“Wait, who was that masked man?”
Charlie ducked into the hallway and flattened himself against the wall. Stupid, stupid, stupid. He had crashed this party on an impulse and hadn’t really thought out any kind of plan. All he knew was that he had to see Rhonda.
He pulled off his mask to take a look at it. Who knew that such a little thing would attract so much attention? Yes, he’d made his own mask, because he had known that this party was supposed to be some sort of masquerade. But he’d imagined something along the lines of Kubrik’s Eyes Wide Shut, so he had created a papier-mâché Venetian mask with a certain amount of detail, including gold leaf and Swarovski crystals. He thought he would be able to blend in with the crowd.
Nothing was going the way he had expected. Rhonda, ever sensible, knew that most of her guests could not be bothered to come up with their own masks, so she had set up a table outside the ballroom with brightly-colored half-masks, some on strings and others on sticks, but none of them decorated. His elaborate design stuck out like a diamond in a plate of sand; he was instantly surrounded by people who wanted to know more about his mask, his art, and most especially, his name. Frustrated, he had fled the ballroom and now found himself alone in the hallway.
The door next to him opened rather rapidly, and a tall man in a plain white mask, clearly agitated, brushed past him on his way to the veranda. Curious, Charlie followed him outside.
“Do you have a light?” The man already had a cigarette in his mouth, but was shaking his empty lighter despondently.
Charlie pulled out a cardboard matchbook from his jacket pocket and handed it to the man.
“Thanks.” The man tried to strike the a couple of matches, but the striking surface was very worn, and he ended up breaking off the heads each time.
“Here, let me do it,” Charlie offered. He deftly folded the matchbook cover backwards, pulled the match through, and it instantly ignited. Relieved, the man leaned forward to light his cigarette and took a few puffs in silence.
“I owe you, man,” the man said. “My wife has been trying to get me to quit. It’s not as easy as it looks.”
“It doesn’t look easy at all.” Charlie had already pulled out his own cigarette and held it up as a salute before he put it in his mouth. “I’m sure I’ll quit eventually…just not now.”
The man chuckled and held out his hand. “I’m Rob,” he said.
Charlie grasped it warmly. “Charlie.”
“So,” Rob asked as he sat down in a wicker chair, “who did you come here with?”
“Well…” Charlie hesitated to reveal the whole truth to his new friend. “I showed up alone, but I was hoping to go home with someone, if you know what I mean,” he said with a crooked smile.
Rob smiled. “Uh-oh. Who’s the lady? Maybe I can smooth the way for you.”
“I don’t want to tell you her name, in case I don’t get so lucky,” Charlie hedged.
“Oh, come on. Most of the women here love me,” Rob said with a smile.
Charlie sighed. Maybe it was time to tell someone how he felt. “She and I were together for a while. It was great. No, it was more than great: it was smokin’ hot. I’ve never felt that way before. But for no reason, she just stopped calling. She won’t answer my texts or my emails. It’s been six weeks, and I know I should just get the hint and move on, but I can’t get her out of my mind. I…er…heard she was going to be here, and so I came.”
“Maybe she found someone else.”
“I don’t know. Maybe. I doubt it, though. What we had was unique. Earth-shattering.”
“Well, I don’t know what to tell you,” Rob said as he finished off his cigarette, grinding the butt on the concrete of the veranda. “All I can say is hold on to that feeling. My wife and I lost almost all interest in each other for a while and then out of the blue that feeling came back with a vengeance. Now she’s pregnant and I don’t know she feels for me from day to day. All I know is that if I don’t quit smoking before the baby comes, she might kick me out of the house.”
Charlie smiled and shook his head as he took a final drag off his own cigarette.
“You sure you don’t want to tell me her name? I am married to the hostess, after all.”
Charlie stopped breathing. “You’re Rob…Holmes?”
“I figured you knew I was that Rob.”
“Oh, yeah, it’s just…” Charlie fumbled around for words as he pointed to Rob’s mask. I’m in love with your wife.
“Huh,” Rob said as he removed his mask. “I didn’t realize how difficult it was to recognize someone without seeing the top half of their face.”
“Rob? Where are you?” Rhonda’s voice came from the hallway.
Charlie turned around quickly and started putting on his own mask.
“What the hell are you doing?” Rob sounded mildly amused.
He turned back around to face Rob, his mask secure on his face once again. “Do me one favor, man. Don’t tell her I’m here. She’s…kind of close to this girl, and I don’t want her to interfere.”
Rob looked at him quizzically, but then smiled. “No problem. I told you I owed you.” They shook hands, and Rob went back into the house as Charlie slipped into the shadows.
This week’s Indie Ink Writing Challenge comes from xtinabosco, who gave me this prompt:
A masked man
I decided to use it to continue the story of Rhonda, Charlie, and Rob, since I got so much positive feedback. Let me know if you want me to continue the story, or if you’ve had enough of the drama…