A girl very often commits acts of breaking and entering, but always in the same place and for the same reason - and the reason is not what you might think.
It is 8:00. A girl, sitting in a chair in her bedroom, is very aware of this. She listens to the sound of an engine, a car engine, one that belongs to her mother’s car, and the girl knows that this sound means that her mother is leaving to go to work at her night job, a job which steals both the sleep of its workers and the twinkle in the girl’s mother’s eyes. The girl will be left alone in her house until 9:00, when her father returns from the cramped office building that serves as his workplace, full of cubicles, stale coffee, and people with stifled dreams that are too big for them to afford.
That leaves the girl one hour.
One hour, every Monday through Friday. One hour to run, to break in, to play, to exit, and to run again, as she does every evening of every school day.
The girl watches as the lights of her mother’s car fade away down the street. As soon as she is sure her mother is gone, she pulls on a black jacket, slides into a pair of Velcro-strapped tennis shoes, and opens her bedroom window.
The girl’s house is an old brick house, and so, to anyone who isn’t the girl, large chinks in the mortar between the bricks would quickly be overlooked. However, the girl knows that these chinks are not just flaws of wear and tear, but expertly placed handholds and footholds. The girl swings herself over her windowsill, puts her toes in the first chink, and speedily but surely climbs down the side of the house.
It is now time for the girl to run.
The girl runs to the alley behind her house. She turns right down the alley. Then left, onto Maplewood Street. Past the house of the old lady who has too many birds, from which a loud screeching constantly emanates. Left again, onto Gillmine Avenue. The girl is still running, silently, stealthily, her straight, waist long hair the color of sand and silt streaming out behind her. She turns right and left onto many more roads, until she approaches a house with a large chain-link fence, and she slows. She reaches into her pocket and takes out a peanut-butter-and-ham sandwich wrapped in tinfoil. She unwraps the sandwich, throws it over the chain-link fence, and watches as a medium sized dog races over to greedily start devouring it. She quickly hurries past the dog while it is distracted, as it is known to have a loud bark. She knows that if the owner of the dog hears his dog barking, he will waste no time in looking out the window to see what all the fuss is about. And she cannot risk being caught. She begins to run again. Almost there, she thinks. She turns to the right when she reaches Beare Boulevard, runs for a few blocks, and there it is, in the quickly receding light of the sunset – Halner High School.
Now, to break in.
The girl knows exactly how to enter the building without being seen. The exterior security cameras are only over doors and roof exits, somewhat easy to sneak around, but she must always be careful. She walks on the sidewalk around the building until she gets to the east side, which has no entrances or exits, and therefore lacks cameras. The girl quickly yet quietly approaches a first-floor window, one which belongs to the room of Mr. Schmid, the German teacher. The window is not fully closed; it is almost closed, but a thin crack still remains between the bottom of the window and its frame. Mr. Schmid’s window has been busted for several years, and no one has ever gotten around to fixing it. While it proves a slight problem for him, it is always quite an advantage to the girl, who is now prying open the window with her hands, pulling it towards her until the thin crack becomes an opening large enough for her to fit in through. She slips through the open window into the classroom and closes it again. The whole process of walking to, opening, entering through and closing the window is so fast that if someone were to glance away from that window for even just a moment, it would have been over before they looked back.
The girl is in. With her destination in mind, she exits Mr. Schmid’s classroom, quickly walks down the hall, and enters a different classroom. The girl pulls out a small tea light candle from her pocket and places it on a hard, wooden surface. She then pulls out a tiny box of matches, strikes a match on the box, and the match lights with a hiss and a snap. She uses the match to light the wick of the candle, then blows the match out. In the pale glow of the candlelight, the contents of the room can be seen clearly; musical instruments of all shapes, sizes, and types dot the outer rim of the room, with chairs and music stands in the center, and the hard wooden surface the candle rests on can now be identified as the top of an upright piano. The girl places the match in the room’s only trash can, then takes off her black jacket and sits down at the piano bench. She pushes up the sleeves of her hand-me-down turtleneck sweater. She slides the keyboard cover back into its slot. She poises her hands above the keys.
The girl hesitates. What if someone hears me, she thinks? What if I get caught? But she reassures herself, telling herself that the room is almost soundproof, save the crack under the door. Every weeknight for one year and two months she has done this, and not once has she been caught, so why would she get caught now?
She takes a deep breath, and begins to play.
The notes produced by her prancing fingers are soft at first, but they gradually increase in volume as she gains confidence in her safety. She is completely alone. The melody swells and shrinks, and the girl closes her hazel eyes as she lets the river of music flow from her hands and wrap around her. The girl’s name is Amarina Nelbot, referred to by her family and friends as Ree, and she is an extremely good pianist. She plays on and on, releasing all of her stress, sadness, love, and happiness through the softly inflecting tones that spiral through the air. Her soul seems to come out through the song, one that she creates as she goes, sounding indescribably beautiful and everchanging. She occasionally glances down at her watch as she continues to play to check the time, which seems to be slipping away so fast. After nearly a half hour has passed, Ree opens her eyes to check the time, and-
The light is on in the room. Standing in the now open doorway, there is a woman.
Ms. Levry, the music teacher. She is standing completely still, mouth hanging slightly open, stunned.
Ree abruptly stops playing, frozen in mid-note. The two stare at each other in silence for a few moments, until Ms. Levry breaks the deafening stillness.
“Oh, um, you don’t have to stop, um, you know, playing. I just, um, just forgot my…… Who are you? What on earth are you doing in here?” Ms. Levry says sharply, the point of her voice shaking Ree out of her frozen state. Ree’s head immediately begins to fill with fear, with dread, as she realizes that she has finally been caught.
No, she thinks. No. Nonononono. This can’t be happening. This isn’t happening.
No, she thinks, as she scurries to her feet.
No, she thinks, as she pushes past Ms, Levry, out of the room.
No, she thinks, as she runs down the hall, through Mr. Schmid’s room, and out the window, hearing a female voice yelling “Hey! Come back here!” but neither processing the cry nor paying it any heed.
No, she thinks, as she runs home through the streets, past the house of the dog who is now asleep, past the house of the birds who are not, down the alleyway and around the side of her house.
No, she thinks, as she climbs into her bedroom, takes off her shoes and jacket, sits down at her desk, and quickly finishes her unfinished homework.
No, she thinks, as her father comes home, as he hugs her, and later, as he kisses her forehead and says good night to her.
No, she thinks, as she lays in bed, silently yet raucously cursing herself and denying the events of that evening.
And as Ree finally falls asleep, one single thought fades into the background hum of her sleeping mind: