I woke up with a start, bleary-eyed from the night before. Our training session had been intense, but today we were going to be preparing for a special event and I couldn’t risk being late to help out.
As I sat up, the throbbing in my knee became readily apparent. I don’t remember him bringing me back to my room, but his shoes left light mud prints on the floor. My heart sank as I limped to the sink to rinse a small rag to wipe away any trace that he’d been here. The air kicked on as I bent down and I noticed his scent faintly lingered on my clothing.
How could I be so careless? I shouldn’t have allowed myself to fall asleep. Not around him and certainly not in his arms. What if something had happened?
I didn’t want him to see me like that. Injured, asleep, vulnerable. All because I wanted to impress him.
“I’m an idiot.” I mumbled as I flopped backwards onto my bed.
The pain in my leg sent a shock up my spine and I pulled it towards me to assess the damage. It was significantly worse off than I thought, pretty badly bruised and swollen, but I hoped with a little ice and some makeup that no one would notice. I might just be walking a little slower today.
Pushing down the dread I felt from having to make a decision on what to wear today, I walked to the closet and surveyed my options. For this morning I needed something that I could work in, but for tonight…
*knock knock* The sound of a visitor at the door filled the room. I quickly scrambled to pull my hair into a messy bun and yell “Just a minute!” as I shed the dirty clothes from the night before.
As I slipped into a pair of jeans, I made sure to be careful to pull the material away from my knee as I dressed.
Opening the door just a crack, I peeked through and said, “Hello?” with as much enthusiasm as I could muster this early in the day.
“Hey,” said one of the girls from the kitchen, “We need help moving some tables, are you up for it?”
I inwardly cringed, knowing that the other girls must have elected me for this job because of what they say are my “linebacker shoulders”. I don’t get along with many of the girls here because all they seem to do if finds things wrong with me, until they need something done that might compromise the integrity of their manicure.
“Sure,” I told her, “Give me a few minutes and I’ll be right there!”
Pressing my back against the door as I shut it, I closed my eyes and felt the coldness that had set into the wood overnight. I took a deep breath and opened my eyes, making a mental list of things to throw in my bag before leaving to help out.
After gathering my things I set out for the kitchen, mentally preparing myself for all the things I wanted to get done before tonight.
I dove into the work for the day, hoping that somehow it would make it go quicker. Tonight, for the first time in my life, I was actually going to get to go to a dance.
I’ve never been, but I’ve read about them. The other girls talked about it a lot, mostly about the young men they hoped would invite them to dance. It is unlikely that any of us will actually get to dance because we are supposed to be working during it, but at least we’ll get the chance to watch.
We set up table after table until we were summoned to the kitchen to eat breakfast. One of the girls behind me said, “Hey, did you hurt yourself setting up tables? You are limping.”
“Oh yeah,” I told her, “I’ll be okay, just a little sore.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw some girls huddled inside the kitchen, laughing and pointing in my direction. I put my head down, trying to ignore everything but grabbing a granola bar or piece of fruit so that I could leave the kitchen and get back to work.
The day drug on, but we made progress little by little. We decorated the huge gazebo outside, stringing lights inside the vine patterns carved into the wood. Small bouquets of flowers were woven into the string of lights per the instructions we received and white and red roses filled the gaps that were left in the carvings.
They were beautiful, I thought, as I ran my fingers over the petals of the last one I placed. We took a step back and drew in a breath, it was a stunning sight in the daylight, let alone to imagine what it would look like in the evening. All of our preparations were almost complete, the only thing that was left was for the older ladies to prepare the food.
We were dismissed to our rooms to prepare ourselves for the evening but told sternly that we would have to be back on time to make sure everyone got their assignments before the guests started to arrive.
As I walked to my room, I tried to decide what I would do with my hair. It is dull and brown, just like my eyes, and it never does what I want it to.
The door gave a little creak as I opened it and threw my bag down on my bed. I yanked the hair tie that had held my hair out of my face while I worked and made my way to the bathroom.
Pushing aside the shower curtain, I began to adjust the water temperature to wash off all the dirt and blood from the night before and the sweat from working today. This faucet was notoriously hard to adjust, I knew it would take a bit to get the temperature right.
I walked to the sink and pulled out a few things from the drawer as I waited. Arranging my hair brush, a few containers of makeup and my straightener, my mind wandered to what style would compliment the dress I wanted to wear. I wasn’t ever very good at this kind of thing, but this was a rare opportunity, even if I was only going to work.
I hung onto the curtain bar above the shower and held my breath as I stepped into the stream of running water. My mind drifted while I combed my fingers through my soapy hair.
What if he has started to like me? That is what it seems like, but after all this time? He’s been there to watch me turn down everyone who pursued me. He knows I’ve sworn off that kind of thing. Did he think I was joking? My thoughts raced, tumbling one after another. That can’t happen, I told myself under my breath, it just can’t.
After turning off the water, I reached up for a towel and buried my face in it. My hair fell in crazy wet curls around my face. I angled my lip and blew a small breath up to push a strand out of my eye as I dried it the best I could. Maybe I should wear it down tonight. It’s just so hard to deal with, half curly, half wavy. It is never fully one style.
With the towel rolled around my body, I bent down to grab my hair gel from below the sink. I did my best to style it, wondering if it would really be tamed by this. After I finished, I looked in the mirror. It fell around my shoulders, the small, thin curls frozen in place, though still a bit damp.
I considered putting on some eyeliner, hoping that it would change my eye color just slightly. Sometimes, depending on what I wear, I can bring out a small ring of orange around my iris. It is a nice change from the boring shade of brown I have. On second thought, maybe no eyeliner… knowing me, it would end one of two ways – me poking myself in the eye or having one eye be absolutely perfect and the other look like I let a toddler at my face with a crayon.
The clock struck, warning me that I had 15 minutes before I needed to be there. I ran to the closet and pulled out my dress, careful not to let it drag on the floor as I carried it to the bathroom. A hint of excitement rose up in my stomach as I hung it up on the shower rail and pulled it off the hanger.
I slipped into the dress and turned my back to the mirror so I could use it to help me guide the zipper up my back. I was pleased to see it fit like a glove. It’d been altered to take the emphasis off of the parts of my body I didn’t like. Instead of tightly fitting around my hips, I’d slit the dress on both sides up to mid-thigh to bring attention to my legs instead. It also had a cut in a diamond shape taken out of the sides above my hips on the torso. It was a little bold, but I loved it. It made me feel slightly normal. After swiping a layer of spearmint lipgloss and one coat of deep red lipstick onto my lips, I quickly tossed everything into the drawer and cabinet.
I checked my bag to make sure I had everything I might need. Spotting a hair tie in the bottom of the bag, I decided to wrap it around my wrist thinking maybe I should put my hair up after all. It took a brief second to zip up my bag before bolting out the door after realizing I had five minutes to make it to the gazebo. Breaking into a run, I pulled my hair up along the way telling myself that it’d only get in the way if I didn’t.
I approached the gazebo with seconds to spare and received a frown from the older ladies doling out orders. With no chance to catch my breath, the woman barked orders at me.
“You will be on security duty with that young man over there.” She said pointing a spindly finger in the direction of the corner of the gazebo. I followed her gaze to find a familiar face on the other end. I’d be running security with him.
I felt my heart jump into my throat as I watched him talk with one of the men who lives close to him. He laughed at something the other man had said, his arms crossed over his chest as he threw his head back and revealed a devilish smile. I noticed that despite the fact that he usually doesn’t wear dress clothes, he wore dark jeans with only the slightest bit of fading at the knee, and even more impressive, a button-up dress shirt. Oddly enough, it was the exact same color as my dress.
I held my side where I’d cut the diamond shape, immediately self-conscious as I made my way to him. As I weaved through the crowd of people, I saw his friend motion that he had to go and watched as they goodbye.
I approached him timidly, brushing a rogue curl behind my ear as I said softly, “It appears we are on security together.”
He looked up with a blank expression as he leaned onto the pillar behind him. His eyes widened as he shoved his hands into his pockets.
“Wow.” He whispered as his eyes scanned from the top of my head to my shoes and back.
“What?” I said defensively as I wrapped my arms around my abdomen.
“Nothing…” He said, seemingly out of breath, “You just clean up well is all.”
I looked down, trying to hide my blushing.
“You too.” I said with a teasing tone as I halfheartedly punched his arm.
“Hey!” He grinned, “Easy now princess, I’m not made of stone, ya know?”
I rolled my eyes and stuck my tongue out at him as I shot back, “Could’ve fooled me!”
He shrugged slightly with a hint of a smile tugged at his lips.
The bell’s chime floated into the evening breeze telling us it was time to start working. All we have to do is walk around the gazebo and keep an eye on people to make sure things go smoothly.
We talked a bit as we walked, always keeping an eye out for suspicious activity in the gazebo. The evening passed quickly without much of any kind of ruckus. We only had to intervene once when a middle-aged woman had a little too much to drink. She was an angry drunk it seems, she began yelling at other party goers. We escorted her out, one of us holding each arm.
As the sun began to set, he turned to me and said, “Hey, I wanted to ask…” but to our surprise, he was cut off by one of the organizers approaching to tell us we were being relieved of our duties early. Apparently some of the others had asked to take shifts so that all of us could enjoy a little bit of the party ourselves, and ours was over.
We walked towards the gazebo and I wondered what to do now. I could go find some food, but I really didn’t want to take a chance of spilling anything on my dress.
“Hey,” His voice rumbled deeply, interrupting my thoughts, “Wanna dance?”
I looked up to see he’d snagged a white rose from the decorations and held it out for me with a sly smile.
“I…” My voice shook as I pushed out an uncomfortable smile, “Um…there are a lot of people in there. I don’t like crowds.”
For a moment, I looked into his eyes. I couldn’t help it, I told myself, the sunset’s reflecting in them had drawn me to them. They burned with energy, like an all-consuming fire that was coming straight for me.
“That’s okay,” His voice became softer as he approached me, “We can dance here.”
His body towered over mine as he took one step after another, slowly making me feel like he was pushing away the air around me. My mind was unusually silent, but my body screamed, every inch shook as I tried to find the footing to step back just before he reached out to touch my hair.
My invisible mask of composure slipped and panic flooded my bloodstream with ice.
My body desperately tried to pull me away from him, but I was frozen in place. I felt his hand brush my hair for a split second before my curls came raining down. He’d pulled his hand back and I saw he had my hair tie.
“Your hair is pretty, you know?” He said softly, “You should let it down more.”
I turned away.
His face was morphed, showing both an injured spirit and a captivated mind.
“What is it with you?” He asked with a hint of sadness, “Why won’t you let me get close to you?”
“Did I do something wrong?” He asked as he glanced down in shame.
“No,” I said in a frustrated tone, “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Then what? What’s going on? We just talked all night and you were fine.” He said as he reached out for me, “Please tell me.”
Before I could pull away, his hand gently pulled at my exposed torso, pulling me closer to him.
I tried to fight it, but weakness overpowered me.
He let go, just enough for me to begin to sink to the ground.
“Hey!” He said concerned as he caught me, “Are you okay?”
“No,” I whispered, “I have to go.”
As quickly as my strength had drained, it came flooding back, urging me to move. The pain began scorching the place he’d touched and I knew I didn’t have much time.
I jumped up, gingerly covering where he’d touched as I took off. I didn’t want him to see this. I didn’t want anyone to see this. Despite the pain in my leg, I knew I had to get away, and quickly.
I ran faster than I ever had before. I still didn’t have control of this, and I was running out of time. He’d want an answer soon.
It was easier to hide when we were little, but now, it is out of control. I glanced back to see he had disappeared.
I ducked into the woods, confident that he would give me space. He knows that it is a bad idea to disturb me when I’m upset. I sat down on a log and tried to catch my breath. That was way too close, I told myself, I need to learn to control my emotions better.
I winced as I held my side. Scared to remove my hand, but anxious to know how bad the damage was, I gave in to the curiosity and took a look.
My face fell as I investigated the damage. It was, by far, the worst I’d seen it in a long time. Where he had touched me was covered with blistered and broken skin. It looked as though someone had thrown me into a fire. In no time, it would spread all over my body if I didn’t get it under control. This was my physical reminder of why I can never get close to him. Or rather, why I can never let him get close to me. He deserves better than someone who will never be able to touch him without turning into a disgusting, ugly beast.
“Princess?” His voice shocked me as it penetrated the noises of the night, “Are you there?”
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