On the night of the charity gala, I called Andrew and told him there had been an unexpected delay, and that I would have to meet him at the party later. As usual he was kindheartedly understanding—my heart even fluttered a teeny bit at the warm, welcoming sound of his voice over the phone as he told me not to worry and to take my time.
As I hung up the phone, I caught a glance of myself in the mirror.
On any regular day, I’m a little bit of a skinny, mousy wallflower type. Sure, I can juggle an appointment book, a Blackberry, a stack of files and folders and a cell phone while typing over a hundred words per minute, and no, I don’t wear glasses or hide my face behind my hair or shrink down into frumpy oversized college sweatshirts… but I’d never really been elegant in any sort of way. I was a beanpole with long legs and a pert, businesslike demeanor, hair in a bun and a smart business suit with a pencil skirt.
In the harlequin costume, I saw a side of myself I’d never seen before. Beneath the dark, gauzy harem pants my long legs were graceful, poised—like a ballerina’s. The alternating panels of satiny black and red created a shapely silhouette, accentuating the smooth hourglass of my figure that was usually lost under my suit jackets and button-up shirts. The tails of the mantle dangled playfully behind my shoulder, bells jingling coyly as I turned side to side, inspecting myself in the reflection.
Suddenly, a rather graphic image flashed in my mind: half-dressed, without the jester’s hood and mask, my short, straight hair hanging unassumingly to my shoulders and no makeup on—I wondered if Andrew would like the sight, if he’d been standing behind me now… if he were watching me take the costume off, instead of putting it on.
I giggled despite myself, and reached for the hood. Tucking my hair under it I pulled it on, attaching it to the mantle with discreet little button-hooks, and taking another moment to assess myself. I normally wore simple nudes and pinks when it came to lip gloss, and rarely any actual lipstick, but for the costume party I’d found myself a dark, wine-colored shade to go with the very courtly colors of my outfit. I applied it in a bit more accentuated style than normal, outlining a coy little pout. I did my eyes in dark, smoky colors, before finally adding the last touch.
The mask I’d chosen was black, embellished with scrolling gold designs and a sequined silver trim. I’d rejected the ones ornamented with feathers and plumes for a simple decoration of wide but delicate gold-and-silver ribbon arranged into a flirty cluster just outside the corner of the right eye. As I put it on, I found myself utterly transformed: there was nothing left of the mousy wallflower in this design. The creature staring back at me was sexy, enigmatic… even a little thrillingly dangerous.
Andrew would never see me coming.
I took a cab across town to the gala. It was worth the double-take I got from the cabbie as I slipped out the door of my apartment building and into the backseat, giving him a pretty little smile but offering no explanation as to my clearly abnormal appearance. It was amazing: behind the mask it didn’t matter what the driver thought of me or the sexy little show I had put on. I was free from the blush that might have risen to my face if I had stepped out of my house in, say, a Wicked Witch’s cloak. Who knew what he thought? He might see me as pretty or pretty crazy… and both gave me an unexpectedly pleasant little thrill of butterflies in the stomach.
The thought even made me laugh a little, quietly behind my hand as I watched his eyes in the rear-view mirror. The bells attached to my jester’s cap tinkled merrily with me.
“Airport Hilton Hotel,” I instructed, offering him no other explanation. He started the cab, staring dutifully forward and occasionally sneaking puzzled glances at me when he could.
“You going to some sorta costume ball?” he finally said. I only smiled at him, trying again to hide the giggle that rose in my chest.
Perhaps I was trying to protect the costume’s beautiful satin with instinctive caution, but I even seemed to be moving with a new level of almost jaunty grace. As we pulled up in front of the Hilton—fashionably late, as had sort of been my plan—I handed over my fare and stepped out of the cab, moving with a prescient self-awareness that almost seemed to extend through my limbs and even into the tails of my mantle, the peaks of my jester’s cap, the pointed toes of my elfin slippers. I laughed again, really amused at myself and the lightheaded feeling that went through me as I caught sight of the strange harlequin slipping across the reflective tinted windows of the limousines and shuttles pulling up in front of the doors.
I knew Andrew would be easy to find. I’d helped him pick his costume: a prohibition-era mob boss. I almost disapproved of the choice—thought it might be a bit tongue-in-cheek for a politician—but ultimately I’d been unable to say no to the thought of him in a smart, smarmy pin-striped suit and a fedora cocked over his brow. I’d even picked his mask for him—selecting a simple black-and-white patterned design with bold arcs and just a bit of black-and-silver trim around the edges and the left eye. He’d be easy to identify, even in the crowd of masked revelers.
The first thing I noticed when I entered the Women’s Society’s ballroom was the untold number of fluffy Victorian skirts and swishing crinolines, more than a dozen Little Bo-Peeps and even more Cinderellas and Red Riding Hoods. Sprinkled among them were the skintight Catwomen and the generic pirate wenches, cavewomen and all manner of Wicked Witches. It brought a smug little smirk to my face: I didn’t see even one checkered leotard or Venetian clown in the bunch.
I spotted my boss very quickly: he stood among a group of flashy businessmen and socialites—at least, I assumed, since they were all dressed up like so many poodle-skirted teeny-boppers, Elvis impersonators and vintage Vegas headliners. Glass of champagne in one hand, Andrew was regaling them with the latest news from the capitol and humorous recounts of the most recent baseball season—his team had gone down early and hard, much to his disappointment, and it had been the subject of many a loud and uproarious office rant. I grinned, snagging my own flute of champagne, and drifted through the party-goers to see him.
Any other day—in any other get-up—this would have been where shy wallflower Liz took over, skirting away from the group and finding some quiet corner to linger in, dutifully taking down notes or phone numbers or email addresses as the Senator instructed as he shook hands and made contacts among his constituents. If I were wearing the costume he thought I’d be wearing—a more subdued, slightly more feminine version of his, a loyal mob hand—I’d have been with him in his group, sure enough… as part of his staff, just like I was everywhere else.
Tonight I wasn’t Liz the Office Assistant, Liz the Staffer. Tonight I was someone entirely different, and I felt flashy and flirty and proud.
With that thought floating along in my mind, I sauntered up to the group and gave my unsuspecting boss a smug, self-assured little smile.
“That’s absolutely fascinating, Senator,” I purred, having no idea what conversation I had just interrupted. “But what I really want to know is… how well do you dance?”