Disclaimer: Still not mine.
A/N: Sorry for the delay—life kind of got in the way. A special thanks goes to trufflesque and Pyrite, who both read this chapter in different stages of development.
Chapter 2: Oh, What A Night
He said 'prom' as though it was a foreign word. I blinked rapidly.
"This is a joke, right?"
"No joke, luv." He grinned again.
I arched an eyebrow. "Right. I might be on the verge of flunking Calculus, but I'm not stupid, 'Jack.' Did Maria put you up to this?"
He frowned. "Maria? That wench from Tortuga?"
"Seriously, who are you?"
"Captain Jack Sparrow." He said this very carefully, as though I was hard of hearing. "So, this is what it's like to be in an alternate universe. I'd always wondered about that." He looked at his hand, as though he expected it to appear different in the light or something. I shivered. Whoever this guy was, he had gotten the mannerisms eerily down pat.
"Look, this is cute and all, but I'd appreciate it if you'd tell me who you really are and how you know my name."
"I already told you. Twice, for that matter."
I sighed. Clearly I was dealing with some sort of actor who was very serious about staying in character.
"All right, Captain. I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to turn down your offer."
I started to walk away, trying to move quickly. The situation was irritating and bordering on strange and I wanted nothing to do with it.
"Wait! You can't do that!" he shouted, running after me.
"I think I'm well within my rights to refuse prom invitations from complete strangers."
He had overtaken me and was standing in front of me on the little footpath.
"Listen, pal, you need to back—"
"But then he won't send me back."
"Who?" I snapped irritably.
"Benedict the Beneficent." I recognized the name from earlier.
"Who the hell is that?" I asked, quietly wondering how fast I'd be able to run in my heels.
He wrinkled his nose. "A monk. A dead monk."
Despite the fact that I was annoyed and scared, he had gotten my attention.
"He's a guardian of people in need. Very lazy, though…not very popular," he explained. "He gave me some valuable information."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
He sighed, as though he were explaining a very simple problem to someone who was not very bright.
"Benedict the Beneficent. Guardian of people in need. You're a person in need, I'm in his debt, and now I'm here, savvy?"
"A person in need? How—"
"You needed someone to escort you to the prom, didn't you?"
"This doesn't make any sense whatsoever."
"Just stay away from dead monks, luv."
I let out an exasperated sigh. "Seriously—who put you up to this?"
He frowned and looked at me quizzically. "He said you'd be difficult to convince, but this is beyond what I expected."
"Benedict the Beneficent. Please don't make me explain that again."
I tried very hard to remain calm and tried to think of a logical explanation. Perhaps Maria and Cassie had hired him to make me feel better about the whole Adam situation? I wondered irritably why they chose someone fictional. I would certainly be less shocked if, say, Hugh Jackman, showed up and announced he was going to escort me to prom. At least he was real.
"Fine. You know what? We're just going to go over to the hotel and Maria and Cassie can explain what the hell is going on."
He frowned. "I don't think Maria had anything to do with it, luv. She spends most of her time at the pub."
I sighed. "Whatever. Let's go."
I dutifully ignored him for the short walk to the hotel. I didn't have the patience to pretend he was a pirate and I was quickly becoming irritated with Maria and Cassie. I can go to prom by myself and have fun—I do not need someone to hire an actor to be my date. Seriously, this sets the women's movement back at least twenty years.
I silently fumed as I handed over my bid and made my way through the receiving line of teachers and administrators. Once I finished with those formalities, I scanned the crowd of classmates for any sign of my friends. I finally caught sight of Cassie, who was looking very pretty and delicate in a pale pink gown. Rob and Brad Porter were standing next to her, both looking awkward in their tuxes. Maria was amiably chatting with Portia DuBois nearby.
I had approached them and was just about to demand an explanation when I noticed that Cassie's eyes had gone quite wide and were fixed on the man trailing behind me.
"Tess! You didn't tell me you had a date!"
I was slightly taken aback. Cassie was a terrible liar and a worse actress; her stunned reaction pretty much cleared her of all involvement. It also seemed highly unlikely that Maria would keep such a plan to herself.
"Tess!" Maria had caught sight of me and was approaching me, looking quite striking in a form fitting red gown. "You look gr—" Her eyes rested on my date. "You have a date?"
I cleared my throat.
"Didn't you guys…you, er…didn't know about this?"
"You didn't tell us!" said Cassie.
"Where did you find him?" asked Maria.
"The…er…internet," I said. 'Jack'—or whoever he was—was looking quite bored with the exchange, raising his eyebrow in a manner that screamed, "I told you so."
"He could be a serial killer!" hissed Cassie. "Oh my God, Tess, why don't you think these things through?"
"He's not a serial killer. My…er…cousin's best friend knows him…through a friend," I lied quickly. "I…er…would you excuse us for a moment?"
I grabbed my date by the collar of his tux before either of them could give me a proper answer and dragged him to a relatively empty corner of the lobby.
"What 'smatter, luv?" he asked once I'd found the most private area of the lobby.
"You said your name was…"
"Captain Jack Sparrow," he finished for me with another wide grin.
"Yes, but who are you really?"
"Captain Jack Sparrow. D'you always ask so many repetitive questions?"
"That's impossible. You can't be here," I said as levelly as I could.
"And yet here I am," he said, extending his arms and grinning.
"But that's notpossible! You aren't real!"
He raised an index finger. "The fact that I am here invalidates that idea. Perhaps it's you that's not real."
"I am real!" I snapped irritably. He shrugged.
"Rum makes for very realistic hallucinations, luv and I drink a lot of rum."
"Stop with the existential crap."
I tried to think. If Maria and Cassie had nothing to do with it, then who would? Adam wouldn't want to spend the time or money on orchestrating such an idea, especially after the fight we'd had. If my parents had been behind it, you can bet he would have showed up at the house so Mom could take pictures. Laura Colby just wasn't that creative. No one else knew what had happened, which presented a fairly frightening prospect: his story was legit.
I gulped. "Shit. I can't take a pirate to prom!"
"Worried about the social stigma?"
"No, I'm worried about the fact that you are not here and you are not real!"
"I am real. Alternate universe and all that rubbish."
I took a deep breath. "No. Obviously this is some sort of highly realistic delusion brought on by stress. I am going to close my eyes and count to five and when I open them, you will be gone."
I shut my eyes. I counted to five. I opened my eyes. He was still there.
He shrugged at my defeated expression. "Dead monks, luv."
"Stop saying that," I snapped. "What am I going to do? I can't have you going into prom and start…swashbuckling with the student council."
He looked mildly confused. "Swashbuckling with the student council?"
"Or whatever it is you do." I took a deep breath to try and calm myself. "Look, it's…extremely important that you don't be yourself."
He gave me a skeptical look. "How d'you mean?"
"I mean that you need to have a false identity. You absolutely cannot be Captain Jack Sparrow. You're…you're…Charles Brower…you're here on a short visit before you return to Oxford to continue your studies."
"Could my name be James Norrington? I always fancied myself a commodore…"
"No! No nautical terms, no talk of piracy, and for god's sake, no 'savvy's!"
"Easy, woman," he said, waving my near hysteria away with a vague hand gesture.
"This is serious! Do you have any idea what kind of…" I didn't have the patience or even the ability to explain what kind of trouble we'd be in. "Seriously, just—just do what I say."
He looked at me skeptically for a moment.
"We have an accord."
"You're certain you understand the utter gravity of the situation?"
I exhaled slowly.
"Okay. Okay. I can do this, it will be all right." I glanced up at the clock. "We'd better go back—Maria's going to come snooping soon."
I imagine some girls would imagine this to be an ideal situation—taking Jack Sparrow to prom. I probably would have thought that once. However, there is nothing quite like the anxiety caused by taking a fictional movie character to a school-sponsored event.
"So," said Cassie brightly once we had been seated for dinner, "where did you say you were from, Charles?"
"London," he replied.
"And you're studying at Oxford?"
"Yes, he's an English major," I added quickly, giving a strained sort of smile. "Isn't that right?"
"Yes, English," he agreed. "Although I also dabble in medicine and philosophy."
"He's kidding," I said, kicking him sharply under the table.
"Philosophy?" inquired Cassie, ignoring my statement. "I'm thinking about studying that next year. Tell me—what do you think of Socrates?"
"Whiny little bugger."
"Oh my God, you're so lucky," whispered Maria, leaning over. "Not only do you find a date, but he's cute, British, and smart?"
"Yeah, lucky me," I replied as Jack began to expound upon the notion of free will. He seemed to have taken very well to the idea of Charles Brower, changing his pattern of speech to sound appropriately academic. Although I knew from the movies that he was an accomplished liar in a pinch, I couldn't help but feel extremely nervous.
By the end of dinner, I was kind of a wreck and desperately trying to maintain my cool. Then, near the end of dessert, Maria chimed in with the question I had been dreading: "Has anyone ever told you that you look like Johnny Depp?"
Jack frowned. "Who?"
But thankfully, before Jack was asked to explain how he didn't know about one of the most famous movie stars on the planet, the DJ came on over the mike and asked us if we were ready to party, or some variation thereof. Jack jumped about a foot in the air—you'd think he be used to loud noises, dealing with cannons and guns and all—but luckily, our table was too distracted by the opening sounds of a Beyonce song to really notice.
"Come on!" said Maria, as she and Cassie got up and began making their way to the dance floor with the rest of the crowd.
"We're just going to sit for a moment," I said hastily. Dinner had taken a toll on me and I needed a moment to regroup. "I want to digest my food."
"Lame," declared Cassie, turning and heading for the dance floor.
"I'm giving you ten minutes," warned Maria before trailing after Cassie.
"Where's that coming from?" asked Jack, looking around.
"Er…you really don't need to worry about it," I said vaguely. I exhaled heavily. "God, I thought Maria would never stop with the questions."
"You need to relax, luv," he stated. "Have some rum…" He perked up. "Is there rum?"
"Sorry, prom is a strictly alcohol free event," I explained wearily.
He frowned. There was a moment of silence as we watched the couples on the dance floor. I idly wondered if my back would ever relax.
"Is she a whore?"
He had leaned in to be heard over the music and I found myself fighting to suppress a blush. He was an anachronistic pain in the ass, but he was an attractive one nonetheless. I followed his line of sight to where Mary Worthing was engaged in a particularly raunchy form of the bump and grind with Kyle Minkowski and Dan Smith-Allen.
"She's dancing," I said. Jack looked intrigued.
"I'd like to try that kind of dancing," he mused, his eyes glinting mischievously.
"Not with her, you don't," I corrected him.
We sat at the table for a while and I slowly allowed myself to unwind. Most people were intent on the music and the dancing, so I didn't have to give any explanations or make up any more stories.
However, my allotted ten minutes quickly passed and Maria marched purposefully over to our table.
"You've digested enough," she informed me loudly. "Come dance or I'll carry you out there myself."
"All right," I said with as much false brightness as I could muster. I stood up reluctantly, feeling the tension immediately return to my back and shoulders. "Come on, Charles, let's go."
I followed Maria and tried to walk as slowly as possible—I had no idea how this arrangement was going to work out. I'm a decent dancer, but Jack Sparrow? I wasn't so certain about him.
"Finally," declared Cassie as Maria and I approached. Portia DuBois and Kelly Fosset and their dates, Greg and Mike, had joined our little group.
"Tess, your date is gorgeous, where'd you find him?" shouted Portia in my ear.
"Internet!" I replied.
Further questions were quickly drowned out by the opening beats of a song that I didn't recognize. It would have been weird to just stand there and I wanted to detract as much attention from me as possible, so I started dancing.
The good part about the arrangement was that I'd forgotten how totally awkward teenage guys are at dances. Rob and Brad kind of stood there gawkily moving their heads to the beat while Mike and Greg were having an animated conversation about something. Jack (thankfully) opted to follow Rob and Brad's cue and stood there with them, looking remarkably awkward for a grown man in a tuxedo.
Eventually, Cassie decided that the all girls' dance party had to come to an end and dragged Rob toward the center of the group, loudly insisting that this was his senior prom and he had to dance. Brad, Mike, and Greg were subsequently pulled into the center and I had little choice but to grab Jack by the wrist and drag him along as well.
The good part about the situation was that teenage boys are notoriously awkward dancers, so the bar was set pretty low. Nevertheless, he still made me nervous as he started moving to the music, his wavy hands and drunken stride glaringly apparent. I tried as best as I could to work with it and tried to ignore some of the puzzled and inquisitive stares that were coming our way.
Prom was rare in that it was the one school dance where I actually didn't mind the slow songs. Usually, Maria, Cassie, and I used it as an opportunity to try and coerce each other into asking our crush du jour to dance. We chickened out most of the time, so we were generally left to take turns with Rob and Adam. It was a nice change to not have to deal with that drama and also just to dance with someone who wasn't a friend. And despite his eccentricities, Jack Sparrow was a competent slow dancer, meaning there was less for me to worry about.
The fact that I could see Laura Colby and Adam dancing didn't bother me as much as I thought it would. Laura was (of course) a vision of loveliness in a beautifully beaded champagne colored gown. Even Adam didn't look as awkward in his tux as I had thought he would.
"D'you love him?" The voice came low and unexpectedly in my ear and I jumped slightly.
"The bloke you keep staring at. Do you love him?"
I blushed and hastily looked up to meet Jack's eyes. I hadn't realized I'd been staring.
"No. He's—a friend. He was supposed to be my date. He left me for another girl."
"Don't lie to yourself, luv."
"You're clearly attracted to him."
"I am not!"
"You've been staring all evening."
"Because I've finally made peace with the situation and I'm surprised with myself."
He snorted. "Right. I suppose you always go all moony when you've made peace with a situation."
"I am not moony!"
I had said that last part loudly and several people in the general vicinity looked over and gave me strange looks. I flushed angrily and grumbled quietly to myself.
The music began to fade out as Mr. Shirk took his place next to the DJ onstage.
"It's just about time to wind things down for the evening," he said. "But first I would like to thank the student council for all their hard work in putting this event together. A special thanks goes out to our wonderful faculty chaperones, as well."
There was a polite round of applause and a few scattered whoops from some of the guys.
"But before we go, we have to announce the prom king and queen, who will lead us in the last dance of the evening."
I suppressed a sigh. I could care less about the prom king or queen. Popularity contests never sat well with me.
"This year's prom king is…" He drew out the moment and spent a little too much time opening the envelope and unfolding the paper. "…Seth Brennan."
There was a chorus of hooting from the football team. I clapped halfheartedly along with the rest. Seth Brennan was not a surprise—he was captain of the football team and widely considered to be one of the best looking boys in the school. He took the stage and shook Mr. Shirk's hand and put the plastic crown on his head at a jaunty angle. I noticed Jack was eyeing it with interest.
"It's fake," I muttered to him quietly.
"And this year's prom queen is…" Again with the drawn out ceremony of opening the envelope. "…Laura Colby."
Also not a surprise. Laura made her way to the stage smiling. I was not surprised to note that the crown fit with her ensemble perfectly.
"Congratulations, Laura and Seth," said Mr. Shirk. "And now, if you will take the dance floor and begin the last dance of the evening."
I admit that I had a very distinct case of Schadenfreude when I realized that this meant that Adam would be without a partner for this dance.
Laura and Seth were not exactly talented dancers, but tradition demanded that we watch them slow dance awkwardly for a few moments before pairing up with our own partners. I very quickly grew bored and grabbed my own date, who was looking at Laura and Seth in a puzzled sort of way.
"D'you always coronate the king and queen at prom?" he said in my ear.
I grinned. "It's just a ceremony, not an actual political office."
I wish I could say that something really significant happened during that last dance, that Adam came up to ask me to dance only to find that I had actually found myself a date (or, rather, my date had found me). Or that everyone realized that I was dancing with a particularly attractive man and they all stopped and watched like they do in the movies. Of course, none of that happened. Adam was probably too proud to approach me and everyone else was too intent on their own dates to pay much attention to anyone else. Although it wasn't particularly dramatic or memorable, it was a nice way to end the evening.
The song finally ended and people started migrating off the dance floor, most headed to some sort of after party. We were all going to Maria's house and having a movie marathon in her basement. It suddenly occurred to me that I would have to explain Jack to Maria's parents. I felt a sudden surge of panic—what would happen if they put on Pirates? Wouldn't that do something awful, like break the space-time continuum or whatever it was that Christopher Lloyd was so worked up about in Back to the Future?
But as it turns out, I didn't have to worry about any of that because when I turned to look at Jack, he had vanished. The room was quite crowded and he couldn't have gone far even if he had made a run for it.
I happened to glance at the floor and noticed a shock of orange against the hardwood dance floor. I bent down. It was the boutonnière that had been pinned to his buttonhole—a strange tropical flower that I didn't recognize. I carefully picked it up.
I didn't like to admit it, but perhaps there was some merit to his dead monk story.
"Where'd your date go?" asked Maria.
"Oh…er…he had to run…he's got a flight tomorrow," I said vaguely.
"He couldn't stay for the after party?" said Cassie, looking disappointed.
"No…he had to pack…"
It was at that moment that the reality of the situation hit me head on. I suppose a small part of me expected it to be some sort of elaborate ruse that would be revealed at the end of the night…maybe Ashton Kutcher would pop up and tell me it was a part of his new reality show Punk'd 2.
But, as impossible and utterly ridiculous as it seemed, it appeared that I had actually taken Captain Jack Sparrow to prom.
My mystery date was the topic of discussion for some time. The fact that no one seemed to have been able to get a proper picture of him—his head was turned or his face was blurry or the poor lighting made it impossible to distinguish any of his features—only enhanced his mystery. Mom, of course, became convinced that I had taken some sort of crazy fugitive to prom. When I pointed out that crazy fugitives generally don't have time to be fitted for a tux, she grounded me.
I did not tell anyone who Charles Brower claimed to be. For one thing, who would believe me? For another, I was fairly certain that claiming I took a fictional character to prom would earn me more than a two-week grounding.
Time seemed to speed up after prom. Finals were shortly afterward, and suddenly it was time for convocation and then graduation itself. Graduation was tedious, and although we had been expressly forbidden to do so, we all tossed our hats up in the air. The joyfulness of this occasion was abruptly cut short when Tricia Hayworth got poked in the eye with the business end of a falling cap.
Maria, Rob, Cassie, Adam, and I went our separate ways to five different colleges, but remained good friends. Adam and I reconciled shortly before graduation, and even dated for a short while during our sophomore year in college, causing me to grudgingly admit that there was some truth in Jack's theory. Adam got his business degree and followed it up with an MBA. He ended up dating Laura Colby's sister throughout graduate school, and although nothing had happened quite yet, we were all certain he would end up marrying her.
Maria received both a Bachelor's and a Master's in art and some of her work became very successful. She moved to Paris after finishing school and although we kept in touch over email, she began to fade from my life after a few years abroad.
After four years as platonic dance dates, Rob and Cassie decided to try dating shortly after the commencement of freshman year. They soon realized that they were pretty much perfect for each other (despite the fact that we had been telling them that for years) and continued dating steadily throughout college. They were married a year or so after their graduation. After earning her teaching certificate, Cassie taught kindergarten at one of the local public schools. Rob ended up as a disc jockey for a popular morning radio show after he bounced around from several careers.
As for me, my life wasn't terribly exciting. I got my degree in English from the University of Illinois and eventually got my Master's. I wrote book reviews for the Chicago Tribune and did occasional freelance work. I dated several different guys, but nothing particularly special came out of that. Despite my mother's constant hints that I should start to think about settling down, I was pretty much at peace with where I was in my life. I was happy and I had settled into a comfortable routine.
Then when I was 28 years old, things became decidedly less ordinary.
It was a Sunday around three o'clock in the afternoon. I was lounging on the couch watching some trashy reality show. My stomach had been growling, so at the next commercial break I headed into the kitchen for a box of crackers.
As I was crossing the threshold between the kitchen and the living room, the world wavered a little. I blinked. The world continued in its blurry swaying. Oddly enough, I didn't feel dizzy—on the contrary, I actually felt quite steady.
And then I heard it. It was soft at first, but it quickly increased to a roaring wind and I felt myself pale a little. I tried to move my feet, thinking maybe I needed to sit down, but I found myself rooted to the spot, unable to move.
It suddenly felt as though my stomach had dropped through the floor and that the floor had dropped out completely, as I could feel nothing under my feet. The world around me faded completely, replaced by a spinning vortex of light. The rushing sound was nearly deafening. I squeezed my eyes shut as my body continued to drop in a never-ending freefall.
Suddenly it was all over and I slammed backwards onto something painfully solid.
My eyes were shut, partly from the pain and partly from the entire disorienting experience. I was vaguely aware of someone cursing and a distinct ring of metal. Footsteps followed. The footsteps came to a stop and I felt a cold blade press against my neck.
"Perhaps you'd like to explain what you're doing in my cabin, luv," slurred a very familiar voice.