Author's Note: This is based on Cirque du Soleil's Quidam. Since some people are squeamish about Zoe's age, I'm assuring everyone she IS eighteen in this piece. As always, thanks to my absolutely wonderful beta Katherine, without which this wouldn't be possible.
Zoe tapped the windowpane of her bedroom, breathing onto it and writing in the fog as she had always done as a child. She turned to look at her door, hoping for a visitor, but instead just heard her father and stepmother arguing. They never stopped nowadays, it seemed, mostly about her. Zoe knew her stepmother hated that father put her first, and it was something she would use to find a fault in every single thing the girl did
"She lives in a world of fantasy and you're just too blind to see it!" she would scream.
Her father would come up with some excuse, and at first Zoe thought he was trying to make sure his wife never found out about Quidam's realm. But as time continued, it was apparent he didn't remember the escapade at all.
And if he had, mother would still be alive, Zoe thought to herself.
Almost six years after the events had transpired, Zoë's world had changed drastically. Her outlook had reverted back to that of her twelve-year old self, and she took for granted everything around her. Yes, things had momentarily improved and stayed that way for about her year. Her parents were in love again, holding hands like teenagers, showing true affection for one another. Zoe had never seen mother so happy or her father so devoted to both his girls. She would give anything to go back to that.
Eventually, her father reverted back into his work. Some crisis had happened, she never really knew what, and it was like a switch went off. He would make mysterious phone calls as she watched hiding on the flight of steps to the second floor of their home, but always hung up when mother as around. It was years later, looking back from her own failed romantic encounters, that she realized he was having an affair. The passion he had learned to appreciate mother with was not merely focused at her, and being a greedy man by nature it had radiated out to others. Zoe kept praying her mother would never find out.
Her suicide was proof enough that she had known. At her funeral, Zoe swore she could imagine her mother wrapped in red silk, hanging like the woman in Quidam had done after she had dropped her mother's dress to the floor. She had never understood the metaphor until this moment. At least she was young, but father was old enough to know what the sign meant, and it was he that had dragged her off in the dream world as she had struggled to hold onto the fabric. How much was real and how much was fantasy? It was Zoe that had found her mother hanging in the bathroom, so maybe more was real than she had wanted to think.
Father may not have loved mother, but he loved her, and he had tried his hardest to make sure Zoe was alright after it all happened. It was the guilt that cut the deepest, even more than the pain of losing her, and years of counseling still couldn't erase from her mind that it was all just so avoidable. He remarried six weeks later to the one with which he had an affair, but still he tried to put her first, and she loved him for that. It was Zoe that was always first in his heart, Zoe that was kissed first when she got home. Playing second fiddle to a child couldn't have been easy for stepmother, but why did she have to be so cruel about it all?
The fights between the two girls didn't break out until Zoe was a teenager, which only fueled the woman's idea that Zoe was simply a rebellious troublemaker, but when they did come about they tore the precarious family into pieces. The few times she had asked him why he was with her at all, he simply told her that a father couldn't raise a daughter alone. The guilt of being the cause of his marriage, added to the suicide, was what drove Zoe to cutting to let out the pain. The deep red gash she had created with father's razor would always be on her ankle. Zoe was back as she was as a small girl, bored, unloved, and truly believing she had seen all there was to be seen.
At least the pain is some kind of change, she thought.
She shook her head to clear it of the cobwebs of memories and went to her closet. Tucked in the back were her father's old white shoes. Stepmother had thrown them away, but she had carefully fished them out of the garbage and stashed them. It was silly, but they were a reminder, as was the faded yellow jacked she had carefully folded near it. She touched the shoes lovingly then grabbed the jacket, slipping it on. Too big for her when she had journeyed to the other world, it was just her size now, and she snuggled into it. Curling into a ball on her bed, she thought back to those last moments, when she had decided to give Quidam his hat back.
Your world is yours, not mine, Quidam. Your dreams are yours. You may have touched the stars but they weren't moved. And if you reach for me, I may not choose to hold your hand. I might smile or I might turn away...
How silly those words seemed now, all this time later, when she would give anything to go back. She missed Target with her whole heart, telling herself she could still smell him on her jacket. The shoes had brought memories of John, too, and thinking of her old companions was enough to move her into tears. She rolled up her left jacket sleeve and looked at the dozens of scars on her arm, most of them razor straight, many faded over time but just as many bright and red from more recent times.
Zoe pulled out her razor from under her pillow and looked at it, but heard her stepmother's voice outside made her freeze. Scrambling for a better hiding spot, she quietly ran to her closet and tucked the razor into the old white shoes. She only had just enough time to make it back to her bed and close her eyes before the door was violently slammed open.
"What are you doing?" she asked Zoe. The girl only shrugged, hugging her arms around her knees, so she continued. "I will not have a lazy daughter in this house."
"I'm sure she was just tired from school or…" her father tried to placate his wife, but was quickly spoken over.
"Tired from what? Daydreaming all day? You're too easy on her."
Her stepmother grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the bed, probably to yell at her some more, but Zoe had not remembered to pull down her sleeve again. The woman's sharp nails grazed the newest cuts and she winced at the pain. Time seemed to stop as stepmother dropped her arm, her father coming over and turning her wrist to look at them. She didn't move, terrified. It was father that reacted first.
Catching his wife's eyes, he asked her to leave them alone. The woman hesitated for a moment, actually showing a second's concern, before she huffed and walked out the door, slamming it behind her for good measure. Zoe went back to the bed and crawled to the farthest corner, rolling down her sleeve and trying to hide her tears.
Why does he have to look at me like I've broken his heart all over again, she wondered nervously.
"I need to see them."
Crawling back to him, she dangled her legs over the side of the bed and pulled up her sleeve again, exposing the scarred skin. He winced but hid it, probably to not upset her, and took her other hand into his. He opened his mouth a few times to speak, but just as quickly closed it.
Sighing, he found his words, "I know it's been difficult, but you can't do this. This isn't going to solve anything."
Through her tears, she barely managed to whisper what she had wanted to say for years, "If going to a completely different world didn't solve anything either, nothing will. This is all I've got."
Father's eyes grew hard and he left her on the bed, turning towards the door. He opened it to step out, speaking so quietly that he barely heard her, "What was years ago can't come back. It killed your mother. It won't take you from me."
She simply kicked her legs idly and refused to meet his eyes.
"I…I need to think. I don't know what to say, Zoe. Can we talk about this later tonight, when we've both calmed down?"
Hesitating, she nodded, and smiled as he pulled her into a hug. out and shut the door carefully behind him. It was only seconds after he left when she began to hear a scuffle in her closet.
That doesn't even make sense, she admonished herself.
Putting her ear to the closet door, she began to make out words in the whispers, the voice so familiar it was like a dream all over again.
"I know we aren't supposed to be here," whispered John. He paused, then, "You can't tell me she doesn't need us now as much as she did before. More, even."
Is the Target here, also? Is that who John is speaking to? She questioned herself.
"I'm not leaving her here," he continued angrily. "The Quidam gave her hope. There's no hope left. So you can explain to him that you left her here to fling herself out a window, but I'm not letting that happen."
The door creaked open and she stepped away from it. Even after hearing him, she was in shock when she saw John and Target arguing in a corner of the closet. They both jumped out as soon as they saw the light, all three of them looking at each other for a splot second. It was like the calm in the eye of a hurricane. Zoe jumped up and down, excited, and then tackled John so hard they both fell onto the floor. She laughed and held him aas tight as she could.
"I do need to breathe, you know," he wryly commented.
She stuck her tongue out at him then jumped on Target for good measure, feeling him twirl her around as she watched the room spin. She nearly cried out of happiness, having missed them so much.
Target gently placed her on the ground as she smoothed out her orange dress, the same shade as the dress she had worn on their last encounter, and allowed him to move her to a corner as John drew the window's shades closed. She kept jumping up and down on her feet until Target picked her up again to stop her from causing a small earthquake in the room.
From the other side of the room, John whispered, "Do you trust us?"
"Do you really need to ask?" she replied.
"Then we're taking you away from here. No more tears, little one."
Zoe heard her name being screamed downstairs as they argued about her, probably about what they father had found out. She heard the woman saying she was psychotic and needed to be put away while father said he wouldn't make the same mistake as before and lose someone he loved. Knowing them, they would soon be in her room to talk about it, and their wasn't a moment to lose.
She wrapped her arms around Target's neck and watched as John started searching through her closet, reemerging with her father's white shoes. She nearly laughed as he began to put them on, but then he noticed the razor and pulled it out. Shocked, he came over to her again and gently touched her hair.
"I knew…we knew…there was trouble, but nothing like…"
The yells grew louder. At her fidgeting, Target shook her to until she kept still.
"Not a moment to lose then."
He slipped the razor into his pocket. He slipped father's shoes on and left his upon Zoe's pillow. Pulling up the shades, he opened the large window and took her from Target's arms. Looking at them both and smiling his trademark Cheshire cat grin, Target took a running leap and jumped straight out the window. Zoe nearly screamed before John covered her mouth in case of such a contingency, and then followed his hand as he pointed out. Target was nowhere to be seen.
"Now, on the count of three," he smiled at her and she nodded.
Footsteps walked up the stairway as John took her to the window's edge.
Voices were right outside the door, but she shut her eyes tight to pretend she didn't notice.
Just as the knob turned, John leapt out, holding her tightly as he disappeared.
Behind them, the door slammed open, Zoe's father calling her name as he looked at an empty room. He ran to the open window but saw nothing, and switched on the light to find some clue as to what was going on. Turning, he found John's shoes on her pillow. His eyes opened wide as he realized just what had the first time in years, tears came to his eyes. He held the shoes close and fell on the bed, too stunned to speak, as his wife glared at him
"Should we call the police?" she asked more gently than Zoe had ever known.
"No need. They won't find her now."
In another world, surrounded by the familiar mist and darkness, Zoe opened her eyes and saw Target looking right at her, still smiling. She beamed as John whispered in her ear, "Welcome home."