Sirens blared, jerking Chay out of her daydream.
It’s just a drill, she reminded herself. It had been a week since the last aerial strike, and a ceasefire was being negotiated, but Sakai authorities would still want drills at a regular schedule. Just in case.
Chay sighed, shutting off her vacuum and walking towards the small bomb shelter in the basement of the house. She didn’t know how Ms. Zuri kept her shelter, but she hoped it wasn’t flooded like many of the public shelters she had been down before. She pushed open the trap door, lowering herself down onto the ladder, and descended down into the dark.
She landed on solid, dry ground, but coughed as dust began to stir. She put her hand against the wall, guiding her, as she searched for a light switch. She eventually found one covered in cobwebs. When she flicked the light switch on, two dim lights flickered on.
The room felt small, but only because the amount of stuff packed in. Three bookshelves and a small table were stacked with books, boxes, and chests, and a stack of paintings leaned against the wall. A lot of people kept valuables in the bomb shelter, but Chay had never seen one so crowded. She was less surprised at the dust – Ms. Zuri and her children spent almost no time at home. Ms. Zuri’s job at the hospital kept her there at night and often through the day, and her children slept over at their aunt’s often.
At least it’s not flooded, Chay said, dusting off a bench and sitting down. She leaned her head back against the wall, wishing she could do something. She was unused to being alone during drills – alone wasn’t even in her family’s vocabulary most of the time. Chay glanced around the room, wondering if it would be a breach of privacy to read any of the books. She glanced at a familiar book on the table, remembering reading it as a little girl. It was a well-known book, so it couldn’t possibly be wrong to-
Chay frowned, realizing the weird shape of the table. It was taller than it was wide, with only a foot of width and a gentle slope down. It was made of the same wood as the bench, and Chay found herself starting to wonder…
No, she told herself. But she stood up anyways, walking towards the object. She picked up the books, jewelry box, and box of photos off of the top, and dusted it off. The sloped part was definitely a lid, and she slowly began to lift it up.
“You’re kidding,” Chay muttered to herself, looking down at klavier keys. They were white on black, not black on white like the klavier Chay grew up with, and the notes were slightly out of tune. But it was a klavier.
Chay dragged the bench over and sat down, playing a quick scale. The keys felt cold to her touch, and the pedals creaked when she tried them out. Still, she hadn’t even realized there was a klavier in the city, and even though it had only been a month since she last touched a klavier, it felt like an eternity.
Chay took a deep breath, bringing back memories of her last practices. What had she been learning again? It was a lilting song, kind of like a lullaby. How did it start again?
She gently played the starting chord with her right hand, repeating an arpeggiated pattern, and before she knew it she was pulled into the klavier.
Chay startled. She turned to see Ms. Zuri behind her.
“You’ve been hear for almost an hour,” Ms. Zuri said, crossing her arms.
Chay blushed. “Sorry. I got… distracted.”
“Your parents are probably worried,” Ms. Zuri said. “You should hurry home.”
Chay nodded. “You’re right. I’ll see you around.”
“Dolce, your skirt is wrinkled,” her mother chided.
Chay sighed, putting down her spoon of oatmeal. “That’s what happens when you only have a small space to put clothes.”
“You can do better,” her mother replied.
“Maybe tomorrow,” Chay replied. “I’m going to be late.”
“Late for what?” Her mother asked.
“Oh, uhm, I promised Tarō I’d help out with… things before school,” Chay lied. She finished the last bite of her oatmeal, grabbed her jacket, and sped out the door.
She jogged down the street, still having a free hour before she was expected at school – if it could be called that. She originally headed for her usual rooftop hideaway, hoping that maybe Matt or Volpe – her only two friends who knew her hideouts – would seek her out before she was stuck all day, but half-way there she decided against it.
I can’t just go into her house without permission, Chay told herself, decidedly turning back on her original path.
Still, another voice argued. It’s not like you’re stealing anything. Chay stopped and turned back to her detour.
It’s breaking her trust. I can’t do that.
With a sigh, Chay turned back to her earlier path. But she looked back over her shoulder again.
“You know, it’s gene-generally n-not a g-good ide-dea to look so co-confused in a city.”
Chay sighed, turning to the voice of her friend. “Matt. How long have you been there?”
Matt was leaning against the wall of restaurant, munching on an apple. He shrugged as an answer to Chay’s question.
“D-don’t have a b-better place t-to be,” he replied. “You seem to have t-to many.”
Chay sighed. “I just – I kinda want to – you know, it’s complicated.”
“I have t-time,” Matt said.
“You know Ms. Zuri?” Chay asked. Matt nodded. “I was at her house yesterday, during the drill, and her shelter… well it has a klavier.”
“A what?” Matt asked.
“It’s an instrument,” Chay replied. “More Erebuian than anything you’ve probably heard. But I grew up with it, and I… I miss it.”
“So why c-can’t you j-just ask M-Miss Zuri if you c-can pl-play it?” Matt asked.
“I-” Chay started. “I, actually, hadn’t thought about that. She’s usually on break about now, I think…”
Chay nodded. “Right. That would be the logical thing to do.” She gave Matt a smile. “See you tonight?”
Matt nodded. “See you.”
“You stood me up!” Volpe complained, coming down the ladder.
Chay flinched, once again interrupted mid-song. “Is it that late already?”
Volpe sighed. “You know, you never practiced this much back when you lived with a klavier.”
“I guess I took it for advantage,” Chay said.
“I feel a little taken advantaged of,” Volpe complained.
“It’s not like it was a date,” Chay argued. She immediately flushed at the thought, and quickly covered up the remark. “There’s five of us.”
“Yes, but I prefer hanging out when you’re there,” Volpe said. He also seemed a little flushed. “I mean, well, Tarō is too competitive for me to handle without you there.”
“It won’t happen again,” Chay said. “It’s just… nice to have a way to escape. Really escape.”
Volpe smiled. “It must be. You should be heading back. You’re family will get nervous.”
Chay sighed. “You think they’d realize I can handle myself by now.”
“Where have you been going recently?” Gio demanded, blocking her way to her room.
“Why do you care?” Chay asked, crossing her arms.
“You seem… happier,” Gio said.
“I’m always happy,” Chay said.
“Not like this,” Gio replied. “You’re like, energetic happy.”
“Must be all of those fruits I’ve been eating,” Chay replied. “Now, move.”
“You see, that’s not happy,” Gio said.
“I’ll make you unhappy,” Chay replied. “If you don’t move.”
“I just want to know how you’re doing it,” Gio argued. “We’re all suffering here. If you know some way to help that, tell us. Or just me.”
“And have you impede on my only sense of peace?” Chay asked.
“I wouldn’t do that,” Gio promised. “I’m here all the time, Chay, looking after Zandro and Vic. I need an escape.”
“Fine,” Chay relented. “Just try not to ruin mine.”
“This is someone’s house,” Gio noted.
“I have permission,” Chay replied.
“Sure,” Gio said, but he didn’t argue as Chay unlocked the house with the key she had been entrusted. She led Gio down the stairs to the trapdoor, and opened a trapdoor.
“That’s a bomb shelter,” Gio noted.
“Just full of observations today,” Chay replied. “Come on.”
The room was still dusty and cluttered, and Gio coughed as he stepped down from the ladder. Chay flicked the switch on and walked over to the klavier, and lifted the lid.
“No way,” Gio said, walking up to the klavier. “Does it work?”
Chay nodded. “Remember how to play?”
Gio and Chay sat side by side on the bench. Gio played a five-note sequence on the keys. “It’s even in tune. Almost.”
“Just be careful of the middle D,” Chay said. “It keeps sticking. And the C5 and C sharp 5 play at the same time, when you hit the C sharp. It’s very annoying.”
“Still, I didn’t expect to see one of these on this side of the country,” Gio commented. “You remember that duet we used to play?”
“Nope,” Chay replied. “But I can teach you a more advanced one.”
“You weren’t that much better than me,” Gio answered.
“I was,” Chay said.
“Even if you were, you can’t say that,” Gio continued. “I’m the older sibling. It’s just the way things work.”
Chay rolled her eyes. “Whatever makes you feel better, Ei.”
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