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The Gift of Music

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The little green sun glistened on Robin’s porcelain-pale right cheek in the fading afternoon light, the greasy look of it a blight upon the chiseled perfection of the rest of her thin, haughty face. Watching the wan sunlight play dully off it, his attention held almost wholly captive by the sight, Lamar couldn’t help but feel ashamed, since he’d been the one to draw it on in the first place, when JJ and the Master had passed around those boxes of eyeliner pencils. ...On the other hand, she’d been the one to ask him to do it. Put a sun on my right cheek , she’d said, and he’d felt so flustered, so awkward and clumsy before a figure of such profound purity and grace, that he could do nothing but comply, with hands shaking like a child’s as he’d sketched the little figure onto her cheek and prayed it would turn out alright.


He had tried. At the very least, he could say that much: he’d tried, and he’d...kind of succeeded. ...Emphasis on kind of . No doubt he still deserved the dunce cap that she’d drawn on him (the fact that it was upside down didn’t change what he-- and everyone-- knew it to be).


If he had learned anything from that little exercise, though, it was that Robin was nowhere near as nice as she looked, and right now, she was proving that to him for what seemed like the hundredth time that day. First she and Sonia and...well, everyone, really, had laughed at Peggy when she’d choked trying to tell the Master’s next story (all right, he had laughed too, a little, but only because she had made a funny face; calling her stupid and taking bets on whether she’d wet her pants, like Robin and Gilmer had done, was another level of cruelty altogether, one that he could never bring himself to sink to); then she’d (accidentally, mind, but that didn’t make it hurt any less) whacked him in the face pretending to be one of the Master’s Good Seeds, and now she was blocking his view.


The Master had moved to the opposite side of the little lot they’d commandeered and was talking animatedly to Peggy and to a dancing Gilmer...why she was dancing, he had no idea. No matter how much he moved his head, he could only make out a colorful blur of shapes beyond Robin’s tall, waif-thin form, which was seated in the very convenient spot of right-where-his-peripheral-vision-cut-out . He couldn’t really hear anything, either-- well, he could , technically speaking, but it was as though Robin’s body somehow blocked the passage of the words from the Master’s mouth to his brain; they flowed right over his head, and he couldn’t understand any of them, so by this point he’d simply given up trying. He played with the rolled-up cuffs of his old denim shirt, listened to Sonia’s calm, nasally breathing and Robin’s tiny little huffs and sighs of impatience, stared off into space...he wanted to listen to the Master, really, but it wasn’t his fault that he couldn’t understand what was being said at the time. All he could do was wait for Him to come over and give them something to do, and hope it would all make sense in time.


It wasn’t until Robin jabbed him none-too-gently in the shoulder ( again ) that he realized that the Master had moved, with a sweetly smiling Peggy in tow, to stand in front of them. Hoping that his gesture went unnoticed, he surveyed the lot, taking in with no amount of surprise the sight of Joanne, Herb, Jeffrey, and JJ lying prone on the dirty ground, Gilmer standing with her arms crossed and her thin lips pressed together in a sulky pout, and Robin and Sonia, on either side of him, bouncing around waving their arms, Good Seeds once again. He quickly followed suit, not wanting to lose track of what was going on, but kept his eyes firmly fixed on the Master as he did so, praying that he could make sense of the words He spoke as they were spoken . He wouldn’t miss anything this time. He’d make certain of that.


“They hear the Word with a good and honest heart,” the Master was saying, warmly, “and through their perseverance yield a harvest!” And though He turned to face them all, pale arms spread wide and bright brown eyes twinkling, those eyes seemed to be boring straight into Lamar’s own, whispering friend and accept and love over and over, and for the first time, something clicked.


He flung his own arms outward, mirroring the Master’s gesture unconsciously as Sonia struck her finger cymbals together and twirled neatly and prettily away. His heart felt full to bursting with joy and excitement, for deep in his soul he knew, knew , that the Master had been speaking to him . You are the Good Seed , those dark eyes had seemed to say, and it was true, wasn’t it? Wasn’t he the only one to listen, always-- the only one (besides JJ, but...well, he was different) to ever stop and just think when everyone else had soaked in the Master’s words like sponges in water and moved on to the next lesson, the next game, before he’d even begun to understand the last one, let alone fathom how they all had done so so quickly?


It wasn’t that he didn’t want to learn! He did, so badly, he really did, but couldn’t they all see that he just needed time ? They waited for Peggy, when she was being thick (which happened quite a lot, almost as much as it did with him); it wasn’t fair not to wait for him just because he, unlike Peggy, never got the chance to voice his confusion. They were blind, though, completely blind to the struggle inherent in silence-- but the Master, He could see! He’d said so Himself! Through their perseverance yield a harvest . Well, he would persevere, and in time, the effort would pay off; he would understand , and he would believe. He had faith in that now!


He turned and opened his mouth, so ready and so eager to tell the Master everything that he had just realized, to thank Him for giving him this truth, this strength...but He had gone. He had moved to their makeshift table, watching the others sit down in a circle beside it with tranquil benevolence while Joanne moved gently towards Him, humming softly in her achingly precise and clear soprano.


The sound of it made him shudder, curl in on himself. He had been left behind, again. He had been too thoughtful, too slow, again , and now everyone had left him, forgotten him, and Joanne was singing the words that he had longed so deeply to say--! And the words were beautiful, truly: liquid poetry thrumming like warm silver through the rippling vibrato of her operatic voice, but they were...they were wrong . There was no other way to explain it. The Master took her hand, smiled as she poured out her love to Him for the second time, but surely He must have been blind, too, or deaf, if he didn’t realize that her words were completely without emotion, without passion. Blank words on a page, technically perfect strains coming from that finely tuned instrument of her voice, but it was a lifeless instrument, one that had sung its joyful swan song and had been depleted by it. His soul burned to hear it.


She’s had her chance! he wanted to shout. Joanne had already sung to Him, and all of them with her; she had no right to steal his moment, his words--! But the desperation, the terror, that came with trying to speak choked the words where they lay dormant in his throat; he couldn’t have gotten them out even if all of the demons of Hell had prodded him to give voice to his pain. He could do nothing but stand there, dumb in every sense of the word, as the others danced in their circle and Joanne sang to Him, cursing himself with every fiber of his being for missing yet another chance to let loose the song his heart longed to sing.


He listened, he ached with listening...and suddenly he knew what he had to do. Joanne was beginning to wind down, nearing the end of whatever phrase she’d created, and before his mind had even had a chance to catch up with his body and contemplate the implications of this mad idea he strode forward, grabbing the flute that he had found in the bags of trash and placed lovingly against the edge of the chain-link fence at the back of the lot. The weight of the silver instrument was comfortable and familiar in his hands, and as he walked over to the Master, watching His shock give way to gentle understanding and pride, he felt the confidence of a thousand strong men chase away the fear in him like it was sunlight burning away morning mist.


He lifted the flute to his lips and let the notes pour forth of their own free will, a crystalline stream so bright and pure that he could see tears welling up in the Master’s sparkling brown eyes and a smile curling over His chiseled lips, even as He turned to speak to the rest of the group over the sound.


Everything that Lamar had just seen, learned, felt, yearned to say, he poured into his song, and when he paused in playing to sing along with the others, who’d taken up Joanne’s refrain, he kept his eyes on the Master, hoping to communicate to Him all that words could never say. Soon all of the other voices fell away, and as Joanne’s last murmur of thank you, Lord faded into silence, his flute rose above it once more, giving blazing voice to everything his physical voice had denied him release of. The Master stood with his arms spread wide again, his tears, freshly fallen, gleaming on plump cherub’s cheeks, and Lamar closed his eyes and held his final note out to what seemed like eternity, the clear A tone carrying in it all the fervent joy of the ringing chorus and the quiet softness of a lamb as it cried out thank you, Lord , for all to hear. Oh, thank you, Lord , the flute sang, and for the first time, his voice was heard.