A word of warning to the less traveled, never attempt to use the women's public bathrooms in an airport unless it is located within an airport lounge. And thus it was that Elizabeth Vanguard, unusually well-traveled for a newly christened adolescent of eighteen, found herself in dispute with a short-tempered and squat little manager from the Admiral's club.
"Sir, I understand that I have to present a first-class ticket to enter the first class lounge, but I need to use the restroom."
The manager, a jaded and constantly harassed man despite the rarity of provocation, was naturally unyielding.
"Then by all means young lady, there is a public restroom open to all travelers three gift shops to the left. Good-bye," he replied curtly.
"Yes, but the line is very, no, extremely long and I have to relieve myself," she pleaded.
The heated argument began to attract attention from some of the more refined lounge guests as the two sparred through an eye slit in a barred metal entrance. The lounge director who was twenty years the manager's senior came to address it. Arnold Thames was his name, and he was the original London gentleman, a breed much endangered by the changes of social etiquette over time.
"Is there a problem Ernie? Or are you harassing more of our patrons for fun now," he spoke dryly. Mr. Thames knew the measure of his own senility, and knew he retained enough of his marbles to know the manager's 'type'. The manager was again, another breed of human being, whose shortcomings, so to speak, interfered with the measure of kindness he offered to other human beings.
"Mr. Thames, this girl wants to use the restrooms, but she doesn't have authorized access to this lounge," the manager explained accusingly. "Look now, Ernie, just let her use the toilet, I'm sure she can be trusted not to steal the scented soap."
Ernie the manager grudgingly opened the door, and ushered in the triumphant adolescent. "Thank you, Mr.-, " "Please, call me Arnold," he finished for her. "Yes, thank you Arnold, I'm Victoria Vanguard. Excuse me, I need to go."
Elizabeth nearly ran to the restrooms, and relieved herself in the first stall she encountered. She emerged to wash her hands and freshen up her appearance. Staring intently at the mirror she splashed water upon her face, and observed it. Elizabeth loved looking at herself in the mirror, it was not purely out of vanity that she did so, but in the way that a nun prayed to her heavenly husband, she would find peace in staring at her reflection. And what a lovely girl looked back from that reflection. Dark waves that rolled around her shoulders as if to embrace an old lover, and subtle lavender eyes that sparkled romantically. Her hair was the signature of the Orient and her lashes the watermark of a European; a lucky combination of the two had produced her striking beauty. A romantic and imaginative onlooker might speculate that she was the lovechild of a dashing European officer stationed in Vietnam and the beauteous Hong Kong call girl who seduced him for a night. But with such features, often enough Elizabeth found herself compared to the legendary actress Elizabeth Taylor whose two best features were her mesmerizing eyes and her numerous diamonds. The coincidence of attaining likewise purple eyes and names was a novelty as a child, but the Vanguard grew weary of explanation, so she renamed herself Victoria for convenience. But surely her parents would protest her alias? Under normal circumstances, yes, but Ms. Elizabeth Vanguard had a lack of parents. In truth, Elizabeth's mother was Jasmine Chen, the ex-wife of Tom Sanders. Tom had been a man of great ambition and daring-a paparazzi. Tom's dedication to photographing celebrity scandals had compelled him to scale the back wall of an Irish castle to catch an alleged cocaine deal between a Colombian drug lord and some of the biggest names in Hollywood. The poor man was found in pieces in the courtyard, having plunged from the parapet the night before. His dutiful wife of ten years found herself young and widowed before her thirtieth birthday. Sexist as it may at first appear, Mrs. Chen-Sanders was nothing without her man, and her complete devastation had transformed this lively woman of the Orient into a mere human shell. She didn't really see things or hear things, but she made sure to provide for her darling daughter Elizabeth. As long as Elizabeth and her brother Phillip were clothed, fed, and schooled, nothing would be of concern or protest to their darling and zombie mother.
But children of such a young age cannot live without guidance and structure. A boy by the name of Mitch had approached her in school. He was a handsome junior, two years her senior and resembled a rough cabana boy of Rio, and he soon gained her trust. It was a perfect little courtship of ice cream, star-gazing, and running around in the evening in the woods like the crazy kids they were. He introduced her to a false religion similar to that of scientology in her sophomore year of high school. She did not resist.
The regular meals and conformity offered were such a comfort that she was further strung into the inner circles of the cult. When it came for the initiation of the newest permanent members, she nearly died, for new members were to donate blood of dedication. A carrier of sickle cell anemia, Elizabeth discovered that even if she did not have the disease, losing blood could activate it. Convulsing from pain and nausea in her fingers and knees, her strangely wise young brother Phillip gave her oxygen from the first aid kit he stole from a church. The con artists behind the whole escapade had to silence Elizabeth, because the revelation of their blood rituals to the authorities would result in severe prosecution. The wisdom of Phillip rang true, and all three fled; their mother asked only where they were headed. Their reply: Bangkok.
Bangkok, however, proved too unique in the array of cities, and they were nearly found; as did Kuala Lumpur and Sydney. Wise Phillip advised that they disappear into the androgyny of Midwest America, and they boarded a plane for O'Hare airport. This time, Elizabeth felt that it would work. Chicago had welcomed Elizabeth and her family as much she welcomed it into her heart. This place was a new city, a new hope, a new chance to reject the past.
Elizabeth dried her hands and walked out of the bathroom. She memorized the face of Arnold Thames, and swore that if she ever encountered this old soul again she would have to thank him somehow. Carrying her suitcase in one hand and leather gloves in the other she stepped out of the Admiral's Club and met her dear mother and wise Phillip smiling. Phillip had called ahead for a taxi, and soon they headed for 1006 North Knox Avenue.