My heart keeps pace with the chaotic heavy metal playing in the cab. “Would you please turn that down?” I say, running a finger over the black glitter of my mask. The lace of it tickles me with every move I make.
“Sure thing, lady. What are you headed to anyway? It’s a little early for trick-or-treating, isn’t it?”
I can’t help but smile. How had I let myself get talked into this? “I’m not trick-or-treating. I’m going on a date.”
His eyes widen as he laughs. “Is the guy not supposed to be able to pick you out of the lineup?”
“You ask a lot of questions.” I smooth the black velvet of my dress, praying the v-neck isn’t as revealing from other viewpoints as it is from mine.
“Curiosity comes with the job.”
After a moment the cab slows to a crawl.
“It’s the mayor’s party for his little princess.” The cab driver says with a growl. “What does the rest of the city matter when it’s not election season?”
“Tilly is a lot of things,” I say, “but a little princess isn’t one of them.”
“You know the mayor’s daughter?”
“I hope so,” I read the meter and pull the money from my purse. “She did invite me to her party.” I long for the wrap I chose not to bring, the fingers of autumn running through my hair as a full moon floats above me. I slip into the sea of masked guests and make my way into the towering art museum.
“Miranda!” Tilly grins behind her golden lace mask, wrapping her arms around me and bouncing as she yells over electric dance music. “You’re late!”
“You’re lucky I’m here at all,” I say, winking.
She pulls back and holds my hands out to both sides. “I’m so glad you wore what I bought you. He is going to fall in love the second he sees you.”
“Tilly, when will this matchmaking end?”
“When,” she says, looping her arm through mine, “your Facebook status stops reading single.”
“I can change it from my phone right now, if you like, no date needed.”
She rolls her eyes. “He’s here already.”
“Will you at least tell me his name?”
She shakes her head and nudges me onto the dance floor. “I just saw him go into the garden. Go see if you can find him.”
I take a few steps into the throbbing mass of dancers, wait for a breath, and turn around, running directly into Tilly.
“Nice try.” She says, spinning me toward the door. “This is my party and you’ll date someone if I say I want you to.”
I look at her and curtsy. “Yes, your majesty.”
When I step into the deserted garden the immediate downshift in volume leaves my ears ringing in the silence.
I jump, losing my balance and falling into a flower pot.
“I’m sorry.” A man says, his teeth glistening in the moonlight.
I take his outstretched hand and goosebumps crawl up my arm.
“Are you okay?”
I clear my throat, nodding, thankful for my mask as heat radiates in my cheeks.
“I was going to say it’s annoyingly noisy in there isn’t it?”
“What did you say?” My voice comes out in a squeak.
I laugh and he closes his mouth.
“Are you my blind date?”
“If you’re Tilly’s one “amazing” girl friend, then yes, I am. You have a very unusual voice, no offense.”
“I’m not using my real voice, yet. For all I know you could be a crazy person.” A smile tugs at my mouth, but I fight not to give in. He seems to be doing likewise. I tilt my head, trying to see the four quarters of the face hidden behind his mask. “Do I know you?”
He shrugs. “Have you lived here long?”
“I just moved back.”
“I hate this stupid mask,” he says. “Tilly chose it. You won’t rat me out if I take it off, will you?”
“Of course I will.”
He blinks at me, his hand hovering by the white plastic. “Fine. I’m surprised you aren’t itching to take yours off. It’s bigger than mine.”
“Well, what Tilly wants for her birthday, she gets.” I slowly walk away and he follows.
“How did you meet her?”
“Church. Her uncle is the pastor where I go.”
As we walk, it stops feeling so cold. “I grew up listening to him preach. So maybe we’ve met.”
“Doubtful. I’ve only been going there for a year. Why are you single?”
“Excuse me?” I laugh.
“Well—” he choughs, “sorry, I’m getting over a cold. Unless that mask is hiding some extreme deformity, there must be some reason you’re single that I can’t see.”
“Oh.” I cross my arms. “So if a woman doesn’t live up to what you think she should look like, then that must be why she’s single?”
“No!” He raises his hands, laughing. “You sound like my ex—that came out wrong.”
He rubs his neck. “Let me start over. Why have you chosen not to date anyone?”
I wrap my hands in the skirt of my dress. “I haven’t wanted to. What about you?”
“My heart is—was—is still wrapped up in someone.”
“Not so sure about that, are you?”
He shrugs. “Everyone keeps saying I need to move on.”
“I’m beginning to see why Tilly set us up. Two diehard romantics.”
“What’s your story?”
“Fell in love, but with someone who didn’t know how to love me back. Why aren’t you with your girl?”
“She decided she didn’t want anything to do with me anymore.”
He nods. “Why aren’t you with your guy?”
I watch my skirt as I kick it out with each step. “He wanted to change me into who he thought I should be.”
“You did the right thing by leaving him, then.”
“Thanks.” I nudge him with my arm. “Maybe if we talk out here for a while longer, Tilly will be satisfied and not try to set us up with anyone again.”
We both laugh.
“I guess that’s what I get for an online romance,” I sigh.
“You met that guy online?”
“Don’t sound so shocked.” I say. “It’s not unusual.”
“Sorry, couldn’t pass it up, I met my girl online and that’s the reaction people always give me.”
“Did you ever meet her in person?”
He shoves his hands into his pockets. “That’s not something I can admit without looking like a complete idiot.”
“So, you didn’t.” I giggle.
“Hey! No fair judging.”
“I’m not. It’s just nice to know I’m not the only person who fell in love with a virtual stranger. I mean we had video chatted and talked on the phone, but hadn’t ever actually met.”
“I don’t think a person is a stranger if you’ve gotten to know their heart, but not their hand. It’s what’s inside you’re supposed to fall in love with, not what’s on the outside—”
“And yet you thought I must be deformed if I’m single.”
“Not what I meant—”
“And we were both betrayed by online loves.” I pause when he stops walking.
“Okay, seriously, is that your real voice?”
I smile and put one foot in front of the other. “When you have earned my trust, you will hear my voice.”
“That guy really damaged you, didn’t he?”
“Not anymore than that girl damaged you.”
“Seriously?” Tilly says, jumping from the shadows. “Ya’ll are just talking about your loser ex’s? You two are perfect for each other.” Folding her arms, she huffs and goes back inside.
His eyes widen. “Was she there the whole time?”
“I think so.” Sighing, I fold my arms. “Maybe she’s right.”
He gulps. “We’re prefect for each other?”
“Maybe, maybe not,” I smile, “but we have spent too much time talking about them.” I reach out my hand. “No more talking about ex’s, deal?” His fingers are warm as they wrap around mine.
“Deal, but only if we can take these cruddy masks off, and you use your real voice.”
“In three,” I grip the mask, “two,” and I clear my throat. On one I see his face and suddenly the online love who had hunted my dreams is standing in front of me, his mouth hanging open wider than mine as he holds onto my hand.
Thank you so much for reading! I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this story. Have a question you’d like to “ask” Miranda? Leave it in a comment below and I’ll be sure to include it in my next character interview.