I saw him standing there, just a shadow in the corner of the cavernous ballroom. I didn't know what to think of this new arrival, though just looking at him gave me the chills. I supposed it was the cold, calculating way in which he held himself. There was something almost deadly in it. I shivered and tore my eyes off him, disturbed.
I turned around to face the commotion in the room. Everyone was up, and you could hardly hear the music over the shouts of joy. Nobody seemed to have seen the shady figure in the corner. Shivering at the thought of the man, I glanced at him again.
We locked eyes. I had never been so afraid in my life- nor, I deem, will I ever be again. This man, this stranger- he had an effect on me that felt as if he could see straight through my skin until I was left naked standing there. Through all my fancy clothes, all my makeup and everything else, I felt as if there was nothing protecting my body from his piercing gaze. He smiled, and it almost looked benevolent. But I sensed some kind of underlying malice, though it could only have been my own fear speaking.
When finally his eyes left mine, I began to shake. I felt exhausted. I couldn't say why- which was the strangest thing- but I was on the verge of fainting.
Quite suddenly, I heard a voice in my ear. I leapt several feet into the air, but I began to feel a little of the security that the stranger had so easily stripped me of. "Are you all right, honey?" it said.
I turned and looked into the most handsome face I had ever known, and at that point I realized how unreal this experience would seem to him, how indescribable the feeling would be for me. So I simply sank into his arms, those strong arms that always made me feel as if nothing in the world could ever touch me. But tonight, things were different. I felt as vulnerable as ever, and the security I'd always found in this man, my fiancé, was gone.
He hugged me, in that fully understanding way. No words were needed. I felt his heart beating, and relished the feeling. But- but what? I couldn't begin to explain all the things going through my head at that time, not the least prominent of which was that I recognized that man, that stranger. As my fiancé and I pulled apart, I cast another glance in the 'stranger''s direction. I found he was watching me, his countenance calm and cool as ever, and I was shaken. I avoided his eyes. I smiled up at the man next to me, and finally found my voice. "Yes, I'm fine. Thank you."
I saw his eyes flick to the shadowy figure in the corner. I watched closely, but even so, I almost missed the puzzled look of not-quite-recognition play over his smooth features. Then he looked back. I smiled innocently, though we both knew something was not right.
"Come on, let's get some food," he said, though I could sense the tremor of fear lurking beneath the jovial tone.
I nodded, then cast another look at the shadow. It was stronger this time. I knew him, I was sure of it. But how?
Troubled, I let my partner lead me. He gave no indication of fear, nor any other emotion. His face was an impenetrable mask, and I knew not to disturb him when he was in this state, even if I had wanted to talk. But I felt just as moody, and had no inclination to talk.
Who was that man?
I looked up to the man beside me for solace, but found none. We both walked on in a haze, hardly conscious of the noise ceasing in our wake. Every eye turned to us. But neither of us noticed or cared. How had this one man, whom we both recognized but weren't sure why, have this kind of effect on us? Especially Jake, whom I'd always found to be so strong, so stolid.
Gradually, I began to notice the lack of sound, of movement. "Jake?"
"What?" I could tell he didn't want me to talk to him, but he turned to me anyway.
I nodded my head behind us. We both looked.
Every single eye was on us. Slowly, I became conscious that I was shivering as if I was on the verge of hypothermia. They all knew something was wrong. But what? Not even I knew that. Then the sea of faces began to shift. I originally thought it was because of the stone cold anger in Jake's eyes, but it wasn't that. Were they just awkward, like I was?
Somehow I knew that wasn't it either. Their attention was diverted elsewhere.
I stood, puzzled and shaking, until a young man finally burst out of the crowd.
I looked him over. He was probably in his low twenties, with smooth features and no stubble. He looked at me with that piercing gaze, and I again I felt as if I stood naked in the midst of all these strangers. I pulled Jake close for some comfort, but it seemed as if he felt the same way. I felt a slight tremor go through his body. I'd never known him to react like this to anything, and it sent a cold arrow deep into my breast, where my heart beat faster and harder.
He said nothing. I said nothing. Jake backed away and left me there.
I couldn't take it. To see this small man, who carried such an air of cold, calculating calmness and, at the same time, weakness, turn away a man like Jake, who carried such an air of strength and fiery passion, was too much. I lost my cool.
"Who are you? What do you want?" I tried to yell, but it came out as an appalled whisper.
He simply smiled.
"You know me. You've always known me. Yet you try to deny me. Why is that?"
"Wh- what do you mean?"
"Figure it out, Melanie Lara Mulligan."
And with that, he turned and left.
With a glance to Jake, I followed.
But I never found him again. Still, to this day, I feel an arrow of ice penetrate deep into my chest whenever I remember that man, that night. And I never figured out what he meant.
To Be Continued... I think.