Chapter 9: A Bouquet of Roses

A/N: Yes! Another Chapter done. I'm so happy. :] While I was writing this, I listened to some acoustic songs to concentrate. You know those old, sappy, romantic songs played? Yup, I listened to them...and I thought they were PERFECT for the ball scene. It was from a Precious Moments CD I got a long time ago. My favorite was "Love Story(Where Do I begin)" and "That's What Love is For." If you can read while listening to beautiful(preferably lyric-less music, I definitely recommend that you listen to some(like the ones I suggested above) while you read this chapter. Anyway, enjoy!

She was obviously a classic beauty, wearing elegant clothes and having a refined taste, but with her face distorted into a scowl, you could hardly tell all that.

The woman looked no more than 45, with a high forehead and a pointed nose, she wore a thin-strapped white frilled dress, and her chestnut hair was arranged into a carefully styled bun on the back of her head. Currently, she had her hands on her hips, and was tapping one of her pointed shoes on the tiled floor impatiently.

"Well?!" the woman questioned angrily, still tapping away.

Jericho scratched at the back of his head wearily, probably unsure of what to say. "What, I don't get a 'Hi,' mom? No, 'how was your day?" He grimaced, trying to change the subject.

I decided to stand up from my extremely uncomfortable position and hesitantly straightened up my gown.

"Don't try to change the subject! Who is this? Your new girlfriend?!" I turned red, my face clear for everyone to see now that the mask was gone.

"Mother! You can't keep saying that about every girl I bring home. For all we know, she could be my cousin or something."

"I know all your cousins."

He became silent, still uncertain of how to reply.

I chose to speak up. "Mrs..." I began, searching for the next word. Come to think of it, I don't know Jericho's last name. "Madam," I continued, "Lucas invited me here." The woman turned to stare at me, and I squirmed awkwardly under her gaze.

"Yes, Lucas told me to get her." Jericho piped in.

She burst out in laughter. "Lucas, invite you?"

I looked at her, embarrassed. What? Is my hair not fancy enough? Is my dress wrinkled? Maybe I'm not wearing enough jewelry...

She continued laughing. "Oh, I can see you are nothing special. I wonder what he sees in you! But I can't stand in the way of his decisions, of course." She looked down on me haughtily. What in the world is wrong with this woman? I know she's Jericho's mother and all, but...!

Clearing my throat, I was going to snap back at her, which admittedly, probably wouldn't have been the best action, but Jericho quickly rose up to my defense. "Mother, that is enough. Rina has done nothing wrong."

She raised an eyebrow, "Rina? What an odd-sounding name."

The blood in my veins started boiling. She's insulting my name!!

Jericho looked back at his mother coldly. "I think it is a beautiful name," he circled an arm around my waist, "Let's go, Rina."

It wasn't a request, but a harsh command - and I had no choice but to follow obediently. He strode past his mother without any further acknowledgement, and I walked beside him. Once we were out of the room, Jericho sat me on spiraling metal stairs in the back of the room, apologizing hastily.

"I'm so sorry about my mother. She can be rude sometimes when it comes to Lucas," he paused, "I'm almost sure that she likes him better than me."

Frowning, I put my wooden mask back up, fumbling with the ribbons on the back. "I don't think that's true."

He shrugged and extended a hand, "Maybe. I'll show you to the ballroom. Everybody should be there by now."

I smiled and took it. "Alright." I glanced up and saw that the ceiling rose high, painted white, with a glass dome set in the middle, allowing visitors a view of the starry night sky. Jericho led me up to a large pair of double-doors made of mahogany with curved brass handles. He swung open one of the doors for me, and I stepped inside.

The ballroom was enormous. It could have easily been the biggest room I had ever seen in my whole life. From where Jericho and I stood, we could look over the entire place.

A large chandelier hung from the wide expanse of ceiling, lighting up the whole polished marble floor with a bright glow. It accentuated the whiteness of the walls and illuminated the designs carefully engraved all over it - red, pink, and purple flowers displayed beautifully on the walls.

The ceiling was its own masterpiece, centering itself on long gold-painted panels. Gilded glass windows opened at sides of the room, and a large glass double-door at the corner often swung open to reveal a path to a garden. A grand-style staircase led from the door to the floor below, and there, women in costly gowns waltzed around with their masked partners to a wordless, romantic-sounding song, played on a large grand piano at the corner of the room.

This really is a beautiful room... I looked admiringly around, still agape in wonder. Everything in this house is amazing to me! Walking up to the grand staircase, I pressed a hand against the marble banister, letting the soothing cool seep into my palm.

Jericho stepped close behind me, taking my other hand and placing a kiss lightly on it. "I hope it is to your liking?"

I could hardly suppress a laugh. "Yes, yes it is." It's all I could have ever dreamed of.

"Then shall we?" He gently released my hand, slipping his arm instead securely around my waist, and leading me down each step of the staircase. Whispering in my ear, he smirked, "I won't have you falling this time. Especially since Lucas is here. He'll be keeping an eye out for you."

"Mhmm..." I pressed my lips together. I could hardly utter a word; my face was burning behind the mask. As we stepped closer and closer to the waltzing dancers, I couldn't help but admire the gentleness of each person's hold, the slight breeze fluttering through their hair, and the lightness of their steps. They almost look like they're floating.

Each person had a mask which covered their faces thoroughly, giving out a serious and mysterious air, but the low din of murmuring and laughing between partners betrayed their sense of joviality.

Finally, I took my last step with Jericho onto the shining marble floor, and edged closer to the dancers, entranced by their movements. Each couple looks so happy...

Pair-by-pair, dancers floated by us, each partner smiling contently to the other. I opened my mouth to share with Jericho what I noticed when another couple passed us by, notably different from the others.

The lady had a casual smile on her face, an elegant hairstyle, a beautiful gown, and a decorated mask---not too unusual from the rest, but the man, there was a problem with this man.

He didn't have the same smiled plastered on his face like the rest, instead, he had a small scowl on his face. From where I was standing, I couldn't make out any characteristic behind his dark red mask except that he was a little heavy on his feet and that his hair was combed down and tied into a small ponytail in the back, strange in that none of the other men had decided to tie their hair back in any way.

As he and his partner waltzed past by me, they were dancing fast enough to make a little breeze blow by, sending a shiver to run down my spine. I can't take my eyes off him...He's the odd man out. He certainly was, for in the large group of people, I could make out wherever he was by the sound of his step and the flash of his hair.

Jericho tapped my shoulder gently, interrupting my thoughts. "Are you going to look for Lucas now?"

I shook my head. "I don't think so. He specifically told me that he would be the one to look for me."

"Looking for you, huh? Well, he certainly isn't doing a good job at it."

Staring at him, I muttered, clearly confused. "What?"

He laughed and pointed to a person behind me, and I followed the direction of his gaze.

An olive-green masked man was holding a bouquet of roses and weaving in and out the dance floor, muttering softly to himself. Every so often, he got the attention of one of the women standing around and asked them a question. Each woman shook her head.

"What does that guy have to do with Lucas?" I asked, a little dubious.

Chuckling, Jericho placed his hands on my shoulders and whirled me around to look at the man again, whispering closely in my ear, "You don't recognize him? Look closely. He's your prince charming."

Prince Charming...? Glaring at him, I turned to look at the man again. I stared at him hard, but my eyes sometimes fell on the heavy-footed, pony-tailed dancer passing by instead. He really is hard not to just stare at. I turned away from watching the strange man and his partner and focused on the man with the roses.

Strands of blonde hair swayed as he walked with a light and steady gait, chatting with some of the women with an easy smile and letting cerulean blue eyes wander around. I was very close to begging Jericho to reveal who he was when sudden realization hit me. Is it Lucas...?

I looked at the man with wide eyes. He was looking for me. He was holding a bouquet of roses, probably asking any woman he encountered if they were me.

I looked back at Jericho and laughed, "You are right, he is bad at this."

A mischievous look crossed his face and his eyes glinted suspiciously behind his mask. "Maybe we should mess with him."

I folded my arms and looked at him hesitantly, "I don't know..."

"Come on! With someone like Lucas, you need to play hard-to-get! Let's try to avoid him as much as possible." And before I could utter any word of protest, Jericho whisked me away to the far opposite side of the ballroom.

~OoO~

We ended up near one of the glass-paned windows, and I was glowering at Jericho. He dragged me to the other side of the room without warning---far, far away from where Lucas was looking.

Finding a cushioned chair nearby, I plopped myself down huffily, letting my dress puff out strangely around the sides. I gave Jericho a fixed stare as he sauntered toward me. How dare he! Walking towards me, strutting arrogantly as he does it.

He rested a hand on my shoulder, leaning easily against the back wall. Shrugging his arm off, I scowled at him. He only grinned. "Relax Rina. Lucas is a pretty determined person, if he wants to, he'll find you," he paused, then chuckled, "...eventually."

I smacked him on the arm, annoyed.

"Oh come on, Rina! Here. So he won't be able to find you for a little longer." Jericho pulled me up hastily and shoved me into the arms of the nearest passerby.

My back collided into what seemed like a wall, and I spun around in surprise. I looked up into the startled coffee-brown eyes of a stranger. Actually, THE stranger.

I stepped back, admiring his tied-up hair. He glanced at Jericho, looking exasperated and just a little ticked off. "I've already finished dancing with that girl," he pointed across the room to the stunning lady he was dancing with, "I don't think I have the patience to dance anymore."

Jericho snickered, removing his mask. "Are you sure about that?"

Frowning, I argued, "The man clearly doesn't want to dance with me, don't go forcing him Jericho."

Jericho raised an eyebrow. The red-masked man cleared his throat and mumbled in a forced voice, "No, it's alright...I'll...I'll dance with you." He sighed softly, taking my hand. He clearly doesn't want to do this! Jericho, I'll kill you when this is over!

Behind us, I heard a lady giggle and whisper. Then another did the same. Then another, and another, until a whole group of women were giggling and whispering to each other. I looked back at them, irritated. Are they laughing at me?

But no, they pointed past me and the red-masked man, at Jericho himself, who still had his mask off. They all let out a squeal, shrieking, "Jericho!!" and swarmed towards him, sweeping past my partner and I, who, even though the girls were threatening to break through between us, held on to my hand tightly and didn't let go.

The group crowded around Jericho, screaming and closing in on him. I took one last look at Jericho that night, who gave me a wink and a grin, then sped off, the giggling girls close on his heels.

The stranger let out another strangled sigh, then led me to the middle of the marble floor, watching other couples spin and dance around us merrily while holding me closely. I can't believe I'm doing this...

"I can't believe I'm doing this." I looked up at him in his red mask, and his shoulders dropped.

"You really don't have to do this, you know. " I scowled, offended.

"I don't have a choice."

I frowned, "Everybody has a choice."

He looked at me curiously, but decided not to continue.

"Give me your hand."

"Huh? Why?" I replied distractedly. Out of the corner of my eye, I could still see Lucas roaming around, looking for me.

The stranger ran a hand through rebellious locks of black hair that escaped his pony tail. "So we can dance..."

"R-Right!" I snapped back to reality, gingerly placing my hand in his and laying my other hand on his shoulder, copying the other dancers' stances. He gently wrapped his arm around my waist, and placing his hand on the small of my back, took a small step forward.

Expecting that he would move backward, I stepped forward simultaneously, and collided again against him.

I let out a small grunt while he raised an eyebrow. "Let's try this again?" I wheezed most unladylike, but then nodded.

I placed my hand on his shoulder and he wrapped his arm around my waist again...and we both take a step backward.

He dropped his arm from around my waist and I stumbled into a dancing couple behind me, probably making the two miss a couple steps. I stammered a quick apology and my partner came up behind me, also apologizing.

Taking my hand, he led me back to the center of the floor and groaned. "Okay, you step backward, I step forward, and let me lead."

I silently agreed and we were back to it, except this time, I was clutching his hand and shoulders relatively tightly. If it was painful just walking around in my slippers, dancing was agonizing. My legs were wobbling, and constantly, I'd look down at our feet trying to straighten my legs and mirror my partner's steps.

He grumbled. "Would you ease up a little?" I stared at him, and then noticed that I was gripping onto his shoulder so tightly that I was bunching the fabric underneath my hands.

"Sorry..." I mumbled, relaxing my hold on him and flattening the cloth. I then went crashing down onto the left side because my slipper tilted sideways. Alarmed, I let my arms drop down in front of me, ready to catch myself for when I would hit the floor, but my partner tensed his arm around my waist, preventing me from completely falling.

I swayed a little, uncertain. He looked at me, then tilted his head back somewhat and laughed. I glanced back at him peevishly.

"You don't know how to dance, do you?"

Embarrassed, I looked away. I found Lucas still weaving in and out through the couples.

"No," I murmured, "No, I don't."

My partner bent down slightly so he could look at me eye-to-eye, and smiled, "How about I teach you?"

I nodded dumbly. "That would be nice."

He took my hand in his again and placed his other hand on the small of my back. "Alright, let's do this again."

As we started dancing, I tried following his movements exactly, but was staring down at the floor and wobbling the whole time.

He paused a moment, then let go of my hand and stared at me, amused. "Don't mirror me exactly. Lower your shoulders a little, it's making you move stiffly."

I huffed at him. "You're raising your shoulders too!"

"It's different for me. Because I'm tall, it looks like I'm raising up my shoulders, even though I'm not." He said, placing both hands on my bare shoulders and pushing down softly. "Also," he continued, "don't look down."

I was staring down at our feet at the moment. He lifted a finger to my chin and tilted my head up to look at him. "You don't need to look at my feet to know where I'm going to step next. Since I'm leading, you can let me guide you. You don't have to move exactly at the same time as me."

Even though I didn't really understand, I went ahead and nodded anyway.

Next, he pointed to my slippers. "Your shoes are making it hard for you to dance, am I right?" Was it that obvious?

Suddenly, he knelt down and lifted my left foot up an inch. I staggered and flailed my arms erratically, trying to maintain my balance. He brushed a finger against my ankle as he shifted my right slipper slightly so that my foot rested more on the heel, and did the same on the other one.

Straightening up, he grinned, then wrapped his arm around me securely. "Now lastly," He looked down at me, giving me a clear view into his dark eyes, and smiled confidently, "you need to trust me."

I gaped from behind my mask, awestruck. He's so...sure?

A new song started playing, and he started to lead. I pursed my lips and followed his steps a second after. Trying to restrain myself from looking down at our feet, I practically stared a hole through his face.

Noticing my effort, he smiled back warmly, making it easier for me to forget looking down. There was a gleam in his eyes, and I noticed that he was dancing a little differently from when I first noticed him back in front of the staircase.

His steps weren't heavy anymore, but light, almost graceful. There wasn't a scowl on his face either, he was smiling. Now it seemed like we were floating, just like the others around us.

We whirled around the floor in time with the music - slowly, but grandly. I continued to watch him, and he softened his gaze. I really couldn't tear my eyes away from his. It's so hard for me to look away from him...

"May I interrupt?" I let go of my partner and turned. There was Lucas, his intense blue eyes piercing into the stranger's, a look of amusement crossing his face.

My partner stared at him coldly, but then shrugged, and disappeared amidst the crowd of people dancing.

I watched sadly as the stranger walked away. I didn't even say 'Thank You'.

Lucas was still holding onto the bouquet of roses, and he stepped closer to hand them to me, grinning happily.

"Finally found you."

Biting off a "took you long enough," I buried my nose deep into the roses, caressing some of the petals. They're perfect.

Bending down and gathering my hand in his, he ran his lips gently against my knuckles. "Care to dance?" This was what I was waiting the whole night for, wasn't it?

I put down the roses and smiled, "Of course."

A/N: Okay, I know what you're thinking, "Another Author's Note??" Well, yes, another a/n, because I have a lot to say. I know this was another slow update, I'm sorry. T_T; It takes a lot to get me to concentrate on writing, so I had a bit of a problem in the beginning. Sometimes I listen to music while I'm at it, but then most of them have words, and so instead of writing, I end up belting out the lyrics along with the song. That's when I realized the beauty of acoustic music and the 'visualization' mode on Windows Media Player. The visualization actually helped me a lot since there was one that reminded me of a couple dancing, which is exactly what this chapter's about! I LOVED writing this chapter and reading over to edit it while listening to romantic music. It seemed so sweet to me(I hope it's the same for you!). :D I was so occupied with this chapter, you could find me all over the place in my house, on my dining table, in my bed, or sitting on the floor, leaning on the cabinet. X) I'm just sad that I didn't make the ball scene only one chapter. :( So yes, there WILL be a second part to the ball scene, I'm going to get started writing on it, and before you go on, leave me a review! They always make me smile. :D

Passionately Yours – Thanks for leaving a review. Due to your request, I still kept Jericho and decided to put him in a crucial part in the story(He's not dead...yet! Mwahaha! Just kidding). :) This won't be the last you see of him.

Garneau. – Thank you for reviewing as always. :) Yes, high-heeled shoes are a pain sometimes. I never thought of Jericho to be a "smooth debonair" character, but now that I think of it, it fits him quite well. I hope you enjoyed the chapter!