Pyro

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Chapter 27

Modern Day; April 23rd; Cleveland, Ohio; Melissa

It was finally the day I had been waiting for. The minute I woke up, I jumped cheerfully out of bed, which was unusual because I was the very opposite of a morning person. I put on some peppy music – an old David Bowie album – and got to work on my appearance. First, I took a bath and combed out my red hair, which was getting pretty long. Now it was almost halfway down my back – the longest that it had ever been. Beth stopped by my room when I was painting my nails dark blue and smiled in amusement.

“That’s quite a change from the usual black polish,” she said with a smirk.

“Shut up,” I said without looking up.

“Fame” was playing now and I was trying to paint my nails in the same rhythm as the music, just to entertain myself.

“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so interested in your appearance before. It’s almost like you’re a girl, or something.”

“Shut up.”

“Are you going to put actual makeup on your face, too? Gasp!”

I threw a shoe at her and she left my room in a fit of laughter.

I did some studying while I waited for my nails to dry, carefully turning the pages with the pads of my fingers. I was thankful that Beth wasn’t in the room to make fun of me for that. But one Bowie album later, when I had just finished painting my toes in the same blue color, she came into my room again.

“Melissa, what’s it like to kiss a guy?” she asked, plopping herself on my bed.

I scowled when my comforter got messed up a little bit.

“Well, that’s a random question.” I tested my fingernails to make sure they were dry and hard. They were. “Why do you ask?”

“I was just curious.”

I narrowed my eyes at her suspiciously.

Shit! She probably knows. She always knows… It’s that damn mind reading thing.

Resisting laughter, I said, “It’s pretty nice if you do it with the right person. If it’s with the wrong person… Well, I don’t know anything about that, but I can imagine it would be pretty awkward.”

“But if it’s with the right person…?”

“It’s fantastic. I definitely recommend it. Don’t pass up the chance if you have it. You’d regret it forever. You must have a real reason for asking me this. Are you thinking of kissing a certain person, or something?”

“No! I was just… Doing a little creative writing and I didn’t know exactly how my characters would feel about it.”

“Right,” I said as I put the cap on the nail polish. “Because you love writing so much.”

She rolled her eyes at me and looked put out.

Just then, Felix walked into the room with his hands over his eyes, startling Beth and I.

“Are you decent, Melissa?” he asked.

“Yes! I had no idea you were coming now!” I said.

“Give us some warning next time!” Beth said, looking alarmed. “We could’ve been talking about anything!”

He uncovered his eyes and said, “I just heard something about kissing, which is a perfectly normal subject. By the way, I love the music choice.”

“Thank you,” I said, nodding and smiling.

I made eye contact with Beth and she looked frightened, but I ignored her desperation. If she wouldn’t come out and tell me exactly what she was thinking, I wasn’t going to try and help her. Felix sat down on my floor and started nodding his head along to the music. I closed my textbook and gave up on trying to get anything done. It was going to be impossible with two people in the room to distract me.

“What’s the gown color?” he asked me curiously.

I smiled. That was one of the things I loved about Felix. He really cared about people and what mattered to them.

“Navy blue! Same as my nail polish. Wanna see it?”

“Yes!” said Beth eagerly.

I pulled it out of my closet and held it in front of my figure so they could get a better idea of how it would look on me. It came down to my knees and had a light fabric for the skirt that fluttered whenever I walked. The top part was thicker, with sparkles. The neckline was pretty low for me. They couldn’t know just by looking at it, but it came down in a v shape to reveal the tops of my breasts. After all, I wanted to give Willow an interesting view.

“Very nice,” Felix said with a curt nod.

“Oh my God, Melissa,” said Beth. “It’s beautiful!”

“I think so too.” I closed my eyes and hugged the dress to my chest, daydreaming about how I would look dancing with Willow. “Tonight’s going to be the best night ever.”

“What color is Cierra wearing?” Beth asked.

“I don’t know, actually.” My cell phone started buzzing on my desk and I went to check the caller ID. “Speak of the devil… Huh, that’s weird.” I picked it up and answered. “Hey, Cierra.”

“Hey,” she said on the other end. “How’s it going? Have you started getting ready?”

“Of course. Do you want to come over and get ready with me?”

“That’s actually what I was calling to talk to you about.”

“Great! Well, you’re welcome to come over whenever. Beth and Felix are hanging out with me right now. Felix is on duty, so I’m well protected here in my personal dressing room –”

“Melissa.”

“What?”

“I can’t go.”

“Oh.”

My face fell and I was suddenly deeply disappointed. All my visions of her and me having a great time, like we had at her wedding, vanished. Beth and Felix, who had been watching me, instantly looked concerned.

“What is it?” said Beth.

“Is anything wrong?” said Felix.

I ignored them and listened to Cierra, who said, “I just have so much to do. I still don’t feel like everything here is secure and I would hate to leave the Underground in this time of hardship. They need their Leader in case anything bad happens. Of course, that’s the worst case scenario, but if I went to Prom, I would be very distracted and worried the whole time, probably. I wouldn’t be any fun anyways.”

“I understand. I think you’re probably making the right decision. And it’s fine. I’ll have Willow, so I’ll still have fun.”

“That’s what I thought. I know you guys will still have fun without me.”

After we hung up, I explained the situation to Beth and Felix.

“I’m sorry, Melissa,” said Beth. “That really sucks.”

“Do you need a hug?” said Felix.

“No, no, that’s alright,” I said, but he was already getting up and coming over to me.

I stared at Beth and she giggled as Felix put his arms around me and patted my head awkwardly.

“Can I choose the music after this song is over?”

“Sure,” I said lackadaisically.

While Felix searched through my CDs, records, and everything I had on my MP3 player, I got my curling iron out and ready to be used. By the time “Space Odyssey” had finished playing, Felix was prepared. My eyes rolled up to the ceiling when ABBA started playing.

“Nice!” said Beth with a giggle.

“Oh God,” I said.

Felix turned around and gave me a mischievous look, saying, “I think you mean… Mamma Mia.”

“No. I think I really mean ‘oh God.’”

Felix held a hand out to Beth and she jumped up from the bed to dance with him. I began curling my hair as they danced around my room. They already looked like a married couple and I wondered why he didn’t just ask her out already.

I found myself watching Beth, like I usually did. Her footwork was astounding, considering that dancing was a new hobby of hers. She was clearly a natural. When the song ended, my hair was curled. Beth curtsied and Felix gave a little bow. I gave a few little claps to satisfy them and then unplugged my curling iron.

“Okay. Here’s the plan,” I said as “SOS” began to play. Beth did a little dance in place as I talked. “I have a few hours of free time and then I’m going to do my makeup and meet up with Willow for dinner. Do you guys want to watch a movie or so –”

“James Bond!” Felix yelled, punching a fist into the air.

Beth started giggling and I rolled my eyes at them for what seemed like the thirtieth time.

“James Bond it is, then.”

“Yes!”

By the time Willow rang the doorbell hours later, I was ready to be free of the couple. They were starting to really get on my nerves. Amber also got on my nerves because she had to take a million pictures before she let us leave. Her excuse was that Adam didn’t get to see me before I left due to being busy working in the Underground.

“You curled your hair,” Willow said as we walked into the restaurant we had teleported to.

Willow always planned ahead, so he had made sure to spot an area we could appear without attracting attention. It would’ve been weird to see people just appear out of nowhere, especially if one was human and not used to supernatural things happening.

“Yeah, I did. I’ve never done it before and I thought I would try it.”

“It looks nice. You look really nice. Do you have makeup on?”

I blushed.

“Stop it, Willow. You’re making me feel self-conscious.”

“I think you’re supposed to feel self-conscious on Prom night.”

The table we got was nice and secluded from the rest of the restaurant, so we could actually talk about anything without being overheard. I suspected that Willow had given the waiter a little extra cash to get us such a spot, but I didn’t question it.

“Can I just say that I’m extremely proud of you?” Willow said to me after we had gotten our drinks.

“Why?” I asked, stirring the ice around my glass with my straw.

“Because all kinds of weird things have been happening to you. You found out that you weren’t completely human and that your boyfriend wasn’t human at all. And then you saw someone get murdered. And yet… You still managed to get straight A’s and become valedictorian.”

I shrugged.

“All in a year’s work, I guess.” We laughed. “You’ve done pretty well, yourself.”

“Yeah, but problem-solving is my ability. I didn’t exactly have to try that hard.”

“I’m not just talking about school. You also got me to come out of my shell, somehow. You and Cierra both.”

“And from what I hear, that’s quite an accomplishment.”

“Yes. I used to not talk to anyone. Ever. Amber was the only one who could get anything out of me. And occasionally a teacher. But that was about it.”

“You know… There’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about.”

“Please don’t propose. I feel like that would ruin everything.”

He laughed. Thankfully, he was used to my kind of humor.

“I’m not going to propose tonight, you don’t have to worry about that. I might buy you a very expensive dessert, though, if you ask nicely.”

I puffed out my lower lip and made my eyes big.

“Pleeeeeaaase?”

He laughed.

“So, what I wanted to tell you is that you’re part of the reason why I’m taking a year off before going to university.”

“Really? Why?”

“Because I want to become a guard of the Underground. I want to have all of those fighting skills just in case I need to protect you. I hadn’t decided this for sure until I heard that Lady Catherine had threatened to kill you. Now it’s definitely necessary.”

I started laughing hysterically. I was laughing so hard that I accidentally choked on my spit and had to drink down some of my water so that I wouldn’t die.

“What?! You feel like you need to protect me? Willow, I don’t need protecting. I’m perfectly fine.”

I scoffed.

“Sure, but do you really think doing fencing in gym class will be enough if you come face-to-face with Lady Catherine?”

I swallowed, but tried to act like I was completely fine with the possibility of that happening. In actuality, I was sweating in my dress at the thought of having to face her.

“Willow, I don’t want you to protect me. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“How do you think I feel? I’m not doing this just for kicks, you know.”

“Yes, but…” I played with the tablecloth. “I can take care of myself. I’ve been taking care of myself for a long time now. I’ve always been a quiet, antisocial kid. I used to get bullied for it, but I got through that on my own.”

“I just want to look out for you,” he said, but I could tell by the tone of his voice that he knew he had lost. “I love you.”

I looked into his eyes. I always loved hearing that.

“I love you too.”

“What did you do with Beth and Felix earlier? I can’t imagine spending the whole day third wheeling with them.”

“Especially when they don’t know there’s even a wheel.”

We laughed and I told him about my day. The food finally came and then we were talking about how delicious it was and how enlightening it was to have food from different places. For dessert, we shared an enormous slice of chocolate cake that was drizzled with chocolate syrup and covered with chocolate crumbles. By the time we were ready to leave, we could barely walk because of all the food we had eaten.

“This was a mistake,” Willow said as we approached Cleveland State University five minutes later. “We should not have had all of that food. How are we going to dance?”

“That,” I said, “is the question of the hour.”

We hobbled inside Fenn Tower, which was very tall and white and industrial looking. It looked like an ordinary office building, but it was part of the university. I found skyscrapers rather intimidating because of their size, but once you were inside, you couldn’t tell the difference between one and a much smaller building.

The room where the dance was being held was Fenn ballroom. It was rather intimidating in comparison to the rooms at James Garfield High School, but that was to be expected. University trumped public high school. The walls were made of beautiful wood. Six matching columns were spread throughout the room, stretching up to meet the cream-colored ceiling. Everything about the place was clean and square, but in a beautiful way. Patterned carpet covered the floor and made me think of a fancy hotel – maybe in a Hampton or in a hallway in Las Vegas. Along one wall were several large windows that let a bit of moonlight into the room. Besides the natural light, a disco ball not unlike the one that had been at Cierra’s wedding reception hung from the ceiling, shining spurts of light in all different directions. Tables along the walls had a buffet of hors d’oeuvres that smelled good, but couldn’t be anything compared to the food in the Underground. The rest of the room was filled with a bunch of teenage girls and their dates, all jumping and shaking along to the music together while screaming and giggling wildly. I recalled that this was what some people considered to be fun, so I put on a fake smile and tugged along my tall and handsome primary reason for coming.

We sat down for a while to digest our food and watch the students who were dancing around the room. The senior class was rather large – around three hundred students – but I barely knew a fourth of them by name. I hadn’t tried to get to know them at all in my four years with them and I had no regrets, as I watched them act like immature idiots.

“You know, I seriously doubt any of these people have been to a party as classy as the ones they have in the Underground,” I said.

“I bet you’re right,” said Willow. “Hey, I think I’m almost ready to move like a normal human again. Or, I guess, like a normal elf. If you want, we can start out slowly. Like, we could sway in place or something.”

I laughed and patted him on the back.

“That’s a great idea. Weirdo.”

We swayed in place for a couple of songs, even though the people around us were jumping around like monkeys and acting immature. Then “Hey Ya” by Outkast started playing and both of us started dancing normally without even communicating the fact that we both wanted to. It was like we had a mind connection. He twirled me around like I was a little girl and neither of us cared that half the kids in the room were grinding on each other.

The song changed to “Beautiful Day,” which was very different compared to the other songs that had been played. No one outwardly complained, but there were a few sour faces I saw before I looked at Willow in surprise. We shrugged at each other and his arms went around my waist, while I clasped mine behind his neck.

“This is a really good song,” he said. “I bet someone requested it.”

I smiled fondly and said, “I love U2.” Then I narrowed my eyes at him. “You requested it, didn’t you?”

“Maybe.”

He couldn’t keep his poker face for long and his mouth split into a grin. I smacked him playfully in the shoulder and he laughed.

“Willow! You didn’t have to do that!”

“I thought it was the least I could do to make the night special for you. I feel like it would’ve been more fun if Cierra and Scott could’ve come with us.”

“It’s weird that Cierra’s married now.”

“Yeah. I feel like I never see her anymore, even though it’s not true. I just saw her this morning, but now… I miss her.”

“Me too! I know exactly how the two of you feel!” someone said.

I saw the hand on Willow’s shoulder before I saw the person and nothing could’ve prepared me for the sight of her. My face drained of color and Willow turned around slowly as the truth dawned on him. We clung to each other as we looked into the cold eyes of Lady Catherine.

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