XALLIA AND THE INFINITE TIMELINE
Everyone starts their life out as a locked box. A closed book that no one else can access. They keep their door shut and their mouths closed. Sure, they may speak up when they need something, like how a child needs food or a parent needs to support their family. Those aren't the things I'm talking about though. I'm talking about those things a person wants but thinks they should never have. Or things they have that they don't think they deserve. It's such a cliche metaphor, but it's not the part that's important.
"Anya, hello? Are you there?" my friend Marcus called to me from the desk behind me. What did he want now?
"What is it, Marcus?" I asked him as I ignored the teacher's lecture. Mr. Morgan never seemed to care when I acted out of line in class. It was like I was special or something. Or maybe he just didn't have the patience to deal with a single distracted student. I never paid attention to the other's in the class, so I wouldn't know.
"I heard you turned down another guy for homecoming," he said it as if it were a big deal. To him, it might have been. Marcus was trying to set me up with a bunch of guys lately, and I couldn't figure out why. It was like I explained earlier. Another box locked tight.
"Why does it matter so much to you?" I asked him. If he wanted me to have a date so badly then why didn't he start by asking me himself?
"I thought you might like it is all," he said as he sunk his head back into his desk. That was Marcus, alright. He always wanted to be helpful, but he always ended up making things worse for everyone around him. He was a nice guy and all, and if he asked me to go as friends, I might have said yes. The thing was though, all the guys he sent my way were looking for something more. Either a relationship or a quick hookup in the bathroom. Problem was, no matter how many guys he sent my way I wasn't interested. I played on the other side of the fence to say, and no one knew a thing about it.
The bell rang, and the class got up to rush the door. Before I could even get close to the exit, Mr. Morgan called me over to his desk.
"Anya, can I talk to you for a moment?" He asked me from across the room. I knew it wasn't anything bad, and since it was the end of the day, I may as well humor him at the least. Mr. Morgan and I had an interesting relationship. It wasn't inappropriate by any means. Being with a man was bad enough for me, but one his age was complete and utter lunacy. Instead, we treated each other more like friends, as if we knew each other in another life.
"Yes, what is it, sir?" I answered in the form of a question. What was this now, Jeopardy?
"I need you to do me a favor," he requested as he rummaged through his pockets and pulled out a rather old looking key. It was the kind I'd seen in old medieval films. It was black as coal, cast iron, and rough around the edges.
"I'll try, but I make no promises," I clarified as I watched him spin the key around his finger. "What is it you need me to do?"
"It's simple," he said as he tossed the key my way. "Find out where this key goes." That's it? He wanted me to find him a keyhole? It was absurd. Was he going to at least give me a general idea of where to look or even an incentive for doing it?
"The end result is its own reward," he said cryptically. What was he talking about? "But if you do manage to find it, I'll bump you to an A in the class." An A in the class for something like that? Sounds like a sweet deal to me. I could at a minimum keep a look out for something the key may fit in.
"Yeah, I can do that," I agreed as I stuck the key into my pocket and walked out his door without another word to him.
Over the next few days, I kept an eye out for anything the key may belong to. Every day Mr. Morgan would ask me if I figured it out. I thought about lying to him, but the way he talked about it made it seem like he already knew the answer. A week went by, and still no luck. As usual, I didn't have plans for my Friday night. Marcus normally came over, but today, he was busy. As I laid in my bed, I pulled out the key and held it up in the air. Why was I so obsessed with this? Sure, it would mean a good grade in a class I was struggling in, but that wasn't it. There was something else to all this, but I couldn't put my finger on it.
I spun the key through my finger and thought about what it represented. Symbolically, a key represents freedom or security. I guess it depended on which way the key itself was turned. Is that what he wanted? For me to unlock my box and come out? Did he know about my sexual preference? Or was it the exact opposite? Was he telling me to remain locked up? To stay the way I appeared to everyone else. How did he even know? Or was I overthinking everything?
Everyone has their lockbox, their closed hearts, and steel safes. Their place of security they can retreat to within the confines of their own minds. At the same time, though, every lock has a key. Something that can open them up and reveal their contents. Likewise, every person has that thing that can pry them open. That thing that can break them.
Or in my case, that person.
A month went by, and I was still no closer to finding the answer with the key than I had been when Mr. Morgan first gave it to me. I tied a string around it and wore it as a necklace as a constant reminder to remain vigilant, but it was no use. I was all out of hope. At this point, the key was little more than an accessory to my everyday attire.
"Anya, may I speak with you?" Mr. Morgan called from his desk as the bell rang in the same similar fashion he always had. What did he want now? Did he plan on taking the key back? He might as well since I wasn't doing anything with it.
"Yes, sir?" I answered back to him as I stood in front of his desk.
"Have you forgotten about our little deal?" He questioned.
"No, I haven't. I simply haven't had any luck in finding it."
"Well, that's because you're wandering around aimlessly."
"I'm not wandering around." I paused. Had he been watching me this whole time? "How do you even know that?"
"I know more than you can ever imagine, Ms. Yatsenko," he muttered softly. He never addresses me by my last name. Something was seriously up with him. I wondered if it would be smart to pursue it further, but I held my tongue.
"I see," I muttered back to him as I took a step away from his desk.
"For example. Are you aware that a key has different meanings?"
"Yes, I'm aware."
"Care to give me some examples?" He requested like the great English teacher he is.
"A key is a small object to open locks. It can also be used to describe something important. Or even the parts on certain musical instruments," I said, not wanting this to go on for any longer than it had to. Mr. Morgan talked in riddles sometimes, and this was one of those times. He nodded and then let me go. It was as if I had answered his riddle correctly, but I had no idea what I said that made him think that. Something important and music? What about that satisfied him?
Something important and music.
Something important in music?
The music room?
Something important is in the music room?
I had already checked the music room though. There were only two doors. The one to get in and out of the room and another for storage. What if there was something I missed? Something I overlooked. Was it possible? I did only peak in there. I wasn't exactly allowed back there, so I didn't get much time to look around. I decided I would take another look. It was out of the way, but no one would be there at this time of day so I could get a better look around.
It took me longer than expected to get down to the music room. Marcus needed some help with something for one of his classes, and I ended up helping him out with it. It worked out for me in the end since there was a practice going on while I helped. I arrived shortly after the instructor had left for the night. At first, I thought I would be out of luck. Most teachers locked up their rooms once they planned on leaving the building for the day. I walked up to the door and turned the knob and, to my surprise, it rotated with ease.
The door opened with a creaking sound, but no one was on the inside to greet me. I sighed and let my head droop as I paced over to the storage room. Another easy turn and I was face to face with an obstacle course of various instruments. The lights were dim, but I was able to make out most of the things around me. There were dozens of wind and string instruments strung up in cases on the walls. There were also some drums set in the corner stacked up neatly on top of each other. As far as I could tell, though, there wasn't a door. At least, not one I could see in plain sight.
I hung my head once more in defeat. As I walked to the exit, a sound caught my ear. A piano was being played somewhere. It was a soft melody with primarily lower notes. To me, it sounded sad. As if the person behind the keys were expressing an inner sorrow to the rest of the world.
Was this what Mr. Morgan wanted me to find?
I poked my head out of the storage room to look into the main performance room. There was only one piano, and no one was playing it. I listened carefully and soon discovered that the sound was coming from behind me. Back into the storage room. I thought about it for a moment and couldn't recall if there was a piano on the other side of the wall for another class. That meant there could only be one thing. There was indeed a door I missed.
I rushed back in and pressed my ear up against the back wall. There it was. The sound I heard. The soothing music was right beyond this wall. My eyes darted around the room until they settled on a cello case that was on its side. It was still pinned up against the wall by the shelf and some other cases. It didn't occur to me until then that it was possible the door was behind something.
I moved the case out of the way, and there it was. A small door with an old style keyhole in it. I got on my knees as I lifted the key from around my neck. With a shaking hand, I pushed it in and turned. There was a loud click, and I was in.
I expected to find Mr. Morgan on the other side with a smug look on his face. Or maybe even a camera crew that was a part of some lame Youtube prank channel. It wasn't any of that though. Just a piano and the one playing it.
A piano and a girl.
I crawled through the small door and stood up after I coughed a bit from the dust I kicked up. My head swirled around through the strange room we were in. It was like we were no longer even in the school. The walls were made of gray stone. The roof was a series of stained glass windows portraying the rise and fall of the sun. In the center of the room was a grand piano with a young girl about my age softly tapping at the keys to continue her song.
The girl behind the keys was stunning, to say the least. She had long blonde hair, at least I thought it was long. She had it braided and then rolled up in a bun, but from the sheer volume of the bun, I could tell there was a lot of it. It might have been the strange lighting in the room, but her skin almost seemed ghostlike. That coupled with the colorful lights made it radiate in a strange, but beautiful way. Like her music, her face and eyes seemed delicate. As if at any moment she was about to break. Even her clothes reflected a tender demeanor. It was a simple white dress with a lace pattern sewn into it, but in a way, it completed everything about her. I stood there and waited for her to finish. At first, I wasn't sure if she noticed me, but when she came to the end of her song and stopped, I knew I was wrong.
"Um, hello," I sheepishly said to her. "What is this place?"
"It's a room between spaces," she responded in a light and airy voice. What did that mean?
"How did you find this place?" I asked, ignoring her vague response.
"Same way you did. I went looking for it."
"How did you know that?"
"Well, you have a key. Mr. Morgan had two keys and gave me one. I'm assuming he gave you the other."
"Yeah, you're right on that point."
There was a pause after I said that. A strange weight hung in the air. As if this meeting was on purpose. As if this whole situation was crafted from some sort of greater purpose. A plan forged by a master blacksmith.
"I'm Xallia, by the way," she introduced herself as she spun around on the piano bench. "Xallia Yevatell."
"Anya. Anya Yatsenko." I gave back. Why did it feel like we already knew each other, though? As if we had already met more than a dozen times over? I couldn't shake the feeling that this girl would spell trouble for me, but I couldn't leave her either. I was drawn in somehow. Captivated in a way I could never describe.
"Did you come here to play?" She asked.
"I don't even know how."
"Oh. Well, I can teach you if you want," she offered as she scooted over to make room on the bench for me. I accepted graciously and sat down next to her. I could have been a bit too close, but piano benches are notorious for being small, and I didn't want to fall off the edge.
I placed my hands on the keys of the piano without much of a thought on where specifically they were supposed to go. Xallia smiled and placed her hands on top of mine and gently lifted them up and set them down somewhere else.
"Sorry." I apologized.
"It's okay," she said with a smile. "There isn't an exact you're supposed to start your fingers at. Everyone is different. I just think it will be easier to teach you if we start at the beginning of a scale instead of in the middle." I couldn't help but smile back and agree with her.
Xallia offered to teach me after school if I wanted. I was more than happy to agree. I didn't tell Mr. Morgan that I had found the keyhole. I was worried he may take it away after I let him know I found it. Every day after school, I met Xallia in the strange room that shouldn't exist. Each day I learned a little more about her and how to play.
A few weeks later, and I was able to play a few simple songs on my own.
A few months later, and I started to have a crush on her.
In less than a year, I was in love with her.
In that time, we made the room between spaces into our own private hangout. We snagged a few desks so we could study together and do homework when we weren't playing. We found a small couch that the drama department planned on throwing out. It took some time with only the two of us, but we managed to get it through the door with some time and extra effort. We even had a mini fridge for the one outlet in the corner. It was as if in a way, we were living together. Our own home away from home.
"So, prom is right around the corner," Xallia stated as she scribbled onto a piece a paper trying to solve a complex problem for her math homework. I looked up from the music sheet I was studying. I wasn't at the point where I could read complex music and play it at the same time without first reviewing it.
"Yeah, so?" I said, trying to not make it seem like a big deal to me.
"So has anyone asked you yet?"
"No, of course not," I lied. It was exactly like homecoming. About half a dozen boys asked me in one week. Lucky for me, those numbers dwindled after a few days.
"Are you holding out for someone?" She teased. Holding out wasn't the right word. It was more as if my only desire wasn't available to me.
"No," I lied again.
"I see," she said as she circled what must have been her answer and stood up to cross the room to me. Xallia sat down at the bench and played a song I had never heard before. Was she making it up as she went?
"You're beautiful," I compliment her. "I mean. It's beautiful. The song that is." I almost let it slip. Or was that it now. Did she know? Were things going to become awkward between us?
"Thanks," she laughed. Either she didn't notice, or she had accepted it without a second thought.
"Yeah. Not a problem."
"So, if someone did ask you what would you tell them?"
"I don't know exactly. I guess it depended on who it was." I already knew the answer, but I had to feign that knowledge. It would obviously be a no. If Marcus asked to go as friends, I might have said yes, but he was doing his own thing with a group of girls. The kid was weird, but he had an unexplained charm with most girls. It was as if he knew the way they thought.
"What if it were me?" She asked as her fingers rested on top of the keys.
"What?" I responded with a little bit too much excitement. Great, another chance to give me away. Could I have made it any more obvious?
"What if it were me?" She repeated. "What if I asked you?"
"Well, um. Do you mean just as friends or what?" I stuttered out. What was I saying? I didn't want to go as friends. Why did I set myself up like that?
"I don't know. You tell me," she said as she brought herself little more than an inch away from my face. From there, I could see the details in her eyes. They were light green on the outside. Then they gradually grew darker as the green came to her pupil. It wasn't her eyes I was focused on though, it was her lips. As her lips pressed into mine, I couldn't help but freeze on the spot. It wasn't very long, but it was long enough to get the message across.
"I think we can go as a little more than friends," I answered her.
"Only a little?"
"Only a little."
"Oh, before I forget. I want you to have something," Xallia proclaimed as she rushed back to her book bag and pulled out a folded up piece of paper. "Here you go," she said as she handed me the sheet of paper.
"What is it?" I asked as I unfolded it. Inside was what looked like a note. Only it was written in code. There were no English letters. Instead, it was a series of symbols. I couldn't make heads or tails of it, but I knew it was important, so I folded it back up and put it into my pocket.
"Thank you, Xallia," I said to her. "I'm guessing I'm supposed to decipher it some time."
"That's right," she said with glee as the same usual smile spread across her face.
The next week was absolute chaos. I had zero intention of going to prom originally and thus made no preparations to do so. Now I needed a last minute dress that didn't need any alterations, tickets to get in and figure out a ride. Not to mention all the usual gender roles that were now in confusion purgatory. Who pays for dinner? Who picks up who? Is one of us supposed to wear a tux? I really hope not. I talked about this with Xallia, and she managed to settle the simpler things. I still was uneasy about finally stepping out of my metaphorical closet. The only person that knew aside from Xallia was my father. I was thankful he was supportive of the whole thing. I had a sneaking suspicion though that he didn't grasp what was going on and was instead going with the flow.
My father needed the car the night of the dance so we decided I would be the one picked up. He said he wanted to be there. I had shown no interest in going until the last minute, though, so it couldn't be helped. He must have picked up an extra shift at work or something. He was always working so hard. That's what happens when someone is in charge of an emergency room.
It was about time for her to show up at my doorstep when my phone buzzed in my purse. I flipped open the screen and saw I had received a message from Xallia.
"The rain is going down hard here. I might be a little late picking you up." It said.
As if on cue, a roll of thunder shook the foundation of the house. I hope she pulled over before she sent the message. She was often reckless, but she wasn't stupid. Either way, I had time now to steady my nerves, also to fix the last minute things I didn't think I was going to have time to even address.
"Okay. Drive safe. I love you." I messaged back. I waited for a reply. Maybe this would be the time she would say I love you back. She acted like she felt that way, but she had never put it into words. I didn't know what her deal was. It was as if she were waiting for something. Like the right moment to come up. I doubt a text message was going to be the moment she was waiting for. Still, though, prom was a good chance for her.
I never got an "I love you text" that night.
I never got any text.