by Ella Kelsey
Isolde is at university when a family problem throws her plans off-course.
| Dust hung in the air at the brick, college library. At a lone table, Isolde scanned through her to-do list in her overflowing planner. She held a pen that she clicked so the tip went in and out. Then the other hand clicked on the trackpad of her laptop to check her emails. Her emerald eyes glanced at a phone notification that drifted onto the screen. But she turned back to her emails. However Isolde looked again and she dropped the pen with, to her, a deafening sound as it hit the table.
She properly read the message from her mom in California. The word "divorce" seemed to be bolded. Isolde stood up on suddenly shaky legs and the chair screeched against the wood floors. She closed her laptop and watched her feet quickly guide her through the maze of tables. Isolde wrapped her arms tightly around herself and went into the dingy, tiled bathroom. The biggest stall was the farthest from the entrance to the bathroom and she slipped into that one. Her unsteady fingers locked the door then she slid down against the wall until she was sitting on the cold tile. The tears began to fall without hesitation like raindrops chasing each other on a window. The tears were silent though, eerily calm as they slid down her cheeks.
But clocks keep ticking even when worlds, families fall apart. Unbeknownst to Isolde, her phone's alarm had been buzzing for a few minutes to remind her it was time to switch from doing work for her English degree to her history one. The weekly timetable in her messy planner with every second in her life planned waited impatiently to be checked as usual. The leather watch that was once her dad's continued to move and the world continued to spin. Others continually went in and out of the bathroom while Isolde felt frozen to the floor. Rain outside began to pound on the roof of the library and wet students came laughing into the building.
As most stories have an arc with a climax so did tears. Her face was in her hands and her breathing began to be under control. The rain slowed eventually until it was only a drizzle. After rain there's a rainbow but there was only a grey sky as Isolde stood with the help of the grab bar. There were puddles left outside as the calm after a storm washed in.
Back in her dorm, Isolde showered and let more tears fall in rhythm with the warm running water. She changed into a bottle green hoodie and jeans. In the bathroom mirror Isolde glanced over her appearance. She patted down her wet, brown hair and noticed that her eyes were no longer as red as before. Isolde straightened up her posture and exited the bathroom into the hall. She squeezed past two laughing girls in skirts and high heels.
"Isolde!" A friendly, female voice called. Isolde jumped slightly and turned around to see the two girls she just passed. The one who talked had red hair, blue eyes, and a sideways smile. Isolde thought her name was something like Poppy. The other one had blonde hair and steady, brown eyes. Isolde didn't know her name. Isolde glanced at the blonde in a red skirt and black tank top then Poppy in a blue skirt with a black off the shoulder top. She looked down at her jeans and hoodie then pulled an arm around herself.
After a moment of pause, Isolde spoke, "hi."
"Doing anything this Friday night?" Poppy asked.
"No," Isolde answered and put her hands in her hoodie's pocket.
"Do you want to go out with us?" Poppy did most of the talking while the blonde smiled at her side.
"Oh I was planning on staying in tonight. Sorry."
"No need to apologize. We'll see you around," Poppy said with a smile.
"Oh," Isolde looked around the hallway, "great. Have fun." The girls waved their farewells then continued down the hall. Isolde rocked back and forth on her heels watching them until they left the building. She exhaled and went to her room at the other end of the hall. Isolde sat at her desk to finish up the work she should've done earlier. But first she spent a moment watching the rain begin to fall again making the sidewalks slick and shine underneath the lampposts in the night.
The end of her first semester at an Ivy League college came fast. It happens when every second of Isolde's life is planned with study sessions, classes, and work as a freelance editor. She continued this jam-packed life without time to breath or feel until she was packing a suitcase to return home for the holidays. The floor was loud with holiday music and laughter. It was quieter though at the end of the hall in Isolde's room where she could pack in peace. Soon enough she was quietly disappearing from her college's beautiful, Georgian style campus in the early morning and onto an almost eight hour connecting flight to Los Angeles.
It was 30 degrees warmer than the rainy East Coast when Isolde landed in no seasons Los Angeles. Once Isolde got her suitcase, she navigated through the disorganized airport then waited at the pick up spot looking for her mom's grey car. As she waited, Isolde read a book and tried to block out the incessant honking while chewing on her bottom lip. Occasionally she'd glance up and scan the crowd of cars. After a few minutes, Isolde recognized the SUV with her mom in a green top and eyes behind the usual glasses in the driver's seat. That was the cause of Isolde's need for her own wire-frame glasses. Isolde lifted her hand to wave and the car made its way through the car chaos to pull in front of Isolde. After putting her suitcase in the trunk, Isolde got into the passenger seat. Her mom smiled tightly as if strings were pulling on the ends of her lips and took a sip from her travel cup of coffee. Isolde watched her put the cup back in the cup holder and then looked at her watch that told her it was almost noon.
"Hi," Isolde said shortly and dropped her carry-on satchel at the footwell.
"Hi, how are you?" She talked as she drove away from the curb. Isolde felt the floor of the car begin to shake underneath her. Isolde glanced at her mom and realized she's bouncing her leg. Isolde does it too. If they wanted to they could make a room wonder why there was a small earthquake happening.
"Fine," escaped out of her mouth before her brain processed the question. Her answer was robotic and stiff. They dance around the matter at hand and for the most part her mom makes small talk or they sit in silence. Isolde won't let the word "divorce" slip out of her lips first.
"Have you thought more about what you're going to do with your majors?"
"No, don't know." That question normally would be like lighting a match and starting a wildfire in Isolde but now it felt like that fire had been doused in water.Â
"We're still going to be a family, you know. You and me. You'll have your own family with your father as well. You and him."
Isolde swallowed and nodded. Isolde shifted in her seat and her mom tapped the wheel with her fingers. "You've got to talk to me. I can't help you if you suffer in silence." Isolde sighed and crossed her arms.
"I didn't ask for help. Everything's fine." Isolde grasped her arms with trembling hands, like a leaf in the wind. Her mom gave a harsh sigh that made her nostrils flare. Isolde breathed heavily, "I'm fine. It's fine," her voice tightened as she spoke. Whatever rubber band that had held her together was beginning to wear down.
Her mom's eyes hardened behind her glasses. Bitter like the coffee she had been drinking, that she drinks every morning. Isolde's view blurred as if her glasses were off but they hadn't left her face. She turned to look out the window and blinked rapidly. A few tears glided down her face and her hand was quick to wipe them away.
The house Isolde grew up in had never felt more cold or empty or big. The silence had never felt so heavy. It had never felt more real. Isolde left her black suitcase in the entrance hall as she turned into the kitchen, sitting on the marble counter sat a few wrapped gifts. They were nicely wrapped except for the fact that they were wrapped with different pieces of wrapping paper, how her dad always wrapped because he didn't want to waste any.
"Okay," Isolde nodded her head multiple times and took a breath, "I'm going to bring my suitcase upstairs." She said it to her mom who only nodded in response. Isolde turned back into the entrance hall and went the path to her old room. Her soft yellow and pink bedroom at the end of the hall.
The bed was still stiffly made with its floral grey and pink bed sheets. The white wood desk was clean unlike how it used to be when Isolde spent her free time behind piles of papers and books. Isolde slipped off her shoes and left them underneath her full-length yellow framed mirror. Then stepped onto the fluffy, grey rug that hugged around her feet. She debated putting her clothes in her suitcase away into the closet but at the moment she lay it down against a wall.Â
She wandered to her queen bed, pushed against the wall and sat on the edge of it. Her feet naturally went to rest on the bed frame out of habit and she pulled the sleeves of her hoodie over her hands. The walls reminded her of when she painted them with her dad. When they first moved into this forever home with moving boxes and new furniture. Once again she rapidly blinked the tears away and exhaled shakily.
The holidays went by quietly and quickly. Early on her break, Isolde already started packing clothes that were more fit for spring in the East Coast and she began making her new weekly schedule for the upcoming semester. She never fully unpacked her suitcase except for the clothes she wouldn't be bringing back. She never received any messages from students at her college but nevertheless obsessively prepared to go back. Isolde spent a lot of time out of the house and instead at the local library or a nearby cafe. Isolde visited her dad at his new apartment once and it was unusually calm. Then within a few weeks Isolde boarded a morning flight to the other side of the country.
She arrived on a drizzly night as silently as she left and when she got to the dorm a lot of people were headed in the opposite direction of Isolde. They headed out while she headed in. So she weaved her way through the people while looking down. Her floor's hall was much quieter since most people were gone. A door down the hall opened and a girl with red hair came out.
"Isolde!" The girl said paired with a welcoming smile.
"Oh, hi. Poppy, right?" Isolde stopped in the hall.
"Yes. I like it when people remember my name."
Isolde glanced down and smiled a bit, "me too."
"I love your name."
"Oh, thanks," Isolde paused, then cleared her throat, "I like yours too."
Poppy tilted her head and smiled, "thank you." Isolde shuffled her feet as silence began to settle and she could hear murmurs of conversation from a nearby room.Â
"Right, I should-" Isolde began before she realized that Poppy had also begun speaking. Isolde laughed uncomfortably, "you go first."
"Okay. I just wanted to ask how you've been recently? I don't mean this in a bad way but I've noticed that last semester you were a bit," she cocked her head to the side, "distant."
"Haven't I always been?" Isolde mumbled with a bitter undertone. "Sorry. I didn't mean it to come out like that," she added hastily afterwards.
"Don't stress on it. But how have you been?"
"Fine, just fine. Don't worry about me," her voice was a bit higher pitched than usual, "anyway I've got to unpack. See you around."
"Oh, okay. Yeah, see you around," she waved and went down the hall. Isolde went the other way and made it to her room.
"Hey, Is. Could you help me here a second?" Isolde stopped in her tracks as she went down that hallway where she only wanted to go down in peace but always got interrupted. Again it was Poppy sticking her head out of her room.
"Sure, what do you need?" Isolde responded hesitantly and adjusted her stachel on her shoulder as she neared.
"My roommate and I agreed to rearranging some of the furniture in our dorm room. But she's at class right now. I hoped someone would happen to be passing by and here you are!"
"I guess I am here," she said with faint humor in her voice.
"Well come on in then!" She stepped aside to let Isolde step in. The room was similar to Isolde's but bigger and with double of the big furniture pieces. One of the beds was diagonal.
"See I was trying to begin moving that bed there but I'm weaker than I thought," she laughed.
Isolde began to laugh slightly too, "I'm not that strong either."
"But they say teamwork is the dreamwork," in a mock cheery voice as if a middle school teacher were trying to convince their students to work together.
Isolde laughed more freely now, "teamwork isn't exactly my thing but I'll help you." Poppy did a lot of talking as they worked and Isolde listened, laughed.Â
"It's kinda lame to go to an Ivy League just to major in theatre but here I am!" Poppy raised her arms with a flair of a typical theatre major. "I dream to be performing in New York City," she sighed with a faraway look, "but for now I'm here. Dreams are a weird thing aren't they? Not like the dreams at night although those are weird too but to be more specific dreams as in ambitions and goals, you know?"
"Yeah. Gosh," Isolde said shaking her head and straightening up from moving a desk, "I thought I knew everything. That if I planned every second of my life nothing could go wrong. I had a few grades that were lower than expected last semester."
"Yeah, college hits harder than high school. But I hold onto those dreams to get through."
"I wish I knew what my dreams were," Isolde spoke quietly. She shook her head and sighed when Isolde suddenly began to feel her eyes water.Â
Poppy sat on one of the beds and patted the place next to her, "want to take a five minute break?" Isolde could only nod as words began to stick in her throat and she sat next to Poppy, wrapping her arms around herself. She could suddenly hear the voices down the hall, a light rain beginning to patter on the roof, and she tightened the grip on herself when she could hear her own sniffles clearer. "Do you want to talk?" Isolde shook her head. "Would you rather I ask you questions and you just shake or nod your head?" Isolde shrugged and looked down at her loafers that she was pretending to dig a whole in the ground with. "Did something happen in your life?" A nod. "Friend-related?" A shake. "Family?" A nod. "Death?" A shake. "Does it have to do with your parents?" A few tears fell now and Isolde was quick to wipe them away before wrapping her arm around herself again then she nodded. "Divorce?" A shaky, hesitant nod. "I'm sorry. That sucks. It must be so hard on you. I had close family friends go through it and their daughter got married recently. It went well but it's not fun when you sit your parents on different sides of the aisle or at different tables. Especially when you invited your dad's new wife to make it all the more awkward. It's not the typical childhood fantasy of a wedding. But you'll make it through, you're strong. I'm grateful that even though I'm the one who did the talking, I'm glad that you let me talk to you about this in the first place. Instead of, you know, completely closing off." Isolde nodded and met Poppy's blue eyes with her now bloodshot green ones.
"Thank you." Her voice was as soft as the rain that was beginning to fade away outside.