Esther has kidnapped me from the party, but I am not worried. Instead, I eat the Smarties she keeps in her glove box and let my eyes droop sedately to the crackly, indie-esque music coming out of her faulty car speakers.
“The city that never sleeps,” I say, both earnest and ironic, as we drive past the casino, which declares its presence in glaring, multi-colored lights. But I do believe in it now, as I look at her from my sideview vision, with my head pressed against the cold glass window. Yellow and orange and red glance off of her face, which is white and open as a moon on a less cloudy night. There’s a moment as she yells out the strangest combination of swear-words trying to merge lanes, when I can’t help but smile so big it hurts. I would say I love you. If I could allow it, if I could wrangle my cold-bitten tongue over the insistence of my heart rather than my brain, I would.
Esther grins and laughs, loud and vaguely manic. It’s nearly 12 AM, which is far past my usual bedtime but just around when the most untamed and wonderful parts of her burst to life. “The city of dreams!”
We’re on the seven-minute drive to the city, which is declared both the ghetto and the dump by most people in our town. Esther loves it though, and I do too. Especially now, this December, when cold is settling in with a vengeance and Esther’s car is warm and known with its rattling radiator and miscellaneous mess in the back seat. It smells of candy, too, and her floral shampoo.
Quickly, we’re there. We tumble out of the car, pulling our jackets tightly over our dresses, which expose our legs to the chilling December air. Esther grabs my hand, and then we’re walking past a tired-looking woman smoking a cigarette on the curb, who calls out a kind reminder for us to stay warm. Esther tells her to do the same, and then we run the rest of the way, giggling with the thrill of midnight conversation and full-body shivers.
Finally, we’re in front of the building. The Sheraton; our harbor, our haven, our final destination.
It’s a fabled place between us. We’ve tried to go two other times, but both efforts were thwarted by paid parking and parent calls. Esther tells wonderful stories of the one time she went to the Sheraton: a big Jewish family gathering when she was too young to remember any faces, complete with complimentary cucumber water in the lobby and a ceiling that changes colors.
The lobby is quiet, and warm, and has no complimentary cucumber water. We run up the stairs anyway, out of breath and ready to shout, up and up to the eighth floor until our resolve is broken and we take the elevator instead.
At the top floor, my breath is gone. Esther walks ahead of me, to the balcony, and stands on her tip-toes with her head hanging over the side. I can’t describe how scared I am, suddenly, so I step forward. “Careful,” I say. She only laughs, and pretends to fall over the side.
“Seriously.” I grab her arm, pull her back up, look her fully in the eyes. The ceiling lights are purple, then blue, then purple. Again, it rises and threatens to spill over like a vase teetering on the edge.
But she’s turning before I can say anything. “Look,” she whispers, pointing. There is a small, round window directly across from us, on the other side of the hotel. It takes me a second. But then I see.
Snow is falling, like dust moving through sunlight.