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The Cello


by shadowcristal

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For all of those who think that music is the most beautiful thing in the world…

"This is our final player, an excellent student of the Kat Academy of Arts. Please welcome Miss Cynthia, the Cellist!"

     A blue Xweetok slowly walked onto the stage, clutching onto her big, shiny cello. Cynthia stepped into the limelight carefully, making sure that she wouldn't fall with her heavy appendage. Sinking into the black plastic chair placed right beneath that powerful beam of light, the Xweetok tried to make herself as comfortable as she could.

     But it was never comfortable. It was never as lovely as one would've thought just by staring from the stands… All this fakery, all those plastic, cheesy smiles… Throwing an apprehensive glance at the judges, the Xweetok remembered what her owner had said.

     "Don't look at the judges or they'll fail you for looking," Ylanda had declared solemnly.

     Grasping onto her bow that had been made with the finest Uni hair available, Cynthia started playing. Making sure that the rhythm flowed naturally and nicely, the Xweetok smiled a cheesy smile as she checked to make sure that the bow was set at the perfect angle and her fingers holding it the textbook way.

     "It isn't only the music. It's how you act, how you look… Everything." With her owner's words still echoing in her mind, the Xweetok took much pain to make sure she did everything picture-perfectly.

     After all, it was that poise, that grace, the confidence that she didn't really have that had landed her in the prestigious Kat Academy in the first place. If she did this… Just taking one step at a time… And if she was very lucky, perhaps she would go to the great Minerva Private School in the future.

     But first things first. Secure a good position here and now. Drawing out on the last note, letting it reverberate throughout the large room, Cynthia finished her piece with a flourishing move. It was like this every time. The nervous feelings in her stomach, the fingers trembling and all that pretending… Each time she competed, the Xweetok could just imagine the horrible words of doom ringing in her ears. But she had made it so far. If she hadn't…

     Shuddering at that thought, the Xweetok noticed her owner's face clouded and shadowed with disappointment. A silver medal was placed around her neck, and Cynthia graciously thanked everyone. In the back of her mind a voice warned her for what was coming. Ylanda wouldn't be too happy… Be first, or be nobody at all.

     Packing and stowing away her cello in the case, Cynthia wondered if she could ever satisfy Ylanda… Making those musical dreams come true, become a big-time musician in the classical way, not like those Twisted Roses or Yes Boy Ice Cream but with something refined and elegant.

     And of course, all of this required her to be perfect. Looking down at her sore paws, the Xweetok wondered if it was worth the price she had to pay. There were no friends at the Kat Academy among the musicians. Enough of them were already out in the world, and only the best survived. Cynthia envied the Writer's Wing, as those neopets always seemed so cheerful, exchanging ideas and collaborating on stories. Even in the orchestra there was competition… Always trying to impress and please those finicky teachers.

     "Not good enough," Ylanda told her pet, shaking her head. "Only second."

     "I know," Cynthia retorted, recalling the cabinet full of prizes of various color but gold hiding in her room. "Be first, or end up like nobody."

     "You must practice more," the owner said. "I've made sacrifices to get you here, arrangements with the Eyrie Taxi for traveling, barely making all that NP to cover what the Shanni Stipendium didn't."

     The Xweetok nodded monotonously. Ylanda's words always made her feel so guilty… As if she hadn't been trying hard enough. But she had tried her hardest, to please with that smile and those tones… Sitting down by the cello, Cynthia picked up her bow and practiced more, just like a good girl.

     Like a good girl… As she played, trying to perfect the tune and strain her muscles at just the right moment, the Xweetok thought. Why did she play? Suddenly Cynthia was awash with memories, remembering the first time she heard the rich timbre of the cello, much more powerful than the squeaky violin yet not being too deep, like the double bass. With just the right amount of pressure on the string and the correct finger positions, a marvelous tune would dance out of those strange, f-shaped holes.

     She did not feel like playing the designated tune anymore. Admitting to impulse and temptation, Cynthia grasped the first song she remembered hearing in her memory and quickly played it on the cello. As her fingers danced across the strings and applied the pressure with pinpoint precision, the Xweetok felt satisfied.

     Looking at the cello, Cynthia felt a strange feeling well up inside of her. She did definitely not hate the cello, but there was an air of resentment…

     "Too simple; play the song you're supposed to," the Xweetok heard Ylanda comment.

     Practicing for another half-hour, Cynthia finally grew tired and went to bed.

     The very next day, the Xweetok was roused early to get on the Eyrie Taxi and was flown over to the Kat Academy of Arts. As she stepped down, Cynthia thought she saw someone she knew…

     "Cynthia!" the green Hissi cried out cheerfully, waving energetically with her wings. "Long time no see!"

     Searching her memory, the Xweetok finally recalled who that strange Hissi was. It was a friend she had played with a long time ago, when she was still popular and not thought of as the snotty brat who moved away to attend a private school. She had never known Evelyn that well, but the Hissi had always been a rather happy and cheerful person in her memory.

     "Evelyn, isn't?" Cynthia asked.

     "Yeah! I'm surprised you remember me!" The Hissi grinned, fumbling with a small, black case. "You see, I tried real hard and ended up here too. Though I don't play the cello."

     "The flute?" the Xweetok asked, holding the case. "I'll help you."

     "Thanks a lot!" Evelyn said with a smile. "You're so nice… Everyone has been so mean since I've been winning competitions."

     "That's a musician's life…" Cynthia trailed off, as she noticed a Royal Cybunny walking towards them. Evelyn was brushed aside with a rough push as the Cybunny frowned disdainfully and walked on.

     "That was Violet," the Xweetok told her old, newfound friend.

     "Spoiled brat," muttered the Hissi, picking herself up. "But I've got at least one friend here!"

     A few lessons later, Cynthia and Evelyn were sitting at lunch. That was when the Hissi reached the question the Xweetok knew just about everyone would ask.

     "Why?" Evelyn asked, looking at the Xweetok. "Why did you leave?"

     "I…" Cynthia trailed off, realizing that she did not know completely why. "My owner and I, we just… decided that this would be a good occasion to achieve the dream of a full-fledged musician…"

     "You could've done that back at home," the Hissi remarked.

     "My owner…" the Xweetok started, but stopped. Was it really Ylanda?

     "You should think about what you want," Evelyn said. "I kind of sensed it. I mean, we all did…" She smiled at Cynthia. "Don't let anyone but you decide about your life. Break free."

     After that, Evelyn did not mention the subject anymore. Cynthia waved off as she took the Eyrie Taxi home. Rushing through the chilly evening air, the Xweetok thought about Evelyn's words. They had stirred a feeling inside her, that rebellious, showy side of herself that Cynthia believed she had lost a long time ago. In any case, it was good to have a proper friend.

     "The next competition is coming up in one week. You must practice diligently!" Ylanda exclaimed, waving vigorously with her arms.

     "I…" the Xweetok mumbled, but faltered. The words had been burning on the tip of her tongue like hot soup, scalding her and wanting to be spat out. But there was no courage to perform that action…

     Taking a deep breath, Cynthia gathered courage, recalling how that strange, rushing emotion felt from the old, golden days. Many considered her a prodigy, with all that glitter and glamour, but it was all hollow. A normal life, that had been the golden days…

     "I quit," Cynthia said firmly, surprising herself. She hadn't meant exactly those words, but something along the way. Feeling more resolute, the Xweetok said it again.

     "I quit. I can't do this anymore! Maybe you've sacrificed a lot, but I can't do what you want… You take credit all the time, saying that you're the one who makes me practice… But who puts the effort into all this? I'm the one who practices and does the work, and you just steal the credit… You can't decide how I'm going to live, because I'll do that. And I decide that I quit!"

     At that last, emphasized word, the Xweetok saw her owner's lip tremble, and her forehead wrinkle. Cynthia cringed, wondering if Ylanda would possibly cry.

     "How dare you!" the owner cried, throwing up her hands in the air. "Here I've done everything for you, and you're simply ungrateful! Giving up on that dream of becoming a solo cellist… And we've worked so hard to get this far, and now you just want to quit? You think it's so easy?" Ylanda glared at her pet, who was taking off at top speed to her own room. Sighing, the owner quieted down.

     In the safety of her room, Cynthia was astonished to hear nothing from her owner. If only she had done all of this earlier, then… Looking at her cabinet of trophies, the Xweetok too them all out and buried them deep beneath her bed. She didn't need old memories haunting her.

     Handling the cello carefully, the neopet placed it in a corner. "You've done well," she told it, "but now I'm quitting."

     For the next few days Cynthia did not touch the cello, though her hands itched to. Ylanda was still using the silent treatment, and the only friend she had was Evelyn. It wasn't as much as the absence of the yelling, but just this sensation…

     Ylanda had been right, though. It wasn't that easy to quit. The competition came and passed, and with frozen features the Xweetok regarded Violet's violin win. She could've easily beaten that snotty brat if she had been competing.

     Trying to gain Ylanda's good favor, Cynthia tried doing chores like a normal pet. Slowly but surely the owner started to speak to her again, and it was like before… With the exception of the cello.

     One day the Xweetok decided that she had gotten enough. That sense of urgency, the dreadful longing… It was too much to bear! And Ylanda wasn't imposing on her anymore… What hindered her?

     Walking over to the dark corner, Cynthia dusted off the case and opened it. Picking up the cello, the Xweetok had to work quite a while to adjust it so it sat somewhat nicely. She drew the bow across the string, but the expected music did not reach her ears. Instead, it was a high screech, the one that the dancers' teachers used.

     Trying a couple more times, the Xweetok was horrified to find that she could not play the cello well… She sounded like a beginner! That long, hard training, all those times she had been spurred on by Ylanda… The touch of the string felt so unfamiliar, those finger positions uncomfortable… There was no easy way to find the notes, the ones she had created with ease before…

     Why? How could she have let this happen? She hadn't meant to just lose all those abilities… They weren't even magical! Cynthia mustered her concentration and managed to squeak a few sounds that weren't too bad, but they hung in the air weakly and limply before disappearing ever so swiftly.

     Letting the cello rest in her hand, the Xweetok's mind once again wandered down the path of memories. That sun-filled, bright day… The lone fiddler putting aside his violin and exchanging it for a formidable cello… The way those notes had whirled through the air with their richness and laughter, coloring the world in a way light couldn't do. The way the bow dipped and floated upon the strings, making them vibrate with a sea of sounds, all unique in their own way but forming a formidable song together.

     The most beautiful sound in the world… It was the only thing she had coveted… And it had led to all this. Concentrating again, Cynthia thought that she had managed to play a little bit of that tune the musician had performed on that fateful day.

     The ability was lost, but it could be learned. And this time she'd do it right, not with the burden of scholarships or the glorious fame and grandness… No, it was simply Cynthia and the cello, making the most beautiful sound in the world together.

The End

 
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