Duke greeted a few family members, while Sebastian kept his hand near my arm and led me down a red corridor to the right of the main dining hall where the rest of the family was going. For a while, the hall was deserted.
"I am nervous," I finally admitted.
"You get nervous?"
"Of course," but he had been joking with me and he smiled when I looked up at his face.
"I will be right here, and remember, everyone will be believe you are Helena. Because of their own ignorance." He had said this before, but it did not make me feel immediately better. Because, of course; I am not, was not, and will never be Helena, and that fact never escaped my mind.
As we got deeper into the throat of the hall, I saw more girls in gowns like mine jumping about near the entry-way up to the stag, some of them were still putting on their make-up or flirting with their companions. All the men were in tuxes like Sebastian.
I glanced at him, as we walked and admired the way he wore it so naturally. Like it was a pair of jeans for painting and a ripped t-shirt he had kept for ages. I thought to myself that he must be used to this kind of thing; being in a family like the one that Duke and Sebastian had been describing to me, seemed a lot like being in some kind of period piece. Winston had spoken more of how old-fashioned they were.
The girls bore little resemblance at first, but as I grew nearer, I saw that the different quaffs of hair and the variety of mannerisms could not disguise that these girls had the same noses and ears and the same smiles.
"Cousin Sebastian!" cried one red-head in delight and several over girls looked up and squealed in surprise at seeing him. In an instant he had been bowled over with hugs from at least five different girls.
I had been worried for a moment, as I stood a little ways behind Sebastian looking wearily at the girls, but in an instant I was being hugged and greeted as well.
"Oh my gosh, Helena!" said the red head brightly, "You are so pretty, look how grown up you have gotten!"
It seemed strange to be hearing this from a girl who was probably not more than a few months older than me, but I simply smiled and laughed and said thank you and complimented her dress, as I imagined Helena might.
Sebastian caught my eye and mouthed something, I looked at his directly, but he waited until no one was looking at him to mouth, "Brigit!"
"Brigit!" I finally said in triumph.
The girl threw her red hair back and laughed, "It has been ages, hasn't it? You should come with us to the Redboat Lounge tonight after this whole thing."
I looked to Sebastian for help, but he was immersed in talking with a pair of brunette girls who were trying to make themselves taller than him in their six inch hells. Sebastian still rivaled them and laughed at their attempts.
"Sure!" I said quickly, not wanting to wait for a suspicious amount of time.
Brigit smiled widely and went to redo her lip-gloss as Sebastian ushered me forward, "We are the first to go out, because you are the youngest," he smiled and rolled his eyes and for a moment I forgot what was funny, then I remembered that I was pretending to be much older than I really was.
In actuality, I was younger than Helena by a few months, but no one seemed to notice.
We were walking up the steps toward the stage, and I could finally hear the crowd outside, talking and laughing amid the clinking of wine glasses and cracking plates. They were not quite ready to begin, but I could tell by the frantic way that a woman and man in formal clothing were trying to uncoil a microphone, it was drawing near to the time.
I suddenly felt much more nervous.
"Hey Hel-cat," said a voice from over my shoulder.
Sebastian and I turned to see that Brigit and her companion were standing just behind us, Brigit looked angry and she snapped at him, and pinched his arm.
"Oww!" the boy yelped. He was just a hair shorter than Sebastian, and not quite as attractive, but he was still good-looking with floppy blonde hair and a grin that had melted quickly at the attack Brigit gave to him.
"Don't tease her, ass-face!" Brigit hissed.
"Oscar," Sebastian whispered to me.
"I'm not going to tease her, I'm going to compliment the little kitten on finally filling out, because it looks like you definitely made up for lost time," Laurence defended himself, only to be slapped again by Brigit, a little harder this time.
"No more messing about!" a women in a gigantic red dress hissed at them from up on the stage, her gown clashed greatly with her ruby hair, "Brigit, say thank you to your cousin! This is really very nice of him."
"Thank you!" said Brigit brightly to Laurence, then under her breath she added, "If you touch my butt one more time, I am going to-"
"-it is just so big!" Laurence interrupted her, only to be biffed repeatedly by Brigit, until the woman in the red dress, who I had decided must be her mother, yelled at her to stop, then lowered her voice as a hush fell out over the dinner-room outside.
"Ladies and kinsmen, I welcome you again to our seventy-eight annual Ravenwood family reunion! As is tradition, we will allow the girls to be ushered out. Let me remind you that these are the girls who have turned eighteen, they are now legal adults. Welcome our debutants!" The voice stopped and light flooded the backstage area as the curtain was pulled open.
There were some scattered applause at first, but they died for a moment, while I clutched Sebastian's hand and looked up at him. He had began to led me on stage and in order to keep myself calm, I tried looking directly at his face, but this made me blush terribly, as Sebastian was the sort of person who always looked directly into your eyes.
We walked into the light and I was momentarily blinded before I was the vast ocean of silk and black, bathed in yellow light and dotted with flower arrangements and waiters with silver trays. Everyone was clapping.
"Helena Ravenwood, with her brother Sebastian Ravenwood!"
I waved a little and found that I was not nearly as nervous now that no one had jumped to their feet to scream; "That is not Helena!"
No one looked the least bit surprised, and most were not even mildly interested. Barely any at all could be arsed to look directly at me, they simply clapped and cheered and drank as we descended from the purple carpet and walked down the stage and toward the table where Winston and Jill, alone, looking a little nervous.