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Five Times Lara Stayed

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1.

It was winter, and they were thirteen. Alba and Lara and Leon were building a snowperson in the orphanage yard. Alba had complained that they were too old for this, and Leon had complained that he wanted to stay inside and read, and Lara had threatened to fill both of their boots with snow if they didn’t join her and help. The wind was picking up, whipping the tails of her scarf into a frenzy, but she’d begun her endeavor this morning and she intended to finish before night fell.

“All you have to do is stack three snowballs on top of each other and add a couple sticks,” Leon grumbled. “It’s not supposed to be a sculpture.”

“It can too be a sculpture,” Lara told him. “Remember when they took us to the ice festival last month? But that kind of stuff is for rich people so we’ll have to make do with what we have.”

Alba dusted off her gloves. “Alright. What are we making.”

Lara got a dangerous look in her eyes, the one that meant she was having an idea.

“The tallest snowwoman in Toronto.”

It was a laborious task. No one questioned why Lara had gotten her heart set on such an activity; questioning why Lara did anything seldom resulted in a satisfactory answer. She kept her companions hard at work, packing snow and gathering whatever rubble they could find in the yard for decoration. They finished five minutes before sundown.

They stared up at their creation, twelve feet high and covered in bottle caps and scraps of aluminum.

“Should’ve made it bigger,” said Alba.

“If I was that tall,” said Lara, “I’d step right over this fence and never stop walking.”

“I want to read my book,” said Leon.

2.

“Lara. Look what I have.”

Lara looked up from the homework she was pretending to do to see Alba brandishing a wrinkled sheet of paper.

“Where’d you get that?”

“Took it off one of the attendants.”

“Alba!”

“What?” She smirked. “They don’t need it. Look at what it says.”

It was an advertisement for a local band in need of a guitarist for their Ontario album tour, auditions that weekend.

“Just think,” said Alba, “if I can land this job, then I’m on my way to starting my own band and getting out of this place.”

“Can I be in your band?”

“You don’t even play an instrument. Will you help me do it?”

“Of course,” Lara answered without hesitation, “but we’ll have to find a way to escape the attendants.”

“Don’t worry. I have a plan.”

As it turned out, Alba’s plan involved enlisting the help of a rather apprehensive Leon as a distraction. It didn’t work. For some small consolation, one of the attendants at the orphanage signed Alba up for music lessons. And one day she’ll be good enough to start her own band, Lara thought. And then both of us will kiss this place goodbye.

3.

“Always push. Always keep pushing, no matter what!”

“Lara,” said Alba, “the door is marked pull.”

“Oh,” said Lara, “so pull then.”

“You didn’t have to come with, you know,” Alba told her. “It’s only a shit recital.”

“And what kind of friend would that make me? I’m by your side.” Lara opened the door and bowed her companion through.

4.

The night of Lara’s sixteenth birthday, she and Alba staged a break-in. It wasn’t their first, and both girls knew it wouldn’t be their last, but the orphanage wasn’t exactly known for throwing great parties, and they had to find some way to celebrate.

Their target was a local art museum, which they knew would be empty at this hour save for the night guard, who was probably nodding off on the job. Lara picked a window lock while Alba disabled the alarm system.

“This classy enough for you?”

Lara grinned at her. “It’s perfect.”

They crept through the halls, taking care to listen for any sign of inhabitance and murmur snarky comments about the paintings as they passed.

“I take it you have a destination in mind?” Lara whispered.

Alba gave her a cryptic half-smile. “You’ll see.”

The mysterious destination was revealed a few minutes later when she led Lara onto the roof.

“Why’d we sneak in if we were just going to come up here all along?”

“The fun of it. And if you’re going to keep complaining we can always go back.”

“No,” Lara said quickly, “this is great.”

They sat side by side, dangling their feet over the ledge. Alba pulled a stolen bottle of expensive-looking champagne out of her bag and poured it into two plastic cups, passing one to Lara.

“Happy birthday, asshole.”

“Cheers.” Lara raised her glass, then took a swig. “You got the good stuff.”

“It’s a special occasion.”

”I should thank you.”

Alba turned away, the outline of her face silhouetted against the moonlight. “You don’t need to thank me.”

“Are you sure?” Lara scooted closer to her. “You might enjoy it.”

“Your attempts at flirting are not going unnoticed.”

“I’m serious, Alba.”

Alba looked at her again, eyes almost sad. “I know.”

“Is that a yes?”

“I have rules, Lara.”

“Not tonight.”

Their faces were mere inches apart. Lara set down her drink and took one of her friend’s hands in her own, pulse quickening, eyes closed. Alba kissed her.

5.

“Do you ever think about running away?”

Alba glanced up from her guitar. “Clearly you do.”

“It wouldn’t be that hard,” Lara said. A beat. “No one would miss us.”

“Leon would miss us.”

“Leon’s too busy studying to get into the Academy.”

“He’d miss us.”

“You’re probably right.”

Lara walked over to Alba and gently lifted the guitar from her hands, kneeling down beside her. “If I ran away, would you come with me?”

“You’re not running away.”

“But if I was.”

Alba sighed. “I don’t know.”

“I’m your best friend.”

“You’re more than that.”

Lara felt her cheeks heat up. “Oh yes?”

“You’re a pain in the ass.” Alba picked up her guitar and began to play. A few moments later she set it down again.

“Are you really thinking about running away?”

Lara shrugged. “Maybe. What is there for me here?”

Alba didn’t say “I’m here” because it would have been unfair, but the words lingered between them anyway.

“Come with me,” Lara whispered.

“Can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Just can’t.” Alba flirted with the idea of resuming her practice, brushing her fingers over the strings in a half-hearted chord, then sighed again and set the instrument down.

“I know you want to leave,” she said. “It’s always been your dream to get away from here. I can understand that. But you have to be practical about it. You can’t throw away your future on an outburst of teenage rebellion. You’re free to live your own life, and you can go now if you like. But I’m not coming.”

“I’ll think about it,” said Lara, and she did.

But Alba was staying. So for the time being, Lara stayed too.