Her friend Jacie is scared of storms. It isn't the brilliant flashes of light or deafening crashes of sound that Jacie finds terrifying. Pattering rain and twisting trees are only dancers accompanying a symphony. No, no typical aspect of the storm frightens Jacie; Jacie simply hates that storms are out of her control. What if they cause a car crash? What if her house is struck by lightning?
Alex laughs. She pauses; the thunderous booms had hidden the sound from even her own ears. Sulking slightly, she leans back against her roof. Stinging water pounds into closed eyelids, miniscule rivers making their way like tears down to her chin. Alex opens her mouth slightly, inhaling the spring smell. Storms have no affect on her. They remind her that as powerful as man is, nature can snap his spine like a twig. And who cares about control? Alex has never had control. Not over her family, not over her school career, not over even her life. Not over her own thoughts, memories, reactions
but who needs control, anyway? Only the weak can't handle the challenges of life.
Twin lights pierce through the cover of night. Mom is home. Swearing, Alex scrambles to reach the ground without breaking an arm. Does she have dinner ready? While Mom fumbles with her keys, Alex hurriedly changes into dry clothes. Her short hair retains little moisture, erasing much of the evidence of her activities. Yes, there is a casserole on the table. Yes, homework is finished. Yes, Mom won't be angry?
The door creaks open. Time stops as Mom's eyes scan the room.
"Where's your father?"
"He called to say he might be out a bit late tonight."
I suppose you erased the message, right?" Alex winces at her mother's bitter laugh. Her mother tiredly lowers herself into a dinner chair, running her hair through her fingers. A sudden burst of hatred winds its way into Alex's heart. She wants to shake her mother, to force her to admit the truth. No, Dad isn't having an affair! His colleagues- all young women under the age of 30- are far too old for him.
"Well, sit down, then!" Another burst of light silhouettes Alex's mother, bottle and all.
Alex eats slowly, carefully ensuring that her ham sandwich is clean. She's always very cautious about what enters her mouth. She still manages to eat more than Jacie, however. As with most things, Jacie is fearful to the point of paranoia. At the moment, she seems to have given up on eating entirely, abandoning her lunch in favor of chatting with Michael. Alex struggles to focus her attention on their words, fighting past the cotton in her ears to catch the end of Michael's latest rant.
"They just don't understand!" Michael is exclaiming, "They're so logical, so focused on the rules they believe govern reality. They can't seem to realize that Tom is just as real as they are! It doesn't matter that he can't interact with our world fully; THEY can, and they're the ones we need to watch out for. All these pills they stuff me on will only stifle me and prevent me from keeping them safe. My parents don't listen! They're going to get us all killed!"
Jacie smiles sadly, visibly worrying her lips. Alex wants to roll her eyes in exasperation and try, once again, to commit herself to the tedious task of not encouraging Michael's delusions. Apparently, her body has other plans; she's frozen. All she can see
"At least your parents give a crap!" she explodes, clenched fists slamming into the table. A few people glance in her direction before rapidly averting their eyes. Alex knows that look, and it makes her blood boil. She is not crazy! She glares at Jacie and Michael, daring them to disagree. Jacie, however, is nodding thoughtfully.
"There are worse parents, out there, that's true. I can only imagine what it must be like to be raised by
well, anyone other than my own parents, obviously. But imagine how painful it must be to be child of a dictator, or a political refuge. Or
perhaps the child of a cultist or other form of religious fanatic. I don't suppose being the child of a murderer or drug addict would be much fun, either. Even if they cared about you, they wouldn't be very capable of love, would they? Of course, even loving parents
if they had cancer, or were living in poverty, that steals opportunities
imagine living with a father who loves you in the wrong way, a family that was abu-"
"Shut up," Alex strains. The icy numbness has drained away, replaced by fire slowly eroding her muscles farther for every moment she remains still. The urge to move- no, not just to move, but to run- is overwhelming.
those people are destroying their auras, one drop of black karma at a time," muses Michael. Alex nearly throws her lunch at him. Heart pounding, head throbbing, vision blurring, Alex stumbles out of the suffocating cafeteria. The bathroom waits for her. She can feel the food in her, the nasty, horrible, tainted food and
All she can see is the face is of her father.
She learned years ago how to avoid the stares. It isn't hard. When you make yourself as small as possible, perhaps you draw more attention to yourself, but no one would ever dare acknowledge you. Perhaps you are simply a wallflower. But you are strange. You listen to strange music, you wear strange clothes, you write strange stories. It's better not to risk it. Better to let the silent loner be.
Alex creeps into band with her head down, shoulders tensed, refusing to meet anyone's eyes. They react in kind as if she isn't there, as if she never even existed. Perhaps she never did. Perhaps the reason her home- her stormy, hate filled home- and the bright cheerful school never seem to mesh correctly is that one or the other isn't real. Perhaps she's crazier than Michael. Who knows; maybe he's the sane one after all, and she's just too far gone to realize even that.
The voice of an authoritative figure beginning role call shakes Alex slightly, allowing her to slip partially from the grasps of her reverie. It isn't the band teacher, old Mr. Nixon. As the voice explains, Mr. Nixon's mother passed away over the break, and he might not be back for quite some time. Funerals are a lengthy process, apparently. The students will just have to adjust to attempting to pronounce "Christodoulidis" in the mean time. Already, the appeal of "Mrs. C" pulls at kids like a black hole.
"Rachel? Is there a Rachel in this class?" Alex again shakes herself, this time fully surfacing from her thoughts, anger finally giving way to more typical annoyance.
"It's Alex, Ma'am. I go by my middle name." She had forgotten how much she hates teachers trying to call her Rachel. Rachel is the name of a sniveling little girl. It is feminine and pathetic. Rachel is weak. Alex is not. Alex is strong. She is Alex, not Rachel. Never Rachel.
The teacher nods and continues on. Alex slumps down into her chair again, impatience claiming her. She idly messes with the many knobs and holes on her clarinet, frustration mounting. Will they never get the chance to play?
Finally, the teacher clears her throat to inform the class about the upcoming band concert. Alex's attention peaks as a bubble of excitement worms its way into her stomach despite her strict orders of not allowing hope to get the best of her. Try outs, she learns, are next Tuesday. A quick mental check reveals that Alex is free that day. Maybe
maybe she can go
A cloud of dread moves in front of the rays of hope. Alex is only fifteen; she can't drive yet. She needs her mother's permission to even try out, much less attend.
The thought almost stops her from signing up. But Alex is not a coward. Alex does what is needed. Alex is strong. Alex signs up without a second thought on the matter.
"Mom?" she asks, wetting her lips and wishing she has a drink to hide behind, "Um
can I ask you something?" Her mother glances up from the desk where she sits, staring wearily at her daughter.
"Make it quick; I have to fill out these forms within the next few days if you want to keep a roof over your head." Alex nods.
"There's a band concert coming up soon; it's on the 17th, and I was wondering if I could attend? The thing is, the try outs are next Tuesday. It's a school concert, so it's totally free. I just need a ride." Her mother presses her lips together.
"Ask your father. I'm busy that afternoon; he'll need to be the one to take you." Alex feels the blood drain from her face. She walks to the adjourning room as if on autopilot.
She tries to get the man's attention, croaks, frowns, and tries again; "D-dad?" The man pauses. Alex continues on, eyes darting rapidly from object to object.
I'm free Tuesday, right? Er, next Tuesday, I mean. And you know how much I love band. I'm great at clarinet
well, that's what my band teacher, Mr. Nixon, that's what he said. So I was wondering
maybe I could attend the- the band concert. It's, um, it's on the 17th
" she takes a deep breath and continues, "Well, and, you see, I need a ride to try outs. They take place next Tuesday."
The man turns to her and asks, "Try outs? For a concert?"
Alex realizes her hands are shaking and forces them to still.
"Yeah. It's only for the best players, and I think I might really have a chance."
"Why do you think you deserve to go?"
Time is a funny thing. It doesn't flow. It hops in jerks in halts so sudden as to smash your heart against your rib cage. Time is something Alex has never been able to understand. Somehow, time manages to miss try outs entirely. Somehow, time manages to miss a month entirely. One moment, Alex was speaking with her father. The next, it is the day before the concert. She isn't quite sure what happened; another sign of impending insanity, no doubt. Even odder, she seems to have acquired an injury along the way, or perhaps fallen sick. Everything below her stomach is screaming with pain.
Alex shifts awkwardly in her chair. Apparently, she woke up in the middle of a history lesson. Lovely. The time Gods couldn't even save her from this torture? So unfair!
Alex notices she is shaking again. Is this some sort of habit, or something? It isn't cold out, nor is she in any way nervous. It doesn't matter that her heart is beating so fast it hurts. It doesn't matter that the pain is pulsing, or that the world is tilting on its own axis. Oh, the woes of a time traveler! She is quite obviously fine. How can she not be? There is a milky film covering her vision. Sounds are muted and removed. Her limbs are heavy, but only because her mind is so far above them. She is fine.
A slightly louder than average laugh pierces through the fog, and Alex jumps slightly. Waking up in a new time causes one to be easily spooked; that's not exactly surprising. Shaking has increased, and her muscles are painfully clenched. Stupid Time Gods, couldn't even give her any warning
The bell rings. Alex floats down the hall to math class. Jacie stares at her. Jacie is too perceptive. Michael is worse, but Michael is crazy. Were she Michael, she might believe she actually had been kidnapped by Time Gods. Dumb kid.
"Are you alright? Hey, you are able to perform in the concert tonight, right?" Jacie probes. Alex nods.
yeah." Time is working oddly again. Ten minutes have elapsed already? But Alex just sat down!... like Rachel, apparently. Alex always sits up straight with her legs separated. Confidence is key. When she wants to avoid attention, she will slouch. Sitting this slouched, however, with her legs so tightly wound together
that is how Rachel sits. That is weak.
A blink. A long blink. And band is in session. A clarinet is between her legs and Alex drops it. Face flaming, she picks it up. What is wrong with her?! To Alex's intense distaste, she finds herself sitting with the bell of the clarinet pointed as far down as possible, the instrument held close in to her body. That is not the correct way to play! But anything else feels like she is exposing herself. What a strange world this is, indeed.
Bright lights and microphone shrieks. Those are all that exist. The audience sits as silently as parents and siblings can. Alex bravely faces the world from the seat of the second chair clarinet. She is prepared. She knows her songs backwards and forwards. This is her time to shine.
Mrs. C says a few words, eliciting cheers from the crowd. Alex gives them a sweeping glance. A frown graces her face when she realizes she can't find her mother. Another quick glance pours frost through her veins.
Her mother isn't there. But her father is.
And the conductor is on the podium. And the baton is moving. And Alex forces her brain to silence, her body to freeze, and all thoughts to flee. This is not about her father. This is not for her father's listening pleasure. This is not about her father. This is for Alex. And she'll be danged if she won't play her best just because he is watching her!
Notes dance around her head. The music was soft, at first, now growing steadily louder and louder until all feelings are drowned out by the triumphant tune. Alex surrenders to the music and allows the love of playing to overtake her. She never knows what is coming tomorrow, or what is needed from her in order to survive. She has no control over her life. Music, however- the pitch, the tune, the style, the speed- music slaves to please her. She owns music. She controls music. And tonight, surrounded by the joyous harmony, she is safe.
The feelings of elation survive through the entire drive home. The crowd loved the concert and gave it a standing ovation. As second clarinet, Alex can't help but feel slightly responsible for their great success. It is actually a shame that her mother missed it; she would have liked the third song.
Alex opens the door to her house and steps inside, hanging her coat up and taking off her shoes in silent elation. She wants to tell Mom all about the concert! She turns around to find Mom right there, glaring at Dad.
Within moments, Alex's good mood crashes and waves of horror wash over her. Her mother's eyes are glossy, the pupils restricted. She greets her husband, but her voice is far too loud for the five feet of distance between them, and her words slur. She is leaning heavily against the wall, an empty bottle just barely pushed behind the couch, as if hiding it from view will make her intoxication unapparent.
"Lexi," Alex's dad quietly greets his wife.
"Where have you been?" Alex's mother replies, her voice tense, low pitched, and so loud it makes Alex wince. In opposition to the secure distance of before, now everything is too close. Alex can hear the ticking of the old clock, smell the vodka on her mother's breath, and feel the thick anger slowly encasing the room. She takes a step back, realizes her father is behind her, and slowly edges to the right instead.
"At Rachel's concert. Remember? The concert you didn't bother to attend?" The irritation in his voice is obvious, but Alex's mother just snorts rudely.
"Oh. So now you bother to give a shit about your daughter. How nice of you," she sneers, "you
"I've always cared about my daughter, yes."
"Care?! You call this caring about her?! You're never home, Jack, you're never home! And when you are
I know what's going on, Jack, I know. What you did to her, you-" Alex backs into the china cabinet. A dish falls to the floor with a clang. Both of her parents turn to her as if just remembering she is there.
"Go upstairs, Rachel," her mother whispers, now barely audible. Her father just laughs.
"Actually," he scoffs, "I think I'll just leave. I wouldn't want to taint anyone with my presence," he storms up the stairs.
"My name is Alex," Alex calls softly after him, but a door slams shut before she can finish. Alex's mom sighs, collapsing onto the couch with tears in her eyes. In silence, she holds up a bloody garment.
Time leaves Alex behind. This time, the body goes with her. When the thunderstorm begins, Alex is still laying on the floor, eyes squeezed desperately shut against both the shadows and the competing illuminations.
The next day, Mr. Nixon is back and thrilled. He returned just in time to hear the wonderful concert, and it was so beautifully performed that it almost took away his sorrow from the funeral! He is delighted that his children played so well. They should all be professionals.
In Alex's opinion, Mr. Nixon would have done just as well as an actor, but she is as glad as anyone to see him back. He's a good teacher, though he and Alex have never actually talked all that much, save the one time she went to ask him about a piece of music. This time, however, he approaches her.
"Alex, you and Cason played the duet in Abra Cadabra, right?" Alex nods, staring somewhere over the teacher's shoulder. She has managed to keep it together all day, despite the near over whelming urge to find a quiet corner and waste away. Talking seems to strain this.
"Will you play this piece for me? Don't worry, I'll write you a pass to your next class." Alex reads the piece, trying to avoid the usual awkward site reading mistakes. Mr. Nixon is unusually calm. Where has his exhilaration at their superior playing gone?
His eyes follow her every move as she fingers awkwardly through the piece. Her pitch refuses to align, and her tone has been better. She finishes with a horrific squeak. Alex shrinks back, praying for the ground to swallow her up whole. Mr. Nixon is still staring at her.
Suddenly he springs forwards and grabs her by the shoulders.
"Stupendous!" he shouts, "perfectly wonderful! Alex, you have to be the soloist in the charity concert. You simply have to!" Alex nods, wincing. Anything he wants, she will do, if he will just let go of her! Mr. Nixon withdraws, his smile so large it looks as if his face should crack. He nearly skips off, leaving Alex to shakily pack up and flee.
Despite the ghastly start to her day, Alex soon finds herself relaxing and even getting a bit excited. She figures she can afford to. At least there are no try outs this time; she's already in! And in as a soloist, as well!
'But what about Dad?' A small part of her whispers. Alex violently pushes it aside. Nothing will ruin her good day.
Indeed, from there on, things start looking up. She has always been an A/B student, but she aces a science test. For once, Michael seems more occupied with the idea of romance than aliens and shadow monsters. Even Jacie seems to relax in the new atmosphere. Deciding that music is truly her life saver, Alex begins bringing her clarinet home to practice every other day.
She runs through an old concert piece, waiting for the bell to chime, signaling that dinner is ready. For once, her mom cooked lasagna; she noticed how hard Alex was working and seemed to consider it a reward of sorts. Alex would smile at the thought, but it is a bit hard to smile with a clarinet in your mouth. Focused as she is on her music, she misses the noises signaling her mother's approach until the song is finished and the woman is directly behind her.
"That was lovely," Alex's mother whispers. Alex almost drops her clarinet again, but catches herself just in time. Instead, she simply sits there stupidly.
"I used to play flute," her mother offers, "But I haven't in so long
perhaps we could do a duet, one day." She waits for an answer. A minute passes in silence before Alex realizes what is expected of her.
"Um, yeah. That would be nice," she smiles tentatively at her mother, who smiles back in relief. In reality, Alex knows her mother will never find the time to play with her. They don't even own a flute anymore! Her mother was never good with keeping promises, anyway. It's a nice effort, though.
That night, for the first time in months, Alex's mom drinks strawberry lemonade with dinner.
Practicing clarinet after school comes with another advantage; Alex's dad leaves for work early in the mornings. He comes home late at night, usually around midnight or later. However, he habitually drops by the house in the early afternoon, around the time Alex returns from school, though Alex hasn't the slightest idea what he's doing there. Now that she stays at school for an extra hour or so, she almost never has to see him. In a way, she misses her father. But the peaceful respite from the hatred that seeps off of him and the deafening fights between him and her mother are a blessing. As long as she never sees her father and mother in the same room, she can almost pretend that they are a normal family.
It doesn't occur to her to wonder that mother was never home during his quick visits. Satisfied with her answer, she sees no reason to pry further into her own mind. She has her mother, her friends, and her music. She is happy.
She often practices clarinet with other students, though she feels no emotional pull towards any of them. Occasionally, another student will listen to her play for a while, but all this accomplishes is to raise her nerves. Being stared at is not something she finds particularly fun. Besides, while she enjoys allowing crowds to hear her music, when she practices, she is playing for herself. The music is personal, often angry and sorrowful. If she lays her heart out for spectators to stomp on, what will happen to her?
Shaking her head as if disowning the thoughts, she allows the music to swell, dark and foreboding. She's practiced enough; she figures she has earned this break.
The music fades out, and a few last echoes swell across the room. Silence follows, and Alex smiles contently. She's beginning to swab out her instrument when a boy speaks up from behind her.
"You're really great with that, you know?" Alex whips around to stare at the intruder. It's Nathan; she knows him from her chemistry class. The tension drains from her arms. It's alright. Nathan is frequently bullied, but it doesn't seem to harden his heart; he would never talk cruelly about another student. Alex nods at him and resumes care of her instrument.
" Nathan hesitates, "so I play clarinet, right? Um, I'm in the other band; you wouldn't have noticed me." He laughs slightly, cheeks turning a bit red.
"Well, I was wondering. Would you mind tutoring me in music? You're always here to practice, anyway. I won't bother you much. I just need someone to play with, really." Alex resists the urge to ask him why he doesn't practice with a friend. To be honest, she isn't sure he has any. She's never seen him talking with anyone, at least.
"Yeah, that would be fine," she smiles. It can't hurt, right? She almost thinks she remembers Jacie talking about him; didn't they know each other in elementary school, or something? Maybe she should get them back together, sometime.
"I'll tutor you," she nods. If nothing else, it's one more excuse to stay after school. If nothing else, it's one more excuse to stay away from her home.
This time, the time passes in a more familiar pattern. Life falls into a comfortable rhythm. Memories may be a bit hazy, but this method is far preferable to the jerking of before. Still, before Alex knows it, it is again the day of the concert. She can't wait!
Father enters the room and stares at her. Mother looks up at him, tense but unsurprised.
"Jack," she acknowledges quietly. Father stares back at her, jaw tensed.
"Lexi. Would you care to tell me why I never see my daughter anymore?"
Mother stands strong; "She has a concert coming up, does she not? She's practicing. She's so happy to have gotten the solo
" Father steps forward and grabs Mother by the throat.
"You listen here, you bitch. Don't you even pretend that you haven't been encouraging Rachel to leave! I know. I know that you've been trying to steal my daughter. Divorce, Lexi? Do you really think you could get custody? You, the jobless alcoholic? Be realistic. There's nothing you can do; stop trying to come between me and my daughter!" He throws Mother back against the wall and slowly advances forwards.
Alex comes home around seven o'clock at night. She thinks she and Nathan might actually be getting close. He's such a nice kid! Why would anyone want to hurt him? Alex definitely wants to introduce him to Jacie; she figures that even if they haven't met before, they'll still get along great. They're both so dang logical! Alex rolls her eyes and steps up to the front door. She digs in her back pocket for the keys before pausing.
A storm is brewing. She can taste it on the winds. Goose bumps have risen on her arms, and she shivers slightly. Alex hopes it won't be storming during the concert. The moisture could tamper with the sound quality, and the thunder would be more than a little annoying. She should probably prepare for that, somehow.
Still, Alex finds herself unable to open the door. A strong gust wails in the distance. Alex steels herself. Yes. She will definitely need to prepare for the damage of the storm.
Alex throws open the door. Silence. Frowning, she walks through the entrance and towards the kitchen. Mom usually has dinner prepared by now. Dinner has become a comforting event; she and Mom talk for hours while Alex does her homework. It was nice, something Alex had grown to look forward to.
Nerves are funny little things, Alex decides. They make walking a similar experience to trying to swim through jello. Every monotonous rise and fall of her legs is a battle. Before she can enter the kitchen, she takes inhales deeply, finally remembering to breath. It takes all her courage to open the door.
The lights are off. Her mother, however, is there. Alex's mother is sitting at the table, staring straight ahead. Mascara is streaking down her face. Her hair is messy and unkempt. She refuses to look Alex in the eyes.
?" Alex's throat is suddenly dry. Her mother refuses to answer or even so much as shift positions, though a fresh tear trickles to the ground.
" Alex's throat closes off and she blinks rapidly to correct her blurring vision. She wishes she hadn't. She notices something she hadn't seen before.
There is a pattern of bruises on her mother's neck. It has an oddly round center with five smaller ovals drifting off. It's oddly reminiscent of the Thanksgiving turkeys from grade school days. Alex remembers writing things she was thankful for on three of the wings, and two things she wished for on the others.
I'm thankful for my house.
I'm thankful for my friends.
I'm thankful for great food!
I wish I could be a millionaire.
I wish my family was happy.
The storm turns into a hurricane. The concert is a disaster.