Old Pops looked into his granddaughters room just before five in the evening. Claudia layed upon her bed. Her hefty bosom slowly rising and falling and eyes closed, seemingly asleep. He shook his head and closed the door.
"Lord I ain't never seen nothing like this before in my life," he said. "All that gal do is just go to school, come home, eat, and sleep, what good does she do?"
"Oh hush now, even she deserves to rest her big brain of hers sometimes." Explained Nana, leading him down the hall away from Claudia's room.
"That brain ain't the only thing on her that's big, eating up all the damn meatloaf, and what she need the rest for anyway? School years almost over and it's her prom night! She should be out enjoying herself, 'stead she sleep!"
"She's just...different, that's all, and a leopard ain't gonna change her spots, whatever color they may be. She just needs time, that's all and she'll grow into her own."
"What she need is a damn man to sleep beside her." Pops grumbled.
"You shush Mister!"
Pops and Nana made their way downstairs, leaving Claudia alone, alone to do what she did best.
Into the air, over the cities, under the stars, above a building, a street lamp, a pond flew Claudia Trujillo. Invisible as whispering Spring winds, fresh as the droplets of dew shimmering from fields of dawn she flew. She soared in crows darker than shadows, passed through trees and lived in blossoms, showering away in petals with the breeze. She perched in a lime green frog, chill as ice by a shining pool. She trotted in a gangly dog and barked to hear the echo amidst the car horns. She lived in the crisp May grass, in the dank liquids rising from the earth.
It's Spring, and everything is alive and everything is breathing. Thought Claudia. If I wanted I can be in every living thing in the world tonight.
There would be other nights for sightseeing however. She had a prom to go to.
The wind whipped her away over cul-de-sacs and pavement, her mind adaptively quick and flowing unseen upon Chicago winds on this one special evening of her life when she was only eighteen...
Claudia opened her eyes. She stretched out, her body stiff and trembling. She dabbed perfume to her throat and grabbed the picture from her night stand. It was a year book cut out because she could never get him to give her a real picture, let alone go to prom with her. Well, if he wouldn't go to prom with Claudia because she was so odd, so...different, then he would just have to take her as someone else. She placed a pillow soft kiss on the picture, laid it upon her heart and was once again swept away into the Spring night. Outside of a quaint evergreen terraced home she found her target. Claudia rested on the gutter above the girls head and watched her through fragmented, insectoid eyes. Claudia would never admit it to her, but the girl Asia White was everything Claudia wished she was. While Claudia was short and stocky, Asia had legs for days and a tight, athletic body that was the object of obsession for many boys in their class. While Claudia's skin was stretched in some places and acne scarred, Asia's was a creamy light mahogany as flawless as the surface of an egg. And while Claudia's hair was a tangled, frenzied nightmare, Asia wore hers in a decorative regal like bun, a gentle widows peak punctuating her beautiful face.
Claudia was a loner. Asia the captain of the girls volleyball team. None of that mattered now however because tonight, she was hers!
Asia paced idly below, her phone pressed to her ear as she gossiped and a tall glass of ice water in the other hand.
"Oh my God yes that bitch is ratchet! Nope, nope I'm the Queen tonight, all them other hoes can bow down boo, they gonna be lookin' faded as hell next to muah!"
Claudia fell – a miniscule gnat – into Asia's glass. She felt herself lifted to her warm, glossy lips and there was the soft sound of drinking.
Claudia looked out from Asia's dazzling hazel eyes.
Traveling through another human was a more difficult task that other simple creatures but as she peered out of those shining eyes and felt her foreign tongue flutter with more trivial gossip she got a feel for her new delicate body that drifted with feather like balance from one motion to another, just like breaking in a new pair of heels.
I wonder if she can sense me? Thought Claudia.
Asia's gasped and lowered the phone.
"Damn I'm tweakin'" She mumbled and went back to her conversation.
I like it in here. I like it in here a lot. Thought Claudia.
"I'll call you back girl." Asia hung up the phone and whipped her head back and fourth as if she heard a voice but couldn't pinpoint its direction.
Can you hear me Asia? Claudia asked carefully.
Asia twitched. "Who the hell is that?"
Listen up sweetheart, I decided to borrow your body for the night, why should a spoiled brat like yourself get to have all the fun? Cooperate and at least you'll be able to witness the prom. You don't and we're hopping on the next bus straight to the ghetto and your special night is going to turn into a special night for some lonely hoods. So what's it going to be?
Claudia felt the heart flutter like a caged animal. "Oh my God, Oh my God I'm possessed! Oh Jesus get outta my head!"
Asia's mother peeked her head from the front door. "Come on in and get ready!"
"Mama I – I changed my mind, I'm not going!"
"What!?" Cried her mother
What!? Cried Claudia.
"I...I – I don't feel too good."
Stop it! Claudia demanded.
The glass she was holding slipped from her fingers and shattered on the porch. Asia shrieked.
"Ahhhh you're just nervous sweetheart, that's perfectly natural. This is your night, but your father and I spent so much money for you to go, so your going to go and you're going to enjoy yourself, ok?"
Listen to your mama. Claudia sneered. Now march!
No! Thought Asia White.
"What's wrong with you girl? For the past two months you wouldn't shut up about prom"
Asia's shoulders slumped. "It's...nothing mama, I'm sorry."
Claudia and Asia marched into the house.
Under the shower the soap creamed over her smooth porcelain like shoulders and the flesh of her warm breast bobbed and jiggled as Claudia worked the mouth, forced her to smile in order to perfect her facade. There was no room for error or hesitation. Asia White must be kept moving, doing, acting – wash up, scrub down with a towel, perfume and powder and make up!
Asia caught herself in the mirror as Claudia applied mascara to those pretty eyes. "Why are you doing this to me?"
Because you never did anything to help others. You brought a lot of shame and misery to kids who never said or did anything to you, and for what? You thought it was funny? You were trying to be cool? Did you ever for a second stop and think about the people you were hurting?
"I'm sorry!" Asia pleaded.
You can save your apologies sweetie. Claudia laughed. Now let's get you dressed.
The prom dress Asia's parents had brought for her was a thing of beauty, a slinky ivory one shouldered jersey dress with a high slit on the right side that exposed her toned, slender leg and the upper torso studded with gold sequins along with matching slingback Swarovski crystal heels. Claudia couldn't even began to guess how much the outfit cost, but as she stared through Asia's eyes into the mirror, she knew she looked absolutely priceless. Outside the rumble of an engine stirred the early evening air.
"Asia! Dante's here!" Her mother called from downstairs.
"Tell him to go away! I'm not going!"
"You get your ass down here this second!" Claudia could hear the footfalls stomping up the stairs. She spread her thoughts through that vapid little mind, into the heart, softly...softly.
If you don't stop acting up right now I swear we're taking that trip, and I'll make them record it and show it to everybody!
Asia's mother burst into the room. "I don't know what the hell has gotten into you but you cut this mess out right now! You-are-NOT wasting our money over your drama so you get your ass down them stairs and stop keeping that boy waiting! I ain't playing with you!"
Claudia and Asia ran as fast as the heels would allow.
Outside, their prom date Dante Sterling waited by his sleek Mercedes convertible, looking every bit the Prom King in his light cream satin trimmed tuxedo and every bit the football star with his bulging muscles that made it look as if he were wearing his pads under his suit. Dante smiled sheepishly, corsage in hand.
"Damn girl, you look absolutely gorgeous." He licked his full lips.
Claudia tugged the hidden ventriloquist wire that made the feet walk, practically float down the walkway into his arms. Even at eighteen years of age Claudia had never been held by a boy before and as she stared into his clean shaven face, saw the flare of his nostrils and the shine of his soft brown eyes she felt a shudder ripple through Asia's body. She felt the hard hands delicately fasten the corsage to her wrist, the spice of leather and aftershave on him intoxicating -
"Get away!" Asia slapped at his hands.
"Whoa, I didn't see the 'for display purposes only' sign" Dante chuckled and brought her closer, his lips grazing her diamond studded ear. "Don't worry, I'll be gentle."
Hush now child. Thought Claudia. This is grown folks business now.
She moved Asia's fingers out to stroke the smooth cheek only to have Asia snatch them back.
"Oh my God this shit cray!"
"Yes it is," he nodded, smiling but bewildered. "It's ok you can touch me wherever you want to baby girl."
I'll make them use every hole. Every...last...one!
Asia relented and let her hand caress Dante's powerful jawline, her thumb parting his lips ever so slightly. Their eyes swam with seductive glee.
Dante grabbed her by the hand. "Is the queen ready to take a ride in my chariot?"
As he led her down the walk his hand brushed coolly against her buttocks and Claudia felt the face blush with pink charcoals.
Don't you worry baby girl. Follow my lead and this will definitely be a night to remember!
King and Queen got into his car and headed into the Spring evening.
The prom was like a room full of softly dancing penguins shyly ruffling their feather like lapels, a room full of brightly colored peacocks awkwardly shaking their tails, and in the center of it all danced Asia and Dante.
This is the best night of my life 'Te. Thought Claudia.
"This is the best night of my life 'Te." Said Asia.
"You sure about that? You were acting a little weird earlier."
"Weird? How so?"
"I don't know, you just seemed...different."
"Well...I'm different yeah I'm different/ I'm different yeah I'm different/ Pull up to the scene with my ceiling missin'!"
Dante laughed. God Claudia loved the sound of his laugh. "I don't know girl, it's like you're not the Asia White I knew."
Nope, not at all. Whispered Claudia.
"Nope, not at all." Moved the lips.
"I think I know what it is." Said Dante.
He held her back and looked into her glowing face, watching for something. "Your eyes," he said, "I can't quite figure them eyes out."
"Do you see me?" Asia asked hesitantly.
"Part of you, yeah, but it's like the other half is missing or something. Does that make any sense?"
Dante slowly spun her around, as if examining the rest of her body for change. "Why did you come to prom with me girl?"
"I didn't want to come," said Asia.
"Shit, you here now. Come on talk to me."
"Something made me."
"What you mean?"
"I don't know." Asia's voice was meek. Distant.
The music whirled them in the dim light. In rivers of songs they floated, they bobbed, they dropped it like it was hot, they grinded and they twerked with enough passion to draw shameless headshakes from the adult chaperones, and when King and Queen shared the final dance Claudia held the head against his chest, listened to the strong heartbeat, and sang. Asia's lips parted and the music came out.
"Oh baby baby we belong together!"
After the ceremony Dante whisked Asia out an open door and walked her quietly away from the auditorium, away from the people. They got into his convertible and drove off into the still early ten o'clock night, with the full moon and flashing city lights gliding by.
And Claudia, gazing at the bright lights thought, a night like this should be mine to keep forever. If I had him from this night on I wouldn't need to lurk in cats and dogs and foxes. I'll only need to be with him.
The road whispered underneath.
They parked at the lakefront and watched the water swell blacker than midnight against the shore. Dante pulled out a bottle of New Amsterdam, juice, and two cups. They toasted each other and Asia downed her cup. While Asia's drinking exploits were infamous among gossip circles, Claudia had never taken a sip of alcohol before in her life and as the liquor sluiced warm in her mouth, fiery in her throat and scorching in her stomach she felt her own mind swimming with inhibitionless wonder.
"Asia," he said, taking her by the hands. "You know I used to be real sweet on you right?"
"But you always came off as too mature, I just wasn't trying to get hurt in the end."
"Maybe it was for the best I mean...I mean..."
"Just what do you mean?" Dante bought her closer.
The night was warm and the smell of the lake shimmered up around them where they sat.
"I don't know." said Asia.
"Wait! Yes I do!" Moved the lips. "You're smart, athletic, funny and the finest boy in the entire class and I'll never forget this night, I'll never forget being with you."
He cupped her chin and gazed into her eyes. "I'm gonna be going away to college in the fall, full ride on my scholarship. We can make this night last forever though baby girl."
Before she could say another word Dante placed his lips to the strange mouth, kissed the strange lips.
Asia trembled like a leaf.
I have to stop him, I have to tell him now before it's too late but oh God he's such a great kisser...just a little longer.
Claudia worked the mouth in synch with his, guided the hands across his broad back. He placed devilish little kisses across the nape of her neck and nibbled on her ear lobe. His hand traveled up the contour of her body, caressing, seeking until he found her right breast and lightly squeezed.
"Dante wait." she said.
He moved away, blinking. "What is it?"
"Like I said, I'll never forget this night, but...I don't think I'm the right girl for you." The words came out haltingly and awkwardly. "You deserve someone who isn't so high strung, someone who will love you for who you are."
"And that ain't you?" Dante asked surprised.
Asia shook her head. "Nope, but I know who is." She rummaged in her small purse and pulled out a pen and scrap of paper. Under the moonlight she scribbled the name and phone number. "She's an old friend of mine and has had her eye on you for the longest now. Promise me you'll text her sometime?"
He took the slip of paper. "Claudia Trujillo, ain't that that fat bitch with the overbite? The fuck I want with her number?" He crumbled the paper into a ball and shoved it in his pocket.
"She's not fat! Er – I mean she was one of the few girls to ever give a damn about you before highschool, but you were just too stupid to see!" Her stomach swam as rapid as her mind now and the words spilled out with a spiteful, reckless abandon. "Look at you, Mr. Football star, Mr. Prom King, rockin' the clothes, talking the talk, and for what? Just to impress some hood niggas and phony ass bitches who could care less about you? She was always there though, she was the one who encouraged you to get bigger and stronger because none of the other kids would let you join the team, you remember? And how did you return her kindness? By ignoring her, by talking behind her back, just what kind of man are you anyways? Look me in the eyes right now and tell me you don't have feelings for that girl because I'm telling you Dante, it's not too late, you can be happy with her!"
"I...um, better get you home." Dante grumbled.
"And another thing, I...I...I think I'm going to be sick!" The body betrayed her as a torrent of vomit erupted from the mouth, splattering Dante, the leather interior, and her priceless dress.
"I'm sorry." Asia whimpered. "I am so, so sorry."
The tension that permeated the car on the ride home was thick enough to cut with a knife. Dante drove in his wifebeater, his soiled tuxedo top stashed away in the trunk. He stared coldly at the road, the buildings, the sky, the moon.
He let her out in front of her home, his eyes downcast.
"Will you – still text Claudia? Please?" Asia asked hopefully.
Without so much as an answer, without so much as a goodbye Dante sped swiftly down the street.
Well girlie, it's been fun. We gotta do this again sometime!
Claudia let go.
Asia White let out a strangled cry and rushed up the moonlit walk to her house and slammed the door.
Claudia lurked for only a little while. Through the eyes of a cricket she hopped through the Spring night. In the eyes of a rabbit she sat for a lonely moment by a pond. In the eyes of a moth she fluttered between moonlit haunted highrises. Finally she came to rest inside of a jet black alley cat, nimbly scaling the fire escapes until she came to a crystal clear window pane. The cat stared inside, its eyes as luminescent as séance candles.
Dante was asleep, in one hand was his phone and in the other – a crumpled piece of paper. The cat purred softly and pressed its paw to the windowpane, and then it was free, scurrying back into the deep Spring night.