Faith didn’t like it when Felix asked her to go with him anytime he had errands to run. He always did it at night time, when she was sleepy enough to feel like her eyelids had taken control of the rest of her person. And she wasn’t one of those people who could manage easily when she was sleep deprived. She was moody and cranky and lacked the sensibility to deny him before he began begging with his googly-eyes.
“You know I don’t like driving there alone,” he’d say in a way that made her sleep-deprived-self see him as small and sensitive.
“I know but …” the place he always needed to go was exactly where she didn’t want to go. To be fair, he clearly felt the same way, which is why he made her tag along in the first place.
“It won’t take very long, though. And then we’ll come back and I’ll let you sleep in an extra hour tomorrow, okay?”
It was a good deal. She hardly ever got to sleep in anymore.
She accepted the offer, in the end. She usually did, even when there wasn’t any incentive. Felix was the only other person who understood what’s changed in the last few months. Letting these moments where it was him who needed her slip by was something she knew she couldn’t do. If she wasn’t there for him in his time of need, who would be there for her?
Going there Ever Since was an endeavor she loathed, obviously. All it brought nowadays was anxiety, confusion, nausea, and the occasional incomprehensible fit of sobs. Not to mention major amounts of stress. Because high school was never easy, Faith knew, but when yours consisted of highly expectant vocal coaches constantly shoving comments such as, “You want to make a career out of that talent, Faith? Remember to actually hit that high D next time,” down your throat, it was never actually fun. Unless you were an overachiever, which Faith used to be … but yeah.
It was different for Felix, however. He’d taken an administrative position the second he left University, and now he was stuck there, just like she was. Except he wasn’t only there for one more year, no no. He pretty much had a lifetime to spend in the halls of the Arya-Menuhni School for the Arts.
The nightly errands began the first day he’d started, two weeks before school actually began for Faith, because of the auditions that were to take place. Dealing with a bunch of overconfident musicians in such a setting seemed to have rendered him as forgetful as an amnesiac, and thus the nightly drive-bys.
As soon as they were on the road, Faith asked, “What is it you forgot this time?” to her brother in what she thought was her best attempt at not-a-grumble.
“One set of the keys. I mean, they have to be there, right? Otherwise where else could they be …” Tonight presented her brother as a ball of nerves. Her tired eyes had trouble focusing on him when he was so fidgety.
“Oh, Felix,” she said, reaching over to pinch his cheek. He hardly noticed and Faith shook her head. “I think you might actually get wrinkles before me, big brother.”
He finally looked at her. “That bad?” The crinkle between his brow loosened a little once his lips lifted from their perma-pout.
“I’ve already told you before, anytime you freak out, you can’t help but look like a cartoon character my friend. And right now,” she slapped her hand onto his shoulder, “You’re trying really really hard to hunt some wabbits, my friend.”
He was about to retort something except he couldn’t as his mouth was agape. They’d just pulled up to the school at 11:23 pm and there were a bunch of kids running in and out of the doors, holding onto what looked like red cups.
Faith glanced over at Felix, chancing it, only to watch him scamper out of the vehicle, basically leaving a cloud of dust in his wake as he sprinted inside the building.
Suddenly hyper-conscious of her pink pajama pants covered in cute little sheep, Faith felt like a complete idiot when she followed in his wake. But what else could she do? She wasn’t just going to leave Felix take care of this mess on his own.
The crowd had gathered inside the auditorium, she quickly discovered. Many loitered right at the foot of the stage, eagerly anticipating some performance apparently, while the rest were separated into small clusters, sitting in the seats and laughing animatedly with their red cups on full display.
And Felix was nowhere to be found. Starting to feel absolutely ridiculous in just her pajamas, she tried her best to covertly walk backstage but was startled when she heard the opening keys of a song begin to play. Curious, she glanced back at the stage.
Standing atop it was someone interesting. Her dark hair was straightened, framing her pale, flaw-free face perfectly, and she wore a simple but commanding deep blue dress. Faith figured Felix could wait a few minutes, if only so she could scope out her competition.
Victoria Battleton was known as a legend when it came to singing. In Faith’s world, she was always being whispered about despite the fact that she didn’t even attend her school. The girl was just one of those people you automatically knew through word of mouth. Now, Faith got to see if the hype was true to reality.
The song was slow at first, building up in noise level in an anticipating way. And when Victoria Battleton first opened her mouth to sing, the sound was soft and nothing worth noting. But as the song progressed, only growing in rhythm and volume, Faith was starting to understand why this girl was so noteworthy. It was in the power her voice held. It didn’t have to be pretty and light, but it wasn’t gruff either. Even when she wasn’t hitting any high notes, you could still feel the hair on your arm rise and shivers pass through your body, and when she actually did hit the high notes of the song …
All around her, people cheered, screaming out the lyrics and drinking happily, party in full swing. They were captivated by the sensual song and voice and Faith realized she was too. As soon as she finished her song, the crowd cheered with such incredible volume that Faith could feel her entire being crumble.
All her life, she’d aimed to do what that girl had just done. She’d practiced so ferociously, she’d even been able to sing opera at last year’s Christmas showcase. All she’d known was how perfect her voice was, and yet she’d never been able to cause that kind of a reaction.
Victoria Battleton was a better singer than her.
Overcome with full-throttle exhaustion, Faith grabbed the nearest seat and threw herself on it. She didn’t want such a rival. She didn’t want something more to aim for, not right then. Had this girl appeared the year before, her reaction would have been completely different. But to have more to worry about right then wasn’t what she needed whatsoever.
She looked around for Felix once again, suddenly feeling so incredibly tired. Her thoughts were running rampant towards what this next year would entail, and her heart began to palpitate in the familiar cold and jittery anxiety usually caused.
What she learned about her anxiety in the last couple of months was that it was all-consuming. It took over her system in a way that had to be rather unhealthy. She could only focus on herself and what she was feeling, hardly aware of what was happening around her. When your entire childhood was spent molding a talent into a skill, you learned how necessary controlling your concentration actually was, and in order for her to cope with her anxiety, it meant holding back from concentrating on anything that could possibly worsen it.
Had Faith succumbed to her tempting thoughts about Victoria Battleton, feeding into the anxiety, she probably wouldn’t have noticed the six boys that made their way on stage, all covered in black, mischievous smiles etched onto their faces as they began their own performance. Meaning, Faith could’ve easily missed the moment that changed everything.