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Catch me if you Can
Author's note: I've always been fascinated by the idea of spies and the science of collecting and analyzing intelligence. I've written and re-written this book at least three times before this story has become what it is today.
Fredrick Girdy stared deep into Andrea Calvier’s sapphire eyes as she spoke, telling him of her evidence, her conclusions; her plan. The stance Girdy was taking was clear: you’d better be very sure of this, Andrea or we’ll be stepping into deep water when we don’t know how to swim. One could not help but agree with Girdy’s vigilance. The matters that the Directorate of the Central Intelligence Agency and his agent were discussing were to be taken any way but lightly. More than one life was going to be put on the line tonight if Girdy agreed to let Andrea have her wish.
“Are you absolutely one-hundred percent, beyond doubt sure of his intentions?” he admonished, intently studying Andrea’s expression for even the most subtle sign of uncertainty.
“Positive,” Andrea said standing tall and looking Girdy straight in the eye as she replied, her face showed little emotion otherwise.
“And you know because—”
“The blueprint is staring you right in the face, Girdy,” Andrea said softly, almost as if talking to a child.
Girdy hesitated, “And how do I know you’re not just making this stuff up?”
“You don’t,” Andrea replied tersely.
Girdy momentarily was at loss of words, “He’s your husband, Andrea,” Girdy said.
“He’s also the father of my child.” Andrea looked Girdy straight in the eye as she replied.
“And do you want that child to grow up without a father?”
“If that means she doesn’t have to grow up with her life in a constant threat, then yes.” Andrea’s tone was steady, her eyes bore straight into Girdy’s, and her stature was confident. At this, Girdy relaxed the slightest bit, he knew every one of his agents well, and years of working with Andrea had taught him that when she was this sure of something, her statements were no longer theory, but cold, hard fact.
There was a silence before Girdy replied, “Do what you have to do, Andrea.”
“I will, sir.” Andrea nodded slightly before turning to leave the room. The door closed with a soft ‘click’ behind her.
Girdy looked down at the packet of information that was lying on his desk, the evidence Andrea had given him the previous day. There was no denying that she had done her job well, and the evidence she’d given was thorough and indisputable, but the DCIA, despite how hard he tried, simply could not bring himself to accept the truth. Nicholaus had been a much trusted agent; he knew secrets regarding the president and the full extent to which he was protected that no one else would ever know. Nicholaus knew things about the CIA’s international affairs that no more than five others in the entire world knew. Nicholaus had risked his life for his country more than once; a man like him just didn’t betray his country in the way that he did. A man like Nicholaus didn’t plan to bomb the White House.
But he had. Andrea was right, the blueprint was staring him right in the face.
Girdy sat there, staring at the intelligence brief Andrea had given him, trying to wrap his mind around Nicholaus’s betrayal, trying to comprehend Andrea’s plan of action, trying to make some kind of sense of it all. He had become so lost in his own thoughts that he did not notice the man that had stepped into his office until the newcomer spoke.
Fredrick Girdy looked up to find himself staring into the eyes of Nicholaus Calvier.
Andrea felt she could not have picked a worse time of day to be walking the East Wing of Charleston’s CIA headquarters. It was five o’clock in the afternoon and everyone was making their way out of the building to leave for home, causing her to be moving against the current as she made her way to elevator number fourteen; the elevator leading to the sublevels. But fighting her way through the crowd was the least of her worries at the moment, and her mind was scattered in a million different places, none of which were focused on the crowd of people passing by.
The elevator was vacant as she entered it, and every move she made, every breath she took seemed magnified with the absence of people, but this too, barely occurred to Andrea, for right now all she could think about was finding Jessica. The bell chimed lucidly through the tiny elevator as it reached Sublevel Three, where the massive door slid aside to reveal a sturdily built man dressed in a midnight blue suit. His stature tall and alert, as if at any second someone bearing a Glock 23 may burst through the elevator door ready to shoot anything and anybody that got in his way.
“Hello, Hughes.” Andrea mumbled.
“Verification please,” was Andrew Hughes’ only response.
“Hughes, I’ve had a rough day, can you just let me pass?” Andrea plead, sighing inwardly at the additional delay of knowing that she would have to pass verification before she could talk to Jessica, she would need to hold it together for five additional minutes before falling apart.
“It’s because of your rough day that you know I can’t,” Hughes sighed, his previously businesslike expression giving way to sympathy. “We all took a blow today, Andrea,” he added softly as he took Andrea’s verification card. “You’ve got a level seven clearance now, impressive.”
Andrea only nodded, biting her lip as she took back her card. She silently made her way down the noiseless hallway, her heels clicking obnoxiously on the gleaming tiled floor as she passed the numerous doors leading to the many wings of the sublevel. It seemed as if the hallway couldn’t be longer, she couldn’t have a farther distance to walk, as she finally reached the second to last door on the left side of the hallway, marked with an ‘E19’—the laboratory.
Andrea soundlessly lifted her hand to the pad on the right side of the door, watching as a glowing green strip maneuvered across the pad, making a low buzzing sound as it scanned her handprint. After what felt like an eternity, the green light swiped across her hand one last time before the whole screen glowed an emerald green and the steel door guarding the entrance to the sublevel slid aside as a cool automated voice said ‘Welcome, Andrea Calvier’, and Andrea entered.
If she had to make a list of her top three favorite places in the entire world, without a doubt the laboratory in Sublevel Three would be on that list. She loved everything about it, there was always something new and exciting happening in the laboratories, Sublevel Three’s especially, there was always an experiment going underway, a pen-gun being innovated, a modern-day Enigma machine being reinvented, sketches of the latest and greatest ideas of innovating the idea of the eavesdropping bug hung all over the walls. There was something new every time Andrea came down to the lab that blew her mind away as to how intelligent those working with the CIA really were. They were always pushing the limits of modern-day technology, making it more efficient, more reliable, more covert; but it wasn’t the fact that it was like walking into a science-fiction fantasy that made her love it so much, but the people who made it all happen.
When Andrea entered she was not surprised to find that Jessica was the only person in the room. She had her back turned to the front of the room, her jet-black hair pulled back into two short pigtails, her white lab coat falling just below her knees as she held up a test tube to examine its contents. Several chemicals measured precisely in several beakers spread out across the lab table surrounded her. She was meticulously pouring a colorless solution from a test tube into a translucent blue liquid when Andrea approached. Jessica’s face had taken on a look of utter concentration and Andrea’s presence went but unknown to her until the exact amount of the solution had been poured and correctly mixed with the blue liquid. And only then did Jessica look up to see Andrea.
The second their eyes met, Jessica’s expression went from concentration to one of complete downcast. “Andrea,” Jessica whispered, grasping her best friend and pulling her into an embrace. And then and only then, did Andrea let go.
All at once the full effect of what she’d found—what her husband had done—hit her. She felt the hurt, the betrayal, the shock, the denial, the confusion…and she didn’t even know what else, all rushing through her in a matter of seconds. She didn’t even try to hold back the tears anymore as they silently rolled down her cheeks and splashed onto Jessica’s lab coat. Jessica, in turn, said nothing, but held her best friend in an embrace and stroked her long, curly bronze hair, holding her physically together, while everything else was falling apart.
The two friends remained in this position for several minutes before the steel door opened again and a tall man with honey colored hair silently stepped into the room. He paused for a moment at the entrance of the lab, spotting the two women, silently embracing one another, tears streaming down both of their faces. Neither woman took notice of the man until he’d wrapped his arms around the pair of them.
“So you’re really following through with this,” the man said somberly as he took his arm off of Jessica’s shoulder.
“I gave Girdy the briefing this morning and he’s taking it up to the president as we speak.” Andrea replied. “I didn’t have a choice, Scott.” Andrea said, to anyone else, she would have sounded composed, nonchalant. It took someone as close to Andrea as Jessica and Scott to tell that she was barely holding it together.
There was a long silence before anyone spoke. “You did what you had to do, Andrea. None of this was in your control.” Jessica took Andrea’s hand in hers and squeezed it, though it did nothing to comfort her.
“I just—I just wish—” Andrea stared off into the distance, trying to piece her thoughts together without much success, “Things didn’t have to be this way.”
“There’s nothing you could have done to keep the circumstances from being what they are now, not without putting either you or your daughter at stake. Nicholaus made a conscious decision when he chose to betray his country. You played it well, Andrea.” Scott replied.
“But the fact that I’ve done all I can do doesn’t erase the shock, Scott.” Andrea said softly, “What if it was your wife who had betrayed you? What if Jessica put your daughter’s life on the line? What if Jessica decided to take part in a plan to bomb the White House and destroy the country? How could you pull yourself together after finding out something like that? How could you bring yourself to turn your own wife in? The fact that I’ve done all I can do doesn’t take that all away.”
To this, Scott had no reply, though he and Jessica did exchange a look before they both looked down at their feet. “What were the exact details to your plan again, Andrea?” Jessica said to break the silence that followed.
“The plan has many aspects to it.” Andrea replied turning to observe a diagram explaining how the antidote of one of CIA’s newfound poisonous concoctions functioned, the diagram Jessica had devised. “One of its goals is to capture and arrest Nicholaus Calvier and his asset, Autumn Daisely for their plans of bombing the White House and actions of consciously giving up intelligence to members of Al Qaida, putting every employee of the CIA, FBI, NSA and Secret Service lives’ at risk. After the pair have been arrested it is the job of several agents to search their offices and homes for any other documents regarding the president or any other American of authority as well as for classified documents that they may have potentially given to Al Qaida or any other person or organization. And finally…” Andrea trailed off, evidently lost in thought.
“And finally?”Scott prodded, looking at Andrea’s back. She didn’t turn around as she replied.
“Find and disable the bomb Nicholaus Calvier has already placed inside the White House.”
“Good luck finding that.” Andrea, Jessica and Scott turned around to find that someone else had somehow made his way into the room without any of them noticing.
They turned around to find a man standing at a lab table, not fifty feet from where they were.
They turned around to find a man, bearing a Glock 23, pointed straight at Andrea’s heart.
They turned around to stare into the face of Nicholaus Calvier.
“Hello Andrea.” Nicholaus’s voice rang coldly through the air, internally shaking everything it touched, affecting the person they were directed towards the most.
“Nicholaus,” Andrea replied all previous signs of weakness disappeared from her face, replaced by a bold and confident face. Andrea was never one to run away from her fears, but she faced them straight on, and this time, though very different from any other fear she had been forced to face, was no exception. “I didn’t know you had business to take care in the labs today, especially at this time of the workday.”
“I had a feeling you’d be here,” Nicholaus replied, keeping his gun level with Andrea’s chest,
“Good job, though it wasn’t exactly rocket science to figure that out, you know I like to come and visit Jessica after hours.” Andrea remarked, “Was there something you wanted to converse with me about?”
Nicholaus held Andrea’s gaze for several moments, as if trying to stare her down, though Nicholaus knew Andrea too well, even he would not win against her, his lips curled as he replied “as a matter of fact, there is.”
Andrea didn’t say anything at first, but sighed and nodded, “I see,” she replied softly.
“Don’t think it came as a shock to me when I saw your intelligence brief to Girdy lying right in plain sight when I came to talk to him this morning.” Nicholaus talked down to Andrea as if she were a child, “I’d been onto you ever since you’d started your little self-assigned mission with Jessica three months ago.”
“It was six, actually,” Andrea replied nonchalantly, “but no matter, I’m not as ignorant as you perceive me to be either, Nicholaus, I would be a fool to think that I’ve gotten this far in invading your privacy and hacking into your plans and went by all the while unnoticed. I know you better than that, Nick, you’re known for watching your back. I have the sense enough to know that the question wasn’t if you’d find out about our ‘self-assigned’ mission, but when.”
“Then why didn’t you act on it, Andrea? Why did you wait? You would have caught me off guard had you chosen to arrest me four months ago.” Nicholaus spoke to degrade, though his words had little effect on Andrea.
“Our suspicions were little more than hypotheses four months ago, Nicholaus. Girdy was reluctant to grant me the right to arrest you as of today, there was absolutely no chance that he was going to allow me to go off and arrest one of his best operators over minor suspicions. And with you being my husband, how was he to know that we weren’t in a tight spot in our marriage and I wanted vengeance?”Nicholaus had stepped closer and closer to Andrea as she talked, and now his gun was inches away from her heart. At any second Nicholaus could pull the trigger, and Andrea, armless and defenseless, would die. But Andrea showed no sign of fear as she waited in silence for a moment before replying.
“It doesn’t have to be this way, Nick.”Andrea whispered, her voice astoundingly serene, “Putting your hands up is still an option. It could take up to fifteen years off your sentence.”
“Fifteen years,” Nicholaus scoffed, “And if I were to shoot you right now and run like—”
“You’re forgetting we’re not the only people in the room, Nick, if I couldn’t get to you, certainly either Jessica or Scott would. Don’t underestimate their skills.”
“Oh, but honey—” Nicholaus pulled closer to Andrea as he spoke, he store deep into her eyes as he shifted his aim, “—You’re underestimating mine.” Nicholaus Calvier fired once, only once; followed by one scream. One, short, shrill, penetrating scream.
And Andrea Calvier fell.
The seconds that followed seemed like years passing by, seconds lasted hours, minutes years; and everything happened in slow motion. Jessica let out a piercing scream that rang throughout the room indefinitely as she fell to her knees, trying to stop the unending bleeding from Andrea’s head wound, though she knew it was hopeless. Andrea was gone.
Jessica didn’t notice as Nicholaus turned to leave, sprinting out of the room, carelessly throwing aside any obstacle that stood in his way. She didn’t notice as he slammed his hand on the red button that set the alarms ringing throughout the room, she didn’t notice as the man she once called a friend slipped away. But what he didn’t notice was that he wasn’t alone.
Scott, though traumatized by the fact that Nicholaus had so cruelly, so easily, had taken the life of the supposed love of his life; though a feeling of numbness had started creeping its way into his heart at the loss of one of his closest friends. Despite the fact that his own wife was laying there in a heap on the ground, her soul as far gone as Andrea’s, he wasn’t willing to let Nicholaus go that easily. Andrea would have killed him if he did.
And it was that thought that drove Scott forward to break the glass display case on the wall, draw out the Glock 23 that lied inside of it, and follow Nicholaus.
Scott had known Nicholaus for fifteen years, six years throughout junior high and high school, and nine years through working with him with the CIA. They had been best friends for fifteen years, they had bailed each other out on numerous homework assignments through high school, they had been there for each other through every crush, every breakup, every football game Nicholaus’s team lost, every tennis tournament Scott hadn’t succeeded in. The two of them went to pick out their wives’ engagement rings together. In short, Scott knew Nicholaus well, but even he could never have been prepared for what Nicholaus did next.
He stopped dead in his tracks.
Taken completely off guard, Scott had stopped as well, keeping his gun level with Nicholaus’s chest, waiting to see what his next move was going to be.
Nicholaus turned around, lips curled he said “Scott do you really think you’d have it in you to shoot your best friend if you had to?”
“I don’t know who you are anymore, Nick. The man that was my best friend wouldn’t murder his wife like that if it meant he had to sell his soul to the devil himself by not doing so! The one thing I know for sure is that you are not my friend of any kind, other than that, I haven’t got a clue with you.” Scott exclaimed.
“You wouldn’t shoot me if I were to run right now.” Nicholaus said it as a statement rather than a suggestion.
“I’ll do what I have to do, Nicholaus. If that’s what it comes down to, so be it.”
“Would you change your mind if you knew that to get to me you’d first have to get through your daughter?”
Scott could only stand there; utterly speechless as he watched Nicholaus open the door directly right of him, reach in and roughly grab out two young girls, no older than three and force them out into the corridor. Both girls were mute from fear, one of them had straight blonde hair, bright sapphire eyes, still standing tall with her chin up despite the fear Scott could see her feeling below the surface—Andrea’s daughter. While the other, though showing far more fear than her friend, remained composure through carefully looking about her new surroundings, Scott could almost see the gears shifting inside her head, forming an escape plan—but it couldn’t be— it wasn’t—not Ariel. But there she was, Scott Calipher’s daughter, standing, trembling right in front of him. When the eyes of father and daughter met, there were no words to describe the exchange they shared, no written language could describe the exchange of shock between father and daughter meeting at such a time as this—under such circumstances as this—and do it justice. A shake of the head from Scott told Ariel more clearly than words ever could not to move.
“What do you think you’re doing, Nick?” Scott could feel the anger boiling up inside of him, infuriated at the thought that anyone—his best friend especially—would dare touch his daughter, and what’s more, in an act to save himself. But at the same time, he felt something else gripping at him, an emotion coiling tightly around his heart. He saw images of not his, but his daughter’s life flash before his eyes; he remembered the day she was born, the first time he held her, he relived the moment when he saw his daughter taking her first step. The life of three-year-old Ariel flashed before his eyes. And for the first time in his life, Scott Calipher was experiencing the true depth to which fear could take him.
“Exactly what I planned to do, Scott,” Nicholaus once again lifted the gun that killed Andrea Calvier, and raised it up to Ariel Calipher’s head.
Within the time it took for Nicholaus to raise his gun from his side to the girl’s head, Jessica had bolted away from Andreas dead body, breaking a glass display case to retrieve the Glock 23 contained inside, maneuvered her way over three lab tables to reach terrorist and girl, and had managed to push Ariel out of the way, placing herself between Nicholaus, and her daughter.
The earth itself seemed to be holding its breath in the seconds that followed as Nicholaus and Jessica store each the straight in the eye.
“That was a mistake.” The venom in her voice was unmistakable in her every word as Jessica spoke.
“Yes, indeed, that was a mistake, Jess,” Nicholaus replied, “One that will cost you your life.” Nicholaus readied his gun to fire, but Jess was quicker, she had fired before Nicholaus had a chance to properly find his aim, and the right side of his black suit gleamed in the fluorescent laboratory lights with blood.
Nicholaus gasped in pain and gripped where the bullet had grazed his side while Jessica stood there in momentary shock. Sure, she had come up with plenty of unpleasant concoctions the Central Intelligence Agency had used to weasel secrets out of suspected terrorists, she’d hacked into more than one person’s private files on their computer, potentially ruining their lives. But she had never shot anyone before. And it was that momentary shock that would cost her dearly within the seconds that followed.
Without Jessica realizing it, Nicholaus had regained his balance after the blow to his side, and had mustered enough strength to lift the gun once more and fire.
It’s amazing how much can happen in a second. It only took one second for Nicholaus to pull the trigger, one second for him to condemn Jessica Calipher’s fate—one second for Jessica Calipher to be here, and then gone. It took one second for Jessica’s life to end; and Scott could only watch.
She fell slowly, her soft figure falling gracefully through the empty air, before falling to the ground. But unlike Andrea, Jessica was still alive when she hit the ground, though dark blood was gushing out of her upper left side. Without a second thought, Scott rushed to his dying wife’s side, no longer caring that Nicholaus had run down the corridor and was slipping back into elevator number fourteen.
“Jessica,” he whispered softly, tears pouring down his face as he cradled his wife in his arms. Her breath came in short, sharp intakes, and exhaling took an immense amount of effort, and every time she blinked, her eyes remained closed for a little bit longer; Scott feared at any moment that the next time she closed her eyes, that they wouldn’t open again, he dared not blink himself.
Jessica closed her eyes for a long span of time before taking another sharp intake of breath; it took all of her strength to open her mouth to whisper a reply, “Take care of them, Scott.” She said, opening her emerald eyes staring deep into Scott’s hazel ones.
Scott didn’t reply at first, mostly because he didn’t understand what Jess was asking him to do. “Who?” was all he could say in reply.
“Our daughters, Scott.” Jessica clarified, looking desperately up at Scott’s face, her shoulders shook as she coughed out her response. Her time left was measured in seconds now; both of them knew it. “Take care of our daughters,” Jessica coughed once more before Scott felt her figure relax into his, her body lying limp wrapped in his arms.
Our daughters? Daughters with a plural s on the end? What had Jess meant when she said that? They’d only had one child together, their daughter Ariel. At this thought, Scott froze.
“Where’s Ariel?” Scott looked up to find himself staring into the eyes of the little blonde-haired girl that Nicholaus pulled out of the closet along with Ariel. He found himself staring into the terrified eyes of a three-year-old girl who had just witnessed a death and was somehow still remaining some kind of composure—on the surface. Scott looked up to find himself staring into the eyes of Andrea and Nicholaus Calvier’s daughter. Carolina.
Scott frantically looked about the room and was mortified to realize that to Carolina’s question, he had no answer.
Tiny flakes of dry chalk clung to the lining of my throat as I clapped the two worn board erasers together, omitting a cloud of years-old chalk dust about the air around me. I’d given up on trying to cough out the powder, my throat far too dry to remove it effectively. I’d been at this for two hours cleaning every classroom in this school now and quite frankly, I was surprised I wasn’t passed out on the floor or high off my butt amid the chalk dust and immense amounts of Lysol and Windex that occupied the air around me.
“I think you probably got most of it,” I jumped up as if the dirty tiled floor beneath me had been electrified at the sound of an unexpected voice behind me.
“Father!” I gasped, holding my hand against my chest as my rapid heartbeat unhurriedly began to slow, “I didn’t see you coming.”
My father took no notice of this comment as he strolled across the room “The windows still need to be cleaned in this room, I see,” my father ran a finger along the dusty ledge of one window as he inspected it. “And I surely hope the lab tables have been wiped down,” he raised an eyebrow at me skeptically as I fervently nodded in response.
“Good,” he replied, letting his eyebrow relax to its original position, but his critical expression had far from left his face, “After that you can help Mary weed the garden.”
I suppressed a groan before biting my lip and plastering an impassive expression on my face, “Yes, Professor,” I replied.
“Don’t give me that ungrateful tone of yours, Carrie; free tuition doesn’t come easily, especially not at Humphrey Academy,” my father warned, pointing one long finger at me. Not this sermon again.
“I know, Professor,” I replied carefully as I reluctantly grabbed for the Windex along with its rag, and the feather duster and made my way to the window.
“And you’re lucky I teach here, otherwise you might not even be here to begin with,” my father remarked disapprovingly as he watched me running the feather duster along the grimy frame of the window. I found myself biting my tongue this time as threw the feather duster down on the floor and grabbed the half-empty Windex bottle with white knuckles.
“If it hadn’t been for me pushing you, you may not have had a high enough GPA to qualify for the Academy,” my father started, “And if Headmistress Clarke hadn’t known you personally, she may not have let you in either.” I forced myself to focus on nothing but cleaning the window as my father ticked off the possibilities on his fingers. “Sometimes I almost feel as if I had to pull strings to get you on the roster for Humphrey Academy to begin wi—”
“That’s a lie,” the words escaped my lips before I could stop them, the venom in my voice dripping from my words like rain from the attic ceiling. Both sets of eyes in the room grew wide at my unanticipated retort.
“What was that, you said?” My father’s voice was silky smooth as he tilted his head up and stood up slightly straighter, as if he was challenging me to go on and start a fight with him. I wrung the discolored rag in my hands hard as I forced myself to take a deep breath. Losing my temper wasn’t an option at this point. Especially not with my father.
“Nothing,” I replied quietly, hastily turning back to my window.
“That’s what I thought,” my father said slowly from behind me, “Finish the window Carrie,” he added firmly before I heard him turn around and close the door to my dungeon once more.
I grasped my plane ticket tightly in my hand as I waited to board the plane; one lime-green earbud was in my right ear, blaring the album ‘Breakaway’ by Kelly Clarkson into my ear, while my left ear remained free, listening for nothing in particular. The huge United Airlines plane was even bigger than I imagined it to be, a slim, gleaming white body with one perfectly blue streak painted down the middle. I was lucky enough to receive a window seat for this flight, my first plane flight from the airport in Lincoln, Nebraska to Charleston, Virginia. From there a bus would come to pick me and nine other students up and head to the academy. But as of now, I was alone, waiting for my plane to board, along with almost a hundred other impatient, sweating strangers, tiredly waiting for the okay to step onto the platform.
My uncle had been addicted to marijuana, meth, and cocaine ever since a social worker dumped me on his doorstep eleven years ago, and this addiction made my life anything but easy. More than once high drug dealers have broken into our house with guns, demanding that my uncle give them the money he owed them. More than once I’d seen one of my cousins violently shot and killed at the hands of my uncle when he was too high to know who he was or what he was doing. More than once, my uncle had taken a swing at me when I tried to take his drugs away. More than once, I had narrowly escaped my own death at the drunken hands of my uncle. I wasn’t willing to live that kind of life anymore.
When the teachers at the middle school told us that Humphrey Academy for the Gifted was willing to hand out a free scholarship to ten lucky students who’d shown their potential to the world through academic success, I seized the opportunity with both hands. Not only because it would lead me down a better path to my future, but because it would be an escape to the h*** my life had become now.
It seemed to take forever for the stewardess to run through her unending lecture of airline safety procedures before the plane took off. A lecture to which I couldn’t help but zone out of for the majority of the time, caught up in my own thoughts that lay far away from the humble little airport in my hometown of Lincoln. I absently gazed out the window as the plane finally took off, the only thing that detracted me from my thoughts was when Kelly Clarkson’s song ‘Breakaway’ began to play on my iPod, blaring the lyrics that had been the song to my heart for my whole life: “I gotta take a risk, make a chance, make a change, and breakaway.” And breakaway I will, Kelly, breakaway I will.
By the time the plane had landed, it was already dusk in Charleston, the last of the warm, rosy beams of the setting sun turning everything they touched deep shades of scarlet and ginger. I soundlessly made my way to about the middle of the bus and sat in the window seat under the red emergency exit sign. There was still a part of me that couldn’t believe this was really happening, not to me anyway. I’ve heard of tons of people who were homeless or were abused as children that occasionally rose above who they had been and became rich and famous, but that sort of stuff happened to other people; not me. There was still a part of me, a large part actually, that told me I was dreaming. I silently took a seat towards the middle of the bus, right under the emergency exit sign, still somewhat lost in thought as I did so.
I could only sit there, allowing myself to fully take in what had happened, how much my life was going to change, how different my life had already become before three other people walked onto the bus. The first person to get on was a girl with curly blonde hair pulled up into a messy bun. She stood silently in the aisle for several seconds, hazel scanning the bus from back to front as she pondered which seat she ought to take. When her gaze met mine she hesitated for a second before a warm smile spread across her face and she made her way over to me, taking the seat diagonal to me as the two of us exchanged a warm ‘hello’ to one another before someone else made their entry on the bus. The hesitant face of another girl was peering over the top of the front seat; her thin, sun-tanned cheeks were sucked in as she slowly mounted the stairs. She nervously twirled her long dark brown ponytail in her fingers as she made her way over to us, but as soon as she sat down next to the blonde-haired girl and the two of us greeted the new girl, a genuine smile slipped across her face.
“Hi,” she said, her voice was soft as she spoke, but the tone of her greeting wasn’t necessarily shy, her smile hesitant, but not necessarily afraid.
“Hey,” the girl with the messy bun and I replied in unison, the three of us smiled at each other, but our greeting slowly fell into a blanket of awkward silence that followed.
“So are you two freshmen as well?” I asked, partly to make conversation, partly because I was hoping to walk into Humphrey Academy knowing at least someone.
The girl with the brown ponytail nodded while the girl with the messy bun opened her smiled and breathed a sigh of relief, “Good, I’m not alone. I’m A.J. by the way.” I was surprised to find that the girl named A.J. spoke with a British accent as she replied.
“Ariel,” I returned with a slight smile.
“Oh like the little mermaid!” the girl called A.J. replied with a smile of some kind of abstract delight as she said it. To this, I couldn’t help but chuckle slightly.
“Unfortunately,” I replied at the mention of the one Disney princess I despised most. I hate all kinds of fish with a burning passion, the cartoon character was no exception.
“How can you not like Ariel the mermaid?” The ponytailed girl asked, tilting her head slightly as A.J. chuckled.
“I’ve never been much a fan of Disney either,” she admitted, “Too unrealistic for me, I guess.”
“Too many happy endings,” I replied in agreement, as A.J. let her pupils momentarily dilate as she nodded.
“I’ve just gotten way sick of Disney ever since my sister got addicted to it,” the ponytailed girl replied matter-of-factly.
“That would suck,” A.J. replied genuinely as I nodded in return, “Anyway, what’s your name?” she asked the ponytailed girl.
“Jo,” she replied with a smile.
“That’s a cute name!” A.J. replied enthusiastically, “Is it short for anything?”
“Thanks,” the girl called Jo replied as her cheeks turned rosy for a fraction of a second, “It’s short for Josephine, but I hate that name.”
“Hey at least you’re not named after some stupid Disney princess,” I replied with a smile as both Jo and A.J. chuckled in return.
“Oh poor Ariel,” A.J. cooed somewhat sardonically as a smile slipped across her face.
“Do you guys know any other freshmen going to Humphrey?” Jo asked as the three of us watched two other students board the bus and take the two very back seats. For the first time, I took in my surroundings; four other people had managed to board the bus without catching my attention. Nine people were now on the bus, one more person to go before we could leave.
“Other than you guys, no,” I replied, shaking my head, nervously chewing on my lip at this sudden realization.
“Well I know my idiot brother, but he won’t be attending Humphrey this year if he doesn’t hurry up to get on this bus,” A.J. replied, impatiently checking her watch as she regarded the bus driver starting the bus up.
Almost as if on cue, one last person boarded the bus, a boy, presumably A.J.’s brother had made his way onto the bus and was standing in the aisle. He casually brushed back his jet black hair with a perfectly tanned hand to reveal bright blue eyes slowly scanning the interior of the bus. He made his way down the aisle of the bus; a backpack was strapped on each of his muscular shoulders as he made his way over to the three of us, who had fallen silent at the knowledge of his arrival.
“Took you long enough,” A.J. said with raised eyebrows as the boy approached, a look to which her brother mirrored the second he got close enough
“Yeah I really appreciated the help, Addison, don’t strain yourself so much next time,” he replied sarcastically, dumping one of the backpacks into A.J.’s lap as he spoke.
“Oh don’t worry, I won’t,” A.J. replied in a halfway-condescending, halfway-playful manner as she smiled sweetly at her brother.
To this, the boy only chuckled as he returned his gaze to the aisle in between the seats. He let his azure eyes wander from the back of the bus up towards the front until his gaze met with mine. I could have sworn I’d seen a kind of glimmer appear in his eyes and a small smile spread across his lips as he held my gaze. He lightly gripped the back of Jo’s seat as he leaned in closer to me, “Is it alright if I sit here?” he whispered it into my ear is if were his deepest secret that he was sharing with me and me alone. The look in his eyes was an odd paradox between a gleam of playful mischief and a sweet, innocent request, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to tell that he knew I was biting back a smile.
“Can’t stand to sit with your sister?” I replied teasingly, however I did scoot over towards the window of the seat without a second thought.
The boy let out a small laugh as he sat down next to me, “So sweet to know that my dear Addison mentions me in conversation.”
“It wasn’t meant to be a compliment,” A.J. hollered from her seat as her brother rolled his eyes from behind our seat.
“You see what I have to put up with?” he said, subtly pointing towards A.J.’s seat so that only I could see. At this, I couldn’t help but let out a small laugh.
“Don’t challenge her to be worse,” I replied with a smile as the boy chuckled.
“I guess not,” he replied, returning my smile not only with his lips, but his eyes as well as he drew slightly closer to me; a subtle enough gesture that could have meant anything, but for reasons unknown, this gesture triggered something within me. A kind of fluttery feeling in my stomach that diffused throughout the whole of my body, turning into a kind of warm, fuzzy feeling as it spread. “Am I right when I say I don’t believe I know your name?” He said softly.
“No, I don’t think you do,” I replied, attempting to force myself to remain composure against this alien force that had begun to take over me, trying to keep the butterflies in my stomach contained. But one look into this boy’s mysterious, azure eyes, and my insides melted.
“Well,” the boy replied, a small, a playful smile once again slipped across his face as he held my gaze, “I guess you might just have to tell me, then.”
To this, the only word I can think of to describe my reaction was a giggle; a girlish, flirty, high-pitched giggle. “Ariel,” for how I’d been so loud just two seconds ago, my voice was surprisingly soft as I spoke, just above a whisper, I was almost surprised the boy heard me at all.
“Ariel,” He returned the quiet, gentle character to his British-accented voice as he tried the name out on his tongue for the first time.
I felt my cheeks grow rosy and chills run down my spine as he said my name, but forced myself to ignore these feelings as I replied, “Yeah, not the cutest name in the world, but it’s what I got. Anyway, what’s your name?”
“My name’s Cole, and anyway, cute, I think the name ‘Ariel’ is beyond cute, I actually think it’s rather adorable,” the boy who called himself Cole replied, “Almost as adorable as you.”
“Lies,” I objected, looking throwing my hands up and looking down at my lap as I replied, I would call myself anything but adorable. My hair looked like muddy sticks on my head and I was a scrawny stick with no real figure, the only thing I ever liked about myself ever were my eyes, a stunning bright green. Otherwise, I wasn’t going to be winning any beauty pageants anytime soon.
To this, Cole chuckled as he casually ran his fingers through his midnight black hair, observing me with those beautiful azure eyes, the grin on his face growing wider and wider as he began to speak. “Well,” he stopped midsentence, his eyes only leaving mine as he gently grabbed a dark brown strand of my hair, slowly pulling it back behind my eat before he continued. “I guess we’re going to have to agree to disagree on that one.”
The only thing I could manage to do in response was smile.