For reasons I’m not even prepared to articulate.
The Masquerade is held at the renown Northam Museum of Contemporary Art. The large building sits on an uphill only a few streets away from Northam Park. Gothic in design with as many stone facades as columns, the museum is the perfect setting for such a high-brow occasion.
I arrive in the backseat of the car Medjine has arranged. My driver opens the door and steps aside, allowing me room to slide out.
In an unfathomable, warped sort of way, I feel like dark Cinderella arriving to the twisted ball.
NorthamNeptune promised he’d be in attendance tonight. He swore his next exposé would be tonight. We’d meet face-to-face.
Ironic it would be at an event where you’re supposed to keep your face hidden behind a mask.
I reach up and trace my fingers along the lace detailing of my mask, ensuring it’s properly in place. Tiny crystals are intricately sewn into the delicate fabric, outlining the shape of my eyes and upper half of my face.
My natural curls only further accentuate the lace mask, paired with my bold red lip.
After an observant pause, I start for the collection of cascading steps. Most in attendance tonight are still arriving. Behind me, their trail of limos line the street while ahead of me, those who are entering do so flaunting their designer threads.
The waitstaff wear a costume of their own—tailored pants and suit jackets with colorful masks that resemble court jesters. They help shepherd the crowd and offer refreshments and hors d’oeuvres.
I graciously accept a glass of champagne with a smile and wander the museum solo. A surreal sense of power washes over me doing so. Instead of worrying about mingling and socializing, I’m making moves on my own terms.
I’m here tonight with one goal and one goal only—finally learn the truth about NorthamNeptune.
Everything else is background noise. I pass through echoing halls and cavernous rooms with high ceilings and whimsical art displays. Though my mask is delicate and covers no more than half my face, I feel like it enables me to hide behind its lace construction, andtrulyobserve.
So many in attendance. Men in their tailored suits and women in their sweeping gowns. All concealing their identity with their mask. Their innermost darkest secrets are trapped on the inside, potentially on the verge of being exposed if NorthamNeptune has his way.
Soon I’ll find out for certain. The Masquerade has officially started.
I turn away from the light display I’m admiring, though the voice is recognizable enough.
“Garrett,” I say. My most polite, well-practiced smile touches my lips. The same smile I use in therapy. “I shouldn’t even be surprised to run into you tonight.”
His mask is a gold metal plate that seems luxurious and god-like. I’d expect nothing less. He lets his light brown eyes rove over me, his brows ticking upward.
“You look amazing,” he says.
“Thanks. But your mask just might win the night.”
“Are you here alone?”
“I’m doing my own thing. It’s nice seeing you.” I move to make my escape, but he steps in my path.
“We should go somewhere and talk. It’s been too long. Things ended so quickly. We never had a chance to talk about what happened.”
The politeness vanishes from my expression. “That’s because you broke up with me over the phone. When I went home that night, all of your things were gone. I never saw you again.”
“I admit I didn’t handle it like I should have. I was a coward. I’ve had time to think about it and realize I might have made a mistake.”
You mean like take the million dollars that was offered to you?
“It’s okay, Garrett,” I say. “You did me a favor. We couldn’t have been more wrong for each other. Please step out of my way.”
Or I’ll gladly knee you in the groin…
Garrett blinks, likely confused by my non-reaction. He complies, moving to the side to let me pass by. I leave him where he is with the distinct and sudden feeling I’m being watched.