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Not Under Any Circumstances

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Suddenly, the doorbell rang. God, he paid so much for that fucking doorbell. Hazy, Jack pulled himself up out of the plush armchair in the living room and tried to walk, not stumble, toward the door. Ned was here! And he was glad to see his friend again. Technically, his nephew, but with only six years between them there was hardly a generational gap. And Jack was excited to see his friend again, after such a long--

“Hello uncle!”

The doorbell rang again and again

“Ned, I’m coming!” Jack laughed as he opened the door. “I heard you ring the bell”

Immediately, he was pulled in, almost over, in his own doorway, for a hug. Ned pulled away just as suddenly. “It’s good to see you!”

“Its good to see you too! Please, come in. I pay a lot to live here and there’s more than just a doorway!”

Ned followed him in, gazing in amazement as he walked through the, admittedly small, hallway into Jack’s living room. “Jack! Your home is lovely!”

“Oh, it’s really nothing. I’m just glad to see you!” Jack gestured to the couch. “Please, sit”

Ned did, sinking gently into the deep loveseat. Jack returned to his armchair and fumbled for his glass. “Can I get you something to drink?”

Ned waved him off. “No, no, I’m fine. Also, only eighteen, if you remember”

“Ah, yes, sorry.” Jack coughed and took another sip. A moment of pause, and then, “So, how are your classes?”

“Oh!” said Ned. “It all seems fine! Coming from the prep school your parents sent me to, this should be a breeze, if I may say so”

Jack laughed. “Of course. Well, I’m glad to hear it. You know, I was so pleased when I heard you’d be coming here. I feel like I haven’t seen you in ages, and we’ve always been so close.”

“Yes! You and me and Rosa, when we were kids…” Ned trailed off and smiled “Good times, huh?”

“Yes,” Jack replied, seeming to drift off into middle distance, “good times indeed”

“You know Rosa is here this year too?” asked Ned “I haven’t seen her but I think we’re meeting up soon. We all used to be such good friends”

“Yes,” Jack said. “Like cousins. Or, like brothers. You and I at least. And Rosa, does she still sing?”

“Yes, I believe so! I saw a video of her senior recital and her voice was beautiful”

“Oh, good!” said Jack, trying to keep a blank face. “When you see her, please let her know that I’m planning to offer lessons this semester. I haven’t before but my grad advisor is trying to get me to be more involved this year, and teaching is a more active role than TA’ing is, so..”

“Sure!” said Ned. “I’d be glad to! I’m sure she’d be glad to see you again. Everything can be just like when we were kids!”

Jack tried to stifle a laugh into his drink. From his seat on the couch, Ned looked around. He recognized the prints on the wall and the coffee table as a hand-me-down, though he knew Jack wouldn’t want him to mention that. The one thing he didn’t recognize though-- “Jack, is that an entire piano?”

Jack looked at him, drink in hand. “Well, yes, Ned, I am getting a master’s in music composition, and it seemed like a worthwhile investment! It’s really nothing special, anyway, just a cheap upright. But it does the job.”

Ned stood up from the cushions and walked over to the wall where the piano rested to examine it. The sheet music on the piano caught his eye. “Jack, what is this?”
“Oh, it’s nothing. Just a tune I wanted to get on paper. It got in my head, but, just a doodle, you know.”

Ned looked in closer, trying to decipher the messy handwriting of his friend.

“Between the very dead of night and day, upon a steely sheet of light I’ll lay…”

Chapter Text

“...And in the moonfall, I’ll give myself to you, I’ll bathe in moonfall, and dress myself in dew” Rosa glanced at her teacher nervously and tried not to let her voice waver. Her face betrayed her, turning pink as she read ahead. “Before the cloak of night reveals the morn, time holds its breath while it conceals the dawn. And in the moonfall, all time is frozen still, Yet warm against me, your skin will warm the chill--”

The accompaniment stopped. “Rosa,” he said, “you can hit that note. But you have to try. Put some more musicality into it, more feeling. That will help overall”

“I know, Jack,” she said, eyes down, “I’ll keep working”

Jack cleared his throat. “If you don’t mind, Rosa, I’d prefer if you called me Mr Jasper while we have these lessons”

“Of course,” Rosa replied, face hot, “Mr Jasper” She stood there for a moment, taking a deep breath. What happened to the Jack she used to know? Just as she looked up at him again, ready to give the song another go, there was a knock at the door. A face appeared in the window of the rehearsal room door, the face of Dr Crisparkle. Technically he was a religion professor but was often seen in the music halls on his way to and from practicing on the pipe organ.

Rosa let out a breath and set the music down. Before she could take a step, Jack was already opening the door.

“Cedric! Come in-- what can I do for you?”

“Hello, Jack! I was just showing these two Fulbright students around and thought I’d bring them by the music building. Helena here has a beautiful singing voice, and I heard you were teaching this semester”

A young woman stepped out from behind the professor and extended her hand to Jack. “Helena Landless. And,” she gestured to a young man in the doorway, “my brother Neville.”

Jack shook both their hands. “Pleasure to meet you”

Rosa coughed slightly. “And this,” Jack gestured to the middle of the room where Rosa stood, “is my music student, Rosa. I’m sure she can answer any questions you may have about lessons.” Rosa made her face smile and looked at Helena, who smiled back. The tension in the room Rosa had felt moments earlier seemed to ease slightly in the warmth of Helena’s smile.

“Nice to meet you both,” Rosa said, nodding to the Landless twins.

“Rosa, why don’t we show our visitors what we’ve been working on?” Jack looked at her with frightening intensity.

“Oh, no,” Cedric said, “I’d hate to intrude. We’ve already distracted you both I’m sure.”

“No, I insist!” Jack waved him off and sat back down at the piano. “Rosa, from the top”

He began to play. Rosa could feel the pages of sheet music warping in her fingers as she gripped it and tried to perform.

“Between the very dead of night and day, upon a steely sheet…” she felt her mouth start to fill with saliva and swallowed reflexively, clearly nervous. The piano stopped and she didn’t need to look up to feel Jack’s eyes. “I-- I’m sorry, I can’t, I--”

When she looked up, Helena was at her side. “It’s ok, love, take a deep breath”

“Sorry,” Jack said, mostly to the men. “A new student”

“I completely understand,” Cedric answered. “I’d be just as nervous, Rosa, especially with such a teacher! I’m sure you have a lovely voice, but since we have clearly overstayed, why don’t we get going?”

No one moved. Then a phone alarm went off, and Jack seemed to unfreeze. “Choir practice. You know, you’ve always had excellent timing, Cedric.” Jack turned off the alarm and put the music on the piano back in his bag, and everyone else breathed again.

Cedric cleared his throat. “Well, then, as I said, why don’t we get going?” He ushered the Landless twins out the door and gestured to Rosa as well. Jack followed them all out into the hall and closed the door behind.

“Have a good rehearsal, Jack!” Cedric shook Jack’s hand again, and Jack started turning to walk away, before turning back around suddenly and shaking Neville’s as well. He waved to Helena and started down the hallway, bag swinging at his side.

“So, shall we finish the building tour?” Cedric turned to the twins.

“Actually, if it’s alright, I was thinking I might walk Rosa back to her room. I need to practice walking to and from the dorms anyway, and I think she could use the company after that lesson,” Helena replied.

“Certainly,” Cedric agreed.

“Ok, perfect. Thank you, Dr Crisparkle! I’ll see you later for that dinner? And Neville. 7 pm, right? I think that’s what I have written down.”

“Yes,” Cedric said, “7 sounds right. And, you can call me Cedric too, that’s not just Jack.”

“Ok,” Helena said, smiling and nodding at him in acknowledgement, “Cedric. Neville, enjoy the rest of your tour!” She turned back to Rosa. “Let’s go,” she said, as they started walking. “Remind your poor friend where the hell the dorms are.”

“Friend?” Rosa looked up at Helena.

“Why not?” Helena shrugged good-naturedly. “I can already tell we have a lot in common: smart, talented, beautiful…” she looked at Rosa and grinned.

Slowly, Rosa smiled back. “We’re basically twins!”

Helena laughed. “Don’t let Neville hear you! He’s quite prideful. He’ll tell anyone he was born first, ask him sometime. But between you and me, I’m four minutes older.” She winked.

Rosa looked ahead as they walked, quiet. “I wish I would have gotten to meet him better,” she said finally. “And you, and that professor. You all just came in at such a weird time.”

“Yes,” Helena said softly. “We could tell.” She paused. “Is that how all your lessons have been? As Dr Cris- as Cedric mentioned, I’m thinking about taking lessons while I’m here for the year.”

Rosa looked down at her music folder. “I’ve only had a few lessons so far,” she said. “But yes, for the most part. Usually I’m not that nervous, but I just got that song last week and it’s kind of a lot” She opened the folder and gave it to Helena. “Here, you look at it.”

Helena took out the first page and read it to herself. “The music goes so high! And these words”

“I know!” Rosa replied, the most animated Helena had seen her. “It’s so weird, because he keeps telling me to sing it with more feeling, like he doesn’t know the words at all. It’s just so not what I was expecting. I knew Jack when we were kids, and I never would have thought then that we’d be here now, you know?”

“You knew Jack?”

“Yes, we were family friends as kids. Me and him and Ned. I think you’ll like Ned. It’s funny, I hadn’t thought about it, but I don’t think I’ve seen Jack and Ned in the same day in ten years,” Rosa replied.

“Ten years? Wow. That’s quite a while, especially for a person your age. Especially with the internet. Can I ask why?” Helena couldn’t help but be curious.

“Oh, you know, life,” Rosa brushed her question off.

They walked quietly for a few more minutes and then stopped in front of a building.

“Well,” Rosa said. “This is my stop. Thanks for walking me”

“Of course! I promise, you’ve helped me just as much” Helena held out an arm and moved in for a hug.

In Helena’s arms, however briefly, Rosa couldn’t help but feel the safest and warmest she’d felt all semester.

Chapter Text

Angie awoke to the howls of a dog outside her window. Not much else could wake her up at this hour. As she came to, she heard the yelling across the street. Not much could wake her in general, at this point. “Jesus fuck,” she grumbled as she rolled out of bed and grabbed her robe. “Pipe down, Deputy.” She flipped the hall light on and walked slowly to the door to check on the dog and world outside her house. Through the dirty window on the front door she could see the house across the street. It was a typical Saturday, she thought, the disgusting frat boys who lived across from her out of their minds on whatever booze and drugs they could get their hands on this week. This wouldn’t be the first time she’d saved their sorry asses.

Grabbing her keys and ID, and a handful of dog treats, Angie slid on the shoes she kept by the door and walked creakily outside. She’d never needed her ID on a night like this before, but there was no way to know which party the cops would show up at and it never hurt to have proof that she was just a sweet old lady who lived nearby. The dog jumped up on her, digging his nose into the pocket of her robe. “Down, Deputy. Good boy” Angie rubbed his head and fished a treat from her pocket. “Let’s go make sure no one dies.”

* * *

Inside the house across the street was another world. The stink of sweat and booze and bodily fluids filled the air, made even more stifling by the noticeable temperature increase. Bodies filled the space, some writhing upright, some writhing a little less upright, some fully slumped on surfaces or furniture or the floor. In corners, there was an occasional couple clearly too fucked up to consent but as long as everyone was clothed Angie didn’t have time or the energy to break them up. Eventually, she made her way through the heat and the smell and the noise to the kitchen. She’d done this enough to know where things were kept here, and even if she hadn’t, there were plenty of unused solo cups around. One at a time, she filled up every cup she could find with water, juice, anything nonalcoholic within reach. Gatorade would be best, but that didn’t come out of the tap. When the counter was full, she yelled out over the music: “HEY! TURN THAT SHIT DOWN!” No one heard her gravelly voice over the bass, no one ever did. She shrugged. Worth a try. Now came the hard part, trying to get any of these fuckers to drink water. Hobbling around the house, cups of water in hand, Angie tried to remind herself that with every person who made it out of this house in the morning, that was one less weight on her conscience. But it was hard to remember, especially as she rolled over slumped bodies so they wouldn’t asphyxiate, knowing the smell would stay with her longer every second she remained indoors.

Outside, Deputy barked, and a low voice barked back. Shit, was someone outside? On the front porch, Angie found a familiar man crouched on all fours, rocking and seeming to think he was conversing with the dog. She sighed in disappointment. “John, get the fuck up. You’re not a dog.” Jack stared up at her, eyes glazed over. She continued, “You’re a fucking grad student. Sit up and drink some water like a human being or get the fuck off my street. I barely have the energy to be up right now, much less keep you tethered to this earth. You should know better than this.” Jack stared up at her, then stood, shaking himself off, and reached for her hand. He pulled her in close and breathed in her ear, “rosa.” He leaned in closer and Angie smacked him across the face. He was undeterred. “rosaaa.” Again, she hit him. She knew it would count as self defense, and also, “Did you just say ‘Rosa’?” She wrenched herself out of his grip. “John. Did you just say ‘Rosa’?? JOHN!” Angie took a step back and Deputy growled, moving between the two. They all stood still for a second, facing off, and then in one swift movement Jack opened the door and disappeared inside the house.