Kim was never usually one to care about someone’s else’s business. No, she was usually content to keep to herself, even when that other business involved the people she called friends.
But as she sat in the darkness of the movie theater, trying her best to pay attention to the huge screen up ahead, she suddenly found herself distracted and quite curious.
Just a few inches away, Michael sat with his nose practically buried in his phone, texting away to a person Kim could wonder on the identity of.
His phone light lit up the contours of his face, and it was clear from that wide smile that the today’s movie was the last thing on his mind.
Kim leaned over slightly, noticing Aeris was the only one among them paying any attention to all the loud mecha fighting happening on screen.
Kim then crossed her arms, leaning back as Michael continued to type away.
Averting her green eyes, Kim tried desperately to pay attention to the movie, but she lasted only a few seconds before that forbidden question waded into her mind.
Exactly who was Michael talking to right now?
Kim sunk into her theater seat, arms still crossed as she too realized how inconsequential this movie had become.
She debated just turning to Michael and asking him what was so important so at to interrupt Aeris’s outing, but she stifled her own biting words once she remembered Michael had done nothing to earn such ire.
Then she thought of Calvin, and of his recent departure from their group.
As her imagination messed with her, Kim almost imagined a fleeting, crazed thought of Michael also turning out to be a betrayer.
And as if right on cue, the movie seemed to answer such a notion in kind.
“No, it’s not possible! He can’t be one of them! He’d have to be made of pure oil!” said one of the actors on screen, pointing at his former friend who had turned out to be a worm-like, oily monster in disguise.
Kim snickered at the sight, and thankfully it served to calm her bubbling worries down.
Okay, it wasn’t exactly right, but it was close enough.
Perhaps Aeris was right. Perhaps it really was just some girl that Michael wasn’t yet ready to talk to them about.
Kim turned her attention back to the movie. She was being ridiculous to think Michael was capable of Calvin’s brand of treachery.
She took a quick glance around at the populace of today’s showing of Diesel X.
Though the theater was only half full, everything still felt oddly silent even as the movie roared with the sound of explosions and screaming and wrenching metal.
Kim, and most certainly Aeris didn’t want to admit it, but an element was clearly missing in all this.
For the briefest of moments, Kim found herself wishing for just one snarky, know-it-all comment coming from the seat next to her.
She looked to one side.
And just next to Kim, that seat remained as empty and lifeless as a freshly dug grave.
Michael was shaking. Not out of a nervousness or fear, but out of pure anticipation.
Today marked almost two weeks since Calvin had been ousted from the Audio Knights. Until today, when they were finally allowed to go see the movie that Aeris had been denied for weeks, all of them had been told to lay low until Rob made some calls and smoothed the previous situation with the Pop 5 over.
The four of them: Rob, Aeris, Kim and Michael, were gathered in the Sound Loft as they attempted to debrief for the coming days.
“You’re sure that you’ve heard nothing about Calvin? Not even rumors?” Aeris asked honestly.
Rob shook his head slowly as he leaned against the wall. “Nothing. If he’s dead, or if he’s alive, someone’s keeping it quiet.”
“Why does it matter? It’s not like he’s coming back.” Kim pointed out.
Michael had chosen to keep quiet at first. He’d quickly learned that animosity was bound to happen between Aeris and Kim once Calvin was brought up.
“We’d be dumb not to at least know what’s going on with him. I’m just trying to be civil with this.”
In response, Kim just scoffed under her breath.
She was annoyed for reasons she couldn’t pinpoint, and unfortunately it was making her patience wear incredibly thin.
“Yeah, sure…” she mumbled, though Aeris most certainly heard it.
So Rob, always good with conversation cues, took over before things dropped any further.
“Whatever the case, I wanted to share some information you’d all like to know. I got in touch with some people from Uptown. The three of you seem to be off Zero Beat’s radar for right now.”
Michael’s eyes widened as he became optimistic. “You mean they’re not out to kill me anymore?”
There was a knowing glance between Rob and Michael. It was quick, mutual silence at the acknowledgment of information that would remain secret between the two of them for now.
Thus, Michael kept wearing that face of innocence as Rob relayed his reply.
“Actually, Mike…Zero Beat seems to think you’re dead.”
He pulled his cap down to hide anything his eyes might betray, but as usual Rob’s words were convincing enough.
“Dead?” Aeris said, clearly in disbelief. “How the heck did they come to that conclusion?”
“Can’t say.” Rob replied. “That’s strictly confidential, apparently, so I couldn’t squeeze any more details out of my contacts. But it works out for us in the end. Let’s just hope it stays this way.”
Kim shrugged. “Well, if they’re off our back, who are we to complain?”
“Sounds like you got an angel on your shoulder, Afroboy. Lucky you.” she directed at Michael now, who just grinned back in response.
“Yeah, something like that. But it does make me think…”
His fingers tensed as he thought over his next few words.
But then they sort of streamed out, quick and out of his control.
“Maybe we should see about Calvin or something. I know it sounds crazy, but we gotta keep tabs on him anyway like Aeris said.”
He looked up, unwittingly putting on puppy dog eyes in the process.
Much to his surprise, and Kim’s, it was Aeris who quickly and promptly rejected his proposal.
“Out of the question. We keep tabs on him if we can, and that’s it. He made his choice, and he’s going to have to live with it.”
Michael gulped, clearly disappointed, but he still nodded in agreement.
In his pocket, his phone buzzed again as Denny texted him for the fourth time in the last half hour.
He could only hope no one heard the sound of his low, Jackson 5-themed ringtone as Rob continued to speak.
“If I hear anything about Calvin, you three will be the first to know. But I imagine you three have other things to dwell on besides former friends.”
Kim stood up in response to this, cracking her knuckles as she felt suddenly energized. “That’s an understatement. If you ask me, this forever sabbatical has gotta end already. I say it’s high time we get back to a training regime.”
The group seemed to agree, but Michael’s response was more automated than anything.
He debated taking out his phone and replying to Denny right then and there, but a voice in the back of his head urged him to wait.
All this time, and he’d still been unable to find the moment to tell Aeris and Kim about her.
Or more truthfully, he’d yet to find the courage.
He had no idea how they’d react, especially considering the recent Calvin debacle.
In theory, Michael thought that if they’d been receptive to forgiving Calvin, then maybe they wouldn’t completely overreact when he told them he was now secret friends with one of the Pop 5.
And considering that kiss from Denny, friends might not even be the right word.
It was obvious though that Calvin’s plight might be quite beyond his control. It was best not to tempt the fates with Denny, so Michael pushed the thought away lest he debate it further.
For now, it was better to let Kim drive them towards becoming better Music Masters.
Still, even that wouldn’t stop Michael and his famous day-dreaming.
His mind drifted through inattention, before a singular question settled in the center of his thoughts.
He pondered on it, and the result made his approach the edge of sadness.
Wherever Calvin was, wherever he might remain for the foreseeable future; did he even miss them?
For the first time this whole week since he’d made residence at the Everclade, Calvin experienced a decent night’s sleep.
It was a wishful thought, but perhaps he was finally getting over the entire Audio Knights fiasco.
For now at least, no image of Aeris, Kim or Michael served to mock him as he checked himself in the vanity mirror.
After a warm breakfast brought in by Kogeshi, Calvin took his sweet time in today’s particular morning routine.
He wasn’t the slightest bit worried as he checked his attire in the mirror, since Kogeshi had brought him news far more invigorating than the normally impeccable pancakes and juice.
Primping himself one more time, Calvin smiled at his reflection before leaving his room and heading out into the hall.
He was done marveling at the Everclade’s grandness by this point; Sirenia’s personal tour when he first got here was more than enough to familiarize himself with its layout.
And true to what his grandfather had said, Calvin had wanted for absolutely nothing all this time.
His clothes were always washed and touched up by the house tailor, his room cleaned by the various maids, and his food either presented to him by Kogeshi or cooked for him in a grand meal that usually involved the upper echelons of the Ensemble. He’d test driven some nice cars in the garage, bought himself a few new outfits and a brand new music player, and soon enough, he’d have an account in his name with all the money he could ever need.
And consequently during all this time, Calvin had mingled with people unknown to him, laughing and joking in a manner that echoed his behavior around Aeris and the others.
He was still distant though, per his sister’s instructions. Everything important was kept completely to himself.
Calvin took a deep, satisfying breath as he finally scaled the decade-old stairs and stopped in front of the resplendent door that was Iberius Altberg’s office.
He knocked just so slightly, and the voice on the other side responded with unmistakable life.
“Is it that time already? Please, do come in.”
Calvin beamed as he entered, carefully closing the door behind him.
There, looking as picture perfect as the day they met, sat his grandfather.
He appeared as normal and healthy as the day they first met. Wearing a perfectly pressed slate blue suit, he motioned for Calvin to take a seat.
“Wow, is it good to see you up and awake. How are you feeling?” Calvin asked, pulling his chair up as he basked in the sight of his grandfather in seemingly perfect health.
“No complaints in the slightest. Ambrose did quite the incredible job as usual.” he assured, that familiar twinkle returned to his eyes as he smiled back at Calvin through his bushy mustache.
Calvin had to stop himself from just about getting up and embracing his grandfather so suddenly. His entire body surged with happiness as all his previous guilt melted away.
His words were anything but restrained. “It’s good to see you’re okay. No, it’s more than good. It’s amazing. I should have been quicker. If I had known what was going o-“
Iberius put a hand up to stop his grandson. “Please. None of it is your fault. That scoundrel tried to kill you, so the last thing you need to worry about is me. I already spoke to your sister about entire affair, and I understand he’s been apprehended.”
He sighed as he finished. “So as long as you’re fine, that’s all that matters to me. All is well.”
Calvin beamed back. Clearly, Sirenia’s version of the story was a little different, but that fact wasn’t going to hurt his grandfather anytime soon.
Now that Calvin could see that he was okay, he could finally calm down from almost two entire days worth of stress.
With a moment to think, a spark went off in Calvin’s mind, as he was suddenly reminded of a minor fact that had stopped him from completely enacting something now a part of his usual morning routine.
“Oh, one of the strings broke on Regulus while I was playing. I’m not sure how to fix it, so I wanted to let you know. I know that piano’s old and all, I can’t begin to imagine what it’s worth.”
Much to Calvin’s surprise, rather than being concerned, his grandfather’s face lit up at the sound of the grand piano’s name.
“You play?” he asked, blatantly honest.
Calvin chuckled, wondering if this was some sort of joke.
“Of course. You watched me, remember?”
Iberius’s lit up eyes then slowly shrunk in response to that declaration, and he furrowed his brow as he muttered over his grandson’s words.
“No. I don’t. I couldn’t have. Plus, that piano has been in our family for almost forty years. I keep constant attention on it. If there was a problem with it, I would have known.”
Calvin tilted his head to one side, inspecting his grandfather’s face.
Perhaps there was something he’d missed during his recent recovery? Had he gotten a concussion between that awful chest wound, Calvin wondered.
“Are you sure you’re feeling alright? I mean, don’t you remember that day? It was only last week.”
Iberius blinked, trying to focus on this so-called memory. He searched in his mind for the appropriate moment, but no matter how hard he pondered, all he found was blackness that gave him no answers.
And swimming within that same blackness, were momentary images of platinum blonde hair, triangular shaped glasses, and a cold, unforgiving stare. It was all disturbingly familiar to Iberius, though he refrained from saying that aloud.
“I know…I just know what your sister has told me. It seems my memory might be failing me in my old age. All I can remember right now is her.” he admitted, with a hearty chuckle as if to offset his own uncertainty.
Calvin laughed back, at first trying to ease the mood.
But then the words replayed in his mind. It took a few seconds, but they began to click and uncomfortably weave together into a horrible conclusion.
His laughing stopped, as the broken images of his lost sister reassembled themselves in his thought process.
When he actually thought about it, those fleeting memories were akin to broken puzzle pieces that just needed to be put together.
And when they were assembled, it was clear to the reason why they were the only memories that Calvin remembered from his childhood. They represented a destructive event horizon that sucked away all other things in its wake.
Calvin stared ahead, seeing the uncertainty in his grandfather’s eyes which he betrayed so easily.
Then it truly hit him, and his heart rate skyrocketed.
Calvin began to breathe quicker, mounting pressure on his chest as the terrible truth of the entire situation dawned upon him.
How convenient was it that his grandfather remembered nothing beyond his own granddaughter, and that Calvin might suffer the same symptoms. They remembered the source of their amnesia, it would seem, and nothing else.
Conversations and disagreements melded together, as Calvin Altberg finally acknowledged the culprit of the memory loss that cost him half of his entire life.
His expression became rigid, eyes focused as a familiar feeling of rage ignited in the pit of his stomach.
This time though, it was not towards the likes of Jimmy or Zero Beat.
“…Calvin? Is there something wrong?”
Calvin took a deep breath, trying to quell his emotions.
There was indeed something very wrong in all this.
It had been wrong since he’d first came into the Everclade, and he’d been blind to it this entire time.
With quick, decisive words he addressed his grandfather in earnest.
“It’s nothing. Is Sirenia in her office?”
Iberius checked the small clock on his desk. “At this time? Of course. She’ll be working on this week’s applications.”
Calvin nodded. “Good. I’m sorry, but we’ll have to cut things short. She and I have some matters to discuss.”
He stood up, fists clenched and just barely held back from hitting something.
Thankfully, Iberius seemed to understand the urgency of his words, even if he didn’t sense the anger.
As Calvin turned around, he could only think about eight years of lost time.
Eight years of memories gone. Eight years where he’d known his mother and father like he’d known Michael and the others; completely and utterly gone.
Somehow, he had been subjugated to a song effect that had permanently altered his memories.
His grandfather was evidence of that; there was no other explanation for his loss of time with only Sirenia remaining as the one constant.
And from the way he spoke, it appeared that this wasn’t the first time Iberius had suffered from these symptoms.
As Calvin exited his grandfather’s office, he promised himself that he would get answers from his sister no matter what.
As far as he was concerned, she had no leverage on him.
Michael was most likely dead, the fate of his friends unknown, and the Ensemble was never something he’d pined for. She could try to throw him towards Zero Beat for unveiling her plot, but Calvin sensed that would do her more ill than good.
The blond narrowed his eyes as he made his way slowly up the steps that would lead towards the entrance to her office.
The closer he got, the more he could already hear the sound of typing in the distance.
Only one thought went through Calvin’s mind as he ascended.
Those applications she was working on? Those would have to wait.
His sister would suffer incomplete work like he’d suffered an incomplete life. An unfair trade, as far as Calvin was concerned.