His dark eyes quietly glanced over the room, all thoughts hidden behind the mask of silence that covered his face.
A young girl, maybe fifteen, appeared at his side, her light eyes and hair contrasting with his darker complexion.
“Do you dance?” She asked quietly, sensing the deep quiet and thoughtfulness inside of him.
Her face shifted into a questioning look, and her blue eyes seemed as if they were about to laugh. “Why not?”
“More suited to swords and music,” he replied quickly, looking slightly to the side to see the girl.
She laughed. “So is my brother.” She pointed to a young man with curly light brown hair dancing among the guests at the party. “So I don’t take that as an excuse.”
“I would frighten you if I tried to dance,” he said.
She tried to figure out if he was joking or not. “I’ve seen worse.”
“So you think.”
“Maybe if you showed me I’d change my mind a little.”
He smiled half-heartedly. “Or maybe I’d haunt your nightmares forever.”
She wrinkled her nose and shook her head, then stuck her hand out for him to shake. “Lizzie.”
He took her hand loosely but firmly, and shook it quickly. “Jacob.”
“Why do you hide like this?” She asked finally.
“Hide? I’m in entryway of the ballroom, am I not?”
She shook her head. “Not like that, and you know that.”
“Maybe there’s nothing to hide.”
“Or maybe it’s hidden behind the mask you wear,” Lizzie added.
“You can’t be much older than my brother. Eighteen at the oldest. What reason do you have to wear a mask?”
“You are correct, I am eighteen. As for the mask, that is a long story.”
“We just ate dinner. You know the way balls are – guests sometimes don’t leave until early morning,” said Lizzie.
Jacob nodded stiffly. “Aye.”
“Care to tell me?”
“It’s probably about time I let the mask slip,” Jacob motioned to two chairs near where they stood, and both he and Lizzie sat. He stared at the dancers for a minute, then turned to Lizzie.
“My father was a sailor,” Jacob began. “Well, the captain of an East India trading ship. We were rich until the storms came.” He paused. “One day we got word that he had stayed behind on the sinking ship to give others a chance to escape in the lifeboats. His death hurt me more than anything, driving deep into the my ten-year old heart. I began to shut myself out from the world, encased in my thoughts, locked in my own world… I was just beginning to come out of this when the next tragedy struck. The fever came, and it took my mother and sisters with it. It was just me and my two younger brothers left, and I had to take care of them. Our neighbors rushed us to my uncle’s house, and my uncle became our legal guardian. The months passed, and I grew some, learning sword fighting, music, critical thinking, arithmetic. One of my brothers ran away, and we never found him. I personally took the blame for this, in trying to hide from the world and consuming myself with my studies, I had ignored my brothers. And little Jonathan took that as hatred.” He stopped talking, fiddling with his necktie. “There was such pain in my heart, and the only way of escape I found was to throw myself into my studies all the more, going at sword fighting and music all the more vigorously. But it didn’t work, the pain was still there, encased in a mask, encased in silence. It hurt more than ever.”
Jacob brushed a hand over his eyes, closing them and trying to go on.
“You do a good job of hiding your pain,” Lizzie commented.
“Lizzie, if you learn anything from me, learn this – a shell against the world will not get you anywhere. If my uncle had not been as wise and discerning as he was, I would still be like I was then. Yet by the grace of God he took me aside one day, and it all came tumbling out. It was humbling, I, a fifteen year old boy, sobbing in my uncle’s arms. But it felt good, and some pain was gone after that, but the shell was not. I found it hard to love, hard to smile, hard to take pleasure in anything. I stopped dancing, and the music I played stayed dark and somber. Habits of five years are hard to break, Lizzie. Some have taken these three years and are still not broken.”
Both were silent.
Lizzie trembled. “I am sorry I pressed you so about the mask…”
“Don’t be. Sometimes the only way to get rid of pain is to release it and share it with another. Thank you for listening, Lizzie.”
“That story wasn’t so long,” she commented. “There’s still music here… still dancing. A chance for healing.”
Jacob stood. “It will be the first time in many years, Lizzie.” He bowed. “May I have this dance?”
Smiling, Lizzie stood and curtsied, then took Jacob’s outstretched hand. “Of course.”
Christmas came, and Jacob again stood in the doorway of Lizzie’s house, watching the dancing from a distance, yet this time smiling slightly and not looking so reticent. A petite girl, blue eyes and golden hair shining approached him, and her arm lightly brushed his.
“Do you dance?” she asked.
“Aye,” he whispered, and both smiled.
Another writing prompt contest entry... for some reason they always end up somewhat melancholy. Anywho, most of this came as I was writing, but the conversation at the beginning about dancing is based on an actual conversation with someone.