Her breathing was labored. Her motions grew jagged and sloppy in the water. Her arms and legs, once moving in perfect synchronization, were now trying to get her to shore as fast as possible, disregarding the other swimmers. As soon as she felt the gritty sand under her calloused feet, she ceased swimming and clawed her way out of the water until she could stand and walk. The strain on her arms and legs was gone, but fatigue had begun to set in. She felt suddenly tired, ready to collapse. The only thing keeping her from falling was the thought of her family's disappointment and losing her title. Without thinking, she began running towards the designated finish line. The closest swimmer to her was a good six feet behind her; she'd observed his pacing technique for most of the race and knew that he could catch her if he tried. She drew all the strength she had into running; the muscles in her legs, the color of strong, untainted coffee, flexing, pulsing and aching with each stride she took. She saw the officials nearing her, more than likely because of her wild, drunken gait, and the look of slight delusion in her eyes. The only words she could say, inaudible to herself and anyone else were the words that she chanted to herself as she ran for the finish line: "Don't touch me. Don't anybody touch me." If any of the racers were touched by any medical officials, who (to her) seemed all too eager to help, they'd be immediately withdrawn from the race on the basis of assistance. Veering away from anyone who looked like they were trying to help, she firmly signed "No" with her thumb, middle and index fingers, thankful that she knew a language that would come in handy when she couldn't speak any of the other ones she knew.
All at once, her body tilted and fell, meeting the golden-brown earth with an impact that was less painful than she imagined. Her head, neck, back, arms legs, and all attached appendages ached separately. Despite the pain surging up and down her neck, she craned to see the sign for the finish line directly above her.
'Am I across?' she thought to herself, still trying to move. Though she was not sure, she turned over on her chest, and dug her hands into the sand of the Italian shore and dragged her now motionless body as far as she could. She wasn't sure how long she was doing that until a pair of strong arms took her from both sides and hoisted her up to her feet. Her cries were muted to her aides, although she was mustering up all the vocal energy she had. A bright blue towel was wrapped around her shoulders, and her head hung, creating a curtain from the world by her long ebony hair that freed itself from her swim cap. Her ears, still partially filled with sea salt heard a loud horn go off, and she recognized it as the announcement that the first contestant had crossed the line. She looked up expecting her biggest threat, whose name escaped her, to be crossing the line with roses at his feet and medals gracing his neck. Instead, as soon as the horn subsided, she noticed him crossing the line. Confused, she looked to the aides for some kind of explanation, but hey were all too focused on stretching and testing the flexibility of her arms and legs. The man who had ignited the horn approached her holding something in his hands with his horn clipped to his side. The salt in her eyes kept her from seeing the object closely, and as soon as she was going to open her mouth to ask for clarification, he grabbed her aching arm and held it above her head; making the sea water that clung to her skin slide down her arm and absorbed into her bathing suit.
"The winner of the 68th Annual Italian Triathlon Racing Series is…"
The young girl bolted up, using her arms to prop up the rest of her body on the small, twin-sized bed. She reached forward to shut off the alarm clock that had obviously awoken her mother, the lighter sleeper of the two, before her. The bright blue lights flashed 5:54 AM, later than she would have liked to be waking up, but early nonetheless. Draping one foot over the side of her bed, she withdrew the pastel blanket from off of her and stretched her arms above her head. Her first thought was to lie back down and reason to herself that she really would only sleep for five more minutes, and not be late picking up her friends, thus making her late for school, earning her a bad conduct mark and a week's detention. She stood in the darkness that enveloped her room, and groped for the light switch. Her eyes adjusted to the light, and she made her way to the bathroom, her morning routine already in action.
"Are you awake, Antoinette?"
'No, Mother, it's the bloody ghost of Christmas Past, just thought I'd get myself a glass of milk.' She thought to say. But she knew better than to upset her mother so early in the morning and replied with a "Yes" loud enough for her mother to hear from behind the bathroom door. Her choice to shower at night was well rewarded that day; she wanted nothing more than to get in and out of the bathroom. Turning off the bathroom light after brushing her teeth, washing her face and attempting to do something with her unruly hair, she was again surrounded in darkness.
Her stance was solid and unmoving as a statue. The footsteps behind her were not a hallucination, and she knew exactly who it was that was following her. She silently cursed herself for being so doubtful of his betrayal. She knew that he was seeking revenge, not only against the agency but against all who affiliated themselves with it. His approach to reveal the agency to its more devious enemies came last April from a secure email address that she could not access from work. It read simply:
I know your story. I know what they did to you. I plan do something about it. Your assistance is welcomed. This invitation is limited. Mention it to no one.
They are watching you.
The email unnerved her, but she knew better than to betray the agency that had saved her life. Eight years ago, she was on Highway Nowhere. Her family killed by a crazed gunman desperate for money, she was left alone to face the world without as much as a support system. In the newspaper, she read of a want ad, requesting young people, particularly women, between the ages of 10 and 15 to show up at a specific location. She had just made the age cut, turning ten a week before discovering the ad. The only requirement for any interested was "special talents". She decided to check it out, although the idea sounded unusual. She brushed off the uncertainty, reasoning they wanted a bunch of snot-nosed kids for some Oscar Meyer commercial ad or a voice actor for some Japanese imported cartoon.
Upon arriving, she noticed the usual stage moms, touching up their children's makeup or making notes on the side of their resumes, so that nothing was left out. The children were asked to go in three at a time, with their parents if they chose. Standing in front of a dimly lit desk and being scrutinized by every stage-mom that set their eyes on her was not a good way to start off her day.
"Number 96. State your name."
Looking down at the number stapled to her jacket, she replied, "Antoinette."
"Last name please."
"That's classified information." The surrounding mothers and their beauty pageant children snickered in reply, but were soon hushed by the voice from the table.
"Very well. Do you have a resume?"
"No." Another cloud of snickers flooded the room. This time, her glare stopped them from making anymore noise.
"Why is that?"
"Ad said all I needed was a special talent."
"Do you have one?"
"That's for you to judge, now isn't it?"
"Numbers 95 and 94, please exit through the rear door. Our associates will give your our contact information."
The other mothers left with their kids, and air of superiority radiating off of them. Antoinette stood alone, her hands jammed into her jacket pockets, waiting for something; anything to happen. A hand escaping from the shadow of the table beckoned her to follow the door to her left, which she did, hoping for some answers.
The room on the other side of the door was empty, aside from a speaker box in the right corner of the ceiling and another door, opposite from the one she entered. The walls were plain, white and bare.
"Do you know why you are here, Antoinette?"
"Uhh…the voice actor for Pikachu has strep throat and needs a stand in?" she guessed, looking at the speaker box from which the answer came. The voice went on to explain their purpose for the "auditions" and why she was standing in the room. Because of her circumstances, and obvious quick-wittedness, she was chosen by an offset to a government agency that trained "child prodigies" for emissary work. The training was on a 24-hour basis; she would live on campus, with those going through he same training, get her education on campus and be recruited by different agencies upon her graduation. The offer was tempting, providing a better life for her than the one she currently held.
Ten years later, she found herself running from her former colleague, in a white blouse, blue plaid skirt and uncomfortable shoes down a winding stairwell in a prestigious private school. The mission was simple: Attend the school, get the keys from the janitor, find Room M784 on the seventh floor, retrieve and secure the disc and get out. As a last resort, or when faced with death, she was to destroy the disc. The rubber soles on the shoes refused to grip the flooring of the school, and she went down, landing on her back amidst her "classmates".
"Did you fall again, Antoinette?" a voice asked her from above. Of course, if she had to far near anyone, it had to be him. At first she blamed him for her tumbles, nicknaming him her "Bad Luck Charm". However, after an attempted high kick in dance landed her with a bruised coccyx, she realized that it wasn't his fault; she was just clumsy, off balance and constantly uncoordinated.
Before she could answer, another question bombarded her. "Du machst dein Hausaufgaben?" The voice belonged to her German teacher, Ms. Sansone. Inwardly cursing herself she shook her head, avoiding her teacher's gaze and replying "Nein." Her teacher let her in the classroom and didn't mention the homework for the rest of the class.
At her seat, she let her legs stretch out under the chair in front of her, pointing her toes until they ached.
"Show me your pirouette again." The thin, silver haired woman at the piano stood and pointed her out. She tamed her hair, pulling it into a tight, clean bun from her dark face. The black leotard made her feel like her torso too long and her legs too short, even though she was taller than most of the girls in the studio. She approached her partner in the middle of the floor, the other students huddled in groups on the marley, some waiting for her to fall, break a bone, lose her place, and others waiting for her to dazzle them yet again. She was not particularly happy with her instructor's partnering; he was tall, lean, muscular; the epitome of perfection in a male dancer. There were times however, where he seemed more preoccupied with where his hands were than where she was as a dancer. The beginning of their routine had them side by side, their movements identical. Halfway through the number, she broke away, crossing to upstage left, awaiting her next move. At the climax of the number, when the violins hit their highest note, she ran, not quite sprinted to her partner, her hands meeting his and guiding them to her hips and then releasing them, her arms spread out wards as if she were flying. Once she retained her stance it was his job to lift her above his head, circle the stage twice, and tuck her under his arm. The landing was the most difficult part, as she was to be let down head first and then met the floor with her feet.
Once again, his hands went where they pleased, distracted her, and the landing was off. More than off, she saw the floor approaching too quickly for her liking. She tried to brace her hands to break the fall, but it was too late. She heard Mrs. Cannon's dance slippers on the floor, running towards her before her head hit the ground.
"Owww…" she lamented, rubbing the sore spot on the top of her head. The ring on her middle finger did not make the rubbing any easier, so she tore it off and placed it in the middle of her desk.
"I told you not to fall asleep during class."
"Be quiet." Antoinette replied. The class was clearly over, and she knew the only reason her friend lingered was because she needed a ride home. "Let's go."
In the dark blue Hyundai, the windows were rolled down, letting the cool May breeze blow through the car. Her passenger was talking about something; she had been for a while now. But Antoinette couldn't find the effort to listen. The sky was too blue, the breeze too refreshing, the air too lightly scented with gasoline and people, and everything to have her attention tied to one thing.
"… I just don't know what to do anymore…"
"Do about what?" Antoinette replied, too ecstatic with the thought of being alive to hear anything else.
"About Jason. He's just so…"
"Apologize. Tell him you're sorry."
"But I didn't do anything…I'm not going to apologize for something Ididn't even do." her friend replied, emphasizing every other word.
"Maybe that's just me." Antoinette gazed out of the window again, a single white cloud making its way across the sky.
White. The color of purity. Untainted, unmarred, pure purity. Some people thought that the tradition of white was played out and old fashioned. Gowns were new embroidered with pinks, reds, or did not even bother to be white anymore. But nothing would keep her from wearing her white today. Today. The day she promised, vowed to devote her life unselfishly to another person, she wore the most sincere color imaginable. No elaborate embroidery, not a stitch of color on her fabric.
The door behind her opened, revealing the first man she ever loved. Knowing his way of expressing emotion (or lack thereof) she didn't request a hug right away. She smiled from her seated position and waited for him to initiate conversation.
"I wanted to tell you. Before you go down there and everything…" he began, avoiding eye contact with her.
"Me and your mom…we're…we're proud of you and everything." he finally looked at her. For once, she could read his expression, just by looking at him. Maybe it was the age in his voice that he'd never admit or the fatigue in his eyes that he'd shrug off at a moment's instance, but she could see that he was really, truly proud of her. Not just for finding someone to marry before doing everything he warned her about ten minutes prior to every date she'd ever had while under his roof. But for proving that she would not marry to validate her own security or self-esteem. He knew that she was every bit a strong independent woman before she committed herself than she would be afterwards.
Despite her mind telling her to wait, at least until they were downstairs, she wrapped her father in a tight embrace as best she could. He was an ex-Army man, and even at his age, was fairly muscular, crushing her as hard as she tried to do him.
He finally let her go, looking at her in the face. "C'mon, Bighead." he said, reviving the childhood nickname. "Let's go get you married."
Confusing, no? This was an assignment I wrote out in my senior year in high school. At the time, the class was reading some book or play where the main character jumps in and out of reality constantly, and goes through all these crazy misadventures, only for the reader to realize that it was just a daydream or something. We had to write something similar, adding four goals or daydream-like sequences into our daily lives. So, in a rgular dayof getting up, going to school, attending classes and going back home, I chose to be a triathelete, a secret agent (who is deciding whether or not to betray the agency that trained her...gasp!), a ballerina, and a bride. I found it just recently, tweaked it here and there and decided to post it.
AIL: Art Imitates Life
-My name really is Antoinette. The only other name I would use as a fiction "alias" is Autumn, and I already used that in a story.
-I really did take German in my senior year. My teacher's name really was Mrs. Sansone, and whenever she asked me "Du machst dein Hausaufgaben?" or "Do you have your homework?", my answer was always "Nein." or "No." I had a bad case of Senioritis that year.
-I really did have a friend that I was constantly falling in front of. No lie. I ran into doors, fell out of chairs, fell out of chairs and got nosebleeds, et cetera, et cetera, and always in his presence. I swear, if you go to him now and ask him if he knows an Antoinette, he'll say no, but if you ask him if he knows an awkward girl who fell out of her chair in 9th grade and then got a nosebleed and then ran into a wall on her way to the Health Office, he'll know exactly who I am. That's kind of sad...on my part.
Hope you enjoyed!