“Well?! What did you think?” Ziggy asked, leaning in close over the Hot Topic counter. “How many of them did you get through?”
This was Elena’s fourth visit to the dark haunt of Fairfield Mall’s Hot Topic store, and in essence this trip was solidifying her shaky friendship with Ziggy, the mall’s other resident goth chick. Conversing with the older teen was still awkward for Elena, both because of the five-year gap in their ages, and because crossing the boundary between customer and employee like this just felt weird. Ziggy had seemed eager to connect with her ever since she’d come back with her dyed hair and Hot Topic apparel, and Elena definitely also had mixed feelings about that.
“I listened to all of them,” Elena said, setting the borrowed plastic cassette cases on the surface between them. “But… I don’t know if any of it’s for me.”
Rather than starting to feel more comfortable in her gothic persona, Elena was beginning to feel like this part of her life was just an unbearable ongoing identity crisis. She was stubborn enough that she refused to see it as a passing phase, but there was just something big and important missing here, and it was honestly making her unhappy. The other day after school she’d been laying in bed and simply started crying because she realized she was sad—that wasn’t normal.
Things had been fine at first, because there had been a dramatic makeover into the new subculture fashion. Setting herself up in diametric opposition to the preppy girls she despised like her former friend Carrie and… yes, her own former self, all of that felt right. But, shortly after that, everything seemed to fall apart because there wasn’t a plan. There weren’t really any other goths at Springton High, there was no one to socialize with, and as cool as the loner aesthetic she’d built up was, it was also, well, lonely.
As difficult as it was to admit, Elena wasn’t sure she was equipped to deal with that.
In the gothic poetry she’d started writing she described her previous self, the old Elena as being full of petty ambition. It was objectively true no matter which way she considered it—but, once she’d decided to set aside those petty ambitions—then what? What was she supposed to do with herself now? Goth culture existed as a complete outlier to the social hierarchies she was familiar with climbing. Elena was the coolest goth girl in school and also the only goth girl there. It felt like no matter how much work she put into assembling the perfect Hot Topic look and how carefully she did her new style of makeup, her victories would remain hollow and ultimately pointless.
Am I just SUPPOSED to be sad? Elena wondered. All the time? I feel like gothic culture has a lot of merit in the alternative way they—no, the way WE—express ourselves, but also… I really don’t fucking want to be unhappy and alone and crying by myself all the time. I can’t stand it. What do I even DO from here?
“Really?” Ziggy seemed incredulous. “Nirvana didn’t do anything for you? Pearl Jam? Soundgarden?”
Elena had at first been hesitant to interrupt the girl’s work, but then Ziggy also made a point to be as unprofessional as she could get away with while on the clock, to ‘express her rebellious individuality’ and ‘stick it to the man.’ It certainly helped that the store owner Mr. Gary was her stepdad, a genuinely nice older guy who seemed to see their socializing as some sort of subculture networking that would be great for business.
“I liked Soundgarden, kinda?” Elena tried to compromise. “Nirvana didn’t really… uh, speak to me, I guess. I didn’t like Alice in Chains at all.”
“I mean, well duh you can’t not love Soundgarden,” When Ziggy shook her head in disbelief, the green spikes of gelled hair adorning her head swayed back and forth. “But you don’t like Nirvana?”
“It’s just—I dunno?” Elena shifted uncomfortably on her feet. “Didn’t really feel anything.”
“Okay then, what about the poser bands?” Ziggy challenged. “On that second tape—Candlebox, Bush. Collective Soul. Were they more your speed?”
“They were alright, I guess?” Elena shrugged. “Just, none of it like, jumped out at me, or anything? It was just kinda there. I don’t know.”
“Well, you’re definitely not ready for any of the bitchin’ local bands, then,” Ziggy frowned, leaning back and crossing her arms. “Level with me, here—what kinda music did you listen to before? Like, what CDs do you own?”
“I don’t have a lot of CDs,” Elena admitted. “Most of the ones we have are my parent’s stuff.”
“Spice Girls?” Ziggy made a face. “Hanson? Madonna?”
“Um,” Elena winced. “Spice Girls, yeah. LeAnn Rimes, Jewel. Avalon, Point of Grace, Mariah Carey…”
“Okay—stop, stop, stop,” Ziggy quickly motioned Elena to stop and took a quick glance around to make sure no one had overheard her apparent blasphemies. “All of those are like the absolute worst. I mean, Avalon? Jesus, isn’t that Christian music? Throw all of those out. Break the disks into pieces first before you put them in the trash.”
“Okay, yeah,” Elena gave a noncommittal shrug. She wasn’t actually going to do that. She felt indifferent about most of that music now, having moved her small collection of CDs out into the living room and putting them in her parent’s CD rack already.
“I mean, geez—from remembering how you looked that first day we met I figured you’d at least be into like, No Doubt, Smashing Pumpkins, or—”
“I do have Smashing Pumpkins,” Elena protested weakly.
“Well, whatever. Your Mom still said no way on getting into Marilyn Manson?” Ziggy inquired with a mischievous look, tapping a lacquered black fingernail against one of the tape cases.
“Yeah, still no on Manson,” Elena nodded. “I listened to it anyways, but yeah… he seems like a bit too… I don’t know. It’s not for me.”
“Doesn’t that make you like him even more, though?” Ziggy whispered. “Knowing that she’s against it for no reason other than her religious brainwashing makes the music more meaningful. I mean, Manson, he’s a sexy, badass dude—have you ever seen what he looks like? His eyes? The guy once bit off the head of a live bat onstage.”
“No he didn’t!” Mr. Gary called from where he was doing inventory across the store. “Hell, that was Ozzy!”
“Yeah, okay,” Ziggy snorted, rolling her eyes. “Like you know anything about music, old man.”
“Ozzy Osbourne, on his Diary of a Madman tour,” Mr. Gary yelled over his shoulder. “Actually caught part of that tour, at Freedom Hall over in Louisville. This was back when—”
“No one cares, old man!” Ziggy retorted, turning and flipping him two middle fingers and a look of almost manic glee.
I’m... really not against my parents at all, though, Elena thought to herself, feeling even more alienated than before. I love my dad, I love my mom—I love my mom more than anything. Does that make me less goth? Or more of a poser? I went for the goth thing because it felt right, and it moved me outside the highschool hierarchy bullshit and off into my own thing. It still feels right sometimes, SORT OF, but then sometimes it’s like it never fit me at all. And if I don’t belong here, then—where the fuck DO I even belong?
That Sunday, the Moore family joined them at the First Presbyterian Church of Springton for the early service. Elena was surprised at how thrilled she was to see her friend, and chasing right after that excitement was guilt, bitterness, and a strange feeling of discomfort that left her feeling speechless. Tabitha was wearing a modest long-sleeved dress that seemed tailor-made for her—both in that it was flattering, and that the sleeve on one side had clearly been altered with healthy allowance for the extra girth of her orthopedic cast.
Mr. Moore looked reserved and polite, but then Tabitha’s mother Mrs. Moore managed to look mildly terrified at being around so many other people, failing to hide it behind an unconvincing and very strained smile. Everyone in the congregation was happy to meet them, and family after family stepped forward to introduce themselves and shake hands before everyone took their seats in the pews—except Elena. Elena didn’t know what to do.
I should—no, WE should go say hi, Elena turned a helpless look towards her mother. Right? I mean, we’re still friends, but also… I need her to know I’m not okay with her time travel nonsense still, need to express that there’s a distance between us there. Distance that I’m not going to just bridge over and forget about. Just… God, is it awkward just standing here, like this.
Elena found herself filling with tension as the Moore family worked their way a little further down the aisle through the church-goers intent on welcoming them to the community, and didn’t feel any relief when they finally chose a pew and sat down. Tabitha seemed distracted by her mother’s anxiety and kept leaning in to whisper something to the woman, but when she did notice Elena on the other side of the church, she offered a wave.
Out of reflex, Elena immediately waved back, feeling more stupid and out of place than ever. Mrs. Seelbaugh gently patted her back as if sensing her troubles, but Elena wasn’t able to take any comfort from the gesture.
What... am I DOING? Elena thought, smoothing out the modest floral-print Sunday dress she wore. Jesus. The MATURE thing to do would have been to just run over and make up with her already. Or at least make some kind of effort. That’s what Mom would have done. Not be… stupid and petty about her silly whatever story. Ugh, GOD!
As per her agreement with her parents, Elena didn’t wear anything black or gothic to church, so she felt even more out of her element here bereft of her gothic trappings. Wearing her old dressy church outfit would have felt like a lie, because that just wasn’t who she was anymore. But now when she wore her full gothic getup complete with makeup and everything—that felt like a lie, too, like she was a poser mall goth just going through the motions for appearance’s sake alone. Going to school was wrapping herself up in that cold Hot Topic persona to separate herself from who she didn’t want to be, but left her at a loss as to who she was anymore.
Mrs. Seelbaugh’s hand was still on Elena’s back, so she could feel the moment her mother’s posture grew tense.
“Ah, shit,” Mrs. Seelbaugh muttered under her breath.
Shit? Elena looked towards her mother in confusion. What’s wrong?
A month ago, Elena would have already been ribbing her mom about letting a swearword slip out—especially after the woman had always seemed so keen on policing all of Elena’s harmless cursing. Mrs. Seelbaugh didn’t swear lightly, and she’d certainly never used bad language in church, even when she was socializing with the church group. The raven-haired teen followed her mother’s attention over towards two very familiar women shuffling into the pew behind them and her mood immediately soured.
“Michelle! Michelle!” Mrs. Melissa hissed out in a whisper. “You won’t believe who that woman is!”
“That’s Shannon Delain!” Aunt Cindy added in the same conspiratorial hushed voice. “Shannon Delain, you-know-who!”
“Over there, with the red hair!” Mrs. Melissa turned her body partially away from the congregation to shield the insistent finger she was jabbing in the direction of Tabitha’s mother from sight. “With the little girl. Red hair, that’s HER.”
“She got so fat!” Aunt Cindy leaned in to confide.
“I know!” Mrs. Melissa agreed with a smirk, shooting another glance over her shoulder. “And, that little girl! Do you think that—”
“Melissa,” Mrs. Seelbaugh warned. “Have you gone over and spoken to her?”
“No, but I know it’s her!” Mrs. Melissa declared. “Look at her face! That’s definitely her, she’s just so huge now! All that weight. I mean—Jesus!”
“You’re being very rude,” Elena interjected, crossing her arms and giving her mother’s two closest friends a glare.
“Hi, Elena sweetheart! I just love your hair!” Mrs. Melissa flashed her a rigid smile before turning back towards Mrs. Seelbaugh. “I just love her hair, Michelle.”
You already said that when you saw me last Sunday, Elena did her best to not let her neutral expression sink into a scowl. It sounds a little less sincere each time I hear it.
The service began, but Elena was swimming helplessly in her own head. She stood and held the hymn book for songs, she sat and stared during the sermon, and she mechanically bowed her head during prayer, all the while her psyche seemed to be working overtime to disassociate herself from everything she tried—or tried not—to be. What does that even leave behind, what’s left over then? What do you even CALL this kind of crisis?
When it was over and everyone was standing and beginning to file out of the pews, Elena rushed over to join Tabitha as soon as she could. When she stood in front of her friend, however, her mind blanked and she had no earthly idea what she should say.
“Elena honey, why don’t you show Tabitha around the church?” Mrs. Seelbaugh supplied, almost as if those borderline supernatural Mom senses of hers were once again detecting Elena’s distress. “While we talk to her parents for a little bit about some things?”
“Yeah,” Elena said.
Tabitha smiled at her, and Elena felt relief and shame tugging at her from different directions. With a small wave, she led her friend out of the Sanctuary away from the crowd and down the hallway towards where the choir rooms, fellowship hall, kitchens and Bible study rooms were. The First Presbyterian Church of Springton was large, but over the past few generations the congregation had significantly thinned. There were several daycare rooms, but they only kept one in operation, and the youth group had disbanded before Elena was old enough to join it, rendering many of the rooms down one hallway without any purpose. The large building and outlying structures were intended for twice as many people as currently attended, and each year the church areas seemed a little more empty than the last.
“Are you still mad at me?” Tabitha finally asked, glancing around at everything with interest.
“I—no,” Elena said, scrunching up her face. “Sorry, if I seem standoffish. I still don’t believe you about the whole… thing. Just, I don’t know what to do about that. I’m not mad. I don’t know what I am.”
“Okay,” Tabby nodded. “How can I help?”
“Uhh,” Elena offered her an expressive shrug. “I don’t know. You seem kinda different since the hospital.”
“I am different,” Tabitha grinned. “I feel different. Everything’s changing!”
“Yeah,” Elena agreed—but in contrast to Tabitha’s new apparent upbeat attitude, all she felt was a formless sort of dread.
Tabitha was different, too. Before the events of the Halloween party, Tabitha had seemed hesitant and just kind of timid all the time. Now, it was as if that near-death experience had put a bounce in her step, filled Tabitha with focused tenacity and enthusiasm for everything. The pangs of jealousy that appeared at that realization weren’t easy to stifle, because before that same transformative series of events, it was Elena who had been instilled with purpose and drive.
“So, are CDs still around in the future?” Elena blurted out.
She still didn’t believe Tabitha was actually from the future. But, Elena decided she needed to understand the story, to have a better grasp of it so that she could figure out what to do with it. If it was a fanciful game of make believe, Elena needed to tear it down so that it didn’t continue to cloud the air between them.
If it was a delusional coping mechanism or metaphor for dealing with trauma, then helping Tabitha unravel it would be good for both of them. Posing a question about CDs, of all things, wasn’t on her prepared collection of weak points to attack, but music had been on her mind a lot lately and popped out of her mouth before Elena could stop herself. After all, music was supposedly some sort of cultural lynchpin that should have anchored her to the whole goth thing. At the very least, it would have given her something to talk about with Ziggy.
“Hah,” Tabitha laughed. “No. Not at all. They’re very much a relic of this time period.”
“What’s next after CDs?” Elena mused, trying not to fidget. “Little microchips?”
“Sorta,” Tabitha quirked her lip. “But, not like you’d think. Music goes digital pretty soon, in two or three years you’ll be downloading songs onto your computer and loading them into an iPod. Little handheld device. That really kicks off music piracy—Napster and BitTorrent and all of that, which I actually kinda missed out on in my first life and only found out about in retrospect.”
“There’s music piracy now,” Elena countered, the memory of Ziggy first waggling a mixtape for her still vivid in memory. “Tape cassettes, CDs. My friend Ziggy knows a guy who pirates CDs with a disk burner. Music piracy is already a big thing.”
“Ehhh, no,” Tabitha shook her head. “That’s not big, not really. What’s going on now is just isolated cases, like one or two people out of thousands and thousands. The kind of piracy I’m talking about is extremely widespread, something along the lines of forty percent of the entire market basically just deciding to never pay for music ever again. Just download copies from wherever for free, instead.”
“That’s… okay, that’s a lot I guess,” Elena made a face. “Maybe too much, in fact? Forty percent? How do they wind up putting a stop to it?”
“The long answer is a complicated mess and I don’t remember all of it, and the short answer is; they never really manage to put a stop to it,” Tabitha explained. “Nothing effective, anyways. Pirating media—movies, games, music—and assets for stuff like 3D printing was still a common everyday thing right up ‘till I came back to the past.”
3D printing...? Elena wondered. Seems like another term to note down. I think Mom had an article in one of her magazines about how 3D stuff works—those red and blue lense glasses that make it look like pictures pop out. I can do a bit of research and find a way to corner her on something and finally stump her.
“Okay,” Elena pursed her lips. “So, should I wait? Like, should I not buy music now, and just wait until piracy just makes everything free? Or, is that a real bad thing to do?”
“That’s a tough one to answer,” Tabitha said. “To be completely honest with you, I don’t think I ever bought music in my life, period. When I was this age we didn’t really play the radio or anything at home, and I didn’t really get into music until I was in college. You have to remember, I wasn’t a ‘cool’ kid in my first go-through. I didn’t know music.”
“So, you pirated music later, when pirating isn’t illegal anymore?”
“Well, no, pirating’s always illegal,” Tabitha appeared to be conflicted on how to explain. “But, less like shoplifting, and more like jaywalking? I never pirated anything, though. In college I had a Pandora account, but I just had the free version, so they played advertisements in-between the music. Then most of the rest of my adult life I was just abusing Youtube playlists whenever I wanted to listen to things, and it was free, too. Well, free with some ads that would randomly play.”
“Then, does that mean you’ve listened to a lot of music?” Elena asked. “Ziggy—my friend—has it in her mind that I need music to build my identity around, or I’m not really goth. Like without the music culture parts of it, I’m just a poser. If you’re really from the future, you must have a bunch of bands you can recommend to me. Right?”
“Are you kidding me?!” Tabitha lit up. “Absolutely! I was just thinking about this the other day! Well, sorta. When I think goth I think Evanescence, but emo music is what I usually associate with the Hot Topic sorta style. Fallout boy. My Chemical Romance, Panic at the Disco, Paramore.”
“Emo music,” Elena challenged, giving Tabitha a stare. “I’ve never even heard of it, or any of those bands.”
Alicia was definitely right about Tabitha being a bit too quick with coming up with those believable names and terms, though. Most of them have a kind of legitimate ring to them, all except the disco one—that sounds stupid. She didn’t have to pause for a moment to think them up or anything, though. Does she plot these all out beforehand?
“Oh, you won’t for a while yet, I don’t think,” Tabitha said. “Mid-two thousands, maybe? We’ll have just gotten out of high school by then, I remember there was a group of emo kids that hung out together at the community college in Elizabethtown where I went.”
“Why would they hang out at the college?” Elena asked, perplexed.
“Why?” Tabitha blinked. “Uh, they were students there. I’d just sort of see them around campus here and th—”
“If they’re emo kids, then they wouldn’t be in college,” Elena argued. “They’d be adults.”
“Well, that’s a very… high school perspective to have,” Tabitha explained. “For instance, when you were in middle school, you’d think of the high schoolers as all mature and grown up, but then once you get into high school you realize what an illusion that was. They were all always just dumb kids. That doesn’t change when they get older and get into college or universities, and for most of them it doesn’t even change when they get out into real world jobs, either.”
Elena wanted to retort with a well duh, or segue into a that wasn’t what I meant, technically they’re legal adults, but the arguments stuck in her throat and she gnawed on her lip, simply feeling stifled and frustrated. Tabitha had at the very least put a considerable amount of thought into this roleplay charade she was doing. That she was expending so much effort on her make believe was incredibly irritating, though, and made Elena want to catch her in a lie more and more.
“Okay, fine,” Elena huffed. “Name an ‘emo’ song.”
“Welcome to the Black Parade, by MCR,” Tabitha answered without hesitation.
“Then—sing some of it,” Elena dared her, crossing her arms. “If you’re from the future, you’d remember at least one super amazing song that stood out and—”
“When I was a young boy”
“My father took me into the city”
“To see a marching band—”
To her consternation, Tabitha again didn’t have to pause, and whatever fake lyrics she’d obviously prepared beforehand were even sung in that soft sort of undertone one does when mimicking someone else’s much louder performance. The words were even delivered in a kind of steady rhythmic cadence that seemed suspiciously too well done. Tabby’s a writer, though, a creative type. She probably has no problem thinking up poems and pentameter and songs and things.
“He said, ‘Son, when you grow up”
“Would you be the savior of the broken”
“The beaten, and the damned—?’”
“He said, ‘will you defeat them”
“Your demons and all the non-believers?”
“The plans that they have made—?”
“Because one day, I'll leave you”
“A phantom to lead you in the summer”
“To join the black parade—!”
“Okay... you’ve put a lot of thought into this,” Elena shrugged, doing her best to look unimpressed. “Clearly. But, you made that up beforehand. It’s not from the future.”
“Elena, I didn’t make that up,” Tabitha gave her a teasing smile. “You don’t have to believe I’m from the future if you don’t want, but don’t say that I wrote any of that! It feels like you’re accusing me of plagiarism then, or like I’m taking credit for other people’s work, or something. Makes me uncomfortable.”
“Fine then, you didn’t write it,” Elena shrugged again and looked away in aggravation. “Whatever. I don’t care. I still don’t believe you about the time travel. It’s—it’s. I really hate that it’s like I have to fight you on something so stupid, right now. As if I didn’t have enough to deal with, with everything else. I don’t see the point.”
“Well, if you did have a friend from the future,” Tabitha mused, “Maybe they’d be interested in somehow getting you out to see a certain gothic rock group before they make it huge.”
“Gothic rock?” Elena sounded skeptical. “Ziggy never mentioned gothic rock.”
“They might’ve categorized things differently back in these times,” Tabitha said. “Alternative rock, I guess? Emo is still a few years away, for sure. I mean, I wasn’t super proud of it back then... but I can definitely recite pretty much every Evanescence song, and even do the opening bits of My Immortal if we can get access to a piano.”
“Goth rock makes it huge,” Elena couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of her voice. “To who, exactly?”
As far as she could tell, she was one of only three in the entire student body at Springton High who affected any sort of style that could even remotely be construed as dark and brooding, and she was the definitely only freshman. Every interaction she’d had with Ziggy in the Fairfield Hot Topic indicated that their kind were always loners and outcasts. The idea that a goth song would enter mainstream appeal seemed oddly counterintuitive to her, and the more she thought about it, the more certain she became that Tabitha was simply feeding her a line of bullshit.
“Everyone, really,” Tabitha couldn’t keep the excitement out of her voice. “Evanescence. They get huge, and I mean huge like, fifty million albums sold. Well, by 2040-ish, anyways, that’s around the time I caught the video about it. They went platinum quite a few times. Bring me to Life was pretty much freaking infamous for being overplayed on the radio back in... ‘03? Maybe ‘04? But, right now? I don’t even think they’re on anyone’s radar yet.”
“Wait, so... they exist now, but they’re not big yet?” Elena pressed. If they’re a real band, she had to have heard them somewhere. If they don’t become famous in the next few years, what, will Tabitha just claim that the timeline must have just changed? Make some sort of excuse? More and more, I’m just doubting EVERYTHING she says. It’s all just too suspect.
“Yeah. Right now, I think they’re just performing in tiny little venues in Little Rock, Arkansas,” Tabitha revealed. “Tiny like, coffee shops. Bars. Maybe still under a different name, I think it was Childish Intention, or Stricken. Hell, Amy Lee probably isn’t much older than us right now. She must be... sixteen, or seventeen, here in ‘98?”
“Arkansas,” Elena repeated, some of her skepticism fading away as the wheels began to turn in her head. “That’s… okay, that’s not that far away. What are you saying, like—if what you’re saying is true, then how would we even take advantage of it?”
Tabitha—what’s the point of your make believe story, here?
“We don’t,” Tabitha said, holding up her hands in a helpless expression. “Absolutely no way. I know it’s kinda ironic, in that they’re one of the few things I remember well enough that I could like, steal their songs and everything with future knowledge. But, I’m absolutely not going to. I love Evanescence, and no one else can sing those songs with the kind of oomph that Amy Lee put into them.”
“I’m not saying steal anything,” Elena carefully clarified. “Just, there would have to be some way or some angle to do something with future knowledge there, if you already know they’re going to have hits. Right? It could probably even benefit them, somehow.”
“Why don’t we see if you even like them, first?” Tabitha suggested. “We can… make some calls, or something—ugh, not having real internet makes everything such a headache. Figure out when and where they play, take a trip down to see Evanescence live sometime soon. Do you want me to try to sing a little bit for you?”
“Sure,” Elena jumped at the offer. “Of course. There’s a piano over in the fellowship hall we can probably use, even. Over this way.”
“Uhh,” Tabitha blanched. “Okay. Yeah. Just to warn you, though—I don’t actually know how to play real piano. Learning to play piano was one of the early hologram gimmicks, honestly, and most of us only messed around with that as a novelty. Just white keys, and I only learned to play random easy catchy bits—the opening bits of My Immortal, the real basic Swan Lake riff. Stuff like the super simplified Dojacat’s Say So, Malaxa by Arnault, and Tattletale’s motif from Worm. Those are the total extent of my piano-playing abilities.”
“Which means…?” Elena prodded.
“So, I’m just saying—lower your expectations way, way down,” Tabitha made a face. “I haven’t practiced any of that stuff in years.”
“But, you can sing it, or not?” Elena questioned. “Come on.”
“I think so,” Tabitha shrugged. “I wasn’t bad at singing, per se, but I don’t think I was anything special, either. Hopefully I’m good enough for you to get the gist of how things go.”
Elena guided her friend into the large community room where the congregation gathered for the much less formal occasions. It was a wide open space today, with dozens of tables folded and wheeled out of the way and several hundred chairs neatly stacked ten high in the nearest corner and a stage area that took up the far wall.
Elena watched with a skeptical look as Tabitha plunked away at the piano keys in an experimental way, making odd but not very musical noise for several minutes.
“Okay... I lied,” Tabitha said with a grimace. “It’s been too long—I can do the My Immortal opening, and a bit of Tattletale’s theme. If I had a few hours, I could probably figure out the Swan Lake thing again. Malaxa and Say So are both off the table, I only remember the one started with three fingers here like this, and then with my right hand I kinda did… something like this? But, I don’t remember it all that clearly anymore. Apparently. Hold on, lemme see if...”
“Which one’s the goth rock one that’s gonna be big?” Elena asked, unable to tell if Tabitha was just stalling or not.
“My Immortal,” Tabitha answered, taking a sheepish glance around. “Am I, um. Am I allowed to sing in here? It might get a little loud.”
“Just sing it kinda softly,” Elena shrugged. “How does it go?”
“Hah,” Tabitha shook her head ruefully and awkwardly placed her fingers back on the keys. “Well, I can sing My Immortal, but I can’t sing it softly. That’s not how ballads work, I can’t not really yell some of it out.”
“Go on, try it then,” Elena said, trying not to sound like she was getting impatient as she checked out the room. There were only a few adult women loitering over near the door separating the fellowship hall from the kitchens, and they didn’t seem at all interested in what her and Tabitha were getting up to. “If they tell us to stop, we’ll stop.”
“Okay. Okay,” Tabitha took a deep breath. “Here goes!”
Clearing her throat and stretching her slender fingers one last time, the redhead carefully positioned them back on the ivories and began to play. The music wasn’t familiar to Elena, but it sounded... good, and Tabitha seemed to be playing with more confidence this time, measuring herself and now taking appropriate pauses that elevated the piece well above those previous practice attempts. Doesn’t sound very ROCK, though, does it? If—
“I'm so tired of being here—”
The slowly drawn out words sounded across the entire fellowship hall, forcing Elena to do a double take and again mentally reevaluate her friend.
Each syllable felt inexplicably heavy, full of sadness and pain, and when they fell in time with the piano notes any doubt that Tabitha was making up this particular song on the spot vanished. She was definitely drawing knowledge of this from somewhere, the lyrics and notes complemented each other too well for this to be any sort of fabrication. Across the room, both of the adult women stopped their conversation and turned towards them. Tabitha was singing at volume already and the change from her normal speaking voice to one she was pouring emotion into was pretty stunning.
“Suppressed by all my childish fears”
“And if you have to leave”
“I wish that you would just leave”
“'Cause your presence still lingers here”
“And it won't leave me alone—”
In the very last few syllables Tabitha began to really project her voice, and the weight of emotion she’d been infusing into the song was thrown out to fill the air to become power. A thrilling tingle traveled through Elena’s body that made the tiny hairs on her arms stand up. THIS is… well…
“THESE WOUNDS WON’T SEEM TO HEAL, THIS PAIN IS JUST TOO REAL”
“THERE’S JUST TOO MUCH THAT TIME CANNOT ERASE—”
Tabitha had apparently reached the extent of her piano knowledge by this point and simply dropped her hands into her lap as she continued to sing. The piece seemed to carry on well enough without the accompaniment, though, simply because Tabitha was able to put so much of herself into the lyrics, and with so much passion. The girl’s eyes were squeezed shut as she focused herself entirely on vocalizing this impressive ballad—and, to Elena at least, it sounded incredible.
“When you cried, I'd wipe away all of your tears”
“When you'd scream, I'd fight away all of your fears”
“And I held your hand through all of these years”
“But you still have—all of me”
That somewhat haunting piano melody began again, and Elena realized both of the church ladies had approached. The women wore equally stunned expressions, looking from Tabitha to Elena and back again, neither of them inclined to interrupt the unexpected performance. Across the room and well behind Tabitha’s turned back, Elena spotted Mrs. Moore opening the door and poking her head in, seeming just as bewildered.
“You used to captivate me by your resonating light”
“Now I'm bound by the life you left behind”
“Your face it haunts my once pleasant dreams”
“Your voice it chased away all the sanity in me”
“These wounds won't seem to heal—
“This pain is just too real—”
“There's just too much that time cannot erase—”
Elena watched on with her own expression of shock, but for different reasons— the piece Tabitha chose to play spoke to her, it gave her chills just hearing it. Experiencing it. She understood now what Tabitha meant; this wasn’t a song that could be sung casually or in a lowered voice, there was an operatic quality to it. Whatever the song was, whoever it was really by originally, Elena felt a connection to it, the connection she’d hoped to feel spring into place when listening to the mixtapes Ziggy prepared for her. Those bonds had failed to materialize, but this one, this song took hold of her soul in that complete embrace she never knew she’d always longed for.
By the time she snapped to her senses, Tabitha had sung through the rest of the song, and Elena stood there for a moment in a daze as Mrs. Moore, the other women from before, and another family that had wandered in at some point were all congratulating Tabitha.
“Well—Elena, what do you think?” Tabitha asked her with a beaming smile. “I think that might’ve been my best try singing… ever! Still definitely falls well short of Amy Lee, and my piano playing is, uh, yeah the less said about it the better, but can you kinda get the vibe of—”
“Tabitha... that was amazing,” Elena carefully emphasized. “Who’s the—Amy Lee? How can we get her music? I need to hear it, hear her, hear the original. If that just now still fell short…”
Elena drifted away from Tabitha in a daze as the girl played the piano melody again for her parents, with Mrs. Moore joining her on the wooden bench and Mr. Moore hovering over both of them. The sheer force of the lyrics was still echoing in her soul, and Elena needed to engrave them deep, she needed time to digest them, to examine just what magical way they made her feel, how alive they felt. I need to have my tape recorder ready for next time.
The fellowship hall was gradually filling up with more church goers, and from the looks of it the women’s bible study group that normally followed right after service had momentarily postponed their meeting to excitedly gather around the new family sitting at the piano. The fact that her own mother had missed Tabitha’s performance and like most of the others seemed to have no idea of how well the girl could sing seemed… jarring. It was almost as if—
Elena stiffened as she overheard a familiar pair of voices.
She turned, and on the opposite side of the room from the piano was her mother standing with her friends Cindy and Melissa—and looking absolutely pissed at both of them. The transcendent feeling of the music from before ebbed away as Elena started in their direction, but even the absence they left behind felt like it had changed something about her, or revealed something about herself. She wanted some time alone to really sort out how all of it was affecting her, but first there was something she suddenly felt inspired to do.
“—And, she has a little girl!” Aunt Cindy whispered loudly. “Looks to be about ‘Lena’s age, so Shannon must have gone right out and gotten herself pregnant the moment she—”
“Well, of course she did!” Mrs. Melissa interjected with a sardonic laugh. “I said it. I always said it—the only way she gets herself in Hollywood is lying on her back. Spreading her legs for—”
“Melissa,” Mrs. Seelbaugh warned her again. “Stop. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Please, just… watch what you’re saying when—”
Elena approached directly, and rather than the friendly but polite smile or reserved meekness she’d displayed earlier, she was staring down Mrs. Melissa. For her part, Mrs. Melissa seemed like a rabbit caught in headlights, and after making the mistake of making eye contact with Elena all she could do was awkwardly half-turn towards Aunt Cindy for support.
“Is this going to be a problem?” Elena demanded.
“Excuse me?” Mrs. Melissa huffed in disbelief.
“The only problem seems like it’s with your attitude, Elena?” Aunt Cindy’s eyebrows slightly rose in challenge. “We were speaking to your mother.”
“Are you two going to be a problem for my friend’s family?” Elena was blunt. “You’re the only two out of the entire congregation who hasn’t tried to welcome them. At all. Instead, you’re over here giving dirty looks and whispering to each other, so—is there a problem?”
Arms crossed, Elena immediately stepped over to block their view of the commotion going on over at the piano. Standing between them and the Moores felt like some show of solidarity at least, and Elena felt a small surge of surprise and pride as her mother quickly joined her. Her mother was typically thick as thieves with Mrs. Melissa and Aunt Cindy, and they seemed taken aback by her clear show of support for this impertinent raven-haired teen. Sensing the dynamic had already shifted out of their favor, Mrs. Melissa’s expression darkened as she forcibly reined in a small amount of her indignation, but it was just as obvious that she wasn’t going to bend in this situation.
“What in the world gets into your head that makes you think it’s okay to speak to me like that?” Mrs. Melissa scolded her, shooting an incredulous glance from Elena to Mrs. Seelbaugh. “You don’t know who that woman really is or what she’s like, where she’s been or what she’s done. You’re fourteen years old. We’ve been attending this church for twenty years, and if you think that just because we don’t rush over there to kiss her feet that—”
“You think you recognize my friend’s mom,” Elena cut her off with a fierce look. “You don’t. She just wanted to come to worship with her family somewhere without judgement and she thought that maybe the Presbyterian Church of Springton was the place for that.”
Elena glanced from Mrs. Melissa to Aunt Cindy and back, weighing and measuring them with a cold gaze.
“It looks like she was wrong,” Elena decided, her expression going hard as she turned away, not daring to look at her mother. “Maybe one of the other churches in town will give them an actual accepting Christian welcome?”
Is this what it feels like, what being REBELLIOUS like I’m supposed to be feels like?
She’d already decided to cast her lot in with Tabitha, and if that meant opposing her mother’s friends and causing strife, then so be it. Elena didn’t want to see her Mom’s face right now, because she was terrified she would see some difficult expression or strained tension, that her Mom would already be trying to mediate things and cajole her two friends to come around to the situation. That her Mom would be frustrated with her or think she was acting juvenile.
Instead, Mrs. Seelbaugh wore a beaming smile of pride that stunned Elena.
Okay... yeah I have no idea how I’m supposed to feel, Elena tried to keep her face blank to hide her bafflement. But, at least now I know I definitely feel SOMETHING.