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Fiction Friendship

Even the clouds churn with anticipation as the flock of musicians park their cars and race to the building, a scatter of raincoats and umbrellas bustling through the streets. There is only one evening of the year in which this orchestra’s esteemed reputation wrinkles, before a concertmaster must smother it over a handful of weeks after. City orchestras can be a nuisance. 


A timid smile paints Lucie’s lips as she greets each performer walking into the auditorium, but it doesn't quite reach her eyes. A blanket has been cast over the crowd, diminishing the usual talkative nature of most. Lucie hopes for the best, just as she has been for the past two years. Glancing to two red seats amongst the ocean of emptiness, she makes a silent promise to keep them occupied. This year will be different. Lucie will be the concertmaster, sitting in the first stand. 


It takes fifteen long minutes for the orchestra to settle into position, as their conductor, Mr. Adri Caddel, taps his foot against the wooden floor impatiently. He is a calculating man, a curse amongst the musicians of the orchestra, but an audience will always see him as what he carves himself to be: The prized conductor of Sedria City’s orchestra. Lucie has wondered whether he truly cherishes music or if he simply conducts for his title, but it’s not like she is any better. Music used to be her escape. Now it is her liability.


“I know you all are anticipating the announcement of our first stands,” Mr. Caddel’s exhausted voice echoes through the hall. Straight to business. “We have had our share of powerful players, but as always, the next year calls for a new start.”


Lucie can’t help but glance at Summer, the first violins’ concertmaster for the past two years, and their old high school’s concertmaster for even longer. She is grinning to the obnoxious second chair violinist, one whose name Lucie could never remember, without a hint of doubt on her face. Summer’s confidence is legendary, but it will fade out soon enough. She's a stellar violinist, no doubt, but she could be better. Sitting in the third chair, right behind Summer, Lucie had heard her hesitation to shift on her E string, and the way her pinky finger’s vibrato is too heavy. Lucie could do better, she knew it. Now, she was ready for the world to know it, too.  


“So, without further ado, here is SCO’s seating chart for this year,” Mr. Caddel fusses with a remote for a few moments before a projector beeps to life, exhibiting long-awaited news against the wall. 


A smirk already blooms on Lucie’s face, ready to shove Summer away from that seat. She stares at the seating chart, eyes flying to the concertmaster’s position. A very familiar name is printed in Times New Roman font, a few sizes bigger than the rest for everyone to gauge. 


Lucie nearly laughs in disbelief. A chorus of “congratulations” reaches out to Summer, who takes the compliments gracefully, batting her eyes and brushing the brown hair out of her eyes to address everyone. Not bothering to look at where her name lies, Lucie glared daggers at the crowd as they adjusted to the seating chart, everyone hastily getting up and exchanging places with another. 


“That’s my seat,” mutters the previous second chair violinist. He raises an eyebrow pointedly, nodding towards the seating chart. It takes a moment for Lucie to realize he’s talking to her. “You’re in my old seat.”


That’s an upgrade. Lucie doesn’t dare speak, swallowing a lump in her throat before simply grabbing her sheet music with one hand, violin and bow with the other. She takes a seat beside Summer, grimacing as the scent of roses fills her nostrils. Summer even smells happy-go-lucky. 


“You must be Lucie,” Summer says sweetly, her sparkling eyes hiding the she-devil thief she truly is. “I’m so glad you’re my stand partner. I’ve always heard you playing behind me, it’s really beautiful.”


Despite the inferno of words Lucie wishes to spit at her, she smiles politely, but the bite in her voice betrays her. “Likewise, we could certainly learn a lot from each other. One more than the other.”


A frown grows on the concertmaster’s face, both in confusion and concern, but she nods at Lucie, anyway. As the rest of the orchestra begins picking away at their trouble spots before Mr. Caddel officially begins rehearsal, Summer does as well. Not bothering to play, Lucie settles for catching mistakes in Summer’s play every few moments.


She fingers out the tune of Adagio and Fugue in C Minor before placing her bow to the strings. She carries out a good melody, Lucie will give her that, but with her sharp notes and messy rhythm, Summer’s better suited for playing harmony with the second violins. 


Lucie picks up her bow, playing the piece with ease. Her parents had made her memorize much of Mozart in her primary years for annual talent shows and concerts. But that seemed like ages ago, when she played solos in youth orchestras and was concertmaster during school. That’s when her parents used to come and sit through the orchestra’s concerts, applauding at the end of each section, even though it was taboo. 


“I’m proud of you,” her mother would say on the way back to their car after another great concert. “Our perfect violinist.”


Her father would drive them to a fast-food restaurant, allowing Lucie to purchase whatever she wanted to eat. “Only for the city’s best.”


That ended at the beginning of high school, when Summer showed up and ruined her life. She auditioned for concertmaster, and pushed Lucie back to fifth chair in the school’s orchestra. Lucie’s parents stopped attending concerts the moment she came home that day, at the edge of tears, claiming that the new girl stole her seat. 


In that exact moment, music became her work and not her passion. Lucie stayed up at night, perfecting her bow strokes and difficult pieces, but she never got her position back, despite how disappointed her parents were. 


“Take that position back. You are perfect or nothing. There is no in-between in life.”


Perfect. As Mr. Caddel started the rehearsal, tearing the orchestra apart as they played their beginning piece, Lucie stared at Summer. There was weight on her bow, attempting to play over the first violins to give them something to follow. Lucie could have done it better. When the piece ends, Summer lays her violin down as if it were as fragile as paper, bound to rip against a blade.


Nothing. Lucie minds her own playing, but she notices that she can’t keep up with tempo, certainly not when her mind is wandering to other places. She glances back at one of the back-desk seconds, who had begun playing arco during a pizzicato part. They are nothing. She is nothing. Summer has won this year again. 


*


Skipping dinner for practice, Lucie fingers away at La Campanella, the piece she’s going to play for auditioning next year. She had a head start against Summer already, who was probably out for a Friday night party with her friends. She couldn’t be less serious about playing the violin.


Lucie feels the spark she felt for music dying each day, like a long lasting candle finally met with its fate. There is no beauty in the notes, nothing that relieves her stress anymore about playing. Instead, it causes her more stress. Another year of staring at two empty seats amongst a full audience, knowing that two people could have been looking at her with pride.


She is nothing but wants everything. Isn’t that funny?


By now, her fingers are bleeding from the overuse, but Lucie doesn’t make an effort to stop. She grabs a bandaid, wondering if she’ll still be able to practice tomorrow, and begins shadow bowing the notes. 



“Hey, Lucie!” The previous weeks had been a horrendous repeat of her life. Summer had been awfully kind to Lucie, making small talk with her even when it was clear that Lucie didn’t want to see her at all. Even after rehearsal, like now, when Lucie wanted to go home and practice, Summer was on her tail. “I’m having trouble with Section G of this piece, and I can see that you’re really acing it. If you don’t have any plans, would you mind coming over to my place and helping? I’ll make dinner.”


Oh. That was new. Lucie hadn’t been invited to someone’s house in a long time, and she didn’t expect it to be Summer’s, either. She considered waving away the offer, claiming she had to go elsewhere, but perhaps it would be better to see her rival’s skills (or lack of) even better. It wouldn’t hurt, and aiding Summer could prove to be a big ego boost. 


“Sure, why not?” Lucie paints an exceptionally fake grin on her face. “But don’t worry about dinner, I don’t really eat at nighttime.”


So the two girls walk out together. Lucie watches Summer bid goodbye to all of her orchestra friends, high fiving a few and hugging others as if this was a sitcom and she was the main character. When they reach Summer’s car, which unsurprisingly, is a red Lexus, Summer beckons Lucie into the passenger seat, and drives on. 


“I was wondering something, if you don’t mind me asking,” Summer breaks a few long minutes of silence as she speaks, turning on the radio. An overly sentimental pop song fills Lucie’s ears. Abhorring. “I can tell you don’t really like me, and I know you’ve always been really serious about your music. Do you want to be the concertmaster? ‘Cuz I could totally ask Mr. Caddel if we could switch—”


“I don’t need your pity or your charity. I do want to be the concertmaster, but I’ll do it myself.”


Summer nods, eyebrows furrowing like she is attempting to understand Lucie even more. Lucie tears her eyes away from Summer, staring at the road. It’s a beautiful, starry night. What a shame that she will be spending it with the most dreadful person Lucie could ever meet.


The next few moments are carried by the generic pop music blasting on the radio. Summer mouths the lyrics, tapping the steering wheel to the beat of the music when she thinks that Lucie isn’t watching, but she’s always watching.


“We’re here,” Summer says, turning off the radio and quickly exiting the car. She grabs the two violin cases from the back as Lucie exits, handing the other girl her case. “Up the stairs, first door to your left.”

Lucie nods, trudging up the stairs of the neighborhood floor. Summer saunters behind her, that usual polite smile still painting her face. 


As Summer unlocks the heavy doors, Lucie scans her surroundings eagerly. The concertmaster’s apartment reflects her supposed personality flawlessly. All around them are pastel colors, and the highlight of Summer’s life seems to be roses, judging by the beautiful flowers placed in vases all around counters and tables. 


“You can go ahead and unpack,” Summer says, hanging her coat over a large rack by the door. “I’ll get us some water.”


Lucie nods, unlocking the steel locks of her violin case and bringing out her violin and bow. She was in disbelief. Lucie was actually in Summer’s house, and this vicious snake had genuinely considered letting her be concertmaster. Maybe she wasn’t as evil as Lucie thought. Either way, Lucie believed in keeping friends close and enemies closer. And because Lucie didn’t have real friends, this saying was an absolute win.


Finally, Summer returned, with two glasses of water. Lucie wondered if Summer had poisoned one of them, but it wasn’t like she was smart enough to get away with killing her, anyway. Lucie downed the glass while Summer brought out her own instrument. 


“So, first you play that section," Lucie declared, placing her cup on a coffee table beside her. “So I understand what you’re having trouble with. Then, we can work from there.”


Summer nodded, setting up the sheet music as Lucie nearly smiled to herself. That was the most she had ever said to Summer. “Don’t judge too hard!”


Perhaps Lucie had to take back what she said about Summer’s playing. Despite the occasional ruffle, the girl actually could play very well. With each new note came a new expression on Summer’s face as well, eyes scrunched tight as she enjoyed the music. When the section came to an end, Lucie had to rack her brain for any valid aid to give Summer, other than to simply practice more.


“Well, I can see that you’re having trouble shifting up and down in time,” she mutters finally. “Make yourself familiar with the shifting before playing it so quickly. Take your time.”


Lucie brings her own violin up to her neck, playing the section by memory, and elongating the shifted notes to emphasize her point. She continues playing the rest of the piece slowly, diminishing the tempo. 


Summer smiles softly, trying out the advice. In between a few measures, she talks to Lucie. “Do you like this piece?”


Shrugging, Lucie makes a note of the girl’s intonation. Could be better. “It’s alright. Why?”


“You don’t seem to be enjoying it. Or really any of the pieces that we play. I really took inspiration from you in high school for that, y’know? Just feeling the music. But now, you just seem to be playing because you have to.”

Because I do have to. Lucie wanted to make everything clear to the girl, but she didn’t bother. “Yeah, I guess that I just… grew out of music.”


Summer nods, playing the piece from the very first note, her musicality shining with every expression and bowstroke she takes. Lucie can tell that she wants to ask her more, but Summer simply bites her lips and continues playing. 

Lucie watches, but for once, she doesn’t worry about what Summer’s doing awfully wrong or awfully well. She sees the little grin crawling up on Summer’s face as it had done so many times in rehearsal. Lucie remembers that grin, too. She used to have it in middle school. Though Summer doesn’t play expertly, she plays with passion. Perfect. Something that Lucie lacks. Nothing.


“Are you okay, Lucie?”


She nods, snapping out of her daze and deciding to practice with Summer. “Fine, you can continue.”


“No, but are you actually okay? Like, is everything going alright for you?”


When Lucie doesn’t respond, Summer flips through her sheet music, brows furrowing as she debates on which piece to stop on. With a satisfied smile, she turns the stand towards Lucie. Vivaldi’s Spring sits on the stand, beckoning to be played. Lucie hadn’t bothered with the overplayed pieces of Vivaldi. Her parents didn’t bat an eye towards those sentimental pieces, so she never had to memorize them. 


“Why don’t you play this?” Summer asks delicately. “But play it like there is nobody on Earth left to judge you. It’s just you and this music.”


Lucie wants to roll her eyes, but she complies. She looks over the piece before taking a breath and bringing her violin up. Summer sits on a velvety couch, watching intently. 


Attempting to wish the world into dissolving, Lucie starts on her E string, eyes trained on the music. It takes a few moments, but she feels the world spin around her, and weight fly off her shoulders like a heavy butterfly. Summer is long gone to Lucie, along with her own parents. Nobody is here. Just me and this music. She envisions herself back on her middle school stage, but now, there is no rowdy crowd or hundred of other students around her. Now, it is just Lucie, in an empty theater, feeling the music ricochet with her thoughts. 


As the piece flows to an end, Lucie feels everything coming back to her, but that horrendous stress she felt does not return. She stares at Summer expectantly, wondering if she had played well in the eyes of another. Instead, Summer claps lightly.


“How does it feel?” Her mock-accusing tone contrasts the gregarious grin painting her face, proud to aid a friend. She places her own violin gingerly on her lap, careful with the instrument, as if it were made of paper. 


“I feel alive.”

March 28, 2023 18:27

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8 comments

Russell Mickler
01:37 Apr 06, 2023

Hi Shaivi! I really like how you start the story building tension with Lucie and the conflict she experiences between her passion and “liability.” Also liked the conflict arising from the new chair assignments. Really specific aspects of music captured in the narrative and it lends the narrator a lot of credibility. The rivalry with Summer is good escalation, too, with the response to the prompt at the end. Great mechanics and voice - the piece was very authentic, even down to the self-esteem and jealousy. Well done! R

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Shaivi S.
13:59 Apr 06, 2023

Hi Russell! I'm so glad that these elements caught your eye. Conflict and escalation aren't always components I tangle with too much, so the emphasis in this prompt was new to me. Thank you for reading and commenting!

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Viga Boland
00:00 Apr 06, 2023

Shaivi…I know nothing about violin playing, but as the mother of a musician (singer) I am very familiar with how sensitive talented young musicians are to parental pressure and how easily they can be put off doing what they truly loved if they feel they have let the parents down. Not just parents either: other classmates can make you want to hide your talent if teachers rave about what you do. I saw this so often in my daughter’s friends. The jealousies were often awful. You have captured Lucie’s loss of self-esteem and subsequent passion ...

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Shaivi S.
00:32 Apr 06, 2023

Hi Viga! First and foremost, thank you for taking the time to comment and connect to this piece. As someone who's seen many cases of stress due to comparison and jealousy, I found this topic an interesting one to write about. I'm glad you encourage your daughter to sing and dance for herself, as it is natural. We love motivating parents! Thanks again for your kind words on Paper Violins!

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Lily Finch
01:46 Mar 29, 2023

Shaivi, this truly was a coming alive piece. The music matching the girls' back and forth in the car that was mostly one sided needlessly on Lucie's part was telling for both girls. Lucie concentrated on disliking Summer so much that Lucie stifled her passion and her freshness of focusing on being an attentive musician who plays for the sake of the love of music. Summer - aptly named by the way, well done! - brings lush, relaxing and easy life to Lucie. Through her misguided dislike of Summer, Lucie finds and recaptures her love of music a...

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Shaivi S.
21:27 Mar 29, 2023

Thank you so much, Lily! Loved how you caught all these details, it's heartening to be able to express the story to others. I've noticed jealousy cloud others in so many ways, so this prompt really helped me think of the change I want to see. So grateful for you taking the time to read and comment on this piece!

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Lily Finch
01:15 Mar 30, 2023

It was lovely! My pleasure. LF6.

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Shaivi S.
18:52 Mar 28, 2023

Here's some orchestral background for any wondering readers: Concertmaster: Esteemed violinist within an orchestra with a leadership position (alongside the conductor). Conductor: Aids an orchestra in finding pulse and keeping rhythm, a very significant role in an orchestra. First Stand: The musician sitting in the first, edge seat in each section of the strings orchestra (concertmaster, principal cellist, etc). La Campanella: A spirited, well-known piece by Paganini.

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