In answer to the weekly writing challenge Worlds Colliding: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/worlds-colliding/
She was swimming; her backstroke was excellent in fact. She was here every morning; she seemed to enjoy the fact that the pool was always empty at this hour. It was too early for most students: two weeks ago he stumbled upon her. And he had observed her; her free style was quite impressive but her breaststroke was weak: she seemed to know it for that was the style she did last to force herself to be conscious about it. He had not seen her swim the butterfly stroke yet; maybe she did before he arrived but he didn’t have the courage to come any earlier.
He was standing at the shallow end of the pool when she got out. Carelessly she removed the cap that held her hair and the goggles. A braid of dark wet hair fell over her shoulder and down her back as she recovered her towel unaware of his presence and completely at ease in her bikini.
“You’re going too fast,” he said. It was the first time he came in before she left and spoke to her.
“Excuse me?” She turned to him surprised but not at all embarrassed.
“Your arms. On your breaststroke. You’re trying too hard to go fast.”
“How do you mean?”
Instead of trying to explain, he showed her. It was often time easier in these circumstances. When he finished the length he reached where she was looking up to her from inside the pool. She had carefully wrapped a towel around her body but it didn’t prevent him from noticing the scar that ran from her neck and under the protection of the cloth. If she noticed he was watching her she didn’t react.
“I do. Thank you. I can’t believe I haven’t figured why this style is so taxing to me over the years.”
“Your freestyle and backstroke are excellent though. Have you every thought to compete?” She didn’t answer as if she were considering. “I didn’t see you swim the butterfly.” That might have been too forward, borderline creepy but she only laughed.
“No. I was never able to get the hang of it. My breathing is all over the place when I try. And I’m doing it for myself so no competition.”
“I…” He hesitated. He wasn’t the hesitating type but he didn’t want to scare her away. “If you ever wanted to learn, I could teach you.”
“You’re a teacher?”
“Yes.” That was true even though he wasn’t a swimming instructor.
“I’ll think about it.”
“You know where to find me.”
“I do.” She answered looking squarely into his eyes a laugh dancing on her lips but not quite coming out. She extended her hand leaning towards him holding onto the towel carefully belying the confidence she showed. “I’m Lana.”
“Please to meet you. My name’s Declan.”
“Nice to meet you.” Her eyes went to the clock. “I’m sorry. I’ve got to go. Thank you again for the tip. Have a good day.”
She turned away and walked towards the ladies’ changing room leaving him somewhat breathless: she had startlingly beautiful dark blue eyes. He’d never seen them from this close.
Did she realize that they also took the same fencing class? She was good at it too. In fact, she had the same style of fencing as swimming: on the attack, quick and decisive. He had no idea what she studied though: she looked too young to be a teacher but she definitely wasn’t a freshman. Maybe an exchange student? He hadn’t noticed an accent. He would have to ask her; maybe now that they had exchanged their first words, it would be easier. She seemed to be the kind of woman who knew what she wanted. He had been the one to hesitate not her. He continued to swim for another half hour: like her he was doing this for himself but he had always strived to be the best at everything he did. It actually aggravated him that she was better at fencing than he was; but though he tried he hadn’t managed to beat her in the entire term. Still in every other regards he had been the best at what he had set out to do: he finished his law degree in half the time it took most people and passed the bar to become one of the most successful lawyers in the country. But at 28 years old he realized that what he enjoyed the most was teaching and helping other realize their potential. She had lit that spark of competition in him that hadn’t burnt in a long while and it was both thrilling and annoying, which made her fascinating.
The international law lesson he gave seemed tedious that day as his thoughts kept wandering to the swimmer: he had met her before and not only at the pool or during these fencing classes but he couldn’t pinpoint where. Still he answered the students’ questions: they were always eager, something he knew he must be grateful for since he heard many teachers lament the fact that their students just didn’t care. The discussion turned out to be extremely interesting although his mind couldn’t keep at it. Once in a while he had refocused the debate but he hadn’t participated even though some arguments had been faulty. When he left the classroom to get to his office he was shocked to cross path with Lana; in fact he wouldn’t have recognized her if she hadn’t bumped into him and looked straight into his eyes to apologize. He had never seen eyes like this. She didn’t seem to recognize him at first; she was holding onto a pair of glasses that had almost toppled onto the floor along with a portfolio of black inked sheets.
“I’m sorry Lana.” He volunteered; she squinted her eyes as she put her glasses on and a slight blush spread across her cheeks. Whether it was because she didn’t remember or because of the attention he couldn’t say. The former was more likely.
“I’m Declan. We swim together. Or rather at the same hours.” She seemed to think about it as if she didn’t remember until a smile spread on her lips.
“Oh yes. Sorry I didn’t recognize you without the goggles.” He laughed.
“It’s ok.” He paused as he helped her gather her scattered documents. “Where are you headed with such concentration if I may?”
“I’m going to Professor Martins’ office. He needs that research paper today.” She hesitated as if she didn’t dare say more. Was she still a student or his assistant? The glasses seemed too big for her as if she had deliberately chosen them so. Her hair was pulled in a bun at the nape of her neck. She wore a turtleneck and shapeless skirt; she looked nothing like the confident siren he saw at the pool or the strong Amazon of fencing classes. And yet those eyes.
“Professor Martins. You’re a political science student then.”
“And you’re in the Law Department.”
“How do you know?”
“The room you came out of: Master’s class in international law of human rights. I know a couple of the students.”
Not shy: studious maybe. He helped her pick up her papers and walked with her.
“The legal department isn’t that way.”
“I know but I have to speak to professor Dovercourt.” That wasn’t entirely true; he wasn’t supposed to meet him before later that afternoon but he did want to walk with her.
“Next week’s conference?” She would know about it.
“Well it’s not frequent that the law and political science department go along well,” he said with humour getting her to smile. “Can I walk with you?”
“Sure. The corridors are yours as much as they’re mine.” Dear Lord maybe she was shy… she barely looked at him but she held herself very straight as one who has learned to walk with books on their heads. There was a stiffness that hadn’t been there in the morning and yet nothing obnoxious. As they entered the political science department a tall blonde approached her.
“Lana. Martins got called into a meeting of the all faculty. He said to leave your research in his mailbox. He’ll look at it later.”
“Thanks Celia. Did he say when he wants to discuss it?”
“Before the conference I guess but he didn’t say. He just said he’d call you. It means you’ve got your next two hours free.”
Lana laughed softly.
“There’s no such thing as free time for me these days.”
“Did he also give you the second years essays to grade?”
“Third years as well.”
“Wow. He’s pushing it this time. He doesn’t do anything anymore.”
“It’s ok I like it.” Lana shrugged.
“No really. I mean at least Professor Steeles doesn’t make me do the research that will be published under her name.”
He saw the blush spread across Lana’s cheeks. That Celia was loud, opinionated and unfortunately right from what he had heard in the professor’s lounge. He coughed slightly allowing her to hide her embarrassment.
“Celia, this is Declan…”
The woman’s face paled causing him a second of satisfaction: she knew his name.
“Oh gee. I’m sorry Mister O’Connell. I was out of line.”
“You were. But I will pretend not to have heard anything.”
She kept glancing at Lana with something like awe or envy in her eyes, but the blue-eyed woman seemed not to notice. She didn’t even seem to know who he was.
“You said you had something to do here Declan, didn’t you?”
“I did. But if Professor Martins has been called into a faculty meeting I can only guess Professor Dovercourt is there too.”
“Yes… everyone’s there.” Celia chimed. “Can I help you with anything?”
“No thank you though.”
He looked to Lana who had moved towards the mailbox as if she knew Celia would take over the conversation.
“I saw you try the Lambert case. That was a master coup to reveal the fact that the wife was cheating. How did you find out? No one else ever knew.”
It was always the same. He shouldn’t complain; he had been the best. But he didn’t want to talk about the law: he wanted to talk about his mysterious swimmer who seemed to have become so shy. Was it wrong of him to think of her as his? If she wasn’t of age, yes that would be for sure. And yet she obviously was at least a T.A., so at least she was 21 or 22. Did it make him a stalker? It’s not as if he had followed her.
“Anyways. How did you meet Lana? She’s not much of a law person and she doesn’t get out much.”
“I wasn’t looking where I was going and I bumped into him. Scattered all the research. Stupid really. But Declan was kind enough to help me reorganize everything.” So her friend didn’t know she was a swimmer. “Celia I’ve got to go. Can you tell…?”
“Yes. I know I’ll remind him not to call past 5pm.”
“Thanks, you’re a gem. Declan…”
“I’ll be leaving too. I happen to have some papers to grade too. I don’t have lovely T.As like you ladies to help me out.” Lana’s eyebrow rose as if she hadn’t caught up that he was a teacher until now; she smiled. “Nice to meet you Celia.”
She looked disappointed for just a moment before her lips curved into a bright smile; it seems this young lady saw life on the bright side.
“Likewise. I’ll see you tomorrow Lana.”
“You will. Oh… before I forget. If you see Nadia, can you tell her I have her 2 seats for Saturday.”
“Text her. Or send her a message on Facebook.” Lana’s face changed for just a second as if Celia should know better. “Oh yes. I’ll do it. No problem.”
“Thanks I owe you.”
“No you don’t. We all owe you. My parents will love the seats.”
“They’re still coming?”
“I know I kept a seat for your brother. Let me know before 2pm on Friday whether I can release it.”
“Promise.” Celia winked before she turned around and left. He had witnessed the exchange trying to make sense of their conversation. When Lana walked away he caught up with her.
“You seem a woman of many trades.”
“Well you were obviously talking about a show. For you to be involved in it – busy as Professor Martins keeps you – it has to be on campus. The only show right now is Phantom ran by the theatre and music group.”
“Powerful logic. Might explain why you were such a successful lawyer.”
She caught him unawares; seems she also had deductive skills. He laughed.
“What gave it away?”
“Celia’s a hybrid in the political science department. She’s writing her PhD on… let see the title I believe is Canadian Foreign Policy in the Interwar Period: the Birth of a Sovereign State. She follows the legal field quite closely and she’s always flirting with cute and superstar lawyers.”
You find me cute was the first thing that came to his mind; but instead he said.
“Does she get to meet a lot? Here?”
“Her father’s working at the DA office so yes. The fact that she didn’t hit on you more means she was truly impressed.”
“I don’t know if I should be hurt.” She laughed. “That you don’t even know who I am.”
“Well yes and no. Your name’s Declan; you swim and believe you can teach me the butterfly. And we take fencing classes together, where I might be able to give you lesson.” She flashed him a smile that was reminiscing of that woman at the pool: how was it she seemed to have two different personas living within?
“Ah so you noticed that.”
“I was wondering. So back to Phantom, what are you doing? They usually only give tickets to the lead or the director.”
“Neither… there was time I might have been.” What? Director? Lead? “I take care of all the sales campaigns of the Theatre and Music group. Flyers, emails, phone calls, VIP treatments. The production of Company was sold out and Phantom almost is so they wanted to thank me. They gave me 2 dozens tickets for any show of my choice, reserved some of the better seats.”
“And you haven’t got any for your own family?”
“No.” Her tone was almost clipped and then it became smooth and kind again. Family: hot topic. Good to know. “I like to keep things separate.” Apparently she did; her life seemed almost compartmented. “I…”
She stopped beside him suddenly frozen her entire body tense as if she’d seen a ghost. Her eyes opened wide and there was terror in there. He followed her glance and saw a man stride towards them. He made to move but her hand reached for his wrist and closed upon it with a grip that could only be that of a fencer and yet with a sudden nervousness he didn’t understand.
“Lana!” the man said to her brusquely.
“Father?” she answered stiffly. He wasn’t her father; she just called him that he knew for sure. Not that he knew her well but she looked terrified holding onto formality to protect herself.
“What are you still doing here? I expected you for lunch half an hour ago.”
“I was supposed to be in a meeting with Professor Martins until 2pm. I told you yesterday.”
“No you didn’t. And why are you wearing these glasses? They’re awful. I spent enough money to get you some nice ones and contacts too.” He reached for the glasses but she stepped back removing the specs with her free hand. She handed them to him. “I don’t understand why your mother bought them in the first place.” She was biting her lips. “Oh for heaven’s sake don’t bite your lips, you look like a retard.”
She was paralysed incapable of doing or saying anything. She was neither the siren he saw at the pool nor the serious multitasking T.A who had sold most of the seats in an auditorium that had remained empty for most of the two years he’d worked here. She seemed more like a terrified child who is just about to get a beating; he would know for he worked with some in his pro-bono work.
“Excuse me.” He said. The man’s gaze set on him; he flinched inwardly. There was something particularly cruel in this man’s eyes.
“And who are you? Her boyfriend? That scar hasn’t disgusted you yet.”
Her fingers crushed his wrist or at least would have if he had been fragile.
“I’m a friend. But you obviously aren’t.”
“I’m her father.”
“Stepfather.” She murmured as if to correct him and he turned to her his fist clenched as if he meant to hit her. She literally shrunk beside him. What had this man done to her that she would cower in such a way? “Why are you here?”
“Well we were supposed to have lunch. You didn’t show so I went to see Mr. Carlton. He said you didn’t audition; so you lied. Again. Your mother always believed your lies and look what happened. How will anyone notice you if you don’t go on stage? Your mother must be rolling in her grave right now. She wanted you to be a star and look what you’ve done with it. You’re lazy.”
She obviously wouldn’t defend herself against that man. He waved to the security guard who was doing his tour.
“Sir. I will have to ask you to remove yourself from the premises. You are threatening my client. This gentleman will escort you out. If we see you again on campus I will file a restraining order against you.”
The man snorted.
“You’re a lawyer?”
“As a matter of fact I am. Please.” He said to the security. “Can you please remove this man from the campus and ensure he doesn’t come here again?”
“You can’t prevent me from being here. I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“Thus far. Let it remain so.”
The security guard stood by Lana’s father until he shot him a venomous look.
“We’re not done here Mr…”
“O’Connell, Declan O’Connell.” The man paled; he unlike his stepdaughter knew his name. “And yes we are.”
The guard radioed in some of his colleagues forcing the despicable guy to follow him. He cast one last glance filled with anger and malice towards him but he didn’t care; the woman beside him had shattered leaving behind a shadow of herself. Not that he knew her but he had seen three facets of her personality in this one day. Although the first he’d been familiar with for a few weeks. Right now she shivered tears running down her face as she struggled to breathe.
“I’m sorry.” She whispered.
“That you had to see this.”
“It’s good I did. Has he ever hit you?” She trembled her wide terrorized blue eyes meeting his gaze. That meant he had. “Your mother?”
“The jury didn’t believe so.”
“What’s your last name Lana? The one that people don’t know.” He was quick; that was one of the reasons he was the best. She had said she kept her life separate, she didn’t have a Facebook account or a cell phone, which meant that now was the only moment she would answer this truthfully. Too scared to think and almost forced into the mind of a child she would not hide it from him.
“Fairchild.” So that was why he felt he knew her. He had seen her before: in a courtroom. He was a student then and went to see the proceedings; she would have been 15 at the time, her name hidden for protection. He remembered. She testified that her stepfather threatened her and her mother but she’d been unconscious when her mother was murdered. She was lucky to be alive in fact… the wound should have killed her. He must find a way to get that restraining order; the man was dangerous. The case was almost 10 years old; but he couldn’t believe that a judge would have allowed her to live with her stepfather after she testified against him. He must have spent the past decade torturing her if not physically at least mentally. Whatever it was she had to do now – for Professor Martins or the Theatre group – she wouldn’t be able to do it. She needed help. Help he couldn’t provide.