Revelations, catharsis, and unwanted kisses are…in a word…taxing.
Nuria sings the notes she and Valine came up with to fill in the spaces of Cwen’s solo spots. Three seconds elapse between the two “Falalala” notes.
Valine comes in on the last “lalalala”, adding a deeper soprano tone to the dynamic sound.
Nuria ceases her vocals to record the melody in her weathered, black journal, using her own specific shorthand notations. In the last available corner, she writes “Falalala à lalalalas” with a downward-facing arrow at the end. The page on the left shows the letters A, B, and C scattered all over but always in tight groupings. A winding web of arrows details the paths those three letters take as they shift around one another. Time codes next to groupings denote the time by which the transitions should be completed.
Valine collapses onto a chair with a heavy sigh. “Let’s take a break.” She flaps her collar to fan her face. “My lips are starting to feel numb.”
“No problem. I think we’ve got it down as best we should anyway,” Nuria says, though she goes over the right page again.
“Don’t you mean “can be”?” Valine asks.
“No, I meant should be. Rehearsal is good but not the week before a concert. At that point, whatever the singer and musicians prepared is what should make the performance. Sure, that last week can lead to better ideas, but the rush to incorporate those ideas can weaken a performance since they wouldn’t be as polished,” Nuria explains.
Valine keeps fanning herself as she leans forward. “Wait, isn’t that–”
“From the B.O.A. road tour interviews. It was right after their second show at Lanum Stadium in Yoka City.”
“You watched the road tour interviews, too?”
“All twelve, thrice over! Watched the concerts, too, of course!”
“How’d you find the time to do all that? You should be way too busy between classes, rehearsals, SD games, and…your other activities.”
“My other act–” Nuria smacks herself mentally. Her trysts with Norris were far from private. “Well, that’s over and done. And I’ve skipped the last couple of SD practices.”
“And you weren’t punished?”
“Helps to have the class president as a roommate.”
Valine’s questions cease as she goes back to relaxing. Nuria returns to scanning the right page, erasing and redoing her more ineligible sections. She speed runs her amendments so intensely that she writes one of her “lalas” as “Lulu”. She stops writing so suddenly that the lead snaps.
I wonder if she’s still driving?
She thumbs through her contacts and presses Lulu’s name. The photo ID assigned to her shows a pair of midnight wings spread over a white sweater. The tufted white fur around Lulu’s neck blends well with the collar. She flashes a cheeky smile over her shoulder. Her cut short silver hair left her green eyes unobstructed and in full focus. Nuria’s thumb trembles over the call button.
Would she remember me?
Nuria doesn’t commit to the call and sends a text instead for two reasons. One, if Lulu does answer, the conversation they would have would lead to topics she doesn’t want to broach, especially in Valine’s presence. She hopes to keep more of her activities private from now on. Two, her stomach grumbles.
“You down to grab some lunch?” Nuria asks.
“You know it’s seven in the evening, right? You kept me after rehearsal.”
“I- oh, oops. Sorry. Felt like I had to make up for lost time. Wasn’t giving it my all the last couple of weeks. So, dinner then?”
“Go without me. I’m gonna call it early.” She groans and leans back in her chair.
“All right. Rest well! The concert’s next week! And we’ve gotta be ready!”
Valine’s response is another groan but with a thumbs-up attached. It doesn’t bother Nuria any. She knows Valine’s ready, more ready than she is. If she needs to recuperate after all the work she’s put in, so be it. Nuria isn’t in the mood to rest.
I’ve slacked off long enough! Time to be me again!
On her way out the door, she shoots Lulu the following text:
Do you have any deliveries coming to JC soon?
Fresh out of her coconut-scented shower, Nuria throws on a violet blouse that has cuts to expose her shoulders, black jeans with white stars on the back pockets, and blank sandals, and ties a purple ribbon at the top of her braid. She twirls to inspect the look in her reflection on the plain grey snowboard. She adjusts the ribbon so it faces directly behind her.
“Oh, does someone care about her appearance again?” Tyra asks.
“Ha-ha. I was a bum. I get it. We can’t all look like you.”
The phoenix gestures to Tyra’s jet-black kimono with a white sash. A red haori with stenciled black suns all over hangs over her shoulders. A butterfly hairclip holds part of her hair back over her left ear. She sits cross-legged on her bed, looking every pit presidential.
“No, you can’t but you still look good. Though, I don’t recall you ever wearing purple before.”
Nuria eyes Tyra solemnly. She’s not comfortable airing out details of Mount Handreau with Valine, but Tyra’s her sister in the truest sense.
Plus, she’s already aware that something terrible happened while I was there.
“Can you wait to respond till I’ve said my piece?”
Tyra inclines her head slowly.
“Okay…” Nuria takes a seat and inhales sharply. “Purple, any shade, is my least favorite color. The attack that split me and Xaix apart, the one that gave me this,” she points to the scar running through her lips, “was a violet energy attack. It caught both of us off guard. I tried to deflect it but I wasn’t quick enough or strong enough.”
Nuria gazes at her feet, pained by the memory as it tries to consume her. As a vision of snowy ground overtakes her dorm room floor, she fortifies her spirit with her happy place. The snowy ground melts away just as drops of blood appear, those fading alongside the snow.
“Everyone is keen for me to absolve myself of any fault on my part but I can’t. I lost my daughter. There’s no absolution. And if there is, I don’t want it. I will live with my greatest mistake to make sure I don’t repeat it!”
Nuria lifts her head and shows Tyra her pained yet earnest expression.
“I’m wearing purple every day from now on, even if just a small amount, as my reminder. I’m not gonna stop myself from enjoying things anymore because of my guilt but I…I just can’t let that go. You know?”
Tyra’s expression in response becomes similar to Nuria’s. “I do wish you wouldn’t but I understand why you can’t. And I can tell you’re a wonderful mother.” Tyra crosses to her desk and pulls out Nuria’s orange journal. “I won’t lie. I wish my own mother did some of the things I read here. Or, at least, something akin to them. There’s no universe in which I see her ever having played tag.”
Nuria accepts the assistance to stand and walks out with the angel, arms linked. “Not once?”
“It wasn’t “dignified to act in such a lowly manner”. That kind of “childish behavior”, she left to my babysitter, and even he didn’t indulge me. He thought I was–”
“Um, T, you sure you wanna talk about that now?” She gestures to the open hallway.
“It’s of no concern to me anymore.”
Nuria almost responds seriously but something in Tyra’s tone doesn’t compute. She looks at the angel and narrows her eyes. The corners of her mouth twitching give her away.
“What are you planning?”
“And ruin a surprise months in the making? Not a chance.”
“Come on. Tell me.”
“That’s not fair! I’m your sister1 I deserve a sneak peek!”
“Can’t play that card this time. While everyone will learn at the same time, it’s for you specifically. So, wait until tomorrow like a good girl.”
“Fine,” Nuria groans. Still, she chooses to badger Tyra relentlessly regardless, all the way to Reverse Iceberg.
The late evening hour is the reason behind the intense vacancy. The only two tables occupied are occupied by Syl and Carnya, and Carnya’s snack hoard, an amount large enough for a wedding. Carnya spits out an apple core when she excitedly waves the sisters over.
“About time you showed up!” She grabs the core off the floor and swallows it in one bite. “You may wanna sit at the next table over. I got a lot of juicy food here and don’t wanna ruin your badass outfits.”
Syl leans back to show the myriad of stains on his sweatshirt and math textbook. “It’s been rough.”
“Syl, grab some napkins and clean that textbook. Those are not cheap.”
“Uh…yes, ma’am,” he says hesitantly, though he races to the counter between the seating and the kitchen.
Tyra tugs Nuria along to a table safely out of range of Carnya’s messy eating.
Carnya bites off half of a popsicle, swallows, and belches. “So, what’s with all the purple? I’ve never seen you wear that color.”
“That’s what I said. But it looks good on her,” Tyra says, no doubt an attempt to ease Nuria’s discomfort. However, the phoenix already had a preplanned explanation, one she’s sure Carnya will appreciate.
“I’m wearing this color for as long as I remain abstinent.”
Carnya flinches as she bites down on the second half of the popsicle, her teeth bisecting the popsicle stick also. She spits out the lime green block onto the table.
Tyra waits for her coughing spell to end to say, “You are going to help clean whatever mess you cause before you go for your midnight swim.”
Carnya wipes the drool from her face. “That’s if Lauron lets me. She’s been on my ass lately. You know, one time, Norris actually threw me at her so he and his idiot friends could get away. Jerk!” She huffs angrily. “Can you do something about Lauron? You’re the class president. Demote her or something.”
“That’s not my call. Stark’s the one who nominated her for hall monitor. Her authority on that matter supersedes mine. You’d have to talk to her about it.”
Carnya pivots her gaze to Nuria.
“Don’t look at me. I’m fine Lauron as hall monitor. It suits her.”
“Oh, yeah, like SD coach suits you.”
“I think she’s a fine coach,” a male voice cuts into the tension. “We’re still undefeated, after all.”
There’s the voice Nuria’s been waiting to hear. They both took some time away from Vanusi class, but the fight’s no longer a concern of hers. The way they had to avoid one another was annoying.
Partially due to my…ugh! I’m not going to start with myself right now! Just enjoy this part, Nuria!
“Koren!” she cheers excitedly, waving him over. “Actually, wait, I need–”
“I need to talk–”
Nuria and Koren exchange somber smiles, happy to be back on the same wavelength.
I hope we are.
Nuria meets him at the door, each step closer mounting the pressure in her throat. However necessary it was at the time, their last significant exchange was her punching him in the jaw. His still shaggy fur may not hide any lingering bruise but she imagines one’s there anyway. She can’t control the release of the pressure in her throat, so she thunders, “I’M SORRY!” Koren’s ears twitch. “Whoops.”
“Damn, I’d say she meant it,” Carnya says.
Nuria giggles nervously. “Sorry, again. This time for your ears. The first time was for…for punching you.”
Koren scratches the back of his head. “No, I’m glad you did. I was out of line. Thanks for stopping me when you did. And I’m sorry, too. I kind of ruined our first…date. I shouldn’t have lost my temper the way I did.”
“No, but I understand why you did. Shuri never should’ve said those things to you. And you’re not one, by the way. The f-word, I mean. You’re awesome.”
She smiles brighter to see some of his tension ebb.
“Look, Nuria, I know that I hurt you that night. I never intended to, I want you to know that. So, even if I blew my shot, my conscience can be clear.”
Nuria shakes her head. “You didn’t blow anything, Koren.”
“You mean…but I–”
“You made a mistake. I’m no different. But I think we should let things cool down a bit more before we try again. If that’s okay with you.”
Koren laughs, sounding relieved. “Oh, good, that’s perfect!”
Nuria can’t help but feel pricked by his burst of cheer. “You don’t have to sound so happy about it.”
“Wait, no, I–” He clears his throat. “Trust me, this is a good thing. You giving me this time to just be your friend frees me up to correct the flaws I’ve discovered. And hopefully, next time, I’ll listen only to you.”
“What do you mean “only you”, er, me?” Nuria asks.
“Uh, I-I shouldn’t say.”
“Koren, tell me the truth. What are you talking about? Is it something Shuri said?”
“It’s not important.” His ears lower onto his head.
“If it bothered you, then it’s important. Now, talk.”
Koren shrinks underneath Nuria’s heavy gaze. “Norris and Devito made me think that maybe I wasn’t worthy of you. So, when Shuri showed up, I started to believe them.”
“They what?” Nuria asks heatedly.
“Nuria,” Tyra says in warning.
“It’s not their fault, Nuria. I shouldn’t–”
“I don’t know, Koren,” Syl says, returning to the table with a clean textbook. “It seemed like they were determined to amp you up. Like, more than was necessary.”
“Like they wanted Koren on edge, is that what you mean?” Nuria inquires.
“I see,” Nuria says lowly. She turns to the door.
“Nuria, stop right there. If that’s true, we should tell the professors and let them handle it,” Tyra says.
“I’m not going to fight them, T. I just need to talk to them. And don’t worry, I’ll bring our hall monitor along. She’s strong enough to restrain me if things…go sideways.”
Koren grabs her arm at the door. “You don’t need to go, Nuria. They can’t manipulate me again. I’ve learned my lesson.”
She shakes his arm off. “And it’s time he learned his!”
Nuria slams her foot against the wall to bar the doorway the second the knob turns. She seethes when Norris rakes her body with a hungry look. She can see it clearly in his eyes now that he sees nothing more than a toy. Had she been in her right mind, she knows she never would’ve chosen him. But she did, and it’s another mistake she’s prepared to live with.
“Well, well, and here I thought our late-night fun was over.”
The moment he lays a hand on her stretched leg, she ignites a fist with auburn flames. He leers at her as he removes and places his hand in his swim trunks pocket.
“Ah, not a social visit. Then why are you–”
Nuria cancels the flames, grabs Norris by his shoulders, and slams him against the wall on the inside of the pool area. Lauron takes a step off the wall in the corner. She readies her broadsword.
“You good over there?”
“For now,” Nuria replies.
Norris looks from one lady to the other. “What is this?”
“A warning! The next time you get it in your head to mess with one of my friends, you better think again!”
“Carnya? We already made peace over that little shove. The girlie over there with the sword saw it.”
“Koren, asshole! Don’t go filling his head with your idiotic alpha male nonsense! He never needed it!”
Norris snorts derisively. “Not my fault he acted a fool. That’s on you.”
“Are you stupid? I didn’t tell him he wasn’t worthy or any of that crap!”
“You certainly didn’t make him feel like he was, either. Don’t come for me over your failure! If you’d tackled that crush with any maturity, what you and I did to each other would’ve been between you and him! It would’ve been his teeth on you!”
Nuria can feel her cheeks burning from the references but she doesn’t back down. “I would’ve preferred his! Unlike you, he would’ve kept up with me! He’s no bum with one-lap stamina!”
“What?!” Norris says, his voice suddenly guttural.
The two glare at one another lethally, one step away from being at each other’s throats. Nuria feels as angry at herself for as angry as she is at him. She not only fed into her weakness but indulged it without caution. She forsook the best parts of herself for her brief debauchery with him. And his gaze tells her that he was aware of that, letting her drown herself in her misery. However, she has a read into him, too. He doesn’t have to admit it, but she knows he had something to prove to himself, too.
“I guess all your alpha male crap was just that! You wanna know the real reason I stopped having sex with you? I learned that you weren’t worthy! You’re pathetic!”
“I’ll show you pathe–”
Lauron’s broadsword falls between Nuria and Norris, the hall monitor joining it shortly.
“We’re done here,” she says, leering at Norris. “You have pool access until 11 pm. Don’t make me come back to get you. I’ll drag you back if I need to.”
Norris clicks his tongue. “Whatever, girlies. I’m done with this shit!” He dives into the pool, his attempt to splash them failing.
“Okay, what did you see in that guy?” Lauron asks, taking a breath.
Nothing at all. I chose him because I felt like nothing. I never would’ve otherwise and I never will again.