Math and music are fancy patterns. All you need to do is figure out what the problem or beat is and you’re set. However, it’s easy to “be afraid” of the next step. Because both follow a pattern, the only things that change are numbers and notes – formulas and beats are constant. That being said, it’s easy to get bad habits and cry because it repeats in a circle.
But it also means there is purpose behind every note, number, and word. Everything serves a purpose. Though, sometimes, it isn't always heard, written, or found on the first attempt.
But there wasn’t time to worry about that.
She snatches the papers with red Xs and takes off, fumbling with her supplies with her footsteps bouncing across the tiles like rain. Her breath comes out in quick huffs and her eyes trace the uneven path littered with shoes and boots. The clock’s ticking grows steady as she travels.
One, two, three, four---
Someone pauses in the middle of the track, the rhythm scatters, and her feet sway with the interruption. She lets out a breath, adjusting to the new tempo until the person finally steps aside, hurried shuffling melting away.
Then she’s off, listening to the distant chatter swarming around her like a hurricane. The discord blares across the crowded hallways of multi-colored problems which rattles her brain and throws off her pace and now she’s about to crash and---
“Claire, hey!” A hand flies out and catches her before the problem can escalate and her weight shifts, forcing her face to face with startling eyes.
One, two, three---
“Watch where you’re going.” The grip her arm disappears. “I don’t want you to walk on stage with a bruise the size of China.”
“Hayden… The performance...” she breathes, “I left the score at home--- oh!” She fingers for the pencil tucked behind her ear, ripping through tangles. Wincing, she strums the tip against the wall, but the soft clinks die against the haphazard conversations dancing around the duo. The dying beat decrescendos as her mind wanders to his voice and---
“Don’t overwork yourself,” Hayden notes. “If you’re stuck, you could maybe---”
“I can’t,” she insists, clenching the pencil as the notes slip out of her brain. “It’s the only
thing I have. If I can just get the melody right---”
“But the melody’s something he composed, and I don’t know where you are but if it’s not better, I don’t think going back is the best thing to take. You need the money and crying onstage doesn’t do that.”
“I only have that and if I can play the melody right then the rest of the piece will come.
That’s what always happens.” She takes a quick breath as her thoughts scramble. “It’s what
always happens… it’s the missing variable and that’s what solves the equation---" A bell sounds and her heart leaps out of her throat.
“Gotta go.” She rushes away, dropping several papers. One paper, however, attacks her face and she sees the red marks bleed through. As she recovers, it slides off, disappearing into the crowd.
Well, the person who finds it can see all twenty errors scratched throughout the script and learn that each remark showed her mistakes.
One, two, three, four.
Unconsciously, her steps begin to run to that invisible song. Her mind goes back to those memories where she sat by his side over a blank sheet, listening to him talk to himself as a pencil maps out empty brackets and lines.
The song that they made when they were together. A thing.
But the fight happened – although it wasn’t one – and it left her in a mess of torn papers and candy wrappers, but then she realized she had ripped up her math notes and then she was rushing for tape while writing equations on the walls so she wouldn’t forget the answers but then she remembered about the performance and the money sitting five feet ahead of her and then she was pouring over the sheet music to get the melody correct and---
She hits the door to her apartment and scrambles with her keys. The door opens with a long groan and the same messy carpet and furniture greet her. She wastes no time and leaps over over-turned garbage cans before dropping her heavy backpack and crashing on the couch. Almost instantly, she begins fingering through the music, lips twitching in hushed noises.
Triplet, tremolo, triplet, triplet, triplet, half---
The string clangs unnaturally with the foreign note.
Why, why, why was it still terrible after weeks of practicing? It wasn’t even that hard,
yet the lute resisted each time she picked it up by its scrawny neck.
Again, the melody failed to resonate.
Wait, she realizes, shooting upright, rolling off the cushions to the sticker-covered case shoved in the corner.
She didn’t have the actual instrument in her hands. Problem solved.
She pulls the instrument out, cherishing the ragged coughs when her fingers glide across the strings.
All she needed was the instrument and that would solve the problem.
But the next hour isn’t full of beautiful harmonies that numb her worries with quiet fiddles or upbeat rondos. She’s banging her head against the couch until stars obscure her vision. She’s ready to snap the lute in half and her fingers are begging for rest, but she still hadn’t played through the melody once correctly. If she can’t get through the melody, the main attraction of her performance, she wouldn’t have a shot at qualifying and winning and
then she’d be tripping to find cash and then she’d stop caring about her homework and fail her classes, sinking into another pit and---
She had a group project. She had a group project and forgot about it and her house is a junkyard.
The lute almost breaks as it falls out of her grip upon realization.
Hurriedly, she sets it on the couch and rushes to the tiny kitchen, holding her breath as the mold and stench from unclean dishes and rotten takeout boxes burn her nostrils. She knocks over cups and plates in the process of reaching for the cleaning supplies, hissing as the glass falls and breaks, tiny shards flying outward, creating another obstacle for her to tiptoe through so she wouldn’t cut her feet open then go through the hoops of explaining that she couldn’t perform because she cut her foot open and---
She avoids the shards and does her best piling the trash into one corner of the kitchen. The empty cans stacked along the countertops collapse and she forces them into a bag full of moldy food. The rug is overturned, sending dust across the stained tiles but the underside wasn’t as messy and nobody would notice if she didn’t say anything.
Would they notice? The mold was hardly a problem; she hadn’t experienced any
symptoms of mold poisoning, and she had dealt with it for a little over a month.
Hopefully they wouldn’t notice.
But they would.
This has to be good enough, she thinks as she kicks some trash bags out the front door, adding to the unattended garden flourishing with garbage bags. Once she’s back inside, her eyes notice the calendar dangling on the wall. She slithers closer, heart dropping as a flurry of emotions escape.
The project wasn’t for another week.
She did all that work for nothing.
The hour she wasted cleaning a house that didn’t even need it couldn’t be erased and she lost an hour of her time that could’ve been used to work on that melody as she repeated his advice over and over because he knew the song the best---
Wait, that’s why, she thinks, running back into the living room for her phone, clicking the first name that appears and listens to the chimes.
And surprisingly, it only rings for a minute before he picks up.
And even more surprisingly, her throat doesn’t clot up and her cheeks don’t grow red.
She can feel her voice and it doesn’t sound or feel timid.
How come the lute couldn’t sound the same?
“Hi, Miles,” she starts, marching back to the couch. “Do you think you could help me with the melody?”
“Why else would I be calling you?” “To talk?”
“... Math? Though you wouldn’t; you’re the brains.”
“If I'm the brains, I need all the information before I start working. I gotta make sure
everything’s right,” she jests. “Do you have time?”
“Just give me a second.” She taps the fingerboard to the notes, ignoring the off-tuned notes coming from its wooden body. “Alright, what is it?”
“Everything,” she claims. “It’s not any better than the last time I talked to you.” “That was three days ago.”
“But I need to get this done. You’re the only person who knows this song by heart.
Can you send an audio file over or something?” “I’d need to see it again to make sure.” “You forgot your own song?”
“No...” She can’t help but smile as she recognizes the drawn-out, sly tone. “I just have to make sure I’m right. A sixteenth rest can change a song.”
“You’re the one with the music. I can always make another one.” “You’re the one who made it. The one who makes it gets the credit.”
“The one who performs it is the one they pay attention to. The notes are fancy
sketches. The performer is the instrument.”
“And the performer is the glorified chalkboard,” she counters. “It’s the equation that everyone cares about. What is the equation, what is the song, how do you solve it, how do you play it, who will answer it, who will perform it, and are they correct, are they connected?” Miles snickers and when he responds, she faces another jest and sigh.
Perhaps that was what she was missing.
“Anyway, the melody. If you send me a picture, I’ll do what I can.” “Can I hear what you have?”
She sets her phone on the armrest and fits the lute in her lap. She fails before she reaches the tenth measure, and she knows he can tell that the song had already begun to break. For some reason, he doesn’t say anything and lets her burn.
She quits before she can reach the end.
He’s silent for a few minutes. Then, “It’s getting there.”
“Oh my gosh,” she gasps, clutching her heart. “You couldn’t have made this any easier.”
“It was for you,” he admits. “When we were together, I wanted to make something that
would make you happy.”
“I am,” she murmurs, unable to hide the doubt lingering on her tongue. “But it’s hard.”
Something on the other side moves but he jumps in before she can say anything. “That’s exactly why.” And then he clicks off. She doesn’t know how much time passes until the screen lights up with a ding. His text message with the video file makes her stomach twist and fingers move. Again and again, she doesn’t make it any further than the tenth measure and the lute snaps untuned pitches.
Frustrated, she takes her phone, sends a quick ‘thank you’ then listens, yet the tune only flows through one ear and out the other. Her thoughts creep upfront, drowning out the file’s lovely tune.
They had been happy. And she was happy now. He was happy now.
She sat alone on her couch staring at a lonely lute, praying for its cooperation.
After a few minutes of apologizing, she tries again, this time slower, but her fingers tangle and the lute lets out too low or high notes. She tries again, even slower, but again, the lute answers with incorrect notes. She tries again, even slower, but once again, she only hears off-pitched complainants of the stubborn tool.
What was she missing this time?
The lute? Miles? Depression – even though she was sure she wasn’t depressed, but she wasn’t a professional so maybe that was the reason?
Her thoughts stop as she remembers a certain math packet sleeping inside her backpack.
Oh no, she had another quiz coming up and she was sitting on the couch not studying and putting music – her love life – over academic studies. Why was she still on the couch worrying about it and not taking out her homework?
I need to study, I need to study, stop playing, she scolds, but her body doesn’t listen and the notes snarl when she tries to leave. I need to study, I can’t fail. I need enough sleep, I need this done - why can’t I get this figured out, it’s been a month. She doesn’t react when her thumb splits open. What’s wrong? What’s missing?!
Oh, the audio file ended.
She clicks it again and waits until it moves onto the melody, and she plays along, but her confidence sinks as he smoothly crosses the measures.
I need sleep, I need to study, I need to figure this out. She stops, collecting a small breath, leaning back into the cushions. Three problems. What’s the problem. I need sleep, I need to study, and I need to figure this out.
She doesn’t remember what transpired the rest of the day, but she wakes up to her cellphone ringing in her ear. The lute sleeps on her lap, and she notices small bloodstains on its body. She groans, stretching and letting the satisfying cracks of her bones snap her awake.
The second she touches her backpack, though, fear shoots through her system and the drowsiness vanishes. The math packet remains untouched because she fell asleep. She swears and rips open the bag, tearing the papers out and finds a broken pen on the carpet, eyes darting back and forth from problem to problem as her mind somehow finds the answers within the twenty seconds she gives herself.
I’m going to fail, I’m going to fail, she panics as she scribbles down solutions. I didn’t
get this done. Shoot, shoot, shoot.
The clock chimes and she bolts, taking whatever she can and runs out in the same outfit she slept in. Nobody would notice, right? All she had to do was make her hair look somewhat nice and if she tied the sweatshirt around her waist, they couldn’t tell – unless someone remembered what shirt she was wearing underneath and then she was screwed and---
She manages to stop herself from sliding down the slope too much by forcing her eyes on the unsolved equations. If she just focused on the math, then the world wouldn’t spin as fast and then she could finally think.
Math followed a pattern, and she could follow it if she slowed down.
She hopes that something works out, but jumbled pants and wheezing fills her ears on the run to class and it makes them bleed – she really hates fermatas.
That wasn’t as bad as before, she thinks. But she could’ve gotten a better score.
If she got more sleep or finished the review.
How bad is my grade going to tank, she worries, biting her lip as the lecture flies over her head. She looks at the clock for solace, but class doesn’t end for another twenty minutes.
The answer’s -½ cos 2x+C, integral function of f(x) = sin 2x. It’s funny how addition and subtraction turned into the unit circle? She looks at the clock again and not even a minute has passed.
She’s finished the rest of the lecture before the bell rings and ignores the cluster of other students as they grab their bags and notebooks. She crams the papers into her bag and heads off to her next class, eyes studying the tiles lining the floor that remind her so much of sheet music.
The noise, today, is pleasant. There isn’t yelling and people mutter quick apologies when she bumps into them. She stops in front of her next class then takes a step back and leans against the wall, pulling out her water bottle, quenching the hunger gnawing her sides, and somewhat satisfying her body’s desire.
What she doesn’t expect is for Miles to slide beside her. She eyes him but he reveals a crumbled sheet of paper. She takes and opens it, heart fluttering at the song written out with notes scribbled on the side.
And the tips were understandable.
“I thought that would help,” he says, locking gazes with her. “I tried.”
“The video file worked well... thank you,” she says, tucking the paper into her pockets. “... Did you forget to change?” A cocky smile crosses his lips and she groans.
“This is the last class,” she protests. “Nobody's noticed except you. What’s up?” “You sounded off.”
“It’s kind of you to care for me, even after that breakup.”
“Just because it happened doesn’t mean I have a right to be a jerk,” he scowls. “Common courtesy.”
“Try telling that to all those other heartbroken couples that act like they’ll never find love ever again because their true love dumped them over a text message.” She snorts, “Maybe that’s why I can’t get this melody right; we have to get into a fight that gives me a sudden burst of motivation. Let’s fight.”
He rolls his eyes. “Sounds like a blast.” “Absolutely.”
“Then how’s the rest of the piece going? Have you just been working on the melody?”
“I haven’t touched the rest because the melody’s the main part and if I can get that done, the rest is easy. I have a system, it works,” she claims. “It’s what got me through years of math and has yet to fail me.”
“You and your math brain,” he jokes, “but if you put too much focus on one part, the
rest sticks out.”
“But I’m not a musician. I’m a mathematician.” She holds her pointer finger to her brain. “As long as you have a pattern and see how it’s hidden, you’re set.”
He touches his ear with his pointer finger. “As long as you know the beat, you’re set. I have a system, it works.” He grins as her smile grows. “It’s what got me through years of music and has yet to fail me.”
“So, I need a musician’s brain to solve this problem? No formulas will solve it?” “You will solve it, just not as fast as me.”
“But I am a mathematician. Music is just my hobby.” “And I am a musician. Math is just my hobby.”
“So, I need your experience in the musical arts?” “Claire, you’ll be fine.”
And for some reason, her heart spikes. The song comes back with memories and the loud bell bellowing overhead doesn’t shake her from the thoughts. She can see Miles waving but can’t see his face or hear what he’s trying to say, but she assumes it’s something concerning because his lips are moving really fast. Oddly enough, she thinks she can hear that melody coming from his mouth but she’s not sure because she can hardly hear anything through the background noise that’s making the world spin way too fast. She takes a step back, and now she can tell some people are staring and Miles’ not doing anything other than standing there and---
But at least he wasn’t touching her.
But why was he not grounding her.
The song gets overbearing. She’s in the study room and he’s asking her out. She’s stuffing her mouth with candy but she’s not crying but she’s not happy. She’s looking at the red ticks scaring her sheet music and tests. She’s playing that melody over and over, stuck on repeat and---
She’s running away on the sidewalks back home by the time reality comes back.
She makes it inside and goes to the couch where the lute sleeps and forces the broken melody on it.
Honestly, it was sad. She had tackled harder songs and dealt with math problems that had taken hours to complete. The song was reaching a month and a half, and she still hadn’t played through it once.
Another untuned note from the lute breaks her daze and she realizes that she left. She just left and she only had one more class. Now she had to make up the work and---
Her hands went to the zippers along her bag and takes out the assorted notes. Her messy handwriting rushes past as she tears through the rest of the notebooks, searching for
something she doesn’t know, and she pauses when she finds a folder. Curious, she pushes the lute aside, flipping the cover open and spots the childish writing.
“When you need a break,” she whispers, tracing her finger along her seven-year-old self’s handwriting. The next page is full of addition and subtraction, each marked with bright colors. The next page is full of fractions and decimals. The next page is full of letters and calculations to the point where she’s not sure where the problem started. As she turns to the last decorated page full of linear graphs and formulas, the playful, childish writing sticks out.
“Write it in your words because you’re the key.”
“What you know isn’t forgotten, just foggy. AP calculus III is a fancy name”
“It’s a bunch of foreign lines and words, but you took French and Spanish, pas de problème, sí?”
Why did I get into music, she ponders as she falls to open notes. Her eyes fall back to
the math, and the song the lute sings, and she doesn’t sense hostility.
Imagine the vinculum as a border. The song abruptly cuts off.
Treat the equation like a friend; take away from both ends. The notes evenly follow the
First, outer, middle, last, start at the beginning and see it to the end. Her heart skips a
beat as the end nears.
Follows the equation. She sighs and decrescendos. You can spend your entire life not knowing how to read treble clef and unless you’re going into math why do you need to know proofs?
The lute starts to resist.
I need this song to work because I need the money. Music and math are really bad fields to get into, but they’re so easy. All you need to know is when to restart. She finishes the piece, letting out her breath. Don’t repeat the same mistake over and over, you’re wasting time.
And before she can set the lute back down, she notices two dots standing beside the bar line. A repeat, how careless of her to forget a variable.
As she takes the repeat, she freezes, recognizing the key and the rhythm. She’s in Miles’ arms. She’s alone on a couch with candy while trying not to cry because she can’t get the melody right.
She’s listening to music and plucking the lute, staring at her homework curiously as her mind spreads its attention. She’s jotting down possible tunes and numbers, doubling her work. She’s studying the chalkboard in front of her, twirling chalk between her fingers, and removing incorrect solutions. She’s at her desk letting her mind play as she includes more events to squeeze into her day.
Her eyes fall to the final note.
“If we can’t figure out a solution: start over. The problem isn’t the calculations at that
“If you can’t get the song, then you need to stop. The instrument will fight, and if you
want to win, you need a new strategy.” Miles’ words echo and the world spins abnormally as she rips a blank sheet of paper free from her notebook.
The rest of the day blurs as the sun sets and she hasn’t moved from her spot on the floor. Her thoughts pour into the paper as the bar lines and notes connect. Her hand hurts but it doesn’t compare to the stinging in her fingertips. Her throat is parched but she doesn’t get up as she sings. Her eyes drop but she forces them to stay open to avoid the little mistakes.
She makes sure that her work follows the rules, sticking true to the equation as it branches in several directions – but if her work brought her to the answer, then so be it. This was the solution. It followed the score, albeit differently, but it stayed loyal to the regulations, and she could explain each step to the complex equation just as easily as she could sightread.
Her phone dings once with Miles’ message, and she hesitates, lips parting. When the reminder ding shoots across the room, the aggravating, beautiful, melody repeats over and over---
She doesn’t know whether it’s a good thing or not when she reaches over, mutes it, and turns it over.
Never ever waste your time making the same mistake when you know it won’t work. That’s the beauty in math, she stresses and goes back to the paper at hand. Numbers are black and white, and music is full of them.
By the time she looks back at the clock, its past midnight, giving her twenty days until her performance. She looks down at her work, letting a proud grin keep her morale awake and reaches for the lute.
This time, the embrace doesn’t poke her uncomfortably.
She looks at the time, then takes a confident step onto the wooden stage. Her heels click against the planks – she makes sure they match with the time signature, establishing the beat. She bows, letting her hair fall around her worried cheeks as the judges introduce her. Somewhere in the crowded hall, she feels Hayden and Miles’ sights on her, but her hair blocks out the distractions.
When they finish, she sets the sheet music down and basks in the spotlight, taking a deep breath, tasting cedarwood and chalk dust. The lute shakes excitedly as she sits down
and positions herself. Sweat dots her forehead but she bites her tongue, releasing some
pressure on her instrument’s neck.
The problem, she starts, seeing the gray audience warp and morph into a blank chalkboard. White letters appear across the top and she squints. Then she lifts a hand, chalk woven between her fingers, taking a breath.
“You may begin when you’re ready.”
1209. She jots down her thoughts, letting the piece spring off each string playfully. Her hands shake yet her handwriting comes out clean when she draws another conclusion.
1025. Dust flies off the board with each excited tick. The numbers blend into a beautiful melody, and she approaches the complex math by charging into the blank space.
673. She runs her hand across the tablet, leaving smudges. The lighting shifts and the notes become clear through the glare of the spotlight. Luckily, the song resonates clearly, and the error seems to fade as the tempo shifts, now turning fast and clicking like a keyboard.
303. The key signature changes and the major and minor writing blends, switching back and forth as she bites her nails, sensing the confusion and doubt creeping along her spine. The notes clash, fighting for dominance as her eyes scan for the error.
109. The lute lands in a minor key and the flats shoot across the room like thunder. Her mind moves elsewhere and her eyes land on the end of the score, heart ready to burst from her chest because she can taste the victory and---
57. The lute mimics the beat, and she takes her hands off the strings, letting the note fizzle into the crowd. She curls her hand into a gentle fist then knocks on the cedarwood, letting the pounds echo throughout the lecture hall. Using her other hand, she swipes her fingers along the neck, letting the quiet pitches bring out the taps. Then she goes over her work one last time.
20. She sets the chalk against the slate just in case--- Her hand rises to strike the lute one last time. Follow the score.
The last note erupts like a volcano. She gets up, admiring the music she composed underneath the blinding spotlights, sweat beading her forehead and chest heaving with pride.
The circles remind her of quarter notes. The squares remind her of half notes. The dots remind her of rests. The lines remind her of accidentals. The bullet points remind her of dynamics. The answers remind her of measures. The chalk dust reminds her of the harmony. The solution reminds her of the melody.
She holds her lute and faces the judges with her back straightened and eyes sparkling.
The crowd claps and she’s beyond thrilled to see them rise. The applause rattles her bones, and the sheet music is replaced by the chaotic discord. It’s scratchy, it hurts her ears, she feels her skin crawl as the volume clashes, she can’t pick out a solid beat, she’s fighting every nerve to not shy away, her brain’s rattling too hard with each unorganized cheer, and she’s afraid she’ll collapse---
But somewhere, somehow, a part of her is rejoicing in the scraps. When the cheering ends, her arms find the lute.
“Miss Nedule,” one judge remarks. She holds her breath and tries to imagine their expression behind the glare of the lights. “Your performance was splendid.”
She squeezes the instrument.
“But you seem to have forgotten the requirements that were specifically written. Your creativity is stunning, but there were regulations that each performer had to abide by. We are not allowed to give anyone, regardless of the reception’s reaction, a pass. By no means are we disapproving of your work.”
The words tear her score. She holds her tongue as she furiously searches for the error within her pointless scribblings. The writing falls, leaving her grasping uselessly to find where she messed up because if it was at the beginning then she had messed up from the very start but if it was in the middle maybe it was salvageable but if it was at the end---
What was the missing variable.
She needed more time. She couldn’t turn in her work just yet – it wasn’t completed.
She needed to see the equation one last time.
“Going off that, I believe you have a lot of potential; however, we cannot take your performance into consideration. Regardless, I wish you the best with future performances.”
She can’t find the mistake and she’d spend the rest of the day, week, month, year,
decade - the rest of her life - not knowing what she missed.
Red ink spills across her beloved music and she can’t do anything as she watches the horror. They’re taking away her test after showing her the failing grade and not giving her the chance to take and study it to learn how she screwed up and---
“Thank you for your performance today,” the last judge says. “Can we get one more
round of applause?”
She manages to stand her ground as the shots ring out like bullets, tearing through her with proud words of encouragement. This time, their applause makes her flee.
She doesn’t remember the rest of the night other than talking with the other performers. They say the same thing, yet she can’t get her mind away from the chalkboard. She heads out, slipping past the reception and finds Hayden waiting with a bouquet of flowers.
Twenty red flowers.
She takes the pity gift, barely picking up what they say to comfort her. “Your song’s what everyone’s talking about,” Hayden says as they make their way to the car. “The people beside me were angry.”
“Thank you,” she chokes, “but that’s an audience.”
“But they wouldn’t have come if they weren’t artists,” Hayden counters. “You composed an entirely new song, you made the song yours, you owned the stage, and sharing that with the audience is what a musician does---”
“Hayden.” She stops in her tracks. “I’m a mathematician.”
When she gets in the car, she sits in the backseat. Hayden gets behind the wheel and the engine starts. The streetlights blur in horizontal lines, and she sightreads the invisible song strung between the electrical lines.
She still doesn’t know what she was missing.
Her eyes focus on her reflection, and she spies the lute beside her. Without thinking, she reaches over and takes it, opening it and pushing the case back.
“What are you doing?” She sees Hayden’s concern flash from the rear-view mirror.
“... Homework.” Sliding her fingers in the pocket on her case, she pulls out that impossible melody and sets it on her lap and holds the lute. Her fingers don’t seem to stick to the fingerboard as well as they used to but it could be the moving car.
“I don’t think you should do that,” Hayden pushes. She fails to hit the next measure.
She takes a repeat, failing once again. “... Just be careful. I don’t want you to break the lute---” “I’ve done worse,” she claims. “... Do you know what I think?”
“The melody should be the entire song. I’ve put this much attention to it; the melody should be the song. The other parts aren’t important because the melody is what everyone wants.” She momentarily stops. “Does that make sense?”
“Not really. Look, put the lute away. Driver’s law.” “I can get this---”
“Claire.” “Look---” “Claire!”
The lute yowls a foreign song.
Building blocks, she thinks as the chord falls out. There’s a pattern---
Miles. Miles Hofateutis.
That was what she was missing. The melody shouldn’t be the song.
He was the one who made the song. He was the one who crafted the melody that made her heart break each time it resonated. He was the one who encouraged her to perform in front of an audience. He was the one who guided her through the score.
It wasn’t his song anymore. It wasn’t.
She really hated missing variables. They always held complicated answers that made her scramble and struggle for months on a chair, playing each note over and over until her pencil broke, only for someone to examine her efforts in a few minutes, give her a solid round of applause, then move on.
Found you, she thinks, writing the solution with a trembling hand. She hums the changes then withdraws her attention from the equation to the instrument. For once, after a month of failure, she plays the melody, reliving painful memories flying past her like the streetlights.
“... Something’s off,” Hayden comments, and she glances up, unable to see her friend’s expression through the glare of the red light bouncing back through the mirror, illuminating the lute in her arms. She stares at the signal for what feels like hours until she goes back to the strings.
She plays through it again, eyes lost in a sea of ink winking at her underneath the blurring lights.
“Are you sure you’re playing it right?”
“I am,” she whispers, taking her eyes off the paper to meet his gaze in the mirror. “All I
had to do was---”
Her phone dings. Miles’ name appears, and she skims over the message. She doesn’t bother responding and goes back to the lute, pushing through the song once more, letting the unstable, yet working melody jam itself in her eardrums.
“That was Miles, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, and that means I was right. We’re still… there’s something there, even after the breakup…” she muses, emotions betraying her words. “I fixed the problem. I figured out what I was doing wrong.”
“You know that’s a lie. What did he say?”
That makes her jerk, eyebrows dipping in a hurt scowl. “I’m the mathematician, I just needed time, but I got it done. I needed Miles.” She hugs her lute lovingly. “I’m so stupid.”
“What did you do?” Cars around them start honking angrily, making her ears buzz and annoyance grow as she tries to block out their unorganized, disgusting pitches because they are messing with her as she’s double checking her work so she won’t miss anything – beats or
numbers – because she won’t repeat history over and over. Hayden’s forehead rests on the wheel when the stop light doesn’t change while cars shout like a cheap choir. “This light takes forever to change.”
“Can you guess?” she challenges, playing through the song once again. He shakes his head, and she does it again, eagerness building with each triplet. Each time she hits the end, she adds a repeat, looping back in a circle, repeating it over and over until she’s not even sure what she’s playing but whatever she is playing is beautiful – she’s sure of it, and the red spotlight resting on her makes her eyes sting because now she can’t see anything besides the stop light’s alluring, scarlet warning.
It had to be; the math was working. The math was working out. 4/4ths. 100%.
Updated: 11/29/2022 03:06PM