This story is one of the March Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
Presley had never seen the auditorium so full. She literally couldn’t even turn around without bumping elbows with someone. This was a good thing, she told herself; in a sea of so many people, no one would look too closely at her.
Watson Conservatory of Music and Performance hadn’t been built for crowds like this, but that was alright. This crowd didn’t mind squeezing together to make room, or standing in the back if all the seats were taken — as long as they could still see the performers onstage.
Presley had been among those performers, once upon a time. Or, more specifically, once upon a year ago, before a switch flipped inside her nineteen-year-old self and everything changed. Before the spotlights burned instead of warmed. Before the walk across the stage to her piano felt less like a catwalk and more like a death march.
Before she decided to leave.
She hadn’t planned on coming back. For eleven months, two weeks, and four days, she had stayed away. But tonight, she had made an exception.
Because tonight was the night of her little sister’s first concert as a Watson student.
So Presley had made her grand return, though it wasn’t grand by any standard; she had slunk in through the backdoor and stood in the back of the auditorium throughout the hour-long performance, her head ducked so that her hair fell forward to hide her face. Then, as soon as the curtain closed, she slipped out to the backdoor.
But she had stopped with her hand on the doorknob, struck with the sudden and overwhelming need to see her sister. In person. Not from thirty feet away on a light-washed stage.
So now, Presley stood in the auditorium once more, her head ducked again. Through her hair, she looked around the crowded room, searching for the one face she hoped to see. It was hard work, and not just because her hair was thick; everyone was dressed in the same formal black attire.
But then, like a moment out of a movie, a large man to Presley’s right moved aside, and there was Lennon.
Presley wanted many things in that moment. She wanted to run up to Lennon, to squeeze her in the tightest hug, to tell her how proud she was that her little sister was the only freshman student who had played an original composition. She wanted to pull her up on stage and sit side-by-side on the piano bench, just like they had when they were little, when Presley taught Lennon her first notes.
But she didn’t do any of that. Because her parents were there.
Mr. and Mrs. Grant had their backs to their oldest daughter. Even so, Presley found herself wanting more things. She wanted to run up to her mom and dad, to squeeze them in the second tightest hug, even though she hadn’t seen them in eleven months, two weeks, and four days. She wanted to tell them about her journalism classes at the community college, how she was paying for them by giving piano lessons to local kids.
She wanted to tell them that she had done the right thing, even though it hadn’t been what they wanted for her.
But now wasn’t the time for any of that. Maybe later. Soon. Maybe.
For now, Presley turned and made her way through the crowd, toward the door, her head held higher than it had been a minute ago. She had seen her sister. That was enough for now.
More importantly, her sister had seen her.