Behind the Mask 

Chapter One

October 31st, Ten Years Ago


Gracelyn stood there, for how long she had no idea. Finally shaking her head, she turned to go to the kitchen and fell to the floor at the bottom of the stairs.

Pushing to her knees, she looked down at the floor. Maybe she shouldn't have had those cups of punch at the costume party. She wasn't much of a drinker. She took a deep breath and slowly pulled herself up by the banister of the stairs. Her head was feeling a little wobbly. What had they spiked the punch with? Tea would help, she hoped.

She straightened and then winced when the pain went down through her leg. Oh great, she thought, not only am I a bit tipsy but now I've hurt myself. Half limping, half hopping, she headed to the bathroom. When she finally reached the door, she pushed herself through it and tried to land on the edge of the tub. Sliding half in the tub, she righted herself and turned the taps on. A nice, long soak and some sobering tea-she hoped that would do the trick.

Stripping off her ballerina tights, she bunched them up, dropped them on the floor, and reached around to undo the stiff skirt of her costume. She sighed. She?d had such a wonderful time, and now her heart was heavy because her sister had had to have one of her drama fits, tonight!

Was there a reason her older sibling always chose to freak out over something silly when she was feeling great about something? "From now on, the only time you'll see beautiful Gracie is on Samhain from midnight start to midnight finish. The rest of the year, you'll be a blur!" She had no idea what Faith had meant by that, and truly, at this moment, she didn't care about her sister's temper tantrum.

Checking the water, she stood and pulled the leotard off. When she straightened, everything seemed distorted. Grabbing for the counter, she let out a slow breath. She was so calling Grady tomorrow and giving him an earful for giving her too much of that punch. She looked in the mirror, couldn't even see her own reflection clearly.

Groaning loudly, she moved over to the tub and turned off the water. Would she get too dizzy and drown if she had a bath now? She leaned over the tub and rubbed a hand down her right leg. It didn't hurt to touch, so surely falling on her face in the foyer hadn't hurt it too seriously. No bath, not with the way her head was spinning. Her leg would probably be just fine and dandy in the morning.

Her stomach lurched as she reached toward her blue robe on the back of the door. Stopping, she rubbed a hand over it. Tea would probably be a good idea though. Slipping her arms through the robe, she tied it and realized that she was even having coordination problems with her hands. She was never drinking again!

* * * *

With soothing tea in her stomach, she headed up the long staircase carefully. She still couldn't see very well, and her head felt really muddled. She sat on the landing, happy that she'd reached the halfway point up the stairs to rest. Falling down the stairs and breaking her neck when she was here alone wasn't something she wanted to try.

Phinehas, her black cat, meowed from the top of the stairs. She exhaled noisily. "I know, boy, I'm an idiot and will never indulge in unidentified alcoholic beverages again." The cat mewed again, and from the sound of it, he was deserting her and leaving her on the stairs. 'Traitor," she mumbled as she pushed herself to her feet again.

* * * *

Gracelyn opened her eyes slowly and waited to see if her head was still floating. So far, it feels fine, she thought. She stretched and then frowned. Her leg felt a little sore, but nothing too bothersome.

Carefully, she sat up. Everything was still a bit blurry. Rubbing her hands over her face, she moaned. She felt awful. Surely having a few cups of punch wouldn't last this long. She got up slowly and moved carefully toward the bathroom. She flicked the light switch and leaned on the counter. Squinting, she looked in the mirror. Her image was blurry. She held up her hand to look at it. Moving it closer to her face, she was able to bring it into focus. "What did I drink?"

Going back to the bedroom, she eased down to sit on the edge of the bed. With her shoulders slumped and head hanging down, she tried to bring the floor into focus. Her spine straightened as she remembered what her sister had said the night before. "From now on, the only time you'll see beautiful Gracie is on Samhain from midnight start to midnight finish. The rest of the year, you?'l be a blur!" No! She wouldn't-couldn't have! She lifted her head. "Faith!" she bellowed. "Come here, now!" She waited and heard nothing.

Grabbing her robe, she quickly shuffled out into the hallway and headed to her sister?s room. Reaching it, she huffed out a breath and flung the door open. She squinted and looked around the room, Faith wasn't here. "Great, just great!" She leaned against the wall for a moment. "I can't go anywhere like this!"

Pushing herself slowly away from the wall, she turned to make her way to the room that had been their parents. Her heart strained. She still missed them. Two of the most powerful witches in the community and they let themselves drown, she thought with a groan.

She reached the door, went in, and felt her way to the closet. Turning on the light probably would have helped she decided when she stubbed her toe. Her father had worn glasses, so hopefully, if she tried them, she'd be able to at look in a mirror and see what else her nasty sister had done to her.

After finding a box, she opened it and started digging around in it. She felt for the right shape, for one of the many cases. Hopefully they had been kept. "When I get my hands on you, Faith Trainer, you are going to be one sorry witch!" Feeling over what felt like an eyeglass case, she opened it and pulled out her father's heavy-rimmed glasses. "Here's hoping," she whispered. She put them on.

Opening her eyes, she waited a moment until they adjusted to the thick lenses. Her perception of everything in the room wasn't perfect, but she could see much better than before she put them on. Of course, she wouldn't win any beauty contests wearing these.

The doorbell chimed throughout the house. "Uh!" She turned and headed toward the stairs as quickly as she could manage on her tender leg. It rang again. "Coming!" she called out as loud as she could.

All the way down the stairs, she tried to remember the glamour incantation. There was no way she was opening the door like, well, however she looked at this moment. Reciting it in her head as she reached the door, she took a deep breath and brushed a hand down her hair. She squeaked when she felt the glasses and quickly pulled them off and tucked them in her pocket. Whoever was on the other side of the door was going to have to be blurry.

Pulling the door open, she stopped. Her eyes may not be clear, but she could still see well enough to know it was two police officers standing on her steps. 'Yes?"

'Miss Gracelyn Trainer?"

She frowned and nodded. "Yes."

The taller blurry man took off his hat. "May we come in for a moment?"

Gracie started to step back and almost stumbled when her leg didn't move. "What?" She tried to bring their faces into focus. 'What is this about?" she asked hesitantly.

One of them cleared their throat. 'I'm afraid we have bad news, Miss Trainer, regarding your sister."

'Faith?" Her voice quivered.

"Yes, she was in an accident sometime through the night . . ."

Gracie clutched the doorknob. "Is she all right? Where is she?"

One of them placed a hand over hers. 'I think we should come in and sit down."

Her ears were ringing as she shook her head and sought out to feel her sister, something they had always been able to do. It was empty, cold, dark. "Did she . . ." She swallowed and took a deep breath. 'Is she . . ." Her voice gave out before she could finish. She didn't need their confirmation. Her soul knew that she was alone now. "I need to sit,"she announced as she slid to the floor and leaned against the door.

* * * *

Gracie sat alone in the dark that night. She wanted to forget the entire day but knew she'd remember it always. She was alone, and she knew now that she always would be. Not only had she lost her sister and last relative, but her sister had also cursed her to live the loneliest existence possible. The officers who had come and broken the news had returned a short while later as if they'd forgotten they had already spoken to her.

Faith's words went through her mind again. "And from now on, no one is going to be at your beck and call. No one will even remember you!" She swiped the tears off her cheeks and hugged Phinehas to her chest. "No one's going to remember me, Phin. What are we going to do?"