Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Masked Strangers

  I was nervous, my hands a little sweaty. I didn't know why. I was dressed in costume like everyone else at the Halloween party. No one knew me except my new best friend Patti, a vampire, who stood next to me as we surveyed the scene.
 "Told you," she said, "this company party is always a wild affair. Fairytale characters, clowns, monsters or all kinds—mingle! You're the only blonde witch here. You're bound to attract loads of attention. I've got my eye on the gorilla."
With that Patti took off across the crowded room, leaving me alone.
What a huge house! I should drift about, I supposed, take a chance and explore. But I wasn't good at doing any of that anymore, a major problem that had developed recently in my life. 
Without warning, a swashbuckling pirate sailed up to me, wearing a mask with one eye bigger than the other. "Witches are supposed to be ugly," he said, "but me thinks behind that mask is beauty. I mean, just behold your long blonde hair."
I blushed behind a mask that covered my eyes, nose, and cheeks. I reached to make sure my pointy, black witch's hat remained perched firmly on my head, and then I smoothed out my long, black, filmy skirt. I said, "The blonde hair could be a wig, you know, attached to the hat. This witch could be bald. A knot on her head."
He laughed at that—a warm, throaty laugh, which charmed me and made me believe he was not an evil pirate. He was tall and broad-shouldered; and, I guessed, behind that mask and costume lived a hunk of a man.
"New at Hamilton Electronics?" the asked. "The first time at our esteemed CEO's Halloween house party?"
"How could you tell?"
"When your vampire friend ditched, your body language indicated you were lost."
I nodded. "Only two months with Hamilton."
"Single, going with someone, married?"
I stepped back.
"Don't be alarmed," he said. "I've got to ask. It's the only way to avoid"—he paused a moment—"an embarrassing situation. I wouldn't want to hit on the bosses wife."
I smiled. "Are you hitting on me, Mr. Pirate?"
"Just trying to know you as best I can—until midnight when we demask and reveal ourselves."
Should I be honest? Should I take a chance? Just a year ago I'd been jilted practically at the altar. But why not take this chance? I could walk away from Mr. Pirate before midnight, if I chose, unrevealed and unharmed. "Single and unattached," I said.
"As am I!" said Mr. Pirate. "This is going to be a splendid evening."
We drifted into the dining room. At the buffet table we loaded up paper plates with tiny hotdogs and chicken wings, celery sticks and baby carrots. We sat on folding chairs against a wall, ate, and commented on the spectacular costumes.
"How long has the CEO been throwing these Halloween parties?" I asked.
"For five years, at least. That's how long I've been with the firm. Probably years before that."
"Very generous of him."
"He gets a kick out of it, I guess."
When Mr. Pirate gallantly rose to dump our empty plates, the Lone Ranger, sauntered up to me, thumbs hooked in his gun belt, and said, "Are you alone, Ma'am?"
Before I could decide what to say, he grabbed my hand and whisked me into a cluster of dancers, holding me a little too tightly, I thought. "Married, single, or going with someone?" I asked.
He loosened his grip but didn't answer. When the music stopped, I found Mr. Pirate sailing up to my side again, as the Lone Ranger galloped away. "Arrrggg!" growled Mr. Pirate. "I'm not letting you out of my sight."
Once more I smiled behind my mask.
Just before midnight, though, I left Mr. Pirate's sight: I went off to the restroom. I stared at my ugly witch mask in the mirror. If I were going to ditch Mr. Pirate, now was the time to do it. We'd had a great time together. He was charming, but...what to do?
When I returned to where I'd left him by the grand piano, he wasn't there. My heart beat at panic speed. Maybe he'd ditched me! That's not what I wanted.
But suddenly he appeared, a glass of champagne in each hand. "To us," he said. "Soon, masked strangers no longer."
We drank, and at the stroke of midnight, along with everyone else, we ripped off our masks.
"Cory Eastman," said, Mr. Pirate. "I'm with the Accounting Department." He grinned. "Glad that beautiful blonde hair is real."
I caught my breath. I'd never seen such deep blue eyes, and his raven wavy black hair made his eyes even bluer.
"Brittany Howell. Graphic designer. Glad we're rid of those masks."
With that, he wrapped his arms around me in a warm hug, and I hugged him back. I knew he was a chance I just had to take.
The End

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