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The first time I saw him was at the Homecoming Dance my junior year. If I had enough sense to stay away from him then, the task still would’ve been near to impossible.
An erratic beat pulsed through the amps, and shook the dance floor. It was just how I remembered it my freshman year. The only place our school held functions was at the Pier house. It’s classy, they said. Although, watching everyone around me, I’d say the dancing could be a little classier. If they stopped rubbing up against each other like heathens, maybe then someone could finally catch their breath.
As if this wasn’t the worse possible case already, I was in the middle of it all, dragged by my former best friend, to quote on quote, “get my groove on.” Who even said that anymore?
Sometimes, I think I was born in the wrong era. I wish things could be simple and elegant as they had in the 1900’s. With a gentleman sweeping you along the ballroom floor, robed in a sophisticated ball gown that drooped to the floor, with a luxurious piano in the corner, playing the waltz.
I shoved my way to the edge of the dance mob, but I could never get free. A whole wall of glass looked out into the Pacific Ocean.
Through the glass I could see the figure of a young man. His head was tilted back, facing the starlit sky, and he was blowing a stream of cloudy white smoke from his mouth. He was lean and tall, and dressed in a smooth black tux. A tweed jacket slung itself over his shoulder. He must’ve been freezing in his light blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up. I could see tiny inklings of snowflakes coming down around him. They melted on his dark skin. He had his eyes closed, and the more I focused on him, the calmer his face appeared to be.
A cigarette dangled from his lips. It glowed red hot around the edges. The ash drifted down once they’d burned. I studied his expression. What did he remind me of?
His eyes snapped open, searching. He’d seen me watching, I was sure. A chill swept through me, and for a moment, I couldn’t breathe, my normal pulse had skipped a beat. My broken heart—as I referred to it—was fluttering nervously. He shook his head, and glanced away. I was relieved when it appeared he hadn’t seen me.
Instead, he pulled the cigarette from his mouth and let it fall into the water. He leaned against the chilled railing, cupping his hands around his mouth to light yet another one, hiding it from the nipping wind. He took a few chugs, and blew out the thick smoke like he had before. I sensed a habit in his chain smoking.
The dance floor was packed, leaving me pressed against the cool glass. I leaned my forehead against it in solace. Was it just me, or was it stifling in here? The amp next to me was vibrating along with the upbeat rap, I shivered. Suddenly the room around me was whirling. Blood pulsed in my ears.
“Excuse me.” I announced, shoving dancing couples aside and made a beeline for the outside deck.
“Fresh air!” I cried--somewhat overdramatically--running into the railing, and peering down below. My blood flow was circulating again; I felt my feet touching the ground, and the pull of my weight slamming down around me. I stretched my hands over the cold railing, almost inviting the chilled sensation.
The water was completely wretched. It churned and smashed against the long wooden poles that held the place up. Every wave reverberated in the wood. I was glad I wasn’t down there; it must’ve been freezing. Not only that, but it was pitch black. I could only imagine what sea predators lurked below. Maybe a human-sized catfish?
My stomach wambled. I was aware that only a few feet from me, the young man stood smoking; his eyes shut gently, his ears concentrated on the sea’s sounds. I poked my stomach and it cried out in hunger once again. I hadn’t had anything to eat all day, not even a bottle of water. The smoke smelled surprisingly sweet. I hesitated, and then leaned over to him.
“Um, do you happen to have another one of those?” I asked him.
His eyes snapped open, and gave me a glare that frightened me. I cringed back, even stumbling over my heels. I clung to the railing with white knuckles, and returned the stare. His expression changed, and he eyed me suspiciously. The wind blew tendrils of his hair. He pursed his lips. I watched his cigarette with coveting blue eyes. I’d never had a cigarette, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to even try; I was more or less curious about him. I’m sure he could see the yearning written on my thin face, yet I guessed my small frame, and good-girl impression caught him off guard.
“You smoke?” he asked me curiously.
“No,” I stated, “but I feel like it.”
This wasn’t entirely true.
He shrugged. His pale pink lips curled upwards into a grin. It stretched the skin on his chin, which dimpled at the clef. I felt nervous all of a sudden. He was charming; something about him oozed this kind of erratic normalcy, if that was even possible. He looked like the kind of person who wouldn’t change much with the years.
“Aren’t you a little young?” he asked.
“Aren’t you a little selfish?” I quipped, referring to the whole pack of fags he probably had hidden in his blazer. I never spoke out like this, and I didn’t know why I was doing so now.
My forwardness seemed to break him. With a bemused look, he reached into his pocket for the pack, and retrieved a shiny golden carton, handing me a thin cigarette. I placed it in my mouth, and smiled.
“Thank you,” I said appreciatively. I looked around cautiously, hoping none of the chaperones were watching, and then stuck it in. He chuckled, and reached forward plucking it out of my mouth. I frowned.
“You had it in the wrong way,” He laughed, and replaced it correctly.
“Oh,” I blushed, embarrassed. I could feel my face going hot. I was aware I had chills running up and down my sleeveless arms. My teeth clattered.
He shoved the golden pack deep into his pocket, and pulled out a glossy, silver lighter. On his left wrist was a watch, it was silver too, and it caught my eye.
“Here,” he demonstrated, “You have to hide it from the wind, like this…”
He reached down and placed my hands around my mouth like a cove. When he touched my hands, they shook underneath his. I looked up at him expectantly, wondering if he noticed. He must not have, his face remained calm and nonchalant. Then he lit the cigarette. He turned away from me, to the railing and looked down below exhaling a cloud of wispy smoke. I eyed him carefully, and copied his actions.
Breathe in…and exhale, I told myself.
My breath caught. The smoke burned through my nose. It stung my throat, and tingled my nose. I sputtered, and he turned to watch me. His eyes narrowed, but his smile grew wider. His own cigarette dangled between his lips. I thought it was going to fall out, but he kept smiling idiotically anyways.
“What?” I demanded.
“Nothing, you just look really funny,” he laughed, smoke blowing from his mouth. It hit my face, but I stifled the cough.
“Oh, whatever! This is useless,” I cried, giving up, and throwing the horrid object into the watery depths below.
“That’s a good girl,” He smiled. He checked his watch, and then looked back up at me.
“Yeah, well…” I paused, “What’s your name anyway?”
“What’s yours?” he retorted, narrowing his eyes.
“Elizabeth Halstead,” I smiled, and offered my hand for him to shake. He looked at me warily. Right when I thought he was going to accept it, he snagged my hand and pulled me closer. I was shocked, surprised. He looked at my wide eyes and laughed through his cloud of smoke. Slowly, he put his hand on my waist, and perked an eyebrow at me. His face read, does this bother you? I wondered if it did.
His hand tingled in mine; this buzzing noise filled my ears. I really hoped my broken heart would not pick now of all times to give out.
“Care for a dance?” He whispered, and it was cheesy to hear him say it. He spoke it like he meant it though, so I nodded.
“We have no music,” I said.
His head jerked towards the glass walls, and inside I could see couples moving around the dance floor. There was music playing, but I couldn’t hear much of it. He pulled my waist around, and then we were sailing around the wet deck, dancing to no music.
A low hum vibrated from his lips, and I realized he’d picked up the tune from inside. It wasn’t a slow dance anyways; we were dancing to a smooth beat…
One, two, three…
One, two, three…
I counted in my head, but my legs weren’t doing any work at all. He swiveled, and twirled me around, like I was weightless. I hadn’t realized, but I’d been staring at him the whole time, not even wanting to tear my eyes away. He was handsome; his face was smooth and tan. His hair fell in golden-brown pieces around his face. His jaw was set, in a square shape that dimpled at his chin. His lips curled into a smile, slowly, and then a dimple formed on his left cheek. I almost laughed too. His lips parted to reveal, straight— but not overly— white teeth. I blushed, and looked down.
I had to blink twice, for my eyes were surely deceiving me. We were floating inches from the ground, my toes pointed towards the ground, my heels not scraping against the deck like they should’ve been. I shook my head in disbelief, and my eyes flickered to his green ones. I was suddenly feeling lightheaded again. A pulse thumped in my ears. He must’ve caught my worried expression, for his smile faded, and he dropped my hand. When I looked down, I was standing once again on the cold deck. The magic was gone.
“Charmed—No, enchanted to come of your acquaintance, I’m sure,” He winked, and firmly shook my hand that was still jutted out in surprise, wincing as my ring brushed against his fingertips, and then he bowed a little over excessively.
When he straightened up, he was grinning devilishly. His frown had subsided, and now he looked at me like I’d made the whole thing up in my mind. Nothing had happened, I assured myself; the smoke must have disillusioned me.
As soon as his hand left mine, the buzzing mosquito noise in my ears stopped. I sighed in relief. Thankfully, my broken heart would survive tonight’s escapade. He placed his hand to his cigarette, and blew to the side, not touching my face with his cloud of smoke.
Needles to say, he left me questioning my sanity that night.