• Published 15th Aug 2015
  • 1,163 Views, 27 Comments

Romance in Adagio - Desideratium



Octavia. The musical artisan with a preference for quietude. A solitary figure, shrouded in enigma.

  • ...
3
 27
 1,163

Act 2: Hide and Seek

You don’t end up going to third period.

You and Octavia continue to play for another hour, game after game. She beats you every time, but you think that by the end of the session the victories are growing narrower and narrower as you learn her techniques.

As the clock counts down to the start of fourth period, both you and Octavia eye it apprehensively. Your performance hurts because of your distraction, and it ends up being your worst defeat yet. After Octavia’s declaration of checkmate, you flick your king over in submission and sit back in your chair.

“Could we not talk about that one?” you say.

Octavia laughs, something that you, even though you now consider yourselves friends, still rarely hear. “What happened there? I know you saw that knight from miles away, why didn’t you do anything about him?”

“Distracted, I guess.” You gesture shapelessly in the direction of the clock. “Time’s ticking, after all.”

“I know. You have P.E. fourth period, correct?”

“Yeah.”

“Not a very important class, no?”

“I suppose not.”

Octavia looks at you expectantly. Confused, you tilt your head at her. She raises an eyebrow, smiles wryly.

Oh. “You’re a bad influence, you know.”

Octavia smiles innocently. “Now why would you say that?”

You slowly blow out all the air in your lungs. You glance at the clock. The minute hand slowly creeps up to the twelve. “Ah, hell with it. We can afford to miss one class, right?”

“Splendid!”

You don’t end up going to fourth period, either.


Only when the final bell rings, signalling the end of school, do you finally relent. You’re surprisingly exhausted -- this intense gaming session has eaten up nearly all of your mental potential. You don’t make a move to start cleaning up when you hear the din of students outside. Instead, you fold your arms on the table and place your head on top of them.

“We probably shouldn’t have done that,” you remark.

“Probably not,” Octavia agrees. “Sorry.”

The tone of her voice makes you look up. Octavia is regarding you nervously. “Hey, I’d much rather play chess with you than run laps around the track for an hour. I had a fantastic time, I’m just saying we shouldn’t make it a habit.”

She smiles, a welcome sight. “I don’t think my mind could handle this kind of exertion on a daily basis, anyway.”

“May I take that as a compliment?”

“You may.”

Neither of you move for a long while, just simply sitting and gazing out the window. The position of the tea room offers an ideal view across the school grounds. Afternoon sunlight gives the surrounding greenery a yellow tint, throwing out long shadows from trees and people. You find yourself having trouble keeping your eyes open. You hide a yawn behind your hand and notice that Octavia catches it too, yawning widely.

“Tired?” you ask.

“Very.”

“Me too. That was brutal.”

“In the best possible way, I’m sure you mean.” Octavia smiles wryly.

“Of course, of course.”

Silence overtakes you again. The only sound heard is the distant rumble of thousands of feet making their way out of the school. You allow it to melt together into a reverberating resonance, vibrating the ground below your feet. You feel no urge to join them.

“Oh dear,” Octavia says suddenly.

“Hmm?”

“Brace yourself.”

“For wha-”

The tea room door bursts open and in strides an irritated Vinyl Scratch. She’s damp with sweat and is still wearing her gym clothes. As Vinyl had mentioned earlier, Octavia’s sense of hearing is second to none, and she had evidently picked up on Vinyl’s approach before you had. Though how she had separated it from the din of the hundreds of other bodies outside the door, you have no idea.

“Someone here better have an explanation for me, ‘cause it looks like you two haven’t moved a muscle since I left, oh you know, right after lunch!” Vinyl steams, pointing accusatively around the room.

You and Octavia look at each other, both of you inviting the other to try to mitigate your friend’s wrath. “Um . . .” you start.

“We were just having the most invigorating discussion, weren’t we?” Octavia steps in. “And I’m afraid we simply lost track of time.” She says it all with sweet, but false, sincerity. Vinyl doesn’t seem to buy it.

“You’ve been playing chess this whole time, haven’t you?” Vinyl uses the sleeve of her shirt to mop her brow.

“Yes,” you and Octavia say in unison.

Vinyl collapses down onto the couch. “Goodness ever-loving gracious. I’m not even mad. That kind of stamina is impressive.” She swivels her head in your direction. “I am, however, a little ticked that you bailed on me for P.E. You’ve been the only one keeping me sane for that class. Who else am I going to talk to? Rainbow Dash?”

“C’mon, Vinyl, you’ve survived almost the whole year without me, I thought you could handle one day.”

“So you thought! That one day nearly killed me!”

“Oh, you’ll be fine, you big baby.”

Octavia titters. She begins to clear away the chess pieces and you move to help her. As you sweep a pile of pieces into the bag, she wordlessly tightens the drawstrings and places it in Vinyl’s backpack. Oddly, she seems to be avoiding your eye. Vinyl’s entrance seems to have terminated her relaxed demeanor.

“Probably time to go home, I suppose,” you say. “Before the custodians kick us out.”

“Not so fast, mister,” Vinyl says, sitting up suddenly. “You’re not going anywhere until I’ve got a satisfactory apology for leaving me alone with the numskulls from P.E.”

“Vinyl . . .” Octavia admonishes.

“Vinyl, I’m really truly sorry for making you run without me for a day,” you say “There won’t be a day that passes in which I do not remember the moment I betrayed your trust. Could I possibly hope to gain your forgiveness?”

“Not yet you can’t! Words are all well and good, but I’m going to need something more . . . substantial.” Vinyl smiles wryly.

“Uh . . .”

“So, what you’re going to do is treat these two lovely ladies to milkshakes. Effective immediately.”

Your racing mind immediately calms. Milkshakes. You can do that. For the thrill of the banter, however, you do not relent just yet. “I did not volunteer for that manner of chagrin, I beseech you to reconsider.”

“You didn’t volunteer. You got voluntold. And for the love of all that is holy, talk like a normal human being, will ya?”

“Sorry.” You smile weakly. “Something cold and sweet sounds pretty good, actually.”

“Cold and sweet,” Octavia muses. “Just like Vinyl.”

“Thanks, I think?” Vinyl raises an eyebrow quizzically at Octavia as you chuckle. “Now, should we get moving?”

“Lead the way.”


Vinyl shoulders the door to Sugarcube Corner open, propping it open with her foot for you and Octavia to follow. The small sweetshop is nearly vacant, save the plump, pink-haired woman behind the counter. Upon seeing Vinyl, she breaks into a wide smile.

“What can I do for you today, dearie?”

“Hiya, Mrs. Cake. Could me and my friends get a couple of milkshakes?”

“Certainly! What kind wouldja like?”

Vinyl gestures at you and Octavia, an invitation to place your orders. “Raspberry,” Octavia answers simply. It takes you a while longer; the list of flavors posted above the counter is overwhelmingly extensive.

“I’ll have the Marzipan Mascarpone . . .” You pause, squinting at the looping pink font.

“The Marzipan Mascarpone Meringue Madness?” offers Mrs. Cake.

“Yes. That’s the one. Thanks.”

And I’ll have a cookies and cream,” Vinyl says.

“And will that be all for you today?” Mrs. Cake has the most endearing smile you’ve ever seen, and you can’t help but smile along.

After a quick confirming glance at you and Octavia, Vinyl nods. You reach into your pocket to pull out your wallet, but Vinyl grabs your wrist. “I pay,” she says firmly.

“But you said . . .”

“If you pay, then that makes this look like a date, and heaven knows that I don’t see you that way. So I pay.”

Mrs. Cake titters. “Oh, and here I was getting all worked up because you finally brought a boy here. Don’t keep me waiting forever, you hear?”

“One of these days, Mrs. Cake. One of these days.” Vinyl, oblivious to the concept of embarrassment, pulls out a bill and slaps it down on the counter as you rub your neck awkwardly. Octavia seems to find the whole thing extraordinarily amusing.

“Have a seat wherever you like, I’ll have your shakes out for you in a jiffy!”

“Thanks, Mrs. Cake.”

As Mrs. Cake disappears back into the depths of the shop, Vinyl slides into a booth near the door. You and Octavia follow, Octavia taking her place next to Vinyl, while you sit across from the two girls.

“You a regular here?” you ask Vinyl.

“Yeah, I come around practically every day. Octy sometimes too. Mrs. Cake’s a peach, ain’t she?”

“She is,” you agree. “So how come I never earned an invitation?”

Vinyl shrugs. “You never asked.”

Octavia snorts. “And how is he to ask if he doesn’t know of its existence?”

You instantaneously side with Octavia. “Yeah, I don’t know what your after school consists of, how should know what kind of party I’m missing out on?”

“I was just looking after your well-being is all!” Vinyl pouts. “I wouldn’t want you messing up that chiseled figure you’ve got going there with all the sweets.”

Octavia, evidently thinking that you aren’t watching, eyes you up, running her gaze up and down your person. You self-consciously fold your arms across yourself, trying to hide your obvious lack of muscular definition. Vinyl notices, and laughs at your discomfort. “Don’t worry, you’re with similarly-afflicted company.”

“Cheers, Vinyl.” Eager not to talk about your physique, you instead cast your eyes around the room. “This seems like a nice little place.”

“It is.” Octavia nods. “Good food, nice atmosphere. Stays quiet most of the time.” You can understand why Octavia would highlight that as a selling point. “Mrs. Cake is nice too. It’s a surprise that most people don’t realize what an ideal rendezvous place it is.”

“Like the tea room,” you comment.

“Like the tea room,” Octavia repeats with a smile.

Mrs. Cake appears, hefting a platter bearing three tall glasses full of different-colored thick substances with a spoon sticking out of each. She distributes them around the table, then beams another winning smile. “There ya go, dears. Anything else I can do for you today?”

“We’re fine, thanks Mrs. Cake,” Vinyl says, already tearing the wrapper off a straw.

“Yeah, thank you,” you affirm. “These look fantastic.”

Mrs. Cake gives one last painfully-sweet smile, then disappears. Vinyl wastes no time in digging in, plunging the straw into her shake and sucking deeply, puckering her cheeks comically. You and Octavia opt for the more conservative route, using the spoons provided to scoop off the top.

“Wha do yuh fink?” Vinyl says around a mouthful of shake.

Having just taken a big bite -- and not having Vinyl’s disregard for table manners -- you simply nod in approval. You swallow, too quickly. Blinking back the rush of cold behind your eyes, you say, “It’s good. Really good.”

“I would advise slowing down,” Octavia says with a smirk, noticing you cringing. “Savor the moment.”

“Thanks,” you say, your eye still twitching from the cold. “I’ll try that.”

“Shay,” Vinyl says. Her mouth is still full. “Wha’re yuh doin’ for utuhm breash?”

“Vinyl, please swallow, then repeat,” Octavia says.

Vinyl obeys, then opens her mouth again. “What are you doing for autumn recess?”

“Me?” Octavia says.

“‘Course not, I know what you’re doing, darlin’. You,” Vinyl says, pointing at you with a spoon.

You hadn’t given it much thought. It’s still two weeks away, far enough that you don’t need to worry for another thirteen days. Your parents had mentioned that they were taking a weekend trip, one that you have no interest in going on, so that leaves you planless. “I dunno, nothing exciting,” you say, shrugging.

Vinyl and Octavia share a meaningful glance, one in which an entire nonverbal conversation seems to take place. Octavia’s countenance displays discomfort, apprehension, and irritation. Vinyl just looks excited.

“Did you . . .” You cough. “Have something in mind?”

“Yeah, if you’re interested,” Vinyl replies, still looking at Octavia, who folds her arms.

“Uh, what is it?”

“My dad has a cabin up the canyon. Me and Octavia were planning on staying a couple days up there, so we were wondering . . .” Octavia elbows her. “I was wondering, if you’d like to come with.”

A few days. Up in the woods with two girls. With no parental supervision. Alone. Oh my.

“Uh, well y-yeah,” you stammer. “If it’s alright with you, that is.” You throw it out generally, but direct your statement more towards Octavia. She nods, but seems reluctant.

“Excellent!” Vinyl claps her hands. “A third wheel!” She takes a triumphant swig of milkshake.

“And your dad’s okay with it?”

“I told him you were a girl when I ran it by him.” Vinyl shrugs. “He’d probably be cool about it even if he found out you’re a dude.”

“Octavia? Your parents too? I don’t want to . . .”

“I live with my grandparents, actually.”

Huh. How has that never come up? During all the time knowing her, you’d never once asked about her family. You’d definitely told about your own family, but that was only because Vinyl asked. Octavia is still enigmatic as ever, but this is a revelation. One in which a story is buried, no doubt, but you don’t want to pry.

“And they’d be . . . okay with it?” you ask.

Octavia shrugs. “I’ll have to ask. This is the first I’ve heard of it. Vinyl elected not to let me in on her plotting.”

“It was . . . kind of spur-of-the-moment,” Vinyl admits apologetically. “I only thought of it yesterday. But your grandma’s super chill, though. I bet she’d be fine about it. Y’know, as long as you didn’t tell her he’s a guy.”

“That would be unwise,” Octavia agrees, not meeting Vinyl’s eye.

“So, what’s the plan?” you ask.

Vinyl laughs. “Heh, you know how I am about planning ahead. Implying that there’s more to the plan than what I already told you . . .”

“So, what you’re saying is that I should ask you in a week or two, then see where we’re at?” You smile, indeed familiar with Vinyl’s scatterbrained approach to planning.

“Basically.”

“Perfect. Well, I like the sound of that. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome, now shut up and enjoy your treat.”

You obey gladly.


“That everything?”

You hoist the last of the duffel bags into Vinyl’s car and slam the trunk shut. “Yep. All set?”

Vinyl, who is carrying a heavy notebook, scans down her packing list, something that Octavia had insisted on. She had hinted at a trip in the past in which Vinyl had forgotten some . . . important items, which Octavia refused to be more specific about. “Looks like it. Got your snacks? Music? Sudoku?”

“Check, check, and check,” comes Octavia’s voice from around the car. “And remember our agreement about music.”

“Yeah, yeah. Mine for half, yours for half. Got it. Now can we please hit the road?”

“Hold on, just got to lock up before we go,” you say. The three of you had rendezvoused at your house. It’s the first time, you realize, that Vinyl or Octavia have been to your house. You rarely see each other outside of school, aside from the occasional visit to Sugarcube Corner. Their visit had consisted mostly of Vinyl and Octavia awkwardly standing around the dining room while you lugged your luggage upstairs.

You go around the house, locking doors and making sure windows are shut. When you return to the car, you hear the heavy thrum of bass emanating from it, vibrating the ground as you walk. Vinyl, sitting in the driver’s seat, bobs her head to the beat, grinning. Octavia, sitting beside her, has her arms tightly folded and wears a haunted expression. You open the door to the back seat, letting out an avalanche of sound.

“Is that loud enough, Vinyl?” you shout over the noise.

“What?”

“Is that . . . never mind, carry on.” You slide into the car and close the door. “Shall we?”

Octavia turns in her seat to face you. “Help me,” she mouths. You give her an apologetic look, then tap Vinyl on the shoulder.

“Mind turning it down a bit?”

Vinyl reluctantly lowers the volume. The chest-thumping thrum lessens slightly. “Man, you guys just don’t know how to listen to music. We good to go?”

“No turning back now,” Octavia comments grimly, still cringing from the musical onslaught.

“All right! No more words, just the wide open road!”

“Vinyl, you live in the suburbs. Most people here have never even seen an open road.”

“Don’t need your sass, girl! Let’s kick it!” Vinyl stomps on the gas pedal, sending the car screaming out of your driveway and hauling down the street. You, still in the process of fastening your seatbelt, are thrown against the pile of luggage sharing the back seat with you. You bang your head against a bag full of something hard and see stars.

“Vinyl, if you kill us before we get out of the neighborhood, I’m gonna be a little disappointed,” you say, righting yourself and rubbing your head.

“This isn’t an especially promising start,” Octavia agrees. “Are you sure you want to drive?”

“Your confidence is overwhelming, guys,” Vinyl says as she hits the brakes hard for a stop sign. “Don’t worry, I’ve got it covered.”

“If you say so.”

True to her word, Vinyl keeps you alive and well. Her driving, while consistently a good fifteen miles per hour above the speed limit, is still quite safe. You do have to brace yourself when hitting turns, but that comes naturally enough.

Vinyl’s music, though energizing it may be, does little to pass the time, so she instigates a fair amount of game playing. Get-to-know-you conversation games that probably should have been played far earlier in your relationship.

“Okay, so what’s your favorite color? Mine’s blue, but like a nice light blue. Kind of the color of when you wake up from a dream and you’re not sure if you’re awake or not. Know what I mean?”

“Green,” you say.

“Purple,” replies Octavia.

“C’mon, if we’re gonna play the favorites game, you gotta be a little more in-depth than that.”

“Okay,” you say. You rack your brain. “Green, like the smell of rain.”

“Wouldn’t that be more blue?” Vinyl asks.

“I imagine it green. Up to the individual, I guess.”

“Petrichor,” Octavia says. “The smell of rain. Petrichor is what it’s called. A very green word.”

“Fun facts, brought to you by Octavia Melody,” Vinyl announces grandly. “What about you? What makes your purple so special?”

“The light purple, almost lavender, of the early morning. When you step outside and the air is still pale, and you feel the crispness of it all.”

You visualize the scene in your mind. Purple, maybe. “I’m seeing kind of a turquoise.”

“Well, regardless of what color your emotions are, you’re gonna see some spectacular mornings where we’re going,” Vinyl says. “We’ve stayed on colors for too long, I’m getting bored. What next? Movies?”

The game continues on. Innocent in nature, but you learn more and more about Octavia as you play. You learn that she likes mystery novels, classical music (not a surprise), romantic comedies (a definite surprise), autumn, strawberry ice cream, dark chocolate, has a fear of spiders, and prefers the mountains over the beach. A fine portfolio of knowledge, to be certain.

As time passes, the games slow down, then crawl to a stop. Your motley crew is taken over by silence for a time, until Vinyl starts singing along to the music, Octavia plays Sudoku, you look out the window. Signs of civilization have long since disappeared -- the car charges down the narrow country highway, passing acre after acre of verdant farmland. You don’t mind being left alone with your thoughts. You have nothing in particular to think about, so you allow your mind to unwind, to wander. At some point, you fall asleep.

When you’re woken, it’s by the sound of Vinyl’s electronic discord being abruptly cut off.

“Hey!” Vinyl complains.

“Time’s up,” Octavia says, plugging her phone into the audio jack. “You said half, and half you’ll get.”

The soothing sound of an orchestra emerges from the speakers. The melody washes over you in a pacifying swell. “Oh, thank goodness,” you say.

“I thought you were asleep,” Vinyl says, glancing quickly behind.

“I was. This is nicer to sleep to, though. Trust me.”

“Thank you,” Octavia says. “It’s nice that someone else appreciates a more . . . archaic form of music, even if he is just sleeping through it.”

“No, I’ll stay awake,” you assure her. “I wouldn’t dare sleep through such a masterpiece.”

Anyone else would have pegged you as being sarcastic, but Octavia knows you well enough to recognize your sincerity. You do enjoy classical music, more so than most. That isn’t to say that you can’t appreciate Vinyl’s preferred tone, but the sound of an acoustic instrument, played by a master of the art, cannot be matched in your opinion. Octavia has very fine taste in music. As her playlist progresses, you recognize a plethora of your own favorite pieces. You close your eyes, but not in sleep; you allow the music to swirl around you, piercing the deepest recesses of your being and sending a chill down your back. Beautiful.

Despite her warning to you, Octavia dozes. Her head is pressed uncomfortably against the window, so you wad your jacket up and gently insert it between her head and the glass.

“She asleep?” Vinyl asks.

“Looks like.”

“Cool. Wish I could take a nap.”

“I can drive for a while, if you want.”

Vinyl ponders. “Yeah, sure. Next rest stop I’ll trade you. Thanks, by the way, for coming along.”

“My pleasure. I probably would have been home playing video games all weekend, or something.”

Vinyl chuckles. “Which isn’t a bad alternative.”

“But this is better.”

“Glad you think so.”

“Is Octavia . . .” You pause, trying to choose your words carefully. “Angry? About me being here?”

“What makes you say that?”

“I dunno, it’s just that she seemed a little peeved when you popped the question, and she’s been kinda quiet for these past few weeks. I should have asked her about it before, now that it’s too late to turn back.”

“It’s probably nothing, it’s just that me and her have taken this trip every year for the past . . .” Vinyl counts on her fingers. “Five years. She was just a little nervous about the change. We’ll have a great time, don’t worry.”

“How long have you and her been friends?”

“About a decade. We met when we were eight.”

“Huh.” You can think of nothing more intelligent to say. Your conversation closes. Ten years is a long time, longer than any of your own friendships by far. It’s hard for you to fathom that these two have stuck together so long, as different as they are.

After a time, Vinyl pulls up to a derelict gas station to fuel up, and you and her trade spots. You take your place behind the wheel. Octavia is still asleep. “Don’t let me get lost, okay?” you say to the back seat.

“Hrm, no promises,” Vinyl says, already reclining into a sleeping position.

“Alright, I’ll wake you up if I need you.”

Vinyl falls asleep almost immediately; you can hear soft snoring behind you before long. You drive, just you and these two slumbering girls. You’re grateful for your own nap; your fatigue is dispelled, leaving you energized. Your previously tired brain feels alert, attentive.

Yes, Octavia was upset that Vinyl had invited you. But it sounds like it has nothing to do with you personally, just the fact that it was another person, someone to infringe on the sanctity of this trip. A change from the norm. Vinyl is smart, though -- she had invited you for a reason. Perhaps she saw this as the next step for your relationship with Octavia, maybe the tea room lunches just weren’t cutting it anymore.

You drive for maybe an hour, then Vinyl taps you on the shoulder. “Next right,” she says blearily, evidently still shaking off the sleep. You obey. Vinyl continues to give you directions, until you’re deep into the woods. You trundle along a dirt road, passing several cabins at your left and right. Ahead, through a break in the trees, you can see the shimmering surface of a lake, framed picturesquely by two mountains. “One more right, then go to the end of the road.”

The cabin is small, but pretty. Sitting just off the lake, a narrow path leads down to the water, where a canoe is beached. A fire pit has been dug off to the side, surrounded by cut logs resembling benches. You pull up to the side of the structure and cut the engine. Octavia stirs and opens her eyes.

“You’re not Vinyl,” she says flatly.

“No, she wanted a nap,” you say, then open the door and step outside. You stretch your arms high above your head, working out all the kinks that had accumulated during the drive. Vinyl has already popped the trunk and is unloading bags. Octavia exits the vehicle, and you notice that one side of her hair has been flattened by her nap. You decide not to point it out.

“Have a nice snooze?” Vinyl asks.

“Exceptionally,” Octavia replies, then moves to the back of the car to help unload. You take up an armful of bags and move to the door. You unlock it with Vinyl’s key and push it open.

Vinyl’s cabin looks like every cabin should. Rustic, full of warm colors, decorated by several animal heads and a fish on a plaque. Everything looks very comfortable. What you didn’t expect, however, is the assortment of musical instruments scattered about. A violin, cello, bass, trumpet, several guitars -- acoustic and otherwise -- and an upright piano. You whistle appreciatively. “You weren’t lying about your dad being a music lover,” you call back.

Vinyl and Octavia appear in the doorway. “Oh yeah,” Vinyl says. “He’s a bit of a nut. Let’s get unpacked, then we can hit the lake. We’ve got two bedrooms, so . . .”

“Couch,” you call.

Vinyl frowns. “No, you should have a bed.”

“Couch,” you repeat firmly. You set your suitcase down on the couch to assert your point.

Vinyl shrugs. “Suit yourself. Sheets in the hall closet. Make yourself at home.”

Octavia disappears into one of the bedrooms, pulling her luggage along behind her. Vinyl does the same, claiming her own room. You don’t have to do much to unpack, so you finish long before either of the girls. While you’re waiting, you sit down at the piano and flutter out a quick tune.

“Do that again,” comes Octavia’s voice from behind you. You jump. She had appeared behind you without the slightest of sounds.

“Octavia!” you yelp. “I . . . sorry, I didn’t hear you coming.”

Octavia nods at the piano. “Play that again.”

You obey. It’s a simple melody, all in C Major and with only your right hand, something you had just conjured up moments before. Octavia sinks down onto a chair. “I’ve never heard you play.”

“I’ve never heard you either,” you say, still playing. You give her a sideways glance.

Octavia smiles, and her gaze drifts to the cello propped against the fireplace. “If you wanted . . .”

“Please do.”

Octavia stands. “Excuse me.” She points at the piano bench. You stand and she opens the lid, revealing stacks of sheet music. She leafs through them, pausing on one every now and then, then putting it back in the stack. One seems to catch her eye, though. She looks it over for a long while, her lips pursed. She looks up, hesitates, then turns it for you to see. “It’s a duet, if you’d like.”

You look over the music. Not especially difficult, you’re sure that you wouldn’t have any trouble sight-reading it. “I like the look of it. Won’t we need two sets of music, though?”

“I already know it.” Octavia sits down with the cello and begins tuning, plucking at the strings until they sound perfect. Her face seems clouded, as if concerned about her music choice. Or, not concerned, but more . . . apprehensive.

You smile and sit back down at the piano, placing the music in front of you. “Then lead the way, Miss Melody.”

Octavia begins to play.

You’re so stunned that you almost miss the cue for the piano to cut in. Octavia’s music is breathtaking. She has a beautiful quality to her playing, so precise and soft. Sweeping yet gentle. You try your best to keep up with her, accenting her cello with your keyboard. You play softly as not to overshadow her.

Octavia has her eyes closed, her fingers dancing spellbindingly across the strings, her bow sliding rhythmically. She plays with a wild abandon, throwing her whole body into the music. Her face bunches up as the music reaches a crescendo, squinting tightly.

You stop watching Octavia and look back at the sheet music; the music is growing increasingly more complex. Your hands fly across the keys, fluttering wildly. You gaze intently at the music, following the notes across the page as they’re played.

Eventually, the music slows to a close, leaving one last lingering note fading into silence.

You let out a breath which you didn’t realize you’d been holding and open your eyes which you didn’t notice had closed.

Applause. A slow clap coming from behind you. Vinyl lays sprawled on the couch, her glasses propped up on her head for once, revealing her piercing magenta eyes. “Encore, encore!”

“Thanks, Vinyl,” you say.

“Hot dang, kid! You mentioned you played the piano, but that was unreal!” Vinyl heaves herself into a sitting position and leans forward. “Now be honest with me. Are you mortal? Or are you some god of music that came down for a visit?”

Wordlessly, Octavia stands and places the cello back in its place. She then turns and walks to her room, disappearing inside. As she turns to close the door, you notice tears on her face. You gaze after her, confused. “Uh, is she okay?”

Vinyl’s grin fades. She gives you a grim look. “She will be. It’s just that that song has . . . uh, sentimental value. Give her a minute.”

Not comforted by Vinyl’s words, you’re tempted to go knock on the door, to talk to Octavia. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, she has to play it at least once every time we come up. This happens every time. Though this is the first time she’s had a partner since . . . well, since a while ago.” Vinyl stands. “Want to go out on the lake for a bit?”

Her sudden change of subject is suspect, but you go along with it. “Okay. Will Octavia be alright if she finds we’re gone?”

“We won’t be gone long, I’ll leave a note.”

You go down to the lake with Vinyl, relishing the cool air, the smell of the woods, the afternoon sunlight paled by a thin cover of clouds. The tranquility can’t dissuade you from worrying about Octavia, though. Playing with her had been incredible, something that you had fantasized about for the longest time, ever since you had learned she’s a cellist. And yet you feel empty. Not for the first time, you wonder about Octavia’s past. Vinyl had said it was “rough”, but that hardly sufficed to explain.

Vinyl unties the canoe and you help her shove it into the water. You both board, balancing carefully as not to capsize it. Taking an oar in your hands, you push off the shore, sending the small craft streaking out into open water.

“How long will Octavia need?” you ask.

“I’d give her about half an hour. You need to stop worrying, though. We’re here to relax.”

“You said she hasn’t had a partner in a while.”

“Yeah, I did. I shouldn’t have, but I did.”

“Care to . . .”

“No, I wouldn’t. Sorry, but I’ve told you, it isn’t my place to say.” Vinyl sounds angry. It worries you. You’ve never heard her like this; you’ve never seen her crack in the slightest, not since the day you met her. “I just wish we could have gone at least a day before I get hit with the silent treatment.”

“I’m really sorry, Vinyl.” This trip she’s been looking forward to for so long has started on a low.

She snorts derisively, digging into the water with a particularly fierce stroke. “Not your fault, I guess. She chose to play that, you were just along for the ride. She’s just . . . hard to deal with sometimes. Had to get out of the house to let out some hot air. Bad vibes inside, you know?”

“I get it.”

“It’s been so long since she had an incident. Last one was before she met you.”

“Incident? You mean that she . . .”

“She curls into a little ball of emotions and hides from the world.” Vinyl says it flatly, emotionlessly. Something in her mind seems to be wearing thin. “She’s been doing so well lately that I hoped I wouldn’t have to see her like this anymore. It hurts.” Vinyl sets her oar on her lap and looks down. “You can only put on a happy face for so long.”

“I’ll talk to her.”

“No, don’t. At least . . . not yet. Let’s have some fun while we’re here.”

You sigh. “Okay. How’s your happy face?”

“Recharging.”

You and Vinyl aimlessly drift around the lake, not speaking to each other. As you go, you try to work yourself into a positive mindset, ready to make the most of the rest of your day. Vinyl seems to be doing the same; after a period of silence, she starts whistling cheerily. Once satisfied that you’re in a well enough state, you signal to Vinyl that you’re ready to go back.

You return to see Octavia standing at the shore. She has her arms folded and feet close together, but as you come closer, you can see that she’s smiling. Relief washes over you. You wave jovially. She waves back.

“I made dinner,” she says as you and Vinyl beach the canoe. “Come get it while it’s hot.”

You and Vinyl share a glance. You hadn’t been gone for that long, which means that Octavia’s . . . incident . . . had to have been brief, if she had made dinner in that time.

“Thanks, Octavia,” you say. “But I thought it was my night for dinner.”

“I’ll trade you for breakfast tomorrow.”

You shed your life jacket and toss it into the boat. “Deal.”

“Oh, thank heaven,” Vinyl says. “I’m starving!”

Octavia gives her an amused look. “You were eating nearly all of the drive, how are you still hungry?”

“I’m a growing girl! I need nourishment!”

“Keep telling yourself that, Vinyl.” Octavia beckons, walking back up to the cabin. Vinyl looks at you and gives the thumbs-up, grinning.

The smell of food wafts out as Octavia opens the patio door. Laid out on the table are three steaming plates of pasta, a large bowl of salad, and a dish heaped high with garlic bread. You moan appreciatively. “Octavia, we said dinner, not a feast.”

Octavia smiles and looks down. She intertwines her fingers shyly. “Thanks.”

“No, thank you,” Vinyl says. She sits down and upends a container of parmesan cheese over her plate. You sit as well.

Octavia hesitates. “Is there anything you need?”

“No, this looks amazing. Sit down,” you assure her. She obeys, sitting down next to you and taking up her fork.

Vinyl, with all the elegance of a charging rhino, digs in. She has her face close to the plate and shovels pasta down her gullet with alarming speed. You follow her lead, but more moderately. Octavia’s cooking is remarkable. “Okay,” you say after swallowing a forkful. “Where did you learn to cook? Because this isn’t normal for a high school student.”

Octavia looks exceptionally pleased with herself. “My grandmother is a chef by profession. I’ve picked up on a few things.”

As you eat, the sun descends, painting the sky a brilliant tapestry of pink and orange. Evening light reddens the landscape. You don’t need to look at your watch to discern that it’s getting late.

“I, for one,” Vinyl announces. “Would not say no to an early bedtime.”

You and Octavia nod in agreement. Traveling always tires you out. “Agreed,” you say.

“Before we do, though . . .” Octavia says. “Vinyl could we get out the ladder?”

“Ladder?” you inquire. Neither of the girls acknowledge you.

Vinyl springs up. “Sure, but that means that you two get to clean up dinner.”

“I’ve got dinner handled. No, really,” you say, as Octavia opens her mouth. “You made it, I’m going to clean it up.” She smiles in thanks.

Despite your assertion, Octavia still helps, bringing dishes to the sink for you to wash then wiping down the table. Vinyl disappears out the door after donning a pair of boots and work gloves. “Where’s she going?” you ask.

“To the shed. It’s a little overgrown, so she’s bringing protective gear.”

“To get the ladder, I presume?”

“Yes. You’ll see.”

Minutes later, you hear a knock at the door. Vinyl peeks through the window, waving. She beckons to you and Octavia. You follow Octavia outside, to find that Vinyl has set up a tall ladder against the cabin, leading up to the roof. “After you.” Vinyl grins, waving you up the ladder. Octavia leads, you follow, and Vinyl brings up the rear.

You reach the top. The sunset has splayed out across the entire sky, uninterrupted by any signs of civilization, a brilliant fiery spectacle. “Wow.”

Octavia sits on the slanted surface, wrapping her arms around her legs, and looks out at the sky. Vinyl nudges you and gestures to Octavia with her head. You give her a quizzical look, and she pushes you a little more firmly. Relenting, you sit down next to Octavia. Vinyl sits on your other side.

“It’s something else, isn’t it?” Octavia says.

“Breathtaking,” you say.

“Magnificent.”

“Marvelous.”

“Beauteous.”

“Resplendent.”

“Pretty,” Vinyl comments.

You and Octavia both look at Vinyl, then the three of you laugh. Vinyl raises her arms above her head and lays down flat on the roof. You follow her lead, and Octavia shortly after.

Three awkward high-schoolers lying on a roof. Strangers you had been months before, but your friendship seems like it’s lasted eons. Everything about this moment, the beauty, the tranquility, feels right. You could lie here for the rest of your life.

“Do you think that we . . .” Vinyl starts.

“Shh,” Octavia shushes.

“But we . . .”

“Shh! No more talking. Just . . . enjoy.”

Vinyl closes her mouth. She lifts her glasses off her eyes, folds them, and lays them down at her side.

No one moves for what has to be nearly an hour. The warmness of the sky mellows into deep blue, then to black. White pinpricks start appearing, dotting the black openness one after another. A crescent moon climbs above the horizon, washing you in pale light. The air cools, but not uncomfortably.

A snore finally breaks the reverie.

Vinyl had fallen asleep.

You and Octavia stifle your laughter as best you can. “Well, this is a predicament,” you say.

“I don’t think we can get her down the ladder,” Octavia agrees.

“I was willing to try,” you say jokingly. “She can’t be that heavy, can she?”

“You’d be surprised. Try to wake her gently.”

You poke at the sleeping girl. “Vinyl?” you croon. “Wakey-wakey.” Vinyl stirs but doesn’t wake. You try harder, speaking louder. “C’mon, Vinyl we need to get you inside before you freeze.”

“Mrhm,” Vinyl mumbles. She pushes herself up on her elbows. “Where am I?”

“Roof. Looking at stars, remember?”

“Huh. You let me fall asleep?”

“We didn’t have much say in the matter, Vinyl,” Octavia says. “If you put your mind to sleeping, there’s no earthly force that can stop you. Do you think you can get down safely?”

“Yeah.” Vinyl yawns widely and stands. She descends the ladder slowly but confidently. You and Octavia follow. At the bottom, Vinyl has her head pressed against the door, eyes closed. Octavia wraps an arm around her, propping her up before opening the door.

“I’ll get Vinyl to bed,” she says. “Good night.”

“Good night,” you repeat. Too tired to fetch bed clothes, you simply lower yourself onto the couch and close your eyes. The yellow glow in front of your eyelids disappears as Octavia turns off the lights.

You breathe deeply. The cabin has a musty, earthy smell. Not unpleasant, by any means. Strangely comforting. Outside, you can make out the sound of water moving, of leaves rustling, of crickets chirping, all blending into a wild symphony.

Today has been a remarkably good day.

Your tired brain registers another sound, a softer and much closer sound.

Footsteps, coming in your direction. You slowly open your eyes to see a dark figure standing over you. She bends down until her face is inches from your ear. The scent of coffee reaches your nose.

Octavia.

“Thank you,” she breathes. Her breath tickles your face. “For everything.”

Before you have any chance to formulate any coherent thought, Octavia leans closer. You freeze. Her lips brush lightly on your cheek. She withdraws, then disappears into the darkness like a spectre, leaving you wondering if you’re in a dream.

“What the hell . . .” you whisper to yourself. You bring your fingers to your face, outline where her lips had made contact. That had been very real.

It’s a good long time before you’re able to sleep.


Octavia makes no mention of the late-night incident the following day.

This further contributes to your theory that you had imagined the entire thing. But no, you know deep in your core that Octavia had kissed you.

But why, though?

Yes, you had long been pining after this mysterious girl. Yes, you had wished, fantasized about a moment like that, for the longest time. Yes, a month ago you would have been ecstatic.

But now, you don’t know what to think.

Octavia has become one of your best friends, and you’ve come to accept that. You realized that there was an outstandingly slim chance at there ever being a romantic connection, so you had contented yourself with friendship, and a remarkable friendship at that.

Now that she’s opened the door for you, you don’t know whether or not to take that step. You don’t know how you would take the step.

Cabin life is slow. Lots of card games and drifting purposelessly around the lake. Enjoyable, of course, but for once you’d appreciate having a little less time alone with your thoughts.

What does Octavia see in you? Why had she opened up like that? Does she expect you to reciprocate? What had been the turning point? Question after question pounds at your consciousness, until you’re forced to shut them out because they’re interfering with your mood so much that Vinyl notices.

“You alright?” she inquires. You had been sitting on the couch, staring off into space. Octavia is outside, reading on a lounge chair. Vinyl, who had been plucking at a guitar, now looks at you with curious eyes. You notice that she hasn’t been wearing her trademark glasses all day. It’s a nice change. You like talking to her face, instead of those two purple mirrors.

You blink a couple times then force a smile. “Yeah, just tired.”

“Sleep alright?”

“Yeah. The chill vibes from this place are just rubbing off.”

Vinyl laughs. “I feel you, man. If you need to take a nap, feel free to crash in my room.”

“Thanks, Vinyl, but I’m alright.”

Octavia pulls open the patio door and strides inside. She’s wearing a yellow sun dress and wide straw hat, and looks simply too good to be allowed. She has a light paperback tucked under her arm, a slip of paper marking her place.

Vinyl places the guitar back on its stand. “Good book?”

Octavia shrugs. “Not particularly, but it doesn’t require much thinking.” She sets her book down on the coffee table and moves to the fireplace, where the cello is sitting. You sit up straighter -- Octavia hadn’t played since your duet yesterday and you’re eager to hear more.

Octavia sits, bow in hand, and makes some small adjustments to the tuning pegs. Not bothering to find any sheet music, she closes her eyes and begins to play.

And, just like that, you’re in love again.

You sit, enraptured by this ethereal performance, your eyes affixed firmly on the cellist’s face. Octavia really is beautiful. You had realized it before, but now . . . now you have a hard knowledge of the fact.

Octavia doesn’t seem to be playing anything from memory. The verse is too freeform, she has to be improvising. But her adaptability is astounding. Wave after wave of music, each just as breathtaking as the last, never repeating, never faltering.

Even after she stops playing, the sound reverberates in your ears. Only the sound of Octavia’s voice, speaking your name, brings you back to earth.

“You know, it wouldn’t be too late for you to join the orchestra,” she says.

You laugh weakly. “And have to try to compete with the likes of you every day? Sounds exhausting.”

“I mean it, we don’t have a pianist at the moment, so you’d be welcome. If you wanted.”

The offer is tempting. “I’ll think about it.”

You check your watch. The afternoon is steadily creeping on, heralding the evening. Despite being the complete opposite of busy, time seems to be flying by.

The rest of your day is more of the same. You read a lot; Octavia drives out to town to rent an old, cheesy action movie that you all have a lot of fun poking fun at; Vinyl takes her turn at dinner, preparing an adequately-tasty ensemble of grilled cheese sandwiches. As evening falls, Vinyl instigates a walk around the lake, which you gladly agree to.

Not many words are exchanged during your walk. You feel tense; you want desperately to talk to Octavia, but you don’t know how you would do it. You three are together for so much of the time, you doubt you’d be able to get Octavia alone.

Disappointingly, you go to bed more frustrated than you were before.

The next day is more of the same. Only now, the lethargy is starting to chafe. You’re bored senseless, your discomfort heightened by your infuriation at your inability to talk to Octavia. Taking Vinyl’s lead, you put on a happy face, trying your very hardest to make the most of the time you have.

And again, you find yourself looking out the window at the sunset.

You stack the last of the recently-scrubbed dishes to the side, where Vinyl is on drying duty. Octavia, who had made dinner again, sits with her cello, her music wandering randomly through the cabin.

“Anything you want to do before we head out tomorrow?” Vinyl asks.

Octavia answers almost immediately, her recital pausing. “The fire pit outside. Could we light a fire?”

“Sure.” Vinyl looks to you. “Do you know how to start a fire?”

You vaguely remember your dad teaching you when you were a kid. You also remember not paying attention to the process; you were too excited by the marshmallows your mother was busy putting on sticks. “Yeah. Can’t be that hard, right?”

It can be that hard. Can, and is, as you come to find out. A good twenty minutes is wasted while the three of you struggle to get a flame going. But, after a fair amount of cursing, the paper you had wadded up at the bottom catches, and the fire spreads to the bigger kindling surrounding it. You, Vinyl, and Octavia share a cheer as the yellow-orange inferno explodes into life. You toss your poker stick to the side and sit heavily on a log. “See?” you say. “Nothing to it.”

Octavia sits down next to you. Closer than she would have a week ago. Your apprehension is rekindled, but you’re determined not to let it affect you. Vinyl sits opposite the two of you, leaning in close to the fire to warm her hands. Nobody says anything for a time; you’re too entranced by the dancing flames. Thin yellow tendrils reach skyward, breaking free of the crimson depths of the fire. Sparks, tiny glowing darts, leap this way and that, burning briefly bright, then vanishing.

Suddenly, Vinyl leaps up. “Marshmallows!” she cries, slapping her forehead. “I’ll be right back!” She sprints around the cabin, already pulling the car keys out of her pocket.

“Vinyl!” you call after her, but the girl is already gone. The sound of an engine firing up, then the scream of tires and crunch of gravel as she tears out of the driveway.

You and Octavia are left alone, an opportunity you’d been searching for for days, but now that you’ve encountered it, you don’t know what to do. Octavia doesn’t speak; gazes deeply into the fire, the reflection of flames dancing in her irises.

You need to say something. You need to understand a lot of things about Octavia if you’re ever going to find peace. But where do you start?

“Octavia . . .” you start. Maybe if you prelude the conversation, you’ll be less inclined to back out.

“Mmm?”

“Can we . . . talk?”

Octavia looks away from the fire and meets your gaze evenly. Her brow furrows. Something about your tone must have sounded foreboding. “I suppose.”

“It’s about the first day we got here.” You pause, collecting your thoughts. Try as you might, though, they just seem to slip through your fingers. You clear your throat. “Right after we arrived. We played that duet, and then you . . .” You can’t bring yourself to say the words.

Octavia looks away from you, folds her arms. She purses her lips.

“I just want to say,” you say. “You don’t need to be afraid around me.” That was the wrong thing to say. That was definitely the wrong thing to say. Octavia glances sharply in your direction. Her fingers tighten around her arms, turning white with exertion.

“Sorry, I mean . . .” You try to run damage control. “But it’s just that Vinyl told me you hadn’t played with a partner in a long time, so after, when you . . .”

“Vinyl told you?” Octavia’s voice comes out a whisper. “Vinyl told you what?”

You swallow. You’re in the middle of a minefield. One wrong move and this could all blow up in your face. Stop saying stupid things, idiot. “She just told me that you hadn’t had someone to play that song with.”

“What else has she told you?” Her voice has a hard edge.

“Nothing! I mean . . .” Octavia’s stare holds you captive. “She just thought you needed a friend.” Why would you go there? Why on earth would you go there? Too late to turn back now, you monumental disaster. Try explaining yourself out of this one. “Back on the day when we first met, Vinyl asked me to try to be your friend. She told me how . . . hard it’s been, so I told her I would.”

“She asked you . . .” Octavia stops. She has a look of horrified disgust on her face. She clenches her jaw. “So that’s why you’re here? You’re here because Vinyl thought I needed protecting from the terrors of the world? Is that what you’re trying to do? Protect me?” Her voice is deadly quiet.

“Octavia, it wasn’t all Vinyl’s offer that convinced me. The truth is . . .” You take a deep breath. “I was interested in you long before I knew who you or Vinyl were.”

Octavia laughs vindictively, waving it off. “Oh, you think I don’t know that? You wear your heart on your sleeve, I knew it from the moment you walked into class that day.”

Your breath catches. “You knew?”

Octavia’s eyes glint. Moisture is forming in them. “Yes I knew. It made me so happy to realize that someone was interested in me. But I didn’t know you. That’s why Vinyl took advantage of you, because you were an unknown. I gave you the benefit of the doubt. You seemed different. I even cared for you.” She pauses, and you flash back to the kiss, seemingly so long ago.

“Octavia, I just wanted to know why . . .”

“Is that why you’ve stayed for so long?” Her voice rises in pitch. “You wanted to figure out what’s wrong with me?”

“No, I just . . .”

“You just wanted to play therapist, to be some kind of white knight to carry me off into the sunset?”

Octavia’s words cut you deeply. Try as you might to argue, there is some truth to it. You wanted to be the person to help her, to make her . . . normal, again. “That’s not true!” It is true. “I just wanted to be there if you needed me.”

“Needed you?” Octavia steams.

“Or anyone . . . I just wanted to help. Vinyl said that you’d pushed everyone else away.”

“The fewer people to let your guard down around, the fewer there are to hurt you.”

“Octavia, I don’t want to hurt you! I don’t want anyone to hurt you!” you say, your own voice rising. “I thought that I . . .”

“I don’t need you to fix me!” Octavia rises to her feet. She faces you, furious. She’s crying in earnest now. The fire silhouettes her figure in a terrifying penumbra. “Do you want to know why I am who I am? Why I keep everyone at arm’s length? Why I’m this special case who needs constant care?” she spits venomously.

You don’t dare respond. An angry Vinyl is one thing. This . . . is something else entirely. You have no one else but yourself to blame; you had talked your way into this mess. You had trod to heavily, stepped on too many toes. Tried to be too protective.

“I’ll tell you why!” Octavia takes a deep breath, then lets it out in a rush of words. “My father killed my mother and brother in front of me!”

The revelation explodes out into the night, bursting free from the girl.

You feel like you’ve been punched in the gut. You can’t breathe. “Octavia . . .”

“That partner that I haven’t had? My older brother. Dead. Killed by the man who raised me. That’s not the kind of thing you walk away from unscathed. So if you think you can do what an army of psychiatrists couldn’t, stop wasting your time.”

After glaring solidly at you for a moment, waiting for your reaction, Octavia whirls and stalks up to the cabin, slamming the door behind her. The sound echoes across the lake.

What have you done?