Chapter 24:

Ties that Bind

Half-Paid Heroes

Yuki stared blankly at her with those dark eyes of his.

"It doesn't faze you at all?" she begged of him, almost whimpering, her hands unconsciously becoming fists in her lap as the stressful memories made her hyperaware of some of the smaller things Yuki was doing - he was slumped over in his seat like a typical thug, a sliver of a tattoo poking out his sleeve.

Wait, why does Yuki always wear long sleeves? He does that every time I see him, her train of thought began-

"Is there something on my shirt?" he muttered, almost jokingly but in his usual inaudible and somewhat flat manner. (Jamie had never once heard Yuki be sarcastic though, so that was a first.)

"No, but can I please check something?" she asked, suddenly polite...because what she was about to do was possibly intrusive.

After he gave her a silent go-ahead with confusion dancing across his eyes, she grabbed his wrist and pulled down the left sleeve of his jacket and shirt to find there was a snake etched in ink, coiled about halfway down the forearm with the tail ending near his wrist. Below the snake, near his elbow, was a scrawly symbol of a C over an S she recognised all too well: the symbol of the Central Security Company, informally known as "the Odagaki Company" as a contrast to Kirikagura's.

"Why didn't you tell me?" she began to mumble through unformed tears, her eyes glassy.

It felt like her life had all been for naught, until now.
From the moment she'd been born in the American South (New Orleans, to be precise), life had conspired to be as harsh as possible to her. She'd been born about ten years from the turn of the century, so she'd never once had to fight for freedom like she heard those before her had done, but she was always surrounded by people she knew she never fit in with, and they could pick up her tension about this.

They jeered.

They called her names.

They made fun of her heritage and everything she was proud of.

At first, she took offence. She almost got suspended multiple times, for picking fights with people who played innocent when interrogated and got away with it.

When her parents started to consider homeschooling and moving further inland to avoid her old reputation, she thought it wasn't so bad.

However, they continued to give her the best education they could, so it just kept happening.

Jamie's one solace was a creaky piano she'd found tipped on its side in a junkyard. The paint was yellowing on the keys and the black parts were no longer black, but after putting some abandoned wall paints to good use, the instrument was good as new again.
Eventually Jamie became tired of fighting and grew into a shell of her former self. It seemed like barely anyone had her back, between her alcoholic father, fake friends and constantly-occupied, constantly-pleading mother.

She would often run out to the yard and bang out an incomprehensible melody in her anger, not wishing to trouble her parents with her hobbies.

She stole away to the library, signing up for a card just to browse the music books. 

She taught herself about the curly treble clef, the fat-headed bass clef, the stave where notes and rests all danced in harmony.

Every one note on the stave was an oddity that had its place. 

As she played scales to take herself away from the monotony of her usual life, she thought she could only dream of being like those notes.
After a few years, she was twelve. She had pored over books on classical composers and decided she liked the wacky-haired Beethoven best. After all, a deaf, dead composer was a better friend than any of the living people she knew.

Using a lot of experimentation and a piece of sheet music carefully transcribed from one of her library books, she began to unpuzzle Ode to Joy...

"Phew. What is this place?" came a pompous voice Jamie recognised as belonging to the mayor's daddy's girl, Genevieve.

Jamie whirled around on her makeshift piano stool (a rotting log about half her height) and slammed the piano lid down in denial as Genevieve, a brunette whose high ponytails, wine-red berets and horizontal-striped outfits were clearly modelled upon stereotypes of France, held her nose high and pinched it at the stink of the rotting log.
---- Author's Note ----
The Jamie chapters, I find, are particularly risky since my audience has the chance of being more familiar with the places I write about than I'll be.

Why is the song Ode to Joy specifically? Well, I would've picked Fur Elise, but Ode to Joy is probably more recognisable and easier to pick out for a beginner's ear.

Gerry Hines