Perfectionist: Part Two
In the morning, Qasala is striking. Rese rises just as the sun does. Her day consists of bathing, practicing, watering her flowers, purchasing more jewelry, and at one point running into Lyre, a cast member, among the streets of Qasala. Lyre raises her chin upon seeing Rese. "Good afternoon, Rese," she says. Her voice cracks.
Rese smiles a little. She mostly tries not to speak to Lyre, as she did last night at Qasalan Delights, but by the crowd and hand of fate she feels she must now. It's something about Lyre's unfriendly look, voice, everything that makes her avoidable. "Hello, Lyre. Big night, tonight."
"I suppose," Lyre says. She sidesteps to look at a booth. "Not really any different, I think."
"I think it's pretty special," Rese admits.
Lyre smirks. "Yes, of course you do. Of course you do." Inexplicably she bursts into laughter, her head lowered down looking at her shoes. Her cackles draw attention.
So much attention that Rese just smiles again and says, "I'll see you tonight, Lyre." Briskly she walks away. To visit the robed Nimmo shopkeeper of Words of Antiquity. Rese has always been overwhelmed by all the information in the shop. The Nimmo lets her read as she pleases. Over years the two have formed a bond. Rese suggests that the Nimmo come see the show, though she knows he can't.
She leaves to watch hopefuls spin the new, large wheel. At her time there no one wins anything special.
She wonders. Why do people even spin it? Why was it even built? The participants rarely win a meaningful prize. Or a prize at all. One man is so eager to turn the wheel but leaves disappointed with only a quarter of what he came with. Rese rolls her eyes. Never does she plan to try her luck with the wheel. It's too risky.
Finally at one point after other tasks she decides the sun is low enough in the sky to head for her final performance in the role she held. When she gets inside, most of the rest of the cast is already there and getting ready. Linen greets her. "Hey, Rese. Ready for tonight?"
"Of course!" Rese replies, her words heavy with confidence.
Linen leans closer and warns, "Listen. Something's up with Lyre. She's freaking out over something. I don't know. So... most of us have been avoiding her."
"I saw her earlier," Rese says. "She said she didn't think tonight was all that big. And then she started laughing."
"That's weird," Linen says. She seems to suppress a smirk. "Now she's just crying. Anyway. Good luck."
"Same to you. Make us proud."
After a few minutes of applying makeup and jewelry Rese could hear the crying. She genuinely wanted Lyre to feel better. And only partly because it's harder to act and sing with tears in your voice. But Rese cannot feel sympathetic for long; she goes through vocal warm-ups, taps on the shoulder, one last look at herself in the mirror, and the show begins. Through the applause Rese can see that the audience is bigger and louder than it ever has been. And the people look wealthy. So the cast's and Rese's suspicions have likely been confirmed: most of the spectators are from Sakhmet.
Alyssum completes her monologue and the leading girls sing. Their voices ring loudly throughout the auditorium, though the melody is sweet and quieting. Rese's solo comes up. In the middle of it, something seemingly tragic occurs. She messes up. And she doesn't notice it until she feels she's picking up her voice from the ground. It's cracked. She tries not to seem frantic, but there's unrest in the audience. She can see the members whispering to each other. They see through her splitting seams. Relieved though still very, dreadfully embarrassed, she finishes her note and walks to the back of the stage and sits to let the rest of the girls finish the scene.
Her breathing is uneven. She quietly clears her throat. Okay, it's fine. She can do better later on. Much better, actually. She watches the other girls gleam and perform perfectly. Of course, the singing is over, but Rese knows none of them messed up. None of their voices cracked. They're already doing great. They can't improve. She tries to steady her breathing and finishes the scene with her frantic reminder to the girls that the ball is coming up soon. And the curtain closes.
Linen comes over and hugs Rese.
"You did great," Rese says over the applause in an attempt to push away her anxiety.
"It'll be okay," Linen says. "Everyone messes up. You were perfect the whole season. You were just one notch away from it out there. You know how to turn it up. Do it."
Rese nods. The girls hear a startling scream, and Rese knows it's not part of the play. It's coming from backstage.
"They're just... oh! Breathtaking!"
It's Alyssum's voice. Linen and Rese follow the crowd that forms around Alyssum's vanity. Above her head she holds a bouquet in a basket.
"And listen what's written on it: 'I hope you find these flowers as grand as I found your voice'!" Alyssum giggles with clear joy and hugs the basket close to her. "I love them!"
Linen says to Alyssum, "They're very pretty. Looks like you're not the only one with a secret admirer."
Rese pats Alyssum on the shoulder. "Yeah. They're beautiful." Her voice cracks with minor shock and she hopes no one notices.
"Thanks, guys. I'm starting to like this audience." Alyssum looks as though she's talking to her flowers and not her colleagues as she breathes in the scent. She's enthralled by them, it seems. And it makes Rese sick.
Rese says, "Well, I guess we should try our best to look dazzling for them. See you on stage."
Linen and Rese walk away. Linen, before parting, grabs Rese's paw and desperately says, "Remember what I said, okay? One notch away from perfect."
"Good luck," Rese says and walks to her mirror. She lowers her head. She tries to reattach her senses. She doesn't go back on for a few more scenes, so she feels she has enough time to break down for a moment. Inconspicuously she lets her tears flow. She doesn't want anyone to know she's crying.
As she wipes her face, she chides herself for not washing it before losing control. Her previous facial, superficial beauty is washed away. She visits the sink to clean up and spends more time than necessary there. For a towel-clutching moment she feels she's actually finished crying.
Rese hears louder sobs coming from far away and knows that they're Lyre's. She peeks around to try to catch some sight of her, but she only hears the weeping. Lyre must be extremely upset; the show has gone on for about a half hour now and she's still crying. True, on stage, she wiped up her tears well. But that's merely acting, her doing her job.
On impulse Rese visits Alyssum's abandoned vanity. She looks to the left and right warily. She tries to filter out Alyssum performing onstage. And swiftly she grabs a yellow flower from Alyssum's bouquet. No one saw, she tells herself.
And quietly she walks over to Lyre's vanity. The despairing Wocky's head is cradled in her paws. As always she's withdrawn. Struggling to connect to her, Rese quietly says, "Lyre?"
Lyre lifts her head, and Rese can see the damage her crying made on her face. "Oh." She wipes her eyes. "Do you need something?"
"No, of course not," Rese says. "I can tell today's kind of rough on you."
"So... here." She gently lays the flowers on the table. "I thought this could maybe make you feel better."
Lyre grabs the flower and attaches to the real world. Her eyes clear up and a very faint smile appears. "Thank you. A lot. So very much," she chokes out. "Even though, if you ask me, I don't—I really don't deserve this."
"Don't be silly," Rese says. Suddenly words begin to chug out of her mouth in an uncontrollable way. "You're perfect on stage. One of the best. Someone like you deserves to be rewarded."
Lyre tucks the flower behind her ear. "Thank you again."
"You're welcome." Rese nods, smiles, and walks away. But as soon as Lyre's eyes avoid Rese's face, she frowns. Her immediate emotion is regret. Apparently her crying separated some of her senses as well, because she just now comes to terms with the fact that she stole one of Alyssum's flowers. And what if Alyssum notices Lyre wearing it behind her ear?
Holding her breath and feeling her own world tangle and creep away, Rese decides to finally change costumes. She ignores everything around her besides her clothes. She's losing her focus. And at a terrible time, too. Linen comes from the stage and tells Rese something about when she's supposed to be back on stage. And somehow through the sheer silence in the dressing chamber she manages not to hear.
To be continued...