At his feet the party roiled with cutting-edge early nineties fashions, midriffs and piercings and ball caps to hide receding hairlines, teeth empurpled by the black light, brown lipstick with brown liner and cartilage cuffs and biker boots and exposed boxers and bump and grind and Salt-N-Pepa and green-glowing dandruff and deodorant streaks and cheekbones highlighted to shine.
Somehow he'd acquired an empty jug of water that someone had Ace-bandaged to his head. There was shouting: "All Hail the Water Princeling." Oy: this was bad. His friends had found out where his money came from. He had hidden it, drove a beat-up Volvo for goodness sakes. He was shirtless, he found, better to show off his muscles. He was aware of how he appeared at every angle in the room, and what the jug stole in dignity, it returned in militaristic jauntiness. He puffed his chest. Now he had a bottle of gin in his hand and his friends were shouting, "Lotto! Lotto! Lotto!" as he tilted it to his lips and took in a long draught, which would turn to soldering flux in his brain by morning and make his thoughts impenetrable, impossible to part.
"The world is ending," he bellowed. "Why not hump?"
A cheer from the dancers at his feet.
He raised his arms. [The fatal look up.]
In the doorway, suddenly, her.
Tall, in silhouette, wet hair casting the hall light into a halo, stream of bodies on the stairs behind her. She was looking at him, though he couldn't see her face.
She moved her head and there was half of it, strong and bright. High cheekbones, plush lips. Tiny ears. She was dripping from walking through the rain. He loved her first for the stun of her across this thump and dance.
He had seen her before, he knew who she was. Mathilde, whatsername. Beauty like hers cast glimmers on the walls even across campus, phosphorescence on the things she touched. She'd been so far above Lotto -- so far above every person at the school -- she had become mythological. Friendless. Icy. She went weekends to the city; she was a model, hence the fancy clothes. She never partied. Olympian, elegant on her mount. Yes -- Mathilde Yoder. But his victory had made him ready for her tonight. Here she was for him.
Behind him in the crashing storm, or maybe within him, a sizzle. He leapt into the grind of bodies, kneeing Samuel in the eye, crushing some poor small girl to the ground.
Lotto swam up out of the crowd and crossed the floor to Mathilde. She was six feet tall in bobby socks. In heels, her eyes were at his lip line. She looked up at him coolly. Already he loved the laugh she held in her, which nobody else would see.
He felt the drama of the scene. Also, how many people were watching them, how beautiful he and Mathilde looked together.
In a moment, he'd been made new. His past was gone. He fell to his knees and took Mathilde's hands to press them on his heart. He shouted up at her, "Marry me!"
She threw back her head, baring her white snaky neck, and laughed and said something, her voice drowned. Lotto read those gorgeous lips as saying, "Yes." He'd tell this story dozens of times, invoking the black light, the instant love. All the friends over all the years, leaning in, secret romantics, grinning. Mathilde watching him from across the table, unreadable. Every time he told the story, he would say that she'd said, "Sure."
Sure. Yes. One door closed behind him. Another, better, flung open.
From "Fates and Furies" by Lauren Groff. Published by arrangement with Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2015 by Lauren Groff.