I sigh, tightening her laces. Karen, a stout blonde at almost sixteen, squeals at the sudden lack of space. I'm already wearing my Paris-green silk dress with the one-shouldered top and high-low "A" skirt. Earthen brown rose designs embroider the bodice, ending at the waist, cinched with a thin tan leather belt. The cosmetics for the evening consist of brown layered eye shadow paired with black mascara and a light film of pink lip gloss. I'm standing in a pair of black one-inch stilettos.
"Because you can't really wear a bra with this kind of dress. Arms up. After all, it's strapless," I respond, annoyed and starting to pull the periwinkle garment in question over her. The sheer top was strapless with a sweetheart neckline that will snugly fit the corset once the blue buttons on the back are fastened. It was accompanied by a circular skirt that stopped at the knees, made of cashmere. Swirls of sea green dance across the material while the top is lined with jade-hued rhinestones. Karen slipped on her cerulean suede flats, panting slightly from the lack of room.
"And why not a strapless bra?"
"Too visable and I don't have your size in the first place."
"Sow in chest pads?"
"Seeing that Aline made this a last-minute mission, I do not have enough time to do so."
"Any other dresses?"
"This is the only one you have left, no thanks to your escapades to the woods or beach or whatnot in the middle of a social function."
"Speak for yourself, Miss-Sneak-Off-With-Damian."
I blush for a moment, then banter back.
"Then what about Ehio then? I've seen you moon over him in the middle of Mundane Studies."
"It's not like you really pay attention in class anyway. I've seen you texting so many times, it's almost as regular as Demi's grace before she eats."
"Because I have duties my father wants me to take care of."
"Like wearing a corset to fancy places and flirting with eighty-some-year-old perverts?"
"Mostly true. And they're usually thirty to forty."
"So is that why you're going to this one? To kiss some old guy's butt?"
"Because my father's hosting to to celebrate the company's new CEO, who looks like a bimbo he's going to have in his bed by the end of the night."
"You mean our suspect of being the Dark Lord's second-in-command?"
I mentally berate myself for letting that last comment slip. I can hear mother scolding me for saying such a shamefully revealing piece of gossip. I do the last button of the dress, buttoning my loose lips as well.
"Turn around so then I can work on the make up."
Karen obeys, pulling on her powdered blue elbow-length gloves as well. Satin, if I remember correctly. I pull out the Prada bag from a vanity table drawer and absentmindedly take out some of its contents. Light teal eye shadow, eyeliner, brown mascara, reddish pink lipstick, and a little bit of foundation should work for her. I start applying the so-called "face paint," mechanical and silent. The room's rose wallpaper starts to close in.
By the time I'm straightening the last short strand of hair, the tension has become a fog of awkwardness, caused by menya. Karen finally decides to break it.
"You never really gave a reason why."
I blink, then realized how right she is.
"It is my duty as the daughter of the company's boss to show up at every gathering he commands me to come to," I force out after a moment's pause.
"But if this wasn't a mission you have a choice to not go. I understand," she holds up a gloved hand right before my mouth opens, "that people will talk and make assumptions about things that might end up making your dad mad. However, you, as the owner of your life, can choose occasions you can skip if it's too awkward, like this one. If you absolutely have to stay, then at least attend a third of the function."
She reaches for her necklace, a thin chain with an ornament shaped like a sky blue teardrop with cracks of sea green. I pull out my emerald studs as well.
"So is that why you always sneak off?"
Nod from Karen as she fastens on the chain.
She takes in a deep breath.
"Mom and I had gone to a party in a rented ballroom hosted by a females associate of dad's, celebrating her sixtieth birthday. We knew he was already there, so we weren't surprised to see him laughing and hanging out with his friends. What threw us off, however, was the woman he was with."
My mouth formed an "O."
"She was everything mom wasn't. Tall, blonde, hazel-eyed, buxom and just beautiful."
The last word was practically snarled.
"Dad was holding, no, publically groping her and she didn't look uncomfortable at all. She actually seemed to love it. What made the whole affair sickening was that she was mom's best friend since kindergarten.
"Mom had that look she wears when there's a mess at home: disgusted and determined to get that cleaned up. She told me to go somewhere else. The air had thickened considerably enough to make dad look over. What made me leave wasn't how the room spun or the murmurs that had started. No, it was how happy dad looked to be with his "special friend" and not his own wife and twelve-year-old daughter. Wide-eyed, flushed, and smiling like he did in his wedding picture. So I ran."
Karen stops, abruptly finishing her story.
Nothing as I snap on the studs.
Knock, knock on the oak door.
"Are you two done?" came Corman's voice, slightly shaky about escorting Aline and the mission itself. "The other three girls are done already and Damian's getting antsy..."
Karen nods and I can tell that telling her story has taken a toll on her.
"Yes, we will be out in a few minutes," I call back.
Grunt, then footsteps and a comment about certain girls and looks I know for a fact he must be saying in a joking manner.
Awkward silence again.
"I'm sorry you went through that Karen," I speak up.
She gives a tired shrug.
"It's okay. What's in the past is done and over. Now," she moves to the door, "we've got a party to attend to, I believe."
"Gala," I correct her.
"Whatever," she says without a backward glance.
"So I take it we're sneaking out halfway through the party?" I offer. Karen stops and turns around, eyebrows raised and an incredulous stare on her face. I shrug.
"Well, might as well listen to what the target has to say in her speech before ditching or else all of the time I spent on you hair is wasted."
Grins, happy ones. And the rose wallpaper didn't seem as cagey anymore.