"Is it all ready then?"
"Yeah, the band is just setting up and they are putting the food on the table just now so it looks like we're set to go. When do they arrive?"
"Any time I should think. Do you think there will be many? Oh I hope so. I just loved dances like this one when I was their age, just loved them. I can still remember my own..."
"I never went to any of my dances. Always thought they were a bullshit social jerkoff put together by old women who romanticized the idea of being a teenager. But then what do I know?"
"It's going to be wonderful isn't it? All those happy faces, those held hands, all those boys and girls dancing together with stars in their eyes. Maybe someone will get their first kiss tonight..."
"Haha, first kiss, sure. I'm gonna go see if the band needs help setting up okay?"
"Will it hurt?"
"I don't know, I...just a little, just a little, I promise..."
"But, but what if..."
"I know, I know...but is there any other way? Is there? It will all be over soon and then it will be so wonderful...I promise."
"You know I love you, right?"
"I know...I know..."
In the dark two hands meet and take hold of each other, two hearts beat together quickly, and two sets of eyes watch as dozens of couples file into the Flatston Falls High School gym, dressed in dark suits and bright dresses, for the Valentine's dance.
On the stage Scott Shrebak and the Original MixMasters play through yet another slow song - the guitarist and bassist both rolling their eyes at the exaggerated crooning of their band-leader, and the drummer yawning from his own darkness. On the gym's floor are nine couples, their faces close, eyes locked, their bodies grinding against each other under the red lights and dancing hearts that hang above. Along the walls are the rest of the teens in attendance - some at tables talking and laughing, some standing against the wall talking in whispers. Then there are the others - the few that have come here alone, telling themselves they can have fun alone, that Valentine's is bullshit while they clench their hands and fix their hair and straighten their clothes and fix their lipstick and hope someone will notice them. Talk to them. Save them. And standing like sentries are the chaperones, all nine of them - three guarding each of the two exits and three wandering between the couples to make sure none are engaging in anything improper. The teens watch the chaperones with keen eyes, as prisoners watch their guards, sneaking kisses when they see their guards turn away, or letting their bodies linger against each other as their breath comes more heavily.
There are the kids, there is the band, there is the punch, there are the chaperones too but it is as if someone has thrown a party that no one really wanted to attend. And none that came really came to have fun, came more because they were expected to make an appearance. Hearts and cherubs bend forward in false bows as the tape on their backs loosens its grip. Streamer-dragons, apparently growing tired, let their tails fall to the scuffed floor of the gym and are quickly torn free of the rest of the body by passing feet or clasping hands. The punch bowl, once filled with crimson, is now a dark brown and there is a thin gray film that covers it like ice. Red has spread its arms out and reaches like fire across the paper tablecloth, staining, ruining as it goes - the hearts upon it looking as though they are mortally wounded. Bits of food, candy wrappers, a torn love note, and a condom litter the floor of the gym and off in a corner sits the janitor slumped and reading a newspaper and listening to his headphones. Off in another corner, embraced in the arms darkness, a couple, taken with the spirit of the night, is locked together at the mouth; their hands roaming each others bodies, hearts hammering. The boy whispers something to the girl and she runs her hand over his crotch and smiles up at him. The darkness is broken though by a search light and the dark shape of a witch, her hair twisted into horns, her face a mask of simmering rage, behind that light.
"Wha, what are you doing? Come with me, the both of you. Now!"
And the couple is lead from their dark refuge and into the red lights and laughter of the dance floor, their faces now the color of the lights above. Even the band takes notice as they pause moment to see what is happening and the laughter fills the void left by the music and fills the small gym. Their faces darken even more beneath the glare of the laughter and their hands loosen and fall apart to hang limply at their sides as they are lead from the gym, the girl hiding her face and tears with her hands. And then the laughter stops and there is an awkward and empty moment where no one is sure what to do next but with a wide grin and a swooping of his tuxedoed arms Scott Shrebak sends the band into action again and the remaining couples on the floor make a half-hearted attempt to dance to another slow song.
"God...I...I'm so scared...will it, will it hurt?"
"No...yes...yes. But I am here... I am here with you. You and me, right? You and me and fuck all else, right. Right?"
"...right...I love you."
"I love you too...Are, are you ready?"
"...I...yes..." A hand brushes against a moist cheek, softly wiping away the tears, and two mouths kiss gently, eyes closed, and two hands becoming one.
"All right everybody, whooo, we've had a great night tonight but unfortunately I'm afraid it's time to close the curtain on this year's Valentine's Day. I know, I know, you're all as disappointed as I am but we won't let it end without one last dance, one last romance. So grab your sweeties everyone and get on that dance floor and let's fall in love..."
One couple remains on the floor as the last song begins, their heads resting on each other's shoulders, their eyes closed, their dance more side to side than anything else, breathing together. Off in a corner the janitor is re-folding his newspaper sets it on his seat as he stretches himself, grabs his broom, and begins to sweep up the mess that is the floor. In another corner two of the chaperones are sharing a bottle wrapped in a brown bag and seem to get closer with each drink, their eyes heavy, their hands lingering at every pass of the bottle. Six students remain seated at tables, one teen resting at each of the six tables. Each one wears a sad, far-off look to their eyes as each one rises and walks alone towards the sound of a car horn coming from the parking lot, their shoulders slumped and their feet heavy. One girl breaks into tears as she looks at the couple remaining on the floor and she rushes to her brother's car. Two angry parents march a familiar boy and girl past the gym and out towards their cars, the boy getting slapped in the back of the head by his mother as he goes to kiss the girl goodbye. And four chaperones laugh and joke from behind the band, much to the annoyance of the singer. And the music of the band finally stops and the singer mumbles a half-hearted thank-you and then kicks the mike-stand over as he grabs his water and his harmonica and storms off towards the band's van. And the last couple finally looks up and sees they are alone and walk off towards the doors slowly, their eyes locked on one another, their hands intertwined as they enter the cool air of the night.
In the parking lot there are still plenty of cars, and while many are empty, some boast steamed windows and seem to sway a bit as if there were a wind. From one comes a loud moaning sound, and from another the sound of crying. From the car with the crying falls a girl, her dress torn and dirty, her makeup washing over her face, and across her cheek is the red mark of a phantom hand. Her crying gets worse as the car revs up and speeds off into the cold and darkness of the night. And in the far corner of the parking lot sits one lone car, the windows partially steamed but the steam fading. The night is silent save for the soft sound of the radio. And within it lie two hands held tight, and two wet faces bright, and two still bodies lying one atop the other, their suits all stained with red. And on the dashboard lies one darkened razor, and beneath lay four gaping wrists, their tears spilled across the seats and floor. In the pocket of the one boy's suit is a stained epitaph, a silent whisper from the grave. And as the snow falls softly to hide the car from view, and the cars in the lot disappear one by one, the bodies of two lost boys slowly start to freeze.