Lemon & Salt by Claudie Arseneault
 
Lemon forced confidence into their stride as they advanced onto the stage. Everything about their appearance matched the tour’s posters: long electric-yellow hair shaved in an undercut, matching neon boots, and stylish black vest with yellow lines zipping through. Not a hint of worry underlied their grin, and they gestured at the crowd as if nothing in the world was wrong. 

Yet this was the first time they had jumped onto the stage alone. 

No one cheered at their arrival. The crowd hushed, its deepest fears confirmed. Lemon & Salt never went one without the other, nor should they. To the public’s mind, they were a single entity comprised of two harmonious halves. Lemon’s soprano voice served as counterpoint to Salt’s deeper bass, and together they created music that conquered the galaxy. Everyone loved them, and as Lemon came forward on their own, collective heartbreak spread through the gathered fans. 

Everyone had seen the duo’s public fight on the stream the night before.

Lemon tossed their yellow mane, lifted their mic, and smiled, seemingly oblivious. Only their musicians were close enough to notice the stiffness behind it, and the knowing glint in their eyes.

“Ladies. Gentlemen. My lovely nonbinary fans.” Their calm voice hushed the worried whispers of the crowd. “Life is a strange and wonderful thing, filled with surprises. Some good… and others, not so much. Some days, it’s harder to trust in your future—to believe in yourself.” They inhaled deeply, and the crowd breathed with them, as if suddenly aware they were allowed to. "Tonight’s concert is unique. It’s not what many of you paid for, but I hope you’ll trust me, and see it to the end."

Hushed whispers ran through the crowd, a mix of doubts and anxious anticipation. Unique didn’t mean good, they reasoned, and how could Lemon pretend to achieve greatness alone, without Salt’s voice to support them?

The first chords played behind Lemon and they lifted their voice. No shake betrayed the hesitancy and doubts whirling inside. They had stayed up through the night, tinkering songs meant for two, fitting them to their voice alone. Salt’s accusations rang through their head with the first notes, as they had throughout the night.

“Salt & Lemon is an act! A show we put on for the marketing department—for sales and posters and fans. But who is Salt? Who’s Lemon? I need to be something without you. To stand and live and succeed on my own. So should you.”

Working alone had drained them. Every note they scribbled shot new doubts through their mind. Would this add to the song? Complement their voice? Could an instrument ever replace Salt? Everything felt wrong, diminished, dampened. They wished they could ask her advice, or even joke about their insecurities with her. But that had been her point, hadn’t it? Lemon wanted to prove her wrong—to define their space in Lemon & Salt, and show they hadn’t lost sight of themselves in favour of the pair.

This night alone, however… it had been an ordeal. Quitting Salt cold turkey had messed with Lemon’s confidence, and even now, as their voice rang crystalline clear over an entranced crowd, doubts gnawed at their mind. Would their songs be good enough? The fans held their breath, but were they captivated or disappointed? Lemon stomped down the questions, striding to the very front of the stage as the music rose to a crescendo and their voice with it. They threw every lingering anxiety into a last airy and pure note, then ended the song abruptly.

Silence fell upon the concert field. Lemon forced a slow breath in and ran a hand through their neon hair. “I call the first half of this concert Making Lemonade No Salt Added. I hope it doesn’t leave you sour.”

The words earned them a mix of groans and laughter. Lemon threw their fist up, and the first notes of the next song started. They flung themselves into the music, giving every ounce of energy, skill, and talent to it. Lemon had always been a technical singer, rigorous in their training and precise in their songwriting. By contrast, Salt winged it, her instinct and sheer magical genius often adding the perfect touch to their pair. Lemon teased her about jumping into performances without preparation; she nagged them about endless rituals and practice sessions. They complemented each other, but tonight Lemon sang alone—and their technical strength shone through every shift in the music, every fast-paced climax, every new height of their voice. 

By the time the last piece finished, Lemon had taken full control of the stage. The rhythm flowed through them, doubts forgotten. They were a stellar artist, even on their own, and the crowd cheered them. Lemon thanked them, light-headed, grinning, and left the stage. 

The silence returned, broken only by musicians adjusting their instruments. Minutes trickled by, and the pumped crowd slowly reverted to anxious waiting. What had Lemon planned next? Was this the end? They had asked for everyone’s trust, however, and they hadn’t disappointed so far. Yet as more time passed, the mood threatened to turn to impatience.

Then the stage exploded with action. Sparks flew from the ground as the drum launched into a quick sequence. Lights flashed, heavy notes resonated across the field, and a small woman dropped onto the stage. Salt needed no introduction. Heavy boots thumped as she landed, one hand on the ground, the other around her mic. Salt launched into a vindictive song, all passion and bitterness, immediately filling the stage with her commanding presence. Bleached white hair contrasted with her dark skin. Her silver nails, lips, and clothes reflected the light as she thundered through the song.

She didn’t chatter through her half of the concert, allowing her energy and music to carry her message: she sang with passion, forceful and beautiful, capturing the audience’s heart and never letting go. Her music vibrated through the soul in a way no other could, even without sheer technical skill. Her half of the concert flew by, leaving everyone breathless and smitten, Lemon first among them. She grinned at the crowd, and without a word of thanks, she strode out.

The crowd cheered as she vanished into the wings. Lemon met her gaze and smiled. She returned it, and they let the fans’ loud praise wash over them both for a precious second. They had done it—two separate shows, one after the other. 

Making Lemonade, really?”

Salt snickered. Lemon grinned. They both burst into laughter. “I told you this would work.”

Lemon hadn’t wanted to live and succeed on their own. But Salt’s accusations of being an act—an empty marketing shell— had struck deep. 

“We’re not an act. We’re a duo,” Lemon had said the night before. “We’re better together because we’re unique.”

“The fans don’t believe it. They think we’re nothing without each other.”

Lemon had winked. “I am nothing without you, Salt. Just not in the aberrantly romantic way the tabloids would love. Did you see the latest speculations?”

“No, and I don’t need their trash in my life. You shouldn’t waste your energy on it. We are what we are.”

“It’s funny,” Lemon had countered with a shrug, “and I think their overblown articles can help us. Everyone thinks we’re shitty singers alone? Let’s give them a show they won’t forget. Let’s break Lemon & Salt, violently and publicly, make them run their mouths. Poof.” They spread their fingers into the air. “Let them see Lemon sing alone, and Salt sing alone. Let them see what each of us brings to the table.”

Now everyone had seen, and they loved it. Whistles and applause clamoured for them to come back. Some called for Lemon, others for Salt. Soon enough, the crowd alternated between their names. 

In the backstage, Lemon turned to Salt. “You destroyed them.”

“Look who’s talking. I bet they can’t even imagine it’s possible to match your prowesses.”

“What now?”

Salt clapped her hands and turned to the stage. “Now we show them the sum of the parts, and why they should shut their mouths about who we are. Just because I’m amazing on my own doesn’t mean I want to strike out without you. I just… need the occasional space, I think.”

Relief spread through Lemon. They loved the current shape of their relationship and the many layers of partnership it involved. Salt understood them like no other, and when they sang together, they wove beautiful and soul-wrenching art. 

“Let’s call our next record ‘Making Lemonade - Salt Essential’ and roll with it.”

Salt snorted, grabbed their wrist, and pulled them towards the stage. “We’ll discuss the details of our future after we give these fans what they ask for. Get your voice ready.”

They stepped out together, and were greeted by a resounding cheer. The notes to their very first hit song played, and for a moment the noise reached deafening levels. Lemon launched into the first lines, and their chest filled with warmth as Salt answered, her voice raw and powerful. The stage burned under their feet, the crowd almost overpowered their voices, and Lemon & Salt gave the most famous concert of their already-long career.  

 Claudie Arseneault is an asexual and aromantic-spectrum writer hailing from the very-French Québec City. Her long studies in biochemistry and immunology often sneak back into her science-fiction, and her love for sprawling casts invariably turns her novels into multi-storylined wonders. The most recent, City of Strife, came out on February 22, 2017! Claudie is a founding member of The Kraken Collective and is well-known for her involvement in solarpunk, her database of aro and ace characters in speculative fiction, and her unending love of squids. Find out more on her website!

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