Welcome to part II of the final stop on the RoseBlood: Masks, Music, and Mayhem blog tour!
If you haven’t been to part I of this stop, head over to BookEmoji’s blog now to read the first half of chapter 1, and to get details to the scavenger hunt and how to enter for today’s INTL prize pack.
If you found your way here from BookEmoji’s, you’ll find the rest of chapter 1 below, along with the answer you’re seeking.
RoseBlood, chapter 1 (second half):
I shudder. Yeah, Grandma’s got a lot to make amends for, no doubt…
“After all of these years of no contact,” Mom continues, “for them to reach out like this because you’re having so many problems? It gives me hope we can be a family again. Your dad would’ve wanted that. It wasn’t easy for Lottie to get your transfer moved to the top of the list. She was afraid to show favoritism. But she’s doing it as a favor to us. Let’s make an effort to show our gratitude when we get there. Okay?”
The famed Aunt Charlotte: retired sixty-something French prima donna and Dad’s older sister. I get the feeling this is more of a favor she’s doing for her incarcerated mom—so the old woman can save herself from continuing imprisonment post death, in purgatory.
I run my palm across the seat, the leather plush and foreign to my hand. Like nearly every woman in Dad’s family, Charlotte was a ballerina in the Paris Opera company. As a result, she snagged herself an aristocratic husband. It was love at first sight when he saw her dance. Now that she’s a wealthy widow, her generous donations have earned our family a spot among the boarding school’s most elite beneficiaries. Which explains my acceptance as a student without the usual three-month consideration period.
Nothing like nepotism to earn you a place in the hearts of your peers.
Hopefully the other students won’t know my aunt sent this limo to pick us up at the hotel this morning and drive us around shopping all day; that she is paying my tuition for the year; and that she wired Mom nine hundred and fifty euros last week—the equivalent of a thousand dollars, give or take—to help buy my uniforms and dorm accessories at the posh boutiques here.
I’ve never met her, other than through ten years of spotty, one-sided phone conversations with my mom. Charlotte’s never visited America, and I’ve never been to Paris until now. According to Mom, she used to call once a month to talk to Dad. Until he got sick enough to land in hospice care; then she stopped. She didn’t even come to his funeral, so I can’t help but question her motives.
“It said in the brochure they coordinate their calendars with public schools in the states. That means it’s already one month lost.” I wind my hands together, an attempt to quell the pain in my heart at the thought of Dad’s absence—the wound that never heals, even after a decade. “Do you know how hard it is to make friends so close to the end of the first six weeks?” Not that I plan to try . . . but true intentions take a back seat when it comes to guilting Mom.
“It’s not unheard of,” Mom rebuts. “Lots of people are scrambling to send their kids, even late. Doesn’t that say something to the credit of the school? Only two years in, and there’s already a wait list. There were at least twenty names in front of yours.” Mom looks out her window where the wet trees have thickened to multicolored knots, like an afghan gilded with glitter.
“My point exactly.” I tap my fingers to some endless rhythm turning inside of me . . . an operatic aria I heard in an elevator earlier. It’s reawakened, and that’s not a good sign. The melody will writhe like a snake on fire and burn holes behind my closed eyelids in the shape of musical notes until I sing it out. It’s physical torture, like a constant spark in my skull that scorches my spine—vertebra by vertebra. “I’ll be winning friends left and right once they hear I jumped the list via my bloodline.”
Mom clucks her tongue. “Well, according to you, there’s still the phantom. I’m sure he’s not too picky about who he hangs out with.”
My jaw tightens as I suppress a snort. Touché.
I trace the window now curtained by mud, imagining the glass cracking and bursting; imagining myself sprouting wings to fly away through the opening—back to America and my two friends who were tolerant of my strange quirks.
Aching for another glimpse of the sky, I trigger the automatic window to swipe the pane clean, allowing a fresh, cold wind to usher in a spray of mud and rain. I smile as the moisture dots my face and neck, easing the sting of the song in my head. Mom yelps and I send the window up again.
“Rune, please.” She tightens her plump, red-tinted lips to a frown. Working her fingers through the dirty droplets in her cropped hair, she digs a Kleenex from her purse.
“Sorry,” I whisper, actually meaning it. Using my velvet scarf, I blot my cheeks then sponge the leather seat.
Mom’s scrubbing shifts to the taupe crepe jacket and pencil skirt, which hang like tissue paper on her small frame. With each movement, her signature fragrance wafts over me: Lemon Pledge. She cleans other people’s houses for a living, and can never seem to shake off the stench of dust solvent and Pine-Sol.
With her delicate bone structure and striking features, she missed her true calling. She did some print modeling back when Dad was alive, but wasn’t tall enough to be on the catwalk. Once he got sick, she needed “job security” to help pay bills. Housekeeping filled that niche, but I know a part of her has always regretted switching professions. And now she’s determined to see that I don’t lose my shot at something better, something she thinks I was born to do.
Gray light and purple shadows take turns gliding along her high cheekbones as we pass through the trees. People say we could pass for sisters. We share her ivory complexion, the tiny freckles spattered across the bridge of her nose, the wide green eyes inside a framework of thick lashes, and her hair—black as a raven’s wings. The only difference is, I inherited my curls from a father whose laughter I still hear when I dance in rain puddles. Whose face I still see in the water’s reflections, as if he’s beside me.
Without being at home, close to our garden, my only remaining connections to him are the music he loved and his family, each inseparably intertwined with the other. Since Mom’s parents passed away before I was even born, she had no one to lean on once Dad got sick. So, Grandma Liliana came from France to live with us in Harmony. She was a lot of help in the beginning, but a few months after Dad died, she left our lives in a blaze of horror, literally. The last time I saw her she showed up at my second-grade Valentine’s Day party and purposely started a fire that almost wiped out an entire class of eight-year-olds.
She was carted back to France and has been locked away in the city of Versailles ever since, at a prison for the criminally insane. Ironic, considering that was her second attempt at killing me. Although I often wonder if I imagined the first . . . if the details got mixed up in my seven-year-old brain because I was fighting so hard for my life. According to what Grandma told Mom, it had all been an accident.
I shiver and rub the scar on my left knee that peeks through the rip in my jeans, a reminder imprinted on my skin. A reminder of the splintering wood I kicked my way through . . . a reminder that, accident or not, I didn’t imagine it.
“You have a gift.” Mom’s statement rakes across the intrusive memory, ripping through the cobwebs and dangling dead hopes in my heart that have settled where a loving and sane grandmother should’ve been. “This place will help you realize your potential. Be grateful for the opportunity.”
Mom doesn’t get that I want to be grateful. I miss how singing once made me feel: free, unique, complete.
But what if Grandma was right about me . . . about everything?
The aria I heard earlier in the elevator bumps against my ribs once more, making my breath shallow. From the time they started dating, Dad taught Mom French. He’d done the same for me since birth, and she continued his tutelage after we lost him. Because of that, I know enough to be comfortable here. But the opera piping through the speakers had sounded Russian. I have no idea what the name of it is or what it’s about. I don’t have to know. Now that the notes are woven within me, the words are imprinted alongside them. Whether or not I can translate what I’m singing, I’ll still remember how to form each syllable on my tongue when the time comes to release the song.
It’s like I have an auditory photographic memory, although it’s not something I can quietly absorb then let sit on the back of my eyelids like an image, hidden from everyone else’s view. There’s nothing private about my ability.
Dread tightens my throat. I need to ease the tension, to rid myself of the music. But I don’t want to lose it in the back of a limo. It’s too confined; and then there’s the driver . . .
Everyone has experienced the feeling, stepping into a room and the other people stop talking. This happens to me each time I sing. Wall-to-wall silence. If a sweat drop were to fall, you could hear it splatter to the floor. Not an awkward silence. More like an awed hush.
I have no right to be proud because it’s nothing I’ve earned. Up until recently, I’d never had a voice lesson in my life. Yet, ever since I was small, opera has been a living, breathing part of me.
The problem is that as I’ve grown, it’s become more demanding . . . an entity that controls me. Once a song speaks to my subconscious, the notes become a toxin I have to release through my diaphragm, my vocal cords, my tongue.
The only way I can breathe again is through a binge and purge of music. The worst part is what follows—how finishing a performance makes me feel. Stripped naked, cold and exposed. Physically sick. Only hours later, after the symptoms of withdrawal have run their course, can I become myself once more. At least until the next melody possesses me, like the one snaking through me now.
My legs start to jitter, and I clamp my hands on my knees. I cough to suppress the tune that’s climbing my throat like bile.
“Rune, are you all right? You’re awfully flushed. Is it . . . ?” She takes one look at my face and moans. My flushed cheeks and dilated pupils are her only cue. She’s never seen what I see in the mirror . . . what Dad used to see when music burned inside me: my irises brightening to a lighter, almost ethereal hue, like sunlight streaming through green glass. Dad called it an energy surge, but because Mom couldn’t see it, she laughed him off.
“Just get it over with,” she insists.
Another cough—hard enough to strain my vocal cords. “I can’t sing in here.” The nagging notes tangle in my throat. “What if I hit a high C and break the windows? Your clothes won’t survive that much rain.”
She frowns, oblivious to the way my skin prickles under my raincoat, to the sweat beads gathered at my hairline beneath my cap. I dig through the bag at my feet—an oversized tote, with burgundy, mauve, and green beads sewn onto the pearly front to depict roses and leaves—and drag out my newest knitting project.
Mouth closed, I go to work on the cream-colored sweater I started a few weeks ago. With each metal clack of the needles, the fluffy chenille skims lightly through my fingertips. The cold instruments are firm and empowering in my hands. I start the looping and rolling rhythm so the tactile stimulus can distract me—a strategy that sometimes works.
Mom’s frowning lips soften to a frustrated straight line. “The one good thing your Grandmother Lil ever taught you, and you use it for a crutch.”
Ignoring her, I snap my wrists so the needles loop and roll, twist and twirl. Chenille winds around the shimmery silver metal like strands of cotton candy on a cone.
“The music wouldn’t affect you like this if you’d just stop fighting it.” Mom presses, trying to stall my hands.
“Why should I have to fight it to begin with, Mom? Is that normal?” I pull free and return to my rhythmic escape.
Mom shakes her head, steadfast in her denial. Secure in her faith in me. If only I could borrow some of it.
I wish I were like those mimes we saw on a street corner when we shopped. If I could pantomime a song’s exit from my body—a silent and effective murder of melody—maybe I could once more be grateful for my gift, instead of fearing its gradual and violent consumption of me: body, mind, and soul.
Now that you have the answer to the question, head back over to BookEmoji’s blog and use it inside the INTL rafflecopter to unlock your chance to win an arc + mask set along with the mystery prize revealed below.
The Super Secret Phantom-themed Prize is:
Good luck to everyone! Hope you enjoyed the tour, and thanks for taking part. Don’t forget to buy your copy of RoseBlood when it hits shelves January 10th, 2017! In the meantime, you can check out more RoseBlood treats over here.