The fifth floor was different than all of the other floors. As soon as the elevator doors opened, music met my ears.
"What the..." I began. A grin spread across Kevin's face.
I stepped in and gazed around. A shining hallway with golden curtains on one side spilled onto the floor and reflected the glow of the neon lights opposite it. They read, "I love my baby" in bold orange lettering, filling the entire hallway with the same colour. Kevin took my hand and we walked through.
He hooked a right and brought me into another section of the exhibit. The music grew louder; Ain't no mountain high enough! Ain't no valley low enough! Ain't no river wide enough! To keep me from getting to you, baby.
It blasted from a tiny, makeshift kitchen with red walls. The radio was on the bloodstained counter, but the music came from all around us, the speakers on all sides of room. Paintings of a handsome man hung all along the wall, but in piece he slowly changed until he'd turned into a demon. Long horns twisted out of his skull, his were red, and his skin had grown pale and leathery.
"I don't get it," I said. "What is this supposed to be about?"
Kevin gazed at the demon calmly, but something in his eyes had changed. "The artist's name is Kenya Campbell. It's about her abusive relationship with her ex-husband, how he made life amazing one second and then horrible the next. She always told herself that she would leave after he beat her, but then he apologized and cried and said he'd never do it again, and she forgave him each time.
"This lasted for five years. Finally she got the courage to leave, but it wasn't when he'd finished beating her. She never got proof that he'd done it, so when she tried to get him convicted of domestic abuse it didn't go through." Keving gestured to the paintings, to the bloody kitchen with the radio still blaring. "This is her way of showing evidence. She says that even though he seems innocent, everything is not as it seems. Although he acted like a good husband at one moment, that didn't mean there wasn't evil behind it.
"Even more, she may be able to sell the pieces so that she can start a better life; that way this exhibition also relinquishes her from the financial dependency she had on her husband."
I blinked. "You have good memory."
"Thanks," he said. "It isn't difficult to remember. My mom was in the same situation, except she never tried to convict my dad."
I blinked. Kevin didn't look at me. I touched Kevin's arm. "Seriously?"
"Yeah. She suffers from it even today. It makes me so fucking sick when men use women like that. She couldn't see it, but I did; he only used her to fill this hole in his heart."
But then Kevin smiled. "I'm glad for Campbell. I'm glad that she's doing this for herself, I just wish that I could help her. Someone has been breaking into her exhibits, you know? Six of her pieces have been destroyed so far."
"Seriously? Who would do that?"
Kevin shook his head. "I don't have a clue. Some people say it's a hoax, that it's just for publicity, but I don't think so." He didn't talk for a moment, just narrowed his eyes at the painting. Finally he broke eye contact with the demon and looked down on me, squeezing my hand. "Let's keep going. We don't have much time before the gallery closes."
Kevin showed me into another room, a hugecavern with even more music. A giant disco ball spun in the center, and a projector played a video onto the wide walls. Kenya and her ex-husband danced on a white linoleum floor, her dress long and white and billowing, his tuxedo crisp and black. They both looked so happy, with the blue and purple lights swirling around them, Kenya's thick black, poufy hair bouncing with the music, little flowers stuck in it. A tiara sparkled across her forehead. To think that years later she'd realize what a terrible man he was. Right then, though, I think I understood why she stayed so long.
"Dance with me?" I looked around the room. It was almost closing time, so it seemed everyone had already left. Just fifteen minutes left of what might have been the best night of my life. Why not?
I couldn't reach his shoulders, so we spun with our hands clasped together. We bogeyed and laughed and loosened to the music. Kevin dipped me and I giggled. I didn't usually giggle. I didn't feel like myself but it felt good. Really good.
"I have one more thing to show you," Kevin whispered in my ear.
Kevin pulled me away from the dancing lights and off to a side hall. We hadn't gone through here yet. A white light poured from the opening and an old TV flickered at the entrance with a dirty sock hanging off of it.
Then we reached the room and the smile melted off my face. I froze. My breath hitched and I took a step back.
"What's wrong?" Kevin asked. I didn't answer. My mouth hung open as I stared around at the messy bedroom. Now, though, I could see that all the red was paint, not blood. It wasn't a room at all, but an art installation.
There was the bed, unmade with a flattened pillow covered in red, a broken beer bottle on the floor, an empty pizza box, dirty laundry, Kenya's wedding photo shattered on the nightstand. I tried to back away but Kevin grabbed me by the shoulders and did the most unexpected thing that had happened all night.
He kissed me.
I forgot everything, why this room meant anything, why I wanted to go home, I just felt his lips on mind and everything melted into bliss. I hadn't kissed anyone for ages, not since that one party where Mitch Barson got really drunk and thought it would be sort of hot to get down and dirty with me. I wasn't even drunk, just desperate.
His lips trailed from mine up my jaw, across my birthmarked skin and to my ear. "Stay with me tonight," he whispered.
"Where?" I whispered back.
I broke away from him. My senses came back to me, and without waiting for him to reply I started out of the room. Kevin grabbed my arm, saying, "Wait!"
And I waited. I couldn't believe it but I waited. He got on his knees and took my hand in his and for a wild second I thought he was going to propose to me, but instead he said something even crazier. "Let's stay in the gallery tonight. It will be fun."
"Um, no. Duh."
"I'd rather stay out of jail, that's all."
"I've done it before, trust me," he said.
I tried to pull away again but he gripped me tightly. "Let go!" I hissed.
Kevin looked desperate. "You're never going to come back, Lizzy, and that scares me. You may not think much of yourself but before today I didn't know magic existed, and here you come popping into my life, this funny, beautiful girl who travels through portals and has magic scrolls. I've never met someone like you. I feel like we were meant to be together."
"You think I'm beautiful?" I asked.
Kevin let go of my wrist and stroked my face. "Birthmark and all."
I blinked at him. I opened my mouth, trying to find the right words to say, but my heart raced too fast and everything in my brain had turned to play-dough. And then, for the first time that night, I got my wits together.
I kicked Kevin in the groin. He cried out in pain and I turned and ran into the room with the disco ball. My stomach churned from all the food I ate, but I kept going.
Unfortunately adrenaline couldn't make up for my short legs. Kevin caught up to me in a second, tackling me to the ground and slapping a hand over my mouth so nobody heard my scream. I tried biting but couldn't find purchase on any of his flesh, and with the music I'm sure the guard wouldn't be able to hear my muffled yells for help. Kevin dragged me back to the messy room. He pinched my nose and covered my mouth so I couldn't breathe, and I thrashed so hard he almost dropped me several times.
None of it was enough. I was drowning and he was the water crushing me. Like the water I had no way to stop him. He was stronger than me, bigger than me, and apparently smarter than me too. Why the hell did I trust him? I should have known no one could ever be into me like that.
Oh God. Kevin was the man in the room, wasn't he?
Red spots bloomed in my vision as my brain starved of oxygen.
I remember when I was a kid I went to a sleepover and one of the girls said she had a trick to falling asleep. She pinched her nose, her cheeks ballooning, and held her breath until her face turned red and her eyes rolled into the back of her head. And then she dropped to the bed, out cold.