Bells & Whistles

Sat. 12/14/2250 – By Rebecca Green

Aelita purposefully turned away as she felt Amelia’s suspicious eyes boiling into her. It wasn’t just her; she could hear a handful of others talking quietly about her as they gathered their instruments and rosined their bows. It wasn’t something she was used to, being the subject of gossip rather than the origin, but at least in Amelia’s case it was born of true concern. Others were just enjoying watching the queen fall.

“Excited?” One boy asked another, carrying a dark oboe in his hands with an upbeat tone of his own as he played with the reed of his instrument between his fingers.

Aelita gave him a thin smile, “Of course!” She insisted to herself more than him, “The Orchestra has been working hard this year and I’ve practiced tons on my part.” That much was more than true. Aelita had skipped more than a handful of classes in the past week or so in lieu of practicing for her part. Not the best decision with finals coming up, but her music mattered more to her than anything. Much to the chagrin of her grandmother, who texted her near daily for updates. Mom hadn’t spoken to her since…

“What about you, Michael?” She pressed on and the boy shrugged with his oboe swinging high in the air.

“Hey, it’s symphony. Could be worse. Not much for the oboes today though- I’m sure you’ll be enjoying your solos as always.”

“She always gets them,” The voice of annoyance cut in and the pair glanced over to see the raven haired girl approaching them, a drumstick in hand. “I think the whole dancing routine is overdone.”

“Good thing I didn’t ask you then, Xeremey.” Aelita snapped back with hostility, the girl levelling her with a glance.

Xeremey scoffed, “What’s up your ass?”

“Currently, you. Go do whatever it is you do to your stupid drums.” She glanced in the direction of where most of the percussion was gathering with their instruments.

“I’m not playing the drums today.” Xeremey replied with much more grace than Aelita had at the moment. “There’s no drums in Christmas music- what this school gets for not having a separate band and orchestra. I’m on bass drum, which only plays like, once.”

“Same thing,” Aelita said. Xeremey opened her mouth, ready to snap again while Michael looked between the two with hesitation until the other dark haired percussionist – Rayden – was calling over for her. Xeremey wrinkled her nose, but with one last annoyed glance at the swan maiden, she stalked back over.

“She’s unpleasant.” Remarked Amelia, who appeared at Aelita’s shoulder with a speed that had Aelita jump. “What- girl how much sleep have you gotten recently? I told you to nap!”

“Enough.”

Michael looked at her more closely, “You look dead on your feet.”

“I’m fine.” Aelita replied simply, avoiding both their eyes. “Let’s just get the night over and then I’ll sleep all I like tomorrow.” The two looked at each other, but Aelita was raising her bow in goodbye as she excused herself, “I’m going to make sure everyone else is ready. We go out in ten.”

Despite Xeremey’s tone, she wasn’t wrong. The school had a single symphony, rather than both orchestra and band tracks. Occasionally, this meant it was difficult making sure each student got adequate attention during performances. Oboes like Michael and someone like Xeremey who excelled at an actual drum set were often left in the water with boring parts or on a different instrument entirely if they could. They made it work, or at least Aelita was content with it. She was, after all, the first violin and main event with her solos.

She also tended to be the one to take charge around the music department, and she did so then, walking from one group of students to the next. Telling off some of the third years from Beginning Symphony for standing around instead of tuning their violas. A fifth year who had skipped from Symphony III to Mastering Symphony a year earlier than typically eligible was goofing around with her cello instead of practicing her head part in their second song. Aelita chastised her and the girl moodily sat down and gave a few half hearted tugs against her strings before Aelita left her alone.

She eyed the boy standing with spoons, who was being frantically signed to by a lemur sitting atop the suspended cymbal.

Aelita paused by them, “What’re you doing Teddy?” She asked instantly, knowing the rather creepy second year was up to something strange more often than not.

He didn’t respond as his eyes were firmly on the lemur and Aelita only briefly glanced at her. She only knew extremely limited and slow sign language, and couldn’t very well communicate with the permanently shifted student.

For some bizarre reason, it seemed Teddy did. A moment later he looked up at Aelita and spoke in a calm tone, “Teddy was trying to pull on my tail.” He spoke and Aelita tried very hard not to react to how he spoke about himself in the lemur’s – what was her name? Melissa? – own words.

Before Aelita replied, Teddy went on. “I wanted to pull Malena off the cymbal. Have to push it onto the stage for her.”

Yes, Malena. Aelita blinked before slowly asking, “Did you ask her to get off? Did you tell her what to do?” Malena signed once more and Aelita didn’t know if Teddy was replying in his own or the lemur’s words.

“No.”

“What did Malena just say?”

“No.”

Aelita managed not to sigh in exasperation, closing her tired eyes and rubbing her temples. “Right- Okay. Teddy, let her know if you’re trying to move something and don’t just pull on her.” She didn’t see it, but the boy gave the shortest of nods before going back to pushing on the cymbal, the lemur quickly lurching off to sit on the top of a chair. Aelita turned from them, surveying the room and checking the time. She gave a sigh of relief. Taking a couple steps, she climbed on top of the conductor’s stand in their practice room. “Alright!” She shouted and the mulling around stilled. She waited just a moment for it to get completely silent.

“Professor Marquart said we’d be going out in about three minutes. She’s out there coordinating with Chen to get the chorus off stage before we go on. If any of you still need to get tuned – which you shouldn’t, you know better – then come to me.”

Predictably, a good dozen students piled around her soon enough and Aelita struggled to tune half a dozen violins, several violas and one bass in three minutes.

She managed it, struggling not to give each of them a good snap. It was mostly the younger years, Silas Harper sheepish as he handed over his violin. Aelita caught sight of her sister across the room, struggling to tune her own instrument- she’d never been good at that. She wanted to go over to help, but she knew Gwen wouldn’t receive her very well. Thankfully, she saw Amelia making her way to the green haired girl. Finishing by tuning Beatrice and Payton Cupid’s cellos that they had been too busy chatting to tune, Aelita called for the symphony to line up by section to head out. As the kids began to line up, a group of chorus students that took both music tracks rushed in to get their pre-tuned instruments. The band grabbed their percussion instruments and drums and flutes, the orchestra tucked violins and violas under their arms and Aelita glared at the cellos and basses as they struggled to carry their larger instruments. She couldn’t help but snap at Lunette as the girl could only walk a couple feet before adjusting her grip on her bass.

Finally they were in line and Aelita pushed to her own position in front, listening as the remaining chorus students rang out with their last line of ‘Have A Merry Christmas’. The conductor would be standing out to introduce the symphony and Aelita raised a hand to motion for the symphony to begin going through the door and up the stairs to enter the stage. It was a rather large auditorium, with three large sections that seated two hundred seventy five people. Normally Aelita would take the time to wave, but she really couldn’t be bothered as she headed to her seat. First violin, of course.

The conductor and their teacher, Professor Marquart took her position on the small platform, turning toward the crowd and giving off her normal spiel about their set list and how proud she was of her students. Most of the students tuned it out and Aelita couldn’t focus on her words. Marquart turned toward the symphony, raised her hands, and soon the cellos were drawing bows across to strings in sync with the symphony to the beginning lines of ‘Christmas Eve/Sarajevo’, from an old band.

It was a loud, energetic piece. One of Aelita’s favorite Christmas songs, one the whole symphony was able to join in on. It rang out for a full three minutes and soon enough they were transitioning to their second song, a rendition of ‘Carol of the Bells’ that spotlighted the cellos in all their glory, the fifth year star playing her part beautifully despite her goofing off. ‘Rockin Around the Christmas Tree’ gave their single saxophone and percussion time to shine. For the fourth song, ‘Boughs of Holly’, Xeremey got another chance to show off her expertise with the electric guitar. They played through ‘Christmas Canon’, her personal favorite, Aelita playing the star violin, and next came ‘Joy To The World’.

Then Aelita got up. Christmas Canon gave her a solo, but this was her real spotlight. She’d been practicing the form since she was fourteen, when she decided that dancing and playing separately wasn’t enough. She wanted to do both and ever since she’d been working hard to dance while playing. It was a song with only two of their players – herself, and Ayato Caven playing his part on the piano wonderfully, ‘What Child Is This’. They’d been working together since Halloween to get it right, her choreographing to the rise and fall of the music. It was a milder song for her to dance to, simple flowing movements that followed her bow. And God, they nearly put her to sleep. Her legs ached from exhaustion.

She was glad when it was over, but knew she had to endure through the worst of it- Celtic Carol. A song that she had been elated to play ever since the year had begun. It had taken months to get the energetic moves just right. The rest of the symphony came into play this time, God she was tired. Each move was forced and she was ashamed of the notes that came out wavering and ever so slightly off tune. Something she’d never done before- she was always perfect, she had to be. Except she was breaking. The symphony rose and fell behind her in all their gusto, riveting as always.

The hardest move for her to get right. Step toward the edge of the stage, her toes half off entirely as she moved her body in a wave, balance to arch her body forward, and then she was unaware.

Unaware of how her sight went dark, unaware of how she stumbled and a moment later was on the floor of the auditorium, tumbling off the stage and blacking out entirely. Unaware of how several in both the audience and the symphony shrieked melodramatically, and unaware of how her precious violin slipped from her grasp, falling toward the ground and shattering upon impact.

Audience and symphony members jumped to their feet, pushing forward to get a good look. The resident nurse shrieked at the people around her to shove her way to the front, kneeling beside the fallen violinist and quickly checking over the girl. She was relieved to see no blood, a blessing for the hemophiliac.

Any who wasn’t looking forward, turned around to stare at the violist- Guinevere. Gwen stood frozen, her viola tight in her grip as she stared toward the front of the stage. Watching as the nurse ushered the herbology professor to take the girl into her arms and the fencing professor called for people to move out of the way as they took Aelita to the infirmary.

She swallowed hard. Marquart moved to the front of the stage, yelling out over the excited crowd and calling for peace.

“Settle down!” She called, “Nothing to freak out over- I’m sure Aelita will be fine. Please file out, that was the last song for the night. Thank you all for coming to see our performance and for celebrating their hard work tonight. Each and every one of them gave this their all, and I’m so proud of them for every note!”

Some gave half hearted applause from where they stood. One from the crowd, Dora Santos, shoved her way between people to dash out toward the infirmary to check on her best friend. Camilla Aune and Amelia were herding students from the stage, gathering the laggers and ushering them through the back to put away instruments and back to their dorms for the night

On the stage, however, one student held back. Gwen tensed, worry gnawing at her. She hated her sister, maybe, for her anger with her father for daring to die, but Aelita had fallen from sheer exhaustion, she’d gone too far in her obsession in her work and Gwen knew exactly why. She’d been off ever since the death, ever since Gwen had thrown those awful words, and it had only been worse since Thanksgiving, though Gwen didn’t know why. She felt awful for that, too, she should know why. She was Aelita’s sister after all.

She took a few steps forward, half wanting to follow Dora, but instead her eyes fell to the ground, and she caught sight of the violin. Shattered on the floor, and a moment later she was jumping of the stage and scooping up the scroll with a sinking heart. Aelita loved that violin – it was her connection to Dad, who had picked it out.

Gwen hesitated for a moment, but then she was setting her viola down, caring little for the instrument compared to Aelita for her violin. Tugging her shirt she created a pouch in which she stuffed every piece she could find, quickly standing up and snatching up her viola. She looked both ways, making sure no one else was around before dashing away through the doors.

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