Ten hundred and fifty two days. That's how longs she's been waiting for this day. Through the tinted windows of the family car she watches as they pull up alongside the towering building that is going to be her home for the next year.
Her mother had tried briefly to get her to consider a school with a quadrangle. "Think of the fall, when the leaves change," she'd said wistfully. "Think of sitting under a tree in the quad and doing your homework while the sun sets."
She'd frowned, but hadn't replied, and soon enough her mother realized that saying her daughter would be attending Julliard in the fall was just as prestigious as saying that she had been accepted to Harvard, Princeton and The University of Pennsylvania, and they were having just a devil of a time picking the one that suited her best.
It was true. She had been accepted to all three of those schools, and several others. But her mind had been made up from the moment she received the call from the admissions board at Julliard. She would be going to the city to dance.
"I'll get the door for you, ma'am, and your bags," her chauffeur's brusque voice shakes her from her memories.
"No!" her voice is high with nerves and excitement. She has not had a lot of practice at making her own first impression, but it never went over well at any of her other schools when she was helped out of her car by a driver. "I can manage," she says, trying to lower her voice. "It's just the one rolling suitcase, and my shoulder bag." The chauffeur meets her eyes in the rearview mirror as he pops the trunk for her. She thinks that he is fighting a smile.
"Good luck, Miss Isles," he says. She has never been good at reading people, and she doesn't know if his words are sincere, but she smiles at him anyway.
"Thank you," she says, realizing that she does not know his name.
On the street, with her shoulder back slung over her shoulder, she tilts her head back to look up at the dormitory that she's going to call home. There is a flurry of activity at the base of the building, and she supposes that that is where she'll check in, but for a moment she just stands on the curb and savors the moment. This is what she's been waiting for, building to, for the past four years…longer than that really, ever since she wrapped her fingers around a barre. A group of students pass her, talking excitedly amongst themselves, some of them clutching bags from the school store. Maura can see that two of them are wearing leg warmers and flats, carrying themselves with the perfect posture of a dancer, and her heart leaps in her chest. She stares at them as they pass, thinking that these girls will be her classmates, wondering if they could possibly ever be her friends. She presses her lips together and squeezes the shoulder strap of her bag, continuing to give herself the pep talk that she'd begun in the car.
"You are the best technical dancer for your age group in all of the northeast," she tells herself firmly,
"You've had fifteen years of training in the Cecchetti style of ballet. There is no one you've come up against yet that can touch you."
A smaller group of girls walks by as she says this last sentence, and one of them throws her a look over her shoulder. "Ohmigod," she says to her companions, not bothering to lower her voice. "That girl's talking to herself."
"Please don't let her be my roommate," one of them giggles back.
Maura's smile slips a little, but she manages not to lose it completely. She tightens her jaw and this time, she manages to keep the rest of her pep talk inside of her head. Speaking to yourself is not socially acceptable, she recites. This place is your new start. You can make friends here. You can.
And with that, she grips the handle of her wheeling suitcase, and follows the groups of students towards the check in tables.
Her new adult life is about to begin.
"Isles…Isles…What was the first name?"
"Speak up, freshie, there's like three hundred other people saying their names, Laura?"
"Um…no…Maura. It's with an em, like Mary."
"So your name is Mary?"
"Maura, yeah, I got it. Just a joke there, fresh." The boy at the table barely looks at her. He rifles through a stack of folders until he comes up with hers. "Okay…okay, let's see. You're on the 19th floor…ooh, the suite, how fancy. 1933 is your room number. Can you remember that?"
Maura nods, eager to show that she is not such a "freshie," whatever that is. "Yes," she says confidently, "It's Anya Linden's birth year," she says, smiling hopefully, "easy to remember."
The boy glances up at her, confused. "Who?"
"Anya Linden? Famous ballerina?"
The boy rolls his eyes. "Dance major?"
Maura brightens. "Yes! I'm planning on-"
"Don't care," He cuts her off, bending over to rummage around in a bin. He comes up with a set of keys on a tag. He holds each one up as he explains. "Dorm key…room key…lockable space key…got it?"
No. That last one makes no sense to her, but she doesn't ask about it. She nods and holds out her hand for him to drop the keys into. He hands her the folder with her name on it as well. "This has all your information about orientation, first day classes, the name of your first year advisor…all of that." He's already looking at the person behind her. "Good luck Mary-Laura," he says.
"Oh," Maura says, turning back to him, "no, It's Mau-"
But he waves her away, cutting her off again. "I know," he says, "a joke, kid. Lighten up."
The line for the elevator in her dorm room is very, very long. Maura waits behind a scrawny boy clutching a flute case, and a dark skinned boy with a bulging back pack. There is a huge sign hanging next to the elevator doors that says, in bright red letters, If you live below the tenth floor, you're taking the stairs. Have your key out for proof you live above floor 10.
This declaration seems to be causing a bit of a stir up at the front of the line, and Maura shifts her bag from shoulder to shoulder, waiting.
"You shouldn't even be in this building, 'Zoli, Jesus. You got legs like a tap dancer, anyway. Take the fucking stairs."
Maura looks up to see a dark haired girl with a duffel bag the size of a car flip off the student attendant at the elevator. "My key says 17, you jackass," she says, shoving it in his face. "So even your fucking sign says I get to ride up."
"Your bag is the size of a school bus. What, did you bring everything you own to school this year?"
The girl's face darkens, but she doesn't back down. "That's the point of an elevator, you ass. To help people with their luggage?"
"Nah," he says, waving her away. "Take your old, washed up, scholarship ass up the stairs and let the actual freshies take the elevator."
Maura frowns at this interaction. The elevator attendant is being awfully unkind to this girl, and she sees no reason for it at all. If indeed her key says that she lives on floor seventeen, she should be able to ride the elevator like everybody else, regardless of her financial status. She watches the girl lean back on her heels, and for a moment she thinks that there will be an actual fight, but then the girl turns away from the elevator, shouldering her enormous duffel, and slams through the stairwell door. Maura feels a pang of pity, thinking of the thirteen flights that she'll have to climb. But at least the boy had been right about one thing: Maura had caught a glimpse of the other girl's legs as she pushed through the door to the stairs, and she did indeed have the calf muscles of a tap dancer.
She finds her room on the 19th floor without a lot of trouble, and as she rolls her bag up to the door, she realizes it is already ajar. She steps tentatively over the threshold, adjusting the bag on her shoulder, "Hello?" she calls softly.
"Hello!" a voice calls back
"Hiya!" A second.
Maura stands still, heart pounding, as from around the corner come two girls, both with wide smiles. The first one to reach her is tall and broad, with long, dark blonde hair and disarming blue eyes.
"Hi," she says, "You must be Maura,"
She nods, too nervous to find her voice, but she puts her hand out when the the other girl does.
"I'm Bette," she says, "that's George," we're your suitemates. Maura looks past Bette at George, a mocha colored girl even shorter than she is. Maura thinks she must be a dance major, she's miniature, narrow all the way down to her perfect turnout.
"Maura Isles," she says automatically, "it's nice to meet you."
"I took the single," George says from behind her, and she doesn't move to shake Maura's hand. "I have to sleep in complete darkness, and I take exactly eight point seven hours of sleep a night. That's why I requested a suite."
Bette rolls her eyes like she's already heard this little speech, but when she looks back at Maura, she smiles. "So I guess that leaves you and me in the double," she says good naturedly, her eyes moving over Maura's frame, "unless it's all dancers that need eight point seven hours of sleep in a night?"
Maura shakes her head, looking towards the room that Bette has indicated. "No," she says "I'm usually alright with the normal seven to nine, just like everyone...how did you know that I am a dancer?"
Bette raises an eyebrow, "You're too skinny to play anything," she says. Maura frowns. "Too small I mean...and drama geeks always like to make an entrance. The way you said hello ruled that out right away."
"And it's on your profile sheet," George cuts in, pointing to some papers on the coffee table by the window. Maura walks over to look closer. There on top is her picture, and underneath, several things about her that she has no memory of writing. Maura feels her cheeks start to burn as she reads:
Name: Maura Dorthea Isles
Prospective Major: Dance
Likes: Maura Isles is one of the youngest dancers ever to attend the Jofffrey Ballet School's prestigious summer program, having been invited to attend at the age of 10. She is the top technical dancer in the greater northeast, and holds seven consecutive national titles for ballet. She is an accomplished student as well, and one of the youngest members of the Mensa society…
Maura stops reading, lump in her throat. "These aren't likes," she says to no one in particular.
"You're telling me," George mutters. "I think you misunderstood the assignment, Ms. Mensa Society.
"But-" Maura says, turning to face them, "I don't even remember filling something like this out. I think that my mother must have-"
"Yeah…" George makes a face that shows how believable she finds this. "Sure."
Maura looks at Bette, whose face is studiously neutral. "Doesn't matter," she says shrugging. "You're not my competition."
Maura is torn between relief and dismay. "But," she says. "I honestly didn't write that...I know the difference between 'likes' and 'accomplishments'." She can hear the desperation in her voice. Bette looks a little sympathetic while George continues to looks sour.
"Wonderful for you, you know the difference," she says. "Around what IQ point would you say that knowledge kicks in?"
Maura colors as Bette snorts. "Lay off her," she says. "Not her fault she's brilliant." She turns back to Maura. "We're going to head to the reception," she says, "I want to scout out the guitar players...or Bass players….drummers…"
George rolls her eyes, and Maura smiles politely. "You're pursuing music?" She asks.
Bette nods, "I play anything you can blow," she winks, and Maura pushes a laugh even if she doesn't understand. "So you want to what...start a band?"
"Ha!" Bette's laugh is loud and staccato, "Yeah girl," she cries, "a band of two...get me?"
"Oh," Maura says, still not quite sure she understands. "Well, I was going to change…" she feels her spirits lift a little at the thought of her outfit, specially chosen for this reception, right down to the new shoes.
"No problem," Bette says, "room's all yours."
Maura smiles at her and rolls her bag into the room off the main area. It's small, just enough space for two single beds, two desks and two dressers, but Bette has left her the bed by the window, and Maura heaves her suitcase up onto it and snaps it open, excitement bubbling in her chest.
Sure, she and her roommates got off to a bit of a rocky start, but Bette seemed nice. And once George realized that she wasn't stuck up and self centered the way her profile made her out to be, they could be friends too. Maura grins, imagining them walking to class together, drinking coffee and complaining about the work load, or staying late in the rehearsal room, both of them together at the barre, fine tuning their routine.
She pulls her dress down over her head, rehearsing conversation starters in her head, careful not to say them out loud.
So, George is an interesting name for a girl...how did you get that?
Where are you from Bette? You have very pretty eyes…
Yes, Maura smiles at her reflection in the little mirror on the back of the are going to work out just fine.
She take a deep breath, and pulls the door to the common room open. "Okay!" she calls. "I'm rea...dy…." but the last words die in her throat as she looks around her empty dorm room.
They've already left...without her.
She spots them again, at the reception. Bette is leaning against a pillar talking to a shaggy haired boy twirling a pair of drumsticks. She waves at Maura when their eyes meet, but does not beckon her over. When Maura catches George's eye and smiles, the girl turns deliberately away from her, continuing her conversation with the group of long legged girls surrounding her, and Maura realizes that they must be dancers as well.
She can feel the heat of panic and anxiety creeping up the back of her neck, and she tries to take a deep breath. She looks around, hoping to see someone else standing alone, or at least a place where she can sit down. She'd brought her iPad along with her on a whim, hoping against hope that she wouldn't need to use it, but unwilling to leave it behind.
But everywhere she looks, there are people, laughing and talking, shaking hands or hugging, nodding their heads vigorously as other people say highly amusing and informative things.
It's too much. Nothing is different.
Maura walks in the direction she is facing, realizing too late that it's the opposite direction than the one that she came from, leading her deeper into the hall. It is too late to turn around without looking ridiculous, and so Maura continues to walk with a purpose until she comes to a door, mercifully unlocked. Praying for an empty room with a chair that she can sit and read in, Maura pushes the door open and steps in, letting it fall shut behind her. It effectively smothers the happy voices of her peers, drinking punch and mingling. She frowns down at her Chanel flats, a pale cream color to offset the fall colors in her dress.
"You were stupid," she says out loud, and there is no one around to criticize her for speaking to herself.
She feels tears burn the backs of her eyes and she wills them away. She is not going to cry today. She is not a baby anymore, and this is not high school. "It's just the first day," she whispers, though she's not sure if this makes her feel better or worse.
She takes a deep breath, and has almost resolved to go back out to the reception and look for her roommates when the sound of music drifts down the hall from behind her. She turns, listening. Someone is playing the piano. Maura listens more closely, whoever is playing is the most talented pianist she's ever heard. She walks towards the noise, the reception forgotten, and although it occurs to her that she could be about to stumble upon a professor who does not want to be disturbed, she cannot stop herself from following the sound deeper into the building, each note laying out in front of her like a stepping stone.
She wanders the down darkened hall, the melody pulling at her, reeling her in like a fish. She's never heard anyone play like that in all of her life, not anywhere.
She comes up on a heavy wooden door, but instead of opening it, she presses her ear against it. The music is coming from inside, lovely and flowing and Maura feels tears in her eyes, though she couldn't say if they are happy or sad.
She doesn't know how long she stands at the door and listens to the mystery pianist. The music makes her forget the girls back in the dorm, makes her forget the terrifying prospect of meal time, makes her forget everything at all. She closes her eyes, leaning her forehead against the door, trying to soak it in. But the music cuts off abruptly, and Maura's eyes snap open as the sound of angry voices.
Maura catches snippets of the conversation, and hears a thud and then what sounds like a piano bench scraping across the floor. Normally she would register what that means, but the notes from the last phrase are still threading through her bones and so she is slow to react. She barely has enough time to step back away from the door before it bursts open, and someone rushes out. Whoever it is, does not immediately see Maura, and the shorter girl is unable to get completely out of the way. They collide with a hollow thunk, and Maura feels the other girl, it must be a girl judging by all that wild brown hair, step painfully on her foot.
"Ow!" She says pitifully, feeling herself trip backwards.
The brunette reaches out and grabs her around the upper arm to keep her from falling, and Maura feels the iPad under her arm slip a little.
For a moment, the girl stares at her, hand still tight around her arm, and Maura is aware of just how close they are.
She is looking up into deep brown eyes and strong arched eyebrows. Italian, she thinks, based on the bridge of the nose and the arch of the cheek bones. This other girl has about four inches on her, and she is all hard, steel edges. She reminds Maura of the older ballerinas she would watch warming up after her lesson. They were too old to dance in any company anymore, but the precision of their lines, the arch of their feet and the complete hard focus in their eyes had always left Maura with the feeling that they were forces to be reckoned with.
That's how she feels looking up at this girl, like she has run headlong into a tornado.
"I-I…" she stutters, trying to think of something to say, but those fierce brown eyes are staring at her…into her, and she can't think of an end to her sentence. She's seen this girl before, hauling a duffel bag up the stairs in her building, but Maura thinks she is too tall and too talented to be just a freshman. She opens her mouth again, searching for an apology, but words have deserted her completely.
The girl makes a face like a grimace, like looking at Maura is hard for her, and she spins on her heel and stalks off.
Maura watches her go, still feeling off balance even though she's righted herself. She barely hears the boy as he comes running up the aisle, calling after his friend.
"Hey!" he calls, when he's level with her, "Jay! C'mon…I didn't mean anything by it."
He glances at Maura and she looks at him with wide eyes.
"Whoops," he says, catching the tablet that slides from her hand before it hits the ground. He makes a noise when he looks down, and she looks down too, to see that her brand new white shoe is now patterned with a boot print. "Aw! You messed up her shoe!" He calls after the girl's retreating back of the dark haired girl. "You didn't even say sorry!"
She doesn't turn around, but turns the corner at the end of the hall and vanishes from sight. Maura stares after her, still dazed.
"Here," the boy holds her iPad out, and she shifts her gaze to take him in. He is small and thin, but with the muscles of a dancer. His skin is a deep chocolate brown and his eyes are light. "Sorry," he apologizes, "she hates orientation day, and I made her mad on top of it."
Maura takes her iPad, tucking it back under her arm. "Was that her? Playing the piano like that?"
Frost nods, "Yep."
"She plays phenomenally," Maura says, glancing down the hall to where the girl has disappeared. "I mean, truly phenomenally, I've never heard anyone play Chaminade like that before…is she a senior?" She looks him up and down. "Are you?"
He chuckles, rubbing his short cropped hair with the palm of his hand, "So your foot's alright then?"
Maura blushes, nodding, and the boy continues, still smiling. "No, I'm a freshman. Just like you, and she's…" he hesitates, "she's technically a sophomore, in her second semester."
Maura blinks, confused, "Why does she hate orientation day?"
Frost shrugs, "She hates meeting new people," he says.
"Why?" Maura glances down the hall.
Frost looks at her, brow raised, "most likely because she thinks she'll meet someone like you…you got a question for everything?"
Maura flushes again, looking away. She'd felt the beginnings of hope, at her extended conversation with this boy, and now she can feel all her new found confidence slipping away. She had been asking a lot of questions.
"Hey," he says after a moment, sounding mildly upset. "I was just joking." She looks up at this boy, and he looks back at her still smiling, "I don't mind questions."
She smiles, some of her excitement returning. She's never had an extended conversation with a boy before, not because she didn't want to, but because the boys in her high school were distinctly uninterested in her. And there were no males in her dance classes after the fifth grade.
She colors, realizing that he's still looking at her, but she puts her free hand out, resolved not to run away. The book she'd downloaded to her iPad on social interactions had been clear about how to begin a conversation.
"I'm Maura Isles," she says, looking him in the eyes. "Dance. It's very nice to meet you."
He takes her hand, which surprises her, even though she should have been expecting it.
"Barry Frost," he says, and his smile seems genuine. "Just call me Frost. Drama." He points back over his shoulder, "And that ball of sunshine who almost knocked you over. That's Jane. Rizzoli."
"Music," Maura supplies, and Frost nods. "Yep, top of the freshman class two years ago," he says, and then, looking a little guilty at this revelation, he tries to change the subject. "I saw you unloading this morning actually. I think you're just a couple floors up from me."
But now that the conversation has touched on the dark haired piano player again, Maura does not wish to be diverted. "Jane," she says, trying the name out on her tongue. "I saw her bringing a duffel up the stairs in the Freshman Hall," she says. "But she's a sophomore?"
Frost nods, but doesn't expand on his previous statement. "It's me," he says, "she can't get enough of me." He laughs until he sees Maura's somber expression. "Another joke," he supplies, though he doesn't look put off by her inability to distinguish his levity. "We grew up in the same neighborhood in Boston…I know her from my Junior High."
"Oh…" Maura smiles, but feels as though it is too late to laugh. To cover up the silence, she says, "She really is an amazing pianist."
Frost gives a sigh worthy of any play. "She's devastating," he says, "on almost any instrument. But she plays the piano to make you stop breathing."
Yes, Maura thinks. That is what happened.
She stopped breathing.