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One, two, three, one, two, three.


A tune in triple time echoes from the organ, the keys seemingly playing themselves. Her unpracticed steps feel so heavy next to his as they traverse the attic’s floor. Every footfall stirs up seven years’ worth of dust, and every creak of the boards makes Violeta feel as if she could fall through at any moment. Better hold on tight.


A chill crosses her shoulders. Perhaps it’s because of a breeze coming through the holes in the roof, perhaps it’s because of the hand on her waist. He’s a charmer, alright, and she knows very well who he is and what brings him here, but she lets herself accept his offer of a dance anyway. Heaven knows when she’ll get another one.


So now they share their first and last waltz together, next to a family photo and a bottle of vodka less full than before, in the same attic where her mother met him so long ago.


When was the last time she was in this attic? She reaches into her mind, tries to think back to before her father took her away, before her mother closed herself off from the world, but the next spin pulls her back into the moment. No time for memories. Only nerves and heartbeats and footsteps.


Have I stolen the words from your tongue, V?


He doesn’t speak, yet she can hear him loud and clear. With his question, she realizes that she hasn’t said a word since the music began.


I know you can hear me , she responds in her mind. Say what you need to say.


I must say, it is truly an honor to finally get to know you like this. Your mother spoke so highly of you. I was wondering what all the fuss was about.


Violeta looks up at him, his eyes showing nothing but the usual otherworldly confidence.


I can give you anything you desire. You need only say the word.


She knows the only thing she wants is at the top of a tower in Tokyo, but she stays silent.


One, two, three, one, two, three.


Oh, don’t be so shy, my darling. After all those years on the run, don’t tell me the only thing you want is a waltz. He’s insisting now, and she can practically feel him eyeing her soul like it’s a fourteen carat diamond.


She makes her next steps a little larger, just enough to throw him off his guard.


You promised me a dance. Just let me have it.


A burning flash of heat rises in the hand that holds Violeta’s, and however much she wants to pull it away, the notes of the organ are surrounding them now, pushing them closer, and she’s holding on so tightly she’s not sure if she’ll ever let go.


The smirk on his face seems to say, you want a dance? I’ll give you a dance.


A stomp of his foot, and the tempo picks up, sending them ever faster across the room. Her dress flies out around her, a red sea above a dark floor. And as her heart races and her skin burns where their bodies touch, somehow she’s never felt stronger. This is her mother’s house she’s walking in, her air she’s breathing. And it’s her mother’s blood in her veins; well, that and her vodka. Suddenly she can see every piece of the puzzle, every number in this equation: her family, her history, her birth, her death. All bursting into her brain like gunshots.


She has just one question for the man in front of her.


Are you seeing this too?


Then it’s over.


Everything in her body jolts forward, like a train slamming on the brakes, and she falls onto the keys of the organ. The song ends with a crash of notes, all dying to be heard over the others.


He’s sent her halfway across the room somehow. He himself is standing at the door, one foot already on the first step down.


Violeta gets back on her feet and glances down to brush off her - white dress? No, it’s red, it always has been red, she must’ve imagined it. Or else a certain someone is still in her head, messing with her vision.


He just glares at her.


She clears her throat. “So could you see it?”, she asks out loud.


He has no plans to answer, but Violeta thinks she knows what the answer is.


Remember, it’s at the beginning and end of your life that I am present. No amount of power can change that.


Her ears and thoughts are still ringing as he breaks into a wicked grin.


It was a pleasure to have this dance… Violeta.


He turns and leaves the attic without another sound.


She examines her hand, and it bears no harm from the fingers that held it. Without him, the room now seems impossibly still, and the wind catching her hair only emphasizes the loneliness. She shivers as she sits down on the organ bench, notices the deep scratches in the floor where it’s been pushed around for seven years.


She’s seen what happens next. She’ll go downstairs, rifle around in her mother’s closet for a suitable coat, pull it around her shoulders, and begin her one-way trip to Japan. It’s so clear in her mind that it’s like she’s already done it, but she knows this is no memory. She only has to stand up and go, and she’ll be on her way.


But she lingers for a minute and picks up the family photo on the organ. She couldn’t have been older than five here, and her dad is there with an arm around her Mom, smiling widely. Just a glossy picture, all three of them smiling as if nothing had happened or should happen. Was he thinking of leaving her, even then? Were either of them ever truly happy?


Violeta puts the picture back in its place and rises from the organ. There are some things even she can never know.