“She shook my hand.” Elisabel giggled uncontrollably as she stared into Gwen’s glowing eyes. “She actually shook my hand.”
“She must’ve loved your audition, then!” Gwen clapped her hands excitedly. “Just as I knew she would!”
“Oh, stop.” But Elisabel couldn’t stop thinking of Professor Allinder’s rare smile, the press of her hand. If Professor Allinder had liked the audition…a scholarship had to come soon after. Then I’ll be able to learn from her, and––She couldn’t stop grinning. “I think the sweater helped.”
“Well, obviously.” Gwen flipped her thick, curly hair. “My impeccable taste in clothing and makeup certainly must’ve impressed the judges––I mean, look at you, girl! You are on fire!––but that only goes so far. You did the rest.”
Sort of. But it had really been because of Mom’s talent, embedded in Juliet and passed on to her. Still…she’d done it. She’d auditioned for Professor Allinder and received positive feedback for it. That was something to be proud of.
Elisabel gazed around the music hall with its brick archways and gold-and-white tile, hallways leading to rooms where she would––she hoped––soon learn the intricacies of music. This place would soon be her home––this building, yes, and the dorm in which she’d reside, and even this whole campus garbed in green and bursting both with students and with life. Goodbye, Riverbed Ceramics. Goodbye, tiny apartment on the top floor of the shop. Hello to her new life.
See, Grandma? I did it.
The glow faltered. She couldn’t share her joy with Grandma Leona. Not anymore.
But at least she had Gwen. At least someone supported her dreams.
“Now, onto the next order of business,” Gwen said.
Elisabel’s brow furrowed. “The what?”
“The celebration, of course.”
“Gwen, I don’t need––”
“You just won thousands of dollars by sheer hard work––and some talent in there, too, mind you. Obviously, we need to celebrate.”
“Shh!” Elisabel glanced around, but none of the others waiting to audition seemed to have heard the brash statement. “I don’t know if I’ve gotten anything yet.”
Gwen snorted. “With Professor Allinder’s reaction? Please. You’ll probably get the highest scholarship.”
“Maybe. We’ll see.” Rationality kicked back in, thrusting the glow to the back of her mind. If her hopes were dashed again….
“Say you don’t get the scholarship,” Gwen said. “But you’ve still broken free of your dad’s control over your life. I’d say that’s a reason to celebrate.”
“Yeah.” Elisabel grinned. “I guess I did.”
Gwen hooked her arm through Elisabel’s. “To freedom from toxicity,” Gwen said.
“To freedom from toxicity.” To becoming her own person. To her new life.
Elisabel couldn’t stop smiling.
A bottle of sparkling grape juice later and stuffed with Gwen’s cookies, Elisabel unlocked the door to Riverbed Ceramics and went inside. No light shone from the back, indicating that Dad had actually gone to bed. Shocking. She trailed her fingers along the tables, catching bits of grime and residue. Had no one cleaned up?
Right. ’Cause Dad hadn’t found anyone to take the shifts.
Setting Juliet’s case down, Elisabel grabbed the bucket from the closet and filled it with warm water and soap, then plunged a rag inside and began working away at the tables. She might as well make up for her sudden absence, after all.
You don’t owe him anything. Remember the bird?
She paused, then resumed her cleaning. It was her home too. What was the harm in making it look nice?
Elisabel dropped the rag. Soapy droplets splattered her new sweater as her eyes found her dad, standing in front of the doors to the back room, which swung shut behind him. “Oh, hey, Dad.” She scanned his face and found no trace of tears or rage. “The light wasn’t on. I thought––”
“I was just finishing up.” Dad brushed his hands on his clay-smeared apron.
He’d been calm in the days since the incident, but she half-expected him to break each time she was in his presence. How many more pieces of pottery could he obliterate?
“We were running low on angels,” he said.
“Oh.” Elisabel grabbed the rag and resumed her rubbing of the table. Words bubbled on the tip of her tongue––Hey, Dad, guess what? I think I’m getting a scholarship!––but she swallowed them. No need to provoke his violence tonight, not when she was so close to escaping.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Cleaning.” She dunked the rag in the bucket.
“You don’t have to do that.”
“It’s fine.” She might as well finish, after all. Maybe it’d assuage the hollow feeling in her chest that had remained after the bliss of the audition had faded. “Was it just you today?”
“Kara made it for a few hours.”
But for most of the day, he must’ve been by himself. Except customers, of course, but it was different.
You had more important things to do than work at a dying pottery shop, she reminded herself, especially not for a man who tried to hurt you the other night. “Glad you managed.”
He grunted in response. He wasn’t gonna ask about the symphony? She shoved away the prick of hurt. It’d be easier to not have to explain, anyway. Then she wouldn’t have to worry about contradicting herself.
“You look nice,” he said.
“Oh.” She flushed. “Thanks, Dad.” Another one of his nice moods. What was up with that? Other than the episode a few nights ago, his temperament had been strangely calm, even loving at times. And she should be eating it up, wanting more. But instead, it scalded her, reminding her of just how much she was hiding from him.
It’ll be worth it––a hollow assurance echoing in her hollow chest.
Dad palmed the back of his neck, turning his gaze away. “How’d it go?”
There it is. “Amazing,” she said, and she meant it. “I got to meet some incredible musicians.” Like Professor Allinder. “And the music….” One of the best performances I’ve ever had.
She just hoped Professor Allinder’s regard for her performance wouldn’t be overshadowed by the other musicians she must have heard today––talented, incredible musicians with much more experience than Elisabel had.
“Mm,” said Dad.
Whatever. She didn’t care that he didn’t care.
Then he inhaled sharply, sending an electric shock through her body. “What is it?” Had he figured her out? Was he going to––?
“So you have her violin here. That’s what––” A muscle in his jaw throbbed.
“I told you not to play here.” Her nails dug into her palms.
“I didn’t know you were keeping it here.” He gestured to Juliet’s case.
She’d just played it the other night. How had he not guessed? “Yeah. Grandma’s letting me borrow it.” Maybe permanently. She swallowed hard. Why couldn’t Grandma Leona support her like Gwen did? Why couldn’t she see that this was what was best for Elisabel?
Is it, though?
Of course it was. She scowled at her traitorous mind.
“Take it back, then,” he said.
Her heartbeat skittered at the sudden darkness in his tone. “Get out,” she heard in her mind. “It’s just a temporary thing,” she said quickly. “There was, uh, this class where they helped you with your playing and stuff. Grandma took me to it. And she forgot to take Jul––” She paused. “She forgot to take the violin back afterward.”
“Oh.” He frowned deeper. “So you’ll take it back tomorrow?”
“I was going to take it back next week when I had my lesson.”
“Fine,” he muttered. “As long as you don’t keep it where I can see it––and don’t play it.”
“Yeah.” The pottery shattering by her foot. The broken look on his face. She bit her lip. Somehow, she doubted even the biggest scholarship would change his mind about music.
Don’t give up. Not now.
She’d already auditioned. She’d already put herself down this path. Now she had to follow it.
“Have you been talking with Antipas?”
Her breath caught at the sudden shift to an unwelcome topic. “Talking with them?”
“Yeah. Figuring out your classes and stuff. Whatever it is you do for college.”
“Oh. Right.” She shifted her weight. “Uh, yeah. I’ve been talking with my academic advisor.”
“Good.” He smiled, accentuating the steadily-accumulating wrinkles on his face. “Antipas is gonna be great for you, Elisabel. I know it.”
You don’t know anything.
“So you’re working tomorrow?” Dad said.
Right. Back to the daily grind. She trapped the sigh in her mouth and nodded.
“Good. Glad I’ll see you back.”
“Yeah.” She couldn’t force herself to express any sort of agreement.
“Well, I’m going upstairs,” Dad said. “Got an early morning tomorrow. Night, Elisabel.”
“Night, Dad,” she said.
He disappeared through the door that led to their apartment on the upper floor. Her hand tightened around the rag, now cold and damp. Safe. For now.
Just a few more months.
And then she’d be leaving Dad. And Grandma Leona. And Gwen. But it was okay. She was following her dreams. That was what mattered.
So why didn’t she feel happy?
By Cassandra Hamm