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Fantasticoe 2010 Contents
 The Masked Man

Erynn Norris

It was mid spring in England and Beatrice and her nurse were traveling to London from their country estate in The Cotswolds. Everything was in full bloom and full of life and color, and Beatrice was excited to be going to live with her auntie for a while. She'd just turned seventeen and her auntie, Victoria had told her mother that she would gladly take Beatrice in and teach her everything she would need to know to find a suitable husband. 

As the carriage trod along, pulled by the family's four best black steeds, Bee looked out at the rolling green hills and wildflower spattered meadows in childish wonder. She could hear the gentle hiss as the wind swept through the tall grass and smell the sweetness of the flowers and grass. The beauty of the countryside never ceased to take her breath away. As the buildings grew closer and closer together, her excitement grew for what would come in the following months with her auntie, and when Big Ben came into view, she turned to her nurse with an ecstatic smile. 

"Tillie, do you see it?! It's Big Ben! We're almost to London! Isn't it beautiful?" Beatrice twittered. 

"Calm now, Bee. You'll give the horses a fright and tip us," Tillie chuckled, continuing with her needlework. 

Tillie had been Bee's nurse since she was a child and Beatrice grew to love her like a second mother, and Tillie loved her like a daughter. She was forty five and her hair was a rich brown umber and when she let it down from its chiffon, it fell in thick, rippling waves to the small of her back. Her blue bespectacled eyes sparkled and twinkled, even when it was dark outside, as if they were always lit from inside by the warmth of her personality, and every time she smiled, the corners of them crinkled up. 

They'd arrived at Auntie Victoria's manor within the hour and were cordially greeted by her maids and butlers. After Tillie and Beatrice had settled in and their clothes were neatly and orderly put away, they went to the parlor to greet Auntie. When they entered the grand room, Auntie stood from her red velvet lined chair, setting her book off to the side on an end table, and smiled broadly, opening her arms out to Bee. She, unlike her younger sister, Charlotte, enjoyed the balls and life that was expected of women, and embraced them graciously. She didn't begrudge her sister, however, and since she was unable to have children of her own, she was more than happy to spoil her only niece. 

Beatrice's mother, Charlotte had been a free spirit and always disliked how society was set up so that women could never have professions or careers, but she'd tolerated it for the sake of her mother's reputation. When Charlotte had met her would-be husband at a ball, she was pleasantly surprised that he wasn't dull and unentertaining like the other men who could have been her husband. He allowed her to be herself and encouraged her to speak her mind. He wasn't like the other men who thought the only place for a woman was in the house. He loved how different she was and never reprimanded her for being herself, and she loved him for allowing her free spirit to escape the cage that society and its expectations had locked it in. In an attempt to escape the expectations set upon them, the happily married couple moved to the country and had Beatrice, teaching her everything they knew. 

Auntie was thirty six and she had the signature honey brown hair of Beatrice's family and the most entrancing gray-green eyes Bee had ever seen in her life. Auntie's lips were full and always rouged in pink to accent her blushed cheeks, and her eyes were always rimmed in black kohl, drawing your attention to them and holding your gaze there. 

"Beatrice, darling!" she beamed, and Bee ran into her outstretched arms, embracing her tightly. "You've gotten so big since I last saw you! Just look at you! You've grown into such a fine young lady!" 

Bee laughed and spun around, ending the pirouette in a slight curtsy. Auntie told Beatrice to put on her bonnet and bring her parasol, and when she'd done as Auntie had said, they went for a walk. They talked about what had happened since the last time they'd seen each other and Auntie asked about what skills Charlotte had taught her that would be helpful to finding her a husband. Beatrice told her that she'd been diligent in her needlework, cooking, and studies in music and art, and Auntie seemed very pleased. 

For the next few weeks, Auntie helped Beatrice touch up her needlework and posture and took her to the seamstress to get new dresses, hosiery, petticoats, and the like to prepare her for the balls and soirées that she was soon to attend. Bee was thrown into the land of the lavish and fanciful and it was a bit overwhelming after growing up in the country, but it was exciting for Bee none the less. 

When the night of Beatrice's first ball came, she was nervous beyond all logical reason. Everything that she'd been practicing for as long as she could remember was being put to the test at a real ball with the very real possibility of her finding a husband. Auntie had told her of all of these men with power in the community that would be there and how she'd been practicing her woman skills to impress them. She said that her job as a lady was to find a husband, start a family, and be a good wife and mother and to do that, Bee had to continue with her studies, needlework, and cooking. 

Auntie had Bee dress in her finest dress made of expensive pale pink silks and white laces, and her corset was laced to give her a fuller figure to be more appealing to the men she was to meet. Her honey brown hair was curled and pinned back into an elegant pile atop her head, save for her bangs that hung freely across her forehead in loose curls. Her lips were stained pink and blush was applied to her cheeks. Beatrice looked in the mirror and was greeted by a beautiful stranger who looked remotely like her. The stranger started back at Beatrice with the same emerald green eyes as her own. Beatrice turned this way and that, examining the stranger and realized with great astonishment that it was her own reflection. She'd never had any clothes that were that fancy or beautiful, and she'd never felt as if she could be like Cinderella, going from being poor and rural, to catching the eye of a Prince until that day. She never would have imagined that her country upbringing would lead to her beautiful, lavish life in the city. She felt beautiful for the first time in her life and it touched her to tears. 

"Beatrice, darling, are you?" Auntie started to ask as she walked into the room, examining her corset to make sure it was fitting properly, and was stopped mid sentence by the awe inspiring sight of her only niece. Bee turned to her Auntie with tears threatening to spill. "Bee, what is it?" 

"I look so beautiful. I can hardly believe that this is really me," Bee replied with a wavering, uncertain smile. 

"Oh, Bee…" Auntie smiled reassuringly. "Come now, no tears. You'll ruin your face." 

Auntie dried Bee's tears with a handkerchief and when Auntie and Beatrice were properly dressed and prepared, they were sent off by Tillie and rode in the carriage to the ball. Women were elaborately dressed in silks, petticoats, and decorative hats and men wore coattails, top hats, and tuxedos, and there were butlers walking around with silver trays of champagne. Maids weaved their way through the crowd with platters of treats and tarts like phantoms, being there one moment, and disappearing in the throng, the next. There was a small ensemble in the center of the grand ballroom playing Mozart's "Allegro Concerto No. 12 in A Major" and there were clumps of people sipping champagne and talking everywhere. The floors were made of polished marble and there was an elaborate glass chandelier hanging from the ceiling, casting rainbow effects onto the walls and floor from the light penetrating through the crystals. 

Beatrice was breath-taken by the beauty and elegance of everything around her and she felt how Cinderella must have felt when she first entered the ballroom for the Prince's ball? overcome with a sense of both awe and terror. She wondered if her Prince Charming would be there and what he would be like. Would he be handsome? Would he make her laugh? Would they have a lot in common? Would he sweep her off her feet with his devilish good looks and dazzling personality? 

Aunty, being a lady of high status because of her politician husband, introduced Bee to countless men who were in positions of power from politicians to architects and philosophers. One group of men were talking about an ancient philosopher that Bee had read about named Plato, so she thought she'd involve herself in the conversation. 

". . . and so Plato believed that because the soul was intangible not unlike things like bigness, beauty, death, and such, then it, too, must be a Form. And, as we recall from his earlier mentioned argument, all things come to be from their opposites such as death comes from life and bigness becomes big from something smaller. He then goes on to explain how Forms are unchanging and cannot partake in their opposites, for then they would cease to be. And since it was agreed upon that the soul is what brings life, then?" one man explained, but was interrupted. 

"Then that would mean that, the soul being a Form, would be unable to die, making it immortal," Beatrice boldly finished the sentence. "It makes sense if you use that logic, but Plato assumed that things did not spontaneously come to be. If things did come from spontaneous generation, it would make all of Plato's arguments false, but he was afraid to admit it, or he was ignorant of the very real possibility of his wrongness." 

Beatrice had always been a curious child and loved to learn. If she didn't understand something, she would ask or try to figure it out on her own, and her parents never prohibited her from learning about or studying subjects. When Beatrice's parents believed that they'd taught her all they could, they'd sent her to London to visit her auntie every summer, and every summer she was reluctant to say the least, to go back home. She'd seen all of the beautifully dressed people on their way to fancy balls and parties and they all seemed so happy to her. She wanted to be like them; she wanted to dress in fine silks and chat to politicians and debate with philosophers about this theory and that over champagne, and laugh with wealthy wives of said men. She'd fallen in love with the hustle and bustle, dirt and grime, fashion and glamour of the city, and Auntie Victoria never failed to expose her to something new and exciting every year. Now she'd finally gotten the chance to intercede in a philosophical conversation, and the men in the group looked at Beatrice with amusement while the women exchanged uneasy glances, and after a short pause, the men started laughing, very shortly after followed by the women. 

"Such a strong opinion, you have there, Miss. It can't possibly be yours, can it? You must have heard it from someone or somewhere else. Whomever you heard it from, tell him he's a good man. He has quite a point!" the man who'd been explaining Plato's theory guffawed. 

Having been thoroughly offended and embarrassed by the group's laughter and the attention it was drawing from the people around them, Beatrice excused herself from the group and hid away in a quiet corner for a while. When she'd regained her confidence, she rejoined the crowd and made her way around from group to group, conversing with whomever would listen. The glitz and glamour soon became boring and mundane when Bee realized that most of them had nothing interesting to say. It was all about sports and politics and stories of times past that were only funny to the people that were there, or the people that pretended to care or find them interesting. Beatrice had never been raised to lie, and she felt that if she pretended to care for something that she didn't really care for, then that was a form of lying. It wasn't right, so she preferred not to do it. Everyone seemed like a clone of the person that Beatrice had talked to before them. 

Bee grew tired of the stuffiness of the ballroom and the people occupying it, so she took it upon herself to leave for a breath of fresh air. When she got to the garden, she sat at a bench next to a fountain with a sigh and looked up at the full moon. The camellia bushes surrounding the fountain in a wide circle were neatly trimmed and in full bloom. The daffodils and crocuses were also boasting full blossoms and filled the air with a sweet perfume. Bee smiled at how pretty they all were in the evening darkness with their gold and deep purple and crimson, wondering what they'd all look like during the day. The beautiful strings and piano from the ensemble floated out to her on the cool spring breeze, and the pungent sweet scent of the flowers surrounding her made her head spin and lulled her into a state of contented bliss. She sighed and smiled, closing her eyes and enjoying the sounds of crickets, water and the music. Not long after she'd gotten outside, a male voice from behind her startled Bee out of her trance. 

"Beautiful, the night, isn't it?" the man said, so Bee turned to face him. 

The man had been in the manor while the ball was in full swing, but he'd intentionally avoided the crowd and stayed in the study. The man's acquaintance had invited him since it was his wife's ball, but the man had never been fond of crowds. When he grew bored and wanted a breath of air, he entered the ballroom with all of its fanciful people and swept along the wall to the door leading to the veranda in an attempt not to draw attention to himself. He'd spotted an angelic young woman with honey brown hair in pale pink silks and white laces in the crowd and noticed that she looked bored and a bit disappointed, despite her smile. He could tell that it was forced and didn't really hold much meaning or feeling behind it. She seemed like the only one who wasn't wholly enjoying the party and wished to talk to her, asking why, but he preferred not to be seen, so he watched her from the darkness of the veranda. Shortly after he'd gotten outside, he realized that she was walking toward him and that her false smile had fallen from her face as she walked, so he hid behind the door until she passed. He watched as she slumped onto the bench with a deep sigh, out of sight of the ballroom and all of its party-goers, and her body seemed to relax. He decided that now was his chance, if ever there was a more perfect chance to talk to her. 

He was tall and dressed in a black tuxedo and top hat with a white masquerade mask covering his face. The hairs that stuck out from under his hat looked as black as midnight and his eyes were a warm hazel color. His voice was deep and melodious and it reminded Bee of warm chocolate syrup with how soothing it was. She hadn't heard him approaching or seen him in the ballroom, but his anonymity piqued her curiosity and drew her in, making her want to know more about him. 

"Sorry. Did I frighten you?" he inquired. 

"A bit. I hadn't heard you coming," she admitted. 

"My apologies, miss. Would you mind terribly if I joined you?" 

"Not at all. Please do," Bee said, scooting over to offer him a seat. 

"Thank you kindly. If you don't mind me asking, what brings you out here to the garden? A lovely lady such as yourself should be enjoying the festivities." 

"Thank you, sir. I'm flattered. It's just that I'm rather disappointed. I'd come to London to live with my auntie with the hopes of finding a suitable husband and becoming part of the world of the lavish and beautiful. I'd always loved the city and everything about it and I wanted to become a city girl, myself, but now that I'm here and talking to all of these people, I'm just now realizing how terribly boring it is and how false the happiness that I'd seen growing up here every summer really is. It's as if everyone in that ballroom is the same person and they don't have anything unique to say. I'm tired of talking to this man and that about politics and hunting. They're so boring," Bee ranted blatantly. 

"Then what is it that the lady would like to talk about if not hunting and politics?" 

"I've always loved the arts. I find that there's nothing more romantic than poetry, music, or art. Philosophy is rather fascinating, as well." 

"For her this rhyme is penned, whose luminous eyes, brightly expressive as the twins of Leda, shall find her own sweet name, that nestling lies upon the page, enwrapped from every reader. Search narrowly the lines! - they hold a treasure divine- a talisman- an amulet that must be worn at heart. Search well the measure- the words- the syllables! Do not forget the trivialest point, or you may lose your labor…" he quoted in an alluring voice and Bee's heart fluttered; finally there was someone interesting to talk to, no matter how mysterious he was. Beatrice loved Edgar Allan Poe's work and this man knew it from memory. 

"You know Poe," Bee breathed. 

"Indeed, as do you, I presume," he smiled behind his mask. 

"I love Poe's work! Many people think he's mad, but I think he's bloody brilliant!" The man chuckled at Bee's choice of words and she blushed in utter embarrassment. "My apologies. That was rather rude and unladylike of me. I'm not sure what came over me. I was just overcome with excitement and?" 

"Please, don't apologize. I thought it was quite adorable. It's cute, how childish and brazen it was of you to say it. Please, don't be so reserved and proper around me. It's much too formal and boring for my liking, and it regrettably detracts from our meeting. Is this night not supposed to be a joyous one of fun and entertainment? To me, fun and reserve are mutually exclusive," the man smiled, cutting her off. Bee smiled back with a slight blush rising to her cheeks, flattered and thankful for the change in atmosphere in comparison to the stuffiness of the ballroom. 

The night continued with more recitation of poetry and verses and more talk of the latest music and artists, and her heart beat like the wings of a hummingbird the entire time with each new thing that they found they shared in common. Occasionally they'd faintly hear a song that they liked, come to a realization that they'd found yet another thing in common, and dance to the music streaming from the soirée, still chatting as they did, and before the evening was over, Beatrice has fallen madly in love with him. He was so witty, charming and delightful and they had so much in common that it was as if she'd met her Prince Charming, and she was in pure bliss in his company. He didn't ask her about her needlework or cooking or other expected talents, or put her down for her opinions like the philosopher had. He didn't grumble whenever she said a distasteful word or slouch or gesture in an unladylike manner. He didn't even mind when she got excited and childish about a topic. Instead, he seemed to enjoy every conversation and every expression that flashed across her face. As the ball started to wind down and the guests started leaving, the man bowed to Bee and kissed her hand through the mask. 

"Good night, dear lady. If ever there has been a more perfect first meeting, between a man and woman, I can think not of one." 

"Good night, kind sir. It's been such a pleasure to have been in your company this evening," she smiled. 

"But the pleasure has been all mine." 

Bee couldn't see, but she felt a kindness and warmth emanating from him as if he'd smiled back, as he had, before he'd turned to leave. 

"Wait! When will I see you again? My auntie's manor is on Baker Street… Won't you come visit me again soon?" she blushed, girlishly. 

"I will visit very soon. So soon that you will not have had time to miss me," he replied with a hidden smile and her own smile was uncontainable. "Adieu, m'lady." 

"Au revoir, monsieur." 

When Bee returned to the ball, she was greeted by a frantic Auntie who scolded her for disappearing for such a long time, but Bee smiled and assured her that she was quite all right and that no harm had been done. She explained that she'd had a wonderful time and after a moment of intense scrutiny of her facial expression, Auntie couldn't help but to smile slightly and sigh in defeat. 

"You about gave me a heart attack, Bee, but I'm glad you had fun. Come now. The carriage is waiting for us." 

Bee's excitement for her next meeting with the masked man was irrepressible and she was as giddy as a school girl. Auntie and Tillie thought that she was simply excited for the next party because she'd enjoyed the ball the night before, but they didn't know the half of it. She wanted to see her mystifying Prince Charming again and no matter how fast the clock seemed to tick, it wasn't fast enough for her. She wondered if when he visited her, she'd get to see his face, and if she did, if she'd recognize him. She wondered if he did expose himself to her, what he'd look like. Would he have perfect, straight, white teeth? Would his lips be full and as soft as pillows? Would he have facial hair, or would his face be boyish and clean shaven? She wondered when he would visit and if Auntie or Tillie would approve of him or not. She wondered if he'd be dressed in his fancy coattails and top hat again or if he'd be wearing something else. 

It was late in the evening when he finally did show up for a visit. Tillie and Auntie had long retired to bed, and Beatrice had been sitting in the garden, enjoying the warm spring evening, sweet smell of daffodils, and silver light of the moon and stars in her evening gown and overcoat. The man came strolling over from the rear of the manor and Beatrice was disappointed to see that he was still wearing his mask, but glad to see him none the less. 

"Good evening, sir. It's a bit late for a visit, don't you think?" she inquired. 

"Is it too late? I could come back at an earlier, more appropriate time tomorrow evening, if you'd like," the man said in earnest, pausing his advance toward her. 

"No, I don't mind. I've come to enjoy the late evening. It has a mystery about it that reminds me of someone," Bee smiled, scooting over on the bench and offering him a seat. 

"It is stunning, isn't it?" he inquired airily as he accepted the seat and stared up at the moon. "Do you stargaze quite often?" 

"I do. I grew up in the Cotswolds, so I'd often sit out in the grass and stare up at the stars and moon. It's harder to do the same here in London. The streetlamps overpower the stars until you can hardly see them… It's sad, really. They're so pretty." 

"Indeed… If you don't mind me asking, Miss, what brings you to London? You seem to miss your home quite a bit." 

"My mum and dad sent me here to find a husband. They said they'd taught me all they could and they thought that staying out in the country wouldn't do me any good, so they sent me here to live with my auntie so she could help me find a husband to take care of and start a family with." 

"And is that really what you want? To find a husband and have children and that's all?" 

Bee turned her gaze from the moon to the man and stared into the intense hazel eyes that were the only visible things behind the mask. She searched for something in them, unsure of exactly what it was that she was searching for, and they stared back at her with sincerity and worry, patiently awaiting her answer. Her heart ached warmly at how easily those eyes had seen through her to the very core of her being. How had he been able to tell that she was dissatisfied with the life she'd been so longing to join? 

"… No… It's not…" 

"I didn't think so…" the man said with a sad, knowing smile, as if he was hiding something from her. "Have you read any interesting texts lately?" 

Beatrice was puzzled, but quickly realized that he'd asked her a question that he was expecting an answer to, and gave him an answer. They talked, uninterrupted for hours and when Beatrice started yawning, the man smiled his hidden smile and apologized for having kept her from bed. She informed him of the ball that Auntie was having in a week's time, asking him to go, and they bid each other a good night and sweet dreams. 

The week until the ball seemed to drag for Beatrice, but when the day arrived and all of the preparations were done, her excitement to see the masked man was renewed and came in torrents. The ballroom, with its polished alabaster floors, hanging glass chandelier, hand carved floor molds, and hand painted murals of heavenly cherubims and angels was the perfect place, Beatrice thought, to finally see the masked man's face. It was a perfectly beautiful background for what was bound to be a perfectly beautiful face. She was sure that he was finally going to expose himself to her and she made sure to dress even more elaborately than she had at the last ball he'd seen her at so that he'd be taken by her loveliness and want to kiss her. 

Beatrice was dressed in lavender and her hair was curled and remained down but it was decorated with elaborately jeweled pins and combs. Butlers and maids waited against the walls with trays of champagne, tarts, treats, and other delectable confections and Beatrice waited squarely in front of the doors to greet the guests that were soon to come. Guests started arriving and she kept her eyes peeled for the masked man, or who might be the masked man if he wasn't wearing his mask. She greeted people from the last ball with wry smiles and fake compliments, going back on her dislike of lying, but her mind was on more important matters. When the rush of visitors slowed, her heart plummeted. There hadn't been a single person to greet her as the masked man would have, so she knew he wasn't there despite his telling her that he would be at their last meeting the week prior. She felt rejected and stood up for the first time in her life and it was heartbreaking. Bee didn't see him anywhere, so she put on the best smile she could manage and decided to hide her sorrow by appearing to be happy as she mingled with the ball-goers. When their boring stuffiness became too much to bear again, she walked out to the garden and flopped in a very unladylike manner onto the bench in utter defeat. 

"What was I thinking? Of course he wouldn't show up. It was all just too good to be true. Mysterious men don't get attached to one place, or even one person. It would risk the exposure of who they are. I was a fool to think that I could be an exception," Bee whined, trying her very best not to cry and failing miserably. 

The masked man came from behind the manor, as he had the last night they'd met and was disturbed to see Bee so distressed. It hurt his heart to see her so upset. 

"My dear lady, tears don't suit your lovely face. What is it that upsets you so?" 

The familiarity of the voice set Bee's heart aflutter and she shot around to see if it was really his. The masked man stood before her and her heart was filled to bursting with the sight of him. Bee ran into his arms shamelessly and the man was shocked at first, but he smiled and chuckled at her brazen childish behavior. He stroked her hair lovingly, hugging her back. 

"I thought you wouldn't show! I thought you'd left, never to come back so as to play a cruel joke on me, or that you'd grown tired of me and never wanted to see me again!" she bawled. 

"Ssh… I'm here now. All is well, darling. I would never do something so cruel to you. You are much too fragile for that."

"I am not fragile! I just like to know what to expect, and I can't be sure of even that with you! And you have done something so cruel! I'm such a fool for thinking that you actually care for me! I'm such a fool for caring for you so much! If you really cared for me, you wouldn't wait weeks to see me, and you wouldn't hide your face from me." 

He was slightly taken aback by her brazen statements, but dried her tears and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear, following her jaw and letting his fingertips linger on her chin. He stared into her eyes and saw a fire in them that he hadn't noticed before. His heart wrenched at how much he was upsetting her just by associating with her. Had he really been so naïve not to notice? His thumb gently traced her plump lips and she took his hand in hers realizing that she was being unfair to him. How was he to know that his extended absences upset her? She felt like she was swept away on a cloud of bliss by a total stranger, but she didn't care how foolish it may have been. She loved him. He'd been the only person that allowed her to be herself without getting upset about it. He respected and cared for her. She knew he did, even if he didn't always show it how she would have liked him to. She wasn't sure if he loved her, but she didn't care. He cared enough not to intentionally hurt her, and that was enough for her, even if that was all that he felt toward her. 

"Why do you wear a mask? Won't you show me who you really are?" Bee asked, reaching to remove the mask. 

She was quickly but gently halted as he took her hands in his and brought them down to his chest level. "I'm afraid I can't do that. Behind this mask is the face of a monster. A face is only another mask that people wear, so I see no difference in my having a mask or not." 

"If you see no difference in wearing a mask or not, why wear one?" 

"Please, m'lady. I'm not worth the effort." 

"Why not? I've been dying to know the face of the man I've fallen in love with. Am I not worthy enough to see your face?" 

"Don't say such ridiculous things, love. It's me who is not worthy enough of being known." 

"Bullocks. I love you. Is that not reason enough for me to know who you are?" 

"It is. It's reason enough for you to know that I'm a monster, a horrible person. I've done terrible things that I'm not proud of." 

"I don't believe you. You're the perfect man in every way, shape, and form. You couldn't possibly be a monster. It's complete rubbish." 

"You're wrong. Innocent people have died because of me." 

"Innocent people have died because of kings and queens, as well, but they're not monsters or horrid people. I don't care. There is nothing you can say that will make me love you any less or make me want to know who you are any less than I want to know now." 

"It's not my goal to make you love me less. I'd rather that not happen at all. My goal is to beg you not to pry into things that shouldn't concern you. If you love me, as you say and I believe you do, then love the idea of who I am rather than the reality of who I am. The both of us will be much happier if you do, I swear. Please trust me on this, love," he pleaded, trying to sway her. 

"You won't even tell me your name?" Bee implored. 

"My name, my face, my entire being is of unimportance. Is it not enough to love the idea of me?" 

"For now…but I will want to know one day."

"As is expected…" he sadly smiled behind the still safely secured mask, knowing that he'd gotten himself into a difficult situation. 

They waltzed to the music, wrapped tightly in each other's arms, dropping the subject. Bee's mind raced with hundreds of unanswered questions. She wondered if her love for him would change if she knew who he really was, and if it did, would it be for the better or worse? Why did he see himself as a monster? Had he really done something so terrible? How would it affect her if he was telling the truth? The man's mind was racing as well. Would it be wise of him to continue to be involved with her? If he stayed any longer, would it be that much harder for her when he did leave? Could he bear to break her heart, even if it were for the better for the both of them? How would leaving her affect him? Had he gotten himself too attached? 

As the night drew to a close, he came to a conclusion and seemed defeated and helpless as if what he was about to say would be heartbreaking for both of them. Bee's heart dropped as he asked her to sit beside him on the bench. She stared at him worriedly, feeling his tension and was unsure of what was going to happen. 

"What is it, darling?" she questioned fearfully. 

"I'm leaving London tonight… I wish I could take you with me. We could be together in a beautiful, blissful, eternal night? just the two of us…" he replied, holding her hands tightly in his.

"Then take me with you. Make me your wife. It's what I've been taught to become. I'd be a good wife to you, wouldn't I?" Beatrice pleaded pitifully. 

"You would, love. There's absolutely no doubt about that… but I can't. My world is no place for an amazing woman like you. It's much too dark and dangerous. Thank you for bringing light into my life when I felt as though I'd be lost to the darkness forever… but I'm afraid that I must let you go... It's for the better for the both of us if we stop now… I, too, have fallen in love, but it's a love that was not meant to be… It has never been my intention to hurt you, and it never will be again, but I must just this once… Please forgive me…" 

He let her hands go and before she could react or protest he disappeared into the night as swiftly as he'd come. Beatrice was at a loss for words. Her mind didn't make coherent thoughts. Nothing made sense. It was if someone had reached into her chest, taken hold of her heart, and crushed it into a million tiny pieces. When her mind had processed what had just happened and realization hit her, it was like an explosion? sudden and violent. She never cried so much in her life. When Tillie found her, she was still on the bench in the garden. She looked as if she hadn't slept in years with how red and swollen her eyes were from crying and she wouldn't talk to anyone when they asked her questions. It was as if her voice and happiness had gone away with him. 

He never did say where he was going or why he had to leave, but he was gone. She eagerly awaited his return in silence, escaping the ever watchful eyes of Tillie and Auntie to sit in the garden, waiting for him every now and then. 

Hours… 

Days… 

Weeks… 

Months… 

A year, two years went by without a sign or trace of him. 

Beatrice had asked around for him once she'd regained her voice, but when she talked to people that had been at the balls, nobody had ever seen a masked man in a top hat and tuxedo. When she insisted that he'd been there, people thought her mad. They thought that her overactive, childlike imagination had conjured him up and that he'd never existed in the first place. At one point, they thought she'd gotten so bad that they debated putting her in an institution. But she knew that he'd been there. She'd felt his warm arms around her and his slow, steady heartbeat. He had been real, whether others saw him or not. Bee knew that he'd been real. She couldn't think up anything as perfect as he'd been, so he must have been real. Eventually she'd given up on trying to find him, though never forgetting how he'd known her like nobody else ever had, or the nights they'd shared, dancing and chatting under the moon and stars. 

Beatrice moved on in her life. She apologized to her auntie and mother for her actions. She said that she was being childish and that it wouldn't happen again. She apologized to the ball- goers and everyone else in the world. Her reputation was ruined, and the only way Bee could make up for the wasted time and money that Auntie and Charlotte had spent was by apologizing to the lot of the boring old fools that could have been her husband to get in good favor with them again. One of them proposed after some time of compensation for her distasteful actions and she was married. She started a family with him and tried her hardest to be a good wife and mother, but she always hoped that the masked man would return. 

Deep in her heart, Bee prayed that he would remember her the way she had been those wonderful nights long ago. She prayed that he would come back to whisk her away with him to wherever he'd gone? to take her away from her boring, mundane everyday life… but he never did. 

Beatrice never saw the masked man again. She'd never known his name or where he'd come from. She'd never known whether or not he'd had any siblings or what his status was, or if he'd been married or not. She'd never even gotten the chance to see his face… but she loved him. She knew she did… and she knew that no matter what, she always would because she realized in the end that it wasn't the man that she'd loved so much… but the idea of him.