A Masquerade

byTom Collins©

I rapped on Caleb's door, wondering how many strange, new dishes I'd be expected to eat and comment on at his afternoon tea party. It would mostly be a gossip session with refreshments, but he was a great host and a terrific friend. I never missed one of his get-togethers if I could help it. An inordinate amount of time seemed to pass, so I knocked with more force. Hearing a girlish squeal from the other side of the thick oak and a muffled call of, "Coming, darling, I'm coming," I leaned against the door jam and watched the door yank inward.

"I stop breathing when I'm coming. Apparently, you pant and squeal. I'm glad I found out, so I'll know what signs to look for should we ever decide to have hot, monkey sex," I laughed while he rolled his eyes, cocking his hip at me.

"You just keep dreamin', Gideon darling, and maybe some day the Blue Fairy will drift down from her little star and grant your fondest wish."

Stepping inside, I scooped him up in a bear hug, making him squeal again, and spun him around. He pummeled my shoulders, yelling for me to put him down, but I knew better. He loved it when I acted butch, it made him feel small and delicate. I'm not huge, but Caleb made it easy to play the macho bodybuilder because he was a featherweight. He only came to my shoulder and weighed maybe a hundred and fifteen pounds.

"That's it; I'm not waiting anymore for you to say yes. I'm taking you over to that couch of yours, and I'm gonna plow you like an Amish field," I said, walking us toward the living room. His peals of laughter echoed off the cathedral ceiling.

"Like an Amish field?" he demanded in a high, breathless tone. "You stay away from my Chinese silk couch, Gideon, and what in hell does that mean, anyway?"

"I have no idea. I heard it from Lonnie on this last tour, but it sure sounds good, doesn't it?" I'd been out of town, touring with a couple of other comics for the last two months, and had missed my best friend terribly. I'd only be home for a week before I'd be heading out for the last leg, which would have me on the road for another month.

"I'd have to say it sounds absurd. Now put me down you brute," he laughed again when I squeezed, refusing to comply.

"Caleb? Is everything alright?" I heard a smoky contralto inquire from the direction of the kitchen archway. Turning, I spied a long legged, copper haired woman gliding towards us. The hems of her off-white palazzo pants fluttered around her ankles as she walked. Pausing in the archway, she smoothed her blouse down.

"Oh, Em, everything's fine. Gideon and I were just saying hello. Put me down you galoot," he insisted once more. I spit his long, dishwater blonde hair out of my mouth, and set him on his feet. My heart thumped against my ribs, and my head swirled in a sudden bout of confusion. She looked at me sidelong through her long lashes then back to Caleb. I knew I was staring at her, but I couldn't seem to break the spell.

"Gideon!" Caleb said loudly, practically yelling. "Hello, earth to Gideon. I'm talking to you." I mentally shook myself out of the near trance I'd fallen into, turning my attention to my friend. "I'm trying to introduce you to Emelyne. We met about a month ago, and are becoming fast friends. I think you two will get on famously, that's why I invited her to join us this afternoon."

"So, this is the infamous Gideon? Caleb never stops talking about you," the rich tones of her voice washed over me like heated honey, drawing my eyes back to her as she stepped over with her hand extended. In the mules she wore, I realized that she was almost taller than I was, and I had to glance upward to meet her eyes.

Finally regaining the ability to speak, I took her hand gently and said, "It's a pleasure to meet you Emelyne. If...uh...Caleb thinks we'll get along then I expect we will."

"I certainly hope so. He's been singing your praises to the heavens since we met, and I've been looking forward to your coming home, and please, call me Em." I felt myself flush slightly as a charge shot up my arm and circled my chest, making it feel tight.

"Em it is then. Caleb, what have you got planned for tea? Can I help you in the kitchen?" I asked, looking to him, and trying to shake off the inexplicable arousal this woman was causing. I looked back at Em when she said my name.

"Could I have my hand back, please?" she asked sweetly. There was laughter hiding in her voice, and amusement shone from her azure eyes. I glanced down to see myself still holding her manicured fingers, and let go with a stammered apology as if her touch burned. If I were honest, I'd have to admit that it did, in a way that rather frightened me.

"Well, we're starting with cucumber sandwiches, which will be followed by a roasted green chile, wild mushroom and Gruyere cheese quiche, and strawberry shortcake for after. I actually could use a hand, if you don't mind?" he was excited about the menu, as usual. Cooking happened to be his favorite pastime, be it in the kitchen or the bedroom he would say.

"Damn, that sounds fantastic, Caleb. You know I love playing sous-chef for you," I said, kissing the top of his head and giving him a squeeze.

"Yes, well...I keep trying to get him to play pool boy for me, but that's a no go so far," he said to Em, giving me his most adorable pout.

"Hush you," I said, my embarrassment deepening. Turning him toward the kitchen, I smacked him squarely on the rump, sending him skipping forward a couple of steps. "Just get in there and start cooking you cheeky, little bitch." He shrieked, laughed and headed through the archway into the kitchen.

"Come on, Em, you can watch me turn him into a scullery wench."

Taking her arm, I looped it through mine as if I were some sort of gallant knight, placing her soft palm on my forearm, my hand over hers. My nostrils flared, catching the scent of her perfume, and electricity shot down my spine, making my entire pelvic area tingle. This alabaster skinned beauty had completely ensnared me. This bizarre attraction was simultaneously intensely pleasurable and horrifying in the extreme.

***


The food was extraordinary, and the company was even better, but my stomach kept clenching every time I caught myself acting like a besotted ass. I couldn't keep my eyes from tracking her slender fingers every time they tucked her wavy, bob cut behind one or the other ear. Caleb looked both amused and surprised by my predicament. I knew he was dying to ask me if I'd lost my mind on this last tour, and it seemed I'd have to tell him I had. There didn't seem to be any other explanation for what was happening to me.

"You swear you're going to be back in time for my masquerade party, Gideon?" Caleb's question jerked me out of my reverie.

"What? Oh, yes. I'll be back the day before Halloween, so stop worrying," I replied distractedly.

"Well, gentlemen, I've had a wonderful time this afternoon, and the food was exquisite, Caleb, but I really must be going. My dinner date is expecting me to meet him in twenty minutes, and I should have just enough time to get there," Em said, scooting her chair back from the patio table.

"Date...dinner...bu-but—but...you've just eaten a full meal?" I stammered. I was as stunned by the fact that she planned to eat another meal as by the way my chest constricted when she said the word date.

"Yes, I know. Now I'll be able to sit through a meal of him wolfing down a huge t-bone, while I pick at a dinner salad, and not feel like taking a bite out of the waiter's ass every time he passes our table. Oh, who am I kidding? I'll probably still want to do that, but not because I'm hungry for food," she chuckled, while Caleb cackled.

I smiled, making myself laugh along, but I didn't find anything about her having a date with some man funny. I honestly didn't know what made me feel worse, the fact that she apparently had a boyfriend, or my reaction to the news.

"I'll walk you to the door, darling." Caleb said, standing with her and coming around the table. They went inside, and I waited a couple seconds before following them. I peered around the archway, hoping for one last sight of her before she left. They were standing on the stoop, heads close together as they whispered. I heard them laugh before embracing briefly. She spotted me, and gave a little finger wave. I jerked back, horrified that I'd been caught spying on them.

The oddest thing occurred; my mind screamed that she was getting away, that I might never see her again, and I had to act now. I didn't know why, but the next thing I knew I was leaping around the corner, narrowly missing a head on collision with Caleb, and running for the door. I yanked it open and dashed out to the curb calling her name. She stopped in mid-motion, her car door open half way, and turned to look at me in surprise.

"Em, look...I—can I—do you think... I mean, how serious are you with this guy you're going out with tonight?" Why in hell was I asking her that? I knew why, but I didn't want to believe it.

"Umm..." she seemed taken aback by my question, not that I blamed her, I felt the same way, "Not at all, really. We've only just met, and this is our first date. Why do you want to know? Do you want to ask me out?"

"Well...well, yeah. I—I suppose I do."

"You suppose? Either you do or you don't, Gideon."

"All I—I'm really not sure—All I know is that I want to spend more time with you before I leave town again." The warmth in her smile made my heart start beating again.

"Ok. Why don't you meet me at Cuisine De Pays at one for lunch tomorrow? I'll make a reservation so we don't have to wait for a table."

"That—that would be great...ok...fantastic!" I gushed like a fool.

"Alright, it's a date then," she said, with an easy smile.

She got into her car and started to close the door, but I stopped her, saying, "You're not going to eat before hand and then pick at a salad, are you?"

"No, I won't. I promise," she said with a laugh and pulled me down by my shirtfront to plant a kiss on my cheek.

I watched her drive away before going back inside. Shutting the door behind me, I collapsed against it, breaking out in a cold sweat and started shaking. What in hell did I just do? I asked myself, covering my face with my hands, and trying to get a hold of myself.

"I can't be certain, but from the door it looked an awful lot like you were making a date with Em," Caleb said, making me jump. I hadn't realized I spoke aloud.

"Yeah, that's what I did alright. I just made a date with a woman, Caleb." He laughed at my obvious discomfort.

"Oh, God. What am I going to do?" I didn't know anything about women. I'd never wanted to know anything about them. They were a complete mystery to me, a mystery I'd never had the slightest inclination to try to solve before today.

"I'll tell you what you're going to do. You're going to keep that date. There's no way I'm going to condone you standing her up, and hurting her just because you acted on an impulse that you don't understand." I felt like I was going to be sick. Caleb saw my expression and softened, coming over to me and cuddling against my chest. "Hey, calm down, darling. Look at it like this; you've just discovered that you're bi-curious, and have decided to explore that."

***


I'd never been to Cuisine De Pays before. My idea of eating out leaned more toward stopping at the Chicago Dog Stand and staking out a quiet spot in the park. A sit down restaurant would be along the lines of La Pasadita for some fajitas and Dos Equis. I didn't know what to wear, so I let Caleb dress me. He insisted I'd be happy wearing sackcloth if someone didn't do something about it. It wasn't true, of course, I'd just rather be comfortable than stylish.

I was standing at the podium, promptly at one o'clock. The host hadn't found my name in his book, and I didn't find out what Em's last name was. "I'm sorry; I don't know the last name that the reservation is under. Her first name is Emelyne, if that helps?" I said, feeling anxious.

"Ahhh...Ma'amselle Emelyne, but of course, she awaits you in the bar, M'sieur. Please, follow me." He guided me into the bar, and over to her. "Have a lovely meal, Ma'amselle, M'sieur. If you need anything at all, just let me know, please."

"Merci, Jacques, we will." She gracefully stood up to greet me with a light kiss on the cheek, and reached for my tie while saying, "My, but you look handsome today. Handsome, but uncomfortable." I thought she would tighten my tie. Isn't that what women always do with them in the movies? Instead, she loosened it a little, and unbuttoned the top button of my shirt. "There, that's much better." Her touch at my throat made me shiver, my breath catching in my chest. I don't know what the expression on my face was, but when she looked up she flushed this time, and looked away saying, "Lord, but you do know how to flatter someone, don't you?"

"I do?" I asked incredulously.

Her gaze returned to mine, searching for something, sincerity perhaps, before she responded, "It's been a long time since anyone looked at me like that, Gideon," she stroked my cheek with her cool fingers. She must have seen my next question in my eyes because she answered before I could voice it, "Like I'm the only thing in the room, in the whole world even, that you want to look at. Thank you." She spoke so softly, I unconsciously moved closer to hear her words, and she leaned in, perhaps to kiss me. I trembled with equal parts apprehension and excitement, wondering how I would respond to her. A split second before our lips met we heard a throat clear to the side, and both of our heads jerked in the direction of the sound.

"Ma'amselle, so sorry to interrupt, but your table is ready."

"Merci, Yves, please lead the way."

"Do you speak French, Em?"

"Mais oui, chéri. I took lessons from Jacques three times a week for two years. He says that I'm fluent, but I've yet to have the opportunity to test my skill in the one place I want to."

"That being France," I concluded.

"No. The French Quarter in New Orleans," she laughed delightedly at my surprise. "I'm teasing you. New Orleans is not the place to speak or test one's French. The language is more bastardized there than it is in the backwoods of Quebec, or so Jacques told me. His family's first restaurant was there. So, yes, France is the place in my dreams, specifically Provence."

We settled ourselves in, and after a brief look at the menu, I agreed to let her order for me. It turned out that this place served the sorts of foods that the regular, country folk ate in their homes on a daily basis. The food was wonderful, and considerably more affordable than I'd been expecting. We chatted lightly, speaking about whatever came to mind. Her company was as engaging as it was the day before, and by the time we'd finished our coffee I knew I had to see her again. I broached the subject as we stood next to her car.

"Em," I took a deep breath, mentally girding my loins, "Can I see you again?"

"Of course, what would you like to do?"

"I'm not sure, but I'll think of something good, I promise."

She pulled a small note pad out of her purse along with a pen and wrote on it saying, "Here's my cell number and address. As soon as you've figured out what you want to do, give me a call, and we'll decide when to do it. Ok?"

I smiled, taking the paper from her and tucking it into my pocket, "I'll do that." I watched her drive away for the second time in twenty-four hours, wishing I had a reason to call her right now, just so I could hear her voice again. Sighing and shaking my head at how pathetically smitten I was already, I walked the block to my car.

I found a brightly colored flyer tucked under the driver's side wiper. A sudden surge of excitement washed over me when I read what it advertised. Climbing into my car, I pulled my phone out of my pocket, flipped it open, and dialed her number. It rang three and a half times before I heard her speak.

"Uhh...Em? It's—"

"Gideon?" she laughed, "You can't possibly miss me already," her snort of amusement made me laugh.

"Well, actually...kind of, but I do have a real reason for calling. I found a flyer on my windshield, and it says there's a carnival opening tomorrow. I thought we could go, if that sounds like fun to you? We can take in some rides, play some games, and eat some deep-fried crap on a stick?"

"Oh, Lord. I haven't been to a carnival since I was a kid. I can't help but think that going to one with you would be a blast. Count me in."

"Great!" I interjected.

"What time does it open? I have to work tomorrow night."

"Says the gates open at nine a.m. How about I pick you up at ten?"

"Oh, well...I have to work tonight too, and don't usually get up until then, and believe me when I say it takes some time and effort to look presentable." I didn't catch my snort in time, and she laughed loudly before insisting, "It does. You'll believe it the first time you see me with bed head, sleep crusted eyes and morning breath that would knock out a dragon."

My heart stuttered in my chest at the thought that she was already thinking we'd some day wake up together. My mind was blank of any sort of response. It just whirled with images of what would occur the evening before that morning. I had to adjust my cock because my boxers were trapping it at an uncomfortable angle as it swelled. She cleared her throat, startling me out of my fantasies.

"Has this just turned into a dirty phone call, Gideon?"

"I'm sorry? What do you mean?"

"Well, suddenly all I could hear was heavy breathing, and it sounded kind of like you were humming."

"Oh, jeeze, I'm sorry, Em. My mind kind of wandered there for a second." I would swear that I'd never blushed so much in my life as I had in the last day.

"Hmm...I hope it wandered somewhere pleasant. Why don't you pick me up at noon at my place? I promise I'll be ready, and not keep you waiting."

"Sounds like a plan. I can't wait."

"I'll bet. You're just hoping to get me onto the Ferris Wheel so you can kiss me at the top." Her laugh had a lecherous quality that sent an erotic shiver coursing through my body, and my cock, fully awake now, gave a hard throb.

"Oh, man, am I ever," I heard myself growl, and immediately felt more blood rush to my groin when her breathing hitched.

"Oh my, you're going to be a real handful. I can see that now. Caleb told me a lot about you, but he never said anything about you having a voice that could be seductive enough to make me want to drop my panties after the first date. I'll expect you at twelve, chéri." I heard the connection break before I could say anything.

***


We had the most incredible time at the carnival. We laughed so much that my sides were sore the next morning. We rode all the rides, even the kiddy rides that they would let us on. It turned out that the bumper cars were our favorite, and we went at least five rounds on that one, becoming experts at coordinating a two pronged attack on the other adults. She was never sexier than when she was celebrating a crushing blow to other riders that sent them skidding sideways. The complete freedom of her laughter, and the joyful whoops of triumph, enchanted me more than anything ever had. She'd seemed so cool and reserved up until that point, but now she was a firebrand bent on one thing, the destruction of the other bumper car riders. Every new part of her that I discovered only served to charm me further. I don't know if she was aware of it or not, but she already had me wrapped tightly around her delicate, little pinky.

We did ride the Ferris Wheel, and I did manage to get up the nerve to kiss her at the top. There's a line from The Princess Bride, I've seen that movie at least fifty times because it's Caleb's all time favorite. He memorized the whole thing years ago, but still watches it every couple of weeks. The line in question is the last thing that Grandpa reads to the boy, "Since the invention of the kiss there have been five kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most pure. This one left them all behind." That's how our Ferris Wheel kiss was for me. It was everything that a first kiss should be, and more. They had to make us get off the ride when neither of us noticed it end.

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