When I first met Whitney Everett, I was smitten with her effortless, winsome ways. It was as if her loveliness and grace wove a glamor around her, like the right perfume on the right woman. But over time, I learned that this Whitney was a mirage, shimmering on the edge of the horizon in paradisiacal perfection. Or a Seurat painting: From far away, her flaws smoothed out and coalesced into a pretty picture; get close enough, and you feel like you’ve been fooled.

We were both Theatre Majors, but Whitney’s concentration was Acting and mine was Costume Design. While she went on stage, I stayed behind the curtain. And that’s where I preferred to stay, really. Whenever I found myself in the spotlight, all I could think about was getting out of it as quickly as possible.

Our personalities weren’t the end of our differences either. I’d grown up in a family that struggled to stay in the middle class while there still was one and had acquired many of my sewing skills so I could alter hand-me-downs; Whitney had come from old money, and grew up going to cotillion clubs and debutante balls. I was on the petite side with an hourglass shape that was curvier on the bottom than the top; Whitney was willowy with an ass to die for and tits that I suspected had been enhanced.

I couldn’t really fault Whitney for her beauty and breeding, or what she wanted to do to her own body, as long as she was healthy and happy. But I was lacking in all the areas she wasn’t, and for some reason, she took pleasure in exploiting my weak points whenever she could. The only reason she knew so many of them was because at the beginning of our relationship, when I was still viewing Whitney from the other side of a velvet rope, I told her things about myself that I would later regret- financial struggles, insecurities, shameful secrets and embarrassing sexual experiences.

After my disillusionment, I tried avoiding Whitney as much as possible, but being in the same department made that difficult. In addition to taking several classes together, we frequently worked together on theater productions. All I could do was try not to make waves with one of the most popular and influential girls in the department, if not the entire college.

That past couple of weeks had been particularly touchy because Whitney and I had been paired up to make a promptbook for Into The Woods in our Concepts of Stage Production course. We’d divvied up who’d be in charge of what, and I’d taken on doing the illustrations for the costumes, set pieces, props management and production notes. It was due in the first week of April and being near the end of March, I was practically through with my portion of the project. Whitney, however, had barely started- which worried me because it was a huge grade.

When I saw her waiting in front of the Albert Simons Center that Thursday afternoon, I had the faint hope that she’d been hard at work.

“Hi, Nina! Come sit with us,” Whitney called out cheerfully, her matte scarlet lips curling into a catty grin. She was wearing a short floral dress belted around her minuscule waist, dirty blonde hair falling over her shoulders with a sort of cultivated carelessness. Perched on the edge of a low wall with her long tan legs crossed just so, Whitney looked like she was ready for a photo shoot.

“Hey, Whitney,” I replied, situating myself on an adjacent wall. I said hello to Vanessa, Chelsea and Maddox, three of her besties, but none of them looked up from their phones.

“So I was just asking the girls what to do with my extra invitation.”

I looked at her dumbly, wondering what she could be talking about. “Extra invitation to what?”

“To the Swamp Fox Society’s Fools’ Masquerade,” she answered with a mischievous gleam in her bright green eyes.

Charleston was full of elite social clubs and they all had their own sets of customs and etiquette, a separate culture almost. Apparently, her inclusion should have been an honor, but a society name after Colonel Francis Marion’s moniker sounded like a Peter Pan Syndrome support group. I couldn’t imagine anything duller than one of their parties.

“I still have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Are you kidding? It’s only one of the most exclusive masked balls held in all of Charleston. My Daddy’s on the board and I was able to snag an extra invitation for one of my friends. I’m just trying to figure out who’d have the most fun because Maddox can’t come and neither can Chelsea,” she pouted.

“What about Vanessa?”

Vanessa started to say something, but Whitney interrupted like the answer had just dawned on her.

“What about you, Nina? Everyone will be wearing Venetian masks and Carnival costumes- you’ll love it!” Her enthusiasm alone was enough to make me suspicious.

“Come on, Whitney- is this just some elaborate way to get me to dress up and literally make a fool of myself in front of a whole bunch of people?”

“Here- read it for yourself.” And she reached into her Gucci bag and produced what looked like an oversized playing card featuring a commedia dell’arte Fool complete with belled-cap.

Turning it over in my hands, I read the invitation. You are cordially invited to attend the Swamp Fox Society’s APRIL FOOLS’ MASQUERADE. Please wear a masque and your finest motley. The address given was for an estate on the Isle of Palms, so I assumed it would be very posh indeed. But her unexpected charity didn’t leave me with a pleasant feeling.

I passed the card back to her and said, “I don’t know, Whit, fancy parties aren’t my thing…” Parties, in general, weren’t really my thing, but I probably didn’t have to tell her that.

“Listen, Nina, I know I can be a real bitch sometimes so let me make it up to you. I really do think you’d have a blast. And it’s not all dancing- there are games with prizes, entertainers, a ton of booze. I’ll even pay for your mask if you’re worried about how much they cost.”

Whether it was intended to or not, I felt the blow to my pride. “But I won’t know anyone there,” I faltered, running out of excuses.

“Isn’t that the point of a masquerade? Come on, I’ll even give you a ride.”

I was about to make up some prior obligation but then I decided, what the hell. It did sound intriguing, and I doubted I’d ever have the opportunity to go to such a prestigious event again.

“Okay, why not. Thanks, Whitney,” I said, taking the invitation from her taloned hands.


Whitney directed me to a costume boutique in the French Quarter downtown and said that ‘Madame Felicienne’ would be expecting me. Closer to Halloween, the shop catered to more macabre tastes, but throughout the year, they carried finely-made garments from various historical periods- the Medieval Age, the Renaissance, the Victorian Era, the Roaring Twenties. The boutique owner- pale with dark brown hair and eyes, graceful as a ballerina, slender as a willow tree- greeted me in a French accent embroidered with a Lowcountry twang.

After making our introductions, I explained that I’d be attending an April Fools’ Masquerade and needed a Venetian-style mask. I followed Mme. Felicienne’s brisk stride to a room dedicated solely to Carnival costumes. There were pairs of mannequins, impeccably styled in matching male and female costumes; racks of gowns, bodysuits and capes in every color and material imaginable; and masks staring at me with their blank eyes everywhere I looked.

“You will want one in the Columbina style, yes? The Volto is too much for one as petite as you,” she said, leading me from the masks that cover the entire face to ones that only covered half of it.

They were each as ornate as a Fabergé egg and looked so delicate that each time I reached to touch them, I’d quickly withdraw my hand.

Mme. Felicienne laughed at my timidity. “Do not be afraid to try them on, Mademoiselle Nina. Like many beautiful things, they are rather stronger than they appear.”

Picking up a black filigree style mask that mimicked the shape and markings of butterfly wings, the woman insisted I try it on. As I went to tie the ribbon underneath my long black ponytail, the Madame did it for me. This simple yet intimate act- the binding of a mask on my face, her fingers tickling my scalp, her body right behind mine- made me tingle all over.

We both examined my appearance in the mirror critically. I felt like I was looking through a cage.

Non, non. Not quite right for your skin-tone,” she declared. “It’s too harsh a contrast.”

I nodded and allowed her to undo the bow in the back, my eyes fluttering closed at the sensation of silk slipping over the base of my neck.

Next, I tried on an asymmetrical one meant to mimic the shape of a swan, with an upsweep of white feathers tipped with gold. It was pretty, but the shape and style were not for me and the Madame agreed. I tried on several in different bright hues- emerald green, plum purple, royal blue- I decided I’d rather have something less garish. A deep burgundy mask with a corona of dark feathers drew my eye, but when I tried it on, it blended in too much with my raven-colored hair.

I mused aloud that I wanted something elegant, ethereal, and as soon as I said those words Mme. Felicienne raised a finger and went to a back room. A minute later she returned with a white box.

“I bought several masks on my last trip to Venice that I haven’t put on display yet. And I think this one might be parfait,” she declared.

The mask was cream with a crackled finish, adorned with gold lace and wispy ostrich feathers. From the inset pearls to the hand-painted musical notes, every detail had been meticulously crafted like a piece of jewelry. When I tried it on, Mme. Felicienne clapped her hands together in approval. It was flattering for my face-shape, perfectly framing my large blue eyes and accentuating the contours of my full pink lips.

“I love it,” I murmured. But after I took it off and discreetly checked the tag, my jaw dropped.

Seeing my expression, Mme. Felicienne actually laughed. “Oh, forget about the price- it’s going on Mademoiselle Whitney’s account. You must have it, my dear, it was made for you.”

I smiled despite myself and then nodded. “Then I’ll take it, si vous plait.”

When she asked if I’d care to try on any dresses, I told her that I planned on making my own. The woman looked at me skeptically, as if I’d said I was building my own car to get there too.

“Well, I’ve made dresses before, and I’m a costume-design student so I have access to plenty of machines and materials at school. I can make it work,” I Tim-Gunned more confidently than I felt.

“Ah, I see- another couturiére. Then may I recommend that you allow the mask to inspire the costume. Many people even chose to think of it as adopting another persona- a character if you will.”

“Hmm, then I may have a character in mind.”

“Oh?” she inquired as she wrapped my purchase in parcel paper.

“Yes. An angel.”


Over the next few weeks, I ‘reappropriated’ a variety of materials from the fashion design and costume departments to make my dress. I used an ivory bustier as the foundation for the garment and constructed the skirts from layers of floaty, translucent fabrics in shades of cream, gold and the palest pinks. It was long in the back but short and flirty in the front. The trims and accents took it from homemade dress to fashionable gown, and accessories like a capelet of feathers that resembled folded angel wings made it an ensemble.

I was actually quite proud of it, and of how I looked in it, but I was still petrified when Whitney picked me up the night of the party. Since I knew I’d be sitting down, I wasn’t wearing the capelet yet or the long bustled portion, which I’d made to detach from the shorter skirts to make things easier in the restroom.

When I looked at myself in the mirror on the way out the door, I barely recognized the girl looking back- even without the full costume on. My dark curls were glossier and smoother than usual, thanks to some hair products, and I was actually wearing makeup, not to mention heels and silk stockings. I’d even gone so far as to put on false eyelashes and paint my nails.

As fate would have it, Whitney was dressed as a sexy Devil- complete with a filigree mask and a set of horns encrusted in Swarovski crystals. Her backless red column-dress skimmed over her curves, had a plunging neckline that showed off her 32 DD tits (having costumed her, I’d been up close and personal with them), and a slit that went all the way up the top of her thigh.

Though her gown was skimpy, I could tell that it had cost a fortune nonetheless, and I began to worry that no matter how many pearl beads or sequins I embellished my dress with, it would never compare to the other girls’. But then, to my pleasant surprise, Whitney complimented my handiwork as best she could.

“Nina- you’ve really outdone yourself! You look beautiful and your dress…” She trailed off when she noticed her date in a Guy Fawkes mask looking me up and down, then hastily added, “I’m so glad you could find something that fit on such short notice.”

Being a size zero, Whitney always seemed to regard my size six as ridiculously huge. But I figured she just didn’t like her plus-one checking me out and gave her a simpering smile.

“Thank you, Whitney. The mask is really what made it all come together. If you need me to pay you back or anything…”

“Oh no, Nina, I wouldn’t dream of taking your money. Although, there is something you could do to make us even.”

“Oh? What?” I asked uneasily.

“It’s just that I’m just so swamped with rehearsals and exams- if you could finish my half of the promptbook project, it would take a load off my mind.”

“Oh, well um, I- I mean, I suppose,” I stammered, feeling put on the spot to agree. Having never been a confrontational person, it was hard to know what else to say under the circumstances.

“Thanks, Nina- you’re a lifesaver!”

The awkward car ride ended at such a charming destination that it was almost worth it. Atop the wrought-iron gate outside were the words Guillard Estates, and I recognized the name as a well-established family in Charleston. I started to get butterflies in my tummy on the way to the door, noticing the many other fashionable guests in haute couture, their gaze falling on the lucky man with an Angel on one side and a Devil on the other.

Before we were allowed admittance, we had to show our invitations. When they looked at mine, I saw that its gold edging was unique. This must have indicated something because when we entered the anteroom, I was ushered to one side by a man in a gilded sun mask.

“Welcome to the masquerade, Miss. Please accept this fool’s favor.” He was holding out a small jester’s mask brooch, which I supposed I was expected to wear. After pinning it onto my bodice, he bowed and wished me a pleasant evening.

When I turned back to Whitney and her date, I nearly panicked to find that they were no longer by my side. Entering the reception hall, I could see that she wasn’t there either. There were several doorways and parlors off the hall, as well as a grand staircase, so she could have gone anywhere. I thought to ask one of the servers carrying trays of champagne and hor d’oeuvres, or one of the guests milling about, but I felt too embarrassed to admit I’d been ditched at the door.

I texted Whitney to find out where she was but didn’t get a response. Tears began to sting my eyes, and I wondered if I should just call a cab home. Standing there, I noticed a man across the room was watching me. He was wearing a tuxedo and a black velvet cape with cowl and a Phantom of the Opera style mask that revealed enough of his face to show he had a strong, clean-shaven jawline and high cheekbones. The Phantom saluted me with his champagne flute, a smile curving the corners of his mouth, and I hastily looked away.

Not wanting to just stand around waiting for Whitney to text me, I decided to venture into the ballroom, which had a sign hanging above it reading ‘Square Dance Hoedown’. For a moment I watched the blurs of brightly colored dancers weaving intricate patterns on the checkered floor. Most of the tiles were black and white, but there were squares of Mardi Gras colors as well. A chamber orchestra-cum-zydeco band playing the music. The combination of the accordion and the harpsichord was jarring- as was the sea of masked visages.

Many of the men’s faces and heads were completely obscured by Volto masks and the cowls of their capes, which flared out behind them as they twirled around with their colorful partners. Often they would switch according to some complex dancing rule that I wasn’t familiar with, or form synchronized formations of multiple dancers.

As I analyzed the crowd, I noticed that some of the women were curvier and others were thinner, but they were all very attractive. It also appeared that they fell into a narrow age range- from around twenty-one, like myself, to no older than thirty, if I had to hazard a guess. There was not one drooping jawline or crepey neck, no sagging tits or wrinkles, just smooth skin, slender limbs and taut curves. The only reason I was aware so keenly aware of this was because most of their dresses left little to the imagination.

It was harder to determine the men’s ages since many of their ensembles left little-to-no skin exposed, but there was a certain definition to their bearing- a combination of practiced grace and controlled strength- that made me think they were more mature. That and the glint of grey or silver I saw on most any man’s jaw that had been left uncovered.

I was contemplating this disparity when a pair of glittering red horns growing out of dirty blonde hair caught my eye. I sighed with relief to see Whitney and her date gliding effortlessly with the other couples.

When I felt a tap on the shoulder, I startled and turned around. It was the man in the Phantom mask. Now that he was next to me, I could see that he was even more handsome than I’d suspected. Older than me, but no silver stubble yet. His heavenly masculine scent was enough to make my heart race.

“Would you care to dance?” he asked, extending his gloved hand. His deep, raspy voice was undeniably sexy.

“I would, but I’m not really that good.”

He leaned in and confided, “Neither am I.”

“It looks pretty complicated, though. What if we bump into someone?” For some reason, I found myself speaking in a breathier, more seductive voice than I’d ever used in person before.

“Then we’ll just bow and curtsy. Or cut and run,” he chuckled.

“Alright.” And I put my hand in his and let him lead me out to the dancefloor. Despite my nerves, there was something about his presence that put me at ease. His hand felt nice holding mine, his other rested on my waist, our bodies close enough together to where my breasts grazed his chest, and the heat between us was palpable.

“You lied- you’re a very good dancer,” I remarked after we’d been incident free for a couple of minutes.

“You’re not so bad yourself, Angel.”

As he led us around the floor, I couldn’t help but notice how firm and muscular he felt, from his biceps to his shoulders to his chest.

“So what should I call you- Phantom?”

“Did the Phantom of the Opera have a name?”

“Not in the musical, but in the book it was Erik. I’m a Theatre Major,” I added, thinking that I probably sounded like a dork.

“How about Erik, then. And what should I call you?”

“I like it when you call me Angel…”

“Then Angel it is. I see you’re a virgin here.”