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Rockin' the Clock - Orange Plush #3

"How difficult could it possibly be?", Zoe muttered to Dimple before dusting off the guitar coffin. While she'd held Dimple aloft like young Simba as a kitten, he'd grown to the point that it felt like she should be doing reps. This was one of those gleaming magical moments where she felt as if she had to pause in reverence before drawing the sword... nay axe from its tomb of stone. As if ordained, Dimple gave his blessing with a knowing wink before Zoe leaned forward to unclasp the lid. She felt herself trembling ever so slightly as each clip popped open, nervous at the prospect of what new adventures lay ahead.

A hollow creak and the lid flung open to reveal her father's lime green Stratocaster. Now sun-dappled, it looked relieved to feel the warm glow of direct sunlight. She felt its full weight, plucking at a few strings and nursing a vague recollection of the joyful expression her dad would get when he was "in the zone". It brought the same silly grin to her face. Holding back a sneeze to keep Dimple from scattering, she raised the classic guitar into the heavenly light almost as if to say cheers to Jimi.

Rocking out with Guitar Hero is one thing. Pressing buttons, flicking the strum bar and grooving the whammy bar through the Star Power bonus makes you think you can play guitar like Slash in Welcome to the Jungle. While it had helped her develop co-ordination and strength in her fingers, she was entering a brave new world with her resurrected Stratocaster. Watching YouTube clips, young Zoe made it her mission to learn to play the guitar.

Sure, connecting the amplifier and tapping the pedal made it sound like she knew what she was doing but she honestly didn't have a clue. She was sure her Dad would have taught her if he'd stayed around long enough. He was no virtuoso, but it was an undying passion that made him feel alive. It made her feel alive too... and for the first time in her sixteen years she felt like she was taking something seriously like her teachers had always wanted.

Sleep, school, guitar... repeat. Zoe locked herself away in her room practicing. Mom was concerned, but not overly concerned. She knew Zoe had an inextricable link to her father through the treasured instrument, even if it was a full-blown obsession. It was probably bad parenting, but it just felt like she needed to let Zoe be Zoe for now. Filling the void, spacing out, reconnecting with her past... whatever you call it, it was a whole lot better than a teenage pregnancy or a chemical dependency.

While those cliched outlets to teenage angst were't Zoe's style, Mom knew she just had to let her be. It was her way of loving her. She wanted to unburden Zoe of her feelings of abandonment, to make her brand new and shiny again, but it seemed like the only way was through. Delivering trays of food to her door, it probably would've been easier if they had installed a pet door or one those ground level gruel slots.

Zoe knew exactly how Mom felt, but she had given in to the overwhelming sense of purpose behind her new mission. The signature knock at the door and sandwich or warm bowl of food became Mom's way of showing love as Zoe ratcheted her way up rock mountain. From Nirvana's trademark double strum to Knocking on Heaven's Door, the calendar pages peeled away as she shed her novice status. Often listening outside her door to feel a part of her world, Mom would silently cheer Zoe on, noticing a sharp gradient in the learning curve.

Talking the neighbours off the ledge during louder rock out sessions, she was shielding Zoe. An open bedroom window meant Dimple had full access to the Zoe show. He loved rock music, maybe the reverberations from the speaker to be more accurate. Nudging her when it was time to switch focus to those luminous stars, he was her furry guardian angel. Zoe was so taken with her new guitar she was even considering joining the school band to get more practice time. She played that guitar until it felt like a ghost limb. Sitting at her desk at school, she'd feel her fingers twitching for that invisible fret board. She was hooked alright! While her obsession had a hold on her, it hadn't got to the point that she was dotting ts and crossing is.

She'd daydream as per usual, but somehow managed to keep her grades intact. Sure, it wasn't hard for a smart girl to maintain a C average, but she was so committed to her heaven-sent mission that nothing, not even bad grades, could stop her. April seemed like years ago. It was now October - blindingly obvious thanks to the grinning pumpkins that adorned people's front porches on her way back from school. She was now dancing her fingers up and down that fret board, so much so that she would've had a million views if she had the time or inclination to play in front of an HD camera.

The transformation had been incredible, working her way from beginner to Hendrix apprentice. Axe was only too happy to be free of that coffin, which leaned up against a corner in Zoe's room, starting to gather a fresh coat of dust. There had been sacrifices along the watchtower. She'd lost touch with Mom, surviving on the odd high 5 or rare hug instead of their usual heart-to-heart chats over a steaming cup of whatever. On weekends, Zoe would match Mom at her own gown game, respecting her enough to use a pod to bypass the guitar's sound to her headphones before 9am.

Halloween was the day Zoe returned. Maybe it was the kids dressed as aliens that made it feel like she'd been abducted. Maybe it was the sugar rush. Either way, she'd returned with special powers and was now shred-ready. She'd befriended many of her YouTube guitar gurus, pretending to be old enough to make contact without needing her Mom's permission. They had Miyagi'ed her to being as tournament fit as someone can be via email and now she could really play! "Mom, I'm so sorry...".

Before Zoe could mumble another word, Mom had her arms around her whispering "You're back, sweetie - nothing else matters!". The cheesy and even gooey Metallica joke resonated, letting Zoe know her Mom cared, had been there the whole time and most importantly, still loved her ten fingers, toes... blisters and all. The reunion was a culmination of high 5s, an outpouring of laughter and made Zoe feel swathed in warm toweling. That fluffy unicorn gown was one in a million.

"I'm putting the kettle on!" said Mom with a sense of relief. As if re-gathering the ability to speak full sentences again, Zoe rattled off: "Awesome! I'm making... two sugars, a dash of almond milk still?". It had been so long that she had to phrase it as a question instead of relying on instinct. The moment was precious, destined for both of their memory banks, radiating belonging and rainbows. Zoe caught a glimpse in the mirror. She hadn't neglected herself, but she needed to re-blue.

Walking back to her room with a full heart, something was different about the usual chaos. The guitar case had toppled over. Closing the window to dismiss the wind, half-expecting Dimple to be behind the hit-and-run, she picked it up whisking her back to the day of Axe's resurrection. She'd come a long way and so had Jimi, who now lay on her cluttered nightstand, enshrined in other rock music biographies and exalted by music sheets that lay strewn about the floor. Peering inside the old guitar case as if she expected something to emerge, Zoe's eyes locked onto a section of the orange plush interior that had retracted. The jolt of the case faceplanting had dislodged something. As if peering back at her, a neatly folded piece of paper poked out of the lining.