Gradually, she stirred from sleep, though not because of the thick fur constantly undulating like a lulling stream against her cheek. Her hands clutched those tufts, her bare feet buried deeply in their velvet warmth. They traveled this way tirelessly all day and now through half the night. Those subtle vibrations, the waves of motion rising and falling, comforted her sad but determined heart, giving it all the more drive to press onward, ultimately singing her to sleep in their silent yet rhythmic way.
She woke instead by the cool breeze rippling upon her soft cheek, a startling contrast to the warmth which the other cheek plunged into deeply, contentedly. The smell stirred her too, that fresh, alive, lively scent. Then the voices began to flow, faint and muddled at first as if submerged, then echoing more loudly, more distinctly. She sat up at last, still holding tight to the fur of the rabbit's strong, bounding shoulders, glancing out over the Sparkle Lake as the sun sped into the West and below the horizon, stars peeking out in its stead.
The Cheebs—the tiny, child-like folk of the Alternate Dimension of Adelar, of which the tiny girl with the wavy golden hair and oval spectacles framing large, round eyes was a part of—named it the Diamond Lake long ago because of all the stars one could see reflected in its black orifice as night came. But her friend, the first time she'd seen it, exclaimed with delight and called it the "Sparkle Lake." That was her own special name for it, so now, because of the friend she made such haste now to see, the Cheeb could not think of the lake by any other name, the lake could not be anything else but Sparkle Lake.
But the lake was aptly named "Sparkle" not just for the reflecting jewels above but especially for the choir which gathered just below the water's surface each night. Their scales glinted even now as she passed their scattered rainbow—the Night-fish. As they rippled just beneath the surface, more and more of them drawing close together, a few even slipped for a half-second above the water so only the sharpest eye could detect them—ah, what a good eye her friend did have! Their song formed into that clear, wonderful strain which she and her friend rode past the Sparkle so many times to hear. It began with the high, trilling voices of the soprano fish, their clear, bright strains echoing the twinkle of the merry stars high above. Then the basses joined like low, booming drums, and at last the altos and tenors drifted in as if from some distant, exotic current.
Lil Gail closed her eyes, smiling, letting the song wash over her heart and clean away some of the sadness and pain flooding it the past couple of days:
"We're the night-fish and we sing at night,
"O-oh, we're the night-fish!
"We're the night-fish and we dance all night,
"O-oh, we're the night-fish!"
The words were always the same, but the form was a surprise each night. This time, the sopranos kept a major melody but modulated each time, singing the notes just a little higher with each round as if grasping towards those stars seeming to so inspire their song. The altos, tenors, and basses all varied their harmonies too, rich, deep, flowing like a powerful river. The sopranos' voices danced not only like stars but like a trickling stream, each splash of high notes a splash of water and bright color all at once.
The music faded as they surged along the perimeter of the lake. She gazed down at her reflection in the still water. But it was not her reflection. Her reflection was her friend's, the friend she made haste to see. So she smiled as her friend might've smiled, for she was going to see her. Then her eyes caught the glint of Crispin's fur and she looked away from the lake because she didn't want to smile anymore and didn't wish to see her friend frowning up at her from the lake. She looked away and down at the fur sprinkled with silver in the light of the moon. Silver, because, like fairies, the hair of Cheebs also turned silver when their deaths drew nigh, as did the hair of their protector, for each Cheeb had a protector. Lil Gail's was Crispin. But Crispin was also her friend's protector, so she had known, as soon as she began to notice the traces of silver, that her friend was dying. For her friend was as much a part of her as if they shared the same heart, so it was as if they were each a part of Crispin's heart. She knew Crispin would not die and was glad—he was her other best friend, and she would need him—but he would forever be half silver until her own time to die came. He was already nearly half silver, which worried and saddened her heart so. She wanted to see her friend one last time, share with her one last song, before those final hairs transformed.
At last they left the lake behind and plunged into silence again, silence and darkness. Not a frightful darkness, but the serene, sleeping darkness of night. Then they were across the field and slipping into the woods, and she knew they were close, very, very close now. She sat erect, alert, her round, blue eyes darting with sharpest inspection over their oval spectacles at every detail of the trees, bushes, and long grass. She'd been to see her friend through portals only once. Her friend always summoned her by music ever since then. But she knew her friend would be too weak now to do that, and Lil Gail herself never learned the song that brought them together so many wonderful times.
So now she looked about as Crispin slowed his undulating bounds into small, careful hops. They reached the wall of trees and she scanned them ever so carefully, looking for the one with the mark of the sword in the cross. Each tree was ancient, marked with many ridges, creases, and deep, jagged lines so she had to lean very close, squint, and feel with tiny fingers.
But at last she came to it, the picture etched deeply though its dimensions were small—perfect for a Cheeb to spot yet difficult for anyone much bigger than Crispin—and she whispered, "This is it, Crisp."
Crispin raised slightly, scratching the shape of the cross upon the tree three times. As he finished the last tracing, his paw slipped through. Then so did the rest of him, the little Cheeb upon his back.
Inside the tree it was dark, save for the bouncing light of round orbs floating along the floor and along the winding staircase rising endlessly up.
"The stairs, Crisp," she said, her voice barely a whisper in that still place.
He hopped gently over to the steps, careful not to touch any of the spheres of time and space, knowing he must only touch the right one—
"The tenth one up."
He scaled the wide, winding stairs carefully, counting and recounting. As they paused before that tenth orb of pure white, she and the rabbit gazed intently until the picture took form within, the familiar bedroom. It was night there for she could see the stars glittering through the window.
"In, please, Crisp."
He stepped through.
They stood upon the familiar bedside table next to the familiar lamp. On a tiny bed just her own size lay the other Cheeb, her dear friend, a perfect reflection of her own self save that she slept, mouth open a bit, drawing in deep, peaceful breaths. And save for the silver hair fanning about her face as the starlight gently shimmered upon it.
Crispin hopped over slowly and Lil Gail slipped off his back, sitting lightly upon her friend's bed, smiling down both sadly yet happily. How peaceful her friend looked, a slight smile at the corners of her lips, fingers swaying slightly. Her friend must be conducting music in her sleep. She did that herself often, and the concerts dreamed of were frequently the best concerts.
Then she took her friend's hand and Crispin nuzzled her friend's cheek gently, breathing his velvety warm breath onto her skin. She sighed, stirred, and her eyes slowly opened as if she slept a long time and meant to sleep longer still. But then she smiled weakly, yet a small sparkle remained in her eyes as she breathed, "You came…I knew you would."
"Of course I would," Lil Gail said, and she could not help reflecting her friend's smile.
"I would have sent…but I was just so tired of a sudden…I don't know how long I've slept…"
"Is she…is Miss Gail gone already?" Lil Gail asked, for she knew that Miss Gail, the Big Person whom she and her friend were alter-egos of, was as tied to them as they were to each other and to Crispin, as if she too shared a great piece of the heart comprising theirs.
"They took her down to the ocean this morning," her friend said. "The silver stags came to take her across the way…I fell sick and weak not long after, and my hair began to grow silver very fast…I don't know if that means she's gone or she's going fast too…but I guess I'll see her soon anyways, so it's okay…"
Her friend smiled again, brightly like the stars, like the night-fish's singing.
"I have a song for you." Lil Gail dug around in her small knapsack for the sheets of music rolled safely and securely. Drawing them out, she frowned. She'd forgotten how they got splattered by the morning's rain. But she just rolled them up, stuffing them back inside. She knew the song by heart anyways.
She slipped off the edge of the bed, walking over to the tiny, grand piano which was just the size for her and her friend. A friend of Miss Gail's made it from clay and gave it to her, and Miss Gail used her magic to make it a real, working piano just for them. She began to play the night fishes' song, the monumental chords coursing from her heart into her fingers and back again and up into her eyes and the tears which flowed freely, releasing the pain and sadness, reflecting the mingled joy she could not help feel radiating from her friend's own tired and ready heart. Their hearts were too much one for her not to feel.
When she ended the song, she walked back over to her friend. Crispin's head lay on the edge of the bed and her friend stroked the nearly silver fur in slow, rhythmic, gentle strokes. Lil Gail sat down, smiling through tears at her friend who smiled up at her, the same tears reflected in her eyes as she said, "Do not be sad, best friend. I am happy to be going to a whole new place, a whole, new, wonderful world. A beautiful place with lots of friends like Miss Gail. I will see Mr. Amiel Himself and get to talk to Him and hug Him and tell Him secrets and know someday you'll be there to talk to Him and hug Him and tell Him secrets too—though I guess they won't be so secret to Him, but I'm sure He won't mind listening. And He'll teach me new songs and so will the Englas, and they'll sing so pretty and have such big, pretty wings, and maybe I'll have wings too or maybe I can fly without them or maybe..."
Her friend sighed deeply, suddenly out of breath. Smiling still, she added, "I have a song for you too. It's under my bed."
Lil Gail reached under, presenting the single sheet of music with the simple piano piece and lyrics scribbled hastily across. The title scrawled at the top in large, swirling letters: "Reflection."
"This is our song," her friend whispered both wearily and tenderly. "It's the song I always used to summon you, or to come see you in your world—whichever I wanted, the song always knew, because I sang it in my heart, and it's our song, so I could always find you wherever I wanted to..."
Her friend's voice faded then began to sing softly, slowly, with frequent pauses like a music box dying and reaching the end of its wind-up. The words came in short, choppy gasps. Even so, Lil Gail read the words as her friend sang them. She sang the notes with her in her heart, hearing not her friend's choppiness but instead the notes' true, elegant, legato, flowing lyricism:
"Hear my music
Behold my heart
Our sacred secret
Our special art
Our song ever flowing
Between two friends' hearts
So though in the future
We may be apart
Our music connects us
Reflecting our hearts."
Lil Gail's tears glittered down, muddying the ink of the first words. So she quickly rolled the music up, slipping it carefully in the sack alongside the other music, not because she was afraid of forgetting it—every note, every word, every crescendo and decrescendo etched perfectly on her mind, wedged deeply within every crevice of her heart—but because she knew it was the last gift her friend would ever give her. She could feel that as real as she'd ever felt anything between them. She smiled faintly upon her friend, taking her hand, the streams of love, warm glow, and life flowing between them. Then those waves broke, the bond released, the stream fractured as if someone thrust their hand into it, interrupting the perfect flow.
Her friend closed her eyes.
Lil Gail laid her head on her friend's lap, crying softly while Crispin nuzzled the silver half of his furry face, now as soft and delicate as silk, next to her body trembling with the quiet tears.
* * *
She rises before dawn each morning, when the brightest stars yet linger, clinging to the sky like stubborn children unwilling to go to sleep. She watches the stars, but they are not stars. They are her friend's eyes, the eyes of the other Lil Gail, her other half, her dearest friend. They are her eyes sparkling joyously as always, even on that last day when she implored her to be merry too, in spite of her death. For to her, it was just a more glorious chapter of life. And so she watches those stars each morning, those stars that are the eyes of her friend. She remembers and feels her joy through her own sadness. She can smile and go throughout her day remembering, mourning yet being happy. The half of her heart that is her friend's, the other Lil Gail's, lives on still, purer and more radiantly alive than ever before. Though she can no longer see it, she can feel that heart yet beating beside hers, giving her strength, courage, and joy. Her friend's heart is in the heavens and in Heaven and in the warm rabbit's fur and in the cool breezes and in the angelic singing of the night-fish and in her music which she plays now in her friend's honor. The music takes her back to that place where they once met. It cannot take her to any point in time where her friend once was, for she has already been to the place in time in which she shared her friend's death. She can only go forward in the future, not back, not before that time. But still she goes to see her friend's and Miss Gail's friend, Miss Chrysillee. They share each other's music, comfort each other, and shine rays of joy and hope into each other's weeping hearts. But most of all, more than in the wind or the songs or in her own music, her friend lives on in her heart which they share still, which she can feel leaping, bounding, dancing next to hers every time she plays her music. That half of her heart whispers to the hurt, broken, sorrowful part and tells her she is still there, she will always be there. For their hearts are each other's and one and the same and both are Amiel's all at once, so she will always be there. Then her friend's heart hugs her own, and she can feel her friend's warmth and knows her words are true and everything is okay. Because really, her friend never left her. Her heart is in her heart, her heart is her heart, and she will see her again.