It was a sweet moment, dancing together under the paper streamers and balloons. I could feel the warmth of his skin through his shirt and jacket as we danced, reminding me that this was real. This was now.
“What are you thinking?” Jonah asked, leaning his head down so our foreheads touched. I could smell the scent of mints on his breath and the woodsy scent of his aftershave on his jaw.
I inhaled the reality of him, “Nothing. I’m just savoring the moment.”
I expected him to laugh, but he didn’t. He pulled me closer, seeming to ignore how I stepped all over his feet. He brought his cheek next to mine, caressing my skin with the youthful shadow of a beard.
“I like the sound of that.” He whispered.
He tilted his head then, kissing me softly with boyish clumsiness. His arm tightened around me as his lips lingered for a moment before he pulled away.
I fought the guilt that was trying to steal over me, but I shook it off. I felt myself turning a deep red, humiliated by my lack of experience. I was sure that was the worst kiss and that Jonah had ever had and he was going to realize he was wasting his time with me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ashley watching us with narrowed eyes. She would have known how to kiss him the right way.
If Jonah was disappointed, he hid it well, holding me in his arms until the song ended and then leading me off to the side of the room. I followed him without question, painfully aware all of a sudden of how large my feet were and that my palm was sweating inside of his.
“Thirsty?” Jonah asked with that charming smile that always made my heart stop and start in a crazy way.
“Sure.” I answered with a nervous giggle and then cursed myself for being a complete goof.
As if he could tell what I was thinking his smile widened, “Punch okay?”
His self-confidence made me feel even more awkward. “That’s fine.”
I watched Jonah walk away, calling and waving to his friends as he went over to the refreshment table. I fanned my face with my hands, trying to make the redness disappear.
Ally, with Billie in tow, bounced up beside me. “I can’t believe he kissed you! Was it great? Is he like the best kisser ever?”
“I don’t have much to compare him to.” I replied, hoping to downplay the whole thing before the whole school overheard. I couldn’t dare tell them that a century ago, I was kissed in a way that made my knees go weak and were a far cry from being boyish and clumsy. “But it was nice.”
Billie nudged my shoulder, “What was nice was the look on Ashley’s face. She was dying.”
I stole a glance over at Ashley. She stood in a circle of her minions. Despite her obvious and complete beauty, she was a picture of misery as she shot daggers in my direction. It seemed even her upper lip twitched like a dog snarling. I had to look away from her fury.
“She looks like she’s about ready to explode.” I whispered.
I wasn’t admitting, even to myself, that I enjoyed seeing her like that. It wasn’t every day someone like me got the upper hand on someone like Ashley. There was probably a law about it somewhere in the natural order of things that went against this even happening. It was the rarity of such an occurrence that made it all the more significant.
Just then Jonah appeared with two paper cups of bright red punch. He smiled with ease, “Hello ladies.”
“Hi Jonah.” Ally and Billie replied in unison. They each gave a quick wave and walked away full of giggles.
I pretended not to notice and took the cup Jonah offered. I couldn’t look up at him and I didn’t know what it was I was really supposed to do. Was I standing too close to him? Too far away? Should I take his hand, or should I just let my hand hang at my side so he could hold it if he wanted to?
I took a sip of punch, more out of the need to do something than actual thirst, and felt the burn of alcohol in my throat. I struggled to swallow, coughing until my eyes watered.
Jonah stroked my back gently, “I’m sorry. I should have warned you that a couple of guys from the football team always puts a little something extra in the punch.”
“It’s okay.” I gasped, humiliated beyond belief. “I think I’ll just step out in the hall and get some water.”
I walked off before he could follow me, dying of embarrassment and certain that I had proved what a little kid I was. He was just so perfect, and I was so—Not perfect.
I drank long gulps from the water fountain. It extinguished the burning in my throat, but it did nothing to silence the voice in my head that was telling me I was doing everything wrong. What was wrong with me? Was I really this socially incompetent?
How hard could it be? This is what I was supposed to want, right? Jonah was good looking, popular, and charming in his small town hero sort of way. What more could I ask for?
Alastor’s voice reverberated inside my head, “He’s not me…”
I jumped at the sound of his secret voice. I looked around even though I knew that he wouldn’t be standing there, his tantrum earlier would have left him too weak.
“Go away,” I whispered aloud. “Don’t ruin this for me. Let me have this night.”
I waited, straining to hear if Alastor would answer, but there was nothing. I turned to go back to the dance, knowing I should want to return to Jonah, but part of me wished Alastor would answer.
Ashley stepped from around the corner, blocking my way. She crossed her arms and glared down at me.
“Talking to yourself Becca?” She asked sarcastically, emphasizing my name.
“What do you want Ashley?”
She shook her head and rolled her eyes, “I just wanted to give you some advice.”
“Don’t get too comfortable with Jonah.” Ashley smirked, almost purring as she stepped closer. “He’ll get tired of you. You’re not his type. He’ll come back to his own kind soon enough.”
I hated it that she was giving a voice to my own insecurities, “Whatever Ashley.”
She reached out and grabbed my arm as I tried to get past her, “Just remember, your day is coming.”
I pulled away just as one of the chaperones stepped into the hall. I took my escape while I could, knowing she couldn’t say or do anything else at the moment, and headed back toward the gym.
I had no idea how long I had been standing in the hallway drinking water, talking to invisible spirits, and arguing with disgruntled cheerleaders, but when I got back inside the gym the music seemed louder and the flashing lights brighter.
At first I didn’t see Jonah. The crowd kept shifting back and forth, blocking my view. I finally spotted him off to the side, away from the bulk of the people. Ashley found him before I did and had him backed against the bleachers. I was just about to run away and find a nice dark place to cry when Jonah stepped away from her with a look of disgust.
“Why don’t you back off Ashley?” He slurred as he staggered over to me. He swayed a little from side to side as he smiled down at me. “I was just about ready to send a search party out for you.”
“Sorry.” I said as I reached up to stop him from falling right into me. “Are you okay?”
He staggered a little to the right, “Yeah that Ashley just gets under my skin. She doesn’t know when to shut up and go away.”
I took his paper cup from him and tossed it into the trash. I was a bit taken back to see that it was a large metal drum lined with a large black trash bag. Things in Corydon never failed to surprise me.
“That’s not what I was talking about,” I replied, wiping my hands on the front of my dress before I could stop myself. “How many of those have you drank?”
Jonah blushed, looking vulnerable for the first time tonight. “I am so sorry.”
I didn’t know what to say. I helped steady him on his feet. “Are you going to be alright?”
Jonah shook his head, this time leaning dangerously to the left. He tried to smile with his famous charm, “I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Not really.” He said with a stupid grin. He pulled himself up straighter, “Why don’t I go splash some water on my face. Will you wait for me?”
I watched him lurch off, trying to compose himself as he walked past the group of teachers by the door. Even intoxicated, he was amazing to watch. Jonah drew the admiring glances of every female he passed. He was just so stereotypically high school perfect.
I had to laugh; he and I were like a bad movie. The predictable one where the new girl, unpopular, falls for the school jock and then the jock takes her to the dance. So that was it, tonight was my happy ending. I didn’t want to think any further than that.
Happy endings never lasted. I could vaguely remember a grand celebration where I danced with Alastor so long ago. That was a very happy moment, but not long after that we were both dead.
“May I have this dance?”
I turned to see a much recovered Jonah holding his hand out to me. Without a word, I placed my hand in his and let him lead me to the dance floor. His strong arms pulled me close, holding me against his body.
“My beautiful Becca,” He said in a moist whisper against my forehead.
I waited for him to say something else, but he didn’t. When I stole a glance up at him he had his eyes closed while his lips still rested against my hair. I felt that there was something that I should say or do, but I didn’t know what it could be. I shifted slightly away from him.
“Don’t.” Jonah begged.
Without opening his eyes, he lowered his lips to mine. He brushed his mouth over mine with such gentleness that I wouldn’t have been sure that he even kissed me if it wasn’t for the tingling running through my body.
Neither of us moved, his lips hovered over mine. He pulled me even closer, this time his lips lingered, making my knees go weak. There was a sensual passion this time. There was no trace of boyish clumbsiness.
I knew then and pulled away, terrified and not sure how he did it.
“Alastor!” I gasped.
I looked up into Jonah’s face, searching his eyes for an answer, but behind his face, deep in the soul of those eyes was Alastor.
“How?” Was all I could ask.
Pulling me close again, he looked down at me through another man’s eyes. Images of old movies with tearful endings came to mind as he pulled me to him.
“Please don’t scream.” He said against my hair.
“How did you do it?” I demanded, nearing hysteria.
“Does it matter?” He asked as we waltzed about the floor, so much more graceful than before. “You asked for a kiss and I gave it to you.”
I tried to fend off panic. I knew this was impossible. I was shaking so badly that my teeth began to chatter. “Alastor…I can’t…”
“Please,” Alastor begged. “Please, you asked me to give you this one night. I’m asking you to give me this one moment.”
My heart fell with his request and the tears came to my eyes. I trembled in his arms. How could I refuse him?
“What do you want me to do?” I asked.
“Close your eyes.” He whispered over my eyelids.
I did as he asked. “Now what?”
“Just be.” He said and lowered his face so our cheeks touched. “Just be.”
With my eyes closed, I forgot all about Jonah. I was dancing safe and secure in Alastor’s arms with my body remembering his touch even my mind sometimes couldn’t. As long as I didn’t open my eyes, it was Alastor that was holding me close. This is where I belonged.
“Kiss me again.” I requested in a whisper, longing for the sensation of him touching me, of crossing that breach between life and death.
He took my face into his hands. I kept my eyes shut tight as I reached up and covered his hands with mine. The earth shifted beneath me as I remembered standing just like this the day that we were married over a century ago.
Alastor’s lips met mine, soft at first and then harder. He was real. He was alive.
I wanted to feel his skin against mine. I wanted his lips on my throat. I wanted him. It was a feeling that only the most primal part of me seemed to understand.
I kissed him again and again. I kept my eyes shut tight and was afraid to let go. I couldn’t breathe, part of me was still terrified and another part wanted to sob uncontrollably.
“I’m sorry.” I whimpered, trying to hold on tighter. “I’m so sorry for everything.”
He kissed me again and I knew that there would never be another. There was only Alastor. It was only Alastor that I loved. It was only Alastor to whom I belonged. It was Alastor to whom I was lost.