Category Archives: Roosevelt (Kaleidoscope)

Ravenlight

(A/N: A middle(?) segment to a new short story? See also: Ravenlight)

The last chord of the song faded into applause, the crowd whooping and cheering. Dan glanced back at the band—they really should have put together a set list, but they’d never made a set list before. Why would they start now? Logan caught his eye with a slight jerk of his head in Esther’s direction. Dan raised his eyebrows, as if to ask, Now? Logan nodded.

Dan turned back to the audience, feeling how the whole room had settled after that last song. Not in a bad way—settling was a good sign. It wasn’t the awkward bustle of boredom; it was the lull of contemplation, the aftermath of a good song. He let his guitar swing loose in front of him and flipped the pick over the fingers of his right hand.

“So,” he began, stepping back up to the microphone, “some of you might not know this, but Esther and I go to boarding school together.” He turned to look at her, his mouth still against the microphone—he wanted to watch her expression. “And something I learned about her, that I did not know before, is that this girl can sing.”

He grinned half at her, half at the audience. Esther looked ready to kill. A wide smile was trapped on her face, but her eyes threw daggers at him.

“So we’re going to get Esther up here to sing a little something for you…”

The audience broke into applause as he stepped back from the microphone. A small pocket in the back corner by the counter started cheering her name, but Esther stood still by the bass amplifier, staring at him and laughing softly in disbelief. He nodded his encouragement to her, even unslinging his guitar and holding out his hand for the bass. She shook her head slightly and mouthed, “I’m going to kill you,” before giving up and handing him the bass guitar.

Dan watched as she stepped up to the microphone. She was being the quiet, indie, a little bit fragile girl in the rock cover band, not the girl she’d become at boarding school. He’d forgotten how vulnerable she could be, how soft and gentle compared to the strong, capable girl she was growing into. So what was this, an act? Or just slipping into habit? He watched her shake back the bracelets on her left wrist and lay her delicate fingers on the microphone for a moment.

“Well,” she said to the settled room. “I’m going to kill Dan later.” Rob and Logan chuckled a bit at that, and she glanced back at them. “I know you guys were behind this too, but Rob, I’m about to get my revenge.” He smiled and shrugged while some people whooped. She turned back to the audience.

“So I know we usually play alternative rock stuff, but I’m going to switch it up a little bit here. Rob’s going to go play keys on this song—” She looked at him pointedly here, waiting as he theatrically shuffled over to the keyboard. “And Rob, I know you know this song because your mom says you sing it in the shower.” The audience laughed. “This is a beautiful song by Sara Bareilles, and I really hope I can do it justice. This is ‘Gravity.’”

Rob started off with the first few notes, and Dan sat back on the amplifier as Esther began to sing. God, he loved the sound of her voice. Even after a year with Ravenlight, she never so much as hummed a backup vocal, so that late night in the Academy’s piano lounge with their friend Meg had been a revelation. The first thing he ever heard her sing was an old Simon and Garfunkel song, her voice strong and perfect as it rose and fell over the notes rising out of the grand piano. He thought of that moment now, remembering the way she smiled while her voice harmonized over Meg’s. He watched her rest her hands on the microphone, eyes closed as she pushed the rise and fall of the chorus. She had a light, effortless control over her voice that Dan had never quite learned, and her voice had just enough quaver to sound a little less than polished, making it sound and feel so real.

He caught Logan watching him stare at Esther, so he looked down at his guitar and dedicated himself to adjusting a knob. Logan knew, he was pretty sure, about him and Esther. Well, maybe he wasn’t that sure, but there was no sense in helping Logan along by staring at her if he only suspected it. He chanced a look back at Logan, and found him raising his eyebrows, impressed, as Esther nailed the bridge—a long, drawn out high note that wandered up higher without a breath. Dan smiled. Yeah, try not staring at that amazing girl.

She sang the last few lines of the song and stepped back from the microphone to tumultuous applause. She was smiling, her shy, hesitant smile that meant she was embarrassed and a little pleased. Dan straightened and met her near center stage, handing the bass to her as he pulled her into a quick hug.

“I’m proud of you,” he said into her ear.

“I’m still going to kill you,” she said softly.

He held her at arm’s length for a moment. “If I kissed you, would that make it better?” he asked, hoping the audience was loud enough that Logan and Rob wouldn’t overhear.

“Right now? I’d beat you to the ground—and you know I can.”

He laughed and wrinkled his nose at her. She wrinkled hers back and retreated to her corner of the stage while Dan took his place again at the microphone.

“Let’s hear it,” he called, and threw in some flourish, “for the lovely Esther Lynde.” The crowd roared back. Dan glanced back at the rest of the band and mouthed, “Ramp up?” They nodded. He turned back to the microphone, riding Logan’s drumbeat into the next song.

Kentucky (part 1)

A/N: Remember this? Wrote part 2 first, finally got around to writing part 1.

The camp kids had managed to reprogram Amos’s ringtone, and Amos was not amused. That stupid Ke$ha song had been blaring for fifteen seconds before Amos figured out it was coming from his pocket. But he was distracted. Between herding the kids around the parking lot to their parents, yelling at Danny for picking his nose again, and wondering where the hell his fellow counselors were, Amos was in no mood to humor the pranksters who’d changed his ringtone and were undoubtedly calling him just to see his reaction.

Danny’s nose was bleeding now, and Amos swore to himself. He’d better get the kid a tissue before his mother flipped a shit and blamed it all on Amos. He dug around in his pockets for a tissue and his phone started ringing again. Fucking Ke$ha—if he had to listen to her sing about Mick Jagger for another second… Unknown number. Of course. He handed Danny a napkin and answered his phone.

“Hello?”

Instead of the twittering laughter of his campers, the voice on the other end said, “Turn around.” It was a girl’s voice, too old to be one of his kids.

Amos took a second to yell at the boys climbing the huge oak tree in the middle of the parking lot. “Who the hell is this?” He fumbled and dropped his roll call clipboard.

“Smooth. What are you carrying a clipboard for anyway? And that lanyard makes you look like twelve.”

He stooped to pick it up and stole a glance behind where he’d been standing. Nothing. “Fuck you. Who is this?” he demanded.

“One of your campers is bleeding, you know.”

“Yeah, no shit, I just handed him a napkin.”

She laughed. “I guess you didn’t see the kid who just stabbed a girl with a stick, huh?”

Frantic, Amos spun around, searching for his bleeding camper. “Where?”

“Never mind, she’s okay. I gave her some tissues.”

“Who the hell are you?”

“Aw, you don’t recognize my voice?” she asked. She made it sound cutesy, like he deserved to be berated. “I told you, turn around.”

“Well, I’m a little busy,” he said, waving Danny over to his parents.

“Just turn around.”

He swore under his breath. He didn’t have time for this.

“Come on, turn around.” She was teasing him now.

“Fine,” he said and turned around. He started scanning the area.

Que fácil…” she said softly.

Suddenly, everything clicked. The lilt of her Spanish accent washed over him in those short words. He lowered the phone slowly from his ear, his campers forgotten. There she was, standing by the diminishing pile of duffel bags and backpacks, the enigmatic girl who’d disappeared on him at the Charles de Gaulle airport three years ago. He walked towards her slowly, not quite sure he wasn’t hallucinating.

“Esther?”

She smiled. “Hello, Amos.”

Home again

Exercise for English 190: Write a 2-3 page scene conveying one stage of monomyth.

Miramonte didn’t look the same. No matter how much Esther tried to find the familiar sights across town, something always looked out of place. They’d added another play structure at the elementary school, an organic foods aisle at the grocery store, a bright orange construction crane towering over the hospital campus—even Bob, the hobo who always hung around outside the drug store, had a new WILL WORK FOR FOOD cardboard sign.

Thursday afternoon found Esther wandering around the public high school. The names on the doors told her little about this world that would have been hers if she hadn’t gone to the Academy. These were just names. Amorphous blobs of meaning. Mr. Morrison—did he teach French? Or biology? Or math? If he taught math, did he teach geometry? Calculus? Did it matter? It made Esther feel naked to stroll around this school with the confidence engrained in her by the Academy, but without knowing anything about this place for certain.

Well—that wasn’t true. She’d played one show here in the cafeteria with Dan’s band back in middle school. The show was a disaster—a middle school cover band playing for a high school crowd with high expectations—but afterwards Rob and Dan found their way onto the roof and convinced Esther to climb up too. She remembered squirming at this rule breaking, but the slippery discomfort seemed like the memories of someone else now. She hadn’t touched an instrument since last fall, and climbing onto the roof seemed so thoroughly unthrilling now. So unthrilling, in fact, that she found the cinderblock wall and went up to the roof without even thinking.

Nothing here, like the rest of town, physically matched her memory; but simply coming up here and feeling gravel crunch underfoot as she straightened seemed so familiar that all at once the tension Esther didn’t even realize had wound her up released. She looked out across the expanse of grey rooftop and ventilation pipes and spinning fan-type things, and in this least likely of homes, she felt at home. That Academy-formed confidence didn’t seem so out of place up here.

She headed out along the perimeter of the school, crossing from building to building via interconnected rooftops. She was navigating a particularly tricky crossover, complicated by an intimidating fan capping a large ventilation pipe at torso level, when she heard a distant shout. A loud shout… a “get the hell off my roof” shout. Part of her panicked for a split second, a vestige of her old self convincing the new self that all rule breaking was bad. But she calmed that impulse and glanced down toward the parking lot where the voice had come from.

“Hey! Get down!”

Dan and Rob were standing in the parking lot, Rob’s beat up old van idling behind them.

“Hey!” yelled Rob. “Don’t you know you’re not allowed on the roof?”

Esther smiled. “Yeah?” she yelled back. “Who told you that?”

“Some know-it-all girl with a stick up her—”

Dan tackled him before he could finish. Esther clambered down to meet them, the lure of the rooftop no longer compelling when old friends were waiting down below. She’d known them both since elementary school—but while Dan was a student at the Academy with her, she hadn’t seen Rob in nearly two years. Spurred forward by this thought, she leapt the last few feet on her climb down and sprinted across the parking lot to topple Rob with a hug.

“Rob-rob-rob-rob-rob! How are you?” she demanded.

“In pain,” he replied, pushing her off of him. Dan offered him a hand up, but he straightened gingerly on his own, brushing dirt and gravel off his clothes with an affected air of pride. “Is this my fault for not replying to your email updates, or your fault for going to that ridiculously isolated school?”

Esther swiped his car keys and tossed them to Dan. “Your fault, definitely. We kept contacting you, but you never replied.”

Rob, feebly reaching for the keys that were now sailing back and forth just out of reach overhead as Dan and Esther played catch, pouted at this accusation. “Well how is that Academy place anyway? How are you guys?”

They exchanged a glance. Esther could almost see the past two years swirling around in Dan’s eyes, the two of them pondering the rich spectrum of life they’d experienced away from home. They smiled, Dan’s growing into a wide grin. Where to begin? Nowhere else but the beginning.

The Alps (part 3)

The next morning, Esther’s fever had gone down, and she was well enough to walk around. She, Amos, Carine, and Bryan underwent the hike to the main road, where they hitched a ride to the nearest hospital. By that evening, they were back at the hostel with Esther’s arm in a cast.

Amos was less than pleased. She managed to be maddeningly elusive about who she was and where she came from. Since last night, his curiosity had warped into obsession. He had taken her word that Esther was indeed her name; he definitely couldn’t check her back pocket for her passport now. And European hospitals cared less about identification than American ones, probably because they didn’t need to know who to charge if the insurance company refused to pay, since there was no insurance company that needed to cover treatment costs in the first place. On top of the whole lack of clear identity, she spoke perfect French (much to the delight of Carine) and excellent Spanish, of which Amos knew enough to recognize her superiority in the language. When pressed, she admitted to knowing a bit of Japanese and Arabic, and he could only guess where she’d picked that up. Carine and Bryan loved her, as did pretty much everyone else in the hostel, but Amos couldn’t shake the feeling that she was hiding something from them all.

The next afternoon, Amos was reading Camus again, this time in his own room. At a knock on his door, he looked up to find Esther standing in the doorway. She was prettier than he’d first thought — slight figure but surprisingly strong, long dark hair, an easy smile, and an assertive confidence of personality, something Amos himself had and took pride in, although many people disliked him for it. Even her clothes — the standard organic t-shirt or tank top with quick-dry shorts that all REI-raised American backpackers wore — couldn’t dissuade him from the idea that she must be stylish, at least at home.

“Come in,” he said, gesturing for her to enter.

She obliged, sitting down in front of him on the bed. “Reading the scorned Camus translation, I see.”

“Yeah,” he answered. “I can’t learn an entire language just for a book that’s been translated anyway.”

She shrugged, leaning back on one hand with her cast resting on her stomach. “I read them in parallel, so I can’t really say.”

“In parallel?” he asked, shifting so that he sat cross-legged to give her more room.

“I read it in my English class and started the French version about three chapters behind, so I already knew what was going on in the story. More of Camus’s diction nuances come out in the original text.”

“You’re crazy,” he said with a little admiration.

She just smiled. “What are you up to this afternoon?”

“Just reading,” he answered. “You?”

“Nothing really,” she sighed. “I was going to join Natalie on a hike, but I’m still pretty drugged up and tired.”

“Well… take a nap,” he suggested, patting the pillow next to him.

Laughing, she plopped down next to him on her side, her broken arm free. She propped her head up with her good arm and leaned closer to read the page he was on. He watched her sly smile grow as her eyes scanned Camus’s words.

“What?” he asked.

“End of part one. You’re about to hit the good part,” she answered.

“Meaning…?”

“You’ll see.”

They read in silence, Amos pausing for her approval before turning the page. She nodded, but stopped him to point out a line at the bottom of the page.

“See that? The translation isn’t quite accurate — it sounds awkward, right? Mersault is actually a lot more eloquent in the original French.”

“Is he any less of an emotionless creep?”

She rolled her eyes and replied, “No, not really…”

Vindicated, he glanced at her right hand hovering over the page, and the arm in its cast. “It’s a good thing you’re left-handed,” he remarked.

She eyed him for a moment. “Who said I was left-handed?”

He turned towards her, frowning a little in disbelief. “You filled out paperwork yesterday with your left hand. It didn’t really look awkward.” When she didn’t say anything and kept reading instead, he tapped her with the book. “You’re not left-handed?”

“Who said I wasn’t?” she asked, grinning.

“What the hell!” he exclaimed, only feigning annoyance as she goaded him. “Are you left-handed or not?”

“I’m ambidextrous,” she laughed, “although right-handed originally.”

“Crazy weirdo,” he muttered, turning a page.

The quiet of the hostel settled over them as they read for a time. A few pages later, Amos opened his mouth to ask her a question, but she had fallen asleep. He smiled at how her fingers curled slightly on the pillow in front of her nose, and how she cradled her arm in its sling against her chest. Quietly, he unfolded the spare blanket at the foot of the bed and spread it over her gently. She shifted slightly, but didn’t wake.

Flaunting

(Originally written 7/30/09)

When Esther emerged from the bathroom, Daniel took one look at her and declared, “You are so confusing.”

She looked over at him, her arms twisted behind her back as she tied the straps of her dress. “What?”

“Okay, two hours ago, you were at the shooting range with the Bronzes, outperforming almost all of us. And now you’re—you’re…”

She watched him try to find the right words, her smile growing into a grin. “I’m what?”

“You’re… you’re in that amazing dress and flaunting… well you’re flaunting the fact that you’re female.”

She laughed at that and bent closer to the mirror to check her makeup. “So?”

“I don’t know… the guys are bothered because one moment you’re laughing with us, wrestling Snaps when he tells a bad joke, talking about crass things, rock climbing with us… Then next thing they know you’re—well, you’re off being a girl.”

“The guys are bothered?”

“Yeah.”

“What about you?”

“What about me?”

She slunk up to him and straightened his bowtie. “Are you bothered?”

He looked down at her hand resting on his chest. “Maybe.”