“You want to talk about it?” I posed the question to my beautiful baby slumped in her strapless red dress in the passenger seat. She sits there, staring into the night and I think she’s still upset from before. It happened again. He was there tonight, when I came to pick her up, and she was lucky I came when I did. It’s all right now though, he was taken care of and she’s fine, and I can’t help but feel fine staring at the pearls draped around her elegant neck, swaying back and forth as the jerky road wears on the already tired suspension of my Chevy.
“He hasn’t ever hurt you, has he? You should have called me right away.” I take my eyes from the road again to catch glimpses of her sequins scattering light inside the car, and I am mesmerized. I force my eyes back to the road as we pass Quincy, then Seventh until the road forces us to head east onto Elmhurst. On the dashboard I can see the clock shift from 8:47 to 8:48 and the sole of my rented shoe presses harder against the gas pedal as we pass the principal’s house doing 40 in a 25. My baby doesn’t seem to mind though, and rests her head on the window.
“We’ll be there on time.” I reassure her and catch sight of her peering into the starless night as we pass one of the evenly scattered streetlights. Even in the orange halogen glow, she is more beautiful than I remember. She was standing there with him in the entryway when I opened the door and seemed to catch him off guard. Her delicate fingers were pointing, her perfect hands were waving and her appetizing lips were trying to tell me something at the same time that he was shouting at me. I could hear neither of them, instead focusing on trying to protect my baby, so precious and flawless in her dress.
Elmhurst slowly turns into Rochester which turns into Fourth which becomes the parking lot, full of nicer cars than mine with acceptance-letter-certified university stickers clinging onto the back windows. The streetlights have gone from the Halloween inspired fading orange to a very crisp white, further pointing out the deficiencies with my hand-me-down ’91. The only parking space left is the one in the back, by the music building, with a giant pothole on one side and a constant mud pile on the other. Looming above is the notoriously dangerous tree and the out of range security cameras, where no one can see who keyed your brand new Benz.
“Wait right there, “ I tell her, and fling my door open to maneuver around the pothole and crunched leaves as I, like a gentleman, make my way to her door to be her escort. She doesn’t return the favor, and with my hand still extended for hers, she doesn’t even look me in the eye. She just stays there, unable to move, probably still traumatized.
“Baby, it’s not your fault. He needs to let you go.” She says nothing, so I bend down to be with her. “I know you didn’t want to come after what happened, but this is what you’ve always wanted. You have to be here tonight. Come on.” I help her up and end up dragging her with me to the school. The wind howls at her dress, snapping it against her body, but she still looks perfect to me, my baby with the wind-swept hair.
We take the back door into the building, the one without the streamers and fancy lights and confetti-covered sidewalk, but the one that gets us out of the frigid breeze the quickest; I don’t want my baby to freeze. We let ourselves in to a long corridor full of linoleum, half-lighting and head-high lockers. I wrap my arm around her cold shoulders and we make our way down the hall to the bass beats off in the distance.
“Are you ready for this? Everyone will be so jealous, you look absolutely amazing.” Walking through the shadows of the corridor, I turn towards her and kiss her unblemished cheek.
The noise grows louder and the air becomes thicker as we descend the stairs that lead to a set of double doors on the left, begging to be pushed open to reveal all that lies behind them. No one is there to welcome us, so I oblige and clunk the door-length handle down, letting out a blast of commotion that takes my ears a few seconds to recognize as being music. The gym is alive with rainbow-colored lights dancing across the walls in an otherwise pitch-dark room. Most everybody is clustered together on the dance floor, making the couples spread out at the 20 tables covered in white cloth and sparkles on the edges an oddity.
Somehow, through the camouflage of tuxedos and dresses and grinding-inducing rhythms, I’m able to weave a path through the crowd for me and my baby. The couples on the dance floor are engrossed with each other, noticing nothing else except the person across from them and the noise from the pumping speakers. We find our way to what seems to be the center of the overcrowded dance floor as the music slows and the lights become less intense. I hold my baby close, so close I can taste her breathe, as the atmosphere in the building turns romantic. I’m lost in her eyes, feeling her perfect body move against mine, and we fit. I couldn’t be in love with her more if I wanted to. I forget about our fight and the other couples in the room and my pain just falls away, like a silk sheet rolling off a bed.
The first comment comes from a girl behind me. “That’s her! Where’s…?” and it drowns into another “That’s not him…” that melts into “Is that…?” and I know they’re staring at us. As I stare into her beauty, I catch a glimpse of an orange flame in the corner of her eye. It starts out small but quickly jumps to the next level, and that’s when I know the fires outside of the doors are picking up intensity. This is when the screams started. The music keeps playing, not knowing the chaos that surrounds it, and people push and shove past each other hoping to find another exit which they know doesn’t exist. I look around at the disarray surrounding me set to a magical, romantic song, and I pull my baby in closer. The screams get louder and the flames wreak havoc to the room, leaving nothing untouched. I squeeze my baby tighter and try to block out everything around us again, but I can’t, and all I can picture anymore is him with her; him standing there in his three-piece suit, holding out a flower for my baby, my baby.
“Hey, what’s going on here?”
“Look man, we don’t want any more trouble from you, all right?” I turn my attention from him to my baby, and look into her eyes, trying to understand.
“Please,” she says, “just leave me alone.” Her snow colored, white dress flows behind her as she reaches for him and slips her arm under his. “Please.”
I cling to my baby as the fire burns the floor below us and threatens to take my life. I see my baby’s beautiful, cold eyes still focused on me, and if she could, I know she’d be smiling too.