Faceless Strangers: Dance Card Days

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Chapter 1: A Respectable Dance

Nellie couldn’t remember having ever seen so many men all at once in her life, but then she’d hardly ever shared a room with more than a dozen people at a time. There was the schoolhouse back home in Missouri, she supposed, but the farmboys of Spring Valley hardly compared to the sophisticated gentlemen of Boston. And while there weren’t any boys among the students at Miss Prescott’s Finishing School, strictly speaking, ballroom dance and etiquette are simply impossible skills to master in their absence, and their instructors intended to see to it that the lessons they’d spent the past year learning found an opportunity to be put to good use. And so the studious young woman had found herself attending her very first formal dance.

“Miss Thomas? If I may be so bold as to ask for the next dance…”

The young man was right about one thing: it most certainly was bold. She glanced up and down the interloper who’d stopped her short in her circuitous course through the ballroom, taking in the sight of his slightly scuffed shoes and well-worn frock coat, his brown hair neatly brushed back and yet prone to curling messily about the ears. Henry clearly wasn’t practiced in wearing such finery; his invitation to the spring ball came strictly from his employment as the school’s stablehand, tending to the horses they relied upon for their riding lessons. He did, however, have a gentle, unassuming charm about him. He wasn’t the most eligible of suitors, and she might not have consented to adding his name to her dance card had he tried to ask during the first rush at the start of the evening, but as it happened she had a song or two left open.

“Perhaps the dance after that?” she inquired with a polite tilt of her head, and she perused the card tethered to her dress sleeve. “Schubert’s ‘Waltz in B Minor,’ is it not?”

“I… I hadn’t been considering a waltz...”

Dear boy, did he still imagine the waltz to be improper? Nellie covered her mouth with the dance card to hide the smile playing at the corners of her lips. Some stuffy old grandfather must have filled Henry’s head with such ideas; waltzing was a breathless and heady affair, to be sure, and perhaps a disarmingly intimate one, but a perfectly respectable dance in every way.

“If you think me too forward,” she murmured, and took a single step back.

“No,” he hastily exclaimed, “all I meant was… may I have the next waltz, Miss Thomas?”

That backward step had served its purpose: without saying a word, without so much as a single twitch in her pleasant demeanor, she’d made clear to him just how precarious his position had become, and what it would take for him to secure it. Such an exchange last year, at one of the barn dances in Spring Valley that her Baptist father would never have consented to her attending, might have left her brimming with embarrassed tears. But, as her teachers had firmly insisted since her arrival, she was no mere girl, nor even a woman: she was a lady.

“You may,” she replied as she added his name to the list, and then lowered the dance card to reveal a gracious smile. “But do be gentle, Master Godwin: it shall be my first waltz.”

She’d have reassured him with a wink were it permitted, but the bounds of propriety had already been stretched dangerously thin by such an exchange; the suddenly flustered youth would just have to sort himself out before their dance. She turned and fixed her eyes on the bobbing, swaying figures that filled the opulent chamber, lit by crystal chandeliers and a marble floor so smooth and glassy that she felt dizzy just glancing down into it at the upside-down dancers and columns hanging beneath her silver slippers. Nellie lifted her gaze back to her classmates and teachers and then hastened her winding route between them to the cloakroom before the next dance began, gingerly stepping this way and that among them.

There was Mabel Quincy, the industrialist’s daughter, taking refreshment with Judge Gardner’s eldest son Edward, dashing as ever in his blue riding coat and breeches. She’d allowed him her second dance tonight, and he’d have another before the evening was through, presuming he wasn’t stolen away first by Mabel or another one of the students. Doctor Hayward kept a keenly monocled gaze on them both, and she briefly turned over the prospect of being asked to dance by the handsome classical studies teacher. It hardly seemed worth considering, particularly with his wife in attendance, but she lingered upon it nonetheless.

Nellie turned around in a wide orbit that kept her facing the trio long enough to offer them a polite bow, then twirled, slipped discretely through the cloakroom door and quietly closed it behind her. A moment later the door opened and then shut again, just as softly as before.

Chapter 2: Shadow Position

The cloakroom had just one window, set high above the opposite wall of a long thin storage room lined with spring overcoats, capes, and hats; only a thin flicker of silver moonlight and the brighter, golden glow shining through the door frame illuminated the shadowy closet. It took her a moment of hard squinting and blinking to adjust her eyes to the feeble light, to recognize her own belongings hanging in the far right corner of the room, and she quickly bent forward to sort through the cluttered garments and retrieve a thin white envelope from her coat.

Mabel wasn’t just the most beautiful girl in their school, nor the most refined; she also came from the wealthiest family. That hardly seemed fair, but Mabel’s advantages hardly seemed worth fretting over, not with so many other girls in their school ahead of her. The boys she’d grown up with had considered Nellie the most beautiful girl in town, but it was, in truth, a very small town, and Boston didn’t lack for young women with rosy complexions and chestnut hair. A childhood spent romping about the fields hadn’t exactly left her with a delicate constitution, and her womanly curves were particularly ill-suited for fine gowns and corsets. Against the willowy backdrop of high society, she seemed the embodiment of voluptuous indecency.

She retrieved a slip of waxy paper from the envelope and unfolded it to reveal a thin square of carmine rouge. Her first month at finishing school – for she’d had neither the opportunity nor any pressing need to paint her face back home in Missouri – had revealed that her wan complexion and nervous habits of touching her face and biting her lip meant tending to her ointments more often than just the morning toilet, particularly when it came to dancing.

Nellie dabbed her fingertip into the powdered rouge, then closed one eye to carefully gauge the amount, and then lightly touched and circled her finger across each pallid cheek, and finally traced the residue across her lips. A looking glass would’ve been nice, but the ballroom at least didn’t lack for reflections, and she’d been careful to, if anything, err on the side of too light a touch; she’d quickly and painfully learned that lesson upon her arrival as well.

The band outside began their next song and the soft hum of polite conversation faded into the music as she quickly stooped to replace the envelope – and someone’s hands snatched the back of her gown to lift both her ornate pearl-white dress and the frilly petticoat beneath with a single motion, quickly revealing the smooth peach-round curves of her backside.

Her blue eyes flew wide; her whole body tensed as her mouth fell open without a thought. And, before she could take in a breath to scream, a man’s shaft pushed deep inside her.

Chapter 3: Slows and Quicks

It didn’t hurt. If anything, the very lack of the piercing, rending pain she’d come to dread as the inevitable punishment for losing her virginity left her even more frozen in shock. Pain might have stirred her to action, made her scream out and thrash backward to run sobbing out of the cloakroom and into a dozen waiting, sympathetic arms outside. But nothing about it hurt.

She simply felt the snug, kneading fit of his shaft within her, the pulsing, slightly fluttering warmth of a thick fleshy length that spread her walls around him; she felt skin smooth and supple as silk dragging gently between her tight folds. Her body strained with his thickness, aching just a little with the tension and singing like the low, resonant chord of a violin string with each subtle stroke of his member between the back of her thighs – even so, it didn’t hurt. Nellie couldn’t say what it felt like. There’d never been anything in her life to compare it to, and certainly nothing she’d ever tried to imagine. She felt him inside her, that was all.

 I am undone, she silently repeated to herself, trying to make it sink in. I am undone.

Could it really be that simple? No cooing flattery or false promises to seduce her, no ruffians chasing her into a smoky alley: just the shadow of a man in a moonlit coatroom, the furtive touch of his hands on the back of her hips, and the simple thrust of that brute spear, the savage instrument of masculine will that’d lurked at the heart of every scolding she’d received about being more careful playing around boys, every church sermon she’d sat through about marriage, about cleaving and becoming one flesh. There’d been no marriage nor temptation, not even a name and face she could put to her taker: yet they’d cleaved and become one flesh.

Just like that.

She didn’t look back at him, or try to lift upright or even say a word aloud; she remained as perfectly petrified in that same stooped pose as if she’d spotted a hissing viper on the floor between her feet. He might not have been there at all, except for that thick kneading pressure moving slowly between her hips. His warm hands caressed and clasped the cheeks of her bottom with a touch at once lewd and delicate, almost reverent in its sensuous exploration of her body. He touched her as if he’d never touched a woman before – perhaps he hadn’t, for all she knew – and made her vividly aware of herself in ways she’d never dared consider.

Her feet began to move with a subtle rhythm slower and deeper than the piano sonata playing behind the cloakroom door, rocking back and forth between her heels and her toes. Nellie found her hands searching through the hanging cloaks for the wall behind them and pressing her weight forward across her elbows so she could push back against him and feel more of that touch, the novelty of that deep massage pulsing between the back of her thighs.

It hadn’t occurred to her to call it sex, to call the strangeness of suddenly feeling a man inside her anything at all, until her swaying hips began to coax him into the same slow pendulum rhythm as her feet rocking steadily across the creaking floorboards. Her body squeezed around him as she lifted onto her toes to feel him from different angles, to feel the way he pressed between her swelling folds and against her straining walls. His palms curled into the shape of her hips and a throbbing warmth began to build with each stroke of his member between her blushing petals. Some part of her tremored against the root of his shaft, something small and tight that quickened like a violin string against the sliding bow of his manhood, that smoldered like flint rubbing against steel, igniting and aching with a deliciously building warmth.

She moaned under her breath, beneath the building music, and he moaned with her, a low and husky voice somewhere behind her shoulders. A secret tension snapped loose between them and the panting breaths that’d been almost silent a moment ago now came out in a duet of sultry gasps and shared groans, a contrast of lilting, feminine sweetness and gruff, feral masculinity that only affirmed the carnal intimacy between them. Now she called it sex, and the thought of it consumed her: they were having sex, their bodies piercing and enveloping and entangling each other to become one, the two of them sweating and thrusting and blushing together just a few feet away from the ball. She a lady and he a gentleman, and not a soul the wiser…

The stranger slipped his right arm beneath her waist and reached his hand up past the raised hem of her dress to cup his palm and stroke his fingers through her damp curls, and then to reach back and brace her splayed folds with the tips of his fingers as he began to pump between them in earnest. Nellie stayed on her tiptoes now, the top of her head pressed against the wall, her eyes staring down at the floor beneath her crossed hands and bent elbows as she lifted and bounced her hips against each thrust, keeping that stiff nub rubbing against his length.

Piano music raced outside, violins filled and swept through the air, and beneath it all their breathless voices rose and fell together with a different sort of music, keeping time with each plunge of his swollen member between her gleaming thighs, each bounce of her full hips back against his broad pelvis. Something built steadily within her like a flame, gleaming brighter and brighter with each thrust of their bodies together, each lewdly kneading stroke of his phallus against that taut, desperately aching pleasure nestled beneath, something nameless and exhilarating that’d consume her like a wildfire if it ignited. She wanted it to consume her, she wanted it to burn the whole world down; she pressed harder against him, trying to spark it with the skintight friction of their slick rutting, her breath coming in almost sobbing gasps.

Everything within her suddenly ignited into an inferno blaze of pleasure, a dizzying elation the likes of which she’d never contemplated in her life, and she sank and melted into the quivering, throbbing ecstasy that’d engulfed the innermost core of her being. It spilled down between the back of her thighs, all the way to the pit of her knees; it spread upward through the straining sheath of her corset, and she breathed out a contented sigh as it blossomed like a flower through her convulsing limbs, as its light spread through her like the morning sun.

Nellie only made the connection between that secret miracle unfurling within her and the spilling of a man’s seed when she felt the hot splash of her lover’s release spurting across the cheeks of her backside. He hadn’t planted his seed inside her, then – that was something to be grateful for, at least. At least, she should have been grateful. Somehow it struck her as a profound, almost sacrilegious betrayal, to have shared something so overwhelming and intimate and then have nothing come of it. She certainly didn’t want to be with child, and yet…

He leaned over her right shoulder to touch her temple with a tender kiss, to whisper her name like a lover’s vow, and none of that mattered anymore. “Nellie…”

When she finally lifted her head from her folded arms and ventured a peek over her shoulder, she found herself alone in the cloakroom. She allowed herself a few more trembling breaths, pushed herself from the wall and tested her wobbly legs, and cringed a little at the feeling of her petticoat sticking to her backside as she smoothed down the back of her skirt. Then she sighed deeply and stumbled her way back into the blinding light of the ballroom.

Chapter 4: Her Fairest Freight

Nellie!” someone called as he pushed through the crowd. “I feared you’d left already.”

She froze at the sound of her name being spoken aloud, the ordinary syllables tinged with secret portent and flushed, heady memories. Hadn’t she heard that same voice breathing her name with sensuous abandon before, a dark mirror of the affection she heard now?

Then she saw it was Henry approaching her. So no, of course not – except, why not?

Was his hair more disheveled than when she’d last seen him? Were his cheeks more flushed, his breath shaking, or was the chandelier light playing tricks on her eyes? She studied him with a slightly squinted, suspicious gaze, and then blinked and composed herself when she caught him staring back at her with just as suspicious and curious a look. Or was it a look of guilt?

 “That was quite the dance, wasn’t it?” she carefully asked. “I’m still catching my breath.”

 “I hardly noticed the music,” he replied. “My mind was elsewhere all through it.”

Nellie gave him another hard look, and then glanced over his shoulder at Doctor Hayward on the other side of the room, talking to his indignant wife as though making sheepish excuses. Then she cast a glance to Edward Gardner, already taking another girl in his arms for the next dance even as he cast a sidelong, instinctively flirtatious glance toward her. A dozen different names adorned her dance card, and it could have been any of them. Or even none of them.

 “We haven’t missed our dance?” she asked.

 “No, it’s just starting now.”

“Good,” she announced with an anxious smile, and lifted her arms to let him take her by the hand and guide her by the shoulder, to let him lead their waltz with a mixture of confidence and gentle consideration that she’d hardly expected. And yet it felt strangely familiar...

If it was Henry who’d found her alone in the coatroom, then perhaps they’d have a great deal to discuss after the dance; that is, if either one of them could gather up the courage to broach such a delicate matter. And if it wasn't him, then whoever else it might’ve been had forfeited his claim to the experience. That meant it was wholly hers to give to whomever she liked.

So then she’d give it to him.