Friday, November 16, 2007

Entry: Romance Short Story

The Magic of Midnight
Sally Chambers

Alexis worked hard each day to help create the gowns her father sold to the well-to-do ladies of the town. The young daughter of the proprietor, she’d taken her place in the sewing room after her mother died. Her father hadn’t objected, enjoying her company and admiring her talent. And every Saturday since her sixth birthday, for twelve years, she awoke at twelve minutes until midnight and descended the circular staircase into the emporium.

Tonight will be different—magical, Alexis decided, peering down the mahogany staircase. She stood still, listening, but no sound came from papa’s bedroom. In the foyer below, the grandfather clock chimed the stroke of midnight then resumed its methodical timekeeping duties with a reassuring “tick-tock.” The tiny candle she carried cast flickering light as she steadied herself, holding onto the smooth wooden banister. Her footsteps were silent, their sound lost in the plush carpet that spilled down the circling steps.

A wash of pale yellow moonbeams illuminated the old emporium, scattering light across the polished floor at the foot of the staircase. Lexi set the candle atop a tall chest and made her way between racks full of gowns and fancy dresses, to the side entrance. She took the brass key from her pocket, unlocked the French doors, and pushed them open.

Will he be here tonight?

Lexi stepped over the threshold and into a floral paradise of buds and blossoms and for a few long moments, the garden became a wonderland bathed in moonlight. Taking a deep breath of fragrant air, she allowed herself a twirl of joy then turned to go back inside, securing the doors behind her. The ritual had begun.

She drew the heavy velvet drapes across wide display windows that faced the cobblestone street, cocooning herself within the spacious room. Now it would be safe to light all the candles. She took the one from the chest and went to the first of twelve brass lamp stands, lifting each crystal globe to light the taper beneath. She couldn’t help smiling, thinking of how her father always shook his head on Monday mornings. He’d look at her and say, “How quickly the candles seem to burn away these days.”

Patience, Lexi. Her hand shook a bit with anticipation, but she’d made herself a promise. She wouldn’t steal a single glance at the hundreds of beautiful garments until she’d lit every lamp. Savoring the moments it took to light eleven others, at the twelfth, she replaced the globe and rewarded herself with the “first look.”

The lovely old-fashioned shop never failed to take her breath. Shining gilt frames, brass fixtures, and lustrous wood graced the interior. The entire room seemed to pulsate and glisten in the candlelight.

A draft scented with lily of the valley surrounded her. Lexi loved the delicate flowers. They bloomed in lush abundance in the garden, and she would take a walk there after wandering among the gowns tonight . . . hoping to see him.

So that’s how it went—down the staircase, into the garden for a moment, then weaving through the proper displays of linen, polished cotton, gingham, and dotted Swiss—roaming in and out between the rows of laces, velvets, organza, silks, and taffetas.

Then she would choose a dress that suited her mood, holding it, staring at it, dreaming of where it might take her. Sometimes she imagined she was a renowned ballerina at a party in her honor, another time a princess with ladies-in-waiting at her beck and call, and still other times, she’d be a busy mother attending a tea with her daughter . . . or on his arm. On and on the dreams would go. But tonight . . .

A glimpse of shimmering blue caught her eye and drew her. The gown was exquisite. It hung—featured for the day—against the creamy pearl and peach blossom pink of the wall covering.
Entranced, Lexi studied the dress that seemed a work of art, wondering where it had come from. Her fingers hadn’t touched this silken material—and if not, then whose had? She’d never seen it before. Would fit her? The nipped waist, the tucked bodice, the . . .

She reached up and removed it from its soft hanger. Mesmerized, she stood in front of the mirror. The three-paneled looking glass reflected her on every side as she whirled, pressing the satin dress close against her body. Sky blue ruffles caressed her neck; silken fabric skimming her waist, flaring out around her.

Oh, what if I really could wear this dress tonight? What if I was in his arms, dancing?

She could almost hear the music; she could almost feel the polished floor beneath her slippered feet.

Maybe if I close my eyes it will happen! Maybe, if I pray hard enough . . . The thought took her breath—dizzy as she was with her imaginations. And Lexi closed her eyes with a deep sigh.
Mm . . . the fragrance again. This time borne on a cool zephyr; had she left the French doors ajar—where had it come from?

A rustle, a sound; there was someone else in the room! She had to open her eyes.

“Am I dreaming?” Is it truly him? Walking to her side, the tall young man placed a bouquet of miniature white bells and greenery into her arms. He smiled at her, offering his arm.

Oh, could he hear her drumming heart? “I must be dreaming.”

“Perhaps,” he said. “But now—will you dance with me?”

“Dance? I . . . but . . . but I’m not dressed for a . . .”

“Shh,” he whispered, placing a finger lightly across her lips. He gave her a gentle smile and turned her toward the mirror. The glass echoed something different, and her eyes widened.

“See, you have on a beautiful dress—perfect for our dance.” The elegant blue silk gown enveloped her slender figure and flowed outward from her waist, cascading to the floor. Instead of straight and night-brushed, her hair was swept up with blue ribbons and fell about her shoulders in curls, and on her feet—blue satin slippers.

“Ohhh . . . the dress . . . it’s all so . . . lovely.”

He took her hand and led her through the double doors, outside into the moonlight, into the fragrance, into the music of the night. He held her close, tenderly, her feet barely touching the floor as they danced.

Am I dreaming? Am I imagining all this? Maybe, but tonight instead of admiring the twirling gown in front of the mirror, she was inside the twirling gown—in the garden—with him.
“Happy birthday, Lexi,” he whispered, his cheek against hers, the warmth of his breath moving through her hair, the sweet words blending with the breeze.

The grandfather clock chimed, and Lexi counted. One . . . two . . . three . . .
“No, please, not yet!” Four . . . five . . .

Opening her eyes, she sat alone on the marble bench. Glancing down, she saw only her long pink kimono. Where was it . . . the blue gown! Hesitant, she rose and walked toward the doors. Inside, everything was in order as if it had never been touched—just as when she first descended the staircase. The satin gown was safely on display, but tucked into the sash, a spray of lily of the valley. Deep in her heart, a knowing: one day he would come again . . . perhaps this time to stay. Lexi smiled and turned to blow a whisper toward the garden, towards the starlit sky.

“Thank you.”

Submitted by
Sally Chambers

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