December 7, 2007
By Alexandra Martines, Haverhill, MA

Trudging up the hill to the castle, she dreaded entering the party. Her parents were expecting at least one hundred people. One hundred people who would all gape at her when she entered the party alongside her parents. Her dark, wavy brown hair had been ironed into submission and stretched nearly to her waist, a black veil that usually inhibited the need for eye-contact with anyone. Her mother, pleadingly convincing her to look more “grown up,” had pulled her hair back into a bun, exposing her face to the world. Without the security of her hair, she felt nude, as if everyone could easily see into her. As she reached the top of the hill the lights of the party came into sight. Colorful lanterns hung from tree branches, sconces lit the walls of the castle, and twinkling lights dangled from trees, the combination of which was blindingly bright. It took her eyes a moment to adjust to the blazing party and, when they did, she realized with a start that people were crowded all around her. Clusters of parents chatted under trees and a few young children skipped through the forest.

Walking delicately towards the food table, so that she was less likely to be noticed, she felt her heart rise into her throat when she saw who else was at the party. Children of the parents. At least twenty of them, all about her age, some older. The sulked around the food table and looked up in unison as she approached. Freezing, like a doe caught in headlights, she stood in front of them, her mouth slightly agape. They stared at her for a moment more, then returned to their dinners. After a desperate attempt to thaw her muscles, she began to slowly back away from the group, retreating back towards the castle.

Finding relief from the crowd, she went inside, planning to hide out there for the remainder of the celebration. Removing her book from her bag, she settled on a chair in the corner in the relative darkness of the stone walls. Burying her face in the book, she began to read. Abruptly, a boisterous couple swaggered into the dim room, interrupting her novel. The two teenagers, entangled in each others arms, balanced themselves on a single chair, evidently not noticing her presence. Startled by their cuddling, she stood slowly, removing her shoes lest they echo on the cobblestone floor. She slipped from the room and back into the brilliance of the party. Her stomach grumbled with hunger but she ignored it, dreading the idea of returning to the meal table for an encore performance. Suddenly, she remembered a place where she could be free from the party and its accompanying guests.

The steep and muddy hill wreaked havoc with her black patent heels. Pulling them crossly from her aching feet, she tossed them behind a tall sycamore. Looking backwards, she could still see the shimmering lights of the party between the trees, flickering like obscenely large fireflies. Moving more quickly and less carefully, as to escape from the raucous voices of the party, she nearly fell flat when her dress caught on a low branch. The pale light of the half moon wasn’t strong enough to light her path, and she stumbled her way down toward the lake. Climbing clumsily over a fallen log, she nearly shrieked when something bantam and fluffy scampered across her bare foot.

As she loped further along the path, her hair found freedom from the mess of pins that had been her mother’s creation. She reminisced about the last time she had visited the lake. It had been nearly a decade. Only a child at the time, she had brazenly thrown herself into the clear water and had spent the majority of her vacation immersed in the cool lake. That summer, her father had taught her how to float on her back in the lake. She had spent the rest of that day lying on her back in the water, savoring the way she drifted and dreaming that she was a shard of sunlight floating in the sky, downy and airy, alighting on clouds. On the last day of their vacation, she had scampered off to the lake in the early morning, her mother in tow, to take one last swim. Diving into the lake, she swam the perimeter twice, loving the buoyancy the water gave her and basking in the way the platinum sun warmed her front as the chilly water cooled her back. In her swim back to the shore, her ankle had gotten caught in root or vine of some sort and, in a frenzy of flailing arms and legs, she had submerged her head in the water. Her mouth full of lake water, she scraped at her ankle, untangling the offending plant. Free, she had swum swiftly back to the sand and heaved herself out of the water, trembling with shock. That had been the last time she’d been to their cabin on the lake.

The lake was calm as ever, reflecting the half-moon in its depths. Standing at it’s edge, she gazed into the chilly, clear water. Suddenly, a ripple broke the still surface of the lake and a vivid silvery tail whipped out of the water. The lustrous fish glided away, the shimmering light of the moon illuminating it like a drop of diamond moonlight. She felt the urge to dive into the water and let the moon grace her with it’s light, the way it had the fish. Always cautious and timid, a list of reasons why she couldn’t began to compile in her mind. The voice in her head told her that the party was far too close to her and someone would see her. Anyway, she would get wet, and everyone would wonder what was wrong with her. And she couldn’t jump in the water in her special party dress. It had been pricy. And what if that plant was still there, waiting, after so many years, to wrap around her ankle and try to drown her like before? No one would ever know! And anyway, the lake had been transformed into a reservoir, and swimming in it was prohibited. The voice possessed a high tone eerily similar to her mother’s.

Silencing the eager voice, she reached for the zipper in the back of the dress, conscious of the loud music of the party no more than three hundred yards behind her. Startling at the sound of a twig snapping behind her, she whirled around to see a groundhog scurry into the underbrush. The moon, now bright, reflected its dazzling dusky light onto the lake. The burgundy satin pooling at her feet and the chilly water grabbing at her toes, she dove.

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