I have told exactly one person about my talent. My sister, Thea. She wasn’t always someone who you would think to trust with a secret. She made a game when we were kids of trailing me and my friends just so she could rat me out to our mom if (when) I broke any family rules. But we’ve both grown up, and these days I would trust her with my life.
So, back to this secret talent. Actually first, maybe I’ll explain my not-secret talent. I’m a DJ. Disc jockey. A complete oversimplification of what I do. Like I’m just wrangling up old CDs to shuffle through a boom box. What I actually do is take music that already exists and make it sing in a way it hasn’t before. I combine, blur, stretch, and manipulate multiple sounds until they make something new. I was never classically trained in music. Growing up, we had enough money to pay the bills and get ourselves fed most weeks, and nothing more. Now I use my success to assuage my mom’s guilt. No need to fret over what we couldn’t afford, mom, because I still made it.
My first actual music lesson was bankrolled by my agent and only started after I had already become a household name. I like the lessons. It’s cool to know the terminology. But even without them, music has always spoken to me. I could feel out most instruments enough within a few hours of messing around with them to be able to play a tune. But the piano is where my love of music really came to life. We had one in our house growing up. It was actually our grandmother’s house; we moved in after granddad died. He’d been the music lover, the only piano player. But something about the clunky, elegant instrument called to me. On rainy days I used to sit at the piano, eyes closed, and try to determine which notes best matched the tinging of rain on the metal roof.
Now that we’ve established I am a musical genius, and that modesty is not what has gotten me to this level of success, we can move on to my talent. The secret one. You’ve been waiting to hear about it. I’m sure it’s obvious by my digression that I don’t actually want to admit to it, but here goes: My music can predict the future.
Yes, I know. I sound like an idiot.
If roles were reversed and someone was telling me they could see the future mapped out in their mind while they composed a new song, I would probably think they needed a psych evaluation. In fact, I know I would think that, because I thought it about myself. It turns out my brain is fit as a fiddle, according to the MRI and two separate psychiatrists (no, I didn’t tell them about the actual predicting the future thing, just every other detail of my life).
Thea was sitting with me in my at-home recording studio, reading a book on the couch and listening to the track I was laying down when it first happened. When I saw something, a prediction, in the music. First, I feel like I need to explain that, for me, music has always had a visual aspect. When I close my eyes and listen, the sound takes form in my mind. Sometimes when the music flows smoothly, it’s a simple wavy line, other times it looks like sharp vibrant shapes. A symphony might look like a kaleidoscope of intertwining colors and forms, whirling and melting into each other. One day, in my studio, the shapes turned into something more. As I was composing this song - something completely new I’d made myself - the shapes in my mind changed, becoming more distinct, turning into buildings and people. The scene in my head became clearer and I recognized a street that I knew. Outwardly, my fingers were still moving across the piano keys. In my head there was a guy walking down that street I recognized with a rose sticking out of his back pocket. Somehow it came loose and fell to the ground. I could see the guy didn’t notice and he kept walking. Then I saw a girl in a yellow dress stop to pick it up and chase him down. I watched as she caught him, they smiled and then the scene changed to the same two people, but the girl was wearing a wedding dress, the guy was in a suit. It changed again, and they had three dogs running on the grass in front of a little green cottage. Then I saw them looking old and wrinkled in rocking chairs on the front porch. Then it ended. I sat there, stunned, wondering what just happened. Reeling, all I could think to say was, “What the…” and then, “Who carries a rose in their back pocket?”
“What?” Thea asked from the couch.
I told her about what I’d seen, and she said eagerly, “Let’s go!”
“Go where?” I asked.
“To that street, obviously!”
“Why would we do that?”
“Because you’re malfunctioning, Nolan, and your subconscious just told us where to take you,” she said, tugging me out of my chair and toward the door.
She drove us, and I gave directions until we were out standing on the same section of sidewalk that I’d seen in my mind. We just stood there, glancing around. I felt like a moron. I was ready to demand Thea take me home when I saw him, the guy. He was walking right toward us. I froze, unable to do anything but stare. Thea must have caught the look on my face as the guy walked toward us. “Is that him?” she asked, gripping my elbow.
I think I might have nodded in response. Then, as he passed us, we both clocked it at the same time: the rose, slowly slipping its way out of his back pocket.
Thea started whisper-squealing to herself, “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.”
I whipped my head around, searching, and it didn’t take long to spot the girl in the yellow dress. She was half a block behind the guy, but I’d seen her catch up to him pretty fast in my mind. My prediction. Whatever that was. She was about to walk past the rose. I held my breath, waiting for her to stoop down and pick it up. At that moment a car horn honked behind us and the girl jumped, looking startled, and forgot about the flower on the ground. She kept walking and I looked over at Thea, panicked. Thea shared my concern for a moment, then I could see the resolve sweep across her face. Moving quickly, she grabbed the rose and loped a few steps to catch the girl. I couldn’t hear what she said, but the girl took the rose and started jogging toward the guy further along the street.
We watched from afar, like creeps, while the two chatted it up, laughing and generally looking pretty into one another. We watched until someone on the street recognized me, even with my hat and sunglasses on. I signed some autographs and did my best to smile and act normal. If it’s possible to look outwardly calm, while mentally hyperventilating, then that’s what I was doing.
Looking back I’m endlessly thankful Thea was there in that initial moment of shock where I had to tell someone what I’d just seen, or it’s possible I wouldn’t have shared it with anyone. And I definitely would not have ventured immediately out to investigate the purpose of my ‘malfunction’ without her.
We’ve realized a few things since that first encounter. It only happens when I’m making my own music, not using anyone else’s tracks or beats. And it seems like I have a specific genre of prediction. I am a predictor of true love. Don’t laugh. If my predictions are any indication, you’d be amazed at how many people come so close to finding the love of their life and miss it just by happenstance. The honk of a car horn distracts someone at a pivotal moment, or a dog runs into someone’s path, or a door that should have been open is locked. Thea and I have spent the last two years making minor tweaks to people’s paths so that they can find each other in the way that my visions tell us they should. Do I wish I had a cooler superpower? Sort of. I do sometimes wish I could predict things that would help more, like to prepare for natural disasters or prevent crimes. But so far my visuals pertain solely to matchmaking, and I’m trying to embrace my role as love-detective. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the new music I make that triggers the predictions is pretty freaking epic. I’ve put out two albums worth of my true love prediction songs (nobody but Thea knows that’s what they are) and they both went Platinum.
We set up shop in my at-home sound studio, which Thea has deemed ‘The Parlor’ (as in Fortune Teller’s Parlor). For the past two years, every gift she’s given me for birthdays and holidays has centered around the theme. A sign on the door that reads in baroque font ‘The Parlor’. A custom crystal ball, made from a disco ball mounted on a tiny turntable. And hanging bead curtains which I keep in an upstairs closet because clanky beads are not meant for recording studios. She decorated while I took myself to therapy, all the while, I was having more and more visions.
Two years into this predicting thing and as you might imagine, we spend a lot of time talking about love. So you can only guess the subject of those chart-topping songs I’ve been making. According to the critics, I’m losing my cool-guy cred. But I sort of don’t care, because these people who float into my mind when I compose all have such beautiful futures, and I can’t help being inspired. And, lately, even a little envious. I watch these couples in flashes of their lives and wonder what it would be like to share that with someone.
Thea’s been roped in too. I swear she has started living on my couch just so that she doesn’t miss it when I inevitably see a vision about her. I don’t know why she’s so sure it’s inevitable. I would guess the amount of happy endings that I’ve helped make happen would account for a fraction of a billionth of a percent of all happy endings. But she reads a lot of books, and she’s assured me that the quirky sister always gets her happily ever after spin-off story once she’s done with her side-kick, supporting character duties. With that logic, she’s deemed it necessary for me to find someone first.
I’m not sure what has brought her here today, though, because I won’t be making my own music. I’m working the sound for a new band. I don’t usually have random musicians drop by The Parlor, but someone in this band is a friend of a friend who asked for a favor. Apparently the studio they had lined up booted them when a bigger name requested the same time slot. I’ve been assured that they are well worth a listen.
They shuffle in and we go about setting up. It’s five middle-aged guys with long greying beards and black t-shirts advertising various ‘80s band logos. Once their instruments are all set up we run through sound checks. I can tell they’re good, just from the riffs they try out to test the sound. It’s just the band so far, but the singer, a woman named Molly, should be here soon.
I’m focused on their sound, so I don’t see it when she arrives. The music stutters to a stop, and when I look up to see what’s happened, I see her. Thea’s directing her into the sound booth and toward the microphone. She leaves Thea’s side to slap a round of high fives in greeting to her bandmates, then slides back to the microphone. She smiles at me and waves, and she’s got the infectious kind of energy that makes me want to smile back. Then she speaks into the microphone, her voice flowing through the speakers, “Thanks so much for having us!”
The band is already warmed up, so they decide to jump right in, and I’m immediately impressed with the song. It’s got a deep, heavy beat pulsing through the background, and staccato high notes. I’m focused on the sound board when she starts to sing.
Woah. That voice. I don’t look up right away, just letting it wash over me. It’s ethereal. I can feel myself straining to hear every breathy detail, even with the sound being pumped into the control room. Then I have to look up, I’ve got to see for myself the owner of that sound. Her eyes are closed, brow furrowed, as she croons a song about lost love.
I lose myself in the music. I close my eyes, and watch the sound turn into a pulsing bright light behind my eyelids. And I swear I can almost feel the light, like it’s warming me. Then the vision changes. An image of this studio and two people smiling at each other on either side of the glass. And it’s her face. Then she’s walking into the control room, tripping on an exposed wire, and the guy is standing there, catching her. The same two people are then sitting in chairs side by side, talking animatedly about music. Then they’re laughing together and dancing in a familiar kitchen. Then they’re lying together on a picnic blanket and he’s kissing her stomach. Outwardly, I feel my own stomach flip with nerves, because I can’t quite believe this version of my life even as I watch it play out. And I’m thrown by how much I want it. How this scene pulls at my heart in a way nothing else ever has. Then they’re teaching two kids how to steady themselves on wobbly bicycles. And I feel like I must be smiling like a complete fool. Then they’re a little older, grey hair just lacing their temples, and they stand in a crowd, holding hands and leaning on each other, watching a kid in a cap and gown walk across a stage. Then the vision changes again and they’re in a hospital room, and she’s too young to need to be hooked up to these machines, and he’s holding her hand. And then he’s standing on his own front porch, staring at the horizon with empty eyes. Like that, the vision ends. And I stare blankly into the sound room and the beautiful woman still singing there. I lean my face into my palms and it’s only then that I realize there are tears on my cheeks. My chest is tight. I try to think of a scenario where what I’ve just seen is not the tragic ending to my own true love story.
Thea must have noticed me go quiet. She whispers beside me, “Was that a vision? But it wasn’t even your song.” When I don’t answer, she leans in closer and must see my wet eyes. “Woah, Nol, what’s going on?”
Robotically, I tell her about the vision, but I leave out the end. Her eyes are wide with excitement. “That’s amazing!” she says.
I blow out a breath to fight the queasiness, and tell her I need to focus on the music. I can tell she thinks I’m acting weird. Let her think it’s because I’m staring at someone who could be the love of my life. And it is that too. I try to think of some way of preventing the ending. What if I can’t? But I do have the power to decide. I can make it so that our story never starts. It can’t end in tragedy if it never begins.
The band records all of their songs. They round up their gear and instruments. And as the singer, as Molly, moves toward the door, I run over and quickly bend to push away the cord that she could have tripped on. I avoid Thea’s incredulous gaze, but I know she’s confused, thinking I’m sabotaging myself. And maybe I am. We exchange the usual pleasantries and I say I’ll send along the recordings later this week. Then I watch her walk out the door.
When they’re gone, Thea grabs my shoulders and demands, “What are you doing?”
I honestly have no idea what I’m doing. Protecting myself? My heart feels torn in two. I picture the scene, the woman lying on the hospital bed, the older version of myself with empty eyes. And I am afraid of what that sort of pain would feel like. But then there was all the rest too. The living. Those images of a life together that called to my soul. They felt so good and right. Like something precious. They felt like the sort of thing that you can’t give up just because it will hurt when it’s gone. And I want those moments and that life and that love so badly. If our story is full of love and happiness, then even when it ends, it’s still a love story. And if she’s my person, then I think that it’s worth it. That I need to try.
I take a fortifying breath. I give Thea a smile that might convey how terrified and hopeful I feel. Then I run out of the studio after Molly, like our life depends on it.