I could hypothetically drive myself insane and send you away now in case I hypothetically ever get hooked and you ever hypothetically find me like I found her. Do you get how ridiculous that sounds? I even used the word ‘hypothetical’ so you can tell I’m being serious.”
“I … I …”
“Hypothetical illness or not, Tavi, you don’t get to tell me what I can and can’t do. You don’t get to send me away if you ever do get sick. You don’t get to be alone if you’re scared of the future and need somepony to hold you and let you cry on them, like you’re doing right now. Your aunt didn’t have anypony like me in her life. You do. Do you honestly think I would walk away if you were sick like that? Do you?”
“You’re truly still gonna argue with me on this? For a pony with so many smarts in her brain, you can be really dumb sometimes. I’m in this for the long haul, you moron. C’mere. You can’t get rid of me that easily, Tavi. I’m like a boomerang with a beat. Hey, speaking of beats, why don’t you come to the club with me tomorrow night? That DJ I told you about is playing – the one who let me try his turntables the night I got my cutie mark. We can make a night of it.”
“Serious face gives way to vampiric puppy dog eyes! You know you can’t resist vampiric puppy dog eyes.”
“Vinyl … you’re an idiot sometimes.”
“But you love me anyway. And this idiot? Ain’t going nowhere.”
Vinyl shook her head against the flood of memory. She centred herself. Press conference. Quaver. Doctor Crabtree the long-term-care specialist. Yes. “My point is, Tavi worried about getting cancer someday, so she made a living will in case she ever wasn’t able to make decisions for herself because of medical problems.” Vinyl watched the steady rise and fall of Octavia’s chest. “She never meant anything like this, but the will serves the same function. She granted me power of attorney.” Pause. Quaver was waiting. Deep breath. Light headedness. Was that a good sign or a bad one? “She never changed it after we broke up.”
“No!” Quaver exclaimed.
“Yes,” Vinyl said, calm surrounding the word like iron. “I spoke to her lawyer and he confirmed it. She told him that we weren’t together anymore and he asked her point blank whether she wanted it changed. She said no. The will is legal and binding. While Tavi’s in a coma, I have ultimate decision-making control over her finances, her estate, her placement, plus everything else.”
“She would never … she … she couldn’t …” Quaver spluttered.
“She did, Quaver,” Vinyl said quietly. “It shocked me too. That’s why I’ve been able to stay with her for so long and why the doctors have been telling me things about her condition that somepony who isn’t a spouse or blood relation shouldn’t be told. It’s why I have more rights than an ex should in a situation like this. She … she left me to look after things – to look after her – if she ever couldn’t do it herself. She trusted me to take care of her.”
The act had not been accidental. Octavia’s lawyer had told Vinyl in no uncertain terms that he had actually advised Octavia to let him rewrite her will to grant somepony else power of attorney. Octavia had refused. It was the ultimate gesture of trust that Vinyl had ever known – and of love. After everything Vinyl had done, all the hurt and broken promises, Octavia had still trusted her with her life – literally. Vinyl drew in a shuddering breath. She had known this information for a while but it still shocked her to her core that Octavia would trust her this much after all that had happened between them.
“So this is my decision, and I don’t want to hear any friggin’ bellyaching from you about it,” she announced. “When her time’s up here, Tavi is going to come and live with me. I’m having my home outfitted to be able to properly care for her and … well, you already heard that I’m taking time off from my career. I’m going to be her carer.”
“Why not? I can afford it and I want to do it. The alternative is to put her in a nursing home with ponies she doesn’t even know. They may be trained professionals and really nice and yadda-yadda-yada, but they won’t know her. They won’t know who she really is. They’ll just see her as she is now: a mare in a coma.”
“But you can’t –”
“Do you know how to change a colostomy bag, Quaver?”
“How about a catheter? Can you insert a nutrient IV without air bubbles? Do you know how to change the sheets of a bed with an unresponsive pony in it after they’ve soiled themselves? Or prevent pressure ulcers? Or deep vein thrombosis?”
“I … I –”
“Because I do. I’ve been learning how. I’m fully aware of what I mean when I say I’m going to be Tavi’s carer. It’s not some spontaneous statement for the media to chop up and make into sound-bites. You may think I’ve been living out some fairytale fantasy, sitting by Tavi’s bedside like some prince who has come to kiss the sleeping princess, but you’re wrong. I’ve been learning all the gory details of how to care for her as she is now, and let me tell you, there’s nothing fantastical or fairytale about it. It’s dirty and humiliating and full of stuff nopony likes to think about, but I’ve been doing it. Do you know why? Because I love her and love isn’t always pretty. It’s full of ugliness and hard edges and landmines you never expect, that rip pieces of you off and leave great big holes where they used to be, but you keep going anyway because that’s love. You have to take the bad with the good. You can’t say you love someone and then ditch them when they’re inconvenient. I said four years ago that I still loved Tavi. You heard me, remember? I was an idiot back then. Maybe I’m still an idiot now, but I do love her. That never changed, even if you’d rather it wasn’t true. So you may think I’m bad for her, Quaver, or that she’s better than me and deserves somepony better too. You’d probably be right. Tavi deserves somepony way, way better than me, but do you know what else? None of that matters. None of it. Right now I may not be the pony you want, or that she would want if she could say so, but I’m the pony she needs and I’m going to make that trust count.”
Vinyl was breathing hard by the end of her tirade. Strained quiet fell over the small room. The beeping of Octavia’s heart monitor was like the knell of a church bell calling ponies to a funeral.
Eventually Quaver spoke.
“Are you done?”
Vinyl almost laughed at hearing her own words thrown back at her. “Yeah, I‘m done talking.”
“Good. Now it’s my turn to speak and your turn to be quiet.” Quaver looked at her for a moment; really looked at her, as if he was seeing her for the first time. Vinyl tilted her chin at him defiantly but he didn’t react. He just blinked at her. He sure did have long lashes for a stallion. Did he use a curler on them or something? “I’m of the notion that a leopard doesn’t change its spots.”
“Ah-ah!” He held up one imperious hoof. “My turn, remember? So shut your bloody pie-hole for once, Scratch.” The unexpectedly coarse language rendered Vinyl momentarily speechless. Quaver made full use of that moment. “I spent four years watching Octavia pretend to get over you. I was there for her when you weren’t – both before and after your relationship died a well-deserved death. No matter how many times you profess your love for her now, I saw what being with you did to her.
“She was such a vibrant, positive mare when we first met; like a breath of fresh air in our dusty old theatre. She brought a spark of life to our quartet that hadn’t been there previously. We were in a rut. Music had started to become an unpleasant routine for us – nothing more than a job we went to each day, devoid of enjoyment. That was what made our previous cellist leave and opened the spot that Octavia took. I am not a young pony, Scratch, but being around her made me feel young again. She had such life, such energy, and she felt music the way we had before we forgot. I daresay the quartet would have folded long ago, had she not arrived on our doorstep. We were not a successful group when she joined us. We were living on past glories and it was beginning to show. Ponies had ceased to attend our concerts and we were getting fewer and fewer invitations to play at functions. Only one pony auditioned for the cellist’s chair – one.
“Octavia brought the magic back for us. It was impossible to be around her and not fall back in love with music, just so we could share in her passion for it. Her passion infected each of us – myself, Cavatina and Coda – and pushed us to make something of ourselves again. It is not overstatement to say that she saved the Quaver Quartet and we all grew very fond of her. So when it became clear how miserable she was – how miserable the problems in your relationship were making her – we naturally all became very defensive. Yet we said nothing, because she professed to love you too and her eyes when she said that were just as full of …” He coughed and averted his gaze but the slip did not go unnoticed.
For a moment the silence of the room seemed overwhelming. Even the beeping was stifled under the terrible weight of Quaver’s unintended meaning.
“She faded, right before our eyes. She played, but the passion that had brought us back to life started to wane in her music. Despite her technical prowess, it was easy for a fellow musician to tell. The birthday before she ended things with you, she spent practically the whole day staring at the door or out of the window. She was distracted. She made beginner’s mistakes and berated herself so harshly that we were all shocked. She had reached her breaking point. When she arrived the next day for rehearsal, after she had seen you and ended things, she was a broken pony. As much as being with you made her miserable, Scratch, not being with you hurt her more.”
Vinyl’s breath caught in her throat.
“Your uncouth display in our theatre did little to lessen my misgivings about how healthy it was for her to be around you. I was convinced that you were bad for her. I am not unconvinced of that now.”
Her throat started to burn.
“And yet, if you are indeed telling the truth about your intentions … then you have proved me wrong … in at least … some small way.” The words came like he was prising them off his tongue with a spatula, thick with gluey chagrin. He kept his eyes averted so Vinyl could not read them properly, but his shoulders were high and tension rode roughshod throughout his whole body. “Let’s be clear of one thing: I do not approve of you claiming to be something you are not. You are her ex-lover, whatever you may have read into her recent contact with you. A few phone-calls do not make a reconciliation.”
No, but it was a start. Vinyl held her tongue.
“If things were different, I would be counselling Octavia to think very, very, very deeply about what she is doing. Was doing.” The correction made him hesitate. He shook his head as if to dispel an unpleasant thought and waved a hoof at the bed. “Had this situation not occurred, my estimation of you would still be exactly nil. While Octavia locked away her hurt and her misery and refused to even talk about what had happened, you got over her remarkably quickly. While she was alone except for us, you had seemingly everypony in Equestria vying for your attention. You had replaced her with everything she was not and that hurt her more than she ever let on. We all watched your rise to fame, vulgar as it was. You were living the high life while her playing remained passionless for a long, long time.” Quaver paused. “She did not forget you. She saw a few ponies socially, at our insistence, but nothing worked out. Eventually she started to come out of her shell again, but it was as if something was still missing for her, even after she regained her passion for playing her cello. Octavia did not refer to you by name but a pony with her passion for classical music does not squirrel away dubstep records unless there is a reason.”
You pompous cretin. The willpower it took for Vinyl to stay silent was incredible. Tavi had collected her music? Albums or singles? Did it even matter? She had collected them even though it was Vinyl’s addiction to her music that had caused a lot of the problems between them.
A lot of the problems, but not all of them, Vinyl acknowledged with a self-awareness that almost scared her. Her selfishness had always been a part of her, right from when she pulled pranks to get attention as a foal. Sometimes she could control it, sometimes she couldn’t. Getting obsessed with her career, especially the wonderful elation and congratulations it brought from other ponies, was just the next step on a path she had been walking for a long time without realising it.
Even losing Octavia had not been enough to make her fully aware of what she was doing. She had mourned the end of their relationship and never really gotten over her mistakes, but it had not stopped her from making more by doing what she had always done: throwing herself into a new obsession so unreservedly that it blotted out everything else. She had lived her life moving from one obsession to another: pranks and playing the class clown at school, studying to get into the Academy and then to come top of her classes while she was there, dubstep and her fledgling career as a DJ – even Octavia herself. For a time Octavia had dominated Vinyl’s every waking thought for a time and the euphoria of their romance had been intoxicating. It had knocked her studying power, taking the shine from her previous obsession, and sent her right to the bottom of her classes at the Academy as a result. Yet as soon as that initial buzz wore off and she was faced with the humdrum of life in the real world, and the tribulations of maintaining a relationship instead of just a romance, Vinyl had moved on to the next thing that made her feel enthralled and engaged. She had not been aware she was doing it, but faced with the time and inclination to look over her past actions during her vigil at Octavia’s bedside, Vinyl was finally forced to recognise this deep-rooted character flaw.
She remembered further back, to a pale pony with a needle in her foreleg, a damp kiss goodbye and a message delivered by a headmaster who really didn’t want to. Addiction was more complex than anyone realised. You could get addicted to life and its many wonders as easily as drugs, drink or other illicit substances.
Vinyl had never been very good at maintaining a balance between her obsessions and her responsibilities. She was an all or nothing pony, living on the edge, always chasing that next good feeling. Now she had been presented with this opportunity to make up for something she had done in her quest for the next good feeling and she wasn’t about to waste it. Life was generous with dealing out bad luck but it wasn’t too hot on second chances.
Quaver was still talking, she realised. She missed the first few words but heard enough to get the gist.
“… only met you only a few times, Scratch, none of which were enough to convince me that you were a pony of any worth. You struck me as a selfish, self-absorbed mare with little regard for the feelings of those around you as long as you were happy.”
Damn, he had hit the nail right on the friggin’ head. Vinyl winced, which seemed to please him, at least until he said what he had to say next.
“But if you are sincere in this venture and you are willing to set aside your own desires to care for Octavia, even though there is no gain in it for you and the risk of a great deal of heartache … well then, I suppose I may have … misjudged you.”
Comebacks flew to Vinyl’s mind. ‘There, was that so hard to admit?’ ‘Aw, I didn’t know you cared.’ ‘See, I told you so!’ Instead, all she said was, “Thank you, Quaver.”
“Don’t thank me,” he snapped. “If you abuse your power of attorney in any way, if you neglect her for even one single second, I will do everything possible to wrest that power from you.”
“Wrest? Is that even a word?”
“Be serious, Scratch!”
“I am, and it’s Vinyl. I’m going to continue doing song-writing for other artists while I’m on sabbatical, Quaver, but as Vinyl Scratch, not DJ-Pon3, so get used to using my name, okay?”
“A friend gave me the idea. If I give up everything to do with music I’ll end up resenting Tavi, and I don’t want that to happen. Writing fits in with the life I’m going to be living from now on. I can do some composing around caring for her, keep my hoof in and stop myself doing something dumb if I get bored or start thinking I can’t handle it. Tavi’s not the only one with a passion for music, Quaver. You may not like my sounds but they’re my passion as much as classical is yours.” She swallowed. “And hers. Tavi’s the one who taught me how to play music and got me started. Without her, I wouldn’t love music the way I do. Her passion inspired me as much as it did you. I owe her for that, if nothing else.”
Quaver stared for a long moment. Finally he turned away from her and reached the door in a few quick strides. One there he paused, glaring over his shoulder. “Don’t make me regret this. Don’t make her regret this.”
“I won’t,” Vinyl replied earnestly.
“The bizarre thing is I may actually believe you.” Quaver gave a short, mirthless laugh. “Goodbye … Vinyl.”
Before she could respond, he was gone.