A girl needs to outwit her pursuer, all the while wrestling with what she wants in life.
| Collin stormed through the hallways of his high school wearing a soccer jersey and a sour expression. First and second period had finished and the girl, his sister Moira, whom he spent the time in between classes aiming to confront kept slipping away. He would spot her auburn hair or the gray and white bag she always slung over her shoulder just before she disappeared around a corner or through a doorway.
Moira perched herself at her assigned seat in Geometry and struggled to pay attention. The girl behind her had tapped her shoulder to borrow something, but she had already zoned out for the period. She handed in her homework and copied notes from the board mechanically, without absorbing the information. When the assignment was announced she scribbled it down and closed her notebook. She decided she was finished for the hour, despite there being another fifteen minutes on the clock before the bell.
She lay her head down and used her textbook as a brick pillow and closed her eyes. The only subject her mind could focus on was the events of the previous night, at home with her family: the confrontation, the defiance, the arguing, the lack of understanding or compassion, and finally the fight. And her brother had only watched from the doorway while their parents shot down her goals, with disgust written all over his features - not that she had expected help from him.
The evening had concluded with her mother and, primarily, her father putting his foot down on her request to choose a path more suited to her career desires than working under his legal corporation. Moira sighed and lifted her head as she heard the restless shuffle of her classmates packing up, anticipating the bell. She dragged herself out of her seat and to the door just as class ended, being the first into the hallway.
Over the lunch period Collin sat at a table with his soccer team, ignoring the drivel the other members shared amongst one another while he watched for his sister at her usual table. When half of the allotted lunch period had slipped by without her, he growled and cast his fist onto the lunch table. After asking around, he gained from a staff member that she was spending the time discussing something of importance with the orchestra teacher, and had been seen heading with her to the music room with a full tray of food.
"Odd," the teacher Collin interrogated had commented, "since I didn't think Moira was taking any music classes."
"She isn't," Collin scowled and left to pursue his sister.
When he drew near to the music room he could see through a window that Moira was leaning over Mrs. Lackner's desk propped up on her elbows. Her unfinished tray of food was left abandoned on the corner. She leaned over the instructor's bony shoulder to view something on a computer monitor. Moira had her hand placed over her open mouth, and the girl's eyes glowed with some great level of interest in whatever was being presented on the screen. Collin pulled the door open a fraction and put his ear up to the crack. Faint orchestrated music poured out. His scowl deepened.
Mrs. Lackner moved the mouse and both of the women straightened up and shared a glance. Moira was smiling.
"I'm glad to hear you're taking an interest in the arts, Moira. You seem to have a great appreciation for strings. Once we get you an instrument, I can start you on some introductory lessons."
"Mrs. Lackner..." Collin heard Moira hesitate. "I have to drop a class in my schedule to pick up music. But all of the classes I'm currently taking are set up for me to best handle the career plans my parents are anticipating for me. They... are very unhappy with my intent."
The instructor - whom Collin had always disliked, as she reminded him of a fleshy skeleton - rose from her seat and clasped her bony hands behind her back.
"Moira," the woman spoke, "at times there are decisions we must make that others we may care about won't necessarily be happy with. Those are the times that we, as humans, must ask ourselves, "Is this really what I want?". Moira, is music something that you wish to pursue for yourself?"
Moira smiled. "I..." Collin ripped the door open further to announce his presence. "Collin!"
"Mr. Courval! How may I be of assistance to you?" the woman invited with such cheer that Collin physically recoiled. Moira used the diversion to gather her trash and empty her tray.
"Moira." Collin tried to start but the bell interrupted him. His sister quickly thanked the music teacher and brushed past him. "Moira, wait!" He reached for her wrist but Moira jerked it away.
"Go away. I have to get to class." Collin went to follow her but Mrs. Lackner stopped him.
"Mr. Courval, if I recall correctly, the grand majority of seniors spend sixth period in their respective finance classes, which would be down that hallway." She pointed away from the direction Moira had departed in. Collin let out a huff and stormed off.
Between seventh and eighth periods, he used his senior privileges and his pull as soccer team captain to be excused from the last few minutes of seventh period and waited near his sister's locker. He stood in the empty hallway, arms folded over his chest and his back pressed against the wall, waiting for the dismissal bell to ring. The halls flooded with students in the grades below him but through the bustle Collin kept his eyes glued to the locker his sister occupied. It remained closed.
He recognized the thin girl digging through the adjacent locker as a member of the volleyball team his sister had joined at the beginning of the year. He approached her and grabbed her arm. She shot him a look and jerked away. He slammed her locker door closed, and the girl dropped the book she'd just pulled out.
"Hey! What's your problem?" she demanded.
"Have you seen my sister?" he gestured to her locker.
The girl picked up her book and clutched it in her arms, holding it tightly against her chest.
"Since when? I've been in classes with her all day."
"I don't know. Since last period?"
"She left to use the bathroom just before the bell."
"Then why didn't she still need to stop at her locker?"
"I don't know. She takes History eighth period and I think her class is watching a documentary today on the fall of Rome. I saw some other kids going straight to class without books. Why do you need her?"
"Family business," Collin scowled. He abandoned the girl and headed toward the History classroom.
"Hey Collin!" the girl called, turning down the hallway in the opposite direction. "I don't think the teachers approve of their athletes being late to class." She watched the boy scowl and stare over his shoulder toward his own classroom, as if contemplating. Finally he spun around and headed toward his class. The girl snickered as she walked away.
Collin's soccer team didn't hold practice that afternoon, so he took his last opportunity to wait outside his sister's locker after the last bell rang. When most of the students had left and still she didn't show, he pulled out a tiny slip of paper he kept in his wallet showing a few digits and entered them on his sister's combination lock, and it clicked open.
Inside the locker was a neat stack of textbooks, arranged according to her class schedule. All of her books were present, and the multi-subject notebook she used for every class was found on the top shelf. A small magnetic mirror with an attached pen-basket, like many of the girls kept in their lockers, hung on the door filled neatly with pens and a tube of lip gloss. Instead of displaying the mirror, however, Moira had taped over it a photograph of herself and one of her friends from when they were young children.
A light windbreaker hung on one hook, and her gray and white bag on another. He opened the bag to check how many of its expected contents were present. Collin found her wallet, ID card still inside, her cell phone, house keys, and a music player. Nothing he knew his sister to carry with her seemed to be missing. He slammed the locker shut roughly, gaining a few looks from the stragglers left in the hallway.
He popped his head into the school's main office and grabbed the attention of the secretary.
"I need you to make an announcement. I'm looking for my sister."
Minutes after the call had been made over the loudspeaker, the secretary flashed Collin a sorrowful expression. "Sorry, Mr. Courval. She may no longer be inside the building. Did you check the fields? Is she practicing this afternoon?" He rolled his eyes at her.
"Mrs. Stigler, my sister plays volleyball, in the gym. The team isn't even in season."
"Perhaps she went home already. Does she usually take the bus?" Collin nodded, knowing that, in fact, she did, but made a mental note to check back at his car in case she had decided to ride home with him for once. He didn't quite understand why Moira always insisted on riding the bus.
"Shall I call the driver of her route to ask if she boarded?" He nodded again, then tapped on the desk impatiently while the old woman dialed the phone.
"No, I'm sorry Mr. Courval. The bus driver said she didn't get on this afternoon. Did you talk to any of her friends?"
"I asked everybody! Nobody around here knows a damn thing!" He stalked out of the office and found his way out to the parking lot. By this time, Collin didn't expect to find anything relating to his sister near or inside of his own car, so he wasn't surprised when nothing was exactly what he found. He slung his bag off his shoulder and into the passenger seat. He wore a scowl the whole drive home.
Half-way through eighth period, Moira swept underneath the view of the television screen at the front of her History classroom and approached the teacher's desk. She held her hand pressed tightly to her forehead, and her eyelids drooped.
"Mr. Burke," she leaned in and whispered in his ear, "the screen is giving me a terrible headache. May I please be excused?"
"Miss Courval, this is eighth period. Can't you just lay your head down for..." he peered at the clock, "thirty minutes?"
"The light is hurting my eyes, but I'm sensitive to the sounds too. I think I need an ice pack from the nurse."
The teacher leaned back, showing off, in his round belly, the spoils of spending twenty years sitting at a desk. He sighed and shook his head, but waved her away. "Take your books with you if you think you won't be coming back to class. However Moira, I expect you to make this up by writing me a one-page report on Rome's leadership between the dates we're studying this week, due tomorrow."
"Yes sir, I will." Before the teacher could say anything more she spun around to retrieve the books she'd carried in from her previous class and ducked out of the room. She kept a hand up to her face shielding her eyes, until she was out of view from the classroom, when she dropped it to her side. She deposited her load of supplies in her locker and slammed it shut. Instead of heading straight to the health room, however, Moira left in the direction of the gymnasium.
Moira, having gym third period, knew the gym would be empty half-way through class to run the track outside. She dipped into the girl's locker room and dug through the locker she claimed during volleyball season. The finals had ended, but nobody in the locker room had a problem with students occupying lockers during off seasons, the room had extras to accommodate.
She pulled out her gym bag and set it on the floor. From inside one of the small side pockets she retrieved an empty, folded drawstring bag, navy blue with a print of the school mascot in white. She filled it with the extra jeans and top she carried during the season, in case she had a remarkably hard practice and wanted to wear home something fresh after a quick rinse in the showers.
Two twenty dollar bills had been tucked away in one of the inner concealed pockets of the bag, which Moira had continually forgotten to retrieve since she packed the bag for her last out of town volleyball game, the championship, which her team had lost terribly.
She slipped the bills into her pocket and stuffed the little blue bag along with some makeup essentials and her spare bathing suit (which she used in the shower after out-of-town games, when she didn't feel comfortable undressing in the unfamiliar setting). She returned the bag, still full of clean gym clothes, tennis shoes, and some hair products. She left the chemicals, but she did slip her comb into the drawstring bag. She closed the locker and strung the bag over her shoulders, the drawstrings forming straps like a book bag.
Moira escaped out of the back doors of the school, which were located near the locker rooms and opened into the parking lot. Without a vehicle to drive she'd have to leave the grounds on foot, but she shrugged off the thought, realizing that she had no reason to rush.
By the time she reached the fitness center on the opposite side of town, enough time had passed since the end of the school day that nobody on staff questioned why a high-school student would be using the facility. Moira, as well as her family, had a membership to the fitness center closer to the high school she and Collin attended, which was located near their home as well. Being that she wasn't a member of the gym she stepped into, her first session was free, as a trial.
The gym she chose wasn't as lavish, nor as accommodating as the one her family used (though she didn't attend there very often either). It was well enough equipped to provide Moira with a treadmill and various sizes of dumbbells, however, and she chose such as a starting point.
After half an hour of heavy running and several increases in dumbbell weights, when Moira could only feel the heat pouring off her skin and the pulsing of her heart, she finally turned off the machine and allowed herself a break. She headed for the showers to clean up, and slipped on her bathing suit for a quick dip in the pool, which incidentally lasted for nearly an hour. She swam laps, practiced some strokes, but most of all she simply soaked, feeling her stress melt away while she clung to the wall and gently kicked her legs. Her long wavy hair spiraled around her shoulders like wisps of smoke after extinguishing a candle. For a long time she held her breath and dunked under the surface, simply staring at the strands as she floated weightlessly.
Only when Moira's stomach struck her did she finally retreat to the showers once more. When the chlorine had been rinsed away she slipped on her clean clothes and ran a comb through her hair, and marveled at how much more she resembled a brunette when her hair was wet. She contemplated what her parents would say if she dyed it. Moira smacked down her comb and scowled at her face in the mirror. She so resembled her mother, and those eyes were identical to the orbs set in her brother's face. She felt the sudden urge to break the mirror, or tear her hair from her head.
She forced herself to calm her blood, thinking back to the serenity she had felt floating in the water. She packed up her bag and walked confidently to the front desk. She flashed a sweet smile at the employee behind the desk.
"I hope you enjoyed your first visit," the woman said. Moira nodded. "Are you interested in starting your membership? Or is there something else I can help you with."
Moira leaned in close. "No, not just yet. Actually, I need some assistance. I put on some street clothes I haven't worn for a while and the tag in my shirt is bothering me. Can I borrow a pair of scissors and take care of it in the restroom?" The woman smiled with understanding.
"Sure sweetheart. Just make sure to bring them right back." Moira agreed and slipped back into the restroom with the tool in hand. She went back to examining herself in the mirror. Her hair color came from her mother's side, and it was her father who was always admiring how pretty her hair looked when she wore it down. She couldn't do anything about the color just then, but she could...
Moira smirked and raised the scissors. Locks of curls landed at her feet, until a new woman was staring back at her from the other side of the mirror. She fixed her face with make-up and decorated her lips with dark lipstick, then stepped away from the pile of auburn curls and abandoned the scissors on the sink. Blowing her reflection a kiss and returning it a wink, Moira walked away from the bathroom, bag slung over one shoulder, and slipped out of the building without so much as a glance toward anyone else.
In her jeans and decorative top, Moira was under dressed for the restaurant she walked to from the fitness center, but she didn't care. She wore herself with such confidence that the man who seated her at a table for two (the smallest seating available, although she was alone) didn't seem to care either, with the way he watched her while she settled in. She didn't seem to be the only patron dining alone, however. A man, appearing to be in his early twenties, sat alone with his back to the wall at another table-for-two. Moira admitted to herself his handsomeness, wearing a white suit with a black bow-tie and slacks. He sipped a pale liquid from a flute and stared at an empty plate, silverware untouched. Moira ignored him and the other diners and focused on her menu.
The restaurant specialized in seafood and she ordered salmon, a favorite of hers. The meal would cost most of her money so she stuck with a glass of ice water with lemon and decided to skip dessert, despite her feverish appetite.
Moira was nearly finished with her meal when she was approached by the young man seated nearby.
"Do you mind?" he asked politely although he'd already pulled out the chair across from her and started to sit down. Moira wanted to tell him to leave, to mind his own business and to stop infecting her stolen time alone with his presence. But the solemn expression on his face told her not to. He looked like he had something weighing on his mind. He seemed like he might be in need of something, perhaps someone.
Moira didn't want to be his someone, nor did she want to be used as an ear, or a shoulder, or whatever the young man needed. Still, she was intrigued. She was interested, not for his sake, but for her own. Perhaps this man could entertain her. Perhaps she could use him - not to be cruel, but simply to escape. Perhaps it was something both of them needed.
So the man stayed, and he talked. The encounter - along with the rest of her afternoon - had allowed Moira to paint herself in whatever colors she could want. This evening she was an athlete who moonlighted as a musician, although tomorrow she would just be a teenage girl who felt stuck in a life plan she had not chosen for herself.
He didn't manage to pry much more out of Moira, who seemed most content listening to the story he wove for her, about the woman he came to the restaurant to meet, and why he thought she didn't come. His tone was light, his face appealing, and his story was, as Moira had been hoping, entertaining. It was deep, emotional, and yet to Moira it still remained only a story. The man didn't come to her looking for a date, or to strike up a relationship with her, only to escape the crushing reality of his real life, just as she had been trying. She laughed at his jokes, which seemed so out of place she couldn't help but be taken off guard to find a sense of humor tucked beneath his pained expression.
She hadn't wanted to be his ear, but didn't mind being used as an escape just as she was using him. The evening came to a close and the man, who never did tell her his name, had paid for her dinner and bought them each dessert (a slice a cheery pie, which she didn't have the heart to tell the man she didn't care for), and just as abruptly as he had sat down, he rose and bid Moira a good evening, and left.
Mr. Courval Sr. pressed a telephone receiver to his ear and remarked impatiently that he was terribly busy.
"Walter, dear, we have a problem with the children. Our little girl didn't come home. Collin couldn't find her at school." But Mr. Courval stated that he couldn't be bothered to come home just yet. His assistant was in the middle of presenting him with the ins and outs of an important case, with an impending court date. Mrs. Courval sighed and ended the call with her husband. She turned to peer out the window at the dimming sky.
"Collin?" she addressed her son, who stood near her side.
"Yes, Mother?" His voice came out gentle, like a young child.
"Do you know where else she could have gone?"
"No, Mother. I've looked everywhere I can think to find her. We might just have to wait for her to come home." Collin placed a hand on his mother's shoulder. She smiled at her son and pulled her eyes away from the window. She sipped from the glass of wine in her hand and the other she placed on his cheek.
"I'm so glad we have a son like you, Collin. You take such good care of your little sister. I don't know why she insists on being so defiant!" Mrs. Courval waved her hands in the air, careful not to spill her drink. "Never mind. Your father and I are so proud of you, dear." She invited her son in for a hug, which felt too stiff to come from a mother.
Moira sat stunned by the events since she had left school, which felt like it had been a year ago. She had enjoyed the events, but the sun outside had set. Eventually, she knew, she would have to face her parents - to either choose to obey their wishes and deal with all she had done in the last few hours, or to find a way to break away completely and leave her family and life behind. She would have to face her brother, who seemed so betrayed, so... insulted that she didn't want to be "just like them", and pay for having eluded him all day.
Eventually, Moira knew, she would have to go home.