A Melting Ballroom

By Hannah Bagley

Gwyn squirms in her seat, the corset that cinches her waist is digging into her sides and her shoes squeeze her toes so tightly they begin to lose feeling. She sat down in the hopes that one of the gorgeous people dancing in front of her would come sweep her off her feet and distract her from the pain, but that has yet to happen. Instead, she sits and festers, growing more irritable by the second.

            “Might I offer you a drink?” A voice creeps up behind her, cutting through the music that floats in the air.

            “Oh,” she jumps, turning to face a man dressed in the same dark suit that all the other waiters are wearing. He carries a silver tray full of crisp champagne glasses that seem to stay completely still no matter how far it tips forward. “That’s alright. I don’t drink,” Gwyn says politely. She turns her head back to the dancefloor, watching people glide across it as if it were covered in ice.

            “You’re sure?” The man’s voice disturbs her other ear. She flinches, having expected him to be long gone.

            “Yes, thank you though. It was very kind of you to offer,” she nods with finality. “If you’d excuse me,” the pain in her feet has been replaced with the abrupt itch to get away from the man standing near her.

She wades through the crowd, avoiding the other intricate dresses that are just as large as hers, trying to get to the table where she knows there is a glass of water waiting for her. The table is just in sight when she hits a wall very abruptly. However, that wall is more of a cushion, one with an elegant soft blue fabric. It is not a wall, but rather someone whose dance partner twirled her a bit too far out into the idle crowd. Gwyn knocks the poor woman over with a yelp, landing right on top of her.

            “Ah,” the woman exclaims with a burst of laughter, “I’m glad that our dresses broke our fall.” She stares up at Gwyn with a glint in her eyes. Gwyn has her arms propped up around the woman’s shoulders, practically pinning her in place, but she’s trapped in the wake of her captivating brown eyes. She’s so caught in her sudden attraction and the odd sense of familiarity, that her eyes are locked onto the stranger’s.

            “You could at least give a lady your name before pinning her to the floor,” the woman says beneath her.

            “What?” Gwyn asks, snapping out of her daze. “Oh my God,” Gwyn realizes that this entire part of the dancefloor has stopped to gawk at the unfolding situation. She notices a few men standing around them, fussing over the state of the two women on the floor. Gwyn quickly reaches a hand out to one of them, and they help her get off the other woman as gracefully as possible. The other men around them help the woman Gwyn had just practically assaulted, and once she’s on her feet she dusts off her dress in a comically dramatic manner. The blue gown swishes like waves all the way down to the floor.

            “That teaches me to dance with a man again,” she laughs. “Always so rough.” She gives Gwyn a teasing wink. The man she had been previously dancing with, who is standing at her side, turns a shade of red that Gwyn had never seen one do before. “Oh, I kid. You were a dear,” she says, taking the man by his hand and giving it a gentle shake. The man nods, giving the woman a soft kiss to the knuckle, and leaves the situation as fast as he can. Once the gawking crowd has lost interest in the drama, she takes a long stride to land right in front of Gwyn.

            “I am so sorry,” Gwyn starts. “I should have been watching my step—”

            “Oh, you poor thing, it’s all in good fun,” the woman says flashing a toothy smile. Gwyn expected to be chewed out by the person she had just knocked to the floor and whose dress she may have torn.

            “Are you sure you’re alright? You didn’t hit your head or anything?” Gwyn asks, her hands fly up in front of her, gesturing nervously to her dress. “Is your dress alright? It’s so gorgeous. I don’t know if I could live with myself if I ruined it,” she rambles. Suddenly she doesn’t know if she can’t breathe because of her corset or her nerves. “I can have my father pay for any damages. I am so sorry; I’m not even supposed to be here—”

            “I don’t think I caught your name,” the woman says gently cutting in. “I’m Adeline.” She catches one of Gwyn’s anxious hands with her own.

            “Gwyndolin,” Gwyn hesitates, “Gwyn.” She takes a deep breath and forces a smile.

            “Well, Gwyn,” Adeline says with a playful curtsey, “it is so very nice to meet you, even in unfortunate circumstances.”

            Gwyn nods, she feels as though she has put a wildfire out in her chest. It helps immensely now that the attention from the crowd is off of them, on top of the fact that Adeline doesn’t seem angered at all.

            “Are you sure you’re alright? You look awfully flushed,” Adeline says, her freckled nose scrunching up sympathetically.

            “Oh,” Gwyn says absently, touching her hands to her abnormally warm cheeks, “Oh, yes I’m fine,” she says with a high-pitched chuckle. Aside from the pain in her ribs and the fast pace of her heart, she honestly feels fine. It must just be left over nerves.

            “Here, let’s go get you a drink,” Adeline says, taking up Gwyn’s hand again to lead her somewhere.

Gwyn catches sight of the man in the dark suit with the champagne glasses tipped precariously on the silver tray again; his eyes are locked on her. Her stomach lurches, and she protests against Adeline’s movement. “No!” She shrieks abruptly.

  Adeline stops mid-movement, watching Gwyn with the caution of one caring for a feral animal.

“I mean,” Gwyn gives a breathy laugh, “I mean no, I’m okay. In fact, I’m so okay, I want to dance!” She flips the grip and leads Adeline towards the middle of the dancefloor. She’s careful not to trip on her own dress, let alone trip over anyone else’s dress.

They end up in the middle near two men who are dancing together completely offbeat to the tune of the song playing. It’s supposed to be a slow dance, but they seem to be dancing to a different beat. Gwyn and Adeline naturally assume a comfortable dancing position, as if they were two puzzle pieces meant to fit together.

            “Have we met before?” Gwyn asks, creating mental constellations in Adeline’s freckles. Everything about her feels so natural, like they had known each other in another lifetime.

            “I think I should be able to recall someone like you,” Adeline says, a smile creeping up to her lips again.

            “Someone like me?”

            “You’re just rather,” Adeline pauses, giving her a once over, “memorable.” She shrugs coyly. Gwyn opens her mouth to speak again, but she catches sight of the man in the dark suit dodging couple after couple, the silver tray of champagne balanced atop his head. She tries to ignore him, returning her gaze back to Adeline’s comfortable eyes, but she can tell he is moving towards her.

“Are you sure you don’t want something to drink?” Adeline asks gingerly.

  Gwyn slows their movement to a stop and just as she does the waiter reaches them. The silver tray now sits nearly upside down in his hands, but the glasses still haven’t moved, and the liquid stays perfectly level.

            “Ladies, might I offer you some drinks?” he asks, glancing down at the champagne.

            “No, um,” Gwyn glances at Adeline who seems to be nodding, and gesturing towards the glasses, “no, I don’t drink,” she pushes away from both of them. The man in the dark suit balances the silver tray with just his pinky, and both him and Adeline reach out to grab Gwyn’s arms before she collides with another couple.

            “You have a habit of running into people,” Adeline says jokingly, steadying her on her feet. “Maybe you could use a drink. I think it might help you,” she says, grabbing one of the champagne glasses from the tray that is still practically upside down in the man’s hand. As soon as Adeline’s hand touches the glass there is a shimmer that glides over it, and it begins to shift.

Gwyn blinks. She can’t take her eyes off the glass as it morphs into a small, clear plastic cup full of water.

“Here,” Adeline says, pushing it forward with a gentleness that almost makes Gwyn want to take it from her. She snaps her attention up, the dancers that once surrounded them start to shimmer just as the champagne had before. Gwyn squints her eyes, but everything is too blurry to see.

            “Gwyn,” the man in the dark suit speaks sternly. “you need to take a drink, you’re looking flushed.” There’s a hint of concern in his voice, but she doesn’t drink champagne.

            “I don’t drink,” she says, pushing past the two of them. She wanders forward—her dress feeling lighter—and gets a better look at the shimmering figures in front of her. The two men who were dancing together before, have morphed together, forming some kind of grotesque flesh statue. She backs away quickly, turning before she bumps into another couple who have done the same thing right before her eyes.

            “Gwyn!” Adeline says, reaching out for her arm again. Gwyn stands in such shock that she doesn’t even fight away from Adeline’s grip that turns crushing when she won’t face her. Gwyn watches as the lovely architecture around her begins to melt to the floor, leaving nothing but a plethora of these flesh creatures. She looks down, her dress is gone, her legs and feet are bare, and there’s some kind of mushy white powder that squishes between her numb toes. Her once corseted waist is now bare, the pain in her ribs is emanating from the thin air she is unable to take in. She looks back up, her attention whirling to Adeline who stands still in her lovely blue dress looking more beautiful with the tiny white snowflakes that are falling from the now open sky.

            “Gwyn,” she repeats, holding out the tiny clear cup, “please take a drink. It’ll warm you up.” Her voice has turned pleading as her dress begins to fade. She reaches forward, cupping Gwyn’s cheek with her free hand, and with the other she presses the cup to her trembling lips. Gwyn takes Adeline’s hand, her warmth is astonishing, and together they tip her head back. The liquid from the cup is thick and tastes of artificial grapes. Gwyn cringes, but she takes it to the last drop. She can feel the liquid spreading down to her abdomen, an odd warmth trailing behind it. She looks back down to Adeline, her dress has now faded into a pair of pajamas that look far too thin to be out in the snow. She looks past her to see that the man in the dark suit is now wearing a pair of scrubs, he had seemed to be smart enough to grab a jacket. She looks around. The fleshy statues are gone, replaced with snow covered trees that travel on forever.

            “I’m so sorry,” she mutters, her legs turning to jelly beneath her.

            “It’s alright, you’re alright,” Adeline says, moving forward to catch her weight.

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