The music was too loud and the lights were too bright. The combination did not leave Marcelina wanting to dance. Instead, it made her want to retreat. All of the doors out of the gym were watched. Volunteer parents here to make sure their darlings did not do anything unapproved of at the dance. She hadn’t wanted to come tonight.
Wouldn’t have come, but Jory had bought tickets and said he wanted to take his girlfriend. He’d never called her that before. They’d been friends for ten years. Sure, the last year or so they’d been friends who kissed, but neither had ever said that word. So, Marcelina had dug in the attic for one of her babcia’s old dresses. Before she’d gotten old, her babcia had been beautiful. Marcelina felt a twinge of jealousy every time she saw the old photos of her.
Painstaking alterations, bandaged fingers, and two frantic calls to Natalia had left her with the result she wore. Compared to everyone else the simple red dress with gold lace trim around the collar was old and dull. She knew this, because several people told her. Charlotte had sneered from across the room, but Marcelina had only laughed. Charlotte may have hated what she wore, but she mostly hated Marcelina for a different reason.
The reason sat next to her in a black suit. He’d been by her side all evening. They had tried to dance once, but dissolved into laughter. Neither of them were very good despite the mandatory lessons in school. They’d tried to talk, but it was too loud. So, they sat next to each other and occasionally spelled something out in sign language. At least the bright light made that possible.
She wanted to kiss him, but that was Not Allowed. They held hands and sat with their chairs touching. Once, he’d put his arm around her, but a chaperone had stopped that as soon as they were noticed. Their hands, clasped together, rested on his leg. His leg rested against hers. It was enough for now.
At first she’d thought the trembling came from the bass turned up too loud. Then she watched the tables rattle. Before she could say anything, Jory was on his feet. She stood as well. It was that or release his hand.
The sirens went off.
Marcelina and Jory both rolled their eyes and tugged each other towards the exit. Perfect. There was a twinge, a small one, at the thought. The sirens meant something bad, but it also got them out of this terrible dance. The building was chaos as kids forgot their drills and parents tried to herd them outside.
Someone else fainted. Or, at least pretended to faint.
Marcelina and Jory ducked around the corner and raced towards the stairs at the end of the hall. They should be going outside with the others, but instead they raced down darkened halls towards the stairs to the roof. Even the red blink of cameras was missing so it had to be serious.
The door flew open with a bang that was sure to be missed in the chaos. They closed it with more care. Having already planned to be up here their stuff was carefully tucked between two soot stained chimney stacks.
“What is it?”
Jory shook his head and pointed.
Planes flew overhead and in the distance there was a crimson burst of light followed by another tremor. Jory’s arms wrapped around her and Marcelina hated he would feel her shaking. She should be stronger.
“It’s the factories. Did your father?”
“Tata worked late.”
He would hear the whisper. Over the explosion of sound as the factory disappeared into a collapsed wreck of flames and concrete he heard her words. When her knees gave out he helped her down to the roof and she worried about the stains it would leave on her dress. The dress she would burn anyway.
Jory held her as she rocked back and forth, crying because she knew. Her tata was gone. It was only her and mama now. Siemowit did not count in the least.
“I have to go home.”
The words were a death sentence. She knew it. He knew it. All of their plans were for tonight. If they didn’t go tonight there was little chance they could pull it off.
“You should still go.” Marcelina grabbed Jory’s arms and stared at him. “Go, Jory. If you’re ok…I’ll be ok.”
“You know I’m not going without you.”
“I know. Because you’re dumb.”
“No, you’re dumb.”
“I love you.”
“Yea, well, I love you too. Even if you’re dumb.”
She couldn’t, quite, smile, but the tears stopped. Even though she’d said it, she couldn’t quite bring herself to move just yet. Jory sat with her and they watched helicopters fly by and ignored the announcements from circling cars for everyone to stay in their homes. Nothing to fear.
In a way, the announcement was correct. What else did she have to fear? Marcelina stood and headed for the edge of the roof. Onto the ground she tossed their bags.
“Want me to go first?” Jory asked as he joined her at the edge of tarpaper and brick.
“You only want to be able to look up my dress.”
Even in the dark his fair, freckled skin visibly blushed. She felt magnanimous in her freedom from fear. Marcelina pressed against him and listened to his breathing change. Not tonight. If this hadn’t happened, maybe, but not tonight.
As if he sensed her thought he pulled away after a short kiss. Marcelina sat on the edge of the roof and watched him swing his legs over. He climbed down and when he was halfway to the ground she began to work her way down the wall as well.
They walked home, ignoring the main roads, and holding hands as sirens and warnings continued to go off around them.