Those Dark Eyes: Part Three
As Afton scaled the marble steps of the glorious Symphony Hall, for the first time all evening she felt very insecure. Rovan had arrived at seven o’clock sharp, dressed in a fine tuxedo, and escorted her the short distance to the Art District of Neopia Central. As the summer sun continued to hang near the horizon, the two friends had mingled with the crowd of other high class guests on their way to the orchestra. Surrounded by Neopets dressed handsomely in silk and satin, Afton couldn’t help but remember all of the times she had attended parties just like this in Faerieland, accompanied by the various members of Neopia’s elite upper crust. As Rovan and Afton had neared the impressive building where the Neopian Philharmonic was to perform, Afton had been tempted to shield her face from the gaze of the wealthy music patrons. The Gelert was easily able to recognize several of the Neopets with whom she had once attended balls and dinner parties, and she desperately hoped that they would not approach her.
So as Afton held on to Rovan’s arm as they ascended the steps of Symphony Hall, she worried that perhaps the past that she had left behind might not be so distant after all. As the crowd grew denser, and the two friends drew closer to the tall mahogany doors at the end of the steps, Afton felt that her past was threatening to grab her and squeeze the breath out of her body, which was at that moment dressed just as finely as any of the other lady guests.
“Isn’t this exciting?” asked Rovan as they neared the tall doors. He looked over at Afton, and she could see the eagerness in his dark eyes.
Afton was pulled from her thoughts. “Yes,” she breathed, nearly choking on the word. She glanced around, relieved that no one she recognized was nearby.
“I got us box seats.” Rovan smiled. “They’re the third best spot in the whole place.”
“How?” was all Afton could manage, clinging to her friend’s arm as if the crowd was trying to wrench her away and swallow her up.
“I know some people,” said Rovan dismissively, he dark eyes glancing away from Afton for a moment. “Actually, we’re sharing the box with some friends of mine.”
“Oh really?” said Afton, watching her friend scan the crowd as they finally reached the top of the steps.
“Yes,” said Rovan. “I think I can see them now.” He led Afton up to the tall double doors. A finely dressed usher nodded at Rovan as they passed. The Lupe made his way through the clumps of wealthy Neopians, and finally he and Afton stopped in front of a group of six or seven Neopets.
“Rovan!” cried an Aisha who was wearing a dress that must have weighed more than she did. She extricated herself from the group and leaned forward to kiss him on the cheek. “How nice of you to come! We were just talking about you.”
“Hello, hello,” said Rovan, smiling at her. “Elaire, I’d like to introduce you to my friend Afton. Afton, this is my friend Elaire and her husband Torvus.”
A tall Techo removed himself from the conversation he was having and approached Afton. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said with a stiff bow.
Elaire paused for a moment. “Afton,” she repeated. “Now that name sounds familiar.” Afton’s heart skipped a beat. “Do you happen to be from Faerieland?”
“No,” said Afton quickly, before Rovan could answer for her. “I actually live right next door to Rovan.”
“Really?” said the Aisha, giving Rovan an odd look. “Quaint neighborhood, isn’t it?” she remarked to Afton.
“Yes, very.” Afton smiled, feeling herself grow nervous under the condescending gaze of Elaire.
“Rovan’s only just moved in, you see,” continued Elaire. She winked at the Lupe, who seemed uncharacteristically uncomfortable. “He says it’s part of a new project of his,” said the Aisha with a mild laugh. “He’s started an investments company, you know.”
“Yes, she knows,” said Rovan, taking Elaire by the shoulder. “Now, we should probably get up to our seats now, don’t you think? The concert should be starting soon.”
“Ah, yes,” said Elaire, removing Rovan’s paw from her arm. “Torvus, let’s go sit down. The heat in this chamber is absolutely unbearable.” The Aisha withdrew a fan from the many folds of her gown and waved it vaguely through the air.
Rovan gave Afton an exasperated smile and followed his friends up to their box seats. Relieved to be out of the crowd, Afton sat down in a comfortable chair. They really did have one of the best spots in Symphony Hall. The Neopian Philharmonic was warming up on stage very close by, and Afton could see several sophisticated Neopets taking their places in the main hall. The three others sat down, and Rovan took out a handkerchief to mop his brow. Afton leaned over to him and whispered, “This is so nice. These seats are incredible.”
“Just wait until the concert,” whispered Rovan. “They’re sure to bring the house down.” He smiled. “And thanks to your smart investing, we get to be a part of it.”
“That reminds me,” whispered Afton. “How could you possibly afford this beautiful dress for me, as well as box seats at a sold out concert? We haven’t been investing that well.”
Rovan shifted in his chair. “Smart spending, I guess,” he replied with a weak chuckle.
Afton was about to open her mouth when Elaire leaned over from her other side. “Look,” she whispered, pointing across the hall to a box on the other side. “Fyora is here.”
Afton could feel her face turn red as she turned to gaze at the Faerie across the room. Accompanied by her most trusted friends and advisors, the Queen of Faerieland herself was sitting down looking out over the guests of Symphony Hall. Her presence alone was enough to send waves of whispers and mutterings through the audience, and as spontaneously as her arrival, the crowd began to applaud. She looked surprised at first, but then the Faerie Queen’s face broke into a smile and she waved at the members of high society who were crowded into the large room. Fyora leaned over to whisper something to a member of her company, and then she stared across the room and looked straight at Afton.
Actually, Afton couldn’t be sure that the Faerie was looking directly at her, but Fyora’s eyes seemed to connect with Afton’s for a brief moment. The Gelert felt her heart stop, and her breath caught in her throat. Fyora lifted a slender arm very slightly and pointed almost invisibly across the room toward the very box in which Afton was sitting. The blue Shoyru next to the Queen nodded and slipped out of his seat, disappearing into the hallway beyond.
Fyora then resumed smiling at the crowd, as if nothing had happened. Indeed, Afton was so shocked by the action which had occurred in just a few short moments that she still couldn’t be sure that the Queen had pointed at her at all.
Afton had met the Faerie Queen a few times, but had only spoken with her on one occasion. During her fame in Faerieland, Afton had spent a few short minutes with Fyora in her palace, after the Queen had expressed an interest in meeting the newest rising star of her empire. They had merely discussed the finest venues in Faerieland for a few moments, and then Fyora had been called off on business, but Afton’s name had been on the lips of every aristocrat in Faerieland for a few months, and it was possible that the Queen had recognized her. But after so long, and from such a distance? Afton couldn’t be sure.
“Excuse me,” said Rovan suddenly, stepping out of his seat and pulling Afton from her thoughts. “I’ll be right back.”
As he exited the box, Elaire called, “You’ll miss the symphony! It’s about to start!”
“I’ll be back,” was the only reply as the red Lupe slipped through the door and into the hall, and Afton found herself alone with his two friends to watch the Neopian Philharmonic perform.
As the Chair of the Art Department said a few words thanking the audience and acknowledging Queen Fyora, Afton felt herself sink deeper into her soft crimson chair. She couldn’t take her mind off of the Faerie’s vague gesture, and even as she joined the masses of upper crust Neopians in applause as the curtain was lifted, Afton simply could not enjoy herself. The Neopian Philharmonic were even better than expected, and the next day the critics would rave wildly about their stellar performance, and their stock would increase incredibly, but even the glorious music of the symphony could not calm Afton’s troubled heart. As the music played on and on and the art patrons listened in awe, Afton could only hear her heart pounding beneath her expensive scarlet gown.
To be continued...