Disclaimer: All rights go to their respective owners, and I don't claim anything aside for my love for SoMa. ^_^
To Fool an Audience
[at her old house, at the coffee shop]
She ran her index finger along the surface of the shelf, and was surprised to see that no dust had collected on her skin. Apparently someone still kept this house clean, despite it being uninhabited for years. It felt like a well-preserved memory, as if trapped in time, looking exactly the way she had always remembered it to be. There was however a missing element: the life and warmth it once held was long gone like the habitants of this house.
She continued to observe the heavy dark-oak bookcase. It still stood by that bay window framed with cream-coloured drapes, appearing as mature as an old tree, while carrying those tomes of knowledge that her mother had collected throughout her own youth. She grazed some of their spines, chuckling softly at the memory of her child-self that was deeply intimidated by these bodies of wisdom. Back then, she did not expect that they would quickly become dear friends that continued to inspire her till this day. She owned copies of them in her own apartment faraway from this nostalgic place.
Her gaze then shifted to the adjacent wall reflecting hues of soft sage green that her father apparently chose because it reminded him of his baby girl's eyes. She shuddered at that thought: Papa's affection was just too much at times. Colour aside, the wall also revealed another portfolio of memories.
There were family photos. Even after the divorce, those images of the happy days were left intact, still asserting their space on that wall. She did not care much about these photographs. While she no longer held any resent towards her parents, more notably towards her father with his philandering ways, she simply felt apathetic towards these youthful smiling faces. Over the years, she had learned to leave the past behind because bearing grudges never lead to anything good, but in result, she sometimes felt indifferent towards her own memories, as if they no longer held any deep attachment or relevance to her current life.
Her eyes then hovered to the frames further left to the photos, paying equal attention to the built-in shelves located above. These were the artefacts she wanted to see: her mother's awards. They were abundant and some were grand, from modest contest prizes to international awards. Claiming praise from the many categories of writing—novels to plays, journalism to thesis writing—her mother simply accomplished it all.
And then she saw it, the most prestigious award of them all, the one that gave birth to her aspirations yet haunted her throughout the years. It sat somewhat unceremoniously, lumped next to various other prizes of lesser grandeur, but it seemed to emit its own aura, and where the family photographs did not faze her spirit, this item certainly left her soul burning with passion. The Shinigami Choice.
Her mother had earned it, not with one of her signature novels, but with a play that she had written and staged. Theatre had always been an interest of hers, and directing had come naturally with her outgoing yet authoritative personality. At age twenty-four, her mother possessed great skills and a knack at drawing out other people's potential. She trained her husband as the lead, and as swift as a scythe swiping tendered crops, they reaped the award that same year.
Her father. Her stupid Papa. She remembered that play quite clearly because it had been the first time she ever saw him in action. It was complex so her six-year old brain could not possibly understand every minute detail, but she nevertheless sensed its powerful impact. She continued to reminisce that moment, and all of a sudden, she is transported back in time, sitting on that red velvet plush chair with her feet dangling because she is too little to touch the ground. She watches her father perform, but he does not appear like the doting parent that she is all too familiar with. The stage is bright, but not because of the strong lights that accentuate their movements. It blinds her because the girl could see orbs shining from each actor, their glory and potential exposed to the eyes of this child. Her papa shined the brightest. Her mind returns to the present.
"The Shinigami Choice," she mumbled to herself. Her heart yearned for it since that fateful day.
She was then reminded of the great pride she held as a child, how she would always boast to the other kids about her Mama's greatness, particularly how her useless Papa was transformed into a famous actor by her mother's hands. She had always wanted to follow in her footsteps, maybe even surpass her glory, but life never came easy even when she was so well connected. She could feel herself shrink, completely belittled as she surveyed these symbols of her mother's prestige.
The girl retreated from the room, and headed upstairs to her old bedroom.
Just like the living room, it remained faithful to her memories. Or at least, that was her original thought before closely inspecting the contents that now hung on her pale-yellow walls. This was definitely Papa's doing.
"Maka Albarn, first prize winner of the DWMA literature contest," she read aloud, amused at the fact that her father had even framed all of the newspapers articles that featured his precious little angel.
She had to admit, she did manage to accumulate a decent amount of success in her mere twenty-two years of age, and this shrine her father had built was the proof of her hard work. Writing did not come easy in the beginning, but Maka was extremely perseverant and refused to admit defeat. Indeed she had the right influence and guidance from her mother, but she also carried certain qualities that would support her efforts.
First and foremost, she had an excellent memory when it came to reading. She could memorize information with a single glance over the page which she then stored in neatly-organised compartments in her brain. Unfortunately, the information in-between the lines was often lost or never perceived at all. She remembered her mother being rather disappointed when she failed at an interpretative text assignment because she could not see beyond the concrete words—she was only seven, yet it still stung her pride till this day.
But Maka was far from stupid and even further from lazy: she decided to study everything, revving her memorization motor to its maximum capacity. If there were words that others could see but she could not, then she would simply have to pretend that she could see them too. Moreover, she would claim that she saw even better words than they could. She devised a method.
Collecting data was her specialty, so she gathered lots of information on various topics, paying attention to words and their associations, while memorizing historical facts to better understand context. She expanded her vocabulary, mastering its usage, and even familiarized herself with their etymology. She also studied her public by collecting hands-on empirical data through field research. Since she wrote in English, she would first cater to this population, observing the trends in its literature to figure out the bounds for her potential award-winning ideas.
An idea was never really new or unique—if it was, it would not be understood by the public and would only earn respect in later years. She worked with the now, what was appreciated in the present, but she always added that extra layer of depth that was meticulously conceived from her rigorous research. She took risks, hypotheses as she liked to call them, but always had the data to justify her decisions. She turned literature into a science.
…Exquisite originality and wit…
…the feelings flow…
…Candid shot at her inner emotions…
… she is an artist…
… True art...
These newspaper clippings were hilarious, Maka thought to herself. She could never fool her mother, but she certainly fooled her public because from what she had read about artists, she would never label herself as one. She would however use this reputation to her advantage.
She took one last look at her old bedroom.
Walls plastered with her success as a writer, a so-called artist in the public's eye— this was going to be her foundation for what she really wanted to do because indeed, the girl had an ambition that transcended the mere goal of winning awards. The Shinigami Choice was important since it was the start of her passion, but it was by no means the end. She cracked a smile at her renewed motivation.
The girl in question did not bother to raise her chin, preferring to keep her eyes locked on the notepad she was scrutinizing. There was no point in looking up because she knew that noise, that very distinguishable annoyingly distractive LOUD voice. She could hear his equally obnoxious footsteps draw closer to the table she was sitting at, the booth in the corner where she had the best view of all the other tables in this coffee shop. It was her favourite spot and she often got a lot of work done, in exception to the times where her bubbling idiot blue-haired childhood friend would drop a visit to halt her productivity, just like today.
"HEY!" he hollered, taking a seat across from her. "I'M TALKIN', YA KNOW!"
She finally averted her gaze from her work and gave him a hard stare.
"BlackStar. I'm two feet away from you, lower that damn voice of yours! It's giving me a headache already," she responded with irritation, massaging her temples as if to emphasize her words.
"Geez, someone sounds pissy. If you greeted me in the first place, I wouldn't have had to yell ya know," he said in a slightly quieter tone. Only slightly.
"Whatever. I'm trying to concentrate. Can't you see I'm working?" Her irritation was quickly turning into rage for some inexplicable reason. BlackStar had not even done anything stupid, yet.
"Whoa~ what bit you in the ass? You're usually not this pissed off when I visit."
"I'm not angry." Her reply was rather unconvincing, whatwith the deep frown she wore.
"Sure…" he answered with scepticism, rolling his eyes as she huffed another quiet I'm-not-angry. "Well, I'm gonna order a coffee, so I'll let you chill for a bit. When I get back, you better be ready cuz I have some AWESOME news." His grin reached his ears and he made his way towards the counter.
BlackStar was right. She was unusually angry and he really was not at fault. The source of her frustration was no doubt the piece of writing she was working on. Three weeks ago, when she visited her old house, her motivation had skyrocketed and the confidence had filled her being, but that fire had now died down and she was only left with the ashes of dejection. This task was by no means an easy one and as she meticulously planned her preliminary resource material, she realised that it could even be impossible. This script had to be perfect, but that was the simple part since words were her forte. It was the second step that she dreaded.
Before that loud-mouth had entered the coffee shop, Maka had to admit that she was not actually writing. She was instead thinking about her motives towards the script and her career as a whole. Her anger must have been set off by his mere presence because he represented the antithesis of introspection. BlackStar was obnoxious but he certainly had talent, even though she would never admit it to him upfront. With a voice that loud and an ego that big, he was made for the stage. His motives were simple, he was certainly in it for the fame, but Maka knew that he also treasured his work deeply. But still, he never thought too deeply into things, like the way he was currently cutting in line because he failed to notice that the queue started on the opposite end.
They say that an actor is an artist, and Maka wondered whether BlackStar ever considered this label. He would probably say yes, and not think twice about the weight of that title. She, on the other hand, had read way too much about the on-going debates and elusive definitions of that three letter word. Art. She read everything about it, yet she could never grasp its full essence, but she surprisingly did not let it bother her because during her research on this subject, she realised something more important.
Through reading and observation she discovered that it was a way to touch people, and a very effective one at that. She never identified with "art"—the aesthetics were too trivial for her taste—but there were certainly things that she believed in and that she wanted to express. She hated loneliness and despair. She believed in courage and action. She wanted to fight against war, against the vices of society, but she could not do it alone. A single person could not change the world, but a revolution always started with an idea, and the arts were a key player since this medium could be easily consumed by the masses. History had revealed this trend one too many times, and she would also use it as a tool, her weapon, to convey her humanitarian values and battle against injustice.
"The clerk recognized me, I know that's obvious, but she gave me a free cookie!" BlackStar announced with glee. Much to Maka's surprise, he handed her the extra treat. "I'm only giving it to you because I hate raisins."
The frown she had been wearing had eased, and her once annoyed expression was replaced by a gentle smile. In the eighteen years that she knew BlackStar, there was never any type of food that he refused to eat. Raisins were certainly not an exception.
"So what's the awesome news that you so desperately want to tell me?" she asked with only mild curiosity, more interested by the delicious oatmeal-raisin cookie that was given to her. BlackStar's eyes lit up. She could have sworn she saw stars replace his pupils.
"I GOT THE PART!" he announced in his notoriously loud voice, grabbing the attention of everyone in that café. Maka did not bother to tell him to quiet down. His excitement was justified.
"But of course, that's quite obvious cuz they'd never turn down a god like me! The REAL amazing news is that my partner is totally hot—her rack's like HUGE!" He was so genuinely happy about this "news" that Maka refrained from hitting him or lecturing him about superficiality.
"That's great news, BlackStar. I'm happy for you," she responded simply, nibbling on a piece of her cookie.
"It's really gonna be great! The play's really interesting too. My partner doesn't have that many lines, which is perfect because all the attention will be on my voice anyways and she's actually kindda quiet, but she was mainly casted for her amazing movements—she's apparently some goddess of dance or martial arts or something. Oh, and she's Japanese like us!"
Maka replied him with a smile. She knew that BlackStar would start ranting about his role like he would always do when he got a new part, or in the occasions that he was not selected, he would bitch about how the production sucked anyways and that he was glad that he wasn't chosen. This time, his rant was rather entertaining because the play he spoke of did sound brilliant. It gave her a little more motivation since she was competitive by nature.
"And guess who's directing? THE DOC! STEIN!" he bellowed proudly, startling a passerby that nearly spilled their mug of coffee onto themselves. Maka was left impressed, and her competitive spirit definitely flared. Stein was a great writer and earned the title of doctor by completing not only one PhD, but three of them. In his teenage years, he had an interest in theatre which he introduced to her Papa who became somewhat of a test subject—Stein always had wacky ideas, and he would "ask" her father to perform them.
"Seriously? But I thought he didn't stage plays anymore! I heard that he didn't want to deal with real people," she responded with a sceptical look. The last she had heard was that he was completely devoted to puppetry. She remembered her Papa whining about how creepy the doc's studio had become, filled with dissected doll parts and strange lab tools.
"Well, I did say that my partner is some dance goddess. And I'm a god, so ya know, we aren't just any real people."
BlackStar simply grinned at her. He then attempted to grab her notebook, but her reflexes were fast enough to avoid his grasp. She clutched it to her chest.
"So what are you writing?" he genuinely wondered.
"What? Really? I better be the lead!" He was serious.
"No way," she responded with equal seriousness. "And it's going to be a musical."
"I can sing! Don't underestimate the talent of a god! But hang on, a musical?" He gave her an incredulous look. "But you're practically tone deaf!"
He was right. She may be good at a lot of things, but music was not one of them. She always knew that she was a hopeless case when it came to this cursed discipline, but she would not let it limit her. Musical theatre was a must. She may not understand the intricacies of a score, but she could still feel its rhythm and she knew about its power. Through her research, she realised that mixing the many disciplines of the arts allowed more flexibility of connecting with different types of people, which therefore broadened her audience. Not everyone could relate to words alone, and music is said to speak straight from the soul, so utilizing this tool was a good investment.
In addition to these logical reasons, Maka also noticed that when she watched a musical, the actors simply shone more brightly. She would see those blue orbs ablaze in their chest, and she simply knew that musical theatre would win her that award.
Nevertheless, creating music for her play was daunting and felt nearly impossible. This had been the infamous "second part" that she dreaded.
"Yes, BlackStar. You don't need to remind me of my shortcomings." She scowled. "I'll have you know that I admit that I have no talent, but I'm not going to let it stop me. I need to find a partner."
"I can help!"
"No, it's fine. But thanks for your concern," she curtly replied. The last time she accepted BlackStar's help, she ended up with a black eye and an overprotective father locking her in her room for a week. Don't even ask what her original request was; she did not want the memory to resurface.
"No seriously, I know someone good!" he reassured. "He always talks about jazz!"
It really looked like BlackStar was genuinely trying to help, and Maka took a risk and inquired further.
"So what instruments does he play?"
"I dunno. Never actually heard him," he admitted nonchalantly, as if this was an acceptable answer.
"BLACKSTAR! Be serious! How can you say someone is good when you haven't even heard them? And here I thought that I'd actually take your help this time…" She was a little disappointed because for a second, she actually had hope.
"I am serious! I never heard him live, but I heard a recording of some music he wrote," he lied, grateful of the acting skills he surprisingly possessed. "The music had a lot of sax. And there was bass too. So I don't know which one he plays, okay?"
"Okay," she responded, oblivious to his lie. "I guess meeting him won't hurt."
"Great! I'll get him to come to Kidd's party. You're going, right?"
"Oh, I didn't plan to. I have to scout on that day, but maybe I can make it if I finish my work early…" She honestly doubted that she'd make it; her work often went overtime.
"You HAVE to come! I also want you to meet Tsubaki—ya know, my partner. I think you'll like her!"
Maka reconsidered her schedule for her part-time job. She could scout any day of the week, but she always chose Friday nights when the young crowds were especially dense. It meant a better probability at finding potential candidates for the agency she worked for—Shibusen, the leading company of the entertainment business. Sometimes she was lucky, and she found candidates on the street, but she usually had a better chance when there were more people around.
Going to the party may bring her one step closer to working on her script, so she did indeed see it as a priority. She really had to make it. But alas, she also took her part-time job seriously, so she finally settled on trying to juggle both.
"Okay, I think I'll go," she finally answered.
"REALLY? You promise to come?"
"Yes, I promise."
A/N: This is my first SoMa fic and first time writing an AU. If anyone has any tips or warnings, feel free to comment! Any feedback, whether positive or negative, is welcome. Thanks for reading if you made it this far~