The music is louder than I expect it to be, and fills me right down to the soul. Everyone is laughing, dancing, and drinking without a care in the world. I suppose that's accurate. The day after a ball is always a rest one at Grimm, so no one will have to do anything. I've always wondered why that's the case, but now I think I understand it.
Blanche is nowhere to be seen, but I don't give her a second thought. She's more than capable of looking after herself and doesn't need me and her sister to look after her.
Rose is whisked off by one of the boys from her dance class, and she flashes me an apologetic look as she leaves. I wave her away, glad to see her having fun.
With nothing else to do, I make my way over to the drinks table and pick up a goblet of cider. It's not very strong, and I feel as if I'll be able to keep my wits about me if I drink it. Which is always a good thing.
Someone coughs behind me, breaking through my thoughts.
"I'm so sorry, am I in the way?" I ask, heat rising to my cheeks. I can't believe I've been that inconsiderate.
"No, not at all. I was actually trying to get your attention," he responds, his voice low and smooth. One of the older students, then. Or at least my age. No one younger could have the same mature sound.
"I think using someone's name is a more commonly accepted way of gaining someone's attention," I mutter.
He chuckles. "I did, but you ignored me."
"Oh." How am I supposed to respond to that? I didn't even realise people here knew my name.
"I asked if you were here on your own?"
I shake my head. "I'm here with my friends, but they're off dancing." I gesture to the couples twirling to our left with my free hand.
"That's my predicament too." He sounds familiar, but I can't put a face to the voice. Perhaps I judged too harshly on people not recognising others behind their masks.
"I suppose balls are for dancing," I say lamely. Why can't I come up with something better than that? I'm normally so quick on my feet, but something about the boy in front of me has gotten me flustered.
"Indeed. Which brings me back to why I was trying to get your attention. I wondered if you'd like to dance with me, Lady Zerrin?"
"I'm not a lady," I respond hastily, not wanting him to get the wrong impression of me. I don't want anyone thinking I'm some kind of social climber.
"I know, I was offering the title as a polite address." He rubs the back of his neck as he speaks.
Huh. Maybe I'm not the only one who isn't completely sure what to do with themselves in social situations. Somehow, that's reassuring. At least he knew who I was. Though I have no idea why.
"How do you know my name?" I blurt.
"We've been in the same classes for months," he admits. "I've been wanting to ask you to one of the balls for a while now, but never get up the courage. I have to admit that Lady Blanche scares me."
It's my turn to laugh. "She scares everyone. But she's all bark and no bite."
"Then I regret not having asked you sooner."
"But why me?" I don't want to say yes to a dance until I know the answer to that. Not when there's an off chance he's going to try and do something to humiliate me. I'm well aware of the kinds of tricks some people play on others.
"Because you're beautiful, intelligent, and completely unaware of the effect you have on people," he says. "You keep to yourself, you don't talk badly about others, you don't try and blackmail and cheat your way to the top. I could keep going if you want."
"That's quite all right." I reach out and put a gentle hand on his arm without even fully realising what I'm doing. I pull it back instantly, but it's too late. We've made the connection. "I believe you," I whisper.
"I'm glad. But that's not the real issue. What I'd like to know is whether or not you'll share this dance with me?" he asks.
I pause, trying to work out if I should say yes or not. I want to say yes. Why come to a ball if I'm not going to dance? But at the same time, there's still a small voice in my mind saying I'm going to regret it.
My eyes lock on his, and suddenly, I know who he is. Blood rushes to my head, and I start to feel dizzy.
What is a Prince doing asking me to dance? Doesn't he know what kind of message that sends? That it doesn't look good to the people he normally needs to impress?
There's my name again. Sounding delightful on Prince Andrew's tongue. How have I even got myself into this situation?
It's too much for me to take, and I begin to sway. My vision blurs and the dizziness becomes overwhelming.
The last thing I can sense before my world goes dark is the sensation of falling.
And being caught in strong arms.