Darien ran a hand through his short ebony hair. The dance was lame.
Well, not really. The dance itself appeared to be fun. But going along with Jimmy’s idea to go stag with two other couples had been a mistake. Darien stood alone and bored against the wall of the dimly lit high school auditorium. The rest of his classmates pressed in a mob in the center, their bodies a unified mass as they convulsed and gyrated. Music vibrated the scuffed wood floor. Every pore under his dress shirt broke out in sweat. He needed some air.
In the lobby he leaned against one of the glass display cases that lined the hall, his ears full from the silence. He ran another hand through his hair. So stupid, Darien. If you couldn’t get a girl to go to the dance with you, why would any dance with you now? He smacked the case and heard a rattle, turning to see what he’d disturbed.
Most of the cases held trophies and awards won by the current student body at East Washington Adams High. This one just held black and white pictures and tattered banners that belonged to some guy that had once been Captain of the football team, then crowned Prom King. He’d gone on to fight in World War II as some big shot general, and donated a ton of money to his alma mater so they could build this wing. Whoop-de doo. If Darien couldn’t even get a date to a dance, there was no hope he would ever get a display case in his honor. Pathetic life.
A growl slipped from under his breath as he rested his head against the wall, eyes closed, listened to the steady patter of rain on the roof. Again, why am I here? His stomach clenched tight.
“Hello,” a gentle female voice said.
His eyes shot open, quickly followed by his jaw.
Before him was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. Her skin was pale, much more so than most girls in school. Light hair swept up, her dress looked different from the other girls, too. Fancy, but pretty. Bright red lipstick highlighted full lips that curled into a smile and every sweat gland along Darien’s hairline decided to awake. She was gorgeous.
She was the kind of girl he’d dreamed of for years.
He swiped a hand across his forehead and swallowed. “Uh, hi.”
“Care for a dance?” she said.
“Come on, I won’t bite.”
She held out a hand and he took it, his world in a complete tailspin. They entered the auditorium just as the music slowed. A lump the size of Texas formed in his throat. He’d never slow danced before! But the mysterious girl took his hands, placed one on her hip, held the other to the side.
He finally remembered to breathe.
She smiled. “You’re cute. What’s your name?”
“Darien.” Why did his voice sound so hoarse?
“Mine’s Elaine. Beautiful night for a dance, isn’t it?”
Before he could reply, he stopped. Did she consider rain a beautiful night? Whatever. He didn’t care. The prettiest girl in the room had chosen him.
Hours passed and they danced, talked, laughed. Elaine never even glanced at another guy. Had she come stag, too? For once in his life Darien was no longer the loser guy without a date. Elaine sincerely seemed to like him.
“So, can I give you a ride home?” Darien had plucked up enough courage to ask the big question that weighed his mind all night.
Her face fell. “Oh, uh….” She glanced around, and her eyes settled on the clock.
Five minutes before midnight.
Without warning, she stepped away, a soft cry on her lips.
“Wait!” Darien yelled. Panic laced his insides like the streamers that hung from the ceiling. “Where are you going?”
Elaine took his hands in hers, their fingers intertwined. “I’ve had a wonderful time, Darien. Thank you so much for being my dance partner. But I must go now. I’m late as it is.”
She leaned in and placed a kiss on his cheek. “Thank you….” Then she turned and ran.
At first he stood frozen, shocked by such a public display of affection. Had she really just kissed him? But then he was off. His feet sprinted faster than they had in any of his cross country races. He didn’t even bother to apologize to the students he slammed into.
He fell through the double doors into the empty lobby, the stagnant air like a concrete wall. No sign of her. His hands found the cold metal bar of the outside doors and he stepped into the rain, an earthy scent on the breeze. Nothing. Where was she? Where could she have gone so fast?
His heart pounded and his stomach turned sour. She’d left him. Wet droplets bled through his clothes, shoes, matted the hair to his head. How could she have left him? He took a step, stumbled. A glance down revealed a simple white shoe. Her shoe. With despair, he bent and picked it up.
He stepped back into the building, shoulders drooped as he twirled the shoe between his hands. She’d have to come back for it, right? He ran his hand through his now wet hair and leaned his head against the glass case, the same one he’d leaned on earlier in the night. His eyes connected with a picture, one of that famous alumnus. An ancient photo of a dance from long ago. The guy stood proud and tall, his suit pressed, shoes shiny. On his arm was a girl, a beautiful blonde in a fancy dress. One who wore bright red lipstick.
Darien’s heart stopped.
Elaine was the girl in the picture.
©Laura L. Zimmerman 2016