Lonely Oak Chapter 86

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11 of Lonely Oak Part 3 | The Meadows and The Woods The Basics (Part 2)

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Thirty more seconds passed.

"What are you waiting for?"

The voice was as barren and dry as a desert at high noon.

Rini let go of the doorknob. She turned, expecting to see the rabbit looking at her. But no, she was turned away, her hand shortening the music stand. The room was lit from each corner: three small spotlights and one tri-bulb lamp, all facing inward.

It was like Lyza was being interrogated for why she had squeaked so many times.

The room was practically empty, save for the lamp and the couch at the very back. The couch was situated flush under a long window, with just enough room on either side for maybe a small table to fit. But where the lamp occupied the side on the right, nothing was on the left.

"Whatever," the rabbit spoke. "I don't care. Take your time," she lowered her voice; "princess."

Rini wondered if she was meant to hear the sotto voce insult. She wasn't exactly surprised. She didn't think Lyza would exactly be thrilled by her attending practice. Though a part of her wanted to snap at the rabbit for that little name, she shunned it. That wouldn't make this visit any better.

The rat made her way toward the rabbit. She noticed that, although the rabbit had taken the time to shorten the music stand, there was nothing on it. And, it was right in front of her, which meant Rini had to sit slightly to the side-front. She chose the rabbit's right side.

There was a moment of silence. Lyza was looking at the music stand as if deep in thought.

Rini wondered if she was thinking of where to start... or just ignoring the other presence in the room. "That your Indian flute?" She asked. Even she knew that sounded blatantly vain, but the ice the rabbit had about her had to be broken somehow.

"Indian-style." Lyza corrected, still not directly looking at the rat.

"What's the difference?"

"Who cares."

The rat closed her lips and made sure her tone was sincere. "No really, I wanna know. Is there a big difference?"

Lyza sighed. "You can't call it an Indian flute unless it's made by a real Native American. Otherwise you have to label it Indian-style." The rabbit reached up with her left hand to scratch her neck. It looked like a sign of irritation.

"I see," Rini replied. "It's still pretty cool," she said genuinely.

"What do you know," she grumbled.

"Well... I guess not much," the rat admitted. "But you're going to teach me, right?" She brought focus to the flute in her hands.

The rabbit looked down at it, her near eye squinting as if trying to figure out what the object was.

When her pupil stared up at the rat, it gave Rini a very menacing angle to Lyza's usually nice, bubbly expression.

"Why would you want to learn?"

"I was just... interested, I guess."

"Since when have you been interested?"

"Well, I hear you talk about it a lot in class, and Kelly's brother--"

Lyza hunched over, interrupting the rat. "You really think I'm that dumb?" She commented coldly.

"I don't think--"

Again, the rat was interrupted, but this time by notes. It started low, but crescendoed up. It was an even set of notes that Rini recognized almost immediately. And yet, the familiar tones sounded so very different from the Indian-style flute. Like they had traveled from a hundred years in the past to her ears in present-day. In her mind, Rini said the words of the scale that the rabbit played. When Lyza finished, there was a measure's silence.

"Do Re Mi." The rat stated.

"Solfège."

"Sol...?"

"Solfège," the rabbit repeated. "That's the name of the scale." She looked up, again not directly at the rat but just aside. "That's pretty basic."

"I... can do Hot Cross Buns..." Rini lifted the recorder to her lips and started playing it, and then realized; "Hey... the first three notes are Mi Re Do; aren't they?"

Lyza's brow visibly twitched. "This is pointless." She muttered.

"Well... if you don't teach me, how are you gonna remember the basics?"

The rabbit's gaze snapped directly at the rat. She blinked twice. "I. Know. The fucking. Basics."

Rini couldn't believe her ears. It wasn't the cuss-word. She couldn't go two days without hearing someone in her house drop the F-Bomb. But, from all people: Lyza? Something about it just sounded plain wrong.

"You wanna know why Ms. Miskerwitz stuck me in here? It's cuz she's hoping you'll wanna come back. If you come back and start taking lessons, she gets paid. I'm essentially a commercial break."

Rini shook her head. "I'm sure she knows what--"

"Shut. Up." The rabbit said coldly, and then sat up straight.

Rini closed her lips. She did feel hurt, but not directly. What exactly was she expecting to happen? She barged in on the lesson, then interrupted it, and even made Kelly mad at her. She didn't mean to cause that kind of trouble, but... it just seemed to follow, even though she hoped it wouldn't.

Suddenly, breaking the silence, a decrescendo filled the room. Rini had heard it before; it was Lyza's part of the quartet. Rini watched as the rabbit played her part. There was still no music book on her stand. She played from memory, as even her eyes were closed.

Her fingers flexed and stretched across the holes of the flute, their movements deliberate but, in a way, also frantic.

Rini couldn't keep the notes she heard in pace with the febrile movements. But then, she saw the fingers speed up even faster, trying their best to swiftly touch from hole-to-hole--and a shrill noise cut the air.

Lyza took a breath, pulling the flute away from her lips. Then it went right back, and she started again.

The rat watched on in silence as the rabbit played, watching her fingers again. It was entrancing. But the trance broke when another squeak broke the elogent tune.

This time the rabbit twitched her head to the left, as if the very note left a sour taste in her mouth and she was spitting it out. Just like before, she quickly repositioned the flute back against her lips, and started anew.

Now Rini was beginning to see the problem.

The flute was just slightly too big for Lyza's hands. She was having to do such complex notes so quickly, but her fingers had to stretch to hit certain notes, and that was throwing her off.

Come to think of it, this was the first fast-paced tune Rini had heard from the Indian-style flute. And now that she noticed, she felt it betrayed the instrument.

Lyza wasn't squeaking and squawking because she was having a bad day. She was being forced to play something that the flute itself was almost protesting it did not want to play.

As if to validate that thought, the flute squealed once more, whimpering with disdain.

Lyza pulled the flute away, gritting her teeth and squeezing her hands so hard with anger that they trembled.

"It's okay, you can do it," Rini encouraged. But when Lyza opened her eyes, it was like she was trying to set Rini on fire. "Try a slower tempo," she suggested. "Maybe that'll help?"

Eerily, Lyza's eyes relaxed.

For a second, Rini felt satisfied. All it took was for someone to see it. It made sense.

The teacher had instructed her to play the song, so her teacher was pushing her.

But Rini didn't care about the song, so she could spot the problem, and give an answer. Maybe that was it--maybe it was the start, at least.

That second was literal, for as soon as the rabbit began to play once more, Rini realized her suggestion had fallen on long, deaf ears.

Lyza did not slow the tempo--she sped it up.

Rini did not think that was even possible; it was already pretty fast. But right before her eyes, the rabbit's fingers hovered over each hole for just the briefest of an instant.

The faster speed made Rini nervous. Her pulse began to rise, as if directly affected. She felt it was only a matter of time--it had to be. There was no way speeding up could help; that was the very problem. She had stated it.

PHWEEEEEE--

The rabbit once again pulled the flute from her lips, but this time she stood up so abruptly that Rini balked a little. The flutist gripped her flute in her right hand, about-facing toward the door and took three swaying steps. Then, she paused, as if hesitant about taking a fourth.

When Rini saw that Lyza was turning back around she eased. But then a whistle flew through the air, and she practically felt the impact of the flute against the back cushion of the couch. It hit with a suppressed foomp, and bounced off, clattering on the thick carpet. It rolled, until it stopped just a foot away from where Rini sat.

Rini's eyes went from the flute to the rabbit.

Facing away, Lyza had her fists clenched tightly at her sides, elbows slightly bent. She was trembling, her shoulders and her arms quivering. Her bare calves flexed, the ridges of her veins only just visible through her fur.

The flute was gingerly grasped. In careful, lightly-touching fingers, it was held at angle to catch the light. As it was rolled about its long axis, the woodgrains across the body whisked by like furrows in a sea of wheat. There were a few signs of injury, a chip here and a scuff there. But those were old, like the scars of experience.

Rini looked about the carpet to see if she could spot any slivers of wood, but after two cursory sweeps from left-to-right and far-to-near she found none. Standing up, she approached the trembling rabbit, cautiously. "I think it's okay," she said softly; "I don't see any damange."

"Good," the rabbit said, but to the rat the voice was terribly distorted. "If you're... so interested in it... why don't you keep it?"

"I'm... not going to take it," Rini said, taking another step, balancing the flute upon her upturned palms. "It's yours. Besides... I'd never be able to play it as well as you can."

Suddenly, Lyza turned, and pointed, stating a cold, quiet, but clear voice: "Fuck. You."

The flute was clutched closer to the rat's chest. She did not at all expect to see what she saw. Until now, she took the behavior of the rabbit with a grain of salt.

Lyza was just in a bad mood, frustrated and tired and a little irritated because someone new--and not necessarily welcome--came to a place where she probably felt safe and comfortable.

But, as Rini saw the tears actively dripping from the rabbit's cheeks, she realized that there was something deeper going on. She was not just having a bad day, she was outright upset. Had Rini not seen her progress through the night, and only walked in on her in the last moments, she would think Lyza was just throwing a hissy-fit.

Hissy-fits were thrown by children. They were loud, obnoxious and startling. Meant to embarrass someone, usually parents, and make a scene to bring attention to themselves. But Lyza was acting the exact opposite. Whereas a child would have screamed and shouted and yelled, she fought to hold everything in.

Rini realized that Lyza was quivering because she was trying to hold herself together. And, as the seconds turned to moments, and the moments turned to a minute, it appeared to finally take effect.

She turned aside, her right hand rubbing across her face. She collected her tears, and then whipped her hand away, as if to throw the drops as far from her as she could.

Rini extended the flute, her muzzle not smiling but not exactly frowning either. She hoped that, maybe, Lyza just needed to get something out of her system. And she was better now, right? That's what happened--everyone just needed a good cry sometimes, and they were better.

But the rabbit just stared at the flute for a while, her arms limp at her sides. Then, she looked back up at the rat.

A tear or two still fell. The whites of her eyes were a little red at the edges, and her pupils still wiggled back and forth.

Slowly, Rini lowered the offering, realizing the rabbit had no interest in taking it. She felt numb as she stared at the girl in front of her, and realized; "What happened to you. You're not the Lyza I know at school."

"Tsh," the rabbit grit her teeth. "What the hell makes you think you know me?"

"The Lyza I know never cussed, for one." Rini stated. "And I don't think she'd--" The rat lifted the flute up as she was going to make her point, but the rabbit cut her off, visibly by slashing her arm.

"The Lyza you know. Is an idiot!"

Rini clutched the flute again, as if it were a child and she was shielding its eyes from the irate girl.

"The Lyza I know," she spoke very calmly, "is gentle, and kind; and she can play really good."

"Well." She correct. The rabbit turned away, shaking her head. "And I don't play well."

"Sure you do," Rini said, reaching her hand to place it on the girl's shoulder.

"That's just what everyone says," she hissed, sloughing the gesture away. "Nobody means it. They just smile and nod to make me feel better, but really I just stumble and fall like I do everywhere else."

"Do I look like I'm smiling?" The rat snapped back, her brow furrowing. "I can't say for anyone else, but I heard you once. Not during music class, not in practice--up on a stage. All alone. With a hundred eyes on you. Sure," she looked down, a little guiltily, "I kind of thought you would mess up, maybe. I mean... I'd be so nervous on stage... But after listening to it like that, I was... am... glad I went." She took in a breath, and waited for the rabbit's response; she was ready for whatever Lyza had to say.

But the rabbit turned, facing away.

Rini lost her expression. She looked down at the flute in her hands. "Fine." She took a few steps toward the music stand, and carefully balanced the flute upon the tray. "I don't want this--it's yours and you should have it." She turned toward the back of the room. "I'm just gonna go over here," she said, sitting upon the far armrest of the couch, facing the wall. "I won't talk. I won't move. I won't look away from the wall."

The silence in the room was so quiet, the music that played in the other room began to come through the walls.

"If you... happen to play some more tonight," the rat said softly, "I'll listen. But don't play that part again, please. Just... play anything. Play something like you played for your solo. If you don't... that's okay, too. Just so long as tomorrow... I see the Lyza I know."

Rini made good on her promise for at least five minutes. It felt like both a long time and a short time to her. She did not bother to turn on her phone to check, nor did she try to think of how long it had been since she last used her voice.

She spent the time focusing on the wall, lapsing in and out of thought. She wondered if her half-impulsive decision had brought gain or further loss. Had she come across as vain, or genuine? Was the rabbit's anger because of her presence, or had she been in presence of the anger?

Was this all just to pay a guilty debt... or was this the start of a new investment?

Sometime after the sixth minute, her thoughts were disbanded by the sound of movement. It was muted, muffled. Just the resutle of a tee, the crunch of stiff carpet fibers, and the pop of an ankle as legs were crossed and knees rested on heels.

Rini still made true her promise. To further keep from slipping on her word, she closed her eyes. She wanted desperately to think of something, anything to take her mind off the present. Something that would let her escape from here until it was time to go. Something that would help her forget all the waste she felt this night had garnered.

And then, it happened.

It started off low, and somber. A white, sparkling light in her mind's eye. It pulsed, like a growing fire-cracker, and began to burn off embers of dozens of different colors.

As the measures passed, those colors collected. They took on forms. Ambiguous at first, but slowly she could tell what they were. The tall, straight quills of a vibrant green shrub. The rippling waves of a forest canopy far and away toward the sky.

The shrubbery was pulled. A white rabbit began to nibble upon its long, reedy leaves. Its ears flexed and twitched, its movements appearing twitchy and erratic, but in fact carefully constructed and controlled. It worked the leaves from the body at the root, eager to fill its stomach with the bountiful morsel.

But then, abruptly, it froze in mid gnaw. Its ears flicked to and fro, splaying and hugging together. Then, in a blur, it burst to top speed.

Oh how many bounties the rabbit saw blurrily dashing by as it sprinted forward. It dodged wild brambles left and right, looking desperately for somewhere to scurry and hide. There, a risen dead tree stump. Certainly, it could hide in there!

But lo, just as the rabbit had started to head that way, it felt the absence of friction against its paws. A loud shriek filled the air, sending a wave of fear across the long-eared creature.

The falcon's talons nearly broke through the nape of the rabbit's neck. It hung, limply, its body swaying back and forth. The wightlessness set on in moments. The nerves began to tingle and then go numb. The vision began to blur and fade, dimming... dimming...

No!

The rabbit kicked, its limb stinging with life. It wove its momentum in dissonance with the bird's wings. The bird scolded, contempt in its shout. But the rabbit would not be dissuaded. Its legs whipped and whirled, its body twisting and curling.

Gravity dipped and the falcon tried to keep its talons' grip strong. But the lurch had forced the left talon away, and put far too much pressure upon the right. It cut like a scalpal through the rabbit's pelt, but in the end that sharpness was a saving grace.

The duff was not merciful, but much gentler than a root. The rabbit gasped and heaved, feeling alive by a thread. It struggled to stand, favoring the left forefoot. Warm blood tainted its white pelt. But that was a small price to pay for it to keep its pelt at all.

And yet that posed a more dangerous toll. As it hobbled, it felt the forest smelling its wound. The rich armoatic iron pervaded the perfume of dew and decay, like a skunk skulking within a sweet nosegay.

It was only a matter of time before the ground acquired a shake. A thunderous rumble that pounded in fourth's-pace. The entire forest skittered as the tremors hastened, and the rabbit was still shy a hiding place. This time, there would be no chance of escape. It could not outrun another predator's chase. As it heard the roar of the maned feline race, it huddled into a ball to await death's embrace.

It felt the breath on the nape of its bloodied neck. It winced in pain as it was given a fanged peck. And just as it accepted its fate as a catch, another feline roar held the other in brief check.

The rabbit opened its eyes to see what had happened. A lion and tiger in the midst of a battle. They roared and they slashed; they bit and they bashed. A loud shout of pain came from the one with the mane, as it struggled to get to its feet again. But it was held back down, its blood soaking the ground, and its neck was found by the tiger's teeth.

And when the leaves settled, the forest aura rekindled, the tiger released its rival. The rabbit gazed on, feeling prize number one, and that this was its final delay. But the tiger's head and its tail, began to walk on the trail.

And the rabbit would live another day.

Rini flinched, emitting a quiet gasp. Had she fallen asleep? Her legs were pins and needles. Her shoulder hurt, a crick forming at the base of her neck. She reached up to massage it. She was about to look about, but then recognized where she was, and continued to keep her promise.

The sound of metal joints clacking together caught her ears.

"There." The rabbit's cold voice stated. "I hope you're real fucking happy."

Rini broke her promise. She glanced over to see Lyza, sitting cross-legged with her back toward the couch. The music stand was folded up and lying upon the ground, and the rabbit had just set the flute aside, retracting her arm back to her lap.

A rapid knock ruptured the stilted silence.

"Yeah?" Lyza asked.

It opened. Kelly leaned in. "Rini, if you're done getting your private lesson," she spoke with a bit of salt, "My dad's here to take us home. Oh, and, you're brother's here, too," she added, talking to the other person in the room.

"I'll be right there," Rini replied. She lifted away from the couch. "That was rude."

"She knocked." Lyza mumbled.

"Not that. She didn't even say bye to you."

"Who cares?"

The rat went toward the door, passing Lyza.

The rabbit was still, as if without any intention to leave.

Rini paused, her hand on the edge of the door. "I'll see you tomorrow," she said, without looking back. She remained for a moment more, moving the door back and forth just a little. She looked back halfway, so that she could at least see Lyza in the corner of her eye. "By the way, whatever I happened to see or hear... it's nobody's business." Finally, she opened the door all the way. "Thanks for the lesson. It was beautiful."

And with that the rat was gone.

Finally.

"Lyza?" Came the exotic voice of her instructor. "Kval is waiting. Is late, you need go home." She appeared at the doorframe, a smile behind her whiskers. "Need good sleep for test next week."

Silently, Lyza got up, and crammed her music stand and flute into the duffel bag at the door. She tried not to look at Ms. Miskerwitz, hoping she would leave the doorway, but she remained while the rabbit struggled to get the zipper closed. Then, when Lyza slung the strap over her shoulder and finally looked at the way out, Ms. Miskerwitz continued to block her path.

"My brother's waiting." She stated. Get out of the fucking way.

The feline's smile softened. "Not leave until tell. How far you get?"

Lyza shrugged. "I showed her Do Re Mi."

The teacher shook her head. "That not basics."

Lyza glared. "Actually it kinda is. The only thing more basic than that is breathing practice and that isn't very exciti--"

"No, no, no," the woman said, dropping to one knee. "Come," she said, beckoning Lyza closer. The girl reluctantly approached. "I not mean basics of flute. See? I knew you forget basics."

"What other kind of basics are there?" She huffed. "You said to teach her how to play the flute! What else was I supposed to do, bake a cake?"

"There! You see?" She clapped the frame of the door with her free hand. "That what I mean! How you forget, basics of all music? Music is art; art is expression. The basics of art about expression." She pointed a finger at the strap crossing Lyza's chest. "The most basic lesson I teach you, even before breathing, was play from heart. How you forget this?"

The rabbit looked away.

Ms. Miskerwitz stood up. "I change your part in quartet." She stated.

"No!" Lyza fought, "I told you. I can do it!"

"I know, girl," the woman replied, trying to sound like she was identifying with her. She flicked her hand, ushering her out, now that she had apparently passed the night's lesson. "But you not going to use Indian-style. I have you use bamboo instead. Will sound good enough. Now go, brother waiting."

Before Lyza could protest, Ms. Miskerwitz shut the door behind her. Suddenly tired, Lyza went toward the headlights that signified her brother's car. She opened the back door, shoved her duffel bag in, and then hoisted herself into the seat.

"You don't wanna sit up front?" Her brother asked, turning off the radio.

"No." She replied.

"Okay, then... Buckle up." He heard the sound of her seatbelt whipping out as he started the engine. "So... I saw someone out there that looked kinda familiar."

"I don't want to talk about it." Lyza stated, doing nothing to hide the growl and irritation from her voice.

"All right. Mom made Sephard's Pie, and I made sure to save some for you. All I have to do is heat it up and--"

"I'm not hungry."

Kval looked at his sister in the rear-view mirror.

She was staring out the window.

"No?" He questioned. "Well... I guess you'll let me know for sure when we get home." He decided it was probably best to let her be. But, silence wasn't going to cut it. He turned the radio back on, and switched to the CD player. He adjusted the volume, so that the flutes and strings of the orchestra were only just distinguishable, and the silence not completely distrubed.

Lyza didn't have to heart to tell her brother that, right now, the sound of music was just pissing her off.