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Let me sing forevermore

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When Kanaya Maryam visited Jade’s apartment for the first time, she’d already had a believable explanation prepared — "I was worried for you," — but it was still difficult pretending not to notice the redness in the other girl's eyes.  Jade just smiled and let her in; Kanaya entered to a parlor full of blue-tinted pin-up posters and suits of armor and mummy mannequins.

Well, she hoped that they were mannequins.  Jade didn’t have any family except for her grandfather, who, Kanaya was told, was an odd person to say the least.   She couldn’t judge for herself.  She’d never actually seen the man or even had any evidence of his existence.  It wasn’t that Jade avoided talking about him; she did, frequently and freely, but even she could never narrow his location down to anything more specific than just — “Traveling, somewhere!”

And that had been the case for as long as they’d known each other, possibly even for as long as Jade had been living in Baltimore.  It’d gotten to the point that Kanaya was beginning to fear for child services visits on behalf of her friend.  She’d wanted to visit Jade’s home for a long time.  Somehow, she wasn’t sure what she had expected.  For now she let her gaze wander randomly to a record player that hummed out a familiar melody in the corner; she waited expectantly for lyrics until Jade explained, leaning back on her heels — "There aren't any, silly, but it's much more fun to sing for yourself!" — and promptly did so.

The tempo was fast.  More so than Sinatra's cover, which was the only version Kanaya was familiar with.  Jade couldn't quite keep up with it but she seemed to be enjoying herself anyway, especially when she gestured gleefully for Kanaya to join in.  But she only let her get so far as only a few lines before just laughing and grabbing her friend's hands and pulling her into a clumsy but carefree swing dance as they tried to forget the rest of the world.

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Jade Harley wasn’t shy about what she wanted to be when she grew up: an astronaut, a field herpetologist, a subatomic physicist, a member of a world-famous jazz quartet.  The last item was only occasionally a point of uncertainty.  It wasn't that Jade didn't like to talk about the other three members of her future band; she did, frequently and freely.  But no matter how cheerful she looked while doing so, Kanaya never failed to notice a certain melancholy in her face when she finished.

Their quartet was so amazing that the world was baited into separating them at birth, Jade would explain.  It cast their pianist to Washington suburbia, their violinist to upstate New York, their drummer to the big city in Texas, and their bassist (here Jade would point excitably to herself with a toothy grin) to little old Maryland.  They had never even seen each other and had to play together through phone.  But, Jade would always insist, they were going to apply for the same colleges when they graduated, they were going to go big one day and they were going to be doing what they loved and they were going to be making the music happen.  She just had to be patient until then, Jade would say, and her fingertips would twitch as if itching for the neck of her double bass.

For now she was only slightly dwarfed by her massive instrument, which was possibly taller, wider, and maybe even heavier than its player.  Kanaya had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing as Jade composed new chords on the spot and played impromptu bassline to Cannonball Adderley, Sun Ra, Bola Sete.  But Jade always had a certain clairvoyance about her.  So she puffed out her cheeks and adjusted her glasses to better stare down her friend — "I'm still waiting for my growth spurt!  And what exactly do you play again, little miss fussbudget?"

Kanaya hesitated for only a moment.  She had never actually told anyone; when she did now, she tried her best not to sound reluctant and probably failed.  Jade tapped her cheek thoughtfully and then clapped her hands together even as Kanaya tried to explain herself — "I thought it was an elegant choice — "

"No, it's perfect!  Why didn't I ever ask this before?  We should play together someday!"

Kanaya was nonplussed — "It's not a jazz instrument — " but even as she said it she was mentally correcting herself.  Obviously double bass wasn't exclusive to that genre either.  But Jade was already pulling out a thin black case from underneath a sofa and snapping off the clasps.

"Then you’ve never listened to Dorothy Ashby.  She and Frank Wess did amazing things together on Hip Harp and In A Minor Groove.  If they can, so could we!  All I need to do is brush up on my flute — "

She blew a few ragged practice notes and, as if on cue, a distant sound of sirens followed.

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The TV was the first to officially break the news.  They sat together on a pile of cushions to watch fire and glass shatter on screen, watch tear-streaked faces screaming with rage.  Riots weren't uncommon and curfews were only slightly less so, but Kanaya was still genuinely surprised when she looked out the window and noticed that it was later than she had thought.  And noticed also the faint, flickering glow of arson several streets over.

Jade twisted the colorful rings on her fingers and worried her bottom lip with her teeth and it took a while for Kanaya to convince her that no, she wasn't upset, that she honestly didn't mind having to stay for the night, that her mother liked Jade and was an understanding woman and really there was nothing to worry about at all.  She had never seen Jade cry before.  But she took the other girl in her arms, curled her arms around Jade's shoulders, stroked one hand through Jade's thick hair, and repeated, like a mantra — "It’ll be okay, everything will be fine — " even while doubting they could believe it.

When the shudders died somewhat she finally got up to make the phone call to her mother, then returned to piano rolling off the record.  Jade was humming to drums and Nina Simone as if the past few minutes hadn’t happened at all.  The world righted itself again with her smile.

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Sooner or later their playlist would run into a Mingus record. It was inevitable. He was Jade's hero, she had almost all his albums to date. To say that she adored him would be an understatement. Not that Kanaya minded, necessarily. It would be ridiculous for a 15-year old high school student to be jealous of a genius musician who made a habit of rewriting the laws of jazz at whim.

"This one's from a concert he played in a university all the way in upstate New York, maybe even near where Rose is — " Jade said as she snapped in an unfamiliar vinyl Kanaya hadn't seen before. Then she confided in a stage-whisper — "And this solo makes me think of you."
She crooked her double bass against her shoulder and played intently along with the music, as if she were in the presence of the great man himself instead of just his record and a good friend from school. When she finished Kanaya could only manage a — "I'm flattered — " as the next song kicked in and before she knew it Jade was already on her feet, offering her hand for the jitterbug waltz.

 

( Years later, but not many, Kanaya would remember hunting for the Cornell album in record shops during an agonizing semester Jade-less as her girlfriend studied abroad in New Zealand. She'd brought almost half of her library overseas with her. So after days of replaying Grant Green and Vince Guaraldi and an overly healthy amount of Dorothy Ashby, Kanaya had given in and searched out Jade’s favorite Mingus — only to discover that, mysteriously enough, it didn't seem to exist in any stores or libraries or databases in the country. An extremely select few Mingus afictionados were even aware that the concert happened, let alone was recorded, and Kanaya found herself peppered with hopeful price offers for such a rarity.

It wasn't until a few weeks after Jade had returned that she had asked her where she'd gotten the record, but her lover had just winked, declared — "Shenanigans!" — and kissed her so intently that Kanaya had no choice but to let the issue go in favor of more important things. )

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"Hey, Kanaya —

Remember how we first became friends?"

 

( She did.  Skaia High had been integrated even before the Civil Rights act was passed a few years back.  Well, they called it integration.  But from what she heard, ten black kids weren't too big of a deal in a student body of a thousand wealthier and whiter leading crowd.  When the bill became law and phrases like Government Defunding and Federal Suits began to enter the public discourse, things started to change.

Those members of the leading crowd who could afford it moved out.  A larger flux of world-wary African Americans moved in.  Avoidance strategies gave way to confrontation.  Kanaya entered high school at a time when diversity was paraded as a badge of progressiveness, but teachers still looked the other way when their pupils called fellow classmates sooties and porch monkeys.

As for Jade Harley —

It wasn't that she wasn't perfectly friendly and determinedly forgiving: she was.  And she got along with plenty of people.  Like Aradia [who came from a working class family, the leading crowd sneered], Karkat [who was mixed race and hated everyone indiscriminately], Tavros [who was doomed never to achieve anything in life due to his disability], Nepeta [who roleplayed too many campaigns to care whether someone was black or white or gray with horns on], and even Feferi [the richest girl in the whole city, who attended more anti-war rallies and civil rights sit-ins than dinner parties] —

But time had gotten to Jade — years of having her books tossed in the dumpster and being served half a normal lunch portion by the kitchen staff and reading notes tucked in her desk with messages like

D --> Have you forgotten that a mere 100 years ago a girl of such lowly stature as yourself would be working in our farms and cleaning out our expansively filthy stables and tending to our exquisitely STRONG and muscular stallions
D --> Unrelatedly, I hope you don't mind if I borrow your spare towel for gym period
D --> Not that it's your place to protest

or

YOU SMELL DELICIOUS BUT IM GENUINELY CURIOUS
DO YOU BLEED THE SAME WAY AS WE DO
BECAUSE YOU REALIZE THAT IF YOU OOZE CHOCOLATE MILKSHAKE INSTEAD OF CHERRY COUGH SYRUP ILL HAVE TO CUT YOU OPEN SOME DAY AND SEE IT FOR MYSELF

So when one day Eridan had drawled — "Why don't you go back to Africa where your kind belongs — " in a desperate attempt to earn her enmity after every other racial epithet had failed to faze her, the camel's back cracked.  But before Jade could finish growling — "OKAY LOOK HERE YOU FUC — "

Kanaya's mediating instincts kicked in full force and she had said, rather desperately and in a single breath — "Um that statement is massively fallacious when you actually think about it further not that that's a thing you make a habit of doing Eridan — "

And Eridan had said — "Wait a sec Kan what the hell are you implyin here — "

And Jade had said — "That wasn't supposed to be an implication, assh — "

And Kanaya had said, thinking and talking fast — "If you deduce that Jade belongs in Africa due to her being African American, then by taking that line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, that also means we Caucasians should similarly leave the country and return to Caucasus — "

And Vriska, who didn't deign to harass Jade on the basis that she was — "Soooooooo damn boring I'm falling asleep just being in the same room as her!" — had dropped by and called bullshit and the rest of the lunch period was spent arguing whether Caucasus was even a real place or not until Gamzee bugged Sollux enough to look up its entry in the encyclopedia and confirm that it was.

And the next day Kanaya had found a note in her desk that read, simply — thanks <3 — in an excitable hand. )

 

"And then friendship contacted us like a disease."

"Eww, you've been hanging out with Karkat too much — " but Jade was grinning, Kanaya could tell even with the lights off — "I like to think that it bloomed between us, like a flower."

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"Sometimes I have a dream that everyone could go to school.

Not just white kids, not even just black kids. Everyone! Like the refugees we're getting from Vietnam, even if they're still learning english. Or the kids that are stuck in special ed, even if they're still learning not to eat grass.

Even aliens should be able to go to school. I know they're out there! That's part of the reason why everyone's going crazy over Apollo. Aliens should be able to fly to earth and go to earth school and make earth friends and not be earth hated because of what they look like. They should be able to say what they want to say and think what they want to think and not be shot for it — "

Jade's voice cracked. The record player continued to spin out Duke Ellington and Max Roach and, of course, Charles Mingus. They hadn't stopped the music even when they went to bed — it was an all too fragile barrier against the sounds of breaking glass and fire just a few blocks away.

"Everyone should be able to go to school. Everyone should be able to go to college, or go to space or form a jazz band! It would be awesome! Except we might run out of space suits and saxophones, but —

Then I wake up and I remember it's just a dream. It's the same dream Dr. King had. And he's not here anymore, and I am."

It occurred to Kanaya that Jade's hero had never actually been Mingus at all.

She carefully curled her arms around Jade's waist, crooked her chin against Jade's shoulder. Then she took a breath and kissed her friend's cheek.

"If it helps in any way —

I'm still here, too."

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She had always loved the color of Jade's skin: deep and island-dark, like the richest of soils.  Kanaya herself was so pale she practically glowed in a bright day, but she liked to think that they would look nice together — especially but not exclusively if they were in matching outfits.  She liked to imagine picking out complementary flower-print sundresses together for a summer afternoon, sky blue for herself and lush lime green for Jade.  And she liked to dream that, in the future, they could walk together without fear from the world, once the riots stopped and the war ended and people didn't care about skin except for how beautiful it could be.

But for now just kissing the faint blush on Jade's cheek was enough.

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The TV was the first to officially break the news, one year after Dr. King and the riots died. They sat together on a pile of cushions to watch fire and smoke billow on screen, watch tear-streaked faces screaming with accomplishment. Kanaya had never seen Jade grin wider. She couldn't help but peck Jade's dimples and heard her friend squeal, but she didn't know whether it was for the rocket or for the kiss.

"They're really going to do it, they're really going to make this happen —!"

Jade stopped, cocked her head to one side and strained to hear something above the roar of the televised crowd — "They're playing our song!"

It was the same familiar tune — but this time Kanaya was the one to reach for Jade's hands and pull her into an entirely unclassy dance of glee as Apollo 11 ascended to the moon.