Sword and Mirror

by Kate Grove

Chapter 1

The car accident had changed everything.

Ciara accompanied her student on the piano as Marla practiced scales to warm up her vocal cords. Pressing keys with a pause in between was Ciara’s limit. Keeping the grand piano dusted off was her duty. Gone was the talented master pianist.

Ciara turned to her student when they finished warming up. “What would you like to learn next?” Marla was standing in the middle of the living room, and her eyes sparkled in excitement.

“The Queen of the Night aria.”

Ciara froze for a moment at hearing that before reaching for her phone on top of the piano.

“You’re not going to sing it to me?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t.” She flashed her an apologetic smile.

“Because of the high note?”

“You could say that.” Ciara found a record of the aria. “Let’s hear it first.”

Marla nodded, pricking her ears, listening to the voice of the opera singer on the record. Ciara could see the wonder on her face and silently pondered if she wore the same expression at that moment. Mozart’s music always enchanted her.

“Wow…”

“Indeed,” Ciara chuckled. “Marla, you have a beautiful soprano voice, but let’s not strain your vocal cords right at the beginning. Let’s start with a lower note.”

Marla seemed to think it over. Eventually, she nodded, happy with the decision.

Ciara pressed a key on the piano. “This will be your starting note. Let me replay the first ten seconds…”

The class went on in a similar style. Marla was satisfied when they finished, having gotten to sing the famous part of the aria, albeit a few notes lower than how it was originally written. Ciara knew few people could sing such a high note, herself included.

“See you next week! And don’t forget to warm up your vocal cords before you sing! We don’t want a repeat of last month!” Ciara said as she walked Marla to the door.

“Yes, ma’am!” Marla saluted dutifully as she exited. She disappeared down the corridor the next moment.

Ciara grabbed the letters lying on the threshold, her chestnut-colored hair falling over her shoulder. She brushed it away as she straightened up and quietly closed the door.

“Is she gone?” She jumped at the voice coming from behind her.

“Karen?! I thought you were at the uni.”

“My morning lecture was canceled.” Her cousin poked her blond head through the doorway from her room. She looked around and ventured out to the living room. “Thank Goddess, she’s gone. I thought I’d have to pee on the carpet!” she exclaimed before disappearing into the bathroom. The only way to the restroom from Karen’s room was through the living room where Ciara usually held her lessons.

Ciara snorted at Karen’s outburst and walked to the fridge, thinking about their current situation. Her cousin had just started studying at the local university and was probably going to stay for the next couple of years, not counting the breaks. Ciara had to come up with a solution so Karen wouldn’t need to go out every time there was a lesson. She wanted her little cousin to consider this place a home away from home.

Her gaze landed on the small pile of letters. One of them was a medical bill. Ciara had seen the logo on the left top corner enough times in the last five years not to miss it. She scowled and threw the letter to the far corner of the counter, unopened, then she turned to pour herself some orange juice.

Just then, Karen exited the bathroom and came over to Ciara. She was wearing a T-shirt with an anime character on the front, and she was just tying up her long hair.

“Juice?” Ciara asked.

“Thanks.”

She grabbed another glass and filled it to the brim. “Cheers!”

“Kanpai!”

They grinned and downed the refreshing orange juice. A moment of silence passed between them before Ciara spoke.

“So, when is your next class?”

“I’ve a seminar at noon. I still need to look through my kanji list, though. You?” Karen adjusted her glasses.

Ciara glanced at the clock on the wall. The clockface looked like a piano sheet, and the fingers reminded her of clefs.

“I need to leave soon.”

Karen grabbed a block of cheese from the fridge and looked at her older cousin.

“You’re doing a house call? That’s rare.”

“Yep.”

Karen fished a knife out from one of the drawers and started cutting the cheese into tiny cubes.

“You’re not happy about it,” she observed while dicing.

Ciara made a face and went around the apartment to gather her things.

“Truth is, he was a bit rude on the phone.”

“Then why accept him as a student?” Karen asked. “Just don’t.”

“It’s not that simple…”

“You know I hate it when you treat me like a kid.”

“I didn’t mean to,” Ciara replied but didn’t elaborate. Karen sighed, deciding to change the subject.

“Have I told you yet you’re my favorite cousin?”

Ciara stopped in her preparations and looked at Karen with suspicion in her eyes.

“Not today. Why, what do you want?”

“Oh, don’t be such a cynic!”

“Karen.” Ciara’s tone changed in warning.

“I was hoping you would come back with me for Thanksgiving.”

“Thanks, but no thanks.”

“But—”

“No means no, Karen.” Ciara was adamant as she grabbed her purple sunglasses.

Her little cousin sighed sadly. She mumbled, barely audible, “Promise me you’ll at least think about it.”

Ciara doubted her aunt would want to see the face of the person responsible for the death of her beloved sister. If only she hadn’t taken such a long time that day to get ready and make her mother drive faster, the accident wouldn’t have happened. Ciara’s thoughts were going in a dark direction.

Karen opened her mouth to nag her more.

“Don’t try to convince me.” Ciara’s voice had a weird tint to it. Karen shut her mouth immediately.

“See you later?” Ciara quickly changed the subject, feeling awkward.

“Yeah, take care.” Karen walked to her room with a small plate of cheese cubes.

“You too!”

Karen waved at Ciara, disappearing behind her door. Ciara exited the apartment and sighed, trying to calm her turbulent thoughts. Her hands trembled as she put on her sunglasses, reminding her of the medical bills which had arrived with the post. She needed to focus to handle the unpleasant man who would be her new student. He had silenced all her protests when he told her a price. She couldn’t say no to such an offer.

Read on!