Authors: Christopher De Sousa
It's so frustrating, with school and training, there are just so few hours left in the day to focus upon what I really care about,
she thought to herself.
She briefly considered that perhaps a migraine might serve as the best excuse to stay in bed. Only, that had never worked for her in the past. And before she could come up with any excuse worthwhile, Duncan was already banging upon her door with significant force.
“Please, just give me a few more minutes,” she mumbled under her breath, and burying herself deep beneath the blankets.
Bang! Bang! Bang! Duncan knocked again and again upon her door, each knock heavier than the last.
“I'm awake,” she cried, now seated upright in bed. “Just give me a sec.”
She dawdled for a moment more, before she slinked back down and under the duvet. She lay there, even though she knew that further knocking was inevitable. But no more knocks were forthcoming.
, she thought to herself,
this will be the day he finally gives up.
No such luck. For her bedroom door swung violently open, and Duncan dragged the duvet from off her bed.
She tried to reclaim the duvet. “Hey! What about some privacy?”
“Hurry up and get dressed,” Duncan grunted, before storming back out of the bedroom.
Katherine knew she'd never win. She reckoned she'd have to be coughing up blood before Duncan would ever forego a morning of training. Still, she wasn't going to let that discourage her.
, she decided, she would get up a little earlier and think of a decent excuse.
She leapt out of bed, ditched of her pyjama bottoms, and withdrew from a set of drawers a pair of black sport trunks. She foraged about within the cluttered mess that was her wardrobe and pulled out a small gym bag.
“Right,” she muttered to herself. “I might as well make the best of it.”
Once fully clothed, she headed out of her bedroom door, descended a winding staircase, and scampered along the hallway toward the garage. Inside, Duncan had constructed the garage as a makeshift gymnasium: with padded floors, a punching bag, a bench press, and various sets and weights of dumbbells. Duncan stood there waiting at the garage's centre; his arms and legs were firmly strapped with red boxing guards. Katherine entered.
She reached into her small gym bag and withdrew some tape to wrap about her knuckles. Once wrapped, she tied back her long black hair and eased into her workout. With an impressive reach and remarkable precision, she kicked and punched at the red padding.
“You know, I could always just skip school,” she said, upon performing a high kick in which Duncan parried with a raised forearm. “Stay home, train, and possibly”---
Duncan cut her off. “Must we go through this every morning?”
“Dad, some of us simply aren't cut out for the world of academia,” she replied, as she thrashed at the padding with greater intensity, the sweat pouring down from her brow. “School is not for everyone.”
“How many times must I repeat myself, school has, and will always play an important part in your training.”
An alarm near the garage's entranceway then sounded, and Duncan pulled back from the training to retrieve it. She watched as he stared down at the alarm clock, shook his head, and looked back at her with a disappointed frown cemented upon his face.
“We've already run out of time. We will need to start getting up earlier if we're to focus our efforts on energy control.”
This energy control, to which Duncan referred, was what comprised the most mentally draining part of their morning routine. For Duncan would instruct her to sit down with her legs crossed at the padded floor's centre, and to empty her mind of all extraneous thoughts. This form of meditation was easier said than done; as after a while she'd often find herself starting to squirm and fidget. And it only got more difficult from there. If, and once she'd done as instructed, the next step seemed almost impossible to achieve; for he would instruct her to channel the flow of her own celestial energy.
From the time she had turned six, he'd told her how each and every person's very spirit possessed of an earthen element, and her element so happened to be that of fire. She still didn't exactly understand the process, and he'd been reluctant to press any further with the training beyond this level. To Katherine, it was as though he wanted her to learn certain things, but at the same time he was cautious to not teach her too much. As she recalled, the only reason he'd trained her in the first place stemmed from a moment when she was even younger; where while drawing in a sketchbook, her pencil had caught on fire.
“Right, you'd best get ready for school,” Duncan said, as he headed for the door.
“Maybe we could break up our training sessions; work upon physical conditioning one morning, and then mental conditioning the following morning,” Katherine said, tugging at the wrapping about her fists. “Also, if you want me to take school more seriously, then I'm going to need more time. We could also break up our training into alternate days.”
“The regularity of our training builds character. You've plenty of time after school to focus on your studies.”
She looked at him indignant. “But what about the time I need to enjoy life? What about the time I need to create?”
Without uttering a response, Duncan stood idle before the door, waiting for Katherine to leave with him and head toward the kitchen. His silence was enough proof that she'd made her point; but she could also tell he wouldn't budge from their existing schedule.
Having quickly prepared, and scoffed down her breakfast, Katherine hustled out the front door and made her way along Delphi Crescent.
“Kat, hurry up and jump in,” Duncan shouted, as he swiftly drove up behind her and alongside the curb in his Jeep. “Let me give you a ride to school.”
She took one look at him through the driver's side window, and one passing glance at the beaten old Jeep. She could see that its coat of green paint had started to peel, there were a few dents planted about its exterior, and one of the tail lights was out. She knew that it functioned well enough to get her to school. But she shivered at the prospect of having to face her peers when they eventually got there, when the Jeep would inevitably screech and crank upon entering the school parking lot. It also seemed that every time she'd agreed to a ride in the past, there were always a queue of boys about ready to poke fun at her expense. Her cheeks would often turn the colour of a ripe tomato when this happened, in stark contrast with her olive complexion. This would lead her to bombard her peers with a commentary about her public humiliation; for it was the only way she could think of handling such a situation. Although, it wasn't what the majority of her peers thought that really bothered her. It was actually what one boy in particular might think that made her uneasy.
“Please Dad, not this morning. I'll catch the bus around the corner. If I go with you, I'll only be made fun of when I get there.”
He popped his head out of the driver's side. “Don't be silly. Hurry up and hop in. Otherwise you'll be late.”
Reluctantly, she traipsed over to the passenger's side door and claimed a seat. With a grimace and stroking at her forehead, she glared out toward the road before them. Just when she thought her morning could not possibly have gotten off to a worse start, Duncan proceeded to play his collection of old country western songs and hum relentlessly along with each verse.
Katherine could feel herself becoming nauseous; she wound down the window and hung her head out, trying to create distance from the melancholic music. Not one to forget, she remembered once admitting to him that she found some lyrics fairly thought-provoking and sincere, but it seemed that every song her father would play was about dealing with hardship and loss. It was all so depressing.
“Dad, I'm more than capable of taking the bus like everyone else,” she said. “I just don't feel comfortable driving with you to school in the morning; I often get made fun of.”
“Who makes fun of you?”
“Some of the boys and girls at school,” she responded. “They look for every opportunity to tease me.”
And anticipating how Duncan was likely to respond, she acted with haste to cut him off before he could go on a long winded spiel.
“And as you've taught me in the past, I know they only do it to cover for their own insecurities. But why give them the opportunity in the first place?”
“They only make fun of you because they know they'll get a rise out of you,” he said, looking rather disgruntled. “If it wasn't me driving you to school, then it would be something else. Besides, with all these earthquakes happening, I worry for your safety. You should be grateful to know that I care.”
“I know you care, Dad. But it's so embarrassing rolling up to school in this old beat up jeep.”
“Be kind Kat, she might hear you,” he laughed, as he stroked the dashboard.
“Now that I've got my licence, you could at least let me drive. It would be good experience.”
“What, and wreck the Jeep even further,” he said. “I'm not even sure how much more the old girl can take.”
Katherine narrowed her eyes “How am I supposed to learn then if you won't even let me drive? I've had my learner's licence now for over three months.”
“Maybe if you were to start getting better grades, I'd”---
“Buy me my own car?” she quickly interrupted.
“I was going to say that I'd let you take the bus,” he snickered with a cheeky grin. “So, when are you going to introduce me to this boyfriend of yours? I need to know if he measures up.”
She could feel a sudden rush of blood go to her head, and the little hairs on the back of her neck were now standing on end.
“How do you knowâ¦?” She asked, her bottom lip trembling. “Have you been eavesdropping in on my private conversations with Naomi?”
“I'd hardly say
. You speak so loudly over your laptop that it's difficult not to hear what you two talk about,” he said. “Even from downstairs in the lounge I can hear your chattering.”
“I need a new speakerâ¦”
“Well, you'd best get one,” he responded. “You receive an allowance, it shouldn't be too expensive. Now quit pouting, sit back, and stop taking the small stuff so seriously. After all, you don't want to end up missing the bigger picture.”
“Truly insightful, Dadâ¦ But my privacy is not
. Also, where are we going? This isn't the way to school.”
“I need to pick up some supplies from Sidney,” he said, as they deviated from the main road. “We've got a large contract to meet.”
Attentively, she stared out the window watching for each passing street sign. Her eyes soon came to lock upon the words
; then Duncan swung a left and proceeded downward.
Once they arrived outside a cosy two storied house of brick and mortar, Duncan carefully steered the Jeep up its gravel driveway.
“Morning Sid,” Duncan called out, as they pulled up before the property's garage door. “Just thought I'd stop by and see if I could borrow your ladder.”
Sidney promptly strolled over to the driver's side window. He was an older man: tall in stature, and even more strongly physically built than her father. Dressed in only jeans and a white singlet, she caught sight of numerous scars and discolouration on his burly arms and shoulders. She couldn't help but stare; for his speckled skin appeared to reflect the sun's ray as though it were the scales of a fish.
“Is this for the Mason's property?” Sidney asked, as he leaned up against the driver's side door. “If it is, I could always bring it along with me later.”
“Actually, I was hoping to borrow it to clear the gutters at home,” said Duncan. “Mine unfortunately broke a few days back.”
Sydney stepped back from the door. “No problem. Also, I've recently talked to Mr Mason, and it seems we've got a fairly big job to complete this afternoon.”
“You're telling me,” Duncan responded, as he forced the driver's side door open and jumped out to retrieve the ladder.
Having lost interest in their brief exchange, and in Sidney's peculiar physique, Katherine too had leapt out of the Jeep and decided to wander about the property. She trudged toward Sidney's house and peered through a set of sliding glass doors. Inside, she could see a large glass aquarium populated with a strange assortment of coloured fish. She watched as a number of fish rubbed up against the glass, their little mouths flapping open as if they were trying to communicate.
“If you're looking for Justin, he's already taken off,” shouted Sidney from the garage.
“Justin?” Duncan questioned.
Sidney retrieved his ladder. “He's my nephew.”
“And so the mystery is solved,” her father jeered, a glint in his eye. “So Katherine, how long have you two been dating?”
“I haven't got time for this,” she blurted out, her cheeks patched with red. “I'm going to be late.”
She scuttled back toward the jeep; she watched as Duncan effortlessly hoisted the steel ladder on his shoulders, and bound it to the jeep's roof within thick strands of nylon rope.
“Terrific,” he said to Sidney once finished, the grin not having left his face. “When will you need it back?”
“I'll be back next week. I'm heading off along the coastline to do some further bird watching.”
“You're a lucky man,” said Duncan. “Just one of the many perks of being your own boss.”
As Katherine overheard their conversation, she wondered what it would be like to go bird watching. To her, it sounded a fairly boring and pointless endeavour; especially since there must be plenty of birds in Anabasis to set one's sights upon rather than travel so far away. But she could still relate to Sidney's passion, only replacing his bird watching activities with her desire to paint and sketch. Both he and Duncan would often work long hours, and thus there'd be few left in the day for someone like Sidney to enjoy such pleasures. Since Sidney had arrived three months ago in Anabasis, he and Duncan had formed a building partnership where they'd go to local property's to construct decks, pave driveways, and fortify house exteriors against the risks of earthquakes. In Anabasis, there was always a high demand for their services.