Two grown men stand apart from each other, facing ahead, each peeking out of the corner of their eyes, testing both peripheral vision and the willpower of the other person. Finally, he caves and asks me: What? The elevator doors connect shut.
I tell him: Nothing.
He sighs, but the puff of air seems a bit forced and brief as if it came directly from frustration, or he could be pouting. What are you doing here?
I tell him I had business to attend to, and what would it matter if I were here or not? We just happen to be at the same place at the same time. It’s a small world out there. We were bound to run into each other sooner or later. Unfortunately, it was sooner than later. Nevertheless, I attempt making amends.
He’s stubborn. He’s a mule. He almost looks like one, too: funny. I tell him he looks good, that his tuxedo makes him look dapper and not like a jackass, hiding his jackass persona well. I don’t tell him the latter part of that statement—which is and is not to my benefit—and he says his thanks. Although that’s only one word coming from his mouth, it’s a plus. We’re on the right track to reconciliation.
This elevator is taking forever, I tell him. I’m not lying. It’s unmistakably running slow. I could poke fun at his weight, as I have in the past, but I restrain myself.
What are you doing here? Again.
I don’t know. I’m just here. I have to pick my brother up.
He’s at the party?
What party? I don’t know?
Silence, but comfortable silence.
You’re not dressed properly.
I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.
No one said I was worried, he sneered.
I take off my hoodie, revealing a tuxedo. See?
I always have been prepared.
The bell to the elevator door finally sounds, and the doors open to a ballroom. I would have to say that there are at least five hundred people attending. People are mingling while caterers spin from group-to-group, person-to-person in three-sixties with trays of drinks and hors d’oeuvres, pinballing across the floor to rack up as many tips as possible until full tilt. Crystalfountains spurt water to various heights. The band playing in the background is featured upon risers next to the dance floor; the brass and upright bass dominate sound as the piano and drums come secondary, the guitar a close tertiary.
The acquaintance from the elevator walks ahead and peers over his left shoulder, telling me to keep a safe distance and not to follow him. I have no desire to, because I fear it would only bring me into trouble. It’s probably in my best interest to fly solo.
Weaving in and out of people dressed in tuxedos and black dresses, I accept the uniformity. A server almost scurries into me, taking us both by surprise. Extending her tray up, she silently offers me champagne with a smile. I close my eyes and shake my head, no. She prances off in the opposite direction from which she almost ran me over. I continue to look around, picking up the occasional hors d’oeuvre here and there. This is your typical hoity-toity event, but I can’t grasp why people were swing dancing in their expensive outfits. Whatever the reason, I don’t really care. They are having fun, and I plan on having the equal amount, if not more.
I walk to the dance floor, the conga drums growing louder, which I smile about with my thinking they add a nice touch to swing. Everyone else is smiling. Why not fit in? I’m walking to the heart of this school of black and white monkey-suit fish swimming around me, the dance floor. I have no one to dance with, but this is where most of the action is taking place. The heart—where the blood is ever flowing, recycling old, blue blood for rich, oxygen pure and red blood. Yes, that’s where it is.
Yes, that’s where she is.
The brunette steps out of bounds with her red dress, the hem falling to just below her knees. She’s laughing, her chuckles stepping in rhythm and harmonizing with the music. Her hair falls a few inches past her shoulders, flowing in synch with the twisting of her dress. Her blue eyes have not met mine just yet. The song ends and everyone stops in place to applaud. The organ player steps up to introduce the next song with a few notes. I yell, Charge! He starts again and I reply the same. His eyes dart to the crowd to find his heckler. He brushes his sleeves and begins again. I retort with the repeated comment. The organist stands up and walks off stage. I could feel all eyes fall upon me. I look over to one couple sneering my way. I ask them if they had a sense of humor and then eye everyone else staring, nonverbally asking them the same thing. The music begins again and they all go back to their business.
I’m pretending to hang out with this group of people, pretending that I’m interested in what they are talking about. It’s the brunette I’m fixated upon. What is the deal with her, I ask myself, sipping my drink. The gentleman she was dancing with seems awkward, tripping over a step here and there and falling off the beat. She is no longer smiling, I notice as I edge closer. When I am a few feet away from them, our eyes meet. She smiles, and I reply with the same gesture. She says to the guy, her eyes still locking with mine: This is easy. All I did was come up to you and start dancing. Like this.
She steps away, grabs my hands, and we dance. It is the grandest time I have had. It is the greatest feeling, having her arms around me as well as my staring into the eyes of this mystery girl. I don’t want this song to end, but it has to. It does. She says a thank you. We hang out for a few minutes, and I ask her if she would like to have a drink with me. She agrees, and I fetch the beverages. Upon my returning, I notice she is missing. I panic, my heart rises to my throat. I ask those around me, if they had seen her. No one knows who I am talking about. No one has seen her, and they look at me as if I had gone mad.
I search for a length of time before accepting the fact I have lost her. I walk to the exit, feeling helpless and utter disappointment. I don’t look for my elevator nemesis, because I know I’ll meet eyes with him, mocking me. If she is the girl of my dreams, I lost her. She’s gone. As I wear the face of a pound puppy, the elevator swallows me whole.
I take off the tuxedo which I found myself wearing when entering the previous floor. I throw it away in the closest wastebasket. Clearing my throat, it’s apparent that the delay of the echo’s reverb sounds hollow. I don’t hesitate to walk and follow the rooms down the hall, counting them number by number; odd numbers descend to the left while the evens follow the pattern on the right. Those numbers are made of either brass or copper, I cannot determine which, but they shine as if recently polished and deliberately match the doorknob. No card entry will be necessary; these locks require a key. I turn each handle as I go by out of sheer curiosity, but they’re all locked.
I reach the end of the hallway and turn the corner, right. To travel into this hallway, one has to climb the three or four stairs to a raised floor. This section’s lighting seems a little dimmer, and I feel my instinctual desire to continue despite with my involuntary hesitation. If not only that, the two people obstructing my path could add to the pause in my journey. She stands closest to me, and he is situated upon the first step of those stairs behind her. I have no idea who they are, and I find myself uneasy about this new situation. The two are looking at me, and I’m reciprocating the same notion with—perhaps—awkward feelings.
Wearing a duster, he’s a tall guy with dark hair, almost looking like a bob, but a male version opposed to the female style. He is by no means smiling. She isn’t either; her pale complexion and beads of sweat upon her forehead make her look ill. Her attire: a frumpy, patterned sundress. Maybe she just went swimming. Is there even a pool? I don’t recall seeing signs.
I scratch my head and begin to turn back the way I came. Not wasting any more time, the man lifts his arms up and fully extended, hanging onto the slack of the duster as if he were about to take flight. His face fades pale, and his jaw elongates as his mouth opens wide to display a forked tongue and his four canines growing to points. His eyes roll back white, but quickly fill up black. A bright red pupil glows as each iris. The lights in the hallway behind him go out in pairs—each light parallel to one another—starting from the back and fizzing out onward and towards where we were standing.
I make my move with panic, and I run back down the hallway toward the exit, not looking back once to see if I was being chased. The hallway, of course, feels longer. Hitting the door with my body to immediately stop my momentum—the pain is worth it—the “UP” arrow is successfully hit. I turn around. The man is peeking around the corner, seemingly slithering, and the lights are still going out two-by-two. The elevator door opens enough for my person to slip in. There is no second thought with hitting the close button in one swift movement, over and over, as half the dwindling numbers of lights remain lit in the stretch of hallway.
Lazily—not to any surprise—the doors close. The black-caped individual stands in the hallway, mouth agape with an over-exaggerated smile, watching this narrow escape with glowing eyes until the elevator door finally closes.