The first time that Phoebe goes to see Jude play live in concert - four years since she’s last felt the warmth of the sun - she has to leave halfway through the second song while choking back on an echoing sob.
I wish you would follow me here, Jude sings from onstage as Phoebe makes her exit, except she’s not really singing. It’s more of a confession she’s making, cut raw from the strings of the guitar she plays. A confession that’s easier for her to make to hundreds of strangers each night instead of the person who forced her to write it in the first place. But you don’t know which way is West.
This time, Phoebe hears her confession, and she thinks of how she used to not be a stranger. The words have changed, but not the meaning behind them, and so the feeling of solar eclipse smiles and crushed velvet remains.
Seeing Jude standing up there on stage, bathed in her own light that draws people to her like moths to a flame, drills a hole into the center of Phoebe until she’s forced to stop right outside of the theater with an aching dizziness.
How many people, she wants to scream at the Austin night sky, How many people have heard this confession? How many people know you better than me now?
Phoebe is fifteen years-old when she hears Jude sing for the first time.
It’s the first time they cross paths, too, but the song she sings is so familiar to Phoebe, so familiar to the whisper of her heart, that she feels as if she’s already met Jude a long time ago before this moment in their school’s music room. As if this isn’t the first she’s been burnt by the sun.
When Jude stops and puts her guitar down hesitantly, the back of Phoebe’s throat becomes scorched, and the sheet music she holds in her hands becomes dry and brittle against her skin.
Can you do that again? Phoebe hears herself ask from many light years away. The song I mean. Can you show me?
Jude smiles and nervously tucks a strand of her blonde hair behind her ear. A paper thin smile for the paper thin cuts on Phoebe’s hands. A paper thin smile that soon blossoms into the size of the sun.
Sure, she says, and sunbeams pour out of Phoebe’s chest in relief. As long as you show me something, too.
She plays her song, using Phoebe’s heartstrings instead of the ones on her guitar, and her voice transcends any sound that Phoebe’s ever heard. It carries her outside of the music room and into the halls and right out of the school and into the atmosphere and-
The bell rings, announcing the beginning of the next period. Without a word, Phoebe hurries away, trying to push her heart down back down into her chest, without offering up anything of her own.
The feeling remains, though, and it haunts her at every step until she forces herself to confront it.
A few days later, she finds Jude kneeling at the bottom of the stairwell in the East Wing at school early one morning doing homework, and in a quiet voice she says, I’m going to show you.
Curiously, Jude follows Phoebe all the way to the music room, and watches her as she takes a seat on the piano bench. Watches as her fingers become separate entities from her body, watches as the bones in her wrists turn into rivers. Watches Phoebe as she plays the song in her heart.
At this point, Phoebe’s passion for piano hasn’t been driven out of her yet, and she still thinks in alternating keys of black and white. Jude doesn’t have as many calluses formed on her fingers, and hasn’t yet discovered that an electric guitar easily matches the rawness of her voice. At this point, Jude hasn’t sung for anyone else except Phoebe.
At this point, no one knows Jude yet, and no one knows Phoebe yet, either.
The second time Phoebe goes to see Jude in concert, she manages to stay for the entire time. She’s not sure where this courage comes from. She wishes she could bottle it up.
This time, the concert takes place in San Antonio, where Phoebe herself has been living since she graduated from college. Two months have passed since that night in Austin, and the venue is much bigger, but Phoebe knows that no stage will ever be big enough for Jude. Nothing could ever contain her wildfire voice like that.
Jude’s singing, but this time, it isn’t another confession. It’s a prayer, one Phoebe can sometimes feel the ghost of on the small of her back when she lets her guard down. She finds it unnerving when the crowd begins to sing along to lyrics that she knows are about her. These people, people she’s never met, are singing about her, and their harmonies drown out the blood rushing through her ears as she lets the prayer wash over her.
You are the stars in my heart, Jude sings, and Phoebe’s own heart becomes still. You carry the stars in your heart. Will you come back to me?
It seems unfair to Phoebe, that Jude sings this prayer and all of these people get to hear it, and yet, it still goes unanswered. All these listening ears, and no answer. No light at the end of the tunnel for her.
Needless to say, Phoebe doesn’t sing along. She leaves as soon as the show’s over, and cloisters herself up in the dark shadows that fill up her apartment.
Phoebe is sixteen years-old when she and Jude start to make music together.
There’s the piano and the guitar and Jude’s burning voice, but there’s also warm fingertips, and the way sunlight gets caught in Jude’s golden hair, and nights spent at Jude's house watching and re-watching The Outsiders. Watching and re-watching that beautiful sunrise. Watching and re-watching Dally crumple underneath the streetlight and the weight of the world. Watching and re-watching it because it’s Jude’s favorite movie and Phoebe doesn’t have a favorite of her own yet because all she knows is the piano.
Stay gold, Ponyboy, Jude shouts one night as they sit on the hood of Phoebe’s car in the Dairy Queen parking lot, and Phoebe swears all of Austin grows quiet to hear Jude’s voice. Stay gold.
It becomes apparent over time to Phoebe that Jude is going to surpass her in the world of music as she quickly becomes better at guitar, as she gains more confidence in singing in front of others who aren’t Phoebe, people who will all start wanting to know her, that Jude will leave her behind.
Don’t be ridiculous, Jude tells her as she absentmindedly plays with the dark waves of Phoebe’s hair. You’re, like, the best piano player I know.
You don’t know anyone else who plays piano, Phoebe points out sulkily. The sheet music in front of her seems as distant as the moon to her, and she’s already mentally preparing herself for the grueling three hour practice session that she’s going to have to subject herself to once she gets home.
There’s Jerry. And Tricia.
Please don’t put me in the same category as Jerry, Phoebe says with a frown, completely serious. I saw him picking his nose the other day in pre-calc. Also, Tricia’s twelve. And my cousin. She doesn’t count.
You’re still the best to me, Phoebe.
It becomes even more apparent to her later when she’s seventeen, and Jude enters the talent show at their school in the spring. Phoebe doesn’t, because of the doubt that holds her back. She constantly wonders to herself, will I ever be good enough?, and soon she lets herself become overshadowed in Jude’s brilliance.
It becomes apparent to her, when she watches Jude standing up there on the stage in their school’s gymnasium, wearing a dress made of crushed velvet, singing the lyrics of Joni Mitchell.
He will find it hard to shake her from his memory, Jude sings and the stars realign themselves above them. And she’s so busy being free.
The words change, but the meaning remains. Everyone in the audience becomes suspended in Jude’s orbit as she makes herself known to them, and even though Phoebe’s throat becomes thick with the pride she feels for Jude when she wins first place, she also can’t fight back the feeling of having lost something through the web of strings that connect her to Jude.
As if she could ever have a place in the world of music. As if Jude was ever her’s in the first place. As if Jude could ever be contained.
The third time Phoebe goes to see Jude in concert, she almost lets herself be seen.
The venue is all the way in Dallas, and the only reason why Phoebe even allows herself to drive this far is because she has an aunt here she hasn’t seen in a while. Or at least, that’s what she tells herself.
It’s only been a month since she last saw Jude in San Antonio, and she pretends to not notice how further away Jude’s getting away from her, and how Texas isn’t as endless as it seems. Soon Jude will be traveling to cities like Tulsa and St. Louis, and then, she’ll run out of land and fly right back to Europe again, a place she’d made a home out of for herself. Right out of Phoebe’s sight.
As much as it pains her, Phoebe doesn’t want to lose sight of this burning light.
Tonight, Jude’s singing of a promise. I’ll make you breakfast out of stardust, and we’ll call this planet home.
It cleaves Phoebe’s heart in half and grinds it into ash. It makes her want to leap out of her seat and onto the stage, to ask Jude the question that’s been burning away at the soles of her feet.
If Texas were a land-locked state, would you still feel the need to run away? Phoebe wants to scream at her, for it seems as if no part of her can be quiet when it comes to Jude, not even her heart. If you never knew any better? Or would you still run away if we were in the middle of the goddamn ocean because nothing will ever be enough for you?
In the end, she does not let herself be seen, and she leaves as quietly as she let herself become in the years she spent without Jude by her side.
Phoebe is eighteen years-old when she finally gets to know all of Jude.
A night full of bliss and whispered promises and hushed prayers and soft confessions.
Jude’s first real concert. A deal made. A contract signed. The beginning of everything, and the end.
This is your origin story, Phoebe whispers into the crook of Jude’s neck. Me. You. Austin.
It’s yours, too, Jude says back and she presses a kiss onto Phoebe’s forehead, and Phoebe's laugh is empty because she can’t remember the last time anyone’s music except for Jude’s made her feel anything that wasn’t anger or sadness. She can’t remember the song in her heart, and so she pushes the thought away.
Jude doesn’t show up to their graduation seven months later - she’s all the way in California, playing for crowds of people Phoebe will never meet - and Phoebe’s been given the task of playing the piano for their small graduating class of only two hundred students. The whole day becomes a sun-baked blur, and she doesn’t answer her phone when Jude calls her later that night. She hasn’t seen her in almost a month.
She does pick up when Jude calls early the next morning - from Sacramento - and the sun hasn’t risen yet in either place, so this moment in time will always be cast in the shadow of the dark side of the moon in Phoebe’s mind.
She’s listening to Jude talk about her show from last night, her excitement bubbling over like champagne, and all she can think about is how hard she had to try to not throw up yesterday when she’d been playing the piano, tries not to think about the four years she has ahead of her in Austin. Of Jude, leaving her behind.
She tries not to think about how ugly music has become to her.
I don’t think I can do this anymore, she says softly into the phone, and she lets go of the strings that draw her into Jude’s orbit. I’m sorry.
The morning of the fourth concert, this time in Corpus Christi, Phoebe cries for the entirety of the car ride. She’s still crying, as she pulls up to park in a parking garage a few blocks away from where Jude’s playing that night.
She cries as she remembers the countless texts and phone calls and letters she received from Jude and never returned - she never deserved an answer to that prayer in the first place. She cries as she thinks about how she’d had the sun and had let it go, and of how each time she heard one of Jude’s songs on the radio, her insides would turn into ice.
She cries as she thinks about the cities of Europe, of all of the people Jude must have met, of these different versions of herself she must have had to invent for each new city.
She cries when she thinks about those Austin nights, how Texas isn’t a land-locked state. How the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic reach for Jude and don’t let her go.
She mourns for the girl she used to be, the one who only knew two things: the piano and Jude, and the mourns for the girl she tried to become, one without both of those things.
She’s still crying, when she picks up the phone and dials the number she still knows by heart, and she’s still crying when Jude answers and her car becomes filled with warmth.
I was wondering when you’d finally show up, Jude is saying, and it’s too easy. They’re in a cafe, and they still have seven hours before Jude goes on stage and makes herself known to this city near the water. What’d you think? About this whole ‘Texas Forever’ tour?
It’s not exactly subtle, Phoebe says. She wraps her fingers around the steaming cup of green tea before her, and wishes for more warmth.
No, it isn’t, Jude agrees. But here you are. With a new haircut and everything, too. Look at you.
Phoebe doesn’t tell her about how she cut her own hair with a pair of scissors over the kitchen sink in her apartment in an attempt to re-create herself. She doesn’t tell her of how it hadn’t worked.
Instead, she asks, How’d you get that scar on your arm?
It’s a part of Jude that’s unknown to her, but she’s the one who let her go. She doesn’t deserve to know.
Ah, this? Jude says, lifting her arm up to show off the smooth layer of puckered skin. I got it at the beach. In Mykonos. You’d love it there, Phoebe. I wish...I wish...
She trails off, as if she’s not certain of what she means but Phoebe knows.
I should go, she says, but suddenly, Jude’s pulling her back down into her seat. Her touch burns. Phoebe burns.
No, she says. Stay.
No. I made my peace with your decision to let me go all those years ago, she’s saying, and suddenly, the words have changed alongside their meanings. But you’re here again, you’re actually here, and if you do that to me again, I might never find peace again. You don’t get to leave me twice, Phoebe, it’s...not...not fair.
Nothing about this was fair, Jude, Phoebe says but it sounds like an apology. She stays, and uses her napkin to wipe away Jude’s tears. This time, she doesn't let go.
They manage to fill up the seven hours before the concert easily - it’s just too easy - and soon, they’re tripping over their words and tears and themselves in excitement as they exchange stories and jokes, scars and burns.
Jude tells her of the busker she met in Berlin who proposed to her four times, of all of the amazing food she ate in Tuscany. Of everything that reminded her of Phoebe when she was in Greece.
Phoebe’s stories are much simpler, but Jude listens to her attentively all the same as she tells her about her four years of college in Austin, of living in San Antonio.
And the piano? Jude asks when there’s a natural pause. Do you still play?
I haven’t touched it since graduation, Phoebe tells her, because some scars never heal.
And then, their time is up.
Later, later, Jude says with a smile made out of fireworks, right before she’s due to walk on stage, and she’s brighter than all of the lights out there already. We have all the time in the world.
We do have all of the time in the world, Phoebe realizes as she watches Jude walk on stage, and her fire spreads to everyone in the audience.
They might not be able to have what they once had, all of their old confessions and prayers and promises. All of the music they made together. Phoebe might never touch a piano again, and Jude might never call Austin home again.
Still, they could let the sun rise again over something new.
New words to define.
New versions of each other to know.
I want to show you, Jude sings to her from onstage. Let me show you.
I want to show you, Phoebe’s heart whispers back. Let me show you.