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Crunch. Crunch. Cold. Crunch. Crunch. Ding.
I look up from my table and squint through the hazy blur of the cotton blinds at the figure in the doorway.
“Hello?” She coughs, fanning her face. “Man it’s smokey in here. Smells like my grandma.” Ah. I think. One of them. Her voice is brash, childish. I can feel the disbelief emanating from her as she surveys the room. She’d only come into the shop to get out of the snow - she wasn’t looking for someone to tell her the future.
“Tarot card reading, miss?” I ask after a pause. “I can read your palm, or perhaps you’re more interested in what the stars have to say about your life?”
She snorts, stomping the snow off her boot with a heavy clack before striding over to my booth.
“Why not.” She says. “How much?”
“As much as you feel my services are worth afterwards. So what shall it be?” I reply, clasping my hands together.
Here’s a dirty little confession: I don’t actually read the cards like some do, nor do I really feel a connection with the stars. But I’m hardly, hardly a fraud. Nobody in the shop is.
We’re simply hiding in plain sight.
“What’s the easiest?” She asks. “I don’t have time for all your mumbo jumbo.”
I feel my lips curving into a silent grin. “Come into the booth, miss. We’ll do a crystal ball reading. ”
She obliges, brushing aside the curtain. There’s a brief moment of surprise on her face when she finally sees me, before it melts into ridicule. Stop kidding me, her eyes scream, even as she sits down upon the plush pillows.
“Quite the atmosphere you’re building here.” She mutters.
I resist the urge to roll my eyes. The atmosphere is for the other customers, those who enjoy the aura of vintage, exotic mysteries the shop supposedly carries. I find it pretentious. But I suppose that I too, am a teenager.
She rests her hands on the orb, her look of skepticism never changing.
Her fingernails are a dead give away. Clipped short, calluses dotting the tips of her hand.
“String player?” I ask, smiling.
“You’ll have to do better than that to convince me.” She frowns.
I nod obligingly. “Of course,” I reply. “Shall we begin?”
My eyes drift close as I rest my hand over hers, feeling the warmth of her skin seeping into mine. Instantly, my ears filled with a rich, mellow sound. I recognize the tune as one of Bach’s cello suites, and I probe harder with my mind, delving into her memories.
“Practice doesn’t make perfect, Delia. Practice makes consistency.” Countless numbers - audition dates, cut off scores - float through my head, pages and pages of sheet music swirling through them. The music in my head grows louder, cutting off everything else.
She is a consummate musician.
I am almost envious of how completely the sound of the cello drowns out everything. Reluctantly, I push aside the music and wander a little deeper into her life. Talented. Gifted. Prodigious. A genius, even. Warm, glowing words of praise pepper me as I stroll through her memories. But eventually, inevitably, I reach the dark recesses of the mind.
It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth and numbs my skin. My stomach wants to revolt against the sandwich I ate earlier. I recognize the raw, visceral fear, the idea of letting down her parents, her Maestro, or her audience down terrifies her. How can she, the best, most brilliant protégé, be anything less than perfect? The music is turning shriller, morphing into a discordant cacophony.
But just as abruptly, it stops. She, Delia, has ripped her hands away from mine.
“What did you see? Isn’t the crystal ball supposed to show me pictures of my future?” She demands, her eyebrows furrowing in anger.
I take a deep breath. “The cello- no, music, is your life, isn’t it? It was your childhood, it is your everything now, and it will be your one true passion until the day you are resting in the grave.”
Delia’s eyes are trained on me. I notice the purple-blue tint beneath her eyes, likely the result of one too many late night rehearsals.
“There is no doubt you are brilliant. But you are also terrified.”
“I am not.” She retorts. “I have perfectly supportive parents and a wonderful teacher.” But her eyes give away her lie, and I see the truth hiding behind her slate gray irises.
“You are scared of yourself.” I whisper. “That you, the perfect prodigy, cannot live up to their expectations. You are afraid of being a fraud.”
Delia merely stares, her lips quivering ever so slightly.
“But you shouldn’t be. The music is in your blood. Follow it. You started because little Delia loved the cello. Nothing more, nothing less.”
At that, she stands up, backing away from my desk so quickly she nearly stumbles. A grin tugs at the corner of my lips, and I indulge it ever so slightly.
“I-I never told you my name.”
I shrug, my grin challenging her former skepticism.
Delia reaches into her pocket, fumbling for something. It’s a crumpled twenty dollar bill, slightly frayed at the edges.
“Here. It’s all I have.” With that, she starts to leave, brushing the curtain out of her way. I lean back and rub my temples, the last vestiges of music finally dissipating from my brain.
The door jingles, but she doesn’t go, not yet.
“... Can I come back in the future?” She finally asks, one shoulder leaning against the exit.
“You are always welcome here, Delia.”
The winter breeze blows through the room, ruffling my hair. The curtains flutter like butterfly wings and the incense smoke swirls. For a moment, the shop seems more magical than before.