Home > Come As You Are(7)

Come As You Are(7)
Author: Lauren Blakely

“Happy to help . . . you.”

I swear she nearly added someone in need, and I bristle. Do I look that needy? I’m not starving. Yet.

But hey, I’ll chalk this up as a victory since I don’t need to shell out three bucks for an old game. Take that, universe. My dress can’t be cursed, because how else can you explain why I’m now thanking the saleswoman and leaving the Salvation Army with not one but two free Monopoly boxes in the canvas bag on my shoulder?

As I head home, I wave to the woman who runs the dry cleaner near me, and she smiles back. Passing the florist on the corner, I ask how business is, and he tells me it’s coming up roses. When I turn the corner at the bodega, I nod at the guy who’s rearranging the sandwiches on display in the window. He smiles and mouths, Roast beef today? He winks. I shoot him a dirty look and mouth back, Never roast beef.

I’ve lived in New York City my entire life. I grew up in Queens and commuted to Manhattan for college, attending NYU on a patchwork quilt of cobbled-together scholarships. I can’t imagine living in any other city. This place, despite all its issues and price tags, is my home.

I want to stay here, but I don’t know how long I can last, even given my unusual living situation. I’m damn grateful for my crazy cousin, Daisy, who’s generous and well-off enough to let me live in her rent-controlled apartment while she gallivants around Europe.

Her place makes it possible for me to pay other bills. Bills my mother won’t pay since she’s too busy wasting her own money. Bills like the ones needed for my little brother to go to divinity school. Kevin is brilliant and determined, and he wants to do good in the world and become a pastor. I’ve taken care of him since we were younger, reading him Percy Jackson and Harry Potter in grade school, tucking him in at night when he was in middle school, helping him with math in high school, and making sure he got into college, since Mom did such a crap job of everything, especially mothering. That’s why I petitioned to and became his legal guardian when my mom left. He’s more than my brother. He’s mine to look out for, and I want Kevin to succeed more than anything. I understand where his drive for ethics, and right and wrong, and compassion comes from.

I send him a quick text.

Sabrina: Is your nose in Spinoza and stuff? :)

Kevin: No, it’s in classical theories of religion. Geez. Can’t you remember my schedule? Also, I’m in the library right now, studying.

Sabrina: Prove it. Send me a picture.

Five seconds later, a close-up of his big blue eyes and floppy blond hair in front of shelves of tomes pops onto my screen.

Kevin: You should have been a lawyer. Always asking for proof. It’s impressive.

Sabrina: It’s called being skeptical, even of my favorite person.

I add a zebra for no other reason than I like emoticons of animals.

I bound up the steps that lead into my building in the East Village as my phone rings. I gasp quietly at the caller ID. It’s the main line for Up Next, the most prestigious magazine in the country. I submitted my best articles there the second I was canned.

I answer with the speed of light. “This is Sabrina Granger.”

A deep male voice barks at me. “Bob Galloway here.”

I gulp. The Bob Galloway? He’s the top editor at the magazine. “Hello, Mr. Galloway.”

“I’m calling because I read your clips and we might have a story for you.”

I nearly break into a tap dance, and I don’t even know how to tap-dance. “You do?”

“I wanted to see what your availability is in the coming week. We’re looking for someone who knows business and knows how to write a goddamn feature. Seems damn impossible these days for those skills to reside in the same person, but you appear to be able to both write and make sense of a P and L sheet.”

“Yes, I’m absolutely available,” I say, loving that he already knows what I’m good at.

“Great. Let me finalize some details. I’ll be back in touch later tonight. If you don’t answer, I’ll assign it to someone else.”

Damn. He works round the clock, and he’s tough as nails. Works for me.

“My phone is literally glued to my hand.” I cringe at my incorrect usage and quickly correct. “Well, not literally, of course. But I’ll be a quick draw.”

He manages a small laugh. “Good to hear. But keep the other hand ready to write with.”

“Yes, sir.”

I release a huge, happy breath when he hangs up. Maybe my luck is truly changing. All I have to do is hold on to this phone at the party like my life depends on it.

Because it does.

* * *

An hour later, I finish my costume. I try it on, turn in front of the mirror, and slide on my mask.

It’s perfect. It’s sexy and smart, and I’ve always wanted to wear a mask like this.

Confession—I love masquerade parties.

Addendum—I haven’t been to many masquerade parties.

In my mind, I’ve attended countless soirees and balls. I’ve dressed in elegant gowns, worn satin gloves up to my elbows, and descended grand staircases wearing a butterfly mask or a black satin one with silver and red feathers rising high on the side.

I run my finger along the gold outline of my mask, remembering my fascination with these stories when I was younger. As a girl, I was obsessed with historical romances. I found the tattered old books on my mother’s shelves, and I didn’t know she’d stolen them from the library. Innocent then, I gobbled up her contraband tales, devouring forbidden stories of the most rakish rakes, of the most roguish rogues, of the most devilish dukes who attended such masquerade fetes in hope of seducing the women they’d always had their eyes on.

Naturally, the hero could only seduce her if they were both in disguise, for she was a commoner and he was a titled man who could only be with a lady.

Or something like that.

I give a coy curtsy in the mirror then a shy little smile, pretending I’m the star of the story. All that mattered to me in those tales was that both hero and heroine were in disguise—half masks, eye masks, even full-face masks that could be pushed up at the critical kissing scene. I’d watch their seduction play out on the page. Mistaken identity, playacting, lords in disguise—all of it was so delicious.

Some scenes were chaste, and some were not. A waltz with an unknown lass, a stolen kiss in the hallway, a secret moment—every room was a potential location for a tryst at a masquerade ball, especially the library. If they went to the library, you knew it was going to be oh-so-good.

I flutter my hand over my chest, as the heroine would do.

No matter how far they went, they’d always leave on their masks. Names hardly mattered when you could zero in on his lush, knowing lips.

The mouths of the men in masquerade were made for sin. For making a woman weak in the knees—drunk on a kiss.

I fell for the hero’s charms too. As the heroine swooned, I’d swoon. As the charming duke with raven hair kissed her throat then licked a path to her heaving bosom, my skin flushed hot too. I’d flip dog-eared page after dog-eared page, consumed by the tale, picturing the plunging necklines on the women and the tight breeches on the men that, naturally, barely concealed their manhood.

How I longed to be at such parties.

I turn away from the mirror, heading to my jewelry box on the bureau. I don’t attend many such parties in real life though. Most of the masquerades I’ve gone to over the years have been the standard Halloween variety. The masks the men wore were of gorillas, zombies, or President Nixons.

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