Masquerade! Grinning yellows, spinning reds
Masquerade! Take your fill, let the spectacle astound you
Masquerade! Burning glances, turning heads
Masquerade! Stop and stare at the sea of smiles around you
Masquerade! Seething shadows breathing lies
Masquerade! You can fool any friend who ever knew you
Masquerade! Leering satyrs, peering eyes
Masquerade! Run and hide, but a face will still pursue you.
Exert from Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart
Jizabel's breathing was heavy and sweat was dripping down his face as he ran on. The summer nights seemed almost as warm as the days, except much more humid. The humidity left him gasping for air, but as always, the next sight he saw took away his breath better than if he had been punched in the diaphragm.
Sitting on the edge of the nostalgic pond was the angel of his memories. Noriko appeared almost ghost-like, in the pale moonlight. This time, her hair was not in tangles, but a high pony-tail with just a few delicate curls hanging around her face. The pond rippled out around her petite feet, and her dress flowed out around her as she lowered herself into the water. She twirled around with a sad smile on her face, as the water moved in sync with her. Once again, Jizabel sneaked down to the falls and stared in dumbfounded admiration. This time he did not sneak up on the angel. She twirled around and smiled weakly at him.
“Jizabel, do you remember the day I almost drowned here?”
“How could I forget? My mom had to take a week off work to care for you...”
It was fairly warm considering the time of year. The grass had begun to peek out from underneath it's shining blanket of white. I had run down to the little pond in hopes of seeing the boy again. He did tell me where his house was, but I was much too shy to approach the cute little cabin in my shabby dress. I had walked into town to see if anyone would spare a slice of bread and instead had gotten jumped by a boy my age, so I was even dirtier than usual. The pond was frozen over, but what did that matter to me: the lonesome sheep who's flock died long ago leaving her cold and hungry. I walked over to the edge and peered at the cloudy film covering the water. I gasped and let out a pitiful shriek as I slipped on the muddy banks of my memory. With a loud crack the ice broke and in I went to the black abyss. The pond was much deeper than the trees had given away and I felt myself losing consciousness in the ice cold depths. When I awoke, I was in what is now my very own home: the house that seemed too perfect for me. Jizabel was hovering over me with a frantic expression adorning his sweet child-like face, and I could hear a woman's voice telling him to give me space. I was trying my hardest to sit up, with much wasted efforts, when a face I could only dream of walked over. She was my ideal visual of a mother: kind green eyes, and long blond hair pulled back into a loose bun. She wore an apron over a light green dress, which she wiped her hands on before checking my temperature.
“Oh good! Your temperature is returning to normal. What on Earth were you doing down there in this weather?! And without a coat...! You're lucky Bell found you, or you would have either drowned or died of hypothermia!”
“Yeah...I was walking around the edge of the forest when I heard you scream. I ran in, and it was so pretty! There was steam everywhere and the mud in the pond was swirling around like water with mother's paint being poured into it! I was almost caught up in the beauty of it until I saw your hair under the surface and remembered why I came.” Jizabel blushed.
“Our little boy carried you back here all by himself, you know?” A man with short brown hair and ice blue eyes appeared behind his wife, putting a hand on her shoulder as he spoke. He had a stern jaw and was well built.
“Sweetie, where do you live? Your parents must be worried sick...” Jizabel's mother smiled kindly at me.
“Oh...uh...I don't have any...” I looked down at my hands as I picked at a hole in my dress.
“Oh dear...” Mrs. Yagami turned to her husband with pleading eyes, and the two of them whispered amongst themselves for a moment, “Sweetheart, why don't you stay here, with us for a while?”
Noriko and Jizabel stared off into the water for a few long moments, reminiscing. Jizabel glanced at Nori to see her silently sobbing and waded over to her; The two of them sat on the edge, Jizabel with his arms around her, resting his chin on top of her head. The tears streaming down their cheeks mingled with the pond water, tears for the loss of not only Jizabel's parents, but for their childhood as well.
After they pulled themselves together, they headed back to the house, to put on their act once more.
The week past by in drone-like normality. It was Saturday, the day of the masquerade. Noriko awoke dreading the day to come. She clambered out of bed and threw her hair back into a loose pony-tail, before stumbling into the kitchen.
“Jizabel...” She yawned, “Why aren't the kids up yet?” Jizabel was readying the fire. He smiled lovingly, “I figured I'd let them sleep in. It's a beautiful morning isn't it?” He was right. The sun was just beginning to make it's appearance in the sky, adorning it with stunning pastel shades of pink, blue, yellow, and orange.
“Mmhm. What's for breakfast?”
“Well, I figured I'd fry up some eggs and toast some of the bread.” Jizabel set to work at his task, while Noriko thought gloomily about the Masquerade.
They ate their breakfast in silence. Jizabel glanced over at Noriko occasionally; and almost confessed to buying her the dress and mask when he saw the sad, distant expression she wore. Finally, she left for work.
The diner was busy that day, as it always was on Saturday. It was so busy in fact, that Noriko had completely forgotten about the dance by the time she got home.
She slumped into the house as usual and glanced around. She had to work late on Saturdays, and since her decrease in pay, she took on a third shift. She had already done her usual two shifts and had been allowed to go home for dinner; she was expected to be back at the house by the time the sun had set. Normally Jizabel would be fixing up dinner and the children would be off playing at this time of day. It was only Noriko's exhaustion that kept her oblivious. She sat down into one of the kitchen chairs and glanced around.
“Jizabel...?” She called nervously. The bedroom door opened and out walked Jizabel in a black suit with his hair pulled back into a low pony-tail. A few strands of hair fell loose around the mask he wore. It looked like bat wings had been sown together and turned into a mask; except that the wings were red with orange highlights. Around the eyes there was a yellow fluff that made the mask appear even more like flames. Noriko's jaw dropped.
“I saw this flier,” He held up the flier Nori left on her floor, “and I figured it would be fun to go somewhere together. You've been working so hard, I thought I should do something for you. You see...my parents left me some money, it's not much but...it was enough to get you this...” He smiled at the look on Noriko's face as he held up a dazzling green dress. It appeared to be form-fitting until about the waist-line, where the off-white frills shot out into a bell shape. The sleeves were about elbow-length and ended with more of the off-white lace. To go with the dress Jizabel held a mask that, like his own, were wings. Instead of seeming demonic like the Fire Bat, Noriko's mask looked more angelic. Jizabel's was made of leather, while Noriko's was made of genuine white dove feathers. Both seemed to be hand-made.
“Jizabel...Oh Bell, are these hand-made?!” Jizabel nodded, “Bell...they must have cost so much!” Noriko gasped and gawked for another minute or so before finally throwing her arms around Jizabel.
“Thank you so much Jizabeeel!!!!!” Noriko squealed and hugged him tighter. Jizabel laughed and held her for a minute.
“Nori, you deserve a better life than this-”Noriko opened her mouth to speak, but he cut her off, “-I know you would hate me 'till the day I die if I forced you to into one, so I figured I would just make this one a bit better.” He smiled and held her closer.
After a few minutes they broke apart and Noriko went to the bedroom to change for the Masquerade. She stood staring at herself in the mirror. Her hair was pulled up into a loose bun, a few curls hanging down around her face and neck. The emerald green in the dress complimented her auburn curls nicely. She took out an impressive silver chain that glittered in the lamplight. It had belonged to her great-grandmother, the only thing her parents had left her with the day they died. She couldn't remember her family, and the locals couldn't tell her a thing. She had been wandering, sad and alone, for as long as she could remember. It was Jizabel who had given her a life then, and it was Jizabel who had made her dreams come true now. Deep down, Noriko felt bad for not being able to make his dreams come true, not that she even knew what they were. She buried that thought away, for tonight was her dream come to life. Tonight was her Masquerade!
Jizabel led her by the arm to the doors of the Valvoja Linna, the palace of sorts, where the masquerade was to be held. The doors themselves were enough to make any commoner feel tiny and unwelcome. Noriko's heart fluttered like a wild bird in her chest. The doors to the Valvoja Linna seemed as if they could reach the heavens. Jizabel smiled under his mask and opened the doors with as much bravery as if he owned them.
A thousand different sounds hit them at once: Laughter, music, chatter, and the clinking of glasses. Then the scents: heavy floral perfumes, tiger lilies to match those in her kitchen, and the aroma of foods like she had never experienced before wafted towards her. Finally Noriko took in the sights. Oh what a sight it was to a poor peasant girl. The lights were the first visual to catch her attention; golden lights that made the room glisten as if it were a palace made of pure silver and gold. There were thousands of people dancing and mingling with friends, or were they strangers? It was always hard to tell at a masquerade.
Jizabel took her hand and led her inside, where the music almost overwhelmed her. This was her first time hearing music performed by professionals, she had almost begun to think that the only music that existed was Jizabel's shower-singing. Noriko's heart began to swell and she could have cried from joy.
“Oh Jizabel this is...this is...amazing...!” she blushed and gratefully accepted a cocktail from one of the servers, “It's so strange being served...Oh! Jizabel what about my next shift?! I'll get fired for sure!” Jizabel laughed at the frantic expression she wore, “Nori relax already. I already took care of it. And before you ask,” he once again stopped her from forming a sentence, “I have a friend watching the kids.”
“You have friends?” Noriko joked with him, finally able to relax. They both laughed and ran off to join the dancers.
Hours later when they were sweating and exhausted from the non-stop dancing, the announcer came to the stage.
“Excuse me Ladies and Gentlemen! The masquerade will end in approximately one hour!”
Nori pouted playfully causing Jizabel to laugh, and they jogged over to the refreshment table. They each grabbed a drink and then walked out back to the courtyard. It had gotten sufficently cooler while they were dancing, but it wasn't too bad. The yard was lit with shining candles and warm torches that flickered in the light evening breeze. Noriko gasped when she spotted a small wooden bench under a flowering “weeping willow” tree. Jizabel led her towards it and helped her to the seat.
“Beautiful night isn't it? Just like the day it followed...” he glanced around at the sky. Noriko smiled and nodded. A few moments passed of wonderful silence. Nori sipped her drink and her smile was gone.
“Jizabel...You kept going off to talk to the guards...Was something the matter?” Jizabel was caught by suprise and took a moment to answer, “I...I didn't realize you saw. Well, no there wasn't really an issue...”
“I figured there wasn't one. You seemed too happy to have been discussing a problem...”
“Well...Nori they're old friends...”
“Funny that I've never met them...Jizabel--” Noriko's words were muffled by a gentle kiss on the lips from Jizabel. She turned beet red.
“Don't worry about it,” he smiled gently, “I think I should tell you something I have been hiding for quite some time now...” Nori was too shocked by the kiss to say anything as Jizabel stood up and began to pace in front of her, “I...Well...I really don't want to lose you as a friend, so if you don't feel the same then just forget I said a thing, but—” mimicking Jizabel, Nori cut him off with a kiss. Jizabel held her close and they laughed quietly.
“'The perfect ending to a perfect night', huh?” Jizabel grinned as he put his arm around his radiant girlfriend; and they walked back into the Linna feeling giddy and lighter-than-air.