The Faerie Ball
by P. I. Barrington
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
“Not fair!” I yelled to LaLana, trying to tie the bodice strings myself. “This is not fair at all! You know I cannot afford this. You’re cheating.”
LaLana pulled the soundless curtains aside a bit and entered the small room.
“Here.” She said, pushing me about and grasping the strings. She tugged them so hard I could barely breathe.
“You could let them out a little,” I suggested, to no avail.
“Just for you!” she stood back admiring her handiwork. “We worked on it all afternoon. We didn’t even need to look at the coloring. We’ve done lots of work, but this is a masterpiece. Look!” She pointed to a mirror behind me. I felt tears well up.
I shook my head. No money in the world could have paid what the dress cost.
“I can’t pay! Take it off!”
“It’s already paid for,” LaLana told me, inspecting the bodice, an emerald green with black lace so delicate it rivaled a spider’s threads. The lace continued down over the hips of its emerald, floor length silken drape of a skirt. The skirt trailed the floor behind me gracefully forming a v-shaped train. The sleeves clung to my arms, flaring out a bit but covering half my hands.
“Stop it. This is just mean. I can’t pay for this and I won’t let you harass me into buying something I can in no way afford. I hate hard sales.”
“Don’t you like it?” LaLana actually looked hurt.
“Don’t try pity either.” I told her in a frosty tone. “Or guilt,” I added.
“But it’s yours. No cost.”
“No. I told you. It’s already been paid for.”
“With what? My soul?” I asked, only half joking. “There’s something creepy about all this. Who paid for this dress?”
“Someone who... fancies seeing you in it.” LaLana said, smiling again.
“Fancies... fancies? Are you all nuts? I am getting out of here, now.” I began tugging at the bodice strings, something that pained me more than I cared to admit. “And get this... this... fantasy goon out of my way.” I jerked my head toward Blondie, who still guarded the door.
“Help me!” I shouted when I could not get the laces undone. LaLana finally took a hand in helping me, sighing as she did so.
“Tomorrow night when you come back, it will be waiting, as will your shoes.” Her voice took on a motherly tone.
“I’m not coming back tomorrow night. Even if I did, which I won’t, I don’t even have tickets to that stupid Faerie Ball. I can’t afford those either.” I zipped up my jeans and shoved my feet back into my heels. I grabbed my purse and opened the door as Blondie jumped aside.
Outside, New York resumed its cacophony of horns, headlights, cursing and noise from the public moving up and down the night streets.
I shook my head, walking toward the apartment, thinking I had misjudged the boyfriend. Perhaps he’d planned this all along, from sending the postcard invite to having that dress made ahead of time for me. He’d never done anything remotely this romantic or costly before, but our seven-year anniversary was coming up and people could change. That explanation was the only one that made any type of sense. If you ignored the fact that paying $1.99 for a bargain movie on satellite TV nearly caused him a stroke. And the fact that he considered doubly-ply toilet paper a “luxury” item. I ignored it all.
By the next night, I had explained away all of the reasons that boyfriend could not possibly have arranged all of the exciting prospects of attending a real dress ball in full regalia. If things ended up being fun, I imagined a romantic ending to our fantasy excursion.
* * *
When I located once again, with difficulty, the hanging wooden sign above the impossibly wooden door with its impossibly candlelit interior, I felt as sheepish as I knew I should. LaLana welcomed me open-armed, this time hugging me for real, and with no recriminations.
“We’ve been expecting you,” she told me. “In fact you’re a bit early. I am not sure your shoes are finished. I’ll have a look.” She headed toward the back of the shop and went through a door where the light flickered in an unearthly glowing rhythm.
“Oh no,” I felt tears stinging my eyelids when she returned carrying the shoes.
I kept shaking my head. “How could you possibly have known? How?” They were dragonfly shaped and multicolored like the insects’ wings. I adored them. Someone had read my mind and created them even beyond my wildest dreams. They were even dreamier than the pair I’d drooled over in a high fashion ad. I closed my eyes and my mind, closing out both the joyous tears and the unimaginable costs.
“There you are,” LaLana said when she and her blonde assistants finished fluttering about me like moths around a low-burning candle. They clucked softly, speaking in voices so hushed I could barely understand them. I snuck a few peeks at them and noted they all possessed that baby fine golden hair and almost innocent expressions of happiness.
“Wow! You guys really enjoy your work!” I held out my arms and admired the perfect cut of the sleeves, the magnificent shape and color and lace of the gown. “Not to mention you’re damned good at it!”
They all frowned slightly at the word ‘damned’ but then, like butterflies, the expressions were gone.
“I can’t thank you enough,” I told them. “Everything is magnificent, beyond compare.”
“Well, you just have a wonderful time tonight. Promise us.” LaLana smiled an enchanting smile this time, her real smile.
“I promise. But how am I supposed to get to the ball? And how am I going to meet my boyfriend?” I frowned.
“There is a carri — a car waiting outside. It will take you both to where you need to go. Oh! Here is your mask. One cannot go to a Faerie masquerade without the mask!”
Of course, it matched the outfit. Of course. I hurried out into the cool New York night and the waiting limousine.
“Oh.” I deflated once in the vehicle. There was boyfriend in his old standby medieval commoner outfit. Right down to the dowdy, dirty beret and tattered brown vest. Then I realized he must have spent all of the money on my gown and super-designer shoes. Shame rose up in my chest. What a bitch I was, complaining when he’d gone so far out on the financial limb for me.
I shut up for the remainder of the ride. Thankfully, he was immersed in the new issue of whatever new favorite science fiction and fantasy magazine he’d found this week. I stared out the window, trying to figure out exactly what street we were on and where we were headed. Nothing looked familiar and a rare fog misted the streets, giving the hansom cabs authenticity in the dark.
Finally, we pulled up to an intricately designed gothic building and the driver, in full livery no less, opened the door for us. We scrambled out and he reminded us to put on our masks before entering the ballroom. Boyfriend at least knew enough to hold out an arm for me to take as we climbed the stairs to the huge doors.
When they announced my name and ignored his, boyfriend adopted a surly attitude. I did not blame him and felt rather guilty, in fact. Not an auspicious start to the evening, I thought. I hoped things would get better.
They did. For me, anyway. I spent thirty seconds standing alone on the sidelines of the ballroom, watching the dancers whirl and twirl, so light on their feet I swore they did not touch the ground. At the thirty-first second, I felt someone take my hand. I looked up, smiling, expecting boyfriend.
The hand that took mine gently did not belong to the boyfriend. I didn’t know who he was but he had a killer smile and some of that long, blonde baby hair. And, to my thrill, was both tall and just muscular enough not to be repulsive. And, that voice!
“May I have this dance?” It was deep, musical and sexy.
“How can I refuse?” I smiled back.
We waltzed to a dizzying, hypnotic beat thrumming with the sweet notes of a harpsichord, spinning around, and around, and around, the cool air swirling through our hair. I knew I would never forget that melody with its haunting repetition. I simply fell in love with it.
“Thank you.” He smiled and kissed the back of my hand.
“Thank you.” I said breathless, from the dancing or from the kiss, I did not know.
I went in search of boyfriend locating him at last at the bathtub-sized punchbowl. He scooped up ladles, poured them into a cup, drained it then repeated the exercise.
“Hey, lay off that for a while, will ya’?” I told him. “I’d like to at least walk out of here with you.”
He grunted and retreated to a nearby chair, still holding a cupful. I stomped away, looking for anyone else coherent enough to carry on a conversation. To my extreme pleasure, the gorgeous one reappeared at my side.
“You now have a choice,” he told me, smiling again. “You can choose the Good Faerie side or the Bad Faerie side.” He swept an arm toward two other ballrooms flanking the main one, like the wings of a bird, or a dragonfly or a Fairie. I laughed for some reason.
“The Bad Faerie Side! Everyone knows that Bad Faeries have more fun!”
“Not necessarily.” He stopped smiling. I wanted him to smile again.
“Well, then. You choose for me.”
“You’re definitely a Good Faerie type.” He smiled again. “Let us go.”
As he led me to the Good Faerie ballroom, I felt a funny twinge of regret as if I was leaving something, everything behind for good. At the doorway, I paused.
“Wait, I have to tell my boyfriend! I can’t leave him...” I turned around, seeking his face, his form. “I have to...” My forlorn voice trailed away. There he was, gangly and geeky, too lazy to care about me, his life, himself. I wondered why I had never seen his scrawny self-absorption, his lack of any real personality. It dawned on me all at once. He had not paid for the dress, the shoes, the limousine, and the tickets to the ball.
If the car had not arrived to pick him up, he would not even have come here. I knew the only draw for him had been the free food and all that drink. He did not believe, not really. He lived in that fantasy world that only the most insecure and insignificant inhabit. The one where they are the Supreme Being. Where they are gods. Anywhere else reduces them to the reality of what they really are: megalomaniacs.
How had I not seen this? I asked myself. How long since he mattered to me? He did not matter now. I turned back and looked at the wondrous ballroom that shone before me like a shiny new world. I smiled up at the beautiful one who still held my arm.
“It doesn’t matter anymore. Let’s go.”
Copyright © 2008 by P. I. Barrington