It was a big day for Iryuu. His mother had agreed that if he wanted to make a career out of music, he could apply to a conservatory; the college didn’t have classes for DJing, of course, but he could still do that on the side. So he’d done his research and put together a whole application packet for the best school that wouldn’t be too expensive for him and now it was time for him to go and perform. He’d included a recording of himself playing a classic composition, of course, but admissions wanted to know how he could perform live and under pressure.
While his blond hair was still a bit of a tousled mess, the suit he wore made him look like a real professional of the sort that a conservatory would want. The tie and collared shirt helped cover his neck; he didn’t feel like he needed to hide his scar, but he wanted admissions to focus on his musical prowess. At least the professor who would likely be handling his interview today seemed like a nice old lady; he’d asked around to find out who usually dealt with these auditions and then looked her up on the school website. Still, he was so nervous that he couldn’t help but snack on sweets while traveling to campus. By the time he got there he had a feeling he might’ve overdone it but there was nothing to do about it now; he didn’t have time to duck into a bathroom or anything since he was already almost late.
Thankfully for his nerves he made it to the office just in time to sit outside before the professor opened the door.
“Iryuu Maboroshi, right? Come in.”
The professor was not a nice old lady. Instead it was some ridiculously tall middle-aged man with dark circles under his eyes, messy greying hair, a scary-looking scar all the way up one side of his face, and dressed like the stereotypical college professors in movies who make it a mission to flunk students they don’t like. What kind of musician could he possibly be? Heart already pounding, Iryuu entered the office and stood stiff at attention until the professor let out a chuckle that sounded more like a scoff and gestured for him to sit. Stomach twisting, he tried to convince himself that this wasn’t off to a bad start and he just needed to calm down and show what he could do.
“Doctor Takahashi usually does these but she suddenly took ill,” the man said with a smile that didn’t reassure Iryuu at all. “As fortune would have it I was the only one who could step in on such short notice. I’m Professor Montgomery, by the way.” He didn’t reach out for a handshake, just opened the folder that had been on the desk and started thumbing through Iryuu’s application. “I teach music history here. But don’t worry, I know what to listen for,” he added. Somehow this second smile was even less reassuring than the first. “I see you sent in a recording of yourself playing the piano. We have a piano here, of course, unless you’d rather play that?” He gestured at the violin case Iryuu had brought with him. “Either or both would be fine.”
The idea had been that playing on a familiar instrument would keep him grounded, settle his nerves once he felt the bow in his hands, but with how old-fashioned this professor looked Iryuu suddenly worried that the more experimental electric violin would be a mistake. But he’d made it this far and it said in his application that he played the electric violin so this should be fine. It’d be fine. Right? Swallowing to try and settle his stomach, he nodded and set the case in his lap to open it.
“Oh, you don’t have to play it now. Usually there’s a little interview first, but if you’d prefer….” Somehow even the way Montgomery trailed off sounded condescending. There really wouldn’t be any winning with him, would there?
Iryuu nodded and kept unpacking his violin to show he did prefer to play now. After all, this was the important part and he didn't trust the adrenaline-fueled nausea sitting thick at the base of his throat to cooperate that long. The sooner he could get out of here the better.
Montgomery shrugged and sat back, glancing down at the chair and smirking as though he'd waited a long time to sit in this particular seat. Then he got out a carton of cigarettes and lit one before Iryuu could object. Catching the boy's confused glare, he shrugged again.
"What? It's not like you're a singer. Go on."
Seeing this, Montgomery stood as well and helped Iryuu get connected to the amp that had been tucked in a corner of the office after a previous audition. At least this professor wasn't a total dick, Iryuu thought. Once everything was properly plugged in Montgomery seated himself again, hands folded over his belly as he raised an expectant eyebrow.
In a way the small gesture of help made Iryuu even more nervous. Was he being set up to fail? The lump of nausea in his throat just kept getting bigger, a burning feeling rising up beneath it - he swallowed hard, trying to send the sickly sweet aftertaste of donuts away. He needed to focus.
Another deep breath centered him enough to raise the bow and start playing. Montgomery kept smoking the whole time, lighting a new cigarette on the heels of the first and filling the room with a smell that certainly didn't help quash the queasy feeling coiling itself in Iryuu's chest. But even that couldn't stop him from performing his best; he'd played to tougher audiences, he told himself.
Once he was done, Iryuu tried to take shallow breaths so he could last longer; it was as though the cigarette smoke was trying to ooze down his throat as he put away his violin, the tar-heavy air closing in around him more and more with his every move -
He managed to secure the violin in its case before he lost the battle with himself. At least he was already kneeling, so he didn't have far to go when he collapsed onto all fours and began vomiting. The pastries he'd eaten tempered the harshness of his bile, the sour-sweet taste forcing its way back over his tongue in a way that wasn't wholly unpleasant. With each heave he could feel sweat starting, his eyes watering, and after what felt like an eternity he stopped puking long enough to hear Montgomery sigh. It was only a brief reprieve, though, as his stomach lurched again at the reminder he wasn't alone. Despite his own gagging and spitting echoing loud in his ears, each spasm became softer until there wasn't anything left to bring up and he stopped retching. As he wiped his mouth with a shaky hand, he looked up to try and apologize to the professor.
"Ah, Basile? Good afternoon. I've got another little job for you." As he spoke he made a little note on a pad of paper, pen scratching loud to Iryuu's overstimulated senses. "Bring cleaning supplies. Rubber gloves and so on. …Yes, you heard me. Unless you'd rather I tell the dean that we need a supply of latex gloves?" Iryuu couldn't hear the other end of the conversation but Montgomery's smile was distinctly unpleasant. He hung up, stubbing out his second cigarette on a little paperweight that didn't seem intended to be an ashtray, and finally turned his attention to Iryuu.
Montgomery stood and walked over, footsteps slow like someone checking on an animal trap, and dropped into a crouch next to Iryuu so the boy was forced to turn his head if he wanted to make eye contact. Up close like this Iryuu could smell the man's cologne, the scent of it almost strong enough to make him gag again. Then there was a hand in his hair, heavy in a way that felt more threatening than soothing.
"You're an interesting one." Montgomery ruffled Iryuu's hair, the gesture just this side of rough. "I might be able to help you with your career. Here." And with that he slipped his note into one of Iryuu's trouser pockets, moving in a way that was more familiar than he had any right being. "Call that number whenever you feel like it."
Before Iryuu could try to shake him off the door opened and a weary sigh interrupted them from behind.
"Bonjour, Basile. How good of you to come by. Mr. Maboroshi here is all yours." Grinning, Montgomery pushed himself to his feet and left the room without a further word, pulling the door shut behind him.
"Pouah, all over Doctor Takahashi's floor…." The man walked around Iryuu so he could finally see his face. Another middle-aged man, his greying hair curly rather than wavy, possibly older than Montgomery but the stubble and sharper cheekbones made it a bit difficult to be sure. The confusing juxtaposition of what looked like a cheap jumpsuit over his blazer and button-down didn't help with reading his face. His eyes seemed a bit kinder, though perhaps that was just wishful thinking on Iryuu's part. "Get up."
Without waiting for Iryuu to comply the man grabbed his arm and helped haul him up back into his chair. "Please call me Monsieur S," he said as he rummaged around in the plastic bag of supplies he'd brought with him, fishing out some paper towels and thrusting them in Iryuu's direction. "Or Mr. S," he added when Iryuu didn't respond verbally. "Clean yourself up."
Mr. S grimaced when he saw how shaky Iryuu's hands were, but he didn't move to help wipe the boy's face clean. Instead he just finished unpacking the bag he'd brought, pulling a pair of large rubber gloves on with a needlessly dramatic snap.
"He leaves you speechless, no? He has that effect on everyone," Mr. S said, voice low as if someone might be eavesdropping. "At least he is on the way out and so the two of us, we will not have to look at him anymore." Before he got down on his knees to scrub up the vomit, he caught Iryuu's confused look. "A little of this, a little of that…." He gave a small shrug. "He will be lucky if a high school accepts him."
Being able to clean his face made Iryuu feel a bit better, if only psychologically. Whatever this professor's story was - probably a French language teacher, from the sounds of it - he looked just as run-down as Montgomery, if not more, and smelled like a smoker too. Was this the fate awaiting Iryuu if he stayed within academia? He shivered at the idea.
Mr. S looked at him with something like pity then returned his attention to cleaning up. The old Frenchman was more handsome, or had been once, Iryuu thought, but compensated for it with a colder attitude that made him a little afraid to try and have any kind of conversation.
"Perhaps I should find a quieter school," Mr. S muttered under his breath as he set aside the plastic bag now full of Iryuu's mess. "Surely at a community college nobody will try this Machiavellian shit." Pulling off the gloves with another loud snap he tossed them into the bag and tied it off, then stood up. Speaking normally now, he said, "Best of luck with your academic career. À la prochaine." With that farewell Iryuu was alone again, the door left open in an unspoken dismissal.
After all that it was a relief to leave; Iryuu grabbed his violin case and fled the campus. He needed water and something to settle his stomach and he didn't feel like looking for that where he might run into either of those professors with the humiliation still so fresh in everyone's memory. He reached for his bus pass and pulled out the phone number instead. With a shudder, he tossed it away. Maybe he could try again to persuade his mom that being a DJ was a fine career, no college needed.