“Sarasala, would you just stop singing? It’s really, really annoying! I can hear you in the next room!”
“Give me a break, Icaron! Go to a further away room!”
“Give you a break – you? We’re the ones who need the break – a break from your lousy singing! It’s horrible!”
“Go away, Icaron. Just leave me alone.”
“Why don’t you leave your ears alone? I’m surprised they still work, after being so close to this rubbish!” He reached over and turned the speakers off.
“Icaron!” The Red Flotsam put out her paw to turn the volume back up, but her brother pushed her away.
“Just stop it, Sarasala. You’re not a good singer and you’ll never be one!” And just like that, all her dreams were crushed.
“Yes I will,” she replied defiantly, but she didn’t believe it anymore. “I’m going to be the best singer there ever was and I’m going to join a famous band and I’ll show you! Now get out of my room!”
“Your loss.” The Green Eyrie shrugged. He left, making sure to slam the door as loud as possible. He stomped upstairs, stomped across the landing, stomped into his room and slammed that door too. Icaron wasn’t really a bad kid; he was just in a bad mood and wanted some peace and quiet for his English project. If only she’d realize how pathetic she really was! Icaron thought viciously. He groaned and sat down in front of his desk. Might as well do that English project now, he thought glumly. For once, Sarasala isn’t singing.
The younger pet was crying instead. Broken inside, all her dreams smashed like a dropped plate. She was young, naïve, believing almost everything told to her. And so now, she believed Icaron. She believed she was no good, couldn’t sing, would never be worth anything. She looked over at her autographed poster of Yes Boy Ice Cream, her role models, her favourite band. After the last member had signed it, he bent down to her eye level and looked hard at her. “You’ve got the look of a singer,” he’d said. “Maybe we’ll see you round sometime.” Sarasala had felt a huge glow inside her, a golden warmth spreading to the tips of her fins. She just had to think of that moment and she felt great. So she tried to think of it, but the warmth was like ice. He’d lied. He probably said that to every fan! The tears started coming and didn’t stop. She didn’t even notice when her owner came in and put her arm around her shoulder.
A week later, Icaron sat in the school hall. This was unacceptable! To be forced by his owner into watching this stupid school’s stupid concert... this was the limit! He hissed angrily and got a few whispers for silence for his trouble. He fumed deep inside his jacket. The general audience clapped and he looked up. To his horror, Sarasala’s class – and Sarasala! – were walking onto the stage and taking positions. He wondered if he could stay in the bathroom for long enough. Probably not – there’d be dozens of Neopets doing the same thing, he thought with a chuckle. Holy Fyora, what’s that stupid kid doing? Sarasala was stepping up to the microphone. This must be that song she kept singing! The one she said was for school! The really lousy one that wasn’t by a band! Oh no.
Sarasala felt the sweat dripping off her by the bucketload. All her scales had to be falling off – the costume had ripped – anything was better than the truth. She dug into her mind, looking for the lyrics. Her eyes flicked across the audience – so many! Hundreds of parents, hundreds of siblings, and there – smug, comfortable, glaring for all he was worth, Icaron. It was all right for him; he wasn’t standing in front of this huge crowd with his mouth open. She took a deep breath and forced the words out of her mouth.
“Welcome to Neoschool! Neoschool-” – breath – “-is cool!” After a while she no longer thought about saying the words, she just listened to herself. Listened to every tremor. Every waver. Every wrong pitch. A wrong intonation there, wrong emphasis there, should have paused for longer. That was meant to be higher! Every single tiny mistake grew, and grew, until-
Icaron looked up at his sister standing there. She actually does have some skill, he admitted grudgingly. Not much, but it’s undeniably there. Maybe... maybe I should apologize. Or maybe not. But still, she’s really not bad. So he wasn’t prepared for what happened next.
“I can’t take it! I can’t do this! I can’t SING!” screamed Sarasala suddenly in the middle of the second-to-last verse. “I can’t sing!” she yelled again, then ran off the stage. Down the little steps, down the side, out through the back door and she just kept running. Running from that nightmare behind her, running from the failure of her whole life. If she couldn’t handle the level of singing and pressure at a school concert, what hope did she have of becoming professional?
Icaron felt the world slow down, then stop. Hundreds of owners and Neopets were frozen in their seats, on that stage. Icaron stood up. No-one else moved. Caught outside time. He walked out of that row, footsteps echoing loudly. A golden light caught her eye. He turned to it.
“Well, well. Icaron, Neopet of S_casey.”
“What of it?” the Eyrie replied. He felt himself shaking and ordered his muscles to get a grip on themselves. Did that make sense? he thought idly. Ah well, who cares. Faerie alert.
“You saw your sister.” The Light Faerie stepped forward from behind the pillar.
“Everyone saw her ruin the whole concert. Everyone saw her humiliate herself. Everyone. And yes, that includes me.”
“Because she can’t sing, and she knows that now. Took her long enough.” Icaron laughed dryly. “At least now I won’t have to spend all my pocket money on those human headache tablets. Neopets aren’t meant to get headaches, and that Aspirin stuff doesn’t really work.”
“Icaron,” said the Faerie sweetly, in a sing-song voice, but also reproachful. “She’s your sister. Your sister! You’ve only got one. Would it really hurt you to be nice to her?”
“That’s not the question, is it?” he snapped. His owner already told him what to do – and this Faerie was just meddling in his life. Go back to Faerieland! he yelled mentally.
“What was that?” she asked, just a little bit sharper. “Go back to Faerieland? Hm!” She gave a little chuckle from deep in her throat. Icaron decided to ignore her.
“Look, if I want to tell my sister to stop giving us headaches, I can! What difference does it make to you?” Icaron paced back on forth, claws clicking on the marble.
“Sarasala is going to be the best singer in the world someday,” said the Faerie coolly.
“Sarasala? Yeah, right?”
“Well, she would have been if you just given her a little encouragement. ‘That’s really cool, Sarasala! Gee, I can’t reach a note that high!’ Or even, ‘Sarasala, do you mind just being a little bit quieter?’ You don’t have to be jealous.”
“Jealous! I’m not jealous!” Icaron glared through the golden light at the Faerie. She looks so weak, he thought, then remembered she could hear his thoughts. Uh-oh.
“Listen. I will show you what would have happened. I’m going to let you go back in time, just by a week or so. And when you said ‘You’re awful, Sarasala,’ I want you to say something nice.” The Faerie looked straight at him. She was dead serious.
“You’ve got to be kidding!” he yelled. She raised a glowing eyebrow. “You want me to lie to her?”
“I want you to be nice.”
“What if I can’t say something nice?” Icaron asked bluntly. The Faerie grinned, showing sharp little pointed teeth.
“Lie.” She twirled on the spot and vanished upwards, as though sucked up by a vacuum cleaner. Icaron felt himself... well, actually, he couldn’t feel himself. He tried to look down, and couldn’t. He was frozen, caught. Out of time, he thought suddenly. Holy – The concert, school hall, everything vanished.
Icaron suddenly realized he was back in Sarasala’s room. The calendar on the wall said 12th day of Eating.
“A week before the concert,” said Icaron to himself. Sarasala looked up.
“Yeah. Looking forward to it?”
“I dunno.” Icaron shrugged. “I can think of better things to do with my time.” He suddenly felt someone grab his ear and a whispering voice, Be nice. “And worse things to do,” he added hastily.
“I’ve got a solo.” She beamed.
“Wow... um... nice! What for?” Icaron hated himself at that moment. Teacher’s pet, he thought. Sister’s pet! And that was even worse.
“It’s called ‘Welcome to Neoschool’.”
“That doesn’t make sense. You’re in fourth year Neoschool.” Icaron sat down on the Red Bean Bag Chair.
“Hey, what do I care? I’ve got a solo!” Sarasala smiled, her teeth gleaming white. Half-heartedly, Icaron smiled back. This is awful, he thought rebelliously. What do I care who the greatest singer is or whatever? But somehow, he couldn’t deny the happy, smiling face of Sarasala, drinking up the praise.
“Anyway,” he said, standing up. “I’ve got some homework do to.”
“Do you want me to turn the music down?” she offered. Icaron paused a moment.
“Yeah, that would be great. I’ll tell you when I’m done.” And then he said a word that he’d never before said to his sister. “Thanks.”
“And the award for this year’s most promising music student... Sarasala!” The school hall erupted in cheers. Icaron stuck his fingers in his mouth and whistled. “Sarasala began singing lessons this year, as well as reading and writing music. With no prior lessons, I am pleased to announce that she is, without question, the best music student in the school!” More cheers, screams, shouts of ‘Sarasala!’
She’s a long way from the best singer in the world, thought Icaron, looking over at the bright golden light that no-one else could see, hovering in a corner. But it’s a start.