My breathing is heavy. My feet pound against the wet, obsidian pavement. White ripples emanate from my footfalls. The buildings fade as I run.
Running, and running.
The world is a blur. An oily, dark blur.
A street lamp comes into focus. A boy is beneath it, his face covered. From above, an umbrella casts deep shadows over his hair and eyes. From beneath, a purple scarf is wrapped around his mouth and chin.
I run past. And I run. And I run.
And it comes into focus again.
I run closer. Closer. About a hundred meters. Fifty.
I blink, and I am far. About two hundred. Two hundred, a hundred, fifty. The boy is still there.
One of my shoulders feels heavy. A strap is across my body. I am carrying something. When I turn to look, I see the ripples on the ground.
They are in a straight line. Past fifty meters, they disappear. And beyond two hundred, they are gone.
There is another man standing beneath the street lamp, now. Red. His clothes are red. They are speaking.
“Are you sure? Where will you go from here?”
The red man replies, “I know what I need to do.”
“I see.” Chuckling, the purple boy extends his hand. “Then, you know the price.”
A silver glint. The red man tosses something in the air. The purple boy catches and studies it. A quarter.
“It’s less than before.”
The red man stiffens. He frowns.
“I’ll take it.” The purple boy shifts his weight back, and leans against the street lamp. "But remember. You get what you pay for.”
“Fine by me.”
For the first time, I catch a glimpse of the purple boy’s eyes. A glimmer of malice.
My body feels cold. I keep running.
“Perhaps you ought to be more of a discerning customer.”
“Maybe you should treat your repeat customers better.” The red man steps back. “Here again, next time?”
“If there is a next time.”
“There will be a next time.”
And I blink. I am running. The red man is gone. I run, and I approach the purple boy.
He tosses the quarter into the air. The quarter, shining silver, sinks into the ground, and the ground collapses with it.
I fall. And I hear the voice of the boy in the purple scarf.
“Fair is foul, and foul is fair. Hover through the fog and filthy air.”
I woke up with a start.
Sunday, April 16th. Early Morning
My breathing was harsh. Beads of cold sweat were running down the sides of my neck. What kind of dream was that? But as I tried to recall, the memory only seemed to run fainter.
I sat up. A faint yellow light broke through the window; clubroom seemed to glow. I had been lying on the ground, in front of a row of five music instruments and stands. Past them, there was a couch and coffee table, pushed to the side of the room. I reached into my pocket and palmed my phone.
I’m gonna come home late. [Lyra]
Make sure you eat something, okay?
And don’t stay up too late. (Sent 6:34 PM)
[Anna] k (Sent 10:58 PM)
[Anna] had food (Sent 2:02 AM)
Last active 5 hours ago
This girl. I placed my phone face down on my table and stretched my arms. When had I passed out?
I heard the clubroom door open. “Guten Morgen!”
I turned to look. As I saw him, my pulse picked itself up. “Sirius,” I said. “What’s with ‘Guten Morgen?”
“Don’t you think it’s kind of cool?” He shut the door behind him and tossed his bag onto the couch. “You know, exciting and mysterious, and all. Like, when lyrics have words in other languages.”
I sat up. “Don’t go stealing from other languages just because you feel like it. And apologize to all the German speakers in the world.”
“Aww… Alright, sorry.” Sirius flashed that faux-confident, ‘I-meant-to-do-that’ grin. I could feel my face start to burn. “By the way. There are better places to sleep than on the ground, you know. Give me your hand.” He pulled me to my feet, took a few steps back, spun, and dropped me on the couch. “Better?”
I couldn’t help but smile. “Better.” Oh jeez, can he see my cheeks glowing? Maybe.
“Want me to put on some coffee for you?”
“I thought vocalists weren’t supposed to drink coffee before performing.”
He tilted his head. “Oh, yeah. But it wasn’t for me.”
In that case. “Yes please.”
As he walked, he hummed our most popular song, Lightspeed Blue. “By the way, what were you doing here so early, Lyra?”
“Practicing. Equipment checks. That kind of thing.”
“And did that lead to you sleeping on the floor?” He stepped over to the closet.
“At some point."
Sirius turned back around. “That’s our Lyra. But don’t push yourself too hard, okay?”
If the bassist doesn’t push herself, will anyone notice otherwise? That said… he did notice. I liked that.
A soft mass of cloth pressed into my face. “Oof!”
“Oh. Sorry.” He shut the closet door. “I was just thinking, it must’ve been cold.”
I didn’t even know we had blankets in the clubroom. I draped them around my shoulders. Warm, fuzzy, and blue. I watched Sirius amble back to the counter to retrieve the coffee. Layered haircut, swept to the side, cheekbones that could cut glass. Just like all other members of the band, he had a fringe of hair dyed red.
I wondered if he would do something like this for any of the other band members. Probably. The band members liked to joke that we were Mom and Dad.
I covered the lower half of my face with the blanket. Smells like closet.
“Here you are.”
I took the cup as he sat down next to me. “Want some blanket?”
“Nah, I’m good. I slept in a bed. Not the floor.”
“Are you going to just keep going back to this?”
He flashed that crooked grin. “Maybe I should write a song about it. And throw in a bass solo. Lyra front and center.”
“Oh boy. I can’t wait to be front and center on Galileo University Memes for Edgy Teens.” I mustered a wry smile in response. “If you want to put a cute girl up front, why not Mint or Anna?”
"Anna would die of a heart attack. And you know that. Also, you and Anna are identical.”
"Details, details," I said. “So, right back at you. What brings you to the clubroom like, what, two hours before the meeting time?”
“I was going to just… practice a bit. Blow off some steam.”
I tilted my head. “You okay?”
“You can talk to me.”
He laughed. Whenever he’s nervous, he laughs with one eye closed. Sirius leaned against my shoulder.
My heart was beating so quickly…
He took a deep breath. “At the end of Galileo Fest, today, I want to tell Anna how I feel.”
Off in the distance, do you hear that? The sound of glass breaking.
“H-Hold on,” I said. “What you feel about…” No way. Wait, when did this happen? Did I just never notice?
He tilted his head. “I mean, is that okay?”
“Wait, wait. You want to…”
“I want to tell Anna that I like her,” he said. His face was turning redder and redder as he spoke. He took a deep breath. “I mean… I feel like I ought to ask you, first.”
I leaned back on my blanket fort and snickered. “What would you have done if I said no, though?”
He paused. “Well, I wouldn’t have gone through with it.”
“Seriously? I’m not in any position to tell you not to, you know.”
His fingers froze. “Even if you weren’t her twin, you’re my friend. That’s plenty.” Sirius looked directly at me.
My stomach was a knot. I swallowed another mouthful of coffee. Didn’t help. “I’m… glad that you’re reaching out to Anna. She needs it.” I threw on my best grin. “So yeah.”
“Are you sure?”
“You can do it,” I said. There was a growing knot in my stomach. “Have some confidence in yourself.”
Get a grip, Lyra.
“I should get myself cleaned up. T-thanks for the coffee.” I stood. The blanket fell from my shoulders, and around my unsteady feet. I covered my mouth and stumbled over the coffee table. I threw the door open and threw myself out it, and shut it behind me. I leaned against the wall, and looked up at the ceiling.
Sunday, April 16th, Late Morning
The air was pulsing with a nervous energy. I paced between our band members.
As the crowd broken into a modest cheer, a staffer came backstage. “You’re on!”
Sirius flashed him a thumbs up, and slung his instrument over his shoulder. “Let’s move.”
Our new guitarist, Mintaka, bounced onto the stage in front of us.
“Excuse me,” Antares said. Our drummer carried with him the monitors that we’d be using. He shifted them to one hand, gently brushed us aside with the other.
The previous performer passed us as we were stepping onto the stage. Sirius stopped.
“Rigel, hey!” Sirius threw his arm around the singer. “Tell me your secrets. It’s been what, two weeks since the Capella Conference? How’d you level up so quickly?”
“Trade secrets. But I’m a nice guy.” Rigel tugged at a fringe of hair, still dyed red. Though it’d been nearly a month, Rigel had yet to re-dye it. “It’s called, ‘spite.” Rigel freed himself from Sirius and patted him on the back. “Break a leg!”
As everyone shuffled on the stage, I noticed Rigel turn away. I paused. I had a minute.
He turned. Rigel’s appearance was always tinged with a defiant streak, like a wounded animal. But I knew him better than that. He said, “I’m fine, Mom. I’m not a member of Ireilas anymore. What are you going on about?”
“Heh. Are you implying that my social circle is constrained to just Ireilas members?”
A pause. “No,” he said.
“You can talk to me, you know?”
Another pause. His face softened a bit. “Thanks. Another time.” He waved, turned, flared his coat, and then disappeared into the backstage.
The band was almost ready to perform. Sirius snuck a glance at Anna. Her fingers, hovering over her keyboard, trembled. As I passed her, I patted her shoulder.
“You can do it,” I said. Her hand relaxed. I noticed, then, that Sirius’s gaze was on me. I strapped on my bass and nodded.
A staffer bellowed, “And now, the group you’ve all been waiting for! The winners of this year’s Golden Capella, Galileo University’s own, Ireilas!”
Against the light of the crowd, Sirius was a silhouette. He yelled, “Lightspeed Blue!”
The crowd roared. Antares rapped his sticks three times. The stage rocked with us.
Sunday, April 16th, Afternoon
I milled around the performance area and watched the staffers put the chairs away. My mind was static.
New prospective students walked about. The name ‘Ireilas’ was on more than a few lips. I smiled. Sirius would be happy to know that.
I turned. It was Rigel. “Hey. Need something?”
He crossed his arms. “Let’s walk around the festival. Unless you’ve got plans.”
“Nah, I’m free. Free as a bird.” I stood, and placed my hands behind my head. “So, where to?”
“Just… anywhere,” he said.
I smirked. “Don’t you have anything better to do? If you’re going to pick an Ireilas member, might I suggest Mint or Antares?”
He furrowed his brow. “You looked down. That’s all.”
“Look at you, throwing little old me a pity party.” I threw my arm around him. “Who are you and what have you done to Rigel?”
He tugged at his red fringe. “I’m being serious. What you said to me backstage. You can talk to me.”
I paused, and leaned on his shoulder. After a moment, I said, “Thanks. I will, just… not now.”
My arm slipped off him as the two of us started walking.
“So… about my performance earlier. Were you listening?” Rigel asked.
“Sure I was.”
“How was it?”
When Rigel left us, he was just a guitarist. To develop a voice like that in less than a month…
“Incredible,” I said.
“Better than Sirius?”
I knew he’d be going there. Even with that impressive growth… “Sirius has been singing for his whole life.”
“Answer the question!”
I backed away. “You don’t have to shout at me.”
“Sorry,” he said. “Better than Sirius? Yes or no.”
I shook my head. “Like I said. A lifetime versus a month… that you can even compete is already incredible. You can do it,” I said. “But just not now. Give it time.”
“And besides, there’s a limit to what you can do on your own,” I said.
He nodded, once. “You're right. Do you wanna come practice with me sometime?”
“What do you mean?”
He said. “If we were a duo… we’d do much better than right now, don’t you think?”
I hesitated. “Okay, first. There’s a huge difference between ‘practice with me sometime,’ and, ‘let’s form another duo. Also, I can’t sing.”
“I can teach you. Aren’t I a singing prodigy at this point?”
Ego police. This is the guy. “Okay, fine. But I can’t just leave Ireilas.” I swallowed.
“I’m not asking you to leave Ireilas. I just want you to perform with me sometimes. You and me, front and center. I like the sound of that.”
I’d be lying if that last part didn’t sound tempting. Front and center...
“I think we’d make a good team.”
“I-I don’t know about that.” After a moment, of avoiding his stare, I said, “I-I’ll think about it. But don’t count on it.”
He kept walking. “Alright. By the way, there is somewhere I want to go.”
“Lead the way,” I said.
The two of us walked down the stairs, and into the area in front of the Sports Pavillion. Rainbow Club… the Free Hugs Group… and some more normal ones. A number of Christian fellowships, frats and sororities, etc.
I slowed in front of the Congee Chef Club. It seemed that they would be having a demonstration in a few hours. I noticed a pair milling around the table. A boy in red, and a girl with her hair tied back with a yellow scrunchie. They didn’t look old enough to be Galileo students. Maybe a pair of incoming freshmen.
But I noticed that they were holding hands. And despite their bickering about the boy’s apparent strange interest in porridge, they were very close.
I imagined myself and Sirius walking around a festival, chatting like that. I was jealous. I was jealous of a pair of high school sweethearts.
I felt sick.
“So, what’s the booth that’s caught your fancy?”
“The Arcade Club,” Rigel said.
“Didn’t know you were into games.”
“Call it a recent obsession.”
As we were walking, my phone started going off.
SIIRUS ASKED ME
TO WALK AROUDN FEST W HIM
Wow, wow. Good for you. [Lyra]
[ Anna] but it keeps getting awk
what if he decides he hates me
WHTA IF HE KICSK ME FROM HTE BAND
I’m sure you’re fine. [Lyra]
He’s not going to kick you from the band.
By the way, stop texting me when you’re on a date.
[Anna] ONT LEAVE ME
He’s just as nervous as you are. [Lyra]
Yes, really. [Lyra]
We talked about it in the morning.
[Anna] if ur lying, ill kill u
I’m not lying. [Lyra]
[Anna] wht dz sirius think of me
do u know??
With just a few taps, I could ruin everything.
Of course I do. [Lyra]
But I’m not going to tell you.
[Anna] ILL KILL U
Ask him and see. [Lyra]
I want Sirius to be happy. And I want Anna to be happy. There is no conflict of interest here. None whatsoever!
I blinked. Rigel was standing directly in front of me, one hand on my shoulder. I jumped. “Geh?”
He tapped the side of my head. “Come on. Let’s move.”
You can do it. [Lyra]
I felt like lead.