Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Behind the Mask by Lisa Worrall
BLURB: The Downe's Valentine's Day Masquerade Ball has been an annual event for over a hundred years and where, four years ago, Gabe met Mike.
It's been over six months since Mike's death and Mike thinks that Gabe is ready to move on. How does Gabe know this? He receives a letter and a ticket to the ball, from Mike. Gabe isn't sure he'll ever be ready to move on, but in deference to Mike's memory, he attends the ball.
What Gabe doesn't know, is that his best friend, Tom, the one constant in his life since college, has also received a letter from Mike. Will Gabe be able to move forward and remember a long forgotten love, or will his world come crumbling down around his ears, again?
/Valentine's Day 2011/
Gabe stared out of the window as the taxi turned off the country lane they had been travelling down and onto the beginning of the gravel drive that led up to Downe Hall. The music could already be heard through the open windows of the large country house and laughter spilled out with it. He couldn't believe he was actually doing this… albeit under duress.
The house looked as magnificent as it had on his first visit there four years ago, when he'd been talked into attending the event of the season. The Thomas Downe Annual Valentine's Day Masquerade Ball was legendary and people came from miles around to lose themselves in the splendour of it all; the music, the costumes, the chance to be someone else, for just one night.
The grass verge on either side of the drive up to the gates was decorated with life size sculptures of naked men and women, covered with strategically placed white fairy lights, heralding the way to the house.
"That'll be eighteen fifty."
Gabe looked at the taxi driver and blinked owlishly. "Huh?"
"The fare," the man repeated, nodding at the meter. "Eighteen pounds, fifty."
"Oh, right," Gabe replied scrabbling in the pocket of his costume for a twenty pound note. He handed it to the other man mumbling, "Keep the change."
"Thanks, mate. Nice costume by the way. You meeting someone in there?" The driver's question was innocent enough and Gabe knew that he couldn't know how those words made his gut tighten and his heart ache.
"Not this year," he replied and opened the door before the man could remark further. Gabe stood looking at the bridge over the moat to the large open gates. He'd spent a fortune on his costume and the ticket itself would have kept his fridge stocked for six months, even though he hadn't paid for it, so standing on the drive and watching other party-goers just sail past him was kind of stupid. And then there was the added concern that if he stood there much longer, the organisers might drape /him/ in fairy lights.
Besides, this was where it had all begun, it seemed only fitting that this is where it should end; where he should bury the past and move towards the future. He huffed a joyless laugh through parted lips. The future—/what/ future? Mike seemed to think he was ready to embrace a life without him… but Gabe wasn't so sure.
It felt like a lifetime ago, instead of four short years, that he'd stood exactly where he was now, staring at the splendour of Downe Hall, listening to the music spilling from the windows, his ticket clutched in his hand, just as it was now. Then, of course, his friend Tom had stood beside him, nudging him and urging him forward.
Going to the Downe Valentine's Masquerade Ball had been Tom's idea back then. He'd had a real bee in his bonnet about it, made it sound like they were the losers of the year if they didn't attend, and how infamous the Downe Masquerade Ball was. If Gabe recalled correctly, the ridiculous corny expression, "It's the /event/ of the year!" had left Tom's lips on more than one occasion. Tickets had been so expensive Gabe had almost balked at the price, but Tom had made it sound so damned exciting and had played to Gabe's more gullible, romantic side—before he'd known what he was doing, the tickets had been purchased and they were in the costumers, picking out their outfits.
Four years ago, Tom had been fit to be tied by the time the taxi had pulled up outside Downe Hall. Gabe had spent the previous week reading everything he could about the place and had known its history inside out. The Masquerade ball had originally been held in London, until the event had proved too popular in the late 1830s and in need of a bigger venue. Thomas Downe had then decided opening his country estate once a year to his friends, neighbours and the elite of London society was a much more feasible option. The history books had been rife with stories that said Downe's sister, Mary, had not exactly been enamoured by the idea, and although the siblings lived in the same house, apparently they didn't speak to each other for almost a year. He remembered staring up at the house as the taxi had come to a stop outside the mansion that night, and wondering how unsettling the atmosphere must have been with brother and sister walking the gardens, ignoring each other as they went about their daily life; their only communication being through the servants.
Not that communication on the taxi ride had been a problem for him and Tom that night. His best friend's lips hadn't stopped flapping since Gabe had arrived at Tom's to get dressed. The moron had been so over the top about the whole thing that Gabe had asked him on more than one occasion over the last week what was so special about the damned dance? Tom had merely shrugged and changed the subject, and had continued to behave like Tigger[CO1] <#_msocom_1> on speed, so much so that Gabe had been concerned Tom might've actually spontaneously combusted before they'd even made it to their first Masquerade.
Looking up at the awe-inspiring country estate again now, a fond smile curved Gabe's lips as the memory of that Valentine's night in 2007 surrounded him.