Amber Whiteflower skirted along the edge of the forest, the dappled sunlight casting picturesque patterns on the ground as she headed towards her grandmother’s house. Her tune was a cheerful melody that peaked and fell as her temperament dictated. Today it was lilting and high, indicative of the good mood she was in. She was excited to be visiting Grandma Lottie, who had been sick of late. So Amber had baked her some faeberry muffins and made quaffberry jam. The small woven basket dangled from her slender arm as she skipped along, the bird and insect symphony providing a soundtrack to her journey.
When she arrived at her grandmother’s house she let herself in. The old woman was dozing on the couch, so Amber busied herself by making them some tea. Lottie awoke shortly after and shuffled into the kitchen. After giving her granddaughter a kiss on the cheek, she sat at the dining table and helped herself to a muffin.
“How are you feeling today, Grandma?” Amber asked as she placed a plate in front of her, catching a few muffin crumbs in the process. She didn’t need to ask.
She could already sense that her grandmother’s tune had faded, its composition muddled.
“I’m fine dear, better than yesterday,” Lottie said.
Amber hadn’t seen her grandmother the day before, so she couldn’t know if that was the truth.. She finished making the tea and sat down. They spent the afternoon sipping, nibbling on muffins and smiling at each other as their tunes intertwined, transferring thoughts and feelings between them. They communicated by sharing melodic information over the course of a few hours before Lottie became tired and went to rest. Amber said goodbye with the promise to return and visit the next day.
The walk home through the forest was less enjoyable than her earlier trip. She was worried about her grandmother and knew that her time might be coming to an end. It saddened her greatly and her theme became somber as she trudged home.
She wasn’t paying attention when the tendrils of someone else’s tune probed hers. It was sharp and heavy, the beat startled her and she stopped and looked around. Several meters ahead was a young man, leaning against a tree, arms crossed and one leg bent at the knee. She glared at him with her hands on her hips.
“That was incredibly rude,” she said, and then took a few aggressive steps toward him. He smiled at her, a crooked smile that made her stomach flutter.
“I’m sorry,” he said, uncrossing his arms, still grinning. He didn’t look sorry.
“Next time ask!” She turned to go.
“You looked so intense, I just wanted to know what you were thinking about. I’m sorry about your grandmother.”
She paused and turned back to face him, realizing that she hadn’t put a block around that subject. “Well,” she wasn’t expecting someone to go probing into her tune without permission, “you still should have asked.”
“Very well, may I?” He said, offering that devilish smile again.
She relented. Afraid that she too would break out in a smile if she spoke, she merely nodded once and sent tendrils of her own tune to mingle with his. When their tunes meshed together, she expected it to feel like it was with her friends or her grandmother, only more intense, akin to electricity buzzing through her. But it wasn’t like that. Their tunes crashed clumsily into each other, tumbling over one another like waves crashing against rocks. It was unpleasant .
She still gathered the information he allowed her to know. His name was Deryall; he was three years her senior, single, both parents were still alive and his best friend was a scruffy old dog named Scallion. He also wanted to kiss her and Amber’s tune spluttered. She blushed at the thought. Whether he had forgotten to block this feeling or he intended for her to discover it she couldn’t be sure. She retracted her musical strands and stood awkwardly staring at him.
“Ah that’s a shame,” he said, smiling, his head tilted to the side. “I was hoping you could be my soulmate.”
He said what she was thinking. They were not destined to be together. Their tunes clashed. They could never make harmony. His song was direct and succinct; hers was dreamy and soft. If they had allowed their tunes to weave for much longer, they would both end up with serious headaches.
“Farewell my lady,” he said and gave a flourished bow, which she suspected was partly to mock her. Then he turned and headed into the depths of the forest. She stood there for a long time, watching him walk away before she finally continued her trek home.
She saw him again the next day, waiting by the same tree, and again the following weekend, on her way home from visiting her grandmother. They would talk for hours and even entwine their tunes together for a few minutes at each meeting, sharing parts of their lives with each other. Any more than that would be too painful and could potentially cause damage to one or both of their tunes. Talking however, was safe and would often last for hours as they sat against the tree. Their tree. Weeks flew by and with each encounter, Amber fell more in love with him. And though her feelings were reciprocated, she knew she could never be with him.
“What’s the matter?” her mother asked one evening after noticing Amber pushing food around the plate but not eating any of it.
She looked up at her mother’s concerned face and her bottom lip started to quiver. Her mother sat down and grasped Amber’s hand in her own.
“Tell me, maybe I can help.”
“How did you and Daddy fall in love?”
She frowned . “Why, he was my soul mate of course. When we met, our tunes intertwined and we created a beautiful new melody. I felt like I became lighter after that, my burdens seemed to shrink away. I was so happy. It was the missing chorus to my song.” She smiled as she told the story. “Why do you ask?”
“I met someone. But we are not soulmates. Our tunes do not mesh . They don’t create a melody.It’s more like a mallet clanging on an anvil. But …,” she paused, “I am in love with him.”
Her mother let go of her hand and leaned back––shocked. She began shaking her head. “Amber, you must stay away from him. It could be very dangerous. For both of you.”
“But mother, how can I? I’m miserable without him, and he feels the same. Is there nothing I can do?”
Her mother didn’t answer. She just stared at the table, her finger absentmindedly tracing a knot in the wood. Her father having overhead, entered from the adjoining drawing room. “Ask your grandmother,” he said, and then headed out the back door to smoke his pipe. Her mother also refused to discuss the subject further, busying herself with dishes. Amber got tired of trying and went to bed. The next weekend, she would visit her grandmother as usual, and find out what her father had meant.
“Grandma, how did you and Grandpa fall in love?”
Lottie’s face fell. And when Amber tried to read her tune, she found that her grandmother had put a block on most of her memories and emotions.
“Why are you asking me this?”
Amber’s aria explained the story of meeting Deryall. Lottie felt the girl’s heartache. It was not an unfamiliar tune, for she too had fallen in love with someone who wasn’t her soulmate.
“Daddy said I should ask you. Is there something you can do?”
“There is something, but it is forbidden and risky.”
“What? What is it?” Amber asked.
“Are you sure this boy feels as you do?”
“Yes,” she said, nodding her head. “He definitely does.”
“Very well. But what I am about to tell you, you must keep to yourselves, you and this boy,” she said as her granddaughter nodded vigorously. “You can change your tune.”
Amber gasped. “How?”
“By taking the tune of someone else. It will change yours and become something new. Perhaps then your music will meld with his and you can be together.” Amber was getting excited, but Lottie raised her hand to calm her. “There are many risks.”
“By changing your tune, you then leave your real soulmate without the chance of happiness with you. The same goes for Deryall’s soulmate. You would have to live with the guilt of knowing that you have sentenced them to be alone forever.”
“Assuming that it works,” Lottie continued. “Your songs may still clash and it would have all been for nothing, and again, your actual soulmate would no longer be matched to you. You could end up alone,” she was rambling now, but Amber needed to know all the facts. “It is also incredibly illegal and should the wrong people find out, you could both be executed!” She waited for her words to sink in.
“I would rather be dead than be without him,” Amber said.
“A bold statement. Is your love worth risking all of that?”
Amber nodded. “What do I do? Where do I get someone’s tune?”
“Assuming you don’t wish to kill somebody, it must be given to you freely with a person’s last breath.”
Amber gripped her grandmother’s hand, frowning. “You wish to give me your tune?”
Lottie nodded. “I don’t have long left, we all know that. And I would be honored to give you my tune, provided you were careful.”
Amber nodded quickly, a tear gliding down the smooth surface of her cheek. “I would Grandma, I’d be so careful, and so grateful. Thank you, thank you so much.” She hugged her grandmother for a long time; their tunes mingled, sharing the love they felt for one another. Finally Amber pulled away and looked into the old woman’s eyes. “How do you know all this?”
“Because I did it to be with your Grandpa.”
The next few weeks passed too quickly for Amber and she spent every spare minute she had with her grandmother until the final farewell was upon them. Because there could be nobody else present during the displacement of Lottie’s musical epilogue, having said their goodbyes, Amber’s parents left her alone with her grandmother. Before Lottie Whiteflower took her last breath, she released her personal melody. It floated towards Amber who waited patiently, her own tune sending out feelers to grasp the music and draw it inside of her. The tunes weaved together, gliding and spiraling, gently blending as one and creating a new music. The tempo was a little slower, but there was a much stronger baseline than before. Amber felt renewed and strong. She was excited, but when she went to thank her grandmother again, she was already gone. Still, she whispered her thanks, kissed her forehead and covered her with a sheet.
She was nervous when she went to meet Deryall. What if the new tune still didn’t harmonize? She mustn’t think about that.
She saw him sitting down, his back against their tree. He stood as she approached, greeting her with that crooked smile she loved so much. She tentatively sent out the coils of her new melody, hoping and praying that it would work. He frowned at her, but then sent his tune to meet hers. She closed her eyes and crossed her fingers. This time when their songs connected, there was electricity. Her body flushed with warmth as their melodies danced with each other, tendrils grasping and clinging together. She could practically see the notes in her mind. It was a capriccio, lively and robust, bursting with color and flavor like a rich wine. After a few minutes it changed to a relaxed adagio, as their new combined melody was formed. Then he was kissing her, a deep and passionate kiss, his mouth moving in time with the beat of their shared rhythm, which also matched the beating of their hearts.
For years to come people would speak of how they had never seen a pair of soulmates so perfectly matched, their song was a work of art, their love an inspiration. Their secret stayed that way, but whenever someone made such a comment, they would both silently thank Lottie for the precious gift of her music.