The string quartet played a slow, sad waltz that pinned my heart to a moment, then pirouetted day and night around it. All the couples dancing in the pavilion under the tent-pole canopy and me, and Will, who held me close as we swayed together, turning. Red and yellow lanterns strung above us dusted our eyes with the gauzy glow of artificial sunset. Some of them shifted in a breeze that promised rain.
How much champagne had I guzzled down already? Servers dressed in domino white and black, hands gloved in black, held out round trays crowded with tall, slim champagne flutes. As soon as I had finished one, the empty was replaced in my hand with full.
I hadn’t been here for long before Will found me. He took my hand and we were swept along with other couples heading to the pavilion where there was dancing. Wordlessly we fell in with the music. Turning and turning slowly, so close to him.
Just a few nights before, at the White Mask show, we had kissed. Afterward he drove me home, or really it was Hank the security guard and occasional chauffeur who drove us back to Park Heights in one of the Severands’ beautiful black Mercedes. And then Will had walked me up to the front door of my house. There, we kissed again, deeply, lingering for a long time this time, losing ourselves.
I hadn’t seen him or spoken to him after that. Not until I arrived here, at Arcyn, for this fundraiser gala which Linna had themed and named. Nightfall.
It was some party. The Severands had clearly spared no expense in creating something extraordinary. It was Park Heights’ event of the year. I was happy to have been invited.
I drove up in the late afternoon, thinking I’d be early, but there was already a line-up of cars through the front gate out to Summit Drive. When I finally got onto the grounds, parking attendants escorted me in and helped me park the Roadmaster in the lot just inside the gate. A small fleet of golf carts spray-painted entirely matte black awaited us, and took the guests up the path toward the mansion and the event. I was unsteady in high heels and my mom’s tight dress, holding onto a stupid little handbag in one hand—my iPhone was in it, and some cash, and my driver’s license—and I had to scooch sideways into the back of the golf cart, my knees pressed together to maintain decency. Then we were on our way. I noticed for the first time that the road up to the house made a wide curve around a small woods of tangled trees. There was probably a more direct path through the trees from the parking lot to the mansion.
The road split into its circle around the imposing marble fountain—I saw that the central cherub had been wrapped in black linens, making it wraithlike, even sinister—and here was where the golf cart stopped, giving me time to inch my way over on the seat and then spill out.
People were everywhere. I immediately noticed the masked and costumed celebrities among the crowd, remembering that Linna had told me there would be a kind of silent auction on their identities, all proceeds going to the Wellness Centre. Everyone was stopping to observe these masked figures when they passed by, trying to glean a clue that would give them away.
There were pavilions arrayed all over the grounds between the fountain and the mansion. In one massive tent, it looked as if a sit-down dinner was underway at a long banquet table arrayed with rows of guests; in another tent, people came and went from a serve-yourself buffet. I seemed to find my way directly to the pavilion with the bar. I showed a tuxedoed maître d’ my invitation. He cross-checked my name on the VIP list before handing me a black wristband. The bartender then handed me the first of many free glasses of champagne.
The front of the great house itself, Arcyn, was being used as a canvas for a light show projected across its facade. I stood for a while, sipping champagne, mesmerized by the rise and fall of the chiaroscuro collage. Arcs and intersections of bright white and bold black unfolded atop the architecture, flattening out the alcoves and gables and open windows that accessed the darkened house interior.
Music from one of the pavilions drew me closer. And then, suddenly, Will was there. Like a medieval courtier, he gently lifted my hand up from my side and kissed the back of it. It made me laugh. I reached up and straightened the black-and-gray silk tie that complimented a perfectly-tailored charcoal-gray pinstripe suit.
We went, hand in hand, into the pavilion. And then we slow-danced to the string quartet.
Will and me. What did I think I was doing? I was halfway to convincing myself that something meaningful, something lasting, had begun with us. Did I want it as much as it seemed like I did, as much as I was going along with it? I was being lifted up, pulled along,...