Notes on a Piano
Disclaimer: I don't own Code Lyoko…although I do own a copy of the only CL manga book released to date…which I love!
A/N: Wow…it's been years since I've posted a fanfic here. Oh well, I'm not going to bore you with my reminiscing. Anyway, this is kind of like a character sketch…not really though. Don't ask about the title. I just needed something different. It's only a dive into Ulrich's thoughts. I'll probably do something like this for the other main CL characters. Anyway, read on.
Notes on a Piano
Ulrich sighed listlessly and quietly folded the letter he'd just finished reading. Getting off his bed, he put the folded piece of paper in his pocket and shot a glance over at Odd, who was currently immersed in one of his newest video games.
"I'm going for a walk, alright Odd," Ulrich stated, already beginning to head for the door.
"Yeah, sure," Odd said distractedly. Ulrich raised an eyebrow. It was likely that Odd hadn't even heard what he'd said. Still, Ulrich was rather surprised. He hadn't expected to get a reaction from him.
Ulrich silently left the room he and Odd shared, closing the door behind him just as Odd shouted:
"Alright!! Bonus level!!"
Ulrich shook his head. His roommate was a hopeless case. Still he had to admire Odd's unrelenting optimism. Ulrich certainly could have used some of it at the moment.
As Ulrich headed out of the dorms and towards the schoolhouse, he began to think less about where he was going and more about the cause of his current mood: the letter.
The letter was from his parents. They sent him one every month or so, but every single one of them contained almost exactly the same thing: His mom asking him how he was, telling him to look out for his health and so-on, and then his dad's half of the letter, which always entailed school as its main subject.
Ulrich's brows furrowed. His dad never wrote him anything that sounded reprimanding or demeaning, which, Ulrich guessed, he had his mom to thank for. But his father never included anything really encouraging in his portion of the letters either, usually asking Ulrich to "do a little better" in school, in a tone that Ulrich knew resounded in disappointment.
It wasn't entirely his fault that his grades weren't as stellar as his father would have liked. Weekly fights against XANA were a continual distraction. It was awfully hard to concentrate on math while dodging lasers in a virtual world.
Personally, Ulrich didn't think his grades were as disastrous as he knew his dad thought they were. True, they weren't the "A 's" that Jeremie could get with minimal effort nor were they the A's and B 's that he knew Yumi got regularly. But they weren't awful. He did well enough in History and he wasn't too shabby in English either, though he continually had trouble memorizing the vocabulary. Who used words like "posthumous" and "cajole" anyway? Admittedly though, his Math grades left much to be desired…and Physics? Ulrich snorted at the thought of it. The day he aced Physics would be the day Jeremie traded his computer for a fancy pair of shoes.
Ulrich couldn't quite put his finger on why he continued to be beaten by the stupid subject. Granted his poor math skills probably had something to do with it, but Ulrich had a feeling that his way of thinking and Physics just would never work together. Ulrich, for the life of him, couldn't understand why one had to learn the formulas behind why something that went up would eventually have to come down, or why 'E' would always equal 'MC²'. In a word, Ulrich detested Physics. All in all though, Ulrich truly didn't think his grades were as atrocious as his father felt they were.
Pushing his hands into his pockets, Ulrich trudged on, his one hand brushing slightly against the letter concealed in his pocket. Deep down, Ulrich understood, in a sense, why his father was so adamant about his grades. His dad's father, Ulrich's grandfather, had never gotten an education. His dad's parents had been poor and when his father had struck out on his own, he'd started with nothing, having to earn his own college education, work, and status completely by himself. Perhaps this was why, Ulrich considered a moment, his father pushed him to do better and better, despite Ulrich's attempts to make him see why he couldn't. His father couldn't comprehend why someone with as many opportunities for greatness as Ulrich did, could continually fail to make the best of any of them. The only thing Ulrich consistently did well in was sports, with soccer at the top of that list.
However, and this was one thing Ulrich took a small bit of comfort in, as bad as his grades had sometimes gotten, Ulrich had never, in his entire school record, completely failed a school course. And he'd never been left back for any class either. Not yet…though Physics was giving him a run for his money.
With this amusing sentiment in mind, Ulrich finally resurfaced from his thoughts enough to take stock of his surroundings. The part of the schoolhouse he was in was completely deserted, though as it was Saturday, this probably rang true for most of the school.
Further observation allowed Ulrich to pinpoint exactly where he was. Somehow he'd wandered all the way to the Art Wing, a place he almost never went anywhere near. The only exceptions had been the few times he'd come down here to practice in the concert hall, when Odd was trying to start a band.
A small smile played across Ulrich's face. It had been a silly idea really, to try and start a band when he, Odd, and Yumi already had enough work on their hands. Still the 'Pop-Rock Progressives' had managed one performance: their debut (and farewell, afterward) show, played for the school. The inclusion of Jim in their band had lured the school faculty to the show and the overall size of their first and only audience had been decent to say the least. But that was it. Kadic, unfortunately, was one school that really didn't support the Arts much. Odd had tried for a little over a month afterwards to try and find another gig for the band but had eventually given up. Ulrich had a faint notion, though, that Odd still kept a keen ear out for any possibilities; Odd hardly ever completely gave up on something.
Getting tired of standing, Ulrich walked into one of the empty classrooms to sit down. Pulling the letter out of his pocket, he scanned the contents again. Nope. Not one hint of anything encouraging was in that letter; at least not from his dad.
Letting out another sigh, this one coming close to a groan, Ulrich let his eyes wander around the room as his thoughts continued to dwell elsewhere. That is, until, he caught sight of the piano. The piano sat on the other side of the room, just to the left of the doorway. The door opened inwards and had blocked the piano from Ulrich's view until just now.
Drawn by something akin to curiosity, Ulrich got up and walked slowly over to the instrument, again stowing his parents' letter away into his pocket. It was kind of funny, Ulrich thought, walking into a classroom and finding a piano, after receiving a letter from his parents. It was ironic, really. Ulrich sat down on the piano bench, again letting his thoughts overtake him.
Piano lessons had been his mom's idea. Seeing her son have trouble in classes like math must have led her to think Ulrich might be more inclined towards right-brain oriented activities. His mom had presented the idea to Ulrich last summer as a way to both impress his father and to give him some other hobby other than soccer and video games. His mother had always preferred the Arts over Athletics.
Ulrich smiled at this. Out of the two of them, Ulrich felt that his mom probably understood him best. His mom had always been able to subtly keep his dad's disappointment in him at bay, quietly and unobtrusively pointing out one of Ulrich's strengths when his dad was stewing over Ulrich's weaknesses. This was why Ulrich had obliged his mom in taking the piano lessons. He did it to please her more than to make his dad proud, despite Ulrich's doubts that he'd be any good at music.
Much to his surprise though, Ulrich had found playing the piano to be well within his grasp. It also proved to be slightly relaxing and almost…fun.
Unfortunately though, the other half of his mom's plan hadn't worked so well. His father, with all his appreciation for academics and sports had next to no inclination for music. Though Ulrich became rather good at it, managing to learn an entire classical piece by heart, it did little to impress his father. The clincher had been Ulrich's agreement to play keyboard for Odd's band. His dad hated rock groups. Still, his mom had been happy.
Ulrich smiled once more, eventually glancing down at the piano he sat in front of and noticing that the piano's cover had already been pushed up. Growing tired of the silence that had consumed most of the school, Ulrich randomly tapped a few of the piano's keys, just to make some noise. Then, feeling nostalgic and wanting to relieve some of the stress brought on by his parents' letter, Ulrich played a scale, followed by a few simple chords.
As his hands began to grow accustomed to playing again, Ulrich decided to see how much of his music he still remembered. He started with something recent: "Mystery Girl". The part had been written for keyboard and it was really only a baseline but it still had a nice melody. Odd had written the song with some counseling from both Yumi and Ulrich, and their combined music knowledge had produced a pretty decent sounding song. Playing it again, this time on piano, it lost some of its original pop-rock feel, but gained a kind of softness to it that, baseline or no, sounded rather nice. Ulrich shook his head at the thought. He was getting way too sentimental for his own good.
Finishing "Mystery Girl", Ulrich switched styles and attempted to play the one classical piece he'd managed to learn during his piano lessons. Surprisingly, he found he remembered a lot more than he thought he would. Though he hit a wrong key many times more than once, Ulrich managed to play through at least half the song. Upon reaching the middle of the piece, though, Ulrich's mind blanked and the music stopped abruptly. Ulrich frowned and tried again, this time making fewer mistakes but nonetheless stopping at the same point in the song. He simply couldn't remember the rest. Ulrich gave a frustrated sigh, his hand purposely hitting the keys in an awful sounding chord. He wasn't surprised that he couldn't remember the whole piece, but it was still annoying. Sure, he hadn't had any inclination to be a concert pianist, but he would've liked to know that he still could do something right.
Ulrich let out a very low groan, his frustration building itself back to where it had been 15 minutes ago when he'd left for his walk. If for once he could just do something that he enjoyed without his father judging him on it. If for once his dad would accept his son's limitations and take pride in what he knew his son could do. Ulrich had long ago given up on being something he knew deep in his heart he couldn't be. When would his father finally come to terms with him on that?
Silence settled around the room again as Ulrich sorted his thoughts out. He stared back at the piano and suddenly was, again, inclined to play something. This time though, the song would be one he, himself, could identify with: Not some classical concerto; not even a song he and his friends had worked on together. Just a song he could liken himself to.
Ulrich carefully began playing the opening melody, testing his capability. Then upon reaching the refrain, Ulrich did something he rarely ever attempted to do: He sang along.
'I don't want to be anything other than what I've been trying to be lately.
All I have to do is think of me and I have piece of mind.
I'm tired of looking 'round rooms wondering what I gotta do,
Or who I'm supposed to be.
I don't want to be anything other than me.'
Ulrich's voice and accompaniment died abruptly at a voice behind him.
Ulrich spun around in his seat, very surprised and very embarrassed.
Yumi was standing in the doorway of the classroom. She was carrying a small folder and was looking rather surprised herself. Ulrich, very flustered now, blurted out the first question that came to mind:
"What are you doing here?"
Ulrich winced. His question had sounded accusing and he half-expected that it would anger Yumi. Much to his surprise though, Yumi began to blush.
"Well, um," she started, "it's Saturday and I, um, have voice lessons here, at this time." Yumi now looked almost as embarrassed as Ulrich.
"Voice lessons?" Ulrich asked, this time keeping his tone under control.
"Yeah, um," Yumi hesitated, looking away, "I really like to sing and I wanted to get really good at it…so I signed up for lessons." Yumi looked up, her face very flushed by now. "I heard the music and I figured it was my teacher practicing but then I heard singing and…" Yumi, who had said that all very quickly, paused for a breath and then asked, "Ulrich…was that really you?"
Ulrich blushed, his face now matching Yumi's in color. "Y-yeah," he answered hesitantly.
Yumi somehow managed to catch his gaze and, holding it, gave Ulrich a shy but genuine smile. "You sounded really nice," she said quietly.
Ulrich hadn't expected this. "Really?" he asked, incredulously. Yumi nodded and Ulrich, though he tried not to, blushed again in response. "Well, I-uh…thanks, but," Ulrich stuttered out, mentally shouting at himself to pull his sentences together. "I'm not nearly as good as you are though," Ulrich finished quickly, but still sincerely.
Yumi smiled softly, pink still tingeing her cheeks. "You're sweet," she said simply, and the two of them locked eyes again, both now smiling in spite of themselves.
"Um…" Yumi was attempting to break the still silence surrounding them, though she seemed unwilling to break the gaze she shared with Ulrich. "Not to turn the question on you, but why are you down here?"
"I-err…" Ulrich found himself at a loss for words and only when he looked down, breaking the eye contact, did he find his voice. "I needed to take a walk," he answered.
"Oh," Yumi intoned. "Was Odd getting on your nerves?" she asked, grinning knowingly.
"No," Ulrich answered, giving a soft chuckle. "Odd's been too absorbed in that new game he bought yesterday. I've hardly been able to get two words out of him."
"Right," Yumi laughed.
"I just needed to get out," Ulrich continued, hesitating a little. "I wasn't really paying attention to where I was going though and I just ended up here."
"It's okay," Yumi said gently, and then added, "I'd forgotten how good you were at a keyboard. It makes sense you'd know how to play piano."
Ulrich looked at Yumi, a small smile still on his face. It had been awhile since he and Yumi had been able to talk together like this. XANA attacks were always disruptive and both Odd and Jeremie had the uncanny ability of making a timely interruption whenever the two of them started a conversation. Though the talk was casual, Ulrich was enjoying it all the same.
During the course of the conversation, Ulrich had shoved his hands into his pockets, in an unconscious attempt to stifle the embarrassment he'd felt earlier. The piano bench Ulrich was sitting on was hard and he now brought his hands out of his pockets in order to sit more comfortably. However, along with his hands, Ulrich's letter from his parents managed to wriggle out of his pocket and flutter quietly to the ground.
Ulrich froze, staring at the piece of parchment that had fallen out of his pocket. So much for no interruptions, Ulrich thought wryly. Yumi knew him well enough to know what that letter was.
Though he continued to focus all his attention on the piece of paper, out of the corner of his eye, Ulrich saw Yumi take notice of the letter, glance at Ulrich, and then look back at the letter. Yumi then hesitantly kneeled to pick it up for him.
Ulrich stopped her. "I've got it, Yumi," he said, reaching for the letter.
Yumi's hand froze in mid-air, just above the letter. "I was…"
"It's alright," Ulrich said, sweeping the letter off the ground and stuffing it back into his pocket. "I know you know what it is anyway," he added off-handedly.
Yumi shot him another glance. "Well, I," she paused. "I can narrow the possibilities down to two."
"It's not from Sissi," Ulrich stated, guessing her thoughts.
"I had a feeling it wasn't." Yumi paused again, a small smile sneaking across her face. "You usually just throw hers away."
As funny as he found it, the smile Ulrich gave Yumi was far from genuine. Yumi must have picked up on this as her tone dropped all pleasantries. "It's another letter from your parents, isn't it, Ulrich?"
"Yeah…" Ulrich could find little else to say in response. Yumi knew him really well. Despite what Odd might say, her powers of intuition were almost always right on the money.
Yumi hesitated again and Ulrich wondered a moment if she'd become uncomfortable with the situation. This was his problem; Yumi didn't have to involve herself. Ulrich was about to tell her to not worry about it, when Yumi asked him one more question:
"Are you okay, Ulrich?"
It was a simple question, but only because it had been several different questions all simplified down to one. Ulrich had to think it over: Was he really okay?
Yes, he was okay; He wasn't going to kill himself or anything over the stupid letter. As soon as he brooded enough about it and got his frustrations out, he'd be fine.
But was he okay about the contents of the letter? Was he okay with the fact that his dad thought he was lazy and couldn't do anything right? Was he okay dealing with the pressures from home, the general stress from XANA attacks, and the conflicting emotions that usually surfaced whenever he even so much as looked at the girl in front of him? To these versions, he could not as easily answer 'yes'.
Finally, Ulrich decided on an answer. "I'm alright, Yumi, really." And then returning to his previous concern, he added, "Don't worry about it. It's not that big a deal."
Yumi caught Ulrich's eyes, fixing him with a gaze that seemed to pierce through him, in search of truth. Ulrich held his breath. Yumi would know that his answer held as many meanings to it as her question had. But Ulrich had the feeling that Yumi was making sure his answer had been honest; could she really be that concerned about him?
Yumi blinked and a small, sympathetic smile slipped across her features. "Alright," she said quietly, nodding in acquiescence.
Ulrich let out a puff of breath, staring at the girl in front of him with a slight look of confusion. Why was Yumi being so persistent about his well-being? It wasn't like he hadn't gotten a letter like this before. Then again, he'd never sang aloud about his troubles before either. Still, he'd have liked to know Yumi's reasons.
But he lacked the nerve to ask her. And now he'd become uncomfortable with his situation, in a complete turn-around. Ulrich mentally cursed the letter in his pocket for not only ruining his day, but for also spoiling the one moment of peace he'd managed to find in Yumi's company. Sighing quietly, Ulrich stood up.
"I guess I should get going," he said, sounding more than a little reluctant.
Ulrich watched as an unnameable expression crossed Yumi's face before she masked it with a slight nod and her next words. "My voice teacher will probably be here soon, I suppose…anyway−" Yumi's sentence ended as her cell phone suddenly rang.
With a look of surprise, Yumi retrieved her cell phone from her pocket. Her expression turned serious though as she looked at her phone's screen, which showed her caller's name and number, and Ulrich was pretty sure he knew who was calling.
"Jeremie?" Yumi said, answering her phone. "What's happening?"
Ulrich watched with interest as Yumi carried on a conversation with Jeremie, an exchange he really only heard half of.
"Okay," Yumi said, confirming her understanding of something Jeremie must have finished explaining. "Ulrich's with me," she continued. "We'll head right over to the factory." Yumi paused, likely because Jeremie had had something else to tell her. "We'll hurry," Yumi said finally. "Tell Odd to hold out for as long as he can."
With a click, the call ended and Yumi returned her cell phone to its place in her pocket. She turned her attention almost immediately back to Ulrich.
"XANA's woken up again," she informed him. "Jeremie's not quite sure what he's up to, but all of the streetlights in town are frozen at red…which might explain why my voice teacher isn't here yet." Yumi paused a moment. "In any case, Odd's already in Lyoko. He's found the activated tower, but he could use some back-up."
Ulrich nodded his understanding. "Alright. Let's go." He started for the door, expecting Yumi to follow after him.
"Um, Ulrich?" Yumi said quietly, staying where she stood.
Ulrich halted. "Yes, Yumi?" He turned to look at her only to find her blushing a pale pink.
"I…I guess I won't see you down here after the 'return trip', will I?" she asked, just barely making eye contact with Ulrich.
Ulrich stared at Yumi a moment. He'd seen it again; that unnameable expression had flitted across Yumi's face a second time. Only for a moment though as Yumi had again masked it with a small smile, one Ulrich himself used on a regular basis to put others at ease. It was never entirely genuine.
"I'll come down before your lessons start," Ulrich promised and then added uncertainly, "if that's okay with you, that is."
In an instant, Yumi's smile became a true one, her eyes softening into a gentle glance. "I'd like that, Ulrich," she said softly.
A smile spread across Ulrich's face. It was hard to be upset, especially over a stupid letter, with Yumi smiling that sweet smile of hers at him. He loved to see her smile.
Yumi's smile deepened, as though she'd read his thoughts. She then said, "Come on, Ulrich." She walked past him and out the classroom door. "Jeremie'll be wondering what's taking us so long." Yumi then started down the hallway, as Ulrich followed slowly behind her.
Ulrich thought back a moment on the letter that still resided in his pocket. He then shrugged. To heck with it. Ulrich was fine knowing that he could make at least one person happy just by being himself. He hurried to catch-up with Yumi.
A/N: Wow…feels awful strange posting a story again. I hope you all enjoyed it. Oh and yeah…I don't own "I Don't Wanna Be" by Gavin Degraw (the song Ulrich sings). I would have put that at the top, but I thought it would be a spoiler for the plot. Please don't be too critical with me about whether or not Ulrich can actually sing, and Yumi too I guess. I just thought it would be a neat little thing for them to talk about. And I blame all grammar and spelling mistakes on Word. I swear I read this thing over to make sure there weren't any errors that I could find. Anyway, read and review please!