By Shayna Boisvert
The evening was approaching midnight; outside, an owl let out a haunting call, and darkness bled in from the stained glass of the ballroom. Rosaline continued to search the room for the one figure who made these events bearable for her. Men in fine suits and women in eye-catching pearls swept across the dance floor, obscuring her view. Their masks hid their distinguishing features from one another. Silver chandeliers hung from the ceiling their lights and gems spread out like spider webs.
A grand staircase stood solemnly in the corner. The smell of bon-bons and fine perfume permeated the air, accentuating the sounds of smooth shoes gliding across the floor.
Somehow the man always managed to disappear just before the big reveal and Rosaline never saw him again until the next masquerade the following year on Carnival. Tonight, she had watched him all night until she stepped away for just a moment to use the restroom. When she returned he had vanished. Again.
She heaved a great sigh, her dress tightening against her chest.
There wasn’t anything particularly noticeable about the young bachelor she admired. Although his dark auburn hair and obsidian eyes had managed to ensnare her upon occasion, it was his similar disposition that truly attracted her to him. Rosaline enjoyed watching him participate in a battle of wits with the other guests. His dry wit and smooth baritone voice reminded her of a former acquaintance of hers.
The clock struck midnight and bells rang throughout the room. Rosaline removed her mask along with the rest of the guests present. She couldn’t stop her face from falling into a frown. It seemed another year and masquerade had passed and she still did not know the face nor the name of the hidden man.
“Rosaline, are you all right? You have barely uttered a word the entire night.”
At her younger sister Jane’s question, Rosaline shook herself from her thoughts. “I am sorry Jane. I never meant to ignore you.”
The short curly-haired girl smiled at her gently. “Oh, I knew you were not doing it on purpose. What is bothering you?”
Rosaline took a shy sip of her tea, which her sister had made for her. It was vanilla, and the warm, spiced scent brought her comfort. She sighed and savored the taste of the black tea mingling with the soft notes of the Vanilla. It was like a dance taking place upon her tongue. She finally looked at her sister, frowning. “He disappeared again last night.”
Jane knew exactly who Rosaline was speaking of without even needing any more details. “What happened this time?”
“I stepped away to the wash room for just a second and when I returned he was gone.”
Jane’s dark inky eyebrows inched their way towards an equally dark hairline. “Oh no, not again, How many years has it been now?”
Rosaline grimaced. “Four.”
Jane let out an exasperated breath. “Rosaline Gray, four years? Don’t you think it’s about time to figure out who—?”
Rosaline couldn’t help it; she cut her sister off. “But what if he doesn’t wish to be found?”
Jane offered her a small, reassuring smile. “Rosaline, dear, if he truly did not wish to be discovered, do you think he would attend the Carnival Masquerade every year?”
“Maybe he attends out of some sort of obligation?” Rosaline stammered.
Jane laughed softly. “We all attend out of some sort of obligation; we all have different motives and desires that obligate us to go. Granted, those motivations are different for everyone, but we all there for some reason or another.”
Rosaline snorted. “That is true. If it was sociably acceptable, I certainly would not attend.”
Jane’s husband walked in then, and she ran to greet him, flinging her arms around him. Rosaline looked away; she felt as if looking at their private moment was intrusive. Perhaps Jane was right; maybe she needed to find out who this mysterious man truly was.
Weeks after the masquerade, right before Easter, Rosaline walked into a local cafe. A little before noon, her boss had poked his head out of his office and gave all the nurses the rest of the week off to enjoy Easter with their friends and family. He had told them that, unless there was an emergency they were called in for, they could not return until after Easter had passed. That they were being paid for this leave had stopped her from questioning him. The fact that she would now have three more days to start her search for the mystery man was just a bonus.
As she sat down at the bar, she overheard a strange conversation. She paused. It was a conversation that she was surprised to hear in a place without much privacy.
“Is it true?”
Rosaline couldn’t tell who the whispered voice of the first speaker was, but she knew the second—her childhood friend, Anna Mansfield. Whom she had once been close friends with but that was not the case now. They had a terrible falling out years ago,
“Is what true?”
“You know exactly what I am talking about, Anna.” The speaker lowered her voice slightly and Rosaline had to strain to hear. “At the masquerade, I know for sure I saw him. He was talking to a brown-haired woman. Is he alive? Is Oliver Michaels truly alive?”
The clinking of beer mugs and the sliding of bodies against the booth seats nearly drowned out Anna’s answer, but Rosaline heard her last three words. “…he is, Lila.”
Rosaline’s heart began to beat so fast she could hear it in her ears like ocean currents beating against the rocks. All the blood drained from her already pale face. Her former classmate was alive, and quite possibly her savior for the last four years of Carnival masquerades? How could this be?
She had seen him die. During the war she had been a field nurse, and had gone to help Oliver where he had been shot. Rosaline had gone to fetch help when she saw she could not help him on her own, but Oliver Michael’s body had never been recovered. There had been an explosion, blocking the way, no one had been able to go out and aid him, and when the battle ended, the soldiers who went to retrieve his body had never been able to find him.
At the time, she with the rest of the party had thought that someone from a nearby village must have collected his body and buried him or perhaps unfortunately that an animal had somehow gotten hold of him. Now, six years later, she discovered that they all may have been very wrong in their assumption.
“Miss, may I get you something to drink?”
Rosaline looked up, startled at the person who had spoken. It was the waiter. She looked down at the drink menu in her hands.
“Are you okay?”
Rosaline shook her head softly. “No. I do not believe I am. I am sorry to waste your time, but I must leave.”
She quickly stood up, reached into her bag, and grabbed a few spare francs. Before she left, she dropped the coins into the waiter’s hand.
She stepped out into the March air. A breeze blew by and chilled her bones, quite frigid for the end of March. She frantically looked around for her old friend and the girl she had been speaking to, longing to ask them more. After a moment, she spotted them just over a block away. She rushed over to them, weaving in and out of alleyway shoppers, but when she was within earshot of the two girls again, Rosaline realized something else.
Anna was not close enough with her now for her to consciously divulge such secrets to her. She stopped and pondered all of the information she had acquired over the last few minutes.
Her eyes lit up as she realized there was one person who could help her: her best friend Nellie Croix. First she wanted to review her memories to see if she could gather any other information; after that, she would rush straight to her.
Rosaline sat back in her chair, shocked etched across her dainty features. She had a good idea now that her former colleague was still alive, especially after the conversation she had overheard in the bar. Her subsequent reviews of her memories of the past four carnival masquerades had even further seemed to point to the former as well, but to have further confirmation from a trusted source? Well, that definitely tilted the world on its axis.
She stared at the fireplace, watching the orange flames lick the chimney stout. Cold was seeping into Rosaline’s toes and up through her body. She wondered if perhaps she was going into shock. Nellie’s house had paintings hung throughout the room but she could not concentrate on them.
Rosaline sighed, both frustrated and confused. Rosaline kept thinking about how his body had never been recovered after the war. She wondered who had come and aided him.
“I heard today that Oliver Michaels was alive. Do you know anything about that?”
Nellie took a long sip of her tea, debating how to word her next statement. “I have no clue what you are talking about Rosaline. Oliver died years ago, you were there.”
Rosaline noticed that her friend was fidgeting, pulling at a button on her blouse with her free hand and she would not look her in the eye. Rosaline realized that something was off with her friend.
“I guess you are right, we would know if Oliver was alive. If he was alive he would’ve revealed himself by now. What person in their right mind would pretend to be dead?”
Nellie nodded, a little too enthusiastically for Rosaline’s taste. “You are correct. No sane person would pretend to be dead.”
Rosaline also noticed that her friend’s voice had risen in pitch and that she was speaking faster. She knew it for sure then. Her friend was lying. Rosaline had to think of the best way to get her friend to tell her the truth, because she knew that if she made Nellie too uncomfortable she would just refuse to answer her at all.
“Nellie,” Rosaline hesitated planning her approach carefully, “I do not think you have told me the full story. You seem so nervous and your tone is utterly unconvincing. Please tell me the truth.”
Nellie looked away unable to meet her friend’s eyes. Rosaline could have sworn she heard her say “My promise… can’t break”
Rosaline could not take it anymore she flung herself at the feet of her dear friend. She begged and pleaded for Nellie to tell her the truth. “Please I must know, I have not slept, I no longer dream. This is all I can think of! I am going mad. Please I beg of you, tell me the truth!”
Nellie could not help it, she looked upon her friend, and tears were running down Rosaline’s cheeks. Her eyes were wild. She knew she had made a promise but she could not leave her friend in this state. She thought bitterly to herself that he had caused her to be like this, if he had just stayed hidden, she would not be in this situation.
“Fine. There is more to the story, but you must ask the correct questions. Think Rosaline. I know you can figure this out” Nellie said finally.
Rosaline finally allowed herself to think of Oliver. He had been a spy, France’s greatest actually. She had only found out because one day her boss had taken her to a backroom where Oliver had laid bleeding upon the table. They had gone to grade school together, she remembered him well, and he was the one always throwing sand in her hair. Rosaline had worked night and day to restore him back to health. Oliver had been delirious from the pain and whisky they gave him to keep him quiet. He had told her his whole story, he had been asked to become a spy, and worked his way up the ranks quickly on the other side. He was an officer now in the Central Powers which led to him obtaining extremely important information for the Allies. Only one other person knew his secret on the other side, he had told her, another spy Benjamin Noir.
Suddenly it occurred to her that Benjamin must have been involved in this.
“Benjamin saved him, correct?”
“Yes, his dear friend, Benjamin, had been keeping an eye on him. He had to do so secretly, as he didn’t want to risk revealing their espionage to anyone, but Benjamin couldn’t stand to see anything happen to Oliver.”
“Was Benjamin following me, when I went to aid Oliver?”
“Yes, he saw Oliver fall and he and a few of his trusted confidants went to him right after you left and brought him to Benjamin’s manor secretly. It was there where Benjamin’s private doctor treated him.”
“You were close to Benjamin weren’t you? Everyone assumed you had a romantic tryst going on. Did he call upon you to aid him in this… this deceit.”
Nellie blushed at Rosaline’s comment, and ignored the first half of the question, “I was called upon to help treat his wounds. We were all sworn to secrecy because Oliver didn’t want it to be public knowledge until he was ready.”
Rosaline leaned forward, placing her heads in her hands. Her cascading hair hid her from Nellie’s view. She recalled the day she “found” Oliver Michaels.
Rosaline had been tired of staying in the tent. She had felt helpless, so she took off into the warzone to see if there was anyone she could help that was perhaps trapped out there. She grabbed a spare man’s uniform and caught the truck out. A medical kit tucked under her arm. She hated the way everyone treated the nurses like they were breakable just because they were women. She knew that if she could only get out the front line, then perhaps she could save more people.
As soon as she exited the truck, Rosaline knew she had made a grave mistake. She was ushered into a trench, the dirt was crumbling upon her. So, she did the least logical course of action, Rosaline crawled out of the trench. She hurried onto a supply truck, hiding among the cargo, hoping it would take her back to base. Finally, the truck had slowed to a stop, she stepped out and came face to face with a man in a central powers uniform.
The man had yelled. His words were foreign. Perhaps Russian.
Rosaline did not understand, the man continued to yell, he raised his rifle, aimed at her heart.
Just as he was about to shoot, she saw Oliver from the corner of her eye. He pushed her out of the way, the bullet hitting him between the ribs. He fell to the ground and Rosaline ran. She ran and ran until she saw a member of the allies, and pleaded for them to bring her back to base. It was not until she was back did she utter that Oliver Michaels had been shot.
Oliver Michaels had saved her and she had left him to die.
One question leapt forefront to Rosaline’s mind: “Did they ever reveal that he was a spy?”
Nellie nodded. “Yes, his name was cleared. The entire country knows what he did. He was in all the papers? Have you been a recluse Rosaline? Still even though he is deemed a hero, Oliver still does not wish for anyone to know he is alive.”
Rosaline raised one eyebrow “It has been six years since the end of the war! How long does he intend to wait before letting the world know that he is in fact alive?” Rosaline hadn’t realized just how much frustration had been pent up inside her about the whole situation. “I am sorry, Nellie. I shouldn’t have reacted like that.”
Nellie shrugged. “It is okay. I understand your frustration. Oliver is an extremely private man, which is why he now lives in Ireland. He is close to the coast of England, but then he goes and does the oddest things.”
“Which coming from you is saying something.” Rosaline chuckled
Nellie laughed. “Yes, yes. I know.”
“Nellie, by odd things, you mean going to the Carnival masquerade every year, correct?”
“That would be a perfect example. Oliver doesn’t have to go, but after that first year he kept returning. He says it is because he feels obligated because of the suffering of the war, but I think he may have met someone.”
A light flush crept up Rosaline’s neck.
Nellie’s face widened into a grin and she lept up from her chair. “So he did meet someone!”
Rosaline shrugged. “I cannot speak for Oliver, but I know I met someone who is able to keep up with my wit. He is my intellectual match and my confidant,” Rosaline blushed harder. “And, if I may so, the person I could perhaps see myself spending my life with.”
“Have you told him?”
Rosaline shook her head furiously. “What exactly would I tell him? I am not sure if the mysterious man at Carnival is Oliver.”
A deep voice responded to her statement: “It is him.”
Rosaline whipped around and came face to face with Benjamin Noir, Oliver’s closest friend and apparent savior.
She was mortified. “How much exactly did you hear?”
“Enough to know that my beloved friend’s ramblings have not been in vain.”
“What are you saying Benjamin?” asked Rosaline, shocked.
“That it is finally time for Oliver to come out of hiding.”
Rosaline stood and faced Benjamin. “Don’t you dare force him into something he is not ready for, Benjamin.”
He grinned. “Don’t you worry your pretty little mind. I won’t force him. He will not know all the details, but I won’t force him.”
“Benjamin!” She gasped.
He just winked and said, “Just wait for my letter.” He turned and left the sitting room after that, disappearing once again just as quickly as he came.
Rosaline slumped back down and turned towards her friend. “I have a feeling I may regret this.”
“No, you won’t,” replied Nellie.
Rosaline slowly began to sip the tea that was set before her, hoping that her friend was right.
The first Saturday in April dawned rainy and cold. The weather matched Rosaline’s mood. Today was the day that she was to officially meet Oliver again for the first time since the war. To say she was nervous was an understatement; she was unsure of what to expect from her former friend. She stepped away from the window to get ready for the day. She was to be at Benjamin’s for tea in only an hour.
Rosaline walked up to the old oak door of the Noir Manor. A butler let her in, and she paused to take off her coat and take a moment to calm her thoughts.
“There you are. I was starting to worry that you would not show.”
Rosaline rolled her eyes. “I am not one to shy away from the unknown, Benjamin.”
Benjamin just laughed in response and led her into the sitting room where Nellie was sitting already with tea for four.
Rosaline sat and Nellie chuckled. “You seem quite nervous, my friend.”
Rosaline grimaced. “Is it that obvious?”
“A tad, but don’t worry. It’ll be fine.”
“Oliver sent me a response saying he would be a bit late today for he had errands in the morning,”
Benjamin explained. “He said to start without him.”
“How did you get him to agree to this?” Rosaline asked.
“Well, we all meet for tea regularly. Oliver doesn’t know that there is anything different about today.”
Rosaline sighed. “So he has no idea that I’m here, does he?”
“No… I was not expecting you to be here,” said a stunned voice from the kitchen.
Rosaline turned, but the surly man had already swept out of the room. She placed her tea cup on the table and turned to follow Oliver. As she passed the doorway, she heard Nellie say “Let her handle it.”
Rosaline hurried as fast as she could to catch up to the tall man. His one stride almost made up two of hers, so after a few moments, she kicked off her heels so she could reach him faster. She caught up to him on the grass outside. The cool damp blades chilled her toes.
“Mr. Michaels, wait!”
He continued to walk forward, away from Rosaline.
“Oliver, please. Do not leave,” Rosaline begged.
Oliver stilled, his back to her. “Why?”
“Are you the man who has saved me every single Carnival masquerade?”
His shoulders straightened. “What if I am?”
“Then I have a few words for you.”
Oliver finally turned to face her, his eyes blazing. “Such as?”
“Well for starters, thank you.” At his confusion, she continued, “You made the masquerades bearable. If it wasn’t for you, I probably would have bitten someone’s head off.”
He raised an eyebrow, and she stepped closer to him.
“You also provide conversations that surpass any of those I have with others.” She paused and took a deep breath. “Conversations I would like to continue without the comfort of a mask.”
As she watched him she saw a slight change in his stance. His shoulders relaxed. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for her. She took a step closer to him.
“Also, just so you know, Nellie and Benjamin did not reveal your secret. I overheard a conversation in a cafe, which is how I found out.”
Oliver’s eyes narrowed. “Who did you hear?”
“I won’t reveal that. I was an accident and they should not be punished for it.” Rosaline took another step closer to him, their chests almost touching. “It doesn’t matter anyway, I had my own suspicions. Every conversation we had brought me closer to the truth. I would have found out eventually.”
He sighed. It was another slight movement, but Rosaline was close enough to see it. “Is there anything else you wish to say?”
Rosaline held out her hand. “Come to tea and we can talk more.”
Oliver studied her silently, suspiciously. As the time stretched on, Rosaline became more nervous, but she was not about to let him see that. Eventually, long warm fingers wrapped around her own. Rosaline quietly led them back to their friends, a small smile tugging at her lips.
It would be a little over a month later, at a small banquet, when Oliver would make his first appearance since the war. He surprised the masses even more when he arrived on the arm of the former war nurse, Rosaline Gray.
About the Author:
Shay Boisvert is a sophomore at Saint Francis University in Loretto, Pennsylvania. She is majoring in English Literature and Philosophy and minoring in French Cultural Studies and Communication. She was inspired to become a writer after reading the Harry Potter novels at age eight and began writing in high school. Besides writing short stories, she is now an editor for her school’s literary journal Tapestries. Currently she is studying abroad in the south of France while working on her first novel.