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Behind the Music: Part One

by resurrectedwarrior


"Where is it?" a slender, green Lenny ran his fingers through a blue handbag. He felt everything that he didn't need - fingernail clippers, his sister's file, cotton swabs, and various other bottles of who-knows-what. Removing his hand without success, he closed the case with a frustrated sigh and entered his bathroom. It had to be somewhere in here. Things like that didn't just disappear! He opened the sliding cupboard doors and peered inside. Nothing. Why did this always happen to him when he needed something immediately? Nothing ever seemed to go right for him, no matter how carefully he had planned ahead.

     Next came his sister's bathroom, then her purse, then the hall bathroom and the linen closet. No success. Where could it be? he wondered. He went back through and checked everything again, then double checked. Zero. He knew he would need it today, unless, of course, he wanted to be laughed at when he made his appearance at the Neopian Rehabilitation Center. That was the place the roughest of Neopians were sent for counseling and discipline.

     Thundering down the stairs, the Lenny saw his sister, a cloud Peophin, sitting on their living room couch reading the comic section of the Neopian Times. "Poe, where did you put the tweezers?"

     "I dunno," POE said without looking up. "Did you check the bathroom?"

     "Yes - three times."

     "Well, that's the only place I know it would be. Go check again." She turned around on the sofa with her back towards her brother, indicating she was "occupied".

     With a grumble, the Lenny mounted the stairs again. He knew the tweezers weren't in any of the bathrooms or the other semi-normal places a pair of tweezers would be kept. Maybe he should check his room again. Frustrated and disgruntled, the Lenny entered his room and stopped short. There, lying on his dresser, were the tweezers he had so diligently been searching for, right where he left them last night. Clenching a fist and resisting the urge to shout, the Lenny held his breath for a few moments, then let it out slowly. He picked up the tweezers and turned on a bright light to remove the splinter he had acquired earlier that morning.

     The Lenny let himself sink into his bed. How could he have been so forgetful? 'Nervousness' was the first word that popped into his head. It wasn't every day a classical violinist was invited to play anywhere, let alone at a place set-aside for the not-so-nice Neopians. The Lenny jolted upright, not wanting to dwell on the thought for long. He reached over the side of his bed and lifted a hard, black case to his lap. Opening it, he smiled at the sight of his beloved, well-worn violin. He had been playing the instrument since he was about nine years old, and mastering the instrument had become his lifelong passion. Not for a moment did he regret all the missed Gormball games or Meerca Chase championships, for he was of the opinion he had acquired a skill whose worth far outweighed being able to beat others in competitions of strength. Smiling ever so slightly, the Lenny lifted his violin out of the case and positioned it on his shoulder and under his chin, then raised the bow and began practicing the musical piece he would be performing that afternoon.

     Barely two minutes later, his sister knocked on his door. "Miroslav! Have you eaten anything yet?"

     Miroslav rolled his eyes at the interruption and lowered his bow, "No . . ."

     "Well, come on! I've got some food on the table for us."

     "Who needs to eat when they could be playing?" Miroslav grumbled, but did as he was told. He carefully replaced the violin in the case and snapped it shut. He carried his violin with him down the stairs, this time descending the stairs quietly. He entered the kitchen silently and sat down at the table. Somehow POE had managed to wrench herself from the comics and dig out some half-eaten omelettes and Neocola from the cupboard and set them out on the table in a halfway orderly fashion. "Wow, this is a balanced breakfast!" Miroslav teased.

     POE looked at him harshly, "Let's see you do better, dearie. Ever since Mom-"

     "I know . . ." Miroslav interrupted. "I don't want to talk about it."

     "Well, we need to, Miro," POE said. "You can't live in denial forever - and you certainly can't count on your violin to hide you from reality."

     Miroslav's eyes shot to hers. A look of regret passed over her face. It was obvious she had hit a nerve. "I am not hiding!" Miroslav spat. "I . . ." he felt a lump form in his throat and refused to speak any longer.

     POE touched his hand, "Miro, I'm sorry." The last thing she wanted to see was her brother burst into tears. "I'm just . . . I'm just tired of feeling like I'm doing everything by myself." She withdrew her hoof and stared at her plate.

     A few moments later, Miroslav spoke, "You know you're not, don't you? I mean, you may feel like you are, but you're not. Gelrelt's family has been helping."

     POE nodded, thinking of the Darigan Moehog and his family down the street. "I know. But I wish you would do more. Gelrelt can't help forever. I need to know you're going to be here for me. Lately all you've been doing is playing your violin . . . I need you."

     "I know." Miroslav wished POE would look at him. He realized she hadn't eaten anything yet. "Hey, sis," he called, trying to get her to look up from her plate.

     She glanced up.

     "I love you, POE I just . . . I just need to learn how to deal with this - to adjust." He struggled for the right words, "I'm here for you, okay?"

     POE shook her head and fidgeted with her omelette. "Okay," she whispered.

     The rest of breakfast was an awkward ritual. They ate slowly and deliberately, then washed the dishes in silence. Shortly afterward, Miroslav picked up his violin case. "I need to go practice, okay?"

     A look of disappointment came over POE, but she nodded despite her frustration.

     This time, Miroslav left the house completely to practice his number for later that day. He walked outside and into their backyard garden, which, unfortunately, had become terribly overgrown since . . . Miroslav refused to think about it. He sat down beside a Green Techo Gnome, his favorite thing in the whole garden, and opened the case. Drawing the violin out once more, he positioned it thoughtfully under his chin and began to play a delicate, joyful melody, reciting for the umpteenth time what he had planned to play later that day. By now the whole routine seemed mechanical to him. Much of the piece had lost its passion, and if he was honest enough to admit that to himself, he may have selected another song. But, no, he refused to let himself think the last few weeks had had any effect on his music. On the emotional level, all Miroslav was in the mood for was sad and melancholy pieces, but right now he simply refused to allow himself to play anything like that in front of people. He was afraid of what would happen if he did. Since his mother . . . went away . . . he had often found himself ending grievous songs in tears rather than in notes. He couldn't allow people to see that part of himself! He wouldn't allow people to see his grief.

     Soon enough, his practice time came and went. Miroslav stood up beside the gnome and looked at the sun. Soon, he would need to start heading for the Rehabilitation Center. He entered his house once more, finding POE fast asleep on the couch, comics tucked under her arm. He smiled softly and grabbed a pen and paper to write her a note stating that he was leaving early for the center and would be back sometime later that afternoon. He knew he was leaving a long time before he needed to, but Miroslav needed time to sort out his thoughts before returning to his house. Lately, his thoughts had been clearest either playing his violin or taking walks around the block. He had already spent time with his violin, and right now he thought taking a walk might calm his nerves before the 'show'.

     Stepping out from his house, he took a deep breath of crisp air. The day had turned out to be quite lovely; there were no clouds to block the sun, and somewhere in the distance a lone bird's song flitted to Miroslav's ears. He sighed and kept walked, noting the impact of his feet on the pavement. He stopped for a moment and moved a branch from the road. A dead leaf clung to his clothing. He brushed it off. A rock was in the road. He kicked it.

     'You're avoiding thinking about it,' a voice deep inside him whispered. Miroslav knew it was right. He was avoiding thinking about everything that had happened, at least for the last few weeks. What could he do about it now anyway? It was over. He couldn't help his mother.

     Shoving the thoughts from his mind, Miroslav stepped into a well-manicured, green garden. Fountains scattered throughout the enclosure tinkled with the delicate sounds of splashing water. Flowers were carefully arranged in all sorts of swirling, intricate patterns here and there, always bordered by some old, robust bush that had begun to bloom. Light green ferns lined the dirt walkway, standing in their assigned positions like little guards making sure everyone stayed on the path and didn't trample the fragile flowers. Miroslav smiled. Other than the gnome in the garden, this was his favorite place to think things through.

     'You should tell POE about the nightmares.' the voice came again. Miroslav shuddered at the thought. How in Neopia was he to tell his sister he relived that terrible event almost every night? How could she possibly understand that was the reason he had become so closed off? What would she say to him? What if she told him he was weak, that he was just too emotional about this whole thing? 'You know POE would never make fun of you for that - she's hurting, too.' Miroslav pushed the voice away; he could feel that all-too-familiar stinging behind his eyes. "NO! You will not cry again!" he told himself, grateful the garden was almost completely deserted. "Stop it! What will they think when you show up looking like a weak baby?" His hands trembled and his voice dropped to a whisper, "Stop, Miroslav . . . just stop."

     Barely able to collect himself before his grief overcame him, Miroslav walked on for a bit with his eyes closed. He knew it wasn't the smartest thing to do, and he scolded himself when he smacked his leg against a post. "Ouch . . ." He rubbed the injury for a moment before glancing at the sun. He would need to be at the Center soon. Miroslav quickened his pace and walked on, looking at the hedges of each side of the road, the pavement, the occasional flower, anything to keep his mind off of events at home. "Focus, Miro. You'll be there soon."

     Despite his self-encouragement, uncontrollable thoughts about the last few weeks flitted in and out of his mind, causing each step to become an effort for him, and every breath to become forced as he desperately tried to maintain his dignity. 'Why did that have to happen?' "NO!" Miroslav shouted at himself before he could react to his thoughts. He would not give into his emotions! He would not! No! Miroslav stopped for a moment and made himself calm down. He was only a block or two away from the Center. When he got there, he would need to act calm and composed - the typical image of a classical musician. He had to act like he had it 'all together.' If he didn't, the residents at the center probably wouldn't listen to him, and he doubted he would be invited to play there again. No, he had to act above the residents at the Rehabilitation Center. To identify with them would be a mistake.

     Finally composed, Miroslav walked the remaining distance to the Center. "You'll be okay, Miro," he told himself. "Just get through this and go home. Just get through this and go home. You'll be okay." He kept murmuring these singsong phrases to himself until he stopped a few moments later and looked up at the tall, pillared entrance to the Neopian Rehabilitation Center. He held his breath for a moment before slowly letting it go. With that, he mounted the steps, checked his posture in the reflection of the glass doors, and went inside.

To be continued...

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