Matthew secures the mask over my face and then steps back to look at me. “You’re divine, darling.”
I don’t bother to look in the mirror or offer my opinion. This doesn’t need to be a controversy between us. If he says I look better with my face covered, then so be it.
I take a deep breath and try to push down the juvenile need to rip off this entire outfit and hide in my room. Instead, I perform the twirl that Matthew is asking for as he claps and tosses praise my way.
Maybe it will be a good night. He’s gone out of his way to make this an event for me. I flash him an awkward smile, the edges of my mask pressing into my lips.
“You’re going to enjoy the carnival themes, darling,” Matthew continues talking, holding his arm out for me to grab as he sweeps us out of the room. “Everyone will be dressed well and have masks and then there’s all sorts of apple treats and I even got a pianist to come play.”
Lucy isn’t performing?
I jot the words onto my pocket notepad in a quick rush.
Matt shakes his head. “She had other plans.”
Oh. It’s fine. I try to breathe past the rock now settling in my chest. This is okay. I’m great. She’s allowed to have a life outside of me. A dark little whisper at the back of my mind whines that something is wrong, but I shake it off. I just thought she would have done something special for my birthday.
No worries. My husband hasn’t let me out of his sight today and I’m in for an evening of perfectly executed activities orchestrated by the great Matthew Krawlski.
We enter the elevator together as I stuff away my pad of paper, Matt stepping in first as I follow a step behind before coming to stand at his side. He presses the button to plummet us to the bottom, keying in a special code to keep the doors for opening for anyone else in the hotel. I stare straight ahead, my eyes catching on the gold mask covering my face. It follows the curve of my cheekbones, arching over my nose and sealing itself to my features. There’s no embellishments or feathers or anything fun. Its solid gold form fitted to conceal my identity.
Matthew made a point of physically turning me into a trophy husband.
Whatever. It doesn’t matter. He isn’t even wearing a mask. Matthew Krawlski isn’t the kind of man who hides his face when he can flash people his charming smile and get people to simply do anything he asks.
It doesn’t bother me. It shouldn’t bother me.
I don’t know why my head is such a mess today.
I take a shuddering breath as the elevator eases down to the lowest level. Here we go. Time to be excited for a party I didn’t ask to have.
The doors slide open. I wrinkle my nose. Sassafras. It’s not my favorite smell. Sweet and woodsy. The cloying quality of it makes me sick to my stomach. Matt takes a deep breath, though, so I don’t say anything as he leads me out into the dimly lit room.
The party is already in full swing. There have to be over two hundred people milling about in the space below. Matthew clears his throat. I don’t need him to verbally lecture me right now.
Eyes forward, shoulders straight, and for the life of me, I need to not trip down the stairs.
The music is silenced. Our names are announced. People cheer as Matt waves and walks with me down the spiral staircase meant for these theatrics.
When we reach the bottom, my too shiny shoes squeaking across the polished tiles, Matt clears his throat and looks out at the crowd that looks as excited to praise us as they would be to rip us to shreds. “Thank you all for being here. My husband’s birthday is a grand affair. I even got him out of his room.”
There’s chuckles through the surrounding group. To them, I’m a weird recluse, a nobody, a man who sunk my claws into Matt for his money and didn’t look back. Nobody knows the real reason Matthew so rarely drags me out to these affairs. They don’t know that I truly have claws and not enough self-control to always hide them.
Deep breath. Again. My last therapist insisted that breathing was the key to everything.
I can’t tell if it’s working as Matt signals to someone in the crowd and the lights turn a moody red. Everyone is ushered to the sides. A piano is lifted up onto a stage and light music begins to play at the whim of the pianist.
“I hired him just for you, darling. He plays all that classical shit you adore.”
If anybody else was nearby, Matt wouldn’t curse. He feels comfortable here. He thinks he’s done a good job.
We walk by a large table filled with food. There’s chocolate fountains and mountains of meats and cheeses on gold platters that sparkle with the red lighting. Desserts tower everywhere else. Truffles and flaky cookies and a hundred other pastries line circular plates. At the end, there’s sweet caramel apples, some of them sliced open to show off the center. They’ve been there too long. Oxidation has settled in the core, turning them brown amongst the table of delicacies.
It’s rare for Matt to allow an imperfection.
I don’t mention it. Instead, I keep my fingers on the crook of his elbow and follow him to the front of the crowd. The dancefloor. He turns to face me as the pianist switches to a slow tune.
“Will you allow me the first dance, darling?”
It’s not a choice. I don’t need to pull out my notepad to form an answer. I just put my hands into his and follow along to the steps of the waltz.
The crowd cheers as we spin. I shut my eyes as the lighting changes from red to blue to pink to yellow. It’s a rainbow array meant to dizzy and disorient.
I miss my footing.
Matt catches me as I crumple, a curse under his breath. “Keep it together, Miles. We’re in front people,” he growls, no concern on his harsh features for what is likely a sprained ankle as I gingerly limp through the rest of the song.
There’s applause. My whole leg is throbbing with it. Matt pulls me down into a bow before welcoming the rest of the people out onto the dance floor as the pianist begins a jaunty tune.
“You should take a minute to recover.”
No pet name. Matthew’s mad. In his mind, I just embarrassed him in front of hundreds of people.
Even if I wanted to complain, I don’t dare grab the notepad from my pocket. There’s no way I’m writing out my feelings to him in the middle of this elaborate affair. I’ll stay quiet. I’m plenty good at staying quiet.
Matt tucks me into a booth to the side of the stage that’s mostly hidden from the party. “Take a few minutes. When you’re ready, I’ll be making arrangements with some of the big players in the city. There’s a private table at the back. The security knows to let you pass. Can you handle being alone?”
I excel at being alone. Matt grabs my chin, though, when I don’t answer quick enough. His hold is rough enough to bruise. A shuddering breath rushes through my clenched teeth as I stare up at him.
I will not cry. I won’t make a sniffle. He’ll be distracted soon.
“Behave yourself. Do you understand?”
There’s no hesitation this time. I nod. I nod too quickly into his hand and he drops it. Stepping away, he throws an unnecessary affectionate phrase over his shoulder to keep his image good with anybody nearby and then struts off to care for his precious business.
God. I hate my birthday.
If I could laugh, I would now. Not some mirthful sound, but a choked gasp at my situation. This is my life. This is the foreseeable course of my life. I have years if not decades or centuries going through these motions.
Matthew Krawlski will never let me go.
The piano music changes. I tilt my head to look over at the dark form walking away from the stage as the pianist gives a thumbs up for the requested song. It’s not a classical tune.
Matt is going to be so upset if he realizes this guy is playing other songs.
Yet… I don’t want it to stop. I think I can recognize it.
It’s on the tip of my tongue. A warm wiggling at the base of my mind, the title just barely escapes my capture. It’s something that probably played on the radio once when I was walking through the hotel lobby.
Before I can come to any conclusion on its origin or importance in my life, the lights swivel to catch on a man in a mask similar to that of the Phantom of the Opera. He has a microphone in his hand. He’s…
He’s singing and looking straight over at this booth.
That deep voice. The amusing swing of his hips. This guy must be a performer. He’s used to standing in front of people and making a fool of himself.
But that voice. I could listen to it every day for the rest of my life.
My fingers trail the scar on my own throat. My memories are jumbled. I think I used to like to sing, though. I would have liked the chance to sing with this man as he repeats the chorus and demands that the audience to his words saves the last dance for him.
I’ve heard those words before, but I just can’t remember.
Eventually, the song ends and the pianist continues onto another song. Someone else gets on stage to sing. She’s nowhere near as good as the last guy.
I don’t have much time to ponder anything because I’m no longer alone. My shoulders stiffen. I try to paste on a bland smile to fend off Matt, but…it’s not him. The guy with the phantom mask. He unabashedly shows off half of his handsome face, daring anyone to identify him outside of this particular event.
He holds his hand out to me. “I really would like that last dance if you wouldn’t mind.”
How do you know it’ll be the last? I want to ask. I want to know his name and why he has gone out of his way to make a spectacle in my husband’s hotel.
But, I look into his deep brown eyes and forget to grab my writing pad.
Is this what it feels like to know in your soul that you’ve met someone in a past lifetime and they’ve managed to make it back to you?
I don’t know.
I want to find out.
Knowing there will be consequences, I slip my fingers into his gloved hand and step out of the safety of the booth.
Welcome back to Miles’ portion of this complex story. If you’re new or want to follow re-read his stories, check out: High School Nightmare, Three Little Words, and Artists as well as this week’s prompt.
There are some exciting twists coming in his story, so hang in there and keep checking back here for his intermittent additions.
If you’re following along with Lore, Matthew Krawlski just became a named character in the latest episode. Read it now by clicking here: Lore by Angelica Reece
As always, I would not make it every week without my amazing writing partner cheering me on. Please go see Bridgette’s rendition of this piano prompt! A Night at the Carnival
Thank you so much for coming here every week. We’ll see you next time!