C-074: Ballad

To hit a tremolo, to get it absolutely perfect, pushing calloused fingers to thin, wound strings. To make the instrument vibrate as if it was alive, to produce that deep, wavering tone that spoke a language that only a few humans would show any aptitude to listen, let alone understand.

He moved the bow, moving it slightly to tease the sound out of the cello. He bowed slowly, encouraging all the feeling and tone that he could manage. It didn't sound lovely to his ears. It didn't sound like anything. He was caught up in the moment, feeling the music move and breath around him.

"Okay, stop, everybody stop!"

Carter groaned and leaned against the neck of his cello. Others around him gave soft sighs, the sign of who practiced and who didn't. Those who did practice knew the song, it's ups and downs, sforzandos, diminuendos, its plucks. They wanted to play to feel the music. Everyone else didn't know a thing of what they were doing.

"Okay, let's start over!"

Carter flipped back to the beginning of the song and gave a beleaguered look to his stand mate. He laughed and rolled his eyes, but shrugged his condolences. Carter placed the bow against the strings, and waited for their teacher to count off the beginning for the third time that day. He knew the beginning, he knew how the song went, he was tired of waiting for everyone to keep up. His attitude was what got him into third chair, and he was glad that he was only in third chair, since that meant that the two people in first and second were incredible players. He didn't understand how they could tolerate all the starting and stopping involved with high school orchestras. They both surpassed the high standards required of the class; he didn't see why they didn't just dump the entire thing and go off to join YoYo Ma in a trio.

Despite everything that the class wasn't, Carter would be sad to leave. The orchestra teacher—the poor guy—worked so hard to keep them up to par. They almost always won the state orchestra competitions, but they would win them all if all the players actually played attention. It was Carter's last year here, the last year he would be in high school before he went off to college. Yes, it he would continue playing in his college's orchestra. It wouldn't be the same, especially since he would then be a freshman once more, shunted back to the lowest, deepest trenches of the cello section. He revealed in his third chair for as long as he could.

They started playing. They were practicing for their last performance of the year. Carter's last performance of high school. He tried to respect it for what it was worth, but it was difficult. Everyone else was being so difficult.

They were stopped again. The conductor sprouted off a few choice reprimands and instructed them to get back into position. Carter's stand mate maliciously detuned his cello. Chairs one and two were far too patient for their own good.

They started the song again, and they immediately stopped and his mate's cello was retuned, much to everybody's chagrin. Then they delved back into the song.

Carter let himself drift into the music. His cello vibrated, which made his fingers and hands vibrate. He let himself fall deep into the rich mahogany sound, feeling it wrap around him. He let himself vanish from the music room, let himself fly away, high away, with just his hands vibrating. He let his mind drift.

And it landed on Ethan.

He felt himself bite his lip, but he didn't really recognize it, just that it happened. He felt as though Ethan was sitting next to him, his hand on his shoulder, his lips next to his ear. It was like a whirlwind, what it's been like those past two years. He felt caught up in it all. It made him feel better that Ethan felt the same way, when he would stare at him for long moments, ending his observation with a simple "Wow" and a shake of his head. It seemed so odd, so peculiar that they would slide together so well. They had known each other for years before they were finally together. Ethan was his little mystery friend, the one whom he kept largely secret from his parents, everything about him kept quiet except for the simple fact that he existed. They were close, even though it didn't seem like it would be, Carter in middle school, Ethan dropped out of college. There were plenty of reasons why they shouldn't even be interacting. Carter never figured out why Ethan would spend his time with a middle school boy who still complained that girls were icky long after girls decided that boys weren't as icky as they thought. He was thankful for that, years later. If it wasn't for Ethan's odd perseverance to hang around a whiny teenager, they would have never been together.

With a deep strum of his bow, Carter felt forever thankful for that. Everything had gone perfectly—almost too perfectly, it seemed. It wasn't as though they never had arguments, about how Carter believed that Ethan should be around whenever he wanted him, without thinking that Ethan might have had a life of his own. The way Ethan always insisted on paying for every meal they spent together, for every movie they say together, and how it made Carter feel belittled about it all, as if he wasn't independent enough to pay for his own things.

There was also that ever constant fear that his parents would find out. It never crossed their minds that he might be involved with a man that was almost a decade older than him. It probably never crossed their minds that he was involved with another guy, period. It always terrified him at the thought that they might find out. He could tell that it nerved Ethan, even though he tried not to show it. Carter didn't know if he had to do the same thing, if he had to hide from his parents, or confront his parents about who he was. Carter didn't know, and it never seemed to come up between them. He wasn't quite sure if he was glad about that or not.

He let his cello vibrate out, and he pressed his check again the head, feeling the sound reverberate inside his mouth. The cello section was quiet for a moment as the violins and violas chugged on for a moment, accompanied by the few bassists that they had. The song felt good, moving, feeling. It wasn't his favorite song that they had ever played, but it was nice. Within a couple of measures, the beat picked up again and cried out for the involvement of the cellos, and the cellos answered.

Once his bow hit the strings, Carter felt the music wash up over him and pull him back down into the depths of his mind. He wanted Ethan to know, to know everything that he meant to him. He didn't know if he could tell, if it was obvious or not. If it was obvious that every time Carter saw him, everything in his world seemed to brighten. How, even if they were fighting, one phone call made everything seem right, even if it wasn't. How Carter would love to hear his voice, even if he was flirting with the waitress, or talking up a bartender at one of the underage bars that they had gone to. How Ethan always seemed to be there whenever he wasn't, a sort of ghostly presence always there to reassure him, regardless of what he was doing. Carter didn't know how to convey that, all of that, as if he could ball it all up into one of the flowers his parents liked to grow in window boxes and hand it over to him. As if it could be that simple. He wished it could. Carter could feel it flowing out of his hands out onto the bows and strings. It was all translated into a different language, and it translated easily. But not everyone could understand that language. He knew that. How the feeling would never leave him, just as the vibrations from the cello would never leave the tips of his fingers.

Carter slowly closed his eyes. He knew this music. He had practiced it for hours over his parent's shop, letting the music drift down into the store, loud enough for patrons to begin asking where they could buy a CD, as if his parents knew. The notes imprinted strongly in his mind, throughout all those minutes of practicing, dots dancing through his head with Ethan dancing among them with the sort of way only Ethan moved. He had felt the song blend into him, sink deep inside the cello, smoothly wrapping around the wood until it all became one.


Carter let out a startled grunt and dropped his bow. It clattered loudly against the feet of his stand. His stand mate snickered loudly.

"Carter, would you please pay attention?"

"I... um..." An adeptness in music didn't always translate to an adeptness in words, he thought.

The director sighed. "You need to keep up with the class. Okay." Carter nodded. The director addressed the first and second chair cellos. "I'd like you and Carter to switch music." Carter gaped at him as the first chair nodded and handed over the sheet music. Carter was stunned enough that his mate replaced their second cello music with the first cello for him. He leaned over and whispered in his ear, "That was really crazy playing you did. Felt the emotion. Who were you playing it for?"

Carter blinked at him and shrugged before picking up his bow. The feeling he had drifted away slightly, but a warm feeling that swirled around his body still remained.

"Nobody." Carter checked his bow to make sure it wasn't damaged when he dropped it, and placed the hairs back against the strings, ready to play on.