She's wearing a black dress with white lace and fishnet stockings that complement her fair-skinned legs. Her hair is done up in an intricate bun, her face coated with exaggerated makeup—white foundation, red lipstick, dark purple eye shadow, rosy blush. Monsieur Dubois said he wanted her to look as though she had popped out of a Tim Burton film. "I want her to have flair," he'd said. As it turns out, his idea of "flair" is an unbalanced, ghoulish look. I can't say I dislike it, though. Grace could make any look work.
That may sound cheesy, and I confess that it probably is, but it is the absolute truth.
I watch her twirl around for Monsieur Dubois' approval, an awkward smile on her face as she does so, and my stomach tightens, the letter in my hand saying "Meet me in the basement after the show" crumbling in my fist. I feel like a spark plug. There's an electric current surging through me. Unstoppable energy. I'm going to tell her tonight.
I promised myself I would.
She catches me eyeing her, then sheepishly tilts her head downward. I smile and turn my head to the side, hoping she didn't just see me blush.
"You ready, Emerson?" Joy comes up behind me and places her hand on my back. She's dressed in a spaghetti-strapped, robin's egg blue dress that goes down to her ankles and a silver, diamond-studded necklace that makes her look far richer than she really is. She gives me an encouraging smile.
"As ready as I'll ever be," I tell her in my faux happy-go-lucky voice.
"That'a boy," she says. "Just remember not to open or close the curtains before you're supposed to. Timing is crucial."
She walks off, holding up the hem of her dress as she heads in the direction of the lounge.
I look back over to where Grace had been standing and see that she is no longer there.
I'm in the lobby surrounded by guests who are all shuffling towards the lounge, promised a "magical" evening.
"Emerson!" my boss' aggravated voice calls.
"Coming!" I call back.
The show can't begin without its curtain boy.
I still haven't given her the note. It doesn't really matter, but nevertheless I want to smack myself. I'd promised myself that tonight would be the night—after all this time, I'd finally tell her. No more trailing her in the halls. No more scheduling work days to match hers. No more bumping into her on purpose and muttering feeble excuse me's, and asking her questions I already know the answers to. Just the truth.
It's when I climb the side stairs up to the stage that I realize I have to pee. But it's too late for me to nip to the bathroom. The show's about to start. I take my place by the ropes that open and close the curtains. From the corner of my eye, I see Grace standing next to Monsieur Dubois, her netted legs slightly trembling as though she has to pee too. "What if I forget my lines?" she asks him. "What if I trip and fall?"
He tilts her chin up with his forefinger. "Don't worry, ma Cherie," he wheedles in his obviously exaggerated French accent. "The trick is to not think about it. Act natural. Be your lovely self. So long as you do that, you will be perfect."
I roll my eyes. What a poser.
Why he even chose Grace to be his assistant in the first place is a mystery to me. Usually magicians come with their own assistants—people who know how the tricks work, and who are cut out for stage performance. Grace, as beautiful as she is, is not. In fact, that's one of the many reasons why I'm taken with her. She's not an attention hound. She prefers the periphery over the spotlight. She doesn't care enough about the spotlight to seek it.
Invisibility is her magic trick.
She gives a nod (although I can still see the uncertainty in her eyes) and then takes her place backstage, where she nearly disappears into the darkness.
The chatter outside quiets, and I hear my boss, Mr. Richardson, and Joy thank everyone in the audience for coming. They tell scripted jokes and over-enunciate every word. It's annoying, but funny. They sound like telephone operators.
They get one last laugh from the crowd, and then introduce Monsieur Dubois. That's my signal. I pull the rope that opens the curtains, revealing to the audience Monsieur Dubois standing in front of a medieval-looking chest with his arms outstretched, dressed in an outfit that makes him look like Count Dracula. He, too, thanks everyone for coming. And then he introduces Grace, and that's her signal. She walks to the front of the stage, slowly, and takes her place next to him. Ooh's and ahh's erupt from the crowd at the sight of her. She really does look like a Tim Burton character. Only lovelier.
I watch as she helps him perform his tricks. He starts with the simple ones, the ones everyone has seen a million times—pulling a multi-colored length of cloth seemingly out of nowhere, making a sphere disappear in one hand and reappear in the other, pulling a rabbit out of his hat after showing the inside of the hat to the audience—but then he gets a little more daring. He levitates himself off the stage floor. He has Grace draw a rose on a piece of paper and then fold the paper in half; after reciting an incantation, he pulls from inside the crease a real rose and then unfolds the paper and shows it to the audience to reveal that Grace's drawing is now gone. He draws from inside his cape a pistol and gives it to Grace. Then he takes six steps in the opposite direction, turns to face her, pulls out an apple—who knows where he kept that thing hidden?—places it on his head and tells her to shoot it off. Grace hesitates, her face going pale. She may not be the best at expressing her emotions, but even she would be terrified at the notion of killing someone. "I'm a terrible shot," she says, her usually timid and quiet voice thick with fear.
"Well, then you better be careful," Monsieur Dubois tells her. Then he winks, the jackass.
Grace aims the gun. Half the people in the audience plug their ears. The other half grip the arms of their seats. She fires.
The apple explodes off Monsieur Dubois' head, transforming into a dove that flies away.
The crowd bursts into applause, stunned. I'm stunned too, though I'm too upset to show it. My attention goes to Grace, who is wiping her forehead with the back of her delicate hand and sighing in relief. I feel so sorry for her. I want to embrace her, tell her she was magnificent, kiss her cheek.
Monsieur Dubois wants Grace to disappear. He helps her into the medieval-looking chest, and then closes the lid. He says a spell, spins the chest around over and over and over again. Opens it. Turns it on its side for everyone to see inside.
Indeed, Grace is gone. All that remains is the red velvet of the interior.
The audience applauds and shouts. Some even give a standing ovation. They've had their magical evening.
Monsieur Dubois takes a bow and then leaves the stage.
That's my signal to close the curtain.
Joy's performance is next. She sings a jazz number, her voice ringing all through the lounge.
I start to get anxious. Where's Grace? Aren't the assistants supposed to reappear after they disappear? I look around. She's nowhere. And no one seems to be the least bit concerned. Not the audience, not Mr. Richardson, not Monsieur Dubois. It appears I'm the only one wondering where she's at.
My stomach clenches and I make a momentary decision. Screw the rest of the show, I need to find Grace! I abandon my post and duck out the back of the stage, sticking to the crevices and shadows to avoid being seen. When I reach the door and burst out into the hallway that leads to the main lobby, I head for the nearest restroom. The pee is about to run down my leg. I quickly relieve myself and then wash my hands, the whole time agonizing over Grace.
It feels strange being so worried. Paranoid, even. Grace can't have gone far. And what could have happened to her? She's probably hiding under the stage right now, waiting for someone to open the door and let her out. She's probably sitting behind some curtain, staring blankly at whatever happens to be in front of her, wondering when the show will be over and she can get back to work.
Yes, I can picture her now. That's exactly what she's doing.
Nothing's happened, no. She's fine. She's just hiding. She's just invisible.
She's always been good at being invisible.
She's not hiding.
I don't know where she is, but she's gone from here. It's been a week now and there hasn't been any sign of her. A missing persons report was filed. Employees are on the lookout. Phone calls have been made to her family and friends (which, come to find out, she lacks). Mr. Richardson has desperately been trying to contact Monsieur Dubois, but can't seem to be able to. Last anyone heard, he left the country. Where he went, no one knows.
I haven't been to work all week long. I can't focus. I can barely even walk.
She's gone. Gone. Where she went, I may never know. I should have followed my gut instinct—thought less about the possibility of sounding paranoid and more about finding Grace and making sure she was okay. I'll never forgive myself for my stupidity.
I lay here on my bed, curled sideways, eyes puffy and almost glued shut, tears staining my pillow, and I try—try and try and try—to accept it all. That's what the police have been saying lately, that we may have to do some accepting without closure. That's always a possibility in these situations. I understand why they feel the need to say that, but they could be a bit more empathetic. They don't seem to give a damn.
No one gives a damn. Not really. People wonder and question, but they don't actually care.
Grace had never been one to assert herself. She'd never really made her presence known, although she was everything in the world to me. Her moment on stage was probably her greatest as far as recognition is concerned.
Figures I would lose her because of it.
She was always invisible, in some form or another.