The music is loud but at the same time, it relaxes my muscles. Something so familiar; I know it’s one of Mozart’s pieces. My parents are a big fan of Mozart. I find myself sitting in my nine-year old form, ankles crossed demurely like I was always taught by my mother. My patent Mary-Jane’s shine in the lights that are reflected in colourful beams from the chandeliers. They are polished to high sheen and they are always my favourite pair. I press my lips together, watching the dancers in the centre of the ballroom, spinning around elegantly in a flurry of silk. Their footsteps aren’t heard over the music and the room is hot. I am thankful for the breeze rolling in from the French windows which somebody had flung open. My parents are always hosting balls. My dress is pretty – my favourite dress bought for the occasion. It was of a cream colour and my mother always trusts me in white; I’m not of the clumsy type. It has short puffy sleeves and has a very fitting ruffled skirt. It reaches my knees and it’s made out of pure silk. My tights are thin and also white, barely showing off my fairly tanned skin. My hair falls in dark brown waves, touching my shoulders in fine curls, some of it pulled back using a proper pearl clip that my mother bought for me. It is very pretty. With my childlike hands, I delicately run the tips of my fingers over the pearls, hiding the smile on my face with ease.
Suddenly, I realise that the worst part of my dream is coming up. Dread eats at my stomach and I knit my fingers in my lap warily, my baby blue eyes wider than they should be. A boy, about ten comes up to me with a cute smile. Unlike the rest of the masquerade dancers, children like us weren’t allowed to wear masks. He had brown hair and it fell into his hazel eyes but his smile is captivating, even to me in my eight-year old body. “Would you like to dance?” He chirps sweetly, holding out his hand. I peer around and spot my mother, wearing her flamboyant pink mask that matches her dress. She sees me and smiles, giving me a swift nod before turning her attention back to the steps. I give him a shy nod and take his hand in my very clammy one. The boy doesn’t care; he leads me off so I’m not too far from the adults, but far enough so we don’t get trampled. He places his hand gently on my dainty, childish waist and entwines our fingers, his grip light. Then, when we get used to the rhythm, we start dancing.
Ever since I was able to walk properly without falling over, Mother booked a professional dancer and I learnt the steps to every ballroom dance known. I even took up ballet too and I was a perfect little dancer, so my father said. I recognise the dance as the standard ballroom dance. The first dance I ever learnt. A slight sweat breaks out on my forehead, concealed by my bangs and I anxiously peer over the boy’s shoulder towards the French doors expectantly, the dread becoming much stronger than before. The boy lifts our arms, fingers still locked together and I twirl elegantly, just like my dance teacher drilled into me. My skirts fly out but they don’t reveal too much and I twirl back into his arms with ease, my mouth drying out at what comes back.
What would be my perfect dream morphs into a nightmare.
Suddenly, the music stops completely, causing wave of mutters from the guests. The boy frowns at me but when he opens his mouth to ask what’s going on, the sound of a gunshot sounds and is closely followed by an ear splitting scream that fills the air. “ANNETTE!” I hear my father yell and I release the boy’s hand and run towards the sound. “DADDY!” I shout and the guests are panicking as they head for the doors. Another gunshot and I duck, thinking it’s coming in my direction but it doesn’t. A frightened sob leaves my lips as I scramble towards my parents. They are lying on the floor, motionless. There’s a gaping wound revealed by the torn hole of my mother’s dress, blood spreading over the silky material. There is a shocked expression on her face – one of utmost horror. My father is collapsed beside her, his brains and blood splattered on the gleaming marble floor. More sobs leave my lips. “Mummy… daddy… wake up!” I cry and then I hear a gun being cocked. My head jolts up and I come face to face with a revolver. The owner grins, the majority of his face hidden by a mask.
“Little girls should be asleep,” He says and then he pulls the trigger.
I wake up in a cold sweat, my throat constricting painfully. I’m safe in my bedroom, the cool air from my bedside fan instantly cooling my hot skin. I kick the duvet off and stand up, my legs shaking. My bare feet slap against the oak floor as I make my way to my en-suite bathroom, trying my damned hardest not to burst into tears. Once again, the dream plagues me, once so happy and rapidly switching into a horror-filled nightmare. I rub my watery eyes with one hand as I push the door open, gliding easily into the bathroom. I find the switch in the darkness and flick it up, the room soon illuminated by the soft white glow. My eyes sting with tears and the sudden bright light but I adjust to the sensation as I stumble towards the sink.
I turn on the tap and cup my hands beneath the flow of water. It feels nice against my clammy hands. I splash the handful into my face and do it again before turning the tap off and grabbing a towel. I pat my hands and face dry and as I’m replacing it back on the towel rack, I catch sight of myself in the mirror. My brown hair, normally pushed over to the right side, falls around my face and my dyed blonde bangs stick to my forehead in damp locks. My blue eyes are slightly bloodshot and widened to the point of them resembling saucers. My lips are slightly parted, a haunted expression on my face. I shudder violently at the remembrance of my dream and swallow. I snap the light off and leave the bathroom, shutting the door behind me.
My balcony windows are shut, the curtains tied aside, allowing the moon to cast silvery beams through the windows, making everything turn milky in its rays. I pad over to them and wrench them open, a minor breeze rippling my skin pleasantly. I step over the threshold and out onto the balcony, licking my dry lips with the tip of my tongue. I reach the stone balustrades, resting my arms on the flat warm surface and look up to the Venetian sky. Unlike in London, my hometown and birthplace, I see the stars much more frequently since I’m not living in an overcrowded city. I breathe in the slightly muggy air, trying to force myself to relax even though I’m living in fear. My parents’ killer is still out there somewhere, waiting to kill me.
It was a minor fluke that caused him to not kill me. He thought he had a spare bullet but he didn’t and when he pulled the trigger, he realised and ran away, leaving me there with my parents’ bodies. The police aren’t searching for him any more since the murderer had a mask on and they couldn’t do much with the tiny amount of description I’d given them. For the police, the case is closed but to me, it isn’t. I’m determined to catch him and have justice, even if it means me dying in the process. I pull back, dropping my arms to my sides and retreat back into my bedroom. I shut the doors and lock them with the key that hangs behind the curtain. I untie the golden cord that holds the curtains apart and watch them fall over the French windows, concealing the Juliet balcony.
I yawn quietly, the idea of falling asleep seeming quite delightful now and I go back to my four-poster bed. I slip between the thin, summer duvet I use and rest my head on the pillow. As soon as my head falls into contact with the cotton, my eyes fall shut and I fall into a dreamless, undisturbed sleep.
When I awake in the morning, the Venetian sun is shining brightly through the crack in my balcony curtains and I let a sleepy smile tweak the corners of my mouth up. I loved living in Venice; it was everything I’d ever dreamed of. After my parents’ death, I was given an infinite amount of money that they’d stashed aside for me but at the age of nine up until now, I’d never had much use for it. I mean, could money bring back my dead parents? No, it couldn’t.
I came across the decision to move to Venice when I received a call from friends of the family, who were, of course, Venetian. They hadn’t spoken to me since the funeral and it was on my eighteenth birthday. They were told by my parents that the minute I turned eighteen, I was to be given a huge manor in Venice which was now under my name. It was still in perfect condition and I fell in love with the picture I was faxed. By that time, I was already thinking of finding a new place to live, having lived in the English manor with the fear of being murdered.
The couple who are friends of my family are called Giovanna and Cicelia Franco and they have a daughter who is the same age as I. Her name is Stella and she’s utterly breath-taking and a very close friend of mine. She has dark brown, thick, glossy hair that is naturally wavy and reaches just beneath her breasts. Her skin is a coffee-with-milk colour, the typical Venetian colouring and her eyes are the most beautiful dark chocolate brown, framed by thick lashes that seem to weigh her eyelids down. Her lips are naturally plump and she may only be five foot two, but she has the body of a supermodel. I yawn loudly, half-asleep and kick off my thin duvet before climbing out of bed. I stumble into the bathroom and sigh as the air-conditioning cools my too warm skin. I relieve myself and then slide the glass panel aside so I can turn on my massive shower. The spray of water hammers loudly in the bathtub and when the water is cool enough, I strip off my nightclothes (a simple over-sized, thin cotton t-shirt) and my underwear before stepping beneath the shower-head.
The cool water rains down on my back and I wash my hair with my coconut shampoo and wash my body with the matching coconut shower gel. When I’m rinsed off, I snap off the water and step out of the shower. I wrap a large fluffy towel around my naked, dripping body and wrap another around my hair, cocooning it tightly against the top of my head. I glide back into my bedroom and go over to the wardrobe. I open it and pull out my clothes for the day; a pair of denim shorts, a grey t-shirt with a black rose decoration and my pair of silver Gladiator sandals.
I dry off my body and my hair before slipping into my bra and panties. I yank the t-shirt and jeans on before sitting down on the bed and strapping my sandals on. I hang my towels back up in the bathroom and exit both the en-suite and the bedroom. I jog down the large marble steps, listening to the scuffing of my sandals in the empty manor. “Gosh, Cynthia, you couldn’t make any less noise!” A voice pipes up suddenly, causing me to jump out of fright. My eyes land on Stella and I crack a grin at her.
“Oh shut up,” I laugh and she giggles. I run down the rest of the steps and gave her a brief hug. “How did you get in here?” I gasp and she points to the large decorated doors.
“Livia let me in,” She smiles and I sigh, relieved. Livia is my cleaner but I am definitely not superior to her and I give her a large wage for the duties she does for me. I consider her a friend of mine. She’s familiar with my past and knows to let Stella and her own family in when they arrive.
“Oh good,” I smile as I dance in the direction of the kitchen. “I need to get some breakfast and get my bag before we go to work,” Work. Even though I still have a large amount of money in my bank account, I still work despite of it. I need something to keep me occupied rather than stuck in a large manor all day with nothing to do. I worked as a dressmaker for all of the balls I hosted on the weekends – my masquerades were well known around Venice. Stella twirls after me as I walk into my lavish kitchen and perches on one of the stools, resting her beige elbows on the marble bar table.
“Are you hosting another ball?” She asks curiously as I balance on my tiptoes to open one of the cupboard doors. I shrug, my fingers brushing the jar of jam.
“Probably,” I answer as a little groan escapes my lips as I jump and grab the jar. I land neatly on my feet and shut the cupboard door before setting the jam on the work surface. Stella squeals loudly, out of excitement, I think and claps her hands together excitedly. “Calm down, Stella, it’s not that big of a deal,” I laugh as I slice open a small petite pan and put the breadknife back in the knife holder.
Stella stares at me incredulously. “Not that big of a deal?!” She repeats disbelievingly as I began to butter my roll. “Cynthia, your balls are the most talked about around town!” I allow my eyes to glance up at the heavens as I plunge my knife into the pot of jam and spoon it into the roll before smoothing it out.
“Yeah, I know,” I murmur, putting the two sides together and screwing the lid back onto the jam jar. I dump my knife into the sink and bite into my petite pan.
Stella plays with her luscious hair and that’s when I notice what she’s wearing. A white blouse that makes her skin stand out and she’s tied it up just above her mid-stomach which reveals her white diamond piercing in her. She also wears a three-quarter length white skirt made out of thin material that billows out around her as she walks. Her wedge sandals with the red ribbon tap against the metal of the stool. Her brown hair is tied back with a white bandanna and her grandmother’s rose necklace hangs around her neck. I finish off my roll and brush the crumbs off of my hands, making sure they go in the sink, rather than on the floor.
“Ready?” Stella asks, leaping off of the stool, her heels clacking loudly against the floor. I smile.
“Hang on, I need to brush my teeth,” I grin and scuttle in the direction of the small downstairs bathroom. I brush my teeth quickly and reach for my small make-up bag. I put on a little bit of mascara to make my eyelashes look longer, a little bit of eyeliner to make my eyes pop and then some clear lipgloss. I wipe any smudges and then leave the bathroom. Stella stands outside and she grins when she sees me.
“Damn, Cynthia, you’re beautiful,” She says in an awed voice and I roll my eyes, giving her a gentle shove.
“No I’m not, Stella. You’re heaps prettier,” I retort and she scoffs as I grab my strap bag and slide it over my body. I jerk the large doors open and we step out into the humid Venetian air. I shut the door behind me and lock it with the wrought iron key that I keep in my bag. I clip my bag shut and smile as I breathe in the fresh air.
“Whatever, Cynthia,” Stella brushes off my retort with a wave of her hand. ”Anyway, hurry up or we’re going to be late!” I stick my tongue out her and she returns the childish gesture before linking her coffee-with-cream coloured arm through mine. We stroll out of the front gardens as Stella starts up a new conversation. “Have you seen that new carpenter?” She babbles, staring at me expectantly, like I should know. I frown.
“There’s a new carpenter?” I question and watch as Stella’s dark chocolate eyes widen in shock.
“You mean you haven’t seen him?!”
“Well… not exactly, no.” I push open the large, black and gold gates that lead up to the manor. They creak loudly, disturbing a cluster of birds in the nearby sycamore tree. We step out onto the cobbled pavement and I shut the gates. I hardly ever locked them.
Stella flicks my arm gently. “Cynthia, you really should start looking around for a boyfriend,” She points out and I find some truth in her words. Most adults my age would at least have had a boyfriend by now. I haven’t had a single one unless you count the ten year old boy that danced with me at the fateful summer ball those ten years ago. I shrug, my shoulders rising and falling almost helplessly. Sure, I have a long line of possible boyfriends just begging to be chosen and they are really handsome but I just get the feeling they either want my wealth or my body or they simply wouldn’t understand. Stella herself was single but she didn’t seem at all bothered by it but she had had a boyfriend when she was sixteen. It’s one more than me anyway.
I pull a face at her. “And this is coming from you,” I shoot back and she laughs loudly, tilting her head back.
“Okay, okay,” She agrees when she starts looking straight ahead again. “You have a point, missy.” I smirk but she ignores me. “But we’re talking about you – not me.” She wags her finger at me teasingly.
I sigh reluctantly. Another thing about Stella – she was as persistent as Hell. “No one really interests me,” I say as we enter the town that was already filled with life. The markets were open and early risers were already collecting their goods.
Stella scoffs. “C’mon, Cynthia, you have a line of hot guys that are bowing down to your feet,” She’s right and I know it.
“That’s beside the point, Stella,” I say, scrambling desperately for an excuse for my lack of relationships. Don’t get me wrong, I love the girl to bits but sometimes I find it difficult to tell her certain things. “None of them are really my type,” I add lamely, my eyes flickering from left to right like they always do when I lie. Stella’s eyes narrow.
“Bullshit!” She snorts but when she opens her mouth to continue with her tirade, she gives me a shove with her pointy elbow, right in my ribcage. “New carpenter at three o’clock. Meet Joseph. Cliché name if you’re a Christian,” We both giggle at her lame joke as I allow my gaze to flit to the boy she was subtly pointing at. I say boy but he was definitely a man.
He has light brown hair that sweeps across his forehead and covers the end of his right eye but underneath his brown bangs, he has a bleached blonde streak. His eyes are green and they are a proper green, like grass in the sunlight. His skin is lightly tanned like mine used to be before I moved to Venice but, oddly enough, there’s something about the way his eyes light up when he smiles.
Something I can’t put my finger on.
I’m rudely interrupted by Stella elbowing me extremely hard, harder than before. “Christ, Cynthia, could you make it any more obvious?” She groans and I raise my eyebrows at her, blushing slightly.
“Make what obvious?” I ask and she gives me her famous You-Know-What-I-Mean stare. “Shut up,” I mutter, picking up my pace as I walk in the direction of the dressmakers. “Now we’re definitely going to be late.”
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