The music for this chapter: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/1SCJeIe2pKZtb82aOuEHbB?si=00fb9966722e4acd
(copy pastable version in the comments)
After leaving Aleksei’s place, I marched off in the direction of the city center with my cello on my back. I was really upset. I don’t think anyone ever insulted every aspect of me in such a short amount of time. What the hell. I realized I left that house in exactly the same way as that girl had when I arrived. It seemed that what I witnessed then was indeed just the general Aleksei effect.
And to think I even promised to stop listening to music. I started to focus on my breath to calm down. I told myself this was a means to an end. What was a little humiliation if it would help me bring Lise back?
“Wait up! We can just as well drive home together.” I looked back. In my anger, I had completely forgotten that I wasn’t alone.
Seeing her made my blood boil again, as it made me remember the difference in treatment we got from Aleksei. I took another deep breath. This had nothing to do with Aunt Christina. I remembered her promise to raise my allowance to buy music scores earlier and we were in Brussels anyway so I said, “Can we visit a store before we go home?”
“Which store?” she asked a bit weary. “There is a big music store close by. They have a huge collection of music scores.”
“Well, I did promise earlier. You sure took that speech of being less reserved to heart didn’t you.”
Had I overstepped my boundaries and misunderstood? I felt a bit dejected. “Never mind.” I turned my back to Aunt Christina. I guess I would just have to go to the library and make copies of anything they have.
I wanted to walk away, but I was being held back. The next thing I knew, Aunt Christina ruffled my hair and said “You are cute when you start sulking. Did anyone ever tell you that? Of course, it is fine to go to the music store. I promised, didn’t I?”
I didn’t catch that last sentence. As my mind wandered off. Someone did tell me that before. Those exact same words and actions. Ruffling my hair after I was sulking and giving up. I used to be happy when Lise comforted me that way. But ruffling my hair like this was a privilege that I kept for Lise.
In a reflex, I slapped away Aunt Christina’s hand. A sense of deep sadness took a hold of me, and I said “Let’s just do it another time. I am not in the mood anymore.”
Aunt Christina stood there perplexed. I could see she was wondering what just had happened. Even though I had slapped away her hand, her remark had come just at the right time. What had I been thinking? It’s not okay for me to be leisurely shopping and looking for stuff that I thought I would enjoy. I deserve to suffer. As long as I was here, and she was not, I had no right to happiness. Lise was the one that promised to make me happy, and that privilege was hers alone. I can find plenty of scores online or in the library, and I should have a large box of them in my room. That would be more than enough for my assignment.
Aunt Christina tried once more to get me back into the mood to go shopping, but to me, the topic was closed.
“Let’s just go home,” I said in a defeated tone.
Aunt Christina looked disappointed at her own hand. I could see she was silently cursing herself for my change in mood. That had not been my intention. I was actually grateful to her for reminding me of Lise and who I was.
“Please, let’s just go home. You did nothing wrong. On the contrary. So really, it is fine.” I said while looking to the ground. I really had trouble facing her while talking, because I did not want to see my words hurt her.
“Then tell me why.”
I shook my head. “You would not understand.”
Aunt Christina took my shoulder and said, “Then why don’t you make me understand?”
I sighed. There was no way I could tell her the real reason was there? Could she not see I did not want to talk about this? Why could she not just let me be? Like everyone else. Just let me be alone. It’s what I deserve.
“Just… Never mind, I will just go home by myself.” I said and just walked away. If I stepped into a car with her right now, I would have no place to go and I would be forced to talk.
I heard Aunt Christina call me back. So, I just started running. As soon as I noticed she was not following me I went back over to a quick walking pace.
Walking around without music in my ears felt a bit weird. It felt like something was missing. Like I wasn’t properly dressed.
I took my scores out of my satchel. But unfortunately, the only ones I had with me were the scores to Bach’s cello suites. Well… Better than nothing, I guess…
I walked toward the central station with my mind more on the scores than on the road. This wasn’t all too dangerous as most of the streets in the center were pedestrian streets and by now, I almost knew this score by heart. As I was playing the music in my head, I noticed small differences between the music I was creating inside my mind and how I actually played it on my cello. So, I made little notes with things I wanted to test. I added a few new bindings here and there. I was so preoccupied with this process that without even thinking about it, I had boarded the train and was well on my way back to Tienen. Since it wasn’t rush hour yet, I got lucky and got a spot for 4 people with a little table in the middle to myself, so I could sit with my cello next to me and study my score in peace. Feeling guilty about running away from Aunt Christina, I sent her a message to let her know that I was on the train. That should at least make her less worried.
When the train stopped in Leuven, rush hour had clearly started, and a lot of people entered the train. Someone came to sit on the opposite side of me. I looked up, and to my surprise, I noticed a familiar-looking girl that was also carrying a cello with her.
“S-Sara?” I said instinctively.
She reacted relieved. I realized I had given her an opening to speak to me. “So, it is you. You are Fleure aren’t you?”
I nodded a bit wearily. I felt conflicted. Normally I would just ignore people that started to talk to me, but I knew she was having a hard time getting to know people and we did share a past together.
“You used to hang out with Lise all the time. She used to talk about you the entire time. I remember the first time I saw you two play music together. It was the moment I decided to play the cello too. You play so beautifully”
The young blonde girl had a beautiful bright smile while talking to me.
“You talked to Lise?” I never knew. Lise always acted a bit strange when I talked to Sara. She never told me she knew her.
Sara nodded. “Mhm. Our parents are friends, so we were often forced to spend the evening together. We even played music together from time to time. She taught me loads of stuff. She was fantastic to be around.”
Her words stabbed me like a dagger. It had been quite a while since I felt the sensation of jealousy.
Then she got all serious and her smile disappeared. “I was so devastated when I heard she died in an accident. And then you disappeared too so I never managed to ask you what really happened. An accident is all that I ever heard.”
I felt my hands shake and brought my knees to my chest and brought my hands to my ears, “P-Please stop it.”
Talking about the old days was one thing but talking about the accident. I hadn’t told anyone what happened. The guilt was already enwrapping me, and I felt a panic attack coming up when I suddenly felt a hug warming me up.
Sara looked at me with frightened eyes and said “I’m sorry. We will talk about something else. I did not know it was such a sensitive topic. Please forgive me.”
I could see she was giving up her attempt to befriend me. I felt a bit guilty but maybe it was for the better. But then her eyes fell on the music scores on the table, and I saw her gather her resolve again.
“You are playing Bach these days?”
I nodded wearily. I felt my attack was still lingering. “My teacher insisted. It’s for the entrance exam for Virtuoso Academia.”
“You are taking the exam too? Now I will have to work extra hard. If I can beat you, we will finally get to play that duet you promised me. I won’t be beaten that easily this time!”
She was full of fire. Her competitive streak was on. It was clear that I was a ghost from her past she needed to face.
“I guess we will both have to make it then.”
“That would be amazing. But what are the chances of 2 Belgians getting in… And it will be hard if I am going to have to face you…” Her fiery mood had dampened again in an instant and I could see her become slightly depressed.
“You won’t know unless you try,” I answered her. “It’s a bit soon to give up. I haven’t even picked my two other pieces yet.”
That seemed to get her smile again. I sighed in relief.
“I am playing Poulenc. So that one is mine.”
Poulenc’s cello sonata… An impressionistic piece with a lot of technical loops. Difficult to play in a way that it comes together beautifully and that it does not sound like you are struggling to play all the technical loops. If she was able to perform that, it meant she had taken huge leaps forward. She might even be an actual threat to me.
“Okay, it’s yours.”
She smiled again and asked, “But if you are competing, where are you practicing? I heard you quit the academy?”
“I felt the academy was holding me back, so I started studying by myself. But recently I got a private teacher to prepare for the exam.”
“Oh, who is teaching you?”
Sara looked at me in awe. “THE Aleksei Fjodorov?!”
“This is so unfair.” She mumbled to herself. “How am I supposed to ever beat someone like that.”
Watching her emotional rollercoaster, I could no longer suppress my laughter and said “You are giving up again. We’ll never play that duet if you are going to be like that.”
Immediately her eyes fired up again and she proclaimed “We will just both have to make it. Won’t we?”
“That’s the spirit!”
Since Sara’s parents were already waiting to pick her up at the station in Tienen, we quickly said our goodbyes at the station in Tienen. But before leaving she said something I did not see coming. “Can I have your number? That way we can message each other.”
I could see that it had taken a lot of her to ask this and I did not want to beat her down again, so a bit taken aback and embarrassed I got my phone out and said: “I am sorry, but I do not know my number.” I never bothered to memorize it, since I only had 2 contacts in it anyway: Aunt Christina and Ms. Vanderstuck. I really did not think I would ever expand on that.
She took my phone out of my hands and a second later I heard a ring tone coming from her purse. “There. I saved it under Sara. Now we both have each other’s numbers. I am so glad that I finally made a friend in this godforsaken place!” Her bright smile while she said that was completely disarming.
She walked away leaving me standing a bit perplexed. What had just happened? What had I just agreed to?
“Friends?” I whispered to myself. “Am I allowed to do friends?” I imagined destroying that innocent smile on Sara’s face by telling her I did not want to be friends. I could not do that… That was too much. “I’ll just do this for her,” I told myself. It’s not a bad thing if I do not do it for myself.
I noticed that somehow my interactions with Sara had made that panic attack from earlier completely dissipate. Normally I felt at least some aftereffect of those for quite some time. Well, no reason to put too much thought into it. Time to go home!