It was the last school recital night of the year; students, teachers and parents filed into the dark auditorium, eager to watch the show. Unbeknownst to them, it would probably be the worst one yet. As the lights dimmed around them, the curtains pulled back to reveal a magician and his assistant, the pair caught in a loud argument over a lost bearded dragon. It took them minutes to realise everyone had been waiting for them to perform. Quite literally, they were two deers caught in the headlights.
The rest of the recital night proceeded just as poorly. Clumsy dancers dominated the stage after a singer whose voice had tragically cracked in the middle of his chorus. In the middle of a stand-up set by a too-stoic comedian, Curt sneaked a glance at Maya, his best friend. She was clearly very bored. When she turned to look at him, his heart warmed. “What?” she whispered.
Someone started to cry on stage — after the comedian, it was an orchestra performance. The whole club settled themselves in and waited for the first note. Unfortunately, the first note — a trumpet — came out flat, and the sheer embarrassment had sent the trumpet player sobbing. She ran offstage without looking at anyone, and left the rest of the orchestra to stare after her.
“Do you want to get out of here?” Curt whispered back.
“Absolutely I do.”
After that, the two teenagers left their seats and ditched the recital show for a quiet night. Outside, the air was much cooler; it was refreshing compared to the stuffy atmosphere of the auditorium. Both of them collapsed onto their backs in the middle of the football field, basking in the silent atmosphere. Maya turned her head to look at Curt, who did the same. A snicker grunted through his nostrils, triggering Maya’s belly laugh. She laughed and laughed, while Curt snorted at how ridiculous her laughter was. Once her laughter subsided, they turned to the skies.
“Why didn’t you participate in the audition?” Curt began, after a momentary pause. He folded his arms across his chest, rolling his neck. “You’d be better than anyone that performed tonight.”
Maya shrugged, “I’m sick of playing my violin this week. Mom makes me practise it every day for my violin exam so I’m basically stuck with that thing.”
“But still.” Curt looked over solemnly. “I wouldn’t mind if you played Pachelbel’s Canon though. For the recital.”
“It’s way too depressing.”
“I don’t think so — it’s your best song.”
“Really?” Maya’s voice had softened.
“Yeah.” Curt turned back to the skies, admiring the view. Tonight was particularly lovely, even the weather. It’d be a great time to stargaze if it weren’t for the recital. Before them, it was a dark, midnight canvas of glittering stars. There were so many stars to savour, and it caught their breaths. Maya tried looking for the moon somewhere. She shifted her head, and on a mischievous whim, she sat up, leaned over, and snatched her best friend’s glasses out of his face.
“Hey!” he snapped, wincing at her carelessness.
“What’s your favourite star?” Maya asked, squinting one eye through the lens on his glasses as if it were a telescope. She tried the other lens this time.
Curt didn’t blink. “The Big Dipper.”
Maya snorted. She knew that wasn’t it; his favourite star was something else, not that she’d remember what it was called. “Really?” she mused, “Isn’t that the one that looks like a spoon?”
“Yeah. What about it?”
“It just looks dumb.”
“Stars aren’t dumb.” Curt retorted. He sat up, leaning towards her so that he’d get his glasses back. She leaned back, taunting him. “You are. Now give me back my glasses. I can’t see anything.”
“That’s what you always say,” Maya grinned.
“What do you mean?”
“I meant— ”
Curt’s arm suddenly gave way and he fell onto her. Their foreheads collided in the process, and the pain felt like an electric shock. It was sure as hell immediate, and he lifted his head instinctively. “Ow.” he muttered, wincing slightly.
Under him, Maya found herself staring at him as unusual feelings began to stir in Curt’s chest. She started to notice something in his eyes — other than the usual brown she was used to, there were flecks of green and gold in them; seemingly a planet of its own. She was mesmerised by how his eyes glowed in the dark, and how they suddenly focused on hers. Yes, Curt was staring back at her, just as speechless. They remained like that for a good moment until she broke the silence. “No really,” she whispered, her eyes remaining on Curt’s. They hadn’t bothered to move away from each other. “What’s your favourite star?”
“Maya…” Curt replied quietly, his eyes maintaining their gaze.
“Excuse me?” She immediately — and roughly — pushed him off. Curt fell on his back with a thump. The grass crumpled under his weight, rustling. “Did you…say Maya?”
“No-no-I meant-” Curt stammered, getting up with unease. His cheeks started to flush. “I meant…Ma-Lyra. Lyra!” His voice started to rise. “Lyra! Yes, yes! Lyra.” When he saw that Maya had loosened her grip on his glasses, he took it and put them back on. “Yeah, yeah. There’s definitely a star called Lyra. Out there.”
“Okay…” Maya frowned. That wasn’t his favourite star either, but deep down, he knew it too. Curt’s cheeks grew even more flushed, and it was a definite sign of him lying. Before she could even question him about it, light started to streak out from the auditorium. The doors flew open, ajar as people came outside. Everyone was talking with each other, some kids being congratulated here and there. It was confusing, even for the two of them. After all, the show wasn’t great.
Curt finally mustered the ability to speak. He needed to say something he’d been meaning to say for ages. Just as he opened his mouth, someone called for Maya: her father. She immediately got up as his heart sank. “I-I gotta go,” she panted, looking down at him for a second before she ran off across the field. Curt remained still, in a total daze as he tried to process what had happened.
He was this close to admitting his feelings for her.
Curt never got the chance to tell her how he truly felt.
On the day of Maya’s violin exam, his whole family got into a car accident. They all planned to surprise Maya there and be there for her. It was the perfect time to tell her that he loved her. Maybe, just maybe, she’d say the same.
After getting the call, Maya’s mother chose to say nothing until her daughter was done with her set; she didn’t have the heart to interrupt, and Maya was so, so happy when everyone gave her a grand round of applause because she had played so beautifully. When Maya went backstage to meet her mother, she finally got the news. Maya instantly broke down, sobbing behind the curtains. Everyone heard her.
Curt was gone. He didn’t make it to see her play.
It was a month since Curt — her best friend — passed away.
For weeks on end, Maya was unable to play the violin. She was too grief-stricken to play, and it took all of her strength to not shatter the instrument. Rip out the strings and snap the neck so she wouldn’t play it again. Looking at it broke her heart, especially the fact that Curt was the one who requested Maya’s parents to get the violin for her twelfth birthday. Curt. Curt, Curt, Curt. Maya knew how much he loved it when she played the violin, especially for him. The mere thought of his name had hurt so much that she couldn’t breathe.
On the day of his eighteenth birthday — or what would have been his eighteenth birthday, she couldn’t bear the slightest memory or thought of him. The pain had deepened in her belly, close to being a wound. She had managed to digest her food when a mysterious lady rang the doorbell. She revealed herself to be Curt’s aunt, with a simple request; for Maya to come to his funeral, and play the violin for him. In her hands, she gripped a flimsy container of cake.
The resemblance was truly uncanny; there were fragments of him in her face. The hair was the same, and so was her smile. Their smile. Their gait and posture and the colour of her eyes. Something snapped in Maya then.
“Get. Out.” Maya growled and slammed the door shut on the face of her best friend’s aunt. She closed her eyes, crying silently as she leaned against her door, breathing heavily. Seething. Her brother was there, lingering by the entrance of the foyer. She noticed him, and he braced himself for a threat of some sort. He paused, about to flinch when his sister spoke up through tear-filled lashes.
“My violin,” she rasped. “Go to my room and put it away. Somewhere else so I can’t see it. I don’t care where you put it; I don’t want to see it.”
Her brother nodded. Within seconds, he was gone, off to do his task. Maya’s throat burned as she stared up at the clock on the wall, slinking to the cold floor. He was supposed to turn eighteen today, she thought.
Later that day, Maya watched the clock like a hawk. She counted down every passing second and counted down the hours to midnight. When it did strike midnight — the start of a new day — she couldn’t feel anything.
He didn’t get to turn eighteen.
Two more months passed, Maya still couldn’t stop thinking about Curt. Or the way his aunt showed up on her doorstep, or the way her mother broke the news. With an exasperated sigh, she got out of bed. She needed fresh air, after a week of being holed up in her room.
She crossed the cold floor and shoved her windows open. Maya felt the night breeze kiss her cheeks, and they glowed with the moonlight. She noticed the night sky. The stars. The darkness of it all. Without even darting a glance back at her room, she crawled out of the window and took a seat on the rooftop. Just like how she’d find him on his rooftop whenever he was angry.
The starry night was all too reminiscent of their last time together. She remembered the football court, the near-kiss and the warmth of his breath on her skin. She remembered the electricity of her own emotions as the tension thickened between them.
Once again, she dared to look up at the skies, smiling at the memories of Curt’s fondness for astronomy. His first love, way before he first heard Maya play the violin. Something burned in her chest, and then in her head. The wind started to sound like music in her ears. The violin. She quickly slithered back into her room, wondering where her brother hid her prized instrument. Sure enough, it was placed in her wardrobe, strategically hidden behind her rack of cardigans. It was a corner she mostly ignored. Stupid brother. Maya eased out the violin case under her thick clothes and stepped out onto the rooftop.
The night was cold on her fingers as she unzipped the case, gingerly opening it. In the wake of the moonlight, her violin shone. It seemed to call out to her. Maya picked it up towards the light, setting it against her neck and shoulder. At this point, her fingers were shivering as she touched the neck of the instrument, lingering. She needed to feel the violin, to wake it up. Through closed eyes, she lifted the bow with another hand and began to play.
For the first time in months, Maya’s emotions erupted out of her as she played the violin. Her fingers were already skimming the fingerboard, sliding up and down the silken strings. She moved her bow back and forth across the bridge, the instrument creaking melodiously in the air. It took her a moment to realise that she was playing Curt’s favourite song — the one he wanted Maya to play at the music recital — Pachelbel’s Canon. She allowed the music to flow right out of the instrument, healing her.
A tear slipped out from her left eye, and she laughed; a joyful sound that wrecked her ribs and belly. She played through the song, the notes all too familiar as she pictured the music sheets Curt constantly brought out for her because he was always there whenever she played it. Practised it until her fingers bled. Would he be proud of her now? She knew he would always be proud of her, no matter what.
Something reassured her that Curt was watching her from the stars, telling her that everything would be alright. When Maya finally finished the piece, she held her breath, exhilarated from her solo performance. No one clapped for her, but she didn’t care. To her right, a star glinted, and the sight of it nearly brought her to tears; just as she finally got to laugh again.
Aquila was the star’s name —The Eagle. It was Curt’s favourite constellation because it represented his spirit animal. It was all too perfect to be a mere coincidence, but she knew that he spent his life as an honest and courageous man and that he always wanted to be part of the skies.
Now he was.
Written by Natasha Effendy