Lily has been doing creative writing since she started high school. She likes writing mostly short stories, but seeks to branch out.
“You’ll be done by midnight, right? The Connie Xie rendezvous, I mean. Remember, 19 John Street. And make sure there’s no one around.”
I roll my eyes and sigh, my breath forming wisps in the wintry air. The snow drifts around me, ethereal, almost angelic in nature. “Of course I will.”
“I know, I know. Just checking on you, Clary,” I hear Rei, my boss, laugh hoarsely over the phone. “Well, good luck out there. By the way, enjoy the party, but don’t get too distracted,” he says with a hint of mischief. God, the nerve of that man - sometimes it’s a little much.
I’m about to reply, but the line’s already dead on the other end. I check my phone, then Google Maps. 9:54, 213 John Street. Right on time. Even outside the dance hall, I can almost feel the music reverberating from within. Still no replies from any of my friends.
The glass doors slide open, and I’m hit with a wave of warmth that nearly sweeps me off my feet as I stumble through the lobby with the grace of a penguin. Removing my hood, I shake out my hair.
“Ma’am, coat check?” I hear from behind me. A heavily made-up woman greets me with a wide smile that doesn’t quite meet the eyes. Her lipstick is bloody red against the artificially white foundation that she’s used.
“I’ll pass, but thank you,” I reply as I walk away from her and towards the ballroom. It’s almost entirely dark, save for the almost epileptic neon lights that flicker in the dark of the dance floor before me. The half-closed oak doors can only do so much to conceal the music in the ballroom. Pop would be understandable, but dancing to rap? I sigh. Not that it matters. I’m here for the people anyways. More like a date, actually.
Then why not go and hang out with your friends another time? I can almost feel the tone in my voice as I scold myself. Well, you’ll find out soon, that’s what, I retort, but I’m not very optimistic.
I push my way through the writhing mass of students, doing my best not to be hit by the wildly thrashing jazz hands waving about in the air. No signs of Joseph, Karina or Yi. As I come dangerously close to having my eye poked out, I realize a different approach is necessary.
“Karina?” I call out, but it’s futile, drowned out by the dubious music droning in the background. At last, the neon lights catch a long strand of black hair waving about and the sight of a cotton candy pink ribbon. Karina. At least I have direction.
A few minutes of swimming through the crowds later, and I find the chance to greet my friends. I wave at them, and they wave back. Yi mouths a hello, but I can’t hear it over the music.
“Hey guys! You all look great today!”, I shout at the top of my lungs. “Especially you, Yi,” I add with a smirk. He wears a black suit and dress pants with a cute oversized cartoon bowtie. I wasn’t just trying to be nice. They really did look great. Karina with her pink ribbon and light pink dress. Joseph and his off-kilter but still stylish white suit and dress pants. I’m suddenly cognizant of the fact that I still haven’t taken off my fluffy white jacket.
Maybe the coat check would’ve been a good idea, but I’m gonna need to get going in an hour or so. Midnight, I remind myself. “You too!” I hear one of them reply, but in the cacophony, I can’t tell who’s who.
I’m not about to get my eyes poked out yet. “Wanna hit the couches, guys?” I hear Joseph ask, looking around to see our reactions. I nod. So do the others. We make our way to the soft red velvet couches along the edges of the ballroom.
Karina winks at me and mouths an endearing awwwwww. I stare daggers back at her.
A few moments later...
“You know, you’re a fun person to be with. Not that it’ll help you here,” Yi says to me as he taps my hand. “That hand’s dead. Your move.”
I look down at my one finger, then I look at his three fingers. Another lost game of chopsticks. “Well, guess I’ll die,” I mutter.
“Nah, don’t feel bad. My mother was very good at chopsticks back in the day. Another round?”, he asks. I look beside me. Joseph and Karina are long gone.
I check my watch. 10:45. “Nah, I have to go soon. I think we should dance at least a little. It is, after all, a dance.”
He nods and takes my hand, and we begin to dance. At least the music isn’t shitty rap anymore. We gracefully waltz our way through the next two songs. To my pleasant surprise, my foot emerges unscathed and unstepped on.
It’s midway through the third song, a jazzy pop-synth, that I excuse myself to check the time. It’s not him or anything. I’m just worried about the deadline, is all.
I have to run now. “Uh,” I stammer awkwardly. “Sorry, but I have to get going. I’ll text you later, but you know, this was really fun.”
He nods and hands me a flower. A purple lily.
“Here,” he says. “I thought you’d like it.” I’m probably blushing right now. I want to say that I do. I want to stay for one more song. But the deadline is too close. I blow him a kiss and run outside as quickly as possible, not bothering to look back. I’ll text him when I’m done, when I no longer need to worry about what I’m about to do.
19 John Street. I sprint towards the address as quickly as my legs can carry me, being careful not to slip on black ice. The snowflakes fall, dusting the grass in a desolate ashen white. The street is ominous, menacingly dark save for the streetlights that hang orange.
There she is, wearing an olive-colored coat, outside her house door. There’s no one around. Perfect. I tap her shoulder and she turns towards me, surprised. I recognize the face, the name. Connie Xie, that’s the right person alright. She doesn’t recognize me.
A little bit of eye contact is all I need for this. Quick and painless, I hope. As I stare at her, I bore into her mind, skimming through it, an endless archive that tells her life story. Pages upon pages, all at my mercy. Her face freezes in horror as she realizes what is happening. What does this all feel like, anyway? I skim through the pages, careful not to destroy them. She grows up in Shanghai, living with her three siblings - Au, Ren, and Chow. She wins first place at a chess tournament. She graduates from high school. She gets her degree in social studies, staying up until two writing about the importance of minority representation in media. She runs the Chopsticks club at her workplace. I swallow hard. This is taking too long.
She works as a social worker. She goes to volunteer at a church. She and a few others organize a protest, rallying in favor of human rights. Before she leaves home one night, she hands her son a purple lily. “She’s gonna love it,” I hear her voice, motherly and pure and warm.
I’m so, so, sorry. The winter wind stings my cheeks. The tears that run down my face are almost comfortably hot. Almost. But I have to continue.
There it is. This is where she knows how to breathe. I destroy the memory, all of it. Her lungs go still. She’s frozen - forever, this time. With trembling hands, I put my phone on auto-dial and call Rei. “Not too hard now, was it?”
My voice barely holds together. “It wasn’t. Not at all.” I guess I won’t be texting him later after all.