The ballroom was huge.
Hannah had never been in a ballroom before, but from all the historical romances she constantly read this was definitely bigger than she had pictured and far more elegant than her imagination could conjure up.
The chandelier itself was probably bigger than her eight hundred square footage apartment!
Luckily, Hannah’s half-face lace mask protected her from having to squint when she looked up to see the darn thing, there was no way her friends were going to believe how huge the hanging glass ornament was.
The wood floors must have been recently shined as well because there was no way, with the amount of point-heeled stilettos and black shoe-polished wingtips running around in here, that the floor could look this good without a good cleaning beforehand.
"You seem a bit distracted, my dear."
Hannah’s mother, Sherry Wolfe, looped her arm into her daughters and strolled her towards the group of musicians readying their instruments for the next song, most likely another waltz similar to the ones they'd been playing for the last half an hour. The music was calming, but another genre would have been nice.
"Mind telling your old mother what's troubling your young brain?"
There were a lot of things, Hannah thought, none of them you would want to hear about and definitely nothing you'd be interested in.
As much as she loved her mother, Sherry Wolfe was not the one to talk to about the affairs of the heart and deep down that was Hannahs real issue of the night, not the dazzling beauty or size of the ballroom she currently inhabited. After three failed marriages, her mother had decided love was just not in the cards for her old body anymore and decided to be a cougar instead. Hannah still cringed when she thought about the last time she had visited home unannounced to find her mother in a questionable position with an old school mate of hers. A twenty-five-year difference between the two lust-birds, but that didn't seem to make a difference.
There was no question that her mother was an attractive lady. With light brown locks that girls even in their twenties would kill for, they still didn't have a hint of grey in them after all these years. The woman didn't even look a day over thirty! Hannah had tried for so long in her teenhood to recreate her mothers' natural good looks, but there were just some things you couldn't do even with the magic of makeup.
Not that Hannah was ugly herself.
Most people told her she was far from it.
She had inherited her father’s darker brown hair and smooth features, but had her mother’s hazel eyes. No matter who she met or wherever she was EVERYONE noticed her eyes first before anything else. She could be dressed in nothing but her birthday suit and her eyes would still be the main focus of attention, then her stark nakedness.
Leo had been the first, and only, boy to notice her tiny nose freckle before anything else.
Maybe that's why she had noticed and instantly taken a liking to him.
He was also the only reason she came to this ball in the first place.
The Roberson family, specifically Leo's mother and father, frowned heavily on their budding friendship when they were kids. They became furious, behind closed doors of course, when the budding friendship became best friends at pre-teen age and inseparable at the ripe senior high school teenager age.
That didn't stop them though. You just couldn't keep two people apart when they had such a strong friendship between them.
The entire town was convinced that they were dating under the Roberson's noses, they would have torn the teenagers apart if they had any inkling, but they were just friends. Hannah had wanted more as soon as she laid her eyes on him, but Leo never asked and so, to Hannahs woe, they stayed friends throughout their high school years with her secretly pining after him.
Even after she had found out about Leo's arranged marriage, she chose to stay by him as his friend, never telling him how she felt or that he should dump everything and run away with her. He wouldn't have anyway. His duty to his family had always been strong and he felt he owed his parents everything he had.
Hannah admired that about him, even if it did prevent them from turning them into anything more than friends.
Eventually, Sherry's attention, which was shorter than a lit bomb fuse, was caught by a young man who looked to be a few years older than her daughter and excused herself to dance around the room with her new eye candy. The last Hannah saw of her was her bouncing curls being swung back and forth across the dancefloor. At least her mother had some entertainment for the rest of the night instead of being tied next to her offspring.
Hannah tugged on the strap of her evening gown, nervously pulling it back to make sure the deep cut in the back wasn't trying to dip towards the front. Was Leo even here? Would he remember her? It had been so many years since they'd seen each other last. She had lost so much of her baby fat from the depression of leaving her hometown and the stress of college exams that sometimes she didn't recognize her own self when she looked in the mirror.
The blue contacts she was wearing tonight would help her not get noticed too.
She just wanted to see him one more time before she took on her new life. Try to forget him and their friendship.
It still pained her.
"Excuse me, Miss, may I have this dance?"
Right on cue, Leo Roberson. The man who occupied Hannahs brain ninety percent of her waking hours was standing in front of her, offering his hand out to her like the gentleman he had always been raised to be. She knew it was him even with his full-face mask covering his handsome face, she'd remember that body anywhere and his scent. No one smelled like the person you fell in love with. Even after all these years later, she just KNEW it was him.
Without a word Hannah took his hand, making sure the jitteriness she was feeling on the inside wasn't showing on the outside lest it concern him and make him want to look closer at her than he already has. Her identity needed to stay a secret if she wanted to stay under the radar. The Roberson's would eagerly usher her out behind their sons back if they found out his childhood best friend somehow snuck into their sons' engagement party.
"You remind me of someone I loved a long time ago." His deep voice sounded through the fog of her anxiety.
Her heart dropped to the tips of her black high-heeled pump clad toes. There was no way he was talking about her, they had been just friends, right? Had she been too obvious about her affections back then?
"Do you always use that line to pick up women, Mr. CEO?" Hannahs smooth, flirtatious voice almost fooled herself. The skittishness she felt deep in her bones was, thankfully, not making an appearance outside her skin.
Leo chuckled, although muffled through his mask, at the use of his well-known business title. There were just some things you couldn't run away from, even in a room full of masked people.
"I do not pick up women. You may, or may not, have noticed that I am a soon-to-be-married man. I take my future vows very seriously." He waved his hand in front of her, showcasing his occupied ring finger before putting it back on her waist, but it was his uncaring expression that truly showed how he felt about his future marriage.
Hannah knew from the beginning that Leo hadn't been fond of the idea of the arranged marriage idea. Like all young minded people their age, he wanted to marry for love, but his loyalty to his parents' happiness surpassed the need to carry out his own. So he had agreed, just not happily.
It wasn't long after that Hannah had left for a college she chose far away from the heartbreak and distanced herself from her best friend. It was the only way she could preserve what was left of her heart. But now she was back, if only to see his face one last time before she put the past back where it belonged.
"Why don't you take your mask off, Dearest? I'm curious to know if the face that lies underneath it is as beautiful as the design of that intricate mask."
He made a grab for it, but luckily Hannah had anticipated his moves and dodged her head out the way, giggling barely above a whisper so that only he could hear her humor. "Ah, but if I did that this wouldn't be a very good masquerade ball. Would it, Mr. CEO?"
Leo chuckled again, "You have humor like my old friend as well. I'm curious to know if you perhaps know each other. Does the name Hannah ring any bells?"
Her heart, that had been making a home in her feet, now had formed a lump in her throat. He knew. He HAD to know it was her, there was no way he didn't. She'd been caught. It was only a matter of time before the alarm was raised and his parents threw her out.
But there was still that little ball of doubt that maybe he didn't know. She still had time to stay, she needed this before she never saw him again. It had to be this way for both of them.
"Doesn't ring a bell, sorry." She said, faking as much confidence as she could muster without seeming too over-confident.
"What a shame. You two could have gotten on well together I bet."
But now on to the more pressing matter, he just admitted he had loved her once. What could she do with this information? Nothing. It was obviously too late to do anything about it at this point, he was already engaged to be married. She had lost her chance before she even knew she had it.
"Do you regret not being with her?"
His eyes saddened behind his mask, "Every day that I take a breath."
They danced slowly in silence for the rest of the waltz. For her, that was everything. For years she had thought she was the only one to feel the way she did, now she knew she hadn't been alone and it was everything to her. She could live her life knowing that she once had a man she loved love her back, secretly of course, but he had loved her all the same.
The song ended well before Hannah was ready, but to ask for another dance from him was too dangerous to her secrecy. For the rest of night she was determined to just watch him from afar now that she knew he was actually here.
"Thank you for the dance, Mr. CEO. It was a pleasure." She dipped, like in the olden days.
Leo bowed to her as well, a gleam hinting in his eyes. "The pleasure was all mine I assure you." and he turned to walk away.
He paused only a foot away, looking at her over his shoulder. "I'm sure we'll see each other again," he said only loud enough for her to hear, "Hannah."
Without another backward glance, he walked away. Just like that, he was out of her life again.
Hannah didn't feel sorrow this time, however. This time she felt at ease, knowing she had come here to see him one last time and, deep down, hoping he would know it was her and tell her how he had really felt this entire time. She felt accomplished. She felt happy.
She could now live her life knowing that she had felt love once and, without her knowing, had had it returned.