Unearthly Page 46

“Here she comes,” says Mom when I appear at the top of the stairs. She and Christian look up at me. I smile and carefully descend the steps.

“Wow,” says Christian when I stop in front of him. His gaze sweeps me from head to foot. “Beautiful.”

I’m not sure if he’s talking about me or the dress. Either way, I’ll take it.

He’s wearing a sleek black tux with a silver vest and tie, white shirt with cuff links and everything. He is, in a word, mouthwatering. Even Mom can’t take her eyes off him.

“You look great,” I say.

“Christian was telling me that he lives close by,” says Mom, her eyes sparkling, no trace of the earlier tears on her face. “Three miles directly east of here, did you say?”

“Give or take,” he says, still looking at me. “As the crow flies.”

“Do you have brothers and sisters?” she asks.

“No, it’s just me.”

“We should be going,” I say, because I sense that she’s trying to figure out how my vision will finally come together, and I’m afraid she’ll scare him off.

“You look so wonderful together,” says Mom. “Can I take a picture?”

“Sure,” says Christian.

She runs to the office for her camera. Christian and I wait for her in silence. He smells amazing, that wonderful mix of soap and cologne and something all his own. Pheromones, I guess, but it seems like more than simple chemistry.

I smile at him. “Thanks for being so patient. You know how moms can get.”

He doesn’t respond, and for a moment I wonder if he and I will ever have a chance at a breakthrough tonight. Then my mom’s back and she has us stand against the door while she takes our picture. Christian puts his arm behind me, his hand lightly touching the middle of my back. A tiny tremor ripples through me. There’s something that happens between us when we touch, something I can’t explain, but it makes me feel weak and strong at the same time, aware of my blood moving through my veins and the air moving in and out of my lungs. It’s like my body recognizes his. I don’t know what it means, but I kind of like it.

“Oh, I forgot,” I say after the flash goes off. “I got you a boutonniere.”

I dash off to the kitchen to get it out of the refrigerator. “Here,” I say, walking back to him. I step up to him to pin the boutonniere—a single white rose and a bit of greenery—to his lapel and immediately stab myself in the finger with the pin.

“Ow,” he says, flinching as if the pin has pierced his finger instead of mine. I hold my finger up and a single drop of blood forms on it.

Christian takes my hand and inspects it. My breath catches. I could get used to this.

“Think you’ll survive?” he asks, gazing into my eyes, and I need to close them to keep my breath from shaking.

“I think so. It’s not even bleeding anymore.” I take a tissue from Mom and hold it on the spot of blood on my finger, careful not to touch my dress.

“Let’s try this again,” I say, and this time I lean close, our breath mingling as I carefully fasten the boutonniere. It’s the same feeling I had when we were lying in the snow on the ski hill, a breath apart. Like I could lean in and kiss him, in front of my mother and everything. I take a quick step back, thinking things are either about to go very right tonight, or very wrong.

“Thanks,” he says, looking down at my handiwork. “I got you a corsage, too, but it’s in the truck.” He turns to Mom. “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Gardner.”

“Please, call me Maggie.”

He nods cordially.

“Be home before midnight,” she adds. I stare at her. She can’t possibly mean that. The dance doesn’t even end until midnight.

“Shall we?” asks Christian before I can think of a reasonable argument. He extends his arm, and I tuck my hand into the crook.

“We shall,” I reply, and then we get the heck out of there.

At the door to the art museum in Jackson where prom’s being held, they give the girls delicate laurels made from silver spray-painted leaves and the boys long sashes of white fabric that they’re supposed to wear over one shoulder of their tuxedos, toga style. Now that we officially look like ancient Greeks, we’re allowed to enter the lobby, where prom is in full swing.

“Pictures first?” says Christian. “The line doesn’t look too long.”

“Sure.”

A slow song begins to play as we make our way over to the picture area. I watch Jason Lovett ask Wendy to dance. She looks like a bona fide princess in my pink dress. She nods and then they put their arms around each other and start to sway awkwardly to the music. It’s adorable. I also spot Tucker in a corner dancing with a redhead I don’t know. He sees me, almost starts to wave, but then he sees Christian. His eyes flick back and forth between us, like he’s trying to figure out what happened since last Saturday when I said I didn’t have a date.

“All right, you two, you’re up,” says the photographer. Christian and I shuffle onto the platform they’ve set up. Christian stands behind me and puts his arms loosely around me like it’s the most natural thing in the world. I smile. The camera flashes.

“Come on, let’s dance,” says Christian.

Suddenly happy, I follow him onto the dance floor, which is covered in fog and strewn with white roses. He takes my hand and twirls me, then catches me in his arms, still holding my hands lightly in his. I’m swamped with that electric awareness, which buzzes through me like I’ve had a shot of espresso.

“So you can dance,” I say as he moves us deftly through the crowd.

“A bit.” He grins. He really knows how to lead, and I relax and let him take me where he wants me to go, making an effort to look at his face instead of at our feet sweeping through the fog and roses or the people I can feel watching us.

I step on his foot. Twice. And here I call myself a dancer.

I’m trying not to stare at him. Sometimes it’s still a shock to see him from the front. It reminds me of a story my mom used to tell of a sculptor whose statue suddenly came to life. That’s how I feel about Christian now. He’s alive in a way that seems impossible, as if I’ve created him from the sketches I drew when I first had the vision. From my dreams.

But this isn’t a fairy tale, I remind myself. I’m here for a purpose. I need to try to understand what will bring us together in the forest.

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