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Everyone was staring at me.
I could feel it on my skin, sense the shifting eyes behind their masquerade masks. Feathers bobbed as heads quickly glanced at me and back, as if they couldn't even be caught looking at me. I felt like I was going to throw up, and I desperately wanted to get out of there. I gripped my dark dress, rubbing the fabric together in agitation.
What am I even doing here?...
I felt a hand grip my elbow, and I turned to see Clarissa. One familiar face out of hundreds. Her bright green eyes shone behind her black and gold mask.
"You're here." She said with a smile. I shrugged, trying not to look around and the crowd that was definitely whispering about me.
"I don't know why." I said quietly, and Clarissa motioned towards the room with a lace-gloved hand.
"To have fun, that's why."
I crossed my arms across my chest. As I pressed them against my chest, I could feel them quivering.
"No one wants me here."
"I do. Don't worry about what everyone else thinks."
I sighed, and Clarissa turned to talk to another one of her friends. When the conversation continued long enough that I knew she wasn’t coming back, I drifted towards to the food table, pouring myself a cup of punch.
I didn't know why I was there. Clarissa begged me to come, but I shouldn't have come. Did I think that if I showed up, everything would be forgotten? That everyone would suddenly accept me again and pretend like nothing ever happened? I was kidding myself.
And here was proof, walking right up to me.
" What are you doing here?"
I turned around to face Ashley. Her dark red lips sneered at me and a cloud of blonde hair sat atop her head.
" Same thing as you." I replied, and Ashley placed her long, red nails on her hips.
" No one wants you here."
I noticed that.
I didn't say anything, and she narrowed her eyes at me.
"You're trash. Go back to the dumpster where you belong. None of us want you messing this up too." She spun on her stiletto heel, stalking back to her group. I stood there stupidly, unsure what to do. I was positive the warmth in my cheeks was turning my cheeks tomato red. I couldn't do this. I thought I could, but I wasn’t strong enough. I couldn't deal with the unspoken pressure of everyone, their eyes boring into me, trying to chase me out of the room as if I was casting bad luck on them by simply standing in their vicinity.
I grabbed my purse from the snack table, starting for the back door, when a figure on my right caught my eye. A tall, well-dressed boy stood there, someone I hadn’t noticed before. His stunning blue watched me curiously, but kindly, unlike everyone else's accusing glares. His blonde hair shook as he pulled his hands out of his pockets.
"Hi there." He greeted, and I paused for a second, trying to gather my thoughts. I almost felt the need to glance over my shoulder to make sure he wasn’t talking to someone else.
"Um... hi." I tucked a brown curl behind my ear, trying not to look at one thing for too long.
" Would you like to dance?" He asked suddenly, and I looked up in surprise. His eyes were so convincing I almost said yes.
" Actually, I was just leaving."
He frowned, placing his hands back in the pockets of his black suit pants.
"Aw, why? It just started."
I bit my lip.
"Because. It's just... not my kind of event, I guess."
He laughed, gesturing around the room.
"How can this not be "your kind of event”? The curtains are made of satin, there are authentic silver and gold decorations everywhere, and there’s caviar. " He smiled at me expectantly, but I stared down at my black heels. A rush of loneliness hit me again, and I wanted to leave.
"If my decision to leave is so important to you, no one wants me here." I tried not to think too hard about it - the last time I did, I burst into tears.
He looked genuinely confused, and I began to wonder if he was an exhange student who wasn’t aware of my reputation. That would have been the only reason he was actually conversing with me, in public.
"Now why wouldn't they want you here? You seem nice enough. Except you won't dance with me."
I laughed at that, and my eyes met his.
"I’ll put it this way - you make one mistake and the entire community hates you. "
He frowned again, and I wished I hadn't said anything.
" That doesn't seem too fair."
" Tell me about it."
He smiled at me again, and it lit some sort of spark in me.
"It doesn't seem like they're worth caring about."
I glanced at the crowd. Ashley was bumping hips with her recently appointed best friend, and Clarissa was shifting to the music with her boyfriend. I wished I could be as perfect and social as Clarissa, but it could never happen.
" You know, Clarissa wants you here, too." He added, and he surprised me for the second time that night.
" How do you know Clarissa?" I asked, and he shrugged.
" We've been friends for a while."
I glanced at her again, envy pulling at me.
" I wish I could be as good with people as she is. She doesn't have to put in any effort - she's naturally perfect."
He laughed, and I froze, hoping he wasn't laughing at me.
"First of all, she’s not perfect - aren’t you two supposed to be best friends? You should know that about her by now. Second, " He smiled at me, and a shiver ran down my spine, " If you want to be social, why don't you start by giving me this dance?"
I looked at him closely, studying his face. He looked sincere enough, and it didn't seem like one of the guys sent him over here to tease me as a prank.
" Are you sure you... want to be seen with me? You don't know what I did." I said, guilt weighing down on me. He shook his head.
" I don't care. I want to talk to you, not who everyone else thinks you are."
Then he offered me his arm.
I took his elbow, and he guided me to the center of the crystalline floor. I felt the stares of everyone, and considered running away. But he wasn't bothered by it, so I decided I shouldn't be either. Holding his arm, I felt safe.
" Are you new here?" I asked as we positioned ourselves to a slow dance. He shook his head.
" No. Why?"
I smiled. " No reason."
A slow song played over the speakers, and he lead the way, slowly spinning me to the right, then to the left. I could tell he'd done this before. I melted into him and felt myself dancing better than I ever had before. I was smiling, too. It felt strange and foreign on my lips, but missed.
Everyone was watching us. The floor cleared and we were in the spotlight, but I didn't care. I spotted Ashley eyeing us, dismayed. The chandelier above scattered the light into sparkles around us, and my dress flowed perfectly. I felt perfect, enchanted, for the first time in my life.
When the song finally ended, the rest of the room disappeared. I didn't notice anything, anyone, but him. Him and his blonde hair, his warm green eyes, his fine, dark suit. Everything about him was like a dream.
He led me back to the snack table, and I was beaming.
" You're a great dancer." I said, and he grinned at me.
" You're not too bad yourself. Glad you danced with me?"
He smiled contentedly, and I think I heard him sigh.
I didn't want to leave, but I excused myself to go to the restroom. He smiled at me once more before I walked off, wonderful chills running through me. I pushed open the door and stopped in front of the mirror. I was smiling, and my skin was glowing. There was a faint blush on my cheeks, and I felt good. He did something to me - changed me in some way.
After a few minutes, I left the bathroom, eager to return to him. But when I reached the snack table, he wasn't there. I noticed my purse still sitting on the table, but there was now a piece of paper folded next to it. I picked it up and read:
You'll be fine.
I stared at the note, confused, then spotted Clarissa in the corner fixing her mask. I hurried over to her, tapping her on the shoulder. She turned and smiled when she saw me.
" Meg! I saw you dancing, you both looked so graceful! I told you you would have fun." She giggled, and I nodded, my mind whirling.
" Uh, yeah, but have you seen him? Your friend?"
Clarissa paused for a moment, a confused expression crossing her face.
" You mean the guy you were dancing with?"
I nodded, suddenly feeling desperate.
" I don't know him. I haven't seen him either." She said, and my heart sank.
I shook my head, glancing around the room. Clarissa did so too, still puzzled. I spotted a familiar dark suite walking out the double doors. I darted into the crowd as Clarissa called after me.
I darted through couples and yanked the doors open, rushing outside into the cold air. As the doors shut behind me, the sounds from inside were muffled, and it was quiet outside. I glanced around and saw a figue walking down the street, far away. It was blonde with a dark suit.
I didn't know what to do - I could have run after him, but something in me kept me there. I felt like I wasn't supposed to. So instead, I cupped my hands around my mouth.
" I didn't even get your name!" I called out, as loud as I could, and I thought I saw the figure pause momentarily before walking again. I smiled to myself. He'd helped me that night, to face the fears that I couldn't face on my own. To hold my head high and be myself. To be strong.
" Thank you!" I yelled, and I swore he turned around, smiled, and walked away.Tears blurred my vision, but they didn’t fall.