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Melanie

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Before Melanie, Lea had thought fate was impassive. She had thought it apathetic, unfair—not out of spite but out of impartiality. She had thought fate simply didn’t care.

She had been wrong.

Growing up in Goldcliff, Lea had loved to watch the Battle Wagon Racing. She would sneak off with friends after school to spectate, and once had even won two gold pieces from Ellie Holgate in a bet over who would win.

Sometimes she used to fantasize about being a racer herself. Wind whipping at her face, heart pounding in her chest, the wheels of her wagon kicking up dust as she sped along the track. See, before Melanie she had been reckless and impulsive, and she thought that this sounded exhilarating. It was a stupid dream, one that had dissipated when she was eight and broke her arm falling off of the monkey bars. That was the same day people started talking about Ellie’s older sister. Did you hear she died in a Wagon Race? My brother told me that’s why Ellie’s not at school. The teachers shut down any direct talk about it, but the rumors were still whispered to one another over the next few weeks, at lunch and in the halls and behind the tire swing.

Ellie never did come back to school.

In stark contrast to this, Lea went to school every single day in the months leading up to her mother’s death, which was no sudden tragedy but instead a slow moving march of a thing. Before Melanie, Lea avoided her problems, ran from them with vigor enough to be envious of. Her mother fell ill—her skin grew sallow, and slick with a sweat that never seemed to wash off, her frame grew thinner and her bones grew weaker—and Lea wanted to be as far away as possible. When her mother couldn’t leave bed, Lea joined the sinkball team. When her mother forgot Lea’s name, she began to teach herself thieves’ cant.

Death finally came for Shira Langman when Lea was eleven years old, and it was at that point that she had decided that fate was impassive. It took people from her, not because it wanted to hurt her, but because it was above such things as hurt.

Before Melanie, Lea was alone.

She was shipped off to live with her distant relatives, because no one in the city wanted to take in an adolescent tiefling. Problem child, they called her. Trouble maker. So the Goldcliff Child Services stuck her on a train and sent her far away, for somebody else to deal with.

When she got to the new town, her first thought was that it was boring. There were no racetracks, no staggering crime rate, no street fights or shady organizations running the streets. It was quiet. Nothing that mattered had ever happened in a town like this.

That’s what she thought, at least, until she met Melanie.

Have you ever just known someone was destined for great things? Heard them speak and realized that they would change the world one day? That there was something in store for them, something amazing?

That’s what Lea had felt when she met Melanie.

They just clicked, one minute they were strangers and the next they were best friends.

(The next they were dust, it was all dust.)

Neither of them really understood it, but after a few years it felt liked they’d known each other all their lives. Lea knew Melanie’s favorite songs by heart, could picture her favorite color when she closed her eyes. Melanie knew Lea’s opinions on each fantasy olympic athlete, and understood what she meant when she talked about fate. Lea knew Melanie liked her coffee with extra sugar and no cream, and Melanie knew that Lea preferred tea. Lea could tell when the people and noises were getting too much for Melanie. Melanie could tell when the weight of silence was getting too much for Lea.

With Melanie, Lea felt right. Like she belonged, like she’d been led here, to this place, to meet this person. With Melanie, Lea began to think that maybe fate wasn’t impassive at all. Maybe fate brought you to those who could help you.

Melanie was... everything. Her songs could heal the sick, raise the tides, change history. Her voice was gentle, as in moderate, and not harsh, and her voice was gentle, as in kind, and tender.

She made Lea’s heart pound, her stomach flutter, her soul soar.

(She made Lea’s heart ache, her stomach clench, her soul yearn.)

Melanie was brilliant, bright and good with decisions in a way Lea never had been and never would be. She was someone people looked to as a leader, someone happy to take on responsibility and happy to help others along the way. She was capable of being great at anything she set her mind to, she had the talent and the passion and the charisma to pull off anything and charm anyone, and Lea had fallen for that long ago.

Melanie played the flute, and the fiddle and the piano and the lyre, and Lea was the artist out of the two of them but Melanie had picked up oil paints quickly and was far from a beginner. Melanie could sing and her voice could cast magic, literal and figurative and everything in between. Melanie had some of the highest grades in their class, and was being accepted into a prestigious university in Neverwinter come next year. Major in medical sciences. Minor in music theory.

(In the end, her spot was given to a kid from Phandalin, and no one even realized what they’d missed out on.)

This was, Lea knew, the last summer. The last before she left, the last before things changed, and the last before they became different people with different lives. That’s why this summer Lea had made a vow to tell her. Because this summer was the beginning of everything else. They were eighteen and in a month Melanie would be at college and Lea would be doing gods know what and what if letters just weren’t enough? What if they grew apart? They’d known each other for years but it all felt so small in a comparison to the rest of their lives.

So Lea would tell her, this summer, that ever since she’d met her she’d been wonderfully lost, tongue-tied and stumbling in a way she’d never felt before Melanie. Head over heels. Giddy and warm in a way she didn’t think possible. Lea would tell her, this summer, and they would go from there.

(It was the last summer, Lea knew, but she didn’t know, not really. Not yet.)

Melanie was like a star, in that some people didn’t even notice the way she shone, next to flashier individuals. But if you took the spotlight off, focused it somewhere else... she was radiant. Shining and shimmering and splendid, and special in a way that made Lea want the world to see. But sometimes, it made her want to keep it for herself. Melanie was like a star, a light in the darkness and a guide in the unknown. Beautiful. Wonderful. Breathtaking.

(Lea used to think that stars lasted forever but her science teacher had told her, when she was twelve, that even stars could die. Melanie was the outward explosion, the final breath, the beauty before an absence. Then she was just the absence.)

Sometimes, Lea thought—or hoped, or wished—that maybe Melanie saw her the same way. There were moments when touches lasted just a little too long, when eye contact became just a little too intimate. When Melanie would say things like You’re cute when you laugh like that, or That dress looks amazing on you, and Lea would think that maybe that meant something. But those moments were fleeting, and the moments they spent being nothing more than friends were immeasurable—in time, and in value.

But still, sometimes Lea wondered if they might have something more than either of them assumed. Lea wondered if maybe they could be happy.

(They couldn’t.)

In the last days, the ones Lea hadn’t known would be the last, she and Melanie took a hike together, to a waterfall about a mile away from town. It was fed by the spring, so the water was crisp and clear. Lea stood on the cliff’s edge for maybe five seconds before jumping into the pool below. The cold was a relief to her sweaty skin and muddled thoughts.

When she surfaced, she saw Melanie staring out over the water. Hesitance was clear in her stance, in her countenance, but Lea shouted up to her, something encouraging and forgettable.

Lea had done it, so Melanie could too.

(Lea didn’t know this but Melanie would have followed her anywhere. Would have turned down the university offer and journeyed with her to the edge of the world, had she asked. Lea didn’t ask, because she knew Melanie was destined for something far greater than the edge of the world.)

Melanie straightened her stance, took a breath, and leaped. She was iridescent.

When she came up to the surface, she splashed water into Lea’s face, and they laughed and fought and swam for much of the day. They spent a while sitting on a large, smooth rock, basking in the sun. Melanie had her hand over hers, and a wide grin on her face, and Lea had almost told her in that moment.

(She hadn’t. Looking back, she wished more than anything that she had.)

Melanie was something, Lea felt, that you had to experience to understand. She didn’t get how people could meet her, speak to her and listen to her talk and then just leave. Like they couldn’t sense how special she was. Melanie was quiet, with a laugh like sunshine and hair like honey. With bad eyesight and worse posture and an uncanny ability to connect with others.

Lea had never been a lover of poetry but she thought Melanie might be the exception. She had a beauty that Lea couldn’t describe, could barely even comprehend, but it was swallowing her up and she wasn’t even fighting. Melanie was an ocean she would be happy to drown in.

(She was still beautiful like this, sweating and shaky, eyes glassed over and stomach empty and skin pale. She was beautiful with her hair tangled and her lips dry and her grip on Lea’s hand painfully weak. Beautiful. Wonderful. Breathtaking.)

Melanie hated peaches. She loved chocolate with cinnamon. Once, she had, uncharacteristically, snuck a bottle out of her parents’ cabinet. Had drunk it with Lea on a rooftop, looking at the stars. Melanie got stressed about school in a way Lea would never understand. Melanie didn’t fully grasp the rules of sinkball but she attended all of Lea’s matches anyway, cheering loudly when she could tell it was appropriate. Melanie sang and hummed and whistled and tapped her fingers against her thigh, never seeming to be able to fully contain the music inside of her. Lea loved her for that, and for a million other reasons.

Lea loved her, had loved her from the start and had loved her everyday since.

Lea should have been with her that day, a week and and a half before Melanie left, but she’d been called into work at the last minute. The shop was expecting a new shipment and her coworker had a sprained ankle. She’d been disappointed, but Melanie had smiled, and reassured her that the show was certain to return to town soon enough. Melanie hadn’t been disappointed about missing the show.

(Sometimes she wondered if she wished she’d been able to attend. On the good days she knew that no, she didn’t. On the bad days the answer was a haunting maybe.)

Before Melanie, Lea had thought that fate was impassive. She had been wrong. She’d been so very, very wrong, she thought as she was swept away.

Melanie wasn’t the first to die, and she wasn’t the last.

(To Lea she was the first and the last, and every person in between.)

Lea hadn’t run away in her final hours. With Melanie she felt strong enough to stay. She stayed through the vomiting, and the shivering and the crying and the pleading. Lea fought against every instinct in her body and Lea stayed.

(After, Lea did run, for a long time. Aimless, not toward a destination but away from everything she had just lost. To her horror, she found herself at the cliffside. There was a moment where she considered jumping. She didn’t; it felt almost too poetic. Lea never had been a lover of poetry.)

Lea didn’t tell her in those final hours because it hadn’t felt right, and by the time she was desperate enough not to care Melanie had fallen into a fitful state of sleep for the third time. That was the time she wouldn’t wake up.

The universe paused as she shuddered her final breath.

Before Melanie, Lea had thought fate was impassive. She had thought it apathetic, unfair—not out of spite but out of impartiality. She had thought fate simply didn’t care.

She’d been wrong.

(After Melanie, Lea realized that in actuality fate was cruel. Tempting and alluring in a way that seemed magical before it tore away everything she held dear. After Melanie, Lea was different, changed in a way that couldn’t be undone. She was vengeful and sharp, and when the world pushed her she pushed back harder. After Melanie, Lea couldn’t bear to be stuck in that worthless, boring town any longer, she had to get out and find something that would bring her exhilaration and excitement and most importantly, distraction.)

(After Melanie, Lea left Glamour Springs and never looked back.)