by JoAnn Baca
A Dance Ending
There was something so tragically simple about a dance ending. A hand leaving a shoulder, a waist. Two hands unclasping and letting go of one another.
Katrina Bivald, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend
For the briefest moment, disorientation caused her heart to race as she awakened, panic setting in at the unfamiliar surroundings. But hardly had she raised her head then she lowered it, a flood of recollection calming her, and she settled deep into the pillow she lay upon. It wasn’t as fluffy and comfortable as the one at the five-star hotel where she had spent the previous night, but it was serviceable, and the pillowcase was clean and smelled of lavender.
The pipes. It was the pipes that she had recognized first. Who could forget them? They controlled every aspect of one’s day in this strange but familiar place. As a child, she had heard them even in sleep, the all’s well chiming at the top of each hour. The routine of her life then was bound by required activities – schooling, work assignments, practices of various sorts. Even meals had to be eaten within certain timeframes. There was no wandering to a refrigerator for a snack whenever she felt like one, and there certainly were no lazy days spent in bed.
Still, it was so nice to be here now, as a guest, with nothing to do and nowhere to be. She expected a visitor soon, doing what she had been required to do when a youngster: tea was always brought to the guest chamber when awakening someone not used to the routine Below.
As if her memory had summoned the child, she heard a soft voice request entry. Lisa sat up in the bed, running her fingers through her hair to smooth it. A face peeked inside. It was the brown-haired girl from last evening. Sally? Sarah? S-something….
Pasting on her most welcoming smile, Lisa called out, “Come in, come in! Why, how lovely of you to bring me tea!” She said it as if not aware that it was the usual practice. “I remember you! From last night. We talked of…”
Lisa allowed her voice to trail away, expecting the young girl to pick up the conversation. Lisa had long practice in coaxing tongue-tied fans into speaking.
The young girl blushed deeply. “Dancing! We talked about ballet!” she said, apparently pleased that Lisa had remembered…when Lisa actually hadn’t. She added, “I’m Samantha. You said you’d teach me!”
“Oh, yes!” Lisa arched her eyebrows high as she sat up straighter in the bed, tilting her head back slightly so that her long neck could be admired by her little fan. “My, how parched I am! Just set the tea down on the table there,” she instructed, smoothly changing the subject. She had no intention of teaching any little urchins Below how to dance. Whenever she decided to retire and open a dance academy, the most capable young students would pay dearly for her attention. She wasn’t about to just give it away to children with no discernable talent.
Samantha rushed to comply, nearly overturning the mug as she set the tray down too hastily. “William’s made pancakes for breakfast!” she announced as she turned back to the woman in the bed.
Inwardly groaning over being forced to eat carbohydrates, Lisa managed a pained smile. “How…nice.” She shook her shoulders and threw back her head as she grabbed the edge of the quilt. “Well, why don’t you run along and get some? I’ll be there shortly.”
Samantha nodded and semi-curtseyed before rushing out of the chamber. Lisa shook her head and closed her eyes. Taking a deep breath, she centered her chi. Several more breaths cleansed her aura of the interruption of her sleep. When she felt her sense of calm return, Lisa tossed the covers aside and rose in one lithe motion from the bed.
As her feet touched the threadbare rug covering solid rock, she frowned. More used to thick carpet, her dance-battered feet recoiled at the rough surface they were placed on. She bent to retrieve the moccasins she had been lent the evening before, grateful for their comfort despite how ugly they were. She looked down at her feet and sighed. Well, at least my dress will cover them.
A hand mirror lay on the table. Ignoring the tea, which had probably been steeping so long it was bitter, she lifted the mirror and gazed at her reflection. She was sorry now that she had fled her hotel room with nothing, not even a small make-up bag. She ran the provided comb through her rich chestnut hair, letting it fall loose instead of arranging it in a low knot at the nape of her neck. A quick splash of water from a pitcher and bowl – chilly after a night in the cool air of the tunnels – revived her and put some pink in her cheeks.
She shed the nightgown she had been given, letting it fall to the floor. After stepping out of it, she walked to a deeply cushioned chair where her pink Valentino gown lay, having been pressed expertly by someone who clearly respected the label. That was a surprise, but a pleasant one. When she wore it, it slipped and slithered down her body, hugging it as only couture designed for one’s own body could. Wearing it felt like donning armor. She had half expected it to have been ruined in an attempt to clean it in one of those huge metal tubs where clothes were scrubbed Below.
Lisa sighed, adoring the gown, a recent purchase. But it wasn’t made for the cool ambient air of the Tunnels. Her eyes shifted to the foot of her bed, where another dress lay awaiting her. It was much more in keeping with what the other women in the Tunnels wore. Not fashionable, heaven knew, but warm and comfortable in a frumpy kind of way. And it fit better with the inferior footwear she had been given. Sighing, she resigned herself to the lack of glamour and put on the Tunnel-made dress.
Now, let’s see if I remember the way to the Dining Chamber. It had been a calculated gamble last night, telling Vincent she remembered the way to the guest chambers, but she had been satisfied to see the surprise on his face when she found the right passage, and she had yawned and wiggled her fingers in a silent “Good night” once he pointed to the chamber made ready for her.
If there was one thing she did not want, it was to get into a long heart-to-heart with Vincent.
“Ah, Lisa, it’s good to see you finally awake.”
She turned as she recognized Father’s voice – that superior, snooty tone was unmistakable, and one that had always grated on her ears. Such a bossy busybody he was!
“Well, it was a rather trying day yesterday,” she admonished him, careful to keep criticism out of her voice, merely reminding him she was a victim in need of care.
His eyebrows rose for a moment before he settled his face into a bland expression. “Of course. Well, we must make plans for your future then.”
Wary of his plan-making, and eager to remove herself from his presence, she pressed one delicate hand flat against her chest and said, “I’m simply famished. I understand William’s amazing pancakes are being served, and I plan to get some!”
She didn’t wait for his reply, moving past him with a swirl of her long calico dress and slipping down the corridor with intent. His voice, the humor not quite submerged, called after her, “It’s to the left, not the right.” Waving her thanks, she changed course but didn’t slow down.
As she approached the Dining Chamber, Tunnel residents were streaming out of the chamber entry. A few people were still inside, cleaning off the tables and sweeping. Lisa remembered the chamber as being much smaller when she lived Below. Had they moved to a larger one? Or perhaps they had expanded it? She had a dim memory of men with pickaxes clawing a new chamber out of solid rock when the nursery was too small to hold all the children being cared for.
She gazed around, taking in the mismatched tables and chairs, some of which undoubtedly were in use when she lived here. Wobbly tables and saggy cane chair seats were the standard when she was younger, but these, while still scarred and old, looked to be in good repair. And the overhead light fixtures were new – a relative term, she admitted to herself, “new” meaning “installed after I left.” Artwork graced the stone walls, another improvement from her time. Much of it was of the “earnest effort” variety, but one or two pieces were actually quite good: portraits, recognizably of individuals Below.
Lisa left off reminiscing. As she searched for a familiar face, William himself caught her eye with a wave. The gruff man had been a newcomer when she left the community, but his beard and his size distinguished him from the others. The beard was grizzled now, and his bulk had turned from muscle to fat.
Obese people were a pet peeve of hers. Unless they were ballet benefactors with lots of money, she tended to avoid them. She suppressed a shudder and pasted on a smile. “William, how nice to see an old friend!”
He looked puzzled, and belatedly she recalled that he had greeted her the evening before. She had nodded and turned away, unwilling to engage in conversation with what she considered “the help.” Now, however, she needed him, so she turned on the charm.
“I’m so sorry we didn’t get a chance to chat last evening. So many people wanted a piece of me! I knew you’d understand if I waited until today to say more than hello!” There, that ought to placate him.
She saw that it did, as the furrows in his brow were erased and he smiled and nodded. “Of course! Come. Sit. Breakfast is over but I can pull something together for you,” he offered.
“Oh, how kind of you, truly! I’ll just have some egg whites, scrambled, a bowl of cut fruit, and black coffee, please.”
William’s mouth had been open, apparently to suggest some other food…but she recalled how heavily the food Below skewed towards filling but bland fare. She had barely forestalled him with her order. She saw his jaw clamp shut, a look of consternation crossing his face as he muttered, “I’ll see what I can do” before hurrying off.
Lisa sat, savoring the quiet. All the little worker mice seemed to have left, leaving her alone to think. There was some sudden tapping but she ignored it. Messages on the pipes no longer held any interest for her, even if she could remember the code…which she had tried very hard to forget long since.
Closing her eyes, she cast her thoughts back to her youth, when she had eaten what had been put in front of her without a thought, and did what she was told…at least, she had when any adult was around to notice. Her lips curled into a smile as moments of playing hooky flashed in her mind’s eye – sneaking into the Great Hall through a side passage Vincent had shown her to dance with abandon…ducking kitchen duty, knowing that besotted boys would pick up the slack for her as long as she smiled and blew kisses to them when she left…slipping into the Mirror Pool for a midday swim when everyone else was working, so she could have the pool all to herself….
Her reverie was shattered as a plate was plopped down hard in front of her. “Eggs,” William said. “No fresh fruit around these parts.” He slid a mug of a coffee in front of her as he added,” There’s the last of it, so there’s no refills.” He laid a napkin and fork beside the plate, turned, and marched back to the kitchen.
For a moment, Lisa was stunned at his rudeness, and she thought about leaving the food untouched. But she was hungry, so she gamely ate the eggs, which turned out to be quite tasty, even though he hadn’t taken the yolks out. The coffee, however, was the dregs of a long-heated pot, and one sip was enough. When she finished eating, she wiped her mouth daintily and left the chamber. One of the little mice would come along soon to clean up after her, she was sure.
Lisa still remembered some of her favorite hiding places, and she sought one out now. The library had changed somewhat since she had lived Below, but the changes were all to the good: more shelves meant more places to hide. She found her way more by feel than memory, until she was standing beside a niche deep in the library stacks. By its dust she could tell that it was not frequented even now, and she used the hem of her borrowed dress to brush it clean before sitting. But as she relaxed, the trouble she had been pushing from the forefront of her thoughts came tumbling into her consciousness.
Colin, that insufferable sadist – he’s going to ruin everything for me with Alain.
She knew how dangerous it would be to cross the man she had attached herself to for the last two years. Alain Taggert was a mover and shaker, yes, but his machinations on her behalf came at a high price. Yet Alain could usually be manipulated, a subtle art she had grown increasingly good at. It was his henchman Colin who presented the worst of her problems. He seemed to enjoy seeing her squirm, thwarting her. Like yesterday, convincing Alain to cancel her last performances. How ridiculous, and for no good reason.
Lisa felt her eyes welling with tears of self-pity. Worse yet, before she could recover her emotional balance, a figure suddenly loomed before her.
“Why, Vincent! Now I recall how you could sneak up on a person and scare them half to death!” She allowed a few tears to fall as she composed her face into a mask of tragedy.
For some reason, her tears were having no effect on him. It surprised her. Men didn’t change, they only grew older. And she had always had good instincts when it came to exploiting them. She needed to remember that Vincent wasn’t a man.
“Lisa, I need to…”
“Vincent? Are you in here? Kipper said he saw you come in. Vincent!” The agitation in Father’s voice was unmistakable.
With a sigh, Vincent turned and stalked out of the stacks, toward Father. “I’m here.”
Lisa took the opportunity to slip away, hastening through side tunnels until she was sure she wasn’t being followed. It was amazing to her how much of the layout of the Hub she had retained, as if instinct and long habit had become so ingrained that the passage of nearly two decades was as nothing. Her childhood home had apparently stayed in her bones despite all her attempts to erase it from her memory.
Eventually, she slowed her pace and began to wander through the more inhabited passageways, nodding and smiling to the denizens of the community. She made herself seem to be on a mission, walking with a purpose she didn’t have, in order to avoid getting caught in conversation. She counted on the awe in which she was held by some, and the general shyness with strangers of others.
The Pipe Chamber lay ahead. She remembered Old Pascal, a kindly, silent man – someone who patiently listened as she spilled out her dreams to what she thought was a captivated audience. Smiling to herself, she acknowledged that he was mostly a captive audience, not a captivated one; he had to remain in the Pipe Chamber to ensure the smooth transmission of messages. But to her child’s mind, he was the perfect audience…until Vincent had become a more actively interested one.
Lisa entered the vast room and looked around. A younger version of Old Pascal inhabited the chamber, his back to her as he bent over a pipe, pressing a stethoscope to it.
“Zach, that you?” he said. When Lisa didn’t answer, he turned his head to gaze over his shoulder. “Oh! Sorry, I thought you were my apprentice.” Without waiting for her reply, Pascal returned his attention to the pipe, listening intently.
Lisa waited impatiently for the man to realize who she was, or at least to give her the courtesy any visitor should expect. When seconds turned into minutes, however, Lisa abruptly left the Pipe Chamber, grumpy about the pipe master’s rudeness.
What she really wanted was to make her way to the Great Hall, her favorite place Below. There she had practiced and danced with dreams floating through her head, imagination taking flight and placing her on the stages of the greatest theaters, where crowds overflowed, clapping wildly as she accepted their love. The moccasins would make poor dance shoes, but she felt sure she could recapture those feelings, and for a moment she let those memories cheer her. She returned to the guest chamber for a lantern and began her quest.
The passages were ill-lit, it not being a holiday, and she recalled that the council had deemed it wasteful to illuminate well the walkways only used to get to the Great Hall. But her sense of direction led her unerringly to the spot. Expecting it to be dark, she was surprised to seeing light flickering within the vast room.
Of course, it’s Vincent. She sighed. I suppose this conversation was inevitable. Gathering herself, she walked to the stairs, noting Vincent sitting, surrounded by candles. She stared at him as he gazed at her.
Breaking the silence, she turned coy. “What’s the matter?” She made a playful move toward him, hoping her mood would prove infectious. “You have such a strange expression on your face.” He was never so resistant to her charms, but she was determined to get him to humor her.
“Something’s the matter,” she said, moving around him teasingly. “I’m just going to pretend that I don’t notice anything different about you at all.”
She ground her teeth as Vincent merely stared at her, saying nothing. But she was a long way from being drawn into any serious conversation, so she continued, “What on earth are you thinking of?” She touched his arm, hoping her proximity would melt his icy demeanor.
It didn’t. He replied, “What happened in this hall.”
She could have screamed. Mr. Broody Pants just won’t cheer up, she thought to herself. To him she was all smiles, still hoping to divert the conversation. “Winterfest…candles…” She twirled, and added, “Music…”
Apparently Vincent was not to be deterred. “What happened between both of us.” The step he took toward her quickened her heart, but he stepped back immediately. “For so long I…I couldn’t forgive myself for hurting you. Driving you away….”
Why must men always try to revisit the past? It’s dead. Gone. Best buried and forgotten.
“I’m going to make a new life for myself,” she said, a warning she hoped he would heed.
He tried to come towards her again, saying her name, alarming her. She held up her hand and tried once more. “You hold too great a reverence for the past, Vincent. It was nothing. Don’t you see? It was child’s play.”
She walked away from him, hearing his voice behind her ask, “So are we playing now?”
Agh! Why won’t he take the hint? What good is dredging up the past going to do?
“Now?” She leaned her hands against a table, wishing she could wrap them around his throat to get him to stop talking. The scars she had carried from their encounter of long ago had been removed by the best plastic surgeon in New York City. And it was Vincent who was responsible for marring her beauty. She could never forgive him for that. But she’d be damned if she would ever let him know how angry she was with him for it. Because in a strange way, he had also been responsible for her escape from this backwater place. If he hadn’t attacked her all those years ago, she might have had to stay Below, with no possibility of the life and career she had dreamed of. Still, why did he keep trying to get her to talk about that day?! But just when she thought the conversation was still about years ago, he surprised her, shifting the ground from beneath her feet.
“Yes.” He turned to look at her. “Now that you’re in danger.”
Shocked that he knew, she turned to him.
He closed the distance between them. “I know that you’re afraid. I know that you’re hiding. You surround yourself with illusions, but illusions fade. Lisa…”
He tried to touch her and she couldn’t help the look of disgust that swept over her face, as good as a slap for making him back away once more.
“Lisa, you must trust me, please. As you once did.”
Had she ever? She wondered about that. She had dismissed his oddness because he was such a devoted acolyte, the first in a long, long line of men enamored of her and willing to do anything for her. She liked the attention, of course, but she wasn’t that simple-minded young girl anymore. She didn’t trust anyone, not fully. Everyone wanted something from her…and the only people she pretended to trust were those who had something she wanted.
She was about to tell him that trust had to be earned – or some old bromide – when Vincent suddenly got the strangest look on his face. His whole body froze, as if he were listening to a song played only for him. Then, in a flash, he was gone – running off and leaving her, conversation unfinished.
She was so relieved she could have screamed.
Left to herself, alone in the Great Hall, she tried to recapture the feeling that had driven her to seek this place out. But try as she might to dismiss Vincent and his accusations from her mind, she couldn’t quite. When had he become such a mind reader?
She had been hoping to hide Below for a little while as she decided on her next steps, but Vincent’s observations were too close to the truth. If he disclosed them to Father – and she knew he would – she would get no peace from questions and suggestions and attempts to direct the course of her life. And she would not tolerate any of that, not ever again.
Unable to enjoy the Great Hall as she had wished to, she blew out the candles, plunging the chamber into shadows her lantern could barely penetrate, and walked away.
The trip back to the Hub was uneventful, allowing Lisa to recapture the calm she had developed prior to Vincent destroying it. But as she tried to return to the guest chamber, she was caught up in a group heading to lunch, and politeness dictated she be delighted to join them. One in the group was Rebecca, whom Lisa remembered as her childhood best friend – the shy girl having developed into someone who apparently was much loved, judging by the warm greetings she received from so many others. In fact, Lisa was a bit miffed that Rebecca seemed to be getting more attention than she herself was.
Lisa shivered, which Rebecca noticed. “Cold?”
“A little,” Lisa admitted. She really wasn’t used to the cooler temperature Below.
“Here, take my shawl.” Rebecca threw the shawl she had been wearing around Lisa’s shoulders. It was hand-knit in earthy tones with brown suede trim, nothing like what Lisa would be caught dead Above wearing – the shades didn’t compliment her coloring. But she welcomed the warmth, and was touched by the generosity of her old friend. It wasn’t something Lisa would ever have done had the situation been reversed.
“I wish I could have seen you dance, just once,” Rebecca confided to her as they walked. “I was always so proud of you, of your career.”
“You followed it?” Lisa was charmed despite her grumpiness over the attention Rebecca was receiving.
“Oh, yes. Father made a point of saving any newspaper articles about you that he found, and showing them to me. He knew I would be happy to see them.”
Lisa was used to women being catty or backhanded with their compliments. In her world, people rose by stepping on the backs of others, damning with faint praise, or withholding compliments without a quid pro quo. But Rebecca’s smile was guileless, so Lisa was forced to conclude that the woman’s enthusiasm was genuine.
Lunch was laid out on the large refectory table at one end of the Dining Hall: tomato soup, ham sandwiches and iced tea. This time, Lisa joined the crowd, and made no demands for special food. She enjoyed the soup, then daintily picked the ham out of the bread and nibbled on it, listening to the conversation flow around her. She was no longer the center of attention. It seemed one night of it was all that was allotted.
Today everyone was discussing a concert some children Below were about to participate in, and expressing concern over a woman who was in labor at the moment. She knew none of the people involved and didn’t care about them in any case, but it was amazing to her how everyone else seemed to care so much. Had it always been like this Below? She honestly couldn’t recall. But then, she had never seen the appeal in caring about other people’s problems or interests.
The time passed quickly. Lunchtime was over and everyone dispersed back to their assignments. Not wanting to get caught being the last to leave for fear of being asked to help clean up, Lisa made sure she left with several women, even though she melted away from them as soon as they had cleared the entranceway. She didn’t realize that nobody had noticed or cared that she had left them.
When she entered the guest chamber, she spared a brief thought about the bed not having been made yet, the tray with the now-cold tea still being on the table, and her nightgown still lying on the ground, but she shrugged and forgot them in the next instant. With some relief, she took off the commonplace Tunnel dress she had been given. It, too, was left bunched on the ground as Lisa reached for her pink gown. Now that she had a shawl for warmth, the gown, which flattered her in every way, was her preferred clothing choice.
Feeling more like herself again, Lisa went in search of the Mirror Pool. It was just as lovely as she remembered, if a lot smaller than in her memories. It was a soothing spot where one could sit and think. And since everyone was busy with their work, it was the perfect time to enjoy the peace of the place.
With a satisfied sigh, Lisa sank down on an outcropping of rock. She leaned against the wall behind her and, her eyes half-lidded, let the thoughts she had been avoiding crowd back into her mind.
Getting away from Colin might just have been the smartest thing she could have done. She could stay Below for a few weeks, until Alain’s legal mess in England blew over, then either call him or…possibly a more enticing option…she could embark on a new phase of her life. After all, if Alain was going to cancel her performances, why stay with him? Maybe being tied up in the English court system would occupy him so much that he wouldn’t even care that she didn’t come back to him.
She would get a new manager. And there were plenty of patrons of the arts who would be glad of an opportunity to provide her with a place to live in New York while she sorted through performance offers. Besides, there were always people hosting galas and fundraisers in the city who would pay for the privilege of her appearance to give their events more cachet.
Yes, she just needed a little time away from the hustle and bustle to plan her next moves. And surely she could get Vincent to convince Father to let her stay for a while. Maybe, as a sweetener, she should offer to train the little demons in dance while she was Below. It could be good preparation for running her own academy. They could be her guinea pigs. Yes, that would work.
Happy with her scheme, she decided to visit Vincent to get his help in organizing things Below for her.
Once she got to his chamber, she didn’t bother to ask permission to enter, she just walked right in. But what Lisa found was not what she expected. Vincent wasn’t there. Instead, the woman who had visited her on Vincent’s behalf was lying on his bed. Catherine… something.
“Oh! Excuse me, I didn’t mean to….”
Catherine called her name.
Disconcerted that she was intruding on…just exactly what, she didn’t want to know, Lisa muttered, “I was just looking for Vincent,” and turned to go, but Catherine said, “Please. Please come in.”
Reluctantly, Lisa walked towards Catherine, and noted for the first time that the woman was injured. “What happened?”
Catherine sat up, looking at her bruised hand. “Your friend Colin. He was determined to find you. He thought I might know where you were.”
Lisa wasn’t exactly surprised. Colin was a bully, especially with women. But she wasn’t going to admit it to a stranger. “Colin? I don’t believe that.”
A sigh escaped Catherine’s lips. Ignoring Lisa’s rebuttal, she added, “Quite a few people are wondering where you are.”
Shaken, Lisa demanded, “Who? Who’s wondering?” If Alain had gotten to this woman, Lisa thought she might have to flee now. Who knows what this woman might have told Colin about where she was. What Catherine said next, however, was totally unexpected.
“The U.S. Attorney. A Federal grand jury. They want to ask you some questions about Alain Taggart.”
Alain hadn’t breathed a word to her about any legal problems he was having with the U.S. government. If Alain was a sinking ship in England, she was prepared to jump that ship before he dragged her down with him. But if he was in trouble in the States, too….
Trying to buy time as she considered this new information, Lisa attempted a deflection. “That’s quite a statement.”
Not deterred at all, Catherine continued, “I’m sure Mr. Taggart would like to get you out of the country before that happens, or find some other way to stop you from incriminating him.”
Now many things made sense to Lisa – Alain suddenly canceling her performances, Colin watching her like a hawk and trying to rush her back to London…even the altercation Catherine had with Colin. Alain must be desperate to get her back…or silence her. She shuddered. But she wasn’t ready to acknowledge any of that. She had always maintained the perfect front: she was just a simple dancer focused on her art.
Deciding to brazen it out, Lisa said, “I promise you I don’t know what you’re talking about. You must have made a mistake.”
Usually people believed whatever she said. She was a famous person, and deference was always paid to her. But this woman wasn’t at all deferential. Instead, she got up, obviously annoyed. “No, you’re lying to me.”
Wow. No beating around the bush with this one. Well, if the innocent act didn’t work, maybe the outraged dignity act would. Lisa let the annoyance fill her voice. “Don’t tell me I’m lying!”
Undeterred, the irritating woman pressed on. “You lied to Vincent.”
Defiant, Lisa challenged her. “No. Never! Never to him.”
Catherine replied, “You’ve caused him some deep pain which I cannot reach.”
In her voice, Lisa heard a heartbreak that surprised her. And she was even more surprised to find that she herself hurt a bit to hear it.
“Well, if that’s so…I’ll leave…immediately.” She busied herself removing her borrowed shawl. She had to come up with a new plan, and quickly. Leaving here was the first step. After that….
She was stopped cold by Catherine’s next words.
“But you have no place to go.”
Lisa was stung by the truth of that statement. All those ideas she’d had while at the Mirror Pool – she might as well have drowned them there. This new information meant she couldn’t stay in New York…maybe not even in the United States.
She replied haughtily, not willing to concede any ground to Catherine. “Nonsense! I’ve got hundreds of places I could go.” Frantically searching her memory for somewhere, anywhere she actually could go, she randomly came up with the name of a city she had danced in recently. She had met fans there, hadn’t she? “Buenos Aires. I have wonderful friends there.” There! Maybe….
Unimpressed, Catherine pushed her. “How long do you intend to keep hiding?”
This woman was unrelenting. None of Lisa’s usual tricks worked on her. It was almost as if the woman could see through her, to the frightened girl deep inside – the one who had put her fate in the hands of strangers once she was removed from the safety of the Tunnels so long ago. Could she do it again? The answered welled up from the bottom of her soul: she could. Wherever she had to go, whatever she had to do once she got there…she would.
Finally letting her mask fall, Lisa told the one truth that had guided her whole life. “I…I intend to survive.” She turned for the exit, but Catherine’s voice changed, concern coloring her tone, striking at the heart of the matter.
“What are you going to do, Lisa? What will you do when it’s all over? When the world no longer loves you? Will you just cling to whoever will have you? Is that all you’re worth?”
Stunned that once again the woman seemed to have seen her more clearly than Lisa could see herself, Lisa turned to Catherine. The questions had cut her to the quick. These were the things she had never dared ask herself – never allowed herself to think about. She had almost literally danced around them her whole life. Now that they had been spoken aloud, the weight of her life choices and her lack of options suddenly crushed her.
With a remarkable candor that exposed how vulnerable she truly was, Lisa asked, “You don’t mean to be unkind, do you?”
Aware she had finally gotten through to the other woman, Catherine responded simply, “No, just realistic.”
Lisa considered Catherine’s words as she moved past her to sit on Vincent’s bed. “Realistic. Okay. It is over.”
While Vincent and Father entered the room, Lisa continued to think aloud, revealing herself in ways that would not have been possible even a few moments before. “Played out. Do you know what ‘played out’ means to me?” She stared ahead without seeing anyone or anything, her gaze actually directed inward. “It’s when the music stops.”
Catherine sat beside Lisa, putting her arm around the woman and hugging her lightly. “The music is still playing, Lisa. One song ends, but another begins. You just have to listen for it.”
With bleak eyes, Lisa looked into Catherine’s and asked, “How do I do that?”
“Let me…” She looked up and her gaze encompassed Vincent and Father, who entered the chamber at her nod. “Let us help you.”
Father moved to Lisa’s other side and sat, taking one of Lisa’s hands in both of his, while Vincent pulled a chair up to sit in front of her. For a long while they just sat with her. Lisa’s tears fell, staining the rich fabric of her gown. Father stroked her hand in silence while Catherine squeezed Lisa’s shoulder. When Vincent pressed his handkerchief into her free hand, Lisa looked up and began to smile wryly.
“This is all the attention I could ever hope for.”
And her audience smiled.
~ ~ ~
“Father is tending to Catherine’s injuries,” Vincent informed Lisa. She was sitting in the guest chamber, having returned there to change her clothing once more, into proper attire for Above…and to pick up after herself and make her bed. Vincent had just arrived with shoes that almost matched her borrowed outfit.
“She will accompany you to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. As an officer of the court, once you are with her, you are essentially under the protection of the government. A call has been made to alert them to your desire to cooperate.”
Vincent produced a cloth bundle. “William said you were missing dinner, so he wanted you to have this.”
Lisa peeked inside, seeing an apple and a thermos.
“It’s more of the tomato soup. Rebecca said you enjoyed it.”
Smiling sadly, Lisa looked up at him. “I did. Please…thank him for me.” She blushed and looked at the ground as she added, “I wasn’t very nice to him earlier.”
Vincent chuckled softly. “He told me to tell you he’s sorry he didn’t give you the fresh fruit before.”
She nodded. As she gazed into Vincent’s face, her smile faded. “I wasn’t very nice to you either.”
With a tilt of his head, Vincent acknowledged her apology.
When he didn’t say anything, Lisa added, “Catherine told me I’ve caused you deep pain. I…I can’t ever make up for it, I know. All I can say is that I’m sorry for being…the way I was. I was only thinking of myself.” She shook her head ruefully as she grimaced. “It’s…what I do. It’s how I’ve learned to survive.”
Vincent stood aside to allow her to pass out of the guest chamber. She waited for a moment, expecting him to speak. But Catherine appeared outside, and the moment was lost. He watched silently as she nodded one last time and left the chamber, leaving him behind again, this time for good.
“Do I have time to eat my dinner?” she asked as Catherine led her to a Tunnel exit point.
“You will once we’ve gotten back Above.”
As they walked, Catherine went over the details of the arrangement she had made with the U.S. Attorney, briefing her on what she could expect. Lisa listened in silence, trying to remember the turns they were taking, hoping she could return Below via this route at some point.
When they reached the sub-basement of an apartment building, Catherine led Lisa to the garage where a car was waiting, her new attorney inside. Together, they drove to the pre-arranged meeting point, and Catherine surrendered Lisa to Federal agents.
What Lisa didn’t find out until much later was that her attorney was being paid for by a Helper with funds provided by Catherine herself…and that the route they had taken to return Above was blocked off once they had left the Tunnels. There would be no return visit. Those Below had relinquished Lisa to the world Above for good.
Lisa’s meeting with the U.S. Attorney pleased them, and her attorney negotiated a plea deal that kept her out of prison. Whether her career could survive the infamy was a question for another day. But that night, as she lay her head on a thick, soft pillow in a five-star hotel waiting for exhaustion to claim her, she wept over the loss of so much she had not appreciated when she had it, and which she likely would never find again.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Some dialogue taken from the episode Arabesque.
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