"Virtuoso hotshot on the move." My one-and-only crazy best friend, Laura, muttered this delightfully to me, while stealing a glance at her target by peeking her head out from above her open book. I didn't even have to look to see who she was stalking. I knew perfectly well who the so-called 'virtuoso hotshot' was—in fact, everyone at our school did. He was as distinguished as any hue on the color wheel, as widely known as any pithy proverb that's had the chance of being utter and reaching a listener's heedful ears.
And I hated him.
Well—I didn't hate him. Hate is too much of a potent word honestly, and it's even more forceful as an emotion. I was jealous. That's it. I was jealous of Aaron Schmidt. At age sixteen, his name was already hitting the waves of the music industry, being swept up in its shifting tides. Other word, Aaron was a big hit right now, his passionate music sounding rampantly down almost every street. It was something every undiscovered artist would envy—or praise. Sadly, I was the upper half.
"You should totally check out my music sometime too," I suggested plainly to Laura. I ripped off a piece of paper at the corner of my notebook page and hastily scribbled my SoundCloud username, then shoved it into Laura's hand, offering her a sincere smile. "No measly lyrics, no profanity—just music from my heart, I promise."
"Rachel..." Laura's eyes were riveted on the piece of paper in her hand. "I love you, girlie, but last time I tried to be nice and offer you constructive criticism, you sulked and wouldn't speak to me for days."
My tangled mind jumbled around for an explanation, a reply—anything. How do I explain that music was what saved me from depression? From the dark sorrow that had been grappling for my soul after the incident that had left me utterly defeated and hopeless? And that anyone who criticized my music was criticizing the very thing that had saved me? "I-I've improved since then. I promise."
Lauren shot me a familiar look, the one that denoted pity where the lateral ends of her eyebrows drooped down, and she frowned. "Okay...I'll listen to your music, but I've learned my lesson—I'm just listening, not instructing." She curled the paper up into her hand and waved it at me. "Carl's throwing a party tonight. His parents are out of town. Meet me there?" I nodded my head vigorously, but there was something agonizing stirring within the deep pits of my guts. I recognized the feeling...and I knew what today was...
"Dad." I cleared my throat and tried to catch the attention of my dad, who was currently sipping away on a bottle of Jack Daniels, staring into the screen of the television—which was the only source of light within the dim room. I knew he wasn't actually watching TV, because he was always lost in his thoughts now-a-days, drinking an excessive amount of alcohol to wash away the dark demons that resided at the gloomiest corners of his mind. The TV was practically just a decoration to brighten up our dull lives and make it seem like we were normal, happy people. "...Dad?"
He stirred and sat up straighter, spilling a bit of alcohol onto the carpet. "What is it?" He said groggily.
"What are you doing?" I gulped, and warm tears blurred the edges of my vision. "We have to go to the cemetery."
He cranked his head around to stare at me. "What are ya talkin' bout?" He blinked a couple of times and rubbed his eyes. "Whaddya mean?" He frowned at me, drawing his eyebrows together.
"Dad...did you forget?" I said hoarsely, blinking away the dumb tears that gathered at the corners of my eyes. How could he forget? I mean—of course he would. He was always getting wasted and forgetting about his responsibilities ever since... "Today is the day mom died three years ago." I tried to contain my raging emotions and my swelling sorrow, curling my hands into tight fists. So tight that I felt my nails biting into my skin.
He blinked. "We're not goin' anywhere."
"How can you say that?" I bursted with contempt for the man in front of me. "I need to be there for mom, dad. I'm not like you!" Word after word kept spilling from my mouth, like water overflowing from a teapot. "I haven't forgotten anything about her."
Dad shook his head at me. "She ain't alive any longer, Rachel. It's time to move on."
I pointed bitterly at his bottle of beer. "Oh, yeah, I can see that you definitely moved on." I pivoted around on my heel, swung open the front door, and stormed out of the house.
"Come on, just a sip." Laura shoved a beer bottle in front of my face, nearly hitting my nose with it. "We won't be teenagers for much longer. We're going to live to our fullest tonight." She winked at me and took a swig out of her bottle.
"I can't drink," I replied, crossing my arms. I was still seething with frustration from the conversation I'd had with dad. How could he be so inconsiderate? So heartless? "Alcohol impairs judgment, and I think I like having judgment." Laura breathed onto my face, and I could smell the alcohol on her breath. She was already inebriated. I coughed and swatted the air around me, trying to rid of the smell. Around us, the electronic music blasted to full volume and chatters arose. People began to move the couches out of the way to form a makeshift dance floor.
"You're such a wuss, Rachel," Laura drawled, leaning onto my shoulder. "You don't have to be so depressed all the time!"
I shut my eyes tightly and tried to drown out her voice. "Don't do this, Laura."
"Oh come, on. I know your mom died today and all, doesn't mean you can't have fun." She laughed obnoxiously into my ear. Suddenly, everything was too loud, and all I could smell was alcohol. My irritation peaked, and I began to sweat immensely.
"Just stop it!" I roared. My voice dominated the booming music, and everyone turned their heads my way. All observant eyes fell on me, and everyone spoke in hushed voices. I turned to Laura. "You don't know anything." I broke apart right then and there, all my emotions tumbling down on me uncontrollably. "You don't. You don't know anything! So shut up!" The impending tears finally spilled. And spilled, they did. Droplets rolled down my face, racing down to the edges of my chin. My throat was dry, and my lashes were sticking together from the tears. I was a mess.
I shoved past the horde of people and hurried outside, where I could greet the fresh air and the mysteriousness of the night. Stars. So much stars. And they were all so beautiful! Stars here, stars there —my mind was turning in circles. So many bright stars, wheeeeee! Right when my tears began to dry, someone spoke from behind me.
"Are you alright?"
I froze. It was that same phrase—the one that everyone muttered, not because they were worried about you, just because they wanted to pretend that they worried about you. It was fake, and it was insincere, and it made me feel even worse. I turned around and wasn't surprised to see the handsome face of Aaron Schmidt. His sleek, black hair was spiked up, giving him the casual famous look. Of course it would be the romantic musician of all people to walk outside and console a crying girl.
"Yeah. Yeah, totally," I replied nonchalantly, wiping furiously at my eyes.
"No. You're not." He put his hands in his pockets and shrugged. "I can see through your lie, because I use the same one all the time."
"What would you know?" I blurted defensively, crossing my arms at him.
He widened his bright, blue eyes at me. "I know a lot of things. And some things, I wish I didn't know." His witty reply made me loosen up, and it surprisingly forced the frown off my face. I liked that. Not the fact that the words he spoke could make me forget my sadness, but the fact that the words he spoke held their own truth and rhythm. Maybe it was the truth...maybe it was the rhythm..but one of them compelled me to spill out my sorrows. Because one moment, I was silent, and the next, I was telling Aaron—the virtuoso hotshot—about my mother's death, about how she had died because of a drunk driver, about how composing music had been a distraction for me to avoid the grief, and about my father's inability to mourn for her. When I finished, my eyes were brimming with tears again, and my nose was growing numb from the cold. Aaron took in all the information, then he took my hand. I don't know why he did it. He just did. And it felt so warm. And it felt so...right.
"All this time, have you ever forgiven yourself?" He looked deeply into my eyes and waited for my answer.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, have you allowed yourself time to mourn?" He was still staring at me. "You told me about how composing music had merely been a distraction for you. You never gave yourself a moment to grieve."
I was suddenly trembling. "I-I...I mean..no, I didn't grieve. The sorrow's just always kind of been at the side..."
"Music is not meant to be a distraction. It's meant to be an indulgence, a gift, an expression." He clutched my hand tightly in his. "We cry when we're sad. We write music when we want to write music. It's time for you to recover, grow back your wings. Holding on to the past only hurts us more than we know it."
I gulped and stared at him with a pained expression. "How do you know so well?"
"Because I am an artist." His eyes twinkled with amusement, then he pointed at the stars. "You see those stars? They're dead. By the time the light of the star reaches us, it's already dead. That light we're looking at is the light the star sent to us a million years ago. The speed of light plays a role in this. Stars die, but they are reborn, hence the reason why we have so many of them in the sky." He turned to me. "It's your turn to be reborn. People want to see your light. I want to see your light."
I gazed deeply into Aaron's endless, sapphire eyes. In them, I saw faith. In them, I saw hope. In them, I saw a future. He drew nearer, his lips so close to mine that I could feel his hot breath on the surface of my lips. Thoughts flew through my mind. Mom wouldn't want me to wallow in sorrow for the rest of my life. She didn't even want that when she was alive. I would always remember mom, would always remember the agony that ripped through my heart on the night the call arrived, informing us of her death. But right now...
...Aaron was right. He wasn't as bad as I thought he was. I had to give him credit for this. I had held on to the grief for too long, never experiencing it, always dodging it.
Maybe it was time to be reborn.