The next day, Duck seriously considered not going to school. She lay in bed long after her alarm clock went off, playing last night's events over and over in her head. It was midnight… I had to leave. But… maybe… yes, I should've stayed for just one more dance. One more dance with him… with Ren… Oh, I'm so sorry, Ren… I'm so sorry… I should have stayed! She miserably squirmed deeper into her tear-stained pillow.
I couldn't bring myself to tell him… how I felt… It would've only made things worse! He was so sad… could it be that - ? But – even if he did really like me, he only saw Princess Bling in her cool outfit… not the real me.
She sighed. It had been a long night. Although she would've liked to have flung herself into bed and sleep her heartbreak away, there'd still been laundry to do and Algebra homework to finish. By the time she'd made it to her room, she'd been too tired to properly take care of her dirty clothes. Her Princess Bling outfit now laid on the floor, rumpled and somehow looking dejected. Her pendant, however, was back on its hanger. Even deep in exhaustion, she would've felt even guiltier not giving it the respect it deserved. The last thing she remembered before crawling into bed was glancing at the time on her alarm clock – 1:13 AM. It was now 6:50 AM. She'd be running on only five and a half hours of sleep. But she had a few tests to take in school that day, and to stay home would mean she'd have to make them up on Monday.
It's finally Friday. Today's the last weekday. I can do this! She thought as optimistically as possible.
It didn't really work.
She sighed again. When it came down to it, no matter how she felt, she simply had to go to school. She threw the covers off and laid there for one more moment.
Come on, lazy, get up. GET UP GET UP GET UP –
"Alright!" Duck hopped out of bed. "Let's do this!" She cleaned up, got dressed and saved Bling's outfit from where it laid scattered on the floor. Before depositing it into the laundry machine, she squeezed it tight against her. If she closed her eyes, she could still detect Ren's scent, hidden amongst the fabric… She breathed it in desperately, unwilling to let the memory of their dance fade. Misery once more crept up from her toes deep into her chest. It lay there, heavy inside her heart, resisting each breath she took. A now-familiar prickly feeling settled in her eyes. What I'd give for him to just hold me one more time… To hear him say he forgives me for being a liar…! Her eyes squeezed tightly shut. Against her will, a single tear escaped down her cheek. Her head snapped up in surprise.
"No! This isn't it!" Duck's voice rang with newfound confidence. She rubbed away the tear impatiently. "I won't give up! I won't! The dancing, the laughing… There was something there! There had to be…" She paused for a moment, gathering her thoughts. She gently set her Princess Bling outfit into the washing machine and hurried to put on her pendant. Without its fancy gold chain and decals, it looked modest yet reliable. She traced its smooth, curved surface with pride. "As long as there's a way, I'll never give up! If it's true there was something…" the memory of the kindness in his eyes flashed through her mind. "I won't give up… It can't all be for nothing…"
She stood there, deep in thought. Her concentration was broken by a fluttering of wings at the bedroom window. "Hm?" She opened the curtains. Outside, a large flock of birds were impatiently pecking and scratching at the glass.
Duck smiled. "I'm sorry, but I'm all out of crumbs for you! Well, I mean, I probably could scrape some up, but I have to leave for school soon, so tomorrow, okay?"
She turned around. "Speaking of school, what time is it…?"
The alarm clock now read 7:23.
"OH NO I'M GOING TO BE LATE!" She sprinted down the stairs, threw open a cupboard and grabbed a packet of oatmeal. She hastily dumped some milk in and set it in the microwave. The whole time it cooked she whirled around the house, gathering her books and grabbing her backpack. Just as the microwave went off, she snatched out the oatmeal and dug in. Her eyes never left the clock the whole time she ate, though it seemed the closer she watched it the faster time went. It's mocking me, she scowled.
Finally, her bowl was empty. She threw it into the sink and jammed on her shoes. It was now 7:29. She sprinted out the door and down the sidewalk. "See you tonight!" she called back to the birds perched around her window. She raced by the various grimy buildings that were just being lit by the silver early morning light. Along the street a few people were outside on their front steps, lounging or smoking cigarettes. The scent of bar food, gasoline and cut grass filled the air. It could've been any other morning, but there was a new spark in the air. Maybe it was just Duck's renewed enthusiasm at work, but all around the air seemed to have a twinge of magic. The people were talking with more life than usual, and their faces were lit with content. The morning breeze was warm, and Duck let out a laugh of joy as she dashed to school.
A few minutes later Duck found herself at her locker, trying desperately to keep several heavy books from toppling out. She sighed. Maybe the joy she'd felt earlier had been an untimely surge of chemicals.
"Duck!" Pique and Lilie raced over to her.
"Oh, Pique! Lilie! Good morning!" Duck managed as she threw herself against the books.
"Oh, Duck, do you want some help?! Here!" Lilie knocked Duck into the locker. "EEK! STOP THAT HURTS!" Duck shrieked.
"Lilie! What are you doing?" Pique pulled Lilie off of Duck.
"Aw, she needed help, and she's so cute I couldn't resist!" Lilie giggled.
"So… um… did you guys hear about how Cate Zeondo's party went last night?" Duck asked.
Pique perked up. "Oh, man, did I ever! I walked past some people who went this morning, and they said it was crazy! I wish I could've gone, it sounded so ridiculous!"
"Really? I'm so jealous of that girl, getting to meet The Ebb… so lucky!" gushed Lilie.
So word's gotten out already... I wonder what people have been saying. "Was Princess Bling there?" Duck prodded.
Pique's expression grew solemn. "Yeah, I think I heard something about her. And earlier today, I saw something online about how she ran out all upset. She and Ren had some sort of spat, I think. I bet he was probably a jerk to her."
"Oh, isn't that the way it usually goes?" Lilie sighed. "All of these popular guys are awful… Poor Princess Bling. I thought she was supposed to be friendly. I wonder what went wrong?"
Duck turned from them to hide her expression. She sorted through her notebooks, lost in thought. Oh, no, it wasn't Ren's fault! It was mine... I feel even worse now. People will be spreading rumors now... But I can't say anything. I can't let them know that I'M Princess Bling...
"Who knows? I hope they'll be okay. I wonder what Cate must've thought... What a party, right?!" Pique added.
"Yeah... So, what are you guys doing this weekend?" Duck changed the subject.
"Oh, nothing. Nothing to do really but homework and chores. But, hey! We should go somewhere this weekend! We haven't gone anywhere together in a while!" Pique grinned.
Lilie nodded. "I've saved up some of my allowance, and it sounds like such fun! What about you, Duck?"
Duck smiled in relief. "Sure! What should we do?"
Pique frowned thoughtfully. "Well, we can't go anywhere too far obviously, 'cause none of us have our permit yet."
"I'm getting mine in a few months! Then we can go just about anywhere in the city!" Lilie intoned.
"Well, I hear some kids are going to bring some stereos out to Lincoln Park in Rock Island. We could call a cab or walk, though it'd be a ways..."
"Aw, man... I'm practically broke!" Duck slouched. I do have a few bucks, but I was saving up for something like a new shirt or CD...
"Aw, she looks so disappointed! Let's not go at all, she looks so cute when she's upset!" squealed Lilie.
"Lilie! It's okay, Duck, I have some money. How about we go tomorrow, on Saturday?"
"Alright! But I'll have some work to do... Can we meet up after I get them done?"
"Sure. Let's meet in front of the gas station on the corner of the block."
"Okay, I'll be there!" The bell rang, interrupting their conversation.
Later on after school, Duck was mopping the floor. "Yeesh... How long has it been since I last mopped?" She wiped her forehead. "The floor is so dusty... Phew! I still have to get part of the living room, but then I'll be finished. It'll still be a while before I'm done, though. So...!" She flounced over to the giant stereo. It was one of her most prized possessions. It was fairly old, but it worked, and besides, the bass was amazing. She sorted through the large stack of CDs next to it but found nothing that looked appealing. "No big deal!" She turned the stereo on and set it to her favorite radio station.
"You're listening to 96.1... Today's Hits and Yesterday's Favorites. Here's a request," an announcer chirped.
"There! That's more like it!" She grabbed the mop and resumed cleaning. Then the song began, and she froze. Why did it sound familiar, and yet not?
"Dear, I fear we're facing a problem..." a woman purred.
The mop fell out of Duck's hands.
"...you love me no longer, I know, and maybe there is nothing I can do... to make you to."
Duck's lip quivered. Why this song, and why now?!
"So I cry, and I pray, and I beg..."
Duck's hips began to sway. She closed her eyes. She remembered Ren's hands on hers, his luscious eyelashes...
Then she was twirling through the room. The walls were a blur, the room startlingly still compared to the young girl dancing fluidly in its center. She didn't take note of any of this, though - her dizzying movements mirrored her rushing thoughts, the memories of the night... She twirled around with the mop gracefully, braid flying out behind her like a ribbon. The rush, the adrenaline - the excitement... It all came back in a solid wall of memory. Eyes closed, she let the music move her as a puppet.
"Love me, love me - Say that you love me! Leave me, leave me, just say that you need me! I can't care 'bout..."
She pressed her palm on top of the mop's handle and pushed herself into the air, arcing high above the ground-
"...anything but you!"
She smiled, blushing. Ren... Even now, I can still remember every moment, every word... Like this morning, it seems the magic you brought never left...
The song faded out, leaving Duck to contemplate in the quiet. "It almost felt like Ren was here... and dancing with me again!" She hugged herself and squealed with excitement. "I wonder... I wonder if he heard the song? I wonder if he thought of me? Or... Princess Bling, at least?" She gazed at the mop in her hands.
"Wait... Speaking of Princess Bling... I've never danced this well outside of being her!" She remembered flipping into the air and went pale. The balance it took to do such a leap with a flimsy mop... She stared at it in awe, as if it alone had been responsible for the incredible move. Not even the best dancers on the block could do such a thing... At least, none that Duck had ever seen.
"It must be magic... But what magic is it? Mm... I bet it won't last long. The time I spent with Ren was a one-time thing, I'm sure of it. And soon, the magic will fade with him..." Duck sighed in misery. "Wait - what ever happened to having hope?! I do have hope, I do! I DO I DO I DO!" She mopped the floor with a newfound determination, spinning all around the room. Water flew from the ragged mop all around.
"I will see him someday. I will; I know it!"