We were dancin’, the miss and I, swirling through the air on a cushion of cloud. How we did, I’ve no clue. Her shoes let out a little musical clink every time the glass struck the ground, and she had confided in me that she had challenged the local glassblower, Todd, to make them. She said that she wanted to one up Sarah LaBelle this year. Though she told only that when I asked. Her voice was soft and sweet as the melody my mother used to sing. The only thing I regret was not seeing her face, for it was covered with an ivory mask, made of feathers and pearls. This year, the Town Hall Ball was a masquerade theme.
I kept dancing with this enchanting miss in the ivory mask, all through the night. We swirled and danced through all the other couples, kids, no doubt, from my school. “I… I must go,” the girl stammered quietly after glancing at the clock, pulling away from me, and turning to run down the staircase. The clock read four minutes till midnight. The mayor and his wife would be closing the doors soon, closing yet another high school dance.
“Wait, Miss…” I called, sweeping after her, and grabbing her wrist, gently.
“What?” She asked, slipping her wrist away and looking down. Tucking my fingers under her chin, I pull her into a long kiss.
Slowly, as if drifting out of a dream, she pulls away. Still trying to recover from our kiss, my thumb slips under her mask and gently pulls it away from her face, to reveal her real identity. She gasps in horror and she ducks, slipping her hands over her face and spinning around. The mask gets caught on her pinned-up hair, and the girl in the Ivory Mask starts to run. She trips on the cobblestones, sending her rolling down the marble stairs of the dance hall. On the way down, one of her shoes hits the ground and shatters into a million pieces. She gets up, pulls the cloth of her simple white dress up so she can run away.
I shout, “Come back!” but she does not turn around. I hear the quiet stomp-clink of her retreating footsteps down Main Street.
Slowly, like I was in a trance, I step down the stairs. Her shoe, now reduced to a pile of glittering shards, lay scattered about on the stair. Picking up a couple of pieces, I tilt my face upward, toward the sky. I am surprised at how much the stars look like the shards of glass in my palms.
The day after the Town Hall Ball, I lay sprawled on my back in my tree house. I haven’t used it years, and yet she knows how to find me. “Hey, Luke!” she calls from the ground. “I’m coming up!”
I sit up and lean against the rough-hewn wall. My best friend, Lizzy Dylan, plops next to me on the floor. It’s a much tighter squeeze since we were little (now we’re near about sittin’ knee to knee), but we can still make it work. Her real name is Elizabeth, but she says that Elizabeth is her mother. To me, she always has been and always will be Lizzy.
“So, Luke, what’s going on?” She pulls her legs to her chest. She’s dressed in overalls, just like always, though her mother and my mother try to fit her in dresses. Her light blonde tresses hang loose round her shoulders, though all the ladies at church offer to pin it up for her.
“Nothing. Just dreamin’ about the girl I met at the ball last night.” I sigh and pull out the shard of glass from my shirt pocket. “See? Her shoe broke, and she left this behind.”
“Oh, yeah. There was somethin’ about a girl with glass shoes in the paper today. Apparently, the mayor is lookin’ for her.” Lizzy takes the shard and holds it up to the sunlight, spreading rainbows all over the floor. “What’cha dreamin’ bout, anyway?”
“Oh, I don’t know. If there’s anyone to know about dreaming it would be you, Lizzy Dylan. You’ve always got your head in the clouds.” I take the glass from her and tuck it back in my shirt pocket.
“No, really, Luke, I'm going to travel the world someday, you know that. I can’t stay here in nowhere springs all my life. Besides, I turn nineteen tomorrow. Tomorrow, I’m going to get a ticket out of this life.” She shifts again, sitting Indian style. Looking up at the missing roof of our childhood playhouse, she sighs. “And, why are you holdin’ onto that piece of glass, anyway? You want to find this girl?”
“Would be nice, I suppose,” I say, smiling at the thought of the Ivory Girl.
“Luke Tuck, are you in love?” Lizzy sings this last word, and smiles deviously.
“That don’t matter,” I tell her, my voice gruff. “But, you’re a girl, right?”
“Mmm hmm,” Lizzy says, shifting to hang her legs out of the treehouse.
“Maybe, you could, you know, help me find her,” I sound nervous at this suggestion, and I try to hide it with a cough.
“Well, if it means that much to you, Tuck. Where do you suppose we start?” Lizzy says, brushing the hair outta her eyes.
I sigh, “I was hopin’ that you knew, bein’ a girl and all.”
“Ok, well, here’s the game plan…” Lizzy begins to lay out this whole elaborate plan, but it started at the general store on Main Street.
Ten minutes later, we sit on the old rockers on the porch of Jacobi General Store, sipping Coke-colas. “Now,” declares Lizzy, leaning back in her rocking chair, “Now, we wait.” We sit in those rockers until my backside starts to ach and I’ve spent more that enough money buying us more colas.
Lizzy says the plan is to see if I can recognize the girl that I danced with last night. Girls pour in and out for hours, all don’t fit the description. I lay my head on my hands and wait. The minutes drag by, and the sun moves slowly above the porch top. Yup. This is Lizzy’s great plan. Lizzy, however, pulls out a book and lies, draped in her chair, reading.
My eyes slide closed and I slip into a dream. In the dream, I’m dancing with the Ivory Girl and everything is great. Suddenly, I am jerked back into life, as my chair gets kicked.
“I’m so sorry,” says a girl, but sleep hasn’t left me completely and my vision is blurred.
“No, no,” I say, standin’ up. The girl is kneelin’ on the floor, chasing runaway buttons. Her blond hair is pinned up, to keep her neck cool, I guess. Why do girls pin their hair up anyway? I kneel next to her, pinching buttons up from the floorboards.
“I just… Just wasn’t paying any attention, that’s all,” says the girl, sticking the last button in the jar nestled in the crook of her arm. I stand up, and offer her my hand, to help pull her up.
She takes my hand and stands up. But, I misjudge how much force it would take to pull her up. She crashes against my chest, but quickly rights her balance. “Sorry,” I murmur, stepping back and tucking my hands back in my pockets.
“Oh, don’t be,” says the girl, lifting her eyes to meet mine. This is the first time I’ve really looking at her. I find myself starin’ at the prettiest girl in all of Colton County, Alabama. I find myself lookin’ at the Ivory Girl. I can’t help but stare at her, but I quickly avert my eyes.
“Have I seen you before?” asks the girl, cautiously, “I wouldn’t think so, me just gettin’ here and all…” she breaks off. “Now, you don’t wanna know all that, do you?”
“Maybe I’ve seen you, but we didn’t introduce ourselves,” I offer, smiling, “I’m Luke Tuck.” I stick out my hand, and she takes it.
“Ella Grace,” she introduces herself. I glance over. Lizzy is dead asleep in her chair, even with all this commotion. Ella starts again, “I’d best be gettin’ home. Mama will want her buttons.”
I smile, shyly, “Well, Miss Ella Grace, why don’t I walk you home?”
She glances quickly at Lizzy, twistin’ her hands together, “Would your girlfriend mind?”
I laugh, “She’s not my girlfriend. We’re like brother and sister, next door neighbors.” I already feel comfortable talking with Ella, but that may in part be due with the fact that she’s really easy to talk to. I walk Ella home along Doyle Street, which is just a little more than a dirt road, carved out between the gentle hills.
Ella lives on a beautiful old plantation house, right in the middle of the golden corn fields. We didn’t talk on the walk to her house, it was all in silence, the only sound the braying of the donkeys in their fields and the chirping of the birds in the trees.
I say as we walk up her driveway, “I live right across this creek if you need anything.”
“Nah,” Ella brushes it off, “I can handle things.” We stop at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the porch. “Thanks for walking me home, Luke. Really appreciate it.” Ella says abruptly.
From inside the house, broken sounds of screaming leak out the open windows. Ella ducks her head, ashamed. “What’s goin’ on in there?” I ask her, concerned. I won’t loose my Ivory Girl just after I’ve met her.
“Here, let me explain why I'm here,” She starts, sitting down on a damp oak porch step, “My Mama died when I was a baby, influenza, you see. Daddy died, little over a year ago. He was killed in the war. Now my step mom runs me ragged here. She moved us out here to this plantation house, which has been in her family for ages. My step sisters don’t make life any easier.” She rests her elbows on her thighs, setting the jar of buttons on the stair next to her. “Please go,” she squeaks.
“Ok,” I say, stepping back, “but get me if you need anything. Really, I won’t mind.”
“Thanks,” Ella wipes a tear off of her cheek before standing up to go inside.
When I get back the general store, Lizzy is set on the porch, reading a new novel she musta bough inside. “Well, where you been, Luke?” she says without lookin’ up.
I can barely contain my excitement, “I found her, Lizzy, I found her!”
Lizzy sits bolt upright, book cast aside and forgotten. “Where’d you find her? What’s her name?”
I sit down across the porch. “Her name is Ella Grace. She lives in the Turner Mansion, the one on Doyle street, with her step momma and step sisters.”
“Ella Grace sounds like a perfectly poetic name,” Lizzy says, reaching across the gap to punch me in the shoulder. “I can’t believe my plan actually worked!”
“Hey,” I accuse, “you can’t believe it worked? I thought you were sure of yourself!”
“It’s amazing, how good of an actress I am, huh?” Lizzy Dylan laughs, wiping her hands on her denim overalls.
It’s been a year since I met Ella, and now we are inseparable. It’s been a fantastic year. I bought my own beat up red beet box pickup truck. The year was even complete with my twentieth birthday. Lizzy is still stickin’ around. She says it’s because she wants to keep working on the Colton Springs Gazette, the local newspaper, but at least she promised to stick around until the wedding.
Yup. Ella Grace and I are getting married.
I proposed last night, on the porch of the general store, where we met. It’s not an expensive ring, and it won’t be an expensive wedding. We both agreed that it would be small. Her family and my family, really. And Lizzy. Without Lizzy I wouldn’t have found Ella.
I sit in my truck in Ella’s driveway, waiting to pick her up for a quick dinner at the diner. And here she comes. Miss Ella Grace comes sweeping down the front porch. She slides into the seat next to me and I put the truck in gear. But I stop. A long, red mark stretches down her cheek. “Ella, what happened?”
“Sis thought I needed more color in my complexion,” Ella says, curtly, “She slapped me.”
“Ella, are you ok?”
“Yeah. Let’s just go.” She sighs, and gazes out the window. After dinner, I hated to drop her off again at her house, but she insisted that she would be fine.
I was lyin’ in bed that night, and I couldn’t sleep. Tap. Tap. Tap. Someone was throwing rocks at my window. Sliding up the pane, I stick my head out. Lizzy stands in the yard, fistful of rocks in hand, a suitcase by her feet. She makes a come-down-here motion. I nod and pull my head back into my room. Slipping my boots on, I grab a jacket and sneak down the hall.
“Luke,” Lizzy says, “I need a ride to the train station.”
“What?” I say, “It’s just past eleven!”
“Just take me, please.” Lizzy sighs. “I need to get out of this stupid town.”
I sit down on the suitcase. “Your dad?”
“Liz, I'm sorry.”
She looks away. “I know. C’mon.”
We get in the car and take off. The transmission in this car rattles and it hums weird when I turn left, but it gets to the train station.
“One ticket to New York,” Lizzy says through the window to the sleepy attendant. Forking over a fistful of cash, she turns to me. She says something, but it gets drown out with the whistle of the train.
“Hey, I’ve got to go or I’ll miss my train,” She says, looking at her hands. “But, I’ve got a wedding present for you and Ella.” She shoves a box in my hands and I pull her into a hug. “You won’t miss me much, will you?” She asks.
“Not one bit,” I say, just like we used to when we were kids.
“No, Luke, I’ve really got to go, but thank you. For everything. For a rock in the storm, a friend at school, someone to tease. Thanks for taking me here,” She says, pulling away. “I hope I can come back sometime, to see you and Ella.”
My voice is scratchy, “I hope so too.” She leans in and kisses me, gently, on the cheek. The clock above the platform strikes midnight, and she hops onto the train just as it’s pulling away. She waves back at me, put the machine picks up too much speed and she’s just a blur on the horizon.
Sitting down on the bench on the empty platform, I pull the lid off the box. Inside, wrapped in tissue paper, is a glass shoe and an ivory mask.