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At Second Sight

Chapter 1 - Girl

“I’m surprised you’re not already going through all your preparations for tonight,” my roommate and best friend tells me from the top of the basement stairs. I’m sitting on my spin bike with less than ten minutes left in the long cycling workout I both love and hate to do on Saturdays and holidays. Love—because there’s nothing quite like the high of completing a forty-five-minute spin session; hate—because the discipline and grit required to finish a forty-five-minute workout test my resolve in a way I would rather avoid. Like it has every other time, the love overpowers the side of me that wants to quit early.

“I have three hours before I have to leave,” I say to her, nearly breathless from the intensity of the interval. 

Ever since my roommate surprised me with the ticket to the NYE Masquerade Ball, I’ve been counting down the days in my head and using an app on my phone as a backup countdown. In addition, I’ve been scouring my typical discount and thrift stores in the hunt for the perfect black dress. Eventually, I caved and bought the one I had bookmarked online from one of my favorite stores. I have a philosophy that if I’ve been admiring a piece of clothing or a pair of shoes for more than a month and can afford to buy said item, the financial investment is worth the surge of joy that accompanies the arrival of the purchase. So, I bought the dress and accessories at a discount because I waited for a sale.

“Right, I just assumed you would want to get there early so you can find the best parking,” she says before walking away as one would after detonating a grenade.

Parking turns out to be the very topic I need to keep my mind occupied as I push through the final hard and all-out intervals of the workout. Parking is why I don’t “get out more” as those older than me encourage me to do. Well, it’s not my only excuse, but it is a big one. While the streetcar along Main Street has helped mitigate the downtown parking nightmares of the past, public transportation loses its appeal for evening events in the winter. I want to have easy access to my car when the temperatures are below freezing at the stroke of midnight. Going to a party alone on New Year’s Eve is enough to make me want to arrive hours early for a coveted parking space.

She only bought one ticket to the infamous NYE Masquerade Ball tonight, specifically for me. It’s not that she doesn’t want to come with me, but between the price per ticket and the opportunity to spend the evening with her boyfriend and his family, this will be a solo adventure for me. Given the impending proposal he’s planning, I’ll have to get used to sharing her with him. Soon, he’ll be the one sharing his wife with me.

I ease myself off the bike seat and walk around to accustom my legs to solid ground again before making the arduous trek from the basement to the living room for a cool-down stretch. This is the best part about the near-hour of torture—the endorphins. One banana, a homemade chocolate milk cappuccino, and two slices of whole wheat toast with butter later, I peel off my workout clothes in exchange for a robe and assess my features. I spent two hours yesterday evening straightening my naturally kinky hair. In a perfect world, I would quickly curl it with my bubble wand, but the time on my phone doesn’t agree with that prospect. Curling it might take an hour and holds the risk of burning myself as I fry my hair into ringlets.

I opt for the less time-consuming option of French braiding my long bangs and pulling the rest into a low bun. Then, I go through the multiple steps of washing my face and applying the full effect of makeup from primer to mascara. Satisfied with my efforts, I stare at the rare reflection in the mirror. That girl has chocolate brown eyes that can get away with any color eyeshadow and long, dark eyelashes that don’t need extensions. Her red lips have the perfect Cupid’s bow that can entice any man in her vicinity. She’s confident and capable and doesn’t need a date to a New Year’s Eve party.

Once I’m in my new black dress and sleek heeled black and gold booties, I move my phone, keys, and lip gloss to my pearl clutch that my aunt gave me for Christmas last week. I hold my breath as I gently lift the gold glitter mask from my top drawer. Years ago, I bought the mask with the hope that the day would come when I would need it for a ball.

 

I park my small blue sedan in the underground parking garage below the recently renovated Barney Allis Plaza. While parking garages make me nervous, I trust them more than I trust the above-ground parking lots in the Power and Light District. At least the parking garages tend to have some level of security and decent lighting at night. I take a few deep breaths to calm the nerves that always appear when I’m about to enter a new environment filled with strangers. The frigid December air bites my skin as I speed walk toward the elevator that will take me to street level. 

Finding the street signs to gain my sense of direction, my mind flashes back to the two times I got lost in this area of the city. Neither time was my fault since I wasn’t driving or deciding the walking direction for our group. In the first instance, my dad was at the wheel while I was told to navigate us to the restaurant he remembered seeing on his GPS app. The problem was that the downtown area is notorious for one-way streets that only a native or experienced transplant can expertly maneuver; we were mere visitors then. The second time, I instinctively knew we were headed in the wrong direction simply because the few months I had been living on campus at the university had taught me that certain streets are north-south streets, and the numbered streets are east-west. Had I been consulted on the matter, we would have never gotten lost. A few years later, I can theoretically find my way around without a map. Theoretically.

Limousines line the front entrance of the Grand Hall at Power and Light. From a distance, I watch as their occupants step out of the rented cars and onto the makeshift red carpet for the event. The men sport tailored suits and dress shoes that likely cost more than one semester’s tuition at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Their dates are just as extravagant with their gowns and heels. Although seeing the wealthy class is intimidating, I push forward anyway. I have a ticket to the same event they’re attending, granting me the same access. The worker at the door checks my ticket and takes my coat from me with a smile that I interpret as genuine. 

Before tonight, I had only seen this event space in photos and videos online. In person, the historical space is exquisite with crown molding dividing the sections of the high ceilings and the delicate details of the railing that lines the mezzanine level. The center of the main level is the designated dance floor with a live string quartet on the low stage at the far edge. There are round tables and chairs set up for guests and rectangular tables intended for food and drinks. Unsure of where to go, I drift toward the table with the complimentary champagne fountain and fill my hand with a flute. Then I move to the side, far enough away from the table to be out of anyone’s way. 

Most tables aren’t assigned seating except for a few designated with reserved signs for those who donated an unthinkable dollar amount to the charities highlighted at tonight’s ball. Those seats will be filled with Kansas City’s elite, the surnames that are displayed on our performing arts centers and stadiums as well as the professional athletes that play in those stadiums.

 

The millionaires and billionaires of this midwestern city are forming their usual cliques, finding each other naturally despite the masks. They can smell the money on each other the way they can smell the lack of it on me. These booties are far from Louboutin, and my perfume is a souvenir one of my friends brought back from her trip to Paris. A classic black dress is still a classic black dress though, no matter the price tag. I would rather spend the night in a corner observing them than have to pretend I enjoy small talk with people with whom I have nothing in common besides these fleeting hours. It’s better to be lonely and by myself, than be lonely while around someone.

I sip the champagne I would never buy simply because I know it must be out of my budget if this crowd goes back for refills from the fountain. I slip out my phone and take a picture to send to my friends because if I don’t leave with proof, they’ll never believe me about how ostentatious this affair truly is. 

“You know, most people here only take selfies to post to their social media accounts,” a deep voice says behind me—too close behind me. I whip around and almost collide with the source of the comment. Dark blue eyes sparkle behind a velvet black and gray mask, hinting at either amusement or mischief. Or a combination of both. His smirk communicates an air of confidence that evokes both the inclination to slap him and the desire to kiss him. At first sight, he is a living paradox to my emotions.

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