The light from the computer screen burned Elisabel’s eyes, leaving vague white imprints when she blinked. The words were starting to blur in front of her, melding into one another. Her hands were splayed across the keyboard as she tried to focus on the screen.
How long have you been playing music? the scholarship application asked.
If she wrote “four years,” Zenith would probably reject her for the program, saying she hadn’t been a musician long enough to play for their prestigious orchestra. But they didn’t know the whole story––how Mom had seemingly infused her talent into Elisabel when she passed, leaving it as a final gift.
“Four years,” Elisabel typed. The words blinked at her, mocking, almost as if they were saying, “You’ll never get into the program if you tell them that.”
Well, her high school orchestra director, Mr. Lumetta, could tell Zenith’s administration about her astounding talent in spite of her recent start in music. Would they even bother to contact him, though, or would they just reject her outright?
Elisabel jumped at the sudden creaking noise. Twisting around in her chair, she surveyed the dark room. Shadows crept across the gray walls, creating lifeless apparitions, but otherwise, there was nothing––no human forms waiting in the darkness. Still, she half-expected Dad to materialize, demanding to know why she was applying to Zenith University and throwing her life away.
He has no reason to come upstairs, she told herself. From the faint sounds of conversation transmitting through the thin floor separating her from the shop, she guessed they were pretty busy. Besides, even if Dad did come upstairs for some reason, Gwen would text her a warning.
Exhaling, Elisabel massaged her temples with her thumbs. She stared at the next question: Why do you want to apply to Zenith University?
The reasons burst from the corners of her mind, overwhelming her. So many things. Mom. Violin. Getting away from Dad. But she couldn’t say that. Those weren’t valid reasons to attend college.
She flinched. What is he doing, coming up here? He’s working! She started to close her laptop cover before realizing she needed an excuse. Her fingers hurtled across the keyboard as she pulled up the webpage for Antipas University in a new tab. Creaking noises came from the stairway. Her heart thudding in her chest, she clicked on the application page, so bland and colorless compared to the creativity and innovation of Zenith’s website.
Dad emerged from the stairway, ducking his head so his salt-and-peppered hair wouldn’t brush the ceiling. Shoulders hunched, he shuffled toward her. The boards complained with every step. “You’re needed in the shop.”
Elisabel’s fingers drummed against the mouse. “I’m not scheduled right now.” Please go away. The incriminating evidence of the still-open tab for Zenith’s website hovered, tormenting her conscience.
“Well, you need to get down there.” Thick dark circles hung beneath his eyes. “Why are the lights off?”
“I…like…the dark.” How lame was that? “It helps me work better sometimes.” Still lame. She should’ve just worked on the application at Gwen’s apartment. That would’ve been so much smarter. But she wasn’t smart. She was just the dumb kid who was wasting her life by taking a gap year in between high school and college.
“Work? You’re not––” His eyes caught on her computer screen. “Is that Antipas?”
She opened her mouth, then shut it. Come on, Belle. Words. “Yes.” There was a word. “I was filling out applications.” Not a complete lie. She had been working on an application. Just not for Antipas.
“I knew you’d listen to your dad someday.” His grin marked rare smile wrinkles into his face. “Antipas is a good school––close to home, not too expensive, but a real good education. And, you know, they’ve got a great STEM program.”
Elisabel forced her wavering smile to stay in place.
“You can make a lot of money in STEM. They hire women real quick.”
At this point, she’d almost accepted that he’d never understand who she really was. She knew she needed to accept that fact.
But she couldn’t.
“So, where’s the application?” Dad asked.
Oh, right. “I, uh, was about to start. You interrupted me.” Yeah, place the blame on him. That’ll make him more apt to listen. She mentally slapped herself.
“Ah.” He stepped closer, boards creaking beneath his large feet, and peered at her screen. She sat on her hands to still them. Her breath caught as his smile flipped. “Does that say Zenith University?” he asked.
He’d noticed the other tab. She swore––not out loud, of course, just in her head. Christians weren’t supposed to swear within the hearing of others. “Yeah. I was just…you know,
it’s such a good school, and….” She trailed away at the hardness of his face. “I thought it might be an option.”
Dad shook his head. “Close the tab. It’s not happening.”
Close the tab? But…I’m not done with the application, and it’s not saved…. Swallowing, she returned her gaze at the computer screen. He’d get suspicious if she waited any longer. Biting down hard on her lip, she closed Zenith’s tab. Just like that, the answers she’d carefully crafted for the past hour disappeared.
“Too expensive, Elisabel. Especially for going into music.” He snorted. “Musicians don’t make money. You’ve gotta be smart with your debt. Go into something useful––like STEM.”
Her lips pressed in a tight line, she fixed her eyes on his scuffed boots. You liked it when Mom played violin.
“You can do the application later,” he said. “Right now, you’re needed downstairs.”
“Oh, yeah. Of course.” I’ll just abandon everything for what you want. That’s a good course of action. Elisabel slammed her laptop shut, then returned it to its case a bit more gently.
Brow furrowed, Dad watched her. She pasted a smile on her face, hoping he wouldn’t see how much the simple action of closing a tab had hurt her. She couldn’t afford to let him see that, not yet. Not until Zenith had accepted her and given her a scholarship that’d allow her to afford the tuition.
Then she’d tell Dad about her plans. The lying wouldn’t go on forever. Just a few weeks.
“You know I just want you to be happy, right?” he said.
“Yeah, yeah, I know.” But he didn’t know what made her happy. He didn’t know anything. Which was why she’d be going to Gwen’s apartment to fill out the Zenith University college application in safety––the course of action she should’ve taken in the first place. But how was she supposed to know Dad would come upstairs? As the owner, he wasn’t supposed to leave the shop while it was open.
Technically, he never left it since your house is upstairs.
Whatever. His appearance wouldn’t spoil her plans. She’d still get accepted to Zenith and become the violinist Mom had always wanted to be.
“C’mon, Elisabel,” Dad said. “We don’t have all day.”
“I’m coming; I’m coming.” She swallowed the guilt burning her throat, shoved it to the dark recesses of her mind. This was her future, her happiness. Not his.
By Cassandra Hamm