Gina smoothed the skin tight Lycra plastered to her hip and placed her hand on the door’s frosted knocker.
“No one’s going to know it’s you,” she whispered.
Stilling her comforting strokes, she gathered her ebony tail like a trailing veil and knocked. Each thud wavered the cotton cobwebs dripping from the columned stoop and bounced the skeleton dangling from the doorknob. Inside, laughter and music escalated.
Cringing at the ruckus, Gina held her ground. She adjusted her faux-fur fringed mask and headband, ensuring untangled whiskers, fluffed ears, and an undistinguishable identity. As the seconds passed, she twined her fuzzy tail between black-nailed fingertips and tapped the spiked heel of her knee-high boots.
The music rose, the windowpanes vibrating to the beat, but still no one answered the door. A candle-lit walkway behind her beckoned but Gina firmed her grip on her tail.
“You are going inside.”
Drawing a deep breath, she stabbed the doorbell.
While within the sequence of ding-dongs repeated three times, a ragged gasp, clunk of chains, and ghostly screech fled the stoop’s flanking holly bushes.
Jumping aside, Gina took refuge against a ribbed column. The wailing died without any ghouls or apparitions appearing, and calming her surprise, she spied the speakers tucked between prickly leaves.
“Real mature,” she chided as she eased off the cylindrical support.
Her tension reasserted itself when the front door flung wide.
Trudy, donned in a gown of opalescent sequins, her blonde hair billowing around a pair of elfin ears, gaunt face hidden behind satin, held both lean hands aloft.
“All shall love me and despair!”
Slipping on a feline smirk, Gina jutted a hip, added silk to her soprano, and twirled her tail. “Am I supposed to be impressed?”
Trudy threw her head back and released a witchy cackle. Clapping her hands, she beamed brighter than the jack-o-lanterns flickering on the windowsills.
“I’m so glad you came, Gina. You look perrrrfect!”
Gina eased her stance although the stilettos’ kept her calves burning. “You think so?”
“Definitely.” Backing up, Trudy beckoned with a lanky arm bared from her slit sleeve. “Inside inside, before you scare the freshmen away.”
“I wouldn’t want to deprive you of your fun.”
“Speaking of which, you’ll never guess who’s here.”
A familiar face leapt into her mind, one who’d graduated summa cum laude the previous May. Gina braced herself against the shut door when her stilted platforms quaked. “He can’t be.”
“Umm hum.” Trudy’s brown eyes gleamed, accentuating her sequin’s sparkle. “I invited everyone remember?”
“But he was going abroad.”
“Maybe he had a reason for coming back.” Trudy jabbed a pale finger on Gina’s sternum, her dagger of a nail scratching against the corset’s laces. “I think you should find out.”
Gina gently clasped Trudy’s slim wrist. “I went there once. I can’t do it again, Tru—“
“No. No. No. Tonight, I am Galadriel thank you very much, and you are Cat Woman.”
“Sure.” Gina checked her leather ties and rubbed a smudge off her boot’s toe.
“Does Cat Woman say sure?”
Thumbing at the door, Gina cocked her head. “Does Galadriel hit on all the new arrivals?”
“She’ll take what she can get.” Clasping her shoulder, Trudy maneuvered Gina along the entryway. “I think George’s in the kitchen.”
Trudy raised both brows above her shimmering mask, shoved, and shooed with both hands. The doorbell rang, frightened yelps accompanying the holly’s tricks, and Trudy marshaled herself for another welcoming performance.
Abandoned, Gina attempted to claim a similar self-confidence, one worthy of the hours she’d taken crafting her attire instead of prepping for mid-terms. She strutted along the corridor, past rooms where people chatted and a stereo blared, every clack of her heels rippling up her legs and slathering her nerves with ice. Arriving at the kitchen, Gina thrust herself through the swinging door before cold feet could take her elsewhere.
One or two harvesting the remains of depleted bowls and platters looked up at the hinges groan but Gina failed to recognize anyone behind their masks. All the not-Georges returned to their conversations or eating, except for a jester who appeared around an open cupboard in checkered orange and yellow.
He left the cabinet wide and leered beneath his beaded mask. “Back for more?”
Gina withdrew to the door. “Excuse me?”
“You’re playing coy now?”
“I’m not playing at anything.”
The jester swaggered over, his belled-cap jingling with his wobbly stride. Listing against the counter, he panted, his breath stained with hops. “Hey. What happened to your eyes? They’re blue.”
“They’ve always been blue.”
He smirked. “I like blue too.”
Retreating from his encroaching jangle, Gina stumbled through the swinging door. She veered blindly into the neighboring living room and slammed into a tuxedo jacket and bow tie.
“Hello again, kitten.”
The Tony Stark beard and half-lowered Iron Man helmet solidified before her. Gina felt a pinch through her Lycra pants as he pulled her against his glowing Arc reactor. Covering her violated cheeks with one hand, she slapped the other across his goateed face.
Stark released her and rubbed his jaw. “What was that for?”
“For grabbing my ass.”
He tilted his head, offsetting his mask and revealing the confusion in his blood-shot eyes. “You didn’t mind an hour ago.”
Gina set her hands on her hips, agitation and embarrassment boiling. “I wasn’t here an hour ago.”
Fingering his beard, Stark raked his gaze up her legs, lingered on her breasts, and then found her face once more.
“Yeah, before you were.” He cupped his hands before his chest, mimicking a pair of double D’s.
Gina rolled her eyes. “In my other life.”
Blowing past him, she angled around the perimeter of the dance floor replacing Trudy’s couch, coffee tables, and loveseats. She found the bar on the other side, grabbed the first Lite beer she could find, popped the cap, and sought somewhere to drown the decision to accept Trudy’s invitation and her own desire to resurface from the seafloor and see what other fish were swimming.
Throbbing bodies dominated the room’s center while groups put their heads together before bookcases or curtained windows, apparently able to hear over the pulsating base. Occupied chairs clustered in the corners while the Dr. Dre wanna-be mixed at a table set in front of a doused fireplace.
None reminded her of George and she gave up looking for him within the throng. Trudy, she figured, had made a mistake or perhaps he’d left early. Either way, Gina resigned herself to the lone company of her beer and sought a point of refuge from the stifling mob.
While she searched, a buxom medieval wench sidled up and plopped upon the bar. She huffed and the claret contents of her plastic wine glass rippling like her cinched curves. When she tilted her head, Gina did the same, hoping to catch something more pleasant through the din.
“I don’t know how you do it.”
Gina shook her head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You’ve got catnip or something hidden in there.” Through her tasseled mask, the wench’s gaze darted across Gina’s corset and a flush darkened already rosy cheeks. “I think every guy here is talking about you.”
“But I just got here.”
The wench’s careful curls swayed around her plump face. “You couldn’t have. I saw you go upstairs with the Jester guy like two hours ago. And then there was Captain America, Iron—”
Gina wheeled on the other woman but halted her barbed tongue when a high-pitched “MEOW” rode over the racket. Turning slowly, Gina spotted a similarly black garbed feline in the doorway. She’d molded herself against a swarthy looking pirate with tousled dreadlocks and an off-kilter tricornered hat. His mouth matched her freshly painted lips, each curving like two ruby crescents.
Those at the dance floor’s edge trailed their progress toward the bar, locking upon the other Cat Woman’s seasoned swing or tail’s twitch.
Gina motioned with her half-drunk beer. “I think that’s who you want to talk to.”
The wench winced. “Sorry.”
“I knew I should have come as Maid Marion.”
As her doppelganger approached, Gina downed the rest of the bottle, pitched it into a near overflowing recycling bin, and fetched a second on her way toward the back doors. She stroked her thumb against her tail, the rasp burning by the time the other Cat Woman’s throaty purring peaked.
Storming onto the patio, Gina let the door slam and endured the October chill. Her heels pressed into the earth as she wandered in the open section of garden, away from the sounds of fornication in the shadows, and into the relative quiet of midnight. A bench sat beside a dry fountain overlooking a hedge glittering with white Christmas lights. Claiming the seat, she toasted the blubs and the stone maiden with her pitcher before downing a long belt.
Gina avoided a choking sputter and wiped amber drops from her chin with the back of her hand. Clasping her drink, she put her back to the approaching footsteps.
“The Cat Woman you’re looking for is inside.”
“No, I think I found the right one.”
Glancing over her shoulder, Gina raised her fingers to her mask, suddenly wary it had vanished.
Despite the evergreen tunic, sword wielding belt, and feathered cap perched above a leather mask, she spied intelligent eyes and an athletic frame she hadn’t seen since late spring.
“I’m not sure you remember me.” He offered a gloved hand. “George Fitz.”
Setting her bottle down, Gina shook and didn’t pull away when he kept her fingers. “Gina Mason.”
“Yeah.” George’s grin stretched to Cheshire cat proportions. “I know.”