Ferio still had newspaper clippings at the bottom of his bass case. Yellowed and curling, fraying at the edges with age, some of them felt like they’d disintegrate if he picked them up. It had been a long time since he collected them, some were older than his bass itself. But still they sat, all featuring a young woman with blonde curls tumbling around her shoulders. There wasn’t much of a resemblance--where she had been smooth and soft, he was sharp and tousled--and he was almost grateful for that. Not looking like her meant he could move around much more easily, without any questions. There were three people in the world who knew Emeraude was his older sister, and they were beside him, setting up on the stage.
The clippings fluttered as he unclasped his case and pulled the bass strap over his shoulder, plucking absently at the strings. The sound was in order, he was pretty sure. His amp was working. The show would go off without a hitch, and if it didn’t, it was just a club. They didn’t play in big venues. That was his only stipulation when he started. There was only so much spotlight he could handle. But the others hadn’t argued against it. Lantis was even quieter than Ferio, Ascot was happy so long as he had a safe place for himself and the strays he had a tendency to pick up, and Clef was too busy trying to manage them to argue. To be fair to Clef, it really was a gargantuan task. Lantis mostly stayed in line, but Ascot kept forgetting that Clef was allergic to cats, and Ferio bounced on practice at least twice a week.
At least he always made it to gigs. That would have to count in his favor. He slid backward onto his stool, still picking at the strings. The low thuds from his amp felt like a heartbeat. A heart caught in someone’s throat, heavy and breathless.
“Try a little more upbeat,” Clef suggested, arms folded across his chest. “We’re playing a club, not a horror movie.”
Ferio rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I got it.”
Clubs. The only place where the dissonance in the music between Ferio and his friends was drowned out by the enthusiasm of the crowd. The only place where it didn’t matter that none of them were quite suited to each other. It wasn’t that they sounded bad, but more that they sounded like three guys playing the same song instead of a band . The distinction was one Ferio was well aware of. Musical compatibility was something rare, and it could be dangerous, or he had convinced himself it was. His sister had found it only six months before her death.
He remembered her sweet voice playing over deep, melodic strings. There had been nothing in the world that sounded half as beautiful.
Ascot nudged him, coming around the keyboard to lean on the table holding their water. “I hear this place is packed every night. It might be our biggest show.” His voice teetered between excitement and anxiety, tentatively optimistic.
Lantis, towering over both of them, shrugged. “It’s a gig.”
“We’ll play it the same as we play every other show.” Ferio’s fingers hadn’t stopped moving over the strings. “And then we’ll mingle like always. Except maybe this time, you’ll bring a girl home.” He winked with a cheeky grin.
“Maybe this time, you’ll finally come home alone,” Ascot said, rolling his eyes. “You’ll flirt with anything that moves.”
“Anything interesting that moves,” Ferio responded. The distinction was important to him. His company was always there to help ease the tedium of the nights of fruitless connections and missed opportunities. If none of them could give him more information, they could be at least entertaining.
“Your bar for interest is low.” Clef was always fast with a retort. Honestly, Ferio wasn’t surprised how easily he could fire back. Clef had been friends with his family for a long time, having been one of his sister’s confidants, probably one of her best friends, through most of her life. He may have been the only real friend she’d had after her career started. Clef had known Ferio for longer than Ferio had memories.
But then Clef moved on, taking attention off Ferio as he looked over the setup on the stage. There was a few hours before they’d play, and thankfully it wasn’t going to be all night, but Celf had always been detail-oriented and a planner of sorts. There was a reason he did so well as a manager. Ferio continued to play his bass without fully thinking, watching with half a smile as Clef ushered Ascot off stage to let a roadie finish setting up his keyboard.
“You’re distracted tonight.” Lantis had approached him without making a sound, almost as always. “It’s been ten years.”
“It’s just another day,” Ferio said, his smile vanishing. “It’s not like it’s any worse than yesterday was.”
“After the show, I’m going to visit. Are you coming?”
“Maybe.” Ferio didn’t mean to be cagey to Lantis. He was honestly the only other person in the world who could really understand how he felt about this all. But by the time he got to the site, he’d see that Ferio had already been there, leaving his own remembrances this morning. “I’ll let you know later.”
He set his bass down and rolled his shoulders, heaving himself to stand straight, and grabbing his cigarettes and lighter from his case and heading for the door. “I need a break, tell Clef I’ll be back in time for the show.”
Lantis nodded him off.
Their venue tonight was in a basement. Which was fine, but even better was the rooftop cafe. It was a short building, only five storeys, but it was a nice chance to get some quiet air and not leave the premises. Clef might have his head if he went too far, and he didn’t want to be bothered by someone on the ground.
When he leaned over the balcony, lighting a cigarette, he watched the city. It was a sight, honestly, with all the people going where they needed, barely paying attention to each other. The light pop music piped through the outdoor cafe grated on his nerves. It was a hell of a day for him, and as disaffected as he pretended to be, it always put him on edge.
But less on edge than the gentle cough next to him. “Excuse me, sir? Could you not smoke here?”
Ferio had to stop himself from rolling his eyes, instead slipping with ease into the comfortable persona he got around women. And as he turned to her, putting out his cigarette on the railing, he almost froze. Curly blonde hair. Big, sad green eyes. The most polite smile. All of it threw him a decade backward to a hand tousling his hair and a warm, friendly hug goodbye as his sister walked out the door. He stood in stunned silence, unable to think of the words. This woman might have been Emeraude reincarnated. She was taller, certainly, and a little rounder in the face. Sharper eyes--like she was calculating something in her mind, like he could almost see her process the world. And shorter hair, brushing against her jaw in the gentle breeze. The glasses that she adjusted, in a sense of awkwardness as he just gawked at her didn’t fit, either. But this girl had a sweet voice and a brilliance to her that almost made him forget the differences.
“I don’t mean to be rude, but the cafe doesn’t generally allow it…” she continued on, recognizing that his staring wasn’t ceasing.
“Oh--sorry, I wasn’t thinking.” Ferio scrambled to find the suave personality he could normally pull off. “Hope it wasn’t bothering you.”
“Thank you.” She smiled a polite smile at him again. It made his spine tighten, coiling like a spring. It was so much like hers. Was this girl like Emeraude…? “I only ask as I came out to read and I have some trouble with the smoke.”
“No problem.” He pushed himself further into that persona, winking at her. “It never hurts to help a pretty girl get comfortable.”
A burning red crept up her cheeks, and she cleared her throat. “Well. Thank you again. I just--”
Ferio couldn’t help but describe her departure as scurrying in his mind. It was kind of cute to watch as she sat down at a table with a tea and her book and buried her face back into it. He didn’t necessarily watch her for the rest of his time on the roof, but she was always in the corner of his eye.
Something about her felt… different.
And he was only jolted from this by his phone alerts going off. A frustrated message from Clef, saying they had to get ready now. Of course. Had to stay on schedule.
He caught the girl’s eye when he looked up. He winked and she buried her face back into her book, red to the ears.
As he boarded the elevator to the basement, he regretted not getting her number.