After excusing himself from his visitors, Sebastian collapsed on his bed and moaned, trying to grasp the wispy remains of the unclouded, dreamless sleep he was having before he was woken by the knock on the door. He had woken, slumped over his piano, with his forehead resting on the cool ivory keys. He had not had any nightmares during that doze, and cursed the visitors bitterly for taking that rare respite from him. Upon opening the door and seeing Royale, he instantly forgave her, but he discovered that the man he did not know had insisted on seeing him. It was his fault for cutting his rest short. Sebastian did not want Royale to know that he hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in a week. Of course, he did enjoy the attention he got from her when she was concerned for his well being, (and his insides doubled up with pleasure at the thought that she was indeed concerned about him), but he wanted nothing to interfere with the fact that they shared the stage together.

Because Sebastian was desperately in love with Royale.

It was a secret he would take to his grave, unless of course one day she admitted that she had a secret love for him fostered in her heart. If that happened, Sebastian would requite and the two of them would live happily ever after, etcetera etcetera. But until that day came, the secret would forever stay hidden.

Royale came to the Ruby Roulette at the age of ten, an orphan who had been living on the streets. Sebastian, who was thirteen at the time, had met her in town one day when he saw her being scolded by a street vendor for taking a rogue pear off the ground to quiet her growling stomach. Sebastian paid for the pear and took her home to the Roulette with him. His father discovered her raw talent for singing and dancing, and she stayed permanently as part of the company who lived in the dormitories.

After Royale was admitted as a member of the Roulette’s company, she and Sebastian barely had time to see each other with their conflicting schedules and lifestyles. Sebastian was tutored in French, English, natural science, literature, arithmetic, and music during the day at the same time Royale practiced dance steps and vocal harmonizing with veterans twice her age. Sebastian took piano lessons in his bedroom while Royale changed costume in a room full of grown women, struggling for privacy. While Royale was being bullied and victimized by a dormitory full of women who were all older and more experienced than her, Sebastian was being hit over and over again by his father. Both children lay wide awake in their beds at the same time in the night, located far on opposite ends of the building, both feeling lonesome and lost.

But the two of them did find time to see each other. During brief respites from pressure, they would explore the Roulette’s attics, or roam the city together for hours, just talking and enjoying each other’s company. They were best friends, and all they had in the world was each other.

As the years went by, Sebastian and Royale drifted apart, separated by different worlds and social classes. Royale was breaking out as a brand new talent, and Sebastian was being molded into exactly the same man his father was. Though they lived in the same place, their roles were as different as possible. As Royale grew into a young woman, she began to show the world more of the charming personality that Sebastian knew so well as she gained respect and popularity from the people around her. Sebastian, however, withdrew further and further into his shell, rebelling against the pressure to excel, the monotony of his regime of studying day after day in his room, his father’s tight grip on his shoulder directing him where to go, and the miserable loneliness that gripped him.

It had now been eight years since Royale first came to the Roulette. Sebastian was no longer the same bright young boy he once was. His father made sure of that. He had had most of the imagination and wonder beaten out of him, both figuratively and literally. Much of him was empty. All he had left that made him feel alive was his music, his love for Royale, his fear of his dead father, the rush of adrenaline he got when he was onstage, and his manuscript.

Sebastian was in the process of writing a short story. He did not have title, genre, or point in mind for it. He just wrote. It was very slow going; only a few pages got done at a time, but it was picking up just the same.

Sebastian heaved himself off the bed and crossed the room to his desk. He opened a drawer and pulled out a thick stack of papers. This was his manuscript. Methodically, he took several sheets from the typewriter that had already been typed on and put them at the bottom of the stack, then replaced the stack at the bottom of the drawer. He closed the drawer. Gazing out of the window fixedly, he sat at the desk without looking. His mind wandered to a time in his past that kept rising to the surface of his memory.