Saint Paul’s gymnasium is shrouded in blue sheets and scattered with crudely-painted cardboard cut in the shape of fish. Blue streamers hang from the ceiling, and there’s a single bubble machine by the doorway, which spews foam at our ankles as we enter.
Despite having already checked in, Amber hasn’t let go of Henry’s arm yet, and Jackson is still chatting idly with Pearl. I follow the four of them, trying to see past the globs of students and tacky decorations to the stage, where the music is coming from.
A random pop song is being played over the sound system, which is my first clue that Naya Bloom is not yet here. The second is that the stage is empty save for a teacher fiddling with the mic equipment.
I hug my arms to myself, still not having warmed up from the cool evening air outside.
A group of people moves past us, and someone calls out, “Hello!” I turn to see Maggie, elegantly clad in a very high-necked red dress and big, dangly earrings. Mary Kate’s beside her, very on-theme in her seaweed-green dress and seashell necklace.
I quickly realize that Maggie was saying hello to a different girl nearby, not me, but we make eye contact, and she addresses me next. “Trinity, I didn’t know you were coming,” she says as Mary Kate and the other girl step away.
I put up my hands in an ‘I don’t know’ gesture. “Yeah. Well,” is all I manage to say. “It might be fun,” I add after a beat.
Her earrings swing erratically as she nods. “So who’s that guy Pearl’s with?” she asks, looking past me.
I look over my shoulder at Jackson, who has apparently discarded his tie somewhere and is now wearing his collared shirt with the top buttons undone. He’s talking conspiratorially with Pearl, who looks amused but also distracted, as her eyes keep sliding to Amber and Henry.
“His name’s Jackson,” I tell Maggie as I snap my attention back to her. She raises her eyebrows eagerly, but I don’t tell her anything else, and her face falls.
“Oh, well, that’s exciting,” she says, her gaze lingering on Jackson. Then, “I have to go find Mary Kate.” I watch her fade into the crowd.
“Good evening, Miss Reeding,” comes a deep voice a moment later. I flinch and almost trip over my own feet. I’ve just been snuck-up on by a six-foot nun.
“Hi, Sister Bertha,” I squeak out.
She smiles placidly at me, which I find unsettling, and I feel my underarms begin to sweat. What if she knows about Pearl? About Henry? My eyes betray me by flicking in their direction.
Sister Bertha follows my gaze. “Mr Foley, Miss Fellows. I trust you’ll both be excellent examples for your guests tonight.” Her low voice cuts through the noise of the crowd, and Pearl and Henry step toward us.
“Oh, absolutely, Sister Bertha. This is Jackson, by the way,” Pearl says cheerily, tugging Jackson forward. He receives his second handshake of the evening, and I really do think this one is more terrifying, despite Sister Bertha’s grip looking much less deadly than Pearl’s Dad’s.
Sister Bertha looks at Henry next, who chimes in, “Yup. Don’t need to worry about us.” Then the nun bows her head and departs.
She’s barely four feet away when Amber joins the rest of us. “I can’t believe there are nuns here to watch us. God, what a job.”
I sincerely hope Sister Bertha didn’t hear that.
It doesn’t take long for Naya Bloom to arrive. I recognize her immediately: a short woman with a black bob, an acoustic guitar, and one of her signature jumpsuits. Our principal, Mr. Sumner, escorts her to the stage, and the music is turned down. Most of the students who had been dancing pause, looking up at her.
She smiles down at all of us and Mr. Sumner taps the microphone.
“I’d like to welcome Naya Bloom, who has kindly agreed to perform some of her songs today.” He pauses as a spattering of applause comes from the student body. “Naya began the guitar at age six, and--”
I miss the rest of his words as I feel warm fingers wrap around my wrist. I turn sharply to see Pearl’s eyes, all lit up. “She’s here!” she whispers. “Why don’t you look more excited?”
My mouth curves up and I lean in so she can hear me whisper back. “I am excited. But also, she kind of just looks like a normal person from here.”
Her eyes sparkle with silent laughter, and she pulls away from me as we tune back in to Mr. Sumner’s speech. “--and as a graduate of our sister school, Saint Aquinas Prep--back when neither of us were co-ed yet, of course--it’s an honor to welcome her back to our school family today.” I had no idea Naya attended school around here.
Amber mutters, “Get to the point, already,” and I find myself agreeing with her. After a few more words--including the phrase, “Don’t forget to leave room for the Holy Spirit when you dance”--Mr. Sumner finally relinquishes the mic.
Naya’s voice is soft as she addresses us. “Thank you all for having me. I remember my first school dance quite fondly, so I hope all of you make some good memories tonight.” Her mouth quirks as a boy lets out a loud whoop. “This one’s for all of you at your first dance… maybe even dancing for the first time.” A few laughs sound from the crowd, and then they’re overshadowed by the first strum of her guitar.
Naya Bloom sings boldly, yet her voice is soft. It’s a slower song, the tone almost reverent, a major contrast to the popular music that was playing just minutes before. It’s beautiful, but it’s also… not quite right.
The sound system isn’t great, and the song sounds scratchy and distant. Students talk over her, laughter drifting overtop of her words. Some throw their arms up in the air, dancing to a nonexistent tune with a faster tempo. Closer to the stage, some start slow dancing, and the teachers have to make rounds and wrench a few couples apart.
“Do you know this song?” Pearl asks, still at my elbow.
“I do, actually.” I don’t tell her that it sounds better on YouTube.
Naya’s next song is slightly more upbeat, and Pearl drifts towards the growing crowd of dancers, Amber on her heels and Henry and Jackson not far behind. I squeeze through the crowd with them, trying to make myself as small as possible to avoid stray limbs. I keep an eye on Pearl’s bright pink dress, worried that I’ll lose her in the chaos.
A tall boy--I think his name is Josh?--moves between us, and as I weave my way around him, I see Amber touch Pearl’s shoulder, then reach down and grab her hand to spin her around. I look away.
The next few songs pass in a blur of jostling people and overlapping voices and fluttering laughter coming from Pearl and Amber. We dance together, mostly--meaning Amber and Pearl and Jackson dance enthusiastically while Henry sways with them and I stand, not really knowing what to do with my limbs.
At some point Henry disappears, possibly to see his friends, and Jackson goes to find him. Amber is showing Pearl how to do the grapevine--a useless skill--so I wander off in search of water. As I make my way to the edge of the gym, Naya starts a new song, this one slow again, quiet and silvery.
I step out into the hallway and find a drinking fountain, listening to the fuzzy, distant, almost haunting sound of the music.
The bubble machine spits a few bubbles at me as I reenter the dance, and Naya’s soft voice sings, “Let it be, my love. Lead me across this ocean, and into your arms. My beacon, my light.”
I linger against the back wall, eyes on the stage. It’s the first chance I’ve gotten to really admire the music, but I don’t know this song well. I’d never really listened to the lyrics before. Still, Naya’s voice is lovely, and I stand quietly, just listening.
“Ah. Also hiding?” It’s then that I turn and see Nicholas Kelly. His black hair is parted and neatly combed down, a contrast to the rest of his appearance: his dress shirt hangs off him loosely, clearly too large, its cuffs undone, and his pants are almost long enough to pool at his feet.
He notices me notice him, and he looks down at himself. “It’s my older brother’s,” he explains. I just nod. He blinks at me. “You look nice.” He says it in that tone of voice that you use when you’re being polite.
My face heats, but I manage to choke out the word ‘thanks’. I look away then back again, wondering if he really thinks I look nice. Wondering if I think he looks nice. He does, I suppose. Jackson has nicer hair, I think, but that doesn’t make Kelly’s hair not nice.
I open and close my mouth like a fish, which, luckily, is on-theme with the dance. Unluckily, I’m pretty sure I look like a moron.
(first part: https://theprose.com/post/432343/trinity)
(previous part: https://theprose.com/post/438893/trinity-10)
(next part: https://theprose.com/post/439925/trinity-12)