Finally, the day of the entrance exam was upon us. The school year was already over, and for other kids, the summer break had already started.
If Rosalinde was right, today I would finally be reunited with Lise. Even though we only had to perform this afternoon, Sara and I found ourselves all dressed up on a packed train with our cellos on our backs, moving toward the capital on a Saturday morning since we needed to complete our registrations for the exam between 10 and 12 am.
It was clear that Sara was dying of nerves, and we weren’t even at Flagey yet.
“Calm down! We practiced super hard. We got this!” I felt like I was struck by lightning while those words left my mouth. It was the typical thing Lise would say to me. I used to be the one dying of nerves like Sara was now. I mean, I was nervous too, but nothing like Sara who was on one of her emotional rollercoasters again.
She went from despair: “What will happen if I don’t make it?” To defeatism in a second: “There is no way that I can beat high profiles like you!”
“You, know, I have said this a thousand times, but you shouldn’t give up before the battle starts.”
My usual argument had no effect this time. So, I decided to use her own logic against her.
“Since this high profile helped you prepare for the exam… Wouldn’t that make you a high profile too?”
“H-High profile? Me?” Sara was shaking her head while holding her hands in front of her face to hide her upcoming blush.
I nodded. “I would think so.”
Sara was extremely embarrassed at my compliment, but at the same time, I could see that it made her happy that I had acknowledged her talent to play the cello.
At least it seemed to have completely overpowered her defeatist streak, as right now, she was looking at me with her disarming smile. That girl really wasn’t able to experience more than one emotion at the same time…
When we arrived at the south station, we decided to take a tram to Ixelles. That would be the quickest way to Flagey since there was one that stopped right in front of the doors. That way it only took us 10 minutes to arrive where we needed to be.
The Place Eugene Flagey was one of those squares of Brussels where modern and ancient architecture met. Even though it was still early, the front with all the modern stalls and outdoor terraces was already brimming with people. In a place like Tienen we would have stuck out like a sore thumb since we were carrying around our cello cases, but over here among the crowd, we were but two inconspicuous dots.
We made our way in a roundabout to the front doors of the Flagey concert hall. Even though the jet streams weren’t on at this hour of the day, we did not want to risk someone having a good laugh putting them on while we were crossing the square.
When we arrived at the entrance hall, I was amazed by how long the line was. There were at least 50 people in front of us and who knows how many more would follow and had already passed.
I was looking on around to where we needed to go to register when we were met by a familiar face.
“Ahum, Fleure, good to see you. I was just talking to the people over here about you. Everybody, this is Fleure, the girl Aleksei Fjodorov took under his wing. I recommend paying attention to her performance!” Frank said in a way that suggested we were old friends. The people he was with, all looked at me like they were appraising me, and one by one they shook my hand.
“This is your jury for the performance, fellow townspeople got to watch out for one another,” Frank whispered to me before giving me a wink. He was the kind of man that seemed to know everyone everywhere.
Sara, whose confidence was still boosted by my pep talk, and who had not heard what Frank had whispered, then introduced herself to everyone.
“I am Sara, Fleure helped me prepare for this exam. I would not be here without her.” That seemed to have caught the jury and Frank’s attention. They were sure to pay extra attention to Sara’s performance. To be honest, in this case, I wasn’t sure if that was a good or a bad thing. I know what I said to Sara, but I had no idea how the jury would react to a student who has been trained by another student.
After we went through the tedious line to register, it was finally our turn.
“What is your complete name?”
I sighed. Usually, Fleure was rare a rare enough name so I wouldn’t have to mention my surname. I felt anxiety rush through my veins as I uttered the name that I inherited from my father.
“So Fleure Bouts?”
I nodded. How many times did she need to repeat it?
She then just marked my name and proceeded with the same kind of thing with Sara. Did we really have to come in 2 hours early for a roll call?
Sara and I would be sharing a dressing room and we were told that there would be other girls there too. There would be many participants today and there weren’t enough dressing rooms to just give everyone a personal one. They told us that at 12 am, the order of performance would be displayed on the television screens in the dressing rooms.
While we followed the directions on the little map of the building we got, I told Sara about her introducing herself to the jury earlier.
She went pale in a second. “Oh my god! Why didn’t you stop me?”
I started laughing “Well, at least you will no longer be just a face in the crowd. You became a high profile in an instant!”
I could see she was completely embarrassed. She thought they were just friends of Frank from the music store. While Sara was experiencing another emotional rollercoaster, I started to notice the extremely serious atmosphere among the other participants. You could almost cut the tension in the air.
When we arrived at our dressing room Sara suddenly cried out:
“Lise?! How is this possible? They told me you were dead!”
I looked up, and I was shocked by what I saw. Was that really Lise? How? A flamboyant short-haired girl was talking to two girls. Well, honestly, she was talking, and the two other girls were fawning over her, giggling and smiling at anything she said. She looked like what I imagined Lise would have looked like if she would be 17 now.
The three girls looked like they had no idea who Sara was talking to. So, Sara walked up and pulled her sleeve. “Why do you pretend you don’t know me? It’s me, Sara!”
“Wow, you are good, girl! That is one killer move. Even I could learn from that performance.”
Her voice and movements instantly gave away to me that this was just someone that looked like Lise. But the resemblance was uncanny. They could have been twins for all I knew.
The two other girls looked like they wanted to smite Sara from the heavens now that this girl was paying attention to someone else.
Sara looked up with teary eyes, so I decided to step in and whispered to her “Trust me, that is not Lise.” It was the first time that I saw someone else so devastated about Lise’s loss and to be honest, I felt a bit conflicted about that, but I hid those feelings of jealousy back where they came from as soon as they started gnawing at me. Lise was gone. Sara had a right to her own grief. Grief for Lise was not something for me to monopolize.
“I am sorry, you just look exactly like someone we both used to know.” I intervened, while I moved Sara to a chair to calm down. The girl walked over to us. She was checking me out.
“You would look better with longer hair.” She said while moving her hand toward my face.
I instantly slapped it away. No way was I going to let someone touch my hair and reveal my scar.
“Feisty! I like that.” Her attention had completely diverted toward me. She came over strong and confident. Like some kind of Casanova that was convinced that she could pick out any girl she wanted. Even though they looked the same, she was a completely different type than the jovial Lise. But if she tried that act with me, she had another thing coming. There was only one girl for me, and that was the real Lise.
She clearly sensed that her charms were not going to work so easily on me, so she turned her attention back to Sara.
“If you want me to believe you, show me,” she said.
“What do you mean?” Sara asked a bit baffled.
“Show me a picture of the girl you two mistook for me.”
Sara took out her phone and showed a picture of Lise and her playing music together. A pang of jealousy struck me in my chest again. Why did Lise never tell me about her?
“You weren’t kidding. She really looked like me! She even played the piano too. What are the chances of that happening?”
The girl looked really amazed by the resemblance between herself and Lise. But couldn’t she read the mood? Lise was dead for crying out loud. Have a little more respect. As the blood started pumping faster through my veins and my heartbeat started to rise, images of the accident started flashing in front of my eyes. It had been a while since that happened.
“Please, just stop it!” I cried out. Tears were starting to form on my face.
The girl looked surprised at me and quickly straightened her face. She realized that the topic was still quite sensitive. Taking on a more solemn posture, she returned the phone to Sara, patted her hair, and said, “If you make it through the exams, you should tell me all about her someday.” Sara nodded and looked at her with her disarming smile while uttering an “Mhm.” I could see that the girl took a critical hit from Sara’s smile, as she needed to shake her head to regain her calm while uttering the word “C-c-cute.” It was good to see that I wasn’t the only one that had trouble dealing with that smile. That smile was a really dangerous weapon. I always wondered how aware of that invincible weapon Sara was.
Then the girl turned toward me. “I’m sorry if I was being insensitive. I did not know she was your girlfriend.”
“H-how?” The only one I had told was my counselor. Sara was looking with really big and surprised eyes. She was clearly shocked by the revelation.
“So, I was right.” I seemed to have walked right into that one. “I really have a good nose for that kind of thing. Just know that I am not her.”
“Oh, I can tell you are not Lise. The two of you are nothing alike.” I felt myself growing sad. Her outward appearance was reminding me constantly of Lise, but the difference in their characters was reminding me constantly of the fact that she wasn’t Lise too.
She smiled at my words. She seemed quite relieved to hear them at the same time. I guess she was a bit afraid that I would go psycho on her. “I am forgetting my manners. My name is Axelle.”
She held out her hand to me “Fleure.” I answered while shaking it, she brought her lips to my ear and whispered.
“Since I know now that I am your type, make sure to get into the academy. I do not mind if it is just a short fling to get her out of your system.”
H-how outrageous! Instantly my blood started boiling, I felt furious and wanted to lash out, but when Axelle noticed the look on my face she said. “Ah, good. You’re feisty again. I would have felt guilty if you did not manage to recover and performed poorly because of me.”
I stood there a bit perplexed. Axelle was right, the panic attack that started earlier had completely subsided. She then gave the two other girls a sign and said, “We are going to explore the venue for a bit. We will catch you later.” While those two other girls passed Sara and me, one of them was really staring daggers at us, and the other one had a smug look on her face that clearly said “Try all you want. In the end, she asked me to come with her.” I could sense they wished we would just evaporate on the spot. They did not even bother to tell us their names.
When she was at the door Axelle turned around, gave me a wink, and said, “But that does not mean my offer doesn’t stand. Good luck with the exam!”
While I stood there perplexed, I was left alone in the dressing room with Sara who asked “So you were Lise’s girlfriend? Why didn’t you tell me?”