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FACING THE MUSIC

Vivian Zhu

You have a gift, they all said. The gift of music. What fools they were, to think that precision was merely playing all the right notes exactly as they are written, or that passion was simply getting lost in the music that came out of her fingers. Annabelle used to laugh in spite of herself whenever someone commented on how “lucky” she was to be so young and so gifted. She didn‟t consider her talent to be a gift, but maybe it was all a matter of perspective. Because what kind of gift was the monster‟s voice inside her head? What kind of gift would strip you of your sanity until you collapse with numb exhaustion and stiff fingertips? While it was she who controlled her body, he was the one who controlled her life, and there was nothing she could do to stop him. It was a shame for Annabelle, really: she had been taken to see the best doctors in the nation to silence the voice in her head, but nothing worked. Not the antipsychotics, not the therapy, and certainly not quitting the violin. No matter how many pills she took in the morning, he would always find his way back and coax her into playing his game again, and they all turned a blind eye on her illness so long as she could continue to delight them with her talents. So she decided one night, while her cheeks were still red with fever, that her final act needed to be one of self-love: the thought of taking her own life on her own terms was the only thing that ever made her feel alive anymore. What was there to live for anyways now that everybody she loved gave up on her and left her to fight the voice in her head by herself? Annabelle didn‟t bother to lace up her leather boots this time as she left her apartment. The last big snow storm had left the roads icy and dangerous with black slush and muddy, frozen puddles filling up in all the uneven parts of the street. She had seen one too many cars slide across the street and heard too many horns blare in protest to know that this was just the right spot for her. It would be the perfect accident. She could already see the newspaper headline in her mind and smiled for the first time in ages. How did the saying go? Only the good die young? She hoped that they would use an attractive photo for the obituary. She deserved to be remembered looking her best once she was gone, didn‟t she?

Annabelle took one last look at the world around her: the orange glow of the streetlamps, the smell of the warm bread from the bakery at the corner of the block, the sound of people walking to-and-fro; the adrenaline coursing through her veins heightened her sense of the colors and sounds around her, as if her body was making a last ditch effort to remind her of all the life there still was left in the world. But it will go on without me. There was no looking back: one moment of hesitation and she would be right back where she started. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply to calm herself down. Of course she was terrified by what she was about to do; the wild thrumming of her heart pulsed loudly in her ears like a frantic drum bursting with the life she was desperate to let go of. She could do this. She must do this; she had to take back what should have been hers to begin with; she had to set herself free. Everybody else was gone, and she was tired of listening to the voice in her head. Silence—dead silence—was preferable. The last thing she remembered hearing was a cacophony of car horns and the unbearable coldness that seemed to envelope her. How strange—wasn‟t Hell supposed to be hot? There was no bright flash of her life‟s greatest hits before her. There was only the cold, wet cement and a throbbing pain that she couldn‟t quite make out. She didn‟t dare to open her eyes. She couldn‟t let herself hope for a second chance, not at a time like this. Slowly, she began to drift off into a murky, dark sleep, one that she would never wake from again…

-“It‟s alright, you‟re safe. You‟re going to be okay, I promise. Just close your eyes and go back to sleep.”

--

Bright sunlight streaked through a window, momentarily blinding Annabelle with its overwhelming whiteness. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust.

Adjust to what? Something had happened to her. Why couldn‟t she remember? And there was something wrong about the way the sunlight hit her face; the lace curtains in her bedroom were always drawn, so that even the morning sun would be shadowed by manufactured patterns. Unfiltered sunshine still reminded her too much of that old house near the tulip fields, and the last thing she needed was a reminder of the old life she had left behind. She forced herself to sit up, suddenly aware of how stiff and sore and dizzy she was. Her throbbing left arm was lined with blooming purple bruises and scabbed over scrapes, the skin around them still stinging. Her left hand, the one with calloused fingertips reached to touch her face. The once smooth skin on her cheek was now raw and tender to touch, and her forehead was hot, too hot. Her entire body ached from something that was not fatigue: nevertheless, it was a dull pain, a lingering soreness from some unreachable memory. What happened to me? Annabelle‟s eyes searched the bedroom for answers, trying to remember how she ended up here. She couldn‟t tell anything about the owner of it because of how sparsely furnished it was: it looked like any ordinary room, with white shuttered windows, bare beige walls, cream carpets. Nondescript—yes, that was the word. This place had no discernible personality. Whatever restful sleep she might have gotten now left her disoriented and feverish, like the morning after that one time she decided to help herself to the half-empty bottle of vodka in Mme. Petrova‟s liquor cabinet. Annabelle toyed with the idea of having had some drunken escapade and waking up in a stranger‟s bed and laughed until she started coughing. Those sorts of things happened to other people, but not her. Annabelle pushed herself to get up, but moved too quickly and nearly fell over. Her right hand reached out to grab the bedpost as she steadied herself onto her feet, and her knees felt as if they would buckle underneath her if she let go. What was wrong with her? Why was she so weak? She tried again, slower this time, gingerly putting one foot in front of the other until she finally reached the door. The room was spinning as she

grabbed the doorknob for support. She was just about to open the door when she heard voices on the other side of the wall. “I feel like I don‟t know you anymore.” A woman‟s voice. “Why can‟t you just be happy for me?” “Because I can‟t stand to think that this is what it comes down to. I thought you wanted more than that, that you weren‟t going to settle for anything less.” “Is that what you really think? That I‟m too good for this offer? Because I‟m not, and there‟s no point denying it!” Silence. “This fight is about us, isn‟t it?” “No,” he replied too quickly. “No, it‟s not! I want to make you understand that you‟re throwing away everything you‟ve ever dreamed of: writing your own music, recording your own albums…isn‟t that what you‟ve always wanted?” Before she realized what she was doing, Annabelle found herself opening the door so she could see the people in the hallway. The moment was too personal, too intimate, and she found it impossible to tear herself away. “When are you going to finally give up on your daydream delusions of what being a musician is and see that you can‟t just live like it doesn‟t bother you that we‟re wasting the best years of our lives doing nothing? Tell me, when was the last time you wrote a song that actually mattered to you? When was the last time your passion ever made a difference? If you really gave a damn about what I wanted, you would be happy for me for having an opportunity like this at all. Don‟t you care about me? Don‟t you want me to be happy?” “Penelope, I…” “Just because you haven‟t fulfilled your dreams it doesn‟t mean I‟m not allowed to pursue mine,” Penelope sobbed, turning away from him and towards the door. “Please, don‟t. Just—just leave me alone.” Silence followed the click of the door closing. When Annabelle looked up, she felt Josh‟s eyes on her. She held his gaze for a moment before looking down, embarrassed to have been caught. Somehow she wasn‟t surprised that he knew she had been eavesdropping all along. “I‟m a fool, aren‟t I?” his voice was barely audible, and Annabelle was unsure if he was talking to her or to himself. “I drive away everybody I love, everybody who has

ever meant anything to me.” His shoulders were shaking, and it took Annabelle a moment to realize that he was crying. “I‟m sorry, I‟m sorry…”

--

Insolent girl! Did you really think you could get rid of me so easily? No. The sound of that voice in her head sparked an unpleasant memory, as if the lights were rudely flicked on in the dark just as you were about to fall asleep. Annabelle had retreated back into the bedroom after that moment when their eyes met; Josh had left without saying a word, but something sparked an understanding between the two that words couldn‟t have explained anyhow. They were both broken in different ways, yet broken all the same. She watched him disappear from the window in the bedroom and let the silence satiate all her unanswered questions. There was nothing to do but lean against the windowsill and watch the cars below her pass by. A woman in a blue suit and large hat exited a taxi. Pedestrians walked past each other, not acknowledging one another. They all had their own lives to worry about, never mind the girl looking out from the fifth floor window with the blank expression and red cheeks. Soon, it began to rain, and the people below opened the umbrellas they carried. Black, they were all a utilitarian black. Annabelle traced a line down the windowpane with her calloused fingers and bruised hand. These weren‟t the delicate and soft hands of a lady—they had been hardened by the labor of hours upon hours of dedication. You’re a disgrace of a violinist. Just look at what you did to yourself. A flood of memories came rushing back to her, bits and pieces of the pain and loneliness she tried so hard to suppress. She could hear the opening bars of a song she once played, a convoluted melody inspired by a fallen angel, and although the name of the piece was on the tip of her tongue, she couldn‟t quite remember its name. She was a violinist, although saying it like that wasn‟t entirely accurate, was it? Annabelle was the child prodigy who became an international sensation at the age of twelve when her some Grammy-winning composer praised her performance of a

complicated violin sonata at Carnegie Hall; the rest was history. It was the happiest moment of her life—at least that‟s what she told the interviewers. In truth, she had a hard time remembering what happiness even felt like anymore, but she knew deep down that she had been happy once; pain like hers took standing on top of the world and then losing it all to get to where she was now. Her attempt at suicide had failed: she had been granted a second chance at a life she didn‟t want in the first place. You’re worthless. You couldn’t even kill yourself. Wasn‟t that always the game? No matter what she did or how hard she tried, Annabelle would always lose to the monster inside her head. In his mind—was it not her mind too? —he was the true genius while she was merely the puppet on strings. It hurt knowing that he was right. She meant it that day when she confessed to Mme. Petrova that the voice inside her head was a blessing and a curse: even though he drove her mad to the point of tears, it was that madness that made her extraordinary. She certainly wouldn‟t have been able to play that sonata the way she did without him. “No!” Annabelle wept, tears spilling down her cheeks. No. She wasn‟t worthless. He was wrong—she was worthy of her life. She hugged her knees in tight, crying quietly to herself. He wasn‟t real. No. He was just a delusion, a hallucination. She made him up all those years ago, that‟s all…

Annabelle woke up to Josh wiping her brow with a cold washcloth. She shivered at its cool touch and the room was spinning again, but at least this time she managed a whisper. “Why did you save me?” He brushed the hair away from her forehead and looked her in the eyes when he replied. “Because I couldn‟t watch you go through with it. And even though I don‟t know what your story is or what you were running away from, I know you deserve a second chance.”

-“He‟s gone, Annabelle. He left us. What are we going to do?”

She would never forget the sound of her mother‟s tears choked up in her throat that night when she broke the news to her, or the hiccoughing sobs that came later at three in the morning when her mother thought Annabelle was asleep. Who could blame her for crying like that? No one had seen it coming. No one could have prepared her for this. It wasn‟t the fact that her father had left her and her mother for Louisa; Annabelle knew that she would someday be able to forgive him for that. She could bear it if it meant that she would still be able to visit him from time to time. Instead, he disappeared. No, that wasn‟t exactly it. He had left them signed paperwork to a very reasonable divorce settlement and a handwritten note, messily scribbled on the back of some sheet music that had been left on the kitchen counter. He told them not to go looking for him, because there was nothing left to talk about and that he didn‟t want to see them ever again—he had left to go start a new life for himself, you see, and it would be best if his old life didn‟t come back to haunt him. Those were his exact words. It was like a slap in the face. At first, it hurt so much that sometimes Annabelle forgot to breathe. She retreated into silence, thinking that if she could stop playing, stop talking, and stop smiling, then that cruel jokester, fate, would see that no one was laughing and give her her old life back. There was a time when Annabelle seriously considered giving up the violin because it reminded her too much of him. She almost did. It had been too painful to even look at the sad instrument, and tucked it away in the closet, thinking that hiding it would keep the music out of her head. But when she could avoid it no longer, she dusted the black leather case, tightened her bow, and her fingers found their home once again. Only this time, no matter how many violins she played or how closely she followed the score, Annabelle could not give her music that passion that was there before. Instead, a voice started whispering to her, coaxing her to play the way he wanted her to. He has been there ever since.

Annabelle awoke in cold sweat. Her breathing was shallow, as if taking smaller breaths would help to fill the hollowness inside her chest. She couldn‟t sleep, not anymore. It was always like this. One moment she would be perfectly fine, going about her daily routine, and then she would remember that note again, painful strokes carved onto her heart until it physically hurt. Remembering was the worst: every time it hit, the wall of strength she tried so hard to build up would come tumbling down in an instant and she would break again, just like the very first time. Annabelle was surprised to see that a light was still on when she walked out into the hallway. Josh was sitting at the kitchen counter writing in his notebook with crumpled sheets of torn out paper scattered around him. He must have heard her footsteps, because his shadowed eyes looked as if he was expecting her even at this hour. “My name is Annabelle. I‟m a violinist, and I did it because I couldn‟t live with myself anymore, knowing that I will never be able to play well enough for him. For either of them.” The words tumbled out of her mouth before she could stop them from coming. She couldn‟t take it anymore. She had to talk, to let go. It had been so long since she last had any sort of real conversation with anybody that she didn‟t have to pay for by the hour. “I hear a voice in my head, Josh. He‟s been there, talking to me, telling me what to do ever since—” Annabelle‟s tears caught in her throat, cutting her off. She couldn‟t say it, not now, not ever. Suddenly, Josh‟s arms were wrapped around her, hugging her tightly to his chest. “It‟s going to be alright,” he whispered. He wiped a tear that managed to slip out from under her eyelashes. For a minute, she let herself pretend that this was the only thing in the world that mattered: the feeling of safety enveloped in the warmth of Josh‟s embrace. She let herself feel the soft brush of his stubble on her cheek and inhale the lingering notes of his cologne, trying to remember as many details as possible before he let her go. “He left me, Josh. Even after he promised that he‟d always be there for me…he threw it all away like I was nothing to him and said he never wanted to see me again.” “I‟m so sorry, Annabelle.”

“He was the one who taught me how to play the violin. My father…when he left, he took my music with him too.” And still, Josh did not let go. “You haven‟t lost your music. Annabelle, I‟ll help you find it again, if you let me.”

--

Josh was playing his guitar that afternoon. It would have been easy for her to leave without saying goodbye—all Annabelle had to do was slip out the door and never look back; Josh wouldn‟t notice until it was too late. With time, she knew she could convince herself that none of this really happened, that it was all just a fever dream and Josh was just a figment of her imagination. She would pretend that the scars on her arms were from tripping on the sidewalk on her way back home from Mme. Petrova‟s and not her lousy suicide attempt. She should take better care of herself and lace up her boots next time so she didn‟t fall gracelessly like that again; it wouldn‟t do for her to be so careless. And yet Annabelle knew that if she left like this, she would spend the rest of her life wondering if Josh was the one who would finally be able to fix the emptiness inside her chest. For the first time in years, she let a flower of hope blossom in her heart when he said the words if you let me. She wanted to tell him yes, of course she would let him teach her how to love again, but the moment passed and she had said nothing in reply when he held her that night. “Annabelle.” She startled at the sound of her name on his lips. It was too late for her to leave now; he had already seen her standing by the doorway and was saying her name like it was poetry. How could she say no to that? “I want to ask you what you think of this song I wrote.” They sat down on his bed together, and he started strumming the opening chords of his song on his guitar again, eyes closed in concentration. Dreams flutter beneath those eyelids, she thought fleetingly. Annabelle flushed, thinking for a moment that she had said that out loud.

She quickly lowered her gaze towards the guitar itself, studying the way his thumb would strike the strings with the same, repetitive rhythm, subconsciously noticing how his tempo was slightly off with every third beat. No, you can’t think like that. She closed her eyes and tried to drown herself with the sound of his voice instead, but it was only a matter of seconds before she couldn‟t stop hearing how the C notes he sang just slightly off pitch. This was the tragedy of being a music prodigy: her entire life had been spent devoted to picking up every flaw in rhythm and intonation that she had forgotten how to listen to music without ruining it for herself anymore. Try harder. She opened her eyes again, this time noticing the smile playing on his lips and the way it made the corners of his eyes wrinkle. She paid attention to the way he cradled the neck of his guitar with such confidence but also gentleness, showing his instrument the utmost respect and also love. What did she ever do to deserve to ever know someone so pure of heart? “So what did you think?” he asked. He smiled at her and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear, and it took all of Annabelle‟s strength to not let know how much his touch affected her. “It was beautiful,” Annabelle breathed. She had been so mesmerized in her own thoughts that she didn‟t even catch the ending. You’re beautiful, she wanted to tell him. Josh set his guitar down and fell back onto the bed. “My mother once told me this story about the Angel of Music. I couldn‟t have been more than six or seven then, but I knew even then that I wanted to be a musician for the rest of my life. Anyways, the part that resonated with me the most was the idea that this Angel would visit every musician exactly once: the moment he needs a miracle to happen the most. And after the musician heard the Angel, he would be forever inspired to make beautiful music to share with the rest of the world. “I know, you probably think I‟m mad, still believing in fairy tales in this day and age. Maybe a part of me keeps holding on to these dreams because I still want to believe in miracles, now more than ever. My parents are finally cutting me off after the new year, and I‟ve been desperately trying to convince myself that if I hold out a little longer and try a little harder, the Angel will finally find me and give me the miracle I‟ve spent my entire life chasing.”

Annabelle leaned back into the soft pillows and stared up at the ceiling. The sun had moved behind the clouds and the shadows started to dance around the room, softly playing tricks on her eyes. She wanted to tell him that he filled her with such hope but her words continued to fail her. “Sometimes I wonder if I‟ve been visited by the Angel already and just haven‟t realized it yet.” She wasn‟t even sure if Josh was talking anymore, or if she was imagining things again. Did it matter? There was only one thought that played over and over in her head: You are his Angel, Annabelle…

--

Outside, the rain was pouring down onto the pavement, drenching the city with both melancholy and renewal on the eve of the new year. Even though spring was still months away, Annabelle could already feel the warmth seeping into her bones at the promise of a new beginning. She had invited Josh over to her apartment to help her choose a song to play for the opening of an upcoming concert, but seeing him sitting at her kitchen counter leafing through her stacks of sheet music made her wonder if it had been a good idea to invite him over after all. She tried and failed to stop her hands from trembling as she took her bow out and began to rub its strings with rosin. “What about this song?” Josh hummed the first few notes instinctively. “A Time for Us, by Nino Rota,” Annabelle said, without missing a beat. Her fingers still remembered its melody almost achingly, even though she hadn‟t played it in years. “It‟s the love theme from the Zeffirelli adaption of Romeo and Juliet, right? I‟d love to hear you play it. It must sound beautiful on the violin.” He couldn‟t have known that this was the first song her father had taught her, or that she had opened every concert with it until the day he left. No, Josh couldn‟t have known that she had spent weeks and months after that day her father left her playing this song over and over again, as if playing it just right would bring him back into her life

once more. Then one day, she decided she had had enough of this stupid song and violently ripped the original sheet music to shreds. Not long after, Mme. Petrova, her new violin instructor, found her sobbing over that pile of paper confetti and immediately set out to buy another copy of the score in an attempt to soothe her rage and anxiety. Although Annabelle was touched by the gesture, it was in that moment that she knew that Mme. Petrova would never understand what she was going through. No one ever would. Before Josh could say anything else, Annabelle grabbed the first score she could get her hands on and set it on the stand; she hardly had any time to think before she found herself playing the waltz from Tchaikovsky‟s Opus 66, the Sleeping Beauty ballet suite. Although she generally preferred to perform solo, Mme. Petrova arranged for her to play the first violin‟s part in the chamber orchestra on the opening night of the New York City Ballet‟s production of Sleeping Beauty earlier that year. The finger work was easier than most of the sonatas and concertos she normally performed, so Annabelle didn‟t need the same deep concentration for this piece as she did for Tartini‟s Devil‟s Trill Sonata; nevertheless, its music still had that peculiar effect on her: she was taught to make it her one and only focus, and for a few minutes, Tchaikovsky‟s score was the only thing in the world that mattered. The voice in her head demanded a flawless execution, and flawless was what he‟d get. She played it as perfectly as she always did, so when her eyes met Josh‟s gaze at the end of her performance, she immediately felt a wave of shame wash over her at the flicker of disappointment in his eyes. “You hated it,” she said flatly. She should have played something else, something lovelier or more complex— “No,” he said, and stood up from his chair. “No,” he said, more gently this time. “I couldn‟t hate something so beautifully executed, but…you already know that your precision to play by the book is the reason that you‟re so caught up with that discipline that it‟s not you playing any longer, don‟t you? “I want to see you play, Annabelle. I want to see you let it go,” he said. “Let what go?” “Let yourself go. Forget about everything else, and just play it the way your heart wants you to.”

He held out his right hand and placed his left on her waist. “I want to try something. We‟re going to pretend that you‟re the princess and I‟m your prince,” he whispered into her ear. His proximity made her feel as though her body was a live wire, sparkling with electricity everywhere they made contact. “It‟ll be easy, don‟t worry. Now, I‟m going to sing the melody you just played and we‟re going to dance, okay? Just try to forget about everything else and focus on this.” “I know you, I walked with you once upon a dream…” Annabelle could hardly pay attention to the song or the dance. She was glad that Josh was too concentrated on the song and dance to hear her heart pounding erratically through her chest. Annabelle twirled and stepped to the rhythm, laughing when she got stuck mid twirl. It ended all too soon, and while Annabelle wanted to continue dancing, Josh insisted that she try and play it this time with a new perspective on the song. What Josh had forgotten to say was that it was even easier to not pretend at all: as the notes bounded out of Annabelle‟s fingertips, she knew in that moment that the princess had already fallen in love with the prince in her dreams.

--

It was dark when Annabelle woke up on the morning of her first concert of the new year. She stood in front of her bathroom mirror for hours, rehearsing what she would say when she gave Josh a ticket to the show she was performing in that night. The moment had to be perfect, and she knew from experience that perfection required practice. Annabelle still remembered her first time performing at Carnegie Hall like it was yesterday. Even though she had lost count of the number of times she performed on its stage since then, there was always a certain special thrill about going back to the great hall on the eve of every concert. Her pace slowed when she reached his hallway, surprised to see that his door had been left ajar; Annabelle knew Josh was moving out soon, but she didn‟t think the movers would be here so soon and so early in the morning. She was just about to push the door open until she heard him talking.

“I chased after you that day you walked out, but it was too late,” Josh confessed. “I thought I was too late, and I knew I had to tell you that I‟m so sorry for everything I said the other day. You were right, I—” “Josh. I forgive you,” Penelope said, her voice so confident and sincere. “And I can‟t tell you how much the song you wrote for me means to me.” It was all Annabelle heard before she sank to the ground in tears. Of course. Of course the song he asked me to listen to was written for Penelope. How could I have been so foolish? You don’t need him to be who you are, Annabelle. The voice inside her head was talking to her again. And who am I supposed to be? Silly girl, don’t you remember? You’re the one who can play the violin as exquisitely as the Devil himself. As if you need love to seduce an audience. You have me. I’m all you need. You’re no Angel of Music. She could hear him laughing at her inside her head. Lucifer was the Angel of Music before he was sent to Hell, my child. You could say the so-called ‘Angel of Music’ visited Tartini in his sleep, but why bother with deceiving pseudonyms? Only a fool would deny the Devil’s genius and refer to him as an angel still. All miracles come with a price. The Devil—what an apt name for that voice inside her head. Giuseppe Tartini, the composer of the Devil‟s Trill Sonata in G Minor, said that the Devil visited him in his dream, and played a melody so hypnotic and seductive that he couldn‟t get him out of his mind. But unlike the Devil that visited Tartini, Annabelle‟s was here to stay. It was no coincidence that she was the youngest musician to have ever mastered “with the haunting beauty of the Devil playing in Tartini‟s dreams.” Of course, no one but Mme. Petrova knew of just how intimate her understanding of that sonata was; all anybody cared to know was that she could play it better than anyone else. It was the piece she opened every concert with and was what she would always be known for. Annabelle was the girl who could play like the Devil himself. If only they knew.

Laughter spilled from out of the apartment. She didn‟t belong here. Annabelle slammed the door to the stairwell on her way out, not caring if the noise startled them. She hoped that they would notice. She was already halfway down the stairs when she heard Josh calling her name, but she couldn‟t look back. Annabelle kept running down the stairs until she finally reached the first floor landing before stealing one last upward glance. Then, she walked out into the streets where the snow was gently falling. She did her best not to think about anything at all.

--

It was just after one when the knocking on her door began. “Annabelle? Are you in there? It‟s me.” She wanted to open the door and let him hold her in his arms again, more than anything in the world. She wanted to hear him lie to her again and tell her that everything was going to be okay, but she couldn‟t keep doing this anymore. The voice inside her head had spoken, and Annabelle couldn‟t fight any longer. The door was unlocked, but Josh didn‟t know that yet. If he really wanted to come in and pull her out of her prison, he needed to figure it out himself and prove that he was here for her and wouldn‟t give up on her so easily. I need to know that you’re not going to leave me and break my heart like he did. She picked up her bow and placed her fingers on the opening bars of the sonata that made her famous. Soon, the muscle memory forced her fingers across the strings, and she allowed her Devil, to take over, fully succumbing to his strive for perfection and letting the music consume her. At that moment, nothing else mattered besides the perfect sound she created with her violin, a heart-wrenchingly beautiful melody, one that only a fallen angel from heaven could be capable of conjuring. But it wasn‟t her music. It was his. Faster, faster. Loosen your fingers. Remember the double-stop trills.

The double-stop trills: the most technically demanding fingerings ever written, fingerings that could stumble even the best violinists on their off-days. But like an acrobat on a tightrope, Annabelle‟s fingers danced gracefully over the strings. She exhaled in relief. She—they—had done it. Played it perfectly once again. The clapping came from the doorway. “Devil‟s Trill Sonata?” Annabelle nodded. Her prince had come after all. His hair and black wool peacoat was dusted with snowflakes, and she wanted so desperately to go over and invite him into the warmth. But she couldn‟t let herself do that. Not now, not without knowing the truth. “I‟ve never heard anything like it be—” “You just don‟t get it, do you?” Annabelle muttered under her breath, shaking her head. “There is no Angel of Music. Only the Devil, disguised as a blessing. Believe me, I would know better than anybody.” “Annabelle—” “No, Josh. Don‟t tell me you understand. Don‟t tell me that you think that I‟m just nervous for my concert, or that everything is going to be okay, because it won‟t be! I know you don‟t understand, because I‟ve heard you play and sing your songs before, and…” she was crying now, but this time Josh made no move to comfort her. Was it because he finally saw that the monster was also the girl? “I‟m never going to be okay because he‟s there, Josh. He‟s always there inside my head, playing his songs, playing me. Don‟t you see? Tartini‟s Devil is my Angel of Music, and I can‟t play the way I do without him. “I thought that maybe you would be able to break the spell,” her voice was nearly a whisper now, but she forced herself to look him in the eyes. “I thought that if you could care about me enough, then maybe I would finally be free and whole again. I nearly convinced myself that maybe everything would finally be okay after all, and it was because I thought you could save me, and that I would save you in return. When you confessed to me that you believed in the Angel of Music, I was so sure that I had a real chance, because I was desperate enough to believe that maybe I was your Angel. “Remember when we danced to Tchaikovsky that afternoon? Do you remember that? It was the happiest day of my life, and that time right after our little waltz was the first time since I was diagnosed with schizophrenia that I didn‟t hear him tell me how to

play. I thought that maybe I was finally getting my life together again, until I saw Penelope at your apartment this morning.” Annabelle knew he wasn‟t going to meet her gaze this time. His expression was unreadable, but at least he had the decency to not deny or justify Penelope‟s visit. There was no need for explanation. “I don‟t know why I was stupid enough to believe that you could love me. Maybe it‟s because your words gave me so much hope and I was desperate to believe in miracles again too. But I‟m not the princess in your dreams. Penelope is, isn‟t she? She‟s your true Angel of Music, and you‟re hers.” His heart was too full for her. He loved Penelope too much to be able to love Annabelle in the way that she deserved. “So I guess this is it then. You‟re here to say goodbye once and for all, aren‟t you?” Annabelle tried so hard to keep her voice steady as she said the last part, but the words choked up in her throat. “Well?” “Annabelle, please.” What? Before Annabelle could catch her breath, his lips were on hers. She was melting, lightheaded, exposed. At first, his kisses were gentle, and the butterflies in her stomach fluttered. But as they got more passionate and insistent, the fluttering did too. She swooned at the loveliness, falling harder and faster than she did the first time. I guess he is my Angel after all.

--

The rest of the afternoon was a blur of happiness and disbelief. If you had asked Annabelle to recount what happened that day she wouldn‟t have been able to tell you: all she could remember was the state of pure bliss she had felt all the way until she began to warm up in one of the dressing rooms at Carnegie Hall. It was then when she saw the envelope with her name written on it placed in front of her sheet music that she knew something was wrong. There was only one person who

could have left it there, but Annabelle couldn‟t understand what he would have to say to her in a letter that he couldn‟t have told her in the afternoon. Her fingers fumbled to rip the envelope open to find a photocopy on plain printer paper of Nino Rota‟s „A Time for Us.‟ It had to be a joke. Fate was playing games with her again, proving to her once again that happiness would never last: only sadness, only heartache. One the other side of the sheet music, Josh wrote what must have been a long, thoughtful letter explaining everything—it certainly looked long enough. But after the first two words, Annabelle didn‟t need to read any further. She knew all that she needed to know from those two words. I’m sorry. At first, she couldn‟t feel anything at all. It was as if time had stopped altogether, and Annabelle was stuck in a vacuum where nothing existed at all. Then, the emotions bubbled up, completely and wholly overwhelming her. Sorrow. Denial. Shock. Rage. Rejection. A sob escaped her chest, followed by another and then another. This time, there was no one that she could seek a warm embrace, soothing words, and comforting promises from. She was alone, and this time was no different from the first. Maybe she was going to have to get used to men walking out of her life like she meant nothing to them; maybe she was going to have to get used to getting her heart broken because she wanted love all the same. Annabelle looked at her reflection in the mirror. She was a mess, eyes puffy and red, lips swollen and trembling, cheeks burning and splotchy. She suddenly couldn‟t stand to see her face anymore. She grabbed her block of rosin and hurled it as hard as she possibly could at the mirror. The glass cracked upon impact, but no shards fell off. She was pathetic, really. What good was a broken mirror if she couldn‟t fashion a knife out of its shards? Josh had stopped her the last time she had tried to commit suicide, pulling her out of the way: he gave her reason to live again, to smile and love after years of manic depression and schizophrenia, only to take it all back in an instant, even after he promised that he‟d be there to help her face the music. Annabelle hated herself for needing him

now more than ever, and she sobbed because she still loved him in spite of everything he put her through. “Annabelle?” Mme. Petrova said through the closed door. “You have two minutes before your show begins.” You have to let it go, Annabelle. Josh‟s words rang in her ears as if he was standing in the dressing room with her, and even though she knew he was gone already, she wanted nothing more than to believe that he was here with her now, waiting in the audience for her to get up on stage and play the song they had chosen together. She knew Josh wouldn‟t want her to play for anybody, but she would play for him anyways. Her legs felt clumsy as she walked towards the stage, as though her body already knew the answer she dreaded to accept, even though her mind insisted that he would be there for her, if only she kept walking forwards. Soon, the faint sound of the dying applause became audible, and she was standing before thousands of people, alone on the most prestigious concert stage that every musician dreamed of playing on. Annabelle found herself giving a small bow as the audience gave her another round of applause. The stage lights were blindingly bright, and she couldn‟t make out anybody in the audience. She felt lightheaded, and suddenly wanted nothing more than to run off and out the door. She had had her chance to run, but now it was too late. Slowly, she brought her violin to her shoulder, her arms shaking. She stared at her violin, watching the way her fingers clamped tightly to the strings. Her right arm felt numb as she raised the bow. Her entire body felt numb. What was she thinking? She couldn‟t do this. No. Her arms fell limply to her sides, and her bow clattered to the ground, sending echoes throughout the hall. There were gasps from the audience. The heat crept up her neck and face, but she forced herself to plant her feet firmly in place. She can‟t—she won‟t run. If she let herself run this time, she knew she would never be able to come back. That was the thing about being in any sort of limelight: they were always watching and waiting for her to fall apart and never come back, as if her fall from grace was their story to tell. What a shame, they would say. She was so young and so gifted, and she let a broken heart get in the way of it all.

She picked up her bow from the ground and took a deep breath. Everything was going to be all right, Josh had promised. You deserve a second chance. You will find your music again, and I’ll help you, if you let me. He had made so many of promises to her, but she never thought that he could also take them back from her in an instant. His words always sounded so sure, so right that she couldn‟t help but to assume that they‟d stay true, but she knew better now than to believe that good things last. “Not the waltz,” she turned to Mme. Petrova, her piano accompaniment. It felt like betrayal to be play the song of her dreams in front of an audience like this, although she wasn‟t sure if she was betraying Josh or her just memories of him anymore. Let it go, Annabelle. Forget about everything else and play what your heart wants to. Hearts were such fickle things, and Annabelle was no good at listening to what it wanted; she always gave in to rash lapses of judgment at all the wrong times. She realized early on that her discipline was the only thing that could keep her from heartache, letting her madness became a duet of passionate hate and strive for perfection: an insatiable task, yet one she took comfort in all the same for its constancy in her life. Doing what her heart wanted was dangerous, because her discipline had no authority over its desires. But now, Annabelle knew without a doubt that this was what she had to do. “I‟m going to be playing „A Time for Us,‟ from Nino Rota‟s score for Romeo and Juliet,” Annabelle said into the microphone. She almost added a dedication to Josh but stopped herself at the last moment. It would have been wrong, because it wasn‟t about him any more. Annabelle had never understood Romeo and Juliet and how they could fight for a love that was never meant to be until now. The young lovers had fated themselves for tragedy when they put too much faith that each would save the other, and Annabelle now recognized that she would be similarly damned if she spent the rest of her life waiting for her Romeo to save her. She was going to have to free herself instead, and nothing had ever been so liberating.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

HK, how could I have possibly made it this far without you? Thank you for your unfailing enthusiasm for this story and for helping me discover Tartini‟s Devil‟s Trill Sonata—if music be the food of love, your classical music expertise is what gave me inspiration to finally finish composing the first draft of this piece after seventeen months of struggling in vain. ZL, I can‟t even begin to explain how thankful I am for your encouragement as I set out to edit and rewrite parts of this story after letting it collect (virtual) dust for almost two years. Thank you for letting me rant about literally everything about this story, from the character inspiration to my research process, and for your faith that I would complete this project! Many thanks to all who read this story in its various stages of incompleteness and offered kind words anyways; a special thank you in particular to AH, EK, YT, JM, HT, TT, and BC for all the feedback you volunteered when I asked for your opinions over the years. Finally, thank you to any and all readers for indulging me by letting me share this story with you. You are the absolute best.