He wasn't perfect. Being a sane, relatively intelligent woman, she knew that. However, was there anything wrong with him? She doubted it. He was as near perfect as she ever hoped to find. And that was good enough.
For the past few months people had been commenting on the change in her attitude. Not that she was ever unpleasant, but they all seemed to think she smiled more often now, had a certain bounce in her step, laughed easier. Everyone wanted to know his name, about him, some insisted on meeting him. Of course, she kept it all secret, merely smiling when asked.
She knew some people might judge the relationship they shared. At first it had bothered her a little. Then she came to accept and embrace that with them, some things would just be different. Maybe there would never be dancing at the clubs, or candle lit dinners at a sea side restaurant...or any restaurant. He would never be the man she took home to meet her parents. No, some things would never happen with them. But that was okay.
Stopping the car in the driveway, she felt her heart beat faster in anticipation. He had promised her that tonight would be special. He hadn't said how, she hadn't asked. He liked to surprise her, and that was fine.
Forcibly making herself not skip up the walk to the front door, she took small even steps. She tried not to think of what he might have in store but couldn't help herself. Had he made a nice dinner? He'd done that for her in the past. Would there be another painting? The last one was beautiful. What could he possibly have waiting for this time?
Inside, the living room looked normal. Nothing special, nothing out of the ordinary. Same in the kitchen, dining room...no special dinner awaiting her. Then, in her bedroom, she found the surprise.
Laid out on her bed was a costume. The gown was expensive looking, not like the cheap imitations you rent from the local costume shop that have been worn countless times by several different women. She had no idea from what era it was, but it sure was pretty! There had to be at least six pieces lying on the bed, each one with a sticky note attached giving instructions as to where it went. On top of the outermost layer was an envelope, her name written in elegant script on the outside.
It was an invitation to a party. Not just any party, either. Truth was, she had always thought the annual Halloween party at the old Manchester Mansion was an urban legend. Naturally, she'd been hearing stories about the parties there since she was a girl, but she'd yet to meet anyone who had actually been to one of the parties, or had even been near the old dilapidated building on Halloween.
She'd only been past the old house one time and that had been years ago, when she was a teenager. It was during the day and she remembered it looking like what it was: an old abandoned mansion behind a rusted fence. Nothing scary or menacing. Nothing that should elicit the stories associated with it.
The stories differed depending on who was telling them, but they all had one common thing: every year there was a Halloween party at the mansion. Invitation only. Some people said that once you went in you were never heard from again. Other people said they knew someone who knew someone who had gone, and that person came out a deaf mute or some such thing. And yet other people would say that it was just a great party with loud music, lots of dancing, and the drinks were free. No one seemed to know who hosted the party; no one had actually been past the house on Halloween; and no one knew anyone personally who had received an invitation and not gone.
John Royal had written a note for her and put it in the invitation. It simply said for her to be dressed and ready at nine o'clock, that a car would be picking her up. She doubted he'd be in the car, but that didn't matter. He would definitely be at the party.
Smiling as she walked into the bathroom to shower, she realized that when she thought of him, it was always as John Royal. Never John. Or Johnny. Always his first and last name. When she spoke to him she usually called him Mr. Royal, which also seemed odd now that she thought about it. Then again, he rarely ever called her Beth. It was always either Miss Elizabeth, although that wasn't her name, or Miss Barber. Somehow, given the circumstances of their relationship, it seemed appropriate.
After showering, she made herself a light meal and sat down to eat in front of the TV. The news was on, and despite the fact she almost always chose not to watch anything so depressing, she left it on this time. As she suspected, it was mostly about random shootings, corrupt politics, and arsons. She was about to turn it off when the newscaster announced an upcoming story about the "Mysterious Manchester Mansion." Sitting on the edge of her seat, she waited for the story to air.
There was no mention of the annual Halloween party, but the reporter did give some history about the old place. Supposedly it was haunted now, left abandoned for over fifty years, the ghosts of the last owner walking the halls. Built by a lumber baron who had lived out his life in the house with his wife and three children, inherited by the youngest son who had also lived there until his death, it was the ghost of the last grandson who walked the halls. According to the reporter, legend said that because there was no one to inherit the house at his death, the grandson of the lumber baron remained, chasing away anyone who tried to live there.
Changing the channel, she was surprised to see a similar story on another station. Was this an omen of some kind, she wondered, or did every station do a story on the mansion every year and she'd just never paid attention before? Quite frankly, until seeing the invitation on her bed, she hadn't given any thought to that old house in years, so maybe it was only natural that she'd be noticing stories about it this year.
Usually, John Royal would sit with her while she had dinner. Sometimes he would talk about his childhood, sometimes they would talk about her day at work. At any rate, it seemed almost lonely to be alone in her house this evening. It felt empty. Time seemed to pass slowly.
Was this what her life had been like before meeting him? Quiet evenings eating in front of the TV, waiting for bedtime? Filling in the hours with books, work she brought home, and an occasional phone call to her parents? Although she met John Royal in a chat room on the internet, she rarely used her computer for more than business... and that night she met him had been a fluke.
She hadn't intended to go to a chat room. In fact, she vividly recalled clicking on a link to download some files for work, and instead of the stupid machine taking her to the download site, she wound up in some chat room for the supernatural. She had tried several times to get off the site but her computer would freeze up. Finally she gave up, left the room, and when she came back a half hour later there was a private message waiting for her. From John Royal. It had said: "I've been waiting for you."
She remembered looking at the message and laughing. His next message had been: "Don't laugh. I'm serious." That had freaked her out a little, but also piqued her curiosity enough that she wound up in a chat with him that lasted two hours. A week later they met at her house. That was seven months ago and he'd been at her house nearly every day since.
He had asked that she not talk about him, not tell her friends about him. Although he promised he wasn't married, he was adamant that she keep their affair secret. So she had. It didn't really matter to her that they didn't go out; he made her happy and that was all that was important. And tonight he was taking her to the infamous Manchester Mansion Halloween Party!
In her room, she donned the costume he left her. The gown, put on over two silk slips and a third that was ruffled, was deep burgundy velvet. The top was so tight and low cut that her boobs overflowed, threatening to pop out, but otherwise it was a perfect fit and just too pretty to complain about. She twisted her hair up in the back, leaving a few tendrils down around her face, and wore very little make up, yet she felt like Cinderella going to the ball. The costume was complete when she slipped her feet into matching shoes and placed the black lace shawl around her shoulders, holding the feathered velvet eye mask in front of her face.
At exactly nine o'clock a horn sounded in her driveway. Stepping outside, she was somewhat surprised to see a long black limo stopped behind her little Honda. She had expected a regular sized car, like the airport shuttle car. The driver, in full uniform, was holding the back door open for her.
This was a new experience. It was huge! And empty. She wondered if maybe they were stopping to pick up anyone else. A car this big seemed wasted on just one person. Yet fifteen minutes later when the car again stopped, the driver held the door open to let her out in front of the mansion.
There were no lights visible from the inside of the building. No sounds. Just the darkness and the smell of dead leaves. She turned around, thinking maybe she'd get back in the limo and go home, except the car was already passing through the gate.
Gathering nerve she didn't know she possessed, holding the invitation tightly in her hand, she walked up the decrepit steps to the front doors. Before she could knock, one of the massive doors was opened and she was greeted by a man who had to be the real Lurch. He was easily seven feet tall, and his voice, when he directed her to follow him, seemed to echo.
She followed him down a dark hallway, the light from the candle he held the only illumination. They passed several doors on each side before he held open one of another set of double doors. The light from the huge ballroom nearly blinded her.
This was like walking into another world. Although the lights were electric, the room was definitely from another era. And the many people inside were from several different eras. She saw pirates, a couple of princes, even more princesses, costumes from every century including the present. No vampires or werewolves or witches though, which seemed odd for a Halloween Party. It was more like a costume party without a theme, except that some of the people looked like maybe they went a little heavy on the white make-up, and one or two somehow managed to look quite like the walking dead.
John Royal found her, which was a good thing since she never would have recognized him. So used to seeing him in jeans and a flannel shirt, no matter what the weather, and looking a little pale (she'd asked him several times if he was anemic), this very healthy appearing man in a dark suit straight from another century caught her off guard. She'd always thought of him as good looking, but tonight he looked..... Well, he looked like someone who would never give her a second glance.
"Miss Barber!" he greeted her, taking the lace wrap from her shoulders, "You look spectacular! I am so pleased you're here. Welcome."
"Mr. Royal," she replied, "You look... wow! I can't believe I'm here. With you."
He smiled, and as always it seemed to light up his face. What he saw in her she'd never understand, but she hoped he continued seeing it for a long time.
"Come, take a look around." he suggested as he held out his arm for her. "Tell me what you think."
He led her back to the main hallway. But of course, it couldn't really have been the same hall she had walked along only minutes ago because this one was lit, and it all looked new. In fact, every room looked new, as if it had just been refurbished, yet with a 'lived in' look. She wanted to ask about it, or make a comment, but something was telling her to wait. Or perhaps she just wasn't ready to hear the answers.
"It's beautiful," she finally said as they went back to the ballroom.
"That's the way I see it," he told her. "I've always loved this house."
"There was a story about it on a couple news channels tonight. It's haunted, you know."
He laughed. "Yes, I suppose it is. Especially tonight. You do know it's Halloween... the night the dead come to life. Shall we go enjoy the company of some?"
"There are a couple who look pretty dead."
He smiled as he took her hand and led her back into the ballroom. What she noticed first was that his hand seemed warmer than usual. Then she noticed that an orchestra had been set up and didn't begin to play until she and John Royal entered the room, as if they had been waiting for him to come back and sweep her into his arms for the first dance.
One hand holding hers, the other at her waist, he twirled her about the dance floor. No one else was dancing, merely standing at the edge of the polished floor watching them. Dawning came half way through the dance... John Royal was the host!
For a moment she lost the rhythm of the music, but merely smiled when he asked her what was wrong. If John Royal was the host, then... did that mean this was his house? If it was his house, why had he never brought her before? Why had he never mentioned he was doing extensive remodeling on it? Why had he never mentioned it at all? There were more questions, but she didn't want to even consider them.
John Royal kept her on the dance floor through three more songs before allowing her a moment to rest. He seemed more breathless than she was as he took her to a refreshment table and got them both a drink.
"Johnny!" a similarly dressed man said to him as they shook hands. "Good to see you, chap."
"Sylvester," John Royal greeted the man. "This is Miss Barber."
"Sly Beauchamp," he said as an introduction. "Eighty-seven. Eighteen."
"Okay," she said, wondering what the numbers referred to. "Nice to meet you."
"Royal!" yet another man said, coming up to them. This man was dressed as what appeared to be a mountain man from the 1700's. "Good to see you! Will Madelyn be here this year?"
"Sadly, no. Miss McGuire has... moved."
"Ah. Too bad. Howdy, ma'am. Rory Ducheyne. Folks always called me Rowdy, reckon you can, too. Thirty-six. Seventeen."
"Rory, this is Miss Barber."
"Reckon yer new, then?"
"No," John Royal replied for her, making her wonder not only at his reply but the tone as well.
Beth noticed the looks exchanged between the three of them; two looking a bit worried, John Royal appearing sad for them.
"Don't worry, men. Something will work out," John Royal said to them, then put his arm around her waist and led her from the table.
"What was that about?" she asked as she was taken from the room.
"They have concerns. Not to worry, my love."
"Why did you tell Rowdy that I wasn't new? I've never been here before."
"That wasn't what he meant."
She found herself walking up the grand staircase in the main hall. The same stairway that less than an hour ago looked as if it would crumble if anyone stepped on it. Something was strange here, and although she wanted to think on it, she was more curious to see where John Royal was taking her and what would happen when they were alone in this beautiful house.
He took her down another hall at the top of the stairs, stopping at a closed door.
"I want you to see this room before it gets too late. Well, I also want to be totally alone with you ... you look stunning tonight."
Beth looked down at her breasts threatening to pop out of her dress and smiled.
"Oh, be honest... you just want to play with the girls."
" Darlin', I can have them almost anytime. It's the woman they belong to I want."
"You can have her anytime, too."
"But not here, and this is important to us. I told you... tonight is special."
"Why is that?" she asked, immediately forgetting why she even asked the question. He had just opened the door to the most spectacular bedroom she had ever seen. If she had been given the opportunity to design a bedroom, this is what it would look like. Absolutely everything about the room, from the size, the furniture, the flooring.. Everything to her liking. It was amazing.
John Royal closed the door and locked it, watching her as she took in her surroundings. She truly felt like Cinderella at the ball and could think of only one thing that would make the evening more magical than it already seemed. Without hesitation she walked to the bed, climbing up the steps to the mattress, then lying down.
"Mr. Royal, I do believe I'd like nothing more than for you to join me."
Leaning back on her elbows she watched him cross the room. Something was different... a new look in his eyes, a certain air about him. She couldn't place what it was exactly, but it was definitely different.
Expecting that he'd turn the lights off as he usually did, making sure the curtains and blinds were closed, she was a bit surprised when he walked directly to her. Standing in front of her, he unbuttoned his coat, then slipped her shoe off her foot before stepping out of his own. He loosened his tie before slipping it over his head, took off the vest, and by the time he began unbuttoning his shirt her heart was racing. This would be the first time she'd ever seen his body in the light and she was anxious to see what she had only touched.
Slight disappointment that he didn't take his shirt off was quickly lost when he climbed up onto the bed, his mouth covering hers, his hands pulling down the top of her dress to free her breasts, fondling them. He had known, from the first time , just how to touch her to make her crazy with need and desire. This time was no different... and yet was very different.
Again, she couldn't place her finger on how it was different. His kisses were the same, making her hunger for more. His hands on her breasts, kneading the fleshiness, fingers and thumbs putting just the right pressure on her nipples... all the same. Everything about his lovemaking was the same... yet not. His touch still made her wet, yearning to feel him inside her, only this time was... different.
Keeping her eyes open, she watched as he lowered his mouth, taking her nipple between his lips, flicking his tongue against her nub, sucking on her, while the butterflies in her stomach performed acrobatics. With every touch she longed to tell him that she would give almost anything to be with him the remainder of her days. She put her hands on his head, her fingers buried in his thick locks, holding him to her. Even this felt somehow different. Not just physically different, or even emotionally... it was deeper than that.
As his mouth continued at her breasts, his hands began to push up the vast material of her gown. She wanted to sit up, unzip the back and take it off, but something made her
He stopped for a moment, as if he wanted to tell her something, then thought better of it. She wanted to ask what he was about to say, but again decided maybe it wouldn't be a good thing to ask too many questions.
A moment later, he was kissing her, his tongue dancing with hers, his hand busy getting the material out of the way. She no longer cared if the dress was on or off, as long as she could feel his touch. He didn't disappoint.
As with every other time, his fingers knew just how to touch her. With every stroke she could feel her body responding, the tingling feeling of a small electric current running along her spine, her mind slipping into that netherworld of nothingness where all that existed was the sensations of touch. She knew that by the time he entered her, she would be lost to reality once again, becoming little more than a being, free of thoughts; a body moving to a beat not heard, merely felt. So many things she wanted to say before that happened, but the words never formed.
She could feel him inside her, his body thrusting against hers, but she was incapable of thought. Words were there, but they seemed jumbled, and she didn't care. Words weren't important, they meant nothing. All that mattered was this feeling, this glorious feeling of losing herself and finding herself all at the same time. This feeling of being not of this world, of being nowhere and everywhere. And then the fiery explosion inside as the world ended and life began.