It was five minutes till midnight hour and my phone alarm went off. I straightened against the side of the building and fumbled to get it out of my jeans to shut off the insistent buzzing. My gloved fingers made this more difficult than usual, but I couldn’t take them off in this cold.
Charm smiled down at me and said, “Is it time for you to go home? At the stroke of midnight like a modern day Cinderella?“
I laughed awkwardly, the warmth I’d found in his arms slowly fading as my mind circled through the consequences of delaying any longer.
“I do have to go,” I told him, still smiling. “My dad isn’t that strict but I have a curfew.”
“Alright,” he said, pulling me closer, he words a warm puff on my cold forehead. “I’ll drop you home. Leave your car here. I’ll pick you up in the morning for classes.” One hand circled my waist while the other pressed into the middle of my back. He held me like he didn’t want to let go.
I shivered at the idea that he could really do that now. He could do things for me that a boyfriend would. He could show he cared about me because now he knew that I cared too. Finally.
I grinned into his sweater then regretfully shook my head. “Not tonight.”
“Your dad won’t like it?”
“No, just…this is perfect, this moment. For tonight I want to make this my snapshot of the night.” I took out my keys and then I looked up at him, my eyes shinning. “Then tomorrow I can get dozens more. I can do that now, you know. Perks of being your girlfriend.”
He bent down and kissed me. I knew he thought I was quirky and maybe slightly insane but he had assured me that his teen hormones didn’t care.
Earlier that night, after our awkward confessions, we’d sat at the edge of the dance floor, ignoring our friends, grinning stupidly at each other till our teachers called an end to the evening and everyone left the school premises but us. I had never known how amazing the school rooftop was at night. Of course neither of us had paid much attention to the view.
I stepped back and looked towards the school parking lot where my car was. It was nearly empty now. The after parties were held elsewhere. “Thanks for tonight.”
“Hey, anytime you need to be rescued from utter boredom…” He smiled, messy hair in his normally bespectacled eyes. My heart skipped a beat or two.
“Damn, you’re hot,” I told him and he laughed and caught my hand.
“So don’t leave yet. You can ogle me some more and I’ll charge you in kisses.”
Two minutes till midnight and my phone went off again.
“I really need to go.”
He hooked his finger into the ring that held my keys and gave me a little boy look that begged me not to.
“Aaaa!” I groaned as I twisted out of his hold. Quickly I stole one last peck from his lips and then ran towards my car.
“Rella!” he called out behind me. I stopped mid run, turned and waved at his silhouette before continuing my sprint to the car.
It was a cold night. Technically it was spring but you wouldn’t think so if you lived in my city.
I reached my car and unlocked it. One minute to midnight, my alarm sounded for the third time.
“Alright, alright,” I muttered under my breath.
Then I was inside and the air from the car heater blasted on my face. I manoeuvred out of the lot carefully. The last thing I needed tonight was a drunk and indignant jock out for revenge because I nicked his 1966 mustang. Okay so I was thinking of a very specific jerk…eh, jock.
My last alarm for the night was set for 12 am, but before I reached to shut it up, my phone rang.
“Hello?” I drove one handed, my speed falling to a crawl. While I could drive an automatic like nobody’s business, my dad had forced me to get a stick shift. “German’s make the most sensible cars,” he had told me, a proud Frenchman born and bred.
“Rella?” Charm’s laughing voice filtered through the bad connection.
“Hey,” I said softly, the silly smile back on my face again.
“You left something behind.”
“You?” I grinned.
He chuckled. “No. Though yeah, that too. Guess what else?”
“Erm…” My heart? My own cheesiness made me grimace.
“Check your pockets.”
He sighed. “You’re no fun. So once you get home, how do you intend to get inside?”
“Through…the door?” What was I missing here?
“With…a key?” he said, his tone teasing.
“Yeah, so I have my…” I looked down at the ignition where my key ring swung and suddenly noticed the absence of my house key.
“Oh my gods,” I said. “What the hell? How did that happen?”
The ring was intact. I couldn’t figure out how the key had fallen out.
“Maybe your key ring’s loose? broken?”
“So, uh, how far out are you?”
I wasn’t very far off. I could turn around and get my key but that wasn’t possible, not really. I couldn’t afford to see him again tonight.
“Shoot,” I said, glancing at the lit up dial on my dashboard that showed the needle pointing a sensible distance from Empty. “I’m running low on gas. I’ll get home but I don’t think I should turn back now.”
“Want me to drop your key off?”
“No!” I said, probably a little too emphatically.
I glanced at my watch and my insides clenched. It was one minute past midnight.
“I, uh…” My eyes went instinctively to the rearview mirror and I realized I’d been too high on finally admitting my crush on Charm to keep my mind on what came after midnight.
A slight trembling began just under my skin. Painless but impossible to ignore.
“Rella, you alright? You sound…upset.”
My voice had thickened. I tried to keep the hoarseness quiet by speaking softly. “I’m alright. Think I caught a slight cold. I’ll wake up dad and he’ll open the door. It’s all okay.”
“It’s not a problem. It’s not like I have anything else to do tonight.”
I tried smiling at that, thinking of the parties he could go to. Charm lived up to his name. No matter the tee shirts that proudly proclaimed his nerdhood, nobody could put him in a box and then look down on him.
“No, it’s good. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He was quiet for a moment and in that time I watched as the skin and bones around my eyes shifted subtly.
Then he sighed. “You really wont let me see you again tonight huh?”
I shifted my eyes to the empty road and suppressed my own sigh. I wish I could. I wish I could.
“It was a great kiss.”
I smiled this time thinking of the startled look on his face. I had been so sure he was going to reject me the moment I let go that I had refused to let go for a long while.
“Best kiss of my life, actually,” he added and I could hear his grin.
“First kiss of mine,” I admitted in a whisper.
I nodded under the light of the traffic signal.
“Goodnight, my Cinderella,” he said, his voice comforting like a bedtime story. “Hope our kiss brings you luck.”
It brought me you. “Goodnight.”
I hung up and turned a corner to my street. At this time of the night my neighbourhood was deathly silent. From my car I rang my dad and waited while he grumbled and looked for his slippers and switched on all the lights in the house before coming down to open the door.
“So,” he said as I walked in, my sweater and jeans a looser fit than they had been earlier that night. “How did it go?”
“Like a charm,” I said as I climbed the stairs up.
“Rell.” The grimness in his voice stopped me. “Is this really the way to get what you want?”
I flexed my changed fingers on the banister and said, “Are you regretting your gift?”
“No, but to change yourself like this…for a boy…”
“That’s how he knows me. That’s who he likes.”
“And how long will this go on?” He sighed and before I could say anything he waved me off. “Nevermind. I can hardly moralize with my own history. Just…don’t get hurt.”
I smiled down at him from the steps. “Why, Edward Merryweather, you almost sound like a real dad.”
He flicked a finger at me and the steps lurched into motion. I fell flat on my face and got up rubbing my nose and elbows. “Thank you. Really. Your love is so warm and fuzzy.”
“Never annoy your fairy godfather. I thought I taught you that years ago.”
“You did. I broke an arm that time.”
My dad laughed and we walked up the stairs. The lights went out behind us.
At the door to my room I paused and said, “It’s not forever. Just a little while. Then school will be over and he’ll go off to college. He never has to know.”
He looked at me keenly, but didn’t say anything. I suppose there was nothing to say. The stupidity in my plan was self evident.
“Goodnight, dad,” I said as I turned to go in.
“Sleep well, my son,” he spoke quietly. “I’ll send good dreams.”