Perfectionist: Part One
In the vanity mirror a beautiful desert Acara stares at her real self. Her sight flickers to the stunning bouquet sitting atop the drawer. Shades from vibrant scarlet to washed white painted on petals sit in a nest of green leaves. As she uses her paw to gingerly pluck a pink petal, she wonders how much this must have cost. All for what she's done, someone must have hollowed their pockets to give her this. And as she searches for a tag, a note, she realizes it's been given anonymously as well.
A desert Gnorbu passes the Acara and grabs her shoulders. "Hmm, I wonder," the Gnorbu whispers. "Who exactly are they all cheering for out there?"
"Not me," the Acara says with a laugh. But she knows it's her.
"Pretty flowers. Who gave them to you, Rese?" the Gnorbu says as she holds the basket at an eye level to examine the arrangement.
The Acara, named Rese, shrugs. "I wish I knew. There's no note. Who could afford to leave me these?"
"The same type of wealthy snob who can afford to come to these plays," the Gnorbu answers cynically. She places the flowers back on the vanity. "You're back on in, I don't know, seven minutes, now? It doesn't matter. The show doesn't even start until you step out, anyway."
"Bye, Linen," Rese says as the Gnorbu walks away. She picks up her hairbrush and sighs. What Linen says holds some truth; Rese is a vital part of the show. But she doesn't make it. She isn't even the protagonist of the play. Rese has been confident for a while she had a good singing voice; but after she took the stage for the first time, spectators praised her and told her they knew she had a superb voice.
Ever since, Rese has been slipping on luxurious gold and black rings, as she does now, to seem glamorous on stage, to accent her beautiful voice. In six minutes the final act will begin. Rese has done this part so many times. But something about the way her legs jiggle when she stands to warm up her vocals adds anxiety. Something about the way her voice cracks once adds worry. After multiple taps on the shoulder, deep breaths, and more jewelry, the curtain parts.
Rese knows her lines, her cues. The whole act goes smoothly. It's a blur. And then before she knows it, she's bowing. Waving. Congratulating her colleagues on their great job backstage. Shaking hands. And finally returning to her vanity to see—gasp!—another bouquet.
Rese sits down quickly and looks for a note. And finds one. But at first she has to take in the flowers, different from the first. Long yellow flowers mix with rosy blossoms. The fragrance flowing from the blossoms mesmerizes her. She fumbles with the note, eager to find out who sent these.
That's who sent them, Rese thinks. She refrains from dropping the flowers in frustration. Who is RR? She thinks of the people also in the play, but... why would they give her flowers? Even if they would, they wouldn't sneak them onto her vanity. In her cloud of vexation she nearly doesn't realize the lights are dimming. She grabs the flowers, jams them into her bag, throws on her coat, and leaves.
Through the holey tops of Qasalan buildings Rese can see clear stars glow upon a sable canvas. Wind rushes through the tiny holes in her jacket that she keeps meaning to maybe patch up. Seeking warmth and, admittedly, pondering over who could possibly call himself RR, she tries to decide where to stop.
Hungry, she visits Qasalan Delights. She spots a group of people in the play. "Mind if I join?" she asks. They've ordered three pizzas, and there seems to be more than enough to go around.
"Do you think we'd say no?" asks Linen. "Of course you can."
"I didn't want be rude..." Rese begins to say as she sits down in the booth beside a Kyrii named Oeth. "So, how was everyone's night?"
Eight people in all sit at the booth, and each groans.
"I messed up—at least, twice!" Alyssum, a desert Meerca, says loudly. She crams a piece of pizza into her mouth. "I thought one of you would notice, but... no one said anything."
"Well," Tycho, a Scorchio, says, "I noticed. But I didn't say anything because I messed up pretty bad, too." The boys to both sides of him jabbed him the side. "I'm serious; it was the audience or something. Something about them was... I don't know."
Everyone seems to agree and nod. Angra, another Scorchio, commented, "I kinda think so, too. I mean, they were... tense. Like they wanted us to mess up."
"They must have all come from Sakhmet," Linen suggests. "Ugh. I'm sure they did. Snooty aristocrats come to watch us do something they can't. Can you believe that?"
Rese swallows and says, "Well, I didn't think the audience was that bad. They didn't seem any different than normal."
Whistles ran around the table. "Listen to Miss Lead Singer," one person commented. "I guess since the audience is so far away...?"
"No," Rese says apologetically. "It's just... well, if I'm being honest." Rese grabbed another piece of pizza. "I got two... just beautiful bouquets of flowers tonight."
"Fancy," Oeth says. "Who got them for you?"
"Well, that's the thing," Rese says. "I don't know." Murmurs of interest spark in the booth. "The first one was anonymous and the second one had the initials 'RR'." She eats the slice quickly because she feels like, maybe, she has said just a bit too much.
Alyssum scoffs. "How mysterious."
"The one bouquet was so pretty!" Linen exclaims. "Just gorgeous. I wish you guys could see it! But, Rese, did you bring them?"
Rese nods, grabs a napkin, and pulls out the bouquet of red flowers. Oohs and aahs come as assent. Someone says something about a Sakhmetian definitely being able to afford this. Alyssum pokes around to find a note, but finds none. Oeth inhales the aroma.
"Didn't I tell you they were just lovely?" Linen says.
"And what about this RR bouquet?" Alyssum asks.
Rese puts away the first and pulls out the second. Though the pink and yellow ones are not as stunning, the booth still admires them. Alyssum examines the note that holds the initials and states, "Rese! You didn't look hard enough. There's a second note hidden among the bulbs."
Rese hastily pulls the note away from Alyssum and reads the note.
'I just didn't think one bouquet was quite enough to compare to your voice.'
Rese reads it aloud. The girls sigh. Alyssum aloud wonders why no one ever gets her flowers. Oeth says with his mouth full, "I don't see what's so great about it. Flowers. Yeah, Rese is a pretty good singer. She deserves flowers."
"But the note is so sweet!" Linen squeals. "Rese, do you realize this? You've got a secret admirer."
Rese laughs and shakes her head. "No, I'm sure... someone... decided they had some leftover flowers from their garden, and—"
"No way!" "Be serious." "And don't be so humble."
Rese shakes her head again and puts the flowers away. Clearly there's no way someone wanted to actually give her such magnificent flowers because her voice compelled them.
"I guess maybe I can get leftover garden flowers if I do well enough tomorrow," Alyssum jokes. She gathers her things. "I gotta get home. Don't talk about me too much while I'm gone." Everyone says goodbye and she leaves.
Over the next few minutes more of the cast of the play leaves along with slices of pizza. Eventually only Linen, Rese, and three slices of pizza are left.
Linen nibbles at a piece of pizza, probably full, and says to Rese, "Honestly. What do you think of the person who got you those?"
"I think...." Rese coughs. "I don't know."
Linen nods as she stares off beyond Rese.
"Do you think I upset Alyssum? I mean, I know she looked like she didn't mind, but you never know with her."
Linen laughs and snaps back to the conversation. "No, she's just jealous. Because she's the lead and no one's gotten her flowers. But she'll be over it by tomorrow's show. It's more like was Oeth upset. I think if someone got you flowers, he wanted it to be him."
Now Rese laughs. "He can't afford flowers. And besides, he doesn't have to get me any. Actually, no one has to get me any."
"Don't feel guilty," Linen says. She looks Rese in the eyes. "If anything you should feel flattered. 'I didn't think one bouquet was enough to compare to your voice'! Isn't that sweet?" She stands, and so does Rese, and puts on her jacket. "Isn't it?"
Hm. Linen is interrogating Rese—or at least it sounds like it. "I guess. A little. It just seems a little on the creepy side, too. Like, who is RR?"
"Even if the person wrote out their name, you probably wouldn't know who it is. Anyway, come on. It's getting really late."
Rese nods. She leaves with her friend to brace the desert's night wind. But her mind is not on the weather. It's on what Linen's just said: that even if she had a name to go by, she wouldn't know who that was, either. So maybe initials or a nickname or whatever was scrawled on the tag isn't as mysterious as she once thought. She parts with her friend halfway through her journey home and walks faster once Linen turns her back.
Now that her senses have rung in, Rese realizes how cold it is. Oh!—the heat circulating through her house is probably enough to warm her immediately. And the warmth likely makes a good environment... for her flowers. She wonders if she could group both bouquets into one bowl. Probably.
Rese rolls her eyes. The flowers have dominated her night; she hasn't been able to think about much else since she saw them on her vanity. It's not even a big deal. She needs to focus on the show tomorrow. Perhaps even other Sakhmetians will come to see the talent Qasalans have to display; if that's the case, and Rese somehow knows it will be, then she has to be at the top of her game.
After Rese closes her door and turns on a lamp, she searches for a vase. She grabs some sand from outside, which she doesn't know will work, and empties it from her paws to the vase. And she adds water. And she places the stems of the vibrant flowers deep into the vase. So far that only the petals peek from the rim of the container.
She lugs it from her door to the counter that holds the book she's in the middle of reading a cup of melon juice she forgot to drain out and places it there. It livens up her room. She realizes as she rotates the vase to find the best angle that her day was actually pretty perfect.
She changes into pajamas and practices her vocals. Tomorrow night she will perform the play for the final time. She falls into bed knowing that she needs to be beautiful, just like the radiant flowers.
To be continued...