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Pretty Princess

Maria Jose Eyzaguirre

Her hand rested on the cool glass, barely perched, as if she were afraid to leave her fingerprints on its smooth surface. She trembled slightly; walking around in high heels all night had weakened her legs. As if from far away, a muffled song could be heard in the background, from within the school gymnasium. Occasionally a small group of girls would open the door and slink off through the hall to find a bathroom, gossiping amongst themselves. The music would burst onto the tile floor, only to become quiet once more when the door swung shut.

Leaning against a glass door in the corner, she was invisible to the passing clumps of students, and she gazed, as if hypnotized, at the darkness of the night. Most of the students were spinning like tops on the dance floor, or asking their dates for Styrofoam cups of fruit punch, or whispering confessions into each other's ears between songs. Others ran to the bathroom, though in most cases it was a desperate attempt to avoid an awkward situation rather than a biological need. But not her. She wanted nothing to do with any of that now.

When she was younger, prom had meant something quite different. It was her mother's fault really She remembered dressing up as a princess as a little girl, getting ready for Halloween. While her mother helped her zip up the pink dress, careful to keep from snagging the sequins, she'd expressed mournfully, "I wish princesses were for real!" a sad pout on her face.

Her mother had then leaned in, cupping her chin. "Do you want to see something Christine?" she asked. 

Christine immediately clapped her hands together, nodding in an outburst of enthusiasm. "What is it?" she demanded, "Show me show me show me!"

With a smile, her mother strolled over to the bookcase and pulled out a thick album of photos. Setting it on the floor, the two of them knelt down and sat cross-legged, while her mother flipped through the yellowed pages. The book gave off a musty scent, but it was overpowered by her mother's perfume, and she sat there peacefully watching as manicured fingers turned the page.

"Here," her mother murmured, pointing at the album, "Look."

All Christine could do was gasp and stare. It was an old photograph of her mother, but she looked very different. She was young and beautiful in the picture, and she wore a delicate, pale yellow gown. A small tiara sat on her head as she beamed at the camera, fingers delicately poised at her side.

"What's that?" she whispered.

"That was my high school senior prom silly," her mother murmured, ruffling her hair, "I was prom queen… it was one the best nights of my life." She stared off into the distance, lost in a memory. The rest of the afternoon consisted of her mother telling her every detail of prom, and how magical it had been. She told her about how she and Christine's father had fallen in love that night, and how life had been so perfect from that point on. But that day was so long ago.

Just a few years after that, her mother had been caught in a car accident. After her passing, Christine had felt so lost and confused. It had all happened so fast, and she'd been so young. Her father was distant, unapproachable, with nothing more than sad eyes and thin lips to offer her. All she had left of her mother was the promise that someday she too would dance the night away at prom. The promise of finding love and of living a perfect life. She'd been unable to think of anything else. Now, at the dance herself, Christine finally saw that she had been deceived. None of the stories she'd been told were true. It had all been nothing but lies.

For a moment she gazed at her reflection in the glass. With narrowed eyes she examined the individual parts that made up her appearance:

Her hair: five hours worth of work at the salon, dark black, pinned in bun that had only now started to fall apart. Anxiously her fingers went up to the stray strands, attempting to tuck them back into the bun to no avail.

Her makeup: slightly smudged eyeliner, eye shadow and lip gloss, clearly applied by an inexperienced hand. Time wasted in front of the mirror, pages from magazines with tips and tricks tacked onto the walls. But magazines did not a beautician make, and it showed.

Her dress: a bundle of pale pink chiffon, ill-fitting in certain places but a pretty dress nonetheless. It had cost her a year's worth of baby-sitting money, the best she could afford.

And her shoes: shiny black stilettos, expensive ones too, with unbelievably narrow heels that made her feet sore with every step she took.

She had put so much into it, every second of her life committed to this one special night. Her mother would've been proud. This was prom, every girl's chance to shine, to have fun, to feel beautiful. Gazing at her reflection, however, she did not feel beautiful at all. All the elements were in place, except for one. For every pretty girl, there was a man at her arm, ready to escort her onto the dance floor. But not for her. In the glass she saw herself just as she was, wilted and alone. No matter how she tried, it seemed as if fate had other plans for her. Tonight was meant to be magical. Instead, she was left with nothing but disappointment.

As she stood there, three girls emerged from the gym, arms linked, dressed in gowns of various colors and decked in jewelry. The first laughed uncontrollably, while the second whispered, "This has got to be the best night in my life! Did you see me and Dave on the dance floor?"

"You two are so cute together!" the third gushed as they crossed the hallway.

The other two burst into giggles, disappearing around the corner. She bit her lip, watching them stumble away out of the corner of her eyes. Something twisted in her chest, her hands tightening into fists. They didn't deserve to giggle like that. They hadn't worked for this night as much as she had. They hadn't spent every waking hour planning and dreaming and hoping, nor had they spent every last penny to make things perfect. They didn't care as much.

"Stupid bitches," she hissed, envisioning for a split second how it would feel to yank on one of the girls' hair and rip another's dress to shreds.

Taking a deep breath Christine shook her head and pushed the door open. As she walked into the warmth of the night air her legs shook from the intensity of her emotions. Crossing her arms she surveyed the school park before her. She remembered spending her elementary school days as a child hiding in the slides and plastic tubes during lunchtime. It was a quiet place, a peaceful place.

A sudden crack was heard from one of the tunnels in the playground, distracting her. It was followed by stifled giggles, and she turned to face the noise.  Christine glanced over her shoulder at the towering school building, dark against the starry sky. She could have ignored that sound. She could have easily limped back into the hall, back into the gym, back into the arms of supposed friends and people she would never see again. But she didn't. She couldn't. Instead she faced straight ahead once more.

She could feel mosquitoes nipping at her bare legs, hear crickets loudly calling to her from the bushes, see the moon, giant and ghostly from up above, but she paid attention to nothing. Who dared interrupt her? Who dared disrupt the peace of the night? She had to know. Eyes on the plastic playground in the center of the park, she walked as quickly as she could, crossing her arms against her chest. Nearly tripping as she reached the sandpit of the playground, she quickly yanked at the straps in her shoes, snapping the buckle on one of them, and tossed them away. Jaw set, she straightened up and continued, toes digging into the sand as she finally reached the tunnel. She silently crept around it, waiting for a moment before suddenly jumping into view and peaking her head into the tunnel shouting, "Boo!"

The people in the tunnel screamed, wriggling around and getting tangled in its small interior, and she had just enough time for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. On the floor of the tunnel lay an empty wrapper amongst bottles of beer. The wrapper was small, square shaped and black, with an all too familiar logo of a Trojan soldier on its wrinkled surfaces. So much for childhood memories; it was clear that there was nothing innocent about the people here. The worst of it all was that she recognized who they were. Or at the very least, who he was. The one who'd been destined to be her prom date. Love and a perfect life, all her mother had promised, was what she wanted from him. But he'd failed her when she'd needed him the most.

They'd dated briefly not too long ago. They didn't have much to talk about, and related on few, if any levels of interest. But that was not a problem. In lieu of words, she had entertained him with escapades to bars and make out sessions in the dark. When the time came, she added sexual encounters in the shadows to the mix, trying desperately to keep him hooked, interested, turned on. She gave him everything. Her social life, academic life, personal life; it all went to him. Somehow, it hadn't been enough.

"J-Jared…" she whispered, staring blankly at the blurred figure in the tunnel, her hands falling to her sides.

Wide eyes stared back at her from within the tunnel as he replied, "Christine? What the fuck do you think you're doing?"

The words stung as much as they had the first time she had heard them, only a few weeks ago. She and Jared had been in the school cafeteria at the time. He was sitting alone in the corner, as if hiding from someone. Even then he looked so handsome. She couldn't help but stare at him helplessly for a moment and imagine how good it would feel to stroke his cheek. That's when he saw her. He coughed, spitting out the water he'd been drinking, and backed away.

"What's wrong with you?" he'd hissed.

Glancing around in hopes of remaining unseen, she'd murmured, "I just wanted to talk to you…"

"Christine, it's over. Get it? OVER!"

Eyes welling up, she could feel her palms starting to sweat, taking a few steps closer. "You promised!"

He turned away from her, trying to ignore her, putting up an arm as if it were a shield. But she wouldn't take no for an answer. She leapt forward, grabbing his arm and struggling against him. Fighting back he untangled himself of her and jumped up, backing away and shouting, "You psycho bitch, what the fuck do you think you're doing?" The cafeteria grew quiet, and she, paralyzed, was helpless to watch as he tore into her.

"So we fucked a few times… big deal! You were a lousy lay anyway! I didn't sign up for this… its beyond insane! I don't know what happened to you, but I'm through with it, and I'm through with you! You're a messed up bitch, and a fucking whore; quit calling me, quit following me, it's pathetic! Have some fucking self-respect, drag yourself off the floor and leave me the fuck alone! And quit obsessing over prom, no one gives a shit!"

The words were like venom to her, and all she could do was stand there as he stormed out of the cafeteria, leaving his meal half-eaten on the table. She'd been surrounded by people, but she'd never felt more alone. The feelings of shame and betrayal were still strong in her mind. And now she found herself before him once more.

Stumbling, she backed away from the tunnel, falling backwards into the sand, numb. The girl in the tunnel scrambled out first, dressed in a pretty blue gown. She grabbed her shoes off the floor and left, running back towards the school. Christine watched her for a moment as the girl vanished into the building. Then Jared came out. He faltered, first looking around for the other girl, and then looking down at the one in pink before him.

"I asked you a question!" he spat, realizing the other girl had run off, "What are you doing here?"

"I… don't know…" she murmured, slowly sitting up and brushing the sand off her forearms. Taking a deep breath, she replied loudly, "I don't know! What are you doing here?"

"None of your business," he snapped, crossing his arms and leaning against the slide. With a bit of effort she somehow managed to stand up, holding onto one of the climbing nets of the playground to keep herself upright. 

"Do you have… any idea what I… what I've been through?" she cried through twisted lips.

"Aw Christ, here we go again," he muttered, "The never ending merry-go-round of poor, poor Christine. I thought we were over this! I didn't think you would actually come to the stupid dance."

"It's called prom, Jared. Prom. Every girl's dream. And I had to come here… alone…" she bowed her head down as her eyes started to brim with tears.

"Enough with the crocodile tears!" Jared shouted, "You always do this! You- You turn it into some kind of soap opera or something. Like you're living in a fucking movie! This isn't a movie Christine, you just got dumped!" She stiffened, pale fingers knotted in the nets, her head still bowed down. "And what about me?" he continued, "Don't I deserve a say? You pulled all that stalker shit on me, and you're whining about some stupid dance party?"

"You ruined my life," she said slowly, dangerously, "You broke up with me in front of the entire school. You called me out. You singlehandedly destroyed my reputation and called me whore."

He sighed, muttering, "Are you seriously going to sit there and tell me I was the crazy one? You were fucking mental! Or did you just forget about all that? The notes in my locker? The phone calls at one in the morning?"

"I had to come here alone. There was no one to pick me up. No one to give me a corsage. No one to dance with me!" she shot back, "You know how important this night was to me! I told you it was important!"

"God, Christine! What is wrong with you? Prom, prom, prom, it's like listening to a scratched record, it's all you ever talk about! I've had it with you and your stupid mania! I don't want to hear about it any more. Go deal with it somewhere else!"

"After all you put me through, you want me to go deal with it somewhere else?"

"Yes!" he yelled, "Yes! That's exactly what I want! Get the hell out of my life, you obsessive freak!"

For a moment, she stood in silence. Wrapping her arms around her in the dark of the night, she seemed so small. She could feel an outburst of emotion that couldn't be put into words. Like swallowing an ice cube, she could feel a chill growing, traveling down her throat and into her center. Pressure in her chest, and for a moment, she lost the ability to breathe. All she'd ever wanted was to follow in her mother's footsteps. To live the life she had been promised. But that was impossible.

When she lifted her head, her eyes weren't teary anymore. There was a darkness to them, still visible through the shield of makeup covering her face. Something was different in her. She straightened up, flipping the loose strands of her hair over her shoulder, and started pacing through the sand. It was almost like a dance, the way she moved, toes digging in the ground, hips swaying from side to side.

As she walked, she murmured, "It meant everything to me, Jared. It was supposed to be the greatest night of my life. I was going to be the princess of the ball… just like my mom promised. I've thought about it so many times, down to last detail. And you… you took that away from me."

"Ugh… Again with prom," Jared grumbled under his breath. He sunk back against the plastic slide, growing weary of the conversation, his eyes flitting over to the school building.

As he shifted in place, she continued pacing, reaching the edge of the playground where her shoes still lay. She hooked her fingers through the straps of her stilettos and made her way back over to where he was, all the while swaying with a slight smile in the corner of her face. She kept going until she was standing a mere few inches away, staring straight at him.

She reached out to stroke his cheek playfully. He flinched at the feeling of her cool fingers running across his face. Knocking her hands away, he grabbed her shoulders, shaking her. "What sick game do you want to play now, huh? Haven't you done enough for one night?" he shouted.

She merely grinned as she explained quietly, "Now? Now you get exactly what you deserve."

Before the words could sink in, Jared felt a sudden jab in his midsection. He tried to move aside but found himself pinned between that sadistic smile and the plastic slide. Trembling he glanced down, only to realize that she had dug the sharp heel of her shoe into his stomach. He could feel the heel pressing against his skin sharply as it stuck there; a split second later she drove it in.

Immediately blood began to spurt out of the wound. Shock took over him and he gasped, choking, flailing, "You… y-you… you stabbed me… you fucking stabbed me!"

He couldn't feel anything; he was in such a state of horror. He scratched at her arms, tugged at her dress, yanked at her hair, but there was fire in her eyes and she was unmovable. Her hands were cold and clammy, but decisive as they twisted the shoe further and further into him, warmth spilling over her hands and dripping onto the sand below. That's when it really hit him.

The pain was unimaginable, as if he were burning from the inside out. He fought more violently to get her away now, he fought hard, but with every passing second the pain seemed to grow stronger, as he grew weaker. He felt his body falling back against the slide heavily, his arms finally dropping to his sides. Though his vision faltered, he was able to see those terrible eyes one last time before everything faded to black.

He grew limp in her arms, and with a grunt of effort she removed the shoe from his midsection, dropping the pair of bloody high heels back onto the sand. Still holding him up she backed away, dragging him back towards the tunnel. Taking a deep breath she lifted the body, shoving him headfirst into the tunnel. As the last of him disappeared into the shadows, a bubble of laughter rose in her throat and she lifted her arms in the air, a feeling of complete happiness washing over her.

Half-dancing as she went, she swirled, her dress flowing in the heavy night air, sliding her feet back into the heels. She ignored the broken buckle, tying the straps together as best she could. Blood stained her heels, her dress, her hair, but she ignored it completely. She looked over her shoulder one last time, giggling, before skipping back through the park and into the hallway. She paused for a moment, leaning against the glass of the door. She ran her sticky fingers through her hair, loosening the knot, and entered the door to the gymnasium, hidden beneath the blinking lights and the mass of dancing students.

She felt freer than ever before, and she saw her mother's words finally come true for the very first time that night. She was just like a pretty princess: surrounded by her royal subjects, regal, beautiful, untouchable.