“You go home every weekend?” Her roommate’s voice was politely inquisitive.
Nolan looked up from her packing, glanced at the clean socks she had tossed on her bed, then back at her roommate. Her ice-blue eyes were expressionless as she stuffed the last bit of clothing into the dark blue backpack. Various patches glared brightly under the florescent light, the frayed Sex Pistols and The Clash patches declaring her musical tastes. Retro punk, right? She turned her head and her hair swung down like a silky electric-blue curtain to hide her face.
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“Is Devin going with you?” The brunette grinned a little. “He is so cute! Mmm. And pre-law, too!”
Nolan paused a moment, then stooped down to grab her skateboard, and turned to her roommate with a small, indescribable smile. “Yeah. I’m meeting him at the station.”
“When you get back, I’ll help you finish that assignment you got from Professor Dunworth,” her roommate said. She leaned back in her desk chair, eye color obscured by small-framed glasses that exuded an intellectual air. “Your friend Dragen is gonna be there, too. She said something about wanting to study with us.”
Nolan nodded. “Thanks.”
She slung the worn backpack over her shoulder and paused at the door. “Alright, Ciaran. I’m outa here. I’ll see you on Sunday.”
She blinked a moment at the change from florescent to natural light as she stepped out of her dorm building. Her full lips curved suddenly into a sincere grin, the slight melancholia disappearing as she fixed her headphones, switched to her favorite Nine Inch Nails album, and flipped her skateboard down. Nolan stepped up on the board and gave one strong, swift push. Soon she was cruising down the sidewalk toward the train station, easily dodging the much slower pedestrians.
Her brother was already waiting for her outside the station, tall and goldenly handsome, dressed casually in lose-fitting blue jeans and gray T-shirt. He had a grin on his face as he watched his sister glide gracefully up. She skidded to a halt right in front of him, quite deliberately, watching his reaction as she effortlessly pulled off the stunt. His eyebrow arched in amusement as he looked down at his blue-haired sister.
“You ready, Nolan?”
She grinned up at him, pale eyes laughing, jumped off her board, and slung it over her shoulder in one easy movement. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”
His amusement faded for a moment, suddenly somber as he stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Cait’ll be ok. You know that.”
Nolan shrugged, ignoring the lump in her throat as she thought about her younger sister. “She’ll be ok like Braden’s ok?” Her tone was quiet but challenging, but she didn’t meet his eyes.
“Have you heard from him?” her brother asked quietly.
He sighed with sadness at Nolan’s quick headshake. “Of all of us, he’ll contact you, I think,” he said.
Nolan sneered a little. “Unless he went running to The Whore.”
“She’s still our mother, you know.” Devin’s voice was sharp, brown eyes stern.
“Whatever,” snapped Nolan as she stalked past her older brother and toward the station. “When she abandoned us five years ago she quit being my mom.”
She spun around to glare at Devin. “And Braden did the same thing by taking off and abandoning Cait.”
“We left Cait, too, Nolan.” His voice calmed, though his dark eyes were still blazing with emotion.
“You’re wrong.” Her tone was flat now, too. “As soon as I legally can, I’m going to get her out of that house and away from Dad.”
“Anyway.” She turned back towards the station. “We’re gonna miss our train.”
He watched her stride away, her muscular legs encased by well-worn black fatigues. Her back was framed by the red baby doll T-shirt, “Sk8” scrawled on it between her shoulder blades with what he suspected was a black permanent marker. Her bright blue hair hanged just past her shoulders. Her backpack and board were grasped firmly in her left hand as her right hand was clenched in a fist by her side. He knew that soon she’d be smiling again, but worried that Nolan would never be the same. Their mother took off and left a complete wreck of a family in her wake. He followed her slowly, his own hands still in his pockets. The weight of his backpack was comforting because he knew it meant he wouldn’t have to stay.
Nolan was already deep into meditation when her brother slid into the bench next to her. He glanced over at her wryly, admiring her ability to completely ignore her surroundings and clear her mind of their common troubles. He pulled out a cigarette and lit it with a small sigh. He took one long, deep drag and exhaled slowly as he watched his pixie-faced sister. The train eased out of the station and Nolan’s eyes opened. She glanced at her brother, her blue eyes now clear of trouble or anger.
“D’you suppose Dad will be drunk already?” She was calm again.
He shrugged, and took another drag on his cigarette. She watched him, waiting for him to speak. His question came from seemingly nowhere. “Have you chosen your major yet?”
Her dark brows drew down together and her mouth twisted. “No, not yet.”
“You can’t take care of Cait until you’ve got a job. Your part time job at that coffee shop doesn’t count. The state won’t likely give you custody even if you get a real job. You know that, right?” At her nod, he continued. “I’ll look into it for you, but it doesn’t look promising. The state doesn’t like to separate families.”
“Yeah, I know.” Her eyes closed again, and her body relaxed. Again he was amazed by the simple calm that her meditation gave her. He wished idly that he had acquired that skill.
“Mom wants to see you.”
Her face remained peaceful, her eyes remained closed. He waited and breathed deeply on his cigarette.
“She wants to see Cait, too.”
They sat in silence until the train drew up to the station in Baltimore, Devin smoking quietly while Nolan sat utterly relaxed. She stood up as the train drew to a stop, the jerk of the train not fazing her as she swayed effortlessly with the motion. She picked up her backpack and skateboard and looked at her brother as he rose.
They walked off the train and out of the station, neither of them speaking, the sun sinking slowly in the west. He glanced down at Nolan. “You heard what I said, right?”
“Yeah.” She shrugged. “I don’t care what she wants.”
He let the matter drop, knowing that she wouldn’t change her mind. They caught the bus that quickly took them to their old neighborhood, once beautiful, now shabby and decaying. They hopped off, and walked down the street to their old house. Most of the lights were out, but the living room window flickered with the reflected light from the television.
They walked quietly up the front stairs. Devin turned the knob and pushed the door open. A quick glance discovered their father passed out in his worn easy chair, cans and bottles scattered on the floor near his right arm as it dangled limply. Nolan crept past him as Devin walked over and stared down at him with an odd, faraway look in his dark eyes. The unconscious man was once handsome, his curly graying hair cut short, and premature wrinkles on his slack face.
Nolan tapped quietly on her sister’s door. “Cait?”
She heard a short movement, and then a scurry and a latch clicked, allowing the door to swing open. “Nolan!” They hugged each other fiercely, briefly, and then Nolan stepped into the room and closed the door behind her.
She noticed with a glance that Cait had put a bolt on the door, and very recently. Nolan watched Cait as she crawled back on to her bed, looking carefully for any indication that their father hit her. Cait looked up after she was comfortable, and smiled widely at Nolan, her chocolate brown hair pulled back in a ponytail.
Nolan looked around the room admiringly. Her sister turned this room into a peaceful haven with thick green ivy in each corner, growing wildly up the walls. A candle burned brightly on the nightstand next to the lamp and the white Christmas lights that crowned the upper edge of the walls cast gentle shadows across the pale blue of her blanket. No posters or pictures adorned the walls, although one wall had a bookshelf, stocked with all kinds of fiction and some non-fictional histories. A small comfortably worn armchair faced out the single window.
“I’m ok, you know.” Cait’s smile turned slightly cynical, disconcerting in the thirteen year old. “Dad is usually out cold by now, so all he does is yell at me a little after school.”
“Yeah, I figured as much. I just hate leaving you here.” Nolan shrugged wryly, and then sat on the bed and dragged up her backpack. “I got you a book.”
Cait’s blue eyes lit up, the freckles that crossed her nose seeming to jump excitedly. Nolan grinned. “It’s a philosophy that my sifu recommended. There are two, actually.” She pulled out the books and dropped them in her sister’s lap and watched with amusement as Cait immediately started flipping through the first.
“That one is a collection of the teachings of Confucius. Good man. The other,” she pointed at the smaller, dark blue book, “is a lesson manual on how to meditate. I picked it up at the little pagan store near the coffee shop.”
She smiled and leaned back as her sister disappeared into the Analects. She thought briefly about the girl at the pagan curio and bookshop. There was something about her that really lent an atmosphere of calm to the small, busy shop. Soon Nolan drifted to sleep, her sister reading quietly beside her.
Nolan woke up to the clattering sound from the kitchen and she knew that Devin started breakfast. Cait was already up and gone, and Nolan could hear sounds from the living room. She chuckled as she recognized the opening music for Thai Chi Master, starring Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh.
Nolan took a quick shower, and then headed to the kitchen. Their father was at the table, forehead in his hands as Devin placed a steaming cup of coffee near his right elbow.
“Here ya go, Pop.”
He reached for the mug blearily, gulped it down and stood up uncertainly. His blue eyes were blood shot as he looked at his oldest son. He avoided meeting his oldest daughter’s eyes. “Thanks, Dev.”
Nolan gave Cait a tight hug, worrying briefly, profoundly about the petite frame. Another weekend past at home. “If you need anything, call me,” she whispered. “Take care, kid.”
Cait pushed her away, her freckled face gleaming with an impish grin. “Always do, sis.”
Nolan and Devin walked away, both lost in their thoughts. Nolan’s right hand grasped her board, backpack over her right shoulder. She knew Cait was watching from the porch, so she turned one last time and gave a little wave. Her sister’s face was obscured by the shadow of the overhanging porch, but a small hand lifted and waved in return.
Nolan sighed and turned back, shoulders slightly slumped. She flipped her board to the ground, and tossed over her shoulder to Devin, not meeting his eyes, “Meet you at the bus stop.”
Nolan was the only person at the skate park in a uniform. The loose-fitting white and black jersey made skating easy as she effortlessly skidded through her favorite stunt. She knew she should be tired since she just left soccer practice, but the freedom unleashed in a good, hard skate would be worth the sore muscles later.
She screeched to a sudden stop.
“Crap!” She kicked her board up and caught it with her right hand and stalked over to her stuff parked under the big oak tree. Her friend Doran looked up from her magazine.
“What’s up, Nolan?” she asked. Her short hair was dyed a crayon red, straight and spiky. Her fatigues were once black, but now faded to a dark gray, her military-issue combat boots scuffed and worn. Her t-shirt was plain black, and various plastic bracelets adorned her arms, with a studded leather band on each slender wrist. Her pointed face was animated and curious.
Nolan heaved a big sigh. “I have a freaking paper due tomorrow. Gotta run and get to working on that thing.” She picked up her backpack and turned to leave.
“Hey, your magazine!”
“Oh, yeah.” Nolan glanced back. “Uh, you can keep it if you want. I finished it.”
Doran settled back down, leaning up against the thick tree trunk. “Cool. Thanks!”
The trip was quick, since the park was close to the dorm, and Nolan skidded to a halt outside the red brick building. She kicked up her board and caught it absentmindedly as her stomach reminded her that it hadn’t been fed in several hours.
She debated showering before eating, then shrugged and decided to grab food then head up to her room. She could feel the eyes of a gaggle of girls following her as she strode toward the dinner hall. The gaggle was a part of one of those nameless sororities that delighted in taunting other women, and Nolan could feel the mischief rising. She glanced back at another group, a group of guys, who struggled to remain nonchalant but were also watching her with both envy and admiration. She knew two of them. Soccer guys.
Nolan looked over at the girls, her pale blue eyes mocking. Her bright blue hair was pulled back in a low ponytail, and a single lock escaped to frame the right side of her face. She grinned wickedly as she glanced down at her grass stained shirt.
“Eh.” She shrugged. “Anything to draw attention to my boobs!” The short-sleeved jersey showed off the lean muscle of her arms, and she moved toward the dinner hall with the quick, easy grace of a real athlete.
She grabbed a couple of bananas and apples, dished up a salad, and snagged some chips and a roast beef sandwich. She paused, and then snagged a second sandwich. She paid at the cashier with her school debit card, and took her food up to her room.