- For an instant, love can change the world -
I was taken aback by her elegance. She had twirled around the room with her date all night, oblivious to my obvious obsession. I squirm in my tuxedo as the cheap, coarse fabric itches against my skin. My date had left ages ago, and now I sit alone, wallowing in my thoughts. It's too much to watch her dancing with him. A group of girls giggle at me as I order another scotch, indifferent to their stares. My thoughts wander, though they never fail to lead back to the same thing. She looks beautiful tonight, but not in the same way as the other girls: her hair is messy from the dancing and the drinks, and her gown is not particularly trendy, though it flatters her well. I can tell she's working hard to impress her date, moving carelessly and seductively as his eyes follow her intently. It is clearly working.
"Here's your drink, sir." I see the waiter's shimmery maroon vest out of the corner of my eye and grab the glass from his hand without looking up. The waiter, noticing the object of my attention, takes a bold chance at conversation. "Beauty, isn't she? Comes here for about every event. I hear her dad's got big money, lives in some mansion out on Ridgewood. She'd be a prize for any man to take home, eh?"
I glare up at him, irked by his ignorance. I don't respond, but instead continue to stare straight ahead.
"Well anyways, looks like that man's got her on a tight leash. They haven't let go of each other all night. Good evening, sir." He walks away, taken aback by my blunt behavior. As heartbreaking as it is, the waiter is right. She is thoroughly and completely unconcerned with my whereabouts. I pick up my drink and begin to sip, letting the scotch burn my throat as it trickles down. I look around the grand ballroom, remembering how it had looked just hours before.
The night had begun with such promise, such sparkle. We arrived to a lit up ballroom at seven o'clock sharp, though we could already hear the music from a block away. We arranged a limo to drive us, since it was twenty minutes outside of Paris. Neither of us planned to be sober enough to drive home. I had been to events at the Chateau de Versailles before, but this one outdid them all. I stepped out of the car and was blinded by cameras, shimmering dresses, and spotlights everywhere I looked. My date's maroon dress was one of the more extravagant of the night: it was long and form-fitting, with a plunging neckline nearly down to her naval. Our entrance to the ballroom turned the heads of every man inside, even those with their ring-bearing hand around their wife. I didn't bother putting my arm around her; I knew she liked the attention, and I would only detract from that.
The ballroom was glorious in appearance. Shimmering chandeliers hung low from the elaborately designed ceiling, and the decor was perfection, down to the very last center piece; however, I was sure that I was the only one in the room to notice these details. I knew these types of people: everyone else was preoccupied with the music, the company, and themselves.
We were seated toward the back of the ballroom, close to the bar. Marthe remained standing for a moment, smiling elegantly and victoriously; surely basking in her and her dress's momentary fame. I waved my hand to the waiter, signaling his service.
"You are drinking already?" Marthe asked daringly. Though I knew she meant it in the most condescending of ways, the edge of her words was softened by her thick French accent. Being American, I found the French language intriguing, even after living in Paris for the past two years. Before I could answer her, the waiter interrupted.
"Good evening, Misseur, what can I get for you this evening?"
"Ah, excellent timing. Bring over a scotch, if you will."
"Right away, Misseur." He scurried back to the bar to fetch my drink.
"What were you saying?" I asked Marthe calmly. I found the less I acknowledged her pointed remarks, the less she made them.
"You did not order me a drink?"
"Did I not?" I replied vacantly. She glared at me. Wasn't she pleasant tonight. "I'm sorry. We can order one when he comes back this way." She did not respond, but instead scanned the room, uninterested in what I had to say. I was sure that she didn't actually care about the drink, only that I did not consider her before ordering my own. Typical girl behavior. It was only our third time out together and she was already expecting me to dote on her. Unfortunately for her, I am not the type to woo.
The waiter returned with my scotch, and Marthe ordered a bottle of expensive champagne. Though I would be paying for it, surely I am not the only man she planned to share it with tonight. That's okay with me, though; I am not winning any awards for best date of the evening. This provides us with the basis to our relationship: she gives me sex; I give her freedom. Ah, the glory in modern-day relationships.
Marthe crossed her legs, pulling back her dress and allowing the slit down the side to reveal her slender, tanned legs. My eyes have already dulled to these legs, and I hardly noticed. Nevertheless, her trap had been set, and within seconds her prey approached with little caution. An older man, probably in his late forties, left his group of friends and moved in our direction, making eye contact all the while with the brunette by my side. This was my queue to leave.
Without a word, I stood up, grabbed my empty glass, and walked to the bar. As I slipped onto the mahogany stool, I couldn't help but feel at home. I slid my glass across the bar in the direction of the bartender. It skidded to a stop inches before the edge of the bar. He took the hint and refilled my scotch. I gripped the cold, smooth glass and began to drink again, watching the lovely couples dance and laugh and sing.
After an hour of dancing, the music stopped for speeches. I quickly scanned the room, looking for a distraction, any distraction, from the old balding man standing at the microphone in the center of the stage.
And then I saw her. I hadn't seen her in nearly a year, but she looked exactly the same. Dancing with a tall, muscular man with dirty blonde hair slicked back. His neck was thick, leading to broad shoulders that stretched his tuxedo. Acknowledging his prestige, I looked for her parents nearby; I knew they must be the culprits behind Rose's seemingly perfect date. As expected, they were sitting near the front of the ballroom, their chairs turned to watch Rose and the man glide around the dance floor. Her mother called out to Rose and laughed, cheering her and the man on. Her father smiled as well, but glanced in my direction: I knew instantly that he had been aware of my presence the entire night, that this was his concern. I imagine he had intentionally kept Rose from my view, not wanting to suffer the consequences if I saw her. But he had nothing to worry about: I knew that I was not someone she would want to see, especially in the midst of a glamorous night such as this.
I remained in my seat at the bar for another few minutes, then got up and returned to my table. Marthe had left the table to dance with the man, draping herself over his shoulders and holding on tightly. I could tell that his hands groping her backside was already more fire than I had given her in all of our dates, so I let her be. Besides, my mind was preoccupied. I slouched down in the intricately-made chair and sipped my scotch once more, knowing that a few more sips would leave me drunk. Perfect.
This was where I remained for the rest of the evening. I avoided looking at the dance floor in hopes that if I didn't see Rose again, I could forget she was even here. But occasionally boredom and curiosity took over and I the scanned the room to see if Marthe was still with the man. She was. Flirting, laughing, touching. I knew that she was trying to make me jealous, trying to tempt me into some state of passion. But I hadn't felt the passion nor investment she was looking for in a very long time.
Though my tolerance was high to the scotch in my hand, by the time Marthe returned I was feeling intoxicated. Unluckily for her, in recent times I had not been the nicest drunk.
"Are you not caring that I am not with you?" She asked bluntly in her thick accent. I could tell she had a few drinks in her as well, because her words were thrown at me sloppily and slurred. I raised my eyebrows.
"He is forty-something years old with a unibrow. I think I can contain my jealousy," I replied in monotone.
"You are not being careful with your words, Nicholas. I could be with any man here!" Her voice was heated now, and this comment rubbed me the wrong way.
"I'm sure you could, sweetheart, so why don't you pick someone who actually cares. Because I don't. You're desperation reeks from across the room, and it isn't attractive. Good thing you're pretty, because that's all you've got going for you, babe."
This comment had gone too far. She stomped off, though she did not return to Mr. Unibrow. After my comment, I was sure she was looking for someone more attractive and prestigious to rub in my face. I needed to learn to hold my tongue.
She left soon after with a tall dark stranger from one of the front tables. I couldn't help but noticing the glint of light coming from his left ring finger as he clung to her burgundy dress. I barely contained a smile as she looked up into his eyes, not realizing she would probably never see him again after that night.
This leaves me sitting at the bar utterly and inescapably alone. I've been here for hours, and my upright posture has slouched to a curve as I watch the other couples enjoy the last few hours of the evening. As the night goes on, the crowd thins, and it becomes harder and harder to avoid her twirling around the dance floor.
The more I drink, I am unable to contain my jealous thoughts. My mind fills with cheap shots and rude comments about the man with the slicked back hair. His hair is too long, his feet too big. The list goes on, and each insult is more ridiculous than the one before. What does she see in him anyways?
Now I focus my attention on her. Maybe it's the lighting, or the dress, but I can't remember seeing her look any more beautiful than she does at this moment: she glows in the dimming ballroom light, and her eyes reflect the sparkling of the chandelier. Her skin is fair, but there is still the hint of color from the summer sun exuding from her cheeks and shoulders. It reminds me of the summer we spent together. I drink once more, hardly tasting the scotch.
Just as I down my drink, the music stops for a song change, and what is left of the crowd clears the dance floor. I see her smile at the man she was dancing with. She lets go of his hand as he begins to walk towards the bar, and she towards me. Her wavy hair bounces with each step, and I watch her with an insatiable longing. I can not think as she stops in front of me.
"Hi," her voice comes out calm and collected. I am afraid to respond.
"Hey," I say breathlessly. She is now close enough that I can smell her perfume; it's the same scent I remember from so many years ago. Her eyes are dark and mischievous, and her ears stick out underneath her full head of hair. She is exactly the same, and yet so different. There's a pause as she watches me searchingly.
"How are you?" She asks. Behind her I see the man she had been dancing with eyeing me, though she doesn't seem to notice. I look back at her, unsure how to answer the question at hand. There are so many things I want to say, so many emotions. But I couldn't, wouldn't betray myself by saying them.
"I'm doing well, thank you." Though I say the words I had intended, my voice gives away every feeling, every thought inhabiting my mind.
"Nick," she says quietly. She knew I was lying, that I wasn't okay; but she didn't ask me again. The band began to play a new song, much slower than the previous. Her hair fell in her face, but she was too focused to notice and too drunk to care. "Want to dance?"
She knew my answer from the moment she asked. I nodded, although every fiber of my being screamed at me to leave. She grabbed my hand and led me out to the dance floor. We didn't talk much, she just twirled around, holding my sweating hands tightly and keeping her body just close enough to occasionally brush against mine. I was blind to the other couples dancing around us, and to her parents glaring at me, and to her date sulking at the edge of the dance floor: all I could see were Rose's hips moving subtly beneath her slinky white dress. The cloth was loose fitting, though the outline of her thin frame could be seen as she twisted and turned. She lifted her arms. Her eyes gleamed in the dim lighting, and she looked radiant in her glorious and drunken ecstasy.
The song slowly wrapped up, leaving Rose in my arms and my head in the clouds. She looked up at me wistfully and dazedly, then removed herself from my clutch. Without looking back, she walked away from me and towards her date. He smiled greedily, understanding that he was the one she wanted, that I was nothing to her. He grabbed her firmly by the waist and led her out the door, supporting her as she stumbled in her high heels. I turned around and walked to my table. I grabbed my coat, and left.