We're shopping, Valentine and I. I can hardly believe it, but we are. I'll probably spend the last of my savings on a tuxa huge tux that will likely make Valentine look more ridiculous than formal. I've tried to talk him out of it, but there's no talking Valentine out of anything once he gets his mind set. I feel like an idiot sitting here, waiting for him to emerge from the dressing room so I can assure him that no, the jacket doesn't make him look more crooked than usual, or no, he doesn't look fat in those pants.
He wants me to go with him to the dance, but I refuse. I won't be a part of this. If Valentine is happy to be an object of amusement for the whole school, then so be it. I will communicate my disapproval by my absence. I can be just as stubborn, and I'll prove it.
Then someone behind me says, "Are you going to Flourdel's after the dance?" I know the voice. It belongs to Robin, a popular student who caught Valentine off guard once and received a fist to the stomach for it. He's never quite forgiven Valentine. I hope he doesn't see us here.
A second person replies, "Yeah, are you kidding? I'm not missing it again."
Flourdel's is a hotel. This is where some of the less savory post-dance happenings go down. Every year, after each dance, several senior students buy a number of rooms and a number of bottles and host parties, which are, in reality, just an excuse to loosen their dates with drinks or pills or both. For most guys at our school, dances are about getting laid. Everyone knows that. People who think otherwise are either clueless parents, or completely deluded girls like Lily Darling. I'm pretty sure Lily would change her mind about attending dances if she ever found out how many points her virginity was worth, and how much general talk there's been about Phoebus' inability to pop that cork after a year of trying.
Only these two aren't talking about Lily at all.
"The new girl is going, too. She just doesn't know it yet."
"Who told you?"
"No one. I just know. Phoebus is tired of hearing 'no.' He's going for an easy kill this year."
"She's not gonna be so easy."
"I'm betting she is. Pour a little Southern Comfort down her throat, and she'll open right up. He can't lose."
"You willing to put money on that?"
I can't listen to any more. I'm standing up and grabbing the cheapest suit I can find. I'm charging into the dressing rooms to try it on. I'm looking for a shirt to go with it. Because, God damn it, they aren't going to do that to hernot if I can stop it.
Valentine emerges in his ridiculous tux and sees in my face what I can only feel in my stomach. He questions me, but I have no answer for him. Even I think I'm crazy for doing this. Who is this girl to me? I've only seen her once. I've never even spoken to her. For all I know, she's just like all the rest of them.
And then I start to rationalize. This isn't my unhealthy obsession. I haven't really been thinking about Esmeralda for the last two days. Dreaming about her. Nope. I've been imagining a symbol, a non-existent representation of the ideal woman. In fact, if I saw the flesh and blood Esmeralda again, I bet it'd break the spell completely. And then I could finally focus on chemistry again, because I haven't been able to focus at all. I just have to see her one more time. No problem.
"I'm going to the dance, too," I sign with a slight smile. I hope Valentine doesn't notice my shaking hands.
He grins and nods. "Thanks," he signs.
I can see he means it. He thinks I'm doing this for him, and I should be. He deserves so much more than what he has. And now he wants to go to a dance. You know what? Good for him. He should go. I'll go along to pick up the pieces after they tear him apart. I'll be there for him like I always have because that's the kind of person I am. That's the kind of person I want to be.
But my thoughts return to Esmeralda, and I fantasize about protecting her. I want to be there for her, too. I want to be the one she turns to. I want to be the one she can depend on. I want to lift her so high guys like Phoebus and Robin can't ever touch her. Because I know she wouldn't want anything to do with them if she knew what they were really like, if she could hear the way they talk about her. She's not like other girls. She's smarter than that. She's
Stop it, Claude. The image you have of Esmeralda is just a personification of your idealsof chemistry, of sciencebecause you're finally having a biological reaction to another human being. She's not even real. Right?
Still it's time someone alerted Flourdel's to the kinds of activities that regularly take place at their fine establishment.