The moon seemed to know this was a special time. It joined in the playfulness; dancing in and out from behind clouds, throwing teasing shadows on the carriage, adding sparkle to this cool night in the Spring of 1820.
Beatrice sighed. "Tonight will be wonderful!"
"Can you believe your father gave me permission to escort you?" Albert asked.
"Why wouldn't he? We've been chums since we were infants."
"Well, it is your first ball without your parents in attendance," Albert replied. "And it's not just a ball, it's a masquerade!”
"My aunt will be there. What could possibly go wrong? We're going to have a marvelous time!"
Albert just smiled.
"I see you built your shoes up a bit so you could be taller than I," Beatrice teased.
"Well it wouldn't do for Romeo to be the same height as Juliet, now would it?"
"Oh, put your mask on again, I do love to see you in it!" Beatrice laughed as her friend obligingly covered his face.
The horse snorted as he pulled to a stop, and the driver called, "We've arrived."
Albert disembarked and helped Beatrice down. She giggled at finding him taller than herself for the first time in their lives.
Gentian Manor stood regal in the moonlight, welcoming visitors with its grandeur. Torches jutted from countless wall sconces, both outside and in the great hall. They helped the chandeliers create magical flickerings on dozens of costumed guests.
Beatrice could only whisper, "Oh my!"
She stood for quite a while, taking it all in, until Albert came up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders.
"I have an idea," he whispered. "This is so ethereal...perhaps we should only speak in whispers, to keep the spell unbroken."
"Yes. And if everyone does the same, it will be harder to guess their true identities."
"Exactly." He gestured toward a couple dressed as Antony and Cleopatra, and began to lead Beatrice toward them. But he took her hand instead of her arm, and the unexpected intimacy left Beatrice a bit flustered.
More couples arrived, and Beatrice lost herself in the fun. The idea of whispering spread quickly throughout the gathering, and the hushed voices seemed to be mimicked by the gentle swishing of skirts until Beatrice could hardly tell them apart.
She danced with Antony, and with George Washington, and even with Samson. But always her Romeo returned, and her heart fluttered every time he came near.
He's never been so like a beau toward me before. But is he showing his true feelings, or simply playing his part?
Torchlight flickered, hiding more than it revealed. But she needed no light to feel how his touches lingered...never inappropriate, but always hinting of a warmth she had never known he felt.
Her own feelings seemed foreign to her too, as if her heart spoke with a delightful new accent.
Fickle firelight left many dark corners in a hall of such size. In one such corner Romeo's face came so close to Juliet's that, had they not been papier-mâché, they might have kissed.
How could I not have noticed him before? And I do like him being taller.
The moon grew tired and sank lower until its beams warned of too many hours passed. Finally Romeo took Juliet's tired hand and walked her out the door.
"It's been enchanting," he whispered. "I hate to bid you farewell."
"We still have the ride home," she replied.
"No." He shook his head. "I'm afraid we don't." He released her hand, turned, and walked away.
She watched, uncertain if she should follow. I'm too tired for a silly game now. He'll fetch the carriage here, I'm sure.
He loosed an unfamiliar, saddled horse and walked it over to her. "Goodnight,” he whispered, still holding the mask over his face. Then he mounted the horse, and the sight of his stirruped boot made Beatrice's mind reel.
It wasn't a built-up shoe.
He trotted away, waiting until he'd left her safely behind before dropping his mask to the ground.
She turned, eyes wide, breath coming short, searching for a familiar countenance amid the papier-mâché. Every false face now seemed to leer at her as she rushed back into the hall.
Her terrified cry rose stridently above all of the muted voices and echoed off the cold stone walls.
"WHERE IS ALBERT?"
The guests could not tell her, and the torchlight simply wouldn’t.
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