the harmony of the spheres

Melanie fell in love with Xander the moment she saw him. He'd transferred in at the beginning of the semester, and nearly everything about him excited her: his shoulder-length, curly brown hair; his trim, toned body; the way he wore a coat or blazer everywhere he went. And the accent! German by way of Australia. If people swooned nowadays, she would have swooned.

Unfortunately, she felt like he had no idea that she existed. She'd talked to him now and then, as two conservatory students who live in the same dorm might, but it was always small talk, and always in passing. She'd never managed to engage him in extended, meaningful conversation, and she blamed herself. Maybe I'm just not interesting enough, she thought.

Melanie held her breath as she approached the corner practice room. It was the least popular room among the students, since it was small, cramped, and had a lovely view of the giant air conditioning unit that sat on the roof of the second floor, but it was Xander's room of choice.

The practice rooms were all partially soundproofed, but the strains of strings, brass, woodwinds, and piano were still audible to anyone passing by. Melanie could hear Xander playing a new song – one she'd never heard before. Yet something about it seemed oddly familiar. It was dissonant, atonal, but still melodic. What is that? Schoenberg? Messiaen? It didn't quite fit the character of any composer she was familiar with.

Whatever it was, Xander played with a power and beauty that was breathtaking, and yet, for some reason, she thought it sounded incomplete.

She risked a glance through the tiny window into the room, and smiled at what she saw. He had his eyes closed and his violin nestled between his neck and shoulder. His body swayed to the melody, and she could see the muscles of his well-toned arms flex with each stroke of the bow.

She realized that she was holding her breath as she watched him play. Breathe, girl, she reminded herself. He's not going to date you if you pass out in front of him.

Suddenly, he opened his eyes and looked directly at her. She gasped, smiled, and then quickly turned away. Oh my God, he probably thinks I'm stalking him.

#

"And then he totally caught me checking him out," Melanie said as she collapsed face down on her bed.

Elle, Melanie's roommate for the past three years, slouched in her desk chair. "Oh, snap! Girl, you got busted!"

"I know!" Melanie groaned as she buried her head in her pillow. "God! What is it about him? It's not like I have trouble getting laid, but I don't want anyone else. I want him."

"Could be the problem, girl. Always want what you can't have."

"Maybe. He's so hot, though."

"I guess. If you like skinny white dudes with freaky accents."

"You don't like his accent?" Melanie was secretly relieved that Elle wasn't interested in Xander. In the entire time she'd known her roommate, she'd never seen any guy ignore her advances. Ever.

"Nah. Can't understand him half the time."

Melanie frowned. "I think it's hot."

"Well, no loss. He's a freak, anyway."

"What?"

"Mel, you not been paying attention? He's weird."

"Why's he weird?"

"I dunno. He doesn't really talk to anyone. He's dressin' all fancy an' shit all the time. Who does that?"

"Certainly not you."

"Bitch, please. I'm a math major. Ain't no fashion in calculus."

"Whatever."

"Besides, I bent over in front of him at a party the first week he was here, and nothin'. That's some weird shit for y'all right there. I mean, who wouldn't want a piece of this booty?"

"Maybe he just isn't into chocolate love." Melanie pointed to the poster hanging over Elle's bed that read "Chocolate Love" followed by an arrow pointing straight down.

Elle cocked her head and smirked. "Honey, every boy wants some chocolate love."

Melanie paused. "Well, fine. If he's so weird, why were you trying to get all up on him, anyway?"

"Well, I didn't know he was weird, then."

Melanie sighed. "I don't think he's weird. He's just…mysterious."

Elle shook her head as she turned back to her homework. "Lord, help us."

#

Melanie dreamed of Xander. Not the standard dream, where he was a misunderstood vampire and she was the only human woman capable of loving him, or the other dream where they were standing together on the deck of the Titanic, their arms stretched wide; but a different dream altogether.

In this new dream, she stood on the balcony of an enormous castle that overlooked an equally enormous, mist-covered lake. Two moons hung in the starry sky, casting their twin reflections onto the surface of the water below.

She looked down at herself, illuminated by the pallid light of the moons, and saw that she was wearing an intricately embroidered, ankle-length silk dress that was held up by inch-wide straps. It shimmered in the moonlight as she ran her hands over it.

The dress left her neck and shoulders bare, but the night air was warm, so she enjoyed the feel of the light breeze on her exposed skin. The castle, the balcony, and the lake felt familiar – perhaps she had dreamed of them once before, though she couldn't remember when.

Despite the quality of the dress, she knew, in the way that dreamers do, that she was neither a queen nor a princess, but rather a minor figure in the dysfunctional court that ruled the dying city that the castle called home.

Melanie looked out across the lake to the far side, where the castle and the city behind it were reflected in the mists. The image unsettled her. It felt as though something were hiding out there beyond the mirage – something malevolent. She strained to make out the details of the architecture but the image shifted and shook as the mists undulated in the breeze.

She shivered involuntarily, goose bumps racing across her skin, and was glad when she found herself distracted by the sound of a single violin. It was a familiar melody, a furious and energetic tune that seemed to emanate from everywhere at once: the air, the moons, the stars themselves. She closed her eyes and felt the power of the music engulf her.

After a moment, another equally energetic voice joined in – a cello. At the same time, she felt Xander appear at the door behind her. "Melanie," he said, quietly, "I'm here."

She smiled, but did not open her eyes. She could feel him close the distance between them, and with every step he took, her heart beat faster. When he finally stood directly behind her, she could feel his warm breath on her neck, and she shuddered.

The violin and cello played counterpoint: a statement and answer.

His statement: "Let's be together."

Her answer: "Yes."

His hands reached up and slowly slid the straps of her dress off of her shoulders. She twisted her torso, and then shifted her hips; the dress fell to the ground. "I want you," he whispered in her ear as he slid his hands down the length of her body.

Her skin tingled in response to his touch. "I need you," she replied. All around them, the two instruments danced together in a complex harmony. Finally, his hands found her hips, and he pressed her forward against the railing of the balcony, trapping her body with his.

"Yes!" she gasped.

From across the lake, from the direction of the shimmering mirage, she heard another sound – low and rumbling. She could feel him shift behind her, but the sound grew louder, and she became distracted. What is that? She couldn't see the source, but it continued to grow louder and more insistent. What is it? A helicopter? A boat? What?

What is that? Melanie opened her eyes and was back in her bed in her dorm room.

Fuck! Elle was snoring again. Just when I got to the good part! Always when I get to the good part!

She grabbed her pillow and pulled it over her head, but the dream was gone.

#

"Hey – sorry about, um, staring, um, at you, um, last night." Melanie stammered. She'd run into Xander in the lounge of their dorm as she was headed to class.

"Oh, yeah," he frowned before nodding, "No problem."

"It's just that," she struggled for words, "I, uh, heard the song you were playing."

"I see," he said, as he looked around uncomfortably.

"And, I, um, I just think that it was really interesting and I'd never heard that before and I was wondering what it was and maybe you and I could play together sometime. If you want. You know. Um. Yeah." She took a deep breath and ran her hands through her hair.

Xander smiled. It was a pinched, clearly forced smile. "Well. Yes. That sounds great," he said. "Let's schedule something next semester."

He turned to walk away, and Melanie started to hum the mysterious melody. Xander turned back, listened for a moment, and then a look of concern crossed his face. He reached out to place a single finger against her lips, and she immediately flushed.

"Please. Don't," he said angrily.

Melanie stopped humming and frowned. "Ok. Fine. Jerk."

Xander's countenance softened. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to be rude."

Melanie crossed her arms and tapped her foot. "You might not have been trying, but you were pretty successful. What was that all about?"

Xander sighed. "It's a melody that has been in my family for generations. I'm not sure…"

"So what?" she cut him off. "You're afraid that I'm going to break your precious family heirloom?"

"No." Xander shook his head. He sighed again. "No, I'm not sure how to explain it."

Melanie dropped her arms to her side and shrugged. After a moment of silence, she stepped closer. "Well," she said, noting that he didn't retreat, "I'm willing to listen."

The barest hint of a real smile crossed his lips, and he looked around at the lounge filled with students. "Not here," he said quietly, "let's go somewhere private."

Melanie gulped. Like, my room? she wanted to say. Instead, she whispered, "Ok."

"Corner practice room. In half an hour?" He stepped back, smiled fully, and then turned away.

Melanie watched him ascend the stairs, then shivered. Her heart was racing, and she had to take several deep breaths to calm herself down. Ohmygodohmygodohmygod, she thought.

#

Xander tossed his jacket over the single chair in the practice room, and then took a deep breath. "I'm sorry about earlier. I was rude."

Melanie frowned. "What's your problem?"

"This isn't going to make a lot of sense."

"Try me."

He shrugged. "Where do I start? Well, like I said earlier, that song has been in my family for generations. It was composed by my great, great grandfather, but was never finished."

"Really?"

"Yeah. But I intend to finish it. It's why I decided to study composition."

"Well, that's kind of cool. Do you know why he never finished it?"

Xander nodded slowly. "They say it drove him insane."

"What do you mean? Like he went crazy before he could finish it?"

"No. The song itself drove him insane."

"How? Like he couldn’t figure out how to finish it, and it drove him crazy?"

Xander shook his head. "No. That's not quite right, either."

"Ok, then I definitely don't get it," Melanie said as she tapped her foot impatiently.

"It's the song itself. The song – the music – caused him to go insane."

"You're right – that doesn't make sense. How can a song make someone go crazy?"

Xander sighed. "The song has power. It…it gets inside your head and it won't come out."

"So?" Melanie shrugged. "That happens to me all the time."

"Sure, but this is much, much worse. That's why I stopped you earlier, in the lounge. I didn't want anyone else to hear it."

"I still don't understand how it can drive someone insane," she said. She sat down in the chair and gestured to his violin. "I want to hear it. The whole thing."

"I'm not sure that's a good idea."

"Why?"

"Like I said, once it's in your head, it won't go away. Ever." He stared out the window. "Trust me."

Melanie thought for a moment. The fragment that she'd heard earlier had been running through the back of her mind ever since. It had even shown up in her dream. But still… "Well, I don't care. I want to hear it."

Xander chuckled and shook his head. "Ok. Don't say that I didn't warn you," he said as he tucked the violin under his chin. He began to play, and Melanie was instantly captivated: by the music, by the power of his performance, and by the way his body moved and swayed.

The previous night, she had thought the music modern, but, as she listened, her opinion of the song shifted – now it sounded almost Baroque – more Bach and less Bartók.

Sitting in the cramped, stifling room, only a few feet from Xander, she found that the intensity of the music nearly overwhelmed her; she found it hard to breathe. Her heart pounded in her chest, the sound of her pulse echoed in her ears. She began to feel light-headed, dizzy, and she could feel a fine sheen of sweat form on her chest, just below her collarbone.

Then, in the middle of a complex arpeggio, he suddenly stopped and looked over at her. "And that's where it ends."

Melanie felt like she had just been rudely awakened from another dream. She forced herself to stop staring at him and gazed out the window instead "Oh. Woah." She felt like she was going to pass out, and she forced herself to take several deep breaths.

"Are you ok?" he asked.

"I…yeah…I just need a second." After a moment, she felt like she could make eye contact without fainting, so she looked back at him. "That was really amazing."

"Thanks," he said as a look of alarm faded into a smile.

She was quiet for a moment, and then, "I understand what you mean about the song getting stuck in your head. Even though you stopped playing, I can still hear it. It's like it's coming from everywhere, just like in my dream."

Xander set down his violin. "A dream? What kind of dream?"

Oh crap, Melanie thought to herself. "Um…I had a dream." She looked out the window as he leaned against the wall. "And the music was there."

"Melanie," he prompted, "I'd like to hear about your dream."

She looked back at him and shrugged. "Well, I think it was set in some other world. I was in some kind of castle, in a city. I think it was a dying city, or something like that. And there was a lake, I think, that was made of clouds…"

"…and there were two moons that hung in the sky," Xander interrupted.

"Oh my God," she said, "how did you know that?"

"I've had similar dreams ever since I heard the song as a child. I've grown up in that castle, on that lake. They're like a second home." He took a step toward her. "What else happened in your dream?"

"Ummm." Melanie looked out the window at the giant air conditioning unit. She nervously ran her fingers through her hair.

"What happened next?" Xander demanded. "Please, your dream might be the key to finishing the song."

"Well," Melanie tapped her foot nervously, "You were there, and…"

"I was there?" He raised an eyebrow and stepped forward, again.

She could feel her pulse quicken and her breathing get shallow. "Yeah, um…"

Xander took another step closer, "And then?"

Oh god, she thought.

Suddenly, his phone alarm went off. Melanie jumped, and Xander stepped back and pulled the phone out of his pocket. He glanced at the screen. "Hell," He looked back at her. "Study group. I'm late. Let's talk more tomorrow."

He reached past her to grab his coat off the chair, and she could feel his hot breath on her neck. She could smell his cologne: lemon and vetiver. She froze, for which she was secretly thankful, because all she could think about was throwing her arms around his neck and burying her face in his long, beautiful hair.

"Tomorrow, same time?" he asked. "I really want to hear more about your dream." He smiled warmly.

"Ok," she said weakly.

"Goodnight, Melanie," Xander said as he grabbed his violin, opened the door, and disappeared into the hall.

Melanie slumped in the chair and stared off into the distance. "Goodnight."

#

She had the dream, again. Standing on the balcony of the castle that overlooked the misty lake, the twin moons hanging in the night sky, casting their pallid glow on the city below. The mirror image of the city shimmered far out in the distance, and she shivered when she gazed upon it.

Then she heard the familiar melody drift out of the darkness. She closed her eyes and concentrated, and this time, when the second voice – a cello – joined in, it seized her attention. She could feel the music ripple through her body.

It's playing counterpoint, she thought. Counterpoint. Of course – it's a fugue. She listened intently, trying to commit the part to memory. It was as complex as the first voice, the violin, but now that she heard both, playing against each other, she could identify the melody that formed the subject of the fugue.

Yes! That's it! She was excited by her discovery and wanted to analyze it further, but she became distracted – very distracted. Xander stepped into the scene behind her, and she could feel his hot breath on the back of her neck.  He slipped his hands around her waist, and she leaned back against him as he kissed her hair.

Melanie sighed as he reached up and slid the straps of her dress over her shoulders. She shifted her body, and the dress pooled at her feet. The cool night air caressed her bare skin and she could feel goose bumps race across her neck and chest.

"Yes," she whispered. "I want this. God, I want you."

"Oh, Melanie, you have no idea," he whispered back as he slid his hands gently down her torso. He stopped when he reached her hips, and then guided her forward, until she was pressed against the railing. She braced herself with her hands, lifted herself on her toes, and angled her hips backward.

"Please," she groaned, "I want you in me." After a moment's hesitation, she felt him press against her from behind. Then, suddenly, a rumbling echoed from across the lake, from out of the mirage. The mists vibrated with the sound. It was familiar, but she couldn't place it. It grew louder and louder, but she still couldn't detect the source. What was it? A boat? A helicopter?

God damn it! Melanie opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling. Are you fucking kidding me? If she wakes me up with her snoring just when I get to the good part one more time, I am going to smother her in her goddamned sleep!

She wanted to cry.

For a few moments, as she lay, staring at the celling in the dark, she contemplated playing with herself, again, for the umpteenth time, but a fragment of the dream played back through her brain – the counterpoint. She grabbed her iPad from her nightstand, opened her composition app, and recorded every note she remembered.

Then she plugged in her headphones, listened to the result, and smiled. When I show him this, he's going to fuck me for real.

#

She decided to be bold. She pulled on a tight t-shirt and the most flattering jeans she owned, then slipped on heels and fixed her makeup. If she were her roommate, she might have considered a short skirt, but as she needed to play her cello, that would have been far too immodest.

As she carried her iPad and cello across campus, she tried to calm the butterflies in her stomach. Remember to breathe, she told herself, over and over. Breathe, breathe, breathe. Oh God, I'm going to vomit. Breathe! By the time she got her music and instrument set up, she had managed to regain a semblance of composure.

She flashed Xander a smile when he entered the practice room a few minutes later, and he stopped and stared for a moment. "I…you…" he stammered. He cleared his throat as he set his violin down and removed his jacket. "uh…you look fantastic."

Melanie felt herself flush. "Thanks. I clean up well."

"Indeed you do." He held out his jacket, "Do you mind?"

"Not at all." She took the jacket and felt her hand brush his for a moment. Her stomach fluttered, but she remained calm, and she turned to drape it over the back of her chair. When she turned back, she caught him looking at her appreciatively. "So…" she said.

"So, indeed…" he replied nonchalantly, the color in his cheeks betraying his ease.

"Where were we?" Melanie asked.

"I believe," he said, taking a step closer, "that you were telling me about your dream."

Melanie looked down at her cello. "Oh, yeah, right."

"You were going to tell me what comes next."

She briefly considered telling him everything: every stroke of his hand on her skin, every whisper in her ear, and every kiss on her lips, but then took a deep breath and said, "I think I've figured it out."

"What do you mean? What comes next in your dream?"

"No. The song. Well, not what comes next in the song. I mean, I figured out what's missing with it. Well, not missing at the end, where it just kind of ends, just…" Stop rambling, she told herself, "…just overall."

"You've lost me," Xander said with a frown.

"In my dream, I can hear another voice beyond the violin. There's a cello, too, playing in counterpoint."

"Counterpoint? Really?"

"Yes. It's a fugue. Look and see." She pulled out her iPad and showed him what she'd scored.

"Melanie, you're brilliant!" he said excitedly, "This makes so much sense now."

She smiled. "Want to give it a shot?" she said as she leaned on her cello.

Xander was still staring at the iPad. He shook his head in amazement, "This is wonderful. Melanie, I could kiss you." She gasped audibly, and he turned to look at her. "Are you ok?"

"I'm fine," she stammered. "It's just warm in here. That's all."

Xander handed back the iPad and picked up his violin. "Let's see how it sounds." He tucked the instrument under his chin and drew his bow across the A string. Melanie tuned her cello in response and, after a few moments, nodded to indicate her readiness.

He closed his eyes and played the first few notes, and Melanie could feel her pulse quicken. She counted the beats as she watched his brow furrow and the muscles of his arms flex with each stroke. She took a deep breath, and then readied herself for her entrance.

The effect of her added part was immediate. The whole room seemed to vibrate as their voices played against each other. He called to her with his violin, and she answered with her cello. After a moment, he opened his eyes and watched her play. She could feel his gaze caress her, and she reminded herself to breathe.

Xander's body swayed with the power of the music, and Melanie's body moved in time with his. Her heart pounded in her chest, and she felt lightheaded even as she matched every movement of his bow with her own. He stepped closer to her as they reached an especially complex section of the piece.

She looked away from her iPad, met his gaze, and they bowed furiously – note against note, tumbling and dancing with each other – entwined in the music. She no longer needed to read the score – she could read him. She could predict exactly what note would come next just by watching the placement of his fingers and the movement of his wrist.

The two of them played each other, and Melanie could feel a subtle pressure growing inside. Her breath was quick and shallow now – her heart beat rapidly. As they reached the last section, she longed for release, for him to throw down his violin and crush himself against her right then and there.

Xander started the final arpeggio, and Melanie could feel each and every note reverberate deep within her. She responded in turn, eager to be locked in their musical embrace. For a moment, she panicked – worried that the feeling would end – but was elated when they passed the last note and kept going.

Now they were improvising, predicting each other's movements. His bow and hers, creating new music together. New music? she thought, or old? They had passed the point of constant interruption in her dream, and yet it felt as though she were playing from memory.

She didn't want to look away, to break eye contact, but she closed her eyes for a moment and saw herself sitting on the balcony of that castle, overlooking the lake. Xander was standing there, as well. She could hear overtones, now – celestial overtones that couldn't possibly have been created by their two instruments.

She opened her eyes again, and then quickly looked outside. She could no longer see the air conditioner through the window. Instead, she saw stars – an infinite field of lights floating in the inky, black void. She looked back through the door, and saw the same.

She smiled, and Xander smiled in return. The energy of the song ebbed and pulsed and the room began to disappear around them. A rapturous feeling of joy ran up along her spine as they finally reached the climax. Her entire body shuddered, and she dropped her bow.

Xander set his violin down and panted. He wiped he brow with his sleeve and stepped toward her. Melanie took his hand, stood, and walked to the railing of the balcony. She looked out over the cloud lake and up at the stars and moons in the sky, and sighed.

As Xander wrapped his arms around her from behind, she closed her eyes and smiled, for she knew that this time, there would be no interruption.