A calming silence hangs over Delphi. Even with their spirits risen by the Bard’s song and the rebirth of the world, most Delphi evenings are a quiet affair. It’s not as if performances at the Crazy Raven happen EVERY night, after all. Yet, on nights such as these, if one were to pass by the Eagle Cafe, they might be lucky enough to hear a certain local band practicing for their upcoming shows.
The small coffee shop has already closed for the day by now, Jeff hard at work cleaning up for the following shift. Despite still being quite unaccustomed to smiling regularly, the soundtrack of Viola, Ash, and Manny accompanying the cleaning process is always a welcome addition to the winding down of yet another day.
As of late, however, quite a few of the band’s practice sessions have been the slightest bit…clumsy. Jamie, the band’s previous temporary vocalist, departed not too long after the world’s rebirth to seek opportunities elsewhere. This left the band, once again, without a vocalist. A majority of the band’s music was tailored around vocal accompaniment, so it became the band’s priority to put together a new setlist that Viola, Ash, and Manny would be able to perform on their own, if need be.
“Alright folks, let’s get it going!” Manny enthusiastically calls out. “I’ll take it from the top, play whatever you’re feelin’!”
Creating a new composition was a consistent process. Manny would begin by improvising a beat and would keep it going for a few measures until he settled on whatever he happened to be feeling at the moment.
The beat would then be complimented by Viola, creating either a main melody or a backing melody on the fly. Ash would then listen closely, brainstorming for a few more bars, and then play based off Viola’s lead. Although an excellent player in their own right, Ash generally didn’t have the confidence to take the lead when the band was all together. This wasn’t a problem for anyone, Viola thrives taking the lead, and Ash wouldn’t work themselves into a panic.
The jam session continues, and once the music concludes, the three members of the band take some time to cooperate and sketch out some notes and ideas based on the impromptu jam.
By the end of a practice such as this, Viola, Ash, and Manny have built a solid foundation for a new song for their setlist, but it would still likely not be completed that night. Despite the foundation built during their jam session, there is always SOMETHING missing. A few more puzzle pieces would still need to be slotted in to create an end result the band could truly be proud of, and these puzzle pieces would always consistently fall into their laps from the same source each and every time.
Viola still recalls the first time the three of them had one of these songwriting sessions. It was much more clumsy, took far longer, and was significantly more demoralizing.
“I’m really sorry, you guys,” Ash said, directly after the first of these sessions. “I don’t feel like I was really contributing much of anything, was I?” Viola and Manny insisted that there was no worry, and that they would all just need to get used to the band being reduced to three individuals. This would not do much to lift Ash’s spirits, however.
“I think I’m just going to head home for tonight. I’ll gather some inspiration and try to have something for you next practice.” Viola and Manny wouldn’t argue this, they knew nobody was particularly at their best at the moment, and decided to retire for home as well.
They would be shocked upon meeting up again the very next day, to find Ash holding some new music sheets of their very own. Ash shyly handed Viola a sheet, saying, “It’s not much, but maybe this could work?”
The follow-up practice from their initial songwriting session would always play out in the same way from that point onwards. Ash returns from an evening in their hotel room with new music sheets, complimenting the base song the band had written together with intricate, creative, hauntingly beautiful melodies which would draw upon Manny, Viola, and Ash’s respective strengths as musicians. With some collective tweaking, these new additions would turn a previously incomplete song into one that they could all truly be proud of, excited to perform at their next concert.
Despite being immensely thankful for Ash’s efforts, Viola and Manny couldn’t help but be intensely curious about how Ash is somehow able to return to practice with such beautiful work in a single day. After several instances of this exact same scenario, Manny decides that he just cannot handle his curiosity any longer and heads for the hotel in which Ash has taken up residence, hoping to glean ANY information and finally figure out more about what makes Ash tick.
Manny opens the door to the establishment, strolls in, and is immediately met by an exasperated “A-HEM” inside the lobby.
“Really now, you should be ashamed of yourself!” scolded Viola, staring Manny down. “I know exactly why you’re here, and you better not try playing dumb with me! There is no way we are going to violate Ash’s privacy like this!”
“We?” responds Manny, knowing grin spread across his face as Viola pales ever so slightly. “I’m not gonna deny anything, I know exactly why I’m here, and we both know exactly why YOU’RE here too. You even GOT HERE before me! Curiosity’s gettin’ the best of you, just like me.”
“You- look I- MANNY, just!!” Viola stammers, clearly flustered as Manny continues to grin that same infuriating grin. She takes a deep breath and collects her thoughts.
“Of course I’m curious, who wouldn’t be? And yes, I’ll admit I DID come here to spend time with Ash, to try and…lessen those curiosities. But I changed my mind. I decided it wasn’t worth invading Ash’s personal space, as they CLEARLY have no desire to open up about this yet!”
“I can’t take it Viola, I GOTTA know!”
“UGH, you are just IMPOSSIBLE! You KNOW it would make them upset!”
And just then, a quiet voice from behind them speaks up.
“Um…what are you two doing here??”
Startled, Viola turns around, and before her mind manages to catch up to her mouth, she yelps in a startled voice, “What are YOU doing here??”
The blood immediately rushes to her face as she realizes she had just asked Ash what they were doing in their own home.
“I…live here???” Ash responds exactly how anyone with a pulse would expect.
“Just…getting some ice.” Ash says as they hold up an empty glass.
“Ash!!” Manny calls out, “Just the pal I wanted to see! I heard you were gonna work your magic on our new song and figured you might want an extra pair of hands on the job! How’s that sound, eh?”
A deafening moment of silence passes.
“Um…kind of…bad actually, sorry.” Ash responds. “It’s not really a…multiple person job? I kind of have this whole thing for it.”
Manny switches gears, still determined to get his answers, and tries actually being a bit more genuine.
“Look, kid. I can appreciate that. You mean a lot to us. It feels like you’ve been doin’ so much for our crew here, and it feels weird not being in the room when it happens. I’m not gonna lie, it kinda feels like there’s a lot I haven’t really gotten to get to know about ya, Ash. I’d like to get that chance.”
Manny has always been a smooth talker, but never in a deceitful way. He might occasionally sweeten his words to an absurd degree, but he wore his heart on his sleeve.
“I am going to make this clear.” Viola interjects. “This is ONLY if you’re okay with that. I honestly have to admit though-“ Viola shifts her gaze down to the floor slightly, face flushed with a twinge of red. “If it wouldn’t make you too uncomfortable, I would also really like to take an opportunity to get to know you better as well.” She gently smiles, no longer having the will to hide her hopefulness at the situation.
Ash pauses for several moments, anxiety clearly front and center, but still thinking it over.
Several more moments pass.
Viola tugs gently on Manny’s sleeve. “We’ve taken enough of their time, Manny. We should-“
Viola quickly shifts her eyes back to Ash. “Okay?”
“Yeah. I think…I’d be okay with that.” Ash timidly confirms.
“Hey, great!” Manny eagerly shouts out, “Go ahead and lead the way then, buddy!”
“Yeah. Sure. Just…hold on. Let me…grab my ice.”
“Oh yeah. Right.”
Ash, Manny, and Viola approach the door to Ash’s room. Ash unlocks the door, but as they’re reaching for the doorknob, they slowly take their hand away, and then turn around to face Manny and Viola.
Much to Manny and Viola’s surprise, Ash is wearing a rather serious expression on their face, much more so than they are accustomed to seeing.
“I’m sorry in advance for how this might sound,” Ash begins, “But while I’m working, please try not to disturb me. I really don’t want to be rude, but when I work, I like to concentrate really, REALLY hard. I’d be really grateful if you’d maybe just…be really quiet?”
Manny and Viola are taken aback for a moment. These are definitely NOT the mannerisms they would generally connect to Ash. Their message was received, however; when Ash is hard at work, they take it very seriously.
Viola smiles and replies, “Of course, Ash. Whatever you need.”
Ash’s tenseness practically deflates in that moment. “Okay, good. Thank you.” Ash turns the doorknob, and the three enter the room.
Ash’s hotel room is rather bare and simple, exactly what one might expect from such a modest individual. There's a small desk and a chair in the corner with a small stack of paper and several writing utensils left on top. A small minifridge sits plugged in nearby, and in the back of the room is a screen door leading out to a small balcony with two chairs, perfect for a morning lounge.
The most obvious thing that stands out, however, is several long stands of string fastened to the ceiling at seven spots throughout the room, each with a small, plastic hook attached to the bottom.
Ash removes a bottle of pineapple juice from their minifridge and takes two complimentary coffee cups from the top of their desk. “I…hope you’re okay with not having ice.” Ash pours the three of them their own respective cups of juice, which they all take a moment to down in silence.
“You can sit on the bed if you’d like. I kind of…need room,” Ash says.
Manny and Viola share a quick glance at each other, neither of them entirely sure what to make of this statement. Still, they comply, taking a seat on the bed.
Ash walks to their closet, opens the door, and pulls out a medium-sized cardboard box. Inside, there appear to be several unknown items of different sizes wrapped in tissue paper.
Ash then places the box out of the way, and then sits on the floor cross-legged. Their back is uncharacteristically straightened, and their eyes are closed. It only takes a few moments for Manny and Viola to realize that Ash is, in fact, meditating.
They look at each other for just a second, but then quickly look back at Ash, as if witnessing every moment of this routine is of the utmost importance, the world hanging in the balance.
A few minutes pass, and suddenly, Viola sees, out of the corner of her eye, Manny shaking slightly.
Much to Viola’s horror as she turns her eyes toward Manny, she sees his nose twitching. Manny is trying (and seemingly about to fail) to contain a rapidly brewing sneeze. Viola’s eyes widen, as she starts frantically, silently mouthing to him, “NO NO NO NO DON’T DON’T DON’T”
Regrettably, Manny is unable to completely fight it off, letting out a held back, muffled sneeze into his arm, after which, Viola and Manny hear a sharp “SSSHHHHH” from the floor in front of them, shocking them both.
Eyes wide, they both stare down at Ash, agape. Ash slowly turns their head toward Viola and Manny, their own eyes wide as saucers as well.
“Oh geez. Oh no.” They hear Ash say, as they bury their face in their hands, completely mortified. “Oh no oh no no no I’m so sorry oh geez”
Viola stares at Manny incredulously, who can only shrug apologetically in response. There is no doubt that Ash’s concentration has been absolutely destroyed.
A few awkward seconds of silence pass, Ash looking down at the floor.
Just then, Viola stands up from the bed and sits down on the floor with Ash, back to back, her legs also crossed, and her back also straightened, flush against Ash’s.
A few more moments pass. Ash, not turning around, returns to their meditation posture, starting again, eyes closed, joined by Viola. They take a deep breath.
Viola looks back up at Manny, still looking down in shame. They make eye contact, and she silently mouths to him, “It’s okay.” Manny flashes a little smile and a quick thumbs-up.
A few more minutes pass in silence before Ash stands up and takes another deep breath. Viola silently stands up as well and returns to her position, sitting on the bed next to Manny as they prepare to witness the next steps of Ash’s songwriting routine.
Ash crouches down and removes the wrapped items from the box. There are seven of them, the same number as the hooked strings hanging from the ceiling. Ash unwraps the items, and gently hangs them from the hooks.
Viola and Manny are surprised to see seven sets of windchimes, each a different size or material. Ash walks to the screen door at the back of room and opens it wide, allowing a crisp breeze to flow into the room.
Ash’s hair sways in the wind as the chimes all start swinging simultaneously, filling the room with a concert of bells, barely discernible as any sort of melody.
Viola and Manny watch, mystified, as Ash paces around the room, eyes closed, shifting their attention from chime to chime, mind and ears open. Occasionally, Ash plugs both of their ears with their fingers, humming a bar or two of a melody heard from the chimes.
With a slight shake of their head, Ash unplugs their ears and resumes pacing, listening closely to the symphony contained in this small room.
A few minutes go by, and Ash suddenly dashes to the screen door, shuts it tight, and then rushes to the windchimes, quickly silencing them.
Ash hums a melody on repeat, the accompanying harmony playing in tandem within their mind. Ash sits down at their desk, places an empty piece of parchment in front of them, grips a freshly sharpened pencil, and begins writing.
Ash fiercely sketches out sheet music, still humming the melody quietly to themselves. They write faster, more frantically than Manny and Viola have seen anyone write ANYTHING in recent memory, as if Ash is terrified the moment they let the melody go, it will slip away, forgotten, like the single gust of wind that inspired it.
Ash finishes writing and holds up the sheet in front of their eyes, glancing it over several times, just to ensure that the contents contained within are exactly how Ash intended. Ash gives a slight nod at their own work, and then sketches a second and third copy of the same music sheet.
Ash wanders back to the balcony door, and reopens it, prepared to snatch inspiration from the evening once again.
The process repeats a few times, until Ash is satisfied with the four new melodies the evening gifted them with. They take the windchimes down, gingerly re-wrapping them with the tissue paper, place them in the box, and finally, return them to the closet, awaiting their next blustery Delphi evening.
Ash turns around, glances at the bed, and jumps slightly, startled. Viola and Manny sit, staring at Ash, mouths agape, still completely captivated by what they had just witnessed. “I, uh…I actually completely forgot you two were here…hello.”
Ten more seconds of silence pass, Viola and Manny saying nothing. Ash’s face reddens more with each moment.
“Normally, I’d, uh…I’d give you the sheets tomorrow…but I guess since you’re already here…” Ash hands Viola a few sheets.
Finally breaking themselves out of their spell, Manny scratches the back of his head and says, “I’m really having trouble thinking of much to say here, buddy.” His face then breaks out into his wide grin they all know and have grown to love and/or hate. “All I can think about right now is how lucky I feel to have you with us.”
Ash’s mouth twitches into a not-quite smile, yet still clearly pleased by Manny’s thoughtful words.
Viola takes a deep breath, places her new sheets on the bed next to her and stands up. She looks Ash in the eyes. “I would really like to give you a hug right now, Ash. But only if it’s okay with you.”
Impromptu group hugs were an occasional thing during the band’s travels across the world. Sometimes Ash was in the mood, and sometimes they were not. Viola and Manny both quickly learned that the best way to ensure Ash didn’t feel uncomfortable was simply to ask for permission each time.
Ash’s face somehow reddens even more, looking down for just a moment. They give a slight nod and quietly reply, “Okay.”
Viola steps forward and wraps her arms around Ash’s back, holding herself close to them. Ash is generally someone who does not return hugs, and this one would still not be an exception. However, much to her surprise, Viola could feel Ash, ever so slightly, lean forward into her embrace.
After a few moments in this position, Viola releases Ash from the hug, but then boldly reaches up and gently cups Ash’s cheek in the palm of her hand. “Thank you so much for allowing us to be here for this.” She then steps back, blushing, giving Ash their space.
Manny sits up from the bed and claps Viola and Ash on the back enthusiastically, making them jump. “Holy CANNOLI, sure looks like we’re gonna have another productive practice tomorrow, eh?”
Viola rolls her eyes at Manny’s antics, and then looks at Ash in enthusiastic, almost child-like wonder. “Oh, I just have to ask!” She gushes, “I’ve never seen such a unique, creative method of music composition before! How long have you been doing it this way? Where did it even COME from?!”
“Pardon my asking,” Manny starts, “But is this something that came from your mom, Eya rest her soul?”
Viola flashes a quick glare at Manny. However, although such a question would usually be met with a flinch followed by a sorrowful gaze at the floor by Ash, this time was different.
Ash spoke, oddly clearly and free of nerves, “So much of my life, and how I play and process music was shaped through the influence of my mom. She was wonderful, so I’ll always be proud of that. But actually…this isn’t one of those things.” Ash smiles, genuine and proud, quite possibly the first time either Viola or Manny have witnessed such an expression. “This is mine.”