“Thank you, sir.” Val shot the barista a warm smile as she took our lattes from the counter. She turned and handed one to me.
“You ladies have a nice night. And stay warm.” The barista pressed his lips together as his fingers wrapped around the edge of the sliding window.
I nodded as I took the paper mug between my hands. He slid the window shut and rubbed his hands over his arms before turning to take an order at the counter.
“You sure you don’t want one?” I raised an eyebrow at Elyse.
She shook her head. “Not really in the mood for coffee.” Her iridescent hair illuminated in the light cascading from the coffee shop’s window as she brushed her bangs from her eyes. Her silver-white suede jacket was form-fitting and complemented her matching sport pants and leather boots. She was only lacking her sai daggers and she would be ready to fight.
I looked down at my fingers, wrapped securely around the cylinder. The gloves were too thick and served as a barrier from the coffee’s heat. No matter, I had my own way of warming up and the frosty air was exhilarating as it whipped my hair up and around my face. I wedged the latte between my arm and chest as I brushed stray locks from my eyes. Val was doing the same, her loose, rose-gold curls falling over her beige, faux-fur-trimmed jacket like silk.
The snow fell as delicate flurries all around us. I couldn’t fight the smile that spread across my face as I held my open palm to collect them. Val took a sip of her peppermint-mocha latte and nodded for us to continue.
I nodded without taking my eyes off the scene and moved at a turtle’s pace as I sipped my butterscotch with extra vanilla. Its sweet warmth was invigorating as it moved through me.
January was proving to be a pleasant month in my new hometown. Snow had begun to sprinkle the street lamps and benches and dust the streets. Passing cars had their windshield wipers going at low speed as they inched along, their focus on finding an empty parking spot. At the corner of a vintage toy shop, an older man played Irish folk songs with his fiddle.
When we reached Val’s car, he was only a few paces ahead. “Just a sec,” Elyse said and crept closer. I glanced from Val to Elyse and followed her.
The moment the man locked eyes with Elyse, silence fell over the sidewalk. “How in the—I know you.” His shaky, bony, and wrinkled finger pointed at her chest. “I know you.”
“Has it really been that long since . . .” Elyse’s mumbled statement fell to nothing as she stared at him, the gears in her mind turning at full speed.
Val’s coat brushed against mine as she came up beside me.
He started to speak and stopped. He held out his fiddle and bow with admiration in his eyes. “Please, play with me one last time.”
“You only have one instrument.” I scrunched my eyebrows and he glanced at me as if I’d said something stupid.
“I always have an extra, just in case . . .” He glanced at Elyse before his eyes dropped in bewilderment. “It’s like you stepped right out of 1955 . . . You played like an angel. Maybe you are an . . .” With trembling fingers, he continued to hold the fiddle and bow for her to take. “I don’t have long on this earth, beautiful.”
“Cancer.” Elyse’s voice was thick, her expression rigid.
He nodded. “Please, play with me. One last time. Make an old man the happiest he’s been in years.”
“Elyse?” Val turned until she could look into Elyse’s eyes.
I did the same. They were filled with tears she blinked back the moment she realized we’d noticed. The smile that spread across her face was forced and tight and looked more like a small child fighting sobs. She took the fiddle and bow in her hands, cradling it to her chest for a moment as if it were an infant, and nodded.
“I would be honored.”
The old man burst into disbelieving laughter as he rubbed his hands together, turned, and bent down to pull another fiddle from the cardboard box that sat next to him. With a nod to each other, they readied their instruments and began playing.
He winked at me and I smiled back. I clutched my mug and watched the performance, their melody mesmeric and haunting at the same time. They were good—really good—and the emotions they emitted filled the air like living entities. Val and I listened in hushed amazement, the music reverberating through my core at every twist and turn. Pedestrians gathered around in awe as the melody traveled down the streets and into the shops.
The light in Elyse’s eyes brightened her face and illuminated her cheeks. A small smile revealed itself on her lips, one I’d hardly recognized as hers. No one dared to move as the final note resonated through us all, leaving us dumbfounded and hungry for more. Finally, one clap broke the silence. Then, another followed, and another, until the crowd erupted in cheers and applause.
“Wow,” I breathed, frozen in my place beside Val.
Elyse turned to the old man and looked into his eyes with a longing I didn’t quite understand. Then, she took off her glove and placed a hand on his cheek. He froze as golden leukos moved through her arm and entered his body. Finally, she spoke in her hushed, Aldurian accent none of the onlookers could understand.
“It may just be the last time we play together, and it was one worth remembering forever, but these aren’t your final moments on this planet.” His eyes were full of understanding as she spoke. “You have a few more adventures left in you, old man.” With a smile, she set the fiddle and bow in its case at his feet, dropped a few hundred dollar bills on top, turned, and walked away. She got in the passenger seat of Val’s car.
Val glanced back at the old man with a curt smile and a bow of her head before walking around the front of the car and climbing into the driver’s seat. I followed after as the crowd thickened around me.
“You can’t tell me you wouldn’t have done the very same thing, Val.” Elyse’s voice was tight again, but with annoyance, not pain. “We all know you’re not visiting those children’s hospitals just to watch the innocent suffer.” She adjusted her seat belt as I pulled the door closed behind me.
“I only heal one per visit, when no one is around to see it. What you did was too obvious, Elyse.” Val’s voice was strained as well. “You should have waited until it was safe and wiped his memory after you were finished.”
There was a long moment of silence. I glanced back as the car pulled up to a stop light not far from the old man and his spot on the sidewalk. He watched us leave as he played another melody, one I could just barely hear from this distance.
“You’re right. I don’t know what I was thinking.” She sighed. “I’ll wipe his memory later.”
“Don’t worry about it. I spent a moment or two changing everyone’s memory of the event before I left.”
“You changed his too?” Elyse’s head whipped around to look at her friend.
“No.” It was all Val said for a moment. She kept her eyes on the road as she pressed the accelerator and turned to get on the main road.
I glanced from one to the other as I listened. Why wouldn’t she alter his memory, too, if that’s what she was so worried about?
“I knew you didn’t want me to.”
Another long pause.
“Thanks.” It was all Elyse said before turning to stare out the window.
Where had she learned to play like that? Why didn’t she play more often? Who was that old man? I glanced back again as a smile crept over my face. I could ask Janz, or I could just find out for myself later tonight.
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